Articles

I Need Good Sunny Window Box Plants

“I have full sun for the majority of the day at my home. I’m wanting to put up a window box on the front of my house, but I’m not sure what plants would succeed. Help is appreciated! Thank you!” Question from Melissa of Ludington, Michigan

Answer: There are lots of great plants for sunny window boxes. Good options do not get too tall or wide and grow and flower well in small spaces. For design purposes, plant them in contrasting combinations with bushy and trailing or spilling plants in complementary colors. Annuals are most often favored for window boxes. Here are some that will grow beautifully in Michigan.

Favorite Sunny Window Box Bushy Bloomers

Summer Snapdragon (Angelonia angustifolia hybrids). Choose these heat-lovers for sunny window boxes. They will even take some drought. Some of the newer summer snapdragons, like those in the Angelface® Cascade Series, are a bit more compact, making them better suited for window boxes.

Bidens (Bidens hybrids): These heat-loving annuals generally have yellow or orangish-red daisy-like flowers. Most varieties keep on flowering until fall.

Bedding Geraniums (Pelargonium hybrids): Old-fashioned geraniums need to be deadheaded, but they are classic window box plants that keep looking great until frost. I love cherry-red varieties, but you can also find them with white, pink, salmon, orange, or orange-red blooms.

Petunias and Calibrachoa (Petunia and Calibrachoa hybrids): Go to any garden center, and you will find loads of petunias and calibrachoa. Vista Petunias and Superbells Calibrachoa are my favorites. They bloom beautifully from summer to fall and trail nicely in containers.

Profusion Zinnias (Zinnia Profusion Series): Here is one of the best trailing zinnias for nonstop flowers for the sun. They come in lots of colors, including white, orange, yellow, and red, and they are very easy to grow from seed. (Click here to learn how to grow annuals from seed.)

Favorite Sunny Window Box Spillers

Dichondra Silver Falls (Dichondra argentea Proven Accents® Silver Falls): Here is one of the easiest, prettiest, most drought-tolerant spillers that you can grow. Its trailing stems of pure silver cannot be beaten.

Mexican Hair Grass (Nasella tenuissima): Plant this fine, fountain-shaped, airy grass to add height and spill to containers.

Ornamental Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas ornamental hybrids): There are loads of compact, trailing ornamental sweet potatoes that really light up containers. Two great, compact options are the bright green Sweet Caroline Medusa Green and variegated green, white, and pink Tricolor

Bacopa (Sutera cordata hybrids): These small-leaved, trailing annuals have small, pretty flowers of white or lavender-pink. Of the white-flowered varieties, Snowstorm® Giant Snowflake®  has the largest flowers and a great

From there, we recommend filling your window boxes with a potting mix that has a high water-holding capacity, such as Fafard® Ultra Potting Mix with Extended Feed or Fafard Professional Potting Mix. Then be sure to feed the boxes with slow-release fertilizer and water-soluble fertilizer for consistent strong growth and flowering. We recommend Proven Winners’ brand fertilizers, which are formulated for flowering plants.

I hope that some of these plants appeal to you.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

How Do You Manage Whiteflies Organically?

“What is the best organic way to get rid of whiteflies?” Question from Shawn of Kenosha, Wisconsin

Answer: Whiteflies can become awful pests to manage if the populations become too large, but they are relatively easy to kill if you know what to do. Here is a little more information about them and some organic methods for their management.

What Are Whiteflies?

Whiteflies are sucking insects that remove the juices from plant leaves and stems. Tiny whiteflies can be very destructive when populations are high–causing leaf drop and general plant decline. When plants are badly infested, the undersides of leaves will become covered with clouds of tiny flies that are white and clusters of their small, round, white egg masses.

Whiteflies breed continuously and quickly, which is a big reason why they are so problematic. According to Colorado State University: At 70º F, the greenhouse whitefly life cycle happens fast. “It takes 6-10 days for egg hatch, 3-4 days as a nymph I, 4-5 days as nymph II, 4-5 days as nymph III, 6-10 days for the pupa. Adults can live for 30 to 40 days.” Adults produce lots of eggs for ever-increasing numbers unless challenged.

How to Kill Whiteflies

Start by spraying the plants off with a sharp spray of water from a hose. Focus on the undersides of leaves. Then look beneath the leaves for clusters of clinging, small, white egg masses. Leaves thickly covered with egg masses should be removed, tightly bagged, and thrown away. Next, wipe the egg masses off of the remaining leaves. Make sure no eggs remain. Finally, spray the plants with insecticidal soap, Neem oil, or horticultural oil. (Click here for an overview of horticultural oils for organic insect control.) Continue to check for whiteflies and wipe and spray leaves as needed. It may take a little work, but this method is effective.

I hope that these tips help!

Happy gardening

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What Are the Benefits of Raised Bed Gardening?

“Are raised beds easy to grow in and maintain? I live in North Carolina. During the winter can I put a tarp-type Greenhouse over them to help protect vegetables from the cold.” Question from Karen of Rougemont, North Carolina

Answer: There are many benefits to growing in raised beds and very few downsides. Here are the pros and cons of raised bed gardening, followed by methods to help maintain your garden through winter.

