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Category: Gardening Guidelines

  • Free Nature Apps Reviewed: Birds & Bugs

    December 25, 2015

    As we get ready for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count 2015, we’re checking out nature apps to help us with the count. If you’re interested in learning more about birds or bugs, try downloading these to your smartphone or tablet for quick reference.

    Bald Eagle at Fir Island, WA

    Bald eagles may be easy to ID, but what about other birds? Apps can help!

    Audubon Bird App: This free app is available for most platforms and makes for a great birding field guide. Be sure to give yourself time to download the big ole database of info once you’ve installed the app. Then, when you’re in the field, you’ll have photos, bird calls and much more to help you locate and identify nearly a 1000 birds. Plus, it offers photography tips and ways to share your findings with other birders. This is a must-have freebie for anyone interested in birds!

    Dragonfly App: This free app is (as far as we know) the only app specialized to help users locate, identify and help scientists track dragonflies and damselflies. What we like: the photo IDs. Lots of great eye-candy. And, we like that it shows us what’s been seen recently near us. What we don’t like: having to set up two different accounts to even use the product and the requirement to turn on location services, which drains our phones faster than anything. Suggestion: let us input zip code and map from there unless we’re submitting data. Also, the search tool only manages to crash our phone. For now, we’re turning off the app. Come summer, it should be fun to turn it on occasionally when we see dragonflies we want to ID. Oh, and this app is only available for iOS at the moment.

    Hungry for more flora and fauna apps? We’ve covered several others in past posts here & here.

    And, happy Christmas 2015 Garden Mentors readers!

  • Fall Pruning Tips

    September 25, 2015

    Have you been duped into believing fall pruning is ideal? Surprise! Fall is one of the worst times to prune. Or at least, it’s the worst time to prune most woody plants. There’s plenty of other cutting and cleaning work to do instead.

    Boxwood: not for fall pruning

    Think fall’s the best time to tidy up your hedges for winter? Think again!

    Put down your saw this time of year and spend this time weeding, raking, mulching and cutting back perennials ready to hunker underground for the cold months ahead.

    Why not cut woody plants now? Making cuts on plants does a number of things to their growth systems. Trimming can stimulate new growth, and new growth is tender. If a cold snap hits, which can happen unexpectedly and fast anytime in fall, any tender new shoots can be damaged, weakening your plant and making it look awful. That being said, if your shrubs have been neglected for a long time and are full of dead material, go ahead and snap the dead stuff out. Just don’t start sawing on living limbs at this time of year.

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

    Once your trees and shrubs have lost their leaves and have been standing bare for at least a couple of weeks, that’s the time to begin many woody pruning jobs.

    Buddha statue among fallen autumn leaves

    Prune woody plants after plants have been bare for a few weeks.

    Have happy hedges! You know those hedges that look raggedly and full of holes all winter. Maybe they die out in spots as winter trudges by? Most likely they were cut hard in autumn. Instead, save shearing work for late winter, early spring or even mid-summer. Trimming hedges just ahead of the spring growth surge ensures they’ll flush out with lush, privacy-providing new growth fast; trimmed in mid-summer, they’ll put on a little regrowth with time for it to toughen up for the cold season and look tidy as well.

    Wait! What about winter bloomers? Prune these only as they’re blooming or shortly after. If you trim a winter-flowering hedge or shrub after early spring, you’ll cut off all it’s flower buds for the winter to come!

    Snow on blooming witch hazel

    Prune winter bloomers like witch hazel as they’re blooming or right after to maximize your blooms the following year. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy them in indoor, winter bouquets. Take care if you cut during winter freezes. It’s easy to break frozen branches.

    If not trees and shrubs, What should you be cutting in fall? (more…)

  • Drought Watering: Home to Garden

    August 07, 2015

    In the mid-1970s I won second place in a drought watering solutions contest at my Willits, California middle school; the first place winner was a much better artist than I. My idea-rich poster is long gone, but many of the lessons I learned as a kid growing up in drought have become a way of life for me, particularly in this year’s record-breaking Seattle hot and dry streak. If you’re struggling to keep your garden watered and  keep your water bill from breaking the bank, consider these creative ways to use “waste water.”

    drought stressed sedum

    Even drought-hardy sedums like this need a drink in times of high heat & low rainfall, but they’re less likely to croak than many other plants when grown in hot, dry situations.

