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banish the balcony blues big plans for small gardens by Sarah Goldstein | 1 2 3 4 5 6
continued from page 4

plants for free (cont.)
As for super-cheap sources of plants:

  • Church fetes. These aren't necessarily the kind of plants you want -- real gardeners pamper their plants almost as much as nurseries, so five minutes of neglect kills the damn things. But if it's the end of the day and everyone wants to go home, a big box of plants and half an hour's gardening advice can be had for $5.
  • eBay. Occasionally people list their unwanted plants on eBay. No one buys plants on eBay though, so they tend to go for great prices.
  • Nursery bargain bins. Big nurseries sometimes sell their distressed stock super-cheaply. I like hardy indoor plants that have had a few hours' direct sun and have almost no leaves; you might have a different favourite neglected plant to look out for.

the other stuff
You have plants; you know where to put them. Done, right? Well actually, there are a few other things you need too:

It's easy to see all soil as a pile of dirt. Not so! It's actually a delicate balance of sand, clay, humus and a whole bunch of other stuff. Who knew? Where I live, most of the soil is dry, sandy, lacking in nutrients and doesn't hold water well. So how to fix up crappy soil?

The experts will tell you that first, you've gotta figure out what's wrong with it. Sandy soil is kinda grey-looking, and any water you add to it runs straight through. Clay soil is usually red, and when you add water it doesn't drain at all. Hummus is chocolate-coloured organic matter (like broken-down compost) and has that earthy smell. To make your garden happy, your soil needs a mix of all three. So if your soil looks really sandy, add some clay and/or organic matter, or if it's clay you'll need to break it up with some sand and add hummus.

So do I actually do this? Not really. There's not exactly a plentiful supply of clay and sand in the city, and it's not like they're sold in handy little baggies. The main thing is being able to tell good quality soil from poor quality, without killing dozens of plants in the process.

The two fix-its I've found practical in the city are potting mix and moss. A decent potting mix is good-quality soil in a bag. It can get pretty expensive to plant everything in it, but you can mix it with lower-quality soil, moss and compost to create a nice fertile mixture. Moss is sold in blocks, which you re-hydrate with water and mix into your soil.

amble along pardner...


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