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5 Indoor Gardening Projects You Can Do This Winter

Wondering what to do this winter to keep your hands dirty in the garden?Why not bring the garden inside. Growing tropical houseplants are fun and easy! I have 5 easy indoor gardening projects to get you psyched for spring.  

1: Create a mini garden oasis in your window.  Keeping a few indoor houseplants through the winter can be just what the doctor ordered.  Growing tropical foliage plants indoors can have added health benefits.  Ornamental plants like, Sansevieria, Snake Plants, Spathyphyllum Peace lilies, Boston ferns and Spider plants are a few beneficials that can act as air purifiers,  removing toxins from the atmosphere in your home.  Having greenery indoors also helps relieve stress and boost your mood as well. http://gardensonthego.com/garden-minute-bring-your-garden-indoors/

Tropical foliage display

2: Grow herbs and edibles indoors.  Believe or not growing edible plants such as herbs, micro greens and sprouts are easy. http://gardensonthego.com/growing-sprouts-beans-greens-alfalfa/

Micro greens seedlings

3: Create a garden under glass.  Terrariums continue to be a strong trend in indoor gardening, whether they are table top or hanging in a clever glass orb, terrariums are one of the easiest and low maintenance gardens to have in your home.  If you are not convinced just take a look at Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration. http://gardensonthego.com/terrarium-demonstration-by-tina-sottolano-of-gardens-on-the-go/

4: Make a Kokedama, the Japanese style of growing ornamental plants in the shape of a ball. Kokedama literally means “moss ball”.  Plant roots are stripped clean and formed into a firm round ball using a bonsai soil blend.  Wrap the ball in moss and tie with string. Kokedama are perfect for small spaces. They can hang in a window or placed in a dish or tray on a table or plant stand. 

Kokedama

5: Add living wall art by mounting ferns.  Vertical gardening is extremely popular!  If the thought of having a massed wall of green foliage intimidates you why not start small.  Try mounting a Stag horn fern.   Stag horn ferns are actually Epiphytes, much like orchids and air plants.  This unique group of plants don’t require soil to grow. They are easily mounted onto a piece of wood using moss, twine and a couple of screws to hold it in place. 

Vertical Garden with tropical foliage
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Winter Houseplant Care

Caring for houseplants indoors during the winter is much more challenging than outdoors.  Controlled temperatures, shorter day length and forced hot air from our indoor heating systems leave the atmosphere dry.  You also need to be mindful of cold drafts. Plants near drafty windows and doors result in dark brown sections on leaves.  Plants struggle to push out new growth, foliage turns yellow and edges brown thus resulting in unhappy looking houseplants.

I avoid these problems by following a few simple rules…

Increase Humidity…plants love humidity, especially indoor tropicals.  Make sure you keep plants away from forced dry heat vents.  Increase humidity by placing the plant on a bed of moist crushed stones, cluster your plants together if possible, or mist the leaves 2-3 times per week.

Rotate…plants are phototropic, meaning they lean, or grow in the direction of the light.  With day length slowing increasing each day, plants are stretching toward the brightest area, forcing a normally full healthy looking plant to have an irregular shape.   Remember to turn 1/4 – 1/2 spin per week.

Water…wisely during the winter time.  Take time to water your plants on a regular schedule.  Keep a gardening journal to keep track of watering, misting and fertilizing your plants.  This will help to minimize long dry periods and help prevent overwintering.  Be aware of the water temperature.  Believe or not water that is too cold or too hot can effect your houseplants causing leaves to yellow and curl.  I always use tepid water during extreme cold spells.

Pest Patrol…be on the lookout for unexpected pest guests.  Insects, like Aphids, Mealy bugs, Fungus Gnats, and Scale are the most common pests.  Plants need adequate air flow, especially in extremely warm areas.  Keeping temperatures between 62°-72°from night to day is ideal and helps to keep pests away.

