Posts by Eric Liskey

Eric Liskey

I love spring

I thought I’d share this shot of my front walkway. Flowers are sure happy things, aren’t they? I can’t believe it’s May tomorrow. It’s one of the latest springs I can recall, so this has been a long time coming!

This bed is a testament to the value of maturity. A few years ago I planted a signficant number of bulbs and phlox in this space, and this year, it’s more spectacular than ever. The reason is the sheer volume of bloom. Each year, the daffs and grape hyacinth and phlox just get bigger and better. A nice garden can happen in a season. A spectacular one takes time.

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Eric Liskey

Ready, set, grow!

When these blooms fall to the ground, put down your weed preventer.

This is the lone forsythia bush in my yard. Of course, the bright yellow blooms are an awesome, welcome sight in spring for gardeners hungry to get their hands dirty. But I have it there for another reason: it’s a “phenological indicator”. That’s what the geeks say, instead of just calling it a biological clock. It’s long been understood that plants and animals react in predictable ways to warmth, and you can use that fact to help time various gardening activities. In this case, you can use forsythia to time your weed preventer applications for lawns. Crabgrass seeds germinate just about the time forsythia blooms drop from the plant. And you need the weed preventer on the ground before the seeds begin to grow. Many other garden pests can be timed this way too. Check with your local cooperative extension office or master gardener program. They often can tell you when pests typically are active. Just take a look around your garden at those times, and make note of what’s in bloom. Chances are, that will serve as a good guide to when you should apply a controls.
The real reason this is so helpful is that you rarely see pests until it’s too late to control them (or control them easily). Once a borer is inside your cucumber vine, it’s too late. Once weed seeds have germinated, weed preventers are ineffective. So timing is everything.


Eric Liskey

Bugs from H-E-double hockey sticks

One of the worst garden pests out there, IMO, is the Japanese beetle. And it’s Japanese beetle season again (sigh). You West Coasters can count yourselves lucky. All of us east of the Plains, buckle up.

In the immature stage, we know them as grubs, the kind that attack your lawn. It’s actually pretty easy to keep them out of your turf. The problem is that the adult beetles are very good fliers, and can travel miles. And they have a seemingly supernatural ability to find the foods they love. So regardless of what you do to prevent them in your own yard, you’ll still have to deal with the hordes that zoom in from surrounding areas.

Contech Japanese beetle trap

There are two things you can do: spray the plants they favor (beans, linden trees, wisteria, hibiscus, and rose, to name a few on a very long list); and use beetle traps. Actually there’s a third thing: many recommend knocking the beetles by hand into a bucket of soapy water. Conceding that the soapy water DOES work on the few dozen or hundred that you might actually succeed in capturing, that still leaves the other 4,568,342,721 to deal with. If you have a mild infestation, you’re lucky, and soapy water might be a viable solution. If you have a bad infestation, well, you know what I’m talkin’ about. Call out the bombers. Or move to another state.

What I’ve started doing is using traps. I know of the research that says they draw in more than they actually catch. But in my case, I’m not so sure. I know this much: when I DON’T use a trap, the beetles do a number on my garden. When I DO use a trap, there’s still a goodly amount of damage, but I think it’s a little less. It certainly isn’t any worse. Meanwhile, as I see it, every beetle in that trap is one less that’s out eating my green beans, and laying eggs for next year’s hatch.

I have used several different traps. They all work. In fact, you would not believe how they pull in beetles! They use a pheromone that gets the beetles in the mood, if you know what I mean. So that would explain why they’re so effective.

It’s what happens after that that sets the traps apart. You see, these things can catch a LOT of beetles. So the capacity of the trap becomes a pretty big deal. But another issue is how easily the trap empties (because they do fill up). And yet another issue is ventilation and drainage holes. Guess what happens when it rains and you get a pile of dead beetles fermenting in warm water of the bottom of a bag? Yeah, it’s as repulsive as it sounds. You better have a cast iron stomach if you want to clean that out without wretching. So…..that’s a problem.

All things considered, the trap I like best is a Contech model. The plastic basket unscrews easily, is vented and drains (not perfectly, but well enough), and it’s heavy enough that it doesn’t flap around in the breeze (which is another thing I don’t like about some other brands). The big problem is its capacity. Often, I come home to an overflowing trap. The other day, I decided to keep emptying it, all day long, to see how many beetles it could capture. And the total was (drumroll, please): 3.4 pounds. Yes, seriously, I weighed it. If the trap could hold a gallon of beetles, it would be the perfect unit. Unfortunately, it only holds about a quart. You can’t have it all, I guess.

