The Dirt-Cheap Green Thumb
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Discover how frugal gardening can lead to fantastic results! Rhonda Massingham Hart provides practical, time-tested tips that stretch your dollar even as they yield beautiful, bountiful plants. From starting seeds to preserving produce, Hart’s advice ensures that you won’t waste time and money while growing your own vegetables, flowers, houseplants, or landscape foliage. Perfect for thrifty gardeners of all levels, The Dirt-Cheap Green Thumb covers everything you want to grow, indoors and out.

Topics: On the Cheap, Gardening, Informative, How-To Guides, and Prescriptive

Published: Storey Publishing an imprint of Workman eBooks on
ISBN: 9781603426664
List price: $10.95
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INDEX

Introduction

The Dirt on Cheap Gardening

I’ve always been a little confused by references to lazy gardeners, because I don’t know any. Gardeners seem compelled to work. Those green thumbs make our hands restless.

These days, especially, there is another common thread among gardeners — the desire to save money. Whether it’s growing your own food or simply mowing your own lawn, there are lots of ways getting down and dirty will save you money. Not to mention, make you healthier.

The Dirt-Cheap Green Thumb is for frugal people, whether you’re a well-established gardener or a beginner. Filled with hundreds of tips on everything from acquiring seed and plants to harvesting your crops, the aim of this book is to help you cut costs. Some of the savings are minor. For instance, seed is still a bargain compared to other garden expenses. Some savings are major, such as tips on saving hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on equipment. But they all add up, and most carry benefits above and beyond the dollar savings. Many of the tips also are time-saving ideas. Even though I am cheap, or frugal, I know that nothing is more valuable than your time.

And don’t think for a minute that an inexpensive garden has to look cheap. All it takes is a little time, energy, and creativity — without a lot of money — to have a garden others will envy.

CHAPTER 1

THE ABSOLUTES

What elements do you really need to start a garden? The simple requirements are soil, sun, water, and seed. But what about location of the soil, the type of soil, and its structure and content? How much sun is enough, and can you enhance exposure? How much water is necessary, and how will you deliver it? How will you choose the right seeds? Do you even want seeds, or should you buy transplants instead? Like I said, it’s simple!

The Perfect Garden

Let’s begin with the first choice every budding gardener must make: the site of the garden. Whether you are landscaping a small city plot or planting a large country garden, you must take stock of your site first. Imagine what you’d do if you could choose the perfect garden site. It would include the following:

A gentle south-facing slope. Southern exposure maximizes sunlight, and a slight slope facilitates water drainage and air circulation.

Well-draining soil. Soil should stay moist but not soggy.

Fertile, friable loam. Good soil is rich in microbes and organic matter. Nobody ever just finds soil like this; it takes years of building.

Full sun. Many plants prefer it, and you can surround those that don’t with trees, shrubs, or garden structures.

Available water. Realistically, how far are you willing to lug the garden hose?

Your Actual Garden

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the luxury of choosing exactly the right garden site. We have a yard, and the garden goes there. Even the smallest yard, however, has a variety of growing areas within it, known as microclimates. All plants have their own unique growing requirements. Some plants thrive in a shaded spot, while others falter there for lack of sunlight. When assessing your site, take note of your microclimates. They will help you decide what plants to grow and where to put them.

Maximizing Microclimates

To understand microclimates a little better, let’s look at a typical house and yard, as illustrated. The north side of the house is shady from midmorning through the end of the day. The east side receives morning sun but not direct sun in the afternoon. The south side’s yard receives full sun all day long. And the west side of the house doesn’t get full sun until midday but then bakes until dusk.

Each side of the house has a different set of growing conditions and is a distinct microclimate. Landscaping will create even more microclimates. A white-painted fence along the yard, a pond, trees, and bushes will produce different growing conditions for plants near them.

GREEN THUMB

Test soil drainage by digging 18-inch-deep holes in various locations around your garden and filling them with water. After they have drained completely, fill again and check hourly. If it takes three hours or less to drain, you may have more sand in your soil than is optimal. Four to six hours is ideal; more than that means your soil drainage may need some improvement.

Make the most of your site by finding out about the average rainfall for your area; the average first and last frost dates, from which you can then calculate your anticipated growing season; the low temperatures in your area and your USDA Zone designation; and the pH of your soil.

Work with Your Site

Chances are that your yard fulfills at least some of the specifications for the perfect garden site. It may have adequate drainage, except for one corner; full sun in many spots; and conveniently located water.

Take advantage of what you have. The areas with good drainage are great for fruit or vegetable gardening or perhaps a perennial or rose bed. The boggy areas are not lost—willows and alder trees love having their roots wet. Or choose smaller, moisture-loving plants such as primrose or Siberian iris. Shady areas can harbor various ferns, hosta, astilbe, or annuals such as impatiens or begonias.

The lists on pages 7 and 8 include only some of the many choices you have for specific sites. Sometimes not all the plants in a particular genus (maples, for instance) require the same light or soil conditions, so ask at your nursery or refer to a good encyclopedia for specific information before buying.

