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Gardener answers questions

Published 4:17am Monday, June 24, 2013 Updated 6:23am Monday, June 24, 2013

Here is a sampling of commonly-asked summer questions I get:

• How do I keep the squirrels from eating the jelly I’ve put out for the birds?

Sprinkle some Tabasco sauce on top of the jelly. Birds don’t have a mucus membrane like animals do so they don’t notice the fiery taste. One try should put critters “on the wagon”.

• How do I keep deer/raccoons out of the garden — away from my apple trees etc.?

String a monofilament fish line chest deep to the deer around whatever you need to protect. A second line about at knee level is a good idea, too.

The deer hit the line in the dark, can’t figure out what the barrier is and leave.

Raccoons are a bit more difficult to deter. To keep the moms and babies out, an electric fence, raccoon height, with bait on it will do the trick.

For bait, bend throw-away aluminum pie plates in half over the fence. Smear them with peanut butter.

Rocky is attracted to the smell, gets his nose bitten and high-tails it for the next county.

• What can I do with plants that have downy mildew on them?

A home-made spray will stop the disease. There is no cure. Mix a cup of whole milk (the butterfat content is important) with a gallon of water and 2 or 3 drops of liquid dish soap and spray on the affected plants.

• Can I prune my trees now?

No, unless the branches are broken or dead. Apple trees should be pruned in late winter, February or March.

Oak trees in early spring or late summer, August or September. Maple and birches can be pruned early summer after they are fully leafed out.

• How do I prevent wormy apples?

Bag them. About the first of July or when the baby apples are about the size of a 50 cent piece, remove all but the largest apple in a clump (if you must you can leave 2).

Put either a zip lock or plastic sandwich bag on the apple and either zip it or tie it around the apple. Cut off the corners of the bag for drainage.

The apple is now protected from worm or bird damage and it’s in a mini greenhouse. The apple will be bigger and brighter. Put the discarded apples in a bag and remove from the area. Don’t compost them as the apple maggot will infest them there, too.

• How can I get the grass to grow under a clump of oak trees?

You can’t. The shade is too dense and the tree is sucking up all the moisture and food from the soil. Mulch the area or try a ground cover.

Even creeping Charlie won’t do well under oaks.

• What kind of fertilizer should I put on my just-planted tree?

None. A just planted tree has to work hard to get re-established. Fertilizing it puts stress on an already stressed plant. Wait until next year then what you put on your grass will be enough.

Do either mulch around your newly planted tree or surround the trunk with small plants. This keeps the dreaded lawnmower and weed whip from damaging the tender bark, reducing the life of your new baby. Just remember to keep the much from touching the bark. It can cause rot or circling roots, shorting the life of your tree.

More questions? Call the extension office at 218-998-8760, or call the KBRF 1250 Saturday mornings, 8 to 9 or stop in at the City Bakery from 9 to 10 after the program on Saturday for more help.


Bev Johnson is a master gardener for Otter Tail County.

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