Gardener's Grapevine 2011.10.19

Written by David Green.

What a lovely day to snuggle up with a good book and a warm blanket Sunday turned out to be. Rainy and cold fall days are some of my favorites because it’s an excuse to be lazy for a while. I am never a person to sit still and I’m certainly not lazy, but sitting around reading doing nothing is a huge treat in my chaotic and crazy life. 

Fall rains are as necessary as rain at any other time of the year. They clean the leaves off the trees, replenish the water supply and dampen the compost to start breaking it down. Is there any better weather for a good nap?

With all the leaves coming down it’s a good time to discuss composting. Leaves are good to an extent in compost, but they cannot be all you use for compost because they will not break down completely for two or three years. A good compost pile needs a good mix of ingredients just like a good recipe does. Straw, manure, newsprint (not the shiny ads, but the actual newsprint), kitchen scraps that are non-meat or bones, some kinds of sawdust, leaves, and other organic matter are a good mix.

If you use sawdust in your compost do some research first as it can dramatically change the pH levels of your compost. Also some woods are actually toxic to certain plants. Coffee grounds will make your compost acidic, tea bags—strings and all—add a lesser amount of acid, but make good compost. Roses love banana peels; I chop them up and spread them around the bases of my roses. Egg shells are excellent in compost as worms eat them and the more worms in your compost pile the quicker it will turn over into good soil. 

Leaves are often used to cover roses in the winter. My great-grandmother Hila Eldridge used to have me cover her roses with leaves to protect the root bases from snow and ice, which can freeze the plant at the graft and kill it. Most rose gardeners will tell you that leaves are not a good thing for roses for many reasons including mold, mildew, and acid. But I will confess that I have many roses and I do cover them with leaves to protect them and I remove the leaves as soon as possible when the freezes are over in the spring.

I would suggest that if rose gardening is your forté you contact someone who is concentrated in rose knowledge. Mr. Emmons at Emmons’ Dairy farm on State Route 108 outside Morenci is an excellent rose gardener and his gardens are amazing. Hidden Lake Gardens can also be a great resource for advice.

My roses do well, but could probably do better with a little more effort on my part. Do not prune or feed your roses anymore this year. It is time to start heading toward their dormancy and a good sleep starts with being left alone. With that in mind, I think it’s time to take advantage of a rainy day nap.

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