Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Best Mistakes

I am slowly making my way back into the garden after a long winter ... not weather-wise, but in every other way.  Late last summer my Dad was diagnosed with bladder cancer, something we are still dealing with; in January my Mom had a stroke and broke her hip and we lost her in March; in March Jim's sister was diagnosed with dementia and we are currently trying to get all of her affairs in order.  Meanwhile my ladies await help in their gardens and I fit them in as I can.

I always try to learn from mistakes, and as I tell my son, the best mistakes to learn from are someone else's.  I was on a job a couple of days ago that reminded me of a few biggies.

As I try to type with a painful finger that has the remains of a rose thorn in it that I cannot dig out, I will begin with a lesson I learned years ago and a vow I made when I started growing roses. Never, no matter how big a hurry or how convenient and innocent it seems at the time, throw a rose cutting (or anything else with thorns) in the garden.  NEVER!  Even if you wear gloves 99.9% of the time in the garden, the time will come when you see something you want to catch really fast, and as you grab that leaf, weed or piece of trash that needs your attention, you will inadvertently grab the now hidden cutting, driving in and breaking off a time hardened and brittle thorn into your finger.  It is not worth the pain.  Take the time to properly dispose of every rose cutting.  If you see one that accidentally made its way into the garden, pick it up immediately.

Instead of trying to grow healthy plants, grow healthy soil.  Soil is where plants get their real nutrients, so when the soil is healthy, plants will be, too.  It is tempting to skip that step, but if your soil is unhealthy, with few exceptions, your plants will not reach their full potential.  Every aspect of gardening is easier and more enjoyable in beautiful soil.  Soil is the foundation of your garden; make sure it is strong.

If someone offers you an invasive plant, run.  Often these are the plants marketed as "will grow anywhere" or other such descriptions making them irresistible to the struggling gardener or a difficult area.  If you have already planted invasive plants, get them out now; every season you leave them makes them harder to get rid of.  This is especially important if you live near the edge of a natural habitat.  You may think you will be able to keep them under control, but eventually they will escape.  Once in the wild, they take over, choking out native plants or waterways and the wildlife that depends upon them.  Even in the suburban garden, the time will come that you want to grow something else, or maybe you already are, and you will not want some invasive plant popping up in and around it.  There are a plenty of plants that grow well and even spread in a variety of conditions, but are not invasive.  They are a much better choice.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Slug and Snail Killer

I do not have much of a problem with snails or slugs anymore.  They are the bane of Hosta gardeners, and indeed, I have fought a few battles with them in the past.  Now whenever I find I have some, which is rare, I bring out my big guns.

What is my secret weapon?  Slug and snail killer with the active ingredient of iron phosphate.  The last I bought was made by Ortho and I found it in the lawn and garden section of a local store, but there are other brands such as Escar-Go! and Sluggo to name a couple.

How does it work?  The iron phosphate shuts down the snail or slug's digestive system and it starves to death.  You do not see them laying around dead, but you gradually see less damage, then eventually no more.

How do you use it?  Sprinkle it around affected plants and the snails are drawn to.  I recommend hiding it under the plants so that it does not become expensive bird feed.

What are its advantages?  It is organic and gradually reverts back to the soil.  It is fast and easy to use.  It is safe to use around pets and kids.  It lasts through rain and watering without needed to be reapplied.  It works better than anything else I have tried.  In the early days I went through quite a bit, but now that they are under control, one box has lasted several years and will likely last several more.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Organic Fertilizer

From time to time I have plants that need a little extra oomph and do not have enough compost or manure to go around.  I usually let it go because I know the plant will hold its own until some is available, but occasionally I do buy an organic fertilizer.  Here are some fertilizer tips and a couple I have recently tried and liked.  Both products are available from Amazon.

Many people think 10-10-10 is a well balanced fertilizer, but a NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) ratio of 3-1-2 is preferable.  High numbers sound good, more bang for your buck, but they also indicate non-organic, and the faster growth they provide is also more prone to pests and problems.

