lessons learned, obvious or not

Mandyvilla(7a No.VA)June 5, 2004

I have been wanting to post this request for awhile, but couldn't decide which GW forum. Ultimately, I decided lessons learned can be costly in time and money. What may be obvious to you, may not be obvious to someone else. What lessons have you learned from your gardening experience (and inexperience)? I will start with two that come to mind. First, label what you plant using a permanent method. Second, never mulch too early - wait until the soil temp is 60 or warmer. Anyone else? Suz

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Vallari(Zone 8 E.VA)

Planting way too many things in one season. Watering at night and consequently encouraging slugs; then killing slugs with salt and drying out all the nearby plants. Not labeling seedlings.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2004 at 6:19PM
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Mulching. Saves you time weeding and watering. And it's probably worth it to buy good mulch; I've always been moderately satisfied with shredded hardwood, but my mother has pine bark fines, and boy-o is that stuff nice.

Researching. I've had disappointing results when I've placed plants in the wrong site and it's failed, or grown so fast I had to move it, or proven invasive and I've spent the rest of my life trying to get rid of it. There is so much information, readily availabe, that you don't have to rely on the little 3-line plastic label stuck in the pot at the garden center.

Recording. You always think you'll remember everything when you're doing it, but unless three pots in a window sill is the extent of your gardening -- you won't. I'm a pretty knowledgeable person, but there are some plants, pretty plants in my garden that I cannot ID. I like them, and I know I put them in, but I have no idea what they are because I didn't write it down.
I'm in awe of people who have extensive, computer-based gardening diaries, complete with spread sheets and cross references.... I have a $1.99 composition notebook. I write in what I've done in the garden, tape in plant labels or pictures, write descriptions of what plants are supposed to do, and add in what they actually do as the summer goes on. Some years I write the book both ways; starting in the front I give half a page to each plant (especially new ones) and write in notes on each one's progress as the season progresses, writing from the back I do a brief note of the work I do as I'm out in the garden. Some years it's a stright thru chronology; every week or so I fill up another 2-3 pages, add in some pictures, draw pictures with colored pencils, get philosophical, include recipes.
Personally, I remember things better when I write them down. And having things written down means that -- when I was in the market for a crabapple, a could go back to a page I'd written a few years ago, complete with a magazine article discussing some of the problems associated with crabapple, and the name of a variety in the neighborhood I used to live in that I really liked.

Invest in some good tools, as money permits, and take good care of them.

Talk to other gardeners, especially people in your area. It's a great way to get information specific to that area, occassionally get plants, and usually to meet some really interesting people.

Look at gardening as a long term thing. Along with the quick impact annuals, plant some "bones" -- shrubs, trees, and perennials, and anticipate what they'll look like in 2-3-5 years. Your garden doesn't have to look like a magazine the first month; don't feel like you have to get tons of plants and crowd them in close. If the gardening bug bites you it doesn't let go; every garden will always be a work in progress and "there is always next season".

    Bookmark   June 6, 2004 at 6:06PM
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gayle0000(zone 5-Normal IL)

Soil is everything. Read and learn about the principles of soil management. Then, go out and evaluate your own soil to see what you're dealing with.

Also, take some time to learn about the physiology of plants. Learn about how the roots feed, sunlight, etc. This will help you better understand plants.

I spent years learning about this stuff because I'm just naturally interested in it...now, if I look at a plant that I don't have experience with, or don't know anything about, I can pretty much tell you how to care for, feed or not feed, and propagate a plant just by looking at the foliage and roots. I can also tell how high or low maintenance a plant will be in the soil it's intended to be planted in just be comparing the roots to the soil it's going to be planted in.

Also, periodically go out and dig a hole in the dirt somewhere...especially when you think the ground is dry and you need to water your plants. I was surprised quite a lot at how I didn't really need to water after I dug a hole & inspected the soil...when I swore up and down the plants needed water. Dig holes periodically where you have clay soil. You will learn how to time the rainfall with when it's time to plant in or ammend/till your clay areas. I've come to really love my clay area soil now that I understand it.


