Gardening is a craft. The woven knowledge of science and experience entwined with the creative.
Like all crafts, practice makes for a better outcome and the tips and tricks from green thumbs can be a life saver for the newcomer. Even the odd “old wives tale” can save the day.
Here are five things all great gardeners know to be true:
1. The biggest gift is compost.
Compost unfortunately is not something you can buy. It’s something that is made. Crafted, if you like, by combining garden refuse and kitchen scraps. It is the transformation of rubbish into natures probiotic vitamin booster.
Making it depends how small the green matter is (so if you can mulch it first or at the very least run the mower over it), how warm the weather and how regularly you turn it. If you have a tumbler, this is an easy and effective method of turning out your “black gold” in about a month.
Spread this onto the garden and let the earthworms take it into the ground, or work it in with a pitch fork. Either way, you garden will respond as if it’s had a dose of steroids and sick plants can turn the corner, as if they have been on a course of antibiotics!
Trick: You can hammer a cardboard tube into the garden and “post” scraps down directly and then place the plastic lid back into the tube to keep vermin out. Do this around the garden as the tubes fill up.
2. Water is everything.
Sounds obvious, but water not only hydrates, it dissolves nutrients in the soil and feeds plants.
A deep soak once a week should get your garden by as too much of a good thing is always bad … your plants’ roots might have difficulty breathing simply because they are waterlogged.
Pots, raised beds and free draining soils are the answer here. Saucers under pot plants however is a big no-no. The only exceptions are ferns and hydrangeas, both of which think too much is never enough!
Water can also be great at helping to control pests. Many small insects thrive in dusty conditions, and areas of the house that are in rain shadows. Simply hosing down foliage or misting leaves can be a cure all.
Trick: Cut off the top of a soft drink bottle and bury (lid removed) the top down around the drip line of established trees and shrubs. When you water the garden, fill up these reservoirs and they will slowly water your garden right down at the roots.
3. The more you take, the more you get.
Ok, life’s adage might work the other way round, but in the garden, pruning is everything! Unlike the economy, cutting back stimulates new growth in plants. Pruning makes your garden grow. It also makes shrubs look thicker and bushier, removes dead and diseased growth and trims off old flowers, encouraging further flushes.
Remember, you probably visit the hairdresser every five weeks to look good and in a similar way, so should your garden! While you’re at it, throw in the “treatment”, a liquid hose-on seaweed solution to help leaves look green and lush and keep the roots happy too.
Trick: Pinch pruning, which is only removing a few centimetres of growth, works just as effectively at bushing up your garden as a chainsaw.
4. Don’t put up with weeds.
Weeds can be blown in, walked in or carried in on the mower. If you have your grass mown by a contractor, ask them to hide the blades down (or blower them) before mowing your lawn.
In the garden, annual weeds need to be removed before flowering, otherwise you’ll have another crop in no time. If you can’t pull them out, at least cut them back to prevent them flowering or setting seeds. If pulling weeds by hand, make sure to remove them “roots and all” so that they don’t regrow. Weed soup, a fertiliser made by steeping your “catch” in water for a few weeks and then using it as a liquid foliage fertiliser, and cooking with weeds (think dandelion salad), are both novel ways of using weeds.
If using herbicide like glyphosate (sold as Roundup and Zero), many green thumbs advocate adding dishwashing liquid (you can also buy a specially made surfactant) or vegetable oil to help make the spray stick to the leaves and penetrate their waxing cuticle. Mixing in food colouring will certainly help you see where you’ve sprayed and which weeds you have mixed. Also, hot weather, without rain forecasted or winds blowing is the most effective to spray in. If you’re poisoning onion weed, be sure to poison down the hollow of the flowering stem, so that the poison goes straight where it’s needed most. An eye dropper is useful for this.
Trick: If you don’t want to spray, boiling water straight from the kettle, and solar sterilisation, where you simply cover an area with black plastic and let the sun work on burning off what’s underneath for a couple of weeks, both work a treat!
5. Keep out unwanted visitors.
These might not make the news, but the invasion of your veggie patch by white cabbage moth, your lawn with army worm and every new shoot by a slug or caterpillar can be the breaking of many an enthusiast.
Try placing white bread tags on fine florist wire around the cabbages (it tricks moths into thinking they are already habituated), saucers of beer around as bait for slugs and snails (they love a beer but can’t handle their booze), and use a Pestoil spray every month on your shrubs. This leaves a fine slick on each leaf that most bugs don’t find at all tasty so they will leave your “dressed greens” and go find a neighbours “undressed” garden!
Trick: If your dog is creating havoc digging, burying their poo back in the hole tends to deter them.