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5 Late Summer Blooms in Zone 7

5 Late Summer Blooms for Zone 7

With spring blooms starting to fade or having already done so, it’s a good idea to add some color to your landscape that will get you through the hottest days of summer and into fall. Here are my picks for USDA Hardiness Zone 7.

Planting flowers by zone is a way to make sure you have a thriving flower garden, since these plants grow best in your climate. Zones 3-9 are the most commonly encountered zones in the Continental U.S.

You can refer to the United States Department of Agriculture for more details about hardiness zones. Read more

5 late summer blooms for zone 6

5 Late Summer Blooms for Zone 6

With spring blooms starting to fade or having already done so, it’s a good idea to add some color to your landscape that will get you through the hottest days of summer and into fall. Here are my picks for USDA Hardiness Zone 6.

Planting flowers by zone is a way to make sure you have a thriving flower garden, since these plants grow best in your climate. Zones 3-9 are the most commonly encountered zones in the Continental U.S.

You can refer to the United States Department of Agriculture for more details about hardiness zones. Read more

supertunia bordeaux proven winners butterfly container

5 Late Summer Blooms for Zone 5

With spring blooms starting to fade or having already done so, it’s a good idea to add some color to your landscape that will get you through the hottest days of summer and into fall. Here are my picks for USDA Hardiness Zone 5.

Planting flowers by zone is a way to make sure you have a thriving flower garden, since these plants grow best in your climate. Zones 3-9 are the most commonly encountered zones in the Continental U.S.

You can refer to the United States Department of Agriculture for more details about hardiness zones. Read more

5 late summer blooms for zone 4

5 Late Summer Blooms for Zone 4

With spring blooms starting to fade or having already done so, it’s a good idea to add some color to your landscape that will get you through the hottest days of summer and into fall. Here are my picks for USDA Hardiness Zone 4.

Planting flowers by zone is a way to make sure you have a thriving flower garden, since these plants grow best in your climate. Zones 3-9 are the most commonly encountered zones in the Continental U.S.

You can refer to the United States Department of Agriculture for more details about hardiness zones. Read more

5 Late Summer Blooms for Zone 9

5 Late Summer Blooms for Zone 3

With spring blooms starting to fade or having already done so, it’s a good idea to add some color to your landscape that will get you through the hottest days of summer and into fall. Here are my picks for USDA Hardiness Zone 3.

Planting flowers by zone is a way to make sure you have a thriving flower garden, since these plants grow best in your climate. Zones 3-9 are the most commonly encountered zones in the Continental U.S.

You can refer to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for more details about hardiness zones. Read more

Kitchen Garden – Plant Selection

In the first installment of this series on kitchen gardens, I suggested several things to consider before you start the actual work, such as your garden’s climate, your budget and available time.

In this article I’ll share tips on getting your soil right, how to make irrigation easy, how to choose the right plants and protecting your harvest from wildlife.

SOIL
One of the key elements to successful gardening of any kind is good soil. If you don’t get the soil right, gardening will be a constant struggle with less than rewarding results. Most vegetable plants are rapid growers and heavy feeders so they need rich soil.

Most people are not going to have ideal soil already in place and this is where framed beds come in handy. You will recall from last week’s article that a framed bed is a bottomless box that you place on top of the ground and then add your own soil mix.

Here is the recipe I use to create the perfect growing medium in my framed beds.
Framed Bed Soil Recipe – Blend together the following ingredients in these ratios:

  • 50% garden soil
  • 25% well-rotted manure
  • 25% compost or humus.

Fill the framed beds with this soil mixture to about 2 inches from the top of the bed, just enough room so you can tuck your kitchen garden plant selection raised bedplants in and add a layer of mulch. You can order soil, manure, and compost to be delivered by the cubic yard or for smaller beds you can use bagged material. One cubic yard covers about 100 square feet 3″ deep. My raised beds are 4 feet by 4 feet or 16 square feet and 12″ deep, so I used a little over 1/2 a cubic yard of soil for each bed.

PRIMARY NUTRIENTS
Good garden soil contains a healthy amount of nutrients and trace elements that help your plants grow. Now I don’t want to oversimplify this, but generally the amount of food you give a plant depends on, among other things, it’s age and the type of soil you have. Plants need large quantities of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Those are the 3 elements listed on the back of fertilizer bags, represented by 3 numbers. These 3 numbers tell you the percentage of each nutrient in the fertilizer. For example, a typical bag of all-purpose fertilizer will show a ratio of 15-15-15, 15% nitrogen, 15% phosphorous and 15% potassium.

The first number is nitrogen and it helps plants produce vigorous growth and lots of leafy foliage. Nitrogen is ideal for spinach, but not tomatoes, because your plants would produce an abundance of leaves and not much fruit.

The middle number is phosphorus, and that element is important in the production of blooms and fruit.

