Organic Gardening News

Passive Gardening Through Winter

Organic Gardening 2 - Fri, 2022-11-18 08:00

When I first began my growing journey, I was determined to create the best garden possible. Though my small backyard limited the number of plants I was able to grow, it was filled with both flowers and vegetables each summer. It wouldn’t be until much later in my gardening career that I would come to realize how much space had gone wasted during the cooler months of the year.

Gardening in Kentucky

As a gardener in Kentucky, I quickly became accustomed to the rapid change of seasons. Dependably hot, summer was a time to plant heat loving crops like tomatoes, peppers, and squash. When cooler temperatures had finally arrived in the fall, I was relieved to have finally found time to rest. Beyond the removal of dead plant matter and bed preparation for the next summer season, chores were minimal. I had never imagined that I would one day come to view fall as yet another exciting time to plan and plant a seasonal garden.

Hardy Annuals

Soon after I began to grow flowers, I would learn that continuing to tend the garden into fall and winter would open my growing space to a whole new set of plants – hardy annuals. Hardy annual flowers are those able to withstand exposure to periods of cold. Though cold hardiness can vary depending upon the species, many can survive frosts and even freezing winter temperatures. As a cut flower grower, I began to experiment with cold hardiness by planting these annuals in the fall. After sowing, the seeds would germinate quickly and overwinter in the beds as small seedlings. The arrival of spring the following season then marked a time of renewed growth, when the plants would burst into life and bloom very early.

The process did, however, require quite a bit of trial and error. While some hardy annual seedlings were able to remain in my zone 6 garden without any damage, others needed protection from the cold in order to survive. Among the most helpful techniques employed in my garden was the use of frost blankets and low tunnels. As both tools are used by growers as a means of season extension, they are invaluable in their ability to protect plants from bitter cold, wind, and/or snow. Frost blankets and low tunnels are also quite versatile, allowing for quick and easy removal, depending upon predicted changes in the weather.

Gardening in Winter

Though there is quite a bit of a learning curve, gardening through winter can be a fun and rewarding task. On cold days, time spent in a warm, unheated hoop house can be a very welcome change of pace, especially when surrounded by lush green growth. During winter, plant growth slows and may even cease completely. This is also true for many common garden weeds, which will not need to be pulled until spring. Chores, like fertilization and irrigation, also come to a halt during winter. As the weather warms, each of these tasks will resume. In my own yard, I usually begin routine maintenance in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked in spring.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Finding Joy In The End Of The Gardening Season

Organic Gardening 2 - Thu, 2022-11-17 08:00

As with all gardeners I’m sure, I feel a little sad when my perennials stop blooming, my last hardy annuals give up after a hard frost, and the cleanup is done. On the other hand, I’m not a fan of being out in the cold, so I embrace the time spent indoors and start thinking about next year.

When It’s Time to Call it Quits

Living in Michigan means having definite growing and dormant seasons. The edge of each season might vary by year, but it’s always there. This fall, the temperatures have been unseasonably warm and dry. Well into September I’m watering and deadheading. Nothing has given up yet.

One of the most important signs for me that the growing season is over is when my tender annuals give up. They let me know it’s time. They flop over and languish, and I cut them back and finish up the rest of the gardening chores for the end of the year.

This includes trimming back hostas, daylilies, and some other perennials. I clean up the trimmings and get the leaves out of the beds. I rake the leaves from the beds, so the lawn service doesn’t get too aggressive with the leaf blower and distribute my mulch all over the grass. I let him handle most of the leaves though because it’s a big job. One year we picked up around 75 yard waste bags full of leaves, while also mulching much of them.

Why Winter Isn’t So Bad

I’ll be very clear about my favorite and least favorite seasons: summer and winter, respectively. I don’t like the cold, but I love being outside. This is a perfect storm for disliking winter. Bundling up to be outside just doesn’t cut it. I am very sensitive to low temperatures. It’s not just the cold, of course. There is also the fact that gardening has to end for the year.

Part of me envies gardeners in warmer climates, but on the other hand, it seems like a lot of year-round work. There’s something to be said for changing seasons and using winter to rest and recover. Staying inside, drinking hot tea, and reading or watching TV is restorative. It prepares me for the active spring and summer to come. I can certainly find the joy in a cozy winter winding down and spending more time inside.

Another positive about winter is that it gives me time to plan for next year. If I had to work in the garden all year long, when would I dream and find inspiration? Winter is for flipping through gardening books and diving down a rabbit hole online looking for unusual plants and seeds.

What Now?

While I don’t do anything about extending the growing season outdoors, I don’t stop growing plants. During summer I tend to let my beloved terrariums go a little wild. I consider it their off season.

During winter, I have a few mini gardens to tend. They get all my attention. This year, I am trying to transition a philodendron I’ve had in a pot for years into a terrarium. Hopefully it does well, but I have all winter to keep an eye on it.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

A Necessary Evil

Organic Gardening 2 - Wed, 2022-11-16 08:00

I’m a gardener but not much of a pruner. Don’t get me wrong. I do prune some, when it’s necessary, but other than that I tend to let things run their course in the garden. 

To Prune or Not to Prune

Not to sound like a total pruning grouch or anything, but I just don’t believe there’s any point to it for most plants – I stress the word most here. Many plants actually benefit from pruning. That being said, there are also benefits to letting plants grow. Take a look around at plants growing in their natural settings. Do they get pruned often, if at all? Likely not. And yet, they’re still healthy, growing and blooming as nature intends, not as we want them to. For me, this is how plants in the garden should be (within reason, of course).

As I said before, I prune garden plants when it’s necessary. Not for sport or just to have something to do. I have nothing against removing wayward branches from shrubs or trees when allowing them to grow means I’ll have to duck underneath just to take a stroll in the garden. I see nothing wrong with cutting or trimming something to maintain shape or height provided it’s nothing extreme. I tend to leave my perennials alone, with just a little deadheading now and then. Most don’t require it anyway. I’d rather let the spent flowers and seedheads remain for birds and other wildlife to forage on. This is one of the biggest benefits to letting plants grow.

