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Archives for May 3, 2017

5 Container Gardening Tips to Successfully Grow Produce – Organic …

I look forward to spring every year. I start planning my small raised bed vegetable and herb garden about a month before I can actually put anything on the ground. I learned the hard way that I need to be patient lest I lose everything to an unexpected frost.

My yard is not very big so, I have always filled clay pots with brightly colored flowers to place around the outside of my home. Over the past couple of years, I have expanded my container gardening to include fruits, vegetables, and herbs, not just flowers. I have discovered that I can grow almost anything in a container. Here is what I have learned from my container gardening adventures.

1. Assess Your Sunlight

You need to take notes on how much area receives full sunlight and for how long each day. I have underestimated how much sun my containers need by placing them in the wrong areas. Some plants do better in shade than others. So, you need to know how much exposure your containers are going to receive before you start your seeds or buy your plants.

You will need to time the sun exposure in certain areas. Once you know how much direct sunlight your container will get you can refer to a sun calculator to determine which plants will work best. Most seed packets and seedling plants come with instructions that tell you how much sun they need.

2. Choose Your Containers

This is a really broad category. You can basically grow plants in anything from 5-gallon plastic construction buckets to sophisticated, custom, raised wood boxes. You can read this article to find more ideas about container gardening.

I have experimented with different types of containers. What I have discovered is that you really need containers that will drain. Clay pots with holes work great. Same is true for plastic that you can drill holes into the bottom of. The roots need room and can’t be saturated with water all the time unless you are growing a plant like watercress that needs constant moisture.

Here are a few other ieas for containers:

Wooden wine casks
Plastic tote bags
Old wheelbarrows
Wooden drawers from discarded furniture
Rain boots

3. Get Nutrient Dense Soil

If you are fortunate enough to be able to find a rich, earthworm filled soil source that you can dig up, then that is the way to go. I live near salt water, so the soil is a bit sandy and likely high in salinity. I generally have to rely on purchased potting soil for my containers. This is usually not very nutritious for my plants.

If you have to purchase potting soil, look for organic soil that doesn’t have any chemical fertilizers or additives in it. You can mix in an all natural plant food of either your own composted vegetable matter, seaweed, free range animal manure, or even fish emulsion, depending on what you are growing.

For fruits and vegetables, you will want nutrients that aren’t going to impart an unpleasant taste into the produce. Here are some ideas of nutrients for edible container gardens.

4. Give Your Seedlings Time to Adjust

Seedlings are almost always started inside your home or in a greenhouse where it is nice and warm. Before you plant your seedlings in the containers, let them acclimate to the extremes of the outdoors gently. Place seedlings outside for an hour or two each day for direct sun and wind exposure. They also need to adjust to insects.

If you have been watering your seedlings with tap or filtered water, start adding some fresh rainwater to their hydration regimen. Eventually, allow them to stay outside overnight. Over time they will adapt to the conditions and will survive better once you plant them.

If your containers are inside, this might not be an issue.

5. Care for Your Plants

Any container garden needs care, just like ground gardens. Pay attention to how much water your plants are receiving. If rainwater is adequate, don’t be tempted to hydrate more. Remember, the containers will not drain as quickly as the ground.

Be mindful of the amount of sunlight your containers are receiving. They may need to be moved if it is too much or too little, especially as the seasons change and days grow longer. That is the nice thing about containers – you can relocate them.

Flowering plants need to be deadheaded from time to time. Herbs need to be pruned so that they don’t bolt and go to seed too quickly. Fruits and vegetables need to be harvested to make room for new growth. Weeds need to be kept in check so that they don’t choke the roots.

Sometimes insects are troublesome. Here are some natural pesticide recipes for flowering or green plants. For edible plants, your best pesticides are beneficial insects and removal by hand of the unwanted invaders. I recall one summer where I daily removed cabbageworm from the leaves of my collard greens by hand. If I missed a day the leaves would resemble Swiss cheese by evening.

Try it!

If you have limited space or are physically unable to work on the ground, containers may be your best bet for putting your green thumb to use this growing season. There are so many creative options for containers. And, you really can grow just about anything in a container, depending on the size.

Container gardens are attractive and relatively easy to maintain. Though, they do differ slightly from ground gardens. There is a bit of a learning curve. You will get the hang of it with a little trial and error. Try following some of the tips suggested here and you should end up with a bounty of greenery, flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables.

