Use Netting for Frost and Insect Control

One of the things that many home gardeners use netting for is frost protection (but not insect control) but there is increasing use of fine netting in Europe that we can learn from here in our home gardens.

Organic fruit growers have been using fine mesh netting (white in color) for hail protection as well as codling moth protection. For the record, the mesh size on this product is .12″ by .29″ (very fine so insects can’t get through but air and light can)

Research in France shows this size mesh also reduces aphid damage (rosy apple aphid) and there are increasing moves to use it commercially as their pesticide regulations are much more restrictive than N.A. commercial orchards.

It is a great way to control a range of insects and it is applied in spring “after” flowering is finished (to allow bees to pollinate the fruit). Apparently, in France, the microclimate temperature increases under the cloth are minor and don’t bother fruit. I can’t say the same here in N.A. so you’d have to run some trial on small amounts of fruit.

I also suspect it could be used in the production of a wide range of vegetables that weren’t insect pollinated (like tomatoes that are also wind-pollinated) or that we don’t want or need pollinated (cole crops etc) Crops with bee pollination and insect damage that coincide (squash family) wouldn’t work too well with this system.

Bottom line

This is a perfect way to increase pest management in the home garden without having to resort to any kind of pesticide. One or two short trees (dwarf or semi-dwarf) could easily be covered.

The issue is going to be finding the netting and when/if I find that resource, I’ll pass it along here. If any of you do find tree-sized netting for consumers, post it here.

In the meantime, here’s a link to Frost Fabric which will do almost the same thing and provides a measure of frost control for northerly gardens. (Probably a better bet in the long run anyway.) While it’s not the same thing as the material the Europeans seem to be using, it is readily available and will act to prevent insect damage on vegetables.

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The Easy Way to Start Your Perennial Flower Garden

There have been a few questions about perennial flower garden bed or soil preparation and maintenance. In short, “how do we do this?”

And like all things in my garden-world, there is a simple way and a tough way to do this kind of thing. I’ve never understood why gardeners go through all the hard-way exercises when Mother Nature does most of the work for you if you’ll let her.  My best guess on this is beginning gardeners think the experts who do all these strange things must be right so they copy them.

Here’s my take. I like easy gardening that works. Many of the way-more-work techniques work faster or slightly better. But I’m an 80:20 kind of gardening guy. I know 20% of the work produces 80% of the results so I’m happy to identify the 20% and focus on doing that well.

The Hard Way

You can take soil tests and adjust the soil pH and fertility based on those tests. This is often recommended by garden writers with more time on their hands than is safe for their readers. You add whatever nutrients the test recommends and you add copious amounts of organic matter into the soil before planting. You create a super soil.

Or, The Easier Way

You can dig and cultivate the soil around plants and add copious amounts of compost every spring. Or, even middling amounts of compost.
or…

Or, The Really Easy Way.

You mulch the perennial flower garden bed. Period. Oh sure, you can apply compost if you have extra but that decomposing mulch is going to work wonders for you.

Gardening isn’t rocket science (unless you like the fiddling around). And if you simply create an environment that supports a “natural” kind of growing system, the plants will take care of themselves (for the most part).

Yeah, it sounds simple but here’s the deal for those of you who care about such things.

An organic mulch composed of old bark, leaves or other material that breaks down replicates what Mother Nature does. it provides a layer of decomposing organic matter at the soil line that supports a massive number of micro-organisms. Do not use inorganic material such as stone or rubber. My own bias is that I also don’t like dyed mulches (they contain dye – a chemical and they don’t look at all natural).
These micro-organisms are responsible for modifying that organic matter and turning it into useable plant food for your perennials.

They are responsible for balancing the soil pH and maintaining it within the limits created by the underlying rock material that made the soil in the first place.
They are responsible for more “things under the sun” than we normally think of – things like eating bad fungi and bacteria that want to attack your plant but get eaten by nematodes in the soil.

Mulch allows roots and worms and other larger soil creatures to loosen up the soil and keep it well aerated the way you want it to be.

Somebody is going to ask so yes, you can simply toss a bit of compost on top of this mulch in the spring or if you’re really bent on feeding the plants, you can toss some organic feed or spray fish emulsion over top of the mulch.

