DEAR JESSICA: Down in Boynton Beach, Florida, I had a 5-foot (around and tall) gardenia, and every month I gave it the juice from an otherwise empty pickle jar, so about half the liquid volume. It flowered nicely all year long. Of course, indoors and on Long Island, I wouldn’t expect it to grow so large, but it should flower well.
— Saundra Dichter,
DEAR SAUNDRA: As you’ve discovered, pickle juice lowers soil pH, which is beneficial for acid-loving plants. When soil pH is within the optimal range for a particular plant, mineral and nutrient absorption is facilitated. Acid-loving plants, such as gardenias and rhododendrons, are those that require a lower-than-neutral soil pH in order to thrive. And vinegar naturally lowers soil pH.
However, such acidity is deadly when applied to plant tissue, which explains why squirting vinegar between pavement cracks is a good, chemical-free way to eradicate weeds. In addition, the sodium content in most pickle juices will deprive plants of water and also damage the soil.
I know that applying pickle juice is a common practice among many gardenia growers, but I’d caution against it in favor of a commercial fertilizer specifically formulated for acid-loving plants.
However, if you must, stick to the juice from sour — not sweet — pickles. And be sure to dilute the juice with equal parts of water and apply only to the soil around the plant, taking care not to let the liquid come into contact with plant parts or roots.
DEAR JESSICA: Maybe you could help me with the problem I have in upstate New York. I purchased five acres of land and had about three quarters of an acre cleared. Now after five years, the problem is the weeds; brier and ferns are taking over the backyard. I need some kind of a weed killer to get rid of these weeds, but no one has anything to resolve my problem. Everyone is afraid of contaminating the drinking water, and it’s against the law to use these products. Can you help?
— Anthony Accardi,
DEAR ANTHONY: Five acres covered in weeds, briers and ferns is not something that can be easily sprayed away. Concerns about drinking water are valid, and burning is prohibited in New York State, due to wildfire and other concerns, so that’s not an option, either.
It’s painstaking, to be sure, but you can cut down and dig up the brier and ferns as best you can, then use a heavy-duty string trimmer to clear the weeds. After that, pass over with a mower on a high setting, and again as many times as needed on incrementally lower settings. If you sow grass afterward, the hope is that the grass will grow and choke out the weeds. Or at least regular mowing will keep things in check.
Alternately, you can rent a brush-clearing machine or hire a land-clearing company to do it for you. Good luck.
DEAR JESSICA: For the past two summers, my front lawn has been decimated by grubs. Last year I put down grub control in an effort to get ahead of them, but it didn’t work. My lawn was almost as bad as the prior year when I didn’t put down any product. In speaking to my landscaper and people at the nursery, I was told that the product available now is called grub control and not grub killer, which isn’t as effective as what was available in prior years. I am writing to you in the hope that you can suggest a regimen or product that can eliminate grubs so that my lawn doesn’t look horrible again this year.
— Steve Brienza,
DEAR STEVE: I Googled around a bit and saw some online retailers are not shipping Bayer’s Dylox 6.2 (which has been my go-to recommendation for killing grubs) to New York, so I checked with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and learned that the product is, in fact, still approved for use on Long Island without restriction. I can’t explain why some retailers aren’t shipping to the state, and neither could the DEC, but it is not illegal.
I also checked in with Tamson Yeh, extension educator and pest-control and turf specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in Riverhead. She recommends not treating grubs in the spring because “they only come to the surface to feed a very short while before they become pre-pupae, which do not feed.”
Instead, Yeh advises treating with Imidacloprid around the third week of June in order to target the eggs. Imidacloprid, she points out, is under scrutiny for its leaching potential.
“Your best bet is actually to switch to tall fescue grass, which has a large enough root system to tolerate lots of grub feeding and also regrows roots quickly and earlier than Kentucky bluegrass when under grub attack, and to provide lots of extra water when grubs attack so that you are kind of growing turf ‘hydroponically’ until the turf can grow out new roots to replace those eaten,” she said.
More advice: “Change your irrigation strategy of grub-chewed areas to that of newly seeded and sodded areas, meaning light and frequent, until roots grow down again,” Yeh advises. “Undamaged turf should be irrigated deeply and infrequently.”