    Bookmark   June 7, 2004 at 1:09PM
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Piling up leaves in the fall next to a wooden shed is a very bad idea. Not only did it attract tons of box elder and other bugs but it rotted some of the wood on the bottom of the shed. However, now I'm left with the problem of what to do with all the leaves next fall.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2004 at 1:43PM
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chervil2(z5 MA)

Self-sowing is the easiest and healthiest gardening method. I let nature sow the seeds from the previous years crop. This works great for dill, cilantro, sunflowers, mole spurge, hollyhocks, orange poppies, forget-me-nots, johnny jump-ups, and lots of other plants. Especially with sunflowers and cilantro, the self-sown seedlings are healthier and hardier than anything I started inside with gro-lights. To encourage self-sowing I do not rototill my beds. Also, my gardens are free-spirited. I plant around what nature has already planted.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2004 at 2:03PM
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I've learned to keep records of when I planted, where the plant was purchased and to keep the receipt. I always knew my memory wasn't that great, but when I started keeping a garden log, that's when I realized just how very bad it was. (And incedentally, my garden log saved me about $7,000 recently. I had recorded a devastating hail storm that caused extensive damage to my roses. The insurance company need the exact date of the storm that destroyed our roof.)

I've learned that in this area of Texas, even if a plant is supposed to be in full sun, most plants can't take the sun here. A spot that gets light dappled shade during the late morning and afternoons will be perfect for my sun-loving plants.

I've learned that my chickens will eat all the grasshoppers and bad bugs, but they also will eat all my flowering plants (including roses) and good bugs, dig up anything that's not protected with some kind of barrier, wallow in the moist, cool flower beds, chase my dogs and cats and eat their food, and then stand on the window sill and stare at us when we are trying to have our own dinner. Kinda like a scene out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I think he could have done that movie with chickens. But instead of calling it, "Birds" (which sounds real sweet) he could have called it "Land Sharks" (which really sounds scary to me).

I've learned that Johnson grass can regenerate a new plant from a speck of root smaller than the head of a pin and needs virtually no nutrients to do so. Also it grows about two feet per day, and for every inch of plant above ground, it has about 40' of roots below ground.

I've learned that a bare spot in my grass will stay bare indefinitely, but grass will move into a flower bed overnight and take over.


    Bookmark   June 8, 2004 at 9:24AM
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marie99(z8 SC)

compost, compost, compost. My sandy little veggie garden is already as tall this year as it ever has beenin the fall in the past because I finally got in enough compost. Enough? There's never enough. I'm still going after other people's leaves and such.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2004 at 6:39PM
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"Mother Nature bats last."

I spent money, worked myself to a frazzle, worked everybody else to a frazzle, & the garden was okay.

But the thing that had the most dramatic effect on the garden was the addition of other people's leaves, coffee grounds, tea leaves, grass clippings, rose trash, & *time*.

When I allowed nature time to complete its cycle, the effect was amazing.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2004 at 7:11PM
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Gardens need chairs, sitting places. One should not always be working, one should enjoy their gardens. lol Also, don't look at a dirty-looking resin/plastic chair and think it's a goner----an SOS pad works wonders on these. When we went to our local trash-dumping place, the guy had 3 really nice white chairs sitting there and he was about ready to close so he asked me if I wanted them---of course!!!---they're still fine and this is our 3rd year with them.

Edgings. I have found that those cheapy white and green cathedral fences are pretty good to have around, but they look a little plain and this may be the reason I hadn't used them before------but, if you edge these with low-growing plants---or I've even got some with leftover firewood logs----they look pretty snazzy. Edgings make the garden look planned, neat, and downright pretty.

I have learned that if I plant too many seeds in small containers------I tire out really quickly when I go to transplant them. Will rethink this for next year, possibly plant in the container it's destined for or just sow them directly in the ground.

Transplanted tropical hibiscus plants take time to root.

Roses have to be sprayed (in my area) either every week or every 2 weeks.

