sara moran soap picsjpgIn a recent NMSU Cooperative Extension “Ready, Set, GROW!” webinar on holiday gift giving, Bernalillo County Extension Agent Sara Moran described how she makes handcrafted soaps decorated with materials from the garden, like rose petals and other flowers. Photo credits Sara Moran.

Question: What are your favorite garden-related items that would make great holiday gifts?

Mary Jo L., Albuquerque

Answer: As part of our ongoing “Ready, Set, GROW!” webinar series, we offered a session on this exact topic on Wednesday, December 2. Don’t worry if you missed it—I’ve included highlights in this week’s column. Plus, the whole episode was recorded, and the presentation slides are available online with a link to the video (https://desertblooms.nmsu.edu/ready-set-grow.html). At that web address you can also register for the next webinar, “Hybrid Grapes, Hardwood Cuttings, and Holiday Wine Pairings,” at 3 pm on Wednesday, December 16, with guest speaker NMSU Extension Viticulture Specialist Dr. Gill Giese.

img 8046 soil knifeThe depth markings etched into the blade of this soil knife helped me measure the 5.5 inches of snow in my yard back in October. Photo credit Marisa Thompson.The two gardening tools that jump to the top of my gardening gifts list are a soil knife and a Hooke ‘n Crooke™ weeder. Like many gardeners, my favorite soil knife is the straight-handled kind, with a serrated edge for ripping open bags of soil and birdseed, etched depth markings for quick and dirty measurements, and a bright orange grip that’s easy to find wherever I left it. 

The Hooke ‘n Crooke™ weeder may be a little less well-known. Retired NMSU Extension Horticulture Specialist Dr. Curtis Smith introduced me to this one, and right away I was, well, hooked. While on the pricier side, this durable tool is essentially a hula hoe on steroids. But unlike hula hoes (aka stirrup hoes), the Hooke ‘n Crooke™ is open on one side, allowing easier access between smaller plants and under the edge of pavers. They come in a variety of handle lengths. This year I’ve asked Santa for the extra-short one called a “Hummingbird.”

In the book department, my top recommendations this year are all by local authors: Marcy Scott’s "Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest," Judith Phillips’ “Growing the Southwest Garden,” and Laura Paskus’ “At the Precipice: New Mexico’s Changing Climate,” which was just released in September 2020. 

Next up in our “Gardening Gift Ideas” webinar was Bernalillo County Extension Agent Sara Moran, who walked us through the easy steps for making darling handcrafted soaps. Moran adds her own flair by decorating each bar of soap with dried flowers and rose petals.

Mora County Extension Agent Suzanne Cole offered several ideas for gardening gifts that she’d appreciate. These included floating row covers for frost protection, a woven fabric garden hose, stretchy nitrile garden gloves, extendable-handle loppers, and bonsai pruning shears. Cole also recommended these excellent gardening books: “Classic Roses” by Peter Beales, “Holistic Orcharding” by Michael Phillips, “Designing with Plants” by Piet Oudolf, “The New Organic Grower” by Eliot Coleman, and “Los Remedios: Traditional Herbal Remedies of the Southwest” by Michael Moore.

Lynda Garvin, the Valencia County Extension Agriculture Agent, followed with two books and some clever DIY tools for seed starting. Garvin’s favorite go-to books are “Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture” by Toby Hemenway and “The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving” from the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa. When spacing seeds for leafy greens and other veggies, Garvin recommends using a piece of chicken wire laid flat on the soil surface temporarily or marking a takeout chopstick with 1-inch increments. The chopstick can also be used as a seed dibber (sometimes called a dibbler) to make perfect little holes for seed sowing. 

NMSU’s Extension Integrated Pest Management Specialist Dr. Amanda Skidmore recommends “Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs” by Whitney Cranshaw and David Shetlar as the book she uses—and has gifted—more frequently than any other. A close second is “The Bees in Your Backyard” by Joseph S. Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carril of Santa Fe. This book has an associated wall poster (sold separately) that makes a great gift for bee and honey lovers alike. Check out the presentation video (linked above) for Skidmore’s other fun gift ideas and pro tips for tending beneficial insects purchased for your greenhouse or summer garden. 

garlisch wreathBernalillo County Extension Agent John Garlisch made this stunning wreath using sprigs of redtwig dogwood, holly, cotoneaster, English ivy, juniper, and nandina berries. Photo credit John Garlisch.And last but not least, Bernalillo County Extension Agent John Garlisch used his segment of our webinar to demonstrate how to make a holiday wreath using a wire clothes hanger bent into a circle (leave the hook intact), floral wire, and natural plant materials. The quick tutorial was very helpful in terms of sprig arrangement, wire wrapping technique, and overall design. My favorite part of Garlisch’s mini presentation was that he showed viewers how to use common materials collected for free from your garden or a neighbor’s yard, with their approval, of course. And you can thank that neighbor by giving them one of the wreaths decorated with their own plants. Happy gift giving this holiday season!

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at desertblooms@nmsu.edu, or at the NM Desert Blooms Facebook page (@NMDesertBlooms)

Please copy your County Extension Agent (http://aces.nmsu.edu/county/) and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms (http://desertblooms.nmsu.edu/) and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/.   

Marisa Y. Thompson, Ph.D., is the Extension Horticulture Specialist in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center.

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