Sometimes a straightforward question and a well-considered response produce the darnedest reaction.
A couple weeks ago, we gave a reader some suggestions on how to convert her concrete patios into an attractive garden, complete with hardscape. She wanted some greenery, but eschewed the easy way out: a series of containers. Potted plants just didn’t cut it for her.
One option we gave her was to build raised beds on the concrete pad. Another alternative we suggested was to rent a concrete saw and an electric jackhammer and cut out areas of the patio, exposing the soil to create an ornamental/edible garden.
We said it would be labor intensive and require some imagination, but not a high skill level. In short, it was the perfect do-it-yourself project.
Pretty straightforward advice, we thought, but not everyone agreed.
"This is not a do-it-yourself job," commented one reader. "Hire a contractor who can handle these tools. Plus, rental tools are notorious for being in poor condition and will add to the likelihood of an accident working with these materials.
"If there are spaces between the slabs, or you can knock off some of the edges to create spaces, that should be sufficient drainage. Use layers of sand and gravel at the base of your raised beds to increase drainage and a light soil mix with plenty of vermiculite so it drains well.
"If you do go the do-it-yourself route I wonder if you can sue for this advice when you chop off a toe."
We agree with the comment about soil amendment, but that’s it. Concrete saws are on wheels and are pushed. To cut off a toe, you would have to stick your foot in the blade on purpose.
A couple of things to remember: Safety glasses are a must for the saw; add hard-toed shoes or metal foot protectors for the hammer. Pay attention, work safely, use proper safety gear and you’ll be OK.
Another reader passed along some good advice on the subject of soil amendment:
"Just be aware that concrete can leach lime into the soil and make it too alkaline for some plants. If you break up the concrete, you will probably need to amend the soil with something acidic to neutralize it."
Good advice: Buy a test kit from your local nursery and test the soil’s PH level.
Yet another reader recommends having a soils engineer evaluate the situation first.
"I’d get advice from a soils engineer before I did anything. The last thing you want is to create an erosion problem that could lead to land movement, and in a worst-case scenario the loss of your house or one or more neighboring houses. Find out what is safe and what is not before you begin."