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Garden Recycling

The first rains have come; the leaves are falling; a new cycle of gardening begins. After watching and waiting all summer, it’s time for action. It’s time to plant, to gather, to prepare for winter and for next year’s new garden beds. In all of these activities, I try to find and recycle available materials on my property rather than buy commercial products. This saves me time and money, and reduces waste and trips to the landfills.

The amount of time available to complete them is limited if freezing weather arrives sooner than expected.

  • For those in higher elevations, it may already be too late to transplant herbaceous perennials or others that need several weeks for establishing their roots before the soil gets too cold.
  • Other plants, such as deciduous, bare root trees, benefit by being transplanted when they are dormant.
  • If you have questions about what is feasible in your location, check with your favorite nursery or contact the Master Gardener (MG) hotline at 209-533-5912.

For those in lower elevations, there should still be time to divide or move plants that grew too big or did not do well in their original spot and to sow seeds saved from poppies, lupine and cool weather vegetable crops. When they are dormant, volunteer redbuds, toyon and manzanita can be dug up and potted for holiday gifts.

It’s time to protect both new and established plants with a 2-3 inch layer of mulch.

  • It keeps the soil warmer so plants are less likely to heave out of the ground.
  • It also prevents erosion around the roots.
  • For mulch, I gather up and recycle nature’s bounty. Raking, chipping and shredding are no longer unwelcome chores because bedding is being created for the gardens. Often leaves can be left in place if not diseased or too thick; pine needles make great mulch for acid loving plants.
  • Plants in areas where the soil needs improvement are given compost that has been created with grass clippings, kitchen and garden waste, horse and llama manure.
  • In all instances, mulch and compost should be kept away from the crown or trunk of the plant to avoid trapping moisture, disease and decay.

Assess the health and location of large trees and their ability to withstand winter winds, rain, sleet and snow. In addition to damage to the tree itself, would it cause other significant collateral damage to buildings, utility lines and other amenities if it fell or was uprooted? Deciding that it was better to be safe than sorry, we just took down a bull pine that was dropping limbs, that was too close to the house and was showing evidence of dying. The trunk was cut into “rounds” for use as stepping-stones; the needles, bark and sawdust put into a giant compost pile; and the remaining 2-foot high trunk is now a pedestal for a large birdbath. We miss the tree but salvaged its parts for future use.
The project most rewarding to me is creating new garden beds for next spring.

  • The process starts by defining the space where the garden will be and then spreading overlapping newspapers or cardboard as a weed barrier.
  • If the existing turf is long or woody, mowing or weed- whacking may be necessary.
  • Digging up the turf or rototilling is not only not required but also counter-productive. In addition to the extra effort, digging up weeds or sod removes topsoil and organic matter and rototilling damages soil structure and encourages weed.
  • Small twigs and woody cutting make a good first layer which is then followed by alternating layers of green and brown materials such as leaves, pine needles, grass clippings, kitchen and garden waste, bedding and manure from animals that are herbivores (horses, llamas/alpacas, chickens, and cows).
  • If the pile contains weeds that are likely to become a problem, I put a layer of newspaper over the top and then keep that in place with a layer of compost, mulch, or composted manure and wait for the winter rains to produce nutrient-rich, free soil with great drainage.

This gardening season is all about recycling nature’s bounty. If you use it in productive ways, it returns to the earth, creating a sustainable cycle for us and our environment.

On their property in Columbia, Marlys Bell and her husband are demonstrating gardening practices that promote sustainable living.