June 2012 Archives

How to Trim a Boston Fern

How to Trim a Boston Fern

Boston ferns can get quite full, and need occasional pruning to maintain their vigorous shape. While routine trimming of discolored growth can be performed at any time of year, sever pruning is best done in the spring or early summer. They benefit highly from severe pruning, which encourages vigorous growth and a bushier shape. Boston ferns comes in different varieties such as green wave, macho fern and Dallas fern. It is disease and drought resistant and are ideally used as a decorative plant indoors or in your garden.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein adds, "Providing plenty of filtered sunlight will promote even fern growth and lessen the need for trimming. If your fern is only getting direct sunlight from one direction, it will naturally stretch to reach the light and grow lopsided."

Step 1 - Place the Fern on top of the Tarp

Place the fern on top of the tarp (preferably outside) to catch the old leaves as you are cutting or trimming. Cutting or trimming your Boston Fern can be a messy task and having a tarp to catch all the trimmings makes your job easier.

Step 2 - Examine and Trim

Examine your Boston Fern and check for old leaves. As your ferns produces new leaves, older leaves have to shed. You can easily identify old leaves by their brown or yellow color. Your plant may also have leafless runners dangling down the sides of the container. Remove the brown leaves and runners using a small pruning shear. If you do not have a pruning shear you can also use a pair of sharp scissors. Trim at the base of the old leaves.

TIP: Rachel advises, "Large masses of yellow leaves signify over-watering or poor air circulation. Remember to keep the soil moist, but not soggy."

Step 3 - Do Not Touch New Leaves

As you remove the old leaves with your pruning shears, make sure not to touch the new leaves. Brown spots will form along the leaves of your Boston Fern where it makes contact with your fingers.

TIP: Rachel says, "Boston ferns can grow to massive sizes. If you notice yours getting root-bound, it is time for a bigger container. Choose one that is one and a half times bigger than your old one. Gently pull the fern from its pot, break up the root ball, and transplant using fresh potting soil."

Step 4 - Give a Hard Prune

This is optional, but if you notice your older Boston fern appears dull, droopy, over crowded, or messy, it may be in need of a sever prune. In the spring or early summer, place your fern over a tarp or old sheet. Do not cut back the top growth. Instead, concentrate on the side fronds at the base. Trim these off using sharp, clean, scissors or pruning shears. Also remove discolored growth near the soil. Next, trim the rest of the plant to the desired shape. In cases of extreme damage or over-crowdedness, cut the entire plant back to the root ball. The plant may look sad, but soon new growth will emerge much healthier and more beautiful than before.

TIP: Rachel adds, "When your fern becomes large, and is in a healthy condition, you can divide the root ball to grow other ferns. Dramatically trim back the plant and remove it from its container. Divide the root mass with a sharp, clean knife into several new plants. Transplant these into separate pots using fresh potting soil."

Besides the occasionally necessary trim, Boston ferns are basically hassle free, and make a beautiful addition to any patio, sunroom, or garden.

Planting and Growing Bell Peppers

Planting and Growing Bell Peppers

Bell peppers require a long, warm growing season to fully mature to red, yellow, orange or purple, but can also be enjoyed in the unripe green stage, which can be white or lavender in newer varieties. Home gardeners can enjoy both ripe and green peppers with proper care when planting and growing.

Starting Bell Peppers from Seed

Bell pepper seeds germinate slowly, so sow pepper seeds indoors in peat pots or containers of sterile seed starting mix 8 to 10 weeks prior to the frost-free date in your area. Place the seeds 1/4-inch deep in moist, lightweight soil. Peppers require warmer germination conditions, so use a heat mat or other method such as heat lamps, to ensure timely sprouting and discourage seeds from rotting.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein adds, "Plant seeds in pots about 2 inches in size. These bigger pots encourage healthy root development, which leads to more stable plants when it is time to transplant them to the garden. Do not water seedlings directly, but immerse the bottom of the pot in 2 inches of water. Let the plants drink for a few minutes, but do not let them become soaked. Plants will germinate in 6 to 8 days."

Selecting Transplants

If you choose to use bell pepper transplants, the plants should have a sturdy stem, about the diameter of a pencil. Avoid transplants that already have blossoms, have set fruits, or are root-bound.

Location

Your peppers need full sun and protection from harsh winds. Against a wall is an ideal location, as long as the wall does not shade the plants.

Consider adding organic compost to your soil before planting to promote healthy growth. Lime can add much needed calcium to garden soil that helps to prevent blossom rot, a common pepper problem.

TIP: Rachel advises, "Peppers are fairly small plants that grow excellently in containers. A pot that is 12 inches across can handle two pepper plants. Mix your potting soil with some compost and water regularly."

Planting

Bell peppers are warm-weather plants and may grow very slowly or not at all when temperatures overnight are below 50 degrees. Low nighttime temperatures may also cause blossoms to drop without setting fruit. Plan to plant your little seedlings outside about 3 weeks after the last frost date. Wait until the garden soil is between 70 to 85 degrees F to plant. Plastic mulch, cloches, row covers and moveable cold frames can increase the soil and ambient temperature around the plants to encourage growth early in the season. In areas with a short frost-free growing season, these season extenders may be the only way to get ripe red or orange bell peppers from a home garden planting.

TIP: "Aphids are the most common pepper pest. Be sure to use an organic method to cure this problem, as you do not want unhealthy chemicals on your produce. "

Some gardeners plant bell peppers deeper than they were growing in the nursery container or starter pot. This doesn’t harm the plant, and for leggy seedlings, this practice can keep the stem from breaking. However, peppers, unlike tomatoes, do not grow additional roots from the buried section of stem. An otherwise strong seedling won’t benefit from deep planting.

Spacing

When planting peppers in a row, space them 18 to 24 inches apart, with 24 inches between rows. Bell pepper leaves need full sun, but excessive exposure can cause sunscald on the peppers themselves. Planting peppers as close as 14 inches in a wide-row planting provides enough room for the plant and root system, while allowing the foliage to shade the fruits. Square foot gardeners can plant one pepper per section.

Bell peppers can be planted next to hot pepper varieties without any concern for the current season’s produce. Hot and bell peppers may cross-pollinate, but the peppers that grow on a plant from a bell pepper seed will still taste like mild bell peppers, even if they were pollinated by a hot pepper. Hybridization will only be apparent if the seeds from one of the cross-pollinated peppers are saved and planted next season.

Water

For well-formed peppers with thick walls, provide an even level of moisture. A steady water supply also heads off blossom end rot. Supplemental irrigation is necessary when rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. To avoid foliar diseases, water the base of the plants rather than the leaves.

TIP: Rachel cautions you, "If your plants dry out too often, they will produce bitter peppers."

Fertilizer

Use a starter fertilizer when planting. When the first flush of blossoms sets fruit, apply an additional side dressing of fertilizer. Do not use a fertilizer with a high concentration of nitrogen. Too much nitrogen will produce beautiful leafy plants that unfortunately bear little to no fruit. Bell peppers are heavy feeders and should be rotated through the garden along with tomatoes and other nightshades.

TIP: "Companion plants for bell peppers include: tomatoes, petunias, and geraniums. Plant these companions nearby to boost the health of your pepper plants. Avoid planting beans, kale, cabbage, and brussels sprouts around your peppers as they actually lower pepper health."

Harvesting

A healthy adult pepper plant can produce between 5 and 10 good-sized peppers. When it is ready for harvest, the fruit will be firm and have turned the desired color. You can harvest your peppers before this (green peppers) but they will have a much lower vitamin content at this age. Be gentle during harvest, so you don't damage the plant. Twist the ripe fruit off gently, or cut the stem with garden clippers.

TIP: Rachel says, "When your peppers are ripe, do not leave them on the plant too long. This will trigger the plant to stop flowering and producing fruit. Peppers can be kept fresh in your refrigerator for up to a week, or frozen for longer periods."

Caring for Your Strawberry Fruit: Watering and Fertilizers

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Strawberries offer the home gardener a delicious way to go from garden to table. To ensure the success of your strawberry fruit production means you need to pay attention to the plant's watering requirements as well as how and when to apply strawberry fertilizer. The three main varieties of strawberry plants are Junebearers, Everbearing, and Day neutral. There are early, mid-season, and late-harvest varieties.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein suggests, "If you love the idea of growing your own strawberries but lack the space, consider buying a strawberry pot. Strawberry pots are urn shaped containers with pockets running up the sides. Choose a pot depending on how many plants you want. Keep in mind that you will need to water a small pot much more regularly than a large one. Strawberry plants also grow well and look beautiful in hanging baskets."

Watering

In order to produce a good harvest of strawberries, whatever variety you select for your garden, your plants need irrigation on a regular basis. Gardening experts recommend about 1 to 2 inches of water per plant per week. This is especially important when the strawberry fruit is beginning to ripen, from early bloom to the end of harvest. Never allow the plants to go into a water stress situation. If there is no rain, water regularly through sprinklers, hand watering or drip irrigation. Continue watering through September.

TIP: Rachel adds, "Water new plants or transplants immediately. Remember that strawberries planted in a container will dry out quicker than those in the ground. Water these daily. If using a sprinkler to water, make sure to water early in the morning so that the foliage dries before nightfall. This will help to prevent leaf diseases. Strawberries love water, but they can't swim! Never let your plants sit in standing water."

Drip irrigation works best for strawberry plants once the plants are established, growing well, and have formed several leaves. When used in combination with mulch around the strawberry plants, drip irrigation helps keep strawberry fruit foliage and fruit disease to a minimum. Drip irrigation also helps to protect against root and crown rot, and problems with snails, slugs and sawbugs.

Place your drip line (or drip tape) between rows of plants, or alongside a single row of strawberry plants. Run the drip system twice during the week, long enough to thoroughly wet the strawberry beds.

You can also use furrow irrigation if you have raised bed strawberry fruit plants in your garden.

If you’ve noticed a salt accumulation in your strawberry garden, use sprinklers to rinse away the salts.

TIP: Rachel adds, "During the spring of planting pinch off all flowers as they appear. This will allow plants to put energy into developing healthy root systems and will ensure future productivity."

Fertilizer

Strawberry plants need phosphorus during their early growth period. This encourages good root system development and results in greater production of strawberry fruit. The strawberry plants also require the addition of nitrogen fertilizer during the season in order to maintain healthy and productive plants.

TIP: Rachel advises, "If your plants have yellow leaves, produce very small berries, or do not flower or produce berries, they are in need of a fertilizer regimen."

You will need to apply fertilizer carefully, as you don’t want to injure the strawberry plants. You may also choose to use organic fertilizers, substituting fish meal or a mixture of blood and bone meal.

TIP: Rachel adds, "Compost, home made or store bought, is also a great fertilizer for strawberries.Organic or inorganic mulch will add extra nutrients to the soil while preventing weeds and keeping the soil temperature cool."

Begin with rich organic soil. Apply fertilizer that is balanced (such as 10-10-10) at a rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet of row. Fertilize after harvesting Junebearers, or after the second harvest of Everbearing and Day neutral varieties. Some experts recommend adding a slow-release fertilizer in February. Add fertilizer again in summer if you want strawberry fruit for the following year. Use 3 pounds of 12-12-12 or equivalent nitrogen per 100 feet of row. This helps in strawberry fruit bud formation. Follow the directions on the package for proper application.

TIP: Rachel says, "Never fertilize plants that are flowering or producing berries. The fertilizers can weaken the berries and harm your crop.If using an organic fertilizer, like fish, blood, or bone meal, apply once a month from June to September. Add a layer of compost 1 to 2 inches thick at the beginning of each growing season."

Be careful not to over fertilize. This will result in excessive leaf growth and poor flowering strawberry plants. Also, don't do late-season fertilizing in colder climates. You want to prevent new growth that frost would damage.

Indoor Gardening: Planting a Camellia

Indoor Gardening: Planting a Camellia

If cared for properly, the camellia has been known to live for hundreds of years. With the right temperature and a slightly acidic soil, a camellia plant will thrive indoors. This shrub produces large flowers that bloom in shades from white to pink, red and yellow. If you already live in a humid, sunny environment, adding this plant to your garden will only involve a new pot and some well-draining acidic soil.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor Rachel Klein adds, "Picked cameilla flowers can float for days. This property makes for gorgeous centerpieces, and decorations for pools and fountains for special occasions."

Light Needs

Indoors, place a camellia in a location that receives bright indirect sunlight, such as next to a sunny window. If the summer is excessively hot, provide partial shading to keep the plant from drying out. During darker months, it may be necessary to use artificial light. The camellia needs 4 to 6 hours of indirect sunlight a day during the summer, 2 to 4 during the winter.

TIP: Rachel advises, "Be patient! The camellia can take up to 5 years to develop fully."

Temperature

Camellias thrive in temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They need a cooler period closer to the 50 degree mark followed by warmer temperatures in order to produce buds. Pay attention to the temperatures in order to create theses buds. If there is not a cooler (dormant) period first, the buds will not likely form that year.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "If you live in a climate with warm summers, putting your camellia outside during the summer can encourage bigger and more beautiful blooms. Be sure to keep it in a shady spot and bring it back inside before first frost."

Soil Acidity

Use a peat-based potting soil to create a well-aerated and moisture-rich environment. The peat also helps to keep the acidity of the soil in the correct territory. Use distilled water or rainwater to help keep the acidity correct.

If your soil reaches above a 7.0, you will need to flush some of the acid out of the soil or add different nutrients to help counteract the acid. Be careful with acidic fertilizers, as these tend to have too much nitrogen. This will create a healthy plant, but might scare new buds and resulting flowers away.

Watering and Moisture

The camellia likes to be kept moist, but not left in standing water. During planting, place a layer of gravel or broken pottery on the bottom of your container to improve drainage. During dry times of the year, the plant will appreciate a daily light misting on its leaves and branches in the evening. Use distilled or rain water for best results. If the area you live in is dry year round, use a humidifier to help keep the moisture level ideal.

TIP: Rachel adds, "Otherwise, place the planter on a pan of pebbles that you keep moist, to increase the humidity around the plant."

Pruning

Pruning is not absolutely necessary, but can be done right after the last blooms, usually in late fall or early winter. Occasional pruning can help to maintain a tree or bush shape. Cut branches at a 45 degree angle just above a node (the place where a leaf or branch is attached to the stem). Use sharp pruners to avoid tearing the stems. The camellia can grow up to 10 feet, so if you do not have high ceilings, pruning may be a must.

Pot Size

As your plant grows, you will have to move it to a larger pot. Even once it reaches full growth, plan on re-potting the camellia at least every 2 years. You will be able to create a perfect soil environment for your plant and make certain that all of the needed nutrients are being absorbed.

Fertilizer

Feed every 2 weeks during the blooming season using a high-potassium liquid fertilizer diluted by half. Great organic fertilizers include fish emulsion and cottonseed meal.

TIP: Rachel says, "Grow your own tea plant! Camellia leaves can be steeped for tea!"

Growing Eggplant: Eliminating Flea Beetles And Other Pests

Growing Eggplant:  Eliminating Flea Beetles And Other Pests

Eggplant is among the easiest vegetable to grow. There are some pests you have to look out for. Flea beetles as well as other insects love to invade your eggplant crop and will do tremendous damage if you haven’t taken the appropriate precautions.

The adult Epitrix fuscula flea beetle is around 2 mm long and black or brown. They may be present during the growing season but are of most concern during the first few weeks after planting, when the plants are still young. Signs of infestation include numerous 'slot holes' in the leaves of your eggplant, which can weaken and even kill younger plants. Other choice crops for the flea beetle include potato, pumpkin, squash, and sweet potato.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein suggests, "First, evaluate the damage. Treat newly set transplants if they have 2 flea beetles per plant, seedlings 3 to 6 inches tall if they have greater than four beetles per plant, and plants over 6 inches tall if they have eight beetles per plant. Full size plants rarely require treatment for flea beetles."

Use a Repellent

Many home remedies have been discovered that help get rid of these pests, which will devour your eggplants. One that has been most successful takes advantage of bugs' aversion to garlic and hot pepper. Create a mixture of garlic and pepper with water and spray it onto the plant and the flea beetles should stay away. Other options include using lemon and coffee grounds placed around the perimeter of your eggplant plants.

TIP: Rachel adds, "One that I use with great success: Mix one teaspoon of gentle soap with 7.5 ml of neem oil and 1 quart of water. Mix solution thoroughly and spray plants every three days until the infestation abates. Continue to spray each week for the next month to prevent the critters from coming back.

Create a Barrier

An over-the-counter flypaper placed carefully around your eggplants is another way to combat unwanted pests. The protective barrier around your vegetables keeps flea beetles from reaching the eggplants. Row covers can also be used while the plants are young and tender, to protect them from infestation at this critical age.

TIP: Rachel adds, "Mulching your eggplants with plastic mulch can block the flea beetle larvae from emerging from the ground, and can keep the bugs from ever jumping on your plants.

Use a Decoy

Some gardeners have used decoy crops that the flea beetles love to eat to prevent them from harming the real produce. Flea beetles will leave eggplants alone in preference of the leaves of radishes, carrots, and Giant Southern Mustard Plants, so think about planting a few around your garden to keep them away.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "If flea beetles are a yearly problem. consider implementing a crop rotation system in your garden. These insects live in the soil over the winter, and may disperse come spring if they emerge to find their choice crop not nearby.

Have Them Eaten

Buying and releasing nematodes, a natural predator of the flea beetle, into your garden is an organic way to ward off an infestation. Release the nematodes as early as possible for best results.

Pesticides

A pesticidal treatment should only be considered when the infestation is large and causing serious damage to your crop. Use a pesticide that contains pyrethrins or rotenone. Reapply according to package instructions. Remember, pesticides will kill off all insects on your eggplants, including the beneficial ones.

