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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Get Rid of Weeds Before They Grow

Few gardeners enjoy weeds. Like most problems, we wait until they're in our way before we deal with them. Spring offers a great opportunity to eliminate weeds. Today, the weeds I'm talking about are the ones we all recognize as problems in the lawn.

A lawn in spring.

When confronting these nuisances, it's important to remember that weeds are plants and they have the same life cycle of all other plants. There are annual weeds and perennial weeds. Knowing which kind you have can help you battle them appropriately too.

The first action you can take in the spring is the application of pre-emergent herbicides. They work well at controlling some of the seasonal weeds. You'll often see them packaged as "weed and feed" products where a pre-emergent herbicide is combined with a fertilizer. The herbicide hinders growth of weeds while the fertilizer encourages growth of grass.

Pre-emergent herbicides are chemicals that keep weeds from growing. Note that they don't kill established weeds or the seeds, they just keep new weeds from growing, usually by affecting germination of the seed. Most importantly, they need to be applied before the weed is growing. If you wait until you see weeds, it's too late to apply a pre-emergent herbicide. Also, if you apply them too early they can dilute or dissipate and have no effect when weeds begin to grow.

When average soil temperature reaches about 50 degrees, some time between March 15 and April 1 in most areas, weeds like crabgrass and clover beginning emerging. Pre-emergent herbicides are specifically designed for those summer weeds. So now is a good time to apply them; waiting much longer will lessen their effect. In cooler areas like mine, it's okay to wait as late as April 15. In very cold regions you can wait until May 1 and in warm areas you might want to apply as early as March 1.

Yes, I know you missed the opportunity if you live in a warm region, but you can save yourself time and effort by realizing it's too late. Applying a pre-emergent herbicide now will do no good.

To determine the best time to apply a pre-emergent herbicide in your yard, think about next year. Note when the weeds start growing this year, subtract two or three weeks, and choose that date as the time to apply the herbicide next year.

Also, be aware that a pre-emergent herbicide is not picky about the seed growth it hinders. That's valid for grass seeds too. If you plan to re-seed your lawn, think twice about pre-emergent herbicides. Any grass seed you sow will be prevented from growing.

Once weeds are growing, it's time to turn to post-emergent herbicides. These are the ones that are specifically designed to kill the weed after it is already growing. There are two types: selective, which will only kill targeted weeds; and non-selective, which will kill any plant. Herbicide labels will tell you which weeds they are for and when and how they should be applied. Rules for herbicide labels are very strict and they include a wealth of information, so read the label carefully because all herbicides are not created equal.

Selective herbicides like 2, 4-D (Weed B Gon) will kill broadleaf weeds like clover while leaving the slender grass blades alone. Non-selective herbicides like glyphosate (Roundup) will kill the weed, the grass, and any flowers that the mist blows on. Make sure you use the correct one for the weeds you're targeting.

There are natural pre-emergent herbicides too. Corn gluten is the most prevalent and one that you can find at many nurseries. It will be more expensive than chemicals, but achieves the same result using an all-natural component.

For post-emergent action, full-strength vinegar can kill weeds, but it often takes multiple applications. Molasses has also been proven to work on some weeds. Boiling water can kill some weeds, but it isn't very efficient. All of these methods run the risk of killing the grass nearby too.

I don't recommend two methods that you may hear about. Under no circumstance should you use gasoline or kerosene to kill weeds. It harms the environment, is dangerous, and isn't necessary with the other options available. Also, avoid using a blowtorch. A torch will kill weeds but also kills soil microorganisms and any other nearby plants and you also run the risk of starting a fire. In dry areas it should never be considered.

If you don't like applying chemicals of any type, your best option is to take matters into your own hands. Literally. Wait until weeds are growing, but before they set seed, and get out there with a screwdriver or weed puller and dig out every weed you see. There will be uncountable seeds already in place or blowing in from your neighbor's yard, but by physically removing the weed plant you keep it from propagating. Physical removal is best for perennial weeds like dandelions.

The best control for lawn weeds is to maintain a lush lawn. When the grass is well established, it makes it difficult for weeds to gain a foothold. If you are ready to attack weeds before they find a sanctuary, you'll lessen the amount of weed control you need in the future. Focus on growing good turf and your weeds problems will be a distant memory.
Few gardeners enjoy weeds. Like most problems, we wait until they're in our way before we deal with them. Spring offers a great opportunity to eliminate weeds. Today, the weeds I'm talking about are the ones we all recognize as problems in the lawn.

A lawn in spring.

When confronting these nuisances, it's important to remember that weeds are plants and they have the same life cycle of all other plants. There are annual weeds and perennial weeds. Knowing which kind you have can help you battle them appropriately too.

The first action you can take in the spring is the application of pre-emergent herbicides. They work well at controlling some of the seasonal weeds. You'll often see them packaged as "weed and feed" products where a pre-emergent herbicide is combined with a fertilizer. The herbicide hinders growth of weeds while the fertilizer encourages growth of grass.

Pre-emergent herbicides are chemicals that keep weeds from growing. Note that they don't kill established weeds or the seeds, they just keep new weeds from growing, usually by affecting germination of the seed. Most importantly, they need to be applied before the weed is growing. If you wait until you see weeds, it's too late to apply a pre-emergent herbicide. Also, if you apply them too early they can dilute or dissipate and have no effect when weeds begin to grow.

When average soil temperature reaches about 50 degrees, some time between March 15 and April 1 in most areas, weeds like crabgrass and clover beginning emerging. Pre-emergent herbicides are specifically designed for those summer weeds. So now is a good time to apply them; waiting much longer will lessen their effect. In cooler areas like mine, it's okay to wait as late as April 15. In very cold regions you can wait until May 1 and in warm areas you might want to apply as early as March 1.

Yes, I know you missed the opportunity if you live in a warm region, but you can save yourself time and effort by realizing it's too late. Applying a pre-emergent herbicide now will do no good.

To determine the best time to apply a pre-emergent herbicide in your yard, think about next year. Note when the weeds start growing this year, subtract two or three weeks, and choose that date as the time to apply the herbicide next year.

Also, be aware that a pre-emergent herbicide is not picky about the seed growth it hinders. That's valid for grass seeds too. If you plan to re-seed your lawn, think twice about pre-emergent herbicides. Any grass seed you sow will be prevented from growing.

Once weeds are growing, it's time to turn to post-emergent herbicides. These are the ones that are specifically designed to kill the weed after it is already growing. There are two types: selective, which will only kill targeted weeds; and non-selective, which will kill any plant. Herbicide labels will tell you which weeds they are for and when and how they should be applied. Rules for herbicide labels are very strict and they include a wealth of information, so read the label carefully because all herbicides are not created equal.

Selective herbicides like 2, 4-D (Weed B Gon) will kill broadleaf weeds like clover while leaving the slender grass blades alone. Non-selective herbicides like glyphosate (Roundup) will kill the weed, the grass, and any flowers that the mist blows on. Make sure you use the correct one for the weeds you're targeting.

There are natural pre-emergent herbicides too. Corn gluten is the most prevalent and one that you can find at many nurseries. It will be more expensive than chemicals, but achieves the same result using an all-natural component.

For post-emergent action, full-strength vinegar can kill weeds, but it often takes multiple applications. Molasses has also been proven to work on some weeds. Boiling water can kill some weeds, but it isn't very efficient. All of these methods run the risk of killing the grass nearby too.

I don't recommend two methods that you may hear about. Under no circumstance should you use gasoline or kerosene to kill weeds. It harms the environment, is dangerous, and isn't necessary with the other options available. Also, avoid using a blowtorch. A torch will kill weeds but also kills soil microorganisms and any other nearby plants and you also run the risk of starting a fire. In dry areas it should never be considered.

If you don't like applying chemicals of any type, your best option is to take matters into your own hands. Literally. Wait until weeds are growing, but before they set seed, and get out there with a screwdriver or weed puller and dig out every weed you see. There will be uncountable seeds already in place or blowing in from your neighbor's yard, but by physically removing the weed plant you keep it from propagating. Physical removal is best for perennial weeds like dandelions.

The best control for lawn weeds is to maintain a lush lawn. When the grass is well established, it makes it difficult for weeds to gain a foothold. If you are ready to attack weeds before they find a sanctuary, you'll lessen the amount of weed control you need in the future. Focus on growing good turf and your weeds problems will be a distant memory.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What to Plant Before the Last Frost

As the snows dissipate and the sun shines longer, gardeners are chomping at the bit to put seeds and plants in the ground. Depending on your location and planting calendar, you can probably get things started now. The key is knowing which plants can handle cold soil and cold nights. The solution is cool season vegetables.

Cool season vegetables are the ones that you can put in your garden beds before the last frost. Early spring planting is ideal. They can handle a light or moderate frost, survive, and prosper. Some of them even prefer a few frosts to develop flavor and provide the maximum yield. Most of them don't like the high temperatures of summer.

Cool season plants that should thrive in cool conditions include: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, peas, potatoes, radish, rutabaga, spinach, turnip. Beets, carrots, chard, and parsnips are cool season vegetables that can also handle warmer temperatures of summer.

A few of the seeds I'm sowing before the last frost.

These vegetables do very well as the daytime temperatures climb in spring. When the thermometer climbs beyond 80 F, they'll begin to suffer. When the days lengthen in summer and the temperatures climb above 85 F, most cool season plants begin to "bolt". That's when the plant sends up a flower stalk, signaling the end of leaf production and the beginning of seed production. Cabbage, lettuce, kale, and spinach will all taste worse after they bolt.

Most of these cool season vegetables do best when planted two to four weeks before the last frost. Individual seed packets will offer guidance for specific planting time. With a little preparation, you can get them in the ground and growing long before the rest of your garden.

Sow the seeds directly into the soil. Check your soil temperature before planting. As long as the soil is above 40 degrees F, the seeds should germinate if kept moist in an amended soil. A few of the plants like cabbage, chard, potatoes, and turnips will do better if the soil is at least 50 degrees F. For best results some of these vegetables do better as young plants rather than seeds; transplant broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and onions if you have the option.

The air temperature shouldn't be more than a few degrees below freezing on the coldest nights and should be consistently above 40 degrees F during the day. You can do a few things to help protect the plants while night temperatures remain low. Mulching the young plants with straw or grass can help insulate them and moderate soil temperatures. Row covers will help protect plants from a light frost. If a hard freeze below 28 degrees F is forecast, cover the plants with a sheet or blanket overnight; plastic will work, but can freeze any leaves or plants that it touches.

I encourage raised beds covered by a mini greenhouse. That's what I'm using. The plastic cover helps generate warmth during the day and reduces the cold at night when the soil radiates its warmth. Even on cold days, the cover keeps the plants warm if the sun is shining. On very warm days, the cover should be opened to allow airflow to keep plants from overheating.

One of my early spring planting beds.

There are perennial vegetables that also fall into the cool season category. Asparagus, horseradish, and rhubarb are great additions to a garden and will return year after year. All three can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in spring; when it's no longer frozen. They will be among the first of your plants to break ground in future years. Choose their home carefully because they'll become permanent fixtures in your garden once established.

If you have limited room in your garden, cool season vegetables can provide multiple harvests in the same plot. An early planting of lettuce or spinach will provide ample produce for your kitchen. Just about the time they begin to suffer from higher soil and air temperatures, you can remove them and plant tomatoes or squash in the same space. The combination of cool season vegetables early in the season and warm season vegetables later in the season is endless.

Here's another secret to keep in your back pocket. Many of these cool season vegetables will grow well in the fall too. A late summer planting will provide a harvest after the first frost of fall. You may get three different crops in the same garden plot. Look forward to more information about that when I discuss it during the summer.

For now, enjoy an edible garden with frost on the ground. By the time you start thinking about planting tomatoes, squash, and corn, you'll already have harvested radishes, lettuce, peas and more wonderful, cool season vegetables. It's not too early to begin.

Here's the video of the mini greenhouse:



Here's a link to "Extending Your Growing Season with Mini Greenhouses"




As the snows dissipate and the sun shines longer, gardeners are chomping at the bit to put seeds and plants in the ground. Depending on your location and planting calendar, you can probably get things started now. The key is knowing which plants can handle cold soil and cold nights. The solution is cool season vegetables.

Cool season vegetables are the ones that you can put in your garden beds before the last frost. Early spring planting is ideal. They can handle a light or moderate frost, survive, and prosper. Some of them even prefer a few frosts to develop flavor and provide the maximum yield. Most of them don't like the high temperatures of summer.

Cool season plants that should thrive in cool conditions include: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, peas, potatoes, radish, rutabaga, spinach, turnip. Beets, carrots, chard, and parsnips are cool season vegetables that can also handle warmer temperatures of summer.

A few of the seeds I'm sowing before the last frost.

These vegetables do very well as the daytime temperatures climb in spring. When the thermometer climbs beyond 80 F, they'll begin to suffer. When the days lengthen in summer and the temperatures climb above 85 F, most cool season plants begin to "bolt". That's when the plant sends up a flower stalk, signaling the end of leaf production and the beginning of seed production. Cabbage, lettuce, kale, and spinach will all taste worse after they bolt.

