More Like Stuffed Shells

I first heard about lasagna gardening in a writer’s group. One of our members, an Extension Master Gardener, was writing a news article about something she called lasagna gardening. Asked to help edit, I discovered that the term comes from Patricia Lanza’s 1994 book “Lasagna Gardening – A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding!”

Sometimes called sheet composting, a technique of spreading organic matter on top of the soil before it has decomposed, then tilling it under, lasagna gardening is even simpler. Cardboard or newspaper makes up the first layer of garden. The advantage? You can lay this right on top of grass, weeds, and other assorted undesirables. On top of the newspaper, layer combinations of the following:

• Blood meal
• Coffee grounds – Starbucks gives these away for free
• Compost
• Grass Clippings
• Fruit and Vegetable Scraps
• Leaves
• Manure
• Newspaper
• Peat moss
• Tea leaves and tea bags
• Weeds if they haven’t gone to seed

The experts say that to get the most out of layering, you should alternate layers of brown with layers of green – or carbon with nitrogen. Also, brown layers should be twice as deep as green layers. Aim for a 24-inch-deep bed, which will shrink in time. You can hurry up the ‘cook’ by covering the whole thing with black plastic.

So that’s theory and process. Simple enough, right? But a little over the top for my needs. I already have lovely raised beds, one of which is now empty. There used to be string beans in it before the rabbits came. Since then, I have nothing but weeds in that bed.

So today, we dug out the worst weeds since I don’t quite trust the newspaper to manage our vigorous Kansas weeds. On top of that went a single layer of the Miami County Republic – after we read it, of course.


On top of that went about four inches of dried grass clippings, which by themselves make for a splendid soil. Every bed covered with grass this past winter had dark, loamy soil to plant this spring.


So now I have two beds ready for fall sowing: broccoli and Brussel sprouts seeds at the end of the July and lettuces at the end of August. All for fall harvest. And while I’m waiting for that to grow, I’ll be getting my other beds ready for spring with the simplified lasagna.

Thank You, Spider Mites!

Two years ago, sitting in a garden design class, I was shocked to see a photo of my house on the presenter’s Power Point as an example of the totally boring landscape. No, the presenter hadn’t come to my house to snap a photo. It just looked exactly like my front yard. Here’s that yawn-producing line of yews.


And here, the Alberta Spruce trees bank the yews along the front walk.


After the presentation, I went up to discuss my outrage with the design expert. And was shot down. Yews and spruce, in a straight line in front of the house? Boring. Her solution? Just yank them out and start all over.

Jim’s reaction when I told him this story was predictable. “I suppose you want to take out those perfectly healthy bushes,” he said. And then put an end to discussion by adding: “I like them.”

Indeed, I have a problem with ‘yanking’ a perfectly healthy plant out of the ground. But while discussing my front design with Master Gardener friends, I found the verdict was unanimous. “Always thought your front yard was boring.” “Those yews are nothing more than weeds.”

And the final prediction. “You’ll get spider mites one day on those Alberta Spruce and then you’ll want to take them out!”

Spider mites? As an aside, I am an avid African Violet hobbyist. I live in dread of spider mites, so much so that I won’t bring flowers from the outside inside my house.

Time passed, as it does, until yesterday, getting in the car to go somewhere, I spotted this.


“We’ve got spider mites,” I told Jim. “Now those bushes have to come out.”

So what are spider mites? My research shows that they aren’t ‘spiders’ but more like ticks. They can spin silk, and I should have guessed what was up earlier this spring. Tiny white webs bloomed all over he Alberta Spruce. I just thought we had spiders. Mark Shour of the Iowa State University Extension has this to say about the spider mite:

“The spruce spider mite and the twospotted spider mite feed on many of the evergreens. The spruce spider mite Is active during spring and late fall when temperatures are cool. This pest generally restricts its feeding to evergreens, with the exception of yews. Feeding damage often goes unnoticed until the hot, dry summer when spruce spider mites leave the needles and enter a resting period (called aestivation). “

Yes, yes, that’s exactly what happened. The damage can be seen in these rust colored spots on the south side of the bush. Here’s the close-up.


The State University of Iowa article goes on to talk about solutions, as if I wanted to keep those ‘boring’ Alberta Spruce. For those wanting to know:

“Spraying a forceful stream of water (syringing) on plants can be effective in controlling spider mite populations in the home landscape. This method requires persistence and dedication. The use of insecticidal soap or horticultural oil (1 to 2 percent) applications also decreases or eliminates spider mite populations. Pesticides are available that are specific to mites (e.g., Hexygon, Mavrik Aquaflow, Ornamite, Morestan), long-lasting, and kill eggs, but these miticides are available only through a professional applicator. Most products available to the homeowner are broad spectrum (e.g., malathion) and kill mites as well as many types of insects.”