When I do prune in my garden, it usually takes place in spring, although occasional trimming here and there may happen at any time. Cutting plants can stimulate new growth, and at the wrong time if you’re not careful. I wouldn’t want to cut back something in fall, for example, only to have it grow new leaves that die off in a cold snap. Still, even in spring you need to be cautious. Cold snaps happen. I’m not a big fan of pruning multiple plants at once either. I’ve seen many people do this. It goes without saying that without cleaning your pruning tools, the spread of potential plant diseases is inevitable. And if not pruned correctly, or if you over-prune, you’re only causing more damage. There’s just so many rules to follow and too many things that can go wrong. That’s why I’m a natural kind of girl living in my natural garden world. Just let them be.

Yes, it’s wild and carefree. And yes, it looks a bit untamed at times, but leaving the garden to nature makes it a more sustainable environment. The birds and local wildlife have plenty of food and shelter, the beneficial insects too. All of which take care of any pests lurking about. Besides some trimming, pruning in my garden is a necessary evil that only occurs when it’s absolutely required. Otherwise, I’m happy to let my beautifully chaotic garden grow as nature intended.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

The Perennial Problem Of Overgrown Perennials

Organic Gardening 2 - Tue, 2022-11-15 08:00

Managing perennials is one of the many ongoing chores of gardening. By their very nature, they keep going, which means after a period of time they can become overgrown. I try to keep on top of mine yearly, but sometimes they get away from me and something has to be done.

Dividing and Conquering

Dividing perennials is a dreaded chore for me simply because it’s physically demanding. It’s not easy digging up roots. This past year I tackled a bed of overgrown orange daylilies I had been putting off dividing for a few years.

The chore was past due. The plants started to look crowded and a little unhealthy. I spent a day pulling up clumps and carefully dividing the roots. There are several things you can do with the divisions from an overgrown bed:

  • Toss them out in the yard waste bags. This is the easiest, of course.
  • Add them to a compost pile, but I don’t keep one.
  • Give them to friends and neighbors. One year I picked up some nice hosta divisions after a neighbor left some out on the curb for any takers.
  • Create a new bed. This is what I did last year, creating a corner bed in a previously undeveloped area of the yard.

Other perennials that have benefited from the chore of dividing over the years include astilbe, hosta, columbine, and black-eyed Susan.

Hostas are my favorite plants to divide. They come up fairly easily, and I can almost always find someone to take the divisions, whether it’s a neighbor or a family member who also loves gardening.

Dividing and sharing hostas is how I’ve ended up with some more interesting hosta varieties, now favorites in my beds:

  • Blue ‘Elegans’ with its large, striking leaves in this truly unique shade
  • ‘Undulata’ with its uniquely wavy leaves
  • The very upright ‘Lancifolia’
  • A variety whose name I don’t know but which has pretty variegated leaves in yellow, green, and white.
Cutting Back and Conquering

For yearly upkeep of perennials in danger of overgrowing, I cut them back in the fall. It’s easier than dividing, and I feel less guilty when I simply toss the pruned off pieces into the yard waste bag.

Every fall I trim back several of my perennials, including the columbine, daylilies, hostas, and the peonies, but only after a hard frost.

Overgrown perennials can be the bane of the gardeners’ existence, which is why upkeep is so important. Face it sooner rather than later to avoid extra work.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College Garden

Organic Gardening 2 - Mon, 2022-11-14 10:00

Ten years ago, members of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College student council wrote for a grant from the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation requesting funds to build a school garden. These incredible kids researched cost efficient methods, designed layout and proceeded to plant the school’s first original garden.

Fast forward a decade, when COVID had us confined to our homes, social studies teacher and instructional coach, Lindsay Kartchner was feeling cramped in her living space. She found that working in the school garden provided a welcome and safe haven for her, and an escape from the confines of her apartment. During lockdown and at the height of the pandemic Lindsey helped students re-ground, and supported them as they worked through COVID-related mental health issues. When students returned to class, she formed a gardening club and drew students back into gardening activities. Lindsay encouraged them to take charge of their garden once again. Others joined her efforts, including a long term substitute teacher. When the school was fully reopened, homeroom teachers involved their students in gardening time.

Early College Garden

For those of us unfamiliar with the concept, early colleges are small schools that blend high school and college into a coherent educational program. Students can earn college credits while earning their high school diplomas. Starting at 6th grade, the program aims to ensure that all students are ready for college level courses.

Gardening Know How was happy to assist Lindsay in improving the early college garden’s watering system and providing educational materials to the school community about sustainable growing practices.

This is a substantial garden with eight beds. Students and volunteers are growing a little of everything, including vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit trees. Along with a peach and three apple trees, they now plant a fruit tree in honor of each graduating class.

Part of the food harvested from the garden is used in conjunction with the school’s cooking club. Kids learn how to cook with fresh food and can take home what they’ve created. Extra produce is available to the staff.

Everyone participates in the weeding and working of the garden in some capacity. Getting outside and enjoying the sunshine and re grounding in nature his most important. The school incorporates art into the garden when they can — creating walkway stones and providing paint for decorating and painting.
Everything about this garden is organic. They use a lot of mulch and natural remedies when needed, but there aren’t a lot of pests. They’re water comes from the school district. Some indigenous strategies were brought in involving clay pots that are buried in the ground called ollas. This is a popular practice in this area since local indigenous nations have relied on these methods for thousands of years to keep their agriculture thriving.

Teaching and Growing

Lindsay says most of the instruction given at the garden is simply experiential. There are no formal gardening classes and students rely primarily on experimentation. For instance, one student who wanted to grow a lemon tree found that lemon trees don’t do well in Colorado. The Garden Club provides more in-depth learning about gardening.

This is a transition year for this school. Construction is underway for a new sports facility and, as a result, the current garden will be leveled. Architects are working with staff members to start over again and build a new garden. This one will be a little bigger and will include an orchard. They may even try some vertical growing. Lindsey has a large wish list for the new garden and a lot of support from the school and architects. A future goal is to create more community engagement by starting something similar to a farmer’s market.

Every year, Gardening Know How awards $1,000 to 20 different, hand-picked garden projects across the United States and Canada. If your community or school garden has a growing, unmet need for more soil, seeds, fertilizers, building materials, or even just help getting the word out about your program, we’re ready and willing to help you meet those needs. As community gardens and school gardening programs spring up all over, we’re happy to do our part to help.

