Archive for ‘Composting’

October 24, 2011

Fall Clean-up

Fall clean-up.  We all hear the phrase, but what exactly does it mean?

Fall clean-up means removing any dead, diseased or dying material from your gardens at the end of the growing season.

Where to start?  Wherever you’d like.  I typically start at one end of my yard and work my way around, armed with gloves, pruners, clippers, loppers, a large garbage can and bags.

What am I looking for?  To start off with, anything that’s “done”.

Annuals are pretty obvious.  You can take one look at them and say “yep, they’re done”.   Annuals are typically just as dramatic when they’re done as when they’re at their peak.  In other words – pretty darned ugly.  Yank ’em.

Perennials on the other hand, aren’t quite so cut and dried (so to speak).  Obviously if you have ornamental grasses, Asters, etc. that are at peak right now, don’t touch them!  As for perennials that have already passed their peak, start looking for diseased material.  If the plants are “done” and have a disease such as powdery mildew (the white frosty looking film) on their leaves or stems, cut them “way back” (typically to 3-4 inches high) then DISPOSE of the diseased material.  And by dispose, I mean DO NOT put this stuff in your compost bin/pile!  If you leave it and let the leaves eventually fall to the ground powdery mildew spores will get into the soil and increase your chances of having problems again next year. The same applies to compost.  You don’t want those spores in your compost!  Instead, put the diseased material in a tightly sealed garbage bag and toss it in the garbage or burn the plant material in a fire pit (assuming no burning restrictions in your area).

So what if you have perennials that are “done” but still look healthy?  In this case the decision is yours.  Since three-quarters of our year is winter (okay, slight exaggeration..) I like to leave as much as possible for winter interest and food for the birds.  Good examples of this are Black Eyed Susan, Cone Flower, Bee Balm and definitely Ornamental Grasses!  The more texture you can leave in your garden to look out onto during those blustery winter months the better.

What if its none of the above?  Not peaking, not dead, not diseased, but just “done”?  Then what?  In this case cut it back. If it’s not going to add anything to your winter landscape then it’s only going to become more to clean up in the spring.

On to the veggie garden.

When it comes to diseased plants the same rule applies in the veggie garden as it does in the flower garden.  Diseased plants = trash or burn.

Warm season crops (tomatoes, peppers, etc.) have done about all they are going to do. I know, it’s sad, but it’s time for them to go.  Pull them and toss them.

Cool season crops on the other hand might still be doing well.  If you have cool season crops that are still producing, by all means, leave them!

One good example of this is Brussel Sprouts.  Brussel sprouts like the cool weather and actually taste better when they’ve been nipped by frost 6-8 times.  They can even withstand mild winter temps, even if buried in snow!  The bonus?  Instead of tasting bitter like they often can, the frost/cold draws the sugars out and they will be super tasty!  How can you tell if they have been nipped by frost and are “ready to eat”?  The outer edges of the leaves will have a purple tinge to them.

Pull any other crops that are not perennials (asparagus, strawberries, etc.) and not producing and clean up all leaf litter to minimize future disease.

That’s about it.  Once it’s clean, your garden is going to look a little bare, at least until the snow flies!


October 3, 2011

Volunteers – Take ’em or Leave ’em?

Walnuts and Pears… In my yard you will find two pear trees and three walnut trees growing.  I have to be honest though, I can’t take credit for planting the walnut trees, the squirrels did it.  Well, actually they buried the walnuts, saving them for a rainy day, but instead they apparently forgot about them, it rained and walnut trees were born.   Therefore, the walnut trees  are technically volunteers, but since we thought the squirrels did a nice job of placing them we let them be.

I’m kind of a sucker for growing things that way.  I LOVE volunteer plants.  As much as I love growing plants from seed propagating, grafting and the like, there’s nothing quite as cool as nature placing something for you.  As humans, we often times try to design things in an effort to make the setting look “natural”.  What better way to do that than to just leave it?  If it grew there on its own, there’s no guessing as to whether the growing conditions are right in that location.  If they weren’t, it wouldn’t have started growing to begin with.

I understand that not all volunteers come up in the best spot and if that’s the case I’d say remove it.  If it’s in a bad spot chances are it won’t make it in the long run anyway. I had a volunteer trumpet vine growing in my yard that I left for a while.  I was going to train it into a standard so I would look like a dwarf tree. I had also started to braid the trunk thinking it would be really cool down the road.  The problem is, the trumpet vine was growing right in the middle of a natural pathway through the back yard.  At first I tried to shift the path around the plant, then after watching others awkwardly duck around it and try not to poke an eye out on the thing I decided it was time to get rid of it. Which, if you’ve ever tried to get rid of a trumpet vine, you know that’s no small feat!  So I know, not all volunteers make sense to keep.

I have a number of other volunteer plants growing in my yard right now too.  In addition to the walnut trees, there is a volunteer oak tree in the front garden.  It’s all of maybe 10 inches high after two years, but it’s doing well and I intend to leave it there.  Long term it will overshadow the plants currently in that location, but that won’t be for many, many years, so I’ll worry about that when the time comes.

Then there’s the volunteer elm tree.  I struggle with that one.  I discovered it during the timeframe that I wasn’t feeling well and I really didn’t want to keep it, but I literally didn’t have the energy to dig it out at the time.  I think it knew that.  It completely took advantage of the situation and made itself right at home in the middle of one of my perennial beds in the back.  It’s now close to twice my height so I’m pretty sure it thinks it’s staying for good but little does it know its days are numbered.

I can pretty much count on having volunteer tomatoes come up in my veggie garden or some other random place in my yard every year too.  Most of the time I’ll pull them (especially to try to keep a good crop rotation in the garden) but occasionally if I’m feeling nice (or like I just want more tomato plants) I’ll leave them be.

This year, I had the most odd volunteer ever.  I have a plant growing out of the side of my compost bin. (I obviously didn’t do a thorough job of turning my compost last year!)  At first I was excited, I thought it was one of the cool pumpkins I bought last year.  No such luck.  When the fruit began to form it didn’t look like a pumpkin at all: it was too oblong and had very shallow grooves.  Then I thought maybe it was one of those tasty cantaloupe from last year.  Again… no luck.  Turns out it’s just squash.  I wish I could say I’m a huge squash fan, but I’m not.  I like it, but don’t LOVE it.  I’ve even found recipes in the past that I really enjoy, but it’s still squash.  The problem is, I honestly don’t have a clue what kind of squash is growing out there, which means I also don’t know what to do with it and I have a lot of it!

My guess is, whatever it was last year, the seed germinated and reverted back to the genes from its parents… OR it’s an entirely new variety, in which case I’d better get this puppy to the market and make millions!

There have to be squash lovers out there somewhere, right?

Squash anyone?