The second week of February is time to get outside and prune back roses, the dry brown stems of ornamental grasses and the old blooms from pee gee hydrangeas and winter weary perennials. If you have not yet cut or pulled the old foliage from your hellebores then stop procrastinating. Those big hellebore leaves from last summer not only hide the beautiful, winter blooms but they also act as a magnet for leaf blights, fungal infections, mites and baby slugs. Get outside and get snippy with them. You’ll be amazed at how good it can feel to work outdoors in the moist air after a winter of dry heat and binge watching TV.
Q. What can I do with wood ashes from our wood burning stove? I seem to remember they can be used in the garden. What about using them in a compost pile? E.M. Enumclaw
A. Wood ashes are a great source of nutrients for the soil and will even make our naturally acid soil sweeter which is what your lawn, vegetables and many flowering trees and shrubs prefer.
Spread a thin layer less than half an inch deep over the soil and work in lightly so the rain can dissolve the ashes. Do not use wood ashes near potatoes as this encourages potato scab disease. Roses love a thin layer of wood ashes. You can also sprinkle a fine coating of ashes onto your lawn or add a one inch layer to the compost pile and then mix this in by turning the pile. Now enjoying the warmth of a wood fire should warm your heart as well as your toes – by recycling you will make your plants happy.
Q. Here is a warning more than a question. My neighbor placed old, cool, wood ashes into a paper bag when cleaning out the fireplace as she wanted to use them on the garden. The bag caught fire (luckily outdoors) a day later! Only use metal containers for ashes. Anon
A. Thank you for the reminder. Always assume old ashes are flammable. Another tip is to use a water spray bottle to moisten ashes as you remove them from stove or fireplace. This keeps the ash dust down and the ashes less likely to ignite.
Q. I see people taking home used coffee grounds from coffee shops to use in the garden. What plants like coffee ground? S.B., Renton
A. Most any plant that likes a mulch on top of the soil can benefit from a thin layer of coffee grounds but the key word here is “thin”.
Coffee grounds applied more than half an inch deep can form a crust that keeps out moisture. Better to mix the coffee grounds into a compost pile, making sure the make up less than 20% of the compost. Coffee grounds may have the ability to suppress some disease spores and some claim they even act as a deterrent to slugs (what slug would like caffeine when they like to remain sluggish?) but the scientific testing on those claims are still a bit inconclusive. Traditionally, acid loving plants such as blueberries, rhodies and azaleas were mulched with a thin layer of coffee grounds as the used grounds were once thought to lower the pH of the soil.
Recycling coffee grounds into your garden is better than having them end up in a landfill so go ahead and perk up the plants with coffee grounds.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply. For more gardening information, she can be reached at her website, www.binettigarden.com.
Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.