Thursday, October 23, 2014

Keep out unwanted visitors this winter

It’s that time of year where those pesky, unwanted visitors like to make themselves comfortable in your home. No, not the friends or family members who tend to wear out their welcome. Rodents. Now that it is getting cold, rodents will start to look for warmth. There is a lot we can do to prevent a rodent problem in our homes.

Screen them out.
  • Regularly check your home for cracks or openings larger than ¼ inch. Anything bigger than that, a mouse can get through. Check around foundation, in attics, around windows, and where pipes or wires enter the building. Repair small cracks and holes with wire mesh and spray foam insulation.
  • Look underneath sinks and around plumbing. Seal holes with items available at local hardware stores such as metal pipe collars and metal mesh that has less  than ¼ inch openings.
  • Rodents can also get in from underneath doors, so make sure spaces under doors are less than ¼ inch as well.
Don’t invite them to dinner.
  • Keep food stored away in glass, metal tins, or hard plastic. They can chew through cardboard, plastic bags and cloth. Put food away every night and wipe up the counters. This is especially important if you know you have a mouse or two as current roommates.
  • Pet food can attract rodents. Bring any outdoor pet food dishes in and put the food away at night. Store it in glass, metal tins, or hard plastic.
  • Don’t feed the birds. If you feed the birds, you will likely be feeding some rodents too.
It’s your home, not their habitat.
  • Keep bushes around the home trimmed up and away from the sides of the building. If there are places to hide right next to your home, rodents can make themselves comfortable in them. From their hiding spots, they can look for ways to invite themselves inside.
  • It may be convenient to have firewood stacked up right outside the door, but it is also a convenient little home for rodents. Find another covered area to store firewood.
If you see rodents signs (droppings, holes), take action.
  • The longer rodents are allowed to settle into your home or shed, the more damage they will do and the more time and money it will take to clear them back out.

For more information on rodents, check out the US Centers for Disease Control site at:

Friday, October 17, 2014

Common Sense Gardening: 15 yard and garden tasks to do before winter

As rain and wind become more frequent, flowers start to droop and the colorful leaves fall to the ground, reality sets in. We can’t fight it any longer. Fall is really here and winter is right around the corner. It’s time to get those final chores completed outside.

Finish up planting
1. Plant over-wintering cover crops. This should be done by mid-October and will provide nutrients and organic matter for a healthy garden in the spring. Vetch and clover provide nitrogen, which can be used by next season’s crops. Common cover crops include common vetch, crimson clover, winter wheat, barley, rye, and spelt.

2. Plant onions and fava beans in October for a spring harvest. Plant garlic by mid-November for an early summer harvest.

3. Fill bare garden bed spaces with ground-covers and shrubs. This will help maintain healthy soil, help rain soak into the ground and reduce muddy areas in your yard.

4. Plant flower bulbs to enjoy the colorful first signs of spring. Daffodils, tulips, anemones, crocus species, trilliums, and ornamental onions can be planted before December.

5. Transplant trees and shrubs during fall and winter. Transplanting while dormant reduces shock and damage.

Yard maintenance
6. Mulch all garden beds that are not cover-cropped or planted with winter vegetables. Mulch three to five inches thick to protect roots from being damaged by winter frosts and prevent nutrient leaching to protect soil health. Fallen leaves, straw or grass clippings make great mulch. Be sure to keep mulch away from the trunks of trees and shrubs.

7. Keep weeding when weeds are present. Less weeding is needed when beds are mulched and planted.

8. Test your soil. Thurston Conservation District provides soil testing services and can help you understand the results to make the best choices for adding needed nutrients.

9. Turn off irrigation systems. Drain hoses before storing.

10. Overseed your lawn. Fall is also a good time to fertilize your lawn with slow-release fertilizer if you did not fertilize in the spring. Avoid fertilizers with bug and weed killers included. Raking compost over your lawn is a great way to improve the soil.

