Gardening for me is therapeutic, zen for body and soul. Something about getting dirty and working the earth. Planting, growth and reaping the rewards or lack thereof, I’ve had those too! I’d like to share with you my garden adventures here. Building stone walls, putting in new flower gardens and tending to my kitchen potager. I’ll share my tips on gardening and welcome your feedback as well.
Starting seeds indoors can be both satisfying and rewarding to getting out your “lack of gardening anxieties” from the long winter months. The stores are brimming with seed packets and small containers to grow them in, all coaxing us into dreaming about this years bounty. The article below is from the Burpee people and gives some great useful and general advise to starting seeds.
“It’s possible to have a fine vegetable garden by buying young plants. But you will have a much wider range of possibilities if you start your own plants from seeds indoors.
Not only is it much cheaper, but you can buy seeds for many more varieties than you will find for sale as plants. That will allow you to experiment with more different flavors, shapes and colors, and to harvest your favorite edibles over a longer period by planting varieties that mature at different times.
But many of our favorite flowers and vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, squash and beans, evolved in places such as Central America and Mexico where they had many more hours of sunlight in their growing season that they can get in most of the United States. Their seeds will not sprout in soil that is still cold in spring and the fruits need more sun to ripen than is available in the waning days of autumn.
If you were to sow tomato seeds in the ground outdoors in May in New England, Oklahoma or Minnesota, the plants would take so long to grow that the first frost in October would likely kill them before you got a single ripe tomato.
Even for crops that don’t come from near the equator, starting seeds indoors gives plants a head start that brings earlier harvests and greater yield.
The same is true for many of our favorite annual flowers. If you start them indoors, they can spend more time in your garden flowering instead of getting mature enough to flower. Even many perennials benefit from a good head start indoors.
For your first experience of starting seeds, it’s wise not to take on too much. Start a couple of dozen plants in three or four varieties while you learn how it all works.
Different plants have different needs, so consult the seed packet to find out how many weeks each variety will take to get ready indoors before your last frost date.
Many vegetable seed packets state a number of days to maturity, such as “65 days” or “80 days.” Make sure you know whether that means days from sowing the seed or days from transplanting outdoors; it varies from vegetable to vegetable.
Starting seeds is not complicated or difficult, if you understand the process. The basic ingredients are a proper growing medium, containers, light, warmth, water and attention.
Growing medium. Seedlings are very delicate. For the best chance of success, start them in a fresh, sterile seed-starting mix that is light and fluffy to hold just enough moisture. If the growing medium is too wet or not sterile, disease can strike. If it is too heavy or sticky, fine new roots won’t be able to push through it.
You can use bagged seed-starting mix, or buy compressed pellets of peat or coir (coconut husk fibers) that expand when wet. Since seeds contain the nutrients the seedlings will need, fertilizer isn’t important in your seed-starting mix.
Containers. Anything that will hold the growing medium will work. You can use cell-packs or pots from last year’s annuals, yogurt cups or other found containers. But you must clean them and sterilize them in a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Make sure they have good drainage holes so excess water can drain away. And get a shallow waterproof tray that will hold them.
There’s no point in using containers more than 3 to 4 inches across, since you will be transplanting the young plants to the garden (or container garden).
Another alternative is pots that break down in the soil. You can plant them right in the garden and avoid disturbing the young plant’s roots. Some are shaped from compressed peat or coir, or you can make your own from newspaper. Don’t confuse these with biodegradable resin pots; those will break down in a landfill or, eventually, in a compost heap, but you can’t plant them in the garden.
Seed-starting kits are readily available and can be a big help. They usually include an attached set of good-sized containers, a tray to set them on and a clear lid to hold in humidity during the early stages.
Large-scale gardeners often do a two-step: They closely sow seeds in a shallow tray until they sprout, or “germinate.” Then they gently prick the small sprouts out and transplant them to larger containers. This saves germination space if you are starting seeds in large numbers, but it isn’t necessary. A beginner starting a modest number of seeds can germinate them right in the containers in which they will grow to transplant size.
Light. Seedlings need lots of light or they will be stalky, spindly and feeble. A very sunny, south-facing window may do for a handful of plants if you are not too far north. But most gardeners use artificial lights so they can raise more plants and make sure they get enough rays.
You can buy specially-made plant light setups for anywhere from $80 to $500, depending on complexity and capacity. But many gardeners do just fine with inexpensive T-12 or T-8 fluorescent shop lights from the home improvement store.
