May 30, 2018

Keep Critters From Ruining Your Garden

There's nothing quite like picking and biting into a juicy, homegrown peach or tomato, but nothing ruins it faster than realizing something else has taken the first bite.

Unfortunately there isn't a magic spray that keeps all creatures away from your garden harvest, but there are a few things you can do to minimize the damage and ensure you'll enjoy most of your fruits and veggies without bites in them.

In today's blog we'll cover how to prevent birds from pecking your peaches and how to stop squirrels from stealing your tomatoes, as well as tips for keeping a common garden pest, caterpillars, from eating your garden goodies from the inside out. 

Netting for fruit trees

Bird netting is one of the easiest ways to protect most of your harvest from birds and squirrels, and it works on deer, too.
If you're using it on a fruit tree, you can drape a large piece over the top of the tree and loosely secure it at the base of the branches using these clips, or you can buy a roll of it and wrap it around the canopy. 

De-Bird garden netting is stronger than most bird netting,
and its polypropylene is UV treated to be long lasting.
Inexpensive Ram-Pro clips can be used to secure netting to plants or structures.

Netting for gardens

Drape netting over garden plants to protect your tomatoes or other veggies, or build a structure like the ones pictured below to also keep out squirrels, rabbits, and deer.  The added benefit of structures like these is that they can be used with insect netting to protect against beetles and moths (caterpillars and "borers") or with row cover fabric to protect plants during cool weather.  You can even integrate micro-irrigation.  You can easily secure the netting or irrigation to any structure using these handy dandy clips.

This style of structure can be used with bird or insect netting, or with
row cover fabric to protect garden plants during cool weather.
Photo from Grit Rural American Know-How

This style of structure can easily incorporate microirrigation.
Photo from The Scattered Sewist

Easily incorporate micro-irrigation into a PVC garden structure.
This micro-irrigation kit is easy enough for a beginner to set up,
and you can expand it with items found at Lowe's/Home Depot.


When it comes to scaring birds and squirrels away, you'll find there are many products with mixed reviews.  Because owls are predators, they are effective in scaring most birds and squirrels, however, if you're going to use an owl decoy, it will be most effective if it has a moving head, like this solar powered owl decoy, and if you relocate the decoy frequently. 

The Gardeneer Natural Enemy SOL-R Action Owl
features a solar-powered moving head, which looks more
realistic to prey animals, like small birds and squirrels.

"Bird blinders"

Reflective "bird blinders" utilize wind movement and the sun's bright reflection to scare away birds.  Some styles, like these owl-shaped reflectors double as a decoration, but you can find similar inexpensive fishing lures or Christmas ornaments that will also do the trick.  For this method to be most effective, be sure to place reflectors in the sun, and hang them so they can move freely with the wind.

These owl-shaped "bird blinders" use the sun's reflection to
scare away birds, and they double as a garden decoration.
These bird repelling reflective ornaments are also decorative.

Motion activated sprinklers

These are a great option in more open areas, like in an area around fruit trees.  They're especially effective on deer, but they also work on smaller critters, like birds and squirrels.  The Hoont Cobra motion activated sprinkler shoots a jet of water up to 30 feet to scare away animals, and they only stay on for a few seconds, so they're highly efficient on water.

The Hoont Cobra motion activated sprinkler is a great value
and it has better customer ratings than many pricier models.

Sprays for deer and rabbits

As I mentioned earlier, there is no magic spray to keep all critters away from your garden goodies, but there are a few sprays that can help with specific pests. 

Liquid Fence is a highly effective spray that uses scent to repel deer and rabbits for several weeks. It's non-toxic, but DO NOT get it on your hands.  

It's rotten eggs and garlic, y'all, but once it's dried
in the garden you won't notice the smell.

Funny story: I once ruined a favorite pairs of gloves when I accidentally came into contact with a leaking bottle at work.  This stuff is made of rotten eggs and garlic, y'all.  For an entire day I thought my coworkers were passing gas around me, only to realize later it was me and my smelly gloves!  

I recommend wearing disposable gloves and mask when you apply it, not because it's dangerous, but because it's stinky and the smell lingers on skin and in your nostrils.  Once it has dried in the garden you won't even notice the smell.
Liquid Fence is available in a ready-to-spray gallon, concentrate (best value!), or granules, however, the granules don't seem to work as well, since they're applied around plants, not directly on them.  The Liquid Fence company also makes snake repellent.  (Snakes aren't really garden pests, but not everyone enjoys their company, so some people might consider them a pest.)

