Spring is the time for trying new things. And since grass does not grow well under most trees, some gardeners wonder if they can replace their struggling grass. The answer is yes, but be careful.
Like grass, any plant will have a difficult time trying to survive beneath a tree. One of the biggest reasons is those plants have to compete with the tree’s extensive root system for nutrients and water.
Many plants will do just fine in that tough environment, as long as they get some extra water and fertilizer. But when planting, be careful not to damage the tree’s roots. A lot of people think tree roots are deep in the ground, but the reality is that 90 percent of a tree’s roots are located in the top 3 feet of soil under and around the canopy.
Shade-loving annuals like impatiens might add color under a shade tree, but if you plant them you have to disturb roots every year. That’s why it’s better to go with perennials under trees if you can, and just tuck in a few annuals for color.
If you have to remove grass, hand dig as carefully as you can. Try not to cut through roots larger than 2 inches thick as those are more vital than smaller roots. Use a garden hose to determine the shape of your bed rather than going with a standard circle, which looks less natural. And choose plants that can tolerate the dry, shady conditions of an understory, such as barrenwort, bleeding heart, ferns, and Solomon’s seal.
I haven’t done a spring tips column in a long time, and after the long, snowy winter we’ve had I figured now is as good a time as any to do so. We all try to push it and get out and garden as soon as the first sign of spring comes but, honestly, that’s a bad idea. Tromping around on wet soil does more harm than good.
And though I’ve seen a lot of people doing it, you definitely should not be raking your lawn when the soil is still cold and soggy — even if you are grossed out by all the horrible snow mold everywhere.Read More»
With the decline of honey bee populations in recent years, the hunt has been on for alternative pollinators. Orchard mason bees are earning high marks for their ability to pollinate fruit trees, flowers, and vegetables.
Orchard mason bees don’t live in hives. Instead, they nest in hollow areas, such as holes made by woodpeckers and insects. You can buy nesting boxes to attract mason bees, or make one by drilling holes in a wooden box (wood should be untreated). Plans for different types of boxes can be found online. Here are just a couple of the helpful sites I found: North Carolina State University Extension Service at http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/Other/note109/note109.html and Washington State University Extension Service at http://gardening.wsu.edu/library/inse006/inse006.htm.
Interestingly, hollowed-out spaces are favorable sites for orchard mason bees because of the way females lay their eggs. After gathering a bit of pollen, a female places the pollen at the bottom (or back) of the hole. Next, she lays an egg on top of the pollen and creates a partition with mud before repeating the cycle—pollen, egg, mud, pollen, egg, mud—until she gets to the opening of the hole and covers the end with one last dab of mud.
Because these bees tend to forage within 100 yards of their nest, once you’ve attracted them to your garden you can expect good pollination. Better still, orchard mason bees are much less aggressive than other bees, so there is a lower risk of being stung. The only real downside is that they don’t make honey.
If anyone decides to give these a try, or already has experience with orchard mason bees, please send a note and tell the rest of us about them.
Even if you are not a hobby farmer, don’t know any hobby farmers, and have never dreamed of being a hobby farmer, you’ll still find a lot of worthwhile information in Michael and Audrey Levantino’s new book, The Joy of Hobby Farming: Grow Food, Raise Animals, and Enjoy a Sustainable Life (Skyhorse Publishing, 2011).
Tired of the hustle-bustle life in San Francisco’s Bay Area, the Levantinos were thrilled when Michael’s company offered him a job opportunity that took them to lush Virginia. Though they’d never dreamed of owning a farm, when a 23-acre farm “found them,” they bought it and learned the ins and outs of how to run it.
In one of my latest blog posts, I talked about how to assess your seeds to find out whether they were duds before planting time. Writing about that topic piqued my interest in finding out more, so I did some research and found a great chart that garden guru Margaret Roach posted on her always informative Web site. Here is the link: http://awaytogarden.com/estimating-viability-how-long-do-seeds-last.
Roach compiled the chart based on seed viability estimates from four sources: extension services in Iowa and Vermont, Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog, and the Fedco seed catalog. She notes in her post that it’s no wonder we all get confused about how long seeds last. Depending on the source, for example, tomato seeds can last anywhere from four to ten years. Her post, and the chart, are definitely worth a look.