To provide a wider spectrum of light, use one cool-white tube and one red-light tube in a two-tube fixture. Newer-fangled T-5 tubes deliver more light from a single tube but are more expensive and require a special fixture.
The crucial thing is to rig the light fixture so you can raise it. You must keep the lights just 3 to 4 inches above the plants as they grow. That’s why incandescent light bulbs won’t work; if they are close enough to give a plant a useful amount of light, their heat will destroy it. Fluorescent bulbs give more light but stay cool.
Most often, a shop light is hung from open-link chains with S-hooks. As the plants grow, the light can be lifted link by link so it stays right above the plants. You can hang the light from a basement ceiling, from a home-made lumber frame or even under a table, with the plants on the floor.
A lamp timer will take over the chore of turning the lights on and off so the plants get 16 to 18 hours of light every day and a good rest at night.
Warmth. Seed-starting happens in two stages: germination and growing. Germination is the sprouting stage, when the embryo of the plant emerges from the seed. You won’t need light at this stage, but you will need gentle warmth (not harsh heat). Provide it by setting the containers on top of a refrigerator or dryer; by propping them a few inches above (not on) a radiator; or by using special heating mats sold for the purpose.
Once you see green sprouts about half an inch tall, you will move your plants under the lights in a cooler environment–about comfortable room temperature, between 60 and 70 degrees. A cold garage won’t do; neither will a broiling furnace room.
Water. Plants consist mostly of water and they need it for the photosynthesis that gives them energy to grow.
Sow the seeds in moistened mix. Cover the containers to hold in humidity while the seeds germinate–with the cover from your kit, or with a loosely fastened plastic bag. Once they sprout, uncover the containers and water them from the bottom, by pouring water into the tray. Never water the seed-starting mix from the top; that courts disease (especially a fungus disease called “damping off”) and may dislodge or damage the sprouts. Make sure air circulates freely so humidity isn’t trapped around plants.
So-called “self watering” seed-starting kits are helpful in keeping the water supply steady. In these arrangements, the containers sit on a fiber mat that wicks just enough moisture from a reservoir. These kits aren’t magic, though; you still have to keep that reservoir filled with water.
Attention. This is the secret ingredient to successful seed-starting. You’ll need to check daily: To see if the seeds have sprouted; to remove the cover when it’s time and move the sprouts under lights; to make sure they stay properly moist; to keep a self-watering reservoir full; to raise the lights so they stay just the right distance above the plants; and to make sure the lights and timer haven’t malfunctioned. If you are starting a few seeds on the windowsill, turn the plants every day so they don’t bend toward the light.
As you plan your seed starting, factor in your convenience and habits. Will you really remember to check seeds in the basement daily? It might be wiser to start seeds in the guest room or kitchen where they will be handier, even if you have space for fewer seedlings.
As your seedlings grow, watch the weather. Although a few crops can go outside earlier (read the seed packet), most should stay indoors until after the last frost date for your area has passed and your soil has warmed. If your area is having a cold spring, hold off.
Gardeners are always eager, but many a carefully nurtured tomato seedling has been killed by a May frost or simply slowed down by cold soil. Protect your investment of time and attention by planting later rather than earlier.
Then introduce your plants to the outdoors gradually, a process called “hardening off.” For a few hours one fine spring day, then a few hours more the next, give your plants a taste of the outdoors, but bring them in at night. After a week or so, they will have acclimated to the outdoors and will be ready to transplant.” …..Burpee
I purchased a potted tangerine tree many years ago at a ‘garden club’ event. I was so enticed by the beautiful fruit hanging on this lovely small sized tree, I was a little intimidated but just had to have it. To my huge disappointment, after a few weeks it started to drop it’s leaves, more and more every day. However, I was not to be discouraged. It was winter and I was going to give this thing a chance. It turns out that my tree was just adjusting to “life” so to speak, in my home. It had come from a greenhouse, was transported in a cold van to my home and was aclimating to being in a new location. Over the years my tangerine tree blossomed into a beautiful container tree that provided me with both fragrance and fruit. Unfortunately, my beautiful tree met an untimely demise due to one of my newest kitties deciding that its’ pot made a fabulous ‘organic’ litter box. Regardless, I owned my tree for over 12 years and I learned alot from it. Here are some pointers for growing container citrus trees.
Citrus do terrific in containers, this is what makes them such a pleasing choice for patios and indoors. The meyer lemon is the most popular patio citrus tree because it is almost always either in bloom or producing fruit. The fragance of these trees in bloom is exceptional and when they do produce fruit, it is truly very satisfying.
