Friday, February 27, 2009

How to Sharpen and Clean Your Shovel

Gardening is a hard job! Why make it harder with a dull shovel. When you dig into the soil you dull your shovel by hitting rocks, roots and other buried items. Sharpening your shovel is not that hard. Take a flat mill file and follow the bevel of your shovel. Take long strokes filing down and to the side at a 45 degree angle. File in one direction and always away from you, using both hands. Make several passes over the same area until you see shiney new metal. After you have sharpened the front of the shovel, flip the shovel over and remove any burrs that are left. If you leave your shovel outside and it is rusted, you can use a lubricate spray and fine steel wool to remove the rust. A battery operated drill with a wire brush attachment can be used to remove heavy rust deposits. For shovels with wood handles, apply linseed oil to the handle to preserve the wood. This same procedure can be used on your garden hoe.

Gardening Tip: Take an old five gallon plastic bucket and fill it 3/4 full of clean play sand. Add 1 quart of motor oil to the sand. Each time you use your shovel, stick it in the sand several times. You will clean the dirt off your shovel and oil your shovel to prevent rust. Store your shovel cleaning bucket in your garden shed or garage.

Gardening Tip: If you are adding a new flower bed to your garden and need to remove existing sod from the area, here is how to do it. Take an old garden spade or square point shovel and sharpen the edge on a grinder till it is sharp. Water the sod area and wait for about 15 minutes. Now use the shovel to cut the sod by sticking the shovel under the sod and pushing. It will slice right through the sod.

The Creative Gardener

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How to Sharpen and Clean Your Pruners

It's that time of year when some gardeners cannot do much in the garden due to the weather or you are just starting to work in the garden. Now is a good time to start cleaning garden tools and sharpening pruners for the upcoming growing season. Here are the steps to cleaning and sharpening your pruners.

Pruners collect sap when you use them. They also start to rust from being exposed to moisture. To clean them, remove the nut and bolt that holds them together.

After you have disassembled your pruners give them a spray with a lubricant spray and wait for about 5 minutes.

Rub each part of the pruner down with a piece of fine steel wool soaked with lubricant spray. Wipe off grime, rust and excess lubricant with a soft rag. Use an old toothbrush to get into those small spots that need to be scrubed and cleaned.

Use a sharpening stone to sharpen the blade. There are several different types available that you can purchase from garden or hardware stores. Keep the sharpening stone in full contact with the blade moving from the back of the blade to the tip. Repeat this process several times till you see shiney new metal exposed on the blade. You only sharpen the one blade.

Turn the blade over and remove any burrs from the back side of the blade with a diamond file.

Reassemble your pruners. Tighten the nut down tight then slightly loosen it till the pruners open and close correctly. Now you are ready to garden!

During the gardening season you can also give your pruners a quick sharpening without having to take them apart. Different pruners may come apart for cleaning differently than those shown in the pictures.

Did you know that you should sharpen your shovel? Check back for a future blog on how to do it.

The Creative Gardener

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Clove Currant or Ribes odoratum

One of the first flowering shrubs to produce flowers in my garden is Ribes odoratum or Clove Currant. My plant was a small start that I received from a fellow Master Gardener several years ago. I was surprised how quickly it grew and produced flowers. The shrub blooms in April and the flowers have a wonderful fragrance that smell like cloves. The flowers on my Currant are yellow with a touch of orange in the center. This shrub will grow in partial shade but prefers sun. It is not particular about soil and any reasonable well drained garden soil will do. This is an easy plant to propagate if you want more for the garden. You can propagate by suckers, seeds or cuttings. This shrub is treated as a specimen plant but it can also be used to form hedges. They grow to about 6 -12 feet tall and spread 6 to 8 feet wide. The leaves are 3 to 5 lobed and are deciduous, turning gold in the fall. The plant does produce berries that can be used for pies, jelly or preserves. This is a great plant for a native garden and one that will attract butterflies to it's flowers and birds to it's fruits. You do need a male and female plant for fruit.
I only have the one plant and I enjoy the flowers but I don't have fruit. Clove Currant grows in zones 4 to 8.
The Creative Gardener

