Goshen News, Goshen, IN

November 9, 2012

DIRT ON GARDENING: A big thank-you to all my readers


— While nearing four years since my first column was published, it has been an adventurous run. Compliments abound and I’m sincerely grateful for all of them. Hardly a day goes by that my wife, my family members, or I don’t get kudos for an article that was published by The Goshen News pertaining to my “The Dirt on Gardening” column.

I was somewhat hesitant when first approached by the publisher and editor (as I had never done anything like this before) but they gave me a chance to prove myself with my somewhat-better-than-average knowledge of many of gardening’s trials and tribulations.

The 16 years that I managed Everett’s Garden Center was a blessing to me because it gave me first-hand knowledge of all the various annuals, perennials, shrubs & trees, and the fertilizers and treatments to protect and enhance them.

I conveyed to them that I wasn’t a journalist or that I had no horticultural degree to tack on the wall — only a love of gardening with my spin and tongue-in-cheek approach at times. I like to make them an easy read with a little humor at times so that everyone can enjoy them with a little chuckle or smile but at the same time gain a little more knowledge than they first had.

I relish all the inquiries and am thankful that each and every one of you stops me at the store with a question or a compliment or the gardeners that call me with pertinent questions about their particular problem. It’s part of my job and always a new challenge that I relish so keep them coming.

One of my more recent calls was about putting grass clippings on gardens. While I don’t object to this practice, care should be taken for more than one reason.

What is the main reason for putting clippings on a garden? It may be for mulching or it may be to build and replenish the soil with humus.

If your reason is to provide a layer of grass to help retain moisture and control weeds then by all means mulch with two to three inches of “dry” grass that can be left for you to ‘fluff’ periodically to keep it in a dry and brown state. If you trample on it, however, it will compact it. Compaction leads to retention of moisture and mold will develop causing decay and a smelly garden. At the same time, if you are using chemicals (weed control) on your lawn it quite possibly may carry over into the garden which can damage plants.

If you are simply putting grass clippings on a garden that has been cleaned of any remaining vegetables and you are trying to replenish the soil for the coming year then three to four inches of clippings and/or leaves (ground up leaves works best) may be layered on the garden. Till them in if you wish or leave them until next spring. This action will break down any chemicals with the heat they produce as well as breaking down the compost into a loam.

Now this leads to another question. Do you have a compost pile started in the summer? If you don’t have one, you should. This practice will provide you with all you’ll need in the fall or in the spring of rich loam that is completely composted and “garden ready.” Nothing replenishes or breaks up hardened soil or clay soils like a good loamy mix to work into the soil.

If mushroom mix is available in the area (preferably in bulk) by all means buy it by the bushel or by the yard to incorporate into the top several inches of any garden, flower or vegetable- I’ll guarantee you won’t be disappointed- it will provide you with a nutrient-rich additive that plants will thrive in.