A Simple Planting Guide for Asheville and Western North Carolina

*Revised for 2024

We have encouraged using your native soil as much as possible for planting. Using the soil you have is, by far, the least costly and most efficient way to get plants in the ground, and so that is still true, to a point.  Unfortunately, for many of us in Western North Carolina our soil is just plain terrible. It’s all clay with little to no topsoil and requires a pick mattock just to get holes dug.

If that’s you, there’s nothing wrong with raised beds, or bringing in topsoil, or perhaps tilling.  Do what you can afford, but for best results, soil that is backbreaking to dig in needs some form of amending.  Plants, in general, need better drainage and oxygen than what most of us have, there’s no getting around it.

There is really no one-size-fits-all solution, but here is a rule of thumb we go by:  If you can use a shovel to dig the hole, it is good enough to grow with just a little tilling or breaking up of the soil by hand, then a good mulch.  If, on the other hand, you need to get out a pick mattock or digging fork, amend the soil with 30-50% soil conditioner, dig the hole nice and wide but no deeper than the rootball, and topdress with mulch, topsoil, or both.

The harder it is to dig the hole, the more you need to amend the native soil and topdress with organic matter.

If the whole area is a real beast to dig in, consider going with raised beds.

Last but not least, choose your plants wisely.  Very few plants actually like dense clay soil, but some plants definitely don’t mind it as much.  Start by looking around your neighborhood and noticing plants that are doing well that catch your eye.  

What about fertilizer?

Fertilizing is a big, unnecessarily confusing topic.  Our clay is rich in nutrients.  The most important thing to worry about when planting isn’t nutrients but drainage and oxygen.

Usually, if a nutrient is missing it’s nitrogen.  The easiest way to make sure your plants are getting the nitrogen they need is with an application of slow-release fertilizer like Ozmocote in spring. Generic bagged 10-10-10 or similar also works, it just may need multiple applications depending on the type of plants you are feeding.

If you have some decent topsoil like in an established bed you’ve been mulching and such, you might not need to fertilize at all.  Definitely give your veggie patch some fertilizer though.

Questions or comments are always welcome:  Email Ryan at flatcreekplants@gmail.com