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In Good Thyme

"The June 7 article on slugs must have hit home with a lot of readers. It drew more than a few colorful comments. I also learned that slugs bring out the worst in many otherwise mild-mannered gardeners. Ever since the column was published, I've been regaled with lurid descriptions of gastropod murder, ranging from The Lizzie Borden Method to beer traps made from inverted plastic soda bottles. I'd like to reemphasize, however, that the new, nontoxic slug baits WORK, and they're available locally under the brand names Worry Free and Sluggo. If you care about the safety of children, pets and wildlife and prefer not to add another poison to our environment, try them. I think you'll like them, unless you're a slug or a snail, of course.Another herbivore that elicited readers' opinions was the deer discussed in the June 21 column. Even before the article was printed, acquaintances who knew I was writing on that subject offered suggestions of their own. Among them were more recipes for homemade deer repellent, offering blended variations on the theme of eggs, including the shells; water, garlic, onion, Korean hot sauce and Fels Naphtha soap. If you want to put this swill in YOUR blender, fine. I'm told that you shouldn't attempt to spray this mixture, as it is thick, lumpy, and will clog your sprayer. You have to POUR it on plants to coat them, so the deer will be thoroughly disgusted and seek greener pastures, like maybe, your neighbor's. The June 14 article on the Himalayan blue poppy brought a couple of condolence calls, as well as hopeful comments from Faye Gordon of Admiral's Cove. She says that about five years ago, she purchased five Himalayan blues. She planted them in a bed amended with composted cow manure mix. The plants received morning sun, afternoon shade. Of the five, she pinched back two. The three that were left unmolested died after the first year. The pinched pair have thrived - and flowered happily - for five years. In fact, they were blooming when we spoke last Tuesday. Faye says the brilliant blue poppies look spectacular against the backdrop of sapphire delphiniums as tall as her garage. She credits her success to pinching back the first bud growth each year, and to the copious byproduct of Coupeville cows.The number one problem presented to Island County Master Gardeners during the month of May was tent caterpillars. As discussed in an earlier column, if your trees are draped with ugly sacks full of wriggling brown-and-orange caterpillars, you may want to treat them with Bacillus thurengiensis, sold as B.t. under various brand names in local nurseries and garden supply departments. B.t. is nontoxic to humans, animals, plants and insects other than caterpillars. Of course, innocent larvae of other butterflies and moths will also be affected by B.t., so you don't want to use it indiscriminately. Before you use it, ensure the caterpillars are still actively munching. If they seem sedentary, they're probably getting ready to form cocoons, in which case, it's too late to use B.t. A bacterium in spray or powder forms, B.t. kills larvae by stopping their digestive process. If they're not eating, it won't work. If you have only one or two webs, you can wait until the caterpillars return to the web in the evening, then cut off the affected branch, burn it, or plunge it into soapy water.We've also seen quite a bit of wind damage in the past few weeks. Situated as we are in the northern reaches of Puget Sound, our island gardens are often subjected to high winds, even at this time of year. The tempests we endured at the beginning of June pummeled my gorgeous David Austin roses face down into the mud, and even though they'd been staked and tied, they lost a few branches. After most of my giant delphiniums snapped in a southeaster a few years ago, I began securing them in plastic-coated metal grids early in spring, so the plants would grow up through them. This helps, but I find that I must also stake and tie the tall, heavy flower spikes. When doing damage control following a spell of gusty weather, check the soil for moisture, and water if necessary. Wind can desiccate plants by increasing transpiration and evaporation from the leaves. Is there something more we islanders can do to protect our gardens from wacky weather? The answer, my friends, is blowin' in the wind.----------------------JUNE GARDEN TIPClip water sprouts from fruit trees while they're still green and pliable.GARDEN CALENDARTHURSDAY, JUNE 29Master Gardeners: 7:45 p.m., Fire Station No. 5, 1164 Race Road, Coupeville. Speaker: Dave Thomas on dahlias. SATURDAY, JULY 22Whidbey Island Garden Tour tickets available: Tour six of Whidbey Island's private gardens 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are limited; advance purchase strongly advised. $15 for adults; $10 for children under 12. Write: PO Box 164, Freeland, 98249. After June 1, call 678-6105 for additional ticket outlets. E-mail wigt@whidbey.net.Mariana Graham, a writer and former editor, is a Master Gardener certified through the WSU-Island County Cooperative Extension Service.If you have questions or comments, contact her at the Whidbey News Times, 675-6611; fax 675-2732; or e-mail wnt@whidbey.net."

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