Podcasts for the Plant Enthusiast

Podcasts have become a bit of an obsession for me in the past 12 months.  I spend long hours alone in the greenhouse sowing seed trays, dividing crowns, and potting up plants.  I used to listen to music with an occasional audiobook to keep my sanity, but even 10,000 songs on shuffle got old eventually.  In the course of looking for something to entertain and, hopefully, enrich my mind I have stumbled upon a number of podcasts that are now a part of my daily routine.  If you are already familiar with podcasts and how to get them, feel free to skip to the bullet points for my favorites.  If you haven’t ventured into the world of podcasts just yet a short introduction follows.

First: what is a podcast?  It’s a pre-recorded audio production (‘radio show’) that you download or stream and listen to on your phone/computer/internet-connected device.  Most of the shows NPR produces are also available as podcasts, so that should give you a basic idea of the format.  Unlike NPR or radio, pretty much anyone can make a podcast, which means there is a lot a variability and people trying new things.  The upside is that increased access lends itself to a wide variety of shows about specialized and often esoteric subject matter (like native plants).  The only downside I’ve encountered is that sometimes the quality can be lacking for the more specialized subjects (like native plants), but better shows are coming out all the time. Fortunately, most podcasts are completely free to the listener, and there are ratings and reviews that can guide you to good quality productions.

Now, where to get these podcasts?  If you are into Apple products and/or use iTunes, that will be your best bet.  They did invent the podcast, so I’ll give them credit for that and say that most podcasts are available there first.  If you don’t use iTunes, then there are a few other ways to listen.  There are a number of apps, often referred to as ‘podcatchers’ available for free in whatever app store you use.  Download the app, open it up and start browsing for episodes.  I am using Podcast Republic at the moment and I would say it works quite well for me.  The advantage of installing the app is that you can download the episodes for offline listening.  This is especially great for listening in the car or in areas that have poor cell/wi-fi coverage (like the greenhouse) where streaming is not an option.  If you aren’t into the apps and downloads then you can always just listen through your regular web browser on whatever device you use to internet.

Now that the podcast basics are covered, here are the shows that I enjoy and recommend:

  • The Native Plant Podcast – This is a recent find, but has quickly become one of my favorites. I think I might have met the hosts, Mike and John, at the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference back in 2013.  They are both entertaining, knowledgeable guys that run businesses growing and installing native plants in Tennessee and Virginia respectively.  They bring on a guest each week to interview and discuss various aspects of plants, ecology, horticulture, and the nursery industry.  They also end each show by telling short stories about their dogs and having a toast with their guest, usually involving dark beers.  Native plants, dogs and beers: I’m sold.   This episode with Dr. Doug Tallamy is a great introduction to him and his work, and also has some good new info for those already familiar with him.  A quote from this episode with Dale Hendricks that  made me feel better about some of my nursery failures was:“You find a professional grower and you find a person that, for better or for worse, has killed a lot of plants.” It also has a lot of more positive talk about biochar, his role in founding North Creek Nurseries, his new found interest in permaculture, and Paw paws.

 

  • Plants: From Roots to Riches was a BBC radio program, and is now available as a podcast. It’s a good overview of the history of botanical studies, the people that made went exploring all over the globe and the plants they found, collected, studied and grew.  The host, Prof. Kathy Willis is the director of science at Kew Gardens, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world and a key institution in the development of botany as a proper science.  She enlists her numerous colleagues at Kew and abroad to explain how empire, industry, and agriculture fueled the need for botanical expertise. The episodes are pretty short (about 14 min. each), so the series of 25 went pretty quickly for me.  It’s a very well produced, accessible, narrative of the past 300 years and the revolutions in scientific studies that have changed the ways we view and interact with plants.

