Neighborly Garden News
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Save your back with no-till gardening!
I’ve been researching ways to conserve labor in the garden. My hand arthritis has made some tasks difficult, but I absolutely want to keep growing my garden. I’ve become very interested in the concept of no-till gardening. Instead of wrangling the garden beds with a tiller, shovels and rakes, you let nature do the heavy lifting. You can reap all the benefits of traditional gardening without the labor-intensive work.
Some of the benefits of no-till gardening:
- Building a healthy soil ecosystem that naturally supports pollinators, insects, birds, and other animals.
- Cultivating rich, healthy soil with excellent structure and tilth.
- Reducing weeds because seeds remain buried under compost rather than getting tilled to the soil surface where they sprout.
- Increasing the soil’s water-holding capacity makes your garden more drought-resistant.
- Decreasing the time and effort needed to tend your garden because there’s no need for tilling, and weeding and watering are reduced.
- Sequestering carbon. No-dig gardens retain carbon in the soil, which helps mitigate climate change.
While it might seem a wild idea to grow a garden without digging, take a moment to consider how forests and meadows grow in nature with no help from us. Leaf litter and debris from trees, grasses, and other plants fall to the ground, where it collects, forming a blanket of organic matter. It’s the organic matter that feeds the topsoil and the ecosystem living within the soil. Birds, worms, insects, moles, and microbes (fungi and bacteria) work together to transform organic matter into soil. As these creatures go about their daily lives eating, depositing waste, reproducing, moving seeds, and tunneling, they naturally aerate the soil and help transform organic matter into dark, nutrient-dense soil called humus.
No dig regenerative gardening builds and creates soil by mimicking nature’s system: organic matter falls to the earth, and the biodiversity living above ground and in the soil does the rest of the work. The sheeting method is a quick way to start a new no-till bed. You will be creating the perimeter of the bed with 2×6’s cut to your desired length, (if you’re a garden newbie, best to start small 3’x3’ is nice, otherwise a 4’x8’ bed) overlap sheets of cardboard to lay under each wooden bed (a good way to re-purpose all those Amazon boxes) and enough compost to fill each wooden frame. Secure the 2×6’s in place with bricks, rocks, or stakes. Water the cardboard layer well before you add the compost to the frame. If you already have raised beds, you can begin no-till gardening by layering cardboard on top of the soil and adding 2-4” of compost onto the existing bed.
This new bed can be planted immediately. You will want to minimize opening up the soil as much as possible, only create a small hole into the compost to plant your transplants. The weeds or grass under the cardboard will begin to decompose, and the cardboard itself will soften in a few weeks enough for the plant roots to grow through it. If a weed pops up, rather than yank it out, starve it by cutting the stem and all the leaves right down to the root; disabling its ability to feed itself. Pulling creates pathways and more opportunities for weed seeds to germinate. You can mulch the beds by applying additional compost, grass clippings or straw, or using physical barrier such as landscape fabric (which can be use multiple times) Every fall spread a 2-inch layer of fresh compost on the beds to top them up. This is simple by design, nothing mysterious about the process-and it works!
April’s to-do list
The wild swings in our recent weather surely typify the old adage, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, wait a minute, and it will change.” It’s the first day of spring as I begin to write. Clear blue skies and strong sun has melted most of the snow, from last week’s storm, leaving behind the green shoots of daffodils. I am more than ready to get going and begin the spring rituals we do as gardeners: raking, staking, digging.
Ticks will become active at temperatures above 39’F. As you start your garden cleanup, be mindful that ticks may lurk in the fallen leaf litter. Ticks will often crawl towards the tips of tall grass or low branches and wait for a new host to brush past, so they can quickly latch on and attach themselves to you, your pets or children. Ticks are most active between April and October, peaking June through August. Take precautions when working or playing outdoors; long-sleeves, long pants, and use an insect repellent. Modify your landscape to minimize areas where the tick’s hosts will live (deer mice) and where ticks can propagate. We offer several types of tick control products, designed to kill ticks and control their hosts. Please contact Scott Higley, (email@example.com) at our office, for more information.
Prune ‘Paniculata’ and ‘Annabelle’ type Hydrangeas now, (They bloom yearly at the tips of new growth) as well as all summer and fall blooming shrubs. Wait until after bloom to prune Lilacs, Viburnums, Rhododendrons, and other spring flowering shrubs. Prune Roses this month, for the best June blooms. Begin pruning rosebushes as the buds begin to swell. This helps to identify living from dead wood. Prune away small twigs less than the diameter of a pencil, and any broken, diseased, or inward growing branches. Make your cut above an outward facing bud or node to keep the center of the plant open and airy. Prune Climbing roses and heirloom (non-repeat blooming) roses after they bloom, so as not to interrupt their bloom cycle. Roses are rejuvenated after a hard spring pruning and will be more vigorous.
Begin digging and dividing any perennials you didn’t get to last fall. Doing this early, and in cool weather, lessens transplant shock, with minimal effect on their blooming. Please be sure your flower bed is dry enough to work in; to test the soil, squeeze a ball of soil tightly in your hand, and then release. Poke the soil ball with your finger, if the ball ‘shatters’ it is dry enough to work. If the ball stays together, wait a bit longer for the soil to dry out.
