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  • Houseplant Pest Inspection Time

    October 21, 2016

    When you bring your houseplants indoors for winter, be sure to do a thorough houseplant pest inspection first.

    houseplants in solarium

    Healthy houseplants in a bright sunny window for winter.

    When spring and summer temperatures warm for day and night, many houseplants appreciate a little outdoor vacation for the season. Not only is this a great way to open up indoor spaces for summer, but it is also a beautiful way to decorate your front porch, decks and even garden beds.

    But, when your indoor plants go outside, they’re even more susceptible to various pests and disease.

    Not every pest or disease will be immediately apparent when you gather your houseplants indoors. Some of the most obvious and common issues we’ve encountered don’t come to life for a few days or even a few weeks after your plants are in the house.

    • Scale: This is a pest that really gives us the willies, and it always seems to show up on our citrus trees within a week or two after the plants have been inside for fall. Look for raised lumps along the stem. They start out soft and easy to squish. Then, they harden up with a tough shell that’s hard to penetrate. Squishing can remedy it when young. Trimming out infected branches also works. You could also visit a local nursery for some of the other management options on the market.

      houseplant pest - scale on lime tree

      This is scale. Scale is nasty. Scale likes to live on all sorts of plants, but it really seems to love our lime tree. YUCK!

    • Aphids: Yep these suckers often hitch a ride inside. Inspect the undersides of leaves before you bring in your plants and keep an eye out for fresh hatches soon after the plants come inside.
    • Woodlice: Also known as pill bugs or rolly-pollies, these eaters of decomposition love to hide on the bottom of planters or just inside the drain holes. Knock them loose outside before you bring in your plants.
    • Frogs: Okay, these aren’t pests, but they really don’t want to live indoors with you. Our native Pacific tree frogs tried to make many of our houseplants high on a deck their homes. Carefully, help them find their way outside where they know how to survive just fine all winter.

      cleaning pests from houseplant

      Clean out detritus & be sure any live frogs stay outside when you bring in your houseplants for winter

    • Mold, Mildew & Fungi: You may find little mushrooms popping up in your houseplant, which shouldn’t give too much worry. But do clean up and dispose of leaf and other detritus in the tops of your planters to dissuade the growth of mildew and mold, which can readily spread to your beloved plants as well.
    • Weeds: Garden weeds love to set up shop in your container gardens. Be sure to winnow them out before you bring your plants in for winter.

      oxalis weeds in houseplant container

      Clean up weeds & detritus before bringing in houseplants that enjoyed a summer vacation outdoors.

    • Slugs: Slugs also hide in the wet, dark recesses of planting containers. Dig them free before you bring in your plants.
    • Snails: You may find young snails hatching and climbing through your plants soon after they come indoors. Smash’m!

    There are any number of other houseplant pest issues that can pop up when plants move inside for winter. Picking over the plants, soil and containers carefully before you bring them inside is a good basic rule. Too, spraying any questionable foliage with a good jet of water may also knock back some of the more common problems like aphids.

    If your houseplants haven’t yet made the move indoors for winter, hurry up and get them inside soon. Wind, heavy rains and sudden temperature drops shouldn’t catch you by surprise this late in the season.

  • How to Remove Ivy Weeds

    October 07, 2016

    Many ask how can I remove ivy from my garden?

    English Ivy ground cover

    English ivy may seem like a great ground cover choice,
    but there are better options than this invasive weed.

    Depending on how much English ivy (Hedera helix) you have, where it is growing and how long it has been growing there, eradicating English ivy can be quick work or may take several seasons.

    There are many species of ivy growing, but the most insidious is common English ivy, which was likely introduced to “new world” gardens by the English who had cultivated this European mainland plant in their island gardens. Then, it spread quickly across the land. This adaptable plant will thrive in sun or shade and the cruddiest soils. It can travel as a ground cover and create a climbing helix shaped woody vine, smothering everything it crosses — from the side of a house to a tender perennial garden to ancient forests. That bullying behavior qualifies it as a nasty weed in my book.

    trees and ivy

    In the foreground, mature ivy growing on the stump of a mature tree it helped kill. In the distance, large native Doug firs clothed in climbing ivy to remove.

    And I’m not alone in thinking this plant deserves to be called a weed. In the Pacific Northwest, several states have categorized it as some level of noxious weed. Too, the USDA qualifies it as an “introduced, invasive and noxious plant.”

    So, how do we eradicate it?

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors but don’t cost you anything extra. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)


    To begin, just don’t buy it.
    (more…)

  • Japanese Maple Pruning

    September 30, 2016

    Early fall isn’t really the best time for Japanese maple pruning. But, I’ve been breaking rules like this and following the “do it when you can” way of life lately in order to try to get ahead of all of the renovation tasks needed on our new, large property.

