Earth’s Ally 3-in-1 Plant Spray Concentrate makes no compromises, effectively controlling soft-bodied insects and common plant diseases with a synergistic blend of thyme, rosemary, clove and peppermint oils. The formula leaves no harmful residue on plants and can be safely sprayed on herbs and vegetables up until the day of harvest. This concentrated formula yields 3 gallons of product, or approximately 15 spray bottles, when mixed with water.
For best results, shake the bottle, dilute 1 ¼ cup concentrate in 1 gallon water and fully saturate the stems and leaves of the plant you are treating, including the undersides of the leaves where bugs are often found. Do not apply in temperatures over 90 degrees and for additional safety, avoid use when pollinators are active.
By Angelo Randaci, Earth’s Ally Master Gardener and Horticulture Expert
How to Bring Plants Inside
Temperatures will soon drop to 50°F degrees and below in many parts of the country. Since most houseplants originated from the tropics, they cannot withstand sudden changes in temperature. Because light and humidity conditions are so drastically different, gradual acclimating from outside to inside conditions is preferred.
As days get shorter, the natural reduction of light is beneficial to your plants acclimating to lower light conditions in your home. Cooler outdoor temperatures however may cause shock, wilting, and leaf drop. A gradual acclimating over a few weeks will help your plants adjust to their new indoor environment. Begin the process by bringing your plants inside at night. Put them back outside during the day, gradually increasing their time indoors over the next few weeks. Keep a close watch on weather conditions to protect from a sudden cold spell or frost.
Inspect your plants before bringing them inside. Prune long, leggy stems. Remove the plant from its pot and inspect roots. Healthy roots should be either white, green, or tan. Soil should have an earthy scent. Foul smelling soil is an indication of root rot from poorly draining soil, overwatering, or fungus. Check for insect pests. Check the undersides of leaves for spider mites, aphids, and mealybugs. A hand lens is helpful to spot tiny pests. Treat with Earth’s Ally Insect Control to combat any soft-bodied insects.
Repot into the next size larger container in a well-draining quality potting mix. If repotting in the same container, give the pot a good scrubbing to kill any diseases or pests. Avoid potting mixes that contain fertilizer, while fertilizer is helpful to plant growth during summer months, fertilizing during periods of slow growth may be detrimental. If your plants are actively growing, use a low strength liquid houseplant fertilizer following label directions.
Humidity: Indoor conditions are generally dry due to heating sources in the home. A humidifier is the best way to raise humidity. Grouping plants together will also add humidity around the plants.
Healthy Water Sources: The quality of your tap water depends on where you live. Some plants are sensitive to chemicals added to tap water such as chlorine and fluoride which may cause brown tips or spots on leaves. Some water can cause minerals such as calcium and magnesium salts to accumulate in soil. Avoid using water treated with water softeners because the added sodium may severely damage your plants.
Oxygen in Water: Well-draining soil provides oxygen to plant roots, but water also provides oxygen content. Higher oxygen content in water is beneficial to plant growth. Cool water contains higher oxygen than warm water and rainwater has the highest levels of oxygen. The best water for your plants is therefore rainwater. If rainwater is not available, use distilled, filtered, or bottled water.
Light: The amount of light you provide is the difference between success and failure. Group your plants according to their lighting needs. Plants receiving insufficient light will lean toward their light source with pale leaves, weak stems, and little new growth. Plants receiving too much light will be extremely compact. In this case, leaves may curl under or develop yellow patches. A south-facing window will supply maximum light. A west-facing exposure is the next best choice. If you have inadequate light, consider a grow light system. Many attractive grow light options are available that will add aesthetic appeal to your indoor surroundings.
Clean windows to maximize light intensity on your plants.
Determine where your plants will go. If you have plants in hanging pots, decide where to place ceiling hooks. Other plants will require shelf space. Make sure your shelves are wide enough to accommodate the containers. Decide on type of trays to put underneath your plants to collect excess water. You might not want to keep all your outdoor plants, especially if space is limited. Just think of the fun you will have buying new plants in the spring.
A windowsill in your kitchen is a perfect place to grow your favorite herbs within easy reach for cooking. Make sure you either have adequate light such as a south facing window or by the addition of a grow light. If your herbs become leggy or stretch toward the light source, more light is necessary.
Take cuttings of annuals from your garden. Impatiens, coleus, and begonias, cut back and exposed to bright light, will extend your season.
Some plants that you bring indoors will drop their leaves naturally due to reduced light and their new environment. Be patient. They may grow new leaves acclimated to the new conditions.
Grow lights expand your growing options. They can be placed anywhere you want to show off your plants. A simple grow light stand will allow you to enjoy your gardening hobby throughout cold winter days.
Protect plants from cold windowsills, especially at night.
Give plants a quarter turn toward your light source each week to promote symmetrical growth.
Do an internet search for a list of toxic plants before you bring them indoors. Some plants may not be suitable inside your home. They may cause allergies or are toxic to children and pets.
If you use tap water to water your plants, it is a good idea to periodically replace the tap water with rainwater, filtered water, or distilled water to flush out any contaminants in the tap water. Do this once a month or so.
Tips for Planting and Replanting in Clay Pots:
Clay pots will help remove excess moisture from the soil and guard against overwatering. If reusing a clay pot, first clean out the soil. A stiff wire brush works great for this step. Next, soak the pot in a 1:4 ratio of vinegar to water to remove minerals that build up in the clay or soak in soapy water overnight.
Soak your pot in water for 30 minutes or so to absorb water. This will help prevent your newly potted plant from losing water through the clay. Once repotted, water your plant generously until water comes out of the drainage hole.
