Tag Archive | gardening

Why I ‘Often’ Say Not-so-Nice Things About Master Gardeners…


“You seem to have a real problem with master gardeners. What is your ******* problem? Are you jealous that you are not one? Master gardeners are experts and instead of being a ******** about gardening you should actually learn something about gardening. You know **** and you give poor advice. I’m sick of you ******* about us. You are one of those ******** that once planted a plant and now think you know every ******* thing about gardening and you probably have to copy your blog articles off of someone elses blog and put them up as yours because you are so ******* dumb. All the comments you have up are the good ones because you probably delete all the ones that ***** at you because you are a ******* *******.  You are making fun all the time of people that actually know how to garden and you give master gardeners a bad name. I wish someone would regulate blogs so stupid ********** losers like you could not write dumb*** articles or copy other peoples articles. Why don’t  you stop being so ****** up and go become a master gardener so you are not so full of ****!

Lynn”

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Dear Lynn,

Thank you for your comment. Your comment is proof that all comments posted on my blog are published, although yours has been edited for this post because of your use of colorful language. I made the edits equally colorful.  However, your original post on my “Post a Question” page has been left in its entirety because I do not have the ability to edit posts to my page.  My readers that enjoy the rancor of a sailor’s tongue can head over to view it in all of its explicative glory.

So, why do I sometimes say things about Master Gardeners that may indicate that not all are experts?

 

Real World Justification

I totally agree with other bloggers and forum posters that “Master Gardener” is a misnomer and I have said that attending classes (where attendance usually isn’t even required), completing a take-home open book test, and then performing 40 volunteer hours does not make anyone a “master” at anything.  As one of my friends, who is a Master Gardener, said of her training, “there were people in my class who’d never put a plant in the ground in their lives, and after “training” and certification, still hadn’t. One man didn’t even know that potatoes grow under the ground.”

“Master” in the name leads to problems like:

– People that know nothing about gardening think it is the same has having a Master’s Degree or being a Master Carpenter. These are titles that represents actual mastery of a subject through hard work, non-open book tests, and more than just showing up and standing around for volunteer work.

– Apparently, it can go to people’s heads (as seen in my experience).  “Some Master Gardeners take that title seriously and are quite vain about it.”  “They are quite pompous for the limited amount they know.”

– It makes people insipid:  “They use the title of ‘Master Gardener’ as evidence of knowledge of all outdoor things with all-inclusive expertise. Plus they tend to be really really boring because when you start to talk about plants they can’t say anything because they have gotten lost by your knowledge.”

– The name is often mistakenly assumed to indicate a higher level of knowledge and training than actual horticulturists with years of university training.

– Many complaints that America’s Master Gardener, Jerry Baker, is a known quack who’s made millions off that self-proclaimed title while giving advice that often kill or stunt plants. It died because you aren’t a master like him.  Ever wonder which program on PBS’s Create channel gets the worst reviews and has the highest number of complaints from non-Master Gardener garden groups and viewers? Jerry Baker’s show.

 

My Justification

When I was in my teens, I worked at research facility that had trial gardens. The folks I worked with all had experience with farm crops (having been raised on the farm), except for one.  The lady in charge of the gardens was a Master Gardener, and boy, did she know it all. She made sure that everyone else knew that she knew it all too (even in areas like horses, homemaking, mechanics, and more).  Even though she had gone through the classes and was her county’s biggest, best gardener (named so by the local Master Gardeners association), she still didn’t realize that you don’t plant your cole crops 4″ apart. According to her, all the package directions for the seeds were wrong, and it was the soil’s fault that her cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. heads were golf ball size or smaller. That rotten sandy soil. Really? Then why was a researcher a few plots over growing huge cole crops with the same water and fertilizer regime?

In college, I worked on campus in my department and one of the favorite major advisors for the department was a huge Master Gardener. She had landscaped an area near one of the entrances to the building. Oooohhh, aaaahhh. NOT! Apparently she had never heard of this funny little thing called ZONES! Just because it grows as a perennial in Florida where you saw it on your last family trip does not mean it will grow here.  Even at the best of times, the area was an eyesore and finally the university told her they would be doing all future landscaping in the area because it made the campus look bad.  She also wore Wal-Mart bags on her feet and nitrile gloves on her hands because she was scared of deadly soil organisms.

