Complementary Gardening – A Manifesto

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“Osteospermum on Heliopsis” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – A selection from my garden… Summer 2013…

The common goal of gardening is harmony… Harmony with the earth… Harmony with the plants… Harmony with the animals… Harmony with ourselves… And harmony with each other… This harmony is achieved through successful (and environmentally sound) gardening practices… A gardener that is in harmony with nature, will grow a healthy garden. This garden will flourish, and as a result it will grow the gardener… The purpose of complementary gardening is to bring all aspects of the gardening movement back where they belong… Together…

The methods used are not nearly as important as the frame of mind in which they are used… Even conventional agricultural practices can be picked from when practicing complementary gardening… It is essentially a blending of the aspects of gardening and life that are important to you… Regardless of your devotion or investment to the cause… Even a few pots on a windowsill are beneficial… Practicing any type of gardening… As long as it provides you with some semblance of joy… Should be considered beneficial… When you are happy… The environment around you is also happy… And that is what gardening is about…

A garden should complement its surroundings in a way that is beneficial to all the elements of the earth… Not just the gardener… Although a garden may have physical borders, the positive effects associated with plant life span well beyond them. A garden is a sentient collection of plants, capable of not only healing itself, but healing the environment (including us) that is around it. In order for a garden to truly be considered successful, it should heal in one form or another… Not just physically… Emotionally and spiritually…

Complementary gardening is not a specific style of gardening, it is a “way of thinking” achieved through the consciences completion of a garden. By consciences, I mean simply being aware that there are connections in nature for you to find. These connections will exist regardless of the size of your garden, and regardless of your devotion to the cause. One thing that turned me off about permaculture is the general feeling that if you don’t shit in a bucket to make compost for your front yard farm, you are not worthy of the cause… It’s like they expect everyone to replace their lawns with food forests… Believe everyone has time to operate a micro-farm… And believe no-one should eat anything that casts a shadow… My beliefs are very different from this… And my writing will now reflect it…

"Buddies" - © chriscondello 2013 - Frick Park - Pittsburgh, PA - Complimentary colors... Growing in the same patch... Yet... None of them were close enough together to photograph... So I put them together...

“Buddies” – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – Complimentary colors… Growing in the same patch… Yet… None of them were close enough together to photograph… So I put them together…

The goal of gardening is to benefit nature. Although we are a part of this equation, we are not the only variable to consider. In my own personal experiences, the gardeners who only talk about how much “produce” was harvested, typically are the ones who don’t have a clue what is going on around them… Unless of course it is written in their little book… In order for gardening to be a complementary activity, it needs to complement all things. Although it is perfectly acceptable to include ourselves in this equation by growing food, it is important to remember we are not the only element worthy of consideration.

Food production, should be secondary to positive energy production. What I mean by this is food production (though perfectly fine), should not overshadow the fact that gardening is intended to be fun, good for you, and good for the environment. When all a gardener is interested in is squeezing as many tomatoes as humanly possible out of a 4’x12′ raised bed, the joy is very often lost. Success is fundamental to sustainability. Constant failure, which is often the result of taking on too much work, often leads to a loss of interest… and the eventual end of the garden all together. I aim to eliminate this sentiment by promoting the gradual and responsible implementation of environmentally sound practices, in all forms of gardening, through practical implementation and easy to understand writing.

A complementary garden, is one that balances the benefits of all the elements of nature with mankind. In the past, the focus of gardening has been on production in one form or another. Vegetables were planted, and the necessary steps were taken to achieve the largest yield possible. The downside of this was that often the environment came secondary to the vegetable yield, and as a result of this, past generations commonly used chemicals as a way to boost yield… Hell… We still do this… Ornamental gardeners are no different, often going to great lengths to pack the most blooms onto their plants while spending as little as possible… And doing as little work as possible…

Speaking from personal experience… Most of the fertilizers, pesticides, herbicide, and fungicides that are available today are very unnecessary… Adding to the equation is the ridiculous amounts of “miracle products and trends” that pop up in stores and on the internet… 99% of these products are worthless… Even more worthless are the application directions that come with them… Many of these chemical products will achieve the desired results when applied in relatively tiny amounts… It is the manufacturer that pushes heavy applications as the more we apply… The more we must purchase…

BigIris

“Yellow Iris in the Morning Sun” – Spring 2013 – The Garden Table – Wilkinsburg, PA

I really don’t agree with the use of chemicals in the garden… But I understand why people do… Instead of alienating anyone from reading my blog based on their choice of fertilizer… I have decided to instead simply suggest that one research any product before using them… Although my focus will remain on organic gardening… I’m not afraid to discuss the chemical world… And I am not afraid to admit that I use miracle grow in my garden… Though I will admit that my solution is about 1/16 of their recommended application…

I also think it is important to stress that is it ok to get pissed off from time to time… And it is ok to unload in a healthy manner… The purpose of this change is to address the fact that I don’t believe we will ever accomplish the perfect world some people believe is possible… I believe we each have the ability to make small changes… And when we all make small changes, they will eventually add up to much larger ones… Where many of these sub-cultures are constantly pushing you to do more and be more involved… I’m saying do what you can… Every little bit helps… And when you feel comfortable… If you feel comfortable… Add to your toolbox and try something new…

