Yesterday a sudden and tumultuous thunderstorm came rumbling through my neighborhood. Between the torrential rains and wind gusts of up to 60mph my garden took a beating. It was my first day back from Georgia, and I spent the afternoon tending to my garden and getting it back in shape. The sunny day quickly turned dark and the weather did its work to undo my progress.
Between my back yard critters and the insane weather we’ve had in Kentucky this Spring, mother nature has brought me one challenge after another. Here are a few ideas and suggestions for coping with wild animals and weather.
1. If a plant breaks or is damaged, don’t give up, re-pot. The weather yesterday ripped my tomato supports out of the ground and snapped some of the branches. As soon as the weather cleared I re-staked the plants and brought the broken limbs inside to root in a jar. I gave the stem a clean cut at an angle and placed it in a clean jar of water in good light. The water will be changed frequently to reduce any molds, slime and fungus. Even in the rooting doesn’t easily take I will have the joy of smelling those sensuous leaves for many weeks to come.Generally, tomatoes root easily in water and can also be rooted in soil as well. The more of the stem that is buried in the soil the better it will root. Tomatoes produce roots out of any piece of stem that is buried under soil and makes for a stronger, more fruitful plant. If you root in water as I did, replant in moist soil once roots begin to show. Keep all newly rooting plants well water, and be careful of light sensitivity as full sun may be too much for such a young plant. Too the right, you can see a violet that has rooted and is ready for replanting. This indoor species took a few moths to root in water and sun. A tomato should root much faster.
2. Keep squirrels and birds away from seedlings and out of pots. This has been my biggest gardening challenge this year. Plants in the ground that are small and delicate are a little easier to manage. Take an empty 2 liter bottle and cut the bottom off. Place the 2 liter over the young plant and press firmly into the ground. Remove the lid from the top of the two liter to allow temperature and moisture regulation. This essentially creates a mini-greenhouse that is critter proof and allows for gentle weathering and hardening of the plant. Once the plant is large enough remove the 2 liter on a cloudier day to give it time to adjust to the weather.
As for containers, it gets a bit trickier. Keep feeders for birds and animals farther away from your container gardening area if possible, so animals don’t relate the two. Cover-up as much soil as possible. Digging happens in the patches of open dirt. Plant numerous plants in one pot to cover the soil if possible. Cascading, vining plants along the edges do wonders. Rocks, stones and other heavy covers and fillers will also deter digging but can be pricey. More homemade solutions include red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper and moth balls sprinkled on top the soil (red pepper flakes best withstand the rain and don’t require reapplication). Squirrels also seem less likely to dig in pots with chives, mint and other strong smelling plants. You can also apply cayenne to birdseed to keep squirrels from eating it. Another options is to try covering the soil around the plant with chicken wire held in place by little stakes, and cover it with mulch. I have tracked down countless succulents that squirrels have dug out of my containers in their pursuit for nuts that do not exist. A little chicken wire while those were rooting would have been a great idea. Everything in hindsight.
3. Harden plants to harsh conditions. Certain plants take a little extra love and care when moving indoors to outdoors or being replanted from nursery seedling into your yard. Houseplants like a little extra sun in the summer and taking them outdoors can be a great way to revive them from a long winter. Be mindful of delicate vegetation when making any move outdoors. Keep plants in shadier areas, out of direct sunlight and ensure temperatures aren’t too cold. Hotter temperatures are usually OK as many plants are originally tropical (provided the plant is adequately watered). For younger seedlings outdoors ensure enough water, but not too much, to prevent root rot. Start is sheltered areas with less sun and wind and move into harsher climates gently if possible. If they’re planted in the ground use makeshift 2 liter greenhouses if needed (as detailed in #2 above.) Basil, as an example, takes longer to weather over and has a delicate, sensitive leaf. Just be mindful of your plants conditions if it is wilting there is likely an issue with either water or light.
4. Fence in large gardens in open spaces. This one is pretty self explanatory, but will vary based on the types of animals you encounter. Deer require MUCH higher fences and clever thinking. Smaller animals like rabbits can only be deterred by adequate fencing, firmly embedded into the ground. Remember when Peter Rabbit got his little blue coat stuck when going under the fence? It is true, rabbits will go under the fence if they can to get to your tasty produce.