As 2013 draws to a close, it’s only fitting that Grumpy and his legions of adoring fans all over the world (and beyond) look back in awe at his 10 top pearls of gardening wisdom guaranteed to bring you joy, success, self-actualization, and the envy of others in the years to come.
The French love their wine, the Aussies love their beer, the Argentinians love cosmetic surgery, and your soil loves organic matter. And what is the best source of free organic matter if you don’t have cows, horses, or congressmen? Falling tree leaves. Don’t send them to landfills! Instead, run over leaves with your mulching mower and either compost them directly onto the lawn (grass likes this) or bag them and toss them into the compost. The best way to loosen hard, clay soil is adding leaf compost every year.
It doesn’t matter if the tree isn’t interfering with the lines. It doesn’t matter if the tree isn’t on a power company easement. All that matters is that you’re not home when the power company pruners descend on your street. Then you will come home one fine afternoon to discover your beautiful, 30-foot sugar maple has been carved into a giant, living toothbrush. So do yourself a favor and don’t plant anything near the lines that grows as tall as the lowest line. I replaced this tree with a dogwood. Hope that’s OK.
Mounding up more than 2 inches of mulch around trees is bad for several reasons. Tree roots can grow into the mulch instead of the soil, making the tree less drought-resistant. Bugs and critters can hide in the mulch and bore into the trunk. Mulch volcanoes also reduce the oxygen supply to roots, while aiding harmful soil microbes that produce toxins. Mulch should never touch the trunk of a tree or shrub. There. I said it. So it shall be done.
The big, bright-orange fruits look like tomatoes on a tree. They taste sweet and delicious. The trees that bear them love the Southern climate, have no pests, don’t need spraying, and are as goof-proof as they can be. They’re called Japanese persimmons. And if you’ve shied away from growing fruit trees because they’re too much trouble, meet these no-spray, no-fuss trees that even an Inca mummy could grow.
Allow Grumpy to quash one stupid myth about poinsettias that keeps some people from enjoying them. They do not spontaneously combust. Never happens. They are also not poisonous. If you want to poison yourself, eat an azalea or daffodil. But a poinsettia, while not tasty, is not toxic. So as Deputy Fife used to say, let’s nip this one in the bud.
Pesticides are not fine wines. They don’t get better with age. They lose potency over the years and don’t work like they’re supposed to. And if they’re really old, they may be banned by now. So get rid of them. The question is how and where. Contact your city or county sanitation department to see how you can safely dispose of the toxic waste museum in your basement or shed.
What’s the main reason people commit crepe murder? Answer — Their crepe myrtle grows way too big for the spot where it’s planted, such as near the house or power lines. So plant a semi-dwarf crepe myrtle that won’t grow taller than 10 feet and doesn’t need pruning. Choices include ‘Acoma’ (white), ‘Delta Jazz’ (lavender), ‘Early Bird’ (lavender or white), ‘Red Rooster’ (red), ‘Siren Red’ (red), and ‘Velma’s Royal Delight’ (purple).
No matter what kind of grass you have, cut it no shorter than two inches. That’s how high Grumpy cuts his Bermuda lawn (above) and it looks great. Three inches tall is even better for bluegrass, tall fescue, St. Augustine, and buffalograss. Grass mown tall reduces weeds by quickly fills up empty spots where weeds would otherwise grow. And by shading the soil surface, it prevents weed seeds that need sunlight to sprout from doing so. Three more benefits:
1. Tall grass needs less water. It stays green even in droughts.
2. Tall grass needs less fertilizer, because tall grass blades make more food.
3. Tall grass is easier to mow (with a power mower) and produces less clippings.
At the end of the growing season, pick, wash, and dry any green tomatoes. Then lay them on a counter top in a cool, dry place (I prefer granite, because of my superb taste). Make sure they don’t touch. Watch them ripen over the next few weeks. If they don’t, make yourself some fried green tomatoes.
Editor of the Daily South, travel editor, and pop culture aficionado, Erin Street (above) is a veritable font of knowledge when it comes to shoes, South Beach, Cuban sandwiches, and Broadway shows. But when it comes to gardening, she is a waif in the wilderness. Ask her to bring you a spade and she’ll come back with a playing card. If there’s someone like this in your family or neighborhood, remember two things. Don’t lose patience. And don’t leave them alone with a rototiller.