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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Planting a Vertical Garden Arbor with Gutters (Part 3)

This week I've been posting about a backyard project that involves vertical gardening!  It was a fun one that actually went 100% according to plan! (That can't be said for all of my projects!)  Often I end up improvising somewhere along the way.
The project involved putting up an arbor and running spray painted gutters between them to serve as planters.

A commenter asked in one of the previous posts if I thought this would work on an 8 foot span.  The answer: I don't think it would without some sort of extra support.  Once soil, water, plants, and the weight of the gutter themselves is factored in I believe some bowing would occur in the middle of an 8' or longer span.  However it would be very easy to attach a piece of lumber underneath the guttering to provide that support.

For planting the gutter I used a mix of peat and compost then picked two six packs of Wave™ petunias. Purple and white were the colors we picked.  Fortunately pink and purple passed muster with my daughter who might have really preferred the pink petunias.  Wave petunias are known for their spreading and sprawling habits which make them perfect for this gutter garden.  In a few weeks we'll have a waterfall of petunias raining down on top of the 'Powis Castle' artemisia you see in the picture!

Thanks to Lowe's Creative Ideas for inviting me to participate in these projects!  Next month we'll working with one of these two themes:
  1. Good Looking and Good For You - Which involves combining edibles and ornamentals into an attractive and function garden.
  2. Furniture Fun - With this project we'll be sprucing up an outdoor area with a new creative piece of furniture or fixing up and refurbishing something we already have.
Which project do you think I should attempt and what ideas would you suggest?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Building a Vertical Garden Arbor with Gutters (Part 2)

It's time to show you the construction phase of the vertical garden arbor that I'm building for Lowe's Creative Ideas! In the previous post I listed the materials and dug the holes for the project so if you're just now finding this project you may want to start with part 1 of this gutter garden project!

Working on the Gutters

The main feature of this project is the gutter planters.  Originally I planned on three 4' long pieces of gutter to make three shelf planter areas but found that the distance between them wasn't as far apart as I wanted them.  I could have extended it lower or added a fourth section (and I may do that later) but I decided to go with two pieces to allow the fence to tie in nicely (if I ever get around to doing that part!)

The hardest part of installing the gutters was cuttings them.  A set of metal snips are crucial for this!  With these all I needed to do was to cut the two sides (front and back) of the gutter along my mark.  Then I bent the gutter along the third side (bottom) and cut.

Next I painted the gutters with a Rustoleum hammered copper spray paint. I like the copper look without having to pay a fortune on copper gutters!  After the gutters dried I drilled holes in the back side of the gutters about a quarter of an inch above the bottom of the gutter. Being a container that will be in full sun most of the day the gutters will dry out quick and I needed to try to maintain a small reservoir of moisture in the gutters.

While the paint on the gutters was drying I worked on constructing the actual structure!

Building the Arbor

Precision measuring is always important when working on a project.  Spending the time to accurately cut and measure lumber makes the assembly part so much faster and a whole lot less frustrating! I'm sure you've heard the saying "Measure twice, cut once" right? So I began with making my measurements on the cross pieces of the arbor.

I used one 12' long 2'x6' for the cross pieces and cut it into two pieces.  Lumber typically comes a little longer than what it says to allow room for cutting. After cutting the lumber evenly I had two 6' and 1/4" pieces.  Then I figured the decorative corner measurement to cut off of each board.  I tried several pencil sketches on the board before settling on one I liked.  Here it's up the the taste of the builder on what to do for it. I opted for a simple single cut but if you have a jigsaw handy you can make all kinds of patterns for the corner cut.

Next came some precision measuring!  I measured the center of the 6' boards then measured 2' from center and made a mark on the left and right sides.  This gave me four feet in between my marks where the gutter space would be. Then I checked the measurement of my 4"x4" which is usually 3 1/2". Then I made another mark 3 1/2" on either side of the right and left marks to create a center line for my posts.  This gave me an outline for where the posts would line up.

