Gardening Advice or Myth (GAoM): Weeding out Fact from Fiction

Gardening Advice or Myth (GAoM): Weeding out Fact from Fiction

Submitted by ~ Suri Lunde

Below are a few gardening advice/myths that we often hear but may or may not be solidly rooted in science or actually work.

GAoM 1: Compost adds lots of nutrients to soil.
It is true that adding sufficient compost into gardens makes plants grow well, which somehow implies that compost must be adding nutrients to our soil. In reality, compost has dismal nutrient levels: an N-P-K analysis of 1-1-1 or less. What compost actually does is help plants grow better in low nutrient environments by increasing the population of bacteria and fungi in the soil. These bacteria and fungi take the not-fully decomposed matter in the compost and convert them into specific nutrients the plants need to grow. So go ahead and apply lots of slow-made well-aged compost regularly and create a perfect habitat for the bacteria and fungi so that they do your fertilizing.

GAoM 2: Gravel in the bottom of containers helps drainage.myths 1
It is standard practice when filling a container to place gravel stones or pieces of pot at the bottom ‘for drainage’. This actually restricts plant growth because it has less space, and also results in roots sitting in water. Water clings to soil particles until it is completely saturated, then drains away. A layer of gravel at the pot’s base only collects that water and shifts the pool of water higher up the pot, making the roots sit in it and causing root rot. As long as there is a hole at the bottom of the container, water will find its way out without the need of gravel.

GAoM 3: Always plant marigold in the garden.
Many gardeners plant rows of marigold along their vegetable patch or as a companion plant because marigold repel many garden pests and insects. Marigold helps reduce, not eliminate, nematodes (microscopic worms) in the garden. Although many nematodes are beneficial (e.g. they help kill June bugs in lawns), some nematodes invade plant roots and cause deformities in root crops like beets and carrots. Marigold acts as a repellant for nematodes: its natural nematicides kill the nematodes, and chemicals released by its roots prevent nematode eggs from hatching, thereby decreasing the nematode population. The marigold’s fragrance does not play any part in attracting or repelling nematodes or any other pest – that is a myth.

GAoM 4: Watering plants in the afternoon sunlight burns leaves.
The belief is that water acts as a magnifying glass, focusing the sun’s rays as they hit the water, causing ‘leaf burn’. If this is true, farmers would suffer massive losses after each daytime rainstorm! Using computer modeling and live tests, scientists have proven that water is not powerful enough to magnify the sun’s rays to the required heat needed to burn the leaves on plants. Generally, the best time to water most outdoor plants is early in the morning but if watering in afternoon sunlight is the only option, it will not harm plants.

Conclusion: Let’s promote truthful gardening wisdom and debunk gardening myths. By letting unequivocal gardening myths die, we all gain a better way to grow showy perennials, overflowing hanging baskets, and bountiful vegetables.

The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener—How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature

The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener—How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature

By Tammi Hartung

Submitted by ~ Ann Guthals

Tammi Hartung and her husband started Desert Canyon Farm in Colorado in 1996 to grow herbs and raise food for themselves. They are now a certified wildlife and botanical sanctuary and they often have field trips for students at their farm. Their goal is to co-exist with wildlife — meeting the needs of wildlife as well as their own needs. They attempt to provide protection, food, water and homesites for wildlife.
They now have over 20 years experience trying to meet these goals. Some solutions have worked, like growing parsley for rabbits and deer to avoid losing lettuce and other crops. Some solutions have not worked, but have taught them much about nature. They have found that being wildlife-friendly can actually increase garden yields through better soil, more pollinators, and more beneficial predators helping with pest management.
book review 2
This book lays out the steps one can follow to develop a garden that is supportive of wildlife. The first activity is the get to know the site — the land, its inhabitants, water sources, light and wind patterns. Tammi believes the most important first step to beginning the garden itself is to make sure there is healthy soil. She describes how to minimally disturb the soil, provide organic matter including by growing green manure, ensure a water source, and incorporate the use of mulch. Then she explains the importance of deciding where to position perennials to provide a structure to the garden and not, for example, overshadow vegetable crops. She suggests one research the site carefully because once in, the perennials are more difficult to move than annuals. Next she wants us to get to know pollinators (bees and other insects and animals) and beneficial predators (ladybugs, praying mantises, lacewings, spiders, wasps, etc.) on our land and to research how to encourage and support them to work in partnership with the gardener. Tammi actually
creates mini-habitats for wild animals to meet the goals outlined above and also to keep them from the main garden.

One of the most useful chapters is how to repel pests without using poisons — ironic in a book about encouraging wildlife. Strategies described include sharing crops, planting crops that distract animals from other crops, hand-picking pests, repelling them with aromatics, hosing the pests off plants, using hot pepper, mint, cinnamon, and wood ash to repel pests, trapping, scare tactics (like the Scaredy-Cat, a motion-activated spray device) and blocking access with netting, screens, fences, hoop-houses, and greenhouses.

