A healthy garden produces the most fruits, flowers and vegetables. Garden and home centers have aisles of products to combat common problems, but you can protect your plants from pests, drought and poor nutrition with home remedies for gardens. The ingredients are readily available, inexpensive and non-toxic so you can get started right away.
Insects are the bane of most backyard gardeners and many resort to expensive or toxic commercial preparations to battle these invaders. Before you reach for the poisons, drench your plants with cooled, soapy dishwater. This mild insecticidal soap kills aphids, mealybugs and mites. A more aggressive formula can be made by adding 2 tbsp. of liquid red pepper sauce and 1 tbsp. of vegetable oil. Trap aphids with a homemade sticky trap. Paint a 6-inch square piece of cardboard yellow then apply a sticky substance such as petroleum jelly.
Although they are bold enough to invade and destroy your garden, deer are afraid of people and dogs--gardeners can exploit this fear to protect their plants. If you (or your dog) are not the type to sleep under the stars, you can spook deer and rabbits with hair. Ask you local barber shop if you can have some spare hair clippings. Spread it around your plants to impart a "human" smell. Similarly, groom your dog an distribute her fur around vulnerable plants. EarthEasy recommends additional scents to deter deer. Drill holes in bars of fragrant soap and hang these from the branches of your plants. Rotten eggs can deter deer; simply mix an eggs with 1 quart of water and spray it on your plants. Add 1 tbsp. of hot sauce to the mix to make it a smell and taste repellent.
Compost made from lawn, garden and kitchen waste is the best-known form of compost but it is not the only one. Horse and chicken manure can be composted and used as a soil amendment and fertilizer. Alternatively, make a "manure tea" by wrapping 1 cup of manure in cheesecloth and steeping for 24 hours in 1 gallon of water. This mild, all-purpose tonic can be used on indoor and outdoor garden plants. For acid loving plants, sprinkle used coffee grounds around the base of the plant to raise pH. If you are not a caffeine fiend, visit your local coffee shop. Many are happy to give away used grounds. Calcium prevents blossom-end rot in tomatoes; mix two or three calcium tablets, 1 tbsp. of dry milk or pulverized eggshells into the soil around the base of the plant to prevent this condition.
Drip irrigation is the best way to water garden plants. It concentrates the water at the soil level so that very little is wasted. Run a capped garden hose around your plants. Use an ice pick to poke holes in the hose at suitable intervals so that a small stream of water flows to the plants. For larger plants, drill or poke several 1/8-inch holes around the base of a bucket or 1 gallon jug and fill it with water. Allow the container to drain slowly, watering your plants as it does so. When planting potted plants, bury a length of PVC pipe into which several 1/8-inch holes have been drilled. Allow several inches of the pipe to extend out of the soil. Pour water into this "spout" to be sure the deep roots of the plant receive adequate moisture.