How to improve clay soil

Clay soil is great at water retention. The problem is when there’s too much water. The flip side is that clay soil is terrible at drainage. And most plant tags say “well-drained soil”. Well-drained soil can be pretty elusive in the Piedmont of NC, so we need to take measures to improve our soil’s drainage.

How do we improve soil drainage? The short answer is to add organic matter, such as Soil Conditioner or mulched leaves. The amount needed varies, though, and changes as the soil is cultivated over multiple growing seasons. For example, if you’ve mulched a garden bed for 5 years – think about where that mulch goes, why do you have to keep adding it each year? It decomposes at various rates depending on the source material and its age. Pine bark, pine needles, shredded hardwood – all have different properties and decompose differently, adding their unique contributions to the soil. There are other potential mulches, as well, but these are some of the most common choices. Many folks like the look of inorganic mulches such as pebbles or lava rock, but these do nothing to feed the soil (and eventually your plants).

Consider adding soil conditioner (pine bark fines) to the planting hole when planting new trees and shrubs in previously unamended soil, and preparing entire flower beds by adding soil conditioner and compost at root depth (at least – deeper is better). A 50/50 mix with the native soil is sufficient, and your native soil goes back in.

Another important consideration is the pH of the soil, and targeting an appropriate pH for the plants you’re growing. A soil test will reveal what you’re dealing with, and we can help you choose the right amendments to move the pH to the targeted zone.

For more detailed information, click on the “How to Improve Clay Soil” document below, or ask our experts at Guilford Garden Center.

How to Improve Clay Soil


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Fall Gardening Tips

Get all Zen about those leaves.

  • “Leave the Leaves” – instead of raking or blowing them to the curb, use your mower to mulch your leaves. Using the bagger attachment, mow over a pile of leaves a couple of times to reduce them to finer particles that you can then distribute around your plants – they’ll act as a bit of a blanket against extreme cold temperatures, as well as add nitrogen and texture to your soil. Free, organic mulch – what could be better than that?
    • Perennials – most can be cut to the ground after the first frost or freeze reduces them to mush. But some, such as ornamental grasses, butterfly bush, black-eyed susan, and coneflower, should be left standing to protect the crown of the plant or provide food for birds. Give us a call or Google your particular plants to get specific care instructions if you’re unsure.
    • Pruning – just step away from the pruners, loppers, and hedge trimmers. Fall is not the time for this important gardening task, unless you spot a dead or crossing branch. Wait until late winter/early spring, as pruning causes the plant to put out new growth at the cut site, and that new growth will then get killed during cold winter nights. Instead, bring your pruning tools into the garden center and let us clean and sharpen them for you – free in the month of November, $5 per tool the rest of the year.
    • Use frost cloth or other protection in the vegetable garden. Your broccoli, cabbage, and collards can take a little frost, but hard freezes are a different matter. Make an overnight tent with frost cloth, but remember to remove it before the sun hits it. Apply the cloth before dusk to trap the day’s heat, and be sure it goes all the way to the soil surface. In lieu of frost cloth made specifically for this purpose, sheets or blankets can work, or inverted plastic nursery pots can also provide a measure of protection.
    • Potted houseplants should already be indoors by now, but in protected locations may be able to withstand brief dips below freezing. The same is true for tropical and marginally-hardy plants in the ground. To increase their protection from freezing, mulch heavily around them – the mulch acts as a blanket.
    • Fall is also a great time to pick up new plants at bargain prices. Come in and check out our sales, and stock up! The saying “Fall is for Planting” seems cliché, but let’s examine why it’s true – in the Piedmont, we typically have mild winters, and planting in fall gives us 3 seasons of mild temps and wet conditions compared to summer’s hot, dry weather. So, plants get well-established, putting down deep roots for several months before the summer extreme arrives.

Why Buy a Garden Center?

Christina Larson

At first glance, it seems like a huge leap from a career in the restaurant business to a garden center owner. True, I did retire in December 2016 from nearly 40 years in the restaurant industry, a career I loved. But then one day barely a month later, I received notice that Guilford Garden Center was on the market. So much for retirement! I knew that blending my love of gardening with my business knowledge and leadership experience would make for the perfect fit. A few calls and visits with Chuck Voight, his family and representatives to negotiate the details, and here I was, holding the keys, right at the end of the busy spring season!

My parents were business owners in a field they loved, too, for a time. I had hoped to join them after college (we figured that my Marketing degree would come in handy), but it didn’t work out. That gene that has lied dormant all these years has now leapt into action.

