Did You Know? Free Fertilizer

Today’s post may seem a bit obscene to some people but I think it’s a great way to use a waste product and it’s free fertilizer. This free fertilizer is urine. Yep, good ole pee. (I’m glad my 6 year old son doesn’t read these posts or he’d be repeating that incessantly for the next week) Urine is composed primarily of water with the second component being urea. Urea is one of the main ingredients of fertilizers and provides the plant with nitrogen that is needed for foliar growth. With that being said, why not use what God has provided us already?

Let me throw out a few disclaimers here:

  1. Don’t use your urine if you are suffering from any illness. The last thing you want is for your soil and plants to be exposed to pathogens.
  2. Don’t use your urine as fertilizer on plants that you’ll be eating the greens from. Skip the lettuce, cabbage, spinach, etc. and instead focus on veggies like tomatoes and peppers.
  3. If you are growing your veggies in containers, dilute the urine before watering your plants. I can tell you from personal experience that you can quickly burn the roots of your plants if you don’t.



free fertilizer
If your pepper plants look like this, consider giving them some free fertilizer

Speaking of burning your plants, it seems that men’s urine is much more potent than females. If your plants are in the ground and being watered on a regular basis, you shouldn’t need to dilute it first. If you live in an area with little precipitation, consider diluting it as the urine will act like a regular fertilizer and the salts can build up quickly in the soil. Also, don’t “fertilize” your plants every day; fertilize a couple of times and observe them for a few days. The urea is quickly absorbed by the plants and you should see results within a few days. If your plants still haven’t greened up after 3 days or so, give them another shot of fertilizer (pun intended) and wait for results.

I can’t think of a better way to get your son to help you in the garden. What boy doesn’t like to do his business outside? I know that mine does. An added benefit of using urine as free fertilizer is that it can help deter deer…for a while anyway. So, have you used free fertilizer in your garden? What kind of results have you had? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me your results. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

Plant Profile: Salvia ‘May Night’

Today’s Plant Profile is about one of my favorite perennials: Salvia ‘May Night’. Officially, the Latin name is Salvia sylvestris ‘May Night’ but it usually goes by Salvia ‘May Night’, May Night Sage or just May Night. It is one of those plants that belong in every garden, unless you have a shady garden like me. Salvia ‘May Night’ prefers full sun but it can survive in some dappled shade. It can survive the hottest of hot areas and actually prefers the heat. It is very drought tolerant once established and it’s only requirement regarding moisture is that you not give it too much. It will reach 18″-24″ tall by 24″ wide over time so it makes a perfect plant for the front of the border.

Salvia ‘May Night’ begins blooming in April and the blooms just keep on coming until frost. This picture was taken just about a week ago.

salvia may night

As with most long blooming perennials, it will provide the best show if it is kept deadheaded but you don’t have to fret about this. If you are a lazy gardener like me, just wait until most of the blooms are spent and then cut all of the bloom stalks off. Simple enough.

When and if you deadhead your Salvia ‘May Night’, you may have to shoo away the bumble bees and honey bees. They absolutely love it. Your plants will be covered with bees and some butterflies too. If you want to attract beneficials to your garden, Salvia ‘May Night’ is an excellent choice.

The only drawback to May Night, if you can call it one, is that the foliage smells…well…urineferous. That’s a word that I learned from Dr. Niemeira at Virginia Tech; he used it to describe the blooms of boxwood. Yep, the foliage smells like pee. There’s really no other way to put it. But unless you make a habit of rubbing the foliage, you won’t even notice it. There is one creature with a better nose than us that will notice the smell though: deer. Deer generally steer clear of plants with smelly foliage like herbs and in this case, Salvia ‘May Night’.

The foliage is semi-evergreen in Virginia. It’s there for most of the winter but eventually it starts to look pretty crispy as the winter wears on. I wouldn’t grow Salvia ‘May Night’ for its winter foliage but I would grow it for the other 9 months of the year when it shines in the garden. It’s hardy to Zone 5 so it should be a long lived, reliable perennial in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region. Let me know if you have experience with Salvia ‘May Night’ by leaving me a comment below or e-mailing me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

April 11, 2012Permalink 4 Comments

Plant Profile: Dwarf Iris (Iris reticulata)


Dwarf IrisThe official start of spring is less than 8 weeks away but most gardeners consider March 1 to be their beginning of spring. And it’s around this time of the year that you’ll find Iris reticulata, or Dwarf Iris, blooming in your garden if you’re fortunate enough to have a planting.

Dwarf Iris are delightful little early spring bloomers with purple to blue flowers with a yellow highlight on the falls. They are often seen poking through a light layer of late winter snow with no bother. At 6″-8″ tall, they can fit in nearly every garden and are often used in rock gardens. I think they look great along pathways or by doorways where they can be viewed up close. If allowed to naturalize into a colony, they can make quite a show even from afar.

