Spring Weed Management

Here I am again not writing my own post, but linking to someone else’s. But why re-invent the wheel right? If another writer did a good job, I’m happy to lead you to them.

So today’s lesson is Weed Control Techniques thanks to Comox blogger Through Nana’s Garden Gate. I’ll just make a few editorial comments:

  1. Control with Mulch. You’ve heard me rhapsodize about mulch over the years, so I won’t bore you more. Except to say I wouldn’t use shredded newspaper in the garden until it’s been composted in your bin. Imagine walking through it and tracking it everywhere, the racoons and birds taking and depositing it wherever, and just the general mess… But I highly recommend arborists wood chips. You know that!DSCN1193
  2. Cover crops are great, but if you’re planting perennial fruits and vegetables, like asparagus (in the far section in the above picture), that section will have to be mulched, not cover-cropped.
  3. and 4. Minimizing soil disruption applies to digging up weeds as well. If you put your trowel or shovel in deeply enough to get out a dandelion, that’s quite a lot of disruption, and tho’ you may have got all of that  dandelion, there are lots more where it came from. I recommend you slice through deep roots like that–enter the soil a few inches away angled toward the root a few inches down–with a Hori knife or any old kitchen knife that can now be devoted to garden work. (That’s what Value Village is for…) Then you’ll carefully lift out what you can, cover the spot again, and then wait for it to return. Yes, it’ll return, but much smaller and weaker and easier to dispose of. As for weeding at night…

5. and 6. Trying and trying.

7. Not so much…

Finally, a totally unrelated picture. Happy Resurrection weekend!

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This is Karl Rosenfield peony in front of Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Victoria’ (California Lilac)

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Ways to Keep Your Garden Looking Great

Steve Whysall (Vancouver Sun gardening columnist) wrote a great article in Friday’s paper entitled Six Ways To Keep Your Garden Looking Great.

He interviewed Egan Davis, the chief instructor of the Horticultural Training Program at the University of B.C. Botanical Garden, but formerly at Van Dusen Botanical Garden, and one of my Master Gardener instructors. So I’m really happy to report that all of Egan’s “six ways” have been previously addressed here in the pages of Real Life Garden Solutions!

Here’s a quick overview:

1. Mulch. And only use organic amendments to the soil, and only fertilizers that are actually needed. See here for LOTS more info.

It's about 5' high, 10'across. That means probably about 10 cubic yards.

Mountain of mulch. It’s about 5′ high, 10’across. That means probably about 10 cubic yards.

2. Make sure your soil is carrying enough moisture. Adding compost will help with that.

3. Leave your fall garden “unkempt” for the critters. Read more here.

Crocosmia seeds. Beautiful to look at, but I wonder what bird has a big enough beak to crush these. They're probably 3-4 mm diameter.

Crocosmia seeds. Beautiful to look at, but I wonder what bird has a big enough beak to crush these. They’re probably 3-4 mm diameter.

4. I love this one: Don’t be afraid to make changes. It’s one of my design mantras. A garden should be something that delights in changing over the years.

5. Grow some from seed. I haven’t written this post yet, but the pictures are all ready to go…

6. Become a backyard ecologist. Yes, I’ve written lots on this.

I think this might be a bumble bee. It's pretty fat and fuzzy.

I think this might be a bumble bee. It’s pretty fat and fuzzy.

Sheet Mulching, or not, or how to save yourself a lot of work

Autumn is a great time to plan and begin to develop new garden beds for next year– as though you didn’t have enough to do.

Sheet Mulching, or not, or how to save yourself a lot of work

Sheet mulching is the process of layering lots of different compostable materials OVER your grass in order to create a new planting bed without digging up and discarding the turf. And it starts with a heavy layer of newspaper or cardboard (or compost then cardboard, depending on your information source). Then there’s a few inches (more) of home-made or bagged compost or composted manure, then a lot of layers of straw (NOT HAY), leaves (preferably chopped/mowed), yard debris (not with weeds or any leaf diseases like black spot), manure (if you have it and if you can stand it), grass clippings (presuming you don’t already have a mulching mower). To a total of around 18-20″ above the original ground level.

