Leave the leaves, and other ways to improve soil now for healthier plants in spring
...and horse manure vs. cow manure
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A few weeks ago, I hired a landscaper to remove the invasive Liriope (aka lilyturf or monkey grass) that had taken over most of my front borders (and a bit of the back) over the past decade or so. It took him more than three hours with a pickaxe.
Lesson learned: Just as there are two types of bamboo — the good kind and the we’d-better-sell-the-house kind, there are two types of Liriope: spicata (the runner) and muscari (the clumper). I didn’t know that back in 2007 when I planted it. (Pro tip: plant Liriope muscari or —even better — native sedges).
Now I’m left with mostly bare soil and a looming spring project. Looking on the bright side, I’m having fun planning what will fill my new beds.
If you’re planning a new bed for perennials, groundcovers, shrubs or trees to plant next spring, begin by creating a good foundation. It’s easier to improve soil before plants are in place, so the time to do so is now.
First, get rid of weeds. Then test your soil for pH and amend it if necessary for the plants you’re planning there. If you’re lucky enough to have fallen leaves on your property, push a thin layer into garden beds and spread them with a rake. Then put some well-sourced, unsterilized compost over the leaves. Contrary to traditional beliefs, there’s no need to till. Tilling can do more harm than good.
Read more here for details and step-by-step instructions for easy fall soil prep.
Oh, and please wish me luck!
📬 Ask Jessica
DEAR JESSICA: First of all, I can’t thank you enough for The Weekly Dirt. My local paper no longer publishes a gardening column, but I’ve learned so much from you. Please keep it going!
Now for my question: Is there a difference between horse manure and cow manure? Is one better for plants than the other? —Amy Page, Iowa
DEAR AMY: I’m so glad you’re enjoying The Weekly Dirt! Please share it with your friends!
Horse manure and cow manure are similar in nitrogen content when fresh, but when they’re “aged” — and they should be if applied around plants — horse manure is richer. So the first thing to consider when deciding between them is the needs of your garden and specific plants.
A caution about horse manure: it often contains seeds from the hay horses eat, which could translate to weeds in your garden.
Use only manure that has been aged for several months (or that has been hot composted), as fresh manure will burn plant material and contains pathogens that can infect and impair your plants. This should always be a consideration but is even more critical when using around food crops.
💡 If you do one thing this week…
Don’t throw perfectly good food into the trash, even if you won’t be the one eating it. Stash your Halloween pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns in the garden — maybe behind a row of trees, under a bush or at the back of your property. Hungry birds, squirrels and other wildlife will appreciate the feast. You might even get a “volunteer” pumpkin plant in spring if you’re lucky!
🕰️Did you remember to fall back last night?
If not, set clocks an hour earlier to usher in the end of Daylight Saving Time.
📰This week in my Associated Press gardening column
I write a weekly gardening column for the AP, so you might have seen my byline in your local paper (or news website) — wherever in the world you happen to be. In case you miss it, though, I’ll post the most recent here every week.
This week, I wrote about ways to improve your soil now for spring planting.
Before that, I wrote about caring for perennial Chrysanthemums, recognizing invasive jumping worms, planting and growing garlic, saving seeds, caring for houseplants in fall, starting a hügelkultur garden and a lot more.
You can read all my AP gardening columns here.
📚📺🎵 📚📺🎵 📚📺🎵 📚📺🎵
Random things I enjoyed this week
TreeFM: An attendee at one of my recent lectures recommended this free nature-sounds stream to me. She said she likes to listen to it in the kitchen. I see it as a great way to wind down in the evening.
The Patient on Hulu. I adored Steve Carrel in this show and have been recommending it to anyone who’ll listen. My only complaint is that the weekly episodes were too short, so I had to wait seven excruciating days for just a 20- 30-minute fix. The series finally wrapped, though, so if the idea of a serial killer kidnapping his therapist in order to receive daily therapy at home appeals to you, you can binge-watch it now all in one sitting.
The Watcher on Netflix is about a couple who buys an upscale home in New Jersey only to be terrorized by letters from an anonymous stalker who seems to know everything about them. This creepy story is especially horrifying because it’s based on a true story, as reported in a 2018 New York Magazine article called “The Haunting of a Dream House” by Reeves Wiedeman.
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📧 How’m I doing?
I welcome your comments and suggestions, so please send them along — as well as any topics you’d like to see covered and questions you’d like answered in the Ask Jessica section.