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Previous homeowner landscaped with rocks. Is it best I remove them?

 
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Please let me know if I would be better off posting this in the soil forum or elsewhere.

The previous homeowner landscaped with 3/4"-1" crushed rock.  I would much rather use the area to plant various edible and medicinal plants.  This layer of rock goes deep because it's been there and been added too for decades.  

I built a machine out of a concrete mixer to help sift an area I already worked to remove rocks.  It was very exhaustive and the area still isn't perfectly clean.  I will probably ultimately need to add compost to the area because it's low anyhow.  

Is it worth removing this sized rock?  Is there even an advantage to removing it?!  thanks!

I posted some pics and more info a few posts below
 
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Since you say it is low, maybe that is the reason the rocks were put in that area, sort of like a french drain.

By removing the rocks will there be the potential for water washing across your yard.

Can you tell by looking at what will happen during a really hard rainstorm?

We use white washed rock all around our house because of danger from snakes. It is easier to see snakes on a lighter-colored surface.

To me, there must be a reason someone would spend all that money adding rock to their property?  Maybe it was a driveway?
 
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if there’s such a thick layer that it’s a pain to get through it to plant, that’s an issue, but rock itself can be a decent mulch. it doesn’t break down into plant food like an organic mulch would, but it can shade and conserve water, and the density means it tends to condense water and dribble it down to the soil.
 
Seth Marshall
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Hi Anne, very good points.  I didn't bother to explain everything.  My house was built on the side of a mountain in a pine forest.  Neighbors don't bother with landscaping usually.  

The previous homeowners used rock as a pathway around the entire house.  I see there is landscape fabric that has deteriorated about 4" below, but the ground is full of rocks anyhow.  When removing rock/gravel from one area I gave up after digging two feet down---there was far less rock there but every scoop of the shovel still had a handful of rocks, possible just from the rocky soil.

I don't believe this is for a drain, we have a basement and the foundation was backfilled with the rocky soil they excavated.  The builders did put in a drain pipe, I hope it's still clear.  In Colorado we don't get much rain at all, but obviously tons of snow in winter.  This rock I believe is cosmetic and to serve as a pathway because the homeowners weren't home often.  We do get snakes (including rattlesnakes) but at ~7850' if rare compared to ~5500' just ten minutes away.

This area is low because on one side is our driveway that winds down from above, and the other side is our house.  I do believe I need to build up the soil near the house so snow melt at least drains away.

Now that I've given so many details, I would ultimately love any advice on what to do with the area!  Since this is so close to my house I was thinking edible plants of some sort.  

Greg, thanks for your reply.  I could use the rock as a mulch but if I plan to add compost to this area that would still mean pulling all the rock out and re-applying it on top.  

Here's some photos:






 
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Just going off the info you've given, if it were mine, I would probably just put some planters on top of the gravel; either wine barrel or ceramic planters, or build some raised beds.  If you do raised beds you could remove some of the gravel under the beds, in order to help with soil depth, but it sounds like there is too much gravel there to make it practical to remove it all to make a regular, ground-level garden. What you can grow there would depend how much sun the area gets; herbs and greens don't need a ton of sun, but of course fruiting plants like tomatoes, squash, etc. need a lot of it.

Are those little fenced-off sections existing shrubs?  If so, and you want to keep them, then planters might be more practical than raised beds in that situation. Or a combination of the two, fitting things in where you can around the things you want to keep.

The part next to the driveway that seems to slope down towards the house looks a bit tricky. I don't know anything about drainage from snow-melt, never having lived in that kind of climate, but I would probably pay careful attention there, especially, not to interfere with drainage.
 
pollinator
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If you live in an area where wildfire is/will be a risk, having rock around the house like that could be a good thing. I have been working on hardening my place against fire, and the recommendation is to not have anything flammable within 5 feet of the siding. If you really want to make use of the space to grow things, I would second the suggestion of using planters. Ceramic or galvanized metal with no dry mulch in the top is not a fire hazard - although herbs with oil in the leaves (thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage) will burn readily. Anyway, it is something to consider. I didnt think I lived in a particularly vulnerable area, and then 2020 happened. The climate it is a-changing; the sooner we adapt the easier it will be.
 
