Green gardening FAQs
Simply keep your mulch layer topped up over the summer. All you need to do is layer bits and pieces of organic matter on top of your soil.
What can you recycle from your own garden and neighbourhood? Use a mix of dry and wet products to create a balanced mulch – leaf mould, seaweed, grass clippings, aged manures, mushroom compost, hay, homemade compost, vermicast or peastraw.
Mulching a little and often is the best way. Do not let any dirt be bare in your garden this summer, and think of bare dirt as dead dirt. Dead dirt is either a bottomless thirsty pit, or a water repellent with the water running off the hard surface, which does not support plants to be healthy.
- Mulch! Mulch! Mulch! Mulch is very important
Mulch provides a protective skin over your garden keeping moisture in and providing a dark, moist environment in which to keep your soil organisms happy.
Before you mulch your garden make sure it has a good soak and a good feed (use things like liquid seaweed, blood and bone, compost). As soon as your garden is nice and moist, mulch.
For extra summer staying power layer wet newspaper beneath your mulch. If you use wood-based mulches it is important to add some nitrogen like blood and bone, chook poo or compost. Wood and sawdust chew up nitrogen as they break down, robbing your plants of this important mineral.
- Living mulches are the height of low maintenance
A living mulch is simply a mulch made up of plants – that is a garden with no gaps in it.
If you have any gaps in your garden throw in some wild flower seeds, green crop seeds, low growing herbs, vegetables or flowers (such as lawn chamomile, violets, chickweed, heartsease, miner’s lettuce) to scramble around and cover the ground for you over summer.
It is essential to protect your soil from the harsh sun and drying wind and to keep the moisture in. Plants grow best in a community. Notice how well the plants that are closely grouped together in your own garden grow. As well as keeping your soil and plants healthy, there is no room for weeds either!
- Use deeper rooting plants
Planting plants, such as comfrey, chicory, parsnip and fruit trees, around the edges of your garden mine minerals from the deep, cycle them to the top and help break up the soil.
- Grow green crops as part of your crop rotation (or in your garden’s down times).
They grow very quickly smothering the weeds, nourishing your soil and cleaning up after a crop.
- chop them down just as they set flower and use them as mulch;
- leave them over Winter to grow into a precious carbon crop;
- add them to a compost pile;
- dig them back into the garden bed they grew in.
- Leave the weeds alone if you have no plants or mulch to replace them with.
Take your time before you rip things out! They may be doing a good job for you - protecting your soil, or plants, or enticing beneficial insects. Be more interested in the vitality of your soil and garden than a tidy yard.
“Wild areas” are important in permaculture design. Leave an area of grass to grow long and enjoy the beauty of their seedheads blowing in the wind and maybe a few wild flowers popping up amongst them. You will very quickly begin to see insects buzzing around. These will become your garden workers keeping your pest populations under control.
If you turn some lawn into wild meadow you can mow paths through it for easier access, less mowing and a very attractive, easy care garden!
- Add at least 5cm of compost to your garden every year to maintain fertility.
Make your own compost and have the pleasure of turning all your waste into black gold to then return to the soil. Invest some time in creating an easy to manage compost system so you use it.
We should all have a rainwater tank
There are many styles of rainwater tank available – ones for under the house, between the house and garage, or bladders which squeeze beneath your deck.
Rainwater collection is a sustainable solution and you will be amazed at how much water you collect off your roof. Find a tank to suit you this summer and get ready to install one in the autumn.
What is the most efficient way to water?
Water with a hand-held hose, a watering can or soaker hose for maximum efficiency.
Sprinklers are hugely inefficient. Every hour your sprinkler spreads about 1,000 litres – a great percentage of which is lost to evaporation. As far as plant health is concerned sprinklers are not great either – they only encourage shallow root growth.
A deep soak is important for overall plant health, because when your plant sends down long strong roots to find water it gains access to a wider range of nutrition, and builds strength against wind. A deep soak is much better for your community water supply, too.
Where do you water?
Water at the roots of your plants, where they need it. There is no water wasted here, and no danger of fungal problems with wet leaves.
A long gentle soak of the soil is the ultimate for the plant. If a soaker hose does not suit your budget, then insert upside down bottles with their bases cut off. Fill the bottle to the top and let the water slowly soak in during the day.
