Why Are Mushrooms Growing In My Landscape?

Knowing what a mushroom is and its purpose in the environment helps to understand why they suddenly appear in your lawn and landscape.  Mushrooms are classified bunch of mushroomsunder the Kingdom of  Fungi (plural for fungus), which is separate from the plant and animal Kingdoms. Mushrooms are one of nature’s decomposers.  They “eat” organic material in the soil.  Organic material can be anything from dead plants and animals to leaves and other debris on the ground. Mushrooms can pop up anywhere when the conditions are right, which includes sufficient moisture and organic material in the soil.  Shade will also encourage mushroom growth, but is not absolutely necessary. Some mushrooms will grow in a fair amount of sunlight.

Fun fact:  According to National Geographic  there is a mushroom, nicknamed Humongous Fungus, growing in Malheur National Forest in Oregon that is the largest organism in the world and may in fact also be the oldest.  It is estimated that this mushroom is anywhere between 2,400 and 8,600 years old and covers 2,385 acres. Aren’t you glad this mushroom isn’t in your yard!

Is it ok if mushrooms are growing in my lawn and landscape?

The short answer is yes.  Mushrooms are actually good for the soil.  When mushrooms “eat” organic material, it supplies the soil with nutrients and acts as a natural fertilizer.  Mushrooms will naturally die off when the organic material in the ground is gone or when moisture is not sufficient to sustain them.  However, mushrooms can be unsightly in the landscape to some people and some mushrooms are actually poisonous which could harm children or pets.

How do I remove mushrooms from my lawn and landscape?

flat mushroomIf you choose to remove mushrooms from your lawn or landscape, it is relatively easy to remove them from view. You can use a garden rake to simply rake up the caps (tops) of the mushrooms and dispose of them.   But, raking up the caps only removes the portion of the mushroom you see above ground.  The main body of the fungus remains underground.

Tips: Some mushrooms are poisonous. Always wear gloves when you handle wild mushrooms  in your landscape.  Also, dispose of mushrooms in the trash.  Do not put them in your compost pile. If you put them in the compost pile they may spread as the compost pile contains the organic material and moisture that mushrooms feed on.

How do I remove the underground portion of the mushroom?

Removing the underground portion of the mushroom is not as easy as raking up the caps.  The organic material and moisture needs to be removed in order to suppress mushroom growth.  This takes a little more time and work.

First remove the moisture source if possible. There is not much a gardener can do about natural rain fall but if you irrigate your lawn and landscape, set the sprinkler system to start in the morning.  This allows your lawn to dry during the day.  Never water at night because it promotes fungal growth by allowing water to sit on the soil and plant leaves for an extended period of time.

Water your lawn and landscape fewer and longer periods each week.  Watering less often allows the soil to dry out in between waterings which discourages fungal growth. Plus watering in this ways encourages plants to extend their roots deeper into the ground in order to access moisture.  This makes your lawn and landscape plants stronger and more resistant to drought conditions.

Next, remove the organic matter that is feeding the mushrooms.  When mushrooms are in the lawn, look at the ground between the blades of grass.  Thatch is a layer of dead grass and debris that covers the ground.  If this is too thick, it will retain moisture and provide the perfect conditions to grow mushrooms.  Some thatch is good for your lawn but if it’s too thick or mushrooms are popping up, de-thatch the lawn with a de-thatching rake or rent a de-thatching machine from a local lawn care service. You can also hire a lawn care company to perform this service for you.  This will help remove the conditions necessary for mushrooms to grow.

If the soil doesn’t have a thick layer of thatch but still retains more moisture than it should, the soil may be compacted. If the soil is compacted, it may need to be aerated.  Aerating the soil quite literally means small holes are punched into the soil to allow air to penetrate the ground and moisture to escape. For small lawns  or for small sections of the lawn, you can use a tilling fork to aerate the ground by pushing the fork into the ground and rocking it back and forth.  If you have a larger area to aerate, you can rent an aerating machine or you can hire a lawn care service to perform the aeration for you.

If mushrooms are growing in your landscape mulch, remove the old mulch and replace it with fresh mulch.  Wood mulches and pine needle mulches are the organic material mushrooms need to grow.  If mushrooms are a constant problem, consider replacing organic mulches with decorative landscape rock or another type of inorganic mulch like recycled rubber.

In some instances, organic material cannot be removed. For example, where a tree has been cut down, even if the surface stump is ground out or removed, the remaining stump underground and root system will start to decompose and mushrooms may appear.  Removing any excess moisture and increasing the sunlight the area receives will help inhibit mushroom growth but may not stop it entirely. In this case, removing the caps will keep the area clean of mushrooms from view. Remember, mushrooms will disappear on their own once they are through “eating” the organic material present.

