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Old 12-10-2018, 11:29 PM   #1
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Default My School's Green Energy Park / Serpentine Grassland Garden?

In my introduction I mentioned I had a project I was planning with my teacher for my school. I take an engineering class in my high school. One of the classes I'm taking in engineering is Green Energy. There's a park that's currently being built outside of the classroom to educate the community about sustainable energy. It has a medium sized wind turbine, about 60 feet tall I guess, and solar panels above the windows of the classroom, on the shed, and on poles on front of the shed. There was also a garden being planned and I overheard about it. I was interested and asked for the list. I recognized the plants on the list were unfit for the location. The location is sunny, facing southeast, the soil is dry and rocky. It's right next to a road and parking lot. There were also plants that were far too tall that would obstruct the solar panels. Here is the original list that was made by the teacher and another student:
Lady Fern
Hinoki Cypress
Hosta Aphrodite
Dogwood (Unspecified)
Blushing Bride Protea
Sweet Woodruff
Japanese Spurge / Pachysandra
Oakleaf Hydrangea
Blue Girl Holly
St. John's Wort (Unspecified)
PJM Golga (My guess is this is an Azalea "P.J.M. x Rhododendron")
Endless Summer Hydrangea
Compact Pine (Unspecified)
Lilyturf
Japanese Star... (...Jasmine is my guess)
Japanese Maple

A very Japanese garden! And also a garden that needs shade and moisture. It's the same garden from the nearby hospital. It's a very nice garden! It would do well on the north side of the building, but a couple of the Japanese Maples there have died for an unknown reason, and the gardens seem untended with bittersweet nightshade and more decorative black mulch, dotted with a little green, to see than anything else.

I'm now helping with the Green Energy Garden Project and the teacher's proud of my knowledge for using native plants adapted for the site. I told him it wouldn't be the typical garden with five miles of mulch between the person and the small, perfectly round and bald-looking topiary. I said it would be a wildlife garden for birds and butterflies, and of course for people to look at. He told me not to worry too much on the budget, but he also said he would like the project to win a grant from the state DEP. However, while the grant from the DEP would definitely help, in an email I recieved from the conversation between us and the DEP, it said applications are due Jan 11, Awarded in April, and the projects have to begin in July. July is not an ideal gardening time, especially when my sources contain seeds. My teacher and I want this project to begin in April of 2019. I may have to limit plant choices, find deals, and make it easy on my fellow students so there isn't as much tottering around. Or the project can be delayed until October of 2019, which I really hope it won't be. He wants to put this video from onto a kiosk that's going next to a path, even if we don't live in the prairie it fits in with promoting the planting of native plants. Youtube: Prairie Moon Nursery - The Circle of Life

I have made list after list trying to top the last, but now I believe I have made it! My last few lists were built on what I knew about the site and a few guesses at first, and the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Index, but more information slowly became evident. The most important to me was identifying the plants that were there already: A White Heath Aster or Calico Aster, Lyrate Rockcress, and something from the mint family creeping against the building itself, as well as other mint species scattered on the turf. Of course there were dandelions, too. The soil is gravelly in some places, some with rocks so big it can't be rototilled. It may all have to be dug with shovels. My plan is to remove all of the sod and create more paths. The area is around 10,000 square feet so it's a ton of work, and I have a whole class to work with. It's winter now, so the soil's frozen. The class is installing a fence right now (very slowly) and setting concrete, so I think it's possible but likely tougher than it should be.

