Tag: garden

DIRT, can you dig it?

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Ever thought about the importance of dirt? You know, that stuff you walk on every day. In the hustle and bustle of life, we often fail to notice the significant roles that the Earth’s various elements play. We all know how important water is but Dirt, despite its endless functions, is literally overlooked. Dirt is the anchor for building foundations, the preventer of floods, the vessel for wells, a buffer against metals buried deeper in our planet’s crust, and the sustainer of all our food sources.

As a gardener, we’re certain you consider dirt more than most. With your hands dug in, you’ve probably cursed clay, hated sand, been thankful for a good rainfall, and maybe even laboriously composted your way to a rich soil full of recycled nutrients. That’s where we come in. After a lifetime spent getting dirty in the garden and on the farm, we knew our flowers and crops were yearning for an easy alternative to composting and yet a safer way than harmful man-made soil additives – our family and our Earth deserves better.

So we did our research (lots of it) and we set out to find a living soil. With our daughter in tow wearing her rain boots, we trudged through a wetland of peat moss and discovered the overwhelming benefits of a renewable bog. We worked with a harvester in the midst of Canada’s lush landscape to develop and license BogBits. And we created a line of products, enthused with love (& some plant probiotics) that we feel great about. Our potting mix and soil conditioner improve porosity so roots can breathe while increasing the soil’s innate capacity to capture and maintain just the right amount of water; all the while, using our Earth’s naturally occurring nutrients to benefit soil instead of potentially harmful chemicals.

The name is simple and our promise to users is as well – a sustainable soil that will produce a successful planting season. Why are we so passionate about dirt? Because gardening cultivates more than just plants; for us, it is a way of life and time spent outside, is food for the soul. With respect for the Earth and what we put back into it, we’d like to invite you to try GOOD DIRT and let us know what you, your family, your pets, and your garden think of it. We hope you dig GOOD DIRT as much as we do.

Sincerely,
Al & Suzy Newsom
Founders, GOOD DIRT

Garden To Do List March

We’ll soon know if March is going to come in like a lamb and go out like a lion or the reverse.  Time will tell. What I do know is that even though the weather can still be wintry, it’s time to start working in the garden.

  • In mild weather regions plant cool season annuals for early spring color such as pansies, violas, snapdragons, nemesia, sweet peas and alyssum.
  • It is important that your greenhouse is properly ventilated during early spring when fluctuating temperatures are common. Open the windows on mild days and close them before nightfall. My Riga greenhouse has automatic ventilators. This saves me from making 2 trips to the greenhouse every day.
  • Plant potatoes as soon as the grass begins to green up.
  • If you live north of the Mason Dixon line plant grapes as soon as the soil is workable. Southern gardeners should plant grapes in fall so they will have plenty of time to get established before summer heat sets in.
  • As temperatures begin to warm and plants emerge from dormancy, slowly remove protective mulches. Beware of removing mulches too soon since hard freezes are still possible.
  • Transplant roses, shrubs and ornamental trees before the leaf buds open.
  • Walking on wet soil will cause it to compact. So after the spring thaw wait until the ground dries to start working in your flower and vegetable beds. To test the moisture level squeeze a clump of dirt in your hand, if it breaks apart when you open you hand, it is dry enough to work.
  • Apply slow release fertilizer to shrubs and perennials.
  • Plant parsley in your herb garden.
  • Get your lawn mower ready for the growing season. Replace the spark plugs, clean the air filter, remove grass and debris clogging the fins of the engine cover, and take it in to a small engine repair shop to have the blade sharpened and balanced.
  • Feed peonies with a low nitrogen fertilizer when they are about 2 – 3 inches tall.
  • Most perennials bloom for a 2 to 4 week period. When adding new perennials to your garden go for those that have great foliage as well as blooms or extend the flowering time by choosing a mix of early, mid and late blooming varieties.
  • To repair bare spots in lawns combine 5 shovels of sand, 1 shovel of sterilized topsoil, 1 shovel of grass seed and 1 cup of slow release fertilizer. Cover bare spots with this mixture, tamp down and water.
  • Harvest horseradish while still dormant, but when the plant begins to show green around the crown. Wear gloves because the roots can cause skin irritation. After digging the roots you can replant any unused portions such as side shoots or the crown for more horseradish later!
  • Transplant and divide snowdrops (galanthus) and snowflakes (leucojum) after the flowers fade, but the foliage is still green.
  • Clean water features and fountains. Make sure pumps and lights are working properly. Remove leaf guards.
  • Hot house azaleas are popular gifts this time of year. To grow as a houseplant give your azalea consistent moisture and place it in indirect light away from sources of heat such as a fireplace or air vent. Sheet moss placed on top of the soil adds a finishing touch to the container and helps retain moisture. Feed with a liquid fertilizer, diluted to half strength every time you water. If you feel the need to prune your azalea, do this immediately after the flowers fade and before it sets buds for next year.
  • Check your compost pile. Turn it every two weeks and keep it moist, but not wet.
  • Order bulbs such as crocosmia, eucomis, gloriosa, kniphofia and lycoris for interesting summer blooms. Read more about summer bulbs.
  • Set up an outdoor thermometer and a rain gauge. Keep a journal of the weather and when plants start to bloom.