Linda Chalker Scott is of the opinion that the layer of paper-product is counter-productive because it prevents/hinders air getting down into the area that you want to compost–the grass turf. She recommends just covering the area to be transformed with 12″ of woodchip mulch.

I’ve tried the sheet mulching thing many times with varying success rates–not least because I don’t have easy access to leaves (almost exclusively conifer neighbourhood), straw, manure, or grass clippings (mine stay on the lawn where they belong). And the racoons love to dig around it,DSCN1426 exposing the cardboard to air, and allowing it to dry out. So in general it’s taken two years to turn a grassy area into a planting bed for flowers or vegetables. Not very efficient, but at least I didn’t have to figure out how to dispose of sod (that can’t go into the yard-waste recycling bin).

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This bed (the area that looks darker and right down to the bottom of the picture) was sheet mulched last fall (2012) with cardboard and 3-4″ of city compost. You can see it was variably effective, with lots of grass and weeds growing through, and not enough composting-in-place of the existing turf.

This year I decided to try the wood chip mulch thing–not primarily to turn turf to planting beds, but because I wanted to add paths into the garden. You may remember seeing these pictures before…

The path is to the left, the right is currently potato bed and will be a shrub border in the fall.

The path is to the left, the right is currently potato bed and will be a shrub border in the fall.

I started in May by digging out the turf in the areas that were to be paths and spreading several inches of mulch. The clumps of turf were placed upside down in other turf areas that were to become planting beds of some kind. So in the picture above, to the left of the brick edging is the path, to the right of the brick edging is a layer of upside-down turf  topped with 6″ wood chip mulch.

...finally meeting up with the "translocated mountain of mulch"!

This mountain of wood chips was mostly grass and weeds up until end May 2013. I needed to put the wood chips somewhere, so decided this would be the storage area until used up, and then I’d see how well the underlying plant material had composted.

Above you see the storage area of mulch, under which is two layers of up-turned turf bricks (probably about 6-8″ deep) from dug-up pathways, sitting on top of a grassy/weedy area.

Through the rest of the spring I continued to use up the mulch on paths through the back and the front, as well as mulching the perennial and mixed  beds and borders.  The neighbours and their friends did  likewise–it was a lot of wood chips!

Now here it is Autumn, and this is what has happened to all that turf:

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A few dead roots is all the evidence left of layers and layers of turf.

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Lovely dark soil, lots of worms.

So I’m convinced: Skip the cardboard, skip the manure, skip the grass-clippings–leave them on the grass! Call up your nearest arborist and get them to drop off a truck-load of wood chips. If you can’t use that much, invite your neighbours to read this blog post and then you can all share the bounty!

Most importantly, though, the first line in this post: “Autumn is a great time to PLAN…”. don’t leave the garden bed development to chance, or what is most convenient. If you can’t quite figure out where  you want to develop new planting beds, ask a neighbour or friend whose garden you admire. They’ll be sure to want to help you! Gardeners love to share their hard-won wisdom!

Comments? Questions? Love to hear it all. Don’t forget to click the “follow” link and the “like” button.

Starting from Scratch? Tips for a Newbie Gardener

I just read this great beginners’ tutorial on starting a garden from Houzz. This isn’t for the person who is building a house and installing a garden completely from scratch, but rather for the person who looks at what they’ve got and has no idea where to start, or if they even want to garden at all.

So here’s the Reader’s Digest version: Clean up. Weed and Edge. Stepping Stones. Mulch.

1. Clean up.

I have three unsightly cedars on the edge of my front yard. They drop detritus like crazy in the winter, hiding everything that’s of any interest or beauty underneath it. By clearing that away, I see all kinds of things that I can’t see until I clean up. Even if there’s only lawn (even crappy lawn like above), or even only “dirt” (which gardeners call “soil”–dirt is a dirty word!), neatening it up will give all manner of gratification (as you can see above), and hope for what’s to come. Cleaning up may include pruning–I’ll get to that in a future post!