Most of these cool season vegetables do best when planted two to four weeks before the last frost. Individual seed packets will offer guidance for specific planting time. With a little preparation, you can get them in the ground and growing long before the rest of your garden.

Sow the seeds directly into the soil. Check your soil temperature before planting. As long as the soil is above 40 degrees F, the seeds should germinate if kept moist in an amended soil. A few of the plants like cabbage, chard, potatoes, and turnips will do better if the soil is at least 50 degrees F. For best results some of these vegetables do better as young plants rather than seeds; transplant broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and onions if you have the option.

The air temperature shouldn't be more than a few degrees below freezing on the coldest nights and should be consistently above 40 degrees F during the day. You can do a few things to help protect the plants while night temperatures remain low. Mulching the young plants with straw or grass can help insulate them and moderate soil temperatures. Row covers will help protect plants from a light frost. If a hard freeze below 28 degrees F is forecast, cover the plants with a sheet or blanket overnight; plastic will work, but can freeze any leaves or plants that it touches.

I encourage raised beds covered by a mini greenhouse. That's what I'm using. The plastic cover helps generate warmth during the day and reduces the cold at night when the soil radiates its warmth. Even on cold days, the cover keeps the plants warm if the sun is shining. On very warm days, the cover should be opened to allow airflow to keep plants from overheating.

One of my early spring planting beds.

There are perennial vegetables that also fall into the cool season category. Asparagus, horseradish, and rhubarb are great additions to a garden and will return year after year. All three can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in spring; when it's no longer frozen. They will be among the first of your plants to break ground in future years. Choose their home carefully because they'll become permanent fixtures in your garden once established.

If you have limited room in your garden, cool season vegetables can provide multiple harvests in the same plot. An early planting of lettuce or spinach will provide ample produce for your kitchen. Just about the time they begin to suffer from higher soil and air temperatures, you can remove them and plant tomatoes or squash in the same space. The combination of cool season vegetables early in the season and warm season vegetables later in the season is endless.

Here's another secret to keep in your back pocket. Many of these cool season vegetables will grow well in the fall too. A late summer planting will provide a harvest after the first frost of fall. You may get three different crops in the same garden plot. Look forward to more information about that when I discuss it during the summer.

For now, enjoy an edible garden with frost on the ground. By the time you start thinking about planting tomatoes, squash, and corn, you'll already have harvested radishes, lettuce, peas and more wonderful, cool season vegetables. It's not too early to begin.

Here's the video of the mini greenhouse:



Here's a link to "
Extending Your Growing Season with Mini Greenhouses"




Monday, March 28, 2011

Yes, Soil Should Be Warm to Sow Seeds

The woman in front of me as we checked out of a major retailer last night had a tree in her cart. At first I thought it was plastic because the blooming flowers that covered its branches looked too perfect.  Upon closer observation, the "flowering tree" label around its trunk identified it as real, probably a flowering plum. As I walked to the parking lot I observed a man helping her load it into the back seat of her Prius and advising, "Don't plant it now." I cringed when I saw the branches with the beautiful flowers hanging out the window.

Unless she drove home at three miles per hour in the 45-degree air, all of the blossoms were left on the roadway before she pulled into her drive. Even if she is patient, stores it in a warm area, and waits until we get through the next few nights with forecast low temperatures of around 22 degrees F, she'll probably want to plant it soon. If she does everything right from this point on, the tree's prognosis is not good; it's too early. I've offered advisories before about avoiding the temptation of pretty plants at big box stores until the proper planting time arrives. Often the best lesson is experience, and the loss of an inexpensive tree.

Most plants prefer root temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees F. That's one reason you have to be careful about planting trees that have broken dormancy and flowering plants from big box stores too soon. Early spring frost is a threat, but cold soil can wither roots, sap energy, and hinder future growth. A weakened plant is much more susceptible to disease and insect infestation.

It's tempting to start planting as the days warm, but be careful. Locally, we've set some new records for high temperatures in the last few weeks and have more warm days this weekend. Just looking at the air temperature it seems like a good time to plant, but what is the soil temperature? That may be more important.

Stick your finger in the soil at various spots in your garden. Do you have to pull it out because the cold is stinging or do you detect warmth? The mass of earth beneath our feet takes longer to warm than the air we breathe. You may assume the soil is warm enough for plants because the sun is shining, but unless you take a few moments to confirm it, you may shock the roots of your new flowering plum or stunt or prevent the growth of your vegetable seedlings.

An inexpensive soil thermometer is a nice garden gadget to own, but any probe will work for temperature confirmation. You need to measure the temperature a few inches below the surface and your finger or a meat thermometer can give the readings you need. Your finger is around 98 degrees F and you can gauge the temperature of things you touch by the relative coolness you feel. A probe thermometer is much more precise however. If your significant other doesn't like the idea of using kitchen tools in the garden, get a soil thermometer.

Soil temp is 37F after days in the 60s.

Seeds need specific soil temperatures to germinate. Many cool season vegetables can germinate with a soil temperature above 45 degrees F, but will do best when it's above 60 degrees F. Warm season vegetables may be able to handle 60 F, but would prefer 80 F. Of course, there is a high end; above 85 and 90 degrees F few seeds will germinate, but we usually don't concern ourselves with that problem in early spring.

Knowing the specific temperature that your seeds need can help ensure germination and growth. Gardener Supply Co. has a nice online chart that shows what soil temperature various seeds need to germinate. As we approach our last frost date, it's important to be aware that frost is only one factor that affects new plants. If the soil hasn't warmed up enough, seeds won't grow.

Naturally, longer days with more sun will warm up the soil. You can accelerate the process if you want an earlier start to your planting. Laying a sheet of black plastic over a planting area will warm it quickly in a short time. Once you remove the plastic, however, the soil will cool if the air remains colder than the soil temperature. Using a mini green house (read my blog on that subject) to warm the soil and help maintain warmer temperatures will add weeks to your growing season.

A small hoophouse covering a raised bed.

How you garden will affect how the soil warms up. Raised beds warm up faster than open soil. Sand and loam warm up faster than clay. Dry soil warms faster than wet. Rich, dark, amended soil will warm faster than average soil. Soil in the sun will warm faster than soil in shade. Soil will warm slower in mulched areas. For the quickest warming, start with dry, amended, unmulched, loamy or sandy soil in a raised bed.

The soil temp near my roses is a few degrees cooler than the raised beds.

You can track the progress of your soil's temperature by taking a reading every day. Stick your thermometer a few inches deep, wait for the reading to stabilize, and write it down. If the temperature is constant or increases for three days in a row you can use that as a baseline. If the soil is warm enough for the seeds that you want to germinate and if the air temperature will stay above freezing, you can sow. It's that easy. If the soil or air temperatures are too low, you should wait. Take more readings until you meet the appropriate threshold.

The importance of taking these steps is that they help ensure you're not planting too early. If you traditionally wait to plant until the sun is high in the sky and the trees are fully leafed out, you probably don't need to be taking daily soil temperature readings. But if you want to gain every advantage and sow as early as possible, take the time to monitor soil temperature.
The woman in front of me as we checked out of a major retailer last night had a tree in her cart. At first I thought it was plastic because the blooming flowers that covered its branches looked too perfect.  Upon closer observation, the "flowering tree" label around its trunk identified it as real, probably a flowering plum. As I walked to the parking lot I observed a man helping her load it into the back seat of her Prius and advising, "Don't plant it now." I cringed when I saw the branches with the beautiful flowers hanging out the window.

Unless she drove home at three miles per hour in the 45-degree air, all of the blossoms were left on the roadway before she pulled into her drive. Even if she is patient, stores it in a warm area, and waits until we get through the next few nights with forecast low temperatures of around 22 degrees F, she'll probably want to plant it soon. If she does everything right from this point on, the tree's prognosis is not good; it's too early. I've offered advisories before about avoiding the temptation of pretty plants at big box stores until the proper planting time arrives. Often the best lesson is experience, and the loss of an inexpensive tree.

Most plants prefer root temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees F. That's one reason you have to be careful about planting trees that have broken dormancy and flowering plants from big box stores too soon. Early spring frost is a threat, but cold soil can wither roots, sap energy, and hinder future growth. A weakened plant is much more susceptible to disease and insect infestation.

It's tempting to start planting as the days warm, but be careful. Locally, we've set some new records for high temperatures in the last few weeks and have more warm days this weekend. Just looking at the air temperature it seems like a good time to plant, but what is the soil temperature? That may be more important.

Stick your finger in the soil at various spots in your garden. Do you have to pull it out because the cold is stinging or do you detect warmth? The mass of earth beneath our feet takes longer to warm than the air we breathe. You may assume the soil is warm enough for plants because the sun is shining, but unless you take a few moments to confirm it, you may shock the roots of your new flowering plum or stunt or prevent the growth of your vegetable seedlings.

An inexpensive soil thermometer is a nice garden gadget to own, but any probe will work for temperature confirmation. You need to measure the temperature a few inches below the surface and your finger or a meat thermometer can give the readings you need. Your finger is around 98 degrees F and you can gauge the temperature of things you touch by the relative coolness you feel. A probe thermometer is much more precise however. If your significant other doesn't like the idea of using kitchen tools in the garden, get a soil thermometer.

Soil temp is 37F after days in the 60s.

Seeds need specific soil temperatures to germinate. Many cool season vegetables can germinate with a soil temperature above 45 degrees F, but will do best when it's above 60 degrees F. Warm season vegetables may be able to handle 60 F, but would prefer 80 F. Of course, there is a high end; above 85 and 90 degrees F few seeds will germinate, but we usually don't concern ourselves with that problem in early spring.

Knowing the specific temperature that your seeds need can help ensure germination and growth. Gardener Supply Co. has a nice
online chart that shows what soil temperature various seeds need to germinate. As we approach our last frost date, it's important to be aware that frost is only one factor that affects new plants. If the soil hasn't warmed up enough, seeds won't grow.

Naturally, longer days with more sun will warm up the soil. You can accelerate the process if you want an earlier start to your planting. Laying a sheet of black plastic over a planting area will warm it quickly in a short time. Once you remove the plastic, however, the soil will cool if the air remains colder than the soil temperature. Using a mini green house (read my blog on that subject) to warm the soil and help maintain warmer temperatures will add weeks to your growing season.

A small hoophouse covering a raised bed.

How you garden will affect how the soil warms up. Raised beds warm up faster than open soil. Sand and loam warm up faster than clay. Dry soil warms faster than wet. Rich, dark, amended soil will warm faster than average soil. Soil in the sun will warm faster than soil in shade. Soil will warm slower in mulched areas. For the quickest warming, start with dry, amended, unmulched, loamy or sandy soil in a raised bed.

The soil temp near my roses is a few degrees cooler than the raised beds.

You can track the progress of your soil's temperature by taking a reading every day. Stick your thermometer a few inches deep, wait for the reading to stabilize, and write it down. If the temperature is constant or increases for three days in a row you can use that as a baseline. If the soil is warm enough for the seeds that you want to germinate and if the air temperature will stay above freezing, you can sow. It's that easy. If the soil or air temperatures are too low, you should wait. Take more readings until you meet the appropriate threshold.

The importance of taking these steps is that they help ensure you're not planting too early. If you traditionally wait to plant until the sun is high in the sky and the trees are fully leafed out, you probably don't need to be taking daily soil temperature readings. But if you want to gain every advantage and sow as early as possible, take the time to monitor soil temperature.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Starting Seeds Indoors

The seed packs are purchased, the starter kits stand ready, and the date is here. Plant those seeds! It can be exciting, putting the first seeds of the year into soil. It can be a little intimidating and scary too. Most of us have had problems growing seeds indoors in the past and each year we're haunted by fears of spindly plants that won't survive.

If you follow a proven process and take a few precautions, seeds started in your house will give you a marvelous jump start on the growing season.

Begin with clean, sterilized growing containers. If you use store-bought seed starter kits, they should already be clean enough. If you are using pots or containers from years past, wash them, then rinse them with a mild bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water). Fill the pots with sterile or pasteurized potting soil. Why is this cleanliness important? One of the biggest threats to young plants is Damping Off disease and sterilized conditions will minimize it.

Ready for seeds.

The soil in the containers should be moist and warm. Peat and most potting soils need to be wet before planting. If you put dry potting soil into a pot and then add water, not all of the soil will be moistened. Mix the soil with water in a separate container and then put the moist soil into the pots. Let the tray of peat pellets or starter pots sit for at least a day in the room you'll have the plants in. Most seeds don't like cold soil.

Using pre-moistened potting soil.

Follow the directions on the seed packet as to the depth of planting. Using a pencil, chopstick, or your finger, dig out a little hole in the soil to the appropriate depth. Sprinkle a few seeds in and around the hole and lightly cover them with soil. Continue doing this with each of your pots.

Preparing the hole.
Planting seeds.










When you have the entire flat or group of pots planted, spray the soil surface with a mist of water. You don't want to drown them, you want to moisten any of the surface that may have dried out.

Misting the soil surface.

After watering, cover the pots with plastic. Starter kits are nice because they have a fitted cover that matches the base. If you're using separate pots or flats with no top, cover them with plastic bags or plastic wrap. The intent is to keep the growing environment humid. One of the easiest ways to kill germinating seeds is to let them dry out.

