Sunday, December 31, 2006

Mail Order Plants

Many people order their seeds from catalogs because they cannot find the types of seeds they need in their local area. If you are thinking of ordering your seeds from a catalog this year, then you should plan now to start getting the right ones ordered.

Step one is to order the catalogs you want. Check online for lists of gardening catalogs or ask your gardening friends. You also can look in gardening magazines for advertisements. Although there are scores of catalogs available, you should order only the ones that you think may be of interest. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, then Awesome Tropical Seeds will not do you any good. Stay away; it only will serve to give you too many choices.

Once the catalog arrives, you will need to pick out the plants. Now you probably will notice that these plants are fairly pricy. That is because they are special-order plants. You are paying for the fact that they are not in your local area and for the additional care that must be taken in shipping these plants. Still you can rest assured that the plants you order through the mail are well taken care of, so you do not need to worry about their quality as much as if you were purchasing cheap from a retailer.

When the plants arrive, you will need to take care to open them and get them started growing immediately. You should look at the amount of time the plants take to ship so that you can try to time your order with the time you will be able to plant the seeds or seedlings that you have ordered. If you end up with the plants too early, then you will need to purchase containers to put them in before you even open the box. Remember that the plants are very delicate but are protected while they are in the box. Keep them that way until you are ready to move them. This prep time should not take more than a day or so, however, as the plants are not intended to survive in the box for long.

When you are ready, remove the lid from the box carefully. A leaf or two may fall out, but the bulk of the plant should remain intact. In fact, you should find that each plant is in a separate container or hole in the box and that the plants all have labels on them. If they do not have labels, after saying mean things about the seed company, you should get a catalog and compare the pictures with your invoice. Make sure that you can tell what each plant is before getting it out. Otherwise call the customer service line for the catalog company to ask for help.

The plant most likely will have a little tag with the name. If you are getting tiny rooted plants, then you should be able to tuck the tag underneath the plant. That will work best for getting each plant out, so try to find a way to get the tag underneath the plant roots quickly. They will hold the roots and compost together while you are in the process of transferring the plants.

Next you will need to put the plant in its home, whether that is your yard or a small plant in your home. If you will be moving the plant again, be careful that you will be able to transplant it. Otherwise you should be good to go once you get the plant in its new home. Put some fertilizer or compost in with the plant and water it. Remove any dead or dying leaves now so that they do not contaminate the remainder of the plant.

Now you can sit back and enjoy. Be sure that you mark which companies sent great seeds and seedlings and which did not. You will want to know where you got the plants next year so that you can order from the same companies again and avoid the ones with less flattering plants. You will need to begin ordering new catalogs each year so that you can plan for your seeds and seedlings each winter.

Planning a Basic Urban Garden

Building an urban garden is becoming a trend in cities all across the United States. If you live in an apartment, gone are the days when you thought you could not have a garden simply because you did not live in a house. Instead, now you have the option to have all types of gardening choices available to you, but you will need to do some basic research to make sure what you are doing is acceptable.

First, you should check with regulations regarding urban gardens. Some urban areas permit gardeners to grow any types of plants they would like while others limit the types of plants. You may be able to have only perennials or annuals, for instance, as there may be seasonal restrictions. You also may discover that you are not allowed plants that will grow over a certain height or that some types, such as herbs, are prohibited altogether.

In addition to your city, you should check with your apartment or condominium association. Chances are that they have their own restrictions based on the desires of the majority of the tenants. Certain plants may be banned because of their unsightly appearance or because of their likelihood to cause allergies. Whatever the restrictions, it is best that you adhere to them so that you do not find yourself with massive fines for ignoring basic laws.

Once you have figured out the rules, it is time to begin planning your own urban garden. Some people may want to have just one or two plants dotting the balcony while others want to grow an assortment. You may grow plants inside or outside in an urban garden, and you can work to create the best environment for your plants regardless of the location.

Your best bet if you are planning an indoor urban garden is to go with unique containers. Because you have little room in an apartment, you will want to make everything possible do double-duty. That means that a beautiful tin that you have can be painted and used to hold flowers or that you can use accent pieces to complement your decorating style and to grow your flowers. Be sure that you have curtains that are easy to tie back if you intend to use sunlight for your urban garden.

Outside urban gardeners will want to consider the same factors as other gardeners, such as the weather. Be sure that your selected plants will grow in your climate zone. If you are unsure of your climate zone, you can look this information up at your local library or online fairly easily. Knowing the correct climate zone will help guarantee that you choose plants that will thrive, which will make the experience all the more pleasant.

The best thing about having a garden is that you can enjoy the plants you create. In an urban garden, that means that you do not want a lot of plants because you will not have the space to enjoy them. Be sure that you pick an area where you can put plants a couple of feet apart so that you can enjoy each one of them instead of putting them so close together that you will not be able to see each plant.

Also think about the colors of your skyline or city when you are planning your urban garden. Some balconies overlook playgrounds or swimming pools. Try to pick flowers that will blend in the background of your view so that they will seem to create a seamless move from your home to the rest of the world.

Finally when you are planning an urban garden, give real consideration to how much time you have to devote to your plants and keep that in mind when you are getting plants. Some require little care, and if you work 70 hours a week, you need those plants. If you have a more leisurely pace, then you probably can get something that will need more of your attention. Remember that you are not limited by being in urban area. You simply need to make sure that you are able to think creatively about the type of plants you will be able to have in your garden plot.

Planting A Tin Can Garden

The first year I planted a garden, I used containers for the veggies. For some, it worked well, but for others, it was not the best idea. Still I like the idea of using the containers. Instead of purchasing them, I used containers I already had on hand. We kept any tin containers we used, such as coffee tins and ones with baby formula.

While I was proud of my little garden, it did not look so exciting. The cans started to get bent and a little rusted by the end of the summer. Later I stumbled on a great idea for a way to use the tin can idea in your garden but to make it look better. This idea is so wonderful and simple that it is something I intend to employ in my garden next year.

First note that this idea is intended for flower gardening and not vegetable gardening. You are looking for short-root plants to use for this little tin can garden. You could try doing herbs, and they probably would work because many of them have small root systems. The only problem with using the tin can garden for herbs is that you need to be able to reach your herbs easily to cut them.

At any rate, gather all of the tin cans you find, including ones used for canned vegetables. When you use the cans, you should wash them thoroughly at that time and turn them upside down to dry. Then you will need to go ahead and remove the labels from the can. If you do it before you wash the cans, then you can use the water to run over the labels and remove them better. If you feel the need to remove them completely, then you can try Goof-Off or another similar product to get the label glue off. Put the cans away until time for you to begin putting your garden together.

Once it is time for the garden, you will need to purchase a piece of wood. Plywood is recommend and will work well with this idea. Make sure that you are using a pressed sheet or the flat side and paint it using any exterior paint. You can do a solid color, pattern, scene, or whatever strikes you.

Next you will use a hammer and nail to put a small puncture hole in the bottom of the can. This hole will serve as drainage for your tin can garden. Next you will need metal snippers. Cut the top of the can off completely and cut a line straight down the center of the can. Use the snippers to go around half of the bottom part of the can and remove half of the bottom.

You will need to use pliers to fold out the sides of the can where there is no bottom. Then get the snippers out again and cut a V into each side. Put the can flat on the plywood with the side with the remaining bottom facing out. Once you have determined where each of the cans will go, you can put a tintack, two on each side, in the cans to hold them in place.

Once you have the cans in place, your garden is ready to begin planting. You will be able to put potting soil and plant seeds in the tins you have used to create your tin garden. If you know a vine or small climbing plant that grows in your area and has small roots, that may be perfect for this type of garden.

You will be able to rest the tin can garden against the side of your house or in another area where it will be seen. What you are doing is not permanent, which works well if you are in a temporary setting, and you will be able to enjoy it all season. The best part is that the entire garden is pretty cheap, especially considering you are probably using cans you already purchased, so redoing it in years to come will not seem so bad. Try out different types of flowers with this garden to see what works so that you can create a cool tin can garden for your yard this year.

Use Mexican Painted Pots for Your Container Garden

Planning a container garden is a great way to have more garden with little space or to create a movable garden. These gardens will be able to go wherever they work best at a given time or place. Perhaps you want a plant on the front porch this year but will move it to the deck next year of even for the Independence Day party you are planning. If you have a container garden, then you want to try to make your containers interesting. While you can use basic metal cans, such as coffee cans, you also may want to spruce them up, no pun intended, so that your containers are as much of a discussion point and provide as much aesthetic appeal as the plants themselves.

One way to create cool containers is to use this basic painting technique to make Mexican painted pots. (Those of you who are less creative can do a toned-down version of this plan. Just skip the last step.) You will need terra cotta pots of any size although you may want to plan out the plants before you buy. For the complete gardening novice, terra cotta pots are those basic orange clay pots you see everywhere. They are super-cheap, which is why they are so popular, and they actually are pretty durable little pots for your plants.

You also will need to go to a craft store and pick up some brushes of various sizes. You probably can get a basic set of brushes for a few dollars. Just make sure that you have them ranging from brush heads that are an inch or so down to the tiniest 1/16 of an inch brushes. You also should get white undercoat; be sure that the bottle says it works for exterior use. Then you will need gouache paint, which is better than your basic craft paint and will withstand being outdoors. Get the colors that excite you the most; they mostly come in very bright choices. Finally you will need a polyurethane matt varnish and some masking tape (cheap is fine) for your pots.

