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5 tips for starting your garden strong this season

Gardeners, rejoice: It’s May long weekend, which means the summer gardening season has unofficially begun.

Before you shake the cobwebs off your gloves and spades and get out there, here are a few tips for setting yourself and your garden up for success this year.

1. Watch the weather

May long weekend is just a benchmark, so don’t get too excited, said Dorothy Dobbie, publisher of Manitoba Gardener magazine. It’s a good rule of thumb that you’ll be safe after the holiday weekend, but it’s not a guarantee.

“There are gardeners in town who say don’t do anything until the second week in June, because you can never be too sure that you won’t get a late frost,” Dobbie said.

It might not hurt to hold off another week or so before you start planting, Dobbie said, especially for plants with fleshy stems or flowers such as succulents that are especially susceptible to frost, or plants that are planted in the shade where the soil warms up more slowly.

She usually looks for consistent nighttime temperatures of around 9 or 10 C, she said.

If you’re itching to get started, that’s OK, too, Dobbie said. Some plants, like petunias, can handle chilly weather, although they may grow more slowly afterward, and beans and peas actually thrive in lower temperatures early on.

Containers are a good bet because they’ll warm up faster in the sunshine, she said, as are sunnier spots in the soil.

If you’re unsure, Dobbie recommended using your hands to feel about six inches down into your soil. If it’s not freezing cold, you should be fine.

2. Do a little prep work

Get your garden ready before planting, including raking old leaves off the top, Dobbie said.

If you’re planting in containers, make sure you’re working with a good soil mixture. Dobbie recommended a mixture of one-third soil to two-thirds potting mix to keep your earth from drying out too quickly, with a bit of granular fertilizer. That set-up should keep your pot going until about mid-July, she said, when you can start supplementing with water-soluble fertilizers.

Once you’re ready to go dirt-wise, get yourself to a store, said Chad Labbe, co-owner of Shelmerdine Garden Center.

“If you’re just getting thing started, you want to find your must-haves right away,” Labbe said.

“Get out into the garden centre and find those unique [plants] that you want to have sooner than later. These things start to sell fast now.”

3. Plant wet

When you’re ready to start planting, Labbe said it’s important to make sure your plants are already wet before they go into the ground.

“A common mistake that we often see is plants getting planted when they’re actually dry into soil and then trying to get them re-hydrated,” Labbe said.

“Always make sure that the plants that you’re planting are moist prior to planting, and then once the container is finished or the bed is finished, water them all together.”

Other common planting mistakes that are easy to avoid: planting too deeply and jamming too many plants into a container, Labbe added. 

4. Damage control

So you pulled the trigger early and your plants are getting cold. Don’t worry — you’ve got options.

“The old-fashioned way, or what we used to do, is go out with blankets, cover things up that are planted into the ground,” Labbe said.

“Make sure the soil’s moist — don’t let dry soil be around your plants,” he added. “If it is freezing, that moisture that’s on the foliage is going to start to freeze, but it in fact releases a little bit of warmth at the same time, therefore protecting the plant.”

Dobbie, too, said watering your plants is the best way to keep them safe if temperatures drop. She recommended watering them before bed to make sure they’ll be safe overnight if there’s frost.

If you’re working with portable containers, just bring them inside, she added.

5. Use your instincts

You don’t have to walk around with a soil thermometer to have happy plants, Dobbie said.

“Use your instincts. If it feels really cold and windy and you’re shivering, maybe you just want to hold off a little bit,” she said. “If you feel warm and comfortable and things seem pretty benign, then take a chance and plant.”

If it doesn’t work don’t get discouraged, she added.

“Just because they die doesn’t mean to say you’re a bad gardener,” Dobbie said.

“It’s learning through failure that makes you a good gardener. So don’t be afraid. Try whatever, and if it doesn’t work, try again.”

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Garden centers and nurseries talk gardening tips

Garden centers talk planting tips

POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) – May usually means warmer weather and sunshine.

With warmer weather starting to stick around, garden centers and nurseries see an increase in business.

McKee’s Garden and Pet Center had a steady flow of customers Saturday morning. The owner, Travis Brasher, said business always picks up around Mother’s Day and continues heavily through Memorial Day. He said first of June, the vegetable sales tend to die down significantly. Flowers remain popular through about the end of June, once most people get what they want planted. So Brasher said it’s about a two-month period of very steady business for the garden center.

