The Garden Gate: ‘I Just Have A Question …’ – Greeneville Sun


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I love questions! I learn every time I’m asked one … or even when I ask ‘em. I received a couple good ones, so I’ll share: “Will this extended cold, snow, ice have a big impact on the plants?” J. Jackson, Greeneville, TennesseeIt depends. If the shrubs, trees, perennials are marginal – such as a zone 7 or higher – they very well could be killed. I remember the winter of ’93. I was living in Knoxville and we got a bunch of snow! It was part of a long, wet, cold winter and when spring came, there were 30-year-old crepe myrtles that never recovered. Maples split their skin when we had warm days followed by a quick drop in temps. Old clumps of perennials were heaved out of the ground, the roots desiccated and frozen.I’ve seen trees and large shrubs that were mulched wrong for years, heave out of the ground and topple. What does mulch have to do with it? When woody plants have been mulched based on esthetics, rather than the health of the plant, the roots will often invert, growing up into the moistness, rather than down and out. The strength of the tree is greatly compromised, and a strong wind, or heavy blanket of ice or snow can be too much. Perennials can be heaved – pushed up – out of the ground, exposing roots to the drying winds and freezing temperatures.Bulbs, as a rule, should be fine if they were planted according to directions. If you put them in boggy soil, they may rot during a winter like this. Snow actually acts as an insulator for things in the soil, so don’t brush it off unless it’s on tall evergreens. A build-up of ice and snow can cause these multi-trunked shrubs to do the “splits,” from which they may not recover.My recommendation for choosing what you’ll plant is to stick to what is proven in your zone, plant according to directions, and try to buy native as often as possible. Mulch correctly! This is no guarantee but you’ll come closer to not losing your landscape. This winter has been exceptionally cold, but it may be the new “regular,” so plan accordingly.“Am I too late to start gardening with paper and cardboard? I want to do it on a place that’s still grass, and not sure about how to go about it.” F. Reese, Knoxville, TennesseeIt’s never too late! You might not get the crop you’re hoping for now, but next year you’ll be set! Decide the area you want to use; mark with stakes and string, etc. I use every kind of waste paper that I can find: catalogs, magazines, junk mail, cereal and pizza boxes, cardboard … basically anything paper. Mow the grass a low as you can on that spot.If you’re using cardboard, it can be used single or double-layered, depending on how thick it is. Food boxes, just flatten; catalogs/magazines I open out from the middle, and junk mail goes down by the handful. The point is to overlap/shingle every layer, so no ground is left exposed. I like lots of layers! Sometimes I’ll take shredded paper or light-weight junk mail and put them in a big tub of water. When they’re good and soaked I slop ‘em onto the ground in spots where it’s hard to get the bigger, sturdier paper into. I do this on a calm day if I can, and then wet it down ASAP. Cover it all with old hay, straw, barnyard waste, mulch, pine needles, compost, old sawdust. Be be generous. More is better!You should be able to plant thru the layers by the time warm-season crops can be planted – the week after Mother’s Day here. How? Cut holes thru whatever is still solid, and plant. This year it’ll probably be best if you use plants (tomato, pepper, squash, etc.). You could try seeds. I’ve done that successfully. Continue to layer on organic matter (vegetable scraps, coffee grounds w/filter, grass clippings) and all the above. The point is you’re not going to expose that ground again. It will continually be layered on from now on. The microbes, fungi, insects, and all life in the ground will break that stuff down, turning it into rich, nutrient-filled soil which can support plant life.Will there be weeds? Probably. Pull and cut while they’re young, and lay them back on the heap to become “green manure.” You’ll be amazed in a couple of years! Let me know how it goes!

Sherrie Ottinger, aka: “The TN Dirtgirl,” is a regenerative Earth thinker, teacher, columnist, author and speaker. Her passion is all things “dirt.” She may be reached at [email protected] with comments or questions.
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