Growing Greener

by A. Goldman

Bounty from the garden

Improving our landscapes can create environmental benefits. Gardens can create habitats for wildlife, help clean the air, sequester carbon from the atmosphere, help manage storm water runoff, and even reduce our carbon footprint by growing food in our own backyard.  

Here are a few suggestions for making your garden even greener.

Follow the principals of integrated pest management (IPM). Use the least invasive and toxic method possible to control pests and diseases.

Compost bin in vegetable garden

Yard waste comprises up to 20% of a landfill. Most of these materials are biodegradable and can contribute to soil health.   There is a technique to composting kitchen and yard waste if you want results quickly, but it does not need to be complicated. A simple heap of materials will eventually break down, no turning or management needed if you are patient.  No room for a compost pile? Consider “in place” or “trench” composting right in the soil.

You can also use yard waste to mulch in place. When trimming back your garden this fall use the chop and drop method. Chop up large leaves and stems and let fallen leaves remain around the plants.  Using green materials in place can prevent erosion, increase your soil’s viability and smother weeds. However, do not chop and drop if the plants are diseased – diseased materials should be removed.

Create a Habitat Pile for birds, toads, and small critters with excess of twigs and branches.  If you don’t have the room for that, just breaking up smaller twigs and adding to the garden makes a difference. These will break down quickly and the smaller they are, the less you will see them.  Larger pieces can be used for plant stakes, defining path edges, helping to hold soil back on a hill or even pot feet under your planters. 

Gardeners usually generate a significant number of empty nursery pots every season.  The best solution is reuse, especially since nursery pots are not usually recycled even if they are included in your recycling bin. If you know of a fellow gardener who shares or propagates plants from their garden, ask them if they could use quart or gallon pots. Pots can also be used in large planters at the bottom to make it lighter and reduce the amount of potting soil needed.   They are great for pot-in-pot planting. You bury a black plastic pot to ground level and then it can accept another already potted plant.  This allows you to change out what is planted in that particular spot at any time.  Planting spring bulbs this way allows you to protect bulbs from voles and if you put some hardware cloth over the top, from squirrels. Once the bulbs are done blooming, you can then opt for something else in that same spot. 

If possible, buy mulch and soils in bulk to avoid all the plastic bags. Consider re-using the bags you do get as trash bags in your shed or garage in place of a new trash bag.  Cleaned bags can be kept in your car when plant shopping.  Place your large plants or groups of smaller in a rolled down bag to keep them upright and contain any soil from the bottom of the pot.  

Plant Profile – Zizia aurea

Zizia in the garden

Zizia aurea has the common name Golden Alexanders. It is an easy to grow native plant that no native plant garden should be without. It has lovely umbels of bright yellow flowers that bloom for a long time in spring to early summer – when many of our native plants are just starting to think about flowering.

The flowers are important to a number of short-tongued native bees and other insects that are able to easily reach the nectar in the small yellow flowers.

Swallowtail caterpillar hiding in the Zizia

Zizia aurea is also a host plant for Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.

Zizia can grow in considerable shade but will flower better in full sun to light shade.  Plants look best in a grouping. They can grow to 3 feet with the flowers, but flower stalks can be trimmed back after flowering to control height. While perennial, Zizia can be short lived so allow some reseeding to make sure it stays in your garden.

Want to know more? Here are a few links.

Missouri Botanical Garden – Zizia aurea

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center – Zizia aurea

Tasks for the September Garden

Agastache ‘Golden Jubilee”

September is for planting! The soil is still warm but the air is cooler and moisture is (usually) more abundant. These conditions are great for establishing most herbaceous perennials, trees and shrubs. Planting them now will give you a head start on spring. The exception to this is broad-leaf evergreens like rhododendrons, boxwood and hollies as well as plants that are borderline cold hardy (for us, zone 7 or higher). These are better planted in spring.

Zinnia

Give your ornamental planters a boost. Remove or trim back any ragged annuals. You can replace them with hardier fall plants.

Now is a good time to save some seeds for planting next year. Seeds from many annuals like Zinnia, Marigold, Cosmos, and Celosia are easy to save in a cool dry place. Just be aware that some hybrid varieties will not be identical when grown from seed.

Japanese Stiltgrass

Speaking of seeds – get after those weeds! Many weeds like Japanese stilt grass, yellow oxalis, pokeweed and various grasses are setting seeds. Getting rid of them now will help reduce populations next year. Also remove the flower heads of self-seeding annuals and perennials if you don’t want the seedlings.

There is still time to add cold hardy vegetable starts (lettuce, kale, broccoli, etc.) to the vegetable garden. If you are quick you can still seed in lettuce, radishes, kale and spinach.

Early Peony

While Peonies can live a very long time without dividing, now is the best time to divide them if you want to increase your plants.

Now is a good time to do soil tests. If pH needs to be adjusted, this is best done in fall to prepare for spring planting.

It’s also a good time to start a new planting bed by laying down cardboard and then layering woodchips, twigs, stems and fall leaves when they fall. By spring, the area should be ready for planting.

Think about bringing in any houseplants vacationing outside. They should come in before nights hit 50F. Inspect for pests (especially mice living in large pots – ask me how I know…). 

You can also bring in some herbs and place them in a cool, sunny spot in pots with good drainage.

Make a list of potential new plants to add to your landscape and have the list handy when fall plant shopping.  If you don’t have a specific plant in mind, make a list of the spaces you want to fill – including the amount of space, the light and moisture conditions and any height constraints. You can use this to help choose plants when shopping.

Keep swatting those lanternflies…