If you have followed my blogs, you will remember how I have touted the benefits of controlling weeds by burning them. The main advantage is that the weed seeds are destroyed along with the weed. My experience with weed burning has evolved over the years. The first tool I used was the small green propane tank and torch you see on the pavement in the photo below. I would walk through our garden, bend over, and press the red button to produce a flame that cooked whatever weed I found. I would use a trowel to shield drip lines or valued plants. When I joined Daisy Mah’s crew at the WPA Rock garden, I used this torch to fry the weeds growing in the paths. This slow process led me to advance to a much bigger torch. I attached a 5 gallon propane tank to a hand truck and wheeled throughout all the Rock Garden paths. It wasn’t long before all paths were weed free.
Recently, due to back problems, I was unable to bend over to reach the weeds. So, I bought a burner with a long tube extension that allowed me to burn weeds while standing erect. This system works well except there is no button to turn the flame on and off as you move around, and the flame is much larger than that produced by the smaller torch. Well, a month ago, I was using this long burning torch in the garden, and I quickly burned some weeds next to the fence, and then continued to work my way around the yard. I was alerted by my wife, who had been indoors, that there was an emergency. And, sure enough, flames were roaring several feet above our fence. A nearby hose finally quelled the flames, but the damage was done. What you see in the photo is the view from my neighbor’s yard. My new torch had ignited dry material on the other side of the fence and flames quickly engulfed the redwood boards. It did not help that daytime temps were around 100 degrees. Also, had there not been an open space at the base of the fence, there would not have been any fire damage.
When I have talked about the use of a torch to control weeds, I mention the possibility of burning a fence as sort of a joke. As it turned out, the joke was on me.
You must have noticed that the cooler weather and recent rain has really slowed down gardening chores—that is other than trying to keep up with the constant deluge of fallen leaves. With extra time available, LaVille and I have resumed going to estate sales. Last Friday we went to a sale where I was able to purchase 5 pruners and 2 cans of spray paint for $2. One of the pruners was really encrusted with rust as you can see below. I couldn’t wait to work the magic of a vinegar bath. I know this is old news for those of you who read the “Fun For 3 Dollars” blog from earlier this year, but I just couldn’t resist a repeat performance. I used the old vinegar that is now stained a dark reddish brown and submerged the pruner for a day. You can see how the rust is now gone and has been replaced by a thin black coating. This is some kind of oxide that I have not been able to identify, but it serves as a barrier against future rust formation. Even if this layer is easy to remove with fine steel wool, it is best to leave it alone.
So even though you are not willing to get out of bed on the weekend and venture out in search of estate and garage sales, why not check over your stash of garden tools, make that $3 investment in a gallon of vinegar and become a miracle worker? I’m sure your family and friends will be impressed!
I just discovered a YouTube web site that you might enjoy. It’s called Dig Plant Water Repeat. It just so happens that the wife of my wife’s current physical therapist makes videos about plants. She is also a PT and loves making videos. People who do videos get paid when you watch the short ads in the programs.
She makes 5 new videos each week, so there are hundreds of programs from which to choose. Here are a few of the topics that she has covered: house plants, weed control, propagation, pollinator friendly gardens, drip irrigation, gardening on a budget, cut flower gardens, and garden tools. She lives nearby in Davis, so her planting is appropriate for the Sacramento Valley. Why don’t you give her well designed programs a try? It’s a good way to spend your time when it’s 100 degrees outside.
Stan, The Blog Man
P.S. I’m considering starting up my own video series called “Work in the Garden Rest Repeat” What do you think?
For those of you who are not familiar with E D, Easily Distracted Syndrome is a very common ailment which seems to become more prevalent in humans as they age—at least that has been my experience. Perhaps you have fallen prey to this same malady. As gardeners, here are some of the symptoms that you may have noticed:
You mean to leave water running in a particular area of your yard for 5 minutes, but discover hours later that it is still running. That happened to me last week when I let water run on a wisteria, and didn’t turn it off until 4 hours later when I returned from a medical appointment. Then, I have a dear friend who got distracted and flooded not only part of her back yard as well as her neighbor’s by letting a hose run all night.
You have accumulated a collection of well rusted tools. It was not your intention to leave tools out in the weather, but it has happened over and over again. I won’t name names, but after sharpening hundreds of your garden tools, I can definitely tell that some of you have a serious problem with E D.
You go in the garden with a particular task in mind. Hours later you realize that chore was never even started. Nothing will distract me faster that the sight of a weed that is producing seeds. And perhaps that distraction is justifiable because as you perhaps learned from Patricia Carpenter, weed seeds can stay viable an average of 7 years, with some lasting as long as 20. We planted a morning glory 48 years ago and them removed it several years later. Believe it or not, a new morning glory will still occasionally appear in that area.
