Watering Responsibly

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20170626B Clipartix.comTrue enough, everybody wants a nice green garden, but there is no need to waste water by watering excessively either.

You have no idea how many people think that watering every single day is the only way to have delicious vegetables and beautiful flowers! Yet a thorough watering once a week is usually amply enough for most vegetable beds, flower gardens and lawns, although sometimes container plants may need to be watered more often.

Back to Basics

There is an age-old technique you can use to determine when to water. It’s so old that it undoubtedly dates back to when the first humans grew a plant some 12,000 years ago! Yet it works just as well today as it did then.

And here it is:

20170626ASimply stick your index finger into the soil to the second joint and feel the soil.

If the soil feels dry to the touch and there is no rain on the horizon, water abundantly for at least a few minutes to ensure that the soil is moist deep down and not just on the surface. Repeat the test in about a week to see if watering is needed again.

If the soil is still feels moist to the touch, wait a day or two, then repeat the test, only watering when it does feel dry.

Sometimes gardening is just sooo easy!

Is Treated Wood Safe in the Vegetable Garden?

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20170625A JOe Mabel, WC

Raised vegetable bed with treated wood. Photo: Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons

There is a long-standing controversy in the field of organic gardening: can pressure-treated wood be used as part of an organic vegetable garden? Here’s what I know:

20170625B Lamiot, WC

Wood that isn’t pressure-treated tends to rot fairly quickly in contact with the soil. Photo: Lamiot, Wikimedia Commons

Pressured-treated wood sold in the US and Canada used to contain chromated copper arsenate (CCA). In the long term, this product released arsenic into soil, more under certain conditions than others. The fear was that the arsenic could be absorbed by vegetables and other edible plants and transferred to humans. And everyone knows that arsenic is toxic. In addition, burning wood containing arsenic is much riskier than using it in the garden!

In North America and in much of Europe, CCA-treated woods were removed from the residential timber market (they are still allowed for use in some commercial applications) sometime at the beginning of the 21st century (in early 2004 in Canada and the US and in 2006 in Australia, notably). Since then, two other products containing copper have been widely used in pressure-treated wood: alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ) and copper azole (CBA).

They contain no arsenic: it’s their copper content that helps to preserve the wood. Any treated wood will eventually leach some of its chemicals into the surrounding soil (again, more so in some soils than others). However, copper is considerably less toxic than arsenic. The risk to humans and warm-blooded mammals from copper-treated wood is considered minimal, but fish and insects are very sensitive to it (copper-treated wood should never be used in ponds or streams). Interestingly, human beings absolutely need copper in order to to survive, but in very small quantities.

Soil experts are essentially unanimous: they see no risk for humans in using copper-treated wood products in a vegetable garden, the amount of copper released being minimal and copper being considered essentially nontoxic unless present at extremely high levels. Despite this, accreditation agencies for organic products do not permit the use of wood treated with copper in certified organic vegetable production.

Curiously, they do allow the use of copper-based pesticides, including Bordeaux mixture, which release more copper into the environment than copper-treated wood ever could. Go figure!

What To Do?

So, should you use copper-treated wood in a raised bed vegetable garden or not?

I can’t pretend to be an expert in this field: I’m a home gardener, not an expert on chemicals! But I think enough information is out there for you to decide.

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Many people don’t know if their raised beds were built with pressure-treated wood … and perhaps it really isn’t that important. Photo: Lori L Stalteri, Flickr

Do you opt for the convenience and reasonable price of copper-treated wood relying on scientific studies, will you stick with less expensive, non-treated wood even if that means replacing it every 7 to 10 years, or are you willing to pay top price for redwood or recycled plastic lumber so as to be as “organic” possible? That’s your decision.

Also, remember that, if it’s just a question of raised beds, you could use bricks, stones or cinder blocks to raise the bed above the surrounding soil. Or you could simply mound the soil and slope the sides, using no containing material whatsoever.

Some Other Possibilities

Wooden Decking Paint Wood House Deck Varnish

Coating even inexpensive softwood with varnish or paint will help it last longer … but some organic gardeners might object. Photo: Mega Pixel

There are still a few other possibilities. Like painting untreated wooden boards with some sort of waterproofing agent—paint, stain, varnish, etc.—so it will last longer. Unfortunately, few of these products are considered acceptable in the field of organic gardening, at least not if you’re growing vegetables commercially and hope to get your organic certification one day. (The criteria for organic certification are so stringent in most countries that the average commercial organic vegetable grower could never hope to obtain it.)