Winter Windowsill Herb Garden

Thyme in a wire basket with a bord handleStay warm indoors this winter while tending a windowsill herb garden. Growing herbs is a great way to exercise your green thumb, without freezing it off in the garden. There are so many herbs that you can cultivate indoors, and also use in hearty winter recipes. Add a splash of fresh oregano to your spaghetti, or sprinkle a few sprigs of fresh thyme atop a slow-cooked pot roast with herbs harvested right from your windowsill.

When I’m planning my windowsill garden, first I think about which herbs I use the most in my cooking. Growing your own herbs is not only a great way to add some fresh flavor to your food, but you can also save a lot on your grocery bill.

Some of the easiest herbs to grow include rosemary, scented geraniums, oregano, thyme, bay leaf, mint and chives. These herbs like well-drained soil and lots of indirect sunlight. Indoor air can become very dry in the winter, so think of a nice, humid place for your herbs like the kitchen or bathroom window. Prune and harvest often to keep these herbs producing, and don’t be afraid to get creative with your planters, like this Double Tin Pot from the P. Allen Smith shop. Herbs are functional and decorative, so utilize their aesthetic qualities to add life to your home during the cold, dreary months of winter.

Garden To Do List February

Don’t wait for the groundhog to tell you spring is on the way, it’s time to get out into the garden!  Many of the tasks this month will give you a running start when temperatures warm and the plants begin to emerge.

  • If you love blueberry muffins, plant bushes now.
  • Prune early spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, quince, winter honeysuckle and winter jasmine immediately after the flowers fade.
  • After your amaryllis finishes blooming, cut off the stalk, but leave the foliage. The leaves help reinvigorate the bulb so you will have plenty of blooms next year. Treat it like an ordinary houseplant until next fall then cut back the foliage, put it in a dark place, and stop watering. About a month later bring it out, begin watering, put it in full sun and presto, a whole new generation of flowers.
  • Keep those Valentine cut flower arrangements fresh longer with a simple solution of equal parts lemon lime soda and water plus a dash of bleach. Also, before you put your flowers in your vase remove all of the lower leaves that sit below the water line.
  • Get out your pruners! Cut back hybrid tea and repeat blooming roses before the buds break. Wait to prune one time blooming roses until after they have bloomed. Crape myrtles, butterfly bush, group C and group B clematis should also be pruned in late winter/early spring.
  • Camilla japonica Peppermint

  • Sweeten acidic soil with wood ashes for plants that prefer a soil pH of 7 or above.
  • Fertilize established clumps of rhubarb as new growth begins to emerge in spring. Apply 1 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer to each plant. Sprinkle it in a circle around the plant and work it into the top 2" of the soil. And the rumor is true!  You shouldn’t eat rhubarb that has frozen.
  • Save daffodil, hyacinth and crocus bulbs that have been forced into bloom indoors for planting in the garden. Keep the foliage healthy after the blooms fade, plant them outside when weather turns mild and let the foliage die back naturally. Toss out paperwhites and other bulbs that have been forced in water.
  • Test the germination rate of seeds you saved from last year. Place approximately 10 seeds of the same variety on a damp paper towel. Roll up the paper towel and put it in a plastic bag – do not seal the bag. Keep the bag in a warm area. Check the seeds daily and keep the paper towel moist. After 2 or 3 days count the number of seeds that have sprouted. This will give you a pretty good idea of how the seeds will do in the garden. If half the test group germinated, then it is likely that half of the rest of the seeds will grow.
  • If you haven’t done so already, remove dead fronds from your asparagus plants.
  • Get a jump start on spring. Check your seed packets to find out how long it takes the different varieties to sprout. Mark the last frost date for your area on the calendar and count back the number of weeks needed for sprouting. This is the date you should sow your seeds indoors.
  • While a gentle rinse helps clean the dust off of most houseplants, not so for African violets and other plants with soft fuzzy leaves. To spruce up these plants, use a soft brush, such as a paintbrush or baby’s hairbrush to gently stroke dirt off the tops and bottoms of the leaves.