I looked at my state's natural heritage website and found plants for a Serpentine Grassland. Serpentine Grasslands aren't too far from me (they're in and around Chester and Lancaster County). I also had a look at Natureserve's website for the Serpentine Grassland. Here's the list I've compiled today:
Bushes
Juniperus virginiana Red Cedar 'Poyo' or 'Grey Owl'
Rosa Carolina Carolina Rose
Grasses
Schizachyrium scoparium Little Bluestem
Sorghastrum nutans Indiangrass
Eragrostis spectabilis Purple Love-Grass
Andropogon gerardi Big Bluestem
Sporobolus heterolepis Prairie Dropseed
Bouteloua curtipendula Sideoats Grama
Forbs
Vernonia noveboracensis New York Ironweed
Achillea millefolium occidentalis Western Yarrow
Senecio smallii / Packera anonyma Small's Ragwort
Oenothera fruticosa tetragona Sundrops
Symphyotrichum lateriflorum Calico Aster
Ageratina aromatica Lesser Snakeroot
Potentilla simplex Common Cinquefoil
Asclepias viridis Green Comet Milkweed / Spider Milkweed
Asclepias verticillata Whorled Milkweed
Phlox subulata Creeping Phlox
Solidago nemoralis Gray Goldenrod
Antennaria plantaginifolia Plantain-leaved Pussytoes

There are also some plants I'd like to add for interest such as Campanula rotundifolia, Opuntia humifusa (Oceanic orange flowered type), Muhlenbergia capillaris, Penstemon hirsutus, Helianthus divaricatus, Hairy Lip Fern, and others.

In my introduction post I also mentioned it included companion plants. I only know that yarrow is well paired with milkweeds to prevent aphids and that grasses should make up 50% or more of the total plants to support the other taller plants. It's planned to be a grassland after all. Is it okay to ask for a critique of my list and for some help on which plant goes with what? I think it needs more colors, preferably perennials. I was able to find a source for most of these plants, but I couldn't find a reliable online source to buy Lesser Snakeroot, Small's Ragwort, and Common Cinquefoil (which are all probably insignificant to the project, maybe not the Ragwort though).

If things fall through (this "Serpentine Grassland Garden" likely will. I'm not too sharp with this sort of stuff yet) other considerations are Wild Bergamot, Eastern Purple Coneflower, a Rudbeckia species, Butterfly Milkweed, a Joe-Pye species, Hoary Mountain Mint, Highbush Blueberry with Sweet-Fern, and others that may be listed already.

I'd like to make the garden plan after I'm sure I know which plants the garden will definitely have (but that doesn't stop me from wanting to imagine it! It's nice to dream, but what good would that do?)

Natureserve - Little Bluestem / Prairie Dropseed Serpentine Grassland
Quote:
Originally Posted by Concept Author(s): G. Podniesinski, A. Leimanis, and J. Ebert (1999)
Element Description Edition Date: 21Sep2005
Element Description Author(s): G. Podniesinski, A. Leimanis, J. Ebert, M. Anderson
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 21Sep2005
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author(s): L.A. Sneddon and E.F. Largay
This serpentine grassland community of Pennsylvania and Maryland is associated with soils derived from weathered serpentine bedrock. It typically occurs on mid to upper slopes on very shallow (0-10 cm deep) stony or gravelly sand or silt loam soils.
Natureserve - Indiangrass / Little Bluestem Serpentine Grassland
Quote:
Originally Posted by Concept Author(s): G. Podniesinski, A. Leimanis, and J. Ebert (1999)
Element Description Edition Date: 21Sep2005
Element Description Author(s): G. Podniesinski, A. Leimanis, J. Ebert, M. Anderson
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 21Sep2005
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author(s): L.A. Sneddon and E.F. Largay
This serpentine grassland community of Pennsylvania and Staten Island, New York, is associated with soils derived from weathered serpentine bedrock. It occurs over shallow (15-25 cm deep) silt loam to clay loam soils on low to mid slopes with a northerly aspect.
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Old 12-10-2018, 11:55 PM   #2
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You are doing a wonderful job Podo.

The only plant you might want to consider eliminating from your list would be the Red Cedar cultivar.