Advice I’m not planning to take. This fall, we’ll remove the three Alberta Spruce (one on the south side) and with them, three yews along my front walk. I have a hydrangea that will stay.


I’m thinking a North American Fringe Tree at the corner by the drive, flanked by hydrangeas. On the south, a black Elderberry. Maybe some daylilies. Or iris. A sedum carpet ground cover.

But these are just ideas. Thoughts anyone?

Scraping Weeds

This is the time of year when I hear my mother’s voice advising me to “get the whole root!” Mom – who passed on 20 years ago and more – was referring, of course, to pulling weeds. Taking out the entire root means that the weed won’t grow back. At least, not that particular weed plant. At least, according to my mother.

I’ve been pulling weeds by hand for as long as I’ve had gardens. Careful to get the entire root, I weed with a trowel, just in case my fingers alone can’t get the job done. But every year, without fail, the weeds overtake me. I then wait for a cool or rainy, or cool and rainy day to spend in the garden, yanking those pesky thugs out by the roots.

There’s gotta be an easier way, right? Unfortunately, glyphosate isn’t it.

This year – like every year since I retired – I started off with a commitment to daily weeding. And this year – like every year – a couple of rainy days defeated my best efforts.

The May/June issue of TAG (The American Gardener magazine from the American Horticultural Society ) included an article by Thomas Christopher entitled “Winning the War on Weeds.” Exactly what I need!

The first bit of advice caused me to stumble. “Snip, don’t rip” was the suggestion. Evidently, tearing a plant out by the roots disturbs the soil, leaving an opening for more weed seeds to germinate. Okay, so does that mean Mom was wrong?

I then remembered a bit of EMG training advice that I heard but didn’t adopt: don’t disturb the soil by hoeing or tilling. Instead, scrape the ground with a sharp hoe.

Really? Putting these two things together, I got out the nearest thing I could find to a “sharp hoe” – no idea what it’s called.


With it, I tried to scrape some weeds. Sort of worked but not really.

So Amazon to the rescue. I searched for ‘sharp garden hoe’ and came up with many different options, including this Niasku Weeding Scraper Garden Tool . I selected this option because of price – less than $15 – and no shipping. Here it is!


Careful now. That edge is sharp!

I wanted to clear the plot that once contained string beans until I decide what next to plant there. (The rabbits got the shoots – another story for another day.) Here’s what the plot looked like when I started.


Here’s what it looked like when I finished – less than 5 minutes later.


On a good day, it would have taken me half an hour to clear this bed by pulling up every weed by its roots.

I’m not exactly playing fair here. First, the TAG article admitted that snipping – or as I interpreted it, scraping – only weakens the weed. Another snip or scrape may be needed. And without the shade provided by desirable plants, weeds will overtake the garden once again. Why? Because it takes sun to germinate weed seeds. Or almost any kind of seed, for that matter. Crowding out the weeds with desirable plants is key. So I need to decide what will go in that bed PDQ.

I ‘weeded’ five garden beds in less than an hour. Pretty amazing. Even if I have to do it all again tomorrow.

Broken Promises

I promised myself not to start another garden. We have plenty to care for. The front landscaping – boring yews and dwarf Alberta Spruce – need twice-a-year pruning. The front garden is huge and needs daily weeding. The shade garden to the north of the house must be weeded and watched for slugs. The three – yes three – backyard gardens need water every-other-day and, oh yes, weeding. The fifteen newer trees need buckets hauled every week without rain.

Tired yet?

Last but not least, I have nine raised beds, more or less filled with vegetables. Weed, water, check for bugs.

It takes a lot of time. I have no need for another garden. And I promised.

One of my favorite extension master gardener stories involves a couple who had to tear out gardens that they spent years building in order to sell their house. People just don’t want the responsibility and work of many gardens.

But there’s that garden of rusty things and Jim did such a nice job with edging and mulch. I probably wouldn’t have planted anything new except for my (bad) habit of trolling the internet where I stumbled on Smokey’s Daylilies.


After two hours of drooling on their site  and some time  wondering where I could plant a whole bunch of new daylilies, I thought of the already prepared bed in my garden of rusty things. Too tempting.

