Archive | April 2013

Knock ’em Dead: Tried and True Way to Get Rid of Ants

As shown in many of my past blog articles…

…it’s pretty evident that ants are a constant bane of a gardener’s or home owner’s existance.

When I was living in my last rental residence, I had severe problems with ants. They came in the bedroom and didn’t really seem to be interested in anything in particular — other than crawling up on my bed! I never had food in the room, so there was no reason for them to be there. After trying many products, like Tarro and straight Borax, I found the perfect solution.

As a way to see if the ants would ‘take the bait’, I put a small bit of jelly on a piece of cardboard and set it in the bedroom. Within an hour, I think the whole anthill was there partaking in the food (insert thought of why they did not go to the kitchen about 15 feet away where there was tons of food). In getting creative (and desperate), I decided to mix borax in with the jelly for the next feeding. Use enough of each to make a thin paste — not like clay, but liquidy enough that the jelly is still a bit gel-like.  Put it on a small paper plate or piece of cardboard in the area where it is needed. Within about 12 hours (overnight), you will be hard pressed to find an ant. Works well for sweet, black, and red ants.


© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Waxing or Waning: Gardening by the Moon

“Dear Horticulture Talk,

I have heard of people gardening by the moon. Does it really work or is it some kind of Wicca or pagan thing? Have you ever done it?




Thanks for the question, Carrie. Yes, I have used the moon cycles to plan my garden and yard work for years. It doesn’t mean that you are all about Mother Earth or anything.  Gardening by the moon phases means that you are working with nature rather than against it.

Gardening according to the phase of the Moon is a centuries old practice, practiced by ancient cultures the world over. It has been long known that the Moon has a strong effect on our planet and its’ inhabitants. Its gravitational pull guides the ocean tides as well as our own inner tides. Plants are no different, as with the sea and our bodies a plant’s water content is affected by the pull of the Moon. Same for the insect, weed, fungal, and bacterial pests that may be attacking your plants.

People long ago lived by the cycle of the Sun, Moon and the seasons. In today’s busy world many choose not to track the Moon phases and instead opt to purchase a farmer’s almanac. The Old Farmer’s Almanac and The Farmer’s Almanac both contain useful gardening sections that do all the planning for you. With these you have everything you need for growing a successful garden, flowerbed or orchard.

There are two methods of practice, one is by the Moon’s phase and the second is by the Moon’s phase as well as its placement in an astrological sign of the zodiac. I admit, I have always used the former in my garden.

The Moon’s month long cycle can be separated into two halves, the waxing and the waning. The first half of the monthly cycle is from just after the New Moon to the Full Moon. The Moon grows larger and brighter and it is this lighter half that stimulates growth in a plant. One common practice that has been used for centuries is to plant just after the New Moon as this gives the seed, plant or transplant two weeks of increasing, moonlight and gravitational influence to encourage germination and growth. Plants that flower and/or bear fruit above ground are best planted during the first quarter which is roughly a one week period from the day after the New Moon (or so) to the first quarter Moon. The first quarter to the Full Moon is the ideal time to plant brambly fruits such as blackberries, raspberries and the like. This first half is also the best time to water your plants. As the Full Moon nears harvest any juicy berries, succulent leafy greens or other veggies for their optimum water content. It is also best to harvest herbs at the Full Moon as their essential oils are strongest, fragrant flowers will have stronger scent too.

The waning Moon is the period from the day after the Full Moon to the New Moon, when the Moon grows smaller and the night skies are darker. This half of the Moon’s cycle discourages growth in plants. The third quarter, which is from just after the Full Moon to the last quarter, is the best time to plant trees, vines, as well as flowering bulbs and plants that bear fruit under ground (root vegetables). This phase of the Moon is beneficial to those plants which rely on strong root systems like trees, root vegetables and strawberries. The last quarter is best used to weed, till, thin seedlings and rid your garden of pests, take this last week to mulch your garden and get a handle on those weeds. By following this method you will find that once the garden is established you will be spending less time in the garden having to water and weed.