Untreated wood can, however, be painted with linseed oil. This treatment will help waterproof it… and linseed oil is one of the few waterproofing products that is 100% acceptable in organic gardening circles.

Alternatively, you could build the frame of your vegetable garden with pressure-treated wood (ACQ or CBA), then cover the inner wall with a sheet of plastic so that no copper from the wood ever touches the soil it contains. Many organic gardeners use this combination and feel fully comfortable with the result.

And If Your Vegetable Bed Is Already Framed with Treated Wood?

If your vegetable bed was installed after 2004 using treated wood, and you’re a concerned organic gardener, what should you do? This is a situation where there will always be divergent opinions. Even among people who take organic gardening very seriously, many would see nothing wrong with it. Maybe this is one of those cases where toeing the organic line too closely is being more Catholic than the Pope!20170625A JOe Mabel, WC

Keeping Ants Off Your Hummingbird Feeder

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Ants will indeed be baffled  when you put an ant moat on your hummingbird feeder.

If there is any way ants can reach a hummingbird feeder, they will. They love slurping up the sugary nectar inside and the presence of a lot of ants will often keep hummingbirds away. There are a lot of ways you can dissuade ants from reaching your feeder, like hanging it from places they simply can’t reach (the middle of a clothesline, for example), but you can also solve the problem quite rapidly without moving the feeder by putting in a water barrier. Ants are very poor swimmers and hesitate to cross even the narrowest surface of water, despite the fact that there is delicious nectar just on the other side.

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One simple tool you can use to solve this problem is an “ant moat” or “ant baffle” designed specifically to use as a water barrier to keep ants away. Just install it above the feeder and add water to create a “moat” that ants can’t cross.

Some hummingbird feeders even have an ant moat incorporated into their structure: again, you just have to keep it full of water.

You’ll readily find both ant moats and feeders with a built-in ant moat online on Amazon or Ebay or in stores that specialize in birdwatching supplies.

Or Make One Yourself

You can also make your own ant moat barrier from products you probably already have at home.

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Make your own ant moat from an aerosol can cap.

Just use an aerosol can cap (found on all sorts of products, from spray paint to pesticides) with a “double shell”, that is, with a small raised “cup” of plastic in the middle. Now drill a small hole through the center of the cap, one just wide enough so you can insert it onto the stem or wire from which the feeder hangs. Turn it so the cup faces upwards and skewer it onto the stem about 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) above the feeder. Apply some hot glue to the cap around the stem or wire so it stays in place.

Now add water to the reservoir formed by the inverted cap and the ants will no longer be able to cross to the feeder. It couldn’t be easier!20170624A

Garden Myth: Carrot Tops Are Poisonous

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20170623A.jpgMany gardeners believe that carrot tops (carrot leaves) are poisonous. After all, don’t we usually cut them off and toss them into the compost pile when we harvest carrots?

In fact, though, not only aren’t they poisonous, they’re even edible … and quite tasty! Plus they’re rich in minerals and vitamins, notably in vitamin A, like the roots, but also six times richer in vitamin C plus a great source of potassium and calcium.

Carrot tops taste a lot like mix of parsley (a close relative) and carrot roots. Mature leaves can be bitter, but you can fix that by blanching them or cooking them. Or toss a few into a smoothie with a sweet fruit and that will hide any bitterness.

The young leaves are even better, as they have little to no bitter taste. So when you thin your carrots, just eat your thinnings, both root and leaf!

Here’s a recipe for carrot-top pesto you might want to try.

Ants in Your Plants?

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20170622A.pngDon’t panic at the sight of little brown ants climbing onto your plants. These insects are completely harmless and do nothing to disturb plant growth.

However… the presence of ants often indicates another problem. That’s because ants feed on the honeydew emitted by aphids and mealybugs, insects that truly are a danger to your plants. Follow the ants’ movements and they will often lead you to a hidden invasion of truly nasty bugs.

A thorough treatment with insecticidal soap, repeated weekly for 3 weeks, will overcome the real problem! And you can thank the ants for showing you where the problem was!