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Proper Pruning Techniques

I enjoy the beauty of a large Forsythia, Kerria or Flowering Quince in bloom in the spring. They can be beautiful plants when allowed to grow in a natural form. I have seen people prune them until they are just ugly, and that's just sad! If you learn nothing more about gardening, learn to prune correctly. Many times gardeners are afraid of pruning their shrubs and trees. You should never be afraid to prune and remember that you will not kill the plant if you make a mistake. Pruning is a good thing when done correctly. Pruning is the selective removal of plant parts to retain the natural shape of the plant the way nature intended. Pruning is designed to increase flowering and fruiting and encourage vigorous growth in old plants. Pruning is the removal of dead, broken, or crossed limbs and reducing or maintaining the plant size to improve the shape of the plant. Pruning is also the removal of plant parts that can damage property like your house. Do NOT prune late in the growing season. Evergreens should be pruned after low winter temperatures have passed such as late winter or spring. Start pruning a plant when it is young rather than waiting till it is old. You will have a better shaped plant because of it. It is a good idea to research the proper pruning procedures for the plant you want to prune. Some plants can bleed or may not be able to take a sever pruning. A good book for researching different plant needs is the "Ortho's All About Pruning" book. I would suggest that you add this book to your gardening library.

The proper tools for pruning are bypass pruners, loppers, pruning saw (hand or pole) and for big jobs a chain saw or chain saw on a pole. Hedge shears are for shearing NOT pruning. Most small jobs can be done with hand bypass pruners and loppers. NEVER use advil pruners. This type of pruner tends to crush stems as it cuts. Make sure you use the correct pruning tool for the size of limbs that you are cutting. Pruning cuts should be made close to the main stem or trunk and never leave stubs. Cut at an angle just about 1/4 inch above a bud. Make sure that your tools are kept sharp and clean. There are different types of pruning cuts like thinning, heading, lateral, pinching or shearing.

  • Thinning Cuts - Removing stems to open up a plant and stimulate new growth.
  • Heading Cuts - Remove the terminal bud by cutting anywhere on the main stem.
  • Lateral Cuts - Cutting the main stem back to a branch or bud.
  • Shearing - Shortening all stems by a certain amount using hedge shears.
  • Pinching - Using your thumb and forefinger to remove the tip of the plant.


The two rules to always remember - NEVER top a tree and do not use pruning paint.
If the job it big, hire an arborist. You should always remove storm damaged limbs as soon as possible. Never prune near power lines. Prune shade trees and non-flowering trees during the dormant season. If you have a tree that produces fruit, prune for fruit production NOT flower production. Prune spring flowering trees AFTER they bloom. Summer flowering trees should be pruned BEFORE growth appears. Use a three step cut for cutting large branches of trees to prevent tearing of the bark. The first cut is on the underside of the branch at least half way into the branch. The second cut is cutting the entire branch in front of the first cut. The last cut is close to the tree trunk or tree collar. If you prune correctly the tree will heal properly.


If the shrub is a spring flowering shrub the best time to prune is after flowering. If you prune before flowering you may be cutting away your flowers for that season. If you have a summer flowering shrub, prune before the growth begins. Normally you want to remove dead, broken or crossed limbs. Crossed limbs are limbs that are crossing and touching each other. When the wind blows the limbs rub against each other creating wounds. You should make cuts close to the base of the shrub. If a shrub is old, you can do a renewal cut by removing 1/3 of the plant over three years. Cuts should be at ground level. Some shrubs can have a rejuvenation pruning where you cut 3/4 of the plant back to ground level and allow it to regrow.

Always remember that most pruning can be avoided by the proper placement of a shrub or tree at the time of planting. Allow plenty of space for a plant to grow. Always check plant tags for proper spacing. Prune your shrub or tree for a natural look like nature intended it.

