Preparing the cactus beds

One of my slowest projects has been the new "cactus" beds. I've been growing several cold-hardy Opuntia species in pots -- it's been over a year since I've received those -- and I also have a few Agaves and a Yucca to plant too.

The planting beds have been laid out since late last summer, and I finally got the beds prepped and ready for planting this past weekend. I don't think I've ever spent over a year deciding on a new planting bed before.


What made this a slow, difficult decision for me was that these plants all need lots of sun and really good drainage. If I want them to survive the winter cold, their roots need to stay relatively dry. I've already had some issues with one of the species of potted Opuntias, and have lost a couple of Yucca rostratas and some Agaves that didn't like spending the winter in pots outdoors -- they stayed too wet.

So difficult to get a good shot of a soil mound!

If you remember, my plan for these new beds started with the walkway build last September: the soil I excavated was dumped into mounds, which would eventually become the new cactus beds. I know that mounded soil drains more quickly (as do raised beds) but I knew that wouldn't be enough, as our clay soils still stay too wet.

So I debated how to amend the soil, reading that pea gravel was a good option. I also considered sand.

During that time, I learned that moles like to tunnel through these mounds:

Six months of thought and I decided that a mixture of general purpose sand and small pea gravel would be the way to go based on the materials that were readily available here.

So I dug up the mounds one at a time...

...transferring the soil into the wheelbarrow:

Yep, that's heavy, clay soil.

Then I added lots of the sand and pea gravel:

I made sure it was all thoroughly mixed, and dumped it back into a mound. Then repeated for the next bed:

I should point out that the soil was just dry enough to be nice and mixable. If clay soils are too wet they're sticky and terrible to dig in, and if they're too dry they're extremely hard. When the moisture content is just right though, they're pretty nice to dig in, getting crumbly and almost making you think you have nice soil.

Looks good now, doesn't it?

I only got to amend two of the four mounds, but I'll tackle those other two when the weather permits.

Since I'm still a little concerned about the mole activity, I'll let these sit for a little while and see what happens. I'm hoping they'll stick to the soil that doesn't contain the sand and pebbles, but that's probably  asking for too much. I also want these to settle a little before I plant.

(We got a little rain after I finished these two mounds, and the soil in the top few inches dried out quite quickly -- perfect! We got even more rain yesterday, so I'm eager to check this soil today to see how quickly it dries out.)

I should be able to start planting soon!


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Anonymous –   – (May 28, 2013 at 8:41 AM)  

Nominating you for a liebster award, details here:
I would tell you more but I honestly don't know too much about it myself!

Teri  – (May 28, 2013 at 10:18 AM)  

Looking forward to learning more. I'm wanting to put in a cactus bed for my husband.

Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (May 28, 2013 at 12:34 PM)  

You created the perfect conditions for your succulents to thrive. Coarse sand, pea gravel and native soil (clay) are the same materials we used for our succulent mounds.

Alan  – (May 28, 2013 at 4:23 PM)  

Gerhard: I hope so! I don't know what else I could do, other than plant in pure gravel. :)

danger garden  – (May 29, 2013 at 12:36 AM)  

Things are getting very interesting! Looking forward to the next step...

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