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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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Keep snails from snacking on the garden

I grow herbs and flowers in brick raised beds around my patio. In the evenings, I often see dozens of snails around the bricks and in the beds around the plants. How do you keep snails from eating everything in the garden?

snail 4The best way to keep snails (and their slimy mollusk cousins, slugs) from dining in your garden is to keep them out of the beds in the first place. Garden experts and home gardeners have a variety of tips and techniques for this, mostly involving barriers to separate the mollusks from your plants, but also ways to trap them and remedies to reduce snail and slug habitat. The tips here are from two sources, The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food and Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver:

  • Soft-bodied snails and slugs a reluctant to cross scratchy materials, such as pine needles or crushed eggshells. A continuous barrier of that powdery, sharp-edge irritant, diatomaceous earth, should keep snails at a distance. Others have suggested spreading coffee grounds or sharp sand around vulnerable plants.
  • Copper gives slugs and snails a mild electric shock when they come into contact with it, so a strip of copper flashing tacked around the outside of raised beds can be an effective deterrent.
  • Strips of hardware cloth around the bed can also keep snails from crossing. Make sure it extends a couple of inches above the bed, and for extra protection, cut the wire so that it leaves sharp points along the top edge.
  • Set out traps. A shallow pan of beer, or of yeast, sugar and water, lures them in, and they drown. A suggested recipe: 3 cups of water, 1 tablespoon of granulated yeast, and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Snails and slugs stay in the shade during the day and come out to dine at night when it’s cool and moist. You can prop a wide board about an inch off the ground to create an alluring daytime shelter, and collect and dispose of them after they’ve gathered there.
  • Reduce snail habitat by cleaning up around the beds. Loose bricks, boards, moist piles of leaves and other garden debris provide dark, cool places for slugs and snails to hang out during the day while they’re waiting for nightfall to come out and dine at your garden buffet.
  • If you normally water the garden in the evening, change your routine to morning watering so the soil surface dries quickly.

If one technique doesn’t work, try another, or try a combination of techniques to reduce the snail population in your garden.

May garden tips & tasks

May is a busy and beautiful time in the garden. Here are tasks and tips to keep you busy this month.

Week 1

Azalea The Garden Bench

Prune azaleas shortly after they bloom.

Plant your summer kitchen garden with warm-season vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra, beans. Water newly planted garden beds well, and keep them moist as seeds sprout.

Foliage left from spring-flowering bulbs – daffodils, tulips and so forth – can be cut down if it has turned brown.

If you need to prune azaleas, do it now; don’t wait any longer, or you risk cutting off next year’s flowers, which will begin to form soon.

Set out bedding plants of favorite summer annuals: petunias, begonias, annual salvia, cleome, cosmos, celosia, snapdragon, zinnia.

Find a comfortable spot for houseplants that will spend summer outdoors, protected from too-harsh sun and strong wind and rain.

Week 2

Hellebores The Garden Bench

Dig and divide hellebores

Use mulch in perennial and annual beds and borders to keep weeds in check, and to retain moisture in the soil.

A cluster of aphids on tender new growth of plants can be washed away with a strong spray of water from the hose.

Container gardens dry out quickly in hot weather, so if your “garden” is a collection of pots on the deck or balcony, they need to be watered frequently.

Divide hellebores. Dig up as much of the root ball as possible and gently separate the roots. Replant right away, or share with friends (reminding them to plant as soon as possible).

When you mow, set the mower to cut high, removing only about a third of the height of the grass to keep it healthy. Don’t shear the lawn.

Week 3

Cut flowers The Garden Bench

Cut spring flowers to enjoy indoors.

There will always be unwanted plants (sometimes known as weeds). Pull or dig them out of garden beds when they are small, but especially before they form seeds. Weeds are easier to root out after watering or after a rain, when the soil is moist. Annual weeds that haven’t gone to seed can be tossed into the compost.

As summer approaches, make sure spring-planted trees and shrubs continue to get enough moisture. Provide about an inch of water a week — by hose or sprinkler if it doesn’t rain.

Enjoy the late spring bounty of flowers indoors. To help them last longer, cut flowers and foliage early in the morning and place them in water right away.

Grass clippings make good mulch, but allow them to decay before you use them on beds and borders.

Watch for spider mites on roses and other shrubs if the weather turns hot and dry. A strong spray of water on the undersides of leaves every few days can keep them under control.

Week 4

Thyme The Garden Bench

Thyme and other herbs are at their peak just before they bloom.

Many herbs are at their peak just before they bloom. Harvest them to use fresh, or preserve them by drying or freezing to use later.

As perennials flower and fade, cut the dying blooms. This will encourage the plant to bloom longer.

Divide irises after they finish blooming. Cut the leaves to about five inches, then lift the tubers with a spading fork. Separate the rhizomes and cut off damaged portions, then replant the rhizomes close to the soil surface.

Hummingbirds are welcome summer guests in the garden, visiting flowers and nectar feeders. If you provide feeders, change the nectar every day or two and clean the feeder thoroughly. Standard nectar recipe: 1 part sugar to 4 parts water; boil for five minutes, and allow it to cool before filling the feeder. No red food coloring needed.

