This winter has been long already. We seem to have been getting rain, snow and/or ice almost every other day, oddly interspersed with days close to sixty degrees. On those nice days you know where I’ve been! The garden calls me. I’ve been trying to get a jump on freshening up all the garden beds by getting rid of winter weeds and stirring up the existing mulch, and as luck would have it, the county park at the top of my neighborhood just had a delivery of compost. My favorite! LOL!
I’ve already managed to bring home six car loads to amend the soil. What a difference it makes. In the spring when the grass starts growing again, I will add some additional clippings and stir it all in. This makes the absolutely perfect soil for flowers, veggie gardens, and young foundation transplants. I highly encourage you to check with your local county office and inquire if they also have a compost/mulch program. Some even will deliver to your home for a small fee. Ours here in Fairfax County doesn’t offer that, so I collect my own in large flower pots. They are easy to fill, and not too heavy to carry to wherever I’m spreading it in the garden. A two to three inch layer is perfect. Aside from dressing up the garden and providing nutrients, finely composted leaves stay in place better than the bark mulch on hillsides. So if you have a yard with terrain, it’s perfect.
An example of a stump cut dormant Crepe Myrtle. When this is done year after year you end up with a deformed looking tree that is prone to wind damage when in bloom.
I don’t usually start off a blog in such a negative way, but there are certain practices out there which need to be stopped, and many of these occur in the spring. I recently have seen many timely articles about the annual ritual of hacking off the top half of Crepe Myrtle trees. One in particular hit the nail on the head, titling it “Crepe Murder.” This practice involves stump cutting the entire tree down to a certain height. It is very unattractive and unnatural-looking when the foliage is gone, namely all winter, and when done year after year, you end up with knobby branches. To me, this sort of looks like the painful joints of an arthritic person. I have seen many pear trees mutilated in the same way. Many people do this because they see paid gardeners do this and unsuspectingly think it’s the right thing to do.
Tip — The proper way to keep a Crepe Myrtle trimmed is to cut the branches at the base of the branch, just like you do for most other plants. This will maintain the proper branching structure and keep it natural.
This is what happens to trees which have had the mulch piled too high, "mulch volcano" style. The roots are struggling to receive water and nutrients growing toward the surface, instead of downward where they are needed for stability.
Another really bad practice that I would like to caution against is the “Mulch Volcano.” This is when the mulch is piled really high around the base of a tree with a dip in the center where the trunk comes out from the dirt. Many so called “professional” gardening crews do this as a standard practice, and so again many gardeners follow suit, thinking it is correct. In fact, it will actually kill the tree, choking off all rain and nutrients from ever reaching the poor root system. The example to the right shows what happens to them if they don’t die. Notice how the roots will try to grow upwards to the surface in order to reach moisture. This can cause a host of new issues to deal with, such as the roots protruding out of the dirt compromising their stability, and causing them to be easily harmed during mowing. Also, it makes the roots easy to trip over if you are walking under the tree.
Another item that I would like to caution about is spraying weed killer. If it is not a completely windless day, the mist can carry quite a distance killing everything along the way. The best tip I have come across is to dip a sponge in the herbicide and lightly touch it to the weeds you want taken out. For a large area, such as killing the grass for a new garden bed, apply it with a paint roller. Quick and easy!
When daffodils and other bulbs have finished blooming, deadhead the spent blooms but leave the foliage for at least a month before cutting it down. This will ensure a beautiful and healthy display the following Spring.
One more quick don’t- when your daffodils and other bulbs have finished blooming for the season, don’t cut the foliage to the ground just yet. Go ahead and remove the dried up blooms, but leave the foliage until the green color fades. This is how the bulb replenishes itself with nutrients for the following spring, so it’s important to allow the leaves to soak in the rain and sun for an extra month or so.