Tips for Beginners: A Miscellany
Dr. Mark Konrad
Convenient Gardening with a Portable Workbench and Cold-frame
Gardening becomes easier and more pleasurable if one can arrange for a convenient work area with proper tools.
The portability to be described addresses both these needs.
For the workbench, a wheelbarrow is used as a platform to hold a 3 by 5-foot plywood panel ( inch in thickness). (See photo.)
The advantages are:
1. Many materials and the appropriate tools can be concentrated in one area for convenient use.
2. The workbench can be moved to any work site.
3. It provides convenient storage. For a cold frame, the wheelbarrow can also be used, with a platform to hold plastic containers.
The advantages are:
1. The portability allows for movement to any area with proper light exposure.
2 . Under any adverse weather conditions the cold frame containers can be wheeled into a garage or hand carried into a heated structure if this becomes a necessity.
Portable workbench and cold frame.
Photo by Mark Konrad
Conserving Moisture with Seedling Culture
It can be very advantageous to reduce the amount of watering seedlings receive, especially when going on vacation. In an attempt to address this situation I have been placing 5 by 5-inch squares of double plastic sheeting directly over the seedlings in 5- inch pots. The plastic comes from newspaper wrappers which are used to keep the paper from getting wet. One wrapper supplies four pieces. In addition, another layer of plastic sheeting is routinely placed over the top of all the pots in an attempt to maintain humidity.
The medium used is equal parts of shredded pine bark and Canadian peat which is very acid and prevents any possibility of damping off.
This has worked so well that I decided to leave it in place indefinitely. It should provide a period of seven or more days without additional watering.
Making Durable Ground Markers
Keeping plants properly identified is an important exercise in keeping good records. This is especially true for hybridizers who have to track small groups of plants. Unfortunately tags are lost for a variety of reasons, and this can be quite disruptive to a hybridizing program.
To help address the problem, I have been engraving disposable plastic knives with an etching tool. After preparation, the markers are stuck deeply in the ground as the seedlings are planted. They can also be used as both primary and secondary markers for larger plants.
The Use of Artificial Shade
Occasionally it is important to use artificial shade with rhododendron culture. This is especially true when small plants are to be transplanted and even more so when pot culture has been used.
Until the plant becomes established, reducing the amount of sunlight can make the difference between success and failure.
I have found the use of burlap draped over wire frames anchored in the ground to be an ideal temporary shelter.
The Magic of Shredded Pine Bark
Sometimes I think the horticultural gods designed shredded pine bark especially for rhododendrons. Pine bark is valuable both for seedling culture and as a medium additive for propagation. The combination of shredded pine bark and Canadian peat has proven ideal for container culture.
Shredded pine bark is an excellent medium additive for the following reasons:
1. Promotes an idea pH. The low pH also suppresses unwanted microbial growth.
2. Allows for moisture retention with good aeration along with equal distribution of moisture in container culture.
3. Supplies an environment for mycorrhizal growth which is important in rhododendron culture.
4. One might speculate that the shredded pine bark produces organic acids, perhaps an important factor in the luxuriant growth of rhododendrons.
When adverse soil conditions are encountered (non-acidic), pine bark and sand can be added to the soil and then placed in elevated beds for custom culture. Horticultural sulfur can also be added as needed to adjust the pH to a satisfactory acidic level.
Dr. Konrad is a member of the Great Lakes Chapter.