Interested in learning more about school or community gardens? Visit our Community Garden for Everyone page today.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

By Any Other Name

Organic Gardening 2 - Sun, 2022-11-13 08:00

The beautiful, natural smells of plants is one of the reasons I love to garden. Yes, a garden can be visually stunning, but for me, the smell often tops the view. There’s nothing better than sitting on the patio in summer, taking it all in. These are some of my favorite plants I grow primarily for smell.


The smell of lavender is one of my absolute favorites. Some people describe it as medicinal, but I don’t. For me lavender is floral and a bit evergreen and distinctive. Nothing else is quite like it. I find the aroma both soothing and invigorating.

People have long used lavender for the benefits of its intoxicating smell. Modern research confirms the benefits: improving sleep, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, soothing pain and inflammation, and treating infections.

I grow lavender in a container on my back patio every year, not solely for the smell, but mostly. I don’t grow enough to make harvesting the flowers a practical endeavor. I have, however, learned that the leaves are tasty in cooking. Wherever you might use rosemary, try lavender for a similar but unique flavor.

Sweet Alyssum

This one takes me back to childhood when my mom used it to edge flower beds. The mounds of small white flowers are pretty, but the smell is divine and attracts a lot of pollinators. Sweet alyssum is a favorite annual of mine for the edges of my large containers.

Since the flowers fade midsummer, I intersperse them with other “spill” plants, like wave petunias. They always rebloom in fall, though, providing another opportunity to take in the delicious aroma that reminds me of honey.


This is the smell of spring to me. It’s an intoxicating, sweet, perfumy smell that signals the start of warmer weather. If I could have hyacinth indoors, I would force bulbs in late winter purely for the mood boost. However, I have cats, and this plant is toxic. I have to settle for smelling them when they naturally appear in the garden, usually late April or early May.

I used to enjoy hyacinths only when passing neighbor’s gardens, but finally, last year I planted some bulbs. I await their emergence with great excitement and hope for warm temperatures.

One plant I have yet to grow but hope to one day for its incredible scent, is the rose. Rose actually tops my list of favorite flower smells, but I have always been daunted by the idea of growing it. They have a reputation for being fussy, but other gardeners have told me to ignore this myth. One day I will have a rose bush and I will enjoy the lovely scent.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

An Unusual Root

Organic Gardening 2 - Sat, 2022-11-12 08:00

As a former culinary professional, I have had lots of experience with unusual foods. I was also very near a huge, popular farmer’s market which was open year around. Organic and independent farmers provided a host of weird foods to try. There were also many Asian produce stands where regional vegetables from those countries would feature prominently. But one thing I never saw there is a sunchoke. Recently, I got my first taste of this versatile root vegetable.

What Are Sunchokes?

I have a neighbor who eats from her garden year around. She has some really unusual plants and even nurtures certain weeds. A couple of springs ago, she gave me something with which I was unfamiliar: sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes. I knew nothing of this plant, nor how to eat sunchokes, but she promised they flowered like a sunflower. Sunflowers are my favorite, so I planted them and waited.

Our neighbor recommended we not harvest the first year, but instead let the roots multiply under the soil. The flower did indeed resemble a sunflower, but it didn’t come until late in the season. This was perfect as most of my sunflowers had finished blooming and were just bird food. After our first killing frost, the plants still stood so I let them stay until spring.

By spring, the tall plants had turned woody and were dead. I could see sunchokes had popped up through the soil, so I cut back the dead plants and replanted the exposed chokes. My stand of sunchokes has now doubled, so it looks like I may have a super spreader on my hands. No matter, I have the land to let them grow.

Sunchokes are knobby, irregularly shaped things. They have a pinkish hue and cluster around the ends of the plant’s roots. Truthfully, they look a bit like a diseased node off the roots. Sunchokes don’t seem to need a lot of water, but they get irrigation fairly regularly. My plants were about 6 feet (.30 m.) tall the first year and taller still this year. They grow from the ground every year, producing a new plant in essence. The flowers are not very big, maybe 3 inches (7 cm.) wide, but are as appealing and sunny as sunflowers.

How to Harvest Sunchokes

I decided this was the year for harvesting sunchokes. You can dig up the peripheral ones at any time and any size. The ones that push up to the surface were my first target. I had read that the roots don’t keep very long, so I just took enough for a meal initially. I soaked and scrubbed the roots clean. Now how did I eat them?

Research indicated you could eat them raw, boiled, grilled, roasted, or steamed. Since this suggested a lot of options, I tried a taste raw first. Not very exciting. I think if you ate a slice of raw potato, the flavor would be similar. This led me to believe they needed seasoning and would take to a variety of culinary spices.

I felt like a simple roasted root recipe would be great for a first try. They roast just like a potato, but I seasoned them and finished with some garlic. Still rather underwhelming in flavor, but they were okay. Next I made a soup with them. After they were tender, I used the immersion blender to puree it into a creamy consistency. I had added leeks and the taste was similar to a potato leek soup. Quite yummy.

I am currently processing some to keep ready. I blanched cut chokes in salted water, cooled them, and put them in sealed bags to freeze. The rest I will leave in the ground, because they are said to sweeten after a light frost.

This is a really interesting plant, one that will apparently be with me forever. I wouldn’t plant these in the ground if you don’t have the space. Many gardeners would probably want to put them in containers to keep them from spreading. It’s always nice to know I have food just outside my door, so I will keep trying recipes with sunchokes and enjoy another edible that I grow.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Tale Of Two Cities

Organic Gardening 2 - Fri, 2022-11-11 08:00

It’s always hard to know when to call it quits. Gardening is so much more than a hobby, and, to many of us, it is an integral part of our lives. I know that nothing works as well for me personally when I am feeling blue, sad, or depressed than to go out and get my hands dirty in the backyard.

Given how the year organizes itself into seasons though, it seems almost a directive from nature that enough is enough. There is a time to sow, a time to harvest, and a time to leave the garden to its own devices. Although that is harder than it sounds.

Gardening as Redemption

Is it just modern life – with its impressive technology, fast machines, and remote work – that makes the hours in the garden seem redemptive? I don’t think I’m the only gardener who heads to the backyard, shovel in hand, to find some peace. The birds twitter from the trees, the leaves in the breeze make their own music, and soon the cares and frustrations of a difficult day evaporate like the morning fog.

