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