COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Common garden questions get common sense answers

The end of 2011 means it is time to answer the most often-asked questions of the year – those e-mails and letters I get over and over. I just wish I could give better answers to these perennial challenges when it comes to gardening in western Washington. If you have better solutions for these common problems, send me an e-mail and I’ll share your garden wisdom:

Q. What can I do about all the rain? My bedding plants and seedlings are rotting in the ground. (Asked often during the spring of 2011)

A. Plant more ferns? Or wait until mid-summer to add heat-loving plants like marigolds, tomatoes and peppers to the garden. Growing in raised beds or containers and using a lightweight potting soil that drains quickly are other ways to prevent plants from rotting in the wet soil.

Q. Slugs eat all the flowers in my garden and all the vegetables as well. I have kids and pets and do not want to use slug bait. Please help!

A. You can blame it on the rain, of course, because our damp climate encourages outbreaks of the imported European brown and black slugs. (The large yellow banana slug is a true native – the rest are stowaways.) You can use slug bait safely if you choose one that uses pet-safe iron rather than traditional poison in the pellets. Look for slug baits called “Worry Free,” “Sluggo” and “Escargo” and you’ll be impressed by the results. You won’t find any slimy mess after you bait with one of these – the iron makes the slugs lose their appetite so they climb under a rock and starve to death. You can also collect slugs after a rain storm, spray tiny slugs with a mix of one-third ammonia and two-thirds water and use ducks or geese to gobble your slugs. Another slug strategy is to make one raised bed or container garden the slug-free zone and then use slug-resistant plants in the rest of the landscape.

Q. We have lots of deer that insist on eating my roses. Do any deer repellent sprays really work?

A. Nothing works as well as a deer fence, but many deer repellents will work for at least a few weeks in our wet weather. The trick is to keep spraying the new growth, and reapply after a serious rainfall. You may want to fence only the rose garden and just grow deer-resistant plants in the rest the landscape. Plants that have prickly, furry or gray foliage are not preferred by deer, but deer are browsers and will taste anything. Some dogs do a good job of keeping deer away, but it is a combination of sprays, noise, dogs and a good fence that works best.

Q. Moss and lichen grow on top of my soil and in my lawn. What can I do?

A. Learn to love the moss monster or start using a hoe, a rake or a hand trowel to turn the moss and lichens under into the topsoil. You might also want to consider covering your soil with a mulch of wood chips or bark to help it dry out. Now find some comfort in the fact that moss is not hurting your other plants. It is simply an opportunist growing wherever there is cool dampness.

Q. Moles are ruining my lawn! Their runways have made dips and bumps and sinking parts all over the yard. What is the answer?

A. Moles and voles are ruining my lawn as well. Trapping is the only real solution and you can go online and try some newly-designed mole and mouse traps or buy a scissor-type mole trap from a nursery or home center store. It is not illegal to sell, buy or own mole traps. You could also adopt a kitten with a family background in mole murder. Most cats prefer cat food to hunting moles and voles but the offspring of good hunters have had amazing success at removing moles and mice in many gardens.

Using chewing gum, human hair and other tricks will not keep moles from your lawn if earthworms and grubs are under your grass. Moles eat insects but field mice and voles use old mole runways to nibble at your bulbs and plant roots. If you do trap a mole, bury it back into its runway to discourage any other rodents from using the tunnel. Just make sure that mole is dead before you bury it.


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