Whew! Now that you have the supplies, it is time to get down to business. You should put the pots out in an area where you can paint. Put newspaper under them so that you do not make a mess. Once you are set up, you should put the masking tape in strips around the pots. If you get different widths of the tape, you can create more variation; another way to get the difference is to cut the masking tape strips so that some are narrower than the roll.

Once you have several circles with the tape, you will need to use your widest brush and paint the entire pot (masking tape and all) with the white undercoat. Allow the undercoat to dry and use brushes that are roughly the width of each section not covered with the masking tape. Paint each adjacent section and different color and allow the paint to dry. Then you should take off the masking tape to reveal the rings that are still terra cotta.

Use the fine brushes and undercoat to create little designs, such as stripes, polka dots, and stars in the painted sections. (This step would be the one you skip if you want something plain.) Once the undercoat dries, cover the pot with the varnish and allow it to sit for a day before using it for planting.

If you do not want the terra cotta stripes, you can try variations, such as painting the entire pot with the undercoat or a light hue of the gouache paint before you begin. Then you will get that color as your base. Just be sure that you allow each coat of paint to dry completely before you move on, or you will end up with the colors running together.

These pots are a great way to get your container garden started. They work particularly well with cacti, which are desert plants. The motif of the Mexican painted plants will go well together, and if you want to add more flavor, try putting the plants over a Mexican-themed throw rug when you display them.

The Most Common Containers for Gardening

Most people who have any type of garden have containers. They may not realize it or use the term container gardening, but they almost always have some type of container in their garden, yard, or home that is used for planting. When you use the term, however, many people struggle to understand exactly what container gardening is and how they begin one.

Container gardening simply means that instead of planting seeds or bulbs into the ground, you will be planting them in a container. Then you will be taking care of individual plants, or in some cases a small row of plants, but you will not be working to take care of an entire garden of plants. Some people choose to plant in containers because they do not have enough space. Others love tulips and want some in the living room, so they opt for a small barrel of tulips for the inside. Still others use everything they can to plant because they love the smells and sights of gardening.

You can use almost any type of container for gardening as long as you clean it out thoroughly before you begin. Let us cover some of the most common containers, however, so that you can get an idea of your options. Terra cotta window boxes are probably the most common type of container. You also will see single plant terra cotta plant holders. Terra cotta is the orange clay-like substance used to make the most basic of planting containers. The benefit of these containers is that they are versatile and are made for plants. You can find them painted or paint them yourself. The downside of using terra cotta window boxes is that some of them do not hold up well in very cold temperatures, which means that you really should stick to using them inside.

Wooden window boxes also are an interesting container that you can buy ready-made for planting. The plus of these containers is that they permit you to paint or otherwise decorate them. Because their look is basic, they work with almost any scheme you have for planting. The disadvantage is that the pieces may splinter and need to be repaired or replaced.

For people with a little more in their container gardening budget, a stone trough will work. These troughs look like the terra cotta window boxes, but they hold up in the outside much better. In fact, they are made to be outdoors and often are used as decorative borders. These troughs are very expensive, though, and are heavy, so once you get them in place, you probably will want to leave them.

Some people are more creative with their containers and use baskets that they already have. These baskets can work really well with the right kind of plants. You will need to line the basket, probably with some type of moss, so that you can create a more solid bottom. You also will have to keep the plants in individual pots and remove them when you want to water them. You cannot water plants in the basket because the basket will rot. If you like the baskets, though, you will enjoy being able to move them when need be as they are very light and easy to change around.

Many gardeners love the fiber window boxes that are gaining in popularity. They are a little odd but look best with colorful annuals. These boxes look almost as if they belong in the ground instead of on top of it. They are dirt-colored and look from afar as if they are covered in dirt. The very plain design and color is why you need to use them with colorful flowers instead of non-flowering plants. You will need to replace them frequently as they do not last long.

Finally you can try galvanized tin, such as that in foot tubs and washtubs. You will need to drill holes in the bottom, which can be a pain, but otherwise you should be able to create a cool looking plant garden in one of these containers. While they once were seen only as utilitarian, now these tin troughs and tubs can serve a creative purpose as well.

Planning Garden Decorations

Although the winter is just settling in where we live, I find myself staring out and thinking of the spring and summer to come. I cannot wait to see the colors of spring popping up everywhere again. If you are like me, then you probably have given the spring months some thought with longing, but you have sat back and resigned yourself to the idea that you will have to work on the garden in the spring.

But wait! That does not mean you cannot think about your garden now! Make plans for what you want to do. I am not talking about the actual flowers here. Gardening is much more than just planting a few things in the ground. In fact, for many people the fun of gardening is about far more than the joy of planting the flowers. The joy comes in spending time in the garden and in getting pleasure from making the garden decorative.

Garden decorations abound and come in all sizes, types, and prices. If you want to add to your garden next year but think you have planted all of the flowers and trees you can, then think outside the living pieces of your garden. Imagine the paradise you could create with a few simple additions.

First, think about garden benches. Many gardeners have planted benches where they give a great view of the best parts of the garden. You can do so as well. A garden bench can be a great way to give yourself a spot to enjoy the work you have done. When you are looking for a bench, think about how ornate your garden is. If you have very basic plants in straight lines, then you probably want a similarly plain garden bench, and you can find them for $20-30. Gardeners who have done more to create curves and other features in their gardens may want to consider wrought iron benches or those with intricate design on them. In that case, you have more opportunity and probably can go up to $100 or so for a decent bench.

Beyond sitting, you should think about walking through your garden, especially if you have little feet that may not be respectful padding through. Most small children love to walk on garden stones because they seem fun, so you can try picking up a few pieces when the summer comes. The stones come in all shapes, and you should consider something really funky if you want to make the stones a talking point for visitors to your garden. If you go with the basic round gravel stones, then you can buy them for about $3 each. The odder varieties go up to about $10 each, so keep that in mind when planning.

If you are really creative, then you may want to make your own garden stones. You can make them using any type of plastic mold, such as a plant holder, a little cement, and some creativity. Use stones or various colored beads to create beautiful, unique designs in your garden stones. Then you allow them to dry for a few days and plant them in your garden. You can make these stones for anywhere from $3-5 each depending on the amount and quality of materials you purchase.

Other popular garden decorations include garden gazing balls. Once rumored to keep witches away from gardens, these shining balls now serve as an interesting addition to flower gardens. They also attract many birds according to garden lore. You can find these gazing balls for $20 or so at your garden center. Other garden ornaments, such as sticks with flags that you put out, name plates for your veggies, and hanging tree ornaments are around everywhere in the spring. Look at your yard and determine where you would put such additions and what you would like. Perhaps there is a tree that does not have the soil around it to plant perennials but that would be a great spot for a flag. Write it down now and keep your eye out when you go shopping in the spring.

Looking for gardening additions year round is a fun way to make sure that you can still enjoy the idea of your garden even when it is cold.

Inorganic Mulch

Organic mulch was at one point alive. Inorganic mulch never was. While it may be surprising to many gardeners, inorganic matter can be used effectively as mulch and depending on what type of material is used, encourage your garden to grow and flourish. Inorganic mulch selections have grown to include a variety of products that are much more interesting than the gravel or black plastic of days gone by. Before making your next mulch purchase, explore the world of inorganic mulch and see if it is the right finishing touch to your garden.

Mulch is recommended by most gardening experts for moisture retention. The NC State University horticulture department estimates that ten to twenty-five percent of soil moisture is lost through evaporation. When it does rain, the raindrops cause the soil to compact increasing water runoff and soil erosion. A two to four inch layer of mulch can retain moisture in the ground and increase soil aeration. Not only will the mulch reduce the gardener's need to water plants, as is noted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, mulch will also maintain an even soil temperature, prevent weed growth and keep the garden environment clean. Mulch gives the garden a finished look, thus increasing its visual appeal.

Certain gardening conditions do contraindicate mulch applications. If your garden beds are severely infected with slugs , snails or other insects, mulch application may increase your problems. It may be prudent to not mulch for a year, as you manage your pest problem. Poor drainage may also be a reason for not mulching. At the very least research the best type of ground cover for areas that do not drain well. Mulch maintains moisture in the ground. If you have an area that does not drain well, you could be creating swamp like conditions if you mulch with moisture retaining material. Bacteria and fungus can grow and damage plants planted in too moist ground. Furthermore, this area will prove a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. Before mulching poor drainage areas, either solve the drainage problems or research ground covering that promotes good drainage.

Inorganic mulch is generally reserved for those areas of your landscape that are permanent in nature. The area around foundation plantings, walkways and areas that are not planted with annuals are perfect areas to consider using inorganic mulch. Gravel is one type of inorganic mulch that allows your plants to grow yet inhibits weed growth. Gravel sinks into the ground and is difficult to remove if you decide to change your landscaping. It is best to only use gravel in areas where your plantings are permanent.

Gravel can be purchased from mulch suppliers, many of whom can be found on line. Bulk gravel , the white gravel often seen under trees or at commercial buildings, is available by the truckload or can be purchased by the bag at your local home improvement store. If a large quantity of either white or grey gravel is desired, it may be wise to also contact your local stone dealer for pricing.

