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Tips for Growing Cilantro

cilantro plantCilantro is used in a great many different dishes, particularly Mexican and Asian dishes, but despite the growing popularity for this dish in cooking, you do not see cilantro growing in the home garden as much as you do other popular herbs. This may be due to the fact that many people think that growing cilantro is difficult. This is not the case at all. If you follow these few tips for growing cilantro, you will find that you will be successfully growing cilantro in no time at all.

Cilantro Seeds

In cooking, cilantro seeds are called coriander. The “seeds” are actually two cilantro seeds encased in a husk. The husk is hard, round and is light brown or grey in color. Before you plant them in the ground, you need to prepare the cilantro seeds to increase the chances that they will germinate. Gently crush the seed husk holding the two seeds together. Soak the cilantro seeds in water for 24 – 48 hours. Remove from the water and allow to dry.

How to Plant Cilantro

Once you have prepared the cilantro seeds, you need to plant the seeds. You can either start cilantro indoors or out doors. If you are starting the seeds indoors, you will be transplanting cilantro to the outdoors later on.

Put the seeds in the soil and then cover them with about a 1/4 inch layer of soil. Leave the cilantro growing until it is at least 2 inches tall. At this time, thin the cilantro to be about 3-4 inches apart. You want to be growing cilantro in crowded conditions because the leaves will shade the roots and help to keep the plant from bolting in hot weather.

If you are transplanting cilantro into your garden, dig holes 3-4 inches apart and place the plants in them. Water thoroughly after transplanting.

Cilantro Growing Conditions

The most important thing to remember when growing cilantro is that it does not like hot weather. Cilantro growing in soil that reaches 75F will bolt and go to seed. This means that the ideal cilantro growing conditions are cool but sunny. You should be growing cilantro where it will get early morning or late afternoon sun, but be shaded during the hottest part of the day.

Additional Tips for Growing Cilantro

Even with ideal cilantro growing conditions, this is a short lived herb. Taking the time to prune cilantro frequently will help delay bolting and prolong your harvest time but no mater how much you prune cilantro it will still eventually bolt. Plant new seeds about every 6 weeks to keep a steady supply throughout the growing season.

Cilantro will also reseed in many zones. Once the cilantro plant bolts, let it go to seed and it will grow again for you next year. Or collect the cilantro seeds and use them as coriander in your cooking.

So as you can see, with just a few tips for growing cilantro, you can have a steady supply of this tasty herb growing in your garden.

(original post)

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Use Containers

Use ContainersIf you lack a backyard, stick to containers. With the exception of some root crops and asparagus, most vegetables grow just fine in them. Tomatoes, green onions, peppers, beans, lettuce, and squash all fare particularly well.

Look for varieties bred to grow in confined spaces, such as Patio tomatoes, Topcrop green beans, and Bibb lettuce. As for what size container you need, use large ones (think whiskey barrel), which allow for companion planting and greater reserves of food and water. Small pots dry out quickly and don’t allow space for roots to grow. Whatever size you choose, make sure the container has holes at its base to allow for drainage.

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Test Your Soil

Test Your SoilKnowing the basics behind organic gardening can put you on the right path to creating your own Eden. All you need is patience, a willingness to get muddy, and this quick tip.

Before planting anything, first determine the measure of acidity or alkalinity (known as pH) of your soil with a home testing kit.

For most vegetables, the magic number is 6.5. Too acidic (on the low end of the 0-to-14 scale) or too alkaline (on the high end) and your plants won’t be able to access the soil’s nutrients. Boost your pH with a line spread, found at garden stores, or lower it with powdered sulfur. Seedlings can then be planted straight in the ground.

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Cultivate Curb Appeal With A Sustainable Landscape

Fixing up the inside of a home and cleaning up the yard is challenging in itself. Overhauling a yard can get expensive and time consuming. But while you spruce up outdoors, look at ways you can blend resourceful designs into your home’s curb appeal.

