Garden Blog

Raised bed gardening is a simple technique that can improve the health and productivity of your garden. Raised beds have better soil structure and drainage, allowing the soil to warm up earlier in the season, and giving you a head start on spring.

Stubborn perennial weeds can be less of a problem in raised beds than in other gardens. You may also want to construct a raised bed to bring the soil up to a more comfortable working level. Whether for aesthetics or accessibility, modern gardeners are rediscovering the centuries-old technique of raised bed gardening for their vegetables, flowers and shrubs.

Raised Ground Beds

The simplest form of raised beds are flat-topped mounds, usually six to eight inches high. They require no materials other than additional soil.

Black and white drawing of a raised ground bed

Bring in additional soil to form the beds, or excavate three to four inches of soil from pathways between beds. If you bring in additional soil, be sure that it does not come from an area where soil borne plant pathogens or contaminants like lead and pesticides are present. Whether you dig out your pathways or not, be sure the access areas around the raised beds are at least 24 inches wide.

Decide first on the size of your raised ground bed. If you are able to reach only one side of the bed, the maximum width should be 2½ feet. If you have access from both sides, the bed can be up to five feet wide. Length and shape are entirely up to you.

To make the bed itself, add four to six inches of finished compost, peat moss or well-rotted manure to the existing area. Thoroughly till it into the underlying soil. Tillage will not be a normal practice in the raised bed. Shape the tilled soil into a flat mound about eight inches high, with sides that taper up at a 45-degree angle. Let the soil rest and settle for a week or two before planting.

Avoid stepping on the raised bed, which will compact the soil. Use a hoe to reach weeds in the middle of the bed. Similarly, lean on the hoe to harvest from the center of the garden. Try to keep the sides of the mound intact, so your raised bed does not slump out onto the pathways.

As the season progresses, the soil will settle, but the mound will remain. Once created, raised ground beds need only minor reshaping with a rake at the start of each season. Each season add organic matter to the surface as a mulch during the growing season or after harvest. Earthworms and other soil organisms will bring it down into the soil, so there is no need to till it.

Supported Raised Beds

Edging your raised bed places an important barrier between your garden and the lawn, the biggest source of perennial weeds. The frame, whether wood, stone, brick or plastic, adds a neat, finished look. Some gardeners also leave a four-inch border of bare or mulched soil around the bed to make mowing easier.

Three supported raised garden beds with vegetables and other plants

When deciding on the shape and size for a supported raised bed, keep in mind that some edging materials only allow angular corners. Prepare the soil as before, but place the frame around the bed before raking the soil into shape.

Unlike an unsupported bed, you can make a supported raised bed wider than five feet. Sturdy wooden sides can support a wide plank used as a bridge and moved from one part of the garden to another, so that you would be able to reach the center of the garden without stepping on the soil.

To make a wooden frame, cut pieces of 2″ x 6″ untreated rot resistant lumber like cedar. Railroad ties, unless extremely well weathered, are not a good choice for raised bed. Railroad ties treated with creosote are toxic to plants. Lumber treated with copper, chromium and arsenic (CCA) is also harmful to vegetable crops because some of the arsenic may leach out of the wood and into the plants.

Turn the boards “heartwood in” so that if they warp, they will curve slightly outward at the middle. Secure the corners with decking screws. Remove or add soil as needed to make sure the frame is sitting level. Once the frame is in place, spread the soil even with the top. Now you can plant right to the bed’s edge.  You will have a larger growing space than in a raised ground bed of the same area, since you do not have to maintain the sloping sides.

Containerized Raised Beds

A raised bed with 10″ to 12″ walls offers more protection to plants in high-traffic areas near sidewalks. In paved areas where reflected heat can stress plants, raising a bed to one or two feet can reduce heat. Raised beds with even higher walls maximize physical accessibility and reduce maintenance. For most wheelchair users, 27″ is a comfortable working height, but you can custom-build the beds to any height. Choose the width to match your arm’s reach. 

Black and white drawing of a containerized garden bed and a gardener in a wheelchair

To make a planter 27″ high, place one 2″ x 4″ and three 2″ x 8″ boards horizontally, with 2″ x 4″ boards vertically for reinforcement, especially at the corners. Build the sides first, again turning the boards “heartwood in.” Use decking screws to attach the vertical reinforcing boards and to join the corners. You can make a sitting ledge by attaching a 1″ x 4″ board flat on top of the frame, extending it over the sides.

Fill the planter with a mixture of soil and organic matter, and add two to four inches more each year as the soil settles and ages. Remember that containers, even large ones, need extra watering.

