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Friday, November 30, 2012

The 5 Hats of the Gardener

As a gardener you will find that you wear many hats.  We aren't talking about fedoras, ball caps, or even straw hats here. We're talking about the different roles you will be called to fill as a gardener! Gardening isn't just about sticking a plant in the ground and watching it grow (although there is always some of that), gardening is a many faceted field with strong influences in areas from design to science.  Let's take a look at 5 of the many hats a gardener must wear!

The 5 Hats of the Gardener

The Hat of the Garden Designer

Gardeners are landscape designers.  As a gardener you have to make good decisions on plant placement, hardscaping, landscape lighting, garden structures like arbors or pergolas, and the layout of your garden.  We try things.  We fix things.  We tear down things and start all over!  (I've done that a more than a few times.) We aren't always perfect in our design decisions but we are designing gardens and learning.  Sure you can hire someone to come and design the garden but even then you make a lot of the decisions about what you want in the garden for landscape features or what you want to plant.

The Hat of the Farmer

You may not have a tractor, or even an acre of land but if you grow plants you're a farmer.  It may be small scale but everything you grow is an effort in agricultural cultivation!  The vegetable garden in your back yard is a perfect example of your farmer's hat.  You might grow tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, cucumbers, or maybe herbs as a farmer. Maybe you have a few fruit trees you harvest from each year.  Strawberry plants in the planter on the back porch count.  Do you plant and harvest from pots, raised beds, or rows in the ground?  It really doesn't matter - you're farming!  Farmer's cultivate the soil, grow the plants, harvest the produce, and bring it to the table.

The Hat of the Plant Pathologist

Into everyone's garden a disease must occur.  It's a gardening rule that however much I wish could be broken will never be!  You will get a fungus, I promise, but you will also learn how to defeat it or work around it.  You'll end up with dead plants - it's impossible not to!  I'm not telling you this to make gardening sound difficult or pointless but to encourage you to put on the plant pathologist hat!  Research those problems when the occur and learn how to treat them.  If they can't be treated then learn how to prevent the diseases in the future. So many plant diseases can be prevented with the proper gardening techniques.  Pests will bother your garden too and you'll have to find a way to get rid of those damaging voles or the grazing deer who love eating your hostas.  Part of your role as a gardener is to solve these mysteries. Be the plant detective!

The Hat of the Landscaper

The landscape maintenance technician is another gardening hat you will be called to wear.  Even if you have no lawn - you have trees that need pruned, weeds that need weeded, shrubs that need trimmed, more weeding, garden beds that need edged, plants that need planted, leaves that need rakes, even more weeding, or any one of a hundred different things landscapers do. All that regular maintenance falls on your shoulders as a gardener, and that's how we gardeners like it!  Well maybe without the weeds...

The Hat of the Nurseryman

Perhaps this is my favorite hat to wear.  Everyone of us gardeners has a little bit of the nurseryman inside.  Have you ever divided a hosta plant?  Or planted tomato plants from seed?  Maybe you've tried growing plants from cuttings, layering a hydrangea, or potted up plants to give to a friend?  All of these things fall in the nurseryman's field.  Obviously part of the nurseryman's job is to produce a profitable plant but there is a whole lot more to it.  Planting the first seeds of the spring at the right time, preparing cuttings, and then growing the plant on to become larger enough to survive in the landscape.

At some point you will wear each of these hats and most of the time you'll probably being wearing at least three at a time! Gardening is part art, part science, and everything in between.  What gardening hats can do you wear?

More from the Friday Fives

Today's Post featured my 2 year old son Sam! Cute isn't he?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why Pinterest is a Cool Tool for Gardeners

I'm sure you've heard about Pinterest by now.  If you're like me you may have thought "that's just another online time waster." Or if you're a guy maybe you thought "that's just for women!" Well I'll admit it, those were my first thoughts.  Then I began to see people using it and sharing things from it on Facebook or Twitter.  I became curious and signed up for an account to check it out and found that is way more than I thought and it could actually be of use to gardeners.  Of course it could easily become a significant time waster as you get sucked in to another social media phenomenon, but there are some very useful aspects to Pinterest.

What is Pinterest?

