Advantages & Health Benefits of Doing Your Own Gardening

Advantages & Health Benefits of Doing Your Own Gardening

Of course, there are many pros to hiring a gardener to take care of your home’s grounds, but there is also a major con, which is you missing out on all the health benefits and advantages of taking care of your garden.  The well-known health benefits include receiving Vitamin D from the sun, exercise, and stress relief in the form of fresh air and communing with nature.  Here are some of the little known advantages:

  • Become more “in tune” with your local environment and neighborhood
  • Understand your local wildlife and weather patterns
  • See and socialize with your neighbors more often, in turn improving neighborly relations
  • Notice garden pests or plant diseases before they become a problem or infestation
  • Understand your garden’s growth patterns, soil type, and sun patterns to assign appropriate plants in the right places
  • Set an example in your community and inspire others to do the same
  • Save money (by not spending it on a gardener)
  • Opportunity to grow your own food, which leads to a plethora of more health benefits

Some of you are a garden novice and have never pulled a weed in your life, while others are experienced garden enthusiasts.  If you don’t know how to do anything in your garden, don’t be discouraged!  Here are some tips on being successful at becoming your home’s gardener:

  • Start out by trying and seeing how far you get; take notes if you have questions
  • Hire a garden coach for a gardening consultation to answer the questions you’ve recorded and give you general garden advice
  • Receive garden training through free or inexpensive one-time classes offered in your area, or take a general Horticulture class at your local community college to learn the basics.  Some colleges allow you to audit classes for free, which is good if you are not looking for credit.  If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, free classes are available at the Urban Farmer Store.
  • Pick up a reference book and keep it on hand just in case you don’t know how to do something.  Good choices for the San Francisco Bay Area would be the Sunset Western Garden Book or Pam Pierce’s Golden Gate Gardening.  A great resource for free or cheap gardening books is your local library’s annual book sale, or garage sales/flea markets/thrift stores/used book stores.
  • Follow one of the many gardening blogs available on the internet (such as this one!)  A lot of them are open to comments; in that case, the authors want to answer your questions
  • Join an on-line gardening forum to post gardening questions & receive a myriad of answers and opinions; look for one specific to your area
  • Join your local garden club to be with like-minded people that would be happy to answer your questions; a lot of gardening clubs have guest speakers that give lectures at the meetings
  • Call the Master Gardener help line to get questions answered, a free service if your area has a Master Gardener program, normally run by the local University
  • Read your local paper’s Home and Garden section each week to pick up random garden advice

Remember: there is no such thing as a “black thumb”– only uninformed, future garden experts.

So, you want to do your own gardening, but you don’t know where to find the time.  My advice to you would be to set aside a specific time each week, and stick to it.  Don’t blow it off or prioritize other activities in the time slot you’ve allotted.  If you can’t set aside a weekly time, then set aside some time each month, or every other week.  Put it in your calendar so you don’t forget or schedule something else in your garden’s time slot.  Your body and mind will thank you for it!

Natural Pest Control Series– Take a Hike, Thrips!

Natural Pest Control Series– Take a Hike, Thrips!

As a garden coach, one of the main problems that I have to solve for my clients is pest identification and elimination.  From insects to mammals, there are plenty of pests out there that can disrupt your garden’s natural beauty.  Each month, I will share a blog post featuring a pest and natural ways to rid your garden of it.  This garden advice will be invaluable if you apply it and are persistent.  This month’s feature is on those minute suckers, thrips.

What in the Heck are Thrips?

Thrips are miniscule flying insects that are so tiny that you may never spot them, but you will spot the damage after it is done!  These small bugs live in the soil under the affected tree or shrub, and attack said plant starting at the bottom and working their way up.  If you are diligent about checking the shaded leaves on certain plant species, chances are you will be able to stop the infestation before too much damage has been inflicted.

Thrips suck the life out of a plant a little bit at a time, and can make that plant very unsightly but rarely does it actually kill a plant.  If the infested plant does die, most likely, there were also other factors at play.  You can identify thrips activity by the affected leaves– the tops of the leaves will have a silvery sheen while the underside of the leaves will be covered with tiny brown or black dots (their feces!)  If you hold the leaf up to the light, the veins will be prominent as the leaf has been close to skeletonized.

