Tag Archives: Mulch

Even Gardens Get Blankies – Time for Mulch

2015-10-20 CD rake and leavesOk, so I was pretty suspicious of the “let’s put down a blankie” idea for the garden before winter. If you have met me, you know that I am not the type of person who makes my own crackers. I buy them. In the garden, I will do fussy things but only if there is a good reason to do it. I resist babying plants and I resist doing things in the garden that make humans feel better rather than make an actual difference in the garden.

As I read studies about using winter mulch, I realized that the reason for mulch is not the COLD per se – the problem is temperature fluctuation, often from the sun’s rays. Cold is cold. The goal of bed covering in winter is not to stop freezing – it is to minimize the top layer of soil from warming up and cooling down. This freeze-thaw action forces smaller plants up and dislodges them from the soil surface. Now vulnerable and stranded, the plant’s roots dry out. (Ok, so I feel a little sympathy now …) Warming soil during midwinter thaws can also encourage plants to come out of dormancy in addition to being popped out of the soil surface by plummeting temperatures.

To assist your perennials (or more recently planted small shrubs) this winter, shade the soil around them to protect against the sun heating up the soil. Snow cover is the best winter insulator but is undependable – once we get snow, lightly push snow back onto beds when you can. Before the snow comes, we recommend adding 2-4 inches of chopped leaves, pine needles, salt marsh hay or sterile straw over the crown of the perennials and around the root zone after you have cut the perennials back and after temperatures are staying consistently in the 50-40F range.

More than just a comfort object, your garden’s ‘blankie’ of winter mulch will help keep it snug and minimize winter damage. Let us help you put your garden beds to sleep before the snow flies!

Mulch…it’s a texture thing…

Contributed by Brian McGinn

The answer to whetheleaf mold pixr or not to mulch your garden beds is simply…YES! Adding a layer of mulch to your garden does many things: enhances soil nutrition by adding nutrients as it decomposes (reducing the need for fertilizers), reduces the amount of water that evaporates from your soil (reducing the need to water), acts as an insulating layer on top of soil (which keeps soil warmer in winter andcooler in summer) and also keeps weeds down; and the weeds that do grow are much easier to pull (less tedious work! and less need for herbicides).

But few of us think about these scientific reasons for mulching.  In practice, we like the “finished” look that it gives our garden beds. You may like a particular color of mulch – brown, red, black.  For others, it is a “texture” thing.  We are just used to seeing bark mulch with its chunks and particles as a foil for the drama of the plants.  At CD & Co., we recommend natural pine bark mulches that have not been color enhanced or artificially dyed.  But more and more we are turning to leaf mulch.  It means altering your aesthetic vision of a “well mulched bed”.

If you are in the woods and push away an area of leaves, underneath you’ll discover a layer of a crumbly brown material with a very pleasant and earthy scent…this is nature’s leaf mold.  Leaf Mold or Leaf Mulch is a naturally occurring product made from partially composted leaves that have been shredded.  Shredding the leaves in the fall allows them to compost more quickly due to increased surface area for fungi to do their work.  The result is mulch that has a rich brown color with a texture very different than bark mulch. It is more finely textured and uniform than bark mulch.

I remember my first garden experience working with leaf mold.  The garden had benefitted from a yearly layer and the beds were bursting with amazingly vigorous plants that needed no extra fertilizer and required limited weeding.  Aesthetically, it may look different but it’s well worth the benefits to your garden!

We have great local suppliers of quality leaf mold.  Let us amp up your garden for a new look.


10-15-14 conifer fall after (2)

Conifer with normal yellow inner needles

10-15-14 conifer fall b4

Conifer after plant grooming

We delight in fall’s multicolored leaves and perennials that color like chameleons. Northeastern states are famous for their fall foliage … on deciduous plants. But we gardeners are not so happy about all plant coloring. Yes, there is that ominous side of Autumn: alarming yellow inner needles on conifers.

Take a walk in the woods this fall and you will be treading on a carpet of pine needles. But few of us realize that this natural shedding of inner needles is normal and to be expected on our garden conifers too. This is what happens: we walk outside and see bright yellow cloaking the interior of our favorite Pine or Hinoki Cypress and we lose our minds. Panic sets in and we start to water copiously, thinking it is a drought consequence. We forget to make the connection between walking in the woods and our garden conifers.

Evergreens have a fall season too. They shed their older inner needles annually, keeping the newer outer needles. The key differential diagnosis here is whether the plant is turning yellow in its interior- normal– or at the tip of the branch- a problem.

THE SOLUTION: The solution is plant grooming using your finger tips. Starting at the top of the plant, lightly brush the yellow foliage out of the plant, working your way down to the ground. Needles will fall easily and the fronds on a Hinoki Cypress may take a bit more direct jiggling. You can then remove the yellow foliage or leave it as mulch.

