It’s Officially Spring!
Niki Jabbour is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to gardening, and our clients always come to our annual Spring Gardening Spectacular with loads of questions for her. From deer to slugs to weed flamethrowers to the best strategies for keeping clematis alive, here’s what Niki suggests for keeping your garden looking its best.
What are the best ways to propagate heather?
That’s a good question! I’ve never actually propagated heather before. You know, I would probably ask that question to Jill Covill of Bunchberry Nurseries. She does a lot of heather propagation. I would imagine the best way to propagate would be layering, where it’s like a small acid-loving type of shrub. So, you would take a branch that’s kind of close to the ground and just use a little metal pin to pin it down to the ground. In about a year or so, I would expect it would root and you could clip it free from the mother plant, dig it up, and put it somewhere else. That would be the easiest way I would think to propagate it, but I would ask Jill where she is an expert.
I just planted a clematis. Any tips for increasing its chances of survival?
The old saying with clematis is they like to have their roots shaded. So, often people will plant something in front of it, like a Hosta or something, to shade the roots. You don’t really have to do that, but I would mulch it. Bark mulch around the base or some compost, like an inch of compost, or two to three inches of bark mulch, not right against the stem but like a couple inches around the stem with mulch. That definitely helps it settle in nicely, and it can take a year or two to settle in.
There are different types of clematis. Some grow on the old growth and some sprout from the base every year so if you know the kind you have you can find out how to prune it. Some don’t need pruning ever, where some you need to prune off the dead growth every year. So, once you know what kind you have and what pruning schedule you need for it, a little compost every spring, some slow-release flower fertilizer, and you should be fine.
I have landscape fabric at the base of my bark mulch in my gardens, but I still get many weeds this time of year? Any tips?
Landscape fabric is not so helpful. Every time I’ve ever used landscape fabrics it’s caused more problems, honestly. So basically, if you have mulch in the same place over landscape fabric for years, the bark mulch breaks down. It takes about two years, depending on the size of the bark or the wood chunks, to break down basically into a layer of soil. So, then you’ve got a layer of soil, then landscape fabric, another layer of soil from breaking down bark mulch, and then fresh bark mulch on top. And weeds can root in that and send their roots down into the landscape fabric.
So, the best thing is to pull weeds as soon as you see them. If it’s not an actual garden area, you could spray them with horticulture vinegar and that will burn the plants and hopefully kill them. Some people use a flame weeding tool. You just go along and kind of flame the weeds, just for like two seconds, not enough to kill the top of the plant but it actually kills the root. If you just burn off the whole top of the plant, the roots will survive. But, unfortunately, there’s no foolproof way to guarantee that no weeds come up in your mulch.
What are the best methods of pest control?
Honestly, biodiversity in your garden. Whether it’s a food garden or a landscape garden like a perennial garden or ornamental garden, to me that’s my number one approach to pest control. When you have that many different species in one area, you attract fewer pests because you attract hoverflies and parasitic wasps and ladybugs and lacewings, and things that eat bugs. So, if I see a couple aphids on my nasturtiums, I don’t panic because I know that the ladybugs are going to come in and gobble them up. So, I leave them there as a food source for the ladybugs.
But, if I see potato bugs on my potatoes for example, well that’s different. I am going to handpick those or, even better, if you get squash bugs or cucumber beetles or potato bugs, when you first plant, make sure you rotate and plant them in a different spot than you had them in last year because a lot of those adults over-winter in the soil. Then cover them with a row cover – it allows a lot of light through and water and air, but not the bugs. Then you can remove the row cover once the plants are flowering and are big enough to withstand an infestation if you do get a few pests.
Best ways to discourage deer?
A barrier is best, of course, like a fence or something – but that’s not always practical. If you had a couple vegetable beds you could put hoops around them and then cover them with chicken wire or bird netting to protect your vegetables or lower growing flowers. Also, if you had raised beds, you could put stakes on the four corners and then netting around the outside of it with just a little latch for the door. For ornamental gardens, for things like hydrangeas and Hosta, you can buy sprays. They’re natural sprays that basically just make the plant taste terrible and smell terrible. They generally work really well and last about a month or so – you’ll have to respray when new growth comes out. Just don’t use the sprays on your vegetables.
What about slugs?
Handpicking. Any time you see a slug, pick it up, toss it in a bucket of soapy water. I generally try to handpick slugs throughout May because by getting out there and putting a dent in the population early, you can then reduce the breeding and the future slug population. I also use diatomaceous earth around my peppers, beans, anything they really love. It helps keep them away because they don’t want to cross over top of it. It works pretty well but you do have to reapply it every time it rains or you water. Some people try eggshells, but I don’t find it works as well as the diatomaceous earth. You can also do beer traps, except save the beer for yourself and use yeasty water for the traps. They’re drawn to the yeast.
Anything you can recommend to keep ticks out of your garden?
Sadly, no. I wish I could so we could all plant it around our yards. I mean, keeping deer out of your yard is a great way to keep the deer ticks out. It’s not easy, of course, you need a barrier for that – a fence or something – so that’s a little trickier. I know there are some natural sprays you can get that you can spray when you go work in the garden. It’s definitely good to be vigilant about that and check yourself anytime you come in if there are ticks in your area to make sure nobody hitched a ride.
Any advice on foliar spray for seedings?
A foliar spray is basically just trying to get those nutrients absorbed through the leaves. So, you could use something like Seaboost, which is a liquid kelp, a product that is created here in the Maritimes. Liquid kelp contains lots of micronutrients, as well as some major nutrients and plant hormones, so that’s a great way to feed your seedlings. You would just spray that according to package directions. Or you can use another one, Nature’s Harvest. It’s a kelp fish fertilizer and you can mix that with water and spray it on too. Those would be the two I would use to foliar feed any plants. I often do foliar feed my tomatoes using Seaboost because it’s just a quicker way for the plant to absorb all those nutrients.
What vegetables can be grown in containers?
So many. Pretty much any vegetable can be grown in a container as long as you match the container to the size of the crop. So, there are tomatoes that grow eight inches tall and there are tomatoes that grow seven feet tall. You can grow an eight-inch tomato in an eight-inch pot, but for a seven-foot tomato, you’re going to need a big pot. So, read your variety descriptions carefully. I grow tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants. I mean you can grow beans in pots. And herbs, salad greens, broccoli. Just pick the right size container. And I always add compost to my potting mix as well when I grow in containers just to add a bit more organic matter and retain more moisture.
If you’re interested in more tips, check out Niki’s Favourite Culinary Herbs!
Niki Jabbour is the award-winning author of four books and the host of The Weekend Gardener on News 95.7 FM. For more expert advice, you can find her online at SaavyGardening.com and on social media. Happy Gardening!
All photos were provided by Niki Jabbour.