 

 

  • In Our Time – Now, we’re getting away from strictly plant based podcasts, but this one has something for everyone.  It’s from the BBC, and the host Melvyn Bragg moderates a panel of experts on a given topic each week and they discuss the history of said topic.  It is often a work of art, a scientific theory or invention, or a social phenomenon.  This episode about Photosynthesis really helped me to visualize the inner workings of plant cells as they make their make their food and breathe.  This episode about the structure of the cell is also fascinating, as are any of the many episodes about astronomy, geology, physics and paleontology. Tons of episodes all chock full of people that have devoted their lives to studying a subject explaining it to a genial British man in fairly simple terms.  You’re bound to learn something new.

Those are all for the plant enthusiast, but others that I regularly enjoy and recommend are: This American Life,  Nerdist, WTF with Marc Maron, Talking Simpsons, You Must Remember This, Radiolab, Invisibilia, Longform, and Snap Judgement.

Happy listening, and if you know of any other good (native) plant-related podcasts recommend it in the comments!


Stymied about Native Plant Gardens?

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Lately we have been getting a lot of requests for help in selecting native plants for school gardens. I love this; it is exciting to see the surging interest in our beautiful native species. Georgia has 4,000 naturally occurring native plant species.

Appalachian Turtlehead, Chelone cuthbertii, a species that wants a moist to wet area in the garden.

Appalachian Turtlehead, Chelone cuthbertii, a species that wants a moist to wet area in the garden.

Not four, not forty, but four thousand species. Shazaam!

So many options to choose from! The more native plants we put back into our landscape, the more pollinators, butterflies and birds we welcome back into our lives. Our children may even come to understand that their food is often dependent on the actions of tiny pollinators, which directly connects them (and us) to nature. In my book that is a very good thing.

Consistently, when someone asks me for help with their project, the same questions come up time after time. This article deals with those first questions you need to answer to plan the garden. To have a thriving native plant garden of any type, we have to put the right plant in the right place. Answer these questions and you have more information to help you choose plant species appropriate for your site.

First things first: Let us focus on what you need or want. This helps determine the range of plant species you will install, and how you will install them. What is the mission, or purpose, of your project? Is it educational? Do you want to study insects and other pollinators and have caterpillars hatch, thrive and morph into butterflies? Do you want a certifiable habitat garden for wildlife? Do you have beehives and want a bee meadow for honeybees? Is it a bog garden? Is it a xeriscape? Is it a decorative landscape element? Is it an ecological restoration? Or?? Whew! That’s a lot of choices. A note: We will not be looking at ecological restorations here, this article is about garden sites.

Second, what are the qualities of your chosen garden site?
There are a few things that we need to take into consideration:
1.) The moisture regime and slope of the site, 2.) the soil characteristics, 3.) available light, 4.) and finally, how many square feet you want to plant.

1.) The moisture regime of the site: Is it a ridge or high point in the landscape, draining water quickly? There are plenty of native plants that prefer dry, well drained sites.

Small head liatris, or Liatris microcephala, a shorter but tough as nails plant that can handle the brutal summers on Stone Mountain in Georgia.  A great plant for dry sunny areas.

Small head liatris, or Liatris microcephala, a shorter but tough as nails plant that can handle the brutal summers on Stone Mountain in Georgia. A great plant for dry sunny areas.

Or is it low and slow to drain water? Is there a drainage or swale, HVAC drain or gutter spout nearby, creating the possibility of a rain garden, or bog situation? We have native plants for that.

Are you lucky? Do you have a moderate moisture regime on a gentle slope or mid slope, that maintains an even moisture level? Easy peasy, you’ve got a whole mess of plants that like that situation.

Last, but never least, of the moisture regimes is the lack of moisture. Do you have an eroded slope that loses moisture and soil with every rain? Don’t despair; there are ways and native plant means to deal with that issue.

Or is there a lot of hot asphalt nearby creating a heat sink? Might be a xeriscape you are looking for. Yes, there are xeriscape-friendly plants native to Georgia.