I love daylilies.  All shapes, sizes, and colors, they bloom prolifically in the middle of summer.   They don’t seem to be terribly fussy about clay soil and can go more than a week without watering.  Carefree?  Well, not exactly.  They need to be weeded – everything does. Fall clean-up is a must to get rid of the dead leaves.  They should be divided every couple of years, otherwise they get too big to bloom. But even if you forget the clean-up and the dividing this year, you can do it next without the plants tanking.  Very forgiving plants.

I bought eight different hybrids, including one that I’ve coveted for a couple of years and haven’t found anywhere else. Each order came with two ‘fans’ and Smokey’s sent me a free gift – eighteen to plant. As of this morning, it looks like they’ll all survive.


If all goes well, they’ll flower next summer. Can’t wait.

And, yes, absolutely, positively, no more gardens.

A Garden of Rusty Things Redux

Some background. As a young girl, I daydreamed about making things in the world perfect. I aimed for straightness, evenness, symmetry, and uniformity. No doubt about it, my ideal was a matchy-matchy universe.

I like to think I’ve outgrown that striving for balanced proportion. But no, my ideal garden is the parterre. In fact, one of the attractions of our property was its flatness, a main consideration in designing a parterre garden.

It soon became obvious that a parterre was not in the cards, at least not in this lifetime. Flat land, yes, but overrun by weeds and scrubby trees. When it rains, our backyard turns into a swamp. When it doesn’t rain, the ground develops wide cracks.

Given the money, time, and energy to design and build the hardscape to support a parterre, I’d be set. Sadly, those are the three things I don’t have.


Add to these deficits the fact that I have absolutely no sense of design. I did what I could by edging the newly planted trees – brick in the front, rubber in the back. (All thanks to Jim’s expertise.)


Still. Last year, in an effort to overcome my striving for the perfect yard, I decided on a garden of rusty things. Jim started me off with the old 500-gallon gas tank – we no longer have to drive into Kansas City every weekday and no longer need that much gas.

Followed by an old car frame, partway buried in ground and up on its side. The car frame wouldn’t stay straight in the ground thanks to our prairie winds. Now added to its imperfection is the bar running from the gas tank to the frame. Jim is infinitely inventive!


Then I saw a picture of this amazing archway covered with yellow roses and purple clematis. The photo was in a flower catalog where things are always perfect. I turned the page…

And then, while trolling one of the big box stores, I found the exact climbing yellow rose offered in that catalog. I could not resist. Stumbling over a pot of Happy Jack clematis sealed the deal.


“How are we going to mow this?” Jim asked. Oh yes, I forgot Kansas weeds. My solution was to encircle the area very much like we’ve done with the trees, using plenteous mulch. And while I went shopping yesterday, the good elves got the job done. (Thank you, Jim!)

Couldn’t resist the star. Jim figured out how to hang it so it doesn’t blow in the wind.


Maybe I’ll put coleus and an ornamental grass in the old stainless steel sink. Too bad it isn’t one of the cool enamel ones. I have an old, rusty wagon that will tart it up some more.


Here it is – so far – a garden of rusty things and some plants, mulch, and edging. I can still daydream about my parterre…


After the Storm


The sweet gum tree reflected on the barn wall after a rain storm. Such a luxury to have the time to notice things like dancing shadows!


Looks like it will be another strange weather year. Too little, then too much rain. Too warm, then too cold. Wonder what that will mean in the garden.

I’m thinking of planting more sugar snap peas while it’s still cool.

A Woman’s Prerogative

Last July, I posted about Harvesting Herbs. Back then, I thought it would be cool to have a small herb garden near my kitchen (near the door to the deck, actually). I had a huge crop of herbs but as winter closed in, the herb garden became an odiferous tangle.

“What’s that smell?” Jim would ask. And I’d reply, “Oh, that’s patchouli.” Or, “Oh, that’s thyme, or the last of the rosemary, or I’m not quite sure…”

And when I say tangle, I mean it. Just clearing the annuals out of that plot took three days!

So this year, I changed my mind.


After clearing everything except the thyme, I planted two nine bark shrubs (Physocarpus) and an oak leaf hydrangea (Ruby Slipper). This year surrounded by nine geraniums, orange and white.

I decided to put down a weed preventer since I wasn’t eating out of this garden anymore. Amazing things to be learned from a pesticide label. The commercials on TV say “Just sprinkle.” Uh no. Not quite that easy. First, this weed preventer is toxic to humans and animals. Protective gear is in order. Sprinkle on TOP of the mulch when the plants are DRY and then water in immediately.

Who knew?

My message for this week is the same as last week’s – read your pesticide label! As for the changing garden design, well, that’s my womanly prerogative.