When you garden, there are so many ways to get it right, and even more ways to get it so wrong. Here are a few tips that will help you get more out of your garden this season — just in time for spring planting:
Water with ice cubes – If your patio plants never last long once the heat hits in earnest, there’s probably a good reason. If you miss a few important watering sessions, your plants may survive, but the soil around their roots tends to become porous. That’s bad news the next time you water, and the time after that, because porous soil doesn’t hold water very well, exacerbating the whole watering situation. What you want is moderately loose soil that leaves room for roots to wander, but still holds water long enough for those roots to take a fortifying drink.
It sounds complicated, but there’s an easy cheat that will help. In the morning before you go to work, add a handful of ice cubes to each of your deck plants and houseplants. They act like a time release delivery system for water. A number of them clumped together will retard melting until your plants have had a chance to get a good drink and a nourishing meal. It works great, but keep the ice cubes from touching the stems or leaves of your plants to avoid burns. Try it for a couple of weeks. You’ll notice the difference. (If you believe your soil is very porous from patchy watering, give your plants a good drink in the sink. This will de-stress them and help recondition the soil.)
Adopt a commuter mentality – A great location for a plant in spring may be too hot and bright in high summer. If you’ve had problems roasting your darlings on hot days, when the temps soar, move them to a shadier spot. That way you can enjoy a pot of mint by your lounge chair in May and then relocate it to your shady entry in July. By September, you can put it back on the patio until it’s time to overwinter it in the soil or indoors come October. Don’t adopt a set-it-and-forget it attitude about plant placement because you’re used to thinking of plant positioning as permanent. With the newer lightweight but attractive pots, it’s easier than ever to swap plants around as needed without visiting a chiropractor afterward.
Encourage rooting – When you plant tomato seedlings, remove the bottom two or four leaves and plant that portion of stem in the soil. The node that produced those first few leaves will begin producing roots instead, enhancing the plant’s feeding system.
Hedge your bets when direct seeding – If you plan to direct seed sunflowers, basil, squash plants or other herb, flower or vegetable varieties, consider starting them briefly indoors between two damp sheets of paper toweling covered with a loose sheet of cellophane wrap. Seeds should sprout in a few days and be ready to transplant without the aid of soil, peat pots or other paraphernalia. That way you’ll know the seeds are viable. If you harvest and save seed from year to year, or over multiple years, this can be an important consideration. You’ll spend less time worrying about the neighborhood birds, too. After transplanting, cover each sprout with an upended Styrofoam cup or other disposable media for a day or two for added protection, or cover it with a light layer of mulch.
Discourage mildew – As your tomatoes grow, remove the branches and leaves and on the bottom quarter or so of the plant. If a couple of big rainstorms increase the risk of a mildew infestation, any potential problems will have a harder time getting a foothold if splash-zone foliage has been removed. This can work with other mildew prone plants, too.
Mulch around your flowers, vegetables and herbs, especially if you live in an area where pests like slugs and pincher bugs aren’t a problem. Mulch will help create a mold barrier, retain water and keep plants cooler during the hottest part of the day. You don’t need expensive mulch, either. Shredded paper and cardboard are among the best mulches around. If wind is a problem, hold paper mulch in place with a little earth, sand or small stones.
Make diatoms your secret weapon – If you’re having bug problems, consider dusting with diatoms. Diatomaceous earth is made up of the ancient, single-celled sea creatures. It looks like white powder, but to a slug or squash bug it’s like a brick wall with broken glass on top. Because there may be some risk for lung damage when breathing it in, use a disposable mask when applying diatoms to your plants and the earth around them. Just shake it on plants or as a barrier around them.You’ll need to reapply diatomaceous earth after a heavy rain, but as a relatively benign pest deterrent, it’s fast, easy and effective at discouraging soft bodied pests and some flying varieties as well. In fact, it’s often used as a DIY option for treating bedbug infestations — and you know how pesky bedbugs can be.
Consider companion planting – If you haven’t planted your seedlings yet, consider buying some companion plants that will discourage pests. I like to place catnip at both ends of my garden, add it to my flowerbeds and vegetable patch, too. To me it has a faint aroma of, well, skunk, that makes bugs like aphids and squash beetles think twice about settling in for a meal. Other good candidates are lavender, garlic and French marigold.
There are also companion plants that believe in the buddy system. Take leeks and carrots. Apart they may do well, but together they do better. There are lots of plant combinations that work, but the principles behind the pairings may vary. One plant may repel bugs that are attracted to the second plant, providing a type of chemical cover. Companion plants may require different soil elements, so they aren’t competing as aggressively for nutrients. One plant may also offer shade while the other provides structural support. I prepared a list of companion planting strategies last spring you may want to review. You can find it here: Companion Planting and Other Tactics
Pick your poison (as well as when to use it) – You may start the season determined to keep your garden pesticide free, only to discover you’ve just provided the neighborhood wildlife with a free (for them) salad bar. If watching Japanese beetles devour your blueberry bushes becomes intolerable, be kind in your use of pesticides. Poison kills good bugs as well as bad ones. To spare as many foraging bees as possible, spray insecticide in the evening. Bees start heading back to the hive in the afternoon, so an evening spraying is less likely to take a heavy toll on industrious bumbles. You can also start planning your war strategy for next year by exploring less aggressive but still effective options like introducing nematodes to your soil, small worms that will kill lots of pests (squash beetles, flea beetles, Japanese beetles) during the grub stage before they mature and become a problem.
More tops later. Have a great weekend.
Diatomaceous Earth Food Grade 10 Lb
Bee – From Flicker – Courtesy of User: Tanja Rott https://www.flickr.com/photos/tjrglass/2638042474/in/photolist
Little Metal Bike – From Flickr – Courtesy of User: Liz https://www.flickr.com/photos/kingstongal/4906901691/in/photolist
Diatomaceous Earth – From Flickr – courtesy of User: This Year’s Love https://www.flickr.com/photos/hand-nor-glove/1529023863/in/photolist