How to Putter in the Garden for Maximum Results

putter in the garden outfit

Proper putter prep: the outfit must be particular defines “putter” as: 

  1. to busy or occupy oneself in a leisurely, casual, or ineffective manner: to putter in the garden.
  2. to move or go in a specified manner with ineffective action or little energy or purpose: to putter about the houseon a rainy day.
  3. to move or go slowly or aimlessly; loiter.

Some of us don’t have time to putter in the complete sense of the word – too much to do! In order to get all our puttering done in time to get to work, we have to charge at the task with all the energy of a 4AM call from a drill sergeant.

A typical morning putter goes something like this:

  • 6:45 AM – grab gear and first water source, a gallon milk jug with fertilizer
  • 6:45 AM – grab coffee cup; juggle cane, jug, coffee cup, set down coffee cup and immediately forget where
  • 6:46 AM – open patio door soundlessly so as not to wake husband or cats (who would escape) (cats, not husband)
  • 6:46 AM – water topsy turvy tomato; look for tomatoes (hah!); glare at bunny bait soon to be compost
  • 6:47 AM – close patio doors quietly; water starting mason jar potatoes and garlics; spray tops and sumac
Roma tomato plant

More tomatoes on the label than on the plant – still

  • 6:48 AM – grab second water source, one quart juice bottles, make mental note to throw out bottle with broken handle
  • 6:48 AM – water bonsai in kitchen, bonsai on nook table, last remaining indoor tomato seedlings now bigger than cat
  • 6:50 AM – grab third water source, one quart juice bottle with Miracle Gro
  • 6:51 AM – check water in fireplace room plants; water sparingly
Ginger root has sprouted in the dark dank garage humidity

Ginger root has several sprouts and what might be a spider

  • 6:52 AM – open small garage door; wince at high pitched squeal
  • 6:52 AM – water starter pot of ginger plant; kick spiders out door while not screaming. Oh wait, that’s a beetle.
  • 6:53 AM – grab fourth water source, two big DeliCat cat food jugs
  • 6:54 AM – check on lone stray squash plant in Bunny Buffet Field; water if it still has more than two leaves
  • 6:55 AM – water tomato, tomato, cauliflower, potato on front porch
Echeveria shaviana about to bloom

Puttering past Cousin Bob; wave happily

  • 6:55 AM – wave ‘hi’ to Echevieria Shaviana and Cousin Bob
  • 6:56 AM – refill DeliCat jugs in garage sink; drench left leg, swear under breath
  • 6:57 AM – walk down and water two rose bushes; consider inventing thornless rose or thorn-proof housecoat
  • 6:58 AM – refill DeliCat jugs and place on front porch; make mental note to throw out leaky DeliCat jug and invest in -decent- watering cans
  • 7:00 AM – grab fifth and final water source(s), three juice jugs and spray bottle

(the following steps are performed under the careful supervision of two cats)

  • 7:01 AM – water yellow squash – one full quart. It will have drunk all the water from last night and produced two more leaves the size of your old VW bug.
  • 7:03 AM – stare at cardboard palm peat pots; wonder yet again why they haven’t sprouted
  • 7:03 AM – water tamarind #1, water tamarind #2
  • 7:04 AM – water spinach, spinach, jalapeno and green onions, putter around for 30 seconds while wondering where the other green onion pot is
yellow squash

every morning yellow squash is out of water

  • 7:06 AM – consider watering orange mint if you could see the pot but with all that mint, who knows where it is
  • 7:08 AM – carefully remove wilted squash blossoms, broken leaves; swear at nearest cat (who is blameless)
  • 7:10 AM – try to find coffee cup

And that, dear reader, is how you putter in the garden at break-neck speed for maximum results.

Just think how relaxing it’ll be when we finally add on the space to the north of the shed at the bottom of the hill…

Here’s why you never want to try to save money on potting soil

happy staghorn sumac in his or her new pot

Staghorn sumac twin in his (her?) new 5″ pot, stretching out and sighing happily

Yesterday the message about selecting nice, clean, evenly textured potting mix hit home in a big way.

I’d noticed that, after sprouting and shooting up a couple of inches, the staghorn sumac twins had essentially stopped growing. I tried more water, less water, fertilizer-laden water, a drop or two of tea with lemon – nothing seemed to convince either of them to gain an inch.

I thought perhaps they’d sprouted too close together, but aside from the lack of vertical growth, they seemed rather happy with their arms wrapped around each other. And who was I to separate fraternal twins?

Well, as it turns out, I should have separated them sooner, performing the surgery which would save them both – and although I waited (who knows why), it was the right thing to do.

Each of the staghorn sumac twins is in his (her?) own little 5″ pot with completely new potting soil. In that potting soil you will not find chunks, clumps, big flats of bark, inch-wide bits of branch. All you’ll find is clean, evenly sized, well-moistened Miracle Gro!

When I took the twins out of their former pot – a peat starter shell – I noticed the soil seemed a bit disjointed and loose. So I peeled off the bottom of the pot, preparing to put the remnants into the new pot, per instructions. Instead, when the bottom came out, so did a large clump of peat capsule which showed no sign of growth inside. Above that was a layer of nearly rock solid soil chunks, capped with a thick layer of bark – hard as marble. The sumac twins’ barely there roots were less than a quarter inch long. No wonder the poor things weren’t growing. I might as well have planted them in cement!

I’m such a bad plant mommy. Trust me, no more generic potting soil. EVER.


PS – A belated Happy Summer Solstice to you!

Staghorn Sumac or “Sumach”

Staghorn Sumac Leaf

Staghorn sumac leaves

So, I’ve evaluated two out of the three seed purchases – and discovered that I may not live long enough to see my Tamarind tree (the one I thought was a Tamarisk) make it to full maturity. Oh well, I’m all for leaving a nice legacy! I’ve also found that pampas grass is a pest I don’t want to mess with or use to contribute to the wildfire problem. Those seeds are settled into oblivion now.

That leaves the Staghorn Sumac, also known as sumach. Prized as a citrus’y spice, it’s got a reputation as a gorgeous fall foliage display, reaching over 30 feet tall in ideal conditions.

But.. lurking in the back of my head is the phrase “poison sumac.” I must admit I’ve never seen it, or known it if I did, even though it is apparently extremely  prolific.

How to tell? By sight, if it’s autumn. Poison sumac bears white berries that grow downward. Non-poison sumac bears red berries that grow upright. Poison sumac likes swampy ground; non-poison sumac likes well-drained soil. There are other clues for telling what’s poison sumac and what’s not. It seems to me, though, that staying away from swamps is a very wise idea.

So I’m planting the (non-poisonous) Staghorn Sumac soon!