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Timely gardening tips for spring – Columbia-Greene Media: Weekly …

Posted: Saturday, April 22, 2017 12:15 am

Timely gardening tips for spring

By Bob Beyfuss
For Columbia-Greene Media

As the snow fades away and the landscape begins to turn green, we are suddenly overwhelmed at all the gardening chores that need to be accomplished.

It seems like we go from winter to summer without enough time to enjoy the spring each year — at least, it has seemed that way the past five years or so.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017 12:15 am.

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14 tips for sustainable gardening

With the climate crisis looming, the good news is there are simple steps you can take in your own backyard and garden that can reduce carbon emissions, and even capture carbon, while also nourishing your soil, conserving water, and fostering a healthy eco-system that attracts and protects all kinds of native species. As Wendell Berry wrote, “to cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival.”

  1. Jody Donaldson of La Vida Buena Nursery in Sebastopol says, “The number one thing people can do for their gardens is add two inches of organic compost to their beds every year. This acts as an amendment and mulch at the same time, feeding the plants, conserving water, and preserving the soil’s nutrients. This also helps pull carbon out of the air and gets it back into the soil. “
  2. Andrea David-Cetina of Sonoma’s Quarter Acre Farm suggested, “Plant vegetables together that have similar irrigation needs, and mulch your garden to conserve water and reduce weeds. For mulch you can use straw, wood chips, or dried leaves. To reduce water evaporation only water in the early morning or late evening. And don’t use herbicides or pesticides.”
  3. Replace pesticides and herbicides with safe, non-toxic alternatives, such as neem, safer soap, organic sluggo, and white vinegar.
  4. Choose native, drought tolerant plants. This is as effective for water conservation as creating an arid, dry landscape of gravel, and protects the topsoil. Plant native flowers and herbs, and bee-friendly plants.
  5. Mulch your garden to conserve water and reduce weeds—you can do this inexpensively with straw or dried leaves from your trees.
  6. Ditch the gas-powered lawn equipment, which the Air Resources Board reports will be responsible for more carbon emissions than cars by 2020. Replace with rakes, brooms, and hand tools, and battery-powered equipment when needed.
  7. Plant seeds from sources you can trust to be free of neonicotinoid pesticides, which are used in large-scale commercial nurseries but are toxic to bees.
  8. Rachel Kohn Obut, manager of Flatbed Farm in Glen Ellen, suggests sheet mulching as a great way to convert a lawn to a productive garden. Cover your water-thirsty grass with a layer of cardboard, a layer of compost, and a layer of mulch. Plant low-water flowering native perennials (such as ceanothus, manzanita, or redbud) or flowering perennials from Mediterranean climates (such as lavender and salvias). Or plant food-producing plants.
  9. Growing your own food, while requiring medium watering – preferably with an irrigation drip irrigation system — has many health benefits, and avoids the carbon footprint of buying produce shipped from far away.
  10. Even a small yard can accommodate a compost bin, and there are countless ways to create one, easily found online. Balance wet and dry ingredients, and turn it regularly.
  11. Beware of shredding your leaves for mulch as many moths and butterflies build cocoons under leaves. Consider simply raking leaves gently under your trees and bushes to decompose, nourishing the plants, while harboring beneficial insects, moths, and bees as well as native lizards and frogs.
  12. Bare soil releases carbon into the atmosphere – use a cover crop in winter such as peas, beans, and other legumes, which can then be tilled into the soil in spring to supply its nitrogen needs, reducing or eliminating the need for synthetic fertilizers.
  13. Plant trees, which sequester large quantities of carbon dioxide for long periods of time, and cool nearby buildings in summer.
  14. If you have a lawn, choose native grasses, which usually require less water, and set your mower blade to three inches or higher to encourage deeper, less thirsty roots. Leave grass clippings on the lawn to increase carbon storage. Mulching mowers are ideal for this as they create fine clippings.

Photo: A home compost pile is easy to maintain, and a great way to recycle fruit and vegetable scraps – but don’t include citrus peel or onions.

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Timely gardening tips for spring

Posted: Saturday, April 22, 2017 12:15 am

Timely gardening tips for spring

By Bob Beyfuss
For Columbia-Greene Media

As the snow fades away and the landscape begins to turn green, we are suddenly overwhelmed at all the gardening chores that need to be accomplished.