With growing demands for green building and sustainable landscaping, more homeowners want natural luxury outside their front door—without the extra maintenance. Sustainable landscaping is practical since it integrates plants and materials, which are in balance with the local climate.

Every yard is unique. You can incorporate just a few well-placed plants to save water. Or for a really self-sustaining garden, have a lawn like a meadow with every variety of herb, flower, grass, vegetable and fruit.

With careful planning, sustainable design:

  • Adds distinctive visual beauty—from formal to informal design.
  • Is low maintenance and cost effective long term.
  • Is easy to implement.
  • Requires minimal inputs and resources—less water, fertilizer or pesticides.
  • Reduces your home’s energy consumption.
  • Is environmentally sound—reducing carbon, chemicals and toxins.

Plan with Maintenance in Mind

Walk around your property to identify areas you want to accentuate for beauty and functionality. Whether you want to add an herb garden, a work area or patio, work with the slopes and boundaries of your yard. By designing with the natural patterns in the landscape, you make the most of space and maximize drainage for growing the best plants.

If possible, work with existing pathways as part of the outline for your yard. For interest and safety, modify pathways or make new ones that follow higher grades and natural curves in the land.

Consider sun and shade patterns, wind patterns and soil conditions throughout the yard. Different plants will do better in varying conditions or microclimates within your yard.

A landscape designer or contractor can help you choose the best plants for a sustainable landscape.

Grow Beauty and Function with Sustainable Vegetation

Sustainable landscapes grow a full spectrum of plants fitted for any style—from informal cottage to formal Chinese and everything in between.

Add sturdy lushness to your yard with native plants, which adapt easily to local climates and need less water. Self-seeding grasses and plants are ideal for sustainable landscapes—simply gather seedpods to crush and spread seeds where you want them to grow. Plants will flourish naturally. To minimize water requirements, keep plants with similar needs together in the same areas.

Fruit and nut-bearing trees, herbs, vegetables and edible flowers can be combined in any aesthetic variation, while providing food for you and local wildlife.

Deciduous trees, like maple, oak and elm, give shade in summer and allow sun in winter. Planted near the house, they provide comfort, while cutting down on energy bills. Turn a section of your yard into a cool summer woodland to further reduce air conditioning bills. Trees and hedges also form windbreaks, helping to cut your home’s fuel consumption by 1/3 and more.

Vines and bamboo gardens create privacy and shade around patios.

Use Eco-friendly Materials

A sustainable landscape relies more on vegetation, than hardscape materials, for forming boundaries like walls and fences. For walkways and driveways, be resourceful by using porous materials such as mulch, gravel or crushed stone, which are abundant and allow drainage. Try to use local and salvaged materials like used bricks or concrete.

Work with Nature

Attractive landscaping of any kind grows out of functional design planning. Whether you hire a landscape expert or do-it-yourself, work with the existing natural environment to develop a sustainable yard fitted to your lifestyle. No matter what you design—from an herb and vegetable garden to a meandering walkway or a meadow-like grass to a self-seeded lawn—shape areas and borders with vegetation suited to the climate and location. By working with the land you can create a self-sustaining yard over time tailored for your lifestyle. Instead of watering and fertilizing, you can spend more time enjoying the natural beauty, which is an extension of your home.

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How To Grow Peppers & Actually Succeed

peppersWhether you’re looking for information on how to grow jalapenos, bell peppers, habaneros, ghost chiles or any other type of pepper, this article will provide a few tips so you can produce the most bountiful harvests possible. Not only are peppers an ornamental addition to your landscaping, but they’re also quite tasty.

The first thing to consider when growing peppers is your local weather. Peppers are not frost tolerant, so it’s important to sow seeds or transplant seedlings after the last chance of frost. Once the possibility of turning your pepper plants into popsicles has passed, start thinking about where exactly you intend to plant them. They require full sun and rich, well-draining soil which makes containers a great idea, especially for beginner gardeners. Containers can be easily moved and require very little when it comes to soil amendments. Simply grab a bag of high quality potting mix (preferably organic) from your local garden center, dump it in a pot, and you’re off to the races.

