Better Gardener

Shawna Coronado

Top 5 Secret and Natural Soil Additives For A Healthy Garden

Shawna Coronado front lawn vegetable garden

Eleven years ago I was a “traditional gardener”, meaning I used the traditionally advertised products on the market that were filled with chemicals to treat my garden. This led to over-fertilizing and using chemical pesticides regularly. Bottom line: I wantonly abandoned the idea of doing healthy things for my garden in favor of what the media told me I should do. At that time I would consider my garden an average garden even with all of my chemical efforts. Then one season a friend of mine suggested I grow in an environmentally healthy fashion and stop listening to the hype. I thoroughly researched the importance of how to go chemical free and gradually converted my entire property over to about 98.9% organic and natural. An amazing and surprising thing happened in response to that changeover – my garden grew more beautiful, astounding, and lush than it had ever been when I used all those chemical solutions.

The secret for using less chemicals and pesticides in your garden is this: good soil grows healthy plant roots. With healthy plant roots you have strong plants that can survive tough conditions. Over the last ten years I have discovered what type of amendments work best in gardens nationwide and in my own garden. I have my favorite list of five all natural products and organic matter that really work well in my front lawn vegetable garden (seen in the photo above) and in gardens all across the country.

5 Amazing Soil Additives

Rotted Manure

Without a doubt, rotted manure is an important organic amendment for your soil because of its nutrient rich content which is the basis for building a strong structure of carbon compounds within the soil. Be sure that the manure is well rotted or it will burn your plants. You can get it in bagged form at your local garden center or find a farmer nearby. Be advised that manure from a farmer sometimes contains grass and weed seed. I add a generous amount of well rotted manure to the garden soil before I plant a garden, then again annually as a top dressing around plants.

Worm castings

Worm castings is worm poop – that’s right – worm poop. Like rotted manure, worm castings create a strong soil structure and add beneficial biology to the root zone of your plants. Worm castings help hold moisture so you water less. Mix ¼ cup of worm castings into the soil planting hole for each plant. I use Organic Mechanics worm castings which are OMRI and Organic certified (below you see a mix of rotted manure and worm castings added to my spring front lawn vegetable garden).

Spring rotted manure application on Shawna Coronado front lawn vegetable garden

Actino-Iron

Soil Amendment Actino-Iron 2Actino-Iron is an all natural OMRI certified granular soil additive that combines the Actinovate organic fungicide with organic iron and humates. Actino-Iron is a product that is already used in many of the soil mixes you find professionally in the market because it helps control root diseases and keep your plants greener. I have used it for three years in a row and found it works very well to strengthen the root systems of my plants. Last year I had a drought and the plants stayed green and healthier because Actino-Iron builds a relationship between the root zone and soil microbes, strengthening the roots by growing more root hairs. I had a couple tablespoons in the root zone of each plant (see photo below).

Soil amendment Actino-Iron

Pure Elements SoilSuccess

Soil Amendment Pure Elements SoilSuccessPure Elements has several gypsum based products that are great soil amendments for all types of growing such as grass renewal, perennial beds, annual flower gardens, and vegetable gardening. My favorite is Pure Elements SoilSuccess Renew + Transform because it adds humates to the soil and helps reduce tomato bottom end rot. This is a good product to increase soil microbial activity and improve germination, shoot, and root growth in all your garden beds, particularly your vegetable beds. My plants are crazy huge this season and I applied about one pound of SoilSuccess per 100 feet of garden.

Homemade Compost

#1 rule of healthy organic gardening – make your own compost. Below is a photo of my overly stuffed composter doing its happy work in my garden. While there are many ways to make your own compost, the fact that it is absolutely free for you to build makes it one of the best ideas ever. Using grass clippings, kitchen scraps, dry leaves, and all types of natural things from your home like coffee grounds, you can create “black gold” for your garden beds. Compost has amazing nutrients in it which helps your garden soil be the perfect place for microbes to interact with root hairs. In other words, by adding compost, you are building stronger roots. I add compost to the soil in new gardens and also use it as a top dressing to smother weeds around healthy plants.

Shawna Coronado Soil Amendment Compost Bin

According the FTC, you need to know that I received products in this story at no cost in exchange for reviewing them.


