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In The Garden: Camden Children’s Garden

by Tina Sottolano-Cain

It’s summertime in the garden, filled with flowers and vegetables.

Days are spent weeding, deadheading, harvesting and of course relaxing in the garden oasis you’ve created. If this daily routine is becoming a little too boring it may be time to get out and explore some of the display gardens in and around your area.

One of my favorite summer activities, especially late summer is to take a road trip to local gardens. Public gardens are a great resource for education and inspiration. It gives you an opportunity to see a wide range of plants and how they are used in the landscape. With so many great gardens to choose from I thought the Camden Children’s Garden is an ideal choice.

Located in Camden, New Jersey, the gardens are situated on 4 acres of land.

Valerie Frick, the director of education, tells me the gardens were started in June 1999. “It was born out of the Camden City Garden club, which is a community garden that has been in existence since 1985.”

The primary focus of the gardens and the children’s garden movement was to have a place where kids can run and play throughout nature. Frick says there are no rules in the garden, “It is important to have a fun place for children to do things that children like to do, climb, run, jump, play, explore and discover.”

The children’s garden movement wants to ensure that at a young age the children become familiar with horticulture. By encouraging them to walk on the grass and touch the plants they can feel free to explore and learn. Frick also states, “What children learn when they are young gets carried over to when they become adults.”

Some of the display gardens you will see are inspirations from a group of local landscape designers and gardeners. They even included ideas from the children in Camden County. Frick tells me they went into the Camden County school district and asked the children what would they want to see in a perfect garden. One very memorable request from a child was to walk on water, another was to have dinosaurs in the garden. Both are reflected in the interactive water fountain garden and dinosaur garden where they can learn about dinosaur bones found in New Jersey.

Other requests came from teachers wanting to bring story books to life. It was also important that the gardens reflect the important programs in the schools like educating children on how to grow vegetables in an indoor space. Frick says, they wanted to tie in the work they do in the community with the work they do in the gardens. They are a non-profit organization and operate on grants to keep the gardens going.

The Camden Children’s Gardens is an amusement park dedicated to the thrill of growing plants and vegetables. They even have their own garden themed merry-go-round. For more information go to www.camdenchildrensgarden.org.

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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.

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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.

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Butterfly gardens needed to bring back declining insect population

For many people, gardeners and nature lovers alike butterflies have been an important part of the outdoor environment we live in.

These mystical creatures fluttering through our gardens have captured the attention of collectors for centuries, spending endless hours studying the growth cycles, flight patterns as well as the patterns on their wings.

In many cultures butterflies have a great deal of symbolism of hope and love as well as rebirth. In recent years the numbers of native butterflies have been decreasing, especially the Monarch butterflies. I wanted to know how home gardeners can help increase the population in our gardens.

I recently caught up with John Dailey of SkyRiver Butterflies at his traveling butterfly exhibit to talk butterfly cultivation. I even had the opportunity to help release a few for the exhibit.

Sky River Butterflies it the largest traveling butterfly exhibit in the world, with about 1,500 to 2,000 butterflies in the exhibit. The main objective is to educate people on their life cycle and how to cultivate more butterflies in our won gardens.

“People have to understand that butterflies are very short-lived creatures. It takes 40 to 60 days from egg to adulthood. Typically they will live from 2-3 days to 2-3 weeks.” They are dependent on their life cycle to reproduce. The opportunities for butterflies to reproduce are decreasing due to the amount of toxins being used in the agriculture industry. The host plants where they need to lay their eggs are not as available as they once were.

The key to bringing back butterflies like the Monarch is the right host plants, according to Dailey. The host plant is the plant to attract the larvae or caterpillars to the garden. For Monarch butterflies it is Asclepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed.

Asclepias incarnata is a herbaceous perennial native to North America found in wet swampy areas. It can survive in a backyard garden as long as the soil doesn’t dry out. The Swallowtail butterflies have a long list of host plants depending upon the species. The Swallowtail caterpillars need pipevine plants.