Decorative gravel is a term used to encompass different types of inorganic mulch. Granite is one type of inorganic mulch that comes in a variety of different colors. Granite is crushed to create different colors of landscape coverings such as ruby red granite, orange granite, black and pewter granite. Stone companies, many of which have an on line presence, have a wide selection of granite based groundcovers. Granite dealers may also sell quartzite, made from rock rich in quartz such as limestone and granite. Quartzite comes in vivid colors such as carmel and wintergreen. Over twenty different colors of granite based landscape mulch are available.

Pebbles, brick chips and lava rocks are also used as inorganic mulch. Brick chips are very attractive as ground cover when used with brick paving stones to create garden pathways. Lava rocks come in a variety of sizes and can be found in red and black and golden colors. Pebbles come in a variety of colors and sizes and can be purchased in bulk or in bags to decorate smaller areas.

Black landscaping material is also considered an inorganic mulch. Normally landscaping material is not used by itself but rather as a base for organic mulch or landscaping stone. Landscape fabric is not attractive by itself and it normally needs to be weighted down by stones or fastened to the ground where it is used. Landscape material is porous, thus allowing water and nutrients to seep into the soil. Its' main purpose is to prevent weed growth. Landscape material is easier than gravel to move if you decide to change your landscape design. It can be poked through or cut to allow new plantings. A word of warning, the more you mess with your landscape material the less effective at weed control it becomes. A small hole cut for planting a new hosta can suddenly become a huge rip in your landscape material, especially if you have pets or other wildlife in your garden. It is best to use landscape material on finished gardens or under foundation plantings.

Black plastic was used for a long time as landscape fabric. Plastic is not permeable so water nor nutrients reach the ground where plastic is used. Most garden resources no longer recommended the use of black plastic in landscaping.

The most exciting news in inorganic mulch are the recycled rubber alternatives that are relatively new to the market and are becoming increasing available. Rubber mulch allows drainage, retains moisture and provides insulation for you garden. Permalife Landscape Mulch sells its rubber mulch with its' polyurethane/ acrylic coating in six different colors ranging from a natural looking "Boston Brown' to a tropical feeling blue. This mulch does not promote or sustain fungus, is non toxic and does not stain. In fact Permalife offers a five year replacement warranty on the mulch it sells. Other companies also sell similar products and one, RubberStuff Landscape Mulch ,can be found at select Home Depot stores. Many mulch companies do sell recycled rubber mulch but it is a special order product. Most companies selling recycled rubber mulch will provide samples on request.

Inorganic mulch is perfect under foundation plantings or in areas where you do not anticipate changing your landscaping. While these products do not improve the soil, they do provide all of the other benefits of mulching. Most inorganic mulches will allow liquid fertilizers to seep into the ground thus keeping your plants healthy. While utilizing inorganic mulches seems to go against the earthy nature of most gardeners, there are times when it should be considered and utilized. It does not need to be replaced as frequently as organic mulch and for the gardener who is short on time it may be the solution to keeping a garden well tended and attractive. Inorganic mulch is not for everyone, but with new products coming out everyday, it may soon be found in more gardens then it used to be.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Growing Perennials in the USA


Herbaceous perennials generally survive well for three or more growing seasons, with the tops usually dying back to the ground in the autumn. The plant's crown and roots resume new growth in the next spring season. A few perennials are evergreen, retaining a green rosette of leaves at the base of the plant during the winter.

Hardy perennials can live through the winter without protection. Many plants like cannas and dahlias are hardy perennials in South Carolina and elsewhere in the south, and will not live through the winter outdoors farther to the north. On the other hand, many of the perennials that grow well in the Northeast United States or England will not tolerate hot, humid summers. Since books about perennials are often written for cooler climates, it is important to good information in selecting plants that are adapted specifically to Southern heat and humidity. Check with your garden store to be sure about your selections.

Perennials provide color and decor for your landscape all year with endless variations in colors, sizes, and blooming times. Although some perennials flower for only a few weeks at a time, the changing displays form excitement of variation for your perennial garden. Many perennials will bloom again in the warm climate of the south. Some perennials, such as ferns and hostas, are grown specifically for their beautiful foliage. Foliage plants lengthen the season for color and texture in gardening.


While the traditional English perennial plant border was entirely herbaceous perennials, they can be attractively used with other plants in the total landscape for variety of color and texture. Perennials are good ground covers, mixed with annuals, grown in containers, and
used to accent garden areas. There are perennials groomed for full sun or heavy shade, and for almost any type of soil. You should select perennials suited to the inherent growing conditions of their planting space. Select a planting area with good air circulation and good drainage.


Good soil preparation is vital to perennials, since they may be in place for several years. Deeply spade the beds to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. Enhance clay soils by mixing in at least 2 inches of pine bark humus, compost, leaf mold, or small pea gravel in well to improve drainage and aeration. Improve water retention in sandy soils by mixing in 2 to 3 inches of pine bark humus, composted leaf mold, or peat moss. Good soil drainage is essential to the success of most perennials and raised flowerbeds will ensure adequate drainage.

Base your fertilizer and lime applications on the results of a good soil test. In the absence of a soil test, add a complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10 at the rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet of flowerbed area or a complete slow release fertilizer, following the label directions.
A pH of 6.0 to 6.5 is goods. Most southern soils are acidic and require the addition of lime to correct pH. Check your soils with a soil test in the north. Incorporate lime and fertilizer, as needed, into the top 4 to 6 inches of soil after mixing in the soil boosters. Then rake the soil surface until smooth.

Most perennials are planted in the autumn or early spring. Fall planting gives the plant more time to establish itself before the start of active spring growth. Perennials planted in the fall are well established before hot weather. Fall planting should be finished at least 6 weeks before hard-freezing weather occurs. Early spring, after soils is well thawed, is a good time to plant perennials. Many perennials grow from seed, but many gardeners prefer to established plants. Perennials are available grown in containers, field-grown, or shipped with bare roots and still dormant.

If plants are somewhat pot bound at planting time, loosen the roots around the bottom and sides of the root ball and spread them out in the bottom of the planting hole. To encourage side root growth, make the hole twice as wide as it is deep. Place the plant, fill the hole, firming the soil in around the plant to remove air pockets. Be sure the crown of the plant is flush with the soil surface.

Water plants by allowing them to settle first after planting. Pay attention to watering the first few weeks while plants develop root systems and become established. Adequate moisture is essential for perennials. Most perennials require at least 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water weekly from rain or irrigation. More is needed during hot weather. To promote deep root growth, water thoroughly and allow the soil surface to dry before watering again. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation are ideal. They save water and avoid soaking leaves and flowers. To retain moisture, mulch with a 1- to 2-inch layer of compost, pine bark or pine straw; and avoid heavy mulching.

Weed control should be done by hand. Follow label directions before using any herbicides. Fertilization should be based on the results of a soil test. In the absence of a soil test, apply a complete fertilizer such as 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 at the rate of 1 to 2 pounds per 100 square feet of bed area just before new shoots emerge in the early spring. Avoid touching emerging leaves with fertilizer to avoid damage. Several types of perennials will not bloom the first year; and a few, such as peonies, take several years to bloom fully.

Many perennials need to be staked to prevent them from bending during wind and rain. When staking is done correctly, the plants grow to cover the stakes. Remove old flowers to encourage rebloom on perennials. Many perennials must be cut back to ground level after bloom is finished to encourage new leaf growth from the base. Remove dead foliage and stems in the fall, and mulch to protect crowns and roots from mild and freezing weather variations.

Most perennials become overcrowded and require division and thinning. Many perennials are easily propagated in this way. Other methods of propagating perennials include stem cuttings, root cuttings, and seeding.

Many perennials are available in several different cultivars of various colors, heights, blooms timings, and blooming potentials form small to large flowers. For example, heat resistant and humidity tolerant cultivars like lambs ears are better suited to southern climates in the US than to the northern states. Be sure to consult with a local garden center in your community for perennial cultivars that are especially suited to your region, according to soil type, weather, seasons, and other natural considerations.

Below are listed several of the perennial plants that are useful for special purposes. Your experience with the plants may vary somewhat across the USA. Of course, this list is not all inclusive, but does include plants that should work well. Use it as a guide and then experiment a little. The Latin name and a common name are given for most of these following perennial listings. Check with your garden center on your final selections in order to gather more information and planting guidelines.

