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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Garden Gold

The single most important thing the home gardener can do for his garden is to learn how to compost. Continually adding compost to the home garden

  • Increases its water-holding capacity
  • Invigorates the soil food web
  • Increases plant nutrients
  • Aids in plants' ability to respond to insects and diseases
  • Detoxifies the soil

Compost is the product is the product of a controlled biological process that decomposes organic material in rapid fashion. Speed is the difference in the way man and nature create the same thing. Nature mulches over a long time. Man creates compost by controlling the natural mulching process in a short time.


Worms Eat My Garbage, Mary Appelhof, Flowerfield Enterprises, 2006

The process begins with vegetable material that is broken down by the biological process. Carbon-heavy materials like straw, leaves, newspaper, and sawdust are balanced with nitrogen-heavy materials like manures (herbivore only), grass clippings, or food waste. These materials are best mixed in a ratio of 3 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen by volume. Composting will occur best in some sort of structure such as heaps, piles, bins, or barrels.

The compost process requires several other things to be successful:

  • Air – turning over the compost in its structure is essential. Air is circulated and particles are broken up.
  • Moisture – some moisture exists in the materials being composted, but adding a little more to ensure an even level of moisture throughout is a good practice.
  • Particle size – the smaller, the better. Materials should be no larger than two inches. Shedding materials is a good practice that shortens the time it takes to compost completely.

This article provided courtesy of the Fayette County Master Gardeners, Lexington, KY

Plant Trees to Offset Global Warming

Trees are important tools in the fight to stave off global warming because they absorb and store CO2 (carbon sequestration) before it has a chance to reach the upper atmosphere where it can trap heat around the earth's surface. Trees process significantly more CO2 than smaller plants because of their size and extensive root structures. They exude oxygen as they absorb CO2, thereby serving as the lungs of the earth.


Firefly Encyclopedia of Trees, Steve Cafferty, Firefly Press

Well placed trees can also lower utility bills. a shaded house needs less air conditioning, reducing the use of fossil fuels. The evaporation of moisture from leaves cools the air around the home. The absence of leaves in winter allows the sun's rays to pass through the bare branches to help heat the home.

So, plant a tree… or many trees! Before planting, however, consult an urban forester for a list of appropriate trees for your site. Choose native trees, which are already adapted to our climate, soils, and weather conditions. Avoid trees that require a lot of maintenance, because the burning of fossil fuels for power equipment such as chain saws and trucks will only erase the carbon absorption gains otherwise made.

Google "New Mexico native trees" or Ask a Master Gardener for lists of native trees to sequester carbon.

Man – despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication, and his many accomplishments – owes his existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.

This article provided courtesy of the Fayette County Master Gardeners, Lexington, KY

Propagation – Plants for Free


How to Propagate: Techniques and Tips for Over 1000 Plants, John Cushnie, Ball Publishing, 2007

Propagation is starting plants from seeds, division, or cuttings. Here are some easy ways to propagate plants that will give you many free plants for your use or for sharing.

Sowing and saving seeds:
  • Annuals and biennials such as sunflower, poppy, zinnia, cockscomb, cleome, nigella, and heirloom vegetables are excellent for harvesting seeds.
  • Allow the seeds to dry on the plant or cut them and place them in a warm place. The seedpod will open. Use a sieve to extract the seeds.
  • Store the seeds in your refrigerator. Use clearly marked sealed paper envelopes placed in a lidded plastic container. Sow seeds at the appropriate time for your zone and seed type.
Dividing plants:
  • Division is best saved for autumn: intense summer heat will stress the plant.
  • Dig up the plant and cut the root ball into pieces with a sharp shovel or knife. This works well with hostas, phlox, day lilies, and many perennials.
  • Cut apart the rhizomes or tubers of calla lilies, banana, elephant ears, cannas, and iris to increase the number of plants.
  • A new plant may be started from cuttings by using a stem, leaf, or part of the roots.
  • A growing medium is critical for success, and a hormone-rooting compound is commonly used to encourage growth.
  • Cuttings should be taken from healthy plants with sharp tools so no damage is done to the parent plant or the cutting.

Other methods of propagation include air layering, grafting, budding and tissue culure. Books abound on the topic and are important for plant specific information. Please remember that some plants are patented. Review this website for more information: www.ams.usda.gov/science/pvpo/PVPindex.htm

This article was provided courtesy of the Fayette County Master Gardeners, Lexington, KY

Bug Me!

Beneficial Insects in the Yard and Garden

Did you know that fewer than 10% of insects cause damage to gardens? The remaining 90% of insects are either helpful or at least non-destructive. People often spend money and time on broad spectrum insecticides, which kill all the insects in their yards and gardens. Only later do they discover that they have destroyed the very insects that were helping the garden. These beneficial insects serve a number of different functions.

  • They help in the production of fruits, vegetables, and flowers by pollinating the blossoms.
  • Parasitic insects destroy other harmful insects by living on or in their bodies and their eggs.
  • Insect predators capture and devour other insects.
  • Scavenging insects eat the bodies of dead animals and plants and bury carcasses and dung.

A few beneficial insects to watch for in the garden include

  • assassin bugs that eat caterpillar pests
  • bees, butterflies, and moths that pollinate flowers, fruits, and vegetables
  • centipedes that eat slugs, snails, and ground beetles
  • green lacewings that eat aphids
  • praying mantids that feed on aphids, flies, beetles, and grasshoppers


Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, Fern Marshall Bradley, Rodale Press, 1993

Gardens with a wide variety of nectar producing plants attract beneficial insects. Ideally, a garden should have plants in continuous bloom for as long as possible. A thick layer of mulch around plants not only retains moisture and controls weeds, but also provides shelter for some of the most valuable insect predators. Providing beneficial insects with food and shelter increases their numbers and provides plenty of organic insect control for the garden's ecosystem.

