Articles written by Molly Hackett


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  • Preventing spring vole damage starts now

    Molly Hackett, Master Gardener|Sep 2, 2021

    Last spring the voles really did a number on my plants. They ate the bark off trees and the roots off several flowers and bushes. Is there any way to prevent damage next spring? Yes, but there is no single miraculous cure for stopping vole damage. There are various ways to reduce it. Usually, the solutions work best when combined and the time to start vole control for next spring is now. Voles-not moles-are the culprits. Moles live underground, as do voles. However, moles are smaller than voles...

  • What is wrong with my tomatoes and squash?

    Molly Hackett, Master Gardener|Jul 29, 2021

    What is wrong with my tomatoes? They are starting to make tomatoes, but some of the leaves are turning yellow. The usual cause of that problem is water-either too much or not enough water will produce the same symptom. Are you sure that you are watering the plants enough in this dry summer? If so, think about the idea that the tomato plants are too wet. Before you water them, check the soil. Do not turn on the irrigation system until the top inch of dirt is dry. Roots need water to stay...

  • Fertilizers and bolting spinach

    Molly Hackett, Master Gardener|May 6, 2021

    Could you give me some basic rules about fertilizer? What kind and what brand should I use on the garden? The lawn? Trees? Flowers? Much of the fertilizer that gardeners use is the pelleted kind that we buy in sacks. It offers the basic three nutrients which plants need in the greatest quantities: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. They are the three numbers listed on a fertilizer sack, in that order. Many fertilizers, but not all, also will contain "micronutrients," substances which plants...

  • Walls of water, grasses & raspberries

    Molly Hackett, Master Gardener|Apr 1, 2021

    Last year I started my tomato plants in walls of water. The walls did protect my plants from cold temperatures, so that I had earlier tomatoes than usual. But one of the walls fell over. By the time I noticed, part of the tomato plant had been smashed under the wall. The plant recovered but never grew as big as the others. Have you ever heard of this happening? Yes, occasionally. It happened to me once, when I first was using walls of water but never again. Let me pass on a few tricks for...

  • Pea seeds, ripening tomatoes and nitrogen

    Molly Hackett, Master Gardener|Oct 1, 2020

    Can I save some of my peas to plant next year, or do I have to buy seeds? There are only complicated answers to your question, not a simple yes or no. Here is a list of things to factor in: Although peas are among the easier seeds to save because the flowers can pollinate themselves, be sure that your peas are open-pollinated. The seed packet will tell you, or it will describe them as an heirloom variety. That means the same thing. If your peas-or any vegetables in your garden-are hybrids, do no...

  • Grasshoppers, season extenders & tomatoes

    Molly Hackett, Master Gardener|Sep 3, 2020

    For any gardener who has used, or wants to use, an electric shredder for chopping garden debris and turning it into mulch, here is updated information: For years I have used chopped garden plants-even weeds, if they had not yet made seeds-to cover every bit of bare soil in my gardens. Finally, I wore out my shredder and then discovered that a replacement was impossible to find. All the electric "chipper/shredders" are just chippers, useful for dry branches but nothing soft or green. After a...

  • Saving seeds, tilling and morning glories

    Molly Hackett, Master Gardener|Aug 6, 2020

    I want to save seeds from my poppies and hollyhocks. How do I do that? The most important thing is not to cut off the seedpods too soon. When seedpods turn from green to beige, the seeds in the pods will be ripe, but not before. The seeds must ripen on the plant. If cut off too soon, the seeds will never ripen. Some plants drop their seeds near the plant, and hollyhocks are included in this category. The disc-shaped seedpods can be picked off the stem when they are beige colored. The pods will...

  • Tomato troubles, plastic covering and tasty veggies

    Molly Hackett, Master Gardener|Jul 2, 2020

    What does it mean when the bottom leaves of my tomatoes turn yellow? It means that the bottom leaves are not healthy. If they turn yellow late in the growing season, it means only that the leaves are getting old. Yellow tomato leaves should not be occurring in early summer. There are many causes for yellow leaves (and they usually start at the bottom of the plant) but most yellowing in most of the country comes from tomato diseases. Fortunately, in Montana we can forget about diseases like...

