Caring for Your Flower Garden

Tiny white flowers against the trunk of a cherry tree

Knowing how to care for your flower garden can make a big difference in the look and over-all health of your plants. Here are some simple hints to make your garden bloom with health.

1. The essentials must always be given major consideration

Your flower garden must have an adequate supply of water, sunlight, and fertile soil. Any lack of these basic necessities will greatly affect the health of plants. Water the flower garden more frequently during dry spells.

Blooming Tulips When planting bulbs, make sure they go at the correct depth. When planting shrubs and perennials, make sure that you don’t heap soil or mulch up around the base of the plant, 2 to 3 inches is sufficient.

Water well, but avoid standing water as this could damage the shrub or perennial. Standing water around the base of trees and shrubs will rot the trunk.

2. Mix and match perennials with annuals

Perennial flower bulbs need not to be replanted since they grow and bloom for several years while annuals grow and bloom for only one season. Mixing a few perennials with annuals ensures that you will always have blooming flowers in your garden.

3. Deadhead to encourage more blossoms

Deadheading is simply snipping off the flower head after it wilts. This will help the plant produce more flowers. Leaving the wilted flowers on the plant will cause the plant to produce seeds over more flowers.

Don’t discard dead debris on the garden floor during growing season or mildew and other plant disease will attack your plants.

4. Know the good from the bad bugs

A butterfly pollinating a Butterfly BushMost garden insects do more good than harm. Butterflies, beetles and bees are known pollinators. They fertilize plants through unintentional transfer of pollen from one plant to another. 80% of flowering plants rely on insects for survival.

Sow bugs and dung beetles together with fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms are necessary to help in the decomposition of dead plant material, thus enriching the soil and making more nutrients available to growing plants.

Other insects like lacewings and dragonflies are natural predators of those insects that do the real damage, like aphis.

An occasional application of liquid fertilizer when plants are flowering will keep them blooming for longer. Organic fertilizers are the best to use, and better for the environment.

5. Some Pruning Tips

potted hanging FuchsiasAlways prune any dead or damaged branches. Fuchsias are particularly prone to snapping when you brush against them. The broken branch can be potted to give you a new plant, so it won’t be wasted.

Blooming Forsythia Blooming Lilac Prune Lilacs and Forsythias after the flowers bloom and fade. Flowers bloom from new growth, and pruning in early Spring will only remove the growth that is prepared to produce buds for flowering.

All the images in this article are just a few from the authors garden from over the past flowering seasons from 2008 till 2013. If you have any questions about flower gardening, leave it in the comment section and I will respond as soon as be possible.

 

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How to Build Raised Vegetable Garden Beds

This is the fifith post on Vegetable Gardening with guest speaker Judith Sorg. If you missed the first three please link here to read.

Now for -How to Build Raised Vegetable Garden Beds – with Judith Sorg.

There are many benefits to using raised vegetable garden beds in your garden.

For starters, I have found elevated garden beds are easier on your back and knees because they require less bending, kneeling and crawling than regular beds.  In addition, raised garden beds offer better drainage, which means your plants aren’t stuck sitting in excess water every time it rains. Plus, it is much easier to build your soil UP than it is to work amendments into the ground.

raised garden beds for the handicapped

Raised garden beds for the handicapped

Raised garden beds also are great for those who are wheelchair or scooter bound.

Fortunately, building raised vegetable beds is a super easy do-it-yourself project. All you need are some readily available tools and materials, and an extra pair of hands.

How to Build Raised Vegetable Garden Beds

Tools and Materials  

(makes two 8’ x 4’ x 6” high beds)

(6) 1” x 6” x 8’ cedar boards* – 2 boards cut into 4’ sections

Wood screws and/or 8 metal corner brackets

Power drill

Important Note: Cedar is naturally insect and moisture resistant, so it tends to hold up well in outdoor environments. Avoid using pressure treated lumber for your food growing areas because the chemicals used to create them can leach into your soil.