It seems like we go from winter to summer without enough time to enjoy the spring each year — at least, it has seemed that way the past five years or so.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017 12:15 am.

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This week’s gardening tips: plant warm-season grasses and remove faded, dead flowers

This week’s gardening tips: It’s important to pull up cool-season annual weeds, such as henbit, bedstraw and chickweed. These weeds are setting thousands of seeds now that will plague you next winter if not removed now.

Continue to deadhead or remove faded, dead flowers from cool-season bedding plants, such as foxglove, columbine, snapdragon and dianthus. Not only does this practice keep the plants looking neat, it also tends to promote extended flowering.

Plant summer-blooming bulbs, such as crocosmia, gingers, lilies, canna, pineapple lily (Eucomis), elephant ears, crinum, agapanthus and others.

This is the prime planting season for warm-season grasses, such as St. Augustine, centipede, Bermuda and zoysia. With the exception of common Bermuda, solid sodding is the preferred method of establishing a lawn. Although more expensive and labor intensive at the beginning, solid sodding more than makes up for it in advantages.

Tomatoes are staked to keep the plants from sprawling on the ground where the fruit would be more likely to rot. Wait for the first cluster of flowers to appear, and place the stake on the opposite side of the plant’s stem. All of the flower clusters will grow from the same side of the stem, and this will keep developing fruit from getting caught between the stake and the stem.

Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter.

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Gardening column: Rid your property of mole runs with these tips

Q: There are so many mole runs in the yard this year. What can we do to get rid of them without using chemicals or killing them?

A: Following are a few ideas of how to rid your property of them safely — maybe not always successfully, but safely. Also, I’ve included the last resort suggestion at the end:

• Moles are active day and night throughout the year, but once the soil thaws in spring they become more active near the earth’s surface which explains all those runs you and a lot of us are seeing in our lawns and gardens.

• Most of their activity is in the early morning during the spring when the soil is soft and damp from the dew or after rain showers. But don’t be fooled, they may also be at work day or night according to how busy your property is with children, you in your garden, pets roaming around in the morning hours.

• When hot dry summer weather arrives, they go to burrows that they’ve made that are deeper (and cooler) in the ground.

• Their nests are four to 16 inches below ground, and will probably be in protected areas under such things as trees, stumps, large rocks, even fence rows.

• Nests can be identified as slight enlargements of the tunnel and these are padded and made comfortable with grass and leaves. They forage for food from the nest areas which explains some of the winding, crisscrossing runs you are finding on your property.

• Since their nests are in protected areas, trapping them along those borders is often successful.

• If you decide to use mole traps it will require patience since you will be working by feel so be careful to follow the directions to the letter and success just might be yours.

• Many folks use grub bait on the lawn thinking that if we eliminate grubs from our lawns and gardens the moles will go elsewhere. Grubs as it turns out is only a small portion of what moles eat. They also like earthworms and other animals that live in the soil.

• Since you indicated you didn’t want to use the harsh methods such as spearing the little guys there is another non-toxic method that might work for you.

• With your shovel, locate the nest if you can, then shove the blade of the shovel into the run blocking the moles ability to get back into the nest after foraging.

• Some mole hunters get so good at this, they are able with another shovel to see movement of him trying to get back in and scoop the little guy right out of the ground.

• Some folks have dogs and cats that help eliminate moles. They see the movement and smell their musk and dig them right out of the ground. If you find you have such a dog, let him or her run the area and see how it goes.

• Maybe the best way to eliminate them if you have a lot of mole activity every year would be to locate and block the soil with fencing planted deeply along those fence rows and other areas so they can’t build their nests.

• There are of course toxic chemicals on the market. Also methods of all sorts that some homeowners have tried that were mainly unsuccessful but many of which were harmful and dangerous for an untrained person to use.

• Rather than try any of those suggestions from a friend or neighbor, I would recommend hiring a professional and letting them handle it safely.

Jane Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to She also answers gardening questions with horticulture educator Ricky Kemery noon-1 p.m. the second and fourth Thursday of each month on “The Plant Medic,” a radio show on 95.7fm. This column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of The News-Sentinel.

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Tips to ensure your pruning job has a rosy outcome

It’s spring and that means it’s time to prune your roses. Some people say the best time to prune is when the forsythia blooms, but you can really prune anytime in March or April. Pruning properly takes some practice. So, you may ask, why do we do it?

