Gardening For Less- Secrets Revealed

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I’ve had the pleasure to be on the Martha Stewart Living Radio Show on Sirius Satellite several times over the last year and I must say, “I love doing radio!” The show’s host, Mario Bosquez, is the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet and having the pleasure to sit down with him is always a treat. That said, Mario has the silkiest voice you ever did hear, making him perfect as a radio personality. A former anchor and reporter at New York's WNYW-TV and WCBS-TV, Mario has more than 30 years of experience in television and radio broadcasting, so when his office calls I jump, ‘cause I know I will have a blast. Everyone there is so nice and it’s wonderful to work with such a talented team. His producer Lauren Gould is always so gracious and welcoming and completely prepared; I have enjoyed every moment I spend there. Martha has an amazing team at Sirius!

Recently I was on the show to reveal my gardening-for-less secrets and the phone was ringing off the hook—we were so busy with you questions from across the US and Canada. In fact, we ran out of time before we got to everyone! So I apologize, but keep listening and feel free to e-mail me your questions through the “ask Mar’ section on this web site. I promise to answer all of them! I returned back to Connecticut inspired to write this article, and I’ve included several tips I didn’t share on the air. So if you missed my interview or we did not get to answer your question, here are some valuable tips to hold you over and help you make “the most for less” this gardening season.

How to find the deals on plants and garden materials.

  • Garden Centers and Nurseries: Consider buying plants without flowers and asking for a discount from the manager. One could save anywhere from 20-50% off. The store is probably dying to move the merchandise if it’s not flowering, so just ask!
  • Consignment shops: with so many people moving and down-sizing, consignment shops are packed with both estate sale items and “can’t take this with us” items such as planters, furniture, outdoor umbrellas and other fabulous garden items, all at huge discounts.
  • Tag sales and garage sales: excellent resources for pots, planters, furniture and garden structures. I’d rather shop at a tag sale than ordering the unknown online.

How to get in and out of the garden fast but have big results.

  • “See a weed? Pull a weed!” Why wait for weeds to build up and make friends. Do a little every day as you see them, and save time later. You can even do what I do: just pull and toss into the bed to be picked up on later during your regular gardening time. No special clothing required, so it’s perfect to do first thing in the morning or right after work—either way you can enjoy the garden and manage it in a small amount of time.
  • Do daily small projects after work. Relax, have a drink and get busy—weekends should be spent with friends and family enjoying the garden not working in it. Stay on a schedule: mowing, trimming and planting can all be coordinated into a weekly schedule. Don’t miss a week as all projects can add up making it less fun to do later.
  • Create kitchen window boxes: they require little time to create and are easy to care for. After all, you already have access to water and you know you will be standing in front of that sink sooner or later.

The grocery store garden ideas.

  • Many grocery stores offer excellent prices on annuals and perennials. Ask when their deliveries are scheduled so you can be one of the first and get the best selection.
  • Your local grocery store can also offer some of the best prices on ferns and ivies for both indoor and outdoor benefits. Add either to an upright urn or plant stand and you have an amazing touch of texture and interest that will flourish until the first frost. Bring indoors and enjoy them in your home for the winter months. A double duty design idea!
  • Jump-start healthy herbs. Avoid the early growing steps you must wait through when buying young plants or seeds. Instead, buy healthy, mature herbs that are already potted from your local grocery store, then invest in a set of terracotta containers. Not only is terracotta decorative, it maintains a cooler core temperature than plastic, which keeps the soil from drying out as quickly. Windows facing south will provide the best results indoor results. You can move your potted herbs outdoors come Mother’s Day.

Creating a container/planter/flower box once but enjoy it for years.

  • Go with larger stone containers that don’t need to be moved for planting interesting trees and scrubs. Use perennials rather than annuals for longer lasting color and texture throughout the year.
  • Only use annuals to add as a pop of color complementing your perennial display. If planting annuals such as geraniums consider bringing smaller planters indoor after the season and return them back outdoors in the spring. Plant evergreens such as Alberta Spruces Tress and boxwoods that offer beauty and interest year round.
  • Osmocote- a fabulous time-release fertilizer. The best, and no-one should create a container without adding this to it. Perfect for new plants and fabulous for established ones.

To mulch or not to mulch? That is always a question.

