Tuesday, June 25, 2019

June 25, 2019, summer has arrived

After a few nice days in a row, which was nice, we had rain again last night.  Today is partly sunny, with a chance of rain tonight and it looks like every day this week. It’s supposed to be warmer this week though, with temps in the 80’s. it’s hard to believe this is the last week of June, it just doesn’t seem like we had any June weather.

Some plants like the cool wet weather though.  The pansies are still blooming like crazy. The hosta are huge.  Tuberous begonias are lushly blooming. Some of the geraniums (pelargoniums), have huge leaves, I have never seen geranium leaves this large and I think it’s the weather.

In the garden this week the evening primrose is blooming, I was hoping for a spectacular color show of it against the deep purple of the clustered bellflower. The rain and wind last night, however, has tipped the bellflowers over. They’ll need to be staked a bit.  The goat’s beard is blooming, wild geraniums and the martagon lilies.  The annuals are settling in and beginning to bloom well. 

The rose I have near the front porch is in full, spectacular bloom.  It was here when we moved here 25 years ago, and I think it’s some kind of cultivar of the common, non-native multiflora rose. It looks like the multiflora rose with slightly bigger flowers, and it has the stipules with tiny hairs in the leaf axils.  But it has very few thorns, unlike most multiflora roses which are covered in prickles.  And it has a strong delightful rose scent, that wafts in the front door. Maybe mine just has changes from domestication.

I do have to prune this rose back hard a couple times a year to keep it in bounds, but I don’t want to get rid of it because of this brief but beautiful show each summer.  People afraid of non-native plants may think I’m crazy, but if a multi-flora rose can look and smell this good it does have a place in my garden.  Did you know multiflora rose was once planted in our highway mediums to reduce headlight glare and form a crash barrier?

Multiflora rose by my porch
I am still battling the deer here. I went out one morning and found they had eaten every open rose on my pretty pink rose in my front bed.  They did leave most of the tight buds so that’s something.  This is a rose called ‘Sunblazer Pink’, it is loaded all summer with small but perfectly formed roses on a bush about 2 feet tall, perfect for blending into a perennial bed.

I now have stakes and wire around the rose, which doesn’t look that nice and I placed a glow in the dark flamingo someone bought me right next to it.  I have some “chasing” lights coming today and a motion activated alarm device which I will use to replace the wire and stakes.  My electric wire set up is protecting the sweet corn right now.

Speaking of which my corn is growing well although I doubt its knee high by the 4th of July this year.  The deer did try once again to eat it, they hit the hot wire, and then spooked and ran through it, dragging it right to where they jumped the perimeter fence.  I ran some more wire across the area they jumped over and tied long pieces of white plastic bag (they are good for something) on the wire to dangle and flap.

The field corn is finally coming up in the area and I am hoping the deer start transferring their attention to the farm fields.  Sorry farmers, but it’s the farms that attract the deer and feed the herds. Hopefully the farmers will encourage people to hunt them this fall.  Harvest will be late, if there is one, and crops may still be standing in deer season which won’t be great.

I moved Mary Helen and Marcella, my “special” plants outside yesterday.  Mary Helen was easily 7 feet tall and Marcella at least 5 feet.  They aren’t very bushy however; I am hoping the outside sun will pump them up.  The experts said not to move them out until the end of June, that’s when the days start to shorten and that supposedly will trigger budding in a few weeks.  We’ll see.

I moved them outside on a cloudy day and tomorrow I will put an umbrella over them if it’s sunny, to let them acclimate a bit.  They are in a totally enclosed area that’s nicely disguised.  No deer will be able to get to them.

Cottonwood fluff isn’t causing allergies, so what is?

The cottonwood fluff is flying. It can be quite annoying, for example I was yelling at my husband (because he’s hard of hearing, not because we were fighting) and a piece drifted right into my mouth and I swallowed it.  That was not a pleasant experience.  It tickled my throat and first I gagged, then started coughing and choking. I coughed so hard I hurt my back. (I have to learn to keep my mouth shut.)

People are telling me the cottonwood fluff is causing their allergy symptoms. That’s not true. While annoying the fluff does not contain any pollen, cottonwoods released their pollen weeks ago.  You may have had an allergy to it then, although it wasn’t very visible.  But the fluff is a seed, with soft fibers attached to carry it in the wind. It can’t cause allergies (just choking).

Your allergy symptoms are happening because grasses and sometimes birch trees, are pollinating now.  The same breezes that blow the cottonwood fluff around are blowing their pollen to you.  Gardeners who have seasonal allergies may want to avoid ornamental grasses, some of which can cause allergies. Keep weedy grasses pulled out of flower beds before they go to seed. Timothy and orchard grass are two prime allergy causing grasses. These are often used for hay, which may be where the name hay fever, comes from.

Pigweeds, of which there are several types, began flowering in late June and bloom on and off until a hard frost.  They can cause allergy symptoms when pollinating.  Pigweeds belong to the amaranth family.  This diverse family has some edible seeded varieties and some ornamental varieties such as ‘love lies bleeding’, which allergy prone gardeners may want to avoid. 

Don’t blame the cottonwood for your allergy miseries.  Do blame it for coating your pools and ponds with a nasty layer of slimy white stuff.  It can clog pool filters and pumps.  It sometimes clogs air conditioner filters.  But it will be gone soon.

Campanulas in the garden

There are about 500 species of campanulas and several species are used in gardens, with numerous cultivars and hybrids. Campanulas often have bell shaped showy flowers, leading to the common name of bellflower, which is used for several species.  Some species don’t have tubular bell-shaped flowers, like Campanula Americana, which has a star shaped flower more reminiscent of a clematis. 

Campanulas are usually spring and early summer bloomers and the most common colors are blues and purples, although some species have white and pink flowers. There are campanulas native to most of the northern hemisphere, from arctic to subtropical areas so most gardeners can probably find a campanula species to suit their garden conditions.  There are perennial, annual and biennial species.  Most campanulas are easy to grow if in the right conditions and sometimes can even become invasive.

Here is a little about some of the common garden campanulas.

