Lawns & Landscapes

You want to make your lawns and landscapes, the places where your children play and your vegetables grow, as safe as possible. We provide the information – and practical experience – to help you do it.

Container Gardens with Altitude

Vertical GardensGardening requires lots of water… most of it in the form of perspiration. – Lou Erickson

Don’t have much garden space? Want to grow tomatoes, beans, peas, cucumbers, squash and just about any other kind of veggie on a vine? If so, consider vertical gardening.

Many plant supports, including trellises, nets, cages or stakes can be used to maximize your garden in small areas. Not only will you save valuable space, but growing container plants vertically can turn just about any nook or cranny into a beautiful garden spot.

Even if you have plenty of room, vertical gardens will help keep plants up off the ground. They can also be used to define landscaped areas, by creating interesting focal points and eye-pleasing boundaries. Advantages include:

  • Fruits and flowers are less susceptible to pest damage.
  • Cultivating and harvesting is easier.
  • More plants can be grown with less space.
  • Can be used as a privacy screen or to cover up unsightly views.
  • Provides better air circulation, reducing fungal problems.
  • Allows for more efficient watering.
  • Yields are generally higher.
  • Creates a shady spot in the garden.
  • Monitoring and managing pests is easier.

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Fertilizing Potted Plants

Fertilizing PlantsEarly to bed, early to rise, Work like hell: fertilize. – Emily Whaley

Whether you are growing indoors or out, fertilizer is essential to the success of container gardens. The easiest way to go about fertilizing potted plants is by preparing a nutrient solution and pouring it over the soil mix. The fertilizer is absorbed by the roots and quickly adds what is missing from the existing soil. Even if your potting mix is perfect from the get-go, it will soon become depleted of nutrients as they are constantly used up by plants and leached out by watering. The faster a plant grows the more fertilizer and water it will require. Consequently, as watering is increased so is leaching and nutrient loss. (more…)

Sunlight and Potted Plants

Plant LightTurn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you. – Maori Proverb

All potted plants need sunlight, but how much varies from plant to plant.

For example, vegetables grown for their fruits or seeds, like tomatoes, peppers and corn, need around six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. Ideally, this might be from dawn until about three in the afternoon. The sun is often hottest (and toughest on plants) from after three until just before sundown. Leafy crops such as Swiss chard, lettuce and cabbage can tolerate much less sun and plants such as flowers and herbs may have different lighting requirements depending on the varieties grown.

When deciding what plants to grow, check their labels and read seed packets for specific lighting recommendations. Also, become familiar with the amount of sunlight a specific garden spot receives. If possible, try to imagine the change in sun exposure as trees grow leaves and the seasons change. For productive container gardens, do not combine plants with vastly different lighting preferences, especially if growing several containers in one area, or many plants in one container. (more…)

Watering Potted Plants

Watering PlantsContainer grown plants dry out quickly and require more water than their backyard counterparts growing in open soil. This is because potting soil is often lighter and less compact than regular garden soil and the water holding capacity around the plant is determined by the size of the container. Watering potted plants once a day or even twice daily may be necessary, especially if the weather turns hot and windy or your containers are in full sunlight. Watch closely, and check moisture levels often. If the growing media appears pale or cracked, or feels dry below the soil’s surface, it’s time to water.

The easiest way to water container plants is with a watering can or gentle hose. However, when you water make sure that you are watering the soil and not just the plant’s leaves. Continue watering until it runs out the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. The idea is to water thoroughly but allow enough time between waterings for the soil to begin drying out. A moisture meter, available at many garden centers, can be used to instantly determine when to water your plants. If the potting mix remains soggy for too long, air will be forced away from the roots and your plants may suffocate or drown. (more…)

Planting in Pots

Herbs in PotsAll gardeners know better than other gardeners. – Chinese Proverb

Whether you purchase plants in beautiful new planters or plastic nursery pots, there comes a time when they will need to be repotted. Fortunately, planting in pots is relatively easy.