  • Yes, always each year, but only a light thin coat 1-2 inches. I prefer something natural-looking such as Forest Pine Mulch. Mulch always after a spring clean-up but no more than1-2 inches deep.
  • For the absolute best prices, buy mulch at the end of the season (early fall), then store till spring.
  • By laying out mulch yourself you will not only get a great exercise but control and the amount that you use. I find most landscapers over-mulch and use more than you really need. Mulch is good for your garden for many reasons. It looks good in the landscape and can help provide unity among different planting beds. It can suppress weed growth from underneath. It helps to conserve soil moisture and keep the roots cool in the summer. It can prevent soil erosion around roots on slopes. It can modify temperature extremes during winter freezes all good things. Worth taking into your own hands!

Roses: Easy care ideas inspired by Mother Nature.

  • Cow manure- every winter (and summer) mulch with manure for an amazing rose display.
  • Coffee grounds- but only once a year. Too much can alter the pH of the soil. Roses, azaleas and rhododendrons do prefer acidic soil. Use one cup of coffee grounds per bush for each application to give your roses a nice boost. I would say the same about applying wood ashes to your soil to make it more alkaline.
  • Eggs shells- this ads Calcium to the soil as they compost. Eggshells are a good source of calcium - make sure you wash them out well, let them dry, break up/crumble, then apply around the base of the roses under mulch as eggshells are not very attractive to discover in the garden. That said, eggshells are safe to apply all year long and will not hurt the roses, only help them: so you see, roses need calcium too. Just like our body, it does the plant good.
  • Ladybugs- Not only do they eat aphids and other harmful insects they are beautiful to see. Ladybugs do a lot of their eating in the larval stage, consuming as many as 400 aphids at this stage. More than 5,000 aphids may be eaten by a single adult during its full life cycle. I order online and release right on the roses; if some take flight to a neighbor’s yard it’s still good for me and I’m sure it’s a deposit into the karma bank as Mother Nature is watching.
  • Lots of Worms in the soil- the primary benefit of worms is that they act like little roto tillers in that they bring nutrients from one place to another and keep the soil aerated. They also produce 'worm castings' as a waste product. Incredible isn’t it that worm poop is a valuable fertilizer and structural component of soil! Need worms? Here’s where I go: To order: www.unclejimswormfarm.com

Recycling to the garden with household items such as bottles, old windows and furniture. 


-Making something old something new-

  • Use old shutters in new ways. I use some to hold my tools. Secure to wall, then use garden stakes/tags and twist making a hook, sliding through slates. Perfect for holding my larger garden tools such shovels. This is a creative, decorative and functional way to show them off. Just remember to clean them before you put them back. You will love this!
  • An old window with true divided light panes offers the perfect opportunity to replace each pane with a mirror and place for great effect in the garden. Place in a shaded area that needs a reflective boost for the allusion of a large space.
  • Wine bottles turned upside down filled with beach sand offers protection to your garden borders from hoses and lawn services. Drink up and be MARry while adding a decorative garden design. Recycle old kitchen cabinets or cupboard for extra garden storage. Add to a shed or garage for storing fertilizers, gloves and other garden necessaries. My grandmother’s cupboard is in my studio…and it’s not only a useful component but also a cherished memento of our days gardening together.

How to make the most of your garden without a cent.

  • Asking for the castaways at garden centers and nurseries. FREE.
  • Taking clippings from friends and neighbors gardens. Numerous plants can be easily propagated through stem cuttings. This was my grandmother's secret way to get something she did not have in her garden. No mater whose home she was visiting she would ask to take a clipping, wrap it in here hankie, then add water and seal it all with tin foil. When she returned home she would add to a container of potting soil and in weeks it would root. Magically!
  • Seek out builders that are clearing landscaping for new developments. Offer to remove any scrubs or trees that are possibly going to be discarded. Dig them up, move them, plant them. If you can carry it you can do it. Talk to your landscaper regarding other clients landscaping removal items. If something interesting pops up, ask them to let you know. It’s always nice to give a good plant a lovely new home. Go to the dump. Seriously! It is often filled with unexpected surprises that can work perfectly in the garden. From shrubs to equipment to furniture…One-person’s garden trash is another person’s treasure.

Enjoy your garden day and night but how?

