Home & Garden

Smothering method can help control weeds

The third week of February and those weeds are already calling you. Get control of the tiny shot weeds now. I like to use the smother approach to kill early spring weeds. Just put layer a mulch on top of the young weeds this week and you'll smother them to death before they can go to seed. All plants need light to survive and so dumping a shovel-full of bagged compost or bark chips on top of a weedy patch in early spring can prevent millions of new weed seeds from doing the dirty deed and spreading seeds all over your beds.

This is the month to prepare your soil if you want to become a backyard farmer and also the time to collect seed packs of everything you want to grow.

It is too early to plant warm-season crops such as beans, corn or (shudder at the thought) heat-loving tomatoes but there are some cool season vegetables like cabbage, kale, lettuce and peas that can be started indoors now for transplanting outside later. Gardeners with raised beds and quick draining soil might even want to dare Mother Nature and plant some cool season vegetables directly into the soil.

Quick Tip: Buy an Agricultural Fleece (trade name is Remay) to drape over your newly planted veggies this spring. This lightweight, spun polyester blanket will allow light and rain to reach the young plants but keep out the bad bugs. Remay keeps carrot rust fly and the white cabbage moth from landing, and if you cover your crop, this could be the year you’ll finally you’ll enjoy cabbage and broccoli without the worms.

There is a pink rhododendron that blooms very early every spring in my front yard. I do not know the name of this rhodie as it was here when I moved into the house seven years ago. It is in a shaded location but still blooms. Any ideas what type of rhododendron this could be? – J.K., Enumclaw

Yes. Sometimes it is hard to identify a plant without a photo but in this case I can think of only one rhododendron that blooms so early in the spring in a shaded location. It must be “Christmas Cheer,” an old rhodie favorite that does well under fir and cedar trees if given plenty of water every fall when it sets buds. Now is a good time to visit a nursery and purchase early blooming rhododendrons. Another early bloomer for the sun is the very cold and wind tolerant rhododendron called PJM. This variety has small leaves on a compact shrub and the tiny blooms are a vivid purple. PJM makes a great partner or bed mate for forsythias. Often a beautiful plant marriage of convenience can be arranged between two plants that are bother eager bloomers and can’t seem to wait for spring.

When do I cut back my ornamental grasses? I have several varieties such as Miscanthus and Japanese Forest Grass (the kind with yellow grass fronds) but they all turned brown in the winter and look bad now. – P., e-mail

Make like a warrior and attack those grasses now. Anytime after Valentine’s Day, around mid-February, is a good time to cut back dormant or dead-looking ornamental grasses. This way you can get rid of the old, dead growth before the fresh, new shoots pop up in March. There are some ornamental grasses that don’t go dormant in the winter such as black mondo grass and the evergreen carex. If a perennial grass doesn’t look dry and brown, leave it be. I find using a sharp pair of kitchen scissors works best to tidy up small grasses but for larger clumps – especially the tough pampas grass – you might need to really go Rambo and swing a machete.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her Web site at www.binettigarden.com.

Meet Marianne

Marianne Binetti will speak at the Lewis County Home Show at the Yard Birds Event Center in Chehalis at noon Saturday. You’ll learn about “Good Plant, Bad Plant: what to grow now.”