Plants That Like Full Sun

Annuals/Biennials

Ageratum*

Alyssum, sweet**

Calendula

Celosia

Chamomile

Cosmos

Dianthus

Herbs (many)

Marigold

Nasturtium

Petunia

Portulaca

Salvia

Vegetables

Zinnia

Perennials

Aster

Blanket flower

Candytuft

Clematis

Columbine*

Coralbell**

Coreopsis

Creeping thyme

Crocus

Daffodil*

Daisy*

Daylily

Grasses, ornamental

Iris

Lady’s mantle*

Peony

Phlox, garden

Purple cone flower

Rudbeckia

Sedum*

Sun flower

Sweet pea

Tulip

Violet*

Virginia creeper

Yarrow

Yucca

*Tolerates some shade

**Prefers partial shade in hot areas

Trees/Shrubs

Blue mist

Cotoneaster

Flowering quince

Forsythia

Fruit trees (most)

Junipers

Larch/tamarack

Lilac

Mock orange

Oaks (most)

Pines (most)

Potentilla

Rose of Sharon

Roses

Spiraea

Staghorn sumac

Tree peony

Tulip tree

Walnut

Weigela

Plants That Like Shade

Annuals/Biennials

Begonia

Coleus

Flowering tobacco

Foxglove

Impatiens

Lobelia

Sweet William

Viola/pansy

Wishbone flower

Perennials

Astilbe*

Bleeding heart

Bugleweed

Corydalis, yellow

Ferns, various

Geranium, hardy

Hellebore

Hosta

Lily-of-the-valley

Pachysandra

Primrose

Sweet woodruff

Trillium

Vinca minor*

*Tolerates full sun in the North

Trees/Shrubs

Azalea

Blueberry

Boxwood

Camellia

Dogwood

Fothergilla

Fuchsia

Hemlock

Mountain laurel

Oregon grape

Rhododendron

Serviceberry

Viburnum

Plants That Like Moist Soil

Perennials

Astilbe

Bergenia

Calla

Cattail

Daylily

Dichondra

Iris

Mint

Mosses (some)

Primrose

Trees/Shrubs

American cranberry

American holly

Chokeberry

Elderberry

Highbush blueberry

Inkberry

Live oak

Red maple

Red osier dogwood

River birch

Serviceberry

Spicebush

Summersweet

Tamarack

Willow

Know Your Zone

The United States Department of Agriculture’s cold-hardiness zones, numbered from 1 to 11, with subcategories a and b within each zone, indicate the average winter low temperatures in each zone. This is crucial information, but it also can be misleading. It is crucial, because if you live in zone 5 and buy plants listed as hardy to zone 8, they will die when it gets too cold.

The lower the zone number, the colder the expected winter lows. Plants that won’t survive the lowest expected average temperatures are a waste of money. But the zone numbers can be misleading because we don’t have many average winters.

MORE

USDA Cold-Hardiness Zones

Pollution Solutions

Those who garden in areas beset by smog know it’s even more devastating to plants than to people. Losses of crops, ornamentals, turf grass, and trees in the United States are estimated at over a billion dollars per year. The worst damage occurs during air inversions — when warmer air above traps cooler, thicker, more toxic air closer to ground level.

Cumulative damage, such as leaf or needle burning on trees, is most evident in the late summer or fall, after a growing season spent absorbing poisons. Plants weakened by air pollution are more susceptible to pests, diseases, drought, and nutrient deficiencies.

Despite all this, Los Angeles has some of the lushest gardens you’ll ever see. What’s the secret? It lies in selecting plants that can tolerate less-than-ideal growing conditions.

MORE

Pollution-Resistant Plants

Note: Some plants may be resistant to some pollutants but susceptible to others. Generally, plants with smaller leaves and flowers (petunias are a good example) tolerate pollution better than larger leaved/flowered varieties. Interestingly, white petunias don’t do as well in high pollution areas as do blue, red, or purple.

Annual Vegetables and Ornamentals

Coleus

Cosmos

Four-o’clock

Madagascar periwinkle

Marigold

Moonflower

Pansy

Spiderflower

Sultana

Sunflower

Perennial Vegetables and Ornamentals

Alfalfa

Asparagus

Bergenia

Clematis

Climbing hydrangea

Columbine

Daylily

Grapes (some)

Hosta

Iris

Monarda (Beauty of Cobham)

Peppermint

Rudbeckia

Sedum

Trumpet vine

Virginia creeper

Trees/Shrubs

Apricot

Austrian pine

Berberis (Sunjoy Gold Beret)

Birches

Bradford pear

Flowering cherry

Flowering plum

Gingko

Magnolia sieboldii

Maple

Oak

Poplar

Weigela (Pink Delight)

Willow

Pollution-Susceptible Plants

Annual Vegetables and Ornamentals

Barley

Bean, green

Bean, white

Beet

Buckwheat

China aster

Corn

Cucumber

Eggplant

Geranium

Lettuce

Marigold

Morning glory

Muskmelon

Oats

Onion

Petunia

Potato

Pumpkin

Radish

Rutabaga

Spinach

Squash

Sultana

Sweet corn

Swiss chard

Tomato

Wax begonia

Zinnia

Perennial Vegetables and Ornamentals

Alfalfa

Aster

Gladiolus

Grape

Raspberry

Rhubarb

Rose

Strawberry

Tulip

Trees/Shrubs

Apple

Apricot

Aspen

Blueberry

Citrus

Forsythia

Maple, silver and sugar

Peach

Plum

Poplar, hybrid

Prune

Weeping willow

White ash

White oak