Pros of Raised Bed Gardening

  1. Deeper, Lighter Soil: If you fill your raised beds with good soil from the start, it helps root crops grow deeper and all plants set deeper roots for higher yields. We recommend using either one-part ground soil to one-part Fafard® Natural & Organic Potting Mix or Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. Be sure to mix it well until uniformly combined. Top off with an amendment yearly.
  2. Easier Weeding: Raised beds are higher, have looser soil, and often cover a smaller area, making them easier to weed.
  3. Easier Harvest: Because they are raised, the beds are easier to harvest and replant. They also make upkeep and harvest cleaner, especially when beds are surrounded by pebble, straw, or cut grass. After a rain, mud is not a problem.
  4. Easy Planning and Rotation: When you have just a few geometric beds, it is easier to design plantings for yearly rotation (Click here to learn more about the importance of rotating crops.)

Cons of Raised Bed Gardening

  1. Initial High Cost: Raised beds are not inexpensive to install, if you start out right.
  2. Less Space for Big Crops: Unless your beds are large and you have trellising, you have less space for large crops like vining pumpkins, squash, and melons or multiple rows of corn.
  3. Replacement: Eventually your beds will need to be replaced. Metal and plastic options last longer. Cedar raised beds are also long-lasting. Never use treated wood to create raised beds because the wood contains heavy metals that can leach into the soil and be taken up by crops.

Raised Bed Covers

Floating hoop covers are the easiest and best-insulating covers to extend growing in raised beds. You also may consider adding a cold frame to your raised-bed plan. They make it easiest to continue growing herbs and greens through winter. (Click here to learn more about cold-frame gardening.)

I hope that this helps!

Happy Gardening,

Jessie Keith

Fafard Horticulturist

What Herbs Repel Deer?

“Are raised beds easy to grow in and maintain? I live in North Carolina. During the winter can I put a tarp-type Greenhouse over them to help protect vegetables from the cold.” Question from Karen of Rougemont, North Carolina

Answer: There are many benefits to growing in raised beds and very few downsides. Here are the pros and cons of raised bed gardening, followed by methods to help maintain your garden through winter.

Pros of Raised Bed Gardening

  1. Deeper, Lighter Soil: If you fill your raised beds with good soil from the start, it helps root crops grow deeper and all plants set deeper roots for higher yields. We recommend using either one-part ground soil to one-part Fafard® Natural & Organic Potting Mix or Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. Be sure to mix it well until uniformly combined. Top off with an amendment yearly.
  2. Easier Weeding: Raised beds are higher, have looser soil, and often cover a smaller area, making them easier to weed.
  3. Easier Harvest: Because they are raised, the beds are easier to harvest and replant. They also make upkeep and harvest cleaner, especially when beds are surrounded by pebble, straw, or cut grass. After a rain, mud is not a problem.
  4. Easy Planning and Rotation: When you have just a few geometric beds, it is easier to design plantings for yearly rotation (Click here to learn more about the importance of rotating crops.)

Cons of Raised Bed Gardening

  1. Initial High Cost: Raised beds are not inexpensive to install, if you start out right.
  2. Less Space for Big Crops: Unless your beds are large and you have trellising, you have less space for large crops like vining pumpkins, squash, and melons or multiple rows of corn.
  3. Replacement: Eventually your beds will need to be replaced. Metal and plastic options last longer. Cedar raised beds are also long-lasting. Never use treated wood to create raised beds because the wood contains heavy metals that can leach into the soil and be taken up by crops.

Raised Bed Covers

Floating hoop covers are the easiest and best-insulating covers to extend growing in raised beds. You also may consider adding a cold frame to your raised-bed plan. They make it easiest to continue growing herbs and greens through winter. (Click here to learn more about cold-frame gardening.)

I hope that this helps!

Happy Gardening,

Jessie Keith

Fafard Horticulturist

 

The Most Fragrant Garden Roses

Many new English shrub roses have both beauty and fragrance!

New roses are being bred with intoxicating fragrance once more, bringing a winning marriage of old-fashioned fragrance and new-rose vigor. Rose fragrances vary a lot, so scents come with lots of pleasing descriptors, such as citrusy, fruity, musky, spicy, and sweet, among others. Here, I have hand-picked newer roses for both their effortless beauty and first-class fragrance, while adding a few beautiful antiques along the way.

New fragrant roses are rooted in the past. Many storied antique roses are the parents of today’s most aromatic new varieties. They are the originals grown for perfumery and flavoring. Those who garden for fragrance can’t be without one or two of these classics, which fill the garden with romance.

Historic Fragrant Roses

The old Bourbon climbing rose ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ has few to no thorns and an outstanding fragrance.

Bourbon roses are old French hybrids of China roses that have unmatched spicy, fruity fragrances. Most are voluptuous doubles that are still grown today (hybridization records go back a couple hundred years or more). They tolerate heat and drought once established and perform well in the South. One that is still popular is the nearly thornless climber ‘Zephirine Drouhin‘ with large, double, deep-pink blooms all summer but does require spraying to stave off fungal diseases. Its flowers have a sweet, fruity fragrance. Plant it along a pergola trellis for summerlong enjoyment. (Click here to see more Bourbons for sale.)

