Years ago, a friend gave me a saucepan-sized cluster of large, white barnacles. The top openings measured 2 inches across and they looked like mini volcanoes. But when I pulled the cluster out from under a small rhododendron, it wasn’t lava flowing from the volcanoes. It was slugs, pouring over the edges.
“Aaack!” I ran with it over to the edge of the property and chucked it over the cliff. (I later realized I should have taken a photo of it with my iPhone). After that “grand” find, I began poking around the garden with renewed fervor.
We’ve been fortunate. Until recently, this summer has been pretty slug-free. And it’s no wonder. These gastropods that travel on a carpet of slime don’t like dry conditions. But it doesn’t mean they weren’t waiting in the wings for more favorable, moist conditions. Many local gardeners considered themselves lucky, or blessed.
I also found slugs huddling together, under perennials like verbena, bleeding heart and lungwort that had sagged down to the ground, burdened with rainwater. I propped up the stems and stalks as best I could with bent wire supports and sprinkled handfuls of Sluggo in and around plants. Amazing, isn’t it, how slugs will crawl to the top of a 3-foot tall plant to consume a flower.
As I poked around the yard, Sluggo container at my side, I noticed that plants are really starting to slow down. I had to remind myself that although they look like they're dying, they're just dying back, eventually returning to the earth, and preparing for a long winter nap.
Yes, as I wrote a couple weeks ago, time marches on. You can either fold your arms and dig in your heels in denial, or embrace the changes and make the best of them. If you choose to embrace change, then here are a few more things to do before the end of September:
Let’s start with annual flowers. Although many flowering plants like marigolds and citrus cocktail calendulas are still holding on to their blooms, it’s a good idea to start pulling clumps of the most faded plants. At the same time, take note of (and be happy for) the late bloomers such as fuchsia, ligularia (Leopard plant, a perennial) and lobelia. They provide critical nutrition to bumblebees, syrphid flies and other important pollinators.
Now don’t pull all the annuals at this point, but after you lift a few and take a look, you’ll be amazed — shocked — at how many slugs hide under those innocent clumps of pansies.
In addition to revealing slug hideouts, pulling plants serve several purposes. First, removing plants frees up what often becomes cramped growing conditions. We all do it. In May and June, the garden looks so desolate and empty, that we’re lured into overplanting. More is better, right? But lo and behold, plants continue to grow and by August every square inch of soil is spoken for, twice over.
As for vegetables, there are some that are grown in outside beds that will need to be pulled eventually (versus wintering them over). These include broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and other members of the cabbage family. Don’t get me wrong. Harvest all you can from these plants, but don’t leave them in the ground lest you invite root maggots and cabbage worms to infest next year’s crop.
Freeing up space means that cramped perennials finally get some breathing room. One of my dwarf rhododendrons was nearly snuffed out with encroaching calendula plants, which can be a little pushy. You could hear it breathe a sigh of relief when I gathered up the culprits and took them to the compost pile. Now it can enjoy fresh air and warmth from the sun shining on its root zone for the first time since early July.
LATE SUMMER COMPOST
So what should you do with the plants you pull? The more tender annuals, like nasturtiums and lobelia, can be composted as is. When you toss them into the pile, add some kelp, manure and leaves (you collected some last fall, right?). Tougher stems of broccoli and calendula should be chopped first.
To make compost, all you need to do is provide the right combination of ingredients and let nature do the rest. A little know-how will help you make better compost, more efficiently. For example, a ration of 1 part green material to 5 parts brown is a good start. I’ll cover compost in a future column, but meanwhile, start collecting ingredients.
While making and using compost is the cornerstone of organic gardening, it’s more than the answer to all soil problems. Compost also extends the life of our community’s landfill: Expanding our landfill to accommodate more garbage is costly to all of us. An estimated 30 to 40 percent of the average household garbage is suitable for home composting.
Remember, you can make a difference. As you pull up those seemingly dead plants. Give them new life in your compost pile.
Want to connect with local gardeners and growers? Visit the Kodiak Growers or the Sustainable Kodiak Facebook page. Archived copies of Marion’s columns are posted at www.kodiakdailymirror.com. Got garden questions: contact Marion via firstname.lastname@example.org.