Liquid Fence uses scent to deter deer and rabbits from eating your plants.

If you live in Texas, you may be able to get a great price on a smaller bottle of ready-to-spray Liquid Fence Deer & Rabbit Repellent or the Snake Repellent at your neighborhood HEB.

Sprays for caterpillars and borers

Caterpillars are a huge problem for gardeners.  There are many types, known by various names, each one affecting different plants.  Caterpillars eat holes through cabbages (cabbage worms), make tomato plants disappear virtually overnight (tomato horn worm), mow down pepper plants and poke holes in potatoes (cutworms), dig into squash stems (squash vine borers), and destroy peach trees and their fruit (peach tree borers).  These pests all have one thing in common.  They're all moth larvae (caterpillars) and they're all susceptible to a naturally occurring bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis (commonly known and sold as Bt or Thuricide).  It's their "kryptonite".

You can spray Bt on plants when you see caterpillars, or use it on peaches/plums/apricots/etc. during blooming, to prevent moths from laying eggs inside the developing fruits.  Add a tiny amount of molasses to the mix to help the bacteria live longer on plant leaves.
As you may know, I'm a beekeeper, so on the rare occasion that I use any sort of insecticide, it's important to me that it's natural, and that it's safe for bees

In the case of peaches/plums/etc., many caterpillar pests hatch out between the branches before the trees flower or leaf out, and you can kill many of these by using what we horticulturists call "dormant oil spray" while the trees are still in their dormant (not actively growing) stage.

My favorite dormant oil sprays are Medina Orange Oil (which has many other garden uses, detailed in this blog) and Garden Safe Neem Oil (also known as "Fungicide 3" because it kills insects, mites, and fungi on plants).  These are both natural and bee-safe when used correctly.

Dormant oil spray is just one of Medina Orange Oil's MANY uses. 
More uses for orange oil listed here in my blog.

This Garden Safe product is actually neem oil,
which also works as an insecticide and miticide.

The Ortho Dial N Spray hose end sprayer is inexpensive and can be used to
apply any liquid fertilizers or sprays.  It has an adjustable dial that does all
the measuring for you.  It's "goof proof."

As with any pesticide, even natural ones, I recommend spraying in the evening, when many of the day-flying pollinators, like honeybees and butterflies are least active.  I use the Ortho Dial N Spray hose end sprayer to apply all sorts of liquids in my garden.  I like it because it has an adjustable dial that does all the measuring for you.  You just pour in the fertilizer/pest liquid, set the dial, and attach it to the hose, and it sprays out a perfectly pre-mixed solution.  The sprayer just takes out a little of the spray concentrate at a time, so the liquid inside the sprayer bottle stays at full strength, and anything leftover can be poured right back into its original bottle.

If you're interested in learning more about bugs in the garden (both beneficials and pests), Howard Garrett's Texas Bug Book: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is an excellent resource, loaded with color photos and information about life cycles, pest control, etc.  It's applicable for gardeners outside of Texas, too.  I frequently refer to it while teaching my gardening workshops.

Do you have a gardening question?  You can ask in the comments below, or by e-mail.  I'll pick my favorite questions to feature on this page.  Follow me on Facebook or Instagram for more helpful gardening tips, tricks, and how-to's.
If you're in Texas, you can probably get some of the products I mentioned at your neighborhood HEB.  If you make a purchase using one of my blog links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you as part of the Amazon Associates Program.

May 25, 2018

The Only Gardening Gloves I'll Ever Wear

I have worked in the garden industry for a long time, and I hate - and I'm not using that word lightly - hate wearing gloves while I'm working or gardening.

On my small hands, most gloves are too big or bulky, and they either fall off, or there is so much material bulked around my fingertips that I can't feel what I'm doing.  You know what I'm talking about.  You try to do something detailed, like pull small weeds, and it's like trying to thread a needle with a tube sock over each finger.

The cheap cotton knit or canvas gloves feel like you're wearing sweatpants on your hands, and the sweatier your hands get, the more dust comes through the fabric and sticks to them, creating sweaty mud under the fingernails and in every wrinkle in your hands. Yuck. Nope.

It's probably weird to hear a gardener say this, but I don't like to get my hands dirty.  I don't mind hard work, sweaty work, dirty work, as long as my hands stay clean-ish.  It's a sensory thing.

