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Ah! Spring is back and so is the grow and kill season
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

It was a bit of a surprise, but they’re back — and with a vengeance.

I stepped out front Wednesday morn at about 2 o’clock clutching my hiking headlamp to retrieve the Wall Street Journal when I saw the first one. I made a sweeping motion with the headlamp and there was a second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh all in just the upper part of my driveway.

I should have seen it coming.

It’s been raining for what passes in the Central Valley these days as the biblical version of 40 days and 40 nights. The mild and wet weather prolonged the emergence of spring into going on for six weeks for what is usually over in a week or two given how in this part of the world Mother Nature has a nasty habit of reducing the fall and spring seasons into three-week miniseries. Weeds are growing like weeds. So when the daily high whiplashed from peaking at 65 on Sunday to 82 on Monday I should have been prepared for what I found in my driveway in the wee hours of Wednesday morning — snails. Lots and lots of snails with a slug or two tossed in I assume to meet nature’s version of Title IX for mollusks.

There are only three living things on earth that I will try to kill with abandon for being what they are and all three routinely pop up in my yard — gophers, slugs and snails. I admit to killing the black widow or two I come across but their very sight doesn’t prompt me after I kill one to go on a seek and destroy mission to find the rest of their brethren.

So Wednesday when all of my neighbors were fast asleep, I was busy walking up and down my driveway and sidewalk stepping on — and killing — every slug and snail I could see. After I racked up three dozen or so direct smashes, I ventured into my front yard that I turned into happy hunting grounds for snails and a smorgasbord for gophers when I ripped out all of the lawn 11 years ago and replaced it with all sorts of shade loving landscape that is the binge food equivalent for a growing mollusk as pizza is for a growing teen.

I stopped counting the snail kill after I topped 50. When I checked the clock when I got back inside only 4 minutes had elapsed giving me a snail kill every 5 seconds or so. This is not a good sign as I’m sure the high grass and accompanying weeds that I’m waiting to take down once the rains subside are probably harboring enough of the slimy creatures to form several regiments. Yes, spring has arrived and the war is on.

I refer to this time of year as the start of the “grow and kill” season. You invest time and money into getting things to grow in your yard and then you spend time and money trying to kill what’s trying to eat what you are growing.

After years of dealing with roses I waved the white flag. Combatting the aphids was bad enough. I’d literally spend hours picking them off petals and dropping them into a jar of soapy water. In case you are wondering, Ajax super degreaser with real citrus extract is the most effective way to drown aphids plus it has a pleasant fragrance.

I would still have roses today despite all of the work they take if I hadn’t finally decided they took too much water and too much time pruning. Actually, that’s not true. That’s just what I tell myself because I don’t want to admit I finally decided to throw in the towel and let the gophers declare victory.

The gophers aren’t too smart. Because they couldn’t keep their gluttony in check, I decided to rip out all traces of what more than one master gardener has told me provides one of their three favorite foods — soft roots —with the others being bulbs and gazanias. I do not know if the two experts were absolutely right on the pecking order of gophers’ favorite foods but I do know in the 28 years I have lived in the sandy plains of the northern San Joaquin Valley I’ve easily dropped $3,000 plus feeding them.

At one point I had 44 rose bushes in my current yard. That, however, is a drop in the bucket compare to my first yard where at the pinnacle I had 168 rose bushes. Cynthia thought it was excessive. The neighbors thought it was crazy. And I assumed otherwise law-abiding people who passed by had no problem with clipping blooms off that from rose bushes that I had spent months tending to starting in the dead of winter so they could have healthy and extensive blooms. Of course, they’d go for the most exotic roses I had in terms of petal color combinations. Hopefully someone has returned the favor stealing parts of their hobby or past-time that they have invested a lot of time in. It’s kind of ironic as the few times that someone actually knocked on my door to ask if they could cut roses — one was a young girl from down the street that wanted to take something that would make her mom who was in the hospital smile and the other from a teen boy who wanted roses for his girlfriend for Valentine’s Day but couldn’t afford them — not only was I OK with it but I had them pick the ones they wanted and I clipped them so they would stay fresh longer and my rose bushes would be able to grow back properly. I even gave them vases to put them in.

Pilferage in my current yard has been less severe but more maddening. My favorite flowers by far are California Golden Poppies. After looking through my window one day and seeing a mother and her child going through my yard picking what ended up being two dozen poppies I went outside and asked what they thought they were doing. The mom’s reply was “they’re wild flowers so anyone can pick them.”

I wasn’t exactly cordial when I told her to get out of my yard.

My yards — front and back — are now what might be called less demanding on water. I took out the grass years ago. The back yard has 20 trees along with potato bushes, oleanders and other shrubs that are mature enough they get by being watered twice a week during the hottest days of summer. The front is a different animal and could get by with a twice a week watering if it weren’t for the Japanese maples.

By design, yard work is at a minimum as I strive for low-maintenance, somewhat controlled natural looks. A neighbor, John Alves, who has a classic low-key front yard with a well-maintained lawn along with traditional flower beds and shrubbery, refers to my yard as “the jungle.”

Rest assured he is smarter than I am. The reason was evident early Wednesday morning. I will be spending a lot of time when I get home from work in the coming days eliminating snails and slugs that are under the assumption it is safe to venture out from cover in the cool of the dark night to blaze slimy trails across my driveway and sidewalk as they travel to new dining spots. They do so under the assumption no human in their right mind will be prowling around their yard at 2 a.m. on a mission to kill them.

I’ve got bad news for them. I’m not in my right mind and I can prove it. I once had 168 rose bushes to tend to and I liked it.