Organic Gardening News

My Indoor Flowering Maple

Organic Gardening 2 - Tue, 2023-01-31 08:00

I have always loved oriental poppies — their generous size, papery consistency, and vivid color. However, I’ve never managed to keep one alive as a houseplant. Then one day I met a flowering maple (Abutilon spp.), with its maple-like leaves and poppy-like flowers, and my destiny was sealed.

Meet the Flowering Maple

Flowering maple plants are utterly enchanting, and I am surely not the only one who fell immediately in love. I first planted one in the backyard in San Francisco where it thrived, growing bigger and spreading over the next few years. I would run out to see it every morning, take my breakfast outside to eat where I could see it, and take photos of it at least once a week.

When I trimmed the plant in spring, I tried rooting the cuttings. I just tucked the cut stem ends into pots filled with damp soil and waited to see what would happen. What happened was that every single cutting rooted and turned into a new plant. I gave some to neighbors, some to friends, and ended up with just a few at the end of the summer. I brought them in and placed them by my sunniest window, and that’s where they remained – abutilon houseplants that flower all year long.

Still In Love

I am still in love with these plants. Abutilon are small, upright shrubs that never seem to stop flowering. The flowers hang down like little Chinese lanterns. Their arching branches bend under the weight of all the blossoms. The flowers are mallow-like, as papery as poppies or hibiscus blossoms and with a lovely range of colors.

My abutilon flowers are the shade of ripe Fuji persimmons, a rich, flame orange, and although they are not as large as some oriental poppies, my plant offers many more blossoms and blooms all winter long. In addition, the leaves – lobed deeply like maples – are a pleasure to look at too. There are other, fabulous colors as well. You can get flowering maples that blaze yellow, red, and even two-tone blossoms, or flowers that have darker, contrasting veins.

Caring for an Indoor Flowering Maple

In my experience, abutilon is just as happy indoors as outdoors. The plant likes warm weather, ideally at least 65 degrees F. (18 C.), and that’s just what they get indoors. They require well-draining soil and some sun, but a few hours a day are sufficient. This works well for me since I only get a few hours of direct sun, and that is only in one room of my house.

What about water? Flowering maple needs water of course, but I am careful not to keep its saucer dry and dump it after watering. I have read that these houseplants thrive in a humid bathroom, but since mine has a window the size of a sheet of paper, there just isn’t enough light to give it a try.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

A Sustainable Garden That Benefits Everyone

Organic Gardening 2 - Mon, 2023-01-30 08:00

I like for my garden to be as natural and sustainable as possible. This means I don’t use harmful chemicals, I don’t over prune, and I don’t use a lot of high maintenance plants. Instead, I choose native and other low maintenance plants, I amend the soil with compost and use natural mulch, I welcome pollinators and other beneficial insects, I invite wildlife to the garden, I reuse whatever I can, and I even take advantage of the uses many weeds offer. In essence, growing a sustainable garden should benefit everyone, and thus far mine does.

My Self-Sufficient Home Garden

I’ve been sustainable gardening for years without even realizing it or trying that hard. And I’ll be honest, as much as I love gardening, I’m a bit on the lazy side when it comes to maintenance. I’d rather do the whole plant and forget it thing (except for the initial watering until established) rather than spend my days constantly watering, feeding, pruning, or weeding everything. I don’t want to focus all my time worrying about pests either. I just let the garden go and do its own thing, which I know it will. It’s organized chaos and fits my personality well.

The soil gets replenished with composted leaf mulch each year and there’s plenty of earthworms and microorganisms in there doing their thing. The plants don’t need much work to stay healthy, other than some occasional pruning and deadheading. I divide overcrowded perennials when needed, which go to family, friends or other garden areas. I do pluck weeds now and then, but I’m not as concerned about it as I used to be. Many, like dandelions, chickweed, and plantain, are beneficial in some way. I try to take advantage of that, so they’re now welcome. Pollinators love the flowers, and there are many. In return I’m blessed with fruitful veggie harvests. Having a wildlife garden keeps the animals just as happy so the rabbits, raccoons and other hungry critters are less likely to gorge on my stuff – they have their own. I may suffer a few losses but not enough to bother me.

There are a number of plants I grow strictly for beneficial insects. There’s milkweed for monarchs passing through and butterfly weed for others. My neighbor has a row of butterfly bushes that adjoins my garden too. I grow extra parsley and fennel because I know swallowtail butterflies will lay eggs and need something for the young caterpillars to feed on. Ladybugs also enjoy the fennel as well as my dill and yarrow plants. Happy to say that aphids aren’t much of an issue, and if they do pop up there’s a nice ladybug population to take care of them. You can find soldier beetles, pirate bugs, lacewings, hover flies, assassin bugs and ground beetles here too. All serve a beneficial purpose in the garden.

While the presence of a praying mantis in the garden may be questionable to some people, since the insects feed on beneficials as well as bad bugs, I enjoy having them around (I talk to them too). Sure, there will be some insect losses, but this is how the circle of life works. Said praying mantis might become prey to something else, like a bird flying by or even a garden snake. Even though I hate and fear spiders, they too have a place in the garden. Every year there’s at least one or two writing (zipper) spiders hanging out and helping with pest control. Toads and lizards snack on insects, as do the bats that devour many bad bugs at night, especially pesky mosquitoes. All these small creatures play an important role in keeping my garden healthy and sustainable. This includes the larger ones too, believe it or not. Did you know, for instance, that opossums feed on ticks or that hawks and owls are great for rodent control (snakes too)?

