Category Archives: Garden Plants

Growing Basil

By   May 15, 2016

Growing basil is a good idea if you like a blend of mint and lemon flavors in your recipes. Fresh basil makes a tangy addition to sandwiches and salads (just don’t use too much). Of course, Italian food is not complete without this tasty herb. Lemony varieties taste great in chicken dishes. Cooking with basil makes it easy to impress guests with your gourmet culinary skills.

Growing basil in a flower pot

Growing basil in a flower pot

Planting & Care

Sweet basil is a sun-loving herb that thrives in rich soil. This plant won’t tolerate cold, so you should start seedlings inside if there is still a chance of frost. Or, you can wait until warm spring weather has fully arrived to sow the seeds directly outdoors.

Before planting any type of basil in your herb garden, dig in plenty of compost and soak the soil thoroughly. Seedlings should be thinned to grow at least 6 inches apart.

This herb doesn’t live through the winter outside. However, growing basil in containers indoors will keep you well stocked with fresh leaves year round. Good drainage coupled with plenty of sunlight is the key to keeping this plant happy in a pot. Just sow a few seeds in a container filled with potting soil and compost. Water them moderately, and thin out all but the strongest 2 or 3 once they start growing well.

Growing Basil Tips

Most gardeners can create additional basil plants easily from stem cuttings since it is a member of the mint family. Once you know how to grow basil of one variety, you can use the same techniques for any other type. These include Red Rubin, Genovese, and Lemon. Each variety has a different flavor, so it is fun to experiment with this herb. Many of these plants have foliage that is attractive enough to use as a decorative addition to flower beds.

Dried basil

Basil can be dried for later use.

 

Harvesting & Storage

Watch your growing basil plants carefully for signs of budding. Harvest the top leaves on each plant frequently to prevent flowering. You can use these immediately, refrigerate them for a few days, or dry them out for long term storage.

Dry basil in a warm, moisture free place and then crumble the leaves into fine fragments. Keep your dried herbs in an airtight container to retain the flavor and prevent molding. This spice can also be frozen. However, since it is easy to grow basil all year, you may simply want to keep a live plant on the windowsill for ready access.

Growing Leaf Vegetables

By   March 20, 2016

When it comes to fresh, tasty nutrition, growing lettuce, spinach, and other leaf vegetables is ideal. These plants are easy to tend and take little time to go from seed to salad. Each variety offers a mix of vitamins and minerals.

Generally, the darker the leaves are, the higher the levels of health-promoting trace elements they contain. Fortunately, homegrown greens can be harvested at just the right time to keep bitterness at bay. If you prefer a milder flavor, try growing lettuce varieties like leafy romaine or butterhead. These are much tastier than iceberg and capture more nutrients from the soil.

Kale is one of the easiest to grow leaf vegetables

Kale is one of the easiest to grow leaf vegetables

Collard greens, kale, and cabbage are additional leaf vegetable  choices. You can also harvest the edible foliage of turnips from your garden.You might think that the instructions for growing lettuce, kale, and spinach would be basically the same. However, these plants are actually quite different species. For example, kale and cabbage are related to broccoli while spinach is in the same family of vegetables like beets. So, each one has slightly different requirements. However, they all thrive in full sun during cool weather.

Soil Requirements

Kale and collard greens prefer a somewhat acidic soil pH from 5.5-6.5. Spinach and lettuce grow well in the 6.0-7.5 range. Cabbage falls somewhere in the middle as far as pH requirements go. Loose, leafy greens are fast growing vegetables that don’t require heavy, ongoing fertilization.  An application of organic compost before planting should be sufficient to provide the necessary nitrogen. For cabbage, you may need to test your soil to make sure the calcium and magnesium levels are within optimal range.

Many varieties of leaf vegetables (with the exception of lettuce) have a fairly deep root system. Cultivate the soil to a depth of 18-24 inches for best results. If you grow these in pots, choose a container that is deep enough for the roots to develop fully. A raised garden bed provides the best environment for growing lettuce and other greens. It promotes good drainage.