 

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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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Garden Minute: Cranberry Farming

Cranberries are the most popular fruit of the season. In the first part of this series, Tina visits Lee Brothers Farm and talks about the history of farming cranberries in the region.

by Tina Sottolano-Cain

Though a well-roasted turkey may be the star of Thanksgiving dinner, the ruby-red, glistening side dish of cranberry sauce is always a stand out amongst the other like-hued offerings.

Likewise, the cranberry’s rich color and quirky harvesting make the bitter berry a serving of well-rooted Americana.

Cranberry plants are dwarf evergreen shrubs with vine like woody stems and leathery leaves that can grow up to six-foot long. They are found growing in sandy bogs and marsh lands in Wisconsin, Coastal Massachusetts and Southern New Jersey.

According to kitchenhistory.com, the cranberry was originally called “ibimi” or bitter berry by many eastern Native Americans. The Dutch and German settlers gave it the name of “crane berry” because the flowers look like the bill of a crane. Thus giving us the name we use today, cranberry.

The bright red color and semi-sweet flavor were believed to have many health benefits. Native Americans have many different uses for the berry.

They combined the fruit with deer meat and called it “pemmicanna,” once considered a survival food.

The Cape Cod Pequot and Leni-Lenape Indians in the eastern United States, also used it to make dyes for clothing, rugs and blankets because of its beautiful rich red color. It was also used medicinally.

According to the Natural Resource Educational Foundation/Lighthouse Center, It wasn’t until the early 1800’s when cranberries were planted commercially. In 1816 Henry Hall in Massachusetts was the first to grow the berry for production.

In New Jersey cranberries were first cultivated in 1840 by John Webb. In Ocean County the berries were brought to ship merchants and sailors on whaling ships to be eaten for its Vitamin C to prevent scurvy.

Now there are over 40,000 acres of cranberry bog in the Northern United States and Canada. New Jersey is the Third largest producer of cranberries. Many bogs producing cranberries today are more than 100 years old. Before the 1800’s, bogs were combed by hand, known as dry harvesting.

Since then things have changed and more efficient ways of harvesting the crops, know today as wet harvesting occur. The bog is flooded in October allowing the berries to float to the top.

Next week Garden Minute will visit one of the oldest Cranberry farms in Burlington County, New Jersey, Lee Brother’s Cranberry farm. The farm has been harvesting cranberries for over a hundred years and is part of the Ocean Spray Cooperative. We will talk about their methods of harvesting the cranberries from inside a bog.

A Little Fun Fact:

According to pineypower.com, cranberry grower Elizabeth Lee of New Egypt, New Jersey decided to take cranberries that were less than perfect, bruised or slightly damaged that would normally be tossed in the garbage. She boiled the berries into a jellylike sauce. It is believed that she like the sauce so much she started a business selling her “Bog Sweet Cranberry Sauce” beginning what is known today as Ocean Spray, which still operates in Chatsworth, New Jersey.

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In the Garden: Visiting the Butterfly House

Tina visits the Butterfly House with Jeff Clarke from the Camden Children’s Garden and they discuss their life cycle and what plants attract butterflies.


Butterflies, butterflies and more butterflies!

We can’t get enough of the beautiful and mysterious insects that dance in our gardens with their brightly colored wings. We watch intently to see how they feed from one flower to another as we snap an iphone photo for our Instagram page. Our social media feeds are filled with photos from friends and family who have captured them fluttering about.

This has become a common summer time activity, at least I know it has for my family and friends, including myself. But if you are not quick enough to snap a photo and want an up close and personal look at butterflies, head over to the Camden Children’s Garden in Camden, New Jersey, this weekend. They have a butterfly house you won’t want to miss.

The butterfly house is a greenhouse that is home to several species of primarily North American butterflies with up to a hundred butterflies flying around inside. It is a place where adults and children alike can interact with the butterflies. The house is filled with cut flowers from from the outdoor butterfly garden. Be prepared to have an intimate look at these creatures once you choose to pick up a flower from the Butterfly Bush. While I was there I became acquainted with a beautiful Monarch and a Pipevine Swallowtail.

