Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Autumn Care of the Herb Garden

Good day gardening friends!

The autumn weather has sure been mild and beautiful. Last weekend we had some blustery rainy storms, but this week has been magnificent. The sunshine super inspired me to do a little seasonal tidying of my herb garden.

As you know one of my four raised beds is solely dedicated to herbs. In addition I grow more herbs in about 20 containers. I love harvesting, pruning, and handling all of my herb plants because they release delicious aroma that sticks to my skin and my clothes. Herb gardening is soothing and relaxing.

At this time of year I am harvesting the last of my summer annual herbs like basil. Basil suffers with night temperatures below 55 degrees and we are currently averaging in the 40s. Time for basil plants to go! Harvest all the leaves and enjoy a fresh batch of pesto or chop and freeze basil leaves in an ice cube tray for winter use. An Italian inspired meatloaf with lots of fresh basil leaves is a comforting autumn dinner.

By now my dill is long past production so I pull out the brown stalks. Marjoram is considered a tender perennial typically grown like an annual, unlike her hardier cousin, oregano. I am harvesting a lot of marjoram these days before colder temperatures soon will be her ending. Marjoram freshly chopped added to mashed potatoes is divine. And goes well with the basil meatloaf I mentioned.

Remember some annual herbs prefer the cooler weather of autumn and are harvestable into the winter. Now is an excellent time for planting parsley, cilantro, and chervil.

My winter savory, thyme, and hyssop were all looking raggedy so I gave them a clean up by pruning them back by about 1/3-1/2 including all brown unproductive stems. Remember to utilize your herb clippings by drying, freezing, or using them fresh in recipes, tea, and infused water.

Chives are an herbaceous perennial herb, one of the first to sprout in the earliest of spring. My chives were looking pretty ratty so I sheared both the garden chives and garlic chives to the ground. I look forward to their return around April. If your chives are several years old and very big clumps, you can divide and transplant them now in the autumn.

Oregano is also an herbaceous perennial herb. Have you noticed that oregano's stems flop over and then root into the soil? Oregano is not as aggressive as mint, but it can be a bad neighbor in raised beds. To keep oregano in check, this week I pulled up any of those rooting stems, cut them, and brought inside for cooking. Periodically utilizing this technique will keep your oregano plants a more polite size if your garden space is small.

Autumn is the perfect time for pruning your lavender. Lavender is a woody evergreen shrub that benefits from an annual pruning in autumn. Prune back about 1/3 of the entire plant. Any wonky leafless brown stems can be pruned completely off down to the center of the plant.

Due to my small urban garden space I grow several varieties of lavender in pots. Container grown lavender really benefits from this annual pruning to keep in good looking shape and abundant flower production.

Rosemary is a hardy woody evergreen shrub that grows in both upright and trailing varieties. My 'Arp" rosemary just started blooming in October and last year this courageous plant bloomed the entire winter! Hungry hummingbirds that live year round in Portland will even come sip nectar from the tiny pale blue flowers during the cold winter months. I typically do not prune my rosemary in the fall. I don't want to interrupt the winter blooming and the plant is harvestable all winter for fresh culinary use.

Mint and related lemon balm are herbaceous perennials and soon will be dying down for the winter. Due to their aggressive spreading via underground runners I always recommend growing mint ONLY in pots. I grow 7 varieties of mint in pots. This week I trimmed back all the leaves and stems to dry for tea. Mint is very hardy, but since it is growing in pots I like to move these clustered into a sheltered location on my deck for the winter. Even in pots, mint plants will send roots out of the drainage holes and runners tumbling out the sides of pots. That is why I like to remove mint pots from their spot in the garden, pull up any roots, and interrupt their spreading. I store them on a solid surface like my deck or potting bench for the winter.

Much in my herb bed has been harvested or faded away. I gather up all my herb containers and place them directly into empty spots inside my herb raised bed. The exception is my mint pots. Any bare soil I am careful to cover with decorative rocks to prevent marauding squirrels from burying their winter nut storage! In November when the temperatures dip to frost and the rainy season is really upon us, I cover the herb raised bed with a layer of fallen autumn leaves (I have maple and gingko trees). This provides an insulating mulch over winter that I remove and compost come spring. By December I usually cover the entire herb raised bed with a frost blanket to help protect all those containers.

Herbs that are too tender for our winter frosts, like scented geranium and lemon verbena, I grow in pots. Come autumn I take them to the greenhouse where I work to overwinter. I can keep the heated greenhouse temperature at least 45 degrees even on the coldest winter days.

