GardenDishes

dishin' the DIRT on hit and myth landscaping

Archive for the category “mulch”

The Need For SPEED(y) Organic Weed Control

“How do I get rid of weeds in my garden?”

This is probably the most common question I get on my blog, website, and Facebook page, usually coming from someone wanting to garden organically and frustrated there’s not a fast, easy recipe for weed elimination. It’s sort of like my inability to lose a few pounds. It’s not truly an inability. I want an easy way without having to change anything. A shortcut. My problem is not the weight. I need to change my entire approach. A healthier lifestyle. Organic gardening only works when the approach is a healthier garden; not just organic plants but an organic environment, one where nature is in balance. There’s no short -or HORTcut. It’s simple, but not easy. And there will be weeds.

What are weeds anyway? One person’s weed is often another person’s flower.

Or even food.

Since I’m a wildflower fanatic and native plant lover who also tries to grow as much food as possible for us and wildlife, I look at it a bit askew.  For me, a weed’s a plant I’ve not found a use for yet that’s trying to crowd out one that I have found useful. George Washington Carver said, “A weed is a flower growing in the wrong place.” Many of our weeds have BECOME WEEDS because they are non-native, invasive species. But how do you make sure you have the plants you want in the right places? Here are 3 tips I’ve found to low-maintenance organic gardening that might help.

  • CHECK IT OUT. What and where are the weeds plaguing your garden? Use the weeds as your clue. Dogged by dollarweed ? It LOVES wet spots. Nutty from nutgrass/sedge? It’s kissing cousins to papyrus and other sedges that – like dollarweed – prefer to have wet feet.  By identifying your weed first, you should be on the right track to taming the beast.
  • CHANGE IT UP. If your weeds are moisture hogs, adding a bit of sand to improve drainage might do the trick, raising the soil level just enough to make the weeds less comfortable. If your particular genre of weed loves shade, open the canopy of the area by removing lower tree limbs. If it’s a sun lover, pile on the mulch or mow the grass higher, making it difficult to find its way to the sunshine.
  • CHOKE IT OUT. Some weeds are prolific because they can. If weeds are in your lawn, make sure your grass is fat and happy by adding composted materials and sufficient water. If they’re taking root in a flowerbed, heavy mulch (I use pine straw since I live in a pine forest) should do the trick. Having shrubs and perennials spaced at proper intervals leaves no open range for weeds. Having raised beds often alleviates weed issues, too.  I use several methods to remove weeds in beds, including old-fashioned weeding (I have a special tool for this), hot water, or vinegar – depending on where it is and the time of year. I’ll save these for another post.

Nature truly abhors a vacuum.  So the key to successful organic gardening is filling the space with what you choose, not what chooses to grow there. The other key? Tolerance for nature. It’s pretty natural, after all. And certainly organic.

Best fertilizer? Holy crap, BATMAN!

We’ve put in some new plants this spring and wondered what type of fertilizer you’d recommend.

Depends. What type of plants? What type of soil?  The best fertilizer for all plants and all soil types is rich soil. Don’t have that yet? Here’s my favorite fertility Rxs for the plantings here in my Texas garden. Here goes:

Crap happens. And when it does, let it rot and put it on your garden!

Crap happens. And when it does, let it rot and put it on your garden. Great soil is the best fertilizer for ANY plant!

ALL: Add 1-2″ composted manure over the whole landscape at least once per year. I try to do this Valentine’s Day. Why Valentine’s Day? It’s important this process occurs in cool months so plants or lawn won’t burn. The other reason for that date is I can remember it…fertility & Valentine’s go hand-in-hand…. or, well, you get the idea. For how long? I plan to stop with my annual cupid compost ceremony when I die, move, or my soil morphs into a rich loam yielding not only great produce, but also a shovel full of earthworms every time I effortlessly dig a hole. By the way, this is NOT mulch; it’s besides and underneath a spring application of mulch.

Osmaco&MedinaVEGGIES, FLOWERS, ETC. – Used as a foliar spray or poured-on soil activator, I keep a jug of Medina’s MEDINA PLUS  handy for monthly after-planting-pep-ups. This is also what I put into my compost to heat it up.

