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Archive for April 2011

No Blooming Magnolia Trees

April 29th, 2011

Hi, I have a Magnolia that is not blooming this year (I have noticed that other Magnolias have bloomed).  I’ve had the tree for 7 years, and this is the first year it didn’t bloom.  Do you know what my problem might be?  Thank you, Cathryn J.

Answer: Cathryn,

I do not know any specifics about the tree’s location, so it’s hard to guess the cause, but generally lack of blooms is environmental or pruning related. Did you perhaps do any pruning last fall? Any blooming shrub or tree should be pruned immediately after it has finished blooming, as it will start setting buds very shortly after it has finished blooming. These buds lie dormant over the winter, then early in the spring as the sap starts to flow within the tree, they begin their development again. If you have an early warming spell causing a slight acceleration of development, and then have a cold spell, this could cause harm to the developing buds and they will fail to flourish. It will not harm the developing leaf buds which are later in development. If you were affected by the droughts last summer, then the tree could be slightly under-nourished and just failed to develop flower buds, reserving its strength for the development of leaves.

If there are others around you that are blooming or you haven’t pruned it, then you might consider having it fertilized by an arborist who can provide the right balance of nutrients to aid in its development of bloom buds this summer. An arborist can also check to make sure it doesn’t have any insect infestation or disease.

Best of luck with your Magnolia. They are beautiful when they bloom.

Karen

Brussels Sprouts-Good Eatin If Grown Right

April 29th, 2011

Brussels Sprouts have long gotten a bad rap, being shunned and delegated to the garbage disposal or the compost heap by all but a few of the die-hard sprouts connoisseurs. It can be true that Brussels sprouts that are not grown properly can be loose-leaved, called “blown” by those in-the-know, and as a result have little to no flavor or can be bitter and nowhere close to the flavor of their larger cousins, the cabbage. But, if grown properly, these mini-cabbage heads are firm, chock full of flavor and may even become a family staple, if not a favorite.

When preparing, overcooking is the death of Brussels sprouts. You don’t want to boil away their flavor or turn them to mush, and they are best hot, right out of the oven or pan. There are many exceptional recipes that involve roasting or baking them, sometimes with a bit of olive oil and fine-grained sea salt, or adding your favorite grated cheese; one recipe even uses toasted hazelnuts for crunch! Surf the web to look for an inspiring recipe. They are all simple, with few ingredients and have converted some of the most adamant Brussels sprouts haters.

The first thing that you need to know is that Brussels Sprouts plants grow best when you time their planting for a cool-weather or fall harvest. In fact, in milder climates and where heavy snow cover can act as an insulator, Brussels sprouts can be harvested throughout the winter months. A check with your closest university extension office should be able to tell you if that’s possible in your area. Warm days and frosty nights only enhance the flavor of home-grown Brussels sprouts, which bear absolutely no resemblance to what you’ll find in your grocery store produce aisle. It is really quite amazing to bundle up and go out to the garden in the dead of winter and uncover these green gems, so consider yourself very lucky if you are able to make that happen!

A good rule to growing the best Brussels sprouts is to count back three months from mid to late fall, or the first heavy frost, for planting. Brussels sprouts are also much easier to grow from plants than from seeds; if starting from seed; start them indoors, allowing 10 to 14 days for germination and then once the first two leaves (seed leaves) appear, you’ll want to transplant them to a deeper seed bed or containers, replanting them to a depth of just below the seed leaves and watering in well. Wait until they are strong and tall enough (4 to 6-inches or 4 to 6 weeks) to be transplanted again into their permanent bed. It is important to note that transplanting Brussels sprouts is always necessary for optimal growth to occur. Transplanting encourages the growth of a much stronger root system that funnels essential nutrients to the plant and supports the weight of the plant. (If purchasing our plants, we have already done this part, which eliminates that necessity for you!)

