One Less Thing to Worry About

Weedy patio

First, for you grammarians: yes, it should be one fewer thing to worry about. If you garden like I do, however, you know that the worries can seem endless. So I deliberately chose to use “less” instead of “fewer ” in my title.

Perhaps you have heard the adage “one year’s seeds, seven years’ weeds?” That is exactly why I chose to spend 5 hours on my hands, knees and behind weeding this patio.

By the time you read this, I should be recuperating from surgery, face down for a week to 10 days. The full recovery is 5 weeks. So not much weeding will be going on after this little marathon. You can see why I chose to get this unpleasant chore done before the surgery.

Weed-free patio

But the result is nice–and much better than what the Spoiler proposed, which was to spray it with some sort of weed killer. Even the organic kinds just turn the weeds brown–they still need to be removed.

And of course, there’s no guarantee that something organic isn’t going to harm wildlife. While I was weeding, there were lots of tiny ants in the stones bothering no one. I wouldn’t want to harm them–or anything else.

Now I have at least one fewer garden worry.

Be Responsible About Plant Saucers and Bird Baths

Plants with attached saucers and a birdbath

As we get into warmer weather, it’s important to remember responsible care if your outdoor containers have saucers.

This advice applies equally to birdbaths (which is why I have a multipurpose photo showing both, above) and to ponds without fish as well.

Any tiny bit of water can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The last thing any of us want to do is to attract those nasty critters to our yards, or to encourage them to breed in any manner.

Ponds and birdbaths can be easily managed with a wildlife friendly product called mosquito dunks (or for smaller areas, mosquito bits). These products are environmentally friendly bacillus thuringensis, so they are safe for birds, fish, pets but they keep mosquito larva from forming.

Generally I try to keep saucers off my plants but this year I do seem to have about a dozen attached saucers on my containers. It isn’t that burdensome to ensure that they are drained after a rain or a watering–not when compared to the consequences.

It will also make these containers easier to clean when I bring them back inside this fall.

Mosquito borne illness is nothing to take lightly. Please make sure that your garden is not contributing to the problem.

Birds are Your Garden Helpers

Lately, almost every time I walk out my porch door, I startle a pair of catbirds. They are usually right next to the door, which is unusual behavior for a pair of birds.

You might think that they have a nest nearby. They don’t. What they are doing is harvesting caterpillars from the mugo pine next to my porch door. I am so grateful.

It used to be that every year I had to treat that pine with insecticidal soap. It was the only insecticide that I used on my property all year round and it bothered me. Whenever the caterpillars (which are actually a type of sawfly larva) would show up each year, I would point to the plant and call out, “hey birds! Fresh meat!” So I am grateful that I can stop yelling before one of my neighbors has me carted off.

Another way that birds are useful is that they eat grubs–because again, what are grubs but caterpillars? Birds need to consume a lot of caterpillars and they need to feed them to their young. I don’t have a problem with any Japanese type beetles because of my organic gardening. The birds know that they can forage all they like on my lawn and in my gardens. In return, I don’t worry about those pesky beetles ravaging my plants.

I generally discuss this concept when I lecture or write about organic gardening or about simplifying the garden. After all, it is easier to let nature help you garden than to think we know so much better.

Finally, birds just make life in the garden more interesting and enjoyable. They sing beautiful songs, nest in our trees and shrubs to raise their young and even occasionally get into turf battles. These feathered companions just make the garden better.

A Memorial Day Kindness

I have tweeted this before but in my car, the cup holders do double duty as plant holders

I generally do a post on Memorial Day about planting tomatoes and remembering my two favorite veterans–my Dad and a neighbor across the street, both of whom served in World War II.

I associate both men with tomatoes because I would grow tomato seedlings for them. I would start different varieties, harden them off and when they were ready pass them on.

As with most men of that era, they are gone now, and this year, (for a change) I am having surgery in 10 days so I didn’t even grow any seedlings for myself. There didn’t seem to be much point because I am literally going to be forced to recover face down for a week to 10 days and the last thing I want to do is impose any additional gardening on my sister, who is kindly coming to help.

Tomatoes for Memorial Day

And yet, here are 2 tomato plants, kindly gifted to me this year! So I was able to plant them for Memorial Day and have my memories.

They also come from a kind Vietnamese gentleman. His congregation shares space at my church. We met up outside, began talking and he offered the plants. I was touched and am grateful to have them.

