• Featured Gardening Articles

  • Featured Recipes

  • Article Categories

  • Get Garden Help by the Month

  • more info

Category: Gardening Guidelines

  • Why Do Garden Water Testing

    July 08, 2016

    When your garden includes ponds and streams, water testing is probably a good idea. Earlier this year, we attended a seminar on retaining and recycling water in rural locations. One of the conservationists who spoke made a point of saying (paraphrasing): “There’s no such thing as a clean babbling brook on our rural properties anymore.” His point being human development and agriculture have contaminated a lot of the running water on land.

    Water gathered for testing at lab

    Looking at the color or clarity of water doesn’t tell the whole story.
    Lab water testing can take the mystery out of your water.

    When we purchased our new property that includes a couple of ponds and a small creek that receive water from livestock land uphill and then empty downhill into a county ditch that then empties into a slough that then passes into a protected wildlife estuary, I put in a call to the Skagit Conservation District for help getting information on our pond and stream water quality.

    Padilla Bay sunset in July

    Being a resident near a gorgeous protected estuary is an honor & a responsibilty.

    Our goal wasn’t to start raising koi in the ponds or to drink the water from it. Rather, we wanted to get a good understanding of whether the water would be toxic for the dogs that jump into it and drink from it. We wanted to be sure that the existing population of native tadpoles, frogs, salamanders, water insects and predators would continue to thrive. And, we wanted to understand what level of nastiness might be both passing into and out of our property via the existing water ways.

    tadpole metamorphosis to froglet

    Native Pacific tree frog transforming from tadpole to frog in our pond.

    Our local conservationist helped connect us with a local water testing lab, Edge Analytical. Edge helped us choose a few tests to run to set a healthy baseline on our water. We began with basic tests for things like nitrates and fecal coliforms. Certainly, we could run any number of additional tests, but both the conservation district and the lab suggested these were where we should start. Both told us to expect some naturally occurring levels of coliforms as any open water has animal traffic, and, well, shit happens. (more…)

  • Lawns & Mowers

    July 01, 2016

    Relocating to lawn-filled acreage means we need lawn mowers! A few years ago we had eliminated the last of our Seattle garden’s lawn. Our new garden in Mount Vernon, WA came with about an acre + of rolling lawns. That takes a lot of mowing in spring when rain and sun take turns pushing new growth everywhere!

    Garden Mentors founder driving John Deere lawn mower tractor

    Driving the John Deere lawn tractor is fun & makes hauling things up & down the hill easier. But, we hope to use petrol-burner lawn mowers less as time goes by.

    Our new home came with an old John Deere lawn tractor. Yes! We have a tractor! But, as with most things on this new property, it’s a fixer and went into the shop for repairs recently.

    (Qualifying purchases made through affiliate &/or sponsored links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors.)

    Fortunately, our friends at Fiskars* sent us one of their fantastic reel lawn mowers as a bit of a housewarming gift. And, it arrived a day after the John Deere went in for repairs – perfect timing!

    Garden Mentors founder driving John Deere lawn mower tractor

    Pushing a Fiskars Stay-Sharp™ reel mower is easy — even on a hillside. (See that apron Robin’s wearing? Stay tuned for more about this great Roo Apron product we were given to trial**. That’s a topic for another blog post to come!)

    Originally, we had intended to use the Fiskars Stay-sharp™ Max Reel mower under some the lower, weeping trees on the property where it’s really tough to drive the John Deere, and we had planned to use it on our septic mound where minimal weight impact is important. Yes, we can drive the motorized mower over the mound, but the area is small, so we’d prefer to keep as much weight off of this bio-filter as possible.

    (Qualifying purchases made through affiliate &/or sponsored links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors.)

