Tag Archives: planting

New Plant Hardiness Zone Map Reveals Warming Trend



The USDA released their new version of the Plant Hardness Zone Map in January 2012. The new map is generally one 5- degree Fahrenheit half-zone warmer than the previous released map back in 1990. This mostly is a result of using temperature data from a longer and more recent time period. More specifically, it uses data measured at weather stations during a 30-year period from 1976-2005. The 1990 map used data from a 13-year period of 1974-1986.
Another change with the new map is the addition of an interactive “find your zone by ZIP code” function. Click here to see the new USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

GreenScaping Part 4: Adopt a Holistic Approach to Pest Management

Just  a recap in the Series of GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard


Continuous pest problems in your yard are often a sign that your yard is lacking a requirement needed to keep itself healthy.  While pesticides used for pest, weeds and bug killers can be effective means of control, correcting the underlying problem is the best remedy.  A holistic or integrated pest management approach is the most effective way to manage pests.

Start with Prevention

  • Maintain healthy soil with the use of compost and mulch
  • Select pest-resistant plants and place in their desired location (sun, shade and soil conditions, etc.)
  • Diversify your plant selection so if there is a pest infestation, your entire garden won’t be compromised.
  • Mow higher.  It’s recommended to mow as high as 2 – 3 inches.  This promotes deep root growth and thicker leaf surface, which helps to choke out weeds.
  • Remove and destroy diseased plants immediately.
  • Pull weeds before they go to seed.
  • Remove dead plants so pests have less hiding places.

Identify the Problem before Acting

It’s hard to effectively manage a problem without knowing the cause.  So identify the bug, disease, weed, etc. and determine the best action from there.  Remember many bugs are beneficial!  Monitor your area for pests but don’t spray immediately.  Nature may be able to control it for you.

Using an integrated approach may solve the problem if a weed or pest problem develops.  Try some of the following suggestions:

  • Instead of pesticide, use some “elbow grease” by pulling out dandelions with long-handled weed pullers.
  • Mulching, as stressed many times throughout this series, reduces weeds in your garden beds.
  • Crop rotation techniques help to minimize plant’s susceptibility to pests and diseases.


GreenScaping Part 3: Practice Smart Watering

Just  a recap in the Series of GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard


Water Deeply, But Infrequently

Most plants do best when their roots are allowed to dry out between watering.  Learn the signs of when its time to water.  For example, your lawn is in need of watering when footprints remain after you walk across it.  Vegetables and other annuals will show signs of wilting, but other established perennials will only need watering if they remain wilted after the evening cool-off.  Trees and shrubs, once established, won’t need watering unless for extreme cases of drought.

Make Every Drop Count

Having a healthy and beautiful lawn and plants doesn’t have to jack up your water bill.  Consider some of these water saving activities:

  • Help retain moisture and reduce evaporation in your soil by adding compost and by mulching.
  • Select low-water-use plants.  Once established, they thrive exclusively on rainfall.
  • Soaker hoses and drip irrigation on beds are huge water savers.  They save as much as 50 percent compared to sprinklers.
  • Incorporate a water timer.  This will assure the correct amount of water and the appropriate time of day for watering.
  • Water in the early morning.  Watering mid-day actually allows for evaporation and evening watering allows for mold and other plant diseases.
  • Water lawns separately from other plantings.  Ensure the sprinklers are properly aimed and aren’t watering the pavement.

Let the Rain Soak In

Utilize your rain.  If not used, the rain flows from roofs, pavement and compacted soil.  It eventually will cause flooding downstream, which in turn, causes erosion and pollution after picking up pollutants along the way.

  • Direct downspouts to your yard, or into rain barrels or rain gardens.
  • The use of compost and mulch can help retain this rain and help prevent erosion.
  • Use open pavers or gravel instead of pavement to allow rain to seep into the soil.


GreenScaping Part 2: Plant Right for Your Site

A few days ago, I introduced the series Greenscaping and discussed step 1 of 5, which was titled, “Building and Maintaining Healthy Soil”.  Greenscaping, in essence, is a set of landscaping practices that can improve the health and appearance of your lawn and garden while protecting and preserving natural resources.  Today brings step 2 in this series.

Step 2: Plant Right for Your Site

Know your yard so you’ll know what plants can go where.  What spots are sunny, shady?  What is the pH of your soil? What type of soil do you have (e.g. sandy, clay)?  All of these questions will help determine what plants can go where.  Also, determine the location of plants, play areas, privacy, etc.

Choose the Right Plant for the Right Place

Based on the questions you answered above, select plants that do well in those conditions.   Choosing native plants is equally as important because they have evolved with this environment over many years.  Always envision the mature height and width of any plant before placement, especially near your house, driveway and power lines.