Perennials Successful in Sunny, Dry Areas
Achilles Achillea or Yarrow
Anthemis tinctoria Golden Marguerite
Arabis caucasica Rock Cress
Armeria maritime Common or Sea Thrift
Artemisia Artemesia
Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly Weed
Catananche caerulea Cupid's Dart
Coreopsis Coreopsis
Echinops ritro Small Globe Thistle
Euphorbia Spurge
Gaillardia Blanket Flower
Helianthus x multiflorus Perennial Sunflower
Hemerocallis hybrids Daylily
Lavandula angustifolia English Lavender
Liatris Gayfeather
Malva alcea Hollyhock Mallow
Oenothera Sundrops
Opuntia humifusa Prickly Pear Cactus
Perovskia atriplicifolia Russian Sage
Polygonum cuspidatum var. compactum Fleeceflower
Rudbeckia Blackeyed Susan
Sedum Autumn Joy, Showy Stonecrop, Live Forever
Sempervivum tectorum Hens and Chickens
Stachys byzantina Lamb's Ear
Yucca filimentosa Yucca

Perennials Successful in Poor or Sandy Soils
Achillea species Yarrow
Anthemis tinctoria Golden Marguerite
Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly Weed
Baptisia species Wild Indigo
Belamcanda chinensis Blackberry Lily
Euphorbia species Spurge
Gaillardia species Blanket Flower
Gaura lindheimerii Gaura
Hemerocallis species Daylily
Hesperaloe parviflora False Red Yucca
Lantana species Lantana
Plumbago auriculata Plumbago
Salvia greggi Texas Sage
Setcrasea pallida Purple Heart
Yucca species Yucca

Perennials Successful in Moist to Wet Areas
Aruncus dioicus Goat's Beard
Astilbe x arendsii Astilbe
Campanula glomerata Clustered Bellflower
Cimicifuga racemosa Black Snakeroot
Dicentra Bleeding Heart
Houttuynia cordata Variegata, Houttuynia
Iris ensata Japanese Iris
Ligularia Ligularia
Lobelia cardinalis Cardinal Flower
Lysimachia clethroides Gooseneck Loosestrife
Lysimachia punctata Yellow Loosestrife
Matteuccia pensylvanica Ostrich fern
Physostegia virginiana Obedient Plant
Rodgersia pinnata Featherleaf, Rodgersflower
Tradescantia x andersoniana Virginia Spiderwort
Trollis europaeus Globeflower

Perennials Successful in Full Shade
Ajuga reptans Bugleweed
Arum italicum Pictum, Painted Arum
Asarum Wild Gingers
Convallaria majalis Lily of the Valley
Dodecatheon media Common Shooting Star
Galium odoratum Sweet Woodruff
Helleborus orientalis Lenten Rose
Hosta Hosta
Lamium maculatum Spotted Deadnettle
Liriope spicata Creeping Lilyturf
Mertensia virginica Virginia Bluebells
Osmunda regalis Royal Fern
Polygonatum biflorum Small Solomon's Seal
Polygonatum commutatum Great Solomon's Seal
Pulmonaria angustifolia Blue Lungwort
Pulmonaria saccharata Bethlehem Sage
Tiarella cordifolia Foam Flower
Tradescantia x andersoniana Virginia Spiderwort
Viola odorata Sweet Violet

Perennials Successful in Partial ShadeAlchemilla mollis Lady's Mantle
Anemone x hybrida Japanese Anemone
Aquilegia Columbine
Astilbe Astilbe
Bergenia cordifolia Heartleaf Bergenia
Brunnera macrophylla Siberian Bugloss
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides Plumbago
Dicentra Bleeding Heart
Doronicum cordatum Leopardsbane
Geranium Cranesbill, Hardy Geranium
Heuchera sanguinea Coralbells
Myosotis sylvatica Garden Forgetmenot
Tricyrtis hirta Toadlily

Perennials Good for a Long Blooming Season
Achillea Moonshine Yarrow
Asclepias tuberose Butterfly Weed
Coreopsis lanceolata Coreopsis
Coreopsis verticillata Moonbeam
Dicentra eximia Fringed Bleeding Heart
Echinacea purpurea Purple Coneflower
Gaillardia x grandiflora Blanket Flower
Rudbeckia fulgida Goldsturm Blackeyed Susan
Salvia x superba Perennial Salvia
Scabiosa Pincushion Flower
Sedum Autumn Joy, Showy Stonecrop, Live-Forever
Veronica spicata Sunny Border Blue, Spike Speedwell

Perennials that Produce Fragrant FlowersArabis caucasica Rock Cress
Convallaria majalis Lily of the Valley
Dianthus plumarius Cottage Pinks
Dictamnus albus Gas Plant
Hosta plantaginea Fragrant Plantain Lily
Iris hybrids Iris
Lavandula angustifolia English Lavender
Paeonia lactiflora Peony
Viola odorata Sweet Violet

Perennials that Produce Flowers Good for CuttingAchillea Achillea or Yarrow
Aconitum napellus Garden Monkshood
Alchemilla mollis Lady's Mantle
Anemone x hybrida Japanese Anemone
Aquilegia Columbine
Armeria maritima Common or Sea Thrift
Astrantia major Great Masterwort
Campanula persicifolia Peachleaf Bellflower
Chrysanthemum x superbum Shasta Daisy
Convallaria majalus Lily of the Valley
Coreopsis Coreopsis
Delphinium elatum Delphinium or Larkspur
Dicentra Bleeding Heart
Echinacea purpurea Purple Coneflower
Echinops ritro Small Globe Thistle
Gaillardia Blanket Flower
Gypsophilia paniculata Baby's Breath
Heliopsis helianthoides Sunflower Heliopsis
Heuchera sanguinea Coralbells
Lavandula angustifolia English Lavender
Liatris Gayfeather
Lilium Hardy Lilies
Lupinus Russel Hybrid Lupine
Paeonia hybrids Peony
Penstemon Beardtongue
Platycodon grandiflorus Balloon Flower
Rudbeckia Blackeyed Susan
Scabiosa Pincushion Flower
Stokesia laevis Stokes Aster
Veronica spicata Spike Speedwell

Perennials Ideal for Dried Flower or Fruit ArrangementsAchillea Achillea or Yarrow
Alchemilla mollis Lady's Mantle
Asclepias tuberose Butterfly Weed
Baptisia australis False Indigo
Catananche caerulea Cupid's Dart
Echinops ritro Small Globe Thistle
Gypsophilia paniculata Baby's Breath
Iris siberica Siberian Iris and its seed pod
Lavandula angustifolia English Lavender
Liatris Gayfeather
Limonium latifolium Statice
Papaver orientale Oriental Poppy and its seed pod
Physalis alkekengi Chinese Lantern and its seed pod
Scabiosa Pincushion Flower

Perennials that Attract ButterfliesAchillea Achillea or Yarrow
Armeria maritime Common or Sea Thrift
Aruncus dioicus Goat's Beard
Asclepias tuberose Butterfly Weed
Aubrieta deltoidea False Rock Cress
Chrysanthemum Mums
Coreopsis Coreopsis
Dictamnus albus Gas Plant
Echinacea purpurea Purple Coneflower
Gaillardia Blanket Flower
Lavandula angustifolia English Lavender
Liatris Gayfeather
Monarda didyma Bee Balm
Phlox paniculata Summer Phlox
Rudbeckia Blackeyed Susan
Sedum Autumn Joy, Showy Stonecrop, Live-Forever

Perennials that Attract to Hummingbirds
Alcea rosea Hollyhock
Aquilega Columbine
Asclepias tuberose Butterfly Weed
Dianthus Cottage Pinks
Dicentra Bleeding Heart
Digitalis Foxglove
Hemerocallis Daylily
Heuchera sanguinea Coralbells
Lobelia cardinalis Cardinal Flower
Monarda didyma Bee Balm
Penstemon Beardtongue

Perennials that Attract Other BirdsActea, or Baneberry: Actea rubra with red berries and Actea spicata with white berries
Ligularia clivorum
Perennial grasses, genus Panicum: Panicum virgatum

Perennials That Can Be InvasiveAegopodium podagraria Goutweed
Ajuga Bugleweed
Artemisia ludoviciana Western Mugwort
Arundinaria Bamboo
Arundo donax Giant Reed
Bambusa species Clumping Bamboo
Campanula rapunculoides Creeping Bellflower
Chrysanthemum leucanthemum Oxeye Daisy
Coronilla varia Crown Vetch
Cortaderia jubata Purple Pampas Grass
Equisetum hyemale Horsetail
Euphorbia cyparissias Cypress Spurge
Elymus arenarius Blue Lyme Grass
Eupatorium coelestinum Hardy Ageratum
Hemerocallis fulva Common Daylily, Ditch Lily
Houttuynia cordata Chameleon Plant
Imperata cylindrica Japanese Blood Grass
Iris pseudocorus Yellow Iris
Lantana camara Lantana
Lychnis coronaria Rose Campion
Lysimachia Loosestrife
Lythrum salicaria Purple Loosestrife
Miscanthus sinensis Silver Grass, Zebra Grass
Macleaya Plume Poppy
Mentha Mint
Oenothera Evening Primrose
Persicaria virginiana Tovara
Phalaris arundinaceae Ribbon Grass
Phyllostachys Japanese Bamboo
Physostegia virginiana Obedient Plant
Polygonum Knotweed
Tanacetum vulgare Tansy
Vernonia Ironweed

Thursday, December 28, 2006


Growing Geraniums

Geraniums are probably one of the most reliable flowering plants you can grow in your garden. They are available already in flower in late spring to add glorious color to a garden all the way until the first frost in the autumn. Some geranium plants become very large and provide gigantic flowers, while other plants produce smaller blooms, so you have a choice. The new cultivars offer almost shatterproof flowers that can weather both wind and rain. Geraniums are available as seedlings or as already established plants.

Set out your geranium plants in the spring after all danger of the frost is over in your region. Geraniums that have been injured by cold temperatures will have little growth, and will often produce red foliage. A planting near the end of May will be more productive, because the plants will take root more firmly. Plant geraniums in a place where they will receive sunlight, so that they will provide the maximum flower production possible. Plants will grow in partial shade, but with reduced flowering, even though adequate foliage is produced. Select a site where water drainage is good.

Geraniums will grow in almost any type of soil if it is well aerated and porous so that water can flow through it. Clay soils should be improved for geranium plants by adding organic matter every year. An inch of coarse sphagnum peat moss, some rotted manure, or some compost when preparing the flowerbeds is great for this. Garden centers, greenhouses, and other retail outlets sell geranium plants in the spring of each year. These plants may or may not already be in flower. Plants are generally available as rooted cuttings or as seedlings that are planted in plastic trays, plastic pots, or peat spots. These will grow well; you can remove the container without disturbing the soil around the plant roots.

