By Molly Hackett
Master Gardener 

Grasshoppers, season extenders & tomatoes

Dirty Fingernails


September 3, 2020

Pathfinder photo

Molly Hackett, Master Gardener

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 year of searching, comparing, trying, I have found a shredder which will deal with green plants. The brand name is Portland. Like my original shredder, this one requires that I dry plants in the sun for a day or two before shredding them. Like the old one, it cannot handle grass, which wraps around the axle, and it does not do a good job of shredding vines.

Also like my original shredder, the new one likes to be fed small handfuls at a time. If I shove too much into the maw at once, it plugs up. I quickly learned to listen to the rpm's. As soon as the motor slows, I stop feeding new plants until the ones already in the shredder have been spat out of the chute.

There is no easier way to create mulch and dispose of plant debris than by shredding it and immediately using it as a soil blanket.

What can I do about grasshoppers?

Grasshopper season has come, and keeping them from eating garden plants is a priority. Often the easiest way to deal with grasshoppers is to redirect them away from the garden by mowing tall grass. Grasshoppers are quite aware of all their predators; they try to stay hidden. Only a few of the bravest grasshoppers will cross a strip of mown grass around the garden. The rest will choose to stay where they can hide.

Another useful technique is to spray neem on plants targeted by grasshoppers. An organic insecticide, neem will not harm beneficial insects like bees unless it is sprayed directly on them. If neem-sprayed leaves are eaten by grasshoppers within 24 hours of spraying, the hoppers will die. After that, neem breaks down into harmless chemicals. I recommend spraying again in a week if grasshoppers are still present.

Do not expect the sprayed grasshoppers to die instantly, but do expect them to stop eating.

What is a good autumn season extender?

The same materials work in autumn as in spring. Cold frames and plastic tunnels will keep night temperatures a few degrees higher than in unprotected areas. Standard weight nonwoven row cover raises temperatures two to five degrees; heavyweight row cover (often called frost blanket) is good for five to eight degrees of warmth.

Plastic milk jugs can be filled with water and set around plants to serve as individual greenhouses.

Any kind of cover thrown over plants before sundown will hold soil warmth beneath it. Newspapers, cardboard boxes, old sheets and blankets, and nonwoven row cover all serve the purpose. Plastic is not helpful because it does not hold heat.

When making late season plantings of vegetables like salad greens, remember than they will need many more days to mature when days are shortening. Plants know all about day length. They grow faster in spring when days are lengthening.

Should I prune the bottom leaves off my tomato plants? What about suckers?

Let every leaf grow; they will be helping the tomatoes grow and ripen. If there are still flowers, though, cut them off. Flowers now have no future. If there are no flowers to feed, the plant will redirect its energy into ripening tomatoes. Be sure to pick tomatoes as soon as no green skin remains. Finish ripening them indoors, out of the sun. Taste tests have proved that they will develop full tomato flavor, and removing them lets the plant start ripening the next tomatoes in line.

Hackett welcomes reader questions related to gardening, pest management, plants, soils and anything in between. Submit questions to, call 406-961-4614 or mail questions to 1384 Meridian Road, Victor, MT 59875.


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