Gardening Tips and Odd 'n' Ends

Terry L. Yockey


  1. Aster yellows, Hosta Virus X and other diseases and pathogens can be spread from one plant to another when you are deadheading and pruning.  An easy way to keep your garden tools clean so they donít spread disease from one plant to another is to look for 70% Isopropyl alcohol wipes at the drugstore that come in convenient dispensers that look like baby wipes. Itís easy to just rip off a sheet and clean your hand pruners, loppers, pruning saws or any other garden tools before you go out into the garden or even while you are outside deadheading if you notice that a plant you just cut looks diseased. I also add some Listerineô to the container just to give it a little ďpunchĒ because Listerineô has proven to be more effective than just alcohol alone in killing pathogens.
  2. A few years ago, I came back from vacation to as bad an infestation of whiteflies as I've ever had. All the books told me to get rid of the plants as fast as possible. Instead, I hooked up my vacuum and used the brush attachment to suck up as many as I could. For the next few weeks I vacuumed and sprayed insecticidal soap daily and pretty soon the plants were back to normal.
  3. I compost all my kitchen vegetable scraps in my recycled plastic composter (see composting). To save all those messy potato, carrot and other peelings, I simply line the sink with old newspaper and then peel right into the middle of the paper. When I'm done I fold the newspaper and scraps into a "package" and take the whole thing out to the composter. No muss, no fuss!
  4. When a groundcover planting is fairly new, the biggest challenge is keeping all the weeds from coming up between the new plants. You canít use landscape fabric around your new plants, because then they won't be able to spreadóbut how do you keep it weeded until your new ground cover grows together? Try my method below and use all those old newspapers that youíve been sending to the recycling center!

    I collected newspapers all last winter and stored them under the deck where they would get snow and rained on (wet newspapers are a lot easier to work with). When spring arrived I mowed down all the weeds and grass in the area where I wanted to site my new hardy rose garden and then started laying about 10 layers of the wet newspapers over the newly cleared area. When I had finished a workable section, I covered the newspaper with wood mulch and then moved on to the next part until the entire area was covered with newspaper and wood mulch. When it came time to plant my roses, I just dug holes right through the composting top layer. The roses did great and the few weeds that made it through the mulch were extremely easy to pull. 

    If you have particularly noxious weeds, you may want to use a product such as Round-up before you start laying the newspaper and mulch down. After a few weeks you can go back in and make holes in the newspaper and plant your groundcover. The newspaper will eventually decompose and your plants should have no problem growing into a nice thick cover.

  5. You can haul a lot more in your wheelbarrow if you keep a few bungee cords (those elastic cords with a hook on the end) fastened around the wheelbarrows handles. When you get a big load of woody brush just hook the bungees over the top and all your refuse will stay right in the wheelbarrow while you haul it away to the brush pile.
  6. Always use staples to hold landscape fabric down before you add your wood or gravel mulch. Without an anchor the fabric tends to come up on the edges making it easy for weeds to spring up under your pathway or landscaping. The cost of the store-bought staples really starts to add up if you are mulching a large area so I make my own out of old wire coat hangers. I simply take wire cutters and cut six inches off both ends of the hanger forming a kind of ďΠ.Ē Itís cheap and I always have plenty of old hangers on hand to get rid of!
  7. When cleaning all the dead leaves and debris from your gardens in the fall you can use a small leaf rake to carefully pull all the leaves from around the plants; however,  Iíve found an easier tool. The men in my family ridiculed me when I brought home my new, drastically underpowered leaf blower--but I've had the last laugh. My entire garden is mulched in wood chips and thanks to the new machineís less then impressive blow-power, I can use it to get rid of the unwanted debris around my perennials and my wood mulch is left right where it should be.
  8. Aster yellows is a very common disease that causes chlorosis or yellowing of the plant, stunting, irregular growth, and distortion of the flower head. Many think that if you donít plant asters, you wonít introduce the disease unto your garden. Unfortunately, it seems that one of the prime culprits is now the very popular perennial, purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Although the leafhopper spreads the aster yellows throughout the garden, experts surmise that many of the coneflowers are already diseased when we bring them home from the nursery. The only remedy is to remove and destroy all the infected plants--there are no chemical treatments available for aster yellows. Some landscapers in the twin cities have gone so far as to quit using purple coneflowers in any new plantings, but I donít think that we have to go quite that far yet. Just be aware of the problem and take the appropriate measures if or when you find a plant that displays the above symptoms.
  9. We eat a lot of those "baby carrots" at our house. What's not to like? They are already washed and peeled and taste great--but are they really baby carrots? Nope. Most are actually full grown carrots that are peeled and then cut to look like the real baby carrots. For more info visit one of the manufacturers, Grimmway Farms at
  10. Every year the extension service gets lots of calls asking why there are so many ladybugs on the outside of houses when cooler weather arrives. Most want to know how they can keep them from getting in and how to get rid of them once they do. These rather rotund ladybugs are actually Asian ladybugs introduced into this country to eat aphids and their mission in the fall is find a nice cozy place to ride the winter out. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your point of view), without food they aren't going to make it through the winter in your house so your best strategy is to just wait a while and they will soon die on their own (or use your vacuum attachment if you are really impatient). If you are getting more then a few in the house, check for holes, cracks or crevices around windows, vents, etc. which need to caulked.
  11. When a local nurserywoman first told me this I thought she was kidding, but Iíve had friends try it and it works great. When your astilbe is through flowering, buy some red spray paint and paint the dried blossoms. Youíll have color for the rest of the season.  Lighter corals and pinks donít show up very well, so stick with the darker reds. I'm told that the landscape maintenance crew at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota does this every season.
  12. The next hint comes from a Carver Co. Minnesota Master Gardener. Itís simple, but effective. He fills all his containers on a plank that spans one of his compost bins. That way he can spill all he wants without making a mess of the yard or deck. Since all the spilled soil mix falls into the compost bin, eventually heíll just be using it again anyway.
  13. If you have a nuisance tree in your yard or neighborhood that spews hundreds of seeds every spring (cottonwood or Siberian elms are good examples), you probably end up with thousands of little seedlings in your gardens. If you don't get them right away they can be darn hard to remove, so try carrying a pair of pliers and using them to pull the whole thing out--roots and all.
  14. My last hint concerns all those old plastic pots that come with perennials and shrubs. Instead of throwing them away, place them strategically around your yard and gardens. (I hide mine under thick shrubs.) When you are walking around and see a weed or pinch off a spent blossom, youíll have a convenient place to throw it. The drainage holes keep the containers from smelling foul and becoming a breeding ground for mosquito larvae and the black color makes them fairly inconspicuous.

Find more gardening tips at Gardeners Supply.

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