The Wild Bergamot, Eastern Purple Coneflower, Rudbeckia, Butterfly Milkweed, Joe-Pye, Hoary Mountain, and Sweet Fern would all be lovely additions.
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Old 12-11-2018, 09:00 AM   #3
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You may also wish to consider Virginia mountain-mint, Pycnanthemum virginianum. It's easy to grow from seed, loves sunny-dry, is pretty and of medium height, and attracts loads of native wasps.
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Old 12-11-2018, 05:27 PM   #4
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Myself... I don't know if I'd introduce the Campanula as it is considered an invasive weed by most people, despite its attractive flowers. Just sayin.... You might want to look into that one a bit more but WOW you've done your homework quite well and....Welcome to wildlife gardeners.
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Old 12-12-2018, 02:48 PM   #5
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Kudos to you for all of your work on stimulating interest in native plants! Best wishes on your project.

There is a short Doug Tallamy video on the value of native plants that you and your teacher might find interesting:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLn5UCM_tv8

He is a leading advocate for planting native plants, and a lot of his presentations have been recorded and are available on youtube:
https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=doug+tallamy
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Old 12-12-2018, 07:35 PM   #6
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I've made a new observation yesterday. While my classmates were digging holes for a fence post, they were digging 18 inches down, I picked up and felt the soil. The soil had some malleability to it. It was medium-dry with stones in it that ranged from the size of large grained sand to the size of a potato. There were also some bricks over a foot underground. The soil at the site is backfill from when the school was built. The area has some gravel too, but I wouldn't say the soil is gravelly in its entirety.

After school, I collected two containers of soil from the site and tested one of the samples. I filled a jar with water and the sample of soil, then shook it. I let it settle overnight. At first I didn't know to what I was looking at. I thought I saw four layers and had no idea what that meant. I thought the top two layers were two types of clay, and the bottom was a little bit of silt and sand. I looked online, and accoring to the USDA websoilsurvey, I've got that wrong. It's silt loam. I haven't tested for Ph, but the USDA websoilsurvey shows that surrounding areas range from as acidic as 4.9 to as basic as 6.3, but 5 would be the average Ph of this corner of the school property. The amount of CaCO3 is unknown in the zone. Surrounding soil zones have no calcium carbonate, so it's likely this site doesn't either. No gypsum is in the soil either. The website says that the grounds are good for hand-planting.

Today my teacher made the suggestion of a koi pond, just like the one he had seen at the hospital. I played with the idea of a pond in my head before, because I was thinking: "Where there's water, there's life!" It would benefit wildlife greatly, giving birds a spot to drink and bathe, however administration at my school has experience with water features. They don't want water features because of the homeless population's previous interactions with the school. A fence hasn't stopped a few. A pond in this "Serpentine Grassland" themed garden would also need a new list of plants and extra care, and there would be no koi fish. I haven't done much reading into making a wildlife pond, but a lot of water, I'm guessing, comes with a lot of life. I backed off the idea a while ago.

I made the suggestion of a bug hotel / bug house, then my teacher said woodshop can help us with it. However, after a tiny bit of reading I found out it would be great! But also it would need to be cleaned yearly. I also read about how to correctly and incorrectly build one. I'd need to request that it can't be made with treated wood. The site is southeast facing which I read was good. I think a butterfly hotel would do nicely. Depending on how far apart these bug houses should be, a bee house and ladybug house would be splendid. I wonder if it can be done for lightning bugs, too.

Working with my classmates on the fence is hectic. There's some gaps between some endpoints and a wall I hope to fill with a tall grass. Something tall and stiff. I'm thinking Indiangrass. The teacher wants a shrub, but all I have on my list is the Carolina Rose. It could work.

I'd like to add Lilium philadelphicum, Wood Lily, to the list of plants that could possibly go into the garden/park. It's a very beautiful flower.


Quote:
Originally Posted by TheLorax View Post
You are doing a wonderful job Podo.

The only plant you might want to consider eliminating from your list would be the Red Cedar cultivar.

