Q: I want to keep out as many weeds as possible. Is landscape fabric a good choice?
A: Heavens no. Though you see this stuff used by professional landscape companies all the time, landscape fabric (also known as weed barrier cloth) should never be used in an area where you want to plant living things. Not only is it completely hideous (and some of it always winds up showing), it doesn’t allow water to penetrate the soil in the same way it would normally. It also prevents adequate oxygen from getting to plant roots where it’s needed. And just wait till the day you want to move a shrub or plant something new and you have to maneuver around that thick layer of yuck. If you want healthy plants, skip the landscape fabric and use mulch instead. Shredded hardwood is always a good choice, and there are several sites in Minneapolis where you can get it for free. Check out this website for a location near you: www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/news/20030813mulchsites.asp. Shredded leaves and cocoa bean mulch also work well, particularly around annuals and perennials. It sounds like overkill, but mulch should really be 3- to 5-inches thick if it’s going to help prevent weeds and retain soil moisture.
Q: I have several zucchini plants, but they’re not producing fruit and the flowers are just falling off. Why is this happening?
A: I get this question a lot. It sounds like you’re suffering from a lack of pollinators. Zucchini plants have both male and female flowers and only the female flowers produce fruit. (Female flowers are attached directly to the main vine rather than by a stem.) While it is not uncommon for some of the male flowers to bloom first and fall off before female blossoms have started to open, if a lot of blooms are falling off without fruiting it’s probably because they aren’t being visited by pollinators. In order to flower, pollen needs to be transferred between male and female flowers by insects. Perhaps cool, wet or windy weather has kept pollinators away this year. If you spray to control insects or plant problems, be aware that herbicides and pesticides can also harm beneficial insects like bees. Whatever the reason, if you lack pollinators, you can hand pollinate plants yourself by using a Q-tip or small paintbrush and swirling it inside a flower and then moving from flower to flower as a bee would, swirling the Q-tip or brush gently each time.
Raise your hand if you don’t feed your plants like you know you probably should? Yeah, my hand is up, too. There’s no question that plants need nutrients to thrive but, somehow, fertilizing is always low on my list of gardening tasks.
Part of the reason for this is that the garden really doesn’t look like it’s struggling, so I put off feeding for another day. But left on their own year after year, plants will deplete the soil of primary macronutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K), which is why you find these most often in packaged fertilizers you buy off the shelf.
To a lesser degree, and at a much slower rate, secondary and micronutrients like sulfur, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and manganese may also be depleted over time.Read More»
Q: Is it OK to water vegetables with water from my rain barrel?
A: People disagree on this, but most say no. The reason for this is that runoff from asphalt shingles, which most roofs are covered with, contain bacteria and other contaminants. Plus, no one seems to know whether plastic rain barrels sitting in the summer heat leach chemicals into the water contained inside. To be safe, don’t use water from rain barrels on anything edible. Save if for your lawn and other plants.
Q: I’ve been using peat moss in my garden for years but now I’ve heard that it’s bad for the environment. Is that true?
A: That depends who you talk to. Conservationists and peat producers have been debating this issue for years and years. Peat moss is the partially decomposed remains of sphagnum moss that comes from peat bogs, which can literally take hundreds to thousands of years to develop. When peat moss is harvested or “mined,” as some describe the process, parts of the bogs are destroyed by all the digging and stripping away of layers.
This, conservationists and scientists assert, is not only destroying habitat for everything from bog rosemary to wildlife and insects found only in these bogs. It is destroying wetlands that help purify our water and our air (moss absorbs carbon dioxide just like rain forests do). Manufacturers of peat moss products claim these bogs are renewable resources that quickly reestablish. To help protect peat bogs, boycotts have been started in many countries and parts of Ireland (where bogs are plentiful) have banned the harvesting of peat moss completely. As gardeners, it’s up to us to decide what to do. I have decided to stop buying it and I’m currently looking for good alternatives to try.