Covered and humid.

At some point you also want to label the pots so you know what you planted. Don't trust your memory (I know I can't). Drawing your seed plan on a piece of paper, marking the flats with marked tape, or using labeled popsicle sticks are just some ways to note which seeds went where. Don't think you'll be able to recognize the plant right away. Most seedlings look alike for the first few weeks.

Labeled with masking tape.

Set the pots in a warm, well-lit area and wait for the seedlings to emerge. You probably don't need to water very often in the beginning. The plastic covers should keep conditions moist. If you can see condensation on the inside of the cover, the conditions should be good. Do a physical check of the soil surface at least once a day and spray a mist of water to keep it moist if there is any sign that it might be drying. You don't want the soil to be saturated, just evenly moist.

And that's all there is to starting seeds indoors.

Now a little about Damping Off disease. There are a number of fungi that naturally occur in soil. When given warm, moist conditions, they grow well and can infect seeds and seedlings. Some plants are killed by a fungus before they emerge from the seed, others are assassinated after they start to sprout leaves. If you have sprouts and they disappear the next day, it's probably Damping Off Disease. If a seedling suddenly develops a very narrow waist right at the soil line right before it dies, it's probably Damping Off Disease.

Drier growing conditions, good air circulation, and sterile soil can all help prevent it. That's why I suggest you avoid saturated soil and why I recommend starting with clean containers and clean soil. Air circulation becomes more important after the seedlings emerge. You can buy fungicides to spray on the soil and plants, but I find good cultural practices work well.

After the seeds are planted and watered, it's time to wait. Have patience. Germination times vary depending on the plant and most seed packets will tell you how many days it takes the seeds to germinate. One day you'll have brown soil and the next you'll have little green plants popping out. That's always exciting.

The steps after seedlings emerge are important and I'll cover them in another article. The most important step is putting the seeds into soil. Everything else depends on that. If you haven't yet, take a calendar and determine when you'll put plants in your garden. Take a look at the seed packet to see when it recommends starting seeds indoors. Then work backward in your calendar and determine the day to plant seeds in your starter pots. If that day has passed, you're late. If it is coming soon, prepare your pots and make it happen.
The seed packs are purchased, the starter kits stand ready, and the date is here. Plant those seeds! It can be exciting, putting the first seeds of the year into soil. It can be a little intimidating and scary too. Most of us have had problems growing seeds indoors in the past and each year we're haunted by fears of spindly plants that won't survive.

If you follow a proven process and take a few precautions, seeds started in your house will give you a marvelous jump start on the growing season.

Begin with clean, sterilized growing containers. If you use store-bought seed starter kits, they should already be clean enough. If you are using pots or containers from years past, wash them, then rinse them with a mild bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water). Fill the pots with sterile or pasteurized potting soil. Why is this cleanliness important? One of the biggest threats to young plants is Damping Off disease and sterilized conditions will minimize it.

Ready for seeds.

The soil in the containers should be moist and warm. Peat and most potting soils need to be wet before planting. If you put dry potting soil into a pot and then add water, not all of the soil will be moistened. Mix the soil with water in a separate container and then put the moist soil into the pots. Let the tray of peat pellets or starter pots sit for at least a day in the room you'll have the plants in. Most seeds don't like cold soil.

Using pre-moistened potting soil.

Follow the directions on the seed packet as to the depth of planting. Using a pencil, chopstick, or your finger, dig out a little hole in the soil to the appropriate depth. Sprinkle a few seeds in and around the hole and lightly cover them with soil. Continue doing this with each of your pots.

Preparing the hole.
Planting seeds.










When you have the entire flat or group of pots planted, spray the soil surface with a mist of water. You don't want to drown them, you want to moisten any of the surface that may have dried out.

Misting the soil surface.

After watering, cover the pots with plastic. Starter kits are nice because they have a fitted cover that matches the base. If you're using separate pots or flats with no top, cover them with plastic bags or plastic wrap. The intent is to keep the growing environment humid. One of the easiest ways to kill germinating seeds is to let them dry out.

Covered and humid.

At some point you also want to label the pots so you know what you planted. Don't trust your memory (I know I can't). Drawing your seed plan on a piece of paper, marking the flats with marked tape, or using labeled popsicle sticks are just some ways to note which seeds went where. Don't think you'll be able to recognize the plant right away. Most seedlings look alike for the first few weeks.

Labeled with masking tape.

Set the pots in a warm, well-lit area and wait for the seedlings to emerge. You probably don't need to water very often in the beginning. The plastic covers should keep conditions moist. If you can see condensation on the inside of the cover, the conditions should be good. Do a physical check of the soil surface at least once a day and spray a mist of water to keep it moist if there is any sign that it might be drying. You don't want the soil to be saturated, just evenly moist.

And that's all there is to starting seeds indoors.

Now a little about Damping Off disease. There are a number of fungi that naturally occur in soil. When given warm, moist conditions, they grow well and can infect seeds and seedlings. Some plants are killed by a fungus before they emerge from the seed, others are assassinated after they start to sprout leaves. If you have sprouts and they disappear the next day, it's probably Damping Off Disease. If a seedling suddenly develops a very narrow waist right at the soil line right before it dies, it's probably Damping Off Disease.

Drier growing conditions, good air circulation, and sterile soil can all help prevent it. That's why I suggest you avoid saturated soil and why I recommend starting with clean containers and clean soil. Air circulation becomes more important after the seedlings emerge. You can buy fungicides to spray on the soil and plants, but I find good cultural practices work well.

After the seeds are planted and watered, it's time to wait. Have patience. Germination times vary depending on the plant and most seed packets will tell you how many days it takes the seeds to germinate. One day you'll have brown soil and the next you'll have little green plants popping out. That's always exciting.

The steps after seedlings emerge are important and I'll cover them in another article. The most important step is putting the seeds into soil. Everything else depends on that. If you haven't yet, take a calendar and determine when you'll put plants in your garden. Take a look at the seed packet to see when it recommends starting seeds indoors. Then work backward in your calendar and determine the day to plant seeds in your starter pots. If that day has passed, you're late. If it is coming soon, prepare your pots and make it happen.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

GardenerScott on facebook


You now have a place to find answers to your specific gardening questions and to get periodic gardening information on your facebook page. I've started a facebook page for GardenerScott.

This blog allows me an opportunity to share thoughts, tips, and thorough explanations of many gardening activities, but it doesn't work well for answering questions and addressing specific reader garden issues. Facebook enables us to establish a dialogue.

Join me on facebook at the GardenerScott page. Just click here:

GardenerScott on facebook

Just click on "Like" at the top of the facebook page and you'll be part of the GardenerScott group. Feel free to comment, ask questions, ask to see specific articles, or share your own gardening stories.

There's no cost, no obligation, no requirements for participation. Just join me and have some fun with gardening.

I'll keep doing the GardenerScott blog here. Facebook helps me expand my gardening world a little and to offer more gardening tips. I'll see you there.

You now have a place to find answers to your specific gardening questions and to get periodic gardening information on your facebook page. I've started a facebook page for GardenerScott.

This blog allows me an opportunity to share thoughts, tips, and thorough explanations of many gardening activities, but it doesn't work well for answering questions and addressing specific reader garden issues. Facebook enables us to establish a dialogue.

Join me on facebook at the GardenerScott page. Just click here:

GardenerScott on facebook

Just click on "Like" at the top of the facebook page and you'll be part of the GardenerScott group. Feel free to comment, ask questions, ask to see specific articles, or share your own gardening stories.

There's no cost, no obligation, no requirements for participation. Just join me and have some fun with gardening.

I'll keep doing the GardenerScott blog here. Facebook helps me expand my gardening world a little and to offer more gardening tips. I'll see you there.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Picking Peat Pots

Peat pots offer an easy way to start planting your seeds indoors. I'm using the generic term peat pots to talk about a few different products, all designed to make planting easier. Technically a peat pot is peat that is compressed and formed into the shape of a pot. Like any other planting pot, you'll need to add potting soil. The advantage comes at planting time when the entire pot can be put in the ground with the plant.

I'm also referring to peat pellets. A peat pellet is peat that is compressed into a small disk. When the disk is watered it expands into a cylinder that is ready for seeds. There is no need to add potting soil as the peat acts as the growing medium. Like the pots, the entire thing can be planted in the ground.

The compressed pellet on the right; expanded size on the left.

Let's back up and discuss peat. Peat is partially decayed plant material that usually forms in very wet conditions like marshes, bogs, and swamps. As plants in those areas die and fall to the ground, they begin to decompose, but because of the high water content and resulting lack of oxygen, decomposition slows or stops. More plants grow, die, and fall on top of the partially decomposed vegetation. This process continues with new layers building on top of the others.

Peat is harvested from these bogs and swamps for many uses worldwide. As an agricultural product, peat has the important ability to retain soil moisture and as a amendment helps improve soil structure (see my blog "The Dirt on Soil"). It can hold nutrients, though it doesn't offer plants any of its own. As a short-term growing medium, it provides seeds with relatively consistent moisture and some nutrients.

When you buy and use peat pots you're using a product that was shredded, cleaned, ground, and pressed by the pot manufacturer. The primary reason is to offer you a simple way to start seeds.

They are easy and becoming more so. Almost every store I visit (grocery, home improvement, or retail) offers complete growing kits available for home gardeners. They include a plastic tray to hold peat pellets, the pellets, and a cover to hold in moist air. If you don't have one of these kits and you plan to start seeds indoors, I suggest buying one. Though the peat pellets are intended for one-time use, the plastic base and cover are reusable. I still have a plastic kit I purchased years ago; that's what I put my newspaper pots in.

Fiber pots on the left, a tray of newspaper pots, & a tray of peat pots.

The peat pots and pellets come in different sizes and shapes. Square pots and round pots work equally well, though square ones may be a little more stable if you have a large quantity of them lined up next to each other in trays. Pellets will all grow into a tall cylinder, but the little pellets don't expand as much as the large pellets. Choosing the size of pot/pellet should be dependent on what kind of seeds you're planting.

Two different sizes of expanded pellets.

Because the intent is to plant the pot and seedling together, you want to choose a pot/pellet that will be big enough to handle the new plant's growth. You can sow a seed, let it grow in a small pellet, and then transplant it to a larger pot, before ultimately planting it in the garden, but why not save a step and start with a larger pot in the first place. For that reason the smaller pellets are best suited for small plants or for seeds that will only spend a few weeks inside before being placed in the garden.

When you do place the pot and plant in the soil be sure that the entire pot is in the soil. Any part of the peat pot that is exposed to the air will dry out. Because of its water absorbing ability, it then acts as a wick, drawing moisture from the soil into the dried peat section. The soil around it will dry out faster and plants will be deprived of water. That's not a good thing.

When using peat pots, I usually tear off the top inch or so of the pot before planting. That ensures the pot is entirely in the soil and won't act as a wick. Peat pellets don't pose the same problem, but I make sure the entire pellet is below the soil surface.

Peat pots offer definite advantages. If you use peat pellets you can avoid the mess of dealing with potting soil. Because the peat is partially decomposed to start with, it will continue to decompose in the soil after planting. In the soil, roots are able to grow through the walls of the peat pot and pellets. By placing the entire pot/pellet in the ground you won't expose plants to the root shock that usually happens when you transplant them from plastic or terra cotta pots.

There are a few limitations. Because the pellets are entirely peat and because peat doesn't offer a lot of fertility, seeds may not grow as fast or as big as in good potting soil. Though the pots are designed to decompose, in a dry area of your garden it may take awhile; I've tilled up pieces of peat pots from the previous season or earlier. Decomposition requires nitrogen and as the pots/pellets decompose they can rob nitrogen from your plants. Be ready to use a high nitrogen fertilizer after you put them in your garden.

You can find peat pots in a number of sizes. You can find similar products made from cow manure and some zoos sell pots made from exotic animal manure. You'll also find fiber pots made from variable plant fibers; bigger pots tend to be fiber and they have the basic properties of peat pots though I think they take longer to decompose.

If you haven't tried peat as a starter, give it a try. It's definitely easy. You may find some of the limitations a problem and will need to balance that against the time saved at planting. For a large quantity of seeds, having 36 or 70 pellets in a single tray makes the task a breeze. It's something to consider.
Peat pots offer an easy way to start planting your seeds indoors. I'm using the generic term peat pots to talk about a few different products, all designed to make planting easier. Technically a peat pot is peat that is compressed and formed into the shape of a pot. Like any other planting pot, you'll need to add potting soil. The advantage comes at planting time when the entire pot can be put in the ground with the plant.

I'm also referring to peat pellets. A peat pellet is peat that is compressed into a small disk. When the disk is watered it expands into a cylinder that is ready for seeds. There is no need to add potting soil as the peat acts as the growing medium. Like the pots, the entire thing can be planted in the ground.

The compressed pellet on the right; expanded size on the left.

Let's back up and discuss peat. Peat is partially decayed plant material that usually forms in very wet conditions like marshes, bogs, and swamps. As plants in those areas die and fall to the ground, they begin to decompose, but because of the high water content and resulting lack of oxygen, decomposition slows or stops. More plants grow, die, and fall on top of the partially decomposed vegetation. This process continues with new layers building on top of the others.

