Old-Time Tips For Garden Tenderfeet: Timeless Wisdom
These snippets of quick tips come from a household booklet published in 1947 and features advice given for handling plants, cut flowers and a couple gardening related tips. *Updated: I moved two more pages here for one lengthy sheet of vintage tips. What does “Tenderfeet” mean? You’ll find the answer in the second set below ;).
- Since houseplants grow toward the light, be sure to turn those you keep near the window around every few days to prevent lopsided growth.
- The top of a pineapple, planted in a pint jar of water, will sprout and root, soon making an exotic and most attractive palm-like plant.
- A novelty hanging vine can be grown from a sweet potato by planting it in a hanging basket or pot of sand (or a sandy loam), then watering occasionally. The leaves are dark green and resemble ivy.
- Gladioli, snapdragons and stocks can be cut down when their lower blossoms fade. Rearrange them in lower vases gradually and, when you are down to the last blossom, place the tips of the flowers in a dish on the dinner table. Large flowers which have opened fully (like roses) can also be displayed on the table with their stems cut short.
- To prolong the life of cut flowers, handle them gently from the moment they are cut and never lay them on top of each other while arranging them.
- Double the life of those pretty flowers by cutting their stems at a long slant. They’ll absorb more water that way you’ll brighten your home with their extra freshness. Another authority recommends this way to keep cut flowers fresh: add a lump of sugar or camphor to the water.
- Even four-day-old roses can keep on shedding beauty in your home if properly cared for. Cut their stems very short, eliminate most of the greens and set them in a thick cluster in a shallow bowl. They can be preserved even longer if they are nestled floating in a deep saucer where they can drain up plenty of water.
- Flowers will keep longer if the leaves below the water are removed. Decaying vegetable matter poisons the water.
- If you enjoy gardening but want to avoid grimy fingernails, scrape them over a wet cake of soap before beginning to work. This will keep the dirt out and the soap will easily rinse out afterwards (see Gardener’s Hands 101: Protection & Cleaning Tips).
- Cut flowers should be “hardened” before being arranged in vases. When they arrive, glance at the base of the stems. Have these been freshly cut? If so, place the stems in deep, cool water in a roomy jar. Place the jar in a cool place for a few hours before you arrange the flowers. This process insures absorption by the stems of all the water they can hold. If the stems are dark-tipped, the cut is not fresh. Snip off half an inch from each stem and place in deep water as described above. Be sure to change the water each day and recut the stems.
- A good treatment for sick plants: Put several empty eggshells into a milk bottle filled with water and let stand for a day. Then water the plants with this mixture.
- To revive “sick” ferns, water them with 1/2 teacup of salt added to six pints of lukewarm water. If infested with worms, stick matches into the soil, sulfur end down. For an ordinary sized plant, use four matches–six for a large pot. The sulfur does the trick.
- To waterproof your pots, simply dip them into melted paraffin so that it sinks into the pores.
- Protect your smaller garden tools from rusting by keeping a pail of sand near the garage or cellar door and plunging them into the sand when through with them.
This collection of vintage tips was published in 1938 (Sunset Magazine) and were sent in by the magazine’s readers, the best were published in a column titled “Garden Tips For Tenderfeet“. Although they were shared over 70 years ago, I think they’re still helpful for today’s gardeners.
Neat to Know: Tenderfoot (plural tenderfeet) was a nickname given back in the day to someone new or inexperienced. Today we call them “newbies”.
- DIY Potting Soil: Pieces of sod removed during re-edging of the lawn should be carefully kept and piled face down in a nook out of sight in the garden. Layer after layer may be stacked on top of each other and the pile won’t require much space. Sod usually decomposes nicely within a year. This will provide good potting soil for houseplants.
- Watering Snapdragons: If you refrain from watering snapdragons in the late afternoon or evening, you’ll find they’re less susceptible to rust. Putting them to “bed” in a damp condition favors the spread of rust spores.
- Baiting Wireworms: A reliable old German gardener told me his novel way of trapping wireworms. Since wireworms like potatoes better than anything else, he baits them by burying large potatoes 8 or 10 inches deep and about 3 feet apart. Before covering them, he ties a piece of stout twine around each potato, and once or twice a week jerks up the “buried” potatoes to inspect them for wireworms. If there are any wireworms working in the soil, they go for the potatoes. If infested, they can be burned and fresh potatoes substituted.
