Tag Archive: Elisabeth Ginsburg

  1. Creative Upcycled Planting Containers

    A pair of old boots make campy and unusual strawberry planters.

    If gardening is the great equalizer, enabling people of all ages and conditions to grow food, flowers, herbs and other plants; then container gardening is a super equalizer.  Making a “portable garden” means that you don’t need to own land, large tools or even significant space.  And, you don’t have to buy fancy containers to make your plants happy; just “upcycle” something you already have.  The only limits are your imagination and foraging abilities.

    An old shoe makes a fun, unexpected container for New Guinea Impatiens.

    Upcycled planting containers make gardening more fun, and they cost nothing. All you need, in fact, is something that holds soil, good potting mix, seeds or plants, sunshine, water, and you have an instant container.  Plant some zinnias in an old dishpan or grow a mess of tomatoes in a repurposed bathtub.  One restaurant reuses commercial-size olive oil cans to house billowing basil plants whose leaves are ultimately harvested and used in various dishes.  Irish gardener/garden writer Helen Dillon uses dustbins—trash cans—to hold plants in her Dublin garden.  Spackle buckets work well, and more than one gardener has pressed an old pair of boots into service as a sturdy container.  The list of recycling opportunities is endless.  In fact, almost anything that will hold soil can be converted to a planter.  People have been recycling old tires and wine barrels to make planters/raised beds for decades.

    Upcycled Container Rules

    An old sink gets painted and planted into a fun container garden.

    There are only a few rules when it comes to recycled containers.  The first is fitting the container to the plant.  A large hibiscus might need the ample space provided by an old wicker laundry basket, while a small herb plant or a succulent can grow well in a cut-off plastic detergent bottle.  When choosing a container to recycle, think about the amount of space the chosen plant might take up if it were in a garden bed.  Make sure the container is deep enough to accommodate the plant’s root system and as wide as the plant’s mature diameter.  Plant tags should provide you with this information.

    The recycled container should be clean, since residue from its original contents might be harmful to plants.  A thorough cleaning with a 10% (1:10) solution of household bleach and water, plus a good rinse should be fine for most would-be planters.

    Container Care

    A weathered trough gets a face lift when filled with beautiful mixed bedding plants.

    Container-grown plants also have some specialized nutritional, water, and drainage needs.  Make sure your repurposed containers have drainage holes at the bottom.  If making holes is impossible, fill the bottom quarter of the container with coarse pebbles topped by a layer of charcoal (available in garden centers).  Provide good nutrition from the beginning by investing in high-quality potting media, like Fafard® Ultra Potting Mix with Extended Feed or Fafard® Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed.

    Pay attention to your chosen plants’ light requirements and position the containers accordingly.  Remember that “full sun” means six or more hours per day of direct sunlight, and even plants labeled as “good for shade” need a continuous supply of indirect or filtered light.

    Mixed petunias and bright lavender paint add charm to an old claw foot tub. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Overwatering is the number one cause of container-grown plant death.  Check plant tags or internet resources for water requirements.  Many plants only need water when the soil is dry an inch or two below the surface, but some, like primroses or hydrangeas, prefer evenly moist soil at all times, especially when weather is hot and dry.  Plants that are outdoors during drought periods may need water every day and should be checked frequently.

    Check Recycling Day

    Clever gardener/recyclers are always on the lookout for potential planters.  If your town has a “bulk pick-up day”, when larger discarded items are picked up for disposal, the perfect plant container may be waiting on a curb in your neighborhood.  Check your garage and attic.  A forgotten corner may harbor a perfect plant container.  The supermarket is also full of future plant pots, especially if you buy items like oil, condiments or canned goods in large sizes.  Look for promising shapes and sizes first, as many recyclable containers can be painted or embellished to suit your indoor or outdoor décor.

    Most of all, have fun.  The perfect recycled planter is probably closer than you think!

    An out-of-service toilet can make a humorous but effective planting “pot”. (image by Jessie Keith)

  2. Easier Gardening with Ergonomic Tools

    007

    Something as simple as cushioned nitrile gloves can protect gardeners from blisters and ward off hand pain. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Gardening is a great equalizer. Anyone—from the tiniest child planting sunflower seeds, to the retiree happily nurturing enough tomato plants to feed the neighborhood—can enjoy it.  But young or old, each of us has physical strengths and weaknesses.  Listen to a committed gardener for more than a few minutes and you will probably hear something about aches and pains.  These common complaints eventually led to a happy collision of engineering and horticulture.  Ergonomic gardening tools were born.

    Coined back in 1949, “ergonomics” is the science or study of ways by which tools, utensils and systems can be made safer and easier to use.  An “ergonomically designed” garden hoe, for example, may feature any or all of the following: a padded handle, an easy-to-use shape, or an attachment that gives the user a longer reach.  Once a rarity, ergonomically designed tools are now fixtures in every lawn and garden product category, lining shelves at garden centers and big box stores.  Each gardener has to find the combination of ergonomic options that works just right.  Recommendations can help, but for most of us, trial and error still yields the best results.

    Cushioning and Padding

    GS37769_04

    Cushioned seat and kneeler. (Image by Gardener’s Supply Company)

    A little extra padding attached to tools, equipment, or clothing can yield big rewards in comfort. For those of us who like getting close to our plants by getting down on our knees, the range of ergonomic options is large. Cushioned kneelers or garden pants with pockets for padded knee inserts ease the toll on vulnerable joints. Some padded kneelers have long handles that help gardeners rise to their feet. When the kneeler is turned over, those same handles act as supports for the padded portion, transforming the kneeler into a seat.

    Many standard garden tools, including hoes, rakes, spades, trowels and hand forks, are available with padded, easy-grip handles that provide shock absorption, and a secure grip for repetitive tasks and blister prevention.  They are especially helpful to people with arthritis or other joint or muscle problems.

    Easy-grip gloves, especially those with sturdy nitrile on the palms and fingers, make for a tighter hold on just about anything.

