Author Archives: Garden Decor

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All About Overwintering: What is it and why do we do it?

Overwintering is defined as the process by which you keep plants alive through a season in which they’d otherwise die whether it is due to weather or geographical placement. Why overwinter? Gardeners like to overwinter annuals to keep them growing and flowering season after season, but organic food movements are encouraging overwintering fruits and vegetable plants, too.

There are many benefits to using overwintering techniques. Overwintering vegetable plants causes them to develop earlier in the spring and offer a harvest well before the plants typically would. Plants like spinach, onions, and beans overwinter well and offer a delightful first taste of gardening season come March.

Fruit plants like blueberries, lemons, and fig trees overwinter well indoors and provide year-round fresh fruit at a low cost. Citrus trees like meyer lemons can be grown in a pot indoors in the winter and placed outdoors in full sun in the summer. Gardeners always benefit from having a touch of summer indoors during cooler months.

Bringing flowering and green plants indoors to overwinter increases the oxygen and humidity in your home. Pops of color, growing life during months of dormancy, and fresh smells are all added benefits to your home when you choose to overwinter.

If you’re a new gardener, the easiest way to get started is with potted plants. Explore steps to begin by checking out the Avant Garden guide to overwintering.

Overwintering Spinach

All About Overwintering: Spinach

Spinach is a pretty cold-tolerant plant and is perfect for overwintering. When overwintering spinach choose varieties like Giant Winter, Tyee, and Viroflay that handle low temperatures and are more resistant to harsher conditions. Start these seeds about six weeks before the average first frost so that you can use plants about three to four inches wide in size. Use soil that is cooler when starting these seeds to avoid spotty germination caused by dry, warm, late summer soil.

When you choose where you will place your polytunnel or burlap shields, sow the young spinach plants about 1 inch apart. After two frosts you can cover the spinach beds with a combination of compost and straw and then lay the outer layer protective structure. If you live in a more mild winter climate you can forgo the protective structure but use additional straw to shield the spinach plants.

Check moisture levels throughout the winter and keep soil slightly moist. Be cognizant of overwatering to avoid root rot. Root rot causes oxygen deprivation from the plants’ roots, which will stunt growth or kill your crop. As days become longer and temperatures increase you can begin to remove little layers of straw every few weeks.

After all straw has been removed, your spinach crop is just weeks away. Encourage growth by spraying a fish emulsion mixture on your spinach bed. As leaves grow, pluck or cut them from plants and continue to do so as they replenish themselves. Be sure to thoroughly wash spinach leaves before using them in your cooking to avoid ingesting any germs or bacteria.

Cook your spinach with olive oil and garlic in a skillet for a delicious side dish. You can even use your own overwintered garlic (link to overwintering garlic post) for a delightful garden to table snack!

Overwintering Turnips

All About Overwintering: Radishes and Turnips

Radishes and turnips are quick to mature and will develop quickly after days become longer and temperatures rise in the spring. An added benefit of overwintering radishes and turnips is their resistance to pests and disease.

These plants appreciate well-drained soil that is loosened about a foot to 16 inches deep.  Select a turnip-growing site that will get full sun when spring season arrives.

Plant seeds about a half inch deep when the first frost occurs and cover with a layer of compost and a thicker layer of straw for winter protection.

Throughout the winter keep the soil lightly moist, but not overly moist, to avoid root rot. Root rot will cause the plants to be deprived of oxygen and can kill the plants or stunt their growth. Be sure to keep these beds weed-free. As temperatures begin to climb and winter winds down you can remove the straw layer over your garden bed.

These plants will have initial harvest anywhere from six to eight weeks into growing. Mature harvests will be available about two and a half months after growth begins. Water plants at an average one inch of water weekly. Once harvested, turnips and radishes will store about two to three months in a cool, dark place.

Interested in overwintering other vegetables? Spinach, onions, and garlic are all great options!

Overwintering Garlic

All About Overwintering: Garlic

Garlic, like onions and spinach, is a cold-tolerant and hardy plant that overwinters very well. Hardneck varieties are best for overwintering garlic, rather than the typical softneck supermarket varieties that you may be most familiar with. German Extra-Hardy garlic will store up to ten months, while Chesnok Red is best for baking and roasting.

Plant your garlic cloves in well-drained soil before the ground freezes. Place cloves flat side down and pointed side up in the soil. Cover with compost and a protective layer of straw. Consider adding leaves in so they break down and provide nutrients through the overwintering process. Garlic does not need the external protective structures, like polytunnels or greenhouses, like spinach and onions.

Once the last frost passes you are able to begin removing layers of straw from your garlic garden bed. Your garlic will begin to develop scapes, which indicate flowering is near. Cut them from the plants before they flower to energize bulb growth. Continue watering your garlic plants until their leaves begin to brown.

