with Barbara Pratt
Mulches and how to use them
The value of mulching flowerbeds and vegetable beds is pretty evident. Mulch, first and foremost, keeps down weeds. It keeps the moisture in the soil. The right mulches enrich the soil. It mimics the natural process of soil conservation, i.e. leaves and litter breaking down and rotting to feed the essential soil microbes. And it looks tidy.
Any organic substance can be used, but it should be a substance that will readily decompose. Popular mulches are chipped or shredded bark, chipped or shredded tree limbs, cocoa bean hulls, straw, leaf mold. Mushroom compost, composted manure, and grass clippings can also be used as mulch, but these will break down quickly and have to be replenished in order to keep down the weeds and regulate soil temperature and moisture.
In the fall, mulched soil loses heat more slowly. A study showed that the minimum soil temperature in winter was as much as 10 degrees higher under mulch than under turfgrass. Warmer winter soil temperatures generally result in less root loss due to freezing.
In summer, mulch reduced the maximum root-zone temperatures up to 12 degrees as compared with turfgrass.
In the spring, wet soils retain excess moisture longer under mulch than if the soil is bare and evaporation could occur, so make sure your soil drains reasonably well before using mulch, or don’t use it in wet areas.
Mulch should never be applied directly to the base of plants, including trees and shrubs. Norinne Blyth is an avid and successful Uxbridge gardener who has noticed a lot of incorrect mulching of trees. She says that mulching around trees is wonderful if done correctly – volcano mulching is incorrect. Volcano mulching is placing a lot of mulch around the base of a tree with the higher amount of mulch right up against the trunk and sloping away from the tree, which looks like a volcano. Over time it can kill the tree due to the root flare being covered and not enough oxygen getting to the roots.
The correct way is to have the mulch and soil just below the root flare flat at the trunk with a small raised amount around the outside of the mulched area also known as the drip line.
To fix a volcano mulch, take the mulch right off to find the root flare. Expose it, then mulch out from it to the drip line, forming a higher ring at the outside of the root area, 2 – 4” deep. This ring helps to keep the moisture around the tree.
Your trees will love you!
with Heather Hunter
Growing herbs in your garden
People have used herbs for culinary and healing properties for centuries. Today, herbs are as popular as ever. They are easy to grow, they simply need six or more hours of sunshine a day and well-drained garden soil.
You may want to check your favourite recipes and make a list of what you think you will need. Some favourites to begin with are rosemary, sage, mint, greek oregano, marjoram, basil tarragon, cilantro, dill, and Italian parsley.
The herbs that have survived the winter in my Zone 4 garden are chives, thyme, oregano, lavender, rue, tarragon, and mint. Mint needs to be put in a pot and then planted in your garden — it is very invasive! The rest of the Zone 4 plants should be planted in a permanent location.
Big pots of basil and rosemary, which are not winter hardy, are wonderful just outside your kitchen door.
We are so fortunate to have Richters Herbs just down the road in Goodwood. This nursery grows over 1,000 varieties of herbs. Their main business is shipping plants and seeds all across Canada and the U.S. – in fact, I have their catalogue in front of me as I write this! Each herb is described for its uses in the kitchen and for its medicinal properties.
The Herb of the Year for 2021, selected by the International Herb Association, is parsley. When I was growing up in the 60s, curly parsley was used as a decoration on your dinner plate. Did anyone ever eat it? Today, Italian parsley or flatleaf parsley is a fundamental in soups, stews, on vegetables, fish, meat and eggs. Richters have over a dozen different varieties of this plant.
Well, a new GREEN trend that seems to be catching on in Uxbridge, and hopefully around the world, is having a “meatless” meal once a week. I know it’s shocking to some, but a suggestion might be to make your own homemade pesto. All you need from your garden is fresh basil!
Homemade Basil Pesto
2 cups of fresh basil
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts, or walnuts
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 garlic cloves
pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup olive oil
Place the first five ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well chopped and blended, then slowly add the oil with the processor running. Serve over hot spaghetti, with tomatoes from the garden, perhaps some fresh bread from the Farmers’ Market… Enjoy!
Every year, countries spend millions on lawn pesticides to have uniform lawns of non-native grasses, and some places use 30 per cent of the country’s water supply to keep them green.
Believe it or not, up until the 1800s people would pull grass out of their lawns to make room for dandelions and other useful “weeds” like chickweed, malva, and chamomile.
Eleanor Todd, teacher, author, and former Uxbridge Township councillor, has a thing for dandelions. These ubiquitous cheerful yellow blossoms are unfairly maligned, she believes. Todd has made a bit of a career of studying dandelions, and she promotes them as one of the most useful native plants we have around us.
“I was a borderline diabetic and I started researching Type 2 diabetes online.” she explains. “I read that dandelion tea is reputed to help stabilize blood sugar. Then … I learned that dandelions are practically a miracle food! They contain more beta carotene that carrots, more potassium than bananas, more lecithin that soybeans, more iron that spinach, and loads of vitamins A, C, E, thiamine and riboflavin, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.”
All parts of the dandelion plant can be used for food or medicine, as she demonstrates with her recipes and recommendations. The blossom? Wine, of course; we all know that! And tea. But Eleanor also produces the most delicious light yellow dandelion jelly by soaking the flowers in boiling water and using the water for jelly.
Apparently the latex sap from the dandelion stem can be used to eliminate warts. The leaves of the plant are best harvested early while they are young, to eat in salads, or to make Dandelion Pie – recipe below.
As this is a gardening column, here are some tips to getting rid of dandelions from flowerbeds and lawns:
Overseed your lawn spring and fall with good grass seed. The thicker the grass, the less room for dandelions to grow.
Dandelions are perennials. They overwinter, and happily sprout new leaves and flowers every spring from the same root. There are some very effective tools on the market that pull out dandelion roots and ease the backbreaking work of digging them out with spade or trowel.
Spraying dandelions with vinegar, or Dawn liquid dishwashing detergent, or pouring boiling water on them is not effective – it might kill the leaves, but that long tap root is still very much alive and ready to sprout a new plant.
It certainly helps to cut off the flowers before they go to seed. Not always easy, because they actually produce shorter stems in order to duck the mower.
So, if you can’t beat them, use them! As promised:
Eleanor’s Dandelion Pie
1 cup dandelion leaves, well chopped
2/3 cup honey
2 tsp lemon peel, grated
2 tbsp unbleached white flour
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 unbaked pie shell
Preheat oven to 350°F
Boil dandelion leaves in 1/4 cup water in a saucepan until tender. Mix together honey, eggs, lemon peel and flour. Slowly beat in milk and cook over low heat, stirring until the custard thickens. Puree the dandelions in a food processor, add to the custard and stir in the sun-flower seeds. Pour into the pie shell and bake for approximately 45 minutes.
For the meringue topping, beat the egg whites until stiff. Add 2 tbsp honey. Mound the meringue over the pie and return to oven until meringue is browned.
Looks delicious, but one cup of dandelion leaves won’t leave much of a dent in the crop on my front lawn!