Why perennials help save the environment

Dust Bowl by USDAgov

If TheGardenLady readers have not seen the documentary The Dust Bowl by Ken Burns, you should. It chronicles one of the worst man-made ecological disasters in American history.  (read this)  I think it is MUST watching.  You will see what planting just annuals in great expanses or overplanting with annuals in one area can do to our soil in adverse weather conditions like drought and heat.  This Dust Bowl catastrophe did not last one day or one week or one month, like the destruction from Hurricane Sandy. This dust bowl disaster lasted 10 years.

We may not have known that we needed perennials to keep the soil intact and to help the environment when they had the Dust Storms, but by now we should know what can happen when we despoil our lands.

Continue reading “Why perennials help save the environment”

How to test your soil at home

Smartleaf Compost pH Test Results shows 7 by Wayan Vota

How to test your soil at home has been written on behalf of The Garden Lady by Mr McGregor, a popular Notcutts gardening writer.

It’s extremely important to discover the type of soil you’re working with in the garden as it determines what flowers you can and cannot grow. As soon as I moved into my home in the countryside I went straight outside and conducted a soil test. If you have a desire to create a beautiful outdoor space or have just moved home, I implore you to test your soil. It’s quick, easy and once you know there will be no stopping you when it comes to creating the garden of your dreams.

There are many methods you can use to test your soil and below you’ll find two of my favourites. One is very simple, but can be only used to test alkaline and acidic soils, whereas the other takes a bit more time and effort, but offers a wider range of results.

Continue reading “How to test your soil at home”

Another View on Using Compost for Potting Soil

On Monday’s post, TheGardenLady answered a question about using compost for potting soil, in which she suggested that this was fine to do.  Recently, she received a response to her answer from Carolyn of the famous Carolyn Shade Gardens in Bryn Mawr, a garden which TheGardenLady has written about in the past (see here).  Here’s Carolyn’s response and some photos of her beautiful flowers.

I would not recommend using straight compost as potting soil in a container. It will become too hard, impede root growth, and not drain well. I use my own compost in my containers, but I mix it approximately one part composted cow manure, one part compost, three parts Pro-mix. The compost improves the quality and fertility of the soil mix. However, container plants need a lot more fertilizer because water is running through them all the time. I add the cow manure for long-term fertility and also fertilize once every two weeks with a weak mixture of organic liquid fertilizer. The Pro-mix keeps the soil light and draining well and allows good root growth. I have attached some pictures of my containers.

Thanks Carolyn for your view on this question.  TheGardenLady is always open to different viewpoints, so if you disagree with TheGardenLady feel free to express your thoughts.

Using Compost as Potting Soil

Compost by Fleurette Jardin

TheGardenLady received this question from Peggy.

I want to use compost as potting soil. I live on a 3rd floor so am limited to plants on a balcony, such as jasmine, monarda, some lobelia and other annuals to color the desk area and maybe a tomato plant or two. Any thoughts on using only compost? Will it hurt these types of plants?

The simple answer to the question, “can one pot plants directly into compost?”, is YES one can plant directly into compost.

Most people add their homemade compost to other soil because usually one does not have enough homemade compost unless you have a large property to add leaves to the household garbage- the combination forming compost.

Thus TheGardenLady wonders if the writer of this letter is planning on buying compost or making her own from her kitchen scraps. It seems that if one were buying bags of something to pot plants, it would be wise to purchase prepared potting soil in bags. Scientists have formulated their products for optimum plant growth and many of these potting soils come with added fertilizer. Everything is in one bag except for the plant and the water so that if you have limited space, buy something that has been made easy for you.

However if you have made your own compost from your household garbage, you must understand what the final product will look like before you use it. The garbage has to be completely decomposed. The finished product of compost is a black loamy soil that has no residue of any of the garbage that it was made from. There is no odor. If you see any bits of garbage or if your compost has any smell, your compost is not ready. When compost is not fully decomposed, plants planted in it may turn yellow and appear stressed.

