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Archive for the ‘mulch’ Category

At our last Garden Committee meeting the topic of “SOIL” came up.  Although we all have a pretty good idea that as gardeners, we know what soil is…it ain’t necessarily so!  My aim here today is to acquaint us with the REAL meanings, definition and uses of various types of SOIL.  They are definitely not all the same!

For instance, do you know that “dirt” is the stuff under your fingernails; what’s on your dungaree knees; the debris carried into the house on your sneakers after being in the garden; what the dog brings in; and in general, what you need to vacuum up to keep the house clean?  That is NOT the stuff we plant our posies in!

What we plant in, is SOIL!  But, there really are different types of soil.  As gardeners we should be aware of what they are and how to differentiate between them, so we use them properly.

We could start by calling it a “planting medium”.  The reason for that is that there are so many soil types.  Here is a site from the University of Maryland Extension Service.  After a fair amount of searching I found this one which is pretty basic.  No super charts, or long chemical connections…just the simple facts.  I will go into more specifics about what is available to you here at Horizon House.

We essentially have 3 (three) different soil types available for your use.  Remember you should NOT need to add much soil at all.  All the garden beds have ample soil right now.  Occasionally, you might want to top dress, or dig in a bit of compost (as an amendment).  If for some reason you really do need to add soil, it should be in the “top soil” category.  So, here goes!

TOP SOIL   is what you will commonly find beneath your feet, in any garden environment!  Top soil varies in quality, depending on where it is found.  The top soil on a mountain top will  be very different from that on a river flood plain.  So, unless you know where it originates, you really won’t know at all whether it’s any good at all for your garden.  But, having said that, the Garden Soil we get is in a bag. We can rest assured that it is decent soil.  It is NOT special potting soil, that often has amendments added; nor is it mulch or compost.  It’s just plain soil…nothing more, nothing less.  Here is a link about soil basics  that you might find interesting.

MULCH  is what you put on top of the soil, around your plants.  It provides protection from drenching rain; it holds moisture which your plants can access easily; it provides shade for tender roots lying just beneath the surface; weeds cannot find their way into your well mulched garden; it provides warmth, protecting roots from deep freezes.  Over the year(s), if it is organic, it breaks down, adding texture and nutrients to the soil below.  This means that you can add, probably SHOULD add, new mulch every year, either in the spring or the fall.  Go to this link about MULCH which will add to your understanding of this product.  And by the way, do not worry about the mulch getting into the soil.  It will break down and become compost in the soil.  It will also provide instant bulk and moisture retaining qualities. (There is also non-organic mulch which will not break down, like plastic and rubber.  We do NOT utilize non-organic mulch in our gardens here at Horizon House.)

COMPOST is what I define as “Black Gold”!  compost-handIt is naturally broken down organic materials.  These are usually composed of leaves, grass, discarded garden plants (NOT diseased) and even non-fatty kitchen scraps(fat attracts “critters”). It sits and decomposes until it’s totally broken down.  A process that takes about a year.  Here is a link that will explain the process of making and using COMPOST.  For our gardens at Horizon House, we get bagged compost.  We should use this as an AMENDMENT to our garden soil.  It should NOT be 100% of the soil surrounding your plants!

Ragan suggests a ratio of about 4 parts garden soil to 1 part compost.  I’d say that’s even a bit high, but it’s a good guide.  The compost can be worked into the soil around your plant roots.  When you plant new materials, work some compost into the soil.

So there you have it.  I hope that helps.  I’ll try to get that little chart we talked about at the meeting posted somewhere in the E level storage area.

 

 

 

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Someone was concerned because many plants appear to be dead or dying out in our garden terraces.  So, I put on my “woolies” and ventured out to check all three levels.

 

What I found there were three levels of gardens suffering from winter!  I found nothing unusual. I found that most gardeners had done with their gardens, what they needed to do.  They had cut back perennials that needed cutting back.  The hardy perennials that had been left, were in differing states of life.   Some of them looked fabulous!  Some looked a bit haggard (like me on a cold, windy day).  And some looked a little surprised that their moderate Seattle had dealt them a surprising hand with freezing temperatures over a few weeks.

Seattle doesn’t often suffer from such cold for so long.  BUT, right now that is what’s happening.  If our tender plants were not bundled up (like we have done with ourselves when we’ve ventured out) before this hard frost hit, they are suffering a bit.  But, worry not.  Nature has planned for this.  Notice, even the plants caught in their own little pond, are doing quite well!

The plants that are perennials are doing just fine.  It could be that their tops have died back…but that’s OK.  That’s what they do!  They will come back robustly in the spring.

The shrubs and trees (be they large or little) that are deciduous (losing their leaves in the winter) have lost their leaves, making them look a bit naked.  The other trees and shrubs look wonderful.  Their leaves and budding tips are just waiting to burst forth on the first warm day.

The annuals, or non-hardy plants, large and small, have succumbed to Father Winters cold blasts…as they are expected to do.  They do NOT look good.  They are the ones that should find their way into the compost!

The final word on all of this is not to worry.  It’s too late to do anything anyway.  Some of the gardeners have either put, or left, fallen leaves on their garden beds.  That is a wonderful technique of mulching (snugging up the plants).  Nature takes care of it’s own.  When a cover is needed…there are the fallen leaves!

img_5956Many gardeners also cover their plants with burlap when a hard frost is expected, but nature hasn’t planned anything like that, so it’s nice, but not necessary.  That is a more prevalent technique in areas with snow and wind, to protect a plant against losing too much moisture, and even protecting branches from heavy snow loads.