This happens to me in both San Francisco and in Basque Country in France, where I have a little cabin and a big garden. Working with my trees, shrubs, and plants never fails to give me a mental lift.

Tale of Two Cities: San Francisco

The climates of my two home cities are very different. San Francisco has a very mild climate year-round. It’s almost as if there were no seasons. Flowers bloom in spring, summer, fall, and even in winter, and it is possible to grow crops 12 months of the year. Of course, tomatoes and other sun-loving crops don’t do spectacularly well, given San Francisco’s famous morning fog, but we don’t have to worry about too much hot sun either.

The garden never stops in this city. I plant and reap all year, although it’s mostly leafy greens and cool season crops from October through February. Still, there is always something going in the California garden, enough to keep me happy.

Tale of Two Cities: Sare, France

Then there’s Sare. September and October are my favorite months, but as each day passes, the air gets chillier. By November, the leaves have fallen, and rains have begun. By December, I wear gloves to go for a hike.

It’s here in France that I have the choice to try to extend the garden season with little greenhouses, or to walk away. When I lived in Sare all winter, I used to go to great lengths to try to have something always growing, using garden crop covers and bringing containers in at night. These days I spend winters in San Francisco, so letting the garden have its way is easiest and most natural.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

The Next Big Trend

Organic Gardening 2 - Thu, 2022-11-10 08:00

In the last few years, I’ve noticed an increase in the availability of so-called specialty vegetables in my local grocery stores. From purple carrots to black cherry tomatoes, these interesting veggies have popped up on the shelves and tempted me to take them home. I will admit, sometimes I succumbed to the temptation.

Are Multicolored Carrots a Marketing Ploy?

As a gardener, one thing I have trouble understanding is how retailers can charge two and sometimes three times as much for these veggies. Does it really cost that much more to grow purple, red, yellow or white carrots? I wanted to find out for myself, so I decided to grow rainbow carrots in my veggie patch.

Now, I will be the first to confess that growing carrots is not my calling. My problem is the weeds always germinate faster than the carrot seed and crowd them out. Not to mention, crawling on the ground at my age to pull weed seedlings is not an easy undertaking.

Nonetheless, I sowed several packets of rainbow carrot seeds and patiently waited for them to germinate. Like traditional orange carrots, they were no more or less quick to sprout. They didn’t appear to grow any faster or slower, nor were they any more or less plagued by pests.

The Dirty Little Secret About Rainbow Carrots

My rainbow carrot seeds produced an array of red, purple, yellow and white carrots that were as good as any orange carrot varieties I’d grown in the past. In other words, I found no difference growing rainbow carrots as compared to the more traditional varieties of orange carrots.

Which is good new for home gardeners who want to experiment growing gourmet and specialty produce. We can have these untraditional colors of vegetables without sacrificing more of our valuable time, energy and resources to grow them.

This has opened up a whole new way for me to think about my garden. Not only can I grow those assorted colors of carrots which I’ve seen in the store, but I can also experiment with veggies which aren’t readily available yet. There’s one root veggie in particular that I’ve been considering as part of my specialty vegetable garden next year.

My Next Big Adventure with Specialty Root Veggies

In addition to the traditional red beets listed in my favorite seed catalogs, I’ve also noticed they offer golden beet seeds. I’ve been wanting to try them, but for a different reason than the one which prompted me to grow multicolored carrots. You see, I love beets. They are one of my favorite dinner time veggies.

I find beets easy to grow and this veggie does well in my garden. (Much better than carrots!) Yet, I don’t grow or use very many garden beets for one very simple reason – they stain. My hands, my clothes, my dishes, you name it and beet juice will turn it a dark red.

I find it much easier to open a can of store-bought beets and forego the mess. Yet, like most gardeners I grow my own veggies so I have healthy, fresh, organic produce for my dinner table. Thus, I’m wondering if growing golden beets will give me the fresh beets I desire without the mess?

As I look forward to planning my garden next year, I hope so. And who knows, maybe I’ll be riding the crest of the wave in regards to the next trend in specialty produce!

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Get A Moisture Meter

Organic Gardening 2 - Wed, 2022-11-09 08:00

I love my houseplants. I mean seriously adore them. Many of them are decades old and have been moved to a few new homes. They have always done beautifully until my current abode. Since we moved to this house, my plants have struggled. Some of this is due to raising a feral litter of kittens, but part of it is due to low light. And some of it is due to me.

Moisture and Houseplants

Most plants need well-draining soil, a certain level of light, and moisture, with a smattering of other things thrown in as well. My houseplants are a combination of desert and tropical varieties. Each has its own peccadilloes which I aim to satisfy. Many of my plants are very stoic and continue to grow steadily, but a few complain about their current circumstances.

There are two issues with my plants. In spite of gorgeous picture windows on the west side of the home, very little light penetrates the interior. I use plant lights, but they don’t seem to give some of the desert plants enough light. The other major issue is dampness. Our home is damp. I use a dehumidifier which helps bring moisture levels down to 50 % after running for an hour or more. But even at that level, the ambient moisture is a bit too much for some plants.

This leads to an operator error situation. I had, for years, a certain watering schedule for all my interior plants. I have had to adapt this over the year significantly. When I first moved here, many of my plants got fungus gnats. These soil gnats are common when overwatering occurs. It became apparent that my watering schedule had to change to a large degree.

Treating Fungus Gnats

I re-potted any infected plants and determined to chart a new course for watering houseplants. The desert plants are neglected to a large degree now, but seem not to mind. I no longer get soil gnats nor occasional rot.

Moving on to tropical houseplant watering. These guys primarily like to be kept moderately moist, but care must be taken to prevent excess water. I manually monitor their water needs by inserting a finger to the second knuckle. When I don’t detect moisture, it’s time to water. Seems to be working well, so far.

The plants that have been affected the most are my snake plant (which is supposed to be such a forgiving specimen, so you can see how badly I have botched this), and the jade tree. Some of their initial problems resulted from overly rambunctious kittens, but now that they are older and some have been adopted, poor health has persisted. I’m seeing signs of rallying in the jade, but I’m not so sure about my snake plant. It hasn’t grown all year and looks very sad indeed.

