Garden Solutions – June 2017

            I, for one, cannot believe it is the first of June already. This year is really flying by. This is the month for picnics, vacations, family reunions, and for just enjoying the outdoors in general. One of the tasks to take care of this month is weeding. If you put a pre-emergent weed control product in your landscape beds in March or April, you are due for a second application now. There are two reasons for this. First, most of the pre-emergent products that are available to the homeowner have a short life span, up to 60 days. The second reason is due to all of the rain we have had. However, there are many benefits to the very adequate rainfalls this year. One of them is the ease with which some normally difficult weeds can be pulled. So take time to clean up your landscape beds and apply a pre-emergent as soon as possible.

The long hot days of summer are stressful to every living creature, including all your plants. If you are tired of the endless task of keeping your plants watered, it is time to think about adding mulch to your beds.

            I know that hotter weather is just ahead, so do yourself and your plantings a huge favor and apply mulch. If you have beds that have never been mulched, add 3” around all annuals, perennials, roses, trees and shrubs. Top dress previously mulched beds with an additional inch of fresh mulch.

Not only does mulch hold in moisture, relieving you of some of your watering tasks, it also keeps the soil cooler, so your plants will be less heat-stressed. An added bonus is that weed seeds have a difficult time germinating when buried in mulch, reducing the time you spend weeding.

            One of the most common questions that we receive at this time of year is, “How much do I water my ______?” I will try to explain some basic guidelines here:

Vegetables and Bedding Plants planted in the ground: established plants need at least one inch of water per week, more when bearing fruit. Check the soil around the plants, when it is dry one inch down, it’s time to water.

Container Gardens and Hanging Baskets: check your containers every day for water. Either test the soil by touch or lift the pot to check its weight. Most baskets and many containers will need to be watered once, or even twice a day, depending on the weather. I suggest you fertilize once a week.

Perennials: newly planted perennials need daily watering until established, at least one to two weeks, depending on weather. After they show signs of new growth, apply a one inch per week rule.

Trees and Shrubs: newly planted trees and shrubs should be watered every 4-5 days for the entire first year after planting, unless rainfall is abundant. Place the end of your hose next to the base of the plant and let the water trickle very slowly for about two hours. This will allow the root zone to become thoroughly saturated.

            Established Lawns: your lawn should be watered when the grass blades don’t bounce back after being walked on. One inch of water per week should keep your lawn green and healthy. It is best to water early in the morning, before the heat of the day. This keeps evaporation to a minimum, and allows plenty of time for the grass to dry before nightfall, which will help prevent fungus problems.

Newly Seeded or Sodded Lawns: for better germination, I suggest you mulch grass seed with straw as soon as it is planted. Once seed has germinated or sod has been laid, they must not be allowed to dry out. Water daily with a sprinkler until there is good growth. Early morning is again the best time. Once established, go back to the one inch per week rule.

Water Gardens: also require an occasional addition of water. Check your pond weekly and add water as needed. Water plants have variable depth requirements, so you need to keep the water levels consistent.

So continue to enjoy your outdoor spaces and make relationships with your plants! They can give you so much in return!


See you in the Garden,

Sandi Hillermann McDonald

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Garden Solutions – May 2017

This month’s article is a type of warning article…….I attended a webinar recently on the mosquito (Aedes aegypti) which is the type of mosquito that carries the Zika virus.  St Louis for some reason has been considered a hot spot for this carrier this summer.  Below are a few quick points of interest to make you aware of how to stay safe this summer.

The Zika mosquito is a CONTAINER breeder, meaning that it is not found in ponds or streams, but instead in gutters, birdbaths, old tires, holes in trees, septic tanks or anything holding still water.  They fly only about ¼ of a mile from egg source, where other mosquitoes can travel up to 2-2 ½ miles.  This is a great way to keep them under control.  THESE MOSQUITOES ARE DAYTIME BITERS, where other mosquitoes attack at early morning or evening.  This is a great indicator.  They fly during mid day in bright sunlight and low humidity.  If you get bitten in the evening, rest assured that it is not the Zika carrying mosquito causing you problems.

