Steward – May 2020

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DEER, BUNNIES, MICE…OH MY! – Throwback 2016

Lawn Removal by Smothering OR Creating a Landscape in a Lawn

DEER, BUNNIES, MICE…OH MY! – Throwback 2016

By Lillian Mahaney, Advanced Extension Master Gardener

As a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, I have always tried to help people understand that there are many ways to keep the various forms of wildlife from destroying their gardens.  I’m sure that almost every Master Gardener has also received the question “how do I protect my gardens without harming the wildlife?”.  I have included a number of suggestions below that have had successful results over the years:

Rodents love to burrow under the nice mulch surrounding plants in the winter since this gives them a nice home and a food supply.  Tucking an unused fabric softener sheet (the stronger the fragrance the better) under the mulch usually sends them to less “smelly” homes.  This also works well if you are storing a boat, car, closing up a cottage or have a rodent problem in a garage or shed.  Just be sure to not place the dryer sheets on surfaces where the oils can do damage.  Placing a few sheets under a deck also helps to keep animals from using that area for a winter den.

Please do not use any type of rodent poison (such as DCon or TomKat) to control rodents.  These rodenticides have a large amount of an anticoagulant and if another animal eats the rodent it will suffer the same fate.  Owls, hawks, opossums, skunks, raccoons and even dogs and cats are dying at an alarming rate.  The entire wildlife rehabilitation community has been trying to have these products banned.  Using the old fashioned snap mouse traps is a much more humane way to control rodents without harming the other species.

A good method for keeping deer and bunnies from browsing vegetation is to buy some of the little inexpensive muslin drawstring bags from your local feed store.  Put a small piece of Irish Spring Original Scent soap in the bag.  The bags can be tied to tree branches, fencing or even to small bamboo skewers placed at intervals around the area you want to protect.  The lower bags work well for the smaller animals like bunnies.

As it rains or snows the scent permeates the bag and usually makes the odor more intense.  The soap doesn’t seem to drip from the bag and just soaks into the muslin.  Just remember to keep the bag at “nose level” for the particular animal species.  The soap seems to work for a much longer time than other things like hair, blood meal, etc.

There are many other products on the market such as Liquid Fence, garlic products and predator urine.  These products have good results also, but they can be costly, may not last for as long a time and sometimes the odors are offensive to OUR noses.  Using the castor oil products (Mole Med, etc.) are good ways to deter moles without harming the animals.

If you have a good sense of humor and want to be the talk of your neighborhood I suggest buying some of the little foil pinwheels to keep bunnies and deer from your gardens.  They twirl with even the slightest breeze and seem to work better than the foil strips in most cases.  They also have the added benefit of making you a fun topic of conversation with your neighbors!

You may need to try a few different methods before you find one that works well for your circumstances.  I have a cherry farmer friend that uses the muslin drawstring bags in his orchard and has had great success and another that thinks the fabric softener sheets work better in his orchard.  If you have any questions please do not hesitate to give me a call….231-256-8844.

Lawn Removal by Smothering OR Creating a Landscape in a Lawn

By Cheryl Gross, Advanced Extension Master Gardener

As gardeners we tend to like plants.  In fact I love many, many plants including trees, shrubs, perennials, clump forming grasses, sedges, and ferns; EXCEPT turf grass AKA lawn.  I do not like lawn.  I do not like how people care for it either.  Lawn belongs somewhere else, where it has rich soil and ample moisture without hot, dry summers.  The root of turf grass is about 3 inches deep.  This means it has difficulty accessing nutrients and moisture, as it is mostly out of its reach.  Homeowners spend countless hours and expense on maintaining this out-of-place plant.  However, it can be walked on which is its ONE big advantage over all of my favorite plants.

Ecological gardening practices encourages homeowners to increase the number and diversity of native plants in the landscape.  An ideal way to do that is to replace existing lawn with native plants.  There are about four methods to get rid of lawn:  -dig it, -apply herbicide, – solarize it, or -smother it.

-Digging lawn is hard work.  To remove the lawn you take up about 3 inches of reasonably fertile soil and disturb any beneficial activity in the root layer.  Then you need to decide whether to replace the space with additional soil and decide what to do with the sod.

-Herbicides are effective in killing lawn and I advise it on a steep slope where smothering is not effective because of gravity.  The advantage is that you may be ready to plant in a few weeks.  The disadvantage is the chemical.

-Solarizing is an effective method when done in summer.  Apply a thick sheet of black plastic held down by landscape staples or another method and wait until the lawn is completely burned.  A black plastic lawn patch is not very attractive, although effective.

-Smothering is my favorite.  Outline the bed shape, trench the edge, cover with layered newspapers and mulch and wait a season… smother in fall to plant in spring or smother in spring to plant in fall.

In early April while self-isolating, I began a new landscape bed in my daughter’s yard.  My gardening clothes emerged from winter hibernation… jeans with patched knees, Birkenstock gardening shoes, and heavy duty gardening gloves.

The plan was a second landscape bed to mirror an existing one and smothering the lawn for fall installation.  Measuring tape in hand, we marked the distance from the front walk and distance from the road. We measured an approximate shape/size and used marking spray paint to outline the bed.  Note:  Marking spray is much easier to use than regular spray paint because it is designed to spray down.

Next, we made a small trench along the line to cut grass roots. This is where an edging will go. When landscaping in a lawn, especially with native plants, I believe it is important to edge the bed.  It gives a clear indication that the plants are purposely designed to be there. The soil/sod clumps were shaken and divided to settle into the new bed.

Finally, we layered 4-5 sheets of newspaper, tucking new layers under the previous with a big overlap. Do this only when wind is NOT an issue. It was still when we began, but we wrestled with layering the last sheets when the breeze began.  As we layered the newspaper, we piled on 3 inches of mulch. Usually I prefer shredded pine bark mulch from Four Season Nursery, but with them closed we settled for cheap bagged shredded wood from Menards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are done now. The bed will sit and decompose till September or October when we return to install plants. There will be no need to remove the newspaper or the mulch.  The benefits of this method include leaving the soil undisturbed AND adding the dead plant material, newsprint and wood chips to the ecosystem.  

Seeing the bed site over the season will help us to evaluate the available light under the two oak trees facing east for morning sun. It will be easier to decide design and plant layout with the bed in place.  Plus, understory plant choices will be fun.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please note:  this simple method is most effective on turf grass with typical lawn weeds.  Invasive species such as spotted knapweed, bladder campion, English ivy, periwinkle/ vinca, and smooth brome grass are more difficult to eradicate.  

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