Ciscoe Morris, Seattle Times garden writer, offers tips on keeping the squirrels away from tulip bulbs; getting powdery mildew off vegetable plants; and a plant that eats fruit flies.
Q: Every fall I plant tulips just to watch the squirrels dig them up. What can I do to keep the squirrels from ruining my spring display?
A: Squirrels consider tulips a gourmet treat, and deterring the fuzzy beasts from gobbling them up is a difficult challenge. If your drainage is good, try planting your tulips 12 inches deep. Squirrels rarely dig far under the surface, so they aren’t likely to reach the bulbs. Furthermore, tulips planted deeply often survive winter weather better than those planted near the surface.
If you have less than stellar drainage, your tulips will rot if you plant them deeply, so in that case, try surrounding your bulbs in a chicken wire cage when you plant them. The stems can easily find their way through the gaps in the wire, but the squirrels can’t get to the bulbs.
Unfortunately, when I tried this method, the squirrels exacted revenge by eating the buds right off the top of the stems as soon as they emerged from the soil. If you notice that happening, spray the buds daily with a hot-pepper spray.
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All mammals except humans hate hot peppers. That won’t work if it’s wet out, however, because the rain washes the pepper spray off the buds. That leaves two options: Plant daffodils, which squirrels don’t eat, or adopt a Jack Russell Terrier!
Q: The leaves on my cucumbers and zucchinis are covered with a powdery looking substance and stopped producing early. Now it’s showing up on my winter squash and pumpkin plants. Is this going to kill my plants before my squash and pumpkins ripen?
A: Your plants are suffering from a fungus disease called powdery mildew. Practically any plant can get it, but among vegetables, squash, cucumbers and peas are especially susceptible. As ugly as this disease is, it rarely kills the plant, but severe infestations can interfere with photosynthesis by blocking light to leaf cells.
Powdery mildew is the only fungus that lives on the outside of the leaves and therefore can be controlled with sprays. Although it is more effective if applied at first sign of infection, a mixture of 2 teaspoons of baking soda, and 4 drops of dish detergent in a quart of water will help reduce the severity of the disease. Drought stress is a major contributing factor, so make sure your plants are watered adequately from now until you harvest.
To reduce powdery mildew problems next season, remove all leaves, stems and fruit from the garden after you harvest.
Q: Last fall I heard you mention a plant that you always want to have around in the fall because it eats fruit flies. What was it?
A: The plants you heard me talk about are called sundews (Drosera). During fruit-harvest time I usually place several of these carnivorous plants in my kitchen. Their leaves are covered with a sweet substance that lures in fruit flies. The sweet substance is also sticky, enabling the plant to trap and slowly digest the fruit fly. There are a wide variety of sundews available at nurseries and indoor-plant stores, and all of them seem to work well when it comes to catching fruit flies.
Locate the plants where fruit flies are a problem, in full-sun or as bright light as possible, and set them in saucers filled with enough water to keep a quarter of the pot covered at all times. In winter most sundews begin to dieback and go dormant. Either store them in an unheated garage and try to get them to start growing again in spring, or do what I find is much easier, and simply toss them in the compost bin and start over with new ones each fall.
Sundews will never totally wipe out the fruit-fly population, but when you see how many fruit flies they consume on a daily basis, it’ll make Audrey II from “Little Shop of Horrors” seem like a pussycat in comparison!
Ciscoe Morris: firstname.lastname@example.org; “Gardening with Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.