Campanula glomerata, is also known by the common names clustered bellflower or Dane's blood.  It is a perennial native to Northern Europe and Japan, and there are numerous cultivars. I was given this plant by a friend and I love it, most people admire the plant when its in bloom. Bloom time is generally early summer.  Dead heading will extend bloom for many weeks.  It also makes a great long-lasting cut flower.

The deep purple blooms of this bellflower look great next to gold foliage or yellow flowers.  In my garden I have it near Japanese aralia, which has gold foliage and evening primrose which has yellow flowers   There are white and pink varieties.  Some cultivars you may run across are 'Superba', ‘Freya’ and ‘Crown of Snow' which is white flowered.

Clustered bellflower
Clustered bellflower can grow up to 30” high.  It likes well drained, humus rich soil and grows best in full sun in the north although it tolerates partial shade.  In the south partial shade is a good fit for it. The leaves at the base of the plant are larger and wider, further up the stem the leaves are lance shaped and toothed.

This plant can spread aggressively by rhizomatous roots when in the right conditions.  It should be divided every 3-5 years to maintain vigor and you will probably find plenty of people eager to take the plants you don’t want.

 Campanula medium, with the common name of Canterbury bells, is annual to biennial plant.  The first year from seed you get a rosette of leaves but no flowers, unless there is a very long growing season. In the second year they produce lots of pretty, bell-shaped flowers in colors of blue, pink and white.  Then they go to seed and die.  If allowed to reseed themselves gardeners will get a good show every other year if you don’t weed out the non-blooming plants the year they sprout.  Blooming time is June-July.

Canterbury Bells likes moist soil in full sun or partial shade.  It likes cooler weather and where summer gets hot and dry quickly it may not perform well.

Canterbury bells

Campanula rotundifolia, the native harebell, is a perennial plant that begins blooming in its second year.  The lower base leaves are round or heart shaped and the leaves along the flower stalks are narrow and blade shaped.  It produces dainty bell shaped, lavender blue flowers on long stalks in mid-summer.

This wildflower likes sandy, well drained soil and is often found in Michigan’s sand dunes, but it will adjust to garden conditions.  It does best in the front of borders in full sun or partial shade.

Creeping bellflower, Campanula rapunculoides, is often confused with the native harebell and is often called harebell too.  It is native to Europe but widely naturalized in the US.  It has larger flowers and broader leaves but is otherwise quite like the native harebell.  Bloom time is early summer. This harebell like partial shade and will grow in dry to moist conditions. It is a perennial.

Creeping bellflower can be invasive, it has both rhizomes and tubers, and can spread rapidly in moist conditions.  However, the flowers are quite pretty, and the roots are said to be edible so it’s probably a judgement call by the gardener as to whether it’s a friend or foe.  Personally, I like the plant and it is not invasive in my garden.
Creeping bellflower

Campanula persicifolia, the peach-leaved bellflower, is a perennial bellflower that has several cultivars and is often sold to gardeners. It can have blue or white, large bell-shaped flowers on a long stem.  There may be one or several flowers on each stem. Stems can reach 3 feet high. 'Grandiflora Alba' is a popular white flowering cultivar. ‘Takion Series’-Blue is a hybrid bellflower with outward facing flowers and sturdy growth habit.

This bellflower is native to Eurasia but has escaped gardens in many places around the world and naturalized.  It likes full sun to partial shade in well drained soil. It can spread by seeds and also produces new plants around the original.  It needs to be divided every 3-5 years and the flowers should cut off as they begin to fade to prolong bloom.  In warmer climates the plants may be evergreen.  It’s hardy in zones 3-7.
Peach leaf bellflower
Campanula portenschlagiana  or Dalmatian bellflower, is a bellflower for rock gardens or it can be used as a ground cover. It forms a neat mounded shape of evergreen foliage 4-6 inches high.  In summer it is covered in tiny deep purple bell-shaped flowers.

This bellflower is a moderately aggressive spreader. It should be divided every 3-5 years and it can be trimmed lightly to maintain its shape if needed.

Dalmatian bellflower likes a moist but gravely or sandy soil in full sun.  It is perennial and hardy in zones 4-8. A variety called ‘Aurea’ has lovely golden foliage in spring that slowly deepens to green in summer. ‘Miss Melanie’ is a new variety of Dalmatian bellflower with an extended bloom time.

The campanulas have few disease or insect problems.  Slugs sometimes eat them.  They are said to be deer and rabbit resistant.

Wash those fruits and vegetables

It doesn’t matter if you grew it yourself organically, in your own back yard, bought them at the farmers market or a conventional store. Remember to wash all fruits and vegetables before you eat them.  Fruits and vegetables can carry several bacteria that can cause very serious illness in humans, including E. coli and salmonellosis.  I know we all ate from the garden as kids- (if you are a certain age) and some of you think nothing of popping a strawberry or pea pod in your mouth as you pick it, but you are taking a risk.

Growing organically means there isn’t likely to be pesticide residue on the produce but the chances of organically grown produce harboring unfriendly bacteria is as likely, if not more likely, as produce grown conventionally.  That’s because manure is often used in organic growing. In smaller home gardens and small farm stand gardens there is more likelihood of pets, livestock and wildlife roaming in the gardens too.  Birds and other wildlife can get into just about any garden or field.  Animals and humans carry disease organisms and can spread them through fecal contamination of food, which can happen even when someone with unclean hands handles food.

So, no matter where or how it was grown, wash it before eating it.  Because fruits and vegetables can spoil faster after washing, it’s a good idea to wash produce right before you prepare it.  Washing with clean running water is recommended.   

Don’t dump produce into the kitchen sink to wash it unless the sink has been scrubbed with soap and hot water first.  Sinks often have as many bacteria in them as a toilet does.  Use a clean bowl or colander for washing produce and either hold the produce under running water or swish it gently in clean water that is dumped between each batch of produce.  The USDA says you do not need to use soap or special produce cleaning sprays to effectively clean produce, just clean running water.

You may need to scrub rough surfaces of root vegetables and melons with a clean cloth or small brush.  Try to get all visible soil off.   Even if you don’t eat the skin or rind wash it before eating the fruit or vegetable. Its almost impossible to slice an unwashed melon without contaminating the part you eat. 

