Get down and dirty in the garden
15. Sprout your Seeds – A lot of people ask me about growing peanuts, moonflowers or pumpkin seeds because they have trouble getting them to germinate.
Resolution: Place seeds inside three or four wet, stacked paper towels and set on a plate in the sink. Keep the seeds moist, cool and dark; check after 72 hours for the sprouting of cotyledons or seed leaves. Once they have grown, plant the seed in a small paper cup or empty egg carton of dirt and set in a sunny window.
16. Strengthen your Seedlings – Frequently, seeds started indoors will germinate weak stemmed seedlings, because the plant invests only as much energy as it thinks it needs in holding the plant erect.
Resolution: Lightly brush your hand back and forth over your seedlings a few times a day, helping them become accustomed to stem movement.
17. Explore the Benefits of Bugs – In Tip 13, I explained a simple, organic way to control pests – but let’s say your infestation is a bit more severe than just out-of-control.
Resolution: Many garden-dwelling insects are harmless to our plants, and do us a service in terms of pest control. Before spraying your vegetation with toxic pesticides that kill both good and bad insects, ask your local nurseries about beneficial bugs. Mantids, for example, will eat nearly any insect they catch, including aphids and mosquitoes, while lady bugs are used especially for aphid infestations that would be difficult to control with chemicals or soap-washes. You can also buy predatory bugs specifically bred to kill spider mites, larvae, worms, thrips and mealybugs; however, these insects can be difficult to control.
18. Be Aware of Toxic Plants – If you have children, becoming aware of the toxicity of, what may seem like common plants, is very important. Many indoor tropical plants are toxic to both humans and animals, such as philodendron, pothos, spiderplants and mistletoe.
Many common outdoor varieties can cause abdominal pains or cardiac complications, such as sweet pea, iris, clematis, foxglove, poinsettias, amaryllis, hydrangeas, lilacs and vinca. (For a more complete list, visit this website: http://www.aragriculture.org/horticulture/ornamentals/toxic_plants.htm)
19. Make Propagation Easy – You’ve tried seeds, you’ve tried seedlings, you’ve given them everything short of blood, yet nothing seems to make them grow!
Resolution: Plants can also be grown from cutting, layering or dividing.
• Cuttings – With several plants, you can take a cutting from just below a leaf node and stick them in water or the ground to produce new roots. Mints and pothos plants can both be grown effectively from cuttings. In fact, pothos plants, which are often mislabeled as philodendron by florists, are hydroponic, meaning they will thrive in water. Make sure to remove any leaves from the part of the stem submerged in water.
• Layering - Some plants will send out stolons or “runners,” which are prostrate stems that have the ability to root the plant elsewhere. These include mints, many shrubs and even strawberries. For example, forsythia, a very common leafy shrub that is bright yellow in the spring, can be propagated by layering. Simply bend one end of a stem to bury in the ground. In a few weeks, roots will develop and the bent stem can be snipped from the mother-plant. With strawberries, runners can be pinned to the ground with a rock to encourage rooting; snip them when they show signs of growth so they don’t leach nutrients from the parent plant. Dig and transplant as needed.
• Dividing – Digging up and dividing roots is one of the most effective means of propagation. Lilies, especially, can be divided and transplanted. Dig them in the fall after the flowers are spent, and replant where desired for re-growth in the spring.
20. Consider Using your Hair – Occasionally, orthodox solutions just don’t work for curing your garden of rabbits or skunks or strays.
Resolution: Take a bag of human (or cat) hair clippings and spread around the yard. Many beauty salons will give you a bag of clippings but with a sideways look. Garden-dwelling animals are sensitive to predators and will be discouraged from invading marked areas. Another option, and one that I have found most effective, is to spray a hot pepper-wax or essential oil solution on plants, making them unsavory.
21. Never Over-water –A flooded plant is a dead plant.
Resolution: It’s better to underwater a plant you’re unfamiliar with, rather than overwater. It seems like, ironically, our concern for life causes us to kill – so take it easy with the hose next time you water your favorite new flowers.
And that does it! If you have any suggestions, comments or additions to this list, leave a comment below. If you've got a question, I've got your answer! Shoot an e-mail over to firstname.lastname@example.org.