You find yourself walking somewhere and then stopping . . . not remembering why you are even there. It truly amazes me that my body has stayed on task, but my mind was completely distracted. I will be standing exactly where I wanted to be—and not have any idea why I’m there.
Now, I don’t mean to alarm you if you have similar experiences. I generally find E D amusing—but not the wasted water episodes. My editor has told me that I shouldn’t describe a problem without providing a solution. The only thing I have to offer is—use your phone. I know the 2 of you are inseparable, so constantly set alarms to get you back on task. Of course, if you can’t find your phone . . . Perhaps you should be thankful that you are still able to move around—even if can’t remember why.
Susan W. read my blog about a hose helper, and then came up with an improvement. Her soil is so rocky that it would be impossible to pound pvc pipe into the ground. Instead, she hammered a short length of 3/8 inch rebar into her terrible soil. At Home Depot she found 1 foot lengths of gray, threaded pvc and screw caps. When that pvc was slid over the rebar, the cap prevented it from hitting the ground. Now, when a hose is dragged around the hose helper, the pvc pivots and easily lets the hose pass around it.
So, you now have a second method of constructing a hose helper. If you don’t want to get involved with rebar, simply use 2 sizes of pvc and place a cap over the upper end of the larger piece.
By the way, if you have never been to Susan’s property, make every effort to do so. She and Bill have landscaped their hillside property beautifully—and the view—truly amazing! Yards and yards of planting mix were wheelbarrowed down to each of the beds.
This is the second article about removing rust from garden tools. As you can see be the photo below, I have placed a little shovel (garage sale) and 5 shears (close gardening friend) in a bucket. All of these tools were severely rusted. The liquid is a 50-50 solution of vinegar and water. When I removed the tools after a couple of days, they were covered by a thin black coat of another form of iron oxide. My power washer easily removed that coat, but you may wish to leave it be. You can get an idea of the severity of the rust problem in the second photo where the acid did not cover the entire shovel blade. I am currently soaking that shovel in a plastic tub to get rid of the rest of the rust. The 5 shears came out great and I coated them with WD-40 and let them dry so oxygen couldn’t get to the expose iron. The shovel will get a spray paint application.
Now, I have sharpened hundreds of tools, and most of them have some degree of rust on them. For the most part a little rust doesn’t affect the function of a tool. What is more detrimental is the accumulation of dried plant juices and an application of oven cleaner and a brush makes quick work of that. So, you may not give a hoot about rust on your tools. But if you happen to leave a tool outside for while where moisture can get to it, why not turn it into a fun chemistry experiment. For 3 dollars you can buy a gallon of vinegar at Target, and you are ready to go. If you want to try other experiments, google “removing rust from tools” and you will find various other techniques.
How do you tell when a potted plant needs repotting? There are several clues. Perhaps your soil moisture tester is no longer able to penetrate the soil. Maybe your plant has to be watered every day. You may find that the water you add to the pot takes forever to soak in.
The sure way to find out is to pop the plant out of its pot. When the pot is small this chore is easy—simply turn it upside down and rap the edge of the pot on a hard surface like your potting bench. Don’t forget to have your hand beneath the plant to catch it when it falls out! Now check the roots. If they are crowding around the edges, it’s time to repot. Now if you have a larger pot, simply get a strangle hold on the basal neck of the plant and tap the top of the pot. We find a rubber mallet works well with this, but a short piece of wood like a 2 x 4 would work.
If you have a plant in a pot that has a constricted top like in the photo below, you have a problem. When you plant in such a pot, repotting will be a real chore. Your two main options are to cut down through the roots all around the periphery with a narrow blade, or you could simply break the pot. A third option is simply to let the plant die a slow, agonizing death. Of course, you could shorten the demise with a quick severing with a pruner. Then you are merely left with the struggle to remove the impacted remains.
Now once you perfect plant popping technique, you may consider using it while checking out the condition of a plant at a nursery before purchase. It would not be wise to invest a great deal in a plant that has been kept in the same pot too long and is now root bound.
LaVille is a professional propagating plant popper and uses this technique constantly to tell when a plant needs repotting. With a little practice you could be a proper popper too.
