Category Archives: Plant Care

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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ALL ABOUT SQUASH: Squash Varieties

Squash Varieties

Originating in Mexico and Central America, people have been eating squash for more than 7,500 years. Native Americans shared squash seeds in different varieties with European explorers, who then took the new crop back to their lands to grow. Continue reading

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Year-Round Composting

Although our gardens are not highly dynamic during the winter, a great amount of activity occurs below the surface. This is important to keep in mind when composting through cold winter months, as you will want to replenish and build up your stock of nutrients for the gardening season to come!

Remember that compost is the mixture of decaying organic matter that is used to improve soil and provide nutrients. The decomposition process does slow down in winter due to low temperatures, but an essential core of heat helps the process to continue.  Microbes and good bacteria in the compost pile account for a majority of the decomposing, and the decomposition gives off heat – so the process helps itself.

If you find that your compost pile is not keeping, or producing, enough heat try adding some nitrogen rich substances, like chicken or rabbit manure, to the pile. Nitrogen generates heat and will create a solid foundation for over-winter compost.

Not sure what all can be composted? Remember that more than 25% of the typical household’s waste is yard trimmings and food scraps that are compostable. Fall leaves and pine needles, corn stalks, dryer lint, eggshells, and seaweed are all compostable items you may find in use at your home.

Check out an overview of composting, and vital stats to get familiar with, in this composting infographic courtesy of Avant Garden Décor!

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Winter Prepping Your Garden

Winter is quickly approaching, but that doesn’t mean your garden needs to close down for months. Prepping it for colder weather and knowing which plants to bring indoors, and which can be planted to thrive in low temperatures, will allow you to exercise your green thumb well past fall.

How to Prep Your Garden for Winter

Although activity above the soil may have slowed down considerably a lot is happening below the mulch. Roots continue to grow and draw on nutrients in the soil. Compost that was applied continues to break down and decompose.

To get your flower beds ready for dropping temperature and potentially heavy snow cut back perennials, as well as any dead or diseased leaves from trees, shrubs, and foliage. After expelling any “dead stuff,” lay a thick layer of compost on the soil to continue feeding root systems until next growing season.

Young or tender evergreens should be shielded from the sun and damaging, harsh winter wins. Place burlap screens around them to help them get through the tough winter months. To learn more about creating screens check out this blog post at LoveYourYard.com!

Winter Wheat Growing

What exactly is winter wheat? Winter wheat is a crop planted in the fall that is used primarily for all-purpose, pastry and cake flowers. Typically winter wheat sprouts before freezing occurs and them remains dormant until soil warms in early spring.

Plant winter wheat in the fall about six to eight weeks before the soil in your region freezes. This time frame allows for good root development: plant too early and your plants could be susceptible to late summer insects, plant too late and the plants may not overwinter well.

Winter wheat can be planted in rows like crops and should be rototilled into the soil about 2.5 inches deep. Wheat plants will change colors from green to yellow to brown as they mature.

The heads of the wheat stalks will become heavy with grains and will lean toward the ground when they are full. To see if they are ready to harvest you can test a few grains yourself. Chew a few grains from your plant to see what their consistency is. Soft and doughy grains are premature and need more time to mature. Continually check the grains until they are firm and crunchy at which time you can harvest your crops.

To harvest your winter wheat simply cut off the heads of the stems. Small amounts can be stored in plastic bags in the freezer, but larger amounts need to be stored to minimize moisture. You can use a flourmill to ground the grains into fine flour that can be used for cooking. Store ground flour in airtight containers in a cool location.

Bringing Plants Indoors

Container plants can be brought inside during the winter to increase their rate of survival. Moving plants indoors should be done gradually as a sudden change in temperature, light, and environment can be detrimental to the plants.

Begin by bringing plants indoors for a few hours every day and place them where you intend to keep them in the winter. After about two weeks, the plants should be acclimated to their new surroundings and can stay there until weather becomes warmer. Plants should be brought indoors full-time before the threat of frost is present.

