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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.