Gardening Greener with Natives, Perennials and Grasses

Interested in growing greener? That would include growing plants native to your local climate, plants that are naturally adapted to the local conditions.

Reducing water consumption is important to many of us, especially for those in dryer climates. A fantastic resource for you guys in the deserts is High Country Gardens. From Santa Fe they offer a nice selection of native plants that require less care and attention than the tropical imports and the highly hybridized annuals that are pushed at garden centers every year.

If you have an interest in any of the following you should sign up to receive the Xeriscape Gardening Newsletter.

  • Xeriscape Perennials
  • Hardy Garden Perennials
  • Groundcovers
  • Ornamental Grasses
  • Shrubs & Conifers
  • Native Plants
  • Cacti and Succulents

The past few weeks I’ve seen beautifully illustrated emails on the topics of using ornamental grasses, gardening with color, perennials, dahlias, thymes and salvias, and even one about Blue Orchard Mason Bee Nest Tubes for Spring.

The online catalog is handsome. Clean lines, not too cluttered, yet full of information. Tool tips pop up with item specifics when you hover your mouse pointer over the large-enough thumbnail pictures. Each item details page gives plenty of details on the particular plant and its growing requirements.

Herbs are not too plentiful in the High Country Gardens Catalog. Only 6 herbal items, and they’re potted plants:

    Artemisia abrotanum ‘Tangerine’
    Hyssopus officinalis
    Lavandula x intermedia ‘Provence’
    Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Irene’™
    Salvia officinalis ‘Minima’
    Thymus sp.

Like I said though, if you’re interested in gardening with a green intent, then subscribe to the newsletter. It will give you ideas on how to use native plants in your gardens, especially perennials, ground covers and grasses.

Going Greener: How To Make the World's Best Compost

Getting ready for planting season is a time of preparation and reading up on techniques and new plants that you might try this year. Have you decided to go green with your gardening efforts this year?

Composting is a major part of reusing materials. Yes, our mantra reduce, reuse, recycle can be put to work in our gardens. Avoiding the purchase of fertilizers and insecticides is a side benefit of making the best compost. Read on to learn more in this great resource, World’s Best Compost.

Here’s a sneak peek at what you’ll discover in Worlds Best Compost:

  • The method of feeding plants in a totally natural way that results in the most tastiest, divine food you and your family will ever have.
  • Why do you use much less water in your garden now using colloidal humus compost? (and how you will be saving money and effort and the environment)
  • What’s the sheep mentality that almost all agriculture and garden advisors suffer from that costs you time and money on dangerous, toxic gardening and horticulture practices. (and is killing our planet in the process)?
  • How to achieve a soil that “feeds itself” so you always get consistent results!

Read more about composting!

Time to Watch for Dandelions is Now

Spring is just starting to arrive in Central Pennsylvania and one treat that local folk look forward to around the time of Easter dinners is dandelion salad. Early dandelion leaves are picked by the pound and softened with a hot bacon salad dressing and usually served with baked ham. Members of local fire departments and churches cook great batches of food for anyone happening to see their signs on the road and for the locals who look forward to these annual dinner events.

If you’re feeling adventurous, try a dandelion salad this spring. The familiar dandelion is found just about everywhere and is easily recognized by its basal rosette of toothed, deeply cleft leaves and bright yellow flower head.

It’s a little early to harvest much dandelion now, but while you’re sprucing up your gardens take a look around and scout out some dandelions that look promising. Make sure to pick dandelions from areas that are not sprayed with pesticides or weed killers.

Pick the young leaves and the flower buds for the least bitter taste. After dandelions flower most think the taste is strongly bitter, so young early spring leaves are preferred. Toss the stems and unused greens into your compost heap.

Cut the washed leaves into half-inch wide strips and leave out the stems of the larger leaves. Instead of using bacon or ham drippings to prepare the dressing, try canola oil or olive oil as a healthy alternative. Unsaturated fats in canola and olive oils are much preferred over the saturated animal fats in the bacon and ham. An added bonus is that the lighter plant oils will let other flavors come through, so you get to taste more ingredients than the heavy bacon-ham dressing.

Gardening and Seed Catalog Database Reaches Over 100 Entries

I’ve been putting together a database of seed and gardening catalogs over the last couple weeks. The print catalogs that I requested are starting to trickle into my snail mail box.

The database will contain the contact details for each company that supplies seeds, tools and equipment to home and backyard gardeners. Each will be identified as to their offerings online and in print.

Of special interest to me are the herb seeds and heirloom seeds that are available, so special attention will be paid to those catalogs offering non-hybrid seeds.

