Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Spring Weeds Are Easy to Pull

Commentary to the Grants Pass City Council, 3-20-2013.

Honorable Council, Mayor, and Manager,
The annual weeds that I brought for show and tell at the meeting this week were easy to find in your parking lot, and easy to pull.  The ground is moist, their stems are tough, and their roots are small, since their roots shrink as their flowers grow.
They are not easily killed or controlled by any other means, except in light, loose gravel or soil with a hula hoe.  Spraying spring weeds with glyphosate doesn’t kill them fast enough to stop seeding; usually they are already seeding by the time they are sprayed, so other chemicals fail to stop the next generation as well.  Cutting them only keeps them making seed below the cut.  Weed control is seed control; pull them before they make seed, and they won’t return to plague us next year.
Our city code forbids mature and seeding weeds.  Our City Charter demands that the Manager enforce all city codes, something that has not been done since probably the 1970’s.  Most of the weeds I showed you are fairly benign, not having burrs or tacks, nor flying on the wind.  But there are mature weeds seeding right now that are a distinct nuisance to neighbors, not just ugly and disorderly when seeded out.  These are the ones that should be enforced against first.  They are easiest to kill just before they become irritating or dangerous, as they flower.
 Groundsel and bitter cress in full bloom, in nugget bark on weed cloth

Young groundsel in nugget bark and shavings on weed cloth
For instance, there is groundsel, flying on the wind all over town.  It is an ugly miniature wild lettuce whose flowers never open completely, but nod half-opened until they make seed, when they straighten up and let it fly.  They have been spreading like crazy all over town the last two years.  They are easily pulled from soft soil.

Heron's bill on city property, NE corner of Brownell and Spruce

The other day, I saw a yard that was covered in nice nugget bark inside its chain-link fence, and covered with heron’s bill a foot high outside that fence along the street, gone to seed, not yet ripe.  Heron’s bill has seed pods shaped like the name until they ripen; then they split into two sharp burr seeds that catch in your pet’s fur and can drill themselves into its skin when they get wet.  It is easy to pull when the ground is moist.  This weed is all over town in neglected yards and portions of yards that the owners disown.

A portion of the entrance median at Reinhart Park where shrubs and ground covers still struggle amid the weeds.

The median in the entrance to the All Sports Park has been maintained by spraying for years, and it shows in the plentiful weeds there now, the missing ground cover and the missing bushes at the ends of the beds, killed out by fine bark and herbicide long ago.  It appears that none of your landscape contractors employ any weeders, despite their contracts and city code.
A closeup of the median with various weeds.

Leaves are the best defense against weeds, but your contractors generally clean up all the leaves and encourage weeds.  Now you need weeders to pull them.  Please start demanding that your contractors employ them.  And start telling our police to start policing and tell people maintain their properties to code.  It’s one law that can be enforced without a jail, if only you would ask us to obey it.  It will bring order to our city.

Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener    541-955-9040

An idea on which attention is peculiarly concentrated is an idea which tends to realize itself.~Charles Baudouin