After getting out of grad school, I started working at Unnamed Major Home Gardener Seed Catalog and spoke with Master Gardeners daily. How did I know that they were? Well, first of all, when they called into our customer service department and got an answer they didn’t want to hear, they made sure that the operator knew they were a Master Gardener.  Of course, said Master Gardener always wanted to talk to the horticulturist. The slips that were passed along to me for call backs always noted that I should be prepared because the customer was a Master Gardener.  They would talk to me and I would set them straight. If they didn’t like what I said, they often would tell me that I was an idiot and that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that they were a Master Gardener. I would apologize for their dissatisfaction for my response and provide them with some university extension websites from their state that they could find the information on (that repeated the exact same thing I had just told them).  This usually calmed them down, but a few would threaten to talk to my boss and get me fired. I remained at my job for years after, and when I finally left the company, it was because I wanted to leave because I was starting my own business.

This past spring, my Mom was alerted to a plant sale for the Ozaukee County, Wisconsin, Master Gardener’s Association. Tons of roses, heirloom plants and more. We went, and while there were a lot of plants, most were common plants you could find at any greenhouse (even Wal-Mart) with a huge price on them. There was also a table where Master Gardeners had brought plants from their back yards. About half of them were misidentified and some were invasive species.  My Mom purchased a ‘Scabiosa’. She has wanted one for years, and since this person had had it in their back yard growing, it must be okay for the zone. It looked healthy too. Just one little problem. “Mom, that is a hardy geranium. It looks like a Geranium macrorrhizum.” Mom planted it in the garden and when it bloomed, it looked like this:

Geranium macrorhiza

 

That, my friends, is a Bigroot Geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum).

And last, but not least, I still enter back home at the fair.  For years, I have been thinking I will just stop entering flowers and houseplants because the entry list becomes more convoluted each year — like it was written by someone that knows nothing about flowers and houseplants. When I was a kid, we had these two older ladies that were the superintendents and they were rock stars! The entries came in by 11 a.m. and they had things ready to go for judging 2 hours later. 1000s of entries. Over the years, these ladies retired and were replaced by local Master Gardeners. First, it was too hard to get the entries ready for judging in 2 hours. They had to be entered the day before. Then the Master Gardeners could not figure out if the entry list should read stems or blooms for various flowers. And then this year the change was made that you cannot have any pot over a couple gallons in size because they are so big.  As each change was made, the number of entries dropped significantly.  Now the entries are down to a couple hundred, and it is still just so difficult for the Master Gardener lady that is the superintendent.  This year she was baffled by petunias and daylilies. She didn’t know that petunias can have more than one bloom per stem or that daylilies are open for only one day. Petunias! Daylilies! These are common, beginning gardening plants!  And yet, she is one of the top Master Gardener in the county.  Need I say more?

 

The long and short of it is that I hold a Master’s Degree in Horticulture, I operate my own horticulture business, I have numerous published journal articles and am a contributor to a gardening book, I am a certified horticulturist, and I have almost 35 years of gardening experience. Despite ALL of that, I would never go so far as to call myself a Master or an Expert or anything else that would remotely suggest that “I have arrived” when it comes to gardening. Any person that TRULY has a breadth and depth of their field knows that no matter how trained they are, there is always something to be learned. I learn more about gardening every day through my own hands-on experience here at my farm and through the experiences of other gardeners that I help out with consultation and advice.

 

But It’s Not All Bad…

While I know many gardeners that are Master Gardeners with enough knowledge to fit on the head of a pin, there are a number of Master Gardeners that don’t have to flash their credentials to the world. These are the ones that truly embody what the Master Gardener program is supposed to be about, but helping through outreach programs and 4-H, using their talents to judge at county fairs and horticultural shows, working at a horticulturally-related job, or expanding their knowledge by getting involved with companies like Seed Savers Exchange. These non-flashy Master Gardeners know a lot about gardening and have yards that show their knowledge, and they don’t have to get up on a soap box and say, “look at me” to make themselves feel better because of their inadequacy in the garden or a lack of plant knowledge. When I gripe about Master Gardeners, my issues are not directed towards those that are using the program in the way it was meant to be rather than using it as a social status. Unfortunately, when one attends an event where a Master Gardener(s) is(are) present, it is too often the flashy, ‘expert’, attention-hungry Master Gardeners that show up. And by their actions, they show how little they know and give the organization as a whole a bad name.

Maybe a more appropriate name for the program would be “Horticultural Volunteers” or “Horticultural Research Volunteers”. I wonder how many ‘experts’ like yourself would still be interested in being in the program?

 

Remember, Lynn, the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.

 

 

 

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© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2014. 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.

 

 

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Kiss of Death: Why are the plants dying?


