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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

There's much more to a plant than what you see above ground!

by Carolyn Singer
February 26, 2011

hops rootThis is the season to gather and share roots of my beloved Hallertau hops, a season almost as exciting as the season of the harvest! Because the vine is dormant into late March at my elevation, there is plenty of time to work on the hops during the winter months, beginning when the hops first go into dormancy in November.

The hops roots spread primarily horizontally. My old vine from the original Sonntag homestead has a massive root system that sends up shoots in my vegetable garden beds to the south of the fence, and the rock garden to the north, six feet away from the central root. If it were not for my students and friends wanting starts of this amazing vine, I would have a big job controlling its exuberant growth.

By mid-March, the dormant roots have been lifted and shared. Even a two-inch section of root will form a new plant. In a two-gallon container this small piece will fill the container with an extensive root system within a year. If left unplanted, by the second year a large fleshy root has formed, forcing its way thru the container hole in the bottom, and rooting into the hard clay soil below. Nothing restrains hops!

Examining roots when they are exposed gives valuable information that can determine depth and width of soil preparation, choice of mulches, irrigation requirements, possible location for the plant in the landscape, and selection of plants appropriate for erosion control.

black walnut rootI recently used a root jack to pull a black walnut seedling (photo, right) out of the strawberry bed. The root system was over four feet in length, while the young tree itself was under a foot. No wonder this tree grows with only natural rainfall! With a tap root that quickly reaches moisture in the lower regions of the soil, survival is assured.

Pulling tenacious roots (think Scotch broom, wild blackberries, and even manzanita) with a root jack is much easier during the dormant season when the ground is damp and the roots are not growing actively.

berry rootsOther roots are lifted carefully with a garden fork as I tend the Marion and Olallie berries. Canes that were allowed to grow on the ground this past season have almost all rooted at the tip (photo, left), especially where they came to rest on the compost mulch nearby. One strong cane had grown twelve feet in length. The rooted plant at the end was shared with a friend. In another year she will be enjoying delicious berries.

Iris spuriaThis week I brushed the snow off the edges of a clump of Iris spuria(photo, right), lifting a section to plant in another area. This iris has very attractive foliage. Since it needs no irrigation, it is perfect for my dry garden. The corms are easily broken into divisions with a piece of the corm and a substantial root system attached. Roots are shallow, so soil preparation (with compost, rock phosphate and oyster shell) does not need to be deeper than six inches. Each section I plant has a set of leaves emerging, but this tough plant may be divided even after early growth starts.

yarrow rootsIn winter I also add to my yarrow lawns. I lift established plants from a nursery bed (seeded in spring the previous growing season), carefully planting the roots without dividing. While I could get hundreds of small plants from a fork full, I prefer to start with a large section for quicker spread, and ease of getting the job done. The yarrow (Achillea millefolium, photo, left)) is an excellent choice for a low-irrigation lawn, or for erosion control where soils have been disturbed. Seeded in fall or spring, the young seedlings quickly develop a rhizomatous root system that will survive with no irrigation.

With an extended cold period in late winter, bareroot or established plants may be moved without shock as long as roots are not allowed to dry out in the process. Whether you are lifting sections or an entire plant with a fork, planting bareroot from a local nursery, or moving an established tree with a backhoe, the winter months are the perfect time to take advantage of dormancy.

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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