Composting Day!

Loyal Yard Dude Alex shovels compost with the assistance of The Noble Bayard

Loyal Yard Dude Alex shovels compost with the assistance of The Noble Bayard

The heart of every organic English Cottage Garden is compost, and lots of it!  You are looking at three cubic yards of specially blended compost which is equal to 45 bags. It isn’t going to be enough.

I add at least 4 inches of compost to my beds every year.  My gardens would do better if I added twice that much.  Southern Ohio soil is mostly clay, and it needs a lot of work by earthworms and microorganisms to make it friable. The only way to achieve that is to add organic material.

I make my own compost, but it’s not nearly enough to cover my beds. This year I was lucky to find a supplier who will blend compost to my specifications and deliver it for a reasonable fee. I’m using 1/3 aged manure, 1/3 leaf mold and 1/3 mushroom compost.

I’m also lucky to have the assistance of Loyal Yard Dude Alex Lang. For a reasonable fee, he will shovel compost for hours and doesn’t complain except when it comes to composting the border running down my back yard aka Mount Everest. He also doesn’t mind the bees, which is very important!

I help too, and am writing this post during our lunch break.  Time to go shovel some more poop!

Loyal Yard Dude Alex spreading compost over the hosta bed.

Loyal Yard Dude Alex spreading compost over the hosta bed.

The Noble Bayard makes sure the work is up to spec!

The Noble Bayard makes sure the work is up to spec!

Amendments To The (Soil) Constitution

Did you know that fall is the most important season of the year for improving your soil?

You should be adding three things:  finished compost, raw organic matter, and organic nutrients.

Whether you are using your own homemade compost, or are purchasing compost in bags or by the truckload, stock up early with as much as you can afford. I use up a couple of yards of compost each fall (besides what I make in my own bins).

As you remove dead organic matter from your garden, apply at least a 3″ to 4″ layer of compost. While soil temperatures are still warm, the nutrients and organic matter in the compost will stimulate microbes and other beneficial organisms. Tired, end-of-season soil will be refreshed and renewed when spring comes around

Planting new shrubs, trees or other landscape plants?  Mix a few shovels of compost with the soil that goes back into the planting hole.

Raw Organic Matter

The soil in your vegetable garden will probably be laying fallow over the winter months (unless you’re lucky enough to garden year-round). To boost the amount of organic matter in your soil— beyond what you can get from finished compost— consider incorporating raw organic matter directly into the soil.

There’s just one thing to keep in mind when you’re adding raw organic matter to your soil. The beneficial soil organisms that will help decompose this material, require nitrogen to do their work. This means that if you don’t add some additional nitrogen along with the organic matter, the microbes will start using up the nitrogen in your soil. To avoid this, you can either add some nitrogen-rich manure along with the raw organic matter, or sprinkle on some granular organic fertilizer.

Shredded leaves are my top choice for raw organic matter. Use a leaf shredder if you have one. If not, just mow over the leaves several times with your lawnmower.

Animal manures (but not from dogs or cats) are great for the soil. You can gather it in buckets, plastic trash bags, feed bags, or in the back of a pickup truck. A good thing about adding animal manures in the fall, is that it doesn’t really matter if the manure is fresh or aged. Over the winter months, the caustic ammonia will dissipate, leaving behind valuable nutrients and organic matter.

Organic Soil Amendments

Most organic fertilizers release their nutrients slowly over many months, so applying them in the fall helps ensure they’ll be available to your plants next spring. If you can get your hands on some kelp meal,rock phosphate, or bone meal, do so. Because it’s the end of the season, your local garden center may even have some broken bags they’ll be willing to sell you at a discount. You can mix these organic materials right into your garden (or side dress around plants), along with the shredded leaves, manure and compost. Breaking down organic material requires some nitrogen.

If you suspect that your soil pH may need adjusting, autumn is the time to correct it. It’s best to raise or lower soil pH slowly, over a three- to six-month period. Add lime in the fall to raise the pH level of your soil. Add acidifiers like pine needles, peat moss and elemental sulfur if your soil is too alkaline. Remember that unless you already know that your soil is too acidic or too alkaline, you should always do a soil test to determine the pH level before taking corrective measures.

Better Soil — Better Garden

Improving the soil in your garden makes a huge difference in its ability to retain water, support healthy plant growth, and help your plants fend off diseases, pests and other stresses. Whether you’re new to gardening, or a seasoned pro, building better soil is the single most important thing you can do to improve your gardening success. And fall is the best time to do it!

Things To Do In The Cottage Garden In June

Flaming June

“What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade.”
–  Gertrude JekyllOn Gardening

June 21 is the longest day of the year, and the extra light and warmth encourages the garden to put on an exuberant burst of growth. But this extra light and warmth also means weeds will sprout up from seemingly nowhere. Keep on top of them by weeding regularly.

Herbaceous borders are reaching their early summer peak and the kitchen garden is becoming productive.

Get those warm season vegetables planted! Young starts of tomatoes, peppers, corn, eggplant, cucumber and squash can be planted now that all danger of frost has passed. This should be done without delay, especially if you live in a region where summer is short.

Keep newly planted trees and shrubs consistently moist. This is especially true as we head into the dry summer months. To make this task easier, use water bags around the trunks.

Check your roses for pests and diseases. Blackspot, powdery mildew and aphids usually start appearing in June. As soon as a problem is detected, treat it with an earth friendly spray such as Garden Safe’s Fungicide 3-in-1, which tackles disease, mites and insects. It may be necessary to maintain a regular spraying schedule over the course of the summer.

