Every seasoned gardener seems to have his favorite super-secret homemade garden gadget or brew that can't be topped for controlling pests, fertilizing flowers, or in some other way extracting maximum value from the landscape. However, as these tricks-of-the-trade get passed from one homeowner to the next, sometimes the effectiveness and purpose of the original cure get lost in translation. Use beer to attract and drown slugs and snails? Sure. Leave out dishes of beer to make browsing rabbits tipsy? Not so much. The next time you're faced with a plant problem and don't want to make a trip to the garden center for an expensive spray, granule, or gadget, consider one of these four proven DIY solutions.
Not everyone drinks beer, and those who do might not care to waste their refreshments on slug control efforts. Instead of drowning slugs and snails in beer traps, set out citrus peel halves to attract the unwanted gastropods. The slugs will gather under the peels to dine, as well as to seek shelter and moisture. Collect the peels in the morning, and throw them away. One of the best attributes of the peel method is that it's rainproof: who wants to deal with overflowing beer dishes and their soggy corpses?
Many flower gardeners toss their citrus peels in the compost bin, but in the spring you can save them to use as plantable seed-starting pots. Cut a slit in the bottom of the citrus peel halves, fill with soil, and plant one or two seeds per peel. Plant the peel directly into the soil when the seedling reaches transplant size. If desired, score the bottom of the peel to help delicate roots reach the garden soil more quickly. These citrus pots decompose faster than peat pots do, they're more economical, and they provide more nutrients to the soil to help plants get a healthy start. If you aren't a big citrus consumer, you can save them over time in the freezer.
The potential uses for two-liter soda bottles in the flower garden are numerous, and may have you scavenging your neighbor's recycle bin for extras. It doesn't take much imagination to see that a plastic soda bottle with the bottom removed makes an excellent garden cloche. Like a mini greenhouse, the clear plastic traps the sun's warmth, meaning you can protect frost tender annuals like petunias, zinnias, and celosia from late cold snaps in early spring. Simply remove the bottle cap during the day to allow excess heat to escape.
Even when cold temperatures don't threaten, a soda bottle cloche can help get flower transplants off to a safe start. When you sow seeds outdoors, the newly emerging seedlings are most vulnerable to predators until they develop a few sets of true leaves. Nocturnal cutworms and hungry birds are just two pests that delight in munching on your seedling salad bar. Keep seedlings covered with soda bottle halves (caps removed) until they're large and established enough to resist these pests.
Soda bottles can make extensive hanging gardens possible for even the smallest spaces. Nailing rows of soda bottle halves across a discarded wood pallet yields an instant chic wall garden for pennies. Depending on spacing, you should be able to fit around 60 planters in rows on your pallet. Increase the ornamental appeal of soda bottle plant hangers with your crafty additions. Create macrame hangers for a small grouping of soda bottle hangers. Choose rainbow hues of yarn or rope to complement your flowers. You can also paint the soda bottles with spray paint formulated for plastic. Wash your bottles with dish soap and lightly sand with fine grit sandpaper to increase adhesion. If you aren't feeling crafty, don't worry about decorating the bottles; choose trailing flowers like lobelia, million bells, and chenille plant to disguise the bottles.
Housekeeping gurus have long extolled the virtues of vinegar as a cleaning agent, but this acidic pantry staple has flower garden applications too. Number one is the use of vinegar as an herbicide. Take care in the established garden, as you don't want to injure your ornamental plants. Spray the vinegar directly on young weeds, and expect to repeat weekly for tough weeds. If you really need to break out the big guns for poison ivy or kudzu, you can purchase horticultural vinegar, which has an acidity of 20%.
Take advantage of vinegar's cleaning ability for your flower containers and garden tools. Mineral deposits on terracotta pots are especially annoying, but dissolve easily after a soak in a half vinegar-half water mix. Rusty tools also take on a new shine after a soak in distilled white vinegar.
One place to skip vinegar: although some say vinegar can benefit acid-loving plants like hydrangeas and azaleas, there are better and safer ways to acidify the soil. Adding decomposed organic materials, like compost or manure, will acidify the soil, attract beneficial earthworms, and improve the tilth of your flowerbeds.
If there's a reason not to go completely digital, the flower garden is it. Start collecting those Sunday editions, because a thick layer of newsprint can go a long way towards controlling weeds. Layer a stack of papers one to two inches thick, and cover with an ornamental mulch. Even if a few weeds do germinate, they will be very easy to yank, even a few years after laying the newspaper in the flowerbed.
Use a layer of newspapers at the bottom of flower containers to keep water from rushing out of the drainage holes. This is especially useful in terracotta pots, which tend to be on the dry side anyways due to their porous nature.
While shredded newspaper is a fine addition to the compost bin, you can see faster results when using newspaper in the worm compost bin. Run newspaper through a paper shredder to get the most uniform bedding, and then add enough water to get the moisture you would find in a wrung out sponge. Place this in a plastic lidded tub with a few holes for aeration, and add some kitchen scraps for food. Your red wiggler worms will thank you with a ready supply of earthworm castings to feed your favorite bedding plants and flowering houseplants.