Posts tagged mulch

Iowa’s weed season

   I’ve driven right past my plot in the city gardens, not recognizing it from what it was a week, or even days before. The rain and heat make the perfect recipe for weed season in Iowa. They grow fast and my combat methods are slower than the tillers many people use.

    Richard Jauron, extension horticulturalist at Iowa State University wrote the following about weed control in Iowa:

   Weeds are those annoying plants that gardeners love to hate. In the garden, weeds compete with desirable plants for water, nutrients, sunlight and growing space. They also may harbor insects and diseases. Allowed to run rampant in the garden, weeds can drastically reduce yields of fruits and vegetables. in addition, they hinder the performance of annual and perennial flowers.

    The first step in weed control is identification of the weed or weeds. The type of weed helps determine the best method of control. The two main types of weeds are annuals and perennials. Annual weeds germinate from seeds, grow, flower, set seed and die within one year. Perennial weeds live for three or more years. Most perennial weeds die back to the ground in fall, but their crowns or roots produce new shoots in spring. Weeds also can be classified as broadleaf weeds or grasses.

    There are three general methods of weed control in the home garden: cultivation (hoeing and tilling) and hand pulling, mulches and herbicides.

Cultivation and hand pulling effectively control most annual weeds. Perennial weeds are often more difficult to control. Repeated cultivation is often necessary to destroy some perennial weeds. When cultivating the garden, avoid deep tillage. The roots of many vegetables, fruits and flowers grow near the soil surface.  Deep cultivation will cut off some of these roots. Also, deep cultivation will bring deeply buried weed seeds to the soil surface where they can germinate. Hoe or till around plants or between plant rows, and pull weeds close to plants.

    To effectively control weeds, cultivation and hand pulling must be done periodically through the growing season. Small weeds are much easier to control than large weeds. It’s also important to destroy the weeds before they have a chance to go to seed.

    Mulches control weeds by preventing the germination of annual and perennial weed seeds. Established weeds should be destroyed prior to the application of the mulch. In addition to weed control, mulches help conserve soil moisture, reduce soil erosion, prevent crusting of the soil surface, keep fruits and vegetables clean and may reduce disease problems.

    Grass clippings, shredded leaves and weed-free straw are excellent mulches for vegetable gardens and annual flower beds. Apply several inches of these materials in early June after the soil has warmed sufficiently. Plant growth may be slowed if these materials are applied when soil temperatures are still cool in early spring. Grass clippings, shredded leaves and similar materials break down relatively quickly and can be tilled into the soil in fall.

Wood chips and shredded bark are excellent mulches for perennial beds and areas around trees and shrubs. Apply two to four inches of material around landscape plantings. These materials decay slowly and should last a few years. However, it’s often necessary to apply additional material annually to retain the desired depth.

   Herbicides can be used to supplement cultivation, hand pulling and mulches. However, several limitations prevent the extensive use of herbicides in the garden. Only a small number of herbicides are available to home gardeners. Additionally, most home gardens contain a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers. No one herbicide can be safely used around all garden and landscape plants. If not applied properly, herbicides may cause unintended damage to fruits, vegetables and ornamentals. Herbicides are pesticides. When using any pesticide, carefully read and follow label directions.

Weeds are a persistent problem for home gardeners. However, weeds can be effectively controlled by cultivation, hand pulling, mulches and (on occasion) herbicides. Persistence is the key. Gardeners need to be as persistent with their weed control efforts as weeds are in coming back again, and again and again.

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Mixing pets and plants

The following is by Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith:

    So the kids talked you into getting a dog.  But you want to keep your lawn attractive.  With planning, it is possible to mix pets and plants. Perhaps container gardening is the answer for your flowers.

            If a kennel and run is not in your vision, design a cobblestone or decorative pebble area in an interesting shape with some large rocks then train your dog to use only that area. Good drainage is a necessity.  Diluting urine will help eliminate yellow spots in the lawn.  Wherever you choose to let the dog urinate, hose that area thoroughly and routinely.  Raised beds are functional, easy to work in, and will control urination on the gardens. 

            Select sturdy plants.  Coneflowers and Liatris are good possibilities.  One poke from a thorny plant will deter your pet.  Barberry Bushes have showy purple, gold or variegated foliage and outstanding fall color.  Viburnum flowers in spring and exhibits flashy fall color.  Flowering trees will provide above ground level color.  If you’re absolutely in love with a fragile looking delicate plant, put it in a hanging basket or an elevated planter.  If you plan to use evergreen shrubs, note that squirrels, chipmunks, and other small critters may move in around them creating potential for altercations and injury between the wildlife and your pet.

