One Man’s Way To A Healthy Garden

Like the proverbial shoemaker and his children, the garden of many professional horticulturists often gets the minimum care and attention.

We are so busy telling the other fellow what to do that we do not have time to do it ourselves.

Healthy GardenPin

In addition to this, we are watched over most carefully by our neighbors who read our articles to see that we do not say we did this when we didn’t.

Added to this is the rather tricky problem of continually growing and trying out many new and different plants, some of which thrive, several of which do not.

To keep this rather amazing conglomeration of plants alive, and looking halfway respectable, calls for the use of shortcuts and quick and easy methods.

All too often, the good Lord has to be depended upon to take care of the garden while we are away.

Sometimes He is not the best gardener, but He does a better job than we can at other times.

Growing Ground Cover Plants

Casual visitors to my 90′ by 100′ foot lot are rather shocked to see that I never cultivate, and they find it rather difficult to believe that it isn’t necessary here.

Part of the cultivation is done away with growing all kinds of ground covers over beds of spring bulbs, under shrubs and evergreens, and under trees where growing grass would be difficult, as would the control of moss and weeds.

Examples of ground cover plants are:

  • English ivy
  • Japanese spurge
  • Periwinkle
  • Wild ginger
  • Lily-of-the-valley

These visitors are often scandalized to see the oak and maple leaves left on the ground under the shrubs rather than being put along with the compost pile.

After all, it is less work to let them decay where they are to maintain the organic matter on the soil’s surface as a mulch.

Removing Weeds On Your Lawn

Good lawns don’t happen. They are only the result of a lot of hard work and effort—not just once—but continuously.

And I know I have amused many passers-by and new neighbors by crawling over my lawn on my hands and knees, pulling out the occasional weed.

It is often easier to do this than to spray the entire lawn at this time of year with 2,4-D.

It is so easy to catch them when they are young and difficult after becoming established as a big patch of ground-ivy, self-heal, creeping speedwell, or some other plant.

And the coarse grasses that appear on the lawn, such as nut-grass, goose-grass, orchard grass, are so much easier to control when you see them starting as a bit of wisp.

Just pull them out, and you will not have to dig out a big patch later on.

Unfortunately, we do not have any chemicals to kill these “weed grasses” without killing the desirable bluegrass or other lawn grasses.

A Professional’s Great Ability: Communication

A good test of a professional’s ability is how well he can talk his neighbors into following his recommendations.

For years the lawn across the street was sparse and filled with moss until neighbor Bill Bruckart moved in.

He was willing to take my advice and dig a little 8-inch trench along one side of the yard to drain the extra water.

This drainage, plus liberal fertilization with a complete commercial fertilizer plus setting his lawnmower up to mow at 1 ½” to 2″ inches high, made all the difference in the world in the growth and appearance of his lawn.

The moss disappeared. Unfortunately, those who mow our lawns high to get the best growth are often kidded by friends and neighbors for not having a well-mowed lawn.

They prefer one that is practically shaved to the ground, and then they wonder why their grasses eventually fail!

Keeping Slugs Under Control

With all the shade from the six 250-year-old red oak trees in the yard, it is challenging to keep slugs (snails without shells) under control.

By starting early in the spring and scattering some prepared slug-bait around my cold frames, my wall garden, around the plantain lilies, which the slugs love, I keep them pretty well under control.

They work at night, and I try to have a fresh, appetizing application awaiting them.

I understand that fresh material has more slug appeal than that which has been around in your garage for a year or more.

Using “Timesaver” Dust Gun

One hit of advice the neighbors usually seem somewhat willing to follow is buying a dust gun rather than a sprayer, particularly when they find it is cheaper, and they don’t have the mess of mixing the sprays each time.

Keeping the dust gun filled with all-purpose dust containing Fermate, sulphur, DDT, rotenone, and Aramite for use on any of the ornamentals in the garden is a timesaver.

Strangers, stopping by and seeing me dust during the day when the foliage is dry, always seem to be surprised.

With today’s modern dust, it is better to apply it when the foliage is dry than wet with dew.

One of these visitors gave me the idea of using a 6-foot aluminum tube (such as is sometimes sold for clothes poles) as an extension for my dust gun.

With a half-inch lightweight aluminum tube 6′ feet long, I find I can dust clear up to the second floor to get the euonymus scale on the wintercreeper growing onto the house.

Of course, I shift the deflector on the regular dust gun tube’s end to the aluminum tube’s end.

Planting The Plugs 

Like everybody else’s, my lawn suffered during last summer’s drought, so there were a lot of bare spots this spring.