Wiggle Worm Soil Builder Earthworm Castings 1-0-0

Ease of use is definitely an advantage to the worm castings. According to the instructions, the castings are to be worked into the soil, but I did not have time or desire, so simply put a few tablespoons at the base of plants and waited for rain and Nature to do the rest.  I have also been using a handful around the roots in planting holes.

I was asked about the price of worm castings, were they not terribly expensive.  If you compare them to the cost of little packages of fertilizer, no, not really, and the benefits are far greater.

Neptune's Harvest Hydrolized Fish
& Seaweed Fertilizer 2-3-1

Some people in reviews complained of the smell.  It is made from fish and seaweed; if you have ever smelled either, it should be no surprise to you that it is not delightfully fragrant. However, the smell dissipates fairly quickly, so if applied in the evening as recommended as opposed to before a dinner party, it should be no problem.  I have also been using it to water new plants in.

Bottom line on my opinion of both products ... I can tell a difference using them both individually and together.  I even decided to give most of my plants a little to help strengthen them for winter. Will I buy them again?  I have already ordered larger sizes of both and intend to keep them on hand.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Plant Sale

Technically to sell plants, you have to be certified by the USDA.  Unless you’re going to sell online or start a nursery, etc., you should not have any issues.   That said, inspect your plants for pests, disease, fungus, etc.  If in doubt, throw it out.  Not only do they risk your reputation, you spread potentially large problems.

I have “plant sale” signs I put out, sometimes in conjunction with a yard sale.  The earlier in spring, the better, so if you have a greenhouse, even a small one, make use of it.  A lot of people spend their plant budget early.  Summer is not bad, but most people do not buy in late summer or fall.  If you are willing, let people know you always have plants out; I have even had people leave money in the door for plants when I was not home.  I have a reputation and people like my plants - the variety, the price, how they look and grow.  They also like my knowledge; take the time to know about what you have and share it, the good and the bad.  It is worth not selling a plant to gain trust.  Some people will just come for your knowledge, but they also bring friends who buy plants.

You can use butter tubs, yogurt containers, plastic cups, etc. for pots as long as you poke holes (hot nail works well) for drainage.  Put up a sign asking for pots.  I had one with the recycle logo saying something like, “Help keep plant prices down.  Donate old pots.  Reduce, reuse, recycle.” You would be surprised at how many people hoard nursery pots hoping to find someone to use them!  I would get big garbage bags full, so many I ended up donating to the botanical garden I worked at.  I have not had the sign in years, but still occasionally come home to a stack of pots someone dropped off.  You also frequently see them in the trash.  Blind slats make great plant labels and are also frequently found in the trash.

It is worth buying quality soil, usually something that says “professional” on it.  You can get cheap stuff, but the plants will struggle in it.  If it feels like a brick in the bag, it will be like a brick in the pot. Happy plants = better sales.

What plants?  First off, anything that says “PP” or “PPAF” is a patented plant, so propagation is prohibited and selling is bootlegging.  What sells in stores I frequently can not give away.  Day lilies and mums are good examples.  While some people like to try different plants, things that are not somewhat heard of sometimes do not sell well.  Sedums are pretty well known, easy to propagate, and fill in fast = good seller.  Hostas are well known and popular, also a good seller. Until I learned what sold or not, I put a variety of plants on the table as I divided or propagated them.  Even people who did not buy anything stopped by to see what was new.

I have the easiest propagation methods I have found for various plants at The Obsessed Gardener.  Plants usually transplant better if you cut them back and a pot full of new growth is more appealing.

Having a nice display of plants in your yard makes people say, “I want that!”  If you do not have any potted up but do have some to spare and know it will transplant well, pot up a start and sell it on the spot.  If you are not sure how well it will transplant, get their number and tell them you will contact them when it is ready.  Again, your reputation is everything and you do not want to sell plants that may not survive.  Photos of plants not in bloom, either from a catalog or that you have taken, are also helpful.

