Skip to content

Jerrys Blog

Jerry’s Mulches, Amendments, and Soils

Mulching your garden is very important.  Just think about all the weeds popping up this spring, and the hot summer days to follow.  Mulches can beat down weeds, and help retain moisture while giving your garden a clean feeling.  At Jerry’s we carry 5 types of mulches, each with pros and cons. Some can be worked in to improve soil quality , while others can actually rob the soil of nutrients.  Different mulches decompose at different rates, bark mulches decompose at a much slower rate than organic mulches like cocoa beans, etc. Bark chips, or shredded cedar are great for perennial beds, as the mulch will last for a few years.  Cocoa Bean decomposes and becomes part of the soil over time.

TIPS: Applying mulches can be tricky.  Do not cover the crown of perennials, because perennials like Peony’s may not flower if the crown is buried too deep.  You also can waste mulch by applying too thick, although the thicker the layer will make weeds easier to pull out.  Do not walk all over your garden.  Compacting the soil beneath your mulch is not a good idea.  Weeds pull easier from soil that has been worked and not compacted. Each mulch has its pros and cons, here is a list of what we carry, and some ideas why you should use that mulch.

Shredded Cedar Mulch: Forms a nice mat once watered. Easy to apply, just dump a bag, and use a rake to spread the mulch around the bases of your plants.  Easy to walk on.  Long lasting, scent repels insects.

Small Bark Chips: Still “mat” somewhat, but chips are small, and can be affected by high winds.  Great for paths, as chips are small enough not to trip over or create uneven ground.   Long lasting, scent repels insects.

Medium Bark Chips: No matting quality, not the greatest for paths but less prone to blow away.  Great for big gardens, longest lasting of the bark chip mulches.

Cocoa Bean Mulch: Forms a mat once watered. Easy to apply, dump bag and use a broom to spread evenly over the garden.  Can attract dogs, and other animals so think about them as well.  Decomposes, and must be replaced 1 to 2 times per year depending.  Great for vegetables, annuals, and of course perennials too!  Holds more moisture than Cedar Bark, or Chips. Not organic, but a recycled product via the cocoa industry.

Dr. Earth Planting Mix: Not only an organic mulch, but a major soil improvement!  Includes worm castings, bat guano, kelp meal, and seaweed extract.  Also features mycorrhizae soil organisms to improve the fertility of your garden, as well as the drought tolerance of your plants.  Learn more about Dr. Earth soils and other products by visiting their website:  http://www.drearth.com/products/organic-soils/

Here is another link to more information about mulches, we do not carry all of these, but each mulch has an specific use!

Joy Says: “Grow Green!”

Japanese KnotweedEverything is green-green-green these days. We’re all trying to be friendlier to the environment, but much damage has already been done. There are reports every day about the risks of pesticides or groundwater contamination. I’m grateful we live in an area where most of us try to practice being green.

For gardeners, going green can take many forms: being careful about pesticides you use on your plants to keep them healthy and pest-free, and being mindful of invasive species that can take over our native plants and change the ecology of the region.

Crawly Pests

There are natural methods you can use to keep bugs and slugs from feeding on your plants or harming your fruits and vegetables. Here are some specific green ways to keep your garden from being munched:

