Garden Questions of the Week
“I’ve been a long-time fan of the newsletter and blog. You mentioned getting the hummer feeders ready, but you forgot to remind folks to get ready for bird nesting season. During the winter, we save our dryer lint, animal hair (cat fur), and other assorted strings and fibers. Usually around this time of year, we pack all of that fluff into an old suet feeder, hang it on a tree and the birds go to town with it. It’s fun to see nests that have ‘our’ yarn scraps in them!” -Great tip! As a matter of fact, Patrick McCollum had a little tip for our newsletter about the same thing! “Love is in the air – everywhere I look around. Love is in the air – every sight and every sound.” The song may be cheesy, but it never rings more true at any time of the year than right now. Spring has arrived, and Mother Nature explodes now with an abundance of life. There is no better way to appreciate the wonder of nature during this special time than by putting up a year round bird feeder, or a bird house in your backyard. Those cavity nesting birds have been looking for prime real estate for over a month now, but it’s never too late to get a bird house up in your back yard. Besides, suitable natural nesting sites for birds get fewer and fewer each year. A few pointers when selecting a bird house should be that it is sturdy, has adequate ventilation and drainage, is easy to clean out in the fall and winter when the birds will have abandoned the nest, and is placed in an area and at a height suitable enough to detract predators. In choosing a bird house, there really are no one-size-fits all types. Different species of birds require different size entry holes suited to their particular liking. Bird watching is the fastest growing outdoor activity in the United States, and is fun and educational for people of all ages. For more information and help in selecting the best bird house for your backyard, stop by and let one of the Naturalists at the Wild Bird Center of Mason help get you started to attract the birds that you’d like to see in your back yard!”
“I need to replace two Purple Leaf Sand Cherries that have seen better days. They are located on each side of the front of my house, which gets morning sun. I would like something with a purple or distinctive color leaf, preferably something that has a bloom, and that doesn’t get any larger than the purple leaf sand cherry (5-7 foot). Do you have any suggestions, and also, is it too early to take out the old shrubs and plant the new ones now? Thanks so much. I enjoy your email letter each week and also your radio program.” -The first plants that come to mind would be Physocarpus (Ninebark) ‘Diablo’ or ‘Summer Wine’. Not quite the glossy maroon colors of the sand cherry leaf, but still good dark maroon color (Summer Wine has a little more red in it.). Pinkish white button flowers in spring, very hardy, loves the sun. You can also look at ‘Blacklace’ Elderberry with its dark maroon leaves and pink spring flowers. As for timing – as long as the soil is workable and the plants available, you can start planting!
“Is it ok to trim a dogwood tree? A friend of mine trimmed his tree yesterday and his wife is furious as she told him that you are not allowed to trim a dogwood tree. Is there anything he can do now?” -Beg for mercy! Seriously, yes, dogwood trees can be trimmed, and are trimmed as needed, but usually don’t require much in trimming as they are slower growers and smaller structured trees. But occasionally need to be limbed up, or a branch taken out, or whatever. And that can be done just about any time of the year. BUT, what happens pruning now is that if those branches had flower buds on them (for this spring), then your friend removed the spring flower buds on those branches. Doesn’t hurt the dogwood, but obviously reduces spring color a little. Nothing he can do – pruning is done – dogwood should be okay – hopefully he will be, too. Hey! When the dogwood is in flower, maybe he could add a little color by bringing home a nice vase of cut flowers to help make up for the ones he cut off the dogwood. Just a thought.
“I have had problems with mosquitoes in my vegetable garden. The garden seems to have proper drainage and requires watering in dry weather. When I was in Camp Habaniyah, Iraq, I was told the British Royal Air Force had planted eucalyptus around the compound to repel mosquitoes. What do you think? If that works, I would plant eucalyptus bushes. What is the best variety and where should I get them?” -Actually there are many plants that have mosquito repelling qualities – eucalyptus being one of them. But the problem is that the chemical that repels mosquitoes is inside the plant and must be released by crushing the leaves, bruising the leaves, smudge burning, etc. So although the plants chemical makeup has the ability to help repel mosquitoes, releasing it and how many plants does it take to properly repel them becomes the big questions. Mosquito control starts with eliminating breeding areas, protecting yourself with proper clothing and repellents (spray on), then try all the sprays and traps and all those things which have varying levels of control. And watch those sprays around the garden!
“Can you suggest what to use to prevent the early defoliation of knock outs (rsoes) by rose slug – Organically if possible?” – Last year was a great (or bad depending on how you look at it) year for rose slugs destroying rose foliage. This year we’ve already had early questions about 2010 rose slug control! Well, first, there are no systemic insecticides that I am aware of that are organic, so you’ll have to attack the rose slug itself. (Bonide’s or Bayer’s Tree and Shrub Insect Control are the systemics – 3 in 1 Rose Care usually covers them, too, but always check the label.) Even with the use of systemic insecticides, many times a backup plan may be needed if the populations are high. So here are some natural ways to help suppress rose slugs on roses: -Hose them off with a strong stream of water. -Hand pick them off / smash them. -Sprays include Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew (Spinosad – certified organic), Insecticidal Soap, Neem, and Horticultural oil. (Bt does not work on rose slugs) NOTE: Be sure to spray the undersides of the leaves. Most of the time they will be under the leaves, and very hard to see when they are small. They typically feed at night but can be found in the morning. Remember there are a couple types of rose slugs and multiple generations as well. They do not look like slugs but more like a small caterpillar. They’re actually a sawfly.
Iris borers – By the way, we have also found the above mentioned systemics doing a great job helping fight against iris borers in iris! Yes, it needs to be applied this spring as the irises are beginning to grow.
[Ham and eggs: a day's work for the chicken but a lifetime commitment for the pig.]