Garden Tips

Monthly Garden Tips from the MO Botanical Garden


How to Start a Garden – The Ultimate Guide

Suburban Guide to Gardening and Landscaping


 Planting Guide for Spring-Flowering Bulbs

Home Garden Improvements

Click to read seed directions for the 2013 Zone XI Horticultural Challenge.  Also, click to see the Seed Germination Instructions.
contributed by Tyler Morgan,

An organic lawn or garden starts with healthy soil. Natural fertilizers promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, earthworms, and fungi that build soil structure and foster healthy plants.  The best fertilizer for your lawn and garden is homemade compost, made from food scraps, lawn clippings, and fall leaves. If you still need store-bought products, here are a few tips:
***Compost and Soil Improvements: Commercially made compost has high levels of naturally occurring phosphorous and nitrogen that is released gradually and is absorbed more easily by plants. Other soil improvers, such as worm castings, Epsom salts and decomposed organic matter called humates, add nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Watch out for commercial fertilizers, even those labeled "organic," that contain harmful ingredients, such as animal byproducts or sewage sludge. Animal byproducts, such as bone meal or fish meal, may have come from industrial farming operations, and sewage sludge, could be contaminated with diseases or heavy metals.
***"NOFA Approved" and "OMRI Listed": The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) and the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), an accredited certifying agency for the USDA National Organic Program, approve products that have been composted according to USDA Organic standards. The only synthetic materials that can be added to NOFA approved compost are those allowed in organic crop production.

James Robertson for National Geographic's Green Guide


For great information about worm bins and worm composting, go to, enter key word "worm bin."  There is a link on the page to an article explaining the bin.
Gardener's Supply Company


To grow moss in cracks between flagstones or bricks on walks dribble buttermilk or beer in the cracks.
Not attributed


When training a vine it’s important to know whether it twines in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. Some go one way, some the other, and it’s trouble if you try to force your ideas onto nature’s work.
Nancy Siler, Knoxville GC (TN), Zone IX


Getting pollen stains (especially from lilies) off clothes and linens was total tragedy until a friend gave me a great solution. As soon as possible, without touching the pollen stain with anything, place plastic adhesive tape (clear or masking) over the pollen and lift the pollen right off. You may have to repeat with clean tape several times, but it really works.
Martha Lee Parker, Hillsborough GC (CA), Zone XII


Because chamomile has antiseptic properties, water seed flats with chamomile tea to avoid the damping off fungus.
Louise Roberts, GC of Chevy Chase (MD), Zone VI


To plant petunia seeds, shake them out of a salt cellar mixed with salt-less sand.
Elizabeth Wadhams Lawrence, Essex County Adirondack GC (NY), Zone III


Bird feeders beware: sunflower seed hulls have an allelopathic effect that retards growth and germination of seeds of all adjacent plant material. (Hulled sunflower seeds are available but very expensive if you feed birds by the ton.) So be careful where you place your feeders, thoroughly rake or vacuum up the hulls and dispose of them. DO NOT COMPOST them if and when spring arrives.
Not attributed


Roses in USDA hardiness zones 8, 9 and 10 should not be fed after mid-November to encourage dormancy. Allow blooms to mature on the bush. Keep roses well watered when dormant.
Odette McMurrey, GC of Houston (TX), Zone IX


Shock a reluctant wisteria into bloom by root-pruning three times a year with a sharp spade, start 18" away from the plant. If you feel no resistance at 18" move in closer.
Cynthia B. Richards, Monadnock (NH) & Worcesler GC (MA), Zone I


We commonly fertilize our gardens with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, but do we know that sulphur also is essential for plant growth as are calcium and magnesium? Sufficient sulphur for almost all soils (1 tsp. per 100 sq. ft.) is present in all balanced fertilizers, in bone meal and superphosphate, in well-rotted manure and composted organic matter. A soil test is essential if a sulphur deficiency is suspected, since too much sulphur is worse than too little. We need to go back to the barnyard for nature’s own balanced fertilizer!
Mrs. Bruce C. Gunnell, GC of Alexandria (VA), Zone VI


In lieu of a compost pile for the kitchen, frappe fruit and vegetable peelings, rinds, trimmings, etc. in a food blender, then stir into a bucket of water to make a slurry. Pour this mixture on the garden for instant organic food. Plants, soil and worms love it!
Jane Robb, Santa Fe GC (NM), Zone XII


Give your ferns an occasional watering with a light solution of tea and watch the difference.
Catherine Beattie, Carolina Foothills GC (SC), Zone VIII


To protect outdoor ceramic pots from cracking in freezing weather, plant short lengths of garden hose horizontally in the soil. The hose allows the frozen earth to expand.
Sarah Pease, Cohasset GC (MA), Zone I


Peonies in July! In May, from our profusion of peonies, I cut a dozen unfurled buds that showed color, rolled them in newspaper, and put them in the vegetable drawer of our refrigerator until our Bastille Day (July 14) dinner. Arranged with baby’s breath they were fresh as in May and kept well, too.
Mrs. Richard B. Koss, Des Moines Founders GC (IA), Zone XI