Be sure that your ‘tree’ is in an adequate size pot with drainage. A 9 – 12″ diameter pot is usually sufficient for a smaller sized tree (3-4′ tall). Be sure to use a good soil mix with ample nutrients. Water just to maintain moisture. Avoid over-watering.
Here in the northeast, I move my tree outdoors as soon as the sun starts to feel strong, usually around mid-april. My rule of thumb is this: remember this is an ‘outdoor’ tree, as long as the temperatures are not too drastic (below 35F min.) it should do fine, as long as there is plenty of warm sunshine the next day to compensate.
If you live in a warm climate, you can leave your container tree in a sunny location, outdoors for most of the year. Citrus trees are fairly hardy, but I recommend bringing them indoors when the temperatures begin to flirt with freezing. I usually leave my citrus trees outside for as long as possible since natural unfiltered sunlight is always best. When the days and evening become colder, usually about towards the end of October, I bring my trees indoors. When you do bring your tree indoors for the winter, be sure it is in the southern-most facing window.
Your tree may go through a leaf drop. This usually occurs when there has been a major change in it’s environment, such as bringing in for the winter. Don’t be alarmed. Your tree will re-accustom itself. Feed occasionally with a fertilizer.
I love to use pine boughs and such from the trees and plants on my property. This year I collected white pine branches, some different types of spruce and larch tree branches with the pine cones attached. The red branches are wild red twig dogwood – not the variety you get at the nursery, but the wild variety that grows in abundance here in the northeast, and the berries are from wild raspberry vines – warning, they are extremely sharp, but the berries are so hardy and so vibrant in color it’s worth the effort. Use a variety of shapes and textures and of course, height, to make your display impressive.
I refer to my garden-blogger companions to give their sage advice, and I am constantly amazed at how much more information there is out there. Here are some terrific tips that came from the empressofdirt.net.
Fall garden tasks are often ignored as we instinctively retreat to the indoors as the weather turns colder, letting the garden fade out.
However, if you can muster the enthusiasm/long johns, the payoff is quite fabulous: healthier plants and soil, gorgeous spring bulbs, masses of fresh garlic in the new year, productive bees, and more.
I hope you’ll find some helpful ideas as well as some new favourite blogs to follow.
Let’s get started with healthy soil. Here’s a few ideas:
1. Pine Needle Mulch | Our Fairfield Home & Garden
- Pine needles make wonderful garden mulch. Organic mulches serve several purposes: they protect the soil during the winter, provide habitat for worms and friends (lots of insects and beneficial bacteria), and gradually break down to add structure and enrich the soil.
- There’s a common gardening myth that the acidity of pine needles is harmful for a garden. Not true! By the time the needles break down, the acid level is insignificant, and there’s plenty of goodness in there.
- See more of Barb’s tips on Tucking In The Winter Garden here….
2. Cover Crops | Learning & Yearning
- Cover crops are plantings used to protect and enrich the soil. You may have noticed farmers using these crops on their fields during the winter. The plants are not actually harvested for consumption but instead are incorporated into the soil, the same way we add compost.
- Cover crops can be planted in the home garden with the same benefits.
- Susan is experimenting both with cover crops and a no-dig garden method for super healthy soil. Find out which cover crop she’s using here: Cover Crop In A No-Dig Garden….
3. Leaves Are Gold In The Garden | Empress of Dirt
- Somehow this crazy tradition started where we rake up leaves, bag them, ship them away, and then buy the equivalent soil enricher in the spring.
- Leaves are actually an incredible resource, providing free mulch for the garden with no shipping involved. Smart and free!
Here is a perfect project to do this fall. If you’re a little handy with a bag of concrete mix, you’ll have no trouble tackling this one.
Materials needed are simple. One 10′ long 4 x 4 or 6 x 6 pressure treated post. Decorative plant hangers, easily found on any garden website, or at your nearest nursery, 1 – 2 bags of ready mix fence post concrete mix. One decorative finial of your choice.
Attach your finial to the top of your post. Dig a hole at least 3′ deep. Place the post upright in the hole – you may need an extra set of hands to hold in place while you pour in the concrete mix. Follow the manufacturers directions with the mix, but usually you just have to pour in dry and add water while it is in the hole – simple. Allow to dry thoroughly. After a few days attach your plant hangers. Plant flowers and/or bushes around the base, use your creativity. This adds a lovely focal point to any garden. Have fun!