Growing plants that attract beneficial insects helps create a balance in the garden. Certain plant families, like carrot, and sunflower, along with nectar-producing flowers, are particularly enticing to beneficial insects. Good plants to grow in the garden or yard to lure beneficial insects and keep them happy include:

bee balmcoreopsisgoldenrodsunflower
cloverevening primroseparseyyarrow

This article provided courtesy of the Fayette County Master Gardeners, Lexington, KY



Green Living, Environmental Magazine, eds., Penguin Group, 2005

Would you like to help reduce waste, consume less energy, and decrease our use of the earth's natural resources? If you don't know where to start, here are some simple ideas for making your life greener and protecting our environment.

  • Use a rain barrel to collect water for your garden.
  • Build a rain garden to intercept and slow runoff, absorb or trap pollutants, and attract wildlife.
  • Grow a vegetable garden or buy locally-grown produce at a farmers' market.
  • Start a compost pile or worm bin. Compost yard and garden waste and kitchen vegetable scraps. Use your compost's black gold in your garden.
  • Mulch your garden. It is moisture-retentive and a natural fertilizer.
  • Create a backyard wildlife habitat and get it certified by the National Wildlife Federation.
  • Plant a tree. Its shade and evaporative cooling will let you use less air conditioning.
  • Use organic fertilizers and pesticides to avoid adding toxic chemicals to the environment. Learn about Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Follow application directions carefully.
  • Recycle newspapers to save trees. Use them as mulch, in your worm bin, or recycle them at a center.
  • Teach your children to recycle. Help them start a recycling program at their school, including composting.
  • Install a graywater system. Reusable graywater makes up 60-65% of the total indoor water consumption in an average American home. Graywater reuse can cut water consumption by 30% for the average family of four.

This article provided courtesy of the Fayette County Master Gardeners, Lexington, KY



Dry-Land Gardener's Handbook, Jennifer Bennett, Firefly Books, Ltd., 2005

In this time of increasing concern regarding our fragile water systems, conservation becomes very important. Incorporating principles of water conservation through creative landscaping is known as xeriscaping.

  1. Planning and design: Have a plan. Become familiar with the topography, exposure, and soil in your garden. Create planting zones and group plants by their needs. Plant in full sun, if plants are tough and drought-tolerant. If less tolerant, give them shade and, for the more delicate plants, select a spot more near water.
  2. Appropriate planting material: For the most part, use plants that thrive in this during low water conditions. This often includes native plants. Also consider designing a succulent garden.
  3. Soil improvement: Incorporate generous amounts of organic matter to improve water penetration and retention in any type of soil. Rich, loose, water-holding soil will encourage good root development which lessens the need for supplemental water.
  4. Mulch: Shredded bark and compost keeps the soil cool, eliminates weed competition, reduces evaporation from the soil surface, and gradually decomposes and feeds the soil.
  5. Lawn: Think about how much water, fertilizer, and gasoline a lawn requires and plan to have less lawn when possible. Take into consideration the purpose of the lawn. If it is primarily a ground cover, there are other options that would be less labor and water intensive.
  6. Efficient watering: In addition to efficient grouping, consider drip irrigation. This system allows control of when and how much water a plant gets and directs the water only to the plants that need it. Soaker hoses are not expensive and are a good choice for watering beds and borders. Base the watering schedule on the plants' needs and not on an arbitrary schedule.
  7. Appropriate maintenance: Watering, weeding, pruning, deadheading, and sensible pest management will all factor into the quality of your garden.

This article provided courtesy of the Fayette County Master Gardeners, Lexington, KY

"Green" Vegetable Gardening

Try it, you'll like it!

Green gardening is an attitude, a holistic approach that seeks to put more back into the soil than is removed by planting, growing, and harvesting vegetables. By constantly improving the soil, a sustainable balance is achieved. Such stewardship of the soil is accomplished by

  • Composting and mulching, which improves water holding capability and enriches the soil without commercial fertilizers
  • Introducing compost regularly, which adds beneficial micro-organisms that aid in keeping pathogenic organisms at bay
  • Employing green cover crops, which improves seed friability, oxygen levels, and drainage once the green manure is turned over.

Diversity is another key to gardening green. Plant several kinds of plants in the same general space. Techniques that improve diversity include

  • Planting different varieties of vegetable and flowers in close proximity to each other
  • Planting companion plants that are beneficial to each other
  • Planting dedicated beds instead of long rows
  • Rotating crops from season to season

Diversity techniques confuse predatory insects, preventing them from gaining a foothold in the garden, help even out nutrient and water requirements of the vegetables, and prevent soil exhaustion. Because inorganic fertilizers are not used, vegetable plants tend to grow stronger and deeper root systems that are healthier and more drought tolerant.

Choosing smarter varieties of vegetables is a good practice as well. Resistance to disease and pests has been introduced into varieties that the green gardener can easily find in seed catalogues. Heirloom varieties are also attractive options. These varieties (and their seeds) have been handed down over the years. Heirlooms have been adapted to the local climate and have a certain degree of evolutionary persistence.

Search for Seed Savers Exchange at www.seedsavers.org

This article provided courtesy of the Fayette County Master Gardeners in Lexington, KY