If you are planning to make your own compost or have made your own compost, do you have enough homemade compost to plant the numerous plants you ask about? If you do have enough homemade compost, you can use it in pots and plant directly in it. But you must understand that you do not use compost until it is completely decomposed. An easy test to see if the compost is ready, is to put your compost in a couple of pots and plant some radish in these pots. If 3/4s or more of the radish seeds sprout and grow into radishes, then your compost is ready to use.  See here.

Tomatoes should have no trouble growing in your compost. In TheGardenLady’s compost bin, tomatoes and potatoes always seem to self seed and grow.

Jasmine should have no trouble growing in compost; but are you sure you want a plant that can grow into a 15 ft. shrub?  See here.

If you are using compost that is ready to be used, it cannot hurt any plants. It is the way nature makes soil. But you must be sure that the material you are using is completely decomposed.

Garden Landscaping for Beginners – Part 1

Garden Landscaping by rainbow_landscaping

Because TheGardenLady has been asked about landscaping and/or choosing a good landscaper, TheGardenLady thought this would make an interesting column.

Below are a few suggestions for anyone who is interested in landscaping one’s property. There are many outstanding female landscapers as well as male landscapers. (The word “he” was used most of the time in this post just to make the writing of this column easier.)

Make sure you know your property or do what is called a site analysis.  Know where North, South, East and West are on your property. This is important because some plants prefer to get morning or evening sun and light. And when you plant, you want plants that will be happiest in a location. You want roses? They want sun, sun, sun; but some varieties will take just 5 hours of sun.  So if you write down notes to yourself telling exactly how much sun a spot gets, this will be very helpful in your planning. Know existing conditions on your property such as hills, or areas of elevation and if you have good or bad drainage. You may want to try to eliminate the problem or work with it.

Know the Temperature Zone in your area. Even within one state, there might be different Temperature Zones. Plants that grow in the Northern part of the United States might be unhappy in the South and vice versa and some plants might grow in a broad range of climates. A clematis that grows in Zone 9 or 10 won’t live outdoors in the winter in Zone 6. Or you might want a cactus garden, but if you live in NJ, it is trickier to plant cactus than it would be in Arizona. Yet there are some cactus that will survive in NJ, even in NJ winters. So be sure to check your temperature zone and be sure that when you buy plants, you buy plants that will survive and thrive in your area.  See here.

Most people want plants that are easy to raise in your area, but if you like a challenge like Wayne Daniels in California who raises tulips where they usually don’t grow (see here) you have to know the needs of the plants in order to accommodate them in your area.

Have your soil tested.  I cannot stress the importance of soil testing. And I really recommend using your local Master Gardening chapter or your local extension office. When you get it tested, get different areas where you want to plant different things tested in separate tests. For example, if you want a vegetable garden, test that area separately from an area that you might want to plant lawn. The tests will then send you back information for what to amend the exact amount for that need. Though the tests might cost a few more dollars than a soil kit you can buy in a store, you will get a thorough readout of what you have and what you need to amend your soil. And visiting the Master Gardeners with your questions and or problems is FREE. They will even explain your soil test results if you want – for FREE.

Examine your property and note what conditions there are. Note existing conditions on your property like hills, or bogs or areas of elevation and if you have good or bad drainage. Do you have walls blocking the sun or making a micro climate that might be hotter than the rest of your property? Are there trees?  If so what types of trees are on your property?  Few plants will thrive under nut trees and if you want perennials under the nut trees, be sure you get those plants that will live near a nut tree. You will also note, by the size of the trees or how large they can grow, how expansive a root mass it has or will get.

Locate wet or dry sites on your property to know what will live – for example land near a blacktop driveway or roadway may give off too much heat for some plants and might also be salted to remove snow – plants cannot tolerate excessive salt. And you would need different types of plants for under your rain spout.

Know your site boundaries and where the house is located on your property. When you are designing your landscaping, consider the views from both inside your house looking out as well as how the plants will look outside your house. You might even want to consider your neighbor’s house when you plant.  Do you want your neighbor to see your beautiful plants from his house? Or do you want to make a hedge so you and your neighbor can’t see each other’s house?