Use plastic saucers underneath your pots instead of clay. Clay saucers will transpire water and stain surfaces.
Do not leave clay pots outdoors in cold climates. Freezing/thawing temperatures can crack your pots.
We’d love to hear how Earth’s Ally is helping you grow healthy plants, both outdoors and in your home! Share your experience and stay connected with the #EarthsAlly community on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for access to our latest blog posts, giveaways and exclusive promotions.
By Angelo Randaci, Earth’s Ally Master Gardener and Horticulture Expert
Seed Saving Primer
My first experience of seed saving was my early years of gardening with my father. My Dad was from Sicily where most people grew much of their own food and used flowers to splash colors across the neighborhoods. He saved seeds from his marigolds, zinnias, impatiens, foxgloves, columbines, and Italian basil. Herbs and rare veggies were a large portion of the garden. We used every plant in the garden to either flavor food, eat as the main course or bring color and life to our yard. My Dad saved the seeds of a special variety of sauce making heirloom tomatoes his mother sent from Italy, and we ate the delicious sauce made from those tomatoes all winter long. We used a small room in our basement where we kept each year’s seed crop safe, dry, and cool.
Many plants will self-seed naturally so collecting and saving seeds needs a bit of special care if you wish to maintain purity of any certain variety. The following is a beginner’s guide to seed saving; terms, collecting, storage and plenty of tips to help you.
Why Save Garden Seeds?
Old garden variety heirloom plants are often difficult to find and saving seeds is a way to preserve a variety. Many plants available one year, may disappear the next. Saving seeds of your favorite varieties will offer a steady supply of useful seeds.
If you need a large quantity of plants, collecting seeds will save money as opposed to buying individual plants. If you want to incorporate 20 foxglove plants into your garden, buying 20 plants can be costly when compared to collecting seeds from one of your established plants. Seeds saved from your garden plants will be better adapted to your own growing conditions. And it’s fun because you can get into cross pollination of your favorite flowers to develop different colors and forms.
Open Pollinated vs. Hybrids
To understand what and when of saving seeds, let’s begin with the two categories of plants. Open pollinated (also called heir loom or self-pollinated) and hybrids.
Open pollinated plants: Open pollinated plants are those pollinated by insects, birds, wind, etc. or human hands. They will grow true from seed, and seedlings will be exact replicas of their parents. Examples include heirloom tomatoes, beans, peas, and other vegetables as well as an assortment of flowering plants such as foxgloves, sweet Williams, marigolds, and many others. Open-pollinated plants can and often do, cross-pollinate with other members of their species by wind or insects. When this happens, you may lose your original open-pollinated variety. It is possible to obtain different colors or forms, but seeds may or may not grow identical to the parent plants.
Hybrids: Seeds from hybridized plants, unlike open-pollinated plants may share characteristics of either or both parents and will not come true from collected seeds. To maintain an exact clone of a hybrid, you would need to propagate hybrid plants from cuttings, or purchase seed every year.
Be sure to collect seeds from the healthiest plants in your garden. If you are looking to improve certain traits such as biggest fruits, collect seeds from the biggest fruits. The same is true for other traits you wish to see improved such as disease resistance, color, form, habit, and size. Collect seeds with the desirable attributes when they are viable. This means they need to be fully ripened, or they may not germinate. The optimal time to collect seeds is most often after the plant has flowered or produced fruits and the seeds are left to fully mature. By this time, the original plants have finished their growing cycle for the season. Seeds that grow in pods are not ready to collect until the pods turn brown and begin to split open. Harvest marigold seeds when the flowers dry out on the plants. Seeds of corn should dry on their cobs while still in the garden. Always check for specific time-table instructions for each variety you are interested in collecting.
Long Term Seed Storage
Seeds must be dry to avoid mold during storage. Extract any seeds enveloped in pulp, spread them out on screens, and provide air flow to hasten the process. Seeds of marigolds and zinnias can be removed from their spent flowers and placed in a paper bag in a cool dark place. Don’t forget to label your seed storage containers.
Helpful Tips for Seed Saving
Plants that self-seed such as columbines, forget-me-nots, and sweet Williams will germinate in the soil near the parent plants. They can easily be transplanted from one spot and moved to another or let them naturalize throughout the garden. No seed saving is necessary in this case.
Collecting seeds from zinnias and marigolds are among the easiest to collect and germinate. They are great for beginners as well as peas and beans.
Share your seeds with other gardeners, neighbors, and friends. Seed exchanges can be a fun social event.
Be sure to incorporate pollinator plants in your garden. You can easily obtain a list of pollinator plants for your area.
If you are a beginner, keep it simple by planting one variety per species. This is a good way to avoid cross-pollination.
Know how pollination occurs of different plants. Some plants are called “selfers” and they will self-pollinate before the flowers open and limit success with cross-pollination. Some are pollinated by insects and others are wind pollinated.
Become acquainted with botanical names; genus, and species of the plants you grow. This will help you avoid cross-pollination between two different varieties within the same species. Some species of plants will cross-pollinate, and some will not. A little research will go a long way. Know if you are growing an annual, biennial or perennial. Biennials, for instance may not set seeds until their second year of growth.
Tips for Cross Pollinated Plants:
Plant only one variety of a species. If you are planting different varieties, they will need to be separated by distance. Planting one variety separated by another may provide enough distance to avoid cross pollination.
Separate one variety from another by using a physical barrier. A row cover can be used to avoid cross pollination. Cover one variety and allow enough time for pollination of the other variety. Then repeat the process with the covered variety.