The second most important aspect to growing firm, tasty Brussels sprouts is the texture and quality of your soil. They prefer a “heavy”, firm soil and one that is fertile, so mixing in generous amounts of manure or compost is highly recommended. Expert sprout growers have a mantra they live by—feed the soil, not the plant—which they consider essential to growing yummier Brussels sprouts.  Also, once you’ve dug in your compost or manure, allow time for it to settle in before planting. Remember that sprouts like “firm” soil, so watering the bed and allowing it to settle for a few days is preferable to planting right away. And if you live in an area with hot summers and early falls, your Brussels sprouts will grow better with afternoon shade. If your garden area is in full sun, plant your sprouts where they are protected by the shade of taller plants or trees in the afternoon or where you can put up a shade cloth to protect the tender plants.

Brussels sprouts also prefer a pH of 6.5 to 7.0, which is considered neutral. A simple, inexpensive soil tester can quickly give you the results and we have both Espoma’s Organic Traditions Garden Lime (to raise the pH) or High Yield Aluminum Sulfate (to decrease your soil pH). Organic mulch can also raise the pH and sulfur will do just the opposite, but both of those will take more time than the lime or aluminum sulfate, which adjust the pH rather swiftly.

Once you have properly prepared the bed, you can either rake very lightly and sow your seeds about 1/2-inch deep and 6-inches apart or transplant your ready seedlings about 24-inches apart. Remember to firm the soil around the plants and if you hoe to keep down the weeds, don’t hoe too deeply. In fact, if you regularly mound a bit of the soil up around the stalk and firm it down, you will ensure the best support as the Brussels sprouts grow taller.

Summer heat can stunt Brussels sprouts growth and cause bitter flavor, so to keep the plants growing vigorously during the heat of the summer, give them a feeding of nitrogen-rich fertilizer when they are about 12-inches tall and water regularly. In fact, your whole garden will reap the benefits of a shot of nitrogen when the plants are about 12-inches tall, and not just when the summer heat is adding its stress. If you are faced with a “hotter than usual” late summer or fall, you can ‘top’ your Brussels sprouts plants, which simply means removing the growing point, as a way to force the sprouts to mature faster, enabling you to harvest while the heads are still firm and sweet. Supplemental feeding with Neptune’s Harvest or Jungle Flora soil conditioners is an easy way to further enhance your garden’s growth and production and to ensure a flavorful harvest.

There you have it! It sounds like a lot of work, and the first year or two may be a time for learning what works best in your area, but as you become more experienced, it won’t seem like work at all—and the reward of firm, moist, tasty Brussels sprouts is well-worth the little bit of additional effort that you put into it. Trust me!

To learn how to harvest what you’ve grown, refer to our blog on How to Harvest Brussels Sprouts.

Happy Gardening!

Sweet! Easy to Grow, Amazing to Eat

April 26th, 2011

sweet potato plants, sweet potato, sweet potato plantIt’s hard to find a more rewarding plant than the sweet potato. Easy to grow with a result that is amazing to eat, the sweet potato plant, a root vegetable, has long been a diet staple all over the world.  It was cultivated in the tropics of South America 5,000 years ago.

The warm-weather vegetable is native to Central and South America, but is eaten daily in Africa, Polynesia, Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, India, North America, New Zealand, Vietnam, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and in some European countries.

In the United States, it’s most commonly grown in the South. And it’s in the U.S. where there is the issue and confusion between the sweet potato and the yam. When Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, and landed in what was to become America, Europeans had their first taste of the sweet potato. After decades of variations on the name, “sweet potato” appeared in the 1775 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Yam Controversy

It’s also here where the sweet potato became commonly referred to, interchangeably, as a yam. In reality, the yam and the sweet potato are completely unrelated. The sweet potato (Convolvuaceae) is from the Morning Glory family, and the yam (Dioscoreaceae) is a tuber or bulb of a tropical vine. The sweet potato is primarily grown in tropical North America and the yam is grown in Central and South America, West Indies, Africa and Asia. The sweet potato is moist and tastes sweet. The Yam is drier and has a starchy taste.