So you mulch your perennial flower garden bed – top it up every fall and maintain a 3-4 inch layer. (Pull back the mulch away from plant crowns so the excess moisture there doesn’t rot the crown and kill the plant over the winter).

You create paths and don’t walk on the soil unless necessary

I remember talking to an orchid expert who was doing research on wild orchid populations in North America and talking about how just putting one foot down next to an orchid would reduce the flowering compared to one that wasn’t walked near. A single step compacted the soil enough so the natural micro-organism chain was disturbed in that specific region for this sensitive plant.

I’m not saying regular garden plants are that sensitive (they aren’t for the most part) but mulch will loosen up the soil and the only thing that will reduce that is if you walk on it.

That pretty much takes care of ongoing soil work. Mulch and don’t walk on the bed any more than necessary.

Initial bed preparation

There are any number of ways to get a garden bed started. From double digging, to tilling to not-a-darn-thing but laying on the mulch.

You need to eliminate weeds before you mulch – that’s the only trick to ongoing maintenance.

In my latest beds, I tilled up the big bed (here’s my roto-tiller review) but hand dug the smaller beds. Then I mulched and am on weed prevention detail now as I plant and maintain.

For ongoing maintenance however, it’s the mulch, don’t walk and weed routine.
I like it when things are simple. And this is the simplest way I know to keep a perennial flower garden bed healthy and productive for many years – with the smallest amount of work.

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Do I Cut Perennial Flowers Back In The Fall?

Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

There are two different points of view on whether to cut back perennial flowers in the fall or whether to leave them alone.

Cut Them Back And Remove Them From The Garden

This leaves the garden neat and tidy going into the winter. All seed heads are put into the compost or shaken off the plants to germinate the following spring.

But your garden does not attract or feed overwintering birds.

Some gardeners do it because they believe it removes any diseased stems/leaves from the garden. In my opinion this is highly overrated as a reason. If you’re paying attention, any serious problems have already been pruned out and removed.

And common fungal problems such as botrytis (the gray fuzz on decaying leaves or black spots on peony leaves) is one of the most common fungi in the world and you won’t ever reduce or eliminate it on susceptible plants.

Leave Perennial Flowers Alone To Winter In The Garden

Doing this allows the seed heads to feed the birds. Any they miss will germinate the following spring.

It’s far less work but it’s not neat and tidy until later in the winter when the stems fall over naturally.

In my opinion, you do whatever seems right – but you do have to do this at some point.

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The Sacred Ceremony Of Laying Out The Garden Hoses

I have (and need) a lot of garden hoses. So first thing in the spring, I pull the hoses out from underneath the porch and lay them out in the backyard to begin the sorting.

The big black ones are the main hoses to take water the first 150 feet or so on their journey. They’re 1-inch hoses I kept when I shut down the nursery. When I join them, they carry water out to the numerous trees on our property. (Our soil is very shallow so during droughts of the last few years, getting water to wilting trees was a high priority for us.)

The other garden hoses were to take water to various sprinkler systems in the gardens.

Note this was all controlled by a series of hose Y-shut-off valves (plastic ones normally used for laundry hoses) at the outdoor tap and along the different hoses

But I’ve Begun A Massive Change In Irrigation Systems

I’m moving away from garden hoses to drip irrigation for two reasons. The first is the garden design is now set and mostly constructed so setting up a semi-permanent irrigation system makes sense.

I also know that drip irrigation gets the water to the plants with a minimum of fuss and water loss through evaporation. (Yeah, we live on Lake Ontario and there isn’t a shortage of water to our shore-well but still, there’s a certain satisfaction in doing things in an environmentally sound way.)

Also, the stone walls I’m building have been designed to hold plants and this means I need to get water to them directly. The easiest way to do this is to run a drip irrigation system right on top of the wall.

Lastly, it’s really easy to pick up these hoses, drain them as I coil them to store for the winter and lug them to our garden shed. Compare this to inflexible plastic pipe with lots of fittings and valves, and coiling them up …. (frankly, it just never went well.)

drip garden hoses
Soaker hoses on top of the front wall

I’m using Gilmour flat soaker hoses for this project for several reasons. The first is because I bought one a few years ago to water one section of the wall just after I built it and it’s lasted nicely for several years now. I’d discovered the overhead sprinklers just didn’t get enough water to the wall without turning the rest of the garden into a swamp.

