What to do this week: You can still fertilize annuals and vegetables, but not longer-lived plants that have to start shutting down for winter, including trees, shrubs, and perennials. (Don’t prune the latter, either.) Now through October is a good time to plant most winter-hardy plants. Keep deadheading annual flowers and pulling out dead ones. Order your spring-blooming bulbs now, too. I always stick some in the holes I dig for other plants to get more reward for my efforts. The earlier a bulb blooms in the spring, the earlier you can plant it in the fall. For example, you should plant March-blooming crocus now, but wait until sweater weather to plant tulips, most of which bloom in May — and not at all if deer visit your yard. Just remember, many spring bulbs are just expensive annuals, not a permanent investment, which is why I am so random about where I plant them.
Q. What’s up with my unhappy hostas? They are riddled with holes. Any clue and cure?
A. Slugs are nibbling your hosta leaves at night. If you take shallow saucers or tuna cans and sink them to lip level in the earth around your hosta and fill them with beer, the slugs will crawl in, get drunk, and drown. Slugs love beer. I’m not kidding. Let the party begin.
Q. We have a dilemma with our very small front “yard,’’ which is really just two separate rectangles with a path and stairs in between. Each patch is roughly 4 feet by 6 feet. The ground gets very hot, thanks to the our home’s aluminum siding, the concrete sidewalk, and the asphalt driveways that surround the patches. However, because of the location of the neighbors’ house, the area is shaded from about 10 a.m. until sunset. It is very important to me that whatever we plant there be environmentally friendly. Our perfect option would be something that would attract pollinators, like native wildflowers, but we also need it to be low maintenance since we have small children, full-time jobs, and very little interest in gardening (no offense).
K.I., West Roxbury
A. Plant shrubs, which don’t require as much care as perennial flowers. Choose kinds that don’t get too tall and block your front windows. Lack of sunlight is your biggest problem. Try extra-tough evergreen holly bushes that don’t get too tall, either native American inkberry (Ilex glabra) or the similar Japanese holly (Ilex crenata). You need both a male and a female to get berries, which are black and will attract mockingbirds and other feathered friends in winter. Plant them in September, water them weekly in the fall if it doesn’t rain, and then soak them again during next summer’s heat and drought. You have to water even low maintenance shrubs when they are new, but after that you can forget them unless they get too big and need cutting back. Instead of using fertilizer, add aged manure or compost to the bottom of the holes when you plant them. And while you’re at it, you can stick shade-tolerant scilla bulbs in the planting holes.
Add tough shade-tolerant ground cover to help crowd out weeds. My vote is for periwinkle (vinca minor), which is evergreen with shiny leaves and blue flowers. It can be invasive, so I would not plant it in a regular garden, but you have a confined space. To cut down on future weeding, pull out all existing weeds, plant your plants, then mulch the entire area with 3 inches of shredded bark. Alternatively, you can forget the ground cover, surround your shrubs with black horticultural plastic that allows rain to penetrate, then cover it with bark mulch to hide it. This works for convenience, but I find it kind of creepy and unnatural, like parking lots with planters.