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5 Indoor Gardening Projects You Can Do This Winter

Wondering what to do this winter to keep your hands dirty in the garden?Why not bring the garden inside. Growing tropical houseplants are fun and easy! I have 5 easy indoor gardening projects to get you psyched for spring.  

1: Create a mini garden oasis in your window.  Keeping a few indoor houseplants through the winter can be just what the doctor ordered.  Growing tropical foliage plants indoors can have added health benefits.  Ornamental plants like, Sansevieria, Snake Plants, Spathyphyllum Peace lilies, Boston ferns and Spider plants are a few beneficials that can act as air purifiers,  removing toxins from the atmosphere in your home.  Having greenery indoors also helps relieve stress and boost your mood as well. http://gardensonthego.com/garden-minute-bring-your-garden-indoors/

Tropical foliage display

2: Grow herbs and edibles indoors.  Believe or not growing edible plants such as herbs, micro greens and sprouts are easy. http://gardensonthego.com/growing-sprouts-beans-greens-alfalfa/

Micro greens seedlings

3: Create a garden under glass.  Terrariums continue to be a strong trend in indoor gardening, whether they are table top or hanging in a clever glass orb, terrariums are one of the easiest and low maintenance gardens to have in your home.  If you are not convinced just take a look at Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration. http://gardensonthego.com/terrarium-demonstration-by-tina-sottolano-of-gardens-on-the-go/

4: Make a Kokedama, the Japanese style of growing ornamental plants in the shape of a ball. Kokedama literally means “moss ball”.  Plant roots are stripped clean and formed into a firm round ball using a bonsai soil blend.  Wrap the ball in moss and tie with string. Kokedama are perfect for small spaces. They can hang in a window or placed in a dish or tray on a table or plant stand. 

Kokedama

5: Add living wall art by mounting ferns.  Vertical gardening is extremely popular!  If the thought of having a massed wall of green foliage intimidates you why not start small.  Try mounting a Stag horn fern.   Stag horn ferns are actually Epiphytes, much like orchids and air plants.  This unique group of plants don’t require soil to grow. They are easily mounted onto a piece of wood using moss, twine and a couple of screws to hold it in place. 

Vertical Garden with tropical foliage
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Soil pH is Essential for a Healthy Garden

Soil pH is an important part of gardening. It measures fertility of the soil and health of your plants. So what does pH mean and how does it effect our plants. pH stands for “potenz hydrogen” or potential hydrogen.  It is the ability of plants to attract hydrogen ions in the soil. It’s measured on a scale from 0-14, 7 is the most neutral. To put it simpler terms pH measures the acidity or alkalinity in the soil thus effecting the health of what you grow from landscape trees and shrubs to flowers, vegetables and even your lawn.

Many flowers, vegetables, and grasses prefer a ph level between 6.0-6.5 Plants like azalea, rhododendrons, and most evergreens, blueberries and potatoes are the exceptions, they prefer a ph level slightly higher than 7. Most plants can easily absorb available minerals in the soil like phosphorous, nitrogen, iron and potassium when the pH levels range from 6.0-6.5. When the soil pH is lower than 6.5 minerals like zinc phosphorous can be easily absorbed by the roots of the plant. Whatever your pH levels are too high or too low you can make minor adjustments by adding soil amendments. Adding organic matter or compost can help to bring the soil to a neutral base which is beneficial when growing most vegetables and flowering plants.

Finding out the pH is easy and can done at anytime during the growing season, but Spring and Fall are ideal especially if you are planting a new garden in a new area of your yard. There are easy at home testing kits available at your local garden center. Knowing the soil pH can help you make the appropriate fertilizer adjustments. If you need a more I depth analysis consult your local extension agency.
Some effects of soil imbalance in the garden include, underdeveloped growth and limited fruiting. This also effects the plants ability to fight of pests and diseases.

A few easy solutions you do now to lower soil ph is add water-soluble, Coffee grounds over time to help reduce pH, just like manure or compost.  Add Aluminum Sulfate to the soil to keep your blue hydrangeas blue. To correct high acidic soil pH simply add dolimite lime, calcium magnesium carbonate to the soil a few weeks before you plant.