When transplanting seedlings, your goal is to create a cozy home for newborn pepper plants. Not only will they require consistent watering, they’ll need nutrients to flourish. I suggest using an organic starter fertilizer, such as E.B. Stone’s Sure Start, to ensure plants have what they need to mature and pump out spicy pods like nobody’s business. Sure Start contains a plethora of goodies that plants love, such as: blood meal, feather meal, bone meal, dried chicken manure, bat guano, alfalfa meal, kelp meal, potassium sulfate, humic acids and soil microbes including mycorrhizal fungi.

After planting, you must master the art of controlling your temptations; namely the urge to overwater. Unlike tomatoes and other needy plants, peppers actually do better when they’re not babied. They don’t like to be overwatered and a small amount of stress, such as letting the soil slightly dry before watering, produces more fruit and hotter fruit. Keep in mind peppers grown in containers will require more frequent watering than peppers grown in the ground.

With sun, heat, water and fertilizer, pepper plants will shoot up like crazy and start flowering in no time. After peppers form, you have the choice to pick them right away or wait until they mature and turn color (varies by type).

From a landscaping perspective, pepper plants are an awesome addition to any landscape. They sport a wide variety of colors, are relatively easy to care for, and produce food. (Doesn’t get much better than that.)

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5 Frugal Fall Gardening Tips

Spring fever is for spendthrifts. For cheapskates, Fall’s the time to garden.

Sure, everybody’s green thumb seems to blossom with the first warmish day of Spring, just about the same day the green blades of the daffodils pop up in the flowerbed. But by Autumn, most fair weather gardeners have long ago hung up their hoes for the season and planted their butts firmly in front of the TV to watch football.

That’s a shame, because in most parts of the country the Fall is the best time of year for all kinds of garden activities, including planting and transplanting my types of plants. It’s also the time of year when you can save a bushel of cash on gardening equipment and nursery stock, and save even more by properly tucking in your garden and equipment for its long winter’s nap. Here’s how:

Great deals on end of season nursery stock:

In most climate zones, Fall is actually a better time of year than even spring to plant or transplant trees, shrubs, and many other perennial plants. The soil tends to be warmer which promotes root growth, and — unlike with Spring planting — there’s not the potential of a long, hot, dry summer facing the young upstarts. And, if you’re going to put down sod, Fall is also generally the best – and cheapest – time to do it. Many nurseries dramatically discount their remaining container-grown plants and other nursery stock, both to avoid over-wintering them and to make room for the soon-to-arrive Halloween pumpkins and Christmas trees. I’ve found it’s a great time to negotiate an even better deal by simply asking for an additional reduction on already discounted nursery stock.

Best prices on garden tools and equipment:

By shopping around, in the Fall you’ll likely find the best deals of the year on all types of gardening tools, equipment and other supplies – with the possible exception of snow blowers, chain saws, and snow shovels. It’s also a great time to go hunting for used lawn mowers, weed trimmers, and other lawn and garden equipment, since many people dump their used equipment at thrift stores, flea markets and yard sales at the end of the season. And if you’re in the market for something major – like a lawn or garden tractor – it’s worth calling some area landscaping companies to see if they plan on selling off any of their used equipment now that their busy season is over; a few years ago, I bought a heavy-duty (and lightly used) weed trimmer from a local landscaper at the end of the season for about ten cents on the dollar compared to what he’d paid for it new six months earlier.