The second is they’re readily available through big box stores (or online). (Note Gilmour did not pay for this endorsement or provide me with any product. Their hoses simply work really well for me.) And they’ve lasted really well without degrading or ripping.

I Need A Lot Of Garden Hoses

And given I have several hundred petunias in the growing area in our basement (mid-April) I’m going to need a lot of water to keep them growing in this wall. An extra three-hundred feet of drip hoses will be a good start this summer.

These hoses come with regular hose end fittings so they can be joined together which makes things really easy to set up.

The only difficulty I had last year was making them turn 90-degrees on the wall without kinking. I had to use cut up clothes hanger wire to pin them into a gradual turn to prevent kinking. This year I intend to experiment with cutting them and using elbow joints and clamps to get them to turn and hold their shape. I’ll have to get back to you about this.

Check out the other garden solutions on my Amazon ebook list here.

Bottom Line On Garden Hoses

The regular hoses will still keep our trees healthy and growing so I’ll have to continue the tradition of laying out the hoses for many more years to come (at least I hope I have many more years.) 🙂

But drip irrigation is now my preferred choice for in-garden watering.

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Staking Peonies In The Perennial Garden: Fast Easy, Effective and Free

This little tip for staking peonies is almost so easy to do, I’m embarrassed to tell you about it.

This is no fancy technique, it’s simply a good way to stop flopping flowers and I’ve been using it for years now.

This 42-second video will show you how quickly and easily you can deal with flopping flowers and plants whacked down by rain storms

For Those Who Hate Video

  • Take an old metal coat hanger.
  • Straighten it out using a pair of pliers. Tougher to do with hands alone but it can be done.
  • Put a hook in each end by bending the metal about six inches from the end.
  • Wrap the coat hanger around the peony about 1/3 of the way down the plant – this is a rough rule of thumb, you may find it better to do it higher or slightly lower.
  • Hook the two ends together.

Done.

Your peony will now not flop around. The flowers may bend over in heavy rains but will straighten up (most of the time) after they dry.
Note: you can adjust the length by making one hook bigger for smaller, younger plants and indeed can use two coat hangers hooked together for larger, older plants. Generally though, I’ve found one coat hanger works fine for all sizes of peonies

Advantages and Disadvantages

The best advantage is that it’s fast and easy. No fuss or muss.

The wire disappears so there’s no wire showing, no ugly string or stakes sticking up would be a close second.

The disadvantage is you have to remember you did it and remove it in the fall. Otherwise, it will wind up in the compost pile and you’ll dig it up a year later (ah, no, I never did this – not me – nope) 🙂

The Hardest Thing

The hardest part now is finding the used metal hangers – try junk shops and garage sales.

Pay somebody fifty cents for a handful and you’ll have a lifetime supply.
This kind of staking (plus old Christmas tree branches) can be used on many different perennial flowers

Multiple Sources of Peonies

Both plants and seeds of peonies can be found here but do not buy seeds unless you’re a germination expert – they are tricky to start. For 99% of gardeners, it would be a waste of money.

 

How To Control Botrytis In Your Garden


This fungus is the major fungal problem in our gardening world. It is the grey mouldy stuff that appears on spent blossoms and attacks wounded leaves.

Think of it as Mother Nature’s shock troops – when there’s something that’s ready for composting, botrytis is sent in to start the job. When it’s done, other organisms take over.

This gives us the first clue about how it gets started.

The plants are under stress. This is normally being too crowded on the growing tables or garden.

High humidity is beloved of fungus everywhere and it’s no exception here.

Darkish conditions – either from shading or too much cloud cover outdoors is also a huge benefit to botrytis.

Check out my ebooks to make your garden look better.

So what you’re looking at here is cleanliness is next to godliness. (at least that’s what my mom used to tell me when she looked into my bedroom while shaking her head) – leaving any kind of infected material around is a sure way to get other plants infected.

  • Space out your seedlings, and garden plants to the correct distances.
  • With seedlings, keep at the right temperatures
  • In both the seedling trays and garden, make sure there’s adequate ventilation to keep those leaves dry.

Do those things right and your need for a spray will be eliminated.

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