“my plants come up nice an green,then turn brown an die.they have plenty of water.corn plants come up to a foot or so then turn brown.tassels start to form.can you tell me why

bob”

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dead soybeansHi Bob,

Thank you for the email regarding your plants.  From your email, but guess
I’m wondering what type of plants you are growing.  Is corn the only plant
you are having problems with or do you have other crops in your garden that
are doing the same?

I look forward to your response and helping you out on this matter.

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“i plant tomatos,potatos,beans,squash,cukes,corn.all come up green,turn yellow,then brown then die.i used 10-10-10-fert.watered 2-3 time week.what is wrong

bob”

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Hi Bob,

Sounds to me like there is something wrong with the environment that your plants are growing in rather than the plants themselves.

If you were having problems with just one crop (i.e. beans or squash) or if you were having problems with one family of crops (i.e. tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants), we would then be looking at some type of disease or insect problem that was hurting the plants.  However, with the problems you have been having, it is everything across the board.

What you have been doing in terms of watering and fertilizing is correct.  This means that the soil is likely the problem.  My suggestion would be to have your soil tested through your local county extension office for Lee County.  Their website and contact details can be found here:  http://lee.ifas.ufl.edu/.

Based on the results of your soil test, their county ag agent should be able to help you in identifying what amendments need to be made in order to get your garden back on track.

I hope this information helps you out.  If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask.

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© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2014. 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.

Lycopene in Tomatoes: Which is the Best?


“What tomato has the highest lycopene  content? I see different catalogs will say that theirs is the best, but I want the one that is really the best. Please help!

Thank you,

David Hunter”

________________________________________________________________Bulgarian Triumph

Hi David,

Thank you for the question regarding Lycopene content in tomatoes.  For the most part, your run of the mill red tomatoes have about the same amount of lycopene (approximately 4.6 mg per cup of raw fruit).  However, Health Kick Hybrid VFFASt is the best, as it has about 6 mg per cup of raw fruit.

In general, the brighter the red, the more lycopene content you have.  If the flesh is more red-orange, there is more beta carotene and other yellow-pigmented carotenoids mixed in.  If you go with a more deep red to red-purple tomato, there are more anthocyanins in the flesh.

One thing that you may not know — cooked tomatoes have up to about 170% more lycopene than raw tomatoes.  It’s not that cooking the tomato makes more lycopene develop, but that the cooking process breaks down the tissue.  If you were to eat a tomato raw, your teeth only break the fruit down so much and then your stomach does a little more.  But in the end, you still have chunks that go undigested.  Cooking makes the tomato more broken apart to start with, and then the chewing and digestion in the stomach breaks it apart more.  So, if you make or purchase tomato paste, there are about 60mg lycopene per cup.  Tomato sauce has about 34.2mg per cup and ketchup has about 2.6 mg per tablespoon.

I hope this information helps you out.  If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask.

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© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2014. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gardening’s Latest Trend: Seed Tapes — To Buy or To DIY?


“hi mertie mae,
I see a lot of seed companies have seed tapes this year. What exact are these, do they work, and do you recommend them?

wayne”

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Hi Wayne,

Thanks for your questions. You, like many others that received seed catalogs this year, are wondering what all the fuss is when it comes to seed tapes.

Seed tapes, and similar products like seed disks and seed carpets, are a gardening tool that have been around for hundreds of years. They are especially popular in Europe (where people do a lot more gardening than us here stateside).  There are 3 basic reasons why people use them:

1. Dexterity issues.  For older (and even younger) gardeners, it is difficult to sometimes put an individual tiny seed in a particular spot. With seed tapes, the detail work is taken out because you just lay down the tape. It works great for children too.

2. The seed is in the ground. If you have a gully washer rain storm or birds come along, your seed will stay in the ground.

3. Perfect spacing. Every time.

SeedTapes

Sounds great, right?

Well, you must know me a bit from reading my blog because you ask for my recommendation, so here it is:

If you are smart, don’t buy the seed tapes from a mail order company.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not anti-seed tape.  I think seed tape is great if you are a person that can make use of it; however, going along with the latest seed catalog gimmick is NOT the way to go!

First, let me explain why.

1.  Currently, the seed tapes are only offered for varieties that are produced by Bejo Seeds.  Bejo is a subsidiary of Bejo Zaden Seeds, a Dutch seed producer.  We here at Mertie’s like Bejo — they have a lot of great varieties, including White Satin and Yellowstone Carrots that Mertie, Patch, and Rhubarb enjoy eating (yes, our cat loves carrots!). But if you are a person that grows a non-Bejo variety and you want seed tapes, what do you do? Do you switch varieties?