Complementary gardening should benefit you in a way that is not intrusive on your life… Your garden should be a positive complement to the negative aspects of your life, not one of the aspects contributing to the negativity in your life. A gardener, is a gardener, is a gardener… We are all worthy… There are no bad gardeners… Regardless of method… There are differing levels of experience… But in the eyes of a plant… We are all created equal…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This website and all of the information presented within is provided free by the author… Me… It is my sole opinion and is not representative of anyone other than myself… Although this website is free… I sell prints of my photography here – www.society6.com/chriscondello – or you can contact me directly with questions at – c.condello@hotmail.com – Although it isn’t a requirement… It helps…

I also accept Bitcoin donations… My digital wallet address is – 1JsKwa3vYgy4LZjNk4YmPEHFJNjPt2wDJj

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Practical Permaculture – Summer Reflections – Mint and Hugelkultur

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“The Brain on Gardening” – Hamnett Place Park and Ride – Wilkinsburg, PA – An onion flowering under a Serviceberry…

A permaculture garden should be thought of as a laboratory, we perform experiments with our plants and record the data for the future. Through careful observation, we determine what changes we need to make in our gardens and lives to better serve the land as a whole. Although permaculture is nothing new, many of the techniques are considered the cutting-edge of agricultural science. Given the new-nature of these techniques, there is still much to be learned.

Permaculture and science do not always get along, controlled experiments in laboratory settings regularly show no evidence of real benefits (of any kind) in even the most storied of companion plants. Sometimes, an individual must make a faith-based decision on what they think will work. Skeptics tend to only look for information that proves their skepticism, therefore they look past all of the opposing information. Optimists tend to do the exact same thing except in a positive direction, the difference is the optimist will only find evidence of the system working and typically… The system will therefore work…

Occasionally, something that seems like a good idea on paper… Fails miserably in the field… Here are a couple of tidbits I picked up this summer…

StreetHerbs

“Telephone Pole Garden” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Pineapple mint growing at the base of a local telephone pole garden I created a few years ago…

Mint and the Fruit Tree Guild

After a summer of observation, I have come to the conclusion that mint has no place in a dwarf fruit tree guild, it simply grows too fast to properly maintain to a height conducive to the health of the trees. The first course of branches on a dwarf fruit tree can be as low as one foot off the ground, and many mints will stretch to 4′ tall when in flower. One of the most important aspects to a trees health that is often forgotten in permaculture is air circulation, it is absolutely required for the health of the tree and production of fruit.

Many pests will search for the weakest target in their foraging territory, a tree trunk that is covered by competing weeds is a favorite of many boring insects. In nature, a fruit trees canopy hoards water and sunlight from the plants growing beneath it effectively keeping trunk contact to a minimum. This effect can be demonstrated by planting a sun loving perennial next to the trunk of a large shade tree, although it may survive, it will always seem like it is trying to migrate away from the trunk and into the sun.

The plants that you plant in a tree guild need to benefit the tree, anything that grows quickly or aggressively is most likely robbing the target of your guild from nutrients. A mint patch that is several years old becomes a tangled mess of rooted stems, this mat is impenetrable by all but the hardest rains. Mint can outcompete many weeds, it is safe to assume it will outcompete your tree, and garden as long as you leave it in the game.

Although mint can be a troublemaker in the garden, it is important to remember all plants have a place. Beginners often have no clue that the plants purchased in tiny nursery pots will one day grow into massive clonal colonies, no matter how many times they are told they still make this common mistake. Mint should be grown in an out-of-the-way spot in the garden, if you will not be harvesting it regularly it can be run over with a lawnmower a few times a year in an attempt to keep it regulated… plus it’s like a breath mint for your lawnmower…

BurntSienna

“Burnt Sienna” – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – What remains of a large log left to rot on the ground… A few short years ago this log was a formidable obstacle… Now it is nothing more than a smear of red on the forest floor…

Old Man Hugel and the Mystery of the Disappearing Mound

As the story goes, old man Hugel was a miner who liked to collect wood. He spent his days working in the mine, but his nights were spent searching for his prized native lumbers… He eventually collected so much wood that it filled the house to the point that he could fit no more, growing increasingly frustrated he began to pile it in his backyard, and then the front.

Old man Hugel died in an accident later that year, his piles of precious wood left to rot in the wind and rain. The community toiled over who was going to clean this mess up, given the nature of government, this took some time and as a result, the piles of wood were left out exposed to the elements for quite some time.

Two years passed before the community was ready to clean up the mess, the money had finally materialized and the red tape had been cut. Much to the surprise of the group the piles were now apparently gone, a result of the effects of nature and time. You see, nature has no red tape. Rain, snow and wind do not argue. The elements are very unforgiving of the things we create, and are constantly fighting them. Some things we create are intended to be destroyed, as is the case with the hugelkultur mound.

Sorry… Not quite sure where that came from…

hugelkultur is a style of gardening in which wood, organic material and soil are stacked into mounds, these mounds are planted in and left alone to slowly break down. There is a lot of confusion and misconceptions pertaining to the use of  these types of mounds. The confusion arises from the belief that a hugelkultur mound is a permanent landscape feature, when in fact it is nothing more than a glorified compost heap.

