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Edition 13.13 J&L Garden Center's News April, 2013
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"Plants give us oxygen for the lungs and for the soul."
~Linda Solegato


Happy Easter

Garden Soil

Feed Your Garden Soil--not just your plants.
Your garden's soil condition is the single most important part of gardening success. Without the proper soil conditions, gardening can become a chore, and your plants will not respond and grow the way you want them to grow. Some of the insect and disease problems your plants struggle with during the summer may be prevented just by making sure your soil is in good condition before you plant them.

First, remember garden soil is not dirt. Dirt is the stuff you wash out of your clothes after working in the yard. Garden soil is a complex mixture of minerals, air, water, organic matter, microbes, and other critters. Soil is full of life and deserves your attention. With good soil, gardening will be more fun. The soil will be easier to plant in, cultivate, and it will be easier to grow your plants. Perfect soil is hard to come by in most home gardens and it may take a little extra effort to achieve. The best way to improve your garden soil is by adding organic materials every year. The best time toArticle Picture apply organic materials is in the fall, not in the spring. However, most gardeners forget to add organic materials in the fall, so it is important to add them in the spring. Mix as much well-rotted manure, Bumper Crop, Ferti Mulch, Soil Pep, or other organic materials (within reason) as you can afford. Do not add fresh materials or your plants will actually suffer. You will be amazed how much better your soil is this year than it was last year. Many garden soils may take four, six, or even ten years to completely change, but you will notice an improvement each year.

Improve Clay Soil Conditions
Many garden soils lack the necessary physical structure to hold, or to allow movement of air and water for plants to grow, especially clay soil. Most clay soil needs additives that will hold water (like peat moss) but that will allow water to drain (like sand). However, adding peat moss and sand to clay soil may just add to the problem. Clay and sand mixed together may produce "bricks" instead of better soil. If you want to add sand to clay soil, you must add "a lot of sand" to improve the soil. Peat moss mixed with clay may produce a soil that stays too wet, too long. This may cause worse problems for your plants than not adding any mulch at all.

The best way to fix a clay soil problem is to add lots of "old coarse" organic materials such as Bumper Crop, Black Forest Compost, manure, compost, or Soil Pep. Perlite is also an excellent coarse, inorganic additive that can help correct clay soil problems. Do not add peat smoss or plain sand to clay soil.

Another additive that is available to help improve clay soil is Utelite Clay Soil Conditioner. Utelite is a porous rock chip which acts as a permanent reservoir for both air and water. Utelite increases the water holding capacity of the soil and it also helps improve drainage within the soil. It does not decompose so it does not have to be added every year. For best results, add as much Utelite to the soil as you can reasonably afford. You can mix 10% to 25% to 50% Utelite with good results. Add Utelite every year until the soil texture is the way you like it. One cubic yard should cover 450 to 650 square feet about 1/2" thick. We have Utelite available by the bag and by the truckload.

Gypsum is a soil conditioner that helps to improve clay soil. However, gypsum changes the chemical structure of the soil, not the physical structure. Gypsum actually helps to improve all soils, not just clay soils. Gypsum improves the soil by adding calcium and sulfur, which allows the soil particles to release other nutrients that are in the soil. Plants can then absorb and utilize the nutrients that were not previously available for the roots to use, even though they were in the soil. Water can then help remove unwanted nutrients the gypsum has released. For more information about improving garden soil please ask for a copy of our "Garden Soil and Mulch" handout.

Soil pH is the measurement of how acidic or alkaline the soil is. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14. Numbers from 0 to 7 are acid, and from 7 to 14 are alkaline; 7 is considered neutral.

For gardeners, soil pH is the number that really counts. Soil pH affects nutrient availability and microbial activity. Most plants grow best at a slightly acid to neutral pH (6.5 to 7) although certain plants have adapted to extreme pH environments in both directions. In our area, most soils have a high pH. The further west you live, the closer to the lake, the higher the pH your soil will be. Some areas have very alkaline soil conditions.