Chives, the Little Onion

Chives, the Little Onion

Chives, a member of the onion family, have been in use for nearly 5,000 years. Native to the Orient, they were probably used first by the Chinese. The ancient Greeks followed, and by the sixteenth century they had earned a place in English gardens. When the colonists came to America, they brought chives along with them, along with other kitchen and medicinal herbs. Today, chives have earned a place in just about every kitchen in the United States.

History of Chives

History tells us that Marco Polo discovered chives in his travels, and brought them back to Europe. They have been used there ever since. Chives, a member of the onion family, didn't find a lot of uses as a medicinal herb, unlike their cousin garlic. However, this member of the onion family was thought to have magical powers. It was believed that chives could drive away evil spirits and disease. Chives were hung in bundles in the home to protect the inhabitants. The Romani gypsies used chives in fortune telling. Romans believed that chives had the power to relieve pain.

Medicinal Uses of Chives

Chives have only a small place in medicinal history. The Romans believed it cured sunburn and pain from a sore throat. Chives contain an oil rich in sulfer, as do all members of the onion family. Oil of sulfur is an antiseptic, and helps lower blood pressure. The problem with chives as a medicine is that large quantities must be consumed to reap any medicinal benefit. Chives are used to stimulate appetite and promote digestion. They are given when appetite is off due to a cold. Chives are often put in salads and cooked dishes for medicinal purposes. They are said to contain health-promoting compounds that are thought to help prevent cancer and treat high blood pressure. As with any other herb, these properties are not absolutely confirmed by science.

Culinary Use of Chives

Chives are best known for their use in cooking. What is a baked potato without sour cream and chives? Their taste is much like a sweet mild onion, and complements potatoes, asparagus, cauliflower, corn, peas, tomatoes, poultry and shellfish. It is used in creamy sauces, and works well with cheeses and egg dishes. Soups and stews are enhanced by the flavor of chives. Chives are always added at the very end of the cooking process.

Don't overlook the flowers, either. The flowers are often used in salads, as a garnish, and look beautiful dried. The flowers also go well in herb vinegar. Chives can be used for any recipe calling for the green part of scallions. It is available in all major grocery stores, and can be found fresh or frozen.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein adds, “Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) is a variety of chives known for its garlic flavor. This variety has flat leaves and fragrant white flowers. It can be used just like regular chives in the kitchen.”

Cultivation

Allium schoenoprasum is the smallest member of the onion family. It can be started from seed by sowing ½-inch deep in flats or pots. They need to be in a warm environment of at least 60 degrees to germinate. They require darkness and constant moisture to germinate. Chives germinate slowly--in about 2 to 3 weeks you will see the tiny seedlings begin to emerge. When about 4 weeks old, they can be transplanted to the garden.

TIP: Rachel suggests, “Chives can be used as a companion plant in flower gardens to keep insects away, but avoid planting your chives near onions. This may encourage the infestation of the onion fly, who will feast on either of these plants.”

Chives, unlike many herbs, require rich soil to thrive. They need plenty of organic matter with a pH of 6.0-7.0. Chives require plenty of sunshine, but will grow well in partial shade. Plant in clumps of 4 or 5 in well-drained soil, keeping clumps at least 8 inches apart. They should be separated at least every 3 years and divided to perform well. Division is best done in the spring.

TIP: Rachel adds, “Chives grow well as indoor houseplants as long as they are getting enough sunlight. They may begin to die back during the darker winter months, but should begin to grow again come spring.”

Chives need to be kept moist, so water frequently during periods of less than 1 inch of rain per week. Water deeply, to prevent dryness around the roots. A light mulch of ground-up leaves or compost will help the soil to retain moisture.

TIP: Rachel advises, “Over-fertilization can be detrimental to chives. If, however, your plants begin to look weak due to over-harvesting, a light application of 5-10-5 fertilizer can be applied each spring. Use a liquid fertilizer at 1/2 the recommended dose on the package.”

Harvesting and Storage

Don't make the mistake of just snipping off the tips of this herb for use in cookery. Cut leaving only 1 to 2 inches of leaf above the base, and they will regenerate quickly.

Chives can be snipped after they establish and at least 6 inches tall. Don't cut them all back--they need a few leaves to keep growing.

TIP: Rachel suggests, “Start with the outer leaves and snip inwards, using scissors. Snip the flower stalks off at the base after they are done flowering to prevent them from going to seed and becoming less productive.”

Flowers and stems are generally best if used fresh. They do not store well. However, they can be snipped into small pieces and frozen in plastic containers in a pinch.

To promote healthy growth, cut back chive plants when leaves exceed 6 inches in height.

In the Kitchen

Use as you would any onion. Their taste is sweet but not overpowering. They are better used as a garnish or a condiment for such things as potatoes and even pizza. Try these things:

  • Saute 1 or 2 cloves of chopped garlic in a small amount of olive oil. Add a pint of cherry tomatoes. Saute for 2 more minutes. At the end of cooking, add a couple of tablespoons of freshly cut and chopped chives. Toss well, and serve immediately.
  • Crumble the flower heads in your salad for a unique and beautiful splash of color.

Chives are almost a standard herb in any garden. They are hardy, are a perennial, and have few requirements. Try growing them today.

Tarragon, the King of Herbs

Tarragon, the King of Herbs

Tarragon is best known as a culinary herb. Although it has its place in history as a medicinal, it works best in the kitchen. Since the 16th century, it has been used in cookery. Tarragon, also called Dragon's Wort, is one of the four herbs of the fines herbs of French cooking. James Beard, famous chef and writer, said "I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around."

History of Tarragon

History tells us that tarragon was not used by the ancients, but there were references to it in medieval writings as a pharmaceutical herb. It became popular in England in the 16th century, and came to the United States in the 19th century. It is believed to have originated in southern Russia and Siberia. The Tudor family brought it to England and planted it in their gardens there. True tarragon is unique, in that it cannot be started from seed, but must be propagated by a cutting. In the Far East, true tarragon was known as "little dragon," because of its serpentine root system. Because of this root system, many believed that it would cure snake bite. Anyone who has grown tarragon knows that it will literally strangle itself if not divided regularly.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein cautions you, "Warning! Be sure not to confuse tarragon with wormwood. The two plants look similar, but wormwood has a silver tint to the stem and leaves. Wormwood is poisonous!"

Medicinal Uses of Tarragon

Although chiefly a culinary herb, tarragon has its place in medical usage. It has been used to stimulate the appetite, cure colic and relieve flatulence, and as a cure for rheumatism. Because of its anesthetic properties, it has been used to relieve toothache. Tarragon protects foods as an antioxidant, important in the Middle Ages when there was no refrigeration. As a folk remedy, it can be used to promote menstruation, fight fatigue and calm the nerves. Tarragon has been used to aid digestion, as a mild sedative, and as a heart disease prevention aid. Tarragon tea is used to cure insomnia.

Culinary Uses of Tarragon

Because of its strong licorice taste, tarragon can overpower other herbs used in cookery. Fresh leaves are used in salads, as a garnish, and in sauces--particularly Béarnaise sauce. Tarragon should be used lightly, and you should avoid overcooking, because it brings out a bitter taste in the herb.

Tarragon enhances many dishes, such as beef, game, pork, poultry lamb and pates. It combines well with many vegetables, such as potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, and peas. It complements chervil, garlic, oregano, sage, rosemary and thyme. It is often used in pickles, relishes, herbed butters, flavored vinegars, and herb mayonnaise. It goes well with cheeses, eggs and yogurt. Tarragon that is stored in vinegars or frozen is superior in taste to the dried herb.

Tarragon Cultivation

Tarragon is an aromatic perennial that grows to a height of 2 to 5 feet. Leaves are linear, 1 to 4 inches long, and are borne singly at the top of the plant, with groups of 3 below. It prefers a rich, sandy, well drained soil with a pH balance of 6.9. The biggest growing danger is root rot from over watering, so make sure to err on the side of too-dry soil. Tarragon likes full sun, but does well in partial shade.

TIP: "The scent and taste of tarragon is disliked by many pests, so it is a great plant to intersperse in your garden to ward off critters."

When adding tarragon to your herb garden, seedlings at a local nursery are typically the French variety, Artemsia dracunculus variety satvia. If you buy tarragon seed, it is the Russian variety, and lacks the bold taste of French tarragon. However, Russian tarragon is much easier to grow and its mild flavor compliments fresh salads. French tarragon has more a more pungent aroma and glossier leaves. Russian tarragon flowers, while the French variety does not. Commercial tarragon comes from the dried leaves of the French tarragon.

Plant seedlings in the spring after all danger of frost. Set plants at least 2 feet apart. It should be mulched in the winter to protect it from frost. The shrub will die back during the cold months, but new shoots sprouting from the soil is a sure sign of spring. It can be taken up in the fall and brought indoors, but will do poorly, as it doesn't transplant well and needs plenty of light.

Plants should be divided every 2 to 3 years, to prevent them from strangling themselves.

Harvesting and Storage

Tarragon can be harvested twice a year. Handle carefully to avoid bruising the leaves. For dried tarragon, harvest the leaves in midsummer. Take cuttings from the stems, making sure to maintain a good shape. Hang branches upside down in a warm dry place, such as a closet. Store in an airtight container or tin. It will brown a bit when dried. It is best stored in vinegars or frozen. Fresh tarragon should be wrapped in a moist paper towel, placed in a plastic baggie, and stored in the fridge. This should keep the herb fresh for 5 days.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "To retain the most flavor during storage, freeze whole tarragon sprigs in an airtight baggie. Don't worry about defrosting before use."

Tips For the Chef

Add tarragon to long cooking soups or stews during the last 15 minutes to avoid bitter taste. Use in herbed butters, but remember the taste is powerful. Stuff tarragon leaves under the skin of poultry when roasting. Try tarragon in tomato sauces, and add to scrambled eggs.

TIP: Rachel adds, "Season boiled or steamed vegetables with fresh tarragon and melted butter. Its flavor compliments lemon and orange very well. Leafy branches make an attractive garnish to any plate."

Tarragon, known as the king of herbs, should be a primary herb in the well stocked herb garden. Its wonderful licorice flavor adds a new dimension to any style cookery.

photo (c) TuttiFrutti - davesgarden.com/members/tuttifrutti

Oregano, the Confusing Herb

Oregano, the Confusing Herb

Oregano is more of a mystery to the people that use it than most any other herb. It has so many varieties that it is a whole genus of herbs, and these have all been called oregano for their culinary uses. What comes to mind when you think of oregano? Pizza? Tomato sauce? Do you picture it growing in your garden? Many people use oregano, and it is one of the world's favorite herbs.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein adds, "While predominantly grown for culinary use, oregano also makes a beautiful ground cover or edging plant. Smaller varieties are perfect additions to rock gardens."

The History of Oregano

Oregano, scientifically named Origanum vulgare, is a part of the mint family. It is also called "wild marjoram" due to the close relationship between oregano and the herb marjoram. Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is a sweet variety native to the Mediterranean region. Oregano looks like marjoram, and has the same genus, meaning they are close cousins. To tell the difference, sweet marjoram has leaves that are more hairy and grey-green in color.

There are 20 other members of the Origanum family, and they can be easily confused with one another. This confusion begins very early in history, when Greeks and Romans made use of it. No one is sure what species was used, but perhaps it was Origanum vulgare, the common oregano that grows wild in the mountains of Greece. Its name means "joy of the mountain," derived from the Greek.

TIP: Rachel adds, "Greek oregano (Origanum heracleoticum) has a more pungent flavor than Common oregano and is associated more with modern Greek dishes. Other tasty varieties of oregano include Cuban oregano which has a stronger flavor and Mexican oregano which is more savory than the common variety."

Much of its early use was for medicinal rather than culinary benefit. The Greeks made poultices of the leaves to heal sores and aching muscles. The Roman scholar Pliny recommended a poultice of oregano leaves for spider and scorpion bites. Not until the Greek physician Discoridores wrote about it in the first century AD was more than one variety mentioned, and then as medicines.

Oregano became very popular in the United States around 1940, when GI's returning home longed for the taste of Italy. It isn't called the "pizza herb" for nothing. In fact, sales of oregano in the United States increased 5200 percent between 1948 and 1956.

Medicinal Uses

Modern herbalists recommend infusions of oregano leaves for indigestion, headache, coughs, and to promote menstruation. It is deemed both a tonic and a stimulant. Today, people still use oil of oregano for toothache, putting a few drops of the oil on the aching tooth to relieve pain. Oil of oregano can also be applied to provide immediate help for insect bites and bee stings. To this day, poultices of oregano leaves are used to soothe pain. Tea made from oregano leaves treats loss of appetite, indigestion, bloating, and headaches. Whether or not these remedies work has not been determined.

Culinary Uses of Oregano

Oregano is used to flavor tomato dishes and sauces, providing the pungent, peppery flavor so common to Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. The leaves are used in Italy, Greece, Mexico, Spain, Cuba and Brazil. Wherever you find marjoram, you will find oregano in use. Oregano enhances cheese and eggs, and is used in omelets, frittatas and quiche. It gives breads and marinated or roasted vegetables their unique flavor. In meats, it is used in beef, pork, poultry and game for flavor. It is very good with shellfish. It combines well with garlic, basil, parsley and olive oil.

TIP: Rachel says, "It is usually more flavorful dried than fresh. It pairs extremely well with spicy foods. The flavor is strongest when added towards the end of cooking."

How to Grow Oregano

Oregano seeds are very tiny--about 130,000 to an ounce. Oregano is an aromatic hardy perennial. Depending on the variety, it is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 10. It has erect, hairy square stems. It will grow to 2 feet in height, with sprawling leaves to about 18 inches. Flowers are long, tubular, with ΒΌ-inch long, edible, rose-purple to white flowers. Leaves are either toothed or toothless, grow in opposite pairs, and are up to 2 inches long. Seedlings are almost always available at major nurseries, but if you must resort to seed, the best way to plant is to sow on the open ground. Cover with cheesecloth to prevent wind blowing the seeds away. Remove the cloth when seeds are up and established.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "You can start the seeds indoors if the weather is still cool. Barely cover the seeds with soil and keep moist. Transplant seedlings outside when the temperature rises above 45 degrees F. Oregano plants prefer full sun and well-drained soil. Differing climate, soil, and moisture conditions can cause variations in the flavor of oregano. The flowers are also edible and should be pinched off to keep the plant from going to seed."

Harvesting and Storage

Oregano leaves will be most flavorful before the plant begins to flower. Snip sprigs when it is 4 to 5 inches high. Dry by hanging 5 to 6 sprigs together upside down in a cool dry place.

Cooking with Oregano

Here is a simple Greek dish. The only problem you may have is finding fresh sardines.

Baked Sardines with Garlic & Oregano

  • 2 pounds of fresh sardines
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Rigani (Greek oregano)
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup of water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Remove the scales and intestines from sardines.
Lay in baking dish and top with all ingredients to taste.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Oregano is a favorite of almost all chefs. Grow it, buy it fresh in the supermarket, but do use it. The great taste of oregano in its many forms can't be beat.

Create a Kitchen Garden

Create a Kitchen Garden

A kitchen garden gives you the pleasure of working in the garden as well as the pleasure of using what's grown. The best kitchen gardens have a blend of herbs, fruits and vegetables designed in ways that add beauty and utility to the back yard or patio. Ideally your kitchen garden has immediate access from the kitchen, so you can harvest what you need as you are cooking, but they can also be scattered among various handy nooks and crannies available in your space.

TIP: “Plan in advance! Deciding what you want where beforehand keeps things simple and easy. A simple garden translates to better quality produce in the long run.”

Choose Your Spot

Your first step is to determine which kind of garden you will have. Will this be grown in the soil of a yard or in pots (or a combination of both)? Take into account the growing season of the area you live in as well as the kind of weather and soil. If you have soil with heavy clay, you may need to add sand or topsoil, and you will want to water with care. If you have very dry weather, make sure you have provided for adequate watering to your precious plants. Soaker hoses are good for this, but not always ideal in all locations. A sprinkler system can cut down on muss and fuss.

TIP: “Wherever the spot, amend your soil as needed with organic compost to add much needed nutrients. This will translate over to very healthy produce later in the season.”

Examine the area you want to grow in carefully. Note the amount of sun it receives as well as at what time of day. Pay close attention to what kind of sun your plants need. If you plant in pots, you can position them in ways that they maximize the light, or perhaps you can move them from a morning position to an afternoon position. Also note how windy the area is. If you are growing beans or plants that require a trellis or stake, ensure they won't fall over.

Choose Your Vegetables

Next, decide what you want to grow. Tomatoes are fairly tolerant plants, but you'll want to stake or cage them, even when growing them in pots. Peppers are usually easy to grow as well, but often seem to be very appetizing to insects, so they may require pest control on your part. Both tomatoes and peppers come in multitudes of varieties with different flavors, sizes, colors, and shapes. Some research will help you to narrow down exactly what types you want. Both do well in either the ground or in pots. String beans are excellent for an area with a trellis and will bear all season long. Summer squash (the yellow kind) and zucchini are very easy and require very little care beyond weeding and watering. However, they as well as pumpkins, gourds, and cucumbers can grow to be enormous and will crawl and take over any available space. Eggplant is very easy to grow, and extremely nutritious and high in anti-oxidants. Tuberous or root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and radishes grow best in raised beds, but for the most part are easy to grow. Corn is very difficult to grow unless you have a large patch. Without the proper pollination conditions, your ears will be stunted and bitter. Cold weather veggies such as broccoli, cabbage, and lettuce benefit from an early planting when the ground is still cool from winter.

TIP: “When transplanting nursery veggies into your garden, invert the plastic pot and pull the plant gently from the base of the stem. If the roots seem very coiled around each other and tangled, pull and rip them gently to get them to penetrate into the soil instead of continuing to wrap around themselves.”

