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Question #1

Imagekdalways asks: I want nice, rich, dark soil, without pumping chemicals into it. Is that too much to ask? I've been adding horse manure for a couple years, but it seems to make little difference. What do I need to add, or what is ideal for a vegetable garden? I live in MI and my garden is about 12x20.

sallyg answwers: You are certainly on the right track, and I applaud your commitment to organic gardening. The addition of organic content is good for almost any soil. You probably just need to be persistent and increase your efforts. Organic matter in soil is being constantly consumed during the growing season, so whatever you add this year does not all remain for next year. Maybe you can find more organics to add to the garden. Do you save all grass clippings and autumn leaves? Can you scrounge those from your neighbors too? Could you start a compost bin? Now that we are at the end of the main growing season, you might take any organics you can find and spread them all over the garden. Over winter they'll begin to decompose. Many gardeners have learned to build layers of organics on the garden, which they then plant right into several months later; its called 'lasagne gardening.' You can find several good articles about composting and lasagne gardening here in Dave's Garden.
If I do a little math:
12 feet by 20 feet = 144 inches by 240 inches, or 34,560 square inches. To cover that all, one inch deep, would take 20 cubic feet of material, or about ten average mulch bags full. That would be a minimum I would say for adding horse manure once a year. Fall leaves are much fluffier and you could do several inches of them, preferably topped with manure to help them rot. And I'd venture to say, if you don't think you are seeing an improvement in your soil yet, you just are not adding more than the garden uses each year. It is hard work loading in that organic stuff but it will eventually pay off!


Question #2

SWS asks: My house sits on shale, and every time I turn a bed, plant a bush-- even mow the grass, I dig up stones. Some are large enough to build dry stack walls, but most are too small (maybe 5" by 8" roughly, or smaller.) After several years I have piles of these stones hiding in the back of my yard. Does anyone have any suggestions for what I might do with them?

Sundownr answers: Hi SWS,
You may have the perfect yard to grow several perennial Mediterranean herbs as well as several annual herbs! They need good drainage that a rocky soil environment would give. Visit a plant nursery near you to choose varieties that would be winter-hardy for your area, like oregano, thyme, sage, and lavender. Some may need protection during harsh winter storms.

The photo on the left shows my own small herb garden (today) set in a bed of stones between two buildings. There are beds of garden soil on either side for other plants (strawberries), gravel and decorative river rocks purchased by the truckload, larger rocks from digging in the yard, and miscellaneous recycled concrete pads and bricks for the stepping stones. Some of the plants are new so they're still small, others have just been harvested for the last time, or they're annuals killed by the last cold snap.

For more information on how to set up an herb garden with rocks, please read my article "Herbs Like Rocks: the Mediterranean Climate" ( http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/2197/ ). I hope you can turn your yard situation into a real bonus of edible and medicinal plants!

Thanks for posting,
Bev Walker

Question #3

ImageTxYardLady asks: I picked some green pods from an existing Pride of Barbados plant. Can I use the seeds to grow a plant for myself? Should I have selected pods that were more brown than green? What are the best pods to pick?
Also, what kind of soil should I use when I plant the seeds?
This is such a beautiful plant and I want one in my yard.

palmbob answers: I don't think the green pods contain on ripe seeds of Caesalpinia pulcherimma, but try to plant them if you want. I have this plant and the seeds basically plant themselves when they are ready (you can literally hear the seed pods popping in the yard which they do most of September here, though I think they are pretty much done by now (end of October). Brown seed pods are the best ones to collect, just before they burst open. Those seeds are usually very easy to germinate with moderate heat and in any normal potting mix. If you get seedlings I would transfer them once they have grown for a few months, to a pot with a cactus soil mix and water them carefully. Do not let them dry out, but be sure the soil drains really well. I recommend fairly high light, as the ones I grew in some shade all rotted. The pods in my image aren't ready yet. That's about it, really. When ready, they are pale brown, and split, curl and the shot of the seeds being ejected can be heard from the other side of the yard... New seedlings show up in pots as well as around the area.

Question #4

ImageJiminez_Garden asks: I've been collecting seed from various rose bushes and I don't really know anything about raising them. Can you tell me if its possible and how so.

Melody answers:

Yes, you can grow roses from seed. That is how rose breeders develop new cultivars. They cross two different roses and grow out the resulting seed. Chances are, your new roses won't be exactly like the parents, but it will be a fun way to get new roses for free. For those who are unfamiliar with the process, roses produce a fruit called rose hips, and that is where you'll find the seeds. When the rose hips ripen, they'll usually be red or orange, sometimes yellow. Break the hips open and collect the seed. There will be as few as one, or maybe a half dozen. To get the best germination percentage, the seeds do not need to dry out like most seeds you are familiar with. Fresh rose seed needs to stay moist to be viable. My image to the left shows ripe hips and some rose seeds in front of the blossoms. My Abraham Darby was generous enough to have produced some late autumn blooms, so we'll enjoy them in this article, but the red hips are from my Jacobite Rose that bloomed earlier this spring.

There are several camps on preparing the rose seeds and some say that they need to be thoroughly cleaned and soaked in a solution of purified water and hydrogen peroxide. If you'll clean the hip material off of your seeds, you should be fine. Rose seeds do not need to dry out, so keep that in mind. They do need 90 days of stratification, which means they'll need to spend most of the winter in your refrigerator crisper.

Dampen a thick paper towel with water and drip a bit of hydrogen peroxide on it to help prevent mold. Fold your seeds inside the paper towel and put in a zip lock baggie. Mark the date on the bag and place in your refrigerator for 90 days.

At the end of 90 days you can sow the seeds in damp potting mix and place in a cool area. Rose seeds do not like heat for germination, so think of them as green peas that are planted in early spring. Do not let the containers dry out and when the little shoots start to appear, gradually move them to a sunny area. Not all of the seeds will germinate, but you should get some new little rose plants. Depending on the type of rose you've collected seeds from, they might bloom the first year, and they might take as long as three years.

Question #5

ImageGalFriday asks: I am looking to plant some shrubs in front of my home. It is partial shade, well drained soil, with irrigation. I would like to have shrubs that flower pink and have long lasting flowers from June(ish) through the middle to end of August. Any help or suggestion would be greatly appreciated.

carrielamont answers: You're in Massachusetts, like me, zone 7 in your case. How about a hydrangea? I have 'QuickFire' with which I am well pleased, but take a look at the varieties of hydrangea which flower reliably pink (as opposed to being pH dependent); there are many more than when I acquired my QuickFire, and even then my only requirement was that it flower before fall! Hydrangeas hold their blooms for a long while and are even good candidates for drying!

Remember, if you have a gardening question that you would like to suggest for this feature, post it here. Our writers and admins will handpick a few of your questions and answer them in an upcoming Ask-a-Gardener, one of our Saturday morning features. Other questions may be moved to one of our other forums so your fellow members can help you.

Sundownr, carrielamont and palmbob supplied their own images and they are used with their permission.