Huglekultur, when done correctly can effectively eliminate a large amount of wood. When built properly, the wood inside of the mound slowly breaks down providing nutrients for the plants growing above. Individuals intending to create a permanent feature in their yard using the hugelkultur technique will ultimately be disappointed, this disappointment is only further materialized with the realization that doing everything right is what caused the failure.

Wood is not an impervious material, it is intended to break down into soil over time. A large tree that has fallen in the forest will not exist indefinitely, as it is exposed to the elements and weather, it will eventually break down into a tiny fraction of its original size. For this reason the amount of wood put into a hugelkultur mound directly affects the long-term size of the pile. The wood contained within the mound is meant to break down, in ideal conditions it is safe to assume your mound will disappear in a few short years.

I receive an alarming amount of emails asking questions about previously installed hugelkultur mounds… I want to stress, that I sincerely believe this is a product of misinformation as opposed to deceit. Complaints of hugelkultur mounds disappearing over time are in fact, a testament to how effective they can be at the conversion of wood into organic material. This common misconception is the reason for this post, I am essentially tired of answering questions relating to the subject.

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This site… And all the photographs and information presented within are provided free of charge by the author… I am not affiliated with any product or business… Only myself… Writing this blog takes a ton of time… If you find any of this information helpful, please consider purchasing a print from my online store… It is obviously not a requirement… But it helps…

I sell prints of my photography here – http://www.society6.com/chriscondello Or you can contact me directly at c.condello@hotmail.com for commissions or locally/personally produced prints… Thank you for reading…

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Practical Permaculture – Planting Under Fruit Trees – Part 2

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“Different” – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Wilkinsburg, PA – Cherry trees are a tough plant in companion planting, the sticky sap commonly seen seeping from the trunk is a magnet for pests. Flowering plants that will attract predatory wasps can often be the only organic technique available. Alliums can also be effective as a general pest repellant.

This post and plant list is an extension of a past post that can be found right here – Planting Under Fruit Trees with more information and another list of companion plants… This post is meant to accompany it…

One of the most common mistakes made when making plant selections for under a fruit tree is thinking of the planting as the center of attention when in fact it is the tree. Permaculture plant guilds created under a fruit tree, though possibly created with selfish intentions, are actually incorporated to benefit the tree.. Not you…

The plants used underneath a fruit tree can serve a multitude of functions, it is not unfair to consider yourself as a beneficiary of your plants, but as far as permaculture is concerned, it is not the responsible primary function. We create a fruit tree guild for the purposes of pest prevention, beneficial attraction, scent masking, soil remediation and general beautification, but the common goal is generally the health and fruit production of the primary tree.

The dream of having a vegetable garden under a production fruit tree is more or less a pipe dream in all but the warmest climates. That’s not to say that some vegetables can’t be grown, but it is a very safe assumption on my part to say that a tomato or pepper plant will never reach the same production level as one growing in full sun. This is just one of the reasons I suggest putting your focus on the trees needs. Tending vegetables takes valuable time (and unnecessary nutrients) away from the tree, when in fact your efforts should be focused on the tree.

Perennial plants are typically the most beneficial as far as a tree is concerned, again I want to stress that the primary focus of these types of efforts needs to be on the tree, if you are stuck planting annuals every spring it will only take time away from your primary focus. A fruit tree can live for a hundred years, a properly planted guild under the canopy can last for a good chunk of this trees life. Armed with this knowledge the question now becomes what will not only grow under a fruit tree, but benefit it for the foreseeable future…

Dwarf fruit trees require a lot more maintenance than most people realize, I think many are led to believe that there tree will stay tiny forever. Dwarf fruit trees are very confused trees and therefore can take on a mind of their own, aggressive pruning is often required to keep them producing. Many dwarf trees will be nothing more than a single stem a few feet tall when planted, the tree will grow quickly if not pruned.

Dwarf trees will stay small for a few years, it is completely acceptable to plant annuals around them. It will be several years before this tree develops a canopy, therefore the space surrounding the tree will be considered full-sun for the foreseeable future. In sustainable agriculture “alley cropping” is a method where rows of fruit or nut trees are planted, and the spaces between are used for annual crops. This is done until the trees reach production size and shade out the alley, providing short-term income while the more valuable trees mature.

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“Blue Borage” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Growing under a Kousa Dogwood… Perfectly happy in the shade and will come back for years to come through self seeding.

– Herbaceous Plants – For my Herb specific post check out – Planting Herbs Under Fruit Trees

Lavender – A flowering plant in the mint family, many cultivars of which are extensively cultivated in temperate climates. The plant is technically a perennial, though it is a short-lived one often losing vigor as time passes by. Lavender is extremely useful around fruit trees due to its repellant qualities, many insects and animals find it repulsive and will therefore avoid it all costs. Besides benefiting the fruit tree, lavender will benefit many other types of plants and should therefore be incorporated into any garden plan.

Tansy – Is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant of the Aster family. Tansy is commonly cultivated and used for its insect repellent properties, it is used as a biological pest control in organic gardens and sustainable agriculture. In England, Tansy is placed on window sills to repel flies, sprigs are placed in bed linens to drive away pests, and it has been used as an ant repellent.

