Don’t Dig It

I was wrong. Hard to admit, but there we have it. I passed on advice from those I deemed older and wiser than I am, and they were wrong too. But hey, none of us knew any better. Then.

It seems that the last thing you want to do when planning a new garden is dig.

Yes, we were all taught to plan out where the garden would be, then spread amendments, and likely fertilizer, and dig it all in—at least eight inches, and two feet is even better. Now we’ve learned that the only things we gain from all that work are sore muscles and aching backs.

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“Rock Gardens”

Surface boulder_COS_LAH_7750In the year we’ve lived in our new house, the first on the block, we’ve gained a number of neighbors. Now that the growing season is officially underway, these new yards are being landscaped. And I’m reminded all over again of why, back in 2000, I signed up to become a master gardener.

You see, when we first moved here, I quickly noticed that the major landscaping theme was composed of lawns, junipers, and rocks. Lots of rocks. I became a master gardener volunteer to help people grow more attractive and interesting landscapes. But in spite of all that advice, apparently nothing has changed in the last 23 years.

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Rocks Rock!

pioneer sand demoWe’d been working hard all week, moving slowly but determinedly through our list of move-in chores. It was time for a break. So… being the romantic sort (on occasion), my husband asked me if I’d like to go out for the evening—to look at rocks.

Sure, I answered. While not a huge fan of gravel and mulch, going out, even to look at rock piles, sounded tons better than another night spent discussing the placement of dressers and hanging pictures.

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A Blanket for Your Garden

Snow at home_LAH_762As I write this, the sky is a brilliant blue, the sun is shining, and the thermometer in my garden reads a pleasant 55 degrees. However, only two weeks ago my plants were subjected to a frigid minus 17, and tomorrow’s high is supposed to barely pass freezing. It’s only February, with plenty of winter yet to come. Sometimes I wonder, how do my shrubs and perennials manage to survive such extremes?

In most years, the parts of the country that experience arctic temperatures also have a significant amount of snow. While we think of snow as very cold, it actually acts as an insulating blanket in our gardens, keeping the soil temperature relatively stable—often not much lower than 32. Then, during warm spells, such as we’re experiencing this week, that snow keeps the ground frozen. Plants stay dormant, and the roots stay buried.

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Covering Your Dirt

Landscape fabric showing through mulch @ColoSpgs 2008oct16 LAH 068I’m out of town—very, very out of town. In fact, I’m in Swaziland, in southeastern Africa, almost 10,000 miles from home. If you want to know what my trip is all about, you can read the details on my other blog. Start here. If you want to read more, enter Swaziland in the search box at the top right of that page.

While I’m gone I’d like to direct you to this post my friend Carey wrote on landscape fabric, and why it’s probably not a good idea to use it in your garden.

Landscape Fabric – Why You Probably
Don’t Need or Want It

Carey is another former Colorado Master Gardener, and she is full of garden wisdom. In addition to her posts to Pikes Peak Gardening Help, she has her personal blog at Carey Moonbeam. You can see my links to both these sites at right.

See you next week.

Wilted

I know July is summertime, but this is ridiculous. We live in Colorado at an elevation of 7,000 feet. Yet day after day the temperature climbs into the 90s (tomorrow’s forecast is for 97°). I always though we’re too high to be this hot!

bok-choy-bolting-home-2003jun30-lahAs I sit here in front of a fan, lemonade in hand, I can see my garden out the window. Of course the lettuce is bolting (as I mentioned last week). The cilantro is in full bloom, with delicate white flowers that attract a variety of beneficial insects. The bok choy is blooming too. Its bright yellow flowers of four petals arranged in the shape of a cross declare that it’s a crucifer, or mustard family member.

In this heat, keeping things watered is essential. Last week we had hours of rain. This week all that mud is baking into pottery. Mulches help, and the soil is still damp where a thick layer of straw shades it from the hot sun.

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Defeat Your Weeds

dandilion-boulderco-3may07-lah-048With the weather swinging wildly between winter storms and balmy sunny days, it must be springtime in the Rockies. The snow reminds us that it’s much too early to plant, but the warm days in between beckon us outside. What’s an antsy gardener to do? Happily, there are things you can do to prepare for the gardening season. Unhappily, one of the most important chores is weed control.

Daffodils and tulips are sending up leaves, perennials have tiny, tentative shoots, grass has a green tinge—and weeds are exploding out of the ground. This is the time to gain the upper hand.

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Digging Up Dirt

shoveling-manure-home-plh-sI keep talking about dirt. That is, I seem to have a soil fixation. Perhaps that’s because gardens begin with the soil. Properly prepared soil produces healthier plants, reducing the need for chemical sprays and fertilizer, and making more efficient use of water. Last May I discussed what soil is, and how to amend it. Today I want to expound a bit on the various types of amendments. I’ll also repeat myself a bit. That sort of thing happens as one gets older.

While living along the Front Range has many benefits, our soils are really pretty pitiful. Unless you are content growing a limited number of native plants adapted to this area, you’re going to have to improve on nature. What’s an environmentally responsible gardener to do?

In new plantings, it is worth spending a little time and money for a soil test. Knowing what your soil has, and what it lacks, helps you avoid many time-consuming and expensive mistakes. Follow the test result directions to maximize fertility and soil health. There are natural materials available to raise your levels of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous.

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