Sheet mulching; what to do for the late-staying hummingbirds; what an El Nino/warm autumn means for us
By Rebecca Hart
I have a quote at my desk, a helpful prompt, for when I’m in danger of losing my focus. “Today I have one thing to do.” This helps me to remember a goal or specific project, something important that may get buried in the day to day busy-ness and occasional chaos of modern life. As an extension, I like to focus on the three highest priority tasks for my garden; so for mid-October I share my list — and tasks — with you.
Yes, we’ve discussed this before, and if you haven’t tried it please do: there is no more effective low-effort method to clear large areas of compacted or weedy garden soil or lawn, that doesn’t utilize poisoning the soil. (We don’t do that anymore.)
If you are still in the dark about what this is and its reach, Google Mulchstock to see what communities are advocating both businesses and home-owners do to minimize the footprint of asset-intensive lawns. Not familiar with sheet mulching? It’s a process of layering compost, cardboard, and mulch over a lawn to build soil, save water, and prevent weeds. (Asset intensive, in this case: Labor (mowing, edging), materials (chemical feed and weeding), and actual money to pay for these applications and maintenance.)
What is the alternative? Region-specific habitat restoration that benefits native species, with tremendous reduction in resource allocation within a foreseeable time frame. Locally, resources that can persuade you to go the native route, include Xerxes Society (for recommendations about plant and insect habitat recovery) and our local Extension offices and Master Gardener programs.
Join — or create — a local movement to replace a significant percentage of your lawn this dormant season and make a personal commitment to creating a species-diverse landscape.
Hummingbirds and songbirds
When you spend time in the garden you get accustomed to the habits of the birds and other animals in your local place. Two of my favorite bird species are the ring-necked doves, a recent introduction, and the hummingbirds.
When the hummers visit, I find myself glancing around the garden for spots I can put hardy trumpet-shaped vines and perennials for the hummers, and I make certain to scatter seed on the ground for those cooing doves. Plus, the decaying shells make for an enriched habitat for earthworms, a food source for more bird species.
This year, at my house, we offer plenty of seed — black oil sunflower seed — to the birds who need the fat and protein. It’s not just for feed in the dead of winter; no, not this year. Winter was mild, and spring came early, the drought made for a meager seed-set, then it was gone early. All the birds (and other creatures) benefit from our help, be sure to help. (But please, not the bears, not raccoons; no pet food out to attract the larger mammals. When in doubt, contact Fish and Wildlife. Be safe and smart.) And keep water out too, in “bird baths,” where they drink far more than bathe. And scrub them of decaying leaves too, on a regular basis.
What the predicted El Niño will mean
Of course nature trades in mystery, and it hasn’t been long that we had the terms El Niño and La Niña to describe global weather oscillations that vary from our normal patterns. As with all predictions, you stack up the evidence after the events, to see how that batch worked out. The published opinion for our upcoming winter is we’ll have a drier and warmer winter, with most coastal rainfall happening significantly farther south; this system could “miss” a large part of the Oregon and Washington coasts. Recent transplants may adore this trend, but locals will brace for it.
What it means for our gardens is plants with confused dormancy signals, increases in over-wintering bugs, weeds with a longer growing season, and wildlife out of sync with natural rhythms.
Will the weather be sunny? Or will we experience gloomy cloud-covered but dry skies? Time will tell. The pattern is already upon us. Rains are hitting far to the south, to deadly effect.
In your garden, plan for dry conditions. If you need to water containers or outer-lying reaches beyond a hose, consider installing a drip irrigation system.
Note: Do be mindful of containers and freezes and damage to pots, also damage to irrigation systems if and when we get temps into the 20s.
Time will tell. Join me and help take care of the three things most essential for garden wellbeing; your list may vary. Keep a list, don’t obsess about it, but chip away at the chores. Observe and mark seasonal changes. Keep a garden journal. Use your smart phone to document garden surprises.
Thank you for your contribution to our habitat diversity.