July 2013 Archives

Plants to Keep Summer Bugs Away

By Susan Patterson

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If you enjoy spending time outdoors, but are driven from your fun by summer bugs, you can use harsh chemical bug repellants or try a more natural approach. A few strategically placed plants around your outdoor living space will not only drive pesky bugs away but will also beautify your yard.

Here are five, easy to grow options that are as pretty as they are practical.

Lemon Grass

Lemon grass is an aromatic herb that is effective at repelling insects as it contains citral oil which is similar to citronella. Its fresh lemony smell is enjoyed by humans but offensive to insects. This member of the grass family is very easy to grow and thrives in USDA plant hardiness zones 9-11, but can be placed outside during the summer and brought inside in the winter in cooler regions. Not only will this herb keep insects at bay but also makes a wonderful tea. Some people use lemon grass to form a living fence around outdoor seating areas or grow it in large pots.

Rosemary

Rosemary is a wonderful smelling herb that is celebrated for it culinary attributes. Few people realize how excellent this plant is for keeping bugs away. Rosemary is a very easy to grow plant but requires a sunny spot that drains well. It does not like to be wet, so frequent water is not necessary. This herb can get quite large so it needs to be trimmed regularly to keep it a reasonable size. Place rosemary around your patio or deck for a fragrant and protective border. Rosemary is a perennial that does best in USDA plant hardiness zones 6-11.

Marigolds

Marigolds are pretty little annual flowers that repel insects wonderfully. It may be the pungent smell of these warm-colored beauties that cause insects to fly in the other direction. As an added bonus, these flowers also repel deer, so they are excellent for protecting your garden. Marigolds should be deadheaded regularly to promote further blooming.

Mint

Mint is a tasty herb that can be used for thousands of different things, including keeping bugs away. An added benefit of this plant is that you can simply rub the leaves on you for bug repellent while you are gardening. Mint can be invasive and spreads quickly. Many people plant it in buckets to restrict its growth. You can choose from a wide variety of mint plants including peppermint, chocolate mint, orange mint and spearmint. All will work equally well to keep bugs away and make a nice addition to any outdoor living space in USDA plant hardiness zones 4-9.

Catnip

This wonderful plant is adored by cats, but hated by bugs. Catnip has actually been proven to be 10 times more effect than DEET when keeping bugs away. Catnip can also be rubbed directly on your skin for a safe and effective bug deterrent. Grow catnip in containers in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 -9 for best results. If you choose not to contain catnip, be prepared for it to spread prolifically.

Inexpensive Perennials for Long Lasting Beauty

By Mary Frucelli

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I have frugal tendencies and want to get the most for my money and in turn, the longest lasting plants I can find. My search led me to perennials, which are plants you can grow from seeds or purchase as plants that will come back on their own every year.

I began by looking for perennial seeds. I found purple coneflower (Echinacea) seeds at my local store. I started the seeds indoors in early spring at the same time I started my tomato and pepper plants. I nurtured the seedlings and by mid-May they were about an inch tall and large enough to transplant. I delicately transplanted them to different areas of my garden, and made sure to water them frequently. Some of the transplants made it and some did not. By the end of June, the plants that were strong enough to survive were now growing strong. I have confidence these purple coneflowers will thrive and come back every year even though they may not bloom their first year. I saved a lot of money growing these perennials from seeds. Purple coneflower plants are about five dollars apiece at local home improvement stores and I purchased the seeds for fewer than two dollars.

Astilbe is another perennial I have had fun growing. These plants come in various colors, and the flowers can be described as feathery spikes of color with beautiful foliage. I purchased these from my local home improvement store as a package of 3 roots for six dollars. I planted the roots in the spring about an inch deep in my garden and gave them water every day. A few weeks later their tiny almost fern like leaves popped up through the soil. One by one I counted them to make sure they all sprouted. About a month later they are lush and green and continuing to grow. I can't be sure they will flower this year, but next year and from then on they should bloom every year. Eventually my Astilbe will multiply and I can divide them and have even more beautiful plants. I was visiting my local farmers market recently and I saw someone selling two year old Astilbe plants for twenty dollars apiece. If my Astilbe grow as well as I think they will, six dollars for three roots sounds like a bargain to me.

A perennial worth investing money in are Hostas. These are shade loving, very versatile green leafy plants that come in many different variegated styles. Hostas look great planted under trees or in partially shaded areas of your garden beds. Some varieties of Hostas shoot off white or purple flowers and some do not, but all the varieties have beautiful foliage in shades of green, white and cream. If you live in the woods beware as Hostas can be a favorite of hungry deer. They are very cold hardy, reliable plants that will come back every year and they can multiply a lot so you really get your money's worth with these plants.

My advice for frugal gardeners is to do your research and try to grow perennials yourself either from seed, roots or inexpensive plants you find at your local home improvement store. Look for plants that will multiply on their own and you will eventually have your garden full of beautiful plants.

