I’m buried in secret garden work now, and so haven’t had the time this week to write about my horse adventures. I would, however, like to offer a few suggestions- and warnings- that will help growing things cope as the warm season develops.
The first two things on this list are the most important.
Never use a string trimmer closer than one foot from tree trunks. Its incredibly powerful lash will be the death of the small one you’ve just planted, and any larger trees, too.
Mowers must never bump bark. It may take a few years, but a tree so wounded will find itself too weak to pump all its sap higher and so will sprout branches near the soil, where the bark was compromised. Insects and alien microbes will also find the break- the gash- and strike.
Just one attack can condemn a young tree to a long, lingering death.
The huge elderly maples, oaks and sycamores up and down the older parts of towns and cities were never faced with this insidious enemy until the latter part of the last century, when push lawnmowers were replaced with gas-powered or electric riding mowers and strimmers.
One famous gardener in England, watching as a man on a riding mower nudged a stately tree, and a young man with a string trimmer followed close behind to ‘clean up’ the high grass around the trunks, looked sadly at me and commented, “This jet-fast whiplash is killing both saplings and giants. People don’t appreciate the wounds they cause to trees, reasoning that the bark prevents injury. It's happening at many great estates and parklands.”
I mourn young and old, towering beauties along streets, in parks-- everywhere.
One only has to look.
I try not to use chemicals in my garden, as they affect hummingbirds, ladybugs, worms and birds. This isn’t an ironclad rule, though. I’ve turned to Bayer spray a few times to kill the plague of Japanese beetles that multiply frantically and decimate an entire garden in just a week or two.
The treatment worked. I saved lots of otherwise doomed flowers and shrubs at my home and around the neighborhood. These voracious, tenacious insects fly or ride on the wind, often long distances to decimate gardens blocks away.
Here are some ideas to consider for pest eradication.
I’ll begin with two simple recipes.
-Add two teaspoons of liquid soap (non-perfumed and not antibacterial), and a few drops of vegetable oil to a gallon of unfiltered water. Shake well and spray over and underleaves of threatened plants. Choose a cool morning to do this.
-In a blender mix a half-cup of hot chili peppers with 2 cups of water: toss in a few drops of vegetable oil. Blend, strain, and spray on plants prone to being eaten.
Whenever you spot an errant bit of grass, or a weed, coming up through a sidewalk seam, whether it’s the public walk fronting your home or your personal one, eliminate it immediately. (Don’t forget the curb along the street!) At my home, weed rogues find themselves in hot water. Literally. I put the kettle on, then take the hot water straight out and tip a cup or two directly onto the soil around them. It’s non-poisonous and always available. Undesirables will shrivel after one or two doses.
That delicate, feeble-looking little green thing has the power to crack, split and heave up big slabs of cement. Replacement of the unsightly hardscape is the only option. But often, the city balks. An upheaved, crumbled public sidewalk in front of your home could remain like that for a long time.
Dandelions are notorious for this rampant behavior. Snap off their bright heads as you pass by, and then do the water cure. Push in little markers (golf tees are good) as you make your rounds, and later, treat each marked area all at once.
About the only thing that might suffer is the worm that chose that bit of ground to snuffle around in.
Empty cardboard toilet paper and paper towel cylinders can be cut shorter and pushed into the ground around emerging infant plants to protect them when light frosts surprise us in June. Just bend in the top to close it off.
The following kitchen leftovers can be valuable for banishing the pests that munch in the night, and they’ll inject new life into most garden plants.
Take cooled coffee grounds outside to spread around the bases of rose bushes, or heuchera (coral bells) or hydrangea shrubs- anything that enjoys an acid jolt occasionally. Loose tea leaves are appreciated, too. I use my fingers to work it into the soil, so as not to break tender plant roots lying inches under the surface.
After breakfast, pop eggshells into a zip-lock bag, expel the air and crush them into tiny pieces to add to the soil. Almost every plant out there appreciates calcium-rich eggshells. Slugs avoid eggshells, which cut and slice their slimy bodies.
Brown shells blend better; birds spot and snatch the white ones away...which isn’t a bad thing...
Take your salt shaker outside to banish slugs, who will devour a small hosta overnight. A quick shake and they’ll dissolve into the great scheme of things.
Don’t discard ammoniated water when cleaning freshwater aquariums; plants love this treat. Dilute with unfiltered tap water and add it to the earth around hostas, roses- any flowering perennial. (Never add to edible plants, like thyme or basil, though.)
When preparing vegetables, save the nutrient-rich water they were cooked in. When it’s cool, offer to annuals, perennials and indoor plants.
Toss the hard ends of banana peels, dice the skins and add the bits to the soil under plants. Peels are rich in potassium. Toss a chopped handful into your potting soil to feed your plants. Chop them up and pop them into the freezer in baggies even in the offseason. In spring, add a handful to any plant’s soil, right out of the bag. Roses love bananas.
Our plants, the general landscape, and Mother Earth can only benefit.