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!

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.

Once you’ve selected a fertilizer (make sure you use an organic one!), you’ll need to apply it about once every two weeks for container grown plants. This assumes that you’re growing in a high quality, compost rich potting mix that will help retain nutrients. With that said, some gardeners prefer to fertilize with a weak nutrient solution every other time they water. If this is your preference, make sure to use about 1/5 the amount called for on the label.

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December Gardening Tasks

Winter SeasonWhat chores are gardening blogs suggesting for December? Here’s an extension service that recommends knocking the snow off your low-growing evergreen shrubs. Really? I’ve lived in some places where that would be an endless task — not to mention unnecessary. If you live in the mountainous West, or along the Canadian border, or where the lake effect really has an effect you probably just consider any snow damage your evergreens suffer “natural pruning.” That same web site suggests — tell this to your kids — you “minimize traffic on frozen lawn to prevent damage,” unless of course, it’s packed with snow. Then you can park your car on it (just kidding… actually foot traffic on frozen, and we mean hard-frozen, grass will damage it.). Another website suggests you spend December concentrating on you houseplants. Sure, this is a good time of year to give them a leaf cleaning and to make sure they don’t dry out in the low-humidity of furnace heat. But let’s face it. You have houseplants? You’re caring for them all year long. Another blog suggests now’s the time to start saving kitty litter. We won’t even supply the link to that one. But remember that safely composting your pet’s waste requires temperatures higher than the home compost bin or heap achieve. (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.

Now that your container is clean and ready for planting, you’ll need something to fill it with — besides the plant, that is. I recommend purchasing a quality potting mix, or you can make your own potting soil. What you’re looking for is a growing medium that is light and fast-draining, yet contains enough organic matter to hold moisture and nutrients. If you want, you can muscle up your potting mix by adding a balanced, slow-release organic fertilizer and water absorbing granules. (more…)

The Perfect Potting Mix Recipe

Potting MixNothing can be created out of nothing. - Lucretius, 99 – 55 B.C.

As with any garden, soil preparation is what really counts when it comes to being successful growing in containers. It’s the foundation. It’s the staff of life. Pick your life-giving metaphor and you get the idea.

In other words, select the right potting mix recipe for your plants and they will thrive. Skimp on the soil and you’ll get weak, non-productive plants that require more work to maintain and are susceptible to all kinds of pest problems.

What is the perfect mix? That depends. Every professional gardener has his own “secret” recipe just like every Italian grandmother has her own way of making tomato sauce. However, most experts agree that a good container medium should be lightweight and drain well, yet contain enough organic matter to hold moisture and nutrients even through hot, dry weather. You can purchase a quality potting mix or you can make your own. (more…)

Plants for Pots

Potted PlantMore grows in the garden than the gardener sows. – Chinese Proverb

Just about any plant can be grown in a pot as long as its basic growing requirements are met. You can grow fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs, shrubs and small trees almost anywhere. Container plants add beauty to all kinds of areas and flourish on windowsills, patios, balconies, doorways, inside greenhouses and even on rooftops. The possibilities are endless.

When selecting plants for pots, it’s important to decide where the plants will be grown. Is the site sunny or shady? The #1 factor influencing container garden success is matching the amount of available sunlight with plants that thrive in that environment. Check plant labels or seed packets, and if arranging several plants together make sure that sun-loving plants are grouped with sun lovers and shade-loving plants are planted with shade lovers.

With that said, it’s apparent that some plants are naturally better suited to growing in containers than others. To help reduce the confusion and increase your gardening pleasure, we’ve put together a “pretty close to accurate” sampling of top container plants. Please consult seed catalogs for plant varieties developed especially for container gardening. (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.

Tip: Choose containers in proper proportion to the size of the plant. A container that is about one-third as tall as the plant (measured from the soil line to the highest leaf) often works best. (more…)

Gardening in Containers

SeedlingsThere are few things more satisfying than watching those little seeds you planted not so long ago, slowly spring from the earth to form nourishing vitamin rich food for you and the people you love. Sadly, in this day and age, not everyone has a big backyard with soil suited for growing vegetables. Some of us don’t have any yard at all! However, even the smallest patio, back porch, balcony or doorstep can provide enough room for a beautiful and productive container garden.

There are many wonderful reasons for gardening in containers. Not only does growing crops in pots allow you to have a portable garden that can be moved to create any effect you want, but they can be brought inside as soon as the weather turns cold for a fresh, year round supply of flowers, vegetables and herbs.

Planters are particularly great if you live in the city. For inspiration, one needs only to turn to the roof-top gardener’s of New York City. Working with a limited amount of space they have transformed these areas, using an assortment of garden supplies, potting mixes and various plants, into lush getaways high above the din and chaos of the city. (more…)

Mighty Mycorrhiza

Mycorrhizal FungiOne of the great things about gardening — in addition to creating beautiful landscapes and delicious, healthy food — is its educational opportunities. Your friendly Planet Natural blogger has gardened on and off since my childhood some (garbled) years ago and I learn something new almost every time I pick up a how-to book, talk to a companion gardener, or get my hands in the dirt. Best are the things that I once knew nothing about and, as I explore them further, result in deepening levels of understanding and wonder. Current example? Mycorrhiza.

Mycorrhizal fungi are beneficial soil organisms that attach themselves to the roots of plants — almost 95% of the world’s growing things have a symbiotic reationship with mycorrhiza  –  and help them facilitate the uptake of water and nutrients. I first came aware of mycorrhizal fungi when pursuing hydroponic gardening a few years back. Hydroponic gardeners add mycorrhizal fungi innoculants to their growing solutions to encourage quick and vibrant growth. Some soil boosters also contain them. That’s good as far as it goes. (more…)

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