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

Clippity Doo Dah

LaVille and I like to take our Hyundai into the dealership in Vacaville because we take two cars and we spend the hours shopping at the numerous stores nearby.  There’s the factory stores, Target, Lowes, and many, many more all within a couple miles.  Well today after hitting Eddy Bauer, Lowes (several geraniums and great bougainvillea), the RH (the new Restoration Hardware—very disappointing), and Target, we came across a Dollar Tree.  The one thing we found there (other than the honey roasted peanuts and the Hot Tamales) was a package of Claw Clips.  Normally these would be used in your hair (not my hair), but we have found these tiny spring-loaded clips to be really useful in the garden for supporting delicate vines—like peas, clematis, passion vine, black-eyed susan, hardenbergia, honeysuckle, and morning glory.  So if you are into vines like we are, I suggest you visit your local Dollar Tree and seek out a package of Claw Clips—12 for a dollar.  If you find a photo of a clip below, I was able to figure out how to transfer a photo from my phone to a document.  If no photo, I failed again.

Stan, The Rambling Man
P.S. Don’t forget the peanuts!

Cl;aw Clips
Dollar Store Claw Clips

Losing Soil

You probably have noticed that you tend to lose soil through the drain holes in plant pots.  Ages ago—I think it was the Pleistocene—we use rocks to block those drain holes.  Then later I remember that we used chards of broken clay pots to prevent soil loss.  Recently we have used that fiberglass tape that is used to cover the seams of sheetrock.  I have 3 or 4 rolls of this tape that I’ve picked up at garage sales.  What’s good about this product is that you can use it over and over again.  I would give you a life-time supply if you would just let me know.  But since I know you won’t bother to ask, here is another solution to your soil loss problem—coffee filters.  The large size filters fit perfectly in the bottom of gallon pots and you can use filters torn in half or in quarter for smaller pots.  Large pots are where we have to resort to the webbed tape (and remember I have lots!).

Stan, The Rambling Man

Calling All Hosers

OK hosers!  This may be the hose you’ve been dreaming about.  The Flexilla is a 5/8 inch, heavy duty, lightweight hose that is kink proof under pressure.  I’m sure if you gabbed it firmly and gave it a good twist and pull, you could probably prove me wrong.  You wouldn’t do that would you?  Two of my closest gardening friends have this hose and swear by it.  I ordered a 25 foot length and can join their chorus.  Light weight and doesn’t kink—it’s a miracle.  Perhaps its most valuable feature is that being really flexible, it lays flat which means you are less likely to trip over it.  Its bright green color also helps too.  It’s lead free drinking water safe to boot.

You can buy this hose in different lengths on Amazon, or find it in various local stores.  If you look on Amazon you will see that it has had over 30,000 reviews!  It’s a good time to be a hoser!

Happy hosing,

Stan, The Tool Man     

WD-40 vs Silicone

I would hazard to guess that you have either a can of WD-40 or a can of silicone spray, or both, in your arsenal of improvement products.  Which of these is better?  Let me give you my opinion.  (If you don’t want it, stop reading.)

The term “WD-40” is derived from the fact that the aerospace company developing this product was trying to find a chemical that would displace water—thus “WD” stands for water displacement.  As it happens, WD-40 was the 40th formula that was finally successful in keeping water away from the skin of the Atlas rocket and preventing corrosion.  I have always found this fact fascinating.  (Not so much for you?…Oh well.)

I always include a can of WD-40 in my supply of tool sharpening equipment.  Not only do I use it to coat metal to retard rusting, but the spray tends to dissolve the gunk that accumulates on pruners and loppers.  (Oven cleaner and a brush really does a thorough job though.) And, of course, it is a lubricant that reduces friction and stops those irritating squeaks.  I also just learned from my Flipboard app (A great app for learning the latest news.) that WD-40, being oily, can be applied to wooden handles to reduce the occurrence of splinters.  Then, too, if you notice that the rocket in your back yard is starting to corrode, this product is a must.

Now, silicone, on the other hand, is not petroleum based.  Therefore it dries and has far less odor for use indoors.  Since it dries, it won’t trap dust and dirt.  Silicon is therefore ideal for lubricating the tracks of sliding doors and screens, lubricating tracks of drawers, improving the function of padlocks and doorknobs, and stopping the squeaks of door hinges.

