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What should I plant? How much should I plant? And where should I plant it? If you’re new to gardening—and even if you’re not—starting your garden can, at times, feel overwhelming. The good news? You don’t have to be a master gardener to create a garden plan that yields a healthy harvest. Here are a few tips to help you kick-start your home garden.

Give It Some Thought

As it does with most endeavors, it pays to think through your garden project before you order your seeds or shop for plants in the Spring. Which vegetable varieties really pique your interest? How much land can you commit to a garden? (Be sure to allow adequate space between rows!) How much time do you have to devote to weeding, mulching, watering, and other garden maintenance? Which plant hardiness zone do you call home, and which plants thrive in that region over the course of the year? Answering these questions will help you develop a garden plan that suits your land and lifestyle.

Whether or not you are new to gardening, prioritize the crops that excite (or perhaps intrigue) you. And if you had a garden last year, make sure to rotate your crops this year, moving the location of each plant family to increase soil fertility and crop yield. Consider saving seeds from your garden, too. With just a few extra considerations, you can also plan to save seeds from your garden.

Choose A Good Location

Most vegetables grow best when they get at least six hours of sun a day, so be sure to plant your garden in a sunlight-rich location. If that sunny spot is close to a convenient water source for irrigation, that’s even better. Sowing your seeds or planting your transplants near a water source will make it easier to keep your soil at the optimal moisture level..

Start Small

Bigger doesn’t always mean better when it comes to basic garden planning. If you’re new to gardening, or if you have limited time to devote to your garden, commit to a plot size that won’t overwhelm you and concentrate on a selection of vegetables you like to eat that are also easy to grow. Radishes, lettuce, spinach, and carrots are just a few of the crops that don’t take a lot of time or experience to produce a harvest.

Pay Attention To Your Soil

There’s no way to overemphasize the importance of good soil: your garden will grow best in nutrient-rich, well-drained, weeded, and loosened (non-compacted) soil. Before you plant each spring, take the time to enrich your soil with quality compost or other organic matter if you want to boost your soil’s fertility and your garden’s production. Mulch (like leaves, straw, and hay) also adds valuable nutrients to the soil and will cut down significantly on your need to weed.

Grow What You Love

What’s the point of growing vegetables you don’t like to eat? Let your palate dictate your choices when choosing your crops, but try to stay open to planting at least a couple new vegetables each year to keep your home garden a bit more exciting. The last thing you want is to have your garden feel like a chore rather than a source of inspiration and relaxation.

Keep Your Tools Simple

Truth is, you don’t need to invest a lot in tools for weeding and breaking up soil or otherwise preparing your soil for seeds or transplants.

Properly caring for your tools will ensure that you enjoy gardening with them for many seasons to come.

5 can-do tool-care tips

  1. Easiest of all, maybe: Simply rinse soil off digging tools after each use, by making a pit stop at the garden hose. Dry thoroughly. A stiff brush hanging by the tap would make for even more thorough cleaning.
  2. It’s often recommended to place a bucket of sand moistened with linseed oil inside the garage, and quickly dip tools into the abrasive, lubricating mix a few times after using them.
  3. Linseed oil is likewise good for wood handles. Hang a rag near the sand bucket to give a quick wipe to wooden tool handles, too. Allow the rag to dry in the open between uses, and when disposing, dry thoroughly first or soak with water before placing in a closed metal can.
  4. Most important of all: Get the tools indoors, and hang them up! Don’t lean them against the garage wall, touching the floor—even if it’s paved. Again, moisture is the enemy here.
  5. Good-quality pruning shears should last a long time—unless you let sap and other residues build up on the blades. As if they were the silverware after supper, wash them. Yes! A quick stop at the sink, with soap and a nail brush or scrubby pad, is ideal. Dry well, and replenish lubrication on the pivot point only. A drop or two of a penetrating product such as 3-in-One oil is better than a lightweight spray lube, which evaporates quicker. Use mineral spirits to remove residues, but preferably prevent them in the future with the quick-wash routine. Invest in a sharpening device meant for shears–a whetstone, or a carbide sharpener, such as you might use for knives or scissors–to complete the care regimen, giving the blades an occasional pass.

Family traditions are a big part of the holiday season. Many families have created landscapes that are planted with evergreens from Christmas past. Memories grow on with Spruce, Fir and Pines that were once a part of the holiday festivities. Properly planned, a live tree can be decorated, enjoyed and eventually planted in the space of three to four weeks surrounding Christmas day.