It just wouldn't be autumn in the herb garden without mentioning pineapple sage Salvia elegans. Pineapple sage is an herbaceous perennial herb that is borderline hardy in Portland. Being so tender most winters it dies in my garden. It is a quick grower and I always replant it early the next spring. As its name indicates, the fuzzy leaves are saturated with succulent pineapple fragrance. The bright red tubular flowers bloom in mid-autumn and in my experience continue all winter until a killing frost. Hummingbirds adore this nectar plant!!

Happy autumn gardening my friends. Take time to smell the herbs and savor the season. Please let me know if you have any questions.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sheet Mulching

Greetings gardening friends!

In autumn there is much to be done in the edible garden to clean up and prepare for the next year. This is an ideal season for organic no-till methods to promote a healthy and abundant edible garden. Along with planting cover crops, the sheet mulching technique in the fall will assist the gardener all winter long preparing your garden for spring planting time.

I have used sheet mulching, also known as lasagna mulching, extensively in a variety of garden environments during the past 15 years. I have used sheet mulching at the bottom of newly built raised beds and in existing raised beds in the fall to enrich the soil. Utilizing sheet mulching in the fall over lawn is an excellent way to create a new edible garden by composting in place and not even needing to remove pesky grass. Have you ever tried to remove grass to plant a garden? I have and it is back breaking work. Trust me, the sheet mulching technique is way less physically demanding and by using natural materials from around your yard is cost effective.

Sheet mulching does not have to be complicated and I find it a rather simple way to create a new garden or enhance an existing garden rich in delicious organic matter. The basic technique is to add layers of carbon and nitrogen rich natural materials on soil or directly on grass to compost in place.

Sheet mulching functions much like a compost pile, and it is important to have a balance of nitrogen and carbon materials. Here are some examples of natural sources of nitrogen and carbon.

Nitrogen: grass clippings (free of chemical herbicide & fertilizer), pruned perennial and shrub material that is soft and green, manure (chicken, pig, horse, cow—never cat or dog), coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable scraps, alfalfa meal, kelp meal, blood meal, and bat guano.

Carbon: newspaper (black & white only, not glossy & color pages), cardboard (tape removed), dried leaves, small branches, wood chips, bark mulch.

Here is the approximate formula I use for sheet mulching:

1.Cut any tall vegetation and leave it in place. Poke holes in the ground with garden fork. Add to top a sprinkle of organic fertilizer high in nitrogen like-alfalfa meal, bat guano, blood meal, or cottonseed meal. Kelp meal has tons of trace minerals and I like to also add it. If you are going to use animal manure I would spread it here. Soak this first layer well with water.

2.Add several layers of newspaper and then a layer of cardboard. If you are using small branches layer them on top of the cardboard. Soak this second layer well with water.

3.Add a thick layer of nitrogen, at least 1-foot thick loaded with fruit & vegetable scraps, green plant pruning, and grass clippings. Soak this third layer well with water.

4.Add a layer of dried leaves and soak this fourth layer well with water.

5.Add a 1-3 inch layer of finished compost. This is important to introduce beneficial organisms like bacteria and fungi. Soak this fifth layer well with water.

6.Lastly add a finishing layer to your pile. You can use topsoil or bark mulch to cover it and keep it looking tidy. Or spread on topsoil and sow cover crop seeds directly into the topsoil. Soak this final layer well with water.

In my experience it takes about 6 months for a sheet mulching pile to completely compost down.

Super simple, isn't it? When I’ve built a sheet mulching pile in September or October it was ready to be planted by early the next spring. I guarantee you will be delighted when you see the sheet mulching pile magically broken down into glorious rich compost.

This year autumn after I harvested and cleaned up my raised beds I built a sheet mulching pile on top of the soil and covered it with a frost blanket. I am super excited to see how lovely and healthy the raised bed soil is after a restorative winter. And I'm already dreaming of March planting into the luscious compost kale, lettuce, spinach, peas....

Happy gardening,

Friday, October 13, 2017

Fall Planting Cover Crops

Greetings gardening friends!

Perhaps you have heard about fall planting cover crops in your edible garden to grow over the winter. Wondering what a cover crop is and how you can utilize it as an urban gardener? Well, let's dig in!

A cover crop is a fast growing crop that is planted primarily to keep the soil covered for a short period of time, not for edible use. When you are ready to once again plant your garden with edible crops, the cover crop is tilled into your soil to serve as a “green manure” or added to your home compost bin. This process of turning the spent cover crop plant matter into your garden soil adds large quantities of organic matter to your soil. All of the nutrients contained in the cover crop plants are retuned to the soil. Organic matter will improve your soil texture and stabilize moisture content. Cover crops are great organic garden helpers!

