Tag: garden care

Selecting De-icers for the Garden

What is the best way to deal with ice on steps and paths in the garden? I have been told not to use salt based products is this true?

Although not always the ideal solution, I prefer to use sand on icy steps and paths. This way I don’t have to worry about any negative impact on my garden.

If the situation calls for a chemical de-icer it is best to use one that is either potassium or calcium based. Here’s why: salt absorbed by plants, either through the roots or leaves, draws moisture from plant cells, causing their tissues to dry out. When you use a salt based de-icer, salt can soak into the ground with the melting snow or can become airborne and cling to leaves and evergreen needles.

Always use any type of de-icer sparingly and remove ice and snow with a shovel first.

Corn Gluten Pre-Emergent

Believe it or not, weeds don’t have to be a source of frustration for you. That’s because you can wipe out an entire generation of weeds by treating your lawn and garden now, in early spring, with a pre-emergent herbicide.

Last fall, like many of the flowers in your garden, weeds dropped seeds in your flowerbeds and they’ll begin to germinate soon. However, pre-emergent herbicides can keep those weed seeds from actually sprouting.

When using any type of herbicide you should always use caution – chemicals can be harmful to you, your children and your pets. However, in recent years, an all-natural pre-emergent herbicide made from corn gluten has been developed. Look for products like WOW offered from the mail order source Gardens Alive or you can buy corn gluten meal from farmers’ co-ops.

P. Allen Smith Applying Corn GlutenNow it’s important to understand that no matter what type of pre-emergent you use, it will have the same effect on some of those desirable volunteer plants in your garden as it will on the weeds.

When I say volunteers, I mean those flowers that re-seed each fall to bloom again next year, like bachelor buttons and spider flowers. So be conscientious about where you apply a pre-emergent.

Organic Weed Prevention

In my experience a completely weed-free garden is impossible to achieve unless you have an army of helping hands. My approach is to limit their numbers with vigilance rather than try to eradicate them with extreme measures. I find that if I make weed prevention part of my weekly gardening routine, the task becomes less daunting over time.

Here are five simple, organic ways you can keep the weeds at bay.

  1. Pull weeds when they are still small. Not only will they come out easier, you’ll remove annual weeds before they go to seed. Do this after watering or a rain when the ground is wet to make the job easier. Spend the growing season pulling weeds every week and you’ll see fewer weeds the following year.
  2. Leave the hoe in the tool shed. Digging up the soil in a weeded area will not solve the problem. While you will get rid of the existing weeds you will also bring more weed seeds to the surface where conditions are ideal for sprouting. In place of a hoe, try using a forked tool that will enable you to dig out the plants with minimal ground disruption.
  3. Crowd weeds out. Open space is an invitation for weeds to take up residence. Flower beds full of healthy plants or robust groundcovers are your best defense. Keep lawn turf in good condition to minimize weeds.
  4. Smother weeds with mulch. Apply a three to six inch layer of mulch in flower beds to keep weed seeds from sprouting. Those that do pop up will be easier to pull because mulch keeps the ground moist.
  5. Zap weeds with an organic certified herbicidal soap. Herbicidal soaps kill weeds without harming the environment. They work by penetrating the protective coating of plants, causing the plant to dehydrate and die. They will not affect the root system of the plant however, so repeat sprays may be needed. Also, they are non-selective so be careful not to spray your annuals, perennials, and edibles.

Wild Onions

How do I get rid of the wild onions that come up in my lawn? This is the first year that have been a problem and I’m finding it very hard to eradicate them.

Each spring, one of the toughest weeds I have to deal with in my flowerbeds and lawn is wild onion or garlic. Now I don’t mind a few odds and ends coming up like the occasional wild geranium or even a few dandelions. But wild onions have an offensive odor and they just seem to multiply everywhere. These little devils reproduce themselves from underground bulbs and then from seeds later in the season. It’s the little bulblets that make them so hard to deal with because they can be as deep as eight to ten inches underground.