Yummy Benefits

Sweet potatoes are not only extremely tasty, but they are an excellent source of nutrition. Fat-free, they are high in fiber (there are four grams in a medium-sized sweet potato). Sweet potatoes are also low in sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat. They’re a terrific source of Vitamin B6, Manganese, Vitamin A and Vitamin C. A small (100grams) sweet potato has 2 grams of protein, .5 gram of fat, 233 grams of carbs, 20 mg. of calcium, .9 gram of Iron, 8100 I.U. of Vitamin A, .7 mg. of niacin, and 22 mg. of asorbic acid.

How to Plant

  1. You can begin to plant when foliage turns yellow and the ground has warmed.
  2. Choose a slightly acidic soil, one with a pH between 5.0 and 6.5
  3. Sweet potatoes are grown from small rooted pieces of tuber, which are called slips. Make your own: slice a sweet potato in half (lengthwise) and lay it on top of dampened potting soil. Top slices with a few inches of soil; keep moist and warm. Small roots will develop in a few days and will be ready to remove and plant when the foliage reaches 4 to 8 inches tall (this will take about six weeks). To avoid disease-free roots, buy slips from a reputable supplier.
  4. If you live where there’s a short winter, you can start new slips from 6″ vine tips, and cut before frost. The cuttings are placed in water. When they develop roots, plant them in soil in a sunny location until it’s time to plant outdoors.
  5. In regard to spacing, remember that the vines spread and need plenty of room. Space the plants about 12″ to 18″ inches apart and 3″ to 4″ between each row. Keep the area around the planting clear and make sure weeds don’t start to grow.
  6. Foliage is usually the result from feeding sweet potatoes. So experts suggest you simply plant in soil high in organic matter.
  7. Water regularly, but during the final three to four weeks before harvest, don’t water. This will prevent the mature tuber from splitting.
  8. Pest-y problems: Avoid disease by using certified disease-free sweet potato plants, and by choosing disease-resistant varieties. Experts suggest you change the location of your sweet potato garden annually because it’s a way to avoid wireworms and root-knot nematodes. Mice may be an issue, too.

Variety of Colors

Sweet potatoes usually have orange flesh, but sweet potatoes can be white, yellow and even purple on the outside.

Suggested Sweet Potato Plant Varieties:

* Beauregard – Pale reddish skin with dark orange flesh. Popular commercial variety. (100 days)

* Bush Porto Rico – Copper skin with orange flesh. Compact vines with big yields. Good for smaller gardens. (110 days)

* Centennial – Good disease resistance and relatively quick maturing. (90-100 days)

* Georgia Jet – Reddish skin with orange flesh. Good choice for shorter season. (90 days)

* Patriot – Copper skin/Orange flesh. Great pest resistance. Good choice for organic gardens. (100 days)

* Ruddy – Better pest resistance (insects, diseases and nematodes) than Beauregard. (100 days)

Very Vinca Pretty Periwinkle

April 25th, 2011

Trailing Vinca Vine plant growing in a window boxVinca, also known as Periwinkle (a much cuter and more illustrative name), is a beautiful, fast-growing, prolific plant from the family Apocynaceae, or Dogbane. It is a drought-tolerant annual and is recommended for hot, dry planting areas in need of some gorgeous bursts of color. Vinca vine has six different species. The Vinca’s flowers are usually blue or blue-ish purple and are solitary, and funnel-shaped. They are found in 43 of the 50 United States. They’re native to North America (that’s the U.S. and Canada), as well as Europe, China and India.

Their beauty is enhanced by shiny, glossy green leaves. The flowers bloom from seeds from late spring to early summer in moist, well-drained soil, but vinca tolerates soil that may even be poor and dry. Vinca fares well in part shade to shade, and will tolerate a Northern sun if they’re given sufficient moisture.  Space plants 12” to 15” apart, water well when planting, and after, only water when there are extended droughts. They’ll grow one to two feet tall. A general fertilizer needs only to be added once or twice a season. Mulch around dry areas to keep soil moist.

Vinca vine is popular with landscapers who use it in their designs for everything from cascading from containers, in  woodland gardens, on slopes for erosion control and as vigorous aggressive ground cover.  Vinca should not be chosen as a plant in a garden or yard where containment of it is preferred, because it will spread quickly.