Then I made marks for the holes where the bolts would go.  I set them about 1 1/2" from each edge along the center line.  I drilled the holes very carefully making sure that I drilled straight holes. Any deviation would make assembly tough!  Once I drilled the 4 holes on each board I lined up my 4"x4" posts to the cross piece and clamped them together.  Since I already had starter holes in the cross pieces I used that as a guide to evenly drill my holes through the 4"x4".  It worked great!  Once I had 2 holes drilled in each 4"x4" I moved all the pieces to the location before assembly!

Assembly of the Vertical Gutter Garden Arbor

This was the fun part, actually seeing the project come together! I simply lined up the posts with the holes and put a cross piece on the ground underneath the 4"x4"s.  Then I slid the bolts through the holes and lined it all up.  Once I had the second cross piece on the opposite sides of the posts I added a washer and a nut to each one then tightened down.

Next I needed to add drainage gravel to the holes.   This keeps the water form pooling at the base of the wood and improves its longevity.  Then I stood the arbor up in the holes and adjusted the amount of gravel to make the arbor level.

Then I added the gutters to the project.  They are spaced about 16" apart and held up with the "L" brackets.  I used some self tapping metal screws I had on hand to attach the gutter and brackets together and a couple deck screws to attack the bracket to the posts.

I checked the vertical garden to make sure it was straight and level then I braced it and mixed the concrete.  Follow the instructions on mixing concrete on the package but what you generally want is peanut butter consistency! Add a little water at a time then mix so you don't do too much!

The next step is planting! We'll save that for tomorrow's post!


Monday, May 28, 2012


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Building a Vertical Garden Arbor with Gutters! (Part 1)

Recently the folks at Lowe's Creative Ideas asked me if I could put together a once a month project using products I found at Lowe's that fit a specific theme.  Of course since I enjoy doing these types of projects around the garden I jumped at the chance!  This month they wanted a project centered around the theme:"Pots and Plants".  The idea behind "Pots and Plants" is to create an older or non-traditional object into a planter for an outdoor space somewhere in my garden. I decided to put together a garden arbor that would serve as a fence panel section around our vegetable garden that used gutters as the planter.  I've seen various renderings of gutter gardens before and thought that this would be a pretty interesting idea to incorporate into our fence!

I planned out the project and dropped into our local Spring Hill, TN Lowe's Home Improvement store to gather the materials with a gift card that they provided.  My wife kept a tally of the material costs as we went through the store and gathered up supplies.

Here's what we bought:
2 - 4"x 4" x 8' Pressure treated Posts
1 - 2"x 6" x 12' Pressure Treated Lumber
4 - 3/8" 8" Carriage Bolts
4 - 3/8" Washers and Nuts
1 - 10' Aluminum Gutter
4 - Gutter end pieces
4 - "L" Brackets
1 Can of Hammered Copper Spray Paint
1 - 80 lb. bag of cement

We actually bought 2 of the gutters with the intent of making three shelves of gutter planters between the posts but found the spacing to be a better fit for 2 - 4' gutter pieces.  Everything we purchased for this 4' 6" wide fence panel including the plants was kept under $100.  I didn't include the plants we purchased but I'll go over them in another post!

The First Step
For the first step on this project I measured and dug two post holes set 4' apart.  I dug down over 18 inches deep which I was extremely lucky to be able to do with only my shovel.  I was afraid I would need a digging iron to break through the soil but since the ground was soft, a little damp, and had a decent organic content a shovel was all I needed!

Once I had the holes dug it was time for part 2: Construction!  You'll see that in a post very soon!

Friday, May 25, 2012

5 Plants I Really Like!

Fads come and go and garden fads do the same thing.  What I like today might be different in 10 years, 5 years, or even 1 year!  But for this Friday Five post I thought I'd tell you a little about the plants I really like right now.  While this list contains some specific plants it also contains a types of plants (some of which may only be loosely related.)

