Come early June, people are always asking me if it’s “too late” to divide plants and move them. This fear no doubt stems from all the articles and books out there that offer details on dividing that are so over the top in their precision as to be reminiscent of that Monty Python skit where the teacher (John Cleese) instructs his students to move their clothes to the lower peg “… after lunch, before you write your letter home, if you’re not getting your hair cut, unless you’ve got a younger brother who is going out this weekend as the guest of another boy …” It just doesn’t need to be this complicated.
While it is true that most perennials do best when they’re divided in early spring as new growth begins to emerge, that isn’t always the time when gardeners can get outside and work. It’s also hard sometimes to know what something is when all you can see is a bit of it. For these reasons — as well as the simple fact that a garden is always a work in progress — I, and most of the other gardeners I know, divide and move plants around all summer. We’re just careful to baby the plants a bit more than you would have to if you moved them earlier. (More on this in a minute.)Read More»
When my husband and I moved to our current house, I felt like a novice gardener all over again. Having lovingly planted and tended gardens in full sun for years, we had moved to a place where I would be gardening in the shade and I had no idea what would grow there. Five years later, I’m still learning through trial and error what does best in my dimly lit yard in which some spots hold water like a sponge and others are as dry as parchment thanks to three big oak trees. Though I miss having a vegetable garden and rows of raspberries like we used to, I’ve come to love the shade in all its cool, blue-green, understated beauty.
So I’d like to share what I’ve learned in the hope that other gardeners who are struggling with shady gardens, or even shady spots in the yard, might also find ways to see a lack of sun as a virtue rather than a curse. Let’s do the hardest thing first. Deep breath — OK, now let go of the idea that bloom is a vitally important part of a garden. I know how hard this is. What’s a garden without flowers, right? Well, I’m here to tell you, all is not lost without them.Read More»
Q: Is it true I can kill slugs by putting out beer traps?
A: I’ve had mixed results with this so I did some research on the subject and discovered two important things thanks to Jeff Gillman’s great book, “The Truth About Garden Remedies: What Works, What Doesn’t & Why.”
First, not all species of slugs are attracted to beer. Second, as Gillman so aptly puts it, “a poorly designed beer trap will attract a slug without actually trapping it.” Ah-ha! Turns out, I was setting my little dishes of beer on the ground, which meant the slugs probably couldn’t climb up the side to have a drink (and die, of course). If you want this to work, you have to make sure the lip of your cup or dish is even with the surface of the soil. Gillman also suggests that the beer be about an inch below the top of the cup so slugs have to lean out a bit to get it, ensuring that they’ll lose their balance and tumble in. (I know this sounds horrible. I go back and forth all the time on letting the poor things live and wanting to commit mass slug murder.)
Q: What does it mean when a plant is labeled as “disease resistant?”
A: Contrary to what the name suggests, plants labeled “disease resistant” are not actually immune to a particular disease or diseases. Instead, they are able to tolerate some diseases and overcome the harmful effects of the fungi, bacteria or other pathogen that might be attacking it. While no plant is resistant to all diseases, seeking out disease resistant varieties is a good idea.
There probably isn’t a gardener alive who doesn’t have at least a small pile of half-empty seed packets, seeds in jars, or seeds in envelopes lying around. We always mean to plant the seeds we save, but time gets away from us and at some point we find ourselves wondering whether it’s too late. And it may be. Seeds don’t last forever, but it’s surprising how often you’ll find that seeds are still good long after the expiration date on the packet.
Before you plant seeds and hope for the best, do a germination test like you did in school as a kid. Note, though, that this test is best for annual and vegetable seeds because many perennial seeds require special treatment before they’ll sprout.
Place the seeds you want to test on a moist (not soggy) paper towel and cover them with another moist paper towel. Put your seed-towel sandwich inside a sealed plastic bag or between sheets of plastic wrap. Label the bag and store it in a warm spot out of direct sunlight—on top of the fridge is usually a good choice.
Check the seeds daily and use a spray bottle to moisten them if they’re drying out. Depending on the seeds you’re testing, sprouting could take a few days or a few weeks. (If you have commercial seed packets, check those for germination times.) Once your seeds have sprouted you’ll be able to calculate their germination rate, so if just 50 percent sprouted, say, you’ll want to sow them more heavily in the garden to ensure you get the number of plants you want.