Wash produce you buy even if the seller says it has been washed and it looks clean.  The only exception is things like salad greens which have been washed and sealed in a bag.  The USDA says they don’t need to be washed again before eating.  Things can be contaminated by handling and transporting them after washing.  Think of how many times you have seen people picking up fruits and vegetables in stores or at farm markets and then putting them back down.

An occasional unwashed snack from the garden or a few berries popped in the mouth while picking them probably won’t harm you.  But food borne illnesses can be serious, even deadly, especially to the immune compromised, the very young and older people.   So limit your risk and keep those unwashed snacks to a minimum.

Starting an Herb Garden

Herbs bring exciting tastes to our meals and can also bring comfort and healing to our bodies. Fresh herbs are the best tasting and most nutritious.  Anyone with a small patch of sun can have an herb garden.  I firmly believe herbs should be grown outdoors, it’s where they develop the best taste and where it is easiest to provide for their needs.  In this article I will discuss getting started with an outdoor herb garden of your own. 

Choosing a site

Most herbs require a sunny spot to do well.  Even a small sunny spot on a deck or porch can be a spot for herbs in containers.  In general herbs are not fussy about soil type.  In fact, many prefer soil that is not too rich.  The majority of herbs do require soil that drains well. If you have heavy clay soil you may want to grow herbs in raised beds of amended soil.

Just like a vegetable garden, you will be more likely to use your herbs if you can dash out the door and pick some as you cook.  A spot close to the house will tend to keep the herb bed better cared for and harvested more frequently.  If space is limited, herbs can be tucked into flower beds.  Some are quite ornamental. Just make sure they are in locations where they will not be sprayed with pesticides.

Herbs can also be planted in the vegetable garden.  Many herbs attract beneficial insects.  Perennial herbs should be planted where they will not need to be disturbed each year as you prepare the garden. 

If you live in zone five or lower, you may want to place your herb garden where it is protected from the wind and in a spot that collects heat, such as near a stone patio or wall.  This will give you a better chance for success with some of the heat loving, slightly tender herbs.

Some herbs can become invasive in a favorable site.  Mints, lemon balm, comfrey, and oregano are examples.  You may want to place these herbs where they are surrounded by a paved area or an area that is frequently mowed rather than in the flower or vegetable garden. 

Choosing varieties

When getting started with an herb garden you should learn something about the herb plants you would like to grow.  Do you want familiar culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, or herbs for crafts and dye making?  Plant catalogs and good reference books will help you learn about the requirements of each herb. 

If space is limited grow only the herbs you will use the most.  If you like rosemary and use it frequently in cooking, then you will want rosemary.  If space is not a problem, you can experiment with other herbs.  One herb plant is usually enough for most households. Plants used for tea, such as chamomile, may require a few plants.  If you use them a lot, you can add more plants later. 

Some herbs are annual plants and must be planted each year.  Others are perennials or bi-annual.  Not all perennial and bi-annual herbs will grow in all areas.  There may be some varieties of an herb that will survive better in your area than others.  Check with other gardeners or the county Extension service for recommendations.

Most annual herbs can be planted after the danger of frost has passed.   Some perennial herbs that won’t survive winter in your area might survive if you plant them in a pot and bring them inside for the winter.  Check the zone hardiness of each variety of the herb.  Some thymes will survive zone five for example, and some won’t.

Many of our common herbs are of Mediterranean origin and don’t like wet soil or to be too wet in winter. If you have clay soil you may have to build a raised bed where the soil is amended with gravel for drainage.  These herbs may not appreciate daily soakings from irrigation sprinklers either. You may want to leave herbs without mulch in rainy areas, so they dry out faster.  Mediterranean herbs include lavender and rosemary.

There are some herbs that have varieties that have been selected to be more ornamental than edible.  Some sages with variegated leaves are quite attractive in the garden but do not have that true sage flavor in cooking.  Some basils have been bred to have frilly, colorful leaves but do not have much flavor when used in cooking.  There are basils, sages, oregano, thymes and mints that have different flavors, some good for cooking and others just for potpourri or scenting the garden.  Choose varieties suitable for your needs.

If you are interested in medicinal herbs be aware that there are some varieties and species that have more of an active ingredient than others.  Medicinal herbs should be purchased from a nursery that specializes in them, rather than the local garden store. The herbs will be more likely to be identified correctly and varieties that are high in medicinal qualities will be offered.

If you go to this link, you’ll find a lot of articles on individual herbs and on how to use and preserve herbs;

Caring for and harvesting herbs

Herbs usually are fairly pest and disease free if grown in suitable conditions.  Most herbs where the foliage is used for cooking benefit if any flowers produced are removed.  Regular pruning and pinching will keep herb plants from getting lanky and will encourage new fresh growth. 

In plants where the flowers are used or appreciated, you must be careful about what time plants are pruned.  Lavender needs to be pruned in early spring; if you trim later you may lose all the flowers.  For some herbs you want flowers to develop.  If you want dill seed or caraway or coriander you must let flowers develop.

To prevent powdery mildew and other fungal disease, don’t crowd your herb garden.  Leave space between plants for good airflow.  Water herbs at the base of the plants and don’t work among them or harvest when the foliage is wet from rain or dew. 

Herbs generally don’t require much fertilization.   Check your references for recommendations for each type of herb before applying fertilizer.  Too much fertilizer may actually harm them.

An herb garden isn’t hard to achieve if you have a little space.  Summer can be a good time to pick up herb plants and begin an herb garden of your own.

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” 

― John Lubbock, The Use Of Life

Kim Willis

All parts of this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without permission.

And So On….

Find Michigan garden events/classes here:
(This is the Lapeer County Gardeners facebook page but all gardeners anywhere are welcome)

Newsletter/blog information
I write this because I love to share with other gardeners some of the things I come across in my research each week (or things I want to talk about). It keeps me engaged with people and horticulture. It’s a hobby, basically. I hope you enjoy it. If you are on my mailing list and at any time you don’t wish to receive these emails just let me know. If you or anyone you know who would like to receive a notification by email when a new blog is published have them send their email address to me.  KimWillis151@gmail.com

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

June 18, 2019- the year is half over

Peony lit by the sun.