Climbing roses spread pretty quick.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2004 at 3:51PM
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Jungle_Jim(zone 8 / WA)

My fave is weeding...I say to 'pulls 'em as you sees 'em'...Jim

    Bookmark   July 5, 2004 at 10:40AM
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mantorvillain(z4bMN Dodge)

I second yellowhair's emphasis on chairs. My little town had real boardwalks with sponsors' mames routed into thembut had to take them up due to liability problems (and I'll say no more about the intelligence of someone who would try to take a walking tour on a boardwalk in spike heels!). I rescued large sections of it and use the planks to face my compost bins but mostly to make benches. Make sure you can see your garden from different angles. Even a small one can have a very different 'flavor' viewed from another angle.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2004 at 12:44PM
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flowersandthings(MidAtlantic 6/7)

Spending too much money on plants you can grow from seed...... they sell hollyhocks at garden centers.... after you've gardened for a while you realize that's ridiculous.... so many annuals and perennials... shrubs and tree as well but they take longer .... can be grown from seed...... only don't grow the seeds that seem impractical... (really hard to grow from seed etc.) or take too long.... like a lilac..... some variegated plants will not grow from seed..... but some will ;) ...... some plants are also sterile but most aren't...... look to seed trading ..... cheapest way to get plants ever !!!!!!!1 !!!!!11

    Bookmark   July 6, 2004 at 3:36AM
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undercover_owl(8 Pac.NW)

Compost! This is not rocket science.

Get an Earth machine, or just dig it down as-is.
It saves on your garbage bill, while greatly improving your soil.

I don't understand why most people can't make the effort to separate the food garbage (and dog hair, grass clippings, leaves, etc) from non-biodegradables. Those same people spend lots of money on chemical fertilizers.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2004 at 4:41PM
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The older you get, the more seats you need. Scattered around my place are: two foot logs, upended; cinder blocks stacked two high; benches made with cinder blocks & heavy boards; stacked up salvaged bricks and any thing else that can be used as a seat. At my age my legs are too weak to get up from sitting on the ground but I can't stay out of my flower beds.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2004 at 5:17PM
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bakemom_gw(z6 Central Ohio)

Think outside the box. You can put flowers in your vegetable gardens and vice versa. This only occurred to me recently for some reason.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2004 at 6:38PM
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LEARN YOUR LIMITS. I tend to be a plant addict, and consequently, end buying plants that die in the pots because I don't have anywhere to put them, or just don't have time.

I'm working on getting together a plant sale to get rid of some of those potted plants now. Let someone who has the time take care of them.

NATIVE PLANTS ARE GREAT! They don't need mulching, fertilizer, or extra watering (unless you're in a drought). Find out what plants are maintenance free in your area and go for them first.

I agree that I tend to get overenthusiastic about seeding, then get burnt out on transplanting. I have trays of seedlings die every year because of this, or get relegated to the compost pile.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2004 at 9:33AM
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I have learnt seaweed makes great compost, helps everything break down quicker :-)
I also use it as a mulch and best of all its FREE :-) :-)

Gill (Australia)

    Bookmark   December 7, 2004 at 6:26PM
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undercover_owl(8 Pac.NW)

bruggirl: Plant sales are generally pretty successful. Go for it!

    Bookmark   December 9, 2004 at 9:50PM
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homegrown54(z6 SE Ohio)

What a great thread! Loved it all. Amen on the cheap notebook... having it in a waterproof bag helps, 'cause I schlep it to the garden with me all the time. That way, I sit on my chair when tired, maybe have a brewski on a hot day and write in it... I can also chart where I have what planted easily from year to year, and plan a bit of rotation. Amen again on the volunteers... I have horehound, wild anise, dill, cilantro, sweet annie, pennyroyal (hubby uses it for deer cover scent when he hunts with a traditional recurve bow) and most of 'em tolerate transplanting okay to spread the "scent camo" to other beds... I finally got all the way to no till and it is GREAT! After investing too much in that way big 2.5 foot wide foot-driven fork to aerate my raised beds (I still aerate a bit since I struggle to get enough mulch) and got a small, monk-made fork from Lee Valley. It's drop-forged, super well made and easy for me to handle. Tough as nails and a beautiful tool. I have so much more to add. I, too, plant around what nature is already doing with GREAT success... last year here in Ohio, everyone who are very nice but cannot fathom no till or even raised beds were whining and moaning that the spring season was so wet they could not till. They were teed off at Mother Nature... we'll, I heard something once (and by the way, love the post "Nature bats last.") that is one of my main things to live (and grow) by... "Nature.... to be commanded... must be obeyed." This last year was most likely my best garden ever in 15 years. Not one bug on the beans - those wonderful smelly wild children dissuade 'em, confuse 'em. The trick is to know what a plant looks like when it volunteers... just learn one a year if need be. I haven't the luxury yet of frames to keep the beds raised, but I kind of like the way it is now...more versatile for me. Every year the complexion changes.
I must get off my soapbox! But before I do, I remember what I heard a wonderful old black woman say on PBS about her garden success... this wise lady said... "Keep the dirt moving."
Best to you all.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2004 at 3:56PM
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ruthieg__tx(z8 TX)

My biggest lesson learned is truly about compost..how easy it is to make, how gathering all the goodies solves the what to do with this waste problem, and most important how very very wonderful it is for your beds...I'm not talking about that bagged stuff at the local nursery, I'm talking home grown gold...

