Category Archives: Flower Gardening

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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 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.

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.

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.

Colony Collapse Disorder

GREEN GARDENING: Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder

Bees are a vital part of our ecosystem and the success of the agricultural community. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that bees pollinate 80 percent of our flowering crops, which constitute a third of everything we eat. A low or non-existent bee population would not only affect the produce we eat, but also the feed supply available to livestock.

The bee population is a waning one. In the winter of 2006-2007 a low hive population was reported to the USDA. With worker bee population losses spanning from 30-90% and an absence of dead bees, the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) gained attention. Although these beehives still had a queen bee and young bees, coupled with an abundant honey and pollen supply, the hives would not sustain without the worker bees.

Why is CCD occurring? Researchers, along with the USDA, have focused their efforts on causes including:

  1. the invasive varroa mite (a pest of honeybees)
  2. the Israeli Acute Paralysis virus and the gut parasite Nosema, which are new and emerging diseases
  3. pesticide poisoning used for in-hive insect or mite control
  4. bee management stress
  5. foraging habitat modification
  6. inadequate forage and poor nutrition supply

Although not one particular factor is gaining more credit than another, some believe a combination of the above incidences could be creating CCD. Researchers are using four overall methods of study to determine why CCD is happening. They are collecting data from beekeepers, analyzing bee samples, conducting hypothesis-driven research, and instituting preventive measures to see the effect they have on bee health and habitat.

You can help the bees by providing space in your garden with flowering plants that support their need for nectar and pollen. Use OMRI Listed products to keep your garden chemical free and prevent bees from transporting chemicals to their hive. Provide a shallow water source to allow thirsty bees to drink without the danger of drowning.

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GREEN GARDENING: OMRI Listed Products

Organic gardening has grown from a “fad” to a commonplace way of gardening life. With its popularity growing, so have the products that help support keeping your garden organic. Unfortunately impostors, cheaters, and fakes began to share shelf space with true organic gardening solutions. How do you keep the bad out and understand what is really organic?

For a product to achieve organic certification, it must successfully pass a litany of tests and reviews from third party agencies, which are recognized by the USDA. The leading non-profit agency supporting these efforts is the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), which validates and promotes the use of certified organic products.

The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) is an independent international nonprofit organization that determines which products are allowed for use in organic production and processing. OMRI Listed® products are allowed for use in certified organic operations under the USDA National Organic Program.

OMRI conducts a range of tests and reviews and assesses if a product is viable to be listed. When a product is “OMRI Listed” it carries the OMRI Listed Seal, which assures the suitability of a product for organic production, handling, and processing.

OMRI Listed products range from fertilizers for your yard to insect killing solutions to fungicides and more.

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How-To: FORCE BULBS

Force bulbs in winter weather to turn your home into a flowery oasis. Follow these steps to have tulip, iris, and hyacinth bulbs blooming indoors in no time.

When you determine which bulbs you want to force you will want to buy the largest version of their variety possible. Bulbs need a period of chilling in order to root and flower. Plant bulbs in a pot without letting them touch and cover the bulbs with potting soil. Water the bulbs and place in cool, dark surroundings to chill them.

Keep the pot’s soil damp, but not wet. Roots will begin peeking out the bottom of the pot, while green sprouts will emerge from the top when chilling is complete. At this time you can move the pot to a warm room. As flowers begin to blossom you may move the pot to an area of direct sunlight and enjoy gorgeous flowers for their blooming duration.

Once withered and worn away, you can toss the entire pot into your compost pile to breakdown and provide nutrients for future gardening. Forced bulbs are generally unable to bloom again like their seasonal counterparts because they have expended all their energy in such a small amount of time.

Whether you’re forcing bulbs or planting spring blooming or summer blooming bulbs, you’re now equipped with the information and tips to grow gorgeous flowers indoors and outdoors!

Tulip bulbs

All About Bulbs: SPRING FLOWERING BULBS vs. SUMMER FLOWERING BULBS

Bulbs generally fall into two main categories – spring flowering bulbs and summer flowering bulbs.

Spring flowering bulbs are hardy bulbs and often serve as a first sign of spring when they bloom. They are planted before fall’s first frost and are able to withstand the cold winter months. Most spring flowering bulbs, like daffodils, are able to flower year after year without being replanted.

Summer flowering bulbs are planted after the season’s last frost because they are not able to survive cold and harsh winter conditions. These bulbs, too, can flower year after year, but only if cared for properly. They must be dug up after flowering and becoming dormant, stored indoors over winter and then replanted after the next year’s final frost to be viable.

Spring flowering bulbs include daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths, while summer flowering bulbs include gladiolus, dahlia and canna.