Rubber Mulch: Where the Rubber Meets the – Soil?

At Costco recently, I was happy to see some acquaintances coming out of the garden section, until… what in the WORLD was in their cart? It looked like bags of mulch, but… wrong somehow. They patiently explained to this landscaper that recycled rubber mulch is the newest thing and would look very pretty in their garden beds. I was speechless. Over the years I’ve prepared a number of gardening speeches to help my hapless friends make better gardening decisions – “Why that cute little redwood won’t do under the eaves”, for example, and “Please stick the ivy in a pot”. “Why putting ground-up old tires on your garden bed is a bad idea” is one I never expected to have to deliver. I mean, recycling old tires is a great idea, but… they don’t break down, do they? And what about all the chemicals? After sputtering some shocked words (“Think of the earthworms!”), I went home resolved to research the issue more thoroughly and find out if the stuff is really as bad as it seems. Heck, maybe there’s some cool new processing trick that removes the chemicals and turns the rubber into fertilizer-holding goodness for your soil. Perhaps I was jumping to conclusions? [Read more...]

Gardening Basics: How to Apply Mulch

We’ve talked about why a thick layer of mulch, composty soil, and good watering habits are important if you want to garden more organically; it’s all about giving your plants a foundation of good health so that pest problems will be few and far between. Today we’ll talk specifically about mulch: what it is, what type to use, how to apply it, and why mulching is the single most important thing you can do to improve the health of your plants and reduce maintenance time:
Mini fir bark chips used in the garden
Mini fir bark chips used as mulch
Mulching is when you add a layer of wood chips, chipped bark, shredded leaves, or other material to the top of your soil without mixing it in, so that it will hold down weeds, hold moisture in the soil, and contribute positively to your soil over time.

Why mulching is so over-the-top awesome for your garden:

  • A 3” thick layer of mulch will reduce the weeds that come up by 75% or more overnight – it is the single best organic weed control out there. Clients who don’t have mulch are shocked at the difference after we put down a good layer of wood mulch – it smothers the weed seeds that try to sprout from the soil below.
  • It helps your soil hold onto moisture so that you needn’t water so often.
  • It also keeps your soil from getting so compacted when you step on it to maintain your garden, and keeps hard rains and hot sun from forming a crust on your soil’s surface.
  • It keeps plants’ roots cool in summer and warm in winter.
  • It helps support the beneficial micro-organisms and worm populations that keep your soil aerated and help change the existing nutrients in your soil into a form your plants can use.
  • It can help keep some soil-borne bacterial diseases from harming delicate, over-bred plants like many roses.
  • In some cases, mulch can help with erosion control.
For all these reasons, if you want a low-maintenance garden with happy, healthy plants, mulching is the number-one thing you can do to have an immediate, dramatic impact on the time you spend weeding, and the overall happiness of your plants. [Read more...]

Gardening Basics: How to Amend Soil

We’ve talked about why composty soil, good watering habits, and a thick layer of mulch are important if you want to garden more organically; it’s all about giving your plants a foundation of good health so that pest problems will be few and far between. Today we’ll talk about how to know whether you need to add compost to your soil, how much to add, and how to mix it in: Rich soil makes for happy plants Most people have some idea of whether their soil leans towards sand, clay or loam. You can find out what soil type you have here, but for our purposes, it really isn’t important. The main thing to know is that adding compost will help any kind of soil. Got clay? Compost will help the tiny clay particles bind together in larger crumbs that allow for better drainage and less of that sticky clumping. Got sand? Compost will help it hold moisture. If you’re lucky enough to have that in-between loam, then compost will do a bit of both and help your plants stay happy and balanced in their soil home. [Read more...]

Full Sun, Part Shade; Some Basic Insights On Light

asunnygardenareawithsalvialeucanthaandpinkflowercarpetrose.jpgHave you ever read a plant tag and wondered just how much sun “part sun” is? Or tried to figure out if a plant wanting “full sun” would make it in the spot that you have? Plant tags and gardening gurus spit out these terms and assume that we’ll get it right – but in my career as a garden coach and landscaper, I’ve seen many straggly sun-lovers languishing in the shade, because that area “gets sun in the morning”. But in our climate, sun in the morning usually only amounts to a few hours – leaving the sun-loving perennial stretching towards the light.

So how do I know if it’s full sun or part shade?

A sunny garden area with Salvia leucantha and Pink Flowercarpet RoseFull Sun – 6 or more hours of bright, direct sunlight per day.
  • South-facing areas usually get more than 8 hours per day, making them perfect for your lavender, roses, and other sun-lovers.
  • West-facing areas usually get 6 or more hours per day – more than enough for most sun-loving plants.
[Read more...]

How Far Apart Do I Plant? Planting for the Future

ncgfoxglovesanddwarfalbertaspruces.jpgIf you live in the Pacific Northwest, you’ve probably had the experience more than once of buying a plant that the nursery tag said would grow to the perfect size for your garden – but within a few years, it was pushing against its neighbors and becoming unruly. Why aren’t the plant tags accurate? by craftivista Well, they are mostly accurate for herbaceous perennials. That’s because most herbaceous perennials die back each year, and only have the juice to grow so big in one season. They will spread wider in time, but that’s when you divide them and enjoy a few free plants to give away to your friends. But for shrubs, the tags are actually a five- to ten-year estimate. You see, woody shrubs don’t hit a certain size and suddenly decide not to grow any more – they continue growing. They may slow down in time, when their woody stems get old enough that they don’t let the sap flow as well as it used to – but they don’t stop. Add to that the fact that many growers are in hotter, harsher climates which can stunt plant growth, and you’ll understand why our mild climate produces growth so far beyond what those growers estimate.

So what can you do to avoid the endless cycle of pruning and moving shrubs as they outgrow their spaces?

[Read more...]