Category Archives: Compost

Some tasks to get started on now…

By MJ Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Spring is just starting to peek through the winter cold and soon it will soon be time to start getting your hands dirty again. Before you break out your trusty garden tools and seed packets, there are a few garden chores you need to tackle to get your garden off on the right foot.

Inspect Raised Garden Beds: Check garden beds for any damage. Over the winter, rain, snow and ice can damage the wood frames of a raised garden bed. Repair or replace as necessary.

Check Your Garden Tools: Get your garden tools a good wipe down and inspect for rust on the tool heads. Oil and sharpen if necessary, paying particular attention to wooden handles that show signs of splits or cracks; rub them down with boiled linseed oil.

fresh-2386786_640Turn Your Compost: It’s time to turn your compost pile and check for any that is black and crumbly and thus ready to use. Making your own compost is free and a great way to amend your soil! Add compost to improve soil by scratching in finished compost into the top one inch of soil.

Top Dress Garden Beds: If you run short of home-grown compost, use well-seasoned manure to top-dress your garden beds in preparation for planting. If you planted a winter cover crop, now is the time to dig it into the soil in preparation for planting the beds.

Plan to Divide Perennials: Spring is a great time to think about dividing or moving plants around as you walk around your gardens.  Any plant that has gotten too large or that has a bare spot in the centre is a good candidate.   Sharing is a cost-efficient way to add more plants to your landscape, but be mindful of pests, disease, and weeds. Only share plants from your garden that are healthy and inspect plants from friends or plant sales thoroughly. If there are any signs of distress or discoloration, do not plant it in your garden.

Weed and Mulch: Eradicate those pesky early spring weeds (or late fall weeds that didn’t get attention) before they get too comfortable in your garden. Be careful of where you step as it will compact the spring soil.  Remove any young weeds first and then put down a layer of mulch. Alternatively, you can plant your garden tightly with perennials, annuals, trees, and shrubs to crowd out weeds. Leaving bare earth anywhere is a recipe for a weed-infested space!

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Prune: Remove any dead branches from shrubs, trees and perennial foliage after new growth has begun. Prune the spring bloomers, like forsythia and rhododendrons, as needed soon after flowering is complete. Thin and shape hedges after the first flush of new spring growth.

Taking the time now to complete a few essential spring garden tasks will bring you benefits for the rest of the season.

The Right Way to Plant Trees, Shrubs and Other Plants

by Lee Edwards, Master Gardener

The task of planting is among the many tasks avid gardeners faces every season. Therefore, we’ll focus on the proper way to plant trees, shrubs and plants thereby reducing transplant stress while promoting lush, healthy, plants and root growth.ecology-2985781_640

1. Dig A Proper Hole

To achieve the correct hole size that allows a plant, tree or shrub’s roots to stretch out, dig a hole wider than the width of the plant’s container; about two to two and a half times wider, and as deep as but not deeper than the container’s depth. Then, water the hole.

2. Remove Plant From Container

Ease the plant from its container, gently pushing up from the bottom. If roots are densely packed outside the container (rootbound), loosen the roots before removing the plant. Do not pull on the plant’s trunk, stem or branches when removing from the container, as this may severely damage the plant.

3. Inspect and Prune

Once out of the container, inspect the plant thoroughly. Prune damaged, girdling (circling), dying roots, and suckers. Water the roots, wrap with moist paper, and place in a shaded area away from the wind until ready to plant (same day). If you plan to plant in a few days, cover the paper with mulch and water thoroughly.

For bareroot plants, prune, completely wet then wrap roots, and keep shaded until roots are fully hydrated. For burlapped and dug plants, cut away burlap/wires, prune, wet then wrap roots, and keep shaded until ready to plant.

4. Prepare Soil

gardening-690940_640.jpgSoil is important. Use the soil that was dug from the hole and amend it as needed; for example, add loamy soil to clay soil to ease denseness, or organic matter to sandy soil to slow the soil draining quickly. Ensure the soil is suitable for the plant being planted with sufficient nutrients to satisfactorily support and sustain the plant.

5. Plant Properly

The depth a plant is planted is important. If a plant’s crown is too far below soil level, stunted growth or crown rot may occur. A crown planted too high above soil level may cause sunscald and unnecessary drying out.

Place the plant in the pre-dampened hole and spread out its roots. Make sure the roots sit on firm soil with the crown slightly above soil level to safeguard the crown from sinking below soil level after watering. Fill the hole halfway with soil and tamp down with your hands. Water thoroughly to remove any air pockets. Fill the hole with the rest of the soil and create a shallow, bowl shape at soil level around the plant. Tamp down firmly.

