Thursday, October 22, 2015

Why I Hate Landscape Fabric

I'm sorry, but I have to vent. As a horticulturist, there is nothing more irritating than arguing with "landscapers" who endorse the use of this:

Landscape Fabric

For every reason they use to recommend its use in garden beds, I have 5 reasons not to use it. It comes in various forms and I dislike every kind.

I've come to realize, most landscapers who use it horticulturally never maintain these sites after the installation.

Have you ever maintained dozens of locations with it on a daily basis? I have.

Here are some samples and proof of its redundancy:

1. Instead of repelling weeds, it does the above. It provides a great place where degrading mulch allow grass and other weeds to grow quite happily above the fabric.

2. You have to add a thick layer of mulch in order to hide the fabric. The combo depth of the mulch and fabric only allow minor amounts of moisture to actually reach plant roots. Wonderful.

3. Unavoidable left over, overlapped, excess fabric repels water and stunts root growth in these areas.  Not to mention, it pops out and people pull on it, thinking it's garbage. Disturbing the whole look. These burning bushes above are 4 years old. They are still about the same size as when they were initially planted.

4. As the plant matures, its roots stick to the underside of the fabric and so when you try to remove a weed growing on top (that has rooted through), you wind up lifting the fabric, damaging tender fibrous roots of perennials and shrubs you're trying to protect.

5. I have seen dozens of perennials die from drought because this fabric does not allow enough rainfall to keep surface roots moist. The mulch on top gets damp, but no water seeps through beneath.

6. When the mulch composts, the fabric acts as a barrier and doesn't let the degraded material come in contact with the soil beneath.

7. When you rake debris off the mulch you expose the fabric. Taking off more mulch than leaves and unwanted debris.

8. This shiny black fabric absorbs heat and bakes the roots beneath.

9. A thin layer (2-3 inches) mulch on top of landscape fabric easily washes away during heavy rain storms.

10. It chokes the crown of perennials, making them stunted. These perennials were planted 4 years ago. Half the size they should be. The hole made in the fabric strangles the crown.

11. To lift and divide perennials or to remove dead ones, you end up damaging the fabric, causing frayed edges - making a complete mess.

Grrrrrr.  I could go on...

Folks - if you insist on using this fabric, use it for weed control under trees and larger shrubs that are not situated in planting beds. Cut large holes into the fabric to account for mature growth. And PLEASE, use the biodegradable kind. The kind that will slowly degrade and not become a tangled mess after 4 to 5 years.

Truly, I think the kind used in the photos above, should only be used in hardscaping installations.

Ah, I feel better now. ;)

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Collecting Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) Flowers For Tea

I am lucky to live near a field full of Red Clover.

Trifoilium pratense
It grows everywhere at this site! No chemicals are sprayed, it's wild and this resource is just lovely - free. One bonus, the turf only gets mowed once a month, so this clover constantly revives and renews bloom.

As the botanical name indicates, it has three leaved foliage (tri-folium). Also notice the greyish green band on each leaf, as a clear ID marking.

Growing close to the ground, sometimes hidden in the grass.

Flowers stand taller from the base foliage and can easily be seen from a distance.

Last week, even this late in the season, I stopped and finally picked a paper-bag full. Why?

Many of my grow your own, DIY gardening books mention Red Clover as one of the best herbs, suited for tea. It has many medicinal properties and is known to be refreshing mixed with peppermint tea.

To Pick:  You want lovely pink flowers that are more pink than brown, like the photo below. When picking, place the base of the flower between your index and middle finger and with your thumb pull up and the flower will easily pop off without being damaged. You can leave the basal leaves, but I remove as many as I can while picking.

How I dried them:

First, I washed them. I am sure there are those who believe washing the flowers will reduce the medicinal potency, but how many little bugs I saw in the bag after collecting made my mind up. WASH. I washed with cold water and let them soak for a minute or two.

When removing leaves or extra stem length, I dipped them into another bowl to shake off any bugs. I tried my best to get rid of them, but some were so tiny. After shaking off the excess water, I laid them down on a roasting pan with holes and clean paper towels to help dry them off further.

Above: you can see all the bits and little bugs at the bottom of the bowl. Be thorough - some of these bugs were thrips. You don't want thrips to come into your home if you have beloved house plants.

I decided to use my dehydrator for drying. I would rather just let it sun dry in a window sill, but this dehydrator will make sure any unwanted bugs will not stay on the flowers.

I laid them out with a lot of space between each flower. This allows a lot of air to circulate around each so they dry evenly.

I set the dehydrator at the lowest setting. It may take longer, but I want the flowers to hold as much of their natural potency as possible.

 I dried them over-night.

The vibrant pink colour has diminished a bit, although much of the flowers kept their coloration. I read that the flowers should have more pink than brown after drying.

The flowers should be dry to the touch, but not crispy. The florets should still stay intact.

To avoid squishing them, I decided to store the dried flowers in a mason jar. I poked a few holes in the top lid and will store it in my dark pantry. Ready to make some tea.