The highly scented Gallica roses were the first to be cultivated in Europe.

The highly fragrant Gallica roses (Rosa gallica hybrids) were the earliest European roses in cultivation. The spreading shrubs originated from central and southern Europe, and many heirloom varieties still exist. One of the oldest is the semi-double, rose-pink Apothecary’s rose or red rose of Lancaster (R. gallica ‘Officinalis’, Zones 4-11, 4 x 4 feet), which has been valued for its traditional wild-rose scent and beauty since Medieval times, possibly earlier. The 1860 Gallica heirloom ‘Reine des Violettes‘ is another heirloom worth growing that has fragrant, fully double flowers of rose-purple. Expect lots of bees to visit the flowers.

Fragrant musk roses are believed to originate from the Himalayas. (Image by Dinesh Valke)

The Asian Musk Rose (Rosa moschata, Zones 6-10, 6-12 feet) has famously fragrant roses with an intense musky scent. The large shrub rose has single-white blooms and attractive grey-green foliage. They bloom once in a season towards late spring or early summer. Bees love them!

Musk and Gallica roses were crossed to produce the powerfully fragrant Damask Rose (Rosa × damascena, Zones 5-11), which is still the predominant rose scent that you will find in perfumery, rose oil, and rose water production. Many old forms are still sold. The double, pink damask ‘La Ville de Bruxelles‘ (Zones 5-11, 5 x 4 feet) from 1849 is one to try. It only blooms once in a season, but its spectacular fruity-scented flowers are divine.

New Fragrant Roses

Pink and Apricot Fragrant Roses

Boscobel has gorgeous coral-pink flowers with a strong, complex fragrance.

Gabriel Oak English shrub rose (Zones 4-11, 4 x 4 feet) has dense, double roses of deepest rose-pink with the strongest fruity fragrance imaginable, according to David Austin Roses. Its flowers are so intensely pink that they are almost magenta.

Boscobel English shrub rose (Zones 5-11, 4 x 4 feet) is an effortless bloomer that has big, coral-pink roses that are fully double and wonderfully scented. David Austin Roses describes them as having a “myrrh fragrance” with “delicious hints of hawthorn, elderflower, pear, and almond.”

Over The Edge (Zones 5-9, 4 x 3 feet) is new in 2022! The Jackson & Perkins floribunda rose introduction has big double blooms of apricot with a dark-pink edge. Each flower has a fruity, spicy, strong scent that will waft through the garden. Its fantastic beauty and high disease resistance have put this all-around winner on my list of must-grow roses.

Red Fragrant Roses

‘Munstead Wood’ has flowers with a strong fruity scent.

The deepest red, cupped, double flowers of ‘Munstead Wood‘ (Zones 5-10, 5-6 feet) English shrub rose have a pungent, antique-rose scent with fruity notes of blackberry, blueberry, and damson plum. The 2007 introduction blooms continuously and commemorates the garden designer Gertrude Jekyll’s home in Surrey, England.

Firefighter® (Zones 5-10, 5-6 feet) is a 2009 introduction whose initial proceeds went to help victims of 9-11 through the “Remember Me” fund. It’s a real beauty of a long-stemmed, velvet red, hybrid tea rose that’s vigorous, disease-resistant, and reblooming. The highly fragrant flowers have a classic rose scent, and the stems have few thorns, which makes them a delight for cutting.

Yellow Fragrant Roses

Ch-Ching is an award-winning yellow rose with outstanding fragrance.

David Austin Roses gives ‘Charles Darwin‘ English shrub rose (Zones 5-11, 4.5 x 4 feet) the best rating for fragrance. The dense, double, yellow blooms (140 petals/bloom) are cupped. The fragrance is “strong, delicious and varying between soft floral tea and pure lemon.” The repeat bloomer is also ideal for cutting.

The citrus-scented ‘Radiant Perfume‘ (Zones 5-10, 5-4 feet) is a long-stemmed Grandiflora rose with big, double blooms of lemon yellow. It flowers continuously and is highly disease resistant. The Jackson & Perkins introduction looks so good, I am hooked and plan to grow one this season!

Ch-Ching!™ (Zones 5-10, 6 x 5 feet) is an everblooming shrub rose with spectacular large, double, golden-yellow flowers that have a strong, sweet rose scent. The 2007 AARS winner is a must-have in the fragrant rose garden.

White Fragrant Roses

Pope John Paul II Hybrid Tea Rose is award-winning and has an exceptional citrus fragrance. (Image by T.Kiya)

The old rugosa rose, ‘Blanc Double de Coubert‘ (Zones 4-9, 4 x 7 feet), is an 1892 heirloom with clear white, semi-double, fragrant roses that are produced all summer long. Later in the season, it bears huge red hips that look pretty and attract birds.

The hybrid tea rose Pope John Paul II (Zones 5-9, 4 x 5 feet) has large, fully double roses of ivory that smell strongly of fresh citrus. The award winner gets top marks for floral form, disease resistance, and performance. It is an excellent variety for cutting.

