The Literary Gardener – November 2016

“Using the proper layering techniques is essential for providing necessary warmth and comfort during the chilly days of fall and winter.”  ~ Miss Rich, fashionista and blogger, January 2013

When I moved to Southern Oregon from Hawaii six years ago, I didn’t own a pair of closed-toed shoes, let alone a wardrobe suitable for cold weather. However, now well-acclimated, I have not one, but two, pairs of stylish boots, and I’d like to say I’ve developed a bit of fashion finesse for layering my clothes. I think Miss Rich would be proud.

Autumn layering is also in fashion for the garden, but this kind of dressing-up involves: 1) planting layers of bulbs for a profusion of color from spring-blooming flowers, or 2) layering carbon and nitrogen materials directly on top of garden soil as part of a technique called lasagna composting. Here’s a look at both of these layering methods for fall gardening:

There are several late winter- and spring-blooming bulb flowers that are grown successfully in our area. These include: crocus, anemone, daffodil, hyacinth, snowdrop, tulip, fritillary and allium. Most of these plants are deer-resistant; however, as many local gardeners know, deer love to munch on tulips.

To layer bulbs in the garden bed this fall, first ensure the planting area has plenty of sun exposure and the soil drains well. Bulbs will rot if the soil stays too wet. Then lay out the combination of bulbs you want to plant. Dig a trench in the soil about a foot deep and add a few inches of compost with bulb fertilizer.

Next, lay the largest bulbs, such as tulip, hyacinth, and daffodil at the bottom of the trench pointy side up, so the bulbs are about an inch apart. Then cover the bulbs with soil, add a bit more compost and fertilizer, and layer smaller bulbs, such as crocus, iris, and fritillary, on top. Cover with a layer of fall leaves for mulch. If it rains, you won’t need to water, but it’s important to keep the soil moist until Mother Nature takes over.

I don’t have problems with ground squirrels or other bulb-loving rodents; however, gardeners who do tell me they plant their bulbs in wire mesh cages or plastic containers in order to keep the varmints out.

For container gardens, place a thin layer of gravel at the bottom for drainage, add potting soil with bulb fertilizer, and then use the same layering method to plant the bulbs, making sure they don’t touch the sides of the container.

Come late January or February, you’ll know spring is near when the first crocus boldly emerges. Then, sit back and watch the pageantry of color unfurl!

Autumn is also a good time to build soil tilth by using the lasagna (also called sheet) composting method. Layers of carbon and nitrogen materials will break down during the winter, and the bed will be ready for planting in spring. The OSU Extension Service recommends the following procedure:

For raised beds, start by clearing weeds and making sure there is good drainage by loosening the soil with a spading fork. Use 4-6 layers of wet newspaper or cardboard for the first carbon layer, followed by a one-inch layer of a nitrogen source such as manure. Cover the nitrogen layer with an inch of shredded leaves, straw, bark or other carbon material, and then add another inch of nitrogen from kitchen scraps or green plant material left from summer produce.

Continue adding layers of carbon and nitrogen until the total height of your “lasagna” is between 18 inches and three feet. End with a carbon layer to provide protection from flies and other pests. If the pile becomes too wet during winter, cover loosely with a sheet of black plastic and anchor with rocks or stakes.

The bed will be ready for planting when the layers have decomposed so the materials are no longer recognizable. What’s left should smell like fresh earth.

Miss Rich assures us that “the art of layering doesn’t need to be made into a complicated process,” and I think her advice holds true for garden layering, too. So, let’s layer up this fall for a healthy and colorful garden next spring.

In the meantime, don’t miss the Jackson County Master Gardener Association’s annual Winter Dreams/Summer Gardens Symposium, taking place November 5, from 9:00am to 4:30pm, at the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center in Medford. For details, see