We’d love to hear how Earth’s Ally is helping you grow healthy, organic gardens. Share your experience and stay connected with the #EarthsAlly community on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for access to our latest blog posts, giveaways and exclusive promotions.
By Angelo Randaci, Earth’s Ally Master Gardener and Horticulture Expert
Interesting Succulents for Your Garden
There are many oddities that exist within the world of succulents. Thanks to the efforts of plant purveyors, collectors and hybridizers we can now enjoy several unusual offerings. The following is a list of six types of succulents that emphasize strange shapes and growing habits. Both kids and adults alike will enjoy the visual interest these succulent plants bring to a garden. While many succulents favor full sun conditions, these plants prefer lower light conditions and will thrive with bright indirect light.
#1 Corkscrew Albuca (Albuca spiralis)
Corkscrew albuca is a succulent from South Africa that grows from a bulb. It is known for its long, narrow dark green leaves that grow into a corkscrew pattern. Yellow-greenish vanilla scented flowers emerge during periods of active growth. Unlike other plants that rest in the winter, this one goes through a dormancy period during summer months and resumes growth in winter when temperatures begin to cool. Because the plant is dormant during the summer months, water should be held to a minimum at that time, once every 2 or 3 weeks or when the soil is completely dry. During winter, when the plant is in active growth, adjust your watering to once a week or just enough to keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy. Plant in a clay pot with your favorite succulent soil mix and give it a bright light. This plant is not bothered by pests or diseases, but overwatering can cause root rot. Albucas are toxic to pets if ingested and may cause mild oral and gastrointestinal upsets.
#2 Sweetheart Hoya Plant (Hoya kerrii)
Sweetheart hoya is appropriately named for its stunning heart-shaped leaves. This tropical succulent vine from Southeast Asia is often sold with a single leaf planted upright in a small pot. The single leaf will probably not grow into a vine but will remain a single leaf until it eventually dies. Purchase a plant with multiple leaves instead to grow it into a hanging basket. This plant makes an excellent Valentine’s Day gift for anyone wishing to shy away from traditional roses or chocolates. For best growth, place your hoya plant in an area with bright, indirect light and allow the soil to dry out between watering, but not so dry that the leaves wrinkle. The beautiful, star-shaped white flowers with burgundy centers may appear after a few years of growth. Yellow leaves and root rot are a common problem from over watering. Pests include mealybugs, aphids, and spider mites. Hoyas are non-toxic to children and pets.
While you may be familiar with the common snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue, Starfish Sansevieria ‘Boncel’ is a different species grown for its unusual cylindrical leaves. This particular hybrid of Sansevieria cylindrica has all the attributes of the common snake plant; easy to grow, tolerant of sun or shade (bright light is best) and like other succulents will thrive with very little water. Grow this plant in a succulent potting mix and keep watering to a minimum, about once or twice a month, even less during winter. Sansevierias are basically trouble free although overwatering can cause root rot and fungal infections. Pests include mealybugs and spider mites. Sansevierias are toxic to dogs and cats.
#4 String of Dolphins (Senecio peregrinus)
String of Dolphins is a delightful trailing succulent with chalky blue leaves that resemble tiny leaping dolphins. The trailing branches up to 3 feet long are very attractive either in a hanging basket or mixed container along with other succulents. Grow this plant in in indirect light. Avoid direct sun. It is tolerant of artificial light and is suitable to growing in an office situation. Grow in a succulent potting mix and water sparingly, allowing the soil to dry before watering. String of Dolphins is toxic to pets and small children.
#5 String of Turtles (Peperomia prostrata)
String of Turtles is an unusual easy to grow succulent. The leaves are shaped like the shells of miniature turtles strung together on a tiny trailing vine. It thrives in the conditions of the average home making it an excellent house plant choice. Avoid growing String of Turtles in full sun, but rather place them in an area receiving bright indirect sunlight. A standard potting mix rich in peat is ideal. Keep this plant slightly moist during the growing season but allow the soil to dry before watering during winter months.
#6 Mistletoe Cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera)
Mistletoe Cactus is an epiphytic cactus with long thread-like light green pendent stems. This is another excellent choice for a hanging basket. Greenish white blooms are followed by white fruits that resemble the berries on mistletoe. Mistletoe cactus makes an ideal choice for easy-care hanging planters. It will thrive in bright indirect sunlight but will tolerate lower light conditions. The best potting mix is slightly acidic and well drained. A homemade mix consisting of two parts peat moss, one part sand and one part fine-grade fir bark will grow a healthy plant. Unlike other succulents on this list, Mistletoe cactus requires water regularly during the growing season, but reduced water during winter months. This plant is not bothered by serious pest or disease problems although overwatering may cause root rot. It is also safe for children and pets and the fruits are even edible.
How to Care for Succulents
Watering Succulents: Proper watering will ensure your plants stay vibrant and healthy. Succulents hold moisture in their fleshy stems, roots, and leaves. Because of this, they can survive long periods of drought conditions. Over watering is the most common problem that occurs with succulents. To avoid this problem, try the Drench and Dry Method. Begin with completely dry soil, then saturate the soil with water until you see it leaking out the drainage holes. Saturate again to be sure you completely wetted the soil. Do not water again until the soil is completely dry. Remember to reduce watering when your plant is not actively growing.
Drainage: Make sure your containers have adequate drainage. Because tiny drainage holes can clog easily, choose succulent pots with plenty of large drainage holes. Put a piece of broken pot or other material over the drainage hole to prevent soil from falling out the bottom. Unglazed clay pots provide a healthy environment for your succulents. Because the clay is porous, air and moisture can enter through the sides of the pot. Clay pots will also act like a wick to remove excess moisture from your potting mix.