If you are growing vegetables trenches are great, too. Create shallow trenches between your rows and soak the trenches with water using your hand-held hose. It is the roots that need the moisture to grow the good tops.
Which plants do you water?
If your plant is not thirsty, then do not water it.
Check first before watering: what is your plant telling you?
- Are the leaves parched, curled or wilted?
- Or is your plant happily standing to attention?
- How does the soil feel? Push your finger right in. It is okay if the top layer is dry, but below that it should feel moist.
Newly planted trees and plants will need a good soak every now and then. Fruit trees and vegetables will need regular irrigation to keep fruit healthy and plump.
Containers will need crystals in them to retain water, and place them in the semi-shade to stop them guzzling water.
Well-planned perennial borders should not need any water, and lawns do not either.
When do you water?
Any time the sun is not beating down evaporating the water as fast as you are spreading it.
Early morning is the best time to soak your garden because having a slightly dry garden at night helps slow the slugs down. It also helps prevent fungal problems.
Check before you water because gone are the days of watering habitually. Poke your finger in a full finger depth. Is your soil moist? If it is then leave the watering for another day.
Group plants close to save water
If you group your plants closely then you will be retaining a lot more water in your garden. Try groups instead of rows. Make sure you have no bare soil in sight. If your plants are in pots, grouping them together will stop them drying out so fast.
Plants grow better in a community; together they protect the soil from the sun and wind, keeping the moisture in and the all-important soil biology active.
Use big rocks or bits of driftwood to double as garden art and soil protection.
Invest in a good hose
Cheap hoses leak in the blink of an eye. If your hose leaks fix it immeidately!
Make sure you always have a few hose connectors on hand to fix leaks as they occur. Every now and then re-do the hand-held attachment to avoid it leaking. Simply take the attachment off and use sharp secateurs to cut off the end of the hose and re-fit the attachment tightly.
Is your lawn sporting a stripey look?
What a shame that it is only showing you its dry side. This means every time you mow you use the same old pattern – pushing your poor grass over the same way, probably at the same time every Saturday. Your challenge is to break free and mow in the opposite direction every other week! Pushing the grass back up to standing each time you mow is much more handsome and healthy. Now it can show you its nice green tops!
Mowing little and often keeps it thicker, too – thicker lawns mean less weeds and less moisture loss.
The ultimate organic lawn-feeding regime is taking off your catcher and leaving your lawn clippings to lightly sprinkle around your lawn as you mow. This gives your lawn a gentle, natural hit of nitrogen and provides some mulch cover to prevent moisture loss. Just make sure that come the autumn you give your lawn a vigorous going over with a rake to get rid of any thatch build up.
Did you know you may be making your lawn brown just by overdoing chemical fertiliser?
Chemical fertilisers create an acid environment which most weeds love, but worms and soil organisms hate. You are better off to support below soil life by gently feeding lawns with lime, blood and bone or seaweed.
Worms do a great job of looking after your lawn. They aerate it and constantly bring minerals up from below. Without worms your soil is unhealthy, and without healthy soil your lawn is unhealthy.
Tough, practical grasses like ryes prefer alkaline soil, too.
If you have clovers in your lawn – you don’t know how lucky you are!
Clovers are from the legume family and fix nitrogen in your soil. They feed your lawn for free! They also capture dew very nicely in their round leaves providing extra moisture. They develop strong root systems to support grasses and fight off weeds. If you keep the tops mowed you will have a nice thick green sward, and if you leave the tops on you have your own wildflower meadow. Clover grows fast from seed, so if you have a bare patch try some.
Notice how the only lovely bit of lawn in February is the spot under the tree?
Trees are hugely beneficial to the overall wellbeing of your garden. All your plants will do much better under the protection of a small tree. Trees mine minerals from the deep and cycle them to the top. They improve and stabilise soil structure, retain water and soften the blow of wind and rain.
Choose your trees carefully. How tall can your tree grow before it blocks out your sun or view? If you only have room for a three or four metre tree then choose accordingly. Choose trees that will not need a big, expensive prune each year. Deciduous trees provide you with lots of free mulch in the autumn and let in winter sun. Consider a fruit tree for lovely blossom and fruit to eat. Or a light dappled tree like a kowhai to feed the birds. Choose one that will not get too dark and oppressive. And do not plant your trees until autumn.
Whatever you choose, think carefully. A tree is for life.