Thanks to University of Minnesota Extension Service

 

Seeds that are very large or fast growing are commonly sown directly outdoors where they are to grow. Your seed packets give this information for each type.

Watch the Weather for the Best Time to Sow Seeds

The key to direct sowing is to pick the right weather. Working back from your average last frost date, using the seasonal benchmarks below, will tell you approximately when you’ll need to sow each type of seed. Watch the weather reports and plant promptly when proper conditions exist.

Seasonal Benchmarks

Early Spring: Soil temperature is cool, but past the last hard freeze or heavy frost. May still have light frost.

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Late Spring: Soil has begun to warm, and danger of frost is past.

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Early Summer: Soil temperature and night temperatures have warmed.

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Late Summer: Soil and night temperatures have begun to cool, but still before first frost.

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Fall: Soil temperature has cooled and light frosts occur, but before first hard freeze or heavy frost. Ground is not frozen.

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Winter: Soil temperature is very cold or soil is actually frozen. Hard freezes and heavy frosts; soil may freeze.

Seed Bed Preparation

Prepare the seed bed by turning the soil over to a depth of 6-8 inches with a spade or spading fork. (Be sure to call 811 to avoid damaging underground facilities.) Break up clumps with a rake (a rototiller does this job well mechanically). Rake the surface as level as you can with a steel-tined garden rake. Shape and smooth your beds so there are no large clods or dips on the planting surface, which should be level. Firm down the surface before planting. AVOID WALKING ON RAISED BEDS, as this results in over-compaction of the soil and hampers root development. Don’t plow when soil is too wet. If soil does not crumble after squeezing, it is too wet.

Sowing Seeds Outdoors

See your packet for detailed sowing instructions, which vary with each type of seed. Make a furrow to the depth indicated on your seed packet. After sowing, fill in the furrow and firm down. EXCEPTION: Some smaller seeds such as lettuce prefer light to germinate and should barely be covered. This is noted on your seed packet.

Care After Sowing

Until seeds have sprouted, keep the seed bed moist, never allowing it to dry out. Water with a fine-spray hose nozzle or watering can which will provide a fine misty spray and not wash away the soil. Water often enough (usually about once a day) so that the soil surface never dries out, but remains constantly moist. Covering the bed with Park’s Plant Protector helps in warming the soil and conserving moisture.

In spring, when weather is favorable, keeping soil moist is easily done; but in summer, the beds need to be shaded or mulched to slow evaporation.

As the seeds germinate, the seedlings may grow too close together. It is important that you thin them, according to the instructions on the seed packet. Do not be softhearted when it comes to thinning . . . too many plants too close together produce the same effect as a serious weed infestation.

Crops vary considerably in their requirements for nutrients and care. Mulching will save time and effort, conserve moisture, keep soil cooler, and keep down weeds.

Sowing Perennials and Annuals Outdoors

Many types of flowers are sown outdoors in fall or spring, when changing weather encourages germination.
In the North, sow from early spring through summer. Allow at least 4 months from sowing till first killing frost, so plants will have time to grow big enough to endure winter weather.

Garden Care after Sowing

After your seedlings are up and established and your transplants have had a week or two to root in, you’ll receive your greatest reward from gardening the time of bloom and harvest that you’ve been looking forward to. Here’s what you should do to make your garden flourish during this time.

How Much Water Do Your Direct Sow Seeds Need?

The best source of water for your garden is rain; as long as rain keeps your soil moist beneath its mulch, no irrigation is needed. An actively growing garden requires at least 1 inch of rain per week; if such is lacking, or you see your plants wilt during the warmer part of the day, you probably need to irrigate. During the first 3 weeks after setting out, check soil moisture weekly. If the surface is dry beneath the mulch, dig down 6 inches with a trowel. If the soil is still dry at that depth, water your bed. Later in the season, after roots have reached deep into the soil, you need to water only if signs of wilting appear.

Water deeply but not too frequently. Soak the garden for up to 4 hours at a time, letting water soak deep, then let upper soil layers dry out before watering again. This promotes deep root growth, more lasting beauty and better harvest from your plants, and helps retard weed growth.

Several irrigation methods are effective. Ground watering, with trickle tubes or a carefully placed hose, soaks deep and avoids wetting foliage or flowers (which often encourages disease), but these devices are sometimes hard to set up or move. Impulse jet sprinklers lay down a lot of water fast and are easy to move around, but can beat small or tender plants down. A fine spray sprinkler of the oscillating or whirling type is both gentle and easy to move, but slower.

