Dirt-y secrets: in the thick of it

By Ranel Hanson
Reader Columnist

Hooray for August! Sun, a warm lake, berries and flowers everywhere — hooray!

Little brown frogs, grasshoppers that look like butterflies when they fly, butterflies, bees of all kinds, spiders — oh my! We are in the thick of it, and it is just glorious. 

I have been a bit lax in applying my slug abatement program, which is epsom salt mixed with eggshells. Then, minding my own business, I stepped onto my deck one early morning and spotted a six-inch-long leopard slug (Limax maximus). I admit to being entirely grossed out by these creatures and am ashamed to say I turn into a murderer when I see one. So my eggshell/salt regimen is back in slug defense mode. 

I adopted some little frogs from my neighbor who had them swimming — and pooping — in her hot tub. They are so cute and tiny. They now live in my garden, mostly snuggled up to pots that get plenty of water. They are such good little insect eaters and the frog music they make at night is so beautiful. I hope they raise babies and are back next year. 

A flutter by of butterflies. Courtesy photo.

Spiders. Wow. There are so many. Of course, I won’t spray them because the spray kills other bugs and doesn’t do the birds any good, either. And spiders are beneficial, too. But it seems that spider webs are threatening to take over the house. If you know of a benign spider deterrent, I would love to know about it. I have tried insecticidal soap to no avail.

There are also so many butterflies in so many varieties: swallowtail, painted lady, cabbage moths and many, many more. I would like to attract monarch butterflies; but, in order for that to happen, they need milkweed. 

I urge everyone to order a few milkweed seeds or buy a plant or two from a local nursery. They are beautiful, hardy and — here’s the best part — monarch butterflies must lay their eggs on the foliage so that their emerging caterpillars can feast on the leaves. Milkweed is their only food. The flowers attract many other butterflies and lots of bees, too. The pods are really interesting and filled not only seeds but fluffy material that Indigenous Americans used like down. 

I know you’ll be pleased with a milkweed addition to the garden and the beautiful butterflies it attracts.

Every plant needs plenty of water, according to their individual needs. Hanging baskets need water every day and fertilizer once every week or two. Because we water them so frequently, the nutrients leach away. For maximum health and bloom, especially on these hot summer days, keep baskets moist and fed. 

Of course, most other garden flowers can benefit from adequate water and good quality fertilizer. The exceptions are cacti and succulents, who both need a drier environment and little (if any) fertilizer. Also, peonies and hydrangeas do just fine with no fertilizer. For everybody else, fertilizer is particularly important in the month of August because you want your plants to go into winter in good health. Healthy plants can withstand more of what winter dishes out. And who knows what kind of winter is coming?

There is no need to feed birds in the summer because there is plenty of natural food for them. But, by the end of August, I start putting out seeds for them to find. I use black oil sunflower seeds because those seem to be preferred. For migrating birds, the seed will give them energy for their trip. And, for those that stay, they need to fatten a bit so that they can remain healthy when the weather turns cold. If you do feed the birds, be sure to keep it up because they remember where the food is and depend on those tasty bites you provide. 

On another note, I have noticed that some people walk their dogs in the heat of the day. The asphalt is too hot for dogs if the air temperature is 85 degrees or higher, and our air temperature has been way above that for most of the summer. So walks on streets should be undertaken early in the morning or late in the evening when the pavement has had a chance to cool. 

Like us, pets always need adequate water and a cool place to rest, but that’s especially important on hot summer days. Your pet depends on you to keep their paws from burning.

Until September.

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