First, when we make a cut on a rose cane, we are waking up the rose and telling it it’s time to grow. We also prune because we can shape the bush the way we want it, in terms of both height and width. If we did not prune for several years, our roses would be gangly, cluttered and not have very many blooms. Pruning is not easy; it takes experience to be good at it. Some say pruning is an art, some say it is a scientific process. Whatever it is, it is a job that should not be put off.

Here are a few tips to make the job of pruning easier. First, cut out dead wood. Next separate canes that are rubbing against one another. This prevents disease. Next prune all large canes, leaving only three or four and taking the rest out.

Now is the time to decide what size you want your rose bush to be. If your goal is to enter rose shows, cut the canes down to 12 inches. This will make the bush produce fewer roses, but extra-large ones. For garden roses, you can prune the bush higher, 2 to 3 feet from the ground, and this will produce many smaller roses.

Last but not least, make the cut above an outward facing bud, so that the rose will open up and grow with a good shape.

When learning to prune, many are afraid to make a mistake. Just remember it doesn’t have

to be perfect. Rest assured, you will make mistakes at first. However, it doesn’t matter as roses are very tough. They have lasted a long time, thousands of years to be exact. Each rose will thank you for the job you did. They can breathe more easily and feel free to reach for the sun.

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Gardening Tips: Early spring is the time for dormant pruning

One of the most frequently asked questions at the garden centre is how or when to prune a particular tree or shrub. Pruning done at the wrong time or in the wrong way can really damage a plant. There are some general guidelines to follow to be successful as well as some very specific tips for certain trees and shrubs.

Right now is the time to do dormant pruning. Removing some of last year’s growth before new growth begins encourages health, bushy shrubs. The general rule of thumb is to remove 1/3 to 1/2 of the previous season’s growth. For example: if your Spirea shrub grew 12″ in height and width last year, use pruning shears to remove four to six inches from the top and sides of the shrub. Try to follow the natural shape of the shrub tapering slightly out towards the base. By angling your shears down and out, the base will be slightly wider than the sides. Sun will hit all the foliage, resulting in a nice full bush. If you angle your shears inwards when pruning, the base will be narrower than the top and sunlight will not reach bottom branches. Leaves may die out and resulting in a shrub with a bare bottom!

Most summer and fall blooming shrubs benefit from dormant pruning. Those to avoid are early spring bloomers such as azalea, rhododendron, serviceberry and forsythia. They should be pruned a little later in the spring, once flowering is finished.

Lilacs are NEVER pruned in the spring. They set flower buds on the ends of their branches immediately after blooming. These are the full, plump buds at the ends of the stems. If you prune in spring or fall, you are removing the potential for flowers! Their ideal pruning time is immediately after blooming.

Shrubs that are grown mainly for interesting foliage rather than flowers can be pruned in the spring when dormant, e.g. Dwarf Burningbush, Dappled Willow, dogwood, Golden and Diablo Ninebarks. Deciduous hedges are shaped in the spring as well: Peashrub, Alpine Currant, honeysuckle and privet. Be sure to prune hedges a bit wider towards the base as mentioned above. This pruning method ensures a nice full hedge right to ground level.

When pruning deciduous trees, look carefully at the structure before you begin. First remove any dead and broken branches, those touching buildings and lower branches that are a hazard when walking next to the tree. Next look for branches that tangle or cross. One branch rubbing on another will result in bark damage that allows insects and disease spore to enter the tree. Decide which of the two branches is in the better position for good growth and remove the other. Also remove suckers that grow from the base of a tree and waterspouts that grow straight up from a side branch. They will eventually cause a tangled mess. Avoid pruning the leader of a tree. You will end up with a cluster of weak branches competing for dominance at the top of your tree.

Caution: avoid getting close to any overhead lines. If you see a problem branch in a tree near wires, call the appropriate company to deal with the situation!

Never prune maples in the spring! Sap is running and they will bleed excessively when cut. Maples should be pruned after the leaves have fully formed.

Some evergreens can be pruned lightly now to correct shape. Cedar, yew, juniper, boxwood, euonymus and hemlock fall into this category. Their main pruning time is early June, once spring growth is complete.

Pines are pruned once the new growth has finished extending upwards, at what’s called the ‘candle’ stage. Cut 1/3 to 1/2 the candle length. Mugho pines are an exception to this rule. Two-thirds of the candle growth should be removed so they stay tight and well shaped.

