Tag Archives: pegplant

White House Spring Garden Tour

whitehousegardentourapril2014 015  I’m going to the White House!! I was not planning this but my agency received several tickets and I was asked if I was interested. The White House opens its gardens to the public twice a year, spring and fall. On April 26 & 27, visitors will be able to see the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, the Rose Garden, the Kitchen Garden, and the South Lawn. The National Park Service distributes timed tickets to this free event on a first come, first served basis. The best part is that you can bring your camera! Visitors can use the hashtag #WHGarden to share photos; some of which may be featured on WhiteHouse.gov.

Stay tuned!

Do You Prefer It Cold or Hot?

Heat loving peppers

Heat loving peppers

One of my first lessons in growing veggies is to learn the plant’s preference for temperature. To keep it simple, there are cool season and warm season crops. Getting to know what the plant prefers determines when to buy/plant, what to buy/plant, where to buy/plant, and when to harvest/eat! In the mid-Atlantic area, typical cool season plants are anything in the cabbage family (cabbage, broccoli, collard, Brussels sprout), lettuce, pea, kale, chervil, dill, cilantro, leek, scallions, radish, spinach, arugula, beet, pak choi or bok choy, carrot, mustard, parsnip, turnip, and Swiss chard. Some can carry on during the summer such as spring onions and Swiss chard; others “bolt” as soon as it warms up in May/June. For example, cilantro will “bolt,” that is, flower and go to seed, as it warms which is good if you want the seed but bad if you want to harvest the leaves. When the plant bolts and goes into flower/seed production stage, the leaves tend to taste bitter.

Most people associate the warm season edibles with summer itself, fresh tomato and basil, eggplant, pepper, corn, summer/winter squash, zucchini, melon, watermelon, cucumber, okra, and pumpkins.

The idea is to plant the cool season plants/seeds in mid-March – beginning of April and the warm season plants/seeds in early May – end of May in my zone 7 area. Several good ways to figure this out:
Read the seed packet or label
Read seed catalogs
Research on the internet
Read local gardening books
Visit garden nurseries and ask knowledgeable staff.

Most catalogs put their plant/seed offerings in alphabetical order but really it would be useful if you read them in order of the calendar year. My 2014 Botanical Interests catalog has “warm season” or “cool season” to the right of each plant type, making it very easy to identify. I have often thought that it would be better to cut out the pages of the plants I was interested in and re organize them to place them in order of season, not alphabetical, as a way of determining which to should start first. Then I discovered that the Botanical Interests web site allows you to sort the veggies by warm or cool season – very smart of them!

The three books I found most useful books for determining a time table are:
The Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook by Ron Kujawski & Jennifer Kujawski (Storey Publishing, 2010)
The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast by Ira Wallace (of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Timber Press, 2013)
The Year Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour (Storey Publishing, 2011)

Weeding and The Pursuit of Happiness

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I spend a lot of time weeding in March and April, partly because I have to clean up from the fall (we never do get all those maple leaves off the garden beds) and partly because the spring warmth and rain encourages weeds to take over like crazy. You have to get them out of the garden bed before the perennials wake up or you just have a tangled mess.
The best time to pull weeds is when the soil is moist, after rain or in the morning. It is an easy thing to fit in for an hour at a time if you have all of your supplies ready. I wear old garden clothes and tennis shoes and literally pull the weeds with my hands. I love my Foxgloves gloves because they fit like a surgeon’s glove; they make it very easy to get down to the base of the weed and pull it out. Afterwards, I can rinse the dirt off with water from the hose, put them in the washing machine, and hang up to dry. I discard the weeds in the large cardboard boxes in which reams of copying paper are sold; we always have plenty at the office. These boxes and lids are very useful for lots of gardening chores and it is best to get the ones with the cut out openings at each end for handles. When the box is full, I dump the weeds in to my Fiskars Kangaroo, a very large collapsible gardening bag – much larger than a kitchen trash can. Lined with large plastic bags clipped on with binder clips, the Kangaroo is really useful for large cuttings of plants or large amounts of plants.
I also use an old kneeling pad but this year, my daughter gave me a new one for my birthday. They are surprisingly expensive but in the spring you can get them at a much reduced price at dollar stores. For dandelions, I use a fish tail weeder. Mine is so old it is bent but still useful for digging them out the long tap roots of dandelions one. Dandelions in the grass don’t bother me but this past spring we had so many large dandelions in the garden beds I used another Fiskar product, Uproot Weed and Root Remover. All you have to do is position the four claws over the dandelion, step down on a lever and pull it out. There is a part of the handle that makes the claw retract so it lets the dandelion loose and it drops to the ground. You don’t have to kneel or bend. I let my son use it on all the dandelions in the garden beds and he loves it (Hint: get a cool tool and you have helpers!!).
The good thing about weeding is that it is a no brainer activity. It lets your mind wander about life and the pursuit of happiness, more plants, more garden beds, and yes, more garden tools. So if you get interrupted three times by your kids, you are okay, you haven’t accidently whacked a new shrub or pulled out the radish instead of the hairy bittercress.