Southernwood – A flowering plant native to Europe in the genus Artemisia, named for the goddess Artemis. The growing plant tends to repel fruit tree moths when grown in an orchard, the fresh plant can also be rubbed on the skin to deter other insects. This plant is commonly dries and used in the house to repel ants and other indoor pests, when burned the scent can remove many foul odors from the house.

Horseradish – Believe it or not, Horseradish is in the Brassica family. Although this plant is typically harvested and used, when left in the ground it will spread via underground shoots and therefore can become mildly invasive in many permaculture gardens. Horseradish is a broad-leafed plant allowing it to harvest sunlight even when planted in shade, this makes it a perfect companion for trees. Horseradish is said to generally be good for the overall health of a tree, it is not uncommon for old timers to tell stories of trees that were never productive until horseradish was planted below… Though others will claim it affects the taste of the fruit afterwards…

Borage – Also known as Starflower, is an annual herb that tends to self seed allowing it to come back year after year. Although this plant is edible, the leaves often being described as cucumber-like, its primary purpose in permaculture is as a companion plant. Borage accumulates and adds trace minerals to the soil and is a key ingredient in a complete compost heap. Borage also is one of the best bee and wasp attracting plants available, therefore it will benefit everything planted around it… Given the stunning blue flowers… It will even benefit you…

Nasturtium – Tropaeolum, commonly known as Nasturtium literally means “nose twister” or “nose-tweaker”, a reference to the peppery scent and taste of the flowers. Nasturtium is used in herbal medicine for their antiseptic and expectorant qualities. When planted under apple trees it is a powerful deterrent of the notorious codling moth, not to mention a whole host of other insect species not only damaging to the tree, but to other plants surrounding.

Hyssop – A herbaceous plant of the genus Hyssopus. Due to its properties as an antiseptic, cough reliever, and expectorant, it is commonly used as an aromatic herb. Drought tolerance makes this an ideal plant for underneath the canopy of a fruit tree, flowers make it a beneficial insect attractor. Hyssop shares many of the same benefits as mint since they are from the same family, though it is not as invasive so it is typically more suited to inter planting than mint.

Wormwood – Artemesia absinthium is a herbaceous, perennial plant with a fibrous root system. A powerful animal repellant suitable for plantings at the edge of properties. Wormwood is also a powerful insect repellant, it can be made into a tea or applied as a sporadic mulch throughout the garden. Wormwood produces a powerful poison and therefore should never be used directly on food crops, applications should be indirect.

Dandelion – Are tap-rooted biennial or perennial herbaceous plants, native to temperate areas of the world. Dandelions are thought to have evolved about thirty million years ago in Eurasia, they have been used by humans as food and herb for much of recorded history. Dandelions are one of the first plants to bloom in the spring and therefore are a very important source of nectar and pollen early in the season. Its tap-root will bring up nutrients for shallower-rooting plants, and add minerals and nitrogen to the soil. Dandelions are even said to emit ethylene gas which helps fruit ripen.

– Food Producing Shrubs – Will never produce the same as when field grown, but will still produce.

Currant – The genus Ribes includes black currants, red currants, white currents, and gooseberries and several other hybrid varieties. Currants do very well in shade, though an interesting trait I have observed is if even part of the plant grows into full sunlight only the part in full sun will produce fruit… The rest of the plant seems to go into a vegetative state.

Nanking Cherry – Is a deciduous shrub native to Asia, an understory shrub that has evolved to survive under the canopy of a tree. Will produce more fruit if planted on the outskirts of the tree, can even be used as a windscreen for more tender plants. This tree-like shrub can grow to eight feet tall, vigorous pruning can be required to keep it under control.

Serviceberry – Native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, growing primarily in early succession habitats. Varieties differ so care must be paid during selection for under planting a fruit tree, the short multi-stemmed varieties are typically best. I personally prefer to plant the serviceberry in close quarters with fruit trees, the serviceberry attracts birds that after finishing your tasty berries will immediately turn their attention to the insects.

Raspberry – Named varieties are in the thousands, most are thorny… All are delicious.. The thorny varieties not only repel larger animals, they tend to repel thievery as well. After all, what’s a few lost raspberries when the apples are spared from the deer. Raspberries are very vigorous and when not kept in check can become a massive, and invasive headache. They will do a great job of keeping the neighborhood children from stealing the fruits of your labor. Likewise, they can also keep you away from your trees. I recommend the raspberries be planted outside of the drip line, being able to get a lawn mower between your patch and tree is paramount in keeping the patch in bounds.

– Vegetables – Though I stress, they typically do not thrive like they would in full sun, growing these vegetables is possible

Carrots – typically grown in full sun tolerate some shade. In order to avoid deformed carrots they are typically grown in loose soil, but for our purposes the uncultivated soil under a tree will work just fine. A carrot is like a stake in the ground, as it expands it will loosen the soil. Carrots left in the ground will eventually break down, adding nutrients it has harvested to the top layer of soil.

Chard – Typically grown in full sun, it is important to remember that broad-leaved plants are equipped with enough surface area to tolerate some shade. Bright lights chard will not grow as brightly as if it were planted in full sun, but it will grow.

Kale – Another leaf crop commonly grown in full sun, most food plants that do not produce a fruit or vegetable can tolerate some shade, kale happens to be one of those plants. I actually like to grow some Brassicas under a tree as a trap crop, bugs tend to be more attracted to the weaker plants as opposed to the stronger more vigorous plants grown in full sun.

