Better Gardener

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


Shawna Coronado

Three Unique Garden Tools Reviewed

Cobrahead Weeder and Cultivator In Use

There was a little old man that lived up the street from me where I grew up in Kokomo, Indiana. I called him Mr. Grouchy Pants. All we kids were afraid of him because he would catch us playing “Army” in his back garden and chase us off his property yelling like a madman and waving this big metal rod like a weapon. I would have nightmares that I was Peter Rabbit and he was Mr. McGregor. In my dreams Mr. Grouchy Pants would trap me in his giant watering can. Years later I learned that the big metal rod was a do-all gardening tool he invented. It was just a heavy rod, yet it was so much more: a seed hole maker, a lever to dig out rocks, a clay breaker, a thin hoe, and a scary pretend weapon to chase away ornery little girls and boys. As gardeners, we soon discover that the most common tools sold are not necessarily the best tools for the jobs. Sometimes we have to make our own or go searching for an creative solution. Below are reviews of three very interesting garden tools that are unique and provide awesome solutions in the garden.

 

Cool Garden Tools Reviewed

Cobrahead Weeder and CultivatorThe Cobrahead Weeder and Cultivator – One of my favorite tools ever is the Cobrahead Weeder and Cultivator. Cobrahead is the strongest tempered steel blade “finger” you will ever use in the garden and truly acts as an extension of your arm. It is great for getting under a weed with a tap root and popping it out or for using it as an edger along flagstone. I never lose it because the blue handle is easy to spot in the garden and it helps in all kinds of tough jobs – like weeding cactus (top photo). Each Cobrahead is made of a recycled composite material.

 

Trake Garden Tool

Trake - Another strong tool with unique features is the Trake, named for the rakish three tined prong on one side of the tool. There is a measured narrow trowel on the other side of the handle, which is fabulous for bulb and container planting. The three tined prong is super strong, works well to weed, and creates troughs in soil for seeds or plants. Lightweight aluminum makes the tool easy to maneuver, plus it has a vinyl wrap around the handle to help you grip the tool well.

 

DeWit Shawna Trowel Scoop with Cutter ToolDeWit Potting Scoop and Cutter – This unique DeWit Potting Scoop and Cutter Potting Trowel is built in the shape of a scoop with a honed top edge for cutting out the old soil from container. It also has a more pronounced bend for holding soil without spilling and a sharp knife edge for cutting open bags of soil and compost. It’s a heavy trowel with a truly unique cutting edge which I find very handy in the garden because I do not carry a pocket knife. It also works well for pre-hung vertical gardens so you do not spill as much soil when filling wall containers. The special story about this trowel is I got to blacksmith it myself. I complained that I could not find a potting trowel that was built to not spill soil to Sietse DeWit, the President of the DeWit Tool Company. He invited me to come to his factory and blacksmith a tool with his team that would work and this cool scoop/cutter/trowel is what we came up with and it is guaranteed for a lifetime. Below is a video showing the blacksmithing process for the “Shawna Trowel”.

Caring for your garden tools is an important, but simple, part of keeping the tools in good condition for years of use. Each of these unique tools is easy to maintain – rinse after use and put away immediately. Oil wooden handles and iron to prevent aging and rust.

Better gardening starts by finding the garden tools that work best for you for your particular need. Great, long lasting, tools make gardening easier and prevent undue strain while working in the garden. Try these three interesting, unique tools in your garden to see if this garden gear might be the right fit for your special gardening situation.

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