- Oyster Shell Drainage: I’ve been using broken oyster shells in the bottom of flower pots for drainage. Anyone along the coast can get oyster shells from the beaches.
- Neat Edges: If you want to keep lawn roots out of your flower beds, insert 1 x 4 boards in the ground between the lawn and beds. Put the boards in deep and they won’t be noticed.
- Dahlias Stake Tip: Big 4-foot stakes for dahlias are unsightly till the plants are almost full grown. The stakes have to be set in the ground at planting time so that the dahlia tuber won’t be injured. Instead of putting a tall stake in the ground at planting time, use a 12-inch one instead. The small stakes can be replaced by tall ones in the same holes when the plants are about 18 or 20 inches high.
- Transplanting Cuttings: When transplanting rooted cuttings and other small plants, I use a medium-size tin can that’s had both ends cut off, and slip it down over each plant to the required depth. It’s easy to transfer the young plants to wherever wanted, and the roots are undisturbed.
- Rooting Carnations: My carnation cuttings always root faster when I start them in coarse sand and place over the cuttings a quart jar or milk bottle with the bottom cut out. The bottle acts as a miniature greenhouse.
- Knee Saver: Cover an old sofa cushion with oil cloth and use it to kneel on when working in the garden. Dirt and moisture can be easily wiped off the oil cloth covering. When not in use, the cushion can be kept on the garden bench, lawn swing, or chair.
- Quick Seed Germination: If you are one of those who sow seeds and impatiently await signs of growth, try the following method to speed it up. Lay your seed between moist blotters, and place in or on the ice tray in a refrigerator. Let them remain there 10 days. Then plant outdoors and their fast germination will surprise you. Editors Note: This treatment works particularly well with delphinium seeds.
- For Rose Gardeners: Try planting blue violas thickly so that they’ll cover the whole rose bed. Don’t let a single inch of soil show! The roses won’t mind, for violas are shallow-rooted. The blue makes a perfect background for roses of any color.
- Keeping Hands Soft: Continuous work in the garden makes the hands grimy and hard. Next time you come in from the garden, work up a soapy lather in your hands and add about half a teaspoonful of ordinary sugar which has been moistened. This treatment not only cleans the hands, but leaves them beautiful and soft.
- Primroses In Summer: Just as soon as my primroses have finished blooming in the spring, I cut back the plants, both blossom stalks and leaves, to within an inch and a half of the ground. They look bare for 2 or 3 weeks but because of other spring-blooming plants they’re scarcely noticed. The thick tufts of new leaves grow rapidly so that instead of ragged looking plants, I have symmetrical clumps of healthy new foliage which remains green all through the trying summer months. I’ve also found that this method increases fall blossoms without diminishing the number of spring blooms.
Source: Two Sunset Magazines published in 1938
First published August 1st, 2008 and moved to this page for better organization
These tips were collected from a variety of books and magazines from the 1940s and 1950s.
There are a couple treatments suggested that raised my eyebrows (lol), but I included them in the list because they do reflect well the time these were written. Women tried finding uses for everything they had at their disposal. Enjoy!
- To grow ivy in water, add a teaspoon of liquid plant food to each pint of water. Never change the water, just add more to it as needed.
- When retiring the garden tools after a hard summer’s work, place a teaspoon of tea leaves in the container. These magic leaves will guard your tools against rust and corrosion. Your silverware, guns and other metal pieces can be protected too.
- Cut flowers keep longer if placed in leftover tea, weakened with water. This is good also for house plants.
- Short-stemmed flowers can be kept fresh by placing them in a bowl or vase of sand that is well moistened.
- Midday or afternoon is the best time to cut roses and gladiolus.
- A tablespoon of household bleach added to the water in a vase of zinnias will keep the stems from rotting and you will have fresh flowers longer.
- To keep flowers from fading, clip the stems off about an inch and let stand in mild solution of glycerin water. They will stay pretty for two or three weeks.
- Put a teaspoon of sugar in vase of marigolds and it will help to eliminate the odor.
- Cut flowers will last long if you put the flowers in hot water.
- Peonies last longer if the stems are split at the bottom with a sharp knife before they are placed in water.