Small insects can travel indoors with your plants and should be combatted head on. Use an organic insect killer like Safer® Brand Insect Killing Soap to kill bugs before they are able to make your home their winter residence.

Controlling Fall Pests and Critters

There are a couple of fall pests and critters we should be aware of so that our garden and outdoor living areas don’t become home to unwanted visitors. Stink bugs, grubs, and deer are all present during this season change and should be handled accordingly.

Stink bugs – a smelly pest that can reproduce exponentially in a short amount of time. Safer® Brand EndALL helps to eliminate these bugs by killing them on contact. Using a trap like the Safer® Brand Stink Bug Magnet will catch the bugs without the use of poisons.

Grubs – dead spots on your lawn is a clue that grubs are present on your property. As the larval stage of many insects, grubs feed on root systems and kill the plants and grass they support. Safer® Brand Grub Killer uses Neem oil to organically and effectively eliminate your grub problem.

Deer – these large animals can clear a garden quickly as well as create damage to trees by raking off the bark and eating the leaves. A repellant like Deer Off® II Deer, Rabbit & Squirrel Repellent will help to keep deer from chewing on your crops. You may also choose to employ a tall fence, at least 6 feet high, to keep deer from raiding your gardens.

Composting Through the Winter

The waste you create through the winter can be composted to help your garden in the spring and summer. Composting, nature’s recycling process, converts your old scraps and “natural trash” into a nutrient rich treat for your garden. In addition to providing a nutrient boost to soil, compost helps combat plant disease.

There are two basic sources to create compost: old plant material or waste from our daily life. Dead plants can be thrown away or they can continue serving your purpose by being composted. Compost needs a good mixture of “green stuff” and “brown stuff.” Green stuff is high in nitrogen and is the heating agent for your compost and gets the mixture cooking. The brown stuff, which is high in carbon, helps the compost break down. Dead plants, fall leaves, and dead weeds all serve well for compost. (Learn more with our infographic here).

An alternative way to collect materials for your compost is to look at everyday life and what you throw away. Materials that are organic and are not animal-based can be tossed in with the dead plants and leaves to provide additional nutrients. Consider using the following:

  • Egg shells
  • Coffee grinds
  • Food scraps
  • Tea bags (be sure to remove the staple)
  • Stale bread or crackers
  • Paper bags
  • Toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls

Getting your compost pile started is easier than you may think. You can place your compost ready materials in a container or you can start a mound in a specific area of your garden. Applying a compost starter product, like Ringer® Compost Plus Organic Compost Starter, will kick-start your composting process. This product supplies additional nutrient resources that start the compost process more quickly and efficiently.

After applying your starter product be sure to water your materials so they are about as wet as a damp sponge. To maintain your compost regularly apply materials to it as you have them available. Aerate your compost pile every 7-10 days by raking through it with a pitchfork or spade. To learn more about composting and making it work for your garden check out our infographic here.

Storing Your Garden Tools

Garden tools, although they require an investment, they are worth it because they allow you to do a better job in the garden in less time. Proper care for your garden tools will allow them to serve you for a longer period of time.

When you are finished with a majority of your tools for the summer you can prep them for winter storage. Clean your tools with warm soap and water and allow them to fully dry.  To ward off rust, spray them with a light oil or lubricant like WD-40 before storing them. You may choose to have blades or spikes sharpened at your local hardware store so they are in great condition for the next season, too.

Keep tools with wooden handles in a cool, dry place so the wood does not become moldy and contaminated. Your shed, garage, or basement are all great options to keep your garden tools when you’re not using them.

What’s Next? 

Although it can be sad to “close down” your garden for the winter, it is not really the end. It is just a more dormant period where you are able to allow your garden to work underneath the ground and have a rest. Send us your photos of garden clean-up on our Facebook page! What tips do you have to help the gardening community?

Repelling Animals from Your Garden

Repelling Animals

The damage may vary, but there are similarities on how to keep animals from spending time in your garden. Two common options are exclusion and repellents.