For years I struggled with wanting my hands to stay clean and protected from sharp objects, thorns, spiders under pots, etc., so I would TRY to wear gloves, but I'd always end up taking them off.

Showa/Atlas Nitrile Touch NT370 gloves

Right after college, I was working at an independent garden center and I decided to try a pair of Showa/Atlas Nitrile Touch NT370 gloves because they were inexpensive and I noticed everyone else was wearing them. I've never worn another type of gardening glove since, and I have purchased 12+ pairs over the years since then.

What are Atlas Nitrile Touch gloves?

They're a mesh glove that is dipped so that the palms are covered with nitrile that stretches down and around the tips of your fingers.  Your fingernails are inside the nitrile part of the glove, but the backs of your hands and fingers are covered by only a stretchy, breathable mesh.

Showa/Atlas Nitrile Touch NT370 6-pack

Why are they so amazing?

They fit!  LIKE A GLOVE. (Do you see what I did there?) They're designed to fit snug, and they come in several sizes.  I have small hands for a woman, so I prefer the size small, but if you have very long fingers or larger women's hands, the size medium will be just right. The size large fits average size man hands, but there is also a size XL for guys with giant hands.

Flexible. At my job I often have to switch between typing and doing something to get my hands dirty, and these gloves are thin and flexible enough that I can switch seamlessly between the two without removing my gloves.  I can even use a touch screen with my gloves still on!

Breathable. My hands get sweaty working outside in July/August, but these gloves are a breathable mesh on the back, so they dry very quickly.  I like to keep a spare pair of clean/dry gloves to change into in case the first pair gets sweaty or wet.

Machine washable.  I just throw mine in with the laundry and lay them out to air dry.

Great quality/value.  I have only gone through 12+ pairs because I wore mine 10 hours a day and washed them often.  With casual use, a pair of these gloves will last for years.  I only ever wore out one or two pairs.  The rest of them eventually got brittle on the rubbery part after 4-5 years, but by then I'd gotten more than my money's worth from them.

Inexpensive.  The last 2 times I bought my gloves in a 4 pair pack on Amazon for under $20. You can even get 6 pairs for around $20.  Even if you don't need that many, this might be the best value. Keep a few pairs and gift some to a friend.

Showa/Atlas Nitrile Touch NT370 4-pack

Don't confuse these gloves with look-alikes that fit poorly, make hands sweaty, and fall apart after a few wears.  You'll throw all your other gardening gloves away once you own a pair of Showa/Atlas Nitrile Touch NT370.

May 22, 2018

Don't Ever Pull These Weeds

Today I was in my yard when I noticed a small patch of nutsedge growing under one of my new trees.  Since our house is new, much of the soil on our property was brought in from off-site to fill and level.  Along with this new soil came weeds that we didn't have before.
Nutsedge is one of them.

Yellow nutsedge, or nutgrass, is a common weed in lawns and flower beds, and it's notoriously difficult to kill.

That's okay, I'll just spray it with a weed killer.

Now, you might be thinking, I can just buy a spray to kill it.  WRONG.  Technically, you can buy a spray that claims to kill it, but before you grab the chemicals, look at these ridiculous instructions (or skip this section if you're not interested.)

First you spray it on in the same way as most herbicides, except a few days after the initial application you'll have to water it in with exactly 1/2" of water so that the chemical gets into the roots of the weeds. (Too much water and it all washes away, too little and it won't reach the roots.)  You won't even know if you've applied it correctly until a month later because the weeds take 3-5 weeks to die.  And you're supposed to re-apply it in 6 weeks.  And you can only apply it while your grass is in the active growing stage.  But not when it's growing slow, or your grass will be discolored for weeks.

Did you catch all that?  How many people do you think actually apply this stuff correctly?
As a mostly natural gardener, and a beekeeper, I don't use or recommend chemical herbicides anyway.

Fine, I'll just pull it, then.

Bravo for being so motivated, but even that doesn't work.

Why is nutsedge so hard to kill?!

Nutsedge gets its name from the nut-like structures attached to its roots.  One plant will send out underground runners (they're actually called rhizomes, in case you're interested) in multiple directions.  Each of these rhizomes is capable of starting a new plant.  This alone would make them difficult to kill (think bermudagrass) -- but wait, there's more! -- attached to these rhizomes are "nuts" (they're actually called tubers), which are also capable of starting a new plant.  Most herbicides can't reach these vegetative structures below the ground, and if you pull the plant, the "nuts" almost always break off and stay underground and start new plants.
If all of that isn't terrible enough, the plant also spreads by seeds.