Either test your soil yourself, or have a soil test by USU to determine what steps you need to take to correct your soil condition. To lower the pH of an alkaline soil, use sulfur or gypsum. You will need to apply sulfur or gypsum regularly and in fairly large quantities to correct the pH. You do need a soil test to determine how much sulfur or gypsum you need to buy.

To raise the pH of an acid soil, add gypsum or lime. We have an excellent handout, "Garden Soils," that goes into more details about the soil pH. Please stop by for a free copy of this handout.

Butterfly Gardening

You can attract butterflies for much of the year by growing a succession of flowers and herbs that bloom from spring through fall. Butterflies have a few simple needs: sunlight, nectar sources, host plants on which to lay eggs, water, basking areas and roosting areas. Food has to be available for the adult butterflies, which sip nectar, and for their caterpillar offspring, which eat specific plants.

Like all creatures, butterflies require moisture. They also need the minerals and nutrients they get from mud and muddy water. Butterflies are most active in morning and afternoon before it gets hot. Since their enemies, such as birds, are active during the same time, butterflies need the shelter of shrubby plants where they can take refuge. Gardeners must be aware that improper application of chemicals can upset the delicate balance of nature in the garden and wipe out the butterfly habitat in an instant. You don't have to forego modern products, but you must go easy. Read the label. Don't apply above the recommended rate. Be aware of the side effects of whatever you are using. Also, keep your head. If leaf-eating insects are nibbling on your plants ask yourself if it really matters. Can the plant spare a few leaves?

Remember, butterflies come from caterpillars - and caterpillars eat leaves. If you kill all the leaf-eating caterpillars, where will the butterflies come from? Unless you are entering your plants in a contest, it probably doesn't matter if something has nibbled some of the leaves.

For more information please read our butterfly gardening handout.

Thatch Problems

Thatch is the organic layer between the soil line and the green blades of grass. Thatch naturally occurs in your lawn due to dead grass and grass clippings. A small layer of thatch is beneficial. An extreme thatch buildup is detrimental and can cause several different problems, including a breeding ground for insects and an excellent harbor for lawn diseases. Too much thatch can also repel water and stop your lawn from growing normally. Measure the layer of thatch in your lawn. If the layer is less than 1/4" thick your lawn is healthy. If the layer is 1/4" to 1/2" thick, you need to watch your lawn closely. If the thatch layer is more than 1/2" thick, you need to remove some of the thatch.

Traditionally, power raking the lawn has been the way to remove excess thatch. However, the Natural Guard Company has packaged an organic product called Lawn & Garden Soil Activator, which helps remove thatch naturally. This product contains humic acid, which not only helps remove excessive thatch naturally but also provides many microorganisms that help the lawn to grow better and help to improve the soil structure. Humic acid is an important part of the soil structure that you can apply any time of the year: spring, summer, or fall. Humic acid can also be used in flower and vegetable gardens to help improve the health of the soil. Please stop by and ask for a copy of the fact sheet about this product.

If you do decide to power rake your lawn, be sure to freshen up your lawn by overseeding with new varieties of grass seed. We recommend Necrotic Ringspot Resistant Varieties such as perennial rye grass, or a mixture of the newer varieties of Kentucky Bluegrass. Overseeding your lawn is a good idea if your lawn is more than 10 to 15 years old. The new grass varieties will help improve the overall appearance of your lawn, and improve its disease resistance.

For more info see our Soil Activator and Thatch Decomposter handout.

What is Humic Acid

Humic Acid comes from the highly compressed and biodegraded remains of ancient plants and animals. Over millions of years, plant and animal remains were converted into complex organic molecules and minerals. When this material is applied to soils, it helps the soil to promote better plant growth and productivity - naturally. Humic acid helps chelate and improve the effects of many fertilizers. Humic acid also helps the soil retain the nutrients, which provides a "timed released" fertilizer, making plants healthier. Healthy plants are often less susceptible to insect and disease problems, a beneficial side effect.