Peat is harvested from these bogs and swamps for many uses worldwide. As an agricultural product, peat has the important ability to retain soil moisture and as a amendment helps improve soil structure (see my blog "
The Dirt on Soil"). It can hold nutrients, though it doesn't offer plants any of its own. As a short-term growing medium, it provides seeds with relatively consistent moisture and some nutrients.

When you buy and use peat pots you're using a product that was shredded, cleaned, ground, and pressed by the pot manufacturer. The primary reason is to offer you a simple way to start seeds.

They are easy and becoming more so. Almost every store I visit (grocery, home improvement, or retail) offers complete growing kits available for home gardeners. They include a plastic tray to hold peat pellets, the pellets, and a cover to hold in moist air. If you don't have one of these kits and you plan to start seeds indoors, I suggest buying one. Though the peat pellets are intended for one-time use, the plastic base and cover are reusable. I still have a plastic kit I purchased years ago; that's what I put my newspaper pots in.

Fiber pots on the left, a tray of newspaper pots, & a tray of peat pots.

The peat pots and pellets come in different sizes and shapes. Square pots and round pots work equally well, though square ones may be a little more stable if you have a large quantity of them lined up next to each other in trays. Pellets will all grow into a tall cylinder, but the little pellets don't expand as much as the large pellets. Choosing the size of pot/pellet should be dependent on what kind of seeds you're planting.

Two different sizes of expanded pellets.

Because the intent is to plant the pot and seedling together, you want to choose a pot/pellet that will be big enough to handle the new plant's growth. You can sow a seed, let it grow in a small pellet, and then transplant it to a larger pot, before ultimately planting it in the garden, but why not save a step and start with a larger pot in the first place. For that reason the smaller pellets are best suited for small plants or for seeds that will only spend a few weeks inside before being placed in the garden.

When you do place the pot and plant in the soil be sure that the entire pot is in the soil. Any part of the peat pot that is exposed to the air will dry out. Because of its water absorbing ability, it then acts as a wick, drawing moisture from the soil into the dried peat section. The soil around it will dry out faster and plants will be deprived of water. That's not a good thing.

When using peat pots, I usually tear off the top inch or so of the pot before planting. That ensures the pot is entirely in the soil and won't act as a wick. Peat pellets don't pose the same problem, but I make sure the entire pellet is below the soil surface.

Peat pots offer definite advantages. If you use peat pellets you can avoid the mess of dealing with potting soil. Because the peat is partially decomposed to start with, it will continue to decompose in the soil after planting. In the soil, roots are able to grow through the walls of the peat pot and pellets. By placing the entire pot/pellet in the ground you won't expose plants to the root shock that usually happens when you transplant them from plastic or terra cotta pots.

There are a few limitations. Because the pellets are entirely peat and because peat doesn't offer a lot of fertility, seeds may not grow as fast or as big as in good potting soil. Though the pots are designed to decompose, in a dry area of your garden it may take awhile; I've tilled up pieces of peat pots from the previous season or earlier. Decomposition requires nitrogen and as the pots/pellets decompose they can rob nitrogen from your plants. Be ready to use a high nitrogen fertilizer after you put them in your garden.

You can find peat pots in a number of sizes. You can find similar products made from cow manure and some zoos sell pots made from exotic animal manure. You'll also find fiber pots made from variable plant fibers; bigger pots tend to be fiber and they have the basic properties of peat pots though I think they take longer to decompose.

If you haven't tried peat as a starter, give it a try. It's definitely easy. You may find some of the limitations a problem and will need to balance that against the time saved at planting. For a large quantity of seeds, having 36 or 70 pellets in a single tray makes the task a breeze. It's something to consider.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Shadow Knows

Did your egg stand up on end yesterday? How was your trip to Stonehenge? The Vernal Equinox is that wonderful time of year when a few people may succumb to egg myths or travel to a pagan site to watch the sun rise from due east. This equinox is not when day and night are equal; for me that was March 17. The vernal equinox is that day when the sun is directly over the equator and marks the changing of seasons.

The vernal equinox is special for gardeners in the Northern Hemisphere because it signals the beginning of spring, just as the autumnal equinox signals the start of spring in the Southern Hemisphere. Because of the earth's tilt, our days will get longer and the sun will rise higher in the sky. That change in sun position affects your garden and all of the plants in it.

If you haven't before, begin looking at the shadows in your landscape. Make note of shadow creep in coming days. The shadows that caused snow to turn into ice and stay frozen will shift to new zones. Shadows will creep into spots they haven't covered in months. Areas that basked in the winter sun may soon be awash in shadows with the shifting sun and growth of tree leaves.

I saw my shadow today.

Think about shadows in your garden. As you create new beds and choose the seeds you sow, you need to be aware of where the shadows will be in June, July, and August; those are prime growing months. Just because your garden bed is in full sun now doesn't mean that it will have full sun at the critical time the plant needs it.

Without this foresight, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and all the other sun-loving plants may have difficulty producing efficiently. Just a few hours of shade during the day can affect fruit and vegetable production in a plant that needs a full day of sun. Think about your gardens in years past. Was low harvest a result of too much shade?

Unless you spend a year marking shadow lines, it may be difficult to select the perfect location of a new bed. You can estimate shadow creep by watching closely over the next few weeks. Place a tall stake in the ground and observe the shadow throughout the day. Do the same thing tomorrow and again next week. Every day you should notice a change. The sun will gradually move to the north and the shadow will move to the south. There will also be a shift to the east and west depending on the time of day as the sun is higher in the sky. If you don't use a stake, look at a tree. Observe the shadow's location on the ground.

Because you'll be planting soon, you need to guess where the sun be be in three months and how shadows will move across your garden. If you have a deciduous tree on the north side of your garden, you may think little of it because the sun has been shining from the south. But as the tree fills with leaves and as the sun creeps north, it may shade a portion of your garden in the morning or maybe in the early evening. That's not a problem if you have plants that like a little early or late shade, but it is for a plant that needs full sun.

Ideally, use the next three months to accurately mark the movement of shadows in your garden.  The next three months are important because shadows will change each day until we reach the Summer Solstice, at which point the sun reaches its highest point and shadows will start retreating back to where they are today.

Think about your seeds and plants before you put them in the soil. Take a moment to look around at trees and sheds and fences. Look at your shadow and look at the shadow of the tall structures around your garden. Imagine the creep of the shadows over the course of the next three months. If your new plant won't get all the sun it will need, consider putting it in a different location.

Most gardeners focus on the sun when they plant. With the sun comes shadows. Without considering both components you're leaving out critical information so observe the entire process. Today is a good day to begin.
Did your egg stand up on end yesterday? How was your trip to Stonehenge? The Vernal Equinox is that wonderful time of year when a few people may succumb to egg myths or travel to a pagan site to watch the sun rise from due east. This equinox is not when day and night are equal; for me that was March 17. The vernal equinox is that day when the sun is directly over the equator and marks the changing of seasons.

The vernal equinox is special for gardeners in the Northern Hemisphere because it signals the beginning of spring, just as the autumnal equinox signals the start of spring in the Southern Hemisphere. Because of the earth's tilt, our days will get longer and the sun will rise higher in the sky. That change in sun position affects your garden and all of the plants in it.

If you haven't before, begin looking at the shadows in your landscape. Make note of shadow creep in coming days. The shadows that caused snow to turn into ice and stay frozen will shift to new zones. Shadows will creep into spots they haven't covered in months. Areas that basked in the winter sun may soon be awash in shadows with the shifting sun and growth of tree leaves.

I saw my shadow today.

Think about shadows in your garden. As you create new beds and choose the seeds you sow, you need to be aware of where the shadows will be in June, July, and August; those are prime growing months. Just because your garden bed is in full sun now doesn't mean that it will have full sun at the critical time the plant needs it.

Without this foresight, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and all the other sun-loving plants may have difficulty producing efficiently. Just a few hours of shade during the day can affect fruit and vegetable production in a plant that needs a full day of sun. Think about your gardens in years past. Was low harvest a result of too much shade?

Unless you spend a year marking shadow lines, it may be difficult to select the perfect location of a new bed. You can estimate shadow creep by watching closely over the next few weeks. Place a tall stake in the ground and observe the shadow throughout the day. Do the same thing tomorrow and again next week. Every day you should notice a change. The sun will gradually move to the north and the shadow will move to the south. There will also be a shift to the east and west depending on the time of day as the sun is higher in the sky. If you don't use a stake, look at a tree. Observe the shadow's location on the ground.

Because you'll be planting soon, you need to guess where the sun be be in three months and how shadows will move across your garden. If you have a deciduous tree on the north side of your garden, you may think little of it because the sun has been shining from the south. But as the tree fills with leaves and as the sun creeps north, it may shade a portion of your garden in the morning or maybe in the early evening. That's not a problem if you have plants that like a little early or late shade, but it is for a plant that needs full sun.

Ideally, use the next three months to accurately mark the movement of shadows in your garden.  The next three months are important because shadows will change each day until we reach the Summer Solstice, at which point the sun reaches its highest point and shadows will start retreating back to where they are today.

Think about your seeds and plants before you put them in the soil. Take a moment to look around at trees and sheds and fences. Look at your shadow and look at the shadow of the tall structures around your garden. Imagine the creep of the shadows over the course of the next three months. If your new plant won't get all the sun it will need, consider putting it in a different location.

Most gardeners focus on the sun when they plant. With the sun comes shadows. Without considering both components you're leaving out critical information so observe the entire process. Today is a good day to begin.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Know Your Last Frost Date

The last frost date for Colorado Springs is May 15. That's the date I tell anyone who asks and the date I base most of my gardening decisions around. There is only a 10 percent chance that Colorado Springs will have temperatures below freezing past that date.

Do you know your Last Frost Date? If you don't, find out today. Go to the NOAA National Climactic Data Center site (see link below) to look up historical climate information for where you live.

You may ask why the Last Frost Date is so important. It's important because, like me, you should base most of your early-season gardening decisions around it.

It's extremely important for gardeners new to an area to know as they begin gardening. Colorado has human transplants from California, Texas, Florida and many other dissimilar places and gardening here is different from almost any other region of the United States. A gardener moving from Colorado to any place else will encounter differences too.

Snow on April 17 covering the apricot tree.

Not knowing your date could prove costly. New plants are beginning to appear in the big box home improvement stores, in major retail stores, and even in local nurseries. Just because a plant is offered for sale by a local merchant doesn't mean it is ready to be planted in your garden. I've lost track of the number of new gardeners I've talked to who planted tomatoes in their Colorado garden in April, only to have a late-season snowstorm kill everything.

It's not as crazy as it sounds. I lived in an area of California where the last frost date was April 10; my father grew up where it was March 3. Even if I knew what the date meant those many years ago, it didn't enter into my garden planning. All I knew was that you plant tomatoes in early spring. By moving to Colorado and not learning about the different climate, it would be easy to assume that it's okay to plant in spring too, especially when all of the stores are selling the plants. That may be one reason why new Colorado gardeners make the same fatal mistake.

If you are planting seeds you need to know the date too. The seed packet may say something like "plant indoors 2-4 weeks before your last frost date." That's a little hard to determine if you don't know what it is. Assuming the date is in early spring is not good; you need to know exactly when it is.

Squash seeds from Territorial Seed Co. referencing starting seeds 2-4 weeks before last frost date.

You also need to understand the different statistics you'll find on the NOAA site or that local Extension offices will provide. When you ask for the Last Frost Date you'll be presented with a few dates with 90 percent, 50 percent or 10 percent attached to them. All of the information is based on historical climatological information compiled by the U.S. government (other countries offer similar data). The 50 percent date means that historically 50 percent of days below freezing occurred before that date and 50 percent of the days below freezing occurred after that date; this is the Average Frost Date (May 4 in Colorado Springs).

I prefer to focus on the 10 percent date. It means that historically 90 percent of days below freezing occurred before that date and only 10 percent occurred after. It's important to note that there is still a 10 percent chance that you may have freezing days after your Last Frost Date. If your seed packet says something like, "Sow in the ground after all danger of frost has passed", you definitely want to wait until after your Last Frost Date and maybe even a week or two later so you're closer to the zero percent date.

Melon seeds from Baker Creek Seed Co. specifically saying sow two weeks after last frost date.

This is nothing new from me, I've written about it before in my posting "Know Your Important Garden Dates." Of the entire calendar if you only know one date, the Last Frost Date is the one to know.

Don't be tempted to buy those lovely, green, inviting plants that are displayed at a box store too early. Just because the sun is shining and the days are warm (we set a new record high temperature two days ago) you may be asking for trouble if you do. The nights will still get cold and could devastate your new garden.

Like USDA Plant Hardiness Zones (), where you live may differ slightly from the location that supplies the official data. The official Colorado Springs climate data location is our airport, a common spot for most cities. I live about 15 miles north and almost 1,500 feet higher than the airport. While I use the official Last Frost Date of May 15 as a guideline for my gardening decisions, if a young plant is very susceptible to frost damage I add a few weeks to my planting date.

That's why typically I won't plant tomatoes, peppers, or pumpkins until Memorial Day weekend at the end of May. Those few weeks past the official Last Frost Date help ensure the plants won't be damaged by temperatures that may affect my specific garden location. And I'm always looking at the long-range weather forecast whenever I plant too.

