Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Lawn Soil Made Better

Perry from Rexford asks:
I have a question about how to improve the soil in my lawn. I moved into a new house that has sandy soil. I have been putting mulch, peat moss and compost into my garden soil, but, short of stripping off the grass, how do I improve the soil in my lawn?

A: You can improve the soil of your lawn in a number of ways. First, get a soil test done to check for a pH level that is between 6.0 and 7.0. In most cases, lawn soil here in the Northeast needs applications of lime. Next, always leave the grass clippings on the lawn because clippings are a good source of nitrogen, moisture and organic matter. Let the grass grow three inches tall. Tall grass promotes the growth of deeper roots which helps keep the soil better aerated. You can also top dress the lawn with a 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick layer of sifted compost, peat moss or dehydrated manure. Use organic fertilizer instead of chemical because organic fertilizer helps promote the growth of beneficial organisms in the soil. All of this may take a year or two before you get the improvements you want, but the work and the wait is worth it.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Endless Summer Hydrangea

Many listeners are complaining that their Endless Summer hydrangea shrubs are not blooming. These are the shrubs that bloom more reliably in the north. I just spoke with Peggy Anne Montgomery, horticulturist for Bailey Nurseries in St. Paul, the company that introduced Endless Summer. Here are some of her tips:

Keep the shrubs watered for the first couple years while they get established;

Do not add any fertilizer to the new shrubs. Fertilizer will promote leaf formation at the expense of blooms;

Dump a bushel basket of leaves over the shrubs in October for winter protection for the first couple years;

Be patient, hydrangea take a couple years to get established.

Also, people want to know if they can change the color of the bloom from blue to pink by adding chemicals.

Peggy's advice is don't fight with Mother Nature. It doesn't work. But if you really must, read the instructions on the packaging carefully. Best advice. Leave the shrub alone!

For more on these wonderful shrubs, check out the Web site http://endlesssummerblooms.com/en/home

Friday, August 24, 2007

Free Book with Garden Consultation

Anyone who books me for a garden consultation this fall will receive a complimentary copy of my book Beautiful Easy Flower Gardens. A consultation consists of me coming to your home, walking the grounds with you, looking at the landscape, giving you specific ideas of how you can solve your landscape problems and then suggestions of trees, shrubs, flowers and herbs you can plant so you, too, can have a beautiful easy garden. If you are interested in a consultation (fee is $150) contact me a lsombke@beautifuleasygardens.com.
Hope to hear from you!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Mole Max and Deer Stopper

MoleMax is an effective organic product that I have used to control moles and chipmunks in my garden. It is an easy-to-apply granular product that is derived from castor bean oil. Castor bean oil has long been cited as a deterrent to moles, but this is the first time I have seen an easy-to-use product in my local lawn and garden center. Package says it is effective against moles, gophers, voles, armadillos, skunks, rabbits, ground squirrels and other burrowing animals. For more information see the Web site: http://www.bonideproducts.com/products/molemax.htm

Deer Stopper is an organic product that I am using to deter deer. It is derived from putrescent whole egg solids mixed with rosemary and mint oil to improve the fragrance. So far it is working for me. For more information visit the Web site: http://www.messinawildlife.com/

If you try these products, drop me an email and let me know how it is going.

White Vinegar, Poison Ivy and Weeds

White vinegar straight from the bottle is an effective way to kill weeds. Simply fill a spray bottle with white vinegar right off the supermarket shelf and spray it on the offending weed. Be sure not to spray plants you want to live because vinegar will kill them, too. This is particularly effective with weeds growing in your brick sidewalk. Most of the prepared organic weed killers have white vinegar in them mixed with a citrus scent. All are effective.
To kill poison ivy, mix a gallon of white vinegar with a pound of table salt and three tablespoons of liquid dish soap. Spray that on the poison ivy. You may have to spray more than once because poison ivy is tough stuff.
If you try these remedies, send me an email and let me know how it goes.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

New Side Garden at My Home

My wife and I have been planning to replant a five by 20 foot half-day sun garden on the side our house all summer long. This garden has had plants in it sinced we moved here five years ago, but it was mostly a holding garden, meaning we plopped things in there until we could figure out what to do with them. This area is along the walkway people take to get to the back of our house and it is really an area that needed a solution.
Step number one was to hop in the Windstar and head to the wholesale perennial grower we like to go to in Columbia County. (We buy from Behn's in Old Chatham and you can ask your local garden center or landscaper to order your plants from him, too, if you want the same selection and quality we get)
We found some neat plants at Behn's including: Aster laterifolorus 'Lady in Black' a dark-leaved aster with red flowers; Hemerocallis 'Stella d"Oro, a short day lily with bright yellow flowers; Malva alcea fastigiata, a somewhat invasive plant but one that reminds my wife of her mother's garden; Sedum spectabile 'Frosty Morn', one can never have too many sedums.
Then I was in charge of digging up all the other daylilies that were in the bed along with the spiderwort, mums, daffodils, hosta and euphorbia. We replanted the daylilies nearby and incorporated the euphoribia, echinacea, and hosta in the garden and planted all the new perennials from Behn's. We covered the entire area with compost from the town compost center, watered the area, and by golly, it looks pretty good.
Now is an excellent time to remodel your beds. The garden centers still have good selections of perennials and shrubs and the weather will not cause any problems for planting. Just remember to keep everything watered.
Keep planting!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Natural Weed Killers