Mushrooms are good for the environment and your landscape, but if they are unsightly to you or if you’re concerned due to children or pets, removing mushrooms may be necessary and it’s easier to accomplish once you know what to do and why they grow.  Please remember to wear gloves when you are working with wild mushrooms.  As always,

Happy gardening!

Quote of the Day

“The sudden appearance of mushrooms after a summer rain is one of the more impressive spectacles of the plant world.”

– John Tyler Bonner, Development and Evolutionary Biologist

 

 

 

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How to Garden in Dry Shade

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Lady’s Mantle

Dry shade is a difficult condition in which to grow a garden, even for experienced gardeners.  Dry shade provides only limited sun and moisture for plant life. Without these two elements, most plant life will not grow.  So what is a gardener to do? There are a few steps a gardener can take before starting a dry shade garden in order to have a more successful garden.

bluestoneperennials.com
Solomon’s Seal

STEP 1. The first step is to visit the area where you would like to put the garden.  Go to the area several times during the day to determine how much sun is actually hitting the area and at what times of the day sun is getting through.

www.botanic.jp
Lamium

Look up and determine how much cover is provided by trees and other structures in the area.  Some trees, like birch and honeylocust, provide dappled shade because of their small leaves. Other trees, like oak and maple,  may create  deep shade with their large leaves essentially blocking most of the sunlight the area would receive. You need to determine what type of shade you have because that will determine the types of plants that will grow in that area.  Many plants will grow in dappled shade but far fewer plants will grow in deep shade.

Next, determine what time of day the sun is hitting the area? Morning sun is much cooler than afternoon sun.  This means a shade plant that is shaded most of the day but hit directly by afternoon sun, even for a short period of time, may actually suffer from burns by the sun. Believe it or not,  in this case, you may need to plant a sun-loving plant in that area of your shade garden!

STEP 2. Look around on the ground. Is there any plant life growing in the area now?  If so, what is it?  Is it herbaceous weeds, like dandelions and crabgrass, or is it mostly moss and mushrooms?  If plant life is abundant on the ground, it’s a good sign. This means that the area will likely support your new shade garden.   If there isn’t vegetation on the ground, it doesn’t mean you can’t put your new garden there,  it simply means you must determine why plants are not naturally growing in that area and fix the problem.

www.nitaleland.com
bare woodland floor

 If the ground in the area is desolate of herbaceous plant life, you’ll need to determine the cause. Is the area too shady for plant life? Is it too dry?  Is the ph of the soil really high or really low?  Is the ground infertile? (Hint:  If there was a house or other structure located on the area for many years, the ground may be sterile or contaminated.  If the ground is sterile, add compost.  If you feel the soil may be contaminated, contact your local authorities to determine what the contamination is and what needs to be done to contain it if necessary.)

Use your senses to determine the moisture level in the soil. Look at the soil.  Is the soil dry and cracked on the surface.  When you hold it in your hand, does it simply fall apart (dry) or can you press it into a ball (moisture is present)? If the soil is too dry,   you need to determine why.  View the area after a rainfall. Is dense tree cover keeping rain water from hitting the ground? Does rain hit the ground but simply run away from the area because the area is on a slope? Or, is the ground boggy and water pools on the surface, not soaking in as it should?

www.farnsworthlandscaping.com
step landscaping

If the area is dry because it is covered by a canopy of large dense trees, the area will need to be irrigated to provide the moisture necessary for a garden.  Running soaker hoses under the mulch after you plant your new garden is a great way to provide the moisture your plants will need to grow. (Hint: I don’t recommend using sprinklers in a shade garden because it creates a situation wherein the foliage of the plants remains wet for extended periods of time which could cause fungal issues in your garden.)

If the problem is that rain water is running down a slope, you may need to create small level areas called steps or terraces on which to plant your gardens.  This will help the area retain natural moisture from rainfall and dew. It also stops the soil from washing away in a heavy rain.

If the water is not soaking into the ground as it should and the area is not in a low spot on the ground that naturally collects rainwater, then the issue may be compacted soil.  Compacted soil is generally due to having too much clay in the soil.   Clay soil holds little by way of nutrients and because it is made up of such small particles, it compacts and does not allow water to flow through it.

How do you determine what your soil consists of?  There is a very simple and fun test you can do to determine your soil structure.

www.soilnet.com
soil composition test

Fill a glass jar with approximately 1/3 soil and 2/3 water. Seal the jar with the lid and shake it up.  Let the jar rest for a day to allow the soil to settle out of the water.  When the soil settles,  you should see three distinct layers: sand, silt, and clay. If there is any organic matter in the soil, like leaf particles, it will be floating on top. Sand particles, which are the largest and heaviest particles, will settle to the bottom of the jar.  Silt particles will make up the center layer of soil in the jar and clay particles, which are the smallest, will form a layer at the top.