Cool Season Veggies/Herbs in Containers

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scallion seedlings

Around St. Patrick’s Day, I start the cool season veggies and herbs from seed in containers on the deck. You would be surprised at how easy it is to grow lettuce, cilantro, or scallions in small containers with little depth. It is best to use plastic as opposed to terracotta during cold weather but any container with drainage holes will work. I have used old Easter baskets, straw baskets, wooden crates that once held tangerines (lined the large gaps), and recycled plastic plant containers from the nursery.

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spinach seedlings

You only need about 6 inches to grow lettuce, spinach, cilantro, kale, red radishes, arugula, chives, and the Asian leafy greens such as tatsoi and mizuma. Except for the radish of course, which is a small bulb like root, these plants have fibrous root systems that do not extend too far down into the soil. The actual plant is fairly short so the plant won’t topple over in a small container. If you have a larger container with more depth, say 8 inches, you can extend the possibilities to baby carrots, scallions, small onions, chard, broccoli raab, pak choi, chervil, and parsley.

Fill the container with potting soil, making sure you have drainage and aeration, sprinkle a few seeds on top, lightly cover with soil (read seed packet about this), water, and place in a sunny place. Bagged potting soil never has enough aeration for me; I always add perlite (the small white pellets) to increase aeration. To deter squirrels, I sprinkle blood meal on top of the soil. Blood meal is what it is: dried, powdered animal blood, typically from cows. Fortunately, it is not red; it is a black powder that contains a small amount of nitrogen (which is beneficial for the plants). The smell deters squirrels but it has to be re-applied after heavy rains. My pots are on the deck for easy access but they could be on the ground as long as they are in the sun and near a water source. Don’t forget to put a label in the pot and record what you planted (I am a big advocate of keeping records and writing everything down).

The key is to keep an eye on the weather. It’s okay if the weather gets too cold because these are cool season plants but it is not okay if the seeds are allowed to dry out. Once the seed absorbs water, germination begins, the seed coat breaks open and the root grows out. If the seed does not get water anymore, it dries up and the germination process ends and cannot be “re-started.” So always imagine the top inch of the soil where the seed is and know whether it is moist from rain or your watering can. After you can see an inch or so of green, imagine that the root has sunk down a few inches and can draw up the water that is in the middle portion of the soil. Now imagine the middle portion and ask yourself if it needs water, that is, has it rained recently? Where I live in Northern Virginia, once the plants are growing, I can usually count on the rain to keep them well watered in the spring.

Freeze Warning

pineapple sageWe have had glorious 80 degree days here in Northern Virginia. Inspired by tropical like temperatures, I was thinking of moving my pineapple sage plant, a tender perennial, from the house to the front yard. For several months now it has lived in a pot near the window waiting for the cold months to pass. I was just thinking of putting it back into the ground when the weather folks announced a freeze warning – maybe even “conversational snow.”
This is when it pays to watch the weather and know your average last frost date. Although I typically use Mother’s Day as my average last frost date, there are several dates with which to work if you look at the tables published by the National Climatic Data Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The NCDC keeps statistics on weather across the country and uses averages based on 30 years of data. You can look up your state and pick the city closest to you. For my area, there is a 90 percent chance that the temperature will be 36 degrees on April 12, a 50 percent chance that it will be 36 degrees on April 27, and a 10 percent chance that it will be that cold on May 12. I won’t risk setting out warm weather plants on April 12, it is not worth it. I might risk a few plants on April 27 but only if I can protect them with old sheets or buckets or bring them back in for the night. I will risk the 10 percent so Mother’s Day is my target date for planting warm weather plants. For now, my pineapple sage plant will remain inside for a few more weeks.