plants

Poinsettia Perfection

leggy poinsettiaMany of you know that I’ve been working hard to save my Poinsettia plants from year to year. Not because I’m cheap and don’t want to purchase beautiful new plants every year (though there is a nugget of truth in that statement), I do like a challenge. And this year, I’ve conquered the everlasting Poinsettia challenge.

I’ve achieved partial success in the past. They survived from years past, but were a bit too leggy and awkward for me to consider a glowing success.

But this year was different. I strategically placed them in and around my current landscape–in the line of sprinklers, mind you–and crossed my fingers. Sure I fed and clipped them throughout the year but that was pretty much it.

And how was I rewarded? With these darling Poinsettia. Aren’t they fabulous?

poinsettia success

They’re full and gorgeous and look right at home next to my existing Indian Hawthorne. I also saved a white Poinsettia. Isn’t she a beauty?

white poinsettia

Lovely. Simply, lovely.

What’s the secret?

Indirect sunlight and protected from cool drafts.  As a native of Mexico, this plant doesn’t like the cold, so whenever the temperature dips below 50-55 degrees, you must be vigilant and cover it else it shrivel up and die.

Also, it prefers less than 12 hours of sunlight, which makes the west and north side of my property best. Better bet is to keep them in complete darkness from 5:00 pm to 7:00 am. Remember to water them regularly (Poinsettia don’t like to dry out) and feed them a well-balanced fertilizer come spring.

dualing poinsettia

Stimulating them with a little “root tonic” couldn’t hurt.  The shock from their lovely potted plant status to in ground can be quite daunting.  Hopefully, you have some worms on the welcoming committee as you place them in ground and all will be well. 

When summer rolls around, I’ll cut mine back to encourage healthy new growth for the upcoming holiday season. When December arrives, I’ll cut back on the fertilizer and allow my gorgeous girls to bloom. Easy peasy. Your turn! 

Tomato Support is Crucial for Success

I’ve struggled with this issue for years. What is the best method to support my tomato plants?

I’ve tried tomato cages. However, once the tomato plant becomes a healthy size and produces big, fat beautiful tomatoes, the cage can fall over, breaking my tomato branches.

wild tomatoes

The cages are also hard to remove once the tomato plants have finished producing. I’ve tried bamboo stakes, propping my tomato plants up from all sides, yet this system doesn’t provide the lateral support my tomato branches need.

staked tomatoes

It becomes very difficult to sustain growth when heavy tomatoes droop and drop. And during heavy winds, bamboo stakes can easily fall over. Heavier stakes work nicely, yet encounter the same problem once the tomatoes grow and fill out. (That’s soft plant tape shown above.) There is no lateral support.

sturdy tomato stakes

Then there was my experiment with the Florida Weave system.

Florida Weave

It was a great idea, except that the twine gave way to humidity, rain and wind. The natural material stretched, causing it to lose support. Not good when “support” is the goal.

tomato-stakes-and-cables

This season, I’ve gone back to using solid stakes combined with solid cable, interspersed with bamboo (shown above). The green cable is actually a clothes line found at the hardware store. Two levels of cable line were run to ensure that my tomato plants will have lateral support as well as stalk height support. I’ll secure the plants to the cable using soft plant tape. Tape will minimize any damage to the tomato branches. Bamboo stakes will then be placed in and around the cable system to help keep the plants in place.

And yes, that’s basil in between the tomato plants. Basil and tomato are good companions in the garden, with basil said to improve the flavor of the tomatoes. Perfect!

As always, don’t forget to pinch your suckers. You know, those little sprouts that pop up between your tomato branches. You don’t want leggy, scraggly plants which is what you’ll get if you allow these “suckers” to suck the life out of your tomato plant. Instead, remove them and direct all of the plant’s energy into one or two main stalks.

pinch it

Good luck!

Feeling Blue & Loving It

Spring has arrived which means there’s a bunch of stuff to do in the garden. Great times! I get to till and toil and snack on sugar snap peas all while strolling the rows of organic vegetables. This doesn’t make me feel blue. That happens when I approach the house.

new berries 2015

And pass my blueberry patch! Aren’t they gorgeous? The blueberry blooms are out in full force along with the berries I love and adore.

blueberry blooms 2015

Berries the birds love and adore as well, but we’re not discussing those bad boys right now. We’re discussing berries. Decadent, full and delicious berries. I’m not sure how plentiful my harvest will be this year due to the fact that we didn’t have a very cold winter. Blueberries require a certain amount of “chillng hours” to produce fruit. Chill hours are considered between 32 degrees F and 45 degrees F. I’m taking the blooms I see as a good sign, though. Blooms mean berries. They also mean “bait” for birds. Grrrrr…