  • Lighting made cheap and simple that anyone can do. Dim all the lights –even the ones outdoors. Replace switches with dimmers. This gives you the most control possible over your lighting and also helps save electricity as well.
  • Install low wattage outdoor halogen lighting- perfect for highlighting walkways and curb appeal. I trust the Malibu brand for everything I need.
  • Lanterns are easy to hang on fence post for the perfect amount of decorative lighting.
  • Discover LED lights for parties and other evening celebrations. Perfect for that added extra light that may be needed in areas that not well lit. Add to walkways, pools and driveways for just the right amount of light and ambience. My LED light brand of choice is Submersible Flora Lyte, they are available in amber, orange, red, blue, green, teal, white, pink and purple; as well as color-changing units that gradually change from red to blue to green on their own.codwholesale.com/Lighting/Acolyte/submersiblefloralytes.htm

Some “Hot Topic” questions that were asked of me:

My peonies never come back and I know there getting plenty of light what I’m I doing wrong?

Never cut your peonies after they bloom. Only remove the flowering stems but never remove them until after the first frost when they will simply come off the plant. My hydrangeas never bloom why? Never ever cut your hydrangeas until June. Watch for new growth and remove any stems with no new growth. Cut above new growth but never cut prior to June as you will be cutting the yet-unseen flowers off.

My lilac did not bloom last spring. Was it because I pruned it late in the summer?

I love lilacs as I have them as topiary and as a bush. Lilac lovers enjoy a wide range of colors, sizes and types of blooms. The most common Lilac colors are "Lilac", lavender, white, pink, blue, and purple. The lilac offers me a nostalgic fragrance that brings me back to my grandmother’s garden; I learned the trimming secret the hard way when I was a little boy and now you can learn from me: no matter what, you have to take the time to trim and reshape your beloved lilac RIGHT AFTER the blooms fade. If you wait longer you will be cutting next year's blooms right off.

I have a budget for an irrigation system but the quotes are out of my price range-- what can I do?

Option 1: This is an excellent question that I hear often; I always recommend doing a proper irrigation system if you are going to invest in a garden, but I also recommend doing it stages. Start by getting the timer and a couple of heads installed; the flowing year add to your system, and you are able to continue each and every year until you have reached all the areas that required a watering system. You will find you can always add more watering heads so always remember "less is more" to start.

Option 2: Many garden centers have timers and hoses that can connect to your already-existing outdoor watering source. A do-it-your-self option that can be a band-aid, but ultimately if you're passionate about your garden and flowers you will need to upgrade to a proper system that offers better soaking, schedules for different zones, and better durability.

I’m renting my house, can I still garden?

Yes, I did this for years, as I took advantage of large containers and window boxes that I could then move away with me. I also asked my landlord if I did some (much needed) landscaping could I take the price of the plant materials off my rent. Since he was getting the labor for free I always got a quick yes response, and an allotted amount that I could spend. I did the work for free and at the end of the month I enclosed the receipts, subtracting the total from my rent. In the end, these rental properties looked better then I found them; so much so, that they were able to charge a higher rent due to my improvements. So, just ask!

My dog is lifting his leg and peeing on my beautiful evergreens killing them. And now I noticed my new lawn is becoming a victim too what can I do if anything?

YES, get Green-um tablets for your pet! These all-natural food supplements help safely eliminate the damaging effects of a dog’s urine and feces on lawns and shrubs. Tabs crush easily to sprinkle over your dog’s food. For small dogs up to 11 lbs give 1 tab a day, large dogs up to 22 lbs 2, up to 44 lbs 3 tabs a day. Or you can give the tablets directly to the dog and call them a treat. Order online or ask your pet store if they carry it. Corky loved getting her daily tablet and now Miss Violet is soon to be on the same treat schedule.

I have a slug problem-- what do you recommend beside beer as I think they enjoy it as much as my husband.

I too experience this issue so I do what my grandmother and her grandmother did before her--I pick them off in the morning by hand. I’ve also heard of sprinkling salt on them but I'd rather save my good salt for my human guests! Salting them does have the effect of dehydrating them but not my best way to use my time in the garden. Another old method is creating a ‘barrier’ around the plant or plants. This could be made up of crushed (dried) eggshells, sharp sand, lime or wood ash. That said, there are, of course, a number of patent chemical options available such as slug pellets and slug tape aluminum sulphate. Word to the wise: pellets can be dangerous to pets and, because of their blue color (intended to deter birds) they might look like attractive candies to small children. So get some gloves on and start picking away. Make it a game and offer a penny for each slug the kid's find. All natural and a lot of fun time in the garden.

Now you know my secrets! It reminds me of something my mother would say: "I can keep a secret; it’s the people I tell I can’t trust." Guess that means I trust you, but it wouldn't matter, since I'd be glad if you share them. (Just tell 'em who told you!)

And there you have it.