The Wild Bergamot, Eastern Purple Coneflower, Rudbeckia, Butterfly Milkweed, Joe-Pye, Hoary Mountain, and Sweet Fern would all be lovely additions.
Thank you for the reply! Why should I remove the Red Cedar from my list? I completed reading the articles I had linked and quoted. Is it because they change the ecology and soil composition over time? Or is it because they're cultivars? I think I was only able to find a few plants as cultivars (Sundrops ssp tetragona), though now I may have found a nearby nursery that holds a lot of the plants I had listed as wild types. The site itself can't hold a wild type red cedar. It would obstruct the solar panels.

Quote:
Originally Posted by amelanchier View Post
You may also wish to consider Virginia mountain-mint, Pycnanthemum virginianum. It's easy to grow from seed, loves sunny-dry, is pretty and of medium height, and attracts loads of native wasps.
Thank you for the suggestion.

Quote:
Originally Posted by havalotta View Post
Myself... I don't know if I'd introduce the Campanula as it is considered an invasive weed by most people, despite its attractive flowers. Just sayin.... You might want to look into that one a bit more but WOW you've done your homework quite well and....Welcome to wildlife gardeners.
Thank you for the welcome and the warning. I read about Harebells and got mixed messages. Something about a European one being aggressive, but the Common one also vigorous, or sometimes not.

Quote:
Originally Posted by NEWisc View Post
Kudos to you for all of your work on stimulating interest in native plants! Best wishes on your project.

There is a short Doug Tallamy video on the value of native plants that you and your teacher might find interesting:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLn5UCM_tv8

He is a leading advocate for planting native plants, and a lot of his presentations have been recorded and are available on youtube:
https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=doug+tallamy
Thank you very much for the info. I'll definitely show my teacher the video and watch some myself, too.
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My School's Green Energy Park / Serpentine Grassland Garden?-20181212_063334.jpg   My School's Green Energy Park / Serpentine Grassland Garden?-20181212_063131.jpg   My School's Green Energy Park / Serpentine Grassland Garden?-w_g_rotate.jpg  

Last edited by Podo; 12-13-2018 at 02:59 PM. Reason: Removed a leftover from my draft of this post.
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Old 12-13-2018, 07:12 PM   #7
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Quote:
"Today my teacher made the suggestion of a koi pond,"

Always the liability that comes along with building a pond.

The Attractive Nuisance Doctrine.
"A doctrine in tort law under which a landowner may be liable for injuries to children who trespass on land if the injury results from a hazardous object or condition on the land that is likely to attract children who are unable to appreciate the risk posed by the object or condition."
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Old 12-14-2018, 08:21 PM   #8
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I love your enthusiasm and assertiveness...and I love all of the feedback you are getting here.
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Old 12-19-2018, 10:28 PM   #9
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You are off to a great start! Think of the way the plants fit together biologically, what role and space they occupy, and you can kind of make a sketch how it will all fit together, and then fill in specific plants later by which role they fill. For example, in the soil, grasses have fibrous roots at a medium to deep depth, some plants like milkweed have deep tap roots that take up little lateral space, some have shallow rhizomes like golden ragwort. Then there is the height and growth habit of the plant, does it stand up stiff and tall, or grow prostrate between other plants, etc? The season the plant grows (warm season/cool season/bloom time)? Finally, how long does the plant live and complete its lifecycle like an annual, biennial, short lived perennial or long lived perennial?
Is growing from seed an option? You can prepare your planting area, seed it, mulch it lightly, and then plant containerized plants for types that are slow growing like Baptisia and some of the grasses which you may want to plant right away with some mature plants to give the garden some structure at first. You should add nitrogen fixing legumes too by the way. Senna, Desmodium, Astragalus, Lespedeza, Dalia come to mind.
You might want to look into solarizing the planting area instead of digging it. Spraying it is an option although a less attractive one. Digging up the whole thing could possibly introduce a weed problem by bringing up buried seeds. I've also seen a recommendation to remove the top 2" of soil with a sod cutter or skid stear, then use clean fill or top soil, then seed and plant your garden. Whatever you decide, be sure to put a priority on site preparation. That doesnt mean compost or fertilizer, less soil fertility will favor the plants you described over weeds and trees. Keep up the good work!
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Old 12-20-2018, 05:23 PM   #10
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I've come up with a plan to start the project, which I asked to be delayed to mid and late 2019. I have much more confidence in this time and hope to keep in contact with the grant writer and my teacher until then. I have until January 10th/11th 2019 to come up with a full plan. I've had one for a bit now, but I must refine it and add details. I'm very open to suggestions on this and I'd really appreciate any help.

