The Great Barrier Relief

My battles with weeds and gophers have prompted multiple solutions, but I’m happy to report that a 2-part solution that has had the most staying power for these problems involves barriers, namely chicken wire and landscape fabric. In September 2013, I wanted to re-start a container garden of English roses (since in-ground roses had been destroyed by gophers over several years). After removing weeds in a narrow rectangular garden space, I covered the area with chicken wire (also known as stucco netting, which is made of the same material but is much cheaper and you get more product) – held in place with garden staples – and on top of that, I laid down landscape fabric, also held in place with garden staples.IMG_3297
Now, 1-1/2 years later, I have received great relief from weeds and gophers using this strategy. With regard to weeds, as shown in the photo, the landscape fabric will not block out 100% of weeds – weeds fight hard to poke through anything. But instead of a carpet of weeds to have to mow and then whack with a string trimmer, all I have to do is pull up a few weeds by hand. The fabric will block out nearly all weeds. The savings in time for garden maintenance is significant.

With regard to gophers, in this very area, as I was pulling the weeds, I felt a few mounds underfoot. Indeed, there were attempts by gophers to break through, but they were unsuccessful. The chicken wire – when held down by garden staples – proved effective in blocking them out.

The cost for materials (landscape fabric, chicken wire, and garden staples) has been modest for this garden space. The project is also straightforward and can be done by one person, as I can attest. I’m always happy to report on things that work well!

Killing Weeds With Vinegar, Boiling Water, Lopper, and String Trimmer

A good and winning formula, so far, and comparatively friendly to my pocket-book. For years, I had used Roundup and Roundup Super Concentrate to rid my amply sized back yard of weeds. Citing health concerns about the product and also following the budgetary constraints from the Great Recession, I decided to use a different approach to kill and manage weeds. This is an ongoing maintenance task that has, for me, always required multiple strategies.IMG_3239

How To: First, I sprayed or doused the weed vegetation with a weed-killing liquid, followed a few weeks later with a brief run through with a string trimmer, and a lopper to remove anything still attached to the soil after the first two treatments. I’d read that ordinary vinegar (5% acidity) can kill weeds. For my back yard, it required 5 gallons of the stuff. At $2.64 per gallon, it was a reasonable price. Although the yard smelled of vinegar for just a few days, it was worth it since most weeds browned out and died. I am not striving for perfection regarding weed maintenance – only to get it within reasonable control. Check out the results after the results after the vinegar, string trimmer, and lopper.

The lopper – I usually use it to cut thin tree branches but for stubborn weed vegetation that simply will not go away quietly. Simply slide the blades underneath the weed, as close to the base of the weed as possible and cut – as simple as that, the despised plant is gone in one motion.IMG_3240 For spot treatment of small weeds in the cracks in my sidewalk, I just pour boiling water onto them and they’re killed off quickly.

Taken together, for a larger area of back yard affected by weeds, this multi-strategy approach has been useful and cost-effective.

Fighting Weeds with Landscaping Fabric

Not so long ago, this narrow side yard off my kitchen had tall, dead grassy weeds that looked like prairie lands! It was a project that I long delayed, until after I put in my fruit trees and raised row garden beds. With the help of a good string trimmer, I cut down the weeds and saw that they were, in fact, dead. Firstly, it was such a great relief to have that part of my back yard restored. I’d forgotten how much space I’d actually had there!IMG_3102

I’d decided that this side yard would be a container garden, likely to grow heirloom fruits and vegetables (at least that is what I am thinking as of this moment). As narrow as this area is, and even though it’s been covered with weeds for a while, gophers still attacked it. So, after removing the dead vegetation, I covered the area with stucco netting (chicken wire), holding it in place with landscaping staples. After that, I covered the area with landscaping fabric, specifically polypropylene woven ground cover. In combination, I should have a gopher- and weed-free side yard that is ready for a container garden. I am also considering roses again for the first time in a long time, but they would always be in large containers. I covered the even narrower space across from it surrounding western/southwestern part of my house. I might put in some nice container plants from the dollar store in that area for color. So many possibilities for these blank garden canvasses!

This method of managing weeds is not the most elegant, it’s true (check out the fancy blue stripes!), but it is very low maintenance, easy to replace (I have plenty of landscaping fabric left over), moderately priced, and frankly, very easy to haul to and from your car. The area is empty for the moment, but will be filled in soon. Until then, it’s very wonderful contemplating the plants that might go into this reclaimed space!

