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Digging my own Ditch for Thirsty Elderberry Bushes

 
Posts: 89
Location: Central Arkansas zone 7b
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About a month ago, I made 25 elderberry cuttings from a few wild plants along my neighbor's fence line. They are sitting in jars of water in my outside storage room. But, I don't really have a good place to plant them where they will get enough water. The soil here is sandy and our summers are hot. I'm thinking they are going to need their own ditch so I've walked back and forth all over our two point five acres and have found the lowest spot, a little swale really, that I'll just have to dig out more and put a berm at the lower end.

I'm honestly not sure that will work. I can water them, and fill up the little swale, with our city water until they are established but I don't know if that's sustainable or even practical. The wild elderberries around here are all in drainage ditches. I know I could continue to harvest berries from the wild ones, but they're not on my property and I live in a fast growing area where new neighborhoods are popping up everywhere. I really want this to work! Do I need to dig a bonafide ditch? Like a big one? Or put them in a giant hugel bed? Again, I really want this to work!
 
Posts: 121
Location: Gulf Islands BC (zone 8)
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In your situation I would build an underground hugel.  Dig your swale, perhaps a little deeper than you had intended, fill the bottom with wood that will help to hold water, then partly refill, leaving the whole thing a little lower than the surrounding ground to help it trap water.

If you had access to some clay or anything else that would line the bottom of the hole to slow the loss of water (but not completely sealing it, as you don't want the plants sitting in a pond) that might help cut down your irrigation requirements too.
 
Carol Denton
Posts: 89
Location: Central Arkansas zone 7b
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Thank you Andrea. I was thinking somewhat along those lines. I do have a smallish two year old hugel bed that I didn't have to water but once or twice last summer. Our ground is pretty rocky in places and I wonder if lining the bottom of the swale with rocks would slow down the drainage a bit. Of course that means a deeper hole, lol.  I know I have a lot of work ahead of me but I'm determined! Early last fall I planted one elderberry cutting that I bought. We had cut down a dying sweet gum tree and had the stump ground down so I figured near that might be a good place to plant the cutting. It's still alive, so fingers crossed.
 
Andrea Locke
Posts: 121
Location: Gulf Islands BC (zone 8)
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I feel that rocks by themselves will have limited ability to slow your drainage, perhaps layers of large rocks combined with soil with a small particle size and 'sticky' when wet, like clay, dispersed around/over the rocks. That may reduce the amount of 'sticky' soil you'd need to use to seal the gaps between rocks. If you had access to cardboard, especially waxed cardboard and layered that under the rocks and sticky soil, that would be even better.

It occurred to me too, if you had some material with higher organic matter that could amend your native sandy soil when topping up the hole to your desired level, that would also help hold water. If you could add compost or manure or shredded leaves that would increase the organic content of the soil and its ability to intercept/retain moisture.
 
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Question..  How do you raise the "blue" elderberries that are native here?  They seem to be very picky compared to the darker berried varieties.
Does anyone have experience with establishing these?  Our soil is clay. Zone 5. Idaho    
The buried hugel just might work with these... thank you.
 
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Cindy Loos wrote:Question..  How do you raise the "blue" elderberries that are native here?  They seem to be very picky compared to the darker berried varieties.
Does anyone have experience with establishing these?  Our soil is clay. Zone 5. Idaho    
The buried hugel just might work with these... thank you.


I will also be interested in this answer because I am in Utah, clay soil, zone 6A. I would presume what works for you will work for me! My general guide for growing things in clay soil is simple, add more organic matter. I will often take the smaller branches from pruning and dig a one foot deep ditch, place a layer of trimmings in the bottom, return the soil and mulch heavily. Always on contour. It may not help, but it certainly doesn't hurt.
 
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