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10 Surprising Garden Discoveries from 2018

Michele MacKinnon

“Gardening is a lifelong learning experience that never ceases to capture, recapture, and then capture my interest once again.” ~ Lee Reich, “The Ever Curious Gardener”


Here’s a roundup of discoveries I made last year that captured my garden interest.


​1.  Tomato woes and wet years - Avoid watery tasting and split tomatoes by picking earlier and cutting back on watering. Tomatoes ripen from the inside out so they’re ready even if the shoulders are a bit green.


2.  GMO seed concerns - Seed companies aren’t allowed to sell GMO seeds to home gardeners. Over a hundred companies have signed the Safe Seed Pledge so look for the logo when purchasing seeds. Read more here.


3.  Weak winter light - A 3-way soil testing meter that senses light, moisture and pH levels, shows bright winter daylight registers as “Dark” most of the time, even in east and south-facing windows. Household lights register as “Dark” also. This is why herbs and vegetables become leggy growing on a windowsill, despite frequent advice to place seedlings there. Grow lights are necessary for successful indoor gardening.


4.  Cactus conundrum - I once thought my “Christmas” cactus was blooming early, but I had a “Thanksgiving” cactus. Read about the differences and how to grow this long-lived houseplant here.


5.  Bulb planting depth - The common advice to plant at depths of three to four times the height of the bulb is difficult in rocky soils. Ignore it. Cornell University research shows bulbs bury themselves deeper if they’re too close to the surface.

10 Surprising Garden Lessons from 2018.j

6.  Unreliable Allium christophii - This bulb is beautiful the first spring it blooms, then often disappears. I suspect my soil is overly damp, or, the bulb needs “lifting and baking” as explained in this UK podcast about quirks of the allium family.


7. Climate change woes - Higher atmospheric temperatures favor the spread of invasive plants, which react faster to changes in the environment and outpace growth rates of native species. Expect more poison ivy for the same reasons. This irritating vine will also generate higher levels of its skin-irritating toxin.


8.  Novel foliage colors deprive pollinators - A study cited by Doug Tallamy, Professor of Entomology, showed plant varieties developed with red or purple leaves provide no value for feeding caterpillars that depend on the plant food web for survival. Stick with plain green foliage and native plants to help pollinators.


9.  Landscape design baffles professionals too - I felt braver when I learned Arne Maynard, the renowned UK garden designer, and Susan Morrison, a US designer, were stymied when faced with designing their own landscapes. Just keep trying.


10.  Got mice? Try a natural solution instead of a noxious repellant. C.L. Fornari, cohost of the Plantrama podcast, scatters mint sprigs in problem areas. Apparently mice dislike the herb’s aroma, and anyone growing mint usually has plenty on hand to use.


Try these tips in 2019, and see how your garden grows.


Michele MacKinnon, is a UCONN Certified Advanced Master Gardener, garden educator and speaker. To contact MacKinnon to ask gardening questions, email We’ll publish answers in the next edition of the newsletter.

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