gadgets for green thumbs

by Grace Bonney

While it may seem depressingly gloomy outside today (too gray for gardening), I’m always hopeful that spring will return (Monday was such a cruel tease) and bring back some signs of life. The tree behind our building is starting to bud and show signs of blooming, so I was excited that Kate’s new post at MyLifeScoop was all about gadgets, tools and accessories that make gardening easier. Both Kate and I have terrible track records with plants, so here’s hoping that these gizmos will turn both our black thumbs green. And if all else fails, there are always faux ferns.

Click here to check out Kate’s tips on everything from self-watering pots to plant sensors and humane pest control. xo, grace

PS: How adorable are those strawberry pockets below?

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  • Love this! I’m wondering if you’ve found any solar lights with warm light. I’ve been holding out until a good, warm/natural light solar lantern is on the market (or solar stringlights for that matter!)
    Thanks for this post!

  • hmmmm…a lot of technology to grow something.

    I would recommend a self watering windowbox like this one for the black thumbs out there:


    Or if you have a pot that you like, you can get a self-watering conversion kit:


    Or a hydromat at the bottom:

    I often don’t have to water my pots (I have both self-watering and the hydromats) except in the hottest summer because they collect the rain water in the bottom. I also recommend good potting soil (look for ones that have crystals for holding water and some organic fertilizers) for pots and old fashioned compost for gardens. Also you will need to add fertilizer/compost tea to pots during the season. Annuals and veggies tend to need a good bit (but not too much) to do well.

    Finally remember infrequent (1-2 times a week) deep watering is much better for plants in the ground than daily watering (it promotes deeper roots).

    • Deep watering is good, but alot of people think that means watering for longer.

      I live in a high clay soil area, and people try ‘deep watering’ here. They have the irrigation running on each zone for an hour and think that means everything has lots of water. The truth is after about 20 minutes the ground is fully saturated and most of the rest of the water is going down the city drain.
      I’ve also had to replace a number of trees and shurbs, as ‘deep watering’ has caused the beds to smell ‘marshy’ and rootballs to rot.

      Many people arent really aware of a term called ‘Evapotranspiration’. This is the amount of water that soaks into the ground, to the amount that evaporates or runs off. Its a formula that gives you information for each soil type. With this, Ive found that watering in smaller increments, more often Soils that are clayier accept more water and plants thrive better.

  • Just a FYI to anyone considering getting a NatureMill composter (item #5 up above) DO NOT BUY THIS! My siblings and I got this for my parents for Christmas one year and had such a terrible terrible experience. It broke (multiple times) and customer service was pretty much non-existent. They refused to send us a new one after ours broke but instead sent us new parts that we had to install ourselves. Parts that required soldering and with no directions. We eventually gave up trying to contact them. I hate to be a downer (especially since the rest of this post is great)! But I just feel obligated to warn people after our experience! Now go out and enjoy your gardens :)

  • I wonder if the Aerogarden really works? I love the idea of growing my own herbs instead of going broke buying them at the store. But I’ve never even had a plant so maybe it’s too ambitious for a beginner?

  • I word of encouragement to all those with “black thumbs”. Its really not just that you are so terribly bad with plants that they die on site!
    Do a bit of research when you get or even better before you get a plant and it should thrive!
    I can’t say enough good things about the radio show You Bet Your Garden, its on whyy and also online! A good staring point.
    Remember Gardening is a relaxing activity and a good excuse to sit around in the garden on a beautiful spring day.

  • The most “high tech” equipment I use is a seedling heat mat and some cheap shop lights (similar to the Hydrofarm items shown), which allow me to get a jump start on our short northern growing season.

    My advice to newbie gardeners is to keep it small & simple, expect a few casualties, and fail better each time. Reject the notion of a green or black thumb, and remember that our ancestors grew plants from nothing more than dirt, water, and sunlight.

  • I absolutely love my aerogarden 7!!! Just started a new batch of basil…with organic hydroponic feed. Last year’s basil took off and we couldn’t keep up with the production.

    As for cost of acquiring one…scour your local craigslist listing. I got our aerogarden for 30.00 when they listed it for 50.00. Hey…if you don’t ask…you don’t get. ;)

  • Oh wow! I want that EasyBloom Plant Sensor. It seems like a really cool idea and I’m not always sure how shady my shady garden really is.

    I did some research before starting my seeds indoors in March and found that I could put together a grow light system for MUCH cheaper than the one seen here ($70). I just used those $3 portable work lights with the clamps, the biggest CFL daylight spectrum bulbs I could find and a plastic bin to keep the pots in. I put the whole thing on top of the radiator instead of buying a heat mat and it’s been working fantastically!

  • a question about a very low tech gadget: any idea of where to find cool planters? not design-y extra expensive ones, just nice plain old style ones, or cool creative ones…definitely not fake-pottery plastic?
    I would be eternally grateful…

  • @ Crystal – I could have written your exact comment about NatureMill myself! I bought one in 2008 and it only worked for about three months before it broke. The customer support is terrible, but they finally sent a part to fix it (minus the graduate degree in mechanical engineering required to install said part). It worked again for another month or so until it broke again. Now half the inside is so corroded it won’t work at all. I have been trying to get a response from customer service for 6 months already and they simply do not respond. It’s still under warranty too. $400 down the drain I figure.

    It’s a shame, it’s such a nice idea, it just doesn’t work.

  • All you need are seeds/plants, dirt, water, and of course, love. Plants need attention and this is where a lot of people fall short.

    But no gizmos are needed. The only thing listed here that I’ve used is a heated seed starting tray. Not a necessary thing but helps to get seeds sprouted early in the year.

  • Check out Straw Bale Gardening. I have 6 bales of straw pm order and i’ll be able to start my “garden” soon .
    No soil needed!

  • Crystal: I’m glad I’m not the only one who had that experience. Naturemill is such a great product, but when my motor broke due to a known design defect in a latch, I had to replace the motor by myself with no instructions also. Three hours later, ir sort of worked, and I was covered in grease. I’m sad, because I wanted it to be such a better experience.

  • I would say that these products are more for aspiring green thumbs than current green thumbs – that’s a lot of gadgets just for a little garden!