    Shapely Options

    Ergonomic hand tools by Radius. (Image by Radius)

    Ergonomic hand tools by Radius. (Image by Radius)

    Ergonomics specialists have redesigned familiar tools into new shapes that allow gardeners to dig, rake, or hoe more effectively with less effort.  Some trowels and hand weeders, for example, feature curved handles that conform to the shape of the user’s hand, providing greater comfort and ease of use.  Ergonomic rakes and cultivators may appear to have curvature of the spine, but the curves are actually designed to minimizing the effort involved in moving soil or leaves from one place to another.  Spades may have enlarged stepping edges to prevent slipping while digging holes.

    High-Rise Bedding

    regb-18-34-rustic-elevated-garden-bed-in-use

    Elevated beds by Gronomics make gardening easier for those unable to bend or squat. (Image by Gronomics)

    One of the greatest ergonomic advances of the past few decades has been the updating of an old idea—raising raised beds.  Whether the challenge is poor soil quality or physical limitations, elevated growing beds offer a great alternative to traditional in-ground garden spaces.  Depending on the situation, raised beds can be anywhere from a few feet tall to waist high.  Filled with a quality growing medium, including a high-grade amendment like Fafard Premium Topsoil, a raised bed can give anyone great results and maximum accessibility.  The beds placed at the correct height and width have been a boon to wheelchair-bound gardeners, the elderly, or anyone with trouble bending and stooping.

    Right behind raised beds on the accessibility spectrum are lightweight containers that can mimic the look of heavier terra cotta or concrete pots.  Easier to lift and move around, these containers allow people with physical limitations and/or no green space at all the opportunity to grow flowers or edibles.  Some containers have ergonomically designed handles or wheels on the bottom to add even more convenience and safety.

    Reach Extenders

    tp3714_lrg_1

    Long-handled pole pruners make it easier to reach branches for pruning. (Image by Corona)

    Gardeners who work from seated positions or those with limited ability to stretch and bend can get great results with extended-reach tools, including forks, spades, hoes cultivators and pruning saws, many of which also have easy-grip handles.  In the case of pruning saws, the extended reach capability may eliminate the need to climb ladders—a boon to those with balance issues. Just be sure to keep them away from electrical lines.

    Seating

    23900516-7791-43b7-b766-11856b8c8f48_2.284d0b768b4d7034a280d3a045c34e08

    (Image by Pure Garden)

    Older gardeners sometimes find it easier to sit than to kneel or bend.  Folding garden seats or stools are inexpensive, lightweight and come even have pockets for garden tools. Wheeled garden scooters can roll along paths, carrying the gardener from bed to bed and providing secure seating for weeding or harvesting.  Some scooters can also accommodate small garden trugs or equipment trays.

    Watering

    watering-cans-2L

    2-Liter Dramm long-spout watering cans are easy to handle. (Image by Dramm)

    Traditional hoses tend to be bulky to lug around and cumbersome to coil and store.  Newer hoses, either coiled or straight, are made of lighter materials, making them easier to carry, more flexible and less likely to kink.  Sprayer nozzles are available with padded, easy-grip handles as well.

    There are also many ergonomic watering cans. Most have a streamline design with a long pour spout to take the strain off of hands and backs. More lightweight models that hold more water are best for gardeners that suffer from arthritis.

    The advice for gardeners with any kind of physical challenge is to pay attention to their bodies.  Aches and pains are a signal to rest the affected muscles and engage the greatest muscle of all—the brain—to figure out better ways to familiar chores.  With a little help from ergonomic tools, anyone can make and maintain a garden.

    Tools

    The right tools make gardening a whole lot easier!

  3. Gardeners, Start Your Vegetable Seeds!

    Gardener's hands planting cabbage seedlins in garden. Homegrown food, vvegetable, self-sufficient home, sustainable household concept.

    Cool-season seedlings like cabbage can be planted outdoors in early to mid spring.

    Winter’s end is in sight—with or without favorable predications from the groundhog.  For months you have been eating frozen veggies, imported salad greens, and tomatoes that taste like Styrofoam.  It is time to think about an activity that is fresh, exciting and pro-active; something that will get your hands in contact with soil and ultimately, get your taste buds in contact with something delicious.  It’s time to start veggies from seed!

    Love It, Choose It

    IMG_1946

    Seed catalogs carry some of the most interesting and wonderful vegetable varieties. (image by Jessie Keith)

    What’s best to plant from seed?  Almost any type of vegetable will work, but some work better than others.  [Click here to discover our favorite spring vegetable varieties!] Among the best are beans (bush or pole types), beets, carrots, corn, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips.  Other possibilities might include herbs like basil; various greens and cucurbits, including squashes, zucchini, and cucumbers.  The best advice about plant choices is also the oldest: grow what you like to eat.  There is no point in starting radishes or mustard greens if you and your family will turn up your collective noses at the finished crop.

    Another good piece of advice: if space is limited, choose compact varieties  and/or truly special heirloom varieties that you can’t purchase as seedlings at the garden center. Seed catalogs are the best source for wonderfully diverse vegetables. Seed sources like Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Pinetree Seeds, Burpee, Parks, or Jungs all have great selections.

    Lay In Supplies

    seedlings

    Plastic cell packs are the best choice for seed starting (lettuce seedlings shown).

    Once you have made your choices, lay in supplies.  This need not be expensive. The seeds come first.  After choosing your veggies, look at the package directions, which will give you an idea of the best times to start various species and varieties in different regions of the country.  If you are starting multiple varieties, create a master schedule on paper or a computer spreadsheet.

    Next, select your containers.  Plastic cell packs are good and available at garden centers, nurseries, and big-box stores.  However, you can also use egg cartons or other containers, as long as they are clean and have drainage holes in the bottom.  Disinfect containers with a mixture of one part household bleach to nine parts water and rinse and try them thoroughly before using.

    Starting Strong

    2209Fafard N&O Potting_3D-1cu RESILIENCE front WEB

    OMRI Listed mixes are best for vegetable seedling cultivation.

    Strong plants require a good growing medium.  Fresh, soilless mixes are best, like Fafard® Natural & Organic Potting Soil and Black Gold® Seedling Mix.  Both are OMRI Listed® for organic gardening and yield great results.