Now that you know what your soil consists of, it will help you to determine your next step. Sandy soil allows all the moisture to drain away and creates a situation in which your garden will need to be watered constantly.  On the other hand, too much clay in the soil will create a situation in which the ground will retain water and become boggy and lack oxygen.  (Hint:  Plant leaves take in carbon dioxide but cells in the plant roots need oxygen to stay alive.)  Also, clay soil, with its small particles, tends to get compacted which creates a very dense and hard growing medium that plant roots struggle to penetrate.

Under most circumstances, it is almost always necessary to amend the soil in a new garden area with compost.  This will correct both sandy and clay soil situations. Compost adds organic matter that breaks down into the nutrients your plants will need to thrive.  It also improves the soil structure by aerating the soil. Oddly enough, it improves water retention in the soil while simultaneously improving drainage creating the perfect growing medium for plant life.

STEP 3.  Check the ph level of the soil.  This step is optional but it may help you to understand what will and what won’t grow in your new garden. (Hint: Look around to see what types of plants are naturally growing in the area.  Evergreens, oak trees, and hydrangeas like acid soil while grass, lilacs, and linden trees like neutral or slightly alkaline soil.)  Testing kits for ph can be found either at your local garden store or online.  They are generally under $10.  The test usually consists of a test tube, a capsule that tests the soil ph,  and a chart showing different colors for different levels of ph.  To run this test, add a small amount of soil to the test tube along with distilled water and the ph capsule.  Then seal the test tube and shake it. The water should change color.  Look at the chart that comes with the product to determine the ph level of the soil by the color of the water in the tube.  (Hint: Directions for each test product may vary so read the directions carefully before using your new soil ph test kit.)

Soil ph is important  because certain plants grow better in acidic soil, like hydrangeas and azaleas,  while others grow better in a more neutral or slightly alkaline soil, like spirea and brunnera. (Hint:  You can adjust the soil ph by adding amendments to the soil but I don’t recommend it. If the soil ph is really high or really low, amend the soil with compost and imported top soil.  If you simply want plants that don’t grow well in the soil that is present because of the ph, try growing them in pots because artificially changing the natural soil ph of the area may, through leaching,  injure or kill the plants naturally growing in the native soil around your new garden.  It’s always best to work with the soil ph that is present and plant accordingly.)

STEP 4. Is the ground fertile? There isn’t really an easy test for the average gardener to check the ground for fertility. The fertility of the ground is measured by the  nutrients that are present and in what amounts.  Generally, to begin any garden (or to add nutrients to an existing garden), the solution is to add plenty of compost.  Compost adds nutrients back to the soil naturally.  In addition to compost, you can also use a starter fertilizer when you plant your new garden plants to give them a boost and then use a general all-purpose fertilizer twice a year thereafter.  As always, I recommend using organic fertilizers when you can. They won’t burn your plants and they are better for the environment.

Finally it’s time to plant.  What types of plants grow in dry shade? Here is a list of just a few garden plants that will grow in dry shade to get you going. Remember also that the level of shade a plant will tolerate, from dappled shade to deep shade, will vary depending on the plant and sometimes by the variety as well. Don’t be afraid to do your own research to find just the right plants for your new garden.

  • Lady’s mantle
  • Helleborus
  • Brunnera
  • Fern
  • Hosta
  • Foxglove
  • Pachysandra
  • Vinca Minor
  • English Ivy
  • Bergenia
  • Dicentra (Bleeding hearts)
  • Foamflowers
  • Lenten Rose
  • Lamium
  • Tradescantia
  • Perennial Geranium

Dry shade is a challenging condition in which to grow plants but don’t shy away from it.  Gardening is all about trying new things and using your creativity to tackle the problem.  Dry shade can be a tough venture even for an experienced gardener but it’s well worth the work when you finally get to take that walk through your beautiful new shade garden enjoying the beauty of the landscape and the scents around you!

beautiful shade garden

Happy gardening!

Quote of the Day

“Gardening is learning, learning, learning. That’s the fun of them. You’re always learning. ”

–Helen Mirren, actress

Planning Next Year’s Garden

As I sit at my desk, watching the snow come down during our first blizzard, I am daydreaming of spring planting.  On my desk, gardening books and catalogs lay open to designs I love and plants I would like to have.  Graph paper and color pencils are patiently waiting as ideas begin to form.  If you are like me, when one growing season ends, it’s time to start planning the next.