  • Crush up clean eggshells and place them around plants. Slugs will stay away from the shells’ sharp edges or risk being cut.
  • Earwigs seem to love sandier soil and damp mulch, so look for them there. They can munch on plants quickly. Garlic oil sprays keep them at bay.
  • Keep your cat happy at the same time you fend off aphids, beetles, squash bugs, and ants: Plant catnip! It also repels mice.
  • Adding flowers to your vegetable bed might seem strange, but flowers often stop pests and plant diseases. The white flowering chrysanthemums repel Japanese beetles. Geraniums keep out cabbage worms, Japanese beetles, and beet leafhoppers. Nasturtium deters both bugs and beetles. Pretty petunias keep out asparagus beetle, leafhoppers, aphids, tomato worms, Mexican beetles, and general pests; use the leaves in a tea for a potent bug spray. Planting sunflowers will attract aphids and ants to them instead of your other plants, and sunflowers are tough enough to take it. Sunflowers attract hummingbirds, which eat whiteflies—and you’ll have sunflowers seeds to attract birds later on!
  • Garlic is a famous fungicide because it accumulates sulfur. Garlic it is taken up by neighboring plants through their pores, and if you make garlic tea and drench the soil, it’s also taken up by the plant roots. Garlic is offensive to moths, beetles, root maggots, snails, and carrot root fly. Garlic sprays (a low concentration, about 5%) repel and kill whiteflies, aphids, and fungus gnats.
  • Root plants can lure some pests away from your other crops. Radishes keep leafminers away from spinach, and even though those bugs will eat your radish leaves, the radish roots remain healthy!
  • Ladybugs are usually welcome because they eat aphids and other small pests. However, if you’re being overrun by them—especially if they’re making their way inside—try  putting bay leaves around plants or on windowsills indoors. Sprinkle dried bay leaves in your garden as natural insecticide dust; many bugs don’t like the strong scent.
  • Homemade sauerkraut is a Door County specialty! Plant clover between your cabbage plants to discourage aphids and cabbageworm. This kind of “companion planting” is a natural way of pest management and plants can help each other; nature integrates a diversity of plants, insects, animals, and other organisms into every ecosystem so there is no waste. You can use certain plants as a border, backdrop, or interplanting in flower or vegetable beds. For example, radishes are a deterrent against cucumber beetles. Intercropping onions and leeks with carrots will keep carrot and onion flies from reaching your carrot crop, and onions planted near strawberries keep strawberries disease free. Rosemary is a wonderful herb; interplant it to keep away cabbage moths, bean beetles, and carrot flies. In fact, it seems that any herb you’d use in turkey stuffing seems to work against pests—try planting thyme and sage as well.

Walking Pests

Garlic MustardDeer and rabbits—those are our main adversaries in the garden!

  • Most animals have a keen sense of smell and stay away from odors they dislike or that seem threatening. For instance, human or pet hair hung on plants will keep deer away (bunch it up in a section of pantyhose and tie the ends); if we have a rainy spell, you’ll have to replace the bundles.
  • Clove oil is an unpleasant smell to many animals. You can buy it at a health food store Mix some up with water and spritz on new fruit like apples. Deer won’t even take a bite, and clove oil won’t hurt the fruit.
  • The smell of garlic will keep away deer. Some use a concentrated spray (see above), but others swear by planting time-released garlic capsules at the bases of fruit trees. It’s safe and worth a try…you can ingest the leftover capsules yourself if the method doesn’t work (garlic is great for your health!).
  • Marigolds are known for keeping bunnies away, but you have to choose a variety with the strongest scent. We can lead you to them in the nursery. (Marigolds also repel whitefly and some other flying pests.) Plant as a barrier around tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, and under fruit trees, and potted marigolds are a good idea because they can be moved from spot to spot in your garden.

If your garden is overrun and you must resort to pesticides or chemical deterrents for animals, consult us for the best ones. One error most gardeners make is using too much or in too concentrated a solution. This not only harms the ecology but can ruin your plants, too. Think responsibly about what we put in the garden! In Door County, water quickly runs through the dolomite rock, and all those chemicals reach our drinking supply (for those with wells) and the bay and lake. A good source we often give people is the University of Wisconsin’s horticulture website: http://wihort.uwex.edu/. There’s a wealth of information on all aspects of gardening.

Invasive Species

Purple Loostrife

Not only do we have to watch the water for Asian carp, we have to control invasive species such as phragmites reeds that takes over our shorelines and wetlands, and the green Cladophora algae on our beaches. Your garden has similar problems. The plants look innocent enough—they’re often pretty—but they can take over a garden or plot of land and decreasing out native biodiversity. The Door County Invasive Species Team was formed in 2001, and the group works with nearly 30 businesses or private individuals in Door County to help control plants such as invasive purple loosestrife, white-flowered garlic mustard, and Japanese knotweed.

