This week on Oklahoma Gardening, show host Casey Hentges is going to take a look at how you can make that pile of tree debris disappear, while also improving your soil and even helping with redirecting water.
This gardening technique is called hugelkultur, which is a German word meaning mound culture or hill culture. While it has been practiced for hundreds of years in Germany and Eastern Europe, it has finally found its way to the United States.
“There are a number of benefits of hugelkultur, including no off-site hauling, it’s easy to manage with basically no cost for installation, and it’s an alternative to burning the limbs,” Hentges said. “In addition, it can provide long-term enrichment to the soil, the wood acts as a sponge for moisture, and because decomposition creates heat, it can possibly extend the growing season.”
The easiest way to start a hugelkultur project is to make a pile using large sections of trees. This can be done in the shade or in a sunny spot, depending on what you will be growing. It also can be any size or shape. Keep in mind soft wood will break down more quickly than hard wood trees. Maple, cottonwood and oak are all good choices for this type of gardening. Avoid using cedar, locust or walnut trees as they are much slower to break down and could inhibit the growth of some plants. Also, dry wood will decompose faster than green wood.
Gardeners also can dig a trench in which to place the tree sections. Cover the pile with manure then top it with soil and compost.
“You’ll see on the show we dug a trench and used that soil to top off the mound,” Hentges said. “Remember when you’re building this, it’s going to take a while for it to break down. It certainly won’t happen overnight.”
Once the structure is covered, you can start planting. In the beginning, it is a good idea to select pants that do not require a lot of nitrogen because the large amount of buried carbon will rob the soil of nitrogen.
Hentges said over time as the stumps begin to decompose, they will act like sponges and hold water for your plants to access. This can be very beneficial in the dry weather often experienced in Oklahoma.
Something else to think about is the hugelkultur garden also can serve as a water berm and used to direct the flow of water across your landscape or redirect some runoff water from your neighbor’s yard. Another option is to use a hugelkultur garden to terrace a hillside.
Be sure to catch this weekend’s episode of Oklahoma Gardening Saturday at 11 a.m. or Sunday at 3 p.m. on your local OETA channel to learn more about hugelkultur gardening. For those who may miss the show, you can find it on the Oklahoma Gardening website at oklahomagardening.okstate.edu.
CUTLINE INFORMATION: Casey Hentges, host of Oklahoma Gardening, stands beside the hugelkultur garden she will be featuring on this weekend’s episode of the show. Tune in to your local OETA station at 11 a.m. Saturday or 3 p.m. Sunday to learn more about this new gardening concept. (Photo by Todd Johnson, Agricultural Communications Services)
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