Archive for November, 2009

Gardening in December

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

December Gardening

You can still plant in December. Plants are going dormant and they don’t mind being planted in this phase. Transplanting is also permitted, though I would avoid moving larger plant material, particularly evergreens. As long as the ground is not frozen, plants can be tucked into it for the winter. You can still plant bulbs for that matter, and they are on sale now that it is the end of the season.

Avoid pruning at this stage in the game if possible. Cutting plants while they are going dormant gives them a mixed signal since pruning stimulates growth, while trees and shrubs are in the process of slowing down. Perennials on the other hand may be cut back to the ground , and hydrangeas and grasses may also be cut back if that is your desire.

“Wilt pruf” your evergreens if possible. Wilt pruf is the brand name of a particular anti-desiccant.  Evergreens stop absorbing moisture as they shut down, however, they continue to lose moisture to the wind throughout the winter. If you have particularly exposed evergreens, or specimen plants you would like to protect, this is the ideal time to spray them (while temperatures are above forty degrees Fahrenheit).

Take the last of your leaves and start a leaf compost pile in an unused corner. Leaf compost is very high in beneficial fungal content and once composted  can be spread around trees and shrubs, or can be used to make compost tea with in the spring, both excellent ways to increase beneficial microbial and fungal activity in your soil.

Ways to Compost

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009


Composting Revisited

About a year ago, I started composting only after recommending this technique through this column for at least a year prior to that. Why did it take so long?  The answer is, unlike most of humanity, I don’t do change so well. However, I am finding that if I keep positive change on the forefront of my consciousness, it can be executed incrementally thus the adventure in composting began.

We have a stacked composter. Compost needs to be turned regularly to stay viable, some folks like rolling barrels, I like to see what’s going on so I purchased a series of six inch high square, interlocking wall units. When stacked up, my composter reaches a height of about thirty inches, and I can move the composter by un-stacking it, restacking it next to my compost pile, and shoveling the compost into the newly stacked square unit thus turning the whole pile over, or more important, separating partially composted material from fully composted material (on the bottom). The fully composted material is dark, rich, soil like material, ready for distribution in the garden or use in compost tea, while the partially composted material is, well, just plain nasty if you’re not into this sort of thing.

So here’s the rub, after a year of composting household greens, there is not much compost to show for it. Granted, I have made regular withdrawals of composted material for brewing compost tea, but being an American, I want more! Many clients of my clients have been composting their leaves and missing the important turning the pile part of the composting process. They end up with stacks of dry, un-composted yard waste. Additionally, whole leaves are slow to compost. And require a good deal of space before they reduce to a manageable size. However, shredding the leaves with a lawnmower, or a mulcher will reduce the size of the leaves by ten to one.

Leaves added to a home composter like mine that is being used for kitchen green waste composting will break down much faster if shredded first, and when mixed with the existing green waste compost, will provide a much richer composted product than either kitchen waste of yard waste will on their own. A recent NY Times article on composting indicated that leaf compost is much higher in beneficial fungal content that helps roots absorb nutrients, while kitchen greens composting is much higher in nutrients particularly nitrogen. Composting the two together can yield an especially effective product if done in a balanced way.

There are way too many leaves on most of our properties to compost in this manner and we still contend that most leaves can be mulched into your lawn, or mulched and used as shrub and perennial topdressing, saving money in organic material down the line, not to mention breaking the insane energy wasting process of hauling leaves away for composting for re-distribution. If you are already composting, look at mixing it up. If you’re not composting yet, start this fall. It will pay for itself in a healthier garden and you will be doing your part to start to create a culture that knows no waste.

Green Uses of Sickly Trees

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Recycling Cut Trees

A reader recently wrote:


I enjoy reading Richard’s articles in The Pelham Weekly.  They are one of my favorite things about the paper and I’ve saved quite a few of the articles over the years.

 I have a question about what I can do ‘green-wise’ with the remnants of a very large oak tree.  We tried to save it but it couldn’t be saved so it will be taken down this week.  I’ve thought about perhaps keeping some slices for a bench and/or a table and some pieces for firewood.  I suppose the tree removal company will chip a lot of it up.  Do you have any other suggestions?

 Thanks for reading this, and I look forward to reading more of your articles in The Pelham Weekly.


Katy Mayer


Dear Katy and Readers,

I took down an oak that had died in my back yard a few years ago and kept  about ten feet of trunk  intact, still rooted to the ground thinking I was going to do something green and creative with the trunk. I thought maybe I would shape it into a giant fist (to show my irreverence, or maybe release my inner panther). Then I thought maybe I would carve a totem to honor the first settlers in the land. Finally, I settled on a giant chair, or maybe it was a throne, the seat of the “Baron of Benedict place”. I got out my collection of chainsaws. I lasted about an hour and had barely made a dent in the old hardened wood. 

In the end, I cut the stump into smaller pieces and I’m finally using them as steps in a play area I built for my daughter (out of properly milled wood). Moral of the story is, leave chainsaw carving to folks who really know it. Attached are pictures of odd an beautiful things that can be made with tree trunks and stumps. Perhaps the tree company can help you craft them! If not, wood form old trees does generally get composted, and/or turned into firewood by these companies. Waste disposal is just too high in our area to do otherwise which is a good thing. Please make sure you plant a new tree for the one your taking down. Our tree canopy in Pelham is precious and the source of a good deal of our higher property values, as well as the basis of a stronger, more layered ecosystem, and help keep save energy by keeping our homes cooler in the summer.