A Neatnik’s Dilemma

Have you ever paused for a moment when removing the debris from around a plant?  That collection of organic matter that covered the ground not only helped to retain soil moisture, but eventually would decompose and release nutrients back into the soil.  So as long as the debris didn’t harbor disease, the plant would be happier if you left things be.  But would you be happier?  Probably not, unless you dress up the surroundings with mulch.  Even then I have seen examples of mulch covered gardens that I consider downright ugly.  3 to 4 inches of ugly doesn’t do a thing for me.  On the other hand, I love the effect created by a covering of mini bark.  I used to be able to buy “Pathway Bark” from Garden Time at Lowes, but now all they have available is “Pathway Groundcover” which more closely resembles sawdust than bark.  If you were at Jeannie’s pop-up sale, you might have noticed how great the landscaping appeared as it was dolled up with a covering of mini bark.  I asked her husband and he said he was able to get at Hasties.  He said it was rather expensive though.

As usual, I have strayed from my original topic—that of the dilemma of whether or not you should clean up around plants in your garden—are you making the plants happier, or making you happier?  You can do both, but more often I simply opt for me.  Just being selfish, I guess.

Stan, The Blog Man

A Bigger Burning Desire

LaVille and I have recently joined the weeding group working to maintain the WPA Rock Garden.  We meet between 9:00 and 9:30 each Thursday and park above the Rock Garden on the road that leads to the entrance to the zoo.  A finer group of volunteers you’ll never meet.  The task I have chosen is to attack the weeds in the paths with a torch.  Now the torch I use is the same one I use almost daily in our garden going after newly germinating moss, baby tears, and annual bluegrass.  Most of the weeds I toast are less than ½ inch high, so the small torch I use produces a small, concentrated flame that adequately bakes my prey.  (It’s the same torch I described in the blogs on the SPPC web site.)  Like I discussed before, the problem is that I have to bend over the weeds, and unless there is a breeze, the smoke rises up into my face.  I bob and weave about trying to avoid the smoke, but the days following a burning session are sometimes accompanied by irritated eyes.  I tried to solve this one day at the Rock Garden by wearing googles but was discouraged by the ridicule of my wife and the fear in the eyes of children walking the paths.

I just have to stop here and tell you what a fantastic place the Rock Garden is—thanks primarily to Daisy Mah who has made the garden so special.  The winding paths bordered by walls of granite boulders encompass plantings that are marvelous.  It is a joy to see adults with their kids wind through the garden.  Professional looking photographers seem always to be there.  Families have gatherings to celebrate occasions.  It is simply a happy place.

 Now, back to burning weeds:  Not only was the smoke in the eyes a problem, but I was pretty much exhausted after bending over for a couple hours.  And, of course, I always stunk of burned weeds afterwards.  My solution was to borrow a long torch from a club member.  I found this really worked well as the larger flame burned weeds probably ten times faster.  But also used gas ten times faster, and in 2 days I went through 2 tanks of propane gas.  I wasn’t too concerned because I was used to picking up tanks and garage sales and estate sales for no more than a couple bucks.  I went to the Davis Ace—no tanks.  I went to Home Depot—no tanks.  I went to Lowes—no tanks.  That’s when I found out that backpackers grab up these tanks as soon as they come in.  OK—Amazon—yes, but they’re over $11 each and would take a week to get here from the East Coast (No combustible gas aboard airlines.)  So I ordered a packet of 4—but just for use with my small torch in my own garden.

My new plan is to order my own bigger torch with a 10 foot hose that will connect to one of my 20 pound propane tanks used with the barbeque.  I’m going to lash it to a hand truck and roll it around the Rock Garden and hopefully eliminate all the weeds in the paths in a couple sessions.  I’ll add the results to this article after next Thursday’s session.

Weeks Later – I have to tell you that I am somewhat frustrated.  I can’t find any more weeds to burn in the paths for the Rock Garden, and it’s tiring dragging the hand truck with the propane tank attached through all the paths because there are raised steps involved.  But the good news is that I really love my new torch.  I no longer have to bend over with my small hand-held torch.  Smoke no longer rises up into my face.  The flame is much bigger and really hot.  If I can find the same model again on Amazon, I’ll picture it below.  It has a self-starter attached so I don’t have to carry around a flint starter.  Until you squeeze the handle, the torch stays lit with a gentle flame.  Then when you press the handle a roaring flame shoot out.  The size of that flame is easily controlled by the knob right near your hand. The 12 foot hose allows you to cover a big area without moving the tank.  Using a 20 pound tank is much much cheaper than using the small tanks that attach directly to the torch.  Plus you can always get the big tank refilled.  Good luck finding a small tank to buy when you need it.

