The Problem with the Peat Moss in Your Pots (and What to Use Instead)
Peat moss is used in many bagged potting soils as well as bulk soils and amendments that can be purchased by the cubic yard. I try hard not to use it personally and professionally, but sometimes alternatives can't be found locally. Perhaps as a community we can push back with garden centers and landscaping supply companies, and not support peat moss harvesting. This article from Better Homes & Gardens will give you the details you need to make informed decisions regarding greener alternatives.
The Problem with the Peat Moss in Your Pots (and What to Use Instead)
I have been apprehensive about writing a blog on fertilizing gardens, because it is a complex subject. In addition, there are so many untruths about gardening practices that people truly believe. I strive to share and use evidence-based practices for clients citing articles written by horticultural scientists (PhD level), and ask that you question any conflicting information you receive from the following sources:
Attached is the latest review of six soil myths. One of the bottom lines is do NOT fertilize without a soil test. Mismanagement of soil can be problematic in so many ways. Don't be tempted to participate in damaging practices.
Soil Myth Busting for Extension Educators: Reviewing the Literature on Soil Nutrition
As I look out my back door, my entire yard is awash with fallen leaves. A tapestry of yellow. Am I going to spend time gathering up and bagging these leaves? Absolutely not! Instead, I will follow Mother Nature's lead and return them to the soil.
Grasscycling: Reference - https://www.calgary.ca/uep/wrs/recycling-information/residential-services/organics-recycling/grasscycling.html
Leave grass clippings on the lawn
Leaving grass clippings on the lawn after mowing is the natural way of breaking down grass, also known as grasscycling or grass mulching. The next time you mow the lawn, try leaving clippings on the lawn rather than putting them in your green cart or in paper yard waste bags.
It’s good for your lawn
How to leave clippings on the lawn
Cut grass when the surface is dry and keep mower blades sharp. Follow the 1/3 rule: mow your lawn often enough so that no more than 1/3 your grass is cut. You may need to raise the height of your mower. This frequent mowing will produce short clippings that will break down quickly.
You can leave clippings on the lawn with almost any mower (push, electric or gas). Using your existing mower, remove the bag and leave the clippings on the lawn.
Mulching mowers cut grass blades into small pieces, allowing the clippings to settle into your lawn without clumping. They are sold at most yard and garden stores, nurseries and home supply stores.
Common questions about leaving clippings on the lawn
Will leaving grass clippings make my lawn less attractive?
Leaving clippings can actually produce a healthier looking lawn. It is important to cut the lawn frequently to produce small clippings that will decompose quickly.
Does leaving grass clippings cause thatch?
Grass roots are the primary cause of thatch, not grass clippings. Thatch is made up of roots, stems, rhizomes and other plant materials. These materials contain large amounts of lignin (fibrous material) and decompose slowly. Grass clippings are about 80-85 per cent water with only small amounts of lignin, and break down rapidly.
Does leaving grass clippings spread lawn disease?
Poor watering and fertilizing has a much greater impact on the spread of grass disease than leaving clippings on the lawn. If a desirable environment for grass disease is present, infestation will occur whether clippings are collected or not.
Mow over the fallen leaves with a mulching lawnmower and leave them as they fall to enrich the lawn. If you don't have a mulching lawnmower, a regular mower will do however, you may have to mow 2-3 times to chop the leaves finely. These finely chopped leaves can also be used on flower beds, and around shrubs and trees. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, an average-sized lawn can accommodate 150 bags of leaves.
A 20-year study by Michigan State University shows that leafcycling:
Frequently I have clients that have decided there is something wrong with their soil and we should dig it up and replace it or at least remove several inches of soil and add something to it to make it better. In Calgary, our soil is clay rich, which helps it retain moisture as well as nutrients. I usually recommend adding one inch of compost to flower beds if the soil is particularly heavy as compost can improve soil structure, drainage, and add nutrients.
Unfortunately there is now a lot of information/misinformation available to consumers about gardening practices. Some of these ideas are not based on science and frustrate me to no end. One of my favorite sources for information is The Garden Professors. Their mandate is to provide research-based information on creating and sustaining gardens and landscapes to the general public. I will direct you to their blog on amending soil for more information on this topic.
