BY MOIRA CLUNE

A healthy garden produces the most fruits, flowers and vegetables. Garden centers have aisles of products to combat common problems, but you can protect your plants from pests, drought and poor nutrition with home remedies. The ingredients are readily available, inexpensive and non-toxic.

INSECT PESTS

Insects are the bane of most gardeners and many resort to expensive toxic preparations to battle these invaders. Before you reach for the poisons, drench your plants with 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.

DEER

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. Spread it around your plants to impart a “human” smell. Similarly, groom your dog and distribute her fur around vulnerable plants.

Drill holes in bars of fragrant soap and hang these from the branches of your plants. Rotten eggs can deter deer; simply mix an egg 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.

FERTILIZERS

Compost made from lawn, gar­den and kitchen waste is the best-known 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.

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.

WATERING

Drip irrigation is the best way to water plants. It concentrates the wa­ter at the soil level so that very little is wasted. For larger plants, drill or poke several 1/8-inch holes around the base of a bucket or 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.

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