Thursday, May 29, 2014

Selecting Plants for your Container Garden


From time to time, people ask me what can I grow in a pot on my patio? Balcony? Or outside my back door?  My reply is . . . anything!  Which is true, but there are basic rules of gardening that apply, like making sure the plant you put in that pot is conducive to the zone you live in, and is there enough sunlight in that area to support the plant’s needs.

Vegetables - Most any vegetable will do well in a pot given enough sunlight and root space.  Don’t expect a tomato to grow well in a confined space.  Beans, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, eggplant, onions, squash, or tomatoes are a few examples of what grows well in a container.

Flowers – Annuals are my favorites when it comes to container gardening.  Their short life span makes them attractive bloomers all summer long. I generally use a large pot and pack in every flower imaginable. I rarely spread them out because I the fuller the pot the more I enjoy it.  The roots grow deep with a bigger pot, but it also means I have to stay on top of watering.  I’ll generally place at least one plant in each pot that is a little more sensitive to water deprivation than the others.  If that plant starts to wilt, I know I’ve gone too long between waterings.  Some of my favorite annuals are geraniums, coleus (just for the variety of colors available), impatiens and petunias.

Herbs, roses, shrubs, ornamental grasses, and perennials are also great additions to your container garden, too.  Generally, it’s up to you and your imagination.

Your turn:  What do you like to grow in a container?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Container Gardening - a few why's and what's


For me, Memorial Day is the official first day of summer although the summer solstice is still weeks away. It is the weekend I pull out my planters and fill them with annuals.  It’s the time I add color and vibrancy to my deck and patio after a long dreary winter.
Seeing as this is Memorial Day Monday, I thought I’d pass on a few pointers on gardening in containers.

Why is there such a fascination with container gardening?
Why not?  Besides being a beautiful addition to your home or balcony, they are portable, easy to care for, can be used to grow flowers, vegetables, and herbs, and there is very little weeding.  Containers can be found in apartments or placed on balconies. You can hang them from the rafters, put them on the ground, or anyplace in between (like a on a pedestal as shown here with my adorable dog Hobbes). They are easy to water and require little ongoing care.  Basically, you put plants in them and let them grow.

What kind of pots should I use?
The list is e-n-d-l-e-s-s, but remember a large container contains more soil, which keeps the roots moist for a longer period of time.  The smaller containers are affected by swings in temperatures easier than larger ones, which isn’t good for the plants. Large containers provide roots with lots of space to grow. You might want to select light colored pots, especially if you live in a very sunny location as the darker the container, the more the dirt inside heats up. You can have containers made of terra-cotta, concrete, plastic, foam, wood, or metal. Let your imagination grow here—just make sure there are holes for drainage.

What do I do to prepare the containers?
It’s easy.  For pots that have drainage holes, try a trick I recently learned on Facebook.  Place a coffee filter on the bottom.  This will let the excess water drain and you won’t lose precious soil.  Then, depending on the size of your container, you might want to put a layer of gravel or shipping peanuts on the bottom.  This reduces the amount of potting soil you’ll need—especially if you have one of those mega containers.

Then just add soil!  Make sure it is soil meant for container gardens—it’s lighter and better suited for that purpose than dirt from your back yard. Don’t overfill as you want to leave space for watering. The only other thing I add is a time released fertilizer that releases nutrients over the course of the summer.  That way I don’t have to worry if I’ve fertilized my pots too much or too little. I just mix it in with the soil, and my plants love it!

On Thursday, I’ll be talking about selecting plants for your pots. Stay tuned!

Your turn:  What do you like best about container gardening?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Favorite old movies - Father Goose

  
I love old movies.
One of the all-time classics in my book is the comedy Father Goose starring Cary Grant and Leslie Caron. 

Father Goose, set in WW2,  is about a man who is persuaded to live on an isolated island and spot aircraft finds himself responsible for a teacher and several students, all female. Cary Grant’s years of being a pantomime with a troupe that traveled the English provinces, always comes through in his acting.  His exaggerated gestures, overstated expressions, an wordless groans speak louder than any monologue could.  This is especially true when he deals with a unexpected parade of schoolgirls and the feisty woman left in charge.

Needless to say the personalities of the confirmed bachelor and meticulous school teacher clash instantly giving the viewer a fun ride.  Especially when they call each other "Miss Goody Two Shoes" and "a rude, foul-mouthed, drunken, filthy beast".
Soon the odd pair fall in love and arrange to be married by a military chaplain over the radio. It ends when the group are saved from the small island soon to be inhabited by the Japanese. I believe my favorite part is when the commander is informed Walter Eckland (played by Cary Grant) is requesting a chaplain.  The commander’s reaction is, “A chaplain?  Good heavens, he’s killed her.”  His aide informs him the uncommon pair wished to be married and he replies, “Married? Goody Two-Shoes and the Filthy Beast?” 

