From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on May 17, 2006

Hints for a More Successful Gardening Season.

The number one reason for loss of annual and perennial flowering plants and vegetables is the failure to maintain a proper moisture balance of the roots. While you probably won't put in tender herbs and vegetables until month's end or maybe even until after the full moon in June (June 11th), do not let roots dry out, and do not let roots sit in excess water they cannot take up. The roots need air. Know the soil they are to be planted in. Is it well drained? If it is, you are way ahead of the game. If it is not, pay close attention to light and heat conditions, and you will not lose them to root rot; nor, to drying out.

If you are planning a new compost pile or renovating an old one, place vertically in the center a perforated PVC pipe. You might have to stabilize it for a while with a stake. All parts of the pile will get additional oxygen, and the composting process will be accelerated.

Garden centers are brimming over with the latest plants and tools. They make great gifts that you don't need to wait for Christmas to give. Now is a better time than when the snow is flying. An inexpensive rain gauge is a gem to give or get.

Mole mounds and damage is evident wherever their subterranean food source is found. It consists of grubs and earthworms. Michigan State University provides a recipe to keep moles away for a month after a single application.

         1 tablespoon Castor oil
         2 teaspoons liquid dishwashing soap
         6 tablespoons water

Mix oil and soap in a blender until the consistency of shaving cream. Add the water and blend again. This is your concentrate. Mix 2 tablespoons into 2 gallons of water and sprinkle over the infested area. Reapply soon after rain or irrigation so it can get well into the soil.

Birds are really important allies in the garden. They are attracted by the sound of dripping water. Make a tiny hole in the bottom of a one-gallon jug, fill with water and hang from a tree limb, preferably near the garden. Place aSaucer or dish beneath it, and drip, drip, the birds will come. Experiment with the size of the hole. The water should last a couple of days, and moths and caterpillars and other garden pests will supply food for hungry birds. Erect a perch or two as lookouts for these beautiful and vocal insect eaters. Just make sure these are high enough so cats cannot get to them.

Interplanting herbs with your vegetables improves the growth and flavor of many of their companions, repels many of their more notorious pests, and attracts many beneficial insects that are natural enemies of many of the same pests. In addition to their culinary and other uses, the herbs add ornament to the garden, attract pollinating bees, and repel annoying flies and mosquitoes.

Save the hard shells of pecans, filberts, pistachios, and walnuts. Crushed or ground they are very sharp barriers that slugs won't cross. Surround your favorite garden vegetables.

Now is the best time to apply barley straw to your ponds to suppress algae growth and keep them clear.

If you are setting out transplants in peat pots, make sure the rim of the pot is below the soil level, otherwise, it will act as a wick and draw moisture away from the plant. Cut or break away the upper portion if you need to.

Home made deer repellants might be strong smelling deodorant soap, dried blood, garlic, hot pepper concoctions, human hair, urine after eating asparagus, rotten eggs, you name what works for you. I have come up with a simple, inexpensive (free if you still use a film camera) delivery system. I make holes in the sides of the film canisters, and fill with fabric or cotton balls and apply the repellant of choice. Cover securely and attach to a three or four foot stake near whatever it is you wish to protect. They even avoided my yew, a usual deer "candy or salad bar" item.

Small piles of wood and stones (think "sculptures") placed randomly throughout the garden (think "design") provide natural hiding places for garden snakes (think "allies") that will keep the slug and mouse population at or near zero.

Be mindful that fertilizers can only begin their role of nourishment when in solution. As soils warm, powdered or granular fertilizers will take an average of two weeks to become a part of the ground moisture available to plants. Water dissolved (liquid) fertilizers become available almost immediately. Note: even Nitrogen, the earliest needed nutrient won't work until soil temperatures are 50 degrees F. This should be long past planting time, but remember if you are pushing the limits, pay heed.

If you are a conscientious gardener, you have probably spent a lot of your time achieving a high degree of soil fertility. The job now is to maintain it. If you expect to achieve better than run of the mill success, you must add generous amounts of organic humus forming matter. When you add compost to the garden, make sure it is well decomposed. If it is not, it will become a food supply for microorganisms that require nitrogen to build their body protein. A growing population will out-compete the plants' roots, creating a nitrogen deficiency or even starvation in the plants.

Look around your property and see how much lawn area you have. Can you reduce it? If you can, you'll reduce the required maintenance and accompanying noise, air pollution, fertilizing, and maybe weed killers, too. The only way nature mows is by way of her four legged crews. Lawns are best used as a design tool to either emphasize one planting or to harmoniously unite separate elements.

Mulch. Organic mulches conserve water, moderate soil temperatures, suppress weeds, and slowly enrich the soil. They might be grass clippings, shredded bark, compost, pine needles, composted manures, salt hay, and straw among other materials. Try to avoid common hay because of the amount of weed seeds, both grasses and broadleaf. Establish a schedule for yourself. Whenever you can check and apply it, your plants will receive an added benefit.

Here's hoping you have a good start to your gardening season. May you have a bountiful harvest.


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on May 17, 2006

© 2006 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.