Keep it cheap.  Everyone likes a deal and you are competing with box stores.  It is easier to sell nice looking plants, and the longer they sit, the worse they look.  It is better to sell a lot cheap early on than have a lot to tend through the season, overwinter and risk losing.  $2-$3 based upon size is where I am at for most plants.  Much more and you are competing with box stores.  Most people see the size and price of the pot, not the value of the plant.  Once in awhile you get a serious gardener who knows it is a deal to get a particular plant for that price.  You will not necessarily make a lot, but it is nice to get paid for doing something you love and money to buy more plants.

Take advantage of the time during your plant sale to relax or work in your own garden.  I always greet people and tell them if they have any questions, feel free to ask, but do not smother them.  I hate sales people hovering around or talking as I browse, but do like knowing they are nearby if I need something, so extend that courtesy.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Running a Temporary Water Line

We do not have a large yard but we have a lot of gardens with paths running between them.  I do not water a lot, but when I do, threading the hose around then winding it back up is a lot of work. Jim, always looking for ways to make things easier came up with a plan.

He put a Y connector on the back water facet.  On one side a water hose is connected for close by watering, a washing machine supply line is connected to the other side.

The washing machine supply line runs to a short PVC pipe fitted with a connector and elbow.  At the other end of the PVC pipe is another elbow connected to PVC pipe running underground the desired length.  Since it will be disconnected in the winter, freezing is not an issue, so it is only buried a few inches deep to be out of sight.

A box buried in the ground and lined with pea gravel provides a place for the other end of the PVC pipe, fitted with a water facet, to come out.

A water hose and nozzle are connected and kept nearby.  A piece of scrap wood provides a cover to prevent accidents.  Water is turned on and off at the main faucet.  It is definitely easier to move two separate fifty foot hoses than one hundred foot one!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Stop the Insanity

The weather has finally warmed, and like everyone else, I am taking advantage of it.  It can be a bit harder for me to work outside without distractions as I am the neighborhood go to person for plant questions.  My neighbor has a row of shrubs forming a hedge and decided to clean them out. It was a bigger task than she had anticipated, so she asked me if it would be okay to cut them back to about three feet. Being full of old, unproductive and dying wood, I recommended taking them down to about six inches.  I got a look from her and her husband as though I had said to take them out.  I reassured her that that is what I do and she sees how mine turn out; they put out new growth from the ground rather than being top heavy and naked at the bottom.  She proceeded to cut them back to about three feet with horrible, jagged results.  My son asked why she did not cut them back farther and she said she was afraid of hurting them.  I have seen this happen many times with many people.

Rewind a few years.  The same neighbor, knowing my stance on circumcision, decided to brag to me of her son's.  She told of how she could hear him screaming all the way down the hall and thought, "that's my boy!"  I have also heard variations of this (usually horrified by the screams, but still undeterred from circumcision) many times from many people.

What is wrong that people put more thought and caution into cutting old shrubs than perfect newborn boys? Plants need to be pruned, children do not.

For more information on circumcision, see Don't Mess With Mother Nature.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Why I Do This

Why do I do this?  It takes a lot of time to take and post pictures and update blogs and websites.   Gardeners are in general a different breed of people and enjoy sharing.   Sure, it would be nice to have recognition and make money, but I do not distract with watermarks and paid ad options or limit with copyrights.  Why?  For one, gardening sites that do are a turn off to me, especially ones that start off free, rely on user input, then start charging a subscription fee.   Besides, if someone wants to steal my work, they are going to regardless.  A bigger reason?  You do not have to look far or pay a fee to find negativity and ugliness in one form or another that depresses, angers or encourages disrespect.  I want to make a difference.

Look at a picture of a beautiful flower or garden and feel the happiness come over you.  Walk through an overflowing garden and feel the tranquility it brings. Smell a rose and become intoxicated by its fragrance.  Bite into a garden fresh piece of produce and feel the delight of the flavor.  Dig your hands into beautiful soil and feel the connection with Earth and All That Is.  Watch a seed sprout and you have witnessed a miracle.  The garden is a wondrous place and I want to help bring its joys to the world by inspiring and educating.

"I've waited in the sun and listened to every one of the questions that you posed
and I have found the answers in the petals of a rose."
(from "Show Me The Way," sung by Liam Clancy)