The last number is potassium. This is good for strong root and stem development and disease resistance.

WATER
Like people, plants are primarily made up of water. Water transports nutrients throughout the plant and plays an important role in photosynthesis and keeping the plant cool. On average, vegetable plants need about 1/2″ to 1″ of water per week. Moisture should be distributed evenly throughout the bed on a consistent basis.
Soaker Hoses
To accomplish this, I have found that soaker hoses provide the best results for the least amount of money.

Just snake the hoses about 18 to 20 inches apart through the bed. When you attach the hose to the water faucet and turn it on, the water “weeps” from the porous sides of the hose. This keeps the soil moist, and the water directed toward the plant’s roots. An easy way to secure the hoses into place is use U-shaped pins made from wire coat hangers.

New soaker hoses can be hard to straighten out, making them unwieldy and difficult to control. Before you try to place them in your beds, stretch them out in the sun. The heat from the sun will soften them and make them easier to work with.

Additional Equipment
I also suggest that you get a timer for your watering system. This way you will not have to remember to turn the water on and off. Set your timer to water early in the morning. This allows plants to absorb moisture before the day heats up and cuts down on fungus problems.

If your region experiences frequent or intermittent rain it is also good to have a rain gauge on hand to help you determine if your garden needs supplemental moisture. Over watering can be just as damaging as under watering.

Mulch
To retain moisture and even soil temperature, apply a layer of mulch. It is best to do this after the ground warms in the spring. Otherwise your garden soil will be slow to heat up and many warm season vegetables will falter in cold soil.

Ground or shredded bark is a good choice of mulching material because it breaks down nicely in the soil. It can be purchased in bags at garden centers. It is a good idea to allow the bark to age for a time before applying it. A 2″ to 3″ layer is sufficient. Keep the mulch away from the plant’s stem to prevent rotting.

If available, wheat straw is another possibility because it is relatively free of weed seeds. It works especially well as a path material because it is slow to decay. Check for bales at farmer’s co-ops. Straw should be applied in a thin, even layer and checked frequently for snails and slugs because they like it, too.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT PLANTS FOR YOU
If you have ever browsed through a seed catalog then you know that there is a vast array of vegetables available for planting. There are so many varieties to choose from that it is hard to decide what to select. Fortunately there are a few guidelines you can follow to help narrow the field.
Growing Season
First, determine the growing season that the plant prefers. Vegetable crops can be divided into 2 basic categories – cool season and warm season. What this means is that some plants thrive in the cool temperatures of spring or fall and can survive light frosts, while others should be grown during the warm days of summer.

Now, cool season versus warm season is the broadest label you can apply to vegetables. These two categories can be further classified according to a myriad of other plant characteristics such as frost tolerance, days to maturity and whether it is an annual or a perennial. So after you determine the general growing season and look through the vegetables available for that season, select those that appeal to you and learn as much as you can about your choices.

Short Growing Season?
Here are a few tips that will help you grow warm season favorites, such as tomatoes, in cool northern climates.

Get a head start by selecting large sized plants rather than sowing seeds.

Grow vegetables in containers on casters so they can easily be moved indoors in case of late spring or early fall frost.

Select plant varieties with early maturity dates, such as ‘Early Girl’ tomatoes, which mature in 52 days.

Frost Dates and Maturity Dates
Knowing your region’s estimated first and last frost dates will help you determine the length of your growing season. Once you have these dates worked out you can check the maturity dates of the plants you have selected to help you decide when they should be planted. Maturity dates indicate the estimated amount of days required until harvest. You will find maturity dates on seed packets and plant tags. It is the number between the parentheses.

Of course, maturity dates are not set in stone. They are just estimates. You also have to factor in your garden’s individual kitchen garden plant selection raised bedgrowing conditions.

Space
You should consider the size of your kitchen garden when you are selecting plants. Certain vegetables, such as corn, melons and potatoes, require more space than others. However, there are varieties available that are tailored especially for small spaces. Look for terms such baby, dwarf and patio.

And don’t forget vertical space! You can grow many vining plants on trellises and teepees to maximize space.

Hybrids
Hybrid vegetables are varieties that have been created by cross-pollination with the help of plant breeders rather than natural open pollination. Many people lean toward hybrids, but open pollinated plants can be just as rewarding. One of the perks of open pollinated vegetables is that their seeds will produce plants that are identical to the parents, whereas seeds from a hybrid plant will not reproduce true. I suggest that you experiment to discover what works best for you.

On many plant tags or seed packets you will see that the variety is an F1 hybrid. What this means is that it is a first generation hybrid and should be vigorous grower with good yields.

Heirlooms
Heirloom plants are varieties that have been handed down generation to generation. They are open pollinated and were developed before 1940. I like heirloom plants because it is fun to grow the same varieties that my ancestors, or even Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, planted. Plus, most heirloom plants have persisted through the years because they are high quality.