Asparagus – Opposite the fact that broad-leaved plants ability to absorb more light makes them more shade tolerant, thin leafed plants do not require as much light making them also tolerant of some shade. Asparagus is an ideal food plant for under fruit trees, the primary harvest season happens at a time when many fruit trees have yet to leaf out. Because of this asparagus is one of the few vegetables that are not affected negatively when grown under a tree.

Beets – Beets in general can handle some shade, in really hot weather they actually benefit from it. Beets in full shade will grow beautiful foliage, but the energy is rarely ever there to produce a sizeable root. Beets are nutrient accumulators and therefore there is absolutely no harm in leaving the plants in the ground to rot. The benefit of the beet is for the tree, not the gardener.

Beans – Beans are another vegetable that does not seem to be affected by some shade, in the hottest months the shade provided by a tree is actually preferred. Beans accumulate nitrogen, when the beans have been harvested the remaining plant should be left in place to decompose.

Peas – Another tasty biddle that is perfectly at home when grown in the shade of a tree, typically only grown in the cooler months, a tree can often provide a third late summer harvest. Peas are in the Legume family and therefore accumulate Nitrogen, after harvest the plant should be left in place.

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This site… And all the photographs and information presented within are provided free of charge by the author… I am not affiliated with any product or business… Only myself… Writing this blog takes a ton of time… If you find any of this information helpful, please consider purchasing a print from my online store… It is obviously not a requirement… But it helps…

I sell prints of my photography here – http://www.society6.com/chriscondello Or you can contact me directly at c.condello@hotmail.com for commissions or locally/personally produced prints… Thank you for reading…

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Practical Permaculture – Native Gardening in Urban Settings

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“Common Tansy” – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – Not exactly a native… But has existed in America for well over 200 years…

Permaculture, is far from being the work free style of gardening it is often mistaken to be. All too often, people plug “weed free” or “no weed” gardening into google, and up pops permaculture. So now, when the neighbor confronts said gardener about the newly created “wild area” next door to his house, the gardener claims permaculture, and in turn we all get a bad reputation.

Native, pollinator, butterfly and wildlife gardening can border on the obscene as well. Though many of these styles of gardening work with many of the native plants that we consider weeds, years of experience are often required to know the difference between a beneficial weed, and an exotic invasive when these plants are still seedlings.

Biodiversity is not an excuse for never maintaining your yard, all too many people move from sparsely populated rural areas into urban communities not understanding the difference in the landscape expectations of neighbors. As a general rule of thumb, your landscape should fit in with that of your neighbors to a certain degree… I am going to go out on a ledge and say it should compliment it… While still maintaining a certain level of originality…

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“Aster Sunshine” – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – Commonly found growing in fields across America… A plant that can be mowed to the ground 3 or even 4 times a year and still profusely bloom come fall…

When you go out into the country and look at rarely maintained fields, the plants grow 5-6′ tall. I think this is what some people aim to create in their front yards, sadly, this is not acceptable in most urban and suburban communities, but that does not mean it is impossible. Many natives can be planted and used just like the commercial annuals and perennials commonly found in every neighborhood in America.

The idea here is to use informal native plants, in a formal way. Mix native plants with commercially available ornamental perennials, if you have gaps, fill them with a few annuals. Give everything a place, and maintain as you would any garden.

Plants that are typically thought of as being very tall, aster, ironweed, milkweed, and goldenrod can all be maintained to a specific height. Asters should actually be cut down to 10″ on July 4th to keep them in check. Goldenrod can be cut several times in a season, Every cut will create more branches and ultimately more flowers. As a general rule, all tall flowering perennials can be pruned throughout the year in order to create a more compact plant during flowering. Awareness of the specific flowering times is key, allow a minimum of 3 weeks between last pruning and actual time of flowering. This is in order to allow the plant to recover from the stresses of pruning.

Although a front yard wildlife habitat may sound like a swell idea to you, the sad fact of the matter is to most other people that sounds like your saying you are planning a “rodent haven”. Very few people understand the importance of wildlife in our urban environments, though as time goes on I believe people will pay more attention to it… Though I still believe people will not want to exactly live next door to one if they purchased a city home anyway.

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“Black Eyed Explosion” – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – A voracious self seeder… Will populate an entire yard if left unchecked… Stunning when grown in combination with a dark blue Aster…

I contemplated creating a massive list of native plants and how to maintain them, but I have more readers in merry ol’ England than in my hometown of Pittsburgh, so I have decided against that. What I will say is this… The use of natives is not an excuse to not maintain, native plants have qualities unique to themselves that should be highlighted when appropriate.

Although many natives will self-seed, this is not always recommended in order to keep the plant from growing out of hand. Some natives, like milkweed, have seeds that are meant to blow away and grow somewhere else. Unless you are absolutely positive your neighbor wouldn’t mind it growing in their yard, it is probably in your best interest to dead-head the plant before it sets seed. Likewise, when the plant is done flowering and starting to die in place, it is also probably in your best interest to remove the dying plant… This war is going to be won by compromise, not shock-and-awe…

In the long run, I do not believe the “Food not Lawns” movement is going to work, the amount of work that goes into keeping a food-producing garden neat, tidy and presentable all the time is enormous. We have all driven through a meticulously maintained neighborhood and seen a single yard with 6′ tall weeds all the way out to the street. If you talk to the neighbors, it is a nuisance. That one yard has been the reasoning behind more than one neighborhood association start up, often ending the possibilities of front yard gardening for at least the immediate future.