Be aware that you can plant before the Last Frost Date. Cool season plants will survive and often do better in the cooler temperatures. With a cold frame, mini greenhouse, or cloche, you can get a head start on warm season plants by planting early. I'll be covering those topics in the days ahead. For now, know your Last Frost Date and use it to your advantage.

NOAA National Climactic Data Center site
See my blog "Understanding USDA Plant Hardiness Zones"
Seemy blog, Know Your Important Garden Dates.


 
The last frost date for Colorado Springs is May 15. That's the date I tell anyone who asks and the date I base most of my gardening decisions around. There is only a 10 percent chance that Colorado Springs will have temperatures below freezing past that date.

Do you know your Last Frost Date? If you don't, find out today. Go to the NOAA National Climactic Data Center site (see link below) to look up historical climate information for where you live.

You may ask why the Last Frost Date is so important. It's important because, like me, you should base most of your early-season gardening decisions around it.

It's extremely important for gardeners new to an area to know as they begin gardening. Colorado has human transplants from California, Texas, Florida and many other dissimilar places and gardening here is different from almost any other region of the United States. A gardener moving from Colorado to any place else will encounter differences too.

Snow on April 17 covering the apricot tree.

Not knowing your date could prove costly. New plants are beginning to appear in the big box home improvement stores, in major retail stores, and even in local nurseries. Just because a plant is offered for sale by a local merchant doesn't mean it is ready to be planted in your garden. I've lost track of the number of new gardeners I've talked to who planted tomatoes in their Colorado garden in April, only to have a late-season snowstorm kill everything.

It's not as crazy as it sounds. I lived in an area of California where the last frost date was April 10; my father grew up where it was March 3. Even if I knew what the date meant those many years ago, it didn't enter into my garden planning. All I knew was that you plant tomatoes in early spring. By moving to Colorado and not learning about the different climate, it would be easy to assume that it's okay to plant in spring too, especially when all of the stores are selling the plants. That may be one reason why new Colorado gardeners make the same fatal mistake.

If you are planting seeds you need to know the date too. The seed packet may say something like "plant indoors 2-4 weeks before your last frost date." That's a little hard to determine if you don't know what it is. Assuming the date is in early spring is not good; you need to know exactly when it is.

Squash seeds from Territorial Seed Co. referencing starting seeds 2-4 weeks before last frost date.

You also need to understand the different statistics you'll find on the NOAA site or that local Extension offices will provide. When you ask for the Last Frost Date you'll be presented with a few dates with 90 percent, 50 percent or 10 percent attached to them. All of the information is based on historical climatological information compiled by the U.S. government (other countries offer similar data). The 50 percent date means that historically 50 percent of days below freezing occurred before that date and 50 percent of the days below freezing occurred after that date; this is the Average Frost Date (May 4 in Colorado Springs).

I prefer to focus on the 10 percent date. It means that historically 90 percent of days below freezing occurred before that date and only 10 percent occurred after. It's important to note that there is still a 10 percent chance that you may have freezing days after your Last Frost Date. If your seed packet says something like, "Sow in the ground after all danger of frost has passed", you definitely want to wait until after your Last Frost Date and maybe even a week or two later so you're closer to the zero percent date.

Melon seeds from Baker Creek Seed Co. specifically saying sow two weeks after last frost date.

This is nothing new from me, I've written about it before in my posting "Know Your Important Garden Dates." Of the entire calendar if you only know one date, the Last Frost Date is the one to know.

Don't be tempted to buy those lovely, green, inviting plants that are displayed at a box store too early. Just because the sun is shining and the days are warm (we set a new record high temperature two days ago) you may be asking for trouble if you do. The nights will still get cold and could devastate your new garden.

Like USDA Plant Hardiness Zones (), where you live may differ slightly from the location that supplies the official data. The official Colorado Springs climate data location is our airport, a common spot for most cities. I live about 15 miles north and almost 1,500 feet higher than the airport. While I use the official Last Frost Date of May 15 as a guideline for my gardening decisions, if a young plant is very susceptible to frost damage I add a few weeks to my planting date.

That's why typically I won't plant tomatoes, peppers, or pumpkins until Memorial Day weekend at the end of May. Those few weeks past the official Last Frost Date help ensure the plants won't be damaged by temperatures that may affect my specific garden location. And I'm always looking at the long-range weather forecast whenever I plant too.

Be aware that you can plant before the Last Frost Date. Cool season plants will survive and often do better in the cooler temperatures. With a cold frame, mini greenhouse, or cloche, you can get a head start on warm season plants by planting early. I'll be covering those topics in the days ahead. For now, know your Last Frost Date and use it to your advantage.

NOAA National Climactic Data Center site
See my blog "Understanding USDA Plant Hardiness Zones"
Seemy blog, Know Your Important Garden Dates.


 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How to Make Newspaper Pots

It's time to plant seeds indoors, or at least think about planting seeds indoors. There are a number of pot options available and I'll discuss more of them in the days ahead. Today's focus is how you can make a planting pot by recycling newspaper.

A finished newspaper pot.

There are many positive reasons for taking the time to make newspaper pots. They're easy to do. They're inexpensive. They help recycle waste. They're biodegradable. They can be made in just about any size. The construction source is limitless. There is no need for transplanting; you'll plant the entire pot. About the only negative I see is that your fingers will turn black from the ink.

I recently saw a hardwood newspaper pot maker in a gardening catalog for about $20, not including shipping. Making them freehand is easy and saves you a $20 purchase. Using a small can to shape the pots will accomplish the same thing as the hardwood model. I prefer to use a tomato paste can, but any small can, jar, or drinking glass will work. You can choose the appropriate size for you.

Begin by laying two sheets of newspaper flat. Use the black newsprint pages, not the slick, glossy color pages from newspaper inserts. If you use a folded section of newspaper, the two sheets are attached at the fold and easier to manage. Put your can on the sheets and cut a strip from one edge to the other that is 1/2 to one inch wider than the can. You can also measure this width and mark it using a ruler if you want it to be precise, but I use the printed sentences as a guide and just cut across.

Cut using the can as a guide.

Wrap the two strips around the can and secure them in place with a piece of tape. Masking tape will break down easier than plastic tape when you plant them later. Glue will work, but you have to hold the paper in place while you wait for the glue to dry.


Rolling the paper.
Taping the seam.











 With the can still in place, fold over the ends of the newspaper to make a bottom and tape those edges together. Remove the can. Your basic pot is formed.

Taping the end.
Folding the end.











To finish the pot, fold about 1/2 inch of the top edge into the inside all the way around. This is the hardest part of the process. It isn't required, but adds reinforcement and helps hold the pot together.

Fold the edges in.

That's all there is to it. You've created a recycled, newspaper pot. Fill it with a good potting soil and it's ready for seeds. I prefer to use a number of pots together so they help support each other. The newspaper pot will contain the soil and growing plant, but it can sag if the paper and soil get too wet so having other pots nearby will help it retain the proper shape.

Pots ready for potting soil.

When it comes time to put the seedlings in the garden you can plant the entire pot with the plant. The newspaper will break down in the soil after planting.

These pots work best for small seedlings. If you want to start tomatoes, squash, melons or any other plant that will be big at planting time, I recommend using a stronger pot.

Give it a try. In about 30 minutes, I made 36 pots using about two cents worth of supplies. It should take about 75 cents worth of potting soil to fill them. For less than a dollar I have everything I need to get some of my seeds started indoors. That's a bargain.
It's time to plant seeds indoors, or at least think about planting seeds indoors. There are a number of pot options available and I'll discuss more of them in the days ahead. Today's focus is how you can make a planting pot by recycling newspaper.

A finished newspaper pot.

There are many positive reasons for taking the time to make newspaper pots. They're easy to do. They're inexpensive. They help recycle waste. They're biodegradable. They can be made in just about any size. The construction source is limitless. There is no need for transplanting; you'll plant the entire pot. About the only negative I see is that your fingers will turn black from the ink.

I recently saw a hardwood newspaper pot maker in a gardening catalog for about $20, not including shipping. Making them freehand is easy and saves you a $20 purchase. Using a small can to shape the pots will accomplish the same thing as the hardwood model. I prefer to use a tomato paste can, but any small can, jar, or drinking glass will work. You can choose the appropriate size for you.

Begin by laying two sheets of newspaper flat. Use the black newsprint pages, not the slick, glossy color pages from newspaper inserts. If you use a folded section of newspaper, the two sheets are attached at the fold and easier to manage. Put your can on the sheets and cut a strip from one edge to the other that is 1/2 to one inch wider than the can. You can also measure this width and mark it using a ruler if you want it to be precise, but I use the printed sentences as a guide and just cut across.

Cut using the can as a guide.

Wrap the two strips around the can and secure them in place with a piece of tape. Masking tape will break down easier than plastic tape when you plant them later. Glue will work, but you have to hold the paper in place while you wait for the glue to dry.


Rolling the paper.
Taping the seam.











 With the can still in place, fold over the ends of the newspaper to make a bottom and tape those edges together. Remove the can. Your basic pot is formed.

Taping the end.
Folding the end.











To finish the pot, fold about 1/2 inch of the top edge into the inside all the way around. This is the hardest part of the process. It isn't required, but adds reinforcement and helps hold the pot together.

Fold the edges in.

That's all there is to it. You've created a recycled, newspaper pot. Fill it with a good potting soil and it's ready for seeds. I prefer to use a number of pots together so they help support each other. The newspaper pot will contain the soil and growing plant, but it can sag if the paper and soil get too wet so having other pots nearby will help it retain the proper shape.

Pots ready for potting soil.

When it comes time to put the seedlings in the garden you can plant the entire pot with the plant. The newspaper will break down in the soil after planting.

These pots work best for small seedlings. If you want to start tomatoes, squash, melons or any other plant that will be big at planting time, I recommend using a stronger pot.

Give it a try. In about 30 minutes, I made 36 pots using about two cents worth of supplies. It should take about 75 cents worth of potting soil to fill them. For less than a dollar I have everything I need to get some of my seeds started indoors. That's a bargain.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Life Springs Up

Life is returning. Plants are greening into action, even in my landscape at 7,500 feet elevation. The birds are evident as they trill and sing in the morning. We even saw some bees last week. It's been happening for a few weeks at lower altitudes and in warmer climes. Regardless of when it hits, the new life of spring is welcome.

Sure, spring isn't officially here for another week, but that technicality won't keep plants from emerging and beginning their seasonal growth. Crocus, Tulip, and Daffodil are already poking up in many areas. The first greening in the garden to catch my eye was the Columbine (Aquilegia). At the point you've had enough of winter and begin to question whether it will ever end, that first view of green brightens your spirit and proves the cycle of life continues.

The Columbine is springing up.

If you haven't been in your garden recently to see the new color, go exploring. Grass is among the first to green and grow in early spring. Most grasses are cool season plants and grow best in the cool, moist conditions of spring. From a distance your lawn still looks brown, but as you get closer you can see the new, green shoots pushing their way through the dried mass. In no time at all they will overwhelm and cover the brown.

The grass is greening before the rest of the garden is cleaned up.

Many perennial groundcovers are ready to grow quickly when the blankets of snow and ice are uncovered. My Thyme and Periwinkle (vinca minor) have thrown back the shackles and are adding nice color to the garden and paths.

Periwinkle beginning to spread in spring.

Most evident in the early spring growth are the weeds. Perennial weeds will try to gain a foothold before your other plants wake up. As I've mentioned before, use the opportunity of recognizing the green weeds against the brown of winter and remove them before they pose problems to other plants. It's their bad luck to be the first to express new color.

This dandelion got a little too confident. It will be gone soon.

Keep track of your plants as they emerge from winter slumber. Established plants of the same varieties should break ground at about the same time. If you see bare areas where nothing is growing, make note of that. You probably lost some plants to the harsh conditions of winter and will have to replant in those spots. You don't have to replace losses with the same plants; use the opportunity to plant something new.

Think about the other animals in your garden too. If you haven't been feeding the birds during the winter, now may be a good time to start. They're more active as they prepare nests and look for food sources. You don't need to wait for flowers and insects to bring them in. A few bird feeders and bird houses can make your garden the center of bird activity. We have a pair of doves that nest nearby; they always spark my heart when I see them swoop into the garden.

Rabbits, squirrels, and gophers will also become more active in these early days of spring. Have you acted to keep them on the side of the fence that you desire? Repair fences and covers or put up new ones to help keep them under control. Our dogs are spending more time outside now and helping to define the territory that other animals should avoid.

My apple tree is displaying buds that should open soon. Prune out diseased or broken branches from your trees and bushes before the leaves obscure your view of the troubled spots. Look at the shape of your fruit trees, berries, and grapes. Correct pruning will make a stronger plant and produce more fruit.

The soil is warming. Soon it will be time to plant my cool season vegetables. You may be doing it already. Broccoli, cauliflower, and peas like cooler conditions. Radishes, lettuce, spinach, and carrots will grow quickly and do best in the mild spring weather. My raised beds are ready.