Whitney Curtis

An Easy Way to Water

Are your summer months spent traveling and vacationing in and out of town? Weekend road trips or a week at the beach can do some damage to your garden if you’re not careful. We take a lot of weekend trips during the summer and if I go a few weekends in a row hoping it’ll rain or forgetting to ask my neighbor to water, I’m in for dry and disappointing containers!

My herb containers are small so they dry out very quickly. The last time we headed out of town for the weekend, I tried a new method: upside down bottles. I grabbed a few old wine bottles and beer bottles, filled them with water, and stuck them upside down in the soil in my smaller containers. Voila!

The water in the bottle will slowly seep into the soil, keeping the soil and the roots consistently moist for a couple of days. If you’re gone for a whole week, you still might want to ask a neighbor or a friend to check in on your plants! I’ve also started using this method when I’m home, on particularly hot days. My small collection of herbs – basil, parsley, and mint – seem to love it!

Photos by Whitney of The Curtis Casa


Shawna Coronado

Better Gardener: 4 Seed Starting Kits That Work For Your Garden

Seedling Starter Kits at 4 Weeks

Midsummer can be a challenging time for my front lawn ornamental edible vegetable garden (see below). It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s buggy. Plants react in different ways to the summer season depending on their issue; some thrive, others have giant bug holes in them, a few go to seed, and my personal Drama Queen favorite – the veggie sprawls on the ground like a dying opera singer. All these issues can be solved by growing replacement seedlings and replacing the old with the new. Grow seedlings at this time also to build your cold weather vegetables for Fall planting. This season I conducted an experiment to see how seed starting kits worked in the heat of midsummer and here are the results.

Shawna Coronado Front Lawn Vegetable Garden

Seedling kit watering

Growing Seedlings Experiment Conditions:

Each system was planted with Botanical Interests Dwarf Blue Curled Heirloom Kale. I used Organic Mechanics Seed Starting Blend as the starting soil for three of the kits. Once planted and watered the first time (above), I never watered any of the growing systems again. I kept the growing systems outside in semi-shade and did receive some rain throughout the testing. Results are after four weeks of growth from seed to plant. You can see the final growing result in the photo at the top of this post.

Seedling Kit SteadyGROWpro

SteadyGROWPro Seed Starting Kit

Eco-friendly SteadyGROWpro grow medium is used to grow seeds hydroponically, it’s a wonderful solution for producing seedlings for the garden without soil. With the SteadyGROWpro kit  (a smaller sample kit is shown above) I did not add additional organic fertilizer, so you can tell the plants stayed a bit smaller. However, it worked great for me. It is the least expensive of the four seed starting kits and by not growing with soil it saved even more money. A good solution for when you are interested in transplanting plants later or if you are keeping the seedlings in a hydroponic system. One kit of 24 seed spots retails for $8.99.

Seedling Peel Away kit

Peel-Away 4” Pot Kit

Need to transplant your plants? It is no problem with this Peel-Away 4” Pot Kit from Gardener’s Supply made from VELCRO® brand fabric (above). Removing plants without disturbing the roots and minimizing transplant shock is the goal with these 3 innovative pots. Building the containers is easy and each tray uses a reservoir and a wicking capillary mat to water the plants as they need it from the roots; it came with simple instructions. I really liked that you can wash pots and store flat for reuse next season. Comes in red or brown. One kit retails for $24.95.

Seedling Peel Away Kit assembled

Peel-Away 2” Pot Kit

Like it’s big brother kit above, this Peel-Away 2” Pot Kit from Gardener’s Supply made from VELCRO® brand fabric is an easy solution to transplant small seedlings without disturbing their roots. For some reason the seedlings grew better in the 4” fabric pots, rather than in these 2” pots (see top photo). There are 12 foldable growing pots that rest on a reservoir with a wicking capillary mat to water the plants as they need it from the bottom (above). Wash pots and store flat for reuse next season. Comes in red or brown. One kit retails for $24.95.

Seedling APS-24 Growing System

Gardener’s Supply APS-24 Growing System

This 24 seedling growing system (above) is an all-in-one unit that ensures a regular supply of water for the little seedlings. There is an insulated growing tray with greenhouse cover in case the temperatures drop. A capillary mat and reservoir lets seedlings drink water as needed. This system is best used for starting plants that will be transplanted while still small and I found it super-easy to use. Comes in white. One kit retails for $19.95.

