You Bet Your Garden

Don’t put that mower away just yet!


Listen to the full show:

Mike explains how to contain English ivy organically, what types of clover you can plant to attract deer, how to get rid of grubs in your soil and how to prune your fig tree. Plus: Mike speaks with Professor Karen Snetselaar who is teaching a class at the Wagner Free Institute on invasive plants in sustainable landscapes.


Question of the Week:

“It’s almost time to take the mower deck off the tractor and replace it with the plow, and I have a question that I don’t believe you’ve addressed in your lawn care articles: Should I cut my lawn (predominately fescue, with some bluegrass) a little shorter than normal when I cut it for the last time? I typically cut my grass at four inches; should I cut it at, say, 2.75 or 3 inches for the last cut?”

— Jim in Bethel township (15 miles north of Dayton, Ohio)

How to mow your lawn before the winter season »


Highlights from show for December 7, 2013:

Containing English ivy organically

Barbara from Marietta, Georgia has English ivy covering a large amount of her property and she’s looking for an organic method of controlling the borders. Mike was pleased that she didn’t resort to using a chemical herbicide because, as he explains, the chemicals are not only harmful but are completely ineffective on this sort of plant: “The waxy leaves of ivy really repel any kind of an herbicide or any kind of an agent that’s sprayed on them.” Mike recommends installing edging to contain the vines: “How about driving some edging in and actually confining it, at least on some sides where it’s just kinda growing into areas you don’t want? Some really good, strong edging could save your hands and your back. Obviously, it’s still going to try to get up to the top, but that would give you a lot of wiggle room and, you know, it’s much easier to take it down when it’s up high than it is to push it out of the ground it’s already cultivated.”


Planting clover to attract deer

Rob from Beach Creek, Pennsylvania has a cabin and would like to plant clover to attract deer and other wildlife. Mike says with a laugh: “Oh boy, … have we ever had in 15 years a call about feeding deer as opposed to doing the opposite??” Mike goes on to say that Rob has many options when it comes to planting clover — white clover, red clover, even crimson clover! Mike explains: “First of all, I don’t think you’re going to have any trouble getting them established, because these are plants that tend to gravitate towards poor soil. This is really where you can get anthropomorphic with gardening because it’s almost like the clover knows the soil needs improvement. So somehow it manages to reach this area of poor soil, and as the clover grows, it connects with different microorganisms in the soil and forms a symbiotic relationship that allows the clover to pull plant-feeding nitrogen out of the air.” Mike recommends picking out a perennial variety of clover, or select a few varieties of clover, and get planting!


“You’d want to plant a perennial clover so it would come back year after year. And I believe that those are the really colorful ones. I mean, a field of white is interesting enough, but I’d love a field of crimson clover! I mean, you know? Turn on the 60s music!”

Mike McGrath


Special guest: Professor Karen Snetselaar

Mike speaks with Professor Karen Snetselaar about invasive plants and how there might be a place for these formidable foes in your yard. Professor Snetselaar will be teaching a new lecture series called Wild Things: Toward a More Sustainable Natural Garden through the Wagner Free Institute of Science and sponsored by The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society this January.

“I realized that people are very afraid. And some of the gardeners really hate certain plants, and that doesn’t seem right to me. I think everyone should really like plants. So the idea is to try and demystify invasive plants a little bit so people aren’t afraid to let things grow in their gardens if they don’t know what they are.”

Professor Karen Snetselaar


Getting rid of grubs

Sandra from Chester Springs, Pennsylvania found grubs in the soil while planting new shrubs. She squashed the grubs that she came across and then spread a thin layer of mulch after planting her bushes. Mike says: “The good news and the bad news that what you did with the covering the surface of the soil or not covering the surface of the soil was going to effect any remaining grubs.” Mike continues on to explain that grubs prefer low-cut, ratty lawns. But if her shrubs take hold and she improves the health of the lawn, that will keep grubs at bay.


Pruning your fig tree

Sal from Manahawkin, New Jersey three fall seasons ago, purchased a fig tree. He’s happy to report that the tree is doing well; the first season the tree produced 3 figs, and the second season it produced 23 figs. Now that he’s in the third season and it’s becoming pretty overgrown, he’s wondering how he should prune it. “The issue with figs is that they are Mediterranean plants; it does get a little too cold for them in many locations. In the spring, after new growth begins … you wait like two weeks. And then you can prune it for shape, but it’s very important to prune off any winter damage parts — like you know, some of the branches will have turned black over winter and they’ll no longer be vibrant.”





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