I love design. I love planning for new flower beds and borders.  I also love to redesign old gardens with new walkways, trellises, or arbors along with flowers.  Fences can also add to the landscape by separating large gardens into smaller spaces.

Gardens separated by fences
Gardens separated by fences: http://www.mooseyscountrygarden.com/botanical-gardens/laking-garden-ontario.html

 

After settling on the new hardscape (walkways, retaining walls, etc.), it’s time to delve into the joy of picking out the new plantings.  It’s fun to pick out new perennials such as roses, delphiniums, peonies, and lilies but don’t forget to include decorative trees, like birch and canadian cherry, and shrubs, like viburnum and lilac.  Mixing flowers in with trees and shrubs gives your new garden the thoughtful balanced look every designer craves. This is where planning is really important.

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Landscape design with trees and shrubs

Adding trees and shrubs to the new landscaping will create a vision of beauty in your garden, however, there are some things to consider when doing so.  Trees and shrubs are more permanent parts of the landscape than annual and perennial flowers. Annual flowers must be replanted ever year and most perennial flowers that come up every year can be easily moved.  This is not the case with trees and shrubs.  It is important to take into consideration how large a tree or shrub will get at maturity, how long it takes to reach maturity, and the plant’s long term needs. For example, a small white pine tree may look elegant in the landscaping next to a red brick home but within a few short years it will outgrow the space and it will need to be removed.  A better option for such a space would be to plant an aborvaete or juniper that grows vertically and slender.  This will still give the homeowner the elegant evergreen appearance and the plant will be able to thrive in that space for many years to come.

Color and bloom time for each plant is also a consideration when planning a new garden or landscape.  Some plants, like hostas and coral bells,  are grown strickly for their foliage texture and color.   However, plants like peonies and lilacs, which are grown for their showy colorful blooms, have a definite bloom time.  It is important to plan around the bloom time of each plant to allow your garden to have consistent bloom coverage for the entire growing season.  To get the most from your garden, plant a mix of flowers and shrubs in the colors you like that start blooming in early spring, like tulips and forsythia, with summer bloomimg plants, like coneflowers and viburnum, and fall blooming plants, like mums and asters.  Then, to make sure there is no time your garden color falls flat, add in some annuals for all season color and a show-stopping look.

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Planning your new garden or redesigning an old one is fun way to stay in the gardening spirit even when the snow is falling outside. And, creating a good plan ahead of time will  give you a beautiful garden or landscape that is colorful and inviting all season long!

Happy gardening!

Quote of the Day

A black cat among roses, phlox, lilac-misted under a quarter moon, the sweet smells of heliotrope and night-scented stock. The garden is very still.  It is dazed with moonlight, contented with perfume…
― Amy Lowell, American poet

Saving Garden Seeds

Saving garden seeds is easy and inexpensive. I began saving seeds in law school as a way to save money.  I bought an organic acorn squash at the local grocery.  I ate the squash and dried the seeds.  Over the summer, I planted the seeds and I harvested 75 squash to take back to school with me.  My supply of squash lasted me the entire school year!

And, saving seeds from plants you love allows you to reproduce your favorite plants over and over again without spending a dime. (Hint* If your plant is a hybrid, plants produced by their seed may look or taste completely different. Look at the plant tag or the seed packet to determine whether your plant is a hybrid.  To reproduce identical plants from seed, use heirloom seeds or plants. )

Flowering Plants

In order to save seeds from a flowering plant you must stop deadheading to allow the flowers to mature into seed heads.   When the flowers shrivel up,  seed heads or seed pods will become evident.  Allow the seed heads or seed pods to mature and dry on the plant. If the seed heads or seed pods are on a plant that will drop its seeds, like petunias, or blow away, like garden thistle, simple place a piece of nylon stocking over the seed pod or seed head and secure it with garden twine  to catch the seeds.

Collecting seeds from a seed head is as simple as snipping the seed head off the flower and shaking or pulling the seeds off .  To collect the seeds from a seed pod, however, you remove the pod from the flower stem, open it, and shake the seeds into a   container. Or, snip the seed pod off the plant and allow it to fall directly into a paper bag. Seal the top of the paper bag and shake it vigorously. This will shake the seeds lose from the seed pod.  Then gather the seeds from the bottom of the bag and place them in a container or envelope. Store in a cool dry area.

If there is moisture remaining on the seeds, such as from dew or  precipitation, allow the seeds to dry completely for a few days to a week in a brown paper bag prior to putting them in a sealed container or envelope.  Or, lay a paper towel or clean cloth on a cookie sheet and place the seeds in a single layer on cookie tray.  Let the seeds dry in a dim, dry, cool area for a week or more before placing the seeds into a container or an envelope.  Finally, label the envelope or container and store in a cool dry place.