    Japanese maple in need of pruning

    This dwarf Japanese maple looks awful. Limbs are overgrown beyond the bed lines & it looks sparse — probably as a result of growing under layers of landscape fabric & heat-building rocks. Time to do some Japanese maple pruning!

    And I’m exhausted!

    But, I do try to post once a week, so here’s why I tackled this maple in late September:

    • It’s in that bed filled with overlapping layers of landscape fabric & roll-y poll-y rocks that I wrote about last week.
    • A neighbor wanted those rocks & the maple was making moving them difficult.
    • The maple looked like crap & desperately needed a bit of limbing up.
    • Even though late summer/early fall isn’t the best time to prune deciduous trees, these cuts aren’t likely to deal a death blow to this tree.
    • In fact, getting the landscape fabric and heat-holding rocks out of the way and adding a layer of arborist chips is likely to help the tree in the long run.

    So, I pruned out a lot of dead material and some living branches to give my rock-shoveling neighbor room to maneuver.

    Low and behold, my maple pruning unveiled a gorgeous greenish boulder with a small natural birdbath indentation!

    Pruned Japanese maple tree

    After removing a lot of landscape fabric & rock, pruning a few branches, adding a few plants & topping the bed with arborist chips, I could almost feel the tree sigh in relief. And doesn’t it look better?!

    Once my neighbor had shoveled all he could shovel in a day, I hauled out the last of the landscape fabric, keeping a narrow edge of pebbles for drainage between the bed and the paver pathway, added a few perennials in a couple of key spots, and I top-dressed the tired soil with arborist chips from tree work we had done earlier this summer. Later, as I was putting my tools in our woodland shed, I spied an old alder branch, which I added to the bed for interest — kind of driftwood meets nurse log look. Once the soil microbes work their way up in the soil profile, breaking it up along the way, to feast on the arborist chips and incorporate the nutrients into the root zone, I’ll add more plantings.

    But, there’s no rush. In fact, I’ll probably be doing more maple pruning (in winter) before I do anymore planting (next spring).

  • Choosing Your Garden Gravel

    September 23, 2016

    There are many garden gravels to choose from and many applications for gravel in the garden. Making a poor material selection can be both dangerous and ugly. Fortunately, with proper planning and installation, gravel can be a wonderful and relatively inexpensive hardscape material.

    garden gravel side-by-side

    On the left: angular 5/8s minus gravel. On the right: round decorative pebbles.

    Why do you need gravel?
    Trying to suppress weeds in a planting area? Creating a walkway, patio or driveway? Creating a decorative dry stream bed? Or something else?

    angular garden gravel walk

    Walk ——> on a pathway made of compacted, angular gravel.

    A common challenge is simply selecting the right gravel for the right application.

    If you’ve ever visited a stone yard, you’ve probably fallen in love with many colorful gravels on display. The problem with many of these gravels is their shape. While using round stones in mixed sizes is ideal for creating a decorative dry stream bed, these stones simply do not compact into a safe, hard surface for pathways and patios. Soft mixes of pea gravel, round pebbles or even semi-angular pebbles with tumbled edges will turn into ankle-twisting walkways that neither a wheelchair nor a wheelbarrow can traverse.

    Mixed pink round pebbles

    Colorful round pebbles may look nice at the garden center, but they aren’t nice to walk on. Landscape fabric beneath them makes for an additional rolling, ankle-twisting, falling hazard.

    Instead, opt for something a little less showy for your walkways. Truly angular rock with lots of fines will compact into a solid path that also drains. These gravels are usually referred to by the size of the largest partical in the mix: 5/8s-minus or 1/4″ minus are two popular options for walking paths.

    angular gravel in formal garden

    Even a formal garden looks & sounds great with crunchy, compacted angular gravel like this.

    These are also used as an ideal base material for permeable stone patios and paths. In fact, in most applications they work better than sand, which is also a bunch of tiny, round particles that don’t compact well.

    What about gravel to suppress weeds?

    Many believe that covering a planting area with decorative rock will keep weeds from growing. But, weeds are tough and will easily push right through a permeable pebble or gravel layer.

    Landscape fabric & garden gravel renovation project

    The soil beneath multiple layers of landscape fabric & a thick covering of stones is hot, dry & hard as a rock. It’s going to take a while to rejuvenate this bed. Once the pebbles & fabric are removed, covering the bare soil with fresh arborist chips will help suppress weeds, give the bed a finished look, allow moisture to pass through the soil & invite soil microbes to return the this rock-hard garden bed.

    Too, a thick layer of stone placed over a planting bed may raise temperatures enough to burn tender plant roots below. While flame weeding over stone may be possible in some situations, running a flame weeder around plants may burn and even kill your garden.

    Should I put landscape fabric under my gravel?

    Covering the earth with landscape fabric and topping it with gravel path or patio is just asking for a twisted ankle or worse injury. That fabric is slippery. Stone on top just gets more slippery. Angular gravel that should compact into a safer walking layer, won’t tighten up over fabric. And round pebbles will roll worse than ever on that slick surface. Plus, in the wet season, water may end up pooling or sheeting in runoff streams when it can’t readily pass through fabric to the soil below.