We always like feedback from our readers. Please feel free to comment or share some of your own container garden experiences and suggestions.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


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Spring Vegetables: 5 Tips for Using Your Garden Produce

Stuffed zucchini and the last of the season's lettuce.

We don’t have seasonal changes in Houston. We have Pleasant, Warm, Hot and OMG. This year has been particularly warm and many of Houston’s backyard gardeners got an exceptionally early start on their gardens.

April and May have begun to yield early tomatoes, peppers and green beans that some of us planted way back in February. The occasional weak cold front might extend our lettuce crops and maybe even our garden peas, but the warmer temperatures start to ripen the fruit of our labors. If we’re lucky, the garden may even produce more bounty than we know what to do with.

Fortunately, we have some tips on using those vegetable beauties in the kitchen.

A gardener's spring bounty.

5. Eat Lettuce and Peas Fresh Out of the Garden

As the temperatures rise, the lovely leaf lettuce we have enjoyed for the past few weeks starts to bolt and go to seed. Once that happens, the leaves emit a bitter white sap when cut.

Now is the time to harvest what you can and make the salads you swore you would eat in the new year. If you still have garden peas, throw them in raw. If you manage to beat the powdery mildew, you might be able to harvest enough peas to blanch and freeze, but raw, fresh peas have such a limited time for harvesting in our heat, you might just want to enjoy them right off the vines.

4. Preserve Those Green Beans or Stir-Fry Them

Few gardeners ever heed the warning about staggering their plantings of green beans. A beautiful February day ignites some sort of horticultural fire in our souls and we want more, more, more. The middle of April comes and we are blessed or burdened with a multitude of long, green pods. If your grandma taught you to can and preserve, you can put up those babies for a future date. Green beans and wax beans are also easily frozen after blanching.

If your family has had their fill of green beans, try disguising them in a stir-fry with a ginger teriyaki sauce or in a vegetable curry. For a hearty side dish, sauté them with diced bacon, pancetta or prosciutto to temper the vegetal taste. A few shallots and cherry tomatoes added to the sauté will add some sweetness. And, trust me on this, a dash of a good wine vinegar at the end adds a little sumpin’ sumpin’.

Sweet Chelsea tomatoes make for a great pico de gallo with peppers.EXPAND

3. Tomatoes and Peppers Are Timeless BFFs

While I love raw tomatoes, my husband and children, despite their Italian genes, do not. They stick to tomato sauce. That leaves more fresh ones for me, but when the garden is overflowing with ripening tomatoes and you cannot face blanching and peeling all of them to make marinara, there are a number of ways to enjoy the fresh abundance.

Peppers are usually ripening at the same time, so pico de gallo is a delicious condiment for all the Mexican food we love. The Mucho Nacho jalapeño plant has already given me six peppers this month. I seeded and minced a jalapeño pepper, chopped up some of my Sweet Chelsea and Sun Gold tomatoes, added some green onions and cilantro and had pico de gallo solely from my backyard garden.

As a topping for steak fajitas, it is muy bueno.

Another easy and delicious use for those sun-ripened orbs is tomato bruschetta.
Mix chopped tomatoes, a little minced red onion and julienned basil with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Toast or grill some Italian bread and rub a garlic clove over the bread slices while warm. Top with the bruschetta mixture and be amazed at how something so simple could be so wonderful. 

If I had to choose a last meal (though I hope I am not ever in that situation), I would be hard pressed to choose between tomato bruschetta and a steak au poivre. Both together, and I might already be on my way to heaven.

2. Mix All Your Veggies Into a Pasta

If you need a quick and healthy way to use the produce from your garden, pasta primavera makes the most of fresh vegetables. It literally means “spring pasta” in Italian.

Sauté diced tomatoes, green beans and peas in a little olive oil and minced garlic. Add the ingredients to hot, cooked penne pasta. Throw in some diced fresh mozzarella and some torn basil leaves and you have a fabulous meal for eating al fresco (that means outside, y’all).

The residual heat will melt the fresh mozzarella, making it long and stringy, just like the cheese on pizza. The kids will love it.

Pasta Primavera is the epitome of Spring.

1. Stuff Those Zucchinis

I’m sure most people do not fantasize about squash. I, however, have had an unrequited love for zucchini in the garden. He has spurned me. He usually succumbs to the squash vine borers and powdery mildew. Until this year, that is.

