How to Manage Mice in Raised Planters

Young tomato seedlings in my Grow Box  – note the water-fill opening and mouse access on front.

As the heat of “dead summer”  begins its slow ebb into fall, it’s planting time in California and the Southwest.  While most folks across the US plant in spring, here the mild fall is our second growing season for food crops.  What we grow now feeds us into the holidays with roots and greens and maybe even squash or peppers with the right system and climate.  I grow many ways, in raised beds with row covers, in the greenhouse and out in the open air, depending on the season and crop.  This allows me to compare the methods for different crops at different times of the year.

By June, my tomato plants were healthy and happy!

Planting Grow Boxes

Last year I tested Grow Boxes in the greenhouse attached to the south side of my home.  With such low humidity in the desert, these boxes with their 4-gallon reservoir keep plants far better hydrated than any other method.  The box is designed so plants produce long trailing roots that dangle into a large water reservoir sucking up all the moisture they need rather than being limited to watering times.  Last year I planted the boxes with tomato seedlings in February when high UV in the desert allows greenhouse growing in the high desert and year around in the low desert.

I selected ordinary tomato varieties to evaluate how well the boxes work here.  Because indeterminate tomato varieties are long blooming, I wanted to determine if my tomatoes could indeed become perennial and produce year around without frost.  I was thrilled to find the seedlings literally exploded out of the boxes and never stopped growing or producing new fruit until that sudden August decline.  The tomato plants quit taking up water, became discolored and generally failed for no particular reason.  And whenever I don’t know the reason, my mentor always advised, “dig a hole”.

Grow box Sept
Grow box with tomato roots

Managing Mice in Grow Boxes

The cause was revealed when I disassembled the boxes to take my first glimpse at the roots that should dangle down into the water reservoir.  They were gone!  I discovered this was due to a design flaw of the Grow Box: reservoir accessibility to mice in my greenhouse during our blistering desert summers when they are keen on cool, moist places.  The Grow Box opening for water access is easy for any small rodent or insect to enter.  When water was low or dry in between fill-ups, the mice entered the reservoir and literally ate all the dangling roots, explaining why my tomatoes suddenly quit taking up water.   We finally captured the mice, but there may be more in the future.  I’ll be fashioning a hardware cloth cover for the fill holes of my six Grow Boxes to keep smaller creatures out, or the very same thing will happen again in this rodent-rich desert, particularly if grown outdoors on porch or patio!

roots consumed
Grow Box with tomato roots eaten by mice

This year I upgraded and replaced the potting soil with Black Gold Moisture Supreme Container Mix with RESiLIENCE®, which I hope will enhance the wicking crucial to the function of the Grow Box.  This year I will test fall-planted vegetables in the greenhouse Grow Boxes to learn whether the fruit will ripen in November, despite cooler weather and shorter days. Only testing will prove whether plants that require pollination and long, hot days to ripen can be coaxed to fruit in the short, dark, cool winter.

Here in the desert, and everywhere else that is difficult to grow things, these quasi-hydroponic Grow Boxes are an ideal way to keep plants fully hydrated and healthy.  They are a useful solution to grow efficiently in drought.  And now with Moisture Supreme, they will be better able to take the heat, and perhaps I will finally learn whether or not indeterminate tomatoes can indeed be grown year round in my greenhouse.

Iochroma ‘Royal Queen Purple’

Lochroma 'Royal Purple' - Mike Darcy
We have many pots on our deck and I always like to try some new plants each year. This year I planted Iochroma ‘Royal Queen Purple’ using Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil and the results have been outstanding. In June, I started with three small plants in 4” pots and planted them all in a 14” pot. They began blooming in early July and have not stopped. The flowers are tubular and come in clusters at the end of the branches and are a deep purple. I have done some selective pruning to keep the plant from getting too tall and it has branched out nicely and is a nice compact shrub. It is in a full sun location and seems to like the heat. I doubt if it will survive the winter but regardless, it makes for a great summer blooming plant.

Pistachio Hydrangea is the Winner

Hydrangea 'Pistachio' - Mike Darcy
At the recent Farwest Show (national nursery trade show held in Portland, Oregon), there was a section call “New Varieties Showcase”. New and recently introduced plants were exhibited and participants were given ballots and asked to vote for their favorite plant. The People’s Choice Award was given to Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Horwack’ Pistachio. Commonly known at the Pistachio Hydrangea, this Hydrangea has flowers that are scarlet-red and green with violet centers. The flower color changes as the bloom ages which makes a very visual interesting feature. The plant tends to be a compact grower and likes a well drained soil. To avoid summer burning of leaves and flowers, give it some protection from the hot afternoon sun and plant in a well drained soil. Black Gold Garden Compost Blend is a good amendment to maximize your soil’s potential. This would make an excellent container plant for a deck or patio.