Planting New Roses

Plant roses in the spring. Full sun is required for most of them to grow and bloom to their fullest. They prefer fertile soil with a slightly acid pH of 6.5 and good drainage. If your garden has poor drainage and fertility, then it’s a good idea to amend it by evenly working Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost or Topsoil into the existing soil before planting. Because good drainage is required, some gardeners choose to build soils up and berm them to facilitate better drainage when planting roses. After planting, be sure to keep your plants lightly moist and fertilized as needed. One of the best all-natural fertilizers for newly-planted roses is alfalfa meal (3-1-2).

For an excellent overview of how to plant and site shrubs, click here. To learn how to grow roses with no fuss, click here.

How to Establish Lawn Grass in The Spring

Spring is a time for new building projects or yard and garden designs. All mean it’s time to establish new lawns, patches of lawn, or rejuvenate old lawns. How you do it and what lawn you choose depends on your yard, where you live, and how you intend to maintain it.

Best Lawn Grasses By Region

First, you need to know what to plant where. For a surefire lush lawn in the first season, you can always plant sod, but it is far less economical than seed. If you choose to seed your lawn, early to mid-spring is a great time to plant. The key is making sure that most of the grass seeds germinate, and the lawn fills in well. Regular irrigation will help the seeds sprout in the absence of rain and will help your new lawn along while it grows.

When lawn grasses have filled in and are actively growing, most recommend they be mowed every 7 to 14 days. I like a low-clipped lawn between 2-3 inches, but most lawn grasses have recommended clipping heights for their best appearance and growth.

Cool-Season Grasses for Northern and Midwestern States

Kentucky bluegrass creates a soft, lush lawn that looks best in cooler regions.

Those living further north should grow lawns of tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea, Zones 3-6, easy-care). The cool-season, sun-loving bunchgrass has broad, coarse, deep green blades that look good all season long. It is easy to grow, adaptable, and disease resistant. Once established it will withstand moderate summer heat and drought as well as high foot traffic. This really grass thrives where summer temperatures stay cooler (60-75 ⁰ F). There are plenty of other lawn fescues that are good but less often planted, such as the low-growing, heat, and drought-tolerant hard fescue (Festuca ovina, Zones 3-7, easy-care), which also requires full sun.

Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis, Zones 3-7, moderate-care) is another cool-season bunchgrass that is most lush in the cooler months. When summer heats up, its growth slows. Plant it in yards with full to partial sun. Its soft feel and bright green color make it a very appealing lawn grass. Many lawngrass mixes combine perennial ryegrass, which can take a little more heat, with Kentucky bluegrass.

Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne, Zones 5-7, low-care) is a cool-season quick fix for spring and fall planting. It is often used in other sun-loving grass seed mixes. When conditions are cool and moist, it can grow into a fully mowable lawn in around 25 days, sometimes less because it is fast to sprout and grow.

Warm-Season Grasses for Southern States

Zoysia grass turns a distinctive tan color while dormant in the winter. Some love the look while others do not.

Many southern homeowners turn to Bermudagrass (Cynodon spp., Zones 7-1-, moderate to high maintenance) for their sunny lawns because it thrives in the heat and moderate drought and will even tolerant the salt spray of coastal regions. It requires regular fertilization, some irrigation, and it grows quickly, which means more frequent mowing. The low-growing, lower-maintenance Pennington Pensacola Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum, Zones 7-11, easy-care) is another good choice because it grows well in poorer soils, tolerates drought, and withstands hot summers and cold winters. The deep roots of this Mexican and South American native grass are what help it look lush even when growing conditions are harsh.

Another traditional lawn grass of the south is Zoysia (Zoysia spp.), which is heat and drought tolerant and will tolerate limited shade. I hesitate to recommend this grass because it turns tan in the winter, a trait that many homeowners do not like, it spreads quickly by rhizomes, which means it needs to be regularly rogued out of garden beds, and the rhizomes are sharp-tipped. The Southern Living Garden Book calls it “among the South’s best and most popular lawn grasses, ” but I did not enjoy having it as a lawn at my last home in Delaware.

Grasses for Arid States

Buffalo grass is a very tough native grass for dry, western landscapes.

Those living in the more arid regions of the American Southwest that desire a lawn should consider the drought-tolerant  ‘UC Verde’® Buffalograss (Bouteloua dactyloides, Zones 4-8, easy-care). The University of California’s introduction was bred for southern California growing. It is low-growing, native, Waterwise, and attractive. It is so drought-tolerant that it will survive with only 12 inches of water per year, though it looks lusher with more water.

Establishing a Lawn From Seed in Six Steps

When seeding lawn patches, Fafard Premium Topsoil is a great base mix for lawn improvement.

Here are six steps to ensuring your seed takes hold:

  1. Plant fresh, quality seed.
  2. Make sure your soil is smooth, weed-free, and fill holes of top-dress seed with Fafard Premium Topsoil to help germination.
  3. Plant seed with a push broadcast spreader for good coverage.
  4. Lightly rake in seed after spreading and consider using a lawn roller to press it down.
  5. Add a layer of straw overseeded areas to hold moisture and encourage people to stay off.
  6. Water the area lightly until the grass sprouts and starts to look lush.