Plants should be set down into the soil no deeper than the depth they were when they were growing in their pots. If possible, plant them shallower than that. If planted too deep, stem rot will most likely attack and kill the plant. Once they are planted, take your hands, and gently pack the soil around the roots. Be careful not to injure stems, because such injury this creates an opening for diseases to enter. Water the new plants thoroughly after planting. Liquid fertilizers such as 20-20-20 or 15-30-15 are also needed at the application rate written on the fertilizer package. Water the plants again after applying the fertilizer to get it down into the soil where the roots are, but also to avoid chemically burning the plant. Any fertilizer that gets on the leaves of the plants must be sprayed off with water.

Additional geranium plants will grow well after starting from stem cuttings, often called slips. Remove stem cuttings from the tips of the stems, not from the bases. The slips should be three to four inches long, but some shorter ones can be taken if you need more cuttings and there are not enough longer ones. Strip off the lower leaves from the slips to make it easier to stick the cuttings in the rooting medium. Perlite, sharp sand, or sand mixed equally with sphagnum peat moss are all good media for rootings the cuttings. Stick the cuttings an inch deep in the medium and then water them thoroughly.

Place cutting containers in a north or east window until well rooted. Rooting occurs most effectively in soil temperatures of 72 to 75 degrees F. This takes three to four weeks and during this rooting period, water the rootings sparingly. The key to successful rooting is to let the cuttings run to the dry side. When cuttings are rooted, place them into 4-inch pots. After the cuttings become established in about a week, start fertilizing them with a liquid fertilizer such as 20-20-20 or 15-30-15 at one-half strength of package recommendations. Make monthly applications thereafter until the plants are planted outside in beds.

Pest problems are minimal with geraniums. Always keep fading flower stalks removed to reduce botrytis. Proper plant spacing will reduce botrytis on leaves that can sometimes build up during wet seasons. Occasionally, geranium plants or single leaves will wilt for no apparent reason. This should alert the homeowner to a serious problem known as bacterial blight. Infected plants will more readily display this symptom under high temperatures of 70 to 80 degrees F. No remedy sprays are available for this and removal of the plant from the site should be done immediately.

Plants purchased from greenhouses have been started from clean stock plants or seeds and eliminating many potential disease. Gardeners often like to experiment and keep their geraniums from year to year and this is possible by taking cuttings in late August and rooting them. Plants can also be dug, trimmed back to one-half original height, repotted and set in a sunny window over the winter. Some people also save geraniums by digging them, removing soil, and hanging them on hooks from the house rafters. This method will work under high humidity, 85 to 90 percent and cool temperatures of 50 to 55 degrees F, but modern homes are too dry, causing dehydration. Try it; if successful, you will have plants next spring.

There are several types of geraniums and the majority is produced from seed. Look for plants in these seed propagated families - Ringo, Bandit, Elite, Orbit, Pinto, Multibloom, and Lone Ranger. . Cutting-grown geraniums that are good include the reds: Kim, Mars, Tango, Yours Truly, and Sincerity. The pinks and others include Cherry Blossom, Helena, Katie, Pink Expectations, Pink Satisfaction, and Rio. Unusual geranium plants, such as ivy-leafed, scented, and Martha Washington are also possibilities. Ivy-leafed geraniums have a characteristic trailing stem that make them great for hanging containers, with flowers are in the pastel range of color tones. Keep all these plants evenly moist and sitting in an east or north window. Ivy types do not tolerate temperatures above 85 degrees F for extended periods and will dry out or burn.

Scented type geraniums should be grown in full sun to develop the volatile leaf oils. The resulting flowers are less significant in this scented group, but the soft scent of the leaves gives fragrant oils useful in sachets. Martha Washington or Regal geraniums are sold in the early spring and require cool temperatures of around 60 degrees F at night in order to continue blooming. Warm summer temperatures will cause flowering to cease until fall when temperatures are favorable.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Forest Gardens


A forest garden is a garden that is modeled after a natural forest, and forest gardening is a new type of home landscaping for urban as well as rural areas. Forest gardens are very attractive, require little maintenance, and combine human and animal food production with ecology and conservation.

Forest gardens have a diverse collection of plants placed in multiple layers above deep mulching. The collection of plants produces flowers, food, and other products for human use. They live together along with insects and other animals that inhabit them, in an ecosystem in your yard.

The hobby of forest gardening was named by Robert Hart in Shropshire, England; but native peoples across the tropics have long created forest gardens. These "tropical home gardens" have includes a diversity of crops that are also arranged in multiple layers to mimic the structure and ecological conditions and functions of the surrounding local forests.

Robert Hart and others applied the same layering and mimicking principles to gardens modeled after deciduous forests in more temperate climates. These forest gardens work well in Ohio, because as much as 95% of Ohio was forestland originally, with numerous native plants that grow well. The same is true for other Midwest states.


Plants inhabit one or several layers in a naturally occurring forest and have a definite order of appearance. There are the high canopy trees, and underneath those, there is what is known as an understory (like a lower story) of shorter trees and pother lants. Under all the trees is a layer of saplings and shrubs, while under that layer, there is another layer of herbaceous plants.

Above the soil of the forest floor are the groundcovers. There are also vines that grow up through all the layers of the forest. The importance of planning a forest garden entails planning vertically. This includes the number of plants that can be stacked into layers in the available space (see suggestions below). A new garden area or landscape will require plans drawn roughly to scale by hand or on your computer. VISIO is a good program for that.

A good forest gardens can also live and grow around trees and shrubbery that already exists, or in part of a forest that is already standing. For small spaces, such as an urban yard, the canopy layer can be eliminated, and the design built around a shorter single tree, perhaps a fruit tree that will produce some food.

Plant layers in a naturally occurring forest do not grow uniformly across an area. Various species live on high slopes and others on flat ground. A forest's actual composition is much different at the edge of a clearing than the center of a wooded area. In a forest garden, we must consider the overall environment and match it with our intended uses of the space and particular plants.

If one corner of a forest garden is poorly drained, that corner should include plants that can tolerate wet roots. A forest garden can be installed to mimic the forest edges, with low growing species to the sunny side and taller plants to the back. Forest gardens can function to screen out an unpleasant view or cold winds. Deciduous forest gardens can shade a house in the summer and let the sun in to warm it in the winter season to increase home comfort and reduce utility bills. Appearances are also important. The art and architectural principles of plant grouping, balance, and harmonious design that are covered in basic landscape design books also apply to forest gardens.

Natural forests grow without human intervention and forest gardens eventually do the same. A sheet mulch keeps the plants moist without the need for much more watering, and as it breaks down, it will furnish valuable nutrients needed for plant growth. To increase the fertility of the forest garden ecosystem, nitrogen-fixing plants and plants can be added because they are grown specifically to provide some mulch. Forest gardens also include insect attracting plants to support beneficial insects that can reduce other pest populations without insect sprays and other chemicals.

Perennials are emphasized in forest gardens, because they reduce the need for annual starting and planting of seedlings. Those chores can then be eliminated. Designs may also include bird habitats for birds that spread seeds, provide fertilizer, and eat insects, toads that eat insects, and snakes that eat pests. Like natural forests, forest gardens are, to an extent, self-designing. The gardener may introduce more seeds and plants than will eventually survive. Only those that are well suited to the environmental conditions present in that place at that moment will thrive. In addition, a forest garden is designed to evolve over time. The plants that predominate at the beginning will likely fade away as others grow to take their places.

The plant list below provides a basic starting guideline and suggestions. Any plant that can grow in the surrounds of a forest garden can be included in that garden. This includes ornamental plants and even vegetables. In fact, many cool season vegetables will thrive in the shade and moisture of a forest garden. Summer vegetables can grow in a forest garden in its early years after it is first planted. On the other hand, they can be grown in sheet mulch on the garden's edge later on.


Shagbark Hickory
Sugar Maple
White Oak

American Persimmon
Cornelian Cherry
Kentucky Coffee Tree
Paw Paw
Witch Hazel

False indigo
Siberian Pea Shrub

Lemon balm
New Zealand Spinach
Salad burnet
Stinging Nettle


Hardy Kiwi
Scarlet Runner Bean


The best time to start a forest garden is in the fall, and trees and shrubs can be planted first. Plant trees and shrubs flush to, or just above ground level, then lay the sheet mulch on top of the ground around the plants. If trees and shrubs are not ready for planting at this time, just lay the sheet mulch and plant later.

The first step in preparing a sheet mulch is to "knock down" all unwanted vegetation. Knocking down is not pulling up or tilling under. You will use a lawn mower, weed whip, bush hog, scythe, pruning shears, or other implements to break off all the undesired plant life at, or just above, your ground level. If you have sod, leave it where it is and lay the sheet mulch atop it. Woody vegetation can be removed for chipping and become a pathway or part of the mulch later on. Thick woody roots will also need to be removed. They can be returned later for wildlife habitats. Otherwise, leave everything to decompose right where it is in order to fertilize your forest garden from the start

If the soil is compressed hard, break it up with a spading fork, a U-bar, or other similar implement. With the spading fork, insert the tines completely and lean on the handle. Break up the soil without turning it over. Now is the time to introduce soil boosters. A soil test will show whether it is necessary to adjust the soil pH with lime to increase its alkalinity or with sulphur to increase its acidity. This is important, so do not skip it. Then add any nutrients in which the soil was shown lacking. An inch or two of compost will add organic matter and nutrients to the soil and is the best general soil addition.