After envying gardeners with more zucchini than they can handle, I decided to grow a different type, one I had tried at a local farmers’ market. My love has finally been rewarded. I would like to introduce you to my new squash crush, the Eight-Ball Zucchini.

This a round zucchini, perfect for stuffing. If they are picked while baseball-size, they are great for sautéing or frying. Wait until they are softball-size and they become great vessels for rice, ground meats, grains and tiny pasta shapes. Any larger than that, and they make decent weapons, but not good eating. They are prolific, but not to the point where I am forcing them on my neighbors. Yet.

Our favorite way to use these little green balls: stuffed and baked with orzo and sun-dried tomatoes, and then topped with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. You can always add cooked meat, different grains or more vegetables.

That’s the beauty of cooking with your garden produce. You can experiment with veggies from your own little farmers’ market.

And if you aren’t part of the rapidly growing sector of Americans who are growing some of their own food, there are always the various farmers’ markets that have sprung up in the city and the suburbs all over Houston. From the Urban Harvest markets downtown to the Tomball Farmer’s Market on the northside, you can fill your reusable bags with locally grown produce from growers in our region. This is the time of year to relish living in a warm climate.

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RIDLEN: Garden tips for May

Trees and Shrubs

    • Prune and feed azaleas immediately after blooming.

    • Insect Alert

∗ Bagworms on juniper and arborvitae. (Late May)

∗ Elm leaf beetles and larvae on elms. (Late May)

∗ Mimosa webworms on mimosa and honeylocust.

∗ Lace bugs on sycamore, pyracantha and azalea.

    • Soak new transplants and newly planted trees unless rainfall is abundant.

    • Pine needle disease treatments are needed in mid-May.


    • Cool-season lawns can be fertilized again. If you did not fertilize cool-season grasses in March and April, do so now.

    • Warm-season lawns may be fertilized again in May. (HLA-6420)

    • Seeding of warm-season grasses such as bermudagrass, buffalograss, zoysiagrass and centipedegrass is best performed in mid-May through the end of June. The soil temperatures are warm enough for germination and adequate growing season is present to promote winter hardiness.

    • Dollar spot disease of lawns can first become visible in mid-May. Make certain fertilizer applications have been adequate before ever applying a fungicide. (EPP-7658)

    • Nutsedge plants become visible during this month. Post-emergent treatments are best applied for the first time this month. Make certain warm-season grasses have completed green-up.

    • The second application of pre-emergent annual grass herbicides can be applied in late-May or early June, depending upon timing of first application. Check label for details.

    • Vegetative establishment of warm-season grasses can continue. (HLA-6419)


    • Annual bedding plants can be set out for summer color.

    • Plant summer bulbs such as cannas, dahlias, elephant ear, caladiums and gladiolus.

    • Shake a leaf over white paper to look for spider mites. If the tiny specks begin to crawl, mites are present.

Water Gardens

    • Clean out water garden and prepare for season. Divide and repot water garden plants.

    • Begin feeding fish when water temperatures are over 50°F.

Fruits and Vegetables

    • Plant watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber, eggplant, okra, sweet potatoes, etc.

    • Fruit spray programs should be faithfully continued during the next several weeks.

Late May is the best time to control borers in the orchard. Check for label recommendations and controls.

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Spring Garden Tips

Scott Township, Lackawanna County (WBRE/WYOU) It’s spring, and a lot of people are ready to get their gardens growing, we get some tips from experts.

 It’s still chilly, but there are some plants you can get going right now.  The experts say plants like cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts can be planted  now.

 But it’s too cold for other plants like tomatoes and peppers.  They also say you can start by getting the soil ready for planting with extra nutrients.

 They also warn, if you have hanging baskets, take them in on cold nights to avoid damage. 

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Humboldt Park’s Deteriorating Garden To Get Millennium Park Treatment

 Jens Jensen Formal Garden, completed in 1908, will soon see new life. Pictured is the garden in 1908 (left) and the garden today (right).

Jens Jensen Formal Garden, completed in 1908, will soon see new life. Pictured is the garden in 1908 (left) and the garden today (right).
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HUMBOLDT PARK — A prominent Dutch designer behind the award-winning Lurie Garden in Millennium Park has been tapped to revitalize the Jens Jensen Formal Garden in Humboldt Park, which has greatly deteriorated since it was built in 1908.

