Garden Tasks, How-Tos, and Guides:
LitterPicking | RatHarassment | SprayingMicrobes | Composting | PruningTreesandShrubs | HandMulching | GroundCoverManagement | WeedingGuide

Litter picking & disposing of trash

  • Use the litter picker (aka garbage grabber) tool.
  • If there are no plastic bags, collect trash in a bucket, and empty into the corner trash bin (if the nearby corner trash bin is full, try any of the other corner trash bins).
  • Do not throw away organic matter (leaves, branches, dead plants, etc.)
  • Only pick plastics (candy wrappers, cups, lids, straws, etc.), metals (bottle caps, cans, old nails, etc.), glass, and mixed materials (glass + wood + plastic + metal).

Rat harassment

  • Destroy rat burrows/rat holes. If gravel (purchased in bags) is available, fill the holes with the gravel (rats do not like digging in gravel).
  • Keep areas clear and clean where rats can hide behind.
  • Keep bins and containers away from the walls, at least 2 feet away, so rats don’t have easy cover to hide and dig holes.
  • Spray microbes in areas most frequented, against rat residue/odor, which rats use to retrace their steps to their burrow and food and water sources. See below.

Spraying microbes

Against rat residue/odor, which rats can track back to their burrow and food/water sources.

While the main purposes of the following liquids (EM-5 and Activated EM recipes) are used to improve soil microbial health and plant health (i.e., keep pests at bay), they can also be used to manage odors and trace residues, such as, from rats.

Spraying or watering with EM-5 which is a microbial inoculant made with EM-1 (a combination of beneficial microorganisms), blackstrap molasses, apple cider vinegar (white vinegar is also okay if mainly used against rat residues/odor), vodka (or any cheap 40% alcohol, such as, Tequila and whiskey), and optionally garlic cloves and the hottest spicy peppers that’s available (Scoville rating/pungency(heat/spiciness) above 25K—25,000 SHU. Can be same or mix of peppers, examples:
cayenne [30K-50K],  
Satan’s Kiss peppers [40K-50K],
Thai orange peppers [50K-100K],  
Bird’s Eye (Thai chili, Piri Piri) [50K-350K],
Scotch bonnet [80K-400K],
habañero [100K-350K],
ghost pepper [850K-1M+], etc.

Generally, EM-5 is used as a foliar spray and to soil to prevent pests and against fungal diseases. The hypothesis is that EM-5 may be breaking down (not just washing away) the pheromones that rats secrete when their furs rub against as they run around—how they know where they’ve been and relocate food and their burrow. Rats have one of the most sensitive senses of smells and can map where things are according to odor. If their pheromones have been disrupted, they tend to stay away from confusion and being cautious.

Spray every two weeks or once a month. Otherwise, whenever they start to reestablish their route again.

Use the hose-end sprayer to spray either the entire garden or sections of the garden.

Use the pump sprayer for localized applications, such as, in your garden bed.

Hose-end sprayer

hose-end sprayer
  1. Fill the hose-end sprayer container with only concentrated EM-5 (max 32 fl oz).
  2. Set the red dial to 1.5 oz. (for every gallon of water that passes through, 1.5 fl oz of the EM-5 is sucked up into the water stream).
  3. Attach garden hose.
  4. Spray affected areas methodically, sweeping side to side while moving over the area.
  5. Below table shows the percentage per dial setting, and for which application should the dial be set (foliar – spraying to leaves; direct to soil; or for flushing out rat odors).
    Example, setting at 1 tsp, means that for every gallon (128 fl oz) of water that goes from hose through the device, 1 teaspoon (or 0.17 fl oz) of whatever liquid is in the container/Ortho device is drawn into the flow and sprayed out mixed with the water. This is pretty much the standard application rate of 1:1000 (0.10% ratio) for spraying EM-5 onto plant [over and under] leaves as a maintenance against pests and foliar feeding (providing nutrients through the leaves).
Hose-end sprayer
hose-end spraying

Hand-pump Sprayers

pump sprayers

Pump Spraying EM-5

Pre-mix the EM-5 in water in the pump sprayer container.

For rat odors, use 4 teaspoons for 65 fl oz of water,
or less than <1 tablespoon for 40 fl oz of water.

Spraying EM-5

Pump Spraying Activated EM (AEM or just ‘Activated’)

Apply AEM in addition to EM-5. AEM is just EM-1 and blackstrap molasses without the other ingredients. Activated EM is a microbial inoculant for soil, compost, gray water, black water, and compost toilets. It improves soil microbial health, many other microbes, worms and insects eat these microbes, and it works well for odor management.

Spraying AEM

Composting Food Waste

For composting in general and an overview, see and view their “How to Compost” and “Learn” menus.

For bokashi composting, see

Pruning Trees and Shrubs – Guide

Oregon State University Extension Service, Oregon Master Gardener Association, 2-page PDF guide:


Only gardeners who have been certified as Citizen Pruners are allowed to work on trees and larger shrubs. It is a violation of the GreenThumb license agreement for non-certified gardeners to do any tree pruning. GreenThumb subsidizes free training for gardeners to be certified as Citizen Pruners through TreesNYC. The garden board will send out notifications when spots are available for this training. As of 2021, only Shig and Ryan are certified as Citizen Pruners.