Brasher said three of the most popular types of flowers McKee’s sells are petunias, alyssums, and zinnias.

McKee’s said even April business picks up a bit because a lot of people will start planting vegetables then. But Brasher said really anytime now in May is a good time to get started on a garden.

“The best time is any time that the ground is actually thawed out,” said David Luker, owner of Westwood Growers Nursery. “If you can actually dig in the ground it’s time to plant something.”

Many people have done just that. But with a recent cold spell, some people wonder if the gardens already planted will make it. 

Brasher said they had some customers who came in to get new plants because their tomatoes had frozen. A few others had problems with corn. He said the best thing for people to remember is to watch the weather. When there’s a potential for a freeze or a cold spell, just make sure all of your plants are covered. They can be covered with warm water covers, buckets, anything that will protect them from frost.

Luker said Westwood a few of its own shrubs and trees were also affected. But Luker said with any garden, cold temperatures do not necessarily equal loss. 

“We brought a lot of stuff in from Oregon,” Luker explained. “It was pretty tender and it got damaged and some of it looks pretty bad, but for the most part, it’s temporary. Most plants will recover. The exception of course is the annuals. When they get frozen, they’re done and you have to replace them. But many plants can rejuvenate from a cold spell like we just had.”

Both McKee’s and Westwood said the key to getting a good garden started is to make sure there’s a good base for your plants to grow in.

“You want to make sure you get a good soil to start with and so you get a nice good soil, we put some compost in there and some additives in there to make the soil nice so that will help your plants grow and the plants to thrive,” Brasher said. 

“Remember that the plant is going to colonize its new home and so anything you can do to benefit that process,” Luker said. “For instance, I recommend organic matter, lots of organic matter. We even recommend on shrubs and trees, introducing an organism – mycorrhizal fungi. [It’s] an organism that would co-exist with the plant in its natural state and what organism is present, plants live longer, they’re healthier, they’re more disease resistant.”

Brasher said another piece of advice he has for gardens is to make sure you don’t over-water anything, especially when it comes to vegetables. For example, he said, corn needs to stay more dry and requires less water than other vegetables. So if you over-water it, it could ruin it. So Brasher said knowing how much water is healthy for your different types of plants is important.

Luker said one thing he sees a lot of problems with is people buying plants that aren’t suited to the area we live in. He said Pocatello has a very different type of soil than a city or east coast might so any plants that originate in those areas might not do well in Pocatello. He said just knowing what plants work best in the climate you are in makes a difference.

Both McKee’s and Westwood Growers said if you want to get going on a planting but you are not sure how, or what to start with, talk to a local expert to help you get started.

Westwood Growers Conservation Nursery:
3411 Pole Line Road
Also: Facebook page.

McKee’s Garden and Pet Center:
244 Yellowstone
Link: Facebook page.

Article source:

Spring garden planting tips

Wide-row planting of lettuce. iGrow photo

By David Graper
SDSU Extension Horticulture Specialist

Many gardeners have been already been out and planting in their gardens. Now is a good time to get started with some of those cool season plants like peas, lettuce and radishes that we can grow from seed. It is also a time when it is usually warm enough to transplant cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and related plants that can tolerate cool temperatures and even some light frost. Soil temperatures warmed up significantly last week with the high temperatures, wind and dry weather but did decline considerably with the cooler temperatures, rain and even snow that many people saw late last week and weekend. Keep in mind that the average last frost date for many areas of the state is not until the 3rd week in May.

Most warm-season vegetables prefer soil temperatures that are near 70°F or greater. It is easy to check your soil temperature by using a simple dial or digital probe thermometer, like an instant-read thermometer that you would use to check the temperature of food when cooking. You might notice that warm season vegetables like tomatoes have developed a purplish coloration to the stems and leaves. This is an indication that the cold and/or wet soils did not allow for adequate uptake of phosphorous resulting in the deficiency symptom for phosphorous.