All American Selections
When you see a red, white, and blue shield on a seed packet or plant tag, it signifies that the variety is an All American Selection award winner. This means that it has been tested in trial gardens and found to be an outstanding performer for home gardens. AAS awards are given to vegetables, flowers, and bedding plants. You can find AAS award winning varieties that were introduced has far back as 1933.

AAS varieties are a good choice because they are likely to be successful in a wide range of conditions.

WILDLIFE CONTROL
One of the heartbreaks of vegetable gardening is discovering that all your hard work has been looted by the local wildlife.

For moderate problems you can hang area repellents such as bars of soap or bags of hair, but they are only temporary solutions. Once an animal realizes that such an object is not going to do it any harm, the repellent becomes ineffective. It is best to avoid commercial repellents that are sprayed on plants because the chemicals in them may be toxic. You can find non-toxic sprays based on hot pepper, citrus and oil of mustard. Vinegar may also work as well. Spray repellents must be reapplied every 7 to 10 days or after a rain.

An alternative to repellents is behavior modification. Simple electric fencing works well if you do not have children or pets. Another approach is to set up a motion activated sprinkler. The animals get shot with a dose of water when they enter your garden.

Now, if your kitchen garden is repeatedly invaded by foraging animals the best solution is to enclose it with a fence.

For deer, the fence needs to be at least 8′ tall and constructed of a heavy gauge wire. They will push right through chicken wire. I also suggest planting a hedge of deer resistant shrubs about 4′ away from the outside of the fence. Deer are excellent vertical jumpers, but they cannot cover much ground in a single jump, so the hedge will prevent them from leaping over the fence.

A shorter fence can be used if the wildlife is smaller, such as rabbits. Just be sure to select a material that they cannot slip through. To keep out burrowing animals, bury the fence into the ground about 2′ below the surface.

I hope that I have given you enough information to get you started on your kitchen garden. It really all boils down to a few simple ideas – get to know your site, plant in good soil, be consistent about watering and learn as much as you can about the plants you want to grow.

For further reading I recommend that you purchase a copy of The Gardener’s Table by Richard Merrill and Joe Ortiz. The information shared by these authors will take you from the garden to the kitchen with helpful guidelines and delicious recipes.

Kitchen Garden – Getting Started

I know many gardeners dream about having a kitchen garden, however taking it from fantasy to reality can often be a daunting task. Now, I’m not going to mislead you into thinking that growing vegetables is simple. But if you get a few elements right from the beginning and you don’t bite off more than you can chew, so to speak, the rewards are well worth the effort.

The quickest path to success is to grow your vegetables in framed beds. You will also see these beds referred to as raised beds. kitchen garden getting started raised bedBut for the purist, there is a difference. A raised bed is created by digging into the ground and amending the soil to create a 3′ to 5′ wide, mounded ridge that is high in the center and sloped on the sides. Framed beds are simply bottomless boxes that you build on top of the ground and then add your own soil mix. So, technically speaking a raised bed could be framed, but a framed bed is not necessarily raised.

In my kitchen garden, I have a series of framed beds built from 2″ x 12″ lumber. There are several reasons that I prefer to grow my vegetables in framed beds. The first is that I have heavy clay soil and a framed bed allows me to fill the box with an ideal blend of soil for growing vegetables. A small, framed bed is also easier to weed, water and harvest than long rows of vegetables. Finally, when the soil is above ground level it tends to warm quicker, so I can extend my growing season. To learn how I built my beds click here.

Now, whether you choose to garden in framed beds or prefer to garden in the traditional way, there are some general tips you should consider before you get started.

TIME AND MONEY
The first two things you should consider are the amount of time you have to work in your kitchen garden and your available funds. I suggest that you start small. You can always expand later. And you would be surprised how much you can produce in a small space.

KNOW YOUR GARDEN’S CLIMATE
Frost Dates
When it comes to vegetables it is important to know the average first and last frost dates in your area. This will determine your growing season. Planting schedules for most vegetables can be developed based on these dates. Hold off planting frost tender plants until after the last frost date. But be sure you have enough time before the estimated date of the first autumn frost to be able to produce a crop. Take a look at the seed packages and plant tags to find out how many days are required for the vegetables to produce. For local, reliable advice, contact your area’s Cooperative Extension Service.

USDA Hardiness Zones and AHS Heat Zones
If you are planning to grow vegetables that carry over from one year to the next such as asparagus, you should know your USDA cold hardiness zone. This will help you determine if a plant will survive the winters in your area. You can see the USDA hardiness map here.

The American Horticultural Society has developed a heat tolerance map that indicates “the average number of days each year that a given region experiences heat days – temperatures over 86 degrees (30 degrees Celsius).” This information is especially helpful if you live in a hot region of the country.