Refrain from walking on your new lawn until it really begins to grow. Be sure to keep it moist, and fertilize it once it is full.  Once it reaches a few inches, you can mow it to a 3-inch height. Wait until it is totally full to mow it down to 2 inches.

Alternative Lawns and Lawn Flowers for Naturalizing

Clover is good for lawns!

There are lots of unique lawn options, many of which are sustainable and valuable to pollinators. All kinds of lovely clovers and violets can be knitted into lawns to brighten the spring and add texture to the turf. (Click here to read a full article about lawn alternatives.)

Best New Tomatoes of 2022

‘Black Strawberry’ (top left, image from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds), ‘Alice’s Dream (right, Image from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds), ‘Bodacious’ (bottom left, Image from Burpee)

What a great year for new tomatoes! The breeders have been busy. 2022 has so many new tomato introductions that I had trouble fixing on my favorites. The final picks were chosen for beauty, top trial ratings, disease resistance, and MOST OF ALL, taste.

Slicing Tomatoes

‘Enroza’ is a tasty pink slicing tomato with great disease resistance. (Image thanks to High Mowing Organic Seeds)

I am a sucker for beautiful fruits and vegetables, and tasty tomatoes in wild colors are ever-present in my garden. That’s why I’ll be trying the new bi-colored green and red ‘Captain Lucky‘ (75 days, indeterminate) slicing tomato from Johnny’s Select Seeds. Its excellent flavor challenges that of best heirloom tomatoes, and when sliced the fruits are a psychedelic yellow, green, pink, and red. Another for beauty and flavor is the Baker Creek exclusive, ‘Alice’s Dream‘ (80 days, indeterminate) beefsteak tomato, which has an orange-yellow exterior striped with purple and a deep orange-yellow interior that is described as tasting sweet and tropical.

‘Alice’s Dream’ has a delicious tropical fruit flavor. (Image thanks to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)

Those looking for a classic red slicer must try Burpee’s ‘Bodacious‘ (80-85 days, indeterminate) big slicing tomato. The large, red, tasty tomatoes are aromatic and produced on vines that resist blight. Each plant can produce 40-50 fruits in a season. Another good traditional tomato is ‘Enroza’ (70 days, indeterminate) from High Mowing Organic Seeds. The classic slicer is deep pink, and the vines are super disease resistant. It produces continuously, and the fruits are meaty, flavorful, and juicy. for lovely dark-red, medium-large fruits grow ‘Rubee Prize’ (60-70 days, indeterminate) hybrid tomato. It is a taste-test winner, and the vines resist many diseases.

If you are looking for more really tough, disease-resistant, slicing tomatoes with great flavor, try ‘Tough Boy Gold‘ (75-85 days, indeterminate), which is resistant to blossom end rot as well as several viral diseases. Its sweet, golden fruits are medium-sized, flavorful, and resist cracking on the vine. The deep-red, medium-sized fruits of ‘Loki‘ (70-75 days, indeterminate) are also borne on highly disease-resistant vines. It is high-yielding and its fruits have an old-fashioned, heirloom-tomato flavor.

Cherry, Grape, and Salad Tomatoes

The 2022 AAS winner ‘Purple Zebra’ is a top-notch salad tomato. (Image thanks to AAS Winners)

On the top of my cherry list is ‘Black Strawberry’ (60 days, indeterminate), cherry tomato, which bears lots of fruits in neat trusses. The fruity, super-sweet tomatoes are orange-red with a mottled overlay of purple-black. Their flavor is described as very fruity and almost plum-like.

Sun-Dried Cherry‘ (60-65 days, indeterminate) is a cool new cherry tomato that was developed for sun drying. The sweet fruits easily dry on the stem, and vines yield lots of tomatoes!

‘Sunset Torch’ is another great new AAS winner! (Image thanks to AAS Winners)

The beautiful small/salad tomato ‘Purple Zebra‘ (70 days, indeterminate) is one of several 2022 AAS winners. Its tart-sweet dark-red fruits are striped with dark green, and the prolific vines resist disease. I will be growing this one! The red-striped golden grape tomato ‘Sunset Torch‘ is another of this year’s AAS winners. In addition to having fruity cherry tomatoes in sunset colors, it is disease resistant, productive, and the ripe fruits resist splitting after rain.

Sauce and Paste Tomatoes

‘Marzito’ bears lots and lots of little Roma tomatoes in no time! (Image thanks to BallSeed)

The small-medium, reddish-pink tomatoes of the ‘Rugby‘ (60-65 days, indeterminate) hybrid are meaty, high in beta-carotene, and have a well-balanced flavor. They are great for canning, sauce, and fresh eating. The vines also resist disease. The unique miniature Marzano-type tomato ‘Marzito‘ (50-55 days, indeterminate) is very early to bear and produces lots of small, deep red, sauce tomatoes that are meaty with a balanced flavor. They are also good for fresh eating. Finally, sauce lovers with less space should grow the new compact Roma tomato, ‘Bellatrix‘ (65-70 days, determinate). It grows beautifully in containers, is highly disease resistant, and its delicious fruits are perfect for sauce and salsa making.