If you plan to buy one of these live trees, decide in time to take the proper steps to insure a successful transplant. First, select the spot where the tree will be planted and dig the hole early in December before the ground freezes. Dig a hole that is suitable in size to the root that you are planning on planting. Remember, measure twice and cut once! You might want to store your backfill in a wheelbarrow that is sheltered in the garage until you need it. This will insure that the soil in workable and not reduced to a frozen mound of un-movable earth. Next, fill in the hole with leaves and cover it with a tarp until you plan to plant.

Plan on keeping your tree indoors no more than 7-10 days. This way it will only need to put up with dry warm air for a short time. Keep the root ball moist at all times. Many use wooden barrels, plastic or galvanized tubs in order to water properly and yet protect the floor.

After Christmas, plan on acclimating your tree to the outdoors for about two-three days. This can be done in a screened porch or garage. Afterwards, carry your tree to its prepared site. Remove the tarp, scoop out the leaves and place the root ball in the hole. Add the soil from your stored wheelbarrow to fill the hole completely-firm it well with your feet. Give the tree several buckets of water at this time. Mulch the tree in well with the leaves or other compost or bark mulch.

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) remain one of the most popular holiday flowers. Hybridizers have expanded the range of colors from the familiar red to pastel yellow and vibrant bi-colors. One of the most common questions after Christmas is “How can I care for my poinsettia so that it will bloom again next Christmas?”. While this can be done, it’s a very fussy, exacting process and since the plants are not that expensive, you might just choose to start fresh next year.

For those of you who are undaunted, the process for saving your poinsettia and getting it to rebloom begins with the care you give it the first season.

When You First Bring Your Poinsettia Home

Light – Place it near a sunny window. South, east or west facing windows are preferable to a north facing window. Poinsettias are tropicals and will appreciate as much direct sunlight as you can provide.

Heat – To keep the poinsettia in bloom as long as possible, maintain a temperature of 65 – 75 degrees F. during the day. Dropping the temperature to about 60 degrees F. at night will not hurt the plant. However, cold drafts or allowing the leaves to touch a cold window ca injure the leaves and cause premature leaf drop. If you’ve ever see a gangly poinsettia in bloom, with only a couple of sad looking leaves hanging on, it was probably exposed to temperatures that were too cool or extreme shifts in temperature.

Water – Water the plant whenever the surface feels dry to the touch. Water until it drains out the bottom, but don’t let the plant sit in water. Wilting is another common cause of leaf drop. A wilted plant can be revived and salvaged, but it will take another season to improve its appearance.

Humidity – Lack of humidity during dry seasons, in particular winter, is an ongoing houseplant problem. If your home tends to be dry and your poinsettia is in direct light, you will find yourself watering frequently, possibly every day.

Birds bring many benefits to our lives. They fill our gardens with song, bring a spark of color and interest to our winter landscapes, and also eat many garden pests. Attracting birds to your landscape is fun. Their needs are easy to meet and just about everyone can achieve success by providing them with three basics things: shelter, water, and food.

If you have evergreen trees or shrubs, or maybe a tall canopy of shade trees, then you have the element of shelter. Birds need protection during feeding and bathing from cats and other predators. Try to position feeders and birdbaths close enough to natural shelter so that birds can perch safely between trips to the feeder, but yet far enough away so that they don’t make an easy target for the neighbor’s cat.

Water can be the most alluring aspect of your landscape. The sound of splashing water is relaxing and will also attract colorful birds. Birdbaths and small fountains are great accents for your yard and will provide your new guests with one of their most basic requirements. A shallow water source is all they need.

Consider placing your bird feeder adjacent to your water source. Once you have attracted birds to your yard, you don’t want to play hide-and-seek with the food source. Feeders can be hung from tree limbs, mounted on a freestanding pole, or even hung from the shepherd’s hook that held a hanging basket in spring. To stock your feeders, use birdseed mixes high in sunflower seed to attract the greatest variety of birds. Cardinals love black oil and striped sunflower as well as safflower seed. Suet cakes are great for woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches.

Another helpful tip is to scatter some seed on the ground around your feeder. This will attract mourning doves and other ground feeders. It’s easy to create a safe haven for birds in your yard. The enjoyment they bring will last a lifetime. Put out your feeder today!

 

Christmas Cacti are easy to grow. When they bloom, they produce colorful tubular flowers in pink or lilac colors. They bloom a long time indoors and they are low-maintenance houseplants, which makes them popular. We’ll bet someone in your family has a Christmas Cactus!