Garden To Do List January

The weather outside may be wintry, but there is still plenty you can do to stay connected to the garden. Check out this list of garden related tasks and signature plants for the month of January.

  • Get out your catalogs and visit your favorite online garden stores because it’s time to start placing plant and seed orders for spring.
  • Don’t fret over emerging spring flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils. The foliage contains an “antifreeze” that will protect the plants from cold. If the plant blooms, cut the flowers to enjoy indoors before freezing temperatures return.
  • Pansies and violas will also hold up to freezing weather. Violas are especially cold tolerant surviving temperature drops down to 30 degrees F. If you are expecting 10 or more nights of below 30 degree F temperatures, cover your plants with newspaper, buckets or an old sheet until morning.
  • Recent research conducted by the Flower Bulb Research Program at Cornell University found that giving your paperwhites a cocktail will keep the stalks short and sturdy so they’ll stand straight without staking. Pot the bulbs in water and gravel as usual. Once the plants are about 2 inches tall, replace the water with a mixture of 1 part 40% distilled alcohol such as gin or vodka and 7 parts water or one part rubbing alcohol and 10 parts water. Continue to use this solution whenever you need to add more liquid to the container. If you don’t want to make daily cocktails for your bulbs you can also stake them using twigs and raffia ribbon.
  • As weather permits, cut back liriope ground cover and ornamental grasses before new growth begins. Liriope can be cut back with a line trimmer. Use sharp shears for ornamental grasses.
  • February is the official kick off of the spring flower show season. Make plans to attend a show in your area or travel to one of the big events such as the Philadelphia Flower Show or the Cincinnati Flower Show.

Eggshell Seed Starting Pots

To get a jump-start on the growing season I like to start some of my seeds indoors. This is a particularly important task for gardeners with short summers or if you want to try a few unusual flowers and vegetables. You can also save a buck or two by growing plants from seed.

You don’t have to have all the latest gizmos and gadgets to start your seeds; in fact I like to use little pots made from eggshells. They are easy to make, inexpensive and you can plant the seedling along with its eggshell container in the garden.

Materials:

  • eggshells, gently washed and dried
  • egg carton
  • ice pick
  • sterile potting soil
  • seeds
  • spray bottle

Directions:
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The first thing to do is read the back of the seed package for sowing guidelines. This will tell you everything you need to know about the when and how of sowing a particular variety.

I start saving eggshells a few weeks before I plan to sow the seeds. After I break the egg open and clear out the contents, I gently wash and dry it. Take the clean eggshells and pierce the bottoms with an ice pick. This will be your drainage hole. Eggshells are surprisingly strong, so you don’t have to be as careful as you might think. Next, set the prepared eggshell in an egg carton. I like to cut the top off of the egg carton to keep it out of the way. Plastic, Styrofoam or cardboard egg cartons will work as the holder.

Fill each eggshell with soil.

Now you are ready to sow the seeds. Drop in 2 to 3 seeds and cover with soil according to the instructions on the back of the package.

Moisten the soil with a mist of water and place the egg carton in a location that receives bright light, temperatures between 65 – 70 degrees, and good air circulation.

Keep the soil moist and turn the carton occasionally to promote even growth. As they grow you may need to thin the seedlings to prevent overcrowding.

At the proper planting time plant the young seedling and its eggshell container directly in the garden.

If eggshells are not available you can also use a cardboard egg carton. Poke a hole in the bottom of each eggcup for drainage, fill with soil and sow the seeds as directed for the shells. When it is time to plant, cut the eggcups into individual sections and plant them, along with the seedlings, directly in the garden. As the seedlings grow the cardboard, like the egg shells, will biodegrade into the soil.

Get Your Garden Ready for Winter

Plant, stow and protect are three activities that will ensure your garden wakes up as fresh as a daisy next spring.

