Gardening: Check your backyard for winners, losers

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

When planning next year’s garden, a good place to begin is your own backyard, and a good time to start is now. The tools for this job are a pen and notebook and/or a camera or smartphone. Make a list and take pictures of what rocks your world and what fell flat on its face so you’ll remember the scenes next spring when shopping for plants.

For me, plants that sailed through the bitter cold winter and took the cool wet spring and early summer in stride while remaining pest- and disease-free without a lot of fussing made the top of my list and will be invited to stay. And I’ll be on the lookout for new varieties of these winners to add to my plant palette.

The annuals that garnered rave reviews in the display gardens I oversee at the Rochester Older Person’s Commission (the OPC) will also make repeat showings in new arrangements.

Plants that are looking dog-eared and suffering will have to go unless I have a special fondness for them and think a change of venue will help their performance. If they are perennials, moving them in the next couple of weeks will give them a chance to become established and hopefully strengthen enough to make it through the winter.

I’m also looking at other folks’ gardens to see what catches my eye. My friend Julia Hofley, who travels throughout the state visiting garden centers as a representative for the animal repellant Plant Skydd, collects Phlox paniculata that are producing stunning displays in her garden this summer. I’ve added them to my shopping list.

Timely tip: Thanks to the wet weather, slugs have thrived in gardens this summer. You can’t repair the damage they have already done, but don’t wait until spring to go after them. Unlike many critters who have short life cycles, slugs multiply and grow throughout the growing season and young adults and eggs overwinter in the soil. So if you ignore them now, you will be overrun with them next spring. Slugs can easily be controlled with a few applications of a slug bait containing iron phosphate, such as Sluggo or Bonide’s Slug and Snail Bait. The good news is it’s safe for use around animals, birds and kids and it’s easy to use – just a matter of remembering to sprinkle the granules on the ground every week to 10 days to take care of new hatchlings that emerge throughout the summer.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at