The second method of gardening involves planting and tending the garden according the zodiac sign that the Moon is passing through. For anyone unfamiliar with the astrological zodiac it consists of twelve signs/constellations in which the Moon passes through and spends a day or two in each sign during the lunar cycle, or month. The four elements each rule four zodiac signs. Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces are considered “water signs” and are the best time to plant most seeds and plants. While Cancer is the best, above ground plants put in at the time the Moon passes through any of these three signs will yield the best results. Air sign Libra is said to be best for planting flowering plants. The Earth signs of Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn are the second best choices for planting. Plant your root veggies when the Moon is in Capricorn or Taurus, Virgo is best left for weeding and tilling. Fire signs Leo, Sagittarius and Aries are also ideal for weeding, tilling, cleaning and ridding your garden of pests. Air sign Aquarius is good for harvesting and Gemini is also good for working the soil.

If all of this makes your head spin, then you can do what many people over the last two centuries have done. Pick up a copy of The Old Farmer’s Almanac and head to the Outdoor Planting Table section. Right there, at your fingertips, is a handy chart that tells you when to plant what. This method is also a great science experiment for you or your children. Plant two plants or seeds one at the ideal planting time and the second at a more “undesirable” time. Watch to see how these plants grow in comparison over the season. Will your plants wither and die if you plant them at the “wrong” time? Probably not. Your garden will still plug along, but you will lack the abundant harvest and lush growth that you could have had planting by the Moon.


  • Sow plants that flower or bear fruit above ground (1st quarter)
  • Plant blackberries, raspberries and other caned plants (during 2nd quarter)
  • Water Plants
  • Feed Plants
  • Transplant
  • Nearest the Full Moon-harvest juicy fruits and greens. Herbs for optimum essential oil content, flowers for strong fragrance.


  • Sow root vegetables (3rd quarter)
  • Plant Trees and Saplings (3rd quarter)
  • Plant strawberries (3rd quarter)
  • Weed
  • Mulch
  • Thin seedlings
  • Divide plants
  • Harvest
  • Pruning
  • Hoe
  • Pest Control

© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Plant a Scent-tastic Garden!

As a new homeowner, I finally have all the space I need to do what I want with my gardening prowess.  One of the many things I have been wanting to do for a long time is plant a ‘scent garden’ near an outdoor sitting area. There is nothing like the onslaught of heavenly aromas one encounters as you make your way down a garden path or sit with a good book while being enveloped in a euphoria of brightly colored flowers emitting nirvanic odors. The cause could be the winds gently nudging the viburnum branches or the oils of a scented geranium leaf being released by the brush of a sleeve.

Instead of enjoying a scented garden a friend’s house or the local botanical gardens, why not specifically plant a scented garden that includes some of your favorites at your house? With a little planning and a few seeds or plants, you too can turn your patio or balcony or bare patch of ground in the corner into a bower surrounded by aromatic plants that will make your gardening experience all the sweeter!

A few tips on designing your scent garden:
1)    Place the garden in an area that either gets frequent foot traffic or is next to a seating area so you and your visitors can enjoy it.
2)    A south-facing garden will not only allow a wider variety of plants, but the sun can release additional scents more so than a shaded area.
3)   Use an assortment of each group of plants below for season-long blooms and scents.

This list is just a bare-bones starter — there are many more plants that can be found regionally with equally wonderful scents. Check your local garden scent to find out what grows in your area.  (Note: some annuals can be perennials in more southern climates and some perennials are annuals in more northern climates.)

Heliotrope (Blue/Purple varieties)
Sweet alyssum
Autumn Snakeroot
Creeping Phlox

Mock orange
White forsythia

Sweet Pea



© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Red Hot Asparagus! Fire Ants Invade!!!

“I have a number of fire ant mounds in my Asparagus and i’m not sure what to do about them. I don’t want to damage the crop or put something on it that will be harmful to people. Suggestions?



First of all, let me give this disclaimer: I live in Wisconsin and we do not have fire ants here! What a blessing! However, I have studied them in the past and have done a bit of research. It is amazing what different people recommend.

Fire ants are no mere pest—as anyone who has accidentally stepped on one of their mounds will tell you, a fire ant’s sting can be painful for weeks. Gardeners who have tried to get rid of fire ant colonies know there is no shortage of advice on how to get to eliminate the mounds, but few truly effective methods. But does that mean you need to turn to a toxic solution? Thankfully, the answer is no! Here are a number of methods you can use to extinguish the fire on those ants!