Besides enhancing the capacity to hold and exchange mineral nutrients with plant roots, humic acid also promotes greater absorption and utilization of nutrients applied to foliage. Humic acid is totally organic and high in carbon. Humic acid can buffer chemicals or fertilizers, preventing phytotoxicity and "burn."

Good soil fertility is not the result of just adding chemical nutrients and organic materials to the soil. Instead, good soil fertility is the result of the correct combination of nutrients, organic matter, microbial activity, and "critters" living in the soil. Soil scientists report that good soil is alive, truly and literally alive. What's more, they contend that no amount of "plant food" will give the equivalent results of a fertile soil, without giving attention to the humusforming and plant-supporting microbes. In essence, many experts are saying that "the plant eats what the microbes give it."

The Humic Acid in Natural Guard's Garden Soil and Lawn Activator can help restore your soil to a living system of energetic biological activity and help maintain your soil's natural cycle. Use this product in addition to your normal fertilizer, not in place of it. For more info about humate read Soil Activator.

Coconut Fiber

Coconut Fiber is just what its name implies, shredded coconut husks. The coconut plantations have found a solution to their biggest problem, how to get rid of the unwanted coconut shells. They grind the shells into fibers, compress them into bales, and then package them for a variety of uses including soil conditioners. Coconut fibers have a unique ability to absorb a large amount of water quickly and then slowly release the water over a long period of time. Coconut fiber is quite fibrous and takes several years to decompose; maintaining a spongy texture during this time.

Coconut fiber has many uses in the garden. It can be used in hanging baskets and in containers on the patio. It can be mixed into the garden soil to help loosen clay soil and to help maintain water in sandy soil. Coconut fiber can be used for almost any planting situation in the yard.

Coconut fiber is a little more expensive than peat moss but it lasts much longer in the soil, making it an excellent substitute for peat moss. Coconut fiber is one way to help maintain a consistent moisture level in your soil.

Coconut Fiber

Suppose you could plant tiny sponges in the soil to absorb water and then release it slowly as your plants need it. Sound Impossible? Soil Moist® crystals are a mineral that looks like salt crystals when they are dry. When they absorb water they act like a sponge, and look like pieces of gelatin. They slowly release their water as the soil around them dries out. Soil Moist is an excellent way to help keep containers moist. Soil Moist can also help to retain water in flower and vegetable gardens, and, if you are ambitious, you can aerate your lawn and put a few Soil Moist crystals down each of the holes to help keep your lawn moist; don't just broadcast the crystals on the top of your grass or you will be sorry. Your lawn will have a slippery gelatin covering that will not be pleasant to walk through.

Since Soil Moist crystals are a mineral, they do not break down very quickly and will remain useful for several years. These same types of crystals are used in diapers and other products to absorb water quickly.

Stuck with a Stump?

What can I do with a stump from an old tree in our back yard?

Cut the stump as close to the ground as possible. Drill holes in it with an electric drill and push the bit in as deep as it will go. You can use any size or type of bit: the bigger the better. Or, if you don't want to drill, make cuts into the stump's surface with an axe or saw; rough up the stump. After preparing the stump, you can speed up the decomposition in one of two ways.

1. Mix soil with compost made from tree leaves. Leaf compost usually contains microscopic wooddigesting organisms that don't normally live in regular garden soil. Add a cup or two of blood meal. The blood meal (nitrogen), feeds the micro-organisms and will also help break down the stump. Cover the entire stump with the soil mix, working it into the holes. Depending on the hardness of the wood and the size of the stump, it should rot away in a year or two, or three, or four!

2. Dissolve Hi-Yield Stump Remover in a bucket of hot water. Fill the holes with the stump remover. This stump remover chemically burns the stump and provides nitrogen to feed micro-organisms. The micro-organisms are able to enter the wood and decompose the stump more quickly. Depending on the hardness of the wood and the size of the stump, it should rot away in a year or two, or three, or four!

The only quick way to get rid of a stump is to physically dig it out and remove it. However, if the stump is in a good spot, you might want to use it as a garden feature. Hollow stumps make good rustic planters. Carve out the center of the stump and fill the cavity with soil. Plant it with some of your favorite annual flowers. The soil inside the stump will also help the stump decay faster.

