DIY Dirt-y Underwear Soil Analysis

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Now, who says gardening can’t be fun – when you can use cotton boxers to diagnose the nutrients in your soil?  The Soil Conservation Council of Canada is conducting a fun campaign.  They are asking you to “plant” a pair of 100% men’s cotton underwear in the ground about six inches and leave them for two months. When you dig them up – the results will help you to analyze the health of up your soil.  Say what?  Yes, according to Anthony Bly, SDSU Extension Soils Field Specialist, science makes this work.  Why? Well, soil microorganisms require carbon to survive. Apparently, cotton briefs contain high quantities of yummy carbon that soil microorganisms love to gobble up.

When the briefs (wonder why just men’s briefs work?) are dug up, the level of decomposition can tell you how how many organisms have been eating the briefs.  The more they have eaten, the healthier your soil is.

Several extension services have conducted this experiment.  South Dakota State University Extension and Clemson and North Carolina Extension have more detailed data on their results, if you want to study the science in detail.

To conduct this experiment yourself, you will need a new pair of 100% white cotton briefs, a shovel and a marker flag. The steps are simple:

  1. First, dig a narrow trench about six inches deep
  2. Bury the underwear in the trench, leaving a little bit of the waistband out to mark the location
  3. Mark the place with a flag so you can easily find it
  4. Leave briefs buried about two months
  5. Dig up carefully and determine level of decomposition

OK – seriously, who isn’t going to go out a get a pair of briefs and try this?  If you do the experiment, be sure to let me know how it goes!!!!

THE BEST nail brush for gardeners: Beauty 360 Dual-Sided Nail Brush

Let’s face it – gardeners have dirty fingernails at all times of the night or day.  And, we need to clean them before presenting to the public. If you haven’t looked for fingernail brushes lately, you might be surprised to find they can be difficult to locate.  The bristles on the nail brushes that I could find were weak and would not hold up to multiple times daily deep scrubbing.

Then, I found the ultimate, excellent perfect gardener nail brush at CVS for only $3.60.  I got two!!!!

What makes them perfect?  The Beauty 360 Dual Sided Nail Brush has a regular nail brush on one side that is full and has stiff – but not too stiff – bristles that are great for scrubbing the dirt off your hands. They have held up to extremely vigorous use and showed little wear.

Nailbrush Front

But the magic part of this baby is the other side. On the other side you will find a perfect tool for cleaning all that wonderful dirt out from under your fingernails.  It has a single row of bristles that lay almost flat against the brush handle. You just slide the bristles under your fingernails and scrub away. I was dubious whether this would work or not – but it works like gangbusters!

Nailbrush Other Side
So – if you are a gardener – or work outside and get your nails dirty, then this is the perfect nail brush for you. Buy one for every sink – you won’t be sorry.

DIY Potting Bench in an Hour for Under $5

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As I am sure almost everyone out there knows from experience, it is hard to keep going when your back hurts. And even if you force yourself to keep going, at the end of the day it is hard to have a smile on your face and even harder to sleep. So, I am hugely in favor of creating work spaces that are back savers. If that can be done quickly and at little cost, then that is even better.

After one sleepless, painful evening following one full day of bending over transplanting, I had a greenhouse full of beautiful plants and the determination to not do that again. As it was in the spring, with loads more plants to transplant, I needed a quick (and painfree) solution.

So – you guessed it – I headed to my pile of pallets. As you know, I use those babies for everything.  Such a beautiful solution for so many things. I found a pallet that was (dimensions here).  Wow – that would be awesome space for a potting bench, I decided.  The slats were nicely spaced apart so pots could be set on it. No adjustments or additions to the slates needed.

The Pallet for the Potting Bench
Making the bench was easy as pie. I cut four 2×4 boards 32″ long. Then I used two 3- 1/2 star-headed screws to attach each leg at the corner. From previous work on greenhouse benches, I knew I had to attach a cross brace on the legs to stabilize the bench and I did so using scraps I had in my lumber pile.  I wanted to make things even easier, and since I made the potting bench lickety split, I decided to make a smaller one to put pots and supplies on. Now I can plant and transplant and work with plants all day long and my back is happy.

