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The Thoughtful Gardener

eileeneastblog   viburnum

Courtesy of Guest Blogger, Eileen East, Hill Home Forge B&B. Click here to learn more.

Pruning my viburnum
If you're like me, you're staring at all the snow and ice and wondering if March will give us some relief from the cold. I want to get out into my garden.

            If it weren't for the deep snow and arctic temperatures, I definitely would prune my viburnum. It's so easy to see what needs to be pruned when there aren't any leaves to get in the way. Also, the sap isn't running yet, so it's not as messy.

            My viburnum sent up suckers like crazy last season because I cut it way back when it started to get into the utility wires. I want horizontal growth, not vertical shoots. I think I'll cut some of the new growth back to the first pair of leaf nodes to see if I can get them to branch out instead of shooting up. Fingers crossed on that one.

Growing in containers
            Now to something I can actually do right now.  One of my big projects over the last several years has been to grow my herbs and tomatoes in containers to defeat the groundhog. When I first started this project, I bought patio sized pots and, following conventional wisdom, I put gravel in the bottom for drainage. Then I added potting soil and planted my herbs.

            Like a lot of other garden myths, the one about the gravel collapsed when I became a Master Gardener and got educated. Here is a case where science trumps intuition. It made intuitive sense to me that gravel would drain better than soil. My husband thinks so too. Sadly, we are both wrong.

            A simple home science experiment will prove that when water is moving through soil and encounters an interface between different materials, the water stops moving down. If you fill the bottom half of a clear glass with course sand and the top half with a fine silt loam, then slowly pour water on the soil, the water will move down until it hits the sand layer. Then it will slowly spread sideways through the soil by capillary action. Once the soil is saturated, then gravity will force the water into the sand layer.

            So my early March chore is to empty my patio pots and get rid of the gravel. Once they're empty, I'll sterilize them with a weak bleach solution just in case something unpleasant is wintering over in the pot. Then I'll add new potting soil mixed with some of last year's compost. When I finally plant, I'll get to fertilize with worm casting from my new worm farm.

            I incidentally discovered another outcome of using gravel in my pots. The root system of my rosemary stopped at the gravel layer and spread sideways just like the water. I might as well have bought shorter pots. That's probably why my patio tomatoes didn't grow very well.

            I'm looking forward to great improvements in my container garden yield. I'll have good soil mixed with leaf compost, locally grown plants that don't harbor imported diseases, and my own organic fertilizer made by my worm farm. That's got to be as good as it gets. Let's hope mother nature sends me lots of sun.




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