I never put my houseplants outdoors, but I am changing this in the upcoming warm season for some of them. I’m worried about other insects getting into the soil but will use some Bti to hopefully squelch any hitchhikers. I think a season of real world exposure might do wonders for some of my struggling babies.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Jicama – A South American Wonder

Organic Gardening 2 - Tue, 2022-11-08 08:00

In my past as a chef, I got to discover lots of foods that I hadn’t seen when growing up. These discoveries, and the problem of locating them consistently, made each taste of new foods a treasure hunt and delight. One of the foods I fell in love with was jicama. This South American root vegetable is crispy, fresh, and takes on any flavor paired with the root. It is especially tasty in salads or marinated with other crunchy vegetables. As a gardener, I wondered how to grow jicama and if it was even possible in my zone. I soon got my answer.

What Is Jicama?

When I was young, I used to travel to Mexico every spring. One of the popular bar snacks that was often found in cantinas was a mixture of spicy vegetables. The zing, salt, and spice was designed to make you want to drink more beer. Very good menu planning which would lead to more profits on drinks. But I digress. The mixture would have peppers, carrots, and other vegetables, but the stand-out was jicama.

During my cooking career, I used jicama quite a lot, but had to source it at the public farmer’s market. It simply wasn’t available at my commercial purveyors, nor at the super market. But that was decades ago. Today you can often find it in the produce section, but it is expensive. So I decided to try growing jicama. My current climate has a long growing season, which is necessary for a plant. You need around 5 months before the roots are ready to harvest, so it is best to start them as soon as the soil has warmed up in spring.

Growing Jicama Plants

I start mine with seed. The first time I planted, they were slow to germinate but after several weeks, I saw little sprouts. I have since learned to soak the seeds in water overnight prior to planting. That speeds up germination considerably. The little plants aren’t bothered much by insects although there are usually few holes in the leaves. The plant’s leaves and stems are toxic which seems to keep pests at bay. Jicama plants need full sun in loose, well draining soil. They won’t produce much heft to the root until the day light hours drop to 9, which is when the root begins to swell considerably.

Jicama needs regular water, but very little else, making it perfect for a lazy gardener like me. The plant produces a huge vine which could be trellised, but because I have a large garden area, I just let it sprawl. The flowers are very pretty, purple-blue, but I cut them off so the plant’s energy could go to the root. Jicama is a legume, which means it has the ability to fix nitrogen in the soil, an added bonus to the delicious roots.

How to Harvest Jicama Roots

As the growing season winds down, it is time to harvest the roots. Each plant will only produce 1 root, so it is important to plant as many seeds as you want plants. I simply dig them up and then give them a bath to remove the soil. You can eat the rough skin on the outside, but I always peel the roots. The sweet, crunchy flavor is similar to water chestnuts with a reference to apples. The roots will stay fresh for several weeks in the vegetable crisper. Once cut, I can store them for up to a week. While I don’t preserve jicama in any fashion, I enjoy my few weeks of the crisp roots in as many dishes as I can manage. This is one of my favorite root veggies and one I will continue to grow as a treat.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Charleston Park Food Forest

Organic Gardening 2 - Mon, 2022-11-07 10:00

In Alva, Florida, summers are long, hot and oppressive, wet, and mostly cloudy. Winters rarely get the kind of cold that most of us are accustomed to. Even in the dead of winter, afternoons can get up into the 80s or high 70s. Alva’s yearly rainfall averages 54 inches, approximately two feet more than average in the U.S.

Ms. LaShay Russ is upbeat and enthusiastic about the community’s flourishing food forest. This project came into fruition when residents in this rural region of Florida could no longer obtain any fresh produce. An extreme food desert, this isolated area consists of about 80 acres that are surrounded by orange groves. A community of nearly 300 residents, it is miles from the nearest bus stop or store. Most residents are African American or Hispanic, elderly and/or have a chronic illness. The little town has one traffic light, one convenience store and one dollar store. With no public transportation, it sits off a state road with a 60 mph speed limit, and the closest grocery store is 11 miles away.

LaShay Russ applied for a Gardening Know How community gardening sponsorship with a goal to restore the approximately 12 x 30′ garden, and to purchase tools, seeds, plants and compost.

Challenges Met

When an earlier version of a community garden was destroyed by one of Florida’s notorious storms, residents turned their focus to other pressing needs and the community garden languished. Now, making the transition from community garden to full forest is in full swing, and when it’s all finished, everything there will be edible

The food forest was developed to give residents of this community a fresh alternative to salty, processed foods. With such limited access to groceries, it was important to grow foods with different flavors, and vegetables that would sustain them as well as provide needed nutrition.

In this steamy area, watering crops with well water is more crucial in the winter months. Unlike other regions in the country, a lack of water in the winter kills more plants than cold temperatures. Some vegetables have a better chance of thriving in the winter. Cold here means winter temperatures between the 40s and 70s. The food forest does have some shady areas for plants that don’t like so much sun and warmth. Summer work in the garden usually stops around noon or one o’clock due to the searing heat.

LaShay had a vision of creating a mural painted on the local community center. She wanted family names included in the art, and sees this as an historical reminder that people can grow anything, with or without a “green thumb.”

Feeding the Community

The food forest is already thriving. All kinds of herbs and vegetables, including tomatoes, okra, peppers and onions grow among the trees. Avocado, mango and grapefruit trees are plentiful. Seeds and plants are available to those who choose to grow at home. The community food pantry is open in the community center on Fridays and Tuesdays – and is open to anyone.

The food forest is maintained by volunteers. The idea of gardening whether here or at home is encouraged and promoted. Through the region’s nutrition program, master gardeners help out with tips on upkeep, reusing materials, general resourcefulness and how to keep costs down. Recently volunteers installed more raised beds and children in the community have been helping to paint them. The kids here are learning about gardening by planting seeds and being a part of the project.

This project is a wonderful example of how a group can overcome obstacles of harsh weather and severe food insecurity by working together. We thank LaShay Russ for her tireless work to nourish and enlighten this rather isolated community.

Every year, Gardening Know How awards $1,000 to 20 different, hand-picked garden projects across the United States and Canada. If your community or school garden has a growing, unmet need for more soil, seeds, fertilizers, building materials, or even just help getting the word out about your program, we’re ready and willing to help you meet those needs. As community gardens and school gardening programs spring up all over, we’re happy to do our part to help.