Choose Your Herbs

Herbs have a reputation for being hard to grow, but that isn’t true for most of your basics. Basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley, sage, and oregano are all easy-to-tend plants. Planting basil near tomatoes works to control some of the grubs that like to feast on fresh tomato plants, and they complement each other in cooking as well. Thai basil is a variety of basil that is stronger and spicier than normal basil. Its dark purple foliage makes a statement in the garden, while its intense flavor makes a statement in the kitchen. Rosemary grown in pots tends to keep all year-round when brought indoors in cold winter climates. It is not only tasty and fragrant, but also gorgeous as an ornamental plant alone. Oregano and thyme both can make very striking ground cover as they like to creep and expand. They will often come back the next year, although they make good plants to keep potted and grow over the winter in a sunny, warm window. Chives are a hardy perennial that will produce year after year with barely any maintenance to worry about. Mint is a quick grower and comes in a variety of surprising flavors such as apple, orange, and even chocolate. However, it will take over entire gardens if not pruned accordingly. It does great in hanging baskets. Flowering herbs that add a punch to any flower garden as well as your kitchen or potpourri mixtures include: Bee Balm, Joe-Pye Weed, Feverfew, Anise hyssop, Lavender, Marshmallow, Rue, and Yarrow.

TIP: “If you don't have the space for a full-blown herb garden consider planting in a window box, multiple hanging baskets, or using a large strawberry pot. Having fresh herbs available is definitely worth the struggle to find the space.”

Choose Your Fruit

Strawberries are a creeping ground cover that will also grow along a back fence. They are also very happy to grow in a special strawberry pot you can keep on your patio. Keep them watered, but be sure not to flood them or you'll have watery tasting fruit. Blueberries, elderberries, lingonberries, and currants all require watering and pruning, but can produce huge amounts of fruit with moderate maintenance. Raspberries and blackberries will also take nicely to a back fence or trellis area, and are even available in varieties without thorns. These will not do well in pots and it is not recommended that you try. If left unchecked, they will take over the area they've been planted in, so maintain them with some care. Melons, such as cantaloupe, watermelon, and honeydew, will also take over if left unchecked but are otherwise easy to grow and can be very heavy producers.

Larger fruit trees such as figs, apples, and peaches can be grown easily in sub-tropical climates but take up space and time. Tropical fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, and bananas can be grown outside in tropical conditions, in a greenhouse, or potted outside during the summer and brought inside to a sunny window during the winter months.

TIP: “If you've waited a little too long to begin your garden, or just want to get a head start, soak your seeds in water until plump before sowing. This will jump-start germination.”

A kitchen garden can make a rewarding and economical addition to your back yard or patio. With just a little work, you can reap a bountiful reward.

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Disease and Insect Prevention Tips for Keeping Healthy Houseplants

Disease and Insect Prevention Tips for Keeping Healthy Houseplants

Properly maintained houseplants in a healthy, insect free environment seldom fall victim to disease and pests. Often the damage inflicted by houseplant disease and insect infestation is the result of a lack of care and prevention. A few basic preventative measures can provide your houseplants with all the care they need to thrive and prevent disease and insect damage.

Do Your Research

The best way to ensure optimal growing conditions for your houseplants is to spend a little time researching houseplant varieties and their preferred growing conditions. Think about your home and where you place you plants. What are the conditions of the room? Is the room dry, humid, or somewhere in between? Does the room tend to be very warm? Is the room kept relatively cool for sleeping or does the temperature fluctuate? What kind of light is in the room and for how many hours of the day does it last? Consult plant guides and labels and choose houseplants according to their required growing environments.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein adds, "Houseplants may live all year round, but they do have a dormancy period. When you notice they are not putting on new growth, water less and do not fertilize."

Get A Clean Start

Whether you are potting new plants, starting from seed, or transplanting an old standby for better living, be sure all your tools and pots are clean before you begin. This is especially true if you are using tools you also use for outdoor gardening. Tools, such as trowels and shears, should be washed in warm, soapy water. A little added bleach is a good idea too.

If you are transplanting into a pot you used previously for other plants, wash the pot to be sure all traces of insects and disease are gone. Scrub the pot with warm, soapy water and soak in a mild bleach solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Let the pot soak in the bleach solution for 10 minutes. Remove from the bleach and rinse.

Cleaning does not stop with just the tools and pots. Potting soil needs to be clean and disease free, too. Use commercially sold, sterilized soil labeled for houseplants and potting. Soil dug from a garden is not generally recommended, unless you are very skilled at adding the proper amendments such as peat moss and sand. Additionally, home prepared soil requires pasteurization to kill insects, bacteria and diseases that may be growing in it. Any material used in the bottom of the pot for drainage should be clean, too.

Provide Proper Drainage

Drainage is essential to growing healthy potted houseplants. Pots need holes in the bottom to drain excess water from the soil and to absorb water when watered in a bottom saucer. Pots and containers should have a layer of small rock or pebbles placed in the bottom of the pot before soil is added. It is a good idea to consult your plant's requirements.

Use Balanced "Soil"

The ideal mix for houseplants is actually soil-less. This potting medium will stay moist and drain quickly, boosting root health. Use a mix of perlite, peat moss, sphagnum moss, orchid bark, and charcoal.

Water Properly

Plants need adequate and regular watering according to each individual houseplant's needs. Again, consult labeling and guides to determine the appropriate frequency and amount of water for each plant.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "Always water with lukewarm water to avoid chilling the plant's roots."

Keep in mind that plants inside often dry out more quickly, particularly in the winter months when heating systems rob the air of moisture. Avoid overwatering of plants, which can cause fungus and mold growth, root and stem rot, and invites insects to breed and thrive on plants.

TIP: Rachel advises, "Some varieties of houseplants, including the very popular sanseviera, need only be watered once every 2 to 3 weeks. Watering more than this can be detrimental to their health."

To prevent rot problems, always water plants from the bottom when possible. Roots will suck up the water from a saucer beneath the pot through the soil.

TIP: Rachel recommends, "If you plan on watering your plants from below, do not include rocks and other drainage improvements because it keeps the soil medium from absorbing the water in the saucer."

Roots and stems in drenched soil rot in standing water. Low lying leaves touching wet soil rot and die and a plant without food producing foliage cannot survive. An excess of water or plant food is no friend to healthy houseplants.

TIP: "Watering your houseplants with tap water is fine, but occasionally water with distilled water to flush out the salts that will gather around the roots."

Any watering, and especially washing and spraying, is best done in the morning so that houseplants and foliage are dry come evening time. Molds and fungi thrive at night on damp, dark plants. Insects will use the wet, dark conditions to breed and reproduce. Eliminating optimal growth conditions helps to keep diseases and insects at bay.

TIP: Rachel adds, "Lack of humidity is one of he biggest problems for houseplants, particularly during the winter when heating systems dry air substantially. Houseplants that thrive in high humidity include orchids and ferns. Research your houseplant's ideal humidity conditions. To raise the humidity, set the pot on a saucers of pebbles that you keep moist. Also, mist your plants with a spray bottle of water once a week during the growing season."

Wash Your Plants

Regular plant washings in a sink with a hand sprayer prevents many houseplant disease and infestations as well. Dust that accumulates on the leaves of houseplants will block light and harbor insects. A weekly shower in the sink keeps many diseases and pests at bay, washing invaders down the drain. Once or twice a month, rinse plant foliage with warm water. You can add one drop of mild liquid dishwashing soap or insecticidal soap. If you do, make sure to rinse the plant thoroughly afterwards. The soap will help to kill disease growth and kill insects that resisted a simple plain water rinse.

Keeping pots clean and debris free prevents problems, too. Remove dead leaves from pots promptly where molds might grow and insects like to hide.

Large plants that cannot fit in the sink or are not easily moved should be sponged periodically. Wipe stems and leaves with a damp sponge for insect and disease removal.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "Large plants can also be brought outside and gently hosed off."

Pick the Proper Placement

Each plant has its own unique needs for water, light, and temperature for optimal growth. Placing plants in areas where they can grow and thrive keeps them healthy and able to stave off disease. In addition to adequate watering and light requirements, houseplants need air. Circulating air keeps foliage dry and healthy. Do not place plants so close that their leaves are touching; air will not get around the entire plant, leaving dark and moist sections prone to insects, molds, and fungi. Closely packed foliage also provides insects with abundant hiding places and moist conditions for breeding.

TIP: Rachel adds, "Some plants are very cold-sensitive. Make sure to move these houseplants away from drafty doors and windows during the winter."

Fertilize

The frequent watering required by some houseplants leaches nutrients out of the soil. Without these important nutrients, your houseplants could be more susceptible to disease and infection. Nutrients must be replaced by regular fertilization. Mix a balanced 20-20-20 fertilizer solution at half strength and feed your houseplants monthly during the growing season. Water soluble fertilizers are more effective than fertilizer sticks. Some fertilizers are made specifically for houseplants.

Quarantine

Any time a new houseplant is introduced into your home, it should be kept separate from your existing plants for a couple of weeks to be sure it is not harboring insects and disease. Keeping new plants in a separate room is best, but if that is not possible keep the plant at least 10 feet away from your other houseplants. This will make it difficult for insects and disease to jump to nearby neighbors and may save you from losing an entire roomful of plants.

Watch For Signs of Trouble

Periodically, look over your houseplants for signs of distress, disease, or insect activity. Catching a problem early may save the life of an infected plant, and removing it from a grouping will keep neighboring plants healthy.

When plants are moved for washing and watering, check leaves and stems for tiny, well hidden bugs. Be sure to turn leaves over and check leaf bottoms too. Often insect invaders make their homes on inconspicuous leaf bottoms or in crevices near stems. Aphids and larger insects will be visible with the naked eye; many common pests are very tiny and require a magnifying glass to see them.

Signs that you may need to more closely look for miniscule insects like mites and white fly larvae are deformed leaves and buds, curling or yellowing vegetation, stunted growth, and unhealthy stems. Spotty leaves or a scaly appearance may indicate the presence of tiny bugs. Check thoroughly with your magnifying glass to determine the problem and proper course of treatment.

TIP: Rachel advises, "Do you think your houseplant may be infested with soil gnats? To find out, slice a chunk of raw potato and lay it cut side down on the top of the soil where you suspect they are thriving. After a week, lift the potato up. If you have gnats, you will see larvae on the potato. To rid yourself of then, allow your plant to dry out to the point of wilting before watering again. Though it may look sad for some time, in the long run killing all the larvae with lack of water will be much more beneficial for your thirsty plant."

Many of the signs of insect infestation are the same or similar to the signs of houseplant diseases, fungi, and molds. The same unhealthy, yellowed or spotty appearance could be an indication of a fungal or mold induced illness. Black, mushy areas indicate a form of rot, likely caused by problems associated with overwatering or overfeeding. In the absence of a parasitic cause, consider likely disease offenders.

Sometimes plants can be treated by simply cutting away a diseased area, removing the source of the problem, or treating with home safe insecticides and anti-fungal solutions. If a disease or infestation is very bad, the best prevention to save your remaining plants is to throw out the diseased plant and focus your efforts on rehabilitating houseplants with only minor or moderate signs of affliction. Insects and diseases spread quickly among houseplants, and one too far gone will only encourage insects and diseases to find new hosts.

Houseplants are pleasing elements of interior decor, as well as natural ways to freshen and clean indoor air. What's more, houseplants are an interesting hobby. Proper houseplant care and disease prevention ensures your investment of time and money remains a source of enjoyment and not a cause for frustration.

3 Steps to Growing Coleus Indoors

3 Steps to Growing Coleus Indoors

Coleus are distinguished by their foliage, composed of a series of colorful tear drop shaped petals available in a wide array of patterns and color combinations. There are over 60 different species of coleus, all native to Asia and Malaysia. However, virtually all of them are derived from C. Blumei, crossed with a few other species. Coleus is a popular plant for container gardening and is often used in hanging baskets both indoors and outdoors.

Coleus is officially classified as an annual plant which means that it has a 1 year life cycle from propagation to seed. However, when kept indoors the plant is more accurately described as a “tender perennial,” because it can be manipulated into surviving for several seasons (although it will die in the presence of even the slightest frost). Coleus can only be manipulated into staying in the perennial state if it is kept as an indoor plant and its flower spikes are removed each year as they develop.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein adds, "With good care, you can grow a coleus outdoors during the summer, move it inside for the winter, and back outside again for the summer."

Step 1 - Purchase the Correct Container and Prepare the Soil

Purchase a container that has a carrying capacity of at least 1 gallon and is equipped with drainage holes on the bottom. Coleus grows the best in soil that is loose, extremely nutrient rich, and very well drained. Choose an organic potting soil equipped with a time release fertilizer and at least a 20 percent pearlite content. Pearlite retains moisture and aids in soil drainage, which is important for the health of your indoor coleus.

Fill the bottom inch of the container with gravel to ensure proper drainage. If you plan on growing from seed or cuttings, fill the remainder of the container with the potting soil. However, if you wish to purchase your Coleus from a nursery as a young plant, leave about an inch or 2 at the top of the pot free of soil so planting the seedling is tidier and easier.

Step 2 - Sow Coleus Seeds, Root a Cutting or Plant Healthy Seedlings

If you’re growing your Coleus from seeds, spread them thinly on the surface of the soil before covering them with a thin layer of soil and lightly watering with warm water.The seeds will germinate within the next 2 or 3 days if the soil temperature is 70 degrees or warmer. Sow 3 or 4 seeds in each seed pot, do not overlap the seeds. They should be spaced evenly. Place the pots in a sunny window. Use a spray bottle the moisten the soil throughout the germination process.

TIP: Rachel recommends, "If you are growing your indoor coleus from seed, it is a good idea to check the seedlings a week after germination begins. This is when your coleus will start to show their colors. Weed out any of the seedlings that are pure green in color, because they will not have the vibrant colors or patterns typically coveted by coleus growers. Also, if you have more seedlings than you want plants, weed out the weakest looking ones, leaving only the strongest and most beautiful."

To grow from a cutting, water your main plant thoroughly, choose a healthy 2 inch long stem, and cut it off with sharp scissors. Simply place the rooting end of the cutting into your moist potting soil. Keep the soil moist by misting it with a spray bottle and place a glass jar or piece of plastic over the cuttings to increase humidity and aid in rooting.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "If you need to transplant your cutting, check the soil after one week. Cuttings can be transplanted when their roots reach 2 to 3 inches long."

Seedlings purchased from a nursery only need to be repotted by gently massaging on the nursery container while simultaneously pulling on the plant’s main stem. Once it is free from the nursery container, gently break apart its root ball and plant it in your new container.

Step 3 - Maintain Your Plants

Coleus loves bright sunlight, but avoid direct afternoon sun. Indirect afternoon lighting or direct morning sun would be ideal. If the coleus is getting too much sunlight, its leaves will look scorched. Too little and leaves will appear dull and drop off. Moderate to high humidity is preferred. Place the pot on a saucer of wet pebbles to simulate humidity indoors. Keep at temperatures above 60 degrees during the summer, and above 50 degrees during the winter.

Do not allow soil to dry out between watering; about twice a week. Reduce watering in the winter. Supplement with liquid fertilizer diluted by half once every week or two during watering.

Remove all flower spikes at their first appearance to prevent the plant from going to seed and dying.

TIP: Rachel adds, "If your coleus is growing too leggy, pinch off new top growth to promote bushiness."

A coleus kept as an indoor perennial will reach 2 to 3 feet in height. When the plant gets too large for its container, either transplant to a bigger pot or trim the coleus back in the winter.


photo (c) Kelly MacDonald, 2009

The Perfect House Plants for Neglectful or Forgetful Gardeners

The Perfect House Plants for Neglectful or Forgetful Gardeners

Not having a green thumb doesn't mean you have to give up on having plants. It simply means you have to find the right plants. Some plants are capable of surviving the worst of conditions--including those created by forgetful gardeners.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein cautions you, "Some hardy houseplants, including the Dracaena, Sanseviera, and the Zamioculas Zamiifolia, are poisonous when ingested. For safety's sake, wear gloves when pruning or watering, or wash your hands thoroughly afterwards."

Aspidistra

The aspidistra is also known as the "cast iron" plant because of its ability to survive in less than ideal conditions. It has shiny, dark green leaves that grow to 24 inches long and will occasionally produces brownish-purple flowers near its base.

This plant will tolerate pretty much any condition from dust, heat, cold, under-watering and lack of light. Aspidistra is highly resistant to pests. Its soil should be kept evenly moist, but not constantly wet. Make sure to fertilize it every couple of months with a balanced fertilizer, reduced by half, if it is kept in dimly lit areas.

TIP: Rachel adds, "In fact, Aspidistra thrives on neglect. It does not like soggy soil, so be sure not to over-water. Yellow leaves are often the first sign of over-watering. Also, it does not like to be disturbed, so do not repot often."

Bromeliads

Bromeliads are also known as air plants or air pines and come in over 2,000 varieties. The pineapple is one example of a bromeliad. Bromeliads have thick, fleshy leaves that usually tightly-overlap to form tubular vases.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "Each variety has slightly different care instructions, so be sure to do some light research on your particular type."

In the home, plant diseases are rarely a problem for this plant and their leaves are too tough to be bothered by insects. Its foliage will be more vibrant in brighter lights, but they can survive without any direct light and even in artificial light. Because of their diminutive root systems, large bromeliads can be grown in only 5 inch pots. Keep the center of the plant filled with water and the potting mix just barely moist. They should be kept dryer in the winter, and have been known to survive for weeks without water.

Chlorophytum

The chlorophytum, or spider plant, typically has grassy green leaves, although some varieties have leaves striped with white or yellow. This plant is very adaptable and can tolerate all forms of neglect. They get their name from the runners formed from shoots that hang down the side of the pot.

Chlorophytum grow best in bright light, but will tolerate lower light. While it prefers moisture, it will survive if you let its soil dry out between waterings. You need only water your Chlorophytum around twice a month. Brown leaves can be caused by high concentrations of chlorine or fluoride in tap water and by under fertilizing. Remove the brown tips by trimming them with a scissors and try watering with rain or distilled water.