  1. Heucheras are the "in" plant of today or at least I think so!  They are an American native plant that thrives in dry shade areas.  Heucheras are perennial plants that need occasional dividing every 3-4 years.  They grow outward and eventually leave an open center section that can be covered back up with soil and encourages to grow back.  I prefer dividing them in the spring time by digging the plant up and separating the rooted sections into individual plants with pruners.  They don't divide as easily as daylilies or hostas might but can be successfully propagated through division.  There are many neat varieties to try and more are being made every year.  I added 'Paris' and ' Georgia Peach' to our corner shade garden this year.  We also have 'Mocha', 'Katelyn', 'Southern Comfort', 'Dale's Strain', 'Palace Purple', 'Mystic Angel' and a few others. 
  2. Switchgrasses are the awesome alternative to miscanthus which has become invasive in many states.  Switchgrasses are native grasses that provide nesting locations for ground nesting birds and other wildlife but they also make a fantastic ornamental grass!  'Northwind' is a good upright bluish colored switchgrass as is 'Heavy Metal'.  I'm a big fan of 'Shenandoah' for its fall color. 
  3. Hostas have been a garden favorite of many gardeners for many years and continue to be one of my favorites!  I've been hosta challenged over the years with a garden that has little shade and hosta predators like deer and rabbits.  The shade situation is better now but there's no getting rid of the deer and rabbits.  Creatively interplanting hostas with heucheras has helped as the deer and rabbits are not terribly fond of huecheras.  Hellebores aren't something deer or rabbits eat either and make good companion plants for hostas.
  4. Native Plants are becoming increasingly popular these days for good reason.  Native plants do better in our climate since they have adapted to live here over the centuries.  They are capable of growing in our challenging soils and take the heat and humidity better than many exotics.  I'm trying to add more and more native plants to our garden as I go which I think makes my job as a gardener a whole lot easier!  This year I added a red buckeye to the garden near the shed.  It's a small tree/shrub that gets beautiful red tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds.
  5. 'Shasta' Doublefile Viburnum
    Viburnums have always been a favorite shrub of mine.  Flowers in the spring, followed by berries in the late summer, and some pretty neat fall colors make viburnums a great choice in any garden.  Some can get quite large and once they get started are very strong performers.  My newest viburnum is 'Onondaga' which I just planted a couple weeks ago.  I can't wait to see how it does in our garden.  The lacecap type flowers are very similar to many hydrangeas.

Now it's your turn! What five plants are your favorites?  

Write a post on it if you feel so inclined! 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pokeweed for Weedy Wednesday

It's been a few weeks since I last mentioned a notable weed but I can tell you that doesn't mean the weeds haven't been growing!  Ragweed and Johnson Grass are coming up in force with the warm weather and so is the weed I'm about to talk about today - pokeweed!  Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is a very prolific weed in wild areas of the landscape and it won't take you long to realize why.

Pokeweed grows tall. I've seen it exceed 6 feet tall in some places.  It produces bunches of berries that the mockingbirds love.  It is because of the mockingbirds that the berries are so prevalent in our garden.  We have a family of mockingbirds devour the berries and drop them off in various areas of their territory AKA our yard and garden!  A word of advice - DO NOT park underneath power lines when pokeweed berries are on the plants - unless you want a purple car.

Pokeweed Flower Buds

Pokeweed is one of many types of poisonous plants and should not be eaten.  Birds are immune to the poisonous berries but all parts of the plant are poisonous.  People have processed the leaves through boiling water multiple times to make what is known as poke sallet (poke salad) but it is a dangerous meal and should not be eaten!

If you have small children (as I do) I highly recommend removing pokeweed from any area where children have access.  The dangling bunches of berries could easily be mistaken by children as something yummy to eat when it couldn't be further from the truth!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Husker's Red Penstemon in the Garden

One of the neatest perennials in our garden is 'Husker's Red' penstemon (Penstemon digitalis).  'Husker's Red' has reddish foliage that adds color to the garden during the growing season but it also blooms prolifically for several weeks in the spring.  Ours are just now starting to fade so I thought I would take a picture to share with you.  The bees love the bell like flowers that cover the plant!