Choose Plants That Resist Pests

Some plants are more pest- and disease-resistant than others.  Always research your potential plants before planting.  This can save you time and money on pest control.

Give Plants a Good Start

Incorporate one to three inch layer of compost into your planting beds before planting.  Follow instructions on proper planting instructions.  A good layer of mulch atop your newly plantings, along with consistent water the first few years will help to build the deep roots that are desired.

Make Space for Wildlife

Invite birds, butterflies and other wildlife into your yard, protect streams and fish and make a more attractive yard.  Some ideas include:

  • Plant native plants.  Consider varieties with berries, fruits and flowers.
  • Plant in layers (e.g. ground cover, shrubs and trees) to mimic the forest.
  • Don’t plant invasive plant species.  Check with your local Cooperative Extension Office for a list of invasive “noxious weeds”.
  • Use pesticides only when necessary to minimize harm to birds, beneficial insects and fish.  Always follow the label directions when using.
  • Provide a bird bath or similar water source.  Make sure to change the water frequently to avoid a mosquito breeding ground.
  • Leave wild “buffer” areas of native plants along ravines, streams and fencelines.

Learn more about attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.

GreenScaping Part 1: Building and Maintaining Healthy Soil

GreenScaping, as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, is landscaping practices that promote the health and appearance of your lawn and garden while protecting and preserving natural resources.  A great article by the EPA titled, “GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard”, will be summarized here and will encompass five posts due to the length of the article.

By practicing these activities, you can:

  • Save money by eliminating unnecessary water and chemical usage
  • Save time by landscaping with plants that require less care
  • Protect the environment by conserving water and by using chemicals responsibly so they don’t contaminate our waterways and drinking water sources.

How can this all be possible?  Working with nature in five steps, the first post of this series will focus on:

Step 1: Build and Maintain Healthy Soil

In nature, soil recycles dead plants into nutrients used for new plant growth.  This circle of life helps to maintain the approximately 4 billion organisms found in a teaspoon of healthy soil!  These beneficial organisms help create a loose soil structure which allows for proper air and water circulation, as well as, aide in proper plant root growth.  Other good deeds include: the storing of water until plants need it and protecting plants from pests and diseases.

Soil Test

A good starting point towards achieving healthy soil is a soil test.  A soil test will give you a good baseline on determining the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and lime your soil contains or possibly needs.  Contact your local Cooperative Extension office for more details.


Compost is a critical part of healthy soil.  It helps to feed the beneficial soil life so that it can, in turn, feed and protect the plants.  It also retains nutrients and water for sandy soils and helps to loosens clay soils.  Every spring and fall is an ideal time to add between a quarter to half-inch of compost to your existing lawns or beds.


Mulch is a layer of organic material, such as leaves, aged wood chips, or grass clippings.  Mulch helps to stabilize the soil temperature, prevents weeds, and retains moisture.  Spring and fall is an ideal time to assure mulch levels are adequate (no more than 3 inches).

Slow-Release or Organic Fertilizer

If needed, look for fertilizers that contain “natural organic” or “slow-release” ingredients.  These will fertilize plants slowly and evenly and allow for strong root systems.  “Slow-release” types will help to reduce nutrient run-off into the ground and surface waters.

Remember, healthy plants grow in healthy soil!


Next in the series:  GreenScaping Part 2: Plant Right for Your Site

March Garden Calendar


As I’ve stated many times, The Department of Horticulture at Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service has tons of a great publications.  The particular one that I want to share a portion of with you today is Spring Garden Calendar (HO-91-W).  This article outlines some monthly Spring activities that will help make our indoor and outdoor plants and lawns to be more ready for summer.  It is time to start preparing for Spring!

Indoor Plants & Activities

  • Apply fertilizer to houseplants according to the label directions.   As the days grow brighter and longer, the new foliage growths will require a high-nitrogen fertilizer; while blooming plants will require a higher amount of phosphorus.
  • Remove spent leaves and flowers regularly to improve appearance and encourage blooming.
  • Start seeds of cool season plants for transplanting outdoors later in spring.  Check your local zone requirements.

Woody Landscape Plants & Fruit Trees

  • Prune trees and shrubs while plants are still dormant.  The spring bloomers should be pruned after the flower fades.
  • Fertilize woody plants before new growth begins and after the soil temperatures have reached 40°F.  Two pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet should be broadcast over the entire root area.
  • Remove winter coverings from roses as soon as new growth begins.  Keep mulch close for protection from late freezes.  Prune and fertilize as needed.
  • Apply superior oil spray to control scale insects and mites on landscape plants and fruit trees when tips of leaves start to protrude from buds.
  • Remove tree wrap from trunks to prevent scalding due to overheating of the bark.