Interested in learning more about school or community gardens? Visit our Community Garden for Everyone page today.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Season Of Change

Organic Gardening 2 - Sun, 2022-11-06 08:00

Autumn is a season of change. The leaves explode into color, then fall. The botanical world closes up like an umbrella as flowers fade and foliage disappears. It is impossible not to feel a sense of sorrow as the vivid colors and exuberant growth of the summer season comes to an end.

When I think about the autumn in these terms, I do feel an acute sense of loss. But since I have spent so many years of my life in school, or with a child in school, in my mind the season remains the time of beginnings.

Childhood Summers

Who doesn’t remember the long, glorious days of childhood summers? When I was a kid, summer seems to stretch forever, that glorious break from schoolwork and winter.

Of course, I was a child in central Alaska, where summer days did last much longer than they should. In the “Land of the Midnight Sun,” we enjoyed 24 hours of sunshine, day after day, through the summer. But summer was short –- only July and part of August could count as summer — with a wet spring and a cool autumn elbowing in for room on either side. Autumn was followed by a plunge into an ice-cold, eight-month winter of darkness.

Time of Beginnings

But we didn’t mind summer ending since we were caught up in the preparations for the start of the school year. New clothes, new notebooks and pencils and pens, new winter coats and snow boots.

Autumn to me then was a time of beginnings. And this has remained the case, although I left Alaska and its schools decades ago. Since I continued attending school of one kind or another for most of my life, there was always that sense of renewed activity.

The supplies were different when I went to college, law school and graduate school, when I attended the docent program at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. But all began in the fall, and I came to associate this time of year with new energy and fresh starts.

Season of Change

And so I count on autumn to restart my projects every year, review and renew my dreams, figure out where I am and where I want to go. As the relaxing days of summer come to an end, the real work begins again. What will I learn this year? What will I write? What changes will I make in my life?

These questions always come up in the fall, as the cool winds freshen my spirits and prepare me to move forward with hope. And that is what autumn means to me: the forward movement, the new challenges, and, most of all, the hope.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Can You Save A Houseplant From Frost?

Organic Gardening 2 - Sat, 2022-11-05 08:00

I have ruined plants in cold temperatures more than once. Some survived but most departed this world and became a lesson for me as a gardener and plant guardian. I have learned when a plant can be saved—and how to do it—and when it’s time to let it go after a cold snap.

The African Violet I Lost

I love African violets. They are beautiful little houseplants with numerous colorful blooms and interesting furry leaves. They’re not difficult to grow either, despite a bad reputation. They like indirect light, humidity, and regular feedings.

What this Africa native doesn’t like is cold. One of the first violets I grew, which had survived a whole year and bloomed for me multiple times, died when I tried to give it some fresh air.

African violet is only hardy in USDA zones 11 and 12, which means it really doesn’t tolerate cold. So, I put it outside in spring, thinking it would love the breeze and air, only to be surprised by a late frost.

Of course, I had forgotten to bring the plant in for the night, so it suffered for many hours outdoors. The leaves had wilted, and some were already black. I brought the violet inside and hoped for the best, but nothing happened. It was a goner.

The Peace Lily I Saved

Believe it or not, I made the same mistake with a peace lily. This large plant has been with me for decades. I decided to treat it to fresh air one year, and of course, this was again when a late season cold snap moved through the area.

This time I remembered to check on the plant. When I realized it had been exposed to cold temperatures, I moved it in quickly. These tips helped me save it:

• I watered it right away, letting a good amount of water flow through the pot and soak the roots.

• Peace lily loves humidity, so I also spritzed the leaves as it soaked up water through the roots.

• I resisted the urge to put it in front of a heating vent, which some quick research told me was the wrong thing to do. I know now that you should let a cold plant come back up to temperature slowly.

• Instead of trimming back dead-looking leaves right away, as was my impulse, I gave it a couple weeks to see what would happen. Some new growth came in and some foliage rebounded. I then trimmed off the leaves that were definitely dead.

Saving a cold-shocked tropical plant is hit or miss. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it’s too late. As a gardener, you have to accept the latter sometimes.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Few Like It Cold

Organic Gardening 2 - Fri, 2022-11-04 08:00

Plants grow in cold weather. I should know, growing up in central Alaska where temperatures regularly tumbled to -60 and even -70 degrees F. (-51 to -57 C.) during the coldest months. However, that doesn’t mean they liked it, but they did what it took to survive.

Now I live in warmer climes and have different kinds of plants in my backyard. Still, I remember what native Alaska plants did to survive and apply some of the same methods to my current garden plants to help them make it through the night.

Coldest Place on Earth

Okay, let me say right up front that central Alaska is not the coldest place on earth. Although, it sure felt like it when I was a child growing up there.

When winter came, it was not a short-term guest, but moved into the neighborhood in September to stay through April, bringing icicles, snow, and icy winds. When the temperature dropped below 70 degrees below zero (-57 C.), we kids got to stay home from school, since just breathing in the air could freeze your lungs. It was no wonder that a variety of animals – including bears – hibernated for the winter, crawling into a den, and staying there until spring.

Plants in the Cold

What about plants? We had plants in central Alaska, a surprising number of plants survived the cold. There were evergreen trees – like the spruce that grew everywhere in my dad’s homestead. As well as a few deciduous trees too, like birch and aspen.

All these trees stayed short since the ground was permanently frozen just below the top layer of soil. That means their roots couldn’t go down far enough to serve as an anchor for a taller tree.

That wasn’t all though. There were wild blueberries on the mountain slopes, blackberries and wild roses along the roadside, lupine, and bluebells. Somehow, each of these plants adapted to the weather and survived.

Lessons from Alaska

Although I moved from Alaska, I took with me the experience of watching plants live through incredibly cold winters with me. The most important lesson I learned was that appropriate plant selection is the key to a garden full of survivors.

The hardiness zone rankings offered by the USDA (among others) is an invaluable aid. I almost always check a plant’s hardiness zone before installing it in my garden in France.

Why do I say, “almost always?” It is because there is one circumstance that makes checking the zones unnecessary. That is when you select native plants. For example, I planted trees on much of my land in France without even looking at hardiness zones because I was planting seeds or cuttings from local trees. I planted acorns from my oaks and beeches, chestnuts from local chestnut trees, and rooted cuttings from the “platanes” (plane trees) lining the road to town.