I put off buying a cordless leaf blower for years. Then one day, feeling self-deserving, I took the plunge and ordered the DeWalt leaf blower you see below. It really sounded good. It was Amazon’s choice. It had a “high efficiency brushless motor”. It was lightweight. It had a variable speed trigger. Finally, it had “low noise during operation (66 decibels)—ideal for noise sensitive regions and properties”. Now, I found everything above to be true . . except for the last claim. I think I just bought a lemon. I read through the reviews for this machine, and not one of them mentioned severe noise levels. LaVille looked up decibel levels and found that 60 decibels is the noise level for normal conversation between two people 1 meter apart. 85 decibels is the road noise you experience inside a car.
So, what do I do? I wear the hearing protection you see perched on the blower. LaVille will not remain outdoors when the blower is running, so I wait until she is inside the house. I try not to use the machine on the weekends and instead blow in the middle of the day during the week.
Yet, I still would recommend this blower for you—my machine must simply be a lemon. It is so easy to grab this blower and immediately clean up a small area. At lease once a week I will touch up the front yard to keep it looking respectable. The machine is light and the speed trigger works really well. You will want a second battery and the DeWalt is rather expensive. Being cheap, I ordered 2 off brand batteries at ½ the price of the DeWalt, and I got what I paid for—not nearly the quality of the original DeWalt battery.
So, if you have a corded leaf blower, you will really be happy with a battery powered blower. No more dragging that cord around doing all kinds of damage. No cord that wheels just love to trap. No twisted cord to wind up and put away. You can go anywhere! Take it with you on vacation. Give the inside of your car a quick detailing by opening the doors and blowing all the trash out. I wouldn’t suggest you try the same with your house though.
If you do order this DeWalt blower, immediately send it back if you find it is a screamer—I wish I had.
Well, of course you have gloves. No gardener has no gloves! So, I am a little reluctant to suggest that you buy more gloves. You have probably gone through a lot of gloves in your gardening experience and have settled on a pair that seems perfect for you. But. . . if you need new gloves, I have a suggestion for you. This is the working glove made by MaxiFlex. I came across this glove at a garage sale years ago. This guy was giving them away, so how could I resist? The gloves I picked up sat in a box along with a variety of others for years until I finally, for some reason, tried them out. Their ugly appearance had put me off, but likely it was the fact that I couldn’t find my favorite gloves that caused me to make the plunge. In any case, these are now my go-to gloves.
So, why would I suggest these gloves for you? They appear to be waterproof. They’re not. They look like they would protect your hands from thorns. They do not. But if you slip one on, you will find that they fit . . . like a glove. They are really flexible (duh). The insides are lined with some kind of soft fabric. There are little dots of nitril covering the palm side that give you good grip. They are quite durable. You can jam your hand down through the soil to grab the root of a weed and not have to worry about creating a hole in the glove fingers. They absorb skin moisture so you don’t end up with a serious case of slimy hand.
If you are in need of a new pair of gloves, they are available on Amazon. By chance, the particular kind I have is FlexiGlove Endurance. It appears you are unable to buy just one pair of gloves, but a set of 3, for instance, would probably last a lifetime—however long that may be. You will see that they are rather inexpensive. Note that you can purchase your choice of color, as long as that choice is black. So your gloves may not color coordinate with the rest of your gardening garb, but I think you will find the sacrifice is worth it. So, I think you should give these gloves a try. If you don’t like them, you could always give them to LaVille—she of much smaller hands than I.
Dragging a hose around the garden can be an unpleasant if not a destructive chore. There are spool shaped devices that can be staked into the ground that can guide the hose around the garden. I have never tried one, but I suspect that the hose may not remained trapped in the spool. Below you can see two setups for keeping a hose away from plants. The first one guides the hose around a metal pole that is supporting shade fabric. The second one is one you might consider installing. It consists of a 2 feet length of ½ inch pvc hammered into the ground surrounded by a 1 inch length and a 1 foot length of 1 inch pvc. The 1 foot length pivots on top of the 1 inch piece.
Now, you can buy ½ inch and 1 inch pvc at Home Depot or Lowes, but they come in 10 foot lengths. If you would like to set up your own system, I have both sizes that I can cut for you. Oh, I have the 5” and 3 ½” ABS pipe if you want to construct hose guides out of them. I don’t throw anything away. You could spray paint your device a color to make it blend into the garden, but I prefer the white in order to avoiding tripping over it.
Stan, The Hoarding Man
P.S. I hope you will take me up on my offer. I would love to help you protect your valued plants from that dratted hose.