Next, add materials that are nitrogen-rich to draw worms up to help decomposition of the carbon-rich layers going on top. Composted manure is an excellent source, so add about 1 inch. Also use fresh vegetable scraps from home or from local restaruants. All of these enhancers or amendments are to be laid directly on top of the soil, one after the other, and not worked in at all. Just lay them out in layers.

Next in sequence is the light barrier. The object of this is to prevent the germination of weed seeds in the soil and to provide a physical barrier to weeds overall. Two materials good for this are newspaper and sheets of cardboard.

Remove any glossy color pages (metallic inks) from newspapers and remove tape and staples from the cardboard. Any solid total organic material is good, including old cotton clothing and rags. Lay newspaper and cardboard so that their edges overlap. The newspaper should be four sheets up to one half inch thick, depending on how many weeds you think you might get. Around tree trunks and shrubs, tear a section of newspaper or cardboard halfway through, and slide the edges of the tear around the trunk. Tear a second sheet in the same way and place it at right angles on top of the first tear. The light barrier is the key to the success of the sheet mulch, so take care with it. It takes some time to lay it, but it can save hours of weeding. Eventually, the newspaper and cardboard will all break down.

On top of the light barrier, place another layer of nitrogen-rich manure or vegetable scraps. Then lay up to 12 inches of bulk mulch. This mulch will consist of leaves, grass clippings, straw, wood chips, pine needles, branches, or any non-composted rough organic materials. The mulch can be placed in decisive layers, or mixed together. It need not be uniform, and leave some space around tree trunks and the bases of woody shrubs. Otherwise, rodents can come in to live in the mulch and nibble on the tree trunks.

If rodents are a probable problem, cut a slit in a metal can and place it, like a sleeve, around the base of the tree. Two considerations are important for the bulk mulch. One, avoid material that may contain seeds, such as hay and weeds. These materials can be included in a sheet mulch, but they should go beneath the light barrier. Two, creating a balance of carbon-rich browns and nitrogen-rich greens helps the mulch decompose. The ideal ratio of carbon to nitrogen is 30 to 1. Composting books are available, but an easy recipe is to mix fallen leaves with fresh grass clippings. If the crucial C to N balance has not been achieved, the mulch will still break down, but it will take longer. To facilitate this, use compost or manure teas (mixtures) as described below.

On top of the bulk mulch, one can place a final layer of hard mulch to make everything look tidy. This hard mulch could be straw, bark mulch, wood chips, or pine needles.

Allow the sheet mulch to compost for a period of time. If installed in the fall, it will partially break down over the winter. If it has been installed in the spring, it may only be possible to wait a few days or weeks before planting. Trees and larger shrubs should have been planted before the application of the sheet mulch but if not, remove a section of mulch, dig a hole, plant the tree, spread excess soil in the exposed area, and replace the mulch. The same applies to any large herbaceous plants. For transplants, plant with a trowel, a knife, and a bucket of topsoil or compost. With a knife, cut a slit or an X in the light barrier, insert the trowel into the slit, and dig a root pocket. Place the roots into the pocket and fill around them with topsoil or compost.

Return the mulch so the transplant is just sticking up through it. Large seeds, such as beans and squash, can be placed directly in the mulch if it is well decayed, or in slits in the light barrier. Fine seeds like those of carrots and lettuce can germinate on top soil or compost placed in the mulch. Clear the mulch aside from an area and cut holes or slits in the light barrier. Cover with top soil or compost. Sow the seeds and care for them as if they were in a bed in a traditional garden. In future years, plants such as dill and arugula may actually reseed themselves. This can be encouraged by placing a layer of compost around the plants as they begin to drop their seeds. The compost will trap the deeds for a new year and protect them from birds and animals.


The upkeep of a forest garden are the same as any other garden, but a well installed a forest garden will care for itself. Trees and shrubs in their first year may need some deep watering. Other plants should be watered when the soil beneath the light barrier dries out, or when the plants show signs of water stress. Deep mulch protects soils from wind and sun, so forest gardens require only occasional watering. Watering should entail a gentle flow from the garden hose, sprinklers, drip irrigation, soaker hoses, a watering wand, or a watering can.

If the sheet mulch is correctly installed, very few weeds will appear. Those few can be pulled and left on top of the mulch to dry, or placed underneath to rot.

Most nutrients needed in a forest garden will be provided by the decaying mulch. If a soil test reveals the need for specific nutrients, provide those at the time of the initial sheet mulching. Especially in its first year, a forest garden mulch may entrap nitrogen from the soil in its own process of decomposition.

The most important form of fertilization is to provide nitrogen to help the decomposition of the mulch and release nutrients to plants. The best way to provide this nitrogen is in liquid form as a "tea". This can be done by preparing a manure or compost tea and many recipes exist, requiring various levels of equipment and knowledge. A simple recipe is to fill a bucket or trashcan two-thirds full of manure or compost. Fill the container with water to a few inches below the edge. Cover with a sheet of plastic, tie it around the rim, and leave in the sun. Stir every day or two until the contents are smelly and bubbly - this should take about a week. Strain out the liquid, dilute at a concentration of 1 to 10, and water the whole garden with it. Plants in a forest garden can also be fertilized with a leaf application fertilizer.

Mulching is the most important single maintenance task and reduces the need for the watering, weeding, and fertilizing. This is even more important if your climate tends to be dry.

Any bare spots that appear in the mulch should be covered up with fresh material. If a large number of weeds breaks through in one area, remove the bulk mulch, add an additional layer of light barrier over the entire area, and replace the bulk mulch. If you are growing nitrogen fixing or mulch crops (Siberian pea shrub, comfrey), these can be cut back occasionally and either incorporated into a compost tea, or spread on the mulch surface to add nutrients. At the end of the season, spread several inches of leaves or other mulch material over the entire garden, and leave it to break down over the winter.

As a forest garden includes many perennial plants, clean up at the end of the season can be less of a task than in annual flower and vegetable gardens. Rather than pulling plants up, cut them off at ground level, which disturbs the soil less. The tops of the plants can then be incorporated into the mulch, or set aside for compost.

Planted forest gardens need dedicated human efforts in their beginning stages, but they can care for themselves for years after they develop into independent ecosystems. Forest gardens can provide food, flowers, and homes of wildlife, wind protection, cooling, and aesthetic pleasure in a variety of Midwest landscapes.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Create a Garden Scrapbook

Having a scrapbook of your garden allows the gardener to keep a record of both his gardening successes and failures. Whether your garden is still blooming or dormant, this is a great time to begin a scrapbook or notebook that will serve as a history of your gardens most beautiful moments and most spectacular disasters.

I use a three ring binder that will hold both photo pages and personal notes concerning my efforts in the garden. I do not create scrapbook pages for my pictures since I use my book more as a gardening record than a memory book. This is not to say you could not create a working history of your garden that is both informative and decorative. If you do choose to take the more creative path and create a decorative garden scrapbook, just remember to wash the garden dirt from your hands before searching through your notes as to whether impatients thrive in the back yard or slowly wilt and die.

Scrapbooking is huge right now and a visit to your local craft store will present you with numerous possibilities for creating a scrapbook. Stickers add a surprising element to scrapbook pages. They can be bought individually at specialty stores or you can look for packs of stickers that can be adapted to a gardening theme. Even children's or teacher stickers can be used to put a " wow" or "You go girl" on the page containing your best roses or homegrown tomatoes. If pressing flowers interests you, this scrapbook may be the best place to press and store your favorite flower each year. Your scrapbook will remind you of your garden even when the snow is falling outside. That can be quite a pick me up when winter seems to drag on forever.

Pictures are a must. Photos of your garden in bloom not only remind you of the beauty you created last year but give you visual evidence that yes, you really did plant a perennial there last year and it is not blooming as expected. Photos remind you where bulbs are planted and what color they are. While we all think we will remember where our bulbs are planted, without documentation or physical markers in the ground, it is very easy to forget where flowers are planted. Photos allow you to rely on more than just your memory when you suspect your garden is not as lush as last season. They also serve to remind you that your garden was never as lush as you thought it was, and yes you did forget to increase your plantings this fall. An accurate record can prevent a gardener from dividing bulbs or perennials prematurely or buying duplicates of plants that already live but have not yet bloomed.

I also use the photo pages to keep the plastic plant markers that come in store bought plants. I then know I have an accurate record of exactly what plant I bought the year before and how it grew in my garden. I even keep markers of plants I have tried in other gardens to remind myself what type of experience I had with that plant and whether I should be seduced by its' beauty again. It serves to remind me that the picture I see in the gardening book or on line is not always an accurate representation of what the plant looks like in real life. If I find a plant attractive on line or in a book, I check to see if I have found the same plant attractive before. Often I have and my scrapbook prevents me from wasting money on plants that to not live up to their pictures.

Notes are an important part of my record keeping. I record what type of plants thrive and which have been tossed in the waste heap. I note the success of garden products and remind myself of the products that were a waste of money. I note where my herbs have grown well and where they have merely limped along. I also keep a copy of my garden plan. I rough out where my perennials are planted and insert a garden plan in my scrapbook. I compare this plan with my garden's actual performance and become aware of problems early in the season. My notes as to whether my garden blooms in a timely manner or if my plants are blooming irregularly has prevented me from planting annuals on top of late blooming perennials and reminded me to buy annuals for areas where my bulbs have bloomed before their time. My bleeding heart plants were attractive until July last season. This was unusual and required my impatients to make their home in pots for May and June. My notes will help me remember this when fundraising flower sales comes around in late April.

