Here are more short reports on the hottest topics from
the record-high stacks of letters and email we've received this
• Best annuals for sun
• When weedkiller drifts from the neighbor's, and other property line disputes
• Voles controlled with traps and baits
• Blue and pink hydrangeas won't
• Thumbs up AND down advice for tree
The best annual sunny
For the best floral display in full sun, don't look to the rare
and unusual. Stick with tried and true plants that have been
popular a long time. These reliable money-makers attract more
research dollars, which means more varieties are bred, giving us
more choices in colors, heights and disease-resistance
Our suggestions this year are salvia, petunia and marigold in
beds that are well watered and fertilized. Sweet alyssum, globe
amaranth (Gomphrena globosa ) and cosmos may fare better
in average to dry beds that aren't so rich in nitrogen.
Lasting answers to border
These involve diplomacy as well as horticultural craft. Take a
property-line problem such as plants killed by a neighbor's
drifting lawn herbicide. Short wooden fencing can block or absorb
most of an over-spray, temporary plastic covers for at-risk plants
can prevent problems, and immediate hosing-off can mitigate the
effect. Yet all of these work even better if you involve the
neighbor and/or the neighbor's lawn care firm.
When you take the problem to others, avoid emotion and
accusation. Such events are more often accidents than deliberately
destructive acts and misdiagnosis is always possible, so allow for
both possibilities. "I think some lawn weed killer might have
gotten onto these plants. It's possible they keeled over from heat
stress but it looks more like the pesticide burn shown in the
'Ortho Home Problem Solver.'"
Use a problem-solving approach, in which you expect to give and
well as get, "I'll install some edging and keep the seed heads cut
off of the plants on that edge so they don't pop up as weeds in
your lawn. So you shouldn't have to spray right at the edge. Could
you pay special attention there to keep the spray from splashing or
Vole control: Traps, poison
Looks like we'll have another year of vole trouble, what farmers
called a "mouse year." If you note trails carved into lawn or beds
-- shallow trenches the diameter of garden hose -- and clean holes
into the ground the size of quarters or poker chips, voles are
These rodents, also called meadow mice, are mouse-sized but
active by day and prefer the outdoors where they eat the crowns and
roots of lawn and other plants.
Don't ignore them -- in a mouse year a pair of voles in spring
can become a clan of 100 by August. Natural predators such as
hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes, cats and rat terriers can't keep
Place a mouse trap next to every hole. Bait it with peanut
butter, smeared on both the top and underside of the trap's
trigger. Make a cover for each trap -- notch the rim of a cardboard
box to make a vole door, then invert the box over the vole hole and
trap to darken the area. A brick on the box will hold it in place
even on windy days.
Check and reset traps daily -- it's not unusual to catch dozens
of voles in May of a mouse year.
Poison baits are another option but keep them under wraps to
keep other animals from being killed. This includes anything that
preys on mice and other rodents and might pounce upon a poisoned
but not yet dead vole. It's been reported that some rodent
populations are building resistance to the anti-coagulants in some
products, so poison meant to kill can "walk around" in a resistant
vole's body and end up being fed to a young owl, nestling hawk or
fox kit. So do all you can to keep vole killing "under cover."
The best cover we've seen for such baits is a length of plastic
plumbing pipe about 1-1/2" in diameter, cut in half with a "T"
spliced in. Put bait into the pipe through the "T", then cap that
opening. Leave the ends of the pipe open and lay it on the ground,
"T" up, where voles are active.
Mice and voles can crawl in to the bait but rain, birds and pets
are not so likely to reach it.
The pipe is also handy in tangled settings, such as a bed of
thick groundcover Euonymus or Cotoneaster being
ravaged by voles. You can slip the pipe under the plants' stems so
it's on the ground and hidden, yet you will be able to refill the
bait if you leave its "T" protruding.
If your blue or pink hydrangea has refused to bloom or bloomed
only scantily, it will probably disappoint you again this year.
It's not your fault, fertilizer makes no difference, and it's
unlikely you can change the situation.
Winter cold kills the tip buds of Hydrangea macrophylla
and H. serrata, the mophead and lacecap hydrangeas. Once
those tip buds are killed, so is the plant's potential to bloom
that year. You can tell in spring if you have a chance for flowers
by checking the large bud at the tip of each branch. If it's plump
and firm, like a good head of leaf lettuce, the winter was mild
enough to spare it and you may get bloom. If it's dried out or
blackened, don't bother hoping.
In a mild winter we've seen plants with live tip buds in early
April... although we often see those survivors killed by spring
...to starting small rather than planting 10- and 20-foot trees.
A larger tree loses more root in a move, up to 90% of its roots, so
it requires far more care than the impatient gardener will give. A
big transplant often dies back, succumbs to pests, or finds itself
four years later looking up to a healthier, faster growing "small"
tree planted at the same time.
Green thumbs down...
...to mulch stacked against the trunk of a tree. No matter
whether the tree is young or old, the heat and moisture quickly
begin destroying the bark, the tree's foremost defense against
insects such as borers and diseases like butt rot. That tree will
eventually snap at the base. We may blame it on a storm or errant
motorist, but it's the mulcher's fault.
First published 5/4/02, updated 4/11/14