Garden Project Ideas on Pintrest
Pinterest is a bookmarking site where people use images to mark interesting articles, blogs, or websites.  When something is "pinned" the image is shared on the website and those who follow the "pinner" see the image.  All the images link back to their original source which is actually very good for bloggers who want to drive traffic to their websites.  Since January over 5,000 visitors have been directed to Growing The Home Garden from Pinterest which makes it ranked 7th among traffic sources for this blog.  You can see why a garden blogger might benefit from Pinterest.  Garden blogs are by their nature picture heavy which is perfect for Pinterest people.

How Can a Gardener Use Pinterest?

It is a huge resource for finding project ideas.  If you need an idea for a vegetable garden use the search and a whole bunch of beautiful vegetables gardens magically appear before your eyes to give you inspiration.  Follow other really cool vegetable gardeners on Pinterest (like me - hint, hint) to see what they find interesting and discover nifty ideas just by clicking on that gardener.  It's not just project ideas but how about creating a Pinterest Wishlist Board for all the plants you would like to have?  Or why not share your garden photographs to keep a catalog of the plants in your garden?  You could even share recipes from the vegetable garden that you enjoyed.

How To Stop Pinterest from Pinning Your Blog Photos

I understand why some people have issues with the picture sharing involved since it could be perceived as a copyright violation.  There is actually a way to prevent your images being shared on Pinterest.  It's very simple to do just go to your HTML editing page and look for the <head> section.

Place this code: <meta name=”pinterest” content=”nopin” />
somewhere after the <head> and before the </head>.   

When I first noticed traffic from my images on Pinterest I was a little concerned with the copyright violation possibilities but I let things roll along without intervening.  As it turns out I believe it has benefited this blog and expanded its readership quite a bit.  I do highly recommend putting some sort of marking on your photos before uploading them to your blog or website.  That's just a good practice to do anyway to prevent unauthorized use of your photos.  I use my website url so people can find the website but using a copyright marking with your name is a good idea too.  If you run a photography website where you sell your images you will probably want to block Pinterest.

The two most popular posts from Growing The Home Garden you'll find on Pinterest are Designing a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden: 11 Things to Think About and Propagating Rosemary in Water.

What do you think?  Have you used Pinterest yet?

You can follow me on Pinterest here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Effect of a Micro-Climate

Strange things are always occurring in the garden. Or we think they are strange at first until we apply a little bit of logic to the situation! Over Thanksgiving I was visiting my in-laws. When we pulled up into the driveway I noticed something right away...the irises were blooming! Here in Tennessee we've had several hard frosts at this point already and even though these are re-blooming irises they should have gone dormant by now. The reason they did not go to sleep for the winter yet is because of the micro-climate that was created around them.

Iris BloomingA micro-climate is a smaller area of a garden where the climate is different from the rest of the region. A number of factors can create a micro-climate including elevation, amount of sun/shade, wind exposure, and rocky material (these are just a few possible factors of many). The two factors that have effected the irises are the sun exposure and the proximity to rocky material. Stone and rock are heat sinks which means in this situation that they absorb heat and release it at night. The driveway and sidewalk, where the irises are, create a heat zone in the direct sun. As the days are sunny they warm up the stonework area then release the absorbed heat through the night which raises the nearby temperatures giving the irises a micro-climate to continue their blooming.

Gardeners can use the micro-climate effect to their advantage. A heat sink placed in the vegetable garden will help plants continue to grow longer into the fall and winter.  It's a good way to keep those greens actively growing for a few more weeks in fall or into winter.  Paving stones, bricks, gravel, natural rock and stone, and concrete blocks can all be used to either make stone walkways or raised beds that can be heat sinks.

Iris Blooming

Wind can be a major factor in the garden.  There are air currents in my yard that can cause the temperature to be significantly different just by moving a few feet away.  Windbreaks can be created by using evergreen trees, fences planted with vine plants, trellises, or walls can all alter the flow of the air and change micro-climates.  Deciduous trees can alter micro-climates by adding 3 seasons of shade or by breaking wind (go ahead you can laugh, trees do break wind).