Invasive species also degrade habitats that birds and butterflies depend upon for reproductive success. If you want to grow green, it’s important to recognize these “volunteers” in your garden. Look at the Invasive Species Team website, http://map.co.door.wi.us/swcd/invasive/index.htm, and you can educate yourself on identifying invasive species, reporting an invasive that may become a problem, and learning how to control them on your own property. With some species, such as garlic mustard, pulling out the entire plant will stop its spread; however, the seeds of a garlic mustard can stay viable in the soil for up to five years. It’s best to bring a sample in to us or send it to UW’s horticulture department if you’re unsure of what you’ve got. A good guideline: If you don’t know it, don’t grow it!

Preparing Your Soil

Preparing soilIt’s the time of year to start preparing your garden, whether you’re planting flowers or looking forward to a bountiful vegetable harvest. Many gardeners don’t like the preparation part of gardening. I can understand that – we’d all rather skip directly to the part where we see green shoots coming up from the ground and becoming full-grown plants.

But once you have a full appreciation of this beautiful peninsula where we live, the subject of soil gets much more interesting. For example, did you know that there are 75 different soil types and sub-types identified in Door County? We have everything from Alpena gravelly sandy loam to Markey muck to Summerville loam. All of our soil comes from glacial or lake material, because between 1.8 million years ago and 10,000 years ago, glacial sheets advanced and retreated several times over our section of the Midwest – sheets that were sometimes two miles thick! Green Bay’s glacial events were responsible for our peninsula’s unique features: the carving out of Green Bay, Lake Michigan, the Niagara escarpment, and forming drumlins (those mounds in the shape of “smooth inverted spoons” you see throughout the county, especially in Liberty Grove, where the glacial deposits are the oldest).

Because of our rocky underlay–that beautiful escarpment–much of our soil is very shallow, especially in Northern Door. In fact, 22% of the soil in the entire county is less than 18” in depth, and another 17% is just 18 to 36 inches in depth. When you think about the challenges involved in Door County gardening, it’s amazing we can grow anything at all!

Door County soil sometimes needs our help to give plants their best chance, which often means amending the soil with minerals or other substances. Yes, there are plenty of minerals in Door County – calcite, dolomite, fluorite, gypsum, hydrocarbons, marcasite, pyrite, and quartz – but they’re all in the rock formations and in quarry digs, not directly in the soil.

Soil studies often talk about our cherries and apples, but the principles of soil fertility also apply to your own backyard plots and flowerbeds. Having fertile soil depends on the soil’s capacity to hold water, its workability, and its natural chemical composition. If you’ve been a gardener for a while, you already know the texture of your soil just by rubbing it between your thumb and fingers. With experience, you’ll become an even better judge. For instance, a coarse sandy soil won’t retain moisture as long as a loam soil or clay loam. The seven types of soils in Door County are classified as clay, silt, very fine sand, fine sand, medium sand, coarse sand, and fine gravel (although “Door County potatoes” have to classify as No. 8!).

Amendments
Here are some quick tips about adding amendments to your soil. You can always come into Jerry’s Flowers with a small soil sample, and we can help you choose just the right additions. One of our favorite suppliers is Dr. Earth. Their additives and fertilizers have been consistently high quality. Pre-mixed formulas such as this don’t require any guesswork on the amount of minerals or other supplements. Dr. Earth is all organic, tailored to the type of vegetable or flowers you’re planting, and even contain beneficial soil microbes. Here’s a quick checklist of soil amendments dos and don’ts:
• Amendments are materials you mix into the soil; mulches go on top of the soil.
• Soil amendments are meant to aerate soil, give it better water-holding power, and improve nutrition. For instance, a clay-like soil is very compact and needs additives that loosen the soil, leaving room for roots to branch out and grow.
• Wood products are not the best idea for amendments or soil; they can tie up the nitrogen in soil, and when used on top of soil, they are a big attraction to pests like termites.
• Soil amendments can be organic or inorganic. Organic amendments include grass clippings, straw, compost, manure, biosolids, and sphagnum peat. Inorganic amendments include vermiculite, perlite, pea gravel and sand. We prefer organic amendments that increase contain plant nutrients and also act as an energy source for bacteria, fungi, and earthworms that live in the soil.
• Some forms of compost can be high in salts. Raspberry, strawberry, bean, carrot, onion, viburnum and many other landscape plants are salt sensitive.