All in all, I think the gardens look great.  Don’t worry!  All will be well in the spring.  And if you’ve lost something, consider it an opportunity to plant something new and different!

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What requirements does a plant have to have in order to be considered “drought tolerant”?

It’s interesting because sometimes you can tell a drought tolerant plant by just looking at it.  Maybe the leaves are almost nonexistent, as in an evergreen with it’s oh, so narrow leaves (needles).  Some evergreens also have a pine-359845__180waxy substance that helps keep the moisture from being lost.

You’ll notice that there are plants, like silver sage, whose leaves are covered with tiny little hairs.  Those hairs grasp moisture and hold onto it.  sageOr how about plants with very deep root systems?  They dig deep to  find moisture well below the surface of the soil.  Or on the opposite side of the spectrum, those plants with roots very close to the surface to grab all the barest of rain drops.

Generally, plants that are native to dryer climates like the Mediterranean, the American West, central Asia, and southern Africa will do quite well.  A number of our herbs, used in Italian cooking are from that area and hence do well in drought condition gardens.  Think about Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano and Sage.

But, there are other things to remember about drought tolerance. 37350208-old-garden-scoop-on-root-and-soil-of-flowers-top-view Even a drought tolerant plant needs to have plenty of water as it is planted and trying to establish itself.  Do not ignore any newly placed plant.  Those little rootlets will dry out very quickly, and stunt, or kill your plant.  Keep any new plant well hydrated until it’s well established.  Also, we have to remember that although the plants are drought TOLERANT, that doesn’t say they are able to live through extended periods of severe drought.  If that happens, even the most drought tolerant of plants will need a little drink.  Here is a site that will help you deal with an extended period of drought.

These plants should have well drained, and organic rich soil.  img_5553This is a wonderful advantage we have here at Horizon House.  We have raised beds, with wonderful, rich soil and good drainage (especially after our new drainage systems have been installed).

One of the most important things you can do to support your plants is to provide as much mulch as possible.  It will keep the ground cool and hold that moisture in.  It will also reduce the number of weeds that will compete for water.  In our garden beds, weeds are not a huge problem, but it is worth thinking about.

Our drip irrigation system is wonderful.  It provides water to the roots, rather than to the air where it dries out too quickly.  It also is activated in the early morning, which is the very best time, as the heat of the day(which might dry it out) has not been reached as yet.

Here’s a connection to my old blog (North Country Maturing Gardener) from New Hampshire that talks about Xeriscaping or the use of drought tolerant landscaping.  It talks about many of the ideas we are dealing with here today.

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Oh, my!  Why didn’t I know about this method of gardening about 40 years ago???

When our log cabin was built in New Hampshire, the builder cleared an entire meadow stacking the branches, logs, soil, grass, etc. in a huge pile at the back of a meadow.  I pretty much ignored it!  Sure, it grew wild flowers and plants.  Blackberries loved it, and so did the snakes, bees and other critters, but, since it was in a shady and out of the way place, I essentially ignored it.

Hugelkultur (or hugel) is a pile of logs, branches, wood chips, (etc.) covered with soil and planted!!!  It generates it’s own nutrients; stays moist; and because it is breaking down, it stays warmer generating a longer growing period.

Here is a link showing all the details of hugelkultur17 hugelkultur_bed I have included here a photograph taken from that page to show you how pretty they can actually be.  This one is small compared to what I might have had in New Hampshire!

It is such an obvious, good plan.  Where have I been???

I must admit, I did have a pile of chips (awaiting use as mulch) that I called my “nursery”.  I used that pile for inserting little trees, plants and shrubs I didn’t have time, or a location decided on yet.  It was wonderful.  The little plants grew so happily with little or no extra fuss.  They were warm and happy.  The pile was in the shade too.  I think that actually worked to the advantage of the newly planted orphans because they didn’t have to worry about sun scald, or the drying complications of too much sunshine.   That pile however, did not have any soil, which kept the plants from growing too rapidly.  It was kind of a “holding” technique.  I also have to say, that NH gets more inches of rain than our Pacific Northwest climate affords.  I think the plants might dry out here, using that technique.  From that standpoint, I’m sure the shade also helped.

I wish now that I’d included something about that huge pile, or the nursery, in my book…but I didn’t.  There’s lots more to read there however.  Aside from the calendar, there are tons of vignettes about my gardening adventures in New Hampshire.  🙂

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Mulch?  What is it?  Why should I DO it?  It sounds “labor intensive”…is it?  How will it help my garden?

Well, let’s look at all those issues:

What is MULCH?-1

  • Mulch is really any material you apply to the surface of the soil around your plants that
    • keeps weeds down
    • helps keep moisture in the soil, rather than allowing it to evaporate
    • provides nutrients (unless you use fabric or plastic) as it breaks down
    • Improves soil structure, if mixed in as you plant new materials
    • attracts earthworms
  • Why you should do it?  RE-READ the list above!-2
  • Labor intensive?
    • NO…once you’ve laid it down your garden is EASIER to care for and looks WONDERFUL!
  • How will it help the garden?  AGAIN, RE-READ the list above!

What’s not to like???-4

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