Experimental plants in your garden can be fun

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 27, 2014

Looking back, I think as a young person I was too old. I was plain old-fashioned when it came to growing plants at home. Jobwise I was all for promoting cutting edge agriculture and the futuristic farming stuff yet to come. But for myself I stayed in a plant comfort zone. I slowly grew out of my personal botanical rut by middle age and have been trying new things for a while now. I started with pasture plants and vegetables only in early adulthood. Then it was the fruit tree hobby at mid-life. Right now I get a kick out of roses, gourds and pumpkins. I suppose both my rich cattleman and subsistence farming days are behind me.
Other than mandatory mowing the lawn, what we do plant-wise is either because we enjoy it or we are willing to do it to make home look nice. Some folks go low maintenance and some pay somebody else to look after plants. Both of those are fine choices. But for those really into plants don’t back away from trying new ways, new varieties or just your odd but thoughtful idea. Do a little experimenting when you get curious and it just won’t go away.
Experimentation ground rule number one is to forego ideas that have already been definitely proven not to work; no zinnias or squash in the shade; no lilacs or cherries this far south; no blueberries or centipede on alkaline soil. And so forth. And don’t believe everything you hear or read about somebody’s new home remedy for a pest or to make plants grow faster or yield more. There have always been overly enthusiastic garden optimists who do something new one time and declare it surefire. With speedy word-spread via our techno devices, unintentional bad advice gets around as fast as the good. That’s why agricultural universities require a minimum of three consecutive years’ in-house testing successes before they will endorse a new method, formula or plant variety. And that testing includes looking for downsides like negative side effects.
Another bit of advice for at-home gardening research is to keep such projects small and inexpensive. No need to buy a dozen azaleas just to test somebody’s suggestion about mixing dish detergent, pickling lime and dandruff shampoo in water to ward off lace bugs. You just need two plants; one treated and one left untreated. And if the untreated one does not get lace bugs this year, you have not run a test yet. Human nature being what it is, the more money we spend, the longer we are likely to hold out before admitting the idea was a flop.
My own next experiment will aim to keep squash stem borers out of pumpkin plants. I’m thinking along the lines of aluminum foil and window screen.
By the way, please disregard the detergent, lime and shampoo idea. I promise I have never heard of such. I merely needed an example, so I made one up. Besides, that’s not dandruff on azaleas. It’s probably dead aphid wings.

Terry Rector writes for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District, 601-636-7679 ext. 3.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month