*Cedar boards come in a variety of lengths and widths. Obviously, using 6” wide boards will give you more shallow beds than 10” boards. Choose whichever length and width combination you prefer. If you find 4’ beds are too wide, simply reduce the length of each shorter section to 3’ – 3.5’.

Instructions:

To assemble your raised vegetable garden beds, line the ends of an 8’ foot section and a 4’ sections up so they form an “L” shape. While your helper holds the boards in place, secure the two boards together with wood screws or with the metal corner brackets.

Repeat this process with the remaining cedar boards until you create 2 wooden rectangles, each measuring 8’ in length by 4’ in width.

Once your beds are assembled, carry them a sunny spot in your garden and place them where you want your raised beds before you begin filling them.

Filling Your Vegetable Garden Beds

Of course, you can fill each bed with pre-packaged gardening mix, but you may find that gets a bit pricey. You can also create your own more cost-effective planting medium very easily.

 Build Raised Vegetable Garden BedsStart by adding a thick layer of newspaper or flattened cardboard across the bottom of your raised garden box. This will help prevent weeds and grass from growing up into your planter. Then, add alternating layers of peat moss, compost, aged manure or barn litter, and topsoil.

You can add additional amendments, such as bone meal or a slow-release organic fertilizer, once you decide which plants you want to grow in each bed and you’ve conducted soil tests to determine what nutrients your soil needs to accommodate those plants.

If you prepare and fill your raised beds in the fall, simply cover them with dark plastic to “cook down” all winter.  You will be rewarded with beautiful rich soil in the spring, but it will be quite a bit lower than you remember – so be extra generous when filling the beds.

If you assemble your raised vegetable garden beds in the spring, you can plant right into the layered mixture. Over time, the layers will break down to form a rich soil. In the near term, your plants will do just fine in it as long as you don’t use fresh compost, manure or barn litter, all of which can “burn” your plants.

As you can see, learning how to build raised vegetable garden beds isn’t difficult. If you follow these easy instructions, you can look forward to years of more rewarding and efficient gardening.

Next post will be March. 20,2014, themed, “Planning a Productive and Practical Potager.”

 

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How to Plant a Vegetable Garden in Four Easy Steps

This is the fourth post on Vegetable Gardening with guest speaker Judith Sorg. If you missed the first three please link here to read.

Now for -How to Plant a Vegetable Garden in Four Easy Steps – with Judith Sorg.

If you love to cook, learning how to plant a vegetable garden is one of the most rewarding things you can do. When you grow your own garden, you can harvest fresh seasonal fruits, veggies and herbs as you need them instead of having to drive miles to the nearest grocery store. It just doesn’t get any fresher than that.

Here’s How to Plant a Vegetable Garden in 4 Easy Steps:

simple garden layout

Example of a simple garden layout
image credit: vegetablegardenplanning.net
CLICK TO ENLARGE

Step #1. Decide What You Want to Plant. This is the fun part. Start by making a list of all the recipes you frequently make. Note which vegetables and herbs you use over and over again, because this will tell you not only what you should plant, but also in what quantity.

Don’t forget to jot down other items your family enjoys, even if you aren’t using them in your cooking currently. Growing your own vegetable garden is a great way to expand your culinary horizons.

This planning phase is a great time to get your children interested in gardening, too. Ask what they might like to grow or make fun suggestions if they are too young to come up with ideas on their own. Pumpkins, ornamental gourds and sunflowers (for their beauty and seeds) are popular choices with kids of all ages. Fast growing plants, such as lettuce and beans, are also great choices for children because they produce noticeable results quickly.

Once you’ve made a list of plants you want to grow, collect mail order catalogs, search online or stop by your favorite garden center to find seeds and transplants. You can learn a lot about what grows well in your area by tapping into these resources, as well.

Step #2:  Pick a Location for Your Vegetable Garden

Just like in real estate, planting a successful vegetable garden is all about location, location, location. If you want your plants to thrive, there are a couple non-negotiable items you will need to provide:

Vegetable Garden in Four Easy Steps with sunshine1. Sunshine. Pick a sunny location with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.