I've been receiving a lot of email questions about natural weed killers. The best solution I have found, and one we used at New York State Parks, is to spray white vinegar on the weeds. Just use the white vinegar you buy at the supermarket. I used this last week on grass growing in between the bricks in my walkway and it worked just fine. The sprayed weeds were dead in one day. By the way, I've found that most of the prepared natural weed killers are based on white vinegar with clove or some other fragrance added. Not a bad idea if you don't like the smell of vinegar.
For poison ivy, make a solution of one gallon white vinegar, one pound of table salt and three tablespoons of liquid dish soap. Spray this on the leaves of poison ivy. It may take repeated applications to kill this devil, but many of my WAMC listeners say it works for them.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Cemetery Plants

John in the Bronx asks:
I am looking for suggestions of plants for a cemetery plot. The conditions are full sun all day. As you might realize one cannot get to the cemetery everyday to tend to our plants. Can you suggest something that can put up with the conditions for a week at a time without any human intervention. I am interested in something flowering as well as an attractive non-flowering plant.
Answer: Planting something in a cemetery usually means you need something small that can take some challenging conditions. A small rose "The Fairy" has pink flowers all summer long, grows to no more than two feet tall and wide and is very tough. Another plant you might like is Spirea japonica with the word golden in the title. Unlike the usual Spirea that grows five feet tall and wide, these golden-leafed shrubs grow no more than two feet tall and wide and have lovely golden yellow leaves. Be sure to check with you cemetery for rules about plants on grave markers.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Grub Control

It is not necessary for the anyone to spread potentially hazardous toxic chemicals on their lawn to try to stop the spread of grubs in the turf. Milky Spore (Bacillus popilliae) is an environmentally friendly alternative that is easy to apply and does not pose any harmful threat to children or pets. According to Cornell University, between 1939 and 1953, over 100 tons of spore powder was applied to turf in over 160,000 sites in the U.S. as part of a government program. Larval numbers in the turf decreased 10- to 20-fold and the population stabilized at this new low level with corresponding reductions in the levels of adult beetle damage.
According to the U.S EPA, spores of Bacillus popilliae infect larvae (grubs) of Japanese beetles, eventually killing the larvae and preventing their development into adult beetles. As a pesticide active ingredient, the spores of this bacterium are approved for use on lawns and ornamental plants around residential areas. The spores also infect larvae of some closely related beetles, but do not infect other non-target organisms, such as other insects, birds, mammals, earthworms, and plants. No harm is expected to humans or the environment from use of pesticide products containing spores of B. popilliae.
Before you jump to a potentially hazardous conclusion, I urge you to take a look at the Web site of the maker of Milky Spore, St. Gabriel Laboratories at http://www.milkyspore.com/milkyspore.htm and consider using this product.
Milky spore is widely available on the Internet and in many better-quality lawn and garden centers.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Spring Gardening Events

Lots of great garden talks, plant sales and other events on tap over the next couple weeks:

A Day to Learn About and Enjoy Forests
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Greene County, NY
On Saturday, May 19 from 9:00a.m.-3:00p.m., there will be a special opportunity to learn about the incredible value of our forests at the Agroforestry Resource Center in Acra, NY. Free. Registration is required by contacting Cornell Cooperative Extension of Greene County at 518-622-9820.

Plant and Book Sale, Claverack Library, Rt 9H and 23B, Claverack, NY. Saturday May 19th from 9 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and Sunday May 20th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thousands of books and plants and lunch, too!

Wildflower Festival, Saturday, May 19th 10:00 - 3:30at Catskill Native Nursery, 607 Samsonville Rd., Kerhonkson, NY 12446, 845-626-2758 or http://www.catskillnativenursery.com/ Come celebrate our native wildflowers, fruits, shrubs, trees & herbs.Plants, pottery and garden art for sale. FREE TALKS & WORKSHOPS.

