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Originally published Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 6:15 AM

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Q&A: Helping rosemary thrive, and using wood chips as mulch

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris answers reader questions on rosemary that dies over the winter and on where to find wood chips.


Special to The Seattle Times

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks

Chase Garden Spring Plant Sale: 10 a.m. -3 p.m. Friday-Sunday, April 25-27. 10615 264th St. E., Orting, Pierce County (www.chasegarden.org).

Arboretum Foundation FlorAbundance Spring Plant Sale: 9 a.m. -5 p.m. Saturday, April 26, and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday, April 27. Pre-sale and party 5-7:30 p.m. Friday, April 25, for $50. Building 30 at Magnuson Park, 7400 Sand Point Way N.E., Seattle (www.arboretumfoundation.org).

Bellevue Demonstration Garden Plant Sale: 9:30 a.m. -1 p.m. Saturday, April 26. 15500 S.E. 16th St., Bellevue (https://www.bellevuewa.gov/pdf/Parks/master_gardeners_workshops_2014.pdf).

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In the Garden

Q: Not for the first time, all of my rosemary plants died over the winter. What is causing this, and is there anything I can do to prevent it from happening?

A: The cold could well have done your rosemary in. Most rosemary varieties are hardy only to zone 8 and are harmed or even killed if temperatures dip into the teens. This is especially true if you are trying to grow ‘Tuscan Blue’ or any of the weeping varieties.

Soil quality could be playing a major role as well. Rosemary must have excellent drainage to survive. Even if it doesn’t get super cold, rosemary quickly succumbs to root rot if it’s sitting in constantly drenched soil in our rainy winters.

Considering that this winter we suffered extra cold temperatures, followed by record breaking rain, it’s not at all surprising that many of us will be replacing our rosemary plants this spring. You’ll want to replace them right away, by the way.

According to European folklore, if you have a beautiful rosemary growing in your garden, it means a woman is the head of the household. I’m sure that has nothing to do with why my wife, Mary, planted her rosemary on a raised berm constructed of especially well-drained soil and covers it any time there’s so much as a hint of freezing weather forecast on the evening news!

Q: I’ve heard talk about using wood chips as mulch over the years, but I’ve never been able to score any. How does one go about getting them?

A: Wood chips left over after the arborist runs tree branches through the grinder are the perfect mulch for use around woody plants. Applied at least 3 inches deep, wood chips give reasonably good weed control.

They cool the soil surface in hot weather, slowing evaporation and thereby diminishing water consumption. In winter, a layer of wood chips protects roots from winter cold. They also don’t tend to pack down or repel water as does beauty bark.

Wood chips are especially good to use as mulch in tree and shrub beds because they increase mycorrhizae in the soil, making nutrients more available to woody plants. Best of all, wood chips break down in about a year forming a rich, high-quality topsoil.

As is true with any raw organic substance, wood chips will rob soil of nutrients if they are mixed into the soil, so it’s best to avoid using them in a perennial garden or vegetable garden where you move plants frequently.

As for finding wood chips, there’s a new service called Chip Drop that hooks up people like you with arborists. Go to www.chipdrop.in, where you may sign up for free wood chips or logs that will be delivered to your residence by tree-service companies.

First read the “Expectations of Service” to know how it works. For example, you should be aware that a load of wood chips can be from 4 to 12 yards, which is quite a pile. Also, look at timing and how to indicate where they should dump the chips.

Don’t make the mistake a friend made and forget to warn your spouse you’re having a load dropped at your house. She was not happy when she came out to find her car on the other side of a 10-yard pile of wood chips sitting right in the middle of the driveway!

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING 5.



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