Time to put away and tune-up equipment and tools:

Lawn and garden tools can cost a bundle, even when they’re on sale at the end of the season. It pays to take care of the equipment you own, and Fall is the perfect time to give then a little TLC. One of many great uses for aluminum foil: it makes a great scrub pad to remove dirt and rust from shovels, hoes, and other metal gardening tools. And when you’re done scrubbing them, sharpen your pruners and other gardening sheers by simply cutting through the aluminum foil scouring pad a few times. Oil all metal surfaces on your tools – used motor oil works fine for that – and put the business ends of your gardening tools in a plastic bag along with a couple of pieces of leftover summer charcoal to keep tools from rusting. Lawnmowers and other gas powered garden equipment should be thoroughly cleaned. Air and fuel filters should be changed (along with the oil). And, most experts agree, the gas tank should be kept filled with gasoline that has been treated with a stabilizer; this keeps the gas fresh and prevents condensation and deposits from developing in the engine (run the engine for about 10 minutes after adding the stabilized gasoline).

Build a compost pile and mulch:

If you don’t already have one, you definitely want to start a compost pile in the Fall to provide a receptacle for all the leaves, pumpkins and other yard debris you should rake up before winter sets in. Building a compost pile can be as simple as staking up a hoop of three-foot-high “chicken wire” or other mesh fencing; just so long as it allows for air circulation from the sides and is deep enough for leaves and other organic matter to compress itself thanks to the law of gravity. Also, keep your eyes open after Halloween and Thanksgiving for leftover bales of straw that might be discounted – or even put out for the garbage man – now that they’ve served their decorating purposes; straw makes great mulch or can be added to the compost pile. Mulching garden beds in the Fall with wood chips, compost, or other suitable organic matter helps to retain ground moisture and protect plants sleeping underneath. Check with local landscaping and tree removal services in the Fall for some of the best prices of the year on mulch.

Divide and multiply:

In addition to being the best time to plant most Springtime flowering bulbs (e.g. tulips, daffodils, crocuses, irises, etc.) as well as trees and shrubs, many perennial plants and vegetables can be divided in the Fall. Dividing most perennials – once they’re sufficiently mature – will both make them healthier and create multiple plants out of a single one, all for the cost of nothing more than a little light labor. Do your research in advance to determine which types of perennials should be divided in the Fall and the best methods for doing so. In general, perennials should first be thoroughly watered and the entire plant dug out of the ground, with its root ball intact. The root ball should then be separated into smaller plants by pulling it apart with a pitch fork or, in some cases, even cutting it apart with a shovel or other sharp tool. The smaller plants should then be immediately replanted in the ground and watered again.

Once I’ve buttoned down my garden and yard for the season, I’m reminded of a quote from author Stanley Crawford:

Winter is the time of promise because there is so little to do – or because you can now and then permit yourself the luxury of thinking so.”

(original post)

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Growing Fruit Trees in Containers

Even if you have limited space, you can still enjoy fresh fruit. Although not all fruit trees thrive in containers for long periods of time, you can grow any fruit tree in a container for a few years and then transplant it. You can also choose a dwarf variety, which is well suited to living in a container.

Some of the most popular dwarf citrus trees to grow in containers are:

Meyer lemon: First imported from China in 1908, it is believed to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin. The fruit has a very sweet flavor and is less acidic than a true lemon.

Calamondin: Prized for its attractive shape and foliage, it produces fragrant flowers nearly year-round. It is grown primarily for aesthetics and less for actual, edible fruit.

Dwarf Kaffa lime tree: The rind of the fruit and the unique double-lobed, aromatic leaves are often used in cooking.

Master gardener Chris Dawson prefers mail order bare-root trees. Inspect the tree when it arrives to be sure the packing material is still moist and the roots are in good shape. As with any bare-root tree, make sure the roots never dry out before planting.

To plant:

  • Use any kind of container as long as it has drainage holes and is an adequate size for the tree – 10 to 16 inches in diameter.
  • Fill the container with a light, well-drained potting mixture. Make a small mound in the center of pot and arrange the roots over the mound. Cover the roots with soil and tamp in lightly.
  • Leave the stake in place to help the tree remain sturdy while the roots become established.
  • Place in full sun, southern exposure.
  • Water to keep the soil moist, but not soggy.
  • Fertilize with a formula high in nitrogen with trace minerals.