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When Pruning Trees and Shrubs, Timing Is Everything

Pruning is always a question for many gardeners, when and how to prune are the most common. It really depends on what you are pruning. For trees and shrubs pruning is a way to help rejuvenate and stimulate new growth. But there is a right time and a wrong time to prune.

Here are a few general rules you need to know before you pick up your pruning shears this spring.

For many trees and shrubs timing is key, especially when pruning spring flowering shrubs. Plants like Azalea, Forsythia, and lilac bloom on the previous years growth. Flower buds are produced the previous growing season and overwinter on the plant. Pruning these shrubs in the fall or winter will prohibit flowering in the spring. Many of these shrubs benefit from light pruning to keep the natural shape of the plant. You want to avoid over pruning or shearing too closely. This practice alters the natural growth structure of the plant resulting in unhealthy looking plants that will flower very little.

Trees and shrubs flowering in the summer should be pruned in late winter or early spring. These plants flower on the the same years growth and are fast growing, like Buddleia and Caryopteris. Roses, Hybrid tea and floribunda should also be pruned in early spring, just before plant breaks dormancy. Shrub and Knockout roses can benefit from this as well. Fruit trees, evergreens, Viburnum, Crepe Myrtle and Rose of Sharon can also be pruned in the early spring.

Pruning hydrangeas on the other hand can be tricky. Hydrangea paniculata and arborescens, flower on the new seasons growth. Pruning in the late winter or early spring is ideal. Hydrangea macrophylla flower from the previous years growth. Many of the new breeds and varieties of hydrangeas bloom from old and new wood, like the endless summer series. It is best to cut back in the late summer. If your plant has become too large or if you are cutting blooms for floral arrangements be careful not to over prune, this can result in fewer blooms the following year.

Pruning tips:

1. Use sharp shears that are cleaned and sanitized to avoid spreading any disease.

2. Remove diseased wood immediately.

3. Make cuts at an angle and close to the collar of the tree. This will keep insects out that can carry disease and harm the tree.

4. Remove crossing branches. Always cut off the smaller branch.

5. Remove thin and spindly looking branches. This helps to thin out the tree or shrub, opening it up for more light and wind to pass through.

6. Remove suckers growing from the trunk of tree.

7. Cut shoots growing straight up towards the center of the tree from thebark or on branches.

8. Avoid pruning in fall. Plants are still growing in the fall. Pruning stimulates growth in plants who are otherwise winding down their growing season and preparing for dormancy. Freezing temps can injure plants pushing new growth.

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Growing Your Own Sprouts – Beans, Greens, and Alfalfa

Growing sprouts is a fun and easy indoor gardening project to do with the whole family.  You can grow a variety of sprouts from certain bean, vegetable and salad seeds. Growing them yourself is a time and money saver as well as a great way to add healthy vegetables to your daily meals.  Sprouts have the highest concentration of vitamins compared to fully grown greens and beans.  You can use a variety of seeds that include lentils, alfalfa, watercress, and assorted vegetable and salad greens.  There are many seed packets already formulated with a nice assortment.  If you buy prepackaged seeds make sure they are tested negative for E.coli, Salmonella, and Listeria, as well as other foodborne pathogens.  I am growing a mix of  alfalfa, Daikon radish sprouts and red clover, all certified organic and GMO free. Sprouts germinate quickly and can be easily grown indoors all year long.

Sprouts are be grown in a variety of containers, I like to up cycle my clear plastic salad containers, or a mason jar.  You can purchase a seed sprouter, some sprouters have enough room to grow up to five varieties at the same time.  They have proper drainage and air holes for optimal air circulation.

For this particular project I chose to grow my sprouts in a mason jar.  I made sure the jar was clean and heat sterilized. Fill the jar about 1/5 full with seeds or about 1-2 tablespoons.  Seeds will expand greatly once they begin to geminate.  If you place too many seeds they will begin to push out of the top of the jar.  Then fill the jar with clean water at room temperature and soak seed for about 8-12 hours or overnight.  Cover the top of the jar with a mesh cloth or cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Leave the lid off the jar to allow for proper air flow.  Poor air circulation can cause seedlings to grow white and gray mold.

