The discouraged gardener

Do you like getting advice about successful gardening, and looking at professional-level photographs of beautiful blooms?  This might not be the blog for you.

I generally try to, at least publicly, deal with my negative emotions with a sense of humor.  As you may have guessed.  But I need to be real for a second.  My garden is kind of sucking right now.  I don’t think I have ever, in a personal garden, dealt with so many annoying factors on so many plants at once.  You know what is maybe the worst thing about it?  I live next door to such a nice family, and yesterday the lady said hi to me and I just casually asked her if she had spider mites all over everything in her yard, because I sure the hell do, and she told me that actually, there was all this stuff in the yard when they move in ten years ago and she doesn’t know what any of it is and doesn’t do anything to take care of it.  Her yard looks AWESOME.  Meanwhile, every single time I go outside I see another dying plant.  And, I keep adding new plants, and they keep looking terrible.

Let’s think this through.  I have over twenty years of home gardening experience.  I have a degree in Horticulture.  I worked in commercial horticulture for years.  I have read a bajillion books, nerded out on all the websites, followed all the Instagrammers, and joined the Facebook pages.  I AM JUST SO INHERENTLY HALF-ASSED.  I don’t really need any advice about most of my tragic garden, I know what I’m doing wrong.  Although I will accept advice and also sympathy, but not judgement please.  I just needed to vent for a minute.

So what’s going on out there right now?  Well.  I have this vine maple that rather suddenly got some brown leaves and then even more brown leaves.  I was actually surprised that there was a vine maple in this full sun bed because I would have imagined it would do better in a shadier situation, but the internet tells me I am wrong, so my theory that it was sun damage was wrong.  I went to just cut back the dead branches, and then found that the branches were not, in fact, dead after all.  Just the leaves.  I see a very small amount of stippling and very, very small amount of webbing, so I suppose it does have the currently ever-present spider mites, but I really don’t think that’s what is doing the damage.  The stems are a bit sticky?  I just don’t know.  I ended up taking off all the brown leaves and leaving the branches, maybe it will put out new healthier growth?  It’s not truly my tree since I rent, so I’m not ready to heavily prune it yet because I don’t know how much the owner cares about the eventual shape of the tree.

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This just doesn’t look like spider mites to me.  
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But this does.

 

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Vine maple glow-up.

This vine maple is in the crabgrass bed, with the strawberries I didn’t plant right away.  The FIRST batch of strawberries I didn’t plant right away, because I AM SO HALF-ASSED THAT THERE ARE TWO BATCHES OF STRAWBERRIES I DIDN’T PLANT RIGHT AWAY.  These strawberries are actually not looking so bad, whereas the ones in the strawberry pot, yikes.  Anyway so this bed as the dying vine maple, the brown strawberries, the kinnickinnick with the aphids, whatever the hell that ugly perennial was that is now past bloom and covered in powdery mildew, and the oregano that went to seed and I did not realize would then completely defoliate, the half dead ratty sandwort, and the really beautiful when I bought it Campanula that the big kid did not notice so she did not water it at all for the first week after I put it in the ground.  It was in the high 90s that week.

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I see this every time I drive into my driveway, and it just makes me cringe.
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Wondering if this oregano will self-seed.
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See how pretty the red parts are? They are galls caused by aphids and I had to cut them all off.
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Wondering if something else is going on here.  Those crunchy black parts are only where the plants are meeting the rocks, maybe they don’t like the heat from the rocks? Is that even a thing?

Right in the middle of this gruesome bed is this tall, healthy plant that iNaturalist tells me is Fagopyrum esculentum, common buckwheat.  I…really don’t care for this plant.  It’s the one plant in this bed that is thriving other than the crabgrass, and it’s basically a weed.  Sigh.

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Buckwheat? Seriously?

 

 

The spider mites really got to the Veronica that is at the end of the driveway and is the first plant you really see as you enter the yard.  I had to pull out about 2/3 of the whole plant that was just straight up dead, and cut what was left way back.  It’s brutal.

