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Monthly Archives: January 2017

7 Common Container Gardening Mistakes

Since I have made every mistake possible, many more than once, the following list of 7 common container gardening mistakes is just a start, and is in no particular order.

1. Filling a large container in the wrong place: Ever tried to lift a large container garden filled with dirt and plants? I have, and it can be overwhelmingly heavy. When using a large or unwieldy container make sure to place your pot where it will live and then fill it – you’ll save your back!

Also, if you know you are planting shallow rooted plants in a very large container (for example, herbs, annuals, succulents), you can fill the bottom third with empty plastic bottles and cover them with plastic screening. You can also use a product called “Better Than Rocks,” to take up space. It will make your container lighter and less expensive because you won’t need as much potting soil.

2. Overwatering Your Plants: To avoid over-watering your container gardens, use containers that have drainage holes – lots of them. Also, make sure to read the moisture requirements for your plants and then follow them. Before you water, check if your soil is moist. To do this put your finger into the soil up to your second knuckle. If the soil at your fingertip feels dry, water your plant.

If you do over-water, leaves may turn yellow and fall off, or your plants may get limp. If your soil is too wet, move the container to a dry, breezy spot until it dries out.

If you have the room, you can also move your container garden into a garage or sheltered spot to dry it out, particularly if the weather is continuing to be wet.

3. Underwatering Your Plants: Most container gardens need watering at least once a day in the heat of the summer.

Many, especially hanging planters or small containers, need watering even more often because there is less soil to hold moisture. When you water, make sure to really soak your plants – if you just give them a sip, the water will only wet the top layer of soil. Water until you see it coming out of the bottom of your pot.

Lots of people use water crystals but they are expensive and some tests have shown that they aren’t particularly effective.

If your plants do dry out, don’t despair; even the most pathetic, limp, plant might revive with a good drink. If the container is small enough, submerge the whole thing in a bucket of water until the air bubbles subside. For a large container take a skewer or stick and gently poke holes deep into the soil to allow water to reach the roots. Then water generously.

4. Awkward plant to pot ratio: Make sure to consider the proportions of your plants to your container. A large container stuffed with short plants can look stunted. If you need a rule of thumb (and remember that rules are meant to be broken) try to have at least one plant that is as tall as the container. Also try plants that will spill over the sides.

5. Buying weak or sickly plants: Buying plants at a reputable local nursery is a good place to start in your quest for healthy plants. You have a greater chance of getting plants that are disease and pest free and well cared for than at a big box store. At a nursery, you can often get a wealth of information and advice from knowledgeable staff. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to help you pick out a good plant.

If you can’t resist the prices of buying plants from a big box store (and occasionally, who can’t?), try to buy them on or close to the day they’re delivered. Don’t be shy to ask someone who works there which day new plant stock arrives. Delivery is usually the same day every week.

Here are some suggestions for how to save money on container gardening.

6. Fear of pruning: When your container gardens start looking leggy or ragged, don’t be afraid to cut them back.

You may want to put them in an out-of-the-way spot until they re-bound, but chances are they’ll come back healthier and happier with a good haircut.

7. Selecting plants with different requirements: Make sure that all the plants in your container garden share the same sun, soil and water requirements. You can find out this information from your seed packets or plant labels.

Vegetable Container Gardening For Beginners

Vegetable container gardening can bring joy and bounty. The simple pleasure of biting into a tomato still warm from the sun, picked and eaten on the spot is almost unbeatable. You can grow just about any vegetable in a container and you can also save serious bucks by growing your own veggies.

However, vegetable container gardening can be a frustrating and expensive endeavor if your plants don’t thrive and produce.

The following list of basic tips apply to most vegetables and will help you and your plants get off to a good start.

Sun

Most vegetables need full sun – that means at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. Most people way overestimate how much sun an area really gets, which is easy to do. For your veggies to thrive, you will need an accurate assessment so either take out your watch and time how long the sun directly hits the spot where you want to put your vegetable container garden, or use a sun calculator to get an accurate, not optimistic assessment.

Water

Vegetable plants need water and some like tomatoes need lots of it. However, you don’t want to drown your plants. The goal is to keep your soil moist but not wet. To figure out if your plants need water, stick your finger down into the soil, about an inch, or up to your first knuckle. If the soil feels dry, add water, and if you’re not sure, wait and check later in the day.

At the height of summer, you probably will have to water at least once, sometimes twice, a day. Proper watering may be the single most important and hardest part of vegetable container gardening.

More on watering your plants

Heat

If you live in a really hot zone you may have to shade your plants in the middle of the day in order not to fry them.

Also, it’s best not to use metal containers or dark colored plastics or ceramics, because they can heat up and cook your plant’s roots.

On the flip side, many vegetables don’t like cold soil, so if you live in a cool climate, make sure not to put your vegetable container gardens outside full-time, until you know the temperatures are warm enough. For many plants the soil needs to be at least 60°F. Using a meat thermometer is a good way to find out the temperature of your soil. Always make sure to harden off your plants before you put them outside.