If you have a small patch of nutgrass, don't ignore it. Take care of it before it gets out of control.

Bond Cast Aluminum Transplanter

If I can't spray it or pull it, what do I do?

This might be an unconventional recommendation, but if you really want to get rid of nutsedge for good, dig it up.  Carefully!
I start on one of the plants on the outer edge of the clump and work my way in.  I dig my favorite hand trowel down into the soil a few inches away from the base of the plant and press the handle toward the ground to wedge the plant loose, but I don't pull it out of the soil until I have loosened up all the plants that are attached to it by runners.  Eventually you'll have a string of several plants, all connected by underground runners.
This takes some time, but it is time well spent because once you dig up all the nutsedge and their pieces, it's gone for good.

Do you have a gardening question?  You can ask it in the comments on FB/Instagram, here on my blog, or by e-mailing asktheplantchick at
I'll pick my favorite questions to feature on this page.
Follow me for more helpful gardening tips, tricks, and how-to's.
#asktheplantchick #theplantchick

May 18, 2018

3 Reasons I Love Orange Oil

If you've ever attended one of my workshops, or if you've been a customer of mine for awhile, you've probably heard me mention orange oil because it's one of my favorite products, and today's #FridayFave.
If you don't have time to read the whole blog, I've created a quick video for you!

What is orange oil?

Orange oil, also known and sold as d-Limonene, is squeezed out of orange peels. It's safe, natural, and useful in and out of the garden, however, when you buy a bottle of Medina Orange Oil, you'll notice it isn't labeled as a pesticide, and there aren't directions for how to use it as one.  This has nothing to do with its effectiveness for killing insects, and everything to do with politics.  According to the EPA only a registered "pesticide" can kill insects.  If you ever poured salt on a snail when you were a child, you know this isn't true. 
Available from Amazon

How does it work?

It works by dissolving insects' exoskeletons. (Take that, pests!)

The recipe

2 oz (1/4 cup) of orange oil to 1 gallon of water, mix well.  One bottle of Medina Orange Oil makes 16 gallons of solution for the uses listed below.

Uses for orange oil

You'll find there are many more uses for orange oil, but here are 3 reasons I love it.

1) Fire ant killer

Orange oil is always my first recommendation for killing fire ants because it works great and it's safe for kids and pets.  Use the recipe above in a watering can and drench fire ant mound.  Done.
How easy is that?

If you drench the mound enough to kill the queen ant, you've effectively killed the entire colony.
I've been told that you can kick it up a notch by adding a small amount of molasses to the mixture, but I haven't personally tried that, and it still always works great for me.

One bottle of Medina Orange Oil makes 16 gallons of fire ant killer.

2) Bug killer plant spray

Use the recipe above in a spray bottle to spray the tops and undersides of the plant's leaves.  Works great on aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites, and other pests.

Warning: Don't use this if it's over 90 degrees.  Oil gets hot in the sun (think sunbathing with oil on your skin) and it will burn plant leaves.
As with any pesticide, natural or not, the best time to spray is in the evening, when most of the day-flying pollinators, like honey bees, are not out and about.

3) Gnats in houseplants

Once you have gnats in your houseplants, they're hard to get rid of unless you have a bottle of orange oil.  Use the recipe above in a watering can and drench the soil.  That's it.

Where to buy orange oil

If you're in Texas you may be able to buy Medina Orange Oil at a great price from your neighborhood HEB.  If you're not in Texas, of if you prefer to buy it online, you can order it from Amazon using my link (if you do, I may make a small commission, at no additional cost to you).
I prefer the Medina brand because it is a great quality product at a great price.

Do you have a gardening question?  You can ask in the comments below, or by e-mail.  I'll pick my favorite questions to feature on this page.  Follow me on Facebook or Instagram for more helpful gardening tips, tricks, and how-to's.


May 17, 2018

How to Attract Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds may be small, but they have big personalities.  Today I want to share about what hummingbirds eat, best practices for feeding them, their behavior, tips for attracting them, and my favorite hummingbird plants.

What do hummingbirds eat?

Most people know that hummingbirds eat nectar for energy, but many don't realize that they also eat insects for protein.

Flowers versus feeders

Flowers are always a hummingbird's first choice over feeders -- their nectar never spoils.  Tube-shaped flowers in bright colors are their favorite.  Most people associate red with hummingbirds, but they also like orange, purple, blue, pink, etc.