Despite their name, Christmas cacti are not desert cacti. Their natural habit is one of an epiphyte living in tree branches in the rain forest of Brazil! In other words, they prefer a humid climate, not a dry one, so it’s important to water these cacti. (See more details below.)

Also, note that there are several types of holiday cacti: Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. They bloom closest to the holiday of their name. Christmas cacti have flattened leaves with rounded teeth on the margins as opposed to the Thanksgiving cactus that has pointed teeth. Easter cacti have pointed teeth with fibrous hairs in the leaf joints.

To confuse matters further, most of the Christmas cactus sold are actually Thanksgiving cactus. If you find your Christmas cactus blooming near Thanksgiving, guess what?

PLANTING

  • Christmas cacti grow in most container soils. Make sure the soil drains well and your pots have drainage holes.
  • Plants should be kept in bright, indirect light.
  • A daytime temperature of 70 degrees F and an evening temperature of 60 to 65 degrees F is preferred.
  • In the summer, Christmas cacti can be placed in a shady spot in the garden or in an unheated porch until temperatures get below 50 degrees.
 
  • As soon as the top inch of soil in the container feels dry to the touch, soak the soil until water runs through the pot’s drainage holes; discard water in the tray so the plant doesn’t sit in water. It’s especially important to water well during flowers.
  • From spring through early fall, feed every 2 weeks with a complete houseplant fertilizer. During the fall and winter feed the cactus monthly
  • Once flowers fade, continue to grow the plant as a houseplant.
  • Prune plants in June to encourage branching and more flowers. Simply cut off a few sections of each stem. Of you wish, root the cut-off pieces in moist vermiculite to make more plants.
  • If your cactus is not blooming, it may due to amount of daylight or temperature. Flowers will only form when the temperature is between a cool 50 to 55 degrees F.
  • Nights need to be at least 14 hours long and daylight periods are between 8 to 10 hours for 6 weeks—for six weeks. If you have strong indoor lighting, you may need to cover your cacti at night.
  • If the cacti sheds its buds in a winter, it will bloom the following year.

PESTS/DISEASES

If your Christmas Cacti is exposed to any type of stress, the plant will drop its blossoms.  This could be related to amount of light, or a sudden change in temperature, as discussed in above plant care section. Also, ensure that your soil doesn’t get too dry.

The plant may be susceptible to mealy bugs and, if over-watered, root rot. If you have problems, cut out infected areas and repot in clean soil.

WIT & WISDOM

  • When the buds of a Christmas cactus look as if they’re about to open, make sure you water the plant regularly and keep it cool.
  • Late spring is the best time to propagate cuttings because most cacti emerge from their winter rest and initiate new growth.

Thanks to the Farmer’s Almanac – 

TIPS FOR KEEPING INDOOR PLANTS HAPPY AND HEALTHY

Houseplants can add color, beauty, and character to your living space! Here are a few key tips for keeping houseplants happy and healthy in your home.

LIGHT

When arranging houseplants in your home, consider their lighting needs. Some plants require lots of direct light to thrive, while others prefer lower levels of indirect light.

  • Put plants that can tolerate full sun in south- and west-facing windows, plants that like partial shade in east-facing windows, and low-light plants in north-facing windows.
  • Most flowering plants need to be within three feet of a sunny window.
  • Most plants require 12 to 16 hours of light per day.
  • Rotate plants every once in a while to encourage even growth and prevent legginess.

 

WATER

Believe it or not, more houseplants die from overwatering than from anything else! Knowing the watering requirements of your plants will go a long way in keeping them happy and healthy.

  • Starting in late fall, water houseplants sparingly until daylight hours begin to increase again in the new year.
  • Water plants with room-temperature water. Cold water can be a shock to a houseplant’s roots—like sticking your toes into an ice bath!
  • Use filtered water if your tap water contains high amounts of minerals or chemicals. Fluoride can cause the leaf tips of some houseplants, such as peace lilies, to turn brown.
  • Add a few drops of ammonia to one quart of water used for houseplants; it will improve foliage color and increase growth.
  • Water houseplants in unglazed clay pots more frequently, as the porous clay will absorb and evaporate some of the water.
  • Frequent mistings under the leaves of houseplants will discourage spider mites.
  • If your houseplant leaves are dripping, even when you haven’t watered, it’s trying to rid itself of excess water (a process called “guttation”). This makes a plant vulnerable to disease-causing fungi, so you’ll want to avoid this problem by reducing the amount of water you’re giving the plant, especially in winter months. Also, watch those drips because they contain salts, sugars, and other organics that could stain whatever it is they’re dripping on.

