How To: Compost an Excess of Leaves

Molly & grandkids playing in leavesDo not burn those leaves! They are a very necessary part of building soil. Their composition adds rich humus as they break down and the nutrients they contain are released back into the soil to feed plants.

Leaves are composted naturally in all wild and neglected environments. Just look at what happens in a forest.

And we can do the same in our own gardens…even speed up the process a little by shredding the leaves first with a leaf shredder, a mulching lawn mower, or a rotary push mower.

Step 1: Prepare an area to compost your leaves. Lay a tarp or piece of heavy plastic on the ground or in the bottom of one of your compost bins.

Step 2: Add nitrogen. This can be lawn clippings, manure, seaweed, or a nitrogen supplement. (See list below.)

  • If using lawn clippings: lay down roughly three inches of leaves first, then sprinkle the clippings evenly over top until this layer measures an inch.
  • If using manure: lay down roughly four inches of leaves first, then sprinkle the manure evenly over top until this layer measures an inch.
  • If using seaweed: lay down roughly three inches of leaves first, then sprinkle the seaweed evenly over top until this layer measures an inch.
  • If using a nitrogen supplement: add a dusting to one wheelbarrow load of leaves. Lay down wheelbarrow load of leaves first, then sprinkle the nitrogen supplement sparingly over top.

Step 3: Build up your heap of leaves in increments following the amounts noted in Step 2. Cover the heap with plastic to keep warmth in and the moisture constant.

Step 4: Remove the plastic and turn the heap every now and then. This will re-generate heat within the pile which aids in composting. How frequently you turn the pile will determine how fast your heap of leaves will compost down into rich humus material.

 

Nitrogen supplements: use any one of these if you do not have enough grass clippings on hand or easy access to a manure or seaweed source. Follow directions in Step 2.

Plant-based:

  • Alfalfa meal
  • Coffee grounds
  • Cottonseed meal
  • Soybean meal

How To: Propagate Stem Cuttings

A relatively easy way to propagate new plants is by rooting stem cuttings. Success is better achieved by using a good potting medium, a sharp clean cutting tool, and a rooting hormone.

Types of stem cuttings

There are three types:

  • Softwood are new stems developing in spring on existing branches. They are typically referred to as “this year’s growth” and taken in spring and early summer…late May through June.
  • Semi-hardwood are stems which are nearly mature. These are the type of cuttings taken in mid-summer…mid-July through early August.
  • Hardwood are stems which are fully mature. These are the type of cuttings taken in late summer and early fall…mid-September through early October.

Materials needed

  • clean pot or tray with plastic bag or lid for cover
  • soilless growing medium*
  • cutting implement
  • rubbing alcohol or 10% bleach solution for disinfecting
  • rooting hormone**
  • cuttings – cut 4-6 inch (10-15 cm) long branches from tips of healthy plants; make cuts mid node (between leaf nodes)
  • container of water to hold fresh cuttings
  • pencil or thin dowel

Procedure

  1. Disinfect pot, cover, and cutting implements.
  2. Select healthy plants for your cuttings.
  3. Cut stems just below a leaf node and place them in your container of water to keep hydrated.
  4. Fill clean pot with growing medium and moisten slightly.
  5. Take one of your stem cuttings out of the container and make a clean cut right below a leaf node…if you did not make a clean cut at the leaf node when cutting your stems.
  6. Remove bottom leaves from stem cutting, leaving 2-4 at the top. If leaves are quite large, cut in half to reduce weight so stems will remain upright in pot.
  7. Remove any flower buds, flowers, and/or fruits from the stem cutting.
  8. Pour a small amount of rooting hormone in a small cup or lid. Moisten stem tip in water and dip it in rooting hormone. Be sure to coat bottom half-inch or inch (1.25-2.5 cm) of stem.
  9. Poke a hole in your growing medium, wide enough to plant stem without touching sides of hole to prevent dislodging the rooting hormone.
  10. Place stem in hole, at least 2 inches (5 cm) deep. Tamp soilless medium around cutting to provide good contact for root development.
  11. Cover pot with plastic bag or cover tray with plastic cover to keep cuttings hydrated. You may want to remove the cover for a few hours periodically in order to allow some air to circulate around the cuttings and decrease chances of powdery mildew forming.

You should have roots on softwood cuttings in four to six weeks. Semi-hardwood cuttings should have roots in six to eight weeks. Hardwood cuttings take three to four months, or longer, to develop a good root system.

