Sunday, March 17, 2013

Coffee Grounds and Roses

One of the best kept secrets in rose gardening is coffee grounds.  Most people know they’re good compost, but have no idea of what they’ll do for the soil in your rose garden.

In the March/April 2011 issue of the American Rose there was an excellent article called “A Cuppa Joe”, by Paulette Mouchet of Acton, California, which was the best explanation of using grounds in the garden I've seen.  Here is an excerpt:

“What makes coffee grounds so wonderful in the garden anyway?  Earthworms love them.  They make a decent fertilizer.  You can use them as mulch or as a green ingredient in the compost pile….  Organic gardeners know that earthworms are essential to a healthy garden.  When it comes to improving soil structure and water-holding capacity, earthworms can’t be beat….  While earthworms will eat most any organic matter, coffee grounds are like earthworm candy.”

But here’s the best part for rosarians.  The article goes on to say that Sunset magazine sent a batch of Starbucks coffee grounds to a soil and plant laboratory in Washington State for analysis.  Turns out that the pH of Starbucks grounds is a slightly acidic 6.2, which is right in the middle of the pH range we’re shooting for in growing roses. And that’s not all: they’re also a slow-release fertilizer with 2.28% nitrogen, .06% phosphorus and .6% potassium.

The trick in using coffee grounds is getting hold of a lot of them.  Unless you only have one or two roses in your garden, the grounds from your home coffee maker just won’t cut it.  Fortunately, that’s not a problem.  Starbucks has a policy to recycle their coffee grounds, whenever they can.  So you can walk into any Starbucks, get a really good cup of Joe, ask whether they have any grounds available for your garden, and walk out with a 30-pound bag of fresh grounds.  I recommend going around mid-morning, because they’re just past their biggest rush of the day, have a lot of fresh grounds all bagged up, and aren’t too busy to pack them up for you.  Once the Starbucks folks know you want them, they’re happy to give them to you.  To put this in perspective, I have put several hundred pounds of grounds in my mulch pile over the winter.  That mulch will be going on my roses all summer and when I mound my roses for winter protection in the fall, a substantial proportion of the mulch I use will be composted coffee grounds.

I also use fresh grounds as part of my regular fertilizing regimen.  I mix the Twin Cities Rose Club's great organic “Bob’s Mix” fertilizer with wet, fresh grounds, right out of the bag, in a 50/50 ratio, putting about two or three big scoops of the fertilizer-grounds mixture on every plant.  One other benefit:  It makes “Bob’s Mix” smell better!  And the roses love it.

There’s more in the “American Rose” article, as well, such as how coffee grounds repel slugs.  I put them directly into my hosta bed last summer and didn't see any more slugs, so I think that works too.  In short, coffee grounds are an excellent all-around component in an organic gardening regimen and they are very available to all gardeners, so it’s a real shame to see them go into the trash.

Springtime is a great time to get started putting coffee grounds in your mulch pile and directly on your plants as they're getting started for the season.  So get on down to your local coffee shop, tell them you're a rose gardener and ask them for a big bag of grounds.  Your roses will act like they're highly caffeinated!

Jack Falker
March 17, 2013

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Roses in Winter

The Lake Harriet Rose Garden is on the shore of one of our four beautiful lakes in Minneapolis (which means "City of Lakes").  Sunday, March 3rd was a beautiful sunny day, right at about 32 degrees Fahrenheit, so I put on my sunscreen and took a stroll through the rose garden and out onto the ice.  The lake and garden are about five miles from my house and about four miles from downtown Minneapolis in a very nice residential area known as South Minneapolis. Here's how it looks in Minneapolis at the beginning of March.

Here's the entrance to the garden.

Looking across the garden out toward the lake
The garden is using construction blankets to cover the beds for the first time this year.  They have always used mulch and leaves.

High Noon!
The garden sundial is one of my favorite places in the garden.  I take it's advice at this time of  year!

Out on the ice looking back at the bandshell and the Minneapolis skyline.  Downtown is about four miles to the northeast.

A family on the ice with their dogs.  The ice is about two feet thick and perfectly safe for walking around, fishing or whatever.

A nordic skier enjoying the sunshine.  The rose garden is on the far shore.

Here's the inside of the band-shell looking out at the lake.  We have great band concerts and lots of other interesting things here in the summer.

Hundreds of people were out running, walking, skiing, bike riding and generally enjoying themselves in the sun on this beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Got Castile Soap?

After publishing my last post on spraying non-toxic stuff, instead of the usual fungicides and pesticides, I was reminded by my good friends, Diane and Dick Lawson that they are spraying almost exclusively Castile soap on their garden (which is one of the nicest in the Twin Cities).
Here's the address of my last post:

I asked Diane, a recently retired high school physics teacher, to explain exactly what Castile soap is vs. the liquid dishwashing soap I've been using and was recommending in my article.  I was surprised when Diane told me that Castile soap is made primarily from olive and other vegetable oils, which presumably leave a beneficial coating on the plants, vs. detergent soap.  In other words, Castile soap is a natural surfactant that remains on the surface of the leaves, much as a surfactant fungicide might, as well as acting as a deterrent to insects.

I remember using Diane and Dick's Castile formula on my garden a few years ago and that was the summer I saw virtually no thrips or aphids.  Diane would contend that's the case in her garden every year.

Until now, my problem with using Castile soap has been the laborious preparation.  They use "Kirk's" Castile soap in bars, which has to be dissolved in water and then mixed into your sprayer.  Their procedure is to dissolve half a bar of Kirk's in a gallon of water and then mix one cup of that soap mixture into each gallon of spray mixture.  For example, for five gallons of soap spray, you would use five cups of the Kirk's/water mixture.

After talking to Diane the other night and remembering that I didn't enjoy dissolving bars of soap in water, I "Googled" Castile soap to better understand it and here is what I found: (which includes a picture of a bar of Kirk's).

I also found this story about making your own Castile insecticidal soap:

If you Google: "Castile soap insecticide" you will find several other articles, as well

I also found that Target sells Dr. Bronner's Castile soap in liquid form, so that means you don't have to dissolve bars of soap in water to use it.  Here is the Target shopping site for Castile soap:|pdp|10770138|TargetClickEV|item_page.vertical_1&lnk=Rec|pdp|TargetClickEV|item_page.vertical_1

I enlarged the label of Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap and here are the ingredients: Organic coconut and olive oils, organic hemp oil, organic jojoba oil, lavandin extract, organic lavender oil, citric acid, and vitamin E.  Now that sounds like something I wouldn't mind spraying on my roses and, if I happen to get some on me, I'll just lather up and wash it off!

I believe that adding baking soda to the Castile soap mixture at a rate of 3 TBP per gallon would probably make it a better fungicide, as well.

You could also substitute 2 TBP of Castile soap for the dishwashing detergent in the cider vinegar/aspirin, soap mixture I recommended in my last post: .

As soon as this year's new growth starts around here, I plan on spraying a Castile soap mixture early-on, and I'll let you know how it works.

Jack Falker (