The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist-in-Residence

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Candy for the Plants

Crepe myrtle can take on many forms.
I am aiming for straight up with the bark below on display,
the Lyle Lovett look.

One of the landscaper's tricks is to add sugar to soil after when developing a new area for flowers. When I heard this, my mouth probably dropped open enough for a bumblebee to fly Immelman loops.

Apparently many landscapers pass on the modern equivalent of Old Wives' Tales. However sugar - on top of the toxins he lovingly described - is not my idea of good agriculture. The story is widespread enough that it appears all over the Net, including the claim to make tomatoes sweeter. I thought ripening in the sun did that!

But I do have an idea for providing instant energy to plants. We all know by now that fungus is the main decomposer in the soil. Woodsy soil has plenty of fungus. But flowers and and vegetables want plenty of bacteria, and earthworms are "cows that graze on bacteria."

Here is the sugar - grass clippings, hay, and straw. High nitrogen materials are energy for plants, unlike the wasted nitrogen of chemical fertilizers. 

Grass is a nitrogen food whether green or dried; the same is true of straw and hay. When straw bale advocates add nitrogen fertilizer to their bales, I think, "Have you ever read about soil chemistry?"

When people mow their lawns during a heavy growth time, piles of grass pile up, unless they have a mulching mower that chops it up. On the way back from my walks with Sassy, I pass the landscaper's yard, where his mower always dumps long dense rows of fresh grass. I lean over, gather as much as I can in one hand, and pack it on top the mulch under the crepe myrtle bush.

I have been adding clumps of grass under the bush, plus autumn leaves, ever since I decided to make it a showpiece instead of a untamed eyesore. The grass disappears quickly each time, pulled down and digested by earthworms, who enjoy the extra umbrella blocking the sun. They have a thick layer of wood mulch, but how many of us would pass up a rich dessert within arm's reach? 

Likewise, the straw bales are packed with energy for growing. The potatoes are almost done now, as announced by their flowering. I will begin harvesting the potatoes by tearing the bales down, one at at a time. I added nothing but water to them and the bales erupted with growth once the weather was warm enough to motivate the potatoes.

Grass clippings are full of weed seeds, but so is the soil. Truly obnoxious weeds can be controlled with regular cutting. They need to flower and fruit to grow. Mowing and some clipping will always tame them.

Patches of weeds can be daunting. They are healthiest in the dry times, when the clay soil rivals concrete for hardness. Who can dig that up? Who even wants to try? 

"Weed seeds galore."


That is when weeds turn into candy for the soil. If necessary trim them on the spot and leave the clippings. "Oh noes! Seeds galore." What are seeds that do not germinate? Nutrition, my timid gardening friends. On top of the trimmed weeds, place a thick layer of newspapers or flattened cardboard boxes. On top of that compost or shredded wood mulch.

The newspapers, brown paper for packing, or cardboard halts the weed formation, shading the soil while keeping it moist for the soil creatures. The shredded wood mulch or compost keeps the lower layer in place. In very fertile soil like mine, weeds can erupt through, but they only need another layer of newspapers and mulch. 

The lower layer of Jackson Mulch ties up the nitrogen that the weeds covet for their early growth. Lacking sun, warmth, and nitrogen, the weeds succumb to decomposition and turn into high energy compost.

Sassy wants her walk now, so we will go out and come back with some grass clippings. It is too early for most residents to wonder about my harvesting of grass. If they notice and ask pointed questions, I will answer, "Count the roses in bloom."

Study your flowers closely on a calm, sunny day.
Start counting the benefiicial insects - not just the bees.