Archive | May 2016

Get ready to Pick some Peppers!

Posted with permission of the National Garden Bureau:


Yellow Peppers
Peppers, a highlight in any garden are one of the easiest plants to grow. Bringing a rainbow of colors, a plethora of shapes and different degrees of heat to your table, peppers are an attractive addition to any garden or container.

It’s easy to value these plants for looks and flavor alone, but the pepper is a nutritional powerhouse as well. A serving of the most popular type in the USA–the sweet bell–contains more vitamin C than the average orange, a generous amount of vitamin E and many antioxidants with only 29 calories.

Peppers are actually a fruit (because they come from a flowering plant and contain seeds) but treated and spoken of as a vegetable. Worldwide, each culture has its own preferred shapes, textures, colors, flavors and recipes.

A few examples of the plethora of pepper types grown are Bells, Bull’s Horn, snacking mini-peppers, half-longs, bananas, jalapenos and habaneros.

“Bell” is a term used in the U.S.A. that refers to sweet peppers with 3-4 lobes. Bell might either refer roughly to the fruit shape or to the pendulous way the fruit hang from the plant. In the U.S. agriculture industry, the 3-4 lobed fruit that are nearly as wide as they are tall are referred to as “blocky” bells and the elongated bell peppers (which are not as common in North America) are called “half-long” bells (half as wide as they are long). Bells can be found in many colors including red, yellow, orange, purple, chocolate and ivory.

“Bull’s Horn” peppers are sweet and wide at the shoulder, tapering to a point. They often have thicker walls than the blocky bells and commonly mature to red. They are thought to have been brought to the U.S. from Italy and are also called “Corno di Toro”- which translates to “Horn of the Bull.”

Mini-Snacking peppers have been popular with home gardeners for many years and have gained popularity in U.S. grocery stores in the last 10 years or so. They are blocky, pointed, thin-walled, sweet, and come in bright colors including, yellow and orange. The best snacking peppers are crunchy and have just a few seeds or no seeds at all.

And now we enter the dangerous territory of varieties that can be either sweet or hot. Bananas are long and thin and usually mature from a light green or yellow to red. They are used fresh and pickled as rings. Because there are both sweet and hot banana peppers available, be sure and order the seed or buy the plant you prefer.

Jalapenos and habaneros are also available. They are available in both hot or sweet varieties and used in many recipes to bring the heat!

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How To Grow…
Peppers like a sunny spot. They grow best in a location where plants from the same family have not recently grown–crop rotation is important for peppers (and tomatoes and eggplants).

Pepper plants prefer full sun, but if you live in a very warm area look for varieties that have “good coverage” of fruit. A full leaf canopy will prevent fruit from sun-scald. Scalded fruit, though less attractive, are still edible and taste the same.

Plants will continue to bloom and set fruit until the first frost. If temperatures are above 85 degrees, or very cool, flower set and fruiting may slow down. Keep the plants watered and wait out the weather–they often will rebound if conditions improve.

Peppers can be harvested at any stage of maturity. Less mature green peppers will generally be green or pale yellow, smaller, crunchy, and have thin walls and a slightly tart flavor. A benefit of harvesting early is that it triggers the plants to produce more fruit. Mature peppers will often change color and have thicker walls.

Buy Big or Buy Small: Does Pot Size and Quantity Matter with Tomatoes?

“My friend and I don’t agree with how we buy our plants. My friend buys all her tomatoes and peppers in little packs of 3, 4, or 6. They look so skinny and sickly. I always buy mine in single pots because they are bigger and better and blooming. She tells me I am nuts to spend so much money on the same thing as her. I know my plants will grow better. What do you think? I plan to show her your response, so make it good!



Dear Janelle,

Thanks for your questions. Sorry to burst your bubble, but bigger isn’t always better.

Commercial greenhouses sell single potted tomatoes, peppers, etc. to:

1. Appeal to the customer’s eyes by having them think that big plant with flowers will produce fruit soon.

2. Appeal to the customer’s brain by making them think that the plant will be healthier and better because the single potted plants are always darker green and have such a sturdy stem.

