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Volume 14, Issue 11 ~ March 16 - March 22, 2006

The Bay Gardener

By Dr. Frank Gouin

Mow Your Garden Clean

You’ll be mulching as you mow

Don’t waste your time pulling last year’s dead flowers. By leaving them in place and mowing off the tops with the lawnmower you will be giving this year’s plants a head start. The stubs and roots of those old plants will help to improve the soil, and the roots of the new plants will benefit from the decaying roots of the old plants.

Using the lawn mower to clean up the garden is economically sound and a great time saver. Just be sure to secure a screen or mulching cover over your debris shoot to protect others from being hit by projectiles while you mulch your garden.

The lawn mower also does a great job cutting back perennials, grinding up the tops and depositing them as mulch. Even old leaves and twigs won’t stop your mower.

Dead stems from ornamental grasses also make a great mulch. Before grinding them up with the lawn mower, first trim the clumps. Trim them back from the top at 10- to 12-inch intervals. After you trim the plants to within a few inches of the ground, use the lawn mower to grind those stems. Stems of ornamental grasses form a wonderful weed barrier because they tend to lock together. You may be robbing the compost pile of organic waste, but you will be putting that organic waste to better use while saving time and energy.

Cleaning the garden should not mean removing everything. Soil should never be left bare. Soil should always be protected by either growing plants or a natural mulch. Plant residues are a natural mulch, and the lawn mower is the ideal tool for creating that mulch.

Stung while Pruning Cow-Itch

Q I recently pruned my trumpet vine for the first time. Two days later I had an itchy, blistered, inflamed skin rash on my forearm — the only skin exposed. It feels like a combination of poison ivy and a burn. It’s still healing, slowly. What parts of the trumpet vine produce this skin irritation — or is it best to stay away from all of it?

—Layne Bergin Tretow, Deale

A Ailments from touching plants are unpredictable. There are people who cannot pick beans; others can’t touch okra. My mother could not harvest tomatoes. I am allergic to primrose but not to poison ivy. It is hard to say.

I have never heard or read that trumpet vine is poisonous. In my textbook on poisonous plants of the United States, it is not listed. Are you sure that you pruned trumpet vine and not poison ivy? I have pruned a lot of trumpet vine.

Afterward

I did some research on the Internet and discovered trumpet vine’s nickname is Cow-Itch! In gardeners’ comments, not too many but a few talk about the same awful rash. —LBT

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at frgouin@erols.com. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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