I’ve spent all my gardening time over the last two days laboriously planting teeny tiny bare-root sedums.  Someone on Next Door posted they had sedums to give away so we scooted over there on the way to run some errands and grabbed the trays and brought them home.  I didn’t realize until I went to plant them that the lady had pulled them out of the ground individually and I guess shaken all the soil off, then laid them on the trays.  Each of these is just the tiniest, barely rooted bare root fragment of sedum.  But, as I said to my poor husband, I’m willing to sacrifice a lot of time in order to save some money.  And truly, if they take, they are perfect for what I’m doing with them.  I think.  Remember the garbage can area that is two unidentified unhealthy shrubs and a lot of Malva that I pulled?  Well, I put the sedums there.  It’s a pretty sad soil, covered in crushed rock.  I just dug holes, dropped some decent potting soil in, laid in like five sedum fragments, and covered the roots with the ground soil and the rocks.  I also put them against the fence on the other side of the sidewalk there, then today I put them all around the gravelly perimeter of the patio.  I STILL HAVE SO MUCH SEDUM LEFT.  I have no idea what I’m going to do with all of it!  And the lady is so nice, after corresponding a bit, she has invited me over to her house tomorrow to get MORE sedum, and also to do a garden tour to see what other extra/dividable plants she might be able to share with me.  I can’t turn it down but holy cow.  Do I just throw the sedum at a rocky area and run???

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Like 1/6 of all the sedum in the garbage can area.

I guess somewhat finally, while I was planting and weeding today I noticed a little area full of tiny seedlings, most of them don’t even have their first true leaf yet.  I honestly have no idea what they could be.  I’ve had some suggestions from Instagram, but nothing that sounds correct to me.  They are near the bindweed, but don’t look right for that, plus I’ve been keeping the bindweed way too small to seed.  They are closest to a crocosmia, but the seedlings are dicots.  They are near a birdfeeder, but no birds go to the birdfeeder so they wouldn’t be scattered seeds.  I’m stumped, so I’m leaving them alone for now, but I’ll probably regret it when I figure out which awful invasive I’ve let live and start feeding its taproot.

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Oh, finally finally, a note on pictures…again.  I just really wish they were higher quality.  My iphone is great to grab when the little one is doing a funny dance, but for a carefully composed shot of the teensiest first baby leaf, it’s terrible.  I really like photography and have done it as a hobby in the past, and this is just super frustrating to me.  Right now I just filter the hell out of everything on Instagram and then shrug my shoulders, but I’m hoping to get a macro lens for my phone for my birthday which is FRIDAY.  I have a feeling I am getting lots of garden and bunny accoutrements, which is perfect.

And that’s that!

 

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Hell is other people’s weeds

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My view from within the crabgravel

Y’all, how is it that when you google that with quotes it returns NOTHING.  I can’t believe there is not a wacky t-shirt with that saying on it already.  If I was in any way an entrepreneur I would make one, but…I’m not.

But it’s the truth.  Other people’s weeds are my hell right now.  Namely, the previous tenants of this house and my neighbors.  I am, let’s face it, not staying on top of them, even though I’m trying so hard.  Which, of course, means that my own crabgrass going to seed is someone else’s hell.  I’m sorry, person!

Let’s discuss what I’m battling, and my strategies.  Well, I have this perennial bed in the front yard, which I dislike immensely anyway, and am going to try to adjust so it flows a lot better.  But, as mentioned previously, this thing truly seemed almost more like a lawn than a flower bed.  The crabgrass was SO THICK.  I hand-weeded all of it, because it is my understanding that crabgrass can regenerate from root pieces.  This is my first experience from crabgrass, so I’m taking someone’s word at it.  I did manage to get most of it before it went to seed…but…right on the other side of the chainlink fence is my neighbor’s crabgrass, so, I don’t know.  That bed also has a ton of Euphorbia maculata, spotted spurge.  That stuff is everywhere in this yard.  It’s probably my lowest priority weed though, because it is actually so easy to pull usually, and I haven’t seen it rooting along the stems so far.  I am making sure to get it before it goes to seed though, because I know that is bad news bears.   I had intended to put Preen corn gluten meal down in this bed to try to prevent new crabgrass, but then I noticed some lupine and some columbine are naturalizing in it, and I really want that to continue, so I guess I’ll keep up the hand-weeding for now.