Here is my plan:

What it's about:
An area around 15,000 square feet will be turned into my school's "Sustainable Green Energy Park." Currently it's all grass turf, dandelions, dotted with a Symphyotrichum, lyrate rockcress, and a few mints I think. It is medium-dry, silt-loam with a few rocks here and there. The soil is backfill. The pH ranges from 4 to 5, sometimes 6. The goal is to make this into a meadow of a variety of native grasses, forbs, and shrubs similar (not exactly) those found in the Serpentine Barrens of southeastern Pennsylvania.

Steps:
Rent a roto-tiller and till the sod. The soil is somewhat rocky, so I need to find a strong and well built roto-tiller to rent. The roto-tiller I found tills 14" into the earth, which sounds too deep to me and has me anxious of hitting a brick (which my classmates have found 16" below the surface while anchoring the fence posts). I'll continue looking online for well built and strong roto-tillers to rent.

(Middle step I don't know where to place: I think I should add Magnesium to the soil. The pH is very acidic. The soil also needs to contain a lot of magnesium to be like a serpentine barren. I can't find a source of serpentine to add to the soil. I was thinking of adding Epsom Salt to the soil through watering in the next step, but that won't raise the pH to 6 where I'd like it to be, or at least not as easily as I think. Does Epsom Salt really not change soil pH? Epsom salt's pH ranges from 5-6, which is great, but will it make the site's soil 5-6? All of the plants on my plants very much enjoy the pH level 6. If I don't adjust the soil pH, the only thing left would be the Gray Goldenrod and Purple Love-grass, and while they're a pleasant duo, this garden is a representative of local biodiversity. I'm not sure how to feel about lime. While it brings calcium, the piedmont upland doesn't naturally have a lot of calcium and a few of these plants grow best in areas of soil with low calcium. However, adding lime would raise the pH in a jiffy along with magnesium.)

After roto-tilling, the soil will be well watered and solarization film applied for one month. It's a very sunny area. It has solar panels just for that reason. This can be done in July, which is an excellent time to solarize soils from the beaming sunlight. However, solarization is done for one month. Planting seeds, plugs, and pots in August isn't ideal. Late September or October is the goal time for planting. Plant orders can be made over the summer and shipped then in Fall, I think.

After all of the roto-tilling, pH adjusting, and solarization, it's time to plant in the prime time of Autumn. Here is the updated list:

Short Shrubs:
Pasture Rose
Lowbush Blueberry
Sweetfern

Grasses:
Little Bluestem
Sideoats Grama
Indiangrass

Prairie Dropseed
Purple Lovegrass
Gulf Muhly
Big Bluestem

Forbs:
Virginia and/or Hoary Mountain Mint
Woman's Tobacco
Western Yarrow
Whorled Milkweed
Wood Lily
Eastern Prickly Pear
Golden Ragwort
Sundrops
Gray Goldenrod
Woodland Sunflower
Moss Phlox
Common Harebell
Aromatic Aster
Hairy Penstemon
New York Ironweed
Purple Coneflower
Wild Bergamot

The grasses will be bought as both seed and in pots (to make the land seem less bald, and there's mature plants that can repopulate if grass seed germination goes terribly wrong somehow). The grass seeds will be used to cover as much of the tilled land as possible. I need to calculate the least amount possible needed to pay for this garden, and if every square foot were a plant: that's 15,000 of 1$ plants. So I had these immediate thoughts in my head afterwards: I could plant a 2$ plant every other foot, or a 3$ plant every third food, a 4$ plant every 4th foot and so on. And then I could "crowd" all of the "used" square feet near the paths so that people visiting the garden can see the plants, and have nice grasses and taller flowers waving in the back. Also: If these plants are going to spread to fill space in the future, there needs to be at least two of them near eachother to make seeds.