Most tags and seed packages will indicate the best growing zones for the plants. But if you don’t see it listed, be sure and ask.

Weather
Gardeners tend to be avid weather watchers and for good reason, weather has a direct effect on your plants. Unless you are a meteorologist, it is not likely that you will be able to predict the weather for the coming growing season, but you do know how it has fared in the past. For instance, I know that my area often experiences a few days of unseasonably cold weather after the last predicted frost date, which in my zone 7 garden is around Easter. Based on this information I always wait until the first of May, when the soil has warmed and I know temperatures will stay above freezing before I put out my tomato transplants.

I also know that a typical summer is hot and humid with minimal amounts of rain. Among other things, this tells me that I need to have a good irrigation system ready and to choose plants that are not prone to fungus such as powdery mildew, which thrives in humidity.

If you are not familiar with the weather in your region, check with a neighbor or fellow gardener. Not only should you learn about rainfall and temperature but also ask about violent storms, strong winds, humidity, and any other conditions that are common to the area.

HAVING THE RIGHT TOOLS
Before you get started, make sure that you have a collection of essential garden tools. One of my favorite go-tos is the Long Handled Cape Cod Weeder and Trowel Set from Gardener’s Edge. You’ll need the trowel for getting your garden started. And, when it comes time for weeding, I love that the extended handle makes it easier to do this time-consuming task from the comfort of a seat if I need to.

I recommend a watering wand to help cut down on waste and a sharp shooter for digger deeper, precise holes than you can make with a trowel. You can find my list of other recommended garden tools here.

FINDING THE RIGHT SITE
kitchen garden getting started raised bedSunlight
One of the most common mistakes people make is to try to grow vegetables in areas where they don’t get enough sunlight. A successful kitchen garden needs at least 6 to 7 hours of sun per day.

Warm Spots and Cool Spots
Although people within the same general area experience similar weather conditions, there are areas around your home that have their own microclimates. Temperature and wind are influenced by elements such as valleys, ridges, bodies of water, slopes and available sunlight.

4 Basic Microclimates Around a Home

  • Warm – Southern Sun Facing
  • Warm – Western Afternoon Sun
  • Cool – Northern Shade
  • Moderate – East Morning Sun

They are also affected by shifting sunlight and shadows. For instance, the north side of your house will be cooler than the south side of your house. These shifts occur throughout the day and over the course of the seasons as the sun’s path moves in the sky.

Outbuildings and tall hedges can cast shadows to create cool spots in your garden, while brick walls or white fences can warm up an area with reflected light and absorbed heat.

Recognizing where these microclimates are around your house can be a benefit to you. You may decide to plant heat loving vegetables such as tomatoes, squash and peppers in the warmest area of your garden and cool season favorites such as chard, lettuce and spinach in an area that is shaded from afternoon sun.

Accessibility
A final element that you should consider when selecting a location for your kitchen garden is accessibility to water.

Creating a garden, whether it is for vegetables or flowers, takes elbow grease. So you want to ensure that your efforts don’t wither away because it is a difficult chore to get water to the plants. Watering may seem like fun initially, but by August the last thing you will want to do is lug a hose around the garden. Make sure that your kitchen garden is close enough to an outdoor spigot or well that you can set up an efficient watering system. There are all kinds of innovative watering products available, complete with timers, that make watering less of drudgery.

So in review, once you have determined the amount of time and money you have available, the general climate of your region and the best location for your kitchen garden, you are ready to take a pen and paper and draw its shape and size. When designing your garden, keep it simple but don’t restrict yourself to a single square or rectangle. I find inspiration in the kitchen gardens and parterres of old estates such as George Washington’s Mt. Vernon. It is just a matter of seeing a design that you like and scaling it to your site. Just remember, start small in the beginning. As your success and interest grows, you can always add on.

In Part 2 of Starting A Kitchen Garden I discuss soil, irrigation, plant selection and critter proofing.

3 ways to bring monticello to your home garden

3 Ways to Bring Monticello to Your Home Garden

I have always admired Thomas Jefferson’s work and philosophy, so it only made sense that elements of his Monticello would serve as inspiration for Moss Mountain Farm. As a graduate student in England, I studied gardens that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had visited in the 18th century. I was inspired by the concept of ferme ornée, a farm designed for both utility and beauty, and I hope that you are inspired to incorporate aspects of Monticello into your home garden. Read more

imperial green spinach p. allen smith home grown

7 Veggies to Grow from Kitchen Scraps

When we decide to start a garden, we often think about planting seeds or seedlings. Did you know that you can also start a little veggie garden with scraps from your dinner prep? The bottoms of celery, onions, and other veggies and herbs that usually end up in the trash just need a little TLC to take on a new life of their own. Read more