    But we decided to put our new reel mower to work when the abundant lawn clover began blooming profusely in the most-used part of our new lawn. We traverse this lawn multiple times a day. It’s a great fetching space for our dog, lounging space for us and while it does slope slightly, it’ll be a fun croquet and lawn bowling space. (more…)

  • Wind & Tree Damage

    March 18, 2016

    Updated 10/13/2016: As we enter a potentially historic stormy few days in the Puget Sound region that likely will include wind tree damage, we’re focusing on preparing for the storm. This means no new blog post is coming on Friday morning. We’re getting our emergency supplies together (like a solar/crank radio, candles, battery powered lamps and flashlights, water, fuel and a pantry filled with easy-access food). Too, we’re checking our garden for potential fail points — like broken branches that we can remove now. And, we’re charging our electronics, piling up extra blankets and making sure our first aide kits are fully stocked. Hopefully, our preparations won’t prove necessary, but at times like this we’d rather be ready for whatever Mother Nature may blow our way.

    Are you ready?

    Original post from 3/18/2016 follows…

    Wind tree damage is everywhere in Seattle right now. Last weekend, following drenching downpours to our already saturated soils, we clocked 60+mph winds that tore through town like a vengeance.

    Soggy soils + wind = danger!

    Trees toppled. Cars were crushed. Lives were lost. And, we’re still cleaning up after the mess.

    Root pancakes of uprooted trees.

    When wind roars, trees may topple, shed twigs or even snap into pieces that fly through the air causing all sorts of damage. Here Bob stands on the trunk of a small uprooted tree. The enormous root pancake of a giant tree-fall is behind him. When trees like these topple in a remote forest location, it may not be as concerning as when trees crash down in urban settings.

    If you have trees in your garden, consider this your reminder to look up into them for broken branches that become dangerous flying spears in heavy winds. And, look down at the root zone for signs of weakness. And, if you’re in doubt about your ability to recognize potential problems, get in touch with us or hire a certified arborist near you for help.

    plum tree stump

    This thundercloud plum stump is all that remains of the tree that toppled in the wind. In early spring, trees are weighty with new growth & lots of water pulled from the roots. The added top weight contributes to the likelihood they’ll fall. Super soggy soil never helps either.
    (Plus, these were poorly planted years ago, which also leads to failure like this.)

    Nobody can promise you’ll never have a problem with trees in wind, but waiting to make a call when the winds are roaring through the walls of your neighbor’s living room after the top of your pine tree flies half a block and through their roof, well, nobody wants to make those calls. (And, yes, one of my co-horts got this call after her client went through almost exactly this scenario last week in the wind.)

    So, what can you look for yourself?

    Fir hanger in front garden

    A nearby fir tree dropped this relatively small hanger after the wind storm. Although wind often cleans trees of these kinds of branches, sometimes it creates new hangers that can be a falling hazard at any moment. So look up now & do your clean up!

    Douglas Fir with Hanger

    Look up into big or small trees for torn, broken or caught branches. Sometimes these look obviously dead. Sometimes they look alive if hanging very awkwardly.
    Not sure what you should see in this image? Check the next one…

    Hanger on Doug Fir in Focus

    Look closely at the top of the in-focus part of this tree. See the tear? If you look closely, you’ll also see a very large, long branch hanging from it. This is referred to as a “hanger” & they can make lots of trouble when they fall (or fly through the air on the wind.) Removing a hanger may be a job best left to a professional arborist.

    wind blown tree

    Ooops! A few days before the wind storm, we had this tree root pruned in place ahead of moving it. Although this uprooting is intentional, how this tree suffered illustrates how a tree with poor rooting easily falls in the wind – even when it doesn’t have leaves!

    Temporarily weighted down root ball.

    As the wind roared, we temporarily weighted the roots of the trees with heavy cinder blocks rather than tying it with a stake, which probably would have caused the top growth of this tree to snap off.  The wind was howling so hard as we worked on the tree that we could barely stand up straight!

    Wind blown twigs

    Little twigs easily snap in a wind storm, cleaning trees of detritus. Seattle is littered with them now. The good news: bigger nesting birds like crows may clean them up for you.

  • Spring Pruning – Nipping Buds

    March 11, 2016

    Nipping or rolling buds is a great spring pruning trick!

    Tender spring growth on crabapple

    The bud casing has broken & soft leaves are forming in a poor position on the trunk of this crab apple. Rolling or pinching out this growth now is easy on you & your tree! (And you can do it even before the leaves form.)