Once stems begin to collapse you can determine if your garlic is ready to harvest. Carefully dig in to check bulb size to see if it is on target with your variety. Don’t let bulbs sit underground too long or they will begin to rot. Once you remove bulbs you can use fresh cloves for cooking or store them for up to 9 or so months for use throughout the year. Save a few cloves to repeat the process all over again next year!

Overwintering Onions

All About Overwintering: Onions

Although typically planted in the spring, harvested late summer, and stored for use until next summer, onions can have two major harvest cycles and you may be using only one of them. Begin overwintering onions in September and eat fresh onions in late spring!

Varieties like Candy, Walla Walla Sweet, and Olympic have all proved to be good overwintering onion options. Onion growth does not occur underground and away from the elements, therefore these plants benefit from protection like cold frames, polytunnels, or burlap structures in gardening zones that host colder temperatures and frozen ground for much of the winter.

Shoot for mid-September to begin your onion overwintering process. If you plant onions too early, the initial growth will be detrimental to the spring product. Direct sow onion varieties into the ground leaving about three to four inches between each bulb and cover with abundant compost and straw to protect the plants.

In similar fashion to overwintering spinach, you will want to slowly remove the protective straw layer in portions as temperatures steady above freezing. By March or April you can fully expose the plants, which should appear green and fruitful. Continue caring for your plants until June when they should be ready for harvest.

September Gardening To-Dos

September Gardening To-Do’s

What does September gardening look like? As the summer season winds down and fall slowly moves in, the garden is a busy place! Fluctuating daily temperatures mixed with cooler evenings can make knowing what to do next a little confusing. Let’s take a look at what you should spend the month planting, harvesting, and cleaning up!

Planting

Begin planning and planting your overwintering crops (link to main article). Most crops should be planted before the first frost. Apply a generous layer of compost to provide nutrients and cover with a thick layer of straw to protect your plants from winter’s elements. Use cold frames, polytunnels, or greenhouses to further protect your plants.

Bulbs should be put in the ground before it freezes and they’re unable to establish roots. Typically small bulbs are planted about 5 inches deep while larger bulbs are planted about 8 inches deep. Plant with the pointier side up, but if you don’t the bulb will eventually right itself within the soil. Bulbs appreciate soil that is well drained and mixed with compost.

Harvesting

Your garden has been busy all summer and fall is a great time to reap its rewards! Now is the time to harvest corn, potatoes, apples, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, and strawberries before being killed by a first frost. If your tomato plants are still bearing green fruit, it is suggested that you pull up the entire plant and hang it in your garage or basement to force the harvest to ripen.

Your harvest may be bountiful. Take time to freeze, can, or store it so you’re able to eat fresh garden foods throughout the winter.

Cleaning up

You’ll be busy this month getting your garden back into a state that is prepared for dormancy. Dig up tender plants and transplant them to small pots to be moved indoors for overwintering. Overgrown perennials should also be dug up, divided, and transplanted throughout your garden.

Gather dying and falling leaves from around your property and mix them in to your compost pile. To expedite their composting process, mix in a compost starter like Ringer® Compost Plus Organic Compost Starter. At the end of the month your lawn will benefit from an application of organic fertilizer.

September is a busy month in the garden. The combination of harvesting the old and preparing for the new will keep your gardening to-do list active, but with the right planning and execution you’ll be able to check things off your list.

The effects of gardening

GREEN GARDENING: The Effects of Gardening

Spending time in your garden is not only good for the environment but it’s good for you too! Let’s explore the effects of gardening!

Studies show that gardening has a positive effect on your health by lowering stress, reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, and lessening muscle tension. Additionally, the time spent outside digging in the dirt can have a positive effect on your weight.

The environment can benefit from your time in the garden, too. Living things like bees, butterflies, and birds can gain food sources, water sources, and living spaces as a result of your garden. Putting flowering plants in your garden offers these species an opportunity to snack on nectar, while accessories like birdfeeders give birds an opportunity to fill up in your yard. Creating spaces specifically for these critters allows them to dine without the fear of predators that may typically disturb them in nature.

Gardening also creates learning lessons for kids. Youngsters are so tightly connected to electronics lately and it is hard to get them outside. Time outdoors shows kids how plants can grow from seed to harvest and gives them a goal to work towards. The additional responsibilities of watering, weeding, and caring for plants shows them that accountability can pay off, and that’s a lesson they can use for life.

Gardening’s effects are pretty positive; however what we do in our gardens can have a negative impact on Mother Nature. The use of pesticides and chemicals in gardening practices has caused a destructive effect on the environment. As a result, we have seen plant diseases and insects that have become immune to treatment. We’ve also seen an effect on the honeybee species that could result from pesticide use. Learn more about Colony Collapse Disorder and how you can help here.

Gardeners who are not cognizant of water use can be wasteful, so it is important to remember when and how to water to maximize each drop. We can cut back on water use by choosing native plants for our gardens. These plants will thrive best because they are indigenous to the region in which you live. Learn more about water conservation and gardening here.