The Creative Gardener

How to Replace a Terminal Leader

Missing terminal leader
New limb to replace terminal leader wired in place

Spruce is now taking on a more natural look as the new terminal leader grows into place.

If you have ever had a terminal leader in a spuce or pine lost due to storm damage or because the grower removed it, here is how you can grow a new terminal leader. When I purchased this Norway Spruce the terminal leader had been removed. I was able to purchase the tree at a really great price. The spruce had a nice all over shape minus the fact the pointed part of the top of the tree was missing (terminal leader). By selecting a branch next to where the original terminal leader was cut, I placed a bamboo stick and wired a new branch into the location of the missing terminal leader. I check the wires during the year to make sure that they are not cutting into the bark of the tree. It will take time to grow into the new terminal leader, but worth the wait to get a natural looking tree.

The Creative Gardener

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Testing Kit for Hosta Virus X

Healthy Hosta

Hosta Test Kit

Hostas have long been the number one garden plant. Now there is a virus called HVX or Hosta virus X that can kill your Hostas. If you are a collector of Hostas, this is a virus that you do not want in your garden. If you are not familiar with this virus it has become a major problem in America and Europe. Hostas that have HVX should be destroyed. There is NO treatment or cure for your plant. The disease is transmitted by sap from an infected plant to another plant by mechanical means. If you prune leaves from an infected plant and then prune another Hosta plant, you will spread the disease. Cleaning and disinfecting your pruners will not stop transmittal of this virus. How do you know that your Hosta plant has HVX? You may not know. A plant can look healthy and be infected. It may take up to a year for signs of the virus to appear in a healthy plant. When you purchase plants inspect them carefully and if they have unusual markings or do not look healthy, walk on by. The normal signs of infected plants are:

  • Deformed or malformed flowers
  • Less vigor in growth
  • Brown or dead spots on leaves
  • Spots, streaks, line patterns, mottle or mosaic patterns on leaves
  • Death of the plant

If you remove an infected plant (including roots) it is safe to replant a new Hosta in the same spot. The virus does not stay in the soil. There is now a test kit available for testing Hosta. I had the opportunity to test a plant using the test kit and found it easy to use. You take a piece of the leaf, about the size of a quarter and place it inside the plastic test bag. The testing bag contains a clear liquid buffer. You then rub the plastic bag with the leaf sample inside. As you rub the leaf, the clear buffer turns green from the leaf chlorophyll. You then insert a test strip into the liquid inside the bag and it will show positive or negative for HVX. If it comes up positive, destroy the plant. The test kits are available from Agdia or you can go to their web site at

A suggestion from a Hosta grower and collector is to purchase heavy duty plastic table knives and insert one in the dirt around each individual plant in the collection. The knife is used for pruning that plant only. This method will help to eliminate exposing all plants if one Hosta does have HVX.

The Creative Gardener

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Make Your Own Seed Starting Light

This time of the year has many a gardener starting to think about growing plants from seed for the garden. I grow my own tomato plants from seed every year. With the economy the way it is, I decided that I would grow more vegetables and start my perennials for the garden from seed this year. I always wanted a seed starting light, but found them to be expensive for short term use. Seed starting lights with frames and 48 inch plant light tubes start at about $80.00 and up. This year, I purchased a fluorescent light fixture for under $10.00 at the local hardware store. I replaced the light tubes that came with the fixture to two Gro-Lux light tubes for under $12.00. The wood for the frame was recycled from left over 2x4 boards from a neighbors remodeling project. You can also get free pieces of wood from new home construction sites. The light fixture came with installation chains and hooks. As the plants grow, I simply shorten the chain. I can also attach additional short boards to the top if I want to add another light fixtures in the future. All the screws, nails and "L" brackets were in the garage from other left over projects. The measurements for the fixture are 55 L x 28 H x 15 W (base legs). For about $22.00, I now have a seed starting light that will last for years to come at a economical price.