On a personal note, I used WD-40 to lubricate the switch on my leaf blower.  The blower was set aside on a flat surface and was still plugged to a power cord.  While I was doing something else, the blower turned itself on, and since the air intake was blocked, the motor overheated and started a fire.  Being a slow learner, I bought the same model of leaf blower again.  Since the power switch on this one was sticking like the last one,  lubricated again with WD-40.  Believe it or not, this resulted in a melted switch.  Who’da thought!  I had to take the blower apart and hard wire it.  Now I have to discnnect the extension cord whenever I want to stop blowing.  So apparently it is unwise to use WD-40 on electrical switches.

So in conclusion, I would suggest that you have both of these products.  Use WD-40 where you want to leave an oily surface, and use silicone where you want to lubricate but leave a dry surface.

Stan, The Slow Learning Man

Bucket Envy

If you want to stand out from the typical gardener who uses the ubiquitous ugly 5 gallon plastic bucket to contain everything from tools to weeds, here is your chance.  Tubtrugs is the maker of an entire line of colorful, flexible, containers that would fulfill your every need.  I have a friend that bought the 10 gallon size, and liked it so well that he bought 3 more.  Keep in mind that if you are like me and require the rigid edges of a bucket to assist your rise from the ground to a vertical position, this may not be your best bet.  But for those of you with younger legs, here is your chance to secure the envy of all your neighbors and gardening friends.  Amazon has a great assortment for you to peruse.  And remember, if it rains, Tubtrugs has you covered—better go with the 10 gallon size.

Stan, The Bucket Man

10-gallon Tub Trug flexible plastic bucket
10-gallon Tub Trug flexible plastic bucket


by Niki L. Moquist, UC Master Gardener

Spring is the perfect time to inventory our garden and household chemicals sitting in the garage or garden shed shelves. These half or full containers might have sat around for a while gathering dust. These need to be disposed safely to prevent accidents and protect the environment. 

Let’s define what is a pesticide: A pesticide is any substance used to kill, repel, or control certain forms of plant or animal life that are considered pests. A pest is any unwanted organism that causes problems. Most organisms are not pests or are pests only in certain conditions. Pesticides should be considered tools or steps in a process.

Pesticides include: herbicides for destroying weeds and other unwanted vegetation; insecticides for controlling a wide variety of insects; fungicides used to prevent the growth of molds and mildew; disinfectants for preventing the spread of bacteria; and compounds used to control mice and rats. They can be chemical, or organic such as neem oils. They contain active and inert ingredients, produced to be used in very specific ways. 

Labels on pesticide containers give specific instructions how to use and dispose, look for the “Storage and Disposal” statement on your pesticide label. It is a good idea to learn how to read the pesticide label. Labels are there primarily to help us achieve maximum benefits with minimum risk. Both depend on following label directions and correctly using them. Follow the directions before each use and when storing or disposing the pesticide. Do not trust your memory. You may have forgotten part of the instructions. Use of any pesticide in any way that does not comply with the label direction and precautions is illegal. Improper usage may be ineffective on the pests or, even worse, pose risks to users or the environment. Labels also list if the pesticide is toxic to the bee population. It is a good idea to read the label prior to purchasing a product to make sure is effective on the pest you are trying to control. Keep product in its original container with labels intact.

Dispose of pesticides as instructed on the product label. If product label is illegible and contents cannot be identified, it is best to dispose. Some chemicals do not age well, if they have been sitting on a shelf for a while it is best to dispose. Older chemicals might have been removed from the market and it would be illegal to use them, e.g., diazinon. (The last time use allowed was 2004!). If any product remains in the old container, it must be disposed as household hazardous waste. Never pour pesticides down the sink, toilet, sewer, or street drain. Many municipal drinking water and wastewater treatment systems are not equipped to remove pesticides. If pesticides reach waterways, they can harm fish, plants, and other living things. You cannot dispose pesticide bottles or other containers in household garbage can. You need to take them to an approved Household Hazardous Waste Center. Check your local municipality for hours and sites. Never reuse empty containers.

