Archives

Improve Your Soil by Raking Less

by Terry Ettinger

1024px-Listí_na_hrázi_rybníkaIf you dread the annual fall leaf-raking marathon, I have good news for you: Raking and collecting leaves every autumn is a tradition without scientific basis. Research has proven that mowing leaves into your lawn can improve its vigor, and observation shows that unraked leaves in planting beds don’t smother shade-tolerant perennials. Based upon research at several universities, the organic matter and nutrients from leaves mown into lawn areas has been proven to improve turf quality. At Michigan State, researchers set a rotary mower to cut at a height of 3 inches and then mowed an 18-inch-deep layer of leaves into test plots. That’s the equivalent of 450 pounds of leaves per 1,000 square feet. The tests resulted in improved soil and healthy lawns with few remnant leaves visible the following spring.

You can achieve similar results if you set your mower to cut at the same height as in the Michigan State study, and mow at least once a week during peak leaf fall when your lawn reaches a height of 4 inches. Leaves shred most efficiently when slightly damp, so mow after a light dew. If you follow these simple guidelines, you will never rake another leaf and improve the quality of your soil. Build planting beds with leaves. Under trees or in other shady spots where a lawn won’t grow, you can create planting beds from fallen leaves as a source of soil-building organic matter. Shredded leaves applied as mulch protect tree roots from heat and cold and retain soil moisture during dry spells. Some gardeners believe that excess leaves can harbor insects or disease, but I have experienced no such problems in my garden.

autumn-494390_960_720After we bought our property, I created planting beds where the leaves would naturally collect on our densely shaded and sparse front lawn. It’s been 15 years since I’ve raked a single leaf dropped by these trees. Instead, the leaves settle among the hellebores, epimediums, Japanese forest grass, hostas, and spring-flowering bulbs, where they decompose over time, just like on the forest floor. Easy, ecological, and fiscally responsible To treat leaves as trash is both environmentally foolish and financially ruinous. Currently, many municipalities encourage residents to rake leaves to the curb for collection, but before they are collected, heavy rains often wash the leaves into catch basins. There, they decompose and release phosphorus and nitrogen into streams and rivers that flow through the community. These excess nutrients contribute to algae blooms during the summer, which result in lower oxygen levels, making it difficult for fish and other aquatic species to survive.

Rake your leaves into the empty beds, and shred them with a lawn mower. Sprinkle the leaves with a 1- pound coffee can’s worth of 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of garden. Turn the leaves, and water thoroughly to disperse the fertilizer, which speeds decay. Turn the leaves again in spring, and plant right through the remaining clumps, which will provide nutrients as they decompose.

Municipalities, both large and small, spend thousands, even millions, of dollars each year to collect, transport, and process autumn leaves, tying up resources that could be used elsewhere in our communities. If we all keep our leaves on our properties, we will improve our gardens, save money, and enhance the environment we all share. Your own source of free fertilizer A little effort can supply an organic source of nutrients for your plants. Here are two ways to use your leaves:

  1. Pile composting for mixed borders
  • Rake the leaves into loose piles or in wire bins about 4 feet square within your borders.
  • Mix in a few shovelfuls of soil, and add 20 to 30 gallons of water to aid decomposition.
  • Pull the piles or bins apart in the spring, and spread the decayed leaves throughout the border
  • Cover the decayed leaves with a 1-inch-deep layer of fresh mulch.

2. Sheet composting for annual beds

  • Rake your leaves into the empty beds, and shred them with a lawn mower.
  • Sprinkle the leaves with a 1-pound coffee can’s worth of 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of garden.
  • Turn the leaves, and water thoroughly to disperse the fertilizer, which speeds decay.
  • Turn the leaves again in spring, and plant right through the remaining clumps, which will provide nutrients as they decompose.
Advertisements

Trees and Shrubs

by Sharon Morrisey, horticulture agent in Milwaukee County

Tu-BShevat-tree-planting-by-Canopy-Photos-jpgFall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. Warm soil encourages root growth and the cool air reduces the demand for water. It is said that the planting is the most important 10 minutes of a tree’s life. Years of scientific study have produced improved techniques, so follow these instructions closely.

