» Archive for August, 2009

Container Orchard

Friday, August 28th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Chrysanthemums come in bright fall colors to give you instant color in flower beds and containers.
    • Sow these vegetable seeds directly in the soil: carrots, chard, lettuce, mustard, peas, radish, spinach and root vegetables. Keep the surface of the soil moist until the seedlings are established.
    • Rough black spots of apples and their leaves are due to the ‘scab’ fungus. Nothing can be done now, but remember to spray trees next spring with lime sulfur just before the blossoms open.
    • Rose of Sharon, with its hibiscus-like flowers, is a lovely summer bloomer in our climate. The tree form makes a small tree for full sun or part shade.
    • Peruvian lilies, or alstromeria, make wonderful cut flowers. Set out plants now for armloads of flowers next year.

Grow a container fruit orchard

There are various reasons for wanting to grow fruit trees in containers. For some folks, the only place protected from deer is on the deck. Others may enjoy watching a fruit tree up close on the patio, or want to grow a citrus tree that needs winter protection. Whatever your reason, there are dwarf fruit trees that can be grown in containers even in the most limited spaces.

The types of fruit trees that can be grown in containers are apples on M-27 rootstock or genetic dwarf apples; genetic dwarf peaches and nectarines; all figs; cherries on Zaiger dwarf rootstock; and dwarf citrus.

First you will need to choose containers for your little orchard. Though many types of wood or ceramic containers can be used, a heavy plastic, like the terra cotta-colored plastic pots, are easiest to work with for repotting. Most trees, either bare root or canned, can be planted into a 16 inch pot. After one full growing season, repot in early spring into a 20-inch pot, and the next spring into a 24-inch pot, its final destination. Use any good bagged potting soil that drains well.

Watering and fertilizing are the most important maintenance tasks. Plants should never be allowed to wilt, but don’t overwater them. Fruit trees generally need water about twice a week, but they will need more if they become root-bound.

Fertilize apples, figs and citrus once a month during the growing season using an organic fertilizer or a 5-10-10 fertilizer. You don’t need a lot of nitrogen, since you don’t want fast growth in a container tree. Peaches, nectarines and cherries should be fed twice a month.

After three to five years, growth may slow down, or trees may need constant watering. These trees will need root pruning in late winter. Lay the container on its side and roll it to loosen the root ball. Pull the tree out of the pot. With a shovel, slice two inches off the sides of the rootball all the way around. Place the tree back into the pot, add fresh potting soil, and tamp it down firmly. Water thoroughly.

Fig trees and citrus are not as hardy as other fruits. In the winter, move them to a protected area where they will not freeze during cold weather. Citrus can live in the house by a south window during the coldest weather.

Fig trees can be sheltered in the garage. Move them after they drop their leaves and go dormant. They will not need any light or much water while in dormancy. Water sparingly once every three of four weeks during winter storage. If you must leave them outdoors, spray with Cloud Coverâ„¢ in early November to protect them from drying out in freezing weather.

Enjoy delicious home-grown fruits fresh from your patio!

Harvest Time!

Friday, August 21st, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Cool season vegetables should be planted right away to insure good crops this fall.
    • Mums are the beauties of the fall garden. Choose plants now in a wide variety of colors.
    • Divide Oriental poppies and bearded iris now. Add some bone meal in the bottom of the hole when you replant them.
    • Wisteria trees need to be trimmed throughout the summer. Keep long tendrils trimmed back to maintain the shape of the tree.
    • Plant beets now for fall harvest. They will have a deeper red color than beets planted for spring harvest, and tend to have higher sugar levels too.

Bring in the Harvest!

The long hot days this summer have made the garden grow like crazy and now the harvest is coming in. The tomatoes are starting to ripen, summer squash is plentiful and beans and corn are coming on fast.

It’s time to harvest the garden to keep production going strong. The more you harvest, the more you grow. Harvest vegetables in the morning when they’re crisp and cool.

Squash tastes best when harvested young. Pick zucchini when it is eight inches long, and pick crookneck squash when only six inches long. Immature winter squash lacks flavor, so wait until the rind is hard. Harvest winter squash with two inches of stem remaining. A stem cut too short is like an open wound, and will cause early decay.

Cantaloupes are starting to get ripe. To make melons sweeter, hold off watering a week before you expect to harvest the ripe fruit, when it starts to turn color. A cantaloupe is fully ripe when it pulls off the stem easily.