The Pipeline Swallowtail is unique with it’s black body and shiny blue color with white spots on it’s wings. Its host plant is Dutchman’s Pipevine, that blooms in June producing plum speckled flowers in the shape of a pipe. It is tender vine in this region and generally overwintered indoors during the coldest month. Other species include the Zebra Longwing and White Peacock butterfly, just to name a few. The butterflies in the house are not harvested or caught from the wild, instead they are farm raised. The actual life cycle for the butterflies can be about ten days. Seven days is the usual life span in the wild, but in a controlled environment where they are safe from predatory insects the lifespan is a little longer.

The key to cultivating butterflies is to increase their habitat. Planting the proper host plants for them, like Asclepias for Monarchs can attract them to your garden. In fact, native Milkweed can be found growing wild throughout much of the gardens. It provides a place for the Monarch caterpillar to lay their eggs. Planting one or two different species is ideal when mixed with a few host plants to provide nectar for the adults to feed from.

The Butterfly house at the Camden Children’s Garden doesn’t disappoint. If you are unsure why everyone is fussing over an insect then take a trip to the gardens to see the beauty and joy they bring to children and even adults. You will also learn how to attract and keep butterflies for you to enjoy in your own garden. Who knows, you may even make a new colorful friend or two.

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

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN

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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Garden Minute: Overwintering Tropical Plants

tropical

As a horticulturist and grower I love to collect many types of plants, especially during the summer. Once the threat of frost or hard freeze approaches during the month of October I am always sad to see the end of the growing season. Now is the time to take inventory of my tropical plant collection, since I don’t have a greenhouse, or a sunroom, and prepare the indoors for the many plants that are going to spend the wintertime indoors.

Follow the Sun, and take note of where the sun plays upon the rooms in your home. Most tropicals prefer warm, bright surroundings, but some can do well in moderate indirect and even low light, depending on the variety of plant.  Temperatures in the 60 -70 degree range during the day are ideal.  Temperatures above 80 degrees can cause poor air circulation, which can lead to insect problems down the road.

hibiscusTry and be selective when deciding what plants you want to over winter. Take serious inventory of your potted tropicals and bring in only what you have room for.  If you want to overwinter a flowering tropical such as hibiscus decide you have enough light for the plant to continue actively growing and flowering during the winter.  If not, consider cutting the plant back approximately 1/3 and let it go dormant. Do the same for tropical vines, Dipladenia and Mandevilla vines.  If you are considering bringing in annuals, like geraniums, lantana, or coleus, find the sunniest location and modestly cut back, and or take cuttings from them. Tropical foliage plants such as Boston Ferns, Peace Lily and varieties of Palm are great to over winter, because they enhance the beauty aa well as the air quality in your home.  Succulents aside from being a strong trend in home design are the easiest to maintain and can adapt to, not only bright indirect light, but moderate light as well and require little care and water.

IMG_0085Transplant any plants that have outgrown their pots over the summer.  Select a container with proper drainage holes and a slightly larger diameter than the pot the plant is currently in. Keep plants away from any forced hot air, like heating vents and any severely drafty windows.  You also want to increase humidity in your home.  Don’t worry it sound a lot more complicated than it actually is.  Simple take a saucer filled with crushed stones and keep the stones moist. Another trick I use often is grouping my plants together if space allows.

Allow plants to dry thoroughly between each watering, this helps to minimize fungus gnat problems that may arise from the soil.  Be sure to hose down the plants with water and an insecticidal soap before you bring them indoors. You want to be sure to clean off insects that may be hiding out on your plants.  Add a granular systemic insect control to the soil every 4-6 weeks to ensure your plants stay insect free and healthy.

Overwintering tropicals can be a fun project for the winter months.  It will keep your hands in the soil and your passion for gardening all year long.