News

Correct Bat House Placement

July 28th, 2010

placing bat housesThat bats are blind is a misconception; they just see much better in the dark than they do in sunlight and they hunt by echolocation, rather than by sight. Working similar to sonar, they bounce sound waves off of their prey. They are actually very clean animals and though they look similar to a rodent, but more threatening because they have wings, they are much more desirable, cleaner and beneficial than mice, gophers, moles or rats.  

The bat population, unfortunately, is on the decline due to human civilization encroaching on their habitat and, in part, because bats have received a bad rap and have been targeted for eradication in some areas. If this trend continues, we will have lost an invaluable natural resource designed to be a natural enemy to the mosquito and other noxious flying insects. These harmful insects cannot become immune to bats like they can to the numerous chemicals utilized to control them. There will come a time when sprays and treatments will be largely ineffective against mosquitoes. Where will we be without the bats?

In order to be sure to attract bats, there are a few simple steps to follow. First, choose the type of bat house according to the number of bats that you wish to have working in your back yard. If you have a large area, or both a back and front yard, you may want to locate numerous Bat Houses strategically around your home. Bat Houses should be mounted about 15 feet above the ground, preferably facing south or southeast to take advantage of the heat of the morning and early afternoon sun. Most people prefer to locate them a number of feet from the house, but some will even hang their Bat Houses right on their own house or garage, convenient to a viewing area where they can watch the bats at work. Bat Houses placed on poles and structures tend to become occupied quicker than those placed on trees, most likely because they prefer not to have to navigate branches when flying in and out. If you find that you have bats living in your belfry or attic, place the bat house in close proximity to this area in order to lure them into a more suitable living arrangement, unless of course, you don't mind them in your house. You can relocate the Bat House a little further away once they have established habitation there.

Bats will normally be very abundant throughout the summer and into late fall, either hibernating or migrating to warmer areas with a more abundant food supply in the winter, returning again in early summer. Winter or early spring will be the best time to relocate your Bat House if you choose to.  

Most new bat houses will be occupied in the first 1 to 6 months. If you find that bats do not roost in your bat house by the end of the second summer, simply move the house to another location.  Thanks so much for helping these airborne friends!

Red Cedar Safe For Raised Beds

July 27th, 2010

garden bedI am wanting to build some raised beds and I see that a lot of people use the pressure-treated lumber that is no longer treated with arsenic. How about red cedar…would it be safe to use for raised garden beds or does it contain some type of chemical also?

Thanks!

Nancy L.

Answer: Western Red Cedar is naturally bug and decay resistant so the lumber is not treated with any chemicals. It is very durable and has a long life expectancy compared to other softwoods. For this reason, it will be considerably more expensive than standard pressure-treated lumber, especially for large-dimensioned pieces. Today’s pressure-treated lumber is acceptable for use in gardens since treating it with arsenic was banned several years ago.

Either choice is fine. Cedar is a much more attractive wood but if it’s not going to be in a very visible location, that might not be a consideration.

Good luck with your beds!

Karen

Nematodes

July 26th, 2010

Now that Nemacure is not available anymore, how does one control nematodes? Information would be most appreciated. Thanking you in anticipation, George M

Answer: Nematodes, which are microscopic, worm-shaped, plant-parasitic animals, are highly damaging and can be widespread. They can be found in all major field crops, and on turf, perennials and legumes. In large crops, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the best practice, including prevention, avoidance, monitoring and suppression. There are some chemical management controls for large operations but you would need to identify the species of nematode and degree of infestation you have, and for this you need to contact your local extension office for guidance.