 

Vegetables

squash seeds

Seeds from vegetables are generally harvested from the fruit itself, however there are exceptions.   Some of the easiest plants to harvest seeds from is the squash or the pumpkin. Simply cut open the pumpkin or squash and remove the seeds and the pulp.  Next place the seeds and pulp in a kitchen strainer and wash them with cool water.  Continue to rinse under cool water until all the pulp is removed and the seeds are clean. Spread a paper towel or clean cloth on a cookie pan and spread the seeds out in a single layer on the pan careful to remove any small, damaged, or immature seeds. Leave the seeds to dry in a dim, dry, cool place for a week or two.  Then transfer the seeds into a clean jar or envelope. Don’t forget to label your container.

Tomato seeds can be saved using the same process as pumpkin or squash. Simply cut open a tomato and squeeze the seeds and pulp out into a strainer.  Tomato seeds are much tinier than pumpkin seeds so use a strainer with a fine grid.  Rinse them under cool water until the seeds are clean and all the pulp is removed.  Lay the cleaned seeds out on a clean cloth or paper towel and allow to dry for a week or two.  Periodically during the drying process, run your hands over the seeds to separate the seeds into a single layer to dry completely as the seeds tend to stick together when wet. You can also follow a more rigorous process called fermentation for tomato seeds that I found on Permaculture Research Institute website.  I have never tried this method of saving seeds but  I’d love to hear your thoughts about this process if you try it.

Carrots and celery, both of which are Biennials , are among a group of vegetables whose seeds are harvested like those of flowering plants, but are harvested after the second year’s growth.  The tops of these plants flower and set seed after the second year.  To thoroughly dry the seed heads, cut the seed heads from the plant and place the whole seed head in a brown paper bag up to a week to finish drying. When the seed heads are thoroughly dry, shake the bag to release the seeds from the seed heads.  Gather the seeds from the bottom of the bag and place them in an envelope or jar to be kept for planting the following year.

These are just a few suggestions on saving seeds for a few different flowers and vegetables.  If you have questions about saving seeds from specific plants, don’t hesitate to do a quick online search on trusted sites. Saving seeds is easy, it saves money,  and it allows you to reproduce your favorite plants.  But remember, hybrid plants don’t reproduce by seed to create an identical plant, but heirloom seeds do, so try ordering seeds from heirloom seed suppliers like Harvesting History

Good luck and Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

“The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.”

-Gertrude Jekyll, British horticulturalist and writer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Biennials

Biennials comprise some of the most beautiful flowers in the landscape.  Biennials include such lovely flowers as hollyhocks, sweet william (also called dianthus), and foxglove.  But what exactly is a biennial and how do you grow it?

What is a biennial?

To answer the question, “What is a biennial?”, it may help to first define the other types of flowers that are more well known.  Annuals are flower that must be planted every year.  They grow, set seed, and die within the same season. They don’t come back.  Perennials are flowers that grow, flower, die back to the ground, and come back the following year and the year after and so on.

Biennials are odd in that they combine the behaviors of both annuals and perennials.  Biennials sprout from seed the first year.  The plants focus all their energy on growing sturdy roots and healthy greens but will not flower during the first year of growth.  Biennials will then die back to the ground for the winter and come back the following spring.  In the second year of growth, the biennials create a stunning display of flowers and set seed. After setting seed, biennial plants die completely and don’t come back.  So a biennial grows the first year and dies back to the ground for the winter like a perennial.  The following year the biennial will flower, set seed, and die, root and all,  like an annual.

How do you grow a biennial?

Because of the interesting growing behavior of biennials, there is a trick to growing them.  In order to have beautiful flowers every year when you start biennials, plant biennials by seed for two years consecutively or plant potted biennials for several years in a row.  Thereafter, either let the seeds fall to the ground or collect the seeds to reseed the following year. This means do not deadhead your biennial flowers.  Instead, allow the flower head to dry up and collect the seeds to replant the following season or allow them to drop to the ground so the plant reseeds itself. This process of planting will give you a never ending supply of biennial flowers year after year after year.

How are biennials special?

Biennials are a special type of plant. They have a fascinating mix of annual and perennial growth behavior.  In order to have their flowering presence in the garden every year, the gardener must follow a special process.  However, biennials are well worth the effort. They have some of the most beautiful flowers of any garden plant.

Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

 

Shed no tear! O shed no tear!

The flower will bloom another year.

Weep no more! O weep no more!