Above all, ask us! We’ll be glad to evaluate your soil and the challenges you’re having, and then recommend the best solution for your garden.

Keeping Cut Flowers Fresh

Whether cut flowers are grown in a home garden or in a greenhouse by commercial experts, their care is a science.

To keep cut flowers beautiful longer; remember that they have been removed from their source of water, the root system, and will wilt quickly if not placed in water. Cut stems should be placed in water immediately, as air will rapidly move into the water-conducting tissues and plug the cells. This is why the cut flower that has been out of water more than a few minutes should have a small portion of the lower stem cut off so that water will move up freely when it is returned to water. Cuts can be made under-water to assure no air enters the stem.

A cut flower also has been removed from a major source of food—the leaves on the plant to which it was attached. Although the leaves on the flowering stem make food, once indoors they are in a reduced light situation and this limits available carbohydrates.
Use a Preservative

Commercial preservatives will increase the life of cut flowers and should always be used. (Adding aspirin, wine, or pennies to cut flowers WILL NOT help to keep them fresh longer. Do not attempt a home brew concoction.) A floral preservative is a complex mixture of sucrose (sugar); acidifier, an inhibitor of microorganisms; and a respiratory inhibitor. Sucrose serves as a source of energy to make up for the loss of the functioning leaves and insures continued development and longevity of the flower.

An acidifier makes the pH of the water more near the acid pH of the cell sap. Most water supplies are alkaline and can reduce the life of cut flowers. The acidifier also stabilizes the pigment and the color of the flower. This is why red roses turn “blue” when placed in water without a preservative or acidifier.

A microorganism growth inhibitor is perhaps the most important part of a floral preservative. Bacteria and fungi are everywhere and are ready to enter the cut surface of the stem and multiply. Prior to actual decay symptoms, cells of the water-transporting tissues can become blocked with microorganisms, inhibiting water uptake.

To aid the floral preservative in slowing down microorganisms, always clean the vase or container. Also remove all leaves below the water surface, as they soon deteriorate. Water and water uptake are major factors in keeping cut flowers fresh.

A process called “hardening” ensures maximum water uptake. It simply means placing the freshly cut stem in 110° F (43.5° C) water (plus preservative). Place in a cool location for an hour or two. Maximum water uptake is attained because water molecules move rapidly at 110° F (kinetic energy) and quickly move up the stems. Flowers at cool temperatures lose less water. In this one brief period while the water is cooling, freshly harvested stems, leaves, and flowers take up almost as much water as in the balance of their life.

Other Tips for Long-Lasting Cut Flowers

Check the water level of the container or vase daily and add water plus preservative when needed.

Keep flowers away from hot or cold air drafts and hot spots (radiators, direct heat, or television sets).

While both drafts and hot spots increase water loss, hot spots reduce a flower’s life by speeding transpiration (water loss) and respiration (use of stored food such as sugars) and increasing development (rate of petal unfolding).

When away from home, move the flowers into the refrigerator or the coldest (above 35° F/1.5° C) spot in the house. Again, this will slow down water loss, respiration, and development.

Never store fruit and flowers together. Apples produce ethylene gas, a hormone that causes senescence, or aging, in flowers.

In summary, to keep cut flowers longer:

• Recut the stems and remove excess foliage.

• Harden the flowers by setting them in warm water in a cool place.

• Use a floral preservative.

• Keep them cool and avoid drafts, hot spots, and television sets.

• Use a clean vase or container and check the water level daily.