  • Rake to remove leaves, twigs and other debris.
  • Mow lawn as needed.  The first mowing should be slightly lower than normal to encourage green-up.


  • Prepare garden soil for planting.  Do not work the soil while it is wet.  Soil should crumble when squeezed in your hand when it is ready to work.  If it forms a solid ball when squeezed, it’s still too wet.
  • Fertilize soil as needed.   If you’ve had a recent soil test, that will help you determine your fertilization and pH needs.
  • Start seeds of warm season vegetables and flowers indoors.
  • Watch for blooms of early spring bulbs such as daffodils, squill, crocus, dwarf iris and snowdrops.
  • Remove old asparagus and rhubarb tops, and then side dress with nitrogen or manure.

More great articles can be viewed on Purdue University’s Extension website.

National Garden Bureau Showcases New Varieties for 2011

The NGB, National Garden Bureau, (www.ngb.org) features images and descriptions for more than 100 different new annuals, perennials and vegetables for 2011.  Each year representatives of the professional horticulture industry choose crops based on popularity, ease of growth, adaptability and versatility.

This site is a wealth of information.  It’s sure to get you excited for spring planting!


Bromeliads work great in a terrarium environment

A terrarium is essentially a garden in an enclosed glass container that provides adequate humidity preferred by tender tropical plants.  It can also be used to start new plants or freshly cut un-rooted plants.  While many of you have probably seen a prepackaged terrarium kit that provides all the materials needed to make your own “garden under glass”, you can assembly your own with some items you may already have around your home.


Almost any clear glass container with a lid can be used for your terrarium.  Cloudy or colored glass is not recommended because it filters out too much light, while non-lidded containers wouldn’t provide the humidity and moisture needed.  If the container doesn’t have a lid, clear plastic wrap and a rubber band or cellophane tape will work.

Keep the scale of the relative to the container size.  For example, small evergreens or deciduous tree seedlings can be grown in larger containers such as aquariums, while smaller plants could be grown in a fish bowl, goblet, etc.

Soil and Drainage

The ideal soil mixture is one part of each: sand, peat moss and loam.  Ordinary garden soils are considered too heavy for plants to grow well in this environment.  One teaspoon of 5-10-5 fertilizer should be added to a six-inch potful of soil mixture.

Drainage should be employed using a layer of moss.  For larger containers, a layer of sand or gravel is recommended before adding the moss.

Planting and Care

  1. Cover the bottom of the container with 1-3 inches of gravel or sand.
  2. Place a fine layer of sheet moss over the drainage material.
  3. Place the soil mixture over the moss.  Just enough soil is needed to hold the plants in place.  Roots do not need to be completely covered as the humidity will keep the roots from drying out.
  4. After planting, wet the soil with a fine mist.  Water only until it seeps through the moss layer.  Do not allow water to stand in the bottom of the terrarium.  If this happens, remove the cover for several hours a day until the excess water evaporates.
  5. Water only when the soil surface becomes dry and add only enough water to moisten the soil.  The condensation from the terrarium will drip back down onto the plant helping to keep it moist.
  6. Place your completed terrarium in a well lit location, out of direct sunlight.
  7. Pinch back plants that become overcrowded or too tall.
  8. An annual re-design will be needed.  At this time, replace mosses and reuse plants if possible or employ new for a fresh look.


Below is a list of recommended plants that will adapt well in a terrarium environment.  Keep in mind that because of the moist environment, un-rooted cuttings can be used, as they will eventually form roots.

Source: Purdue University Cooperative Extension

Houseplant Problems

Root Rot: Several contributing factors include:

  • Overwatering
  • Heavy soils (too much clay)
  • Containers that lack adequate drainage holes.


  • Always water thoroughly until water comes out the drainage holes.  Do not water again until just below the surface of the soil is barely moist.
  • Use a quality potting soil which will adequately allow for drainage
  • Assure that containers have drainage holes

If root rot is suspected, remove plant from the container and visually inspect the roots.  Healthy roots will appear fibrous with white root tips.  The presence of rot will have roots that have blackened tips and slimy brown-black decay.  If root rot is not extensive, try to improve drainage by employing the solutions above.

Nutrient Deficiency: There are several nutrient deficiencies possible:

  • Nitrogen deficiency is displayed by leaves that turn pale green or yellow
  • Potassium deficiency is displayed in brown and dying of leaf margins.
  • Phosphorus deficiency is a little harder to define.  Some symptoms could include the leaves turning a dark, dull green or bluish green.

Solution:  If nutrient deficiency is suspected, fertilize appropriately.  Always read and follow the instructions on the fertilizer bottle.

Hot &/or Dry Air: This problem is most severe in the winter months where a lack of humidity and high heat are issues.

