Garden Basics with Farmer Fred

294 Apple Tree Rehab. Gravel Gardens.

December 01, 2023 Fred Hoffman/Debbie Flower Season 4 Episode 48
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred
294 Apple Tree Rehab. Gravel Gardens.
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Today we answer a listener’s question: can we reduce the height of an old, beloved backyard apple tree to a height where we can reach the fruit while standing on the ground? Yes, but it will take several growing seasons for it to return to production. America’s Favorite Retired College Horticulture Professor, Debbie Flower and myself talk about all the ways to reduce the height of an overgrown apple tree. 

Plus, we discuss a gardening trend gaining popularity east of the Rockies: gravel gardening. Which, for you desert dwellers, is not the same as your rock-filled front yards. (originally aired in Ep. 167). 

We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory, it’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery.  Let’s go!

Previous episodes, show notes, links, product information, and TRANSCRIPTS  at the home site for Garden Basics with Farmer Fred, GardenBasics.net. Transcripts and episode chapters also available at Buzzsprout


Pictured: Yellow Newtown Pippin Apple (Photo: Dave Wilson Nursery)

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Topic Links:

Flashback Episode of the Week: #158 Problem Plants
Pruning to Restore an Old, Neglected Apple Tree (OSU)
Fruit Tree Grafting Info (U. of New Hampshire)
Grafting Fruit Trees (Dave Wilson Nursery Video)
How to Graft a Fruit Tree (Bark Grafting) (Dave Wilson Nursery Video)
Fruit Tree Grafting Supplies
Olbrich Botanical Gardens
Gravel Garden Basics
Gravel Garden Video


All About Farmer Fred:
Farmer Fred website
The Farmer Fred Rant! Blog
Facebook:  "Get Growing with Farmer Fred"
Instagram/Threads: farmerfredhoffman
https://www.instagram.com/farmerfredhoffman/
Farmer Fred on TikTok
Farmer Fred Garden Minute Videos on YouTube
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294 Apple Tree Rehab. Gravel Gardens TRANSCRIPT

Farmer Fred    

Garden Basics with Farmer Fred is brought to you by Smart Pots, the original lightweight, long lasting fabric plant container. It's made in the USA. Visit SmartPots.com slash Fred for more information and a special discount, that's SmartPots.com/Fred.

Welcome to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. If you're just a beginning gardener or you want good gardening information, you've come to the right spot.


Farmer Fred

Today we answer a listener’s question: can we reduce the height of an old, beloved backyard apple tree to a height where we can reach the fruit while standing on the ground? Yes, but it will take several growing seasons for it to return to production. America’s Favorite Retired College Horticulture Professor, Debbie Flower and myself talk about all the ways to reduce the height of an overgrown apple tree. 

Plus, we discuss a gardening trend gaining popularity east of the Rockies: gravel gardening. Which, for you desert dwellers, is not the same as your rock-filled front yards. (originally aired in Ep. 167). 

We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory, it’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Let’s go!


APPLE TREE REHAB

Farmer Fred

We like to answer your garden questions here on the Garden Basics podcast. There are a lot of ways for you to get your questions into this old program. You can call us at 916-292-8964. You can email us. Fred at farmerfred.com works; or, go to our website, gardenbasics.net. You can leave a question there. Or you can call us at SpeakPipe… which isn't calling, really. You're opening up your laptop computer and talking to the microphone that's in your laptop computer when you go to speak pipe.com/garden basics to leave an audio question. We love the sound of your voice. So please do that. Thank you. So, Don from Milwaukee gives us a question about the family apple tree. He says: “Fred, my father planted three small apple trees in his backyard in Clark County, Indiana, which is in southern Indiana, a little over a decade ago. He never really had much luck with them, rarely producing a good crop of fruit. He didn't spray or net the trees. He mostly just did it just to do it. He passed on earlier this year at 97. And believe it or not, this is the year the tree produced the largest crop in number and size ever. But the trees are way too tall. My stepmother Rose is featured in the photos I'm sending you. She's a little over five feet tall, standing next to the apple trees. What steps do you recommend to take the trees to get them to the right height?” 

First of all, do not let your stepmother start sawing away at the tree. That's not for her to do, right?


Debbie Flower    

She's probably even older than we are.


Farmer Fred   

And the apples in the picture looked to be at her face level. So good for her. She's standing on the ground. She's not risking life and limb. But I can understand why you want to keep your your stepmom on the ground and keep that tree at maybe six feet  or seven feet tall.