    Bookmark   December 15, 2004 at 7:37PM
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jinx29(z8 Seattle)

For the serious newbie who is still learing their way around:

When I first started gardening, I bought my first batch of tools at yard sales/thrift stores and learned about them (and me) first, and then later spent the big money on a new set. This saved me from spending a lot of money initially without really knowing what I was doing. In the first year with the used (and inexpensive) tools, I learned which ones I use a lot, which ones I hardly used, to not leave them outside :), that they need handles I can see easily, cheap tools break and bust yer knuckles, some old tools are better than what you can get new... etc. When I bought the new tools - I knew what I really liked and needed. I didn't set out with this plan, but as an afterthought, I was glad that I had an inexpensive trainer set first. BTW - some of the used tools turned out to be my favorites.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2004 at 11:50AM
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txselena(z9a N of Hou,TX)

1) My $150.00 mistake: The information on plant tags and seed/plant catalogs rarely applies to the hot zones.."Full Sun" might be great in Pennsylvania, but may fry that same plant with one day of south Texas sun..Ditto on whether it's an annual or perennial, too..

2) There are good reasons why you don't see tulips and hostas in most of the warm zones..Don't waste your money unless you're in for a LOT of time and work..

3) Work on your soil first..Nothing like unloading $40 worth of annuals from your car, only to realize you'll need a jackhammer to dig holes in clay brick!


    Bookmark   December 26, 2004 at 12:48AM
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Beware of the gorgeous color photographs in the catalogs that make you want to order everything you see......these photos are worse than used-car salesmen!!!! You see a gorgeous flower and order it immediately. As it grows (barely) and flowers (one) you realize you didn't pay enough attention to the blurb under the plant which stated that the height of the plant was six inches (tiny!) and the flowers (or lack thereof) were small! Pay more attention to what the catalogs are actually saying! LOL!

    Bookmark   January 3, 2005 at 4:53PM
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GrassIsEvil(z6 TN)

What have I learned?

That the plants in the catalogues are actually professional models that go from company to company posing for photographs. They are evil aliens intent upon driving the human gardener crazy.

That looking at the plants in the catalogues and visualizing them in your garden is one of the purest forms of pleasure known to mankind.

That you should keep a journal of your gardening--especially for those days when--well, expecially for those days when.

That there is great joy in sharing a treasured plant with a treasured friend.

That if you aren't enjoying your gardening, you aren't doing it right.

That while diamonds are forever, true immortality lies in compost.

That sometimes you should just sit back and admire what you and God hath wroth.

That if your reaction when your four-year-old brings the rose she has picked just for you is that she spoiled the appearance of the bush--you truly need to rethink your priorities.

That chives do survive crewcuts.

That the maligned dandelion should be admired for its sheer persistence, its affirmation that life does go on, and the pure joy its puffball brings a two-year-old.

That thyme planted between stepping stones gives off a wonderful scent when crushed underfoot--and does not require weed-eating.

That when God (it must be God, because your neighbors wouldn't do such a thing) gives you zucchini, make puree.

That heirloom plants are NOT more difficult to grow than "modern" varieties.

That no, dammit, planting a little extra so there will be enough to share with the wild animals does not work; it merely encourages them to invite their friends and family for dinner.

That mud washes off.

That every second that elapses between the time an ear of corn is picked and the time it's eaten, its taste diminishes.

That planting kudzu is a BAD idea.

That almost anything can be pickled.

That plants sense fear in their owners and will sometimes die out of sheer perverseness.

That herbs thrive when benignly neglected.

That storing your garden tools with the blades stuck down in a five-gallon bucket of oil-soaked sand will keep them from rusting.

That plants don't care if the row is straight.

That SO's who do care should keep quiet.

That having children, dogs, cats, birds, koi, ducks, squirrels, goats, possum, deer, raccoons, snakes, frogs, and turtles co-existing with plants will make you appreciate the task of the United Nations.