Seedling Kits planted up

All the seed starting kits were successful (see top photo) and could easily start different types of plants dependent upon your needs. Whether you are growing your Fall cool-season seedlings or replacements for the front lawn vegetable garden, now is the time to get started on the second round of garden growing.

According the FTC, I need to let you know that I received products in this story at no cost in exchange for reviewing them.


Shawna Coronado

How To Install A Rain Barrel in 3 Easy Steps

55 gallon rain barrel installed

Now is the perfect time to install a rain barrel. Summer is here and some parts of the country get very hot and dry late in the season – installing a rain barrel now means you will get some water in the barrel to help you save money and save water later in the season. Benefits of rain barrels go beyond saving money and watering your garden. By having a rain barrel, you are keeping rain water out of urban sewer systems, giving water back to the water table, and helping our environment. Today we are assembling and installing the 55 gallon Rain Saver from Tierra Derco with Quattro Downspout Filter and Universal Spout (see top photo).

Rain barrels come in many shapes and sizes, but almost all rain barrels are gravity fed and have no power to push the water through a hose. If the rain barrel is installed on blocks or raised slightly on a base support, it will guarantee that the water will more easily reach your garden beds if a hose is attached. Most frequently, I use a bucket or watering can and take water from the rain barrel spigot.

To install a rain barrel you will need tools – a rain barrel, flexible downspout, and a hacksaw. If you have an aluminum downspout you will need several screws, screwdriver, and a drilling rain barrel holedrill. If you have a PVC downspout you will also need PVC cement instead of screws. If you are unskilled in assembling and drilling like I am, you will need to find a helper like my buddy Ricky Rolon (thanks for helping me assemble the rain barrel Ricky – you’re the best).

 

Connecting a Downspout To A Rain Barrel in 3 Easy Steps

1. Place the barrel near a downspout. Position exactly where it will be when complete and measure the downspout portion you will need to cut in order to put the connection or downspout filter to the downspout. If your rain barrel does not have predrilled holes for the water tap and hose attachment, drill those now and install tap (photo right).

2. Disconnect your downspout by sawing the downspout above where the top of the rain barrel rests. Be sure to save all the parts you have removed so you can reattach during the winter.

3. Assembling downspout drain for rain barrelAttach a downspout filter or a flexible elbow to the cut end of your downspout so water is redirected into the rain barrel either through the filter hose or through a screened hole on top of the rain barrel dependent upon which rain barrel variety you have (photo right). Secure with screws. Or if you have a PVC downspout, secure with PVC cement so it will not come off during a heavy downpour. Make sure the water overflow is redirected away from the house foundation.

 

Rain Barrel Success Tip

Additional care for a rain barrel includes when temperatures in your community fall below freezing you should reconnect your old downspouts and drain your rain barrel to protect it from cracking. I turn my rain barrels upside-down, but you could simply keep the rain barrel spigot open so that rain does not gather in the barrel basin.

Helping the environment and saving money while watering your plants is a win-win. Including a rain barrel in your garden is a great way to contribute to a drought tolerant landscaping plan.  Get a rain barrel and make a difference.

According the FTC, I need to let you know that I received a product in this story at no cost in exchange for reviewing it.


Shawna Coronado

3 Top Summer Garden Gloves Reviewed

Gloves Womanswork Work Gloves

Finally it is summer and with the coming of summer, we mark the beginning of barbecue celebration season and outdoor living all over the nation. This is the perfect time to get out and clean up that garden a bit before the big garden get-together. To help you with your summer pruning, gardening, and planting I have reviewed three awesome ladies gloves that I have used myself and put through the Shawna-marator testing process with vigor and passion.

As a full time gardener and garden writer, I’m a bit of an obsessed glove collector and definitely use them in my garden to protect my fingernails from breaking and skin infections. I have dozens from all different types of companies. This season I put three completely different gloves to the test.

