FELDER RUSHING: It’s time to turn storm-damaged plants into compost lifestyle


I have just “86ed” part of my garden by throwing freeze damaged plants and ingredients into my compost bin with piles of leaves. It is later run back through the garden.

The almost hundred year old term “86” is mainly used as code in the restaurant and bar industry to inform servers when an item is either out of stock or needs to be thrown away. Also refers to a recalcitrant customer who needs to be thrown out.

Side note: I love applying strange terms to gardening, including computer jargon. I clear out weeds and wasp nests, cut out plants and paste them from one place to another, and surf in garden centers so that plants can download them into beds. And you could say that the harsh weather crashed my garden, which now needs to be restarted.

However, with damaged plants making my normally crowded garden look bare than usual, this time of year I can see the “found items” that naturally pile up every year. Since I have been unsuccessful with the tendencies of dumpster divers, spring cleaning the garden is usually an exercise in “What did I think?” For me. I often have to pick up perfectly good but useless bits and pieces that other people have left on their curb that I never used.

Along with the usual plant pots that died so long ago, their name tags are too faded to read, weathered old boards, tools with broken handles to be made into a garden sculpture, cut roofs from a fence project, empty paint cans …

Last week, however, I found my long-lost prescription bifocal sunglasses under a pile of brushes carelessly stacked behind some bushes and a still usable pruning shears in the compost heap.

Speaking of compost heaps, that brings me back to my original topic of cleaning up after the storm. It wasn’t a total loss; As soon as the sun came out, hardy camellias, flowering quinces, and daffodils turned from undamaged buds, and hungry honeybees sought assistance in the nectar-rich dandelion and henbit that my neighbors on their lawns despise so much.

But I got out my secateurs and cut the yellow and taupe-colored freeze-dried leaves from a box tree and other burnt evergreen shrubs, tended to the scorched clumps of oxalis, daylily and iris, and tore limp snapdragons and cabbage plants that were once beautiful but now slimy blooming . I checked some shrubs to make sure their bark wasn’t deeply split which would mean a stronger cut to save them this summer, and finished pruning the roses, figs, and hydrangeas. It is time for all of that.

It all went to my compost heap, which is essentially a somewhat neat, fenced-in pile of fallen leaves, stale plants, weeds, and biodegradable vegetables and fruits.

I’ve never been interested in formal compost systems, with all the mental management of the right proportions of green and brown material and rules for turning and aerating. Did it very successfully a couple of times and found it interesting but too much work. Now I have a simple, fenced-in pile of leaves.

Bottom line for composting are two simple rules: stop throwing this stuff away and pile it up somewhere. I toss debris on one side, then sift the finished compost through a half-inch sized tissue from the other side. Whatever is not finished is run back through the stack. After I got used to this almost effortless process, I secured a steady supply of uncomplicated compost without having to drag my packed things to the curb.

All in all, the yard looks a lot better with the storm damaged ingredients. Time to restart.

FELDER RUSHING is a Mississippi writer, columnist, and moderator for “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to [email protected].