Check your soil consistency. You want soil that is friable, not compacted or if you live in a sandy area, you want to know what can grow in that type of soil. You can always amend the soil with the compost TheGardenLady knows you are saving.

Raising Plants in the Desert

Tomato Plants in the Negev

It may be winter here and across most of the US, but I think back to the terrible drought that Texas and other parts of the Southwest had this past summer and the potential for water problems in these areas and the West in the future.

I recently read an interesting article about new desert technology that is coming out of Israel.  There at the Center for Experiments in Desert Farming “researchers joined with scientists from the Ben-Gurion University, the Vulkani Institute, and the Hebrew University to figure out how to grow tomatoes using brackish water. At the experimental station, organic tomato plants are all irrigated with salt water mixed with floodwater and recycled waste water. Using sophisticated technology, researchers carefully monitor the plants to determine the correct percentage of salt needed for each species to thrive. ” Israel produces “15,000 tons of ‘Desert Sweet’ tomatoes in 250 acres of hothouses in the desert, ranging from organic tomatoes to especially small strains of cherry tomatoes that are sold at a high price to restaurants and hotels throughout the world.”

“In addition to preserving precious freshwater in this thirsty desert region, growing tomatoes with brackish water has a pleasant, if unintended, side effect: as a reaction to the pressure that the salt exerts on its cells, the tomato plants produce more sugar, making their flesh even sweeter than those grown in central and northern Israel.”

At the Yair Agricultural Research Station in Israel’s desert they are using what they call “popcorn” soil which is ” actually a stone that gets heated to 5,000 degrees, causing it to pop and act like a sponge. When wet, it can irrigate the plant continuously and is therefore much more efficient than sand.” In Israel’s desert, “an area with an average rainfall of only 20 millimeters a year, farmers manage to raise 60%” of Israel’s produce for export.”

I think it is important to learn from other country’s successes in agriculture so that we can improve our growing methods. If readers read about new agricultural improvements coming out of other countries, please let the readers of TheGardenLady blog know about them, too. We learn by sharing ideas.

Why Gardeners Garden – Part I


The Original Garden Lady

Why do you, my GardenLady readers, garden? And what are some of your favorite plants in your garden? TheGardenLady column’s readers would love to know and TheGardenLady would like to know about your garden and why and what you dream about and want in your garden.

Since I sometimes think I am getting a bit obsessive as I plant my plants and want to plant more and more different plants and constantly dream about more plants to add to my garden while reading every plant catalog or visiting every local nursery and public and private garden, I think about what my motivation is.

Everland Four seasons garden by floridapfe
Everland Four seasons garden by floridapfe

I love almost all plants. I especially love blooming plants – whether trees, shrubs, bulbs, tubers, perennials, biannuals or annuals. I love color and I love the show of color to go on as long as it can during the year. If Helleborus or snowdrops will bloom in the snow, I want those blooms. And if chrysanthemums will be in bloom past Thanksgiving, I want those blooms. And because I don’t want a day to pass without flowers in bloom, I must plant flowering plants for bloom that will continue for most of the year. I never want to stop having blooms in my yard. And if I can’t have plants in flower, I want to have plants with vivid berries or plants with bright leaves or leaves that change color in the fall. So I dream of adding more plants that will give me all the color that I crave. Green is calming, meditative, cooling and lovely; but I need my fix of color- continuous color.

Michael Pollan, an author of books about plants – read “Botany of Desire” by him – says that we don’t manipulate plants, we are exploited by plants so that we fall in love with them, which makes us want to plant them and tend to them so that they can continue to survive on this planet. And this GardenLady is surely under the spell of plants. (PS When the flowers come with fragrances, that is an added bonus.)

So why does TheGardenLady plant flowers?

As a child who lived on what is referred to as a truck farm, we mainly grew vegetables. We were very poor, just eking out a living on the farm. The one indulgence my mother had was that she always planted flowers. Though she worked what seemed to be day and night in the vegetable fields, caring for the family without having modern appliances such as the washing machine or dryer, cooking and canning for the winter, and caring for a small dairy as well as other animals- chickens, 2 horses, goats, dogs and cats- she always found time for her flowers.