6. Water and Mulch

To reduce transplant stress, water the roots slowly and thoroughly allowing the water to completely sink down and around the roots. Add mulch as needed to maintain moisture then water again. For the next six weeks, regularly water taking care not to allow the soil to dry out.

Have Fun Gardening!

Lee Edwards is a Realtor, Master Gardener, and co-owner of Avid Gardeners-a Garden Consulting & Maintenance Company. She enjoys spending time with her family and best pal, Sir Max, along with reading, gardening and writing articles for online publications.

The Evolution of Gardening

By Amy Woodward, Peterborough Master Gardener

Last year I went to the Master Gardener Technical Update at Toronto Botanical Gardens.  One of the keynote speakers was Mark Cullen and he was discussing how Canadian Gardening has evolved.  The way we garden is constantly changing by utilizing small spaces, composting and appreciating insects and the natural environment.

Gardening Spaces

Many in urban areas are limited to the space they can garden in.  There are numerous examples of minimal space gardens such as in apartments, community allotments, rental properties and new homes with smaller yards.  A change in my gardening pattern has been from the old fashion long vegetable rows to square foot gardening.   Mel Bartholomew, creator of square foot gardening, was disenchanted with long rows that took up too much space and involved too much weeding.  He came up with the square foot method of gardening that takes up much less space, less weeding and minimal maintenance.  This method is very popular amongst our Master Gardener Organization and for those short on space.  Other approaches to limited space are container gardening, rooftop gardening and lasagna layering.

Composting

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Leaves 1789120 by pixel2013, 2016, used under CC0 1.0

 

Although composting has been around for many years, we have seen changes in the way people compost.  For instance, in the past, leaves were known as a nuisance and people would rake them, bag them and wait for the municipality to pick them up.  Now it is recognized that leaves are a great addition to the compost pile.  Leaves are rich in carbon and balance out nitrogen rich green material.  You can also use leaves as mulch.  Simply rake leaves onto the garden and the leaves will keep the moisture in and weeds out.  Leafs are also used to improve soil texture and encourage earth worms to reside there.

Pollinators

 

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Nature 3076891 by hettyvanderzanden, 2015, used under CC0 1.0 

The public is now more educated and interested in how to save native pollinators such as flies, wasps, beetles, birds, butterflies and most importantly bees. Unfortunately, pollinator populations are decreasing.  A number of steps have been adopted to protect pollinators including choosing native plants, planting milkweed, decreasing pesticides and installing insect hotels.  The critical role that pollinators play is why the public is so concerned and methods of gardening are changing.

 

 

Overall, gardening continues to change and evolve.  It will be interesting to see what our future has in store for us.

The Soil in Your Garden

by Christine Freeburn – Master Gardener

For the plants in your garden to be the best they can be, you need to start with the best soil you can make. Enhancing your soil with compost and manure is the best way to do this.

Soil provides physical anchorage for plants

You need your soil to have enough texture to hold your plants without being so heavy that it strangles them.

You should know what your SOIL TEXTURE is.  To do this, you can try this simple test:

  • fill a quart jar one third full with a sample of your soil
  • dig down into the soil to get a sample
  • fill the jar with water, put the lid on tightly and shake well.

As the soil settles, you will be able to see different layers.  The bottom level is the sand portion.  Next will be silt. Silt has larger particles than sand, but smaller than clay.  Last will be clay.

The amount of each that you have in your soil will determine what type of soil you have….clay, sandy, silty or any combination of these. The best soil is sandy loam, which is about 60% sand and 40% clay.

This will also tell you how your soil deals with water….does it drain well or hold and stay wet longer.

You can amend your soil to improve the texture, but it is a constant challenge. Sometimes it is better to accept what type of soil you have and grow plants that prefer a sandy soil or a clay soil.

Soil supplies water and nutrients to plants

When you water, water the soil and roots of your plants, not the leaf portions. Water is absorbed through the roots and channels up into the leaves.

pH

Another thing you should know about your soil is it’s pH…is it acidic or alkaline. pH has a scale of 1 to 10, with acidic soil have a low number. Most plants like 6.0 to 7.5. This is where they can best absorb the nutrients in your soil. You might have heard that plants like rhodendrons prefer acidic soil, which would have a lower pH.