Fordhook Open Spring Planting Event, Burpee's Fordhook Farm, Doylestown, PA, Friday and Saturday, May 18 and 19, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. contact www.heronswood.com or 215-674-4900.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Hyacinth bean WAMC call

Susan from Cohoes, NY sent in this message in response to a recent call on my garden show on WAMC. (By the way, I will return to the airwaves on Thursday, May 17 th)

To the woman who called Vox Pop about something purple to cover her barn, I say Hyacinth Bean! Easy to start from seed,transplant out after all frost. I ran twine 12" apart up to the roof of our barn which was soon covered in lovely bronze foliage, lavender pea-like flowers and beans the color of eggplant. The south side of our barn was covered by August! Seed from Johnny's, Cooks Garden and others.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Deer Stopper

I've come across a new organic deer repellent that seems to be working quite well. Deer Stopper from Messina Wildlife, www.messinawildlife.com, is a spray made from putrescent whole egg solids, rosemary oil and mint oil. So not only does it keep deer away, it smells nice, too. According to the manufacturer, Deer Stopper was tested by Cornell, Auburn University and by the USDA. Maybe it is a coincidence, but since I sprayed Deer Stopper, my tulips look great and they haven't been eaten by deer. The product materials I have say the company makes repellent for moles, voles, groundhogs, rabbits, chipmunks and other critters. Their Web site indicates there are quite a few retail stores in the Northeast that carry Deer Stopper, but you can also buy the product online.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Garden and Landscape Consultations

As many of you already know, I offer garden and landscape consultations for a fee. Typically I come visit your home, we walk around the property and I offer advice on how to solve your landscape problems and give suggestions on trees, shrubs and other plants you can add to the landscape. I don't do the installation, that is up to you or your local landscaper. I charge $150 for a good one hour session within a short drive of my home in the greater Albany, NY media market. If you live on the outskirts of this area, contact me and we will see what we can work out. Contact me at lsombke@beautifuleasygardens.com.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Tulips and Daffodils in Windowboxes

Often times listeners will write and ask if they can still plant those tulip bulbs in April they forgot to plant last fall. By now those bulbs are dry and dead. But I've come across a good idea from my friend Sally Ferguson who represents the Netherlands flower bulb growers. Buy pots of forced bulbs now available in supermarkets and garden centers and plant them in the ground or in window boxes outdoors. No one will know the difference! Sally fills in the how-to information at her Web site http://www.bulb.com/templates/dispatcher.asp?page_id=18671

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Garden Classes and Events

As one would expect, there are a number of garden classes and events scheduled for April and beyond:

"Stone Walls for the Garden" and "Paving with Brick and Stone" will be offered on Saturday, April 21st at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, MA. 413-298-3926 or www.berkshirebotanical.org.

Rural Life in the Catskills: A Forum on Food, Water and Wood for the Future, Saturday, April 14, 2007 in Andes, NY. Contact the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, P.O. Box 504, Arkville, NY 845-586-2611.

Heronswood Hellebore Spring Open, April 20th and 21st, Burpees Fordhook Farm, Doylestown, PA. $5 admission. Rare opportunity to buy Hellebores from the world's best hellebore nursery.
215-674-4900 x 1401. www.heronswood.com


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Beautiful Easy Flower Gardens Winners!

Congratulations. We have five winners of a copy of my book Beautiful Easy Flower Gardens for being the first five people who posted a comment on my new blog. The winners are Science, Peter Nelson, sarahsnail, DevonAnn and muddiest1. Way to go! Now, I need your email and postal address so I can send you a copy. Send this information to lsombke@beautifuleasygardens.com and I will get your books to you asap.
I will be back on the radio on Thursday, April 5th at 2 p.m.
See you there!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Beautiful Easy Flower Gardens

Wow! More than thirty of you posted comments to my blog www.beautifuleasygardens.blogspot.com. Thanks. I will sort out who the first five post were and then get your free autographed copy of Beautiful Easy Flower Gardens to you right away.
The whole idea is to get people using the blog and it looks like you are doing it. Consider this post from me an open thread so you can post all you want and start talking about gardening again for Spring 2007.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Larry on the Road Spring 2007

As always, when spring comes I accept invitations to speak at garden centers and shows and with garden and civic groups. This year is looking great. If you want me to come your group, you can email me at lsombke@beautifuleasygardens.com.

March 24 at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and March 25, at 12 p.m. and 2 p.m.
North Country Home & Backyard EXPO at the Lake George Arena.

April 24th at 7 p.m.
Galway Public Library, 5264 Sacandaga Road, Galway NY.

April 25th at 7 p.m.
Gardeners on the Green, Longmeadow, MA.
(I will post the exact location when I have it)

June 10th or 17th (Not sure, yet)
Landscape Home and Garden Center
Rt 17K, Newburgh, NY

Hope to see you at one of these fine venues.