Planting native is one way to make sure your shrubs and trees make it through the cold. These plants already know how. When I brought in plants that were not native to the area, I always checked the hardiness zones. For example, I planted red oaks in France too, although they are not native to the region and are, in fact, termed “American oaks” by the French. They thrived.

Keeping Roses Warm

What about non-native, less cold hardy plants you simply cannot resist? I must admit to falling in love with certain plants that are not native, and, in fact, much prefer warmer winter weather than Basque Country provides.

I have had some success with erecting small “greenhouses” to keep these plants safe. While a large greenhouse would be great and probably work well, they are quite expensive, and my small selection of warm-weather plants just doesn’t justify the cost.

Instead, I wrap the roses and other shrubs in either fleece material or else burlap sacks. I add insulation by stuffing the covering with dried oak leaves that cover the ground in autumn. Staking helps to keep the covering in place.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Gardening In Cold Weather Is Not For Me

Organic Gardening 2 - Thu, 2022-11-03 08:00

How cold can garden plants tolerate once we shift from summer into fall? It all depends on the plant and its location. But for me, gardening in cold weather is not gonna happen.

I’ll Be Container Gardening Inside When It’s Cold 

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times — I’m like Goldilocks when it comes to gardening. I don’t like it too hot or too cold. The temperatures need to be just right for me to work in the garden comfortably. And we all know that’s just a pipedream since none of us can control the weather. Inevitably, we simply take what we get like it or not.

This is probably why spring is my favorite season, and autumn is a close second. Temperatures aren’t normally tilting towards one extreme or another. They’re generally comfortable and ideal for me to work in. Not too hot, not too cold. Goldilocks weather. But once the chill of winter starts showing its teeth with frigid temps, especially unexpectedly, I’m tapping out. That’s it for me folks. See ya later. I’ll be staying warm and snug while container gardening inside with my houseplants.

How cold can garden plants tolerate outside? More cold than me. My plants will be tucked in with leaf mulch and blissfully sleeping through the worst of it. Those not planted in the garden will be taking cover through winter in the greenhouse. The most tender, including all the houseplants that have enjoyed spring and summer outdoors, will be inside with me. It may not be the same as digging in the soil, dirt under my nails, or smelling the fresh air, but container gardening inside will at least give me that much needed fix. The need to tend plants, the need for green around me, the need for growing something”¦ anything.

I’ll be caring for tender plant cuttings, like coleus and basil, through the winter for spring planting. I’ll be starting new plants from scraps as unusual houseplants, like carrots, potatoes or pineapple. Others will find new life as additions to savory meals, such as green onions. There will be less room to move around throughout the forest of houseplants inside, but it will look and feel like the great outdoors. More importantly, it will not be too cold! Some like it hot. Some like it cold. Me? I like it just right.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Overwintering Gladiolus Bulbs

Organic Gardening 2 - Wed, 2022-11-02 08:00

General gardening wisdom says I must dig my gladiolus bulbs in the fall and overwinter them indoors if I want them to survive the winter. I’ve never done that and neither did my mother. Instead, I’ve used the microclimate in my garden to overwinter gladiolus bulbs in the ground.

What is a Microclimate?

The concept of a microclimate is simple. It’s pockets in your garden where environmental conditions are either warmer or cooler than expected. For example, a valley can trap cold air and experience a frost sooner than higher ground. Bricks, rocks, and blacktop can absorb heat from the sun and radiate it into the surrounding ground at night.

Sometimes gardeners can create microclimates. Laying black plastic over the garden in the spring can warm the ground faster. Erecting low tunnels over veggie plants in the fall can trap the heat of the ground and extend the harvest season a little longer.

Sometimes our homes create microclimates that we don’t really think about it. For instance, the ground right next to the foundations of our houses is likely to be warmer than the soil a few feet (around a meter) out. A dark-colored foundation with exposure to the sun will also absorb more heat energy than a light colored one hidden by deciduous foliage.

Add a heat source, like a dryer vent, and there’s a microclimate that is capable of overwintering gladiolus bulbs outside their recommended hardiness zones. My mother knew this, and she passed this knowledge along to me.

Creating a Microclimate for Your Garden

This knowledge is nothing new. In fact, gardeners have been creating microclimates in their gardens for generations – long before the term microclimate became vogue. Back in the day, hot beds and cold frames were popular ways to keep plants warmer than the surrounding environment.

How did these methods work? Simple. A hot bed utilized the heat created from decomposing manure to warm a small glass covered area. My grandfather would procure fresh manure each spring and put it in his hot bed to start his vegetable garden plants. His tomato seedlings would have put the ones I now start in my house to shame.

A cold frame is basically the same, but without the manure. It’s a box built either above or below the ground. It often has a hinged glass lid for easy access. The temperature inside a cold frame is typically five to ten degrees warmer than the ambient. Cold hardy veggies like lettuce, carrots, and spinach are good choices for fall cold frame crops.

Nowadays, gardeners have more options for keeping plants warm. Fabric or plastic are often used to create hoop houses. These tunnels require less digging, hauling of manure, and don’t have the danger that glass presents.

Microclimate Use in Gardening

I planted my gladiolus bulbs right outside the drip line created by the eave of the roof. Any closer to the foundation of the house and they wouldn’t receive adequate water when it rains. The corms are located in front of my clothes dryer vent. The occasional heat from the dryer warms the ground periodically.

It doesn’t sound like much, but the heat generating out from the foundation and the blasts of warm air from the dryer are enough to create a garden microclimate capable of preserving my glad bulbs over the winter.

As a gardener, I’ve learned to look for and utilize these natural microclimates over the years. From sheltered nooks to drier areas, working with nature simply makes my gardening chores much easier.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Seven Pests That Damage Lawns

Organic Gardening 2 - Tue, 2022-11-01 08:00

As homeowners, we battle a variety of pests that damage lawns and gardens. They eat our veggies, destroy our flowers, and wreak havoc on our landscapes. Have you ever stopped to consider which one is the most destructive though? Here are the seven most problematic pests I face, but one of them is the clear winner.


These cute and furry Easter symbols do minimal damage to my lawn, but they dearly enjoy my newly sprouted bean and pea seedlings in the garden. Every year, I find myself replanting rows of legumes which the rabbits nibbled down to the ground.

