The first week of March means it is time to make nice with manure. Yes, composted steer or horse manure is a valuable asset this month as spreading manure on top of your berries will not only smother those weeds just starting to pop up, but also nourish the early spring growth that makes for a bountiful berry harvest. Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and your vegetable garden are all hungry for manure. Perennials and roses also love a spring tonic of manure to wake them up and this is the week to shovel nature’s natural fertilizer around your plants.
So here’s the scoop on the poop:
1. Don’t use fresh manure – or manure that is full of weed seeds.
I’ve made this mistake myself turning a strawberry bed into a field of grass by spreading not-quite-rotted manure onto the soil. Each shovel-full was full of billions of pasture grass seeds. Manure needs to be stacked and “cooked” for a few months to make sure all the weed seeds are killed off. If you know how to compost you can do this yourself. Otherwise, buy your manure already composted in plastic bags from the nursery or from a farm where they sell (and may deliver) washed and composted manure by the truckloads.
You can find free manure through the “Manure share” Web site for King County at www.KingCD.org. At this Web site you can also ask for help locating free manure in other parts of western Washington.
If you don’t mind paying, you can get delivery and excellent quality manure and compost from local companies around the state. Check your yellow pages. I like to buy manure in sacks from the garden center. This way it is easier for me to haul, spread and store the manure if I can’t finish the job is one day. (Yes, I’m one of those people that have had a mountain of manure sitting in my driveway for weeks at a time – hence the bags.) I can spread out the manure mulching task if I buy bags instead of piles of the stuff, investing in just a few bags each week. Then between spring rain storms I can drag, split open and shovel the dark brown manure mulch around my most hungry plants. A freshly laid mulch that perks me up as much as my plants.
2. Don’t worry about small weeds under your manure mulch.
The reason you want to spread manure or compost now is to smother the weed seedlings and any ready-to-sprout weeds seeds in your garden this month. I put my compost or manure right on top of large weeds as well. Then if these weeds survive and make their way through the 2 to 3 inches of mulch they are weak and easy to pull later on in the spring.
3. Don’t worry about digging the manure or compost into the soil.
Yes, this is a hot topic full of controversy in the gardening world, but recent studies, and my own personal experience, show that you really don’t have to till, double dig or spade a manure or compost mulch into your soil. Layer it on in early spring and let the earthworms do the work. By not spading or turning the soil you help to smother the weeds and avoid damaging the intricate webs, colonies and creatures that make up the living soil below. If you really love to dig, plow, till and spade go right ahead. Mixing in manure is a centuries old tradition, but not necessary.
4. Don’t pile up manure, compost or bark on top of the crowns of perennial plants. In our wet climate this causes rotting, especially of strawberries. Layer the manure on top of the roots so the spring rains can wash all the good stuff down to the root zone, just in time for the plants to awaken from winter dormancy.
5. Do admire and enjoy your beautiful beds after you spread manure, compost or even woodchips as a spring mulch. You get the instant gratification of a neat and tidy garden when you cover up all the fallen leaves, dead plant parts and weeds in the garden, plus you’ll be outdoors getting fresh air and exercise. It may seem like you’re just “sweeping the dirt under the rug” when you spread a spring mulch right on top of your winter-messy beds but why collect, haul and compost garden debris when you can just smother it in place? Let your winter debris compost in place, hidden beneath a tidy spring mulch the way Mother Nature intended. Make up your beds with a blanket of mulch pulled over the wrinkles, rake it all smooth and you’ll not only be done with the weeding and feeding, but they’ll look show garden perfect.
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Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.
For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.
Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.