Debbie Flower  

Yeah. And I can understand why you'd want to keep the tree, too. it has sentimental value.  There is an excellent publication from 1981, when I lived in Oregon and took the Master Gardener training shortly after that, and I think in 1982, I took that training. And it's about how to restore an old neglected apple tree by pruning it. And it's very specific. Number one, do this. Number two, do that. So hopefully Fred will post the link to this publication with this edition of the podcast. A couple of things to bring up are very important. Get a good ladder. They suggesting the orchard ladder. An orchard ladder has only three legs, not four. And having just the one leg off, you put that one leg up against the tree somewhere. It fits between branches. And the other two provide the steps that you can get up into the tree. That's third leg is a pole really. You're much more stable than if you have the four legs because it's very difficult to find a space among the branches to put that ladder. So get an orchard ladder. For a 24 foot tree they recommend a 14 foot ladder. That's a pretty big ladder. And do not plan on using a chainsaw to do the pruning, because chainsaws, when you're up on a ladder, are extremely dangerous. So get a good sharp pull saw or a tree saw. They are not the same as carpentry saws. The teeth are much bigger and they are sort of offset to make a rougher cut. 


Farmer Fred  

I would say I have an easier suggestion:  take a cutting of the tree and propagate it.


Debbie Flower  

I'd have to look into propagating apple cuttings. I would try semi hardwood, which means not when it first grows a stem. But semi hardwoods are typically taken in early summer, maybe June. July, if you're in Indiana, so maybe the latter part of July, and the bottoms have just started to produce wood. And then the top is still very green. And often you grab them, you don't cut them, you grab them and pull and you get a little bit of last year's wood as well. That often works well for hardwood plants. I did not look up apple tree propagation from cuttings, but that's what I would try. I'd use rooting hormone. And I probably would do different strengths of rooting hormone and some without rooting hormone and I do them in  probably a peat, perlite, organic matter 1-1-1 mix. It's worth a try. I've never heard of people doing that with apples, but you never know. So I’d do a whole bunch of them. 


Farmer Fred  

I'm going to reach for my book here. It’s called “Plant Propagation” by Alan Toogood.


Debbie Flower

 I like that man. Yes, he has a lot of plant propagation books.



Farmer Fred    

All right, in the book “Plant Propagation” by Alan Toogood, he recommends that for propagating apples, you can do it by seed  in late autumn or late winter and it is easy to do. You can graft in late winter, or you can bud in mid to late summer. Hmm. So it doesn't talk anywhere about rooting a stem. Right? It's just grafting, budding, and seed. It won't come true from seed, necessarily, I know. 


Debbie Flower  

Yeah,  I was gonna say you could graft it onto itself. But that doesn't necessarily work.



Farmer Fred  

 That would be interesting though. If you cut some branches off, saved them, hack the tree down to two feet tall, maybe…


Debbie Flower  

If you look at this publication there's more than one method. And one of them is to cut the tree way back. So you're into big limbs, limbs that are probably three or four more inches across. And you do it all at once to take these big limbs down and then let it regrow and then start choosing what you're going to retain from that. So it's like heading a mulberry tree and then trying to help it grow out of that.


Farmer Fred 

This book talks about using apple rootstocks to do the bud grafting.


Debbie Flower  

Well, they're available. You can Google them online. So you need to know what type of Apple it is, or you need to get a rootstock that accepts a lot of different apples, and just try it. 


Farmer Fred

This is a very bumpy scenic bypass. 


Debbie Flower

Yeah. And then you have to know how to graft.


Farmer Fred    

Alright, so we're just complicating your life, Don.  So go back to chopping the tree down, not down down, but cutting it back by 1/3 every year, if that's what this brochure says, which I think it probably does.


Debbie Flower  

Right, and it gives some real specifics. So which I think when you're a little worried about what you're doing, having specifics is helpful.


Farmer Fred    

Yeah, and we will have a link, It's called “Pruning to restore an old neglected apple tree”  from Oregon State University Extension Service, circular 1005 with diagrams and pictures of how to restore an old neglected apple tree. And I imagined that when you're done, it won't be very tall and that's okay. 


Debbie Flower   

Right. And I just Googled OSU Extension Circular 1005, and up it came.


Farmer Fred    

But if you want to learn a new skill, grafting, you just have to find a source for budwood for the tree.


