Most-asked questions in this issue:
Grubs, something digging in lawn
Ice- broken branches, new shrubs from
Butterfly bush cuts
Dog repellents, dog urine
Free fertilizer from thunderstorms
Perhaps it's the result of a rare alignment of the planets or
too much odd weather -- we've never had so much mail as you're
sending this spring. In an effort to keep up, here are brief
answers to the most-asked questions:
Skunks, lawn diggers, grubs
Skunks are probably responsible for the half-golf-ball size
craters in your lawn but thank the stinkers, rather than holler.
Skunks dig to snack on grubs -- immature chafers and beetles, bugs
that kill your lawn by grazing away its roots. Grubs are legion
this year and weather-stressed, neglected lawns are especially
susceptible to these pests.
In spring, grubs are nearly grown and thus very tough to kill.
The best treatment now is water, water, water, overseeding
and fertilizer. This helps the lawn grow faster than grubs
can eat. Well-watered, well-fertilized grass won't show the strain
even if it has three or four times as many grubs as turf that's dry
Too late to fix branches
snapped by ice
It's much too late to repair ice-damaged tree and shrub limbs.
Prune out the broken wood. Limbs small enough to
be splinted in hopes of natural grafting had to be realigned,
pinned and stabilized right after the break, before nearby cells
If ice has essentially destroyed a special plant, you might grow
a replacement from a cutting but stop dreaming about sticking the
big broken piece into the ground and having it root! Cuttings are
made from 6- or 8-inch pieces of tip growth, things small enough to
live and grow on only a tiny bit of water. Rootless cuttings have
to get by with just what a cut stem can absorb directly, so
hundred-leaf broken branches don't have a chance.
Fertilizing rhododendrons, acid
Improve health of exotics such as rhododendron and azalea before
pruning or moving. Begin fertilizing now and continue
through July. It's not too much to spray weekly
with a dilute, water-soluble, acid-loving plant
fertilizer. Aim for the leaves and let the excess drip so
both foliage and roots can absorb from the mixture what the roots
cannot extract from our alkaline soil. Acidic-reaction mulch such
as coffee grounds or cocoa hulls and steady water are also
essential for these natives of cool, moist, acid soil.
After a year or so of this extra-acid, always-moist care, a
rhododendron or azalea can be treated like any other shrub in our
overplanted yards. Prune right after bloom if you don't want to
sacrifice any flower. Cut it as hard as you like, even to bare
wood. If it's in a place that's become too dry or shady, move it
when you can. (It's okay but not ideal to do this when the shrub is
blooming). For a full year after a move, be even more attentive to
fertilizing, mulching and watering.
Butterfly bush cuts are
Don't cut butterfly bush if you don't want to.
This winter was so mild that they came through with all limbs
alive, rather than dying back to their bases. If you cut them,
they'll grow back by bloom time to five feet tall and wide --
smaller for the dwarf 'Nanho' varieties. If you don't cut them,
they'll probably be larger and certainly bushier.
We prefer the clean lines and smaller size of a cut-back
butterfly bush but you can decide for yourself. Cut just one side
of your shrub to the ground, or come to Garden By Janet &
Steven sessions such as we offer, free at the Detroit Zoo.
There, sometimes, we leave some of our butterfly bushes uncut, in
order to display for interested visitors the difference in finished
Reader's views and short reports:
Gun better than fencing out
After trying to fence rabbits out of his vegetable
garden last year with the eighteen inch tall barrier
described here last week, G.M. of Novi reported, "I watched them
climb that fence to get my beans!" It's not the norm but
still understandable. Many animals were forced to extremes during
last July's drought.
When thirsty, starving bunnies resort to scaling a chicken wire
fence, a groundhog-type fence is necessary. That's
"L" shaped, too, but the upright portion must be at least three
feet tall and the top twelve inches should not be tied to the
supports. As a climbing animal scales such a fence, its weight
makes the loose section flop outward, dumping the climber back onto
Hot pepper versus shrub-chewer
Hot pepper spray worked to stop shrub-eating
retriever reports T.N. of White Lake. "My golden retriever
chewed the tips of every new shrub I planted, probably just out of
sheer boredom. I got him new chew toys and sprayed the shrubs with
the same hot pepper spray that's supposed to deter rabbits and
squirrels, and it worked. The dog left the shrubs alone, ignored
the toys and chewed the wood siding of my house instead!"
Thunderstorm = free
Green thumbs up...
...to thunderstorms. Every lightning bolt changes nitrogen in
the air into a water-soluble compound. Raindrops carry this
essential, quick-greening fertilizer to our yards and gardens.
Green thumbs down...
...to highly-concentrated nitrogen and other chemicals in dog
urine, a liquid so salty it draws water and life right out of
plants. Dilution is the solution -- quick follow-up by hose or
First published 4/27/02, updated 4/7/14
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