Or, instead of cutting it down to the ground, turn the stump into a garden pedestal. A stump makes a great base for a sundial, birdbath or other garden ornament. Depending on the height and girth, you could even use it as a garden bench.

Organic Pesticides

True or False? Any pesticide that is organic is completely safe to use. An old garden myth is that all organic insecticides are toxic to insects and harmless to human beings. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pyrethrum and rotenone, although low in toxicity to mammals, are still toxic to humans if swallowed or inhaled. They are both highly toxic to fish. Both Malathion and Sevin (chemical pesticides) are much safer to use than Nicotine (organic pesticide).

Some of the organic insecticides that are beneficial if used properly are pyrethrum, rotenone, and deltamethryn. Other non-toxic organic insecticides are Hot Pepper Wax (this product also repels many rodents and animals), Insecticidal Soap, Neem Oil, Dormant Oil, Diatomaceous Earth, Boric Acid, and BT (bacillus thuringiensis). These insecticides will not control all insect problems but they can help control some of them.

Other organic methods to control pests are: Fly Paper, Indoor Fly Traps, Hornet & Wasp Traps, Snail Traps, Pantry Pest Traps, Roach Traps, and Spider Traps.

Be Careful

Be Careful, all insecticides (chemical or organic) are poisons and many organic insecticides will kill animals and people just as quickly as the other types of chemicals. Be sure to wear gloves, use proper eye protection, and wear a mask or respirator when needed. Don't use a dust mask in place of a respirator. The paper dust mask will absorb chemicals and you will still breathe them, sometimes at even a stronger concentration than without a mask.

After applying your pesticides, always wash your hands, face, and change your clothes. You never know when a pesticide has accidentally found a home in the clothing you have on.

Colorful Coral Bells

Long valued for their profuse sprays of flowers from spring to early summer, coral bells (heucheras) are now also being valued for their bold, showy foliage. This genus of perennials has received a lot of attention from horticultural breeding programs in the last decade, and the result is an introduction of wonderful variations in foliage colors, leaf shapes, and flower colors.

While most original coral bell selections produced light green early spring foliage which then matured to a darker green later in summer, newer varieties are now available in amber, bronze, burgundy, purple and ruby tones. Even the newest green-leafed varieties now come dressed up with silver veins, mottling or streaks. Many new cultivars also come with exquisite ruffled foliage.

Using coral bells in the landscape provides a contrast to other plants, making your garden more interesting. Adding bronze, red, or purple foliage to the landscape brings out a new dimension of color. When these vibrant colors are placed next to green plants, your eye is drawn to the entire landscape--creating interest and depth. Most coral bells form evergreen mounds less than a foot high and across; the flowers appear 1-2' above the foliage.

Even the flower colors have benefited from breeding programs and now come in shades of bright pink, coral, red, cream, and white. The flowers provide an extra benefit to the garden by attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and beneficial insects to the garden. The spent flowers are easy to remove; you need only tug gently from the base of the stem to remove them. While coral bells prefer partly shaded locations, these hardy plants can also tolerate full sun in milder summer regions of the U.S. They perform best in moist (but not wet) soils and need only a modest amount of feeding during the growing season. Don't neglect them completely though, because the nutrients in plant foods help bring out a deeper, darker more intense color in the foliage.

Plant them in borders or in clusters of three or more, so that their sprays of blooms will have an even more dramatic effect in the garden. Coral bells also make great container plants because they don't have an aggressive root system. Coral bells are just what you need to add some flair to your garden.

Stop by the nursery soon to see our great selection of coral bells.


William Cowper once wrote the now famous words, "Variety is the spice of life." This couldn't be truer in the garden. Nothing spices up a garden like plants with variegated foliage. Use too many and they'll make you dizzy. But placed in the background or strategically planted in the midst of the garden, variegated foliage can bring out the best in all of your plants.