Best-1 Hummingbird Feeder is indeed the best one!

Choosing a feeder

There are lots of beautiful hummingbird feeders available, but function should be the primary consideration when choosing one.  Look for feeders that have more than one port for drinking nectar, and avoid those that don't have a perch for the birds to sit and rest as they drink.

The best feeder I've found is Best-1 Hummingbird Feeder.  It holds up to one quart of nectar, it's made of quality materials that will last for several years (the bottle is glass, not plastic), and it's very well designed to be easy to clean and bird-friendly.  They also sell replacement pieces, in case the base ever breaks.  After several years of using these, the only issue I've had is the metal band coming unglued from glass bottle.  This can be avoided with a couple drops of something like Gorilla glue.

I bought my Best-1 feeders at H-E-B for around $7 each, but if you aren't in Texas, you can order them from Amazon.  (If you use any of my links to buy, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you, as part of the Amazon Affiliate program.)
Best-1's feeder base is designed to be easy to clean.

Feeding tips

  • Position feeders near flowering plants, out of sunlight, but in view to enjoy.
  • Keep feeders clean.  Ideally, refill and clean feeders twice a week to avoid mold/mildew and spoiled nectar.  Use hot, soapy water to scrub and soak feeders.
  • Make your own nectar by boiling 1 part sugar into 4 parts water.  Only partially fill feeders, since you'll be dumping it out frequently.  I usually start the season with just 1 cup of nectar in each feeder, and I gradually increase this through the feeding season.  You can make more than you need and keep the extra for several weeks in the fridge.  DO NOT USE DYE.  It builds up to dangerous levels in the hummingbird's body and is linked to all kinds of health problems.
  • Keep feeders up March through October in central Texas.  You can add additional feeders July-September, at the peak of hummingbird season, and take them down one week after the last hummingbird sighting in October.
  • Hummingbirds are territorial, so if you have multiple feeders, keep them visually separated.
  • How many birds are you feeding? I once read that you can count the number of birds on your feeders at the busiest time of day and multiply that number by 6 to estimate how many individual birds you're feeding throughout the day

Hummingbird behavior

Hummingbirds breed and nest throughout Texas.  They build their nests in the branches of trees near a source of food and water.  Most fly south for winter and return to the same good feeding spots each spring and throughout the season.  This means they'll return to your home and expect to be fed!  Last year I let my feeders get empty and the hummingbirds would hover there by the window as if saying "Hey! Fill up this feeder, would you?"
Hummingbirds are considered pollinators, like honey bees.  They visit up to 1000 flowers each day and eat 1.5 times their body weight daily.  That's like a human eating hundreds of cheeseburgers a day.

More tips for attracting hummingbirds

  • Put out flowers and feeders early in the season.  Some migrating hummingbirds may arrive before food is plentiful.
  • Add a water feature to your yard.  Hummingbirds like to nest near water.
  • Go organic in your yard.  Yard chemicals are harmful to hummingbirds and other pollinators.
  • Leave spiderwebs alone.  Spider webs are used by hummingbirds in their nest building.
  • Place some overripe fruit near feeders.  Hummingbirds will eat fruit flies and other insects attracted by the fruit.

Still no hummingbirds?

If you've done everything mentioned above and you still don't have hummingbirds visiting your feeders, keep an eye out for the following.
  • Bullies/predators: cats, other birds, wasps
  • Spoilage in feeder.  Make sure nectar is replaced frequently.

Favorite hummingbird plants

Here are some of my favorite plants for attracting hummingbirds.  I've selected these for their beauty, availability in central Texas garden centers, and other attributes like drought tolerance, deer resistance, etc.

Flame Acanthus

Photo credit: Joseph A. Marcus

Cross Vine

Photo credit: Joseph A. Marcus

Photo credit: Ray Mathews

 Indian Paintbrush

Red Yucca

Photo credit: Carolyn Fannon

Texas Lantana

'New Gold' Lantana is pictured. Texas lantana is similar, but different color

Texas Sage

Turk's Cap

 Lemon Mint

Drummond Phlox

Photo credit: Michael Dana

(all kinds)

Photo credit: Lee Page

Coral Honeysuckle
Photo credit: Joseph A. Marcus

Texas Betony

Photo credit: Joseph A Marcus

Do you have a gardening question?  You can ask in the comments below, or by e-mail.  I'll pick my favorite questions to feature on this page.  Follow me on Facebook or Instagram for more helpful gardening tips, tricks, and how-to's.


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