2. It is a lot more expensive to buy seeds in a tape than to by them loosely. An individual seed tape is 15′ long and has, on average, 45-90 seeds in that 15′ (45 seeds = 4″ spacing, 90 seeds = 2″ spacing). Most seed packets the same price or less often contain 200-2000 seeds, depending on the crop or the seed company you buy them from.

3.  4 years ago I had the opportunity to try commercially-produced seed tapes as a trial.  I had carrots, beets, lettuce, and radish.  With the radishes, the germination was not better than the row of the same un-taped seed next to it — and in fact, was in some cases worse because each seed was in a particular spot (to eliminate thinning), so if it didn’t germinate… well, you have a open hole in your row. Also, the little rodents that liked to wander in my garden seemed to have an easier time finding the lettuce seed because it was all in a row. They dug a hole at each spot where there was a seed was.  The beets were the only thing that did truly well, and I suspect it was because a beet seed sends up multiple shoots.  Although my research didn’t have a gully washing rainstorm involved, I find it hard to believe that the tape could hold the seed in the ground when it supposedly begins to degrade as soon as it gets wet. Those two comments seem to be complete opposites.

 

At this point, you are probably thinking, “how in the world is Mertie Mae okay with seed tapes, because she seems to be quite negative about them”.  As I have often stated in this blog, I am cheap, stubborn, and have enough brains in my head to make use of them a economical, do-it-yourself kind of girl, and as such, let me tell you how folks have been doing seed tapes since forever:

They make their own.  Efficiently and cost effective.

Depending on how you garden, there are two different ways you can do this: conventionally or organically.  Either method can be used for just about any seed, although tapes for larger seeds (corn, beans, peas) will need to handled with care after gluing so as to not knock off the bulkier seed.

 

Conventional method

You will need:

–newspaper (black and white only!!! no color!!!)

–washable white glue (Elmer’s, school glue, etc.)

–seed of your choice (can be anything)

–scissors

–tweezers for small seeds, if needed

1.  Cut the newspaper into strips that are 1/2-1 inch thick strips. (After you do this a bit, you will know what seeds work best with what thickness).

2.  Read the planting instructions for your particular seed.  Pay close attention to the seed spacing in the row.

3.  Place a dot of glue along the strips at the spacing you want your seeds.  If you want to have the ability to thin your seeds,  place the dots at the measurement indicated for planting the seeds in the ground. If you do not want to thin, place the dots at the spacing of what your plants would be thinned to.

EXAMPLE:  A carrot seed packet says, “plant seed 1/2″ apart. When the seedlings are 2″ tall, thin to 1″ apart. When the seedlings are 6″ tall, thin to 2″ apart.”

DIY Seed tape with lots of thinning: space glue drops 1/2″ apart.

DIY Seed tape with some thinning: space glue drops 1″ apart.

DIY Seed tape with no thinning: space glue drops 2″ apart.

4. Put a single seed on top of each glue drop.

5. Allow glue to dry for 24 hours.

6. When planting, make sure your row is wide enough to allow for the tape to be laid down flat. Plant at the depth indicated on the packet for the seed. Water well, as there needs to be enough water for the newspaper to absorb and for the seed to imbibe.

 

Organic method

You will need:

–organic toilet paper or paper towel

–organic white flour

–water

–seed of your choice (can be anything)

–a small tip paintbrush or q-tip

–scissors

–tweezers for small seeds, if needed

1. Roll the toilet paper out to the desired length of our strip and cut down the middle to make 2 long strips. Make multiple long strips if using paper towels.

2.  Mix the flour and water together to make a 1:1 mixture to use as paste.

3.  Place a dot of paste along the strips of toilet paper at the spacing you want your seeds.  If you want to have the ability to thin your seeds,  place the dots at the measurement indicated for planting the seeds in the ground. If you do not want to thin, place the dots at the spacing of what your plants would be thinned to.

EXAMPLE:  A carrot seed packet says, “plant seed 1/2″ apart. When the seedlings are 2″ tall, thin to 1″ apart. When the seedlings are 6″ tall, thin to 2″ apart.”

DIY Seed tape with lots of thinning: space glue drops 1/2″ apart.

DIY Seed tape with some thinning: space glue drops 1″ apart.

DIY Seed tape with no thinning: space glue drops 2″ apart.