11. Clean up the fallen fruit from under trees. Salvage what you can and compost the rest.

12. Prune roses down to three feet. This will help prevent winter damage.

13. Clean yard and garden tools well before you put them away. This could also be a great opportunity to organize your tools.

14. Take leftover, unwanted hazardous materials such as motor oil, gasoline, bug and weed killers to HazoHouse in Hawks Prairie for free, safe disposal.

15. Bring tender and semi-tender plants indoors.

Wow. That’s a lot to do! Prioritize your tasks and take it one step at a time. Fall yard preparation means more time for reading books and sipping hot chocolate indoors this winter. Before you know it, it’ll be springtime!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Fall prep for a great spring lawn

Fall is the best time to prepare your lawn for spring and summer picnics, soccer games, and outdoor gatherings.  We can use our relatively mild winters to advantage.  Many weeds die back in the winter but grass roots keep growing.  That makes fall the best time to plant grass seed and fertilize existing lawns. Your lawn will do better if you chose a northwest blend of grass seed.  

 In the northwest we have different growing conditions than most of the rest of the country.  Grass seed blended for the northwest typically has a mix of ryes and fescues and little to no Kentucky bluegrass.  Start with that base.  The plant breeders are working on varieties that are more drought resistant, grow shorter, etc.  Some folks like the look of short flowers intermixed with the grass.  Some yards need to stand up to heavy play by kids or pets.  Depending on your preferences, you may be able to find a northwest blend with some of these extra features.  Ask at your favorite garden center or lawn supplier.

Newly planted grass has teeny, tiny roots which need to be kept moist to grow well.  In the early fall, the weather is warm enough for the grass to sprout, but you may need to water for about a month or so before our rains fully return and take care of the task for you. 

Here are some tips for you if you are going for a great lawn or a “good enough” lawn.

“Good Enough” Lawn
Great Lawn
Apply slow-release fertilizer in the fall.
Apply slow-release fertilizer in the fall, spring and late-summer.
Leave grass clippings on the lawn with a mulch mower or simply remove the bag from any mower to leave the clippings on the surface of the lawn.
Use a mulch mower to push the clippings under the surface of the grass.
Let the lawn go brown and dormant in the summer without any watering.
Water one inch of water, once a week throughout the dry months.
Keep lawn mowed and weeds can’t get large enough to go to seed.
Remove weeds with a long handled weed tool.  Put compost and grass seed inside every hole a weed is removed from.
Aerate, apply compost and overseed before hosting your daughter’s wedding.
Aerate, apply compost and overseed every fall.
Moss is green and soft, why fight it? Add some large rocks, call it your zen garden.
Change the growing conditions that allow moss to thrive.  Aerate, add compost, overseed with a shade tolerant grass seed and limb up trees to bring in more sunlight.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Toxic blue-green algae advisory in effect for Clear Lake

Swimmers, pet owners, and anglers are advised to avoid contact with Clear Lake due to a toxic blue-green algae bloom. If fishing, the safest practice is catch and release.

A water sample taken from Clear Lake on September 19, 2014 found the algae toxin Microcystin at 10.4 micrograms per liter of water, which is above the state standard of 6 micrograms per liter for recreational water use. Microcystin can cause liver poisoning in people and animals. Symptoms can take hours or days to appear. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting in humans and death in animals. 

While not all algae blooms are toxic, some algae can produce toxins that can harm the nervous system, the liver, the skin, and the stomach and intestines. 

Experts from the county’s Environmental Health Division recommend a few simple tips to help prevent illness from algae: 

  • Avoid swimming, wading, wind surfing and water-skiing in waters where algae blooms are present. 
  • Don’t drink untreated surface water.
  • Keep pets and livestock out of waters with algae blooms.
  • When fishing, catch-and-release is the safest practice. If you do eat your catch, clean any fish you catch thoroughly if you see algae blooms. Before eating, remove the internal organs, which may contain harmful algae toxins.
  • Avoid areas of scum when boating and clean your boat thoroughly.

For more information about toxic algae blooms and other water quality information, visit the Thurston County Environmental Health web page, Swimming in Thurston County.