2.) The characteristics of the soil onsite:
Is the soil hard packed clay and not able to hold moisture? If it is all clay, it will be unworkable for most plants without some organic material and sand added in. Organic material is rich in nutrients; it also breaks up clay and holds moisture during dry seasons. Sand improves drainage, keeps everything from getting too saturated with water during wet seasons. Gradually, added sand works it’s way through the clay, keeping it from becoming too heavy and hard for roots to penetrate during the summer heat.

These additives are an attempt to recreate an ideal loam soil situation. Naturally occurring loam has historically been one of the most sought after soils for any garden or agriculture. If you don’t have loam, balancing clay with sand and organic matter is how you compensate. Of course, bog plants and desert plants don’t appreciate balanced soils or moisture regimes.

Is the soil rich, moist and full of organic material? You can have too much organic material, but this doesn’t happen very often. Is it a mix of the above conditions?

3.) The available light:
Is there constant open shade from a building? If your garden is on the north side of a building, you may be able to plant species that tend to grow on north facing bluffs in the Piedmont.

Are there closely planted trees with very dark, deep shade? Is there open shade, with the trees anywhere from 25-40 feet or so apart, with an even soft or spangled light? Deep shade is difficult for a successful garden with flowering plants. Ferns are great for deep shade, but they do not flower. Open shade offers a lot of forest species and part shade species as options.

Red Columbine a beautiful shade blooming species.  Photographed in North Georgia at the Pocket.

Red Columbine a beautiful shade blooming species. Photographed in North Georgia at the Pocket.

Is there partial shade; sun during part of the day, shade during the balance? Does the partial sun occur in the morning or the afternoon? Morning sun is cooler, with shade during the hottest part of the day. Afternoon sun can be fairly brutal, despite morning shade. There are quite a few plants that will handle either option.

Does the preferred garden site take on a full, blast furnace, Georgia sun? Time to think xeriscape! Don’t worry; we have native plants for that situation.

4.) How many square feet do you have to plant? This will help you figure out how many plants you can successfully install.

OK, you have your homework. Answer the questions above and you have general descriptions of the situation your garden site offers. You can finish your research by doing any one of three things: One, look up plants in the Ladybird wildflower website via Mr. Smartyplants. Two email me (Pandra) your questions (my email is listed on the contact form.) Or get in touch with me through Beech Hollow Wildflower Farm on Facebook. Yeah, I’m a sucker for a native plant garden. Especially if there are kids involved.

Above all, get wild about wildflowers!


Seeds, Up Close and Personal

Seeds. They’re everywhere.  Chances are you’ve probably eaten some today already.  I had a number of them on the outside of my bagel (which was made from ground up seeds) and ground up a bunch to make my coffee.  Most of the seeds we encounter as food have been bred to be bigger and tastier for our human appetites.  The seeds on non-domesticated plants, i.e. native wildflowers, have evolved their own special adaptations to appeal to the animals that consume and spread them.  They also have other interesting features that aid in their dispersal and germination so they can become new little plants.  The trouble is most of them are really small, and its hard to see those features.  Fortunately we have a microscope at the farm.  After many hours of the often mind-numbing task of removing the seeds from their capsules and screening out all the associated detritus I decided to take a break yesterday and look at some of my cleaned seeds a little closer.  Fortunately I was able to get my camera to focus through 2 extra lenses and was able to get a nice set of photos.

IMG_5446A familiar looking seed from the Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus) as it resembles the big fat sunflower seeds you see in the grocery store from it’s cousin Helianthus annus.  IMG_5449

Another familiar looking seed from the bean family (Fabaceae), these are from Wild White Indigo (Baptisia alba). You can see the tiny umbilicus on the one where it was attached to the seed pod.IMG_5454

This seed and pod are from American Ipecac (Gillenia stipulata). It looks like a tiny brain to me. IMG_5453

False Aloe (Manfreda virginica) seeds look very similar to the seeds of their cousin, Yucca, but just a bit smaller.IMG_5452

Swamp Hibiscus (Hibiscus grandiflorus) surprised me with these stripes. I was immediately reminded of clam shells and how they form by adding layer upon layer.IMG_5450

Blue Star (Amsonia tabernaemontana) is one of the few cylindrical seeds I’ve ever seen. They form stacked end to end in a tubular capsule.