  1. Find the root flare first. It’s that place at the base of the trunk where it widens before going into the soil.
  2. Remove soil from the top of the root ball, if necessary, until the flare can be seen.
  3. Measure the depth of the root ball after finding the flare.
  4. Dig the hole no deeper than this, trying not to disturb the dirt at the bottom, so the tree will not settle later and become too deep. Make the hole two to four times wider than the ball and gently sloping.
  5. Cut off the container, if there is one. Cut away the wire basket if it’s a balled-and-burlapped plant.
  6. Gently roll it into the hole without holding it by the trunk. Now, cut away as much burlap as possible without letting the root ball fall apart.
  7. Fill the hole halfway with the same soil that came out of the hole. Do not amend that soil. Otherwise, the roots will stay in that soil, growing around and around, instead of moving out into the surrounding soil.
  8. Do not stomp on the soil. Instead, fill the hole with water and allow it to settle before continuing to fill the hole.
  9. Water again.
  10. Form a rim of soil around the outside edge of the hole to hold the water.
  11. Cover the rim and root ball with 2 inches of shredded bark or wood chips. Do not allow the mulch to touch the trunk or the bark will rot and kill the tree.
  12. On slopes or windy sites, use one or two stakes pounded into the undisturbed soil beyond the root ball. Loosely secure the tree trunk to the stakes using webbing with grommets made especially for this purpose. Do not use wire or rubber hose, since these will damage the bark. The tree should be able to sway back and forth because this actually strengthens the trunk.

 

Pumpkin Seeds

pumpkin-seeds-1375500_960_720It’s the time of year to start carving out those pumpkins in any number of fantastic designs and shapes — even just plain jack-o-lanterns. When you’re sitting on the floor with your arms up to the elbow in pumpkin guts, remember to separate and keep those seeds! Fixed properly, they’re a low-calorie, high-mineral snack that’s just irresistible and recommended by the World Health Organization as a tasty way to get your zinc!

Pumpkin_soup_with_ginger_and_roasted_pumpkin_seeds

Fresh pumpkin soup garnished with pumpkin seeds

Everywhere on the internet and in health magazines you can read about the benefits of eating pumpkin seeds, and it’s easy to incorporate them into your diet:  in cookies, on salads, as a snack. While pumpkin seeds are available year-round in the grocery and health food stores, why not take advantage of making your own? It’s easy to do, and the aroma in your house will almost be reward in itself.

Directions

Seed the pumpkin: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Using a spoon, scrape the pulp and seeds out of your pumpkin into a bowl.

Clean the seeds: Separate the seeds from the stringy pulp, rinse the seeds in a colander under cold water, then shake dry. Don’t blot with paper towels; the seeds will stick.

Dry them: Spread the seeds in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet and roast 30 minutes to dry them out.

Add spices: Toss the seeds with olive oil, salt and your choice of spices (see below). Return to the oven and bake until crisp and golden, about 20 more minutes.

Sweet Toss with cinnamon and sugar (do not use salt in step 4).

Indian Toss with garam masala; mix with currants after roasting.

Spanish Toss with smoked paprika; mix with slivered almonds after roasting.

Italian Toss with grated parmesan and dried oregano.

Barbecue Toss with brown sugar, chipotle chile powder and ground cumin.

 

Beyond the Blooms

by Jess Wickland

When you think of landscaping or putting together a small flower garden, many people don’t think past the flower colors and bloom times. However, there are many different aspects that plants provide that will increase interest in the garden, whether it’s seedheads, or different leaf textures, or (my favorite) fall berries and fall color. When the green foliage bursts forth in spring and gives life to the boring winter landscape, I often breathe a sigh of relief. And while flowers do provide plenty of color in the landscape and often leave me giddy with excitement over their blooms, nothing can compare to the breathtaking yellow, orange and red hues of a sugar maple tree in the fall.

Speaking of blooms, there are two shrubs that wait to hold their flowers until almost everything else has gone dormant for the season: witchhazel and seven-son flower. Witchhazel is a native shrub that grows quite large — almost 15 feet tall — and waits until October to send out its spiderlike yellow blossoms. Many times, the blooms occur as the shrub’s foliage has changed to the bright yellow color, or has dropped off already. Seven-son’s fragrant flowers blooms white in late September or early October, but perhaps the best show isn’t the blooms, it’s the pale red calyces that appear after the flowers have dropped off. This is also a fairly large shrub, growing to 15 feet tall and wide as well, and grows best in part shade conditions.

