Take care of tools to take care of your garden

I have a new tool and I think I may be in love. It is a torch that I can use standing up to burn the plants growing in the stone pathway. I am finished, done, over, not ever again, weeding between these pieces of slate that we “harvested” along the highway near Hope. John called it “subsistence rocking” at the time. These rocks have broken off the main face and fallen into the ditch. Keep your eyes open if you are interested in creating a stone path. But, more important, get one of these torches first. They are locally available.

When I first expressed a desire for one of these John said “no problem” and came home with a TORCH. I can hardly lift it. He uses it to keep the vegetation down in the gravel driveway. It works wonders but it has no place in the garden. None whatsoever. I can use MY torch with one hand and aim it exactly where I need the flame to go. Excellent. Efficient. Fast. I use it each time I run the trimmer, which is a nice reminder. That way the plants won’t get ahead of me. The idea is to never ever even see a plant between the stones.

Our daughter Andrea, thinks its charming to have plants growing between the stones and I do see her point, until I can’t see the path for the plants. I need tidiness and this torch is another step in that direction. Glory be.

There are a couple of things you need to be thinking about: the state of your tools and thinning volunteer annuals.

Lets start with the tools. I noticed that my scissors were sticking while I was deadheading the daronicum. Well, of course they were. Poor things were coated with whatever. Take the tools you are using the most to the kitchen sink and give them a good scrubbing. That’s right, use a scrub brush and dish soap and get the job done. Rub a light coat of vegetable oil all over the metal parts and get back to work. You’ll be amazed how much better/faster they operate. I think pruners get sharpened more often than need be. A good cleaning will do the trick.

Thinning your volunteer annuals: they just seem to keep coming up everywhere (no longer in the stone path…). Years ago, when the garden was not yet a garden, I threw around a packet of johnny-jump-up seed. These little violas are so sweet and add color here and there all season long, but then they never go away. They can multiply faster than the speed of light. But they are easy to pull out so that’s my answer, I like to keep them around just not ALL of them. Same goes for Lauren’s grape poppy. I took just one seed head (which I now realize contains more seeds than you can possibly imagine) and tossed that around. Mistake. They are everywhere and love the perennial beds so much that they don’t seem to ever go away. There you have it — too much of a good thing. But the plus side to any of this is none of them are difficult to thin. Just keep at it and you will eventually have just enough of everything.

We have now entered the stage of the garden where it needs to be deadheaded. This is the simple act of cutting off the spent bloom of plant. If it’s an annual, you will prolong the length of bloom time. An annuals whole purpose is to bloom, seed, die. You want it to bloom. Leave enough seed heads so they will volunteer next growing season and you start the whole thinning process — endless. But the more you deadhead, the less thinning you do, and the more color you will enjoy longer into the the season. The perennials, those plants that return to grace your garden year after year, will look neater once you remove the spent blooms. They won’t rebloom, but they will look tidy.

The blue poppies that so many gardeners can’t live without and that thrive here in Homer, will thank you for a good deadheading. They will bloom on and on, albeit getting shorter each time you trim them back. Not a bad thing unless you were counting on them for height. Live with it. Same goes for columbine. Deadheading these lovelies has to be the most tedious chore ever. If you can persevere you will be rewarded with a very long bloom time indeed. Its a big “if.”

The thing is — when your garden starts to look shabby is when you have not paid attention to the deadheading. The whole area will look loved, tended, welcoming, when you spend a few minutes a day grooming it. Pull a few weeds, pinch a few spent blooms, tie up an errant delphinium. You get the idea.

Have you noticed how much the spruce are loving our misty moisty weather? After being stressed by the spruce aphids, those that have more or less survived are putting on new growth to beat the band. This summer has given them the gift of their ideal weather conditions. Excellent. Also, look down, there are zillions of tiny spruce seedlings absolutely everywhere.

And while you are at it, go for a wildflower walk. The lupine may have been a bust this year but so far the chocolate lilies are dominating and the geraniums are coming on. Go. Look. Appreciate. The Native Plant Society leads wildflower walks. Contact jwoodring@alaska.net for more information.

Remember our porcupine visitor? I called the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and talked to Jason Herreman. I really, really needed to know what the positive is to a porcupine. He gave a straight answer, bless his heart. It went something like this: they are a food source for predators such as wolves, coyotes, lynx and marten. They support forest succession and create new habitat. There you have it. They have worth. I’ll keep this in mind as the creature tears through my raspberries and roses.

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener. She has been writing The Kachemak Gardener since 1990.