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House Plant Advice

I am a little bit shocked, I must say, by the fact that house plants are “in” again.

Of course, for me, they never went “out.” I’ve been growing house plants since I was a teenager–which means at least 4 decades. That’s okay. I’m glad that something that I like is suddenly “cool” again.

But of course now everyone is online giving “expert” advice about everything to do with house plants. One of the most amusing ones–to me anyway–is how to bring house plants–or tropicals if we’re being exotic–in for the winter.

First of all, if you’re in the northeastern united states and you haven’t done this yet, be prepared for a major mess on your hands. It’s surely not too late to try to save some of your plants–but the later you wait, the more they have trouble with the transition. I generally bring mine in around Labor Day just to avoid that.

On the other hand, you could take some of the so-called expert advice and slowly transition them inside over a period of two weeks, spraying them no less than three times with some sort of organic insecticide.

I’ve never heard of such nonsense in my life. Clearly these folks don’t realize that the insects are going to go dormant in the winter (for the most part) and won’t wake up again (if at all) until spring.

They also don’t realize that some of these insects have eggs that can live up to 2 years in the soil–so you can spray your durned fool heads off as many times as you like and you’re not going to solve that little problem!

So rather than weakening your plants by thrusting them into the dark and spraying them with insecticide (even organic insecticide!), why not just hose the plants down with a good hard spray of water to try to dislodge anything that you can and then bring the plants in?

I am also no fan of the advice I have seen that suggests that you take the entire plant and submerge it wholesale in a bucket of soapy water. Again, why? This is like killing a flea–or an imagined flea–with a sledgehammer. You are weakening the entire plant and damaging its natural leaf coatings and you don’t even know if there’s a problem. Just. Dont’. Do. It.

Once the plants are inside, do watch them carefully to assure that you didn’t bring in any insects. You have another good month or so before really cold weather sets in. If you need to take a plant or two outside to spot treat with an organic insecticide, that’s certainly do-able. But no need to treat everything willy-nilly if you see no problems.

And continue to monitor. That’s what a good house plant owner does. The sooner you catch any problems, the sooner you can solve them. Both you and your plants will be happier that way!

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The Mess is in the Eye of the Beholder

My last two posts have talked about sustainable garden clean up.  What does the garden look like if you do this?

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Here’s what you might see under my hydrangeas right now. Why is this good? All sorts of critters are enjoying this–chipmunks, squirrels and blue jays–and no one’s harming the plants.

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Want some more of a mess? This is what’s under our row of white pines. I counted 10 different bird species enjoying this–not counting the chipmunks and squirrels,  of course.

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And for a real mess, here’s one of the gardens that hasn’t been touched in over 2 years (except of course to be accidentally sprayed by herbicide in that poisoning incident.) These gardens are really dry–we haven’t had any rain for almost a month.

But this garden, for the most part, is usually full of lush hydrangeas so what you are seeing is hidden. Not so bad, is it?

Expect the Unexpected

On Friday I talked about what happens when life gets in the way of gardening.  Things like that have happened before: the year the Spoiler broke his ankle and I had gall bladder surgery on the same day (different hospitals) in mid-March there wasn’t a whole lot of gardening that happened that year either.

Then there was the year that my Mom had a stroke and the Spoiler got kidney stones at the same time. You get the idea. Life happens and gardening takes a big back seat to that.

But if you are a type A perfectionist (something that I have had a tendency to be) this sort of thing really trips you up. It’s all well and good to go around with Tee shirts that say “Compost Happens” and “Impatiens is a Virtue” (that last one is one of my all time favorites!) but wearing a shirt and living the mottos are two entirely different things.

So how then do you reconcile your personality with what you might want to naturally want to do in the garden? Trust me, I am an expert on this because I am the original Type A personality.

The first thing you want to do is to educate yourself about the reasons why you might be doing something in the garden. As I said on Friday, is it necessary to get every leaf out of the garden? Absolutely not!

Yes, you have to get the leaves off the lawn. Yes, you have to get diseased leaves off perennials. Beyond that, let the leaves fall into the garden and stay there.

The same thing goes for cutting back. There is really no good reason to cut back anything perennial in the fall. This is especially true if you are a beginning gardener or if you are new to your garden–you have just bought the house or something like that.  Don’t make a mistake by pruning something at the wrong time.  Better to let it get a little unruly by going a whole year unprecedented if need be,  rather than cutting it back at the wrong time and losing all its bloom.

Finally don’t do something just because everyone says that you have to. My “rose pruning ” story is a perfect example of that. More on Friday.

What Garden Clean-up?