The Chicago Park District, in partnership with the Chicago Park Foundation and the Garden Conservancy, selected internationally known Piet Oudolf to lead the restoration project, which has been in the works for more than a year. Plans include repairing the crumbling infrastructure and revitalizing the design features in keeping with Jensen’s famous Prairie style.

Oudolf presented his ideas to more than 25 residents and community leaders at a meeting in early April. At the meeting, Oudolf unveiled a “durable” design that would accommodate Chicago’s seasons and doesn’t require pesticides. The designer has enlisted the Hitchcock Design Group to coordinate the design.

“We will create a community of plants that work well together and look beautiful throughout the seasons,” Oudolf said in a prepared statement.

Jensen (1860-1951) is regarded as one of the country’s most significant landscape designers. The circular garden he created in 1908 featured semi-circular beds of roses and other perennials, as well as an upper terrace with wooden and concrete pergolas, according to the Jensen Formal Garden Restoration Project website.

“He called it a ‘community garden’ explaining that it was created for ‘those who have no other gardens except their window sills,'” the website reads.

Over the years, the garden has deteriorated: the concrete walls and pergolas are cracking, the wood is rotting, some flowers beds have been sodded over and very few flowers remain, according to the website.

The park groups are confident Oudolf will restore the garden to its former glory. 

The award-winning Lurie Garden in Millennium Park, which was designed by Oudolf.

“We are thrilled to have such a renowned garden designer lend his creative talents and thoughtful insight to our revitalization of the garden, and transform Jens Jensen’s world-class formal garden into an inviting four-season gathering space accessible to patrons year-round,” Chicago Park District General Supt. and CEO Michael P. Kelly said in a prepared statement.

The project will cost a total of $350,000, which the Chicago Parks Foundation is planning to raise through a combination of public and private donations, according to Willa Lang, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Parks Foundation, the charitable arm of the Park District. The Garden Conservancy has already donated $20,000.

The group is also raising money through an online fundraising campaign, which had raised $1,630 as of Tuesday afternoon.

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Transitions are important in garden design

Power Point gives you the option of smooth, graceful “transitions” from one photo to the next. Or you can just have them pop dramatically into view.

Landscapes operate just about the same. There are many boundaries that show up in our gardens, and how we handle those transitions can go a long way toward determining the success of our designs. Sometimes we want them to be subtle, and other times we prefer that they be well defined. I thought it might be useful to discuss a few of these garden transitions and the ways with which you could handle them.

Bed edgings that separate turf from other plants. I admit to being obsessive about this particular transition. It may stem back to my childhood when I crawled through our landscape on my hands and knees with a dull hand ax cutting runners from our St. Augustine to create smooth edges to our beds. I’m a “straightener,” so I guess that follows suit. But there’s something great to be said about a clean dividing line between shrub or groundcover beds and the turf that adjoins them.

Many of us started out using heavy timbers, railroad ties and bricks for this edging. Some of us even poured concrete edging. That was until we discovered that landscapes evolve and that bed edgings must be easily removable. I learned that one the hard and heavy way!

As our landscapes grew smaller those elements seemed too heavy visually. Metal or plastic edging can be put almost flush with the ground so that the line of demarcation becomes almost unnoticeable. If you choose one of these products, use a square-bladed shovel to cut a slit to insert it, then push it almost full depth into the ground so it doesn’t stick out. Rusty metal bed edging sticking up out of the ground is (1) unsightly and (2) a possible source of injury.

Groundcovers, stone, mulches and other coverings. I like to think of the woody plants in my landscape as a stairway, with taller plants to the rear and to the sides, tapering down to shorter plants in front (adjacent to the lawn) and near the entry. That’s where I use groundcovers and low, bordering plants. I will often use baseball-sized river rock as a groundcover just for a natural-looking alternative. And I really like finely ground pine bark mulch as a covering. It looks natural, and it decomposes to enrich the soil in the process. It blends in beautifully with its surroundings.

Color schemes of the seasons. Think of each part of your landscape as a “room.” You have color schemes for the rooms of your house so that everything within each of the rooms looks like it belongs in that setting. You need to do that with your gardens as well. Those color schemes can change with the seasons, but they need to be in harmony at any given time. You might choose pastels in the spring (Easter egg colors), cooling lavender, purple and blue shades in the summer and rich reds, rusts, oranges and yellows in fall. Plan for a natural flow from one season’s scheme into the next.