Planting & Care of Leaf Vegetables

Young leaf lettuce

Young leaf lettuce

These vegetables are a classic two season crop. Sow seeds outdoors early in the spring (a couple of weeks before the last frost) and 2-3 months before the first frost in the fall. Planting depth is 1/4-1/2 inch. You can start seeds indoors as well. Seedlings should be grown in peat starter pots so the root system isn’t disturbed during transplanting.These are thirsty plants that appreciate being watered every day. This helps them thrive and prevents wilting as the weather warms. Water around the base of each plant rather than spraying the leaves. Keep the soil moist but not flooded. Use mulch between the rows to prevent moisture from evaporating and to keep weeds at bay.

Growing Tips for Leaf Vegetables

You can start these plants out fairly close together (about 6”). As they grow, thin them vigorously. Eat the baby leaves from the plants you pull out – they taste great. The final spacing for mature plants should be between 12-18” depending on the variety you are growing. Lettuce, spinach, kale, and other loose-leaf varieties can be harvested continuously.

Removing the base/outer leaves shocks these plants and helps keep them from bolting (sending up a flower stalk). Additional leaves will continue to grow from the center of the plant. Bear in mind that the smaller the leaves are, the better they will taste. If there is any sign of a flower stem growing, harvest the whole plant immediately before it turns bitter.

Many vegetable gardeners find that a fall crop harvested after the first frost is especially sweet. For leafy vegetables like kale that already have a strong flavor, you might take this into consideration. Depending on how cold your winter is, you may even be able to sow an additional batch of kale before the first frost in the fall. Cover the plants over the winter, and harvest them in the spring.

Additional Notes

Spinach is the fastest grower with leaves ready for your dinner table within 40-50 days. Count on about 60 days from planting to harvest when you are growing lettuce, collard greens, and kale. We like to plant several crops of these vegetables at two-week intervals. That way, we don’t have to pick and eat it all at the same time.

cabbage plant

Cabbage and it’s close relative Kale are often called “the world’s healthiest foods”

Cabbage needs to grow to its fully mature stage before its densely packed leaf head is ripe for harvesting. This takes about 90 days. Wrap cabbage heads in plastic and store them at temperatures below 46 degrees to keep them from spoiling.

All your other leafy vegetables should be stored in your refrigerator in the crisper drawer and used as soon as possible to avoid wilting. Kale and collard greens can also be chopped and frozen for longer storage. They are typically cooked anyway for the best flavor and texture.

 

Growing Peas

By   March 10, 2016

Growing peas is particularly satisfying for gardeners who are just starting out, or for anyone who likes to see fast results.

growing peas in bloom

Peas in bloom

Snow peas are particularly delicious picked and eaten raw straight from the vine. Wait until the peas just start to swell so you can see their outline through the snow pea pod for the sweetest taste. You’ll want to check your garden frequently when your peas start to ripen. The pods can grow almost an inch in just a day.

Snow peas, sugar peas, and garden (English) peas are good choices for late winter and early spring vegetables. They take only 50-70 days from seed planting to harvest. The heat of summer can quickly kill these plants or significantly slow their growth and production rate. They like cool weather above freezing. So, try growing peas as a fall crop as well as a spring crop depending on your zone.

Soil Requirements

Soil pH should be near neutral (somewhere around 6.8). If your soil is too acidic, you may need to add dolomitic limestone. Snow peas prefer full sun in soil that retains moisture well. Use soil amendments that contain plenty of organic matter for robust growth and a plentiful harvest. The ground should be rich in phosphorus and potassium. Since peas are true legumes, they are nitrogen fixers. In other words, they don’t need any nitrogen fertilizers.

Planting & Care

Plant seeds about 1 inch deep and about 2” apart (wider spacing may work best in poor soil). Mulch will help slow weed growth and retain moisture in the soil during dry spells in the early summer. This is particularly important for maturing plants. Just be careful not to mulch too soon. This can actually impede early crop growth. Wait until the plants are well-established and climbing vertically before mulching.

