Gardening Tips ...

Several Gardening "Tidbits"

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Garden Tools Recipes & Formulas
Yard Waste Birds
Lawnmower tips Weed Control
Gardening Simply Bradford Pear Warning
Mix Colors & Textures Plant Purchases

Plant Purchases

Purchase herb plants in April and protect them from frost in your garage until ready to plant ---- many stores will be sold out by May 10th (our local "frost safe" date).  Many stores have sales on perennials in August and September --- you can still plant them, but make sure they get adequate water until established.

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Garden Tool Hints

Fill a plastic bucket with sand; add some oil to the sand and slide the tools in and out of the sand. This will not only clean them, but also will apply a light coat of oil to prevent rusting. Leave the tools in the bucket between use.

Fill a plastic bucket with Kitty Litter (not the clumping kind).  After using hand tools, plunge them into the bucket.  They will stay clean and dry until the next use.  

Here is a makeshift garden tool you won't want to be without - a Pizza Cutter.  It's a perfect hand tool for small edging jobs.  Helps keep flower beds free of grass and weeds.

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Disposing of Yard Waste

One of the best ways of handling yard waste is to create a compost bin/pile. Here is a very simple way to get started (this bin is designed to last only one year):


Simple Compost Bin:  Using 48” wide heavy-gauge chicken/poultry wire, make a 4-foot diameter circular bin. Overlap the ends about 12” and fasten with either wire or wire-ties. Throughout the growing season, add yard debris and green kitchen scraps (never any meat product) to the bin, alternating with layers of dirt (sprinkling a little high-nitrogen fertilizer such as 34-0-0 on the layers) will really get the compost working!  Each March build/start a new bin and let the old one sit until May 15th (considered safe planting time here on the Plateau).  Then remove the bin fence from the existing bin and spread the compost onto your flower beds.  You will be assured of having seasoned compost every year in time for planting season!

Ornamental grasses add a lot of winter interest if left uncut during the winter, but for best re-growth, you should cut these back in March. Cut just above the crown of the plant, about 4 to 6 inches from the ground. To make cleanup easier, use a string to tie the mass of stems into bundles before making your cuts. Then you’ll have a nice sheath of grass to toss onto your compost pile.

When you are finished with your natural holiday tree, it can be used as a feeding and sheltering station for winter birds, or it can be cut up and added to the compost pile, or chipped into mulch for your yard.

If you want to burn yard waste, be sure to call the Division of Forestry for a free burning permit if you live in Cumberland County. Permits are issued Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. The telephone numbers are 484-4548 or 788-5538. Note: burning is not allowed anywhere in Fairfield Glade.

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Lawnmower Maintenance

March is a good time to get your lawnmower back in shape and ready. Take the following steps to ensure it is in good working condition:

First, remove the spark plug wire from the plug. Look beneath the mower housing and check the blade for nicks, dullness or debris that can accumulate and cause improper rotation.

If the blade is dull, use a file to sharpen it. If the blade is nicked badly, either replace it or take it to your local garden equipment shop to be sharpened and balanced. Balancing after sharpening is critical, because if it is badly out of balance you can destroy the shaft oil seal and end up having to buy a new mower.  You can check the balance by balancing the blade across a fine edge that is aligned across the blade and centered on the blade mounting hole

Replace the blade and turn it manually to make sure it doesn’t hit anything. Also, check the belt for looseness, wear and tear; replace if necessary. Check the tires for any deformities and make sure they’re all set at the same height.

Replace the spark plugs and you’re ready for the mowing season.

It’s a good idea to have two sets of blades – one in use and one in reserve

Sharpening is recommended after every 10 hours of cutting.

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Recipes & Other Ideas For or From The Garden:

Monthly Booster/Fertilizer

Your plants could double in size and beauty with this once-a-month treatment:

To 1 gallon tepid water, add 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon Epsom salts, 1 teaspoon salt-peter (potassium nitrate) and ½ teaspoon household ammonia.

It’s easy, inexpensive and it works!

Home-Made Rose Food

1 part aged manure
1 part alfalfa meal
1 part cottonseed meal

Combine above ingredients and sprinkle around base of roses about once a month during the growing season.

