A New Weapon in the War Against Fungus Gnats

bag of gnat nix

Last Week I received a great new product to test for fungus gnat control. It’s not an insecticide or a pesticide; rather it’s a barrier method for keeping the adult gnats for burrowing down into the soil of the plants and laying eggs.

Those of you that have followed me for awhile will remember that I have a huge problem with fungus gnats. The problem starts every fall–I’m already seeing traces of them but the problem isn’t out of control yet–and if it gets really bad it can persist into March or so.

I’ve posted about the problem last year and I spent most of February 2012 on a rant posting about in and all the different things I was doing to try to combat the problem since I had so very unwisely used some moisture control soil that I had left over from a client. By was that a learning experience! Never again!

This product, as you can see, is called Gnat-nix and it is made from recycled glass (which you wouldn’t really know unless you read the product literature or the bag). You put a 1/2″ to 3/4″ layer of the product on the surface of the affected plants and the pesky gnats aren’t able to burrow their way down into the soil to lay their eggs.

As I have previously explained in various posts (which start about here, by the way,http://wp.me/pOm4T-1ws), as annoying as the gnats are, it is the larva that do the damage to the plants. And of course, the larva grow up to be more gnats, causing a vicious cycle of gnats, eggs, larva and more gnats. By mid-winter, the gnats are dive bombing your food and drink. It’s just delightful.

So I have high hopes for this product and getting ahead of the fungus gnat problem this year. I’ll keep you posted!

On Birding and Journaling

On Columbus Day, I glanced out my window and saw a flock of small birds in my shrubbery. This was sort of unusual, so I made myself slow down for a minute and watch what was happening.

To my horror, the birds were juncos! These birds only appear in late fall and winter, and they take off in early spring for the boreal forests of Canada. I didn’t think I could recall them coming back so early.

As for the “proper” name of these birds, ugh! When I was growing up, they were called “slate colored” juncos, a name which describes the cute little grey backed birds perfectly.

Then, as with all good things, ornithologists started messing. These birds now have 5 separate names. In my part of the world, I believe they are called “dark eyed” juncos. Are they kidding? The birds are barely big enough to see, and they are lightning fast. Most times, all you see is a blur of grey, with a white tip near the tail. That’s what gives it away and lets you know it’s a junco and not, say, a titmouse or something else.

In other parts of the country, there are still “slate colored” juncos, apparently two different variations, as well as an “Oregon race” of juncos which appear almost brown and a white winged version. It’s enough to make your head spin. Good thing the birds don’t know about this!

Anyway, so here I am on October 13 having a little melt down because I didn’t think that I’d ever recall the birds returning so early. There was a time when I thought that these birds returning meant that snow would fall within 8 weeks. That’s turned out to be a bit of a myth, even though the birds’ nickname is “snowbirds.”

Anyway, that evening, I go to write in my garden journal. I see that in 2012 the juncos returned on the same date. And just for reference, the winter of 2012-2013 wasn’t awful with the exception of the one major snow in February (and it was a major snow–over 3′ in most places!)

Of course Superstorm Sandy struck just 2 1/2 weeks after the juncos returned last time. Let us presume they know nothing about hurricanes!

Don’t Be Fooled By A Little Rain

Burned rhododendron leaves

Now that we’ve hit the month of October, we’ve actually had a little rain in my part of the country. For those of you that are still in drought, I am sorry.

But by a little rain, I do mean a little–we’re still talking under 2″–and less than we should have had by this point in the month–as of the drafting of this post. Still, I’ll take what I can get.

My shrubs made it through most of the drought with very little supplemental watering–if any–because of my extremely heavy clay soil. But that doesn’t mean they were unscathed as you can see by the burned leaves in the above photo.

Still I am very fortunate. Driving around town, I see whole sections of rhododendrons dead in some places. I’m not sure whether I’m grateful that folks are mindful of drought and are careful with water–or if I think folks are just not paying any attention.

Either way, if these shrubs don’t get a lot more water, there are going to be a lot more dead shrubs at the end of winter.

As a good New England gardener, I have dozens of hydrangeas. Despite my clay soil, they are very thirsty plants. I have had to water these more than anything in the yard including the vegetable garden. And yet, notice the result.

burned hydrangea leaves

These are not even the worst ones–the worst ones have died and fallen off. They are in a sunnier garden nearer the front of the house.

