What can I get my gardener friend?  What should I put on my own Christmas want list?  It is that time of year again and you begin to wonder and struggle. Listed below are some ideas about tools and accessories that I use all the time.

          1. GO GREEN!!! Go green is the “in” thing and very good for our gardens and for the environment. I have twelve “compost frames” in my vegetable garden area. Over half of them are made from recycled plastic and are about 3 feet in diameter and 3 feet tall. They snap together and are easy to remove in the fall. They can be purchased at most garden centers. The other ones are about the same size and made from woven wire fencing and are also about 3 feet in diameter and about 3 to 4 feet tall. I start in the fall with a bag of leaves and then a layer of coffee grounds, then another bag of leaves and more coffee grounds. Coffee grounds are available at most coffee shops, and Starbucks even has free 5# bags at each shop. I use 3 to 4 bags of used grounds per layer that have been collected in 5 gallon buckets. If you don’t have access to the coffee grounds a couple handfuls of high nitrogen lawn fertilizer will do with each layer of leaves.

          This year I am slow in emptying the finished compost piles I started last fall. If the weather holds up I will empty them and spread the “black gold” on my garden. Then if the weather cooperates, I will till it in or if the ground is frozen I will let nature and the worms do there thing. The compost piles are located at the north and south ends of the 30 foot rows in my vegetable garden.

          2. A “compost thermometer” or a “soil thermometer” makes a welcome gift for any gardener who has a compost pile or person who takes care of a lawn. You can purchase either one at a garden center. The only difference is in the length of the probe. For the soil thermometer, you can get one from a store that sells kitchen utensils or from a garden center. Get a small one with a 4-5 inch probe and a round dial. I use mine quite a bit in the spring to check the soil temperature so I know when to plant seeds and transplants outside in the garden, when to apply pre-emergent on the lawn, etc. I use my compost thermometer for the same purpose and to tell me when it is time to turn my compost material. When my compost is really cooking it will get up to about 140 degrees F. When the temperature starts to fall and is between 110 and 120 degrees F. I know it is time turn. Turning the pile adds air back into the pile so it will continue to cook and decompose. 

          3. Most of us do not like to turn our compost piles. When mine is ready I get out my cordless drill and attach a 2 1/4 inch bulb planter that looks like an auger and move it up and down. That really mixes up what is in the compost frame. When done I usually add some water to keep the mixture damp. Damp, not soaking wet material, composts two to three times faster than dry material. To water I usually use my “Ross Root Feeder” that I connect to the hose. This is hard to do in the winter but my compost usually stops during the really cold part of the winter and starts back up in the spring.

          4. Most of us have to prune from time to time. A “small pruning saw” is very handy for those times when the stem is too large for your pruners or loppers. I have a pruning saw that I use quite often. Some like to carry a small folding pruning saw for those days when they are pruning. A saw is usually necessary for my Lilac hedge, especially when I have large stems that don’t get pruned on schedule, like this spring after I had surgery.

          5. For those gardeners that like to start there own seeds inside, a “heat mat” is a very desirable gift. Most seeds need a temperature of about 65 to 70 degrees F. for good germination. Most of us do not have a location in the basement or garage that is that warm. When Gladys starts her seeds she has a shelf in her basement with a couple heat mats with lights hanging above. When the seeds germinate and then grow so they have at least two leaves, they need to be placed at a lower temperature of about 55 to 60 degrees F. Some seeds need to be started by late February such as Lisianthus. They are beautiful flowers and hard to start without a heat mat. Others should not be started until in April or they will be too large when ready and will get leggy.

          6. The next suggestion goes with seed starting and growing plants indoors. “Plant Lights” are necessary when starting seeds indoors or, as mentioned above, to keep your plants from getting leggy. Leggy plants have thin stalks and do not have short and stocky stems like what we want to set out. For seed starting, placing your new seeds in a window, even a South window, is usually not enough light to keep them from getting leggy. I have not started my transplants for a few years. When I did, I set up fluorescent lights above a table in the basement. Expensive Gro-Lights are not needed. Get regular shop lights and hang them from chains so they can be raised and lowered as needed. Get one regular shop light bulb and one cool white light bulb. This will provide the needed light spectrum you need for starting and growing plants. The chains are needed as the lights should be about 4 inches above the top of your plant. This is also true for your houseplants that do not have sufficient light. For some small plants I used a fluorescent desk lamp and placed it on a book or a small stand so my houseplant got the light it needed.

          Most plants do not like to have the plant lights on for 24 hours. Plants need a rest to utilize the energy they got from “photosynthesis”. Photosynthesis is the scientific term used to explain what happens when plants utilize the light that falls onto the plant and turns it into useable energy. This happens when the plant light is on inside or the sunlight falls on the plant outside. The plant then utilizes that energy in the evening time as a time to grow. Without that rest period it struggles as you do when you don’t get your rest.

Copyright 2010