2017 Hosta of the Year: ‘Brother Stefan’

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20170621 Perennial Resource

Hosta ‘Brother Stefan’. Photo: www.perennialresource.com

If you like colorful, slug-resistant hostas, you’ll love the variety the American Hosta Growers Association has named hosta of the year for 2017, ‘Brother Stefan’.

This hybrid was developed by Indiana’s famous “hosta lady”, Olga Petryszyn, from a cross between ‘King Tut’ and a seedling of ‘Mildred Seaver’. Mrs. Petryszyn named the new variety for her brother Stefan in honor of his 50th birthday. ‘Brother Stefan’ has been on the market since 1998.

Description

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Hosta ‘Brother Stefan’. As the summer advances, the yellow center becomes more chartreuse. Photo: www.perennialresource.com

It’s a medium-sized hosta with thick, corrugated, deeply veined leaves, almost heart-shaped. They are yellow with a green margin and a chartreuse zone in between the yellow and green zones. The yellow spot in the leaf’s center often resembles a maple leaf. The yellow color tends to fade to chartreuse green over time, but remains quite visible all summer long.

The plant reaches about 18-21 inches (45-55 cm) in height and 31-35 inches (80-90 cm) in diameter. The 2-foot (60 cm) flower stem bears white flowers in late June or early July that are popular with hummingbirds.

Culture

What can I say? This is a typical hosta and just as easy to grow as any other. If you’ve ever grown a hosta, you know what to do. But for beginners…

‘Brother Stefan’ prefers partial shade or full shade, but is fairly sun-tolerant as hostas go and will grow perfectly in full sun in regions with cool, moist summers. As for soil conditions, it loves rich, humus-rich, well-drained soil a bit on the acid side… but will tolerate pretty much any soil as long as it isn’t totally waterlogged. It does well, although it grows more slowly, in spots with heavy root competition.  ‘Brother Stefan’ is quite drought-tolerant once established, but still prefers watering when rainfall is rare. In the fall, just let the foliage decompose on the spot and you’ll have met all its mineral needs. And like most hostas, ‘Brother Stefan’ is very hardy: zones 3 to 9.

Availability

You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding ‘Brother Stefan’: in fact, your local garden center likely offers it. If not, here are some nurseries that sell it mailorder:

Canada

Hosta Fever

Veseys

United States

Green Mountain Hosta

Made in the Shade Gardens

Europe

Hostafolie

Sue Proctor Plants

Plants Japanese Beetles Tend to Avoid

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Japanese beetle. Photo: Benny Mazur, Flickr

Japanese beetle season is upon us or almost upon us, depending on where you live. Not that Japanese beetles (Popilia japonica) are found everywhere, but they are spreading throughout both Europe and North America and chances are that, if your garden isn’t presently under attack, it will be one day soon.

20170620B Luk, WC

Japanese beetles skeletonize the leaves of their favourite plants, yet ignore others. Photo: Luke, Wikimedia Commons.

The problem with these voracious insects is that they have such a wide host range: over 300 species of plants, including vegetables, annuals, perennials, climbers, trees, shrubs and even conifers … well, actually, they don’t much like evergreen conifers, but love the deciduous ones (larch, bald cypress, etc.). About the only plant group they avoid entirely is aquatic plants: they’re just not that great at diving!

If you want to learn more about eliminating Japanese beetles, you can read controlling those #$@&%* Japanese Beetles. But if you’re a laidback gardener, the real secret of success with Japanese beetles is to get rid of the plants they love and replace them with ones they don’t like.

Plants That Japanese Beetles Hate

I’ve already published an article on Japanese Beetle Host Plants, in other words, plants you should avoid growing. What follows is a list of plants that Japanese beetles dislike. They tend to avoid them even when other plants nearby are almost totally defoliated. And if ever they do nibble a leaf or flower here and there, the damage should be so light as to be unnoticeable.