Herbal Moth Repellant

In a large bowl combine the following dried herbs:

1 ounce wormwood or artemisia
4 ounces lavender flowers
2 ounces rosemary leaves
Handful of cedar shavings

Then add:

30 drops of lavender oil
5 drops of rosemary oil
5 drops of vetiver (grass extract)

Toss the essential oils gently with dried herbs. Fill sachets or a bowl with the mixture and place in your closet, wardrobe or drawers.

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Deer Repellent Spray

Mix the following:

1 egg, beaten
½ Cup milk
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon liquid dishwashing detergent

Stir above mixture briskly. Store in a container/jar in refrigerator. Use as needed, mixing as directed below:

Pour ¼ cup of mixture in a 32 oz. spray bottle for each application. Fill the spray bottle with water to the 32 oz. mark. Shake to mix. Spray mixture on plants that need protection; repeat after each hard rain. A heavy coating is not necessary – just enough to create an odor (which is what repels the deer).

Another practice that seems to be effective in repelling deer is to hang bars of Irish Soap on trees/shrubs in the area where deer are browsing.

Note:  Deer repellants that are based on odor tend to lose effectiveness after a few is a good idea to have several in your arsenal and rotate them about every two weeks.

Wire Plant Cages:

Placing a cage made of hardware cloth (welded wire, usually ¼” or ½” weave) is helpful in deterring rodents from nibbling on newly planted trees. These should be removed after the tree has put on its tougher bark, to ensure that the tree does not become girdled.  A hardware store will typically sell you this material, cut by the foot in 24" or 36" widths...home stores often only sell you a whole roll which is expensive.

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Recipes for encouraging moss grow on containers/rocks/garden statuary

Recipe #1:

Mix together, 2 sugar cubes, 1 can of beer, and pulverized moss. Paint on container/rock/statue and leave in shaded area.

Recipe #2:

Mix together buttermilk and pulverized moss. Paint on container/rock/statue and leave in a shaded area.

Soil Amendment

This is intended to mimic mushroom compost as an additive to soil.

1 pound Bone meal
1 pound Blood meal
1/4 cup Epson Salts

Mix together.  Spread on garden area and work into existing soil.  This mixture will cover an area approximately 8 by 10 feet.  Remember Epson Salts can burn -- use according to suggested area coverage.

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Rooting Hormone from Willow Trees

(There are hormones in willow branches that tend to promote root growth in cuttings and also help stimulate root growth in newly transplanted plants.)

Start by cutting several of the soft, green branches. These branches should be 12-24” in length and about the diameter of a pencil. Remove leaves and cut the branches into approximately 1” pieces. Pound these pieces with a hammer or other hard object to release the juices from the stems. Add these stem pieces to a pot of boiling water; remove pot from heat and allow the mixture to cool, stirring occasionally. Use this mixture just as you would any rooting hormone: Dip prepared cuttings into the hormone liquid and place in prepared soil pots, or place the liquid in glass containers and add the cuttings to allow the roots to develop before planting.

For newly transplanted plants, pour a little of the liquid around the base of the plants.

Peony-Scented Floral Water

To make fragrant floral water to use as a linen spray, or to add to bath water, start with 24 ozs. of distilled water.

Add ½ cup vodka (yes, vodka) and two to three peony blossoms. Place in a dark place for one week. Strain the mixture and pour into attractive bottles, adding one or two peony petals per bottle. It makes a great Mother’s Day gift.

For a stronger scent, add a couple of drops of peony essential oil. (Roses or other fragrant blossoms can be substituted – use an accompanying essential oil).

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For The Birds

 During the winter months, save various materials to be put outside for nesting birds in the spring. Material such as pet fur, scraps of yarn/string, cotton batting or other bits of material is great for our feathered friends to add to their nests. Birds use lots of scraps in building their nests and it can be very entertaining to watch them going through the scraps deciding what to use!

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Weed Control

Chemical Approach:

Pre-emergent weed-preventer will keep annual weed seeds from germinating. Timing is important and we suggest being ready by early March. Watch for the Forsythia blooms.… when they appear, you are ready to apply the pre-emergent chemicals to your lawn.  