“Each butterfly has a specific host plant. You want to surround those plants with high nectar plants,” he said. High nectar plants produce sugars that adult butterflies feed from. Studies have been done on to what exactly butterflies are attracted in terms of types of plants and colors. One plant in particular is Gomphrena, commonly known as Globe Amaranth. It is a wild flower that produces lots of nectar that attracts all butterflies. Plants like Dahlias are another great nectar plant. You want to look for plants with flowers that have a short neck, making feeding easier for the butterfly.

“Monarch populations used to be measured in billions, now it is measured in millions,” stressed Dailey. By adding a few simple native plants to our gardens we can help restore those numbers.

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Easy Tips For Repotting Houseplants

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Easy step by step tips on how to repot your houseplants

There are many benefits to transplanting your indoor plants. One very important benefit is, all plants need adequate room for their roots to spread and grow.  The roots become constricted leaving no of room for new growth.  Roots begin to wrap around the ball of the plant and eventually inhibit new and lush green foliage. Healthy roots on the bottom mean a healthy plant on the top.

If you are not sure if your plants need to be repotted pot bound they dry out extremely quickly.  Here is a simple checklist.

  1. Plant has inability to hold water. Are you frequently watering everyday and does the water run through the pot in a single stream?
  2. Yellowing Foliage.
  3. Soil looking old, dry or moldy.
  4. Root system is tightly wrapping around the ball of the plant.
  5. Roots are starting to grow out of the drainage hole of pot.

Now is the perfect time to assess the overall health of your houseplants. Transplant any plant that has been in the same pot for more than one year. I Always recommend upgrading pot approximately two sizes larger than the size it is currently in.

Don’t forget to keep turning plants three quarters each week to ensure even growth. Begin fertilizer schedule, once a week.

 

Here are a few quick tips for transplanting houseplants:

1.) Choose a pot two sizes larger than the size the plant is in. Make sure to choose a pot with a drainage whole.

2.) Select a potting soil with good drainage suitable for indoor plants.  #3 chinese evergreen

 

 

 

 

 

#4 chinese evergreen

3.)Remove plant from pot and loosen the roots.  Make sure the roots are not wound tight in a ball.

 

 

 

 

4.) Place plant into new container and fill with soil. Be sure to leave a 1/4″ at the top to allow for watering. If pot is to full water will overflow out of pot.

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5.) Finally, water plant in. Wait 10 to 14 days before you begin fertilizing with a 15-15-15 water-soluble fertilizer.

For more Information on houseplants and indoor gardening go to:  http://gardensonthego.com/top-5-flowering-houseplants

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March Gardening To Do List

crocusSpring arrives March 20, it is time to get out and garden!  Here is what you need to do to get ready!

1) Check houseplants for insects.  Take a thorough look at the leaves for any sticky residue, or any discoloration on the leaves from scale, mealy bugs and mites.  Control with Insecticidal soap or a pyrethrum based pesticide.

2) Rotate houseplants a 1/4 turn each week and mist 2-3 timer per week.

3) Start feeding houseplants, weekly with a 10-15-10 fertilizer.

4) Prune Fruit Trees, if you have not already. Apply Horticultural Oil to control pre-emerging insects before the first sign of leaf growth appears.

5) March 17, time to plant your peas.

6) Plant cool season vegetables, like lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, and arugula.

7)  Mulch strawberries with straw.

8) Dig and Divide perennials

9)  Apply a pre-emergent herbicide, Step 1 to control crab grass.

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Planting and Caring For Amaryllis

Well, I did it again…I forgot to plant to plant a few Paperwhites and Amaryllis bulbs I purchased a few months ago.  It never fails I always buy a bunch of Paperwhites and Amaryllis with the intent of planting them all winter long so I can have a little springtime indoors.  If you are like me and this has happens to you, you may be wondering if the bulbs are still viable.  If the bulbs are over a year old and haven’t been stored properly chances are they may not be.  Bulbs stored in a paper bag with peat moss or wood shavings should stay dry in a cool dark environment.

