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Ideas to Turn Your Thumb Green

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By Marsha Mortenson, Master Gardener

While sitting around the table with a group of master gardeners, one becomes quickly aware of the knowledge humming through the air. Some focus on fruit trees and good things for the salad bowl. Others are enthralled with introducing native landscape into our gardens. We all carry basic horticulture knowledge along with a focus on individual interests.

No matter what our area of interest, general gardening “good ideas” creep into the conversation and find their way into our own skills. Three areas of importance for most people are saving time, saving money, and saving wear and tear on our bodies. After talking to gardeners and looking at their gardens, here are some ideas that you may find useful:

-Recycling for use in the garden is a favorite of many. While walking around a local, very special garden, I noticed many uses for our often thoughtless discards. Trimmed limbs and woody branches were saved and put to good use as fences, trellises, arbors and pergolas. The smallest supported floppy flowers or tomato vines. The supports were held together using nails or wrapped with vines. Birds just naturally perched, built nests and felt right at home!

-A colorful umbrella became temporary shade for a new plant in a very sunny location. A brightly colored cup and saucer was a watering hole for the many birds. Sometimes beloved pottery, after becoming chipped or completely broken can find a new life adding color outdoors….try it!

-A good recyclable for wrapping and tying are old panty hose. Cut them into strips and they´re strong, stretchy and ready for a new role in the garden, blending unobtrusively with the plants.

-Several of our master gardeners had good ideas for using stored articles. Do you have any old lamp shade frames around? They make very good support for those floppy long stemmed bloomers that can end up on the ground. Maybe you have some extra wire tomato cages. Cut them in half and one cage can become two inexpensive plant supports.

During our recent garden tour, I noticed an old wooden ladder (just like the one we used to have long ago) propped against a tree. A wonderful flowering vine was climbing its way in and out, higher and higher.

-This same gardener gave me another tip or two. Those of us with compost piles sometimes forget to water them. Add an extra line on that drip system and it´s all done. This can also be done to freshen your bird bath. She also takes a bit of time once a year to fill in a special calendar with dates for pruning, feeding and other garden activities you need to remember…just don´t forget to check it often.

By the way, remember all those garden catalogues you toss (you ordered one item five years ago from a favorite company)? Save the ones with pictures and descriptions of flowers and shrubs for plant identification and care.

-Another clever gardener writes: when my numerous Spanish lavender plants have finished blooming and the little brown flower heads are all that remain from the colorful display, it´s time to prune. I do this by using my weed-eater and running over the tops of the plants. The flower heads are flung far and wide and reseed themselves freely. Every year I have more plants! The weed-eating leaves the plants looking scruffy, but before long, the plants have new growth and remain tidy green mounds until the following spring.

-Many of us have discovered the benefits of compost. One master gardener has an easy plan that “works beautifully.” She piles old straw, a bag of steer manure, poor garden soil, compost, etc. in a large, spread-out pile. She uses the garden tiller to mix it up while cutting the straw at the same time.

-Here are some items for your wish list. There´s a wonderful product to keep your knees happy, your pants and home clean. Green Jeans Farm and Garden Chaps are a comfortable, easy to wear combination of chaps with kneepads. Easy to put on and take off, they won´t cause circulation problems in your legs. A fine tool for weeding and digging in the dry, rocky foothills is a Japanese knife called Hori Hori, which means “little digger.” It´s a heavy duty knife with a serrated edge that comes in handy for transplanting and opening those large plastic bags of garden products. A moisture meter, found at local garden shops, will let you know if a plant needs water.

-Last of all is my personal tip. When purchasing hand tools, always find one that´s brightly colored. I have temporarily lost trowels and clippers because I felt the quiet, earthy colors were more pleasing and the bright colors were garish…silly me!

See you in the garden.

Marsha Mortensen graduated from the Master Gardener training program in 2004. She is a former Curtis Creek School librarian with an art degree who is interested in garden design.