TIP: Rachel advises, "Be careful to keep your spider plant out of direct light. If the plant is within 5 to 8 feet of a window, it will grow just fine. The plant's runners produce little baby spider plants which can be clipped off the main Chlorophytum and repotted for an abundance of new plants."

Dracaena

This is a tall, durable plant with long, leathery, spear-like leaves that point downwards. Also called the "Madagascar Dragon Tree," foliage comes in a variety of colors such as spotted with yellow or cream, striped white, edged with burgundy, and plain green. It can easily survive indoors, even when the conditions are far from ideal. The Draceana is also known to remove several potentially harmful pollutants from the air.

Dracaenas need plenty of filtered sunlight. An ideal place is an east window covered by a transparent curtain. Filtered south or west windows will also work. Draceanas are very drought-tolerant, though they do welcome a weekly watering. If soil is allowed to get severely dry, the leaves will yellow or turn brown and die. These plants also prefer humid conditions. You might consider placing the planter on a tray of pebbles that you keep moist to increase the humidity around the plant.

TIP: Rachel adds, "Pruning is rarely necessary, but if you cut one stem, two new will grow from the severed stump. This property can be used to increase the fullness of the plant. New growth will emerge several weeks after pruning."

They are resistant to most diseases but are poisonous to pets.

Sansevieria

Commonly known as Snake Plant or Mother-In-Law's Tongue, this is one of the hardiest houseplants around. The sansevieria has long, spiky, variegated foliage. Mature plants produce sprays of fragrant pink-white or yellowish flowers, but the flowering is erratic and unpredictable.

Although the sansevieria prefers bright, indirect sunlight, it will tolerate a wide range of light levels including darker areas. It cannot, however, tolerate cold weather and should be kept far from drafty windows or doors. During the spring, summer and fall, you should only water this plant once every 10 days. Allow it to dry out completely between waterings. In the winter, you should only water it once every 1 to 2 months. Over-watering is virtually the only way this plant can be killed.

TIP: Rachel says, "Your sanseviera will wrinkle or droop when the plant is lacking adequate water, and will appear soft and slimy if watering is too frequent. Prune off leaves that fall over. Move your savseviera up to the next size of clay pot annually."

This plant is poisonous to pets and children.

Zamioculcas Zamiifolia

The zamioculcas zamiifolia is also known as the Aroid Palm or the ZZ Plant. It has thick, fleshy, glossy leaves. It is very tough under indoor conditions and will handle neglect well. It is also very resistant to disease and insects.

The plant does well in lower light levels, but prefers brighter light as long as it is kept out of direct, afternoon sun. Zamioculcas zamiifolia should remain on the dry side, and its soil should be allowed to dry out between waterings. If its leaves begin to yellow, it is probably being watered too much.

TIP: Rachel recommends, "To prevent soggy soil, use a fast draining potting mix and a pot with adequate drainage holes. A slow-grower, this houseplant rarely needs to be repotted."

All parts of this plant are poisonous to pets and children.

TIP: Rachel concludes, "If any of your houseplant's foliage turns brown, simply cut it off at the stem. If you do not want to cut off the entire leaf, trim off the brown part with sharp scissors. Houseplants may gather dust. While they won't mind, you might. Gently wipe their leaves down with a wet paper towel or sponge whenever needed."

photo (c) Thaumaturegist 2003 plantsdatabase.com/members.thaumaturegist

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How to Grow Yuccas Indoors

How to Grow Yuccas Indoors

Yuccas make great house plants. They bloom profusely, help clean indoor air and add vivid green color all year round. Yucca that grow in zones 10 and 11 will thrive indoors with specific care.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein cautions you, "Some varieties of yucca have very sharp spines on their leaf tips that can be potentially dangerous for children, pets, and even gardeners. When shopping for a houseplant variety, make sure to choose a spineless one."

Step 1 - Choose a Yucca that Will Thrive in Your Conditions

Two varieties of the spineless yucca (yucca recurvifolia and yucca elephantipes) are excellent indoor plants. They can tolerate a wide temperature range as long as they have adequate sunlight.

Step 2 - Plant in a Large Container

Yucca out their leaves from canes (a slender stem like a tree trunk), so they need room for their roots to spread in a circle. Choose a waterproof container such as brass, copper, stainless steel or heavy glass. The container should be at least 12 inches deep and up to 17 inches wide. A wider container will cause the yucca to sway and droop.

TIP: Rachel advises, "Because the yucca is so top-heavy, choose a heavy container or place heavy stones in the bottom the pot to keep it from tipping over."

Plant in a moist potting soil, with 2 inches of gravel in the bottom of the pot to enable effective drainage. Add vermiculite or crushed aquarium stone to the soil if it is too wet.

Step 3 - Provide a Bright Sunlight Source

The spineless yucca prefers the brightest unfiltered sunlight, so set it near sunny windows that face west or south. If the yucca does not receive enough sunlight, it may not grow at all. In summer, move it outdoors where it can get full ultraviolet light. Windows will filter some of the UV rays, causing the foliage to turn a paler green in color.

Step 4 - Give Water Consistently but Sparingly

In a well-lit location, the yucca will need water when the top 1/3 of the pot is dry. Let the soil crack a bit on top before thoroughly watering.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "Do not attempt to increase the humidity. Though yucca look tropical, they actually thrive in dry air."

In low light conditions, you can water less often, when the soil has dried to 2/3 of the container depth. Signs that the yucca has been overwatered are drooping yellow leaves and rotting canes, particularly at the soil surface.

TIP: Rachel recommends, "Water very sparsely in the winter. Never let a yucca sit in a tray of water. Yucca are very drought-tolerant and will much more likely die from over-watering than under. Always cease watering if you notice rot on the base of the main stem. This is where the plant will exhibit signs of over-watering."

Step 5 - Keep in a Location that Has Fairly Consistent Temperature

Yucca plants can survive short spells of extreme temperature change, so they can live happily near a main front entrance or doorway to a patio. Guard the plants from direct exposure to rain, sleet or snow.

Step 6 - Check for Insect Pests

As a desert native, yucca has few problems with insect pests. Indoors, they will be free from spider mites that plague other tropical plants. If they come under attack from scale or mealybugs, use a insecticide that is safe for plants and people, such as neem oil. Examine the leaves for small bulges on the underside to detect the presence of scale, and check for small patches of yellowish-white foam on leaves to find mealybugs. Take the yuccas outside to treat for insect infestation.

Step 7 - Deadhead the Blooms and Monitor Vertical Growth

Remove the dead yucca blossoms so the plant will continue to produce new flowers. Yucca recurvifolia will reach a height of 6 feet, while yucca elephantipes will grow taller, up to 8 feet.

TIP: Rachel adds, "The pruning method for yucca may seem harsh, but is an excellent way to keep your plant manageable. When you notice your yucca growing too tall, gently remove it from its container. Find a spot on the main trunk that is above halfway up, and looks like it would be an agreeable height. Using a saw or a sharp pair of loppers, cut the trunk in half. Replant the yucca and continue to care for it as usual. Though it will look stumpy and sad for a few weeks, the foliage will re-grow quickly and the plant will be much more healthy and manageable afterwards."

Step 8 - Repot

Yucca are slow growing plants that need only be repotted every other year. A sign that your yucca needs to be repotted is when the plant becomes heavy enough to tip over its container. Remove the yucca from its pot and transplant it to a container one size bigger. Always use fresh potting soil.

TIP: Rachel says, "The easiest way to propagate yucca is during the pruning process. After you have replanted the bottom of the yucca, strip the top half of the trunk of its leaves and transplant it to another container. Make sure you plant it leaf side up. Care for the trunk as you would a normal yucca. After a few weeks the trunk will take root, and a few weeks following this, it will begin producing new foliage."

Planting in Window Boxes

Planting in Window Boxes

Window boxes are a great way to add a little bit of color and liveliness, without taking a lot of space. The perfect soil, the right flowers, and a sunny window sill can lead to a beautiful floral display.

Window boxes are just large enough to allow us the opportunity to display our planting skills, and just small enough to allow us to do it in relative ease.

Pick Your Colors

Remember that young healthy plants transplant the easiest, and make your purchases accordingly. Plants and flowers of complimentary colors create the best visual effect.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein adds, "Red, yellow, orange, bright pink, and white look good from a distance, while blue, purple, and dark green show best at close range."

Select the Arrangement

Taller growth should be placed in the back of the window box, while trailing plants, such as vines, look best at the sides.

Window boxes allow you to place plants closely together. Keep in mind, however, the location of the window box when selecting your plants. If the box is to be placed outside of a window, then tall plants are not a good idea.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "If you have extremely limited space, choose dwarf varieties of plants so that you can still enjoy them. Many herbs, including rosemary, basil, and parsley, come in dwarf varieties. Avoid plants that take over such as ivy, mint, and lavender.""

Choose Your Plants

A variety of flowers and plants will do well in window boxes, including many typical houseplants. Annuals love the comfort of window boxes. In fact, a window box makes an excellent location for a mini herb garden or a small vegetable garden.

TIP: Rachel recommends, "If you're not certain which plants to buy, bring your window box to the nursery and arrange the potted plants inside. See what looks best before you buy!"

Create the Best "Soil"

Due to their limited size, window boxes require a soil-less mix or potting mix that will encourage the plants to grow. A soil-less mix provides better aeration for the roots, as well as better drainage, while retaining the necessary water.

TIP: Rachel adds, "Potting mix containing peat, perlite, and other ingredients improves growth, fertility, and water-holding capacity."

Added fertilizer provides the little extra kick the plants need for continuous blooming and sturdy root growth.

In fact, using a mix of vermiculite and peat moss will ensure the window box does not become overly waterlogged or too heavy for its placement. Using stones at the bottom of the window box for drainage is unnecessary, especially when a soil-less mix is used.

Choose the Box

Selection of the window box is actually quite simple, even though a large variety of sizes and styles exist. Simply go with your personal taste and the theme of your yard or garden. Pick something that you like and a style that fits in with the existing features of the outside of your home. Make sure the box you choose is at least 8 inches wide and deep. If being placed underneath a window, choose a box a few inches smaller than the width of your window for the best appearance.

TIP: Rachel advises, "Plan to set plants about 2 to 5 inches apart in the box, depending on their mature size. Fill the spaces between them with soil mix and water thoroughly to settle the soil. In hot, sunny weather, window boxes will require freequent, perhaps even daily, watering. If the box becomes too heavy, or requires too frequent watering remove some plants."

Since window boxes are no longer limited to hanging outside the window, you can be creative and select different sizes and scatter them appropriately throughout your yard, patio, porch, deck, and even the outside of your windows.

TIP: Rachel adds, "Window boxes can be relatively easy to construct at home for the experienced DIYer."

Growing Great Tomatoes

Growing Great Tomatoes

Nothing quite compares to biting into a fresh tomato. The ones you buy at the supermarket may look red and delicious, but often lack the full-bodied flavor and juiciness that only a homegrown tomato can deliver. That's because store bought tomatoes are picked well before their prime. In addition, numerous measures are used to ripen the tomato or make it look more appealing. The usual result--tough, flavorless, and pink.

There's no mistaking a ripe, fresh, homegrown tomato. Abundant flavors, a rich color, and the perfect juicy texture that yields to your bite with a burst of seeds and flesh are second to none. Today's garden tomatoes come in heirloom varieties reminiscent of days gone by, as well as easy-growing varieties.

Growing tomatoes is easier than you may think when you know the basics of tomato planting.

Choose Your Variety

There are thousands of different varieties of tomato, differing in color, taste, size, and plant size. Choose one depending on what you intend to use the tomatoes for, your specific growing conditions, and how much space you have. For example, Roma tomatoes or plum tomatoes are best used for soups and sauces. Hybrid tomatoes like the "Green Zebra" are bred for beauty and make excellent centerpieces or served raw in salads. Varieties such as "Early Girl" are bred to produce fruit very rapidly and work great in climates with short growing seasons. Patio variety plants are miniatures, bred for use in small gardens or containers. Tomato Growers Supply Company offers a full online seed catalog of tomatoes that describes each variety and can be very helpful for making your choice.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor Rachel Klein suggests, “When choosing a plant from a nursery, pick one that is 6-10 inches tall, and stocky. Avoid plants with flowers or fruit. The plants sold in pots are usually more expensive than those in cell packs, but will grow faster when planted.”

No matter where you live, chances are you can find one out of over 25,000 varieties of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes that will meet your climate's specific growing conditions.

Choose Your Spot

First, tomatoes love heat. With the right tools, even cooler areas can make use of heat to grow these hearty plants. If you live in USDA zone 3 or warmer, growing tomatoes during the warmer months is possible. Buy your tomato plants at a good quality nursery after the frost danger has passed, or start seedlings in your home or greenhouse about 6 to 8 weeks before you expect the last frost.

TIP: Rachel adds, “Cooler climates can take advantage of special products designed to reflect warmth and insulate the plants such as ‘walls of water.’"

Take heat into account when choosing the area where you will plant your seedlings or young tomato plants. Find a sunny location (at least 8 hours of sun a day) that is sheltered from cooling breezes and wind. You can create your own wind break with a vine-covered trellis or plant alongside a sheltering garden wall.

Soil plays a role in tomato growth. Tomatoes prefer soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0, and rich in organic matter. Use plenty of compost including crushed eggshells.

TIP: Rachel says, “If a home pH test shows your soil has less than a 6.0, add lime. Eggshells add calcium to the soil, which aids in fruit development.”

Plant Your Tomatoes

If you are starting your plants indoors or in a greenhouse, harden the plants or seedlings before you plan on planting them outdoors. Do this by placing the pots outside in the garden area when nighttime temperatures stay above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Starting with 5 hours a day, leave the pots outside for a few hours more each day, and eventually overnight. This process strengthens the plants because transplants from indoor climates to the outdoors can shock tomato plants, translating into setbacks later in the season. Plant your tomatoes outside after danger of frost, when ground temperatures have reached 60 degrees F.

Dig a large hole (about the size of a basketball) for each plant and plant the young tomato plants deeply--as deep as up to the fourth set of leaves from the top. This encourages new root development which will serve your tomato plants well as they grow. Plant each plant about 1 1/2 to 3 feet apart, depending on the variety. Wide spacing ensures good air circulation which will prevent disease and fungal infection.

TIP: Rachel suggests, “Plant tomatoes in the evening, so that they have time to acclimate to your garden before they experience a hot sunny day. Don't forget to water newly planted seedlings!”

Care for Your Vines

Specialists recommend fertilizing your plants during planting. But, be careful not to overdo it. Fertilizers with too much nitrogen will breed beautiful healthy vines that, unfortunately, will produce little to no fruit. Use a 10-10-10 or 10-10-5 preparation when planting. Mix 2 tablespoons of fertilizer per gallon of water, and water the freshly planted tomatoes. Organic mulch can be added as needed all season. Fertilize again with a 5-10-5 or a 5-10-10 preparation when the fruit has grown to the size of a golf ball. Once the tomato plants are around 3 feet tall, begin pinching off the bottom leaves on the lower 1 inch of the main stem. These leaves receive the least sunlight and are very prone to disease.

TIP: Rachel adds, “Your plants need support to keep the vines and fruit off the ground and easy to care for and harvest. Tomato cages are the most common form of support, but there are many different systems available. Tomatoes can be staked by tying the vines to a 6 to 8 foot stake driven into the ground 4 inches from the plant.”

When shopping for tomato cages, avoid the small sizes and go right to extra-large. Even if your plant is not a large variety, the larger cage will offer more room to grow and more support. Water your tomato plants regularly and deeply, between 1 and 2 inches of water per week.

TIP: Rachel says, “Tomatoes can have problems with diseases or pests. Good spacing, and regular fertilization and watering keep your plants healthy enough to resist these problems on their own. Immediately prune off any vines that show signs of disease or infection. Water your plants only at the base and in the morning, to avoid getting the foliage wet. Pests can usually be treated with applications of neem oil, or by spraying with the nontoxic bacterial control Bacillus thuringiensis (sold as BT and Dipel, among others).”

As the plant develops, you will notice small vines and suckers growing in the corners where the branches meet the main stem. Pinch these suckers off to encourage development of the fruit bearing vines.

Pick your tomatoes once the color has ripened to an even, glossy color and when the fruit feels somewhere between soft and firm. You'll love the true, tomato flavors and the luscious texture of a homegrown tomato.

Berry Picking: Boysenberries, Currants And Acai

Berry Picking:  Boysenberries, Currants And Acai

Before you begin picking boysenberries, currants and acai, it helps to know a little about each berry and its characteristics.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein adds, "Berry Picking tools can either be made or bought online and can seriously cut down on the time it takes to harvest from an abundant producer."

Picking Boysenberries

Wait for Ripening - You'll know your boysenberries are ripe when they begin to resemble blackberries. You should wait until the berries turn dark purple to black before you attempt to pick them. Harvest time generally runs between July and August.

When the berries are at their ripest, they'll nearly fall off of the cores, and require very little effort to remove from the cane.

TIP: Rachel says, "Don't try to make space in your full berry container by packing your berries down, or you will bruise and damage the fruit at the bottom."

Prepare for Picking -
Thornless varieties of boysenberry make picking much simpler and quicker. However, most boysenberry canes have prickly thorns. Plan ahead by wearing good pruning gloves when harvesting the bushes. Be sure the gloves extend back over your wrists, since harvesting boysenberries requires you to push canes aside and reach back into the bushes.


Get a berry picking bucket with a neck strap, or create one yourself with a small container and a nylon cord. Another option is to cut a milk jug down so that you retain the handle but create an opening to drop berries into the container. Thread a belt through the handle and attach it to your waist for an easy, hands-free container.

Harvest Carefully -
Begin at the outside of the bush and pick all of the visible dark purple berries. Ripe berries will drop as you push the canes aside, reaching into the center of the bush. Clear the outside of ripe berries first, then work you way to the center of the canes by pushing them aside with your gloves.

