Roses, Cocoa Mulch, and Turmeric

cocoa mulch

cocoa mulch

turmeric rhizomes

turmeric rhizomes

turmeric foliage

turmeric foliage

In response to a query posed in a recent column regarding favorite rose varieties and their care, I received the following response from Scott Corwin, who gardens in Glendora, and whose roses were blooming last Sunday, on Valentine’s Day, which coincided with his 40th wedding anniversary:  “My wife’s favorite varieties are Hybrid Teas and Floribundas such as Double Delight, Intrigue, Singing in the Rain, The McCartney Rose, St. Patrick, Angel Face, and Blue Girl.  For color and smell, one of my favorites is Sheila’s Perfume.  We believe that Weeks Roses by Otto & Sons are the best for us.  We are currently trying to propagate over 100 cuttings from non-patent varieties on their own roots (note: roses in the nursery trade are typically grafted onto Dr. Huey rootstock).

“My newest method of conserving water is to use water saving polyacrylamide crystals when potting my wife’s roses (note: these crystals expand when wet into gelatinous polymers).  We have about 60 roses in pots since we have limited space on a 5,000 square foot lot.  We water just enough to keep water from draining out of the bottom of the pot, 2 to 3 times weekly, depending on heat and humidity.
“We do have about thirteen roses in the ground and they get the same amount of water as the lawn.  We try not to water more than once weekly even during the summer months.  Recent rains allowed us to fill our five 32-gallon rain barrels.  Rain water is much better for plants so we try to catch as much as we can.  As far as pests and disease are concerned, we try to keep it simple and use Bayer 3-in-1 for Insects, Diseases, & Mites only occasionally and spray Neem oil (for insect pests) as needed.”
I appreciate Corwin’s ingenuity in growing so many roses on a modest sized lot.  He demonstrates what horticulture is really all about, namely, manipulating the environment and available resources for maximum botanically aesthetic enjoyment.
I recently heard that cocoa mulch was not only good at conserving soil moisture and keeping weeds from sprouting, but that it was effective at keeping cats out of the garden, too.  Cats are a nuisance in some neighborhoods, such as my own, where seemingly benevolent souls leave bowls of cat food on their front porch.  The result of this ostensibly generous act results in an ongoing cat convention, where Puss in Boots and friends become a major headache when they deposit their poop between your rose bushes, under your apple tree, and all around your ornamental grasses.
Along comes cocoa mulch, which consists of cocoa bean shells, which are separated from the beans during the roasting process, prior to the beans’ transformation into chocolate. Cocoa mulch has certain advantages as compared to other mulches.  Although exceedingly light in weight, and you would think it would just blow away in the slightest breeze, it will stay in place just fine as long as you wet it down after it is spread.  Furthermore, once wet, the cocoa shells actually curl and interlock at their edges, creating a tight honeycomb that is far more effective than other mulches at preventing evaporative water loss from the soil surface. A one inch layer of cocoa mulch is equivalent to several inches of conventional mulch, such as shredded bark, when it comes to conserving soil moisture and keeping plant roots cool.  Also, unlike bark mulch, cocoa mulch does not lose color in the sun but actually gets darker with age.  In addition, it has a chocolate aroma for a few weeks after it is spread.
However, it turns out that cocoa mulch contains two chemicals — theobromine and caffeine — that are toxic to dogs and cats.  Now the vast majority of dogs and cats are instinctively cautious regarding what’s bad for them, which explains the report about cocoa mulch solving the problem of garden trespassing on the part of feline creatures.  However, once in a while an animal may ingest cocoa shells, with potentially toxic results.  Thus, fenced gardens, or gardens where stray pets are not an issue, would seem to be the most appropriate venues for cocoa mulch application.
Dick Bublitz emailed from Woodland Hills to inquire about where he could find turmeric rhizomes or plants since he wants to cultivate this species in his garden.  Turmeric (Curcuma longa domestica) is a member of the ginger family and it grows best in partial shade in our area.  Turmeric possesses legendary medicinal properties, in addition to its exalted status in the pantheon of spices. Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant and has been investigated for its possible application in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, hepatitis, cancer, and depression. It has also proven effective as a fungicide and insect repellent.  Turmeric, which is native to India, is also known for its wide variety of cosmetic applications from softening skin, to preventing wrinkles and removing scars, to facial hair removal.
You can order turmeric rhizomes, which are thickened semi-underground stems whose physiological function is similar to that of bulbs, by mail order from pecanlakefarm.com.  Rhizomes are $10 each with a minimum order of $20.  When you reach the website, you will find turmeric in the ginger category.
Tip of the Week:  The flowers of ginger lilies are among the most beautiful you can grow.  Few members of the ginger family flower in our area, which is insufficiently tropical for many of them to bloom, but ginger lilies are the exception.  White ginger lily (Hedychium coronarium) is the most fragrant while Kahili ginger lily (Hedychium gardnerianum), with 18″ torch-like yellow flower clusters accented with red stamens, is more commonly seen. Kahili ginger, which grows to a height of eight feet, spreads out dramatically in a lightly shaded garden.
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