This, by no means is the end of the movement… But I think it is a very unrealistic concept… Compared to mowing a lawn once every 2 weeks, maintaining a food garden/urban farm is a huge task. Likewise, not many people realize how many problems can arise from growing food on every square inch of your garden. Biodiversity, being the common goal, includes more than just food. Creating a diverse food garden involves a number of other types of plants including natives, annuals, and other ornamental trees and shrubs.

A diverse garden does not have to be a wall of weeds, study the plants you would like to plant, and use them properly. I also recommend identifying all of the weeds that grow in your yard, inventory, and act accordingly. Exotic invasive weeds should be pulled and discarded, natives should be moved into suitable locations. Certain plants, like milkweed, can grow 7′ tall and should be placed in the back of the garden. The same rules that apply to ornamental garden design and maintenance, also apply to the eco conscience gardener… If anything, we should be held to higher standards as we are at the forefront of a movement. How we handle our gardens now, will have an effect on how gardens in the future are accepted…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

I am not affiliated with anyone other than myself, all the information presented in this blog is provided by me… If you find this information helpful, please consider purchasing a print or two from my online shop…

http://www.society6/chriscondello… Or you can contact me directly at c.condello@hotmail.com for commissions or locally/personally produced prints… Thank you for reading…

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Practical Permaculture – Rehabilitating Discount Plants

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The Pineapple Sage had been dropped at the greenhouse and was appropriately free… The Aster was purchased at a local plant sale… It was the last one left and was no longer on the table… I inquired… Bargained… And walked away with a $1 plant that was destined for the dumpster… 4 Summers later and it is still one of my favorites…

So you bought a root-bound, overgrown, stretched or stunted plant from your local nursery. Maybe a friend of yours purchased a plant early in the season, and let it sit in its pot for the entire Summer only giving it away when all hope seemed lost. This is a great way to acquire plants on the cheap, most nurseries are gearing down for the winter and are typically happy to offer discounts on remaining stock as it is simply going to end up in the dumpster.

Not every plant you come into contact with will be salvageable, often times you will have to take 5 “compost” plants in order to get 1 good one… Beggars can’t be choosers… But beggars should know when to turn down an entire lot…

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This “Aural Gold” Heucherella was a gamble I won… Nothing was growing in the pot and it had no tag… A close inspection of the roots revealed the plant was alive… I made an offer… And walked away with a pot full of potting soil for free… This was the result after 3 months…

Choose Wisely

Annuals should not be taken past a certain point in the year, for the sake of this article I’m going to say July 15th – July 25th is a good cut-off date. Annuals planted after this date, although they will grow, typically never recover from the shock of being transplanted in the dry heat of the late summer months. Given the short lifespan of annuals, they do not recover from stress the way perennials do.

Perennials on the other hand, should be considered year round as long as you are comfortable with taking a gamble. Many perennials can survive drying out to the point of complete defoliation, a survival adaptation that is all too often mistaken as the death of a perfectly good perennial.

Soak Plants Overnight

The very first thing you should do when you get your new plants home is soak them. I prefer a five gallon bucket containing roughly 4″ of water, a small amount of general purpose fertilizer can be added but always measure on the side of caution. Place the plant, pot and all, into the bucket and simply leave it there overnight.

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Plants purchased for a discount at the end of one season… Often come back the next year as extremely healthy plants… Often… All the plant wants is a new home…

Keep Stressed Plants out of the Sun

A compromised plants symptoms are always magnified in the sun. Root bound or sick plants often quit taking up water, this is only magnified when the sun is rapidly evaporating water from the leaves. Transplanting, or the constant desiccation of the plants roots can cause major damage to a plant’s ability to absorb moisture from the soil. While the roots are healing, the plant must be babied, sometimes removal of foliage is necessary to lower the required water intake. Many plants will appear to die, it is often worth waiting a week or two before disposal as these plants will suddenly spring back to life.

Plant Them

As long as the ground is not frozen solid, you should go on ahead and plant those perennials. Plant roots are often protected from the elements by the little fact that they are underground, exposure to the cold and often bone-dry conditions of winter can certainly kill even the hardiest of perennials when exposed in a pot. At the very least, bury the entire pot. Many landscapers will similarly cover trees and perennials in a mound of mulch when the need for long-term storage presents… This is called mounding over…

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One of the easiest… And most effective things you can do to a root bound plant is cut an X in the bottom of the tangle… Then it can be easily pulled apart…

Severely Root Bound

So after reading the last paragraph, you ran out into your backyard with the intention of finally planting those left over perennials. When you went to pop that plant out of the tattered and torn black plastic pot, you suddenly realized all of the soil in the pot appears to be gone, and now you are left with a twisted mess of a root ball. Do not fret because all is not lost, this is actually one of the most common and talked about subjects in the industry.

