1 Water first!
It’s a great idea to water your garden thoroughly before you put your mulch down. This wets the soil and the mulch keeps the moisture in. The best mulches are those with a variety of large and small particles, as this allows the oxygen and moisture to penetrate through to the plants’ roots. Even-sized mulches tend to compact and prevent oxygen and moisture penetrating the soil.
2 Compact manure
From personal experience, I have learnt not to use cow manure as mulch. The particles are small and they compact, making the manure water-resistant. Yes, water-resistant! So you end up with even drier soil.
3 The old dunny roll
If you want to cut down on using plastic pots to raise your seeds, have you thought about using old toilet roll centres? They make ideal containers for raising all sorts of seeds. The beauty of them is you don’t have to disturb the seedling roots by taking it out; instead, you plant the entire roll and gradually the cardboard will rot away and your seedling won’t experience any transplant shock.
Step 1: Soak the seeds in water and a drop or two of liquid seaweed fertiliser for a couple of hours. They will absorb the water, which will help them start growing.
Step 2: Fill the toilet roll core to the top with seed-raising mix. Gently tap it down. If the seed is small, sprinkle it on top and gently push it into the mix to about 1cm depth. If the seed is large push it down about 5cm. Water carefully.
Step 3: The rolls don’t stand up well by themselves so stand them in a small box that has holes in it to let the water drain away. Place in a warm position that gets morning sun and afternoon shade.
Step 4: When there are four to six true leaves on the seedling, dig a hole and plant the entire roll. Water it in well.
4 Heaps of spuds
If you want to grow potatoes and don’t have a lot of room, get some chicken wire, make a big circle and use tomato stakes to secure it to the ground. Cover the seed potatoes with a mix of straw, old manure, blood and bone and compost, then water. As they grow, continue mounding the straw mix on top. Potatoes take about 14–16 weeks to harvest and are ready when the plants begin to yellow and die back.
5 Powder off
To help control fungal diseases such as powdery mildew, leave sufficient space between each plant and prune your fruit trees and roses into a V shape to improve air circulation and increase sunlight penetration. Stop watering from overhead and start watering at ground level. Mulching also suppresses the spread of fungal spores.
6 Straight berries
When planting berries, train the canes horizontally along a fence line at eye level so you don’t have to bend over when harvesting the fruit. S-hooks placed at regular intervals make good supports for the canes. To protect your ripening crop from bird strikes, make sure you net the canes. A fence line is also an advantage here as you can peg the netting to the top of the fence, drape it over the berries to the ground and simply lift it for access to pick the ripe fruit — no having to secure netting on both sides of the plant.
7 Cats off!
Tired of finding callings cards from cats in your garden? Here are four easy ways to stop them entering.
a. It’s easy to make and can be used anywhere you want to repel cats: combine 2 parts cayenne pepper, 3 parts dry mustard and 5 parts flour. Simply mix together and sprinkle.
b. Cats don’t like tea leaves, so empty your used ones onto the garden soil.
c. You could also try using a sprinkler that is activated by a motion-sensor. All it takes is a time or two of getting doused with water to deter any cat. It can work for intruders, too.
d. To keep them off your pots, use 150mm long wires made from old coat hangers. Insert half the length into the soil around the perimeter of the pot as a barrier.
8 Roundabout shade
Tired of looking at the old Hills Hoist? Why not convert it into something more useful, like a giant shade umbrella? Simply drape your shade cloth over the top and clip it down using clothes pegs. It’s a win-win situation for all: your plants will enjoy some shade during long, hot days and your clothes won’t burn out and fade from the harsh sun.
9 Straight to the top
No more room in the garden to plant? Not to worry because now you can plant vertically. Using a 90–100mm PVC pipe that’s about 2m long, cut out narrow slots along its length, alternating from side to side, then stand the pipe upright and fix it to a post or the fence. Fill the pipe with good-quality potting mix until it’s full to the top and plant your favourite herbs, vegetables or flowers.
10 Strawberry pipes
Avoid having your strawberries covered in soil and eaten by snails by growing them in strawberry pipes. Using an old 90mm PVC pipe, cut out 90mm holes every 40cm interval along the length of the pipe. Prop the pipe up onto bricks or similar to keep it off the ground. Insert an irrigation hose with drippers to help with watering the strawberries, then fill the pipe with composted soil. Plant your strawberries and watch them grow! Dirt-free strawberries for everyone to enjoy.