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Wed, Feb. 19

Worms, and the sweet fragrance of rosemary

I can tell you all are ready for spring. At my garden center, we've been holding weekly garden classes each Saturday with up to 70 people showing to a class. Our first spring event was last weekend, and customers came in waves to check out all the new plants, products and outdoor living items available this year. I invite representatives from our farms, and select manufacturers, to hang out with customers each year, and they got such a kick out of the customer turnout. For those of you who attended … thanks for coming.

It never ceases to amaze me how many gardeners are in the tri-city area. I know the numbers coming into my garden center, and I know I'm not the only guy in town selling garden stuff. There are so many other great garden stores holding similar events and promos. This weekend is the official start of the spring planting season. The last weekend in March is when every box store, grower and garden center unleashes all their marketing programs, and the store is packed with great color. I'm sure you'll find some sort of major flier from all of us this weekend, including my own store.

You're safe to plant most things; just watch for a surprise frost that can hit any night. Frost is an ugly thing when it hits. It looks like someone came and took a blowtorch to every leaf and flower blackened by it. Don't worry if frost strikes your plants late one night. These new plantings might have to set new flowers or form new leaves, but they come back strong.

If you ever want to know what epidemic is going on in the plant world, just visit your local garden center. Dozens of customers come flocking to the garden center carrying the same type of bug in little zip-lock bags or baby food jars.

We are seeing two pests here at the garden center this week. Caterpillars have arrived … little black ones with red spiny hair are creeping around the garden. The next question customers have is, "Can they be in the yard, or should I kill them?" If they're out in the wild parts of the yard, don't worry about them; they should turn into an ordinary moth in a few weeks.

If caterpillars are in your prized apple tree or an oak that you really like, though, you need to spray them before they strip the foliage off your plants. Caterpillars have a ferocious appetite. The best spray for knocking off this critter is Bacillus Thuringiensis, or B.T. for short. Don't come to the garden center and try to pronounce the full name because we can't pronounce it either. Just ask for BT, the caterpillar killer. It's one of those sprays that focus on a specific species of insect so that it doesn't harm hummingbirds, your cat or other bugs like ladybugs. B.T. also works great on that huge green caterpillar that loves to eat your tomatoes.

Have you noticed how quickly your flowering bulbs have faded, or flowering shrub like red quince and golden forsythia have dropped their flowers? There is a little pest eating the flowers that nobody sees. A tiny bug named "thrip" literally sucks the life out of your plants, starting with the flowers. They are also called "No-see-'ems" because they are so difficult to see with the naked eye. The best way I've found is to take a white sheet of paper and tap a flower or branch over the paper. If you see specks of dust jumping around the paper, you have thrip. Keep an eye out for them; they're bad for the garden.

Thrip can be hard to control because they attack by the millions, and they can fly. B.T. works only on caterpillars, so it isn't going to help control this pest. Your best bet is to use a bug killer that kills the insects and helps to repel them at the same time. "Triple Action Plus" by Fertilome is an all-natural oil made from the neem tree in Africa and works great for this bug. The oil kills the insect and reduces the number of pests that come back to the plant. It's one of the few natural products on the market that is highly effective. It also works great on aphids, and they always show up shortly after thrip.

My rosemary is in full bloom right now and is very pretty this year. This is the same rosemary you cooks use in the kitchen, and has that classic herb fragrance as you brush up against the leaves. It makes a very nice landscape shrub and has most of the features home owners are looking for: an evergreen that has showy flowers, low maintenance, and low water use.

Rosemary comes in both an upright form and a trailing ground cover version. The perfect location for an upright rosemary would be at the start of a driveway as a green marker, or under the kitchen window facing south in full hot sun. They can grow up to 3 to 4 feet high. The height can be controlled by trimming and the bush will stay nice and tight.

Trailing, or creeping, rosemary looks great in containers, raised planting beds, flowing down hills, and even as a ground cover. It only gets a foot tall, but puts on beautiful long runners that gracefully drape down a raised bed or container. It's the perfect plant to drape down and soften the edges of a retaining wall.

Both varieties have the same violet blue flowers covering the length of the branches, and the same short leaves holding that wonderful fragrance. The best blooms will be on plants that have at least six hours of sun. The hotter the location the better; just make sure that the planting hole has good drainage or they can suffer. If you kill this one, it will be from over-watering, rarely from under-watering.

Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.

Ken Lain is the owner of Watters Home and Garden Center and is an Arizona Certified Nursery Professional and Master Gardener.

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