Growing Concerns 311: Boil those pavement weeds, douse spruce mites, wine bottle watering

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Now you see it, a long necked wine bottle full of water to help this rosemary through dry times... 

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Wet solutions to weedy paving bricks, spruce spider mites, and dry pots


My front brick walkway,

which is flanked by two flower beds, is constantly plagued by weeds that grow up through the cracks. What's the best way to rid the walkway of its weeds without leeching any poison through the soil into the adjoining flower beds? I've heard that a super-saturated solution of salt and boiling water will do the trick, but I'm concerned about the salt reaching the soil of the adjoining flower beds. - L.G. -


Salt in the soil can be trouble. It's not only toxic to plants and breaks down soil structure so that air and water don't move freely, it can also erode brick, concrete and other materials.

Hot water kills weeds, no additives required. It works best against seedling weeds, which die in a day or so and leave little residue behind. The routine is simple. Each morning, pour a kettle of boiling water onto a different section of the walk or patio. Caution -- don't do this while barefoot!

 Older, larger weeds leave unsightly stubble when they die back, so in already-weedy areas, first weed out the established plants, then wait a week or two for seedling weeds and remaining bits of larger weed roots to sprout. That's when we begin using the boiling water. Douse an area every three weeks or so to kill each new crop of seedlings and kill back sprouts from roots of older weeds and eventually starve them out.

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Drown the mites that brown the spruce!

We have two Dwarf Alberta spruce trees (Picea glauca 'Conica'). Suddenly they have turned brown. We have had one bush five years and the other bush one year. I have noticed in the area that several other dwarf Alberta spruces seem to be affected the same way. - M.J.D. -

Spruce spider mites thrive and proliferate in hot, dry weather. These near-microscopic arachnids suck the foliage of spruces, eventually killing the needles. The bad news is that they've been hard at work through most of June and once they've fed so long that patches are brown and dry, those needles can't be saved.DASmiteBath1763 (1).jpg

We have two bits of good news to offset that bad. One, the buds set for next year are often not killed, so what look like dead twigs will resprout from the tips. Two, plain old cool water is the best remedy.

Mites can't abide cool, moist conditions so hose off the troubled plants every few days, being sure to spray hard enough to wet the interior. It's more effective and cheaper than any store-bought miticide. Begin showering the plant now and the damage will stop. By next spring when the new foliage unfolds it will probably look like nothing ever happened.

We're sorry you'll have to look at bare patches as those dead needles fall. You can avoid a repeat of this damage if you use dousing as a preventive from now on -- Alberta spruce owners should watch for it in early May if it's hot and dry. That's before the needles begin to bronze but when conditions are ripe for mite proliferation. Mark your calendar to begin bathing your plants next May.

For more in spruce mites, see What's Coming Up 128.



Timely tips for July:

Take a tour!

Don't miss the chance to smell the roses, steal ideas, and glean gardening advice from savvy souls. It'sgarden tour time.Watch local community events calendars for garden tour notices.


Wine bottles to nurse plants through dry times

Many fruits and vegetables can develop cracks, bad spots, and lose flavor if soil moisture is inconsistent -- wet one day, dry the next. To even out the water supply, fill a large, long-necked bottle with water (wine botttles work well), invert it and push its neck into the soil near the base of the plant. Water will drip slowly from the jug -- a gallon of water might supply a tomato plant for several days if the soil is moist to begin with. Works in gardens and in large containers.

Maybe you worried about filling your garden with wine bottles, because onlookers might label you. But look, you saw the bottle at the top of the page and with the wave of a hand, it's invisible!



Green thumb's up

to Master Gardeners who spend days each year in class, such as at the annual Advanced Master Gardener conference, learning the latest on topics from attracting song birds to medicinal plants. To keep their title, a University Extension Master Gardener donates at least 15 hours a year to community education efforts. So ask your neighborhood Master Gardener for tips to help your garden.


Green thumb's down

to field bindweed for hiding its nasty nature behind such beautiful flowers. The ground-covering, fence-smothering vines are in full bloom right now -- its white flowers blushed with pink resemble miniature morning glories. Don't waste time admiring them -- dig out what you can and then make a weekly commitment to pull or apply herbicide to every piece that resprouts. Even with this schedule it takes three years to exhaust the root.


Originally published 7/3/99