2. Water.  Make sure the location you choose has easy access to water. You will need to water your plants whenever Mother Nature refuses to cooperate, so make sure you have a convenient source of water nearby.

3. Accessibility. Gardens need care, so position your vegetable garden in an area that is convenient to get to with the tools you need to work in it. If you place it too far from the house or garden shed where you keep your tools or in an area difficult to reach with a wheelbarrow, you may find yourself tempted to neglect it.

Make your life easier and plant your garden in the most convenient sunny location you can find.

4. Good Drainage. You may have to do some work for this one, especially if you live in an area with heavy clay or compacted soil. If you find the area you want to plant tends to collect standing water, you will want to build your beds up to protect your plants from overly wet feet.

Step #3: Create Your Garden Beds

Once you’ve identified where you want your garden, you will need to decide where you want the individual beds within it. As you are doing so, keep in mind the orientation of the sun throughout the day because taller plants or those growing on trellises can cast damaging shadows if they aren’t positioned correctly.

To create the individual beds, many old school gardeners swear by the traditional practice of removing heavy layers of sod, then tilling and amending the soil beneath it before planting your vegetable plants.

Although this method will certainly work, you simply don’t have to work that hard.   Instead, you can use the Lasagna Gardening method of building your beds UP instead of digging down to create them. This methods works equally well with raised garden beds or directly on the ground.

compost needed for gardening in four easy stepsTo get started, add flattened cardboard or a thick stack of newspapers on top of the ground and then add alternate layers of peat, topsoil, aged manure or barn litter, organic mulch, yard clippings and/or compost.

You can either prepare these beds months in advance or right before you plant. Either way, the layers will meld together into a beautiful, rich soil for your plants.

For more details on this no-dig gardening method, check out Lasagna Gardening, a New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens.

Step #4: Start Planting!

Once your beds are ready, it’s time to start planting!

Before you start digging, you have some choices to make: you can sow seeds directly into the soil, start seeds indoors then harden them off outdoors before adding them to your garden, or plant established transplants you’ve purchased directly into your prepared beds.
Some plants require direct sowing, while others need to be started indoors several weeks before the frost-free date in your area in order to perform well. While you are creating your list of plants you want to grow, make a note of the growing requirements for each so you can give your plants the best chance of survival.

If you decide to follow these four easy steps to plant a vegetable garden, you will be rewarded all season long with an abundant supply of fresh and healthy produce. Plus, you’ll have the added satisfaction of knowing you did it with your own two hands.

Next will talk about: “How to Build Raised Vegetable Garden Beds.”

Return for Judiths next garden discussion March. 17, 2014.

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The Difference Between Heirlooms and Hybrids

This is the third post on Vegetable Gardening with guest speaker Judith Sorg. If you missed the first two please link here to read.

Now for -The Difference Between Heirlooms and Hybrids– with Judith Sorg.

When I shop for plants at my local garden center, I always notice the ones that are marked ‘heirloom,” while others are labeled “hybrid.” When I first started my first vegetable garden, I wondered what these terms meant, and which ones were better to plant.

The Difference Between Heirlooms and Hybrids

Heirloom harvested peas

These terms can create confusion among novice and experienced gardeners alike. There are those who swear that heirlooms are the only way to go because they think hybrids plants are inferior­­­­. On the other hand, hybrid fans are convinced they are a better all around choice, because they tend to be more vigorous producers and are less susceptible to disease and pests.

But I have found from my own personal experience that there can be room in every garden for both types of plants. To better understand the distinction between heirloom and hybrid plant varieties, let’s look at how they came to be.

Open-Pollination vs. Careful Manipulation

Open-pollination is a form of plant reproduction which occurs in one of two ways:

 

  1. Cross-pollination (in the context of open-pollination) occurs when two varieties of the same plant species reproduce due to natural pollinators, such as wind, birds or insects.
  2. Self-pollination occurs when a plant possesses both male and female parts and can reproduce by itself. Self-pollinating plants, such as tomatoes, breed true to the parent plant and do not require isolation to avoid contamination from other varieties.

