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Azalea Flower

The Azalea flower is another one of summer’s most beautiful shrubs. They actually begin to grow in the spring, and continue their growth in the summer months.

Azaleas belong to the Rhododendron family. There are about 25 different species of this shrub. They grow well in a flowerbed surrounded by trees and other shrubs. They sometimes even bloom underneath trees.

Azalea Flower

Azalea Flower

They come in many different types, shapes, sizes, and colors. The choice is up to you on which style, shape, size and color you like best.

I myself love a medium sized shrub with hot pink tubular shaped flowers growing on the leaves. The bright pink colors of the flowers really brighten up my garden and I love it!

If you don’t like hot pink, the flower comes in many other colors as well. Almost any color you can imagine: white, yellow, light pink, orange, lavender, and red.

Even though they are related to the Rhododendron family, they distinguish themselves with oval shaped leaves, and smaller tubular shaped blossoms. They also can be shorter then the Rhododendron bush.

Azalea Flowers

Azalea Flowers

Dwarf sizes grow to only be about two feet tall, while some species can grow to be 20 feet! My Azaleas all seem to grow to be about 4 feet tall.

They truly are a versatile plant that can grow in flowerbeds, on there own, or even in flowerpots. They look beautiful no matter where you choose to plant them.

Azalea care is important so they grow to their best potential, they need to be planted in a spot that is shady. They can have some sun throughout the day, just make sure it is not too much sun. The more shade the better.

They should be planted in moist well-drained soil. They can be victims of root rot, so when planting your bush, do not cover the roots in too much soil. Mulch the plant instead. Dig your hole, put the shrub in, and then cover the roots and the base of the plant with mulch.

Water the plant regularly if in a drought. Fertilize the plant every spring to ensure re-growth is at its best.

Each year check the Azalea flower to see if there are any dead parts that need to be removed. Prune any and all dead parts to keep the bush looking beautiful.

Azalea Flower2019-03-20T16:15:55-04:00

Organic Gardening

Organic gardening has become more popular as consumers become more aware of environmental impacts, and the effects synthetic inputs have on harvested goods, there has been a move towards using less synthetic chemicals and a corresponding increase in organic gardening. Growing organically doesn’t mean leaving plants to fend for themselves to fight off nutrient deficiencies, weeds, diseases and insect pests without any help. Instead it means solving problems without the use of synthetic chemicals and relying on natural, sustainable solutions.

Organic gardening also means not using GMO (genetically modified organisms) seed or plants grown from GMO seed.  The focus on organic gardening is to reduce the amount of synthetic pesticide residues on produce, decrease toxic chemicals introduced into the environment, and foster a more natural, holistic ecosystem.

Organic Gardening Soil Testing

Organic Gardening

Organic Gardening

One of the most important aspects to successful organic gardening is starting with fertile soil that can provide your plants the nutrients needed for growth. Good healthy soil will lead to strong, healthy plants. The best way to determine the quality of the soil is to have it tested; this can be done by a home testing kit or by sending a sample off to the local county extension office.

For a relatively small amount of money, the guesswork on how much fertilizer to apply is minimized. Soil testing results often come with recommendations as well; make sure it’s known the garden is grown organically so results are tailored and contain organic products. Some of the best organic fertilizers are teas made from compost, composted manures from plant eating animals, bone meal, blood meal, fish and/or kelp emulsions, worm excrement or castings, and commercially available organic products.

In the case where soil testing isn’t in the gardening budget, focus initially on the amount of humus in the soil. Humus is the soil’s organic component. It is typically made up of decomposed plant material such as leaves and yard clippings, compost and manure. When these materials are broken down by plants and microorganisms in the soil, there comes a point where nutrients are depleted and the remaining matter is unusable. This leftover material is humus.

With three important functions in the soil, it becomes invaluable for productive gardens: humus acts like a large sponge that can hold up to 90% of its weight in water; it has a negative charge that holds onto many nutrients found in the soil, keeping them available for root absorption; and humus is key for good soil aggregation. Aggregation makes soil loose and “friable”, improving the soil structure and allowing plant roots to penetrate easily with access to nutrients, water and oxygen.