If your spring blooming perennials are starting to look a little worse for wear, cut them back to encourage new healthy growth. It’s safe to do this until mid-July.

Vining plants often put on lots of new growth in short periods of time. One way to tame the tangle is to use dental floss to tie vines to their supports. The floss is easy to carry around by just sticking it in your pocket, needs no scissors to cut it, and if you use the green, mint-flavored type, it almost disappears next to the vine’s stem.

Sow seeds for biennials such as hollyhock, sweet william, campanula and foxglove for blooms next year.

Cut lavender blooms in early morning before the sun burns off the aromatic oils. After the flowering stops you can lightly prune the plant to keep it in shape.

Plant dahlia tubers, asters and other plants for late summer blooms.

Fill in empty spaces in the herbaceous border with annual bedding plants. Begonias, geraniums and heliotrope are good, bee-friendly choices.

Apply compost to feed your plants!

Helping Your Hydrangeas Bloom

Hydrangeas not blooming? You may be able to help them out by doing the following:

Make Sure They Have Enough Sun

While hydrangeas don’t need full sun, they do need some sunlight. Are your non-bloomers in heavy shade?  That may be the problem.

Stop Pruning

Most hydrangeas don’t like to be cut back severely. They set their buds in the fall, so if you are cutting old wood, you’re cutting away flower buds too.

Lavish Them With Compost

Poor nutrition can cause a lack of blooms.  For the best results, add compost in the fall and again in the spring to encourage maximum summer blooming.

Things To Do In The Cottage Garden In May

Chores and Maintenance:

  • Finish preparation of planting beds
  • Continue to cultivate planting beds and carefully remove young weeds
  • Dig and divide early-blooming perennials after flowering
  • Lift, divide and replant late summer and fall-blooming perennials
  • Set supports for floppy plants, vines and vegetables
  • Mow lawns regularly to keep grass at 2½ inch height
  • Begin watering program as necessary
  • Continue weeding
  • Aerate and moisten compost pile to speed decomposition
  • Mulch azaleas, rhododendrons, and other ericaceous ornamentals with acid mulch
  • Mulch planting beds
  • Deadhead bulbs but allow foliage to remain until yellow to nourish bulbs for next year’s display
  • As night temperatures moderate into the 60’s, move houseplants outdoors (avoid full sun and windy locations)
  • Look for pests and other problems; spotting early can mean fewer chemical controls. Note: slugs and caterpillars can be removed manually
  • Begin application of deer repellents


  • Move self-sown annuals and perennials to desired locations
  • Sow seeds of corn, cucumber and melon directly in the garden
  • Harden off tomato, eggplant and pepper transplants before planting out at end of month
  • Complete planting deciduous trees and shrubs, weather and soil conditions permitting
  • Continue to plant and transplant perennials
  • Plant summer annuals after last frost date
  • Plant summer-flowering bulbs such as gladiolas and dahlias after last frost date
  • Plant caladium and tuberous begonias in shady spots
  • Complete reseeding bare lawn areas


  • Pinch back late summer and fall-blooming perennials
  • Continue to prune all plant material to remove any diseased, dead, weak or crossing branches
  • Prune early spring-flowering shrubs after blooming
  • Wait to prune evergreens, hedges and other shrubs until late spring into early summer
  • Begin deadheading roses
  • Add compost/organic fertilizer to roses
  • Fertilize needle evergreens with  organic acid type fertilizer
  • Compost/fertilize bulbs as they finish blooming
  • Compost/fertilize annuals and container plants

Things To Do In The Cottage Garden In April

“And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.”

– Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Sensitive Plant

April is National Garden Month. It is also the “action month” in the cottage garden. This is when things need to be done almost every day, especially if you are starting a new bed.

April can be summed up in five words. Weed. Plant. Divide. Compost. Weed.

But for a more detailed list of things to do, see below.

Plant annuals and perennials

For best performance, get your perennials and bedding plants in early. You won’t need to fill in your beds as much in midsummer.

Divide perennials

Lift large clumps, split with a spade and re-plant. Couldn’t be easier. This is the easiest way to increase your stocks of plants. Newly divided clumps need watering in and you need to give a bit of water if it gets very dry. Lots of nice compost and that’s about it!

Move plants

Anything you decided last year was in the wrong place can be moved now and should get off to a good start before it gets too hot. I try to keep a gardening diary these days so that if during the year I see things I want to change I write it down and then don’t forget the following April.

Rose care

If you didn’t do this last month add an organic fertilizer rich in nitrogen and potassium to your roses. Hoe into the soil at the base.


Prune buddleia and lavatera, cut these hard back to stop growth from being ‘leggy’.

Cut back all hydrangea stems which flowered last year. Leaving these on until now provides some frost protection during the winter.

Tie In Stems

Take a look at your climbers and see which ones need to be tied in to their supports. Clematis tend to need a helping hand to get going on their supports, honeysuckle as well (my clematis bloomed today!) Wisteria can usually manage on its own.

Sow seeds

You can sow annuals and perennials now.

Good annuals to provide lots of color are: zinnias,marigolds, sunflowers and cosmos (especially the lovely dark pink colours).

Perennials worth trying are: coreopsis, helenium, lupin and verbascum. Verbascums lovely spikes of flowers provide real height and contrast in your garden.


Make sure you keep up with weeding as the weeds will be growing strongly now.