Question: I want to build some grow boxes for a vegetable garden. Can I put the boxes on top of lawn grass, or do I have to kill the grass first?

Answer: Whether or not you’ll have problems with grass in your raised beds depends on how deep the raised beds will be and on how close the grass around the raised beds will be.

If your raised beds will only be 3”- 4” deep, you’ll probably have grass coming up through the soil in the beds. If your beds will be at least 6”- 8” deep you’re less likely to have grass problems.

You’ll also need to remove grass for at least 12” to 18” around the beds to prevent grass from creeping into the beds from the sides. These walkway areas can be covered with gravel or small bark nuggets. You may not need grass-free walkways if your garden beds that are more than 12” inches deep.

There’s another thing to consider when you build your raised beds. If you don’t remove or kill the grass first, you may not have a very deep root zone at first. Your success will depend on the depth of the raised beds, how dense and healthy the grass is and how slowly the grass breaks down.

To remove the grass, you can spray the area with glyphosate and wait a few weeks for the grass to die. If you want to get rid of the grass without using chemicals, you can remove it with a sod cutter. If you aren’t in a hurry you can also kill the grass by smothering the area with bags of compost, leaves or bark nuggets for a few months.

Q: I moved into a condo a few months ago. A few people here want to start a small community garden in a large open area of our complex. This area is near my condo and I don’t want to have to deal with the rats that their garden will attract. What can I do about this?

A: It’s a common misconception that vegetable gardens will attract rats. Vegetable gardens do not present a higher risk of rodent infestation than the ornamental shrub and flower beds that are already around your condominium complex.

In general, rodents are attracted to sites that provide shelter, water and food. A vegetable garden that is poorly maintained can provide the habitat they need, but they are more likely to be attracted to areas with litter, debris, garbage, and poorly maintained structures.

Well-cared for vegetable gardens or vegetable plants mixed in with other plants in well-maintained shrub and perennial beds will not create a very attractive situation for rodents. Edible plants can actually reduce pest problems because these planting areas are typically visited by the gardener more frequently and maintained at a higher level than strictly ornamental plantings. Having more people out in the landscape more frequently also means finding problems while they’re small and easier to deal with.

Prohibiting vegetable plants in your landscape will not reduce your risk of having rodents. What will reduce your risk of having a rodent problem is good sanitation in the landscape, keeping litter and plant debris under control in all areas of the condo complex, including near the dumpsters. Good maintenance of all structures and keeping patio areas clear of clutter will reduce shelter for rodents and other pests. Keeping pet foods and pet dishes indoors and frequently cleaning up under bird feeders will eliminate food sources for all sort of pests. Following all these good sanitation practices will be much more effective for your community than trying to prevent vegetable gardening.

If you want to do even more to reduce the risk that insects or other small pests might come into your condo unit, make a careful survey of the outside of your unit. Check for any small gaps or cracks in walls, around gas pipes, around windows or under doors that might provide entry for pests. Use caulk to seal up small cracks, repair or replace window screens that aren’t in good condition and replace door sweeps and weather stripping, if needed.

Q: I want to learn to graft fruit trees so that I can keep growing fruit from some special trees in my grandfather’s orchard. Will there be any grafting classes at Extension offices this year?

A: Fruit tree varieties can’t be reliably reproduced by planting seeds from the fruit of favorite trees, so we have to rely on grafting or bud-grafting to get new fruit trees of the same variety. It’s a skill that you can master with a little training and lots of practice.

There are several Utah State University Extension grafting workshops planned for this spring.

Come learn the basics of fruit tree grafting in this hands-on workshop! Grafting is the age-old practice of joining plants to specific root systems to get the desirable benefits of both parts.

Classes are $25 to $30 per participant. Participants will graft two apple trees using an omega grafting tool on dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock that they will take home with them at the end of the class. Participants can select from over 36 heirloom and modern apple varieties supplied. To register for one of the grafting classes, go to the website listed below the class you are interested in attending. Additional rootstocks and scion wood may be available to purchase at the end of the class for an additional $5 fee.

  • Thursday, April 16, 6 to 8 p.m. at Jordan Valley Water Conservation Garden, West Jordan. To register, go to Eventbrite.com.
  • Friday, April 17, 2 to 4 p.m. Calls Nursery, Tremonton. To register, go to Eventbrite.com.
  • Saturday, April 18, 10 a.m. to noon, USU Extension Davis County-Kaysville. To register, go to Eventbrite.com.
  • Wednesday, April 22, 6 to 8 p.m., Ogden Botanical Gardens, Ogden. To register, go to Eventbrite.com.
  • Thursday, April 23, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Anderson Seed, Logan. To register, go to tinyurl.com/spring-gardening-series-20.
  • Saturday, April 25, 10 a.m. to noon, Freckle Farm Nursery, Logan. To register, go to tinyurl.com/spring-gardening-series-20.

For more information, call the USU Extension office in Box Elder County at (435) 695-2541 or email Mike Pace at mike.pace@usu.edu.