Do You Remember?

Do you remember subscribing to a gardening blog a few years ago? One that caters to the Mid-Atlantic gardening region? Yeah me, too. And I even remember spending hours every day writing the blog posts.

Well, life happens and I happened to skip a few months (or years). I’ve been thinking that I may write smaller posts that involve more discussion from the readers…after all, none of us are as smart as all of us, right? Soooo…

MULCH

Sounds pretty mundane, huh? But what kind should you use? Pine bark nuggets? Double shredded hardwood? Dyed mulch? Cypress? It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all of the choices out there. I’ll give you my two cents if you promise to give me yours…

What mulch do I use? Double shredded hardwood mulch. Why? Earthworms.

Photo by EcoWatch

Earthworms are the entire reason that I garden. I love digging a hole and seeing them squirming all around with their little wet, shiny selves. I love to know that they love eating my soil. And turning it into poop. That the plants love. That I love. Sound weird? Probably.

One thing that my co-workers and I noticed after using brown dyed mulch was the lack of earthworm activity. Like none. Zip. Nada. Areas that were full of earthworms the season before were void of them now. Did we happen to catch all of the earthworms on a bad day? Perhaps. But we decided to go back to plain old double shredded hardwood mulch. And guess what happened? Earthworms, that’s what happened.

So tell me…what has your experience been with the mulch you use?

 

February 4, 2017Permalink 10 Comments

Friday Free For All: Your Garden in 2012

 

I’ve decided to name the Friday posts for the website “Friday Free For All” since we have set topics for every other day. In case you haven’t noticed, Monday is the Did You Know? posts, Tuesday is for Pests and Diseases, Wednesdays consist of Plant Profiles, Thursdays are for Reader Questions, and Friday is now the “Free For All” posts where we’ll cover all the other fun gardening topics that we didn’t get to the other four days.

Since 2011 is quickly coming to a close, I thought that we should look at what your plans are for 2012 in the garden. Perhaps you are looking to add a compost pile in the backyard or expand your veggie garden. Let’s look at a list of things and see how many you are willing to take on in the upcoming year.

  1. Start a compost pile
  2. Expand your existing compost pile so that you can turn more of your scraps into black gold
  3. Add vermicomposting (worm composting) which can be done under your kitchen sink
  4. Start a vegetable garden
  5. Expand your vegetable garden
  6. Plant a container of herbs or other veggies if your space is limited
  7. Add perennial veggies like strawberries or asparagus to your garden
  8. Add perennial shrubs like blackberries or gooseberries to your landscape
  9. Add an orchard, even if it is only a couple of trees
  10. Expand your orchard to include other producers like paw paws, pecans, and figs
  11. Add a rain barrel to catch stormwater runoff from your roof that can be used to water your garden
  12. Start your own vegetable, perennial or annual seeds indoors
  13. Build a cold frame that you can use to harden off your seedlings
  14. Add a greenhouse – it doesn’t have to be big or extravagant to get the job done
  15. Add compost to your landscape – if your trying to improve your lawn, add a 1/4″ layer over the top. Remember it’s all about feeding the soil, not the plants.
  16. Add hardscaping like paths or pergolas
  17. Add lighting to your landscape so that it can be enjoyed after sunset
  18. Add plants that will attract beneficials so that they can fight your battles against pests for you
  19. Add a beehive
  20. Add bat houses
  21. Add bird houses, bird baths and/or bird feeders
  22. Commit to using less or no pesticides in 2012

 

I hope that I’ve given you some ideas to incorporate into your landscape this year. I know that I haven’t thought of them all so leave me a comment below about what you plan to work on this year in your garden. If you’d like for me to expand on any of the above items, send me an e-mail at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Have a safe New Year’s Eve. See you in 2012!

December 30, 2011Permalink 1 Comment

Healthy Soil

 

When you hear the word soil, you may be thinking of the red clay in your backyard or perhaps your sandy soil that drains water as quickly as you apply it. While both of these describe soil by its very definition, healthy soil is a vibrant dance of microorganisms, organic matter, small bits of rocky material and sheer beauty.

Healthy soil is soil where plants flourish, earthworms eat and poop with reckless abandon and water and air are in almost perfect balance. This may be a far cry from where your soil is now but there is one magic bullet that can fix almost any soil…compost. Most gardeners are well aware of the benefits of compost; that it adds aeration to clay soils and helps bind sand particles together. But many people aren’t aware that even a small amount of compost, when measured by total soil volume, can yield huge results in soil quality.

Consider this for a moment: it is fairly common for disturbed soils (that includes the great majority of soils in subdivisions) to be comprised of only 1.5% to 2% organic matter. The other 98% to 98.5% is made up of soil particles like clay, silt and sand. If you increase the organic matter only a small percentage, the clay particles start to break apart to allow water to pass through and the sand particles start to stick together to keep water from moving so fast through the soil. The great Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in Swoope, Virginia has increased his percentage of organic matter from 1.5% to 8% over the past 50 years by allowing the carbon cycle to occur without negative interference.

Let’s look at how nature does this without any assistance from us. In a deciduous forest, like the great majority of those on the East Coast, the trees produce an absolutely astounding amount of leaves each spring and summer. The leaves assimilate and process sunlight and at the end of the season, the trees drop all of these leaves around their feet. The leaves contain some of the nutrients that the far reaching root systems have mined throughout the year and now they are being placed exactly where they are needed…at the trees’ roots. These leaves are compressed by rain, snow and animals big and small who walk on and through the leaves, thereby speeding their decomposition. Each year these leaves are on the sliding scale of breaking down from oak leaves larger than your hand to pieces that are hardly even recognizable. All of this is adding organic matter, or nature’s compost, to the soil. The result is healthy soil that is loose and friable.

Contrast that to the typical neighborhood yard with a couple of trees. The leaves are collected in the fall and removed from the area completely, sometimes even bagged to be taken to the landfill. Then we apply mulch around the trees and wonder why our soil becomes poorer and poorer with each passing year. What we have essentially done is removed all of nature’s fertilizer and compost.

The first step to improving your soil is to begin adding that compost back to the soil. Start a simple compost pile in your backyard and/or shred the leaves and then apply them in a layer under the mulch you usually use…just be sure to keep the total depth of mulch in the 2″ to 3″ range. In the case of mulch, more is not better. See my mulch volcano article for more info on that. If you’d like to improve the appearance of your lawn, when you aerate in the fall, apply a 1/4″ to 1/2″ layer of compost and then overseed. If you keep this process going, you should be able to eliminate or drastically reduce the amount of synthetic fertilizer that you have to apply to cool-season turf in the fall.

If your tomatoes seemed stunted this year, add compost. If you are planting a new Camellia this fall, add compost. If your Astilbes seem a bit chlorotic, add compost. You get the point…compost is king. Without it, all you end up with is DIRT. And dirt won’t give you the results that you are capable of producing!

I’d love to hear your stories of growing great soil and the results of your hard work. E-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com or add it to the comment section below.

November 16, 2011Permalink Leave a comment