You have several options… But this is the best… I prefer to cut an X into the bottom of the root ball roughly 2″ deep, I then slam it off the ground a few times. Once the roots have loosened up a bit, I like to rip them apart with my bare hands like a caveman… But any tool that can be used to accomplish this is fine… Not to mention more civilized. The ultimate goal of what you are doing is to open the roots up, allowing them to grow out into the soil, damaging them also tends to stimulate rapid recovery growth.

Diseased or Infested

This is always a tricky one, no one wants to be responsible for bringing unwanted pests and disease into your neighborhood. Unless you are a very experienced gardener, I would always err on the side of caution. Plants that are infested at a nursery, should stay at the nursery. Likewise, plants that are obviously showing signs of disease, such as spots, odd coloring, mold or mildew should be refused… Any nursery that does anything, other than immediately discard obviously sick plants should be questioned. My advice, stay away from them unless you have a way to quarantine them, better to just avoid the possible disaster.

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I have been dragging this plant around for years… I purposely keep it root bound in order to control size… It still requires a new pot every few years…

What about houseplants

Many of my houseplants were actually found on the side of the road on garbage night. You would be surprised how many of these seemingly dead plants came alive just by the simple act of me repotting them. Houseplants tend to be forgotten, and many people don’t realize that in order to keep a houseplant healthy, it needs to be repotted every couple of years.

Sometimes a pruning may be in order, that’s right, just like if it were growing outside. Sometimes, this pruning needs to be brutal in order to stimulate some new growth. A potted plant should be thought of as a complete system, what you do above the soil affects below, and vise versa. If you prune the leaves, an equal amount of the root system will be aborted… Likewise, If you prune the roots, the associated branches and leaves may also abort…

Every plant is different, so it would be hard for me to write about each one in this short article. What I will say is this, a houseplant is a houseplant because of its ability to survive in low-light conditions while living its entire life in the confines of a pot, when it starts to look unhealthy, your first move should be repotting it in fresh soil… 9 out of 10 times this will solve all your problems.

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

I am not affiliated with anyone other than myself, all the information presented in this blog is provided by me… If you find this information helpful, please consider purchasing a print or two from my online shop…

http://www.society6/chriscondello… Or you can contact me directly at c.condello@hotmail.com for commissions or locally/personally produced prints… Thank you for reading…

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Practical Permaculture – Planting Herbs Under Fruit Trees

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“Lemon Basil” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA

Backyard fruit trees are becoming increasingly popular as the locally grown food movement gains strength. A common question is what, if anything, can be grown in the area directly underneath of a tree? Traditionally, orchards were laid out in parallel lines to facilitate easy mowing and maintenance. Little more than grasses and a few native wildflowers could survive the regular mowing, this often resulted in an orchard that requires supplemental nutrients, as well as insect, fungus, disease and pest control measures.

Backyard trees often suffer the same problems that commercial orchards deal with, the only difference is the professionals have tools available that the backyard grower does not. In my personal experience, when it comes to backyard fruit trees, people want an organic permaculture based solution that will work instantaneously. You see, people who live in the city rarely ever stay in the same place for very long. Whether or not the next homeowner wants a fruit tree growing on their property is the issue, I believe many of the urban fruit trees have a lifespan of only a few years, for this reason, every year of fruit production counts…

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“Plum Blossom” – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Jeanette Street – Wilkinsburg, PA

If you plant an apple tree… You want to eat an apple…

What can be planted under a particular tree should be assessed on a tree-by-tree basis, every tree canopy is different, no tree is the same. Fall is an excellent time to sow plants under a mature tree, once the leaves fall, water can easily reach the soil. Often times seeds sown in the fall right before the leaves fall, will sit underneath the leaves waiting till spring to germinate… Seeds that germinate before the tree leafs out seem to have the best chances of survival.

Successfully planting underneath of a fruit tree is simply a matter of timing, you want your plants to establish as they would in a natural forest, or while the trees do not have leaves. Many plants, including herbs, can survive extreme conditions once established. Likewise, the actual yield of a herb is often the leaves themselves, which does not require as much light to produce a yield as a fruit or vegetable… Making them perfect plants for an edible guild centered around a primary fruit tree…

Herbs, although extremely tasty as seasonings in our foods, serve a number of other purposes directly affecting the health and wellbeing of a tree. Everything from beneficial insect attraction, repelling pests, Nitrogen fixing, forage and ground burrowing prevention… Herbs can play a role…  Herbs can also be used in the creation of organic oils and solutions that may be helpful in the war against pests and diseases, as the popularity increases so will the availability of these types of products. The jury is still out with me as far as many of these organic/homemade products are concerned. Recent memories of me getting lit up by wasps after using a suggested chili powder and citric acid combo may be tarnishing my thoughts a little bit though…

I’m not one of those permies that will blow smoke up your ass as far as what is possible in the garden. Although plants will grow under a tree, they do not grow with nearly as much vigor as plants that are growing in sunny conditions. In short, don’t think you are going to be able to grow perfect show-worthy specimens under that 40′ apple tree. It is important to remember that what you are doing is primarily to benefit the tree, the fact that you can enjoy them is secondary.