The earth friendly way to deal with wild garlic is just to dig up the clumps. If you try to pull them up you’ll just tear off the tops and they’ll be back to haunt you.

To make your job easier, soak the area you are going to work in the night before. When you make your cut with the shovel, push it as deep into the ground as you can close to the garlic.

Poison Ivy

I found some poison ivy mixed in with our ivy ground cover. How can I get rid of the poison ivy without killing the regular ivy?

Your letter is just one of dozens I received just this week about poison ivy. The basic defense against this plant is identification.

It’s important to note that there are two native vines, one poisonous and one not, that are commonly confused. These vines are Virginia creeper and poison ivy. Virginia creeper has five leaves where poison ivy has three. They are easily confused because the leaves are very similar. But one way to remember which one is the bad guy is by memorizing the old adage, “leaves of three, let it be.”

You have to wonder how poison ivy or poison oak can find its way into our gardens. Typically birds and wind distribute the plant’s seeds. Dormant roots may also be brought in along with a new plant added to your garden.

If you find you have made contact with one of these leaves the best thing to do is wash any affected skin area with a four to one solution of cool water and vinegar and remove the clothing you were wearing and wash it separately from any others.

For those seriously allergic to poison ivy, wear latex gloves, long sleeves and long pants when pulling weeds.

One of the toughest problems in the garden is eliminating specific weeds, like poison ivy, without destroying the plants you’ve worked so hard to grow. Because I’m so allergic to it I can’t just pull it out and even if I did some of the root might remain underground and come back. Several years ago I noticed a lot of poison ivy entwined among my iris and fountain grass. I had to get really tough with it – even though I try not to use herbicides occasionally they can be useful in combating difficult, specific problems.

I knew if I tried to spray just the poison ivy with a conventional sprayer and herbicide I would inevitably get it on all the surrounding plants and kill them. That’s when I remembered seeing some products that allow you to be “target specific” with each application. One brand is a foam herbicide made by Roundup called “Sure Shot”. You can see exactly where it goes and since it’s a systemic, the plant will ingest the poison from the leaf all the way to the root.

This seems to be a much safer and more responsible use of herbicides. The application seems most effective when the plant is in full hot sun. Once the plant dies I still use caution and wear gloves to remove the woody stems. You see, even stems can cause an allergic reaction. Once removed, I suggest sealing the dead plant in a plastic bag and placing it in the garbage.

Fairy Rings

I seem to have a lot of mushrooms growing in my lawn last year and now again this year, how can I get rid of them?

During the spring when rain is abundant, mushrooms can be found in even best cared for lawns. Mushrooms and other fungi sprout from decaying organic matter in your soil.

While there is really not much available commercially to control them, the good news is that as summer gets in full swing and the weather dries out a bit, mushrooms will go away on their own. In the meantime, you can mow over them to keep their appearance down.

An interesting twist on mushrooms is the fairy ring. This fungus appears as a circular or arc-shaped, dark green band with mushrooms growing in it. The dark green color is caused by nutrients emitted by the fungus. While the fungus is not harmful to grass, damage can occur because it produces a water repellant fungal strand. About the only thing you can do is be patient until the fairy ring disappears on its own and keep the area well watered if you see signs drought stress.


I had a terrible problem with dandelions last year. My small garden was full of those horrible green leaves. My question is how do I get rid of them this spring so I can plant my flower garden?

Thanks for watching and your kind comments. Dandelions can be pesky! But I try and remember that a weed is simply a plant in the wrong place. It’s taken some time, but I’ve done a little research on dandelions and now I have new respect for them.

You’re right, they’re vigorous growers, often the first plant to bloom in the spring and the last to flower in the fall. But the really interesting thing about dandelions is they’re edible. They’re a good source of vitamin A and iron. The tender leaves can be a delicious addition to a salad and the bright yellow blossoms; well they’re edible, too. In fact, they’re the essential ingredient in the famous dandelion wine. If you are thinking about adding a few dandelions to your salad, remember to select leaves from plants that haven’t been sprayed or treated with chemicals.