Fall Planting

Plant perennials, shrubs and trees in autumn to give them a head start next spring. The cool temperatures, warm soil and frequent rains facilitate root growth. Be sure to plant three weeks before the first hard freeze in your area. If the plants are balled and burlaped, give them six weeks to settle in before the first hard freeze. Three weeks is enough time for container grown plants to get established.

Plant peonies, coneflowers, hosta, Asiatic lilies and catmint in fall

Plant daffodils, tulips and other spring flowering bulbs. I know I sound like a broken record on this topic, but one of the greatest joys of gardening is seeing bulb foliage peeking up from the ground in early spring.

Stow

Put your tools away for winter. I push the blades of my hand tools into a bucket filled with sand and mineral oil.

Empty and store all your containers. If a potted container will remain outdoors for winter, remove the saucer so it won’t sit in water.

Drain garden hoses and store for winter.

Flexzilla garden hoses will not freeze in winter.

Protect Plants in Winter

Apply mulch after the ground freezes. Mulch adds a layer of insulation for plant roots and keeps the soil temperature even, which prevents heaving.

Frost blankets and concrete reinforcing wire make a simple cold frame.

A hoop of concrete reinforcing wire covered with a frost blanket is an easy way to make a cold frame. Make the top of the arch about 24 inches above your plants and be sure the frost blanket falls over the open ends of the wire hoop.

Invest in a few frost blankets. Frost blankets are a convenient way to protect plants from early frosts. They are especially useful for extending the growing season for cool weather vegetables such as lettuce.

A corral of haybales will protect plants in pots during winter.

You can protect plants in pots with something as simple as a hay bale corral.

September Garden To Do List

“In the garden, Autumn is, indeed the crowning glory of the year, bringing us the fruition of months of thought and care and toil. And at no season, safe perhaps in Daffodil time, do we get such superb colour effects as from August to November.”
– Rose G. Kingsley, The Autumn Garden, 1905

In my mid-South garden fall is a slow transformation into winter.  The heat may not break until late September with the first frost occurring at the end of November.  I no longer think of fall as a time to put the garden away, but rather the season for reaping all that I’ve sown during spring and summer.  The colors are so saturated and there is such a bounty of fruits, flowers and vegetables.  As I write this I feel a twinge of betrayal, but I’ve come to love autumn even more than spring.

  • Start a compost bin. A circle of woven wire fence is a simple way to contain leaves and garden debris. Fill the bin with alternating layers of leaves and green plant material, like grass clippings. Avoid adding sticks, diseased plant material, and weeds. Lightly water and turn about once a week. After the blend decomposes into dark, fertile organic matter, add it to your flower and vegetable beds to enrich the soil.
  • Keep treating roses, lilacs and phlox for powdery mildew.
  • If you didn’t get all your seeds sown this summer, save some for next year. Store left over seeds in a labeled, airtight baggie or glass jar in a cool, dry location. You’ll have better luck if you keep them indoors rather than a garage or tool shed.
  • Build a cold frame to extend the growing season.
  • Begin holding back on water and fertilizer on Christmas cactus until buds appear.
  • Move your houseplants indoors before the first hard frost. The best time to make the move is when inside temperatures are similar to those outdoors. Wash the leaves with a diluted mixture of mild soap and water. This will help your plants breathe and respond better to light. Then to eliminate any pests they may have picked up during the summer, treat with an insecticidal soap.
  • Early fall is the best time to sow many types of wildflower seeds. The key to success is to make sure that your plants have enough time to germinate and establish themselves before the first hard frost. That’s usually about 8 weeks.
  • Sow arugula seeds. Sprinkle the seeds in narrow furrows that are 5 inches apart and cover with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil. Keep the soil evenly moist and the seeds will germinate in about 10 days. The plants are ready to harvest in 5 weeks when the leaves are about 4 to 6 inches tall and just beginning to form lobes.
  • Stake tall growing autumn blooms such as salvia, dahlias and chrysanthemums.
  • Gather green tomatoes before the first killing frost. Wrap them in paper and store at 60 to 65 degrees F.
  • If you live in a region where winter temperatures typically drop below 20 degrees F for extended periods, you will need to lift and store tender bulbs such as elephant ears, dahlias and calla lilies after the first frost.
  • Freeze corn on the cob to use in soups and casseroles this winter. To freeze sweet corn simply leave the husks on and cut an inch or so off the tip of the ear then slide the corn into plastic bags to store in the freezer.
  • Selective applications of herbicides on perennial weeds are especially effective during the fall while the weeds are storing nutrients in their roots for winter.
  • If you live in an area that is colder than zone 7 (0 to 10 degrees F in winter) move your banana trees indoors before the first frost.
  • Root crops such as carrots, radishes and potatoes may be left in the ground well into winter. Mulch heavily and harvest as needed.
  • Add well-rotted manure and organic humus to your flowerbeds. Your plants will thank you for it next spring.

