“Ask the Landscaper” Blog

Keep Mice Out!

Guests come and go during the holidays. Mickey, Minnie, or Mighty may have decided to stay since your home, garage or even your car is the perfect place to raise a family. Mice can quickly become unwanted guests. In a year one female mouse can have 5-10 litters with 5-6 young in each litter.

Of the several species of mice found in the mid-west most likely to cause damage to our structures and food include house mouse, deer mouse and white-footed mouse. Mice will eat just about anything and do damage by chewing electrical wires in houses or cars and wood in homes and garages. Blankets, clothes, paper, cardboard, and house insulation may be damaged as it is used for nesting material. Mice can also carry human disease.

House mice are small grey-brown rodents with long tails, large ears and black eyes. They are typically 5½ to 7 inches in length including the tail and weigh one-half ounce.

Deer mice and white-footed mice are important food sources for wildlife such as fox, owls and hawks. They can become indoor residents as they search for a warm place to spend the winter. These mice appear gerbil-like to me with their grayish-brown to reddish-brown coats, white bellies and white feet.

Effective mouse control includes three elements: proper sanitation, mouse proof construction and population reduction. Proper sanitation includes reducing food and shelter. Keep debris piles, wood piles and stacked boards way from home foundation. Store indoor materials in tight-fitting hard plastic containers and if possible at least eight inches off the floor and one foot away from walls.

Store bird and pet food in tight-fitting containers. Keep filled pet food bowls out for a short period. It’s almost impossible to starve out mice, but controlling food access will reduce populations.

Mice can detect openings where warm air is escaping from buildings. Mice may be doing you a favor by forcing you to make your home more energy efficient. Mice can enter through very small holes. Eliminate any openings larger than 3/16th of an inch. Eliminate gaps around pipes with steel wool and caulk or mortar. Larger openings can be closed using aluminum flashing.

Mouse populations can also be controlled using traps and toxicants. In most home situations traps are the best option for low mice populations. Traps do not contain pesticides and allow removal of the bodies.

Snap traps are the most common. Bait traps with peanut butter, caramel or nesting materials of cotton balls or cloth. Mice are most active before dawn and right after dusk. Place traps behind objects in dark places next to walls. Use several traps at no more than ten feet apart. Or just adopt a cat with a known reputation as a good mouser.

Box traps which capture the animal alive are not recommended for house mice since they are not native and relocating animals is very stressful to the animal and the likelihood of their survival is very low.

Electronic devices are also not recommended. Mice are very accustomed to living with people and our repeated noises. Little evidence shows the effectiveness of sound, magnetic, or vibrating devices at driving mice from buildings.

Saving Seeds

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You’ve met the tomato of your dreams…but you don’t know his name. Do you let cindertomato slip away? Saving our favorites through seed collection seems like a simple process. Walk through the woods or eat a few blackberries – seeds stick to our socks or between our teeth with little forethought from us.

However can you save seed and get the same plant next season? It all depends. Depends on the parent’s genetics and whether the pollen came from the family or the mailman. Generally in order for seeds to develop, pollen has to be transferred to the female part of the flower either by insects, wind or gravity. If the parent’s genetics are fairly stable through generations of inbreeding and the pollen comes from the family and not the mailman, then the seeds can be saved and then planted next season to produce a plant very similar to last season’s plant.

The flowers of peas, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are self-pollinating and saved seeds come with predictable outcomes. Many older cultivars and heirlooms are open-pollinated. Even though they cross-pollinate the genetics is fairly consistent. Saving seed from self-pollinated or open-pollinated plants will yield a similar plant; that is unless they are hybrids.

The tricky part to saving seed begins when the plant is a hybrid or the parents naturally cross-pollinate with other relatives. Any saved seeds from hybrids will produce wildly different offspring from their parents. If you are into the unpredictable, seeds saved from hybrids are your dream come true. Keep in mind some varieties are patented and therefore illegal to propagate.

If you are willing to embrace any deviations, here are the basics to seed saving:

For dry fruits such as marigold, zinnia, spider flower (cleome), most flowers, beans, peas, and herb seeds allow the seed to mature and dry as long as possible on the plant. Generally seed color changes from green to white, beige or brown when they mature.

 Complete the drying process by spreading on a screen in a single layer in a well-ventilated dry location. As seed dries the chaff or pods can be removed by hand or wind. For extremely small or lightweight seed such as dill put the dry seed heads into paper bags to catch seed as it falls.