The term “heirloom” refers to older, well-established varieties of open-pollinated plants. These plants over time have developed stable genetic characteristics. Often, classic heirloom varieties evoke a sense of nostalgia because they were often found in the gardens of older generations. In fact, heirloom seeds can become an important part of a family’s history as they are passed down from one generation to the next.

This tomato is a hybrid cross of wild tomato lines from Europe. The tomato is green to deep purple on the outside

Hybrid plants, on the other hand, are the result of highly controlled cross-pollination between different varieties of the same species of plants. Although cross-pollination can and does occur in nature, the results are too random to be reproduced and marketed on a mass scale. Therefore, the hybrids you see in nurseries are not open-pollinated like heirloom varieties.

In order to sell a hybrid variety commercially, its breeding must be carefully monitored in order to ensure the same characteristics are present across all plants sold under that name. Unfortunately, this high level of human involvement in their development causes many to believe hybrid plant varieties are also “genetically modified.”

 

Are Hybrid Plants Genetically Modified?

No. Hybrid plants and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are NOT the same thing.

Once again, the difference between the two goes back to how they are created.

Hybrids are the result of highly controlled cross-pollination between two varieties of the same plant species. The resulting progeny will contain characteristics from each parent plant, just like if the two had crossed in nature.

GMOs are the result of scientific manipulation at the cellular level.

In a lab environment, plant cells are altered through the addition of outside substances like pesticides or DNA from other organisms. So-called ‘negative’ genes may also be removed in this process. The end result is a new organism that wouldn’t occur in nature without this type of manipulation.

There is a lot of concern and discussion surrounding the long-term safety of GMOs because they have been introduced into the food supply without any long-term studies to confirm their safety. Today, there is a lot of concern that GMOs may be linked to cancer and many other health problems.

As consumers become more aware of the presence of these substances in commercially processed foods, many are choosing to adopt an organic, whole food diet. In an effort to avoid GMOs, some are also avoiding hybrid plants unnecessarily.

Which is Better: Heirlooms or Hybrids?

There is no right or wrong answer to that question. Heirlooms are often treasured for their delicious flavor, while many hybrids are prized for their vigor, high yields and superior disease resistance.

The biggest difference between the two is this: Heirloom varieties grow true from seeds. You can save and use their seeds year after year and get uniform results.

Hybrids do not offer that type of genetic stability. Plants grown from the seeds of hybrid plants are unlikely to look or perform like the plant from which the seeds were collected.

So, if you like to collect and grow your garden from seeds, heirlooms are a better choice for you. If not, there is no need to limit your options to just one.

Next we will discuss, “How to Plant a Vegetable Garden in Four Easy Steps”.

Return March. 16, 2014, to view Judith’s next discussion on vegetable gardening.

 

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Deciding When to Plant Vegetables in Your Area

This is the second post on Vegetable Gardening with guest speaker Judith Sorg. If you missed the Introduction please link here to read: 3 Must Know Vegetable Gardening Tips.

Now for -Deciding When to Plant Vegetables in Your Area- with Judith Sorg.

Deciding When to Plant Vegetables in Your AreaFiguring out when to plant vegetables in your area requires a little detective work. In addition to your geographic location, you’ll need to consider a few other variables, as well. For example, the type of vegetables you plan to grow and how you intend to plant them, such as seedlings, transplants or seeds will factor into when you should get your crops in the ground, as well.

If you live in an area with distinct seasons, your vegetable growing season will fall loosely between your anticipated frost-free date in the spring and the first hard frost in the fall. Unless you have a crystal ball, it is next to impossible to predict these dates with absolute certainty.

Fortunately, there are some valuable online resources you can check for general guidelines. A quick online search for “frost-free date” + your geographic area should give you a good idea of when it might be safe to plant in your region.

Of course, the published frost-free date for your area doesn’t take into account unexpected late season snow storms or unseasonably cold temperatures. However, if you wait until after the expected frost-free date for your area AND for the daytime soil temperature to reach 65 degrees or warmer, you should be in good shape. If you want to warm up your soil faster, you can cover your planting beds with dark plastic sheets for several weeks prior to planting.

