The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist in Residence

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Last Summer Set Us Up for Clover Lawns -
The Power of Mulch


Nothing starts a gardening conversation faster than fresh roses. We were at the chiro's office before when I had a long conversation with a retired professor about organic gardening. This happened again, at the same office, with another retired professor - agriculture. His wife was there for treatment and she fussed over the roses I brought for the office. He invited us to the farmers' market the next day, so we saw him again and took a bunch of roses for her.

I could tell he was in agriculture when he talked about the effects of our unusual 2015 (too much rain and then no rain) and the mild winter. He pointed out the takeover of clover in the lawns all around town, because they went to seed so completely. As he and I both noticed, the flowering trees and bushes were simply astonishing this spring. I mentioned the red bud trees never being so packed with color in any other year, and he said, "Look at the red bud seed pods outside the window." That told me - agriculture for sure.

At the farmers' market, we talked gardening and met the vendors who were there on the off-day. Thursday brings only a few stalls at the Jones Center. Saturday brings about 20 vendors of all types: custom furniture, etc. Growing up in Moline and working at my father's business, I always tried to patronize small businesses from our hometown, which applies to Walmart too, but there is nothing better than a farmers' market.

Emptying the Rainbarrels Again
Rain was about to start when I fed the birds again, late in the afternoon. They ate all day, and continued late in the afternoon, which seemed to be verifying the rain prediction.

I now use four large garbage cans, one small one, and the wheelbarrow to catch rain. The wheelbarrow is my rain gauge, backed up by Lake Gideon, the puddle that forms in a low spot on Scott Street. If it rains a lot and the soil is dry, Lake Gideon is unimpressive. If it fills and overflows into a secondary lake nearby, we had a real sod-soaker, one to wash out the cricks. Last summer one rain did that and perhaps gave us 14 inches in a day, a bonanza for weeds and clover.

Mulch Helps with Light Rains
So my favorites got extra rain from the barrels before the rain - White Profusion Butterfly Bush, hybrid tea roses along the fence, some ambitious blackberry canes, and bee balm.

We have had many light rains this year, which is fine for the roses and returning perennials. We had a little rain last night and some misting this morning. That is where mulch really comes into the Creation food cycle. Mulch holds in the moisture in the soil that would be dried up by steady winds and sunlight. Grass and weeds want to soak up the sun and crowd the roses, drawing from soil moisture as well.

Roses do not like competition, so the proximity of grass and weeds will keep them from producing well. In contrast, mulch will hold moisture and feed the soil creatures and fungus that benefit the roots and feed the plants.

I called this Fireworks once, but it is named Purple Splash.

I try to keep a mulch zone of 3 feet around each rose bush. That also discourages foot traffic, while nearby grass does not. Our helper has mint crowding his Purple Splash roses transplanted from our yard. He can cut the plants at the surface, surround the plants, and cover the zone with cardboard, then mulch. The mint will keep away from the roses, and the cuttings will feed the soil creatures.

Some people fear the seedy weeds, like crabgrass (actually a grain brought to America). Tearing out crabgrass is just about impossible. Using Roundup will leave unsightly plant-free zones, and it is not good for the soil creatures or the environment. The best solution for crabgrass is to turns its sun-power against it - cover the plants with cardboard or newspaper and another layer of some mulch. The worst and seediest weed will become compost in the dark.

I had a Veterans' Honor like this one in a vase,
even though the stem was too short.
The bloom was just too luxurious and full.
Later I had to put the bouquet outside to make room
for new flowers - and this rose remained
full and colorful on the ground instead of wilting.