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Many a plant or effort has been lost over the years for many a reason, but
rarely for the lack of trying.
The hard earned knowledge is well worth passing on!
If you have any tips you would like to share, I would love to post them here.
Please send them in to Anne @ packrat-pro.com
Meanwhile, my list will grow as I think of them and add them to this page.
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My favorite tools include:
Short handled regular screw driver. It disturbs less dirt when digging up small weeds.
A pair of florist scissors. Priceless.
When I am growing several colours of one plant in the nursery the plant colour tags can mysteriously disappear. When the plant is old enough I tie a 1/8" wide ribbon on the stem of corresponding colour. My favorite tags and pens I buy at http://www.dpind.com/
Protect baby plants from snails, the sun or rain: Place an upside down strawberry basket on them, a light coloured scrap of fabric covers that, overlapping an inch or or so. A drop of glue in the center keeps the fabric in place if needed. Anchor with rocks or dirt if needed for winds. Make 2 stories for taller babies by cutting out the bottom of one and tie it to another with bread twist ties.
Have a well and often used plant food, chemical, vitamin or powder? When I transplant plants, they get a tiny sprinkle of ammonia sulfate (read the label, too much can burn and kill a plant) and miracle grow pellets, so I pop both ingrdients in a restaurant sugar dispenser.
Planting by the moon signs. Try it. Seeds come up in two days. Bizarre, but it works. My calender is here
Picking up a lot of debris? I LOVE our Plow & Hearth bear claws.
Own a garden plant that needs especially deep root watering? Save a large can (spaghetti sauce size is perfect) that has been opened at one end. Using a church key bottle can opener, put four to five openings at the other end, sink that end into the dirt next to the plant leaving about an inch above ground, filling the can with water each time you water the plant.
Hate dirty fingernails and going outside, and hate gloves? Scrape your fingernails over a bar of soap, embedding under the nail with soap. Clean up is a breeze.
Potted plants sitting on the deck can cause wood rot, no matter how well protected the deck might be. Plant stands can be expensive, especially with over four hundred pots. I cut up an entire basket of wood to 1" x 1" x 1" size, stain them the same colour of the deck and put three under the pots to keep air flowing and the decking safe.
Pruning Trees - Plant Stakes, Bird Nests, Firewood- when you are trimming up trees or substantial bushes, we use the largest wood for next year's kindling. The long straight limbs are kept with a limb joint (looking like a Y with a long leg, up to 30 odd inches) to stake up plants, tomatoes, etc. The smallest pieces are placed in an out of the way pile for the birds to use for nesting.
New Plants - Adding new plants to your yard and not completely sure it it will take? Place the plant, pot and all in the location planned for at least a week. I usually wait up to month. The plant will tell you if this is a good spot or not. Happy plants say, "I'm happy!" If the spot is wrong, you can easily move the plant before it's too late.
Worms and more worms. For some reason, we have an overload of worms in our clay soil. When I run into them, I pop one or two in a potted plant nearby. I gave a plant to a friend who repotted the plant and home and called to say there were over two dozen worms in the one pot! If you dont have worms, beg, steal and borrow a few. Create a warm , moist compost area, pop em in it, and next year, look out!
Ladybugs - who hasn't tried them? They look so cute in their mesh containers at the supply store. Take them home, release them, and the nursery rhyme comes to mind as you watch them fly away. Try putting them out below aphid infested plants at night! They find a cozy place to sleep right away, and in the morning, immediately search for breakfast, which will be right above their heads.
Yard babysitting: When we take off I worry about whether our house sitter can remember which plants need to be watered a great deal, which ones to water sparingly. Bright red ribbons go on the plants that don't like wet feet, dark blue ribbons go on the plants that need heavy watering.
Hummingbird snacks: When Mama builds a nest, I hang a treat basket (aka Hummer Salad) somewhere near the nest. This is a smaller wire basket found at Goodwill, 6" to 8" wide, only 1" to 2" deep, lined with foil or newspaper for easy cleanup later. Pop in banana pieces or something else that rots juicily. In a few days every bug in the yard will be there to nibble on the banana, and Mama will easily nibble on them.
Border line frost tolerance: Some of the tropicals, like the elephant ear with three foot long leaves are simply too big to tote around anymore. The rubber tree is almost fifteen feet high and can't come inside. I know they will grow back in the spring if I leave them out, but I don't mind keeping them healthy through out the winter, either. The larger Christmas lights, (C7's?) strung around a plant does the trick, just enough warmth to make the difference here in central CA. We use it on the citrus as well and it makes a delightful fairy look in the yard all year around. Those smaller cheaper beach type umbrellas work wonders too, both for frost and for the mid day scorch for a new or ailing plant.
Snails. Yuk. We have a large snail problem, probably because we have a large collection of snail food type plants. Beer in pie pans really does work but you have to deal with drunk, dead bodies. Snail bait works until it rains, but in April and May, it rains every week here. On the larger permanent pots I use stain glass copper foil. Try http://delphiglass.com. It's great! It's a roll of adhesive backed copper found at any stained glass supply. Place a piece around the outside of the pot near the top. Every morning when I do my morning yard tour I carry a garbage bag for litter, dog and bunnie "gifts" and snails. I tell them they will love living at the dump. Dump de dump.
