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11 DIY Secrets to Starting Your Garden

Start seeding and get your garden looking great using these cheap, do-it-yourself solutions to starting your summer garden.

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1. Make Seed Holes with Chopsticks

Instead of buying a dibbler – the wooden garden tool used to poke seed holes in the soil – why not use a chopstick or pencil? Same holes, no cash outlay. A third choice: A full-size folding nail clipper, the blunt arm of which you can poke into the soil and twist. Later, when it comes time to transplant seedlings, use the same arm of the file to work a seedling and its root ball from the seed flat.

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2. Skip the Dibbling (and Watering)

An alternative to dibbling holes into the soil of a seed flat is to wet the soil, lay the seeds on the surface, and then cover the seeds with another thin layer of soil. Shrink-wrap the flat with plastic wrap, and your job is done. Condensation on the wrap will drip down to keep the seeds moist until germination.

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3. Try Spice Jars as Seed Sowers

When sowing seeds directly into a garden plot, put them in an empty dried herb or spice jar – the kind with a perforated plastic top. Then shake them over the bed or along a row. This improvised sower works best for medium-sized seeds.

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4. Sow Some Tiny Seeds

Seeds of impatiens, lobelia, carrots, lettuce, and a few other flowers and vegetables are so miniscule that they’re difficult to sow evenly. To remedy the problem and make seedlings easier to thin out once they sprout, combine the seeds with grainy foodstuffs like semolina, couscous, grits, or dried herbs, all of which will put some space between diminutive seeds.

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5. Make Easy-Free Plant Markers

To label your seeds flat by flat so you won’t risk confusing, say, your Better Boy tomatoes with your Early Girls, turn empty yogurt cups, bleach jugs, or other white plastic containers into plant markers. Cut strips from the plastic, trim the ends to a point, and use an indelible felt-tip marker to write the plant name (variety included) on each. Stick the strips into the flats as soon as you plant seeds so you’ll know which plant is which from the start.

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6. Try Paper Cup Seed Starters

Small paper drinking cups – the kind dispensed at water coolers – make excellent seed starters. They’re the right size, you can easily poke a drainage hole in the bottom, and they’re easily cut apart when it comes time to plant your seedlings. Note that we specify paper cups: Plastic-foam cups might sit in your local landfill until your great-great-grandchildren have come and gone.

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7. Re-use a Dry-Cleaning Bag as a Humidifier

To provide the humidity needed to root a flat of cuttings, lay a dry cleaning bag over the cuttings, making sure it doesn’t touch the plants. (Ice cream sticks or pencils can serve as “tent poles.”) Clip the bag to the rim of the flat with clothespins or small metal clamps.

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8. Root Rose Cuttings Under Glass

An easy way to root a cutting from your favorite rosebush is to snip off a 4-6-inch piece of stem and plant it in good soil, whether in the garden or a pot. Then cover it with a large fruit jar to create a mini-greenhouse.

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9. Prep with Willow Tea

Soaking six or eight willow twigs in water gives you a solution of indolebutyric acid (IBA), a natural plant-rooting hormone. Start by snipping the twigs from a willow (any species will do), then split them with a few hammer blows. Cut the twigs into 3-inch pieces and steep them in a pail filled with 4-5 inches of water for 24 hours. Use the tea either to water just-planted cuttings or as an overnight soaker for cuttings.

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10. Create a Rolling Seed Flat

Turn a child’s wagon into a seed flat on wheels. Poke holes in the wagon bottom with a screw-hole punch and hammer, then fill the wagon with peat pots or expandable peat pellets, labelling them as you go.

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11. Use Potatoes as Transporters

If you need to take cuttings to another town, use a potato as a carrier. Slice a large potato in half crosswise, poke three 1-inch deep holes in each cut side with a chopstick or pencil, and insert the cuttings, which will stay moist for 3-4 hours.