How the Landscape Supervisor can serve you

3rd Speech to Networking Toastmasters, 4/8/2013

Before this speech is over, you will want me to teach your landscape maintenance workers, audit other properties, renovate your landscape, or coach you in gardening.
The best advertising for a brick-and-mortar business is a good-looking property.  Your business will look more prosperous successful, and competent if it is nestled in lovely, well-kept landscaping.  A beautiful shrub border, full of pretty plants, does not invite litter, and is looked at because it is worth looking at.  Beautiful, orderly properties discourage disorderly conduct like litter, because the owners obviously care.  You are also more likely to notice litter as out of place and pick it up, to maintain that beauty.
            The mind loves beauty, ignored mediocrity, and hates ugliness.  The untrained eye avoids ugliness and seeks out beauty as a matter of course.  The trained eye of this professional landscape gardener and any good maintenance worker seeks out ugliness in order to eliminate it, and we criticize where we don’t work.
            Ugliness brings your business either no notice, or criticism.  Neither is good advertising.  Indeed, other advertising may bring customers to your door, but if your property is badly kept, they may turn right around and go someplace they see competence on display.
            Like every other employee, your landscape maintenance contractor needs regular feedback from someone who truly cares about how well he does his work and takes a good look at it.  It’s better yet if that one knows it can be done better and cheaper and can tell him how.
            If you are in any business other than professional gardening, you probably are not the one who can do that.  You have a business to run, and you are not up on the latest natural low-maintenance techniques.  Your landscape maintenance person probably isn’t either.  The Landscape Supervisor, Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener, is at your service.
            If you care about order and beauty and how much you are spending not achieving it, you need someone walking your landscape monthly and reporting to you, one who knows landscape maintenance better than the mow-and-blow guys.
            I can walk your property monthly, write you a report on its problems and their solutions, and go over it with your maintenance person as well if you wish.  I can also suggest improvements that will gradually bring your landscape to real beauty.
As the Landscape Auditor, I can give you peace of mind, and solutions.  I can walk any property, with permission if fenced or posted against trespassing, and give you a report on its fire hazard, signs of camping, and weeds both noxious and nuisance, and suggest abatement alternatives.
            For instance, puncture vine, also known as goat head, and tack vine, infests many vacant and commercial properties around this town.  Star thistle, another noxious weed, is rampant on vacant lots.  I know what these and other weeds look like dead or alive, how they spread, and how to get rid of them most efficiently.
            If you are a Realtor, you can offer this service to your buyers for their peace of mind, and to your sellers to make their properties more marketable.  A certificate of good landscape health can give both buyer and seller peace of mind; a bad report along with recommendations to fix the problems can be useful to both.
            Who want an ugly yard?  Not even the people who have one.  I can supervise your home gardener, renovate your property, or coach you in gardening your own property.
            To supervise your home gardener, I can visit monthly and look over your yard, giving advice and answering questions.  I can do the same with your gardener, and give you and your gardener a written report.  
            I can do landscape renovation, wherein you have day laborers work under my direction.  Renovation will thereby be done far more quickly than I could do it by myself, and I will get to train the maximum number of new, independent natural gardeners in my art.
            I can coach you to garden more beautifully, naturally, and easily.  I teach my “natural line of motion” design, which creates long, beautiful curves and easy movement through the landscape, as well as teaching easy garden building and maintenance.
            Ask and you shall receive one free audit of the property of your choice, complete with a written report, which I will then go over with you.
            Gardening is easy, if you do it naturally.  With my help, you can retrain the maintenance people you already have working for you, including yourself, and have a property that is orderly, beautiful, healthy, and naturally low-maintenance.

Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener    541-955-9040

Maintenance Gets No Respect

2nd Speech to Networking Toastmasters, 4/1/2013

Maintenance gets no respect.  On website drop-down lists of occupations, from the IRS to Linked In, there is no listing for gardening or landscape maintenance.  I am the perpetual “Other.”  This goes to show how much the kind of people who create such websites think about property maintenance.
Maintenance isn’t fun or creative to most folks; it is drudgery.  It comes after the excitement of building something new.  It doesn’t directly contribute to making money, so when money gets tight, it is the first thing to be cut.
But it is the last thing that should be cut, and the first thing that should be done.  I have had customers who don’t like me to weed unless they tell me to, because they want me building new beds and planting, and they don’t regard weeds as threatening until they are taking over.  But it is far easier and cheaper to pull a few weeds before they take over, than to ignore them and clean up a major infestation the next year.  Building can wait; maintenance must be done first, lest you build more than you can maintain.
The other day, my apprentice was working and a young man walking by asked him, “What are you doing?”  “Pulling weeds,” he said.  As they walked away, the youngster said to his companion, “I’ve never seen anyone do that before.”
We have developed many labor-saving devices, like weed whackers, riding mowers, herbicide sprays and mulches that make people think that they can get away with not pulling weeds.  And yet, weeds are taking over our town.
It’s because none of these things can replace weeding.  Cutting doesn’t stop weeds from going to seed, it just makes them seed out low.  Riding mowers allow workers to ignore goatheads as they mow, spreading them around and to other properties.  Glyphosate, AKA Roundup, is a heavy fertilizer of annual and broadleaf weeds; it kills one generation and fertilizes the soil for the next.  Spring weeds seed out before they die, not reducing their seed load. 
But weeding is the most expensive part of maintenance, and few commercial crews do it.  I suspect that most maintenance contractors have never actually done the work; they just hire guys off the street, or better yet, the developmentally disabled, and give them minimal training with cutters and herbicide, because they don’t understand or respect their own profession. Their workers care as much as their bosses care, and their bosses care as much as the customer cares.  If they get no criticism from their customer, they slack off and ignore their contract.  They may not even look at the property after they get the contract, leaving it wholly to their crews.
Our Community Corrections work crew bosses mis-train our miscreants, discouraging them from picking up the smallest litter to cover more ground, and not having them weed or pick up litter before weed whacking and mowing.  Many of these go on to work on commercial maintenance crews.
Mexican work crews actually pull weeds and pick up litter, being short and better built for bending.  They also tend to keep the soil bare.  All but a few crews clean up leaves rather than use them for mulch; most mulch with soil-killing fine bark that makes a fine seed bed.
Other people’s servants judge your maintenance further than you may think you are responsible for.  Many customers and maintenance people figure that their responsibility stops at the curb.  Leaves rotting and grass growing in your gutter looks neither professional nor respectable.
But even people who care about such things don’t necessarily think about them, because they sneak up on one.  Beauty attracts the eye; ugliness repels it.  A new landscape gradually become less beautiful and stops attracting notice; as it becomes ugly, the subconscious avoids noticing it at all, especially when the problem is widespread.  It blends in to the general mediocrity, not a good thing for advertising your business.
Grants Pass built a new Public Safety station.  They apparently got a landscape architect to design for low maintenance, with strawberry ground cover in place of lawn.  But they handed the design to an ignorant contractor who used cheap, soil-killing fine bark mulch around the shrubs and Jo Gro on the lawn area.  They then gave it the same maintenance as most other city properties: cleaning up all the oak leaves that would have suppressed weeds; mowing; and not weeding at all.  Their ground-cover lawn became a mowed weed patch, with a few strawberry plants showing the original intent.
The City hires people to supervise their building contractors, but not their landscape maintenance contractors.  Those are allowed to ignore their contracts and do lousy work, because the city has failed to take landscape maintenance seriously as a profession or as a necessity.  If you don’t respect the necessity for maintenance and the skills it requires, your maintenance servants won’t respect you, your property, or their contract.

Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener    541-955-9040

Beat Black Spot; Crown Your Roses

          Right now is prime time to crown your roses.  To get rid of black spot for the summer and make them grow their best, they must be cut to the crown, the solid knotty base below the stems and above the roots, and allowed to grow fresh canes. 
A Betty Boop rose, crowned mid-summer and blooming heavily in September

Cutting them off a foot high, the conventional way to treat roses in mid winter or early spring, leaves black spots on the stems and keeps the infection going.  The same goes for taking the old leaves off as the new leaves start to grow in; the new growth will be spotty before the new roses bloom. 
This applies mainly to tea roses that are not climbers.  Climbers bloom on second-year wood, and you will lose a year of bloom, but you can cut individual canes after they bloom.  Rosa rugosa doesn’t get black spot or molds, but should be crowned and allowed to regrow when it gets too large.
Josephine County, with its mild, wet winters and cool, rainy springs, is a hot-bed for black spot and other fungal diseases.  In Grants Pass, with many roses neglected entirely, photinias spreading the same diseases, and a city-owned pear orchard that was neglected for years and is in the process of being cleared, they are epidemic.
One can crown a rose anytime, and I have been doing so as soon as I saw black spot or mold for the last few years.  I have even crowned them in late fall and midwinter, but that slows re-growth in spring, as the plants get no warmth from the air and must wait another month or two for the soil to warm.  So this year, I crowned them after they broke dormancy and started to grow in early spring, which comes earlier here than most places at this latitude, in mid-February.  Some are already re-growing, only two weeks later.

Joan's rose, about two months after a February crowning
Cutting to the crown means cutting each cane to its base.  Roses hate any kind of dead wood, which blocks new sprouts, and branches that grow from stubs do not grow as well as a cane from the crown.
Crowning roses sometimes means going underground, when they are planted too deep or sink into rotting organic matter, like a stump.  The latter happened to one of my dad’s roses, which I had been cutting only to the ground for several years; it kept growing back smaller and more spindly from such treatment, as its stems were growing from underground stubs, not the crown. 
This year, I was determined to cut all roses to the crown, and dug to find it.  The top of the crown was a good 8 inches below ground, and it went a foot deeper, with thick “arms” reaching for the surface as the years went by, and roots reaching up around it.  Not wanting to dig that far every year, I dug it out and planted it with the crown above ground.  It should live; roses are tough.  (It didn't.  That's all right; roses are cheap.)
You can’t hurt a rose by cutting it, just by not cutting it sufficiently.  Go all the way to the crown for best re-growth and to beat the black spot.  Do it as the new leaves grow in early spring, and you can have clean, pretty roses all summer.  If you don’t, you can do it again as soon as black spot or mildew shows up.  The tea rose is a royal pain; it needs to be crowned.

Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener    541-955-9040