Continue to care for new shrubs in winter

We planted aucubas and hollies in the spring and kept them watered all summer, and they’re doing well. Do we need to water them in winter, too?

Aucuba japonica

Replenish mulch at the base of spring-planted aucuba and other shrubs.

Spring-planted shrubs that received regular water should be well-established by fall, so you can cut back on the amount of water they receive. But don’t neglect them completely. It’s a good idea to replenish the mulch, adding enough so that it’s about three inches thick. Mulch holds moisture in the soil, and also keeps it from freezing and thawing as temperatures swing from cold to warmer and back again. Remove any dead or diseased leaves from under the shrubs before you add mulch, and remember not to pile mulch up against the trunk.

One other winter grooming tip: If you have deciduous trees in the area that have dropped leaves onto the shrubs, take time to remove the leaves, especially if there are so many that they would block the sun.

As I mentioned in last week’s question-and-answer, a yard-full of leaves is a good source of mulch for those shrubs. Chop them with the mower before you spread them on the ground under the shrubs.

Tomato troubles: Blossom end rot

What can I do to keep tomatoes from forming a black spot on the bottom? They look beautiful, then you turn them over and see it. Are the tomatoes safe to eat if you cut the spot out?

 

Tomatoes

Young tomatoes may be susceptible to blossom end rot.

The black spot on the bottoms of tomatoes is a condition called blossom end rot. Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver provides a concise explanation:

Blossom end rot is usually caused by water stress due to lack of moisture, which hampers the plant’s ability to take up enough calcium from the soil. But it can also be caused by too much water, soil pH that is too acidic or too alkaline, too much nitrogen fertilizer, or other problems. The area first turns tan and leathery, and then other pathogens can invade and cause the rot (it turns black and soft).

Rodale suggests removing any tomatoes that show signs of rot so the plant can put energy into developing new, healthy tomatoes. If the soil is dry, water it well and use mulch to conserve moisture. Throughout the season, keep the soil evenly moist by watering as needed.

At the end of the season, be sure to clean up any fruit that falls to the ground, as it may contain secondary rot organisms. And next year, prepare the bed to encourage the plants to develop good root systems – plant in loose, fertile soil, and check the soil pH to see that it measures above 6.5. Add lime as recommended to raise the pH to 6.5 to 6.8, Rodale suggests.

The experts at Rodale suggest to compost the immature fruit that is beginning to show signs of blossom end rot, because they probably won’t ripen properly anyway, but it also looks like it doesn’t hurt to cut off the spot and use the tomatoes if they’re at a stage that you want to do that. In my experience, once they start to rot, they go quickly, though.

By the way, blossom end rot can also affect peppers, eggplant, squash and melons.

July in the garden: What to do with that bounty of herbs? See the July Garden Calendar at Tennessean.com for herbs information, plus this month’s events, tips and tasks.

Grow the best blueberry bushes

QUESTION: I have had blueberry bushes for 2 years and they still look awful. I’ve been told to put coffee grounds around them but they don’t grow or produce fruit.  We have them in a bed with some calla lilies which are doing very well. The plants were healthy plants from the co-op.  I have a friend in Clarksville that has lush bushes with lots of fruit.  I asked if they did anything special and she said “no”.  Any tips to help us would be appreciated. — Karen in Donelson

Blueberries need sun, water and the proper soil pH to produce a good crop.

Blueberries are pretty finicky about what they need to grow well and produce, so I’ll let you know what those needs are, and you can decide if they’re getting what they require.

Do you know what the variety of your plants? Different types are adapted for different regions, and in Middle Tennessee, the varieties called rabbiteye and southern highbush blueberries are the most reliable choices.

Furthermore, they are not always self-fertile, which means you need more than one variety for cross-pollination to take place (and the insects buzzing around to pollinate them at the right time).

Now, the soil. Blueberries require acid soil, with a pH level of 4.5 to 5.6, so if you don’t have that information, have the soil tested. Coffee grounds are acidic, and that’s why the addition of coffee grounds may have been suggested. The fact that the calla lilies are doing well suggests that the pH might be part of the problem; they grow better in soil that is more alkaline. Blueberries also require soil that is well-drained, so make sure they’re planted in a place that doesn’t stay wet.

They need full sun, and they don’t like to compete with grass and weeds, so mulch around them with shredded bark or compost to keep weeds under control. They also suffer during times of drought because of their shallow roots, so make sure they get sufficient water (about once a week in dry weather, suggests garden expert Felder Rushing in his book, Guide to Tennessee Vegetable Gardening).

Blueberry bushes benefit from the same type of fertilizer as azaleas (which also need acid soil to grow well). Apply fertilizer, following label directions, in the spring.

Your friend who has lush bushes and lots of fruit may not be doing anything special, but it sounds like her plants are the right type for the area, in soil they like, and are getting plenty of sun and enough water. With a little more care and attention, yours may also re-gain their health.