Most people wouldn’t consider tent worms beneficial, and for the most part they’re not, but in my garden these caterpillars are welcome. I have wild black cherry trees in the wildlife garden for a reason. The fruit is a favorite to many birds, and since these trees are common nesting sites for tent worms, the birds have another food source in spring as they wait for the cherries to ripen. I’ve watched as chickadees happily pluck the young caterpillars from their nest. And though in a sense it’s kind of sad, I remind myself that it’s all part of the circle of life. There’s still plenty of tent worm caterpillars to play with, but the birds help keep their numbers in check so the garden isn’t fazed by their presence. A win-win for me (and the kids).

Having a garden that can sustain itself makes life easier when you’re busy (or more on the lazy side like me). You’re able to enjoy the plants, the harvests, the pollinators, and even the wildlife with much less work. It also results in a healthier garden overall, and what could be better than that?

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Finding Homes For Unwanted Seedlings

Organic Gardening 2 - Sun, 2023-01-29 08:00

I usually have pretty good luck starting my own vegetable seedlings. While it’s a great way to cut the cost of planting a garden, there is one problem I wish I could overcome. It’s difficult to start and grow the exact number of seedlings I need and want.

What To Do With Extra Seedlings

Sometimes I go a little crazy and start way too many seeds. Other times, germination percentages are higher than expected. Either way, it’s all too easy to end up with more seedlings than I have on my plan for the garden.

So, the question is, “what can gardeners do with these extra seedlings?” To me, tossing these plants feels like a waste of my time and energy, not to mention the actual cost of starting plants. Luckily, I’ve discovered a few positive outlets for these leftover plants:

  • Double plant – Short season crops, like lettuce, can be tucked between tomato or corn plants. The lettuce will be ready for harvest long before the other plants fill the space.
  • Fill the flowerbeds – Yes, I’ve been known to plant veggie seedlings in lieu of annual flowers around the house. Some garden veggies, like cayenne peppers, are downright eye catching.
  • Give or trade with other gardeners – We all know other gardeners, so giving extra seedlings to my family or friends has been one of my traditional go-to solutions. Sometimes gardening friends have plants that I need as well.
  • Replace lost plants – Every year I lose a few transplants to critters. Hanging onto a few extra seedlings means I can fill those spots and not lose valuable gardening space. Of course, I may end up with a celery plant amid my cabbage.
  • Container garden – In recent years, I’ve discovered the benefits of growing a few veggie plants in planters near the house. When the pandemic limited social contact, I planted my extra seedlings in containers.
  • Early harvest – Some seedlings, like lettuce, can be harvested and consumed as baby greens. I’ve used this option when faced with excess cabbage, celery, lettuce, and Swiss chard seedlings.
  • Donate – As a service project one year the 4-H club I advised grew a garden for the “Plant a Row for the Hungry” program. Plant donations from myself and other gardening parents gave the kids what they needed for the project.
  • Sell – While I’ve never put my extra seedlings out by the side of the road for sale, I have stopped and bought seedlings from home gardeners who have done this. I find these plants are usually less expensive and just as healthy as those from the nursery.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Propagation of Plants Tests Patience

Organic Gardening 2 - Sat, 2023-01-28 08:00

Propagating plants can be easy or difficult. Even after following all the rules, some plants may not take root. The propagation methods I use most are taking cuttings, removing offsets, or by division.

Plants that are Easy to Propagate

I have found some of the easiest plants to root by cuttings are Schefflera, inch plant, pothos, and Christmas cactus. I just cut off some stems and insert them in potting soil. Inch plant and pothos will also root in water. It’s important to move the rooted cuttings to soil quickly, or they will have a hard time acclimating to the new medium. You can dip the cutting in rooting hormone before planting, if desired. It is supposed to give your cutting a better chance at rooting.

Plants that produce offsets such as hen and chicks, ponytail palm, Haworthia, and airplane plant are simple to propagate by separating the offsets. Donkey ears produces a new plant at the end of each leaf. Remove the “pups” and plant them in the appropriate soil – cacti and succulent mix for the succulents like Haworthia or potting soil for general houseplants.

Perennials propagate easily by division, and I always have success dividing irises, daylilies, hosta, coneflower, liatris, and mums. Dig up the clump and divide into sections. For irises, remove and keep the new growth coming off last season’s rhizome and discard the spent rhizome. It won’t bloom again. Hosta doesn’t have to be divided; you can let them continue to merrily spread. If they are getting out of bounds, however, you can dig up an edge rather than the whole clump.

Pipevine Proves Problematic

The most difficult plant I have tried to propagate was a pipevine, which is a butterfly host plant. It looks like it would be easy to propagate; it forms runners that sucker underground and emerge at the top of the soil with new leaves. When it is dug up, some of the runner comes with it. I’ve tried rooting it in soil and in water, but it takes several attempts, and I’m rarely successful. I have decided with this plant it is best to buy one from a native plant nursery.

I haven’t tried much propagation of trees and shrubs. I did get some oak trees to grow from seed to about 8 inches (20 cm.) once but lost them to neglect.

It’s fun to propagate plants and share them with family or, if you are in a garden club, the spring plant sale. With persistence most attempts will be successful.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Brian Minter: The Northwest Flower & Garden Festival is a special experience for gardeners

Organic Gardening - Fri, 2023-01-27 12:00
The Northwest Flower & Garden Festival in Seattle is taking place from Feb. 15 to 19 at the Seattle Convention Centre.
Categories: Organic Gardening

Brian Minter: The Northwest Flower & Garden Festival is a special experience for gardeners

Organic Gardening - Fri, 2023-01-27 12:00
The Northwest Flower & Garden Festival in Seattle is taking place from Feb. 15 to 19 at the Seattle Convention Centre.
Categories: Organic Gardening

My Garden Is My Sanctuary, And More

Organic Gardening 2 - Fri, 2023-01-27 08:00

Gardens are well-known for relieving stress and healing what ails us. It’s one of the reasons why I love gardening so much. Even the tedious act of weeding the garden, and the backache that soon follows, brings me happiness. Getting outside and taking in nature soothes the soul. My garden is my sanctuary, but it’s also so much more than that.