In spite of all these virtues dandelions can be a nuisance if they invade your lawn or in your case, are located where you want to plant something else. If you have a hard time with these little flowers I recommend digging them out with a long forked tool because they can have quite an extensive taproot. This should be done in early spring before the plants set seeds. They are easier to pull after a rain. If removing from your lawn do not use a herbicide because this will kill the surrounding grass as well, leaving a bare patch.

Amend your garden soil with plenty of humus and organic fertilizer. The happier your ornamental plants are the less likely the dandelions will be able to re-establish themselves.

One last tip – always use an organic fertilizer rather than a synthetic one. Dandelions favor synthetic fertilizers.

Creeping Charlie

In my mother’s lawn there are is an invasive viney plant growing through the grass and pretty much over the whole lawn. In the early spring it has very small, bright violet/blue blooms and kind of round shaped leaves. These vines are a real menace. I have no idea what this plant is. I am hoping you can tell by my description.

Creeping Charlie (Glechome hederacea) is a weed that is most often found taking over in moist, shady areas. I have received many questions asking how to rid one’s lawn of creeping Charlie. The best advice I can give you about this situation is to improve the quality of your grass through proper mowing, watering and fertilizing. A healthy lawn will quickly choke out an invasion of creeping Charlie. Reducing the amount of shade and moisture in the trouble spot will also help to control this weed.

Borax laundry detergent is sometimes used to kill creeping Charlie because the plant is especially sensitive to the active ingredient boron. But I don’t recommend this solution because boron does not break down in the soil over time and not only is it toxic to creeping Charlie but to other plants as well. When you add these two characteristics together you can see the potential to create an area in your garden where nothing will grow at all.

Top 5 Ways to Save Water this Summer

Once spring showers subside and the heat really sets in, gardeners are looking to save on their water bill and conserve. As a southerner, I’m no stranger to grass withering, plant killing and flower wilting heat. I’ve sweated my way through many a summer and tested different ways to keep my plants well-watered in the best and most efficient means possible. Here are my five top tips for ways to save water during the summer.

Tip 1: Timing

Water early in the morning or in the late afternoon. The best time to water is between 6 to 10 a.m. The worst time to water your lawn or garden is between 11 to 3 p.m. If watering in the early morning isn’t impossible, it is acceptable to water from 4 to 7 p.m. Don’t water during the night as this may invite fungus and mildew to grow. (This isn’t a concern if you live in an extremely arid environment, like the southwestern United States.)

A lawn only requires 1 1/2 inches of water per week to stay actively growing, so water only twice a week, maxim, and let the water soak deeply into the soil to encourage deeper root growth. Infrequent deep soaks are much better than frequent light waterings.

Flexzilla Garden Hose

The Flexzilla Garden Hose is the only hose we use at Moss Mountain Farm. The lightweight, kink-free ZillaGreen™ hose will not kink under pressure. This hose has no memory, which means it will lie flat and coil easily. Lifetime warranty.

Tip 2: Landscape

Grow native plants. They are equipped to handle your region’s normal levels of rainfall. Or limit non-native plants to certain areas of the garden and group plants with similar water requirements together. That way, during the heat of summer, you’re not pushing (as much) against nature.

Tip 3: Install a rain barrel

Install a rain barrel. Rain barrels collect water runoff from the roof during the wet months for use in the lawn or garden later in the dry season. They’re low maintenance and easy to use. I’d like to see every home outfitted with one. As water becomes increasingly scarce in areas with overstressed aquifers, I believe more communities will increase the use of rain barrels.

Tip 4: Mulch

Form a barrier between the hot sun and the soil with a layer of mulch. It maximizes the effectiveness of your watering. You’ll be amazed at the profound difference in soil moisture it makes.