    Our potting mixes contain an all-natural wetting agent, so there is no need to pre-wet containers before planting.  Fill the containers with the seedling mix, leveling the mix about one quarter inch below the tops of the containers.  Follow the package directions for each seed variety, and be sure to label them as well as marking planting dates on your master calendar or spreadsheet.  Save the seed packets for later in the growing cycle, when you will need them for spacing and other information.

    Generally speaking, seeds should be planted to a depth equal to three or four times the diameter of the seed. Small seeds should be surface sown.  Plant two to three seeds per cell, gently irrigate them (bottom water and then gently mist the tops), and place the containers under grow lights. Many seedling flats have clear plastic planting domes to create a mini greenhouse for the plants. If you lack these, cover your pots with plastic wrap and poke a few ventilation holes in the plastic. (These should be removed once your seedlings have emerged.)

    Gentle Warmth

    Peppers

    Warm-season veggies like peppers grow faster and better with gentle bottom heat.

    Place the plastic-covered containers in a location where they will receive warmth and light.  (At this stage, high sunlight is not necessary, and may even “fry” the emerging seedlings.)  Setting up a table with shop lights fitted with broad-spectrum florescent bulbs for plant growing is best. These bulbs provide gentle heat and light in the right spectrum for plant growing. Flats should be placed no more than 6″ from the bulbs for strong stem growth. Include a seedling heat mat or two for warm-season veggies, such as tomatoes and peppers, and you are in business.

    If you lack grow lights and heat mats, a great place to start seedlings is on top of the refrigerator, where the seed trays will receive bottom heat. For the most part, starting with moist potting mix and a plastic cover will create a self watering system until the seedlings emerge, but check the trays regularly and don’t let them become dry.  If condensation is forming on the plastic, the potting mix is probably moist enough.

    Out of the Incubator

    061 (3)

    Thin seedlings so there is only one plant per cell or pot.

    When your seeds germinate, liberate them from the “greenhouse” by removing the plastic.  Watch and water sparingly, as needed, preferably from the bottom.  Don’t drown your baby plants!  Once they have developed a second set of leaves, thin crowded plants by snipping off weaker ones at soil level.  You should only have one strong seedling per cell. Follow spacing instructions on the seed packet.

    After you thin the seedlings, give your tomatoes or basil or cilantro what they crave the most—more light.  A south-facing windowsill is good, but be careful not to place seedlings too close to cold glass.  The other option is to simply raise the height of your broad-spectrum fluorescent light  as your plants grow.  Aim for about 15 hours per day of light to ensure good growth.

    Out of the House

    tomatoes

    Gradual exposure to higher light and outdoor conditions will ensure your seedlings will be fully acclimated before planting.

    Eventually the weather will warm up, all danger of frost will pass and your plants will be ready for the great outdoors.  Like all major moves, this one should be gradual.  “Harden off” your seedlings by taking a week and placing the containers outside, in a semi-protected spot with partial sun and low wind, for gradually lengthening time periods each day.  Gradually increase the amount of light and exposure they receive until their stems become stouter and their leaves are fully adapted to long days of natural sun.  Keep watering.  At the end of the hardening off period the young plants should be ready for planting in the garden.

    Little Seeds, Big Rewards

    Starting veggies from seed is economical, gratifying and lets you harvest vegetables ahead of your neighbors.  You will end up with greater variety, a more diverse harvest and—best of all for competitive veggie growers—big healthy bragging rights.

     

  4. Houseplant Reboot

    Begonia 'Irene Nuss' (Superba Group)

    Some houseplants, such as this Begonia ‘Irene Nuss’, will continue to bloom through winter with good care.

    Images by Jessie Keith

    If your houseplants could talk, they would tell you that they like natural daylight—the kind you get outdoors—better than artificial light of any kind.  They might also say that the winter-time humidity level in your house is too low.  They hope that the compensatory misting you give them does something good for you, because it doesn’t help them very much.  Neither does the overwatering that they get from time to time.  In the midst of saying those things, some of them might yawn, as winter is a time when many houseplants’ growth cycle slows.

    What do your plants want in the winter?  The following will help keep them in good shape until spring sets in and growth cycles start anew.

    Tidying Up

    Anthurium 'A4' (PACORA™) PP11728

    Wipe down the leaves of large-leaved plants, such as this Anthurium, if they become dingy or dusty.

    Your plants, especially those that have summered outside, probably could use a little TLC.  Prune out weak stems, and cut back those that are too gangly.  If the plant has glossy leaves, like a gardenia, gently wipe the foliage with a damp cloth to eliminate pore-clogging dust.  Check stems, leaves, root ball for pests.  Many can be dislodged with a stream of water or application of insecticidal soap. If the plant is pot bound, repot with fresh media, like Fafard® Professional Potting Mix, in a clean container that is about one third larger than its predecessor.  Winter will not bring much growth, but it won’t bring strangulation either.

    Light

    Clivia

    Clivia are midwinter bloomers that need bright indirect light for good flowering.

    If you are blessed with a lighted greenhouse, all you have to do is find appropriate spaces for houseplants that prefer a bit of shade.  But if you, like many gardeners, have to rely on windowsills, try to put most of your plants in south-facing ones.  This may be too much for some popular indoor varieties, like African violets or fancy-leaf begonias.  Save areas with bright indirect light, like north-facing windows for them. Be sure to rotate your houseplants regularly to even out light exposure and avoid lopsided growth.

    Fertilizer

    In general, fertilize plants when they are in active growth.  For most plants this means little or no feeding in late fall and winter.  The caveat is that you should know your plant.  If it is a winter bloomer, it may need fertilizer during the colder months.  A little research on individual species will ensure that you fertilize properly for winter blooms.

    Humidity

    Calathea lancifolia

    Low humidity caused the leaf edges of this Calathea lancifolia to turn brown and dry.

    Houseplants like higher humidity—generally 40-50 percent— than the average indoor environment provides in winter.  If all your plants are in a single room, think about investing in a humidifier.  The added moisture in the air will be good for you, the plants and any wooden furniture in the immediate area.  If a humidifier is not an option, fill deep plant saucers with pebbles and water and stand the plants on them, making sure that the bottoms of the pots are not standing in water.  Replenish the water around the pebbles every few days or as needed.  If plants are grouped together and each stands on a bed of pebbles and water, the humidity level around them will be comfortably high.