Knowing the nutrients in your soil is important also. You can send away to Guelph University to get your soil tested, however that can be expensive. You can use an inexpensive soil testing kit also. It will also test for pH.

There are 3 big nutrients and these are Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. You will be familiar with them as the three numbers on fertilizers. Many fertilizers are synthetic, however you can get organic types.

Nitrogen is for leaves and greening of your plants.NPK-01.png

  • fish emulsion
  • blood meal

Phosphorus is for bloom

  • bone meal

Potassium is for roots and overall health of plant

  • wood ash
  • composted seaweed

Other natural fertilizers

  • animal manures – make sure they are well composted or they will burn your plants or be full of weeds
  • manure tea – dilute manure in water, let sit for a week, then water plants
  • comfrey tea – another good nutritional source
  • epson salts – put a tsp in hole when planting

Know your soil, it’s texture, pH and nutritional content

Grow the plants that will thrive in those conditions or be prepared to make amendments

Soil is a living thing which needs to be enriched on a regular basis

Compost and Topdress

Planting a Flower Patio Container – Things to Consider

by Pat Freistatter

Location of Container

  • Sunlight – how much sunlight will the container will receive – afternoon sun is hottest – choose plants for those light conditions

Viewing Container

  • larger leaves with coarse textures and tall spiky grass can be viewed from a distance and make a visual statement
  • fine textured plants invite you to look more closely at the detail
  • a taller pot may be needed if you want the flowers to be viewed from afar

Container Size and Material

  • Container needs to be big enough to hold enough soil for the growing season
  • Fiberglass or plastic pots do not dry out as fast as clay and other porous containers.
  • Three to seven 1 cm holes need to be drilled into the bottom of container for adequate drainage.

Soil Mixture Contents

  • Materials such coconut husk fiber and sphagnum peat moss help retain water
  • Black earth (humus), composted manure, perlite, lime, and fertilizer support plants throughout growing season.

Colours and size of plants

  • White flowers catch your eyes and help other darker colours jump out
  • A variety of leaf shapes and sizes increase drama and interest in your pot

Plant soil and moisture requirements

  • All plants in container need to have same moisture requirements – don’t mix plants that like dry conditions with those that prefer wet feet

Structure

  • Thriller – tall centre
  • Filler – plants around thriller
  • Spiller – plants that spill over the edge of the container

Note: if the back of your container will be up against a wall, then the taller plants should be at the back 

Container Maintenance

  • Check planter daily to ensure it doesn’t dry out
  • Fertilize container every couple of weeks with water-soluble fertilizer
  • Remove dead flowers to encourage re-blooming.
  • Empty and wash out containers at end of season

Making a New Flower Bed – the Easier Way

 

by Dianne Westlake, Master Gardener


Perhaps the easiest way to make a new flowerbed involves no digging or turf removal. In addition to using less physical effort, this method provides a healthy environment for growing beautiful plants. The soil is fertile with the added bonus of improved drainage.

Lay out the perimeter of the new bed using a garden hose. Water the area well or wait until Mother Nature provides the necessary moisture. The next step provides a biodegradable barrier for weeds and grass using a layer of newspaper (6 to 10 sheets thick.) Do not use the shiny coloured advertising flyers for this purpose. (This is a good way to use some of those newspapers that you are setting out in the recycling bin each week.) To keep the paper from blowing around while you work, sprayed with water or anchored with soil. Uncoated corrugated cardboard can be used instead. This material works as well and does not blow around as easily.

Next add a layer of topsoil or triple mix to a depth of four to six inches followed by a layer of compost (three to four inches). The compost layer suppresses the weed seeds that can be present in the soil layer. While compost does a good job, other organic mulches should work as well. What is needed is a weed-free source of organic material. Cost and availability are important concerns. Compost in the quantity required for this type of project, is available through the City of Peterborough, Waste Management Department. Delivery can be arranged within the city or the county. Smaller quantities are available at the Ecology Park.

Water well and allow the layers to settle for a few weeks if possible. However, if need be, the beds can be planted immediately. Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root ball, back fill, firm the soil, water and replace the compost layer. Monitor the amount of settling regularly to ensure that the root ball does not become exposed. Add a top dressing of compost if necessary. Water the new plantings regularly until the planting is established. The layer of newspaper or cardboard and the grass or weeds will rot within a few months, adding to the friability and fertility of the soil.

If you have the luxury of time, leaves (or manure) can be layered with soil on the newspaper or cardboard in the fall and allowed to decompose over the winter. Keep in mind that excess amounts of decomposing fresh organic material may deplete the nitrogen in the garden. In the spring, plant the bed and spread mulch over the surface.