Another consideration to bear in mind is that blueberries need to cross-pollinate, so you must have at least two different varieties in your garden. I chose Southern Highbush Sharp Blue, Windsor, Jubilee, Jewel and Gulf Coast  varieties because they require the least amount of chill hours. If you can get your hands on some Highbush Misty, they are supposed to get along particularly well with Highbush Sharp Blue. I also have some Rabbit Eye varieties to round out my berry garden.

delectable blueberries

These varieties work well for Florida because we don’t get a lot of cold weather and these require the least amount of chilling hours. Choose wisely, according to your growing region. And now is the time to find blueberry plants at your local garden center (in warmer regions, later for my Arctic Amigos), another sign that spring is in the air!

Once you have these babies in your hot little hands, plant them in organic-rich slightly acidic soil (4.0 — 5.0 pH) and mulch well. Feed with a 12-4-8 fertilizer and prune during the summer months after harvest for more vigorous growth. They aren’t what I consider high maintenance, but they do require some.

Blueberry & yogurt stock photo

And they’re well worth it. In yogurt, cereal, pie, cobbler or fresh off the bush, these berries are my all-time favorite. You know you want to grow some. What are you waiting for? Get going and DO share how it’s going!

Why Must They Suffer?

February brings cold and this week, even Florida won’t escape the freeze. As a gardener, it’s important to stay vigilant. I’ve set my tomato seeds in sprouting trays and will keep them safely indoors during the dip. But what about my poor babies left out in the cold, exposed garden?

They’ll have to be covered. The sensitive ones, anyway. Broccoli and cabbage don’t mind the cold. Peas, either. But my new potatoes I put in ground a week ago? This photo proves how susceptible they are to a wintry blast…

frost bitten potato

Many of my plants are not happy about this cold front. At all. But as I plan my method of protection, I can’t help but wonder, Why do plants suffer during cold snaps?

The answer may surprise you. Like other living forms, plant cells contain water and water can freeze.  According to scientists, during a frost, if water in plant cells freezes, it can damage cell walls.  Why?  Because solid ice takes up more space than the liquid from which it was frozen.  The crystals then rupture the tough cell walls and when the ice melts, any liquid drains out, dehydrating the plant. Soil can also freeze, which threatens plants’ abilities to get nourishment.

Is it true that watering your plants when it gets cold will help protect them?

Yes.  When water from sprinklers turns to ice, the heat released protects the plant from injury. As long as a thin layer of water is present, on the bloom or on the ice, the blossom is protected. This is important. It’s not the layer of ice that provides the protection. It’s the water constantly freezing that keeps the temperature above the critical point. It’s one way citrus growers protect their crops.

orange freeze

Other factors that can affect how damaging a cold spell will be include how long the temperature remains low, whether or not it’s a clear evening versus a nice warm “blanket” of cloud cover, are the plants located in low spots or high across the landscape—even the difference in heat retention between dark soil and light!  Amazing, yes.  But true?

I sure hope so! Temperatures are dropping this week and I’m hoping my black paper will help soak in the sunshine. I’ll keep you posted.

Confessions From A Corn Field

Sort of.  I have a confession to make.  I have no plans to plant corn this year. *sigh*  It’s proven a tough plant for me.  Too tough.  Which makes for a very sad day in my household because corn is delicious–especially fresh from the cob.  It’s fun, because the kids can craft corn husk dolls on their way to the compost pile.  It’s versatile, because we can eat it standing between the beds of our garden or hauled up to the house and boiled, roasted or grilled.

kidney beans and corn

And giving up is not in my DNA.  But since I’ve gone organic (the first season after my wonderful neighbors helped me start my garden), I can’t seem to feed my corn enough, de-bug it enough, de-disease it enough.  I won’t say I’ve scored a zero in the endeavor, but the cobs I have harvested are few and far between. The consensus seems to be… More

Well I’ll be frostbitten…

Yes, I know it’s 80°F today in Florida, but last weekend it was cold. I mean really cold — 32°F of cold.  And as I mentioned, it was over the weekend.

Unfortunately, the garden lady doesn’t go to school on the weekend.  Yep.  Covered my potatoes at home but at school?  No could do.

So I did what any wise old sage would do and planned this week’s lesson around the realities of life. 

“Sorry kids, Mother Nature got us on this one.  Layered the landscape in cold when we were least able to protect against it.”  (That, and your garden lady completely forgot about to bring sheets with her to school on Friday.)  It happens.  It’s real life.  We cope.