What about weeding your growing peas? These plants have shallow roots which make them prone to damage from weed pulling near the plant stems. Weed very carefully around your plants (if at all). Root disruption from vigorous weeding makes pea plants particularly susceptible to the effects of drought.

Although peas will sometimes grow in partial shade, they need more care in these conditions and your yield will be much lower. Proper garden placement should allow these plants to grow 3-6 feet tall depending on the variety. With enough light and space, a single plant can grow multiple stems. Pea plants can rapidly cover an entire garden trellis.

Growing peas can withstand a light frost fairly easily when the seedlings are young. The key to success is to never plant too early or too late. A deep freeze can kill or severely damage a mature crop. Large late season plants are more prone to damage because of a smaller root to stem ratio. Thorough watering can help protect them from extreme conditions (both heat and cold).

Tips for Growing Peas

peas-655267_1280If you time your planting properly, you can harvest ‘earlies’ two to three weeks in advance of what it is typically considered normal for your area. A late harvest in the fall before the first major freeze can provide delicious snacks for several weeks into the winter season, especially in southern zones.

Snow peas will bloom almost as soon as their tendrils start to grab hold of the nearest plant, pole, fence, or trellis. It’s best to provide a wire trellis to keep peas from straggling all over your garden. Growing peas that are well supported tend to develop faster and bloom earlier.

When you harvest peas, don’t let any part of the pod remain on the vine – break it off above the stem. Regular picking every other day will stimulate the formation of additional blooms. This will also guard against the pods becoming tough and unappetizing. Many gardeners like to gather slightly immature snow pea pods to ensure their tenderness. Snow pea pods typically only take a few days to mature enough to pick after a full bloom under the best growing conditions.

Sugar snap peas should be harvested after the peas inside the pod have filled out but before the peas start to harden. They should still be edible, pod and all. If you accidentally wait too long before harvesting, shell the sugar peas and compost the tough pods just as you would with English peas.

Storage Tips

Fresh peas don’t tend to keep well. For best results, eat your peas raw, steamed, or sautéed within 48 hours of harvest. Store surplus peas in a sealed container and refrigerate immediately to preserve freshness, crispness, and flavor.

Growing Tomatoes

By   March 4, 2016

Growing tomatoes is one of the most popular hobbies for vegetable gardeners of all skill levels. The difference in flavor between a vine ripened tomato and one bought from the store is astonishing. Tomatoes that are ripened artificially tend to have a watery taste and mealy consistency. In contrast, freshly plucked fruits have a distinctive gourmet taste and boast a firm texture.

Red ripe bush tomatoes.

Red ripe bush tomatoes. Bush tomatoes are usually determinate.

Tomatoes are divided into two main classes: determinate (short fruit season with no need for pruning) and indeterminate (constant fruiting as long as conditions are within range; needs pruning).

Determinate varieties stop growing once the terminal flower cluster appears. They aren’t as sweet as indeterminate ones, but they are a good choice for zones with a short growing season and for indoor gardening. Indeterminate plants always grow their flower clusters as a branch or lateral shoot; so they continue to grow and vine. They may feature many lateral shoots as added growth away from the main stem. Popular varieties include:

  • Cherry: Ideal salad topper since it is bite sized and tartly flavored
  • Grape: Perfect for snacking because of its sweet taste
  • Globe: Lovely eaten fresh with a little salt or in a mozzarella salad
  • Beefsteak: Ultimate sliced topping for sandwiches and burgers
  • Roma/Plum: Often used for cooking but also tasty raw – easy grower

Each of these varieties has dozens of sub-varieties. This can make it hard to figure out where to start. Ask your local plant nursery experts for suggestions for beginner gardeners in your planting zone. Once you get the hang of growing tomatoes, you can branch out and start experimenting.

What About Those Famous Heirloom Tomatoes?

Heirloom tomatoes are simply those that are not hybridized and will grow true from seed from one year to the next. This makes them a favorite with organic gardeners. Heirloom tomatoes can be determinate or indeterminate and elongated or spherical in shape depending on the species. They tend to have a delicate, gourmet flavor but are not as resistant to disease as hybrid varieties.

