Weather, pruning, weeds, veggies, and slugs, oh my!

As we await spring weather many people are anxious to get planting. However, for annuals such as vegetables, it is better to wait for warmer soil. In the meantime there are many tasks that are calling to you in your landscape. Master Gardener Diane Wisen shares her knowledge about seven key topics: weather, pruning, weed management, slug control, lawn care, vegetables and flowers, and mulching.

Weather

Shaw Island may be in the “rain shadow” but we’ve still had a wet winter and the soil is cold and soggy in most places. The cool season weeds are flourishing, but it is too early to plants seeds in the soil. Peas and spinach are the exception. For most vegetables and annual flowers, wait until the soil is about 60 degrees which is usually closer to June 1. Seeds planted earlier will rot or just sit there and not grow. If you are eager to plant, start seeds indoors. If you have a way to store rainwater, now is a good time to get started on that. Last summer we went almost 80 days without rain. 

Pruning

First step — Sharpen your pruning tools and your shovels. Anytime of the year prune out the 4 D’s:  Dead, Damaged, Diseased, & Dysfunctional. How to tell if a branch is dead?  Scrape the bark with your fingernail. If it’s green or greenish white it is alive.  If it’s brown or dull bone white and hard and dry, it’s dead. If there’s been winter damage, some shrubs will be slower to show buds.  Be patient and wait a little longer.  It might even regrow from the base of the plant.  Hardy fuchsias are an example of a plant the regrows from the base. Now is the time to cut off the old wood.

Prune spring flowering shrubs after they have bloomed, cutting back to a node. They will bloom next year from the buds that start forming this summer. For most shrubs, really old wood can be cut back to the ground. New canes will emerge nearby. Summer flowering shrubs can be pruned to shape them and get out the unsightly stuff. Start at the base of the plant (on your hand and knees) and work you way up, stepping back to look at the shrub as your progress.  Clean out the weak, broken and growing the wrong way branches. Red twig dogwood and yellow twig dogwood can be cut to the ground now for bright color next winter.

Slug Control

Save our beneficial native banana slug (they don’t eat your veggies). Focus on the non-native slugs that compete with you for food and flowers. There is no one strategy that will eradicate slugs and snails from your garden. One slug can lay 300-500 eggs a year. Smash those clusters of tiny clear or pearly white eggs when you see them. Mechanical control methods include going out in the evening and early morning and slicing them in half. Sometimes copper bands at least 3 inches wide will protect containers, but not always. Egg shells, broken glass, diatomaceous earth, and narrow bands of gravel do not work.  Hand-picking and putting them in a bucket of soapy water works well.  Wear gloves because slugs carry salmonella and parasites. Bury the mixture.

Encourage snakes, beetles, and salamanders to live in your garden. Most birds, including chickens, don’t care for slugs, and the poultry solution (ducks and geese) is not for everyone.

Slug baits are effective. Read the label carefully and use as directed. Baits using iron

phosphate or sulfate work differently that the old formulas using metaldehyde. You won’t see the dead bodies. Slug consume, stop eating and go away to die.

Beer or any solution with yeast will attract slugs. The beer itself doesn’t kill them. They climb in and drink themselves drunk and drown. Be aware, your dog may slurp down the whole mess, slugs and all. Keeping the area as dry as possible deters slugs. Keeping nearby grass mowed low cuts back on daytime hideouts. During the winter and cold times slugs go several inches down into the soil to sleep and wait it out.

Weeds

Weeds keep you from successfully doing what you want in a given area. They’re aggressive, persistent, and tend to produce lots and lots of seeds or strong underground growth. We have cool-season weeds such as shot weed (bitter cress) buttercup and red dead nettle. Summer weeds, both annual and perennial include dandelions, cat’s ear, groundsel, the docks, and hundreds of others. A new weed in the last few years is a variety of veronica with tenacious tiny white, clinging, creeping roots. The mantra for weed control is “get them when they’re tiny, get them before the go to seed, and get out the root when it comes to perennial weeds.”  Weed seeds need light to germinate, so a thick layer of mulch such as wood chips goes a long way in weed management. Black plastic is a no-no because soil needs to breath.

Lawns 

A lawn can be a pleasant thing to have, but they tend to be a challenge to maintain on Shaw. A lawn needs at least 6 hours of sunlight a day, fertile soil, and good drainage.  We have lots of tall trees that shade lawns with wide-spread roots, shallow soils that don’t drain well and are a bit more alkaline than turf prefers, and the rain leaches nutrients from our shallow soil. Buttercup and moss love these conditions and will crowd out turf grasses. Improving the drainage, fertilizing regularly and allowing more sunlight will help your lawn to thrive. Or you might decide to do nothing and to let nature take its course. Moss is beautiful!

Vegetables and Flowers

Hope you have planted your edible peas and sweet peas by now, though it’s not too late.

Now is a good time to plant spinach, kale, lettuce and chard seeds. Bait for slugs at the same time. Those little gray or beige slugs are ravenous. Or you can start seeds indoors for planting out a little later or buy starts. They will catch up and may even surpass those that are seeded directly in the garden soil.

It’s best to wait until the soil temperature is close to 60 degrees for most vegetables. Corn, beans and squash do best if planted around June 1. You might want to cover the seeds with a floating cover such as Remay because the crows and sparrows were watching you plant those seeds. If you want to successfully grow tomatoes, ask to see Carole & Brud’s set up. They have solved a lot of the problems that come with growing tomatoes outdoors in our climate. Many kinds of annual flowers do well in our climate. Start from seeds or buy starts and enjoy color until frost.  Dahlia tubers can be planted around the first week in May. Use a balanced fertilizer deep in the planting hole.

For answers to gardening questions go to http://gardening.wsu.edu. A delightful picture will appear on your screen and you click on the area of interest or question and it will take you to all kinds of answers.

— Submitted by Diana Wisen
    Shaw’s Master Gardener