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I agree with Carl. As soon as I heard "pine forest" I thought "firebreak."
 
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To me, it would depend how much land I had.  If it's a small area and the part covered with rock is a substantial part of it, then I would go to the trouble to remove as much of it as possible, and I'd certainly remove the fabric.  On the other hand, if I had plenty of land, I would follow Lila's ideas and just put some potted plants or larger planters, and plant the majority of the plants I wanted elsewhere.  In that case, I would just leave the rocks alone.
 
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I have similar situation in several parts of my property that I have done different things to in order to plant.

Right next to my garage is packed gravel on both sides purely as a "landscape" design. That's two 2'x5' area that get a good amount of sunshine and were growing weeds so we put simple 2x6 boards in a rectangle to have a place to add some dirt- not much of a raised bed but I figured I could at least grow herbs. I actually grow a lot in those little boxes and stuff does just fine with a little bit of dirt over all that gravel.

In another spot next to the house was a gravel parking pad for the previous owners' RV. I have no idea how deep that gravel is but it had been maintained with new gravel over the years and under that was the junk they use to backfill new buildings. So that spot got nice large raised beds that are about three feet tall. We filled them first half with chunks of wood and wood chips, hugelkultur style, with garden soil/compost mix on top. Last year we dug them all out to line the bottoms with hardware cloth because voles started tunneling in and decimating the plants. We found that the layer of gravel under the raised beds was actually very soft with rich soil mixed into it.

The third location used to be a ridiculously large parking pad- layers and layers of gravel on top of giant chunks of rock to level it out and raise it above the wetlands it's next to. Since we have no need to park three rows of cars in addition to our driveway, we immediately started dumping loads of organic material like wood chips and straw on top. After over six of years of piling stuff on top, I dug down this past spring to discover it is only one or two inches of dirt to the gravel. I think what happens is as the material breaks down, it washes down into the spaces between the gravel and rock. So this summer we bought yards and yards of dirt and did raised rows, mounding the dirt at least a foot deep and about 3 feet wide. We planted a huge garden in there and most of it did extremely well. We had massive pumpkins that we didn't even water and were planted in a part very shallow dirt. The only things that didn't do well were the sunflowers which ended up being very short and stunted. I don't know if that was the gravel underneath or some unknown variable.

Finally, right next to that, the first year we moved in, we dug down huge holes through the rocks and gravel to plant some trees and bushes. We filled the holes with great soil and I thought that might be enough to give the plants a good start and that maybe as they got bigger, they would eventually push their roots out into gravel. That didn't happen. Everything did very poorly and two years later we dug up the survivors and moved them. But we have had some volunteer trees spring up in that area that are very healthy- and impossible to get rid of since we can't dig up the roots from the compacted gravel!
 
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I think that you should put down some landscape fabric and then 12inches of topsoil/compost.
The total area looks like it is only 40ft x 10ft, so it shouldn't take alot of topsoil

Personally the area is too small, I would focus elsewhere to plant a food forest
 
Seth Marshall
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Thanks everyone!  Before Thanksgiving I was sad no one has responded to my last reply, but a few days later I received such great advice and thoughts.  

Of course I forgot to mention this area is faces South-West so it does receive light.  In the winter it's a good amount of the available sunlight, but in the Summer the area looses direct light around 3pm.  But this area get piping hot up until 3pm.  There is still exposure to the sky so although it doesn't receive direct sunlight it may be bright enough for indirect hungry plants.  Being so close to the house maybe this is perfect for herbs and greens?