The Creative Gardener

Monday, February 9, 2009

Pesticides in the Garden

Many gardeners discuss the use of pesticides in the garden. Some people believe in sprays and other do not. In my garden, I prefer to use what I call two, four, six and eight legged critter control as my pest control. I do not use pesticides in my garden or my greenhouse. I prefer natural methods and I let mother nature control many of my pest problems. I have had good results of not having many bug problems. Here are some steps that will make gardening easier without the use of pesticides.

  • Keep a clean garden. Rake up old leaves and remove foliage that has dropped from the plant on the ground. Pest and eggs can remain in the plant waste.
  • Observe your plants and watch for pest problems. Many pest can be removed from plants by a spray of water from the hose (like aphids) or can be hand picked off and destroyed like bag worms or japanese beetles.
  • Try companion planting in your garden. This is where you plant a plant next to another plant that can provide certain benefits like being a insect repellent.
  • Use beneficial insects in your garden like ladybugs, praying mantis or lacewings.
  • Keep your plants and soil healthy.
  • Select plants that are known not to have or have little pest problems.

I found that when I added ponds, bird houses and bat houses that many animals that feed on bugs came to my garden. I now have frogs, toads, birds and bats that feed on a large amount of insects, slugs, and snails reducing my pest problems. I also add praying mantis to my garden. Praying mantis are considered a beneficial insect. They like to lay their eggs on burning bushes. The egg case can contain hundreds of eggs and it is about the size of a walnut. The color is light brown. I remove them when I find them and store them in a jar in a cool place during the winter then move them into the garden in the spring. When they hatch they spread in the garden and start eating the pest. When you spray for insects, it normally kills everything including the beneficial insects.

I would like to hear your comments on controlling insect pest in the garden. Please send me your comments and share your ideas. I will post your comments pro or con on using pesticides.

The Creative Gardener

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Fox That Lives in My Garden

In my garden, I have a visitor that comes every year. She is a fox that I have named "White Sock". White Sock get her name from the fact that her one back foot is white. I always know that it is her from year to year. She lives in a den in the woods next to our property. In the spring, the woods flood from the local river and she and her pups leave the den to live in a den she has made under my back deck. In 2007 she had three pups and when she returned in 2008 she was the proud mother of two. You will see in the video that fox pups are black and not red like mom. She and her pups show up in the spring and stay for several months. When she first arrives she keeps the pups in the den. During that time she is feeding them on her milk. She leaves the den during the night and day searching for food for herself. She is a mooch! She like to visit the neighbors and get a hand out. She is not afraid of people at this time because she needs to eat for herself and the pups. As the weeks go by, we wait to see her family. When the pups emerge on warm days, mom keeps them close to the den and she watches over them. The pups love to play and chew on everything. They are very curious about the thing in the garden. At night you can hear her barking at them because they have waundered off to far from the den.

Last year I was walking in the garden and found my flower pots had all been dumped and the plants and soil was everywhere. I thought it was kids till I discovered teeth marks all over my flower pots. The pups had a great night of fun. After replanting everything, the next morning my four legged friends had dumped the pots again. My lemon tree finally died after being torn out of the pot and chewed on several times. I finally figured out that the reason the pups and mom were dumping my pot was because I had watered using fish emulsion. The lesson to be learned is that fish emulsion may be good for the plants but it smells like dinner to a fox!

As the pups continue to grow, mom introduces them to real food like moles, birds and road kill. White Sock is very good at catching birds. She leaps into the air and grabs them in flight. I don't have problems with rabbits or moles because she keeps them under control. Road kill on the other hand can be very smelly in hot weather under my deck. When mom is teaching the babies to catch their own food, she kill a mole or bird and leaves it on the ground for the pups to find. For those of you who love your birds, understand that this is the way of nature and survival.

When the middle of summer has arrived, the pups are as big as mom. They resemble her and sometimes it hard to tell the difference. One day they all just disappear back to the woods and we never see them again.

It's February now and sometimes when I pass the window at night, I stop and look to see if I see her or her mate running in the shadows of the garden. I also look for tracks in the snow to see if she has been around. Now we wait for her return to the garden this year.