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By far the biggest seed I looked at, Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)  might have broken the 1 cm barrier.  I have planted plenty of these seeds, but I had never noticed the tiny hairs.  They just look smooth to the naked eye.

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Like a crazy toy troll, these Tall Thimbleweed (Anemone virginianum) seeds have some wild hair. The mass of seeds looks like a puff of cotton on the plant, but here you can see the individual wiry hairs that encase the seed and help it float away on the breeze.  IMG_5439

I accidentally crushed one of these Skullcap (Scutellaria nervosa) seeds while I was moving it with tweezers.  The previous seeds were small, but these are tiny. I zoomed in another quarter turn on the microscope to take this. They look like perfect little spheres to the naked eye, but zoom in and they are anything but smooth. IMG_5441

Another one with hair, but this one has a comb.  These Blue Mistflower (Conclinum coelestrum) seeds also have hairs that are meant to catch the breeze and pull them along like an upturned umbrella. I was confused as to what that blurry violet stuff was, but then I realized that it’s the flowers! Each of those tiny flowers has a tube going down to an ovary.  When pollen is transferred to the flower, it is transported down the tube and a seed forms. Every single one of those tiny little flowers was visited by a pollinator to make every single one of these tiny little seeds.

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And speaking of pollinators, the ones who made all of these seeds possible, here is a bee.  I’m not sure how she died (possibly all that arctic air), but she was on the porch and I suppose can live on in a blog post.  All the little hairs coming out of the compound eye were very interesting to me.  You can really see how pollen would get stuck to all those hairs.

There are plenty of seed heads out there right now.  Break one open and look closely at what’s inside.  Get out your hand lens or a magnifying glass.  Thank a pollinator and then cast the seeds to the wind.


Thorny subject, protecting birds

Birds are a joy to listen to and to watch.  What backyard is complete without them?  Sadly, songbird populations have declined steeply over the past four decades.  Habitat destruction both here in North America, where many species nest and rear their young, and in the warm Caribbean islands and areas of Central America where neotropical bird species migrate to spend the winter months is a major factor in this decline.  Other factors include a lack of food resources and over-predation by introduced animals, ie: animals not native to an ecosystem. (Ehrlich, Paul R., Dobkin, David S., and Wheye, Darryl. The Decline of Eastern Songbirds. 1988)

How do we protect our birds?Southern Dewberry, Rubus trivialis

Nesting space: Plant shrubs and vines with protective vegetation.  Thorny shrubs, plants and vine tangles will help to protect nests and nestlings.  Slender, thorny stems will help prevent larger predators such as raccoons and cats from attacking nests and stealing eggs or killing chicks.  Many thorny shrubs also perform double duties by providing fruit and berries from summer through fall.

  • Low, brambly shrubs such as garden variety blackberries (Rubus spp), or Southern Dewberry (Rubus trivialis), provide delicious nibbles for us humans, while attracting birds and furnishing them with a food and cover.  They can be kept in check in a small yard, but the neater they are, the less cover they provide. Devil's Walkingstick in bloom
  • Devil’s Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa) is an important food source for migratory birds.  In summer it sprouts an enormous (3 foot diameter), misty plume covered with simple flowers that attract all manner of butterflies and other pollinators while blooming.  It will also support 3 to 5 birds feeding at one time when the purple berries ripen in fall, which is quite a sight! Devil’s Walking Stick has one of the largest, lacy bi-pinnate leaves of any plant in North America.  This prickly small tree will form a fairly large colony and would do well in a back corner of a large yard.
  • Hawthorns (Crataegus spp.):  these are an underused, extremely handsome group of shrubs/small trees.  When mature, their small rose-like flowers range in size from 1.25 inches across to clusters of smaller, 3/8 inch flowers.  Their slender branCrataegus species.ches usually have thorns making it doubly hard for larger predators to climb up to nesting sites. The fall sees hawthorns covered in small fruits that can be enjoyed by birds and humans alike.