If anyone has interest in a downloadable PDF of the gardening and seed catalog database, please leave a comment!

Start Seed Planting Indoors with Oven-Sterilized Soil

Start planting seeds indoors now to take advantage of the entire growing season. Some flowering plants may need to be planted 6, 8 or even 10 weeks before the last frost date for your area. Perennials may not have enough time to flower the first year unless you help them out by starting their seeds early.

Any container can be used for starting seeds that provides at least two inches of soil depth and that has drainage holes. Old containers, flats, cut-off milk jugs and plastic bottles are just fine, provided that you clean them with warm, soapy water. If you want to be really careful, take a few extra minutes to disinfect your containers with a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach plus 9 parts water).

Put your soil in the containers to a depth of at least two inches. The kind of soil that you use for starting seeds does make a difference. Regular potting soil is too dense and allows for little water drainage. Potting soil or dirt dug up from your garden will work fine if you add vermiculite and perlite in approximately equal parts. As an alternative you can use equal mixtures of garden soil, sphagnum peat moss and sand. The vermiculite, perlite and sand all serve the purpose of increasing drainage, lightening the soil and allowing for good oxygen exchange.

Actually, potting soil isn’t even a requirement. You can mix equal parts of vermiculite and perlite, or sphagnum peat moss and sand, instead. Going a different route, you can try rock wool for starting your seeds. Rock wool is used for plants in hydroponic setups and may not be easily found in your local gardening center.

Sterilization of the soil can improve results significantly. Some folks opt to purchase the more expensive, commercially prepared seed starting potting mixes, which are available in specialty garden shops. Commercially prepared soils are conveniently sterile for starting seeds, but more expensive than doing it yourself.

Sterilizing soil basically involves heating the soil long enough to destroy the disease-causing bacteria and fungi, but not too long for toxins to develop in the soil. You can do it at home in your conventional oven, too.

Porous containers, like clay pots, can be sterilized in the oven the same time as your soil mixture, but make sure to disinfect your clay pots first with a 10% bleach solution.

We can get by without sterilizing the soil, but if you want a better result bake the covered soil at 180-200 degrees for about 30 minutes.

Follow these steps for oven sterilization of soil and containers:

  • Heat oven to 180-200 degrees F.
  • Use metal containers or clay pots to hold the soil for sterilizing. No plastic containers.
  • Fill containers with moist soil mixture no deeper than 4 inches.
  • Cover containers tightly with aluminum foil.
  • Heat at 180 degrees for 30 minutes. Use a meat thermometer poked into the soil.
  • Do not let temperature go over 200 degrees.
  • Allow the soil and containers to cool to room temperature.
  • Leave the foil on the containers until you’re ready to use the sterilized soil.

While the oven is baking your soil, you’ll want to open a window or turn on a fan to get rid of the odors being released!

You can use the microwave for sterilizing small batches of soil but you’ll have to use plastic containers and not metal ones or aluminum foil. The key here is to hold the temperature at 200 degrees for 20 minutes, so if you have a programmable oven you’re good to go. Oh, poke a hole in the lids of your plastic containers to allow steam to escape while the soil is getting zapped.

Now that your soil and containers are ready, let’s plant seeds!

Read the seed packets. Seed packs are usually full of great information that pertains to the species or variety of seed you’re planting. Things like how far apart to plant the seeds and whether the plants do well in full sun or partial shade should be on the seed packet.

Place your planting containers on a tray or in a shallow baking dish that will hold water. When it comes time to water your seedlings, gently pour lukewarm water into the tray or dish. Watering in this manner will not disturb the seeds as watering from the top often does.

Place seeds on the soil and cover with a light amount of your sterilized soil, no deeper than 2-3 times the width of an individual seed. Certain seeds, like the lettuces, do not germinate well with a soil covering. In those cases just press down on the seeds. In the garden we step on the lettuce seeds and they’re planted!

Cover the container with plastic wrap, a plastic bag or a piece of glass in order to retain moisture. Until the seeds actually germinate don’t put the containers in direct sunlight which could heat up the soil too fast and possibly dry it out.

To add a little warmth to the soil you can place the containers on a heating mat or other radiator.

Remove the plastic or glass coverings when the seeds germinate and place under florescent lights. Sunny windows are not sunny every day and those cloudy days can lead to some spindly growth. Place the lights about 3-4 inches above the seeds and raise the lights as the plants get taller. Lights need to be on about 16 hours every day, so use a lamp timer to make this a no-brainer.

Water seedlings from the bottom by adding water to your tray, but remove any standing water after about five minutes. Refrain from fertilizing seedlings until they grow at least two sets of true leaves.