Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Monday, March 11, 2014 

The temperature has finally made it to 36.0° this morning and last night's 4" of snow is melting off the trees, car and truck. I just plugged in the glow plug on the tractor to get it started up as it's been sitting for several days. Alex and I are heading to the writers cottage later with a load of siding. People keep asking why the project is not finished yet but if you know me, you know I have a lot of irons in the fire and this is a lesser project to me now as it serves the purpose for which it was intended, with or without the siding.

The weather forecast seems to be up and down. Yes, we will get some snow tomorrow but how much is the question. Yesterday I heard everything from 8" to 24" but today it appears more like 8"-12" if you listen to the Burlington weather folks. I suspect it could be closer to a foot here on the mountain but I'll make a more firm prediction later today. A fine wet snow just started outside but it's still warmer than it has been for some time and a good day to get some outside work going. I have vowed to get to the nursery this afternoon and cut some Japanese fantail willows and some curly willows. Gail is begging for some forsythia to force too but the snow is so deep here around the bushes and I am not yet in the mood to put on the snowshoes to make her happy. Unless I get into some trouble with her this afternoon, I am putting the forsythia on the back burner. I've been known to be able to mess up a perfectly good day with her real fast so if you stop by and there are forsythia on the table, you'll know the story.

Sometimes people come to the flower farm and start amassing a collection of nice plants. I always interrupt things and ask where they are going. It's probably none of my business but you might not believe how many people wake up on a Saturday and say "I'm going to plant a garden today."  It's like they have been thinking about this for half a century and they want one to appear instantly. Drawing  from the singer Seal, they want "perfect imperfection", they just don't know it.

At times I  have volunteered to put the pots back in their displays while the would-be gardeners return home to get the garden ready for the plants. I discourage purchases--even though I love sales--to people who have to go home and dig up sod and remove roots and stones and debris, amend the soil, etc etc and then plant. It just doesn't make any sense not to have the soil fully prepared before you buy plants.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is what to do with the sod. It has to go  but the question is how to remove it without leaving roots around that will reroot in time and cover the new garden with grass and weeds among the plants--all within a couple years.

There are probably three ways to get started--maybe 4 if you could rototill yourself unconscious for a few weeks as you run over the proposed site for hours on end with a rototiller. The problem with that thinking is that the roots of everything you grind up are being ground up too. That means you'll have freshly tilled soil full of little pieces of weeds and grasses which will root within a couple weeks.

I recommend a different approach. They basically have the same outcome but each comes with a different philosophy. Plastic, serious herbicide use, or organic herbicide use.

Buy a piece of 6 mil plastic at a farm and garden, box store, ...that kind of place. It comes in clear, white or black. I use the black because it lasts longer and can be used on other projects before it gets torn and ratty and needs to be tossed. I like black because it heats up and holds the heat in so it actually cooks the weeds. I feel that being black, it absorbs sunlight faster and holds the heat longer into the night. There are proponents of clear plastic as the sun goes right through and fries the plants, grasses, weeds all at once. My problem with clear plastic is it appears to dehydrate quicker and when clear plastic begins to break down you have a mess of pieces flying around the yard. I don't care for it.

Roll out the plastic and weight it down with anything-- smooth stones, old lumber, logs. It takes about 4-6 weeks to completely cook the weeds and grasses to the point that rototilling can begin. The good thing about this method is that you have not added anything to the process by way of chemicals and you have eliminated problem vegetation. The heat and moisture at the beginning may have germinated some of the seeds but weeds and grasses have a way of working themselves into the soil over time and laying dormant. So although this process will eliminate most vegetation, some will return via seed.

Herbicides are not always a popular item to discuss but they work. The most well known and probably detested is Round Up. It is a non selective herbicide so what you spray it on days. End of story. There is lots of information suggesting that it never breaks down in the soil, is a giant polluter, causes cancer, etc etc. I am not prepared to debate the use of Round Up. I have used it and I will continue to use it for plants that I cannot have around that are very difficult to eradicate. Poison ivy is one example of that. If you are using Round Up it does not have to be mixed the way the label says. I use one third the recommended strength and still see the results I want. Before you even crack the cap on a container, be sure you are properly clothed, have plastic gloves on and have a full respirator and eyeglasses. be sure the respirator's filters will accommodate the type chemicals in not just Round Up but any product you might ever be spraying. When you are finshed, dispose of the gloves and wash your clothes and mask and change the filters so it's ready for the next use. Again, remember that this chemical does not discriminate so if you spray it, ti will die.

There are some very good organic herbicuides on the market now. They are more costly than even Round Up but they are organic and they have an OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) certification. One of these is named GreenMatch which is a citron or lemon grass derivitive. In our area of Vermont it's available at North Country Organics in Bradford,Vermont. It is a nonselective horganic herbicaide but again, it does not a weed from an expensive flower plant so use care. It does work!

There's another organic certified product named AXXE. It kills moss, liverwort, bittercress, bluegrass and other nuisance plants. I have not used it but the OMRI certification is interesting and something you have to be aware of if near a water source. Look into this one some more yourself and broaden your search. A new garden needs to be weed free at the start so you can manage it for the future. Questions? Drop me a line

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

On Facebook as George Africa and also as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great! My plastic is working in my backyard as I write this. I was wondering, does the sod tie up nitrogen in the soil?