Flowering times of perennials. This is one of the most difficult of all concepts to teach. Perennials may come back year after year, but almost all types only bloom for a few weeks each year. That means that a successful perennial garden requires careful attention and planning. Aim to have one or more types of plants in bloom at any given time from late winter until the first freeze of the fall. That’s probably going to involve planting 15 or 20 types of perennials, and for each type you’ll have to know its season of bloom fairly precisely, its height and width and, of course, its flower colors. Good perennial gardens require successful transitions.

Shade into sun in your lawn grass. Bermuda grass is our most popular North Texas turf. However, Bermuda requires full or nearly full sunlight. As your trees grow larger and larger, the “bald spots” beneath them grow larger as well. Most folks turn to St. Augustine, and that may be a good solution, at least until the shade grows still heavier. But the kicker that many people don’t realize is that St. Augustine trumps Bermuda. It’s the more dominant grass, so it will overtake Bermuda in the rest of your lawn. If you plant St. Augustine into a Bermuda lawn because of shade, you will eventually have a full lawn of St. Augustine. We no longer have any herbicide to stop its spread. The “transition” will turn into an “invasion.”

Textures in contrast. This is probably the least obvious transition we’ll list. Plants’ comparative textures are seldom considered, but you do notice them, whether you’re aware of it or not. Plants with large leaves, thick bark, stout trunks and vertical or vase-shaped growth habits are listed as “coarse-textured.” Plants with small leaves, smooth bark, thin, wiry stems and rounded or arching habits appear finer-textured. It’s nice to plant for a variety of textures, and it’s best to do so in a way that provides a nice blend of the types.

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Garden Designer Lynden Miller Speaking At Elizabeth Park Conservancy Luncheon

Lynden Miller — who has designed more than 40 public gardens in New York City over the past 35 years, including the Central Park Conservatory Garden and Bryant Park at the New York Public Library — was an abstract landscape painter for many years.

“I loved being a painter,” she said in an interview at the end of April, but she discovered in 1982 that using her artist’s eye to make compositions of plants for people to enjoy — “painting with plants” — brings her a great deal more joy than being alone in the studio.

Miller, who will talk about her work on May 10 at an event sponsored by the Elizabeth Park Conservancy, is a passionate advocate for cultivating beautiful urban gardens.

“It’s the response that every human being has to nature,” she said. “When people see that the city cares about that, there’s an unspoken message [from the city] that ‘we did this for you and the people here.’ It’s a sanctuary for the soul of city dwellers.”

Garden club bringing in landscape presentation

 A renowned radio host, landscape designer, horticultural instructor, gardener and author is back by popular demand to discuss unusual perennial plants gardeners can grow for shady areas.

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Mt. Vernon Music Boosters to host fundraiser

FORTVILLE — The Mt. Vernon Music Boosters said they hope the community is ready for spring renewal.

The inaugural Lunch, Lawn, Leisure and Landscaping fundraiser will be held 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Mt. Vernon High School, 8112 N. County Road 200W. Refreshments will be served.

Each spring, homeowners start planning their yards and how they want them to look, and MV Band can provide the tools necessary to make their yards and gardens shine, co-chairs Darci Pellom and Jim Smith said.

“In future years, the event can expand to include statuary and vendors such as irrigation systems, underground sprinklers, and more,” Smith said. “The more variety, the better fundraising effort results!”

Funds raised will help with student fees and costs associated with band and guard programs for the coming school year.

Geraniums and petunias have been on sale since April 24. With these purchased ahead of time, homeowners can come May 7 and discuss planting plans and ideas with landscape architects and gardening pros at the event. Other vendors will be available to discuss rain water irrigation and watering, fashion, health and gardening, and products will be available for sale, including flowers and mulch to complete those last minute plantings.

Vendor booths are $25. For booth space, contact Jim Smith at

What: Inaugural Lunch, Lawn, Leisure and Landscaping fundraiser, hosted by the Mt. Vernon Music Boosters

When: 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Mt. Vernon High School, 8112 N. County Road 200W.

Refreshments, vendors and landscaping advice will be on hand.

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New Lex Elementary dedicates landscape project

Pat Vandawater takes a moment to plant a geranium at New Lexington Elementary School following a ceremony dedicating a new landscaping project.

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