Following this method will result is a raised bed that will warm earlier in spring and provide excellent drainage. An annual top dressing with compost feeds the soil and prevents germination of seeds of both self-seeding flowers and weeds. Earthworms will take the organic plant material down in the bed where the roots can make use of the nutrients.

Previously published in the Peterborough Examiner.

Managing Garden Soils — The Dirt on Dirt


By Gary Westlake, Master Gardener


Most of us don’t think much about our garden soil, perhaps because it’s beneath us. The truth is that it is the most important aspect of gardening to manage. The soil allows water, air, and nutrients to get to the roots, and provides space for your plants to grow. Without good soil your garden just won’t amount to much.

Anyone can have decent garden soil with a little work and even the beautiful loam soil that most gardeners wish for can deteriorate if neglected. Gardeners with challenging soil types may have to work a bit more but they too can have productive soils.

Sandy soils feel gritty when you rub them in your hands. They are difficult because they do not hold moisture or nutrients well. If your soil feels smooth, it probably has a lot of silt and if your soil feels sticky when wet, it probably has a high percentage of clay. Clay does not allow moisture to pass easily and has very small air spaces. When gardeners try to amend clay soils by adding sand, it often results in disaster. It would take tons of sand to make a difference even in a small lot and if only a small amount of sand is added to clay, it can form concrete making the situation worse.

Fortunately, all soils can be improved by the addition of organic matter but you need to understand what organic matter does for the soil in order to do it well. Good garden soil is not just made up of small particles of sand, silt and clay. It is alive with bacteria, fungi, and a host of other creatures. These inhabitants are busy breaking down dead plant material and this process causes the soil particles to clump together in small aggregates. Sandy soil with this granular structure, full of organic matter, will hold moisture better and a clay soil with this living structure will drain better. With the addition of organic matter, all soils will resist compaction and erosion better, they are easier to work and warm up sooner in the spring. So the first thing to remember is that the soil improvement is caused by the biological process rather than the organic matter itself.

Some of the largest of the inhabitants of the soil are earthworms. Earthworms can eat their own weight in dirt each day, and collectively they can move around and improve 20 tons in every acre each year. They do, however, have a dark side because they are not native to North America. In our forests, they break down the dead plants too fast, making it hard for our native plants to survive, so be careful not to dump garden soil in the forest.

One of the most common tiny creatures in soils are mites. A square foot of soil can contain 100 different species of mites, all specialized in feeding on a different aspect of the breakdown process. Fungi are even more common. We normally think of fungi as mushrooms but that is only the fruiting body. Most of the fungus is made up of long thin filaments in the soil that feed on living and dead plants. In fact, some called micorrhyza are essential because they extend the root system of plants and provide them with nutrients directly through this close partnership. Also in huge numbers are bacteria. The characteristic smell that you get when you dig into the ground in the spring is caused by a group of bacteria called Actinomycetes.

There are two kinds of gardeners – ones that water too much and ones that water too little. I confess to being the kind that waters too little. The downside to this is that our plants grow slowly and the roots tend to stay where the water is. Nutrients have trouble getting to the roots because there is no water to carry them. The gardeners that water too much tend to set their plants up for drought. Also too much watering can fill the air spaces in the soil and suffocate your plants.

Garden soil contains huge numbers of weed seeds. Most weeds are successful because they produce many seeds and these seeds are very long-lived in your garden. For example, the common Lamb’s Quarters produce 70,000 seeds for each plant. When you factor in to this the fact that each seed can survive in the soil for up to 40 years, the numbers of seeds-in-waiting can be staggering. Most weed seeds germinate in response to clues that they have been brought to the surface, such as increased light. So one of the challenges a gardener faces is how to keep these seeds from germinating. Two of the best ways are to avoid deep tillage as much as feasible and to cover the surface with weed-free compost each year. Another way, which is often used in the lawn, is to apply Corn Meal Gluten that kills the weed plant as it germinates by affecting its first tiny roots.

There are some types of organic matter that are not good to add directly to your garden. If the organic matter contains too much carbon in relation to the nitrogen, it will rob the soil of its nitrogen as it breaks down giving your plants a hard time. Sawdust, for example which can contain 700 times more carbon than nitrogen can bring growth to a standstill especially if it is dug in. It needs to be composted first. For the same reason, although bark mulch can do many things for you including improving moisture retention, it should never be mixed into the top layer of soil.