Books > The American Woman's Home (1869) > XXXI. The Care of Yards and Gardens

The American Woman's Home

XXXI. The Care of Yards and Gardens.

First, let us say a few words on the Preparation of Soil. If the garden soil be clayey and adhesive, put on a covering of sand, three inches thick, and the same depth of well-rotted manure. Spade it in as deep as possible, and mix it well. If the soil be sandy and loose, spade in clay and ashes. Ashes are good for all kinds of soil, as they loosen those which are close, hold moisture in those which are sandy, and destroy insects. The best kind of soil is that which will hold water the longest without becoming hard when dry.

To prepare Soil for Pot-plants, take one fourth part of common soil, one fourth part of well-decayed manure, and one half of vegetable mould, from the woods or from a chip-yard. Break up the manure fine, and sift it through a lime-screen, (or coarse wire sieve.) These materials must be thoroughly mixed. When the common soil which is used is adhesive, and indeed in most other cases, it is necessary to add sand, the proportion of which must depend on the nature of the soil.

To Prepare a Hot-Bed, dig a pit six feet long, five feet wide, and thirty inches deep. Make a frame of the same size, with the back two feet high, the front fifteen inches, and the sides sloped from the back to the front. Make two sashes, each three feet by five, with the panes of glass lapping like shingles instead of having cross-bars. Set the frame over the pit, which should then be filled with fresh horse-dung, which has not lain long nor been sodden by water. Tread it down hard; then put into the frame light and very rich soil, six or eight inches deep, and cover it with the sashes for two or three days. Then stir the soil, and sow the seeds in shallow drills, placing sticks by them, to mark the different kinds. Keep the frame covered with the glass whenever it is cold enough to chill the plants; but at all other times admit fresh air, which is indispensable to their health. When the sun is quite warm, raise the glasses enough to admit air, and cover them with matting or blankets, or else the sun may kill the young plants. Water the bed at evening with water which has stood all day, or, if it be fresh drawn, add a little warm water. If there be too much heat in the bed, so as to scorch or wither the plants, lift the sashes, water freely, shade by day; make deep holes with stakes, and fill them up when the heat is reduced. In very cold nights, cover the sashes and frame with straw-mats.

For Planting Flower Seeds.—Break up the soil, till it is very soft, and free from lumps. Rub that nearest the surface between the hands, to make it fine. Make a circular drill a foot in diameter. Seeds are to be planted either deeper or nearer the surface, according to their size. For seeds as large as sweet peas, the drill should be half an inch deep. The smallest seeds must be planted very near the surface, and a very little fine earth be sifted over them. After covering them with soil, beat them down with a trowel, so as to make the earth as compact as it is after a heavy shower. Set up a stick in the middle of the circle, with the name of the plant heavily written upon it with a dark lead pencil. This remains more permanent if white-lead be first rubbed over the surface. Never plant when the soil is very wet. In very dry times, water the seeds at night. Never use very cold water. When the seeds are small, many should be planted together, that they may assist each other in breaking the soil. When the plants are an inch high, thin them out, leaving only one or two, if the plant be a large one, like the balsam; five or six, when it is of a medium size; and eighteen or twenty of the smaller size. Transplanting, unless the plant be lifted with a ball of earth, retards the growth about a fortnight. It is best to plant at two different times, lest the first planting should fail, owing to wet or cold weather.

To plant Garden-Seeds, make the beds from one to three yards wide; lay across them a board a foot wide, and with a stick, make a furrow on each side of it, one inch deep. Scatter the seeds in this furrow, and cover them. Then lay the board over them, and step on it, to press down the earth. When the plants are an inch high, thin them out, leaving spaces proportioned to their sizes. Seeds of similar species, such as melons and squashes, should not be planted very near to each other, as this causes them to degenerate. The same kinds of vegetables should not be planted in the same place for two years in succession. The longer the rows are, the easier is the after culture.

Transplanting should be done at evening, or which is better, just before a shower. Take a round stick sharpened at the point, and make openings to receive the plants. Set them a very little deeper than they were before, and press the soil firmly round them. Then water them, and cover them for three or four days, taking care that sufficient air be admitted. If the plant can be removed without disturbing the soil around the root, it will not be at all retarded by transplanting. Never remove leaves and branches, unless a part of the roots be lost.

To Re-pot House-Plants, renew the soil every year, soon after the time of blossoming. Prepare soil as previously directed. Loosen the earth from the pot by passing a knife around the skies. Turn the plant upside down, and remove the pot. Then remove all the matted fibres at the bottom, and all the earth, except that which adheres to the roots. From woody plants, like roses, shake off all the earth. Take the new pot, and put a piece of broken earthen-ware over the hole at the bottom, and then, holding the plant in the proper position, shake in the earth around it. Then pour in water to settle the earth, and heap on fresh soil, till the pot is even full. Small pots are considered better than large ones, as the roots are not so likely to rot, from excess of moisture.

In the Laying out of Yards and Gardens, there is room for much judgment and taste. In planting trees in a yard, they should be arranged in groups, and never planted in straight lines, nor sprinkled about as solitary trees. The object of this arrangement is to imitate Nature, and secure some spots of dense shade and some of clear turf. In yards which are covered with turf, beds can be cut out of it, and raised for flowers. A trench should be made around, to prevent the grass from running on them. These beds can be made in the shape of crescents, ovals, or other fanciful forms.

In laying out beds in gardens and yards, a very pretty bordering can be made, by planting them with common flax-seed, in a line about three inches from the edge. This can be trimmed with shears, when it grows too high.

For Transplanting Trees, the autumn is the best time. Take as much of the root as possible, especially the little fibres, which should never become dry. If kept long before they are set out, put wet moss around them and water them. Dig holes larger than the extent of the roots; let one person hold the tree in its former position, and another place the roots carefully as they were before, cutting off any broken or wounded root. Be careful not to let the tree be more than an inch deeper them it was before. Let the soil be soft and well manured; shake the tree as the soil is shaken in, that it may mix well among the small fibres. Do not tread the earth down, while filling the hole; but, when it is full, raise a slight mound of say four inches deep around the stem to hold water, and fill it. Never cut off leaves nor branches, unless some of the roots are lost. Tie the trees to a stake, and they will be more likely to live. Water them often.

The Care of House-Plants is a matter of daily attention, and well repays all labor expended upon it. The soil of house-plants should be renewed every year as previously directed. In winter, they should be kept as dry as they can be without wilting. Many house-plants are injured by giving them too much water, when they have little light and fresh air. This makes them grow spindling. The more fresh air, warmth and light they have, the more water is needed. They ought not to be kept very warm in winter, nor exposed to great changes of atmosphere. Forty degrees is a proper temperature for plants in winter, when they have little sun and air. When plants have become spindling, cut off their heads entirely, and cover the pot in the earth, where it has the morning sun only. A new and flourishing head will spring out. Few houseplants can bear the sun at noon. When insects infest plants, set them in a closet or under a barrel, and burn tobacco under them. The smoke kills any insect enveloped in it. When plants are frozen, cold water and a gradual restoration of warmth are the best remedies. Never use very cold water for plants at any season.