I also didn't mentioned the area to the left of the front door I've already removed a ton of rock using the cement mixer tool I built.  As I stared at the area to the right (where I mentioned I wanted to put rain barrels) I'm wondering if it's worth the effect.  By the way, this area is flat even though I believe Lila thought it was sloped.  (Below I ask about possibly leaving the rock as a barrier for Voles?)

Lila, I like the idea of raised beds the most because the area does feel a bit low.  Those cages areas you pointed out were my attempts to protect a Serviceberry tree which got chewed down by a deer (on the far left closer to the driveway is an Aspen tree I'm succeeding in protecting), and an area of strawberries and a Gooseberry plant against the house that haven't quite worked out--I originally hoped it would grow up and take up more space in height against the house.

Carl and Douglas, good points about the firebreak.  I now think that was probably what the home owners intended.  Although, this house is in a pine forest and we have cedar siding.  I can't imagine this area landscaped with rocks would do a whole lot to prevent a full house fire.  If embers blow on to them I imagine they could easily blow onto my roof or in crevices of my siding.  It's good to consider though.  I did intend to plant all the way up to the house.  

Jenny, I too battle with Voles!!  Do you think leaving all the gravel and then building raised beds on top of it would work as good as hardware cloth to help them from burrowing in!?!

S Bengi, I can't imagine I'd want to put down landscape fabric because I'm guessing that would be just another layer of something that needs to be removed in the future... no?

 
Jenny Wright
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Seth Marshall wrote:

Jenny, I too battle with Voles!!  Do you think leaving all the gravel and then building raised beds on top of it would work as good as hardware cloth to help them from burrowing in!?!



I think the gravel was firm enough for the first year but by the second year, the gravel was loosening up from, I assume, all the life, worms and bugs and such. The voles had no issue tunneling in from underneath. It was so frustrating. We debated putting a layer of concrete around the base, or putting down pavers, but we realized they would just tunnel under. So we dug up the dirt and put a layer of stainless steel hardware cloth at the bottom of the boxes. It seems to be working and our boxes are deep enough that the plant roots aren't impeded by it and worms and bugs and water can still easily move through it. I'll try to put a photo below.

You said you tried growing gooseberries. We grow gooseberries and I tried growing them in the gravely areas and they hated it- died or just pouted, barely growing. The best place I've discovered for gooseberries is on the southwest bedge of our woods. We have a woods of evergreen fir trees (not pines but it's probably similar soil to yours with the needles and acidic soil). The gooseberries LOVE it right on the edge. They didn't like it into the woods (I think it's too shady); and the ones I have out in the yard away from the trees and in full sun are pitiful compared to the gooseberries in that sweet edge spot.
 
Seth Marshall
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Jenny, that's great to know about the gravel not stopping the voles.  I guess that's what you meant when you originally said after you dug the raised beds back up you were surprised to see "the layer of gravel under the raised beds was actually very soft with rich soil mixed into it".

I think I'll just go ahead and take out as much of the rocks as I can, and then add hardware cloth where needed.  Even though it sounds like the rocks eventually get integrated with rich soil, I imagine getting it out would be helpful to some degree....?

I don't have any experience with Gooseberries.  Originally I planted strawberries against the house but I didn't realize how little they visually bush upwards--at least the cold weather varieties I choose.  I wanted something to be a bigger hedge against the house but I didn't want the wild raspberry look.  The local nursery had gooseberries so I thought I would try that.  It isn't doing what I wanted, but I'll bet if I tried them on the edges of my pine forests it may do wonderfully.  (By the way, it isn't just pine, it's all sorts of evergreen trees including fir.)

I'd love any advice on what fruiting bushes may do well against the house.  The foundation just feels low here, so maybe I'd want to build up the soil first.  I'd love to have something that train against the house.  Like grapes or Kiwi, but I have no experience with those.   If they can be trained up the house it could provide a lot of shade to cool the walls in the summer.  

I've tried various plants  in this area and the happiest is Luvage which really thrives here.  I want to use Luvage in my yard as green manure, but not necessarily here.  I don't have much need for luvage.
 