  • Tree and shrub care tools: The garden currently owns the following for tree care: 2 telescoping pruning saws, one hand pruning saw, various old saws (these should not be used), 4 loppers, and some snips. We also have liquid copper, neem oil, and all seasons oil for pest management, as well as spray canisters and a hose nozzle for applying these substances
  • Aim of pruning: The goal of any pruning is to allow the plant to channel energy into the most productive branches, and to reduce overgrowth and tangle, which diminish airflow and create ideal conditions for diseases and pests.
  • General principles: When pruning any woody plant (tree or shrub), first remove dead and diseased branches. Then remove any crossing branches, or any branches with “narrow angles of attachment.” If a tree or shrub has been unpruned for many years, it can take many successive prunings over the course of multiple years to get the tree or shrub back into shape, since it is unadvisable to prune off too much during a single session. Although opinion differs somewhat, in general, any time is a good time to prune. The primary exceptions are fruit trees and shrubs, which may respond better to pruning in late fall, right before the start of dormancy, and late winter, right before the spring awakening.
  • Care of specific trees and shrubs
    • Grape vine. Notes based on the GreenThumb webinar held in March 2021. Contact Ryan for a link to the recording.
      • When to prune: Pruning should be done in late winter, around mid-March. A second small pruning can be done in mid-summer to thin out unproductive growth and channel more energy into fruit production. These notes are chiefly intended to describe the late winter pruning.Diagram of parts of a grapevine
      • Plant structure. For trellis/pergola grown grape vines, there should be single dominant trunk rising straight up through the trellis grate with no suckers, cordons, or branches coming off the lower trunk. A single “cordon” (large branch) should then angle almost 90 degrees across the trellis. Off of this cordon, spurs (mid-size branches) should grow evenly spaced, 6 inches apart. From these spurs, canes (smaller branches) should be allowed to grow. Canes bear leaves and fruits. Leave tendrils in place, as these allow the vine to attach to the trellis. If needed, use arbor tape to secure the trunk, cordon, and spurs in place.
      • What to prune: Old growth (three years and older) is unproductive, disease-prone, and should be cut off. Second year growth is the most productive for foliage and fruit and should be retained. Some new growth (one year old) can also be retained for future seasons, but remove excess new growth. Old growth is darker in color, will have exfoliation on the bark; new growth is lighter and has smoother bark with a shinier surface. Remove all cordons, spurs, and canes from the trunk, except for the primary cordon growing over the trellis. Removed spurs and canes have potential to be grafted onto new rootstock.
      • How much to prune: A maximum 30% of growth should be removed during the late-winter pruning. If the vine has gone unpruned for many seasons, you may need to do successive hard prunings over the course of several seasons to get the vine back into ideal shape
    • Each spur you are retaining should be pruned back to the third node from its base. Make a 45-degree cut just above the node.
    • Arbor tape can be used to help affix the trunk and cordons to the climbing structure during and after pruning if needed. Masking tape or cloth tatters can also be helpful during pruning to help mark the cordon(s) and spurs you are planning to retain, to prevent unintentional cuts.
    • Feeding: Grape vines prefer well-aerated, poor quality soil. Nonetheless, late winter is the perfect time to boost the vine’s nutrients by adding some compost to the soil around the vine. Dig a trench, 3-4 inches deep, in a donut shape around the trunk at a distance of 12 inches from the trunk. Add mulch to the trench, cover with soil. Mulch around the trunk with untreated cedar mulch, but leave a little space around the trunk base
    • Watering: grape vines abhor permanently soggy conditions–water deeply but allow the soil to dry between waterings. If this is not possible, amend the soil with sand, perlite, or another inorganic aggregate to promote better drainage and aeration.
  • Fruit trees: The garden has several fruit trees, including a plum tree, two apple trees, a peach tree, a mulberry tree, a crabapple tree, and some ornamental cherries, as well as two fig shrubs. Grape vines are discussed in a separate section. Notes are compiled by Ryan, based on the Open Orchard School series offered by GreenThumb in 2020. Contact Ryan if you would like a link to the recordings.
    • When to prune:
    • What to prune:
    • How much to prune:
    • Pest management:
    • Feeding:
    • Watering:
    • Grafting and propagation:
    • Transplanting:

Hand Mulching Guide for Garden Members & Volunteers

  • Mulch (cut into small pieces) pruned plants, plant clippings, dead plants, and small branches. Large branches can be trimmed and used for other purposes, including bed border buffers, for growing mushrooms, or for soil prep uses.
  • Depending on plant-matter size (plants, thick plants, branches), use a hand pruner, loper, or hand saw (if available).
  • Put/drop the small pieces onto paths between raised beds and over dirt paths (not over grassy areas); larger pieces that may be harder to walk on (such as thick pieces of branches even if they’re only an inch long) put them in non-walking common areas, such as around trees.

Ground Cover Management Guide

  • Raking and spreading fall leaves, as well as, hand mulched plant clippings:
    • over dirt paths, this prevents muddy paths after rain, and prevents dusty conditions if no rain for awhile.
    • over dirt around and between plants, keeps moisture in the soil, which keeps beneficial organisms working in the soil to feed the plants (microorganisms, worms, soil insects), and minimizes the need to constantly water or prevent plants from dying too quickly from a fast-drying soil.
    • Ground cover keeps moisture in the soil which is necessary for all kinds of small organisms to flourish (microorganisms) which feed larger organisms (worms, soil insects), and they feed the birds.
  • Allow certain beneficial ground cover plants to grow, as appropriate, including ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), Appalachian Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides), Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica), etc.

Weeding Guide

  • Only paths, mulch-covered, dirt, and brick/paved paths, should be kept clear of weeds. Other areas, including common areas should be weeded, removed or just cut/pruned, on a case-by-case basis (consult with other garden members).
  • These cut weeds should be hand-mulched and left on the path as ground cover (raised beds area and common areas).
  • Weeds in other areas: if in garden plots, it is the responsibility of the member assigned that plot; if in common areas, consult with other garden members since certain plants which may be considered as weeds are actually beneficial, for example, as ground cover (see Ground Cover Management Guide, above), as nutrient source and balance for other plants that we do want, and for other properties (some weeds are edible and/or attracts beneficial insects, etc.)