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Weeding Out the Confusion: Garden Q&A

You've got questions? We've got answers in spades!

If Painters is known for one thing, its our friendly, knowledgeable staff--it's important to us to give extra assistance and guidance where we can, and in an approachable, non-judgmental manner. The team at Painters simply loves plants and are here to share their passion and expertise with you. And it's also so important to us that we are not only providing information, but also cultivating a community of learning. While our team is flexible and cheerful and knowledgeable on so many fronts, we also don’t know it all. So let’s learn together!

Our Plant Problem-Solving Q&A is the start of a series highlighting key questions we get through the season. We’ve gathered a variety of staff input to answer your most common questions:

Tip #1 - The best way to start a garden bed!

Starting a new garden bed. It can be a daunting task to bite off! But our staff at Painters love to remind folks that there is an easier way!

The recipe has two ingredients: cardboard and mulch. Cover the area you want to garden with a solid layer of cardboard (with labels and tape removed), overlapping each piece by several inches, and then cover with several inches of mulch. Do this in the fall for an easy spring-ready garden bed, or do it in late spring/early summer for a bed ready for fall planting. Besides being easy-to-remember directions, the benefits are multiple! It's easy! It's cheap! And it gives you loads of healthy garden soil, ready for planting!

First and most obviously, this plan for building beds is clearly low effort. No need to dig everything by hand or hire someone else to do it! It is less expensive because of the low labor costs or sweat equity (especially if your bed was large!) but you also won't have to bring in topsoil or compost to start. But the best advantage is the healthier, better textured soil. While some say that cardboard may inhibit gas exchange or restrict water flow, we've found that soil health is increased due to the bevy of earthworms that are attracted and who help aerate and feed the soil with their castings. Plus the combo of carboard and mulch helps control weeds and keep the soil from drying out quickly. Bonus - you are not removing the topsoil so you retain all those healthy nutrients and microorganisms already there! After 3+ months, grasses and weeds underneath have died, and the cardboard and mulch has combined with these to feed the soil further. When ready to plant, use a sharp spade to cut holes for your plants and you are on your way to a healthy and happy garden!

Tip #2 - Shade-loving plant getting too much sun?

Maybe you've recently lost a larger plant or had to do some garden renovations that left your shade loving plants getting too much sun and susceptible to getting burned. Of course, you could always dig it up and try moving it to a shadier location, but if you don’t want to lose all that mature root structure (it will take a while to restore itself after a move) or if you only have a sunny garden, here’s another option recommended by Painters staff:

If your garden is full sun, add taller elements to manufacture shade, specifically afternoon sun relief. Small trees, arching shrubs, or even large-reaching plants, like annual salvias, can add height and dimension to a garden, while providing some support for your shade-lovers.

A favorite example shown here: even a concrete planter in a sea of hot asphalt in a summertime-parking-lot can support these tender white and purple violas with the larger tree providing some well-needed shade! (and WATER! Don't forget the water! 😊)

Tip #3 - Black Walnut Toxicity--what can I plant now?

Black walnut, Juglans nigra, is a common tree in our area that also causes gardeners some challenges. The roots, branches and leaves of the black walnut tree release a chemical called juglone into the soil, discouraging the growth of other plants nearby. At Painters we often get questions about what to plant if you have a black walnut tree. And we have a few resources for you!

First, you can start by reading our blog outlining what you need to know:

And then shopping at Painters, we've tagged our trees and shrubs so you can refine your search with an easy sort. Go to our Tree and Shrub Availability Page and sort by the final column to narrow to juglone tolerant plants. Then you can see exactly what we have in stock for your soil needs!

Tip #4 - Clay and Rock: Your Worst Nightmare? Not Anymore!

Ask anyone here! The entire Painter's crew is obsessed with their Spear Head Spades! Truly the toughest and most efficient garden tool we've ever used, and a wonderful option for our tough clay and rock-filled soils! The Spear Head Spade garden shovel was designed by 85-year old Daniel Mathieu to easily penetrate tough soils and be lightweight while incredibly durable--anyone will appreciate using them, but it's especially helpful for folks with some aches and pains, bad backs, or other challenges making digging a daunting task. The New Jersey-based company claims their spades make digging 80% easier than the typical garden shovel or spade, and we agree wholeheartedly! We wouldn't do without them!

Dana "swears by the shorter spade, as it is small and incredibly light, but also has a lot of leverage due to the shorter length."

Tip #5 - What do I do with the aphids on my milkweed?

We get this question every year, multiple times a year. And our best advice is to "zoom out!" Try a broader perspective. All garden "pests," including aphids, are a part of the natural life cycle. Look to the myriad of natural predators that are happy to be feeding on this ready supply of snacks! Consider that this burgeoning collection of aphids is not going to kill the milkweed plant--truly they are more unsightly than overtly problematic. You can always squirt them off with a firm jet of water from the hose if you don't want to look at them.

But please, please, please do not treat the plant! If you treat the aphids, you will be killing the monarch you are trying to support. Even soaps and organic-friendly pest treatments have the potential to kill the young monarch caterpillars looking to feed on your milkweed. So do what you have to do to look the other way! The monarchs will thank you for it!

Thanks for reading and thanks for reaching out!

Painters always appreciates hearing from you. Whether you are new to our greenhouse or a year-after-year regular, we always want to help your gardens to grow and thrive! Please stay in touch! Keep sending us your questions on our website:

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