4. Put a single seed on top of each paste drop.

5. Allow paste to dry for 24 hours.

6. When planting, make sure your row is wide enough to allow for the tape to be laid down flat. Plant at the depth indicated on the packet for the seed. Water well, as there needs to be enough water for the toilet paper to absorb and for the seed to imbibe.

(PLEASE NOTE: either method can be used to make seed disks for pots or seed carpets for raised beds or square foot gardening with minor adjustments to the size and shape of your newspaper or toilet paper/paper towels.)

And one last interesting fact:

In looking through all my catalogs to get background information for this article, I had a couple catalogs/one main company that had a slightly different description of their seed tapes that was a bit… puzzling.  If you look at Park Seed, Burpee’s, or most of the catalogs selling seed tape, you will see that they are listed as being “biodegradable”. However, the Jung Seed write-up about seed tapes (and those of their subsidiary companies R.H. Shumway’s and Vermont Bean), they are “completely biodegradable and organic”. Organic??? Really…?  After speaking with Laura, a Jung Customer Service Representative, I found out that their version of organic is that the paper is but the seed is not.  Hmmm…  This further prompted me to contact Bejo Seed.  Their representative Mary informed me that the tape is the same that they use for customers that are ordering organic seeds; however, the process of putting the non-organic seed within the organic tape paper automatically makes the tape paper NOT organic and the Jung company is misrepresenting their product.  Many apologies followed, as Bejo has the highest standards and wants their customers, and the customers of their customers, to be pleased.

Yet another example of why it is important to read descriptions carefully and always ask questions.  As always, leave it to us here at Mertie Mae’s Horticulture Talk to get you the real story behind things!

Thank you for your question, and I hope this information helps you out!

 

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© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2014. 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.

Curb Appeal: Enhancing the Value of Your Home with Gardening


It’s not just when you put your home on the market that you should think about improving the curb appeal of your home. Of course, that’s the trendy topic of more than a few TV shows, books and blogs, which is a good thing! But, we are proponents of improving curb appeal for your own enjoyment, as well as for the betterment of your neighborhood and community.

An attractive, well-maintained yard and garden is a key part of curb appeal. If you are trying to market your home, the first impression of a house and the surrounding landscape can make a potential buyer take a closer look at the property or immediately move on to the next house. Attractive landscaping can help a house sell days or weeks faster than other houses on the market. It’s estimated that well-maintained trees and gardens can increase a home’s value by as much as 15%.

All homeowners should make outdoor cleaning a priority. Investing a little time and a few dollars can make the outside of your home sparkle. Mow the lawn and rake up leftover leaves or debris. Trim trees and shrubs by removing broken branches and any unsafe, low or overhanging branches. Trim the grass encroaching on the sidewalk and driveway. Tidy up any flowerbeds by cutting a new edge or trimming grass away from the borders and pull all offending weeds. Then add a few bags of mulch around the base of plantings for a nice, clean look.

That’s what we call basic landscape upkeep and if that’s all you have time for, you certainly can stop there but you’re not getting that full 15% of enhanced home value.

Now’s the time to consider a few gardening tasks to really improve the look of your home. Gardening doesn’t have to be a lot of work or take a lot of time. A few shortcuts can create an instant garden. You don’t even have to own a shovel!

Start by adding containers of colorful flowers. They are easy to grow and can be placed in many areas around the house and yard. Put a container by the front door to welcome visitors. If you have a covered porch, add a few hanging baskets. Attach some window boxes to the deck rail or at the base of several key windows.

Enhance an ordinary planting of shrubs by grouping colorful containers in front and around the shrubs to make the area look larger and more attractive.

You’ll find an assortment of pre-planted containers in a variety of plant and color combinations available at the local garden center, home store, supermarket or hardware store. At this time of year, there are beautiful containers of fall flowers such as mums, flowering kale or cabbage, pansies, violas, and more to provide a quick pop of color and character. Simply determine if the container is recommended for sunny areas or shaded spots, then choose whichever matches the conditions where you’ll put the container.  Keep the container watered and remove faded flowers to keep plants blooming.

Looking for something more unique? Design and plant your own containers. Available in a variety of sizes and colors there’s a style of plant container to complement any home. Whether you like plastic or clay, ceramic or wood, there are two simple rules. Select a container that’s large enough for the plants and make sure it has drainage for excess water so plants don’t drown. Then fill the container with a good soilless growing media. For easy maintenance, choose a media that contains a slow-release fertilizer for healthy plant growth.