Permethrin (sold in our retail store as EIGHT) and Malathion are two great pesticides that work on spraying foundation plantings and trees up to about 10’ off the ground. This is where the adult mosquitoes harbor.  If you are concerned, a foliage spray would be a great preventative.   Mosquito Dunks are an Organic larvicide (containing bacillus thuringensis) and are SAFE for pets, wildlife and humans.  We sell A LOT of this in our retail store.  This is a granular or round dunks that can be put into gutters and any container that holds water, especially animal water bowls, birdbaths, septic tanks and the like.

Breeding sites for mosquitoes that are found need to be dumped and scrubbed to remove any eggs.  The eggs cling to the sides of containers at the water lever NOT in the water itself.  The eggs are thin and black and resemble the nyjer seed that is often fed to finches.  They line up very close to each other at the water level, but always ON the container itself.

Zika can be a big problem this season as there are more than several states that have seen cases…………….. For more information check out this website:


See You in the Garden,

Sandi Hillermann McDonald

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Garden Solutions – April 2017

SpringTulipsTreeWApril is the “opener” of spring. Grass greens up, trees leaf out, shrubs begin to bloom, perennials come back, and the birds continue to sing. This is truly my favorite time of year, the time of rebirth! The seasons move so fast, this is one that you really need to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n and enjoy every day.

Now pay attention to the birds singing early in the mornings and their increased activity, which leads way to courting, nesting, and soon to be, new fledglings. Therefore, I encourage you to continue feeding our feathered friends during this important time and enjoy the antics that lie ahead. I would also like to remind you that these little birds do eat many insects, which is a great benefit for your yard and garden. You should already have your purple martin houses up and filled, and now it is time to hang up the hummingbird feeders. You can make your own nectar using four parts water to 1 part sugar (1/4 cup sugar to 1 cup water). You can start with slightly more sugar in the mix to attract the hummingbirds, and then go back to the 4 to 1 mixture once the hummingbirds are frequenting your feeders. Boil together the mixture to dissolve the sugar, fill your feeders and enjoy. Change out the liquid frequently as hummingbirds are very fragile and our summer heat can quickly ferment the sugar mixture. Clean the feeder in between each filling.

One of the bigger movements continuing across the country this year is “Protecting the Pollinators.” Last year a huge push to “Save the Monarch Butterfly” was seen everywhere. A few years ago, the Honey Bee had been known as declining. Well, the decline of these most important Pollinators is still a strong concern. BeeOnConeflowerB-sTherefore, we need to make ourselves aware of the push to save ALL pollinators. We can help with this push by being aware of your surroundings and eliminating the use of synthetic insecticide products, especially on blooming plants that are visited by pollinators. It you have an insect issue, talk to a representative at your local garden center about methods of controlling pests without harming pollinators. Our food supply depends on it.

There is so much to talk about in April, I have made a short list of some of the more common, timely items that will need attention or guide you as we begin this most wonderful season of Spring!

  • When Crabapples are in bloom, hardy annuals can be planted.
  • Liquid weed control should be applied this month to control dandelions, henbit and other broadleaf weeds. New grass from seed MUST be mowed 3 times to make it strong enough to withstand weed chemicals.
  • Prune spring flowering shrubs after they finish blooming.CucumberOnVineW
  • Start cucumber, squash, cantaloupe and watermelon seeds indoors this month.
  • Termites begin swarming. Termites can be distinguished from ants by their thick waists and straight antennae.
  • Mole young are born in chambers deep underground.
  • The last week of April is a good time to try an early sowing of warm season crops such as green beans, sweet corn, etc. Transplants of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and sweet potatoes can also start being planted outdoors.
  • Container gardening is good choice for flower and vegetable gardening if space is in short supply. It can be done by anyone, anywhere, check it out!!
  • “Natural Gardening” is here to stay………..keep your family safe and check out what organic/natural options are available to you when gardening this year. There are many. Well, time is running short…see you in the garden

Sandi Hillermann McDonald


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Garden Solutions – March 2017

Spring is almost here!!! What a wonderful feeling to be able to spend more time outside enjoying what Mother Nature is unfolding before our eyes. The lengthening of days is a welcome site. We “spring forward” with Daylight Savings Time on Sunday, March 12 this year. That in itself is exciting.

Once flowerbeds have been cleaned up, re-mulching can be done. Top dress or dry feed beds with a granular fertilizer, such as Osmocote, and apply a pre-emergent if you do not plan to plant any flower seeds.  Divide summer and fall blooming perennials now, along with ornamental grasses if you so desire.