Pests and Disease: Most problems associated with succulents are diseases from overwatering. However, they do get the occasional insect pest like spider mites, scale and mealy bugs. To treat soft-bodied insects, Earth’s Ally Insect Control is highly effective and safe for people, pets and the planet.
Light: Plants on this list will thrive in bright light conditions. Full sun can cause leaves to burn and even kill your plant. Plants that lean toward your light source will benefit from rotating the containers a quarter turn every few days. Stretching may also be a sign that your plants need a brighter spot. If you don’t have adequate light in your home, consider growing your plants under artificial lights.
Soil and Fertilizer: Use a quality succulent potting mix for all your succulents. If you mix your own, you can use two parts sand, two parts potting mix and one part perlite. Most succulents will grow well with a fertilizer formulated for succulents. Only fertilize your plants during periods of active growth. Be sure to read plant care information given on the label. For some succulents, half strength fertilizer is all that is needed. Less is better than more.
Do a little research on the succulents you wish to purchase before you buy. This way, you can either choose plants that will do well in your conditions, or you can modify your environment to suit the needs of the plant.
We’d love to hear how Earth’s Ally is helping you grow healthy succulents. Share your experience and stay connected with the #EarthsAlly community on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for access to our latest blog posts, giveaways and exclusive promotions.
By Angelo Randaci, Earth’s Ally Master Gardener and Horticulture Expert
Fall Garden Cleanup and Autumn Garden Maintenance
One of my favorite gardening chores is cleaning-up and cutting-back garden plants in the autumn and early winter. In fact, it’s not a chore at all. It’s a great time to re-shape or rearrange my plantings. But keep in mind some plants are overwintering homes for beneficial insects so those can be left in the garden. Removing diseased plants, or plants that don’t have any aesthetic interest is important for the health of next year’s garden.
It is best to strike a balance between fall and spring cleanup. Cleaning your gardens during the fall and winter months gives both advantages and disadvantages over a spring garden cleanup. The main advantage to fall cleanup is it prevents the spread of disease and insect pests from the current season into the next. Leaving some plants give beneficial insects a place to over-winter. If you have been removing plant debris throughout the growing season, cleanup will be easy. And fall cleanup allows you to concentrate on spring planting.
Begin your fall garden preparation any time after a killing frost when perennials begin to go dormant. Cutting back too early in the fall before they are dormant may cause the plants to send out new growth susceptible to freeze damage.
General Cleanup & Weeding Checklist
Remove and Clean Supports. Remove plant supports such as tomato cages, plant stakes, and trellises. Before storing them, clean off soil and wash with soapy water. Spray plant supports that supported diseased plants with isopropyl alcohol that is in 70-100% solution alcohol to kill off any diseases.
Plant Perennials Before Winter. Plant new perennials and divide established perennial clumps. Do this during early fall to allow them to produce roots before winter. Plant tulips, daffodils, and other bulbs for spring color.
Lay Down Mulch. Add a protective layer of mulch to any bare areas of your garden. Do not apply mulch up against tree or shrub stems. This will attract rodents which will feed on the bark during winter.
Bring Houseplants Indoors. Bring houseplants indoors when night temperatures fall below 50°F. Check for insects and spray with Earth’s All Insect Control to safely knockdown any pests before bringing them in. Pot up annuals such as geraniums, begonias, marigolds and impatiens to bring indoors for winter bloom.
Remove Weeds and Debris. Remove dead plants and plant debris including dry bits of leftover vegetables, fruits, and other waste. Pests and disease may overwinter in plant debris and make a comeback next year. Pull out garden weeds by hand or spray with Earth’s Ally Weed & Grass Killer. Annual weeds such as chickweed, crabgrass, and lambs-quarters die at first frost, but not before dropping seeds for next year. Perennial weeds like dandelion, ground ivy and white clover will remain throughout the winter so best to remove them now. This will be your last weeding for the year, so be thorough. Do your weeding after a rain for easier removal.
How to Winterize A Veggie Garden
Some vegetables can be left in the garden for a longer harvest. Beets, lettuce, chard, carrots, endive, parsley, pumpkins and celery are considered semi-hardy and will withstand air temperatures of 28°F to 32°F. Other veggies including kale, broccoli, cabbage, chicory, mustard, radish and Brussel sprouts can survive in even lower temperatures below 28°F. These vegetables will extend your growing season through the early cooler periods.
Swiss chard is considered semi-hardy and will survive cold temperatures.
Plant perennial vegetables in separate areas of your garden. They will produce year after year and only need cutting back during winter or before new growth commences in the spring. These include asparagus, horseradish, garlic chives, rhubarb, and chives. Both garlic chives and regular chives will make wonderful additions to both your veggie and perennial garden with their beautiful display of purple flowers which are also edible.
Transfer carrot plants to your perennial garden. They will produce lacy white, flowers for a beautiful display during their second year.
Start A Compost Pile
If you haven’t started a compost pile, now is a good time to do so as this is a great way to recycle organic materials and turn it into rich humus for next year’s crop. Shred leaves and add to the compost or garden beds. Leave a pile of leaves in an out of the way area for wildlife. If you had any diseased plants, remove them from your garden area. Do not risk spreading disease by adding them to your compost. Put all diseased plants in the trash or burn pile.
Plant crimson clover in the fall to grow as a cover crop. It will bloom from early to mid-May in the northeast, improving the soil and attracting pollinators to the garden.