            Puppies are inquisitive, and plants like Hollyberry, English Ivy, and Yews are poisonous.  If you question a plant’s toxicity, inquire at your local extension office, Master Gardener Hort. Line (319-447-0647), or your veterinarian before purchasing it. 

            Whether you’re gardening for pets, wildlife or the environment, it’s a good idea to limit the use of chemicals.  A pesticide with a taste attractive to insects may also be attractive to your pet.  Read the label directions thoroughly: look for pet safe. 

            The safest mulch for your pet is leaves and cut grasses.  Mow, bag, and use generously.  Even if Rover investigates what’s under the mulch, he can’t hurt himself by ingesting a chemical.  Plus, you’re not feeding the landfill.

            Just as kids need discipline, pets can learn respect for plants and lawns, too.  Spend some time and effort learning the ropes together.  With effort, and a good pooper-scooper, it is possible for flora and fauna to coexist.

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Garden experimentation

   The following is by Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith: My daughter’s garden is going to amount to a hill of beans.  Her first family garden last year was so much fun that they planted another.  Michelle dug a hole for a tomato and as she picked up the  plant, two year old Charlie dumped a half package of green beans in the hole and then proceeded to cover the seeds with his yellow plastic rake, “Back and forth, Gramma, back and forth”.  No problem, we’ll just use a trellis and enjoy Charlie and his beanstalk.  Catie was a big help, too.  She labeled a stake for both ends of the rows so we’ll be sure to know what we planted.  FYI, the rows are all of ten feet long.  Watering the seeds daily until they germinate hasn’t been a problem as long as no one minds that Charlie can turn on the spigot and water himself, Catie, and the neighbor’s dog.  We’re waiting to mulch the plants until they sprout in an effort to keep Charlie off the rows. With limited garden space, they’re experimenting with a hanging container cherry tomato plant. The container will probably require watering daily, allowing the water to run through the container. 

   Charlie helped us plant Hosta in their back yard this week.  The family is renovating the yard so some landscaping is in order. Their home is nestled on a hill surrounded by mature trees.  We planted several Hostas between a retaining wall and a tree where they will enjoy speckled sunlight.  Hosta prefers a rich organic soil, but they will grow in about anything.  We have access to aged horse manure to augment the soil and topped that, of course, with hardwood mulch. 

   Michelle plans to alternate Day Lilies and Iris in a sunny spot in front of the house.  Both are perennials preferring full sun and fertile, well drained soil, but once established will tolerate drought.  The latter makes them a good choice for a busy working Mom with two equally busy youngsters.

   Annuals will supplement other spaces.  Petunias, Snapdragons and Salvia are sun lovers.  Impatiens are shade/part shade lovers.  All are easy keepers.

    Eventually there will be shrubs and other flowering perennials.  Michelle and her family are having such a good time experimenting with what works and what doesn’t with both their vegetable and flower gardens.  And that’s what gardening should be about:  family and fun!

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Using (free!) compost to restore flooded yards

 

Screening equipment and compost piles at the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency's site in southwest Cedar Rapids (Cindy Hadish photo)

Screening equipment and compost piles at the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency's site in southwest Cedar Rapids (Cindy Hadish photo)

   Stacie Johnson, compost expert extraordinaire, sent me a note about getting flooded yards back in shape. Stacie, education coordinator for the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency, said owners of flood-damaged homes have been calling the agency about using compost as fill as they begin work on their yards this spring.  Last June’s floods wiped out the vegetation of thousands of homes in Eastern Iowa, especially in the Cedar Rapids area. One caller wanted to put compost 4 inches deep on her lawn, but Stacie advises against using compost as fill or topsoil. The grass might sprout, but would have long-term problems growing. Also, it would make a very soft spot in the yard, as compost is mostly organic matter with little mineral content. 

      The Agency is giving away free compost for Linn County residents and Stacie wants it to be used so it’s most beneficial to these homeowners.

Here is what she says:

    Compost is a good source of soil organic matter and shouldn’t be used as you would topsoil.  The three compost applications recommended by the Solid Waste Agency are mulching, amending and top-dressing.

Mulching: add one inch of compost as a mulch layer, no need to work in and can be topped off with wood mulch for a formal landscape.

 Amending: (most likely the best approach for flood homes)  work one to two inches into the top six inches of existing soil.

 Top Dressing – spread 1/4 to ½-inch layer of compost over existing lawn; best to aerate before top dressing and reseed after.

A rule of thumb for how much compost is needed to complete a project:  square footage x depth x .0031 = cubic yards needed for your soil amendment project.