This time of year,  I start lecturing on “Putting the Garden to Bed.” There’s only one problem with this: I don’t practice what I talk about,  something that I freely admit in my lectures.

Or, to put it another way, I discuss the two different methods of garden clean up,  the traditional way and the sustainable way. There’s no “correct ” way for everyone–in other words,  what I am calling “sustainable ” won’t work in lots of neighborhoods. I am just fortunate that it works for me and in my neighborhood.

And then of course there is the ” oh, you have cancer and we’re doing the biopsy today” way, which is what happened to me last year. It wasn’t quite that blatant, but that sure as heck is what happened,  and then after the surgery to remove the rest of the cancer, the whole dang thing got infected so there was NO cleanup at all.

And then this spring, sure enough,  more cancerous cells, so again,  no cleanup. You will be surprised at how well the garden survives without you.

So for those who insist that every leaf must be mown, blown or shredded, I assure you that you are completely wrong. Leave the leaves. They make a wonderful mulch.

More on Monday.

 

 

It’s All About the Grass

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I knew we could make this an “All Spoiler week” if we tried.

Last week–just exactly a week ago–we had a soil scientist from the lawn care company that mistakenly trespassed on our property, poisoned my  vegetable garden and “treated” some of my perennial and shrubs with broad leaf weed killer come out, allegedly  to take “soil samples and tissue cultures” from the affected plants and areas.

Perhaps they got nervous when I started saying words to them like “trespass” and “irreplaceable” plants. Nevertheless, I permitted them to come.

When I told the Spoiler they were coming, he said, “Oh good. There are some brown areas in the grass I want them to look at too.”

“Some brown areas in the grass.” Long time readers of this blog know that we don’t irrigate our lawn. It was August 25 when they came–a very dry August, I might add.

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Nevertheless, it is undeniable that they did spray a lot of this broad-leaf weed killer all over the lawn. So I simply said, “that’s fine, honey. You just be here so you can show them where.”

I have to keep the Spoiler happy, after all.

It’s Hard to Be Ecologically Correct with the Spoiler Around

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You may remember this post from my discussion of pollinators. I said it was a native pollinator garden, no planting required–and that’s absolutely true.

These native plants “planted” themselves and they are now blooming, providing late season nectar for butterflies and other pollinators.

But last week, the Spoiler says, “Hey, what’s happening down there by the road. We never had all those weeds. Do we have to have it looking like that?” Sigh.

So I explained–again–as I do every time he has our helper come over, why he can’t “weed” all this stuff out, that these are native plants and that they are providing food for our butterflies.

“But we never had them before, ” he groused.

“We did, ” I reminded him. “They have just migrated from the edge of our lot to under this tree to get more sun.”

And then we had an interesting discussion of “which” edge, since technically our lot has 4 edges (although if he were paying attention to my statement, and what we had done in the yard, he would know that there is only 1 place they could have come from–but that’s another whole story that I’m not going to bore you with!)

Back in the pollinator post, I put in an offhand reference to Larry Weaner and his idea of succession habitats. One of these plants, the white snakeroot (or tall boneset, if you prefer) is a short lived native that does migrate around. Its botanical is eupatorium altissimum for those who like to know these things.

It may stay here, under my magnolia for a few seasons and then be gone–but chances are, it will crop up across the street in my neighbor’s tree line. That’s what it does. Still, I am grateful to have it when I do. Once it’s gone, I hope the wood asters (another native) will fill in, as they are doing on the edges of my woods.

I am fighting off the pokeweed, which would also like to fill in. That I would prefer not to fill in!

Wordless Wednesday–Poisoned!

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If you have any doubt about what did this after Monday’s post, I have to wonder about you.

This is caused by the pesticide drift from the backpack sprayer where the lawn guys applied broadleaf weed control in my yard.

So in addition to killing all the “good stuff” like the clover that my bees were loving, now my entire vegetable garden is contaminated–and I have visible proof!

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These are–or were–my green beans. You can even see a bean just about ready in the photo. But who in her right mind would eat anything that’s now contaminated with broadleaf weed killer?

But of course, it’s not just the beans. Everything in this garden is  now contaminated: tomatoes, herbs and edible flowers are all a loss. And those are just my losses. Losses to the pollinators are immeasurable.

And of course I don’t dare walk my own dog in my yard because this sort of weed killer has been implicated in cancer in dogs. There are lots of reasons we’re organic. Yes, it’s just the right thing to do. But we’d also prefer not to prematurely kill our dog.

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So now the question becomes–do I look at this or do I just rip it all out?

And of course–what else is going to die?