If you are dealing with a single plant infestation, there are a couple of things to try. I was able to rid a hosta of the foliar nematode parasite by super-heating the root system.  This is accomplished by removing the plant and washing off all soil from the roots and removing any diseased foliage, then dipping the plant roots up to the crown in water of no more than 123F for 4-8 minutes, followed by dipping in cold water. Some suggest using a 1% bleach solution. Repot or plant immediately. Since nematodes can survive in the soil for a period of time, it’s wise to replace the soil in the area or replant in a different location. I took this one step further with my hosta by replanting in a pot and leaving it in my greenhouse/barn where temps get quite high in the summer.  I made sure it had sufficient moisture for survival then left it in the pot isolated from other plants through the winter before returning it to the garden after new growth showed no signs of infestation.

Another option is total soil sterilization or adding organic matter in the soil to increase the amount of microbes that provide some natural control for nematodes. Without knowing exactly what form of nematode you are dealing with, foliar or root, any products on the shelf for ornamental landscape plants may or may not be effective.  Most products are labeled for root nematodes. The effectiveness of these products is still in question.

Always check plants for damage when shopping for new additions to your landscape. Do not purchase any stock that shows signs of disease or infection, and if in doubt, quarantine the plants before integrating them into your landscape.

Good luck with the nematodes,

Karen

Support for Climbing Rose Bushes

July 23rd, 2010

rose plantI have 2 rose bushes that need some type of trellis.  I don’t like wooden ones because of the upkeep.  The distance between the 2 poles is about 10 feet.  Could this Trellis Netting support 2 John Cabot rose bushes? (It is on the side of a pergola, so there is no wall behind for support.)  If not, do you have any other ideas?

Thanks! Lori U.

Answer: Climbing roses are a beautiful addition to a sunny garden. Roses, unlike other vines that like to climb, don’t have actual tendrils or specialized branches that attach themselves to a wall or trellis. In the wild, the main shoots or canes would just arch out and the smaller shoots that produce the blooms would grow from there. To tame these canes in our gardens some sort of structure is required and the main canes need to tied with a flexible material. Try to tie them in the most horizontal manner possible. Since the wind, rain and snow will put a considerable stress on the canes and therefore the support system, you want to make sure the system is something that will endure this abuse. Wood or metal structures are the favorite choice because of this. Replacing the supports after the rose has reached mature size would not be pleasant or easy. 

The Garden Trellis Netting we sell is a fabric type and is not the perfect solution, however if you want to try it for a temporary measure I would suggest doubling the netting and making sure it is secured firmly to the posts. The netting is perfect for seasonal vines like clematis or annuals like beans, cucumbers, or morning glories.

Happy Gardening,

Karen

Hot-cha-cha-cha! Hot Peppers and Spicing Up Your World

July 22nd, 2010

Hot peppers on displayAs is the case with all produce, fresh-picked homegrown peppers have more flavor, color and nutritional value than their commercially grown counterparts at the supermarket. If you are new to growing hot peppers, look for the Scoville heating units that are listed for each variety. The higher the number, the hotter the pepper.

Every chef should have at least a few varieties of hot pepper plants in the garden or potted on the patio. They're easy to grow, add a ton of flavor to foods, and are amazingly versatile in the kitchen. From the hottest varieties, like Ghost, to the milder Anaheim, there are countless reasons to grow these flavorful fruits. Most hot peppers can be added to recipes raw, roasted, sautéed, steamed, or baked, and they can be preserved in many ways. Drying hot peppers causes some of their flavors and heat to be lost but allows the gardener to enjoy the fruits of the harvest for up to a year after ripe peppers are picked.

The best varieties of hot pepper to dry are the thin-skinned ones with the lowest moisture content. They can be sun-dried, roasted, or quick-dried in a food dehydrator. Once they're dry, crush the flesh into flakes or powder, and store in a cool, dark place in an airtight container. Peppers can also be frozen whole or diced, and straight off the plant, or blanched first. The meatier, thicker-fleshed varieties will freeze better and retain a nicer texture when thawed.

Some peppers ripen all at once, while others generate new fruits throughout the summer. For the chef who wants fresh-picked heat for each meal's preparation, choose a type that will keep producing ripening peppers. For preserving peppers by pickling, canning, or using salsas and hot sauces, choose a variety that ripens all at once.