    Watering

    Agave victoriae-reginae 'Variegata'

    Succulents, such as this variegated Agave, need very little water in the winter months.

    Overwatering is the most frequent cause of houseplant death.  Fortunately, it is also the most preventable.  Before you water, take a look at the plant.  Is the top inch of the soil dry to the touch?  If you pick up the container, does it feel relatively heavy or light?  If the specimen in question is a succulent, it is best to water them very sparingly in winter. If your plant appears to be too dry, gently feel a leaf or two.  Thirsty succulents tend to have slightly flaccid leaves.

    If the plant is dry, water thoroughly, until water flows out of the holes in the bottom.  Deep watering once or twice a week in the winter is much better for overall health than adding a little water every day. Some houseplants, such as African violets and Streptocarpus, need to be watered from the bottom to keep their leaves from getting wet; moisture on the leaves causes spotting and damage.

    Temperature

    Pilea cadierei JaKMPM

    Tropical plants like this Pilea need warm temperatures to grow well indoors.

    The majority of popular houseplants like the same indoor temperatures as the majority of humans. Like us, they also prefer to avoid extremes.  An ambient temperature around 70 degrees F are generally good. If you house your plants on windowsills, don’t let leaves touch the cold glass panes.  Avoid positioning them over radiators too.  Intermittent cold drafts from doors, windows or vents can also be harmful.

    Languishing

    Kalanchoe blossfeldiana JaKMPM

    Flowering potted plants may languish when you first bring them indoors for winter. Give them good care and they should revive.

    In late fall or early winter, houseplants that have spent the summer and early fall outdoors often languish while adjusting to lower light, less humidity and fewer daylight hours.  If the plant is in the right light situation and receiving adequate water, it will adapt and recover after a few weeks.  That does not mean that your plumbago or oleander or prize geranium will behave like the blooming fool that it was in the summer.  It means that it will live to dazzle you again when warm weather returns.  The same may hold true with houseplants that you purchase from a nursery, garden center or other retailer.  Many have been raised under near-ideal conditions and will need adjustment time as they get used to your particular indoor environment.

    1760FF Pro Potting Mix 2cu RESILIENCE FrontHouseplant care follows the same rules as care of any other kind of plant.  If you are observant, the plant will generally tell you what it needs.  Watch for signals and respond accordingly.  If the soil is too wet, cut back on watering.  If leaves appear burned around the edges, move the plant to a place with less light.  About the time you are feeling droopy due to winter blues, your plants may be similarly afflicted.  If you have given them good care, both you and the plants will recover as the hours of daylight increase.

    IMG_2902

    Streptocarpus are houseplants that should be watered from the bottom and kept just moist in winter, never wet.

  5. Gorgeous Garden Goldenrods

    IMG_9506

    Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is one of the most common field species in North America. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    It is hard to think of goldenrod (Solidago spp.), as something precious and special when it is so extraordinarily ubiquitous.  Native to all of North America, it bursts into bloom in late summer and early fall, lining field edges, roadsides and just about every sunny space where it can gain a foothold.  In its native land it is often damned with faint or non-existent praise.  Even worse, it is unjustly damned as the source of pesky, end-of-summer hay fever attacks.

    DisplayImage (1)

    The compact ‘Little Lemon’ is a tidy, small goldenrod fit for border edges and containers. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Ragweed, goldenrod’s seasonal fellow traveler, is the true cause of most late-season allergies.  Ragweed is a stealth allergen. It’s so visually nondescript with its humdrum green flowers that people overlook it in their quest to point accusing fingers at goldenrod’s bright plumes.  Like many hay-fever-trigger plants, ragweed is wind pollinated. It relies on the breeze to complete its pollinating chores, sending tiny pollen granules flying through the air where they meet up with sensitive human beings.  Goldenrod, on the other hand, is pollinated by bees and other insects, meaning its pollen never becomes airborne and causes us no harm.

    Common and condemned, goldenrod had to go all the way to Europe to lose its bad reputation.  Europeans, untroubled by hay-fever concerns, common origins, and supposed coarse appearances, fell in love.  When plant people on the other side of the Atlantic got hold of the winsome field flower, that love translated into hybridizing.  The result of international travel and human-initiated plant hanky-panky is that gardeners have the option of getting their goldenrod two ways—wild or bred into garden-worthy forms.

    Solidago 'Crown of Rays' is a tidier cultivated form for the garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Solidago ‘Crown of Rays’ is a tidier cultivated form for the garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Goldenrod’s lineage makes it a natural for the home garden.  At first glance the resemblance is hard to see, but Solidago is in the daisy family, Asteraceae.  Each lush flower panicle is made of up of many miniature golden daisies that can be seen up close. Loaded with pollen, they attract bees, butterflies, and many other insects.  If you have ever eaten wildflower honey collected in fall, you have most likely tasted the autumnal richness of goldenrod.

    In the garden, these hardy perennials ask for little. Established plants can tolerate dry spells in fine fashion, and some species are tolerant of moist soils. Sunny space is ideal for the plants, although some will also prosper in light shade, sporting somewhat fewer flowers per stem.  Anyone familiar with field goldenrod, which is frequently, but not always, Solidago canadensis, knows that it can grow 3 to 6 feet high and forms large clumps due to its vigorous, spreading root systems.  Clearly this is not ideal for all gardens.  Fortunately, breeders have come up with more civilized, compact garden goldenrods that are perfect for small spaces or containers.

    2209Fafard N&O Potting_3D-1cu RESILIENCE front WEBOne of those compact varieties is Solidago ‘Little Lemon’, which reaches only 12 to 18 inches tall. It looks cute in seasonal containers, but this perennial should be replanted along a border edge before frost descends.  The popular ‘Crown of Rays’, which grows 18 to 24 inches tall, is another compact form to consider. For a medium-tall variety, try the popular Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’, which grows 3 to 4 feet tall and spreads less aggressively than some wild forms. The winter seed heads of all goldenrod add garden beauty by attracting the lovely, yellow-feathered goldfinch.

    To make potted goldenrod thrive, fill your chosen container with Fafard Natural and Organic Potting Soil. This premium mix is full of the kind of rich organic materials that a goldenrod would chose for itself, if it were able. Amend garden soils with Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost before planting.

