Confession time: I don’t have a green thumb. I have killed cactus. I can easily imagine that plants shudder in horror when I get too close. Until this past year, the only plant that has survived while in my care was a Golden Pothos plant, a hardy little vining plant that requires a drought, a swarm of locusts, and a bazooka to kill. Though I have since bought a number of hard-to-kill plants for my home, that one success gave me the confidence to try my hand at a few herbs and veggies as well.
So, for those of us who still look wistfully at our neighbor’s lovingly-tended garden, or those of us who just wish they could grow their own tomatoes without breaking down in tears of frustration, here are 14 gardening tips to give the most clueless of us the know-how and confidence to become gardeners.
1. If you need to transport plants home, and you have a van, SUV, or truck then you’re in luck. Transport plants in a ladder laid flat in the back of your vehicle. The rungs are the correct spacing to keep plants from toppling over.
2. Don’t wait for the chilly nights to warm up to plant your vegetables. 1-liter soda bottles, gallon milk jugs, and small clay pots can be repurposed to make cheap cloches for protecting your young and delicate plants from frost and cold weather.
3. Compost is key. There are a number of natural fertilizers you can use for your plants. Rabbit droppings, compost from leftover food, and the water left in the pot after boiling or steaming vegetables all act as natural and powerful fertilizers. Don’t want the smell of compost in your home? Consider buying a charcoal-filtered, steal composter for your kitchen and a small bin for your patio. There is a 1-gallon steel composter from Oggi available for about $30, and an 82-gallon, odorless bin available from Home Depot for about $70. Note that the process of making compost will typically take a season or two, or start early.
4. Create non-stick shovels and trowels by coating them with Teflon lubricant or silicon spray. Dirt easily slides off coated shovels and even thick clay is simple to remove.
5. Make huge, unwieldy pots mobile, by placing packing peanuts in the bottom of the pot. The packing peanuts won’t allow soil to filter down, but will make moving the pot much easier.
6. Plant aggressive plants or plants that tend to overtake gardens in plastic pots with the bottom cut out. The plants can still reach down into the soil, yet the roots won’t spread outwards to cut off other plants. This is especially handy for vegetables.
7. Some plants require a specific amount of distance between plants. Instead of always reaching for a tape measurer, add inch and foot marks to a long shovel or garden rake handle with permanent marker to create an easy-to-find tape measurer.
8. For vegetable gardens, lay down a thin bed of straw around your plants. Like mulch, straw will retain water and cut down on weeding time. The decomposing straw also acts at a natural compost, sending nutrients into the soil as it breaks down.
9. Create water reservoirs for vegetables (especially water-consuming veggies like squash) by inserting large buckets with tiny holes in the bottom into the ground around your vegetable plants. It works much like the Grow Box from The Garden Patch.
10. There are many fruits and vegetables that thrive in acidic soil – radishes, sweet potatoes, peppers, blueberries, and cranberries are a few. To naturally fertilize these plants, sprinkle a small amount of used tea and coffee grounds on the soil around the plant about once a month. This will keep the pH levels in the soil consistent. Also worthy of note is that coffee and tea grounds are known to repel garden nuisances such as ants, snails, and slugs.
11. Chamomile tea is renowned for its ability to fight damping-off fungus. Seedlings, which are susceptible to damping-off fungus, can be protected by dumping a very small amount of chamomile tea in the soil at base of the plant.
12. Having issues with deer? Deer love to eat carefully planted gardens, and are especially fond of Hosta plants. To keep deer from destroying your garden, hang fresh clippings of human hair in mesh bags about 3’ off the ground around the perimeters of your garden. Deer associate the smell of human hair with danger and will avoid the areas with hair.
13. Trimming isn’t fun to begin with, but having strings break over and over while trimming is even worse. If you are constantly having to stop with refeed the line or take out kinks, be sure to spray the line of the string trimmer with vegetable oil before installing the line in the trimmer – the vegetable oil will prevent breakages and snags in the unit, and will keep the trimmer running smoothly
14. Can’t ever remember the names of the plants you planted or how best to take care of them? To keep track of plants that you’ve planted, create a garden journal documenting all the plants you’ve planted and where. Be sure to group by season and include the tags with the proper names and care guidelines. Or if the idea of creating a journal doesn’t appeal to you, find a number of large flat stones and use a permanent marker to write the names of the plants in your garden. Place under plants appropriately.