1. Orange Essential Oils

Oil from the peels of oranges is completely safe for humans but deadly to fire ants – it dissolves their exoskeletons. Recent studies have discovered that orange oil solutions are effective in decimating fire ant colonies and, if the solution reaches the queen, destroying the mound for good. The key here is pouring enough solution to thoroughly soak the mound, and pouring at a time of day when ants are in the mound.

Some studies also show that molasses or compost tea used in conjunction with orange oil may enhance the effects. A drop of soap in the orange oil solution helps it to mix with the water.

Orange Oil Recipe for Fire Ants

6 oz. orange oil
1 tbsp blackstrap molasses
a squeeze of liquid dish soap

Add to a gallon jug and fill with water.

Drench the mounds when the ants are not out foraging. Fire ants prefer mild temperatures, so in the summers they may be out early in the morning and hiding in their mounds by mid-day, and vice-versa for cold days. A gallon will thoroughly soak one mound.  There will be no effect on the asparagus from this recipe.

You can purchase bottled orange oil (look for Essential Oil of Orange or D-limonene) and use the above recipe, or pick up a product with orange oil that has its own dilution instructions on the container.

2. Bucketing fire ant colonies
If you are a bit daring, this is one of the simplest ways of dealing with one or two problem colonies. Basically, the procedure is to rapidly dig the mound and a foot or so of soil under the mound and dump it into one or several large buckets. Sprinkling the bucket and shovel with baby powder or cornstarch before you starts keeps the ants from climbing out of them. Remember to tuck your pants into your socks to keep the ants where you can see them.

Dig up the soil at a time of day when most of the colony is in the mound.  Once the ants are in the bucket, you can choose to drown the ants or simply to carry them to some place where they are not a problem. If you choose to drown the ants, add a generous squirt of dish soap, water from a hose, and stir to mix the soap throughout the mud in the bucket. The soap breaks the surface tension and drowns the ants much more quickly. It usually takes overnight to kill the ants. In the heat of the summer, they will probably drown faster, but on cool days in the spring, it may take longer. It is best not to fill the buckets more than three-quarters full of ants and dirt so there is room to add the water.

PLEASE NOTE: I personally would not recommend digging them up. I don’t want to hear that you ended up in the hospital. Of course, some people (probably my husband) would opt to go this route and would be quite successful in it. Others, like me, would not be. Also, digging may damage the asparagus plants (depending on the proximity of the hills to the plants).

3.  Hot water
Pouring hot water on the mounds is effective and environmentally friendly, but may require 3 or 4 applications to kill the colony. Water should be at least scalding hot, but does not need to be boiling. This works best when you use 3 to 4 gallons of water in each application. WARNING: Hot water kills asparagus and other plants and may cause severe burns if spilled. If the hill is far enough away, this may work.

4.  Straw itch mites
Some studies have shown moderate benefits from releasing these beneficial mites, but other studies have found none. However, the most dramatic effect has been the large rashes that researchers have gotten from some of the stray mites that they were releasing. Ooh, itchy, itchy, ITCHY!

Some also recommended corn grits and dry rice for the ants to eat and bloat up with when they drank water. This cannot possibly work, as adults eat only liquids and larval digestive tracts mix food with saliva to digest it. Other poorly working methods include diatomaceous earth, mixing different colonies together, gasoline + match, household cleaning products, anteaters, sonic pest deterrent vibrators, and exhaust fumes. Various accounts prove that these methods do not work.

I hope you have some success with the four methods given here. Let me know how it works out!


© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Growing Great Parsley!

“Dear Horticulture Talk,

Are you guys still answering gardening questions? Just wondered if you were. If so, what can you tell me about parsley? I love to eat it, but am just starting to garden and what to know everything about it. Please help if you can!




Dear George,

Thanks for you question. Yes, I am still here, but have just been busy with some different things in my life and have not been blogging much.  However, spring is almost here (if you scrape off the snow that keeps coming to Wisconsin) and things have panned out so that I have more time to devote to my blog.  So let’s talk about parsley!

