Posts tagged mulch

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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“Few enemies”

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

 

The critters sense that the weather outside will be—already is—frightful.  I almost need traffic signals and turn lanes in my yard and driveway where the squirrels are frantically harvesting nuts from the walnut trees.  Canadian geese have noisily moved in mass overhead traveling south.    I’ve not had feedback from the deer, but they must have felt the hosta in my xeriscape was especially tasty as they have, again, totally decimated all of them as they prepare for winter snow cover. 

 You see, we live in the country and our road ditch is steep, difficult to weed whip and impossible to mow.  We created an attractive xeriscape using mulch to cover grass and weeds and rock to stop an area of erosion, then added a few perennials for interest.  Maintenance has been minimal.  This spring we plan to xeriscape a smaller area on the other side of the lane.  An article in a recent Master Gardener’s newsletter sparked my interest in perennial ornamental grasses. Linn County Master Gardener, Becki Lynch says ornamental grasses have few enemies. Deer, rabbits, squirrels, even insects seem to not be interested in them.   Becki describes the grasses as “beautiful, regal, feather topped, silver sheened, golden stemmed, ten feet tall, back-lit by the sun and swaying in gentle breezes.”  After established, ornamental grasses are drought resistant.  You can fertilize them—or not.  They do like mulch.  And, ornamental grasses come in a multitude of heights, shapes and textures. Ornamental grasses sound like a plan to me. What do you think?  Oh, when, oh when will seed catalogs start to arrive?

Even if we can’t work outside in Iowa’s winters, we can still enjoy gardening by listening to someone from the Master Gardener’s Speaker’s Bureau.  A colorful and educational presentation on any number of gardening topics is available for your group or organization.  Contact the Linn County Extension Office at 319-377-9839 for a brochure reflecting the range of speakers’ experience.

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Winterizing roses

  Every year around this time, my neighbor’s oak tree, two houses down, generously deposits a pile of  leaves in my backyard.  For that, my roses and I are grateful.  I use the oak leaves as mulch around my hybrid tea roses.  Most types of leaves don’t hold up well in the long-term, but leathery oak leaves withstand the forces of winter. My miniature roses do well under Styrofoam caps in Iowa’s coldest days and my old-fashioned roses somehow survive without any help.  The week of Thanksgiving is the usual time to prepare roses for winter in the Cedar Rapids area where my roses grow.

 

   Richard Jauron, horticulture specialist at Iowa State University Extension, offers more tips on winterizing roses below:

 

   Most hybrid tea, grandiflora, and floribunda roses require winter protection in Iowa. The low temperatures and rapid temperature changes in winter can severely injure and sometimes kill unprotected roses.

   Hilling or mounding soil over the base of each plant is an excellent way to protect hybrid tea, grandiflora, and floribunda roses.

   Begin by removing fallen leaves and other debris from around each plant. Removal of diseased plant debris will help reduce disease problems next season. Then loosely tie the canes together with twine to prevent the canes from being whipped by strong winds. Next, cover the bottom 10 to 12 inches of the rose canes with soil.

   Place additional material, such as straw or leaves, over the mound of soil. A small amount of soil placed over the straw or leaves should hold these materials in place.  Prepare roses for winter after plants have been hardened by several nights of temperatures in the low to mid-twenties. Normally, this is early November in northern Iowa, mid-November in central areas, and late November in southern counties.

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Winterizing mums

 

The following is by Richard Jauron, horticulture specialist at Iowa State University Extension:

 

   Chrysanthemums are shallow-rooted plants. Repeated freezing and thawing of the soil during the winter months can heave plants out of the ground and cause severe damage or even death.

   Gardeners can increase the odds of their mums surviving the winter by applying a mulch in fall. Mulching helps eliminate the alternate freezing-thawing cycles that can heave plants out of the soil.

    Apply the mulch in late fall, typically late November/early December. Do not cut back the plants prior to mulching. Simply cover the plants with several inches of mulch. Suitable mulching materials include clean straw, pine needles and evergreen branches. Leaves are not a good mulch as they tend to mat down and don’t provide adequate protection. The mulch should remain in place until early to mid-April.

 

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Tree planting tips

The following is from Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith:

 

Oh! The weather outside is delightful!   It’s so great to work in the yard now that it’s a bit cooler and less buggy.  The latest project is creating a stenciled board on the front of a new flower bed that says “Welcome to the Farm.”  Granddaughter Catie will be creatively adding flowers, leaves, butterflies and dragonflies. 

However, as I sat there painting, I couldn’t help but notice that the maple tree in the waterway looks pretty shabby.  We won’t be able to prune it until early winter. Some larger dead branches and some crossovers will need to come out.  The tree is a case of planting a wonderful tree in the wrong location!  Constantly soggy roots were not conducive to a healthy tree and we may need to replace this one.

As mentioned previously,  fall is a good time to plant a tree.  Choose wisely when purchasing one.  Avoid those amazing bargains.  Use a reputable nursery’s stock and investigate the guarantee prior to writing your check.  It’s a good idea to plant a balled or burlap wrapped tree in the fall.  Even a container tree should be o.k.  and will experience less stress than an open rooted specimen.  Ask about the tree’s adult height:  perhaps a dwarf model would better suit your location than a tree that may reach a height of 50-60 feet.  Plant the tree as soon as possible.  Dig the hole two to three times the diameter of the root ball.  The burlap will rot in the ground but remember to remove any rope or stakes. Water the tree well and keep the tree moist even into the winter.   Your tree needs to adapt to the soil in which you’re planting it so don’t amend the soil.  Amending the soil may create unwanted air pockets and prevent water from penetrating onto the roots.  Three or four inches of good organic mulch around, but not up against the trunk, will help to retain moisture

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