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Ask the Master Gardener: It’s OK to feed birds with new seed from a clean feeder

Raptors and waterfowl are most affected by Avian Flu; whereas songbirds are not widely affected.

A bird at a bird feeder.
A bird at a bird feeder.
Contributed / Metro Newspaper Service
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Dear Master Gardener: In the news it says we shouldn’t feed birds due to Avian Flu. When can people start feeding birds again?

A bird at a bird feeder.
A bird at a bird feeder.
Contributed / Metro Newspaper Service

Answer: I spoke with a bird expert at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He said the DNR and Raptor Center are currently working together to test birds throughout Minnesota. Raptors and waterfowl are most affected by Avian Flu; whereas songbirds are not widely affected. He noted that there have been a few cases in past years. It’s OK to feed the birds now, but old seed should be thrown out and only new seed used because old seed gets mold and bacteria. Bird feeders should be routinely cleaned with a 10% bleach solution. The DNR gets many calls about dead birds around bird feeders. In fact, they received one call from a homeowner with five dead birds around a bird feeder. It turned out that the cause of death was salmonella poisoning. So, routinely cleaning bird feeders and using new bird seed is recommended and highly encouraged in order to prevent salmonella poisoning and to keep birds healthy.

Dear Master Gardener: Last year I got whitish-colored caterpillars about one-inch long that ate my romaine lettuce. What are they and how can I get rid of them if I get them again this year?

Answer: Without a photo for accurate identification, my best guess is the culprit is a cabbage looper. Despite its name, the cabbage looper may also damage potato, tomato, pea, lettuce, spinach, nasturtium, and carnation plants. The caterpillars are pale green with narrow white lines running down each side. Full grown caterpillars are about 1½ inches long. Cabbage loopers make a characteristic looping motion as they move across vegetation. The larvae chew the leaves and can cause serious defoliation. Late stages tend to tunnel into heads of cabbage, lettuce, and other plants, causing additional injury. The safest way to get rid of cabbage loopers is by picking them off the plants and disposing of them.

Dear Master Gardener: Is now a good time to divide hostas?

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Answer: Hostas are very easy to divide and early spring is a good time to divide them. Dig up the clump as new growth emerges. Using a sharp spade or knife, slice the mature plant into divisions that have a minimum of three shoots.

Dear Master Gardener: I would like to put in a small raised bed vegetable garden, but I do not have a spot in my yard that gets full sun. I do have a place that gets about 4-5 hours of sunlight per day. Are there any vegetables that will successfully grow in part sun?

Answer: Most vegetables need full sun, which means at least eight hours of sunlight per day. Luckily, there are many wonderful vegetables that will grow successfully with four to six hours of sunlight. Leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach, collards, Swiss chard, and kale can be successfully grown in areas with as little as three to four hours of direct sun per day. The following vegetables can be grown in four to six hours of direct sun per day: beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and radishes.

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Dear Master Gardener: What do the numbers on the fertilizer package mean?

Answer: The three numbers on a fertilizer package correspond to the percentage of three elements: Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. For example, a 10-10-10 fertilizer, which is often used in the spring to fertilize many flowering shrubs, has 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus and 10% potassium. Fertilizers add nutrients to the soil to help plant growth. In order to accurately fertilize your lawn, garden and landscape plants, it is beneficial to get your soil tested. Soil testing provides information on the availability of nutrients in the soil and whether soil amendments are needed. As of April 15, the cost of a soil test at the University of Minnesota Extension is $17. Instructions can be downloaded from: http://soiltest.cfans.umn.edu/ .

Lawn fertilizer is high in nitrogen to encourage green growth, and by law cannot contain the middle number, phosphorus, because the runoff is bad for our lakes. Lawn fertilizer in the garden will cause lots of green leaves but few vegetables or fruits.

Dear Master Gardener: Last year my yellow lady slippers didn’t bloom. What could be the cause?

Answer: It depends. The yellow lady slipper orchid is quite fussy due to its habitat requirements for soil, fungi, light and moisture. The soil must have the right temperature, chemistry and moisture, which may be difficult to duplicate in a home garden. The roots of the lady slipper orchid form an association with soil fungi to enhance mineral absorption and because of this they do not transplant well.

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You may get your garden questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A Master Gardener will return your call. Or, emailing me at umnmastergardener@gmail.com and I will answer you in the column if space allows.

University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. Information given in this column is based on university research.

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