Bloomers come to life, but guard against slimy invaders

Marianne Binetti will be making the following appearances:

• 9 a.m. Saturday, Windmill Gardens in Sumner. “Chocolate in the Garden.” How to add sweet scents, rich color and velvety texture to the landscape. Includes a taste of chocolate.

• 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, “A Cut Above” pruning class at Green River Community College Enumclaw campus. Register by phoning 253-288-3400.

The second week of April celebrates the joys of living in the Pacific Northwest as rhododendrons, azaleas, spring bulbs and flowering shrubs showcase spring color. This is a good week to visit a nursery and pick out some blooming new plants.

Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other spring-blooming bulbs that are bursting forth with spring zest may need protection from the hungry slugs. There are some great pet-safe slug baits available in a pelleted form that use iron to ruin the appetitive needs of all slug and snails. These iron-fortified bits of dried pasta won’t harm birds, pets or kids but turn slugs into anorexic creatures that slink home and curl up to die under a rock. Such a neat and tidy death causes some gardeners to wonder if the bait is working. Product names for these environmentally-friendly slug baits include Sluggo, Worry Free and Escargo.

So what’s the dirt cheap or kitchen cupboard remedy for controlling slugs this spring?

You’ve got the answer in your hands right now. Put this newspaper to work in the garden. (OK, be sure to read it first.) A damp, rolled up newspaper set next to newly emerging bulbs or budded primroses and pansies can lure even tiny slugs into the moist folds of the paper. Check the newspaper lure in the morning and then toss it into your compost or garbage once it becomes a haven for those literate slime balls. Damp newspaper will also trap earwigs, sow bugs and snails, but won’t be as effective as slug bait or handpicking the slugs in an evening raid.

Q. I heard you speak about kitchen cupboard remedies on pest control and I am one of those penny-pinching people that doesn’t want to buy any more lawn and garden product. My first question is, what is the spray kills slugs and second, what is the name of the book with all the homemade garden solutions? M.L., Kirkland

A. First answer: A diluted ammonia and water solution will skin slugs while it fertilizes plants (ammonia converts to nitrogen) but you must use with caution. The high nitrogen content can burn tender seedlings, new plant growth and delicate ferns. Place one-third ammonia (the least expensive brand that you use for all-purpose cleaning, but not lemon scented) into a trigger spray bottle and fill the rest of the bottle up with water. Shake and spray directly onto the tiny, baby slugs that are feeding on your daffodils, hosta growth and pansies. You’ll see these tiny plant suckers fall immediately from your plants when the ammonia spray hits. Second answer: My book “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” has answers to the most-asked gardening questions and kitchen cupboard remedies for everything from aphids to ants.

Q. I have a shrub called Escallonia that blooms with pink blossoms and had shiny green leaves. Most of the foliage on this shrub is black and the whole thing looks dead. Should I dig it up now? W.W., e-mail

A. No – hope springs eternal in the month of April and plants that look dead now could just be winter damaged and will come back from their roots. You can cut back dead and damaged top growth as soon as you see signs of new growth sprouting from the roots or wait until May and then prune your shrub to ground level. Remember that pruning always stimulates growth so if you cut back tender plants like hebe, hardy fuchsias or escallonia this week and we get a late frost next week, you could be risking more death and destruction. Patience with your pruning.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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