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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Reuse, recycle

One of the adorable features appearing in each issue of Fine Gardening magazine is readers’ tips for making gardening tasks easier. 

Gardening and recycling go together

People often write in with ways to make garden tools and supplies out of cast-off household objects: nylon stockings as plant ties or K-cups as containers for starting seeds.

     I learned from one of these readers to use polystyrene packing peanuts to fill the bottom of large plant containers. The peanuts weigh almost nothing and let water flow through freely. The only challenge is to keep them from getting all over the place when I dump the container on the compost pile in the fall.

Packing peanuts are lighter than potting mix

     I have a list of other items I save for use in the garden. Collecting them gives me a good feeling that I’m reusing what would otherwise be wasted.

    Of course, I save a lot of things to add to the compost. In addition to fruit and vegetable scraps, I’ve learned you can compost non-food items such as dryer lint and paper shreds. The lint disappears easily into the compost. The paper shreds need a bit more management. They have to be covered with plant material, otherwise they’ll blow around. In a year or so, though, they do decompose and become indistinguishable from other compost components. 

    Clear plastic bags from the dry cleaner come in handy for enclosing any plant I want to keep moist. I wrap newly planted seed flats in these bags. Moisture beading on the inside of the bags provides gratifying confirmation of a humid internal environment. 

Recycled dry cleaning bags keep seedlings moist

I’ve also draped the bags over house plants when we’ll be away for a week or more. This does seem to help them to tolerate longer stretches without watering.

    Mesh bags that held onions or other vegetables turn out to be useful for holding feathers that birds in my yard can use literally to feather their nests. Around this time of year, I fill the bags with clean white goose feathers I found at a web site that sells them for topping up comforters. Birds hang on the mesh and pluck out the feathers they want.

Birds grab feathers for nest building
     Lately I've been trying out another idea from a Fine Gardening reader, lining the bottom of flower pots with used dryer sheets to prevent soil from washing out the drainage hole. I’ve learned not to put gravel in the pots, because this actually worsens drainage, contrary to what we were all taught. The jury is still out on whether their fine texture slows down water flow too much.

    This spring’s big challenge will be to find plants in my collection to combine with “thrillers” such as elephant ears and cannas in containers.

Coleus with elephant ears

Midsize standards from the garden center, such as coleus and impatiens, used to play this role. This year I’m avoiding them to keep from poisoning pollinators with neonicotinoid insecticides used by commercial growers. It will be interesting to see which plants can be repurposed.

Could heuchera divisions from my garden take the place of coleus?

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