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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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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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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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Garden Minute: Lee Brothers Cranberry Farm

Lee Brothers has been in the business of growing cranberries for 126 years. Tina talks to Stephen Lee IV about what it means to be a part of that tradition.

Cranberries have been grown and harvested in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey for generations.

Always fascinated to learn how certain plants grow and their harvesting practices, I headed down to Lee Brothers Farm in Burlington County New Jersey. They are a family-owned farm where generations continue to work side by side growing and harvesting cranberries for over 100 years, since 1868.

Harvesting cranberries is a two year process, starting from the time the berries are planted to the time they are harvested starting in September through October. Each bog takes about two weeks to harvest.

Lee Brothers Farm is part of the Ocean Spray growers cooperative made up of 700 hundred growers in the US and Canada, growing cranberries as well as Chili and a handful of citrus growers in Florida.

Stephen Lee, the fourth generation at Lee Brothers Farm tells me that this two week harvest is a special time on the farm. “It is a romantic time of year for us. All the hard work in the two year period during the growing season culminates to this time, the two, two and a half weeks in October.” The family has been coming together for many generations for the harvest. “It’s like our Thanksgiving.”

The cranberries are grown in bogs, but not under water. Twice a year (once in the fall and then again in the winter to protect the buds that have formed for the next season) the bogs are flooded with 18 inches of fresh water.

Flower buds are formed on the plants for the next year after flowering and fruiting has occurred during the spring and summer growing season. During the growing season plants are fertilized and monitored for fungus and diseases. They use bee feeding barrels to keep the bees fed while they pollinate the cranberries.

A machine known as the “egg beater” loosens the berries from the vines. As cranberries are made up of four hollow chambers, once the bogs are flooded and the berries are freed, they will float to the top.

A box is formed in the bog and then the berries are funneled into the box. The berries are pushed or corralled toward the center. Lee tells me that you have to move the berries in a sequential form. Berries are pushed through the bog in a sweeping motion using a garden rake, while another person gently pushes the box toward the center.

“You don’t want to cough or choke the box. You don’t want to overwhelm the box with too much fruit or you will not be able to pump out any water,” he said. Once the berries are pumped out of the bog they are loaded onto a conveyor belt where they are then funneled into a truck to be taken to Ocean Spray for processing.

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In the Garden: What plants attract butterflies?

Tina visits the outdoor butterfly space at the Camden Children’s Garden.

You may think it is too late to plant flowers to attract butterflies to your garden, but not true.

Adding flowers in the garden now will bring butterflies to your garden for many seasons to come. Late summer and fall is the perfect time to add plants to your garden. Plants have plenty of time to settle in before winter. Typically fall can turn rainy, which is ideal for newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials to establish. Another perk of planting now is that there is still a good selection of plants to choose from at your local garden center. Late flowering perennials are ideal to add now to extend your garden blooms to the first frost.

To start building your butterfly garden you want to do research and find out what flowers butterflies are attracted to. Typically butterflies like sun loving plants. Find a location that receives an adequate amount of direct sunlight, 6 to 8 hours is ideal. Once that is established you can make your plant list. Butterflies not only love sunny plants but they are attracted to sweetly scented flowers in red, yellow, pink and purple. Flowers are usually flat topped or have clusters of tubular shaped flowers.

You want to have a good mix of host and nectar plants both annual and perennial. Host plants are important to include in the garden providing a place for butterflies to lay their eggs and caterpillars to feed on. Naturally different host plants attract different butterflies.

I recommend doing a little extra research if you are looking to attract a certain type of butterfly to your garden. Host plants like Asclepias tuberosa, Parsley, Queen Anne’s Lace, Fennel, Hollyhocks and Shasta Daises are a good place to start.

Nectar plants are equally important to provide food for the adult butterflies. Planting a wide variety of nectar plants will invite a wide range of butterflies. Native plants like Joe Pye Weed and Aster can serve as both host and nectar plant. Other popular native perennials are Coneflower, Phlox, Salvia, and Heliopsis False Sunflower. Butterfly Bush is a popular choice for butterfly gardens because of its sweet fragrance and abundant nectar, but is not native to North America. It originates from Asia and has been labeled by some to be an invasive weed.

A few design tips to consider when planting.

Create large masses of colors and flowers together in large areas. Butterflies tend to linger longer when there is a wide range of flowers and colors. Combine Ornamental grasses with flowering perennials and annuals. Varieties of Panicum virgatum, Switchgrass provide structure as well being a host plant for Skipper caterpillars. Add a water source and resting place in the garden. A shallow saucer filled with water and a few flat stones make inviting resting places for visiting butterflies. Refrain from using any pesticides in the garden and don’t worry about weeds. If you do not mind a wild looking garden keep weeds like thistle and clover around both are considered host plants as well.

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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.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN

Easy Tips For Repotting Houseplants

#6 chinese evergreen

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.

IMG_0305-e1378162528556-1000x1333

 

 

 

 

 

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