    The word “Solidago” comprises two Latin words that mean “to make whole”.  “Solidago” shares a common root with the English word “solidarity”.  This seems perfect for goldenrod, which finds solidarity with a variety of plants that bloom at the same time.  The most prominent of them is the blue-purple Symphiotrichum novae-angliae (New England aster).  Mums, especially those in burnt orange or dark red shades, also make good companions.  In the fields, the waving golden wands harmonize with the last of summer’s true blue chicory, not to mention purple ironweed (Vernonia spp.) and lots of airy native grasses.

    Goldenrod is a great garden plant, but it also makes an excellent cut flower.  Best of all, since no one has ever been inclined to pick ragweed and add it to a vase, you can enjoy goldenrod’s sunny fall flowers indoors without resorting to allergy medicine or the tissue box.

    IMG_3847

    Strands of Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ intermingle with a fall planting of red dahlias and Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

  6. Late-Summer Flower Garden Renewal

    swamp mallow (2)

    Hibiscus ‘Disco Belle Pink’ is a reliable late-summer bloomer.

    In August, high summer is well established.  Drought and hot weather have generally taken their toll on gardens and gardeners, both of which may look and feel a little tired.  Caught between the tail end of the daylilies and the beginning of the asters, the holes in the borders begin to fill with crabgrass and other evil weedy entities.  We all want our plantings to look lovely, but when it is 95 degrees F in the shade the usual urge to dig in the dirt or refresh the containers is tempered by a natural reluctance to lift more than two fingers.

    What to do?  A bit of inspiration won’t cool things off, but it may make the garden look better.  The following are a few easy-to-grow and easy-to-love plants that are in bloom now and can improve the look of late summer beds and pots.

    Cheap Annuals

    Petunia 'Madness Red' (MADNESS™ SERIES) JaKMPM

    End-of-season petunias are cheap and will brighten up the late-season garden if given a little TLC. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Most garden centers still have a few summer annuals left, generally lurking on the sale tables or grouped into mixed container arrays.  The garden centers want them out, and as long as the plants are still relatively pretty and healthy, you can use them to refresh your garden plantings.  A few of these plants will be goners, but many simply need liberation from the pots that have housed them since spring, a bit of pruning or pinching back, a judicious amount of liquid plant food, and a fair amount of water. Leggy petunias, sad impatiens, and seemingly spent snapdragons usually take to tender loving care and will respond by bouncing back and blooming nicely until frost.

    Go to the garden center early in the morning, late in the afternoon, or on a cloudy day. Bring your bargain plants home, apply the restorative treatments right away, and pop them in place in the cool of the evening.  Don’t be afraid to disaggregate mixed containers and install the individual plants wherever you need them.  Mixed containers are all marriages of merchandising convenience anyway.

    Now and Later Perennials

    Coreopsis verticillata 'Golden Gain'

    Tickseeds, such as the compact Coreopsis verticillata ‘Golden Gain’, will bloom towards season’s end with a little deadheading and care. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    When you take your cool-of-the-day trip to the garden center, keep an eye out for perennial species and varieties that are in bloom now.  Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.) and their relatives, the ever-increasing coneflower clan (Echinacea spp.), are in bloom at nurseries all over the country and will multi-task when you get them home, supplying color now and the promise of the same thing next year at this time.  Their daisy-family kin, the tickseeds (Coreopsis spp.) are also in bloom and should produce at least one more flush before frost if you deadhead them at planting time. Look for reliable, tried-and-true varieties found at almost any nursery, such as the classic Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ with its vigorous habit and numerous pale-yellow flowers, and Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ with its large pink flowers with dark cones.

    Less formal perennials of late summer include Joe Pye-Weed (Eupatorium purpureum, 5-7′) a late summer star, especially for informal, cottage-type gardens or native borders.  This lofty perennial may not fit all garden sizes, so those with smaller borders may consider planting the somewhat shorter Joe Pye-weed, Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’, which reaches only 3-4′ in height. All Joe Pye-weeds are stellar butterfly plants. Wand flowers (Gaura spp.) are also great late-summer butterfly plants that are airy, beautiful and generally drought tolerant.  The delicate variety ‘Pink Fountain’ is one of several pink-flowered forms that shine at this time of year. Use them in mid-border or medium-size pots for stature and delicacy.

    Magnificent Mallows

    Echinacea purpurea 'Pink Double Delight' PP18803

    There are so many unique and pretty coneflowers for the garden, such as this Echinacea purpurea ‘Pink Double Delight’. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Late summer is prime time for striking members of the mallow family, including shrubs like rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) and bodacious perennial bloomers like hardy, native, swamp mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos).  Both are widely available at nurseries and garden centers and bear large, prominent hollyhock-like flowers combined with attractive foliage.  Plugging a few mallows into a mostly fallow flower garden will add instant impact.  A container full of ‘Disco Belle Pink’ swamp mallow, with its enormous pink flowers, or large, red-flowered ‘Heartthrob’, will light up even the most uninspired space.

    The large, bushy swamp mallow requires full to partial sun and can be grown either in-ground or in large containers.  If you try growing one in a container, start with a high-quality, moisture-retentive potting medium, like Fafard® Ultra Container Mix With Extended Feed.  Late summer mallows, especially the swamp type, are moisture lovers and the moisture-holding crystals in the Fafard mix will keep the plants happy, even during the inevitable dry spells.

    Planting at the day’s coolest or cloudiest times will help new plants and heat-depleted gardeners stave off stress.  Be sure to water in plants as they are installed and the water daily, if necessary, until the weather starts to cool off.  After that, relax.  Your garden will have inspired the neighbors, even during summer’s dog days, and you will be ready to start thinking about all those bulbs that you ordered while sitting in front of the AC in August.

    Read more summer gardening articles:

    Protect Plants from Summer Heat

    Pruning Summer Flowers

     

  7. Merry Summer Marigolds

    Marigold Mix

    Mixed marigolds will shine through the warmest days of summer and fall. (image by Jessie Keith)

    Imagine a flowering plant so beautiful and sturdy that it lends equal brightness to elegant flowerbeds, gas station plantings and public parks all over the United States. Leaping nimbly over national borders, it also serves as an important decorative element for festivities associated with the Mexican Day of the Dead and plays a prominent role in all kinds of celebrations on the Indian subcontinent. It repels deer and other varmints, but attracts humans, who use it as a summer garden stalwart, harvest it for indoor arrangements and sometimes even strew it over salads.