Iris Beginning to Bloom
Experienced gardeners will often try to do what we call "Zone Cheating".  This is where we challenge a plant to thrive in a heat zone that is at least one zone removed from where all the books say it should be!  Gardeners will take a zone 6 plant and grow it in a zone 5.  Or a zone 8 and grow it in a 7.  Sometimes the plants do fine without help but by adding in a few micro-climate factors like stone work or wind breaks the gardener can improve the chance of success.  (Here's the most recent U.S. Plant Hardiness Zone Map)

So they next time you think there's something strange going on in the garden examine the situation and use that micro-climate to your advantage!

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Few Gift Ideas for Gardeners

It's that time of year when we're all struggling to come up with great ideas to give our favorite people. I've always found that the best gifts are those that you can use on an almost daily basis. A couple years ago at Christmas I was given an iron skillet. I thought for second "wow, an iron skillet." It certainly didn't seem to be the most exciting thing in the world.  It wasn't a fancy video game system (not that I need one of those - I don't have time for one), nor was it a spiffy GPS (I didn't really need one of them either as I don't travel and an atlas is good enough for me), and it wasn't that new high tech gadget that I couldn't live without!  But you know what?  I use that iron skillet just about every other day of the year.  It's my primary cookware for cooking anything from potatoes to bacon or from sauteing to braising.  It's been great!  That's what gifts should be: something that recipient of the gift can use everyday.

The nice thing about gardening gifts is that they do get used nearly everyday by the gardener.  Six years ago I was given a shovel.  A seemingly ordinary shovel with a wooden handle.  The blade on this shovel has stayed almost magically sharp without assistance from the gardener, nor has the handle ever broken despite heavy clay and daily use by the gardener.  It's just a simple quality tool that has given this gardener tons of productivity!  Every shrub or tree in our garden has been planted with that shovel as well as other projects like the excavation for the patio and the numerous redesigns of the vegetable garden!

What gifts should you get your favorite gardener for Christmas this year?  You have lots of options, so lets look at a few ideas.  (Some of the links below are affiliate links and if you use them, thank you! ☺ )

Gardening Gift Ideas!


Seeds are an awesome gift for any gardener.  Whether they put food on the table of flowers in the vase seeds make every gardener get excited.  I typically only get seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds or Renee's Garden.  Both companies offer quality seeds at very reasonable prices.  I don't have any affiliate relationship with Baker Creek but have been sent trial seeds from Renee's.  I've been very pleased with the results from both companies.  You can also order from Renee's Garden on Amazon if you prefer to do your shopping there.  Get several types of seed and put them together into a collection of seeds or use them as stocking stuffers!  Here are a few seed collection ideas: Spring Garden, Cut Flower Garden, Perennial Garden, Butterfly Garden, Herb Garden, or just a mixed Vegetable Garden.

Garden Tools

Garden tools are a great gift for both new and experienced gardeners. A new gardener doesn't always know what they need for gardening so why not put together a collection of useful handtools with pruners, spades, cultivators, scissors, labels, gloves or anything else you think would be useful. Even experienced gardeners who already have that equipment can use updated tools.  I go through 2-3 pairs of gloves each year so I know how great a present that they can be! Larger tools are good too but a little harder to wrap. (Here are some Garden tools from Amazon.)

Compost Bins

What gardener doesn't like compost?  Compost is an excellent garden additive that feeds the soil that feeds your plants.  There isn't a better way to dispose of your kitchen waste!

Compost Tumbler
from Gardener's Supply
You can build a pretty nice compost bin if you're a DIY kind of person to give to your gardening friend.  Three bin systems work very nicely to organize the new compost and turn it easily.  You can also find compost tumblers or other types of bins that will do the job of turning your leftovers into gardener's gold. If you have a gardener who likes worms investigate a worm bin. Or make a homemade worm bin yourself! (Compost Bins from Amazon)

Rain Barrels

A rain barrel is a very nice thing to have.  Keep in mind it only works if you have rain but it does allow you to use natural water rather than the tap for a longer period if you have drought conditions.  A roof is a very large and non porous surface area that makes a great collector for rain so why not use it?  I use a Fiskars Rain Barrel that has done a great job over the last few years.  If the weather forecast calls for rain I empty as much as I can into milk jugs for storage then let the rain barrel fill up again. (Rain Barrels from Amazon)