Oh, more crabgrass, by the way.  There is this super awkward rectangle, maybe 2′ x 5′, that runs between my entryway bed and the fence, and is covered in gravel.  It’s a bit hidden, and I did not notice that it had gone batshit crazy, because, when my kid is mowing, she can’t mow back there because of the gravel.  And I just spaced it.  So, this is definitely where my weeds are someone’s hell.  That grass was like a foot high and all seeds.  Luckily, it was super easy to hand pull, because it’s basically gravel over landscape fabric, and most of the roots hadn’t gone through the fabric.

While I was working in that area, I was thinking about how much I actually enjoy weeding.  There is obviously a satisfaction in looking at a cleared area, but beyond that, I really enjoy the physical sensations of both gently pulling a shallow-rooted weed to make sure nothing gets left behind and trying to get the most solid grasp on a taproot to take as much out as I can.  I honestly think there’s almost an ASMR quality to it, as you pull up something and hear the roots quietly separating from the soil.  Yesterday I knew I was going to be weeding for a long time, so I turned on some music, and after maybe five minutes I actually turned it off and weeded in silence.  It just felt better.

So anyway, this crabgrass gravel, OR CRABGRAVEL IF YOU WILL (and I will, because I love portmanteaus) was super satisfying to weed but while I was there I saw two things that made me sick to my stomach.  One, coming through the fence, was Ranunculus repens, or creeping buttercup.  EFF THAT STUFF.  It was one of my all-time worst weeds about ten years back and I am absolutely terrified that it’s coming into my yard.  I mean, I guess I will just try real hard to keep it from rooting in my space, but it just feels really hopeless.  I’ll do more research, but all the literature I read today basically said, “Dang, that sucks.”  Also, if I am correct, I believe my neighbor has an Ailanthus altissima (tree-of-heaven) growing in his yard.  My guess, based on the glimpses I get of his property, is that he’s not going to cut that thing down.  Sooooo….that’s gonna suck.  Again, feels pretty hopeless.

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I hate you, creeping buttercup, even though you have a cutesy name.
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Stealth picture of possible enemy tree.

In the walkway between the front and the back, I’ve got two very sad looking shrubs.  They look a bit better than when I moved in, but they are still not very happy.  I thought they were a Daphne, but iNaturalist is telling me something else, so I’m just not sure.  But the gravel area around them is COVERED with Malva neglecta (so many cute common names, I especially like cheeseweed.) I have no idea how I’m going to deal with that.  I guess it’s also low on the priority list, because it’s so slow growing and won’t go bananas if it goes to seed, but still, I know they’ve got burly taproots developing under there, taking away all the good stuff those sad little shrubs need.

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Imagine this but times a hundred.

More effing gravel in the backyard.  Ugh.  All around the patio is pea gravel, where the spurge is constantly sprouting, but the worst is the tons of Convolvulus arvensis, field bindweed.  It’s partly in the gravel and partly in the adjacent bed.  I’m trying so hard to deal with it, but this is another one where all the literature basically says to set it on fire and run as far away from your house as you can.  I’m at least trying to keep it small, so it doesn’t go to seed or choke out the nearby plants, and I’m hoping maybe if I keep cutting the top down the roots will starve, but I’m pretty sure that’s wishful thinking.  The stats on this and the Ranunculus are so disturbing, about how far they can spread in a single season and how resilient their roots and seeds are.  I just feel totally screwed.

On the upside, I think the neighbors might have heard me complain about the blackberry that was creeping over the fence, because they got rid of it!  Me 1, plants 1 billion!

Lastly, sort of, I’m trying to figure out what to do with what I’m calling the “firepit area”.  I call it this because I want to put a firepit there.  And I think the previous tenants might have had a firepit there!  But, I don’t have a firepit.  So right now what I’ve got is a sort of baseball diamond shaped dirt patch, where I think they cleared away the soil.  Ideally, I guess I’d like to put flagstone down?  But like, I don’t even own this place, and also I am broke, and also, that is way beyond my sphere of understanding.  Whenever we’d get into hardscaping when I was in school I would just completely zone out.  So I have no idea what I’m going to do with it, but for now it’s just a very happy landing place for weed seeds.  And, I have to be honest, today I used a product called Pulverize on them.  I give a LOT of thought before I use anything on weeds, and I give a LOT of thought as to what I will use.  Without going into detail about how I chose Pulverize (that can be another post), I’ll just say the following:  this is the first time I’ve purchased it and the second time I’ve used it, and I’m not super thrilled.  It, like most “organic” herbicides, does not translocate to the roots, it just kills the top part of the plant.  So that’s discouraging.  Also, it is getting really foamy and doesn’t spray very well.  But I’m just looking at it as buying me some time until I figure out what my permanent strategy is.