Consider sowing a cover crop, it’s like growing a compost crop to feed your soil. Cover crops are plants used to cover the soil when it is not in use. Cover crops help control weeds, add organic matter, nutrients, help prevent erosion, and feed beneficial organisms vital to healthy soil maintenance. The cover crop acts as a living mulch during the winter months and is turned in in the spring before planting. Once it is turned into the garden it becomes a green manure. Fall-planted cover crops include winter wheat, annual rye grass, red clover and hairy vetch and others. Check with your local county extension for cover crops that grow best in your area. If not planting a cover crop, add 2-4 inches of mulch and or compost to your garden.
Perennials such as coneflowers and ornamental grasses provide interest from late fall until spring.
Keep in mind winter interest. Many perennials such as coneflowers, rudbeckias, and fall blooming sedums will maintain presence during the winter months. Ornamental grasses will persist all winter long and won’t need cutting back until early spring. Besides winter interest, the seed heads of coneflowers will provide food for birds. While most perennials do not need cutting back until spring, remove plant debris from peonies, roses, fruit trees, or any plants showing signs of disease. Cut back bearded iris and lilies because iris borers overwinter in and on the foliage. If you had problems with powdery mildew or black spot on rose leaves, thoroughly remove all debris from around your plants. Spray with Earth’s Ally Disease Control and sterilize pruning shears before moving to the next plant.
You do not need to cut back and clean up all your plants. Leaving a portion of the garden until spring has advantages. Pollinators such as native bees and butterflies need protection from the cold weather. Some overwinter in hollow plant stems and debris on the ground. Some butterflies overwinter as adults in leaf litter and bark. Butterflies that overwinter as chrysalis occupy dead plant stems and leaf litter. Ladybugs and other predatory insects, which consume plant eating pests overwinter under leaves or attached to plant stems.
Dig up tender bulbs such as dahlia tubers, gladiolus corms, and canna rhizomes after the first frost. Cut off the stems a few inches above them, remove the soil and let them dry for a few days. Store them in paper bags in a cool, dry area until spring planting time. If you are color-coordinating your garden, be sure to mark the colors/varieties on the bags.
Dahlia tubers can be dug up after the first frost and stored for next year’s color.
Trees and Shrubs
Remove any dead branches on your trees and shrubs. You can do this anytime throughout the year but wait until the plants are dormant before pruning live wood. This is also a perfect time to shape and thin your plants while you can easily see the branching structures. Do not prune spring flowering plants until after they have bloomed.
Keep a journal for a written record of your garden.
You can make notes on what worked, what didn’t as well as any changes to your garden plan. Make note of what plants were grown where so you can practice crop rotation to avoid pests and diseases specific to certain plants and to avoid depleting soil of the same nutrients every year. Record any issues with pests or disease, which plants were damaged and when. Record where you planted certain veggies so you can practice crop rotation. Your journal can include sketches of your garden plan each season, pictures of your garden, plant sources, expenses along with receipts or any other pertinent information.
We’d love to hear how Earth’s Ally is helping you with autumn garden clean up. Share your experience and stay connected with the #EarthsAlly community on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for access to our latest blog posts, giveaways and exclusive promotions.
By Angelo Randaci, Earth’s Ally Master Gardener and Horticulture Expert
There is nothing like treating yourself to a burst of early spring color after the coldest days of winter with an explosion of blooms from fall planted spring bulbs. Depending on your growing zone, spring bulbs will bloom from early February to mid-June. They should be planted between October and November, generally 6-8 weeks before the ground freezes.
The categories of bulbs discussed in this article are divided into two types: major and minor bulbs. The major bulbs are the larger, more showy plants in the garden such as daffodils, while minor bulbs are the more diminutive bulbs such as crocus, used as companions to other bulbs and perennials.
For succession of bloom, this can be further divided into three time periods: early spring, mid spring, and late spring.
Early spring is late February to March
Mid spring is April to early May
Late spring is late May through June
Choosing from each time period will provide a continuous color addition to the perennial border. There will be overlap of blooming time periods depending on your location and the varieties that you choose.
One of the most important design considerations is to work within the broad range of blooming times within each type of bulb. A prime example of this is daylilies. Daylily varieties are available by blooming times designated as extra or very early, early, mid, mid late, late, very late and repeat bloomers. By choosing from these different categories, it is possible to have blooming daylilies from May through September. The same basic concept is true of the major and minor bulbs blooming from early through to late spring. The following is a partial list of major and minor bulbs to get you started.
Daffodils are among the easiest and most carefree of all the spring-flowering bulbs. If you are a novice gardener wishing to add bulbs to your garden, they are an excellent choice. Daffodils are deer/rodent resistant, and many will naturalize well providing color for years to come. Daffodils are available in early, mid, and late spring varieties. Choosing an assortment of varieties from the three categories will provide 4-6 weeks of blooms.
Daffodils will thrive in either full sun or partial shade, but bright sunlight is best for producing big, healthy blooms. They are hardy in planting zones 3-8 and will grow in most soils that are well drained. When to plant daffodil bulbs? Anytime from mid-fall through early winter before the ground freezes. Plant bulbs pointed end up in a 6-inch hole and water thoroughly. Roots form in the fall, go dormant during winter, and resume growth when the soil warms anytime from February to April. Late snows or freezing weather will not harm emerging leaves. Blooms appear in 3-6 weeks.
Fertilizing: The best gardening practice for all your plants is to establish a well-drained soil by working in plenty of organic matter before planting. Top dress with a complete fertilizer that is low in nitrogen such as a 3-6-6 ratio when foliage emerges in the spring. Established plantings will benefit from an early spring fertilizing as well, especially if planted under trees or where there is competition for nutrients from surrounding plants.