For fleshy fruits such as tomatoes allow the fruit to ripen on the plant. Keep in mind vegetables will be past prime for eating if seeds are to be saved. Cut the fruit open and spoon the pulp and seeds into a glass container. Give the family an impending gross alert and set the pulp and seeds aside for one or two days to ferment and then spray water into the fermented solution. Healthy clean seeds will drop to the bottom of the container. Pour off the sediment. Several rinses may be necessary. Then spread the seed on paper towels to dry.

 After seeds are thoroughly dry, package in envelopes, label and date for storage in a cool, dry location. Generally, plants grown as annuals do not require freezer storage to encourage germination.

 

Attractive Edibles just waiting for Spring to Arrive

Spring has sprung…or has it? My calendar showed spring arrived a couple of weeks ago, but my daffodils are telling me a different story altogether. Slowly reaching toward the sky, the daffodils were certainly tired of all of that snow cover. One cannot deny the longer hours of daylight, the birds chirping happily in the morning and the flower bulbs peeking out of the ground are all good signs. Indeed, spring is just around the corner!

On the gardening calendar for this weekend was supposed to be the beginning of my annual spring clean-up of the flowerbeds. But this landscaper knows that plans change quickly due to our unpredictable Indiana weather. Cold, rainy, chilly April days make for wonderful garden planning days instead of days in the garden. Seed catalogs, measurements, and notes sprawled across my desk all beckon for design inspiration.  Several of my clients these days are looking to create attractive vegetable gardens this spring. It’s a rather new concept in garden design – creating attractive edible gardens.   Many inspiring photos of herb and vegetable gardens that are as beautiful as they are tasty can be found online.

First posted 4/06/13 at Indiana Gardening.

Use Perennials to Paint the Landscape

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Landscaping design and installation by Metzger Landscaping & Design.

Many homeowners are interested in saving time and money in the garden. Perennials are one of the best deals you can find. Perennials are always a good value because they come back year after year and some varieties like hosta, daylilies and iris, even multiply over time!

Even without these time and money saving qualities, perennials play an important role in garden design. They serve as the “paints” that will help create a colorful display in the landscape. Just as there are special techniques to applying paints to a canvas, over the years we have learned a few lessons about designing with perennials in the landscape. Metzger Landscaping & Design often strives to add color to our landscaping projects through the use of low maintenance, colorful perennials. In fact, the two  most-often requested wishes by our clients are “low maintenance” and “color”. By using the “right” combination of perennials, we can create both. This is why we say at Metzger Landscaping & Design, “We Turn Gardens into Art”.

Perennials need space, so when designing always plan for growth. Because perennials live for more than one season, they’re constantly growing and enlarging their borders. It’s this changeability that gives a perennial garden its charm. Avoid the temptation to overcrowd young plants; plan for plant expansion. You’ll also need to increase the volume of plants if you want season-long color. When you arrange a planting that combines individual perennials into a harmonious blend of color, texture, and bloom, you’ll savor the beauty and discover the inspiration only perennials can give. Using perennials in the landscape design along with the structure of flowering shrubs, evergreens for winter color and ornamental grasses for texture can turn a landscape into a work of art.

Try These Top 10 Tough Perennials

  • Daylily; Hemorocallis, ‘stella de oro’ & ‘rosy returns’
  • Variegated Hosta, ‘widebrim’ & ‘francee’
  • Black Eyed Susan,  Rudebeckia, ‘goldsturm’
  • Purple Cone Flower, Echinacea, ‘Kim’s knee high’ & ‘white swan’
  • Coral Bells, Huechera, ‘cherry splash’, ‘palace purple’, & ‘caramel’
  • Russian Sage, Pervoskia, ‘little spire’
  • Maiden Grass, Miscanthus, ‘sarenbande’
  • Coreopsis, ‘moonbeam’, ‘route 66’
  • Agastache ‘blue fortune’
  • Salvia ‘purple rain’, ‘blue hills’

To see more great photos of perennials used in our landscapes, visit Metzger Landscaping & Design on Facebook.

First posted 3/23/14 at Indiana Gardening.

“Ask the Landscaper”

Welcome to “Ask the Landscaper” a column written for the Wabash Plain Dealer.

A former horticulture, botany, and agriculture teacher, and owner of Metzger Landscaping & Design, Leesa Metzger answers reader’s questions about gardening, plants, and landscaping.

To submit a question to the “Ask the Landscaper” column, call us at (260) 982-4282, find us on Facebook, or fill out the contact form below.

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