February is a great time to start organizing your vegetable garden. As the amount of daylight slowly increases each day, you can begin to consider which veggies you want to plant this season, how many you will have space for, and if you will be starting any from seed. Many seasoned gardeners find that keeping a journal is a helpful way to remember what worked well the year before and what they would like to do differently for next season. You can start by considering three important factors.
Location: The area should be exposed to at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. Taller plants, such as tomatoes, corn, and trellised plants should be planted on the north side of the garden so that the smaller plants will not be shaded by the taller ones.
Spacing: The size of your garden plot will determine how many plants you are able to grow in that space. Your vegetable plants will need plenty of room above and below ground to grow and mature. Most vegetable plants are sold with tags that will list the spacing requirements. Generally, small plants such as garlic and green onions need about 3-4 inches between plants on all sides. Vegetables such as chard, lettuce, and cabbage need about 6-9 inches between plants. Larger vegetable plants, including tomatoes and peppers, need about two feet of space. Using a trellis is a great way to conserve valuable garden space. Vegetables that can be trellised include peas, beans, cucumbers, small squash, small melons, and eggplants.
Companion Plants: Companion planting is the practice of planting vegetables alongside certain plants that will attract bees and other beneficial insects to the garden while deterring pests. Planting sunflowers near the garden will distract ants and aphids. Whiteflies are a common pest in vegetable gardens, but if you plant one of the stronger scented varieties of marigolds or basil they will repel whiteflies, nematodes, and more. In a similar fashion, chrysanthemums and dahlias will repel root nematodes and other crawlers.
Enjoy the warm weather!
After your fall clean-up is complete for the year, it is time to winterize your tools so that they are sharp, sanitized, and easy to find come spring.
- Clean all soil and debris off tools.
- Sanitize tools, especially those that have been used on diseased plant material.
- Sharpen blades of hoes, pruners, spades, loppers, and saws.
- Make any necessary repairs.
- Organize tools and equipment so that it is easily accessible for spring.
Remove soil or vegetation from all tools using a wire brush, scraper or a strong stream of water. Wire brushes marketed to clean grills are handy because they usually include a scraper. Once everything has been cleaned and dried, lubricate all tool pivot points and springs. Finally, spray all bare metal parts and cutting edges with penetrating oil such as WD-40 to prevent rust.
When sanitizing garden tools, the usual ratio is a 10 percent solution or 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Using a 1 cup measuring cup, this would be 1 cup bleach to 9 cups water. Use a heavy solution of 3 parts bleach and 2 parts water to disinfect tools used on plants that are known to be diseased. Sanitizing once per year for tools such as shovel and hoes is sufficient, but tools such as pruners and loppers should be sanitized after each use. This process with help prevent the spread of fungus, disease, insects, and insect eggs.
Check all tools thoroughly for loose screws or nuts and tighten them accordingly. Replace or repair broken handles and other bent or broken parts. Wheelbarrows, carts and wagons may also need some attention before winter. Clean them thoroughly and touch up paint chips with spray paint to prevent exposed steel from rusting.
With your array of garden tools and supplies, the key to great garage storage and organization is getting things off the floor and onto the wall. A pegboard attached to a wall is a great place to store garden tools when not in use. Hardware stores and home improvement centers have a variety of hooks and wall brackets for tools of all shapes and sizes. Don’t forget the hoses and other watering aids. Before storing hoses, nozzles and other sprinkler attachments away for the winter, drain all the water from them and store in a dry location. Hose supports or reels prevent sagging and kinking. Regardless of your preferred storage method, having tools ready to go in the spring will make those early season chores that much easier.
Have a great Thanksgiving!
Rachael and Tobias
The telltale signs are here. First comes football season. Then the weather is absurdly amazing (we can dream that every autumn always starts out beautiful). Leaves start to fall. It is nearly time to give our landscape beds some attention.
After several hard frosts:
-Cut perennials back to soil level and remove debris.
-Consider which plants performed well and which did not. Make a note of any changes to be made it the spring.
-Remove debris from any annual plantings in the landscape.
-If we have a fall with limited rainfall, give the landscape a deep soak to prevent stress on the plants as they go into winter.
-Add a one inch layer of mulch to help conserve soil moisture and protect the root systems, especially for newly planted landscapes.
