Friday, March 25, 2011

Mowing Bedlam

If my regular readers suspect that they have begun to determine a pattern in the "Roush Gardening Method," today's blog will remove all doubt and expose me for the gardening charlatan I truly am.  I know that some might apply the words, "cynical," "skeptic," and perhaps "shameful" to many of these blogs as I discuss emotionally-charged subjects such as Global Warming, organic gardening dogma, and WEE (Wild-Eyed Environmentalists).  Yes, I fully admit that I am sometimes unable to resist poking the Birkenstock herd as they meander across the garden drinking the Kool-Aide.

But truthfully, for all the "low-maintenance" hype I spew about my garden endeavors, the core basis of the "Roush Gardening Method" is simple laziness.  I don't aim for low-maintenance, I aim for "low-work," however that result can be obtained.

As an example, I resolved a few years back to limit the annual maintenance of my two mixed daylily and iris beds to the simple technique of mowing them once in the Fall or late Winter.  As you can see from the picture at left, the resultant bed has a nice clean look that took about 10 minutes to create at the end of the last growing season.  Please go ahead and ignore the variably-sized limestone edging that keeps the prairie fires out of my beds. Doesn't it look like a knowledgeable and dedicated gardener has been hard at work clearing this bed of plant debris?  I did not, as recommended in numerous books, take some nice hand scissors out to carefully and individually trim the iris into angled fans, nor did I remove the previous foliage from the daylilies.  I simply mowed off both at a height of 3 inches with a mulching, riding lawnmower (gasp!).  This resulted in a nice 2-3 inch layer of chopped mulch that matted down nicely and didn't blow to the next county over the winter.      

As you can see from the 2nd picture, the result, pictured during early daylily season in the middle of a hot summer, leaves little room for complaint, at least by me.  I get two solid seasons of bloom, iris and daylily, out of this bed, plus a little third bloom season due to some daffodils that pop up and cycle before the daylily or iris foliage is evident.  Yes, it is not a varied shrub border, but I have those in other places and they bloom in their own time and space. No, I wouldn't do this to a formal rose garden.   My daylily and iris beds are intended only for full colorful climax at the height of summer.  It is also important to know that I have not yet seen any disease nor detriment to the practice.  In fact, the disaster of the late Flint Hills freeze of 2007, which reduced the majority of my irises to soggy and very dead plants, will likely not be repeated as there is not much green growth yet to freeze.  KSU's advice in 2007 to "not-cut-back" the irises after the freeze, which I now believe was a mistake, will be moot for me in the future;  I don't have any iris foliage at this time of year to freeze.

I'll tell you a secret;  I also did this mowing technique on my peony plantings last fall and I'll show you those pictures in a later post as the peonies bloom.  Yes, it's true that my garden design is in some danger of becoming a set of display beds of various plants without architecture or form, but I'll make sure to keep some mixed beds around and there is always the formal rose garden and the shrub rose borders.  Anyway, I prefer to think of my garden as a symphony, with a set of sax notes here, a refrain popping up over there from the violas, and later a flute taking up the melody from the background.  As opposed to creating a jam session of uninhibited jazz players, if you'll allow me to continue the metaphor...

The success of this quirky methodology is encouraging me to try a different type of bed this year.  I'm planning a large garden bed of self-sown annuals that I'm going to try to keep the prairie grass and weeds out by hand, but to just mow down each fall to re-spread the mature seed heads.  We'll see, we'll see. 


  1. How clever! Thanks for sharing the tip! Actually I'm removing my lawn to get rid of the need to mow the lawn and remove the weeds. Talking about laziness. The tree and plants remain, of course.

  2. Yeah I do that every spring with the liriope. This year my wife took over my gardening duties as I am handicapped physically not mentally. She gave my calamagrostis and heuchera villiosa varieties a nice low crown buzz. We will see the results of that soon enough.

  3. Dr. is it getting a little smoky up there yet? They started burning about a week ago here. The whole town is smokin.

  4. Professor, how ingenious. Work saving allows more time for the good parts of gardening. Your reseeding bed should be interesting. Keep us posted. Do you have fires often?

  5. Usually just once a year or every other year as the surrounding prairie is burnt. As I've learned by experience, though, the difference between controlled and uncontrolled prairie fires is a good gust of wind and about 5 minutes.

  6. It is a wise gardener that knows when to work hard and when to work smart. Your routine for maintenance of this bed is a great example of the working smart!

  7. excellent site.thank you................


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