It’s sad that half the year is over, summer solstice is almost here. (June 21).  After summer solstice the days start getting shorter again and we really haven’t had much nice spring or early summer weather.  That could change in a minute I suppose, but I am really getting sick of this gloomy, wet weather day after day.  Is this English weather?   

Weeds are rampant.  It’s hard to keep up with mowing because the grass keeps growing in the rain but it’s hard to mow when it’s raining, or the grass is too wet.  The wet weather is causing all kinds of plant diseases to pop up, I’m going to write about some below.  In our area lack of sun and the heat it creates have slowed plant bloom and development.

In my garden the clematis are now blooming, and more of the roses.  The lovely clustered bellflower a friend gave me last year has started to bloom. I am hoping it will still be in bloom when the evening primrose begins to bloom- it’s close to bloom- because the colors will be stunning together.

Baptisia is in bloom and weigelas.  Some early daylilies like the heirloom ‘Golddust’ are beginning to bloom.  The native wisteria is in bloom.  My hosta, after a slow start, are really getting huge this year, they like cloudy and wet.  

The sweet corn the deer didn’t munch is about 6 inches high.  There are some green tomatoes on my plants and baby peppers too.  As I mentioned before my spinach is going to seed far before it’s ready to harvest.  But the kale and romaine lettuce are just ready to harvest.  The cukes and melons are just sitting there waiting for more sun.

Are you feeding the birds this summer?  They really appreciate your help while feeding their babies. I am going through a case of suet blocks a week, and that’s letting the feeder go empty from time to time.  It does no harm to feed birds suet in summer, they use it to feed their babies. They won’t get gout or other things rumored in some places. It provides quick energy for them.  There’s a lot of discussion about fewer insects and I really do think there are less.  Feeding birds suet while they are raising young may help them raise those babies with fewer insects about.

I am also going through a lot of sugar water.  After the birds learned about the sugar water feeder I made from a chick waterer, they came to it in droves, many kinds of birds.  I also keep sunflower seed and grape jelly out for the birds.  I have my feeders where I can sit outside and enjoy watching the birds.  Feed the birds in summer and you’ll see species you will never see in winter.
Clustered bellflower in front

The deer discussion

I am getting sick of deer damage in my garden.  I have never had so much deer damage to my garden and from what I hear from my neighbors and other gardeners all over the US, this is a bad year for deer damage.  Usually deer damage is confined to winter and very early in the spring.  This year they are eating the lily buds and sweet corn in my garden among other things.  People tell me they are eating hosta, roses, shrubs, strawberry plants, broccoli, even flowers like petunias in containers.  They are wandering city and suburban streets as well as the countryside.  I have never seen so many complaints about deer.

I think it’s partly because the deer, at least around here, are used to eating farm crops this time of the year and the crops aren’t even up yet here- they just got planted. In some parts of the country farm fields are so wet they won’t be planted this year.  It’s not because the deer don’t have plenty to eat though.  I think they get used to certain things and when they don’t have them, they look for other interesting plants to munch.  And because there are fewer and fewer hunters every year and deer have moved into places hunting isn’t allowed, there are more and more deer.   

One thing I have learned through years of chasing deer from my garden and listening to people who also have deer problems is that there is no easy solution for deer problems and one remedy does not suit all gardens.  And deer quickly habituate to any solution short of shooting them.  So, what works one day to repel deer may soon stop working as they get used to it.

If you can fence a garden with 8-10 feet high fencing, you may keep out the deer but that’s awful expensive.  And it may not totally work either.  I was at an 8 feet high fenced community garden in Mid-Michigan one year where people told me deer were still getting into the garden and saw one leap the fence with my own eyes.  But generally, 8 feet of fence will keep them out.  This can be black netting, but that is easily ruined when deer run through it.

I like electric fence, that’s one or more electrically charged wires strung between fiberglass poles. You need the fence charger along with wire and poles, but it’s cheaper than a regular fence and much easier to install.  You can buy battery powered fence chargers (solar powered rechargeable batteries or batteries you purchase) or use an electric outlet to power them.

Electric fence doesn’t kill deer or even your dog. Even a small baby won’t be seriously harmed. Yes, it hurts for a second and startles you but it’s a pulse, not a continuous charge and won’t electrocute anything. You can buy units for pets that have a smaller shock and those will work for deer in most cases. A few pokes and animals- (including humans) learn to respect them. I work carefully around such a wire even when I know I turned it off, that’s how effective it is.

But as a yard perimeter fence, electric fencing isn’t always successful either.  If you live in a rural area deer may already know and respect such fencing but they also know how to creep under it and jump over it. If they are running from something they often run right through the fence, breaking it.

In an area where such fences aren’t common you may need to flag them, so deer and other animals easily see the wire.  Deer may need conditioning, that’s teaching them what the wire does.  You take little strips of foil and spread peanut butter on them, then fold them over the wire in various spots.  The deer sniff or lick the strips and get a poke.

I like to use electric wire directly around the plants I am protecting.  Deer are less likely to jump over it when they are jumping into a small confined area and you can lower the wire so it’s hard for them to wiggle under it or use a short decorative fence under it.  I have a small battery powered unit I can move around quickly. In my case the 2 d cell batteries the fence uses last 2 months or more.  It has an on/off switch so weeding and harvesting can be done. If electric fencing isn’t allowed as a yard fence in your area, it may be allowed inside the yard surrounding small areas like your garden.

Other ways to repel deer include the various deer repellents sold in liquid form.  These often smell horrible and I don’t want to use them on flower beds close to the house or vegetables. What’s the sense of having a beautiful flower bed you don’t want to get near? And some can’t be used on food plants.  These must be reapplied after every rain too. And using things like coyote urine around plants has the same disadvantages.  Many people have told me those repellents work well at first, but then deer get used to them.  They may be good for winter protection of evergreens if you apply them often enough.

