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In general, plant foods fall into one of two categories: (1) Synthetic Fertilizers and (2) Natural Organic Fertilizers. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages.

SYNTHETIC PLANT FOODS

Synthetic Fertilizers are materials that are manufactured chemically as opposed to found ready made in nature. In general, synthetic fertilizers fall into one of two categories: (1) Water soluble and (2) Controlled release fertilizers.

Water Soluble Plant Fertilizers. Water soluble plant foods completely dissolve in water and release their nutrients immediately thereafter. They are ideal when you need a quick solution to a problem and for nursery growers who have a drip irrigation system. The trade-off for rapid response is that the feeding is generally short lived, lasting approximately a few weeks. Frequent applications are required as well as mixing with water. Leaching can also be a problem, especially in sandy soils or under high moisture conditions. And burn (dehydration) potential is higher due to solubility and high salt index. Examples of water solubles include: urea, ammonium sulfate and ammonium phosphate.

Controlled Release Fertilizers contain a plant nutrient in a form that delays its availability for plant uptake significantly longer than a water soluble fertilizer. The delay occurs by one of two mechanisms: (1) Coating a water soluble source such as urea with molten sulfur, wax, or plastic. The thicker the coating, the slower the release. Examples include sulfur coated or polymer coated urea. (2) Chemically combining materials to form insoluble polymers, which release nutrients more slowly as the length and number of polymers increases. Ureaform is an example of this. While both types give plants a long lasting feeding, neither contains all of the advantages that you will find with natural organics.

NATURAL ORGANIC FERTILIZERS

Although no universal definition exists for the term “natural organic”, our guiding definition is any material derived from plant, animal or mineral origin that contains one or more essential nutrients for plant growth. While it is true that all fertilizers ultimately feed nutrients to plants in the chemical form, it is the process by which they are delivered that makes natural organic plant foods superior to others.

“Feed the soil that feeds the plants”. Plant growth is dependent on the health and vitality of the soil surrounding it. The process by which natural organic fertilizer  deliver their nutrients enhances the fertility and structure of the soil. Natural organic fertilizers are digested by soil microorganisms, which then release the nutrients in a form available to plants. This process produces humus, a spongy material that improves soil structure. When you improve soil structure, the soil is better able to hold the proper balance of water, air and nutrients until they are required by plants. Plants respond by developing larger root systems. Larger roots support more vigorous top growth and make plants less susceptible to drought. And by stimulating a healthy population of beneficial microorganisms in the soil, plants become more resistant to insects and diseases.

Slow, steady feeding, as the plants require it. The nutrients in natural organic fertilizers are not in a readily available form for plants to use until they are digested by beneficial microorganisms in the soil. This process is slow and largely dependent upon three factors: the microbial population in the soil, moisture, and soil temperature. A healthy population of microbes in the soil is necessary for the digestion process. Moisture is required to sustain microbial life as well as to keep nutrients flowing into the plants root zone. And soil temperature is critical because as it rises, plants require nutrients more rapidly. Fortunately, microbial activity mimics these requirements and also increases as soil temperature rises, so that plants can be fed the needed nutrients, as they require them.

The safest choice for your plants and the environment. Unlike synthetic plant foods, natural organic fertilizers have an extremely low salt index , which means there is little to no risk of burning (dehydrating) plants in periods of extreme drought or when over-applying. Natural organic plant foods are generally very resistant to leaching out of the soil, so their nutrients stay in the root zone until the plants need them. And since most natural organic ingredients are byproducts from commercial farms and meat processing plants, the utilization of them for feeding plants is really a system of recycling much like composting.

Soil and plants receive much more than just the primary nutrients. With natural organic fertilizers, they receive organic matter containing millions of beneficial microbes (bacteria, fungi and protozoa) that help improve soil structure for better moisture retention, nutrient retention, aeration and drainage. They receive secondary and trace nutrients as well as vitamins, minerals, and plant growth hormones that promote plant growth and improve resistance to insects, diseases and climate extremes.

Examples of natural organic ingredients include: bone meal, blood meal, kelp meal and greensand. It is for all of the above reasons that we have always used natural organics as the primary source of nutrition in our Tone line of products. It has established the Espoma Tones as the finest, safest, and most reliable plant foods available.

What is a native plant?
Seems like a simple question, right? It turns out that some things are not so easy to define. Horticulturists, botanists, growers and gardeners don’t always define the word “native” in the same way. Here’s how they differ.