The next day drain the seeds and rinse and drain again.  Rinse seed and drain twice daily to keep seeds free from growing bacteria.  Place jar away from direct sunlight.  Seeds germinate in three to six days and are ready to eat when sprouts become big enough to harvest.

Be sure to eat sprouts within the week or you can store them in the refrigerator for up to six days.  Add your sprouts to sandwiches, omelettes and even soups.  With so many possibilities you’ll be growing these delicious greens over and over again.

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Get A Jumpstart On Your Garden Now

Photo By Gardens On The Go

It is never too early or too late to start planning and prepping your garden.  March is always a month of transition.  As the old saying goes March can come in like a lamb or with the vengeance of a lion.  Of course this can vary from year to year and also depends on what part of the country your live in.  One thing that remains constant is spring arrives March 20th on the calendar regardless of the weather conditions.  So why not get a head start in the garden now.  Here is a list of things to do in the garden now.

Edible Gardening

Late winter and early spring apply horticultural dormant oil on fruit trees before the first set of leaves pushes out.

Plant cool season vegetables in cold frames or garden if the soil is workable for lettuces, spinach, Swiss Chard, broccoli, kale and other cole crops.  Continue to sow indoors in the weather is not favorable.

Mid- March begin planting peas and potatoes in the garden, provided soil is workable.

Mulch strawberries with pine straw.

Late march begin planting blueberries, grapes and raspberries in the garden.

Sow seeds indoors and under grow lights for sweet peas, tomatoes, peppers, cucurbits, eggplant, Brussel sprouts and herbs

Indoor Gardening

Monitor houseplants for insect pests and rotate pots a 1/4 turn every week.

Early March start fertilizing houseplants weekly with 10-15-10 or 15-30-15 formulated for tropical foliage plants.

Container Gardens By Gardens On The Go

Annuals and Perennials

Plant Pansies and ranunculus and primroses.

Plant container gardens for your porch and patio.

Divide perennials that will bloom in June and July in the spring.  Perennials like echinacea, hosta, phlox and ornamental grasses.  Leave perennials that bloom in spring to be divided in fall.

Cut back ornamental grasses.

 

Pruning Pear Tree by Cainimages

Trees and Shrubs

Prune fruit trees, evergreens like boxwoods, yew and hollies.

Roses, like Hybrid tea and floribunda should be pruned in early spring, just before plant breaks dormancy. Shrub roses and Knockout roses can benefit from this as well.

Hydrangea paniculata and arborescens, bloom off of new wood.  Hydrangea macrophylla blooms off the previous years growth as well as new wood growth.

Clean and prep tools for the upcoming season.

Lawn

If ground is not covered in snow apply a pre-emergent herbicide, Step 1 to control crab grass.

 

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Indoor Gardening, Caring for Cactus and Succulent Plants

Cactus and Succulents can add color and texture to your indoor garden, requiring little attention and care.  This unique plant group store water in the body, leaves and stems. Cacti store water in the main body of the plant and succulents store water in their stems and leaves.  

Generally found growing in warm arid regions of the world succulents have the ability to survive on very little water. Therefore it is not surprising that they have gained popularity as care free and low maintenance house plants. Mainly grown for ornamental purposes many cultivars are uniquely shaped in various colors and textures. Even though they are super easy to grow the most common question I get from clients is, how do I keep them looking as good as the day I bring them home from the garden center? It is not a difficult task if you follow a few simple tips.

Look for plants with a healthy root structure, vibrant green foliage and full shape. Avoid  plants with soft yellowing leaves, these are signs of poor watering habits.  Stickiness or a powdery residue are signs of insect damage.

Transplant succulents using the right type of soil. Cacti and succulents are not aggressive growers. In fact they are slow growers.  The root system is usually not as thick and fibrous like most plants. Transplant using well-drained soil containing a balance of sand, perlite and sphagnum peat moss, providing water and fertilizer retention.  I recommend using a soilless mix cacti, succulent mix that is specially formulated to keep plants well drained. Succulents can be planted in any type of container that allows for proper drainage. Make sure containers have a drainage hole for water to flow through.