Home remedies like Irish Spring soap have the same drawback.  They work for a short time, then deer get used to them. Some home remedies are laughable.  Epsom salts don’t deter deer nor does dish soap or red pepper.  Rotten eggs don’t bother them either. Who wants that smell in the garden? All of these things may deter deer for a few days because they are unfamiliar.  But as soon as they become familiar smells or wash off all protection is gone.

The idea of “marking your territory” with urine is also useless.  Deer that come into your yard are already used to human scent.  Like any sensible creature they might avoid eating a plant with urine on it, but urine on a plant isn’t very good for it either. And urine near a plant won’t give them a second thought.

Noise makers, radios left on, white flags waving in the dark, all of those things work temporarily.  When deer find out they don’t chase them or hurt them they cease being effective.  For several years I had strings of solar powered flashing lights (Christmas lights) on my evergreens in winter and it worked as a deterrent.  This year it didn’t work.  If you want to try things like this rotate them to something different every few weeks. Noise devices activated by motion may be the most reliable, but your neighbors may not appreciate it.  Those sprinklers activated by motion seem to work fairly well, but many people I know who used them have a problem getting them to work well.

Planting deer repellent plants among other plants doesn’t work that well either.  There are some plants deer won’t eat (according to legends), but that doesn’t mean they won’t eat the plant next to it.  Deer do not like to step into prickly plants so surrounding some plants with roses or other things might work, but then deer do eat roses.

You can try planting only crops and flowers deer don’t like, but here’s the thing, no one knows exactly what those things are.  Deer in some areas eat some things that in other areas they won’t eat. And some years it seems their tastes change.  I’m not going to provide a list of deer resistant plants because of that.  I had deer eat daffodils this year, which most places put on the “will not eat” list.

The rule of thumb is; deer will not eat plants you have a lot of and consider a weed.  Deer will eat the plant you spent a lot of money on or that is your favorite.  And they like to eat things just before they bloom or are ready to harvest. Protect those things.

Other things that will help prevent deer damage is to never feed the deer. Gardeners who feed deer are asking for trouble as deer do not understand the corn is for them but not the hosta.  For their own well being deer should not be fed, even in winter.  It disrupts their natural digestion and impacts their health because deer congregate at feed sources.  Feeding gets them used to human scent, sound and sight, which isn’t good for them or your garden.

Make sure your pet food dishes are inside at night.  Bird feeders should be hung high out of the reach of deer.  They like seeds and will even drink nectar out of hummingbird feeders.  Like the long legged rats they are, they will adapt to many types of food.

Allow hunting and encourage it in your area. Deer are not endangered in any way.  When there are too many deer in an area, they not only damage gardens and crops they start getting ill from diseases caused by close contact and over population. They destroy native plants and cause widespread damage to the environment.  They eat the young trees that are needed for forest regeneration and succession.  Too many deer are a serious problem.  Don’t worry too much about invasive plants causing extinctions of plants, worry about the native deer, which are a greater threat.

Some deer diseases may infect humans. Deer do get rabies, and now many states have deer with chronic wasting disease, a mad cow type prion disease that researchers think could be transmitted to humans and possibly mutate to become a human infectious disease.  Deer encourage the build-up of tick populations; ticks carry many human diseases.  Deer can carry TB to domestic cattle.

And there are all those car-deer crashes which kill many people in the US each year and cause billions of dollars’ worth of property damage and medical bills.  More deer equal more crashes.

We have been conditioned by Disney movies and other tales to think of deer as poor sad creatures that we displaced from their homes.  That’s far from the truth.  There are more deer now than there has ever been in the US and it’s because of humans moving into their “territory”.  Humans eliminate natural predators and provide excellent habitat of lawns, gardens and farm fields.  Humans often protect deer from hunting, and fewer people are hunting now anyway. Deer thrive with people nearby.

Even when I was a child it was rare to see deer anywhere but the most rural areas.  It was a treat and not a curse to see them. Now they are everywhere, in cities and suburbs.  Sure, they are graceful and pretty, and are just going about their lives, but they do need to be controlled, for their own sake as well as ours.  They are as destructive as rats and more people die from deer than rats by far.

Deer birth control has proved to be expensive, dangerous to the deer and not very effective. Hunting is simpler and more effective, and the meat could feed a lot of hungry people or pets.  A bullet to the head is more humane than being terrified by capture, penning up and handling to administer various birth control methods or move deer to other areas.  There is a high death rate from things like shock and broken legs in this practice. 

Using experienced “snipers” in densely populated areas might be needed, rather than allowing anyone with a gun to hunt in those areas.  But guns go off everyday in our cities and suburbs so that shouldn’t be a reason to keep deer from being hunted.

Nature intended deer to be controlled by predation so other species could share the environment.  It’s what is best for the deer population overall and best for the environment too. Encourage and allow deer hunting.  It’s the right thing to do.

Plant problems caused by wet weather

In many areas of the US we are experiencing one of the wettest spring-early summer seasons in years.  In some areas it’s hot and wet and in others cool and wet, but it’s been a wet season for a lot of us.  (Sorry, to those few who are in dry areas- wish we could send you some rain.)  Wet weather also comes with cloudy skies and both wet conditions and less sunlight can impact gardens in a big way.  Diseases and physiological stress on plants are widespread this year.

Many people are reporting yellowed leaves and plants that look stunted.  This is most common in cool wet areas.  This is usually a sign of nitrogen deficiency.  Rain can leach nitrogen through the soil out of the reach of plant roots.  Cool soil temperatures can keep plants from taking up nitrogen even if its in the soil.  Nitrogen is a nutrient that’s constantly fluctuating in the soil and when you get a soil test done the results won’t include the nitrogen levels. That leaves gardeners using their best judgement as to whether nitrogen is needed by their plants.

When you see yellowed leaves without green veins its usually a nitrogen deficiency.  (If leaves are yellow but have green veins its probably an iron deficiency.)  In this case using some nitrogen fertilizer on the affected plants can help them green up and start growing again. 