Dwarf Iris require no special cultural conditions other than well-drained soil. They prefer full sun and that is easily achieved under deciduous trees even in an otherwise shady landscape. They will tolerate light to moderate shade but shouldn’t be planted underneath dense evergreens such as spruce or hemlock. Their foliage, as with other spring blooming bulbs, should be left intact until it turns brown on its own. With such a small stature, the drying foliage shouldn’t cause much of a distraction in the garden.

Dwarf Iris originate from a bulb instead of a rhizome like the popular German Iris. This makes it easy to propagate them to plant in other areas of the garden or to share with a friend. The bulbs should be planted in autumn so if you didn’t plant them last fall, you’ll have to wait a few more months before you can add them to your gardening palette.

Other noteworthy characteristics of these spring bloomers is that their blooms are fragrant and the plants are deer resistant. Remember, deer resistant doesn’t equal deer proof! Plant them in an area where their sweet fragrance can be enjoyed and you’ll be rewarded for years to come. If you have dwarf iris in your garden, leave me a comment below and let me know your experiences…you can also e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

Reader Questions: Deer Problems


I have had several readers send in questions about their options for deer problems. While venison is delicious, I understand that it’s not a feasible option to kill all of the critters. And besides, they are absolutely beautiful to watch. Having grown up in a family of hunters, I still stop the car to watch them on the side of the road, provided that there’s no one behind me. While I am lucky enough to not have deer problems in my garden, I understand the frustration they bring to a gardener who has invested so much time and money in their garden.

So what can you do to prevent them from devouring your landscape?

The easiest option to discourage them is to plant poisonous plants. The perennial nursery that I used to work for had a saying in their catalog under “Deer Resistant Plants” that stated: “Only cacti and plastic plants are truly deer proof” and that is pretty much true. If deer are hungry enough, they will eat anything and so would you if you were put in that circumstance. However, during any given year, there should be enough vegetation in the woods to sustain the deer population without having them raid your garden. The folks that I truly feel sorry for are those that live in jurisdictions where the deer population isn’t thinned each year. Deer, as will most any mammal, will continue to procreate to the point that the population overwhelms the local ecosystem and then they die of horrible afflictions like disease and hunger. I’d rather them be harvested sustainably then have that be the outcome but I digress. Back to deer resistant plants.

There are many options that are available in the poisonous category. Some of my favorites include foxglove, Arum, Hellebores, daffodils and monkshood. There are many other perennials that are deer resistant as well just by their good virtue. These include ferns of all sorts, ornamental grasses, coreopsis, heucheras, sedum, hibiscus and veronicas.

When you are considering deer resistant plants, keep the following in mind: deer noses are much more sensitive than ours and any smelly plant is likely to be a turn-off. Smelly doesn’t just include truly oderiferous plants like Houtynnia; it also includes plants like herbs such as oregano, chives or any allium species, mints, (there’s another story for another day), lavender and rosemary. Other aromatic plants include artemisia, geranium (the perennial, not the hothouse type), catmint, yarrow, agastache and salvia. If you are looking to deter deer with your planting choices avoid the hot-ticket items such as daylilies, hostas, azaleas and tulips.

But what should you do if you want to protect your existing plants from the ravages of Bambi?

There are some options although their effectiveness varies.

  • Dogs – having a dog or dogs that are outside at night are your best deterrents. Unless you have a large area for them to run, there’s a good chance that Fido will lay/pee/poop in some of the gardens you are trying to protect.
  • Sprays – there are several on the market but the one that I’ve used succesfully in customers’ gardens is Liquid Fence. It is not the best smelling stuff but I suppose that is the point. The downside is that it has to be applied after a rain, whether that rain be provided by God or your irrigation system.
  • Homemade concoctions – there are many home remedies available and they include locks of human hair wrapped in panty hose, bars of soap hung in trees and urinating in the garden. Of the three I’d have to choose the latter since you are at least providing nitrogen to the garden if nothing else.
  • Fences -you have to have the dedication and ability to erect a fence that is tall enough to keep out deer. The minimum height that would be begin to keep out deer is 6′ but 8′ is even better. When translated into dollars and cents, that is a sizable amount of money.


To me, a better option is to put in a fence that you deem appropriate and then create another fence of fishing line around it. Let me explain…deer have very poor depth perception and they will not usually enter an area that they can’t determine is safe. The basic setup is to add 2′-3′ long angled sticks to the top of your existing fence and string fishing line or some other material along them. The sticks need to be angled towards the area that the deer would be entering from…the last thing you want to do is have them hop the fence and then be afraid to jump back out! The thought is that as the deer approaches your garden, it would first come into contact with the fishing line and not be able to determine how far away the next fence is. This design works particularly well with veggie gardens that may already have a 4′ high or so fence around them. I will try to take pictures and update this post so that it is more clearly explained.

Whatever measures you take, just realize that deer are remarkably smart creatures that also like to eat. If you have the land, consider planting them an area that is rich in pasture crops such as alfalfa…chances are that they will hang out in those areas instead of your garden. I’d love to hear how you’ve kept deer from destroying your garden…please add your comments below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!