QBARS - v17n4 The Usefulness of Paper and Kitchen Refuse in Rhododendron Planting

The Usefulness of Paper and Kitchen Refuse In Rhododendron Planting
F. W. Schumacher, Sandwich, Mass.

The disposal of waste paper and kitchen refuse is a problem with every household located in outlying suburban or country districts. For people working with plants, disposal of this refuse can be turned into a blessing by composting these waste products, or by using them to convert into humus in planting holes as we have done for a good many years.
Our soil is naturally acid suiting the requirement of blueberries which grow in a profusion of natural species and forms all over the place. The soil varies from clay, rich clay loam, to sandy loam, New England brown soil to sand.
Our place, being on a hill rising from tidal flats to about 75 feet, has good drainage almost everywhere with the exception of some clay pockets which we avoid for rhododendrons. Holes are dug according to the size of the plants they are going to receive. They are prepared usually well in advance of planting, yet no adverse effect is encountered when plants are set in freshly prepared holes.
From one to many bushels of soil are removed. The surface sod is set aside as well as the top and subsoil parts. The bottom of the hole is loosened as far down as possible with a spading fork.
As kitchen refuse or paper rubbish, including cardboard containers, newspapers or magazines, becomes available, it is dumped into the holes, layer after layer, a layer of rubbish alternating with a thin layer of soil cut down from the sides of the hole or taken from the subsoil pile. Everything is tramped down well. We find a few tin cans admissible as safeguard against iron deficiency. They are crushed with shovel or spade against the sides or bottom of the hole. If the soil is poor, each layer of rubbish receives a handful of ordinary garden fertilizer. We never had an unfavorable reaction regardless of the type of nitrogen it contains. (Many fertilizer brands simply state the nitrogen percentage, not the type of nitrogen actually used.) The fertilizer is broken down with the decay of the organic matter below the root zone of the new plant which, eventually, will extend its roots into the fertilized zone.

Too Deep Planting Avoided
If the plant has a soil ball, as it usually has, the ball is placed high enough, with all the available soil replaced plus some added humus matter, peat or peat moss, to prevent later settling below the surrounding soil level. A mulch of anything readily available nearby, sod parts, leaf mold or pine needles first removed from the planting area, is placed around the plant and water is applied if necessary.
We find that this procedure, for the first season at least, exerts a beneficial influence as moisture reserve below the new plant. The paper absorbs moisture to the fullest extent, at times even becomes soggy. The moisture, presumably by capillary action, is carried upward. If, in a dry spell, the plant needs watering later, a limited amount to moisten the original soil ball will suffice. Bacterial action soon reduces the organic matter in the hole to humus. In the second year, usually only vestiges of the paper refuse can be found. The organic matter ceases to be the reserve of moisture it had been for the first year. But a remarkable soil improvement has taken place, the soil in the hole has changed from a crumbly subsoil consistency into granular, friable compost soil, well aerated and capable of moisture absorption.
With this initial procedure, we find our azaleas and rhododendrons prospering year after year with no extra watering or fertilizing after they are established, except for watering when plants, in a severe dry spell, indicate their need for moisture. Nor did we ever observe any instances of plantings becoming water-logged after heavy precipitations as might be expected.
The organic matter used in the holes comes from widely varying sources, most of it, of course, from woodland origins, as the paper matter concerned. Some of it, as the kitchen refuse, from sources all over the globe.
We may rightly assume that the organic matter involved at least contains all the trace elements a plant ever may require plus some of the secondary as well 'as primary nutrients in small amounts.
After having used this method of planting for many years, we feel we can recommend it for general use on suitable planting sites.