Vinca major and Vinca minor, two of the six Vinca species, are extensively cultivated as a flowering evergreen ornamental plant, but they are also sometimes considered invasive species and weeds. Because the plants are low-growing and spread quickly, they are often used as a ground cover in garden landscapes and container gardens, or, specifically, fire-retardant ground cover. They are available with different plant, leaf, and flower colors, sizes, and habits.

Maculata Vinca VineThe Vinca major species come in deep blue (with green-edged, gold/white centered leaves) and blue (with large furry leaves). There are more variations with the Vinca minor, which are available in white, double white, white with creamy variegated leaves, blue (with white variegated leaves), reddish-purple, blue (with deep-yellow, variegated leaves), light blue, light blue (with less-diseased leaves), white/pink blush, double blue, light blue (with golden margin leaves), lavender blue (with chartreuse leaves), light blue (with green edges, gold/white centers), pure white, sky blue (with glossy, wide white-margin leaves), pink, dark blue (with white-margin leaves) and pale blue (with yellow variegated leaves).

Vinca’s other four species are Vinca herbacea, Vinca difformis, Vinca erecta, and Vinca pubescens. Other pseudonyms the Vinca goes by are Periwinkle, Madagascar Periwinkle and Myrtle.

Extracts from Vinca are used medicinally. Of the 86 alkaloids extracted, there are some that are used as chemotherapy to treat leukemia, lymphoma and several other types of cancer. It’s also used for lowering blood pressure, sugar levels for diabetics, and treatment for coughs, colds and sore throats, as well as treating eye and lung infections.

Vincas are hardy and not often plagued by bugs or illness. In humid or wet weather, fungus can occasionally occur. If either bugs or ailments/disease attack, treat immediately with repellants or fungicide.

What Are The Best Combinations For A Small Garden?

April 24th, 2011

I’m starting with a small organic garden.  What are the best vegetable combinations for a small garden?  I have read that there are certain combinations of vegetables that will help keep insects away. Jennifer G

Answer: Jennifer, My first suggestion to you is to do some research, especially on the types of vegetables you want to grow. Some plants actually have companion insects that are vital to their production, so for each variety that you decide you would like to grow, research and find out what are the good bugs and what are the bad ones. Many novice gardeners often are confused by this and think all insects are bad. As you mentioned, companion planting can also be good but there are also some plants that should not be planted near each other. One of the best resources for this is a book we carry called Carrots Love Tomatoes, which discusses which fruits, vegetables and ornamentals are beneficial or detrimental to each other. Extension offices will usually have good print publications about Good Bugs/Bad Bugs.

Good luck with you new garden,

Karen

How Our Gardens—and Yours—Grow!

April 23rd, 2011

starter plants, garden plants, vegetable plants, vegetable plantWhen it comes to vegetable plants, we feel confident when we say that we have the healthiest vegetable plants and one of the largest selections of any of our competitors; which has been our goal from the very beginning. We know that you have a choice on where you buy your vegetable plants and we want to give you a really good reason to buy them from us, and then continue to do so!

For example, we know that having a healthy root system is critical to their successful growth.  When vegetable plants are shipped and then transplanted into your garden, a healthy root system will help them to survive the rigors of shipment and will enable them to take firm hold in your garden. This is why we grow our seedlings in larger pots and ship them to you in a manner that guarantees their survival. We have also suggested that you put your newly arrived seedlings in the shade, maybe under a tree, for a couple of days and that you sit the pots in a shallow container to soak in Neptune’s Harvest Fish & Seaweed Fertilizer before transplanting. Young plants need a little time to recover in order to be transplanted without further trauma, and we have found that by following these suggestions, our customers experience almost 100% success and go on to have highly productive gardens.

