I can’t count the times I’ve heard or read little tips and suggestions that could make my garden tasks easier and more efficient. I can’t count them because I’ve failed to write them down, cut them out of the publication, or simply commit them to memory. Well, I’m going to do something about that right now, and share with you some tips and suggestions I’ve been collecting from more experienced and practiced gardeners. Some of these tips may be helpful to you, others you may already be using, and still others may be of no use to you. So, here we go.
Your clay and plastic flowerpots:
Make those stained, dusty clay pots presentable again by getting rid of those gray and white salt stains. Mix equal parts white vinegar, rubbing alcohol, and water. Spray the mixture on the pot’s stains, then rub the stain with a stiff brush, and rinse. Be sure the pot has dried thoroughly before using it to hold soil and plants. (Thanks to Paul James of House & Garden for this tip.)
Contain and control the roots of an over-zealous plant, all too eager to spread its roots far and wide. Those attractive, but invasive, purple loosestrife and monkey grass come to mind. Corral their roots with plastic pots. Cut out the bottom of a plastic flowerpot. Sink the pot into the soil (easier now, without a bottom). Then fill the bottomless pot with soil and that rambunctious Liriope or monkey grass. As the plant grows, its roots will be contained, blocked from invading its neighbor’s space.
Need some way to keep that garden twine from unwinding or rolling under the potting bench? A small clay pot makes a cute, efficient garden twine dispenser. Put the ball of twine or string in the pot and thread the end of the string out through the drain hole. Turn over the pot, and set it on a clay saucer. You can keep your twine tidy, and easily pull out as much string as you need to secure that clematis to its trellis.
Clay pots can make attractive hose guides. They’ll keep the garden hose from breaking off that beautiful begonia’s stalk or rolling over those sweet pansies. You’ll need 15- to 20-inch long steel bars plus two small pots of equal size for each guide. Pound a stake into the flowerbed’s edge so only eight inches remain above ground. Take two small clay pots, one right-side up and the other upside-down. Thread them down the stake, and press them firmly into the path. Continue putting stakes and pots along the garden path. There you have it—attractive and efficient guides for that unruly hose.
Have you resisted using handsome urns and large pots because you’re worried about handling the very heavy pot when it’s full? Reduce the weight of that urn by filling it halfway with Styrofoam peanuts, then add the potting soil and plants to the top. The plants will benefit from improved drainage, the urn will be lighter and more easily movable, and you’ll use less potting soil.
Here’s one of my favorites: Perhaps you’re like me, always grabbing a weed or plucking an errant volunteer while walking to the car. What to do with that handful of weeds? You can’t just drop them back on the ground to take root again! And who wants to walk back to the recycle or compost bin for three little weeds? Well, just place medium size clay pots strategically among your flowerbeds. When you pull a weed or three, drop them into the nearest clay pot, and then occasionally empty the pots into your compost or lawn waste bags. So much easier than carrying each little handful of weeds all the way to the compost or recycles. And the clay pots are discreet, even attractive to the casual glance.
Irrigation and watering:
Tired of watering every day? Good news! It’s called “Deep-Infrequent-Watering.” This approach encourages roots to go deeper and discourages fungal spores and other potential diseases. Water less often (try every third day), but for longer periods of time; really soak the flowerbeds. (Thanks to Adam Colgan of On the Green Landscaping.)
Don’t toss that water after boiling veggies! Let it cool and pour it onto your houseplants or into the flowerbeds. The plants will enjoy the vegetable nutrients left behind in the water.
And continuing with our menu for the plants in our gardens, add a little beer to their diets. Occasionally, add a bottle or two of beer to your watering can. The Delphiniums, Hollyhocks, and Foxgloves are particularly fond of good hops now and then.
Home remedies for garden pests:
Aphids, those tiny, white, bugs that skitter under the leaves and along the stalks of plants can be stopped. First, try some dish soap in your watering can. (No need to use a lot, just a few squirts per gallon of water.) Sprinkle or spray the infested plant, being sure to get the underside of the leaves and along the stalk. It may take several applications, but simple soapy water usually does the trick.
Sometimes, aphids can be resistant to the simple soapy water cure, so add a healthy dose of vegetable or olive oil to the soapy water. The idea is to coat and thus asphyxiate the aphids and protect the plant with an oily barrier.
Mosquitoes, too, are susceptible to oil, particularly olive oil. Sprinkle olive oil over the surfaces of that fountain, birdbath, or pond. The oil will discourage mosquitoes from laying their eggs there.
Slugs are another perennial invader of our bucolic spaces. Lure them into a shallow pie tin filled with beer. They’re drawn to the smell of yeast, and will drown in the delightful brew.
And what about those pesky mosquitoes? You may already know that chrysanthemums are repellent to lots of bugs, especially mosquitoes. You can also repel mosquitoes by filling your window boxes and porch flower boxes with garlic, onion, and chive plants. They’ll make an interesting variety of leaves and colors with your bright chrysanthemums.
If you’re a devotee of rose bushes, you’re probably all too familiar with the black spot fungus. A natural preventative and, sometimes, cure for black spot fungus is to prepare a gallon of water to which you add one tablespoon of baking soda and one teaspoon of liquid soap. Spray the rose bushes early in the morning, once a week. With luck, the rose leaves will be as spotless as your dishes in no time.
And what about those moles, gophers, and maybe even groundhogs tunneling through your garden? Well, you may have bought hot pepper spray at the garden store, but here’s a simple alternative—hot, jalapeño peppers. Cut the peppers in half, the long way, and bury them at intervals along those unsightly tunnels. Those pesky tunnelers will skedaddle, leaving the tunnels to collapse, and your plants’ roots to stretch down into the earth.
Finally, our favorite pests: dogs, cats, and deer. Try some chopped garlic and cayenne pepper. Sprinkle it around the garden and watch the pets run—of course, I can’t promise that your guests may run too. Garlic and cayenne pepper make pretty potent repellents. A less distressing scent-repellent is Irish Spring Soap. Yup, the deer particularly do not like Irish Spring. Cut bars of soap into big chunks and hang them in old socks or mesh bags from trees or along your fence.
Tools: Paint the handles of your favorite tools; choose a bright color so you can find them when you drop them in the flowerbeds. The bright handles will also discourage friends or neighbors from “forgetting” which tools are yours. Also, mark the handle of a rake or shovel with inch markings, like a yardstick. When you need to measure distances for planting, you won’t need to go hunting for a measuring stick. Rub car wax on the blades of your tools; they’ll slide more easily as you dig and resist rusting.
Flowers and herbs: Add lemon juice and sugar to cool water in your flower vases to extend the life of the flowers. Dry your herbs perfectly by laying the herbs out on newsprint on the seats of a car. Close up the car, and leave the car and herbs sitting in the sun for a day. The herbs will dry perfectly, and your car will smell great!
Rain gauge: To more easily read your rain gauge, drop some food coloring in the bottom. When it rains, the gauge will be easy to read with its blue or red water.
A final “clean-up”: I seem to end up with soil beneath my nails, even when wearing garden gloves. To avoid grungy nails, before gardening, scrape your nails over a bar of soap. The soap will seal your nails from dirt and add extra strength to avoid breaks. When you’re done in the garden, a nail brush and warm water will leave your hands looking good as new.