Hey, folks,

Hey, folks,

The month of July is wrapping up and August will be here in a few days.

While the list of gardening tasks for August is shorter than in many months, there are still ongoing tasks to perform. The hot temperatures of midsummer make it tough to spend much time working in your garden, so take advantage of any cooler days to take care of grooming and weeding. Weed control is very important, because with the warmer weather and increased watering, weed seeds will germinate and grow faster, maturing to the point of producing more seeds. Take advantage of your spare time to keep the weeds cultivated out of all parts of the garden.

QWe live in an area of Washingtonville that, like most areas, has a high habitation of moles (voles, woodchucks, groundhogs or whatever). They are not bothering our trees or large shrubs. But, no surprise, they are eating bulbs, flowers, plants.

I know there are many natural deterrents. Could you please give us a list of how to control these pests?

Also, if you could include a list of plants, flowers, etc., that don't suit their taste, we could plant those. Not providing "food" for them is the best deterrent, I'm sure.

Kathy Bates, Washingtonville

There always seems to be some kind of critter in the landscape looking for its next meal. Aside from deer, the smaller animals such as rabbits, woodchucks, moles and voles all can cause considerable damage.

The best way to limit the overall damage is obviously to use plants that are not palatable to these pests. However, that doesn't always guarantee no damage. One plant may be deer-resistant but gets eaten by a woodchuck.

You had mentioned that your bulbs are being eaten, so here is something to try. When planting, dig out the area you are planting them in and line the bottom and sides of the hole with a hard wire cloth or chicken wire (something with a grid of holes a quarter of an inch wide is usually fine). Place all your bulbs back in the hole, backfill almost to the top and place a layer of mesh wire on the top of the planting area. Finish backfilling.

Sometimes voles and even rabbits will damage shrubs and trees in the winter by girdling or chewing the bark of the base of the plant. This can be prevented by pulling the mulch away from the bottom of the plants in winter. You can also use a hard wire cloth wrapped around the base of the plant to prevent the damage.

When our plants are being eaten by woodchucks, rabbits and deer, spray repellents work well. There are a lot on the market. Most of them work by smell and by taste. A few that have worked well are Liquid Fence, Repellex, Repels All, Deer Scram, Bobex and predator urines. If spraying is not an option, the use of netting around the planting areas can be a very effective way of keeping out woodchucks, rabbits and deer.

Before doing anything, you may want to determine if the amount of damage that occurs is worth putting up netting and using smelly spray repellents, or is this something that you can tolerate.

Here is a list of some plants that in general are critter-resistant. This is not a complete list, and plant resistance may vary. There are no guarantees that critters will leave them alone 100 percent.

Foxglove, monardas (bee balm), mint, Russian sage, lavender, lamb's ear, agastache (hyssop), astilbe, peony, aquilegia (columbine), ornamental grasses, allium, daffodils, artemisia, helleborus, ferns, yarrow

Boxwood, barberry, andromeda, spirea, viburnum, caryopteris, buddleia, smoke bush, Daphne, Alberta spruce, Colorado spruce, white spruce.

In general, the best way to avoid damage is to plant resistant varieties, protect the plants during times when damage is more likely to occur (usually winter) and use repellents as needed during the growing season. Work with nature and not against her, and things generally go smooth.

QI'm writing about the woodpeckers that were in your May 6 column.

The pileated woodpecker (and others) spend a lot of time and energy in March attracting a mate by pecking trees. He may have been advertising "Come on over to my tree "¦" Don't you think this is possible?

— Joan K., Chester

It certainly is possible that the woodpecker was trying to attract a mate, depending on the time of year. It is common for woodpeckers to go through this attraction ritual called drumming. Thanks for the info.

QI grow my tomatoes in wire cages.

What can I use to mulch? I don't want to use hay or straw. Would peat moss be a good choice?

— Jim S., Woodridge

There are a few things you could use. While you could use peat moss, I think that a good layer of compost or shredded leaves would work just as well.

But you can use just about anything that holds moisture and prevents weed. Place a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic material such as compost, leaves or peat moss around the plants.

Mulching helps stop weed growth and water loss from the soil. There's some extra benefit to using organic mulches such as grass clippings, hay, leaves or sawdust because these materials — unlike plastic or other synthetic mulches — decompose, providing food for the millions of microorganisms that live in the soil, making nutrients available to your plants and improving soil structure.

QMy father-in-law, a Warwick-born man, had a green thumb.

His idea: Before removing a tree, plant or bush from the ground, he took note of the time of day and the position of the sun. He marked the item with a ribbon or such before replanting the item. He then made sure the position of the sun and the time of day were as exact as possible when replanting.

I have never seen anything die. It was unusual to me, a city dweller. Have you ever heard of this?

— Theresa L., Middletown

It certainly sounds as if your father-in-law understood a few things about plants. Taking the time to notice the sun exposure and location of plants before moving them is key to selecting a new spot, especially if they were doing well in the original location.

Making sure to match the original conditions the plant is very important to a successful transplant, not only with the amount of sun but also with the type of soil. I am sure that he used to amend the soil also to match the soil conditions. We can all learn a little from his attention to details.

Thanks for sharing.

QI usually have more than 100 healthy hollyhock plants, but this year foliage became covered in rust disease in early June.

I cut all diseased foliage off, but new foliage developed it again and it is continuing. Needless to say, no flowers this year.

Will it come back next year? Is there anything I can do now or in the fall or spring to stop it? Continue to cut off growing foliage? Even new baby plants have it.

— Michele in Northeast Pennsylvania.

Hollyhocks are grown for their showy, colorful flowers. A common disease problem on hollyhocks, rust can also lead to "colorful" foliage.

Puccinia malvacearum, the rust fungus that infects hollyhock, causes yellow spots on the upper leaf surface, and orange-brown raised pustules on the lower leaf surface. Orange pustules also form on the stems of the plants.

Wet conditions promote infections. The lower leaves typically show symptoms first, and the disease slowly progresses to upper leaves over the summer. Infected leaves eventually turn brown, wilt and die. Wind and splashing rain help spread the spores of the fungus, so spacing plants to promote good air circulation can help slow the progression of the disease. Because wet conditions favor infection, water the soil around the plants rather than wetting the leaves.

Because the rust fungus survives from season to season on infected plants parts, cut back the plant stalks at the end of the season and thoroughly remove all of the stalks, stems and leaves. The hollyhock rust fungus can also infect the common mallow weed, so weed control in the vicinity is important.

In most situations, these good gardening practices alone will not control rust completely. Fungicide applications can be used for additional disease management. Fungicides should be applied when symptoms are first noticed and reapplied at approximately 7-10 day intervals.

Editor's note

In response to the question a few weeks ago, I have gotten a number of people writing in saying that they are successfully growing crape myrtle here in the Hudson Valley. Here is a note from Joan Smith in New Windsor:

"I couldn't resist sending this picture of my crape myrtle that I purchased on Top Sail Island, N.C., about eight years ago.

"It is out in the open — never grows like the ones in Virginia (big) — but I certainly enjoy its beauty.

"There is always the exception to the rule."

It is good to see gardeners pushing to the extremes. You are certainly right; there is always an exception to the rule. Its motivated gardeners like yourselves that have us inspired to try new things

TIP of the week

Time to fertilize all water lilies and lotus once a month to keep the plants blooming continuously throughout the season.

Dan Daly is a plant fanatic who has been gardening since childhood. With more than 10 years in the business, he's ready to answer all your gardening questions. E-mail him at askdan@th-record.com or send to Ask Dan, the Times Herald-Record, 40 Mulberry St., Middletown 10940.