Saturday, May 19, 2018

Work Smarter, Not Harder - Thinking Outside the Box

Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it.  ~Author Unknown

I’ve often contemplated adding a category to my labels list about thinking outside of the box when it comes to the harder jobs of gardening. I may call it “work smarter, not harder”.

Common thought holds that when a small tree or shrub dies you must dig it out. Or if you want something to be gone you must dig it out in order to plant what you want there.

I once thought that way too. It is how I was taught. But I have done away with that absurd notion and have had 100% success in not digging anything out, whether it be tree, shrub or plant. Not even grass removal where I want a garden instead. Some things are easy to dig, so go ahead and do so if you really want to. However, when it comes to a mammoth Rosemary that has outgrown its space or has become all woody and leggy because it’s once sunny spot is now too shady due to changing light conditions as surrounding tree canopies extend. Or a lilac you carefully kept to a graceful one trunk tree rather than letting it go all multi-stemmed on you, eventually died after 4 or 5 decades, as continual sucker removal does shorten its life span. What about the rhody the previous home owner planted too close to the house, fence or walkway that is now way too big and you have come to hate it for all the maintenance it takes to keep it conformed in size. Yes indeedy, these are all my real-world experiences that have made it essential to find another way to modify a garden bed. I don’t want to dig all that out. That’s a lot of work!

Now if you’ve been following my blog for any time at all, you know I am an organic gardener. The definition of organic gardening is use the least harmful method possible, resorting to chemicals only as a last resort and in a very limited application. That is what I do, so don’t be shocked when you read on.

In each case of the aforementioned lilac, rhody, and rosemary, all of which are quite laborious to dig out by hand and since I don’t have a backhoe at my disposal, (nor would it fit into my tiny back yard) I cut them off at the lowest point of the trunk that my chainsaw can go without digging into the dirt, then carefully apply chemical herbicide to the cut and only the cut.

Oh, did I lose you at chainsaw? Understand, I am not a muscle-bound hulk by any means but power saws are pretty easy to use once you learn how. Yes, I’ve used a regular gas-powered chainsaw when the occasion warrants it (like if the diameter of the trunk is bigger than my thigh or if electricity is not nearby) but I’ve also used a small electric chain saw and I really like using a reciprocating saw (use the shortest blade possible with the largest teeth) to do the job.

I’ve also used a hand saw made for cutting woody stuff in the garden. This is not the same as a carpenter’s saw by any means. A garden hand saw has a short, usually curved, very thick blade with large teeth at opposite angles from each other. This cuts through live wood quickly and easily. If the trunk is small enough diameter you can also use loppers as in the case of the rosemary.

Whatever your method of attack is…once the cut is made and still fresh (like within a minute, so have it ready) I then use a concentrated brush killer/herbicide (yes, chemical…nasty bad business) and apply it only on the cut wood. You don’t need to mix it up in a sprayer and spray…you’ll be spreading more chemicals around than is necessary and will likely kill neighboring plants you want to keep. Just paint it on, full concentrated strength. Use a disposable paint brush or something like that, that you can throw in the trash after.

That chemical will travel down into the root. It will stay within the root/plant material. It will not travel from the root into the soil and affect nearby plants. I promise. I’ve been asked that question many times and the answer is no. My garden proves it. Never has any of my surrounding plants been affected by doing this, but if you tried to dig out the root of the tree or rhody you would tear up so many neighboring plants that you would have a mess to contend with and have to put it all back again and cross your fingers that the uprooted and replanted neighbors survive. I think it’s best to just kill it in place and save the rest of the garden.

Once the tree or shrub is down and the remaining trunk is poisoned you can plant your preferred plant(s) next to it and around it. Over the next few years the old root will decompose but the new plant will be fine and grow and spread (providing you give it proper new plant watering attention). Eventually you will be able to easily pull the decomposed stump out by hand if you want to but it will take years for that, depending on the diameter and wood type, and the other plants will be covering it anyway so you won’t see it. In the case of the rhody stump, I cut it to within an inch of the soil level and about10 years later, while I was weeding around the area, I saw chunks of the stump had decomposed fully and broke off easily. I broke it apart, which was unnecessary as the Pachysandra had covered the area completely anyway, but it was good to see the progression.

