Tag Archives: mulching

Garden Tips for March

Spring is in the air. It’s always exciting to see the plants in the garden come to life. I’ve been invited to tour a  garden in Scotts Valley in April when many of the early flowering plants will be in bloom.  I’ve been to this garden before and there’s always an interesting tree, shrub or flower to enjoy.

One of my long term goals is to view the great gardens in the Santa Cruz Mountains. If you have a garden that you think others would like to hear about and you are willing to share it with me, please contact me. I’d love to spend time with you in your garden.

There’s so much to do now in the garden. If you are feeling overwhelmed here are some suggestions for the more important to-do’s.

* Check drip systems for leaks or clogged emitters. Flush sediment from filters and check screens for algae. You may need to add emitters if plants have grown significantly.

* Finish pruning and clean-up of trees, shrubs, vines and perennials. This includes fireblight die-back on pears, apples, hawthorn, pyracantha, photinia, crabapple quince and toyon., Prune out and discard diseased branches making the cut at least 6-8" below blighted tissue. Clean the pruning blades with alcohol or a 1:5 solution of household bleach to prevent spread of the disease. Also finish pruning and cutting back perennials and ornamental grasses. Go ahead and give grasses a 3-5" crewcut so fresh growth can emerge. Cut back old foliage of maiden hair ferns to allow new growth to take center stage. If you have Western sword ferns or another type that has winter or thrip damage, remove shabby looking fronds. Even if you have to cut back the entire fern it’s OK. It will regrow in just of couple of months.  Prune any other frost damaged plants when you see new growth begin.

* Spread fresh compost around all your plants. Good soil is the secret to successful gardening. The first principle of organic gardening is to feed the soil and it will feed the plant. Remember that all gardening used to be organic. Layer compost and or mulch on top of the soil and let it slowly decompose and filter down into the earth.

* As you plant new additions to the garden add organic matter to the soil. If your garden’s soil is sandy, organic matter enriches it and allows it to hold water more efficiently. If your soil tends toward clay, organic matter will loosen it up and improve drainage. In well-amended soil, plants grow deep roots, are hardier and more resistant to disease. Organic matter, such as compost, planting mix and well-rotted manure, boosts nutrition and improves soil structure.

* Fertilize if you haven’t already done so. Citrus, shrubs and fruit trees just emerging from dormancy are begging for their first meal of the season. Lawns begin their spring growth now also and benefit from a boost of nitrogen. You can also spread a thin layer of composted manure over you lawn. Leaving you grass clippings on the lawn will benefit it by shading the roots as it get warmer and as they break down they help feed it, too. Perennials benefit from both a fresh layer of compost or manure and a light application of balanced fertilizer. They respond to phosphorus especially in the spring for root growth, stem sturdiness and flower development. Wait until azaleas, camellias and rhododendron have finished blooming before feeding them.

* The most important to-do for March is to take time out and enjoy your garden and our beautiful surroundings. Those last few weeds will be there tomorrow but you’ll never get another today.

How and Why to Mulch

We never stop learning. No matter how much we think we know about a subject, there is always more to learn. 


Take mulching, for example.  Mulching is simply covering the soil around plants with a protective material, organic or inorganic.  This helps maintain moisture in the garden, decreases soil compaction, modifies soil temperatures and adds nutrients and humus to the soil as they decompose. 

It’s that time of year to mulch existing perennials, shrubs and trees. While a little chicken manure is good worked into the veggie garden, composted horse manure works better as a mulch for the rest of the garden.  Chicken manure is high in phosphates and too much can inhibit beneficial microbes in the soil.  It also feed the weeds.  They love it.  A better method would be to cover a layer of compost or  composted horse or steer manure with a thick 4" layer of wood chips.

Wood chips offer additional benefits: They’re local, free from arborists, and affordable from the transfer station in Ben Lomond  . Any disease in the chips doesn’t transfer to healthy plant roots, as long as you don’t dig the chips into the soil.  You can also buy clean chips from landscape supply yards or in convenient bags from nurseries.

To make the most of , learn what kind of soil you’re working with.  The University of Massachusetts at Amherst  ( www.umass.edu/plsoils/soiltest/ ) offers a basic standard test for $9.  It includes  pH, buffer pH, extractable nutrients (P, K, Ca, Mg, Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu, B), extractable heavy metals (Pb, Cd, Ni, Cr), and extractable aluminum, cation exchange capacity, percent base saturation. 

Our local soil testing laboratory in Watsonville, Perry Laboratory, offers a comprehensive test.  Their web site is  www.perrylaboratory.com.  The landscape package they offer includes basic fertility, micronutrients, salinity, alkalinity, texture, organic matter content and lime content. The main difference between the two labs is that Perry’s  will give you  specific recommendations based on your results to improve your soil. 

Make sure you get fresh mulch spread over your garden plants soon.  You’ll be amazed at the difference in your garden this season.  A mulched garden is a happy garden.