Finding Inspiration in a Garden Sanctuary

In the garden it’s easy to become lost in thought. Life’s stresses quickly slip away, leaving nothing but the sounds of nature. The cheerful song of visiting birds… the playful chatter from squirrels calling out to one another as they bob in and out of the trees… the subtle rustling of leaves or swaying ornamental grasses in the wind… or the blissful sounds of buzzing bees going about their pollination tasks. There’s something else going on here amid all of this. While I’m in my garden listening, watching, and thinking, the creative juices deep within awaken.

My little backyard hideaway performs double duty, acting not only as a sacred place for me and wildlife to find peace, but it’s also where I find inspiration. I’m not just a gardener. I’m a writer and an artist (of sorts). I love to create things, be it in the form of words on a page or crafting interesting pieces of artwork. Upcycling is one of my favorite things to do. I love turning everyday items into something else, giving them new life. I’ve given new purpose to old books, a desk and drawers, hats, boots, purses and more as interesting containers. Old bottles make exceptional candidates for all manner of décor – including a bottle book. I enjoy pressing flowers and foliage from the garden too, often incorporating them into my art. And I’ve found there’s no greater place to find inspiration for crafting than in my garden sanctuary.

I’ve even included some of my creative pieces within the garden. It’s my happy place. Some of the wildlife critters have enjoyed these too. I’ve seen our resident white-tail squirrel, Albus, using the upcycled window frame as his runway during morning excursions. A number of sparrows enjoy perching along its edge while taking in the sun’s warm rays. Toady is often found chilling during the day under the protective shelter of a nearby upturned terra-cotta pot, specifically fashioned for him and other toad friends after part of the rim broke, leaving a nice entranceway for them. Alvin and Chip (chipmunk visitors) seem to find the top edge of the truck liner turned garden bed to be a fine thoroughfare for their daily travels. Both the butterflies and bees alike have been seen basking in the sun within the confines of my garden-inspired bath crafted from an old shallow dish.

We all get something from this sacred garden space. As the birds and other wildlife are free to eat, wander and play in their safe haven, I, too, am free to let go and give in to my creative mojo. When the stress of life weighs heavy, finding inspiration in a garden sanctuary allows my soul to reboot. It’s even better when that sanctuary is found in your own backyard.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Living Pieces Of Art

Organic Gardening 2 - Thu, 2023-01-26 08:00

Before I had furniture, I had houseplants. Houseplants have become as integral to my home décor as the chairs I sit in. Every room has at least one houseplant and multiple plants in many rooms.

Decorating with Houseplants

I have paintings and photographs on my walls, but I also have pothos cascading down my built in bookcases, a Hoya carnosa ambling across and back down my armoire, a rather large dracaena that started out a couple of inches (5 cm.) tall and is now a tree, a fiddle leaf fig that is over 6 feet (2 m.) tall, and a couple of air plants hanging out in the kitchen.

There are also herbs in the kitchen and seasonal plantings such as amaryllis and paper white during the holidays and forced spring bulbs thereafter, that temporarily cheer me up with their colorful blooms during the deep, dark depths of winter.

How to Add Plants to your Living Space

I want to do more to incorporate houseplants in my home (I’d love a living plant wall!) but my significant other keeps a restraining virtual hand on me to reign me in. If I had my way there would be more plants. As it is, I have him partially convinced to work on a plant terrarium table for the living room. Beauty and function in one!

I see all of my plants as adding to my home décor. If they were to suddenly disappear (horrors!) my home would look bare and drab; utterly without life.

Plants in the home give us so much. They give us something to nurture, brag about, talk to, and admire. They are really living pieces of art in the home. In my case, I wouldn’t trade them for a Monet or a Picasso. Okay, maybe I would, but I’d really miss my plants.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Organic Gardening 2 - Wed, 2023-01-25 08:00

Most of my gardens have been extremely limited in size. This is hardly surprising since I’ve lived mostly in urban locations where big back yards are rare. So, when I first bought my land in France, I was thrilled. So much land, and all of it open for planting! I was to learn though, that big gardens allow plenty of planting but also take plenty of work.

Many Hectares

My house in France was a ruin when I bought it some 20 years ago, but it was a ruin with land. It came with three parcels totaling some six acres. That may sound like a dream, but you have to consider that – aside from the flattened area on which the old building was perched – the land angled down sharply.

This was great in terms of the view. Since there were very few trees on the land, the vista was immense. I could see to Spain on one side and, looking west, to the Atlantic Ocean, a 20 minute drive away.

Working the Land

The first step for me was selecting a large plot and working it. Selecting wasn’t hard since I just picked a large square of flattish land relatively close to the house in the sun. Working it proved to be a lot of work.

The land was full of “fougere,” a native species of very tall fern. It is so high that wild ponies can walk through it without being seen. Clearing was hard. Then the ground proved to be rocky. I brought in some help and finally got it ready for planting.

Growing a Crop

I started out modestly with the crops everyone grows in Basque Country: tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and squash. For the tomatoes, I bought starts, but the rest were seeded. Two days after planting we had a heavy rain. Were the seeds washed away? I thought so, so I put in more and suddenly I had more little plants than I knew what to do with.

The following week, the weather turned to hot and dry. I had to water every other day since the plants were so young, and my hose wasn’t long enough. I carried water out in pails the first week and managed to get a new hose the second week. However, the young plants did not like the hot sun, and I lost at least half during that period. On the other hand, the fourgere loved it and came shooting back up everywhere.