The one compromise with container fruit trees: They rarely bear as much fruit as their planted counterpart. On the plus side, the fruit usually appears a season or so ahead of trees planted in the garden.

(original post)

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Gardening in the Fall: Preparing for a Frost

Once autumn begins, it’s a good time to start thinking about frosts and freezes and the effect they can have on your plants. Most garden plants, assuming they’re hardy in your area, will weather the winter without any problem. An abrupt, early freeze may cause them to drop their leaves prematurely or cause some tissue damage, but most will rebound next spring.

However, there are exceptions. Use the following tips to ensure that your garden is ready when the frost bites.

Bring tender plants indoors. Depending on where you live, some plants may behave as either annuals or perennials that simply can’t handle even a light frost. Many people don’t bother trying to extend the life of plants generally not meant to last more than a year and let them die back after a freeze hits.

However, if you grow tender annuals and perennials in pots and want to save them, move the pots into the garage or house when frost threatens and take them back out when the weather warms a bit, at least for a week or two. This process allows the plant acclimate better to a drastic change in growing conditions.

Tropicals can go in the house or garage before temperatures drop below 45 degrees F. Before bringing them inside, spray any plants that appear to have pests, such as spider mites, aphids and mealy bugs. A solution containing neem oil works well for treating these pests. Once the plants are inside, cut back on watering and withhold applying any fertilizer until next spring.

Don’t forget to prepare your house for the new arrivals. There’s nothing worse than watching the evening weather, only to discover that a freeze is on the way, and realize that you don’t have any room for your plants.

Protect evergreens. Evergreens in pots can be especially vulnerable. If their roots freeze, they may not make it through the winter. Those in large pots may be fine during mild winters, but evergreens in small pots should be protected. Place them against a wall and cover the pots with mulch or shredded leaves. Keep them watered throughout the winter. Don’t allow the root balls of evergreens in the garden dry out completely, even if it means dragging the hose out in the middle of winter and giving them a thorough soaking.

Cover tender seedlings in the vegetable garden. Fall veggies, especially tender seedlings, may need protection, although most can survive temperatures of around 28 degrees F with little or no tissue damage. Nevertheless, when the forecast calls for temperatures in that range, keep a few blankets handy to cover crops overnight.

During the day, if temperatures rise above freezing, remove the blankets so that excessive heat doesn’t accumulate beneath the coverings. Some people use clear plastic to protect their plants. Plastic causes more accumulation of heat, which is good, but if you don’t take the plastic off before direct sun hits it the next day, your plants will cook.

Grow hardy selections of culinary herbs during the winter months. Most culinary herbs are fairly tender but can survive temperatures in the upper 20s. However, some herbs, such as rosemary and thyme, can overwinter in their pots outdoors.

Watch out for new plant growth. Interestingly, some plants may actually start to put on new growth in response to cooler temperatures, especially if summer temps were really hot. But that new growth is tender, especially in the case of broadleaf and needled evergreens, and unless it has a chance to harden off before a freeze, it may die back.

Resist cutting back ornamental grasses. If you grow ornamental grasses, resist the temptation to cut the foliage back until late winter or early spring because all that top growth helps insulate the root ball. That’s especially true if the grass is only marginally hardy in your area.

Keep in mind that freezes don’t just affect plants. They can wreak havoc on other features in your garden as well.

Clean out and store pots in a protected area. Even the best pots can crack if the soil is left in them over the winter, so remember to remove the soil. If you have time and are so inclined, scrub the pots clean with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water.

Store watering cans in a protected area. Watering cans, especially galvanized cans, may expand and crack if water left in them freezes. Empty watering cans and place them where they can’t collect rainwater.