Nitrogen content of fertilizers is represented by first number on the bag. Lawn fertilizers which are primarily nitrogen can be a source of that nitrogen, just make sure they don’t include weed killers or grub control products. Blood meal can be a good organic source of nitrogen.  Use the nitrogen sparingly, too much nitrogen may keep some plants from fruiting or flowering well.  Use about half the amount recommended for lawns on vegetables and flowers.  You can always add a little more later if needed.

Garden fertilizers with numbers such as 5-10-5 are low in nitrogen and may add potassium and phosphorus that aren’t needed but if that’s all you have you can use them.

In some cases, the nitrogen deficiency corrects itself with warmer, drier weather. You may want to wait a bit to see if that happens in your case.  If better weather doesn’t green up the plants, they will need fertilizer.  Epsom salt cannot correct nitrogen deficiency and should never be used on deficient plants.

Wilted plants even when there has been plenty of rain may be a sign that the roots have rotted or that the soil is totally saturated, and plants can’t get oxygen from the soil.  This is often seen when gardens have been submerged by flood water for a few days or they are in a low spot that doesn’t drain well. It also happens to plants in containers without good drainage. There is not much you can do except add drainage or move the plants and hope plants recover.

Snails and slugs love wet weather.  Damage from them may increase when its wet and cloudy because they will be eating day and night.  If you have mulch around the base of plants like hosta, a favorite of snails and slugs, you may want to pull it back for a few days, so the soil surface is exposed.  This will dry it a bit and leave fewer places for pests to hide. 

Eggshells won’t work to repel slugs and snails, there are videos online showing them gliding right over them.  Diatomaceous earth won’t work when it gets wet, and just contact with damp soil will render it useless.  Salt only works if you sprinkle it on each slug. 

Beer can work to trap slugs but when it rains frequently the beer can get very diluted and less attractive.  (You put a flat saucer of beer near plants being damaged.)  Beer isn’t the best method to control slugs and it may attract pest animals like coons.  You can buy products that attract and kill snails and slugs but be careful using them.  They can be very toxic to pets and children.



Many plant diseases are more likely to occur in wet weather. Diseases caused by fungi are often troublesome.  This year gardeners are experiencing many of them.  For a plant disease to occur it needs a susceptible plant, the disease organism (a fungal spore or virus particle) and the right environmental conditions.

Botrytis or gray mold affects a number of garden plants in various ways and is generally found in wet weather.  There are many species of Botrytis.  It causes peony buds to rot, and sometimes other flowering plants lose buds and flowers from it.  Rose buds and flowers are affected by it. Seedlings can rot at ground level.  Soft fruit may mold.

Powdery Mildew is one of the most common diseases that favors wet weather.  The leaves and stems of your plants will first get yellow spots and then get a white dusty appearance, then begin to yellow and eventually leaves turn brown and papery and fall off.
Powdery mildew is caused by several different fungi species and occurs in a variety of garden plants from flowers to vegetables. It doesn’t kill plants in most cases but greatly weakens them.  Older plants and older leaves will get the fungal infection first.  New leaves will continue to form in most cases.
Crowded plants and plants growing in less than full sun are more susceptible. Cloudy days favor powdery mildew.  Temperatures between 68-80 degrees and high humidity with or without rain favor infection.  This disease is generally blown into the garden or carried in on plants or equipment.  It can also overwinter in soil or debris and emerge when conditions are right.
Fungal infections can’t be cured, only prevented.  Give your plants lots of space and keep weeds out so there is good air flow around plants.   Plant powdery mildew resistant varieties.   You can use preventative fungal sprays continuing every 7-10 days or as the label directs.  If you start spraying when you first notice any symptoms you may limit the spread of the disease and help plants continue to grow.
Conventional fungicides include Daconil, Bravo, Echo, Fungonil and Nova and you’ll want to look for one of these ingredients; chlorothalonil, azoxystrobin, trifloxystrobin, myclobutanil in garden shop brands.  Always follow label directions and make sure the product is for edible crops if used on them. Note: pesticide recommendations can change from state to state and year to year.
Organic fungicides include copper products, neem oil, Potassium bicarbonate (not sodium bicarbonate or baking soda) and products with sulfur.  As with conventional pesticides follow the label directions and use products labeled for food crops.
Home remedies like dish soap, baking soda, milk, Epsom salt, compost tea and so on won’t work and in some cases make the problem worse. 
When you spray a fungicide on plants use a forceful stream to try and get under the larger leaves and the undersides of leaves so all parts are covered. After rain events fungicides need to be re-applied.
Downy mildew is a serious disease of cucumbers and melons, and also damages squash and pumpkins. There is a downy mildew that affects impatiens and occasionally other plants.  It is different from powdery mildew, which is a common problem but less destructive. 
Symptoms of downy mildew are light green turning to yellow spots on the top of leaves and the bottom of the leaves will have black, water soaked looking areas, then a purple-brown dusty or dirty appearance to the bottom of leaves when spores appear.  Cucumber plants quickly seem to dry up and die. Downy mildew is carried to crops by the wind and usually begins in hot, wet or humid weather.  Once in your garden it will spread rapidly. 
Cucumber plants rapidly die from the disease.  Melons have greatly reduced production.  Squash and pumpkins survive but grow more slowly and are less productive. Impatiens plants usually die quickly too.  
The best thing to do is to prevent downy mildew by applying protective fungicides.  Look for home garden fungicides that have chlorothalonil or mancozeb in the ingredients and apply as directed.  If caught early fungicides may help crops that are lightly infected. Heavily infected crops won’t be helped. There are no organic products that are effective for downy mildew.  Baking soda, Epsom salts, dish soap and so on are useless. 
If you can’t bring yourself to use a conventional fungicide on plants infected with downy mildew then pull the plants once they are infected and bury them away from the garden or put them in plastic bags for the landfill.  Don’t mess around with home remedies, allowing the disease to continue spreading.  Don’t compost infected plants at home.  Don’t plant in the same spot next year and make sure all plant residue is removed from the garden in the fall.  Next year look for varieties that are resistant to downy mildew.
Late Blight of potatoes and tomatoes is a serious disease that can occur in wet weather.  It generally occurs late in the summer as the name suggests but when conditions are right it can occur at any time and in any size plants. Favorable conditions are when temperatures have been between 50-80 degrees for at least 5 days and over ten days there has been more than 1.2 inches of rain.  Cloudy days and high humidity increase the risk when combined with the above conditions.