The Strict Definition of Native
Some people believe that only plants found growing naturally in the wild, with no intervention from humans, are truly native to the place they are growing. If you collected seed from these wild plants and grew them in your garden, those seedlings would also be considered native.

However, if you selected one of those seedlings, gave it a name, and propagated it for sale, strict nativists would no longer consider your new named seedling to be native. 

Native Cultivars
Many people who enjoy native plants also consider seedlings and cultivars of these plants to be native. You may have heard the term native cultivar (“nativar” for short) used to describe such plants. A native cultivar is a plant that results when native parent plants are used to create a new cultivar.

In the case of one parent, a plant breeder might select and propagate one plant that has an especially unique trait, like brighter colored flowers, out of a hundred seedlings sown from a native species. This one selected plant would be considered a native cultivar because it is a derivative of the native species.

In the case of multiple parents, a plant breeder might make a “complex cross”, transferring the pollen from more than one native plant onto another in hopes of making seedlings that inherit desirable traits from multiple parent plants. The resulting seedlings would all be considered native cultivars.

Are native plants easy to grow?
There are many myths surrounding native plants. One is that all native plants are easier to grow and longer lived than cultivars. In many cases, this is not true. First, you need to look at where the plant you want to grow is native to. If you live in Wisconsin and that plant is native to the Southeast U.S., it may be quite difficult for you to grow because of the difference in climates. If you want to grow natives, it’s a good idea to check the USDA website to see which types of plants are native to your state.

When plant breeders select cultivars of native plants, one of the characteristics that is commonly sought after is disease resistance. Many native species of Monarda (bee balm), for example, are commonly plagued by powdery mildew in the wild, but named cultivars have been selected for their disease resistance.

Breeders also select for traits like stronger stems that don’t require staking, a longer bloom time, self-cleaning flowers that don’t require deadheading, longevity in the landscape, and greater vigor. All of these things save gardeners time and resources, making many native cultivars easier to grow and maintain.

What’s your gardening goal?
Everyone has a different goal when they plant a garden. Some are looking to recreate a tiny piece of the prairie that once stood where their suburban home now sits. Some want to grow as much of their own organic produce as possible. Some view planting as decorating their garden, patio and porch with welcoming color.

No matter the goal, many gardeners enjoy lower maintenance plants, those that draw in butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators, and those that require less frequent watering. Many native plants offer these desirable attributes. As plant breeders develop new varieties each year, there has become an expansive group of native cultivars to choose from at the garden center. 

Thanks to Proven Winners 

Summer is still going strong, but fall is on the way! Are you planning to continue your harvest into autumn this year? If so, now is the time to start planning (and planting). There are so many interesting crops that thrive in fall weather. See the best vegetables for fall gardening!

Why Plant a Garden for Fall?

Every July, I try to convince my farmers’ market customers that they should be planting their fall gardens, but I don’t have many takers. Most give me the fish eye like I am trying to put something over on them. These are the folks that do a marathon planting session on Memorial Day weekend and then scratch “planting the garden” off their to do list—done for the year! They don’t realize that many crops can be put in the ground before that traditional planting day and others need to be planted later when they can mature in colder weather. A large part of our market day is spent educating people about the possibilities.

  • Planting fall crops lets you continue growing fresh, healthy food at home—plus, there is nothing like home-grown crisp, leafy lettuce.
  • The plants produce better and the work is spread out over several weeks.
  • Cooler temperatures means less watering and less sweating for you!
  • Warm soil is key to good germination, so by the time you’re planting in July and August, the soil will be warmed and your seedlings will grow like mad.

What Vegetables Can Be Planted for a Fall Harvest?

Here in New Hampshire, I’m rather limited by our short growing season. However, if you live somewhere warmer, you can likely get away with planting a lot more for a fall harvest!

  • After pulling our garlic in mid-summer, we had seedlings of lettuce, bok choy, chinese cabbage, and kale ready and waiting to plug into the empty beds.
  • Spinach and Swiss chard can also be started from seed during summer, as both will last into colder fall weather. 
  • Ever the optimist, I planted more bush beans, summer squash, and cucumbers, knowing that I will have to cover them when cold weather threatens.
  • If you live in a warmer part of the country, you may be able to plant another round of summer crops such as tomatoes and peppers.

What Makes For a Good Fall Crop?

Generally, vegetables that mature quickly and that are frost tolerant make for the best fall crops.