We also know that you expect the best for your family, just as we do for our own. This is why we start with only the best seeds and then grow our vegetables in our own greenhouses, under our personal supervision. Another blog article, We’ve Taken the Safe Seed Pledge, also addresses the danger of genetically modified seeds, which further emphasizes our commitment to offering the healthiest and safest plants.  Also, in case you are unaware, many of the seedlings and seeds that you buy from varied retailers are imported from foreign countries. As we’ve learned with Chinese-made toys, you cannot always be sure that “what you see is what you get”. The simple truth is that foreign countries just don’t have the same strict requirements for gardening that the United States does. It’s very easy to import unwanted pests and diseases. We want you to be able to order with confidence, knowing that we do everything in our power to ensure a quality product, their safe arrival and your gardening success. We guarantee safe arrival of all of our live plants as long as you select a shipping option that allows arrival on your doorstep within three days, which is our standard shipping rate to more than half of the U.S.

In addition, we offer, in a one-stop shopping experience, the ability to purchase everything you could possibly want to help you to become more self-sufficient, more knowledgeable and to make your outdoor space a welcome retreat. We employ a Master Gardener to answer all of your questions; we offer, whenever possible, products that are made right here in the United States, always ensuring that they meet our very high standards for quality and value. We seek your feedback and your personal experiences in order to better serve you. Beyond that, we also extend our Guaranteed Satisfaction policy, which is extended to every single item that we carry, even our live plants.

And finally, we take the guesswork out of planting. Just as retailers start stocking Christmas items before Thanksgiving, garden centers are anxious to start making a profit, even though it may be too early to safely plant in your area. This is becoming even more common as more and more “novice” gardeners take to their yards as a means to stretch the family’s food dollar. Unfortunately, the failures, as a result of planting too early, have left a bad taste in some people’s mouths (pun intended) when it comes to growing their own produce.

We ship according to a Shipping Schedule that has been carefully coordinated for your particular geographic area. This gives you plenty of time to properly prepare your garden plot and also lets you know exactly when your plants should arrive. But, if you have a greenhouse or would like to get your plants earlier, you only have to let us know, and we will comply. We strive to offer the best advice, be you an experienced gardener or someone just learning. We know that our success as a garden retailer is directly linked to your success as a gardener.

We appreciate your stopping by and invite you to get to know us better.

Happy Gardening!

Million Bells Calibrachoa-Grow a Million Smiles!

April 22nd, 2011

million bells, million bells calibrachoa, million bells calibrachoa plant, purple calibrachoaThe Million Bells® flower is a registered trademarked series, but as a whole, the calibrachoa is also commonly called million bells and has been likened to a tiny petunia on steroids. In fact, one is often mistaken for the other, but once you grow the prolific calibrachoa, all confusion will end. They literally burst upon the scene, making a huge, colorful and happy splash regardless of where you plant them, as long as they have the benefit of plenty of food and water.

Perfectly at home in containers, along borders or in beds, Million Bells spill out and over to create magnificent displays of blooming color. In warmer climates they have even been known to blossom right through the winter months!

Calibrachoa absolutely thrives in acidic soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6. At this pH level you will see the unqualified best performance in terms of growth, the number of blooms and the rich color of both the blossoms and the foliage. If you are unsure of your soil pH, an inexpensive soil tester can solve that problem and simple soil amendments can either raise or lower the pH of your soil. If your pH needs to be increased, you can try a layer of organic mulch or apply a limestone based soil amendment, such as Espoma’s Organic Traditions Garden Lime. If you need to lower the pH of your soil, you can use sulfur, which takes a little time to convert, or High Yield Aluminum Sulfate, which will result in a pH decrease as soon as it dissolves into the soil.

Million Bells Calibrachoa plants love the heat and perform very well in fully sunny beds, but will tolerate partially shaded areas with at least 4 hours of full sun daily. They also don’t like wet feet, though they need to be kept moist, so they should be planted where soil drains well or in a container that has adequate drainage. You can mulch to retain moisture or utilize a soil conditioner, such as Jungle Flora, which will not only enrich your soil, making it more water-retentive, but will also perform double duty as a source of natural nutrients.