Soil Requirements

Red cherry tomatoes on the vine.

Red cherry tomatoes on the vine. Cherry tomatoes are easy to grow and do well in containers.

Tomatoes generally like soils that are slightly acidic. Many will do fine within a pH range of 6.0 to 6.8. Optimal pH is about 6.4 to 6.5. You may need to amend the soil if it is alkaline, so test it before planting tomatoes. Generally, a silt or clay loam soil that is maintained at the correct pH level is most productive for growing tomatoes. However, sandy soil can lead to faster maturation. In either case, good drainage is very important. Planting & Care

It’s a good idea to begin planting tomatoes early indoors before transplanting them outside in your garden. This will keep birds from picking away at the seedlings. Transplanting outdoors after the first flower cluster appears is a good plan (as long as all danger of frost is past).

Tip for Transplanting: The stalk of a good sized seedling can be buried a few inches deep without harming the plant. The bottom section of the stalk will grow a root system that makes the plant stronger and healthier.

If you don’t mind replanting a few times to replace casualties, you can sow seeds directly outdoors after the last frost. Seeds should be planted 1/8-1/4” deep. Appropriate spacing will depend on the variety – but overcrowding is always a bad idea.

Temperature Requirements: Tomato plants like hot temperatures and require lots of sun. However, they often fail to pollinate properly above 90 degrees depending on the species and humidity. Generally, growth only occurs when the temp is above 50 degrees. Temperatures anywhere near freezing begin killing the plant. If the temperature drops below freezing, most of your tomato plants will die very quickly.

Growing Tomatoes Tips

Stake tomatoes immediately upon planting the seed if you are growing them in pots. Otherwise, the stake can damage the root structure. Wait to actually tie the plant to the stake until after the initial bloom. Use ties that will not dig into the stalk of the plant. Strips of old pantyhose are great for this. Remember that Beefsteak tomatoes and other varieties with large fruit may require extra support such as a cage.

Water as evenly as possible on a set schedule, preferably early in the morning. The growing tomatoes can be harmed by uneven water uptake. This can create calcium deficiencies which will cause blossom drop and/or blossom-end rot – particularly during periods of extreme heat.

Watering the ground around the plants is considered the best practice. It will help control the spread of fungal or viral diseases to the upper portions of the plant. Spraying the whole plant can sometimes reduce spider mite infestations; but this practice will severely limit pollination once blossoms begin to appear.

If you are serious about getting the most out of your tomato plants, you will want to learn how proper pruning and pollination practices can supercharge productivity. Time from planting to harvest varies depending on the specific variety and growing conditions. Fruits should be plucked immediately when they are ripe and used within a week. They can be picked as soon as they begin to turn yellow and ripened at room temperature indoors if birds or other animals are eating them. The flavor will be affected slightly, but they will still taste excellent.Additional Notes

The most common pests that attack the tomato plant are spider mites, aphids, and various types of webworms. You want to be aware of these, especially when you grow vegetables indoors. When these pests are separated from their natural outdoor enemies, they can quickly overwhelm a plant. Spend a few minutes with your growing tomatoes daily inspecting them for pests. Take a close look at the leaves and note any abnormalities. Also, use this opportunity to check for signs of disease.

Roses – Queens of the Garden

By   February 17, 2016

Roses are the queen of the garden. There may be other flowers that are more familiar or individual species that are prettier, but nothing beats the look and experience of a well-built rose garden.

It’s not by chance that “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden” was a top hit, and I have never heard of a song about a peony patch.

Pink wild rose in bloom

Blooms on a wild rose.

There are many different types of roses. They started out as wild plants like all other garden plants. They can be found growing wild in fields and meadows. Wild roses have simple flowers, almost always five petals and short blooms. Most also have big hips: no, they’re not fat. The hip is the seed pod and a type of fruit. Rose hips are often cultivated for their herbal medicinal values. Some garden catalogs feature wild roses, notably Rosa Rugosa, as hedges or large landscape plants.