Remove spent flowers and stems, but do not remove the leaves. The plants need the foliage to produce food (through photosynthesis) for the following year. Maintain moisture for three weeks after blooming time and then discontinue watering. Remove the foliage when it has died back and lost its green color in about six weeks or so. Plant perennials or use planted containers to hide the unsightly leaves until leaf removal. The clumps will continue to multiply each season and will eventually need dividing in three to five years. Divide them while the foliage is still green within a month after flowering.
Daffodils for Naturalizing
Purchase daffodils for naturalizing either by single varieties or as a naturalizing mix. Early blooming varieties include Barrett Browning and Tete a Tete. Midseason varieties include Mount Hood and Ice Follies, and two late blooming varieties would include Actaea and Cheerfulness.
There are more than a dozen categories of tulips. Each type has its own qualities and blooming period. By picking from early, mid, and late season varieties, you can enjoy tulip flowers for six weeks or more. Blooming times will vary depending on where you live but generally, early tulips will bloom from March into April with mid-season and late varieties blooming later into spring. Emperor, double early, and single early tulips are early bloomers. Late blooming varieties include Darwin hybrids, Greigii Tulips, Parrot Tulips, and Lily-flowered Tulips, with Single Late and Double Late Tulips blooming latest. A cooler spring will encourage longer blooms.
Tulips will grow in sun or part shaded locations in plating zones 3-8. Plant in a loose, well-draining soil. Add compost to improve drainage in heavy soils. Two of the most common questions asked are when to plant tulip bulbs and how to plant tulip bulbs. Plant bulbs anytime in mid to late fall before the ground freezes. Plant them 6 to 8 inches deep and 4 to 5 inches apart on center. Tulip bulbs develop roots in the fall, then go dormant until temperatures warm in the spring. The emerging leaves are cold hardy and can withstand late snows and freezing temperatures.
Unlike daffodils, tulips are often treated as annuals because they tend to diminish in number and size of blossoms after the first year. For this reason, many gardeners remove the entire plant after flowering and replant with fresh, new bulbs in the fall. For those who do not wish to replant every year, Darwin hybrids, and species tulips are more likely to rebloom the second season. In this case, remove spent flowers immediately after blooming but allow the stem and foliage to continue growing. This will produce energy to develop flowers next year although they may be smaller in size and number. Bulb catalogs will often list which bulbs are suitable for naturalizing.
Alliums will fill the gap between spring-flowering bulbs and summer perennials by blooming with the last tulips. Depending on variety, they will provide color in late spring into early summer. Besides providing a dramatic accent in the garden, they are pollinator-friendly to bees and butterflies.
Alliums are winter hardy in planting zones 3-8. They are best planted in full sun, but most types are tolerant of partial shade. Soil conditions are much the same as for the other bulbs mentioned in this article; provide a loose, well-drained soil with plenty of compost added for drainage as well as nutrition. Alliums grown from bulbs are planted in the fall before the ground freezes. These are not to be confused with herbaceous-type alliums which may be planted anytime during the growing season along with other perennials. Large variety allium bulbs should be planted 5-6 inches deep and smaller varieties 3 inches deep. As a general rule, plant allium bulbs to a depth equal to two-and-a-half times the height of the bulb. Follow planting directions included with your bulbs. Choose from the early, mid, and late blooming varieties to extend blooming times. Early blooming varieties include Allium ‘Purple Sensation’, and ‘Mt Everest’. Mid blooming varieties such as ‘Globemaster’ and ‘Graceful’ will bloom a little later, and Allium nigrum and A. ‘Gladiator’ will bloom during the early summer months.
You may remove the flower heads after they have finished flowering but allow the foliage to die back completely before cutting. You may keep the spent flower heads as an ornamental feature, but some types will reseed, spreading seedlings throughout the garden. If this is undesirable, it is best to remove the seed heads before seeds are produced. The bulbs are perennial and will return seasonally.
The following bulbs are a partial list of bulbs to purchase now that will bloom in early spring. Plant in well-drained sites to avoid root and bulb rot. The bulbs grow best in full sun, but most will adapt to shadier spots since most bulbs are active before deciduous trees leaf out. They present the best effect when used in masses and work well in rock gardens or edging paths and walkways. Some of the minor bulbs such as crocus and scillas naturalize beautifully in lawns.
Augment your garden design with these smaller bulbs by combining them with tulips, daffodils, for a carpet of color. All will naturalize except for the common hyacinths. Check your catalog for pictures and culture information. The following is a partial list of minor bulbs.
Glory-of-the-Snow (Chionodoxa luciliae) Zone 3-8 -Height 4-6 inches. The blue, white, or pink flowers bloom anytime between January and March in northern temperate zones. Plant 3 inches deep and 3 inches apart. They are good for naturalizing in partial shade to full sun. They will multiply by self-seeding.
Crocus (Crocus species) Zone 3-8 – Height 6-8 inches. Plant 3 inches deep and 4 inches apart. Good for naturalizing and may be naturalized in lawns if the foliage is allowed to mature and die back naturally. There are numerous varieties that bloom in autumn, winter, and spring. Review the varieties offered before making a decision.
Checkered Lily (Fritillaria meleagris) Zone 4-8 – Height 9-15 inches. Plant 4 to 6 inches deep and 4to 6 inches apart. Plant in full sun to light shade in moist, well-drained soil. The maroon checkered flowers bloom from March to May. Propagate by dividing clumps after the foliage ripens.
Common Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) Zone 3-8 – Height 6-8 inches. Snowdrops have delicate, white nodding flowers that bloom before most other spring bulbs. Plant 3 inches deep and 3 inches apart. Plant in partial to full shade in moist, well-drained soil. Good for naturalizing. Propagate by dividing clumps after flowering.