2. Weed and Edge.

To begin with, weeding may be quite intimidating, and not a little work. But once you’ve cleaned up the site (as above) so that you can see what’s there, and tackle small areas at a time, it’s not nearly as bad as anticipated. And definitely gets easier as you keep at it. Mulching (step 4) REALLY helps.

Then take an edger–or even an old long serrated knife will do nicely–and cut a sharp edge to the garden beds. You’ll be surprised what  an effect it creates. And in the same way, neaten the edges next to sidewalks, driveways and paths.DSCN1333

3. Stepping Stones.

Randomly positioned repurposed pavers

Randomly positioned broken, repurposed “grass pavers”.

One of the chief things about getting going in the garden is accessibility. The easier it is to get to all areas of the garden, the more you’ll wander in there, and the easier it is to do whatever needs doing, whether it’s weeding, planting, evaluating, watering…

So find something that will serve as stepping stones, and then find lots of places to put them. Your  goal is to make all the little nooks and crannies of the garden easily reachable. Bricks will do, flat stones, tiles, concrete rhubarb leaves (my favourite!).

Rhubarb leaf stepping stones in the veg garden.

Rhubarb leaf stepping stones in the veg garden.

4. Mulch.

Once you’ve dealt with the current generation of weeds, you’ll want to prevent more growth as much as possible. This is (one of the many areas) where mulch really shines. Put 2-4″ of some kind of (preferably organic) material that covers the soil. My choice is wood chips, that I got free from a local tree service. Compost or composted manure will also do, as will bark nuggets if you must. Pea gravel will work if that’s the look (modern, edgy or desert) you want. The further weeds have to travel to reach light, the weaker they become and the easier they are to pull. There will always be weeds, so let’s make them as little work as possible. And covering the ground, especially with organic matter, improves its quality, always a good thing. Better soil is a less desirable environment for weeds–they are generally opportunists that take advantage of empty or poor soil. Or not:-P

An area in permanent shade that has never been mulched or in any way improved. Weedy!

An area in permanent shade that has never been mulched or in any way improved. Weedy!

Does this help you get a sense of where to start in your new space? Let me know in the comments section, and as always, ask questions, make comments, share to FB or whatever.

PATHS AND STRUCTURE AND MULCH, OH MY!

Five days and untold number of labour-hours later, the mountain of mulch is gone, and a new one has appeared. Most of the mountain has been translocated to a spot behind the carport.

Here’s what it looked like 5 days ago

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A few wheelbarrow-loads have been moved already…

And from the other side, just to get a better perception of how much this is…

It's about 5' high, 10'across. That means probably about 10 cubic yards.

It’s almost 5′ high, 10’across. That means probably about 8 cubic yards.

Further to my post of May 6, my plan was to use as much as I could making paths through the garden. Having done that–and more than I’d originally planned– I’m really happy with the result, because it gives the garden structure. I didn’t even know it lacked structure!

Like most everyone else, I often look with a certain amount of dissatisfaction at the various areas of the garden, and am never completely sure what is missing. Even having studied design for the last several months, nothing really jumped out at me. Yes, I don’t have “rooms”, but neither do I really want them, nor have much space for them. (That remains to be seen…)

But now I feel like the paths give flow and intentionality to the garden, leading from one area to the next, pretty much a complete circle around the yard.

The path is to the left, the right is currently potato bed and will be a shrub border in the fall.

The path is to the left, the right is currently potato bed and will be a shrub border in the fall.

 

The path coming from the left, leading to the compost bins and the shed, and continuing along the right...

The path coming from the left, leading to the compost bins and the shed, and continuing along the right…

... where the path then goes along the back with a perennial border next to the fence, and vegetable beds to the right. It meets the back patio.

… where the path then goes along the back with a perennial border next to the fence, and vegetable beds to the right. It meets the back patio.

After leaving the pation, we welk along the west fence, with shrubs to the right and left, and a lot of perennials throughout.

After leaving the pation, we welk along the west fence, with shrubs to the right and left, and a lot of perennials throughout.

...finally meeting up with the "translocated mountain of mulch"!

…finally meeting up with the “translocated mountain of mulch”!

So, if you feel your garden is lacking some kind of … something… consider paths.