Our homes are warm and dry, a perfect setting for some destructive insects. Watch for spider mites and mealybugs on houseplants at this time of year. Spider mites are tiny, frequently found by holding a white sheet of paper under a branch and tapping on it, revealing moving specks, or finding tiny webs from an ornamental plant’s stalk connecting a leaf petiole, for instance. Petioles are leaf-holding twigs.
Mealybugs are also tiny, visible using a 9X magnifying glass. As they age, they get larger, looking like a piece of white lint on a plant. Their exterior is a waxy surface, and they’re difficult to control. If they exist on a plant in large numbers, it’s usually best just to discard the plant lest it furnish mealybugs to your other plants. If they are few, dip a Q-tip into rubbing alcohol and touch the bug with the wet end of the tip. Try not to touch the plant itself, but the alcohol will kill the mealybug it touches. This technique also works on scale insects, which are protected from sprays by their armored coats.
Gardening is good for the soul
This is a new year, so new garden and other outdoor merchandise is being stocked in stores. If you don’t garden, try it. It’s relaxing, psychologically uplifting and a break from the mundane. We can all garden to some extent. whether short on space or energy, ability or time. If you’re short on outdoor space consider indoor Aero Gardens. These are hydroponic setups with light, fertilizer and water, and no necessity of weeding. I’d recommend you take care with where you place this in your home, for timed lighting can be annoying.
Limited space outdoors can be used if you use earth boxes — basically, boxes with a water reservoir at the bottom — that may even be put on dollies and rolled into sun or shelter, out of danger of frost. Pat Roloff, a master gardener experienced in growing in Idaho and Arizona, started with a couple of earth boxes, and now has a dozen plus other raised beds. Contrary to manufacturers’ instructions, she empties the boxes onto her compost pile at the end of the season rather than just removing the plant and reusing the soil in the same pot the following year. Efforts to reuse the soil from one year to another fail because of the tangle of roots that develop in the bottom water reservoir, she says. Removing them can become labor-intensive.
Manufacturers sells soil, fertilizer and limestone for those containers, but Roloff uses Black Gold potting mix, and various organic fertilizers. As she knows, we don’t use limestone (or heaven forbid, fireplace ashes) on our already alkaline soil. Other potting mixes would work too, but watch labels for inclusion of ingredients you do not want.
Limited space can also be overcome by growing vertically on trellises or teepee-like poles. Pole beans, cucumbers, squash and melons are special candidates for this method of growing, although you may have to fashion hammocks for heavy pendulous squash and melons. Gardeners Supply Company also sells waist-high raised beds with keel-shaped bottoms for stability that can be moved about to capture maximum sunlight or shelter from frost.
Any of these growing aids (except for the Aero Garden) can be made at home, and now would be a good time to do that, in advance of the growing season. The earth boxes have a pipe at one end, through which you direct hose water to the reservoir. During hot days you might have to refill the reservoir a few times each day, but a few times per week are sufficient in milder temperatures, Roloff said.
Many ornamentals and even some foods can be grown in limited sunlight such as that provided in the tree-abundant North End. Greens such as spinach, lettuce and Swiss chard may be grown in semi-shaded sites. Last summer I grew Swiss chard in a new raised bed between our house and the neighbor’s. For the first time ever, I had almost no leaf miner damage at all on the Swiss chard. I harvested, blanched and froze several packs and shared that chard with friends who enrich lunchtime soups with it.
Send garden questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.