Variegated plants come in a myriad of shapes and shades. From bold to subtle, there's something for every gardener's personal tastes. Nothing steals the show like a variegated tree. It can be the centerpiece to build your entire garden around.

Many variegated plants make excellent hedges. Instead of hiding in the background, they provide a great starting point to planning a garden. Consider variegated English boxwood, silverberry, euonymus, variegated English holly, variegated kohuhu, variegated mock orange, dappled willow or weigela. Many of these plants also look wonderful when planted individually to bring out a corner or become a focal point on a mound or garden island.

If a hedge is not your cup of tea but you still want to hide some of your fence line, a variegated bower vine or variegated potato vine will do an excellent job. For bursts of color and interest throughout your garden, consider variegated varieties of abelias, daylilies, licorice plants, phlox, mock orange, sage, stonecrop, weigela, New Zealand flax and ornamental grasses.

If your garden has shaded areas, don't worry. There are many great selections for areas with less sunlight. Many popular variegated plants prefer shade or partial shade.

No matter what your garden setting is, variegated plants not only look great but also add interest. We have a large selection of plants with unique foliage and variegated colors. Stop by soon and see the beauty of these plants in person. You wont be able to resist them!

April Garden Tasks


Bedding plants/annuals will beavailable to replace any cool-season annuals that are just about done. Zinnia, ageratum, coleus, dahlia, marigold, nicotiana, phlox, petunia, and salvia are in season. Also, try some taller annuals such as cosmos, cleome, sunflowers, and foxgloves to add height and interest to the garden beds.

There's still time to plant roses. They are full of buds and blooms right now--and they are simply gorgeous. If you are a beneficial insect lover, flat-topped flowers like Shasta daisies, scabiosa, strawflowers, and yarrow are perfect additions to your garden for feeding them. Beneficial insects such as the almost microscopic parasitic wasps, ladybugs, etc. keep other insect pests away from your vegetable gardens by eating aphids, scale, and other annoying intruders. You can use beautiful flowers to tempt these garden friends into your garden. Try putting some of these flowers near to your rose garden for aphid control!

Time to plant dahlias, begonias--and get in the gladiolus bulbs. Add some bone meal to the planting hole.

The narcissus and daffodils are blooming, as well as other spring blooming bulbs. As soon as the blooms are spent, you can deadhead--but don't remove the foliage! The bulb needs that green foliage to add nutrients back to the bulb for next year's flowers. Hide the clippers for a little while longer. Try an oldfashioned technique of braiding the leaves. If you must cut, leave at least half of the leaf length for the bulb. It will thank you with next year's bloom!


Continue with fertilizing those areas of the garden you haven't gotten to yet. Once your azaleas and camellias have stopped blooming their hearts out, they will thank you if you feed them. This is a good time to prune back these two spring bloomers. Once the flowering has ended and before the new growth begins, prune and shape to your desired shape and size.

You may see some chlorosis on your acid-loving plants like the azalea or camellia, and possibly on your citrus. This yellowing of the leaves between the veins is a sign of iron deficiency for the plant. Feed with a good iron supplement.

Spring is the time we begin to see powdery mildew on our rose foliage (and other plants too). There are several different foliar fungicidal sprays to that can help.

Aphids will be back. Remember that you can first wash them off with water. Really, it does help. For more severe infestations, ask us to recommend something suitable for your particular plants. Continue to replenish your mulch and maintain a 2- 4" blanket over your soil.

Easy, Heart-Healthy Rosemary Tilapia

What You'll Need:

  • 4 eight-ounce frozen tilapia fillets
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary (if not available, use rosemary spice)
  • Olive oil
  • Black pepper
  • Aluminum foil
  • Fresh lemon

Step by Step:

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • In separate foil pieces (one for each fillet) place fillet in center of foil.
  • Drizzle with olive oil, black pepper and add a sprig of rosemary.
  • Seal foil on both ends and top.
  • Place fillets in the preheated oven for 55 minutes, or until done.
  • Drizzle with lemon before serving. Enjoy!
Yield: 4 servings



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