The agency’s Web site: www.solidwasteagency.org has more information on hours and where you can pick up the compost. The compost is made from the leaves and other natural materials collected in Yardys. It is aged in piles and unwanted materials are removed with a heavy-duty screening machine. The result is rich, dark compost that is great for the soil.

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Good news/bad news on annuals

The following is from Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith:

 It’s a good news, bad news thing.  Annuals provide long-lasting color throughout the summer. Then they die. 

       Perennials, while often providing dramatic color and impression, also often hold blooms for only a short time.  So, mix annuals with perennials.  Tuck annuals in and around trees and shrubs for a surprise splash of color. Use annuals in a container combining colors and textures.  Try some annuals in your vegetable garden. 

           Plan, plan, plan.  Think about what you’re doing.  Starting small works.  Remember when it’s 110’ in the shade in August, you may not want to be tending to an entire back yard of flowers.  But, make an impact.  Down by the road I have a 1’ x 60’ group of plantings that I never have gotten right.  The perennials keep coming up, but there just isn’t any emotion.  Maybe expanding it with a serpentine arrangement will help.  Annuals will be the option until I decide how I want it to ultimately evolve.  

     Color counts.  Create mood and interest with color.  Cool colors like greens, blues and violets help a small area seem larger and hot spots cooler.  Warm colors, the oranges, reds, and yellows, will warm a location and steal the show.  Go ahead:  combine warm and cool contrasting colors.  Yellow and blue are stunning together; red and green eye catching.  Use your imagination.  If you have a very favorite color, create a monochromatic garden but keep interest by varying textures. 

            Choose the right plants.  Annuals that require deadheading and staking may not be your cup of tea.  Reading the label is critical to know proper care. 

           Annuals require one inch of water each week.  When you can see four leaves on each plant, add mulch.  Mulch impedes weed growth and helps retain moisture.  Compost is a wonderful amendment. 

            Visit your favorite garden center.  Ask lots of questions.  Visit your neighbors’ gardens.  Ask lots of questions.  Dig in the dirt and then enjoy what you’ve created.

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I Spy

Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith, submitted the following about springtime preparations:

 

I spy, with my little eye, something green.  It’s tiny, a sliver, and there’s another and another right there in my yard.  Under the melting snow and ice, live grass is trying to peek through.  Is it my imagination to expect green grass in early March?  As soon as we endure the annual State Girls’ Basketball Tournament snowstorm, it will be spring in Iowa!  Then, we can dig into yard work. 

Initially we monitor the gardens’ environments.  Disease prevention can save future headaches.  Start by removing unwanted leaves, branches and other debris deposited by wind or critters. Prune or trim back the stems you left for winter interest.   Peruse your garden catalog for species and varieties that are disease resistant.  Know if your new plantings prefer shade or a sunny setting.   Plan plantings to provide adequate airflow.   Humidity and wetness under the canopy are often conducive to disease so spacing is important. Maintaining good plant vigor through proper watering and fertilizing will make your plants less prone to disease.  As you plan your garden, consider the water source.  How many trips will you need to make with a watering can or how far will you have to drag a hose?  Is a rain barrel feasible in or near the bed?  How about a soaker hose?  I have two beds near the road ditch.   I alternate running the soaker hoses from a spigot beside the house.  I also have a water barrel mounted in a wagon to use for beds where no running water is available.   Proper timing with fertilization will be important.  Follow label directions on packages.   Retain the water and feeding directions for further reference. 

Compost amends the soil.  Use it abundantly!  Mulch is a valuable asset.  It helps hold moisture, chokes out weeds and prevents too much water from splashing on the underside of plants during a heavy rain.  I stock up my season’s supply as soon as each becomes available.

 Bird houses are a wonderful addition to a garden.  A water feature will attract birds and butterflies.  Both come in all manner of shapes and size. 

Remember to check out the rakes and shovels and tune up the lawn mower.  As soon as the soil is above 50 degrees, it’s time to plant!  

 

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Time for city gardens

  I renewed my city garden lease yesterday and talked to a few other people who were doing the same. Cedar Rapids has leased garden plots – 20-by-50-feet of land each – at Ellis, Squaw Creek and Tuma parks. Cost is $20 annually. Renewals run through March 2, and after that, the plots can be leased to other people. Gardeners must go to the Ambroz Recreation Center, 2000 Mount Vernon Rd. SE, to reserve a garden. Ambroz is open 8-5, Monday through Friday.

Butterfly on milkweed at Cindy's city-leased garden in July 2008.

Butterfly on milkweed at Cindy's city-leased garden in July 2008.

