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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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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 Container Gardens

Gone are the days of garden pots sitting idle on the front porch during the winter season.  Container gardening doesn’t have to end when the weather turns cold in fact the local garden centers are filled with a wide variety of conifers and fresh cut greens, perfect for greening your containers.   Using boughs of pine, fir, and cedar and a few dried and faux accents give your planters life when the short gray days of winter set in.

What I most like about this DIY project is that you don’t have spend a great deal of money.  Bundles of fresh cut greens are reasonably priced and if you are fortunate to have conifers and broadleaf evergreens on your property you’ll have a nice variety to choose.   

Use heavy duty ceramic, iron or fiber planters if possible, these materials are more frost tolerant than basic terra cotta, fill pot with soil. If you have plants leftover from the fall cut them down to the soil.  This actually provides a sturdy base for arranging the stems.  You want to begin by sticking greens in the pot starting from the middle.  Greens should be cut proportioned to the size of the pot.  Consider using a taller branch for the center and then cut branches at varied lengths.  Ideally you want to achieve a triangular or fan shape to your arrangement.  I prefer using fraser fir as my base when possible, It’s short needles provide a sturdy base and the blue green color add dimension. You can use pine and douglas fir as well.  Continue building your arrangement, working from the center of the pot until the soil is covered.  Begin adding accent greens like pine, and port orford cedar to soften and add drape to your arrangement.  I suggest adding magnolia or holly to vary textures or head outside and forage in your own backyard for materials.

Once you have placed all the greens now the fun begins.  You are ready to take your arrangement to the next level.  Branches, like white birch, and sweet huck along wth red twig dogwod add height and brighten greens.  For a more holiday feel add clusters of red berries and pine cones.  I encourage you to experiment with your design. If you prefer a more natural  arrangement use fresh materials. If you want a more festive look for the holidays add glittered branches and faux picks of silver and gold.  The holiday displays at the local garden center are filled with faux and natural picks to choose.

Another option for pots is using potted evergreens. Potted Alberta and Colorado spruces as well as varieties of cypress, holly and boxwoods are just a few shrubs you can plant into pots now.  You can add cut fresh boughs of cedar or pine at the base and holiday lights for a custom design look.    Remember to water your arrangement and spray with an anti -transpirant like, Wilt Pruf or Wilt-Stop.  This will help reduce any water loss through the leaves and needles of your potted arrangements. 

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Even after the holidays, the cactus lives on

by Tina Sottolano Cain

Zygocactus or Holiday Cactus is member of a small genus group of cacti called Schlumbergera that includes Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter cactus. They are a popular houseplant and very easy to care for. Cultivars are usually white, pink, orange, red, purple and even yellow. Easter or the Whitsun cactus are most commonly a scarlet red color.

If you are wondering why your cactus doesn’t bloom exactly during the Christmas holiday it may be one of two factors: timing; or you may have a variety specific to Thanksgiving.

The difference between the two plants is in the texture of the leaves. Typically the Christmas cactus has smooth edges. The Thanksgiving cactus has a more jagged leaf edge, thus giving it the name crab cactus because of its claw like texture. When shopping for either check the varieties. The Christmas cactus is usually labeled Schlumbergera x buckleyi.

Caring for this plant is simple. Despite being called a cactus they are native to Brazil and the South American rainforest so they require more water and humidity than a traditional cactus.

Give your cactus bright to medium indirect light indoors and water regularly. I recommend you check the soil and water when the soil feels dry. Fertilize monthly 20-10-20 water soluble at 1/2 the rate. I like to keep a calendar with a watering and fertilizer schedule. This allows you to see how often you are watering and can potentially prevent you from over or under watering. A few signs to look for are the leaves turning yellow or looking shriveled and dropping off.

In mid-spring place the cactus outside in a shaded location. It will love being outdoors when the air is warm and humid throughout the summer. Repot if necessary. Christmas cactus do not mind being pot bound, however if your plant has been in the original pot for a few years its time to repot and replenish with fresh potting soil.

Leave plant outside in summer until temps go down to 50 degrees. A cooling period signals the plant to begin a new growth cycle of setting buds to flower. At about six to eight weeks before Christmas, place the plant in a completely dark space where the temperature is 60 degrees (such as a closet or garage) for 12 hours each night. Be sure to bring the plant out to a sunny spot for the other 12 hours each day. And remember to keep plant away from drafty windows or you may loose those flower buds you worked so hard to get.

These simple steps will insure you have your Christmas cactus blooming at Christmas time

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In the Garden: Made in the Shade

Tina talks about the best plants to use for shady ground cover.