By Judith Slater, with Tracey Deagle
April’s warm weather left us all laughing with delight. Tracey and I kept expecting the weather to turn colder again, which it did, albeit only for a couple of days. In between, we languished in the lovely warmth, donned shorts and T-shirts and made mischief in our gardens. Bumble bees, ants, mosquitoes, white grubs and beetles all re-entered our lives once again.
In early April, we were all clamouring for plants, but the nurseries had none. Big box stores had row upon row of empty shelves. “Subject to availability” was automatically a part of every conversation about plants for our beds. One night, returning from Blackburn Hamlet after showing a lady how to prune her roses, I saw a big box garden centre. It was open!
Mirror check, turn signal, swift turn, screech of brakes, then a mad gallop inside. My eyes feasted on the colours and smells. I was like a kid in a candy store! There wasn’t much, but it was enough to make me giddy as I wandered the aisles, looking at pansies, rhubarb and bare root roses. Blueberries, begonias and hydrangeas, petunias, dianthus and snapdragons – can you ever resist gently teasing the petals to make the “dragon’s mouth” open and close? The excitement was intense. Clicks and whirrs accompanied squeals of delight as I sent Tracey glorious pictures by phone. Tracey later asked if I had made it home. I dejectedly replied, “Yes. I tried to hide and stay there overnight, but the staff found me and kicked me out!”
Sadly, new lockdown rules make no difference to bugs, grubs and insects. They do not observe bubbles or social distancing – they simply make a beeline for the most tender of shoots, with chompers a-gnashing! Here are some ideas to help deal with them.
Patchy Lawns: Cut worms – those white, chunky, maggot-like bugs – have started devouring new grass roots. Raccoons love them and take great delight in ripping up great swathes of turf to feast on the white, juicy insides. Home Hardware stocks nemotodes, a natural solution to these lawn devastators. Follow the instructions carefully, apply twice a year – it can put a big dent in the grub population, without using nasty pesticides that stink and add unwanted chemicals to the soil.
Slugs and Snails: Dried coffee grinds are great for controlling slugs on your hostas. Since returning from England on Family Day (caring for elderly parents), I’ve been drinking French-pressed coffee, knowing that the tins of dried grinds will force slugs to look elsewhere for a tasty nibble. Liberally sprinkled around your hosta and into the soil, they will allow your glorious display to remain unnibbled all season long.
Companion Planting: This is an old concept. The idea is to position certain plants next to others to keep certain bugs and animals away from your prized possessions. Borage is a great plant for interplanting between tomatoes, squash and strawberries. Borage attracts our pollinators, which in turn will pollinate your veggies! Smellier plants such as mint (keep in a container as it is very invasive), basil and alliums (onion family) deter many insects as well as rabbits. Marigold and nasturtian are also widely used to ward off a variety of beetles.
Sacrifice Plantings: Want to distract the nibblers? Plant a bit of the “good stuff” away from your protected plants. The idea is to sacrifice these plants to the critters to nibble on. It’s like yelling”Squirrel!” when you want to divert attention to pinch a forkful of your partner’s cake!
Coverings and Chicken Wire: Our back garden oasis, built during lockdown last April, goes a long way to keeping out bigger rodents. This 12-foot by 6-foot structure was tastefully constructed, then clad in chicken wire, with a French door that latches closed; plants were lovingly grown inside. Watching the squirrels get flumoxed was great entertainment.
Despite all we do, some plantings do disappear. We lost all our zucchini last year to some little beetle, we think. Shame really, as I was looking forward to handing them out by the wheelbarrow to the neighbours! Hmmm, maybe it was the neighbours and not the beetles?
The gardening season is here. Enjoy perusing the nurseries, feeding your garden and relaxing in your own garden oasis!
Judith Slater is the former lead for the Glebe Garden Angels and the former staff lead of TWIGS, Glebe Collegiate’s environment club and enjoys her own garden. Tracey Deagle brings a host of gardening experience from B.C., PEI and the Ottawa region. Together they are the Gentle Gardeners offering gardening advice and services in the neighbourhood. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-600-1717 and 604-791-7621.