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Time for Native Trees

encore date: December 22, 2016

original air date: October 8, 2016

Trees do lots more than give us shade and boughs for nesting birds. Native trees provide year-long habitat for pollinators and other beneficial creatures. Eva Van Dyke from Barton Springs Nursery picks options, large and small, that contribute to our backyard wildlife watch.  Get Eva’s native tree and plant list. On tour, Anne Bellomy took out lawn for drought-tough and wildlife friendly dimension. Need to replace some lawn or fill in under trees?  Daphne’s got the answer with water thrifty Berkeley sedge. With leaves falling, she answers “Is it okay to rake leaves directly onto beds?” John picks the right watering can for the job inside or out.

Question of the Week

Can we rake leaves into beds for mulch?

Let’s put our leaves to work on our garden beds instead of hauling them to the curb! Some gardeners worry that they’ll tie up soil nitrogen as they decompose.

And yes, as the microbes break down the plant material and incorporate it into the soil, they also use nitrogen, effectively taking it away from your plants. But in most home gardens, this would never happen to the extent of causing problems for your plants.

When we use bark and wood mulch at other times of year, those are high in carbon as well. It would really take a lot of carbon to cause a problem in your soil, so there’s no cause for concern.

Using leaves is a great, cheap way to protect the soil as we move from autumn into winter. If you have a mulching mower with a detachable bag, you can mow the leaves up, both collecting them and cutting them into smaller pieces. Although it isn’t necessary to mow them, mulched leaves will break down more easily, becoming a part of your soil more quickly. But you can also just rake the leaves into garden beds, piling them up near the base of trees and shrubs and completely covering perennials, which should be cut back to soil level at this time of year.

Adding organic matter is the best way to break up heavy clay soils, and the leaves that fall from your trees, or blow into your yard from your neighbor’s, are absolutely free.

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Plant of the Week

Berkeley Sedge

Berkeley Sedge

Carex Divulsa

Berkeley sedge makes an eye-catching groundcover, and is becoming more popular as a replacement for traditional turf lawns. It’s evergreen here in Central Texas, and easily takes winter temperatures well-below freezing. Berkeley sedge doesn’t spread out carpet-style, like a traditional lawn would, but instead grows in clumps, giving your yard a very distinctive look, more akin to an alpine meadow. Growing to about a foot tall or maybe a little taller, and about as wide usually, the long, delicate-looking leaves of Berkeley sedge tend to lay over, creating a cascading look that is quite striking. It performs best in bright shade to sun, and may struggle to get going in heavy shade. Berkeley sedge will also limp along and look a bit ragged during the hottest, driest times of year, and does need a bit of supplemental irrigation to do well. The most show-stopping seasons for this plant are spring and fall, when the temperatures are cooler and rainfall is normally plentiful. You’ll never need to mow Berkeley sedge, unless you want to a little clean up. If you have an area of Berkeley sedge growing under deciduous trees, as most people do, it’s perfectly fine to use your mulching mower to collect the leaves and give the sedge lawn a little haircut at the same time, just be sure to set your mower on the tallest mowing height. You can also use Berkeley sedge as more of an accent plant, along borders and filling in around perennial beds. It tolerates most soil types, from heavy clay to loose and well-drained. Our Viewer Picture goes to Katherine Carrington who peps up her winter container with vibrant ornamental cabbage and pansies.

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