Feeding Your Plants

Generally, yellowish (not brown or wilted) leaves and slow growth mean more nutrients are needed. Stop by the garden center with any questions. We’re here to help!

Article courtesy of Park Seeds

 

Pansies are the colorful flowers with “faces.” A cool-weather favorite, pansies are great for both spring and fall gardens! Here’s how to plant pansies as well as keep them growing and blooming.

About Pansies

Pansies have heart-shaped, overlapping petals and one of the widest ranges of bright, pretty colors and patterns.

Good for containers, borders, and as ground cover, they are a go-to flower for reliable color almost year-round in some places. Pansies look pretty on their own in a monochrome scheme or in mixed colors; they also look pretty when planted with other cool-season flowers such as violas, primroses, trailing lobelia, and sweet alyssum.

Are Pansies Annual or Perennial Flowers? 

The pansy may be treated as either an annual or a perennial, depending on your climate. However, most gardeners treat this plant as an annual because it prefers cool weather and gets too leggy in the heat of summer. There hasn’t been much success in producing heat-tolerant pansies that can adequately survive hot weather.

Pansies are surprisingly hearty in cold weather, though. They’ll survive a frost, bouncing back from even single digit temperatures. If the blooms wither in the cold, the plants will often stay alive to bloom again, which makes them a great flowering plant for fall and early winter color.

When to Plant Pansies

  • Pansies can be planted in the early spring or in the fall. 
  • Pansies can be finicky to start from seed; it’s a lot easier to buy established plants from a local nursery. Plus, you’ll get blooms a lot sooner.
  • But if you want to start from seed, start pansy seeds indoors in late winter 8 to 10 weeks before the last spring frost for early spring and summer flowering. Or, start seeds in late summer for fall and winter flowering. Pansy seeds may be slow to germinate (typically emerging in anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks, depending on soil temperature).
  • Set pansy plants in the ground when it becomes workable in the spring. They grow best when soil temperatures are between 45°F and 65°F (7°C and 18°C).
  • Pansies can tolerate a light frost just after planting, but try to hold off on putting them in the ground if temperatures are still regularly reaching well below freezing.

Where to Plant Pansies

  • Plant in moist, humus-rich, well-drained soil. See our articles on soil amendments and preparing soil for planting for more information. 
  • Pansies like full or partial sun, but need cooler temperatures to thrive. The ideal planting site will get morning sun but avoid the heat of the late afternoon.
  • Space the plants about 7 to 12 inches apart. They will spread about 9 to 12 inches and grow to be about 6 to 9 inches tall.

Pansies in Pots

  • Pansies are great for containers. Just use standard potting soil designed for containers.
  • Plant in portable containers (12 inches or less in diameter) so the plants can be moved to a cooler area when the sun starts to get stronger. Early in the spring season or in the fall, a south-facing patio might be the perfect spot. During the summer, move pansies to the east side of your home for morning sun and afternoon shade.

How to Care for Pansies

  • Remember to water pansies regularly. One of the most common reasons pansies fail is because they are not watered enough, so if your pansies are not doing well, try watering them more.
  • You can use a general, all-purpose fertilizer around your pansies to help them grow. Be wary of using a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer, though, as this can result in more foliage instead of flowers.
  • Remove faded/dead flowers to encourage the plants to produce more blooms and to prolong the blooming season.

Article courtesy of Farmer’s Almanac

Some flower bulbs are meant to be planted once the soil is warmer. Here’s a fantastic chart with those spring-planted bulbs that flower all summer long and often into the fall for amazing color! Think dahlias, lilies, gladiolus, iris, begonia, and more! We list the name, hardiness zone, sun/shade, blooming season, and more!

