By Linda Richmond
The days have been warm and sunny, the crocus and daffodils are blooming, the elm trees bloomed weeks ago, and local gardeners have the urge to plant something. In the vegetable garden, peas, lettuce and carrots can go in now. Surveying my meager compost pile, I wondered if I could plant a cover crop to produce “green manure.” Cover crops are usually planted in the fall, when I’ve been either too busy or too tired of gardening,
weeding, harvesting, and canning to care about planting again. I consulted with Walt Hennes of Southwest Seeds in Cortez, Colorado. Southwest Seeds specializes in seed for range and pasture, but they are also very helpful to the homeowner. They carry seed for lawns, wildflower gardens, and cover crops, in bulk or smaller amounts. All of the personnel we have met are both knowledgeable and helpful, whether you’re planting a few hundred square feet or acres. Betty’s Wildflower Mix has been successful for us, and a cover crop of alfalfa effectively eliminated a field of Russian knapweed.
Walt suggested a cover crop of field peas if anyone is desperate to plant now. Field peas will germinate while it’s cool, but more importantly, they won’t freeze if the weather turns cooler again. Winter rye can also be planted now, but it will just lie there until conditions are right (meaning a little warmer) for germination. But if you’re thinking of improving your soil for this year’s garden, you should have done this last fall. According to Walt, unless you can get from 1 – 2 feet of growth to till under, you’re not doing your soil much good. You also need to allow a few weeks between the time you till your crop in and planting time. This allows the bacteria in the soil to begin breaking down the green material.
Although a lot of wildflowers need fall planting, some can be planted in the spring. “If you can irrigate your wildflowers, wait until about mid-April to plant,” Walt advised. “Many of the annual weeds will germinate by then, and you can remove them before you plant. If you can’t irrigate, plant now so you can take advantage of the soil moisture while the weather is still cool. If you wait until the weather warms up, you lose moisture when you work the soil.” Annual wildflowers will offer blooms this season, but perennials will probably not do much until next year.
Betty’s Dry and Wild Wildflower Pasture Mix contains seed of plains coreopsis (coreopsis tinctoria), bachelor’s button (centaurea cyanus), and red flax (linum grandiflorum) for this year’s show while the perennials become established. As well as the wildflower mix, Southwest Seeds offers individual species of flowers, as well as native grasses and shrubs.
Walt also cleared up a few misconceptions about low maintenance lawns. They are not simply neglected lawns, nor are they the first choice for a formal garden or putting green. The grasses are usually coarser, more open and will not hold up as well in traffic as a normal turfgrass, but are a welcome change from mud, dust, or weeds. Buffalo grass and blue grama are becoming popular here. These are warm non grasses which green up later in the year, usually May, and the first good frost can turn them brown again. Cool season grasses green up earlier, but can go dormant in the summer without additional water. A native lawn can be kept about 4 -5 inches high, and needs mowing only a few times all summer, unless you water it heavily.
Corn by-product controls weeds
I have just read about a new organic weed control that is made from a corn product. It inhibits the growth of emerging seeds but doesn’t affect established plants. so it can be used to control weeds in established lawns or around trees, shrubs, and perennials. Maybe I should just work on eliminating weeds and not try to plant anything new until they’re gone. But according to Walt Hennes, that could be up to 10 years. Or maybe I should just encourage the weeds; it might make my life a whole lot easier.
–Read more from the Canyon Echo archive.