“The Garden Refresh: How to Give your Yard Big Impact on a Small Budget” from Timber Press contains money-saving garden tips to be sure. Yet the plethora of useful information provided by author Kier Holmes goes well beyond pocketbook considerations.
For example, utilizing greywater (water from laundry, shower, bathtub, and bathroom sink, but not from kitchen sink, dishwasher, or toilet) – something we should all consider as the drought intensifies – comes with certain caveats. “Avoid direct contact with greywater as it often contains small amounts of bacteria” and “Don’t use greywater in sprinklers due to the risk of inhaling unhealthy organisms.” Ideally, you would construct a system that collects and distributes greywater via drip irrigation and so entirely removes the possibility of contact with the recycled water.
“Never store greywater for more than 24 hours or bacteria will grow,” Holmes instructs. “Use the water on edible plants and vines such as corn, grapes, or kiwis where the edible part is off the ground and not in contact with the water. Don’t use greywater on root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, or beets, and keep it away from low-growing strawberries, because if they’re not properly washed serious health issues could arise.”
Moreover, since greywater is on the alkaline side of the pH scale, “acid loving plants like blueberries and azaleas, which are sensitive to salt, struggle with it. Potted plants don’t appreciate it either, because their restricted root zones make them vulnerable to damage.”
A useful tip for saving water for garden use before it goes gray is to put a bucket in the shower or under the bathtub spout and use it to collect the water that runs while you wait for it to get warm.
Certain additives that may be unfamiliar to you can make a big difference. “Rock dust, consisting of any kind of mined rock ground to a powder, is a great way to add trace minerals and micronutrients and to feed beneficial microbes in your soil. Add a small handful to the planting hole for a small plant and a big handful for a big plant.” Indoor plants also benefit from regular applications of rock dust. Azomite is the leading brand where quality rock dust is concerned.
Alfalfa meal is another additive, available at farm supply stores, that Holmes extols, especially when added to the soil before planting herbs. “Normally grown as livestock feed, alfalfa meal adds nitrogen and micronutrients to the soil and contains a natural fatty acid growth stimulant that revs up healthy roots and stems (roses and tomatoes also love this meal). If, despite your initial feeding, your herbs look jaundiced and anemic midseason, give them a fish emulsion cocktail. Simply mix a few shots of liquid fish emulsion into your watering can to feed them.”
Regular sharpening of pruning shears or clippers, the gardener’s most important tool, is often overlooked. “Every few weeks I grab a handheld file specifically for sharpening hand pruners and I give my pruners a few drags over the stone,” the author writes. “I also clean my pruners with a scouring pad and some warm, soapy water to remove any sap, dirt, or potential pathogens, then wipe the blade dry. In the joints, I apply a lubricant to stop rust.” An Altuna sharpener for sharpening your shears sells for just under $20.
Holmes has some short but valuable lists, such as “top architectural plants” that include the silvery blue honeybush (Melianthus major), foxtail agave (Agave attenuata), cold hardy Tasmanian tree fern (Dicksonia antarctica), water pond worthy papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) ), and bear’s breech (Acanthus mollis), whose foliage was sculpted onto Corinthian columns in ancient Greece.
Her “edible plants for partial sun” include “blueberries, calamondin, chard, cilantro, collard greens, kale, kunquat, lettuce, and raspberries.”
One of the plants on this list, calamondin (Citrus mitis), is worthy of some discussion. When mature, it produces hundreds of orange or red-orange fruit, between one and two inches in size, in the course of a year. You may mistake a calamondin for a kumquat, another highly cold-tolerant, small-fruited citrus.
The difference between them is that kumquats are elongated capsules as compared to the more spherical calamondins. Also, kumquat trees are weaker than calamondins. Kumquat trees (Fortunella spp.) seldom live more than five or six years while calamondins may harden twice as many years or longer. Aside from their outstanding container specimen status, you can also keep calamondin trees trimmed into a brilliant decorative hedge from six to nine feet tall.
Calamondin trees, in the manner of lemon and lime trees, differ from oranges, grapefruits and tangerines, in bearing flowers and fruit throughout the year. Like lemons and limes, calamondins are acerbic and are not usually eaten fresh, but are utilized in cooking and to flavor salads, desserts and drinks. Both calamondin fruit and flowers are highly aromatic and the plants are tolerant of somewhat heavy soil in contrast to citrus in general, whose demand for fast-draining soil is well-known. Speaking of which, the author brings our attention to the fact that citrus grown in containers uses the same soil blend that is recommended for cactus.
Holmes mentions begonias as a candidate for clonal propagation. Large-leafed begonias such the Dragon Wing types may be replicated by detaching individual leaves, dipping them in root hormone, and inserting them into a fast-draining propagation mix. The author additionally informs us that honey can substitute for root hormone in inducing cuttings to root. “Boil two cups of water in a saucepan. Add one tablespoon of honey to the water and stir the two together until the honey melts. Turn off the heat and cool the solution to room temperature.” Containerize the solution and it is ready for dipping of stem cuttings destined for rooting.
I picked some California poppies from my garden and placed them in a bud vase. I had never noticed that their petals close as sunlight wanes in the afternoon. Researching the topic, I learned that they belong to a select group of species with a similar nyctinastic tendency. Nycninasty refers to movement of plant parts at nightfall or as nighttime approaches. I have seen this same behavior in certain daisies, including the white African daisy (Osteospermum) and gazanias, available in white, yellow, pink, and coppery orange. This nyctinastic characteristic is found in many other daisies, too, which might explain why daisies are part of the largest plant family on earth with 24,000 species. In fact, the word “daisy” comes from “day’s eye” since the petals around the central disks or eyes of daisy flowers close over them at night.
It is thought that flowers that close at night do so to preserve their pollen by keeping it dry. Otherwise, it would be exposed to dew that could bring on fungi that would rot the pollen. Apparently, closing up at night also protects the flowers from certain herbivores. In South Africa, tortoises are particularly fond of dining on daisies. However, in a study conducted with 77 daisy species, daisy flowers that closed at night were not as attractive to the average tortoise palate.
If you close up how flowers in the morning glory got its name because its the morning after at night. Hibiscus and water lily flowers exhibit this behavior too.
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