Organic Gardens

Few pursuits are as rewarding as growing your own organic garden. Not only do you get to enjoy the fruits of your own labor, but you have the satisfaction of knowing that the produce you are eating was grown free of chemicals, pesticides and herbicides. Growing organically produces healthy, more diverse ecosystems which are better able to resist significant pest damage… naturally!

Garden Planning and Design

Herb Garden BorderA beautiful garden takes time, effort, money and maintenance. Starting with a good garden plan can help cut down on all of those things. Thinking about your yard or garden before getting to work can create a unified area that accents your home and provides years of enjoyment. Consider the factors that will affect how your garden will grow — sunlight, shade, wind, drainage, access to water, foot traffic patterns — and the balance between lawn, shrubs, flowers and vegetables. A landscape analysis that considers these and other factors is an important first step in garden planning.

Start With A Map

Before you know what you want, you need to figure out what you have. Start by drawing a map of your yard with existing trees, shrubs, slopes, patios and whatever else is out there. The map can be as formal (a scale version on graph paper) or casual as your need for detail dictates, but the more accurate it is, the more thorough your garden plan will be. (more…)

Gardening with Children

Gardening KidChildren love to play in the dirt. They like to search for earthworms and bugs. They like to create things. They like destroying things just as much. Watering plants, and anything else, brings great joy. Our little ones want to be part of the household and do some of the same things as mom and dad. Why not involve them in the garden?

Gardening with kids can be anything from planting seeds inside on a windowsill to caring for houseplants, to helping design and maintain a full-fledged garden. Big or small, growing projects teach kids to nurture seeds and plants — and thus themselves — and responsibility. They gain self-esteem and a deeper connection to the natural world. By prepping soil, sowing seeds and watching seedlings sprout, kids get important lessons in science and the environment without even knowing it. They might even want to eat the vegetables they tended to. (more…)

Seasonal Garden Care

Garden Care“To every thing there is a season…” Ecclesiastes

Garden care is a year-round activity, its rhythms dictated by seasonal conditions and local climates. April showers may bring spring flowers in temperate zones, late frosts and snow may continue at higher elevations while harvests of greens, peas and other vegetables may be well under way in the coastal south. Wherever you live, lawn and garden care is required throughout the year to a varying degree. The kind of attention and level of intensity depend on your growing zone and micro-climate conditions. Whether you are mulching, fertilizing, planting or harvesting, there is work to be done all spring, summer, fall and winter. A little planning and consideration to the longevity and health of your plants and soil will give you an enviable yard and garden to be enjoyed year round.

Spring

Spring may come shortly after the New Year to coastal California and the South, not until May and June in the higher elevations of the West. You know when it reaches your area; the days begin to warm and nights hover above freezing, trees and shrubs swell with buds, lawns green in the first rains. Start a garden journal that records last frosts and other weather conditions, planting dates and germination times; any and all information that will be useful to future gardening seasons. (more…)

Flower Gardening 101

Flower GardeningFlower gardening can brighten up and enliven any landscape. It can turn an ordinary garden into a colorful showcase or create a border that pops. Whether you choose an easy to manage perennial or a particularly touchy annual, growing flowers is a rewarding addition to any yard, garden or border.

Choosing Flowers

Selecting the right plants for your flower garden is often a matter of preference, but with so many species and varieties available it can be mind-boggling. Consider the following when designing a flower garden: hardiness, color, fragrance, height, time of bloom and size of plant. Do you want to attract hummingbirds, butterflies, or song birds? Or are you trying to create a work of beauty just for you?

It is also imperative to think about your growing space. Is it in full sun? Partial shade? Is your soil well-drained and loamy? Or will your plant roots have to fight through clay soil? (more…)

The Companion Planting Controversy

Companion PlantsAnd, ah, yes: ‘companion planting’; a topic laced with more folklore, hopefulness, bad information and just plain hype than just about any other in the gardening world. It’s said to have begun just as the world was going from BC to AD, when the oft-quoted Pliny the Elder wrote that the (highly toxic) plant rue was a “very friendly” companion to figs. – Mike McGrath, “The Truth About Companion Planting”

McGrath’s is not an uncommon position. Companion planting is a messy topic than needn’t be messy. It’s messy first because a lot of pseudo-scientific nonsense has been published on the topic, and second because even within the area of what makes sense, there’s a wide variety of approaches and techniques.

