Archive: Jun 2018

  1. Swallowtail Butterfly Gardening

    Gardeners tend to have a thing for swallowtail butterflies.  Likewise, swallowtails tend to have a thing for certain plants – and certain gardens. The more you incorporate their favorites into your garden, the more they will favor you with their flighty visits. Adult swallowtails of all species (including the half-dozen or so species native to …

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  2. Gardening Tips for Dog Owners

    Garden borders and paths can make it easier to teach dogs to stay out of beds.

    You love your dog.  You love your garden.  Sometimes, though, your dog and garden just don’t get along, and it is harder to feel the love.  The dog follows his instincts and digs, pulls up plants, romps over delicate specimens and relieves himself in the wrong places.  You follow your instincts and get frustrated.

    What can you do?

    As with all things related to gardening, a little planning can prevent a lot of mayhem.  Make a few adjustments to accommodate dog and animal priorities, and you can transform the garden into a place where both the resident gardener and the resident canine can feel comfortable.

    Paths

    Create garden paths or raised bed borders to keep straying humans and dogs out of beds and borders.  Paved walkways are the best way to prevent muddy paws, but fine gravel or mulch will also work.  Avoid cocoa bean mulch, which can be toxic to dogs.

    Training

    Dogs are diggers, so train them early to avoid garden digging.

    Famed dog trainer, Barbara Woodhouse, famously said, “Dogs aren’t born knowing what or what not to do; they only learn like children.”  Invest in proper training for your four-legged “child” so that the two of you can work together to set boundaries—literally and figuratively—for garden behavior.  Training works best when you start on a puppy, but even older dogs can benefit, especially from a skilled trainer.

    Training does not have to be expensive.  A wide array of available books, videos and apps can guide you through gentle, effective ways of training your dog.  No matter what method you choose, the cost of training beats the trouble and expense of repairing your landscape when your furry friend misbehaves.

    Planting

    Some plants are more attractive to dogs than others, so choose canine-proof plantings.

    Use tough plants along paths and other canine traffic areas and plant densely, because bare earth invites canine curiosity, mischief and digging.  Enrich the soil every time you plant by using a quality amendment like Fafard® Garden Manure Blend to encourage thick, leafy growth.

    Ornamental grasses, compact shrub varieties, and even sturdy, clump-forming perennials like big-root geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum) can withstand the occasional trampling or the occasional exuberant full-body roll and survive intact.  Low boundary fencing may also help separate pets from plants.

    Avoid planting species and varieties with sharp prickles or spines, and keep toxic plants confined to areas that are off limits to your dog.  For a list of toxic indoor and outdoor plants, go to the ASPCA website on toxic plants (click here to view) or read our article about the 12 Most Poisonous Plants to Avoid for Kids and Pets.

    Relief

    Dogs also need places to relieve themselves.  If you don’t set aside those dedicated spaces and train the dog to use them, dog waste will harm your lawn and garden.

    Distractions

    Keeping dogs distracted and well exercised will help them lose interest in your beds.

    A bored canine is an unhappy canine.  Keep some favorite dog toys in your garden basket or cart and use them to entertain the dog while you plant, weed, and water.  Taking a moment to give your dog a chewy toy or throw a ball is much better than watching him munch the stems of your prize coneflowers and daisies.

    Exercise

    The author’s dog, Brodie, romping in a dense, practically dog-proof bed of loosestrife.

    Humans get flabby and unhappy without sufficient exercise, and dogs are no different.  Walk your dog at least forty-five minutes every day, or hire someone else to do so when time is at a premium.  Space permitting; install an enclosed dog run in a corner of your yard, with a latched gate and appropriate shelter for dogs that stay outside for long periods.  A dog that gets regular exercise is less likely to tear up the iris bed or uproot the tomatoes.

    One of the most celebrated gardener/dog lovers was the late English plantsman, Christopher Lloyd, who rarely set foot in his garden at Great Dixter without his faithful dachshunds.  Less famous gardeners agree that canine companionship is good for the psyche and may also deter plant predators like rabbits, groundhogs and deer.  Even if your dog only wags his tail at rabbits and groundhogs, if he is happy, chances are you will be happy, and the garden will be a better place all the way around.

  3. Grow a Mexican Herb Garden

    The delicate white flowers of cilantro develop into coriander seeds. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Several key herbs and peppers create the foundation of Mexican cuisine. Everyone knows and loves cilantro and chile peppers, but have you ever tried epazote, Mexican oregano, or Mexican mint marigold? Add some authenticity and good flavor to your Mexican dishes this season with these herbs and spices!

    Mexican Herbs

    Some of the herbs essential to Mexican cooking originate from the Old World, such are cilantro, cumin and Mexican thyme. But, most are regional natives that have been used to flavor the traditional foods of indigenous peoples for thousands of years.

    Annatto

    Tropical annatto can be grown in containers and overwintered indoors.

    Annatto (Bixa orellana, 20–33 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 10-12), also called lipstick tree or achiote, is a tender tropical tree or shrub, but it can be grown and trained as a container specimen in cold-winter zones. It is native to the tropical Americas where its seeds have been used to impart sweet, peppery flavor and bright orange-red color to food for centuries. Southern Native American tribes also used it to color their skin and hair.

