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PAL Questions: 3 - Garden Tools:
We have a new house that we have to landscape around. The biggest problem is that we have to be careful what we plan due to the septic system. It is an evaporation system, with two huge cement tanks buried under the ground in the front of the house and plastic pipes running through the side yard. We are planting grass in a rectangle right above the biggest bunch of the plastic pipes, but what can go around it or by the cement tanks that will not grow long roots and dig into it? In looking at the planting information on the packages and in my Western Garden Book, nothing seems to mention root depth.
Below is an article entitled What to Plant Over the Septic System by Mary Robson (originally published in her Regional Garden Column for Washington State University Extension, December 6, 1998):
"As more and more people move into rural areas, questions about septic systems and landscaping have become quite common. This column deals with some of the basics. A new brochure from Washington Sea Grant called: Landscaping your Septic System, offers considerable detail on the subject and provided much of this material.
"First, be sure that the septic field is clearly identified, and you know where the reserve area is. Keep all construction away from these areas. Understanding the functioning of the system is vital. Get information. (Some of it is available in video form.) The drainfield will not work well if overloaded with extra surface water, so be certain that it is not in the path of downspout run off or irrigation systems.
"Sunlight and air circulation also help the drainfield perform properly. Avoid surrounding it with tall trees. (Some shade is fine, but you would not plant an oak on the edge of a drainfield.) Set up some barriers so that it is not compacted by frequent foot traffic. Occasional mowing or moving through the field to check the system is certainly fine, but you do not want the drainfield in the middle of a heavily used path.
"There are advantages to using plants over the drainfield. Plants do help provide oxygen exchange and contribute to evaporation necessary in the drainfield area. Choose plants with shallow, non-invasive roots. You do not want breakage or damage in pipes from root intrusions.
"Grasses are most commonly recommended for the septic area. Lawn can be attractive. Do not overload the system by watering it a lot. Meadow grasses or a mixture of turf grasses like perennial rye and some broadleaf flowers (such as yarrow) can also look good and require little maintenance. Several mixes sold as Eco-Turf or Fleur de Lawn have these components.
"Small, shallow-rooted ornamental grasses (for instance, Festuca ovina 'Glauca' 4-10 inches) can also be good looking. Very tall grasses like Stipa gigantea are not appropriate. Avoid over-active plants like English ivy (Hedera helix), which is becoming a menace in forested areas by moving in and stifling trees.
"Edible crops are not suggested. Vegetable gardening requires frequent cultivation, and digging in the drainfield area is inadvisable. Also, the brochure notes that: Sewage effluent is distributed through the soil in the drainfield area. Any root vegetables planted in this area may be directly exposed to septic tank effluent.
"Other possibilities are low-growing ground covers. Some, such as bugle weed (Ajuga reptans) and vinca (Vinca minor) grow vigorously and would fill in quickly. The native kinnickinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) grows well in full sun but is slow to establish. A mulch around the plants may help with weed control while the plants spread.
"The green growing layer over the septic tank helps the system to function, adds to the appearance of the landscape, and should, ideally, be set up to allow easy monitoring and maintenance. Keep landscaping simple and straightforward, remembering that the object is the good performance of the system."
To get more information on septic systems, contact your local health department. The brochure Landscaping Your Septic System (pdf) is available through the Sea Grant Program.
Here are links to publications that might also be helpful:
Mounds: A Septic System Alternative
Understanding and Caring for Your Sand Filter System
Care and Feeding of Septic Tanks
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My son and his sweetheart are planning a wedding in Seattle (my hometown) this coming September and would love to use seasonal flowers and greenery. I have not lived in the area for many years and am at a loss. Can you give us some suggestions please?
Here are some of the plants which are available in September:
Alstroemeria (Peruvian lily)
Callicarpa bodinieri (beautyberry)
Cotoneaster (for foliage)
Hebe (flowers and foliage)
Helichrysum (straw flower)
Acer (Maple: foliage)
Quercus (Oak: foliage)
Here is a link to the Washington Park Arboretum web page of seasonal highlights.
A great book on flowers by season is A Year Full of Flowers: Fresh Ideas to Bring Flowers into Your Life Every Day by Jim McCann and Julie McCann Mulligan.
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Our neighborhood has a small planter area at its entrance. There is no water supply to this area, but a nearby resident is willing to water occasionally. The soil contains much clay. We would like to plant a few drought-tolerant annuals to add color and supplement the more permanent shrubs--such as boxwood--planted in the area. Can you recommend some plant choices? How could we amend the soil to best hold water during the upcoming dry months? Would a commercial product such as "Quench" be of any value, in addition to organic mulches?
I found the following article by Nikki Phipps on GardeningKnowHow.com about drought-tolerant container planting. Here is an excerpt:
"...many plants not only thrive in containers but will tolerate hot, dry conditions as well. Some of these include annuals like marigolds, zinnias, salvia, verbenas, and a variety of daisies. Numerous perennials can be used in a xeriscape container garden such as Artemisia, sedum, lavender, coreopsis, Shasta daisy, liatris, yarrow, coneflower and more. There is even room for herbs and vegetables in the xeriscape container garden. Try growing oregano, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Vegetables actually do quite well in containers, especially the dwarf or bush varieties. There are also numerous ornamental grasses and succulents that perform nicely in containers as well."
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden's book The Potted Garden (21st Century Gardening Series, 2001) provides a list of drought-tolerant plants for containers.
I had not heard of Quench, but since it is cornstarch-based, it is certainly preferable to the hydrogel and polymer products which are more widely available. I found an article by garden writer Ann Lovejoy in the Seattle P-I (June 3, 2006) about Quench. Here is an excerpt:
With pots and containers, mix dry Quench into the top 12 inches of potting soil in each pot and top off with plain compost. Few roots will penetrate deeper than a foot, so it isn't very useful down in the depths of really big pots unless you are combining shrubs and perennials.
I would not recommend hydrogels or polymers as a soil amendment. Professor Linda Chalker-Scott of Washington State University has written about these products and their potential hazards. Here is a link to a PDF.
You could consider applying a liquid fertilizer (diluted seaweed-fish emulsion would work) to your containers once every week or two during summer. Here is general information on container maintenance, from Ohio State University Extension. Excerpt:
"Once planted, watering will be your most frequent maintenance chore, especially if you are growing plants in clay containers. On hot, sunny days small containers may need watering twice. Water completely so that water drains through the drainage hole and runs off. Water early in the day.
"If you incorporated a slow release fertilizer into the potting mix, you may not need to fertilize the rest of the season; some of these fertilizers last up to nine months. You can also use a water-soluble fertilizer and apply it according to the label directions during the season.
"Mulch can be applied over the container mix to conserve moisture and moderate summer temperatures. Apply about one inch deep.
"Depending on the plants you are growing, you will need to deadhead and prune as needed through the season. Monitor frequently for pests such as spider mites. Pests usually build up rapidly in containers."
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January 13 2017 10:35:53