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Archives for January 9, 2017

Let’s get dirty

A new year has just begun and many of us have already begun to think about warmer days and new bloom in the garden.

Before selecting new plants, it is always best to know your soil.

Different plants require different soil conditions in order to grow and thrive. Before investing in new plants, know what will do well in your soil by taking soil samples.

One way to do this is by contacting the Environmental FGL Agricultural Analytical Chemists. Their closest office to Santa Ynez Valley is located in San Luis Obispo.

Upon contact, they will send you detailed instructions on how to do a soil test. Don’t worry; anyone can do this, including you.

A complete soil analysis will cost you around $ 150. In return, you will receive a complete soil management report. Take this report to your local nursery and ask them to point out plants that will do well in your soil conditions.

You can also apply amendments according to recommendations provided by FGL and broaden your selection of plants. Call FGL at 805-783-2940 for more information.

An easier way to find out what kind of soil texture you have is to do it yourself.

Mary Jost, a garden enthusiast from Van Nuys, shared a hot tip with readers that might just work for you too. It was published in Organic Gardening, Feb/March 2015 issue. I’ve tried it many times myself when designing a landscape, and it works!

Mary suggested in her article that you fill a mason jar with 2/3 water and 1/3 soil from the area to be planted. Give it a good shake. Put the jar on a windowsill where you can observe the results without disturbing it. The heavy sand particles will settle first, followed by the silt and the clay. Organic matter will float. In a few days, all the clay particles will have settled out and you can make your “analysis.”

Good loam contains about 45 percent sand, 35 percent silt, and 20 percent clay. If more then 70 percent of your soil settles in the bottom layer, your soil is sandy. If a third or more remains on top, you have clay. If you’ve been improving your garden soil and want to see how far you’ve come, take a second sample from “unimproved” ground nearby.

Finding out your soil texture could be a fun and educational project for the whole family. Teach the kids at a young age the importance of knowing your soil.

Any project with a chance of getting dirty is always a fun science project for kids.

Happy New Year!

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Hoosier Gardener: 4 books to educate and entertain

Happy New Year! Now that we’re headed into 2017, it’s time to spend a few quiet weeks stowing energy for the winter season and perhaps entertain ourselves or learn something new. Here are a few books to consider:

“Rantings of a Mad Botanist: A Comprehensive Guide to Gardening and Land Use Practices Emphasizing Central Indiana” (Mad Botanist Publications, hardcover, 456 pages, $45), by Bill N. McKnight, sounds a lot more scholarly than it is. OK, McKnight, editor of special publications at the Indiana Academy of Science, a former biology teacher and museum curator, is scholarly, but his book is not.

“Rantings” perfectly conveys McKnight’s philosophy and methods of tending his 3 acres on Indianapolis’ northeast side, spiced with his typical dry and thought-provoking humor.

This 3.2-pounder does not contain beautiful plant photographs, but rather is illustrated with charts, graphs and a few drawings. The front part of the book gives all the basics a gardener needs. The latter part provides lists of plants in groups, such as trees, succulents, shade, tall and thin, night gardens and more. The book is self-published and can be found at

Jill Jonnes’“Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Cityscape” (Viking, hardcover, 396 pages, $32) takes us through the good, bad and ugly of trees in our culture. She takes us from Thomas Jefferson’s pastoral setting to today’s heat island effect and invasion of devastating Asian beetles.

She reminds us of environmentalist John Muir and introduces us to John Davey, known as the Tree Doctor, who founded Davey Tree Expert Co. in 1880, and tells us how Arbor Day became a national event.

“The Downsized Veggie Garden: How to Garden Small – Wherever You  Live, Whatever Your Space”(St. Lynn’s Press, hardcover, 192 pages, $19.95), by former Hoosier Kate Copsey, is an encouraging how-to on managing your food gardening. Copsey, who now lives in New Jersey, takes us through the seasons with what to plant when, tips for success, plant selection and more, all with a nonchemical approach.

Also from St. Lynn’s Press is “Late Bloomer: How to Garden with Comfort, Ease and Simplicity in the Second Half of Life,” by Jan Coppola Bills, who owns a Michigan garden design and installation company.