Continue reading “Why Gardeners Garden – Part I”

Schultz’s Moisture Plus Potting Mix

TheGardenLady received this question from Andrew.

I recently had some plants that I transplanted From 1.6L pots to 3.5L pots. For the first sized pot I used a mix of plain peatmoss/perlite/topsoil/black earth. I noticed that I had to water these plants every 2/3 days depending on the heat outside. Now that I’ve put my babies in “new shoes”. I’ve used a new soil mix to fill in the rest of the space in the new pots. The soil I used is Schultz’s moisture plus w/time released nutrients (0.08-0.12-0.08). I am completely unsure now when to water because 2 days after the transplant and watering the soil still feels fairly fresh. I tried running some water through one of the plants to make sure it’s not clogged, which it isn’t.  It”s slowly dripping out. I guess my first question is, if my particular plants are prone to root rot, is this new soil going to cause this if I over water them?  My second question is, what would be some tips with this soil on when to water it being they are gallon pots?

You have asked excellent questions. This GardenLady called Schultz’s for the answer. They said that you were doing the best thing for plants and especially for seedlings that are prone to root rot by using their moisture plus w/time released nutrients because the crystals are mixed so well in the potting soil that they help control the amount of water released into the soil. This prevents too much water in one spot which causes root rot. Also the soil is kept consistently wet from the top to the bottom of the pot. The way the crystals work is that they hold the water and then continue to release water into the soil until all the water in the crystals were released.

I asked how to tell if the plant needs more water. I was told that with the crystals it takes twice as long for the plant to be watered – so if your plant needed to be watered in 2/3 days, with the crystals in the soil, the soil will dry out in 4 to six days. I asked how to check if the soil needs watering. I was told that you stick your finger in the soil and if the soil clings to your finger, it doesn’t need watering. I asked if there were a device to stick in the soil to see if there were enough water and was told that was a good idea and he will suggest inventing such a device.

TheGardenLady wrote an article on caring for plants in time of drought. Schultz said that you can use their crystals on plants that have already been planted. Work them into the soil, water the plant and put a mulch over the crystals and soil where you put them to help retain the moisture.

For more information check out their website and go to Products and click on Moisture Plus Potting Mix or call their product specialists at 1-800 257 2941

Vegetable Gardening for Newbies

New vegetable garden by Sundry
New vegetable garden by Sundry

TheGardenLady received this question from Tricia.

I am very new to gardening, but would love to grow my own veggies. I have a starter set with lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers. I have a large space in my backyard, but it is full of wood chips. Can I plant here? If so what is my next step. Do I need a fence so animals do not get to it?

To have success with vegetable gardening, because vegetables love good friable soil with excellent drainage, you will have to do a lot to prepare your large space. Space alone is not enough to have a vegetable garden. The space for vegetable gardening must be in the sun. Vegetables, especially tomatoes, need all the sun they can get.

My Tomato Patch by freddyfoyle
My Tomato Patch by freddyfoyle

Without the proper preparation, you are setting yourself up for frustration and perhaps failure. So this year, you might consider planting vegetables in pots while you get the space in your backyard ready for planting. Buy good potting soil that says it is for vegetables. Some of these soils have fertilizers added to help the plants. Buy or get large pots and plant your vegetables in them this year. You can use either clay pots or plastic pots so long as there is a drainage hole in the bottom of the pot. Then you can start doing the hard work for next year’s vegetable garden in your allotted space.

Continue reading “Vegetable Gardening for Newbies”

What’s Blowing Your Way

PhotonQ-Beauty on the Horizon of Complexity by PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE (on flickr)
PhotonQ-Beauty on the Horizon of Complexity by PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE (on flickr)

TheGardenLady just wants to let her readers what’s in store.  Tomorrow there will be a post on Lori Rubel’s Georgia Vines.  And in 4 days from now, TheGardenLady will be posting an answer to a reader’s question about planting hostas under a dogwood.

So keep reading and asking questions.