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Wouldn’t this be dreamy with a nice patio type thing and a firepit? And some smelly nice vine planted behind?

So.  There’s my essay on all the weeds in my 5000 sq ft lot.  Today was overcast, which was actually lovely for dealing with weeds, although I guess it will probably decrease the efficiency of the Pulverize.  And, I only use any kind of chemical, no matter how theoretically safe, when my littlest one is at school and won’t be home for a few hours, so today was good for that reason as well.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring?  What horrible pernicious weed will I discover next?!

Spider Mite City

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Wham bam, thank you ma’am!

Did you know that when you Google “spider mite infestation”, it auto-fills to “spider mite infestation in human”?  Apparently that’s not even a thing, so WHY THE HYSTERICS GOOGLE.  Is it because Google is watching me and got a kick out of seeing the expression of horror and disgust I made as I read that?

So, you might have guessed I have some spider mites.  (Aside: I’m so out of practice!  I mean, I should really, really be able to diagnose spider mites, and yet there I was, posting it on FB, looking for help.  And of course, as soon as the person responded with a suggestion, it was obvious.)  Anyway, I was pretty sure it was a sucking insect, because it had that yellow stippling, but I never saw any culprits or any webbing.  But, I guess mites are pretty dang small, and also the center of this plant has a ton of dead mush and dry material, like most of the plants in this yard.  (The people who were here before clearly were not as obsessed with gardening as I am.  Which is reasonable.) I also would have expected the neem to do SOMETHING, but who knows.  Maybe I didn’t get the underneaths well enough.  So, I just hacked back this three-foot-tall rosemary that was looking super rough by about two-thirds, and I’ll neem it again tomorrow, and keep my fingers crossed.  I’m seeing the same pattern on a Veronica next door to it so I cut that back some as well and will neem it again as well.

So.  I guess that’s it.  I did some other weeding, in the “crabgrass lawn” (a perennial bed in the front yard that looked like a full-on crabgrass lawn) , and just some other basic maintenance.   And also, I just woke up to realize that I had fallen asleep on the couch while writing this, and had written a sentence of complete gibberish about writing a collaborative email.

I think it might be time for bed.

 

Me versus the weeds…

…and the bugs. And the fungus. And the sun. And maybe a little bit of laziness too.

I’ve worked hard on my garden this year, harder than I’ve ever worked on a garden in my life.  It might not show to the outside world, because there is a long way to go still, but I have to admit that I feel the best I’ve ever felt about this particular garden. That is why it is a particularly cruel twist of fate that I am having more problems with it than I’ve ever had.  Perhaps benign neglect truly is the best method after all.

First off, I have aphids.  I have never in my life as a home gardener had aphids.  As a professional horticulturist back in the day, I saw plenty of the teeny green bastards, but they have never invaded my home life until now, and I am pissed.  I first saw them on my Shasta daisies.  Yes, I know Shastas are a magnet for them, but they are also my favorite flower.  (Of course, I’d never grown them before and while I still love them, I have to admit that they are not worth all their unruly, floppy trouble.) I also saw some ladybugs, so I hoped that they would do their job and I left it alone.  Days later, I noticed that they’d moved over to my hellebores. I started to get a little more concerned, but because they were still only hitting ornamentals, and my vegetables are way in the back yard, I did what any good organic gardener would do, and hit them with a powerful stream of water and hoped for the best.  And then today, oh my goodness today, the saddest day.  The bastards found my broccoli and my cabbage.

I know what you’re saying, because I’m saying it too.  How did it get so out of control??? I don’t know.  I’m ashamed.  Today was the first day I’ve really put some quality time in out in the veg patch, and I was mostly happy with what I found, but this was a total shock.  This is my cabbage.  One of the poor things was so overcome it just flopped down and died.  I thought it wilted due to my 3 year olds ineffective watering, but it was the aphids, sucking out all its sweet cabbage bloods.