To cut to the end of the story, for all my time and effort, I managed to get six tomatoes, eight peppers, no lettuce heads, and about 30 summer squash from my huge garden. I realized that a site one-third the size properly managed could have yielded more. Live and learn.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Gappy Garden

Organic Gardening 2 - Tue, 2023-01-24 08:00

I am a big fan of privacy. I don’t like my daily life looked upon, and I take the utmost care to keep my activities to myself. That being said, at my previous house I spent way too much money on a privacy fence. It was great and provided the stealthy living I prefer. But when I moved to this home, a privacy fence was not possible. That is because the lot is so large, the project would have literally broken the bank. So I did the next best thing. I planted screening plants. They don’t afford the view block a privacy fence does, but they do minimize any snooping.

I don’t see very well, and the thought that a neighbor is peeking over at me without my knowing creeps me out. So, I like to have a secluded back yard where I don’t have to worry about unwanted voyeurs. Also, it gets very hot here and I don’t need the neighbors commenting on my gardening garb.

Alternative Fencing

Since the privacy fence was out, I moved starts from my clumping bamboo, and some baby pampas grasses I had been raising. Coupling these with some wild cranberry bushes that were free from my Mom, we are private-ish along one fence line. This seasonal hedge screens that side but does nothing in winter when the leaves fall. However, I don’t worry about that since I am rarely out in the dirt farm during the cold season.

Another neighboring fence sports Miscanthus and some shrubs. Ornamental grasses are one of my favorite groups of plants. These also form a seasonal hedge, but the same rule applies. I am not out there much and it doesn’t matter if some peeping goes on. Our other main visual break is the back of the house. There is an alley and a home across from it. I keep thinking about getting some fast growing hedge plants but I am in no hurry. The new family that bought the home are never outside. Even the kids play in the front. Also, they have a deck that looks out over our back yard, so I would have to plant some seriously tall trees to block their view.

Hop To

One thing I did plant to restrict the neighbor’s view was hops. I have some outdoor shelved trellises that I erected in front of my patio. They close off the view a bit, but I wanted something more for when we are lounging out there. My brother-in-law suggested hops. I knew they were fast growing and could be trained over the trellises. Once I sourced a bine, I was amazed. You can watch hop bines grow. I’m not kidding. Every day sees them adding more length. And when the cones come, there is a slight musky aroma as they dangle appealingly from the bines. As fall nears, the cones develop a tinge of pink.

Another of my privacy plants is my beloved sunflowers. My favorite flower — we have them everywhere. They get huge and mass in clusters that effectively conceal our gardens. Every year these hardy giants come back from dropped seed. By June, our garden is so crowded with them, we essential have a secret garden hidden from prying eyes.

Keeping some sense of secrecy around my garden is essential in a tiny town. People are horrid gossips here and very curious about everyone else’s business. With my natural hedge plants during the time of year we are out of doors, I can feel confident no inquisitive eyes have any gossip material on me.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Medina Community Garden And Education Center

Organic Gardening 2 - Mon, 2023-01-23 10:00

“If you have your hands in the Earth you’re more likely to save it.”

In the spring of 2019 in Medina, Ohio a City Council meeting was held that featured Girl Scouts who spoke on the subject of banning plastic bags. As a result, a conversation among four people who attended that meeting became focused on forming a sustainability organization. The conversation led to the formation of a nonprofit corporation called SustainEd. From April to August of 2019, with much support from a local garden center, various businesses and individuals, the Medina Community Garden and Education Center was founded. One of the founders, Erin Masterson, applied for our Gardening Know How sponsorship. She serves as President of SustainEd.

The Medina Community Garden is now a lush enclosed 5,000 square foot space, with 17 garden beds available to the community and 8 larger beds sponsored by various organizations. Individual community members can rent 4X8 beds for $40 each per year. If gardeners clean their space at the end of growing season, they’re refunded $20. Gardeners can hold on to their plots and grow into the fall or plant cover crops to overwinter them.

Serving the Community

The garden donates the use of larger plots that are maintained by organizations like Catholic Charities, whose public food shelf is available to everyone, offering fresh produce, flowers and organically grown food, a preferable alternative to the usual food bank canned and packaged foods.

One 3-tiered bed is occupied by the Medina County Herbal Society, whose members teach classes for gardeners interested in growing and using fresh herbs. Another large bed is maintained by the local Master Gardener program. Medina County’s district library maintains a plot in the garden and provides story time and healthy snacks in their after-school program.

The Importance of Education

Master Gardeners from Ohio State University maintain their own edible landscaping plot and hold monthly free gardening classes at their plot location where people can learn in more depth about the value of growing our own food sustainably.

In addition to a wide variety of gardeners and vegetation, Medina’s garden includes a beehive, a composting station and “kids korner.” A bustling, busy neighborhood space, Medina’s community garden is a fun and intriguing learning environment with added features to accommodate everyone in the community. One example is the Melody Garden, where kids can experience and create sounds and melodies from different pipes and tubes arranged along the garden fence. Another is the “kids yoga” program held in the garden. The garden grants volunteer hours for work in the garden by student council members and scout groups. Kids aged 9 to 12 in the local 4-H program called “Sprouts” grew a salsa garden with coaching from the Master Gardener program. They entered their yummy salsa into the county fair!

Free instructional sessions range from subjects like basic planting, composting, succession planting and waste reduction to specifics, like growing garlic and onions. Master gardeners provide these classes using their own plots as demonstration areas.

Empowering the Community

A goal of this impressive project reveals its underlying philosophy, to “empower the community to create a sustainable future through action, education and advocacy.” While it’s a great place to grow organic food and attend classes and gatherings, there’s a higher aspiration here to influence and educate the community about sustainability and how we can contribute to a healthier planet. We are happy to support these amazing people who turned an idea and a discussion into a burgeoning, ecologically sound community project.

Click here if you’re interested in contributing to the Medina Community Garden And Education Center.

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. Click here to learn more about how to apply to the GKH Sponsorship.