Thrips are an elongated, slender insect similar-looking to a pincer bug, but on a much smaller scale, measuring one millimeter long, about the size of a tip of a pencil.  They can be yellow, brown, black, white, or red, and lay microscopic clear eggs on the foliage, but chances are you will never see them or their eggs, only the damage they inflict.  They tend to eat while the leaf is still curled up in bud form; when the leaf unfurls, the damage is revealed but by then the thrips are long gone.

Thrips tend to affect the same species of plants, attacking the new leaves, but have been known to eat just about any plant, including vegetable plants and fruiting trees, and they will eat any part off of the plant, including the flowers and the fruit.  Their favorite leaf meals include the ornamental genii Rhododendron, Azalea, Pieres, Hydrangea, Fuchsia, most ferns, and specific species Prunus laurocerasus (English laurel hedge).  They are also carriers of certain diseases that they can pass on to plants, such as tomato spotted wilt virus (Tospovirus) and impatiens necrotic spot virus (another strain of the tomato spotted wilt virus.)

Nasty!  How To Get Rid of Thrips

Thrips will attack plants that are already suffering another ailment, such as dehydration, compacted soil, nutrient deficiency, oxygen deprivation to the roots, or the wrong type of light exposure.  I see them most affecting low-light, moist corners where drainage and air flow is poor.  The first step in thrips management is prevention– if your plants are being regularly fed, given the proper amount of water and light, and are pruned in a way that air flows through the plant, chances are that thrips will pass them by.  As a rule of thumb, most insect infestation can be prevented through good pruning practices, proper watering, and regular composting, which will both aerate the soil and fertilize.

If prevention didn’t work, and you have a thrips problem, it is time to attack it in the bud, literally!  Spray the affected plants and it’s neighbors once a week until you see that the fresh, new growth unfurls healthy and green, not silvery and skeletonized.  Spray with neem oil or with mineral oil.  Both mineral oil and neem oil are safe enough for a human to ingest– mineral oil in large doses is used in humans as a laxative, and neem oil was used traditionally in Ayruvedic medicine for many applications in humans, including as a parasitic.  Neem oil comes from the Neem Tree in India and is a biopesticide used as both as a repellent and a larvicide, while mineral oil’s action is to kill insects by smothering them.  Personally, I have found the neem oil to be more useful in the fight against thrips, but using either one will yield results as long as you are adamant about keeping up on the weekly spray schedule.

neem_oilNeem Oil

Even after you see positive results of the spraying, (ie: new growth unaffected,) keep up a monthly spray schedule for a while until you are quite sure your infestation has been eliminated.  Since thrips have a life cycle that includes eggs and larvae, once you have killed all of the adult insects, round two and round three are right around the corner!  Also, when spraying, be sure to spray under the leaves and in the body of the plant– it may be useless to just spray the top of the leaves on the outside of the plant.

mineral_oilMineral Oil

Another natural method of removing thrips from your garden would be to use beneficial insects, although this is a difficult way to control thrips due to the fast turnover in their life cycle, and their very small size.  Some beneficial insects that have been known to work are aphid wasps, anthocorid bugs, and phytoseiid mites. Predator nematodes, minute pirate bugs, ladybugs, lacewings, and thrips predators have also been known to make an impact.  Just remember– if you are using beneficial insects, DO NOT spray or you will potentially also kill your good bugs!!!

nematodesBeneficial Nematodes

A third method would be using sticky traps, which are pieces of cardboard covered in an extremely sticky solution that traps the bugs.  Hang the sticky trap in the affected plant.  Use of sticky traps could also be a year-round way of monitoring thrips activity in the garden, and catching them before they become a nuisance.

sticky_thrip_trapStciky Thrip Trap

Only diligence will allow you to win in your fight against thrips, so keep it up and before you know it you will be saying ‘sayonara’ to those little buggers!


Take a Day-tour to Visit the Beautiful Gardens of the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco

Take a Day-tour to Visit the Beautiful Gardens of the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco

Most of the gorgeous gardens open to the public in San Francisco are located in the heart of Golden Gate Park, but there are also a few gems scattered throughout the city.  For a city that is covered in concrete and asphalt, there is an amazing amount of green to be found in the form of trees and grass.  There are countless parks and POPOS (publicly owned private open spaces) but this time I will only mention a few, focusing on gardens in Golden Gate Park rather than lawns and urban woods.