Leave any white or red berries and return every few days to pick them as they ripen. A mature bush should produce eight to ten pounds of berries each year.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "As you pick your boysenberries, mark which canes you are harvesting from. These canes will not produce berries again and should be pruned off in the fall."

Black Currants

Prepare for Harvest - You need to think about harvesting far in advance of the actual time to harvest. In fact, when you plant the bushes, keep in mind that they will reach heights of up to 6 feet if left unpruned.

If this is higher than you can comfortably reach to harvest berries,construct or install a trellis. As the bush grows, tie it to the trellis so that you can control how high you need to reach, as well as controlling the look of the bush. It can grow to an extremely large size. Black Currants ripen from midsummer onwards. Anywhere from three to ten pounds of berries can be picked off of a single bush.

Allow Time to Harvest - The tart black currant berry is very small, you need to allow enough time for a meticulous task. The bushes don't have thorns, but a tight fitting, thin cotton glove is recommended to protect your hands. If the bushes are tied to a trellis, you will have an easier time reaching ripe berries, which are a dark purple or black in color.

TIP: Rachel adds, "Many of these small berries can be knocked off the bush during harvest. And, as dark as they are, they can be very difficult to spot on the ground. Spread a tablecloth or sheet under your bush before you begin to pick."

Remove the berries from the bush gently, as they can bruise easily. Have small containers ready for the berries, and place them out of the sun as you pick.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "If the berries within a clump have all ripened, consider cutting off the stem, or 'strig' and moving the cluster to a table or comfortable spot to remove each small berry from the stem."

Acai Berry

The acai berry is known as a super food for all its healthy properties. However, it is difficult to get the fruit fresh, since the only place it grows naturally is in Brazil.

Cultivating Acai Palm -
Since the acai berry is grown mostly in tropical Brazil, locating a farm with acai berries for picking or cultivating your own acai palms is the first step in harvesting.


If you wish to cultivate your own palms, the climate in your area should resemble the Brazilian rain forest (such as the climate in southern Florida), or you should have a greenhouse. The temperature should not dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

The acai is a palm tree, and doesn’t produce berries until they are at least 5 to 6 feet tall. Most varieties don’t bear fruit until they are 7 to 8 feet tall. You can control their height by keeping the trees in pots rather than planting them in the ground where the roots can spread. Growers recommend a minimum height of 10 to 12 feet for berries.

The Harvest - Acai berries grow in small bunches with more than 700 berries on each branch when the tree is bearing. A tree should begin to produce fruit at four years of age. In a greenhouse, one tree may product fruit year round. In sub-tropical climates, harvest in mid-fall.

Using a ladder, scaffolding or lift, depending on the height of the palm, cut the berries down from the palm. Use a large, “hands-free” bucket to gather the berries. Collect them in a cool spot frequently during harvest.

Preserve Berries Quickly - The acai berry deteriorates very rapidly once it is removed from the tree. Quickly freeze or process the berries once they are picked. The berries can be frozen whole, pulped, or as juice. There is a large seed and very little pulp in each berry, so it takes some time to pick enough to be helpful.

TIP: Rachel advises, "To keep your berries from sticking together during freezing and storage, spread them in one layer on a baking sheet or large tray. Freeze until solid, and then condense into a plastic bag."

Gardening in Rocky Soil

Gardening in Rocky Soil

Fortunately, even if you do have rocky soil you can still grow a beautiful garden. Growing a successful garden in rocky soil can be a challenge. Logic tells us that a plant can't survive on a bare rock face and whether the rock is on the surface or underground the effect is the same. Rocky soil does not drain well and does not have enough organic material for many plants to survive. This is going to take some work.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson adds, "Many people with rocky soil build raised beds for their garden where they can control the soil quality."

Preparing Your Garden

Start small, particularly if you're working by yourself. Rocky soil is going to require ongoing effort and taking on a project that is too large will be frustrating and possibly, eventually overwhelming.

Choose the place in your yard that will make the best garden. A level area that receives good sunlight (but not all the time) and is open to some rain is ideal. Start by getting rid of surface rocks. Use a sturdy rake to gather them. If the rocks are large, use a shovel and/or a crowbar and wheelbarrow to move them out of the area. Consider stockpiling the rocks somewhere close by so they can be used to build a garden edging or for a stone wall or rock garden in the future.

After removing the surface rocks, use a rototiller to turn the compacted soil over (and bring more rocks to the surface). Take your time and work slowly, there may be large rocks lurking just under the surface and they could damage your machine. Rake up and remove any rocks from your first tilling produces. Then spread a layer of compost, organic material (peat moss, organic fertilizer) or top soil over the garden area and go back over it with the tiller--turning the compost into the soil. Adding peat moss to your garden will help the soil retain moisture while organic fertilizer will provide nutrients to help the new plants grow strong and healthy.

You'll want to do this process at least twice (three times is better), so you end up with a garden bed of native soil and compost or organic matter 8 to 10 inches deep.

Choosing Your Plants

Different plants grow better in rocky soil than others. After all the hard work preparing your garden area, it's well worth some time to gather information about plants that grow well in your area. Good sources of information include your local garden center (who will know as well as stock plants that thrive in your area) and perhaps a university or state colleges extension division, that can provide information on gardening in your area. Other informal sources could be garden clubs, articles in local newspapers, or knowledgeable neighbors.

TIP: Susan advises, "Native plants will grow best."

Terraced Gardening

Terraced Gardening

Terraces can create several mini-gardens in your backyard. On steep slopes, terracing can make planting a garden possible. They prevent erosion by shortening the long slope into a series of shorter, more level steps. This allows heavy rains to soak into the soil rather than run off and cause erosion.

Materials for Terraces

Numerous materials are available for building terraces. Treated wood is often used because of several advantages: it is easy to work with, blends well with plants, and is often less expensive than other materials. There are many types of treated wood on the market--from railroad ties to landscaping timbers. These materials will last for years. While there has been some concern about using these treated materials around plants, studies by Texas A&M University and the Southwest Research Institute concluded that these materials are not harmful to gardens or people when used as recommended. Other materials for terraces include bricks, rocks, concrete blocks, and similar masonry elements. Some masonry materials are made specifically for walls and terraces and can be more easily installed by a homeowner than other materials such as field stone and brick. Most stone or masonry products tend to be more expensive than wood.

Height of Walls

The steepness of the slope often dictates wall height. Make the terraces in your yard high enough so the land between them is fairly level. Be sure the terrace material is strong enough and anchored well enough to stay in place through freezing and thawing, and heavy rainstorms. Do not underestimate the pressure of water-logged soil behind a wall. It can be enormous and cause improperly constructed walls to bulge or collapse. Many communities have building codes for walls and terraces. Large projects need the expertise of a professional to make sure the walls can stand up to water pressure in the soil. Large terraces also need to be built with proper drainage and to be tied back into the slope properly. Because of the expertise and equipment required to do this correctly, you probably want to restrict terraces you build yourself to no more than a foot or two high.

Building a Terrace

The safest way to build a terrace is probably the cut and fill method. Little soil is disturbed, giving you protection from erosion should a sudden storm occur while the work is in progress. This method also requires little, if any, additional soil.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson cautions you, "Making a terrace is a very physical job, be sure you are in shape for the job."

  • Contact your utility companies to identify the location of any buried utilities before starting to excavate.
  • Determine the rise and run of your slope. The rise is the vertical distance from the bottom of the slope to the top. The run is the horizontal distance between the top and bottom. This will help you determine how many terraces you need. For example, if your run is 20 feet and the rise is 8 feet and you want each bed to be 5 feet wide, you will need 4 beds. The rise of each bed will be 2 feet.
  • Start building beds at the bottom of your slope. Dig a trench in which to place your first tier. The depth and width of the trench will vary depending on how tall the terrace will be and the specific building materials you are using. Follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully when using masonry products. Many of these have limits to the number of tiers or the height that can be safely built. If using landscape timbers and your terrace is low (less than 2 feet), you only need to bury the timber to about half its thickness or less. The width of the trench should be slightly wider than your timber. Make sure the bottom of the trench is firmly packed and completely level. Place your timbers in the trench.
  • For the sides of your terrace, dig a trench into the slope. The bottom of this trench must be level with the bottom of the first trench. When the depth of the trench is 1 inch greater than the thickness of your timber, you have reached the back of the terrace and can stop digging.
  • Cut a timber to the correct length and set it in the trench.
  • Drill holes through your timbers and pound long spikes or pipes through the holes and into the ground. A minimum of 18-inch pipe length is recommended; longer pipes may be needed for stability for higher terraces.
  • Place the next tier of timbers on top of the first, overlapping corners and joints. Spike these together.
  • Move soil from the back of the bed to the front of the bed until the surface is level. Add another tier as needed.
  • Repeat, starting with step 2. In continuously connected terrace systems, the first timber of the second tier will also be the back wall of your first terrace.
  • The back wall of the last bed will be level with the front wall of that bed.
  • When finished, plant and mulch.

TIP: Susan suggests, "Add organic material such as compost or well-aged manure to the terrace garden beds before planting."

Other Options for Slopes

If terraces are beyond the limits of your time or money, you may want to consider other options for backyard slopes. If you have a slope that is hard to mow, consider using groundcovers other than grass. There are many plants adapted to a wide range of light and moisture conditions that require little care, but provide soil erosion protection. These include:

  • Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)
  • Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis)
  • Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei)
  • Periwinkle (Vinca minor)
  • Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp.)
  • Potentilla (Potentilla spp.)
  • Partridge berry (Gaultheria procumbens)
  • Heathers and heaths

Stripcropping is another way to deal with long slopes. Rather than terracing to make garden beds level, plant perennial beds and strips of grass across the slope. Once established, many perennials are effective in reducing erosion. Mulch also helps reduce erosion. The erosion that may occur will be primarily limited to the garden area. The grass strips will act as filter strips and catch much of the soil that may run off the beds. Grass strips should be wide enough to mow across the hill easily as well as wide enough to effectively reduce erosion.

Terraces catch runoff water, let the water soak into the ground, and deliver the excess safely to the bottom of a hillside much like eavespouts on a house. The earthen ridges built around a hillside on the contour cut a long slope into shorter slopes, preventing water from building to a highly erosive force. Some terraces are seeded to grass, which provides erosion control and a nesting area for birds. Terraces are often used in combination with other conservation practices to provide more complete soil protection.

Stripcropping is a common erosion control practice on many farms. Farmers often alternate strips of corn or soybeans with strips of hay.

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How to Grow a Privacy Hedge

How to Grow a Privacy Hedge

Growing a privacy hedge is a great way to combine your desire for privacy with a love for a natural setting in your backyard. A privacy hedge can be an inexpensive way to not only add beauty to the landscape, but provide a windbreak and protect your outdoor living space. Here is some helpful information on how to grow a privacy hedge in your yard.

Select a Hedging Plant

Determine what kind of hedge design you prefer. There are numerous plants that make great hedges, so your selections to choose from are pretty broad. Determine if you want a formal or informal design. A formal design has a uniform style throughout, maintained through pruning or trimming the hedge. An informal hedge is one that is not as rigid looking and uses a combination of different hedging plants to create a privacy hedge. Look through some gardening design books to get an idea of which style you prefer.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson adds, "There are both deciduous and evergreen privacy hedge options as well as large number of flowering options. Choose the plant that best suits your growing conditions, personal preference, budget and needs. Choose plants that are appropriate for your growing region."

Determine the Placement of Your Privacy Hedge

Before you begin planting, determine where you will place your hedge. It is a good idea to review your property lines, either on your own or with any neighbors that share a property line. Make sure the hedge remains on your property. Account for the width of your hedge so it doesn't grow onto your neighbors’ property when it reaches maturity.

TIP: Susan suggests, "Sometimes neighbors are willing to share the cost of putting in a privacy hedge, it does not hurt to ask."

Also, if you are planning on planting near a street, contact your city to find out if there are rules regarding hedges near the street, as restrictions on this vary by location. Do a little research regarding where utility lines are located on your property to ensure that you avoid them when you begin digging.

TIP: Susan advises, "Always have a soil sample taken before beginning any landscape project. This will help you determine what you may need to add to the soil to increase its health."

Research Your Chosen Plants

Before planting, take a look at your selected plants’ overall mature size measurements to determine how far apart plants need to be placed. Based on this information, space your hedge out while the plants are still in their pots. Be sure you place the plants far enough apart to allow for the necessary sunlight penetration, yet close enough to provide privacy. Once you find a good balance, plant your hedge plants in the ground and water them thoroughly until they become established.

Add Temporary Plant Fill-ins

If you desire privacy now, use temporary plants to fill in your hedge until it reaches maturity. Ornamental grasses are great for fillers and can easily be transferred once your hedge begins to grow thicker and fuller.

TIP: Susan says, "Planting a hedge row should be done in the early spring or fall."

7 Knockout Rose Varieties

7 Knockout Rose Varieties

The Knockout Rose is the best selling rose in the country. It is available in many varieties, and is the most disease-resistant rose. All varieties are tolerant of the soil they are grown in, and will do well in almost any climate type. Knockout roses have the longest blooming period of any rose variety, blooming from spring through fall. Winter protection should be given in areas where hard frosts are common, but otherwise the plants can handle most weather conditions, including excessive rain or dry periods. Here is a list of the different Knock Out Rose varieties, and some general information about the species itself.

TIP: Our expert Gardening advisor, Susan Patterson suggests, "Cut knockout roses down to 12 inches in very early spring. They bloom on new growth."

1. Original Knockout Rose

The original Knock Out Rose produces full blooms of a medium red color and rich scent. The blooming season begins after the last hard frost of spring, and can continue throughout the summer until the first frosts of fall, if it is grown in rich fertile soil.

TIP: Susan adds, "Knockout roses prefer loamy soil, and do best in USDA zones 4 to 9."

2. Pink Knockout

This variety has all of the features of the original Knockout Rose, in a lovely pink color. Knockout Roses make an excellent border plant, discouraging intrusion, and providing a sweet-smelling, colorful hedge.

3. Blushing Knockout

The Blushing Knockout produces a pale pink flower, and has the same long blooming season common of all Knockout varieties. It can grow to a total width of 4 to 6 feet, and may reach up to 4 feet high.

4. Double Knockout

The Double Knockout take the original variety one step further, and produces double bloom pods. As the pods bloom, each stem supports two blooms. And a Knockout Rose is self-cleaning, so you won't have to worry about pruning dead buds after they are past their bloom.

5. Rainbow Knockout

The Rainbow Knockout Rose has blooms with a light pink outer edge, transitioning to a peach-colored center. Some Rainbow Knockouts being as a solid peach color and fade to light pink as they age.

6. Sunny Knockout

Like the Rainbow Knockout, a Sunny Knockout is known for sporting two-color blossoms. Bright yellow buds bloom, and as the the flower ages it fades to a pale yellow is sometimes mistaken for white at first glance.

7. Pink Double Knockout

The last variety of Knockout is the Pink Double Knockout, with it's double budded stems. It grows to the same height and width as the other varieties, and blooms throughout the spring and summer months.

Knockout Roses are one of the newest recognized genetic variations on the rose bush. They are comfortable in most soil types, and are even tolerant of excessive moisture, as long as the soil drains well. The plants grow to a uniform domed size of about 4 to 6 feet across, and may be paired for maximum variety of color. All varieties have the same lighting requirements, and prefer full sun, at least 6 hours a day.

TIP: Susan advises, "Plant roses at least 4 feet apart to provide plenty of air circulation."

How to Get Petunias to Last Throughout Summer

How to Get Petunias to Last Throughout Summer

There are over 100 petunia varieties. The trick in the home garden is to get them to last throughout the summer. Petunias are annual flowers available in many different varieties, colors and growing habits. Follow these tips to grow brightly colored petunias that will bloom throughout the entire season.

Petunia Varieties

The so-called old types of petunias are multiflora and grandiflora. Multiflora petunias--as the name implies--flower more freely and tend to tolerate more adverse heat and weather conditions than grandiflora. In size, multiflora varieties have blooms from 1.5 to 3 inches in diameter, compared to 3 to 4-inch diameter grandiflora petunias.

Newer varieties of petunias are those classified as spreading-type plants. Low-growing spreaders reach heights of 6 to 12 inches and can be used as ground cover or in hanging baskets in full sun. Many of the Wave petunias—which have flowers in colors of pink, rose, misty lilac, lavender, blue, and purple—grow 24 to 30 inches wide and 8 to 10 inches tall.

Consider the many varieties of petunias, available as singles, doubles, petunias with contrasting edges (called picotees), striped ones, veined, trailing, dwarf, tiny blooms, medium-size blooms, and large blooms.

Stagger plantings of petunias. Some are early bloomers, while others are so-called perennial bloomers (the Colourwave variety) that last 6 to 9 months.

Sun and Soil

To proliferate, petunias aren’t too picky, but they do need full sun. Petunias need at least five hours of sun a day to do their best.

They also like a well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Keep mulch away from stems of petunias. Add peat moss to your soil if it does not drain well.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan patterson adds, "Spread a thick layer of organic matter on top of the soil and work it in before planting. Fertilize every three weeks with an 8-8-8, or 10-10-10 fertilizer."

Water

Water petunias before noon early in the day. While spreading petunias require extra water, other varieties do well with water once a week. Hanging baskets and container plants require more water.

Pruning

Cut back to the newest set of leaves on each stem. Do this in the cool evening. Pinch off blooms after they’re spent, a practice known as deadheading. This encourages the plant to bloom again. Pinch out the very first flowers before they begin to bloom. This makes seedlings branch out. Plants will then produce more flowers and larger blooms with deeper color. When petunias are done flowering, prune them back. They will grow and bloom again in the same season.

Hanging Baskets

For hanging baskets, make sure pots have adequate drainage. Place small stones or pebbles in the bottom of the pots to avoid soil leaking out. Move hanging baskets to an area where they only receive morning sun, as afternoon sun causes them to dry out and droop.