Plant/sow peas, lettuce, radish, kohlrabi, collards, turnips, potatoes, spinach, onion sets, beets, carrots, and parsley outside this month.  Set out broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower and pansy transplants now.  This month is also great for setting out strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, grapes and fruit trees.

Start seeds indoors this month for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.  And houseplants can still be repotted.  Continue to check houseplants for over wintering insect populations.

Nesting boxes for bluebirds can be set up as well as Purple Martin houses.  Purple Martins return to our zone 6 region between St. Pat’s Day and the end of the month.  So, now is the time to clean out those houses and be prepared.

And I mentioned last year there was a big push for saving Monarch butterflies and other pollinating insects.  Well these endeavors will be even more prevalent this year as education for this important movement continues.

Lucky for monarchs, there are ways you can help. Gardening for wildlife is a great way to help provide food, water, shelter and place to raise young for all types of wildlife.

For monarchs, you can plant native flowering plants, especially milkweed, to help feed the larvae of these beautiful butterflies!  This year also get involved in the This is a national push for pollinator gardening involvement. Beekeeping is another way to bring pollination home.

The City of Washington, Washington in Bloom, FC Master Gardeners and the Washington Garden Club will be pushing efforts to not only make awareness for Monarchs BUT ALL pollinators in this year’s programs. Stay tuned to see what they have in store!


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Garden Solutions – February 2017

birdsontubefeederwebFebruary is National Bird Feeding Month

Now that we are in the throws of winter, and the coldest month of the year is upon us, it is a good time to assess how the birds are doing. This time of year is especially difficult for them.  If given a little assistance, their chances of survival are greatly increased.

One of the easiest things to provide, and high on the list of needs, is water. Adding a heater or deicer coil to an existing birdbath can provide the perfect winter oasis for your feathered friends.  Just be sure to keep the birdbath clean.

Providing shelter is another way to help. There is a shortage of nesting sites for cavity-nesting birds due to land development, and the use of pesticides. The use of birdhouses and nesting boxes has helped many species make a comeback.  Landscaping that provides shelter can also be a great help.  Evergreen trees and shrubs provide a welcome resting place out of the wind, snow or rain.  Birds gather in groups towards the inside and huddle together to create more warmth.  Placing food and water near these nesting or respite areas allows them to make shorter journeys for these things.  More than 50 species of birds will use birdhouses including Chickadees, Bluebirds, Titmice, Woodpeckers, Wrens, Swallows and Nuthatches.

One of the requirements for a good bird house is that it must to be able to open up for cleaning. They must have ventilation holes in the bottom (these should be plugged up for winter roosting).  The houses should have a slanted roof to allow for water runoff, and it should NOT have perches.  Cavity-nesting birds do not need them, and the perches only allow predator access to the nest.

Bird-Woodpecker-SuetFeederBThe final piece of the puzzle is providing food. Particularly here in Missouri, winter is a difficult time for the bird species that have chosen to overwinter here.  The days are short and cold.  There is little to no vegetation, and most of the insects are dead or dormant.  Now is an excellent time to purchase a feeder if you do not already have one.  Most songbirds feed on insects and spiders during the spring and summer; however, the non-migratory species switch to fruit and seeds in the fall and winter.  Black oil sunflower seeds are preferred by the largest number of bird species.  Not only are these seeds very nutritious and high in fat, but their small size makes them easier for smaller species to split them open.  Be sure to scatter some seed on the ground and beneath trees and shrubs for birds that prefer to feed in these locations.  Feeders with platforms provide the right type of feeding station for species that do not perch, such as Cardinals.  High-energy food, like suet and peanut butter, are an added benefit for all birds and provide much needed fat.  So I hope now you enjoy the antics of our feathered friends.


Having fun in the garden,

Sandi Hillermann McDonald

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Garden Solutions – January 2017


The world of birding is full of myths. Some have been handed down for generations, while others have cropped up more recently.  Here are a few of the common myths.  Hopefully, I can help dismiss these myths once and for all.

birds-cardinalswinterbranch-wsMYTH #1: Birds will freeze to death when temperatures get well below zero.

FACT: Birds are well equipped to survive the coldest of temperatures.  They store fat during the short days of winter to keep themselves warm during the long nights.  During those freezing nights, they fluff their feathers to trap heat and slow their metabolism to conserve energy.  They also look for good places to roost, whether it’s a birdhouse, natural tree cavity, grass thicket, evergreen or shrub.