Instead of trying to reseed some of them, I get much quicker results by cutting 2″ inch plugs out of good patches of grass and planting them 5″ or 6″ inches apart in the bare spots.

The holes from which they were taken were filled with soil and quickly filled in.

Even if you fertilize the lawn early in the spring with a complete fertilizer, another application can be given when putting the plugs in to start them.

On the other hand, the grass in the patched stone walk and brick terrace cracks always seems to thrive. (I am one of those who prefer my brick paving ungarnished by greenery.)

But a 10 cent box of salt sprinkled along the cracks usually keeps it out for the rest of the season.

It even kills the 10,000 seedlings from the mock orange growing for shade above the brick terrace.

Controlling Problems In Your Garden

Some day, the Society For Prevention of Cruelty to Earthworms will get after me for throwing several handfuls of chlordane in the compost pile to kill the earthworms, so I have more compost for myself.

After all, I prefer the compost rather coarse and unrotted as I get more benefit from it in that state when it is spaded into the soil or used to mulch some of the flower beds.

This year, my entire yard is scheduled to apply a half-pound of 50% percent chlordane to every 1000 square feet to eliminate those nightcrawlers whose little mounds of clay make the lawn difficult to mow.

Fortunately, this only has to be done every 5 or 6 years. Don’t worry! You can have just as good a garden without earthworms.

It is too bad we can’t have some permanent control over chipmunks, for they can certainly steal the little crocus, squills, and other bulbs from your garden.

They are particularly had in the wall garden. An idea I picked up from one of the U. S. Biological Survey men was to use peanut butter as bait, roll it in rat poison and toss that into the cracks of the stone wall where only the chipmunks can get at it.

The tricky thing is that they keep migrating from other yards, so you have to do it about once a month.

Fertilizer Application Before Growing Season

A 100-pound sack of fertilizer doesn’t last very long when you start at the front sidewalk and go clear to the hack fence, putting on 3 to 4 pounds every 100 square feet.

Although I usually try to get this fertilizing done in early spring before growth starts, I don’t have to worry about burning.

If I don’t get it done, I will make the application now.

Everything gets the same fertilizer. My plants can’t tell the difference!

After scattering commercial fertilizer this late season, take a hose and wash it off the foliage.

Cold Frame Gardening

Cold frames are such an old established idea that you would think by now, every gardener would know what they are and how they can be used.

But I still find that the few cold frames I have full of growing plants seem to fascinate both old and new gardeners.

The frames always contain recent cuttings of evergreens or perennials and some potted-up.

There may be several dozen or more pots of common or rare plants seed.

In fact, almost everything is potted for ease of handling and moving.

The mixture of sand, peat, and soil in the cold frames seems to be the envy of everyone, for it does permit the plants to develop excellent root systems and good tops.

The evergreen cuttings of yew, box, Japanese spurge, and ivy are covered with an old bedsheet instead of a glass sash.

It reduces light, protects the front wind, and keeps the bed from drying out. They are rooting in a mixture of sand and peat moss.

Increasing Soil Acidity

Growing rhododendrons and azaleas, and other acid-soil plants is quite a problem with the neutral and alkaline soils that we have here in Ohio.

A mixture of equal parts of iron sulphate, powdered sulphur, and ammonium sulphate does an excellent job.

The iron sulphate produces acidification in about 10 days.

After the growing season, the sulfur carries it, and the ammonium sulphate furnishes nitrogen, rather than any appreciable acidification.

I use about a handful to a square yard a year. This is scattered over the surface to let the rain wash down the roots.

Garden Plant Labels

It is too bad we don’t have an invisible label that would give us the names of plants, for all too often, some of my beds look like label sales grounds!

This is particularly true of the beds of bulbs at this time of the year, for although I have rather accurate planting charts, it is so much quicker and easier to read the label for the names of all the new varieties in those beds.

A Gardener’s Love For Gardening

A problem is a visitor who is always asking for plants.

When I know such a person is interested, I am always willing to give away cuttings.

But the gardeners that love plants, who are drooling over some choice little plant but wouldn’t think of asking for one, go away with a basket full of little ones from the cold frame!

It’s fun giving them plants, for they will take care of them.

But, I have never forgotten the man who once asked me for a few bulbs from each of my collections of daffodils. There were about 200 varieties then.

I told him I wasn’t dividing them for at least 3 years for I wanted to see how they multiplied, but I would gladly give him a list of the varieties from which he could buy one bulb each for about $75.00.

How quickly he lost interest in daffodils.

If gardeners can’t afford it, that’s one thing, but if they just don’t spend money on their gardening hobby, I don’t feel I should encourage them.