Lessons: keep watering your gardens (to the extent that you can stand to do it) until the ground freezes. It will help your trees and shrubs better survive the winter!

Wordless Wednesday

English Holly

I was startled the other day when I glanced out my door and saw all these berries on my english holly (don’t ask about variety–it was here when I married the house!)

Usually in a drought year, berrying plants do not produce a lot of berries. I wonder what this plant knows that I don’t?

Ground Covers As Living Mulches

On Friday I talked about an extreme tactic that I used over the summer to nurture an area where I was fostering fledgling ferns and some moss. I permitted a weed to remain as a living mulch.

I’m sure a lot of folks just shuddered at the whole idea. But that area is perpetually weedy anyway–and it’s difficult for me to weed on a large scale basis because of the perennials that are there, the moss that I hate to disturb, and the bulbs that come up in the spring. So I definitely tolerate a much higher lever of “weediness” than a lot of other gardeners might.

That’s one of the places I practice “weed triage:” if it’s going to seed, I rip it out immediately. If not, I get to it when I can.

But in many other places in my gardens, I use actual plants–and not weeds–as living mulches, to conserve moisture, shade plant roots, or to otherwise cool an area. Here are some examples.


Everyone talks about how clematis like “cool feet,” right? Well, what better way to achieve that than by a planting? It’s so much more decorative than some broken bits of wood. And if the planting happens to be edible, like these strawberries, so much the better. Since when did anyone say that we couldn’t grow edibles with ornamentals? (Remember, we don’t use chemicals on our lawn. Don’t try this if you’re fertilizing your lawn with chemicals. The runoff–or over-spray from your spreader–would poison your berries!)


Roses are notorious for needing a lot of water. And these are sandwiched between a driveway and the road–a very hot area, but one of the few places I have enough sun to maintain them. So how do I do it? I grow catmint as a border. It achieves several things. First, it seems to act as a natural Japanese beetle repellent. Next, it’s quite lovely with them, and easier to grow than lavender in my heavy wet clay soil. Finally, it serves as a bit of a living mulch on top of the soil.

I do try to keep it away from the rose plants themselves as much as possible to minimize disease. But catmint, being a mint family plant, goes where it wants to and by the end of the summer will often be entwined with one or two of the roses. So I just do a very hard cutting back in the spring.


Finally here is bearberry, growing in my waterfall garden. It softens the edges, gives the small wildlife and birds some edible berries, is evergreen, and rarely needs maintenance. I also grow chameleon plant (houttuynia) in this garden as well. But because this garden is so hot and dry (now there’s a change!) not only does it fare poorly, but some years, like this one, it burns out and dies! The bearberry does fine with no supplemental anything–and it grows right over onto the granite rock!

So for those of you who were shocked by my “weed as living mulch” post, try one of these nice plants instead. You’ll probably be much happier with them!

Fall Strategies As the Northeast Drought Continues

The last time we came this close to a drought was in 2010. Before that, it was 2003. Drought is not totally uncommon to Connecticut, but thankfully, it is short-lived.

Back then, there was talk of water conservation (as I watched my neighbors continue to run their sprinklers in the rain–probably a lot like what went on in California for too long–folks have no idea how dry it is and how desperate it really is)

I went on the local news and talked about drought conservation measures–and even ways to use “graywater” from the shower in watering ornamental, but not edible, plants.

Thankfully, in every dry spell, I learn different things. This year, one of the things I did was to leave a weed as a ground cover in shadier areas.

This can back fire if there is too little moisture because the weed can suck up the moisture and not let it get to your precious plants. However, if you’re watering correctly–infrequently but deeply–or if nature is doing the same thing–then the weed isn’t going to harm anything and it will act as a living mulch. Here’s an example of what I mean.

dogwood bed

This is a bed under and aging dogwood where I have some established perennials. Ferns have self-sowed and moss has crept in. I’m trying to cultivate more ferns and moss. Tough to do in a drought.

Partially weeded bed

The front part is already weeded in this photo. You can see the “ground cover weed” in the back part.

fern close-up

Finally you can see that the technique worked. I supplied very little water to this bed over the summer–and yet these little ferns managed to come along nicely, even with the drought, and up against the brownstone wall, which bakes in the sun.

It’s an unorthodox approach, but then again, desperate times call for desperate measures!