In the Garden: Caring for Annuals and Hanging Baskets

by Tina Sottolano-Cain

For many gardeners, keeping their plants looking happy and healthy during the hot summer months can be a challenge, especially container gardens and hanging baskets.

Longer days result in plants like annuals to grow rapidly. Which is ideal since gardeners from the seasoned pro to the novice use them as their go-to flower of the season. Known for their ability to put on the ultimate show of color from May to the first frost of the fall season, proper watering, fertilizer and grooming are key to their overall health and wellness. But if you are not sure when and how much you should water and fertilize, you could be leaving your plants looking leggy, burned-out and out of bloom.

Watering plants outdoors is very different than watering indoors. There are many different environmental factors sun, temperature, the amount of rain and even wind play a roll in how fast plants dry out. Watering containers and hanging baskets are the most common. They need attention almost daily during an extremely hot and dry summer. Water in the morning if possible. Avoid over head watering during the middle of the day. Sun can burn the leaves of certain plants when water droplets sit on leaves. Invest in a watering wand, my go-to tool. Perfect for hand watering it allows you to control where the water goes, especially if you don’t want leaves to wet on certain plants.

Start a fertilizing regime. Scheduling fertilizer applications will make it easy to remember when to apply. For blooming annuals you want to ensure that they keep blooming. I recommend using a blossom booster fertilizer. It is higher in Phosphorous, which is as essential to plants as Nitrogen and Potassium. Promoting bud initiation and increased blooming a concentration of 10-30-20 is ideal. If your go to fertilizer is an all purpose 20-20-20 you may want to consider switching out a few times for a bloom booster.

I recommend choosing a day and sticking to it that way you know when the last application was. Fertilize weekly according to the recommendations on the package. This will help avoid any mistakes, like over fertilizing, which can lead to burned-out plants.

Don’t forget to groom annuals and perennials as well during the summer. Grooming is cleaning and deadheading. Remove any yellow and brown leaves as well as spent blossoms to rejuvenate and encourage new growth. This will keep plants looking as fresh as the day you brought them home from the garden center.

In the Garden: Garden Art and Sculpture

by Tina Sottolano-Cain

In recent years gardens have become an extension of our homes.

In essence, the yard patio and deck have become outdoor rooms and people are spending more time perfecting and decorating these areas. Adding garden decor is another creative way to boost interest in your garden, enhancing what you already have.

Adding various architectural elements like garden benches, sculptures and containers, along with easy-to-add elements that include solar lights, can help define the space.

Garden furniture, specifically benches, are not a new concept. It can help define the garden space and provide a destination for anyone visiting your garden. Find an area in the garden with a wide open view to enjoy or place the bench along a pathway under a pergola giving visitors to your garden a destination. Garden benching can reflect your personality, depending upon the material and style you choose. Add a pop of color with a brightly colored bench. Natural materials like stone are great to add in a garden bed doubling as a piece of sculpture as well. Whether you have a formal garden with straight lines or a curvilinear garden there is a garden bench waiting for you to take a seat on.

Garden statues and containers are another way to boost visual interest in the garden. Sculptures can give the element of surprise when used in garden bed. Place them where you may not have an abundance of plant material or tucked under taller perennials and lower growing shrubs.

Containers, on the other hand, are multi functional. Nowadays you can find large glazed pottery. These urns are modern and formal and can be placed in the garden as a focal point. The beauty of theses giant pots are you don’t have to fill them with plant material. If you use smaller potted containers in the garden along the patio or pathway always cluster in groups of three in varying sizes making the display more visually appealing.

Quick and easy elements to add to the garden include whimsical garden stakes that are colored solar lights perfect for guiding you on a nightly garden stroll. More traditional solar lights can outline garden beds and pathways as well as accenting a piece of garden art you want to highlight. When adding anything to your garden always remember to have fun. The outdoors is a space to feel relaxed, it is your very own sanctuary.

In the Garden: Mosquitoes, Ticks and Bees

by Tina Sottolano-Cain

Mosquito and tick season is in full swing, and experts predict it to be a bad one.

Last winters mild temperatures have lead to an increase in ticks as well as other insects to survive and emerge earlier than normal. The tick population especially has exploded with the increased number of mice to feed on.