As you develop your garden planting timeline, think of these two important dates as virtual “bookends” around your prime vegetable growing season. However, if you start seeds indoors or protect your plants from cold temperatures with mulch, cold frames, row covers or mini-hoop houses, you can extend your growing season even further.

Planting seeds and day to maturity Don’t Ignore “Days to Maturity” for Your Selected Plants

As you’re deciding when to plant vegetables in your garden, pay close attention the “days to maturity” information noted on the seed packages or plant markers for the vegetables you’ve selected. This number, which is often expressed as a range of days, tells you how long it will take until that plant is ready to harvest.

This is important to know because some vegetables reach maturity much faster than others. For example, radishes, lettuce and baby carrots can be ready for harvest just 30 days after they are sown as seeds. On the other hand, some pumpkin varieties can take a full 120 – 160 days before they reach maturity.

The “days to maturity” for a particular vegetable variety gives you an idea of how early you need to get that plant into the ground if you want it to reach maturity before your first hard frost date.

It also tells you how late in the season you can plant certain crops. For example, you can’t wait until late summer in northern climates to plant pumpkins seeds that require 160 days to mature. On the other hand, you can plant fast-growing lettuce varieties with confidence until 30 days or so before your expected last frost date.

Learning when to plant vegetables in your area is worth the effort. Knowing when your prime growing season begins and ends – and how you can get the most out of it – will make you a much more successful food gardener. It will help you decide which vegetables to grow and how to help those varieties thrive in your garden.

Next post is March. 15, 2014 and the theme is: The Difference Between Heirlooms and Hybrids

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3 Must Know Vegetable Gardening Tips

Meet Guest Blogger: Judith Sorg on Vegetable Gardening

young woman harvesting tomatoesI enjoy gardening so much and I am glad to have been invited to talk on this subject. There are few things in life compare to the simple pleasure of biting into a freshly picked tomato while it is still warm from the summer sun. When you grow your own vegetable garden, you can experience this little piece of heaven all season long.

However, as I have found from my own experience growing an abundant supply of fresh vegetables year after year takes some practice. For most people, becoming a consistently successful vegetable gardener comes after years of hands-on experience. You can however lessen your own learning curve by adopting some tried-and-true vegetable gardening tips that I use.

Here are 3 Vegetable Gardening Tips I have that I want to pass onto you:

Tip #1: Amend Your Soil: Few gardeners are blessed with an abundant supply of beautiful, rich topsoil. Depending on where you live, you may find yourself struggling with heavy clay, rocky, sandy or other less-than-ideal soil conditions.

amending the soilEach of these soil types presents different challenges ranging from retaining too much water (or not enough) to being devoid of the essential nutrients plants need to survive and thrive. For example, if you have heavy clay soil and you just dig a hole in the ground and drop a plant into it, chances are good that plant won’t make it. The heavy clay around your plant will act like a bathtub whenever it rains, which means your plant will be forced to sit in a pool of water with nowhere to drain.

So your first step will be to identify the type of soil you have so you can take the appropriate steps to amend it. Once you know what you are dealing with, you’ll be able to determine which specific amendments are needed to amend your type of soil.

I recommend you take a cup full of soil to your local nursery, so they can let you know what type of soil you have and what to do to amend it.

Tip #2: Grow UP: Whenever possible, make sure you take advantage of vertical space in your garden by utilizing fences, trellises, and other structures to keep your plants off the ground.

There are many advantages to growing your vegetables vertically. For starters, you can grow more food in a smaller area, which is great for urban gardens or those with limited growing space. Plus, growing vegetables on structural supports makes harvesting and weeding around your plants a lot easier. This is especially true for older individuals such as myself and for those with other physical restrictions because less bending and stretching is required to perform these tasks.

Growing vertically benefits your vegetable plants, too.  Raising the plants off the ground leads to better air circulation around them, which is associated with fewer fungal infections and pest infestations.