Miniature Tomatoes

These are the best tomatoes for containers and hanging baskets. My oldest daughter Franziska fell in love with the heart-shaped miniature tomato, Heartbreaker Dora Red (75-85 days), which just reaches 16 inches high and becomes laden with lots of heart-shaped cherry tomatoes that are flavorful and sweet (9 Brix). Another with a cartoonish name is the ‘Grinch‘ (65 days, determinate) dwarf cherry tomato, which boasts lots of bright yellow-green cherry tomatoes with a mild tart and sweet taste. They are great for snacking. The bushy plants reach 4 feet and may require minimal caging or staking.

Container tomatoes such as these grow beautifully in quality potting mix, such as Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Soil. Choose a large container that drains well, and be sure to feed with a fertilizer formulated for tomatoes.

Any of these amazing tomatoes would be a great addition to your summer vegetable plot! Whether you just garden in containers or have a big vegetable bed, there is a new tomato for you.

More Tomato Resources:

Video: Growing Tomatoes From Seed to Harvest

Beating Tomato Pests and Diseases

Ten Best-Tasting Tomatoes

Easy Vegetables to Grow from Seed

Home vegetable gardening is riding a wave of popularity that is probably unprecedented since the Victory Gardens of World War II.  Salad greens are sprouting on rooftops and potatoes in patio containers.  Home-grown tomatoes seem to be popping up in every other suburban yard.  Explosions of summer zucchini are detonating in community gardens and front roadside “hell strips”.

If you want to get in on that kind of action, but find the prospect a little intimidating, it’s best to start relatively small and simple.  Growing vegetables from seed is inexpensive and easy, provided you pick types that are easy to grow. 

The best advice for beginners is to start with something that you like to eat and don’t go too big.  Shepherding a few vegetables successfully from seed to harvest will give you the confidence to venture further into vegetable gardening in successive seasons.

A few other helpful hints…Make sure the seeds you buy are packaged for the current growing season, not saved over from the last one.  Fresh seed always has a higher germination rate.  Amend your garden soil before planting with a nutritious mixture like Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost.   If you are growing your veggies in containers, use a potting mix that will start your seeds off on the right foot. Fafard Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed will do the job nicely.

Bountiful Squash from Seed

Most bush zucchini produce in as little as 45 days from seed!

Summer squashes, like zucchini and crookneck squash, are a boon to the novice grower, with big seeds, vigorous habits, showy flowers, and bountiful production.  While seeds can be started indoors, in many places summer squashes will do just fine if they are directly sown in a sunny spot with rich soil or, if they are bush-types, in a large container. Be sure to determine whether squash is vining or bushy before planting. Bush squash are compact while vining forms can reach enormous lengths. Trellising is an option.

Warm soil is a must, so check your area’s last frost date to find out when it is generally safe to plant. (Click here to identify your last frost date by zip code.)

Plant two to three seeds in small hills of soil. Plant them at a depth equal to about two times the width of the seed.  Squashes crave space, so keep those hills separated by at least several feet, depending on the final size of the squash variety.  When the seedlings appear, thin out the weakest one or seedlings by either pulling them out or snipping them off.  Leave the strongest. Water regularly, especially if rain is sparse, but do not drown the plants.  If the top of the soil is wet, and you’ve experienced good rains, skip the watering.

It is important to collar newly sprouted seedlings to keep birds and cutworms from cutting the seedlings from the base and killing them. Seedling collars are easy to make from paper cups, toilet paper rolls, and other materials. (Click here to learn more.)

Check leaves for evidence of pests and disease. Large pests can be picked off by hand.  Squash vine borers are a common problem that every squash grower must learn about (click here for management details). If powdery mildew, a fungal disease, appears, remove the affected leaves and spray the remaining foliage with either Neem oil or a solution of one tablespoon of baking soda per gallon of water mixed with a few drops of liquid dish soap.

Check seed packages for time from germination to harvest, but expect fruit in 45 to 60 days. Bushy varieties produce the earliest.

Tons of Tomatoes from Seed

Train your tomatoes for easy care and harvest. Compact bush varieties are recommended for beginners.

Growing tomatoes from seed offers you a chance to choose from the scores of available varieties—large, small, modern, heirloom, red, green, yellow, or orange.  None are really hard to grow, but many sources suggest determinate (bush) salad or cherry tomato varieties for beginners. Indeterminate (vining) tomatoes are the most productive but reach huge heights and require quite a bit of management, and large-fruited varieties are often more demanding. Cherry tomatoes feature bite-size fruit and bush types are great for container growing because they stop growing once they have reached a certain size and produce only a set number of flowers and fruit thereafter.  Much of the fruit develops at the same time, but harvests can be still quite large. Good disease resistance makes growing even easier. (Click here for a great list of determinate tomatoes from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and click here for our top 10 list of the best-tasting cherry tomatoes.)

Those harvests will come sooner if you start tomatoes indoors in cell packs or other small containers at least six to eight weeks before the last frost date for your area.  Make sure those containers have drainage holes.  Fill the small pots with moistened potting mix and plant two or three seeds per cell or container, following directions on the seed pack.  Place on trays that can hold water and position in a warm location a bright grow light or South-facing window.  To avoid seedling rot disease, water from the bottom, letting the plants absorb water through their drainage holes. (Click here for more tomato seed-starting tips.)

