March in St. Louis is a good time to start to cleanup your gardens. It’s warm enough to work outside and most of the plants are just starting to bud out.
The first thing to do is bring your arsenal of weapons. I use lopers, hand pruners, lawn trimmer, rake, a leaf blower, hedge trimmer and even a sawzall for larger branches. Make sure you sharpen your tools before using them. I use twine to bind the larger pieces and paper recycling bags for the small stuff.
Hopefully, you will know the difference between your annuals and perennials. In general, I prefer to cut both groups off near the base and leave the roots in the soil to decay. For shallow rooted annuals, it may be easier to just pull them out of the ground.
Clean from the outside in. You want to stay off the soil as much as possible so that you don’t trample plants and compact the soil.
I cut off most plants as close to the soil as possible.
You may notice that I use concrete blocks to define my garden. I find that it has a few advantages. It helps to define the garden and slows down the bermuda grass invasion. It also catches seeds and provides a lot of new plants in the spring.
Some plants require a bit more finesse. Each plant is a bit different and you will need to know its growing habit.
Buddleia – I cut to 9″ above the ground
Hydrangea paniculata – just trim off 6″ of the top growth. I am going for a eight foot hedge.
Roses (Knock Out) – I cut back to 18″
Trees – yes I even cut back one tree, hackberry, to a six foot height.
Viburnum – cut back to keep its size in check.
I do add a layer of compost/mulch after everything is cleaned up. It not only makes things look good, but also feeds the soil. I don’t use any fertilizer. In St. Louis I like the Black Forest mulch which is fine aged mulch mixed with compost.
My wife Nancy and I employ many strategies to aid us in enduring the non-working in the yard period known as winter. Like a lot of you that have a passion for being out in our gardens, seeing the positive effects on the environment and on ourselves, winter is a challenging time!
We start by planting yet more bulbs in the early fall then we are forced to turn our efforts indoors. We return to appreciating our long-term indoor plants, succulents, cacti, ferns etc. Even the not-usually too exciting lithops are in renewed focus. We’re constantly reminded how cool it is to see colorful blooming African violets and other gesneriads, Christmas cactus and the constant cut flowers we keep refreshing throughout the winter season. Of course, another key element of our winter survival strategy is always our every weekend trip to the Missouri Botanical Garden especially to visit the reinvigorating environment of the Climatron, we never get tired of that. These and reading the cool plant catalogs that show up this time of year along with the many gardening magazine subscriptions help us endure the dark days and serve as sources of ideas.
One of these ideas was to explore indoor cultivation of micro-greens not only for the nutritional value but also for the joy of actually putting my hands in dirt and growing something this time of year. I put together a relatively inexpensive seed germination and growth system consisting of a Jiffy Professional Greenhouse Peat Pellet system and a Ferry Morse high output 24”T5 daylight spectrum bulb system with stand. There is nothing particularly novel about this but I chose it as it is a compact system that I could set up in my home office, just to the left of my computer desk. By doing this, it is always at arms reach for easy viewing.
Adding water to the peat pellets induces swelling of the planting medium and enables immediate planting of microgreen seeds. In general, any vegetable can be planted and harvested when small as microgreens however I purchased a packet of Burpee Microgreens Rainbow Mix that contains 20% red beet, 20% cabbage pak choi, 20% kohlrabi purple, 20% broccoli and 20% Radish. I placed 3-4 seeds per peat plug and within 2-3 days all had sprouted and within 2-3 weeks, I was cutting micro-greens with a scissors and adding to salads. Watering with a couple quarts of water every other day or so keeps the growing greens hydrated especially in the dry indoor environment of winter.
Maybe it’s just me but working at my desk and turning to my left and seeing 3-4” tall plant growth is good for my soul this time of year, I recommend this to anyone feeling the agony of winter.
After visiting the Heimos Nursery in Mildstadt, I’m posting a few notes about my visit.
They make their own potting mix.
47% peat moss – fine/shredded
47% Coir – coconut fiber husks – finely shredded
5 % perlite (the speaker did not like perlite, but only put it in because the buyers insist on it.
They don’t use Osmocote or hard fertilizers. They use liquid feed which they tailor to each plant.
They don’t use rooting hormone. They said that plants are selected which are easier to root.
Most of their cuttings come from overseas – Mexico, South America…
One thing I noticed about the cuttings was that they were small and the stems were not large. After the plants are rooted, they put them into a cooler temperatures so that the plants don’t grow large.
It seems like big part of their business is rooting cuttings and then shipping them off to other growers and nurseries.
They use a product call Strip It to clean the hose drip lines and also use it to sanitize areas. She said they do this quite often. (Seems a bit much for home use.) This product is sulphuric acid!
They use yellow sticky cards to see if they have any insect problems.
Jesse Gilbertson, the director of horticulture for U City in Bloom, is going to give a tour of some of the city gardens on Monday – August 8th at 9:30 a.m. We are going to meet at Centennial Commons in Heman Park on Olive Blvd. This should be quite an informative program for all types of gardeners. No reservations are required, just show up.