  1. Abies concolor (white fir)
  2. Acer negundo (boxelder, Manitoba maple)
  3. Acer rubrum (red maple)
  4. Acer saccharinum (silver maple)
  5. Achillea (yarrow)
  6. Adiantum (maidenhair fern)
  7. Ageratum (ageratum, floss flower)
  8. Ailanthus altissima (tree of heaven)
  9. Albizia julibrissin (silk tree)
  10. Allium (onion, garlic, leek, chives)
  11. Antirrhinum majus (snapdragon)
  12. Aquilegia (columbine)
  13. Asclepias (milkweed)
  14. Aster (aster)
  15. Astrantia (masterwort)
  16. Baptisia (false indigo)
  17. Begonia (begonia)
  18. Betula nigra (river birch)
  19. Betula papyrifera (paper birch)
  20. Betula platyphylla (Asian birch)
  21. Brassica oleracea (cabbage, kale)
  22. Buxus (boxwood)
  23. Caladium (caladium)
  24. Callicarpa (beautybush)
  25. Calycanthus floridus (Carolina allspice)
  26. Carya (hickory)
  27. Celastrus (bittersweet)
  28. Centaurea (cornflower)
  29. Cercis (redbud)
  30. Chamaecyparis (cypress)
  31. Chelone (turtlehead)
  32. Consolida (larkspur)
  33. Convallaria majalis (lily-of-the-valley)
  34. Coreopsis (tickseed)
  35. Cornus (flowering dogwood)
  36. Corylus (hazel, filbert)
  37. Cosmos (cosmos)
  38. Cotinus (smoketree)
  39. Cryptomeria japonica (cryptomeria)
  40. Dianthus (pink, carnation)
  41. Dicentra (bleeding heart)
  42. Digitalis (foxglove)
  43. Diospyros (persimmon)
  44. Euonymus (euonymous, burning bush, wintercreeper)
  45. Ficus (fig)
  46. Forsythia (forsythia)
  47. Fraxinus (ash)
  48. Gaillardia (blanketflower)
  49. Gardenia (gardenia)
  50. Geum (prairie smoke, avens)
  51. Ginkgo biloba (maidenhair tree)
  52. Gypsophila (baby’s breath)
  53. Hamamelis (witch hazel)
  54. Hedera (english ivy)
  55. Helleborus (hellebore, Christmas rose)
  56. Heuchera (heuchera, coralbells)
  57. Hosta (hosta)
  58. Hydrangea (hydrangea, hortensia) (exception: Hydrangea quercifolia)
  59. Ilex (holly)
  60. Impatiens (impatiens)
  61. Iris (iris)
  62. Jacobaea maritima, formerly Senecio cineraria (dusty miller)
  63. Juglans cinerea (butternut)
  64. Juniperus (juniper)
  65. Kalmia (mountain laurel)
  66. Lantana (lantana)
  67. Lathyrus (sweet pea)
  68. Leucanthemum (daisy)
  69. Liatris (gayfeather)
  70. Lilium (lily)
  71. Liquidambar (sweet gum)
  72. Liriodendron (tulip tree)
  73. Lonicera (honeysuckle)
  74. Lychnis (campion, catchfly)
  75. Magnolia (magnolia)
  76. Monarda (beebalm)
  77. Morus (mulberry)
  78. Musa (banana)
  79. Myosotis (forget-me-mot)
  80. Nepeta (catmint)
  81. Nicotiana (nicotiana, flowering tobacco)
  82. Pachysandra (Japanese pachysandra, Japanese spurge)
  83. Papaver (poppy)
  84. Pear (Pyrus)
  85. Petunia (petunia)
  86. Philadelphus (mockorange)
  87. Physostegia (obedient plant)
  88. Picea (spruce)
  89. Pinus (pine)
  90. Populus alba (silver poplar)
  91. Portulaca grandiflora (portulaca)
  92. Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir)
  93. Pyracantha (firethorn)
  94. Quercus (oak) (exceptions: Q. prinus, Q. palustris)
  95. Ranunculus (buttercup)
  96. Rhododendron (rhododendron, azalea)
  97. Rhus (sumac)
  98. Robinia (locust)
  99. Rudbeckia (black-eyed susan)
  100. Ruta (rue)
  101. Scabiosa (pincushion flower)
  102. Sedum (sedum)
  103. Styphnolobium japonicum, formerly Sophora japonica (Japanese pagoda tree)
  104. Symphoricarpos (snowberry)
  105. Syringa (lilac)
  106. Tanacetum (tansy)
  107. Taxus (yew)
  108. Thuja occidentalis (aborvitae, white-cedar)
  109. Tradescantia (spiderwort)
  110. Tricyrtis (toad lily)
  111. Tropaeolum majus (nasturtium)
  112. Tsuga (hemlock)
  113. Verbena (vervain)
  114. Veronica (veronica)
  115. Viburnum opulus (European cranberry bush)
  116. Viola (pansy, violet)