hawthorne-tree-866513_960_720

The bright red berries of the Hawthorn stand out against the frozen branches

Many shrubs get berries as well, clinging to the branches and giving the landscape splashes of color throughout the fall and winter seasons. I always enjoy watching the hawthorn berries develop and change color in late summer. The red berries aren’t often eaten by birds in summer (they’re too busy devouring the serviceberries), and persist into the winter. After a fresh snowfall, I enjoy photographing the vibrant red berries blanketed by the glittering snow. An added bonus: hawthorn trees have a variable fall color, ranging from orange to red to maroon. Another fantastic red berry is found on Ilex shrubs: holly and winterberry. While holly are a little more finicky about growing conditions (though it can be done!), winterberry are tough shrubs that wait until the rest of the landscape is dormant for their moment to shine. In fall, clusters of bright red berries cling to the upright branches. They are offset by the yellow fall color of the shrub. Both holly and winterberry look like a picture off of a Christmas card after a new snowfall.

Chasing fall color throughout the state used to be my grandparents’ favorite thing to do in October, and I think I inherited that gene from them as well. I can’t believe the different shades of red, orange and yellow that erupt as the daylight hours get shorter. I can’t wait to go outside to see what I might capture on my camera’s memory card. Perennials aren’t just for flowers anymore, either. Gillenia trifoliata, a native perennial commonly known as Indian Physic, isn’t very showy throughout the summer. The green foliage set underneath the star-shaped white flowers may cause a passerby to glance at it a second time. In autumn, however, the foliage changes to a pale orange that gives the plant a whole new look. Mukdenia rosii also changes from emerald green to dark red and even maroon, rivaling its cousin, Heuchera, in color wars.

1024px-Fothergilla_major_JPG

Fothergilla blazes it’s colors during Fall

My favorite shrub for fall color is Fothergilla. While the fragrant white spikes of flowers and robust foliage (tinged just a hint in blue-green) are attractive, I haven’t met someone yet who didn’t fall in love with it in the fall. The foliage is much the same as a sugar maple, keeping us guessing as it changes from yellow to orange to red. It’s like watching a 4th of July fireworks show; many people “ooh” and “ahh” at the beauty cast by this wee shrub (the dwarf species only reaches 3 feet tall and wide).

21860829963_4329c15234_b

The familiar sugar Maple leaves

As you may have guessed by how much I’ve brought it up, my favorite tree for fall color is the sugar maple. Serviceberry isn’t far behind because although the berries are long since picked off by hungry robins and cedar waxwings, the fall color still rivals the maple in terms of orange and yellow coloring. An interesting plant for fall color is the larch, or tamarack. It’s a deciduous evergreen, meaning it has needles, but sheds them each year. The golden yellow needles in fall are gorgeous, especially near the end of the day when the sunlight hits them just right.

I hope I’ve inspired you to think beyond the blooms, and try to plant a few trees, shrubs or even perennials

The Fruits of Orchard

by OCMGA Master Gardener Lynne Finch

After moving into our house with fruit trees in the backyard, I envisioned gently dropping ripe fruit into a basket while my smiling children danced around. Seductive aromas would drift from my kitchen as I baked magnificent pies and canned and froze our bounty. That was the dream.

In our first walk-through of our orchard, we saw an apple tree with a five-inch diameter trunk only a few feet away from a young cherry tree. A few steps away stood a pear tree. Nearby grew a plum tree partnered with another apple tree.pear-453828_960_720

These five small trees stood like a wee forest in the equally small backyard behind the kitchen. Even to a new gardener like me, they looked a bit too cozy. The cherry and plum trees were young enough to be transplanted to the big spacious side yard. The other apple tree had to go to make way for our vegetable garden. This gave the pear and apple trees some breathing room.

The cherry and plum staged their annual contest for best springtime bloom with the plum always coming in second. Not only were the plums not tasty, but a nasty winter killed the tree. As for the traditional Christmas dessert, did you know there are no plums in plum pudding?

The cherry tree looked good year round, the bark a smooth purplish-brown. Cherry blossoms in spring ripened like little red ornaments during the summer. The squirrels scampered on the branches, hanging upside down eating until their faces dripped red with juice.

With the abundant fruit on the tree, I filled my basket and started pitting. Alas, for each pit there was at least one worm. Never did make a cherry pie. A few seasons later half the tree died, then the year with no blossoms or buds. Cannot lie about it; we cut down the cherry tree. Sitting in front of the fireplace, the kids would wave glowing branch tips while cherry aroma filled the room.