Another depressing discovery?

This beautiful, apparently perfectly formed head of broccoli.  My incredible child was so excited about this that she immediately started shoving florets into her mouth, barefoot in the midst of the garden.  At which point I thought…oh God the aphids.  Who knows how many she ate?  Ugh.  Barely on the leaves, they were concentrated deep in the florets, where you could barely see them, and where they are proving nearly impossible to remove. After several passes of individual florets under my kitchen sink sprayer, they are currently soaking in a bowl of cold water, but I have little hope.  Honestly, if I can’t get all the aphids out I’m going to eat the damn things myself, because I grew this broccoli and I refuse to give it the chickens.

…and the fungus.  My very, very poorly espaliered apple trees (more on these someday, I am sure) have finally *FINALLY* put fruit on.  I was ebullient when I discovered the petite little apples growing on one of the trees.  At the beginning of the year, I had said, If they don’t give me some dang apples this year I am ripping them out of the ground.  But I didn’t really want to.  So, of course, bitter fate again, along with their tiny apples they’ve also developed powdery mildew. Thus far I’ve taken the extremely effective tactic of ignoring it, but it’s getting worse, so soon I’m going to have to pick off all the infected material and chuck it and see what happens.  Obviously, I should have already done that, but that would not be my style.  Again, lazy.  I almost kind of sort of don’t want it to work though, because I’ve read that cow’s milk can treat it, and I think that would be kind of fun to experiment with.

…and the sun.  After a very long, wet, cold, dreary, downright interminable spring, it would appear that summer has finally decided to show up in Portland. I still have one foot in dreary and the sudden increase in watering needs has resulted in the death of my lovely hanging basket, my cheerful back porch Gerber daisies, two of the lettuces in my little mesclun pot, and the crippling of my nasturtium basket.  You will be missed, friends.

…but…the weeds!  I actually have a handle on the weeds, somewhat, this year, for the first time ever.  Which is part of why I’m feeling that weird pride feeling that I don’t often experience.  And this entire long-winded post has really been kind of a way for me to tell you about some things that I’ve been using that have kind of been rocking my world.  My weed treatment strategy kind of sounds like the recipe for a tasty snack, which I think is a good sign: salt, boiling water, vinegar, corn gluten.  (And a circle hoe too, but that sounds less delicious.)

*My driveway, the driveway from hell, is covered in a thin layer of gravel over dirt.  Thus, it is constantly besieged by weeds, too many weeds to handweed, and too annoying to hoe. Sometimes, honestly?  I mow it. I have dreams of this lovely permeable driveway interplanted with fleur de lawn, but that’s a major project that I am not sure will ever happen.  In the meantime, this year I decided to demolish the weeds with horticultural vinegar, and it worked, pretty well at least.  I did it when the weeds were tall and I wasn’t able to get the roots of everything, but over the couple of weeks since I did it the driveway has started looking browner and browner.  I mowed it last week and I am going to re-vinegar it, and I think I may finally tasty sweet tangy pickley success.

*I also put down corn gluten after the vinegar, and I’m not seeing any new seedlings yet.  That may be the corn gluten, or it may be that I’ve completely demolished the soil.  More corn gluten experiments to come.

*Salt and boiling water are my new best friends.  A week ago, I ran some little trials out in my front walkway on the dandelions that love to push up through the cracks.  1/4 of the plants got no treatment.  1/4 got just boiling water.  1/4 got just salt.  1/4 got both. Obviously the control just sat there happy as larks. The plain salt did nothing at first, but a week later they are pretty much withered away.  The boiling water immediately shrank and looked terrified, and were out the door about two days later.  But the salt/boiling water combo, wow!  It was like time-lapse how quickly they wilted, shrank, withered, turned brown and basically disappeared.  It was unbelievable.  I did some more tonight on the patio and here are the results:

And then, the magic happens:

Okay, so it hadn’t actually turned brown or crispy yet, but this was literally seconds after I scalded it, and I am willing to bet that by tomorrow it will be a crumbly delight.

Finally, just because, my beautiful first ripe strawberry – saved so that Hazel could discover, pick and eat it herself.  Pure 3 year old joy.