Common Grape Hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) Zone 3-9 – Height 6-8 inches. Grape hyacinths resemble miniature hyacinths. The blue spikes of flowers are clustered like berries. Foliage remains green through winter and goes dormant in summer. Grow in full sun to partial shade in well-drained soil. They self-sow readily, forming carpets of deep blue fragrant flowers.
Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica) – Zone 4-8– Height 6 inches. Plant 3 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart. Grow in full sun or partial shade. The deep blue, bell-like flowers emerge over tufts of grass-like foliage from March through April. They will naturalize over time and will naturalize in lawns as well.
Common Hyacinthus (Hyacinthus orientalis) Zone 4-8 – Height up to 12 inches. Plant 7 inches deep and 6-9 inches apart. Plant in full sun. Not good for naturalizing as the floral display gradually decreases each year.
Growing Spring Bulbs in Warm Climates
You can still grow spring-blooming bulbs if you live in warmer climates in zones 8-11. Because warmer zones lack the cooler temperatures needed for proper growth, they require pre-chilling for 12-16 weeks at 35-45 degrees F. Begin the chilling process in October and plant after the allotted chilling period during which roots will begin to form. Plant immediately and treat them as annuals. If chilling in the refrigerator, store them in ventilated bags to retain moisture. Do not store with fruit because the ethylene gas given off by the fruit will damage forming flowers within the bulb.
Growing and Designing Tips:
Whichever type bulb you are planting, purchase the largest bulbs available. They will produce the best flowers. The bulbs should feel solid (not dry or soft).
Bulbs will bloom before most perennials. Bulbs are a great way to have color when temperatures warm up in the spring.
Bulbs look best when planted in groups rather than in straight rows. Plant in large drifts for a dramatic effect or weave your bulbs in with perennials to add color and texture.
If using a granular fertilizer, slow release is best. This is sound advice for all your garden plants. A fertilizer formulated for bulbs will contain all the nutrients needed for growth.
Deer-resistant bulbs include snowdrops, daffodils, crocus, fritillarias, and alliums. Tulips however, are not resistant and will need protection. Place chicken wire over newly planted bulbs. The foliage will grow through the wire in the spring.
Remove spent flower heads. Allow foliage to grow until it dies back naturally. Hide unsightly foliage with perennials or planted containers.
Do some research to find which bulbs work best in your growing zone. Bulbs that are not hardy in your area will need to be removed and stored before winter. There are planting zone maps available online where you can input your zip code to receive recommendations on the best choices for your area.
Plant bulbs in containers to brighten up areas around your home. Make sure your containers have drainage holes and use a well-draining potting mix. Over winter the containers someplace that stays consistently cold without freezing. A garage or shed may be suitable.
Mark newly planted areas with garden tags or flags so you won’t damage them in the spring by digging or weeding in your garden.
We’d love to hear how Earth’s Ally is helping your beautiful bulb gardens. Share your experience and stay connected with the #EarthsAlly community on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for access to our latest blog posts, giveaways and exclusive promotions.
By Angelo Randaci, Earth’s Ally Master Gardener and Horticulture Expert
5 Gardening Myths
There are common gardening myths that we easily accept as true. Even though they seem to make sense, these accepted methods are often backed more by folklore than research and science. In this article, I will discuss five gardening myths and misconceptions, explain why they are untrue, and give tips to improve your gardening practices.
Myth #1: Putting Stones or Sand in Bottom of the Pot Improves Drainage
Over the years, the myth of putting stones in the bottom of pots was treated as fact. It is not necessary to put anything in the bottom of pots. Adding a layer of stones, gravel, rocks or similar materials impedes drainage because of something called a perched water table. This involves two opposing forces at play in a wetted soil. Gravity which exerts a downward pull on the water, and capillary action which exerts an upward pull on the water. The area where these two forces balance out is where the layer of water-saturated soil is formed at the bottom of the pot. This is the area where the water is ‘perched’ and cannot move. This perched water table area will not drain unless water is taken up by plant roots or if the potting mix dries out. All containers regardless of growing medium will have a perched water table. Adding gravel to the bottom of a pot reduces the volume of the potting medium and pushes the perched water table higher up into the pot. Water collects or ‘perches’ in the soil just above the gravel.
The best way to increase drainage in containers is to alter the composition of the entire potting medium with a soil amendment. To improve drainage, add perlite or other organic amendment throughout your potting mix. To test for drainage, fill an empty container with potting mix and apply water. Water should move through the potting mix and drain quickly. If water sits on top of the soil and drains slowly, add more perlite or other amendment and test again.
While plastic pots usually have plenty of drainage holes, clay pots often have only one drainage hole in the bottom. Place one rock or piece of broken clay pot, mesh, or other material over the drainage hole to prevent your potting soil from leaching out of the bottom. Plastic containers usually have plenty of drainage holes and will not need anything placed in the bottom.
There are instances when adding stones for drainage can be useful. If you have a very large, deep container, adding rocks, gravel, or any large stones to fill the space in the bottom will save you from having to use too much potting soil. It will also add weight to your container to keep it from blowing over during high winds.
Earth’s Ally Tips for Beginners:
Check your pots periodically to see how well they drain. Drainage holes can become clogged and not drain well.
Put your potted plant inside a decorative container to hide the ugly pot to make sure it’s a plant pot with drainage. In this case, you can add gravel to the bottom of the decorative container and place the potted plant inside to catch access water or raise the level of the pot if necessary.