'Husker's Red' was named a Perennial Plant Association Plant of the Year back in 1996 for good reason. It's easy to care for and very attractive in the garden.  Our penstemon is in several locations easily accessible to deer and rabbits and haven't had any issues with the hungry animals. This penstemon grows between 2-3 feet tall and has a nice mounding habit.  It doesn't spread very much but you can help that along very easily with the propagation technique below!

Propagating Husker's Red Penstemon

You can propagate 'Husker's Red' simply by gently pulling the stalk away from the mound and replanting.  If there is resistance water the penstemon and they should pull away very easily. The group of plants you see in the above  picture started as 4-5 small sprigs that were removed from another location in the yard.  I spaced them at about 8 inches apart and let them merge together around a bird feeder in the front garden.  I wrote a post about this propagation technique for 'Husker's Red' Penstemon two years ago if you would like more information on propagating this penstemon.

Do you have 'Husker's Red' Penstemon in your garden?

Friday, May 18, 2012

5 Ways to Save Money on the Garden!

We're always looking for ways to save money and with today's economy what it is it's not just wise, it's crucial for gardeners to save a buck when they can! 
Gaillardia from a Discount Rack
There are several ways gardeners can save money on their garden that are really easy to do and don't require anything really crazy.  Today's Friday Five post offers up 5 tips to help you save money on your garden.  Don't forget to share your favorite ways to save money on gardening in the comments below!

 5 Ways to Save Money on the Garden! 

  1. Let's start with an important one that I mention often - compost!  Compost is composed of a humongous number of living organisms that bring life to the soil.  They break down big stuff and make it into small stuff that plants can use.  What is that stuff?  Nutrients and elements that range from nitrogen to small tiny micronutrients important for plant health.  And don't forget what compost does for water retention and regulation!  Compost is easy to make, just set a pile of compostable materials in an inconspicuous location and continue to add organic matter!  Keep out stuff that draws vermin like meats and dairy while balancing green and brown materials as evenly as you can.  Turn as often as you can to speed up the process.  Of course I don't do that nearly as often as I should!  It works even then! (Just slower.)
  2. Visit plant swaps!  There's one this weekend at Henry Horton State Park that I used to go to until my daughters joined dance class and have had recitals every year scheduled on the same day. Plant swaps are a great opportunity to unload your extras and bring home something new.  Every swap is a little different so check out the rules first and see what you can and can't bring.  Swaps are a great way to deck out a barren landscape.  Often there are plants people don't want to bring home that no one wants - maybe you do though!  Be careful because many of the plants could be invasive or aggressive in your garden.
  3. The discount racks are another way to garden cheap.  I visit them regularly to bring home new varieties I can nurse back to help.  Often they aren't in bad shape at all but just need to be cleared out for new stock.  Last week I brought home two 'Guacamole' hostas from the rack for $2 each.  I divided one into three plants and planted the other.  Which ends up being $1 per hosta!  Pretty cool!  This brings up number 4...
  4. Propagate!  Division, cuttings, and seeds are all really great ways to save money.  If you have friends with a plant you like ask to get a division of it next time they divide it or get cuttings or seed form it if appropriate.  Making cuttings of plants you want to plant enmass is a great way to save on a new garden bed.  
  5. Save your water!  Saving water is an awesome way to save money and be environmentally friendly at the same time.  Rain barrels probably come to mind first and their great but sometimes saving water is more about using your water efficiently!  Water deeply when you water and water less often.  Plants generally don't want to be soggy (unless they do ;)) and will grow better if they stretch out their roots to find the water deeper in the soil. Mulching around your plants is also great to retain moisture in the soil.