Caring for a Hardy Aster

Caring for a Hardy Aster

Hardy Asters, an autumn-blooming perennial with little flowers resembling daisies, have so many species with so many different hybrids that over the years many of the varietal names have been lost. These colorful hybrids are often just commonly referred to as Hardy Asters, although some also have a specific cultivar name. Some common hardy asters, including Michaelmas daisies, Lilac Time, and White Niobe, are low growers reaching about 12 inches tall. Violet-blue Eventide and Harrington's Pink will grow to 4 feet tall. Other tall varieties include Mt. Everest and Mt. Rainier.

General Information

USDA Growing Zones - Asters grow in zones 3 to 9.

Bloom Colors - Asters come in red, white, blue, pink, purple and lavender, but most commonly blue to lavender.

Bloom Season - Asters generally bloom in late summer through the autumn, but some will bloom earlier.

Height - Asters generally grow 3 to 4 feet, but dwarf asters can be as small as 6 inches, and some asters will grow up to 6 feet tall, if in full sun and not pruned.

Spacing - Plant with plenty of space between to encourage air circulation and prevent mildew, approximately 3 to 4 feet apart.

Pests - Whiteflies, rabbits and aphids are common pests.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson suggests, "Put a little dish soap in water and spray on asters to control whiteflies and aphids."

Diseases - Root rot, wilt, stem blight and leaf spot are common diseases.

Attributes - Asters attract butterflies, being a popular host plant for butterfly larvae. They will keep your garden colorful when most flowering plants have lost their blooms, and they make a good cut flower.

Companion Plants - Black-eyed Susan, Sliver Mound, Purple Coneflower and ornamental grass are good companion plants for the aster.

Soil Requirements - Asters prefer well-drained soil, slightly alkaline to acidic, depending on the variety.

TIP: Susan adds, "Hardy asters prefer sandy soil."

Sun Exposure - Asters prefer full sun to partial shade, but too much shade will squelch blooms.

Water Needs - Asters are drought-resistant, but should still be watered regularly in the mornings. Don't water leaves since asters are vulnerable to leaf fungus.

General Care

Once you've planted your Asters in the spring after the first frost, follow these care tips to insure a long and plentiful blooming season again and again.

Fertilize - Fertilizing too much is a common mistake. Over-fertilizing will result in a floppy, too tall aster that you will have to divide more often than usual. If you fertilize, do so lightly in the spring. Asters are sensitive to the soluble salts in fertilizers, and too much nitrogen will cause excessive foliage growth.

Dehead - Deadheading should be done in mid-July to encourage heavy blooming and eliminate the need for staking for taller varieties. Cut stems to one-half the size. Although, flowering will be delayed by a couple weeks, the asters blooms will be thicker and the clump more compact. Asters will self-seed, so if you don't want mass repopulation, cut off the blooms at the end of the blooming season.

TIP: Susan advises, "Cut asters to the ground after they have finished blooming and cover with a thick layer of mulch for the winter."

Divide - At the end of the growing season every couple years, pull up the plants and divide in half, removing the center and keeping the healthiest edges. Replant and mulch to protect against winter. Although asters are perennials, sometimes they have difficulty returning. Dividing gives your asters a better chance at surviving for the next season.

Xeriscape Landscaping Ideas

Xeriscape Landscaping Ideas

Successful xeriscape landscaping incorporates three key principles: drought-resistance, tolerance of a variety of soil types, and hardy, native plants. These three factors support a wide range of landscaping ideas.

Drought-Resistant Native and Local Plants

In parts of North America, where drinkable water is becoming scarce, the archetypal turf lawn's days are numbered. In the southwest USA, they are nearly extinct already. Plants that can survive on low quantities of water are the most popular for xeriscape gardens. Among these are varieties of ornamental grass like maidengrass, northern sea oats, and blue fescue.

Flowering plants that are water-misers include lamb's ears, coneflower in various colors, bluebeard, coreopsis "moonbeam," and stonecrop. They have tiny clustered blooms instead of large, wide-open flower heads. Many types of native daylily and iris, along with California poppy also resist drought well, and have the large, colorful heads that most garden lovers consider true flowers, instead of herbs.

Decorative leaf plants that can manage on little water include cosmos and hosta. Both have been popular for edging of gardens of all kinds for decades.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson adds, "New plants require water to set roots, consider a rain barrel to conserve water."

Tolerance of Low-Fertility and Sandy Soils

Along with low water demand, many xeriscape plants flourish in soils low in humus. In fact some, like maidenhair and northern sea oats, prefer well-drained, sandy soils.

Beneficial and Aesthetic Wildlife Garden Design

Many xeriscape plants are beloved by butterflies and hummingbirds, who feast on the nectar of the tiny flowers. Among these are the Autumn Joy variety of stonecrop, bluebeard, and coreopsis. The dark heads of coneflowers draw dazzling goldfinches to your garden. Lamb's ear, on the other hand, proves helpful in keeping deer away from your xeriscape garden. The soft fuzzy texture of the leaves is reportedly repellent to deer.

TIP: Susan suggests, "Choose plants that are appropriate for your growing region."

Traditional Row Design

Xeriscape gardens can be laid out in traditional rows, with tallest plants at the back, intermediate height plants in a center row, and a short-growing type in the front. Alternate the rows with grasses, shrubs and flowering plants. Leave room between for sunlight to reach the stalks and leaves, but shade the roots.

Clump and Scatter Design

On a site that gets full sun, group the plants that love the light. Place bluebeard in the centre of a circle. Orbit it with hosta and edge with a low grass like blue fescue.

Rock Garden Design

Xeriscape landscaping also complements a rock or terrace garden on a slope. Plant the least thirsty on the highest terrace or slope of the rock garden, in clumps rather than ruler-straight lines. On lower levels, place the ground cover that needs more water.

Monochrome Rock Garden Design

Coordinate foliage with rock color for a xeriscape that highlights texture rather than color, using non-flowering plants and grasses with silver or pale green leaves among light and dark gray river-smoothed rocks.

Handkerchief Lawn Design

On your tiny inner-city front lawn, remove the turf grass altogether and plant coneflowers, iris, poppy, and lavender in a border around an ornamental grass like maidenhair. Your neighbors will stop to chat more often.

Landscape Design Tools

Landscape Design Tools

If you want to landscape your yard it is always best to start with a plan, no matter how small or large your property is. Landscape design tools are an integral part of any landscape project and will help keep your project in perspective. Depending on the size and scope of your project, there are a variety of landscape design tools available.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson adds, "Do not forget to consider underground utilities and drainage needs when designing your landscape plan."

Basic Landscape Design Tools

If you are looking to do your own landscaping for your yard and are not planning on any difficult landscape designs then you can get away with using very basic landscape design tools.

TIP: Susan suggests, "Make a list of the trees, shrubs and flowers that you would like in your landscape and be sure to consider their planting needs when making your design."

Use graph paper to help draw your landscape design to the correct scale. The easiest way to do this is to measure your yard and shrink the measurements down to scale for the drawing.

Pencils with good erasers make excellent landscape design tools. For any rough draft designs. Draw first with pencil until you have your final design set.

Use photos from landscaping books for inspiration and tips on how design your yard or garden.

Advanced Landscape Design Tools

If you want to take your design one step further, look into purchasing landscape design software. Several software programs are available to help you plan out your landscape and to pick what plants will be best. There are programs that make great landscape design tools if you have a large area to landscape or are trying to come up with an intricate design.

TIP: Susan reminds you, "Be sure that your landscape plan will accommodate the mature size of your flowers, shrubs and trees"

Princess Flower Planting and Care

Princess Flower Planting and Care

The princess flower (Tibouchina urvilleana, or Tibouchina semidecandra) is a broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree native to Brazil and South America. Also known as glory bush, it is prized for its large purple flowers, and leaves which are soft and hairy, adding a touch of color to gardens and landscaping. It is primarily a warm climate plant, requiring full morning sun for the best color and flowering.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson adds, "The USDA plant hardiness zone recommends the princess flower for zone 9 to 12. However, in zone 8 this plant acts as a herbaceous perennial and will die back in the winter and return in the spring. It can even be planted as an annual or placed in a container and taken indoors for the winter. When planted as an evergreen shrub, the Princess Flower will reach heights of 10 to 12 feet and be 6 to 10 feet wide."

Planting Site

Plant princess flowers in well-drained soil where they will receive morning sun and some afternoon shade, especially in warmer areas. Allow plenty of room for the plant to reach its mature size when planted in zones 9 to 12.

Care

This beautiful plant does best with regular water in loamy soils and some extra water in sandy soils. Provide a general and balanced fertilizer once per month during the growing season.

TIP: Susan suggests, "Place a 2-inch layer of mulch around the plant to help retain moisture."

Since the flowers bloom quite readily, the plant can be pruned by cutting or pinching below the younger taller leaves and soon the lower buds will flower. Keeping the plant pruned allows the flowering to become more even and the lower buds on the branches to become flowers.

TIP: Susan says, "Constant deadheading will prolong bloom. Use only clean and sharp garden tools to prune."

Propagation

The princess flower can be propagated through cuttings, best done in the spring and early summer when the branches are young. Depending on the climate, the cuttings can be planted in the garden as is; in ideal climates, cuttings that fall to the ground can start growing roots on their own. In cooler climates, cuttings can be planted in moist soil and raised until the first leaves appear.

Insect Control

Spider mites may invade the plant. A soft insecticide can reduce the number of mites along with directed water to wash them off. Diseased leaves should be removed along with dying plants.

Shasta Daisy: Mistakes to Avoid when Growing

Shasta Daisy: Mistakes to Avoid when Growing

The simple yet elegant beauty of the shasta daisy (a native of Europe), has made it a popular flower in many home gardens. These pretty white flowers with a yellow, button-like center are one of the easiest perennials to grow in USDA zones 5 to 9. Once planted, it takes 10 to 20 days for the seeds to germinate. You can expect the plants to bloom the following year. They are easy to care for and do not require much maintenance. There's a bonus for you, as the shasta daisy attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Despite their ease of care, there are some mistakes you need to avoid when growing these flowers.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson adds, "Proper site selection, planting and maintenance are important produce healthy and vibrant shasta daisies that will bloom all summer long."

Planting

Don't plant in the wrong season. Plant shasta daisies in the spring, spacing them 2 feet apart. Dig a hole twice the size of the root ball. Sprinkle some bone meal into the planting hole and place the plant into the hole so that the top of the root ball is at ground level. Backfill the hole and gently tamp the soil down. Water each plant thoroughly after planting. Sow seeds in the spring once the threat of frost has passed.

TIP: Susan suggests, "Stake tall varieties to keep them upright and provide support for inclement weather."

Soil

Soil that is too wet will hinder healthy root development. Shasta daisies do best in loamy, well-drained soils. Add 2 to 4 inches of organic material, such as well-aged manure or compost for best results, especially if your soil has a lot of clay.

Water

Daisies like ample water which is beneficial in promoting healthy growth and abundant blooming, but be careful not to over water. Water frequently in the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week.

Sun

Don't plant them in the shade. Plant shasta daisies in a location where they will receive at least 5 hours of full sun each day. Shasta daisies will tolerate filtred afternoon sun in very hot climates.

Mulching

Do not over-mulch. There is a tendency for people to over-mulch, especially in the winter, thinking it will protect the soil from loosing too much moisture. While mulching is beneficial in conserving soil moisture, applying too much is counter-productive. All you need to do is apply the standard amount, not more than 2 inches. Avoid packing mulch too closely to the flower stems, as it will obstruct breathing. It may also encourage fungal infections. Applying manure or animal compost is recommended to encourage healthy growth and make the shasta daisy strong and resilient. Applying too much manure will not encourage abundant blooming. It actually ends up stressing the plant which can eventually die. It is best to apply compost in a thin layer each spring, followed by mulch to reduce moisture loss and also prevent too many weeds from cropping up. Mulching in summer will help in conserving soil moisture.

TIP: Susan advises, "Cut shasta daisies to the ground after first killing frost. Apply a 2-inch layer of mulch for winter protection."

Division

Although shasta daisies look lovely in masses, it is healthy to divide them every 3 years. This will give the plants plenty of room and allow for air circulation and proper nutrient distribution.

Building Dry Creek Beds

Building Dry Creek Beds

Dry creek beds add a great deal of aesthetic interest and can help cover areas in the landscape that have drainage problems.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson adds, "Making a dry creek bed is a physical project, be sure that you are in good condition before you begin."

Step 1 – Plan and Mark the Course

Plan where your dry creek bed will “flow” down your slope. Mark the location for the creek bed with landscape paint. Always make sure the runoff does not disturb a neighbor’s property or flood a street in front of or behind your home.

TIP: Susan advises, "Always locate utility lines before you dig."

Step 2 – Set the Creek Bed Dimensions

Select a depth and a width for your dry creek bed. Creek beds that appear in nature, are wider than they are deep. A good guide is to create one that has a 2:1 ratio, with the width being 2 times the depth. For instance, you could construct a dry bed creek that is 4 inches wide by 2 inches deep.

Step 3 – Hide the Origin

In the event there is not a drainage reason for the slope’s existence, consider hiding the “creek's” origin by placing a plant or boulder at the head of the bed before building the creek bed.

Step 4 – Dig

Using a garden shovel with a pointed tip, dig out the 2-inch depth and place the excavated dirt along the bed's edges where you will tamp it down, contouring the creek bed. Remove any large sticks, rock or other debris as you dig.

TIP: Susan adds, "Choose a day when rain is not expected to complete the project."

Step 5 – Build a Pond

If you cannot direct the water to a drainage system or to a location off your property, consider building a small pond that is fed by the creek bed when it rains. Or, direct water runoff to an area of your yard that is sandy where it will sink into the ground.

Step 6 – Lay Fabric

Once you’ve created a trench, place landscape fabric in the trench. Make sure it covers the earth mounds made from the excavated earth on both sides of the bed. Secure the fabric in place with landscape fabric pins. Make sure the fabric is secure before proceeding with the next step.

Step 7 – Form the Bed

If the creek bed is for the purpose of helping to improve your lawn's drainage, all of the rocks used for the bed need to be connected to form a solid base to carry water away. You need to mortar the rocks together by first applying a 2-inch layer of mortar to the fabric. Work in small sections to lay rocks on top of the layer of mortar. Repeat the process for each section, working from the top of the slope down.

After building the dry creek bed, enhance it by placing small plants along the edges.

TIP: Susan suggests, "Landscape around your dry river creek with larger rocks for continuity."

Impatiens: Indoor Growing Tips

Impatiens: Indoor Growing Tips

Impatiens look lovely in the outdoor garden and can also be grown inside. Also called impatients, they are beautifully colored flowers that flourish in the shade. These flowers are easy to take care of and are great for people just starting out in gardening. If you wish to grow your impatiens indoors there are a few things to keep in mind.

Why Grow Indoors?

There are several different reasons to grow your flowers indoors. You can provide to your flowers good temperature control as well as a steady environment. If your flowers need a substantial amount of shade or sun, you will be able to easily provide this too them at any time. It is also easier to provide better pest control and help to prevent diseases. Not to mention you can view your beautiful flowers without ever leaving the house.

Choosing Impatiens

Purchase healthy plants that show no signs of withering or sickness. Healthy impatiens have a nice compact growth and should not be leggy. If your plant has no flowers, don’t be alarmed, this could be beneficial to its growing when you first plant them.

Growing Indoors

The potting medium you plant your impatiens in needs to be very rich, loamy, and have good drainage. The soil should be kept moist but not wet, as this will cause root rot . An acidic soil works best. Test your soil on a pH scale, it should be around a 5.8. For basic soil, adding aluminum sulfate or sulfur will help. If it is too acidic, calcium carbonate should be added.

As long as the soil is kept good and moist, you should not need to worry about watering except for every few weeks. A good way to test your soil is to watch the water. If the water sets on top of the soil and does not move, then the soil is too dry and cannot absorb the water. However if the water goes straight through and out of the pot, then your soil may be waterlogged or the plant may have become root bound. A good way to prevent these things is to spray the soil with a spray bottle in between waterings.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson adds, "Self-watering pots will help keep the soil moist."

Fertilizer

Once a month, apply a liquid fertilizer to your impatiens. Flowers grown indoors don’t always get all of the nutrients they need. The tips of the roots need to be at the edge of the pot before you use any fertilizer.

Temperature

The temperature is one of the easier things to control when you have an indoor plant. The temperature for impatiens should never go down below 68 degrees, or above 75 degrees.

TIP: Susan advises, "Impatiens do not like direct sun. Be careful that you do not place them in an area that is too bright."

Care

Impatiens need to be cut when they start to become unruly. This will encourage your plant to grow new blooms. There should be no more than 2 plants in a pot that is 5 inches wide.

TIP: Susan suggests, "Dead head blooms to encourage flowering."

Landscaping around Trees: 6 Mistakes to Avoid

Landscaping around Trees: 6 Mistakes to Avoid

Trees are powerful elements in your landscape, and can either pull your entire design together or make everything look out of place. Landscaping around trees is an area of great importance. Here are a few common mistakes to avoid during your landscaping process.

Lack of Planning

Not having a comprehensive plan in your landscaping is like trying to drive cross country without a map. Your plan adds a logical approach to what you are doing. This is especially true when landscaping around trees. Whether you're planting new trees, or planting around the tree, have a plan. This helps your landscape flow, keeps you within your budget, and provides a map for success.

Not Checking for Utilities

One of the most common mistakes people make is believing they know where the underground wires or utilities are. Take the time to call your local utility company and request a check of your land. It may take a few days, but it is very important to your safety. This one mistake can be costly to your wallet, and your health.

Installing the Wrong Tree

Always consider the mature size of any tree before placing it in your landscape. Choose a location for your tree that is large enough to accommodate its mature height and width.