My garden is a work in progress and constantly changes. I keep old garden plans in the back of my book along with information and markers of plants that I am currently not interested in. I also use that trusty three hole punch to include computer print outs in my garden book. I then know I have accurate information concerning gardening issues I have researched. I can then begin my research in my own garden book and start from scratch only when I need to update my information or research new topics. I have never really figured out where these pages belong, so sometimes they are located behind the applicable garden plan and sometimes they just get stuffed in the back of the book. I am sure you will do what works for you.

A working notebook or a creative scrapbook, either create a memory and important notes concerning your time in the garden. Digital cameras and computers allow the gardener to create a scrapbook in a computer file. It may be a little difficult to add pressed flowers, but you only need to worry about keeping the keyboard clean. Each method has its' own appeal, and will work for different gardeners. Whatever method you use, keeping notes on what works and what does not allows a gardener to spend her gardening time more effectively. The pictures of your garden in full bloom are also a pleasant reminder of why you spend time gardening at all.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Starting a Garden Club

Gardeners love to putter around...digging, planting, picking, sniffing, admiring...and they know that there's only one other thing that's on the same level funwise as actual gardening: TALKING about gardening! Gardeners also know that their audience for such talk is limited...once you start mentioning scientific names and growth habits the eyes of non-gardeners tend to glaze over and sometimes they drool a bit out of sheer boredom. Enter...the Garden Club! A place for your fellow flora aficionados to gather and talk for hours about the thing they love most...gardening. If there's one in your area already, you're all set. If there isn't, or if the existing group is full (many have size limits due to space constraints), you may want to consider starting your own.

Are you the right person to manage a club?
Be sure that this is something you're going to have enough time will require more than one meeting a month if you're in charge, for sure. It's an 'job' best for folks who are retired or have no small children. You'll need to coordinate a huge range of activities, so it also helps if you're well organized by nature. You should also be outgoing, as you're going to be encountering a lot of people that you'll need to welcome and nurture, like your gardens. If you lack time, are disorganized or aren't a people person but still want to start a garden club, consider asking a friend who would be more suitable as a leader to partner with you.

Is there enough interest in your area?
Ask around before getting too deep...especially if there is an existing club in your area. To have optimum success, you'll need at least 15 members. Why so many? Not everyone will make it to every meeting, and though it's nice talking one on one, you'll quickly tire of all the preparation if turnout is poor. How do you find out if folks are interested? Post flyers at local establishments (don't forget churches!) asking those who'd like to joining to contact you for email address is nice so someone can just drop you a line if they don't like talking on the phone. And, of course, tell all your gardening friends to tell THEIR gardening friends!

Planning the first meeting.
The best advice is keep it SIMPLE...the first club meeting should be a basic, getting to know you type affair with some snacks and a general plan. Have a sheet made up in advance with questions for your members asking what direction they would like the club meetings to hour of lectures? More talk time? Topic specific? Most clubs meet monthly, but ask your members if they want to do more. For the next meeting, generate a firm plan based on 'majority rules'. If you haven't picked a name, ask for suggestions regarding that as well.

Electing/Appointing Officers
For your club to be truly organized, and if you plan on making it an official 'non-profit' organization at some point, you'll need officers and by-laws. You can either appoint or nominate'll need a president, a vice president, a treasurer and a secretary. It's usually easy to find members with experience, and it's best to stick with someone you know well or with references. Better safe than sorry, especially for the treasurer position. For larger clubs, you may also want to organize committees within the clubs for event planning: fundraising, party planning, field trips, etc. The by laws aren't mandatory, but are a good idea. They should include membership fee amounts, number of meetings that must be attended to be in good standing, reasons for dismissal...that sort of thing. A lawyer in your area may be willing to help you pro bono, especially if they're a gardener.

Meeting Structure
Most meetings are called to order, the officers report on monthly happenings, and then everyone snacks and chats amongst themselves (that's the fun part!). Some clubs bring in a guest each month to speak for a few minutes on a specific topic, too. Again, look to your members to see what they seem to enjoy most and go with it. Plant exchanges from member gardens are ALWAYS a huge hit in the spring, so plan ahead and know that on those meeting days no one will be listening to a word you're saying because they have plants on the brain.

Unfortunately, things like lectures and food cost money...and while at first your own money may be used to fund everything, your club may outgrow your budget. You can charge members a small amount per year or per meeting to pay for things, but again...that will only go so far. Finding ways to make money is one of the most difficult parts of being in charge of a club...thankfully, many local businesses will be happy to help you out if you promote their establishment. Non-local businesses help as can often buy goods at a wholesale price and then sell them to your members or at a show at the retail price, making a tidy profit. Also consider bus trips to cities near you that would constitute a 'day trip'...visit botanical gardens, Christmas shows, house tours and the like. Take an ad in your local paper advertising the trip (again, if you're not for profit some papers will let you place your ad for free) and try your best to fill every spot. If making money becomes a problem for your club, check with the National Garden Club Association or other organizations for more helpful tips. Some actually have programs you can enroll in to help profit share, and others have classes you can take to enhance your performance.

Most of all, have FUN with your club...the whole reason behind it is to allow gardeners to establish life long connections in your community, and that's priceless!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Easy First Steps to Winterizing Your Garden

Now is the time to get your garden ready for next spring. If you live in a warmer climate, then you still have time to plant a few bulbs for next spring, but you need to act fast. Tulips and daffodils are probably the most popular bulbs and are fairly easy to care for. To see whether or not you are too late, you should go out with a shovel and try to dig into the ground. If you can dig fairly easily, then get thee to a garden store and pick out some bulbs! These bulbs are annuals, which means they will bloom for one season and then be gone. You should keep that in mind when you are considering their price.

Your next step will be to make sure that your yard is raked. Now, some people just allow their leaves to sit in the yard all winter. If you only have a couple of trees, that may be fine. The leaves will decompose where they are. If you have tons of trees, however, then you could be in for some serious problems if you leave them all winter. Dead leaves that build up are a great breeding ground for bugs. They also can contribute to diseases in your lawn. If you happen to be very busy and do not get to the leaves before the snow begins, then you should be prepared now to get lawn fertilizer next spring to bring back your grass.

Your third task will be to check out the plants you had this year. If you had annuals that are now dead, then you should go ahead and get them up. You need to pull up the whole root system so that you can use that ground for something else next year. Remove any perennials (flowers that come up year after year) that are not surviving in your yard and clear away any dead brush from trees. Now also it the time to clipper or prune any bushes that you have. Pruning some bushes, such as azaleas, may mean that they will not bloom next year. That is okay if you are planning to keep the bushes for years to come. Go the year without the blooms and then keep up on the pruning! After a year, they should be full and healthy again.

Do not forget about your yard equipment when you are winterizing your garden. Weed eaters, trimmers, lawn mowers, and other gardening tools do not do well with the winter weather. The best place to put the motorized equipment is inside. If you do not have a garage or other place to put them, purchase a large tarp and some bungee cords. Cover them well so that they will not be exposed to the precipitation and cold of the winter. Patio furniture also should be taken in or put under tarps to survive the winter. The fabric on most patio chairs will not make it through the winter. It will get brittle and crack, so take precautions now.

For those of you who do not have a compost bin already, consider building one now. It takes at least a year for a compost bin to be usable as fertilizer, so you will not be able to use it next year. Still you will be getting started on a healthier yard. Get small wiring (such as chicken wire) and a few metal poles. Stake the poles in the ground, wrap the wire around it, and you have a basic compost bin. You can put any of your yard clippings (though you may want to chop up limbs first) as well as vegetable scraps, eggs shells, and other garbage from your kitchen in the compost bin. Be sure that you cover it for the winter but come by to turn it with a pitchfork every month or so.

These basics steps will help you get your garden ready for next spring. The key is to make sure that you take care of everything now so that you can begin next year fresh. You will not need to start out doing clean-up, but you can start the spring with the projects you want to do.

A To Do List For Your Garden

If you are like me, then you find yourself often thinking about the time ahead. It may be months or years ahead, but you have a vision for how things will be at one point in the future. Since my husband and I purchased our first home last August, we have been dreaming of the amazing yard that we will have next year.

Last year we had a small vegetable garden. It produced a few fruits but nothing spectacular. Do not get me wrong. I was excited about every tomato and cucumber we picked in our garden, but it was not enough to sustain us. Next year, though, we will be able to make some changes to our yard that will give us a more beautiful garden.

The best way to make sure that you take steps toward realizing your gardening dreams is to start by planning now, when you are probably already cooped up in your home for the winter, for the spring months when you can get out to make it a reality.

Your first step should be taking stock of your yard and garden now. What worked? For us, tomatoes were our best crop last year. We did little to them, and they yielded the most fruit. We love tomatoes (and hurricanes and other factors keep pushing up their prices), so we will be planting about three times the number of tomato plants next year. We have considered that when we have located where we will place our new garden plot. Perhaps you will be looking for new ideas for what to plant. Now is the time to begin researching. Can asparagus grow in your area? Do you have the space for a small pumpkin patch? Write down your plans so that you can begin pricing seeds and other items needed and looking into what you will have to do for your garden.