Cover: A Safe Haven

After fledging, but before becoming flight savvy, nestlings need cover: places to flee from neighborhood cats and dogs.  Here are a few ways to thwart Tabby and Fido from making a snack out of local baby birds:

Fern patch:  Provide a densely planted fern thicket in a shady side border.  Low, moist areas in the back yard are perfect for hardier ferns such as Southern Shield (actually a coastal plain species, fine for gardens but not restoration) or Southern Lady Fern, or Christmas Fern.  Cinnamon Ferns, Royal Ferns, Beech Ferns, and Sensitive Ferns are also good cover, but need a consistently moist location.  Bracken Fern makes a wonderful escape for chipmunks and nestlings.  The stems are tough, the fronds can be three to four feet tall, and the plant will survive 6 hours of sun a day and fairly dry soils.  

I have seen cats completely flummoxed when trying to pursue an animal into a thicket of bracken fern.  However this fern is too aggressive for a small yard, it needs a big, broad area to spread out in benign neglect for both you and the fern to be happy.  If you have an untended railway siding nearby, or own some wild acreage, this might be the plant for you.

Brush pile:  A loosely bunched brush pile in the back of the yard is a very effective way to deter predation of small wildlife.  Brush piles don’t have to be huge, but should be large enough to keep a persistent cat from getting to the center.   The moist, slowly decaying wood at the bottom of the brush pile also creates an excellent habitat for tiny wildlife such as salamanders and larger limbs can provide homes for mason bees.

Do not use pressure treated wood products in your brush pile.  Pressure treated wood is toxic, and will poison the small wildlife and beneficial insects that both feed the birds and benefit your garden.

An added long term benefit of keeping a small brush pile at the back border of the yard is that it will gradually enhance your soil biology, providing food and homes to beneficial soil fungi and bacteria.   After a few years the soil under the brush pile will have become very rich, at which point you might want to start a fresh brush pile in a different corner of the yard as you consider which humus-loving native plant(s) to place in your newly enriched bed.

Sources:

Ehrlich, Paul R., Dobkin. David S., and Wheye, Darryl. The Decline of Eastern Songbirds.  http://www.stanford.edu/group/stanfordbirds/text/essays/Eastern_Songbirds.html. Stanford University. Stanford.  1988


Erosion Control and Restoration at Freedom Park

     Back in 2009, Ecoaddendum received a grant through Park Pride to help control erosion and install several native plant beds in Freedom Park.  The main area of concern was an eroded slope between two sidewalks near the intersection of Oakdale Street and North Ave.  The slope was fairly steep, probably close to 45°, and did not have enough topsoil on it to allow even grass to grow.

     Erosion is a vicious cycle.  It usually starts with humans or other animals disturbing the ground or removing the topsoil layer and exposing clay or mineral soils.  This lack of humus-rich topsoil makes it harder for plants to take root and allows water to carry away more soil as it rushes off the impermeable surface. 

     The effects of the erosive process can be seen in the above picture.  The orange-brown areas in the middle of the slope are exposed clay soils.  If this hillside had a healthy, continuous layer of topsoil with plants growing in it then it would act like a sponge, with the matrix of plant roots holding the soils, and the soils absorbing water until they were saturated.  Water would flow downhill slowly through the soil, and the slower water travels the less it can carry.  