Tip #3: Give Your Plants Some Friends: Companion planting is a smart way to increase the yield of your vegetable garden.  Learning which plants work well together is an important step towards maximizing the efficiency of your vegetable garden.

Some plants are particularly beneficial to one another, so it makes sense to group these plants together in your garden. These beneficial plant combinations may add needed nutrients to the soil, deter unwanted pests or attract beneficial insects into your garden.

You may have heard how Native Americans planted “the three sisters” – maize (corn), beans and squash – together because each plant benefited the others in some way.  For example, the corn stalks provided structure for the beans to grow upon, while the squash provided an effective weed barrier as it spread out along the ground.

Vegetable gardening is an acquired skill that evolves over time. However, applying these 3 must know vegetable gardening tips will lessen your learning curve significantly. 

Next post is March. 13, 2014 the theme will be:  Deciding When to Plant Vegetables in Your Area

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Weird-Looking Heirloom Vegetables: Why They’re Important

If you’ve ever been to a farmer’s market, no doubt you’ve come across vegetables labeled as “heirloom.” Heirloom is such an elegant words and it refers to something valuable passed down from generation to generation. organic grown strange carrot

But if heirloom vegetables are so valuable, why do they look so darned weird?

Simply put, heirloom vegetables are a specific variety vegetable that has been grown for many years and is open –pollinated. This is in contrast to hybrid and GM (genetically modified) vegetables. Heirlooms themselves are not necessarily organic, but when you grow them using organic techniques, they most definitely are.

Because they aren’t modified or cross-pollinated to produce new desirable traits, they may not look as pretty as the produce we’ve come to expect at the grocery store. But the good news is they are usually quite delicious. They are also often selected for their ability to withstand extreme weather and produce high yields.

To understand this a bit better, we need to look at 3 types of vegetables, or more specifically, 3 types of seeds. This information will help you in deciding what type of produce to buy and then, in a later post, will be useful if you are trying to grow your own produce as well.

Plant a seedHeirloom Seeds: These are seed varieties that have been cultivated for many years, passed down from generation to generation, having fairly predictable results from crop to crop.

There is no agreed upon age required for these seeds, but some suggest 50 years, while others say it should be 100. A lot of people agree upon a date of pre-1945 because that marks the end of World War 2 when growers started hybrid experimentation.

Hybrid Seeds: Hybrids sometimes occur naturally and other times, intentionally to acquire specific characteristics and hybrid seeds often produce high yields. It’s the cross-breeding of two species to produce a new plant. Hybrids can produce great results, but are problematic when home growers or small farmers want to use the seeds from their hybrid crop to create new crops. Seeds from a second generation hybrid plant simply do not produce predictable results. Thus, hybrid seeds are usually purchased again for each planting.

DNA in a bottleGMO Seeds: Then we have the GMO seeds that are the intentionally genetically modified to produce very specific results. It’s the actual transfer of DNA from one organism (not necessarily other plants) to another to get those results. There are a number of debatable issues in regard to GMO ranging from ethics to ecology to economy.

For the purposes of my posts here, we all need to be aware that GMOs threaten the existence of organic crops through cross-pollination. Add to that, when large GMO producers like Monsanto hold patents on their seeds, they readily bully and sue smaller farmers when their GMO seed has been found to cross-pollinate with the crops of these smaller farms. Many of these farms simply cannot afford to fight these legal battles and are forced to either shut down or comply with buying their seeds from the GMO producers.

Earlier in 2012 a lawsuit including nearly 300,000 American farmers was launched against Monstanto and its practices, but the suit has been denied. The lawyers representing the farmers issued an appeal in July to take Monstanto back to court. Where this goes, is unknown, but it makes the protection of heirloom seeds even more important.

So the next time you see that gnarled carrot or misshapen tomato at the farmer’s market, consider giving it a home. This is the type of produce we need to support if we want to sustain organic cultivation.

Next theme link here: Is Organic Milk the Same as Regular Milk?

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