When deciding which plants to choose, express your creativity by selecting plants or flowers in the colors or combinations you like. If you’re a cook, choose a variety of tasty herbs or mix herbs with flowers and vegetables in the same container. The possibilities are endless. If you need a little inspiration, look at pre-planted containers at retail stores for ideas of pleasing plant combinations.

Some new homeowners who want a larger garden may find that their soil is not the best so an easy solution is to garden in raised beds. They can be quickly made from landscape timbers, lumber, or bricks.  Raised bed kits of wood or recycled plastic can be purchased from garden catalogs and websites. After assembling the frame, simply fill with bags of high-quality soil, compost, and composted manure.  Annual flowers and vegetables such as lettuce and beans  can be grown in a shallow raised bed that is 4-6 inches deep. For perennial flowers and plants such as tomatoes that need to develop a more extensive root system, a bed that is 8-12 inches deep is recommended.

Plants can also provide solutions to some potential homeowner problems. Maybe you’d like some privacy or a screen to hide an unsightly view. A hedge of shrubs is great but can take time to grow and fill in. In the meantime, plant a row of sunflowers from seed or plants. They grow quickly, withstand heat, dry conditions, and provide beautiful flowers. As an extra benefit, the flowers can be cut for attractive bouquets. Do you want to soften the appearance of a chain-link or wire fence? Plant some morning glories or a vegetable such as cucumber, squash, or gourds at the base of the fence. The vines will grow quickly using the fence for support while covering it with leaves and delightful flowers or nourishing vegetables.

These ideas provide all homeowners with easy ways to become involved in gardening. Whether your garden is a hanging basket, a colorful flower border, or a large bed of delicious vegetables, you’ll enhance the value of your home and create a more beautiful living space for everyone to enjoy.

 

© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2013. 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.

Taking Your Garden to Rustic Levels: Wildflowers!


I think that wildflowers have to be one of the loveliest gifts on this Earth. Their changing panorama of colors, shapes, sizes and heights provides delight throughout the seasons. Wildflowers can be used anywhere — in the home landscape, they are ideal for creating colorful beds and borders, as well as offering a lower-maintenance alternative for large areas or replacing grass. Wildflowers can be planted to cover large, open areas or assist in the recovery of a landscape that has been damaged or destroyed by the actions of people, a natural disaster, or the spread of invasive plants.

So what exactly makes a flower a ‘wildflower’. It is not an exact term nor is it well defined. Some people say a wildflower is a plant that was not intentionally seeded or planted and grows without cultivation.  Others classify a wildflower as any plant growing without the help of man regardless of the  country of origin. Still others define a wildflower as a plant found in a specific geographic area that was grown from seed or plants also from that area.

Wildflowers and other plants that were growing before European settlement in what we now call the United States, Canada and Mexico are called native plants or indigenous species. Other plants, often referred to as exotics or aliens, were originally brought here from another part of the world. Many exotic species including flowers, grasses, trees and shrubs are among our favorite garden plants. A few, including some wildflowers, have escaped and become established as part of a local environment or naturalized. Some exotic species have even become invasive and are considered noxious weeds that need to be eradicated.

A garden of wildflowers offers benefits to both the gardener and the environment. Once established, properly chosen wildflowers require less maintenance than traditional landscape plantings which can mean less watering, fertilizing, pest control and mowing. Some plants have deep root systems that prevent water run off and soil erosion, and enable them to withstand drought. Their growth also brings earthworms and beneficial soil microorganisms to enhance soil health. And colorful blossoms can be arranged into lovely, casual bouquets that brighten the home.

Flowers provide nectar and pollen sources for bees, butterflies and other pollinators, while ripened seeds are a food source for birds and wildlife. Current research suggests that native plants and flowers might be more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers. Even a small area in a garden or landscape planted with wildflowers that bloom at varying times throughout the growing season helps attract and support pollinators.

Many of these beautiful yet hard-working plants are equally at home in garden beds and borders as they are in larger wildflower plantings and restoration projects. Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), and black-eyed or brown-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia triloba and R. hirta) are among the popular wildflowers planted by American gardeners, all of which happen to be native to the U.S.