How do you like to save money in the garden?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sowing Shade Garden Seeds

Last week I put together a couple flats of shade garden plants that I'm attempting to grow from seed.  I've had pretty good success before with my heucheras and thought I would give a few other shade plants a try!  A couple years ago I intended (but never got around to) to begin sowing shade garden plants and began saving seeds for coleus, hostas, and heucheras.  I saved the seed in baby food jars (we have plenty of them around) in the refrigerator.  I even labeled the jars with the year I gathered them so I know that they were harvested in 2010. Seeds stored in the refrigerator can remain viable for several years so my odds are good at getting some sort of germination!

I sowed four types of seeds: coleus, hosta, heuchera, and hellebore. My hellebores (Lenten Rose) surprised me the other day with a ton of seeds. I researched and read where they like a period of warm weather followed by cold weather and may need stratification to germinate.  I also read where seeds sown fresh may germinate.  Being hasty I decided I'd chance some of the seeds by sowing them fresh.  So far none have germinated but I'll let you know when or if they do.

The coleus seeds I saved had a reddish colored leaf that I bought each year and planted in our shade garden.  I haven't been able to find the same variety this year so I'm hoping that what I get from the seed I collected comes fairly true to type.  They should look like the picture on the right when grown but could vary quite a bit. If I had found just one coleus like it I could have easily propagated more though cuttings which probably would have been much faster but unfortunately I couldn't find what I wanted so I'll just improvise.  Improvisation is always fun!

I've grown heuchera from seed before and it's pretty easy.  I usually just sprinkle the very tiny seeds on the soil surface and water. Don't cover with soil. Then you wait.  Keep them watered and wait some more.  They could take a couple weeks to germinate.  If they don't you wait some more!  Heucheras don't come true to type (usually) but I really don't want them to.  I'd would love to see the neatest heuchera ever developed grown in my backyard - wouldn't you? ;)  There's no germination yet so I'm waiting and checking daily in anticipation!

The hostas have germinated.  Or maybe I should say the hosta has germinated!  So far I only have one but they couple take a couple weeks to all germinate and there's no guarantee that I'll get more than one hosta from this batch.  I'm planning on saving seed this year as long as the deer don't eat my hosta flowers!  I may even try to hybridize a couple.  I've been wondering what a cross between a 'Sum and Substance' hosta and a 'Ginkgo Craig' hosta would look like!  Hosta offspring vary greatly in their appearance.  We'll see what grows if the flowers develop (and aren't eaten)!

Have you grown any of these plants from seed before?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Trying to catch My Breath!

I've been so busy that I've neglected the blog for a few days.  I even had to miss posting the Friday Fives last Friday in order to get everything done!  Fortunately the weekend rains and Mother's Day gave me a bit of a break to catch my breath but I still feel like I have a to do list a mile long to accomplish.  I hesitate even to show you the current state of the garden.  The weeds are growing a mile a minute and I just haven't had a chance to get out there.  (With over two inches of rain from the weekend they will grow even faster now.)  You're probably wondering why I'm so busy.  OK...even if you aren't you probably are now, if not just pretend and read along anyway. ;)

My mini-nursery business deliveries were mostly fulfilled last week.  There are still a couple more to go but the majority of the plants have been passed out.  I think during the first year of a business there's a lot to learn.  Mistakes get made but if you can overcome them you learn quite a bit about how to do things right.  My biggest issue was not starting the plants quite early enough.  Our warm snap made people very eager to start their gardens.  Next year I'll start a few weeks earlier with the peppers and tomatoes. I won't deliver until after the safe planting date but the extra growing time will help the plants to fill out better. The other issues were management of my "facility" issues.  A better arrangement of where I place my plants and how I fill the orders will make things much less stressful in the long run!  I spent too much time filling the orders because I was looking for where I put the plants.  I'll learn from this and we'll the nursery will get better because of my mistakes! If you're thinking of starting a nursery please remember - it is a lot of work!   I enjoyed it, but it is a lot of work!

I decided on and launched a new name for my nursery last week.  I bought a domain name for the nursery but right now only have a Facebook page set up for Blue Shed Gardens (I would love to have you follow along)!  My idea is to use it as the main nursery and use The Home Garden Box as one product of the main nursery. My goal for Blue Shed Gardens is to have a heavy emphasis on native plants but I also want to be inclusive of other interesting species. Essentially that means I'll grow what I like!  No matter what plants we grow we'll be staying local for now.

