Old Malls Grow Green

Rooftop FarmingRoof-top farms and green-house gardens help reclaim agricultural land from urban sprawl.

All those big malls that were built in the 1970s and 1980s? You know, the kind that had a big anchor store or two and many, many often smaller retails outlets, a multi-plex movie house, and a food court?  They’re beginning to close — completely — in growing numbers.

Some two-dozen have closed across the country since 2010 says the mall tracking group Green Street Advisors. Robin Lewis, co-author of The New Rules of Retailing, has predicted that at least 30% of the behemoth retail complexes will close in the near future.  What to do with all that empty space? (more…)

Best Direct Sow Flowers

Flower GardenLots of annual flowers take to seeding right in the ground.

We’ve made no secret that we intend to start more of our annual flowers indoors, under lights, to set in our landscapes once temperatures cooperate. And as we were putting together a list for an impending order, we realized that we should also consider the flower seed we’ll order to sow directly in the ground.

Direct seeding works well in places like borders or other patches where a number of plants are desired. And the best flowers for these borders are ones that germinate and mature quickly like cosmoszinnias, or marigolds. (more…)

Cruel Livestock Research

Factory FarmingWhat constitutes humane treatment of farm animals?

A recent expose of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Meat Animal Research Center has focused attention on animal cruelity by factory farms and big agriculture. The crowding and debeaking of chickens, the confinement of sows when giving birth, the feed lot conditions of cattle; all these issues (and more) have drawn attention to the livestock industry and its pursuit of extracting profit from animals. But this article raises a whole new set of concerns. (more…)

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…)

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