  • Compost, walls of water and plant bedding

    Molly Hackett, Master Gardener|Jun 4, 2020

    Q: Would too many pine needles be bad for my compost? A: Poor old pine needles! They often get a bad rap from gardeners, for no good reason. Pine needles have been accused of making paths slippery when it rains. Perhaps, but very few materials are not slippery when wet. Pine needles also have been accused of ruining garden soil by making it acid. The truth is that it is nearly impossible to make alkaline soil acid, or vice versa. Various characteristics of soil can be changed-somewhat, with...

  • Zucchini secrets & bolting spinach

    Molly Hackett, Master Gardener|May 7, 2020

    Q: My zucchini always produce poorly. Because of my altitude, I grow them in a hoop house or low plastic tunnel, whichever you call it. They do grow and eventually they flower but I have lots more male flowers than the female ones which make a squash. What can I do to get better production? A: It is a fact that zucchini are warm weather vegetables and their idea of an ideal summer is not what your garden can offer them. While you may not be able to create surroundings which will make the...

  • Walls of water, potatoes, zucchini & row covers

    Molly Hackett, Master Gardener|Apr 2, 2020

    Q: What are walls of water? A: They are 18-inch plastic cylinders which act like miniature greenhouses. The wall forms a circle of water-filled tubes. Walls of water can be purchased at a hardware or garden supply store or online. With reasonable care they last for many years. Walls of water let you plant tomatoes, for instance, four weeks early-not longer than that, because the plant would grow out the top. Inside the wall, temperatures stay above freezing, even when outside temperatures are...

  • Tomatoes, phosphorus and seed catalogs

    Molly Hackett, Master Gardener|Mar 5, 2020

    It is too early in the year to get a shovel into the ground but it is time to start preparing for this year's garden if it is going to be the best ever. Q: What are your favorite tomato varieties? A: I try at least one new kind of tomato every year. Most of them I never grow again but sometimes I discover a new variety that I keep on growing as long as the seed is available. I always grow one kind of cherry tomato because they are earlier than big tomatoes. This year it will once again be...

  • Weedkiller, green tomatoes & soaker hoses

    Molly Hackett, Master Gardener|Oct 3, 2019

    Q: Without using weedkiller spray, how can I clean up a weedy bed where I want to plant bulbs this fall? So far I have been digging and that is hard work. For the winter, can I cover the bed with a mulch of straw or cardboard or would that kill the bulbs? A: I think it's just as effective and a lot easier to use a weedeater, or even garden scissors in small spots, to cut weeds to the ground once a week. No matter how persistent a weed, it is not immortal (even though sometimes it may seem that w...

  • Annual vegetables & flowers & deer repellant

    Molly Hackett, Master Gardener|Sep 5, 2019

    Q: We will be traveling next year and so not gardening in Seeley Lake. A friend will water the perennials enough to keep them alive but what can we do about annual vegetables and flowers? We don't want the beds to become weed patches while we are away. A: If you do nothing about the beds, weeds are guaranteed. They have adapted to take advantage of local gardening conditions, and they will thrive in the rich soil of your garden. If it were my garden, I would mulch the beds heavily, any time...

  • Dealing with ants, tomatoes and potato scab

    Molly Hackett, Master Gardener|Aug 1, 2019

    Q: Can you tell me how to kill the ants in my garden? A: I know of nothing short of nuclear attack that would kill ants, but I can tell you how to get them out of the garden easily, as long as you don't insist that they die in the process. Ants require their homes to be in dry dirt. If you turn their home into a mudhole, they move away. It is that simple. The easiest method for moving ants that I know of is to lay a garden hose on the ground, with the end near the anthill. Turn on the water...

  • Encouraging native plants and bolting lettuce

    Molly Hackett, Master Gardener|Jul 4, 2019

    Q: How do we encourage native plants like lupine, Oregon grape and arnica for a natural yard? We keep an area unmowed, and we also need to think about fire resistance. A: I am assuming that you have some native plants in the area now, that you want to have more of what you have, and possibly more variety. The existing plants obviously like their growing conditions, so it should be fairly easy to encourage them to spread. The ones that you mentioned like some sun, some shade. Wherever there are...