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

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Preserving Precious Tubers

Organic Gardening 2 - Sun, 2023-01-22 08:00

It’s fall again, which means it’s time to dig up the dahlias and the cannas. Since I moved from a very temperate region this is a chore that must be done before the first hard freeze, or risk losing these glorious bloomers; and remember, I’m cheap. I don’t want to pay for new dahlia bulbs.

Digging Up Tubers

The first year I moved to my current home I found out that it was too cold to leave these tender plants to overwinter directly in the soil. So, it was a bit of a learning curve as to how to store the tubers properly. Indeed, the first year was a fail. We rather cavalierly dug the bulbs up and placed them on a shelf in our basement. The bulbs shriveled, almost to the point of breaking apart when we touched them.

So, off to the handy dandy internet I went to read up on the proper procedure to store tubers. I found out many things, some which contradicted each other, which made it a bit difficult to come to a conclusion.

How to Store Tubers

I’ve tried storing my tubers a couple of different ways and the way that seems to work the best is in peat moss. First dig up your tuber using a fork to gently lift it from the soil. Be careful not to damage the tuber which can open it up to disease.

I rinse my dahlia tubers off and then set them to dry off a bit in the basement where it is cool and dry. After a couple of days I check them for any damage. If I find some that have been nibbled on or look diseased, I discard or cut the tuber apart to remove the bad area.

Then I just lay down a layer of peat moss in a plastic container (that has a lid), nestle the tubers down inside the peat moss, cover with more peat moss and then close the lid. They are then stored in an unheated, dark closet in the basement.

From what I’ve read, you are supposed to check the tubers to make sure they don’t dry out too much, but I’m never that organized. Frankly, once they are in storage, I forget all about them until it’s time to plant them again.

So far so good. The last few years of storing the tubers in this manner have been successful. Of course I mentally keep my fingers crossed the whole time as well, but so far so good. We’ll see what happens this year.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Warm Winter Brings Early Spring

Organic Gardening 2 - Sat, 2023-01-21 08:00

The warmest winter I recall only produced a smattering of snow. Temperatures remained above 40 degrees F. (4 C.) most of the season. The above-average temperatures brought advantages as well as disadvantages to my garden.

Winter Gardening

During a usual winter, I enjoy stepping back from the garden, relinquishing the daily watering of the many container plants. Below freezing weather occurs frequently, offset by evenings spent near a crackling fire. I look forward to the arrival of gardening catalogs and contemplating what new plants I’d like to buy. With warm winter temperatures, I found myself out doing more watering than usual. (Truth be told, I rarely water at all during cold winter temperatures.)

Some plants need a sustained cold period, called chill hours, to break dormancy, flower and produce fruit, such as fruit trees and some bulbs. My tulips still bloomed even though they don’t like warm winters.

One advantage of a mild winter is that tulips and daffodils bloom early. I am always impatient during the winter, looking for that first indication that spring is on its way. With a typical cold winter, spring daffodils don’t arrive before March. But a warm winter can see daffodils blooming in February! Seeing those beautiful yellow, white, and copper trumpets heralding the coming of spring, always gets me excited for a new season and anxious for the next wave of blooms, which would be tulips, then my many irises.

Growing Perennials Get Nipped by Freeze

One of the disadvantages I recall occurred when mild temperatures woke up the perennials early. New, green growth rose from the once sleeping perennials. Unfortunately, the early spring also brought the chance of a “late” freeze. And it did. The tender foliage on my perennials died back. Fortunately, when the temperatures warmed up, new foliage once again grew from the crowns.

Another detriment of a mild winter is the proliferation of ticks. The lack of really hard freezes allowed the tick population to ramp up ahead of time. This could have proved dangerous with higher numbers of ticks infecting more people with diseases such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

The early spring gradually moved into an early summer and rising temperatures. The succession of perennials continued, albeit a little earlier. All in all, the warm winter had its gives and takes, but really the only thing I missed was a substantial snow or two.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Winters Can Be Warm?

Organic Gardening 2 - Fri, 2023-01-20 08:00

Winter – for a child growing up in Central Alaska – was a fierce season and a long one. You plowed your way through it, day by day, and the snow and cold seemed like they would never end. Of course, they did come to an end, dissolving into the mud of spring runoffs in April. Is it any wonder, then, that the warmest winter I remember was the first one I spent in California?

Alaska Winters

Alaska is such a huge state that even if it were cut into halves, each half would still be larger than any other state. That means that the weather in different parts of the state can be very different. Juneau, the capital, for example, is way down on the panhandle and its weather resembles Seattle’s more than it does Fairbanks’.

I was born in Fairbanks, the state’s second biggest town located pretty much in the center of the state. I lived in a small town a few hours south of Fairbanks until I finished high school. Central Alaska, the area is called, and due to its geography, it gets colder winters than regions much farther north.

Colder than Cold

How cold did it get in Central Alaska? Very cold, colder than any cold I have seen since. The weather regularly dipped below -50 degrees F. (-46 C.) in the winter, and the dramatic winds created even lower windchill temperatures. When it was below -70 degrees F. (-21 C.), we got to stay home from school, and this was usually a week or two every year.

The winter seemed worse than the temperature suggests because it lasted so long and was so dark. The sun never rose above the line of the horizon for most of the winter, meaning we went to school in the dusk of a morning that never happened, and came home at 3 p.m. in twilight. Spring, fall, and summer, taken together, are allocated a small fraction of the year rather than the 75 percent they get in many places. Winter rolled in during September and stayed through March and into April.

My First California Winter

I spent my first winter outside of Alaska when I went to Santa Cruz, California for college. It may not have literally been the warmest winter of my life, but it is etched as such on my memory. To see September roll into October without a single snowflake, to wear shorts in November, walk without a jacket in December. All seemed amazing.