With other melons, check for a strong, pleasant aroma at the blossom (not stem) end to indicate ripeness. A watermelon is probably ripe if it makes a dull “thunk” when thumped, and when its underside has turned from white to pale yellow.

Pick most kinds of tomatoes when their color is even and glossy and the texture still slightly firm. Some varieties, primarily large heirloom types, ripen before they reach full color. Pick them when they are mostly colored up and bring them inside to finish ripening.

Let sweet peppers reach their final ripe color of red, yellow or orange, for maximum sweetness and flavor. Hot peppers are nutritious at all stages. Sample them at different points to see what you like best.

Lettuce is a fast crop and it’s important to harvest heads before they “bolt” and go to flower. Harvest butterhead lettuce when a loose head is formed; crisphead lettuce when heads are firm; and looseleaf lettuce and romaine any time when the plants are large enough to use. You can pull off leaves of leaf lettuce or harvest the whole head.

Cabbage also must be picked before it bolts. Test the head for firmness, then cut it off. If you have mature heads that you’re not ready to harvest, hold off water or twist the plant to break some of the roots. This should keep them from bolting.

Pick green beans when they are at least three inches long but before they begin to get tough and stringy. Harvest pole beans faithfully every other day and the plants will yield right up to frost.

Corn is ready when the silks turn brown. Check an ear or two by pulling back the husk and testing a kernel with your fingernail. It is squirts a milky-white juice, it’s ripe.

Home gardeners have the advantage of being able to pick their vegetables just as they reach their prime. Knowing when vegetables are perfect for picking is a skill that you will gain with experience. For the best flavor and quality, prepare them for eating or freezing as soon as possible after harvest.

Houseplant Basics

Friday, August 14th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Tree collards make a delicious winter vegetable. Set plants out now to give them time to grow before the winter chill that makes the leaves so sweet.
    • Japanese maples may be pruned now in order to shape them.
    • Sow lettuce seeds now for a fall crop. Set out broccoli and cabbage plants too.
    • Trim grapevines to allow more sun to reach the fruit and sweeten the grapes, if they are being shaded heavily by the foliage.
    • Feed fuchsias, begonias, summer annuals and container plants to keep them green and blooming right up until frost.

Houseplant Care

Houseplants offer beautiful foliage, with an almost infinite variety of leaves and exotic flowers which delight the eye. Growing houseplants can be anything from a serious hobby to a casual pastime. Once you start collecting houseplants, you enter a new realm of gardening that is very pleasant and rewarding.

Houseplants are, for the most part, tropical plants which are accustomed to the low light of the floor of a tropical forest. For this reason, they do well in the low light conditions of our homes. These plants are also accustomed to rather warm night temperatures, which our homes offer as well. Plants which have become popular as houseplants, are generally very adaptable and will sometimes survive in spite of poor care.

The main requirements for healthy houseplants are proper light, watering and fertilizing.

When selecting a plant, be sure its light requirements match your proposed location. Light intensity drops off rapidly as you move away from a window. Plants that aren’t receiving enough light often become elongated and pale, or they may drop their lower leaves and fail to grow. A plant which has just come from a greenhouse may also drop some leaves at first as it adjusts to the lower light in your home.

For low light situations, look for Chinese evergreens, creeping fig, any of the many Dracaenas, Dieffenbachias, palms, Philodendrons, Pothos or Peace lilies. They will do well with a northern exposure. For an eastern exposure that receives morning sun, add to these African violets, coleus, creeping Charlie, and spider plants.

Too much light, on the other hand, may burn the leaves of some plants. In a southern exposure you can grow spider plants, angel-wing begonia, citrus and many kinds of succulents and cacti. In a western exposure you can also grow wax plant, sago palm, lipstick vine and goldfish plant.

Watering is a touchy subject: you have to feel the soil to see if the plant needs water. Some plants need water only when the soil surface has dried out, while others need to be kept constantly moist. Learn each plant’s preference, and check each pot before you water. Avoid overwatering: more plants are killed by overwatering than any other cause. Empty the saucers after the water drains out of the pot.

If the soil becomes very dry, it may shrink away from the sides of the pot allowing water to run through rapidly without being absorbed. If this happens, add water slowly until the soil is saturated, or set the pot in a tub of water for a few minutes.

Plants growing in containers need fertilizer, especially in the spring and summer when they are actively growing. There are a wide variety of products available. Choose one and use according to the directions. Fertilize less during the winter.

Given proper care, your houseplants will prosper and give you many years of enjoyment.