Thursday, 10 December 2020

Putting the garden to bed for winter: Asters

For some reason, I don't really like that phrase - perhaps because, to me, gardens aren't "asleep" through the winter, there is still work to be done. In fact, there's a ton of work to be done, and I often find that I'm just as busy, if not busier, through the winter:  the days are shorter, the weather is worse, and there aren't as many working hours in the week.

So here we are again, "putting the garden to bed for the winter".... and here's a small bed which is clearly in need of some work:

As you can see, a mass of Asters, that's Michaelmas Daisy: and there's some leftover Alcea - Hollyhock, that is - and a dwarf Juniper, that's the sharply blue-green stuff towards the right of the picture.

My rule is to remove anything that's gone black, brown, or mushy.

Asters are very easy - they look tremendously tricky,  all that black foliage and dead leaves, and there seems to be a huge mass of them, but all you have to do is chop them right down low:

 Like this - right - and within a minute or two, you've cleared the worst of it.

I am always in two minds about what to do with the tops: those white fluffy-looking blobs in the picture above are the seed heads - Asters produce a massive amount of seeds, which is why they spring up everywhere in your garden - and I never want to put seeds on the compost heap, for the obvious reason.

Also, I find that the stems are very woody indeed, and take a long time to rot.

But it's such a large amount of green waste, it seems a shame not to compost it.

So, what's the compromise? 

If you have lots of time, and not a great deal of material for your compost pens, then cut off the bit with the seeds (that goes on the bonfire heap or in the green waste wheelie bin) and then cut the stalks up into shorter sections - just a few inches long. Or, you can bend and snap them, which is better than cutting: they break down more quickly if they are squashed, bruised and battered, than if they are neatly cut. Either way, if you reduce them to smaller pieces, they will rot faster.

If you have huge compost pens, then bung the whole lot in: your large heaps should achieve sufficient heat to kill the seeds, and the woodiness will be counterbalanced by all the other material you put into it.

But if you only have smallish compost pens, then bung the lot onto the bonfire pile, or into the green waste bin. Yes, it feels like a waste, but Asters invariably produce a large volume of material, and as far as compost heaps are concerned, too much of any one thing, is the worst thing for them.

Then, we get out the spring rake (which we mostly use in autumn, ha ha, gardeners' joke) and rake gently through all the clumps of cut-down asters, to get out all those dead leaves, and other general debris.

Here we are, a short while later - left.

Better, huh?

Once all the dead material has been cleared, we can spot any devious opportunistic weeds which have crept in, and they can be dealt with.

This leaves the bed all clean and tidy, all set for next spring.

Finishing touches include clipping the edge of the lawn (not done yet), which will really smarten the whole thing  up: and going over the newly-revealed patio slabs, weeding out the cracks, and finally sweeping up all the bits.

Job done!



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