Although I was not gardening during my college years, others were. As I explored the wonders of the farmer’s markets around Santa Cruz County, I fell in love with the concept of warm winters. Fresh vegetables, apples for the picking, weird and wonderful crops like avocados and persimmons… it was a far cry from the frozen carrot squares we considered vegetables in Alaska.

It was only some years later when I learned the wonders of gardening myself and became one of those who made the best use out of warm winters. Today my winter garden produces many of the vegetables I learned to love that first, warmest winter of my life.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Almost Too Easy

Organic Gardening 2 - Thu, 2023-01-19 08:00

For more years than I care to remember, I’ve owned a jade houseplant. Quite honestly, I’m not even sure when or where I got this plant. It has been happily living on a plant stand in front of a southwest-facing window for as long as I can remember. Now you have to understand, this is pretty miraculous as I don’t have the best track record when it comes to houseplants.

How Much Neglect Can a Jade Plant Take?

I love low maintenance houseplants. While I don’t consciously try to neglect these babies, life gets busy sometimes. If I’m out in my veggie patch trying to get dozens of frost-tender seedlings into the ground before it rains, it’s nice to know my indoor succulents and cacti can do without my attention for a few days.

Let me just say, this jade plant has been a real trooper. I’m not surprised. Jade plants are notorious for not succumbing to neglect. What’s more, they can be quite expressive when their needs are not being met. No, they don’t yell or scream at me, but there are subtle ways to tell if a jade plant is unhappy.

When caring for a jade houseplant, it’s helpful to pay close attention to its leaves. Healthy jade leaves are plump, and the edges of the leaves will be red. Plumpness indicates the jade is receiving the correct amount of water. Like most succulents, jade plants are susceptible to root rot when overwatered. When this happens, the leaves tend to drop off and the stems turn mushy.

It’s far better to underwater than overwater a jade plant. I know when I see my jade’s leaves start to wrinkle that it’s time to water. I could also stick my finger about an inch (2.5 cm.) into the soil to check for moisture, but seriously, who wants to get dirt under their nails?

The second sign I use to monitor my jade plant’s happiness is the color of its leaves. When jade plants receive sufficient light, the edges of their leaves are red. Totally green leaves means I need to move my jade plant closer to the window or make sure taller plants aren’t blocking the light.

How Long Do Jade Plants Live?

Believe it or not, jade plants reportedly live 50 to 70 years. They are fairly slow growing and don’t mind being rootbound. While gardeners don’t usually consider these things when we talk about a low maintenance plant, a slow growing jade plant requires less pruning, repotting, and replacement than a short lived, faster growing species.

So how often should a jade be pruned? Pruning once a year in the spring is all that is needed to encourage a jade plant to grow a thick main stem and branch out nicely. For smaller plants, simply remove the tip of the stem.

Older plants with overgrown stems will need between one fourth to one third of the length of the stem removed. It’s best to cut along one of the brown rings on the stem as this is where new growth will originate. You can also encourage a jade plant to produce more lateral branches by removing a few of the leaves on the main stem.

Additionally, both the leaves and trimmed sections of stems can be used for jade plant propagation. Simply let the cut edges dry for a few days, dust them with rooting hormone powder, and stick them in a mixture of soil and sand or perlite.

It only takes a few weeks for me to have more low maintenance jade plants for my collection or to share with friends. Now, if only poinsettias were this easy!

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Air Plants Rock

Organic Gardening 2 - Wed, 2023-01-18 08:00

I’m fascinated with odd plants. You know, the kind you won’t find at Home Depot or other standard garden centers. Tillandsia is a plant I discovered decades ago at the plant show in our city. I didn’t purchase one at the time, but I loved the diversity of form, color, and size. The clever way many were enclosed or mounted, gave rise to any imagined scenario. In short, the air plants didn’t leave my mind for years, but it wasn’t until recently that I became a plant mom to a few of the species.

Air Plant Varieties

After a bathroom remodel last year, I wanted to bring some life into what was now a fairly austere, although very sanitary, looking restroom. With its white subway tiles, the room was a bit sterile and needed some greenery. I considered ferns and other plants which would enjoy the often steamy atmosphere of our second most used room, but rejected them due to size. I found some suction cup mounted planters which would be fun on the shower walls, but needed a small plant to fill them.

I remembered those air plants I had seen so long ago at the plant convention and set about researching air plant care to see if they would fit the bill. Turns out, Tillandsia need warmth, consistent humidity, and an occasional bath. Since they are epiphytes, they do not grow in soil and can tend to dry out, especially in winter when humidity is low. Other than these needs, the plants seemed to be the low maintenance plants I needed to perk up my bathroom.

There are many online growers featuring a bevy of Tillandsia varieties. I sourced a reputable one and perused the selection, bewildered by the many colors and sizes. It was too hard to choose so I got an entire box of varied species. Once they arrived, I was delighted by the greens, silvers, and even pinks that the plants sported. Some were nearly the size of my fist, while others were tiny, smaller than a silver dollar. The rosette form in each was charming. Armed with the suction cup containers, I gave all the plants a bath in water for an hour and then set them in the hanging cups. It was indeed the perfect touch to brighten the bath. Since I had so many, I gave several away to friends and family, happy to find a plant gift that required minimal care.

Tillandsia Care

Since I have been growing Tillandsia, I have had no issues. All I do is soak them in water once per week. I let the tap water sit out overnight to off gas any toxins and ensure it is room temperature, lest I shock my air plants. That’s it. So far I haven’t had any blooms, which is apparently possible, but the plants have rewarded me with slow growth. Most of my gifted plants are still alive, even the ones I gave to folks with no green thumb and little interest in plant care. These plants were certainly worth the cost and yet give me no drama.