Potting bench
While this bench is in a temporary location, it will find a permanent home when things slow down. I will probably seal it so that it lasts longer, but for now, I am loving every sitting down moment with the plants and my potting bench.

I had spare 2x4s that I used for the legs, but if you had to buy the wood, it would cost around $5.00-10.00 depending on the type that you get.  The screws are about a dime each.  I used 16, so that would have been a total cost of $ 1.60 for the bench. Even if  you had to buy the screws and the 2×4 lumber, the cost of the potting bench would be less that $10.00. What a back saving deal that would be!!!

I hope this encourages you to come up with solutions that will make your life more enjoyable and your gardening less painful. You don’t have to build something complicated, expensive and time consuming. Problem solving can be as simple as slapping four legs on a pallet for a new potting bench. If you want to take the time to paint it – then by all means, do so. But, look for solutions that will allow you to re-use and re-cyle. It makes for a better life, better world.  Let me know what exciting solutions you have come up with re-using and re-cycling. And, if you make a potting bench, let me know how much you love it!

As always, be sure to use pallets that are safe for you and your environment. If you are not sure how to make sure your pallets are safe, this post is short and very clear.  In a nutshell, look for pallets that have the “HT,” heat-treated label.

BookBub for Free Books

Digital BooksI am an avid reader. In fact, I have trouble going to sleep at night without first reading at least a few pages from my latest novel. When I decided we had to downsize stuff in the home, sadly, many books were donated or given to friends. At that point, I started reading books on my phone. This accomplished at least two things. I had a very small footprint for books in my smaller house and I knew where my phone was every night.

At first, I got free books at a variety of different spots offering free books – but had trouble finding stuff I wanted to read. So, I enrolled in Kindle Unlimited and discovered I could find plenty to read from little known or unknown authors – much of which was really quite enjoyable. But, it still cost money.

Then, I happened upon BookBub from I know not where. Curious, I signed up. Now I get free books all the time. You have got to see this site to believe the deals you will get – for free.  Once you sign up, you tell them what you are interested in and they find deals for you all over the net.  You get daily emails with preview of books based on your interests. The books are high quality from well-known authors and they are very inexpensive – ranging from 99 cents to $2.99. But almost every day, they have one or two books for free. The books that cost money are a great value. For example, the digital version of The Bitterbynde Trilogy listed for $19.99, and was available through Bookbub for only $2.99. I made a commitment to myself that I would only get the free books.  Except for one time before I made the commitment and one time that I clicked on the wrong button, I have only downloaded free books.

So – how does Bookbub work? According to the site:

BookBub is a free service that helps millions of readers discover great deals on acclaimed ebooks while providing publishers and authors with a way to drive sales and find new fans. Members receive a personalized daily email alerting them to the best free and deeply discounted titles matching their interests as selected by our editorial team. BookBub works with all major ebook retailers and devices, and is the industry’s leading ebook price promotion service.

I have more books than I can possibly finish in several years and get more everyday, with a small book footprint in my house to boot. Personally, I like to read fiction before falling asleep – but they have plenty of non-fiction to choose from as well.

If you like to read – and I really hope you do, you cannot go wrong signing up at BookBub today.

Quick and Dirty Guide to Propagating Perennials

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Yep – propagating is quick and it can be dirty. But it is always rewarding and can save you quite a bit of money. The previous post discussed WHY you should propagate. If you are here, I believe that I convinced you to try your hand at making more of what you already have in your yard. I am going to briefly describe how to propagate and then you go to the picture tutorial that gives you a step-by-step description of the process.

First things first. Gather all your materials and make a place where you can work. Things will get dirty, so if you are using your kitchen table (like I do sometimes), you might want to put newspapers down or even a sheet of cardboard.  The materials you will need are: pots, potting medium, scissors or pruners, rooting hormone, a small paper plate or cup, the plant you are going to propagate.