Organic Gardening Tips

Once the soil composition is better understood, organic gardening has some basic tenants to help ensure you are setting your garden up for a successful growing season. Start off by choosing appropriate plants based on the local growing conditions and the specific area of the garden where they will be planted. Most gardens have gradients in the soil quality and amount of light/moisture received each day – determining the garden layout with these factors in mind will encourage plants to thrive and ward off attackers.

Water roots of plants early in the day to minimize evaporation, minimize foliar damage and decrease the likelihood of fungal and bacterial diseases. When it comes to keeping an organic garden weed free the best option is old fashioned, manual labor and using tools used for gardening. Yes, pulling weeds by hand. This is a simple, inexpensive (albeit labor intensive) way to forego chemical applications.

Organic Garden Carrots

Organic Garden Carrots

Organic Gardening Pests

Garden pests are one of the greatest challenges facing organic gardens. In conventional systems it’s easy to go to the local gardening center and buy a chemical to solve the problem. In organic gardening this can be more challenging. To help minimize the incidence of pests in organic gardens, preventative measures are highly encouraged.

First off make sure to diversify the types of plants being grown. Boosting plant biodiversity will circumvent having a large amount of one plant type to entice species specific attackers. Encouraging natural predators such as frogs, toads, lizards, birds, and beneficial insects will also help ward off detrimental visitors. If natural predators are lacking and cannot be enticed into your garden, ladybugs can be purchased easily and can be incredibly beneficial.

If these preventative methods fall short and organic pesticides are needed it’s fairly easy to make inexpensive, all natural, bug-busting organic products using the following ingredients:

  • To treat spider mites mix two tablespoons of Himalayan salt crystals in one gallon of warm water and spray on infested plants.
  • Neem is a powerful, all-natural product used for centuries containing over 50 insect insecticides. Mix ½ ounce of high quality, organic neem oil and ½ teaspoon of mild organic liquid soap to two quarts of warm water. Stir slowly to incorporate; add to a spray bottle and immediately use.
  • To combat an ant problem mix 10 drops of a citrus essential oil with one teaspoon cayenne pepper. Add one cup of warm water, shake well, and then spray on affected areas.
  • Flies, bees and wasps can be treated by sprinkling a few drops of eucalyptus oil around plants that are being swarmed.
  • Onion and garlic spray works well too. Finely mince one medium organic onion and one organic garlic clove. Add these to a quart of water, waiting one hour. Then incorporate one teaspoon of cayenne pepper and one tablespoon of mild liquid soap to the mix. When stored in the refrigerator this organic spray will maintain its potency for a week.
Organic Gardening Tips

Organic Gardening Vegetables

Organic Gardening Benefits

Switching to an organic gardening system from conventional methods will add some extra challenges, and require a little more time and ingenuity on your part. The benefits of organic gardening over conventional methods easily make up for this extra cost and work. With no reliance on synthetic chemicals, the environmental impacts are much lower and there is no risk of synthetic chemical residue on or in harvested crops. Another way to garden organically is with hydroponics which offers many advantages over traditional gardening.

A more natural approach to gardening also increases ecosystem sustainability: no pesticide applications that can wipe out beneficial insects, increased soil organic matter, less risk of surface and/or groundwater pollution, and overall improvement of garden health.

Knowing the harvested product is free of synthetic chemicals, nothing harmful has been added to the soil ecosystem, and the organic methods used are enhancing the soil sustainability for long term benefits certainly outweigh any negatives.

Organic Gardening2019-04-10T17:24:05-04:00

Forsythia

Forsythia is a shrub that you see growing in the spring. They are full of small yellow flowers. The flowers line the stems from bottom to top. Small green leaves also accompany the flowers.

They grow out wide, and tall. They can get to be as tall and wide as 6 to 8 feet. If you decide to prune it don’t do it to much, the flowers will not grow correctly.