Here are a few easy tips on planting Amaryllis and Paperwhites bulbs…

They are big beautiful bulbs and extremely easy to grow. Cultivars are available in a wide range of colors, various shades red and white, even deep pinks and salmon, they have large multiple single blooms on one stalk or they are available in double flowered varieties as well.  Paperwhites have beautiful clusters of white star shaped flowers that are extremely fragrant.  One of my favorite varieties is ‘Ziva’, they have large flower umbels and sturdy stems.

When choosing Amaryllis bulbs make sure the bulb has a large circumference, that will give you the largest showy blooms. All bulbs should be firm to the touch and not spongey. You also want to make sure the bulb has no greenish or soft powdery looking spots, that indicates bulb is moldy.

You generally don’t need a large pot to plant Amaryllis bulbs.  A 6”-8” pot is sufficient, I like using terra-cotta. It’s simple natural look doesn’t compete with the beautiful flowers.  They also look great in glassware.  I have a ton of glass jars that I use for terrariums always at the ready.  Both Amaryllis are Paperwhites are so easy to grow in soil and decorative stones.

When planting the bulbs always use fresh potting mix, place a little soil in the pot, covering the bottom place your bulb inside and fill in around the bulb with soil to about there.  Leave the upper portion or neck of the bulb exposed.

Place in a warm sunny window, once they start to push some growth lightly water. Once they are actively growing let plants dry between waterings.  In 7-8 weeks you’ll enjoy these beautiful long blooming flowers. Plant now and throughout the winter months. Be careful not to over water your bulbs, this is a common mistake.  Overwatering can soften the bulbs and promotes mold growth.

Here are a few easy tips for Amaryllis care post blooming…

So your Amaryllis bulbs have stopped blooming, what do you do now.  It is possible to keep the bulbs and force them to flower the next year.

Cut off flower and the stalk, leaving 1-2″ above the bulb, keep foliage.  The leaves providing essential nutrients that are stored in the bulb for the next years growth cycle.  Keep in a sunny location and continue to water when soil is dry. Fertilize every 2-3 weeks with a water soluble houseplant food.

In mid may put plant outside in a shaded location, and don’t repot.  Bring indoors at the end of summer.  By then leaves will turn yellow. Cut back to the crown of the bulb.  Now it’s time to give your plant a rest, let it go dormant for 6-8 weeks.  Place plant in a cool place…55 degrees is ideal, in a low lit room and don’t water.

In November repot and place plant in a warm sunny window and water regularly, be careful not to overwater until leaves appear.  Buds and blooms are soon to follow in time for the holidays

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A bright spot in winter needs certain care

Cyclamen persicum often called florists cyclamen is an indoor blooming plant that can be easily found in your local grocery store and garden center beginning in late fall and throughout the winter months. Its cultivars are white, shades of pink, purple and red. The beautiful blooms are smooth and frilly with varying heart shaped leaf patterns that make this plant unique.

Indoor cyclamen is a tender variety in a genus of perennials native to Europe and the Mediterranean. Some hardy varieties can be grown in our region. Cyclamen coum and Cyclamen purpurescens are just a couple of varieties that bloom from late winter to summer. Cyclamen are grown from tubers that are often confused as corms, which have a papery outer layer. Cyclamen persicum prefers a cool, humid environment. Daytime temperatures should not exceed more than 68 degrees during the day. Temperatures above that can force the plant to go dormant and stop blooming. Nighttime temperatures should not go below 40 to 45 degrees.

Provide the plant with bright to medium indirect light. I usually place my plants in a northeastern window that has strong morning light. Watering can be a little tricky, they tend to be sensitive to too much water or too little. When soil is dry and pot feels light its time to water. I recommend watering the plant from the bottom and allow the roots to take up the water that way you keep the center tuber dry. Over watering can cause the tuber to rot and the leaves to become soft and rotted as well. Fertilize once a month with a water soluble houseplant food at 1/2 the recommended rate. Too much will effect any future blooming.

