Spring projects sprout this time of year. March is a good time to restore and rejuvenate an old lawn, start some raised beds for vegetables and weed and mulch the flower and shrub beds to keep out future weeds and conserve soil moisture.
These spring projects will require soil and mulch resources — so here is the garden gossip. Buying soil can be a dirty business. The sale of “ topsoil” is not a regulated industry in our state.
Take time to educate yourself and ask questions before you purchase topsoil for landscape or lawn renovation projects. Readers tell me the biggest consumer complaint about buying topsoil, bark or compost are that those products can be contaminated with horse tail or other noxious weeds. Consumers have also reported on having a load of “soil” delivered that is full of large rocks, building debris such as nails and sheet rock and even undecomposed food scraps and garbage.
Gardeners in Western Washington are lucky to have many vendors of soil, compost and mulches with excellent reputations that have been in business for many years. Here are some tips from successful soil companies that have managed to keep their products weed- and debris-free and their customers happy over the years:
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1. Ask if the company does product testing and how often it tests the soil. Jami Burke is a horticulturist who helps create the compost and topsoil at the indoor compost-making operation for Corliss Resources, based in Sumner. “Our soil is tested quarterly, and we undergo strict testing as a registered organic material with the Washington state Department of Agriculture. Constant monitoring of the heat and oxygen is key to creating clean, weed-free compost,” said Burke. Corliss Resources also sells topsoil that mixes its own weed-free compost with sand and loam, and offers both a two-way mix suitable for lawn renovation and a three-way mix for landscaping and garden beds. Find them at corlissresources.com.
2. Ask what goes into the product and where the ingredients come from. Jason Gwerder makes mountains of Moo Doo on his family farm in Enumclaw, using only the resources from their organically fed and free-range cow, calf and dairy operation. “We have a closed-loop system for feeding and caring for our animals. We know our manure-based mulching product will be weed-free because we heat our product to 180 degrees and age it for two to five years. We don’t truck in raw materials, so we know exactly what goes into our Moo Doo — it all comes from our organic farm from start to finish,” he said. Find Hy Grass Farms at hygrassfarms.com/moodoo.
3. Ask where the product is created and who oversees the operation. Tagro consists of municipal sludge or biosolids recycled by the city of Tacoma into a mix with sawdust and bark that can be added as an amendment to lawns and garden beds. Tagro is not sold as a topsoil but rather as a product to improve existing soils. Tagro is made on site in Tacoma and is available for pick up or delivery. Donald Boe is the local Tagro expert and explains that creating Tagro is a dual-digestion process that uses beneficial organisms to digest the solids and also a three-temperature phase heat cycle to remove odor, weeds and other pathogens. Tagro is tested and graded by the EPA and has earned a Class A ranking for exceptional quality. Find the company at tagro.com.
Consumers should visit companies’ websites to understand what they offer. Consumers also need to know that finding occasional clods or dirt lumps, small rocks or a bit of stringy material in a load of compost or topsoil does not detract from the overall quality of the product. What you should be concerned about are visible weeds (especially horsetail), undecomposed branches, fresh manure, cigarette butts, plastic pieces or any undecomposed food scraps.
ALL THE DIRT ON WORDS TO KNOW:
Compost: A soil amendment of well-rotted organic matter often made from collected yard waste. Compost can be used to improve existing soils and is excellent for raised bed vegetable gardens.
Two-way mix: Usually a mix of compost and sand. This is the best for layering on top of a well-aerated lawn and sprinkling lawn seeds on top for lawn renovation. The sand in the mix means it will drain well and can be used to rake over moss and low spots in the lawn.
Three-way mix or five-way mix: Compost, sand and loam plus — in some cases — sawdust and bark. This creates a soil that holds water better than a two-way mix but drains better than a compost. Good for creating planting berms for trees and shrubs, and for growing vegetables and flowers.
Mulch: Anything that goes on top of the soil to block out weeds and seal in moisture. In some areas, rocks and gravel are used as a mulch, but in Western Washington bark and wood chips are the most common mulching materials.
Composted manure: Western Washington is dairy country and well-composted dairy manure is available from some local farmers for use as a soil amendment and in some cases as a weed-blocking mulch. To avoid weed seeds, the manure should be heated in a pile and aged so that it is well-rotted.