Spring in Tennessee is a beautiful three month affair and easily my favorite season. Regardless of where you live, these tips and tricks should help you shake off old man Winter and get your green thumb on (I’m from Ohio, originally, and ending with prepositions is our thing. Don’t hate).
1. Got Aphids? These little buggers are the bane of every rosebush. I was torn between spraying pesticides that would kill the aphids’ natural predators (like lady bugs) and saving my roses, when I stumbled upon this excellent trick. Put your water hose on a higher setting and spray away at the affected areas. While adult aphids can fly, the babies can’t. Doing this once a day for two weeks cleared my bushes for the summer and left the lady bugs to pick off stragglers!
2. In case you haven’t heard, coffee grinds and eggshells are in! While there is debate about the amount of calcium that eggshells add to the soil, they do keep the slugs away. There is no debate that coffee grinds are an excellent source of nitrogen, among other things. I just keep my eggshells until I have about two dozen and a pot or two worth of coffee grinds. Then I put the eggs in a blender until they are in small pieces and sprinkle the mixture on my garden. It gives great results. Also, coffee grinds are slightly acidic, so they work great with plants like hydrangeas. Just be sure to sprinkle, not dump on, the grinds as they can form a water barrier if they are heaped. Here’s a link with more scieno-babble on that.
3. Mulching fertilizes, helps keep moisture in the soil, and helps keep down weeds. It’s a go to for any gardener, but sometimes weeds still stage a takeover. It’s tempting to put down weed barriers under your mulch, but those can prevent nutrients and moisture from reaching your plants. A great way around this is using brown paper bags or newspaper (use more than one sheet for more durability) under your mulch instead. The moisture will still get through, and as the paper decomposes, it adds nutrients back to the soil.
4. Fire ants in a garden have to go, but I have little boys. So, I want to do it in a way that won’t hurt my kids. Diatomaceous earth is perfect. Once sprinkled on an ant nest, it breaks down the waxy coating on their exoskeleton causing them to die from dehydration. Not only is it safe if my kids accidentally get into it (it’s the remains of diatoms- chalk basically), people actually consume it in food grade form for digestive issues! It’s an all around great product with lots of uses.
5. When starting a garden, you have to pay attention to how much sun your spot gets and what zone you are in for planting, but there are also micro-climates in regions or even in your own back yard! Where I live in Tennessee is zone 7, but I have sheltered places in my garden where I can get zone 8 plants to thrive. They love the warm stone foundation of my house, and my azalea blocks the direction that the cold winter winds blow. Be aware of your weather. A valley in zone 6 may have a zone 7 micro-climate, or maybe just a nook in your bed does.
6. This year I had a neighbor’s cat wreck havoc on my ground cover plants. They were dying, and my garden reeked of cat pee. We had tried startling him, but the cat was determined. So, we put out mothballs. The smell is strong for a day or two but then diminishes with the mothballs. They will keep both cats and dogs away, and by the time the mothballs have dissolved, the offending animal will have developed another routine for its business. These however, you will want to make sure that little hands do not play with (sometimes stinky things are intriguing).
7. Do you have a toad house? These cute little items are more than just decoration. They offer toads a suitable shelter from weather and predators, and who doesn’t want a slug eating machine in their gardens?
8. Even though they eat garden pests, it’s unlikely that any of us are a fan of wasps. Can I get an “amen”? However, the vast majority of parasitic wasps are incapable of stinging and are great garden warriors. Scientist have even utilized them in controlling invasive insects worldwide. So next time, do a double take before you squish. It may be a comrade in arms.
9. Did you know that gardening can make you happy? Meet the beneficial bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae. It lives in the soil and gets released into the air during gardening. Once breathed in, it acts as a mood booster. Some studies have even found it as effective as anti-depressants! For more on that, click here.
10. Finally, the last of my top ten tips and tricks: Prayer. My whole life people complimented my mom on her beautiful gardens and asked what her secret was. She would tell them that she prayed every time she planted something (and sometimes a little extra if it was looking sad). She doesn’t do it like a magic chant. She really loves plants and cares about them, so she figures that God does too. I get my love of green things from her, and my gardens get watered in prayer. Now, when people ask me my secret, I tell them that I pray over my plants…though the coffee grinds help too.