Gearing Up For Starting Garden Seed

Growing SeedlingsNow’s the time to gather up what you’ll need for growing vegetable and flower seeds indoors.

We’ve been browsing through the seed catalogs that are trickling in, not all of them in the mail, and scribbling down names of some new choices we might try. Our big annual order, full of old favorites, will get sent in a couple weeks. But seeds aren’t the only thing we’ll need.

While we consider which seeds to order, we also take stock of what we’ll need to get them growing. We’ve talked a lot in the past about ways to keep your starts healthy and from getting too leggy. And those things are important. (more…)

Horitculture Programs: Good Grows Here

Senior Garden ProgramThe popularity of urban farming, garden therapy, and organic produce means more jobs and education.

This article about vocational training at Nebraska’s world-famous Boys Town — it’s the site of our favorite Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney movie — got us thinking about gardening programs designed to educate. Boys Town has always had roots in agriculture. I remember driving by there as a kid and seeing large greenhouses standing next to rows of corn and other crops. It fit right in among the surrounding farmland. (more…)

Designing A Flower Bed

Flower GardenWhat to consider when planning borders and flower garden designs.

Considering my outdoor landscape and making some changes wasn’t an official New Year’s resolution of mine. But it’s the one I’ve kept. I’ve thought about outdoor containers for decks, patios and walkways, maybe building an arbor and a trellis or two, and of course, making my lawn more water wise or getting rid of it completely. Now I’m ready to think about adding a flower garden or maybe a border along the fence or against the hedge.

Where to start? What’s to consider even before you start to think about where your flower bed might go? (more…)

BPA Water Bottle Substitute Worse Than BPA

Plastic Water BottlesChemicals in plastic water bottles continue to threaten health.

Those cute little stickers on that new water bottle I’m carrying around that announce that the plastic is “BPA Free”? They were reassuring after a lifetime of carrying water in containers made of who-knows-what. Now, even BPA-free bottles are suspect. Who could have predicted?

And while the news requires quick, specific action to switch to an alternative, safe bottle, it also signals an over-reaching issue concerning human health. Replacing a dangerous chemical with other manufactured chemicals never solves the problem. And sometimes it makes it worse. (more…)

The Art of Outdoor Container Growing

Growing in ContainersChoosing pots, plants and places to create beautiful landscapes with containers.

With a porch, a deck and a semi-covered patio, I’ve got as lot of good places for potted plants. I spent sometime this weekend going through some favorite books, getting ideas and reviewing principles that will not only improve my growing but also the aesthetic of potted plants. Here are some of the things that attracted me. Let’s hope they expand your thinking on container growing in the outdoor landscape just as they did mine.

Container Garden Idea Book put together by the editors of Fine Gardening magazine was one of the more browseable gardening books to come out in 2011.

It doesn’t really spend a lot of time discussing soil, drainage and moisture control, and what kind of pots to use for successful gardening. And that’s fine with me. I figure I know enough to grow climate-appropriate plants in containers. It’s the aesthetics that challenge me. I don’t have a good visual eye. Luckily, the Container Garden Idea Book helps me see how pots and plants come together for visual appeal. (more…)

Winter Houseplant Care: Balanced Conditions

Indoor Succulent PlantConsider the inter-relationship of light, water, humidity, and temperature when growing indoors.

A friend of this column called in to a relate a sad houseplant tale, one that points out the importance of knowing all aspects of houseplant care.

In winter, most plants are dormant and should be treated accordingly. That means equal attention to each aspect of your indoor plants, including so little water as to keep them dormant, and how those aspects affect one another. How many of us have put a favorite plant (in my case, it was an old, reliable rosemary) in a south-facing window for the cold season only to see it wither because of temperature fluctuations and lack of humidity? (more…)

Landscape Design: Building, Planting A Trellis

Landscape TrellisesVertical gardening with roses, grapes and other vines on arbors and trellises.

Well into his winter garden planning, your friendly Planet Natural blogger is thinking of vertical growing, both in the garden and around the yard. Maybe an arbor at the entrance too, well, I’m not sure yet. Or vines, heavy with trumpet blossoms, trailing up over a trellis placed against a fence. This could be a winter project, the way to get through a cold January and February, maybe even March (knowing how I proceed), then, come spring, set the thing outside and plant climbing vines.

I had youthful success doing this once before in the friendly climate of Venice, California. In fact, too successful. My trumpet vines and bougainvillea grew so thick and so far — and so heavy — that they eventually pulled down the slat fence that largely supported them. (more…)

Bitter Herbs: Dandelion and Other Garden Tonics

Dandelion GreensHow to grow bitter herbs, greens, and roots organically.

The seed catalogs are coming in and that gave me and my brother-in-law something to talk about over the holiday weekend. Since when did mega-seed selling Burpee stop selling dandelion seed? We couldn’t find it in the 2015 catalog. Brother-in-law went over to his shelf and pulled out the 2014 catalog. Nope. (Full disclosure: They do have dandelion listed online. Go figure.)

This seemed strange because growing bitter herbs, dandelion among them, is once again all the rage because of their reported health benefits. Besides dandelion’s super-rich vitamin content, it’s also — like most bitter plants — known to be a digestive aid and de-toxifier. It’s said to give a healthy boost to the immune system. Dandelions have something of a cult-following among gardeners, the health-conscious, and gourmets who cherish the greens in the same way they cherish radicchio, another bitter plant. (more…)

GMO Battle 2015

GMO GrassGenetically modified grass (some plants) escape regulation.

From the looks of the “regulated letters of inquiry” page over at the United States Department of Agriculture’s “Animal and Plant Inspection Services,” the list of genetically modified plants looking to enter our environment and food supplies includes potatoes, pineapples, and sorghum (a sweetener with multiple uses). Then there’s the one we don’t consume: lawn grass. In certain ways, it might be the most frightening.

Why? Because it’s completely unregulated. It needs no prior approval from the USDA before it can be unleashed in America’s front yards. And it’s not alone. Among the other GE plants escaping oversight are a corn that promises less methane from the cows who eat it and an ornamental plant that glows in the dark. Yes, really (scroll down to “How We Make the Glowing Plant”). (more…)

Butterflies, Bees, Organic Corn

Monarch Butterflies…and other good gardening news for the New Year.

Life under a daily barrage of bad and often frivolous news can be unsettling. The good things that happen are often over-shadowed by the sensational. But small things matter, too. In that spirit, here’s some uplifting news of interest to organic gardeners and a silver-lining spin on a story that otherwise might be thought downcast.

Monarchs on the rebound? Observers are seeing noticeably more monarch butterflies returning to their wintering grounds in western Mexico this year over last. “We’re encouraged,” Gloria Talavera, director of the official monarch butterfly reserve, told The New York Times. Talvera reports bunches of butterflies clinging to fir and pine trees. Recent years had seen a worrisome decline in butterfly numbers. (more…)

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