Learn how to do the German mulch method for plants

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Like many Central Oregon gardeners, all I needed was one more week of warm sunny days to complete the fall to-do list.

Why is it that in the spring when the days reach 50 degrees we dress appropriately for the weather then bound outside with endless energy? In the fall when the first few 50-degree days settle in ,we prefer to huddle in front of the fireplace.

For those of us suffering the guilt of not completing the garden cleanup, it is comforting to read more and more articles that absolve us of not cleaning out every crook and cranny of the landscape. What we didn’t get around to doing may actually be of benefit to wildlife and soil health.

Annuals and annual container plantings should be pulled up. Any diseased or damaged landscape materials should be removed. After I had pulled out over 40 tomato plants, I read a garden hint to simply cut down the plant but leave the root ball in the ground as a source of microbacterial activity over winter. That is worth some food for thought.

I am leaving the spent stalks of the perennial ­liatris stand as a bird perch and a source of bird feed for winter. We can’t always count on snow cover for root protection. The dried stalks and branches of perennials help to insulate the plant roots. They may not look pretty but think of them as adding architectural interest, especially on the days when they are covered with the sparkly frost. Ornamental grasses left standing are a perfect habitat to protect beneficial insects. It is a general rule that they should not be cut back until early spring.

The message here: It’s OK to put away the pruners.

I do have a challenge that I need to address in the coming weeks. I have two empty wood raised garden boxes that were built this spring. The dimensions are 8-by-10 and 10 inches deep. They were a construction faux pas — don’t ask. They need to be filled with a planting medium.

The German method of Hugelkultur interests me, as does aspects of the straw bale gardening. The challenge is how to combine aspects of each method to create a healthy soil. Both methods rely on the decomposition of the materials used.

Woody material, stems, branches and rotting wood form the base layer. Hugelkultur method is grass sod that you have dug out. Drawing from the straw bale method, I will use a thick layer of mulch straw hay for this layer. Next is a layer of course compost from my compost pile, a layer of fine compost, which I interrupt as being a commercial bagged compost, and the final layer will be amended garden soil. How much of each of these component parts is too much or not enough to generate the decomposition? Roughly, the bottom first layer of woody materials and the top layer of soil should be equal.

Tips from the yankee homestead.com are helpful. One is to not use wood chips as a base. The decomposing wood chips created a huge nitrogen deficiency, which stunted plant growth and made them more prone to insect injury. Decomposing logs or branches do not rob nearly as much nitrogen.

The process seems rather daunting, but stepping out of the box occasionally keeps the gardening spirit alive and the adrenalin pumping.

If you have had any experience with the Hugelkultur method, which is actually an open-ground method not contained in a box, please share your experience with me.

— Reporter: douville@bendbroadband.com

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