Traditionally vegetable seeds are planted in rows in the garden, usually spaced far enough apart to allow room for the rototiller to get down the rows without damaging the plants. However, garden space can be used more efficiently in many cases if plants are grown much closer together. This is particularly important if you have a small garden plot. You will just have to do a more hand weeding instead of using a rototiller. On the other hand, if a space is filled with a vegetable plant, it is less likely to allow room for a weed to grow. Denser planting works especially well for low growing plants like lettuce, radishes, or carrots that grow well close to each other, do not get very bushy and are easy to harvest. This close-spaced planting is common in raised beds where you try to use every bit of that bed to produce food. You also make the bed narrow enough, usually no more than 4’ wide, so that you can reach into the bed to tend or harvest the vegetables without actually stepping onto the soil in the bed. This is often referred to as square-foot gardening.

Most of the time people will make rows in their gardens before planting their vegetables. The simplest method is to use some twine and a couple stakes. Put one stake at each end of the row and pull the twine tight. Then use a hoe to make a furrow, following the twine between the two stakes. When you are done, move both stakes over the desired amount then make the next row. This method works well but can be rather time consuming. An alternative method is to make a row marker by bolting cultivating shovels or similar stiff piece of metal, to a 2×4 or larger piece of wood, spaced out at the row width you want. I made mine to work with my rototiller, allowing some extra room for plants on each side of the rototiller tines. Then add a handle and some braces and you are ready to make multiple rows at a time. The one I made makes four rows the first time you use it. Then I turn around and put the outside shovel in the last row and use it as a guide to make three new rows, next to the first ones. It works really well if the soil is freshly tilled and not hard or too rocky. The only real problem I have with mine is that it is too big and heavy. It is a real chore to pull it across the garden but then again, I just made four rows at one time, so I accomplish quite a bit each time. I take a break from making rows to plant the ones I just made before making more. Only make as many rows as you need at one time so that you can plant into a freshly made row that will have nice moist soil in it to speed germination.

Follow the seed label for planting instructions for each of the different vegetables you are planting. Larger seed, like peas and corn can be covered with a garden rake about an inch deep after planting. Smaller seed should only be covered with about ¼ to ½” of soil so don’t overdo it. If you have really heavy soil, consider covering very fine or small seed with peat moss or potting soil to give it a better chance of germinating and getting established. It is often difficult to see how thickly you plant fine seed so try to carefully sprinkle it by “feeding” it between your fingers as you keep your hand moving over the row. Some small seed are available in a pelleted form, which makes them easier to seed and more visible in the row. If you plant your seed too thickly, you will probably have to go back later and thin out the extra seedlings.

If you are planting transplants, it is a good idea to harden them off for a week or more, prior to planting them in the garden. This hardening process is meant to help better prepare them to establish and grow in the garden where temperature fluctuations are more extreme, there is considerably more sunlight and wind as well. Start by placing the cell packs or pots out in a partially sunny location. If chilly nighttime temperatures are forecast, bring them back inside for the night, perhaps just set them in the garage overnight, then put them back outside in the morning when it warms up. If you still have one of the little red wagons around, just put your plants on it so you can easily roll it inside your garage for cold nights and bring it back out in the morning when it warms up again. After a few days, move them to a location where they will receive similar sun exposure to that of the location where they will be growing permanently. Be sure to keep watering them as needed. Those small cells can dry out very quickly as the transplants get larger.

Thoroughly water the cell packs or pots of your plants before you are going to transplant them to the garden. Dig holes for the transplants large enough to easily accommodate the root ball. Planting into a freshly tilled garden soil is advantageous in that the transplants will be able to more easily grow roots out into the soil and it is easier to dig the holes. If you used a hoe or “row maker”, as described above, that will probably have created a large enough and deep enough furrow to plant your transplant. (The furrow will also act as a water reservoir to moisten a larger area around the new plant.)

Carefully remove a transplant from the cell pack. Usually pushing it up from the bottom will free it from the cell pack. If you just pull on the stem, you might damage the stem. Take a look at the root ball, if it looks to be a very dense mass of roots, use your fingers to break it apart a little bit. This will encourage new roots to form more quickly, but do not damage the roots too much in the process. Generally, plant the transplant at about the same depth as it was growing in the cell pack. Firm the soil around the root ball. Lay taller tomato transplants at an angle to allow more of the stem to be covered. That covered portion of the stem will form roots to help support the plant. Next plant the next transplant from the pack, spacing them out appropriately, usually about 12 – 18” for cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower and about 24 to 36” for larger plants like tomatoes.

