By Ranel Hanson
Hello gardeners! As I write this in mid-February, we are just emerging from some serious cold — and wind. That combination, with little snow covering in the lower elevations, means we may lose some tender plants come spring. Like hybrid roses, if you didn’t mulch deeply. (Next fall, we’ll talk again about the beauty of mulch.)
That said, we are only halfway through ski season, a month away from spring and daylight savings time, and COVID-19 vaccines are available. There really is light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.
Meanwhile, February has been for planning. Seeds are in stores and all of us gardeners are chomping at the bit. Soon, bulbs will be poking up and, because I have a new puppy, I am very aware of the plants that are dangerous to pets.
There are many — and you probably have some in your garden. I won’t list them all here (Google “plants harmful to pets” for a complete list), but the most common ones are worth mentioning, as they can all make your pet ill or even cause death.
Lilies are the worst, especially for cats. Just chewing a leaf can be fatal. Other harmful plants and bulbs most commonly used in landscaping in our area include tulips, azaleas, foxglove, Autumn crocus and hyacinth.
House plants can be dangerous to pets, too, including amaryllis, caladium, African violets and aloe.
(Speaking of house plants, I usually start to fertilize mine toward the end of February. I use a liquid and go kind of lightly to start. You are waking them up after a winter nap. You can soak them in the diluted liquid fertilizer when they are dry, gradually decreasing the dilution.)
Pets aren’t our only animal friends who face some dangers this time of year. You may have heard that our wild birds are being threatened by salmonella bacteria. I feed the birds and have not noticed “my” birds seeming to be sick, but some areas near us have this problem. The symptoms include lethargy, fluffed feathers and death.
So, here’s what to do: clean your feeders with a weak bleach solution (10 cups hot water, 1 cup bleach), rinse and dry thoroughly and refill. Clean regularly. Also, rake the area under your feeder and dispose of the debris. If you see sick birds, take your feeders down for a couple of weeks. The birds will forage in a wider, safer area.
In the past, I have recommended using egg shells to discourage slugs and I am still a believer. However, I think those egg shells may also potentially spread salmonella. From now on, I am going to boil my eggshells before putting them in the garden. Birds like egg shells, too, and I am wondering if the shells I store in a bucket in my garage might grow poisonous.
It is a hassle to boil them, but egg shells are so nutritious for plants; I think it’s worth the trouble to use an ecologically friendly fertilizer and slug begone. I am always urging gardeners to use natural fertilizers and insect remedies. It is our gift to the environment we live in.
One suggestion for easy and safe household plant help is baking soda fertilizer. Sprinkle it around the base of plants to boost nutrient absorption. This is particularly good for begonias, hydrangeas, and geraniums.
Another suggestion is vinegar, water and liquid soap insecticide. Mix in a spray bottle (just a few drops of soap, fill the rest of the bottle with 1/2 water and 1/2 vinegar). Spray plants to discourage insects. Leave out the water and, voila, weed killer.
Yet another alternate insecticide calls for 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp baking soda, 2 drops dish soap and 1 gallon water. For epsom salts fertilizer — which is great for most plants — just sprinkle once per week or so, starting in spring. It’s especially good for roses.
Finally, my Mason bees are still kickin’ back in my fridge. Here in North Idaho, they will go out to their houses in about mid-April in order to get to work pollinating. The date is tentative because it depends upon weather and nature. The temperature in daytime must average 55 degrees and we must have blossoms for them to feed upon. I plant crocus near their houses because they are reliable early bloomers.
Mason bees are another way for us to help out Mother Earth. After all, our food supply depends on our pollinators. No bees, no food and, as Edwin Curran wrote: “Flowers are the music of the ground / From earth’s lips / Spoken without sound.”
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