I have a pet peeve.
It has to do with mulch. Don’t get me wrong, mulch is a good thing. But, I’ve noticed a new trend in gardening in the past few years. Namely that the season for mulching now starts almost as soon as the last snowflake has melted. This practice is similar to the way retail stores rush the seasons. You know, selling school supplies the first week of July; hawking Halloween merchandise in August, and so on. It just ain’t right.
But, wait! It’s not just premature mulching that irks me. There’s also a hideous new technique being used by more and more people. It’s the overloading of mulch onto a tree. It’s ridiculous. The best example I can think of is on public spaces; a shopping center perhaps, that has otherwise been nicely landscaped. Generally, you’ll see young trees all lined up next to the sidewalk, and they all look like they’re wearing mulch knee-highs.
I had the chance to talk with a landscaping crew at one of the local coffee shops recently, and the crew boss knew exactly what I was talking about. He snickered and said his crew refers to them as volcano trees! Hmm, it does look like a small Krakatau or Vesuvius parked under the tree.
Debbie King, manager of Phil’s Garden Center, calls the phenomenon, mulch mounds. She disapproves of the practice as well.
“Trees use their trunks to breath and take up water and nutrients,” King explained. “If you mulch right up to the bark, they can’t breathe,” she said. King stated that mulching so high up the tree’s trunk will also encourage rot. That’s bad. It can kill a tree.
Mulching is beneficial, according to King, because it will help to keep weeds down and retain moisture, so you don’t have to water as often. And while cedar is a known, natural bug deterrent, King said mulching is really about esthetics. “If you have annuals in bright colors, those plants will really pop against black mulch.”
A variety of mulches are available at Phil’s Garden Center including hemlock, pine and playground mulch. King said playground mulch is specifically tested and purposed for that use. At Phil’s Garden Center, red cedar was the strong favorite until black cedar mulch took over in popularity in the last year or so.
King advises homeowners to completely clean out beds and replace with new mulch every few years. You don’t want to pack layer on top of layer of mulch. She also reminds gardeners to leave space around the plant or tree when mulching.
As far as how to mulch, why not follow the traditional rule-of-thumb and wait until the ground warms up. Then, and only then, go ahead and lay down two to four inches of mulch. That should do the job.
Oma Tike Tip: Mulch everything! Try different types of materials to mulch. Use hay or dried grass clippings in the garden. I also like pine needles under strawberries.
North Haven’s garden centers and nurseries are full of flowers and plants just in time for Mother’s Day Weekend. Last week, we showcased Bell Nurseries and D’Addio’s. This week, our attention is on Garden Acres on Clintonville Road. The bedding plants are in and we were assured that all your favorite annuals and hanging baskets for Mom will in stock and ready to go. Take a look of some of the photos from Garden Acres.
New Plants 2011: Heronswood has a striking foxglove. “Polka Dot Princess” has a magenta color overall with white flecks throughout the throat. A new selection called Black Lace Elderberry is from Monrovia, and Blue Balloon Salvia, a showy shrub, is also from Monrovia.
May Chores: If you haven't already, cool weather crops have been in for awhile. Peas are doing great and lettuce, brocolli and the rest are also on schedule.
Aside from that, pruning is on my mind. I’ve pretty much finished pruning anything that was damaged from the winter snows. Now I’m in the process of waiting for the forsythia to finish up flowering. Since the forsythia blooms were kind of spotty this season, that tells me I need to prune a few of the branches down to the ground in order for the shrub to fill out with flowers next season. My neighbor Bob and I usually do a second trim for height later in the season. I’m pretty sure these hedges are well over 30 years old.
Pruning is a huge topic. It’s done for the health of the plant (like crossed branches and suckers). It’s also done for space restrictions and shaping. Get yourself some good books (see the Garden Bookbag selections) and of course, learn by practicing what you read. If you have trees in need of heavy pruning, that’s a job best left to arborists.
Generally, if you need to rejuvenate an overgrown hedge or shrub, it’s recommended you do so in three parts. Prune a third the first year, then the second third in the second year, and so on. You can get away with a hard prune with the best results likely if done before the new growth gets underway. Prune new growth on trees and shrubs that flower in summer. Some shrubs only need small haircuts – like the new, light green growth on conifers in spring. I love the natural look, so I try to find shrubs that look great without help. Viburnums would fall into that category. That’s why I have lots of them in my yard.
Oma Tike Tip: Disinfect your pruning tools after each cut. It helps keep the spread of disease down. Dip your tools into a bucket of bleach solution, one part bleach to nine parts water, or carry a rag with disinfectant on it to wipe after each cut.
From the Garden Bookbag:
Oma Tike’s Pick: “Landscape Problem Solver,” by Jeff and Liz Ball, Rodale Press
My mother, Oma Tike, says if there is something wrong with your plant, you can look it up in this book. You’ll find out the culprit who is eating your firethorn or holly, or what you should do about blackspot tarnishing your roses, or even if it’s a case of your favorite plant looking sickly. It has all that stuff in there and more. Oma Tike has owned the book since the late 80s, and she said she's loaned this book out again and again.
Joy’s Pick: “Smart Guide: Pruning” by Creative Homeowner
For me, a refresher course every now and then comes in handy. That’s why this book is so good. Get the pruning basics and techniques, as well as overviews on when to prune an dhow to prune specific trees, shrubs, perennials, flowering and fruit trees.
Next Week’s Column: Sudden Oak Death and other bad guys to watch for in your garden; Tips to plant trees and shrubs; Bookbag; New Plants