Winterize water features. Water features are of particular concern during the winter. Small features will freeze, despite the running water produced by the fountain, and that can ruin the pump and the pot. So make sure you drain them and store the pot and pump in the garage or garden shed. Depending on where you live, larger water features and ponds may freeze over somewhat, but if they are deep enough or have a waterfall rapid and large enough, they shouldn’t freeze solid. Consult a pond installation expert on how to properly winterize your water feature.

Prepare fish for the winter. Koi enter a state of suspended animation during the winter and survive the cold water with no problem. Cut back on feeding the koi because the more they eat, the more waste they produce. In cold water the bacteria that breaks down that waste doesn’t work well. So to maintain water quality, limit feeding to those occasional warm spells that may occur in the winter.

Generally speaking, winter frosts and freezes don’t cause nearly as many problems in the garden as late-spring freezes, when plants are busting out all over with tender new growth. So don’t panic this winter when the mercury takes a dive. Just do what you’ve got to do, then go inside and warm up by the fire.

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Weeds You Can Eat: Dandelion

One person’s weed-filled lawn is another person’s salad bar.

Perhaps the most familiar lawn weed of them all, the dandelion may also be the weed that’s most known to be edible. In fact, the reason it exists in the U.S. is that European settlers introduced it as a salad green. You can buy dandelion greens at some specialty food markets, but odds are, there are some growing, for free, a whole lot closer to you. They have a slightly bitter taste when they mature, so harvest the tender leaves that appear in early spring and in late fall, when they’re sweetest. The flowers are edible too and have a mildly bittersweet flavor. And eat them up! Dandelions have more beta-carotene than carrots.

(original post)

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Companion Planting

Some types of plants grow better when planted near a plant of another species. This is called companion planting. It is an older system of planting vegetables, herbs, and other plants, that was used before herbicides and fertilizers were common, but still works.

In some cases, companion planting traps pests in a bait crop to save the food crop. For example, planting marigolds near tomatoes helps trap root rot nematodes in the marigolds, sparing the tomatoes. Marigolds also repel tomato hornworms from tomatoes.

Another use for companion planting is to encourage pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds to visit your garden. Planting flowers that bees and hummingbirds are attracted to will draw them in. They will stay and pollinate your squash and cucumbers and other plants that need their help to grow. Planting herbs and flowers among your vegetables is the easiest way to accomplish this particular type of companion planting.

Part of companion planting is understanding that some plants should not be planted near each other. Dill and fennel do not get along, and cucumbers and cantaloupe will cross pollinate and produce foul tasting fruit. These plants should be separated as much as possible in the garden.

One of the most famous cases of companion planting is the Three Sisters method of planting corn, beans, and squash used by Native Americans. The corn is planted first and allowed to germinate and come up. Then the beans are planted and they use the corn as poles to hold themselves up. In return, they fix nitrogen for the corn to use to grow. Finally, the squash is planted between the rows of beans and corn. The squash is shaded so it does not get too hot and sunburn the squash, while providing a ground cover that keeps down weeds near the beans and corn.

This is also an example of spatial intercropping, in that the shade tolerant squash are planted under the corn and beans. The spiny squash vines are also said to repel raccoons from looting the sweet corn in the field.

Companion plants can also be planted to provide nurseries and habitat for beneficial insects, which then hunt down pests on the nearby crops. Again, planting herbs and flowers around your vegetables is the easiest way to accomplish this goal.

While scientists are only now seriously beginning to explore companion planting, it has been practiced for thousands of years. It is mentioned by Theophrastus (300 B.C.E.), Pliny (50 C.E.), and John Gerard (1597 C.E.). In China the mosquito fern has been planted around rice to fix nitrogen and shade out weeds for thousands of years. Something does not usually endure that long unless it works to some degree.

Companion planting was widely promoted in the 1970s by organic producers as a way to protect plants while reducing the need for herbicides and fertilizer. There is a famous book on companion planting by Louise Riotte called Carrots Love Tomatoes that mentions many more ways to practice companion planting in your garden if you are interested in reading further on this topic.

(original post)