Forsythia

Forsythia

Pruning them is something that is not needed often. Instead only prune the bush every few years. Only trim it back about 1/3rd of the way.

These bushes look great planted anywhere. You can use it to pair up with other plants or you can use it as a border in your gardens. I have even seen it used as a stand-alone plant, and it looks spectacular.

The little bell shaped yellow flowers seem to hang delicately off the stems. It’s wild look of the branches splaying everywhere looks like a wild spring day.

If you have begun to grow the plant indoors, and you want to start to grow it outside, simply take the plants out from late winter to early summer and plant them.

If you have bought the plant, space them out about one whole plant apart and plant them in the ground,

They require little to no care at all. In the beginning you just have to make sure to keep the soil moist. You can grow this shrub in sunlight or partially shaded areas.

This is a great plant to have because animals tend to stay away from it. Therefore you can keep them nice and full. No critters biting off flowers are a plus!

At the end of its growing season, cut off all dead stems, but be careful of too much pruning. Remember pruning your plant too much will result in poor flowering the following spring.

If you like the looks of your plant outside, cut a few pieces off and take it indoors. It will look very pretty mixed with some other spring flowers in a vase as a centerpiece on a table.

Whatever you choose to do, you can enjoy them all season long!

Forsythia2019-03-20T16:13:49-04:00

Rose Garden

The rose garden is a tried and true beauty of landscapes, roses are one of the most widely cultivated garden shrubs. Known for their exquisite blooms and intoxicating fragrance the rose symbolizes love and passion throughout all cultures. There are over one hundred rose flower species known, and thousands of resulting varieties. Although they are popular as commercial cut flowers, roses are best known as for their graceful beauty as outdoor ornamental flowers. Planting a rose garden in your yard can bring that stunning beauty to your personal landscape.

Preparing for a Rose Garden

Rose Flower

Rose Flower

When the idea strikes to beautify the garden with roses, its best to take some time and put together a plan instead of haphazardly throwing plants into the ground. This will ensure the best possible results from the time and money spent.

First off, it’s necessary to look closely at the spot where the rose flower garden is going to be planted. Roses prefer sunny locations that receive at least 8-10 hours of full sun daily and spots protected from harsh wind and cold. Morning sun is better than afternoon sun to help burn off the morning dew, drying leaves and reducing conditions favoring fungal growth.

Roses are tolerant of varying soil conditions/textures but will thrive in slightly-acidic (a pH of 6-6.5), well drained soils that are high in organic matter, such as peat moss, compost or decomposed animal manures. If you are unsure of the soil pH, home kits can be purchased to test the soil or for a fee a sample can be sent to a local county extension office for testing.

Types of Roses for a Rose Garden

There are three main classes of garden roses, based upon history, how the roses grow and their breeding: old roses, modern/hybrid roses, and wild roses.

Old Roses: Old Roses are also known as antique or heritage roses, and have been around for almost 150 years without any changes. They flower once per season and are known for their strong fragrance.

Modern/Hybrid Roses: Modern/hybrid roses are the ones people tend to think of when the vision of a rose comes to mind. They were created by taking the best parts of old roses and selectively breeding to establish new varieties that are brighter, have a specific bloom size and fragrance. Modern/hybrid roses are bred to resist disease and flower longer to provide steady color and beauty in landscapes. Hybrid tea roses are by far the most popular rose grown. Known for their long, sturdy stems and stunning blooms, they are the flowers bought in floral shops and supermarkets.

Wild Roses: Wild roses have been growing, uninhibited and unaltered, for thousands of years with little help from mankind. They have brightly colored hips and typically bloom in shades of red, pink and white. Wild roses are very easy to maintain, are very hardy and bloom once per year.

Within the three classes of roses, there are more than a hundred different species available for purchase. These three classes can be described by 4 different forms they can take: climbing, miniature, shrub, and tree roses. Each form has different spatial requirements and function in a garden landscape.