Gloves Gold Leaf Royal Horticultural Society Dry Touch

Gold Leaf Dry Touch Gloves

Gold Leaf Dry Touch is a tough garden glove (photo below)  made from high quality leather. This glove is fully lined and resistant to water. With all the rain I have had in the garden lately, I have found these gloves great to get in to prune rose bushes and other thorny material even if it is wet outside. Thorns do not get through the tough leather and caring for the gloves involves handwashing them and letting them air dry. A good protective glove which is built to last for years, you can purchase the gloves online at Gardeners.com for $38.95. I highly recommend this glove if you want a tough glove for wet and/or thorny conditions.

Womanswork Paisley Garden Glove With Arm Saver

Definitely the most attractive glove of the bunch, Womanswork Paisley Garden Glove (top photo) is as comfortable as it is stylish. When working in the garden I frequently get “itchy arms” from scratchy plants. The Paisley Garden Glove with Arm Saver is exactly as it describes – a great arm saver that prevents itchy arm. I find these gloves perfect for cutting back perennials and digging mid-summer. They come in several different colors, are made of cotton with a touch of lycra, and have a sun protection factor of 50, making for light work on hot days. The little wrist buckle helps keep the glove snug without being too tight around your wrist. There’s even a nifty stretch pull-cord at the end of the glove so you can tighten it if you are concerned about bugs or plants creeping up your arm into the glove. You can purchase these gloves on the Womanswork.com website for $29.50. They come in several different colors and are machine washable so these gloves make an easy-to-clean reusable garden glove.

Gloves Rostaing  Rubber Coated

Rostaing Rosier Gloves

Rostaing Rosier Gloves (photo above) are supposed to be used for roses because they have great protection against rose thorns even though they are a cotton comfort-based glove. Rubber coating on the outside of the cotton glove means you do not have to have a heavy glove on a super-hot day in the garden. However, I found they are fantastic for every imaginable project under the sun where you want to protect your hands. I used them for painting my Adirondack chairs and loved the way the gloves allowed me to grip the paint brush. Pruning, planting, and lifting containers is easy work with these gloves. They are particularly good for digging in soil because absolutely no soil or sharp splinters get up under the nail to irritate the nail bed. Find these gloves on Amazon.com for $12.67. They work great and when you are done abusing them and want them to be fresh for next time, simply throw the gloves in the clothes washer and let them air dry.

Need a gardening glove for all your summer pre-barbecue party garden clean-up efforts? All three gloves listed above are fantastic solutions to protect your hands and keep them healthy in summer.

According the FTC, I need to let you know that I received glove products in this post at no cost in exchange for reviewing them.


Whitney Curtis

Better Gardener: Propagating Hydrangeas

I learned quickly when we started working on our backyard, that small gardens and winding paths don’t exactly mix well with high-energy, long-legged dogs. Our vizsla, Birch, hurdles over shrubs and flowers every day, stands smack dab in the middle of my Solomon’s Seal, or tramples on my hostas. It usually doesn’t bother me, except when he sprints by my hydrangeas. Oh boy. I always cringe, hoping he’s not too close. I follow behind him, picking up the hydrangea twigs that snap off. Here’s what I do to take advantage of the broken branches!

Propagating Hydrangeas

1. Use new, green growth – not the woody area of the stem, it’s older and won’t produce roots.

2. Dip the tip in rooting hormone, about an inch or so. (Using rooting hormone is optional, but I think it really helps!)

3. Clip large leaves in half, so the plant will focus energy on producing roots.

4. Plant in healthy, organic soil. Consider adding perlite and/or vermiculite to help retain moisture for the new roots.

5. Water, wait and then transplant to the ground!

I planted two cuttings in the terra cotta pots above last summer. (The plastic bags only stayed on for the first week or so. I didn’t think they were totally necessary, so I didn’t leave them that way for long.) Once I could feel that the plants had put out a few roots (just tug lightly to feel if there’s resistance), I moved them to the backyard to be in their natural elements. They grew a good bit in the fall so I transplanted them to a bigger container for the winter.

As soon as the weather got warm this spring (around April), I planted them in the ground and they’ve almost doubled in size already! Each plant had a really complete root system, which I was pleasantly surprised to see.

Hydrangeas are an easy plant to propagate, so give it a try this summer! I am thrilled with this easy method of expanding my garden. Now that I know I can do it, I don’t mind as much when Birch takes off sprinting through the garden. In fact, I kind of hope for a stray branch I can take care of.

Photos from my Instagram