Bird Houses and Feeders

You can easily make your own birdhouses with a just a little wood working skill.  I've used cedar fence boards to make blue bird houses which make great gifts!  Bird feeders can be homemade too.  Most gardeners enjoy bringing wildlife to the garden and birds are a favorite.  Finch feeders, hummingbird feeders, or squirrel proof feeders are all great options! (Bird Feeders from Amazon)


Books are great gifts, but you probably already knew that. I've recommended a couple books on plant propagation before but there are lots of other options to choose.  Look for a niche that your gardener has an interest in like roses, bonsai, hydroponics, or herbs.  There's a subject for everyone!  What makes a great book for a gardener?  One with great content and great pictures.  I love seeing ideas on the page as they are implemented with an explanation attached. (Gardening Books on Amazon)

If none of the ideas above sound just right consider a gift card to your favorite local nursery!  What gardener won't enjoy that?  Keeping it local is a great way to help your community too.

I hope this post has given you some useful ideas for your Christmas gift selections but I realize that if you are reading this then maybe you are the gardener!  So share this with your significant other and be "surprised" this Christmas with the great garden gifts you might receive!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I just wanted to take a moment and wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving! I hope that your list of things to be thankful for far outweighs any other list you might have.  Enjoy the company of family, friends, and food and let Thanksgiving be a celebration for all the joys you have been fortunate enough to have been given.

Thank you for reading Growing The Home Garden and I hope your Thanksgiving Day is a fantastic one!

The Completed Light Post with Bird Feeder Project!

Here's just a quick post to show you the light post made from a front porch post that I put together for Lowe's Creative Ideas.  Finches, wrens and cardinals have all been sighted visiting the bird feeder.  As an added bonus the birds get to land on the two hanging baskets to hang out and visit.  It's almost like an airport for birds complete with landing pads, runway lighting, and even a food court!

Inside the coconut coir hanging planters I planted pansies for the winter.  I think plants that spill out over the edges would be perfect for the hanging baskets.

This next month's Lowe's Creative Ideas Project is called "Migration." It looks like we'll be finding a way to bring the garden indoors!  Who knows - maybe I'll bring the indoors to the garden!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Blog Redesign for Growing The Home Garden

In 2007 I started this blog on gardening.  I didn't know where I was going with it, or what I was really doing to begin with, but I knew I wanted to talk more about gardening with other gardeners.  I was constantly talking about gardening and garden ideas with my family, and I'm sure they got tired of my incessant prattling about what plant would be good here and what design idea to put there.  Ideas have never been never anything I've been short on!  So I started this blog toward the end of the month of October in 2007 in order to prattle on to a larger audience.  It's been over five years now.  I've posted over 1,800 posts and GrowingTheHomeGarden.com has had over 900,000 visitors since July 13, 2009 (when I started tracking).  That averages to over 20,000 visits per month.  Pages have been viewed here over 1.7 million times.  I'm really astounded and grateful for all those who have stopped by, followed the blog, or left comments.  I really and truly appreciate you and everything you do to support this blog.

When I began writing I was writing nearly every day of the week.  Over time I cut back a little.  Mostly because as our family grows my time hasn't.  As a stay at home dad my mornings switched from running out to the garden at 6 AM or blogging about a new plant to getting school lunches made and rushing the kids out the door to the bus stop.  Life changes just like the garden.  It evolves and so must the gardener.

Where is GrowingTheHomeGarden.com going in the future?  Nowhere and somewhere I hope!  Going into a new year of blogging is exciting.  Another year and new changes in the garden.  New things to do, new projects, new gardens (don't tell my wife), new plants (also don't tell my wife ;)), and the unknown.  Each year new opportunities pop up which are always fun to experience! The blogging will continue!

That's why I thought it was time to freshen the blog up with some new graphics and new features. It needed an update!  I spent a good deal of time learning HTML and CSS to redesign the blog.  I'm excited to have that new knowledge in my head.  It's like learning a new language, now I know enough to be dangerous!  I've added a slide show to the main page that will highlight certain special posts.  I was also able to fix a few other issues that were bugging me.  I do want you to note that this site was optimized for Firefox and Chrome.  There are issues that I haven't been able to correct yet on Internet Explorer which apparently is the most backwards and bugging of all browsers.  If you use Internet Explorer I recommend switching!  I will continue to tinker away at the IE issues since I do want everyone to enjoy their experience on this blog.  I will also be transferring a similar formatting to the Garden Shed Blog and some of the other offshoots of Growing the Home Garden.

