Seedlings Jump Start Your Garden

If you want to get your garden in ahead of your neighbors, you only have to remember that seedlings jump start your garden.  You only need to start your garden plants indoors, and when the danger of frost is past, you can plant them outdoors.  Voila, instant plant that you do not have to wait for another several weeks if you plant those seeds indoors.  Richard Jauron and Greg Wallace write a brief article about how to go about using seedlings to jump start your garden.  The sooner your plants are in the ground, the sooner you’ll have fresh produce.  You’re not waiting for seeds to germinate. Your plants are already healthy and growing.  Richard and Greg respond to readers about some potential problems with growing seedlings.

Seedlings jump start your garden.

Seedlings jump start your garden.

Poor or erratic germination of seeds may be caused by improper planting (for example, planting too deeply), uneven moisture or cool temperatures. Fine seeds and seeds that require light for germination should be sown on the surface of the germination medium and then lightly pressed into the medium. Cover all other seeds with additional potting mix to a depth of one to two times the seed’s diameter.

If you have particular problems with your seedlings, you might recognize them in Richard and Greg’s article.  I recognized one of mine almost immediately from their good description.  Probably one of the reasons I have shied away from growing those indoor seedlings is that I had a seemingly unsolvable problem when I tried it on one occasion, and the phrase “Google it” had not yet been in the common language.  I found the answer in Richard and Greg’s article.

The flower and vegetable plants that I start indoors get tall and spindly. Why?
Proper growing conditions should produce short, stocky transplants. Immediately after germination, move the seedlings to an area with a temperature of 60 to 70 F and place them under fluorescent lights (a sunny window usually doesn’t provide sufficient light).  A standard fluorescent shop fixture containing two 40-watt tubes (one cool white and one warm white) works fine. Position the fluorescent lights no more than 4 to 6 inches above the seedlings. The lights should be on for 12 to 16 hours per day.

Don’t do as I did if you want seedlings to jump start your garden.  Growing seedlings in a dark basement, even with the overhead lights on, isn’t going to make it.  Read the rest of Richard and Greg’s article by clicking here or on the link below for more tips on how to make your gardening easier, less expensive, and, hopefully, less work.  One caution–don’t put those seedlings in the ground outside until the danger of frost is passed, or all your early bird work will be lost.

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Ecologically Sensitive Gardening

As we are getting closer and closer to Spring, what if this year we think about more ecologically sensitive gardening ideas than perhaps we have in past years?  I know that we earth friendly gardeners try to be careful about the gardening techniques we employ.  Some things we are careful about, and there are other things that we may not even think about.  has written a good article giving her readers five tips about how to do ecologically sensitive gardening.  Here is one of her tips:

Ecologically sensitive gardening tips

Ecologically sensitive gardening tips

Try natural weed control.
There are plenty of do-it-yourself ways to control weeds in your gardens without resorting to chemical-laden weed killers. Use corn gluten meal, a nontoxic weed control that is safe to use around children and pets and 98 percent effective after the third application. Mulching oak leaves over garden beds in the fall can control weeds the following year, and for spot treatments (if you’re not up for hand-pulling), try a spray bottle of white vinegar, which will kill everything from dandelions to crab grass.

One of the things I like about Deborah’s article is that she follows up her five tips with the time investment it takes to put the tip into practice as well as an explanation of why to implement the tip she suggests.  For instance, Deborah says that your time weeding will be reduced in years to come if you get weed under control by one of the methods she suggests.  As far as why to use natural weed controls, Deborah says that corn gluten meal and vinegar are significantly less expensive than are chemical weed control methods.  Here is what she says about going native:

It’s important to buy locally adapted plants, meaning plants that will thrive in this region’s climate and soil conditions, whenever you can. That doesn’t mean you can only sow native plants if you want a healthy flowerbed. But you need to pay attention to the conditions required by plants and make sure those conditions match the environment of your home. The rules are really common sense: Don’t plant shade plants in full sunlight, for example. Stressed plants are the most vulnerable to pest infestation and drought.

You can read Deborah’s article about ecologically sensitive gardening by clicking here or on the link below.  She has additional tips on composting, watering and fertilizing.  You may be surprised by what she says about fertilizer.  Check out her article if you are interested in being a good steward of our earth.

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Garbage Gardening For Kids

I never gave much thought to garbage gardening, let alone garbage gardening for kids.  Dave Shiley has written an article in which he has noted the ease of teaching about the growing things in the warm months of the year.  He says it’s a real challenge, though, to do so in the winter, but with some thought, it can be done.   In the interest of teaching children how to make some useful living plants out of things that we would normally throw away, I suppose I have to acknowledge that garbage gardening for kids has some value.

Garbage gardening for kids.

Garbage gardening for kids.

“Garbage gardening is a great way to show kids that many of the things we throw away have value,” she said. “Plant parts that are normally thrown away are potentially beautiful houseplants.” Take the avocado. It needs light to germinate and there are two ways you can start it. “Plants can be started by suspending the pit with toothpicks in a glass of water,” she said. “Put the pointy side up and remember to change the water every couple of days while waiting for it to split and send out a root.

Dave writes about other things we can do in the winter months to help kids get a sense of what it takes to make things grow.  Several different vegetables that are root crops will grow leafy tops.  Dave writes about several vegetables to consider.

Carrots, beets, rutabaga, and turnips are root crops with a leafy upper portion. Cut a one-inch section from the top of the vegetable and plant it in moist sand with only the upper or top part exposed. Keep the soil moist and small leaves will begin to appear in about 10 days.

