NEIGHBORHOOD GARDEN FOR NOVEMBER 10, 2007

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WHY MULCH YOUR PLANTS?

BY GEORGE EDGAR

          The common myth is that we mulch our plants in the fall to keep the ground warm. The truth is we mulch in late fall to keep the ground cold. More winter hardy plants are killed by the freezing and thawing during the winter than from the cold. So we want to put the mulch on the soil after a couple of hard freezes (temps in the low 20s). I usually do not cover my roses until after Halloween and this year it will probably be as late as Thanksgiving because of the warm weather we have had. In northern climates such as North Dakota and Minnesota where it snows and the snow stays all winter, some plants do better because the snow insulates the ground all winter and they do not get the freezing and thawing.

          If you mulch too early in the fall, you can keep the ground too warm and then when we get a sudden cold spell, the plant is not ready for the first hard freezes of winter (temps in the low 20s). Also, gardeners who put their mulch on too early in the fall do not allow the ground to cool down normally and thus the plant does not go into dormancy naturally. And dont remove your mulch too early in the spring. Remember that warm spell we had in March of 2007. Plants that were not properly mulched or had their mulch removed too early, warmed up and some broke dormancy. Then when we got the cold spell in April they could not go back into dormancy and froze. So dont put mulch on too early in the fall or remove too early in the spring. 

          What is the best mulch? Each gardener has his or her favorite. Gladys uses lots of compost from her huge compost pile. I use wood chips or shredded hard wood on my roses, shrubs, and other perennials because I have access to it. I do not recommend using CyprEss mulch from an ecological point of view. CyprEss trees are being clear-cut from our native wetlands to make way for business and housing developments in Florida and the destroyed CYPRESS TREES are not being replanted. According to the Florida Cooperative Extension Service, the old idea that CYPRESS mulch is superior to other mulches is not true anymore.  The old-growth CYPRESS harvested prior to the 1950s had a reputation for being rot-and termite-resistant. But all those old, old trees have all been taken except for a few saved in our nature preserves. Now CYPRESS mulch comes from trees that are too young to develop that property as it takes hundreds of years for the chemical to form inside the tree. Also science has found that the proper hydrology for CYPRESS seed germination is difficult and rarely accomplished by anyone but Mother Nature. Some counties in Florida have restricted the use of CYPRESS mulch because its harvest degrades CYPRESS wetlands. CYPRESS works o.k. as mulch in your garden, but the destruction of these forests is not good for our environment.

So what do we recommend? RED Cedar mulch comes from Cedar Tree nurseries and the trees are grown just for the mulch. The trees grow fairly rapidly and quite often on land that is not much good for anything else. Hardwood mulches usually come from trees that had to be cut down for one reason or another and would have ended up in the landfill or burned if not ground up. Recently hardwood mulches have been dyed red, gold, and dark brown. Most dyes do not hurt your soil. Pine needles make an excellent mulch.

I use compost on my peonies, raspberries, asparagus, rhubarb, and in the flower garden. Some gardeners use shredded leaves and grass. Do not use leaves that have not been shredded by a grinder or your mower, or grass clippings that have not dried out for a couple days. These tend to mat down and not allow water to penetrate. Also, there are few air spaces which are needed for good insulation.

          Do not use those foam cones unless you cut the top out. Then fill the inside with mulch, compost, or soil. On a warm winter day the heat builds up inside a cone that has the top still on it. This can heat up the soil on a warm winter day or in the early spring and cause the plant to break dormancy. With the next hard freeze the plant then freezes and dies. The cones are easy and convenient to use, but they do not work.

          Remember, mulch in the winter to keep the ground cold, and mulch in the summer to keep the roots cool, the ground from drying out, and to suppress weed growth.

Copyright 2007

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NEW WORLD RECORD PUMPKIN--1,689 POUNDS

BY GEORGE EDGAR

 

          Gardeners are always competing with each other.  They want to have the greenest lawn, be the first to have a new plant, or the first on the block to have a ripe tomato.  At Halloween time the competition is for the largest pumpkin.

          In order to settle who has the largest pumpkin, the pumpkin growers have formed The World Pumpkin Confederation (WPC) that conducts pumpkin growing contests. There are contest sites all over the world including a few sites in Australia and New Zealand.

          Ron Wallace of Rhode Island took home last years pumpkin growing title with his 1,502 pound pumpkin, setting a new world record. This year Joe Jutras of Scituate, Rhode Island hauled in the winner and set another world record.  The orange behemoth tipped the scales at 1,689 pounds. So far this fall in the United States, at least 6 pumpkins have broken the 1,500 pound mark.

Atlantic Giant seems to be the only variety of pumpkin that will create an enormous pumpkin. One record pumpkin grower says he needs 900 square feet per plant. When the pumpkins are about 30 pounds or the size of a volleyball, he selects the one or two best, removes the rest, and applies 100 gallons of water per day. During the hot summer he even puts a tent over the pumpkins to keep them from getting sun scald.  Fall soil preparation is very important and includes adding lots of compost and/or composted manure to the bed.

          I did not raise giant pumpkins but did have fun raising mini-pumpkins for our granddaughters and our friends. I had the best luck with Jack-Be-Little (orange) and BABY BOO (white) varieties. At last count I harvested over 450 mini-pumpkins, thanks to my neighbor who lets me farm his garden space. I also planted Butternut Squash (Waltham), ACORN SQUASH (Table Queen), and PIE PUMPKIN (Small Sugar Pie) in the garden. All the vines took over the garden, so if you grow pumpkins and/or squash, make sure you have enough room.

Copyright 2007