Debbie Flower    

It’s not hat difficult.  I have some. I have rootstock in my yard.


Farmer Fred    

So, it’s  just growing? 


Debbie Flower    

Yes, I had those columnar apples, one each of two of the columnar apple trees. Just because I wanted to try more.


Farmer Fred  

What were they grafted on?


Debbie Flower    

Well, that's a good question. Oh, I think I have that information at home. I think I do know what it is. If I didn't have that at home, and they grew and they had apples but the apples were horrible. They were the most mealy apples and I tried them year after year after year. I said alright, so then I cut them back to rootstock and let the rootstock grow. And then I  ordered via mail, the scions. But you can get rootstock at some of those places too. 


Farmer Fred  

All right. So there are several solutions to this, but it will take a lot of work, Don. And if you ever have any easier questions, be sure to ask us.


Debbie Flower  

And you might,  if there's commercial orchards around you, you might go over there and find somebody who does pruning for them who would like a side job.


Farmer Fred  

Or better yet as a first move, go to the farmers market. Take some of your apples with you and say, What kind of Apple is this? 


Debbie Flower    

Yeah, that's a good first start, so you know what kind of rootstock to get if you're going to try the grafting technique. 


Farmer Fred   

All right, Don, thanks for writing in and good luck pruniung that apple tree down to size. But it can be done, if you're willing to put in the work.


Debbie Flower  

It takes several years. Yes.


GRAFTING INFO SOURCES 

Farmer Fred  

After listening to that last segment, you might be a little confused about rehabbing an overgrown apple tree, and all the tactics the home gardener could employ for keeping a prized fruit tree, but reducing its size. You probably have questions.


What about growing an apple tree  from seed?

According to the university of nebraska,

Apples do not come true from seed. Actually only about 1 in every 80,000 apple trees grown from seed has quality factors good enough to even be considered for evaluation. Most of the time you end up with a tree with small or inferior fruit and its nothing at all like the parent.

Johnny Appleseed: (wiki)

Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman; September 26, 1774 – March 18, 1845) was an American pioneer nurseryman, who introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and present-day Ontario, Canada, as well as the northern counties of present-day West Virginia. He became an American legend while still alive, due to his kind, generous ways, his leadership in conservation, and the symbolic importance he attributed to apples.

The popular image is of Johnny Appleseed spreading apple seeds randomly everywhere he went. In fact, he planted nurseries rather than orchards, built fences around them to protect them from livestock and wildlife, left the nurseries in the care of a neighbor who sold trees on shares, and returned every year or two to tend the nursery. He planted his first nursery on the bank of Brokenstraw Creek, south of Warren, Pennsylvania. Next, he seems to have moved to Venango County, along the shore of French Creek, but many of these nurseries were in the Mohican River area of north-central Ohio. This area included the towns of Mansfield, Lisbon, Lucas, Perrysville and Loudonville.


Supposedly, the only surviving tree planted by Johnny Appleseed grows on the farm of Richard and Phyllis Algeo of Nova, Ohio. Some marketers claim that it is a Rambo; some even make the claim that the Rambo was "Johnny Appleseed's favorite variety", ignoring the fact that he had religious objections to grafting and preferred wild apples to all named varieties. It appears that most nurseries are calling the tree the "Johnny Appleseed" variety, rather than a Rambo. Unlike the mid-summer Rambo, the Johnny Appleseed variety ripens in September and is a baking-applesauce variety similar to an Albemarle Pippin.(also known as the Newtown pippin)


Let’s move on to the subject of grafting fruit trees. And if what we were explaining sounded perplexing, well, an audio explanation of grafting can lead to very understandable confusion. You need to see it to really understand it. And then you need to extensively practice the art and craft of grafting before doing it on a fruit tree that matters to you. If any local nurseries or Master Gardener groups offer demonstrations of grafting fruit trees this winter, take advantage of attending that event. Here in California, the various chapters of the California Rare Fruit Growers may offer grafting classes, along with scion exchanges this winter. Scions are small branches of various varieties of fruiting wood that possibly may be grafted on to your existing fruit trees.  


DAVE WILSON NURSERY

Farmer Fred

Two of the best demonstrations I know of how to graft fruit trees, and are easy to find. They are presented by Tom Spellman of Dave Wilson Nursery, on the Dave Wilson You Tube page. The two are entitled “Grafting Fruit Trees” and “How to Graft a Fruit Tree.” Go to Dave Wilson dot com, click on the Home Garden Tab at the top of the page and then select DWN You Tube Videos from the drop down menu. 