One of the most admired wildflowers is Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). It is native to the Midwestern prairies and dry, open woods of the Southeast but can be found in gardens from Maine to California because it is fairly adaptable to most types of soil and does well even in dry conditions. Plants flower from late spring to early fall attracting butterflies and bees to the large, purple, daisy-like flowers. After the long-lasting blooms drop their petals, the distinctive seed heads develop and provide food for goldfinches and other birds. (Zones 3-8)


Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is native to a large part of the country including the Northeast, Midwest and Rocky Mountain region. Also called Bee Balm, the whorls of pink to lilac colored flowers open in summer to attract bees, hummingbirds and a variety of other pollinating insects. It gets the name Wild Bergamot from the aromatic leaves that have a scent reminiscent of the bergamot orange tree of Europe. Monarda had many medicinal uses to the Native Americans. Today the leaves are often used to make tea. Plants do best in dry open areas and woodlands but can grow in moist soils as long as they are well drained. (Zones 3-9)


Eastern Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) despite its species name is native to the East and Midwest U.S. as well as eastern Canada. It is one of about 30 species of Columbine found in North America. Columbine is often found in a shady woodland setting though they have a deep taproot that enables them to grow in dry sites. The colorful red and yellow flowers that open in spring and summer are a favorite of hummingbirds. Blue Columbine or Rocky Mountain Blue Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea) has beautiful blue and white flowers and is one of the many columbines found in the western U.S. It is the state flower of Colorado. (Zones 3-9)


New England Aster (Symphyotricum novae-angliae, previously Aster novae-angliae) is a favorite of many gardeners for the beautiful violet-purple flowers that cover the plant in fall. Its native range is from New England all the way west to the Rocky Mountains and as far south as Tennessee and North Carolina. Plants grow best in areas with full sun and moist but well-drained soils. Valuable in the garden and any wildflower planting for its late season color, New England aster is also a nectar source for Monarch butterflies as well as attracting native bees and pollinators. (Zones 3-7)


California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is perennial in its native California but grown as an annual in colder climates. Spanish explorers who saw the California hillsides covered with the golden orange poppies called the area the Land of Fire. It was introduced into European gardens in the 1830’s. California Poppy has golden-orange, silky, saucer-shaped flowers that open during the day and close at night or on cloudy days. Plants bloom best in the cool weather of spring and fall. In mild climates it will bloom several times per year. In colder climates, it may self-seed in spring and flower again in the fall. California Poppy is the state flower of California. (Zones 8-10)


While some perennial wildflowers adapt to a range of growing conditions, other wildflowers prefer a specific region of the country or very specific environmental conditions. Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata) is a delightful treasure with cute, yellow, daisy-like flowers that exude the smell of chocolate in the morning. However, it is native to the dry parts of Kansas, Colorado and south to Arizona into Mexico so it loves hot sun and poor dry soils. Grow it in soil that’s even halfway decent and it gets leggy and flops over. (Zones 5-9)

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja sp.) is another much admired wildflower that seems to grow without care in its native environment that ranges throughout North America depending on the species. It derives its name from the striking orange-crimson spikes that appear in spring and resemble a brush dipped in paint. However, Indian Paintbrush can be difficult to grow from seed and establish in the garden. They are considered hemi-parasitic which means they need to grow in close proximity to other wildflowers and grasses. Indian Paintbrush produces roots that attach themselves to a range of plants that grow nearby to obtain some nourishment. Without these host plants, Indian Paintbrush declines and eventually dies. It is a challenge for even experienced gardeners but could surprise you if planted in the right conditions. (Zones 3-9)

 

© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2013. 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.

Mulch It Up! Choosing the Best Mulch for Your Garden


“I have a large vegetable garden – What would be the best mulch to use (if any)? Every year, the weeds get the best of me and I need something that works, without being expensive.

~Sarah”

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Hi Sarah,

Thank you for your question! There are a number of inexpensive and simple items you can use for mulch.

The first thing you need to determine is whether you want to go with an organic or inorganic mulch.  In this case, by organic/inorganic, I am refering to whether the mulch is comprised of carbon molecules (organic) or lacking in carbon molecules (inorganic) — not organic versus convention.  We will get to the great organic/conventional debate later.

Many folks choose to go with a number of inorganic mulches. These include:

–Plastic (usually black)

–Gravel or stones

–Geotextiles (landscaping fabric)

–Newspaper (surprised this is here? See note below)

There are a number of people that use these every day and will tell you that these are the best options out there.  However, I disagree. While these may be incorporated into a landscape and provide a seemingly maintenance free garden, they also cause a LOT of problems for a home gardener, including:

–compaction of the soil by too much weight on top of the roots of a plant.  This prevents proper root growth and root aeration. (stones/gravel)

–reduced availabilty of water and air exchange that adversely affects both the plant and the microflora and microfauna that are in the rhizosphere (‘root zone’). (geotextiles and plastic)

–difficulty in removing unwanted weeds and soil after the mulch has been there for some time. (stones/gravel)

–weeds with nuisance root systems (quackgrass, dock, dandelion) imbedding themselves into the mulch. (geotextiles, plastic)

–releases unwanted/unsafe chemicals into your soil. (high levels of dioxin in newspaper, high levels of biphenyl (BPA) in plastic)

The best way to go, in my opinion, is with an organic option.  Instead of introducing a foreign, inorganic substance to your garden, you are adding a feature to your garden that has a dual purpose: controlling weeds and feeding your plants.

