Sunday, October 31, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mulch Your Garden for Winter

Fall is upon us. Soon the snow will fall, and it's time to prepare your garden for its winter sleep. You will have more success with your hydrangeas, roses, and clematis next summer, if you insulate them now from winter's icy blasts. Every perennial appreciates a warm blanket for the winter, and many plants and shrubs require it.

What about that patch of weeds that you had sworn you would turn into a garden space? Is it too late to start? Will you just have to wait for spring and haul out the big tiller? Absolutely not! You can turn that questionable space into a garden plot, simply by utilizing one of the best blankets available - cardboard. Yes, that's right cardboard, along with a thick layer of shredded mulch, will do the tilling for you (You may also substitute several layers of newspaper). Come planting time, that weedy patch will be weed-free and soft enough to plant anything you like.

If you decide on cardboard, you need lots of it. Huge pieces. Refrigerator huge. Where can you find enough cardboard? Supermarkets, big chain grocery stores, furniture stores, and appliance dealers, all have lots of cardboard. All you have to do is call and ask nicely, or show up and ask in person. Just be certain to bring a pick-up truck or station wagon. You will find yourself with enough cardboard to put to bed every tree, shrub, and perennial in your yard. Be assured that you can order all your favorite plants and seeds throughout the winter, without wondering where to plant them in the spring.

How does it work? Well plants, even weeds, need light to germinate and grow. Cardboard blocks out that light, and it kills everything beneath it, except the worms. It keeps the ground from freezing tender perennials, and a two inch layer of shredded mulch on top will hide the unsightly evidence. Cardboard can be cut into any shape you want, or don't cut it at all. Spread it around in curves and circles, using the shredded mulch to shape the desired area. Do not, however, cover your perennials and shrubs with the cardboard! Simply place the cardboard around the plant (cut to fit) and pile-on leaves or pine needles, over the plants.

Cardboard slowly decomposes and enriches the soil. It is, after all, a paper product made from trees, and earthworms love to over-winter underneath its snuggly blanket. Best of all, cardboard kills weeds and grass. Come spring, you can simply cut through the soggy cardboard with your gardening knife, dig a hole, and easily plant your new perennials, shrubs, and annuals. You can even plant those sunflower seeds, simply by cutting an X through what's left of the cardboard, and you have a wonderful incubator for your new plants.

Make certain to overlap the edges of the cardboard, so that weeds have no light to germinate during those warm winter thaws. When first you lay it down, make certain to soak the cardboard with a garden hose, then pile on the mulch, and soak the mulch on top. No need to haul out the hose mid-winter. Your plants are safe. Keep adding shredded mulch throughout the next growing season, and by the time the cardboard has decomposed completely, you have said "bye-bye" to the weeds, roots, and its seed.

Cardboard retains moisture, and my plants have made it successfully through intense periods of drought. My gardens were a weedy expanse of clay and rocks that we laughingly referred to as topsoil, when we moved into our house 8 years ago. Now, we have a lush, landscaped, healthy front garden, over-flowing with shrub roses, lilies, spring flowering trees, and spring and summer flowering bulbs. It's like a miracle!

It wasn't long ago that I found out just how effective cardboard is for creating new gardens. Our neighborhood master gardener stopped by to, literally, smell the roses, and to inform me, jokingly, "You need to stop this, now. You're making the rest of us look bad!" High praise, indeed!