Solution:  If heat and humidity are a concern, keep plants away from heat ducts, vents or radiators.  Increase humidity by placing container is a shallow bed of water covered pebbles, being careful that the plant does not sit in the water.  Placing the plant in a room where a humidifier is available.

Insufficient Light:  Symptoms include pale, yellow, small leaves and poor growth.

Solution:  If insufficient light is suspected, determine the proper light intensity for the plant and place it in an appropriate location.

Accumulated Salts: A noticeable white or yellow crust on the soil surface and plant stems is a good indication of accumulated salts.  Plants that have been established in a pot for a length of time may accumulate this from fertilizers or hard water.

Solution: At least once a month, apply enough water to the top of the soil to thoroughly leach all excess salts to the bottom of the pot.  A loose porous soil helps with this leaching process as well.

Pot Bound Roots: Pots that have been growing in the same pot for extended periods of time can become pot bound.  An easy indicator is to lift the plant out of the container and note roots circling around the potting soil.

Solution:  Repot the new plant using a pot that is 1-2 inches wider and deeper than the previous pot.

Sudden Change in Environment:  Sudden leaf drop is a good indicator that a plant’s environment has changed.  Environmental changes that can cause this include: rapid temperature change, drafts or dry, hot or cold air, change of location from sunny to dark.

Solution: Understand your plant’s environmental needs and follow them.

Fungal Leaf Spot: Minute black dots on the leaves are an indicator of this fungus.

Solution:  Keep the foliage dry, and pick off and destroy infected leaves if infection is minimal.  Keep this plant isolated from all other plants.

Water Spots: Some plants, such as African violets, are susceptible to water spots when leaves get splashed with cold water.  Aerosol sprays, sun shining on wet leaves, hot grease spattering can also irritate some plant leaves.

Solution:  Take caution not to get water on the leaves.  Also avoid other spattering sources.

Mites and Insect Problems:  Bronzed colored leaves and webbing can be noticed on plants infected with spider mites.  Also, placing a white sheet of paper under a leaf and tapping the plant can identify spider mite damage.  The mites will fall onto the sheet of paper and will resemble very tiny dots.

Solution: Preventative measures are important by using the identifiers listed above.  Spider mites are attracted to plants under stress.  Keeping plants healthy will help to solve this.  Also a steady stream of water applied to your plant every 2 weeks can help rid the problem.  Insecticidal soaps are also effective at eliminating spider mites.

In general, be careful to consider the plant’s best location, surroundings, water requirements and history.  These can also give you good indicators as to what your plant is experiencing.

Source: Purdue University Cooperative Extension

Forcing Branches for Winter Color


As dreary as it can look outside for most of us in the wintertime, bringing a little early outside life indoors can surely brighten our spirits.  As most early spring flowering trees and shrubs form their buds in the fall before going dormant, it’s possible to force them into early blooming for our enjoyment in a floral arrangement or an accent piece indoors.  This article is compliments of the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Department of Horticulture.  I was fortunate enough to receive many similar articles through my Master Gardener’s training that I intend to share.

Gathering Branches

Select young healthy branches with numerous buds throughout the tree or shrub.  Keep in mind that the voids you create might show in the spring so space your cuttings accordingly.  Follow good pruning practices, which include cutting approximately ¼ inch above a side bud or branch so that no stub is left behind.  Cut your branches 6-18 inches long.

Getting Branches to Bloom

After you have gathered your branches:

  1. Make a second cut diagonally above the previous cut.  If the temperatures are below freezing when you cut the branches, immerse the branches completely in cool water for several hours or even overnight.  This deters the blooms from bursting prematurely.  This isn’t necessary for temperatures above freezing.
  2. Put the branches in a container to hold them upright.  Add warm water (110°F) no higher than 3 inches on the stems.  Flower preservative (See below preservative recipes) can also be added to prolong the branch life.  Allow to stand for 20-30 minutes and then fill the container with additional preservative solution.
  3. Keep the container in a cool, partially shaded solution, making sure to maintain the water level.
  4. Once the buds show color, move to a well lit room avoiding direct sunlight.  They can now be removed from the original container and arranged in the desired fashion.  Ample water is needed to prolong your blooms.
  5. Rooting might occur on branches during this forcing period.  If this is desired, remove the branch when the roots are ¼ to 3/8 inches long and pot individually.  The plant can be transferred outdoors after the warm weather arrives.  Protection may be needed for several years on this newly formed plant though.

Preservative Recipe #1:

  • 2 cups lemon-lime carbonated beverage
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ teaspoon household chlorine bleach

Preservative Recipe#2:

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon household chlorine bleach
  • Mix with 1 quart water

Preservative recipe #3:

  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon household chlorine bleach
  • Mix with 1 quart water

Suggested Plants for Forcing

Suggested Plants for Forcing