Back on the Radio

On March 22, 2007 I will end my winter hiatus/hibernation and return to the airwaves at WAMC Northeast Public Radio 90.3. FM in the greater Albany, NY area. Susan Arbetter and I will be at the microphones at 2 p.m. that day taking your calls. WAMC has a large listening area from Albany north to Burlington, Vermont, west to Utica, NY, east to Springfield, Mass, and south to Newburgh NY and southeast to Hartford, CT. Also, if you can't listen live, you can always listen online or in a pod cast the station does. www.wamc.org.
Hope to hear from you!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Soil pH for Blueberries

Brian of Glenville writes:
I will be planting some blueberry bushes this spring. The Cornell site says it needs to be acid soil. Can I test the soil now (January)? What's the best/cheapest way to test?
In most cases the soil in the Northeast is acid in nature due to the lack of limestone in the ground. But there are always exceptions to the rule. You can take a soil test anytime the soil is not frozen. Simply dig down about four inches and scoop a couple tablespoons of soil into a plastic baggie. You can test the pH of the soil yourself with a soil test kit you can buy at your favorite lawn and garden center or buy online. Or, you can take your soil, even mail it in many cases, to your county cooperative extension office. In New York, that is Cornell Cooperative Extension of Albany County or Dutchess County, for instance. They will test the soil for you and probably charge a nominal fee of a few dollars. Often times they will tell you how to amend the soil in case the pH is not where it should be for what you want to plant. Call ahead to make sure they can handle your request.
Good luck with your blueberry bushes!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Bittersweet vine control

A nice young person from Holyoke, MA writes:
We have an area of bittersweet, brushy growth and trees between our driveway and the neighbors' home. After we clear the area, our tree removal person says we'll have to spray continually to retard the bittersweet in order to plant a lawn. What are organic options for this sloped, part-sun site that will help us control regrowth and have an attractive, easy care planting? Thanks! (actually, I'm the organic-gardening daughter wanting my dad not to use Round-up!)
Answer: If you are interested in planting grass, here is what I suggest:
I am not clear about when you plan to get rid of the brush and I am not sure how large this area is, but, if you do the clearing in the spring, you can get rid of the lion's share of the weed seeds that are there if you are willing to let them germinate and then eradicate them. Don't plant the new grass seed until Labor Day or after. This way you can allow the weed seed to sprout and then kill them a couple times over the course of the summer. You can kill them by tilling again, spraying them with store-bought white vinegar or pulling them up by hand.
You could also spread sheets of clear plastic over the area and weight them down with stones. The plastic will allow the sun to raise the temperature underneath, (something like a greenhouse) that will kill the plants as they germinate.
Plant the grass on Labor day or anytime in September. Next spring and summer the grass should be growing well. Simple mowing, over time, should keep the brush and weeds under control.
If you are interested in planting shrubs or perennials, you can do the clearing anytime. Then, spread thick sheets of newspaper over the area and cover that with two to four inches of mulch.
Cut holes in the papers or adjust them so you can plant the shrubs or perennials in the bed. If you keep the mulch applied each year, you should be able to keep the weeds at bay.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Poison Ivy Control

Alan in Catskill writes:
We moved on to a property with extensive poison ivy. I tried a little Roundup, but was concerned about doing in the flowers and shrubs. Aside from a few dead leaves, no effect seen. I pulled up a lot of plants with long runners, but plenty left. Family members extremely allergic.What do you recommend? Thanks.
Controlling poison ivy is difficult but not impossible. If you can mow the area be sure to do that often. If not, pulling it up is a very effective means of controlling it, but be sure to wear protective clothing. The best time of year to pull the ivy is in winter when the plant has no leaves.
A concoction that a listener suggested a couple years ago (and one that many listeners have tried with success) is a mixture of one gallon ordinary white vinegar, one pound of table salt and 1 teaspoon of dish washing liquid. Spray this on the poison ivy leaves and vines. Be sure not to spray the surrounding plants. Be prepared to spray this repeatedly until the plant dies. Even with chemical sprays you have to spray more than once to kill this annoying vine.

Warm Winter Weather

Eric in Saratoga County writes:
Larry, just a question: with this unseasonably warm weather, my daffodils are showing at the soil surface. Should I mulch them now to protect them from the cold that will surely come soon, or let nature take it's course? Thanks
While we are experiencing some of the warmest weather ever recorded this winter, plants have a way of surviving these spells. I have heard about lilacs budding and other such phenomenon, but these plants will all survive.
As for your daffodils, it is useless to try to do anything to protect them from the eventual cold weather that will set in. These are just the leaves that are appearing now. As long as the flowers buds don't appear, the daffodil will return to its slumber once the cold weather hits. If it doesn't, then the daffies will bloom a little earlier this year. But don't worry, follow all of your usual daffodil care and they will return again next year.