    Landscape gravel & fabric clean up project

    Cleaning up a bed filled with trashy landscape fabric and dangerous round rock is hard work. Plus, it may take many months for the soil to rejuvenate. Once all of the slippery, rolling hazards are removed from this bed, it will be possible to safely walk & plant in this area again.

    Adding a layer (or overlapping layers) of landscape fabric between your garden bed soil and a topping layer of gravel isn’t going to do you any weeding favors in the long run. That fabric layer will eventually pop up through the stone and look like trash flags on your garden floor. And, the fabric will inhibit moisture from flowing into the soil, which can stunt or kill your plants and the living eco-system within the soil itself. Plant roots will readily grow between overlapping layers of any fabric as they attempt to find access to moisture above ground. As they weave their way through the layers, roots may become kinked and otherwise caught in a messy entanglement that’s hard to later remedy.

    So, do it right in the first place. Skip the fabric. Avoid the lure of colorful round pebbles. Install functional paths that will weather the test of time and mulches that will encourage rather than suppress the complex life beneath your feet.

  • Audubon Birding App Review

    September 16, 2016

    Lately I’ve become obsessed with the free Audubon birding app. I’ve had it installed for a while and until recently only used it occasionally, and I only used a few of its features.

    Then I moved to a birder’s paradise…

    Steller's Jay

    Steller’s Jays are gorgeous, if a bit obnoxious. This one may have been injured or may have just been hiding from the hawk that was screaming nearby.

    Now that I live near a protected estuary, open fields and mixed forest, I have a lot of bird neighbors. On even the dullest birding day,  I’ll awake to hummingbirds sipping fuchsia and salvia nectar just out my bedroom window. I’ll see falcons and vultures soaring on the thermals overhead. Bald eagles swoop from above as I gather blackberries for happy hour. Various hawks scream from the field just beyond our west wood. Swallows flock in at dusk to nosh on gnat hatches. Woodpeckers, jays, sparrows, chickadees, bushtits, nuthatches and cedar waxwings are a few of the regular visitors to a feeding station outside our kitchen window. And, often I’ll even scare up a great blue heron feasting on frogs in one of our ponds. All of that without even walking to the Padilla Bay shore trail where the list of birds expands far beyond my meager birding id skills.

    The Audubon Bird App comes in handy whether I’m trying to lure a curious downy woodpecker just a little closer or figure out which of the many sandpipers I’m seeing at the shore. Its many features help me identify and locate birds in my area, create a list of my sightings, learn about birding and bird photography and share with the greater birding community.

    Let’s say I see a woodpecker at my feeder, but I’m not sure which kind it is. I can use the “explore birds” function to search by the word “woodpecker” or by a shape or family. This tool will bring up images, descriptions and even audio snippets of the birds themselves. Unfortunately, it doesn’t share much about a bird’s diet, which would really come in handy for filling the bird feeders.

    Downy Woodpecker at Garden Feeder

    The Audubon app helped me determine that this is probably a female downy woodpecker.

    So, once I pull up the woodpecker I’m looking for and begin playing the audio clips, I can use that to lure birds closer. Almost every bird I’ve tried this on has responded. A red-breasted nuthatch was so intrigued it almost landed on my hand!

    Once I know which bird I’m spying (or think I’m spying), I can “add a sighting” to “my sightings.” This creates a diary of the birds that I’ve seen, and I can create “lists” within this diary to segregate sightings as I see fit. For instance, I have a “kitchen feeder” list and a “Padilla Bay trail” list. (If you want to use lists, start them early and be sure to tag your sightings as you create them. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear you can assign sightings to lists later on.)

    Rufous hummingbird on Salvia

    During the breeding season, migrating rufous hummingbirds are abundant in our garden. These little bullies do battle with our year ’round resident Anna’s hummingbirds.

    I can also choose to share my sightings with the greater “nature” community, even asking for help identifying a bird I’m not sure about. (In the NatureShare feature you’ll see all sorts of flora and fauna posted. Not just birds!)

    Too, I can share geographical information about my sighting, which I have to imagine may help the larger birding community see migration habits as they change over time. If I’m so inclined, I can turn on location sharing to set my location, or I can share sighting areas manually. And, it’s easy to then quickly post the same image into Twitter or Facebook directly from the Audubon App; unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to connect to business pages or Instagram, but hopefully that’ll come soon.

    If you have any interest in birding and have any room for another app on your smartphone or tablet, go get this birding app today. It’s available for iOS and Android. And it’s free for everyone. But do us all a favor and use that “donate to Audubon” feature in the app once you download it and fall in love.

    When you do join, please join me in the NatureShare community. Look for “gardenmentor.”

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(You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors but don’t cost you anything extra. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)