When outdoor conditions are right, with night temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, take the trays outside and place them in a sheltered spot to acclimate the seedlings.  After a few days of this, plant the seedlings in a location that receives at least six hours of sun per day–eight hours or more is better.  Keep the soil consistently moist, stake or your plants or support with tomato cages, and watch for pests. (Click here to learn more about tomato pest and disease management.)

Great Greens from Seed

Spinach is a true cool-season green that grows succulent leaves in a flash.

Greens, including the various varieties of lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard, are among the easiest veggies to grow from seed, and many varieties are as beautiful as they are nutritious.  Lettuce and spinach love the cooler temperatures of spring and fall, while chard thrives in summer. 

Sow lettuce seeds when outdoor temperatures reach about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and space about 2 inches apart in rows that are separated by about 12 inches. Cover with the thinnest possible amount of soil, because lettuce seeds need light to germinate.  Keep soil uniformly moist and harvest lettuce either as baby greens or mature leaves.  For a continuous harvest, sow smaller amounts of lettuce seed at weekly intervals in spring and very late summer. (Click here to discover ten great lettuce varieties for gardens.)

Larger and leafier, spinach and chard are delicious either raw or cooked.  Plant spinach first, as soon as possible after the last frost date.  Both types of greens should be planted shallowly—about one-quarter inch deep in rows at least 18 inches apart.  Both also need thinning.  Thin spinach seedlings to a maximum of 6 inches apart and the larger chard plants to a minimum of 6 inches apart.  Spinach can also be sown in late summer for a fall harvest.

Growing vegetables can be so satisfying that many gardeners catch the “veggie bug” after the first successful growing season and branch out into multiple varieties in successive years.  Be prepared!

Eight Must-Have Philodendrons For House Plant Lovers

The coppery red, yellow, orange, and green leaves of ‘McColley’s Finale’ make it a much sought-after Philodendron.

Specialty house plant vendors are popping up nationwide because house plants are so popular. That means cooler, more wonderful hybrids and species are available as growers compete to provide more and more enticing plants. This trend has been good for the Philodendron. Some of the specimens available now are unbelievably beautiful, and as a rule, they are generally easy to grow.

About Philodendron

Most philodendrons are very easy to grow.

There are nearly 500 species of Philodendron, which are largely tropical evergreens that inhabit forested areas across Central and South America as well as the Caribbean. Many are climbers but there are also many non-vining terrestrial forms. They may have small or enormous leaves, depending on the species.

Many common varieties are well-liked because they are tough and easy to grow as well as being beautiful. The popularity of choice cultivars has driven prices up, so I am including fine specimens that are rare and expensive as well as those that are uncommonly beautiful and reasonably priced.

Ten Must-Have Philodendron

The colorful leaves of ‘Ring of Fire’ have no match.

1.Ring of Fire‘ (large-leaved climber) is a spectacularly showy, climbing philodendron. The large, cut-leaf philodendron has deep forest green variegated leaves splashed with ivory, orange, bright red, and pink. At maturity, the leaves can reach up to 2 feet long, so an indoor specimen would require both space and substantial support for climbing. According to Ken’s Philodendrons of Hampton, Florida, it is the most desirable Philodendron in the world. Buy it and be the envy of your house-plant-loving friends. Prices run high.

Philodendron brandtianum has beautiful, variegated, heart-shaped leaves. (Courtesy of Logee’s Plants for Home & Garden / logees.com)

2. Philodendron brandtianum (compact, small-leaved, vining) is an uncommon, small-leaved climber with heart-shaped, olive-green leaves mottled with silver. It is tough and well-behaved. Grow it if you have little space but a place to train a non-aggressive climber. This one is quite reasonable in most shops.

‘Prince of Orange’ is a popular variety with brilliant orange new growth. (Image by Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz)

3. Philodendron ‘Prince of Orange‘ (compact, small-leaved, non-vining) is so beautifully colorful, reaches just 24 inches high, and is easy to grow. Its newly-emerging, glossy leaves are bright orange and change to bright yellow-green and then finally bright green. The leaf stems are red. The comparable ‘McColley’s Finale‘, but has bright orange-red, newly emerging leaves and is a little more compact at a final height of 20 inches. Prices are reasonable.

4. Philodendron erubescens ‘Pink Princess’ (compact, small-leaved, vining) is a fantastic variegated climber with elongated, heart-shaped green leaves splashed with pink and cream. It is truly a collector’s plant, and prices reflect it, but mature specimens are spectacular.

5. Philodendron esmeraldense (large, large-leaved, vining) needs space, but if you have it then grow it. Its enormous, elongated leaves are leathery with quilted venation. They are deep green and stunning. Train it up a strong support system. Prices are moderate to high.

Philodendron melanochrysum (right) has velvety leaves that get longer and darker as the plant matures. Upgrade the pot as the roots outgrow the space.

6. Philodendron melanochrysum, (large, large-leaved, vining) commonly called the black gold philodendron, has large, elongated, velvety leaves of the deepest green. The leaves of mature specimens can be quite dark and reach up to 2 feet! Mature plants need a large support system, and this species is intolerant of cool growing temperatures, so give it plenty of warmth. Mature specimens of this rare species are spectacular. Prices are moderate to high.

