You Bet Your Garden

Don’t mistake fall leaf treasure for trash!


Listen to the full show:

Mike explains why it’s not too late to plant trees and shrubs, which fruits prefer to grow in colder climates, how to keep Zoysia grass under control, tips for last-minute garlic planters, when and how to use rhizome barriers, and what to do with the bags of leaves your neighbors are putting out at the curb.


Question of the Week:

“I’ve been ‘stealing’ what you call SPBs from my neighbors (much to their confusion) to add the precious leaves they contain to my compost pile as per your frequent recommendation; and I have two questions: First, the bags say that they’re compostable, and I’ve thought about running them over with my lawnmower along with the leaves they contain; but would they add any actual nutritive content to the compost? Second, a lot of the bags have small amounts of grass clippings mixed in from the leaves being picked up by a mower going over a lawn. I know that the combination of clean (chemical-free) grass clippings and shredded leaves can make good compost fast. But if the lawns were treated with chemicals, could enough contaminants still be present to hurt my plants? Thanks!”

— Joel in Huntingdon Valley, PA

Learn what to do with extra fall leaves »


Highlights from show for November 9, 2013:

It’s not too late to plant trees and shrubs!

Jennifer from Nashville, Tennessee has been growing small evergreen trees and young rose bushes in plastic pots while she decided where to plant them in her yard. With winter approaching, however, she’s concerned that she missed her window to get these plants in the ground. Mike assures her that it’s not too late and that in fact, this is the best time of year to do this type of planting. Mike explains: “The great news is it’s never too late to plant in the fall or even in the winter. I mean think about all the people who buy live Christmas trees at wintertime and plant them — ideally — the day or two days after Christmas. And those trees have a very high survival rate.” Mike continued to explain that if she’s not totally sure where these plants should go, she can dig a hole and drop the entire pot into the ground to protect the roots against the winter chill. When the season warms up again, the pots can be dug up and planted in their permanent location.


Growing fruit in colder climates

Ken from Ventura, California is purchasing a property that’s in a valley area that has its own unique microclimate. He’d like to plant fruit trees, but he knows that this area can reach freezing temperatures at some points during the year. “Your fruit abilities will be exactly the same as mine are in Pennsylvania! Unlike a lot of Californians, you’re not going to have to worry about chilling hours. You know, a lot of people in your state — the southern part of California — they can’t grow things like raspberries, apples, peaches, pears. You know, fruits that have what’s called a chilling requirement where they really have to have X number of hours of temperatures below forty degrees for extended periods in the winter.” Mike recommends that Ken looks around to see what’s growing in his neighborhood, and check in with his local extension service for hyper-local recommendations.


Keeping your Zoysia grass under control

Mark from Lancaster, Pennsylvania has Zoysia grass roots that are running under his driveway and chipping up the edge of his blacktop asphalt. He wants to know what he can do to protect his driveway and keep the roots of the Zoysia under control. Mike recommends installing edging the driveway to act as a barrier. Mike explains: “[Edging] is the only thing that’s going to stop it … It wouldn’t need to be tall; you know, maybe you get edging that is a foot high, let’s say. And you bang eight inches of it into the ground. And just edge the driveway with it. And that will hopefully keep the Zoysia on your side.” Mike explains that the edging should go down underground a minimum of six inches to act as an effective root barrier. On the plus side though, Mike explains that there are a lot of benefits to this type of lawn: “They’re really good lawns … because they’re very low maintenance and weed-free. You just have to not be bothered by the fact that they go tan and dormant.”


“[Zoysia grass makes] really good lawns … because they’re very low maintenance and weed-free. You just have to not be bothered by the fact that they go tan and dormant.”

Mike McGrath


Garlic planters better hurry!

Nick from Hamilton, Indiana wants to plant some garlic and is looking for planting tips. Mike is concerned that Nick may have missed his window, as Halloween is generally the cutoff for planting. Mike first recommends tracking down some hard neck garlic varieties to plant but stresses that garlic heads from the grocery store are not to be used. Once the planting garlic has been tracked down, Mike explains: “When you’re ready to plant, you pick your most fertile soil — your loosest, richest soil. You can’t plant in heavy clay, you can’t plant in a low-lying area where water’s going to collect; you want it to be nice and light and loose and good drainage. Then you’ll break apart these heads very carefully and you’ll plant each individual clove about six inches deep; which means, you know, six inches from the bud end of the garlic. And then about six inches to eight inches apart. And right now time is your enemy — you want to get it into the ground while it’ll still have a month or so to grow some roots.”


Rhizome barriers to the rescue

John from Hanes, Alaska has a thick patch of alder trees and is calling in for advice in clearing the area to make room for a garden. Because they are growing to a power line, Mike first advices contacting the power company to see if they would help remove some of these alders. But regardless of who is doing it, Mike advises cutting and uprooting the garden area and then installing a rhizome barrier. Rhizome barriers are commonly used to keep bamboo under control, but they are a good solution for any plant with an agressive root system. Mike explains: “Without rhizome barrier, these things are probably going to keep advancing. Your only alternative would be to cut all of them to the ground four or five times a season for several years.”

  • Green Alder

    Green Alder. Photo credit: Wikipedia




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