UPDATE: I’ve owned this string trimmer for less than three years and something in the wiring makes it short out and not work. This happened today, 3/15/2014, the second such incident. I only use it once a month, so I doubt it is from overuse. Sadly, I will hold off on bringing it back to the repair shop since I suspect the problem will return and I am not sure what causes it to short out. It is also a bit tiresome to have to the battery run out in under 30 minutes and then you have to wait to recharge it to continue on with your work. (Hands thrown up in the air). Disappointed with Ryobi. If manufacturers want more people to “go green,” they have to make the products last as long (if not longer) and perform as well as non-green products. I will be shopping for a gas-powered string trimmer soon.

Apple Tree is Buzzing with Bees!

Spring is nearly here and bees are already visiting my garden. They have been spotted on various plants  but I’ve managed to capture one as it was visiting my 3-in-1 apple tree, in the center of the photoIMG_2956. Its friend also visited the tree but was camera-shy!

What I have found over the years is if I keep weeds around a bit longer, especially flowering weeds, they attract bees.  I think it is a good trade-off to have a less tidy garden in exchange for having more bees in my garden, which is essential for the health of gardens. If seen from this perspective and managed, weeds can serve a positive role in the garden.

CONSUMER ALERT UPDATE:  Apple seeds are highly toxic if ingested. More information on toxic plants can be found here:

http://www.calpoison.org/hcp/KNOW%20YOUR%20PLANTS-plant%20list%20for%20CPCS%2009B.pdf

Western Bluebirds Love My Weeds!

It’s true! After spending an hour this afternoon whacking weeds with my newly repaired cordless string trimmer, I began raking the dead vegetation, creating a few piles of the stuff. Moments later, in the corner of my eye, I saw a bold streak of blue. I stopped and became so excited to see that it was a Western bluebird! Check out the chestnut-colored breast of this male. Wow!

This was the first time I’ve noticed this bird in my garden. Absolutely thrilling!

The difficulty for me was to slowly drop my rake and rush to get my camera. No easy feat since this bird did not love my camera, though the camera certainly loved it!

It brought a few Western bluebird friends along with it, perhaps to get nesting materials? One drawback of maintaining a totally pristine garden is that you could end up losing opportunities to attract birds who enjoy some of your garden’s untidy features, e.g., weeds.

I have removed 60% of the weeds so far in today’s session alone, but am likely, during my removal of the other 40%, leave at least a few weed piles behind for birds to use. I love gardening and I love birdwatching: win-win!

UPDATE: I’ve owned this string trimmer for less than three years and something in the wiring makes it short out and not work. This happened today, 3/15/2014, the second such incident. I only use it once a month, so I doubt it is from overuse. Sadly, I will hold off on bringing it back to the repair shop since I suspect the problem will return and I am not sure what causes it to short out. It is also a bit tiresome to have to the battery run out in under 30 minutes and then you have to wait to recharge it to continue on with your work. (Hands thrown up in the air). Disappointed with Ryobi. If manufacturers want more people to “go green,” they have to make the products last as long (if not longer) and perform as well as non-green products. I will be shopping for a gas-powered string trimmer soon.

Spraying Weeds with Roundup Super Concentrate

I just finished my annual spring tradition of treating my backyard weeds with Roundup Super Concentrate (the one with the purple cap), using a hose-end sprayer.  The initial cost (around $109, not including tax) may seem hefty, but if you have a large area that get pummeled by weeds, it is worth the expense.

It took me about 15 minutes of spraying the affected areas. Now I just wait for the herbicide to slowly kill off the weeds. That will be in a few weeks time. Thankfully, I’m very patient!

Once the weeds have died off, I will use my cordless string trimmer to remove the dead vegetation, rake it up, and put it in the green recycling bin.

The results last for months. I then  use regular Roundup (blue cap) for spot treatments in between treatments with the Super Concentrate.

UPDATE: Here are detailed manufacturer’s instructions on how to use this product: http://www.scotts.com/smg/catalog/productTemplate.jsp?proId=prod70348&itemId=cat50096&tabs=usage

UPDATE #2: I’ve owned this string trimmer for less than three years and something in the wiring makes it short out and not work. This happened today, 3/15/2014, the second such incident. I only use it once a month, so I doubt it is from overuse. Sadly, I will hold off on bringing it back to the repair shop since I suspect the problem will return and I am not sure what causes it to short out. It is also a bit tiresome to have to the battery run out in under 30 minutes and then you have to wait to recharge it to continue on with your work. (Hands thrown up in the air). Disappointed with Ryobi. If manufacturers want more people to “go green,” they have to make the products last as long (if not longer) and perform as well as non-green products. I will be shopping for a gas-powered string trimmer soon.

Buzzing About Pears!

I am very pleased to report that my 3-in-1 pear trees are not only in flower, but are being visited by bees! There has been somewhat lower bee activity in my back yard over the past few years. I am not certain what has accounted for this, but there have been concerns about lower bee activity overall in the United States. Notably, colony collapse disorder has been offered as one of the reasons (http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572).