Exclusion is an easy tactic to keep your garden from falling victim to hungry animals. Fencing is an effective option for all critters that venture where they are not wanted. Putting up chicken wire or hardware cloth gets the job done. Be sure to place it two to three feet high (so a rabbit standing on its hind legs cannot reach the plant being protected) and bury it two to three inches into the ground.

You may also opt to use an electrified exclusion method. Use an electrical fence kit made for garden protection to deliver a small but memorable shock to any animal that’s looking for an easy meal.

Repellents using powerful scent and taste deterrents work to irritate the animal immediately when it smells, touches, or tastes your plant. This unpleasant experience drives the animal away unharmed and encourages them to not return to the treated area.

Common ingredients used in repellents include oil of black pepper, piperine, and capsaicin. These ingredients, combined with a brand’s recipe, work by immediately irritating nuisance animals after they smell, taste or touch areas that are treated with the solution. To humans, it would be like eating a hot pepper on steroids. The unpleasant, peppery experience is one the animal will remember and won’t want to occur again.

When using repellents, be sure to employ a formula that is OMRI Listed and compliant with organic gardening. These substances will be on or around your fruits and vegetables and can be washed off your crops when you’re ready to eat them.

Garden Mulch

Mulching 101

When we think of the word mulch we tend to envision brown, bark-like material applied to a flowerbed, but did you know mulch exists in many forms? Let’s explore why mulch benefits your gardens and what options are available for your home and budget.

Applying mulch to your garden reduces weed growth, which will have a beneficial impact on your plants. Weeds deplete soil of nutrients and moisture when they grow and therefore limit the supply to the plants you want in your garden. They also have the ability to choke the root systems of your plants and cause them to die.

Water evaporation is slowed significantly from soil when mulch is applied. Watering a flowerbed that is mulched will result in up to 50% less evaporation than one that is uncovered. Mulch that is applied shortly after new plantings can increase the ground’s moisture and promote healthier root growth.

Various types of mulch are available for your garden. You may be familiar with:

  • Shredded bark mulch – an inexpensive and easy-to-find option
  • Pine bark nuggets – does not break down as easily as other mulches, but also don’t stay in place as well
  • Wood chips – often a free option from local tree trimmers. Be sure to find out if the source tree had poison ivy to prevent infecting your garden.
  • Cocoa hull mulch – A fine texture and rich color make this non-fading mulch a favorite for gardeners, although it is one of the most expensive
  • Did you also know you can use alternative natural materials as mulch? Consider using:
  • Grass clippings – a cheap and readily available material
  • Decaying leaves – helps to retain more moisture than average mulch
  • Compost – a material that will supply your garden with an abundance of healthy nutrients as it breaks down
  • Hay – although cheap and easy to apply, it is less ornamental than other mulch options
  • Rubber (shredded reusable materials) – extremely long lasting but does not provide any nutrients to the soil
  • Decorative Stone – a very long-lasting option that also holds heat or stays cold much longer than alternative mulch materials

Whether you use a traditional or nonconventional material for mulching your garden, your plants will appreciate you taking steps to keep them well-watered. With benefits like less weeds and a more uniformed looking garden, what are you waiting for? Get started this weekend!

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Decorative Houseplants 101

Houseplants offer a variety of benefits including air purification and increased oxygen in our homes, but they’re also capable of beautifying an indoor space. Decorative houseplants can add pops of color and touches of texture to a room in your home. With low cost and low maintenance plants available, you can easily add floral décor to your home. Let’s review a few options that will work for your home or lifestyle.

Low-Light Plants

There are often places in our homes and offices that do not get ample light and therefore are often reserved for lamps, bookshelves, etc. Luckily, there are plant varieties that grow and sometimes thrive best in low-light situations.

Ferns: Many fern varieties grow heartily in low-light conditions. White Rabbits Foot fern and Bird’s Nest Fern are excellent candidates.