Potting medium:  You want something that will hold moisture in and that is sterile.  I like to use a mixture of 1/2 peat moss and 1/2 perlite available at any garden center or online. There are other mixes that can be used – the main thing is that you do not want to use soil because it may carry soil-borne diseases that will hurt your attempts at propagating. While you are at it, be sure to clean your pots with soap and bleach to disinfect them, too. I like to fill my pots with potting mix first and make sure the potting mix is nice and moist. You will probably want to put many cuttings in one pot so estimate how many cuttings you are going to take, figure to put 3-5 cuttings per pot depending on the size of the pot and the size of the cuttings. It seems to me, when they are trying to grow roots, the cuttings like being in a pot together.  That is not scientific and it may be my imagination – but that seems to happen to my cuttings.

To begin, cut 4-6 inches off the tip of your  plant at a slanted angle. One strong recommendation is to snip off many cuttings so that some will live. To be a propagator, you can’t be afraid of killing plants. A wise presenter at one of my Master Gardener classes said this: “To learn how to be good at gardening, you have to kill more plants.” Since then, I don’t feel as bad when a plant dies – I just remind myself that I am learning to be a good gardener.  And remember, when you propagate your own plants, it also makes it a lot less painful financially when plants die.

If you have large perennials that need to be cut back in the fall, you can stick the ends in water until you are able to propagate. I have brought tons of clippings home that were going int the compost bin at my Master Gardener site when they were cutting back in the fall. I fill my sink up with cool water and put all the cuttings in the sink until I could get to them later in the day. They stayed nice and fresh until I was ready to propagate. And I had an excuse for not doing the dishes. Win, win.

After making cuttings, you have to do the most painful procedure in propagating. Strip off all the lower leaves and cut off any blooms or buds.  The blooms or buds can drain the energy from the plant for forming roots. In fancy terms, removing leaves and buds reduces transpiration and increases success in propagating.

Pour a small amount of rooting hormone in a small cup or on a paper plate. You do not want to contaminate the rooting hormone by dipping the stem into the bottle. Lightly dust the bottom of the plant with rooting hormone.  You can either dip the end in water, then into the rooting hormone or gently scrape a little off the stem, then dip it into the rooting hormone. This ensures that more hormone stays on the cutting.

Using a pencil, pen or dowel, make a hole in the potting medium, then stick the stem into hole. Press the soil around the stem to hold it into place. Continue doing this until the pot is full of cuttings. Water carefully.

At this point, you can put a plastic bag around the cuttings and close it with a twist tie.  This will retain the moisture around the plants. In the spring when it is fairly cool, I don’t put the cuttings in a plastic bag because it is very humid here and the plants retain moisture from the air.  If you do not use a plastic bag to cover the cuttings, be sure to mist them frequently.

After a couple of weeks, roots will begin to grow on the cuttings. You can tell when the cuttings have rooted by gently pulling up on the stem. If you get some resistance, then there are probably roots starting on the cutting. If you feel no resistance and you pull the cutting out of the soil, just push it back in and try again in a few days.  You can also tell that something is happening when you see new growth on the cutting. The salvia cuttings below were put into 3″ pots just five days ago. Almost all of them “took” – but salvias are very easy to propagate! You can see that they are hydrated and look fresh. Although you won’t be able to tell (since you didn’t see them when they were planted) some already have new growth.

Propagated Salvias
Once your cuttings are well rooted, they are ready to be moved to individual pots to continue growing. In moving to individual pots, you might lose a few plants. Remember, plant lots of cuttings so some live. The success of the transplanting process can depend on how well rooted the cuttings are, how hot it is outside when you transplant, or the difficulty of plants to propagate. For example, for me, salvia is a lot easier to propagate than turk’s cap. So I make sure that I take many turk’s cap cuttings. In the photo below, the turk’s cap plants look robust and healthy.  But be forewarned – these are the survivors. Many little cuttings died – and these lived. I am so excited about the live ones that I am ready to make many more little cuttings to see how many survive this time. I tell you, propagating is addictive!