I have a type of stake called a tomato spiral. I will set that in and ideally they will train themselves up it. It usually works pretty well as long as you get the leader started through.

Then, ideally, just some watering will be needed while I am flat on my face. We shall see.

The Darker Side of Summering Your Plants Outside

Hey! Who’s eating my lemons?

Generally when I talk about bringing house plants outside for the summer, I generally only talk about positive things like increased growth. And that definitely happens.

But it occurred to me that I should mention that there were definitely some other possible situations as well.

Were you digging for buried treasure?

This is generally my most common problem in the garden and occasionally in the house plant containers as well. A critter–usually a chipmunk or squirrel–will dig in the soil and upend a plant. It happens when I plant annuals, perennials, vegetables and when I bring my house plants outside. Usually if I catch the upended plant quickly enough, no harm is done.

Oopsie–did you mistake this for a real tree!

It’s a little tough to see what’s happened here, but this is the top of my fiddle leaf fig, snapped off by something. This sort of thing happens once every couple of years. I suspect that a bird mistakes the plant for something much sturdier and that’s how the plant gets broken. Usually the plant is able to recover. Once it was a gorgeous coleus topiary that I had trained. It was split in 2, so there was no saving that. But this is what nature is about.

And of course, accidents with plants can sometimes be opportunities. We’ll see how this fiddle leaf fig turns out. Stay tuned.

Out of Season Amaryllis

Amaryllis coming up from the basement

A few weeks ago–before I began moving my houseplants outside–I brought my amaryllis out of “dormant storage ” in my basement.

At that point I re-potted all of them. As you can see from this photo, some of the larger bulbs need larger pots and some of the other bulbs can really go into smaller pots.

Amaryllis after re-potting

So this is the finished product–and no, your eyes don’t deceive you. There are fewer pots. The ones with flower buds or spikes are on my sun porch at this point for warmth.

All the amaryllis

Now that we are having “July ” (in other words, summertime warmth), the amaryllis–both the stored bulbs from prior years and this year’s bulbs (with the leaves) are all where I grow them for the summer. I count 6 flower buds or spikes so far. Fun!

And no, we didn’t host a wedding. These are the petals from our dogwood. It’s nature’s wedding showers.

Ants Are Like Weeds–And Us!

About a week or so ago, we had a little bit of rain and some ants came in. It’s been a very dry spring–as our springs have been, sadly.

But instead of being grateful that we had 3/10ths of an inch or rain instead of the predicted 1/10, I was dealing with The Spoiler, who was demanding that I put down traps for the ants! (For the record, as you may already remember, we don’t use traps–we use those nice ant repellent packets).

So this is why I say that ants are like weeds. When they’re outside, they’re fine and nobody much notices them unless they are ruining your picnic, or biting you, or perhaps, if they are carpenter ants, you might notice if they are menacing a tree.

But inside, they are like weeds, which are sometimes defined as a plant in the wrong place–they are an insect in the wrong place. Spiders are much the same–they are a “good” bug out of place and we want them gone!!

But how are they like us? Well, if you know even a little bit about ant biology and social structure you know that ants live in community and have defined roles. Without going so far as to anthropomorphize these small insects, they do have “jobs,” and they do them well. There are the “scout” ants that find their way into your homes to search out food, the “nurse” ants that tend to the eggs and young that hatch from the Queen, and in some types of ants that we thankfully don’t have here in Connecticut, there are even soldier ants that fight other colonies.

What most astounded me about our recent little infestation–which lasted only so long as it took me to move my repellent packets, mostly–was the behavior. I am guessing that it was scout ants that came inside.

Unfortunately, The Spoiler was kicking up such a fuss that we wound up stepping on some of them–more so that I could keep him quiet rather than out of any dislike for the ants. I knew that they would go back to where they came from–I just didn’t want to listen to the whining and ranting after a long day at work.

I did not pick up the little carcasses, however. I figured that could wait for another day. So imagine my shock when I got up the next morning and they were all gone! Not only had the ants vacated the premises but they took their dead with them! This is why I say that ants are so like us–they take their dead away.

Now, again, I am not presuming that they took them for a proper burial. They may have been taking them to feed them to their young. But they dead were gone from my house. It was just astonishing.

So next time you have ants in your home, I ask two things of you. First, please give your repellent or trap(s) time to work. It is NOT instantaneous.

Next, do remember that these little insects do have a social structure–and try to be as gentle with your pest control methods as you can.