I spent last Thursday afternoon at the Spring Hill Farmer's Market.  It's a small but growing farmer's market in our town.  Merchants at the market are required to have home grown or homemade goods and live within 15 miles of Spring Hill, TN.  The emphasis for the market is to keep things local and help our community.  It was my first time ever selling plants at a farmer's market and went pretty well for the first time.  My most popular items were the tomato plants but I also sold some butterfly weed and some herbs.  I also had a small inventory of ornamental grasses, Japanese maples, viburnums and various other shrubs. This week I'll have some heirloom watermelons at the market.

Everyday last week I planted another flat of seed including melons and other cucurbits as well as more unique plants like heuchera, hosta, and coleus.  Obviously the hostas and coleus aren't native plants but I like them so I'll grow them! Normally folks recommend planting the seeds for heucheras and hostas in the winter time and growing them under lights and heat until spring.  I found the seed in the refrigerator and thought it would be neat to get them going so I did!  They don't usually come true to the parent plant but I'd like to work on propagating and perhaps developing some new interesting types. So far I think I only have one hosta germinating but it could take two weeks for most of the seeds to start growing.

In the mean time while I've been doing all these other activities my garden has suffered!  I have planted out several tomatoes and peppers as well as seed for cucumbers and melons but the garden is getting weedy.  The potatoes look great so far and I can't wait to see what kind of harvest we'll be able to get from them.  There's a lot to do.

As soon as you figure out how to either stop time or add more hours to the day please let me know!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Viburnum dentatum in Bloom! (Arrowood Viburnum)

Viburnum dentatum is one of my favorite shrubs in our garden.  It's not as showy as the Japanese dappled willow or the purple beautyberry.  It's not as flashy as roses nor does it provide year round color like the 'Otto Luyken' cherry laurels.  But it does have an important role in our garden.  This viburnum never fails to flower prolifically.  Which means that the birds enjoy it immensely when the flowers fade and turn into a bounty of blue berries! The berries last only a few short days because once they ripen up the feast begins!

The flowers are pretty nifty too.  Fluffy white clouds of flowers cover the plant offering food for the bees and other pollinators. I watched yesterday as a tiger swallowtail butterfly landed and helped itself to the nectar.

Even when not in bloom the glossy green foliage makes the Viburnum dentatum worth planting in the garden.  It's common name is arrowood viburnum which comes from the fact that Native Americans used the suckering branches to make arrow shafts.  This viburnum likes full sun but can tolerate part shade and thrives in zones 3-8. 

It gets wide quickly and can overtake other plantings planted too close.  The penstemon in this picture to the right needs moved to a better location! (But it is a pretty effect!)

Arrowood Viburnum Propagation

Arrowood viburnum suckers a lot and can be easily divided by removing the suckers.  You can propagate this viburnum through cuttings from stem tips, greenwood, hardwood or layering.  It's fairly easy to get a new plant started.  You can also grow them from seed if you can beat the birds to the berries - good luck with that one!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Propagating Grape Vines with Greenwood Cuttings

I'm always looking for new plants to experiment on to see if I can get them to root.  Yesterday I took some cuttings from a grape vine at my mom's house.  Grape vines are pretty popular with home gardeners who want to grow their own food in the backyard so I thought I'd give them a try.  I haven't successfully rooted grape vines before so these cuttings are somewhat of an experiment! These are most likely from a Concord grape.

How to Root Greenwood Grape Vine Cuttings

First I trimmed off a few branches that needed removed.  Grapes need frequent maintenance pruning to get them to grow in a form that will maximize their fruiting!  From those trimmings I selected several 3 node sections.

On the top node of the grape cutting I retained one leaf and because of its size I cut it back significantly to reduce water loss. If you try this look for nodes that are as close together as you can find as they will have a higher concentration of the natural growth hormones and will speed the rooting process up. 

