Q: What do the three numbers next to NPK on fertilizer packages mean?
A: Those numbers refer to nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K), respectively. Like us, plants need nutrients to be healthy and strong. Nitrogen helps plants build chlorophyll, which helps them use sunlight to turn water and carbon dioxide into sugars that feed the plant. You can tell if a plant isn’t getting enough nitrogen if its leaves look yellow or pale green. Symptoms usually appear on the lower leaves first. Potassium helps stems and roots develop and gives flowers their rich coloring. Plants that are low on potassium will often have yellow leaves, too, but the yellow starts at the leaf’s edges and works its way in. Phosphorous is important for rapid root growth, so it isn’t always easy to see a deficiency in this nutrient until a plant is clearly stunted.
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.