Finally, carefully but thoroughly water in the plant. If you want, use some water-soluble “starter” fertilizer in the water to help give the plant a boost. However, I suggest that you really only need mix it at about half-strength. This watering step is important, even if the soil feels moist. It helps to fill in the soil around the plant and give the roots a better growing medium in which to spread out. Keep watering the newly planted transplants every few days for the next few weeks unless it rains. It is going to take a while for new roots to form to allow the young transplant to take up more water to support its growth. Until that happens, it will still be mostly relying on the original root ball for most of its water needs.

Late May Tree Care Topics

By John Ball

SDSU Extension Forestry Specialist

Now that the growing season is in full-swing there are numerous treatments to be applied. These treatments are necessary to protect the plant from pest problems. Waiting until you see symptoms of an infestation or infection is usually too late for effective treatments.

Now that buckeyes are blooming, bronze birch borers are emerging from infested trees. Bronze birch borer (Agrilus anxius) is a native insect that attacks birch. It is a close relative to the emerald ash borer so they both make a D-shaped hole as the adult emerges from the tree. The time to treat birch trees is now as the female beetles are finding places on the bark (usually near a branch union) to lay their eggs. Spray the bark with an insecticide containing permethrin as the active ingredient with a second application in about three weeks. It’s too late to use insecticides containing imidacloprid as a soil drench to kill newly hatched larvae because those need to be applied in the fall. If the canopy has dieback back more than about 40% the tree too far gone for treatments.

Bronze birch borers colonize almost every birch species with their favorites being Asian and European species such as the cutleaf European white birch. The river birch is very, very rarely attacked by bronze birch borer and can be considered a borer-free alternative to other species.

Cedar-apple rust galls on the junipers have expanded during the past week and this is an indicator to begin treatments to protect susceptible apples and crabapples from cedar-apple rust. The galls form on the junipers (cedars) and release spores that infect the apples and crabapples. The infection on apples and crabapples results in discolored foliage and fruit and premature drop of the leaves. Fungicides containing Myclobutanil as the active ingredients can be applied beginning now and repeat three more times at 7 to 10 day intervals. Captan, a common fungicide for apple scab is NOT effective against cedar-apple rust.

Codling moth adults are flying and laying eggs on the newly forming apples. Once the larvae hatch, they will burrow into the developing apple, usually near the base of the fruit, resulting in a trail of brown, powdery frass through the apple. This frass often exudes from the entry hole. The treatment is usually Malathion, though there is much evidence that carbaryl (Sevin) provides better control. The first treatment begins about 10 to 20 days after petal fall, as the fruit just begins to form and then three more applications spaced about 10 days apart. This treatment will also control plum curculio, an insect that cannot usually get through the tough skin of an apple but the egg laying leaves the fruit dimpled and distorted. The picture to the right shows bird pecks (the large hole) and plum curculio damage (the dimples).

The other option is bagging the individual apples using the Japanese fruit bags when the apples reach about ½-inch diameter. This is no guarantee of control as the fruit may become infested before that size but they do provide reasonable control of this pest and many others as well as improve the shine to the fruit.

And finally, if you want to hang jugs of bad smelling liquid to attract codling moths and repel unwanted visitors at the same time consider mixing molasses and water in a 1:7 solution with a few drops of dishwashing soap. Pour this solution into a one-gallon milk jug with the top cut out of it and hang from the tree. The fermenting mix is attractive to codling moths (as well as wasps and critters) and they may prefer this to your apples. It also creates a mess if you bump the bucket while mowing your lawn.

The new shoots are expanding on spruce so it’s time to apply a fungicide to protect against rhizosphaera or stigmina needlecast. These are the most common foliage diseases of blue spruce. These diseases causes the older foliage to turn yellow by midsummer and then purplish-brown. Usually small black fruit bodies can be found in the spring lining the stomata along the needles. Stigmina needlecast fruiting bodies have fuzzy edges (as pictured above) while rhizosphaera fruiting bodies are smooth (as pictured to the right). The disease results in premature needle drop and a thin and discolored canopy. The disease can be managed by an application of chlorothalonil now and a second application in about two weeks. If the needlecast is due to Stigmina the applications may have to continue every 10-days till August. It is important to treat the entire canopy, not just the lower branches when treating for Stigmina.