  • Hardening, aphids & quackgrass

    Molly Hackett, Master Gardener|Jun 6, 2019

    Q: What on earth does it mean to "harden" a plant? A: It is gardeners' slang for helping an indoor plant to adapt itself to outdoor weather. The same techniques are used for plants grown in a greenhouse or bought at a nursery. The leaf surfaces of plants are delicate if they have always been warm, have never felt wind, have never seen bright sun. Amazingly, plants can toughen their leaves to adjust to weather, but they cannot do so instantly. It is as if the plant grows itself a jacket, and the...

  • Basil and fertilizers

    Molly Hackett|May 2, 2019

    Q: I love basil and would like to grow my own but I need some instructions. Also, once I have basil plants outdoors, will I have to protect them from deer? A: Basil is easy enough to grow, once you know its likes and dislikes. And yes, you need to cover the basil plants or surround them with netting all summer long. Deer may not love basil more than you do but they do consider it a delicacy. Because basil came from the Mediterranean, it likes warm weather. It may fold itself up and die if it is...

  • Sprinkler woes and when to start planting

    Molly Hackett|Apr 4, 2019

    Q: Watering always is a problem for us. We hand water some raised beds but that doesn't work if we are going to be gone for several days. If we use sprinklers with timers, we end up watering areas that aren't part of the garden. That promotes weeds. We have tried drippers and found them unreliable. Sometimes they put out way too much water, and sometimes they plug up. Soaker hoses are hard to install and they start plugging up after a year of use. Is there a better method? A: If there is, I...

  • Raised bed and path woes

    Molly Hackett|Mar 7, 2019

    Q: We are starting our first garden of raised beds in Seeley Lake. How much do we have to worry about soil contaminants in our garden beds? Is there some way to keep the soil in good health from year to year? A: It has been said that if a gardener takes care of the soil, the rest of the garden will take care of itself. The soil is where everything starts. The dirt is full of living organisms--billions of them in every teaspoonful. Yes, that is right. There are billions of fungal spores,...

  • Lilac

    Molly Hackett|Sep 6, 2018

    Why do the leaves of my French lilac fold up? It lives outside the garden fence, in full sun, in rocky soil which we have not improved as we did the garden soil. It has small leaves and double dark purple flowers. We do water it regularly. When a plant folds its leaves, it is defending itself from some kind of stress. In this climate, the common stresses are lack of water and cold weather (usually, but not necessarily, in winter). Your French lilac is probably trying to hang onto as much of its...

  • Mint

    Molly Hackett|Aug 2, 2018

    Q: Clover has invaded my bed of mint and is choking out the mint. Is there any way to eliminate the clover and save the mint? A: You could dig out the clover, but that strikes me as solving the problem in the hardest way possible. If it were my mint, I would simply start a new bed in a clover-free spot. If you transplant a few young stems of mint, a plentiful supply will have grown by next summer. Because mint has a shallow root system, the digging will not be hard work. If the soil is damp, it...

  • Pototoes

    Molly Hackett|Jul 5, 2018

    Q: Even though I knew better, I planted my potatoes only two inches deep. Should I pile dirt around them to protect them? A: To protect the developing potatoes from growing at the surface and being exposed to light, yes. As you know, if daylight reaches the surface of potatoes, they will turn green and taste bitter. Even more important, piling dirt around the stems will increase the size of your harvest. Since no potato can grow deeper than the seed potato which was planted, your plants can...

  • Purslane

    Molly Hackett|Jun 7, 2018

    Q: My vegetable garden has been invaded by purslane. What should I do? Hoe it? Leave it to cover the paths? How can I keep it out of the plants? A: Purslane--that flat succulent weed which grows to enormous circles, and has small yellow flowers in midsummer--is an annual, like most other garden weeds. Like all annuals, purslane can appear next year only if its seeds are in the ground, ready to sprout. Eliminate its seeds and it will be gone. However, purslane seeds are not the easiest to...

  • Planting

    Molly Hackett|May 3, 2018

    Q: With our winter that won't stop, what would you suggest about planting dates for the vegetable garden? Our average date for last frost is June 10. A: If there is one constant about Montana weather, it is its inconstancy. I would ignore the weather of last winter and proceed onward, assuming that this summer's gardening weather and last winter's snows have no connection. If it were my garden, I would plant vegetables on the usual schedule--provided that the ground has thawed by then, of...

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