Removing debris such as leaves and other dead plant material from the landscape will prevent the spread of certain fungi that can overwinter on dead plant material and then continue to spread and infect new leaf tissue during the following spring. Taking the extra step to remove debris will also eliminate potential nesting areas created by unwanted critters.
You may want to consider leaving ornamental grass, coneflower, and black-eyed susan in the landscape over the winter months. Not only do they add structure and interest to the winter landscape, but they are also a food source for some native birds. If you decide to wait until spring to cut these perennials back, this should be done no later than mid- May to allow for the new growth to emerge.
Enjoy the Fall!
Rachael and Tobias
Have you seen dried floral arrangements and wondered "How did they do that?" You, too, can preserve the beautiful flowers you nurture in your own landscape. Here's how:
- Decide what flowers you want to harvest and how you to use them. Dried flowers can be used in floral arrangements for a long-lasting centerpiece; they can be used as decorating accents, potpourri, and dried herbs to be used for cooking year round.
- Cut flowers when they are just opening and petals are new. Flowers that are older will lose their petals as they dry.
- Suspend flowers upside down in a cool, dark location. It will take 2-3 weeks for flowers to dry completely.
- After flowers have dried, spray with a fine mist hairspray or a fine mist floral spray found in craft stores.
- Display in a location where they can be enjoyed, but are out of bright sunlight. Replace seasonally.
Just a few of the flowers that dry nicely:
Blanket Flower, Straw Flower, Statice, Larkspur, Hydrangea, Black Eyed Susan, Lavender; Millet, Yarrow, Rose, Russian Sage, and Rosemary.
You can your microwave to speed up the drying process. You will need silica gel crystals that can be purchased from a craft store. Place a layer of crystals 1-2” deep in the bottom of a glass container. Place the stem of the flower in the crystals. Cover the entire flower with silica crystals. Microwave on high for 2-5 minutes depending on the type of flower. Let the glass container set for 30 minutes. Gently remove the silica crystals from the container and brush crystals from flower with a small paintbrush. Flowers can then be sealed with a fine mist hairspray or sealant found in the floral department at your local craft store.
Is there anything better than walking out the door and picking fruit from your own orchard?
OK, so most of us don’t have an orchard, but we can have a fruit tree or vegetable garden. There are so many options available today and home gardens are wonderful family activities. In addition to the freshness factor that comes with home-grown produce, there’s a very strong likelihood that children are more apt to eat fruits and veggies they’ve had a hand in growing.
If your space is limited, don’t despair. Most edible fruit trees sold in local nurseries are either semi-dwarf or dwarf varieties. Typically the semi-dwarf trees will have a mature size of 12’-15’ and the dwarf trees will have a mature size of 8’-10’. These sizes of fruit trees are much easier to find an appropriate location for in an urban landscape as opposed to the standard fruit tree size of 20’-30’. There are many different varieties of trees, so check to make sure that the variety you are buying is hardy to zone 5 or lower. Edible plants do need good airflow so overcrowding should be avoided.Fresh herbs are also a great addition to any garden. They are easy to grow and preserve and taste so much better than store-bought. Thyme, mint, and sage are hardy plants. If you don’t have a great sunny spot for them in the landscape, consider planting them in a container that gets plenty of sun. These herbs are usually tough enough to survive the winter left in the container. This is especially a good idea for mint because it has potential to become an aggressive groundcover when planted in the landscape.
Most fruit and vegetable plants prefer to be planted in soil that is high in organic matter. Using natural materials such as cotton burr compost and pine needles to acidify the soil is preferred over synthetic products and fertilizers. The natural materials will last longer and, some say, make the fruit taste better.
If you run into trouble with bugs feeding on your fruit or veggies before you get a chance to enjoy them, consider using traps as an alternative to pesticides as a means of control. After you determine what kind of bug is going after your fruit, you can choose from many different traps available for purchase or you can make your own. Most traps for purchase use chemicals, pheromones, or food to attract the pests. There are many different recipes available for homemade traps using common household products and food items. Using traps instead of spraying pesticides to get rid of the pests is a good option because it eliminates the worry of ingesting harmful chemicals and you won’t be killing beneficial insects such as honey bees.