New Zealand Christmas Tree in San Francisco's Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park
New Zealand Christmas Tree

By far my favorite garden in SF is the San Francisco Botanical Garden (formally known as the Helen Strybing Arboretum) in Golden Gate Park.  Located centrally off of 9th Ave. and Lincoln, it is in the main attraction hub of the park– a stones throw from the CA Academy of Science and the de Young Fine Arts Museum.  Long before I was a garden coach, I was just a horticultural student and my teacher would meet me and my classmates every Saturday at the Arboretum to learn about the extensive plant collection presented at this botanical garden from five corners of the Earth.  With over 7,500 varieties of plants stretching over 55 acres, this was the ideal outdoor classroom to learn about both unusual beauties and common species.  A lot of the plants are labeled with plaques describing it’s botanical name, common name, family, and where it’s naturally found in the world.  For all the time that I spent in the garden, I was always able to learn more.  You might say that without this spectacular resource within my reach, I might not be a garden coach today!

Strange Succulent in San Francisco's Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park
Interesting Succulent

The Arboretum is sub-divided into 24 mini gardens that flow together marvelously.  Pack a lunch, and arrive in the morning to beat the crowds and see more wildlife, such as birds and squirrels.  From the entry garden, travel through the Asian Cloud Forest of Magnolia trees, raining giant satin petals and littering the ground in pink to enter Japan, with it’s ponds and dwarf conifer trees.  You will then find yourself skirting a field of CA wildflowers before entering the dusky and cool Redwood forest.  Next you will briefly find yourself in a bright and vibrant Mexico before heading into Southern Australia with it’s unique Bottlebrush trees, and then popping out at my favorite scene, the subtly colorful succulent garden, canopied by an enormous Monkey Hand tree.  A short trek will lead you into New Zealand, then Chili, and Eastern Australia, where the aroma of Eucalyptus trees prevail, before arriving in the in the primitive plant plot where you will be in awe over the colossal trees and perennials that accompanied the dinosaurs in ancient times.  Take a minute to ogle the ducks and geese in the wildfowl pond before moving on to sensory overload in the garden of fragrance.  Head past the fountain down into Africa to view the awesome and jaw-dropping Proteas and Leucadendrons, and then end your stay with a picnic on the main lawn.

Magnolia Flower in San Francisco's Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park

If you haven’t had enough plants for one day, after lunch, head out the back entrance of the Botanical Garden and cross over the street into the rose garden on your way to the Japanese Tea Garden, for an afternoon stroll through peaceful Zen gardens of finely manicured plants and grasses.  Fluffy Bamboo, stout Camellias, and grand Maple trees pervade this garden, along with evergreen Bonsais and boxwood topiaries.  Color interrupts the blissful green in the way of cascading Wisteria blossoms and persistent Azalea blooms.  Travel serenely past Koi ponds, over stone bridges and down wooden walkways before taking an afternoon break in the outdoor tea room.

Protea Flower in San Francisco's Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park

If you are ready for one more late afternoon garden, it’s time to cut through the de Young sculpture garden on the north side of the building, and head over to the Conservatory of Flowers.  Before entering the building, take time to admire the bright blanket of annuals and bulbs covering the beds in front of America’s oldest wooden and glass domed conservatory.  In the Conservatory, you will be transported into a different world, one of heat, humidity, tropical wonders, and your own imagination.  You will spy many rare orchids and other exotic epiphytes hanging from the impressively sized glossy-leaved trees.  Blooming vines wind their way through the canopy while a plethora of carnivorous plants abound and amaze.  The indoor pond sports a mini rice paddy and giant lily pads, strong enough to hold a grown man; look through the glass sided pond to see the roots.  When you finally need to leave the thick, cloying air of the Conservatory behind, be sure to check out the neighboring outdoor Dahlia summer garden (if the timing is right) and the breathtaking succulent garden that borders it.

Tibouchina Flowers in San Francisco's Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park
Tibouchina Flowers

That concludes your Golden Gate Park garden tour– now it is time to head back out of the park on 9th Ave and get some dinner at another San Francisco gem– award-winning Marnee Thai Restaurant!  Enjoy, have fun, and don’t forget your camera!!!