There are over 100 videos on the Dave Wilson Nursery You Tube page that explain everything you need to know about growing fruit and nut trees, as well as berries, for the home gardener: selecting, planting, growing, harvesting, pruning…it’s all there…for your viewing pleasure.


 And there are plenty of fruit varieties arriving at California and other USDA Zone 9 nurseries now and in the weeks ahead, including  a great selection of antioxidant-rich fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, Goji berries, Grapes, kiwi, mulberries, gooseberries, figs and pomegranates. Come late winter and early spring, their other deciduous fruit and nut trees will be arriving, ready to plant, including apples, peaches, nectarines, plums, pears, apricots, pluots, almonds, cherries, walnuts, chestnuts, pistachios and a lot more.

And don’t forget , at dave wilson dot com, you can find the nursery nearest you that carries Dave Wilson plants.

Your harvest to better health begins at Dave Wilson dot Com. 



SMART POTS

Farmer Fred

For over a year now, I’ve been making some of the best compost I’ve ever had in a Smart Pot Compost Sak. The end result is a beautiful compost called leaf mold, make from fallen oak leaves. And the best part of all, it’s easy, with the Smart Pot compost sak.


All i’m doing is running over the fallen oak leaves with a mulching mower, and then loading those shredded leaves into the 100-gallon Smart Pot Compost Sak.  


This fabric bag from the folks at Smart Pots is lightweight yet extremely durable and lasts for years. It can hold 12 cubic feet of pure compost. This rugged fabric is entirely porous, containing many micropores that allow for air circulation and drainage. The fitted cover is a flexible plastic top designed to increase heat and help manage moisture in the mix, accelerating the composting process.


And all you have to do in the meantime, is wait. Load the Smart Pot Compost sack in the fall, and the following year, you’ll have some great compost to add to your garden bed, truly gardener’s gold.


It’s easy to start a compost pile with the Smart Pot Compost Sak. Just open the Sak, set it on level ground, and start adding your compostable materials: grass clippings, vegetable peelings, coffee grounds and more, as well as fallen leaves, straw, and shredded paper. Next, place the optional cover over the Sak. That’s all there is to it. You want faster results? Get a second Smart Pot compost sack, and shovel the contents of one into the other, adding a bit of an organic fertilizer that has nitrogen. The more often you do that, the quicker you’ll get finished compost.

Smart Pots are available at independent garden centers and select Ace and True Value hardware stores nationwide. You can find the location nearest you at their website.  


And you can buy it online from Smart Pots!  Just Visit smart pots dot com slash fred. And don’t forget that slash Fred part. On that page are details about how, for a limited time, you can get 10 percent off your Smart Pot order by using the coupon code, fred. f-r-e-d, at checkout from the Smart Pot Store.


Visit smartpots.com slash fred for more information about the complete line of Smart pots lightweight, colorful, award winning fabric containers and their new Compost Sak.  And don’t forget that special Farmer Fred 10 percent discount. Smart Pots - the original, award winning fabric planter. Go to smart pots dot com slash fred.



GRAVEL GARDENS: THREE POINTS OF VIEW (originally aired in Ep. 167)


Farmer Fred   

We are talking with Andrew Bunting. He is the vice president of public gardens and landscapes at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, an internationally recognized organization that was founded a long, long time ago. It's also the producer of the world famous Philadelphia Flower Show. Andrew, thanks for joining us here on the Garden Basics podcast. We touched a little bit about reducing the need to water and, of course, waterwise gardening, or the unfortunate term, xeriscaping, is popular here in California or actually,  it's downright the law. Do you find that there is an interest back there that despite all the summer rain you get, that people want to try waterwise gardening?