If you do use chemicals, be sure that any insecticides and fungicides you apply are listed as safe for edible plants. Always read and follow the label carefully, even when using organic products. Just because a product is organic does not mean that it is safe to eat the fruit or vegetable without washing it first
Here are some suggestions for plants you might try. Most fruits and veggies like as much sun as possible. The plants listed in bold can thrive with partial shade.
Trees: Cherry, pear, plum, apple, pawpaw, serviceberry
Shrubs: chokecherry, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, gooseberry, currant
Rachael and Tobias
No centerpiece is as lovely as a vase of freshly cut flowers. Sure, you can pick up a bunch at most grocery stores, but who knows how long they've been sitting in that tub of water. Wouldn't it be great to be able to walk into your own garden and cut a beautiful bouquet? Here's how...
Site Selection: Choose a site with well-drained soil, plenty of sun and easy access to water. Prepare the soil by clearing the garden area of grass and weeds. Work organic matter, such as compost, into the soil.
Plant Selection: Decide on a color palette. It is best to include plants with different textures and of different sizes. Don’t forget the greens! Add foliage plants for color and texture.
Harvesting the Flowers: Harvest flowers in the morning if possible. Cool air is better than hot afternoon sun for preserving fresh flowers. Use sharp scissors or cutting shears. If possible, choose flower stalks with a few buds that have not yet opened to prolong the life of your arrangement. Once you harvest your flowers, it is a good idea to give each stem a fresh cut just before placing them in the vase. It is best to make the fresh cut under running water to prevent air bubbles from getting into the vascular system of the stem and blocking water uptake. Cutting the stems at an angle will help them absorb more water. Remove any foliage that will be below the water line and place in warm water.
Caring for your Arrangement: The arrangement should be placed in a cool location, away from heat sources such as direct sunlight from a window, an oven, a heat vent, etc. The cooler the temperatures, the longer your bouquet will stay fresh. Using a floral preservative solution similar to the packets that come with flower arrangements can also help prolong the life of your arrangement. It is important to keep the water free from any leaves or plant material. Decaying plant material will clog the vascular system of the flower stems and cause them to wilt very quickly. Keep an eye on the water level of the vase. Fresh cut flowers can take up water at a surprisingly fast rate. Refill the vase before it runs out of water.
Common Cut-Flower Plants: Primary flowers: sunflowers, gerbera daisies, spider mums, roses, hydrangea, lilies. Accent flowers: alstromeria, delphinium, mini carnations, larkspur, asters, gladiolus,goldenrod. Greenery: Lamb’s Ear, lavender, Bells of Ireland, ornamental grass.
Enjoy your cut flowers!
Rachael and Tobias
After several years, some ornamental grasses have a tendency to thin or die out in the middle or outgrow their space. When this begins to happen, it is best to split the grass into two or more clumps. The best time of the year to split grasses is early spring as growing conditions such as soil temperature, sunlight and precipitation are optimal for successful transplantation and regrowth.
If splitting produces more grass clumps than you need, share the plant with family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. To maintain plant viability, the roots should be covered with soil and kept moist until replanted.
Before you begin, think ahead to cleanup and transplant. Tie off the plant every eight to ten inches so the debris is easily gathered for disposal. Prepare the transplant sites by digging holes and adding appropriate soil amenities such as compost and fertilizer. Trim the grass to a height of four to five inches. Dig around the entire plant with a shovel and pry it out of the ground. Once you have the plant out of the ground, lay it on its side. Next, determine the number of clumps you need or want. Using a sharp shovel or hand saw, divide the plant into the desired amount of clumps. Replant one clump back in the original spot and plant the other clumps in the prepared locations, making sure the crown of the plants are at or slightly above ground level. Water in thoroughly and cover with about three inches of mulch.
If you’re looking for another spring project, check out our May newsletter’s DIY section on planting spring bulbs. A small investment in time and bulbs now will yield beautiful benefits this summer.
Rachael and Tobias
Finally, spring has arrived. We’ve survived another Nebraska winter and have done every indoor chore on our “to-do” lists. Our gardening tools are ready; some seeds have already been started in our basement greenhouses. All we’re waiting on is the weather, specifically warmer air and soil temperatures, to launch our season. What else can we do while we wait? Well, now is a good time to build a raised planting bed.
The basic idea of a raised bed is that instead of battling against poor soil conditions, you build above ground, where you have absolute control over the soil texture and ingredients.