“If you’re curious to know what’s so different about gardening to this half, I’d say it’s all about a shift in perspective. Instead of a drive to completion and outcome and control, it’s now about a more deeply soul-pleasing way of gardening,” writes Bills.

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp ( is treasurer of Garden Writers Association and co-author of “The Indiana Gardener’s Guide.” Write to her at P.O. Box 20310, Indianapolis, IN 46220-0310, or email

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Gardening trends for 2017

Like paint colors and fashion, gardening trends come and go.

For 2017, gardening trends range from clean, healthy living with fewer chemicals and more organic food to “sound-scaping” with trees to buffer sirens and birds to bring song.

“We see a lot of growth in the coming years for gardening,” says Katie Dubow, creative director at the Garden Media Group, a marketing group that tracks and promotes national gardening trends.

“Whatever you’re growing, wherever you’re growing it, the ability to garden year-round just makes this category so much more relevant. And access to healthy food, year-round, will be a game-changer.

“Uberizing is my favorite trend. In the next two years, experts estimate people will carry an average of eight subscription services. Do you know the two biggest reasons people don’t garden? Time and knowledge. The delivery model can solve both of those and get more people gardening. Gardening subscriptions offer a simple and convenient service for a beginner to start gardening without being overwhelmed by choice or lack of knowledge. Plus, they offer an experienced gardener access to unique or new varieties they hadn’t tried before. So many industries are playing the game, it’s time for gardening to get involved.”

Here, more gardening gurus share their thoughts on 2017 gardening trends:

The important millennial market force that wants to grow their own food, teas, cocktails, beer and medicine is expect to continue, according to Tish Llaneza of Countryside Gardens in Hampton, Va. Llaneza shops in Atlanta and Baltimore annually and attends nationwide seminars to keep up with national trends.

“Five million of the six million new gardeners last year were 18-to 34-year-olds, according to the 2016 National Gardening Report,” she says. “New technology makes growing 365 days a year easy, affordable and convenient.”

For instance, indoor gardening — growing under lights in soil, hydroponically or aquaponically — is becoming more common. From growing arugula to bok choy, clean fresh food will be available to plant, pick and plate every season. From herbal tea gardens on the window sill and healing herbs under lights to vitamin-packed microgreens on the kitchen counter, medicinal gardens are blooming indoors.

“At the other end, baby boomers are keeping only those things that speak to their heart,” she says. “They are taking the plunge and discarding all the rest. By doing this, they can reset their life and embark on a new lifestyle.”

Food reigns important with Americans, who now demand to know what is in and on their food — and where it comes from, Llaneza adds.

“The demand for organic, locally sourced food now far exceeds the supply,” she says.

Landscaping is an expensive investment, whether you do it yourself or have someone create it for you. Your yard is also a natural reflection of the world where you live, so make it as natural as you can. Natural stone gives you the best of both worlds: value for your money and longevity in looks and feel.

Beautiful hardscaping, such as stone, will last a lifetime, says Peggy Krapf of Heart’s Ease Landscape Garden Design in Williamsburg, Va. An added bonus is it doesn’t need water and deer never eat it.

Natural also goes well with mixing old with new and repurposing objects in the landscape, adds Krapf.

“I love gardens with personality and gardeners who use things they love in creative ways,” she says

“Containers can become water features, fences can become areas to display collections, a child’s wagon can become a portable garden and old broken pots can be partly buried in the ground with flowers spilling out of them onto the ground.”

It isn’t always easy to eliminate the lawn in a yard, especially on a large property, Krapf notes.

But there are many ways to minimize the amount of turf grass used. Creating large planting beds, exaggerating wood lines and natural areas, and creating patios and walkways can all reduce turf in the landscape.

“In small areas, ground covers and low growing plants can take the place of grass, often in addition to stepping stones and pathways,” she says.

Whether you’re trying to attract pollinators to your yard or add more diversity to the overall species count in your neighborhood, sustainability experts are now urging home gardeners to consider which plants and planting combinations will provide continued food and shelter to wildlife, long after we humans have wrapped up the gardening season, according to Randy Schultz of Shultz Communications, a gardening public relations specialist in Santa Fe, N.M.