Andrew Bunting  

Yeah, we don't have the same drought situations that a large part of California has. But we do have periods of drought, you know, we might have, you know, a couple months where we get hardly any water whatsoever. So I think for those who want to just reduce water in general, that type of gardening might be appealing, I think out here, it's actually more of a an aesthetic. I love the kind of arid or xeriscape gardens you see in Santa Barbara and Southern California. So that type of aesthetic is one that you often don't see around here. So that's what's starting to gain popularity, and I've seen that actually, across, I would say, the eastern part of the United States. And often where I look for trends is, what are Botanical Gardens and Arboretums doing? They're often some of the trend setting institutions. There's some really good examples of gravel gardens. These are gardens that either just plant into the native soil and up-dress with gravel. Or ,like in my house, I actually excavated out about six inches of soil and put in gravel and kind of grow plants right right into the gravel, and the plants grow through the gravel into the soil below. One of the best gravel gardens, I think, in the entire United States is in a botanical garden called Olbrich Botanic Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin. They have multiple gravel gardens. They show  the public different ways in which they can use gravel aesthetically, as well as kind of the myriad of plants that you might grow in a gravel garden in this part of the country. There's some good public gardens like Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College. It uses gravel in multiple locations. A famous garden in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Chanticleer, has a fairly extensive gravel garden. I would say here it's almost more of a style of gardening that's gaining in popularity because it also affords you the opportunity to maybe grow types of plants that perhaps you would see more in California, but we don't see that much here. Things like Yuccas, hardy cactus, other succulent plants. A lot of the succulent plants in our native garden soils that get a lot of water in the summer and humidity actually don't do that well, so they really need a sharper drainage. So gravel gardening affords us that type of habitat so that you can grow those plants more successfully.


Farmer Fred  

Yeah, you would almost need at least six inches of gravel, if not more, just to keep the root zone above the area where the water may puddle below the gravel.


Andrew Bunting  

Yeah, that's right. It obviously can be, upfront, a greater expense than kind of traditional gardening. But , over time, you really cut down on the water because of the type of plants that you're growing. What I've found with growing plants in pure gravel is once they've grown through and into the soil below that top of four to five inches of gravel is so inhospitable that you hardly get any, any weed seeding into that top layer of gravel. 


Farmer Fred   

Oh, give it time.


Andrew Bunting  

Yeah, maybe  if somebody can figure out how to have a truly weed free garden that that would be a major trend.


Farmer Fred 

Not gonna happen. But what are some of the popular succulents there that can overwinter in those gardens back there?


Andrew Bunting    

Any of a number  of succlents. Most sedums, hens and chicks, sempervivums, quite a bit of cactus. They're actually hardy here. Not like you're Mexican type cactus, but, you know, a lot of cactus that are native in higher elevation parts of the US like in Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming. Those are hardy here. A few cultivars and species of yuccas, but it's not everything. Not everything that goes into gravel garden has to be a succulent. Once you establish things like some of the different species of Rudbeckia, or actually a lot of the prairie plants, a lot of the grasses and coneflowers and things like that. Because a lot of them have long taproots to kind of survive in Prairie type situations with a multitude of hostile conditions. Once those established they actually do quite well. In my grandma's garden home I have a plant called the Threadleaf Blue Star Amsonia hubrichtii. That that does quite well. All  the false Indigos, they have a fairly significant taproot and also do quite well.


Farmer Fred 

What about the prickly pears?


Andrew Bunting  

Oh yeah, prickly pear for sure. Yep. There's different species of prickly pear, but there's actually one that's native to the East Coast. And that does well.


Farmer Fred   

Okay, that's Opuntia for those of you at home keeping score, and out here that's a weed.


Andrew Bunting  

Our cactus don't get to be the stature like you see in California, they tend to be either ground covering types, or maybe just get a foot or two tall. But not like what you have on the west coast, where they can be tree-like.


Farmer Fred  

Andrew Bunting is with the  Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. He is the vice president of public gardens and landscapes. And again, more information online at PHS online.org. Andrew, thanks for helping us get off to a good gardening start.


Andrew Bunting  

You're welcome. Thanks for having me.


Farmer Fred  

Well, well, well, gravel gardening. Does that apply to people in USDA zone nine and people in the southwest? Because gravel gardening is not rock gardening. That's an interesting garden fad going on back east and Midwest. But how applicable is that to the warmer areas? Debbie Flower is here, our favorite retired college horticultural professor, and Debbie, based on what we just heard, that's an interesting idea that they have going back there. To be able to grow drought tolerant plants in four to five inches of small rock. And they kind of get churlish when you call it rock. They want to call it, garden pebbles or pea rock or something like that.


Debbie Flower  

Yes, well, they certainly have some specifications for the rock to be used. They don't want it to be limestone, because that will break down over time. And it should all be sized the same size. So it's not just going to a quarry and digging up a bunch of rock and throwing it in your truck and throwing it over the garden. Its sized. So everything is, from what I've been reading and hearing, between a quarter or half inch in size. And with smooth sides. So it's a very specific type of rock. And it could be very expensive, especially to get started. 