Spruce are pruned after the new growth has finished, in early June. This encourages more bud development for next year, resulting in a full, bushy plant.

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More power to pink

Think pink and you think of girlie girls and Barbies and if you are a Dilliwala, the women’s coach in the Metro. But pink is no longer just the quintessential girlie hue. As beauty blogger and freelance writer Caitlin Agnew reports, there’s a new generation that is bent on adding its own spin to the shade, taking it away from the image of being a tweensy tint.

It’s the new look-at-me colour for fashionistas, as ‘pinkissimo’ is the latest hair colour that’s trending. Now it’s found a home in your home, and not just by way of your li’l girl’s room.

Kiss from a rose

Homes are looking a lot rosier than ever before. From gold rose to crisp rose, it’s the shade that’s caught everyone’s fancy in interiors. Carpets, ceilings, furniture are all getting a surge of pink power. Trend forecaster interior designer Sasha Bikoff, predicts 2017 will be about pink interiors. Interior expert Manjeet Bhullar says, “Pink is having a huge moment. We will witness it being used a lot in living rooms for vibrancy.”

Here’s why? Pink hues add a serene and sophisticated glow to any home interior. From pink rugs to daring pink pops by way of thingamajigs adds a vibrant mood to the home. Design expert Karim Rashid, who loves working with pink, says, “There’s nothing more new-age than pink interiors right now. It is energetic and engaging. There’s a shade of pink for every mood, every person. It’s an optimistic colour.”

Think pink

The colour is finding favour with a diverse set. From fashion shows where catwalk carpeting has turned pink to lifestyle products like Raden luggages and Le Creuset Dutch ovens. Even in the restaurant world, Toronto’s Oretta and Piano Piano both boast selfie-ready pink walls. The 2017 edition of the famous lifestyle, decoration and design trade fair Maison et Objet predicted pink as the hot colour. It reported: “Pink is the perfect colour to sweeten all those dark and muted colours which are a trend at present, like blues, greens, greys.”

Interior design expert Janice Lindsay and author of All About Colour, claims that we are having a pink moment in interiors. She says, “The world is really opening up to colour and its power to make the ordinary special. Pink also brings in an emotional and spiritual connect to your homes. It’s healing.”

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Grow it yourself: Seed sowing tips from our gardening guru

I’VE BEEN ASKED a lot about my approach to sowing seeds and it seems an opportune time to write about that. Though some seeds are best started off in pots (tomatoes, aubergines, celery), the majority of my seed sowing is done in module trays.

A module tray is a tray with individual compartments or modules in it. A decent sized tray will measure 335 x 515mm and have between 80 and 150 modules in them. They are made from tough plastic so they can be used again and again.

The beauty of a module tray is that the roots of seedlings are kept apart which means you don’t upset them when you are transplanting them.

Working the compost

Before you fill the tray with compost, it’s important to work with the compost a little first.

Break up any larger clumps – this is important because smaller seeds might fall down through the cracks and fail to germinate because they’re too deep in the compost. I start by completely overfilling the tray with compost and working it in to the modules with my hands.

Banging the tray against the bench a few times will help the compost to settle down in to the container. Overfill it again.

Then, I use a flat stick or piece of timber to “slice” the excess compost off the top of the tray, leaving a flat, clean surface on the module tray.

Seed sowing

Source: Shutterstock/jananya sriphairot

Before sowing the seeds I make a “divot” in each module with my fingers. This is the little recess in the compost into which you will drop the seed.

I usually use two fingers from each hand to do four modules at a time to speed things up. How deep you make the divot depends on how deep the seeds need to be.

A good rule of thumb is that you sow the seed roughly twice as deep as the seed’s size. So, a tiny lettuce seed is almost on top of the surface, while a larger seed like a squash or pumpkin would be much deeper.

Depending on the size of the seed, you can either pick one up and drop it into the divot; or use a plant label to move it off the palm of your hand and let it fall into the divot.

With most vegetables, you will be sowing one seed per module but with others (for example oriental greens) you might be sowing 3-4 seeds per module. It’s really important to label the tray. I use white plastic labels and a pencil so they can be washed off and reused.

I always write the name of the veg, the variety and the date it was sown on the label, so for example “Beetroot, Detroit Globe, 17/04/17”). That way if germination is slow you can check how long it was since it was sown.