Young buds sleep in the root’s white core.

-John Keats, English poet

 

 

 

 

Preparing Perennials for Winter

It’s September.  The nighttime temperatures are beginning to drop.  The morning air is crisp and cool.  The summer sun is setting, fall is coming, and winter will soon be here.  It’s time to begin thinking about preparing your landscape for winter.  The question is, “What do I have to do to prepare my perennials for winter?”

First of all, what the heck is a perennial?

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Hosta. Photo by Wanette Lenling

One of the questions that first time gardeners always ask is what is the difference between a perennial flower and an annual flower.  It’s simple. Annuals have to be planted yearly (annually) and perennials come back up year after year (perennially). Annuals include such flowers as petunias, impatiens, and alyssum.  Perennials include such garden favorites as daylilies, hostas, and coral bells.  Whereas annuals live for one season, set their seeds and die,  perennial plants hibernate during the winter only to burst forth in the spring with new growth when the weather warms.  There is also a whole other set of plants called biennials that act like both perennials and annuals! I won’t cover biennials here as I will tackle that subject in an upcoming blog so stay tuned!

hollyhocks
Hollyhocks, are a common biennial.    Photo from http://www.alientravelguide.com

In the fall, annual flowers  can be dug up and discarded into the compost pile. Their life cycle is complete and they will need to be replanted either by seed or as transplants the following spring.  So then, the question remains: “What do I do with my perennials for the winter?”

Do I have to cut down my perennials in the fall?

I have both cut down my perennials for winter and left them up. As a naturalist organic gardener, I prefer to leave my healthy perennials uncut for winter when I can.  In nature, as plants die back in fall, the base of the plant is insulated from the cold with the plants own dead leaves and other garden debris like fallen tree leaves.  Snow acts as a secondary insulation keeping the ground temperatures stable and creating a barrier between the plant and the biting cold air. With a moderate amount of snow cover, the ground temperature, even near the surface, will actually hover just below freezing.  This is why water pipes do not freeze when they are buried underground!

For a more concrete example of layered insulation, think of how a home is insulated with multiple layers of insulation.  There is siding on your house under which is sheeting to keep out moisture and drafts and then there is fiberglass or blown insulation in the walls between the studs.  Mother nature uses the same concept of multiple layers of insulation to keep plants protected from harsh winter weather.

What do I need to do to protect my perennials when I cut them down for winter?

It is not uncommon for gardeners to cut down all their perennials in fall.  It keeps your yard looking neat and tidy and prepares the landscape for next spring.  And, if you live in an area with a Home Owners Association, you may be required to clean up your landscape in the fall to stay within the rules of the HOA. There is nothing wrong with cleaning up your landscape in the fall.  In fact, if you have had any insect, bacterial, or fungal infestations, you definitely want to remove the greens from at least those plants. Throw this plant material away rather than putting it in the compost pile as it may spread the problem onto next year’s landscape.

If you choose to cut down your perennials, it is a good idea to cover them with a layer of mulch several inches thick to protect them from the winter air. The mulch can be anything from purchased wood mulch to straw or tree leaves. Leave the mulch on the perennials for the duration of the winter.  In the spring, carefully rake the mulch away, uncovering your perennials, to allow the spring sun to warm the ground.  Your perennials should wake from their slumber and begin to grow.

It is especially important to cover tender perennials, even if you don’t cut them off.  A tender perennial is basically a perennial that a gardener is attempting to grow in a climate zone with harsher winter temperatures than what is generally recommended for that plant.  For example, a zone 5 perennial grown in zone 4 would be considered a  tender perennial in zone 4.  The plant will need much more care in zone 4 in order to help it survive the winter, if it will at all. (Please see the following link to learn more about your growing zone:  USDA Zone Map  ) If you are attempting to grow a plant in a colder zone than is recommended, please do a search on the particular plant you are attempting to grow in order to find out what professionals or other gardeners recommend for winter protection for that specific plant in your specific area. It may save you the heartache of having to replace your plant in the spring.

 

Perennials with a purpose.

There are some plants you may want to consider leaving up for the winter simply because of their striking beauty or usefulness.

Red Twig Dogwood
Red twig dogwood photo found at http://www.menet.umn.edu

Upright sedum such as ‘Autumn Joy’  and ornamental grasses like ‘Karl Forester’  look gorgeous in the winter landscape.  Dried sedum flower heads  with a soft dusting of snow covering them add interest to the winter landscape and the movement of ornamental grasses in the winter breeze surrounded by snow is undeniably beautiful.  Another noteworthy exception is red twig dogwood.  Even though it is a woody shrub and not a perennial flower many people cut it down in the fall. It is definitely worth leaving up for its striking red winter color.

