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    Save the Date: Perennial Plant Society’s 30th Plant Sale is April 4, 2020, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the new Expo 3 Building at The Fairgrounds Nashville. Here’s where you can find the newest varieties of perennials, shrubs, vines and annuals from local growers, along with long-time, never-fail favorites, ready for spring planting. Learn more at the PPS website.

     

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Mulch garden beds with fall leaves

What’s the best way to use leaves as mulch in the garden? Can we just blow them off the lawn and into the garden beds?

leaves 2Most leaves can become a good source of mulch for garden beds. And yes, you could just blow them off the grass and into the beds, but it would be better to shred them before piling them onto your garden areas. Leaves that have been chopped up will decompose faster; a thick layer of leaves left intact may also smother the plants underneath, and prevent water from reaching the soil.

You can chop the leaves easily by mowing over and collecting them in a bagger attachment, or by using a shredder.

These guidelines for using leaves as mulch are from the UT/TSU Extension office:

*Use a 3- to 4-inch layer of shredded leaves around trees and shrubs in annual and perennial flower beds.

*Oak leaves may change the pH of the soil over time, making it more acidic, so you may have to apply lime to maintain a favorable number. If your beds are mulched primarily with oak leaves, you should have the soil tested about every three years. Oak leaves are also tougher and decompose more slowly, so it’s especially important to chop them before you use them to cover your perennial beds.

*Leaves can be mixed into kitchen garden beds and in beds where you plant annual flowers. Most of the leaves will decompose before planting time next spring. A bonus: if you have heavy clay soil, a thick layer of leaves tilled into the soil will improve the soil structure.

One other piece of advice comes from Deb Beazley, a naturalist at Warner Park Nature Center who leads workshops on organic gardening: When you rake leaves, set some aside for later. Next spring and summer, when you need more mulch, you’ll have a handy source of fall leaves to use.

“Cover them in bags so they don’t decompose by the time you need them next June,” she suggests.

Stinkbugs, harlequin bugs plague late-summer gardens

There are flat, brightly colored bugs all over my cabbage and broccoli plants right now. What are they? Are they harmful? How can I get rid of them?
Harlequin bug copy

What you see plaguing your plants are, no doubt, harlequin bugs, and yes, they are harmful to your plants in the brassica family – broccoli, greens, cabbage turnips and kale. This time of year, the bugs you see are probably the adults. They use piercing mouth parts to extract the juices from all parts of the plants, and heavy infestations can cause severe damage – you may see discolored spots on the plants. The leaves of young plants may wilt and die, and mature plants will become stunted.

Getting rid of them can be a challenge. Toxic Free NC, A website devoted to non-toxic solutions to pest problems, suggests removing them by hand if there are only a few (drop them into a bucket of soapy water), or if there are large numbers and you are willing to sacrifice the plants they have damaged, trap them in large garbage bags, seal the bags and let them bake in the sun for a few days.

It’s always good to encourage the natural predators of damaging insects to visit the garden. Praying mantises eat harlequin bugs and other stinkbugs, so if you see them around, don’t shoo them off. There are parasitic flies and wasps that are among stinkbugs’ natural predators, and birds, spiders and toads also enjoy them as a food source.

As a last resort, Toxic Free NC suggests insecticides that are approved for organic farms, such as rotenone, pyrethrin, Neem oil and insecticidal soap. Note that these products can be harmful, so be sure to follow label directions and use as little as possible. These insecticides can also kill the bugs you want to keep, so spray only in the morning or late evening when those insects may be less active. Insecticides are most effective on the pests in the younger larval or nymph stages. The adult bugs are resistant to sprays.

To prevent the bugs from finding your plants in the first place, Toxic Free NC suggests using lightweight floating row covers over your brassica crops, making sure the edges are weighted so the bugs can’t get to the plants. It also helps to control weeds in the garden, as stinkbugs are attracted by weedy areas in or near the garden, they advise.