Growing in raised beds has many advantages. It can be easier on aging backs and knees, and optimal soil conditions inside a raised bed can easily be maintained. By relegating external areas to the compaction of walking and wheelbarrows, the contained soil stays aerated, thus draining better. Raised beds can be maintained by simply topping with compost or mulch. Another advantage to raised beds is that they extend a gardener's growing season because the walls collect early spring sun and warm up before native soil, giving plants and seeds a jump on the growing season.
There are some key considerations when selecting a site for a raised bed. A flat, level area works best for a raised bed. If there are specific plants you want to grow, make sure you’ve located your bed so it receives the correct amount of sunlight. Having a water source close at hand is important. A raised bed will dry out more quickly due to improved drainage and quality soil so you’ll want to minimize the distance you have to travel with a hose or other irrigation device.
Another important component in selecting the location of the bed is its size. The point of raised bed is to avoid soil compaction, i.e. all weight-bearing activity such as walking, kneeling, and wheelbarrow placement occurs outside the bed boundaries. By not stepping in the bed, soil remains light and fluffy and keeps your plant’s roots happy. If you will have room to work on either side of the bed, a four-foot width is ideal.When prepping your site, you will want to remove the existing sod. There are two ways to do this. If you want to skip your workout for the day, grab a shovel and dig out the sod and loosen the soil with a shovel or garden fork to a depth of 8 – 12 inches. A less labor-intensive alternative is to lay down newspaper or landscape fabric, effectively smothering the sod.Raised beds can be constructed from a variety of materials and are a matter of personal preference. Treated lumber should be avoided as it can leach hazardous chemicals. Cedar and redwood will resist rotting and are good alternatives as are stones, cinderblocks, and bricks. Once the frame has been constructed, fill it with a good mixture of quality topsoil, compost and rotted manure to a minimum depth of six inches. To ensure the plants’ roots have ample room to grow, a depth of 8 – 12 inches is ideal. Rake the soil mixture level and you are ready to plant.
Happily, raised bed gardens require very little maintenance. Each spring or fall, it's a good idea to top dress with fresh compost and manure, or if your bed only holds plants for part of the year, go ahead and dig the compost or manure into the top several inches of soil. As with any garden, mulching the top of the soil will help retain moisture and keep minimize weeds growth.
If you have raised beds as part of your landscape or if you build a raised bed this spring, send us a note and let us know about your experience. As always, we love to see pictures of your projects, so we hope you’ll send us those as well.
Rachael and Tobias
There are many options for indoor flowering plants throughout the winter. Nearly every bulb variety can be “forced” or tricked into believing it is spring and time for them to shine. Paperwhite narcissus bulbs are great for forcing indoors because unlike many bulbs, they do not require a cold treatment. It usually takes only 3-5 weeks to see blooms from the time they are planted. The fact that they don’t require soil means minimal mess in the house, unless Tobias is “helping.” This is a great project for little ones so don’t hesitate to get them involved.
Like all projects, gathering your supplies and tools ahead of time lays the groundwork for a successful venture. You’ll need a container without a drainage hole, a filler medium, water and, of course, bulbs. That’s it. It can’t get any easier. Are you ready to get started?
Choosing bulbsSelect high-quality bulbs that are free of mold and mildew. For our purposes, we selected paperwhites which require no chilling. Amaryllis is also an option for the following process.
Choosing a container and filler
The ideal container is 3”- 4” deep. While any container without a drainage hole can be used, a glass container is preferred, especially for first timers and children. A glass container allows for easy monitoring of the roots and eliminates any guesswork when it comes to deciding when to move the container.
There are a variety of materials that can be used as filler. Pebbles, crushed rock, marbles, etc. are all good choices. The purpose of the filler is to provide stability and support for the plant as it grows. The filler should be made up of fairly small pieces so that the roots can fill in around them.
Spread 1-1/2” of filler in the bottom of the container. Set the bulbs, pointed side up, in the filler and use the remaining filler medium to support and fill in the gaps around the bulbs. Leave the tips of the bulbs showing above the filler. Add enough water for the water level to reach the bottom of the bulbs.
Storing the plantFor those of you who have been waiting for the “trick” to begin, here it is. You will need to find a dark, cool place for the plant to hang out for a few weeks. The ideal temperature is 55 – 65 degrees F. The plant believes it is winter and will start sending out roots.