    Bookmark   January 5, 2005 at 8:48PM
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biogeek(z10 socal)

That no matter how tiny and far apart newborn plants appear to be, the full grown plants will be WAY too close together.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2005 at 1:50PM
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rosieo(7 NC)

Wow, Ray, I'm going to print that out and frame it!

If you're female buy lighter tools, I can use my shovel hours longer than I can swing my hubbys heavy one.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2005 at 9:29PM
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Grassisevil...............what you have observed in your gardening is sooooooo true. All of that and more. Bravo!


    Bookmark   February 28, 2005 at 12:51PM
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Fellow gardeners make the best garden teachers. (and I'm saying this because I wish I would've joined GW YEARS ago...I've learned so much)

It's not that big of a deal if your kids pick your favorite blooms...at least they're enjoying your hard work.

Starting plants from seeds is NOT rocket science. Sometimes keeping them alive is. LOL

NO plant looks the same in your garden as it does in the garden center.

NO plant in ANY catalog arrives at your doorstep LOOKING just like it does in the catalog. (and yet, I've been tempted to order again and again!)

You can't throw your hubby out of the house just because he ran over your iris' with the truck. (the silent treatment and dirty looks are fun though ;)

I've learned to appreciate what I have grown, dream about what I could grow and have fun in the dirt in between.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2005 at 1:35AM
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drasaid(zone 8)

And you can snip the green onion off for cooking and salads, and they are good for roses.
Cosmos are your friend!
Don't buy out of your zone, and investigate Ebay finds (and catalogue claims.)
Do not give plants away except to other gardeners-it hurts too much to watch them die of neglect.
Plant edible plants; you never know what your dog, cat, or child will suddenly decide looks tasty.
It's worth the expense to obtain THORNLESS Opuntia. Really.
Galvanized metal buckets and tubs make great pots; and once they get leaks they are often free!

    Bookmark   March 7, 2005 at 8:22PM
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Little_Digger(NSW, Australia)

I've learned to be patient and philosophical.
I don't need to set aside time for meditation or yoga if I can garden.
I am physically stronger than I ever thought possible ~ those brick garden beds, boulder rockeries and concrete pots transported from one end of the garden to the other prove it.
I am not scared of heights when on the top of a ladder tying in a climbing rose.
Nothing seems so bad when I'm gardening.
Dirt under the fingernails is not bad grooming ~ it's a badge of honour.
I would rather buy plants than clothes, shoes, and just about everything else.
I am not too proud to scavenge in other people's Council chuck-out junk.
There is always next year.
And so much of what everyone has already said on this thread.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2005 at 6:01AM
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NinjaPixie(z5 Chicago)

I agree with what several have stated here -- what a wonderful thread. A few of my lessons:

Don't get drawn in by gigantic sales on loads of bare-root roses at home-improvement stores, or at least be a lot smarter about it. Much of the time they're on sale BECAUSE the store has let them dry out and most of them are past the point of resuscitating, which vexes me terribly.

Each spring, when the itch hits, just bite the bullet and borrow or rent a truck for a day or two. (My car is the teeny-tiny sort that can magically haul ten or twelve circus clowns, but I can't cram more than a few plants into it. Trellises and lumber are out of the question.)

Drench the back of your neck in sunscreen, every single time you go outside.

Don't be shy about taking over yard space for new gardens. Grass is overrated (in my opinion, that is; no offense intended to those who love a big lawn). If the spouse has any complaint whatsoever, tell him that it's his/her own fault for not mowing often enough, and you're just being efficient!

There is no such thing as "enough tomatoes."

Liquid Fence: use it liberally. Hungry widdle bunnies are nothing if not self-serving, and they respond more decisively to "Ick ptooie!" than to a gardener glowering out the back door at them and wishing for better eco-balance in the area.

Put just as much effort into crafting gorgeous views for yourself (from inside the house) as you do for others (from the curb, sidewalk, streets, what have you).

Grow some non-tree plants that are taller than you. For some reason, it feels like such an accomplishment, even when the plant probably would've done it with or without your help.

As for the day-to-day tending, relax. Err a little toward the side of neglect. Don't worry, they'll thrive.

Each day, spend some time watching bumblebees. It's worth it.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2005 at 1:15PM
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