My Mama’s Best Gardening Advice
It helps to have a gardening expert in the family.
According to dictionary, the term Renaissance Man refers to one with many talents or many areas of knowledge. I am the child of Renaissance People. Whether I need to Facetime my dad to coach me through replacing my bathtub and shower faucet or call my mom in the grocery store to ask her how she makes freezer pickles, there is hardly a task my parents don’t do themselves.
I am truly lucky when it comes to matters of the garden. My mama is not only a certified Master Gardener, she is also a writer, columnist, and author on the topic. Here is the part where I make a not-so-subtle plug for her book Pollinator Friendly Gardening: Gardening for Bees, Butterflies, and Other Pollinators, available at your local bookstore or Amazon.com.
Just this past week I sent her several texts while ambling around the outdoor section of Home Depot, where she tactfully talked me out of investing in any geraniums or herbs before the temperatures truly settled into a warmer groove.
WATCH: Conatiner Gardens for Every Style
Because not everyone has the advantage of Rhonda Fleming Hayes on speed dial this Spring, I’ve gathered some of her best advice for both beginners and long-time gardeners as we all prepare to freshen up our containers and beds under the new-found sunshine.
Drainage is Non-Negotiable
We all turn into our parents the older we get. How do I know I’m becoming more like my mother? I turn over adorable pots, planters, jars, and the like to see if there’s a drainage hole, and then sigh loudly when I find that there isn’t one. No matter how cute the container, if it doesn’t have drainage, whatever plant you put in it will wither, mold, and die a slow death. Not cute. While some containers like galvanized pails can have holes drilled in the bottoms, it’s best not to invest your hopes and cash in closed-bottom pots, even if they’re marketed as the gardening vessel of your dreams.
Find the Light
Understanding the light requirements of certain plants is not unlike being able to understand the nutritional facts labels at the grocery store. Although a plant requiring full-sun might still grow in the shade, it won’t live its best life, to paraphrase Oprah, unless it’s put out in the sunshine. “Often a plant’s appearance offers clues about the particular type of light it requires,” according to my mama. “Shade-loving plants, such as hostas and ferns, often have large umbrella-like foliage, while sun-seekers may have smaller, even leathery or succulent leaves.”
Give Your Garden Butterflies
Whether you want to help pollinators like Monarchs fuel up for their migration or you just want more pretty fly-bys in your garden, there’s more ways than you think to help the cause of the butterfly. One way is to place the kinds of plants butterflies love to lay their eggs on and in turn host caterpillars throughout your garden. Swallowtails love parsley and Monarchs are obsessed with milkweed. Also noteworthy: many weeds are actually wonderful homes for butterfly eggs and caterpillars so don’t feel so bad if your garden isn’t perfectly manicured, pruned, and weeded.
Don’t Get Hosed Up
When my grandpa gave my mama one of those As-Seen-On-TV pocket hoses, she was inclined to think it was a gimmick. But now, it’s one of her favorite tools. It can easily reach long or akward distances, and quickly stow away in a corner where it doesn’t detract from the garden’s aesthetic.
Trust Your Trowel
Like a chef’s knife is to the kitchen, the trowel is to the garden. My mama’s favorite one, which she often gives to others as a gift, is the Corona Comfort Gel Trowel. It has indication marks that help measure the depth of soil, another important quality to take into account when planting new additions.
Fact Check Your Sources
Perhaps the most important piece of advice my mother has imparted in regards to gardening is to make sure whatever tips, tricks, or hacks you’ve found are grounded in actual, fact-based science. Much like cooking or cable news, there’s a lot of malarkey out there and sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between the good and the kooky. Cross-reference and double-check when in doubt so you don’t end up wasting time, energy, or money on a bogus claim.