A good quality potting mix will have adequate drainage if you water your plants only as needed. Do not over-water your containers. Let them dry out a bit before adding more water. When you do water, add water until you see it drain out of the pot.
Myth #2: Landscape Fabric and Weed Barrier Cloth Will Keep Weeds Out
In theory, Landscape fabric is placed on the ground then covered with mulch, suppressing the weeds. This is commonly called a “garden weed barrier.” Theoretically the weeds cannot grow through the cloth and die. In theory, that should work. While landscape fabric may work for a while, it won’t over the long term and will cause other problems. While seeds sprouting under the cloth will die, perennial weeds will eventually grow through or around the fabric. Spreading-type weeds can grow quite a distance underground to find an opening in the cloth. In time, landscape fabric will stick up through the top layer of mulch and create an eyesore. Placing more mulch on top to hide the weed barrier will make the problem worse. As the mulch on top breaks down it becomes a growing media for weeds.
Landscape fabric is supposed to allow rain to penetrate the fabric through tiny holes. Although some rain will go through the holes, a good bit of water will flow over the top of the cloth. Plants underneath the fabric may not receive adequate water and remain dry.
Landscape fabric is not good for the health of soil. It reduces the amount of air and organic matter to reach the surface of the soil. This can destroy soil life which depends on air and food, causing a reduction in soil nutrients as the soil structure degrades.
Roots of trees, shrubs, and perennials will grow into and through the fabric. When the fabric needs to be replaced, roots will be damaged.
Other reasons include:
The plastic fabric adds to environmental waste.
Moving and dividing plants is difficult through the weed barrier.
Weeds are difficult to pull out of the fabric.
Fabrics made from geotextiles will degrade in as little as one year unless protected from sunlight.
Earth’s Ally Tips for Beginners:
Instead of landscape fabric to smother weeds, cover the area with 4 to 6 inches of mulch.
Landscape fabric is useful to place under stone pathways and driveways as it will keep the stones from disappearing in the soil.
Myth #3: Using Pebble Trays to Increase Humidity for Indoor Plants
Using a tray with pebbles filled with water is said to add humidity for your plants. During summer months the house plants placed outdoors will get all the humidity they need, but during cold winter months, in heated homes, it is a different story. As humidifiers, pebble trays will not add enough humidity to compensate for the dryness of heated homes. The large volume of dry household winter air absorbs most of the water that evaporates from pebble trays and dissipates into the air all through the house. This leaves little if any humid air for the plants.
Earth’s Ally Tips for Beginners:
Place a humidifier in the room to increase humidity.
Group plants together on pebble trays. Plants release moisture through their leaves by transpiration creating a higher humidity layer around leaves. The effect will be limited unless you have a lot of plants together.
Make sure your plants are growing in a good quality potting soil. Roots may be damaged by poor quality potting mixes and because of this inhibit the transport of water to leaves and flowers. The symptoms of drying or yellowing leaves will often appear as a low humidity problem.
Use grow lights during the short days and low natural light of winter. Adequate light helps the plants make food and build healthy roots, foliage and flowers. This may have a greater impact on plant health than low humidity.
Use pebbles on the bottom of saucers rather than in the pots for aesthetic value. Attractive pebbles are decorative features for pots and will keep roots out of standing water.
Myth #4: Misting Plants Will Increase Humidity
When misting a plant with a spray bottle of water, droplets from the spray sit on the leaves until the water evaporates. This adds humidity, but only until the water evaporates off the leaves. The water then turns into vapor and is dissipated throughout the room just like the water added to a pebble tray. Humidity will only be higher while the tiny water droplets are on the plant. Beware that water sitting on leaves can cause fungal problems.
Earth’s Ally Tips for Beginners:
Use a terrarium or other enclosure to increase humidity. The humidity can be regulated by fully or partially covering the top of the terrarium. If you cover 30% of the top you will achieve a 50% increase in humidity. If you cover 90% of the top you will achieve 70% humidity and covering the entire top will give you 100% humidity. If no top is added, the humidity will be about the same as a pebble tray. Fungus problems can also arise within the humidity of a terrarium.
To keep disease at bay, preventative treatments of fungicide, like Earth’s Ally Disease Control, are a helpful tool to improve plant health.
Myth #5: You Should Disinfect Your Pruning Tools with Bleach
It is important to disinfect your pruning tools to avoid the spread of disease. If you are working with a diseased plant, your pruning tools (pruning shears, saws, loppers, etc.) should be disinfected between cuts. If the plant appears to be healthy, you can disinfect after every few cuts. Bleach is often used as a disinfectant but is not the best option because bleach is corrosive and will damage metal tools. Bleach is also very phytotoxic and may damage the cells of the plants being pruned.
Earth’s Ally Tips for Beginners:
Use rubbing alcohol instead of bleach to disinfect your tools. Either dip your tool into a jar of the alcohol or wipe the surface with cloth dipped in the alcohol. If you have a hand sanitizer that is alcohol based, you can use it as well.
Let your blade dry before making your next pruning cut or wipe it dry with a cloth to avoid damage to the next branch to be cut.
Make sure your tool is sharp. A dull blade may contain pitted edges that keep your disinfectant from complete coverage.
Never apply any disinfectant directly to the wound created by your pruning cut. This will kill plant cells and leave the wound more susceptible to fungus.
There are many myths about maintaining an organic garden. Armed with information and the right tools you are on your way to creating a beautiful, non-toxic oasis for your family and pets. We’d love to hear how Earth’s Ally is helping you grow organic plants. Share your experience and stay connected with the #EarthsAlly community on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for access to our latest blog posts, giveaways and exclusive promotions.