Black Gold At the Summer Green Road Show in Hickory, NC

Summer Green Road Show - Photo by Mike Beck
Teamwork at the Summer Green Road Show provided by: (left to right) Wayne Bagwell, Sun Gro Professional Products Rep. for North Carolina; Pam Beck, Black Gold Community Expert Garden Writer; Scott Pace, Sun Gro Horticulture’s District Manager of Southeastern Retail Products; and, Lee Urwick, Buffalo Horticultural Sales representing Fafard products in N.C.

August was the perfect time to visit the Metro Convention Center in Hickory, North Carolina, an internationally famous furniture convention site nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On this trip, however, the emphasis was on living plants, garden tools, and potting medium at the 2012 Summer Green Road Show.

Continue reading “Black Gold At the Summer Green Road Show in Hickory, NC”

Molly the Witch (Paeonia mlokosewitschii)

Molly the Witch - Mike Darcy
Peonies are a favorite spring flower and I have many in my garden. I have had quite a few people tell me they are a memory flower and reminds them of a parent or grandparent’s garden. For me they bring memories of my grandmother’s garden in Ohio.

A particular early-blooming favorite is Molly the Witch (Paeonia mlokosewitschii) which is the first to bloom in my garden. It is named after a Polish botanist and is a mouthful to pronounce and has the common name of ‘Molly the Witch’. With distinctive foliage and beautiful soft yellow flowers, this may be difficult to find but worth the search.

Transplanting Sprouts with Chopsticks

Transplanting Sprouts with Chopsticks - 3 Steps - Pam Beck
Step 1: Use chopsticks to create your planting hole. Step 2: Lift a sprouted seedling. Step 3: Gently replant the sprouted seedling and water.

Practice your fine motor and dining skills on your new sprouts. Transplanting sprouts using chopsticks is an easy, clean, and fun way to transplant your seedlings into a larger-sized pot. Simply fill your container with Black Gold Seedling Mix. Poke a planting hole into the loose soil with the chopsticks. Lift the seedling, and then gently place it into the waiting hole. Smooth the soil, water it well, and you are done.

Schefflera delavayi

Schefflera delavayi
Many of us are familiar with the houseplant Schefflera as it is fairly common and easy to grow. Several years ago I was given Schefflera delavayi and was told it was an outdoor plant that would grow in my Pacific Northwest garden. I was skeptical but planted it outside. Now, after several very cold winters, my plant is thriving with no winter damage, shiny green leaves, and growth to about six feet. It gets morning sun but is protected from hot afternoon sun.

Lucky or Curly Bamboo

Darcy Bamboo Shoots
In my January Black Gold Featured Article, House Plant Ideas for Winter, I mentioned the houseplant Lucky Bamboo or Curly Bamboo (Dracaena sanderana), and that this is an excellent plant to use to encourage children to get involved with some of the wonders of gardening. Not only is the twisted stem a novelty but once the stems are placed in water, they quickly begin to form roots. I have found that children are often fascinated with this because rarely do they have an opportunity to see plant roots form and grow.

Cleaning Your House Plants

House Plant Bath - Pam Beck
Spray your favorite houseplants off in the sink or shower to keep their leaves healthy and dust free.

The cold months are the perfect time to wash away dust and grime that may have accumulated on the leaves of your houseplants by giving them a gentle hosing with tepid water in your tub, shower, or kitchen sink. Washing them will clear the pores on their leaves (called “stomata”) that are responsible for gas exchange and photosynthesis. It will also keep your plants looking attractive. This refreshing bath is especially beneficial to smooth-leafed houseplants, but it is not recommended for succulents or hairy-leaved plants, such as African Violets. Succulents and African violets can be gently cleaned with a brush or a barely damp, gentle cloth to keep their leaves dust and dirt free.

Large-, waxy-leaved plants may develop calcium or other difficult-to-remove grime build up. These can be also be treated with a make-your-own leaf cleaner. Add a drop of dish detergent to a half-gallon of water and add this to your spray bottle. Spray and wipe the leaves off with a gentle, soft cloth and then rinse them with tepid water. A 10% solution of vinegar added to water can also be sprayed on leaves to help remove difficult build up.

After a good wash, your plants will look and perform better.