Printing out the pages, I tucked them in my pretty floral folder and went to school.  Walked the kids out to the garden and stopped cold in my tracks.  “What the–” More

Happy Valentine’s with YOUR Man in the Garden

Have you ever wondered about the similarities between plants and men?  Probably not!  Most sane people don’t.  But me, when I’m not writing, I spend a lot of time in my garden—maybe too much—and my thoughts?  Well, they naturally veer in that direction and I realized men and plants have much in common!

Ever wonder, if your man were a plant, which would he be?  Just for fun, I’ve listed a few.

Corn – Tall and slender with silken hair, this man provides well and yields a harvest of golden treasure.  While pleasing to look at, beware:  he also tends to be needy; easily blown over by the slightest of breezes—not the man for you hardier types!

Peanut – This good ole boy is made of solid stuff, on the inside and the outside, not to mention he’s filled with sweet old-fashioned appeal.  For most ladies, it’s a tough combination to resist.  Add the fact the kids love him and you’ve got yourself a marrying man!

Watermelon – This well-rounded fun-loving guy is always welcome at a summer barbecue and usually proves a big hit with the kids.  Prone to balding, his colorful personality distracts one from notice.  However, take heed.  If left to his own device, this one can grow wild and get quite out of hand!

Garlic – This fellow is somewhat distant, as he spends long periods of time out of sight, only to emerge when conditions improve.  Strong and distinct, he’s not for everyone, but given the right environment, he can show great depth, even mellow his pungent tone with time.  A worthy peer, indeed.

Okra – Strong, of firm build, this one likes it hot and enjoys it spicy—very at home in the Big Easy, too.  Generally speaking, he blends well with others, can plant himself anywhere, but caution:  he can be seedy, even a bit slimy at times.

Potatoes – These fellas are generous producers, enjoyed by most everyone as they appeal to a variety of tastes.  They can get easily crowded, though, so give them plenty of space.  If you do, you’ll have yourself a real winner with this one.  Note:  be patient with the sweeter types—they need a little more time before they’re ready to hit the dinner-date table.  But if you can wait, go for it.  You’ll reap the gold with this gem!

Onion – Sometimes sharp, sometimes sweet, this notable companion enhances every dish he meets.  But don’t be fooled.  You have to watch yourself around this double-edged treat.  He tends to “age” those around him quicker than most, and will often make you cry.  But if you like a challenge, give him a try.  He will infuse your life with flavor!

Raspberry – Sweet at first sight, this guy may follow up with a tart bite.  He generally likes to be left alone—literally thrives out in the wild of nature.  Ah…an adventurous type yourself, you’ll feel drawn to this bright and colorful character, but be forewarned:  he’s got thorns and lots of them.

Squash – Talk about diversity, this one has it!  From sunny yellow summers to cold and cozy winters, this man will keep you well supplied no matter the season.  The cutest of pumpkins, he’s always welcome during the holidays, and his cousin plays a mean racquet ball—for you sportier types.  But keep him moving; stagnation easily leads to illness with this one.  Rest assured, if variety is your thing, take heart.  This dazzling character can fulfill your desires, tenfold.

Carrots – Bred from firm and solid fiber, these men are steady and strong and always there for you.  Given proper attention, they can also become quite sweet in nature; a true hidden treasure, if ever there was one.  They do need some elbow room, exhibit a bit of thinning at times, but if you’re willing to work for it, this one’s a keeper!

Beets – Down to earth is putting it mildly with this guy—he’s knee deep in it!   Quiet, mellow, well-rounded…  It’s a wonder he doesn’t rank top of the list for every woman in town.  Perhaps he can come on a bit strong, in an easy-going sort of way.  But if you have thick skin and like to keep it real?   This one’s for you. More

Now We’re Talking Icky Eaters

Plants.  Plants are icky eaters.  They eat stuff like worm and chicken poop, cow manure, fish emulsion, blood and bone meal and seaweed.  Yuck.

But those are the organic sources for the important nutrients like N-P-K (nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium) that plants need, so that’s what we give them. More

Black Leaves

It’s a depressing sight when your plant leaves are covered with black mold–sooty mold to be more specific.  It’s nasty stuff and comes from the secretion of tiny bugs (think aphids, white flies, mealy, scale).  Makes you think your entire plant is about to die.

But fear not.  The stuff just looks gross.  Okay, it IS gross but it won’t kill your plant, unless of course you allow these beasts free rein and they suck every last drop of sap from the leaves.  Remember, plants need leaves to make their food from the sun and air so don’t let it go too long.  The cure?  Simple.  Wash both bugs and leaves off with soapy water.  Yep, simply suds those puppies up, rinse and you’re good to go.