 

  

   Last year wasn’t the best for gardening, with temperatures too cold to get the plants going in the spring, and then, of course, the rain. All of the gardeners at Ellis were completely washed out for the season due to the June flood (except for a couple of die-hards who returned after the water receded.) But soil tests conducted on the land have shown it’s not contaminated, according to the city, and gardeners are eager to try again.

 

   Chris Pliszka, who has leased a garden at Ellis for about five years, asked city workers about possible chemicals that were left behind by the floods.

Chris said he was comfortable going back after being told it wasn’t contaminated. Like other gardeners, he’s looking forward to growing fresh vegetables to eat from his garden. “The taste is amazing,” he said. Chris tries to get to his garden every day during the season, which brings up an important point about the leased gardens. The last two years, with gas prices high, I thought spending one solid day every week in my garden would be more practical than going a few times a week. The weeds proved too powerful and it became a constant battle between their overwhelming forces and my less-than-overwhelming hoe. Many people use tillers and some use chemical means to control their weeds. I’m going to try to be more aggressive with my mulching system and see if the weedy powers-that-be can be overcome this year.

 

 

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Flood advice

Landscape designer and author Janet Macunovich, who will be keynote speaker at the upcoming Winter Gardening Fair at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, wrote this advice in 2005 after she and her husband, garden photographer Steve Nikkila,  experienced flooding at their home in Michigan.  Janet passed this along as advice for Iowans who were flooded last year.  She writes: “Although it’s been a year since Cedar Rapids’ devastating flood, I am sure what’s in it is still applicable, as gardens can’t be the first thing we think about after such a disaster, and they take time.”


Special to those with flooded gardens.
I’m thinking this week about gardeners in the path of Hurricane Katrina who were fortunate enough to be spared flooding within their homes, or who cleaned up from minimal interior damage only to find that their yards were not similarly spared.

Three times in the last five years, my own yard has been under 18 inches to several feet of water that poured in from uphill areas when over-taxed storm drains failed. Luck the first time, and then fast sandbagging during subsequent floods, kept the water in our slab home to under a foot. Yet all the relief I felt after removing the interior mud disappeared when I realized how much debris, piled soil, displaced mulch and gullies had been deposited, plowed and cut by the force of so much water moving through my garden.

So my heart goes out to you who are recovering from flood or trying to help one of those gardeners reclaim their beds. I hope when you conquer the despair and the anger and start the reclamation that some of the following notes may make your work easier.

Use the triage approach of doctors working in disaster situations. Spend the time you have on the most important and permanent plants in your yard, even if it means losing some others. Rinse off evergreens so their needles and leaves can return to full photosynthetic power. Then they can produce enough energy to make internal repairs or grow roots to replace those lost to drowning. Pull soil away from the trunks of trees and shrubs. Banked soil traps moisture against the bark and can incite rot the plant will be unable to repair. Cut back water-battered shrubs, even if this means removing major limbs. Chances are such a plant will grow back much more quickly than you imagine but even if it revives slowly it will be at a better pace and to a better end than if you left it alone. That’s because a few clean cuts take less energy to seal over than dozens or hundreds of breaks.

If a large tree has shifted and is leaning, do not try to brace or straighten it. Call in an arborist and be prepared to hear you have to remove it. Submerged soil floats, removing the weight that was anchoring the tree’s surprisingly shallow pan of roots. Many trees topple in a hurricane not from wind but when water renders weightless the anchor that was counterbalancing the tree’s top. A tree that doesn’t fall but only leans may remain in that position once the water departs but it will never be as stable as it once was, and may be a serious hazard in the next storm. Nothing you can do to the trunk will change that.

Don’t scoop up and reuse mulch that floated and piled up wherever the water slowed in its path. That mulch is no longer an asset in weed control but a liability, since it is full of weed seeds that came with the water. Instead, gather and pile that mulch high enough (three feet or more) to make a hot compost. The heat of active composting will kill weed seeds.

Right now and for the next couple of seasons, be extra vigilant about applying and maintaining a mulch layer. Mulch over the mulch you already have, even if you would have waited until next spring to renew it. If you normally go without mulch during the growing season, it will be better to make a temporary change. Over years, your attention to your garden had reduced the number of weed seeds in the top layer of the soil, so weeding had become less of a chore. The flooded garden, however, has been loaded with seeds from other places. Some may be weed species brand new to your experience. Be ready for them — suppress them before they can start.

Don’t hesitate – cut down all herbaceous plants that were battered. It will simplify removing debris and shifting flood-piled soil. The cutback is unlikely to kill them when it comes this late in the season.

