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GARDENING FOR SENIORS: More Enjoyment, Less Effort
Based on a talk by Pat Roome for Eastside Neighbors Network
June 5, 2019

In a talk for ENN, Master Gardener and ENN member Pat Roome shared practical, sometimes surprising tips for reducing maintenance chores such as pruning and fertilizing. She brought along her most useful garden tools and showed us how to use them to reduce the effort needed to enjoy our gardens - whatever its size. 

Our speaker was introduced by Angelina DiFazio, ENN Volunteer. Angelina has put in many hours working in Pat's garden. Angelina began by telling the group that Pat designed the lovely water feature at the Botanical Gardens where she was a Founding Member and President. She noted that Pat began gardening at a very young age during wartime in London. Among Pat's many accomplishments, Angelina is personally the most impressed with the fact that Pat grows magnificent tomatoes from seed..

Editor's note: The following is a loose transcript of Pat's talk. Thanks to Pat for generously sharing her expertise and for editing this transcript. 

SOIL

It is important to get your soil tested. You can get 5 free soil tests from the Conservation District.  Pull up www.kingcd.org. for directions. Put samples in plastic bags, box them up, and send on a Monday so they are fresh. Put your email address in the box. Label each sack with your name and what you want to use the soil for. You will receive a detailed 12-page report back by email.  Among many other details, the test will tell you what your soil is lacking and what to you need to do.

SAFETY

Always keep a mobile phone in your pocket and also an emergency button if you have one. Pat also wears it around the house.  Her adult children call at 9:00 every night to check on her well-being. How long would it take for someone to know if you had fallen?

 Angelina demonstrates

Pat asked Angelina to demonstrate how to get up if you fall.

TOOLS

Pat never goes into the garden without a garden fork; it is the best walking stick. Don’t buy a cheap fork because the tines often bend. Look for an English garden spading fork.

Pat

Pat displays her English Garden Fork

To collect weeds, use a long-handled hoe for less bending over. You don’t need a spade – you can do almost everything with a garden fork. If you do want a spade get one with a pointed blade and in a smaller size.

Don’t carry sharp tools in your hands but rather, put them in a bucket.

PRUNING

Pat’s advice: “Stop doing unnecessary things.” For example, you don’t need to deadhead rhododendrons after they’ve blossomed. When it comes to pruning, Pat advises, “Please don’t clip the top growth off shrubs. They have a growth suppressing substance in those tips. If a shrub is growing too big, cut out the tallest and widest branches inside the plant where the branch joins one of similar size. You can also remove a branch at the base . The only good reason to control the size of a shrub is if you have a hedge. If the shrub is always going to be too big for the site, remove it.”

You may have a mounding style Maple that is getting too thick. First find a young person who is willing to crawl under the shrub.  Ask them to break off all the dead branches they can see.  Now start on the top. Your aim is to prune out whole branches so that there is space between the remaining branches.  Prune out branches so your cuts cannot be seen. (See further suggestions in Q&A section, below.)

Don’t use bug spray on plants.  If you spray, you will kill the 80% of the insects which are the “good guys,” the bugs that are helping you.  If you kill these predator bugs, you inherit their job.

MANAGING YOUR EFFORT

List all the chores you feel must be done, not necessarily by you, but really have to be done. Mark for importance. For example,

#1 – Daffodil bulbs have to be planted because it is October or you could forget where you put them

#2 – Rearrange things in the garden

#3 – etc.

If someone offers to help, start them off with an easy job such as unloading the fertilizer from your car.  They will be happy to be of help and will come back and offer to help again.  Bit by bit you can give them jobs that are harder.  If something is too hard for you, it makes your day to get help so thank them effusively

Save the easy jobs for yourself. As you finish each one, cross it off your list. Did you forget to put something on the list you already did? Add it to the list and cross it off!

Get a kneeler with a pad and strong handles so you can weed on your knees and get back up.

Pat
Pat with her kneeling pad.