Aechmea Bromeliads: This flowering tropical plant performs well in poor light conditions.

Lucky Bamboo: This good fortune bringing plant survives well in a glass container with a base of pebbles and a few inches of water.

Low-Water Plants

Keeping houseplants watered is usually the first thing people worry about when deciding which plants to host. Some decorative houseplants don’t require daily watering, but grow better when watered only a few times a week.

Chinese Evergreen: A well-drained container to prevent overwatering will keep this plant healthy. This cold temperature tolerant plant is low maintenance.

Philodendron: Although this tropical plant prefers warm moist air, it can go days without being watered.

Peace Lily: When in need of water this flowering plant’s leaves will wilt letting you know hydration is necessary.

Popular Flowering Plants

To add color to your home you can look to flowering houseplants. Various plants offer a wide range of colors and shapes that can add visual interest to tables, floors, and windowsills!

African Violet: Blooming year round is easy for this plant when placed on a sunny windowsill. Tons of colors are available which make it perfect for any décor scheme.

Oxalis: Not only are the blooms colorful, but the purple hued triangular leaves are gorgeous. Small bulbs make dividing this plant an easy task.

Gloxinia: Huge bell-shaped flowers bloom in late winter or early spring and offer rich colors to dress up a room.

Whether you’re going for texture or color, houseplants can offer an inexpensive and low maintenance solution. Visit your local garden center to learn more about which decorative houseplants would fare well in your home, as well as how much water and sunlight they need.

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Plant of the Month: Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum indicum)

Commonly known as a mum, the Chrysanthemum is a hardy plant has become the standard fall flower for many gardeners in cooler climates. The mum’s ability to be winter-hardy in zones 5 and up, and, with a little extra care, in zone 4, makes it a very versatile and reliable addition to any garden. However, make sure to plant your mums in the spring to ensure that they are well-established, in order to have them survive the winter. Mums even work well in container gardening!

Mums typically are anywhere from 2-4 feet high, and are available in a large variety of different colors. Choose blooms in bright reds, oranges, yellows, purples, and pinks! Exhibition varieties of chrysanthemums can also be found in a variety of different flower types as well, but these may not be has hardy as the the non-exhibition type, so be sure to read your label to check zone hardiness. Make sure and dead head these as well so that you can enjoy a healthy plant.

Do you have any experience with mums in  your outdoor living space?

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Maintain Plant Moisture with Ice Cubes

With this squelching hot weather, it’s natural to want to hibernate away indoors with air conditioning or lounge in cooler, shaded areas… but what about your plants? Finding it tough to keep up with watering your container gardens in this heat or keeping your plants from drying out too quickly?  Try adding ice cubes!

Adding several ice cubes to the base of your plants will allow your hanging baskets or container gardens to be watered slowly, as the ice melts into the soil.  This nifty little trick helps to keep you from overwatering your plants and allows the soil to retain moisture over a period of time.  Plants don’t like to be shocked by the cold, though, so be careful to keep the ice away from the actual plant, just resting on top of the soil.  It is important to pay attention to your plants when you first start watering with ice cubes, to know how many pieces of ice to use per plant, being cautious to not overwater them when all of the ice melts.

If you are looking for a more long-term solution to maintain a proper routine of watering your plants while you are at work all day, or plan to leave town for a few days on vacation, check out our CobraCo® Plant Sitters for your plants! The CobraCo® plant sitter system provides a healthy-well balanced diet of water and fertilizer for your plants. With busy work schedules, family activities, vacations and business trips, life can get rather hectic. That doesn’t mean your plants have to wither from infrequent attention… take advantage of today’s innovative plant sitter systems. Plant sitters take the guesswork out of nourishing plants, giving you one less thing to worry about. The ceramic plant moisture sensors fit inside virtually any planter and irrigate plants for up to 2 weeks from our 1-quart reservoir (duration depends on plant size).  No more wilting plants with brown edges from under watering and no more oddly light-colored leaves from too much water; just healthy, happy plants!