For instance, American Meadows offers many types of flower seeds and flowering plants that attract pollinators to your yard and garden. Bee the Change seed packets contain an assortment of wildflower seeds that bring hummingbirds and bees. On a similar note, the Monarch Magnet Perennial Garden attracts and supports monarch butterflies.

For gardeners who want to branch out into different realms, these trends are growing in popularity:

Growing your own hops is a natural step for the beer enthusiast who wants to experiment with the freshest, most local ingredients possible, according to Grace Chapman Elton, horticulture director at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Va. It’s also fun to watch hops grow; however, you do need to have ample space and provide a structure for support for the prolific flowering vines.

Succulents continue to be popular for busy gardeners because they have great form and color and require little maintenance. Many new varieties are entering the market.

And natural dye gardens are a thing, according to Elton. The do it yourself spirit now extends to growing plants to dye your own textiles and clothing. Whether it’s using marigolds for a golden yellow or cosmos for a bright orange hue, it’s just one more way to enjoy your garden.

And the best news is that many vegetables and pollinator-attracting plants are also great for dyeing.

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Getting your house in order at the San Diego Spring Home Show – The San Diego Union

When he wasn’t thinking about gophers, Paul Michaels had a very specific goal in mind while attending Saturday’s session of the San Diego Spring Home Show.

“I want the neighbors to stop looking at my house as the ugliest house on the block,” the Chula Vista resident said with a laugh.

Fresh from taking a quick look at a display of sheds that are part of some 200 exhibits at the San Diego Convention Center, Michaels focused on his top priority — revamping the landscaping of his home.

“I have weeds and gophers,” he said. “It’s a constant battle weed-eating the weeds and the gophers come over and cover up the sidewalk with dirt.”

How green is my desk? – The Hindu

There’s nothing like walking into a space that’s surrounded by greenery. In a city, there’s so much joy in gifting a plant that breathes and lives. What’s better for urban folks, who’re stressed for time, than having something that requires just the minimal care? A mini green turf, a living present which is not cumbersome, is a welcome change among gifting options.

Mini landscapes are an attractive option. An assembly of plants on soil, the landscape is imaginatively put together to create a tiny scene.

Not sure of what this is all about? Check out websites selling flowers and potted plants. After going through the regular riff raff, the pages will open up to potted beauties. Tiny colourful mushrooms with a few sheep in one place, or the dwarfed plant with tiny inanimate birds perched on its branches or a scenery made to replicate a farmyard with cows and birds grazing freely, all make for a pretty picture.

The best trees for miniature gardens are conifers because they resemble full-sized trees. These are however, not dwarf-sized like the bonsai.They are regular trees, but small in size. Other ideal types for indoor landscaping are ‘baby trees’ that mostly come with small leaves and grow slowly, for eg., the Boxwood or Japanese Holly.

“When looking for trees that you can use indoors for your mini garden, look for plants that resemble full-sized trees. The bottom leaves can be trimmed to expose the trunk, thus giving it a look of the tree rather than a shrub. Unless one has good knowledge about plants, trimming and potting should be left to the experts. To begin with, one can try with potted bulbs which need minimal care, with the option to work on landscaping ideas later,” explains Afreen. Lorea, her flower boutique at Madhapur and Sainikpuri is home to many potted beauties which can be excellent gifting ideas.

In order to make the miniature landscape resemble a real garden, it is advised to use small trees to add height to the miniature garden so that it mimics an outdoor garden perfectly. To these add some shorter plants as bedding to create a lush understory. “All the plants in your container should have the same light and water needs for the best success,” explains Afreen. She and her husband are among the few people in the city to ace this idea and as a gifting option they are working wonders. Their collection of cactus, ground lotus, woodrose are hot sellers. Florists also say that Jade plants don’t just look good but also work best to create drama on your table.

So, does one go pick ordinary garden soil for miniature landscaping? Expert gardeners advise organic potting soil with no added fertilizers. Even water-retaining polymers will do. They always need to have a drainage hole in the pot/dish where the plant is to be planted. If in doubt on how to go about making your own private mini garden for you wall or table, turn to the DIY videos online.

To start with, try the miniature landscaping with the most easily available money plant. Add some stones, some gravel and you can call it your own version of ‘Jack and the beanstalk.’

These potted beauties do come with a price but given the ceramics and props that go with them, it’s not much for a gift that will live and grow.

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