Fall planting of cover crops in your edible garden can prevent weeds, erosion, and nutrient leaching. Some cover crops can even boost nitrogen in your soil! Legume family cover crops like Austrian peas, crimson clover, Dutch white clover, and fava bean are hosts to nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil. These bacteria extract nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that can be used by plants. Planting legume cover crops in your edible garden helps return nitrogen to the soil!

And if that weren’t enough reasons to plant cover crops, some like fava bean and oilseed radish have long tap roots that can assist in breaking up compacted clay soil for you. Plant them in the fall and by spring the taproots have done their job loosening your garden soil.

Farmers have benefited from the planting of cover crops for hundreds of years. Cover crops can be successfully utilized on a small scale for the urban gardener. The ideal time to fall plant cover crops in the Portland edible garden is September into early October. This timing ensures warm enough temperatures for ideal germination.

There are several cover crop options to consider: annual ryegrass, Austria peas, buckwheat, common vetch, crimson clover, dutch white clover, fall cereal rye, fava bean, mustard, oats, and oilseed radish. In my experience anything in the grass family (ryegrass, buckwheat, cereal rye) develops such a dense root mass they were virtually impossible for me to dig by hand out of my community garden. They almost require a rototiller which I don’t recommend and isn’t a consideration for raised bed gardens. I have had really good success with crimson clover, fava bean, and oilseed radish in my small scale in-ground and raised bed gardens.

Crimson Clover: Plant seeds September to mid-October in the Portland edible garden. Crimson clover thrives in all types of soil and in full or partial sun. It needs moderate drainage. It quickly forms a dense green mat by winter. In June the red flowers are a favorite of bees and beneficial bugs, though I usually have removed my crimson clover by then for spring planting edibles. Crimson clover is a favorite of mine because of it’s tender vegetation which makes it super easy to pull and turn under into my raised bed soil. Bonus, crimson clover is in the legume family and is a nitrogen fixing plant!

Fava bean: Plants seeds in September through October. This cover crop is another member of the legume family, related to peas, with nitrogen-fixing power. Fava beans grow tall up to 6 feet by May. Left to maturity they are magnificent strong plants with striking white and black flowers. Fava beans are winter hardy to 10 degrees and can tolerate poor draining wet winter soil. They have long taproots the deeply penetrate hard garden soil loosening it up for spring gardening. Fava beans are sturdy plants and take a little more work than soft crimson clover to remove from the garden and turn under. But, I don’t find them difficult and they are well worth a turn in your edible garden.

Oilseed radish: Plant seeds September through October. Oilseed radish is a member of the brassica family and needs to be considered in crop rotation planning. It is a fast growing cover crop with a long taproot. Its taproot is very helpful breaking up and aerating compacted clay soils. Oilseed radish is not winter hardy and a hard frost will kill the plant while the deep taproot slowly decomposes adding organic matter back to the garden soil.

The second week of October is just ending, so now is the time to get planting some cover crops! Please let me know if you have any questions.

Happy gardening,

Thursday, October 12, 2017

What To Do In The October Garden

Greetings gardening friends!

I hope the first month of autumn finds you happy and healthy. Though it is stormy today, Portland has seen some spectacular sunny weather over the past few weeks. I have hiked Hoyt Arboretum, Tillamook State Forest, and out at the coast. Taking walks around my neighborhood to admire and collect autumn leaves is fun even in the rain.

Did you know that in Portland, autumn is considered our second planting season for the ornamental garden? This is a spectacular season for planting trees, shrubs, perennials, ornamental grasses, ferns, ground covers, and native plants. By planting in autumn root systems get a jump start before the cold winter weather makes them dormant. Then in the spring they grow faster than those spring-planted. Additional bonus the fall, winter, and spring rainy season cares for your new plants without the chore of supplemental watering.

This month I planted native snowberry, red flowering currant, deer fern, and maidenhair fern along with some perennial ground covers in our shady garden.

Now, back to the (mostly) edible garden tips!

October is an excellent time for:
-Cleaning up and putting to rest the edible garden--raised beds, in-ground, and containers
-Planting cover crops
-Planting garlic & shallots
-Pruning lavender
-Raking leaves and making a leaf mulch pile
-Planting spring flowering bulbs in the ornamental garden
-Plant cool season ornamental containers

CLEAN UP: Now is the time of year I put my edible garden "to rest" for the winter. As I garden intensively in and rotate three raised beds I don't garden year-round, but take the fall and winter off to rest and replenish the garden soil. In late September into early October I harvest the last of my summer crops like tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, and beans. I put any plant debris infected with powdery mildew or any other disease or pest problem in the curbside yard debris bin instead of my home compost bin.