Over the years, selective crossbreeding tamed some of the wild rose characteristics and led to what we now call Old Roses or Heritage Roses. These were identified in the mid-1800s as the first Rose Societies were formed. Old roses have bigger and longer lasting flowers than wild roses, but still bloom only once a year and usually in the early summer. Being close to their ancestors, they’re very hardy and require little care.

Blooms on a Red Cream hybrid tea rose.

Blooms on a Red Cream hybrid tea rose.

As plant breeders did their magic, Old Roses led to the Modern Roses. Cross breeding combined the best of different types into new plants, incorporating longer bloom time, more compact habit, more color choices, and pleasant fragrance. Modern rose development went in two different directions. One led to the floribunda varieties. Floribunda roses bloom all season in clusters of smaller, brightly colored and fragrant flowers. The other branch, Grandiflora features larger flowers on long stems.

From these bases, breeders have brought us today’s most popular rose varieties, the Hybrid Tea Rose. Hybrid teas are what you see at the florist and most of what is seen in today’s rose gardens. There are hundreds of styles with more being introduced every year. Here at Easy Lawns and Gardens, we lean more towards the casual side of rose growing, but there are many hobbyists that compete with commercial breeders for awards and honors given to the next great rose.

Forms of Roses

Red climbing roses

Red climbing rose

Each of the rose types can include different forms. Shrub size roses are, as the name implies, shrub size. They grow 4 to 6 feet high without support, sometimes taller if you let them go, and are great for landscaping. Climbing roses are the next step up in size. They don’t actually climb but have long stalks that can be anchored on a trellis or fence.

Miniature roses are opposite of the climbers. They grow a few feet tall at most and do well in pots and planters. And the fourth form is the Tree Rose. Tree Roses are created by grafting the cane of a strong shooted type of rose onto the roots of a strongly rooted one. The result is, as the name implies, a Rose that resembles a small tree.

Hybrid Tea Roses – Choose the Right One

By   February 17, 2016
Peace hybrid tea roses with large double blossoms, a mixture of yellow and pink colors, and a noticeable fruity fragrance.

The Peace Rose is one of the most popular hybrid tea roses ever with large double blossoms, a mixture of yellow and pink colors, and a noticeable fruity fragrance.

The hybrid tea rose epitomizes our notion of rose beauty, with large, often fragrant single blooms that positively dazzle with their velvety texture, vivid color, and simple elegance.

If you’d like to add these classic roses to your rose garden, be prepared to be challenged by the sheer variety. There are hundreds of different tea rose varieties. Tea rose hybrids come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors.

Here’s a 10 step checklist for selecting your hybrid tea roses:

  1. Read the label carefully. All of the better commercial hybrid tea roses will have a label,  growth sheet, or catalog description. No matter how good it looks, don’t buy it if you can’t grow it where you want.  If it won’t thrive, pass it by.
  2. Chech the climate requirements. If you live in a mild climate, find a hybrid tea rose that is heat tolerant. If your area is humid, choose a tea rose that has resistance to mildew and fungal diseases. And be sure to evaluate the plant’s cold hardiness.  Most roses do not fare well in freezing temperatures, so if you live in one of the less temperate zones in the world, make sure your hybrid tea rose won’t freeze to death before you put it in the ground.
  3. Be aware of growth habits. Is the tea rose a climber? Is it a rambler?  Does it spread sideways rapidly? Will it make a good groundcover? Visualize where it will go and what direction it might grow. Also, make note of its average height and width. You don’t want to plant mistakenly a tea rose that grows too high for its location.
  4. Make sure you know what kind of perfume you like and want. Some roses are highly fragrant.  Is that what you want or does just the thought make you want to sneeze?  Roses vary from no fragrance to perfume store overflow levels. Your rose depends on your particular likes and needs.
  5. Are you fond of cut flowers? Some tea roses stand up better when cut or put on display.  Others have petals that may be too fragile to withstand cutting. If having cut roses is important to you, make sure to research your top choices.
  6. Check the label carefully for disease resistance.  Some are more inclined to trouble than others.   If the mere idea of a mildew infection or Japanese Beetle infestation makes you cringe, consider choosing a tea rose that is labeled as disease resistant.
  7. Think about the amount of care you can provide. Some tea roses need more care than others.  After all, this is the easy gardening blog!  If it’s going to take too much work, try to find a variety that can thrive with less of care.
  8. Consider the bloom and leaf color. All tea roses are beautiful; find one that will look good in your garden. Visualize it in full bloom.  Some colors may go well with your other plants; others may clash.
  9. Choose only healthy-looking plants. It should have at least three strong canes. Don’t but tea roses with brown roots, shriveled foliage, or damaged branches. Choose one that has bright white roots and bright buds at the side of each stem.
  10. Buy your hybrid tea roses from a reputable dealer.  The clerks at the big box stores were probably selling plumbing supplies last week and are only concerned with moving merchandise in and out.  Most couldn’t tell a sick rose from a healthy one, and even if they could, their corporate bosses will tell them to sell it anyways.  A couple of bucks off isn’t worth the risk of introducing an infected plant to your garden. Plant infestations and diseases can spread quickly. Instead, visit your local nursery and pick only the most healthy-looking plants. If you order your tea roses by mail order, deal only with reputable dealers. The extra bit of money you spend now will be well worth it when you experience your season of gorgeous hybrid tea rose blooms.

Want to learn more about roses?  Check out the American Rose Society.

Adding a Flower Bed

By   December 13, 2015

A garden isn’t a garden without a flower bed.  Let’s look at some ways to make yours an easy garden.

Red flowers in a flower bed

Red flowers in a flower bed

If it’s an existing flower bed, prepare your bed by removing any weeds or dead leftover materials from last year.  If it’s a new bed, start by removing any sod and save it somewhere else for compost.  Don’t just turn it in or you’ll be pulling grass and weeds all summer.

There are a couple of alternatives to new bed construction.  I started to type shortcut rather than alternative, but these methods aren’t always easier.  One option is to build a raised bed.  Surround your bed area with landscape timbers or bricks, and then fill it with loam.  Most grass or weeds present will die out when covered with 3 or more inches.  Or, the real easy way, cover your flower bed area with thick black plastic.  Then plant established plants through cutouts in the plastic.  Most everything under the plastic will die out in the first year and the plastic can be removed.

Next, choose your plants.  You have a choice of annuals or perennials, and plants or seed.

Annuals or Perennial Flower Bed

Annuals live only one year and will need replacement annually (hence the name!).  As compensation for their short lifespan, Mother Nature gives annuals the ability to produce lots of seed-bearing flowers.  Plant breeders have added to their traits and many annuals now flower almost continuously through the season.

Bee balm is a flower bed perennial that attracts hummingbirds , butterflies, and bees

Bee balm is a perennial that attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees

Perennials come up year after year, which sounds great, but Mother Nature is at work here too.  Most perennials bloom for only a short period, then save their energy to be able to survive the offseason.

Growing flowers from seed is usually much less expensive but adds a lot of work.  And since the title of this blog is Easy Gardens, plants are the way to go.  It’s ok to save a few bucks by buying smaller annuals.  They grow quickly, and smaller, small healthy ones are better than larger annuals that might be root bound.  Perennials are slower growing so there might be a benefit to selecting larger plants.

Dig a hole larger than your plant.  If it’s new soil, mix in some kind of soil enhancer.  Use compost if it’s available, otherwise, add a commercial supplement of soil enhancer or manure.  Yeah, I know manure sounds yuck, but it really does work.  Use peat moss if manure bothers you.

Next is the “gardens secret sauce”.  One of the biggest time consumers for flower beds is weeding. The great news is that there are now chemical weed preventers available.  Use a product like Preen every few weeks and weeds won’t sprout.  It works by preventing weed seeds from sprouting.  If you forget and thy get started, just scrape them off with a hoe while they are small.  Don’t let them grow too big or you’ll need to weed by hand.