Q: My local coffee shop offers five-pound bags of used coffee grounds for free. According to the signs, we can take them home and use them in compost piles, for mulch in our flowerbeds and to prevent insects on the soil of indoor flowerpots. So far, I haven't seen anyone take any, but it seems like a better thing to do than throw them in the trash. If I take some home, how much should I use, and will it be any good for my plants?
A: As with most things in life, moderation is key. You can use coffee grounds in your landscape, but don't overdo it.
Coffee grounds are dead organic matter. Dead stuff decays. Decaying coffee grounds are not much different than any other decaying organic matter. Compost piles produce the best compost when they are made from a variety of components. If possible, it is best to add no more than about 20 percent of an ingredient to the compost pile at a time. In the fall, when there are huge quantities of tree leaves and not much else, we don't have much choice. But, if you could get coffee grounds at that time of year and mix them into the leaves, you could use a lot more than at other times.
It would take a huge quantity of coffee grounds to use them as mulch. They might smell for a while, too, and I am not sure that would be pleasant. I know that people think coffee grounds will acidify the soil, but again, it would take a large amount to even begin to change the acidity. The existing soil components would cause the soil pH to revert back to its original state, as soils do with any other soil-acidifying product.
A half-inch layer on the flowerpots might prevent some insects that feed on fungi in the soil. It would be worth a try, and if it doesn't work, I don't think it will harm the plants.
Q: I bought a wonderfully fragrant, blooming hyacinth bulb at the grocery store. It has two stalks of pink flowers, and after blooming for more than two weeks, it is almost done. Now what do I do with it? I feel bad thinking that I need to throw it away. It is just in a jar of water, so it has no soil. Can I plant it in a pot?
A: Depending on where you live, you could save it. First, cut off the dead flower stalks but not the leaves. Place it in a bright, sunny location but not in direct hot sun. Keep the temperature in the 60s to low 70s, if you can. Cooler is better than warmer. Just think: It would be growing outside in spring weather, not summer weather. A little water-soluble fertilizer would be good.
In a month or two, the leaves will start turning yellow and dying. That is fine and normal. Cut off the dead leaves. Let the pot dry up, and then you can cut off the dead roots.
Then you will have a dormant hyacinth bulb. If you live in an area where hyacinth bulbs can grow year-round outside, wait until the spring soil is plantable; find a good place for it; and plant it. It might send up some leaves again this spring, but it won't flower. A year from spring, it may or may not bloom again, depending on how well it grew this spring. A hyacinth in a water pot won't do as well as one that was blooming during the winter and grown in potting soil. The following spring, it should be back to normal and flowering on schedule.
If you live in an area that doesn't have a cold winter, you will have a lot of work to do to get new flowers. Follow the above instructions, except don't plant it in the garden; plant it in a flowerpot. Next fall, the dormant bulb will need to be placed into a refrigerator for three months to simulate a winter. Then it can be brought out and planted like you did this winter. However, it is rare for a bulb to bloom after being forced two winters in a row.
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