Worms - a Gardener's Best Friend

By Sarah Mooney

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As a child I felt remorse for the crispy worm bodies I would see on the sidewalk, because worms do not thrive on concrete slabs. However, worms do quite well in our gardens and we are lucky to have them. Understanding the nature of worms can help us harness their utility for the best outcomes in and above the soil.

If you have just one acre of land, you might be host to half a million earthworms! Professional farmers speculate that a healthy population in the dirt can significantly increase the value of land in terms of its ability to support plant life. You do not have to be a professional to appreciate higher quality soil in your garden with little to no effort on your part. Soil that is in good health is more inviting to worms, and there are several different types you might encounter while you are digging around, including manure worms, red worms, night crawlers, and garden worms.

What Conditions Help Earthworms to Thrive?

An appropriate level of moisture in the soil is crucial to the health of earth worms. Without lungs, worms must breathe through their skin. Moisture plays a critical role in their ability to absorb oxygen and convert it into carbon dioxide. However, make sure not to over saturate the earth with water, as this could cause them to drown.

Adding compost that contains plenty of nitrogen will benefit earthworms, however make sure you are not using a synthetic fertilizer. Worms will be driven away by the chemicals contained in synthetic fertilizers because they make the soil too salty.

If it gets too cold too quickly it can be harmful for worms. If you add a cover crop like rye, clover, or buckwheat, you can help maintain safe soil temperatures. This can also be achieved by adding a layer of mulch. In the winter, worms will hibernate by burrowing deep beneath the soil.

When the weather gets too hot, it can impact worms. Summer hibernation is called estivation. Worms may estivate in the summer if the temperatures rise very high; they do this in the same way they hibernate - by digging further into the ground.

How Do Worms Help?

Worms prep the soil for planting by naturally tilling, which helps to loosen soil. The diet of a worm includes dead leaves, dirt (and all the microorganisms in the dirt), cardboard, compostable items like your fruit and vegetable scraps, and so on. When a worm is finished digesting what they have eaten, they produce something called worm castings, which are rich in ammonium nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and nitrates that are accessible to plants.

These soft bodied creatures have a lot to offer, and have offered so much already by helping to create healthy soil that can support the food we need to survive. If you happen to see one stranded on the middle of the side walk, perhaps you can take the time to add it to a patch of dirt. The dirt will be better for it, and the worm can continue to enrich the earth rather than fry on the pavement.

A Basic Look at Permaculture

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By Sarah Mooney

While weeding recently, I remembered something a friend had said about sustainable gardening. A sustainable garden system makes use of a plant's natural tendencies and creates a garden that can virtually take care of itself, which is usually referred to as permaculture.

Why Create a Permaculture?

1. Nature creates sustainable plant systems independently, so by designing a permaculture you are promoting the natural tendencies of the world around you.

2. Once you have established your permaculture, your time commitment will be less than that required by a conventional garden.

3. Creating a permaculture can enhance your appreciation and increase your knowledge of gardening strategies. Developing an understanding will require research and may require time, but the experience can be very rewarding.

Things to Consider When Planning Your Permaculture

Which plants support each other? Try to find plants that grow well together. For instance, potatoes grow well with eggplant, but not with squash. If two plants are competing for the same nutrients in the soil, chances are that both will not thrive. However, if you see that one plant can replace the nutrients in the soil that another plant needs, or attract certain helping insects, then this can be a successful relationship.

Is the space functional, formal, or both? While permaculture refers generally to the idea of a plant system sustaining itself permanently, there is a more specific kind of sustainable gardening for individuals planting non-food bearing gardens that are intended to be mostly visually pleasing. This is called matrix planting. Matrix planting creates a beautiful space while naturally deterring weeds and supporting companion plants.

How will you lay everything out? Positioning is key as permaculture gardens are based on plant groupings. Ideally there will be little maintenance, however, if there are certain components of your garden that may need more attention you will want to consider placing them in an accessible location.

What thrives in your area? Familiarize yourself with plants native to your location, and then seek information about the characteristics of each species. Taking the time to investigate what promotes or impedes the success of a plant will help you make more informed decisions about your permaculture. Selecting native plants can help ensure your garden will be healthy and thrive.

You will also want to take note of the soil in your area. Even if you have made great plant pairing choices, having soil that is not suited to a particular plant's needs can stunt the development of an otherwise great permaculture plan.

There are different approaches to gardening, but what attracts me to the permaculture method the most is the level of consideration is gives to the unique personality and needs of each plant in the garden. Taking on this style of gardening may be difficult, but it is a great choice for someone looking for a new challenge. Ultimately the reward for becoming competent in permaculture is worth the time investment, because you will end up with a low maintenance garden as well as a new breadth of knowledge.

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