To cover the seeds, I then overfill the tray with compost again and slice the excess off with my trusty stick to leave a flat surface again. I then bring the trays outside and water them on the ground outside the potting shed. I use a fine mist setting on the hose, but a fine rose on a watering can is just as good.

Check out the videos in the Get Growing section of to see the seed sowing in action.

The Basics – Top Tips for Seed Sowing

If you are still not having success with your seed sowing, keep an eye out for the following:

  • Planting Depth – you could have sowed your seeds too deep or too shallow. Check the seed packet and try again.
  • Old seed – seeds that are past their “sow before’ date will often struggle to germinate. It’s a good idea to discard old seed or at least do a germination test before sowing big quantities. Make sure you are buying good quality seed.
  • Temperature and water – different vegetables have different requirements in terms of their preferred temperature and the amount of water they get.
  • Mould – a formation of mould on the surface of the soil is often a problem when the temperature is cold and the trays have been overwatered. Poor ventilation can compound the problem. Placing a fan in the area will keep air circulating.

Recipe of the Week – Spinach Soup with Wild Garlic Toasts

Source: Shutterstock/Malyugin

A bowl of soup and a crusty bread roll get a glamorous makeover with this vibrant dish from Adam Gray. Wild garlic is easily foraged. It has long green leaves and a distinctive garlicky smell, and as in this recipe, it can be cooked or used raw in salads or as a garnish.


Spinach soup

  • 50g of butter
  • 250g of shallots, finely sliced
  • 200g of potatoes, finely sliced
  • 1.75kg spinach leaves
  • 50g of wild garlic leaves
  • 1.75l vegetable stock
  • salt
  • pepper

Wild garlic cheese toasts

  • 200g of cream cheese
  • 15g of wild garlic leaves, raw and finely chopped
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 8 bread rolls (or blaas)
  • olive oil


For the spinach soup, melt the butter in a heavy-based pan. Add the shallots and potatoes. Sweat with no colour until the vegetables start to soften.

In another pan, bring the vegetable stock to the boil and remove from the heat. Add the picked, pre-washed spinach and wild garlic leaves. Sweat for a further minute only and remove from the heat.

Add the boiling stock and blend until smooth immediately to retain the fresh, green colour. Pass through a fine sieve into a bowl over ice. This is done to cool the soup quickly to stop browning. Season to taste with salt and pepper

For the wild garlic cheese toasts, divide the egg yolk in half, discarding one half. Mix all the ingredients together except the bread rolls and olive oil, seasoning with the salt and pepper to taste. Slice the top and bottom off the rolls and then cut in half.

Spread 2-3mm of the cheese mixture on one side of one half of the roll. Place the other half on top, making a sandwich. Repeat with the rest of the rolls. Place in the fridge for 10-15 minutes to set.

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a frying pan and fry the rolls on both sides until golden brown. Serve the spinach soup with the wild garlic cheese toasts on the side.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. 

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.


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This week’s gardening tips: remove faded flowers, fertilize perennials and plant basil

Remove faded flowers and developing seed pods from spring-flowering bulbs that are to be kept for bloom next year. Do not remove any of the green foliage. Wait until the foliage turns mostly yellow before you cut it back. Bulbs that reliably rebloom here can be left in the ground. Bulbs that rebloom well in our area include leucojum, many narcissuses and daffodils, Dutch iris, amaryllis, ground orchid (Bletilla), Easter lily, wood hyacinth, freesia, star flower (Ipheion), hyacinths (will rebloom, but the spikes are much smaller), Louisiana irises, spider lilies (Hymenocallis) and calla lily (only Zantedeschia aethiopica). Many other bulbs, such as tulips, crocus, anemones, scilla and muscari, will rarely repeat bloom or will produce inferior flowers next year, and should be discarded when they finish blooming.

Established perennials should be fertilized this month if you have not already done so. Use a granular general purpose fertilizer or organic fertilizer scattered evenly through the bed following package directions. After the fertilizer is applied, water the bed by hand to wash any fertilizer granules off the foliage and down to the soil.

Plant basil plants now and enjoy a wonderful seasoning for summer cooking. Many herbs already in your garden, such as thyme, sage, oregano, mint, dill, cilantro and parsley, are at their most productive over the next two months and will play out as the weather gets hotter. Harvest freely and dry or freeze the extras.

Keep ornamental vines under control with regular pruning and training or they will quickly get out of hand. If a vine is grown for its flowers, heaviest pruning should be done after its main blooming period.

Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter.

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