    Morning showers bring evening flowers!

    If you haven’t already, start by changing out your shower heads and faucets to low flow models that can save you many gallons each time you turn on a faucet. Of course, showering with a buddy and not showering everyday (or multiple times a day) can really cut down on water use too. And, baths are lovely, but what a lot of water those use!

    bucket in shower capturing for drought watering

    Keep a bucket in your shower to capture clean water that otherwise just goes down the drain.

    If you don’t already have a bucket with a spout, buy one and keep it in your shower or tub. When you turn on the faucet to heat your morning shower, capture those otherwise wasted gallons into your bucket. In our household of two adults, we at least fill one bucket this way each morning, which in turn fills a couple of watering cans for garden plants and bird baths! Or, within a couple of days we’ve added a few buckets of this water to our galvanized tub for a cooling foot bath or a doggie bath. And, if you’re taking baths rather than showers, use a siphon or scoop up most of the dirtied bathwater into your bucket to pour into a tree gator or onto the base of a thirsty shrub or tree. Just be sure you’re using biodegradable soaps in your tub.


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

    Dishwater makes great gardening water too!


  • Fourth of July Garden Tips

    July 03, 2015

    I’m not going to give you a bunch of Fourth of July garden tips that focus on planting red, white and blue things to decorate or making a red and blue berry salad with whip cream to feed your favorite patriots. Rather, let’s consider some safety precautions going into the holiday of fiery ka-boom!

    Here in the PacNW, we’re experiencing a record-breaking hot, dry summer. It feels like its been 90F since May. And, this blazing, record-shattering spring-into-summer is following on the heels of a not particularly moist or cool fall, winter, spring, and let’s face it, last year and a half!

    And, what happens at times like these? Plants croak.

    Fourth of July Garden Tip Example

    Plants live. Plants die.
    If you’ve got a croaker lurking your border, yank it before it becomes a flaming holiday torch.

    Okay, so plants croak all the time. But, when we’re low on water and high on heat during days when the sun rises around 4:30am and seems to finally set around 10pm, more plants are more likely to give up the ghost, and they do it quite a bit faster than during more “normal” temperate weather periods.

    Our #1 tip for getting ready for The Fourth: Pull out your dead, tinderbox shrubs and other kindling-worthy plants. Left in place, they’re just waiting for a stray bottle-rocket or other firework to spark them into a blaze of unwanted holiday glory. Yank them today! Even if fireworks are illegal in your area, we all know somebody is going to light them anyway, and you don’t want your home or garden to be that jerk’s victim.

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

    Tip #2 for readying your garden for Independence Day: Irrigate your garden. Assuming you aren’t under drought restrictions, get out there and moisten your planting beds and any flammable pathways. (If you are under water restrictions, keep reading. We’ve got solutions for you too!) If you have chosen to install “beauty bark” in your garden, be sure it is really well soaked. We’ve gotten more than one report over the years of this stuff spontaneously igniting on a hot day — no fireworks required. In Seattle there’s even an emergency response code for this kind of fire: BARK! (Just one more reason to hate the not beautiful bark junk.)

    Close up of dead Nandina

    If a shrub, tree or other plant is crispy like this Nandina we transplanted unsuccessfully in our own test gardens, put it into the compost heap today before the fireworks can ignite it!

    Fortunately in Seattle we aren’t experiencing water use restrictions thanks to forward thinking by our water planners. However, if you are under restrictions (or if you just hate wasting water), buy a bucket for less than $5 to keep in your shower. As you heat water to a shower-friendly temperature, you’ll probably collect a couple of gallons each time. Pour your collected moisture into a watering can and use it wisely ahead of firecracker day and throughout the long, dry summer ahead.  Having even a bit of water in your garden can help fizzle any sizzles that hit your land.