3.4 pounds of Japanese beetles -- One day's haul

This all leads to a problem I never considered until I started trapping beetles. What do you do with them all? First you have to kill them. If you don’t, they eventually escape from whatever you hold them in. Usually, a few minutes on hot pavement does the trick if they’re trapped in a bag. Unfortunately, once they’re dead, they stink. Bad. So I have started keeping them in plastic bags on the ground outside our garage (so they don’t smell it up), then I throw them away on trash day. The wife wasn’t real happy about bags of beetles sitting around. She reminded me that our neighbors are trying to sell their house, and bags of dead beetles in the yard next door might be an impediment. Could be she has a point.

But the dilemma remains: what the heck do you do with 20 pounds (a weeks harvest, give or take) of Japanese beetle carcasses? There’s no easy answer.

All I can say is, thank goodness beetle season only lasts a few weeks!


Eric Liskey

Great Fakes

A CBS affiliate (KCAL) in Southern California reported today that the city of Glendale has banned artificial grass.

If you’re like me, the first thought you had after seeing that was: They banned it because it’s tacky.

Not so fast. The reason given (according to KCAL) by city officials? Harmful chemicals used in the artificial turf. There’s more than a little irony in that. California is known for its greater-than-average concern over environmental pollutants. Which is why the anti-lawn/lawn chemical movement is particularly strong there. So you’d think a substitute for lawns, one that didn’t require all the fertilizers and weed killers, would be welcomed.

Interestingly, artificial turf is only banned in Glendale’s front yards, not backyards.  Which brings us back to Reason #1.

I have mixed feelings about artificial turf. I love real lawn, and couldn’t dream of not having at least a small patch of it to run around on. But it does take work, and it does consume resources. Artificial turf doesn’t. So I understand the appeal, or outright necessity, for some people. And the new versions available now are not the weird, yucky looking stuff of the 1970s (which still taints the whole concept, I think). Artificial turf can be quite realistic—from a distance, the giveaway is only that it’s too uniform, too perfect. Frankly, I thought it would have caught on more by now, given the greater push for water-stingy landscapes and more eco-friendly living.

I guess it’s the power of the fake = tacky mindset.  Somehow it’s not honest. Or something. Like toupees, to which artificial lawns are sometimes compared. (There’s even a company called Toupee Lawns, in Tuscon.) But by the standards used to judge real turf, artificial lawn looks great. It’s uniform, it’s green, it’s tidy-looking. It’s also extremely practical, not to mention eco-friendly. But it’s been labeled as tacky in our collective mindset, and that’s a tough reputation to shake. Too bad. The lawn in the photo below is fake. How upset would you be living next to that?

 

 

 

 

 

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Eric Liskey

Cutting back

In our April issue, we wrote about Sedum ‘Maestro’, a summer/fall blooming sedum, available through Garden Crossings, whose best attribute, as far as I’m concerned, is its sturdy stems. Seems like a funny thing to key on, but if you’ve ever seen an ‘Autumn Joy’ or ‘Ruby Glow’ flop flat on the ground in the fall, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Sedum 'Maestro'

I bring this up now because sedums are one of those plants that benefit from pinching or cutting back to help them stay more compact later in the year. Gardeners usually know this about asters and mums, but not so much with sedum. But the latter does respond well to pinching back before June. I don’t actually pinch….it’s more like shearing. In fact, that’s the easiest thing to do. Just get out your shears, and start cutting, then rake up the trimmings when you’re done. Better than one stem at a time.

It’s very effective, but why do it if you don’t have to? That’s where ‘Maestro’ comes in. Anything that lessens the work load is a good thing, right?

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Eric Liskey

Mulching Mower

This is not a new idea, and I’m not pretending I thought of it. (Just wanted to make that clear up front.) But I’ve started doing this, and it’s one of the  most practical, time- and money-saving ideas I know of. Ready?

When you clean out your beds this fall or winter, pile all the leaves and trimmings on the lawn. Then take your lawn mower out, set it the mowing height to its maximum, and get to it! Go slow, and don’t worry if you stall out the mower a few times. Go back and forth a few times, and you’ll have nicely shredded yard waste.

Rake it into a pile, then you can do one of three things: put it back into your flower beds as a mulch; put it in your compost bin (it will compost much more quickly since it’s already so nicely shredded); or, if you prefer to get rid of it, just put it into a yard waste bag. Shredded, it takes only a fraction of the space and you can fit four or five bags worth into just one. But really, why throw it away? It’s a marvelous mulch or compost. And it doesn’t leave a mess where you mowed it. Nor is it hard on your mower (as long as you don’t try to mow any branches or rocks!).

I’ve long advocated mowing leaves on lawns. Why bother raking, collecting and disposing of them when you don’t need to? So this is just a logical next step. And it WORKS! See the before and after below, taken on the same day (I swear).

Mowing over garden trimmings.

Mowing over garden trimmings.

After mowing trimmings, then raking remains into the bed. See? No mess!

After mowing trimmings, then raking remains into the bed. See? No mess!

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