December 27, 2012
Even if your soil is a saturated muck field or your shrubs are covered in icy snow or you just don’t feel like getting outside, it’s time to get over the holiday lazies and get on with your next year’s garden. Right now is when to start planning & prepping for your new year garden!
Hmmmm….Am I writing this for readers? Or am I talking to myself?
To be honest, it’s a little of both. This time of year, I think we all need a a coach to blow the whistle on our lazy, cookie-filled butts! Get out there everyone and do at least one lap around the garden before this year is over!
Still not sure what to do? Consider this quick, easy set of ideas, including both some indoor and some outdoor chores — all of which will help you get a jump on the fast-approaching growing season: (more…)
October 02, 2012
Early Autumn is usually a great time to install new plantings. Plants are headed toward dormancy, days are cooler but not likely freezing, and the rains have returned.
Or, we hope the rains will return — at some point.
Here in Western Washington we have had a rare stretch of months without significant rainfall, and there doesn’t seem to be any in the forecast. Even established gardens are beginning to show the signs of stress from the lack of rain — if they haven’t been irrigated. Even many experienced gardeners are beginning to grumble about the number of plants they’re finding dead in their gardens because of the droughty conditions. (Yep, I killed a pretty indestructible fern because it missed a few waterings.)
If you’re planning to put in new plantings this fall, do yourself a favor and water garden soil well ahead of your planting date. If you don’t, you may find you need a pick-axe to dig your holes. Then, when you plant, bone-dry soil may seem to refuse to absorb any water. That will lead to run off, and those thirsty, newly-installed plants may shrivel up and die fast.
Yes, it seems crazy to put a sprinkler or hose on bare soil and apply water, but it will save your back and your plants, which may cost a pretty penny to procure.
If your soil is really, deeply dry, try turning on your irrigation or putting out a sprinkler or hose on low. Run it for about 15-20 minutes. Turn it off. Let it drain. Stick your finger in the soil to test how well the moisture saturated. Repeat multiple times until you have built a deeply moist layer in the soil. (Aka the new plant root zone is moist, but not soggy.)
Do this re-wetting beginning several days ahead of your planting date. On the day you do your planting, don’t saturate the soil before you plant. Soggy soil can cause a number of problems for plants too.
Once you’ve finished planting, be sure to water every plant in well. Either turn on the irrigation and wet the soil consistently, or take the time to put a slow drip on the root zone of every plant to help it settle in to start.
And, yes, continue to water until rain — real, saturating rain — begins to fall and continues to fall in the months ahead. Allowing new plantings to dry out or sending any plant into the season of the freeze with dry roots is just asking for them to stress and potentially die.
August 04, 2012
First off: Thanks Valerie Easton for contacting me for your article on garden coaching tips and tricks! It’s an honor to be featured in your column. This week’s feature: Robin Haglund has the A’s for your Q’s.
The day Valerie contacted me, I was visiting Lexington, Virginia with family — on vacation. Fortunately, I had left the internet-free & phone-free countryside long enough to get her email saying she wanted to chat asap. We managed to connect while I sat in a shady park to escape the blistering heat on that May Virginia day.
We chatted for a long while during which time she gave me one very valuable piece of advice, paraphrasing here: “Soak up the heat. It’s still cold and wet in Seattle.” Not that I didn’t already know this, but it was a good reminder to take in the sun and swimming and fireflies while I could. It was still May, afterall. Summer didn’t really hit until today in Seattle — that would be August, folks!
If you’re here because you read Valerie’s article, thank you for coming. I hope there’s more information here that you find helpful, and if you’re still stumped, please get in touch for a garden coaching session so we can address your needs in your garden.
I need expand on one item Valerie mentioned in her article, because I’m a bit concerned it may be confusing.
The topic: as a rough rule of thumb, prune ornamental plants right after they finish flowering.
While I do share this idea in a number of situations, including the examples Valerie mentions in her article, I want to clarify that this isn’t always the ideal method of pruning. For instance, if you’re growing a plant from which you plan to harvest fruit, pruning it right after flowering will mean that you likely prune out your future fruit as well. Too, many plants are best to prune while they’re dormant…aka in winter, which is before spring, which may be when your plant flowers. And, your own plants may even have more complex requirements than this.
Oh, and yes, one more thing. I know there are those that will claim that broken egg shells don’t work to keep slugs at bay, but it works for me, so I offer it as an easy, sustainable, recycler’s solution. Try it. Worst case: a bit of slug damage and your soil gets an application of calcium, which it may very well need.
Rules, especially rough rules, are always made to be broken.
Thanks again Val! And, everyone, keep having fun in your garden!
June 21, 2012
The sun is out (kinda) & the garden still needs a bit of fine-tuning before the Sustainable Ballard Garden Tour in just two days, so I’ll make this brief.
First, I’m thrilled to let you know that both Fiskars and Renee’s Garden Seeds have ponied up some amazing garden goodies that will be both given away and raffled at this event. Each paid attendee will get a surprise freebie from Renee’s plus (update as of June 22nd: Renee’s generous freebie gift items won’t arrive in time. Darn!) one raffle ticket. Additional raffle entries may be purchased at the ticket table.
Raffle items include weeding tools, compost bins, rain barrels and even one of Fiskars’ amazing reel mowers — all of which you’ll be able to see integrated into our home garden where we use them all the time. Yeah, there’s more cool stuff too, including a mystery item that is apparently coming from the Renee of Renee’s Garden. We’ll all be surprised by that one!
