Ask the Gardener: ‘Everything needs a place to live’

Ask the Expert Gardening
Weasels eat mice, vowels, and shrews, but they will also dine on rabbits, small birds, and snakes, according to experts at University of New Hampshire Extension. Adobe Stock

What to do this week: Bring houseplants back indoors. Keep vegetable plants harvested so they will continue producing. Pull out spent vegetables. Seed empty rows with fast-growing lettuces like arugula and mache. When there is a threat of frost, pick frost-sensitive vegetables such as ripe summer squash, corn, snap beans, and tomatoes. Pink tomatoes can ripen indoors on a windowsill. Cover tender plants with row covers or bedsheets. Plants that squeak past an early overnight frost can last for another month of warm autumn weather.


Q. I am devoted to your column and really miss it when the season ends. I love lilies of all kinds, but they can be a challenge. I planted ‘Mapira,’ an almost black lily that seems close to the ‘Black Beauty’ you described (“Ask the Gardener: Battling cucumber beetles and cleaning birdbaths,’’ Aug. 15). Indeed there were no beetles on the plant, but after it bloomed, something ate every leaf. I suspect rabbits or groundhogs young enough to get through the fencing. I hope the lilies come up again next year. I’ll have to try a smaller mesh. There were scant beetles on my other lilies this year. I have deer, skunks, rabbits, groundhogs, squirrels, and chipmunks. My property is next to conservation land. My daughter says I live in a zoo.

M.B., Maynard

A. I also live in a zoo — and have learned to love it! But it took a while. I used to get angry when deer and rabbits nibbled my little annuals. But now I have abandoned most annuals and just grow bad-tasting perennials, like hellebores instead of hosta and shrubs big enough that I hardly notice any damage. Fencing is usually necessary for vegetable plots, but I don’t bother with it for ornamentals. My reins of control have become more loosely held. Why fight the inevitable? Everything needs a place to live. Just yesterday I was rewarded when a surprising new backyard animal scurried by. It was a long-tailed weasel about the height and length of three chipmunks end to end. and it headed for a newly dug entrance hole in the ground next to my stone pile. Weasels have voracious appetites for rodents, so my attitude change toward nature’s creatures may have actually yielded a natural solution to my rabbit, vole, and chipmunk overpopulations. It is kind of like when you stop using insecticides and let the beneficial insects and birds eat the pests instead.

Now about those lilies: ‘Mapira’ is very different from ‘Black Beauty,’ which repels the hated red lily leaf beetles. But these have been less of a problem lately. Some of my lilies they ate more than a decade ago actually resprouted and bloomed this year like Lazarus raised from the dead. So there’s hope your lilies will come back, too. Lilies have to be resilient because so many animals want to eat them. I sometimes spray mine with Deer Out (, which I buy wholesale online and dilute to save money. So, you see, I still do referee a bit between all that wildlife and my favorite plants.


Q. For more than three decades I have had silver dollar plants (Lunaria) around my home. For the first time in memory, they did not flower this year. I noticed an invasive plant growing in the area that I believe may be garlic mustard weed. Could this be the cause, or was it the weather?

A.G., Milton

A. It probably was the garlic mustard weed, an aggressive foreign introduction that overruns other plants to form a solid sheet. This is part of the definition of a true “invasive plant.’’ Garlic mustard also releases chemicals that suppress the growth of competing plants. Try transplanting some of your silver dollar plants to an uncontaminated area, making sure not to include any garlic mustard. Then start eliminating every last garlic mustard plant, either with poisoning, smothering, or weeding. This may take a while as the seeds already in the ground will sprout for several years. At the very least, pull every flowering adult every May and bag them as garbage, because the white four-petaled flowers will turn to seeds if you leave them lying around. After a few years, you will exhaust the seed bank. Be sure to read my answer to the next question.


Q. I really appreciate the perspective around gardening for wildlife that you’ve brought to the column. I was wondering what your thoughts were on using cardboard instead of plastic to smother a lawn.

J.A., Newton

A, Great idea! Thanks for sending this link to Gardeners Supply Co.’s detailed write-up on how to use cardboard to smother a lawn section to build a garden plot. It should also work for smothering invasives. I have used copies of The Boston Globe for this purpose, too. My method is much simpler: I just cover the area with a dozen newspaper layers, wet them down with the hose, and then add a deep layer of bark mulch.

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