In these conditions, gardeners should inspect tomato and potato plants frequently or start protective fungicides.  Late blight causes dark gray-black wilted leaves, sunken black areas on stems and black areas on fruit, both green and red or potato tubers. It progresses rapidly and kills plants in 7-10 days. There is no cure once it starts.  All infected plants need to be pulled quickly and destroyed.  They must be buried deeply or bagged in black plastic, set in the sun for several days and then sent to the landfill.  Do not compost them.
If you suspect late blight contact your county Extension office.  They may be able to give you a definitive diagnosis and discuss disposal.  This is especially important if you live close to commercial tomato and potato farms.
Tomato anthracnose or fruit rot is one of those nasty fungal diseases that are so hard to control.  This disease also affects the leaves, stems and roots of tomato plants but it’s the infection of the fruit that is most problematic. The disease frequently begins with temperatures over 80 degrees and rainy weather. Once again, there’s no cure, only prevention.
Tomato’s that are ripe or nearly ripe develop what is called “watersoaked” spots, sunken, shiny areas with a number of small black spots in the center that eventually create a large black spot and the fruit rots around and under the lesion. The black spots produce salmon colored spores which can infect other fruits around them.   When you cut a tomato with anthracnose you often see a black area on the meat inside below the outer spot.  The rotted spots may also grow a secondary fungus; gray, fuzzy mold if left long enough.  Tomatoes can have one spot or several.
Anthracnose ofnfruit

Tomato anthracnose makes the lower leaves on the plants get yellow spots with a tan center, and they eventually wilt and turn gray-brown.  The stems may also develop spots.  These foliar symptoms are very similar to other fungal disease of tomatoes and tomato plants can have more than one fungal disease going at the same time.  In fact, diseases like early blight weaken the plant and make anthracnose more common.
Early Blight, Bacterial Speck, Septoria leaf spot and Bacterial Spot are other tomato diseases that are all influenced by rainy, wet weather.  They are not as serious as late blight but can really limit fruit production, especially if they begin early in the season.  They have similar symptoms which include spots on leaves and yellowed leaves that eventually fall off. Like all fungal diseases they cannot be cured, only prevented with fungicides. 
Mulching and keeping plants off the ground by staking or tying them helps prevent fungal diseases.  Good airflow is important so don’t crowd plants. Some weeds harbor the disease so keep your garden weeded. Water at the base of the plant and try to keep plant foliage from getting wet.  Tomatoes require well drained soil and wet soil often results in bigger problems with fungal disease.
Here’s more information about tomatoes;

Lawns can be affected by wet weather too.  Leaf spots, melting-out, slime mold, dollar spot, rusts, summer patch, and necrotic ring spot are lawn diseases that pop up in wet weather. Here’s a good source for lawn disease ID and solutions. http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7497.html

Fruit trees and small fruit are also affected by wet weather.  If you spray your fruit trees for diseases and insects you’ll need to spray more often, after every heavy rain. Rain and cold weather may limit pollination on some fruits. Strawberry fruit may get gray mold ( Botrytis).

By the Light of the Moon- a Moon Garden

Here’s something lighter to read.  I hope it inspires you.
Do you ever go out when the moon is full and walk in its pale lovely light?   Perhaps you strolled to your garden, only to find it closed up and hiding in the darkness.  You can however design a garden that will welcome your nocturnal wandering or resting.
A proper moon garden delights all the senses and makes the night and the garden a magical place.  Moon gardens aren’t hard to do and even a novice gardener can accomplish the task.  Properly done a moon garden is as easy to maintain as any garden and can look great in the daylight also.
Moon gardens use light colored plants that float in the darkness, fragrance that wafts on the evening breeze, and the sounds of tinkling wind chimes or bubbling water to delight all the senses. A place to sit or lie in this dreamy spot is also necessary. 

Locating the Moon Garden

You won’t need a rocket to find a place for your moon garden, just a patch of soil here on earth.  A good location for a moon garden is close to the house, but slightly secluded, so you can enjoy it in privacy.  Perhaps a little used porch or patio can become the center stage.  It is to be enjoyed by dim light - the moon, or softly lit by strategically placed low voltage lights.  Avoid areas where streetlights or harsh overhead light intrudes. Moon gardens need to be at least partially enclosed for best effect. This can be by a hedge, dark wall or fence.  This will make you more comfortable when the air is brisk, insure your privacy and show your plants to their best advantage.
You will probably want most of the moon garden open to the sky. Moon gardens can be in the shade but the range of plants you can use is much greater if they have the advantage of sun in the daytime.  And at night the twinkling stars and graceful curve of the moon overhead will make the moon garden more enchanting.
White rose of Sharon at night
What to grow in a moon garden