Now I have a dog and outdoor washing is no easy business.  It’s hot, it’s sticky, and not the place I want to be during the summer months.  So I’ve found an easier fix–because in my book, gardening should be easy and fun–and it only requires a spray bottle.  Use the insecticidal soap you buy at the store, or you can make your own by mixing a teaspoon of liquid dishwashing soap and water in a spray bottle, and drench the leaves with the soapy solution.  I mean, really soak them good and the mold will literally slide right off your leaves.

If you’re the impatient type, you can help the process along by wiping the leaves, but since this resembles washing way too closely, I prefer to apply before rain is expected.  That way, Mother Nature can do the washing for me!  A heavy squirt from a hose will work wonders, too, but either way, bugs and mold will disappear.  And if it doesn’t look perfectly clean after the first application, relax.  The effects will eventually become visible.  These are my gardenia leaves after treatment without any extra effort from me.

As to prevention, full sun and plenty of wind will help keep this mold off your plants.  I know–doesn’t make sense if it’s caused by bugs.  However, both my gardenia and viburnum are mold-free on their sunny side and mold-filled on their shady, non-breeze side.  I’m no master horticulturist, but I can be logical (when I’m not knee-deep in my fictional world, that is!)  Anyhoo, you can see the difference and decide for yourself.  Viburnum on sunny side:

Viburnum on shade side (albeit I took this photo capturing as much morning sun as possible):

It’s that simple.  My gardenia are actually located in a sunny spot with plenty of breeze, but they’re a bit crowded making it hard for the wind to dig in, hence their mold issues.  On the bright side, most look like this one:

And yes, I realize my babies could use a bit of greening, but it’s been a busy summer.  🙁  Now back to the mold–you can always invest in some ladybugs.  They’ll take care of the varmints secreting the nasty black mold, or try spraying a mix of stale coffee on your leaves.  White flies hate the stuff. 

Now until next time, let me leave you with more “happy” thoughts.

I do love Gerbera daisies and this sunny little gal beckoned me over this morning.  Isn’t she a beauty?

Worms Can Be A Dirty Business ~ But NOT Stinky!

Cleaning my worm bin this weekend I learned a few things.  Number one, proper worm bins do not smell–a fact I attempted to share with my husband as he walked by and warned, “Don’t track any of that stinky stuff through the house.” 

Now see, if he were taking part in this project with me, he would know better.  Worm castings done right, don’t stink.  Ask my fab friend Angie who turned me on to worm bins (though admittedly, I think she’s a lot better at this stuff than I am).  Course, if you want to talk “stinky” try fish emulsion.  That stuff smells like low tide on hot dry summer day.  Nasty.

As he stood there glaring, waiting for a response I threatened, “If you’re not nice to me, I’m going to blog about you.”

He shrugged.  “Big deal. I live that blog.”

A smile tugged at me.  True.  But now he sounded like the kids.  “Why do we have to be the gardeners?  It’s your blog!”

“It’s our garden, children.  Now run along and grab some more weeds, will you?”

As I return to the business of harvesting worm poop, I gather the bottom most bin and gaze in wonder at the gold–er, make that black–mine of a bounty they’ve produced.

Lovely, isn’t it?  Next, I smear the fresh worm castings across the cardboard.  By doing so, I’m separating the worms from the poop. 

Don’t want to lose any of these beauties!  So I painstakingly remove them one by one (or clump, if I’m lucky) to be sure they don’t suffer an arid death.

Next, I lift the baby and return him to the safety and comfort of his bin where I will add fresh food and continue my “layering process.”  This is where the lower bins are the oldest, upper bins are the newest.  Easier to add food this way, right? 🙂  

Now as I’m doing this, I’m thinking to myself there’s got to be an easier way. Granted worm castings don’t stink, but plucking worms from their midst is a tedious task.  I’m not about to lose a single one.  Not only are these pumpkins valuable to me, I hate the loss of life any life.

It does inspire me to schedule that trip to my local worm farm. I’ve been wanting to go and I’m sure they can guide me in the best methods for salvaging the worm poop from my bin.  And come to think of it, it sounds like a great field trip for the kids at school.  Plants love worm poop and kids love worms!  Is it a wonder why the students love their garden so?

Number two lesson?  Make worm pee in the process!  Not only does it provide the perfect method for cleaning your “worm removal” tool…

But it also make great plant food and insect repellent! (You’re all a tingle with excitement, aren’t you?)  Oh, how I do love a multi-tasker!

Dry your harvested poop until crumbly.  Here’s a gander at how they differ.  And no, it’s not your imagination.  The dried worm poop in this photo still has some “undigested” eggshells.  What can I say?  I’m an impatient sort and organic gardening is WAY exciting.

Then store in airtight bag for later use.  Your plants will thank you.

I’ll bet some of you have some helpful tips for me.  Do share!