Digging into Roots

Planting flowers around trees is a nice way to add style color to your landscape. However, you can often damage the roots of young trees by planting these flowers. This can cause distress, and even death to the tree. When digging into the ground around a tree, take care not to cut into the roots. Place flowers at least 2 feet from the tree trunk.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan patterson suggests, "It is difficult to get plants to grow under and around trees, especially large trees. Add plenty of organic material around trees and choose hardy, native plants for best results."

Mowing Too Closely to Tree

Mowing and weed eating can damage trees. Mowers can bump into the tree or even cut the roots along the surface of the lawn. The best way to fix this mistake is to clear out the sod around the tree and use some decorative landscape edging as a border. Plant some small flowers inside the border, or put down a layer of mulch.

TIP: Susan advises, "Never put mulch right up against a tree trunk."

Setting Landscaping Elements Too Close

Everyone likes a small seating area under a great shade tree. However, setting the table, chair, bench, or other landscaping element too close to a tree, can turn into a sticky affair. Sap, bird droppings, or other dirt and debris will fall onto your seating, or even yourself. Avoid this mistake by keeping some distance from the tree but still catching some of the shade.

Tulip Varieties: Mid-Season Flowering Tulips

Tulip Varieties: Mid-Season Flowering Tulips

Tulips that usually bloom in April or early May are considered mid-season or mid-spring flowering tulips. Three divisions are usually considered mid-season flowering tulips: Darwin hybrids, triumph, and parrot. The genus Tulipa includes over 100 different species of plants with more than 4,000 varieties. Although they are associated with the Dutch, they are not native to Holland. They are originally native to southern Europe and Asia. They were introduced to China and Mongolia by the Turkish Empire and eventually made their way to the Netherlands several hundreds years ago.

Over the years, there have been different ways of classifying tulips. As species were crossbred, divisions had to created or merged. Most recently, the Royal General Bulb Growers Association of the Netherlands adopted a classification system with fifteen different divisions. Tulips were then assigned a division based on several factors including their time of bloom and parentage.

Because of this, the divisions can generally be categorized as early flowering, mid-season flowering, or late flowering.

Darwin Hybrid Tulips

Darwin hybrid tulips were created by in 1943 by crossing Fosteriana tulips with Darwin tulips (which are now part of the single late class). They grow about 30 inches high and are some of the tallest long-stemmed tulips available. The flowers are also large, approximately 6 inches in diameter when they open. Immature blossoms usually look like a pyramid. Flowers are available in shades of white, pink, yellow, orange, red, purple, and black. They come in solid, speckled, and striped varieties.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson suggests, "Provide support for tall tulips by staking."

If you want to grow tulips for cut flowers, these are amongst the best to grow. However, because of their size, they need to be grown in a spot that is sheltered from the wind. They are good for beds, borders, and indoor forcing. Darwin hybrids are also one of the better perennial tulips because they come back looking great for years. They don't decline in appearance after the first couple of years like other tulips can. However, it is important that you do not remove or cut the leaves after they bloom if you want them to come back.

TIP: Susan advises, "Do not feed tulips immediately after they flower."

They are hardiest in USDA Zones 3 through 7. Some popular varieties of Darwin hybrid tulips are Ad Rem, Apeldoorn, Apeldoorn Elite, Banja Luka, Big Chief, Burning Heart, Daydream, Golden Apeldoorn, Golden Oxford, Ivory Floradale, Kingsblood, Ollioules, Olympic Fame, Oxford, Parade, and Pink Impression.

Triumph Tulips

Triumph tulips are the result of crossing single early tulips and single late tulips. They are the largest division and come in every imaginable color. Their flowers form the traditional tulip shape on top of sturdy stems that make them durable in stormy weather. They flower in late April about 10 days before Darwin hybrids do, and grow about 10 to 16 inches high.

Triumph tulips are considered the absolute best type of tulip for indoor forcing, and make excellent cut flowers because they have a long vase life. They are hardiest in USDA Zones 3 through 7. Some popular varieties of triumph tulips are Apricot Beauty, Arabian Mystery, Barcelona, Bastogne, Beauty Queen, Calgary, Dreaming Maid, Don Quichotte, Francoise, Gavota, Happy Generation, Helmar, Jan Reus, lle de France, Negrita, New Design, Passionale, Pays Bas, Peer Gynt, Prinses Irene (Princess Irene), Shirley, Strong Gold, Wendy Love, White Dream, and Zurel.

Parrot Tulips

Parrot tulips have large flowers with curly, fringed edges and twisted petals that almost resemble feathers. However, they get their name from their bud, which tends to resemble a parrot's beak. As the flowers are exposed to the sun, they open wide until they almost flatten out. Blooms are available in shades of white, pink, peach, yellow, orange, red, and purple. Many are bi-colored and almost all are very vibrant.

Most of these tulips were developed from mutations of late flowering and triumph tulips, so their bloom time varies between mid to late season. They can grow between 12 to 28 inches high and are hardiest in USDA Zones 4 through 7. They are very sensitive to bad weather and do not stand up well to wind and rain. A few tulips of this variety are scented. Some popular varieties of parrot tulips are the Apricot Parrot, Black Parrot, Blue Parrot, Estella Rynveldt, Fantasy, Flaming Parrot, Green Wave, Orange Favorite, Rococo, Red Champion, Texas Gold, Yellow Sunshine, and White Parrot.

Growing Tips

You can encourage tulips to bloom if you feed tullips twice a year, once in the early spring just after you see them popping out of the ground and again before they bloom. Conserve moisture and protect tulips by spreading a 2 inch layer of mulch over the planting area.

TIP: Susan adds, "Cut back foliage after it has turned yellow and is limp."

Pinching dead flowers before they go to seed will encourage blooming for next year. Water new tulip bulbs unless you expect a good rain.

TIP: Susan suggests, "Divide bulbs every 3 years by digging up and taking off the offsets. New bulbs will flower in 1 to 3 years."

Beginner's Guide to Building a Garden

Beginner's Guide to Building a Garden

It is not necessary to have a huge plot of land or a vast amount of time or money to invest in a garden and enjoy this popular hobby. Many people find gardening an incredibly relaxing hobby, despite any physical labor involved. Depending on your space, your personal preference and your ability, there are many types of gardens to suit your needs. A garden can be something as simple as a few pots or some raised beds. People with physical limitations need not worry either, there are table-height raised beds, perfect for those that are either in a wheelchair or can not take bending over for long periods of time. Gardening can be as simple or as expansive as you like and there are many easy-to-grow plants that are forgiving of even the most novice gardener.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson cautions you, "If you have animals or small children, be aware of plants that may be toxic. Never dig or till without first locating your underground utility lines."

Locate a Good Nursery or Join a Local Garden Club

This is where you'll head for ideas, tips and advice. Books are a good idea, too, but talking to someone who has local knowledge will likely work better for you. Then you can get advice in all areas, from what kind of plants, pests, and weeds are native to your area, to picking out good tools.

TIP: Susan adds, "Always choose plants that are appropriate for your growing region."

Lay Your Garden Out on Paper

If you plan on a rather expansive project it is always best to draw it out on paper first. Having a plan is essential to having a successful garden. Take it to your local nursery, a professional will be able to make life easier by helping to determine such things as choosing the right location for your garden and the proper amounts of sun and water. An expert might also see something that may prove difficult and cause you major headaches in the long run, such as picking out plants that don't go well together or plants that don't grow well in certain soils or at certain times of the year.

TIP: "Always keep in mind the mature size of trees, shrubs and flowers when planning your garden."

Start Small

Going hand in hand with laying out your garden on paper is to start small. This will minimize maintenance and keep you from getting overwhelmed while you learn the basics. You don't want the garden to eat up too much of your time--this is the thing that frustrates most first time gardeners and prompts them to give up. When you've mastered how to handle weeds, watering and pests, then expand your garden's boundaries as you see fit.

TIP: Susan suggests, "If you are on a budget, consider starting a garden from seed. There are many beautiful plants that grow well from seed and can be self sown into the garden bed in early spring."

Pick Out Good Tools

Stay away from overpriced tools and gadgets. Since you're starting small, you may need all or only a few of these tools: shovel, garden fork, trowels of different sizes, a hoe, pruners, a rake, wheelbarrow/cart, a water can and/or a good hose. Look for tools with steel blades and handles that offer comfort. You also need to learn to care for your tools. Tools need to be cleaned after each use and certain tools eventually need sharpening or blades replaced. Tools stored for the winter require a protective coating of oil or wax before being put away.

Spend Some Time in Your Garden Everyday

A few minutes here and there during the week is better than waiting for the weekend to tidy things up. We all know how life has a habit of getting in the way sometimes, making it difficult to keep up with anything--let alone a garden. Spend a few moments to snag a few weeds, water and keep an eye on your garden's progress. It is always fun to go out and watch the progress each day. Many people find this extremely therapeutic.

Water Wisely

Spend time watering your plants and encouraging your garden’s roots to grow deeply by soaking the soil. Too short a watering time will keep roots near the soil surface.

Pamper Your Soil

Avoid clumps. Don't work soil that is wet. Overworking soil into a fine powder is also a no-no. Soil is supposed to have particles of different shape and sizes. Try not to walk around in your garden too much. Creating rows in which to safely work keeps the soil around the plants from getting compacted and restricting growth.

TIP: susan advises, "Before planting have a soil test done so that you know what your soil may need to make it healthier."

Learn about compost. It keeps the soil healthy. If you can't make your own, there's always compost in a bag. Use fertilizers sparingly, but use the right ones. Take a sample of your soil to your favorite nursery for testing to see which type of fertilizer you will (or won't) be needing.

TIP: Susan adds, "If you have poor soil, consider building some raised beds where you can control the soil quality."

Prune, but Don't Over Prune

Try not to go crazy with the pruners. True, fertilizers and pruning produce a more luscious and tender growth, but that's something bugs are extremely attracted to. The last thing you want is to have to spend time fighting battles with pests. This can turn your garden into a chore.


Gardening is a wonderful and peaceful pastime, if not addictive. Many will find the time to work in their gardens despite the whirlwind of activity going on in their lives because it brings them calm and order. Perhaps you are seeking that calm for yourself. Perhaps you feel the need to give back to the earth. Perhaps you are seeking that special relationship with nature that comes from having your hands covered in earth. Or it could be you just wanted an excuse to wear silly hats outside. Whatever the reason, happy gardening!

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African Violets: Transplanting to a Larger Pot

Violets: Transplanting to a Larger Pot


African violets should be repotted with fresh soil at least twice a year before they become rootbound. Repotting will keep your plant healthy and looking its best. You can transplant an African violet at any time of the year.

Step 1 - Remove the Plant

Put some new potting soil in the bottom of the new container. Remove the plant from the old pot by putting your hand on top of the pot with the crown between your fingers. Turn the pot upside-down and, if the pot is plastic, squeeze the sides to losen the roots. If the pot is clay, tap the bottom and the roots should loosen. If your plant is rootbound you may have to insert a pencil or other object through the drainage holes to push it out. If your plant is extremely stubborn you can slide a butter knife between the pot and the rootball. After the violet is out of the pot, set it aside

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson reminds you, "Never pull a plant out of its pot by the stem or flowers."

Step 2 - Trim Roots and Leaves

Before the plant is transplanted the following 2 steps may be necessary depending on circumstances. Cut away bottom half of the root--If the plant is too tall, removing part of the root will restore its balance. Remove bottom leaves--If the lower leaves will be too near to the potting soil for good air circulation and growing room, take them off.

Step 3 - Prepare the New Pot and Planting

If your new pot is higher than the old pot, put the difference in potting soil in the bottom of the new pot. Place the old pot inside the new pot and center it. Place potting soil in between the old pot and the new pot until it is level with height of where the rootball should be. Pack the new soil tightly so that it remains in place when you remove the old pot. Remove the old pot and place the violet into the hole. The soil should be 1/2 inch below the rim of the pot.

TIP: Susan adds, "African violets can be grown in any container as long as it has drainage holes. You can set a plastic planting pot with drainage holes inside a more attractive pot to improve its looks."

Step 3 - Water

It is essential that you provide water for your violet immediately after transplanting. Set your pot into a saucer with some water and allow the violet to absorb water for at least 30 minutes. Drain the excess water.

Step 4 - Bag the Plant

To increase humidity and help your plant overcome the transplant you can place your violet in a clear, plastic bag large enough to accomodate it without damaging the leaves or flowers. Leave your violet in the bag for a week.

Elements of a Spiritual Garden

Elements of a Spiritual Garden

Peace, serenity, and even a certain degree of mental healing can be derived from your garden and landscape, once you transform it into a sanctuary free from the stresses of the outer world. Gardens can be places where you renew the senses and reconnect the spirit to the natural world.

Planting and designing a spiritual garden means creating a place that will be sacred to you. Consequently, you may wish to include religious elements that are personal reflections of your life, but you may also wish to add other features that are particularly soothing to you. No matter what your garden's style--formal, rustic, Oriental, large or small--there are many ways to give it the tranquil appeal you hunger for. Some of the earliest gardens on earth were centered near tombs and temples, cementing the link between the busy world and the world of the spirit, soul, or self--depending on your beliefs. Without focusing on particular belief systems or philosophies, these suggestions range from many cultures. Choose those that make the most sense for you and your garden space.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan patterson suggests, "Incorporate existing natural features into your garden such as large trees, boulders privacy hedges etc."

Peace and Quiet

The first element you may want to consider is that of silence. A spiritual garden is often designed as a place for meditation and reflection. Attaining a certain level of quiet may require plantings that act as screens. They may not remove the outer noise, but will diminish it. Arbors adorned with climbing vines like English ivy or fences covered with your favorite vines can provide privacy and go far to create a private corner in your landscape. Wind chimes and water features add a touch of serenity as well as aesthetic beauty.

TIP: Susan adds, "Attract birds by hanging bird feeders, bird houses and installing bird baths."

Water Elements

In fact, water is a wonderful feature to include in any garden, but especially a spiritual garden. Water epitomizes the act of cleansing that gives a sense of renewal. A basin makes a simple feature that has the tremendous ability to calm. Pools and garden ponds are likewise excellent features to include. These require some maintenance, depending on size and scope. Water flora is beautiful and provides a burst of color. Other water elements might be a well, a stream, or small waterfall. There are many types of fountains available that are easy to maintain as well. Consider filling them with healing nuggets of quartz or smooth river stones.

Stone Elements

Stone is also an important feature for a spiritual garden. The very nature of stone suggests silence and strength. While your water feature may employ stone, consider other stone features like stone planters carved with your favorite spiritual symbols, a stone statue such as a serene Buddha or a marble angel set among Damask roses. A birdbath can serve as a focal point for even the smallest gardens. Also, consider a stone sundial, stone lantern, rock formations, a path of small stones, and stone benches set throughout your tranquil landscape.

Wood Features and Trees

As an element, wood provides a sense of warmth. From wooden features like decking that surrounds your water feature to fences that provide privacy, there are many ways to add wood to your garden. The most important wood is natural--trees not only give shelter and canopy your space, their presence adds a magical touch as wind sighs through the branches and leaves bud and later fall. Choose trees that best appeal to you. Consider the knotty trunked Windsor oak, the Japanese Oriental Cherry, the Scarlet Maple, the Weeping Willow or the beautiful Magnolia.

Spiritual Garden Plants

Besides trees, plants can inspire many features in your garden. From floral sundials to a labyrinth of blooming hedges, you can use plants to create individual garden features. For example, a path lined with bamboo trees may create a natural canopy. A design that brings pleasant smelling blooms can be enchanting for any garden. A simple herb garden might even do more than heal your spirit. The aroma of some herbs such as lavender or mint is enough to melt away stress. There are many simple herbal remedies that have ancient properties to treat a number of common ailments.

Green plants are also good choices for a spiritual garden--hostas and ferns give a lush sense of earthiness. In fact, the inner realm of Japanese tea gardens always favored green plants as opposed to brightly colored blooms because green gives greater calm to the setting. Choose plants that are both simple and complex. Wild violets may surround a trellis of white roses. Or, a single beautiful flower can act as a mandala for contemplation--a tiger or calla lily, perhaps. Groves of lilac near a pond filled with lotus blooms might inspire great reflection and peacefulness. Even though your garden may be western in design, there may be Eastern elements to include. The gardens of the Far East are still grown as places of spiritual renewal such as the Japanese Zen gardens.

TIP: Susan advises, "Use native plants for best results."

Colors

Also, certain colors may have different effects on you. While green can be soothing, the beauty of red can be personally invigorating, even inspiring. Pinks can be subtle and calming. Blues seem mesmerizing, almost hypnotic when one considers blue poppies or weepy blue rye grass. Silver glistens and yellow brightens. Design your garden to have sections with various color plantings. You may find yourself visiting different areas of your garden depending on how you feel.

Furnishings

The role of the gardener is central to a spiritual garden. Visit it often not only for maintenance but for relaxation. Choose furniture that allows you to sink into this world you have created. Add ornaments you can delight in--garden swings or arbor seats. Your garden may even include an area for a fire on cool autumn evenings. Keep in mind that your spiritual garden is your place or perhaps your family's place to commune with the self and nature. It can be a place for both prayer and meditation. It can be a place of relaxation, for personal growth. Finally, it should give you a sense of peace that the outer world does not frequently provide.

TIP: Susan suggests, "Hang pretty outdoor lanterns or install solar path lights so that you can enjoy your space after dark."

Creating an Heirloom Rose Garden

Creating an Heirloom Rose Garden

Heirloom roses can transform the garden into an old-world "rosarium," a rose garden like no other. Gallicas, Damasks, Albas, Centifolias and Mosses are the five families that comprise the heirloom class of roses.

Most of today's roses are hybrids, upgrades, and new models. Although related to the roses of the ancient world, they are a still a breed apart. However, some--those listed above--have clung to their roots to enjoy a lovely old age.