There are two cardinal rules for using organic mulches to combat weeds. First, be sure to lay the mulch down on soil that is already weeded, and second, lay down a thick enough layer to discourage new weeds from coming up through it. It can take a 4- to 6-inch layer of mulch to completely discourage weeds, although a 2- to 3-inch layer is usually enough in shady spots where weeds aren’t as troublesome as they are in full sun.

The most common types of organic mulches are:

–Grass clippings.  Grass clippings are readily available mulch that can be gathered with a bagger on the mower or by raking. It’s fine to collect grass clippings occasionally to use as mulch, and the nitrogen-rich clippings are an especially good choice for mulching vegetable gardens. Your vegetables will thank you for the nitrogen boost!  The only caution would be to make sure that the clippings are coming from grass that does not have weeds growing in it that may be going to seed, like dandelions.

–Leaves.  If weed control is your goal, shredded leaves are your star pupil! Leaves from just about any deciduous tree work well. Contrary to popular belief, leaves such as oak will not acidify the soil. Oak leaves are acidic when they are fresh, but they lose this acidity as they decompose. To keep the whole leaves from blowing away or forming an impenetrable mat, coarsely shred or chop them (running them over with a lawn mower is an easy way to do it). Like grass, leaves should be spread 2 inches deep and replenished as needed. When you dig into soil that’s been mulched with leaves, you’ll find lots of plump earthworms, who thrive on turning them into the best fertilizer for your garden.

–Straw. If you are buying straw for mulch, be sure you get straw and not hay. Straw has just the stems of plants; hay has the seedheads, which will sprout into weeds in your garden. Straw breaks down quickly, adding nutrients to the soil. Because straw does not mat like grass or leaves, you can pile it 6 to 8 inches deep in your vegetable beds and strawberry patch. Climate concern: In very rainy climates, avoid straw mulch, because wet, partially rotting straw makes a perfect hideout for slugs.

–Cover crop. Plants such as hairy vetch or alfalfa that you grow specifically to improve your soil—sometimes called green manure—are effective as mulch, too. CAUTION: Do not let hairy vetch produce seed, as it will sprout where you don’t want it.

–Bark or wood chips. Typically sold as chips, nuggets, or shredded pieces, wood decomposes slowly but stays in place well (pine bark nuggets may float in a heavy rainfall). You’ll find both hardwood and softwood options. Common hardwood types include hickory, oak, and elm. Softwood bark, such as pine, fir and redwood, decomposes more slowly than hardwood. Coarse-textured mulches like bark can be layered up to 4 to 5 inches thick, because more air circulates between the bigger particles and water passes through them more easily than it does with finer-textured mulch like grass or leaves. Watch your wallet: Bark mulches can be expensive to use in large areas.  You can find tree and utility companies, arborists, and yard-waste facilities willing to give you wood chips for free. Wood chips are a good choice for paths and where you have a lot of ground to cover, but don’t use them close to your house, because termites and other destructive insects may be living in them. CAUTION: A popular low-cost choice for landscaping is a recycled mulch made from construction wastes and wood pallets. Keep this away from your vegetable garden, as it may contain unknown industrial contaminants.  Also, do not use colored chips or bark in a vegetable garden, as the paint used on the chips/bark is not safe for food production.

–Compost. If you have enough compost, it’s fine to use it as a mulch. It will definitely enrich your soil and make your plants happy, but keep in mind that when any kind of mulch is dry, it’s not a hospitable place for plant roots. So you may want to reserve your compost to spread as a thin layer around plants and top it with another mulch, such as chopped leaves. That way the compost will stay moist and biologically active, which will provide maximum benefit for your plants.

If you choose an organic type of mulch, the last thing you need to decide is if the mulch is organic or conventional.  If the mulch is coming from something you have grown or composted, you already know everything about it.  However, if you are purchasing the mulch, make sure that what you purchase fits with the type of garden you have.  Nothing like growing an organic garden only to find out that your mulch came from an area that was heavily sprayed with chemicals.

I hope these ideas help you out.  Let me know what you use and how it goes!

 

© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2013. 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.