Moon gardens need plants with white, pastel or silver foliage or flowers.  The flowers should remain open at night.  These plants can be perennials for your area, or you can use annuals, tropicals, or a combination.  The goal is to have something of interest through at least 3 seasons, so a combination of plants is generally used.  Fragrance is highly desirable, but it should be a fragrance you adore.
 Some suggestions for moon garden plants will be listed next.  Remember that the plants must be hardy for your zone, treated as annuals, or brought inside when frost threatens.  They must be watered and fertilized according to their needs.  You should have low, medium and tall plants to give depth to the design.  Darker plants between the light colored ones are needed to enhance the backdrop.  Vines, shrubs and trees should be incorporated in larger moon gardens.  Using plants with blues and reds in the foliage or flowers along with the whites and pastels will keep your garden looking nice in the daylight and provide the dark contrast at night.
For spring color choose white tulips, [they fold at night but still look good], hyacinths, iris cristata ‘Tennessee White’, and sweet-smelling white narcissus.  White lilacs will add fragrance and late spring color for larger gardens.  Nothing beats a white crabapple or flowering cherry for a cloud of white on spring evenings. Many white flowered dogwoods are on the market, one called  Elegantissima’ has white flowers in spring and the leaves are edged in white for even more interest.  White flowered magnolias and viburnums are other choices for larger gardens.
For early summer; white roses, such as ‘Iceburg’, shasta daisies, and white petunias, peonies, stocks, cleome, evening primrose, Four O’Clocks, coreopsis ‘Snowberry’, white salvia and white bearded iris are good choices.  For midsummer you can add nocturnal daylilies like Hemerocallis citrina, which is fragrant and has pale yellow flowers, white Asiatic lilies, white coneflowers, such as ‘Fragrant Angel’, white phlox,-‘David’ night flowering Jessamine or jasmine, and hydrangeas. 
For shimmering silver in the moonlight add; artemesia, Lamb’s Ears, mugwort, wormswood or silver thyme.   Thyme ‘ Silver Posie’ is  low growing with each leaf edged in silver and is fragrant when you step on it.
For late summer try; white asters, anemones, chrysanthemums, oriental and hybrid lilies which come in many wonderful white and pastel colors and are highly fragrant.  A favorite oriental lily is ‘Casa Blanca’, which is outstanding for a moon garden.  Ornamental grasses with white plumes such as Cortaderia ‘Sunningdale Silver’ are also good for late fall color.
For moon gardens which are in the shade during the day try; white astilbe, white impatiens, white tuberous begonias, foam flower, hosta with white variegations, Goatsbeard, Cardiocrinum giganteum and Clethra.  The silver Japanese ferns such as ‘Ghost’ and ‘Silver Falls’ are stunning in the moonlight.

 Nicotiana sylvestris or ‘Only the Lonely’'.  T
No moon garden is complete without two plants, the moonflower vine and woodland nicotiana ( Nicotiana sylvestris) or ‘Only the Lonely’'.  The moonflower vine has huge heart shaped leaves and equally huge and fragrant white flowers like a morning glory flower, which open at night. It will need to be started inside in the north because it takes a long time to begin blooming.  Woodland nicotiana is a close cousin to smoking tobacco and the huge leaves on this plant make it best in the back of the border.  It sends up tall stalks of white, dangling, trumpet shaped flowers with a delicious fragrance. Both of these plants attract sphinx moths to the garden.
Don’t forget to add the finishing touches, a bubbling water feature or a melodious but gentle wind chime.  Sound carries further on a still evening and you want subtle noise that won’t drown out the tree frogs and the wind in the trees.  Add the clink of ice in your favorite beverage and you are ready to enjoy your moon garden.

Don’t use mothballs in the garden

For many years I have worked to discourage people from using “mothballs” to repel animals from their homes and gardens.  I am now seeing articles online encouraging people to use them in the garden for all sorts of things from deterring Japanese beetles to scaring away squirrels.  Mothballs are about the farthest thing imaginable from a safe, natural way to repel pests.  I personally wouldn’t use them in the house even to discourage clothes moths.
Mothballs contain one of two (sometimes both) highly toxic chemicals, naphthalene and Para dichlorobenzene.  These chemicals are classified as hazardous and a possible carcinogen by the EPA. There are sometimes other hazardous chemicals in mothballs too. Pesticides, which mothballs are, (they are not a repellant, they kill insects), are labeled as to how to use the product and by law they cannot be used any other way.
Mothball boxes, if you read them, do not list the use of the product outdoors, or to repel animals. So, if you use them in this way you are breaking the law. If you instruct people to use them in a non-approved way you are also breaking the law.
But breaking the law is not the most important consideration. These chemicals do serious damage to humans and other animals exposed to them. They can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled, or ingested. The amount of damage done varies as to exposure and who is exposed, but severe and fatal consequences can occur.
The chemicals in mothballs can cause hemolytic anemia, damage to the liver and kidneys, neurological damage, cataracts and damage to the retina. Children, pets, people who already have liver or kidney problems or some forms of inherited blood disorders are at special risk. Deaths have occurred from naphthalene and Para dichlorobenzene exposure in both children and adults.
Using a lot of mothballs in an attic or crawl space may allow toxic fumes to enter the living area and just breathing those fumes can be hazardous. When people place mothballs outside in an attempt to discourage animals, they are exposing themselves, children and pets to possibly fatal reactions. The chemicals also pass through the placental barrier and a pregnant woman who handles mothballs or even exposes herself to the fumes for an extended period of time can damage her baby.
Soil that is contaminated with dissolved mothballs is also toxic; plants should never be consumed if they are grown in soil contaminated by mothballs. It’s not known how long the contamination remains in the soil.
If you can smell the mothballs you are inhaling vaporized poison. If a child or pet swallows just one mothball it can cause serious problems and the poison hotline should be called immediately. (1-800-222-1222).  The pesticides in mothballs can be absorbed through the skin by children handling them or pets walking on them.  Never put them in pet’s beds or store them with pet food.  Don’t use them in any food area.
Mothballs are a toxic pesticide and should be treated as such.  They are definitely not an organic or safe solution to garden or pest problems.  They are intended to be used in an enclosed area to prevent insects from eating stored clothing. Read the label on the box and follow it.  Even though your grandmother used them all over the house doesn’t mean they are safe. Your grandparents also used DDT without knowing the consequences. And the old wife’s tale of discouraging animals with mothballs doesn’t work most of the time anyway.
 Here’s national pesticide hotline page on toxic effects of mothballs.

"Tell you what I like the best --
'Long about knee-deep in June,
'Bout the time strawberries melts
On the vine, -- some afternoon
Like to jes' git out and rest,
And not work at nothin' else!"

-  James Witcomb Riley, Knee Deep in June

Kim Willis

All parts of this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without permission.

And So On….

Find Michigan garden events/classes here:
(This is the Lapeer County Gardeners facebook page but all gardeners anywhere are welcome)

Newsletter/blog information
I write this because I love to share with other gardeners some of the things I come across in my research each week (or things I want to talk about). It keeps me engaged with people and horticulture. It’s a hobby, basically. I hope you enjoy it. If you are on my mailing list and at any time you don’t wish to receive these emails just let me know. If you or anyone you know who would like to receive a notification by email when a new blog is published have them send their email address to me.  KimWillis151@gmail.com