When transplanting your Million Bells flowers, the top of the soil the plant is shipped in should be level with the top of the soil in your bed or container. Dig a hole that is about twice as wide and an inch deeper than the original pot, then put enough loosened soil in the bottom of the hole to bring the pot level with the soil it is being planted into. Then, simply squeeze gently to loosen the soil and roots from the shipping pot, turning it upside down in your palm and allowing the plant to dangle between your fingers. Set the pot aside and gently place the calibrachoa plant, in its original soil, into the hole you’ve prepared. Double-check that the depth is right and then push the soil back into the hole, gently tamping it down as you go. Water really well.

Yellow Million Bells CalibrachoaWhen planting in a bed, you should plant them between 12 and 15-inches apart if a mounding variety and 18 to 20-inches if they are a trailing variety. This will allow for plenty of room for growth while enabling the plants to fill the bed completely. When planting in a container you will want 3 or 4 plants for every 10 to 12-inches of container width. This will result in a well-rounded, full container that will overflow with sumptuous blossoms and foliage. In a bed, some gardeners prefer to use mulch in order to retain moisture, but as the Million Bells series has a well-defined growth habit, they will fill in, creating shade beneath their foliage that retains moisture and will inhibit weed growth. Hanging or tall standing containers will show Million Bells off to perfection. Pinching early on will encourage fuller growth and more blossoms, but deadheading is not needed. Million Bells is self-cleaning and will bloom non-stop from April through October…and sometimes longer!

As is the case with any rapidly growing, prolifically blooming plant, they will look their best when properly fed. Regular feeding with a liquid fertilizer or a slow-release fertilizer over longer intervals will ensure healthy blossoms and vibrant color all season. Use Jobe’s Organic Container & Bedding Plants Fertilizer Spikes in your flower bed or baskets!

We hope this has answered all of your questions about how to plant and care for your Million Bells Calibrachoa, but in the event that you have further questions, you are invited to contact our Master Gardener, Karen.

Happy Gardening!

Easy-Peasy Tomato Plants

April 21st, 2011

Tomato plants are one of the most common and easiest vegetable plants you can grow. The many varieties of tomato plants can make it hard to choose, but most gardeners have their favorites and then usually add one or two new varieties, just to “try them out”. Our tomato plants come in all shapes, sizes and colors, so add interest and new flavors for your summertime palate, you just cannot have too many tomatoes (well…almost). Friends and neighbors will gladly accept your excess or you can preserve them in the form of sauces and salsas or chopped and seasoned to add fantastic fresh flavor to wintertime dishes.

Tomato plants stand up remarkably well to being transplanted and are adaptable to both container and in-ground applications, provided there is at least 6 hours of sunlight daily. If you are a novice gardener, you may want to watch this video for some valuable tips on transplanting and feeding your tomato plants in order to give them a healthy start. Then, in an amazingly short amount of time, you’ll be enjoying fresh-picked fruit from your own tomato plants!

The GHS Guide to Ant Control

April 20th, 2011

Ant ControlAnts are amazing creatures. If you could pile all the insects in the world onto a scale and weigh them, ants would make up two thirds of the load! Their reputation as hard workers is entirely deserved: they are the principal turners of the soil, even more so than earthworms. They are also the principal predators of other insects, as well as the main scavengers of dead insects. In the words of world-renowned scientist E.O. Wilson, “Ants are one of the main balancers of the world’s ecosystems…. If there were no ants, you would really see bugs.”

Yet we all know that ants can be a nuisance. More than a nuisance: they can be a force of destruction, at least from our human point of view. We hope you never have to face anything like the man vs. ants drama recounted in the short story Leiningen versus the Ants. Yet, even a small ant infestation can quickly become serious. Once ants have established a colony on your property, they can be very hard to get rid of without the use of toxic chemicals. Therefore, if you start to notice an ant invasion, it’s important to act quickly.

Ant Bait: The Best Method of Ant Control

When you think ant control, think ant bait. Dusting some ant-killing powder around or spraying some liquid will get rid of some ants but won’t kill enough of them to prevent the colony from regenerating. It might even cause the colony to split so that you then have two colonies to contend with.

The way ant baiting works is you present the ants with poisoned food that they take home and share with all their comrades as well as their queen(s). You use a slow-acting poison mixed with something yummy that the whole colony will want to feast on repeatedly. In a matter of a week or two you have gotten rid of every single ant.