The bad news is . . the chance that a reader of this article would ever need this torch is slim.  I can’t even use this torch on my own property.  Our lot is average-sized for homes built in the ‘70s and there is very little ground left where there’s no valued plant growing.  Then too, bark covers what is left.  I’ll probably take the torch out front and cook all the weeds growing the joints of the sidewalk and in the cracks of the poorly maintained asphalt of the street.  But other than that, my little torch is a far better choice for my personal weed problems.  But if you are fortunate enough to have a large property and unfortunate enough to have a huge weed problem, this is one honey of a tool for you.

Happy burning!

Stan, The Tool Man

P.S. My editor says I should mention that this is a tool only for use by responsible users who are careful enough not to burn down the State of California.

Mini on Mini

Years ago I bought a pack of 60 sheets of yellow sticky traps figuring that it was enough to last a life time.  I now see that the stack of sheets is running low.  I’m afraid that does not bode well for my future.  But until we both expire, I’ll keep plodding along.

The reason for my original purchase was to do battle with the white flies that like to infest our iris beds.  Being cheap, I always cut the letter size sheets vertically into thirds and then hung these narrow strips throughout the beds every year.  That technique has worked fairly well as whenever we walk through the beds, we purposely knock against the plants, the white flies fly up and zip over to the yellow strips to which they become stuck.

When LaVille mentioned that several of the plants she was propagating started to get white fly, I cut sheets into thirds and then those strips in half.  I then mounted them on miniblind stakes and taped the stakes to the sides of the totes in which the plants were being raised.  Well this was only partially successful as the stakes stuck to the totes, but the mini pieces of sticky sheet sometimes did not want to adhere to the stakes.  The yellow sticky sheet material is flat and likes to stay that way—they didn’t want to bend around the bent stakes.  Adding blue masking tape worked somewhat, but I found small metal clips worked as a last resort.

So far, pretty boring, right?  Well, look at the accompanying photo.  See the attached white flies? . . . No, you can’t.  They are tiny, and blend right in with the yellow mini sheet.  I just took a flashlight (It’s night time) and tried to count the white flies.  I figure there is at least 100 on both sides of the yellow mini sheet.  Look at the photo.  Guess what those dark specks are?  Those are fungus gnats.  It’s a 2fer!  After the sticky mini strips were in place for about 4 days, no flies or gnats appeared when we brushed the plants.  Adults were eliminated, so the life cycle was broken.

So if you have any trouble with white flies or fungus gnats, try using these yellow sticky traps.  I have to tell you though, working with these is a real pain.  I mean these traps are really sticky.  You can remove sticky stuff from you fingers with paint thinner.

Well, I feel foolish.  I just checked Amazon and found that there are all kinds of small yellow sticky traps now available.  Not only that—they actually advertise use on fungus gnats and flying aphids as well as white flies.  Do I feel out of touch!

Stan, The Feeling Old Man

Sticky Trap
Capture gnats with sticky trap

Spring Clamps

 Once again it is beneficial to look outside the box.  Here we have a versatile item that you won’t find in your local nursery.  Please note that although labeled “Spring” clamps, these devices may be used during all 4 seasons—and especially in the Summer.  You can see by the accompanying photo, that they are brightly colored, which will hopefully prevent their loss.  (I haven’t seen your garden, but I suspect you may have the tendency to leave stuff all over.)  This complete variety of color allows you to accessorize your gardening attire with clamps that will attach anywhere.  I don’t have much capability, but I suppose you could even adorn your hair with these snazzy items.  I tried this idea, but found it rather painful.

So how would you use these clamps in the garden?  You could support plants.  You wouldn’t pinch the plant itself—that would be cruel—but enclose the branch and clamp to a supportive structure.  Using this on vines, tomato plants, and bougainvillea immediately comes to mind, but, really, any plant that requires staking would be a good candidate.  Then there’s the need to attach sheet material—bird netting, shade cloth, frost protection, tarps.  Could you use it to attach labels?  How about hanging yellow sticky sheets.  Maybe you need to close a bag of fertilizer.  How ‘bout sticking one on your body to remind you to turn off the water.

I think you can see that there is almost no end to the uses for this versatile tool.  You are probably not trying to decide whether or not to buy, but how many to buy.  Well, the good news is that these clamps are really cheap.  You can purchase a set of 22 clips for only $4.99 at your closest Harbor Freight, so don’t hold back!

Happy Clamping,

Stan, The Tool Man

P.S. If you really want to travel outside the box, google “clampers.”  My brother-in-law is one of these.

Spring Clamps
Spring Clamps