Do you tickle your tomatoes? It’s alright if you do. Might even be a good thing
says Master Gardener Carol Dunk.
“This is one you should try in the privacy of your own home,” she says. “Trees and plants need to move to thicken up. A fan will do it, or you can just walk by and give them a slap. So tickle your tomatoes, but don’t let your neighbours see you do it.”
That sage advice was offered during a presentation to members of the Harriston and District Horticultural Society this spring. Dunk, who is second vice-president of the Ontario Horticultural Association, provided a lengthy list of her favourite planting tips and tricks. Below, is a just a sampling of the botanical wisdom she shared with the group during a light-hearted hour-long presentation.
Lighting is a key factor in any successful effort to start seedlings indoors. The first step in getting it right is to determine what kind of lighting your plants are currently receiving. Dunk suggests placing a piece of cardboard behind the plant. In low lighting it will cast an indistinct shadow. In medium lighting, an outline of the plant is visible and in high lighting conditions, “you should be almost be able to see the plant in the shadow.”
That’s all you need to assess your lighting conditions, says Dunk.
“You don’t need to know how many candle power you have.”
Cardboard also comes in handy to alleviate low light problems. A piece of cardboard covered with foil also helps reflect additional light onto your plants if needed.
If your soil is too dry, Dunk says a few drops of liquid soap can help hold the water in.
Don’t waste time planting seeds that are duds. Pour your seeds into a glass of water. The healthy ones, full of moisture, will sink to the bottom. “Throw away the ones that float,” she suggests.
Dunk also recommends mixing chamomile tea with your plant water “to stop that damping off fungus that kills so many of our seedlings.”
Have your cake and then recycle the cover. Used clear cake covers make a great mini-greenhouse.
Try some clover
Moving outdoors, Dunk suggested making seed tapes from flour paste dotted on strips of newspaper and covered with seeds that are very fine and difficult to space out. The seeds can be placed on the paper at just the right intervals and dropped in the garden.
On lawn care, Dunk contends that popular Kentucky Bluegrass “is okay for playing fields,” but for an attractive lawn, “try Creeping Red Fescue.” Or, she suggests, “if you want a green lawn all summer long, put clover in it.”
Train your lawn to have long, deep roots, she suggests, by keeping watering to once a week.
“If you water it too often, your grass gets lazy and sends roots out along the surface. Then you have a dry spell and there goes your grass.”
Dunk, who has a relatively small area for gardening in her Barrie-area home, offered some tips for making the most of available space, beginning in the darkest corners.
“Shady spots don’t have to be drab and uninteresting,” she said, adding that plants like Chartreuse or Solomon Seal can brighten a dark corner.
A concept Dunk calls “Shrub on a stick” can also give gardeners extra room.
“Raising Dappled Willows gives you room to plant beneath them,” she points out.
As for your flower and vegetable gardens themselves, you don’t have to use unsightly stakes to support your plants. For a more natural look, use twigs to support floppy plants and use heavier branches from your Christmas tree to support tomatoes.
“You don’t have to stake your tomatoes.”
Want to grow potatoes in limited space. Start your spuds in a tire full of soil and, as they grow up, continue adding tires and dirt to build a tower full of tasty taters.
Growing pumpkins can be even more fun for the family if you scratch your child’s name or a silly face into the pumpkin and “watch it grow.
“Kids will have a ball with it.”
Too many gardens, Dunk observed, are full at surface level only.
“Do plant tall perennials, they add height to your garden.”
For rose lovers, Dunk recommends planting a fish when you plant the bush.
“My grandmother always planted a fish under a new rose.”
If you don’t’ have any anglers in the family, “just buy a package of frozen fish. It rots and it’s wonderful for your roses.”
Once your garden is growing, you may be tempted to be overzealous in your efforts to rid it of pests. Not a good idea, according to Dunk.
“A little pest damage is a good thing. Plants have lived for eons without you putting anything on them to help with bugs. Trust the plant. A plant will be a little stronger if you let it fight its own battles some of the time.”
Whatever you plant and however you do it, Dunk says the best advice she can provide is to let your garden reflect your own tastes and style.
“It’s your garden. You garden for yourself, not your neighbours. So you do what you want in your garden.”