You can put together ant bait at home, but it’s a bit tricky because you need the right proportion of yum to poison. Too much poison and the ants that eat it will die before they carry it back to the colony. Too little simply won’t be effective.

Ants also vary what they eat depending on what time of the year it is and even depending on what they have already eaten. Unlike humans, they somehow know enough to eat a balanced diet: if they’ve been feasting on peanut butter for a while and a piece of fruit becomes available, they will switch over to the fruit—and vice-versa.

DEThe first step then, if you want to create your own ant bait, is to put out swatches of several different foods that could potentially be mixed with poison and see which ones the ants are most attracted to. Then take the preferred food and mix it with diatomaceous earth.

DE is lethal to ants but entirely non-toxic to humans and pets when used according to the directions. The exact ratio of bait to DE is hard to say because it depends on the food you’re using. But a good start would be to mix it 50/50 with confectionary sugar and place a teaspoon or so in some key areas. Before you put out the bait, though, try to cut off the ants’ other food sources. The idea is to get them to concentrate on the bait.

Boric acid or borax powder can be substituted for diatomaceous earth (start with one part boric acid or borax to ten parts sugar) but these substances are slightly toxic to people and pets.  And, of course, there are highly toxic pesticides that can be used against ants, but we like to avoid these, both because of the risk of accidental poisoning, and to protect the environment.

Terro to the Rescue

For those who prefer the convenience of ant bait that is premixed and ready to go, we carry an excellent Borax-based family of products made by Terro. Testimonials abound for Terro all over the Internet, such as this one by blogger J.D. Roth, which 166 people have commented on, nearly all of them confirming his praise of its effectiveness.

Terro bait stations come in both indoor and outdoor versions, and are exceptionally safe because pets and kids can’t get into them. Terro liquid can be used as the ant poison that you mix with the bait of your choice, but it is being marketed for use on wood-loving carpenter ants: you spray it on woodwork, joists, baseboards, and into any cracks and crevices where they are congregating.

Extra-Tough Ants

This brings up the issue of some extra-tough ant species, namely carpenter ants, fire ants, and Argentine ants. To determine if you have any of these extra-tough species, view this page on the Orkin Exterminators website.

As stated above, carpenter ants can be controlled by spraying with a borax or boric acid–based solution, and also by dusting diatomaceous earth around. By the way, to learn more about the wonders of DE, check out our earlier newsletter on natural pest control.

Fire ants can sometimes be taken care of by using the ant bait tactics described above, but it might be necessary to flood their colony with an insecticide. The safest one we have found is Monterey Garden Insect Spray with Spinosad, which has been approved by the OMRI (Organic Materials Review Board). One or two applications should take care of your fire ant problem, especially if combined with some strategically placed baits as discussed earlier.

Argentine ants have particularly large colonies, sometimes numbering in the millions, with multiple queens. Nevertheless they will succumb to the ant baits described earlier made with DE, boric acid or borax. You will just have to use more of them, so if you’re ordering Terro, stock up!

The Water Cure

Finally, we’d like to tell you about a simple way to kill ants that, according to the University of Florida Extension, works 20% to 60% of the time: you boil at least three gallons of water and pour it slowly into the mound. For best result, the UF Extension recommends this be done, “on sunny, cool mornings when the majority of ants and brood are closer to the surface of the mound,” and explains that “a mound may need several treatments to reach and kill the queen and brood.”

You can try this as a stand-alone method, but we believe it is best used as an additional measure to increase your chance of success. The thing you have to watch out for, of course, is the boiling water: please be careful! Note also, that boiling water will probably kill nearby plants if it makes contact with them.

Knowledge Is Power When It Comes to Getting Rid of Ants

There’s more to say about killing ants with ant baits and by pouring insecticide and/or boiling water into their colonies—but we’ll stop here. To learn more about ant baits we recommend this fine article from the University of Florida Extension titled Ant Trails: A Key to Management with Baits. For controlling carpenter ants in your home, consult this pamphlet from Utah State University Cooperative Extension. For dealing with fire ants, the Alabama Cooperative Extension has a number of articles and streaming videos online. And for controlling Argentine ants, read this article, also from the Alabama Cooperative Extension. For more information about using diatomaceous earth to kill ants, check out this forum at the GardenWeb.