The acid in full strength pickling vinegar (acidic count is higher than white vinegar) will kill weeds in driveway/sidewalk cracks in warm weather. Be careful - it also kills flowers and shrubs but is harmless to dogs, cats, and other small animals that eat pesky insects.
Suzanne Tognazzini, Hillsborough GC (CA), Zone XII


When using camellia blooms in an arrangement, take a straight pin and secure the base of the bloom to the stem. It will stay on for a couple of days instead of only hours.
Fran Neumann, Diggers GC (CA), Zone XII


Since moles and voles have delicate mouths, they can lick all the peanut butter off the mouse trap without tripping the trap. To catch them, you must put some cheese on first and cover it with the peanut butter. Their chomping will spring the bar and off they will go to little mole/vole heaven!
Leila Peck, GC of Philadelphia (PA), Zone V


Remember that fireplace ashes are rich in potash (for floriferousness) and that Epsom salts sprinkled over the snow in January or February aids color.
Cathleen D. Riley, Hortulus (CT), Zone II


To facilitate planting bulbs in the right spaces in fall, take photographs while your tulips and daffodils are in bloom. And, remember where you put the photographs!
Mary Ann Streeter, North Shore GC (MA), Zone I


Sift dry Epsom salts into clumps of daylilies or hostas to kill slugs hiding in the leaves. Epsom salts are pure magnesium sulfate and, wet or dry, will not burn or damage a plant.
Dale Henderson VII, Virginia Beach GC (VA) Zone IV


Coffee grounds, a high nitrogen soil amendment, are especially useful for acid-loving plants. Starbucks has a “Grounds for Your Garden” program, giving five-pound bags away free upon request.
Mary Kent, Plainfield GC (NJ), Zone IV


A light application of Murphy’s Oil Soap to clay pots imparts a rich clean look and an aged texture. This is especially useful when preparing pots for exhibition in flower shows.
Kay Steffee, Lexington GC (KY), Zone VII


Just after the dormant season, to encourage your Clivia to bloom, put a halved apple in the pot next to the base of the plant and let it rot.
Polly Space Dunne, Trustees’ GC (GA), Zone VIII


To keep gardening hands soft as silk, heat ¼ cup canola oil to lukewarm. Pour oil on hands, then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Rub hands together, palms first, then backs of hands. Voila!
Suzanne Robinson, Perennial GC (MD), Zone VI


Houseplant Fertilizer: 1 pkg. of Knox gelatin dissolved in a little hot water. Pour in 1 qt. container and fill with cold water. Use once a month,1 tbsp. to a gallon of water. Geraniums in particular thrive on this. The older the solution the better it is, regardless of its looks.
Mrs. Frank C. Springer, Indianapolis GC (IN), Zone X


To help narcissus or daffodils stand straight on a pin holder, place a small piece of bamboo or a twig inside the hollow stem.
Ann Schutt, GC of Wilmington (DE), Zone V


Would you like to keep your paperwhite narcissus from growing too tall and flopping over? Tavaldo Gonzales, who works miracles in the garden of Mrs. William Wister, has discovered a way. Start bulbs in pebbles; do not put in dark closet. Let bulbs grow to six inches. Remove bulbs, roots and all, from pebbles, being careful not to damage roots. Replant in pebbles mixed with ground oyster shell (Tao thinks the shock to the roots is the secret). You will be delighted when many buds appear on strong, short stems.
Mrs. John Borman, GC of Somerset Hills (NJ), Zone IV


Do your flower arrangements on a lazy susan (from the hardware store) lined with a towel. You will be able to work on all sides of the arrangements easily and the bottoms of the containers will be dry.
Mrs. A.William Barkan, Hillsborough GC (CA), Zone XII


The American Rose Society suggests that a weekly spray of the following is helpful in preventing black spot and powdery mildew: Mix 1 teaspoon baking soda, & 2 1/2 tablespoons ultra-fine oil in 1 gallon water.
Not attributed


A secret for northern gardeners to successfully grow gardenia and jasmine is warm days (70) and cool nights (60). You do not need a green house or misting.
Faye Duval, St. Paul GC (MN), Zone Xl


For horticulture entries in flower shows add liquid flower preservative (according to directions on package) to each specimen jar water during show. It keeps even the most fragile flowers heads-up for three days.
Luise Strauss, Newport GC (RI), Zone II


Instead of stratifying hard-coated seeds: nick with file, soak 48 hours in a solution of 1 tsp. Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer to 1 cup water, and plant. Fast germination.
Penny Coe, our Upside Down Correspondent from Johannesburg


To get pine sap off of hands, use cooking oil or Pam first then wash with hand soap. To remove pine sap from clothing, use Lestoil directly on spots. Then wash as usual. These both have worked for me in all of years of having my Dower shop and working with pines.
Kaye Williams, Bay City GC (MI), Zone X


Fasten climbing roses, or any heavy stemmed plant, to a trellis with vinyl covered wire in a matching color. Make one crimp around the stem and one around the trellis - no tying or untying.
Cinder Dowling, GC of Barringlon (IL), Zone XI