    Marigold Doubloon

    The African marigold ‘Doubloon’ is a tall variety that produces loads of lemon-yellow flowers. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    The plant in question is an annual with an interesting Latin name—Tagetes—and a familiar English one—marigold. Blooming in shades of cream, yellow, gold, orange/red, red or maroon, its cheerful disposition and easy-going nature match its sunshiny colors. Some of the most sophisticated gardeners in history, like early twentieth century designer/author Gertrude Jekyll, have taken marigolds to their hearts and into their landscapes. Yet, it has also edged humble vegetable plots, anchored cutting gardens and been used as a natural pest controller. Fragrant and sturdy, the annual marigold is a classic summer bloomer.

    The two most popular species are the African marigold and the French marigold (Tagetes erecta). In keeping with the Latin name, the African erecta varieties are tall, growing between one and four feet. French varieties are shorter, maxing out at 18 inches. I am especially fond of the flashy French variety, ‘Harlequin’, an antique that features petals with alternating gold and mahogany strips. Both erecta marigolds sport pinnate or feathery leaves. Many popular marigold varieties are actually crosses between these two variants, combining the somewhat more compact habit of the French types, with the large flowers of the African marigolds. Though not as widely known, little Tagetes tenuifolia, commonly known as signet marigold, features petite, elegant, single blossoms and works well in containers and edging situations. The single-flowered varieties ‘Tangerine Gem’, ‘Lemon Gem’, and ‘Paprika’ are perfect examples.

    The large-flowered, compact 'Disco Orange' is a French marigold grown for its masses of tangerine-orange flowers. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    The large-flowered, compact ‘Disco Orange’ is a French marigold grown for its masses of tangerine-orange flowers. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    In addition to their many other virtues, marigolds are good travelers. Early Spanish colonists took the plants from their native Mexico, where they were sacred to the Aztec goddess Xochiquetzal, back to the Old World, where they flourished. Their popularity spread quickly to all kinds of places, including France and North Africa. This migration gave rise to the idea that the plants were native to those areas, hence the common names of some species.

    Daisies are the show-horse flowers of summer and marigolds are in the daisy family, Asteraceae. As with other daisies, each flowerhead is actually a mass of tiny flowers. The “eye” features a disk of tiny flowers surrounded by the showy, petal-like ray flowers. The red and gold ‘Scarlet Starlet’, with its golden eye and deep scarlet petals, is a perfect example. “Double-flowered” marigolds, like those of the tall, white-flowered ‘Snowdrift’, are not truly double but instead have only ray flowers. Given their origins in Mexico, it is not surprising that the plants still prefer sunny, open situations and grow best when it is very warm.

    2209Fafard N&O Potting_3D-1cu RESILIENCE front WEBMarigolds are among the easiest plants to grow—perfect for children and beginning gardeners. Most garden centers feature cell packs of starter plants in the spring and summer, but marigolds can easily be started from seed. Sow directly into pots or garden beds and cover with a thin layer of soil or Fafard® Seed Starter Potting Mix with RESiLIENCE®. Fafard® Ultra Potting Mix With Extended Feed and RESILIENCE® is a perfect medium for container-grown specimens.

    Water daily and seedlings should appear within a week or so. Thin the young plants to prevent crowding and once they have leafed out, pinch back the stems to promote bushy growth and abundant flowers. Established marigolds are somewhat drought tolerant, though container-grown specimens may need extra water during dry spells.

    Marigold Double

    (photo by Maureen Gilmer)

    Gardeners tend to either love or hate the strong smell of marigolds’ flowers and foliage, which have earned the plant the old-fashioned nickname, “Stinking Roger”. However, even those who hate the aroma can love the fact that marigolds have the ability to beat back the destructive power of root-knot nematodes, organisms that can damage or destroy the roots of tomatoes and other food crops. Marigolds’ roots secrete a substance called alpha-terthienyl that inhibits the growth of these parasitic nematodes. To use marigolds in this way, it is best to sow them as a cover crop between planting seasons. This inhibiting power, traditionally harnessed in countries like India, may account for the fact that farmers in many places have traditionally planted marigolds around vegetable beds. If nothing else, they brighten up kitchen garden planting schemes.

    Marigolds are a study in contrasts. Their simple flowers have enchanted sophisticated gardeners all over the world, while their down-home demeanor successfully masks a deadly arsenal of anti-nematode weapons. They are at once the stealthiest and most alluring denizens of the summer garden.

  8. A Bucket of Blueberries

    800px-PattsBlueberries

    Beautiful blueberries ripening on the shrub. (photo by PhreddieH3)

    Whoever claimed that life is just a bowl of cherries was seriously misinformed. Life, at least a good life, should be more like a bucket of blueberries—sweet, plentiful and full of good things.

    Vaccinium_corymbosum0

    Blueberry flowers look like small bells and bloom in spring. (photo by Kurt Stüber)

    The list of blueberry virtues goes on and on. Given acid soil, reasonable moisture, and sunshine, blueberries can grow about anywhere, as long as you chose a variety congenial to your climate. The pale pinkish spring flowers are extremely pretty in the garden and the fine foliage turns bright red before leaving the scene in the fall. If you—or the birds—don’t eat them all, the glaucous berries are highly decorative. In one public garden, a double row of highbush blueberries frames a wide grass allée, an old world design idea worked out with a native New World shrub.

    Blueberries have never really gone out of fashion, but they are even more modish now because of their nutritional benefits—lots of antioxidants, plus helpful fiber and useful amounts of vitamins A and C. They also taste a lot better than vitamin pills.

    blueberriesTo know blueberry types is to love them even more. Lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) are the wild blueberries native to eastern Canada and New England. Small and intensely flavorful, lowbush varieties are borne on low, spreading shrubs. They are sometimes harvested commercially and frequently harvested by eager berry pickers. Highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are the titans of commercial production, but can also grow well in home gardens. The shrubs can be large, topping out at six to twelve feet tall and nearly as wide. These are hardy from USDA Zone 3 through Zone 7, depending on variety, and produce big, blue fruits from July through August. Their relatives, southern highbush blueberries, have been bred for warmer climates and include varieties like ‘Avonblue’ and ‘Southland’.