Water plants when they are thoroughly dry. I always soak plants thoroughly and allow water to flow through, then wait a week and check again. If soil is still moist wait another week. I generally wait two or even three weeks between waterings. Some signs to look for if you are not watering properly are, drying and dehydrated looking leaves aren’t getting enough water and soggy leaves are holding too much water. Get into a regular watering schedule to help plants thrive.

Let your plants live in light. Succulents love bright, filtered light so find a bright sunny window where they’ll receive four to six hours of sun.

Fertilize with a water soluble succulent food as needed. Remove dead or decaying leaves to keep plants looking clean. This is a good routine to acquire. It allows you to keep an eye out for insects or any potential plants problems.  These easy to follow tips will keep your succulents happy and healthy indoors all year.

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Making Seed Tape


If you are like me and save seeds from your garden every year or you like to direct sow cool season vegetables like carrots and radishes, you can’t wait to get in the garden and plant them.  For anyone who has done this knows that seed cultivation by directly sowing them into the ground can be a tedious and tricky process, especially when the seeds are very tiny and lightweight.  Making seed tape is a way for you to plant seeds without worrying about waste. They are so easy to make from biodegradable materials that you already have in your home.  Seeds are evenly spaced and glued to strips of paper using newspaper, paper towels or toilet paper and glued using flour and water.

To make seed tape you will need:

Toilet paper, newspaper or paper towels

White flour

Tweezers

Ruler

Small brush or Q-tips.

  1. Mix about two tablespoons of white flour with one tablespoon of water to make a thick paste. You may have to adjust amounts.  Thicker glue will dry faster.  The paste should not be too watery.  You don’t want seed to absorb too much water.  The glue will hold the seed in place.
  2. Using a ruler cut one inch strips of newspaper, TP or paper towels.
  3. Place seed on the one inch strips in the middle.  Space seed according to the distance on package. You can spread the glue on the paper using a tiny brush then using the tweezers place one to two seeds per space.
  4. When you are done place a top layer of paper on top and glue together.
  5. Wait for glue to dry overnight before storing in a dry container.  Add rice to keep inside or container dry from humidity  and or condensation.  Don’t for get to label your seed tape.

When you are ready to plant take your seed tape to the garden and lay in the ground.  Lightly cover the tape with soil and water in.  Once your seeds germinate you will notice there is no need for tedious thinning and wasting of seeds.

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How to keep that beautiful poinsettia blooming

by Tina Sottolano Cain

Keeping your poinsettia alive until next Christmas is not as challenging as you may think. With a little knowledge of the history of the plant and a few easy growing tips you will have an easy time getting your poinsettia to bloom again.

The poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima is a tropical plant that is native to the southern region Mexico and was brought to the United States by the ambassador to Mexico Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1825.

The beautiful red color of its leaves known as bracts make this plant very unique. When grown in their native environment they traditionally grow in part sun and shade, and can grow up to 13 feet tall.

To keep your poinsettias looking good throughout the winter months give them a sunny, south-facing windowsill where it is bright, be sure the light is filtered and free of any drafts. You also want to keep the plant away from any heat vents as well. I find that keeping the temperature between 68-70 degrees is ideal.

Watering poinsettias can be challenging for many. Striking the right balance of moisture and humidity can make all the difference in keeping your plant looking happy and healthy. I recommend checking water regularly. Remove the foil cover from the pot, if you already haven’t. This will allow the plant to drain properly. Too often I have seen a poinsettia take a turn for the worse only to find out later that it has been sitting in a pool of water at the bottom of the foil cover. This will also allow for proper air flow around the base of the plant. Some of the warning signs are the lower leaves turning yellow and curling followed by dropping off. Allow plants to dry out between watering cycles. Never leave excess water in saucers and cache pots.