3. Appeal to the customer’s wallet because things that are more expensive are better quality.

Tomato Transplants

The sad thing is, all of these things are untrue when it comes to plants.  There are so many reason why that:

1.  Days to Maturity:  If you have ever looked at a packet of tomato seeds or the plant stake that is included in a pot when you buy the tomato plant at the greenhouse, you will see that it has “– days after transplant”. With tomatoes and other plants that require a boost indoors before being planted outside, the days to maturity is based on the days after transplanting. It doesn’t matter if your plant if 4 inches tall with 6 leaves or 12 inches tall with 16 leaves: it will still take the same amount of days after transplanting to have fruits.

2.  Transplant shock: Transplant shock occurs to every plant when it is taken from one place and put in another. It doesn’t matter if you have a large root mass or a small one — all movement is shocking to the plant. The larger the plant is, the more shock it will have and the longer it will take to recover from the shock because it is an older plant. (For those in the northern states, most greenhouses start single potted vegetables 4-8 weeks earlier than those in multipacks).  So while your large tomato plant is recovering from the rude awakening of being put into your garden, your friend’s little tomatoes will quickly recover and soon be as large (if not larger) than yours and yours will still be recovering and not growing.  In general, the best size plant for transplanting is one that is 4-8″ tall. Any larger than that and you are setting yourself up for a lot of shock.

3. Flowers don’t mean fruit: Just because a tomato is flowering when you buy it doesn’t mean those flowers will have fruit. Flowering is often a sign that a plant is in shock. It’s like the plant is saying, “oh no, things are not right in my current environment, I need to flower and produce fruit because I may soon die.”  Flowering tomato or pepper plants in a greenhouse indicate that your plant has been growing for a long time (probably since February or earlier) and is more than ready to be producing fruit. However, the little pot that it is growing in is a much smaller amount of soil than the plant requires to make fruit. The flowers will usually drop without producing fruit or the fruits that are produced will be small and of low quality. Also, if you plant your transplants soon after purchasing them and leave the flowers on, they will produce fruits, but the plant will focus on producing those fruits only rather than growing larger and making more fruits. It is always best to pinch off all buds and blooms on vegetable plants when they are transplanted into the soil.

4.  Extra Green Color: When you go to the greenhouse, you notice that the larger plants are always much darker green. This is because the greenhouse overfertilizes the single pots to increase their size and make them as dark green as possible. When you get the plant home and don’t continue to overfertilize it, it will go into ‘starvation’ mode and not grow. If you think continuing to overfertilize the plant will help it, you are wrong. Overfertilizing will prevent flower/fruit development. (And if you are wondering how the plants at the greenhouse flowered while being overfertilized, it is due to shock. Same thing won’t happen when the plant is in your garden with plenty of root space, light, and water.)

5. Expense: The truth is, seeds are cheap. Insanely cheap. On average, an open pollinated or heirloom variety will cost about $0.001-0.005/per seed (that’s right, tenths of a cent).  Hybrids usually cost $0.005-0.05/per seed.  While there is an addition cost of fertilizer, water, etc., it doesn’t come close to adding up to the premium price of the single potted plants. And, as a person that used to work in the greenhouse industry, the greenhouse owner is chuckling over the people that buy ‘premium’ plants all the way to the bank.

So, Janelle, unfortunately for you, your friend has it right.

Don’t believe me? Research done by the Samuel Roberts Foundation, Iowa State, and UC Cooperative Extension backs me up on this.

I hope this information helps you out and that you make a wiser decision in the future. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask.



© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Where Are We?

As you may have noticed, there are not too many articles dribbling out of the Horticulture Talk blog for a while.  We apologize for this, and have a really good excuse:

We added a little Sprout to the family!


At times while Sprout #1 was coming about, things were a bit difficult and it is a miracle she is here.  Many days while pregnant, it was a challenge to just stand up. (And this is the part where I remember that others I know who were pregnant at the time would complain about their difficult pregnancies and I would do side eye and throw shade because they didn’t know what they were talking about, okay.  ;-D  )

Due to health issues/difficult pregnancy, things here were not being updated much.  For those that submitted questions during this time, you know that the responses were sent back in a timely fashion, but you likely haven’t seen the question and response posted here yet.  Within the next few weeks/months/as time allows, those will be posted here.  In the meanwhile, you are welcome to submit your current and future questions here (see the link on the side or click this link), on our Facebook page, on Twitter, or email.  They will be posted as I respond to them.

Remember, our site is mostly geared around your questions, so submit away!  And thanks for sticking with us through the posting dry spell!

