“Mulch volcanoes” are a protective ring of mulch gone mad. Heaping cones of mulch packed around the trunk of trees and shrubs and pushed right up against the bark is deadly to the health of a tree or shrub. Bark is the tree’s outermost protective layer, and needs to be exposed to air. Moisture from constantly moist, piled up mulch softens bark causing it to be susceptible to several bad actors, including:
Wood-boring insects living in the mulch can tunnel through to the softened, partially-decomposing bark and gain easy-access to the greenwood or vascular tissues beneath the bark, introducing vectors of disease.
Diseases such as harmful fungal canker diseases (rots), bacterial attacks or virus diseases can more easily penetrate to the interior of the plant when the bark remains continually moist.
Critters such as mice and meadow voles can tunnel through the mulch and chew through the outer bark to reach the tasty living inner bark. This will cut off the flow of water up from the roots and nutrients down from the leaves, causing the plant to die.
Roots tend to migrate up toward the top of the mulch layer during rainy periods, only to dry out when summer drought sets in.
In times of drought, such a thick “volcano” of mulch a foot high can prevent rainfall or irrigation water from reaching the root system in an “umbrella” system, causing additional plant stress.
To rescue a tree from mulch death, go to this video on excavating a root collar:
I see the remnants of Christmas trees on my walk every day, ready for trash pick up. Pieces of tinsel hang off the branches blowing in the wintry wind and I feel sorry for them! Destined to be carted off to the nearest landfill, with most of them ground up into chips that will be sold for mulch in the spring.
But I like to keep my tree for a much-needed winter insulating mulch, using the cut up branches under large trees or layered into perennial borders on my property.
Once we pull off all the decorations, we take pruners and chop off half of the branches until we are left with the naked trunk of the tree with some stubs sticking out. Maybe this part would make a good walking stick or even better – a bottle tree!
The evergreen branches are carted outside in a large trash can and laid down as mulch under a large tree that has a lot of pokeweed seedlings come up in the spring. I hope that by laying the flat fans of fraser fir fans on the ground that I won’t see as many pokeweeds in the spring, and that the thick covering will smother any volunteer seedlings.
Another environmental idea is sticking the tree trunk into the ground and hanging suet bags and pine cones filled with peanut butter for the birds.
I admit with the start of a new year, that I get on a trend kick. Looking back, I see things that are in the negative column, that we as gardeners should not be doing.
Read on to see my take on it. If you want to see things that are up and coming, see my post on 12 top Garden Trends for 2014.
The practice of piling up mulch around trees and shrubs in the landscape is ubiquitous and I cringe every time I see it. Landscape firms need to take Landscape Planting 101, to learn the detrimental effects that happens to any plant material if you pile layers of mulch around a plant trunk. Rot, insect damage, and small rodent damage is liable to kill this tree above, within a couple of years. And how about the practice of piling too much mulch in a garden, sometimes as much as 4 inches thick, that can smother your plantings? And form an impenetrable crust on top? Rampant in the mid-Atlantic region, mulching excessively is too much of a good thing.
2. Bradford Pears
I can’t understand why people are still planting this fundamentally flawed tree. Hybridizers claim to have improved cultivars of the Bradford Pear, which are stronger and less likely to break and blow over. I haven’t found that to be the case. Bradford Pears are beautiful when they bloom, but short lived. Stay away from them and choose something as beautiful or better, like a variegated Kousa Dogwood, which also has a plus of great fall color.
3. Patented Plants/Seeds
Just about every plant developed today has a patent or trademark. Patents last 20 years,, trademarks into perpetuity. I understand that the plant breeders would like to enjoy some profits from their new varieties, but it is getting excessive, especially with trademarks, since they last forever. It is illegal to propagate a trademarked or patented plant, which makes criminals of many gardeners who love “pass along” plants.
Traditionally farmers saved a portion of the seed from their crops to plant the next year or trade with other farmers which is called “farmer’s rights.” However, if there is a patent on the seed a farmer has grown which is very likely nowadays, or it is Genetically Modified seed (GMO), the farmer cannot save the seed to plant the following year. To continue to grow plant patented crops, farmers are often required to sign written contracts stating that they will not save any seed at all. Instead, they must annually purchase their seed from a biotech company or agro business, rather than other farmers or local seed companies. In addition, big agro-businesses are buying up seed companies to control their supplies. Pretty soon, local seed companies will be a thing of the past.
4. TV/Radio Gardening Programs
What ever happened to Victory Gardening? I loved this show but it was really hard to find on my local station, if at all. The dearth of garden related shows in the U.S., both TV and radio is depressing. Ok, I know about landscape makeovers on HGTV! That show is all hype and no substance. But the British have a great sense of humor and know how to garden.
