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Garden Plot: How to squirrel-proof your vegetable garden

Friday - 10/11/2013, 7:45am  ET

orchids_getty.jpg
Phalaenopsis Hybrid (L) and Calanthe triplicata (R) orchids are displayed during a press preview of the 13th annual orchids exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History january 26, 2007 in Washington, DC. The exhibit sponsored by the Smithsonian's Horticulture Services and the US Botanic Garden simulates a canopy walk through the rain forrest and features over 2000 plants with 300 varieties.(Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

The orchid show must go on (the rose show too)

It's official: The government shutdown has forced the National Capital Orchid Society to move its annual orchid show and sale. Held at the National Arboretum for the past 50 years, the event will now be held at Behnkes Nursery in Beltsville. The show, still featuring thousands of non-sequestered orchids on display and for sale and epiphytic experts on hand to answer orchid-oriented questions, runs Friday through Monday.

Find more details and the show schedule here.

And the 75th Annual Potomac Rose Society Rose Show also opens Friday and continues Saturday at Merrifield Garden Center's Fair Oaks location in Fairfax, Va. Both events are free.

Find more details and show program here .

Keep evil squirrels at bay with wire, water, andů

Karen in Alexandria, Va., writes: "As per your advice, I planted a 4-foot-by-4- foot raised bed with a fall crop of lettuce and radishes a couple weeks ago. But I've lost 90 percent of my plantings because squirrels are using my nice bed as a storage unit for their nuts. What can I do to protect any new seedlings from being kicked and dug into oblivion by these vandals?"

Villainous vandals, Karen! Villainous vermin vandals! Evil squirrels are the bane of all good and decent gardeners. And these arboreal Servants of Satan are tough nuts to crack.

You can line the surface of the bed with chicken wire to prevent their digging. Press the wire slightly into the surface of the soil and it will disappear from sight. Hold the edges down with rocks or if it's a raised bed framed with wood, staple the edges to the framing. Your plants will grow up just fine through the openings, but the evil squirrels will be thwarted.

And/or aim a motion activated sprinkler (like "The Scarecrow") at the bed to chase them away. The terrible tree rats don't like being suddenly soaked with cold water.

Some listeners might consider it cruel to cover the soil with hot pepper powder to protect your plantings from evil-with-a-tail, so I won't suggest that.

'Perennialize' your pepper plants

Doug in Severn, Md., writes: "Inspired by your advice from previous seasons, I just brought three sweet pepper plants inside for the winter. I don't have a super-bright window so I'm using 4-foot long fluorescent lights as per your 'perennial pepper' advice. How long should I leave the lights on?"

If you have the plants under a two-tube fixture, I'd leave the lights on 18 hours a day, Doug. If it's a four-tube fixture, 12 hours. Either way, make sure the tops of the plants stay within an inch or two of the tubes. Fluorescent lights are cool and won't burn the plants. And the tops of those plants need to be right up close to get enough of those precious lumens.

It's well worth the effort. Unlike most summer garden crops, peppers are perennial if protected from frost. And well-cared for plants can live for many years.

If you are now inspired to be like Doug and I, carefully pop up your pepper plants, sweet or hot, in individual pots that have great drainage. Keep as much garden soil as possible attached to the roots, but use a light, loose soil-free potting mix to fill up the rest of the pot. Let the plants stabilize outside for a day or two afterwards and then use a garden hose nozzle on its 'laser' setting to blast the leaves clean of any hitchhiking pests. (Aphids love to sneak in on pepper plants.) Wait a day, repeat, and then bring them inside.

Most windows, even south facing, aren't sunny enough to keep the plants growing during the winter, but - hint, hint - you can generally fit four or five good size plants under a shop light with 4-foot long tubes. Hint, hint.

Don't kill your weeds, make your grass more lively

Linda in Manassas, Va., writes: "We just finished aerating, fertilizing and over- seeding our lawn. Now my mother wants to use weed killer on the lawn as well, but I'm afraid this will hurt the new grass. What's the best way to handle lawn weeds before winter sets in?"

Exactly the way you've done it Linda by aerating, feeding and spreading new seed. Now all you have to do is never cut that lawn lower than 3 inches and be ready to apply corn gluten meal in the spring (to prevent crabgrass and other dormant seeds from sprouting) and the grass will beat out the weeds.

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