Christie Dustman & Company – here to help demystify the antics of plants.

10-15-14 pine needles on lawn

Garden with fallen pine needles

Improve your soil with a Fresh Coating of Leaf Mold???

improve your soil - earth day - 4-17-14

With the snow long gone and temperatures warming up, we look ahead to our national holiday, Earth Day, on Tuesday, April 22nd. For almost half a century now every April 22nd has been about celebrating the Earth and trying to make our environment more healthy and sustainable.  But, do we ever really think about the Earth part of it?

Traditionally April is the time where we go out into the landscape to plant annual flowers, sprinkle some fertilizer, spread some new colored mulch, take a deep breath and think ‘I did my part for the year’ with a certain sense of satisfaction.  But have you ever wondered if your efforts are really helping to improve the Planet?  How do your customary efforts affect the billions of organisms that live beneath your feet?  What is the connection between our gardening efforts and the fungi, nematodes, bacteria, protozoa teeming in the soil itself?  It is this cast of characters that our planet depends on to function on the most elemental level.  It is the microbes that make food or nutrients available in the soil for plants to absorb and, without this food, plants wouldn’t survive; and without plants, we would have no oxygen to breath.

So all the more reason to get out there with that synthetic fertilizer that is available in big 50 lb. bags at any home improvement store and feed your plants, right? WRONG! Those synthetic fertilizers are actually doing far more harm than good to your soil and the billions of organisms that call it home. The synthetic fertilizers directly feed your plants and harm the soil. It causes a disruption in the soil ecosystem that upsets the balance of the organisms. Once the balance of soil organisms is off kilter, your plants get hooked on the synthetic fertilizers. The chemicals actually kill the organisms and your plants become more susceptible to disease, poor growth, and long term problems.

Thank goodness there is an Earth-friendly way to give your soil the nutrients it needs instead of sprinkling synthetic fertilizers.  You will be amazed at how nature works because this magic additive is leaves. Leaf mold, or leaf mulch as it is sometimes called, is chocolaty brown, sweet-smelling, moisture-retentive mulch. It is nothing more than crumbly brown material with a pleasant, earthy scent made of partially decomposed leaves. It provides your planting beds with plenty of nutrients, helps retain moisture and is even said to boost the health of the soil so much that it can help prevent certain weeds and diseases much better than with standard bark mulch. And it doesn’t contain the questionable chemical dyes sprayed on all colored mulches.

You won’t find leaf mold in stores and it’s even hard to come by through retail nurseries or mulch suppliers. Fortunately, leaf mold can be made at your own house with some space for composting, a little bit of patience, and all of those leaves that you rake in the fall.  If you don’t have the space to make your own, or want our help, we can bring some by so you have the healthiest natural landscape around!

Help: I Have Spring Fever!

CD Blog pix - Brian - 4-4-14After being cooped up as prisoners, subject to winter’s cruel ways, there is a wild abandon that takes over most of us gardeners.  It is that GOTTA get out there feeling … the FEVER!  Despite our enthusiasm, spring garden tasks sometimes seem insurmountable.  Where do I begin?

To start with, quickly, before the leaves come out, inspect your garden for damage and broken branches on trees and shrubs due to snow loads.  Prune damaged areas.  Always look up into trees for broken or hanging branches.  Consider having a professional take a look if the damage is beyond your reach or confidence.

In garden beds remove heavy leaf litter that may impede the growth of emerging perennials, bulbs and groundcovers.  You can leave behind smaller pieces as it will be good organic material that will feed your plants as it decomposes.

Soft tissue perennials should be cut as close to the ground as possible (for example:  Asters, Lady’s Mantle, Baptisia). This removes all the dead tissue killed by the winter cold. Depending on the plant and when you cut it, new growth may be emerging so carefully cut off the dead tissue.

Woody perennials (for example: Russian Sage, Montauk Daisies, Lavender) should be cut back by about 1/3.  Reshape the plant by thinning and tipping back the woody stems to make a well-spaced scaffold for the leaves to emerge.

Ornamental grasses should also be cut back to 6” to 10” high at this time before new growth begins. Be careful not to cut the emerging grass shoots.

Edge garden beds with an edger tool to keep the lawn from running into the garden.  Don’t we all love clean crisp lines?

Mulch all gardens.  It adds nutrition to your soil, guards against weeds and helps conserve water.  It is easier to mulch gardens before perennials start popping up and weeds start germinating. If any weeds have germinated or wintered in the garden remove them first, even the small ones, because they will pop through the mulch. Dark organic mulch is best for growing healthy plants.

Don’t hesitate to call us for a Spring Cleanup if your “fever” runs cold before your work is done.