My double compost tumbler also boasts a spigot and container on bottom for an easy compost tea treat.

My double compost tumbler also boasts a spigot and container on bottom for an easy compost tea treat.

Speaking of which,  COMPOST TEA is a cheap – as in FREE – fertilizer. At my house, making compost tea is easy because of the composter I use: a double barrel tumbler with tea spout in the bottom. Never heard of compost tea? Here’s how to make it happen.

A local company (in Houston) called MICROLIFE has come up with great all-around organic fertilizers in several formulations for the different applications in the garden. They also have specialty formulations for specific plants, like azaleas and citrus, as well as for problems in the lawn, like brown patch. Their nifty online chart tells you what to use and when. I buy MicroLife by the 40 lb. bag, I’m such a fan.

When I tuck in just about any flowering/fruiting plant, I often add a dash of Osmocote for Flowers & Vegetables. This slow release, balanced (14-14-14) formula feeds the babies without burning or giving too much nitrogen (the 1st number in the 3 part formulation numbers, N-P-K), which makes it develop gorgeous green but few flowers. NEVER use lawn fertilizer in flowerbeds with blooming plants or they’ll spend all of their energy on the leaves and none on the blooms.

Another commonly used fertilizer that has no place in my garden is a “weed and feed” product. I absolutely hate these for many reasons, only one of which is how destructive it can be to plants other than lawn grasses. So if you have a grudge against me, you now know the chink in my armor!

NOTE: I am not paid, nor do I receive these products to endorse. I buy them at my local garden center just like you will.

Rake Those Leaves, or Leaf It Alone?

It’s beginning to look a lot like…..well, like AUTUMN here in South Texas.  But, I don’t dread leaves on the ground anymore.

lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia) leaves quickly decompose because of their diminutive size

HIT: leave the leaves for a more nutritious meal!

Winter officially begins today, December 21st, even if my sister in Denver begs to differ.  Storms here sent leaves scurrying, as per schedule this week.  So, what should be done about that?  (The leaves, I mean.  Only way to deal with cold is LEAF yourself.)  Many communities follow a Don’t Bag It! program in response to a GROWING problem:  landscape waste in landfills.  Some estimates say 20-30% of trash headed to landfills is yard debris and of that, 40-50% is leaves.  While we can say, “leaves break down anyway,” the costs hauling them to a landfill are astronomical.  Then the resulting decomposed black gold – compost full of nutrients for which our lawns beg anyway – is left to fertilize trash.  In fact, leaves contain up to 80% of gathered nutrients from the growing season, according to Texas A&M University. Seeing a vicious cycle here?  Fertilize the plants, gather the waste, cart it off, fertilize the plants, gather the waste, cart it off…..

WHY do people still rake, then?  And what happens to the grass if you refrain from de-leafing?  My theory is the yard guys need something to do after mowing season, or maybe the pressure is on when our neighbors do it, making us look like lazy bums with a messy yard if we don’t.  It’s great exercise to rake leaves and tons of fun to play in them.  And don’t leaves left in beds blow everywhere?  Won’t they smother the lawn?  The answer is yes, and no.

MYTH: leaves leave you looking like a bum!

Flower/shrub beds benefit greatly from a warm blanket of leaves in winter. If you don’t want your natural mulch to go airborne with a strong wind, run a mower over leaves on the lawn, putting the shredded leaves on top of the whole ones that have fallen in the bed.  The new leaves will mat together.  Lawngrass prefers chopped salad over large bites anyway.  Smaller pieces add nutrients back into the soil, where they need to go, with a bonus of fewer bare spots for winter weeds to take hold.

Still expect the stigma of bum-on-the-block if you leave the leaves where they lie?  Then gather them up and put them into a compost bin or barrel instead of a trashbag.  They’ll rot into fertilizer in no time.  Here’s a video from my friend P. Allen Smith showing exactly how to compost the leaves from your yard.

So, let your landscape have its mulch and eat it, too.  Might make you look forward to watching the leaves rain down next year.

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