    As winter thaws into spring, so too do tight, dormant plant buds begin to melt away, allowing tender young growth to emerge. When plants are in this fragile state, it can be tough to prune them without damaging them as well. For instance, if you want to remove some interior branches of a tree, but you can’t reach those branches without rubbing against the tender buds of desirable outer growth, you’ll find yourself wishing you’d finished your cuts before the delicate growth began at winter’s end. And, at this point, it might make sense to hold off on cutting that interior branch until new growth toughens up later in the season.

    But, this is the time to roll out buds to make your pruning chores easier, your plants look better and make it easier for your plants to recover from losing what you nip away.

    Nipping or rolling buds is a pretty simple concept. Essentially, you use your fingers to easily pinch, nip or roll out sprouts that emerge in spots where you know you don’t want a branch to form. This pruning technique only works on young, tender growth. Once the growth begins to toughen up later in spring, you’ll need your sharp pruning tools to remove these branches without ripping, tearing and damaging your plant.

    Rolling out a bud to do spring pruning

    When growth is this tender, it’s as easy as rubbing your finger across the bud or pinching it at its base to do spring pruning.

    Understanding which buds to remove this way is, like all pruning, a bit science and a bit art as the following images illustrate. Trees like this crab apple, flowering plums, Heptacodium, Physocarpus and many others are notorious for busting loose in all kinds of undesirable ways in spring. Fortunately, this simple pruning method will make your gardening chores much easier!

    Suckers & buds on Crabapple

    It’s time to roll out some buds on this crab apple branch & cut out some suckers that could have been rolled out in past years. Take a look at the close-ups that follow.  (Psst! The grey lichen on the branch is just fine. Leave it be!)

    Suckering growth on crabapple

    Here you can see what happens if you don’t roll out buds. Unwanted, often suckering, branches grow & now require pruning tools to remove. Doesn’t it sound easier to pinch or roll out unwanted growth right away?

    focus on buds to prune in spring

    In focus, you can see two buds breaking adjacent to two existing suckering branches. Left to grow, these buds will form even more unwanted suckering limbs.

    Always remember: if in doubt: don’t cut it out! Once you remove a bud or a branch, you can’t put it back on your tree. So, if you’re stumped, contact us for help before you start nipping and cutting.

  • Organic Slug Control

    February 19, 2016

    Finding a truly organic slug control product or homemade slug bait that really works can be tough — especially in Seattle where it rains so much. Until now, many “safe” slug control products and “natural” home remedies simply didn’t hold up well in the rain. And, slugs thrive in our damp, relatively warm weather. So, what’s a gardener to do?

    Slug-free lily flower

    These lilies were protected from slugs by Slug Gone & looked great from stem to bloom!

    Most pelleted “pet safe” products melt quick in the wet, so if you aren’t re-applying the stuff after every soggy day, the slugs will make a meal of your lilies, veggies and hostas before you know it. Beer-filled cups will lure in these gastropods to their death for a while, but it doesn’t take much rain to dilute the beer to the point where it’s no longer a viable death trap for those slimers. Plus, putting down these products actually lures these unwanted pests toward your garden – not ideal!

    Wouldn’t you rather use something that lasts through the rain and repels rather than attracts slugs?

    Slug Gone in Garden

    Encircle your plants that slugs love to munch with organic slug control Slug Gone, water it in so the pellets form a felted wool mat & let it repel those slimy pests while further benefiting your garden!

    In 2015 Garden Mentors was offered free samples of a Slug Gone to trial in our soggy, slug-filled Seattle gardens. We were not paid or otherwise compensated to try these free samples. However, we have been so impressed with this natural byproduct of the wool industry that we’re featuring it in our 2016 Northwest Flower & Garden Show seminar Best Tools for Your Garden Shed and offering it through our store now! (Psst! If you’re one of the first to arrive at our NW Flower & Garden Show seminar on 2/19/16 on the DIY stage, you might win a free sample of this slug repellent or other gardening products we love for your garden shed!)

