Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Sometimes it's best to just jump in

There are a lot of projects in the garden that I never seem to get to, even these days when there's arguably more time available to focus on such tasks.  Recently, I launched two such projects without any forethought about what I was getting myself into, and my husband initiated another one.  Once again, I didn't take "before" photos, although I scoured my digital files to come up with what I could.

The first project involved clearing an area that was infested with asparagus ferns and their nasty bulbous roots.  I inherited this problem with the garden and had previously only chipped away at the ever-expanding ferns.  Some prior owner apparently decided that asparagus ferns were a good way to cover a lot of ground fast - and added dozens of the plants throughout this garden.  Admittedly, they're evergreen, produce berries for the birds, and can tolerate dry conditions that even succulents can't handle.  However, the berries are toxic to cats and dogs, and birds spread the plants everywhere.  They also produce masses of bulbous roots, which mingle with the roots of more desirous plants, making them difficult to remove.  I previously removed large masses of them in front of our mimosa tree to make room for other plants, a process that took days.  (It felt like weeks.)  I personally feel that real estate sales should be required to list asparagus ferns as hazardous substances.

This is the best "before" photo I can offer.  There were tree separate masses of asparagus fern here (one behind the blue trug).  What you see above ground belies the extent of the roots below ground.  The roots were also mingled with ivy that's crept up from the back slope (another species planted en masse by a prior owner) as well as the roots of other surrounding plants (probably including that strawberry tree).

Removal is a long, slow process.  Experts recommend removing all bulbous roots, as well as any berries.

Here's the cleared area.  I planted a variegated Lycianthes rantonnettii (blue potato bush) purchased by mail order, as well as transplanting Agapanthus bulbs obtained in the process of another project.  I'll have to remain vigilant about pulling asparagus fern seedlings as there's no way I got all of them.

While I was working on that project, my husband started one of his own, into which I got sucked.  You may recall that, after years watching it decline, we removed our mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin) late last year.  After negotiation, my husband agreed to replacing the mimosa with a Ginkgo tree but, with the mimosa's massive trunk still in place, we needed to clear a spot for it.

The tree service cut the mimosa tree's stump as close to flush with the surface of the soil as they could manage without damaging the hedge behind it or destabilizing the slope that plummets down just beyond that hedge 

My husband decided to cut back the remaining trunk further so we could relocate a nearby mass of Agapanthus to clear a space for the new tree.

He dug out soil surrounding the stump and used a chainsaw to slice it up

After repairing the chainsaw mid-way through the process, this was what the area looked like when he finished cutting back the stump

His next step was to remove the boards originally placed on diagonals around the mimosa tree, replacing them with new boards to level that area for planting.


When that was done, he added 9 cubic feet of top soil purchased from a big box store

Then he proceeded to remove the large clumps of Agapanthus you can see on the left in the previous photo.  That's when I got involved.

Having previously done this myself, I know there's no way to dig up well-established Agapanthus clumps without damaging a lot of the bulbs.  Many of these went straight into the green bins but I put aside a lot of them to see what I could save.

Like asparagus fern, Agapanthus produces huge masses of roots.  In addition, this area had asparagus fern roots mingling with the Agapanthus roots.  I pulled out the screening system we used when we cleared our property of lawn and used it to separate roots from soil.

It works well but it's still time-consuming

One of many trugs filled with roots

When I'd removed what I could, my husband added three more cubic feet of top soil and yesterday I dug in planting mix and compost, removing more asparagus fern roots as I went.  Our native soil is very sandy so I'm hoping that the additives, well mixed, will provide a good foundation for the new tree.

This is what the area currently looks like.  I replanted some of the Agapanthus bulbs I'd cleaned up here and in the area I showed earlier. 

I've got eight or nine more bulbs but, unless I find a spot for them somewhere else in the garden today, I'm going to put them on the street as another of my giveaways

Until the Ginkgo biloba 'Autumn Gold' (ordered yesterday!) arrives, further action is on hold on this project.  Yet, still in garden clean-up mode, on the fly I decided to tear out an overgrown mass of peppermint geranium (Pelargonium tomentosum) I'd managed to ignore for a long time.

This photo from April 2020 is the best "before" picture I could find.  The peppermint geranium was planted below and around the pineapple guava (Acca sellowiana) in the background on the right.

This photo shows the area after the Pelargonium was removed.  I also cut back a large clump of asparagus fern here but I still need to get in there with a trowel to see how much of the fern's roots I can remove without damaging the tree.  (Can you hear my sigh?)