I hope you enjoy the changes and continue to support Growing The Home Garden as it continues into its 6th year of blogging and well into 2013!  Dig in and see what we're Growing in the Home Garden!


Monday, November 19, 2012

Fall Color in the South: Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina

Today we have three bloggers who have fall color to share!  All three reside in the south and have a wide array of color to show.  Those of us who live in the south enjoy the mild winters and long growing season which of course means the fall color lasts much later into the year.  As I look out into out back yard I can still see trees and shrubs holding tightly onto their leaves.  Soon to drop, but just not yet.  Let's take a look at what fall color looks like in some other southern states!

Fall Color in South Carolina

Janet in South Carolina has one of my favorite trees for fall color on display - the Sweetgum!  Liquidambar styraciflua has some of the most spectacular fall color.  A lot of people complain about them due to the gum balls which drop but that seems like such a small price to pay for such an array of fall color.  Janet also displays the fall colors of sassafras, hickories, and even some pink muhly grass - so go take a look and see what the Queen of Seaford has for fall color!

Fall Color in Alabama

When framing a fall color scene fences can really make the picture!  The rustic fence is a really color feature in photographs that highlight the countryside.  When you head to Alabama you come across many of those fences including one at My Life in the Farmlet.  Scroll back a few posts too and visit the winged sumac and other fall color on Pixilated2's blog!

Fall Color in Georgia

Speaking of sumac, Karin has a beautiful picture of sumac in her fall color post.  Japanese maples, hosta leaves fading, and dogwoods all bring the fall color down to Georgia in Karin's blog Southern Meadows. Stop by and see it all!

For more fall color check out this year's Fall Color Project participants!

To join in the Fall Color Project 2012 read this post.

Friday, November 16, 2012

5 Herbs for Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is coming up next week and soon those turkeys will be filling our homes with the savory scents of a delicious dinner to be enjoyed among friends and family (and perhaps a nap to follow).  A lot of preparation goes into preparing that perfect Thanksgiving dinner and this being a gardening blog we aren't talking turkey here but rather - herbs!  So for today's Friday Five post let's visit five herbs that will help make your Thanksgiving Dinner delicious!

5 Herbs for Thanksgiving Dinner!

Rosemary for Thanksgiving

Our family uses rosemary around our house all the time.  Our favorite dish for rosemary also contains another garden favorite - potatoes! We roast the potatoes with onions, garlic, and a little olive oil in the oven until the potatoes are tender.  The exact makeup of the roasted potato dish varies depending on what potatoes we have around whether red potatoes, sweet potatoes, or a combination of several kinds.  Rosemary mixed with oranges and other herbs also makes a great seasoning for the turkey itself! Chopped rosemary in a small dish of olive oil with a little salt and pepper is a great substitute for butter on your bread.  Rosemary is an evergreen perennial but can have issues with soggy feet.  Extremely wet winters and shady areas won't work well for rosemary.  Well drained locations with winter sun our ideal for successfully growing rosemary. If you give it a great location it will return for many years.  Deer and rabbits won't touch it!  It can make a great fragrant hedge. Rosemary is easy to propagate through cuttings.

Thyme for Thanksgiving

Thyme is another great turkey seasoning.  I mostly use thyme to season meat.  It's easy to strip the small evergreen leaves from the stem and mix it together with other herbs to prepare that bird.  Thyme is perennial and can be propagated from seed or through layering.

Sage for Thanksgiving

Sage is an awesome perennial herb you can use year round.  Salvia officinalis is related to other salvias and is beautiful in the garden with silver gray foliage but also tastes really nice when implemented in the kitchen.  While meatloaf is not the typical Thanksgiving Day meal that's one place we use it frequently around here.  It'll work great on your turkey too!