Some other perennials that you may also consider leaving up are flowers with seeds that are consumed by birds like coneflowers and black-eyed susans. Coreopsis, or tickseed as it is commonly called, is also a favorite of winter wildlife.  The birds will love the winter buffet and you get to enjoy the view!

A little preparation in the fall on your part is all it takes to insure that your plants have a great shot of surviving the winter weather.  It’s well worth the time and effort when you see those same plants bringing your garden to life in the spring.

Happy Gardening!

 

Quote of the Day

“The spring, summer, is quite a hectic time for people in their lives, but then it comes to autumn, and to winter, and you can’t but help think back to the year that was, and then hopefully looking forward to the year that is approaching.”

-Enya, Irish singer and songwriter

 

 

 

How to Safely Maintain a Mixed Landscape

Mixing edibles into the landscape with ornamentals creates a beautiful and interesting landscape that is also productive.  However, common synthetic landscape chemicals are not always recommended for use on edibles.  Plants absorb the chemicals we put on them through the roots and leaves.  The presence of these chemicals in and around the edible plant may make the plant and its produce unsafe for you and your family to eat.  So how do you maintain a healthy productive mixed landscape without the use of synthetic chemicals? By using safe organic alternatives to maintain your plants, it is possible to create a beautiful mixed landscape of  ornamentals and edibles without introducing unsafe toxins.

Fertilizers

Organic fertilizers are very popular now and can be found at most local garden stores or online sites.  These fertilizers come in liquid, granular, and pellet forms. Use the fertilizer that is right for your landscape.  Some plants, like roses and blueberries, have special nutritional needs. These nutritional needs can be met by simply using specialized organic fertilizers.  Generally however a simple all purpose slow release fertilizer spread over your lawn and landscape twice a year is all it takes to keep your plants healthy and productive all summer long.

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Compost

Compost is always recommended to improve the texture of the soil but it also adds nutritional value and trace elements to the soil that are necessary for proper plant growth and food production.  Compost can be purchased at most local garden stores but for those gardeners that wish to create their own compost or for more information about the nutritional value of compost in your landscape, please refer to my article on compost that will explain the ins and outs of compost and compost production.   Compost. What’s The Big Deal?

*Hint: In home-made compost, use only yard and grass clippings that have not been treated with synthetic chemicals, especially herbicides.  Synthetic chemicals do not break down naturally and may remain in the compost. If herbicides are present in your compost, you could inadvertently kill your entire landscape when the compost is applied.

Herbicides (Weed Killers)

Weeds are the bane of any garden.  Keeping up with the weeding takes a lot of time and energy. The CobraHead Garden Tool makes this job a lot easier.  See my review of the CobraHead at The CobraHead. An Amazing Garden Tool. But to reduce the time it takes to weed by hand, herbicides can be applied to help control the weed population in your garden and landscape. Although there are a great number of synthetic herbicides on the market, they can be dangerous to humans and animals.  Luckily there are a number of natural herbicides available to help control the weeds in your landscape.

CobraHead and Mini CobraHead
CobraHead and Mini CobraHead garden tools

Corn Gluten Meal:  Corn gluten meal is a byproduct of milling corn.  It is a natural fertilizer that also works as a pre-emergent herbicide.  A pre-emergent herbicide stops the plant from taking root once the seed begins to grow.  Be aware that corn gluten meal will stop all seeds from taking root, including garden and grass seeds.  Read the manufacturer’s directions before using this product if you intend to plant seeds in your garden or over-seed your lawn.

Vinegar Vinegar:  An easy and inexpensive herbicide that is common in most households is plain white vinegar.  Vinegar contains acetic acid which is deadly to plants.  Common household vinegar is safe for humans but manufactured vinegar herbicides may contain a stronger vinegar solution which can be hazardous to humans and pets.  If you choose to purchase a manufactured vinegar herbicide, read the manufacturer’s label for instructions prior to use.

Vinegar works as a herbicide by drying up the leaves of the plant.  It works best on young plants and annual weeds.  It does not kill the root of the plant so several applications may be necessary to kill larger plants or perennial weeds.  To use common household vinegar as a herbicide, simply pour full strength vinegar into a spray bottle and spray on the leaves of the undesired plant.  Vinegar will kill all plants indiscriminately so it may help to use a piece of cardboard to protect desirable plants while spraying.  This will keep them safe from the vinegar spray. Repeat as necessary until weeds are gone.

Fungicide

To prevent outbreaks of fungus in the garden or to treat fungus that is already present, there are several organic solutions.  If one of the following solutions does not work, modify the strength of the solution or try another solution as some fungus is more susceptible to certain treatments than others.