Continue with this practice until spring. Stop watering and allow the plant to dry out, leaving the stems to shrivel and leaves to drop. Place plant in a cool location where temperature ranges from 50-60 degrees. At the end of spring cut back stems to a couple of inches above the soil line and repot using fresh potting soil. Begin watering again and place plant outside for the summer months in a shaded location. Begin fertilizing using a 10-10-10 ratio weekly at the first sign of new growth. Mid-summer begin pinching off the tips from the top of the plant. This is the new growth you are taking off to promote side branching. You want to do this two times during the growing season before you bring the plant indoors in the fall. Place in a sunny location and continue to water and fertilize regularly.

In autumn move the plant to complete darkness between the hours of 5 pm and 8 am. This triggers the plant to change its growth pattern. Its bracts will change color from dark green to red and flower. Once the plants bracts have completely colored, typically in November, return to a sunny location and enjoy for another holiday season.

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Children’s Garden

Researchers find activities like gardening can improve mental health and contribute to a healthy weight. The increased physical activity reduces stress, and increases happiness.  You also build better eating habits when grow your own vegetables.  With benefits like this why are we not seeing more adults and children interested in gardening?  For starters it begins with the young.  Cultivating children’s interest in gardening at a very young age shows that as adults they continue to garden.  Children’s gardens should be a place of fun and inhibition so they can be free to explore and learn as they grow.  

Designing and Planting…Designing gardens for kids should be filled with fun plants that are easy to grow from seed. Therefore you want to get them involved in the design process, after all it is their space.  Use plants like Sunflowers, Chinese lanterns, and Celosia, just to name a few.  Bright colors and textures are big attractions that draw in the most curious gardeners of all ages. Be sure to  include native shrubs and perennials.  They attract local birds and wildlife to the garden.  It is important to show children how important natives are and the role they play in our ecosystem.

Stimulate their sense of smell…Fragrance is so important to spark their interest.  Plants like Heliotrope, Primrose, Lilac, Lavender and Peonies are great additions to any garden and easy to grow.

Edible Gardening…Always mix edible plants with flowering plants.  Planting vegetables and flowers together teaches children the importance of attracting pollinators, like bees and beneficial insects to the garden.  Flower and fruit production from pollination are keys to the success of the garden.

Garden Architecture…Add structure to the garden using an arbor or pergola.  Make a garden path for little feet to walk. Have the children create their own stepping stones using found objects, like stones, marbles, seashells in concrete molds. Hand and footprints stepping stones are always popular for the kids to make.

 

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Winter Houseplant Care

Caring for houseplants indoors during the winter is much more challenging than outdoors.  Controlled temperatures, shorter day length and forced hot air from our indoor heating systems leave the atmosphere dry.  You also need to be mindful of cold drafts. Plants near drafty windows and doors result in dark brown sections on leaves.  Plants struggle to push out new growth, foliage turns yellow and edges brown thus resulting in unhappy looking houseplants.

I avoid these problems by following a few simple rules…

Increase Humidity…plants love humidity, especially indoor tropicals.  Make sure you keep plants away from forced dry heat vents.  Increase humidity by placing the plant on a bed of moist crushed stones, cluster your plants together if possible, or mist the leaves 2-3 times per week.

Rotate…plants are phototropic, meaning they lean, or grow in the direction of the light.  With day length slowing increasing each day, plants are stretching toward the brightest area, forcing a normally full healthy looking plant to have an irregular shape.   Remember to turn 1/4 – 1/2 spin per week.

Water…wisely during the winter time.  Take time to water your plants on a regular schedule.  Keep a gardening journal to keep track of watering, misting and fertilizing your plants.  This will help to minimize long dry periods and help prevent overwintering.  Be aware of the water temperature.  Believe or not water that is too cold or too hot can effect your houseplants causing leaves to yellow and curl.  I always use tepid water during extreme cold spells.

Pest Patrol…be on the lookout for unexpected pest guests.  Insects, like Aphids, Mealy bugs, Fungus Gnats, and Scale are the most common pests.  Plants need adequate air flow, especially in extremely warm areas.  Keeping temperatures between 62°-72°from night to day is ideal and helps to keep pests away.