Cyclamen will keep blooming well into February and early March. To keep plants blooming dead head spent blossoms to encourage future blooms. When Cyclamen is completely finished blooming stop watering and allow the leaves to die off. Leaves will turn yellow and brown and begin to shed. Place the plant in a cool, low lit area and begin decreasing daylight hours. Be sure to remove any dead foliage and allow plant to dry out. Plant will go into dormancy for a couple of months, during the spring and summer. After dormancy water plant thoroughly and repot using a sterile all purpose potting soil. Once plant begins to produce leaves, place in a cool sunny window and watch it bloom for another season.

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Planting Lettuce In Containers Is So Easy

  Spring is coming…I promise.  Here in Pennsylvania we have had spring fever all month long, enjoying above normal temperatures.   Needless to say we have become very spoiled.  Now the rug is being pulled out from under us, snow is predicted for the first day of spring.  Regardless of the weather I went ahead a got a head start on my veggie garden. Even though my raised beds haven’t been prepped I couldn’t resist the urge to plant something edible outdoors. So I went ahead and planted lettuce in a container on my deck. Since lettuce can tolerate the cold temperatures I don’t have to worry about the temperature dipping near freezing tonight or the coming snow.

Planting lettuce in containers is so easy and perfect if you don’t have space for a traditional garden.  Plus it deters critters form feasting on your bounty if plants are close to home. I planted a mesclun mix, often referred to as cut and come again lettuce, this mix consists of red sails, mizuna and oak leaf varieties.  The flavors range from mild to slightly bitter.  They are easy to grow and simple to harvest. 

  To plant lettuce in a container you will need: 

10 -12″ pot, a bowl works well, but not necessary.  

Organic potting mix 32 quart bag 

1 pack of 6 starter plants, if you want to grow organic variety check label.  

1.  Fill pot with soil. 

2. Remove starter plants from pack and place in pot.  You don’t need to leave a lot of space between plants, 1-2″ is sufficient.

3. Water in plants.  Water when soil dries.  Consistency is key when watering lettuce.  Be Careful not to over water or under water your plants. This will lead to bitter tasting lettuce.

4. Fertilizing.  Lettuce love to grow in a nutrient rich composted soil.  Using a high quality organic bagged potting soil containing Echto and Endo Mycorrhizae is a good start.  You can add an organic fertilizer once plants are established.  Use a slow release fertilizer NPK 5-7-3.

5.  When do I Harvest? In about 2weeks you’ll be able to cut some fresh greens for your salad.
I hope you will try growing lettuce in containers. It is the perfect start for the beginner gardener and a great way to teach your kids how much fun it is to grow what you eat!  Nothing beats the taste of home grown veggies!

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Hardening Off Seeds

Cabbage starters Once you have successfully grown your seeds indoors you need to move them outdoors for the growing season.

Seedlings are very tender and delicate in the early stages of growth.  They need to be moved outside gradually to become adjusted to a brighter light source and fluctuating temperatures, this is called ’hardening off.’

Hardening off is not as scary as it may sound. Transitioning your seedlings can be done in a few easy steps.

1.Take your seedlings outside to a protected location. Once the temperatures reach the mid 60’s to 70 degrees move seedling trays to a covered patio or any sheltered location for one hour. Increase the time one hour per day.

2.Be sure to keep them away from any direct light and harsh winds in the beginning.  I usually like to do this on a cloudy or overcast warm spring day.  By the end of the week they will have been exposed to 7 hours of light.  Continue moving them out to a more direct light source gradually.

3. Don’t let seedlings dry out.  Make sure you keep your trays evenly moist.  The gradual introduction to light and air, from ambient wind or breeze, will dry plants out faster than if they we’re in a controlled environment.

Your seedlings are like your little babies.  After all you did cultivate them from seed.  Treat them tenderly and give them a fighting chance once you send them out to the big world called your garden.