So, seeing is believing.

Peer closely. Can you see the now dead stump of the lilac surrounded by spring green leafy growth coming up all around it? Ignore the long strappy leaves of the uncontrollable Wood Hyacinth. After cutting down the tree and “painting” poison on the flat cut, I then planted a one-gallon size of Helianthus “Lemon Queen” in front of the stump. One-gallon size is about a 4"(10 cm) diameter chunk of plant. That was 2 years ago. As you can see the plant spreads by underground roots and has now surrounded the old stump.

In the next photo you can see a picture of how full the Helianthus plant is in summer. I took this photo last summer just as it was beginning to bloom. It will be fully loaded with clear yellow sunflowers by mid-summer that stay well into the fall. No unsightly stump visible.

So, there it is friends. This is not lazy gardening. It is working-smarter-not-harder so there’s more enjoyment in the garden than just plain hard work. It’s the difference between yard work and gardening.


In Bloom In My Garden Today: Ajuga, Bergenia, Blueberry, Brunnera macrophylla, Clematis, Dianthus, Dicentra, Geum phaeum, Hardy Geranium, Heuchera, Hyacinths, Iris, Kenilworth ivy, Lily of the Valley, Oxalis oregana ‘wintergreen’, Rhododendron,  Rosemary, Saxifraga, Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum), Tellima grandiflora, Viola

Authors photos

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Feeding Wildlife in Winter

Squirrel, squirrel, burning bright,
Do not eat my bulbs tonight!
I think it bad and quite insidious
That you should eat my blue tigridias.
~author unknown

If you take some time in considering your local wildlife as you plan your garden, you may be able to stop some of the destructive munching that goes on as they wander through by supplying them with a few natural food sources.

In my part of the world, the pesky Eastern gray squirrel can be really obnoxious as they try to get to my birdseed feeders. I have found feeders knocked to the ground and emptied or the squirrels have chewed both plastic and wooden feeders apart to get the seed inside. Strategic placement of birdseed feeders is key as is a metal “slinky” to keep them from climbing up the post.

 Yes, it really works.

Indeed, I pat myself on the back when I can actually outsmart them, and I am equally happy to see them turn their attention to my natural offerings. This happy guy is munching on the seeds still hanging on the Winter Hazel (Corylopsis veitchiana). If the seeds of the Winter Hazel fall to the ground they will sprout in the spring, so if the squirrel eats them in winter that means less spring weeding for me. Winner!

Squirrels also enjoy the berries of the Solanum crispum blue flowering potato vine.

And rose hips! I have seen both squirrels and birds feasting on the tiny hips of this rose during the winter months.

The pyracantha berry is delectable to many birds including robin, varied thrush and starling. I also see the sweet little Bewicks wren flitting throughout its evergreen leaves. I’m not sure if they nibble on the berries but I know they are feasting on bugs.

The beautiful flowers of the Mahonia provide winter nectar to hummingbirds. I have the low growing variety “Soft Caress” with it’s gorgeous palm leaf like foliage. It is mostly done flowering now and at only 12 inches tall, it’s hard to see if any hummers are actually going to it.

I have seen them on a neighbors much taller variety that is at the height of its bloom right now. I don’t know for sure but from the looks of it I believe it could be Mahonia “Charity”.

I do put out suet cakes, Black oil sunflower seed and Niger thistle seed in hanging feeders. I want to attract the birds in winter as much as I do in spring and summer. Not only because I love the joy they share in their song and flight but also because I am an organic gardener, therefore I have bugs that I want them to eat. That is what integrated pest management (IPM) is all about. Less use of harmful chemical sprays, more nourishment as nature intended it.

Cheers and thanks for reading!

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Mahonia, Primrose, Rosa “Reine de Violette”

Author’s photos