I almost forgot that the grass seed has a better chance of survival with mulch. I don't know how much mulch to get, but I was seeing costs if 3,000$ and 8,000$ just to mulch 15,000 square feet! The teacher said the grant could be 20,000$, and spending half of the grant money on mulch alone sounds insane to me. However, I don't know how tall that person did their mulch. I was thinking about a one inch layer of straw mulch. Pine or some other form of straw. I've read that it's a myth that pine mulch acidifies soil. I don't think I can ask the school maintenance for grass clippings because those would contain the seeds of european clover, dandelions, and more.

I think there's something I'm forgetting, but this is my update for now. I'm sorry for not updating earlier. It's been one of those weeks. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Quote:
Originally Posted by havalotta View Post
Quote:
"Today my teacher made the suggestion of a koi pond,"

Always the liability that comes along with building a pond.

The Attractive Nuisance Doctrine.
"A doctrine in tort law under which a landowner may be liable for injuries to children who trespass on land if the injury results from a hazardous object or condition on the land that is likely to attract children who are unable to appreciate the risk posed by the object or condition."
I should warn him about this. My town has a law about ponds, pools, and fences because of children.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dapjwy View Post
I love your enthusiasm and assertiveness...and I love all of the feedback you are getting here.
Thank you!

Quote:
Originally Posted by skip1909 View Post
You are off to a great start! Think of the way the plants fit together biologically, what role and space they occupy, and you can kind of make a sketch how it will all fit together, and then fill in specific plants later by which role they fill. For example, in the soil, grasses have fibrous roots at a medium to deep depth, some plants like milkweed have deep tap roots that take up little lateral space, some have shallow rhizomes like golden ragwort. Then there is the height and growth habit of the plant, does it stand up stiff and tall, or grow prostrate between other plants, etc? The season the plant grows (warm season/cool season/bloom time)? Finally, how long does the plant live and complete its lifecycle like an annual, biennial, short lived perennial or long lived perennial?
Is growing from seed an option? You can prepare your planting area, seed it, mulch it lightly, and then plant containerized plants for types that are slow growing like Baptisia and some of the grasses which you may want to plant right away with some mature plants to give the garden some structure at first. You should add nitrogen fixing legumes too by the way. Senna, Desmodium, Astragalus, Lespedeza, Dalia come to mind.
You might want to look into solarizing the planting area instead of digging it. Spraying it is an option although a less attractive one. Digging up the whole thing could possibly introduce a weed problem by bringing up buried seeds. I've also seen a recommendation to remove the top 2" of soil with a sod cutter or skid stear, then use clean fill or top soil, then seed and plant your garden. Whatever you decide, be sure to put a priority on site preparation. That doesnt mean compost or fertilizer, less soil fertility will favor the plants you described over weeds and trees. Keep up the good work!
Thank you very much for the information! I'll definitely have to pay attention the plant's forms and blooming/availability times. It's going to be interesting and I kind of like thinking about it! I was thinking if solarizing before, but a rather bold classmate insisted I use the backhoe he's seen before. However, roto-tilling and solarization is definitely a preference! I was also thinking about nitrogen fixing plants, such as the Sweetfern (paired with lowbush blueberry). Some I've come across are Sensitive Pea, Showy Tick Trefoil, and Violet Bush Clover. I'm somewhat afraid of them taking over and making the soil more acidic. Will they make it more acidic? I need the pH to rise up by one if anything. I don't doubt I need nitrogen.
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