Pink Turk's Cap
One last tip – different seasons are better for propagating.  The spring is great because plants are in a big growth cycle anyway. Summer, especially in hot Texas, is harder because it is just way too hot for the plants to overcome the shock of being cut and stripped of leaves. Not to mention being too hot to be outside trying to propagate. Ensuring that the plants are always moist through misting can increase your success in the summer, but that can be quite time consuming. In a future post, I will be sharing information on building your own home misting system that will really help you improve your propagating success rate, especially in the summer. Fall works great, although, plants root a bit slower than in the spring. If you can propagate in the fall and keep the plants above freezing in the winter, they will grow to a rather large size for planting in the spring. To propagate in the winter, you might need to bring plants indoors and possibly get a warming mat to keep the soil warm and encourage roots to develop.

And that’s about all there is to propagating perennials.  You might make some mistakes – and that is OK. The more you work on propagating, the more you try, the more successful you will be. And the bigger  your beautiful garden will be, too. If you like to see the action in photos, some step-by-step directions on propagating with photos of each step are available on this post.

I really can’t stress enough how much you will benefit from learning to propagate. It is incredibly fulfilling when you see the fruits of your labor. Propagating saves money as compared to buying all your plants. It will also provide you with a stock of plants that you can trade or give to others.  I never knew how much I would enjoy it, but now I just can’t stop.  Let me know when you successfully propagate your first plants!!!!!

Pictorial Guide to Propagating Perennials from Cuttings

Renovating this Post

First assemble all of your materials

  1. Pot(s) of pre-moistened soil-less rooting medium (an inexpensive rooting material is 3 parts landscape mix, 1 part peat moss)
  2. Pruners, a sharp knife, or sharp scissors
  3. Rooting hormone
  4. Plastic cupor paper plate
  5. Pencil, pen or other object slightly wider than the stem of the cutting
  6. Clear plastic bag, bell jar, or plastic wrap

Take cuttings from the plant
Take cuttings from the plant – such as this salvia plant – about four to six inches long from the new growth. Be sure to cut just below a node (where the leaf attached to the stem).

Remove lower leaves
Remove the lower leaves from the stem leaving the top two or three. Make sure that any part of the cutting buried below the surface of the rooting medium has no leaves.

Remove any flowers that are present
This is the hardest thing to do – but cut off any flowers or buds.  Flowers draw energy from the cutting to bloom and slow the rooting process. Flowers are not helpful for the rooting process. So, hard as it is to do, remove any flowers or buds from the cuttings.

Make holes in potting mix
Use an object such as a pencil or dowel to make a hole in the potting mix. Make the hole larger than the cutting so the rooting powder is not rubbed off when the cutting is placed in the rooting medium.

Why You Should Save Buckets of Money by Propagating Your Plants

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Gardening and landscaping can be incredibly satisfying, but if you aren’t careful, it can also be incredibly expensive. If you learn how to propagate your own plants, however, it can not only be fulfilling but also save you buckets of money. You can further save money by growing your own plants from seeds, but that will be covered in another post.  One of the best times to propagate is in the spring since plants grow incredibly fast and you will feel accomplished in a very short period of time.

This is the first year I have been really focused on growing perennials but growing them can be quite expensive. When I found out I could have loads of plants basically for free by propagating plants I already have growing in the yard, I enthusiastically started propagating.  Many of the fast growing perennials will be large and very showy once spring is in full force so I have propagated, propagated, propagated like crazy.  It is s-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o fun to look at all the new plants you have growing just propagating the plants in your yard.  It is even more fun to start adding up all the money you did NOT spend on all those plants.

The trumpet plants (brugmansia) below are an example of plants I began propagating in the fall before the first frost. Just a few months later,  they really took off.

Trumpet Plants

How Propagating from Cuttings Increases Your Plant Population
Propagating from cuttings is probably one of the easiest ways to propagate and most perennials can be easily propagated this way. Once you start propagating from your yard, the good thing is that you can start to share – and grow your plant population even more (pun intended).  For example, just this morning, I took two yellow trumpet plants I had propagated to my chiropractor. In return, he is giving me a plant he ordered from a trip to South America.  The plant he is giving me is not only pretty but I can make a delicious and very healthy green drink from its leaves. Win, win, WIN.  Another friend is going to order a tri-color trumpet plant and I am going to order a double leaf lavender and a pink one.  Guess what we are going to do – that’s right.  Propagate and trade!!!