Jenny Wright
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Seth Marshall wrote: Jenny, that's great to know about the gravel not stopping the voles.  I guess that's what you meant when you originally said after you dug the raised beds back up you were surprised to see "the layer of gravel under the raised beds was actually very soft with rich soil mixed into it".

I think I'll just go ahead and take out as much of the rocks as I can, and then add hardware cloth where needed.  Even though it sounds like the rocks eventually get integrated with rich soil, I imagine getting it out would be helpful to some degree....?



Yes, I think get as much gravel out of the way as possible.  If I were to start over, I think that I would have asked my neighbor to come over with his backhoe and at least scrape the top layer of the newest gravel off... We could have used it to fill some of the potholes in the road!

Seth Marshall wrote: I don't have any experience with Gooseberries.  Originally I planted strawberries against the house but I didn't realize how little they visually bush upwards--at least the cold weather varieties I choose.  I wanted something to be a bigger hedge against the house but I didn't want the wild raspberry look.  The local nursery had gooseberries so I thought I would try that.  It isn't doing what I wanted, but I'll bet if I tried them on the edges of my pine forests it may do wonderfully.  (By the way, it isn't just pine, it's all sorts of evergreen trees including fir.)

I'd love any advice on what fruiting bushes may do well against the house.  The foundation just feels low here, so maybe I'd want to build up the soil first.  I'd love to have something that train against the house.  Like grapes or Kiwi, but I have no experience with those.   If they can be trained up the house it could provide a lot of shade to cool the walls in the summer.  

I've tried various plants  in this area and the happiest is Luvage which really thrives here.  I want to use Luvage in my yard as green manure, but not necessarily here.  I don't have much need for luvage.



I don't know much about kiwi but I bet grapes would do well against the house.  I don't know how cold hard they have to be for the winter but they'd stay more protected and having them close to the house would mean you could cover the base easily if you have to for winter protection.  My dad has some grapes growing out of a very shallow raised bed.  He made a little box out of 2x4's that's only 1 foot square and his grapes did 10xs better than mine that are planted into the ground.

We have a cold hardy fig, Desert King, growing against our south wall in the junk dirt around the foundation and it is gorgeous and healthy.  Right now it just looks like a nice tree but we will be encouraging it to sprout from the base and get nice and bushy to provide some shade to that wall of the house.  We never get below 20F here and it never dies but if it did, it would resprout from the base and it fruits really quickly.  I've heard of one called Chicago Hardy fig that does really well in the cold.  Our summers aren't hot enough for it but your's probably are.

Not a tree or bush but a tall reseeding pollinator plant, borage, would probably do well next to your house.  I had several growing from the gravel right next to the foundation of our house this year.  Never watered them.  They planted themselves there.
 
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Seth Marshall wrote:Please let me know if I would be better off posting this in the soil forum or elsewhere.

The previous homeowner landscaped with 3/4"-1" crushed rock.  I would much rather use the area to plant various edible and medicinal plants.  This layer of rock goes deep because it's been there and been added too for decades.  

I built a machine out of a concrete mixer to help sift an area I already worked to remove rocks.  It was very exhaustive and the area still isn't perfectly clean.  I will probably ultimately need to add compost to the area because it's low anyhow.  

Is it worth removing this sized rock?  Is there even an advantage to removing it?!  thanks!

I posted some pics and more info a few posts below



Do not worry about it being Perfectly clean, its good to have some in the soil.

Just not so much as to create a hardpan layer, for the plants you want to grow!

You may want to think about termite covers, and also think about having the garden lower than the driveway so you can sweep leaves into the garden.

But the bigger issue for me the red flag, is you want to put rain barrels right next to your fuse box and internet box.
This may make your fuse box hard to access!

 
Seth Marshall
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Hi Jenny, great suggestions!  I will look into the Fig tree, that would be wonderful.  Also, Borage is native here so a great suggestion!  I'm also encouraged about the grapes idea.