Once the raised beds are cleaned up I like to top dress their soil with finished or almost finished compost from my home bin. By emptying my home compost bin in the autumn I can start a fresh pile over the winter that should be ready in time for late spring planting. I cover the raised beds with a frost blanket pinned down. The frost blanket will keep out the marauding squirrels from burying their nuts and the neighborhood cats seeking a new litter box.

Any vegetables, annual herbs and flowers I grow in containers I also empty out at this time of year. I just add the potting soil and plant debris right into my cleaned up raised beds. As I clean up the raised beds I remove tomato cages, bamboo stakes, and trellis to store for the winter.

You can also plant your raised beds or in ground edible garden with cover crops through the month of October.

GARLIC SHALLOTS: October is the time to plant garlic and shallot bulbs in the Portland garden for a harvest next summer. Pick up some garlic and shallots from your local nursery soon for best selection. By planting garlic and shallots in the fall they start to grow, then sit dormant during the winter, and spring to life again in early spring. The overwintering process assures superior growth, flavor, and much higher yields than spring planting.

Garlic is available in softneck and hardneck varieties. Softneck varieties are less spicy, store well, and have a braidable stem. Hardneck varieties have a spicier flavor, have larger cloves, and develop gorgeous flowering "scapes" in the spring.

Shallots are small clustered onions with deeper flavor than regular onions. They are highly valued by gourmet chefs and can easily be grown in the home garden.

We usually plant one variety each of hardneck and softneck garlic, as well as lots of shallots. This is a fun October planting project when there is not a lot else to be planted!

SPRING FLOWERING BULBS: October is the time to plant spring flowering bulbs like daffodil, tulip, anemone, rununculus, crocus, hyacith, grape hyacinth, ornamental allium, miniature iris, snowdrops, and checkered lily.

Did you know you can also fall plant perennial lilies like tiger, asiatic, and oriental?

I like to tuck spring-flowering bulbs into the containers on my deck that currently are loaded with fall season annual plants.

Shop your local nursery now for best selection and get planting while we still have the beautiful sunshine. Remember not to plant in the wet soil on rainy days as this causes soil compaction.

LAVENDER: Did you know October is the perfect time to prune your lavender? Cut the entire plant back by one third this month. This annual pruning will keep your lavender plant's structure in better shape.

SPRING FLOWERING BULBS: October is the time to plant spring flowering bulbs like daffodil, tulip, anemone, rununculus, crocus, hyacith, grape hyacinth, ornamental allium, miniature iris, snowdrops, and checkered lily.

Did you know you can also fall plant perennial lilies like tiger, asiatic, and oriental?

I like to tuck spring-flowering bulbs into the containers on my deck that currently are loaded with fall season annual plants.

Shop your local nursery now for best selection and get planting while we still have the beautiful sunshine. Remember not to plant in the wet soil on rainy days as this causes soil compaction.

FALL CONTAINERS: I am not ashamed to admit I am obsessed with fall color. Fall color is a category of plants in nurseries and garden centers that begins appearing in September. Fall color is typically cool season annual plants meant to replace fading summer annuals as temperatures cool. I have been shopping at the nursery 5 times in the past few weeks!

Traditional fall color plants include: mums, asters, pansies, violas, ornamental peppers, ornamental cabbage & kale, and dusty miller. I love them all.

When creating fall containers I include lots of these fall color annuals. I don't stop there. To craft spectacular sensory interest containers I consider sun vs shade location and then incorporate dwarf conifers, evergreen shrub starts in 4 inch pots, evergreen ferns, evergreen ground covers, ornamental grasses, herbs, and even a few late blooming perennials like pineapple sage and brown-eyed susan. For unbeatable jewel tone color in your fall container don't forget the heuchera!

We had a very fun time creating these containers together in my fall interest container design make and take workshop in September.

Don't forget to accent your beautiful fall containers with a selection of pumpkins and winter squash. And if you are interested in my professional expertise we can schedule a personalized shopping trip together or I design, deliver, and installment container gardens of all sizes:

October is a beautiful month with both sunny days and the return of rain. Wind whips around and stirs jewel-toned autumn leaves around the garden. Mother nature's show is exquisite in the autumn. Enjoy it now, while you can before the long months of cold, rain, ice, and snow are upon us!

Happy Gardening,