Then I dusted the base of each cutting with rooting hormone and placed them in a pot with a mix of sand, peat and perlite. 

I watered them thoroughly and now I just have to wait and see if rooting takes place. I haven't done this yet but will probably place a plastic bag over the top of the cuttings in order to maintain a decent level of humidity around the cuttings.

Hopefully in 4-6 weeks I'll be able to see some roots and can pot them up to care for them over the summer until fall. 

Grape vines are also good subjects for hardwood cuttings and layering!

Monday, May 7, 2012

What Would You Plant Here?

Hello home gardeners, I need your suggestions!  You see a couple years ago my dad helped me build the  Blue Garden Shed.  One of the things I was eager to install was a green roof but I determined that I didn't have the knowledge or the money at the time to do it correctly. As s substitute one of the things I incorporated into the shed was a front door overhang.  I made the overhang so that it could be a planter box in effect it could have been a small version of a green roof.  The problem is - I never planted anything in it!  To this day the front door overhang planter box sits without a single plant growing in it.

What I need help with are a few suggestions to what would look good in the planter box.  But that's not all, it has to be sustainable.  The plants have to be able to take long periods of dryness (and survive periods of inattention). That might be an emphasis on natives. What would look good?  Probably lots of things but they have to be able to thrive on neglect.

So tell me, what plants would you plant on a front door overhang planter box on a blue shed?  I'm sure you don't get asked that question everyday!

Friday, May 4, 2012

5 Beginning Gardener Mistakes!

All of us experienced gardeners can tell you, you are going to make mistakes!  It's inevitable.  No matter how much planning or forethought you put into your garden you WILL make a mistake!  How's that for thinking positively?  You positively will make a mistake, and you know what?  That's OK!  We've all done it - albeit some more than others - but we've all had issues in our garden that we could have controlled with a little extra care.  Today for the Friday Fives I'm going to mention 5 Beginning Gardener Mistakes.  I've done most of these at some point so feel free to fess up in the comments if you have too!

5 Beginning Gardener Mistakes

  1. I suspect (although I have no studies or data to cite) that the most common mistake gardeners make is not watering properly! Every plant is different and so are their water requirements.  Too little water and the plant will shrivel up and die.  Too much water and the plant will rot!  You have to water with Goldilocks in mind and get it just right!  So how do you know if you've watered enough?  Experience is one of the best teachers but you could destroy a lot of plants to get that experience!  The best way to start with is to check the soil.  If you stick your finger in the soil and it is damp about and inch to two inches below the surface you probably don't need to water.  Often the soil surface can appear different from what is below.  It may look wet but be completely dry where the roots are or it might be completely dry but the soil underneath is soggy.  A lot of this depends on the type of soil you have.  Compost is such a great soil conditioner since it balances water retention with good drainage.  Continue to top dress your garden with compost periodically - and don't forget to mulch!
  2. Putting the wrong plant in the wrong place!  I've made this mistake many times, and will do so again! Usually it's because I have an idea of how I think the plant would look in a pot but it really isn't the best place for the plant. Sometimes its because the plant is small to start with but gets too large for a location.  Other times its because I've made a judgement error on the site and it gets too much sun, or too little sun.  The only way to avoid this issue is to really know your garden.  But I'll say this, even if you site your plant perfectly you may end up moving the plant somewhere else anyway, just because you changed your mind!
  3. Not weeding often enough is another big problem.  A daily weeding works very well to keep the weeds at bay.  It really doesn't take much time each day and you can enjoy your garden while your at it.  Too often I play catchup on the weed issues because I get busy and distracted with other life issues - or plant propagating! Take a garden each day to visit and cycle through them.  Eventually you will have your gardens under control so that all you need to do is pull a weed or two then enjoy the garden!
  4. Have you ever bought a plant on impulse?  You wouldn't be a gardener if you didn't make this mistake!  When you walk through a nursery and see a plant that you just have to have, have you thought about where you're going to plant it?  This mistake can easily lead to mistake number 2 - Planting the Wrong Plant in the Wrong Place.  To avoid this mistake (or perhaps just mitigate it) I built a holding bed to put plants in where I can eventually move them to a new home when I'm ready.  If you leave a plant in a nursery pot too long eventually you'll forget to water it.    Then your poor plant because a container of purchased material for your compost bin.  Another idea is to make a giant list of all the plant you like at the garden center then go to your garden and right down where you want to place those plants.  Bring the list with you as you visit your favorite nurseries and when the impulse strikes you you already have a plan!
  5. The mistake that happens probably more than any other mistake to new gardeners is this: giving up. I don't believe that there is anyone out there who can't garden.  I think that beginning gardeners tend to make a few mistakes and get frustrated.  My advice: stick with it!  Once you start having a few successes everything gets easier.  But trust me on this: you will still make mistakes!

