Good soil preparation in the spring means great plants for years to come
by Steven Nikkila
Article and photos by Steven Nikkila, www.gardenatoz.com.
Elsewhere: Managing your summer compost
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by Steven Nikkila
Article and photos by Steven Nikkila, www.gardenatoz.com.
Elsewhere: Managing your summer compost
One of the most important parts of gardening is the edge. A nicely cut edge is a treat for the garden and the eyes, but more important, it’s a first-line defense against weeds.
Where do most of your problem weeds come from? Some blow in as seeds, some germinate from seeds that were lying dormant in the soil when you dig in the garden, and some come in with compost and mulch, but most are invaders from the edge. So what edging do you have to stop them? Maybe you have plastic, metal, wood, or no defined edge. Or maybe you have the best of all: a cut edge. Nothing completes a garden better than a cleanly cut edge.
Perhaps you are wondering how a cut edge (air edge) can work better than the other types. That means that air is the barrier that bars weeds from your beds. Air works as well as the other types of edging and is variable according to the weeds you’re trying to keep out of the garden. You can vary the depth and width of the trench that is the cut edge, depending on how deep the weed’s roots are running that you’re trying to keep out of the garden, and how far the weed’s “arms” reach.
Standard black plastic edging is between 3 and 4 inches deep. Many problem weeds will go deeper and creep under that edge into the beds. A gardener who cuts an edge can simply cut deeper for those that dive below four inches. For weeds that cross into a bed by growing over the ground and rooting from the tips of those branches, the gardener cuts the trench wider.
The steps to make a cut edge
1. Using a sharp spade, slice down through the turf, then pull back on the handle. This “pops” out the cut turf and part of the garden soil. You do this to help loosen the soil into the bed, which allows for easier pulling of the weeds creeping into the bed from the edge. You can cut an edge any time you want to, but the best time is in the spring or fall, because it has a more lasting effect.
2. Grab the cut piece of the edge and shake the excess soil into the bed. Watch for and pick up pieces of root that fall off. Save your back and vary your activities by cutting just 10 to 20 feet of edge at a time, then stop to remove the sod and weeds you’ve just cut.
3. If you feel roots break off from the weedy strip you are removing, go after them. Use a fork to loosen the soil further into the bed and remove those roots. Clean out the air trench, pushing the excess soil into the bed.
4. After you are finished, notice that you have weeded at least one foot into the bed. All that is left to weed is the interior of the bed, but the weediest area is under control now. In terms of maintenance, it is ideal to cut an edge 2 or 3 times a year: in the spring and fall, and in the summer if it needs touch-up.
Text and photos by Steven Nikkila, www.gardenatoz.com.
by Nancy Szerlag
Slugs are the bane of many gardeners’ existence. In the dark of night these slimy characters chew away at the garden, leaving it in tatters by sunup. A mild winter combined with a cool, wet summer can send the dastardly slug population soaring. And a single slug will eat 30 to 40 times its weight in vegetation daily, so a handful of slugs can do a great deal of damage in a short period of time.
Ridding the garden of slugs is a hard fought battle for many gardeners. Commercial slug baits containing metaldehyde are not recommended because they are highly toxic to small animals, children and birds. Also, if used regularly, the slugs seem to build up immunity to the ingredients.
Beer traps (tin cans filled with fresh beer, or a solution of sugar, water and yeast) will lure the slugs to their demise by drowning, but they attract only those sliming around in close proximity to the slug saloon. If you have a large garden, to get any measure of control you have to set out a lot of traps and they need to be cleaned and refilled every few days.
Products with iron phosphate are both effective and easy to use for controlling slugs. Plus, some are organic products that will not harm pets and wildlife. Iron phosphate breaks down to become part of the soil, and is combined with an effective lure that slugs consider a tasty treat.
Because slugs feed mostly at night, it’s best to apply the iron phosphate products in the evening. Slugs like damp areas, so if the soil is dry, wet it before applying. While the granules will not dissolve in the rain, they must be reapplied as they are consumed. To be truly effective the product needs to be in place as the slug eggs hatch out, so it should be reapplied according to package directions throughout the summer. A very heavy infestation of slugs may take two years or more to control.
We are better able to combat slugs effectively, like any garden pest, if we become familiar with their feeding habits and life cycle. Unfortunately, slugs (like worms) are hermaphroditic, having both male and female sex organs, so every slug that reaches adulthood in the garden has the potential of procreating more slugs by laying anywhere from 20 to as many as 100 eggs once or possibly twice a year.
When digging in the dirt, should you come upon a cache of tiny translucent spheres that look like little plastic beads sitting in the soil, you have found a stash of slug eggs. I often find them in the soil under decorative stones and containers that sit in the garden. When I find a mass of eggs, I crush them between my gloved fingers or carefully scoop them up and dump them in the trash. In spring when the ground warms, the eggs hatch and the tiny slugs immediately become active feeders. Mature slugs are able to overwinter in the soil and are ready to feed as soon as tender shoots emerge from the soil in spring.
