COVID and gardening: Preparing for extra time at home

Posted by Anne Fletcher on

DIY potting soil with coconut coir     Normally my view of the port of Oakland isn’t exactly coveted in real estate circles, but on Monday, as I watched the Grand Princess docking through a gap in my neighbors’ trees, it helped make this (so far anyway) somewhat abstract COVID story more concrete.  It’s remarkable how the physical reality -- it’s just a boat, about the same size as the other boats docking in Oakland -- has become a symbol. Some are calling for compassion for those aboard, who are enduring an ordeal. Others are calling attention to the historically fraught relations between the cities of Oakland and San Francisco.  And this: At my husband’s work, he overheard a colleague watching the docking through binoculars say that he was sure there must be snipers, to shoot anyone who tried to escape the boat into the community.  

     Regardless of your feelings about the boat, it’s looking more likely that quarantines, or at the very least school and work closures and more time at home, are in our near future.  And while the internets are full of advice on how to slow the spread of disease, and what to stock (but not hoard) for time stuck at home, I’m also thinking about what we might need for the garden.  

     Here are a few ideas for things you might like to stock up on, or plan ahead for, in case you find yourself with more time than you expected at home, and you need some outdoor projects to keep from going stir crazy!

     Mulch:  This time of year it’s a good idea to mulch your whole garden, especially right after rain (which looks to be coming this weekend!).  Mulch helps keep moisture in and weeds down, and, if it’s an organic mulch like woodchips or compost, it also feeds the worms and the soil as it breaks down.  You can, of course go to the garden center and get a million plastic bags of mulch, but there are better ways.  

     The cheapest (free!)  way to mulch your whole garden is to call local tree trimming companies and get on their wood chips list.  They often prefer to dump their chipper trucks at your house to avoid the fees at the dump, and you get a whole truckload of mulch for free, no plastic bags required.

     If you want your mulch on a more predictable schedule and / or you want a particular kind (for example, we like to use shredded bark because it sticks better to one of our steep slopes) call a local landscape supply company.  They will arrive with a dump truck and leave you a big pile in the driveway. American Soil and Stone is in Richmond and delivers to the East Bay. Lyngso is in San Carlos and delivers to the peninsula.  

     5 yards of mulch could keep you busy for the duration of a quarantine!  Here are some tips for mulching:  

  • Lay it on thick.  2” minimum, 4” is better.  
  • Put mulch on moist ground. Covering dry soil will make it harder for water to penetrate later.  So if your soil isn’t already wet, water thoroughly before laying down the mulch.
  • Leave space around the stems and trunks of your plants.  Covering the crown (the part where the stem / trunk widens into the roots) can kill many plants and trees, so always give it some space.

     Potting Soil:  I've been busy starting seeds and potting up seedlings that are outgrowing their Orta seed pots.  And it seems that I need an endless supply of potting soil of two main types: Fine, low nutrient seed starting mix, and coarser, more nutrient dense potting mix.  You can head for the garden center and buy several bags to stock up, have the landscape company deliver it (they usually have big minimums though), or go to the landscape company yourself and fill your own paper bags.  

     For the past few years I’ve been making my own, both to be more economical, and to avoid all the plastic bags, not to mention the lugging huge bags of potting mix around town on my bike, and then up the stairs to my garden!  

     You can see a video of how to make potting soil here, and if you don’t have coco coir on hand, you can buy it here.


     Seeds:  Like most gardeners, you probably have too many seeds already, but just in case you need more, there are many lovely, small seed companies producing reliable, open-pollinated seeds.  One of the nice things about seeds is they’re easy to get through the mail! A few favorites:

Redwood Seeds

Living Seed Company

Hudson Valley Seed Company

Sample Seed Shop

San Diego Seed Company

     Rose fertilizer:  March is the time to give your roses their first feed.  May as well stock up on fertilizer!

What else are you doing to prepare for potentially some extended time at home?

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