Neil Moran gardens in northern Michigan and is anxious to see gardeners succeed in the cold climate. To this end he has published two books on gardening in the north country and an ebook on how to save money when buying garden tools and other products. He also taught horticulture for over 12 years and conducts garden workshops.


Renovate a Neglected Perennial Garden
by Neil Moran - posted 08/06/13

Revamping a large perennial bed that has been neglected kind of reminds me of cleaning out my garage after stuff has been accumulating for several weeks. I just don’t know where to begin. Over time, however, I’ve come up with a method to get it cleaned up and organized again which actually works.

I recently applied this garage cleaning method to get a handle on an overgrown perennial bed. I’d like to share what I do to make this task a little less arduous.

The best time to revamp a perennial bed, especially if you may be moving plants around it is in the spring or late summer (like right now) if it isn’t too hot and dry, which as of this writing it isn’t either.

To draw upon the garage analogy again, the first thing I do when cleaning out my garage is remove everything that doesn’t belong there. This will  get some things out of the way so I can start to move around. So with this in mind, let’s get started on the perennial bed.

1.       Remove the most obvious weeds, that is, the ones that are getting taller than the perennials.

2.       Remove the plants you no longer want in your bed. If you plan on discarding the plants simply dig up the whole plant and toss it into the pile with the weeds and other brush that can be composted later. If you intend on moving the plants to another location, cut them down to within about six inches from the crown and keep the roots moist until you can move them to their new location.

3.       Cut down all of the plants that are no longer flowering (if performing this task in the late summer or fall.

4.       Do a more thorough weeding now that the plants you don’t want have been removed.

5.        Rearrange the furniture. Now is the time to arrange the plants how you want them, taking into consideration size, color, texture, etc. Be sure to “water in” the plants you move by sticking the hose right in the hole you’ve dug and filling it with water.

6.       After you’ve rearranged your plants use a spray bottle to carefully spray an herbicide or horticultural vinegar between the plants to further eliminate weeds.

7.       Lay down newspaper or cardboard between the plants. When I do this in the  fall I obtain free mulch from the city compost facility. I lay it down nice and thick and then in the spring I’ll top it off with a decorative mulch in the spring. This will provide EXCELLENT weed protection for the coming season. Mulch each year to maintain good weed control.

8.       Put the finishing touches on your “garage cleaning” by doing a little deadlheading or shaping of the perennials or shrubs. Allow adequate room between the plants so that they don’t crowd out each other.

9.       Do some edging around the flower bed to keep grass from creeping into the garden. You can do this with a landscape shovel, small tiller with an edging attachment or install a grass guard. It’s your preference.

10.   Feed your plants with an organic fertilizer, such as Hollytone or a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote to keep them healthy and looking good.

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Garden tips for late July
by Neil Moran - posted 07/19/13

The sweltering heat of late makes it a little difficult to get in the garden and weed and do other garden chores. If we can get in the garden in the cool of the evening or early morning and weed we’ll be rewarded with a good crop of vegetables and flowers. In other words, hang in there!

                Here’s a weeding  tip: once you get the weeding done, lay down some cardboard or newspaper between the rows or plants and mulch over it. You should be good to go the rest of the season.

                We got a good rain where I live (over two inches) just recently. However, if it is dry where you’re at and some of your crops, particularly your cole crops (broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage) are looking  like they’re not developing fully, mulch them with straw and water well. You’ll be surprised at what a difference this will make.

                Now is also a good time to side dress your vegetables one last time with an organic or inorganic fertilizer. Make sure you apply the recommended rate. Granular fertilizers should be watered in. Soluble fertilizers work well for this also.

                Tomato tip: always water near the base of the plant, avoid getting water on the foliage, especially as it is fruiting. Also, tomatoes don’t need or want to be constantly moist: water well, then let the soil or potting medium dry out between watering and water again. You can cut right back on watering after the fruit has matured but not yet red.

                If you experienced the heavy rains we did in the last 48 hours, stay right out of the garden to avoid spreading disease. Beans are particularly susceptible.

                I hope you’re enjoying a good growing season.

                Happy gardening,


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Mid-season Vegy Garden Tips
by Neil Moran - posted 06/24/13

A mostly gentle, warm rain saturated the ground here in the last few days. The northern forest is looking pretty lush, to say the least. The garden didn’t mind it either. Warmer overnight temperatures coincided with the warm rain. I may have ankle high corn by the 4th after all!

Your vegetable plants should be well established by now. It’s a good time in the next week or two to side dress your plants with an organic or inorganic fertilizer. Do a shallow cultivation around your plants before hand and then spread the fertilizer near the base of the plants. Be sure to follow the directions for fertilizing so you don’t burn your plants, a problem you shouldn’t have to worry about this organic fertilizers.

Slugs can be a problem in the lush, northern climate. They like it wet and a little on the cool side—and lots of cover. If you’re bothered by slugs, make sure you don’t mulch close to the afflicted plants. They love cabbage and other cucerbits. Last night I observed the slugs slithering in from the adjacent tall grass next to my garden so I immediately deployed beer in shallow bowls. The grandkids enjoyed helping me bury the bowls so the rim is even with the surface of the soil. Since they’re underage, I had to pour the beer.

It’s a good time to be on the lookout for bugs on the plants and also the ticks on our bodies! The latter cling to your skin, so make sure you check for ticks before you enter the house. I like to keep a little pyrethrum based insecticide on hand as a contact spray for aphids and flea beetles, and Dipel dust for the cabbage worms and loopers. Hand picking is also effective, especially in the morning.

As for watering, I won’t have to resume watering for at least a week. At that time I’ll water deeply then let it dry out between watering. This is especially good for tomatoes. A little stress is good for them and will help them set blossoms.

If you haven’t added compost or well rotted manure to your garden, it’s not too late. Simply spread the amendment between the rows of plants. You’ll be surprised how much this will benefit your plants.

I hope you had time to plant all you wanted to get in. Don’t discourage about the weather we’ve had in to start out the growing season. Like my mother used to say, things have a way of evening out during the season.

P.S., it’s not too late to plant short season crops, like lettuce, kale, radishes—or even plants that will grow into the fall, like broccoli, rutabaga, and cabbage. However, I wouldn’t wait much longer.

Happy gardening!


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