Need a removable fence? I wanted to keep the dogs out of the area behind the greenhouse (ten feet deep, twenty feet long) but wanted easy access to the area without the hassle of a huge fence or gate. I placed wooden, hand made U "pole holders" on either side of the expanse, vertically, one foot apart from each other. Four on each side of the ten foot expanse I want to fence off. I made the U shapes by routing out the inside of a 2X4 cut to 4 inches long. Four ten foot wooden 2x2 poles sit in the U's, easily removed but providing a fence to keep the dogs out. If you want to get really fancy, little wooden pieces (1 x 4 x 1/4" thick) are attached to the top of one side of each U, one side swivels for to open the lock, locking the pole in place.
Ginger is lovely and useful, but it droops and falls over. We have it growing on the side of a deck two feet above the ground, creating a lovely natural wall until it falls over. I built a light wooden frame the size of the ginger area out of 1x1 with two foot tall feet and stretched one inch chicken wire over the frame. The ginger grows up through the chicken wire which prevents it from falling over, and you can't see the wire for all the leaves.
Bird seed scattered in the yard by the birds results in hundreds upon hundreds of plants seedlings. Worse than weeds. I bake my bird seed, three pans full at a time, 30 mins at 350. Nary a seedling grows now. It takes all morning to do a 50 pound box but well worth the effort.
Bird baths are often too deep for the little guys, so we pop a variety of rocks in them. They love it.
I made a leaf tote I would not be without now. Buy heavy canvas at any fabric store, make it as large as you like, put handles on the corners and tote away the raked up piles. Ours is about six feet by five feet. Heaven. A smaller version (30" x 12" with handles at both ends) totes wood perfectly.
Packaged dirt contains too much humus and bark? Make a sifter, easily! I ended up with some cheap dirt I didn't want to use for the bark in it. I built a frame out of 1 x 1, 1 foot wide and two feet long, covered it with 1/4" screen and another with 1/8" screen and I sift the dirt. The sifted dirt is perfect for the seeds and the humus is used as the final layer for potted plants. Use nursery plant trays and wire in screen in the bottom, too!
Garden hoses crush the plants as we water the areas without automatic watering systems like the vegie garden. 2 x 2 stakes are pounded into the ground at every plot corner, leaving about 8 - 10 inches above ground. If I am feeling particulary spunky, I turn them (round the corners off) and paint them to look like little toy soldiers.
Weeds. Someone once said a weed is simply a plant where you don' t want it. Our yard is almost weed free. Almost. More on that subject someday.
We like to be outdoors, and our doors don't have door screens. While we love the open air and ease of going to and fro, the fly problem can be horrendous. I took several door lengths of wedding veil (50's netting works well, too), laid and sewn together, and hung it up over each door, cutting them into staggered six inch widths. David groaned the first year but got used to them. A similar problem with the bedroom door was solved, too. Our bedroom has a window air conditioner, so the room has to be shut off while it is on. That means we get up and down and up and down to let in the dogs. I made an identical door curtain, but out of the opaque visqueen plastic we use for the winter greenhouse. Wa-lah! Dogs and cats come and go as they please and the cool stays shut in.
Recycle, recyle, recycle!
Old kitchen utensils are perfect, old metal fork to scrape dirt surfaces,
whips to blend dirts, old cookie sheets for plant dishes, baking pans to
Strawberry baskets keep new strawberries off the ground and away from ants until they are ripe.
Onion or bulb mesh bags make perfect storage for your crop and wrapping a limb to air layer.
Frozen food plastic plates become plant plates in the greenhouse. If you have the cover, instant mini greenhouse!
Cream cheese or cottage cheese plastic containers become seed collection storage.
Cigarette butts are made into the world's strongest insecticide. Warning! VERY poisonous. Boil in minimal water, strain but dilute to use.
Rabbit droppings go into the compost.
Popsicle sticks for plant markers
Old spice jars for your homegrown spices
Table sugar glass dispensers hold small grained plant food and snail bait - easy to use!
Broken pots get smashed up for the bottom drainage of more pots
Pond water when we are vacumming or draining the ponds go straight into the flower beds. Wow.
Brown and green netting (50's skirt type) gets pinned up under the trellis, over the pond in the fall. It keeps leaves from inundating the pond in the fall. It is also used below mockingbird nests (the babies are famous for falling to their deaths) and on top of cabbage crops to keep away the cabbage moth, on top of berries so the birds can't eat them.
Waterfalls pond building tips:
Don't buy the black below ground plastic ponds. They rise out of the ground if water gets between them and the dirt. You can hold them down with boulders, but we prefer cement ponds made by ourselves. (Besides, cement is FUN, like playing the mud when you were a kid)
Water goes where it wants to, not where you want it to. If you build a rock waterfall that falls into a pond, build the pond first and include the area under where the rock waterfall will be. Then build the rocks up from inside the pond.
Cement is fun, like childhood mud, but it cracks. Period. After your initial pond has set and dried completely, and cracked, prepare a last coating with super fine cement to fill these cracks. Again. Maybe again.
Blanket weed grows very, very well in ponds that are in the full sun. We empty the bottom cement pond once a year, scrub, scrub, scrub (they say kosher salt works here) and refilled. We have found that leaving it to dry completely for several days before refilling greatly reduces the build up of blanket moss.
Removing oil slicks. We had to use an emergency pump (not rated for fish ponds, oops) and the oil seal broke, covering the surface with fine oil. The fish knew something was up and stayed away from the surface. I panicked, fretted, tried every thing I had in the shop and kitchen to gather up the oil. Time is passing, I am getting more frustrated. My son walks in, says, "Mom, over flow the pond." Duh. Whack. Besides overflowing the pond immediately, paper towel works well to remove the left over oil globs. Drop the towel on the surface and the instant it is completely wet, pick it up from the center, fast, fast, fast, and throw it out. (Buy a case!)