The Garden Guru is an occasional series featuring seasonal questions selected through a rigorous, time honored journalistic tradition in which the Guru makes up the questions, then answers them. If you wish to ask your own questions, feel free to submit them and the Guru will pick the ones he knows and include them in the next addition of “Ask the Garden Guru”.
Do I need to mulch my garden this Fall?
Perhaps, but better to err on the side of too little rather than too much. A good part of my business is selling and installing mulch, but I also see the damage caused by too much. Adrian Higgins wrote a fine piece in the Home section of the Washington Post the other day about mulch volcanoes (click to view) and the dangers of excess mulch.
If there is still a covering of mulch, unless it’s down to bare ground, don’t add more. I’m not a fan of adding more to freshen up the color because mulch loses its color rapidly, so unless you’re mulching for a party or to sell the house this week, mulching to get back the dark color isn’t a good value. You can achieve a measure of result by raking the mulch to turn over the sun faded pieces, but again the color doesn’t last long.
If you decide to add mulch I would never recommend a covering of more than two inches, unless you are mulching a tender plant for the Winter to protect its roots. If mulch is too thick it might shed water instead of preserving it, and there is a real possibility of mulching against trunks and stems that can be injured, and of roots growing up into the mulch. Also, some plants, such as azaleas and rhododendrons, prefer to have only a slight covering over their root, and even established plants can die when beds are remulched.
Why do the weeds on the side of the road look better than my garden?
Weeds are well adapted to their environment. Often, the plants in our gardens are less so. This is not a native, non-native issue. Plants that survive in miserable conditions, thin soils, gravel and road construction debris, are suited to that situation. Many will make poor garden plants, poor foliage, short lived blooms, or they will seed prolifically.
Also, roadside weeds seldom have gardeners tinkering about, moving them here and there for better effect, mulching and spraying, and applying composts and fertilizers and whatnot to improve blooms. Plants are usually best served by planting and getting out of the way.
What is a fool’s paradise?
My garden, your garden, any that is expected to perform without a series of annual and regular tragedies. Plants will get bugs, there will be droughts and floods, the hound or the kids will tumble through coneflowers, and …… well I’m sure you get the idea. Any expectation otherwise is foolish. The gardener must learn to enjoy the successes, large and small, accept the inevitable failures, and move on.
What is a sustainable garden?
What it is, and what some try to make it are different. To a large extent “sustainable” has become an argument for native plants, when there are plenty of non-natives that are adaptable to our conditions without care, and without spreading themselves about and forcing the native vegetation out.
Sustainable gardening should make sense to all, to create a garden without the need for excess watering, without the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, a garden that is long lived and impacts the natural environment in a positive manner. The nature of gardening should demand that we are responsive to these ideals.
If I start a garden will I live longer?
Very likely yes, but your back and knees will ache so that somedays you’ll wish you hadn’t.