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Fail-Safe Tips From The Frugal Gardener

By Steven V. Phillips.

Once a upon a time when I was optimistic, innocent and had a high tolerance for pain, I was a New England gardener. If you’re one, you know the Big Rule: Do not plant until after the last frost. This means Memorial
Day. Late May is usually warm but you, you know better. One day after Memorial Day in go the annuals. Two days after Memorial Day? THAT’s the Last Frost. Then you’ve got three risky gardening months until the next frost.

Now I’m a southern gardener. No frost. About 365 days of gardening success. Palms, azaleas, bougainvillea, impatiens, hibiscus. Sub tropical terrific, right? Wrong for winter 2010. Eight days below 32-degrees in January. Dead palms, agonized azaleas, brown bougainvillea, frozen impatiens, shriveled hibiscus. Then we had rain in the dry season and dry in the rainy season. The new Big Rule is this: A  gardener’s life is never predictable.

But I do have a routine and I’ve developed a few strategies that work in almost any garden. I hand water my plants with a hose early in the morning when the dogs get me up and out. They play in the yard at 6:30 a.m. and I spend a few quiet moments with my plants hosing by hand so that I can control how much water my plants get and where they get it. Some plants don’t like wet leaves. Hibiscus don’t like wet feet. And so on.

Train Your Hose
I used to regularly crush and kill some off some of my prized specimens (i.e. tragically, the ones I paid for) by inadvertently dragging the hose over them. So I trained my hose (more than I can do with the dogs) by installing hose guides – not those plastic cheap things but serious (solid) hose guides.

You want 48-inch long, 3-inch diameter pressure-treated fence posts, buried 36-inches deep with 12-inches exposed and a capped bolt sticking up 4-inches, on which you perch a vintage glass electrical insulator. Or just use ½-inch rebar pounded in and capped with the insulators. These sculptural insulators have become collectible, but you can still find them at flea markets and architectural salvage yards. Or use rebar with ¾-inch diameter, 10-inch high, irrigation pipe, capped, brightly painted and dropped over so your hose glides on by in vivid color.

Invest in Trowels
I leave inexpensive plastic trowels from Fiskars tucked in all over the garden. Hey, they used to come in orange, but now they’re black so spray them with, say, pink paint so that you can spot them. That way I have quick access for picking up doggie presents and for instant weed execution.

Free Plants
Friends tease me about purloined plants. Or re-purposed. Or permanently loaned. You don’t have to buy plants to have plants. I found some wonderful ones on the site of the old abandoned Perkins nursery. (He got rich selling nursery stock to me two, three times until I finally got one to grow successfully.) I once scored 50+ amaryllis bulbs after some old condos came down but before the bulldozers came squishing through. I scored a promising bleeding heart vine recently from a friend and I’ve grown interesting shrubs from cuttings.

I start successful pineapple plants from the tops left in the trash at the grocery store fruit salad counter. Just put the pineapple tops in compost filled pots, keep them really damp for three months and then plant. I trade cuttings with friends and neighbors and make a game out of seeing how much of my garden is “free.”

FYI: If a plant doesn’t like living where you’ve planted it in your garden, move it. No law against it. If a plant droops over there, over here it may thrive. Try it.

Banish Grass
Ex-nay on grass unless you’re an English Lord who plays cricket. Mulch or ground cover is better. Good for the environment and your budget. Maintaining big green lawns is so 20th century. Pine needles work really well in the South but no matter where you are, any type of mulch is the right option, unless you own stock in Scott’s turf fertilizer and/or John Deere or can’t give up cricket.

To do a mulch job correctly, first: Mow or weed whip existing grass to a ¼-inch buzz cut. Spray on Round Up sparingly because a little goes long way. Wait three days. Then cover the area with two layers of newspaper, soak it with water and then apply two-inches (at least) of mulch. Some people call this lasagna gardening. But, whatever, only suicidal weeds will attempt an encore.

Steven’s Secret Potion for Discouraging Critters
Harry Potter and his wizard pals have nothing on me. About moles, you don’t have to commit moleicide and feel ensuing guilt. Downy fabric softener 70/30 with water is your pal. Apply with a Miracle Grow sprayer. Doesn’t seem to affect plants but that lovely “spring fresh scent” sends your moles to the neighbors for at least a month’s vacation. May not want to mention this to your neighbor.

Hares, squirrels and “rocketcoons” as Pogo once said, are just so cute and just so hungry. Try this: Steve’s Yukijuice: 50% Deer-Off (a brand of repellent) 25% fabric softener, 25% water sprayed on the edible nummies these rodentesques so desire. Hold off spraying 30 days prior to harvest. Pesky munching mammals do not consider this a taste-treat enhancing condiment.

Bird feeders, ground and elevated bird baths and bird houses attract moving aviary colors. Okay, I mean birdies. Don’t buy cheap seed mixes filled with junk filler that no self-respecting bird would ever eat. Go first class.

Hang your bird feeders over bushes. Just make sure the bush is too weak to give squirrels a ladder to your bird food. That way Robin can hide and the seed doesn’t end up on your mulch where the damn squirrels dig in it! If you do have to end up over mulch, sprinkle that area with my Yukijuice.

Garden Art Is Where You Find It
Commonly found elements placed creatively hither and yon yield artful (and humorous) surprises when people walk through your garden. I look for great shaped and colored wine bottles which I display on rebar stakes. Do remove the Gallo label, please show some decorum. I personally love Pom bottles that have been sloshed with colored paint around the inside.

In the South where it doesn’t (often) freeze, plumb part of your garden. Use ¾-inch PVC (less friction so you get strong pressure all along the line) with a regular faucet at the end. That way you deliver water close to where you want it. And use ½ -inch boat hoses because they are extra flexible.

Still waiting for the Brand names mentioned to send gifts. If you’re a raccoon don’t write. My pineapple crop is for me.

8 Responses to “Fail-Safe Tips From The Frugal Gardener”

  1. Lynn says:

    Great gardening tips! I like the animal-friendly critter repellents too. Another helpful article!

  2. Deb M says:

    I love reading articles by Steven V. Phillips. Great Tips…..I have several vintage glass electrical insulators. Thanks!!!

  3. Cindy says:

    Thanks for the helpful hints on critter repellents.Having had my one and only pineapple eaten just days before harvest I was pleased to see how to avoid that theft in the future. Those #@*! varmints will be sorry.

    Keep up the not only informative, but also entertaining articles. I look forward to next months.

  4. Cyndi says:

    Love the helpful hints. As a new southern gardener I can use all the free advice available!
    Good work at getting those Florida Friendly Yards out there. Poo poo on grass. So many other fun things to plant that are so much nicer to the environment.
    Looking forward to the next article by SVP.

  5. Joseph says:

    Great tip on how to score free plants. I won’t be so afraid now to speak up when I see people throwing away perfectly good ones. If only the pineapple trick would work here up north. Can’t wait for next month.

  6. Mr Phillips is truly a gem. Up north we concern ourselves mostly with swamp swivels invading our gardens. For those of you unfamiliar with them, they closely resemble a goat with deer antlers. They are ravenous and consider any living thing a gourmet meal. I wish Steve would research this and give us Yankees some ideas on how to combat them. Great article

  7. Les Bartley says:

    I knew Mr Phillips when he lived up north. He hasn’t lost his sense of humor. You’d probably know the company he worked for by his other name: Ludwig VonCrayon.

    Yes, he was a bit off center then but certainly got your attention. Wonderful, informative article; a side of him I never knew. Kudos, buddy!

  8. Mary says:

    Great sense of humor along with useful tips. I am planning on dosing my abundant moles with fabric softner!

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