    (Qualifying purchases made through affiliate &/or sponsored links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors.)

    This product is new to the United States, but here’s what the supplier told us about it when he shipped out trial samples and what we found in relation to these claims during our trial period.

    Supplier statement: Slug Gone is completely natural product made from 100% waste wool, a by-product of the wool-scouring industry in England. Slug Gone has achieved Soil Association approval in the UK, permitting it’s use in organic food production in the European Union.
    What we found: This stuff definitely smells like a sheep, but that’s not surprising since this is a waste byproduct of the wool industry. If you don’t mind a slight barnyard smell, this won’t be off-putting. Our border collie really liked the smell and took a couple of nibbles, but soon she wasn’t interested in either the taste or the scent. And, she didn’t get sick from what she munched.

    Supplier statement: Slug Gone is not a pesticide or poison. Slug Gone is a barrier to slugs and snails. When applied in a continuous mat around a plant, the wool pellets will self-felt to form a barrier that is very irritating to the foot of a slug or snail. (it’s the hooks and barbs in wool fibers that make it itchy and irritating to the foot of a slug or snail) These pests will simply choose to eat elsewhere, preserving the biodiversity in the garden while protecting your plants.
    What we found: 

    Slug controlled by Slug Gone

    Frustrated slugs may try to cross Slug Gone barriers, but they quickly give up & head the other direction.

    Supplier statement: Slug Gone is a weed barrier: Weeds are prevented from coming up through the wool mat, and seeds that land on top of the mat are less likely to germinate since the surface of the mat will dry quickly.
    What we found: Since it rains in Seattle a lot and since we water our garden, the mat doesn’t stay dry and weeds will germinate in the wool barrier, but they’re easy to pull. Just be sure that you don’t create a break in the mat circle or slugs can get through.

    Supplier statement: Slug Gone is a moisture mulch: Slug Gone forms a barrier that allows water to penetrate the surface, but reduces evaporation from the soil.
    What we found: Wool is a bit waxy, but once it gets wet it does stay soggy, releasing moisture slowly into the root zone below. Plants didn’t seem to dry out any more or less than others if they were surrounded by Slug Gone.

    Supplier statement: Slug Gone is a thermal barrier: Wool is a natural insulator. Slug gone will keep roots cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Slug Gone will add organic matter: Slug gone will last for 8-14 months as it biodegrades. During this process, Slug Gone will be adding organic material to condition the soil. Slug Gone will not wash out or blow away.

    Slug Gone in vegetable garden

    Surrounding freshly seeded beds with Slug Gone resulted in lots of burned seedlings near the Slug Gone perimeter. Waiting to surround emerged plants worked much better for us.

    What we found: It’s important to keep Slug Gone away from tender young stems and early seedlings. The organic matter it adds seems to release some “hot” nutrients right away, which established perennials, such as Hosta, seem to do fine with. But freshly seeded veggies may not be able to handle it. Also, how long an application will last does vary significantly. In our sandy loam and rainy climate, a single application easily lasted from spring until autumn. Then, it simply decomposed into the garden. A new application will be necessary each growing season.

    Supplier statement: If the plant grows larger during the season, and leaves bend down to touch the soil beyond the wool mat, be sure to place more pellets there to keep slugs from crawling up the leaves.
    What we found: Yep! Given the chance to slime their way up a leaf outside the Slug Gone slug control barrier, slugs will do it. But, as the growing season progressed and summer got hot and dry, there weren’t many slugs out there trying to munch down fully emerged plants like our hostas.

    Slug Gone applied to Hostas

    Before our hostas emerged, we encircled the sprouts with a barrier of Slug Gone, watered it in & didn’t need to reapply all season long.


    Where to find Slug Gone: We’re betting you’ll start finding Slug Gone at your local nursery soon. But, for now, you can buy it through our Amazon Affiliate store.
    (Qualifying purchases made through affiliate &/or sponsored links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors.)

1 2 3 4 37
(Qualifying purchases made through affiliate &/or sponsored links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors.)