     Once a disturbance was created that exposed the underlying clay water began to flow more quickly over the surface, allowing it to carry larger and larger soil particles.  This allows the flow to undercut the adjacent topsoil much like a river cuts into a bank.  More soil is carried away, which exposes a larger area, which allows more water to flow faster and carry away more soil……  you get the idea.  In order to stem the tide of soil loss Ecoaddendum and Park Pride staff with a group of excellent volunteers took action to stabilize the bank and build new soil in which hundreds of native plants were installed. 

     The first step in the process was to break up the compacted soil.  Using shovels and other garden tools the crew turned the earth so that the hard pan that had developed on the surface was cracked and broken so that water could again be absorbed into the soil instead of just running over the surface.

     Now that the ground had been opened up, it was time to add the necessary materials to rebuild the soils so that they could once more support plant growth and hold water.  In order to do this a 4” thick layer of finished compost was spread over the entire area. 

     This compost will slowly break down and seep into the subsoil to replace the nutrients that were lost to erosion.  It will also provide a good moist, insulating environment for plant roots to establish and work their way into the compacted soils below. Note the crew of great volunteers at the top of the hill!

     The steep slope of this hillside is half of the reason that it became eroded in the first place.  Simply adding compost isn’t going to help if the compost just washes away during the next heavy rainfall.  In order to secure the newly amended soils until plant roots can take over the security detail a layer of jute cloth was laid over the area and secured with landscape staples.

      Jute cloth (also known as jute geotextile) is a plant based fiber woven into a lattice-like fabric.  It will eventually biodegrade after several years, but in the meantime it holds the soil in place while allowing water and light to pass through so that plants may grow.

          The next step in the process lacks photo documentation, but is pretty easy to understand: installing plants.  After the compost was spread and covered we gave it a few weeks to settle and then returned with our plants.  Using scissors, we cut small holes or slits into the jute cloth, dug down and planted a variety of low-growing native plants.  Low-growing species were selected because the hillside is periodically mowed by park maintenance staff and short, ground hugging plants would suffer less damage from lawnmower blades if not just pass right under them.

          Then all there is to do is wait…….6 months…….

Viola! Colorful, stable, erosion-free hillside. 

Plant species included:

Cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis)

Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)

Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)

Birdfoot Violet (Viola pedata)

Green and Gold (Chysoganum virginium)

Silkgrass (Pityopsis graminifolia)

     Most of the plants installed spread by runners or root stolons.  These creeping stems that radiate outward from the parent plant sprout roots each time they contact the ground.  In the process they form large colonies of resilient plants that are excellent at holding soil.

          Erosion is a pretty widespread problem in the urban/suburban landscape.  Most developers remove the topsoil because it has a large organic constituent which will inevitably decay, so it is an unstable base on which to build anything.  The process outlined above can help to restore a rich topsoil layer and allow plants to build strong roots and hold the soil in place naturally.

Many thanks to all the volunteers who helped complete this project!

           


Milkweeds Sacrifice; Monarchs Take Flight

As we were walking the propagation beds a few weeks back, Pandra and I approached a patch of about 8-10 milkweed plants (Asclepias tuberosa) and she said “Oh no!”  Only one was still green, and all that remained of the others were brown dried out stems with a few dead leaves still clinging to the ends.  It looked a little like this:

We started to discuss what could have caused all these plants to die off and whether or not it was the same beetles that took out nearly all of our Coreopsis last spring.  I said that I’d seen a Monarch butterfly caterpillar feeding on one of those plants the week before, and maybe they were the cause?  We took a look at another patch of milkweed plants and saw essentially the same thing, dead crowns on all the plants except one.  The one remaining green plant in this patch had three monarch caterpillars feasting on the leaves.  I didn’t get a picture, but they had obviously come from the plants with the dead crowns, as this last green plant was the farthest down the line.  We both said “well, that’s why we grow milkweed” and hoped that the crowns would re-sprout in the spring.

Fast forward two weeks and I’m out at the front beds again checking to see if seeds had ripened on some of the sunflowers.  A Monarch butterfly floated by on the breeze.  Then another one caught my eye flying down to the other end of the bed.  Fortunately I had my camera.