While new roses are prized for their buds, heirloom roses are beloved for their gorgeous full blooms. In the Ancient Assyrian library at Nineveh (in Mesopotamia), clay tablets once referenced rose oils. In the ancient world, wild roses were prized for perfume and were thought by ancient Romans to keep disease at bay. Ancient Rhodes, an island in the Aegean Sea, was a famous producer of roses. The rose grew in popularity until it traveled to gardens around the world, where it changed, evolved, mixed and grew into a vast array of types. And even today, roses keep changing as new varieties and hybrids are introduced around the world.Heirloom roses are like pauses in time. These varieties have not changed since their conception, and with care and consideration, they may continue to bring their old-world charm to new gardens every year.

Varieties of Heirloom Roses

Gallicas - The Gallicas are considered the oldest of the antique roses, going all the way back to Greek and Roman days. It is perhaps possible that Cleopatra picked such a blossom during her stay in Rome. This rose is famous for its intensely deep coloring and strong fragrance. Within the Gallicas are particular types, like the once popular "Empress Josephine," or the largest of the Gallicas, "Charles de Mills."

Damask - Botanical historians believe the first Damask roses resulted from and cross between a Gallica rose and a wild species native to Persia--where Damasks originate. Damasks roses are taller and more thorny than Gallicas, and their colors are paler, from white to pale pink. Their fragrance is powerful no matter what color, and family favorites include "Madame Hardy" and "La Ville de Bruxelles."

Alba - Alba roses appear to have been entirely the work of Mother Nature. Although gardeners did not first cultivate them, these roses are beloved by them today for their lovely white and off-whites, and their unique growth pattern that is tree-like in nature. The pretty fragrance is sharp, and while their blooms are not over-sized, they are breathtaking when viewed collectively.

Centifolia - The Dutch have the distinction of developing the Centifolia roses during the seventeenth century. These blooms were prized by floral artists of the era. Most roses in this family sport a shade of pink. Some exceptional examples include "Tour De Malakoff," "Fantin-Latour," and "Paul Ricault."Moss - Although Moss roses were made popular by the Victorians, they are dated to 1696 in Carcassonne, France. As their name suggests, these roses contain a mossy-like appearance on their stems, sepals and leaflets. "Old Pink Moss" is considered the progenitor of all subsequent Moss roses. Other famous examples include "Salet," and "Nuit de Young." These classic roses are suitable for growing in any rose garden, whether your home is cottage style or a formal manor. Perhaps the single most important feature of all these roses is that their beauty compels us to share; gardeners who work with heirloom roses delight in showing off their blooms to family and friends. There are many ways to share the beauty of these roses and showcase them in your garden to great effect.

Designing Your Rose Garden

Choosing Roses

Be sure the roses you choose for your garden will tolerate the winter where you live. Most roses do fine down to about 20 F. If it gets colder than that in your area you need to select only hardy types. Most of the heirloom roses are quite hardy. Choose the right size and type of roses for the space you have available.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson adds, "Container roses are more expensive than bare-root roses but are easier to plant."

Selecting a Planting Site

Roses need at least 6 hours a day of full sun. Sun in the morning is best, with light shade in the afternoon, especially in very hot areas. Roses thrive in loamy soil that drains well and is high in organic content. Dig a hole and fill it with water. Watch to see how fast the water drains. If the water is gone in a few hours the rose will thrive, if not, the area is too wet.

TIP: Susan advises, "Consider raised beds if your soil is poor. You can control the soil quality in a raised bed."

Planting Roses

Space roses at least 2 feet apart. Add organic matter, if necessary. Water immediately after planting and frequently until the plant is established.

TIP: Susan says, "If you have sandy soil you will need to water and feed your roses more frequently."

Caring For Roses

Fertilize roses when the first leaf buds out and again after bush bloom. Stop fertilizing about 2 months before you expect your first frost. Use rose or general purpose fertilizer, and be sure to follow the manufacturers instructions.

TIP: Susan suggests, "Add a generous layer of mulch around roses to protect them from winter lows and help with moisture retention."

Heirloom roses only need to be pruned once a year, immediately after they flower.

TIP: Susan adds, "Use only clean and sharp pruners when you trim your rose."

Garden Structures

Arches and gazebos may flourish with antique climbers that bloom and scent the air with their fragrance. Trellises of country wood or Victorian wrought iron are perfect for some heirloom roses. They are ideal for classic gardens containing classical features.

Of course, gardening with antique plants does not mean your garden must be ornamented with antiques too--but it does add a decorative touch. As these roses were popular during the Victorian era when gardening became just as popular with the middle class as with the elite, it makes perfect sense to ornament your garden with other Victorian relics. From gazing balls to authentic marble basins, there is a wide range of ornaments to compliment your heirloom roses and transform your garden into an antique rosarium.

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Basic Sunflower Care

Basic Sunflower Care

Sunflower is a highly valued crop used for oil, ground meal and seeds. It's one of the few crops that actually originated in North America. Sunflower is an annual plant and a heavy feeder that loves the sun. There are many varieties, ranging in height from very small to over 15 feet. Yellow, orange, burgundy or red are the most popular colors although there are others.

Sunflowers are hardy plants that can grow with minimal care, but they do require some tending. In order to grow healthy sunflowers you need three basic components--soil, sun, and water.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson suggests, "Sow sunflower seeds directly into the garden rather than starting them in pots. Plant 5 or 6 seeds in a clump 8 inches apart and thin to 2 plants when they are 12 inches tall. Select the strongest plant when they reach 2 feet tall.

Soil

Sunflowers can grow in nearly any type of soil, as long as it is well-drained. They can be planted in rocky soil, fertile soil and mixed medium soil. For the best results, provide your sunflowers with enough space to establish a thick root system and enough space to grow tall stocks. Don't plant your sunflowers too close together, as this can cause root strangle which will inhibit their ability to grow normally and to produce seeds. Work a slow release fertilizer that contains trace minerals into the soil.

TIP: Susan advises, "Add well-aged manure, rabbit, horse or cow into the soil before planting sunflowers."

Sun

When growing sunflower, ensure they get enough sun. Sunflowers need 6 to 8 hours of full sun daily. They do the best in full sun, however, gardens that have partial sun can also produce healthy sunflowers, they may just not reach their full height potential. Don't plant your sunflowers in shady spots, as this will stunt their growth and limit their ability to produce sunflower seeds.

Water and Feed

Water new plants thoroughly.

TIP: Susan adds, "Water sunflowers 3 to 4 inches away from the plant to ensure that you get the root zone. Do not put fertilizer directly on the stem."

For larger plants, dig a moat all the way around, 18 inches from the plant, and 3 inches deep. Pour several gallons of diluted organic fertilizer into the moat weekly.

TIP: "Watch the weather carefully and always be prepared to offer additional support to sunflowers in the event of strong winds."

How to Edge Flower Beds with Landscape Rocks

How to Edge Flower Beds with Landscape Rocks

Landscape rocks edging a flower bed add form and function to your garden design, reducing weeding time, and enhancing the visual appeal. Landscape rock can be either natural stones or manufactured landscape rock edging.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson cautions you, "Installing rock is labor intensive, be sure you are in shape before beginning a rock project. Always wear gloves when working with landscape rock."

Step 1 - Consider Your Design

Flower bed edging should reflect the shape of your flower bed and the flavor of your garden design. A square or rectangular flower bed lends itself to square or rectangular stones, while a curving flower bed will look nicer with more rounded stone. Lower profile edging can be mowed over without damaging the mower blade, saving grass trimming time.

Local stones are the most accessible and least expensive. Garden supply stores carry a wide variety of natural and manufactured landscape stone edging material. Choose a stone that is suitable for your installation and the look you are going for. This is also a good time to incorporate electrical or irrigation lines into your flower bed edging plan.

Step 2 - Measure the Area

Calculate the number of linear feet of materials that you need by measuring the perimeter of your flower bed.

Step 3 - Prepare Trench

The landscape rocks need a pocket to set in securely. Dig a trench around your flower bed equal to the width of the stones, and a depth of at least 1/5 the height of the rocks you are using. Calculate 1 or 2 inches of sand into your depth. The trench should be at least 3 inches deep to clear grass roots. Contour the trench to match to bottom contour of the rock you are using. Now is a good time to install any electrical or irrigation lines that you want to pass under the trench.

Step 4 - Install Ground Fabric and Sand

Cut a piece of ground fabric to fit in the trench using sharp scissors. This prevents weed infiltration. Next, install a uniform layer of sand, ½ to 3 inches thick, on top of the ground fabric. Use a deeper layer for more irregularly shaped stones.

Step 5 - Set Stones

Choose a spot to begin and set stones one at a time. Slide each stone laterally a couple of times and tap into place with a block of wood. Once you have a few rocks in place fill the joints with sand. Continue in this manner of setting a few rocks and filling the joints with sand all the way around.

Manufactured landscape rock edging has a very uniform profile. Sand may not be required to install these blocks. Refer to the manufacture’s installation instructions.

Step 6 - Trim

Trim off excess ground fabric with scissors and tuck cut ends into sand.

That's it. Stretch your legs and enjoy.</p

Flowering Ground Cover: 5 Varieties

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Flowering ground cover can give a fresh and natural look to any garden or area of the lawn. There are a seemingly endless amount of flowering ground cover plants. The type of groundcover you use depends on your planting region, specific planting needs, space available and personal preference. Some groundcovers are evergreen, providing color year-round, while others are perennial and return each year. Groundcovers are excellent if you have an area in your landscape that is barren, or one where you cannot grow grass. Groundcovers are notoriously forgiving and will thrive in poor soil and require minimal care.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson adds, "Choose groundcovers that are appropriate for your growing conditions. Provide new plants plenty of water until they are established."

5 Popular Groundcover Plants

1. Creeping Phlox - Phlox puts on a spring show that lights up the garden. Popular varieties are white, red, blue, or pink. Needle-like foliage is a dark green and semi-evergreen. This easy to grow perennial groundcover thrives in even the poorest of soils. Creeping phlox thrives in USDA zones 3 to 9.

2. Monkey Grass - Monkey grass is also known as liriope, mondo grass and snakesbeard. This Asian native is drought tolerant and very hardy. Great for keeping weeds at bay and for beautiful garden borders, monkey grass ranges from 10 to 15 inches in height and has lavender spiky blooms in the summer and pretty berries in the fall. Plant monkey grass in full or part sun for best results. Monkey grass is suitable for USDA zones 6 to 11.

3. Sweet Woodruff - Gardeners in USDA zones 4 to 8 can enjoy this fragrant garden groundcover. This pretty, low-growing plant requires minimal care and sports dainty white flowers in the spring. Plant this one where you can enjoy the fresh aroma and beautiful flowers. Dry the foliage for craft projects or potpourri.

4. Brass Buttons - If you want a groundcover that forgives foot traffic, brass buttons is the perfect choice. Growing only to 6 inches tall, this plant has fine textured foliage and bronze colored flowers that look like buttons. This interesting groundcover thrives in USDA zones 4 to 7 and prefers well-drained soil and full sun.

5. Lilly-of-the-Valley - Considered one of the easiest groundcovers to grow, lilly-of the-valley is perfect for that shady spot where nothing else will grow. It spreads quickly, so be sure to give it plenty of room. Mature plant height is 8 inches and this fragrant plant has dainty white flowers and dark green foliage

TIP: Susan suggests, "Divide fast spreading ground covers to promote healthy plants."

Creating an Indoor Zen Garden

Creating an Indoor Zen Garden

The main concept behind a zen garden is that of peace and openness, bringing together good luck and prosperity. Its about celebrating humanity's place in the universe. A zen garden can be of any shape and size, depending wholly on your resources.

TIP: "Go to a local rock shop or geology museum to find unique ideas for your zen garden."

Step 1 - Decide on a Location

Decide on an appropriate location for your indoor zen garden. It can either sit in a living area, a bedroom or a patio. It should be located somewhere you spend a lot of time and can relax. If possible, place it near a live plant or fish tank.

Step 2 - Build a Frame

Once you have decided on the location, you need to build the frame for the garden. There are no hard and fast rules regarding the frame structure or type. You can make anything as long as it holds some significance in your life and makes you feel good. If you are building a zen garden on the smaller side, all you need to do is find 4 pieces of 1x2 inch lumber and either nail them or glue them together to make a shallow box. Cut a piece of plywood to fit the box and glue and screw it to the frame as a bottom panel.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor Rachel Klein adds, "A flat glass dish works well and requires no construction. Zen garden sets are sold in bookstores and online, seriously cutting down on assembly time."

Step 3 - Fill with Sand and Objects

Purchase a bag of sand from any gardening or hobby store and fill the frame to the top with it. The sand has to be at least 2 inches deep. If the sand is not deep enough, it will look patchy and thin when raked. Smooth the surface of the sand with a soft brush. Smoothing the sand is an essential part of zen gardening. Add a few calming, soothing objects to your garden. These could include pleasantly shaped and colored old, weathered rocks or stones, or any other object you please.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "Place them off center and slightly submerged for the best effect. Don't clutter your zen garden. They are meant to be simple and peaceful."

Keep plants to a minimum, since the sand will not nourish them appropriately. The zen garden has to be open and have a feeling of tranquility about it.

TIP: Rachel adds, "Consider adding selectively placed lighting, either by flame or bulb, to accentuate your garden at night. Colored bulbs add a whole new dimension for your garden as the sun goes down."

Step 4 - Rake the Sand

Using a small rake, rake the sand in curving patterns, much like ocean waves. You need to rake only the top inch of sand, going with the flow. There is no defined shape you need to rake it in, do what feels best to you. You can even use a back scratcher or chopstick to do the raking.

Step 5 - Alter the Objects

All the objects you place in your zen garden must be devoid of sharp corners, and have only rounded edges. The idea is simple: easy, pleasant objects create positive energy and will be able to flow from the garden into the room and the environment. You can add and remove objects from the garden if and when you please, changing them with your moods and feelings. The purpose of the garden is to make you feel content and happy, so work along those lines to create a little piece of heaven in your own home. It will not be long before you begin to feel the difference.

TIP: Rachel recommends, "If you have space in your yard, a full scale zen garden is a very tranquil and beautiful addition to any garden. Learn how to build a large zen garden."

Gerbera Daisy: How to Grow Indoors

Gerbera Daisy: How to Grow Indoors

The gerbera daisy, also called Gerber daisy (Gerbera jamesonil), is a brightly colored flower featuring a prominent center surrounded by satiny pettals, and large rich green leaves. Native to warm climates, these flowers love a full sun or partial shade. With bloom 4 to 5 inches across, these beautiful flowers are an excellent choice for growing indoors, adding a rich splash of color against any backdrop.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein adds,"Cut gerbera blooms can survive for 2 weeks, making them an exceptional flower to use in centerpieces or cut flower arrangements."

Step 1 - Germinate the Seeds

Plant your seeds in pots with seed starter, making sure you place them vertically with the fuzzy part on top. Cover the seeds with a very thin layer of seed starter. Place the pots near a sunny window to keep them warm. If the temperature indoors falls below 68 degrees, cover the pots with plastic to conserve heat. Water thoroughly to ensure the soil is moist. The seeds should take 15 to 20 days to germinate.

TIP: Rachel recommends, "Keep soil moist (but not soaking) during the germination process. The germination rate is always low, so be sure to plant more seeds than you need plants."

Step 2 - Transfer Seedlings to a Larger Pot

Once seedlings develop 4 leaves or more, they are ready to be transplanted into bigger pots. Gerbera daisies thrive in well drained soil, so make sure your pots have adequate drainage holes to prevent the root ball from staying wet for long periods. You can even place small stones or pieces of broken pots in the bottom of your pots to increase drainage.

Plant your root ball a little higher than average to prevent rot, decay or disease, and cover it with soil.

TIP: Rachel advises, "If buying a gerbera daisy plant from a nursery, choose one that has dark green leaves and new flower stalk growth. Make sure to check underneath the leaves of the plant for signs of whitefly infestation, a common problem with gerbera grown outside. If an infestation is present, you will see tiny white fly-like critters hiding under the leaves."

Step 3 - Provide Sunlight and Water

Gerbera Daisies need at least 6 hours a day of direct sunlight to grow abundant flowers, so place your pots on a sunny windowsill, and supplement with grow lights if lighting is inadequate.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "Once your gerbera daisy seedlings reach 5 inches in height, pinch off the center leaves to force the plant to fill out around the sides."

Keep your Gerbera daisies evenly moist when they are blooming, otherwise allowing them to dry slightly between watering is fine. Mist the foliage once or twice a week to simulate humidity indoors. Your daisies may wilt if kept too warm, so make sure temperatures do not rise above 70 degrees.

TIP: Rachel cautions you, "Avoid misting directly on open blooms, as this may encourage rot and decay."

Step 4 - Fertilize

Use a water-soluble fertilizer every other week, especially when the daises are in bloom. Fertilizing regularly provides them the necessary nutrients they need to grow. However, avoid fertilizing if your daisy goes dormant in the heat and stops blooming.

TIP: Rachel adds, "African violet fertilizer works very well for gerbera daisies, though it does not mention this on the fertilizer package."

Step 5 - Groom

Gerberas do not need much grooming other than removing dead leaves and flowers with sharp clippers to encourage new blooms. The leaves are slightly hairy and may develop dark patches if treated with any leaf shine products, so avoid those. Use sharp scissors to cut off yellowing leaves and dead flower stalks at the base of the crown.

Step 6 - Control Pests

Pests such as aphid and whitefly may be a problem for your indoor Gerber daisy, but can be prevented by spraying mild insecticide or a mixture of water and organic soap.

By providing the right amount of care and optimal growing conditions, you can grow gerbera daisies as perennials indoors, flowering 6 weeks of the year and going dormant for the rest. Be careful to plan ahead though, these daisies may take up to 8 months to reach the blooming stage. With more than 30 varieties, these daisies require minimal gardening care and can be grown successfully by home gardeners. This plant not only adds a vibrant splash of color to your home when in bloom, but also purifies the indoor air of harmful toxins.

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