Climbing Roses:  Climbing roses are great for creating barriers within a landscape, or training over privacy screens. They do not climb like a pea plant will climb a trellis but instead grow long canes, or vines, that can be trained to an arbor or trellis creating beautiful walls of flower within a landscape.

Miniature Roses: Miniature roses are perfect for gardeners who have limited space in their garden. They grow to be about 1-3’ tall and have smaller blooms compared to the other forms. They are ideal for container gardens, or indoor gardens, providing the exquisite beauty of roses in a smaller size.

Shrub Roses: Shrub roses are what people typically think of when the idea of roses in a garden or flowerbed comes to mind. They grow upright, or along the ground, but do not need supports to keep them erect. They are great for landscaping and typically grow to be 4-6’ in height. Shrub roses come in a variety of colors and are usually repeat bloomers, bringing a steady stream of colorful beauty to a garden.

Tree Roses: Tree Roses are formed by grafting a shrub rose onto a towering cane. They require special care needing protection in the winter and careful pruning to maintain their unique shape. Tree roses grow wonderfully in containers.

Orange Rose Garden Flower

Orange Rose Garden Flower

Planting a Rose Garden

When planting a rose garden, pick locations that are well drained and give plants plenty of space to grow. Cover the soil with a layer of mulch 2-4” deep to help retain soil moisture and water well twice a week.

Roses are a summer flower so they will survive on little moisture but flourish when water encourages the root system to grow deep into the soil. Plants grown in containers should be watered at least once a day, if not twice if containers sit in a sunny location, to ensure the soil doesn’t dry out causing undue stress on the plants.

In general, roses are heavy feeders, requiring frequent feeding for optimum growth. Nitrogen will promote lush, green, vegetative growth; phosphorus strengthens the root systems and encourages beautiful blooms; potassium encourages vigorous growth and helps roses protect themselves from pest damage, drought and cold. The choice of an organic or inorganic/synthetic fertilizer lies in the hands of the gardener and their growing philosophy.

A well balanced fertilizer containing all of the nutrients needed for growth is necessary to meet all of the plant needs and should be applied when there is 4-6” of new growth on the plants. For granular fertilizers, apply plant food at the recommended rate every 4-6 weeks during the growing season. Liquid fertilizers are meant to be applied more frequently and are delivered at the time of watering. No matter the type, remember fertilizers are essentially salts and need to be watered well into the soil to prevent damage to the to the roses’ roots.

Rose Garden Care

Single Purple Rose Garden Flower

Single Purple Rose Garden Flower

Besides feeding roses the nutrients they need, it is important to prune plants to achieve maximum blooms. The best time to prune most roses is after the first seasonal frost in the spring but before the plant breaks its dormancy. Pruning can be accomplished in a couple of different ways, with the primary goal to keep the center of the plant open to encourage good air circulation and prevent disease.

Basic pruning involves removing dead, diseased and damaged branches. Cuts should be made on a slant to allow water to run off the wound. For most rose bushes prune the plant down to 6 to 8 healthy canes to produce a plant with good shape. This will also help to prevent overcrowding. Most blooms occur on new wood, with reduced blooms on old canes. Where to cut and how much plant to remove will vary depending on the variety and the rose form.

Roses are a beautiful addition to any garden and the numerous varieties available allow the gardener to creatively design a stunning display of colorful blooms. To garner optimal growth and blooms make sure to plant in sunny spots that have good drainage and air circulation. Fertilize roses with a general purpose, balanced fertilizer or a plant food specific to flowering plants. Prune plants to maintain the best shape and encourage healthy, well spaced blooms. And most important, make sure to take the time to enjoy their delicate fragrance and gorgeous appearance!

Rose Garden2018-12-23T14:28:12-05:00

Home Composting

Home composting is one of the best ways to add organic matter to your garden soil. Many people choose to make their own compost instead of buying it. This allows them to know exactly what goes into the product and also helps to cut down on food/green waste from their homes. Very simply put, home composting is the process of heaping green waste (yard clippings, food scraps) into piles and letting it break down into humus after weeks or months.