Now we were down to two fruit trees. The pear tree produced for several years. Each fall I lined up the canned jars in the basement. Then the tree split and lingered a bit, the last year standing forlornly with a few pears dangling on a single branch.

apple-tree-1593216_960_720The lone survivor is a full-size mature apple tree, greeting us each morning through our bedroom window. Each spring the blossoms tell a different story. Many blossoms, few blossoms, early ones, late ones, fast petal drop, slow petal drop.

The trunk is now nearly 20 inches in diameter with strong branches reaching out like fingers on giant hands. My kids climbed in and sat like birds in a nest. Now my grandkids settle in an even bigger nest. A visitor once commented on the great bones of our apple tree. Indeed, it is a magnificent sculpture that spreads itself out to shade our porch.

The apple tree and I continue to travel through the seasons together; blossom time, petal drop and the progression of windfalls that I faithfully pick up. The tree peeks in through the kitchen window as I mix its tart, sweet flavor in pies and applesauce. When all other trees stand bare, the apple tree hangs on to its leaves, determined to be the last one to give up and settle down for the winter ahead.

Watch out for Frost

Sad to say, but summer is over and it’s time to start thinking about extending your harvest by watching those overnight temperatures. Do you know when to expect those cold temperatures or do you wait to hear it from your friendly TV weatherman? Knowing an approximation of your growing season helps when you plant in the spring and when you’re trying to get the very last of your harvest in the fall.

Take a look at the Frost Chart for the United States as provided by The Farmer’s Almanac:

https://www.almanac.com/content/frost-chart-united-states

Note: it’s alphabetic by state, not by city.

Another useful article comes from Botanical Interests as it provides information on which plants need more TLC when the frost moves in, and which ones are a bit more hardy for the later hard frosts.

www.botanicalinterests.com/articles/view/26/Frost-Tolerance-of-Vegetables

You’ll only be able to extend the season for a short amount of time before Mother Nature decides that it’s time for our gardens to rest, but getting just one more tomato or another handful of peas is worth the time and effort!

Dividing Hostas

by OCMGA Master Gardener Holly Boettcher

HostaThe million-dollar question for serious gardeners is whether it is better to divide your hosta plants in late fall or the early spring. At our vineyard, we have massive perennial gardens which are home to hundreds of hostas. When you see me staring off into space while relaxing in one of the many sitting areas on our property, what I am really doing, is contemplating which hosta need to be divided, and where the gardens will expand into the next season.

From past experience, I have learned it is easier to “wrestle” the plant in early spring, when those tender buds are swelling through the warm spring earth. If I divide at this time, I don’t feel as though I am committing an act of violence against them. BUT, early in the spring, it is difficult to remember what that hosta looked like. You see, I am one of those gardeners who obsess over planting hostas so their colors, variegations, and shapes, will both contrast and compliment those around them.

For that reason, I am with the divide in the fall group! Yes, you will most certainly damage some leaves, and it may seem as though the plant suffered a setback, but in the next season they will “spring back” to put you in awe of the project which you completed.

Here is what you will need to get started:

  • A wheelbarrow, shovel, cutting tool, some organic matter, and water. Start out by assessing which plants need to be divided, then decide where you will plant them. Keep in mind that hosta leaves will scorch in full sun, so be sure to select an area that gets only a few hours of morning sun.
  • Next, dig around and below the hosta being careful not to damage too much of the root system. Lift the entire plant out of the ground and don’t be shy about asking for help if it is too heavy. With a garden hose, rinse as much of the soil from the root system.
  • Now is the time to get tuff. You can take your shovel or cutting tool, and slice all the way through the roots, and divide the plant into one or more sections. If the roots are not too tangled, it is best to pull the sections apart by working with your hands.
  • Next, add the organic matter or compost in the hole and replant one of the sections where you just dug it up. Place the other sections in your wheelbarrow and take to the area you will plant. Dig holes at least twice the size of your root system. Again, add organic matter or compost to the hole, and fill in around the plant.
  • Be sure to water all generously and regularly.Hosta33Another tip when planting is to either plant a “specimen” or in groups of 3 or 5 for an attractive look. If you have room, consider adding some companion plants such as Astilbe, Baptisia, Bleeding heart, Dianthus, or Pulmonaria (lungwort.)Above all, be patient. The hosta may not look very attractive at this time, but after it has had a long winters nap it will emerge in the spring looking as beautiful as ever!