Cultivating Life: Gimmicks aren’t for gardeners

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By LeAnn Locher, PQ Monthly
Gardening accoutrements remind me of the diet or fitness industry, touting everything you must buy to achieve the perfect garden or body. I liken the WingedWeeder gathering dust in my garage to Suzanne Somers’ ThighMaster. Translated: a big waste of money. Flawless thighs and a weed-free garden both require one thing: hard work.

Must-have garden tools

With all of the gadgets and tools out at your local garden center, what do you really need to pull off the gardening season? I asked readers on Facebook the equivalent of the deserted island question: if you could only have three items, what would they be? The most popular answer? A good pair of gloves. And I agree. In our wet climate, gardening gloves are a must, and waterproof (or mud proof) fingertips are much desired. I usually get a new pair or two every year, and on really muddy days, may double up with a pair of disposable gloves underneath my Atlas gloves. Other must-have items that made the list include a hand trowel, clippers, and a good pair of loppers for pruning. Interestingly, passed-along tools from family members also show up on the list, not only for their sentimental value connecting us to the work of the land our predecessors did, but also because older tools are made so well and built to last. Tools that can do more than one thing also make sense: an electric lawn mower can cut the grass and break down piles of compost or clippings. Same goes with my weed whacker: it edges the lawn in spring and in the fall, chops up fallen leaves to cover the vegetable beds for winter.

Less is more

So what’s at the top of the list for things gardeners don’t need? Landscape fabric seems to have a special place — meaning not good — in the hearts of many gardeners. Once it’s in, it can be impossible to remove, it doesn’t biodegrade, and the weeds still grow—just on top of the layer of mulch above the fabric. The gimmicky Topsy Turvy made the list of money wasters, unfortunately designed to tip over on its stand, and the whole growing upside down thing doesn’t really help the plant at all. In fact, the small size of the Topsy Turvy means the plant can too easily dry out if not attended to daily during warm weather. Just say no. Here’s a sad one of money wasters: buy and release ladybugs. I admit to having tried them years back, only to have them fly away within a day. There’s no way to keep them within your garden. Better bet? Stop using insecticides in your garden. Insecticides make the top of my list for things you don’t need. Once I stopped using them, the good bugs grew in number and preyed on the bad bugs. More birds came to my garden to eat insects, and nature balanced itself out. This back-to-the-basics approach goes for fertilizer as well. I heard from readers who lament their days of using soil depleters like Miracle Grow and who now swear by their homemade compost tea. At the bones of this lesson is to remember to feed the soil naturally, not stress it out chemically. And what about all of those new-fangled mycorhizzal solutions I’m seeing in the stores? Save your money. “Mycorhizzal solutions are generally not needed in the Willamette Valley, where an array of mycorhizzal fungi naturally inhabit our soils,†says Gail Langellotto of the Oregon State University Extension Service. “In severely degraded or compromised soils, they may help new trees or shrubs get established, but better would be to add organic matter to the soil, over time, in the form of compost. Composting can rehabilitate degraded soils, by adding organic matter, trace nutrients, and soil organisms—including mycorhizzal fungi.†Finally, I was recently asked “Do I really need raised beds?†My answer: You don’t “need†much of anything really, when it comes to gardening. But the reason for raised beds is that it helps the soil heat up, and in our cool climate, that’s a good thing. It can make cultivating or caring for the bed easier, and it allows you to better control the quality of the soil you bring in to grow edibles in. Gardening can be tough on your back, and raised beds, especially the taller ones with benches around their edges, are so kind to older and less mobile gardeners. So do you need them? No. Can they help you be more successful at gardening? Yes they can. Next on my gardening to-do list? How to turn the WingedWeeder and ThighMaster into gardening supports for my green beans. Could be their most useful purpose yet! LeAnn Locher is an OSU Extension Master Gardener and loves connecting with other home arts badasses at Special thanks to everyone who helped chime in on this article for their favorite, and least favorite, gardening items.