Soil

Quality potting soil is really important for vegetables. Don’t use soil from your garden, because it will compact in your container and won’t drain water properly. Also, one of the reasons to garden in containers is so you won’t have to deal with weeds. Chances are pretty good that if you use garden soil, you will be importing weeds into your container. I use organic potting soil because studies have shown that there are many benefits to growing produce organically, including better taste and a higher percentage of antioxidents and phytochemicals.

Fertilizer

Plants need food to thrive, and their food is fertilizer. If your soil doesn’t have fertilizer already mixed in, you’ll want to add fertilizer.

I use an organic granular fertilizer and mix it into my containers from top to bottom. Every couple of weeks I will add diluted liquid fish emulsion or liquid seaweed to give them the nutrition they need. Another great way to add fertilizer during the growing season is to make or buy compost tea.

More on feeding your plants

Drainage

Drainage is key to keep plants from drowning. You want your pot or container to let excess water out of the bottom, so your plants won’t sit in water or soggy soil. Make sure your container has one large hole or several smaller ones. You can usually drill holes if the drainage is insufficient. Also, if your pot is sitting on a hard surface, the hole can plug up, so elevating your pots with pot feet is also a good idea.

Containers

Choosing a container can be daunting.

You can use almost anything for a garden planter as long as it is big enough and has good drainage. Keep in mind though, that the larger your container, the easier it will be to maintain. The more soil a container can hold the more moisture it will retain. I don’t bother with containers that are smaller than 12” and I am much happier if they are at least 18”. Bigger, really is better here.

For looks, I love wooden containers for growing vegetables. I like the way they look and you can get really good-sized containers that aren’t too expensive, or you can make your own.

Growing vegetables in self-watering containers works wonderfully well. My favorite container for growing tomatoes is an Earthbox. They are large, easy to use, are incredibly durable and make giving plants the right amount of water a cinch.

Plastic or glazed ceramic containers are fine too. You can even use terracotta, but it is harder to keep your plants moist, because the clay tends to suck the water out of the soil. To help solve this problem, I either line a terracotta pot with plastic, or use a plastic pot as a liner

For an inexpensive container try a five-gallon, plastic bucket from the hardware store, or make an unusual container from something you have around your house, like an old laundry basket or a toy bin. As long as it’s big enough and has good drainage, you can really use anything.

I’m also a huge fan of straw bale gardening.

Seeds or Seedlings

You can start your veggies from seed or buy seedlings. There are some significant advantages and disadvantages to each. Starting your own seeds is much less expensive than buying seedlings, after some startup costs. Another great reason to start your own seeds is that you can grow hard to find varieties and can also grow your seedlings organically. However, starting seeds isn’t for everyone. You absolutely cannot let them dry out or they’re toast. Conversely, if you give them too much water, they keel over dead. To avoid this, you can make a self-watering seed starter.

Tips for Growing Your Own Home Garden

Keeping a garden cultivates more than just flowers — the activity of gardening is an excellent way to exercise, clear your mind, grow your own healthy foods, and transform your outdoor space into a more beautiful one. So slip on your gardening gloves, head outside, and start growing your own lush plants and vegetables.

Don’t know how to get started? First consider a few factors that go into the planning and design of a garden:

  • Your climate. Your climate determines the types of plants that will grow best in your garden and the steps needed to take care of them. Do some research or speak with a professional landscaper to find out what plants are native to your area and any others hardy enough to survive the winter. If your region of the country has distinctive seasonal changes, choose plants that will peak at various seasons, so that your garden will be attractive all year long. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Hardiness Zone Map can help you determine which plants are best suited for your climate.
  • Your taste. Not everyone’s idea of a dream garden is the same. Some people prefer flowering plants, while others get more satisfaction from a vegetable garden. Looking through gardening magazines or going on garden tours might help you define your vision.
  • Your property. The size and shape of your garden will depend on the space you have to work with. Consider various areas around your yard and how much sun and shade they get. You can plant a garden in a shady area, but you will be limited to shade-loving plants. If your outdoor space is small, a container garden should work well.

After you have assessed your gardening needs and desires, consult professionals at a local nursery who can help you finalize your plan, sell you the plants you need, and instruct you on planting them.

4 Garden-Maintenance Musts

You will need to regularly maintain your garden to help it grow. Basic garden maintenance involves:

  • Watering. Water is essential to the health of your garden. Find out the specific watering needs of your plants and establish a routine so that your garden will get the right amount.
  • Weeding. Weeds are not only unpleasant to look at, but they can also zap moisture and nutrients from your plants. To control weed growth, you need to regularly weed your garden, making sure to remove the entire weed, especially the roots.
  • Pruning and dead-heading. These steps involve removing dead branches and past-bloom flowers to encourage more blooms and keep your plants healthy for years to come. When you choose your plants, make sure you understand how to prune and dead-head them since improper maintenance can harm plants.
  • Fertilizing. Depending on the quality of the soil in your garden, you might need to apply fertilizers. Consider having your soil tested by a professional who can recommend the right fertilizers and pesticides for your plants.