That first green shoot of spring is also the green flag of the race to get everything prepared for the frantic planting, growing, and harvesting days ahead. Take the time to soak in the new color, but recognize that your gardening days are about to get busier. You wanted it... spring is here.
Life is returning. Plants are greening into action, even in my landscape at 7,500 feet elevation. The birds are evident as they trill and sing in the morning. We even saw some bees last week. It's been happening for a few weeks at lower altitudes and in warmer climes. Regardless of when it hits, the new life of spring is welcome.

Sure, spring isn't officially here for another week, but that technicality won't keep plants from emerging and beginning their seasonal growth. Crocus, Tulip, and Daffodil are already poking up in many areas. The first greening in the garden to catch my eye was the Columbine (Aquilegia). At the point you've had enough of winter and begin to question whether it will ever end, that first view of green brightens your spirit and proves the cycle of life continues.

The Columbine is springing up.

If you haven't been in your garden recently to see the new color, go exploring. Grass is among the first to green and grow in early spring. Most grasses are cool season plants and grow best in the cool, moist conditions of spring. From a distance your lawn still looks brown, but as you get closer you can see the new, green shoots pushing their way through the dried mass. In no time at all they will overwhelm and cover the brown.

The grass is greening before the rest of the garden is cleaned up.

Many perennial groundcovers are ready to grow quickly when the blankets of snow and ice are uncovered. My Thyme and Periwinkle (vinca minor) have thrown back the shackles and are adding nice color to the garden and paths.

Periwinkle beginning to spread in spring.

Most evident in the early spring growth are the weeds. Perennial weeds will try to gain a foothold before your other plants wake up. As I've mentioned before, use the opportunity of recognizing the green weeds against the brown of winter and remove them before they pose problems to other plants. It's their bad luck to be the first to express new color.

This dandelion got a little too confident. It will be gone soon.

Keep track of your plants as they emerge from winter slumber. Established plants of the same varieties should break ground at about the same time. If you see bare areas where nothing is growing, make note of that. You probably lost some plants to the harsh conditions of winter and will have to replant in those spots. You don't have to replace losses with the same plants; use the opportunity to plant something new.

Think about the other animals in your garden too. If you haven't been feeding the birds during the winter, now may be a good time to start. They're more active as they prepare nests and look for food sources. You don't need to wait for flowers and insects to bring them in. A few bird feeders and bird houses can make your garden the center of bird activity. We have a pair of doves that nest nearby; they always spark my heart when I see them swoop into the garden.

Rabbits, squirrels, and gophers will also become more active in these early days of spring. Have you acted to keep them on the side of the fence that you desire? Repair fences and covers or put up new ones to help keep them under control. Our dogs are spending more time outside now and helping to define the territory that other animals should avoid.

My apple tree is displaying buds that should open soon. Prune out diseased or broken branches from your trees and bushes before the leaves obscure your view of the troubled spots. Look at the shape of your fruit trees, berries, and grapes. Correct pruning will make a stronger plant and produce more fruit.

The soil is warming. Soon it will be time to plant my cool season vegetables. You may be doing it already. Broccoli, cauliflower, and peas like cooler conditions. Radishes, lettuce, spinach, and carrots will grow quickly and do best in the mild spring weather. My raised beds are ready.

That first green shoot of spring is also the green flag of the race to get everything prepared for the frantic planting, growing, and harvesting days ahead. Take the time to soak in the new color, but recognize that your gardening days are about to get busier. You wanted it... spring is here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Garden Spring Cleaning

It's that time of year. Time to shake off the winter funk and clean things up. The dried grasses, flowers, and leaves need to be removed from garden beds and tossed into your compost pile. They may have provided some winter interest when the snow and ice crystals glistened on frigid days, but new growth is on the way and visual interest is waning.

Some gardeners pretty up their gardens in the fall so everything is fresh and ready to go as soon as the early spring sun thaws out the soil and mulch. Many perennials benefit from extra winter protection when you leave them in place so I, and most gardeners, wait to prune, trim, pull, and rake until warmer days. Regardless of when you do it, dead and dried plant refuse needs to be removed before new plants grow.

Time to clean up the beds and remove old plants.

You want to cut away and pull the old plant material before new green growth because it's easier. You can hack it relentlessly and not worry about damage. If new shoots have started growing up through the old stuff, you have to be careful about cutting out the same new growth that you're trying to make room for. When you have a tangle of new and old growth intertwined, pruning out the old is more difficult.

Your perennial bed is a good place to start. Herbaceous perennials, the kind that die back to the ground every year, should have all of the brown stems, leaves, and flowers removed by the time green shoots emerge. When you begin to see new growth pull back the mulch at the base of the plant and prune it at ground level. You may find that the moisture from winter snow or spring rain has rotted the main stem and it will pull out easily, separating from the root cluster. Be careful that you don't pull out the roots by recklessly yanking dead foliage. It's better to cut than pull, just to be sure.

Any annual flowers in your beds can be removed at the same time. You don't need to worry about their roots because the plant is dead. Yank out the whole thing. If they are self-seeders, the seeds will already be distributed by the winter snow and wind so just toss the entire dead plant in your compost.

Ornamental grasses should also be given a good haircut before green shoots emerge. I advocate leaving grasses in place to capture the winter snows, but once the sun begins to shine in spring the dried grass needs to go. Start by wrapping the entire plant with duct tape or a bungee cord; this helps hold it together in a bundle for easy removal. Then use hand clippers and cut all of the blades a few inches off the ground. The grass can go in your compost pile or be spread as mulch.

Cutting a bunch of ornamental grass.

Spring is a good time to prune woody shrubs if you didn't do it earlier. You can see the plant structure and easily identify branches to prune out before green leaves obscure your view. It's important that you know what kind of shrub or bush you have before pruning. Generally speaking, plants that flower in the summer and fall are the ones you want to prune in late winter or early spring. If you prune shrubs that bloom in the spring, you'll be cutting off the buds that will produce flowers.

Some plants like lavender, artemisia, and buddleia bloom on new branches. Once danger of a hard frost has passed and you see new shoots growing from the base of the plant, you can prune previous years' growth. The new growth will fill out the plant and bloom. Some plants like hydrangeas, roses, and clematis bloom on old wood or new wood depending on the variety so you'll want to know what type you have.

Most evergreens require little action in the spring. If you see dead and dried branches prune them out as you would any other plant, but if they're doing well you don't need to take any special action.

It's a good time to clean up and replenish mulch too. The weight of snow may have compacted it.  If it's in good shape, just rake it lightly to "fluff it up" and fill in bare areas. If the mulch is old or decomposing due to the increased wetness of winter and spring, add more. It's easier to spread mulch before plants break through, begin to grow, and get in the way.

Take advantage of the bare landscape to spot weeds and pull them out too. The moist soil of spring should make removal easy and young weeds are easier to deal with than old ones. Be sure a plant is a weed before pulling it. You don't want to yank out your yarrow because you mistook it for dandelions. If in doubt, let it grow until you can clearly identify it.

Any other non-plant material that's messing up your beds should be cleaned up. Winter blows in many unwanted items so do a little trash collecting.

With trash, leaves, dead plants, and unwanted branches removed, your garden beds will be fresh and ready for another season. It may still be too cold to put in new plants, but your perennials will be ready for action in a clean home.

New herbs will be growing soon once they have room.

Like a painter with a fresh canvas, bare beds allow you to envision the colors and scenery that will emerge. The fresh, clean look provides a opportunity to study your garden and think about additions or changes. Note how the plants grow as they wake from their winter slumber. You may have had some losses and will need to plant replacements or new choices.

It all begins with last year's shriveled and dead plants being removed. For many gardeners that action signals the start of the new season. Regardless of your motivation, it gets you outside and gets your hands dirty. Whatever the season, I enjoy the contact with my garden. It's time to get gardening.
It's that time of year. Time to shake off the winter funk and clean things up. The dried grasses, flowers, and leaves need to be removed from garden beds and tossed into your compost pile. They may have provided some winter interest when the snow and ice crystals glistened on frigid days, but new growth is on the way and visual interest is waning.

Some gardeners pretty up their gardens in the fall so everything is fresh and ready to go as soon as the early spring sun thaws out the soil and mulch. Many perennials benefit from extra winter protection when you leave them in place so I, and most gardeners, wait to prune, trim, pull, and rake until warmer days. Regardless of when you do it, dead and dried plant refuse needs to be removed before new plants grow.

Time to clean up the beds and remove old plants.

You want to cut away and pull the old plant material before new green growth because it's easier. You can hack it relentlessly and not worry about damage. If new shoots have started growing up through the old stuff, you have to be careful about cutting out the same new growth that you're trying to make room for. When you have a tangle of new and old growth intertwined, pruning out the old is more difficult.

Your perennial bed is a good place to start. Herbaceous perennials, the kind that die back to the ground every year, should have all of the brown stems, leaves, and flowers removed by the time green shoots emerge. When you begin to see new growth pull back the mulch at the base of the plant and prune it at ground level. You may find that the moisture from winter snow or spring rain has rotted the main stem and it will pull out easily, separating from the root cluster. Be careful that you don't pull out the roots by recklessly yanking dead foliage. It's better to cut than pull, just to be sure.

Any annual flowers in your beds can be removed at the same time. You don't need to worry about their roots because the plant is dead. Yank out the whole thing. If they are self-seeders, the seeds will already be distributed by the winter snow and wind so just toss the entire dead plant in your compost.

Ornamental grasses should also be given a good haircut before green shoots emerge. I advocate leaving grasses in place to capture the winter snows, but once the sun begins to shine in spring the dried grass needs to go. Start by wrapping the entire plant with duct tape or a bungee cord; this helps hold it together in a bundle for easy removal. Then use hand clippers and cut all of the blades a few inches off the ground. The grass can go in your compost pile or be spread as mulch.

Cutting a bunch of ornamental grass.

Spring is a good time to prune woody shrubs if you didn't do it earlier. You can see the plant structure and easily identify branches to prune out before green leaves obscure your view. It's important that you know what kind of shrub or bush you have before pruning. Generally speaking, plants that flower in the summer and fall are the ones you want to prune in late winter or early spring. If you prune shrubs that bloom in the spring, you'll be cutting off the buds that will produce flowers.

Some plants like lavender, artemisia, and buddleia bloom on new branches. Once danger of a hard frost has passed and you see new shoots growing from the base of the plant, you can prune previous years' growth. The new growth will fill out the plant and bloom. Some plants like hydrangeas, roses, and clematis bloom on old wood or new wood depending on the variety so you'll want to know what type you have.

Most evergreens require little action in the spring. If you see dead and dried branches prune them out as you would any other plant, but if they're doing well you don't need to take any special action.

It's a good time to clean up and replenish mulch too. The weight of snow may have compacted it.  If it's in good shape, just rake it lightly to "fluff it up" and fill in bare areas. If the mulch is old or decomposing due to the increased wetness of winter and spring, add more. It's easier to spread mulch before plants break through, begin to grow, and get in the way.

Take advantage of the bare landscape to spot weeds and pull them out too. The moist soil of spring should make removal easy and young weeds are easier to deal with than old ones. Be sure a plant is a weed before pulling it. You don't want to yank out your yarrow because you mistook it for dandelions. If in doubt, let it grow until you can clearly identify it.

Any other non-plant material that's messing up your beds should be cleaned up. Winter blows in many unwanted items so do a little trash collecting.

With trash, leaves, dead plants, and unwanted branches removed, your garden beds will be fresh and ready for another season. It may still be too cold to put in new plants, but your perennials will be ready for action in a clean home.

New herbs will be growing soon once they have room.

Like a painter with a fresh canvas, bare beds allow you to envision the colors and scenery that will emerge. The fresh, clean look provides a opportunity to study your garden and think about additions or changes. Note how the plants grow as they wake from their winter slumber. You may have had some losses and will need to plant replacements or new choices.

It all begins with last year's shriveled and dead plants being removed. For many gardeners that action signals the start of the new season. Regardless of your motivation, it gets you outside and gets your hands dirty. Whatever the season, I enjoy the contact with my garden. It's time to get gardening.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Integrating Integrated Pest Management

You have insects in your garden. You have weeds. You may have gophers, squirrels, cats, or any other animal that can adversely affect your plants. How do you deal with pests in your garden? Do you take the "shotgun" approach where you wantonly wreak destruction to terminate the pest, or do you take the "sniper" approach where you target the specific pest and handle it with surgical precision?

A well-managed garden has little need for chemicals.

Many gardeners are quick to act when their garden is threatened and in the process of dealing with a pest they unknowingly create more problems. In an effort to kill an insect that is chewing leaves they may inadvertently kill ladybugs or honey bees that are beneficial to plants. By trying to poison gophers or mice they may harm pets or children. Eradicating weeds with herbicides may hinder the growth of the very plants they're trying to protect.

Integrated Pest Management (or IPM) is a common sense approach to dealing with pests through economical and appropriate responses. IPM is safe, effective, and scientific. It's a way of looking at your gardening decisions by thinking beyond the immediate threat and considering how your actions will affect your entire garden.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (www.EPA.gov) identifies a four-step IPM process when dealing with pests.