Hi Alex, thanks for your thoughts.  I won't obsess about the rocks.  Also, I originally wanted this area higher than the driveway to help drain away from the house, but that's a good point about leaves.  Although I could easily blow them to the other side of the garage  where there's a cliff (or retain them in this garden with a short fence of sorts).

So far I haven't seen termites.  What do you mean by Termite covers?  Do you mean specific plants that would deter them?

The breaker box is actually on the other side of that wall, but the electrical connections do worry me.  There is room for an IBC tote far enough away to still allow access to those connections, but they would be a bigger eye sore.  I believe two rain barrels stacked would be tucked back enough to be hidden and still allow plenty of room.  It's just the electricity that concerns me.

Thanks everyone for helping me think through this!!!

 
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I'll just add another thought. In my polytunnel I have been sifting out the stones of my soil. (It's not normally stony, so I think something must have caused some broken rock here). I added them to the paths to give a 'cleaner' surface. In the spring when I water the beds to start growing stuff, the paths get watered too. It is in the paths that I have the best germination of seedlings! Just weeds and things, some are edible some not. I think the stones give a lot of thermal resiliance - keeping hold of the daytime heat so the seeds get an early summer. If you sow from seed, sometimes you need very little soil for them to get started. It does make it difficult for root crops and for digging, but given a top dressing for nutrient provision, I think many plants would do fine.
I would however also remove the landscaping fabric which will make a nasty barrier to root growth.....Just doing that may mix in the stones enough to loosen things up.
 
Seth Marshall
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Hi Nancy, yes, I'd like to use some of the bigger rocks to store thermal mass.  Once I finally get a greenhouse using the smaller rocks in some way could be great, so long as it doesn't create another timely issue where I need to clean them up again.  Building a greenhouse is a priority but I feel like I need something with an insulated north wall because of the altitude and zone I'm in.  I could be overthinking it, but so long as I build something I want it to be good for extending the growing season.
 
Jenny Wright
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On the subject of termites, if you do build a raised bed, do not let any of that wood touch the wood of your house. Our cement foundation is tall and so our short raised beds only touch cement far below where our wood starts on the house. Our tall raised beds are two feet away from the house. The times that I see termites and evidence of termites in my garden is when I have two pieces of wood sandwiched together so definitely avoid that kind of situation!
 
Seth Marshall
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Hi Jenny, great advice.  I need to talk to neighbors because I haven't heard of or seen indications of termites in my area.  Any idea what Alex meant by "termite covers"?  

Earlier in this thread I said the foundation feels high, but it's really only about one foot off the ground before the cedar siding starts.  What I meant to say was it just feels bare on the lower part of the house so I wanted these bushes/plants to give some life to it.  

I mentioned creating a berm on the side of the house.  If I do that is it simple enough to make sure I keep any wood or wood chips away from that wall?  Or would it be best to dig a small trench behind this berm and keep it clear of debris?  
 
Alex Moffitt
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Seth Marshall wrote:Hi Jenny, great advice.  I need to talk to neighbors because I haven't heard of or seen indications of termites in my area.  Any idea what Alex meant by "termite covers"?  

Earlier in this thread I said the foundation feels high, but it's really only about one foot off the ground before the cedar siding starts.  What I meant to say was it just feels bare on the lower part of the house so I wanted these bushes/plants to give some life to it.  

I mentioned creating a berm on the side of the house.  If I do that is it simple enough to make sure I keep any wood or wood chips away from that wall?  Or would it be best to dig a small trench behind this berm and keep it clear of debris?  



I just though it would be worth considering the potential risk of termites, to your home, and thinking about how things like wood chip and moisture could house termites, Thus the use of termite membranes. Which are like the plastic material used to line ponds!

You can google termite barriers, it will come up!

I have to say been some great discussion!

Regards,
Alex
 
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