The basic idea behind companion planting is both simple and sensible: many plants grow better near some companions than they do near others or when alone. The devil is, as usual, in the details, in this case in the precise definition. (more…)

Companion Planting: A Common Sense Guide

Companion PlantingThe basic idea behind companion planting is both simple and sensible: many plants grow better near some companions than they do near others or when alone. By itself it will not work miracles, but applied in a well-maintained garden, it can produce startling results. It can drastically improve the use of space, reduce the number of weeds and garden pests, and provide protection from heat, wind, and even the crushing weight of snow. In the vegetable garden, all this adds up to the best thing of all: increased yield.

Most people think of companion planting in connection with vegetable gardens, but it can also be used when flower gardening and in full-scale fields. Some of the most familiar examples come from farming, where it’s a long-standing practice to sow vetch or some other legume in the fall after the harvest. This cover crop provides erosion control through storms, and supplies both nitrogen and organic material to the soil when it is plowed under in spring. (more…)

Plant Propagation 101

Plant PropagationPropagating plants is an inexpensive and easy way to get new plants from plants you already have. This asexual means of reproduction produces a plant that is genetically identical to its parent.

There are a variety of plant propagation methods; from taking cuttings to layering to dividing and more. The technique you select will depend on the type of plant you wish to propagate and the amount of time and effort you want to put into it.

Cuttings

One of the most amazing things about plants is that every cell has the ability to duplicate all parts and functions of the plant. By taking a cutting of a leaf or stem and creating the right conditions, you can create an entirely new plant. (more…)

Growing Watermelon

WatermelonsSweet, cool and refreshing… there’s nothing like growing watermelon in your own backyard garden. A heat-loving annual, it can be grown in all parts of the country, but the warmer temperatures and longer season of southern areas especially favor this delicious plant. In cooler areas choose short-season varieties and do whatever it takes to protect them from frost.

Site Preparation:

Choose a location where your plants will get full sun and good air circulation. A gentle, south-facing slope is ideal. Watermelons can grow in many kinds of soil, but prefer a light, sandy, fertile loam that is well-drained. Add generous amounts of manure, compost and leaves to your garden and work the soil well prior to planting. Watermelons like lots of water. Keep the soil moist at all times. (more…)

Growing Tomato Plants

Tasty TomatoesWhile technically a fruit, growing tomato plants is a vegetable gardeners delight! Nothing beats the taste of  fresh, vine ripened heirloom tomatoes from the home garden. Originating in Central and South America, tomato plants are grown in an ever increasing range of colors, sizes and shapes with the recent interest in heirloom cultivars fueling further interest (see History of Tomatoes).

Site Preparation:

Tomatoes are very deep rooted and don’t need nearly as much water as most people believe. They will do much better in the garden soil than in pots and require plenty of sun. Plant after the soil has warmed in the spring in rich, fast draining soil which has been amended with ample amounts of organic compost and calcium to prevent blossom end rot.

How to Plant:

Allow enough space (1-1/2 – 2 feet) between tomato plants to permit good sun penetration and air circulation. Plant the tomatoes deep in the soil, up to the first set of leaves or deeper. Roots will form all along the stem. Water deeply (long periods of time, once or twice a week) to encourage roots to grow down into the soil. Once the plants are established, start them on a biweekly fertilizer program. (more…)

Growing Chard

Swiss ChardSwiss chard is in the beet family but unlike the beet, which is grown for the edible root, chard is grown for the tender foliage. Vitamin rich and nutritious, home gardeners growing Swiss chard are rewarded with its succulent, mild-flavored leaves that can either be eaten raw or cooked like spinach.

Site Preparation:

Chard is best grown in soil that is rich in organic matter, fast draining and high in nitrogen. It requires full sun (but tolerates partial shade) and regular water. Work well composted manures or blood meal into the soil to boost nitrogen levels. Foliar applications with an all-purpose organic fertilizers and kelp 2-3 times during the growing season will boost production.

How to Plant:

Make your first plantings directly into the garden two to four weeks before the last expected frost. Sow seed 1/2 inch deep and 1-3 inches apart. Thin rows as plants mature and eat the tender shoots in salads. Chard is a prolific grower and can tolerate mild frosts. (more…)

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