Living Columns & Blogs

Ask a Gardener: Keep birds away from your blueberries

Use netting to keep birds from eating blueberries, securing it with clothespins to make it easy to remove the netting when you want to pick berries.
Use netting to keep birds from eating blueberries, securing it with clothespins to make it easy to remove the netting when you want to pick berries. The Bellingham Herald

Question: Last year, I had a horrible problem with birds devouring my just-ripe blueberries. I love the birds, but I also think I deserve some of the blueberries. After all, I planted them and I take care of them. I’ve tried using netting, but tying it around the plants was difficult and made picking hard. Can you help?

Answer: Yes, in a word. Go to a dollar store and buy a large number of clothespins. They’re cheap! Use these to secure the bird netting around your blueberry plants. It’s an easier way to secure the netting, and makes it not so difficult to remove the netting to pick the fruit. The clothespins can be spray-painted the color of the netting to render them practically invisible. Or you can go wild with color. Either way, they can be reused for several years.

Question: Do you know of an interesting, easy and cheap way to make hose guides? I get so frustrated when I drag a hose to water plants and the hose damages my garden beds.

Answer: Stack two terra-cotta pots on top of one another, small ends together. Then push a dowel through the two drainage holes in the pots to anchor the pots to the ground. Add soil to the top planter, and you can even make it decorative!

Another way to safely guide hoses that’s not as interesting as the terra-cotta pots, but quicker, easier and cheaper, is to pound pairs of stakes about a hose-width apart in places where you’ll be dragging a hose. When you water, pull the hose between the stakes, protecting all your plants from hose damage.

And the quickest, easiest and cheapest stake is a cutting from a woody plant in your yard. Pruning produces lots of them. One year, I used willow to temporarily keep my dog out of some raised beds.

Wouldn’t you know that all of them rooted. But all’s good, as I transplanted them to another spot.

Question: Do paper planting tapes really work, and are they worth their somewhat expensive prices?

Answer: For those who have never heard of these, they make planting easy, as they’re regularly spaced seeds along a paper tape. They save time, as they eliminate the need for thinning, a time-consuming and, for some of us, difficult task. We have a hard time killing those adorable little seedlings.

You can even make your own. It’s quite simple. Mix some water and flour to a thin consistency and paint or squirt it onto a long and doubled strip of toilet paper. Carefully place the seeds along the strip of paper, using the spacing suggested on the seed packet. Place the seeds before the water/flour mixture has dried.

When the strip is dry, carefully place onto a prepared bed and lightly cover with a fine soil or compost. Keep seeds moist (though don’t spray too hard or too long) until they germinate.

Question: I’ve had some success in starting cuttings from some plants in my yard but failed with others. Do you know why some fail while others don’t?

Answer: There are many reasons plants fail to start from cuttings.

However, here’s an unusual method to start stubborn woody plants or shrubs. It was first used in the 1850s, so you will probably have success with it.

Cut a slip from the plant you want to propagate. Cut it on the diagonal. Then tuck the cutting immediately into a hole you have previously cut in a potato! You’ve now created a potato cradle.

Prepare the ground or a container for planting, being sure to add a generous amount of compost. Set the potato into the soil, completely covering it, leaving only the cutting showing. Keep it watered and you’ll soon have a healthy new baby plant or shrub growing.

Kathleen Bander of Bellingham is a lifelong gardener. Her column 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. For more gardening information online, go to whatcom.wsu.edu/ch/mg.html.

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