 

*Growing medium

Best to use a soilless mix such as perlite, vermiculite, sand, or a combination of a soilless seed starting medium with perlite or vermiculite or sand mixed in. I generally use seed starting soilless mix with a generous addition of perlite mixed in to improve drainage. DO NOT use soil from your garden beds or compost as they contain many soil organisms such as fungi and other pathogens which can be deadly to stem cuttings…and young seedlings too for that matter.

 

**Rooting hormone

All plants contain a natural rooting hormone called auxin which not only stimulates growth but also signals a bud when not to grow. This helps stem cuttings develop new roots from the cut leaf node.

However, there are products on the market that will help the process. Synthetic auxins have been on the market since the 1930’s. The ones available to home gardeners contain chemicals such as indolebutyric acid (IBA) in alcohol or a-naphthaleneacetic acid (NAA) in talc. The dry hormone preparations usually contain fungicides to help prevent powdery mildew on the cuttings. These are not allowed under certified organic criteria.

We use the NAA rooting hormone and there are three types…each specifically manufactured to use with one of the three types of stem cuttings:

  • #1 is used with softwood stem cuttings.
  • #2 is used with semi-hardwood stem cuttings.
  • #3 is used with hardwood stem cuttings.

 

For more details about stem cuttings and materials needed, check out this blog posting here.

How To: Make a Mini Bog Garden

by Leslie Cox; Thursday; August 17, 2017

mini bog installationThis project is specifically for creating a small space in your garden bed to help a water-loving plant survive the current run of drought conditions we have been experiencing in our normally rainforest-like conditions here in the Pacific Northwest. If you want to group a few plants together in one spot which require more water than your local water restrictions allow, these instructions are easily expanded.

You will need:

  • a shovel
  • plastic bag from purchased soil or manure or suitable piece of plastic from another source
  • compost and/or aged manure
  • Organic Complete Fertilizer (click here for recipe)

Directions:

  1. Dig a hole 12 – 24 inches (30 – 60 cm) deep and wide, depending on the size of your plant. For a small- to medium-sized hosta, for instance, you only need a hole 12 to 18 inches (30 – 45 cm), depending on the hosta. For plants which have a tap root, such as lupins, hollyhocks, and some poppies, you will need to dig a deeper hole but can likely keep your hole narrow unless you are planting an acanthus (bear’s breeches).
  1. Line the hole with the plastic, keeping the edges above the surface of the soil. You want to use a plastic liner which does not have any holes where the water can leak out. This would defeat the purpose of making a mini bog. I know some, or most, DYI mini bog directions say to make several holes in the plastic about 4 inches (10 cm) below the soil surface to protect against crown rot. I do not recommend punching the holes as, again, it rather defeats the purpose of keeping your water-loving plants adequately hydrated. There is a way of protecting your plants from getting crown rot, which I will explain further on in the Directions.
  1. Fill the plastic-lined hole about two-thirds full with a 50/50 mix of garden soil and compost (or well-aged manure if you do not have any homemade compost).
  1. Thoroughly mix one to two cups of Organic Complete Fertilizer into the soil/compost mixture. Amount of fertilizer will depend on the size of your hole and size of your plant.
  1. Position your plant in the hole so the crown of the plant is slightly raised up from the surrounding soil surface by 2 – 3 inches (5 – 7.5 cm). This is important as this step is what will ensure your plant does not succumb to crown rot.
  1. Fill in the rest of the hole with your 50/50 mix of soil and compost, making sure the plant’s crown remains at least 2 inches (5 cm) above the soil’s surface.
  1. Trim the plastic and fold cut edge over so you can neatly bury all signs of plastic just below the soil surface.

And voilá! You have a neat little bog which will keep your plant well hydrated all through the worst of the drought. Believe me, the mini bogs I have installed in various spots in my landscape have definitely helped my plants weather fifty-five days of no rain this summer. I also have a couple of plants which have thrived in their bog spot for three years now.

In the back garden, we have two much larger bogs which we installed at least ten years ago to house about six different plant species in each. Both are roughly 24 inches (60 cm) deep and 36 – 40 inches (90 – 100 cm) in diameter. They have thrived beautifully…only needing some divisional attention once so far to combat over-crowding. Have not had any succumb to crown rot.

 

 

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