A week closer to spring and I catch myself going out of my way to “casually” drive by my favorite nurseries checking to see for the first signs of emerging inventory. I know those faithful pansies will be smiling back at me soon.

Mulch gardens to reduce weeding. This also helps to conserve moisture, supply nutrients and make the gardens look nicer. Don’t make the mistake of mulching too early. You need to allow the soil to warm up and dry out. Timing will vary depending on your hardiness zone and if you have sandy or clay soil. My ‘green flag’ for swinging the mulch shovel is when most perennial foliage is around 4” high. For perennial gardens I recommend nutrient rich, organic mulches such as aged compost, manures, leaves and finely shredded wood. Spread mulch approximately two to three inches thick around plants, being careful not to build it up against the stems. Bulkier bark and wood mulches are best applied around trees and shrubs.

If your garden is plagued by chomping slugs and snails, scatter iron phosphate granules around affected plants. Escar-Go and Sluggo are two popular brands but you can usually find less expensive options such as Slug Magic. Just make sure iron phosphate is the active ingredient on the label. I know many folks use stale beer for controlling ‘slimers’. Personally, I can’t stand sharing my beer with slugs. Plus, as a proponent of responsible drinking, I can’t forget the story from one distraught gardener who complained of drunk, staggering squirrels in her yard. Iron phosphate granules are a safe deterrent that won’t harm children, pets or wildlife plus any that are not ingested will breakdown into your soil and fertilize your plants. Everyone wins except you know who. Other organic products for winning the war against ‘slimers’ include Concern (diatomaceous earth) and Magic Bullet Garden Dust.

Beat nasty powdery mildew that strikes Bee Balm, Phlox, Lilacs and False Sunflowers (Heliopsis) in summer by taking action in early May. Use an organic solution of baking soda and water.  In a spray bottle, stir one teaspoon of baking soda into a quart of water and add 3 to 4 drops of liquid dish detergent, vegetable oil or Murphy’s Oil Soap. Shake well and spray away. Make sure to hit both upper and lower leaf surfaces. Spray once every two weeks through mid-July. Another organic recipe calls for mixing one cup of milk and a quart of water. Once again add a few drops of liquid ‘adhesive’ as above and spray. Either method will ‘wash that gray away’; something my son has been asking me to do with my hair. I keep telling him that SILVER hair (not gray) is a mark of distinction and a sign of wisdom.

If a plant still ends up being too much fuss, then get rid of it. Toss it in the compost pile or give it to a ‘friend’. Remember, they’re not children. As Nike puts it ‘Just Do It’. Here’s to a great gardening season!


Kerry Ann Mendez is a lecturer, designer, writer, consultant, and the owner of Perennially Yours, a business specializing in low-maintenance perennial gardening and landscaping. Mendez also published two top-selling gardening books: The Ultimate Flower Gardener’s Top Ten Lists: 70 Garden-Transforming Lists, Money Saving Shortcuts, Design Tips & Smart Plant Picks for Zones 3 Through 7 and Top Ten Lists for Beautiful Shade Gardens: Seeing Your Way Out of the Dark: 52 Garden-Transforming Lists, Money-Saving Shortcuts, Design Tips & Smart Plant Picks for Zones 3 Through 7

by Kerry Mendez

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I am in S.C., so I can mulch anytime.
I grow collards year a round, most plant die by the fourth Fall.
I mulch them in a no-till bed until they die & have had not problem with the summer heat.
I have a few slugs in early spring, but not after we get in the 80’s.