Farmer Fred  

Yeah, four to five inches is quite a bit, not to mention fun to move. 


Debbie Flower   

Yeah, I have to say that when I have done house-hunting in the past, I shy away from homes that have gravel on part  or all of the landscape because I know that I need to garden and I need to plant things and dig them up and move them and all that fun stuff. And with gravel as the mulch, that makes it more difficult.


Farmer Fred  

When you're growing in that environment here in California or in the southwest, what are the precautions that you have to take if indeed you do have a rock garden? Heat, I would think, would be a problem.


Debbie Flower   

There are some plants that prefer a mulch of rock or gravel. But four to five inches is not what what I would consider a mulch for those plants. The goal of gardening for me in a hot dry climate is to create shade and cooler places in the garden in the summertime. And gravel will not allow that because gravel reflects heat and light, especially depending on the color.


Farmer Fred  

And for really really hot climates like you would find in the Imperial Valley of California or parts of Arizona, New Mexico, even parts of Colorado, I would think that there's even more precautions.


Debbie Flower    

My husband is from Tucson, Arizona and Tucson has been very aggressive about reducing use of landscape water. What most landscapes have, and in some places you're required to by your CC&R's, is gravel as a mulch. It is not four to five inches deep, it's just an inch or two. And it is not sized like they're talking about in the more formal gravel gardens in the Midwest and East. It is just mined. The landscape mining company delivers it, and either you spread it or their people spread it as a mulch and those tend not to be white, they're not really colors that do lots of reflection. They are more of the tans and grays, which will do less reflection and then the result of using that gravel as a mulch is that you don't have grass and you don't have plants that survive in extremely high heat, which of course you're going to experience in the desert but can be ameliorated with somewhat with an organic mulch that will hold more moisture in the soil. So the landscaping, then, is very Southwestern, which is lots of cactus and trees that are native to the southwest.


Farmer Fred    

In that segment that we heard with Andrew Bunting, he talked about the gravel gardens in Madison, Wisconsin. He said it's one of the premier locations and he mentioned the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. And if you go online, and we'll have a link to it in the podcast notes. You can see what they've done there as far as putting in a pebble garden. The Olbrich Garden is in Wisconsin, which means they get summer rain. 


Debbie Flower  

They get summer rains, something we don't get , they get humidity, they're near Great Lakes. Yes. And that makes a huge difference, I think, in the success of those gardens. I have to say that in my Central Valley California garden, which is very hot and dry, I use lots of organic mulch. But I have learned that there are some plants I cannot grow in that organic mulch because it holds too much moisture in the soil and potentially close to the stem. I tried to keep it away from the stem but I'm not in total control. And so some plants just don't do well in that environment. Other plants love it and and so that limits my plant palette. On the other side of it, a gravel mulch that's four to five inches deep is also going to limit your plant palette, regardless of where you do it. But in places where there is summer rain and humidity, you'll have a broader plant palette that you can plant in that four to five inches of gravel.


Farmer Fred  

The link that we'll have refers to to a PowerPoint that the director of the Olbrich Botanical Garden did about their gravel gardens. And if you want to learn more about gravel gardening, you ought to listen to what he has to say about the plant palettes that can be used and the care that they take during the offseason. And one thing that he pointed out was that the staff there do a big job in the wintertime of removing dead organic matter and making sure that there is nothing for weed seeds to lodge in. 


Debbie Flower    

Regardless of what you mulch with, weed seeds are going to land on that mulch. And if there's any organic matter or any source of water, they will germinate and grow. And that's to me it's more difficult to get the organic matter out of gravel than to just let it melt into the existing organic mulch that I use in my gardens. By the way in that PowerPoint, he talks first about meadow gardens, too, and it's a long PowerPoint, over an hour. Start in the second half if you only want to hear about gravel gardens. ,


Farmer Fred  

It's in the last 15 minutes, quite near the end. You can see it and you learn a lot there. He had a lot of interesting tips. And he said that when they bring in plants, one gallon plants from nurseries, one thing they do is they scrape off the top two inches of soil, because that's where you're going to find most weed seeds.


Debbie Flower  

He's probably right, you're going to find most weed seeds in the top of the soil in a containerized plant. But that sort of makes me shiver to remove the top two inches. There are going to be roots there, potentially feeder roots there, that you're going to expose and damage potentially. And they may die in a harsh environment like the Southwest or Central California in the summer. That plant needs all the roots and moisture that it can get. In a more forgiving environment like Madison, Wisconsin in summer, which has more mild temperatures than we do and has summer rains and humidity, the plant may survive better.