NGB Garden Grant Applications Now Available

Posted with permission of the National Garden Bureau:


National Garden Bureau Accepting Applications for Therapeutic Garden Grants

National Garden Bureau, in an ongoing effort to raise awareness of horticulture and support the benefits of gardening (#growingforfutures), will grant $5,000 this fall to be split among three therapeutic gardens in North America.

After fundraising for a vocational therapeutic garden in Chicago in 2014 then granting thousands of dollars to three therapeutic gardens in 2015, the National Garden Bureau (NGB) is again supporting gardens that promote the health and healing powers of human interaction with plants. Beginning this month, NGB will begin accepting applications from therapeutic gardens that meet the following set of criteria:

  1. Have a defined program using the garden to further particular goals for participants lead by a qualified leader. Examples include horticultural therapy, occupational, physical, vocational or rehabilitation therapy in a garden setting or using gardening to promote positive social relationships within a community.
  2. Offer a nature experience/interface for population served, including, but not limited to veterans, special-needs children or young adults, the elderly and/or those recuperating from specific injuries or addictions.
  3. Be used for job-training, skill-building, or food growing for at-risk youth, veterans, or the elderly.
  4. Involve a large number of gardeners, clients, patients, visitors or students on a monthly basis.

From all the applications received, a group of horticulture therapy experts will narrow all applications down to three finalists. Those three finalists will then be asked to submit a one-minute video that will be posted on All involved parties will solicit feedback from the public, using Social Media, to vote on the garden they wish to receive the grants. The top vote-getter will receive $3,000, second and third place will receive $1,000 each.

The panel of experts to determine the three garden finalists are:

  • Patty Cassidy, Registered Horticultural Therapist, American Horticultural Therapy Association board member and secretary
  • Barbara Kreski, Director, Horticultural Therapy Services, Chicago Botanic Garden
  • Julie Tracy, President, Julie+Michael Tracy Family Foundation/Growing Solutions Farm
  • Heather Kibble, President, National Garden Bureau, Home Garden Vegetables Division Manager, Sakata Seed America

To apply, therapeutic garden applicants should determine that they meet the criteria as outlined in this downloadable document and then complete this application and submit it to the NGB office by the deadline of July 1, 2016.

Now that we are in our third year of supporting therapeutic gardening efforts, we feel that we have a lot of traction and are able to bring more awareness to the many gardens throughout North America that are being created to help people rehabilitate from difficult situations.  We encourage any and all groups who have a therapeutic gardening program to participate for the chance to win money to support their worthwhile projects.” states Heather Kibble, National Garden Bureau President.

According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, horticultural therapy (HT) is a time-proven practice. The therapeutic benefits of garden environments have been documented since ancient times. In the 19th century, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and recognized as the “Father of American Psychiatry,” was first to document the positive effect working in the garden had on individuals with mental illness.

HT techniques are employed to assist participants to learn new skills or regain those that are lost. A therapeutic garden is a plant-dominated environment purposefully designed to facilitate interaction with the healing elements of nature. There are many sub-types of therapeutic gardens including healing gardens, enabling gardens, rehabilitation gardens, and restorative gardens.

For more information about this project or the National Garden Bureau, visit: and follow #growingforfutures on Social Media.

You say “Tomato”, we say “YUM”

Posted with permission of the National Garden Bureau:


Man picking tomatoes
Yummm… Nothing is more delicious than a home-grown tomato straight out of your garden!

Tomatoes are one of the most popular plants for home gardeners. With just a few plants, you can easily feed your family plus have extras to share or preserve for winter eating.

They are also one of the easiest vegetables to grow if you remember a few key points….

1. Tomatoes need as much direct sunlight as possible to produce the highest yield. Native to the tropics, tomatoes require warm temperatures for good growth, so wait until the nighttime air has warmed to about 55 degrees F before transplanting. Planting tomatoes too soon will only slow them down.

2. The best way to plant a tomato is the trench method. After loosening the soil, dig a trench and lay the tomato plant into it horizontally. Pinch lower leaves off of the stem, and allow the top cluster of leaves to lead out of the trench. Cover the root system and bare stem with soil, gently firming it where the plant emerges, and push a pillow of soil under the top stem to keep it erect. The plant will grow up towards the sun and, because the bulk of the stem is buried at a shallow level, the newly developing roots will warm up quickly. This is a boon to gardeners living where the growing season is short. Be sure to water deeply to encourage deep root growth.

