Growing Concerns 565: Questions and short answers


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Time for more action and fewer words during the spring busy season

Dear Readers,

It's that time of year when there is too much to do in a garden and too little time. The number of questions coming in is overwhelming, too. Here are some of the issues coming up most frequently in my mail, with bare bones answers for busy people. 

Rabbits were trouble last year and I see them out there again already. How do I keep them from destroying my garden? 

Put up short fences to keep them away from individual plants or whole beds. Or trap them, then relocate or destroy them. Repellents don't work or don't work for long so don't waste your time and money.

Groundhogs are my nemesis. They climb over any barrier and eat my plants, flower buds or vegetables. How do I keep them out?

Trap them, then relocate or destroy them.

Moles are ruining my lawn. How can I get rid of them?

Set harpoon type traps into the most-used tunnels. Remove dead moles and reset the traps until you stop catching moles.

My lawn is a disaster with more weeds and bare spots than grass. What can I do?

Join the crowd.   For several years in a row our weather has not supported good lawn growth. People who ignored their lawns other than to mow them, have now lost them. Don't point the finger at grubs or disease unless you heed the four digits pointing back at you since neglect is the main problem.

Loosen the soil, rake out debris, then seed or sod the worst areas. If shade has increased as trees have matured, look into pruning the trees to let in light or replacing lawn in the shadiest spots with shade tolerant groundcovers. Water more regularly from now on. Let the grass grow taller, to three or four inches. Fertilize at least once a year in late fall with an organic, slow release fertilizer.

When can I plant my annual flowers and vegetables?

Not yet, unless you're willing to replant or put up with flowers and vegetables that are weaker and less productive all season. The soil is still cool enough to cause roots of greenhouse-grown bedding plants to rot and die, except in some south-sloping well drained sites. Frost is still possible, too. You are safer to plant during the last half of May. Even then the soil may be too cold for immediate transfer from greenhouse to garden, so before you plant gradually acclimate or "harden off" flowers or vegetables over three or four days. Do that by exposing the still-potted plants for increasingly longer periods to outdoor light, wind and temperature.

Can I protect my ash tree from emerald ash borers?

If your ash tree has not yet been attacked, is growing vigorously and you are willing to undertake preventive measures every spring for the life of the tree, you can try. There are no guarantees and it's already weeks late for optimal timing of insecticides. Apply a systemic insecticide such as Bayer Grub control with Merit, watering it in thoroughly, or hire a tree care service to inject such a product into the root flares. Fertilize the tree each year and keep it well watered and throughout the growing season.

What shrubs and trees can I plant that are easier to take care of than those I have now?

Use a good reference book, take a class, enlist the aid of a good garden center's design staff or hire a designer. Set specific criteria to define "easy care" and stick to them or require your designer to stick to them. My own definition of easy care is a plant that:

1) Thrives in the number of hours of sun per day, type of soil and amount of water my site naturally provides.

2) Will not in my lifetime or expected tenure on the property outgrow the space it is allotted so it will not need pruning.

3) Is not susceptible to many diseases or insect pests so I will only have to learn to watch for a few warning signs at specific times of the year.

4) Provides more than one season of interest, such as good form and fall color as well as spring flower, so I will not tire of it and want to replace it in a few years.

What can I plant that requires no care, looks good all the time and quickly reaches the size I want it   to be?

Silk flowers and sculpture.

What can I plant to quickly block out an undesirable view?

A privacy fence.


Green thumbs up

to those who try out advice they get here or anywhere and then report back on how it worked. It takes time and may involve disappointing the one who offered the help, but do it anyway. Without feedback, we can't get ahead.


Green thumbs down

to replanting a space with the same plant that just died. Even if there is no residual disease and no insect hangers-on, the conditions that set the plant up to fail are probably still operative. Make a change in site or plant type.

Originally published 5/8/04







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