Good to Know

I garden in zone 7b.  Spring usually starts in March and fall extends through November.  The summers are long and hot.  I write these tips with the idea that they are applicable to all zones during a general period of time. However, given microclimates and weather extremes timing can vary.  Observe the conditions in your garden and apply them accordingly.

Garden To Do List November

It’s hard to believe that the end of Daylight Savings Time is already here.  It seems like just yesterday that we were springing forward.  Now it’s dark by the time I get home from work, so my time is really limited in the garden.  Fortunately there isn’t much on my to do list other than a few final tasks before winter.

 

  • If you live in a cold climate that is sure to get bitter winter storms, don’t wait until one is predicted to protect your evergreens. Take the time to complete this task now. Your trees may need to be shielded from more than just wind and snow: Use burlap to cover evergreens located near a road that will get salt sprayed.
  • Wait to apply winter mulch until the ground is frozen.
  • Keep the mulch away from tree trunks and plant crowns to prevent rodents from damaging them.
  • Aerate existing lawns to improve root development and drainage. This can be done with a garden fork. Simply push the fork into the lawn and wiggle it gently. Repeat the process every 4 inches or so. You can also purchase manual aerating tools or rent a power aerator.
  • Unless you live in a really cold climate, fall is a great time to prune evergreen hedges because they are more visible once the rest of the garden goes dormant. Shear them on a slight bevel so that the bottom sticks out a little further than the top.
  • Cut back asparagus fronds after they turn brown from a hard freeze.
  • Fall is a great time for planting trees, but some varieties prefer a spring planting. Conifers, Japanese maples, dogwoods, sweetgums, oaks, crabapples, and birches should be planted or transplanted in the spring.
  • Detach watering hoses from outdoor spigots. Drain them, roll them up and store in a dry location. If your outdoor water is on a separate system from your indoor pipes, shut it off and then turn the faucet on until all the water runs out. Place an insulating foam cover over the spigot to keep ice from cracking the metal.
  • Cover strawberries with a straw mulch. Wait to mulch your beds until after the first hard freeze, when the soil is frozen to a depth of about 1/2 inch.
  • In areas of the country where winters are mild, sow sweet peas. The variety ‘Winter’s Elegance’ blooms well during the short days and reduced light of the season.
  • Remove saucers from under terra cotta containers on surfaces where they won’t leave a stain. This will help keep the pots dry. Dry pots are less likely to crack and the soil will hold less moisture. Soggy soil in winter can lead to root rot. Keep in mind that plants don’t need as much water during this time.
  • Plant Oriental and Asiatic lily bulbs in late fall for showy blooms next spring. If the ground is already frozen in your area, pot the bulbs up in containers; store them in locations where they will stay cool, dry and won’t freeze; and then plant the bulbs next spring. Lily bulbs never really go dormant so be gentle in handling them.
  • Cut back on water and stop feeding houseplants. As the days become shorter your plants shift from an active growth cycle so they take up less moisture and don’t require additional nutrients.
  • Make sure your greenhouse heaters are in working order. In many parts of the country a simple electrical oscillating space heater will do the trick, but if your daytime temperatures fall below freezing you may want to look into something more powerful.
  • As long as the ground is not frozen, you can still plant daffodil bulbs.
  • Are you getting a live Christmas tree this year? Dig the hole now, before the ground freezes. Keep the garden soil you removed from the hole in an area where it won’t freeze or wash away.
  • Make sure your climbing roses are tied securely to their supports to prevent wind damage this winter.  Read more about protecting roses in winter

Good to Know

I garden in zone 7b.  Spring usually starts in March and fall extends through November.  The summers are long and hot.  I write these tips with the idea that they are applicable to all zones during a general period of time. However, given microclimates and weather extremes timing can vary.  Observe the conditions in your garden and apply them accordingly.