LAWN CARE

Do you have more lawn than you want? You don’t have to dig it out. Rather, save up cardboard. Put cardboard on the lawn you don’t want and cover with 3” of compost on top.  You will be able to plant the areas as soon as the cardboard has broken down.

If your lawn is wet and does not drain water well, look for the source of the water. It could come from downspouts or run-off from a higher area. Fix the problem and you will have less moss. If the lawn is shaded most of the day either remove the cause of the shade if you can or remove the grass and replant with shade tolerant groundcovers.

Fertilize your lawn 3-4 times a year. The most important are 2 applications a month apart in the Fall. Make an application twice between October and Christmas. The fertilizer will increase the root growth in favor of leaves. This means that the grass will be healthier the following summer. The other times to fertilize are April and June if the grass looks like it is needed.

FLOWER BEDS

Spread 2-3“ of mulch. Wood chips do a good job of preventing weeds, discouraging slugs  while  looking good too.

You used to be able to get free wood chips, but now they realize there’s a market and the chips are often pre-sold.  You have to buy them now so get a pick-up truck and buy a yard of wood chips from a supply yard.  MooDoo makes a great mulch and it is also a good soil improver if dug into the surface soil. It’s a fantastic mulch – weeds won’t grow in it, if you lay it deep enough.

Burien Bark company sells MooDoo in 5 lb. bags for $5.

WEEDS:  NO DIGGING!

Digging weeds is the last thing you want to do. Digging brings out all dormant seeds to the surface where they sprout

In flowerbeds, you will have to remove dandelions, thistles, etc.

For small weeds, smother with mulch.  Pacific Topsoil will blow in mulch for you. Ask for Pacific Garden Mulch. They have a minimum of 6 yards; save extra to put on places where you weed.

Here’s something that’s controversial: Roundup! “You’re all prejudiced against it!” It was developed for a specific use. Buy a pre- mixed spray container, put on a dishwashing glove, then a brown painting glove on top. Put Roundup on your gloved hand and smear it on the surface of the newest, youngest leaves. Do this every 4 or 5 days. It works well for Morning Glory and you haven’t contaminated anything else around it.

Horsetails – snip and drip? Pat says, “It doesn’t work. Just learn to love them.”

An alternative that is being used is vinegar. Vinegar is an effective weed killer but damages the soil. It’s great for grass growing up between patio stones. It is dangerous product, so protect your eyes from vinegar damage. Treat as a very poisonous liquid. Buy cleaning vinegar, it’s cheaper than salad vinegar.

PESTS

80% of pests are good for you – wasps, spiders. Slugs are bad. Avoid treating with methaldehyde –it’s poisonous for cats and dogs. Pat prefers to trap them in a slug bus. Use a milk carton with holes cut out and beer in the bottom.  The slugs die happy.

Add beer. Slugs die happy.

Slug Bus - Add beer, bugs die happy.

You can also use copper strips around your raised wooden garden beds. The slugs get an electric shock when they crawl over them.  Or trap them in large soda containers.  Cut the main body of the plastic bottle in a circle about 1” from the pouring end. Put smelly cat food as bait and reverse the pouring spout. Slugs also hate MooDoo, wood chips, and mulch.

Aphids: Wash aphids off the plant onto the ground every few days by blasting them with water. You can also purchase horticultural soap. It gets on the bodies of the aphids and they die of cold.

Fruit trees: Apples are prone to bugs laying eggs. If you are not going to take care of your apple tree, then cut the tree down please. Otherwise the bugs will gravitate to your neighbor’s apple trees.

BarrierCloth

Raised beds or vegetable beds: In October, clear all veggies and every last weed. Cover with barrier cloth (illustrated). Put wood chips on top to prevent soil from compacting. In February, take off the cover.  The bed is all ready to go – you won’t need to weed or dig it.  After you have cleared off the cloth, spread compost and chicken manure , dig it into the top 2-3“of the soil. Chicken manure has less phosphorus (3-1-2). Phosphorus is persistent on the soil and is usually not needed.  You can also use fish emulsion applied with a watering can.  In well-drained soil you can plant your peas in the 3rd week of February along with other hardy plants. 