I took sixteen small cuttings of the Pelargonium to root should I be unable to find anything more interesting to plant below the pineapple guava

Now, the main issue is finding plants to fill the vacant spots.  I made my first trip in over two months to my local garden center yesterday, mainly to pick up planting mix but I took a spin to see what plants are available.  There were a lot of the usual early spring options but I didn't get excited about much other than a Banksia spinulosa.  In another month I should be immunized and expect I'll feel better about wandering further afield in search of plants.


All material © 2012-2021 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

 

18 comments:

  1. You have the patience of a saint to go through the removal of asparagus fern roots, but it’s so worthwhile. And yay for your husband taking on that project of stump removal!

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    1. I'd call it stump diminishment rather than removal but it was appreciated whatever name you give it!

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  2. When we moved into this house in the 1990s there was asparagus fern planted beneath an apricot tree in the back corner where my Lobelia tupa lives now. At that point it hadn't spread much,thank god. It and the apricot are long gone. I like how you prepared the area for the Gingko !

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    1. I'm pretty sure these plants were installed when the garden was landscaped by the owners prior to the man we bought the property from. I largely ignored them during my first several years here, never realizing how invasive their roots are. I'll be chopping them back forever, I expect, Kathy.

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  3. Goodness, you got a lot done. It sounds like the asparagus fern is a real pest even though they look so dainty and airy. In my youth I remember them being added to flower arrangements. I think the variegated Lycianthes rantonnettii will look wonderful in the cleared up area.
    Could some Agapanthus take the place of Pelargonium under the pineapple guava tree, or maybe you are in the mood for something new?

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    1. I haven't entirely ruled out sticking Agapanthus under that pineapple guava but I hesitate as I think they'd want more sun to bloom than they'd get there. I was thinking of trying more hellebores in the spot - if I'd seen some at the local garden center earlier this week, they'd have ended up there but maybe it's a good idea to give myself more time to deliberate.

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  4. I am glad to hear the gingko planting can proceed! And I would be extremely envious of your time spent moving projects forward except that I was able to (finally!) do the same yesterday. Removing my dead (?) Grevillea rivularis and cleaning up the area surrounding it.

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    1. I'm glad that the arctic blast has retreated, Loree, and that you now have an opportunity to assess the damage and strategize on next steps!

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  5. You have been so busy Kris. I have always liked the asparagus fern. Of course they don't survive our winters. I feel for you having to dig them out. Sifting soil is time consuming. Your and your husbands efforts do make a pretty planting place. Can't wait to see the tree in situ.

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    1. I can't wait until the garden center lets me know that the Ginkgo is in, Lisa! I'm tired of looking at that bare spot directly off our back patio.

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  6. Hard work! I admire your drive, Kris. Invasive roots are my worst nightmare. I have a few of those in my yard that I doubt will ever be completely removed.
    The site of the new tree looks great, hope it arrives soon and does well. I love gingko trees, esp. in their autumn finery.

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    1. I generally avoid deciduous plants, Eliza, but the fact that this tree has lovely fall color (an anomaly here) and satisfies my husband by insuring that "his" view is unobstructed at least part of the year earned it a lot of points.

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  7. Oh my gosh, what huge projects but oh what a relief it must be to have them done, at least as much as they can be done considering what you are dealing with. You've created a good space for the new tree and whatever else you decide on. Congratulations!

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    1. Thanks Barbara. Those asparagus ferns will never be completely gone. I find them getting a new start in all sorts of places and pluck the sprouts and their attached roots out whenever I can.

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  8. What a nightmare that plant is. You dealt with it really well. The areas look ready to be planted and beautiful soon.

    I found one tiny as-fern plant sprouting in my garden last year and went into panic mode. Got it. Some bird must have dropped a seed. When it comes to nasty plants, paranoia is not a bad thing.

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    1. Yes, the birds spread the asparagus seeds so readily! I find seedlings all over the place. I still have masses of the plants along one side of our property line too. Those buried under hedges are pretty much impossible to do anything about except relentlessly cutting them back.

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  9. I'm so impressed with your efforts (and your husband's too). My garden never had any asparagus fern officially planted. The tiny seedlings I see are probably bird-sown and easily removed. When a friend was helping me rehab the front porch, she recommended asparagus fern and I barely controlled my recoil.

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    1. It's a good thing you realized how insidious the plant is, Nikki. apparently, a lot of people don't - or simply don't care.

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