Wednesday 10 October 2018

Still a no dig gardener

A curious incident
Sometimes I think Roger is not all there
Recently I was party to a strange experience when I was advising on the maintenance of a garden. It was only when I got home that I thought that what happened might be untoward!
I have heavily disguised the circumstances as I do not wish to hurt anyone’s feelings (if I have not already done so). I can fairly safely write this as few of my friends ever read me. 
Two other very dear friends Mike and Isobel promise they will fit in a viewing of my blog into their very busy lives every time we see them.It’s now been six years.

The actors in this scenario were a longstanding friend, a friendly enthusiastic gardener and myself.

This particular sycamore is in Cathi's garden. Mea culpa, I am her gardener
Garden centric as ever and unaware of anyone’s feelings I pointed out a two year 18 inch high sycamore seedling in the middle of a sturdy clump of a herbaceous perennial. 

Suddenly I found myself with a spade thrust into my hands. So foreign is the idea that a spade had anything to do with this seeded tree I just thought I had (typically) lost the thread of the joviality of the occasion and muttered something about it being a very fine stainless steel spade.
It was grabbed out of my hand and my young friend with some purpose dug out the young sycamore. I took no exception admiring the vigour, enthusiasm and energy of youth. It’s only now I wonder.
How that thrust of that spade would have jarred my arthritic wrist! Any damage to the plant was incidental (but unnecessary).

The point of my story is that most gardener’s instinct is to dig something out. My own first choice in this case would be to cut it out to the ground with secateurs, if possible going below its juncture to the soil minimising the not unlikely chance of it regenerating later. Perhaps problem deferred but so speedy and easy. I might catch any regeneration on a future spray round or snip it again.

Had the sycamore been a little smaller I would have just grasped it at ground level and yanked it out using  an ascending controlled gradient of pressure with my strong arms and avoid straining my back. If it does not budge I would get out my saw or secateurs. Sprains take longer to get better at my age!

Leaving the soil alone
It’s this thing about gardeners constantly stirring the soil with attendant chopping out roots. As if it is the necessary thing to do. It isn’t. The more the soil is left alone and nature’s healing and building properties are left to get on with it the better.

To this end several years ago I posted about chopping unwanted trees down rather than digging them out or grinding them down. Of course such measures are occasionally necessary but in my life I must have sawn down hundreds of trees and left the roots in the ground
Not for me breaking my back and my spade. It seems to be a badge of honour to expend endless energy heaving things out. For me gardening should be gentle, un-intrusive and easy.
A gardening innocent once said to me if he did not dig out his small tree how could he dig!

This stump might take a long time to decay
My only regret about my previous post is I did not direct reader’s attention to the nuisance of stumps. Of course they can be sidelined into some pleasant garden feature but left alone they can be a serious hazard. The times I have cursed when I have tripped or stumped my toes is legend (no pun originally intended). Stumps don’t quite last for ever but might take several years to decay. For large trees decades. When my stumps rot too far I eventually knock them out with a single blow of a sledge-hammer.

The answer of course is to cut stumps sheer to the ground. A contractor will be reluctant to do so as soil contamination blunts his chainsaw edge. One way round is to use an old saw or chain for this final cut

It is only in recent years I have got wise. Rather late considering I invite garden visitors to walk wherever they want to! If you come on my Open day beware.

Read my earlier post to preserve your health and sanity


  1. I try to avoid too much diggng but, what about if your soil is very stoney.? When plantng I like to ensure a good root run removng stones in the immediate area... My soil is very dought Im sure all the stones don't help!

    1. Thanks for your query anon
      Although I have no objections to removing stones for aesthetic reasons I do understand gardeners who remove them to cultivate the soil but as you will have gathered that's not my thing!
      Loose stones in the ground don't really impede roots which grow round them. Some of my posts are about Worsbrough cemetery garden that I used to maintain. It's at least half stone and the only ones I removed were to take home to mulch my garden!

  2. Now you telll me there are trip hazards in your garden.

  3. Some years ago we cut down a large Silver Maple but we left the stump, which I built up into a planter.

    1. Sounds good. I expect there are pictures on your blog, Jason

  4. I have several trees I need to get rid of and I'd love to be able to leave the stumps... My concern that they'll become infected with honey fungus as I've got several vulnernable trees (apples, crab apples, pear) that I'd like to keep. Some of the trees I need to get rid of (Acer, plum) are also supposed to be vulnerable.

    Do you just take the line that healthy trees should be able to survive in soil infected with honey fungus? I'd be interested to know your thoughts.

    I briefly contemplated trying to grow shitake mushrooms on the stumps, because apparently the shitake inhibits other fungi, but as it's supposed like dead wood I'm not sure that stumps - some of which sprout - would be a good host...

  5. yes I do take the line that unless your trees are of a great age or the site is particularly stressful or the fungus is particularly virulent all will be well. The norm is that you will have no damage. My most recent post about honeyfungus is about the RHS survey investigating this and this post links back to my original article on this theme

    I don't think much of your shitake idea anon.


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