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a member of the carrot family and fits in well to its family as it is a lot more than just a decorative green on your plate. In fact, it is one of the most nutritious of all herbs. An excellent source of vitamins A and C, it also contains niacin, riboflavin, selenium, and calcium. It is rich in chlorophyll and essential oils that freshen your breath.

Parsley’s taste appeal is a world-wide crowd pleaser. Japanese deep fry it, Greeks mix large amounts with tomato sauce to create moussaka flavoring, and Spaniards use it as the primary ingredient in salsa verde. Both the common (curly) and Italian (flat-leaved) parsleys are ideal for garnishes and for flavoring soups, stews, salad dressings, and sauces; however, culinary experts (and cooking enthusiasts like me) will tell you that Italian parsley has the best flavor.

Parsley is so attractive that it also integrates easily into ornamental plantings. Its fine-textured foliage is attractive as neat edging or foliage fillers in flower beds.  Its rich green color setting off the bright blooms of pansies, petunias and other annuals.

Parsley leaves are comprised of 3 leaflets on short stems, that branch in threes at the tips of 8 inch long bare stalks. Leaves of common parsley are dark green with divided tips which curl tightly. Those of Italian parsley are a lighter green and more deeply divided and feathery, resembling celery foliage. A common parsley plant typically grows 9 to 18 inches tall and spreads about 6 to 9 inches. An Italian type may grow to 3 feet tall.

Although parsley is a biennial–its life spanning two seasons–it is usually treated as an annual and is pulled up at the end of the first season. That is why its flowers, which appear in early summer of its second year, are seldom seen. They are flat clusters composed of tiny, greenish yellow florets, and resemble Queen Anne’s lace. As with most herbs, flowering tends to make the foliage bitter and less useful for cooking. However, parsley flowers host many beneficial insects, including butterfly larvae, so it may be worth allowing some plants to overwinter and flower the next season.

Soak seeds overnight prior to planting to improve germination and use moistened seed starter mix or other sterile, soilless medium. Sow seeds about an inch apart and cover with a ¼-inch layer of the moist medium. Keep evenly moist and maintain soil temperature of about 70F. Expect sprouts in 14 to 21 days. Set fluorescent lights two inches above the newly opened leaves, adjusting them to maintain this distance above the top leaves of the seedlings as they grow for 4 to 6 weeks.

Parsley grows best in all day sun in cooler areas of the country, but appreciates some afternoon shade in warmer climates. The ideal soil is moderately rich, moist, and well-drained, although parsley plants tolerate poorer soils having less organic matter as long as drainage is adequate. Soil should be loose to accommodate parsley’s taproot and mildly acidic (pH 6.0 to 7.0).

To direct sow, dribble the seeds into indented rows ¼ to ½ an inch deep. After 3 or 4 weeks, when sprouts are a few inches tall and show their first true leaves, thin them to allow 8 to 10 inches of space between the remaining ones so they can grow freely. Depending on the variety, parsley plants will grow to maturity and set seed in about 70 to 90 days.

Plant seedlings on an overcast day or late in the day to minimize transplant stress. Dig holes about 10 to 12 inches apart and about the size of the containers the seedlings are growing in. Gently pop each seedling from its container and set each one in a hole. Firm the soil over the rootball and water immediately. If you have added granular slow-acting fertilizer to the soil, do not feed the plants further. Shield newly planted seedlings from bright sun the first day or so while they adjust to the shock of transplanting.

Parsley grows happily in a container alone, with other herbs or with flowers, as long as it gets enough sun. Use one that is 12 inches or deeper. Fill with moistened soilless potting mix to within 2 inches of its top. Mix in some granular slow-acting fertilizer or plan to water plants once a month with a dilute general purpose liquid fertilizer. Water often to prevent container plants from drying out during hot summer days.

Begin harvesting parsley when it produces leaf stems with three segments. Harvest the larger leaves at the outside of the plant first, leaving the new, interior shoots to mature. To encourage bushier parsley plants pick only the middle leaf segment of each main leaf stem.

Store freshly picked, moistened sprigs in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for 2 weeks. Chop leaves and blend with water or stock then freeze in an ice cube tray for up to 6 months. Parsley also dries well in a regular or microwave oven, although it loses some flavor. Store dried parsley in an air-tight jar for up to a year.


© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.