One of the new ways of farming and gardening is to use cover crops to improve the soil structure and nutrients, instead of the traditional tilling and chemical fertilizers.
Here’s a free book on the benefits of using cover crops on a farm. I’m going to try and bring some of these concepts to the home garden.
Managing Cover Crops Profitably.
Here’s another great source of Cover Crop Information from the USDA.
I decided to try this on a test area that I use mainly for tropical milkweed. It’s one of the few areas in my yard that is open enough to plant extra seed.
March 16th I planted the Interseed Mix from Walnut Creek Seeds. I used half the packet and will reserve half in case the first seeding does poorly. I will later on plant my milkweed and hope all the crops will co-exist.
Below is what the cover crop looks like on April 27th.
I next used my trimmer and cut most of plants down to a couple inches high so that I could plant my milkweed. I’m not sure how much the cover crop will recover.
You can see from the picture below that the cover crop came back dramatically and is growing faster than my milkweed in some places.
- Angelia Phacelia – pretty flower – dead by July 1st.
- Barley – gets large and turning brown around July 1st. I would not plant this again – too much maintenance.
- Crimson Clover – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 –
- Flax – poor germination
- Millet – poor germination.
- Radish – fast grower and tall – cut it down about June 1st.
Other Cover Crops
Crimson Clover – planted in the fall.
Fall Cover Crops
This is another seed mix from Walnut Creek Seeds
Notes from video below.
- Legumes add Nitrogen, but they have to be inoculated – most come pre-inoculated.
- Crimson clover – his favorite cover crop – usually winter kills, makes a lot of Nitrogen.- earthworms love it – easy to kill.
- Radish tops scavenge more nitrogen than the tubers – don’t throw this away. Leave on the soil?
- http://plantcovercrops.com/ – articles are old.
By July 15th, many of my plants have gone to seed and are done blooming. Most people would just let these plants keep growing and just taking up garden space. I choose to cut most of these down to the ground. The advantage is that they will come back and re-bloom and look very nice for a late summer season. Now this is not true for every plant, but for many I grow it is true. Maltese Cross, Salvia, Dianthus, Veronica and others will all give me a 2nd and sometimes a 3rd bloom. You can give them an extra boost of fertilizer, Miracle Gro or compost if you think they need it.
Some plants which don’t re-bloom, like Penstemon, I cut off the seed stalks so that I can get more sun onto the remaining plants.
Any plants that are diseased or don’t appear to be doing well are dug up and pitched.
I also use this time to fill-in with plants that I may have dug up from other spots.
You can also plant some annuals, like Zinnia, to fill-in some of these areas.
I was recently on vacation in Europe and found a couple of interesting gardening ideas which I thought I might try to add to my butterfly garden.
As you can see from the picture #1 – this gardener has raised beds which have a tendency to shed water instead of it soaking into the ground. She solved this by sinking a pot next to her tomato plant. Just fill up the pot and the water slowly goes into the soil.
In picture #2, they have sunk a large plastic container in the ground and as you can see it holds water more than the surrounding ground.
I’m going to try both of these ideas for my plants that prefer wet feet like swamp milkweed and Lobelia cardinalis.
One of the advantages of taking a Grounds Management course through Meramec is that we got to see the Japanese garden which is closed to the public. Greg, the senior horticulturist for the Japanese Garden, took us around and gave us some great advice. While most of this doesn’t specifically apply to butterfly gardening, you can apply the principles to any garden.
He talked about this topic most of the time. Here are some tips I wrote down.
- You are working to create structure.
- Early spring is a great time to prune as you can see the structure of the branches. Later in the year, things are covered up.
- You want to allow light to get into the center of the plant.
- If you have a hole in a plant, create other holes to balance the plant.
- You can remove about one-third of the plant per year if you need to restructure the plant.
- He usually starts pruning with shoots that are pointing out from the main plant. Plants talk to you by raising their hands. He uses the analogy of people raising their hands. Those are the first branches he prunes first.
- If you can – make one cut to take out two branches – saves time.
- You prune farther back than the edge of the plant. You want to allow it to grow out to where you want it to be.
- Prune the larger branches – give the smaller branches space to grow.
- Pruning is a multi-year process. You prune and see how the plant responds.
- You are constantly watching the plant and see how it is reacting and growing through the year.
- He doesn’t fertilize 99% of the garden. He doesn’t want a lot of growth. He wants to keep things smaller.
- Never shear a plant – then you only get growth on the ends.
- When you prune, you don’t want people to be able to see the cuts. Cut farther in so that the outside foliage hides the cut.
- He prunes 1/4 of the plant at a time – he moves around in a circle.
- You want to be able to see into and through the plant – then you know that light is getting into the plant.
- He use Lysol spray to disinfect his pruners and other tools.
- Most of his plant shapes are hamburger bun shape.
- Take off crossover limbs.
- In parts of the plant that the public won’t see, he makes larger holes so that light can penetrate. Usually he might do this with the top of the plant that the public can’t see.
- You can train a tree to grow down by pruning out the buds and shoots which grow up and only leaving the buds which point downward.
He keeps many of his trees down to a small size by selective pruning. This magnolia is a standard size tree. He says you can do this with any tree, but need to start when it is young.
This is a viburnum that he keeps very small. The one in my yard is almost six feet tall.
They do use leaf mold as a mulch on herbaceous perennials.
If the garden looks good – don’t mess with it. When you see a problem then you can start to do testing.
He doesn’t recommend bamboo – it is invasive and takes a lot of work.
Greg also talked about layering your plants/trees so that you first see on plant layer then look behind that etc. He even talked about using trees outside the garden as part of the layering process.