    Gardeners in temperate areas can grow annatto in containers that can be brought outdoors in summer and overwintered in a sunny indoor location. They grow best in slightly acid soil that is evenly moist and fertile. Fafard® Professional Potting Mix is a good potting mix choice. Plant them in a large pot, and keep them well pruned. In a couple of years, the evergreen shrubs will begin producing clusters of pretty, five-petaled pink flowers followed by hairy brownish orange pods. These pods are filled with orange seeds that can be dried and enjoyed for cooking.

    Epazote

    The aromatic leaves of epazote (Dysphania ambrosioides, 2-3 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 8-11) have a distinctive fennel taste when raw and develop a citrusy taste when cooked. The leaves are commonly used in moles and soups. The rangy plants are not attractive, so surround them with prettier herbs, if garden appearance is important to you. The seeds are toxic, so cut back the flower heads to keep plants from setting seed. The leaves can also be a skin irritant for some.

    Cilantro

    The leaves of cilantro taste best in cool weather.

    The flavorful leaves of cilantro (Coriandrum sativum, 18-24 inches) are common in many Mexican dishes and salsas, and the seeds are ground to make the spice, coriander. Cilantro is a cool-season annual herb that grows best in spring and fall. It prefers full sun and well-drained, fertile soil. It’s frilly white flowers set round seed heads that readily self-sow, so don’t be afraid to sprinkle some of its seeds on the ground after it has bolted.

    Cumin

    Cumin leaves are edible and their seeds are ground for spice.

    Cumin (Cuminum cyminum, 12-15 inches) is a warm-season, drought-tolerant annual that has feathery, aromatic leaves that can be added to salads. Its flower heads look like delicate Queen-Anne’s-lace blooms. Once the heads have set seed, collect the seeds and grind them to make the spice, cumin. Grow it as you would cilantro, and give the plants at least three months to produce seed. Cumin is a key component of taco seasoning but also has a place in more traditional Mexican dishes.

    Mexican Oregano

    Mexican oregano is pretty and has a lemony oregano flavor.

    Native to the American Southwest down to Central America, Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens, 2-4 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11) tastes a bit like oregano but has a distinctive lemony flavor. The leaves are used to season meats, beans, and vegetables. Mexican oregano is a small, open shrub that bears clusters of pretty white summer flowers (similar to the blooms of Lantana camara), which are pollinated by butterflies. Its leaves can be used dried or fresh.

    Mexican Thyme

    The succulent leaves of Mexican thyme can be used dried or fresh.

    This semi-succulent African herb was brought to Mexico by the Spanish. Mexican thyme (Plectranthus amboinicus, 12-24 inches, USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11), also called Cuban oregano, has a strong oregano-like flavor and can be used fresh or dried to flavor meats. It grows best in partial sun and produces spikes of pretty lavender flowers during the growing months. This tender herb can be brought indoors in winter as a potted plant and is easy to propagate from cuttings. It likes well-drained potting soil, like OMRI Listed Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Mix.

    Mexican Mint Marigold 

    Mexican marigold (Tagetes lucida, 18-24 inches, USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10) is a native of Mexico and Central America, so it will tolerate high heat and drought. The slender, fragrant leaves of this herbal marigold are used to flavor pork, chicken, and vegetables. The shrubby tender perennial bears pretty yellow flowers in summer that attract bees. Grow it in full sun and average soil with good drainage.

    Mexican Peppers

    Peppers are New World plants native from southern North America to northern South America. Many different varieties are used to flavor food in Mexico, but several are more common in traditional foods.

    Plant all peppers in full sun and provide them with well-drained soil fortified with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. They will also grow better if fed with a tomato and vegetable fertilizer. Their small white flowers are bee pollinated, so be sure to avoid using insecticides on them. Most peppers require staking or caging to support their heavy fruits. (Click here for our video about pepper growing.)  Here are three essential peppers for Mexican cooking.

    Jalapeño

    Jalapeño mature to red but are most often eaten green.

    Favored for spicing up salsas, jalapeño peppers (Capsicum annuum, 24-30 inches) are most commonly harvested green, though they will mature to a deep red color. Like all peppers, they are warm-season veggies that thrive in heat and will tolerate drought. Jalapeños have medium heat (3,500 to 8,000 Scoville Heat Units).

    Poblano (Ancho) Chile

    Poblano peppers are most productive in late summer.

    The poblano chile (Capsicum annuum, 2.5-4 feet) has mild heat (1000-1500 Scoville Heat Units), and its origin is attributed to Puebla, Mexico. The peppers mature to a purplish brown, and when dried are called ancho chiles. The tall plants must be supported with a sturdy cage. These are the classic peppers used for chiles rellenos, and when dried they are used to flavor moles.

    Serrano Chile

    Serrano chiles turn from green to bright red.

    Spicy serrano chiles (Capsicum annuum, 24 feet) are generally harvested red and added to fresh salsas. They are spicy (10,000–23,000 Scoville Heat Units), very flavorful, and sweet when fully mature. One plant will produce a wealth of peppers.

    Any one of these herbs or peppers will spice up your garden and cooking, so consider planting your own Mexican herb garden this season!