  • Pear & Apple Pest Control

    May 29, 2015

    Rock the socks off apple maggot and codling moth with this simple apple pest control barrier technique. It’s healthier than applying a ‘cide. You may even be able to upcycle old clothes to do the job. And, you aren’t likely to bite into another nasty, mealy, wormy apple from your trees again!

    asian pear in need of pest control

    Small Asian pear in spring: the perfect target for egg-laying pests or your maggot barriers!

    In the pacific northwest, apple maggot and codling moth are the nasty flying pests that inject their eggs through the skin of young fruit. When those eggs hatch, worms crawl through our fruit. Sometimes they leave before we take a bite. Sometimes they’re still squirming around in there.

    Yuck, right?

    The easiest way to avoid wormy, maggot-y apples and pears is to simply slip a nylon baggy barrier over young fruits in spring. The barrier makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the adult pest to inject its progeny into the growing fruit. And, as the fruit grows, the baggy will expand around it.

    Apple Maggot Barrier over pear

    Nylon pest barrier slips over young fruit easily. Keep it loose, but tuck the end into the open side to hold it in place as the growing season continues.

    Some folks prefer to hang plastic bags over their fruit to the same end. While neither the nylons nor the plastic bags are pretty to look at, to my eyes plastic bags look trashier and may magnify sunlight, burning surrounding leaves and branches. Want to use a paper bag? Go ahead, but it’ll probably melt after a decent rain.

    Timing is everything!

    It is critical to get your fruit barriers onto your plants early in the growing season — like by the end of May at the latest. If you’re late to the game, momma may get her eggs in place, and then you’re too late.

    This is the same time of year when knocking a few fruits off your tree may help your trees produce a more delicious crop. In fact, most fruit trees will release a few young, green fruit on their own. But if you knock off the least desirable fruit, you’ll likely find that the remaining fruit gets bigger and more delicious than it would if you left a bunch of little fruits on the tree, sapping resources and offering little in return.

    Young pear fruits

    When fruit is small like this, knock the least desirable of the two from the tree & cover the other with a apple pest control barrier. (FYI: We weren’t late in applying covers. The “dings” on the fruit to the left were caused by an insane hail in April that also shredded leaves.)

    So, knock off the worst fruit in a group. Sock the rest.

    Where to get the socks?

    Maybe you can make them from an old pair of stockings in your closet. The first year our Asian pear tree produced a fruit (yes, one single fruit), I decided using a pair of stretched out old stockings was worth a try.

    Asian pear protected from pests

    Fall harvested Asian pear surrounded by upcycled stocking protection.

    I snipped out a large portion of the foot, slipped that over the single pear, and tied it loosely in place with a twist-tie. The black color didn’t matter, and in the end, I harvested that single fruit, which had zero pest damage!

    pest-free asian pear

    Our first pear without apple maggot or coddling moth damage thanks to a DIY nylon barrier.

    This year, our tree produced quite a few fruits, and I’m fresh out of stockings to cut up, so I purchased a bag of about 100+ nylon socks from a local retail nursery. The nursery was selling them on behalf of the Seattle Fruit Tree Society. You can order from them directly here.  If you buy through the society, proceeds go to support fruit education and research.

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

    CityFruit.org, a Seattle area non-profit focusing on reducing waste from backyard fruit trees, expanding knowledge and more, has teamed with a number of local nurseries where you can pick up fruit barriers for free (spring of 2015). Details here.

    But my tree is huge!

    If you have an enormous pear or apple tree, odds are the fruit near the tops of the trees goes to the birds, so don’t worry about putting a sock on those. Slip your barriers over the low-hanging fruit that you’re most likely to harvest. If you really do intend to harvest every bit of fruit from your tree, barrier applications are going to be laborious – just like harvesting fruit from the top of your tree will be. Get a ladder, and get to it before your little fruits get much bigger than a cherry tomato.

    DIY upcycled apple maggot barrier

    Cut the foot from an old pair of nylons to DIY an upcycled apple maggot barrier.

    When harvest time comes, many of your nylon socks will still be in decent shape. Slip them off the fruits as you pick and save the best to re-use in future years.

    What about those scabby things on my pears?

    Pear scab is an entirely different problem, caused by a fungus rather than a flying pest. Unfortunately, your fruit maggot barriers won’t stop scab.

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