So how difficult is this propagating, you ask.  Well, not difficult at all.  I will admit that I used to believe three incorrect things about propagating. First, I thought I couldn’t do it.  Me, a brown thumb – no sir – not me. They will just die!!!  Second, I thought it would take FOREVER for the plants to get big enough to even see.  OK – I am exaggerating a little there – but you get the idea – too long to get big, so I would be better off just spending the money to buy a big plant in a pot.  And third, I thought I had to spend a bunch of money on specialized equipment to propagate.  ALL my beliefs – ARE WRONG.

Salvia, Tomatoes and Mexican Sage

The photo above shows the plants I propagated this fall from cuttings off of the “mama” plants (and a few tomatoes grown from store-bought tomatoes).  Part of the trick is not being afraid to try. Another part is to propagate many, many cuttings and realize, that even if a bunch die, you will (almost) always have some that live. Keep in mind, also, if a bunch of cuttings do die, you haven’t spent/wasted a lot of money. You can always re-use the soil or mix it into your compost pile.  The cuttings that did not take (died) can also be a contributor to your compost pile.  And you can try again.  The good thing is, that the more you do it, the better you get and the higher success rate you have.

Yes, it is sad when some plants die.  But that is okay, because some or many will live, too. Remember, focus on the ones that live.

Non-survivors

I also suggest starting with plants that are easy to propagate. You can find which plants are easier to propagate by visiting university agricultural websites. Two great sites are the Texas A & M Agriculture Extension site and the University of Georgia Extension site, both of which contain vast information on all things green. I also highly suggest Dave’s Garden for information on almost any plant in the universe. They have articles and videos on many, many other garden topics as well.

You can also find “easy to propagate” plants by talking to your friends who now propagate. This is where being a member of your local Master Gardeners organization can be beneficial. Also, you can talk to others in your area of the country (and believe me, it matters where you live as far as propagating goes) and find out what is easy to grow there.  You might even be able to use cuttings from the Master Gardener demo gardens (ask first!), your friends’ gardens, or even a plant you see on a country road to further expand your plant supply.  Having said this, start off your adventure propagating “easy” plants and once you have a few successes under your belt, try some of the more challenging plants to propagate.

Second, many perennials do grow fast – some very fast. So in a matter of months, you can have a nice sized bush or vine that will continue to grow bigger each year from a tiny cutting that began in a 3” pot. For example, here are the trumpet plants that I propagated in the fall.  It is still in the early spring and they have grown!  You can imagine how large these will be by the end of the summer.

So, to encourage your propagating endeavors, be sure to research information on which perennials grow quickly and which take longer to grow.

Third, no expensive and special equipment is required. Generally, propagating a perennial requires scissors or pruners, rooting hormone, pots and potting soil, a small plastic cup or paper plate, plastic bags or plastic wrap. Most of these materials are readily available to anyone already gardening. The tooting hormone can be purchased online or at a garden center for very little money.

So, is it really worth the trouble, you ask? Well, on the left below, a little brugmansia plant was given to me. I planted it in the yard and it grew all summer. Then, in the fall before the first frost, I made cuttings. And all those beautiful plants on the left were propagated – from what started as one little plant. They will be one of my contributions to the local Master Gardener plant sale. Yes, it is worth it!

Brugmansia and cat

For more details on how to propagate, go to this post or view this step-by-step picture tutorial on how to propagate. While propagating can sound very scary at first, I encourage you to jump in there and try.  If you try, you will succeed! It is that easy!  Propagating can be very cost efficient for those who want more in their garden/landscaping and don’t want to spend a lot of money. And it is incredibly rewarding (and addictive).  Like the old Nike commercial said, “Just do it!” And let me hear about your successes.