Pruning and Pests

A handy book by a local horticulturalist explains what to lop and when; plus natural remedies for keeping ants at bay



lee reichLee Reich in action, tackling an overgrown lilac

Photograph by Susan Kahn

Suddenly, it’s 80 degrees outside, yet I’m still dealing with the mess from winter storms. Where did spring go? I’m not only running late but I feel a little guilty, because the gnarly apple trees probably wouldn’t have taken such a hit if I’d been more diligent about pruning them over the years. A lot of my shrubs are a misshapen mess, too. I must prune! Out come the loppers, the shears, and the nifty Japanese saw. Now I just need to figure out what gets lopped off where.

To the rescue: The Pruning Book by Lee Reich, who has an admirably well-kept garden near New Paltz as well as umpteen horticultural degrees to back up everything he says. (He used to write a garden column for HV magazine back in the days when I was the editor.) The Pruning Book first appeared a few years ago, but a new, revised edition is out, so you can be sure you have the latest word on how it’s done.

the pruning book cover

The book kicks off with Why Prune? and, having nailed that down, goes on to explain how, when and what with. Color photographs, diagrams, and Reich’s chatty instructions make it easy to tidy up everything from a leftover Christmas poinsettia to an overgrown apple tree. There are sections on pruning fruit bushes, shrubs, ornamental vines, perennials, conifers, hedges, and even bonsais, as well as instructions for topiary, pollarding, and pleaching. If you have something growing in the garden that needs lopping back, here’s how to do it. The book, published by Taunton Press, is a mere $21.95, and the info is priceless.

And now a response to the reader who posted this comment: “Everything is waking up, including the black ants that make an appearance in our home at this time of year. I really do hate to kill anything. They look like carpenter ants. That can't be good! Is there any humane pest control out there?”

ants

First I must say how refreshing it is to hear from someone who hates to kill anything, as the world seems overrun with those who can’t wait to dispatch whatever little thing annoys them. Now, about killing these ants. (Just kidding.) I’m battling black ants in my kitchen this spring, too, and have recently conducted an in-house study of non-toxic remedies. Here’s a summary of how it’s working so far. The ants are probably coming from outside, so try to find where they’re getting in, and block their entrance. (Mine appear to be using the French windows; too big to block.) Keep your counters and floors clean so that they won’t find food — even a tiny crumb is a feast for an ant. (My ants are evidently feasting.) Sprinkle black pepper or red chili powder wherever they congregate. (I haven’t tried chili powder yet, but my ants seem to think black pepper adds a tasty kick to whatever food they’ve discovered.) Put bay leaves at points of entry. (My ants just walked over them.) Spray a 50/50 solution of water and white vinegar where the ants are swarming. This seems to work! I lightly sprayed my countertops, then wiped them with a sponge. The vinegar smell disappears quickly, and the ants avoid the sprayed areas. I’d be happy to hear of any other easy fixes that don’t involved poison.

Carpenter ants don’t eat wood, but they chew it to make tunnels and chambers that can cause structural damage, so if they’ve moved into your house, you’ll probably have to destroy the nest. Chances are, though, that they’re living elsewhere — they forage for up to 100 yards from HQ.

To keep them from nesting in your home, don’t store firewood against wooden siding, which is practically an invitation, and make sure downspouts are channeling water away from the house (ants like damp wood).

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