Farmer Fred  

They are beautiful looking gardens back there. More power to them, if they can do that. I just think that in USDA zone nine, especially, it would be a struggle in nine and higher. Yeah, if you want to try it, I'd say try it in a small area first.


Debbie Flower  

A small area, where you want the plants to do well, there are succulents, plants that store water themselves. Hens and Chicks, Sedums, Dudleyas, those kinds of things. And Alpine plants that grow high. An alpine plant is a plant that grows high up on a mountain, potentially above the tree line, where there's not enough soil to support a tree. You have scree up there and scree is broken down rock. So those plants do very well in that area. So if you want to try a section and they're very interesting, they can be very beautiful, with very interesting flowers. And they tend to be smaller plants. So you can get a lot of them into a small space. It would make a really cool garden to put somewhere that you get up close if you have an outdoor sitting area or something.


Farmer Fred   

They also have a lot of ornamental grasses, which looked fabulous by year three.


Debbie Flower   

 And he talked about prairie plants, which grow in the Midwest, and they have tap roots. Generally, plants coming out of containers don't have tap roots. But the plants we're talking about here are herbaceous plants and grasses. They can regrow their tap root, the grasses for sure. When you see pictures of prarie plants, I wouldn't call them so much tap roots as they just have a very extensive root system.


Farmer Fred  

So again, the differences between a rock garden and a gravel garden. Out here in California, we are familiar with rock gardens. Rock gardens are shallower, maybe one inch or two inches worth of river rock really inch and a half river rock.


Debbie Flower   

And often accented with larger rocks.


Farmer Fred   

And the gravel garden is just that. It is made out of pea gravel, or in the case of what they did back in Wisconsin, seven-sixteenths of an inch of quartzite. And it has to be not sharp, in order for you to be able to walk on it, moreso for your pets to walk on it, or to work it with your hands. And that's the other thing too, that he pointed out. When they are cleaning up those areas in the wintertime, everybody has knee pads.


Debbie Flower  

Mm hmm. Yes. Knee pads are a good idea to get used to wearing when you're in the garden anyway. I can attest to that, having had to have one of my knees replaced, because I didn't always wear knee pads. But the other thing, another point he made was that you don't taper the gravel to the edge of the garden. You have some sort of edging and he shows you a whole bunch of different types of edging that are four to five inches tall, so the gravel remains consistently deep.


Farmer Fred 

That would be important. You need a barrier to keep it in place, so consider building sort of a little raised bed. For a gravel garden, if you're going to try that, and again, it's going to be more expensive because you're using four to five inches worth. And if you go out and price a ton of pea gravel, well, I guess you can borrow on your IRA to pay for it, but don't do that.


Debbie Flower  

And then delivery and then shoveling it.


Farmer Fred  

Rock gardens, gravel gardens. If you're going to try it, try it on a small scale first.


Debbie Flower  

See how it goes and let us know. 


Farmer Fred 

Debbie Flower, thanks so much for rocking down with us.


Debbie Flower   

Very interesting stuff. Thank you.




FLASHBACK EPISODE OF THE WEEK  #158 “Life is Too Short to Put Up With a Problem Plant”

Farmer Fred   

Life, as I am fond of saying, is too short to put up with a problem plant. Back on Episode 158, the very alive Debbie Flower, who is no problem at all, talks about when to pull the plug on the dying warm season plants in your fall and winter garden, including some organ harvesting tips when it comes to tomato plants who have overstayed their welcome at your garden party. Plus, we have tips for choosing and storing those cool season fruit favorites, persimmons, apples and citrus. Give it a listen, again its Episode 158, originally aired in December of 2021,  entitled “Life is Too Short to Put Up with a Problem Plant.”  Find a link to it in today’s show notes, or at the podcast player of your choice. And you can find it, along with a transcript, at our home page, garden basics dot net.


Farmer Fred

The Garden Basics With Farmer Fred podcast comes out once a week, on Fridays.  It’s brought to you by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. The Garden Basics podcast is available wherever podcasts are handed out, and that includes our home page, Garden Basics dot net, where you can find transcripts of most episodes, as well.  Thank you so much for listening…or reading.





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Flashback Episode of the Week: #158 Problem Plants