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Pat's Top 5 Spring Garden Hacks

purple flower
Dalea purpurea or Purple Prairie Clover

Watch an all new episode of Virginia Home Grown the last Tuesday of every month at 8 pm on air or online: vpm.org/vhglive . Next episode airs Tuesday, May 29.


As your spring garden stretches and unfurls, more intense heat and cute but oh-so-pesky garden pests are also making their timely appearances.

Here are a few of my favorite garden hacks to keep your spring edibles producing abundantly.

1. Upcycle Wine Bottles

Upcycle old wine or fancy water bottles by filling them with H2O and inserting them upside down in the soil to provide your plants' roots with just the right amount of moisture. The bottle will create a vacuum so that it only waters at the rate at which the soil dries. I like to find beautiful cobalt blue and olive green bottles and remove the labels (another project in itself) so that these functional pieces add an interesting artistic touch to the garden as well.

2. Pick Out the Pests

In order to keep up with leaf-munching insects while avoiding insecticides (even the natural ones), take the Zen monk approach and simply do a little up-close garden appreciation stroll daily. In just five minutes of looking at leaf and flower buds, you will be able to avoid lots of crop loss by catching insect populations before they devour your crop or reproduce. Look for any holes or scat, for it is likely the insect is hiding nearby. I also like to take a flash-lit evening walk through the garden at least once a week - many garden pests are night chompers, like earwigs. Finally, my biggest insect control secret: when you are picking bugs off of your plants or looking for them in their hiding places, simply hold a large bowl filled with a little water under the plant and give it a gentle yet vigorous shake. The vast majority of insects have an adaptation which causes them to drop straight downwards and play dead. This plus the water means you end up with a bowl full of immobilized insects which you can then do with what you wish (in my case, free nutritious chicken treats). Be sure to learn the identities of garden pests and beneficial insects so you can keep the good company around.

3. Provide Protection with Allium Plants

In case you missed it on our last show, planting allium plants of any variety (garlic, onion, et. al.) in and around your beds can greatly deter four-leggeds looking for a snack in your garden. Another one of my incidental discoveries is that planting lots of extra clover around the edges of your garden and in any bare patches of soil in your beds can be very beneficial. Clover is the preferred forage of nearly every herbivorous mammal in our area, so they often first fill up on the succulent clover leaves. There is also quite the variety of beautiful clover varieties out there such as crimson, purple prairie and yellow hop leaf. These plants will also feed your pollinators, build nitrogen and bioavailable nutrients in your soil and some varieties, such as red clover, may also contain medicinal properties, pertaining to their mineral contents and effects on the lymphatic system.

4. Keep Slugs Away with Egg Shells

Keep soft-bodied slugs and snails at bay by saving your used eggshells, crushing them up, lightly toasting them in the oven and sprinkling them in your beds. This can be especially helpful in strawberry patches since their low-lying nature makes them so accessible to our land mollusks.

5. Never Leave a Bare Garden Bed!

This will save you a ton of time and energy and increase your productivity in the long-term. Once you have harvested a certain section of your bed, or if you have not yet planted something in a patch of your garden, either plant new seeds, sow a cover crop (rye, clover, wheat, vetch, et. al.) or add new mulch (leaves, grass clippings, straw, manure, wood chips where appropriate). A bare patch of garden, even if small or left for only a short amount of time, will quickly employ itself as a weed nursery, or dry out so that the beneficial soil bacteria and organisms die, go dormant or venture deeper into the earth. Soil building is a fun, continuous process which will benefit you and your garden for many years to come.