April is a great time to start planting early veggie seeds. Even if your beds aren’t ready, you can grow so many kinds of greens in containers. Lettuce, arugula, kale and the mesclun mixes all love cool weather. Whether you sow your seeds in beds or containers, I sow them in 3–4-inch bands thickly, like you were heavily applying black pepper; cover with ¼ inch of fine soil and keep consistently moist. In 30 days or sooner, you will be able to clip the leaves as you need them for salads or sautés. Harvesting by clipping some of the leaves, instead of pulling the whole plant allows you to get additional harvests from one sowing.
If you have a compost pile begin digging and spreading that black gold around your plants and garden beds to nourish the soil. Compost can boost the fertility of your soil by adding additional organic matter and beneficial microbes to your hard-working soil. Compost has also been shown to increase a plant’s resistance to disease. If you don’t already compost your kitchen waste, it is an easy way to cut down on what you send to the landfill, and there is no odor or flies.
We can help lighten your load; start your garden beds, prune your trees and shrubs, and clean up your yard. Please give our office a call. (413) 458-5586 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
April 28, 2023 is Arbor Day; plant a tree!
What’s not to love about a tree? Nine reasons to plant more trees!
Trees fight climate change
Wish you could do more than recycling and reducing your carbon footprint to combat climate change? Trees have you covered. Through photosynthesis, trees absorb harmful carbon dioxide, removing and storing the carbon and releasing oxygen back into the air.
Trees clean the air and help you breathe
Trees don’t just absorb CO2. They also absorb odors and pollutants like nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone. It’s estimated that one tree can absorb nearly 10 pounds of polluted air each year and release 260 pounds of oxygen.
Trees prevent soil erosion and rainwater runoff
During heavy rains, water runoff finds its way to streams, lakes and wetlands, creating the potential for flooding. It also picks up and carries pollutants along the way. The EPA and the Center for Watershed Protection are recognizing the importance of trees in managing runoff. Leaf canopies help buffer the falling rain and their roots hold the soil in place, encouraging the water to seep into the ground rather than run off.
Planting trees is easy
Gardening can be intimidating for newbies because there are so many variables. Which plants and flowers should you put next to each other, and which should you separate? Which bloom in the summer and which bloom in the fall? When you’re dealing with trees, there’s none of that. Just choose a spot in your yard and you’re good to go.
You’ll save money
Trees conserve energy in summer and winter, providing shade from the hot summer sun and shelter from cold winter winds. With trees standing between you and the elements, you’ll spend less on your energy bill to heat and cool your home.
Trees increase your home’s value
Studies of comparable homes with and without trees show that, if you have trees in your yard, your home’s value increases by up to 15 percent. It’s all about curb appeal, and trees make your home and yard more beautiful.
You’ll attract birds (and other creatures)
Trees provide nesting sites, food, and shelter for your bird friends. Hang a feeder in one of the branches and enjoy the birdsong all year long. Squirrels love to make their homes in trees, too, and watching their antics is a great way to spend a lazy summer afternoon.
Trees are good for your mental and physical health
A view of trees in urban areas has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety and even the crime rate. Tree-filled gardens on hospital grounds speed healing in hospital patients.
You’ll be giving your descendants a gift
Trees can live hundreds of years, so when you plant one, you’re giving a gift to your children and grandchildren. It’s a symbol of your commitment to the environment and the beauty of the world around you that will live on far beyond your own lifetime.
Flowering Cherry trees (Prunus spp) in bloom, create one of the most beautiful shows in the spring. These blooms often last no more than two weeks. They are so enchanting, some people will track their bloom stages using digital maps; so they an view them at their peak flowering. Flowering Cherries (Sakura) are also considered a symbol of renewal and the ephemeral nature of life. Cherry trees offer colorful autumn leaves, handsome bark, and quick growth, while requiring little care, making them ideal for home gardens. Flowering cherry trees are versatile and will fit in with many garden styles including Japanese style gardens, Zen gardens, cottage and country gardens. Not to be confused with fruiting cherries, Flowering cherries may produce some fruit, so sour, that only birds will eat them.
Prunus yedoensis ‘Yoshino Cherry’ has very pale blush to white flowers in early spring. This variety is renowned for their springtime bloom in Washington DC. Grows 25-35 ft tall, does best with well drained soil in full sun. Bright yellow fall leaf color.
Prunus subhirtella ‘Pendula’ Weeping Higan Cherry produces magenta pink buds that open to pink double flowers. The downward weeping, slender branches form a very graceful tree; giving the illusion of movement even when they are still. Grows 15-20 ft tall. Breathtaking when planted near a reflecting pool or pond.
Weeping Higan Cherry
Prunus serrulata ‘Kwanzan’ Kwanzan flowering cherry has masses of deep pink, very double flowers, and no fruit. Shiny bronze colored bark enhances the appeal of this lovely flowering tree. Grows 10-15 ft tall. Develops yellow-orange-bronze fall leaf color.
Kwanzan flowering cherry
Prunus serrulata ‘Mt. Fuji’ Mt. Fuji flowering cherry-Pure white semi-double flowers are mildly fragrant too. One of the few flowering cherries that will tolerate part-shade conditions. Grows 15-20 ft tall. Good orange-red fall leaf color.
Mt. Fuji flowering cherry