Peppers are a cinch to harvest. They snap right off the stem of the plant when they're ripe, and they don't have spines or thorns, so gloves aren't needed to pick them. However, it is recommended that chefs wear latex kitchen gloves when preparing spicy peppers to add to dishes, to avoid getting the hot capsaicin oil on hands and then accidentally touching the face. Hot peppers will burn sensitive skin and eyes, and the sting is excruciating.

It's easiest to gauge the heat of your finished dish if you remove the innards and cook with only the green, red or orange fleshy part of the fruit.

Peppers are ripe and ready for picking as soon as they reach their full length, as suggested in their growing instructions. Their ripe color can vary. For example, jalapeños can be light or deep green, purple or red at maturity, although most purists prefer their flavor when they're firm, shiny and deep green.

How Can I Get Rid Of Snakes

July 21st, 2010

I live in Bryan, TX right near Texas A&M in College Station.  I am so looking forward to constructing a vegetable/fruit garden for next season.  We have a well-fenced backyard that is perfect.  BUT there is a matter of concern and safety.  Copper Head, Coral and Rattlesnakes are common in this county.  Just the other day for the VERY FIRST TIME EVER, since moving to Texas and even living previously in Houston…we were informed by a neighbor that they had observed a snake going up our fence and into our backyard.

Because it was about dusk, it was not known the type of snake…and now I am REALLY concerned not only for our dog’s safety, but our very own, as we grill in the backyard, as well.

We don’t have a deck or any kind of crawl spaces. It’s a solid brick foundation.  I do however have a wildflower/butterfly garden on each side of the interior fence and against the back of the house.  The foliage is rather thick and flowers are in full bloom…so pretty, but now this.

We were planning to construct raised gardening along the back of the fence within each corner, planting an Elderberry ‘Black Beauty’ and a Goji Berry to enjoy not only the blooms but also the fruit–then various vegetables along the left and right sides.  Now I am wondering how we can, with having to contend with snakes?

I don’t want to kill them…BUT I WANT THEM NOT TO LIKE COMING NEAR OR IN OUR YARD.

Can ANYONE help with remedies they have used?

Thanks so much…

Julia R.

Answer: Julia, we appreciate your question. The product you need is called NocDown III. You will have to spray this in the  areas of grass and fence you want to keep the snakes out of. Since they may already be in your backyard, I would spray a section each day, starting at the back of the house and working all the way to the outer edges of the yard. A couple of days after all the backyard is sprayed I would spray both sides of the fence and then the grass on the outside of the fence. I would spray the entire area once per month to ensure the snakes stay away.

Sincerely, Karen

Protecting Tomatoes from Extreme Conditions

July 16th, 2010

tomato plantsEvery tomato lover knows homegrown are in a class of their own. Luckily, tomato plants are vigorous growers that require very little effort on the gardener's part.

Tomato plants prefer full sunlight and a warm environment, but extreme heat can alter their ability to be pollinated and produce fruit.  During periods of high temperatures, garden vegetables need more attention than usual.

High heat quickly evaporates the soil's moisture, so vigilant daily watering is mandatory. Plants will droop and wilt to let you know they're thirsty and stressed from the dry, hot climate. Swan's Soaker Hoses are available in different lengths and are made of environmentally friendly recycled rubber.  These hoses lie flat on the ground and maximize watering efficiency by minimizing evaporation.  They deliver a steady and consistent flow of water where you want it, directly to the soil.

Maintaining soil health throughout the growing season is also necessary to fortify plants against harsh conditions. Tomatoes need a fertile growing medium and they respond with noticeable results to products like Espoma's Tomato Tone or Hi-Yield Garden Fertilizer.   Follow manufacturers' instructions about feeding or fertilizing plants during drought periods.

Better Reds is a red plastic mulch that is touted to promote better growth and production in tomatoes by reflecting far-red light frequencies (like the sun's) to the undersides of the plant's leaves and fruits.  It helps to hold moisture in the soil and keeps weeds at bay, as well.