    Another good blueberry species for southern climates is the whimsically named rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei). While their namesake animals may be relatively small, rabbiteye bushes can grow up to eight or ten feet tall. Home growers can choose from many available cultivars.

    695px-Blueberries-In-PackAnd those home growers can harvest buckets of blueberries no matter whether the available space is a standard garden bed, raised growing area or even a large container. In recent years, with more consumers crying for small-space and container varieties, breeders have come up with dwarf blueberries, like the bushy Blueberry Glaze™, which grows only two to three feet tall, with a neat, mounding habit. Container growing is also useful for blueberry lovers with alkaline soil.

    To get growing, read plant tags carefully to ensure that you have sufficient space for mature height and width of the variety you choose. If you live south of USDA Zone 7, make sure that your blueberry will receive enough “chill hours” to fruit successfully in your garden. Your local cooperative extension agent should be able to help with that, but chances are, if the blueberry variety is on sale in a nursery near you, it will probably survive in your area. If you are ordering from a catalog or online vendor, call and ask about climate-suitable blueberry choices.

    If you are planning to plant your blueberry bush in a container or raised bed, fill with a quality medium like Fafard® Ultra Container Mix. The sphagnum peat moss content in the mix provides the acidity that blueberries crave.

    1722fafard Ultra Container with Extended Feed RESILIENCE front WEBBefore you plant anywhere, make sure that your chosen site receives five or six hours of daily sunlight. Sink the root ball so that its top is level with the top of the planting hole. Water in the young blueberry, and once it is planted, mulch with two inches of organic material, arranged doughnut-style, so it does not touch the blueberry canes. Water regularly while the plant establishes itself.

    Experts advise pruning off the flowers of your blueberry in the first year, so the plant puts all its energy into growth. This may not be as necessary with dwarf varieties. Water during dry spells, especially with container-grown bushes. Since birds and sometimes small mammals love blueberries as much as humans, cover the shrub with netting as soon as the green berries start to take on a blue cast. Harvest your berries when they are deep blue and come off easily, checking the plant every couple of days for additional ripe berries. If you can resist eating the blueberries out of hand, use them within a few days or freeze for later.

    Blueberries-USDA-ARSIn the fall, fertilize the shrubs according to manufacturer’s directions with a product designed for acid-loving plants like azaleas and rhododendrons. Highbush types should be pruned in late winter to eliminate dead branches and thin out old wood. Cutting back one old cane (stem) for every new one keeps the blueberry healthy and helps ensure a good harvest each year.

    Author Jacquelyn Mitchard said, “You’ll never regret eating blueberries or working up a sweat.” You can argue about the sweating part, but just about everyone can agree on the berries.

  9. Hardy Geraniums, the Perfect Perennials

    Geranium 'Anne Thomson'

    Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’ (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Hardy geraniums will not cure baldness, ensure world peace or transform chocolate cake into a healthy food, but they are the answer to a wide range of garden questions. Do you need a perennial ground cover to disguise the wretched remnants of spring daffodil foliage? Try bigroot geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum), with pink flowers and apple-scented leaves that redden in the fall. Is your garden in need of a flowering plant that will flourish in shade? Waste no time in snapping up the shade-tolerant Geranium phaeum. Does your heart ache for a well-mannered, weed-stomping carpet to plant at the feet of that brand new hydrangea? Try Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’, an award-winning white-flowered hybrid with gorgeous lobed leaves.

    Geranium 'Rozanne' PP12175

    Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Hardy geraniums, sometimes called “cranesbills”, belong to the same family as the showy window-box geraniums that adorn outdoor spaces from Memorial Day through the end of summer. Everyone, from your grandmother to your nosy neighbor, refers to those big-headed specimens as “geraniums”, but they are known botanically as Pelargonium. Lovely as they are, pelargoniums are not winter hardy in much of the United States. Hardy geraniums, on the other hand, are often reliably perennial in cold-winter climates. In place of the large, domed flowerheads characteristic of pelargoniums, hardy geraniums most often bear single, five-petaled blooms in shades ranging from purest white to near black. Many of the most popular varieties feature pink or purple flowers, sometimes with contrasting veins.

    Good garden centers and specialty nurseries offer an array of hardy geraniums, making choice the biggest challenge. To figure out the answer to your particular geranium question, take stock of the available growing space and light availability, and consider some of the following beautiful and useful cranesbills just waiting to find homes in your garden.

    Sun Lovers

    Geranium phaeum 'Lily Lovell'2

    Geranium phaeum ‘Lily Lovell’ (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Horticultural experts in high places, like England’s Royal Horticultural Society and America’s Perennial Plant Association, have decreed that ‘Rozanne’ is nothing short of a miracle plant. The one-inch flowers are among the bluest found in the geranium clan, with five blue-purple petals surrounding a pale blue-white central “eye zone”. Reblooming at regular intervals throughout the growing season, ‘Rozanne’ also provides deeply dissected foliage that turns red in the fall.

    “Bloody cranesbill” is an evil-sounding common name for Geranium sanguineum, a lovely law-abiding plant with pink flowers accented by darker red veins. Variety lancastriense features darker pink blooms than the species. Growing only ten inches high, the plants spread into pretty mounds, with dissected, medium green foliage. The spring-blooming ‘Album’ cultivar has all the virtues of other sanguineums, plus pristine white petals. It tends to self-sow, but is never uncivilized in the process. Besides, the flowers are so beautiful that self-sowing is a virtue.

    Geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo'

    Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Biokovo cranesbill (Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’), a spontaneous hybrid named after the Croatian mountain range where it was discovered, bears lovely rounded leaves that are at least semi evergreen in many climates. Spreading nicely over time, this geranium, another Perennial Plant Association “Plant of the Year” winner, bears delicate white spring flowers with prominent red stamens.