Gardening is such a positive experience for humans and for the land we love. Taking a few precautions, making some good decisions, and spending time doing the right thing will all make your gardening efforts go further. Mother Nature and our future generations will be grateful for it, and your garden will be happier now, too.

create habitats in your garden

GREEN GARDENING: Create Habitats in Your Garden

Although humans interfere with natural habitats often, whether it is removing trees, building new structures, or employing chemical solutions that cause trauma to animals, we are also able to create habitats for our furry friends that allow them to thrive. Gardens are the perfect place for this, and with the help of a few trees, plants, and accessories, your property can become a safe haven!

Bees and butterflies are huge fans of flowering plants. They love to eat the nectar, and bees are superstars at transplanting pollen, which helps our ecosystem. Take a 3-foot by 3-foot space in your yard or garden and dedicate it to black-eyed Susans, honeysuckle, climbing vines, and more to attract and support bees and butterflies. A water supply that is shallow and filled with rocks will help these little bugs get hydrated without fear of drowning.

Feathered friends love to visit our gardens if they’re equipped with the right stuff. Like bees and butterflies, some birds like hummingbirds love flowering plants. Orioles love jelly and orange slices, and almost all birds love feeders packed with seed.

Birds also love water and we often underestimate how this makes a difference to them. Fresh, clean water sources allow birds to hydrate without fear of predators. Hanging a bird waterer in your garden allows birds to access water away from the ground where trouble typically lurks.

Man-made accessories combined with plants create desirable atmospheres for birds and bugs. Try dedicating space in your garden next planting season and enjoy as garden friends visit to take pleasure in your efforts!

Composting

GREEN GARDENING: Composting

Raise your hand if you recycle! A mainstream practice in most of our lives, recycling has gained widespread popularity through the use of formal recycling programs, updated laws and regulations, and the popular use of reusable bags! Recycling in everyday life is simple, but it’s even simpler in the garden through the practice of composting. Composting allows you to recycle waste and scraps to create a very robust fertilizer for your plants.

Compost is a mixture of decomposed organic matter that provides nutrients and fertilizers to your garden. An equal combination of green materials and brown materials ensure compost success. Green materials are rich in nitrogen and protein and cause heat in a compost pile. Brown materials are carbon- and carbohydrate-rich and they feed the organisms and microbes that cause decomposition. Compost eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers, reduces the need for extra watering, and promotes higher crop yield.

It is easy to get started with your homegrown compost pile! More than 25% of an average household’s waste consists of yard trimmings and food scraps that can be composted. Use a contained bin or a vacant space in your garden and collect leaves, twigs, straw, grass clippings, ground coffee, vegetable and fruit scraps, and more. Following the provided directions, add a compost starter like Ringer® Compost Plus Organic Compost Starter to activate and expedite the decomposition process and mix the waste materials thoroughly.

Continually add kitchen and yard scraps to your compost pile to continue the process. The most crucial aspect of composting is an on-going presence of greens and browns in the compost pile. Mix and stir your compost pile every week or so to add the new compost materials and introduce them to the decomposition process.

Add compost to your beds when transplanting seedlings, sowing seeds, or moving plants around in your garden. Throughout the growing season, use compost to provide ongoing nutrients to your plants.

Water Conservation

GREEN GARDENING: Water Conservation

Water conservation is key to preserving our natural resources while also providing your lawn and garden with the moisture it needs. Lawns and plants typically need about 1 inch of water a week. Manual watering is necessary for areas that do not have sufficient rainfall or areas that experience dryer conditions during the height of summer.

Water your flower and garden beds deeply. Get into the root systems so that your plants and lawn are not being superficially watered. A little extra water during a watering, rather than multiple lower volume watering, will be more beneficial.

Water evaporation is the largest source of waste. Water in early morning hours or later in the evening to ensure that evaporation doesn’t steal from the process. Watering in the early morning allows you to avoid possible fungus or mold issues as a result of standing and pooling water on leaves and petals. Plants and grass can dry off during the day, which mitigates risk of disease growth.

Reduce evaporation by creating a shorter path of water travel with drip irrigators and soaker hoses. Deliver water directly to plant roots and soak water into the ground rather than losing some of it on plant leaves.

Mulch and ground covers are an alternative that helps conserve water, too. Mulch creates a layer of protection to your garden beds that not only helps prevent weeds, but also retains water. Ground covers keep your yard cool and less likely to dry out. There are various types of mulch and ground covers that will work for any garden style and gardener’s preference.

Using plants that are native to a region will help conserve water. Plants that are adapted to local water allowances and heat will better survive in your garden than plants that demand resources that do not naturally occur in your garden. Check with your local garden center to understand which plants are indigenous to your region and which plants you should use to save water.