Volcano mulching

Just visiting the local grocery store makes me grimace. It’s all about the trees there. Last year, landscape and lawn care companies tidied up borders, trimmed and pruned shrubs at the grocery and then they piled at least a foot thick layer of mulch against the trunk of all the trees around the parking lot, a process that has been dubbed ‘volcanoes,’ or ‘turtle mounds.’

mulch volcanoes 1/13/2019

volcanoes January 2019

I’m always amazed to see a sight like this. For decades, arborists and extension experts have railed against such practices because it will sentence a tree to a slow death. Why we still see everywhere it is a mystery to me.

Not only commercial sites, but old trees and new trees in neighborhoods within a mile of my home are mulched with volcanoes. The mulch volcanoes have settled over the fall and winter months, but still piled high against the bark.

volcano1/13/19

volcano mulch 1/13/19

Mulch done right is beneficial for a tree. It prevents weed growth, protects bark from a weed wacker, helps retain moisture, and helps to moderate soil temperatures in all seasons. But the volcano mulch piled against the bark of tree, especially young trees, will soften the bark and invite the invasion of rodents, insects, fungus, rot and the suffocation of the trees’ roots.

I’ve been taught to think ‘doughnut’ when mulching a tree and limit the mulch to two, three or four inches deep… max. Once I apply, I pull the mulch away from the trunk for about five or six inches until the root flair is visible.

It’s a puzzle to me why volcanoes are so popular. Is it that the professionals don’t know better or do their clients prefer the volcano look? It frustrates me and as a frustrated Charlie Brown would say, “Aaugh!”

 

It’s been a mild winter…

…..on the Seacoast of New Hampshire. Lots of rain with temperatures that have fluctuated in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s during the day, and the 20’s and 30’s during the overnight for the most part. But this mild pattern is about to change. Last night we had mild overnight temperature of 33°. Tonight’s temperatures will drop into the mid-teens. Nighttime temperatures will stay there or much lower for the rest of the month. Sigh. Winter has arrived.

So this morning, I had a job to do. Out came the burlap to protect two of my woody plants, the mahonias, that I consider borderline plants in my less sheltered garden sites. Officially we are zone 6 in Exeter, but I always plant for hardiness zone 5b as I learned while working at Rolling Green Nursery here in NH.

mahonia NH 2019

It’s a lovely winter blooming plant and they are beginning to develop terminal blooms on several stems. With temperatures dropping to single digits tomorrow night, I needed to protect those new blooms that are oh-so tiny.

mahonia bloom January 2019

Those blooms will open to beautiful, lemon-yellow clusters in late February or March and look like this photo (below) taken in my January gardens in Virginia. As an early blooming plant, these fragrant blooms are well-known for helping to feed those first bees that are searching for nectar in the spring.

honeybee on mahonia

After pollination, the fruits develop the most divine grape-like clusters of powder blue berries. Unfortunately, they don’t stay on the plants long. My catbirds arrive from warmer climes and devour all before any other migrating bird has a chance!

mahonia berries in Virginia

Mahonia is closely related to the barberry, but the leaves are spiny and look more like a holly shrub. These slow-growing plants are planted in a shady mixed-shrub border that I am currently planning a big redesign. Not to worry… my mahonia shrubs stay just where they are as the jewels in the crown of this garden in New Hampshire.

Good Luck food for 2019

Here’s wishing everyone out there peace, happiness and much good luck in the new year…. including mister gardener and me!

We decided to celebrate the end of 2018 in a style that’s quite rare for us. It’s usually a cozy night at home and an early evening, but we upped the ante with dinner at a local upscale eatery, the Epoch, with a six course New Year’s Eve meal. Oh wow!

Epoch Restaurant

We thought it’d be a terrific time to treat ourselves while marking the end of an up and down year and celebrating the beginning of a new year full of good cheer and happy plans.

Epoch

We loved all the courses… new tastes for us like Arpege Egg, a soft-boiled egg with maple syrup, sherry, and a coriander floret, and for mister gardener, a favorite of tender bay scallops, but the highlight for me was Hoppin’ John soup. Not the Hoppin’ John recipe I grew up with, which is whole black-eyed peas served over a bed of rice, but a creamy rich soup topped with sprigs of water cress. Yum!

Epoch Inn 'Hoppin' John Soup"

It was so good that today I tried to make my own version of the Hoppin’ John soup using ingredients I have at home. No watercress. No cream of celery soup. Not sure included in their ‘Trinity’ they printed on the menu but I could guess it was the Trinity of celery, onions and bell peppers found in Cajun cooking. No bell pepper in our refrigerator.

I began by sauteing onion and celery in bacon grease until tender, then added chicken stock. I scraped up all the pan bits, added the peas, a chopped potato and seasonings and simmered until done.  I threw in a handful of spinach leaves and with the immersion blender, I made a pureed soup that passed the taste test. A dollop of sour cream and voila!

 

Hoppin' John Annie

It doesn’t taste exactly like Epoch’s tasty soup but my version is good enough. I may never eat traditional Hoppin’ John black-eyed peas over rice for good luck on New Year’s Day again.