The only downside to growing Tillandsia is kittens. I did lose a few to inquisitive felines when they were young. I guess the spiky, strappy leaves are irresistible and the distance was no problem for springy kittens. Now that the kittens are grown, they are more interested in the catnip plant up high on the mantle. Lucky for the air plants, the fascination has dulled over time and I see a happy future for all of us.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Fresh Basil vs. Using Dried

Organic Gardening 2 - Tue, 2023-01-17 08:00

Did you ever read something that you just didn’t agree with? I’ve eaten a lot of basil in my life and hands down, nothing compares to the aromatic flavor of fresh basil. Yet time after time, I read how dried basil is more flavorful than fresh. Bah-humbug, I say!

When it comes to basil, nothing beats fresh. And considering how easy it is to grow basil indoors, why settle for those dry faded leaves?

Growing Basil at Home

Most often, visitors will find an indoor basil plant growing in my kitchen. This easily-cultivated herb is a member of the mint family and is incredibly tolerant of less-than-ideal growing conditions. Basil likes full sun, so a bright southern-facing window is the biggest requirement for growing basil at home.

Easy Care

I typically check my basil plant about twice a week and thoroughly water it when the top layer of soil is dry. An indoor basil plant doesn’t need an abundance of fertilizer; a good quality potting soil and a pot with drainage works well.

If there’s one thing basil doesn’t tolerate, it’s cold weather. When growing fresh basil outdoors, I discovered even a light frost will turn my basil plant black. During the winter, I move my indoor basil plant away from my old windows as the glass can transmit cool air into the house and chill the basil.

Growing Fresh Basil Indoors

In fact, basil’s intolerance of the cold is the main reason I grow basil indoors. I absolutely love fresh basil leaves, but finding them in the grocery store can be difficult. Most refrigerated cases are maintained at or below 40 degrees F. (4 C.). At these temps, basil leaves can be damaged by the cold.

Transporting a package of fresh basil leaves during the winter months is also problematic. The leaves may look nice and green at the store, but can be black by the time I arrive home. Grocers have solved this problem by offering live basil plant in their produce departments. Which leads to my secret for growing fresh basil at home.

For a few dollars, I can buy these ready-to-use basil plants. It’s much faster and easier than starting my own plants and waiting for them to become a usable size. Since the plants are marketed as an alternative to harvested basil leaves, the pots are quite small. Upon arriving home, I immediately transplant the basil into a larger 6 inch (15 cm.) pot using a quality potting soil.

From there my indoor basil plant is easy to maintain. I pick the leaves as needed and pinch back the growing tips to produce a bushier plant. Indoor temperatures rarely prompt bolting. But if I see blossoms forming, I simply pinch them back as well. Should the plant become stringy, I remove the soft-stems and place the cuttings in water to root. Once roots have formed, I plant the cuttings in fresh soil.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Paradise Parking Plots Community Garden

Organic Gardening 2 - Mon, 2023-01-16 10:00

Paradise Parking Plots Community Garden began as a dream: a vision of a place where we can gather to grow foods reminiscent of home, meet others in the community and reconnect with the soil. Five years later, a neglected parking lot has transformed into vibrant urban agricultural land and is a leading example community-level green stormwater infrastructure.

Together, We’re Building Paradise

Created to assist newly arrived families to the United States, thousands of refugees have been welcomed to western Washington by the World Relief Western Washington (WRWW) organization.They provide vital services and community connection during those first crucial months when immigrant families arrive in the Pacific Northwest region.

Assisting newcomers to the U.S. with basic needs, such as housing and enrolling children in school, WRWW helps smooth the way as these families “begin a path to belonging.” Many immigrants are fleeing persecution in their countries due to race, religion or politics. World Relief picks them up from the airport, locates suitable dwellings, helps them with language barriers and provides all vital services for three months. After that, Lucas McClish steps in and provides support for long-term services.

Paradise Parking Plots

This project was started in 2017 by Tahmina Martelly, a refugee herself who originally came to the US fleeing war and persecution in Bangladesh. Her personal experience with the power of familiar food to transport one to a different time and place helped to motivate her in getting this project off the ground.

Located right off a major transit line, Hillside church in Kent WA donated an unused parking lot to World Relief Western Washington for a community garden. Converting this paved space was a massive effort of deconstruction and reconstruction, with 50 square feet of asphalt removed and replaced with locally produced compost and a nutritious soil byproduct from a local wastewater treatment facility. The garden now covers about an acre and a half, with some asphalt still existing for gardener parking and material deliveries. Plots are 11X17 feet (3.5 x 5.5 m.).

With 50 raised beds filled in, five rain gardens were installed and a bioswale with a paired food forest was planted. The garden captures 16,000 gallons of rainwater in four cisterns. Mr. McClish expects the four cisterns to be up to 21,000 gallons shortly and, with capital improvements, the garden will clean and divert over 1,000,000 gallons of stormwater each year.

Reconnecting with What’s Familiar

The Paradise Plots garden provides a way to help refugees reconnect with the soil. This is a community of great diversity with families coming from Nepal, Kenya, Bhutan, Myanmar, Burma, Egypt, Mexico, Nigeria and Haiti. Many come from agrarian backgrounds and are accustomed to growing food as a normal part of their daily lives. Here they’re able to grow and share the foods they’re familiar with and in that sense, retain some remnants of their culture. Although many gardeners come with extensive agricultural backgrounds, Lucas McClish helps coordinate resources for refugees who may need training and guidance to adapt to growing in the unique climate of the Pacific Northwest. Classes are held at the garden around spring and summer planting times.


One aspect of Lucas’s role is to make the entire space productive and available to as many people as possible. Partnering with many other organizations and an advisory council of gardeners, he is constantly trying to create spaces for gardeners and community members to express their perspectives and needs.
A trellis-building class and compost tea course are just two of the recent classes offered. A five-week Refugee Youth Summer Academy is held for kids from a refugee background in grades K-8 where they learn to use the garden as a living laboratory. Interns from refugee and immigrant backgrounds also learn from the project and then offer the curriculum for the Summer Academy. They teach about sustainability, food access, mulching, fertilizing and general care of this organic space that is the pride of the neighborhood. Lucas says these families are “overjoyed” to be feeding their families fresh, organic food that can often be inaccessible due to pricing and local availability.

