Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - July 2, 2010

Garden tips for July

Creative ways to deal with pesky garden critters

by Jack McKinnon

Sometimes I sit at this keyboard wishing I was outside in my garden and other times I am outside in my garden wishing I was in somebody else's garden. That's gardening for you.

When everything is going well all is fine, and when the plan isn't working and the gopher is winning I want to throw in the trowel. Of course I don't just harbor the ordinary pests, I have chipmunks, banana slugs, stellar jays, deer, a fox, raccoons, rats, mice and squirrels.

This month's tips will consider the ways I deal with not only my own pest problems but many of yours, too. I will give some specifics but mostly I will be philosophical about the whole deal. The fun is in the details and you can be as creative as you want to.

1. Snails are out in droves and will be eating just about everything in sight. Know that you are not only smarter than they are, but you are significantly faster. Smarter is much more important. Use your powers of observation and notice what and where they are eating. Then track them (yes, like a tracker) by following the slime trail to where they are hiding. Pick as many as you can and then set out hiding places to attract them during the day. Hint, they don't like being out in the sun, it dries them out.

2. Watch for caterpillars, identify the species by looking them up on the Internet, Google caterpillars of California or buy "California Insects (California Natural History Guide)" by Jerry A. Powell and Charles L. Hogue. This is a great book and I think should be given to every child as a birthday present. Once you have identified your caterpillars you will appreciate them significantly more and may choose to pick them or not.

3. Watch for weeds. This is the time to get them, before they go to seed. If you can be diligent about this practice you will control most of your weeds.

4. Prune rampant growth before it drains your plants of their energy. Look for water sprouts (branches shooting straight for the sky) and suckers (branches coming out of the base of the plant that aren't part of the natural shape). Trim them close to their origin and they may not come back.

5. Fill in plantings where there are open spaces. This makes for less weeds, more color and a more interesting gardener (because you will have more plants). I like to try a new plant or two every year. It keeps me young and my brain active learning new species.

6. Some if not most of last year's bulbs won't come back with a very good show. Now is the time to shop (online or by mail) for next spring's bulbs. Order the biggest ones you can in order to get the best show. Look for new varieties, colors, shapes and sizes. The bulb industry is very innovative and is coming out with surprises all the time. Yes, this is genetic engineering and has been going on for hundreds of years, but if you don't eat your tulips you are probably safe.

7. I visited the community garden by the library on Newell Road last week and was impressed by the grading program that was put on there. A group of gardeners gave acknowledgment to the best plots as an example for those who needed help. This is a great idea. This support good technique and provides an example for all of us. Several plots there are amazing. Visit but don't pick unless you grew it.

8. I also visited the Sunset Magazine gardens in Menlo Park and talked to the garden supervisor Rick Le Frenz. The big lawn suffered from the Celebration weekend but with thousands of people walking on it I am not surprised. What is amazing is how quickly it will recover with Rick's care. I think this is going to be a lost art in our lifetime (caring for large bent grass lawns) but will always be remembered as the high art it is. Visit this special garden some weekday and see for yourself.

9. When we get heat spells make sure you are managing your water-sensitive plants. Pots and other containers dry out fast and plants can die. Be extra diligent when the thermometer goes up. I just got an iPhone and it has a weather application already on it. This gives me an idea four days ahead what the temperature will be. Find out what works for you.

10. Feed birds, and provide them water. This may seem trivial but is very important for the gardens we grow and the surrounding areas. Birds control insect populations better than any spray program, they provide nutrients in their droppings for the soil, they sing and are colorful and most importantly they bring a sense of balance and lightness to a garden. With discounts I just bought 40 pounds of birdseed for less than it would cost me to eat out. This will feed hundreds of birds for two months. Even a single hummingbird feeder outside a window will change your perspective on life.  

Good gardening.

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-879-3261 or 650-455-0687 (cell), by e-mail at jack@jackthegardencoach.com. Visit his website at www.jackthegardencoach.com.

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