Ants are very persistent creatures—perhaps that’s why they’ve been around since before the dinosaurs. But if you are also persistent and follow the advice given in this newsletter, we’re confident your ant problem will become a thing of the past. Not that you might not have to go through the same routine again in a year or two, but we’ll cross that mound when we come to it.

And the Best Supporting Plant Goes To….

April 19th, 2011

The first award to be issued at The Academy Awards (or Oscars to you insider-y types) is the Best Supporting Actor. There’s a reason for that: without the skill of a supporting actor, you’re not likely to get a good, if not excellent, performance out of the main attraction, the very best actor. In our universe, we deem it the very best plant, fruit or vegetable.

And what can greatly contribute to a beautifully grown plant, fruit or veg is a support system. If you think about it, families, organizations, businesses, clubs and groups all operate with a heavy emphasis on a support system.

Think of your live growing plants, fruits and veg in that way and you’ll quickly realize the relevance, important and critical role a support system plays.

An initiate might not realize just how many plant supports are available. To name a view, (all available at Garden Harvest Supply) there are decorative trellises, garden trellis netting, spirals, wall of waters, plant covers, tomato cages, garden helpers, garden stakes and plant hoops.

Whether you are just starting to grow plants or whether you are a seasoned grower, you’ll find why plant supports are considered one of a gardener’s little essentials, a gardener’s little helper if you will.

While a blooming plant is a beautiful accessory on its own, for your home or office, the addition of a pretty support can only enhance the natural beauty and oxygen you’re bringing into your space.

Wren Scroll Pot Trellis

The beautiful scrolls which rise from the soil in the pot create an illusion of layers and movement, swirls and twirls, if you will. The scrolls are made of sturdy steel and covered in a plastic green coating. The green coloring both blends and enhances whatever plants you chose to grow in the container from which the trellis protrudes. The styling of the trellis can be considered both modern and vintage, depending on the setting in which you use it. Wren makes a high-quality product with an innovative design. They are very practical as well, as terrific starters or trainers for the vines.

Walls of Water

Just the name of this classic plant support conjures up images of nature and health. Seasoned gardeners look to Walls of Water to extend a grow season and to start one quickly. Here’s how it works: the Walls of Water create a heated soil, so that planted seedlings will nearly instantaneously begin to grow! You can harvest sooner and produce more, because everyone knows that seeds placed in cold soil stunts and slows growth. You also want to avoid the shock of replanting. Gardeners can actually begin planting six to eight weeks before the final frost. While it’s an ideal product for many types of plants, it’s especially noteworthy and good for tomatoes, peas and peppers.

Garden Stakes

Well, sure, you can keep one of the wooden stakes GHS sells on hand, just in case of a possible vampire attack, or you can use it for its intended purpose – to help your plants grow to their full potential. In addition to the traditional wood stake, there are also steel stakes. GHS’ steel stakes are vinyl-coated and have aesthetics in mind – they’re green to blend and enhance the actual plant they support. The aforementioned wood stakes are made from selected North American hardwoods trees, noted for their beauty and strength.

Plant Hoops

These clever and popular plant supports, Plant Hoops, should last through several seasons. That said, it’s smarter to opt for quality over bargain; look for strong, plastic-coated metal. In addition to providing support through several seasons, a plant hoop should be sturdy as it prevents your precious plants from breakage and, importantly, as it withstands the heaviest rain. Like a support garment, that works without showing, a good plant hoop will eventually blend into the plant and the garden.

GHS offers a variety of flower frame grid sizes, in diameter and height, to accommodate your beautiful  blooms. The other types of plant hoops are semi-circular supports, single hoops and wraparounds. Semi-circular supports are available in three sizes, and offer versatility.

Let’s face it, we can all use a little support – and that includes the plants in your garden.

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