Once ready to tackle the task, make sure to line the floor with a heavy plastic tarp. Have on hand kitty litter or sand and plenty of paper towels for cleaning spills. Lay out heavy garbage bags to form a barrier for plastic containers. Be sure to wear protective clothing when rinsing pesticide containers, such as chemical resistant gloves and eye protection to avoid contact with skin or eyes. Do not pour rinse water into any drain or on any site not listed on the product label; it could contaminate the environment. If you mixed or diluted a pesticide and you have a little too much left over, try to use it up while following the label.  Consider asking a neighbor if they can use any leftover mixtures. Protect pets and children, make sure they are in the house and safe.

How to transport the old pesticides to the Household Hazardous Waste Center:

  • Keep the pesticides in their original containers with the labels attached
  • Place containers so they won’t shift and/or spill; you might have to fill gaps between containers with old newspapers
  • Line the transport area in your vehicle with a heavy plastic tarp, to contain any spills in case of an accident
  • If pesticides are carried in the back of an open vehicle, secure and cover the load
  • Don’t put pesticides in the passenger compartment of a vehicle

Go straight to collection site once you have loaded the car. Drive carefully

Same rules apply when you purchase pesticides and are delivering them to your house. Place bottles in a plastic tub lined with a heavy garbage bag, to protect your vehicle in case of spills. Keep pesticides away from groceries, including food for animals.

Pesticides should be stored in their original containers. The original container is designed to protect the product and it’s made of materials that will withstand the chemicals in the product. Store containers with their original labeling which includes application and disposal directions, ingredient names and emergency information. The original container also has the appropriate lid/cap to protect kids and pets. Store in a designated place that is only used for pesticide storage, pick a well-ventilated location that children and pets cannot access, preferably with a latch or lock. Choose a location away from ponds, streams and drinking water wells.

Keep these tips in mind:

  • Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to reduce the use of pesticides (see below for website)
  • Identify the pest and make sure the product will be effective against that pest before purchasing
  • Buy only what you need for the season, mix only what you need today, follow label directions for mixing

Helpful Resources:

  • For help with identifying pests and how to control them – Integrated Pest Management Program at University of California  http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/menu.homegarden.html  
  • For help in how to store, dispose, read labels on container, the National Pesticide Information (NIPC) at Oregon State University is a good source.  
  • Disposal Instructions on Non-antimicrobial Residential or Household Use Pesticide Product Labels –US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA
  • Safe Disposal of Pesticides – US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Contact your local Master Gardeners for more information

Happy gardening and stay safe.  






Garden Stakes

Although not really a tool, plastic coated steel garden stakes certainly can qualify as a helpful item for successful gardening.  The reason I am mentioning it now, is that I have recently been made aware of a deal that I would like to pass on to you.  Most gardeners have a stash of stakes of various lengths.  In fact many of the estate sales I’ve attended will have stakes if there was any history of gardening at the property—that along with a collection of fertilizers, chemical treatments and most importantly—gardening tools. But who currently wants to go an estate sale where you are often crowded in a house with strangers?  I haven’t been to a garage sale for a year—sob, sob.  Anyway, if you find your supply of garden stakes lacking, here is a source that will satisfy your needs for good quality garden stakes at a reasonable price.  You can order these on line from Home Depot with free home delivery;

Note that you can order lengths from 4 feet to 7 feet.

Happy staking!

Stan, The Tool(?) Man

Propagation Blog #3 Timing Softwood Cuttings

by LaVille Logan

For most plants there is a window of opportunity for success. I always rely on asking Google for help with this as it steers me away from mistakes.  “Google, when is the best time for ________ cuttings? Often the answer is “When the plant is actively growing.” This makes it unnecessary for me to be concerned with the planting zone because the plant will be growing when conditions are good for it. Plant growth stages fall into 4 categories: herbaceous softwood, semi hardwood, and hardwood and are very important in determining whether or not the cutting will root. I will be concerned with softwood cuttings today as much of my experience is with this group. I have started clematis, forsythia, fuchsia, pelargoniums, salvia, ivy, hoya, abutilons and hydrangea this last season. (Be aware that I did not take all of the cuttings at precisely the “correct” time.) Softwood is when the young stems are just getting a little hard—not likely to dry out after they are cut. Older stems become harder and it is more difficult for them to develop roots in that stage. The softwood should snap and break when bent. You can use the same starting procedures with softwood cuttings: 1. Cutting length from 4 to 6 inches, 2. Strip bottom two sets of leaves, creating a scar to ‘work with’ the hormone, 3. Dip into hormone powder, shake off extra, and 4. Place into readymade hole in dampened potting mix. Keep cutting in a humid environment for 2 to 3weeks ( refer to blog about tote containers or use inverted Zip Lock bags. It is better if the bags do not touch the cuttings. There are many plants that will work with these procedures, but the ones listed are the plants to which I had access. Regading not taking cuttings at the ‘correct’ time–remember the windstorm? A branch of our Xylosma tree broke off, I made a 20+ cuttings, (insert unhappy emoji) they all failed, but when I trimmed back my clematis later (not actively growing, and kind of crunchy) I got two of those cuttings to grow!  Yay!