As we head into the last weeks (hopefully) of winter, Dave has given us some ideas to keep our kids busy and interested while they are stuck indoors because of the weather.  Garbage gardening for kids along with other ideas in Dave’s article, which you can read by clicking here or on the link below, will keep your kids busy and entertained over the last few weeks of winter, and it will get them prepared to anticipate the growing season of the summer.  When you do get your kids to plant some carrot or beet tops, you can send them away to watch for those leaves to appear–you never know when they might start sprouting, so keep an eye on them, kids.  Keep them out of your hair for a while with all our school closings in the arctic winter weather we’ve been having.

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When Can I Start Start Spring Planting

If you are asking yourself when can I start spring planting, C. Rae Hozer has written an article about the unpredictability of weather.  Had you read her column a week ago, she reminded her readers in the plateau region of Tennessee that the frost-free date for the region is May 10.  In this article, written a week later, Rae is still holding to the date, but she is taking a cautionary attitude in this week’s article.  Her response to the question “When can I start spring planting” is tempered a bit after the change in weather over the past week.

When can I start spring planting?

When can I start spring planting?

I described the winter of 2014-2015 in the Volunteer State as “pretty mild” in last week’s column. That was written before Monday, Feb. 16, brought us a week of freezing rain, snow and bitter sub-zero temperatures. On that day, this Tennessee winter took a sharp turn for the worse going from pretty mild to WILDLY AWFUL. Everybody knows Mother Nature is notoriously unpredictable but that sudden change was a shock.

The northeast part of the US in particular has taken some pretty nasty blows by old Jack Frost this winter.  And the cold has extended far into the more southern parts of the US as well.  I saw in the nightly news that the streets of Dallas were nearly deserted today, since they were coated with a layer of ice, which made driving treacherous if not impossible.  Rae said that she traded her garden trowel in for a snow shovel this week.  Me, too, Rae; eight inches of the white stuff fell on Saturday.  And you really don’t know snow shoveling until you’ve tried to shovel out the bottom of your driveway that has been barricaded with snow from passing snowplows. Rae notes that with all the cold and snow we’ve had recently, we need to pay attention to the temperature of the ground before planting certain plants.

Putting transplants that crave warmth in the ground way too early is usually a waste of time and money. (Though some gardeners get lucky, the odds of a good outcome are not favorable.) For instance, tomato transplants in really cold ground don’t do much. Tomatoes need warm soil as well as warm air to grow and develop normally.

Rae reminds the reader of nature’s unpredictability.  She also, almost as an aside, explains that the frost free date given for different zones is determined statistically.  Read her article by clicking here or on the link below, and you’ll know whether the frost free day is set at a 90% chance, an 85% chance, an 80% chance or a 75% chance that there will not be another frost during the spring of the year.  So the answer to the question, “When can I start spring planting?” is it depends.  What chance do you want to take that your plants will be wiped out by a frost?  Plant at the frost free date, and you may still get frozen out.

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Plants To Color A Snowy Garden

As I look out my window, I wish I had planned for more plants to color a snowy garden.  I’m not living on the East Coast where the snowfall has been relentless this winter.  With snow measured in feet, how one’s winter garden looks this year is probably not a priority.  But with average amounts of snowfall, winter snows do not obliterate the view of my gardens. As I look at my garden areas, they are a pretty boring white with few contrasting shades or shapes.  It’s now that I wish I had thought to put in some plants to color a snowy garden. Roger Mercer has written a good article about the kinds of plants that can survive an icy, snowy winter and can enhance winter gardens.

Great plants to color a snowy garden.

Great plants to color a snowy garden.

Ice makes a wonderland of any good winter garden. And it doesn’t really do harm to most plants. A few weak pine limbs will break off. Gardenias grown in shade will sprawl on the ground, as will the tiny-leaved dwarf forms of Chinese elm Ulmus parvifolia, or yaupon holly. None of the damage is permanent. A 15-foot weeping yaupon holly may break off at the ground when coated with thick ice and subjected to high wind. But it will grow back. The difference between good and ordinary winter gardens is a simple matter of plant selection.

Roger has included in his article the names of plants that do well in the ice and snow of winter, and he has suggested the names of other plants that will be damaged by the winter weather.  I appreciate his comments about the benefits of ice on plants in the winter.  One of the things he says is that ice provides a natural pruning task.  When we get high winds, our trees get naturally pruned, and twigs, and sometimes sizeable branches end up on the ground.  Though I’m not really pleased to do the yard clean up after a windstorm, I try to remind myself that the wind has done my trees a service.  Here is another taste of Roger’s article.

Here are the showiest winter plants that are enhanced by a coating of ice and suffer little damage: Nandina. Copious, brilliant red berries and red-tinged leaves make a happy, welcoming sight. Chinese witch hazel. Thousands of yellow, bronze, rose or red fragrant flowers curl up their long petals on icy days, and the entire mass of color can become encased in ice. When the ice is gone, the petals uncurl and waft their sweet fragrance through the winter garden. Hollies. All hollies except yaupon, and yaupon will survive most of what our ice storms throw at it, unless there is accompanying high wind. Dogwoods. The amazing red berries, as well as the swelling winter flower buds present a sea of sparkles when coated with ice.

And that is only some of the plants that Roger suggests in his article, which you can read by clicking here or on the link below.  If you’re thinking of including some plants to color a snowy garden as well as to look good during the summer, make sure to read Roger’s article for plants you may want to use and also for those you’ll want to avoid.  Then read what he has to say about ice on plants–very interesting!

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