The Creative Gardener

A "Broom" for the Garden

This is a new plant that I added to my garden last year. The plant is a Cytisus or "Broom". I had seen pictures of this plant at Master Gardener presentation, but had never seen one in the local nurseries. Last summer at a local box store, I found several for sale and I purchased one. It was just a one gallon size but it grew a foot the first year and bloomed. The flowers are very fragrant and look like the flowers of peas. The plant is a member of the legume family. A Broom can grow fairly large depending on the variety. It is hardy to zones 3 to 7. This shrub is not picky about where it is planted except for deep shade. It doesn't mind drought, pollution, seashores (salt), slopes, wind, dry soil, infertile soil or fertile soil. Rabbits and deers do not like this shrub. The "Broom" does like sandy soil and performs best in poor soil. It needs full sun. This is a plant that is grown for it's flowers not it's foliage. The leaves are very tiny with whippy stems. Brooms do need pruning to keep them blooming. Brooms produce seed that can be planted or you can take cutting to start additional plants. You might want to give this shrub a try in a mixed perennial and shrub border. It will give you lots of flower color.

The Creative Gardener

I have had readers tell me that they have had problems finding me on We now have the problem fixed - Thanks to Stuart!
You can find me as "CreativeGardener"

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Attracting Bees to the Garden

My last post was about attracting butterflies to the garden. In the process of writing it, I thought it would be a good time to write on bees. Over several years of working in my garden, I noticed that I just didn't see many bees. As a kid, I remember having honey bees buzzing around in the white clover that grew in the lawn. I also remember stepping on a few in my bare feet. While working in other people's gardens, I noticed the same thing. The absense of bees. If you have not heard, there is a problem with honey bees called Colony Collapse Disorder. It is not known as to why honey bees are disappearing. It could be environmental, mites, disease, pesticidies or many other things. Why have bees in your garden? Because bees are not aggressive and attracting them to your garden is beneficial.
One year I ventured into a garden nursery and I noticed one plant that was covered in bees. I purchased two and added them to the garden. Over the years I have continued to add more plants that bees are attracted to. If you want to attract bees to your garden, you need to rethink some of the plant colors that you put into your garden. Bees cannot see red. To a bee, red is black or basically not a color. If you have red flowers, they are pollinated by the wind, butterflies, birds or other insects. Bees are skewed to the blue end of the human spectrum. They see in ultraviolet. The flowers in your garden will appear to be a different color to the bees than they appear to you. Plant flowers, shrubs and trees that have blue, purple, yellow, white or violet blooms. Bee have good vision considering that they have five eyes on their heads. Their eyes are made up of three simple eyes and two compound eyes.
Bees are good pollinators and without them we would not have the fruits, flowers, vegetables or honey that we all enjoy. If you collect seed for next years garden, you need the pollinators. Never use pesticides on plants that attract bees or you will kill off your bee population. Diversity of plants is important. When purchasing plants, look for plants with bee on them.
Here are suggested plants that attract bees:
Annuals: Asters, clover, sunflowers, poppies, zinnias, marigolds
Perennials: Buttercups, Clematis, Cosmos, Dahlias, Echinacea, Foxglove, Geraniums, Hollyhocks, Roses, Tansy, Hyssop, Globe thistle
Herbs: Bee Balm, Borage, Catnip, Fennel, Lavender, Mints, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme
Shrubs: Blueberry, Butterfly Bush, Button Bush, Indigo, Privet, Honeysuckle and Blue Beard
Trees: American Holly, Fruit Tree, Eastern Redbud, Golden Rain Tree, Hazels, Catalpa, Black Locust, Lindens
This year plant some new plants for the bees. It will be worth it!
The Creative Gardener

'Golden Shadows' Pagoda Dogwood

Years ago, I purchased a very small tree that was only 6 to 8 inches tall. It was a 'Golden Shadows' Pagoda Dogwood. It had beau...