The illustrations are delightful and the book is applicable to our growing conditions because the farm is in Colorado. The sidebars are very useful and I plan to use several suggestions going forward. There is also a quick reference chart for remedies at the end of the book.

The only disappointments were the plans in the last chapter for different kinds of gardens did not provide specific information about the plants in the plans and it seemed to me you would need quite a lot of property to implement all of Tammi’s ideas, though one could still learn much from the book even for a smaller garden.
It took me a little while to catch the rhythm of this book, but once I did I began to realize what a plethora of information the author was presenting. And I have many ideas to try in the garden this year after finishing the book.

(Also available as an ebook from Amazon)

The Winter Wildlife Garden

The Winter Wildlife Garden
by Ann McKean

Here in Montana most of us withdraw from the garden for the winter and dream impatiently about the return of summer, but there is a whole season of beauty and benefit that you can tap into by adding some wildlife friendly plants to provide late season food and cover. 014However, before you even plant a thing, think about changing your gardening habits.

First, switch your garden cleanup season to spring instead of autumn. Nature doesn’t do fall cleanup so why do we?! Besides returning some lost nutrients back to the soil and adding winter interest with structure and texture, the plants you don’t cut down and the leaves you don’t rake up provide critical winter shelter for birds, small mammals and even hibernating insects. They also help protect the crowns and roots of your plants. If you have a specific concern about disease and need to rake under or cut 015down certain plants in the fall, try creating a winter brush pile in another area to preserve hollow stems and create a place to hibernate and hide. Remember to wait to compost or toss what’s left until critters have had a chance to wake up.

Second, try not to use pesticides. Reducing or eliminating pesticide use not only spares the caterpillars birds need to raise their young, but also preserves the beneficial predatory insects which help keep things in balance. If you practice good cultural maintenance with proper plant selection, spacing, pruning, watering and judicious feeding,016 nature will usually be able to keep pest populations below the threshold of chemical intervention. As Master Gardeners, we must lead the way to a paradigm shift about how we view our gardens and the wildlife they support.

There are many plants we can include in a winter garden to benefit wildlife and add beauty. Native plants are always a good choice because they have evolved with the insects, animals and conditions in our region. Some of these plants offer vital late season nectar and pollen, including rabbitbrush, asters, coneflowers, goldenrod and perennial sunflowers. Many also provide nutrient and calorie packed seeds through the winter. There are also a host of native and non-native shrubs and trees which offer a bounty of 017nuts, berries and sometimes even twigs to nibble. Chokeberries and chokecherries, snowberries, sumacs, viburnum, red-twig dogwood, roses, mountain ash, crabapples, oaks and cone bearing evergreens are a few examples. I’ve even watched in amazement as wild turkeys deftly strip grass seeds from their stalks. All of these plants also add rich texture, structure and subtle color to our winter landscapes.

As you plan next season’s garden additions and head out to the nurseries this spring, think about how fortunate we are to enjoy such a wide variety of wildlife so close to home, and remember to include some plants for your winter garden to support those treasures. 018You, your garden and your community will be enriched.

Source: Wildlife/2012/DecJan/Gardening/Winter- Table-for-Wildlife


Aronia melanocarpa


Aronia melanocarpa
by Ann McKean

Aronia melanocarpa, common name black chokeberry (not chokecherry), can be a great addition to your Montana landscape. Typically growing 3’ to 6’ tall and wide and hardy to zone 3, this attractive deciduous shrub is native to sunny or partly sunny moist locations in the eastern and midwestern United States, but is extremely adaptable and tolerates clay, dry and alkaline soil, salt, and shade. This makes it an excellent choice for rain gardens as well as shrub borders. While its tendency to sucker makes it a good candidate for more natural plantings, our challenging growing conditions keep it in check with very little maintenance required.

Plants begin the growing season in spring with clusters 010of white star-shaped blossoms which are appreciated by pollinators. Leaves are glossy green in summer and vivid orange, red and burgundy in autumn. The self-fruitful chokeberry earns its name with plump, dark astringent pea sized fruits which are actually a pome and similar to apples. Primarily relied on by birds for late winter calories, the fruit makes a tasty jam or jelly, and is extremely high in anti-oxidants. When fully ripe, the fruit has as much sugar as grapes, and freezing reduces the astringency, which may explain why birds save it for later in the winter.

