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20 years of Mike McGrath and ‘Garden Plot’ on WTOP

WTOP's garden editor Mike McGrath has been at it for 20 years. Here, in his anniversary column, he offers a few green gardening resolutions you ought to consider for 2019. (Thinkstock)

It was 20 years ago today
‘TOP asked McGrath to play
He has never been out of style
And, he is guaranteed to make you smile.

That’s right, cats and kittens: I am indeed “the act you’ve known for all these years,” as this month marks my 20th year of delivering organic advice to you via the “World’s Greatest Radio Station” — including, of course, my new year’s resolutions for a happier, healthier and safer landscape:

Resolve to make cleaner cuts

A sharp blade on a mower is just as important as a sharp blade in the kitchen, so resolve to begin the season with a brand-new blade on your mower (or, get the old blade sharpened).

A sharp blade makes a clean cut, elegantly slicing off just the tips of your grass blades, making tiny cuts that heal up quickly. A dull blade tears the grass apart, inflicting wicked wounds that can’t heal — and if a blade of grass can’t heal, it can’t hold water. And, 90 percent of each blade of grass is water. At least it’s supposed to be.

Resolve to look at weeds from both sides now

Are the weeds in your lawn evil creatures invading your turf, or are they guests that you unintentionally invited by clearing lots of nice bare spaces for them?

To find out, resolve to never allow your lawn to be lower than 3 inches after cutting. (That’s so the grass doesn’t have to use up all its resources to regrow quickly.)

Resolve to only water once a week, and only when you haven’t had an inch of rain. (Frequent watering causes lawn grasses to develop short roots. Strategic watering, however, results in roots that can reach down several feet.)

And, finally, resolve to get off herbicides, if only for a year. You will soon see that a happy, healthy lawn has the power to crowd out weeds all on its own.

Resolve to get birds to eat your bad bugs!

Hang suet feeders all over your landscape now, stop filling them when the weather warms in the spring, and don’t ever feed birds seed — period.

The feathered friends that ate the suet you provided in the winter will then eat enormous numbers of insect pests in the spring and summer (at least they will if you don’t fill them up with seed).

Resolve to also provide lots of birdbaths to keep those birds close to your bugs. (Food is abundant for wild birds in the summer; clean fresh water can often be scarce.) And then, resolve to open your windows in the morning to hear the symphony you have attracted!

Resolve to have a happier, healthier home!

It’s foolish to play with poisons outside, but it’s just plain crazy to use them indoors, where you and yours will run the risk of exposure. So, resolve to do some research before you spray chemicals indoors. After all, there’s a safe answer to every pest.

  • Ants in the pantry? Put out nontoxic (to humans and pets) boric-acid traps and be patient for a few days. The worker ants will take the slow-acting material back to their hidden nest, where it will knock out the queen. No queen, no ants.
  • Cockroaches under the sink? Find the leaky plumbing and fix it. (Roaches are a sign of excessive moisture, not unclean conditions.)
  • Bedbugs? Place cat-food sized cans filled with vegetable oil under every leg of the bed frame. Despite their name, these bugs live in the floor, not the bed, and travel back and forth every night. (I guess “floor bugs” just didn’t sound catchy enough.) As they travel down the legs, they will drown in the oil.
  • Carpenter ants hanging around? Follow them to the rotting wood they have discovered and replace it. (These big ants don’t eat any kind of wood; they just nest inside of soft, rotting wood, and so their presence could save you an expensive home repair bill.)
  • Other pest? Search the previous Garden Plot pages or email the ‘Ol Perfesser for the simple solution.

Resolve to recycle your holiday flora

Don’t trash your cut Christmas tree! Take it out to the backyard and hang suet feeders all over it. Or, prune off all the branches and use them to mulch azaleas, rhododendrons and hydrangeas.

Take the foil off your potted poinsettias, keep them watered and in bright light, then plant them outside after all chance of frost has passed. They will grow into amazing plants that look nothing like their heavily pruned holiday counterparts.

Mike McGrath was editor-in-chief of ORGANIC GARDENING magazine from 1990 through 1997. He has been the host of the nationally syndicated public radio show “You Bet Your Garden” since 1998 and WTOP Garden Editor since 1999. Send him your garden or pest control questions at MikeMcG@PTD.net.


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