How to Stay Healthy and Safe in the Garden

Gardening is an enjoyable way to exercise your body and clear your mind, but there are also some health and safety issues you should address for a safe home garden:

  • Tetanus booster shot. Check with your doctor to see if you need a tetanus booster shot. Tetanus is a risk if you cut or scratch yourself while working around soil.
  • Protective gear. When you are working in your garden, you will need to protect yourself from sharp-edged equipment, chemicals such as pesticides, sun exposure, and insects. You should have a pair of gardening gloves, sunglasses, a broad brimmed hat, protective shoes, and knee pads if you will be bending a lot. If you plan on doing heavy lifting, a back brace can help protect your back. Also wear DEET-containing insect repellant and a sunscreen with SPF of 15 or higher to protect against mosquitoes, ticks, and the harmful rays of the sun.
  • Use chemicals properly. When using pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals in your garden, be sure to read instructions and warning labels so that you will use them safely. Wear gloves when handling chemicals.
  • Stay cool in the heat. When working in hot conditions, make sure to drink plenty of water, take breaks in shady areas, and watch for warning signs of heat-related illness, such as high temperature, headache, rapid heart rate, dizziness, nausea, and confusion. On hot, sunny days, do your gardening before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.
  • Consider allergies or asthma. Have allergies or asthma? Avoid plants that trigger your condition when designing your garden. Consider wearing a face mask to reduce your contact with allergens. Gardening in the evening can also help reduce allergy or asthma symptoms, since pollen concentration is generally lower in cooler, less sunny conditions.

One you start to experience the joy of gardening, it will be hard to resist the temptation to work outside whenever possible. Be sure to take the time to step back and appreciate the beautiful results of your labor, too.

Rules for a Clean Refrigerator

Having a healthy home means doing what you can to keep your family well and safe. One simple way to do that is to maintain and clean your refrigerator regularly — it will save energy and money and reduce your family’s risk of food-borne illness.

Smart fridge maintenance involves keeping the refrigerator temperature in the recommended range, properly organizing your fridge food, and cleaning it up. Here’s how to get started.

The Right Refrigerator Temperature

Monitoring and maintaining your refrigerator temperature is one of the best ways to prevent food-borne illness, since keeping foods properly chilled can help prevent or slow the growth of microorganisms, like Salmonella and E. coli, that cause these illnesses. You should keep your refrigerator at or below 40ºF and your freezer at or below 0ºF. Consult the appliance manual to find out how to make these adjustments.

Since your refrigerator’s efficiency can change over time, it is important to check your refrigerator temperature regularly. The best way to do this is to buy and use an appliance thermometer.

You can also help your refrigerator work at its best by positioning it in a relatively cool location, out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources, like the oven or a heat vent. This will help it run more efficiently, which can save energy and money.

Tips for Handling Fridge Food

Refrigerators allow us to keep fresh foods fresh longer, but just because a food is in the fridge doesn’t mean you can keep it indefinitely. Below are some tips for keeping your fridge food safe:

  • Avoid crowding. Allow enough space between items so that air can circulate and keep foods at the proper temperature.
  • Read labels. Follow the directions on food packaging and be sure to promptly refrigerate all foods that require it. Discard any food that may have been mistakenly left out of the fridge for too long.
  • Throw out tainted foods. If food has visible mold on it, a foul odor, or other signs of spoilage — or if you just suspect it might have gone bad — discard it right away.
  • Separate high-risk foods. Keep the foods that are most likely to contaminate other foods — raw meat, poultry, and fish — in plastic bags, bowls, or pans on the lowest shelf of your refrigerator, where drips will not contaminate produce or any other foods.
  • Eat fridge foods promptly. The longer foods are stored in your refrigerator, the more likely microorganisms will grow on them. So regularly go through the contents of your fridge and throw out any foods that are past their prime. Follow these use-by guidelines; for foods that can be frozen, freeze them as soon as you get them home if you’re not sure you will eat them within these time frames:
    • Uncooked ground meat: 1 to 2 days
    • Poultry, fish, or shellfish: 1 to 2 days
    • Uncooked steak, veal, lamb, or pork: 3 to 5 days
    • Meat-based leftovers: 3 to 4 days
    • Ready-made foods, like deli meats and macaroni salad: 3 to 5 days
    • Uncooked eggs (in shell): 4 to 5 weeks
    • Mayonnaise (opened): 2 months
  • Watch the clock. Once out of the fridge, never let foods sit at room temperature for more than two hours — eat them or toss them.

The Best Way to Clean Your Refrigerator

Keep your refrigerator clean to keep food safe. This involves immediately wiping up any spills or leakages that occur in your refrigerator. Liquids that drip from the foods in your fridge can harbor bacteria and spread it to other foods.

In addition, plan to thoroughly clean your refrigerator once a month. Do this by taking items off each shelf and out of each drawer and wiping down the shelves and drawers. Then vacuum or sweep out the metal coils that are behind and underneath your refrigerator. If these coils become covered with dust and grime, your refrigerator will become less efficient.