This weekend is the start of my pre-spring clean-up of my back yard, primarily removal of weeds. Some of the weeds had flowered, attracting bees not only to the weeds but to my fruit trees nearby.

For that reason, I was reluctant to start my weed removal project until now. Hopefully, the bees will find my fruit tree blossoms to be more tasty!

My pear (and apple) trees are dotted with blossoms. My apple tree also has small fruits. I anticipate a harvest this season of apples, pears, and quince (as mentioned in my previous post, my 3-in-1 pear tree was grafted onto the rootstock of a quince, so it is a pear and quince tree!).

I am very hopeful that the bees will coming with great regularity to my garden from now on. I (and my plants) have missed them greatly!

CONSUMER ALERT UPDATE:  Pear and apple seeds are highly toxic if ingested.  More information on toxic plants can be found here:

http://www.calpoison.org/hcp/KNOW%20YOUR%20PLANTS-plant%20list%20for%20CPCS%2009B.pdf

The Beak of the Lesser Goldfinch

I quietly snapped this photo of a female lesser goldfinch from inside my house, from a window looking into my back yard.  Note the dandelion seed in its beak. Sunday brunch!

Check out the notched tail, white undertail coverts, and light streaking along the breast and flank.

Over the years that I have gardened, I have tried to balance my wishes for a relatively clean garden (as much as that is reasonable) with creating a space that serves the needs of the non-plant inhabitants of the garden.

I am always immensely thrilled when I have such lovely birds visit my garden (beyond my usual crows, house finches, mourning doves, northern mockingbirds, and the like, who are also very welcomed).

My backyard is sizable enough that weeds are something that I have to manage throughout the year. But during the winter, I do allow them to grow a bit more because weeds, when allowed to grow a bit taller, create a food source and haven for birds that would not otherwise find their way to my garden during any other time of the year. The weeds do not last forever (thankfully), so when they start to die out, I remove the above-ground vegetation, followed by a few sprays of Roundup.

Similarly, if a rose plant meets an untimely end, I keep the defunct plant in-ground for at least a few months because I have observed many small birds still enjoying it.

Clearly, gardens are not just for the benefit and enjoyment of their human caretakers!

Roundup Super Concentrate: Instructions

It’s spring and for me, it means it’s time for me to get rid of weeds. I have posted on this topic in the past (https://janedata.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/hose-end-sprayer/) but it is good to repeat it from time to time. Especially after our recent rains, weeds seem to sprout up everywhere.

Before using this product, however, I remove the above-ground vegetation with a lopper and take out as much of it as I can reasonably manage – no small task sometimes!

If you are like me, and weeds seem to cover a large area, I fill my hose-end sprayer container with Roundup Super Concentrate (the one with the PURPLE cap). Below are brief instructions of “How To” use this product, but for those who love detailed instructions (which are also on the bottle), here are detailed manufacturer’s instructions on how to use this product: http://www.scotts.com/smg/catalog/productTemplate.jsp?proId=prod70348&itemId=cat50096&tabs=usage

HOW TO: I fill the hose-end sprayer bottle with Roundup Super Concentrate between 1/4 to 1/2 full, depending on how much area I plan to treat. The Roundup Super Concentrate is poured directly into the hose-end sprayer up to the 1/4 to 1/2 full line. I attach the hose-end sprayer to the water hose. Per the Roundup Super Concentrate instructions, I adjust the hose-end sprayer dial to 2-1/2 ounces mark (which means 2-1/2 ounces of concentrate per gallon of water).

I turn on the water hose and then spray the weed-affected area with the hose-end sprayer. When the concentrate is used up, I refill the bottle with more concentrate and repeat the process.

I will be buying more of this product in the coming weeks. It’s a valuable weapon in my arsenal of garden maintenance tools.

Ground Cover: Baby’s Tears

Also known as Mother of Thousands and  Soleirolia soleirolii, this native of the Mediterranean and Italy is quite the polarizing figure! It thrives in the shaded part of my front yard garden, but I did not plant it. In my yard,  it is a weed that  unexpectedly showed up, but is limited by the fact that much of the ground is already “spoken for” by other plants. I do not maintain it at all, and it has not become the invasive creature that it has become for quite a lot of gardens. This plant grows very rapidly and can spread out over large areas of your uncovered ground.

It is interesting that my local home improvement store sells this stuff as a ground cover plant, but Mother Nature has seen fit to give it to me for free. As you can see, it shows up not just on the bare soil (ground), but also in the container of one of my plants.

HOW TO: For those so inclined, this plant can be propagated through division, which means carefully digging up the above-ground vegetation and below-ground roots and separating them into individual, small plant clumps that can be transplanted into different parts of your garden.

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