Before you start digging and raking, determine just how much soil was deposited over your perennials. Most can emerge successfully through about an inch of extra soil. Bulb plants can manage even when buried 3 or 4 inches deeper than before. Where a heavier layer of soil covered an area, consider keeping it as a raised bed. Dig up a few perennials, divide them and replant the area with those starts at the new level.

Resist the urge to use collected debris to fill gullies that were gouged by fast moving water. Where the water moved fast enough to scour and cut this time, it will move quickly if it comes again. Such areas need to be filled and tamped down using uniform, dense material such as sand and gravel that will make a smooth, heavy, low-friction surface. Water will slide past. In contrast, junk makes a loose fill that presents a myriad of edges to rushing water. That water will pluck things loose, quickly making depressions that will then become a new wash-out.

Include damage to paved surfaces in your damage report to FEMA. You may find some help in resurfacing not just the driveway, but walks or patios that crumbled and washed away when their bases flushed away.

Expect your reclamation to take years. Higher expectations can sap your soul. Accept that some things will die or need replacement, even though they survived the flood itself. Try to think in terms of opportunity to try new things, rather than dwelling on the losses.

Give yourself a view that will fuel your heart rather than your depression. Start your clean-up in an area close to your window or door, even if this makes no logistical sense. A sitting area is ideal. Bring that space back up to your old standard, even if that means letting chaos reign elsewhere a little longer. Each time you see that spot or sit with some comfort in it, you’ll feel better, and be better able to keep moving outward from that refuge.

 

Janet publishes a free weekly gardening newsletter based on questions people ask. She offered to answer anyone from this area who might want to know more after reading her flooded-garden advice.
You can reach Janet by email at:
JMaxGarden@aol.com

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Wood vs. rock

Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith, offers the following on mulch choices:

      While you’re contemplating donning your thinking cap to plan another flower garden, here’s an interesting comparison by Linn County Master Gardener, Deb Walser  recommending mulch over rock.

     Display beds are often mulched with mulch fabric then covered with rocks.  It is believed this is maintenance-free.  However, after a few years, leaves, dirt and other debris will land in the rocks causing a buildup of organic material.  Weed seeds may then blow in and start to grow in this fertile soil bed.   Often the solution to this problem is adding more rock—which only compounds the problem.  Also, this is not a suitable planting medium for annual flowers.  Rocks must be pushed back and holes cut into the fabric for plant placement.

      Both mulches help hold moisture in the soil during an average spring.  However, in the summer, with higher temperatures, rock pulls valuable moisture, needed by the plants, away from the soil.  Rock does not improve the soil in any way.

      I recommend the use of wood mulch for all beds and borders.  It holds back weeds, holds in moisture and as it biodegrades, helps improve poor soil (i.e. clay).  When soil, leaves and debris land in a wood mulch bed, it becomes part of the soil.  The only disadvantage to wood mulch may be that top dressing, (applying a thin topcoat) may be necessary each spring to maintain the aesthetic appeal, and to fill in any areas where it may have moved or decomposed.

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Frightful weather?

The following is from Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith:

           

It’s a debatable issue:  is the weather outside really frightful today?  Or, is it all in your perspective?  I was out and about this morning but arrived home in time to sit here at my computer plunking away for this week’s blog and watch the beautiful huge flakes of snow wafting to the ground. There’s just something mesmerizing about an Iowa snowfall.   Right now, right outside a kitchen window, a Cardinal is perched in a lilac bush sheltered in a blanket of white. What a sight!

            Speaking of birds, what will you do with your live tree after the Holidays?   How about, after removing the ornaments (especially the tinsel) propping the tree in your perennial garden?  It will add winter interest as well as shelter for birds that enjoy feeding on the seeds of coneflower, rudbeckia and liatris.  Or use it as mulch by pruning the branches and covering perennial and bulb gardens.  I’ll bet your neighbors would volunteer to let you take their trees, too. 

            Have you observed what wildlife visits your garden?  Their antics can be quite entertaining.  Note which plants helped bring them into the landscape. 

            Brush snow off shrubs and evergreens as the heavy wet stuff will cause breakage and damage. Prune only broken/damaged branches now.  

            Most importantly, investigate environmentally friendly methods of removing snow and ice from sidewalks and driveways.  Calcium Chloride is more expensive, but it is easier on your plants. Watch for new plant-friendly products entering the market. 

            And, if you haven’t found the perfect gift for a gardener friend, think about a journal, plant labels, hand pruners, flower scissors, a harvest basket (my second favorite choice), a gift certificate to a favorite garden center, or (my first choice!), a load of well seasoned manure, delivered. Yes! You read correctly!  It will be an inexpensive gift and certain to bring smiles to everyone’s faces. 

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