October is the perfect month for planting spring bulbs in the northeast. Since bulbs are some of the easiest plants to grow, deciding what to plant can be the most difficult decision. Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocus are among the most common spring bulbs in the northeast and when planted correctly will give a satisfying show of color come spring. Be sure to refer to a fall planting map to know what bulbs will grow best in your region. Remember these simple pointers when planting: Plant bulbs within relative close proximity. Bulbs will display best when planted in large groups or areas. This will give a bigger color impact come spring. Do not plant in rows or sporatically one here or there, the result will look unnatural and lack-luster. This is especially true with daffodils which naturally grow in clusters. If you are in a deer prone area – well I hate to tell you – but try to resist tulips altogether or else plant in an area where you know the deer will not be able to reach. Unfortunatly deer love tulips, as much as we do! However, not to worry, they are not fans of daffodils or crocus. Plant all bulbs in well drained soil.
Daffodils are among the easiest bulbs. They are true perennials, that is that they will return year after year with more blooms. Once you put them in the ground your work is done. Again, plant somewhat close together for best impact.
Tulips are also perennials, but can be fickle. It is best to choose tulips that are labeled for naturalizing. This means that they are a better choice for a return bloom year after year. Specially hybridized tulip bulbs usually require being dug up, dried and replanted each fall.
Crocus and hyacinths are also especially low maintenance bulbs. Both deer resistant and return year after year. Grape hyacinths are small and like daffodils, will propogate more and more each year. They can also be planted right in with grassy areas since the actual plant is grass-like in appearance. They look darling planted in large clusters and will give a beautiful purple show.
Remember to follow package directions on depth and whether to fertilize when planting. Come spring you’ll be happy to reap the benefits with the early show of color to your landscape.
I’m sure you’ve heard that saying before and it is especially true in parts of the country that receive a significant amount of snowfall. Most nurseries still have abundant plant choices at this time of year. The benefits of fall planting are plenty: you don’t have to do any extensive watering, since the plants are preparing to go dormant. They will have the winter to ‘root in’, so that come spring they should be fairly well established producing a healthy first year plant. No need to mulch, fallen leaf debris around the base of the plant will help to protect it over the winter, deal with the mulch in the spring. When buying bushes and trees, most nurseries will have a one year guarantee. Tear off the label on the plant and staple to your receipt, circle the date and file. I have a file especially labeled for purchased plants. That way if your plant doesn’t make it, you can return it. Some nurseries will want you to return the plant as well – not a problem, just uproot and place in a bag along with your receipt and label. I personally have never had a problem with this, many stores are very good with their customer service and satisfaction. This is also a great time to split hostas. Hostas are a beautiful plant that come in many varieties and hues. Wait until the leaves have almost all wilted, split the plant right down the middle with a sharp shovel or spade. Yes, you’ll hear crunching and such, not to worry, you’re not doing any harm. Replant one of the sections in another location. Hostas can grow quite large and will actually benefit from splitting. Now you have more plants for your garden or to share!
It’s that time of year again. Time to put the garden to bed. If you have a vegetable garden be sure to mix some compost or other soil enhancer into your beds after you have removed the plants. It is always wise to toss tomato plants away, be it in nearby woods or onto the curbside pick-up. Sometimes they can have a blight which can contaminate the soil for the next years’ crop. Cut back herbs such as oregano, thyme, winter savory. If you grow mint, be sure to prune that very radically – it can take over in no time. Now it’s time to savor the yields and look forward to next year.
OK, here I have a question. I am usually a pretty solid green thumb, however, I am constantly perplexed by this simple question. Hydrangeas, the beautiful blue (or pink, depending on the acidity of your soil). When the season has ended, cut them back completely, partially or just leave them alone? I have to admit, I’ve tried all the above and have either caused them not to bloom, ended up with a lot of stalky wood or killed them completely. I live in the northeast and have some severe winters, nonetheless they do thrive in our zone. I have glorious white hydrangea bushes, lace-cap hydrangeas (that do very well – except when my little deer families are having them for breakfast) and a very showy tree. Any comments to share?
Harvest time from the potager. Undoubtedly, home-grown tomatoes fresh and warm from the garden, are the ‘taste of summer’! Remember to take those almost red tomatoes that have fallen off the vine to ripen in a sunny window. Serve simply as a side dish sliced and sprinkled with fresh ground sea salt, drizzle with olive oil and a sprig of rosemary.