Here is my wish list of a gardening TV program. I would like someone to cover things like Mosaiculture, which moves around the world and was recently in Atlanta and Montreal. It is an expression of new millennial values and is a refined horticultural art that involves creating and mounting living artworks made primarily from plants with colorful foliage (generally annuals, and occasionally perennials).
Cobra at Mosaiculture Atlanta Botanical Gardens
Or cover the gardening revolution with edibles. Here are edibles on the front steps of Parliament Building in Quebec City.
How about a show on gardening trends like the new tomato varieties, “Purple Tomatoes” or the “indigo” varieties, see “Top 12 Garden Trends” for more details.
Or, wouldn’t you like to see the artists in action drafting the new seed packet cover illustrations? See “Art of the Seed“.
The topics are endless, but there aren’t any TV or radio shows on gardening in my area.
5. Garden Snobs
You have all met one if you have been on a garden tour or gone to a plant sale. It is the person ( I won’t name names!), who is spouting the Latin names of plants and wouldn’t consider planting a petunia on their property. Annuals is a bad word and their gardens are full of unique and very expensive plants and statuary. And no, I did not just describe myself! I admit that I do use Latin names, but I only spout them out when I am with garden professionals, and I love annuals and garden gnomes! I won’t deny that I do have a garden of very expensive plants that die all the time, but nothing that I had to mortgage the house for!
Get over it! Invasives are here to stay and nothing is going to change that. I get frustrated when I hear about groups arranging slash and burn weekends to remove invasives from designated areas. I say- Forget. About. It. This is a losing battle and you are just going to go crazy trying to fight it.
For example, English Ivy is a rampant growing invasive, brought by the earliest English colonists, choking out native species. Lots of people still grow it, as it does cover the ground in the shade, and is deer resistant. At Princeton University, an “Ivy League”, they pulled it off the brick walls of the buildings to repoint, and then re-attached it! So, what is one man’s meat, is another’s poison. Ivy is still sold at garden centers because people demand it.
7. New Pests
Have you noticed that there are lots of new pests to bother you, and more prolific poison ivy? That is due to a variety of factors, namely climate change and the globalization of food production. I will quote from Shashi Sharma, an Austrailian plant bio-security scientist. He said at a recent conference that “Globalization of food production and distribution has enhanced potential for pests to disperse to new regions, find new vectors, new hosts, new environments and new opportunities to evolve into damaging species and strains.” Enough said.
8. Ultra Pruning
Why do people want ultra tidy and manicured properties? It seems that the entire property has to be scalped clean, with no wild areas. That means that the field that used to be in the back of the property, that was let go to wildflowers, is cut like turf grass. Or, how about the huge front expanse of lawn in the front that is cut and doused with chemicals periodically? Let it go! Plant natives, like butterfly weed, rudbeckias, cornflowers, and golden rod. It is a lot less maintenance and the pollinators will flock to it.
Pruning should be done regularly, but beware of doing it excessively, or into tidy meatballs! See my post Pruning 101 for tips on managing your pruning.
9. Decline of Honeybees
I hate to say this, but as a beekeeper for over 15 years, I don’t see things improving. See my post on Colony Collapse Disorder. I think that this trend of declining bee populations is here to stay. For the past couple of years, my bees have struggled and died. I have put a lot of money into starting up new colonies, but I am going into 2014 without any honeybees in my hives. I will try again with new packages and nucs this year, but I don’t see things getting better in the near term. I got my first mason bee habitat this year and will be putting this box up in the spring, trying to attract these native bees instead.
I am also dedicating a portion of my property to planting milkweed, Aesclepias syriaca, the plant that sustains monarch butterflies.
10. Rollout of Plant Varieties that Stink
Do we really need another Heuchera (Coral Bell) that looks great in the pot, costs a small fortune, has a snazzy name, like “Red Velvet Ambrosia”? But the instant you put it in the ground, it sulks, and then dies? Or, maybe it looks good for a season, but come winter, you find that that the plant is not hardy as stated? Remember, ‘Limerock Ruby’ Coreopsis?? The hype that is attached to a plant sometimes is so premature and over stated, that I look at every introduction with a jaundiced eye. I have had more Echinaceas die on me than I have Carter has Liver Pills! Remember, my rant earlier in this post about patented plants? It seems like the patented plants are put on the market before they are fully tested!
Lavender ‘Phenomenal’ is a plant that comes highly recommended as a lavender that tolerates our wet winters and humid summers. Normally I treat lavenders as very short-lived plants, here in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. But, I am giving this a try and was pleased with it last summer, as the flowers branched off the main stem to form new flowers, which is unique in lavender plants. But I have to see how it weathers this winter which is turning out to be very cold and wet. Before I stand behind a plant, I have to grow it for 3 to 5 years, and I suspect growers who introduce these new plants, don’t give them enough time as well as trying them in different parts of the country.