  • Vegetables that can survive light frosts (in the 30 to 32˚F range) include beets, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, celery, collards, green onions, potatoes, Bibb and leaf lettuce, mustard, parsnips, radishes, spinach, and Swiss chard. The flavor of some of these, such as collards and parsnips, is, in fact, much improved by exposure to a spell of below-freezing temperature.
  • Even hardier vegetables that can survive temperatures as low as 20˚F include cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, kale, leeks, rutabagas and turnips. Upon thawing out, these hardy vegetables will continue to grow between freezes!

When to Plant What

It’s important to plant at the right time for your location. Here’s how to get a general idea of when to plant:

  1. See your local frost date calculator
  2. Then take the days to maturity for the crop you plan to grow (usually listed on the seed packets) and count back this number of days from the frost date. (If the days to maturity listed is from transplant, not seeding, add another 4 weeks to this figure.)
  3. Because plants grow more slowly in the shorter, cooler days of fall, add a ″fall factor″ of another week or two to the maturity time.
  4. Then add in the length of the expected harvest period and you’ve arrived at your planting date. Of course, you can plant earlier than this date, but to ensure a good crop, consider this to be the “last planting date.”

Generally speaking, here’s the rule of thumb:

  • 10-12 weeks before first frost: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, celery.
  • 8-10 weeks before first frost: Arugula, Chinese cabbage, collards, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, spinach, Swiss chart, turnips
  • 6-8 weeks before first frost: Beets, radishes

If you plan to offer your plants protection (such as cold frames or row covers), you can plant 2 to 3 weeks later and still expect to get a good harvest!

Fall Gardening Care Tips

  • Mulch your beets, carrots, turnips, and parsnips before the ground freezes hard. Even if the vegetable tops wilt, the roots will survive with mulching and you can often harvest through the winter!
  • With fast-maturing crops such as lettuce and hardy greens, stagger small plantings every few weeks to keep the harvest spread out or you’ll get all your lettuce at one time. 
  • Of course, you’ll need to follow gardening principles you’d use in the summer. Provide good soil (with organic matter), fertilize with plant food if you wish, and water consistently.

Our thanks to Farmer’s Almanac

As your lawn endures the trials of Job this summer-drought, pestilence and disease-you must hold to the hope that there is a lush, green turf on the other side of this summer. Has your spring turf been reduced to an arid, brown toasty color? If not, you might want to submit your water bills for federal disaster relief. Dry, scorching heat-an absence of consistent rainfall-this is the perfect scenario for crabgrass to flourish and bluegrass to perish. What’s needed, of course, is a good, deep penetrating rain. At the time this newsletter was going to press we are down about 8+ inches in the rainfall table.

The large Japanese beetle population will mean a heavier than normal population of grubs. Knowledge is of course your best defense. Here are a couple of suggestion for coaxing your sod through the trials of summer…

Feeding: Your lawn’s nitrogen needs are at their highest in late summer. Avoid fertilizing when temps are about 85 degrees. Supplement this late summer feed (high in nitrogen) with a fall fertilizer that will concentrate on developing the root system. This will build a turf more resistant to drought and pest damage. This might be your most beneficial feeding. You can supply a fall food right into November in most areas.

Pest Control: In late summer and early fall the grub cycle begins as the larvae pupate into the common white lawn grub. At this stage of their development, these grubs are the most vulnerable. Treat infested areas with either a liquid dose or a granular treatment.

Watering: A good rule of thumb is to water in the early morning hours. Try to provide at least 1 to 1.5 inches of water through rainfall or irrigation. A deep watering once a week is more beneficial than a series of shallow watering.

Seeding: To repair damage caused by drought, pests and disease, plan on a fall seeding program. Match the grass seed varieties to the conditions. For example, if you have a rocky, sandy soil that doesn’t hold moisture well, use a drought resistant lawn mixture featuring turf-type tall fescues (TTTF). Unlike ryegrass that spread by shallow rhizomes. TTTF have long individual tap roots. They are tough, durable and make a long wearing attractive turf. Heavy clay soils might do better with a bluegrass and ryegrass mixture. Fall is an optimum time for seeding. The warm weather speeds germination while the autumn night temps start to drop. Remember to keep the seed moist until established. That might require 2-3 mistings during our “Indian Summers”. The attention you pay to your lawn now will pay big dividends in the fall, the following spring and for years to come.