Mark your calendars

Tree Pruning Tree Health Workshop. Friday, June 2nd, 1:00 p.m. – 3:00p.m. (CST), Murdo City Park. Speaker: Josh Larson, Community Forester, SD Dept. of Agriculture Resource Conservation and Forestry Division. This is a hands-on training session so bring along your hand pruners or small folding hand saws if you have one. The event is sponsored by: Jones County Conservation District, South Central RCD and Modern Woodmen.

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This week’s gardening tips: Best types of fill to use for soil subsidence

This week’s gardening tips: Soil subsidence may require fill to be spread over the lawn. This is especially common on the south shore. Filling can be done now through August. Use a sandy soil, like pump sand or river sand (avoid spillway sand due to weed issues like torpedograss). Where the fill is deeper than 2 inches, you may have to replace the grass.

Apply paint or shade cloth to greenhouses to prevent heat buildup. Fans should run just about constantly.

Mid May is the last chance to apply many of the broad leaf lawn weed killers before the weather gets too hot. Buttonweed is particularly troublesome, and it’s easier to control now while it’s young. Try using Ferti-lome Weed Free Zone. If you need to do weed control when temperatures are in the upper 80s and 90s, penoxsulam (Green Light Wipe Out, Ferti-lome Dollarweed Control Plus and other brands), metsulfuron (MSM Turf and other brands) and imazaquin (Image) can be applied all summer. Weed killers like Weed Free Zone can be applied just to the patches of weed (spot treatment) rather than the entire lawn.

If you’re having problems in your garden, be sure to get the proper diagnosis and determine what, if anything, should be done. For help, contact your local LSU AgCenter extension horticulturists at gnogardening@agcenter.lsu.

Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter.


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Garden Tips: 3 new gardening gadgets that really work – Tri

I am willing to try new garden gadgets and products if they sound like they will make some aspect of gardening easier, save time or are a big improvement on what is already available.

They also cannot be outrageously expensive for the value they provide. Here are some new nifty items for gardeners that I heard about recently.

Bigfoot Slippers

These “indoor overshoes” are made of a felt-like blend of quarter-inch thick recycled wool and polyester. They are designed to go over whatever footwear you are wearing when you come inside the house with the purpose of avoiding tracking in mud, dirt or snow.

They are designed to easily slip over your boots or shoes and have a heel flap that can be flipped up to secure them if needed.

The slippers are washable. What I like about Bigfoot Slippers is that they make it easy to come inside for something and then go back out without the tedious task of removing your dirty shoes and putting them back on again. For more information go to:

Root Slayer Shovel

Radius is well known for their ergonomically designed garden tools with its patented O-handle grips on longer garden tools and its trademarked Natural Radius Grip on hand tools.

Its thoughtful tool design has the intent of allowing gardeners to “garden more and hurt less.”

The Root Slayer, a multipurpose shovel, is a new addition to the Radius line of digging tools and has won the Direct Gardening Association’s 2017 Green Thumb Awards for the Most Innovative Garden Tool.

The Root Slayer has the recognizable O-handle and a strong inverted V-shaped carbon steel blade. The blade has a sharp tip and saw-tooth edges specifically designed for digging and cutting through tough or woody plant roots.

Radius notes that with this shovel you will not need a hatchet, pry-bar or saw for cutting through roots. It is certified to be 150 percent stronger than similar shovels on the market and it comes with a lifetime guarantee. You can find it on for about $50.

Roundup Precision Gel

Gardeners have been using Roundup and other glyphosate containing products for years to kill weeds. Using glyphosate is perilous because it can kill any plant.

Because it is often tricky to apply glyphosate as a spray to offending weeds without risk of getting it on nearby garden plants, various application methods and equipment have been devised, including foams, paintbrushes and wiping devices.

Last year I found Roundup Ready-to-Use in a trigger spray bottle that allows you to spray a stream or a foam of the glyphosate on weeds. I like using the foam because it is less likely to drift and it is easier to see where I have already treated.

New this year is Roundup Precision Gel. This lets you apply glyphosate in gel form via a container that works just like a gel deodorant applicator.