Besides jam and jelly, this superfood is commercially grown for baked goods, juice, tea, wine, barbecue sauce, sorbet, and even food coloring. While its high level of tannins makes it astringent, it has more antioxidants than any other temperate fruit, and it is a great addition to an orchard or forest garden. ‘Viking’ is one of the cultivars grown in commercial fruit production in the United States, Europe and Russia, and in ideal conditions can grow as large and live as long as a lilac. A member of the Rosaceae family, Aronia could potentially suffer from any of the ailments to which that family is subject, but is usually trouble free. While older cultivars such as ‘Autumn Magic’, ‘Iroquois Beauty’ (both 3’-4’ tall) and ‘Viking’ (3’-8’ tall), have been used in ornamental landscapes, there are several excellent newer cultivars which expand the planting possibilities for this easy shrub beyond the rain garden, wildlife garden or back of the border. ‘Low Scape Mound’ is a tidy 2’x2’ and fits neatly into any landscape planting plan singly or in a group. The newest cultivar, ‘Hedge Hog’, reaches only 8” to 14” tall but spreads up to 36”, making it a dense erosion resistant ground cover with strong three season interest and wildlife benefit.

The various cultivars of Aronia melanocarpa are attractive, beneficial easygoing additions that will fit into almost any garden or landscape. Why not add one to your garden this year!

Note: Aronia melanocarpa should not be confused with Prunus virginiana which is chokecherry. ‘Canada Red’ is the ubiquitous chokecherry tree cultivar found in ornamental plantings, and Prunus virginiana melanocarpa is the native black chokecherry traditionally used for yummy chokecherry syrup. Both of these plants grow much taller than chokeberries and have a toxic pit.

Source: htm

The Garden Jungle – BOOK REVIEW by Ann Guthals


The Garden Jungle
or Gardening to Save the Planet
by Dave Goulson

I just finished reading what may be my favorite nature book ever and thought I’d recommend it. It’s called The Garden Jungle or Gardening to Save the Planet by Dave Goulson. I can’t say enough good things about it.

The author is a biology professor in Great Britain. This book is about plants and insects in our yards and gardens and fascinating facts about them, as well as the effects of climate change that are endangering them, and how we can manage our gardens (that’s British for yard) to support them. It’s a rare nonfiction book that reads as quickly and grippingly as a good novel. And the author is irreverent and really funny as well.

The “saving the planet” part of the title is integrated throughout the book as well as fleshed out in the last chapter. Dr. Goulson incorporates plenty of statistics on topics such as the precipitous decline in species and the large drop in the number of garden allotments in Britain compared to during World War II. He also explains how gardening can in so many ways ameliorate the effects of climate change, e.g. by helping to sequester carbon in the soil more effectively than industrial farming.

In Dr. Goulson’s own words: “When it comes to doing our bit to combat climate change, we gardeners face a win-win situation. The more carbon we can store, by adding home-made compost, mulches or charcoal to our soils, the deeper, darker and healthier our soils will become, the more our worms will thrive, the better drained the soil will be, and the faster our plants will grow… Gardening can be truly green, and I think it might just contain the key to saving the planet.”

Here are the topics covered in the twelve chapters of the book: Plants in Profusion, the Garden Meadow, Earwigs in my Orchard, the Toxic Cocktail, the Buzzing of Bees, Moth Mayhem, Dive into the Pond, Ants in my Plants, the Wriggling Worms, Garden Invaders, the Cycle of Life, and Gardening to Save the Planet. You can see that a wide range of topics important to gardeners is explored. And I’ll never underappreciate earwigs and silverfish again after reading Chapter Three.

Dr. Goulson’s area of specialty is bees and the chapter on bees is fascinating. For example, mason bees lay eggs in tubes, complete with food and padding for each egg. They complete the home for one egg, then start again until the tube is full. But the really incredible thing is that they are capable of determining the sex of the egg and they lay females first, then fill in the last of the tube with males. This way if a wasp manages to invade the front part of the tube, there will still be female bees in the back to hatch and carry on the species. Amazing.

This is a book written about Great Britain so the recommended plants are somewhat different than what we grow here. One can take the principles from the book and do research on applying them to our location. But it is also quite interesting to read of the challenges to the environment in a different country and compare Britain’s experience with our situation here.

I just wish I could take a class from this author! Luckily he has two other books which I’ve obtained (A Sting in the Tale and A Buzz in the Meadow) so I can read more by him now that I’ve finished this one. Happy garden reading!

Potatoes 2019

Half of my potatoes did not flower this year. I wondered if this would affect the production of potatoes in the ground, so I dug up one plant. There were plenty of potatoes, so having no flowers did not stop the plant making new potatoes.

The flowering potato plants produced clusters of “fruit” that resembled small green tomatoes. These are not edible and in fact are poisonous. Wikipedia states that these fruits form in years that are cooler and wetter than normal as the flowers have time to be pollinated and create the fruit. This was the first year I had seen these tomato-looking clusters on my potato plants.

~Submitted by Ann Guthals