Let’s Leave The Ants Be

On Monday I had a photo of muscari, or grape hyacinths. I said that I would talk more about those in a different post. This is that post.

It’s not Pollinator Week yet–that’s June 18-24 this year. But nevertheless, I always try to talk about one of the unheralded pollinators of the garden, the ants, this time of year, because in my part of the world this is when they are making themselves known and so this is when most folks are reaching for sprays, traps–or worse.

Please: if the ants are just harmlessly going about their business somewhere safely away from your home, please just let them be. Ants serve valuable purposes in our ecosystem.

If they are in your house–fine. Do what you must. But before your break out the heavy duty poisons, try discouraging them by washing away their trails with a soapy cloth. It doesn’t always work, but it you get it early enough, it will.

Ants are actually good for your ecosystem. If you have heavy soil, they will help break that up.

But more important, they pollinate. They pollinate lots of early spring wildflowers. Here in the northeast, many of our spring ephemerals like bloodroot, trillium, and others with a special sort of structure called an eliaosome are pollinated this way.

I also find that my muscari are, if not specifically “pollinated” by ants, certainly propagated by them. I have never planted any in my lawn–and yet, my lawn is full of them. At first, I thought chipmunks or squirrels must have done it–and then I realized that it was the ants.

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It’s not a question of the muscari naturalizing–these plants are too far apart and much too widely spaced to have done that. And they are far too random for the seed to have just scattered (although I suppose anything is possible). Rather they appear in small clumps as if they were brought there somehow–which is why I originally blamed the chipmunks.

It’s a nice effect–and since I am the only one in my neighborhood to have it (and the only gardener crazy enough to let the ants be, no doubt), I suspect this is what’s happened.

So with our bees, butterflies, bats and other pollinators in such trouble, why not give your ants a chance? You might be pleasantly surprised.

 

 

Don’t Be Too Quick To Clean Up In Spring

It’s mid-March. Next week is astronomical spring, otherwise known as the vernal equinox. If you’re lucky, you have some signs of spring coming up in your yard or somewhere nearby.

I must encourage you, though, please don’t be too quick to tidy up in the yard. We gardeners are a manic bunch, aren’t we, hating to see even a leaf out of place? What is it we think might happen?

Please leave some of the leaf litter in place until some real warmth takes place and holds awhile.

This would be the same for some plant stems–if you left any in the garden in the fall.

Why am I asking you to leave your garden messy? Simple. There are “things” living in the leaves and the plant stems that need time to emerge and find new homes. If you clean up leaf litter too early,  you might be destroying overwintering butterfly larva, or worse yet, the lovely mourning cloak butterflies that are sunning themselves there.

If you cut down and discard hollow plant stems, you might be discarding all sorts of beneficial bugs, including valuable native bees.

When we talk about all the “good bugs” in the garden, these are the ones that you want. If you’re not seeing them, ask yourself if your clean-up practices might be accidentally contributing to their demise. You surely wouldn’t want that.

On a warm spring day, go outside and take a walk instead. That will help you get over the urge to tidy too soon–and you won’t feel too lazy!

 

Creating the Modern Day Dust Bowl

Remember the photos of my broken clay pots from Friday? Did anyone notice anything odd about the floor tiles on my porch? Here’s another look.

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To the right of the chair, and in the grout, there seems to be this fine layer of grit. See it now?

This chair is 6 feet back from a screen–the same screen where those herbs I showed on Monday are (we will shortly replace it with glass). This fine grit that you see has been “blown in” by the Spoiler, in his attempt to create the next dust bowl in our landscape–all in the name of removing a few leaves next to our door.

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Here’s the basil with that same fine layer of grit. Being so close to the screen, the herbs really get blasted by it.

Long time readers of this blog may remember that I have talked before about the power of home leaf blowers–that hand held leaf blowers emit “wind”–or blow in excess of 150 mph and backpack leaf blowers blow in excess of 250 mph.

I don’t even want to think of what the commercial blowers do–but I know that I have to wash my car–or at least hose it down–every time our lawn service comes through my office parking lot and this time of year they’re coming 2-3 times a week.

All of this “blowing” is excessively wasteful especially if it’s going on more than once a week. Do we need to eat off our lawns–or parking lots? As soon as the lawn guys left our parking lot, there were more leaves coming down. This time of year, it is a never ending process. Let’s let nature take its course a bit, shall we? Particularly if it’s dry so the leaves aren’t slippery.

But the gas, and the noise pollution and the dust and the silt mixed with motor oil that is raised by all this blowing is just horrific. It really needs to stop!

 

Expect the Unexpected

On Friday I talked about what happens when life gets in the way of gardening.  Things like that have happened before: the year the Spoiler broke his ankle and I had gall bladder surgery on the same day (different hospitals) in mid-March there wasn’t a whole lot of gardening that happened that year either.

Then there was the year that my Mom had a stroke and the Spoiler got kidney stones at the same time. You get the idea. Life happens and gardening takes a big back seat to that.

But if you are a type A perfectionist (something that I have had a tendency to be) this sort of thing really trips you up. It’s all well and good to go around with Tee shirts that say “Compost Happens” and “Impatiens is a Virtue” (that last one is one of my all time favorites!) but wearing a shirt and living the mottos are two entirely different things.

