Garden Hacks: Bigger, Better, Faster

Every year I try something different in how I grow things. After a few decades I've honed what works best for me and my climate, but there are a few hacks that will help regardless of your skill level or your climate.

Here are a few of my favorites.

Tomatoes: Grow them sideways. Trust me on this. Tomato vines sprout roots wherever they're buried. Dig a trench, lay out your transplant sideways, picking off the bottom leaves. Gently bend the leafy part just above the soil line. Cover the stem with dirt and pat down. Even if it looks lopsided, it'll right itself within days. The more roots, the more nutrients your tomato plant will be able to glean.

Trellised Vines: No matter what type of trellis you use, if the plant needs to be trellised, use soft strips of cloth (or my favorite) pipe cleaners (otherwise known as chenille) to attach them. They can be reused a long time and won't damage the stems.

Mulch: I used to be a big fan of weed barrier, but leaf mulch is so much more eco friendly. It breaks down into the soil and feeds it. I've tried whole leaves and shredded leaves. Shredded leaves allow water to seep into the soil better. It looks nice and tidy in the garden too.

Get Peppers Faster: This works best if you live in milder climates, but if you have a nice sunny window, it'll work no matter where you live. Every fall before the first frost hits, I dig up a couple of my pepper plants and put them in pots. (I prune them heavily so they don't have to use up all their energy to protect their leaves. I have an indoor atrium where they live out in near hibernation over the winter. Once the weather warms up I tuck them back into the garden. Voila! Peppers a full month or more before the rest of my new season pepper plants sprout blossoms.

Potatoes in Grow Bags: The thing I hate about harvesting potatoes is that I almost always run a spade smack into the middle of a perfect potato. I've taken the guess work out of where to dig by growing spuds in grow bags. The 7-10 gallon bags work best. Once you're ready to harvest, dump the whole bag in a wheel barrow or even the bare earth and pull out your spuds. No spade required.

Free Basil: Basil is the easiest herb in the world to start from a cutting. Snip a piece of basil stem just below the leaf node, and pinch off all but the top few leaves. Slip it into a little container of water making sure the leaves are not submerged. Rain or well water is best, but if you must use city water, let it sit for 24 hours so the chlorine evaporates. Change the water out every couple of days. In less than two weeks it'll grow numerous little roots. You can then plant it in a pot. You can also start it in soil mix, but I've found the water rooting method less labor intensive.

Watering: I prefer to water deeply once or twice a week. Watering deeply forces the roots to go deeper rather than staying near the top of the soil where they run the risk of drying out quicker.

Watering 2.0: We've tried hand watering, sprinklers, drip irrigation, and soaker hoses. By far the most cost effective and efficient has been drip irrigation. Soaker hoses wear out fastest. I've seen more than my share of split soaker hoses. Sprinklers do a better job of reaching every plant, but it wastes a lot of water. Drip irrigation directs water right to the plant. My water bill went down to less than half once we switched.

Foil Cutworms: Ever find your brand new seedling decapitated in your garden? Most likely it was caused by cutworms. The best way to thwart them is by wrapping the stem of my seedling in a foil collar. No more decapitations. Take that, cutworm fiend.

Faster Clean Up: I am always weeding, raking, or trimming branches. When it comes time to move them, I do it the easy way. Get yourself a sturdy tarp. Rake your brush, leaves or weeds onto the tarp. Pull the four corners together and drag the tarp to your compost or burn pile.

If you like these hacks, let me know in the comments. I've got plenty more to share.

Has anyone ever started plants from cuttings? I've done the easy ones like basil and rosemary, but I'm expanding this year to other woody plants.

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Jackie said…
Do I see a lemon cucumber or not Maria?

Ours are going crazy with blooms but no produce on them as yet.

However guess my blooming rose bushes and cucumber vines appeal to our resident Doe as she has been munching down on both. Even caught her at the cuke vines Saturday morning, little brat, sure is a beautiful deer though.

Maria Zannini said…
Jackie: That's actually a spaghetti squash. Greg is starting a garden in the back 40 and I hope to start the cucumbers there. (No cross pollination with squashes.)

It's baby season for deer right now. They nibble at my front yard but the veggie patch is protected with fence. Deer are very bold by us. I can get within 10 feet. They know this old lady can't catch 'em. LOL!
Jackie said…
Cool beans, squash on a trellis.

This particular doe lives in our backyard to the side where there is brush to hide in and comes out mostly in wee hours when dark but Saturday was out in early part of daylight so got to show her to Mom and Karl before little rascal took off again.

Her baby is grown and unless she has another smaller one we have not seen the deer is just taking advantage of the fact we are no threat to her so she hangs around.
Maria Zannini said…
Jackie: Spaghetti squash sprawls like crazy. I should've had up a better trellis, but it grew faster than I expected.

Your deer remind me about a deer who took to living in the pasture with some cows. Over the next two years, she raised a doe and they still come back to live with the cows.
Jenny Schwartz said…
I had never thought of growing basil from a cutting! It will self-seed here. I love plants that naturalise - unless they're weeds!

Mum used to grow carnations from cuttings. She'd buy the flowers and hope that the stems held a few leaves. That section got stuck in the ground, and usually grew for her!
Maria Zannini said…
Jenny: How cool that your mom could reroot carnations. I never heard of such a thing and now I'm curious to try.

Basil self sows here too but I almost always have it in pots and keep them pinched to make them bushy.

The one plant I've never been able to root has been cuttings from bay trees. I desperately want one, but can't find anything local.
Mike Keyton said…
So many tips, thank you, but here's a specific question. The good news is that I have several plastic bags of well composted leaves waiting to pile on my wintering rhubarb and Gooseberries. The bad news is that I suffered from a bout of 'brown spot'(not me personally, some roses and other plants - damson trees/ camelias. Now, will I be making things worse using those leaves which no doubt include those spotty ones as mulch?
Thank you, Doctor Greenthumb.

Worried from Monmouth
Maria Zannini said…
Dear Worried:

Brown spot is a fungus that easily spreads to fungus-sensitive plants from water splashing on the leaves. (I found this out the hard way.)

Well composted leaves should be safe IF the composted leaves didn't come from infected trees and IF they are indeed well composted. I might even err on the side of caution and use wood chips around your roses.

Brown spot lingers a long, long time. Here's what I learned.

• Remove any diseased leaves and burn or dispose of them. Don't compost them.
• If your roses are under too much of a tree canopy, trim some branches so more sun comes through. Sunlight is very good at fighting fungus.
• Always clean fallen leaves from under your roses. Fallen infected leaves infect other leaves when water splashes on them and spreads the spores.

Hope this helps.
The Doctor
Maria Zannini said…
I should add that I don't know how long fungus spores live in compost which is why I recommended you discard them.

Personally, I don't think it would survive hot summers in well rotted leaves. I would chance it as long as the infected leaves were combined with healthy fallen leaves.

Mike Keyton said…
Thank you, Doctor

Relieved of Monmouth