The first step is to Set Action Thresholds. This means you should determine the point at which the pest becomes a problem and you need to act. Not every pest requires immediate action. Spotting a single Tobacco Hornworm on your tomato plant, accompanied by a few chewed leaves, is cause for some concern, but not enough to hire an exterminator to spray your entire garden with pesticides. When plants are defoliated you've waited too long. You have to determine when it's appropriate to deal with a pest.

The second step is to Monitor and Identify Pests. Not every insect is a bad one. And even the bad ones may have natural enemies looking for lunch. A few Tobacco Hornworms can be knocked off by you, your chickens, wild birds, or certain wasps. The reason to monitor and identify pests is for you to slow down and think about appropriate control before jumping too quickly to a decision of using pesticides or herbicides. There are many insects that may seem threatening at first, but after identification turn out to be beneficial bugs.

An important aspect of IPM is Prevention. This is the first-line of defense against pests. This requires some education on your part so you understand potential pests and how they can be deterred. If Tobacco Hornworms are a problem for your tomatoes, learning about wasp parasitoids is important. They naturally kill the Hornworm larvae and you constructing wasp shelters and nesting boxes may be worth the effort; the adult moths can be trapped in light traps. For other pests, rotating crops, mulching, fencing, choosing appropriate plant varieties, and encouraging beneficial predators are all possible actions in your garden. Chemicals are rarely a preventative measure.

Control is the final step of IPM. If prevention isn't working or isn't available, and if the problem has exceeded your Action Threshold, it's time to deal with the pest directly. If your hornworms are multiplying and causing excessive damage it's time to attack the culprit, but you should take proper control action. Try the least risky option first; broadcast spraying of pesticides is a last resort. You and your army of kids can march into your tomato plants to pluck off the caterpillars and scrape off the eggs. Try a bacterial control like Bacillus thuringiensis before insecticides; it won't harm most beneficial insects. If you opt for a chemical insecticide, use it only on the plants that are affected, not your entire garden.

The idea behind Integrated Pest Management is is continually monitor your garden through all four steps and act appropriately. Specific pests require specific prevention and control. There is no single solution to deal with all pests, all of the time. You want to minimize pest damage while minimizing environmental damage.

Moths and butterflies are nice to look at but their caterpillars may be harmful.

There are many control actions for different pests. Mechanical control is you taking physical action: plucking off that hornworm; pulling a weed; pruning off a diseased branch. Cultural control is the way you prevent pests: putting up a fence to keep rabbits out; pruning branches to increase airflow and decrease powdery mildew; planting disease-resistant varieties. Biological control is using natural predators: encouraging ladybugs to eat aphids; letting your chickens forage for grubs and larvae; allowing birds in your garden to eat caterpillars. Chemical control is selecting appropriate chemicals for pests: spraying glyphosate (usually Roundup) on perennial weeds at the proper time of year; applying a fungicide when cultural practice was insufficient; not applying pesticides by the calendar, but only when needed.

Proper pruning lets in air and light and reduces fungal disease.

The concept of Integrated Pest management may sound daunting, but it is simple in practice. Educate yourself about how different insects, plants, and animals react to each other in regard to your garden. Try to avoid reaching for a chemical spray and think about natural or cultural alternatives to pest control. This isn't organic gardening, but an approach to using appropriate measures for specific problems.

Commercial growers are learning that IPM is a cost-effective way to manage pests. You can find that the same cost-effective principles will work in your garden. They do in mine.
You have insects in your garden. You have weeds. You may have gophers, squirrels, cats, or any other animal that can adversely affect your plants. How do you deal with pests in your garden? Do you take the "shotgun" approach where you wantonly wreak destruction to terminate the pest, or do you take the "sniper" approach where you target the specific pest and handle it with surgical precision?

A well-managed garden has little need for chemicals.

Many gardeners are quick to act when their garden is threatened and in the process of dealing with a pest they unknowingly create more problems. In an effort to kill an insect that is chewing leaves they may inadvertently kill ladybugs or honey bees that are beneficial to plants. By trying to poison gophers or mice they may harm pets or children. Eradicating weeds with herbicides may hinder the growth of the very plants they're trying to protect.

Integrated Pest Management (or IPM) is a common sense approach to dealing with pests through economical and appropriate responses. IPM is safe, effective, and scientific. It's a way of looking at your gardening decisions by thinking beyond the immediate threat and considering how your actions will affect your entire garden.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (www.EPA.gov) identifies a four-step IPM process when dealing with pests.

The first step is to Set Action Thresholds. This means you should determine the point at which the pest becomes a problem and you need to act. Not every pest requires immediate action. Spotting a single Tobacco Hornworm on your tomato plant, accompanied by a few chewed leaves, is cause for some concern, but not enough to hire an exterminator to spray your entire garden with pesticides. When plants are defoliated you've waited too long. You have to determine when it's appropriate to deal with a pest.

The second step is to Monitor and Identify Pests. Not every insect is a bad one. And even the bad ones may have natural enemies looking for lunch. A few Tobacco Hornworms can be knocked off by you, your chickens, wild birds, or certain wasps. The reason to monitor and identify pests is for you to slow down and think about appropriate control before jumping too quickly to a decision of using pesticides or herbicides. There are many insects that may seem threatening at first, but after identification turn out to be beneficial bugs.

An important aspect of IPM is Prevention. This is the first-line of defense against pests. This requires some education on your part so you understand potential pests and how they can be deterred. If Tobacco Hornworms are a problem for your tomatoes, learning about wasp parasitoids is important. They naturally kill the Hornworm larvae and you constructing wasp shelters and nesting boxes may be worth the effort; the adult moths can be trapped in light traps. For other pests, rotating crops, mulching, fencing, choosing appropriate plant varieties, and encouraging beneficial predators are all possible actions in your garden. Chemicals are rarely a preventative measure.

Control is the final step of IPM. If prevention isn't working or isn't available, and if the problem has exceeded your Action Threshold, it's time to deal with the pest directly. If your hornworms are multiplying and causing excessive damage it's time to attack the culprit, but you should take proper control action. Try the least risky option first; broadcast spraying of pesticides is a last resort. You and your army of kids can march into your tomato plants to pluck off the caterpillars and scrape off the eggs. Try a bacterial control like Bacillus thuringiensis before insecticides; it won't harm most beneficial insects. If you opt for a chemical insecticide, use it only on the plants that are affected, not your entire garden.

The idea behind Integrated Pest Management is is continually monitor your garden through all four steps and act appropriately. Specific pests require specific prevention and control. There is no single solution to deal with all pests, all of the time. You want to minimize pest damage while minimizing environmental damage.

Moths and butterflies are nice to look at but their caterpillars may be harmful.

There are many control actions for different pests. Mechanical control is you taking physical action: plucking off that hornworm; pulling a weed; pruning off a diseased branch. Cultural control is the way you prevent pests: putting up a fence to keep rabbits out; pruning branches to increase airflow and decrease powdery mildew; planting disease-resistant varieties. Biological control is using natural predators: encouraging ladybugs to eat aphids; letting your chickens forage for grubs and larvae; allowing birds in your garden to eat caterpillars. Chemical control is selecting appropriate chemicals for pests: spraying glyphosate (usually Roundup) on perennial weeds at the proper time of year; applying a fungicide when cultural practice was insufficient; not applying pesticides by the calendar, but only when needed.

Proper pruning lets in air and light and reduces fungal disease.

The concept of Integrated Pest management may sound daunting, but it is simple in practice. Educate yourself about how different insects, plants, and animals react to each other in regard to your garden. Try to avoid reaching for a chemical spray and think about natural or cultural alternatives to pest control. This isn't organic gardening, but an approach to using appropriate measures for specific problems.

Commercial growers are learning that IPM is a cost-effective way to manage pests. You can find that the same cost-effective principles will work in your garden. They do in mine.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Value of Your Vegetable Garden

Have you determined how much your garden costs? Not the wood, bricks, stone paths, or sculptures that border it or decorate the inside, but the actual cost of the seeds and plants. How much cold, hard cash do you spend in the spring and summer to put plants in the ground?

How much harvest to you see at the end of the season? Have you stopped to think about the quantity of tomatoes or berries or corn or beans that you pull from the plants? What is the market rate for the price of that produce? You don't need an exact number, but think about how much a comparable amount of fresh fruit or vegetables would be if you purchased them from the grocery store or farmer's market.

By comparing the cost in the beginning with benefit at the end you're doing a basic "cost-benefit analysis" of your garden. You may ask why this is important, because you always choose to grow what you like to grow. It is important because it should play at least a minor role in determining what seeds and plants you buy in the beginning.

You're going to spend a lot of time in the garden over the course of a season. Particularly if you have limited time or limited space, the plants you grow should have the greatest value. That way your time and the costs of gardening and bringing plants to maturity are most worthwhile. That value can be monetary or emotional and I'll discuss both.

I grew potatoes last year and thoroughly enjoyed the process of putting a seed potato in the ground and watching it grow to the point that I harvested full-size potatoes months later. The seed potatoes I used cost me a little more than $10. At the end of the season I harvested a little more than five pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes and five pounds of Russet potatoes. Though I enjoyed growing them, if I were to buy the same potatoes in the store they would cost less than $10. Not counting the water, fertilizer, and time spent, the seed potatoes cost more than the value of the potatoes they produced.

Delicious but not cost effective.

Compare that to my raspberry plants. I initially bought 10 plants for about $20. Within three years, after the plants multiplied by themselves, I harvested a total of about 40 pounds of raspberries. Raspberries can be expensive at the market and on a good sale day will be $5 per pound. Conservatively, my $20 worth of plants produced more than $200 worth of fruit.

Good eating!

This is how your gardening cost-benefit analysis works. If you have a plot for planting, is it better to choose raspberries or potatoes? You may love potatoes, but they're very inexpensive in the market and you can usually buy them for less than you can grow them. Raspberries on the other hand are astronomically more expensive to buy than to grow.

As you plan your garden and select your plants, think about the monetary benefit. If there is something you like to eat, but don't like the high cost of buying it fresh, then grow it yourself. Herbs are a good example. Basil leaves are expensive and aren't even as fresh as they should be when packaged in plastic; if you grow your own basil in the garden or on the windowsill you can use it perfectly fresh and save money. After the initial purchase of thyme, rosemary, or tarragon plants, they'll live for years and supply you with an ever-increasing quantity of ever-cheaper fresh herbs.

Plants like rhubarb and asparagus are wonderful garden choices if you have the space. They're both perennial plants and will come back every year with more vigor. They are expensive in the store. The minimal cost of buying starter plants will reward you dramatically.

Everyone loves tomatoes picked off the vine. A few dollars for seeds or plants and you can have an abundance of fruit that tastes better and is cheaper than the so-called "vine fresh" tomatoes in the supermarket. For taste, enjoyment, and dollar savings, tomatoes are almost a no-brainer.

There are many crops I grow that I have to think twice about when deciding whether to plant or not. Corn is relatively easy to grow but takes up a lot of space. Just about the time my corn is ready for harvest, I can usually find fresh corn on sale at the grocery store for four ears for a dollar. It's hard to compete with that pricing especially if you live in an area where store or farmer's market sweet corn is no more than one-day old.

When it comes to using my raised bed for potatoes or garlic, I have to choose garlic. They're both plentiful and inexpensive in the store, but garlic is more cost effective; it can be stored for later use and used to plant more garlic.

Also consider rarity and uniqueness when choosing seeds and plants. You can grow things that you can't find in the store, and if you could find them they'd cost a small fortune. Unique chard and kale are hard to find, expensive when you can, but easy to grow. Specialty lettuce is popular, also expensive, and also easy to pick fresh from your garden.

I'm not trying to be a mercenary when it comes to selecting my plantings. I'd grow everything if I could, but my time and space are limited. I choose what to plant using two basic parameters:  what I want to grow and what makes the most sense to grow.

I want to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers because it's easy and enjoyable to pick them fresh to make a dinner salad. If I save money by growing them myself, that's just icing on the cake. I grow green beans from seeds that I save each year so the cost is zero, but I like growing them so I can make pickled green beans for my wife and daughter. Even if they cost a small fortune, I'd still grow them.

When choosing between carrots or peppers, the monetary advantage of peppers wins out. A single carrot costs pennies, but a single yellow sweet pepper may be a few dollars.

Pumpkins are cheap to plant and also cheap to purchase around Halloween. But the joy of having your kids or grandchildren pick their own pumpkin out of your garden is worth whatever the extra expense might be, if anything.

Many gardeners think that growing apricots in my region is impossible because of our short season and unpredictable spring weather. It's tough, but can be done. I would get fruit from my apricot tree only once every two or three years. And in the best year I only got five or six pounds. But those apricots were more delicious than can be described. All of the pruning, watering, and babying was worth the effort for those few delectable bites.

Maybe these apricot blossoms will actually produce fruit.

Think about how you choose what to plant and how to determine your garden's value. If there is no special reason for the choice, think about the cost versus the benefit. You may actually discover that there are plants you aren't growing that should have a home in your garden. Make room for plants that are expensive to buy. Maybe it's just me, but fresh produce seems to taste just a little better when I know I'm saving money.
Have you determined how much your garden costs? Not the wood, bricks, stone paths, or sculptures that border it or decorate the inside, but the actual cost of the seeds and plants. How much cold, hard cash do you spend in the spring and summer to put plants in the ground?