On Using Landscape Cloth:

Putting down “landscape cloth” is a practice that became popular about 25 years ago. It was first used by commercial landscapers as a method of keeping weeds at bay, then later homeowners began using it somewhat indiscriminately. Because the first offerings didn’t allow the soil to “breathe,” new products hit the market that allowed the penetration of water to the soil beneath. The problem with either type of covering is that tree and shrub roots like to grow on top of the material, where they can establish roots in the mulch that has been added. This works just fine during times of adequate rainfall when water can get to the feeder roots. The problem arises during times of drought, when these roots are no longer getting water. The decomposing mulch can also become good bedding for new weed seeds that grow greedily into the old landscape cloth.

An exception might be if you choose to use landscape fabric under rocks which would otherwise sink into the soil, if left on bare ground. In such a case, it is strongly recommended that the landscaping cloth be kept at least a foot away from the base of plants to prevent problems with the roots such as described above.

Organic Approach:

A more eco-friendly practice that is becoming increasingly popular is the use of layers of newspaper or cardboard as weed barriers. These can easily be laid around plants and a heavy layer will kill weed seeds/plants beneath it, while allowing penetration of moisture. Earthworms like to eat and live in this material, and the worm castings (poop) help enrich the soil. A favorite mulch to put on top of the paper/cardboard is grass clippings, shredded leaves or wood chips. This also makes for happy earthworms! This type of weed-barrier will have to be re-done every few years, but the soil will have benefited from the decomposition of the paper and the addition of the worm castings. The gardener can enjoy fewer weeds and knowing they have contributed to recycling.

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On Garden Planning & Design

Planting under Power Lines

Remember that your electric power line easement extends 20' either side of the power line, and that anything that you plant in that easement is subject to destruction by the electric company.  If they need access in that easement, they can destroy any plants that are in their way.  If plants grow too tall, they can top them out.  So, choose plants with mature heights less than 20' for under the power lines, and don't invest in really expensive plants to put in the easement.

Advice on Getting Started:

Soil Evaluation – Most important before starting. Visit your local UT Agricultural Extension Office for a Soil Test

Determine the amount of money you want to invest

Determine the amount of time you have to invest in planting and maintenance

Refer to and study available materials relating to planting/gardening on the Cumberland Plateau – material is available in books, pamphlets, and on-line at UT website

Walk your neighborhood, making notes of what looks good and would look good in your landscape

Visit the UT Gardens in Knoxville – talk to the personnel for ideas

Use a camera to remind yourself of successes and failures, plus amendments you may want to accomplish at a later time

Do not plant a tall/wide growing tree under power lines or near your house/building – obey the 15-20’ rule

Determine the amount of sun/shade that is predominant in a given location in your yard during the growing season

Plant taller plants to the rear for proper exposure and viewing

Locate plants with similar needs together (e.g., marigolds do not require great amounts of water and prefer a sunny location, whereas impatiens need water and prefer mostly shade)

Learn and follow proper methods of composting, if neighborhood and space allow

Thorough fall clean-up is a must – removal, chopping or grinding of fallen material will assist in eliminating insects and diseases for next year

Learn when and how to properly prune your landscape plantings

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Gardening Simply

If you feel your gardens appear chaotic, perhaps you’ve been hitting too many ‘end of the season sales’ or have mixed a lot of good looking plants together; where less variety and more simplicity would have been more pleasing to the eye.

If you see something on the nursery shelf that you really need, don’t buy just one of them unless it’s to be a specimen plant. All gardeners like to rescue distressed plants and when our spouses lament, “And where are you going to plant that?” we panic and stick it in somewhere. Perhaps our bargain would be better served, if we put it in a larger pot and left it where it could receive our attention while we think about placement for a month or more. If you already have a glorious mish-mash of plants, arranged in a way that only you can appreciate, perhaps the whole scene could be brought together by something continuous and low growing like an attractive groundcover.

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A Mix of Texture and Color

Diversity of plant materials creates a welcoming, warm garden. If you’re making an evergreen garden, it doesn’t have to all be conifers. A few hollies and a raised pot of flowers will add interest and help to escape the ordinary.

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Relating to Bradford Pears

There is an invasive pear tree (Pyrus calleryana) invading natural areas. This hybrid is a result of cross-pollination between Bradford pears and another pear species. The recommendation is to avoid planting Bradford pears to curb the spread of this undesirable species. 

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