To apply, you just touch weed leaves with the gel. The gel application permits more precision and should be useful in keeping desirable plants safe in difficult situations.

At a cost of $15 per 5 ounce container, it is a bit pricey, but it may be worth it if you can avoid accidental damage to ornamental plants. It is for sale at many local nurseries, garden centers and hardware stores.

When I hear about more new products, I will share them with you too.

Marianne C. Ophardt is a retired horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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This Week in the Garden: How to win the war of the roses

Fungal infection to your roses presents as black spots on the leaves. (Sharon Hull -- Contributed)

Fungal infection to your roses presents as black spots on the leaves. (Sharon Hull — Contributed)

Roses have been especially spectacular this spring. All over our area, rose plants have produced a giant showy mass of blossoms, at least in part because of our abundant winter rains. But alas, along with the abundant flowery growth has come a rampant scourge of the dreaded fungal disease Black Spot. If you look more closely at many of those gloriously flowering shrubs and vines, you’ll notice signs that the foliage has problems. Small black areas appear on some leaves, then as the fungus spreads, more and more leaves become diseased, eventually turning yellow and dropping from the plants. If left untreated, the disease can eventually completely defoliate the plants, making them not only unsightly, but also weakened, since the leaves are the energy-producing engines for the plants. Most active in damp humid weather, this disease thrives in our mild summers when daytime temps tend to be in that range. The spores can germinate, proliferate and become visible in three to ten days. The cycle is repeated about every three weeks throughout the summer. It can spread to all susceptible plants in a garden unless the gardener takes steps to control it.

What is an organic gardener to do? We do have some options that are environmentally sound.

First in my arsenal is the organic control called Serenade which has proven quite effective for me in past years. This biological treatment contains a unique, patented strain of Bacillus subtilis which attacks many fungal diseases without harming the plant itself, or endangering other organisms including the gardener. (Remember this product if you have had problems with tomato blight in past seasons. It can be used right up to day of harvest, though it is most effective if application begins well before a fungal disease becomes entrenched.) Serenade is available in local garden centers. You will find more information here:

There are a number of other commercially-made organic fungicides as well. For example, the well-known Safer brand sells a fungicide containing sulfur. Sulfur was for many years the most widely used treatment for fungal diseases, and is still used by organic farmers today on specific crops. Safer Garden Fungicide is said to control powdery mildew, black spot and rust on roses, as well as fungal diseases on other ornamentals and on vegetables. . This product is approved for use on organic farms by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI.) Many people also report good control using a Neem or horticultural oil spray.

In addition to over-the-counter products, you might choose one of the time-honored homemade methods used for many years by both farmers and gardeners. Baking soda is a common household ingredient, and can be used as a fungus preventative. Combine 1½ teaspoons of baking soda with a teaspoon of vegetable oil and a gallon of water. Spray to combat black spot, rust or powdery mildew every 5 to 10 days until the solution drips off the plants, and spray more frequently in rainy or humid weather. A long list, including recipes, for many other home-brew fungal treatments can be found here:

In addition to treatments, sanitation is important to prevent the spread of fungal and other rose diseases. Remove and bag infected foliage (do not put diseased material in your compost bin!) and keep fallen leaf debris removed from around your plants. Irrigate using drip or soaker hoses so that water doesn’t get on the foliage. Prune to allow light and air circulation into the interior of your plants. And when choosing new rose varieties, select those that have the designation “disease resistant.”

Garden tips are provided courtesy of horticulturist Sharon Hull of the San Lorenzo Garden Center. Contact her at 831 423-0223.

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Garden Guru Reveals Helpful Tips To Fight Weeds

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval carries a lot of weight for people.

Recently, the magazine released a list of 13 homemade weed killers that work.

KDKA-TV’s Rick Dayton went to a local expert and asked him for his thoughts on the list and then asked him to add a few of his own.

“Some gardeners that I talk to actually find weed pulling therapeutic. I am not one of those. I can’t stand pulling weeds,” Tribune-Review Home Garden Editor Doug Oster said.

But, Oster said you don’t have to break your back to keep the weeds away.

“I am more about smothering them using mulches to cover them up, and one of the tricks is having a lot of mulch on hand. So you do your mulching at first and then in two or three weeks, you are going to have a spot that something is going to pop up – just throw some mulch over that,” he said.