    The garden world would be poorer by far without bigroot geranium and its various offspring. Its fragrant, palmate leaves are a great foil for the numerous pink spring flowers. The blooms of ‘Bevan’s Variety’ are a little darker than the species. All bigroots spread if they are happy and their undemanding nature makes achieving that happiness easy. If bigroot geraniums happen to stray into light shade, they will still perform well.

    Shade Lovers

    Geranium 'Album'

    White-flowered hardy geranium

    The hardy geranium tribe is also home to numerous species and varieties that thrive in light to partial shade, with some that will even prosper under trees. One of the best known is Geranium phaeum. Like bloody cranesbill, it suffers from grim nicknames, including “dusky cranesbill” and “mourning widow”. Native to parts of Eurasia, including Croatia, the “widows” are distinguished by reflexed petals that range in color from the white of ’Album’ through shades of mauve to the deepest purple-black of ‘Raven’. All are attractive without being flashy. Some Geranium phaeum varieties provide extra value by bearing variegated foliage. The distinctive pointed leaves of the purple-flowered ‘Samobor’, for example, are mottled with large, maroon purple blotches.

    Geranium nodosum is another good choice for shady spots. The species features maple-like lobed leaves and purple flowers, accented with darker veins. Making a slightly louder statement, the fashionably-named ‘Svelte Lilac’ variety boasts flowers with lighter “eye zones” and brighter green leaves.

    Cranesbills are almost always billed as being deer and other varmint resistant, not to mention tolerant of various soils and climate conditions. Start them right by amending the soil before planting with a high quality mixture like Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost or Premium Topsoil. Water regularly until the young geraniums are established. Once flowering is through, shear back the foliage to keep plants looking attractive and stimulate new flowers in reblooming varieties, like ‘Rozanne’.

    In addition to their other virtues, most happy cranesbills will eventually form large clumps that are easy to divide and use elsewhere in the garden or donate to lucky gardening friends. For beauty, ease of care, and the ability to cloth garden beds, containers, and even rock wall niches with loveliness, hardy geraniums are a great investment.

  10. Kids’ Gardening: Big Seeds for Little Hands

    5289-PFKids just naturally love dirt—ask any parent. When you encourage children to put their hands in that dirt and plant seeds, you are growing future gardeners. But as with any learning experience, kids are more likely to take to gardening if you help make it fun and accessible. The best way to start is with a packet of big seeds.

    Start by talking about what the child wants to grow. Some children naturally gravitate to colorful flowers, while others might like the idea of planting and harvesting their own Halloween pumpkins. If your child is very young or unsure about the whole project, start with one easy plant type and see what happens. More than one gardener started his or her horticultural life with a single bean planted in a paper cup.

    IMG_9788

    Pumpkins are a great first garden plant for children to try.

    Handling small seeds can be frustrating for small people, so make it easy by choosing plants that grow from the kind of large seeds that are simple to handle, plant and love. If the child likes flowers, annual sunflowers (Helianthus) are a wonderful way to start, featuring large seeds and a wide array of varieties to choose from. Traditional giant types are inspiring to watch, rising to six feet or more, with huge, yellow-petaled flowerheads. Some of the shorter hybrid types boast petals in shades from palest cream through yellows, oranges and reds—perfect for enjoying up close, or for arranging in the empty jam jars that seem to lurk in so many kitchen cupboards.

    Other good ornamental varieties include low-growing nasturtiums (Tropaeolum) and brightly colored Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia). If ground space is limited, plant climbers like morning glories (Ipomoea purpurea varieties and hybrids) or moonflowers (Ipomoea alba) (Caution: Ipomoea seeds should not be ingested!). Nasturtiums can also climb or sprawl from hanging baskets, if you pick the right varieties.

    nasturtium-sun-fThe world of edible species is full of large-seeded plants. Small children often like peas—either traditional or snap varieties—which also feature lovely flowers. Beans of all sorts are another option. Let little ones help you build simple supports for these sprawling crops. Pumpkins, from the cute miniature types to bright orange behemoths, also start with large seeds. Hilling up soil for planting mounds can be, literally, child’s play. Other members of the cucurbit family, like squashes and melons, are also possibilities. If your child insists on growing tiny-seeded edibles like carrots or greens, try to find vendors that offer pelleted seeds. These easy-to-handle products consist of tiny seeds encased in pea-like pellets of inert material. Once the pellets go into the ground, moisture quickly dissolves the coating and the seeds sprout normally.

    If you are working with very young children, supervise carefully to make sure that they do not put any seed—even those of edible crops—in their mouths.

    Planting Garlic

    For kids, planting time is almost as fun as harvest time!

    Before planting large-seeded edible or ornamental varieties, parents should prevent later disappointment by doing a bit of prep work. Suit your crop to your particular situation and make sure that sun-loving varieties will receive enough light. Can you dedicate a small portion of your garden to your child’s plants? If not, container growing is always an option. Encourage your child to have a sense of ownership of the plot or container, so he or she will take an extra measure of pride in the finished crop.

    Give big seeds a leg up by growing them in planting beds amended with a nutrient-rich product like Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost. For seed starting, choose Fafard® Seed Starter Potting Mix with RESiLIENCE®, a quality seed-starting medium that grows robust seedlings fit for little hands to plant. Some large seeds, like nasturtiums, sunflowers and morning glories, benefit from an overnight soak to soften hard outer shells before planting.

    Once the planting is done, check the beds or containers every day. Encourage the children to watch and tend their plants, but be sure to supervise the watering. Overenthusiastic watering will swamp young plants, leading to tears later on.

    9058Fafard N&O Seed Starter_1cu RESILIENCE front-1Give older children an idea of how long those big seeds should take to germinate, sprout leaves and produce flowers or fruits. Check off days on a calendar or whiteboard to help manage expectations. Sometimes the longest days are those just before flower buds open or edible crops are ready to harvest. Keep frustration at bay by letting children draw or photograph their young plants each day.

    When harvest time finally arrives, celebrate. Invite friends over to see the culmination of all the gardening effort. Harvest and prepare the edible crops and have the young growers help as they are able. Take pictures of both children and crops and cherish the occasion. Remember that the child who plants sunflowers today may end up as a horticulturist in a few short years.

    IMG_9749

    Collect sunflower seeds at the end of the season for spring planting the following year!