3. If temperatures drop at night, keep young plants warm with a cloche or other protective cover. Tomatoes are not frost hardy, and will die if exposed to 32 degrees F without protection.

4. Throughout the growing season remember to water the plants deeply during dry periods for as long as they are setting fruit. Established tomato plants need at least one inch of precipitation per week.

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5. For the best tomato flavor, allow the fruit to fully ripen on the plant. Wait until it is deep red, yellow, or whatever final color the tomato is to be, because once it is removed from the vine, the supply of sugars is cut off. To harvest, gently twist the fruit so that the stem separates from the vine.

6. Tomatoes are best kept at room temperature, and will store on a kitchen counter for several days. It is absolutely unnecessary to place a ripe tomato in the refrigerator.

7. At the end of the season when frost is predicted, green tomatoes can be harvested and placed on a windowsill or counter. Most will gradually turn red and have some degree of tomato flavor. Placing unripe tomatoes in a paper bag will hasten the ripening process.

8. For more information on growing your best tomatoes this season, check out these informative guidelines from some of our NGB members….

Cocktail Hour Garden

Posted with permission of the National Garden Bureau:


You Are Invited…
To put aside the workday, your commute, and all digital devices and enjoy
“The Green Hour.”
Where: Your Own Backyard, Porch or Patio

When: Any Evening, any Hour you choose for “The Green Hour”

Who: Come By Yourself or With Friends, Family, and Neighbors (Pets welcomed!)

Why: To reconnect with the natural world. To be refreshed by colorful flowers and foliage. To appreciate plants that are backlit by the setting sun. To hear birdsongs, smell fragrance wafting from flowers and taste hors d’oeuvres  and beverages made from veggies picked directly from your garden.

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Book excerpt from The Cocktail Hour Garden by C.L. Fornari

Some say that the cocktail hour began in Paris with the custom of pausing after the workday for a small glass of absinthe. This highly alcoholic, green-hued drink – made from herbs such as wormwood, fennel and green anise – was first sold in the late 18th century as a cure-all. In the early 19th century the potent beverage became popular as a before-dinner aperitif. So many people looked forward to sipping their glass of absinthe at this time of the evening that the period became known as l’heure vert, the green hour.

Although to this date I haven’t tried absinthe, it’s not surprising that I’m in favor of the concept of a green hour. For a gardener such as myself, green isn’t the color of an intoxicating drink but the color of healthy plants. I’d estimate that the average garden would be over 80% green if we charted its component colors. Yet green also exemplifies other qualities that we hold dear.

Green can mean lush, verdant, luxuriant and fertile. It’s a term for a park, playing field or neighborhood common space – or a way to describe something natural, pure, eco-friendly and organic. Green also implies freshness or something that’s young and new. Who wouldn’t want a period of each day devoted to these qualities?

I propose that the best place to celebrate a return of the green hour is among plants, in the garden. We can all use a time to pause among the surrounding greenery and count our blessings, whether it’s with a cup of tea, a cocktail, or no beverage-in-hand at all.

Cucumber Herb Cooler

1/2 organically grown cucumber, chopped, skin and all
Three springs each of dill, basil, parsley and coriander (about 2 T. of each herb)
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz. honey or agave nectar
1/2 c. water
Sparkling mineral water
Edible flower petals for garnish
Optional: 1 1/2 oz. gin

Place the cucumber, herbs, lemon juice and honey in a food processor or blender with the water. Blend until well mixed but not totally pureed, then pour through a fine sieve into a glass measuring cup. Press lightly to get most of the liquid. Discard the solids. Pour herb liquid over ice in a tall glass. Top with sparkling water and garnish with an edible flower. (If you want to make an alcholic beverage, add the gin before topping off with the sparkling water.)

In her newest book, C.L. Fornari invites us to design a garden for all the senses as well as for our feathered and winged friends, because of course that’s one of a gardener’s great delights: to watch the wildlife enjoy our garden as much as we do. From defining what a Cocktail Hour Garden should (or can) be to a chapter on lighting and choosing after-twilight plants, C.L. covers it all in this delightful and all-encompassing book. Click here for more information.