ENJOY FLOWERS ALL YEAR

Pat loves to have flowers all year. She recommends filling a whiskey barrel with good potting soil. Get a dwarf crabapple tree and plant it now.  It doesn’t get too big, you don’t have to prune it, it blooms nicely, and birds come for the crab apples which persist into the winter.

Place 4” plastic pots permanently in the barrel. You can now switch out potted annuals by doubling up a new pot of flowers without damaging the crab apple roots.

WATERING

Moving hoses is difficult, and you can forget the water is on. You can cheat a bit. Set up a sprinkler on a timer, available at Ace Hardware. Set and forget it.

If you have a mixed border, water in June July & August just 3 times if you have a sufficient blanket of mulch to hold in moisture but do it long enough, about 3 hours. With a trowel, check if the water went to the roots.  If you have runoff, turn the water off, then turn it back on after half hour.

You can also create your own soaker hose. Buy a 100-foot hose available on line and get all the parts from the wholesale store Horizon, which is on NE 33rd St  just north of Northup Way  It’s much cheaper to construct your own system.  Bury your hose 3”.

POTATOES

Don’t plant potatoes in the ground.  Get a garbage can, put 9” garden soil,  lay down 2 potatoes, add mulch or other organic matter  to cover the leaves as they grow through. Keep covering the green leaves until they begin to go yellow. Wait 3 weeks before you  tip the can over and take out the potatoes.

TOMATOES

Pat distributed a handout that explains how they plant tomatoes in Britain. (See article online or handout.) Don’t put them in a 5 gallon pot – the roots won’t grow well. A bag of soil works so well. You need a cage on top.  Don’t overfertilize it! The plant will get too green and won’t grow tomatoes, so it’s better to stress the plant by using less fertilizer. Don’t underwater; tomato plants are very thirsty plants. When tomato plants grown in a soil bag, you only have to water every 4-5 days.

DON’T PUSH IT

When you start back to garden, you’ll have all sorts of problems.  When Pat arrived in the US she was impressed by common sayings like, “Walk and chew gum at the same time.” Now she likes, “Quit while you’re ahead.”  You can say “I’ve had it,” it’s okay to quit. Work up to getting back to gardening. Don’t expect to be able to do all the things you used to do.

Special benefit for ENN Full Service Members: Full Members are eligible for volunteer services. Pat has volunteered to offer a one-hour garden consultation at no charge for full members. Sign in and on the Members tab, choose "New Service Request." From the Service Request menu, choose "Garden Consultation with Pat Roome" and fill in your request. For assistance, call 425-270-8408 during regular business hours.

Participant Q&A

Q: I have a snowball bush that is 6-8 feet high.  How should I prune it?

A: Go to the base or go to where branches separate, and take out whole branches you don’t think look good.

Q: I have a pea patch garden, with tomatoes and potatoes.

A. Both are in the nightshade family so in crop rotation they should not follow each other.

Q: How should I trim my Japanese maple?

A: As mentioned above, find a young person who is willing to crawl under the shrub and break off anything she can break off. Do it in July; the maple drops sap in Spring.  Now thin branches by working from the bottom but take whole branches that are crowding each other. You want the branches off the ground.
In September buy some tiny spring blooming bulbs and plant them under the maple. They will get all the light all winter, and blooms will happily come in February. As the leaves come out, bulbs go dormant. You get double use of one space. Don’t have branches touching each other. They need air between the branches to keep them light and airy.

Q: What about apple trees?

A: Take off suckers in July. Taking them off any earlier than this will stimulate growth of vertical branches that will never grow fruit.

Q. When should I prune a Cloudburst plum tree?

A.  Do structural pruning in February and do further trimming in the Summer.

 

Photo credits:
Cindy Briggs, Joanne Gainen

Back to Pat Roome's page

 

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King County Master Gardener Foundation Web Site

 

 

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