Oster likes straw for a variety of reasons.

“It is a great mulch, not only is it a weed preventer, but it also will keep the soil evenly moist which is what all plants like,” he said.

One old fashioned and rather inexpensive tool also does the trick.

“Grandpa’s old half-moon edger — that’s what I use. Just cutting that edge in there, grass can’t jump into the bed. Grass roots won’t grow into air and so you are making an edge just by that and it looks great,” he said.

Other suggestions to kill unwanted garden visitors include, boiling water, salt and vinegar.

“That will kill anything. The thing is when you pour vinegar on some area, yes you are killing the weeds but you can’t grow anything else there. The same is true with salt, especially,” Oster said.

Next suggestion: If you can’t beat them, eat them.

“There’s a bunch of weeds out there that are edible. I make a garlic mustard pesto for people and garlic mustard is an invasive weed you see everywhere and it’s actually edible,” Oster said.

There’s an old saying among gardeners that weeds are just misplaced flowers. For example, a dandelion. A lot of people are using them on salads. It is a little bit bitter, but it really is something that you can eat.

“I know a guy who grows a lot of greens for a lot of the fancy restaurants in Pittsburgh, and 30 percent of the mix is dandelion,” Oster said.

We’ve saved the best for last and Oster swears by it.

“Putting seven to 10 layers of newspaper down over some compost, some good soil, wetting it down to keep it in place and then putting mulch on top of that,” Oster said.

It will last all year and leave nothing behind. It is safe as can be as long as you use the right section of the paper.

“It will just decompose into the soil over the year. The only thing we don’t use are the shiny inserts from Sunday’s paper. That could have some heavy metals in it,” he said.

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Tips to help protect gardens from spring snowstorm

DENVER — Snow is making its way to the Denver metro area, and that could spell trouble for plants and trees.

Experts said now is the time to prepare for the May cold snap. Flowers such as marigolds and petunias will be especially vulnerable under snow.

“Any vegetables or herbs, you definitely want to protect them,” said Ace Hardware lawn and gardening manager David Arabie.

That protection comes with covering plants, according to Arabie.

An old sheet or products from a gardening store will work — anything that will allow the plants to breathe.

But experts say make sure to provide support under a covering to ensure heavy snow will not crush plants. Coverings for some smaller trees are also available at gardening stores.

Coverings available at most garden shops should cost just less than $20.

“If you’re getting a lot of snow and you start seeing the branches bend, get your push broom out there and shake it,” Arabie said.

Adding some insulation around exposed pipes could help with pipe maintenance and sprinkler systems.

Better yet, draining exposed pipes through a bleeder valve is the best option.

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Get Growing: 5 tips for a healthier, more productive garden

Special to the Reading Eagle: Robyn Jasko | After weeding, laying down a bed of paper or cardboard and a covering of straw or mulch, will keep out unwanted invaders.

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Oakleaf hydrangea should be in your garden

▪ Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) are blooming now. Grown in shade to part sun, this shrub has few problems. It features creamy white flowers, large leaves and excellent fall color. It blooms on new growth. There are some new varieties on the market that are worth a look. Oakleaf hydrangeas grow to 6-by-6-feet in time, so give them room to grow. This is a “Todd Terrific” shrub that no shade garden should be without!

▪ Keep buying annuals and perennials for color in the garden.

▪ Use a mulching mower when cutting the lawn. You will use 30 percent less fertilizer when grass clippings are left on the lawn. Thatch problems are not created by grass clippings left on a lawn that is mowed regularly.

▪ It’s time to prune all spring-flowering shrubs and trees, such as azaleas. Remember, do not shear azaleas. Instead, prune the branches individually to keep the plant in shape.

▪ Now is the time to pinch the tips of garden mums to keep them from flowering too early. And, if they already are blooming, just enjoy. As the flowers fade, cut the plants back by half, fertilize, and they will bloom again in the fall.

▪ Plant ornamental grasses for a super landscape look. Plant in a sunny location. Stay away from pampas grass. Instead, use dwarf grasses such as dwarf purple fountain grass or muhly grass.

▪ Remember, when undertaking any landscape project, start with designing and constructing/building the hardscapes first.

▪ More landscape tips and ideas are available weekly at

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