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Dallying In The Dirt, Issue #286 - Last fall we planted Crocus in the lawn and we are being rewarded
April 12, 2017

Dirt can be so exciting. Of course to a gardener this isn’t dirt but the herald of spring and the promise of great harvests all summer and of course we would call it soil. I really got to Dally in The Dirt yesterday. I was amazed at how dry and friable the soil in the top veggie garden was so I brought out the rototiller and fired it up. I don’t use it much anymore because it does disturb the wonderful colonies of soil fungi and bacteria that create a healthy soil. Every now and then I still feel the need to break up the compacted soil and work in the past couple of years of added compost etc. I have to admit that I still get excited at the appearance of a bed of freshly tilled soil, it looks so promising. The drip irrigation lines have been put back in place and I plan to get some seeds into that ground by the end of the week. Even if it we haven’t made it to the middle of April as yet. Seize the opportunity whenever Mother Nature provides it. This particular bit of soil has been amended with compost of varying types for close to 20 years and as a result it has a very light and fluffy consistency that allows it to dry out early in the spring. I can just sit and run my fingers through it to add excitement to my day.

Last week I showed you the flat of Pansies that I had purchased and suggested that it might be too early. I planted them. It snowed. Many of my friends and neighbours think I cause the late snowfalls by planting Pansies. There does seem to be some correlation many years. It’s never a problem to the Pansies. I water them with some lukewarm water. That melts the snow and thaws out the slightly frozen soil and the Pansies carry on as if nothing had happened. Three days later they all have bright yellow blooms on them and are growing happily. The squirrel that dug up a few of them does much more damage than a few centimeters of snow. I had my partial revenge this morning as one of those bushy tailed tree rats went into the trap after the peanuts and I was able to take him, maybe her I can’t tell, on a short road trip. The Assistant Gardener suggests that I should have a can of orange spray paint to put a small patch on their tails to see if they make their way back here. They have to cross a double train track and a 6 lane highway to do so but these are squirrels were talking about.

The outside gardens are filling up with wonderful things making me want to spend as much time out their as possible but in the kitchen is the result of some of last summer’s efforts. These Phalaenopsis Orchids summer outside in the shade and that seems to successfully prompt them into bloom by late winter. The purple one in the centre is new but the others are rebloomers from previous years. The yellow one seems to have picked up a few hitchhikers over the summer. They summer on a set of shelves that also have several pots of Fibrous Begonias and apparently those Begonias shed a few seeds. I keep thinking I should try and separate them but they seem happy together and I would probably kill one or both by trying to be kind to them. The last of the Christmas Amaryllis can be seen throwing a late flower bud between the white Orchid blooms. This many flowers in the kitchen seems to find favour with the Assistant Gardener.

Now it’s time to answer a few of my reader’s questions. To ask a question just “reply” to this ezine. Don’t forget to check the front page of the Website for frequent short ideas for current gardening activities.

Judy Asks? Hope you can help me with my disgusting front lawn which is completely dead. Two years ago the town did road/sewer work digging up 2/3 of our front lawn as well as all the neighbors on this side of our road. Contractors spread soil in the fall that was heavily contaminated with weeds, then took winter off. We were apparently forgotten and by June of the next year, those weeds grew to 3 ft tall. Yes, I did contact those responsible, and as spokesperson for neighbors, finally got action. Contractors cut the weeds, churned up the soil and hydro seeded all of our lawns. We watered faithfully, paid our water bills and waited. And waited, and waited. A few tufts of grass and of course those hardy returning weeds does not a lawn make. So I'm back on the Township, County, Contractors again, adding council meeting this time. Finally, contractor removed weedy soil, spread new topsoil, sodded and watered it for 2 weeks to save us water bill expenses. Phew what a battle! We finally had the beautiful lawns we started with! Then the summer drought of 2016 and sever watering restrictions blew it all apart. As a result all those beautiful front lawns are now dead, not sleeping, dead. No roots, and soil is blowing in the wind. Of course, a few weeds are greening up though.

Question: what is my best recourse? Re-sew, Re-sod, Retreat, Plant white clover, Paint it green?? Can't be certain that the rains will come this year either. It's so ugly out there.

Ken Answers! The sod the contractors laid in my front yard last December is, surprisingly, starting to show signs of life. If we can keep it watered we will probably have a lawn. I plan to remove some of it and continue to expand my Creeping Thyme lawn replacement project. Seeding your lawn is easy and cheap but a bit long term and weed seeds will germinate as quickly as the grass seed. You can let the weeds germinate and then kill them and sow the grass seed without disturbing the soil, which brings new weed seeds to the surface. This process works but very slowly and you wind up trying to germinate grass in the summer which is quite difficult. Sod is quick and heavy and more expensive but you have a lawn the next day. It just requires regular deep waterings to help it establish deeper roots so that it can withstand long periods without water. You can frustrate yourself by trying to get the town to pay for the new sod :-)

Elizabeth Asks? I have some raspberry canes in my garden. The backyard is on the shady side but have western sun exposure. I noticed that the canes becoming a little thinner every year.(they are the kind of raspberries which bloom and fruit twice a year). The ground also needs improving ( clay and seem to be quite hard ) My questions are: Should I use the compost or some kind of manure, what kind of dirt to use to improve the area where they are growing and should I cut the canes completely in the fall taking under consideration the type of raspberries. Thank you so much for so much fantastic information in your newsletters.

Ken Answers! The thinning of the canes could be from lack of sufficient sunlight or fertilizer. Try adding some good quality compost or manure to loosen the soil and provide nutrients. If that doesn’t improve things then you may have to find a sunnier location. Cut back the oldest canes but leave the ones that grew last year as they will produce the early crop of berries.

Joan Asks? Would you know where the above trailing Arbutus could be purchased?

Ken Answers! I have not seen this anywhere but that's mostly because I haven't looked. As a widely grown native I suspect that you would find it at any nursery that features native plants. If I see it anywhere I will let you know.

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