Common Name Hardiness Zone Soil Sun/Shade Spacing (in) Depth (in) Blooming Season Height (in)
Allium 3–10 Well–drained/
moist
Full sun 12 3–4 Spring to summer  6–60
Begonia, tuberous 10–11 Well–drained/
moist
Partial shade/Full shade 12–15 1–2 Summer to fall 8–18
Blazing star/gayfeather 7–10 Well–drained Full sun 6 4 Summer to fall 8–20
Caladium 10–11 Well–drained/
moist
Partial shade/full shade 8–12 2 Summer 8–24
Calla lily 8–10 Well–drained/
moist
Full sun/partial shade 8–24 1–4 Summer 24–36
Canna 8–11 Well–drained/
moist
Full sun 12–24 Level Summer 18–60
Cyclamen 7–9 Well–drained/
moist
Partial shade 4 1–2 Spring to fall 3–12
Dahlia 9–11 Well–drained/
fertile
Full sun 12–36 4–6 Late summer 12–60
Daylily 3–10 Adaptable to most soils Full sun/
partial shade
12–24 2 Summer 12–36
Freesia 9–11 Well–drained/
moist/sandy
Full sun/
partial shade
2–4 2 Summer 12–24
Garden gloxinia 4–8 Well–drained/
moist
Full sun 12 3–4 Summer 6–20
Gladiolus 4–11 Well–drained/
fertile
Full sun/
partial shade
4–9 3–6 Early summer to
early fall
12–80
Iris 3–10 Well–drained/
sandy
Full sun 3–6 4 Spring to late summer 3–72
Lily, Asiatic/
Oriental
3–8 Well–drained Full sun/partial shade 8–12 4–6 Early summer 36
Peacock flower 8–10 Well–drained Full sun 5–6 4 Summer 18–24
Shamrock/sorrel 5–9 Well–drained Full sun/
partial shade
4–6 2 Summer 2–12
Windflower 3–9 Well–drained/
moist
Full sun/
partial shade
3–6 2 Early summer 3–18

5 Tips for Planting Summer Bulbs

Just remember: Plant AFTER any chance of frosts in your area; these bulbs are not frost-tolerant. See the Almanac Frost Calculator for your zip code.
When buying bulbs, look for tubers with three to five eyes and initial root formation. In general, look for firm and healthy bulbs. Bulbs that are mushy usually have not been kept in a cool, dry place and will rot and therefore not flower.

Summer-flowering bulbs and tubers can be planted in the spring when you are certain that the ground will no longer freeze in your area. This may be up until the end of May, depending on your area. The bulbs need sufficient water and humid conditions.

The rule of thumb is to plant the bulb or tuber about 5 inches deep—except for dahlias and begonias, which should be planted just beneath the surface.
Once your summer bulbs have finished blooming, they can often be used again the following year. With the exception of lilies, the bulbs have to be taken out of the ground if it freezes in your area during the winter. If it does freeze in your area, let the leaves die down naturally, and then dig up the bulbs and store in a cool dry place to replant the following spring.

Popular Summer and Tropical Bulbs

Below we’ve highlighted some popular, colorful summer bulbs for the garden to keep the blooms going all season long!

Gladiolus
Gladiolus corms can be planted as early as soon as danger of frost has passed. Plant the corms 4 inches deep and 6 inches apart and stagger planting dates to have flowers all summer long. See our complete Guide to Growing Gladiolus.

Dahlias
Gorgeous tall dahias do not tolerate frost, so plant the tuberous roots after all frost possibilities have passed. Dahlias usually require support; drive a stake into the ground 12 inches deep and 6 inches behind the root at the time of planting. See our complete Guide to Growing Dahlias.

Cannas
Cannas can be planted directly in the garden in mid-May. Plant canna rhizomes 6 inches deep and 18 inches apart in late spring and after the danger of frost has passed. 

Tuberous Begonias
Tuberous begonias can’t be planted in the garden until mid-May. Plant the tuberous begonia roots (which may be up to 1 ½ inches in diameter) 4 inches deep in a partially-shaded area.

Winter Storage

Note that most of these summer-flowering bulbs are “tender” and can not bear frost come fall. So, if you live in colder climates, they need to be dug up and stored until spring. If this is too much trouble, treat them as annuals and do not expect them to come back (if they do, bonus!).

How to store? Once the frost has killed the foliage (but before the ground is frozen), just remove the foliage and dig them up. Shake off excess soil and let dry for a couple days. Then store in sawdust or dry peat moss in boxes, not plastic bags. Place in a storage area that is dry and about 45 degrees F. Do not allow to freeze. If plants are in pots, merely cut the frosted foliage off and place pots in a non-freezing but cool location. You shouldn’t need to water until next spring.

Article courtesy of the Farmer’s Almanac

Do you envision your garden to be a lush haven with an abundance of healthy plants and colorful flowers, with a constant show of hardy perennials and cheery annuals? Or do you see your dream garden filled with an abundance of vegetables and herbs, including some of the popular heirloom varieties of tomatoes, peppers or eggplant? Whatever your dreams and plans for your outdoor space, you can get started with a simple, fun and inexpensive method – grow your own

Starting plants from seeds simply requires a little forethought and planning. You need to lay out a timetable, working back from the last expected frost date in your area. The individual seed packets you choose will give detailed instructions, including how many weeks ahead of the last frost to plant, planting depth, how long the seeds take to germinate and when the new shoots will be hardy enough to be planted outdoors.