MYTH #2: American robins always fly south for winter.

FACT: If there is sufficient food on their breeding grounds, American robins, bluebirds, and a host of finches and owls remain in the area where they spent the summer.

MYTH #3: You should take birdhouses down in winter because birds don’t use them.

FACT: On the contrary—a birdhouse makes a great roosting house in winter.  Eastern bluebirds will pile into houses to spend cold nights.  One photographer once even snapped a picture of 13 male bluebirds in a single house.

MYTH #4: If you leave town during winter, the birds that rely on the food from your feeders will die.

FACT: Research has proven this one wrong.  Scientists have shown that chickadees, for example, will eat only 25% of their daily winter food from feeders.  They find the other 75% in the wild.

MYTH #5: Birds always migrate in flocks.

FACT: Though many birds migrate in flocks—common nighthawks, American robins, swallows and European starlings, for example—other species migrate alone.

Bird-Woodpecker-SuetFeederBMYTH #6 Birds’ feet will stick to metal bird feeders and suet cages.

FACT: Most suet cages have a laminated covering, so you don’t have to worry about birds’ feet sticking to it.  But in general, their feet can endure cold weather.  Birds have a protective scale like covering on the feet, and special veins and arteries that keep their feet warm.

MYTH #7: Peanut butter will get stuck in birds’ throats, and they will die.

FACT: Peanut butter is a very nourishing food for birds, especially in winter when the production of fat is important to their survival.  The myth that it will stick to their throats simply isn’t true.

MYTH #8: Woodpeckers drill on house siding in winter for food or to create nesting cavities.

FACT: Though there are cases where woodpeckers find food in wood siding (and may even nest inside the boards), nearly all the drilling in late winter is done to make a noise to court mates.  This is their way of singing a song to declare territory.

MYTH #9: If you have warm water in a birdbath when the temperatures is below freezing, birds will bathe in it and freeze to death from wet feathers.

FACT: Birds will drink from a heated birdbath, but if the temperature is below freezing, they will not bathe in it and get their feathers wet.


See you next time,

Sandi Hillermann McDonald


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Garden Solutions – December 2016

Attracting Birds to your Neighborhood

(Tips from the National Wildlife Federation)

There are a number of ways to attract birds to your garden, from planting native plants to providing safe stopover areas for them to eat, drink and nest.

  • bird-cardinal_at_bath-sProvide water year-round – A simple birdbath is a great start. Change water every 2-3 days in summer and use a heater in the winter. Place the water container about 10 feet from dense shrubs or other cover that predators may use.
  • Install native plants – Select a variety of native plants to offer year-round food in the form of seeds, berries, nuts, and nectar. Try to recreate the plant ecosystem native to your area. Evergreen trees and shrubs provide excellent cover through all seasons, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center as well as the St Louis Audubon Society has lists of recommended native plants by region and state.
  • Eliminate insecticides in your yard – Insects are the primary source of food for many bird species and are an important source of protein and fats for growing juvenile birds.
  • Keep dead trees – Dead trees provide cavity-dwelling places for birds to raise young and as a source to collect insects for food. Many species will also seek shelter from bad weather inside these hollowed out trees.
  • Put out nesting boxes – Make sure the boxes have ventilation holes at the top and drainage holes below. Do not use a box with a perch, as house sparrows are known to sit on a nesting box perch and peck at other birds using the nesting box. Be sure to monitor the boxes for invasive animal species known to harm or out compete native species.
  • Build a brush pile in a corner of your yard – Start with larger logs and top with smaller branches. Some birds will hunt, roost or even nest in brush piles.birdsontubefeederweb
  • Offer food in feeders – Bird feeders are great sources of supplemental food during times of food scarcity, and also enhance bird viewing opportunities. Winter time is beneficial for this as natural sources of pods and seeds become scarce.
  • Remove invasive plants from your wildlife habitat – Many invasive plants out-compete the native species favored by birds, insects and other wildlife. Check with your local U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative Extension System office for information on plant species to avoid.
  • Reduce your lawn area – Lawns have little value to birds or other wildlife, and they require more energy for mowing, applying fertilizers and watering.


Time to go………..See you in the Garden

Sandi Hillermann McDonald

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