Ask a Master Gardener: What's the best TV show about gardening?

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 9, 2014 

Question: You'd think with all the shows and stations on TV that there'd be something on gardening. But I can't find anything. Do you know of any?

Answer: Yes, I do know of an excellent gardening show, but I must admit it's the only one I know of. Why there aren't more is anyone's guess.

"Growing a Greener World" deals with a wide variety of subjects, and the host, Joe Lamp'l, has the knowledge and enthusiasm to make it a thoroughly delightful series. New and old techniques, interesting gardens and farms, unique methods - subjects range widely, not only in content but in geography as well. The show travels around the country, and there have been several shows already filmed in the Northwest. Traveling the country and collecting stories that tell about the latest in eco-friendly living and gardening, Joe introduces us to the people, places, and organizations that are making a difference today.

"Growing a Greener World" airs on PBS. Be sure to watch it, as it's television at its best. And if you know of any other gardening TV show, pass the information along to the rest of us.

Q: Every year in the summer I have problems with mosquitoes. I don't want to use nasty chemicals, but I'm almost at that point. Is there anything else that would really work to rid my yard of these nasty creatures?

A: You need to really think this through. Remember, mosquitoes have been around a lot longer than humans, so we've got to outsmart them to rid ourselves of their annoying and often threatening presence. Mosquitoes do carry disease such as malaria, dengue fever, encephalitis, and West Nile virus. I have often wondered if there is any reason for them in the grand scheme of things.

First, check for any source of standing water in your yard. Mosquito larvae must have water to live, and they don't need much. I have found those little mosquitoes-in-the-making in a couple of tablespoons of water held in a downed leaf. Empty buckets, plastic on the ground, empty flower pots-anything that holds water can also be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. So make sure you aren't inadvertently providing for the next generation.

Used to be, DDT was used to combat mosquitoes, but that highly toxic pesticide has been banned in the U.S. since 1973. Research has given us a much better option for mosquito control: BTi, or Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis. It kills many species of mosquitoes, as well as other biting flies in the order Diptera.

If you are going to be using BTi in aquatic systems, you need to pay attention to the formulations. Dry preparations tend to be less successful, as the particles settle at water's bottom and so are not eaten by larvae, which tend to be near the top of the water. Biofilms, fizzy tablets, and slow-release floating rings are more effective. BTi formulations are readily available, inexpensive, and are safely handled by gardeners. They can be used anywhere that standing water - and mosquito larvae - accumulate. Subsequent hatchings require repeat applications.

BTi is generally considered safe for fish, frogs, birds, dragonfly, damselflies and other bugs. However, if your problem is in a pond or birdbath, just buy a few feeder fish from your local pet store. They will make quick work of any larvae. I have done this over the years and am always amazed to see how the fish flourish and reproduce. They're hardy and fun to watch.

But whatever route you take, I wish you well in your search to rid your yard of these pests. Vigilance is your best bet.

Q: I'm trying to cover a bank and last fall planted 500 kinnikinnick plants on the east-facing bank. I planted each with a small amount of bone meal and watered them until the rains came. Thirty percent of them died, and the dead plants are all root-bound. What happened? Can I save the remaining plants?

A: You've got a few problems, but there are a few fixes, too. First, adding phosphate-rich bone meal to urban soils is rarely necessary and will inhibit beneficial mycorrhizae if too much is present in the soil.

Second, the planting potting mixture that came in the plant containers has a looser texture than the native soil and will dry out faster. And last, the root-bound plants (root-bound in their original pots) needed to have their roots unbound and pruned prior to planting.

Dig up your surviving plants, untangle the roots and replant along with a protective organic mulch. Add a little nitrogen fertilizer on top of the mulch and water well. If the gardening gnomes are smiling, your kinnikinnick (don't you love that name?) will flourish.

ABOUT THIS COLUMN

Master Gardener Kathleen Bander is a resident of Bellingham and life-long gardener. For more information on Whatcom County Master Gardeners, go online to whatcom.wsu.edu/ch/mg.html.

Ask a Master Gardener will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through the summer growing season. If you have a gardening question you'd like answered in the column, please email it to newsroom@bellinghamherald.com.

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