Gardening is not just a love of mine, more a passion. Ok, an obsession. Let’s just put that out there. In the past 5 years or so I’ve attended dozens of classes, workshops, and events through multiple outlets that I’ve outlined below with links to their websites for your convenience. The learning and experience turned me from hobbyist with more failures than successes into a serious plant geek:

Garden Writer Ellen Ashley

•••  Ellen Ashley, garden writer and consultant, was for a time teaching classes at her Summerfield home. In the garden. What could be better than that?! My first encounter was through a Groupon she put out for a discounted class. I took “Shade Gardening” that year, and immediately went home and installed one with lots of Hosta, Ferns, Azaleas, Hellebores, and more lovely plants that thrive in the cool understory of the hardwoods that line the perimeter of my back yard. The next year I took Ellen’s whole series of classes. Just fabulous! She ignited a passion for even more learning in me, which led to my involvement with NC Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program, and the Guilford Horticultural Society. Here are links to Ellen’s Learn to Garden Blog, and her recent profile in 1808. (photo: Derrick Brady)

•••  The next year, I applied for the Master Gardener Volunteer program, and jumped in with both feet. The series of classes are described as like taking a college course every week for 3 months – an accelerated challenge, for sure, and with the latest research-based information out of NC State University and NC A&T University, it’s updated regularly, so most of us continue to take the classes every year as refreshers. But the learning isn’t solely in the classroom, it goes out into the garden at the Guilford County Agricultural Center, 3309 Burlington Road in Greensboro. The demonstration garden is one place where we get to apply the knowledge we’ve gained, and witness the results with hands-on projects in all the themed garden spaces there. If you’ve never visited, please make time to do so in every season! This article in 1808 profiles my mentor in the program, Janet Sommers, and describes why she does it. I’m indebted to her for showing me the ropes and especially for sharing her wisdom about the importance of gardening for pollinators. Greensboro’s bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are thankful, too. Our motto: First we Learn, then we Teach!

•••  I also joined the Guilford Horticultural Society for even more education (just can’t get enough of this stuff!). The group of gardening enthusiasts meets the third Monday of each month, September – May, at the Greensboro Science Center to hear a one-hour speaker on a wide variety of topics. We also look forward to garden tours of both public and private gardens around the Triad, Piedmont, and beyond. The big event each year is the Hort Symposium in late Winter – not to be missed, with nationally-recognized speakers. We also have two plant swaps per year, and an end-of-season picnic. Annual membership is only $25.

Out of all of these connections arose my volunteering with Greensboro Beautiful and Cone Health Cancer Center’s Healing Garden. By this point I had to develop my volunteer gardening roadtrip kit, a little toolbox of hand tools and gloves! More on these organizations in a later post.

So you’re beginning to see the picture – I eat, sleep, garden, and repeat. Bringing Guilford Garden Center back into focus, then, starts to make perfect sense. My plan for relaunching Greensboro’s oldest garden center currently in operation will evolve over time, but includes some things that we’ve already put in place:

Our First Annual Tomato Festival!

  • In their place, we have introduced a Native Plants section.
  • Why natives/what’s all the fuss? These are plants that insects and wildlife have evolved with over time and made use of throughout their life cycles, helping to preserve and support our environment. We’ll conduct classes on landscaping with natives in the future.
  • We’ve also introduced a Rare & Unusual Plants section. It is our goal to surprise you with something new and different each time you visit us.
  • With the help of Landscape Architect Nancy Seay, we’ll be planting a mixed border along Milner Dr & Hunt Club Rd that will feature natives as well as other ornamentals. Pollinator-friendly, it’ll be our own little demonstration garden!
  • Our new logo features a butterfly, and the caption “Where Gardening is Fun”! Emphasis on FUN! Our Events, Classes, and Workshops will be announced soon, to help you have fun while learning new gardening topics. In fact, we’ve already held our first event – the 1st Annual Triad Tomato Festival was held Saturday, July 29 and really brought the fun to everyone’s favorite summer garden staple. The crowd-favorite this year was the Cherokee Purple for “Best Flavor” among the heirloom and hybrid varieties we offered for tasting!

I am so fortunate to have an experienced staff with great horticultural knowledge that can suggest solutions for every garden dilemma. Nan, Shelley, Drew, and Oscar are just the best partners to have in this adventure. And then there are the cats…a story for another day!

— Christina