You Bet Your Garden

Safely get rid of Japanese stilt grass

Listen to the full show:

Mike explains how to care for seedlings out of season, why you should be wary of old fruit orchards, how to build a stinkbug trap, the benefits of soil solarization, and how to get rid of Japanese stilt grass safely.

Question of the Week:

“HELP! Our lawn is being invaded by Japanese Stiltgrass! We’ve been told that herbicides are the best way to get rid of it, but we don’t want to kill everything else in the yard. We’ve tried pulling it up by hand but can’t seem to get it all. What should we do?” — Jason and Tina in Patterson, New York

How to get rid of Japanese stilt grass safely »

Highlights from show for September 28, 2013:

Growing seedlings out of season

Susan from Beaver Creek, Ohio is fostering seedlings from a watermelon that her 9 year old son planted in an ice cream cup with soil from a flower bed outside. Now that the seedlings are growing in her basement with a light she wants to know what to do next. Mike explains they are relatively easy to grow if they are started in the Spring instead of the Fall. Susan says she wants to take this to it’s natural conclusion so Mike suggests getting a good plastic pot with drainage holes and loose light potting mix. Mix the potting mix half and half with “the darkest richest blackest stuff from the bottom of your compost pile”. “If you are willing to see it through … lots of light, compost for food, don’t over water it and if you get flowers that would be so great to begin with”. Susan also gets the good Mom award of course!

Beware of old apple orchards

Steve from Jamaica, Vermont bought some land and found out the place used to be an apple orchard and would like to restore it to its former glory, apple trees and all. However, his hopes are dashed when Mike finds out the farm was in production around 100 years ago. He tells Steve to have the soil tested, but he may have potentially really bad news. Apple orchards at that time saw a lot of heavy pesticide use of the worst and most toxic pesticide, arsenic of lead. He explains that before Steve does much else he should get a hold of his county extension agent and test the soil and well water for old pesticides. “Old apple orchards are notorious, I can’t emphasize this enough. It needs to be your first order of business. It could be heavily contaminated with arsenic or lead.” Get the soil tested and call us back and let us know.

“Old apple orchards are notorious [for contaminated soil], I can’t emphasize this enough. It needs to be your first order of business. It could be heavily contaminated with arsenic or lead.”

Mike McGrath

How to build a stinkbug trap

Jody from Lambertville, New Jersey called in to share his very popular technique of trapping stinkbugs. Mike briefed listeners on this ingenious homemade contraption that’s attached to the warm, southern-facing exterior wall of a house. But Jody corrected Mike that the stinkbugs aren’t looking for heat on the southern side of your home but rather the heat inside your home. Jody says: “It’s true, in my work I’ve found that they gather for heat, but it’s not the heat like we all thought. It’s turns out to be the heat of your house that they’re after. So as the heat of your house leaks out by any little crack or by a window, that’s more where they tend to go. They’re trying to get in for their hibernation process.” Jody is happy to report that his website,, is back up and running with instructions on how to build a stink bug trap, and he even recorded a new demo video to guide those who find themselves overrun with this insect.

  • How to build a cardboard stink bug trap

The benefits of soil solarization

Danielle from central Illinois looking for tips on expanding her garden. She has big plans for her on acre of land, but is not sure how to prep the area. Mike explains the process of soil solarization. “Soil solarization takes a full season in the summer. The way you solarize soil is you till up the soil, you rake it as clean as possible, you level the ground perfectly, and then you saturate it with as much water as you can possibly get the ground to hold. And then you stretch clear plastic overtop and really pin it down at the sides so that area of soil cooks all summer long — we’re talking about June, July, August and September. Solarization is a great process; it gets rid of all the weeds, gets rid of any disease, it actually improves the health and texture of the soil.” Mike continues on to recommend the stages in which to build raised beds and where and when to plant fruit trees.

  • Charlie from Folsom (like the prison), but PA not CA

    Hi Mike —

    My wife and I recently purchased a Franklin tree for our yard at the Scott Arboretum plant sale after having seen specimens in the Franklin tree grove on the campus at Swarthmore College.

    Our tree is about 3-1/2 feet tall and appeared to be in very good shape when we brought it home, though the leaves were already getting color. We tried to do our homework with respect to transplanting trees in general and the Franklinia alatamaha specifically. As the tree was potted and so a bit rootbound, we carefully massaged the roots to separate things bit. We were careful to not plant the tree too deeply, backfilled exclusively with the excavated soil, adding only a very shallow layer of compost as the top layer, and watered it well, letting the hose drip very slowly for several days. For the most part, I think this is what you recommend at the You Bet Your Garden site.

    In spite of our efforts, the tree looks terrible and we’re worried that it is dying, if not already dead. The leaves have curled, are very dry and slowly falling off. My wife worries that the tree is getting too much afternoon sun, rather then the morning sun that is recommended (the tree will get less afternoon and more morning sun in spring summer than it does now). Could the sun be the cause of the problem or have we somehow fatally wounded what we hoped would be an attractive tree that you don’t see everywhere?

    • Sarah Kaizar

      Hi Charlie — I passed your question onto Mike and this was his response: “Charlie: Unless its planted in or near a treated lawn or you failed to keep up the watering, you’ve done nothing wrong. Continue deep watering during dry times until we get a hard freeze and think good thoughts for next year.” I hope this helps — good luck and thanks for listening!

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