- To keep flowers from dying when leaving home for several days, fold a newspaper and put under each pot in a tub of water. Place about two inches of water in the tub. Soil will stay moist and plant will be all right.
- Cut flowers last well with camphor in the water.
- To keep flowers fresh for cemetery: Mix wet sand in container and place flowers in it. Will keep them fresh for a week.
- Ice water should never be used on house plants as it checks their growth. Add enough hot water to the cold to make it tepid before putting on the plants.
- To make geraniums bloom, use bloody chicken water.
- Never take in old geranium plants and expect blooms; break off new parts and start, they will bloom.
- Use a bottle cap in the bottom of flower pots over hole before putting in the soil. This makes drainage successful. Broken pieces of pottery or pebbles also provide drainage.
- For quick dusting of your house fern, set it outdoors and sprinkle with the garden hose after adjust nozzle to a fine spray.
- Insert a few rusty nails in the soil around your African violets. The blossoms will be larger, more profuse and will have a brighter color. Keep in north window and water from the bottom.
- Rose bush slips will take root if you stick the stem in a white potato.
- Repot ferns in May, just before setting out in the garden. Choose a shady part of the garden, away from drafts and wind, and preferable on the north. Ferns thrive in a cool, even temperature, with moisture.
- Did you know that if you pour 2 tablespoons of castor oil around the roots of your Christmas cactus in October it will bloom in December?
- Gloxinia or African Violet leaves may be rooted by putting the stem through an empty spool and floating in a glass of water.
- One of the best fertilizers for potted plants is chimney soot, provided it is free from salt.
- To make a fern healthy and grow fast, put a piece of fresh meat in the pot every few weeks; must not be salty.
These aren’t vintage but a sheet of quick tips I’ve moved here for better organization (First published October 24, 2008):
- Plant Lots of Garlic: Garlic is an effective and natural bug repellent. Plant lots of it in your garden in among other vegetables to protect them from pests. You could also make your own garlic spray by boiling a pint of water, throw in roughly chopped garlic cloves and steep until the water cools. Remove garlic bits then spray on plants frequently.
- Boiled Eggs Water & African Violets: When you boil eggs, save the water and when it’s reached room temperature–use it to water your african violets. The calcium in the water helps with blooms and plant growth.
- Rose Bush Booster: Save your egg shells and once you have a bunch, crush them up and dig them into the roots of your rose bushes. You could also save the water from boiled eggs, or soak egg shells in water, then water the roses with that enriched water.
- Clean Garden Pots: Some of you may have already been able to haul out and plant garden pots, containers and hanging baskets, lucky you! but for the rest of us–you can clean last year’s grime & rings away with a 50/50 water and vinegar solution. Works well on both plastic and clay containers.
- Leftover Beer: Pour the half empty bottles and cans of beer into a pail and leave sit for a few days for the alcohol to evaporate and the beer to go flat. Use the flat beer to give plants a little drink, this gives them extra nutrients. Great way to use up waste from a party! Don’t forget you can also use a can of beer in lawn care for a grass booster.
- Use Dishwater: After washing dishes in the sink, use the dishwater on houseplants (make sure it’s not too warm). Spray or gently pour the soapy water over the plants and bugs won’t be too happy about it. If using a regular sized spray bottle, you can add another tsp of liquid dish detergent if a stronger soap solution is needed. Don’t do this more than once a week.
- Keep Potted Plant Soil Moist: Found this tip in an old magazine for homemakers: When going away for a few days, soak a large sponge in water and place it at the base of house plants, they will stay moist for days. I would use a fresh sponge and not one used at all for cleaning.
- Organic Weed Killer: Kill weeds dead with a good shot of vinegar. For best results, don’t dilute with water and choose a time to spray weeds when there’s no sign of rain. Household vinegar is around 5% acetic acid concentration which will do the trick for baby weeds. If you can find a stronger vinegar (like pickling which is about 9%), that will give better results for more mature (and stubborn) weeds.
- Dead Grass From Dog Urine: If your dog isn’t trained to potty in one particular spot, here’s something you can try to keep your grass from being killed off: Faithfully water the spot where the dog urinates. You’ll have to watch and pay attention to where they go, but watering it asap to dilute the urine should help the grass. If the grass has turned brown already, try sprinkling a generous layer of white granulated sugar over the area and then watering.