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

Propagation Blog #1 – TOTES

By LaVille Logan

I think it is important to do a job with the best tools.  One of my best tools is a clear plastic tote. The ones I use will hold 12 4”pots.  When I make cuttings, they do better if they are in high humidity for a period of time. I place the cuttings in small cups (Blog #2 Containers and Medium) using a variety of mediums, and I arrange the already watered plants closely in said tote.  The clear plastic of the sides and top allow bright indirect light to reach plants. The next day, and every day, I check to see if moisture had accumulated on the inside surface of the tote. If so, great. If not, I didn’t get the cuttings moist enough. They should be WET when placed in tote. You will not have to water them again for at least 2 weeks, perhaps a month if the lid is snapped on tightly. If the droplets of water that gather are large enough to “wander around” on the inside of the lid, perhaps there is too much humidity, and you can set the lid a little crooked on the tote to allow a little evaporation. House plants generally can use more humidity than outdoor plants. I check my totes daily, feeling the air inside to make sure it is not too hot. Any direct sun on a tote may create a solar oven, so be careful. The very low winter sun provides just the right amount of light and heat to keep cuttings safe from low temperatures.  However, when we had a streak of very low night temps (anything below 40 for several days) I brought them all inside.  I have learned a few plants don’t like humidity and will turn black and fuzzy after the initial root development (about three to four weeks) while others may be fine with it.  Just keep an eye on them daily and move plants that are not thriving to a protected place out of the closed tote. If you do not want to “dive in” and purchase large totes, you can create a humid environment around a pot containing cuttings by covering it with a large Ziploc plastic bag.

This Rake’s For You!

I don’t know if you remember, but several times I have emphasized the importance buying tools that are as light as possible—as long as it doesn’t affect the quality or effectiveness of the tool.  This would apply particularly to shovels and brooms.  This fact was brought to mind when I recently received a birthday gift from one of my sons.  This shovel arrived in a box from Lowes that was so mangled and mashed, that you wouldn’t think anything inside could have survived, but survived it did.  Now, this 48 inch Cobalt steel digging shovel is really substantial—no wonder it survived.  The handle is steel and the step flange is wide which is advertised to not hurt your foot (like I’m going to be out digging barefoot or in flipflops—come on!).  Anyway, the point is that this shovel is heavy.  Every time I heft the shovel, I am lifting the weight of the shovel as well as its load—wasted energy.  This shovel is so substantial that it comes with a lifetime warrantee.  If I didn’t know this son better, I would suspect that he has sights on this tool in the end, if you know what I mean.  In the meantime, the shovel is awaiting a significant sharpening as the shovel blade is really thick.

 Boy!  When I digress, I don’t go halfway.  I am trying the make the point that several tools are better when they are light.  This is particularly true with leaf rakes, which you use by constantly swinging them back and forth.  I am in love (not really) with a rake I found at a garage sale.  It is the Blue Hawk 24 inch leaf rake.  The Blue Hawk series of products are entry level tools from Lowes.  The handle is made of light wood.  The rake head is light plastic, and only the tines are metal.  I found by accident that you can actually improve this rake.  One day I was too lazy to pick up the rake from the lawn and thought I could pass over it without harm.  The mower ripped off 4 of the tines on one side.  (I never did find the tines.)  I used this lopsided rake for many months until I came up with the idea of removing 4 tines from the other side by sawing through the plastic head.  Now, through serendipity (stupidity) I have a long handled, narrow headed rake with long tines that is able to remove leaves from tight confines.  Since then, I was able to buy another Blue Hawk at another garage sale, so I have a full-size rake as well.  So, my suggestion to you is that, if you need a rake, go to Lowes and pick up one of these light-weight beauties for about $10.  Then, if you want to improve your raking capability, buy a second one and cut off tines from each side.  You can skip the mower part.