This is a newly hatched Monarch feeding on the nectar of a Georgia Aster flower.  This is also a good example of why you need butterfly host plants AND flowering nectar plants to support a healthy population of butterflies in your garden.  If this butterfly had hatched and there was no food in the area she might have perished, but there were multiple species of plants flowering within 30 yards of the milkweed so she had plenty to eat.  Hopefully it provided a good first meal for the incredible journey to Mexico or South Florida that this lady is about to embark upon. 

    That’s fine and well for the butterflies, but what about our poor milkweed plants?  I went to check on their roots and to my surprise I found this:

Already sprouting new growth!  All of the plants with dead crowns were putting up some form of new growth, and most of it looked larger and greener than the growth that the monarchs devoured.  The milkweeds abandoned their crowns as a result of the siege, and then after the caterpillars left and pupated they simply sprouted new stems.  Host plant/insect relationships are so complex and fascinating.  Almost as fascinating as how successive generations of butterflies know how and when to migrate thousands of miles to a place they’ve never been, but that’s another post.  Until then……

Happy Trails!


04.06.12 Down in the valley

We will use this geranium population as parent stock for both seed and cuttings to develop locally sourced geranium plants that are nursery propagated.

Geranium maculatum in the valley near the beeches.

 


09.24.11 Salvia azurea

¾ inches of rain.

Took pictures of Salvia azurea This is in the east propagation field.  The plant is amazing, grown to 12 or 13 feet tall, a leafy spire covered in sky blue flowers an inch across.   These tall wands of blue flowers do a wonderful bow and dance in any passing breeze.  Skippers seem to be visiting the flower, didn’t notice a lot of other pollinator activity.  Will keep my eyes on it. Like many salvias, this member of the mint family is a “clumper” not a “thug” or a “runner.”

Just look at this flower, it’s got a wonderful bright sky blue color.

 


07.09.11 Using paper mulch to kill weeds and set up planting areas.

Paper mulch weed block.

1 ½ inches of rain.  Installed paper in front beds.  8 ½ feet wide by 167 feet long.

This post describes a passive method of killing weeds or invasive plants and setting up a planting area.  It works pretty well as long as you do not till the ground after setting up the paper and mulch.

This year we have moved to using heavy brown paper with 4-6 inches of mulch or compost layered on top.   As we are not tilling the beds, the weed-seed bank should stay mostly undisturbed.  Dead woody debris is being used to hold the paper in place until the mulch can be layered on top.  The wood will be left behind to serve as moisture and mycology “reservoir” as well as serving the gradual enrichment of the soil.

Topping off the paper mulch with compost.

Although you can plant immediately after situating the paper and finished compost with this method, I prefer to let the paper and compost smother the weeds first, about 8 weeks to make certain.  That way, when setting out the plants, weeds aren’t poking through the holes that are made by planting actvities.  This method works well on forbes, plants that do not have perennial wooden stems or trunks.  It has worked very well to control Lespedizia in the beds.

Please note:  you don’t need a tractor to do this.  You can use any uncoated paper to use as a weed block, newspaper is great, rolls of kraft paper work, as well as rolls of specialty paper made for this purpose sold by organic garden vendors.

The finished bed is about 170 feet long.

The previous year we used plastic to solarize the beds to rid them of weeds.  The plastic became a problem.  Not only is it expensive, but during the process of solarizing of course it has to stay exposed to massive amounts of UV during the hottest part of the year when the sun is it’s most intense.  At the end of the solarization period, not surprisingly, the plastic was so brittle that it was virtually impossible to pick all of it up – it kept breaking apart in our hands.   It was hours of additional work trying to get these tiny shreds picked  out of the beds.  The Lespedezia and sweet gum saplings were not completely eradicated by this method.  I think their roots may have been too deep to have been fully cooked.

It takes about 2 months for the beds to be ready to prep for planting with the solarization method.