How much harvest to you see at the end of the season? Have you stopped to think about the quantity of tomatoes or berries or corn or beans that you pull from the plants? What is the market rate for the price of that produce? You don't need an exact number, but think about how much a comparable amount of fresh fruit or vegetables would be if you purchased them from the grocery store or farmer's market.

By comparing the cost in the beginning with benefit at the end you're doing a basic "cost-benefit analysis" of your garden. You may ask why this is important, because you always choose to grow what you like to grow. It is important because it should play at least a minor role in determining what seeds and plants you buy in the beginning.

You're going to spend a lot of time in the garden over the course of a season. Particularly if you have limited time or limited space, the plants you grow should have the greatest value. That way your time and the costs of gardening and bringing plants to maturity are most worthwhile. That value can be monetary or emotional and I'll discuss both.

I grew potatoes last year and thoroughly enjoyed the process of putting a seed potato in the ground and watching it grow to the point that I harvested full-size potatoes months later. The seed potatoes I used cost me a little more than $10. At the end of the season I harvested a little more than five pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes and five pounds of Russet potatoes. Though I enjoyed growing them, if I were to buy the same potatoes in the store they would cost less than $10. Not counting the water, fertilizer, and time spent, the seed potatoes cost more than the value of the potatoes they produced.

Delicious but not cost effective.

Compare that to my raspberry plants. I initially bought 10 plants for about $20. Within three years, after the plants multiplied by themselves, I harvested a total of about 40 pounds of raspberries. Raspberries can be expensive at the market and on a good sale day will be $5 per pound. Conservatively, my $20 worth of plants produced more than $200 worth of fruit.

Good eating!

This is how your gardening cost-benefit analysis works. If you have a plot for planting, is it better to choose raspberries or potatoes? You may love potatoes, but they're very inexpensive in the market and you can usually buy them for less than you can grow them. Raspberries on the other hand are astronomically more expensive to buy than to grow.

As you plan your garden and select your plants, think about the monetary benefit. If there is something you like to eat, but don't like the high cost of buying it fresh, then grow it yourself. Herbs are a good example. Basil leaves are expensive and aren't even as fresh as they should be when packaged in plastic; if you grow your own basil in the garden or on the windowsill you can use it perfectly fresh and save money. After the initial purchase of thyme, rosemary, or tarragon plants, they'll live for years and supply you with an ever-increasing quantity of ever-cheaper fresh herbs.

Plants like rhubarb and asparagus are wonderful garden choices if you have the space. They're both perennial plants and will come back every year with more vigor. They are expensive in the store. The minimal cost of buying starter plants will reward you dramatically.

Everyone loves tomatoes picked off the vine. A few dollars for seeds or plants and you can have an abundance of fruit that tastes better and is cheaper than the so-called "vine fresh" tomatoes in the supermarket. For taste, enjoyment, and dollar savings, tomatoes are almost a no-brainer.

There are many crops I grow that I have to think twice about when deciding whether to plant or not. Corn is relatively easy to grow but takes up a lot of space. Just about the time my corn is ready for harvest, I can usually find fresh corn on sale at the grocery store for four ears for a dollar. It's hard to compete with that pricing especially if you live in an area where store or farmer's market sweet corn is no more than one-day old.

When it comes to using my raised bed for potatoes or garlic, I have to choose garlic. They're both plentiful and inexpensive in the store, but garlic is more cost effective; it can be stored for later use and used to plant more garlic.

Also consider rarity and uniqueness when choosing seeds and plants. You can grow things that you can't find in the store, and if you could find them they'd cost a small fortune. Unique chard and kale are hard to find, expensive when you can, but easy to grow. Specialty lettuce is popular, also expensive, and also easy to pick fresh from your garden.

I'm not trying to be a mercenary when it comes to selecting my plantings. I'd grow everything if I could, but my time and space are limited. I choose what to plant using two basic parameters:  what I want to grow and what makes the most sense to grow.

I want to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers because it's easy and enjoyable to pick them fresh to make a dinner salad. If I save money by growing them myself, that's just icing on the cake. I grow green beans from seeds that I save each year so the cost is zero, but I like growing them so I can make pickled green beans for my wife and daughter. Even if they cost a small fortune, I'd still grow them.

When choosing between carrots or peppers, the monetary advantage of peppers wins out. A single carrot costs pennies, but a single yellow sweet pepper may be a few dollars.

Pumpkins are cheap to plant and also cheap to purchase around Halloween. But the joy of having your kids or grandchildren pick their own pumpkin out of your garden is worth whatever the extra expense might be, if anything.

Many gardeners think that growing apricots in my region is impossible because of our short season and unpredictable spring weather. It's tough, but can be done. I would get fruit from my apricot tree only once every two or three years. And in the best year I only got five or six pounds. But those apricots were more delicious than can be described. All of the pruning, watering, and babying was worth the effort for those few delectable bites.

Maybe these apricot blossoms will actually produce fruit.

Think about how you choose what to plant and how to determine your garden's value. If there is no special reason for the choice, think about the cost versus the benefit. You may actually discover that there are plants you aren't growing that should have a home in your garden. Make room for plants that are expensive to buy. Maybe it's just me, but fresh produce seems to taste just a little better when I know I'm saving money.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Gardening and Preserving

Why do you garden? Is it for the flowers, the fruit, the physical activity? Just as you should have a garden plan before you buy your seeds and plants, you should have a goal plan before you begin gardening. You can approach gardening in a haphazard manner where you just handle the task directly in front of you as you stumble down the garden path or you can view it as an opportunity to impact your household for months and years to come. One of these opportunities is to plant with your harvest in mind.

Envision the herbs, vegetables, and fruits that will reward your efforts. I think almost all of us can agree that produce picked fresh from the garden surpasses store-bought options in just about every category. Taste, appearance, freshness, and choice are always better in a home garden. With proper planning, cultivation, and care, your harvest will be overflowing. Then what?

Do you have a plan for that abundance? Do you eat as many fresh vegetables as you can and then end up dumping bushels in the compost pile because you can't eat any more? Do you leave bags of zucchini on your neighbors' doorsteps in the dead of night? Do you leave fruit withering on the tree because you don't have any place to store it? Or do you preserve?

What to do with all of these plums?

Preserving herbs, vegetables, and fruits is easy, inexpensive, and carries the tastes of the harvest well into the winter. I choose what I plant with preservation in mind and recommend you do the same.

Much of my personal focus is on jams and jellies. I'm a certified Master Food Preserver and marry those skills with my gardening. I've taught many classes on canning, dehydrating, and jelly making to show the average person that the process of processing is not hard. Gardening and preserving go hand in hand.

I grow strawberries because they're relatively easy, taste great fresh from the garden, and are wonderful in jam. When the strawberries begin to ripen they do so quickly and you can suddenly have pounds of them in a few, short days. Too many to eat so quickly, it only takes a few pounds to make a few pint jars of strawberry jam.

My two Concord grape vines would give me close to 25 pounds of fruit, all ready to pick in the same week. The birds enjoyed many of the luscious berries, but that still left a lot for me. Too much to eat, turning the grapes into grape juice provided the base for dozens of jars of Concord grape jelly.

Getting juice from my grapes.

With a large garden, it's difficult not to grow multiple tomato plants. In a good year the tomatoes ripen and are ready to pick by the bushel. There are many to give as gifts to family and friends and many to savor myself. It's painful to see a single tomato go to waste after all of the effort to get them to harvest. A few quart jars, a big pot of water, and a few hours in the afternoon, and I'll have canned tomatoes that will last until the next harvest, assuming they're not eaten first.

Dehydrating offers options too. I grow chile peppers with dehydrating in mind; after drying they keep for a long time and are easy to throw into a big pot of chili. Almost all of my herbs are dried at harvest; I am still using the thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, tarragon, and peppermint from last year's harvest.

Pickling is one of my favorite things to do. I've mentioned before about my green beans and their sole purpose -- to be pickled. My wife and I met and ultimately married because she loved my pickled green beans (there were other reasons too). Turning your cucumbers into pickles and your cabbage into sauerkraut is easy to do.

Making pickled green beans.

Many of my plant choices are preservation based. I grow rhubarb to pair with the strawberries in pie and in jelly. I grow raspberries and blackberries for the jam. All of my fruit trees are because of the potential jams and jellies; the taste of plum jam and apricot jam made from my own fruit far exceeded anything you can buy. My peppers aren't only dried, they're pickled too. Tomatoes, garlic, onions, peppers, and cilantro have all been harvested in my garden to make salsa, which is frozen or canned.

One year's preserved harvest.

Almost everything you can grow in your herb, vegetable, and fruit gardens can be preserved. If you haven't thought about food preservation before, think about it for this season. Knowing you can save some of your harvest might open you up to new growing opportunities.

Local Extension offices usually offer classes in preserving food. You can find many online resources like these from Colorado State University. No home should be without the "Ball Blue Book", a great preservation guide from the Ball Corporation, the company that makes many of the jars and supplies for canning.

I'll talk more about specific preservation subjects in days ahead. Most of it is so easy you can teach yourself with a little guidance from a book or advisor. For now, think about the plants you plan to grow and how you can preserve them. Also think about what plants you would like to grow, if you could preserve them. Incorporate preservation into your garden planning.
Why do you garden? Is it for the flowers, the fruit, the physical activity? Just as you should have a garden plan before you buy your seeds and plants, you should have a goal plan before you begin gardening. You can approach gardening in a haphazard manner where you just handle the task directly in front of you as you stumble down the garden path or you can view it as an opportunity to impact your household for months and years to come. One of these opportunities is to plant with your harvest in mind.

Envision the herbs, vegetables, and fruits that will reward your efforts. I think almost all of us can agree that produce picked fresh from the garden surpasses store-bought options in just about every category. Taste, appearance, freshness, and choice are always better in a home garden. With proper planning, cultivation, and care, your harvest will be overflowing. Then what?

Do you have a plan for that abundance? Do you eat as many fresh vegetables as you can and then end up dumping bushels in the compost pile because you can't eat any more? Do you leave bags of zucchini on your neighbors' doorsteps in the dead of night? Do you leave fruit withering on the tree because you don't have any place to store it? Or do you preserve?

What to do with all of these plums?

Preserving herbs, vegetables, and fruits is easy, inexpensive, and carries the tastes of the harvest well into the winter. I choose what I plant with preservation in mind and recommend you do the same.

Much of my personal focus is on jams and jellies. I'm a certified Master Food Preserver and marry those skills with my gardening. I've taught many classes on canning, dehydrating, and jelly making to show the average person that the process of processing is not hard. Gardening and preserving go hand in hand.

I grow strawberries because they're relatively easy, taste great fresh from the garden, and are wonderful in jam. When the strawberries begin to ripen they do so quickly and you can suddenly have pounds of them in a few, short days. Too many to eat so quickly, it only takes a few pounds to make a few pint jars of strawberry jam.

My two Concord grape vines would give me close to 25 pounds of fruit, all ready to pick in the same week. The birds enjoyed many of the luscious berries, but that still left a lot for me. Too much to eat, turning the grapes into grape juice provided the base for dozens of jars of Concord grape jelly.

Getting juice from my grapes.

With a large garden, it's difficult not to grow multiple tomato plants. In a good year the tomatoes ripen and are ready to pick by the bushel. There are many to give as gifts to family and friends and many to savor myself. It's painful to see a single tomato go to waste after all of the effort to get them to harvest. A few quart jars, a big pot of water, and a few hours in the afternoon, and I'll have canned tomatoes that will last until the next harvest, assuming they're not eaten first.

Dehydrating offers options too. I grow chile peppers with dehydrating in mind; after drying they keep for a long time and are easy to throw into a big pot of chili. Almost all of my herbs are dried at harvest; I am still using the thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, tarragon, and peppermint from last year's harvest.

Pickling is one of my favorite things to do. I've mentioned before about my green beans and their sole purpose -- to be pickled. My wife and I met and ultimately married because she loved my pickled green beans (there were other reasons too). Turning your cucumbers into pickles and your cabbage into sauerkraut is easy to do.

Making pickled green beans.

Many of my plant choices are preservation based. I grow rhubarb to pair with the strawberries in pie and in jelly. I grow raspberries and blackberries for the jam. All of my fruit trees are because of the potential jams and jellies; the taste of plum jam and apricot jam made from my own fruit far exceeded anything you can buy. My peppers aren't only dried, they're pickled too. Tomatoes, garlic, onions, peppers, and cilantro have all been harvested in my garden to make salsa, which is frozen or canned.

One year's preserved harvest.

Almost everything you can grow in your herb, vegetable, and fruit gardens can be preserved. If you haven't thought about food preservation before, think about it for this season. Knowing you can save some of your harvest might open you up to new growing opportunities.

Local Extension offices usually offer classes in preserving food. You can find many online resources like
these from Colorado State University. No home should be without the "Ball Blue Book", a great preservation guide from the Ball Corporation, the company that makes many of the jars and supplies for canning.

I'll talk more about specific preservation subjects in days ahead. Most of it is so easy you can teach yourself with a little guidance from a book or advisor. For now, think about the plants you plan to grow and how you can preserve them. Also think about what plants you would like to grow, if you could preserve them. Incorporate preservation into your garden planning.