Amending Soils - Why??
I was delighted to be asked to provide a guest blog for one of my favorite websites - Gardening Know How. After some consideration, I decided that the most important aspect of gardening is soil. Therefore without further delay, here is a link to my guest blog!
It All Starts With Soil
On occasion I have had potential clients call me and ask me if I can till their gardens. The short answer is no, and it's not because I can't, but because I won't. Tilling soil affects soil structure which has a major influence on water and air movement, biological activity, root growth and seedling emergence. Watch this short video by the U.S. Department of Agriculture: (June 29 post)
I know many of you desire a low-maintenance weed free garden and who doesn't? You may be tempted to add landscape fabric in an effort to eliminate or reduce weeds. Don't do it!
Over time, organic matter will find it's way on top of the landscape fabric. This will then provide a media for weed growth on top of and through the fabric. As most landscape fabrics are covered with inorganic or organic mulches, weeds will also grow into these mulches. As many weeds are perennial in nature, the entire root must be removed to eliminate regrowth of the weed. This becomes difficult when the roots are growing into the fabric and mulch. If you thought weeding was tedious before, you will be pulling your hair out once you have a tangled mess of weeds, landscape fabric, and mulch.
In addition, your garden plant roots may also become tangled into the fabric. Any attempt to remove the fabric can damage the roots. If you like to split your perennials and occasionally move plants around, this task becomes much more difficult.
Most importantly, landscape fabric interferes with the movement of gases (such as carbon dioxide and oxygen) between the soil and atmosphere. This results in death of micro-organisms, plant roots, and animals living in the soil. I have worked on several gardens where the majority of plants were either dead or struggling from the use of landscape fabrics. All the fabric had to be removed, the mulch replaced, and the entire garden replanted with new plants. An expensive lesson learned the hard way.
Landscape fabric will degrade with time, especially when exposed to sunlight. It is not a permanent solution. The best solution for your garden is an organic mulch with no landscape fabric. See my blog article on Benefits of Mulches.
Compost is decomposed organic material used as a soil amendment to increase the organic content in soil. Nutrients in compost are returned to the soil, often eliminating the need for additional fertilizers in your garden. By utilizing yard and kitchen scraps, you can create your own black gold by letting Mother Nature work her magic.
Click below for an excellent article and video by Better Homes and Gardens that outline how to make your own compost!
How to Make Compost
Did you know that the City of Calgary makes compost from the Green Cart Program? Compost is available free of charge to residents. For more details see Green Cart Compost
Your Calgary garden will require water throughout the growing season. A general rule-of-thumb is to provide your garden with one inch of water per week. This is best achieved by a slow, deep watering only ONCE per week. Many people with underground irrigation systems have their system set for daily watering. This leads to:
To check your irrigation rate, just put a measuring cup in your garden as you water. When one inch of water is in the cup, it's time to turn off the hose.
I always recommend organic mulch for garden beds. Mulch not only makes garden beds look tidy and unified, it also creates healthier, lower maintenance gardens as follows:
retains moisture - a 2-3 " layer of mulch protects the soil surface from sun and wind which contribute to evaporation. Garden beds require less water when mulched which is eco-friendly and lower maintenance.
insulates - mulch acts as an insulator for your garden from both heat and cold. Soil temperature is moderated placing less stress on the root system resulting in healthier plants.
blocks weeds - when weeds are covered by mulch, the light and air required for their growth is diminished. Seeds cannot germinate and grow. Weeds can no longer compete with your plants for water and nutrients, and the garden bed will require less weeding and will showcase your plants instead of weeds.
provides nutrients - organic mulch decomposes over time into humus. Humus improves soil fertility as well as its capacity to retain water. Plants will be much healthier with ample nutrients and moisture.
Popular mulches for the Calgary area include shredded bark, bark chips and mature compost. As the mulch layer decomposes, replenish to maintain a depth of 2-3". Your garden will love it!