When you read “rules” about gardening or articles that tell you what to do when, do you want to know “why”? Two orders or recommendations we read about quite often are:



          Both are for essentially the same reason.  Diseases and bugs overwinter in the plants they have been living on all summer. The debris provides them with some protection.  Healthy plants can go in the compost pile if you can be sure it gets hot enough (140-160 degrees F. minimum) but you are gambling with “sick” ones. Plants are affected by the same critters that we are but of different species of virus or bacteria. We can not see virus without a special microscope and in most cases we do not have a cure so our only defense is to get completely rid of sick plants and the insects that carry them around. Fungi are larger by far and are multi-celled and produce spores that blow around or are carried by an insect.  Luckily we do have fungicides to help us keep control.  Bacteria are single celled and grow by feeding on our plants.  We do have some antibiotics but it is much cheaper to destroy the infected plants and put a different crop in that area for a year or two (plant rotation).

          Some plants are heavy eaters and will remove different amounts of “food from the soil. By putting in a different plant (plant rotation) and adding compost to the soil we can keep it healthy for the next time around. By cleaning up the old plant debris, the insects, the bacteria, the fungous spores, and the virus are removed from the scene.


Iris directions call for cutting the foliage back drastically in the fall or very early spring.  The iris borer that drills a hole in the rhizomes, causing rot, comes from eggs laid on the old foliage. They hatch early in the spring and go down the stems to the roots.  A bad infestation can destroy an entire patch.  Sometimes a plant can be saved by digging it up and finding the borer or borers, and destroying them. You can also drown them and stop the rot by soaking your rhizomes in a solution of 1 part bleach (Clorox) to 9 parts of water.

Did anyone ever tell you not to put your           sunflower feeder in the lawn area ?

The seed hulls from the sunflower seeds contain a substance that prevents other seeds from germinating. So put your feed in a landscape area with no plants underneath. Sunflower hearts can be on the lawn without the “pre-emergence” effect. A number of plants protect their “territory” this way. Another example might be the black walnut tree. Another is the Peony. Some plants won’t grow if you put them in the space where peonies were before.


Hybrids of any kind may not produce plants like their parents if you save the seeds. Each hybrid plant was produced by planting a seed that was produced by a specific cross. To get that seed, several rows of pollen parents are planted by several rows of kernel parents to make that specific cross. The seed parent must not use its own pollen or the gene combination will be “wrong”. On some plants like squash the male blossoms may be clipped off and the female blooms hand pollinated from another variety. Unless you want to do this hand pollination, you had better buy new hybrid seed every year and not try to save the seed. If you have plenty of space it is fun to mix your plants in the garden. The fruit will be fine but look out for surprises when you save the seed!!!

Cover crops are recommended by many authors.

It is also called green manure.  It is done to bring our soil back to life. Many of the nutrients are removed by the plants and then the plants are discarded in the fall leaving depleted soil. By starting a crop and then plowing it under, the texture of the soil is improved and the nutrients are soon ready for your next crop.

          Winter is the most commonly used time as the cover crop will have time to start the breaking down process.  After your spring or summer crop is harvested there are many plants that can be seeded as a cover crop. Rye comes up fast, can grow rapidly, and then be tilled in just before the first snow or even in the spring.  Clover, oats and alfalfa also work very well.            One author suggested planting some of the legumes under your corn to keep weeds down and add nitrogen. They can be dug in any convenient time after you have harvested your corn. Corn is a hungry plant and we read about the ammonia (nitrogen) applications used by farmers in the spring. Some gardeners I know plant clover in the paths between their rows so that when it is dug in, that space can be used for next years rows which now is loosened by the compost particles and fed by the decaying crops.

Why legumes such as alfalfa and clover?

Most plants use up nitrogen when growing, while legumes put nitrogen back into the soil. Before all the nitrogen based lawn fertilizer, we used to plant clover in our lawn to put nitrogen into the soil to replace that used up by the grass.

Purple Martins and gourds

Ginger Summit in her book “Gourds In Your Garden” has suggested that the Indians discovered that Purple Martins would keep insects down around their camp so they planted gourds at the edges. The Martins used these gourds as a home, and she thinks they became so used to this kind of a home that their use has continued on to today. Some homeowners even have multiple style homes that are gourd like. They are on an elevated pole that can be brought down for cleaning. In the spring when the Martins are returning and looking for a home, the sparrows are also looking, so the home owner has to clean house two or three times before the Martins arrive. Also they need to be cleaned in the fall for disease and insect reasons. Remember that Martins like open spaces around their homes for a clear area of flying as they catch insects. Put the opening toward an open area.

          You can even raise you own bird house. Go to the Garden Center and get a packet of “BIRDHOUSE GOURD” seeds. These gourds like to sprawl out so give them plenty of room to grow. After harvest let them dry so when you shake the gourd you hear the seeds rattle inside. Then sand, and if desired, paint your house white to reflect the hot summer sun.

Copyright 2009