Extreme conditions can also include unexpected frosts in late spring or early fall.  Protect your plants and extend their lives by covering them at night when temperatures are expected to dip to 40 degrees or less.  The Season Starter Plant Protector is a plastic, water-filled ring that surrounds the plant.  It absorbs heat during the day and holds it in at night to guard against cooler ambient temps.

Plant and seed blankets, garden row covers, sheets of cotton or natural burlap, and even tall piles of extra mulch can help protect plants from extreme hot or cold. Greenhouses aren't an option for every grower, but they also provide a more controlled climate for young plants that are awaiting optimum spring planting in the ground.

One other option for protecting tomatoes from harsh temperatures or erratic rainfall is to plant in containers.   That allows the grower to move the plants to areas where they'll have temporary shelter from extreme hot or cold, or be closer to a source of water, or even be more easily found by the insects that pollinate them.

A Worry-Free Vacation

June 24th, 2010

vacationI was actually pretty hesitant about trying Vacation for plants. I mean, how many times do you buy something and it just doesn't work as advertised? And when it comes to your houseplants or your lawn and landscapingthat's quite a risk to take! But this year I took my summer vacation with my best friends, my neighbors, which meant none of us had someone we could depend upon to watch after our plants and lawns.

When I bought mine, I decided to buy one for everyone else and just hope for the best. I've always been happy with GHS products, so I took a leap of faith, and just thought positively, convincing myself and my friends that we could take a care-free vacation and not worry about our plants or lawns. I'll tell you, that was quite a leap!

In fact, we worried more than we wanted to. While traipsing through the World's Biggest Yard Sale in August, we kept a constant watch on the weather back home by way of my laptop computer. I bookmarked the Weather Channel page and checked my Yahoo weather report every chance I got. Dismally, we watched the temperatures rise and the humidity decrease. We just knew that we would return home to scorched lawns and withered bushes. We weren't as concerned about all of our houseplants, except that each of us had one favorite that we fretted over, but the thought of returning home to our houses surrounded by the same shade of ‘blah brown' became a bigger and bigger worry. We managed to still enjoy ourselves during the day while filling our trunk and a small trailer with goodies we had found, but when we sat down to lunch or dinner, the talk inevitably turned to our yards. Finally, two days before we returned home, we had a little rain. Yay! Rain! You would have thought we were farmers depending upon the rain for our livelihood! It was kind of funny, but that was one of the most positive moments on our whole tripuntil we thought, ‘This is probably too little, too late'.

Our dread became almost unbearable as we pulled back into town and then drove toward our neighborhood. What a surprise was waiting for us! Not only were the lawns perfectly green and every shrub perky and in perfect health, but because we had not had much rain while we were gone, the lawn didn't even need mowing. We had been gone for almost two weeks and we were amazed! Not only that, but our telephones were buzzing as we were all so thrilled that our houseplants had survived our absence as well.

Vacation really worked! You see, it says that it puts your lawn or plants in a state of dormancy. It gradually wears off over a two-week period, unless you get rain, in which case it dissipates and the normal growth cycle takes over. So, if we had gotten more rain, our lawns would have survived also, but we would have had to mow as soon as we got home. Because we didn't get rain, the growth cycle stopped, kind of like it does in the winter time! Wow! Now we could sort through our treasures and get our laundry caught up and just relax for a week before we had to worry about lawn work. Truly amazing!

We have already decided to do the same trip next yearwithout the unnecessary worry. Thanks to Vacation! Tim G.

Begonias All Around

June 17th, 2010

Begonias are as versatile as they are diverse.  The plants maintain a compact, polished and elegant look throughout the entire blooming season, with very little care or maintenance.

There are countless qualities that make begonias popular indoor and outdoor plants.  They have a long bloom time.  There is a wide range of flower types and colors, as well as leaf shapes, sizes and colors.  They come in a variety of growth habits, making them suitable for planting in the ground, patio containers, and hanging planters.  And, they grow well in just about any environment.