It’s a hoot.

Your Turn:  What is your favorite old movie?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Planting in a Raised Bed

So you’ve decided that a raised bed is for you.  You’ve built it and filled it with good-quality soil and now you’re ready to plant your garden. Raised beds are great for the casual gardener wanting to grow a few vegetables, or someone like myself who is surrounded by sandy soil and has a passion for perennials. 
The nice thing about raised beds is the soil stays loose which makes it easy to plant seeds.  Your rarely need a shovel because the soil is not walked on and compacted, you can slide you hand through the loose dirt and make a furrow.  Or poke holes in the soil with your finger and drop a few seeds into each hole.
Vegetables can be spaced closer than in an “in the ground” garden because everything is contained.  Fertilizer, manure, and water are held into the limited area providing your plants with nutrients and sustenance to live.
You can plant in rows or broadcast seed over the surface of the bed.  This year, I added a small fence to which my peas can grow up it, or you can plant squash and cucumber at the edges and let the vines trail over the sides.  There really are no limits to growing in a raised bed, except for a large tree that needs an abundance of root space.
When it comes to maintaining a raised bed, watering is the most important task.  For the very reason that raised beds are popular in the spring—that they dry out very fast—can be their downfall on a hot summer day.  So make sure and water your beds—often.  If you don’t have the time to water frequently, install soaker hoses or some form of an automatic irrigation system. Then mulch.  Mulching slows evaporation and keeps the roots of your plants cool. 
 
Your Turn:  What plants have you grown in a raised bed?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Weeding

Weeding—Just the mention of the chore makes even the most avid gardener cringe.  It’s the most back-breaking, time-consuming, dissatisfying work a gardener will ever do.  That is unless you become proactive.
 
Much like the voice in Field of Dreams says “If you build it, he will come.”  When you create a garden, weeds will appear.  I can guarantee it! But don’t let that fact deter you from creating your own garden getaway.
 
In my Ohio gardens, approximately 1500 square feet all totaled not including the raised beds where I planted vegetables; I quickly learned how to keep the weeds from taking over.  And usually without the use of chemicals.
 
The key to keeping the weed population at bay is:  Get them, before they get your garden.
 
Early each spring, just as my perennials were just starting to poke their heads through the soil, usually in early April for my zone (5), I planned for a thorough once over of my garden.  I raked out the debris from last year, reviewed the notes in my gardening journal of the items I intended to divide, and I weeded. And weeded. 
 
Actually any time in spring (even now), before the heat of summer dries the soil, is the best time to weed.  The ground is wet and soft and weeds easily slip out of the soil, roots and all—which is extremely important.  You have to remember . . . weeds are perennials too.  They will come back, and often with a vengeance, so getting the whole plant, down to the roots is crucial.
 
After I weeded, divided and moved the plants around to where I wanted them, I mulched.  I put down four to six inches of organic mulch.  There are other types, which I’ll cover in another post, but I liked that when it decomposed, it added nutrients to the soil.  By laying down a thick layer, I blocked out the potential for other seeds to germinate.
 
For the rest of the summer, I sat back and enjoyed my garden. No more heavy weeding days, no more long, hot afternoons spent on pulling out the undesirables.  Did I get weeds? Yes, I did—although I could be quoted as saying, “No self-respecting weed would ever grow in my garden.”  ;-)  But yes, weeds did grow. And yes, I had to weed.  But the number was so greatly reduced by heading them off in the spring I could, for the most part, walk my gardens in the evening and pull what few weeds existed.
 
The chemicals I mentioned?  If one of my gardens was in a seed-prone area, like under a Maple tree loaded with whirly-gig seeds, I would sometimes sprinkle a pre-emergent over the garden to reduce the number of maple seedlings.
 
Like I said, the key is: Get them, before they get your garden.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Military Appreciation Month


One day I was in the grocery store and an older man wearing a t-shirt that read “ARMY” across the front stared at the dairy case trying to find a particular brand of butter.  He looked at his list and back to the case.  I picked up what I needed and started to put it in my cart.
“I can’t seem to find anything in this store.”  
I agreed, especially because they had just “rearranged” the floor plan leaving their customers to wander in search of what they needed.  So I asked him what he was looking for, he found it, and we went our separate ways.
A little while later, I found myself standing in the checkout line behind him.  I pointed to his shirt and asked him if he served in the Army.  He nodded and told me he’d just retired from twenty some years in the service.
I stretched out my hand and said, “Thank you for your service to our country.”
He looked at me as if I had bananas growing out of my head. After a moment he shook my hand and said thank you.
Just before he walked away, he turned toward me and said. “You know.  In all my years in the Army, I never had anyone thank me before.”
Now I was looking at him as if he had bananas growing out of his head.
Really? That couldn’t be.
Tomorrow as we celebrate Armed Forces Day, reach out and shake the hand of someone who has served…and say thank you.  Their sacrifice is great.  Their family’s sacrifice is just as big.
Thank you to all of you, men and women, who have served, in the Army, Navy, Marines, Airforce, and National Guard at home or abroad. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your service to our country, for your sacrifice, and for your dedication to keeping our country safe. 
Your turn: For all of you who read this, please pass it on, retweet it, or share it on your FB timeline. Add a thank you to those you know who have served. Let our guys and gals know they are appreciated!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Desert Gardening - Starting seed in Peat Pots