Take a walk around your yard. What would you like to see? For example, in our yard, we have a small side porch that is about six feet by 15 feet. While the previous owners planted a few things, they did not complete the task. We probably will not be replanting everything next year, based just on priorities. We can only do so much to our gardens each year, after all. What we do want to do in that area, however, is to wall it off. We have a few stone pieces that will work well to create a border around the porch. Though we will not have a fully planted area, we will be adding the border to that part of the yard next year. When you are planning projects, be sure that you take these types of things into account. Consider non-plant garden projects.

Speaking of non-planting projects, think about garden decorations. Our son picked out some shimmering garden ornaments last year. They were appealing to his one-year-old senses, so we got them. We have three put in a dogwood behind our house. For next year, we will begin to think of other fun stuff to decorate the garden. Perhaps we want to buy (or make) small stone steps to make it to the garden from the deck. We may get a garden flag or little markers to tell us what is in the yard at various points. If you want to make any of your garden decorations, that is something you can work on now while it is still winter.

Making steppingstones, for example, is not difficult. You need simply to search for how to make them online and then check into the various methods. With some methods, you can make the stones for as little as $3-4 each, and you can do them over the course of a day. This craft may be a great way to get your children involved in a fun activity while they are indoors during the cold winter months.

Whatever you decide to do, know that you should begin preparing for next spring today so that you will not be taken by surprise. If you begin purchasing items now and researching the basics, you will find that you will be excited and well-prepared when the spring air finally blows in.

How Poinsettias and Other Plants Became Christmas Staples

When you think of Christmas, you tend to think of different plants that go with this particular holiday, with Easter, it is the Easter lily and with Christmas it is the Christmas tree, the Poinsettia and the Mistletoe, but how did these plants become such a symbol of Christmas?

The Poinsettia was first brought into the United States in 1825 by Joel Robert Poinsett from Mexico where he was serving as the first American ambassador. He stumbled upon the plant growing wild as either a plant or a small bush near Taxco, Mexico and was taken with their beauty. Since he was a botanist to begin with, when he returned to the United States, he brought some with him and then sent several plants to various Botanical gardens throughout the then United States and from there the plant became popular. The poinsettia became associated with Christmas several years later as it was first sold in Philadelphia during the Christmas season. Many years later, around the turn of the century, the Poinsettia as we know it today was born. Botanists named Ecke were situated in California and breed the Poinsettia to be a smaller and more hardier plant. The plant has a storied history and was even known as the Christmas flower by the Aztecs. They made medicine to treat fevers from the latex and dye from the plants. The plant was probably first associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when Franciscan priests working in the Taxco area included poinsettias in their Nativity processions because they were so brightly coloured at this time of year.

Mistletoe is another plant that is associated with Christmas. Mistletoe has been around for centuries, but is known as a parasitic shrub that grows on trees (the root system of the mistletoe entwines that of the tree that is growing on as to extract nutrients from the tree). Kissing under the mistletoe dates back to almost ancient times and was used by Druids for the medicinal properties and is mentioned also in ancient Norse mythology.

The history of the Christmas tree is somewhat better known than perhaps the mistletoe or the poinsettia. The modern tree as we know it today began its roots in Germany several hundreds of years ago during the late 17th and early 18th century and the tree gained popularity throughout Germany. Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria brought the tree to England during the later first half of the 19th century. The earliest known Christmas tree in North American was in Canada in 1781 and displayed by a German immigrant and later, in 1816 the Christmas tree appeared in Lancaster, PA and was put up by a German fellow that had immigrated to the new world (being the first Christmas tree on record in the United States.)

Here are some interesting facts about all three plants: A Christmas tree farm supplies enough oxygen to support eighteen people and of course are havens for both bird and animal alike. Evergreen was used because of the tree staying green all year long (think of the song O Taunenbaum! A definite German Christmas Carol). In many countries it was believed that the Christmas tree could keep away witches and evil spirits.

Mistletoe is the floral state emblem of Oklahoma. Mistletoe is believed to aid high blood pressure and was made popular again recently when Suzanne Somers thought that mistletoe could be a cure for breast cancer and used a drug made from an extract of the mistletoe to treat her recent bout of breast cancer. Correct mistletoe etiquette is for the man to remove one berry when he kisses a girl underneath and when all the berries are gone, well, no more kissing! It is also believed that if a woman is not kissed under the mistletoe, she will remain single for another year. There are more than thirteen hundred species of mistletoe world wide, but only two that are native to the United States.

In nature, left unattended a Poinsettia can grow up to ten feet tall! The sales of Poinsettias represent over eighty percent of potted plants sales during the holiday season and usually bringing in almost two million in sales! In the United States, December 12th is National Poinsettia Day. There are over one hundred varieties of poinsettias. There is even a college football game named after this flower!

So now you know a little bit more of the history of these annual Christmas plants and a few fun facts to quiz your friends with! Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas Gifts Gardeners Will Love

If there's a gardener on your list or in your life, you already know the passion that gardening can cultivate (okay, I couldn't resist that pun...apologies) in a person. Chances are, they talk about some aspect of gardening at least once a day, often much more. You hear about seeds, climates, weather, plant performance, flowers...and while it may not interest you as much as it does them, you listen (and hopefully learn). If you ARE the gardener, you're daydreaming right now about the seed catalogs that started rolling in this week instead of paying attention to reading this (I support you fully!). With Christmas being in the dead of winter for most gardeners, when their plants are dormant and all they have are memories and plans, it can be a difficult holiday. And since most gifts for gardeners won't be used until next spring, should you even bother to try and choose something within the genre? Of course you should! Here are some interesting and unusual gift ideas for the gardener in your life, or for you to pass on to your list holder.

Since it's off season, it isn't always easy to find gardening items in stores. Thank goodness for the old WWW, eh? You can find any type of garden accessory made, right now. All you have to do is look...some great places to try are Gardeners Supply Company, Merrifield Garden Center, Kinsman Company, Dorothy Biddle Service, and Richters Herbs. They all have unique items that gardeners love but you won't find at the big box stores.

Flower Arranging Products
This is one out of the box idea that will pay off in spades if the gardener on your list enjoys flowers from their garden, or flowers, period. And, they're the PERFECT Christmas gift as they can be used right away...even your local grocery store will have some fresh flowers in stock for the recipient to practice with. Some great suggestions, appropriate for the novice or expert:
  • Metal flower frogs: These are also called Kenzans, needlepoint holders, flower holders, etc. but they all have the same function...a heavy tip resistant base with brass or steel pins onto which the flowers stems are pushed to create an arrangement. They can be placed in a vase or bowl, and some have cups attached so they can be used alone or in non-water tight containers. My personal favorites are made of stone with a cup and pin holder inside...they look so natural and only a few flowers make them look great. And, they're all reasonably priced!
  • Glass arrangers: Top pick would be the Floral Seven, created by the Horticultural Institute of's got seven tiny vases attached together in a tower-shape and makes the most lovely arrangements. Best part is, all you do is gather your materials, cut them all to the same length, stuff them in and PRESTO! Martha would be envious! Antique glass flower frogs and arrangers are readily available on Ebay, too...variations include ladies, birds, animals, and art deco forms. Another great item is a glass flower ring; it's shaped like a doughnut and floats on any put your flowers in the middle. Gorgeous!
  • Books: Great especially if your gardener has never tried arranging before...there are TONS of books out there on beginning arranging, and most include a list of basic supplies so feel free to use it as a gift buying guide, too!
Decorative Garden Items
Not all gifts for the gardener have to be used outdoors...folks often forget that! Garden themed decorative items are 'so hot right now' and easy to find.
  • Wall Art: Be it posters, framed prints, photos or paintings, any gardener is a sucker for an image of anything gardeny. Scenes from nature with plants, other people's gardens, one specific plant in study, the bleak dark winter, all will be a welcome sight that will bring a smile to their face with every glance. For a very special gift, have some photos of the recipient's own gardens mounted and framed. It will be treasured forever!
  • Tableware: What gardener wouldn't love a set of dishes they can use that tell everyone what they're most passionate about? I have one...the bread plates all say 'it's spring and time to plant seeds'...and gosh, they make me feel warmer when I use them, I swear!
  • Do-dads and knick knacks: Little trowels, sculpted garden scenes, planters...the sky's the limit in this category. Indoor wind chimes, while not my thing, always are a hit, as are plaques that have garden themed inscriptions, such as 'grow, dammit' or 'world's greatest gardener'.
  • In the Loo: Towels with floral or gardening scenes, shower curtains with watering's a great theme in any room, but in the loo nature just seems...right.
Another great way to keep the dream alive off season...shirts and other apparel with garden prints and motifs! I've seen so many really wonderful T-shirts out there, and in a wide variety of colors and sizes. My personal favorite is one that says 'Head Gardener'...get your gardening AND power fixes in one fell swoop, I say! Places like Neighborhoodies will custom letter many different styles of tops for you for a reasonable price, which is fun and unique. You may also wish to try a T-Shirt with a photo you snagged from you're recipient's garden... journal. Instant usage gratification!

In addition to the above, things a gardener won't use until spring are always an option, and gardeners on the whole are a patient people (every wait for something to grow? Eeek!). Try pairing some tools, gloves, plant markers...all can be found in really pretty gift sets...with one of my suggestions and your gardener will think of you not only during the holiday season, but in the spring as well.