It usually takes about 2 to 3 weeks for the roots to begin developing. When you can see the roots and the top of the plant begins to elongate, it is time to move them into the light. Find a sunny spot where the plant will be tricked into thinking spring has sprung. The more sun the better, but remember: the point is for the plant to think it is spring, not summer, so watch out for the temperature. After about one week, you will begin seeing several buds on each stalk.
To prolong the growing season, stagger your planting over several weeks. This will provide you with beautiful plants throughout the winter months. While it is not advisable to mix bulb types in a container, give serious consideration to starting a variety of bulbs to take advantage of the full array of colors these plants can produce.
Once you are comfortable forcing bulbs like paperwhites and amaryllis, consider the other spring beauties: tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and the like. These cold-treatment bulbs require more time and a bit different methodology, but are certainly worth the effort, especially in the dreary, cold winter days of January and February. If you are interested in learning more about forcing cold treatment bulbs, let us know.
We wish you the best of luck with your planting, whatever the season.
Rachael and Tobias
Tobias and I just love fall! The weather is so welcome after the heat and humidity of summer and the colors, textures and aromas of the season are so fabulous. We know winter is coming so you want to make the most of every minute we can spend outdoors now.
One of our favorite things to do this time of year is plan our spring landscape beds. Tobias doesn’t care too much about which colors or specific plants I select at the garden center as long as he gets to help with the digging and the occasional batting around of a bulb!
A word to the wise about shopping for bulbs: if you’re not exactly sure what you want, take your time and read the bulb labels carefully. They contain all the information you need to determine how many bulbs you’ll need, how to plant the bulbs, what you can expect as far as the size of the plants and blooms and when the specific plants will bloom. Tobias suggests wearing comfortable shoes for walking up and down the aisles at the garden center.
Are you ready to get started? Here we go.
Purchasing high quality bulbs will help to ensure future numbers and size of blooms. While top quality tulip and hyacinth bulbs are usually desirable, smaller bulbs will usually suffice for snowdrops and daffodils which easily grow and multiply each year. It is important to choose healthy, fresh bulbs.
Most bulbs require 6-8 hours of sun per day in order to make enough nutrients to grow, make it through the winter, and flower the following spring. However, if you planning on planting new bulbs each fall, your site options increase. This is because in early spring when the foliage of the bulbs begins to emerge, there are few leaves on trees to provide shade; therefore, any bulbs that are planted under deciduous trees or in shady areas will receive enough sun in order to bloom satisfactorily for the first spring. Snowdrops and winter aconite are the first to show up in the spring, usually in March. These are soon followed by crocus, scilla, and chionodoxa. These are followed by the hyacinths, daffodils, and tulips. Bulbs are usually sold with a label that will give information on bloom time, bloom size, and hardiness.
Properly preparing the soil for bulb planting is important. Good soil drainage is essential in raising bulbs. If you have a soil with a high clay content, it can be improved by adding compost, peat moss or some other source of organic material. The organic material should be worked in the top twelve inches of soil. A fertilizer specifically formulated for bulbs can be applied according to label instructions at the time of planting. The fertilizer should have a high amount of phosphorous. Bone meal is a great organic source of phosphorous but should be avoided in areas where skunks and rodents may be tempted to dig up the bulbs in their search for the “buried bones”. Having the right amount of nutrients available to the bulbs this time of year is important because the roots of the bulbs will still be growing and absorbing nutrients through November and sometimes even into December.
Again, the bulbs’ label should have all the information you need as far as planting depth, which end faces up, and how tall the plant will be.
Any fertilizing should be avoided in the spring while the bulbs are in bloom, as this can shorten the bloom time.
So, are you ready to go dig in the dirt? Don’t forget to get your tools in proper order. A small shovel will work just fine or, you can pick up a handy bulb-planting tool at the garden center. Tobias is a firm believer in stretching before and during bulb planting (and just about any other time as well). You might find yourself in an uncomfortable position while planting so do remember to stretch and protect your back and leg muscles.
Have fun with your bulb planting project. This is a great project that can involve the entire family. Don’t forget to send us a note and let us know how it goes for you. We’d love to see pictures of landscape beds now and again next spring when you’ll be enjoying the fruits of your labor.
Rachael and Tobias