What is Home Composting

Home Composting

Home Composting

The composting process is amazingly rich in nutrients and helps immensely to improve soil structure and drainage. It is used extensively in gardening, landscaping, and both commercial horticulture and agriculture applications. Adding compost also aids in ecosystem sustainability by reducing erosion, increasing the soil population of beneficial microbes, and lessening synthetic, chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides.

How to Make a Compost Pile

Making your own compost does entail more than throwing yard and table scraps into a heap in the corner of your garden though. It is important to learn how to start composting and understand the composting methods to produce high quality compost for your garden and flowerbeds.

  • Clear a space in your yard/garden exposing bare earth to start your compost pile on. This will allow worm composting to begin. Earthworms and other beneficial organisms will come up out of the soil into the compost pile. These organisms drive the decomposition process.
  • Spread a layer of straw or twigs down on the bare ground. A couple inches worth of material will suffice, and will help to aerate the pile and provide good drainage.
  • Add materials to be broken down in layers, alternating between wet and dry layers. Wet layers consist of food scraps, tea bags, etc. Dry layers can be straw, dried leaves, sawdust pellets, etc.
  • Incorporate a nitrogen source such as manure or grass clippings. Nitrogen is needed for the decomposition process and will help to activate the pile.
  • Water the pile occasionally, or let natural rainfall do its job. The compost pile should be moist but not overly wet.
  • Cover your compost pile with plastic sheeting, wood, or anything you have available. This will keep extra rainfall from making it too wet while also retaining moisture.
  • Every couple of weeks “turn” the pile with a shovel or pitchfork. This adds oxygen to the pile, a key component in the process.
  • Add new materials by mixing them in when you turn the pile instead of layering them.

There are many options available if you want to purchase a compost bin tumbler or a home composting system, but just having a compost pile in your yard will work just as well. It just needs a little extra help from you as you need to turn it periodically.

Compost Bin

Compost Bin

Best Compost

The secret to maintaining a healthy home composting pile is the correct ratio of carbon to nitrogen. Most decomposable materials are carbon or nitrogen-based to varying degrees (for simplicity sake). Carbon based  materials give compost its light, fluffy body and typically consists of items that are more wood based, or fibrous: dried leaves, branches, stems, sawdust, tree bark, corn stalks, wood ash, pine needles, peat moss. Nitrogen or protein-rich material (manures, food scraps, green leaves) provides the raw materials needed for the enzymatic reactions that must occur. A simple rule of thumb is to make sure your compost pile has 2/3 “brown” (i.e. carbon based materials) and 1/3 “green” (nitrogen based) materials. You always want the ratio to skew towards more carbon than more nitrogen. The brown materials tend to add bulk to the pile without adding a lot of weight and help encourage air circulation, allowing oxygen to penetrate.

As the bacteria in the pile work to break the materials down, it will cause the compost pile to heat up and turn some of the moisture into steam. This is not a problem! Just make sure to actively manage the pile. As the temperature rises in the compost pile it will become necessary to add more water and turn the pile more frequently to allow the process to continue.

Materials to Avoid in Home Composting Pile:

  • Raspberry brambles
  • Big branches
  • Pet waste
  • Meat
  • Bones
  • Dairy products
  • Diseased plants
  • Fats or oils
  • Pressure treated wood
  • Black walnut leaves or twigs

When your compost is ready to use it will look, feel and smell like really, really dark soil. Your pile will have shrunk significantly in size to about one-half its original size and none of the original materials will be recognizable. The pile will no longer be generating heat the way it did when the process was active.

Benefits of Composting

Making your own compost is a great way to break down yard and kitchen scraps while creating a product that will greatly enhance the quality of your garden. Compost will add nutrients and beneficial microbes to the soil while increasing the drainage, and enhancing the soil structure.

Home Composting2018-03-16T22:57:16-04:00