Gardening tips for early planting, getting rid of weeds, slugs

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Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are all attracted to columbine, a hearty perennial that can be sown directly into the ground at this time of year.

Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are all attracted to columbine, a hearty perennial that can be sown directly into the ground at this time of year.

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Now is the time to plant frost-resistant perennials such as columbine, pansy, alyssum, sweet pea and speedwell seeds directly into the cold ground.

The secret to direct seeding into the ground is to first till or loosen the soil so the seedlings can take root and to protect the seeds and seedlings from birds and slugs. In western Washington, tiny slugs are hatching this month and they’re just under the ground waiting for sweet seedlings to sprout. New shoots are eaten overnight and novice gardeners blame lack of seed germination for the failure when in reality it is the determination of hungry slugs.

Q. We have slugs and have invested in slug bait over the past year to protect our spring vegetable starts. We use an animal-safe slug bait called Sluggo. My husband says to put the bait on the new seedlings to kill the slugs. I say apply the bait away from the seedlings to attract the slugs. Your opinion?

A. You are right. Do not put slug bait on plants, even non-toxic bait. Scatter the bait where the slugs are hiding in tall grass, rock gardens or around the edges of your planting area.

If the birds are feeding on the pellets (it won’t hurt them, but why waste the bait?), place broken pots or wooden shingles in the area and place the bait under those bird barriers that still allow slugs to reach the bait.

Q. What is the best fertilizer for evergreen shrubs? Can I use a general fertilizer like 20-20-20 on evergreens or do they need a special fertilizer? We have a mature evergreen hedge that I want to keep healthy. Thank you. —JS

A. Often the best fertilizer for mature trees and shrubs is to add no fertilizer at all. A 20-20-20 plant food is best for fast-growing annuals or vegetables in late spring, but encouraging rapid growth on trees and shrubs can make them more susceptible to frost damage and more. attractive to insects and diseases that love soft, succulent new growth. . If your hedge looks healthy, leave it alone. If your hedge appears to be yellowing, a slow-release fertilizer designed for acid-loving plants is best.

Q. When is the best time to mulch my soil for weed control? I want to use bark mulch around trees and shrubs. —RT, Tacoma

A. If your primary goal is weed control, then March is a great time to smother small weeds with a 2-3 inch layer of bark or wood chips. All plants need sun and smothering small weeds and chicks will prevent them from dispersing seeds. Weeds with deep roots such as dandelions should be dug up before adding the mulch.

To deal with a really bad situation, subscribe to more newspapers. Then you can layer several sections of damp newspaper just above the weeds, cover them with a few inches of bark mulch, and the beds will look neat and tidy without removing the weeds.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Contact her at binettigarden.com.

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