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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 –