Cucumber Beetles

In my garden, these insects account for most of the damage to my squash, cucumbers, and melon plants. The adults love to feed on both the fruit and foliage, while the larval stages consume the roots and underground stems. Additionally, the striped cucumber beetle transmits bacterial wilt. Some years, I’ve lost my entire cucumber crop to this incurable disease.


Although deer will consume many types of plants, my sweet potatoes take the biggest hit when Bambi and friends visit my veggie garden. They love the tender leaves so much; they’ll reach through and over any fencing I erect to keep them out.

Japanese Beetles

Although the larval stage of these hungry little jewels can damage the lawn by feeding upon the roots of the grass, I find Japanese beetle damage is most apparent on my fruit plants. They reduce yields by skeletonizing the leaves and reducing the photosynthesis capabilities of my grape and red raspberry plants. 


During dry spells, the red-breasted harbingers of spring raid my well-watered seed patches to obtain mud for their nests. In their quest, the robins often uproot my newly sprouted seedlings and onion bulbs. Robins also love ripe strawberries and will devour them whole.


I honestly believe these shell-less critters love strawberries as much as the robins. Slugs leave holes in the ripe fruit, which attracts a host of other insects. Having slugs in the garden also means finding damage and slimy trails on my peppers, tomatoes, and most members of the cabbage family.

And the winner is…


I find the damage from having moles in my yard and garden to be more extensive than that of other pests. These nocturnal, burrowing mammals have a diet that consists almost entirely of invertebrates. To provide the energy needed for digging, moles must consume enough food to equal 70 percent of their body weight each day.

Moles love digging in soft, moist, and well-drained soil, like that found in my vegetable patch. They inadvertently uproot newly transplanted seedlings and onion bulbs along the way. Although moles do eat grubs, the largest portion of their diet comes from soil-enhancing earthworms. In their quest for food, moles can dig up to 18 feet (5.5 m.) of tunnels per hour. These crisscross the lawn, which leaves ruts in the soil and kill the grass.

Additionally, moles leave unsightly mounds of dirt throughout the yard. Moles top my list as the worst pest because they don’t just damage plants, they also destroy the integrity of the soil.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Cottagey and Hands Off

Organic Gardening 2 - Mon, 2022-10-31 08:00

The only similarity between my indoor and outdoor decorating style is that neither is too fussy. I don’t spend a lot on decorating, and I prefer simplicity to anything else. Beyond that, the styles couldn’t be more different. 

Indoor Style – Traditional

The best word to describe my indoor décor is traditional, although it’s not a perfect descriptor. The furniture is largely traditional. The colors are light to neutral, and I don’t have a lot of extraneous detail: knick-knacks, extra pillows, etc.

This style has evolved over the years of living with my husband, whose style clashes with mine. I am more traditional and would have more décor elements if left to my own devices. He likes sleek, modern, and minimal. I appreciate that style, but it’s too cold for where I live. I need something cozier. Our compromise is a minimalist type of traditional. 

Outdoor Style – Cutesy

My garden is fairly unfussy and minimal in terms of décor as well, but it is where I allow my cutesy, cottagey, even rustic side to play. Comfort, though, is the most important element of the design. I have two large, cushiony chairs with soft footrests in addition to a table and chair set for meals. 

The chairs are the most important elements because I want to be in my garden, enjoying it. For me, outdoor space is much more than something to look at. As long as weather permits, it is an extension of the indoor rooms and I need to be comfortable in it. 

Of course, flowers and plants decorate the seating area. I like overflowing containers of impatiens, pansies, and petunias, which lend a cottage garden feel

As for non-flower decoration, I let myself get very cutesy in the garden, something I would never do inside. I embrace the cute animal figurines and decorative wrought iron plant holders and hand-painted terracotta pots. 

Although I don’t have one now, in the past I have used shipping pallets for vertical gardening, an element of rustic design that would never work inside my house. I also had a sundial, which I feel really suits the cottage aesthetic. Unfortunately, an animal tipped and broke it one night. I suspect a racoon. 

My decorating style has evolved over the years, but I suspect it will always be different from outside to in. I will always prefer something more traditional indoors and a looser, cottagey feel outside.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Dividing Perennials For A New Bed

Organic Gardening 2 - Sun, 2022-10-30 08:00

Although I usually divide my perennial plants in spring, fall garden division is the next best thing. And where I live (in NC), we have a long enough growing season that there’s still plenty of time for the plants to take root and establish in their new location before winter sets in.

Splitting Plants in Autumn

This year’s fall garden to-do list includes dividing perennials for a new bed that I’m planning to put in. Along the driveway we have old looking (and by old, I mean ancient) cinder blocks that the previous owner put in. I hate them, but it’s easier to work with the concrete blocks rather than pull them all out. I already have a smaller bed that I added a few years ago with plants growing next to and around these blocks, which helps camouflage them. I want to add onto this by working my way along the remainder of the driveway. There’s another bed a few feet down too where my monstrous forsythia shrub grows. I’d like to connect this to the other bed. 

It’s going to be a huge undertaking, but I’m up for it. I’ve already gotten a number of plants ordered, but there will be areas that need filling in and I’ve got plenty of plants on hand to fit the space. Among these are daylilies, irises, hosta, and coneflowers. I’ll also be adding in a few sedum plants too, which are quite easy to divide (and even root should a piece break off). I can normally leave it to nature to fill in empty spaces with wild violets, as they seed all over, but why wait when I can simply pop up what I need from my already abundant supply and transplant myself.

In addition to these I’ll be transplanting a potted tea olive tree and some other plants. Fall is not only a good time for plant division, but it’s great for transplanting too. In fact, it tends to get hot here in spring much quicker these days than in years past, so I find both transplanting and dividing perennials in autumn to be better. We may still enjoy warm days, but the heat and humidity isn’t as excruciating, and the plants still have plenty of time to soak up some sun while they establish in their new setting. It’s more pleasant outside when I’m watering too, which is of utmost importance whenever you divide and transplant.

By the time spring rolls around next season, the plants will have developed a good root system in their new location and I’ll be rewarded with lush new growth. Another great thing about splitting plants in autumn (or anytime really) is the fact that they’re coming from older plants so, depending on the plant, you don’t have to wait as long for blooming to take place. And the bigger the clump, the more area covered so long wait for the garden bed to fill in and mature.

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Categories: Organic Gardening


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