If you like large, bold leaves then grow Philodendron plowmanii.

7. Philodendron plowmanii (large, large-leaved, non-vining) has some of the most spectacular large, heart-shaped leaves that are deeply pleated, darked veined, and marked with lighted green and flecks of silvery green. It is noted for being very easy to grow. Provide a large pot for this substantial plant. Prices are moderate.

8. Philodendron ‘Birkin’ (small, small-leaved, non-vining) is one of the prettiest variegated hybrids with veins of bright white. It is noted for being very easy to grow. Add a pot to any dull corner to give it a bright, fresh look. It is a more reasonably priced variety.

Philodendron Care

Upgrade plants to new pots when they begin to become root-bound.

Each new variety or species that you grow may have a few specialty growing requirements, but there are a few growing basics to consider for these tropicals as a whole.

  • Light: Provide high to moderate indirect light. Most can take lower light, but they will not grow as well and look as good.
  • Water and Soil: Keep pots moderately moist at all times. They can take periods with dry soil, but they will not grow as vigorously. Plant them in well-drained pots filled with high-quality, porous potting mix, such as Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Mix.
  • Fertilizer: Feed with an all-purpose fertilizer for house plants. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions as these can vary.
  • Heat and Humidity: Tropical forest and rainforest plants such as these like humidity to at least 50-60%, though they can generally tolerate less. If the air is too dry, the leaves can develop brown tips or edges. Temperatures between 65 degrees F and 80 degrees F are ideal. They can seasonally take much warmer temperatures if taken outdoors in the summertime.
  • Supports: Vining Philodendron like to grow up supports such as sturdy stakes or logs. Tying of clipping them helps gardeners better train them as they grow.
Most specialty Philodendron quickly set roots in water.

If you want to share one of your new, prize Philodendrons with a friend, simply take a stem cutting, place it in water, and it should root in a matter of weeks. Pot it up for easy gift giving.

Tips For Growing Tropical Maidenhair Ferns

Distinctive delicate black stems and small fan-like fronds make maidenhair fern a much-sought-after house plant.

The South American Delta maidenhair fern (Adiantum raddianum, 18-24 inches, Zones 10-11) is arguably one of the loveliest, most delicate house plants you can grow. Its onyx wire-thin stems hold dainty, drooping fronds that tremble at a touch. A few varieties are available–all equally delicate and lovely. One caveat: The plants themselves are on the fragile side, so one has to learn a few tricks to successfully grow them as potted specimens.

About Maidenhair Ferns

In the wild, maidenhair fern likes moist, rocky enclaves. Gardeners need to try to imitate such environments in their homes to keep them happy.

A lover of partial shade and humidity, Delta maidenhair fern originates from the tropical Americas, particularly South America and the West Indies, where it naturally inhabits humid forests, rock crevices, rocky streamsides, riverbanks, and embankments as well as shaded cliff faces. It thrives in spots where the soil is moist, fertile, fast-draining, and temperatures are humid and warm. It naturally spreads by rhizomes that creep along rocks. Because of its tendency to naturally spread, it can become invasive when planted in the ground outside of its native territory, so beware planting it in the subtropical southeastern United States (particularly Florida). In such areas, It is best grown as a houseplant or potted specimen.

There are only a few Delta maidenhair varieties available. The lightly variegated Adiantum raddianum ‘Snowflake’ has ivory stripes across the fronds while the extraordinarily hardy ‘Barberton‘ will survive to USDA Hardiness Zone 7.

Sun, Soil, and Water Do’s and Don’ts

Regular moisture is needed to keep the foliage looking lush and green.

When it comes to sun, soil, and moisture for maidenhairs, there are several dos and don’ts.

  • Do pick a spot that gets bright filtered light.
  • Do place pots in a sheltered outdoor location in summer.
  • Do place them indoors in an east, west, or north-facing window.
  • Do choose a fertile, well-drained potting mix that’s high in organic matter, like Fafard Professional Potting Mix.
  • Do make sure the soil pH is between 6 and 7.
  • Do plant ferns in pots with bottom drainage.
  • Do keep the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged.
  • Do water with filtered or bottled water with low mineral content.
  • Don’t let the soil get too dry.

Temperature and Humidity Do’s and Don’ts

When conditions are too dry, maidenhair frondlets will begin to turn dry and shrivel.

Here are temperature and humidity dos and don’ts for maidenhairs.

  • Do maintain moderate to high humidity at a level of 50% or higher.
  • Do invest in a humidifier if your home tends to be dry or place maidenhairs in a brightly-lit bathroom next to a shower stall.
  • Do regularly mist the ferns with filtered or bottled water with low mineral content.
  • Do keep the room reasonably warm. Ideal temperatures are between 65-75ºF (18-24ºC).
  • Don’t place maidenhair ferns in a location where they are subjected to forced air from drying vents or fans.
  • Don’t allow maidenhairs to get cold. If they die back due to the cold, they will sometimes return from the roots, so don’t throw them away immediately.

Other General Care Dos

Follow these dos and don’ts and you will have lush, happy maidenhair ferns to beautify your home.