There are tricks to keeping that midsummer gardening going full tilt! By now, you should have harvested some goodies. But to keep your vegetable plants healthy, finish up that harvest strong, and start new plantings for fall, here is a basic “to do” list. 

Growing a garden isn’t just about getting plants started—it also involves tending to your plants and giving them the TLC that they need to be successful and get across that finish line! Here are my tips on summer plant care . . .

Don’t Let Weeds Take Over

Weeding and thinning should be at the top of your to-do list. Plants can’t grow well if they are being crowded out, and weeds are especially tough competitors.

  • Take a half hour early each morning while it is still cool outside to pull any weeds that have invaded your garden.
  • You can attack it methodically row by row, or go for the big guys first and work your way down to the smaller offenders.
  • If you keep at it, eventually there will be few or no weeds left, at which point you can easily keep up with newly emerging ones.

Thin Out Plantings

If you started some early or mid-summer plantings of beets or carrots, it’s time to give them room to form their fat roots.

  • I usually try for a spacing of two finger-widths between plants.
  • Eat any tiny carrots that have formed. They are exceptionally sweet and good in a salad, and the beet greens are delicious and full of nutrients.

Fertilize for a Boost!

Plants, like people, need to not only drink water but also eat for nourishment! By now, their soil may be getting depleted of nutrients.

Give plants a mid-season feeding by side-dressing with compost or aged manure, or give them a drink of liquid fish emulsion fertilizer or manure tea when you water.

Watering is Critical

Watering is critical in mid- and late summer, when the heat is on high. Put out a rain gauge to determine just how much water you are getting from those thunderstorms: one to two inches a week is optimum. If you are not getting that much in rainfall, it is time to do some deep watering yourself.

  • Dig down about 6 inches and see how dry the soil is at that level. This is where most of your plants roots are and this is where the water needs to be.
  • Sprinkling the leaves is not going to be very beneficial. Soaker hoses are best; otherwise you will have to spend some time watering around each plant.
  • Water gently to allow the water to soak in and not run off.
  • To reduce the amount you need to water, consider mulching around your plants, which will help to keep down the weeds and keep soil moisture from evaporating too quickly. Straw, grass clippings, pine needles, shredded leaves, and even newspaper will help to suppress weeds.

Plant New Vegetables 

Planting a new round of crops will keep your garden productive into fall. Remove any spring crops that have gone to that big farm in the sky and plant some new vegetables in that space.

  • Pay close attention to the first fall frost date for your area if you want to replant with tender, warm-weather crops like beans or cucumbers.
  • Otherwise, stick to frost-hardy fall crops such as broccoli, kale, bok choy, carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, spinach, and peas.
  • Lettuce doesn’t like to germinate in hot soil, so start the seeds inside where it is cooler and then transplant them outside under the shade of taller plants to keep the lettuce from bolting.

Scout for Pests

Scouting for insect pests (the unwanted visitors) frequently will help you keep ahead of any population explosions of garden destroyers.

  • Be sure to check the undersides of the leaves, where most pests like to hide and lay their eggs.
  • Many bugs like to sleep in, so you can often catch them in the morning when they are still groggy.
  • Knock them into a bucket of soapy water to their sudsy demise.
  • Staking will help keep fruits up off the ground, making them less susceptible to soil-borne diseases and easier to pick.

Harvest Often!

Harvesting often will keep your plants flowering and producing more fruit.

  • Beans especially benefit from frequent picking.
  • Harvest tomatoes as they ripen for the best flavor.
  • Pick zucchini and cucumbers while they are still small to avoid dealing with huge seedy fruits.

What About Flowers and Ornamentals?

While you’re at it, don’t forget that ornamentals need some attention, too.

  • Add deadheading, weeding, staking tall floppy plants, deep watering, fertilizing, and renewing mulch in the flower beds to your to-do list. 
  • Mowing and edging around garden beds will keep the yard looking spiffy.
  • Any plants growing in containers need special care since they dry out quickly in hot weather. Frequent watering washes nutrients out of the soil so use a liquid fertilizer when you water or scratch in a slow-release fertilizer to keep your container plants growing and hanging baskets blooming.

 

Special thanks to the Farmer’s Almanac

 

Hosta is virtually carefree and comes back reliably year after year. Hardy in USDA zones 3-9, this tough plant performs well in most landscapes, even for beginning gardeners.