HUMIDITY

Humidity is a tough factor to perfect, as most homes are fairly dry—especially in the winter. Here are some things to consider about humidity:

  • Many of the most common houseplants come from tropical regions, where humidity is naturally high. They will be happiest when the relative humidity is kept at 50 percent or higher.
  • Plants like cacti and succulents can tolerate lower levels of humidity.
  • Group houseplants near each other to form a support group to cope with the low humidity of most winter homes.
  • Set plants on shallow trays of moistened gravel to raise humidity.
  • Occasionally turning on a humidifier near your plants can be effective at combating indoor dryness.

 

FERTILIZER

Most houseplants respond well to feeding, but be sure to follow the instructions included with whichever fertilizer you buy.

  • Too much fertilizer can be detrimental to a plant’s health, so don’t fertilize more than necessary.
  • In winter, feed sparingly or not at all; houseplants will be especially sensitive to overfeeding at this time of year, when most go into dormancy.
  • Come spring, start to feed plants again. This, along with more hours of daylight, will help to kickstart their growing phase. Continue feeding through fall.
  • A balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) works fine for houseplants, though fertilizers with a higher ratio of nitrogen will promote greater foliage growth.
  • For flowering plants, use a fertilizer with more phosphorous.

PESTS

Pests can be a real pain. They usually appear after outdoor plants are brought inside for the winter, or when a new houseplant is brought home.

  • To get rid of bugs in houseplants, push a clove of garlic into the plant’s soil. If the garlic sprouts and grows, just cut it back.
  • Spider mites are apt to thrive in warm, dry houses. Frequent misting under the leaves of houseplants will discourage them. A solution of 1 cup flour, ¼ cup buttermilk, and a gallon of cool water, applied in a mist, is a good organic deterrent.
  • Small flies may occasionally appear around houseplants. These are called fungus gnats and are harmless to plants (and humans) in their adult form, though their larvae can damage young roots. Letting the soil dry out a bit between waterings can discourage fungus gnats from calling your houseplants home.
  • Your houseplants may sprout bugs once brought inside your house because they no longer have outdoor predators.
  • Remove aphids from houseplants with a mixture of equal parts rubbing alcohol and water and add a drop of dishwashing detergent. Apply this to troubled plants with a soft brush.
  • Mealybugs and scale are commonly seen on houseplants. The mixture of rubbing alcohol, water, and dishwashing detergent outlined above works on mealybugs and scale, too. Regular monitoring of your houseplants is key to beating an infestation.

 

WINTERTIME HOUSEPLANT CARE

Even indoors, winter conditions can be tough on plants. Fewer hours of sunlight, drier air, and cooler indoor temperatures can take their toll, so be prepared.

  • In colder regions, houseplants that have been outside for the summer should be brought in at the end of of July. A sudden cold spell will be too much of a shock for them to survive. This is also a good time to take cuttings.
  • It’s also good to bring in plants before you start heating your home. This gives them a chance to adjust. Wash them thoroughly before bringing them in to rid them of any pests.
  • You can dig up your rosemary, basil, tarragon, oregano, marjoram, English thyme,parsley, and chives to grow them inside as houseplants. Keep them in a cool, sunny spot, and allow the soil to dry out before watering. Snip off the leaves as needed in the kitchen, but do not strip them completely.
  • Divide and re-pot any pot-bound plants so they will grow well during spring and summer. Prune judiciously to create a compact, attractive specimen.
  • Provide extra protection to houseplants on windowsills if it is very cold. Place cardboard between the plants and the glass. Be sure the plants don’t touch the windowpanes.
  • As houseplants are growing more slowly in December light, cut down on watering by half until active growth resumes. Hold off on fertilizing as well.
  • If your plants seem a little worse for the wear after winter ends, provide them with more sunlight, fresh air, and frequent bathing.

MORE HOUSEPLANT CARE TIPS

  • Save the water from cooking pasta. Let it cool, then use it to water houseplants. The plants will appreciate the starchy supplement. (If the soil of your houseplants get algae, loosen the dirt in your pots periodically.)
  • Open the doors and windows when temperatures permit to give your house a change of air. This will benefit you and your houseplants.
  • Re-invigorate your houseplants by removing the top ¼ inch of soil and top-dressing with fresh potting soil.
  • If your houseplants’ leaves grow dusty, gently wipe them down with a wet paper towel. Too much dust can clog a plant’s stomata (pores), making it harder for the plant to “breathe.”

Information courtesy: www.almanac.com