When the gardener can't tell up from down, trust the
plant to know
I was about to plant some bare root perennials, but
can't tell which side is up! Help!
When in doubt about the orientation of a root or bulb, plant it
any which way in well drained, warm soil with all parts covered by
an inch of loose earth. Then sit back and relax. Think of onions or
potatoes sprouting in your vegetable bin -- despite their
orientation those roots find "down" and shoots find "up." Your
plantings will do the same. (A more disturbing image is the last
weed you tilled but left in place. Didn't it grow back, even though
it had been tumbled?)
Weed in April, mulch in May.
Don't rush to apply mulch. Weed the bed thoroughly before you
spread an inch or two of seed-suppressing mulch to make a bigger
dent in the weeding during the rest of the growing season.
When figuring how much mulch you need, keep in mind that one
cubic yard can cover three hundred square feet of bed about one
inch deep. That's a lot of ground -- a bed 100 feet long and 3 feet
wide, or 60 feet long and 5 feet wide, or an island 20 feet wide
and 30 feet long.
See the mulch for yourself before you buy
There are no standards when it comes to mulch names. One
company's premium shredded bark may be fine and dark like bran
flakes, another firm may use the same name for pale stuff in chunks
averaging two inches square.
Especially if you're looking for 'Janet's choice'
Some landscape supply companies misunderstand phoned-in requests
for "composted woody fines", also called "processed pine bark,"
especially if the caller goes on to explain, "it's that very dark,
finely shredded stuff Janet Macunovich likes to use in perennial
gardens." The person you're calling may think you're asking for the
black-dyed shredded wood called "enviro-mulch," a product I do not
wish on any gardener.
Worst winter burn in 30 years.
So says Dennis Groh of Dearborn Heights, president of the
Conifer Society. I know Groh to be a careful observer of landscape
events and well-connected among others who take a scientific
approach to gardening. He reports, "...I have more winter burn on
conifers and other evergreens than I have ever seen. My ivy is
toast in many places. Some rhododendrons and azaleas look quite
damaged and may not make it. Two conifers are definitely lost and
my (dwarf Alberta) spruce is burned on the southeast side."
Groh has checked with other experts who report similar damage
from Ann Arbor, across the Irish Hills area and in Illinois and
Iowa. Like Groh's other contacts I see the damage but can only
guess at why it's so bad -- perhaps just several years of drought
culminating in a dry fall and fast, hard winter freeze. We are now
watching deciduous shrubs, trees and herbaceous perennials with
fingers crossed, hoping damage there will be less severe.
Green thumbs up
to rain and irrigation during this most important season of
growth. Ample, steady moisture now is the only medicine for
winter-burned plants and the best insurance for all plants against
debilitating losses to disease and insect pests during the coming
year. The sooner new growth fills with water, the sooner it can
generate excess energy to feed roots, fuel new growth and protect
itself against attack with a tough skin and internal chemical
Green thumbs down
to using the same path across your lawn or garden for all 15 to
30 wheelbarrow trips involved in distributing one cubic yard of
mulch, compost or topsoil. That traffic packs the soil underfoot
and under wheel, until it's no longer porous. Roots there will die
from lack of oxygen or water. Vary approach and departure routes.
Where routes must converge, cover the soil with planks or a 5- to 6
inch depth of mulch to spread the weight of your passage.
Originally published 4/26/03