Two weeks ago (May 1), I wrote about the challenges of starting seeds outside in a desert climate.  Although I found ditching to be a very good idea, I wanted to try something different this year—peat pots.

Seed packaging will tell you that you should plant the seeds directly in the ground when all danger of frost is gone.  But with the shorter growing season we experience on the high desert plain, it seems like the weather goes from freezing to scalding in a matter of weeks.  This was a big reason I needed to refine my seed-starting techniques. 
Most plants are put directly in the ground because they don’t do well if their roots are disturbed, which is why I’m trying peat pots this year.  Now, this isn’t anything new.  Gardeners in northern climates use this technique to extend their growing season.  Although we have a short growing season here, getting the plants established because of the lack of water is a bigger motivation to starting plants inside.
So this year I will be trying planting seeds in peat pots that I once had only sown directly into the soil. Peas, Beans, Sunflowers, and Zinnias. It will be a little extra work to “harden” them off before putting the pots into the soil, but if it creates an environment where the seeds can grow before facing the harsh climate, then it may be worth it.
 
Your turn:  Have you ever planted anything in peat pots?  What success have you had?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Trenching Tomato Plants



A healthy harvest of tomatoes depends on healthy plants. As a follow up to my previous post (April 24th) on growing tomatoes, I thought I'd share a new concept I learned just recently.
But the secret of a healthy tomato plant is all in the roots. Most plants are this way, but even more so for tomatoes.   Tomatoes need a good foundation that is able to feed the plant and produce an abundance of fruit.  It means good soil, but it takes a large root system to support the plant both physically and nutritionally.

I gave you some overall suggestions in  my post Growing Tomatoes, but there is another trick that gardeners soon learn is vital to growing great tomatoes…Plant them deep!  There are a couple of ways to do that.
The old-fashioned way:

Dig a deep hole.  You need to bury half the plant or more.  This seems wrong, especially when you pick out a strong healthy plant at the nursery, lush with leaves—but it works. Although it isn’t necessary, pinch off the existing leaves and branches along the portion of the stem that will be underground.  Once buried, those places where stems once grew now put out additional roots to support the growing plant.
Trenching:

The new trick I spoke of is trenching. You start much the same way as I described above. Except for digging a deep hole, you dig a long trench.  You remove the leaves and stems from all but the top section of the plant, then lay the plant on its side in the trench and cover the stem up to the top leaves with soil. Make sure the root ball is in the deepest part of the trench and try not to over bend the plant to get the top above the soil. (It will straighten itself.)
The advantage of burying the plant this way is it forces the plant upward, which in the end, increases the plant’s strength. Also, for me, since I have raised beds and my good soil is only as deep as the bed, by planting them sideways, I am keeping the root system surrounded by good soil.

Important tip:  When placing your tomato cage into the ground, remember where the roots are.  If you sever the stem, you will kill the plant.
Your turn:  Have you tried trenching or have you always grown your plants the old-fashioned way?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Happy Mothers Day

 

To all the women in my life, those who are mothers or not.  I pray a blessing for you, for all the times you've listened, cared, and been a mother figure.  May God bless you this Sunday.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Pruning Lilac Bushes

Since Lilacs were the May’s Flower of the Month I thought it fitting to discuss their pruning.
 
Do you prune Lilac bushes?  And when?  These are very valid questions because if you prune a spring flowering bush at the incorrect time, you may eliminate next year’s blooms all together. And this is absolutely true with Lilacs.
 
Like most spring-blooming plants the lilac starts creating its flower buds in the summer and early fall for the following year. So the best time to prune is during and immediately after their normal blooming seasons.  The neat thing is Lilacs don’t necessarily need a lot of pruning.  They are happiest when you cut off the blooms and take them indoors. By removing the flowers you are deadheading and pruning at the same time.
 
The exception to the rule, as is with most bushes you prune, is you need to cut out and remove dead, damaged, or diseased wood. As the bush gets older, some of its branches can be cut by one-third, but if the bush isn’t overgrown, than this isn’t necessary either.  So I’d say leave it as is.
 
Usually with full sun, good air circulation, and deadheading of old blooms, Lilac bushes will produce large numbers of highly fragrant flowers year after year.  And who doesn’t love the smell of Lilacs in the spring?
 
