Urban Gardening

Eight Great Gifts for Urban Gardeners

Tumble composters like the Envirocycle eliminate turning by hand.
Tumble composters like the Envirocycle eliminate turning by hand.

Picking gifts for friends can be tricky, but fortunately gardeners are easy. We always need new plants, products, and materials. Below are some of my favorite gardening gifts for 2009.

Compost kit. Although most gardeners are aware of the virtues of compost, making it can be a difficult task for urbanites. Compact kits help even city-dwellers turn food scraps and leaf litter into rich compost. Kits come in different styles and some even include worms. Tumble composters, like the Envirocycle, eliminate hand turning and purportedly reduce composting time, but since they occasionally leak, are best for outdoor patios and balconies.

Gardening gloves. Some gardeners dislike dirt under their nails. A pair of quality gardening gloves keeps the grime out and the skin on your hands smoother. Foxgloves are my favorite this year. Designed by a gardener, they are comfortable, lightweight, dexterous, and durable. Their long cuffs, tight knit fabric, and close fit keep dirt out. Foxgloves are available in a variety of fashionable styles and colors for ladies and plain black for guys and goth girls.

Mushroom compost and organic fertilizers. A yard of mushroom compost is a gift as good as gold to a gardener. It is effective as a soil amendment, mulch, or top-dressing for containers. You can buy bags at garden centers, but the best deal is from your local mushroom grower. A farmer's market is a good place to meet this person and ask about their compost. For those who prefer to fertilize with something less aromatically potent, Bradfield Organics is a great option. It offers blends formulated for different plants such as tomatoes, roses, citrus, acid-lovers, vegetables, lawns, etc. Tailoring the specific nutrients maintains vigor, prevents disease, and increases production. Best of all, these organic fertilizers are safe and nonpolluting.

Lightweight polymer planting containers are excellent indoors or outside, for food crops or ornamentals.
Lightweight polymer planting containers are excellent indoors or outside, for food crops or ornamentals.

Decorative ceramic and stone planters. These make fantastic accents on patios or terraces and can also be great indoor focal points. You can find ornamental containers at garden centers and online. Select the appropriate size then choose a style and color that compliments your garden area. Southern Patio planters look ceramic but are made of lightweight polymers, which makes them ideal for patios and rooftops. I use Southern Patio planters for both ornamentals and food crops. If you need smaller containers, Ecosource offers attractive, all-natural pots in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors made from rice hulls.

Squirrel baffle. Squirrels are among the most persistent pests, even in the city. My sister wages an ongoing feud with her neighborhood tree rodents, which quickly rummage through and ruin any pots or packages left on the balcony. When she removed a nest from her balcony, the squirrels quickly set up shop on a balcony overhead. When she warns them to stay off her balcony, they shriek right back at her. The battle has subsided, but they still glare at each other. If you have a gardening friend with squirrel issues, you know how serious this can be. Before your friends with bird feeders or other squirrel problems resort to violence, buy them a squirrel baffle. Squirrel Stopper is one of the best at keeping climbing rodents from reaching pole-mounted bird feeders and hanging baskets. Squirrels simply cannot get past this unique baffle. But remember, it only works if squirrels can't jump to the target from a nearby branch or ledge.

Con-Tech's ScareCrow uses motion and a surprise burst of water to protect gardens.
Con-Tech's ScareCrow uses motion and a surprise burst of water to protect gardens.

Motion-sensor animal repellent. City gardens are like beacons for squirrels and other urban wildlife. If you have a friend for whom the thin line between guest and pest has been crossed, a motion-sensor repellent is a great gift. These sensors use light, noise, or water to frighten wildlife away. The Con-Tech ScareCrow is a popular model that uses water. According to Karen Schindelhauer of Con-Tech, "the ScareCrow motion-activated sprinkler automatically detects deer, raccoons, herons, dogs, and more as they approach, and repels them with a short but startling burst of water." She assured me it works on smaller mammals, too. A gardener recently wrote that this product successfully repelled rabbits from his garden. If it works on rabbits, it should ward off everything but crafty squirrels and burrowing rodents!

Smart thermometer and/or environmental meter. Instruments that measure environmental conditions are great gifts for gardeners. The Easy Bloom Plant Sensor not only measures temperature, light, and moisture, but also links to an online database of recommendations. For tech-savvy gardeners, this is a great way to ensure some success. The Plant Sensor has three modes, comes with software, plugs into a USB port, and has a decorative flower shape. Even experienced gardeners can benefit from a Plant Sensor to accurately monitor temperature, light, and moisture fluctuations.

Community gardening plot. This is the ultimate gift for an urban gardener with little or no space. Community gardens rent plots on a yearly basis typically for a nominal fee. Because it's an annual contract, if things don't work out there are no further commitments or obligations. Community plots give gardeners the chance to grow more crops and cut flowers than they might on a small balcony. And these plots offer a great chance to get involved in the local community and meet some kindred spirits.

The shopping can be tough, but the giving is always a thrill. Surprise some friends — or treat yourself! — to gifts that make gardening more fun.

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