Cinnamon:  Cinnamon is a natural anti-fungal.  It works on many types of fungus but is especially good at preventing damping-off disease on seedlings.  To treat new seedlings growing in starter trays, try sprinkling cinnamon on the soil.  Cinnamon can also be made into a “tea” by steeping one tablespoon of cinnamon in a gallon of hot water.  Leave it overnight to cool.  When it has cooled, filter the “tea”, then pour it into a spray bottle.  Spray the “tea” directly on the plants and the soil.  Spray once a week to prevent an outbreak or to treat a current fungal infection.

013.jpg  Milk:  Milk is also naturally anti-fungal.  Milk works on current fungal infections but also works as a preventative as well. Mix milk (2% works best) and water in a ratio of 1:4 in a spray bottle.  Spray it on the affected plant once a week, making sure to spray the underside of the leaves as well.  Milk works best if it is sprayed on the plant in the early morning or in the evening as it needs to stay moist to kill the fungus. Repeat until the fungus is gone.

Cedar Oil:  Cedar oil, which can be purchased at most garden stores, has been shown to have both anti-fungal and insecticidal qualities.  Cedar oil as an insecticide is discussed below.  Cedar oil as an anti-fungal is applied by spraying the affected plant and works similar to the milk treatment.  Read the manufacturer’s label for proper mixture strength and application instructions.

Insecticides (Bug killers) and Deterrents

Insecticides kill bugs, while other products act as a deterrent.  Attempting to kill all the insects in your garden or landscape is not recommended as beneficial insects, like bees and lady bugs are just that, beneficial. They pollinate your vegetables and eat the destructive insects like aphids.  However, killing or deterring detrimental insects will help keep your landscape beautiful, productive, and comfortable to work in.

Dish soap  Dish SoapDish soap in an excellent insecticide.  It is safe and effective for use in the landscape and garden.  Insecticidal soaps may be purchased at most garden stores. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for use.  To use regular dish soap as an insecticide on your plants, mix one tablespoon dish soap with one tablespoon olive oil or liquid vegetable oil in a spray bottle and fill the bottle with water.  Spray down the affected plant being sure to wet the leaves on the top and bottom.  Do not spray plants in direct sunlight as this may cause a condition called sun scald (sun burn) on your plant.  Also, some plants may be sensitive to dish soap so if in doubt, test the dish soap mixture on a small portion of the plant first and wait a few days.  If the plant remains healthy, it is probably safe to spray down the entire plant.

Dish soap insecticide works on contact with the body of the insect and has no residual effects so a few hours after treating your plant, use a hose or spray bottle with clean water, to wash down your plant and remove any soap residue and dead insects.  Repeat this process every three days until all signs of infestation are gone.

Cedar Oil:  Cedar wood smells good and has been used for hundreds of years to deter insects.  Cedar oil, when sprayed on the lawn, will deter fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and many other pest insects. There is a caveat.  Cedar oil will also deter beneficial insects like bees and butterflies so do not use it on plants that are in need of pollination, including garden vegetables and fruit trees, and in butterfly gardens.

Cedar oil is not harmful to plants, animals, or humans. It can be purchased at most garden stores or online.  Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for proper application.

Diatomaceous Earth:  Diatomaceous earth has been used for many years as an effective insecticide.    It is silicon dioxide that comes from the fossilized remains of ancient algae that is mined from the ground.  It is non-toxic and safe for home and garden use.  Diatomaceous earth is generally sold as a powder and remains effective as long as it stays dry.  It can be used in the house any place insects hide or it can be used in the garden either on the ground or as a dust to protect plants from harmful insects.

The powder is comprised of sharp microscopic pieces that cut the insect’s underside causing damage leading to dehydration and death.  It works best on soft bodied insects like aphids and gastropods like slugs and snails. Even though diatomaceous earth is non-toxic, care should be taken not to breath in the dust or get it in your eyes due to the substance’s sharp microscopic texture.  Using gloves and a mask is recommended to apply this product and always read the package instructions for proper use.

Beer or copper for Slugs:  Slugs can be a problem for any gardener.  They chew holes in leaves and can devastate plants in a short amount of time.  As I have already covered this topic thoroughly in a previous post I will simply add the link here:   The Trouble With Slugs  Mixing edibles into the landscape with your existing ornamentals can be extremely appealing visually as well as a productive use of your landscape space. With careful  organic plant maintenance, your plantings will be safe, productive, and very beautiful!

Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

“You’ve got to out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.”

-Will Rogers, American Actor

Bonus Quote:

“The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”

-Moliere, French playwright and actor