This project is a beautiful example of humanity at its finest. Sensitivity to the many daunting needs of families who are in vulnerable situations is a credit to the folks who have dedicated themselves to the World Relief program. Click here if you’d like to donate to Paradise Parking Plots.

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. Click here to learn more about how to apply to the GKH Sponsorship.

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

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Categories: Organic Gardening

The Benefits Of Live Trees

Organic Gardening 2 - Sun, 2023-01-15 08:00

While growing up, my home almost always had a live cut tree for decoration during the holiday season. Covered in handmade ornaments and twinkling lights, I can’t deny that there was something magical about these times that brought family and friends so closely together. As the years progressed, my family moved further away from this tradition in favor of an artificial tree. With a little care and attention to detail, these trees turned out to be just as beautiful, and were put together in much less time and with much less effort. However, it wasn’t until I moved into my own home that I started my own tradition.

My Tree Tradition

Evergreen trees are truly a beautiful sight to behold during the winter. Their thick branches fill with snow and shelter even the tiniest of native animals from the cold. Rather than decorate with a live cut tree, I enjoy decorating those which are growing outdoors in my yard. While lights are optional, traditional ornaments are replaced by those which can be eaten by birds and squirrels as they forage through the snow.

Though the non-traditional look of an outdoor holiday tree may not be for everyone, I always enjoy standing at my kitchen window with a cup of hot chocolate, watching as the birds dance among the branches. Tree decorations usually include a collection of peanuts, pinecone feeders, suet, and even dried fruit. This out-of-the-box approach also solves another problem that was so evident with live cut trees, their disposal.

How to Get Rid of a Christmas Tree

After the holiday season has passed, leftover bird seed can simply be removed or left in place to naturally fade away. While many people choose to mulch or compost their cut holiday tree, this is simply not an option for many. Some large cities do offer free dumping sites for the trees, but the issue of removal and transit still remains.

Other uses for discarded trees include their use as fire wood and in various types of wood craft projects. Dried holiday trees can also be left outdoors to serve as much needed wildlife shelter for the remainder of the winter. Some people may even submerge trees in lakes or ponds to create habitat for fish.

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Categories: Organic Gardening

Repotting Houseplants: Easy Vs. Difficult

Organic Gardening 2 - Sat, 2023-01-14 08:00

I enjoy repotting houseplants. Okay, you caught me. What I meant to say is I like repotting most houseplants. For anyone who has repotted a cactus, you know what I mean. Fingers full of tingling cacti spines that break off when you try to remove them is not a fun day of gardening. Regardless, here are some of my tips for repotting both easy and difficult houseplants.

Dracaena Repotting is Easy

One of the easiest houseplants I’ve routinely repotted are dracaena. I find the smaller ones are easy to handle, plus there is plenty of stem between the soil line and the leaves to grab onto when positioning the plant in the new pot. Bushy plants with lots of leaves are more difficult to keep straight in the new pot as I fill it with potting soil.

Here are a few more repotting tips I’ve learned over the years. These are appropriate for many types of leafy houseplants:

Water the plant I do this the day before I repot my dracaena. I find a hydrated plant is less stressed and seems to adjust better when repotted. Dracaena like moist soil, but it’s important to let the soil dry between waterings. Since I won’t be watering for a few days after I repot the plant, I’ll run water through the soil to flush out salts from fertilizer and mineral build-up from my well water. I then let the pot drain before putting it back on it’s drip tray.

Choose the right sized pot. Whether I already have one or need to purchase a new pot, I only want the planter to be 1 or 2 inches (2.5 or 5 cm.) bigger than the current one. Many houseplants, including dracaena, fare better when they are snug in their pot. From experience, I’ve also learned that putting a small plant in a much larger pot often results in the plant leaning, as it’s rootball isn’t big enough to provide the stability it needs.

Ensure the pot has adequate drainage. This is especially important as I prefer plastic pots to breakable terra cotta ones. Many gardeners prefer terra cotta as excess water can wick out the sides of the pot and evaporate. If I feel a plastic pot doesn’t have sufficient drainage holes, I use a razor knife to enlarge the holes that are there or a drill to made additional ones.

Pick the proper potting soil mix. For repotting a dracaena, I find standard houseplant potting soil is fine. These mixes typically contain peat or compost and perlite or vermiculite. They are formulated to drain well but retain sufficient moisture for most houseplants.

Repotting Cactus

I wish I could say repotting all houseplants was as easy as dracaena. However, cacti make up the largest proportion of my houseplant collections and I find repotting these spiky species can be nothing short of painful. Here are a few tips for repotting cacti:

Don’t water cactus immediately before repotting. I prefer to water 5 to 7 days prior to repotting. This helps protect the fragile roots. I then wait another 5 to 7 days to water the cactus after repotting it.

Choose a slightly larger pot. Compared to dracaena, cacti are fairly slow growing and don’t need to step up to a much larger pot. For a small cactus, I’ll repot into a planter that is only 1/2 to 1 inch (1.3-2.5 cm.) bigger and has lots of drainage holes.

Use potting soil formulated for cacti. If I can’t easily find the correct cactus growing medium, I use equal amounts of standard potting soil, sand and perlite. I thoroughly mix this in a bucket and have it ready when I begin the repotting process.

Use a sponge. Gently wrapping a sponge around the body of the cactus is the best way to avoid the spikes. I prefer the super soft tan sponges with the big holes. I’ll cut them down if they are too cumbersome for my smaller cacti.

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Categories: Organic Gardening


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