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“Allium” – Hamnett Place Park and Ride – Center Street – Wilkinsburg, PA

Because everyone likes a list of plants… This is by no means the end all of lists… As always… It is just a starting point…

Allium – I’m talking from Chives to Ramps, plant them. Even the ornamental varieties will not only survive, but benefit the entire guild from canopy to root. When in full flower, an expanse of Allium can attract so many pollinating insects that from a distance the entire garden will appear to pulse and move. Allium, although tasty to humans, is typically not the favorite food of most foraging and burrowing animals, they will typically forage somewhere else if even the slightest presence of these plants is detected. Garlic is apparently effective as a peach tree borer deterrent, it may be useful as a remedy when planted in very close quarters to an affected tree.

Basil – My absolute favorite herb, cinnamon, lemon, lime, Thai, purple, red, large leaf, Minette, greek globe, spicy globe, sacred… I could go on forever… I grow it in every corner of my garden, I think it is beautiful when grown as an ornamental. Late in the season when the asters and goldenrod are blooming, basil will extend its wispy flower heads high above the other plants in the garden. These flower heads are different shades of pink, purple to white or yellow and attract beneficial pollinators… This year I have even noticed hummingbirds visiting my front yard Basil plants…

Comfrey – You can’t do a list of beneficial herbs without mentioning this storied plant. Comfrey is a well-known nutrient accumulator that has been written about by just about every organic garden writer. Tap-root grows deep, yadah, yadah, yadah… Makes great compost, yadah, yadah, yadah… It is all true… My gripe is really from removal… Because it is practically impossible… I have written about it before in a post titled – Comfrey Cautions – I’m not saying don’t plant it… I’m just saying plant it cautiously as it can get out of hand quickly… And it can become a nightmare for any future people who may occupy your house… Respect the Comfrey…

Oregano – Another staple that can simply be used fresh off the plant in all your favorite dishes, and it is easy as dirt to grow anywhere. Potted plants are typically the normal sales method, often times you can find these plants at a sharp discount late in the year… I like to wait until the leaves have fallen off the trees and then plug them in… It won’t look pretty… But the plants will grow normally in the spring often times starting well before nurseries have them available in the spring…

Sage – Regular old garden Sage, or Salvia Officinalis is often one of the first herbs to bloom in the spring, which in my garden is timed perfectly with many of the neighborhood fruit trees. The distinctive aroma of Sage is also supposed to ward off many pests, kids don’t like it either. When grown under a tree, Sage tends to stretch and grow horizontally instead of vertically. Where the stems touch the ground the plant will root creating a new crown, these can then be dug up and moved around your garden… Or left in place to allow the plant to grow in size…

Mint – Mint is an incredibly invasive perennial weed, I strongly urge you to consider all other options when contemplating planting any variety of mint. The menthol contained in the mint is a powerful insect repellent, it is a common ingredient in many organic insecticides. Mint has a tendency to grow very tall, believe it or not, I have seen it successfully outcompete a newly planted dwarf fruit tree on more than one occasion. Mint also has a tendency to grow thick in the early spring months, this is a problem when it shades the graft union on a dwarf fruit tree typically causing the scion to sprout roots and eliminate all of the dwarfing characteristics of the rootstock.

Lavender – If you have ever had the chance to see a field of Lavender you will not need sold on this Summertime favorite. The dark blue flowers against the silver foliage is simply stunning. Prefers full sun but will do just fine in the shade… Though the flowers are typically more sparse in the shade… Lavender repels fleas and moths, specifically the codling moth making it a perfect companion to just about any fruit tree.

Lemon Balm – You can’t do a list of beneficial herbs without good old lemon balm. Lemon balm contains citronella compounds that deter all sorts of insects… Including the disease carrying nuisance mosquitos that seem to become more dangerous every year. Lemon balm has a tendency to voraciously self seed, clipping the flowers before they go to seed is the only remedy for this.

Dill and Fennel – I am lumping these two together because Fennel is said to be allopathic and therefore should not be planted with anything, except Dill apparently. Both of these plants deter pests. Fennel attracts beneficial insects like ladybugs, wasps and hoverflies… It is also a good flea repellent. The flower heads of both of these plants are an excellent nectar source for a bunch of beneficial insects.

Thyme – Another one of my favorites… Available in practically every size, color and flavor imaginable. Some of them creep along the ground making a beautiful living mulch, while others grow more upright. Both types are simply stunning when they bloom in proliferation, and they too attract swarms of beneficial insects. My favorite is the variegated lemon thyme, I will purposely step on it to release the citrus smell.

Wormwood – The reason I am including this plant is because it keeps animals out of the garden, though it also has a tendency to be allopathic and will in turn kill plants that get to close to it. I only recommend planting it on the outside of the trees drip line to prevent accidents, better safe than sorry. Wormwood is said to repel slugs, moths, snails, black flea beetles and fleas rather effectively, as with all organic compounds I recommend research and experimentation before diving right in.

One of my gripes with permaculture is it offers very few immediate solutions to common fruit tree problems. Although garlic can repel the peach tree borer, it can often take several years for the effects to work, this can be too long for modern families that rarely stay in the same house their entire lives.

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

I am not affiliated with anyone other than myself, all the information presented in this blog is provided by me… If you find this information helpful, please consider purchasing a print or two from my online shop…

http://www.society6/chriscondello… Or you can contact me directly at c.condello@hotmail.com for commissions or locally/personally produced prints… Thank you for reading…

If you would be interested in reading more – Urban Herb BenefitsPlanting Under Fruit Trees

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.