Do you have a pruner that no longer has the part that locks it closed? Well, I have a solution for you. I was sharpening tools at the Shepard this last weekend, when two pruners came in that were kept closed with a rubber band—not just an ordinary band—but the wide kind you occasionally find bundling fresh produce. Although I hardly ever throw anything away, my supply of veggie bands was limited to two. Neither were strong enough to close the pruner blades, but perhaps you will have a stash with the proper sized band. Perhaps you noticed in the photo that the pruner lock was still there. I simply didn’t have a pruner with a missing lock. How ‘bout the spot of rust on the blade? Shameful huh? I removed it immediately. Did you notice the dirty hand? Hey—I’m working with tools and getting ready for the next sharpening event at the Gardener’s Market. What, you may wonder, would I do with a rubber band when it’s not in use on the pruner? Just wrap it around 2 fingers.
Please let me know if you have some small sized bands that you don’t need that I could use for pruners that arrive for sharpening without locks. How about a section of bike inner tube—mine was too small. Anyway, I think it would be a pleasant surprise improvement for my tool sharpening clients.
I was reminded by the sight of my muddy tennis shoes that I really need to tell you again of the value of having a power washer. I am fortunate to have the perfect set up with a power source and water source right together. Perhaps you are as lucky. So that I can reach every area of the back yard, I have added two 30 foot extensions to the spray wand. Rather than coiling this hose, note that I have looped it from side to side over the hose bib. This allows me to easily pull off the number of loops to reach the needed area. Coiling hoses is one of my least favorite chores. Note also the “patio cleaning attachment” that stands next to the machine. This an invaluable tool for cleaning slab, pavers, and sidewalk areas. Now, I am the first to admit that this permanent display at the back of the house is not pretty, but man is it always convenient.
So, how would you use a power washer? Well, other than cleaning muddy shoes and pavement areas, how ‘bout bird baths, flowerpots, plant trays, your car (be careful here), decks, rain barrels, shovels, totes for propagation, garden ceramics and statuary, pavers, and house windows? I use this power washer every week because the only thing we don’t have from this list is a deck. If you like to clean stuff, I really think you should have a power washer, and Sun Joe has a tremendous variety of products from which to choose. I think you would be very pleased with the SPX 3000 model.
Stan, The Cleaning Man P.S. If you would like to try out a power washer before purchase, you are welcome to come over and play with mine–there is always something around here that needs cleaning.
Many of you have really large flowerpots. If your pots are narrower at the opening, you have a problem when it comes to removing the plant. If you want to save the plant, extracting it from its vessel can be difficult. One solution it to break the pot—not the ideal option. Now if you don’t care for the plant, the chore of removing it and the soil can still be difficult. I have written you before about using a soil auger, and that will work.
Another option you might consider is planting your valued plant in an inexpensive plastic pot—one that is tapered for easy plant removal. The plastic pot can be raised to the desired height with wood blocks, bricks, or rocks placed beneath it. This also creates room for water run off if your large pot has no drainage holes. You can see in the photo I have drilled two holes in the rim of the plastic pot and inserted wire to make handles that will allow me to lift the pot out.
There are so many beautiful large planters out there at nurseries. I can see how you would be tempted to buy one that narrows at the top. Please consider using a second pot inside—call it pot insurance.
I prepare plant labels for both the Sacramento Iris Society and the Sacramento Perennial Plant Club. The labels for the Iris Club are cut to around 10 inches and are made of aluminum. The labels for the Perennial Club are cut to 5 inches and are made of plastic. We have found that plastic is easier to write on, and these labels always have a lot in information on them.
Now, I have shown below the two devices I use for label preparation. You can see the metal stop that is taped to the guillotine table. The length to which metal blinds are cut depends on the distance between the cord holes in the blinds.
After the blinds are cut to desired length, I tape a bunch together, and round the corners on an inverted belt sander. The bunches of the same length are then washed in a bucket with a dish washing solution. Then comes the fun part when I dry the labels while watching TV. The last label drying event was Sunday while watching the Super Bowl.
So, you see, someday I may have to pass this duty to another person. LaVille has refused. I really like making labels, and I am hoping there is someone out there who will take over this enjoyable task in the future.
With the advent of a freeze forecasted for the 22nd, I thought it timely to remind you to protect your tender plants. Although there are special sheet-like products available, old bed sheets will work fine. Got no old sheets? Then plan on going to estate sales. They are a sure find. In the photos below I have placed old X-mas tree lights (estate sales again) beneath the sheets. These maintain a temperature above 50 degrees through the night to protect the abutilon seedlings that are growing for future sales. If you plan on using plastic sheeting, don’t let the plastic touch the plants.
I just went outside to take a photo of the plants that the sheets were protecting. The abutilons have really grown well through the winter for the last 3½ months since cutting. We lift off the yellow tables each morning. A timer controls the lights, and that rug is a deterrent from tripping over the cords. The south exposure creates an extra 10 degrees of air temperature, and the pots most exposed to the sun are wrapped with white bubble wrap.