So this year as your lilac bushes begin to bloom, simply cut a bunch for inside and let their fragrance fill your home. (If they’re in bloom now, don’t forget Sunday is Mother’s Day!) Then, if there are any left on the bush, deadhead them as the blooms begin to fade.
 
Here’s a tip for keeping your blooms alive longer once inside:  before putting the stems into a vase filled with water, take a hammer and crush the ends on a hard surface.  This makes it easier for them to drink water and prevents wilting.
 
Now that you have them indoors, stop what you’re doing and INHALE!  They will reward you for your pruning efforts!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Plant of the Month - Lilac




May - Plant of the Month – Lilacs

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have some memory of a Lilac bush—the unforgettable fragrance drifting in through the open windows or the large bouquet sitting the dining room table. But the days of your grandmother’s purple standard are gone. Lilacs now come in a variety of colors—even yellow!  And if you are spatially challenged, there are new dwarf varieties to choose from. Just today, I found a variety that re-blooms in the fall! Lilacs prefer a sunny location and well-drained soil. 

Specifics:

Light:  Sun
Zones:  2-9
Plant Type:  Shrub
Plant Height:  3-30 feet tall
Plant Width:  To 20 feet wide
Landscape Uses:  Beds & Borders, Privacy
Special Features:  Flowers, Attractive Foliage, Fragrant, Fall Color, Cut Flowers, Attracts Hummingbirds, Attracts Butterflies, Drought Tolerant, Easy to Grow



Friday, May 2, 2014

What are Rednecks?

Do you know where the term “redneck” came from?
Most people believe a redneck is a derogatory slang for poverty-stricken farmers, a synonym for hillbilly or white trash.  Or just a back-woods country boy. 
Actually, the term redneck has significant roots in the coal-mining industry beginning in the early nineteen hundreds. The word refers to the square of cloth miners in West Virginia and Colorado wore to differentiate between union and non-union miners—the red bandana. It is uncertain if the term was limited to all union members or just the miners on strike, but donning the scarf as part of their daily clothing earned them the moniker “Redneck”. 
The first use of the term redneck in print appeared when miners went on strike in southern West Virginia in a little known area called Cabin Creek, where my husband’s grandfather lived and worked as a coal miner. 
So next time you go to use the term redneck, you can do a search through Bing images and be entertained by the gross misconception of the term, or remember the real meaning behind the term.
Your turn:  Did you know that?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Desert Gardening - Starting Seeds


Last year I started my first Nevada garden.  I had high hopes, after all, my thumb nearly glowed green in Ohio.  I’d pop a few seeds in the ground and soon I’d have the start of what would be a great garden. Not so in the high plain desert. 
I knew enough about gardening to understand that due to the dry climate, I would have to water the seeds more often—which I did. But still, my results were disastrous.  Only a few of the seeds I tenderly laid in the soil came up.  And if they did, they soon wilted under the abundant sunshine.
I planted more seeds, still no luck.  Rather than giving up, I tried again, using differing techniques, trying to understand the difference because it was more than just the lack of water.
Water, water, water – Like I said, I knew I would have to water more than in my Midwest garden.  But what I realized was I had to keep a regular watering schedule. The plants in this part of the country, because the soil doesn’t hold the water or it is evaporated away, depend on a regular supply of water. By doing so, a few more seeds came up, but still, not what I expected.
Soil – As you’ve seen in some of my previous posts, I do believe in starting off with good soil—which I did.  But still, the soil in Nevada is nothing like the rich loam I purchased in Ohio.  It still contained an enormous amount of sand.  So even though I had good soil and watered abundantly, the water didn’t linger in the soil long enough to benefit the seeds.  So I went to the store, purchased a bag of seed starting soil.  Before placing the seeds in the soil, I put down a thick layer of the rich soil.  Then after putting the seeds on that, I covered it with the same soil.  My efforts were rewarded.  The seed starting soil held the moisture the seeds needed to start.
Ditching – This one surprised me, although now that I think of it – it makes sense. Most gardens on the east coast get an abundant amount of spring rain on top of ground that is already saturated by the winter snows.  The rule of thumb when planting seeds it to plant you seeds on the hills.  This keeps them from drowning.
But here, I had to do the opposite. I created long furrows and planted the seeds in the lowest part using seed starting soil as I described previously.  This did several things. 
   1 - It created a trough in which the water settled, giving the seed starting soil time to absorb the moisture then in turn provide more water to the seeds and seedlings.
   2 - It blocked the seeds and small seedlings from the constant winds that blow across the desert and dry out the ground.
   3 - If the furrows were positioned north to south, it also sheltered the tender plants from the hot afternoon sun.  By doing this I had the best results yet.
Needless to say, I am throwing out almost everything I knew about gardening and starting over. But I’m looking forward to the experience!
Your Turn:  What problems have you had starting seeds?