Mosquitoes have always been a nuisance, especially during a rainy spring and early summer like we have been experiencing. Diseases like Zika, from mosquitoes and Lyme from tick bites are on the for forefront of many people who enjoy spending time in the garden, working out or just having fun outdoors.

Safeguarding family and pets from these pests can be done by protecting your outdoor living space. Female mosquitos lay their eggs in standing water like puddles, ponds, bird baths and other areas where water tends to collect. Eliminating these areas will help reduce the population.

There are also commercial products on the market. Bonide Mosquito Beater, available in a Permethrin-based pesticide as well as a natural form containing various plant-based oils, can be sprayed on the lawn and around shrubs where mosquitoes congregate, and is effective for up to four weeks. This product is effective on other insects, ticks included.

These products should be avoided for use in fish ponds and bird baths. Use Mosquito Dunks instead. Where fish and birds inhabit, the tablets control the larvae. They active ingredient is Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis, (Bti) and controls any larvae that may become adult mosquitoes. It is safe to use in koi ponds, rain gutters, reservoirs, and bird baths. One tablet covers 100 square feet up to 30 days.

If your primary concern is controlling ticks in your yard there are several things you can do around your home now. Keeping the lawn mowed often and removing any tall grasses around the perimeters of lawns and buildings. Keep children’s play equipment away from trees. Remove any brush and leaf debris away from the home and and keep a 3 to 4 foot edging of wood chips or gravel between wooded areas and the yard and keep wood pile stacked neatly in dry areas. This will prevent the migration of ticks. Also keep stray dogs, deer, raccoons and other wild animals out of your yard by fencing perimeters. Use tick tubes filled with permethrin soaked cotton balls for mice to collect for nesting. Exposing the ticks that feed off the mice to the permethrin results in killing the ticks.

Following these simple tips can help safeguard your yard. You can also use DEET based lotions and sprays to protect you and your family as well, thus insuring you to have a safe summer outdoors.

In the Garden: Growing Backyard Grapes

by Tina Sottolano-Cain

Grapes are one of the oldest crops known to man, dating back to ancient times. Concord grapes are one of the few native fruit crops in North America.

There are three types of grapes, American, European and Muscadine. The American grapes are cold hardy and grow in Northeastern regions of the US during the summer months. The European varieties thrive well in dry, arid climates, where temperatures can dip to a low of 10 degrees. Muscadine grapes are native to the southeastern United States. It is not outrageous to think you can grow grapes in your own backyard. From the casual wine drinker to the amateur sommelier, growing backyard grapes is not a difficult task.

Many gardeners grow grapes for different reasons, whether it is for making jams, and jellies, wine or table grapes it all begins with the right culture and cultivation. Grapes need at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. The planting bed should consist of loose, well drained acidic soil. If you have heavy clay consider adding compost or sand to the planting bed. The pH levels should be at 7 or slightly higher. Grapevines are not heavy feeders so don’t fertilize your plants unless you are amending the soil prior to planting. When you are ready to to plant, place grapes in a south facing location with good air flow. Avoid planting grapes in existing beds with other plants. You want to keep them away from tall trees, shrubs or buildings to provide adequate air circulation. Don’t forget to add a trellis or arbor to support the vines. If you are planting bare root plants prune any dead roots and top growth leaving one to two buds. Prune the second years growth leaving a couple of buds on each cane. Once plants are established routine pruning of any dead wood and 90% of last years growth in late winter is best.

Watering should be weekly for growing vines in the absence of rainfall. Soil should be moist to wet 6-10 inches beneath the soil, watering deeper will lead to root rot. Grapes are also prone to a variety of fungus. Powdery mildew, downey mildew and Botrytis, grey mold are the most common along with aphids, Japanese beetles and grapevine beetle also know as the spotted June beetle. They can effect the leaves and fruit commonly found in hot and humid conditions. You want to treat fungus using copper sulfate and insects using an organic insecticide.

Harvest grapes in the fall but be patient, the older the vines the greater the yield. Soon enough you’ll be ready to enjoy farm fresh grapes from your own backyard.