Tip 5: Grass

Let grass stand tall. Mow grass to a height of 2 to 3 inches. Taller grass shades the roots and soil surface, which helps reduce the amount of water that is lost to evaporation.

Apply these tips and see your garden thrive on less water this summer. Hopefully, you’ll be able to do your sweating in your rocking chair rather than over your water bill.

5 Ways to Conserve Water in the Garden

When those raindrops stop falling, and temperatures soar, it’s time to come to the rescue of your fading flowers and thirsty vegetables.

Whether you’re experiencing just a short dry spell or struggling with a deepening drought, there’s plenty you can do to help your plants survive and even thrive during the dog days of summer.

Good Neighbors
Put plants with similar water requirements together. You’ll be able to “water smart,” which means you won’t waste moisture on plants that don’t need it or neglect plants that do.

Annuals and vegetables are usually fairly high maintenance, when it comes to water. They need a lot and they need it often. Herbs are fairly drought-tolerant; lawns are always thirsty; and flowering shrubs such as roses, need more water than sturdy evergreens. Container plantings usually require frequent watering because there’s not much soil in which to store moisture. Add water retentive polymers to the soil when potting up a container garden to minimize the number of times you need to water. You can pick up this product at your local garden center. All you need is a small spoonful or two of polymers for a container of soil.

Here is a list of heat tolerant annual flowers that will stay bright and showy no matter how steamy it gets: calliopsis, cockscomb, dusty miller, lantana, Mexican sunflower, nierembergia, portulaca, salvia, sunflowers, vinca and zinnia.

Watering Can

Go Native
Native plants are flowers, trees and shrubs that have evolved in a region over thousands of years, adapting to the changing environment. They’ve thrived on their own their own for centuries, through all kinds of weather extremes. When it comes to low maintenance you can’t go wrong with a native plant. Because they are tough, they can sometimes become garden thugs, so before you plant a variety check with a local garden center or cooperative extension to make sure it is not considered invasive. A few of my favorites for sunny flower borders are: blanket flower, black-eyed Susan, baptisia, Joe-pye weed, liatris, purple coneflower, goldenrod, penstemon and coreopsis.

To a plant, organic mulch is nature’s sunscreen. By covering exposed ground with a 3 to 4 inch layer of shredded hardwood, leaves, bark, peat moss, straw, compost or grass clippings, you add a protective layer that keeps the soil cool, conserves water by reducing evaporation and discourages weeds. A red flag that you need to add mulch is soil that tends to crust or crack, especially after a rain or watering.

Mow Smarter
Taller grass shades the ground from sun and helps keep moisture in the soil. It also encourages deeper root networks, helping your lawn withstand drought and disease. For cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue and perennial ryes, mowers should be set at 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches. Warm-season grasses, such as zoysia and Bermuda, should be maintained at 2 inches.

It breaks my heart to see someone standing in a yard, hose in hand, spraying plants with water. This won’t begin to quench a plant’s thirst. A really long, slow drink of water every 3 to 7 days is much more beneficial because it allows moisture to get all the way down to the roots.

If you are conserving water, it’s best to devote your attention to your most recently planted trees and shrubs. Those planted this spring, and even 2 and 3 years ago have yet to establish a strong root system. Deep soak these plants every 10 days.

Deep soaking can be done with an ordinary garden hose set on a slow trickle. The key is to apply small amounts over a couple of hours. Or you can place a five-gallon bucket with 4 to 5 tiny holes in the bottom near the trunk. Fill the bucket with water and it will slowly drip around the tree over time. You will need to apply 5 gallons for every year the tree has been in the ground, up to a maximum of 20.

A lawn requires 1 1/2 inches of water per week to stay actively growing. If your community is under watering restrictions, you may have to let your lawn go thirsty. Most varieties of grass will go dormant and turn brown, but when rains return they usually recover.

Learn more about best watering practices by watching the video below!