So how then do you reconcile your personality with what you might want to naturally want to do in the garden? Trust me, I am an expert on this because I am the original Type A personality.

The first thing you want to do is to educate yourself about the reasons why you might be doing something in the garden. As I said on Friday, is it necessary to get every leaf out of the garden? Absolutely not!

Yes, you have to get the leaves off the lawn. Yes, you have to get diseased leaves off perennials. Beyond that, let the leaves fall into the garden and stay there.

The same thing goes for cutting back. There is really no good reason to cut back anything perennial in the fall. This is especially true if you are a beginning gardener or if you are new to your garden–you have just bought the house or something like that.  Don’t make a mistake by pruning something at the wrong time.  Better to let it get a little unruly by going a whole year unprecedented if need be,  rather than cutting it back at the wrong time and losing all its bloom.

Finally don’t do something just because everyone says that you have to. My “rose pruning ” story is a perfect example of that. More on Friday.

What Garden Clean-up?

This time of year,  I start lecturing on “Putting the Garden to Bed.” There’s only one problem with this: I don’t practice what I talk about,  something that I freely admit in my lectures.

Or, to put it another way, I discuss the two different methods of garden clean up,  the traditional way and the sustainable way. There’s no “correct ” way for everyone–in other words,  what I am calling “sustainable ” won’t work in lots of neighborhoods. I am just fortunate that it works for me and in my neighborhood.

And then of course there is the ” oh, you have cancer and we’re doing the biopsy today” way, which is what happened to me last year. It wasn’t quite that blatant, but that sure as heck is what happened,  and then after the surgery to remove the rest of the cancer, the whole dang thing got infected so there was NO cleanup at all.

And then this spring, sure enough,  more cancerous cells, so again,  no cleanup. You will be surprised at how well the garden survives without you.

So for those who insist that every leaf must be mown, blown or shredded, I assure you that you are completely wrong. Leave the leaves. They make a wonderful mulch.

More on Monday.

 

 

It’s All About the Grass

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I knew we could make this an “All Spoiler week” if we tried.

Last week–just exactly a week ago–we had a soil scientist from the lawn care company that mistakenly trespassed on our property, poisoned my  vegetable garden and “treated” some of my perennial and shrubs with broad leaf weed killer come out, allegedly  to take “soil samples and tissue cultures” from the affected plants and areas.

Perhaps they got nervous when I started saying words to them like “trespass” and “irreplaceable” plants. Nevertheless, I permitted them to come.

When I told the Spoiler they were coming, he said, “Oh good. There are some brown areas in the grass I want them to look at too.”

“Some brown areas in the grass.” Long time readers of this blog know that we don’t irrigate our lawn. It was August 25 when they came–a very dry August, I might add.

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Nevertheless, it is undeniable that they did spray a lot of this broad-leaf weed killer all over the lawn. So I simply said, “that’s fine, honey. You just be here so you can show them where.”

I have to keep the Spoiler happy, after all.

Organic Gardening Catastrophe

I arrived home from work on a Tuesday afternoon about a week or so ago, stepped from my car and smelled the unmistakable smell of chemicals.

Sure enough, I looked down and there were white pellets all over my driveway (which is an unforgivable sin in my book anyway–pesticide applicators should know better than to leave that crap on hard surfaces, especially in close proximity to water bodies–but this is only the beginning of the horrors!)

I looked at my house, and sure enough, there was the hang tag indicating that my property had been treated with pesticides.

As all of you know, I am a long-time organic gardener. My property has been organic for 23 years. It is certified as a backyard habitat by both the state and the National Wildlife Federation. I don’t “do” pesticides, even of the organic type, except under extreme circumstances (pine sawfly larva is about the only thing I can think of that I spray for, and that’s about once a year with insecticidal soap!)

So I immediately went in and called the offending company, which is at least a regional company (and not the large one you are thinking of–for once TruGreen is off the hook. This one is based in New Hampshire). They had the local supervisor call me.

I was less cordial with him than I had been with the regional customer service rep (because after all, the person in New Hampshire bore no responsibility for this whatsoever). But the local person? He ought to know what his workers are doing!

So I simply explained that I was at a loss to understand how the worker could mistake my house for my neighbor’s. Here were some of the reasons why:

  • I have a dog, who probably barked at him; she doesn’t.
  • I have a larger lot, with 2 groves of trees on it; she doesn’t
  • I have lots of ornamental gardens, including a vegetable garden and pond; she doesn’t
  • She has a patio, a deck and a gazebo; I don’t
  • Further, my property is marked in 4 separate places with my house number

Clearly the worker hadn’t had enough caffeine–or had too much of some other banned substance–that morning.

But the damage is done. My yard is poisoned, I can’t walk my dog in my own yard, and I don’t dare eat my vegetables for fear that they have been contaminated.

And the Spoiler’s reaction when I told him about all this? He was worried about his grass, which is not supposed to be fertilized at all, least of all with a pellet fertilizer. So now he’s worried that that will die!

The best part of all? There was no yellow “This Property Has been Treated” sign placed on our property which is a violation of Federal law. Mind you, I don’t want to advertise that this horrid mistake has been made. But I want, at least, to alert other dog walkers like me to keep their pets away!