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Stinkbugs, tilling and mulching

Thursday - 11/4/2010, 9:47am  ET

Stinkbugs in the Chimney!

Stop the Presses! Stop the ... What? We got no presses? Oops. My bad, never mind...

Anyway, Brian in Warrenton has an important stinkbug alert. He writes: "When the weather started getting cooler, we decided to get our woodstove ready. Most woodstove owners know to clean their chimneys every season for safety, but now we have a new reason: Stinkbugs! We discovered that hundreds had sought refuge in the woodstove chimney. Thankfully, my brother decided to clean it out before starting the first fire of the season.

I don't even want to imagine what burning stinkbugs might smell like. If your station is required to do Public Service Announcements, I think this warning qualifies!"

Thank you for the warning, good work Brian! And remember kids—only YOU can prevent stinkbug fires!

There's Still Time to Brighten the Yard with Pansies

Chris in Northwest D.C. emailed this past week to say: "Today is November 3rd and I want to clean up the yard and plant some flowers for a cookout we're having on Sunday. Is it too late to plant now? And if it isn't too late, do you have any suggestions other than pansies and mums? Or are those our best choices?"

Well, there's still a bit of planting time left, Chris— especially for folks like yourself in the heat sink of the city, where it takes much longer for the soil to freeze hard for the winter. And my advice is that you go nuts with pansies. They're fabulously colorful flowers, they'll last until next July, and you can eat the blooms on top of salads.

Mums? Mums are a bore. Really. They're just so...so...well, so ‘mummy'!

The Best Till is No Till!

Karen in Annapolis writes: " I just cleaned the weeds and dead plants out of my garden in preparation for the winter. Should I now till it—to loosen up tiny weeds and small bits of debris for natural composting?" Absolutely not, Karen. You should never till in the Fall— and you should try and avoid it at other times of the year as well.

Tilling releases soil nutrients, promotes weeds by uncovering and then re-burying dormant seeds, and causes soil erosion by removing all those little plants that are keeping your dirt in place. Yes, tilling is generally unavoidable when gardens are first established, because you have to break up all that compacted soil. But after that, it's much better not to ‘till and till again'. That's one of the huge benefits of correctly built raised beds; you never step on the soil after that first tilling, so it stays nice and light and loose.

To Mulch? Or Not to Mulch? That is....

Karen in Annapolis, who cleaned the weeds and dead plants out of her garden in preparation for the winter, continues: "Should I add a layer of mulch, Leaf Gro or really good soil with manure in order to have the bed in tip-top shape for the spring? Or should we wait to do this in the spring?"

Well, it's never a good idea to leave garden soil bare and subject to erosion over the winter, Karen. A layer of mulch (which should always be applied after the soil freezes hard for the season) would be ideal, but not wood, bark or root mulch if the beds are close to a home or car. (If you don't know why, search the phrase "artillery fungus".)

The ideal winter mulch is a two-inch layer of well- shredded fall leaves, which are abundant right now. (And yes, they have to be shredded; whole leaves mat down like a tarp and breed mold.)

Wait until Spring to apply any compost, like Leaf-Gro. (Rake away the leaves, apply the compost and then re-use the leaves as a weed-suppressing mulch on top of the compost in between your plants.)

But I'd forget completely your "really good soil with manure"—whatever the heck that is!

Tree Stump Options

Maggie in Port Republic, Maryland writes: "What would be the best product to use to dissolve a spruce tree stump?" Bad news, Maggie—University studies have shown conclusively that none of those stump-dissolving products actually accelerates the rate of decay. If you want to replace a felled tree with another tree, you should always have the stump pulled.

Otherwise, one popular option when a tree comes down is to leave enough of the stump above ground to create a little tabletop or rustic chair for outdoor seating. Another is to cut the stump flush to the ground, box out the area, fill the box with soil and grow flowers in your new raised bed of convenience.

Or use the stump to grow gourmet, medicinal or just plain decorative mushrooms! ‘Fungi Perfecti', a Washington state company, can furnish the materials you need to turn tree stumps into mushroom factories.

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