Hold my hand

Port Sanilac, MI

Someone please hold my hand and walk me through because I can't seem to picture what to do. I have a garden of perennials and I understand I am supposed to topdress. I have no idea how. I can buy a bag of manure/compost. Then what do I do? Sprinkle the bag over the plant? It says to work it in. How can I work anything in the middle of the plant (such as coneflower, daylily or hydrangea)? How do I work it in around the outside? Scratch the top inch? Dig down 3 inches with a shovel? If I do that, won't I kill the roots?

My questions get worse. If I put an inch of manure/compost around and in the plant every year for 3 years, won't I have a big mound where the plant is? The problem I have with that is that the water would run right off. Is that a correct assumption? (I can't even began to think what the mound would look like after a dozen years}

If I use the manure/compost correctly (the way some kind person is going to explain to me), do I need to use any other fertlizer? The way it is now, I throw a handful of 12-12-12 in the plant in the spring and water it in. "They" say to work it in too but as I said, I don't know how to work anything into the middle of a plant. Yes, I do know that some plants need extra this or that and I could probably figure out how to do that once I know how to use compost.

One more rather unrelated question; Mulch. "They" say not to let the mulch touch the stem of the plant. How can I mulch hydrangeas without touching the stems? Just put it around the outside?

Please, please someone explain all this to me because I just don't know how to improve my garden. Thank you.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

First of all don't EVER, EVER put a handful of 12-12-12 directly on ANY plant EVER - your plant will die!

Top dress means to put a thinish layer on the ground around your plants. There's no need to dig it in, the rain or your water hose will wash the compost into the ground.

No need to worry about large "mounds" building up. The microoranisms and earthworms will feed on the compost which will, in turn, feed your soil and breakdown over time - then you add more compost. Chemical fertilizers kill microorganisms and drive away earthworms.

Once you have top dressed with your compost, sprinkle a small amount of organic fertilizer around the edge of each plant (follow label directions), then add no more than one to two inches of mulch over that. Keep the mulch away from the stems of your plants, otherwise the stems will rot. Keep mulch away from tree trunks, too.

Earthworms are a gardeners best friend.

I've been gardening for nearly 60 years.

Thumbnail by HoneybeeNC
Port Sanilac, MI

Honeybee, thanks for your help. Do I understand you to say not to put any compost ,fertilizer or mulch into the middle of the plants, just around the outside? Kay

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

YEs that is correct. Put the stuff around, thats where the roots are reaching out to look for food and water.

Port Sanilac, MI

Honeybee, we went outside today and pulled the mulch we applied about a month ago away from the plants and made a mound about 3 inches away. We also added stones next to the plants feeling that they would keep the mulch from moving back. I see some of the stems looked very damp and I could well believe that is not a good thing. I hope this is what we should do.

Two years ago, when I first joined DG, I had a beautiful hydrangea that had died the winter before. I had heard that you should mulch at least 6 inches to protect them from freezing so the fall before, we put 6-8 inches of mulch in the middle of the plant. That spring, when it was dead and we were trying to dig the mulch out in case there was some growth, we wondered if the mulch had killed it. When I asked on the hydrangea forum about it, people gave me all kinds of suggestions but no one seemed to think it was the mulch. Perhaps, noone realized it was in the middle of the plant; not around the outside. We have continued to mulch in the middle but not nearly as heavy. Sure had fun digging it out of my big plants today. lol. What is your opinion?

One more question. I understand you mulch to protect the plants from the cold. If you don't cover them with the mulch, how does that protect them?

I sure appreciate what you have told me because it gives me a whole new perspective.

Morrisville, PA(Zone 6b)

Question ....Kay, what are you using for mulch?


Port Sanilac, MI

cypress mulch

Morrisville, PA(Zone 6b)

For the past 2 years I have been using shredded dry leaves. The shredded leaves are pile high (up to 2 ft) and completely cover most of my plants and bushes. I remove most of the shredded leaf mulch in March and place in large trash bags. The shredded leaves stashed in the trash bags were all used up by the end of June. Everything thrived.

Shredded leaves have been a terrific weed deterent for me.


Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

kays_camelot - Hopefully someone else can give you advice on what to cover your plants with over the winter. Having gardened in the south for so many years, I've lost track of such ideas. I've seen gardening shows were burlap has been used to protect small trees and shrubs.

Yes, put your compost/fertilizer/mulch around the plants - preferably in that order.

Stones will keep the soil under them damp, so don't put them too close to the stems of plants. They also hide pests like slugs and sow bugs. They are not completely "a bad thing" I have a small shady area with flowers were I have large stones for decoration.

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