Begonias are perennials in warm climates, but they can be perennial plants in cold climates if overwintered indoors.  They acclimate to fluorescent lighting or low natural indoor sunlight in the fall after a summer season outdoors, and they require no special treatment to provide a long season of profuse flowers when returned to the outdoors after the last frost in late spring.  Just be sure to introduce them back outside gradually, so they don't get shocked by brighter sunlight and harsher temps.

Several varieties of begonias are ideal for hanging planters.  Water according to how much direct sunlight (and heat) the pots will be exposed to.  Start with a soilless potting mix, as begonias do best in well-draining mediums.  They also prefer to have their roots somewhat bound, so don't use a pot much bigger than the initial root ball.  And don't transplant your mature plants until the roots have truly outgrown their container.

Begonias will thrive with standard houseplant fertilizer.  Most begonia aficionados prefer liquid fertilizer, diluted and added with every watering.  Dry fertilizers can also be used, mixed into the plant water.

Before choosing varieties of begonias, consider the growth habit, the look of the leaves, and the bloom color, so you have blooming plants that complement your space and will adapt well to your selected site and containers.  Even when not in bloom, begonias make a beautiful houseplant, with leaves ranging from velvety to leathery to shiny, and in colors from light green to dark green to purple to variegated patterns.

Keep your begonias on the drier side, rather than evenly moist.  Allow your begonia plants to dry out completely, then water thoroughly until the water drains out of the planter and doesn't saturate the potting mix at the bottom of the pot. 

Most varieties of begonias will thrive in conditions of full sun or partial shade.  As your patio containers or hanging planters grow, keep pinching off dying leaves and dead flower heads.  Begonias are dense plants but they will become leggy if dead parts aren't removed.  Otherwise, they need very little attention to become lush, colorful additions to any environment.  And their flowers are bright, cheerful and long-lasting.  Best of all, begonias are readily available and very affordable.

What Type of Tree is This?

June 4th, 2010

I was hoping to get a tree or plant identified, if possible.  I am attaching photos.  This was a voluntary plant that grew very close to my house and each summer it grows taller than the house before we cut it down.  I would like to plant one out near the woods, but I have not been successful in rooting it.  I have not ever seen flowers or seeds produced from it.  This one grows too close to my house and front door.  It is very messy in the fall when the leaves start falling. The leaves are very large (1 to 2 feet across) and they are oily to the touch (and they are slightly fuzzy?).  The main trunk is kind of hollow in the center even though, as it gets bigger, it becomes more wooden, but the center stays hollow, if that makes sense.  I would like to figure out what it is and where I can get one to plant where I want it.  It is probably some kind of fast growing weed, as I see it growing at edges of parking lots and up close against other houses.  I have even seen one growing out of a street culvert.  I have made several concrete birdbaths using the leaves from this tree or plant, and they are wonderful.  I would appreciate it if you could help me identify it or tell me the best way to transplant it to another area of my yard.  If you need more info or photos, please let me know.  Thank you, Kathy

Answer: The images you sent look like you have a Royal Paulownia tree, also called a princess tree or empress tree. It is originally from China and was introduced to this country as an ornamental. It grows quite rapidly and can reach a mature size of 50ft. x 50ft. and will bloom as soon as its second year. The tree is often planted and harvested for its close-grained, lightweight wood, which is used in Japan for everything from jewelry boxes to shipping crates. Its ability to grow in disturbed sites such as strip mines is making it popular for reclamation uses, as well. However, this naturalizing ability also makes it an invasive or “weed” species and I suggest you plant it with care.  As with most flowering and fruiting trees it can be quite messy, so do not plant it near your home or patio. 

There isn’t much information about how well they transplant. You should try to get as much of the root system as possible. It does sound like they are pretty easy to grow from seed and they are shown to be common in your area, so if your transplant doesn’t take, search around the area for another one and start from seed.

Good luck with the tree,

Karen