            Happy raking! Stan The Tool Man

Rhonda Doesn’t Like House Plants

Today I asked Rhonda to clean the house floors while I worked out in the garden.  When I returned inside, I could not find her anywhere.  What I did discover was several pots of plants that were knocked over.  The leaves of the swiss cheese plants had been beat up so that the isolated leaf holes now extended to the mauled leaf margins.  Rather miffed, I found Rhonda hiding under our bed entrapped in electrical wires.  So I extracted her, dusted her off, and took her to her corner so she could recharge her system and hopefully be a more trustworthy worker in the future.  Oh . . did I forget to tell you Rhonda is our Rhumba?


Drip—Don’t Squirt!

I have always been cheap.  My wife has been working on me to change this attitude for 50 years now, and I must admit that she has largely been successful.  I still, however, really resist throwing anything away.  It’s not that I am a hoarder, I just find extreme pleasure on finding a use for an object after I have saved it for years.  I have junk drawers that are a challenge to close.  This cheapness applies to tools as well.  For instance, I am still using the wheelbarrow and sawhorses my dad (who was a contractor) gave me nearly 50 years ago—and they were old and beat up then!

Anyway, this impulsion to save stuff has resulted for instance in collection of old soaker hoses and pieces of soaker hoses that fill a garbage can.  I’ve now decided that the garbage can is the best destination for this accumulation.  You see, our main iris garden was watered by a variety of soaker hoses—different sizes and different ages.  The result was very uneven watering—some parts were completely dry, some parts over watered, and there were frequent squirts here and there.  LaVille would have to drag a hose through the garden and water everything every week.  After listening to several complaints (she is careful not to nag), I finally decided to bite the bullet and buy new soaker hose.  I was looking for ½  inch hose everywhere, but only found 3/8”.  Interesting enough, I found the same brand at every store.  For instance, the 50 foot SoakerPro by Element was about $17 at Home Depot.  However, the same hose was $5.72 at the Lowes in West Sacramento.  I jumped on that one!  In fact, I bought two.

The hoses were easy to install.  I first unrolled the coils and twisted it to take out all of the loops.  Then as I dragged it through the garden I pinned it using “U” shaped wires made from coat hangers that I had been saving.  When I turned on the water, I couldn’t believe how well the water was distributed.  I bet this system could also be used to water lines of potted plants if they were, say, all one-gallon pots.

So, if you find that your soaker hose is squirting rather than dripping, head for West Sacramento.  Don’t be cheap and take the hose out in the street and run over it with the car—which is the old, recommended treatment for soaker hoses that get clogged by minerals.  You will love how much better a new hose works.

Happy dripping!

Stan, The Tool Man

Teased to Death

Do you remember that day in high school biology when you dissected a night crawler?  If you don’t, let me tell you that it is an earthworm about 7 inches long.  You used your scalpel to carefully cut in incision in the dorsal surface at the anterior end.  Then using a probe, you scratched at the tissue of the wall segments and pulled back and pinned the body walls to the wax of the dissection tray.  Further scratching with the probe finally revealed the brain which consisted of two connected tiny white lumps lying on top of the esophagus.  We called this process teasing, and I am reminded of my first dissection back in 1957 whenever I am fighting the oxalis growing in my lawn.  I only have a few spots where oxalis insists on returning.  Several years ago. I removed 8 square feet of lawn that was hopelessly infested with this weed.  I thought I had eradicated it, but 2 or 3 areas continue to be a problem. 

So weekly, after each mowing, I get down on my hands and knees and use a teasing technique to remove any oxalis before it has a chance to go to seed.  The tool I use is a dinner plate knife because is it rigid, narrow, and had a dull rounded end.  I grab the oxalis by the neck (not really the neck) and pull gently.  At the same time, I tease (scratch) the soil where I figure the root is located.  Generally. the root gives way and another plant bites the dust (so to speak).

I figure that I have a right to tell you about this experience because it does involve a tool, albeit a tool with very limited use.  By the way, this is also the tool I use to spread peanut butter in the rat traps that I try to keep baited year-round.

I guess the one question remains—will I be able to completely tease the oxalis to death—or will it outlast me and tease me to death?

Stan, The Tool Man

P.S.  My editor says the last line is a little grim.

Table knife as garden tool
Table knife as garden tool