Time to Grow More and Work Less

Is It Dead Houseplant Season?

Spider Mite Damage (Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org)

Spider Mite Damage (Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org)

Every winter I get questions about the leaves of houseplants drying out. A good part of that is the low humidity in our homes in winter. Once the windows close and the heat clicks on, the moisture level plummets.

Houseplants need less water during winter. Most actually go semi-dormant, although they remain green. However they still need some water. You don’t want to leave the soil bone dry or run into the problem of the soil pulling away from the sides of the container, allowing all the water to run out the bottom before soaking the soil.

Okay, but I Do Water and They Still Dry Out

Assuming you are watering and your plants are still getting dried out leaves, the problem is usually insect pests. How these little buggers can find a plant that is safely tucked away in your living room has always boggled me. Yet they can. Continue Reading

Self-Fertile Plants Need Love, Too.

Apple-BlossomsEvery year I get several questions from gardeners about why their squash plants aren’t very productive. Usually it’s because they only have one squash plant and squash flowers need to be pollinated multiple times to produce viable fruits. With only one plant, your chances for success are minimized.

But something we don’t often consider is that even with plants that are self-fertile or self-pollinated, you get a much better yield if you have 2 or more plants and often 2 or more different varieties. This is true of tomatoes and peppers and many other vegetables that can self-pollinate. It’s even more apparent when you’re growing tree fruits.

That’s Nice, But Who has Room for an Orchard?

Since fruit trees take up considerable real estate, we don’t all have room for two trees of a particular fruit. Apples, pears and sweet cherries do an abysmal job of fruiting if left on their own. Sour cherries and peaches look like good alternatives. The trees are small and you only need one. But if you have the room, consider planting in pairs, for an even better harvest.

Can’t squeeze in two? You could always plant one of those multi-grafted trees with 3 or more varieties on a single trunk. Or try this trick my former neighbors did with their sweet cherry trees. Cherry-TreesThey planted the young trees side by side and trained them around each other. Then they spread the trunks apart into a “V” and allowed them to grow slightly outward. Each tree has room to expand and gets plenty of sunlight. Plus they are close enough to cross pollinate easily.

Getting a Handle on Garden Chores

PruningThis is such a simple tip, I don’t know why I didn’t hear about it before. I came across it reading one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite authors, Sydney Eddison’s Gardening for a Lifetime. Or should I say I “gleaned” it?

We all have to do lists, although some are just in our heads. Wherever they’re kept, they keep getting longer and more overwhelming. To get a handle on all you have to do, write down as much as you can remember. Then next to each item, write down how long you think it will take you to get it done. Now before you feel daunted, take a look at the nagging little tasks that would only take 15 – 20 minutes to complete.

 Chore Time Done
Side vegetables with compost 30 -40 minutes  X
Check cabbage plants for egg sacks 15 minutes  X
Mulch flower beds 60 minutes  
Collect seeds from poppy pods 10 minutes  X
Divide crowded daylilies 1-2 hours  
Build compost bin 4-6 hours  

Now whenever you have only a few minutes to garden, do one of those tasks instead of just pulling a weed here or a deadhead there. Get an entire task done and you can scratch it off your to do list. Doesn’t that feel good? As your list gets smaller, those big task might still look out of reach.

Chop Them Up

Most big jobs, like building a compost container, can be broken down into smaller tasks:

 Chore Time Done
List materials needed 15 minutes  X
Shop for materials 45 minutes  
Measure and mark boards 30 minutes  
Cut boards 30 – 40 minutes  
Drill holes 20 – 30 minutes  
Assemble 60 minutes  

Yes, it takes a few minutes of pre-thought, but it sure helps get organize your thoughts into a plan of attack.

Winterizing Container Plants

Container-WInterIt’s getting close to the time when vacationing houseplants need to be moved back indoors. That includes tender perennial plants, like rosemary and dwarf fruit trees. It’s best to get them back indoors while the windows are still open, so they can acclimate gradually, long before the drying heat comes on.

But what do you do about those perennials you planted in containers. It seemed like a good idea when you say it in a magazine, but will they survive out there in a pot?

5 Things to Consider, Before You Leave Your Containers Out in the Cold.

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Composting Citrus – Yes, Maybe, Never?

Photo: canoncan / Stock.xchng http://www.freeimages.com/photo/451066

Photo: canoncan / Stock.xchng

I had always tossed my orange and lemon peels into the compost bucket with the rest of my peelings. I never thought twice about it until someone said “Of course, you can’t compost citrus.” Of course? Why not?

Why You Shouldn’t Compost Citrus

I never really got a satisfactory answer to that question. Some said the oils would kill off the worms and beneficial organisms needed for decomposition. After all, citrus oils are often included in pesticides and bug sprays.

Others said it was because the peels themselves decompose so slowly, though I don’t know why that should be a deterrent. And some worried that they would acidify the compost.

Never Mind
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