Last October 31st as I packed to go to Florida, my cutting garden was filled with calendula and snapdragon buds, and blue salvia was rampant. In a state of frustration, and for the fun of seeing what would happen, I cut everything in sight, removing most foliage because of whitefly, and placed buds and blooms in my workshop (nonfrost-free) refrigerator, in water with Floralife. Back from Florida after the holidays, I planned a dinner party for January 10th. I opened the fridge full of cuttings, and to my amazement there in full bloom were calendulas and some snaps, and the hardiest blue salvia I’d ever seen (it’s difficult to condition). So these well-hardened flowers went to my dinner table and lasted for at least a week. Having made this discovery I assumed it was par for the course for florists. At the Philadelphia Flower Show Awards Luncheon I queried a gentleman representing Allied Florists, and he was amazed. “What temperature?” he asked. “Refrigerator temperature,” I replied, and quickly went home to check.  40 (degrees) is the magic number.
Jane K. Morgan, Huntingdon Valley GC (PA), Zone V


Markers missing each spring? Can’t remember what’s in the pot? Try a yellow china marker. It writes indelibly on pots and won’t wear off. Find these wax pencils at a stationery store.
Susan Deeks, GC of Morristown (NJ), Zone IV


2-in-1 Bayer Systemic Rose & Flower Care feeds and protects against insects in one easy step. Put one or two tsps. in all of your potted plants to protect against bugs.
Bonnie Thurmond, Sand Hills GC (GA), Zone VIII


When your tomato plants have set as much fruit as you think will ripen before frost, cut off all the new growth. This puts strength into the existing fruit.
Ann Gardner, Essex County Adirondack GC (NY), Zone III


This winter storage method keeps clippers, shears and other tools clean and sharp. Scoop clean sand into a new pail. Mix 1/2 cup of oil into the sand. Sharpen and clean each tool with a file; sandpaper it, wipe with a clean rag and plunge into the sand for the winter. The sand can be re-used for many years.
Bonnie Trowbridge, Little Compton GC (RI), Zone II


Put Miracle Gro half strength in a spray bottle and spray on orchid leaves for green and healthy foliage.
Stephanie Hee, The GC of Honolulu (HI), Zone XII


As you begin to order bulbs for the fall, don’t forget that simply by planting groups of the same bulbs on different sides of your home (north, south, etc.) you will have a succession of bloom.
Diane Dalton, Chestnut Hill GC (MA), Zone I


Propagating favorite geraniums - This method has had continued success over several years. Cut the geranium back to 6 inches (6") at the end of the outdoor season, keep it in a bright window and water sparingly. Give it a good shot of fertilizer about January 1 and watch it take off.
Robbie Lindquist, Village GC (PA), Zone V


This summer plant extra geraniums near your roses. The flower of geraniums are poisonous to Japanese beetles.
Liz Ellwood, Rumson GC (NJ), Zone IV


Scatter mothballs around your pansy plants to discourage the rabbits from nibbling.
Mrs. George Barrett, Sand Hills GC (GA), Zone VIII


To condition peonies for arranging, cut when blooms are less than half open, then hold stem ends in hot salt water solution for five minutes. Condition peonies overnight in solution of four teaspoons sugar to one quart water.
Marcelle de Lamefte Bernhard, Woodside Alherton GC (CA), Zone XII


I decided to try an extra tomato cage with my lemon cucumbers. I planted three seedlings within the securely placed cage. They did not need fertilizer or water, but either would have been easy to apply. They remained mostly contained, and the ample crop, hanging down like Christmas tree decorations, was easy to harvest.
Mrs. Alexander H. Bright, Milton GC (MA), Zone I


Plant your chrysanthemums in partial shade instead of in full sun. They will bloom over a period of months instead of just in the fall.
Denny Bellingrath, Little Rock GC (AR), Zone IX


Solar heating, mini-style: On a windowsill planter, intersperse your plants with lovely [dark] stones you’ve picked up on beaches. These stones will absorb the sun’s heat during the day and add a little warmth to tender plants on cold evenings.
Angela M. Campbell, GC of Cincinnati (OH), Zone X


If you cook with gas, a simple turn of the screw will turn off the pilot light on your gas stove and save both gas and money - as much as a third of your gas bill - and you can go back to plain matches. If you prefer the pilot light, keep a kettle over it to warm water for your houseplants that find a sudden cold bath shocking.
Not attributed


March is an excellent month to do your own recycling. Add to the ashes from your fireplace a small amount of Epsom salts. One half cup of salts to one half bushel of ashes sprinkled around your daffodils will add magnesium, strengthening the foliage.
Mrs. Howard B. Bloomer Jr., GC of Alexandria (VA), Zone VII


I heard, from a woman who flew to Columbia and toured some greenhouses/hoophouses that grew flowers, that the growers don't like to spray because the chemicals are expensive, they found that if they grow mint in the narrow space right next to the wall, insects are repelled by the aroma.
Louise Belt, GC of St. Louis (MO), Zone XI

Growing Citrus Indoors and Out
by Ellen Barredo, Horticulturist (first printed in The Gateway Gardener)