Prior to planting, carefully clean out the container you intend to use with warm soapy water and rinse well. This is especially important if reusing older containers, as dirty pots may harbor insect eggs and disease spores. If using terra-cotta containers, rinsing and soaking with water will have the added benefit of saturating the many tiny pores in the clay, preventing them from wicking moisture away from the soil. (more…)

Selecting Pots for Plants

Pots for PlantsHalf the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination. – Mrs. C.W. Earle

When choosing pots for plants … be creative! Try anything from an old boot, to that 16th century Baroque urn you just “had to have.” Just about anything can be used as a pot for plants providing it drains well (roots will rot in soggy soil) and doesn’t get too hot sitting in the sun. If the pot you select doesn’t have enough drainage holes, make sure to drill at least one “good-sized” hole for every gallon of soil used. If you can’t drill or punch holes into a particular planter, you can sometimes work around this, by planting in a separate pot and setting it inside the container you prefer.

When selecting a pot, it’s important to consider the size of the plant — or plants — you will be growing. Yes, size does matter! If the pot is too small, plants will quickly become rootbound and the soil will not be able to hold enough moisture between waterings. Plants that are allowed to dry out, or wilt, will not be productive. (more…)

Using Autumn’s Bounty

Autumn LeavesBy Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

Leaves, easily turned into protective mulch, soil-enhancing leaf mold or rich compost, are the fall season’s gift to the composter. After the last tomatoes are picked, the standing greens harvested, the squash brought in and the carrots pulled, nature provides a bounty that assures the next year’s crops will have the best soil possible. Let your non-gardening neighbors curse autumn’s raking tasks. Composters rejoice in the piles of mineral-rich organic material that trees graciously shed just for them.

Okay, okay, maybe that’s a little too much hyperbole. Still, it’s hard not to get poetic about leaves. Sure, raking can be hard work even for composters who know the value in each and every leaf. But leaves have long been a treasure for the gardeners: easily available, rich in nutrients, an effective mulch in winter and summer and, once decomposed, extremely beneficial to the soil. (more…)

Tool Time: Caring for Garden Tools

Heirloom Garden ToolsWe’re a little lost this time of year when it comes to gardening. Sure there’s plenty else to do and our indoor plants provide just enough green contact to keep us in touch with growing things. But looking out over a mulch or snow-covered garden gets us a bit anxious to get outside and start gardening again. What to do in the meantime?

Take care of our garden tools. Grandma’s maxim — “It’s not what you have but how you take care of what you have” — applies to garden tools, especially the ones we inherited from her. How did they last that long? See Grandma’s maxim.

By now, of course, you’ve drained the hoses and brought them inside for winter storage, unless your climate is such that you are able to water all year ’round. But have you taken a wire brush to your shovel, turning fork, and hoe to clean away all traces of dirt and rust? Have you taken special care to clean debris away from where the head of the tool meets the handle to avoid hidden rot and decay? Did you treat those wooden handles with linseed oil to assure that they won’t turn brittle and crack… or worse? (more…)

Plan On Planting Apple Trees Now

Apple TreeThere’s no more rewarding investment than planting trees. Apple trees that you plant early next spring may start yielding fruit in three to four years. But they’ll be giving joy almost immediately. Planting apple trees with your children can be especially rewarding. They’ll grow right along with your kids. A picture journal that begins at the first day of planting and continues through the years, with your kids standing right alongside their tree in each picture, will give you family memories that will last a lifetime, as will the tree itself.

Now you might be thinking that I’m jumping the gun here in late October. Nearly everyone recommends planting fruit trees in the spring, although you can get away with it in the fall if you have mild winters and protect the newly transplanted roots with plenty of mulch. But good organic tree-planting practice starts in the fall even if your trees won’t go in the ground until spring. We went to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association to find out more. Here (with some additions) is what they recommend. (more…)

Gleanings, Seedings, Weedings

Autumn ColorsHere’s a few short items pulled from the web this fall, most related to gardening news previously addressed, one even fresh plucked. Feel free to suggest links and add further information to any of our posts (and don’t forget corrections!). Help make this a conversation. And thanks to those who have!

A local worm rancher responding to our post on the uses of straw bales in gardening, says we missed one. He suggests that bales make good worm corrals in the winter, keeping your worms working, if ever so slowly in the cold weather, and keeping them from burrowing out of the pile and into the ground. Bales make good insulation, no doubt about it; these days, they’re even used to build green homes. As the bales break down the following spring and summer, they can just be added to the compost pile or used for mulch. We looked into it further: some gardeners build complete worm systems out of hay bales. Hay bales… the gift that keeps on giving. (more…)

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