Your local garden center or nursery is sure to carry a broad selection of seeds from reputable companies, as well as everything else you need to get going.

You will need:

  1. Planting containers or trays with individual “cells” or cups to hold the planting medium and seeds, with something to cover them once planted. Some come with covers, or you can just use sheets of plastic.
  1. Planting medium. Use a soiless planting mix. It should be sterilized, have good water retention and be lightweight enough for tender sprouts to push their way through the surface, all characteristics not found in average garden soil.
  1. Seeds. Obtain the best seeds possible. The choices today are limitless and each year more and more organic and heirloom seeds are available.
  1. Labels to identify the seeds in each tray. Strips of plastic written with permanent markers work well.
  1. Water. The planting medium needs to stay moist – don’t overwater or allowing seeds to dry out. This is probably the most critical aspect of the germination process but can be learned easily with a little practice.
  1. Light. Natural or artificial light is vital, but you needn’t have to rig up expensive grow lights. A bright south-facing window is perfect.
  1. Warmth. Most seeds need a constant temperature of 65-70º F to properly germinate. 

Be sure to follow the directions on the packet carefully, for each type of seed. Check on them each day to control moisture, light and temperature. Before long, you will experience the thrill of spotting the first signs of germination – tiny sprouts rising through the planting medium!

Once the seeds have germinated and the plants have started to leaf out, you can harden them off by taking them outdoors for a few hours each day. After four or five days getting acclimated in this manner, they can be planted in their rightful place and begin beautifying your garden! And you will have gained a new and rewarding skill. But watch out – pouring over those enticing seed catalogues can be addictive!

Overview of the Four Requirements for Attracting Backyard Birds

Wild birds require four things to be attracted to a backyard: food, water, shelter and nesting sites. If you make each of these four things available, you will be amazed at how many different species of birds become regular backyard guests.

Food

A good food source is the most important thing you need to attract birds. Food sources can be naturally occurring or supplemental sources such as feeders. Offering several different foods will attract a greater variety of birds.

Popular foods to attract birds include:

  • Seeds
  • Nectar
  • Fruits
  • Insects
  • Scraps
  • Nuts
  • Suet

Not all foods will attract the same birds. For the best results, learn which birds are present in your local area and choose foods to attract them to your yard. Once your yard is a popular feeding site, more unusual species will become curious and you can offer them treats as well.

Water

Water is critical to birds’ survival and adding water to your backyard will quickly attract birds. Types of water features that are attractive to birds are:

  • Bird baths
  • Misters
  • Ponds
  • Waterfalls
  • Streams

Moving or flowing water will attract the most birds because it is more visible and they can hear it from a great distance. Water should be kept fresh and clean, but no chemicals should be used to purify water because they can be harmful to birds.

Birds also need water in the winter. A heated bird bath will provide drinkable water that birds do not have to use body heat to melt first. Heaters can be added to regular bird baths or special heated baths can be used.

Shelter

Birds will not stay in a location where they do not feel safe, and adding backyard features that can offer them shelter will help attract them to your yard and keep them there once they have found it. Common bird shelters include:

  • Trees
  • Shrubs
  • Scrub brush piles
  • Overgrown grassy areas

Provide shelter at different levels for birds that prefer both high and low shelters. More dense plant growth is popular with small and medium bird species, while larger birds prefer perches where they can scan nearby areas for predators and other dangers. Shelter near feeders is especially popular since birds can quickly retreat if they feel threatened while feeding.

Many plants can also serve as food sources for birds, so choosing plantings wisely can not only provide shelter but will also entice birds with a natural food source.

Nesting Sites

For permanent guests, it is necessary to provide nesting sites for backyard birds. Many birds prefer to nest in natural locations, but manmade sites can also be attractive and may be easier for birders to enjoy. Nesting sites can include:

  • Trees and shrubs for natural nesting sites
  • Simple nesting boxes
  • Functional or decorative birdhouses
  • A brush pile for ground nesters

Different birds build different types of nests, from twig piles to dangling cups. For the best results, learn what types of nests your regular backyard birds prefer and offer nesting sites that are suitable for their needs.

By providing food, water, shelter and nesting sites, you can attract birds to your yard and invite them to take up residence.

http://birding.about.com/od/attractingbirds/a/attractoverview.htm