Thursday, March 13, 2014

How does your garden grow?

The best guide for teaching how to garden in your specific climate and region, is by observing your own garden. I did this with a beautiful persimmon I planted, about three to four years ago. Reading how hardy they could be, I thought this would be a tree for success. It hadn't bore any fruit in all that time however.

Persimmon tree, variety, Nightingale
in background - pigeon pea tree

What it did do rather quickly, was grow tall with  sparse branches. When it didn't grow many leaves I thought perhaps this was how a persimmon was meant to be - even though I'd seen pictures which showed otherwise. I tried planting some yarrow as ground cover and it did well when it rained, but otherwise the grass soon took over. Not luscious grass either - the brown, brittle variety.

pest damage, I suspect borers

I also noticed over the years, it being attacked by some sort of pest on the main trunk. I didn't do much about it, as I was busy building other parts of the garden. It was left to its own devices, until finally I decided it was time to cut my losses and plant something more appropriate today. So imagine my surprise when I went to visit it with the secateurs, I found a single fruit.


This grew despite the intense summer weather we saw recently. It wasn't enough to convince me to keep the tree however. As I inspected the trunk more closely, I found a surprising discovery.

fighting back

New, vigorous shoots were fighting back under the borers nest, to save the trees life. It was the first time I saw thicker foliage being produced. I couldn't cut it down now. Something which can fight back after summer extremes and pest attack, could well be my best producer. Armed with a new plan, I decided to try a few things to help it along. Starting with the ground cover.

wilted yarrow

This was the state of the yarrow I found underneath all that grass. It was not meant to look like this either. I had fern-like yarrow growing in a semi shaded position in another part of the garden.

new yarrow growth in appropriate conditions

There has been one particular ground cover I have stumbled upon, which is super tough in our weather conditions however. It's the pelargonium citronellum (or lemon scented) variety, and can put out lush growth on minimal rainfall.

One of my propagation attempts ~ quick to strike and grow

That's what I want in a ground cover - rapid growth with minimum fuss to help create the kind of micro-climate, under the tree, to help minimise evaporation. The pelargonium leaves are hairy and designed not to lose moisture with intense temperatures.

Lady Nightingale

So I cut back all that straggly growth, including the pest damage, and left the new shoots to do their thing. I won't get to eat that lone fruit, but I would have saved the tree. Pelargonium ground cover was soon planted underneath, then dressed with compost and mulch. I gave two watering cans worth of hydration, plus a seaweed tea. That should really do it for the rest of autumn.

Winter isn't too far away, and then its leaves will turn bright red and fall before it goes dormant. But it should burst to life again, in the next growing season. I want to encourage a bushier structure, so will be pruning again, next year.

The lesson I got from this hardy survivor was to (1) find a ground cover able to grow in weather extremes, and (2) don't be in a rush to discard something before observing carefully. This persimmon may yet prove to be a very abundant producer.


  1. Very interesting lesson. I have contemplated ground cover for our trees-I actually planted comfrey under our plums a few years ago yet it seems we have some sort of bug that sucks our plums dry. I was reading in that Amish newsletter that a sure way to take care of any insect infestation is to pen chickens around the tree. Not sure I want to do that either.
    Do you think that your purslane might make a good ground cover? Also, I have to say that I am envious that your pelogorium would make a ground cover! I grow my scented ones in pots which is fine but how wonderful for you to be able to utilize them in other ways!

    1. Is that because your pelargonium wouldn't survive the below freezing temperatures? You're doing well to keep them in pots if that's the case. They're definitely something worth having. They smell so divine, natures own fragrance with no artificial anything.

      Mine is the lemon scented, do you have any other scented varieties? I always thought "apple" sounded interesting.

      As for purslane, it does survive very dry conditions, but it doesn't seem to cover the soil. There are lots of gaps. But I'm actually propagating the purslane because I want to be able to eat it - I'm going to set up its own area which will be known as the purslane patch, lol.

      The Amish advice is pretty spot-on, only you'd have to have them penned around the plums for a couple of seasons. Pests tend to lay their eggs on the ground, so when the larvae emerge, the chickens eat them before they ascend the tree. To break the breading cycle, they'd need to be there at least two growing seasons - or when the pest larvae are expected to emerge.

      Or at least that's the theory behind it. ;)

    2. Yes, that is it. The cultivate geraniums don't live in cold weather even though we do have a native wild geranium. I have a rose scented one that is absolutely divine! And I had a bay rum scented one that died but the scent was definitely like a mans after shave cologne.
      There are a few others that I have tested in the farmers market-the scents are always wonderful but I could only buy so many so naturally gravitated to the rose one.

      Our purslane grows into carpets in one season in the places we allow it to. It reminds me very much of the ice plants that California grows on hillsides to prevent erosion and landslides-very thick when left on its own.
      As to the chickens, I'd have to check the timing on the larvae-its muddy now that its thawing out so the chickens would not like it there. Timing is tricky for us!

  2. This has been my permaculture experience in a nutshell! I've planted a lot of edible trees and bushes along with recommended ground covers but have had many discouraging problems. And you're right about there being a lot of other projects to do. If I could focus on one thing and one thing only I could have a successful one thing! Ah well, live and learn. Happily Sepp Holzer says it takes several years to get a new ecosystem thriving. I take heart in that to not give up.

    1. Permaculture is an excellent place to start interpreting the landscape, but I've found it needs a lot of tweaking in my garden. I don't think permaculture is flawed, it's just written as general advice which requires the gardener to interpret according to their site. Needless to say, this gardener is still learning what works here, lol.

      I like what Sepp says, and I do notice improvements with each growing season. But it takes a lot more inputs than can be managed by a couple of people. Once up and running though, it looks after itself with minimal maintenance. That's what I'm hoping for!


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