What was your biggest mistake you made as a beginning gardener?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

One Critical Thing to Do For Your Vegetable Garden This Summer!

The weather here in Tennessee is nothing if not unpredictable.  Some will even say that the only thing predictable about the weather is that it is unpredictable!  So gardeners are left trying to figure out how to best mitigate harsh conditions of any extreme.  Two years ago we were facing floods that washed out gardens, homes, and upturned lives - today, we're dry. Very dry.  Both of these weather extremes make gardening a bit of a gamble, but there are some things that will help mitigate some problems and ease the stress of unpredictable weather.  There is one critical thing you must to for your vegetable garden this summer to help - mulch.

A lot of beginning gardeners don't realize how important mulch is for growing vegetables.  Mulch does so much for your garden that it really is critical for your garden's success.  So what does mulch actually do for your garden?  A lot!
  • Mulch first and foremost keeps water from leaving the soil too quickly.  Without a good layer of mulch the soil will dry out and your plants won't have access to enough moisture top sustain themselves.  
  • Mulch also keeps the soil cooler during the hot summer. Ours summers get really, really hot here in Tennessee and keeping the soil a few degrees cooler may be the difference between good production and no production.
  • Mulch (if its an organic based mulch and isn't something like rock or gravel) breaks down over time and feeds the soil which nourishes your plants.  Many people look at the disintegration of mulch as a problem requiring more work for next year. What it really is is the formation of good quality topsoil that plants need to grow!  Mulch breaking down is what you want.
  • Mulch also keeps weeds down.  If weed seeds need light to germinate and can't get it, they won't germinate!  Pretty simple right?  But even if they do germinate or you've had weeds there that you missed pulling before mulching they are easier to pull because the soil stays more moist!  
Hopefully you realize how important mulch is to the success of your garden. I bet the next question you're asking in your head is what kind of mulch should you use on your vegetable garden?  Here you have a lot of options.
  • Straw has been used for ages in vegetable gardens.  It's cheap, functional, and breaks down easily which improves the soil.
  • Pine straw works too.  It won't increase the acidity of your soil significantly enough to worry about.  It's used ornamentally but is very functional in the vegetable garden since it allows water to easily flow to the roots.
  • Grass clippings!  This is my favorite since it's pretty much free if you have enough lawn to use.  Don't use anything treated with herbicides or pesticides since those substances are good for your garden.  
    Grass Clippings as mulch around potatoes
  • Leaves.  If you happen to have some leaves that haven't decomposed fully from fall you may have some of the best mulch around!
  • Hardwood mulch works too.  I would lean toward something like pine bark that will break down faster and is often found in smaller pieces.  Other hardwood mulches will work too but try to avoid anything that has been colored or treated with chemicals.  
Hardwood Mulch in the Vegetable Garden

I avoid the gravel and stone based mulches completely.  They won't improve the soil and could become problematic when planting.

Mulching simply is critical to have a successful vegetable garden here in Tennessee.  Not only will it improve your garden's success and make your gardening easier but it also lowers that water bill!