Foliage occurs in shades of green, blue, white, gold, chartreuse and variegated patterns. Pointed leaves are heart-shaped or elongated, with smooth, pleated or wavy texture that creates depth in the landscape. Flower scapes appear in summer, bearing clusters of trumpet-shaped blooms in hues of white, pink, lavender or purple, with some varieties being fragrant.

These versatile plants are widely useful when massed in a border or along a slope, as a foundation planting or stand-alone accent, in containers, or when combined with other woodland plants. With hundreds of varieties to choose from, you’re sure to find a hosta that suits your personal taste and style.

PLANTING & CARING FOR HOSTA
How to plant: Follow these steps to plant hosta in spring or fall, leaving enough space between plants to accommodate their mature width.

  • Loosen the soil in the planting area to a depth slightly deeper and twice as wide as the root ball.
  • Mix in compost or other rich organic matter.
  • Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root ball.
  • Remove the plant from the nursery pot and tease out roots if potbound.
  • Set the plant in the hole with the top of the root ball level with the surrounding soil.
  • Fill in the hole with soil and tamp down gently to remove air pockets. Water well.
  • Mulch with a layer of compost or shredded bark to retain moisture and suppress weeds.

Soil: Hosta prefers rich, well-draining soil.

For containers: Use a high-quality all-purpose potting mix. Make sure containers have drainage holes in the bottom. The container should be 4-6 inches wider and slightly deeper than the root ball.

Watering: Keep soil evenly moist, but not soggy, and don’t allow plants to completely dry out.

Fertilizing: In early spring, apply a granular all-purpose time-release fertilizer according to package instructions.

Pruning: Trim off dead or damaged foliage and spent flower stalks as needed. Allow plants to die back completely in the fall and clean up leaf debris.

Butterfly gardens provide food and sanctuary for many vibrant species of Lepidoptera. This type of garden can be planted in even the busiest urban location. Offering even a small habitat can help support the butterfly population in your area. A container garden consisting of a few carefully selected bushes and flowering plants may be all it takes to attract these winged visitors to your home. If you have more space available, you can plan a butterfly garden complete with a walking path and outdoor seating for maximum enjoyment.

Selecting & Caring For Host Plants

Indigenous plants are often the best choice for butterfly gardens. These shrubs and flowers are simple to grow since they are already compatible with the soil type, texture, and pH in your area. This means you will only have to worry about ensuring adequate sunlight, water, and drainage for your plants. You may also consider adding compost once a year to replace any lost nutrients. Don’t use pesticides.

Visit your neighborhood garden center for advice on nectar producing plants that do well in your zone. Bear in mind that some are perennials in the Southern U.S. but must be replanted each year in colder parts of the continent. Here are some frequently suggested plant/flower species (both native and imported) that grow well in many different zones:

Aster

Bee Balm

Burning Bush

Butterfly Bush

Butterfly Weed

Chrysanthemum

Clover

Columbine

Dandelion

Goldenrod

Honeysuckle

Joe-Pye Weed

Marigold

Purple Coneflower

Shasta Daisy

Shrubby Cinquefoil

Verbena

Wild Violet

Yarrow

Zinnia

Some of these plants, such as clover, double as food plants for caterpillars. You can also deliberately grow hosts for specific butterfly larvae. Use milkweed to supply a breeding ground for monarchs. Dill, parsley, and other members of the carrot family will attract female swallowtails that are ready to lay their eggs. Watching caterpillars grow and change is one of the most interesting experiences provided by a home butterfly garden.

Common Butterfly Species

Expect to see both local and migrating species of butterflies pass through your garden depending on the time of year and your location. The larger and more varied your plant selection is, the greater number and variety of Lepidoptera you will see. However, some plants (like the aptly named butterfly bush) will attract many different types of butterflies at one time. Here are some of the species that frequent North American butterfly gardens:

Alfalfas

Buckeyes

Cabbage Whites

Fritillaries

Goatweeds

Hackberries

Hairstreaks

Monarchs

Morning Cloak

Nymphs

Painted Ladies

Pearl Crescents

Question Marks

Red Admirals

Skippers

Snout Noses

Sulphurs

Swallowtails

Tawny Emperors

Viceroys

Special Considerations

This type of garden will attract much more than just butterflies. Hummingbirds are welcome visitors as well. Bees and wasps will also come to drink from your ready supply of nectar. When this happens, move slowly and remain calm. These insects are foraging far away from their home nests and unlikely to sting humans. They help pollinate flowers and are a natural feature of all butterfly gardens.