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Lawn & Garden

Ask Dayle

10/24/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Dayle Davis

Q: Our shrubs are being overrun by tall prickly thistle. We pull and pull and still it grows back. It’s driving us crazy. How do we get rid of it? (Full disclosure: This question was verbalized by my oldest daughter, thereby proving the adage, “a child is never too old to learn from her mother,” and also proving, ahem, that my daughter does not read my lawn and garden column.)

A: Dear daughter: This sounds like the perfect scenario to apply my frequently heralded, tried and true newspaper/mulch method.

First, wear protective gloves to grasp each thistle plant at its base and as close to the soil as possible. Now use a steady upward pulling motion to firmly but gently remove the stalk. This combination of motions should break off the thistle stalk below soil level.

Now uniformly cover the entire surface of the soil with about four layers of black and white print newspaper (no colored pages). Allow a gap of about 6 inches between the newspaper and the trunk of each shrub. It is very important to generously overlap the edges of the newspaper so that no soil is exposed. Use a garden hose to sprinkle the newspaper lightly to keep it from blowing away in a breeze. Finally, pile a good 3 inches of shredded wood mulch on top of the newspaper, taking care to place it gently so the newspaper does not tear.

The above technique has served me well in eliminating Canadian thistle, obedient plant, mint and pachysandra, among others, from my garden. The newspaper appears to resist breaking down long enough to keep air and moisture from the invasive plant’s roots so that they will eventually smother. Keep an eagle eye out for renegade sprouts that succeed in breaking through the newspaper. There will almost certainly be a few. Immediately pull these from the garden using the technique outlined above and cover over the spot with mulch. Have high hopes for success.


Q: What are some things I should do in my garden before winter sets in?

A: It depends on your garden. Of course all gardens, both vegetable and flower, need to have spent vegetable plants and annuals pulled and perennials cut back, but other than a general tidying up after that, fall garden chores should be geared toward your personal wishes for the future development of your garden. For example, here is my own list of fall garden chores:

  • Transplant three golden-leaved hydrangeas to shadier spots — these were to be a backdrop for smaller perennials. The location is too sunny and the plants have suffered.
  • Grapevine off birdhouses — wild grapevines have engulfed the three birdhouses that are each perched atop a tall 4x4 post; they need to go.
  • Transplant spirea bush to herb garden — this shrub needs a sunnier spot; in its place I shall plant one of the golden-leaved hydrangeas.
  • Transplant ornamental grass to south garage bed — the ornamental grasses have self-seeded. I will use these to plant in the bare centers of spreading grass plants.
  • Transplant pink giant mallows to sunny south side garage bed — these plants produced not one blossom this year because surrounding plants have grown enough to create almost a full shade environment. Giant mallows prefer full sun.
  • Gather tall purple phlox and transplant to a new location — tall phlox volunteers bloomed here and there throughout my garden this year; they will be all transplanted to the space left by the three hydrangeas I am moving.
  • Plant heuchera — three potted caramel-colored heuchera need a permanent place in the garden.
  • Spray vinegar on patio weeds — self-explanatory.
  • Check on remnants of ant nest in the shed — again, self-explanatory.
  • Weed — some spring perennial weeds have already sprouted, ready to produce flowers in spring. Gotta get these out now!
  • Fix front sidewalk lights/install some new lights — they don’t last forever, just need some general upkeep.
  • Cover the pond — done, as per photo, above.

For more horticultural information, call The Ohio State University Summit County Extension hotline Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon at 330-928-4769, ext. 3, and request Bulletin 866-98, “Identifying Noxious Weeds of Ohio.”

Please note fact sheets are sent out free; there is a fee for bulletins. Many bulletins are available online at ohioline.osu.edu and can be printed from home or accessed at a public library.


Dayle Davis is a freelance writer and avid perennial gardener, with a B.A. in communications and course work in botany, geology and wildflowers. Davis is a master gardener emeritus under The Ohio State University’s Horticultural Extension. Readers can send in questions regarding lawn and garden issues, which could be featured in a future edition, as well as about the OSU Master Gardener program. Questions can be emailed to kcollins@akron.com, faxed to 330-665-9590 or sent to Leader Publications, 3075 Smith Road, Suite 204, Akron, OH 44333. Please do not send any leaves, seeds or other organic material. Inquiries about area garden clubs or groups should be sent directly to the particular organization in question.

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