Ingenious garden hacks from a life-long gardener
Here are 10 tricks of the trade that you don’t often see! From storing seeds in CD wallets to putting sponges at the bottom of pots to using honey to root cuttings, these gardening hacks will save you time, money and energy to get even more from your garden.
#1 Shortcuts For Spacing Plants
Many vegetables are grown in block formations here and a great way to evenly space both seeds and plants is to use a muffin tin. Simply push it into the soil to leave an impression and then use each of the depressions created as a planting position. You can use different-sized muffin tins for different spacing; a larger tin gives a spacing of around 6 inches which is perfect for, say, a crop of spinach . For clusters of beet or beetroot, plant every other hole to achieve the desired spacing of 12 inches.
Another option is to mark-up long-handled tools against a measuring tape to give you an at-the-ready measuring device that you can lie alongside a row for accurate spacing.
#2 Label Like a Pro
There are lots of options for labelling plants. Plastic plant labels can be used many times over by wiping them clear between uses. In most cases, a pencil works just fine for the writing and is easier to erase. If you prefer to use a pen, you can rub labels clear with a bit of sandpaper. Or, keep labels in the sun to bleach clear over time.
You can also make your own labels from strips of yoghurt pot or any clean plastic tub, or try saving popsicle or ice cream sticks. Fragments of broken terracotta pot and small rocks make for an attractive way of labelling permanently planted specimens like herbs.
#3 Protect from Cold
Used plastic bottles make excellent temporary miniature greenhouses to pop over vulnerable seedlings. Anchor them into place to stop them blowing away. (See video demonstration.) If you only need cold protection because, say, a late frost threatens, you could pop a pot over your tender plants to keep them snug at night. Use a heavier pot such as a terracotta pot to keep it from blowing away, and don’t forget to remove it during the day.
#4 Easy Watering
You can also use old plastic bottles to make water reservoirs. Spike holes into the lid and then cut off the base of the bottle. Bury it next to thirsty plants such as squash or into containers so the open end pokes out. Now when you come to water, you can simply fill the reservoir and move on. The water will seep out slowly from the cap, delivering moisture exactly where it’s needed—deeper down in the soil where the roots are, and avoiding too much evaporation from the soil surface.
On the subject of watering, here’s a great tip: Pack the bottom of containers with old sponges before you add your potting mix. This serves a few purposes. It stops potting mix from escaping out of the drainage holes at the bottom, and the sponge will absorb excess moisture, serving as a reservoir for the roots to draw on when needed. Pots planted this way shouldn’t need watering so often, saving you precious time.
#5 Save More Water
Much of the water we use in the home can be saved to water garden plants. For example, water from cleaning, boiling, or steaming vegetables. Allow it to cool then water your plants with it. Water used to wash the dishes is fine too, so long as you use an ecologically friendly, plant-based dish soap. Splash this water onto ornamental plants or lawns (but not edible crops in case there are any fatty food residues in it).
Of course, you should be saving as much rainwater as possible. Rainwater is better for our plants and it’s free! Here’s another tip: Cover purpose-sold water barrels with loose-fitting lids. This way you can easily lift it off to dip in your watering can—a far quicker way to fill it up. And it is worth keeping your collected rainwater covered, as this will keep the bugs out and reduce the chances of algae growing in it.
#6 Root Cuttings Naturally
When you take soft fruit cuttings in autumn, you could dip them into a hormone rooting gel, which encourages roots to form. But a more natural alternative is to use honey. While perhaps not quite as effective as hormone rooting gels or powders, honey is a natural antiseptic which is ideal for keeping cuttings clean. Studies have proved that honey really does help cuttings root. Simply dip the bottom of your cuttings into honey before pushing into your potting mix or, better still, wet the ends of the cutting, dip into cinnamon powder and then the honey. The cinnamon offers another layer of defense against fungal disease, while also stimulating those sought-after roots.
#7 Sort Your Seeds
Many of us store old seed packets in a shoebox but here’s a clever idea to keep everything organized: Store seeds in an old photo album or CD wallet. It’s space efficient and you can see at a glance exactly what you’ve got at the flip of a page. Keep tabs on when seeds need to be used up by copying the sow-by date on the back of the packet to where it’s visible on the front. Plus, bookshelves are often naturally dry, cool places which are ideal environments for seed storage.
#8 Make Your Own Pots
Make your own biodegradable pots from newspaper or cardboard tubes. To make a paper pot, fold and then unfold a strip along a sheet of newspaper to leave a crease. Roll the newspaper tightly around a jar like this… then fold in the ends to create the pot base, pinching along the edges to firm it up. Remove the jar, then fold in along the crease you made earlier to firm up the rim of the pot.
To make a cardboard pot, simply snip one end at 12, three, six and nine o’clock like this then fold the flaps in on each other to form the base. These pots will decompose in the soil, so there’s no need to remove them before planting, and that will help to avoid disturbing roots. As they rot down they’ll even contribute additional organic matter to the soil.
#9 Make Paths Productive
Paths help us move about the garden, but they can also serve as a spill over to our vegetable beds. Use natural materials such as wood chips and sprawling plants like squash and cucumber can be left to lollop onto paths where they can take advantage of the extra space and light, enabling us to pack a little more into our beds than we might otherwise.
And then there’s the opportunity for arches to grow all manner of climbing vegetables, starting with climbing beans. They’ll grow up and over the arch and dangle down to pick. By doing this they will not only make a superb feature, they climb up and away from other crops to make better use of this overall space and they’re much easier to harvest from inside the arch.
#10 Let Veggies Flower
We all know that beneficial insects such as aphid-eating hoverflies and lacewings, and pollinators like bees and butterflies are part and parcel of a thriving garden. So of course it makes sense to grow nectar and pollen-rich flowers to attract them, as well as flowering herbs like chives, parsley and basil.
But one of the very easiest, hands-off ways to put your garden on the bug-eyed map is to simply allow a few of your vegetables to overwinter and flower next season.
- Biennials such as onions, leeks and carrots go on to flower in their second year, so by leaving a few plants to grow on, you’re guaranteeing some spectacular insect-friendly blooms, as pretty as any ornamental flower in my book.
- The delicate lacy blooms of carrots are loved by just about every insect, while pompom-like onion and leek flowers are swarmed by industrious bees.
- If good looks and a bug bonanza weren’t enough, you’ll then be able to collect and save your own seeds to sow next year.
We hope you found these tips interesting and useful. Of course, gardening is fertile ground for all manner of ideas, hacks, and wow-inducing wisdom. Perhaps you have a tip you could share? If you do, drop a comment below and let us all know.