Parsley for Thanksgiving

Parsley is another great herb for potatoes.  A little chopped up parsley freshens up mashed potatoes or can be added to the stuffing (or dressing if you prefer!).  Parsley is so versatile that you can add it to almost any dish at Thanksgiving and be pleased with the result!  We grew Italian Giant in our garden this year.  It's a flat leaf Italian type.  Parsley is a biennial that produces foliage the first year and flowers the second.  Plant parsley yearly for 2-4 years to ensure a steady supply by allowing the second year plants to go to seed and resow your garden.

Mint for Thanksgiving

We can't forget about deserts and beverages, and that's where mint excels!  Mints have been used for all kinds of mixed drinks but we use our mint mostly for making delicious sweet tea.  Just add a couple chopped tea spoons of mint to a tea ball and drop in in to steep with the tea bag.  Mint is a great addition to all kinds of various deserts.  We've used our mint to make mint chocolate chip ice cream.  Mint is a perennial with a reputation for spreading out of bounds.  Plant it in a pot to avoid its propensity for proliferation.  You can even bury the pot in the ground in your garden to keep its root runners in check.  There are quite a few varieties of mint available but in our garden we grow spearmint, chocolate mint, apple mint, and orange mint.  Chocolate mint is by far my favorite!

So what are you planning for your dinner?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fall Color in Southern California

Denise from Southern California has another great Fall Color Project post for us!  You might think that her region may not have much fall color to offer, but if you look you'll find it!  Just take a glance at the muhlenbergia in full bloom, the ginko trees, or the sweetgum and you'll see the fall color that comes to Southern California.

A Light post, Bird Feeder Station, and Hanging Basket Stand all in One!

I'm sure you've always been wondering "Where can I find a light post that can double as a bird feeder station and has a spot for hanging baskets too?"  You've come to the right place because I'm going to show you my latest project for Lowe's Creative Ideas.  The challenge this month was "Old and New."  Essentially we had to take something we had lying around and reuse it with a few newer materials.  In my case I had several old decorative posts that used to hold up my parents front porch before they had them replaced.  Some of the posts were rotting on the bottom but had decent wood further up the post.  Worth saving and reusing if possible but couldn't be used to hold up a front porch (Unless you're a hobbit and like short front porches).

Our family loves to watch the birds around our garden.  More often than not the feeders get empty and the birds are forced to forage around the garden.  Fortunately for them we provide lots of natural plants like coneflowers, beautyberries, and viburnums where the birds can find nourishment.  I had an idea to combine the bird feeders and one of the front porch posts together to make a nice feeding station for the birds with couple locations for hanging baskets.  I purchased two hanging baskets from Lowe's, pansies to fill the baskets, and a nifty solar light to affix to the top of the post.

Here's how I put the "Light Post - Bird Feeder Station - Hanging Basket Holder" project together!

First I chopped a little bit of rotted wood off the bottom of the post.  It was only about 4 inches or so so it didn't hurt the height of the post that much at all.

Then I reinforced the post with screws going in opposing directions.  The post was made with two pieces of wood spliced together and showed a few signs of separating.  To insure longevity I screwed them back together.

Next I cut a small piece of wood to hold the solar light.  It had to fit the bottom of the light perfectly so I used the lamp as a template and drew my lines around it.  Then I cut the piece into a nice little square.  I centered the piece of wood and attached it to the top of the post with screws.

After this I took two pieces of closet rods I had laying around.  They had been used for other projects before and are now finding a new use here.  I measured the diameter of the closet rods to match a wood paddle bit for my drill.  Then I measured where I wanted the holes in the post to go and drilled as straight a hole as I possibly could through the post.  Once I fit the closet rods evenly through the posts I secured them with screws from both sides.

Next came sanding and painting.  I sanded everything to remove any chipped or rough paint that was on previously then wiped it all clean.  Two coats of outdoor semi-gloss paint later (which I also had from another project) the light post was ready to put in the ground.

A 60 lb. bag of concrete went into the hole after my two young assistants (ages 4 and 7) held it steady.  I secured the post for the night with a couple sawhorses and clamps.  Clamps are one of the most useful things you can buy!  I couldn't just leave my children to hold it all night could I?

After the post had set I added the light on top!  I had to drill a few screw holes on the bottom then screw them in by hand to the small square I cut earlier.  I still have to hang the baskets and the bird feeders on it which I hope to do later today.  I'll show you the finished look tomorrow.