As I’ve been preparing for this event, I’ve spent a lot of time close to the ground pulling weeds, transplanting, mulching and digging. And, each time I shove a spade into the soil or winnow out a weed, I’m reminded that in the Earth is where it all begins. But the true beginning really is a chicken and egg question. Is the death that then rots to build the soil the beginning or is the sprout that grows from that beautiful soil really the beginning? Perhaps the answer is there is no beginning and no end; it’s all that never-ending circle of renewal. And, it all begins with the soil. Each time I dig into ours, I thank myself for the care we’ve taken in building its health and tilth over the years.
Hope to see you here on Saturday – rain or shine. We’ve got food growing from curb to alley. Berries are beginning to ripen. Compost is rotting. Carrots are coloring. Bees are busy. Cucumbers, beans & zucchini are harvest-able. And even our gorgeous, if fetid, Dracunculus may bloom for the event!
Now…back to spreading that pile of mulch! I’d really like to have it all cleared off the driveway before you arrive on Saturday.
(Note: Garden Mentors is a paid contributing writer to Fiskars & does receive press packet seed samples from Renee’s Garden without charge. However, no compensation has been received for this post or any subsequent promotion.)
May 09, 2012
Need to learn how to prepare containers for planting?
Properly readying containers for plants that will thrive takes a little more work than just dumping in potting soil and plugging in the plants.
Begin by filling your pots with a quality potting soil mixture.
Do not put rocks, Styrofoam or other materials in the bottom of the container to “improve drainage”. Doing this will do this just the opposite.
Do not fill the container with soil shoveled out of the garden beds. More likely than not, this material will be too dense for container growing.
Once the containers are filled with soil, water them thoroughly. Use a slow, steady stream of water. Depending on how dry the potting soil is, you may need to water a few times to completely wet the potting soil. Using slightly warmer water will often saturate the soil more rapidly than very cold water. (I often run my hose into the a sunny spot. Run it briefly to fill the hose and then let that water in the hose sit in the sun while I fill the pots with soil. That way the first water is warm. Or, I fill my watering cans from my rain barrels and set them in the greenhouse to warm up a bit while I fill the pots with soil.)
Do not lightly wet the soil. This won’t get your soil moist enough deeper into the pot where the roots will grow.
Do not squirt a harsh stream of water into the pot. This will just make a big mess and not saturate the soil.
Once the soil is completely saturated, allow the containers to rest and drain so that the mixture isn’t gloppy. The goal is to create a moist, well-drained environment in which to plant.
To reduce waste, I fill my smaller pots with soil on our tiny lawn and then wet them there. This way the run-off from the pots also waters the grass, plus extra nutrients that run out from the potting soil head into the lawn’s soil. (With very large, heavy containers, this method isn’t always practical.)
Once your pots are filled with moist but drained potting soil, you’re ready to begin filling them with your plants. If your potting soil isn’t amended with a fertilizer already, consider adding a bit of non-synthetic fertilizer or vermicompost right after planting. And always be sure to water the containers right after you have filled them with plants. This helps their roots make critical contact with the soil and begin their new life in this new, hospitable home. (I usually move the containers to their final destination before I do this final watering. This way, I’m not slogging dripping pots all over the garden.)
September 28, 2011
Earlier this month, I enjoyed an afternoon with friends at the National Heirloom Expo in Northern California. And let’s be honest, one afternoon wasn’t nearly enough time to take in everything at the show. I was mid-way through my summer vacation, so I decided to approach the fair more for fun than as a work trip. (But let’s face it: with me, anything earthy is going to be work.)
Rather than sit inside and watch movies or listen to lectures during my precious few hours, I chose to wander the fair grounds where I met some incredible farmers, ate some delicious heirloom crops, and found myself inspired by a number of inventions at the show.
One of the coolest tools I spied was a seed tray hole punch. If you’ve ever found yourself seeding flat after flat in your journey toward a garden full of great plants, you know how hard it is to stick your finger into moist soil and then pick up a seed to drop into that hole. Your finger gets wet and covered with soil, so when you pick up that little seed, you end up with several of them, and they stick to your fingers. And, they refuse to drop into the hole. It isn’t pretty — especially if you’re seeding in cool weather and your hands are half frozen!
So, when I saw a lonely table with a seedling tray filled with soil that had perfectly aligned and ideally deepened holes for seeds, I took a closer look. What was going on here?
Low & behold – simplicity and recycling at its finest! Some brilliant gardener had taken a piece of wood, cut to the standard size of a seedling tray, and they’d affixed corks to one side. The corks were lined up perfectly for creating holes in a tray of soil. And, the use of small corks mean that the holes wouldn’t be very deep or terribly wide.
Who made this? I really don’t know. Only other show gawkers like me were nearby when I snapped my shot. Kudos whoever you are. I can’t wait to take your idea into my own garden next late winter when its time to plant all those tiny brassica seeds.
Looking ahead, I’ll be spending winter saving up old wine corks, which I’ll whittle down to just the right size for my seeding depth. Perhaps I’ll make a couple of punches — one for big squash seeds and one for the little seeds I don’t bury very deeply.
Hmmm…with all that wine to drink, I guess that means I can take this farm fresh idea right to the couch – just like the sign says.