So, unlike the Integrated Pest Management strategy used for most garden insects, where products are not recommended for use until the insect damage becomes unsightly, if your garden suffered slug damage last year, you should begin control measures as soon as the hostas and other plants poke their noses through the soil in spring.
Using their rasp-like mouth parts, slugs bore through the leaves, fruit and flowers of many plants, leaving telltale round holes behind. Other signs that slugs are at work are the trails of shiny, silvery dried slime left on the surface of the soil. Slugs are particularly fond of hostas, petunias and delphiniums. The leaves of hostas under attack will soon look like Swiss cheese.
Slugs do most of their feeding at night, although they are also active on cool, overcast, rainy days. Because slugs seek shelter in soil cracks and under debris during the day, many gardeners never see them and mistakenly blame other insects for their damage. Treatment with a broad-spectrum pesticide is useless because these insecticides are ineffective for use on slugs, which are members of the mollusk family. However, insecticides unfortunately do kill off a slug’s natural predators, including rove beetles, daddy long legs spiders, centipedes, fire fly larvae and soldier beetles—this helps to increase the slug population. Thus, avoid this scenario.
To check for slugs, peruse the garden with a flashlight a couple of hours after sundown. Be sure to look at the undersides of leaves. Some gardeners enjoy hand-to-hand combat, and delight in hand-picking and dropping their prey in cans of soapy water. But hand-picking can be tedious and tiny hatchlings are easily missed in the dark of night.
It’s not always necessary to treat an entire garden for slug infestations because there are certain plants that are slug resistant. Artemisia, bleeding heart, coral bells, tickseed, goatsbeard, lamb’s ears, candytuft, foxglove, Jacob’s ladder, and most herbs seem to be immune. However, common slug targets include begonia, hollyhock, marigold, primrose, violets, bellflower, geranium, daylily, iris and snapdragon. Lettuce, cabbage and rhubarb are favorite foods of slugs, along with the fruits of strawberries and tomatoes. Ivy and succulents are also prime dining fare.
As a shade gardener and grower of hostas, I’ve battled slugs for a number of years and tried many organic controls including beer traps, organic dusts and repellents. They all work to a degree, but to be truly effective they need to be attended and monitored on almost a daily basis. I don’t have that kind of time. But the iron phosphate products have given me the time to stop and smell the roses. I am happy to say I am finally winning my war on slugs in an environmentally friendly manner.
Nancy Szerlag is a Master Gardener and Master Composter from Oakland County, MI.
RELATED: Keeping slugs off hostas
By Steven Nikkila
Is one of your most important tools ready? Are your hand pruners SHARP?
When pruners are sharp they allow you to work faster and cut cleaner, which is healthier for your plants. After being cut, a plant oozes sap or resin, which dries to create a protective shield. That’s just the start of the healing process. The plant will divert energy from its growth to the damaged area while the wound is healing. You want the plant to heal as quickly as possible. One way to do this is to make sure you create a smooth surface with a clean cut using a sharpened tool. Not only will the plant heal more quickly, but it will be exposed to less damage from diseases, insects, and weather extremes.
The following steps will help you learn the proper way to sharpen hand pruners and keep them in top working condition.
1) Clean the pruners. Using a wire brush, steel wool (sandpaper also works) and elbow grease, remove all of the dirt and rust. Many pruners are easy to disassemble for easier sharpening or blade replacement. Some types of pruners are not as easy to take apart and can be sharpened while still together.
2) Inspect the pruners, especially the blade. Examine the blade for any burrs, nicks or cracks. While doing this, note the beveled edge of the blade—when sharpening, you’ll want to be careful to maintain the same angle as the bevel.
3) Choose a sharpening tool. Which tool is largely a matter of preference: whetstones, the most common choice, offer many gradations and sizes, though you may find that a longer one is easier to work with. A diamond-coated flat file requires only water for lubrication, remains flat for fast sharpening and is durable enough to last a lifetime. A bastard file or sharpening steel is useful for finishing or for a quick fix. A ceramic sharpener is good for quick sharpening during the season or while working. Don’t use power grinding stones; they require extra care because they transfer heat from friction that can affect the metal temper, making it more brittle.
4) Sharpen the blade. Remove any nicks with a file first. Then using your preferred sharpening tool, use numerous (10 to 15) smooth strokes, moving the blade in one direction, from the base toward the tip. Don’t press too hard. You want to achieve a razor-sharp edge, but don’t reduce the beveled edge to less than 1 millimeter thickness. A finer edge will not increase cutting ability but will make the blade more fragile and prone to damage or breakage.
5) Lubricate and reassemble the pruners. Lightly coat the blade with oil (motor or olive) or a protectant/lubricant like WD-40. When reassembling the pruners, make sure the moving parts have some lubrication. White grease works best for the main moving parts, and you don’t need much. A 3-in-1 type oil will also work, but it won’t last as long.
Lastly, go out and enjoy the fall weather and your easy-cutting, newly-sharpened pruners.
Text and photos by Steven Nikkila, who is from Perennial Favorites in Waterford, MI.