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Winter Landscaping Tips, Tricks & Ideas

Winter is when so many homeowners realize the backbone of their yard’s landscape is too barebones to be interesting. Without the defining structures like evergreen trees, pergolas or pathways, garden landscapes gone dormant can look barren. While in winter, it’s too late to plant berry plants and too cold to build a retaining wall, but there are plenty of ways to add immediate interest to your yard, and at the same time plan for next year’s winter landscape.

Why it Works to Decorate Your Yard in Winter Time

Instead of regretting you didn’t get your winterscape planned in time for winter, you can add instant color, texture and form to your garden landscape with other structural elements—from benches to boxes. A few well-placed items transform the view out your window and create a picture for people driving by.

By decorating with garden items and things you already have, you save money while personalizing your winter landscape. In the process, you have the opportunity to study and plan your yard’s design for future seasons.

Create Focal Points for Winter Contrast

Garden architecture, from big to small, provides needed contrast against faded winter backdrops. Even a solitary pot, or a clump of long grass, stand out with winter interest. Anything can become an architectural element—from sculpture and statuary, to boulders and birdfeeders. String some tiny outdoor lights almost anywhere for effect.

An arrangement of outdoor furniture or a bench under a tree creates a congenial scene. Paint an old chair in a bold or subtle color. Drape a few antique garden tools on top of a small table.

So-called junk, like vintage farm implements, becomes art with character. Fill a wheelbarrow or a crate with logs, greenery or favorite trinkets.

Paint a gate or part of a fence. Take advantage of architectural pieces you come across. A section of fencing or a decorative panel leaning in the garden or against the house adds new dimension. So does a castoff window frame or a detached door with some original décor attached to it.

Consider the many possibilities of garden art—from metal sculptures to birdhouses and plant stakes to rustic signs.

Plan Your Spring and Summer Garden

Winter is the perfect time to study the bare bones of your garden landscape and plan its future design. As you add focal points to this year’s winter landscape with furniture or sculpture, think about year-round possibilities.

You might not have a pond, pathway or arbor in place now, but now is the time to imagine where those elements would best be situated within your landscape. Notice the shapes and outlines of existing trees and plants and where spaces need to be filled in. Visualize where hedges, stonewalls or walkways will provide natural borders and functional flow to your garden and yard.

Turn Winter Interest into Enduring Design

By decorating your yard in the winter, you have the opportunity to study the bare bones of its underlying structure and plan for year-round design elements.

An out-of-season landscape lets you see what’s missing. You can see where to plant evergreens for greenery, deciduous trees with interesting branches, shrubs or berries. You can determine colors, which will enhance pathways, arbors and other hardscaping.

But no matter how nondescript your yard looks in winter, you can make it more interesting with a few well-placed objects. It will transform the view out your window and your home’s curb appeal.

(source)

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Sagaponack Goes Boom

Anyone who has driven down one of the bucolic lanes in Sagaponack can see it. A virtual explosion of plywood, concrete, balled trees, dumpsters, and piles of soil off to the side of properties, lying in wait for final grading. The roads are streaked with dirt, and the sounds of construction boom across the fields.

The size, scale, and quantity of residential building sites are mind-blowing, even for an architect, who can, at least at times, revel in such creativity. Having a modest project in Sagaponack has led me to Town Line Road and Daniel’s Lane, where there is a palpable feeling of power, energy, and the mighty force of those who, despite the economic meltdown, landed at the top of the heap.

Wall Streeters, hedge fund titans and real estate speculators have set their sights on Sagg. Its peaceful vistas, dotted with houses in the historic farm vernacular, are now sprinkled with strawberry-pink Corian above-ground pools, Middle Eastern follies, and imported stone edifices. Change has provided steady work for a vast number of tradespeople, architects, designers, landscape architects, engineers, and any possible specialty construction/design service available.

The Sagaponack Village Building Department and Zoning Board see some of the most extraordinary manifestations in architecture today. It is fascinating to watch those involved gracefully try to balance the heritage of the village and the right to freedom of expression.

The signage is so rampant that a sign law (perhaps slightly less stringent than East Hampton Village’s) must be on the horizon. In the words of Lady Bird Johnson, “Public feeling is going to bring about regulation so you don’t have a solid diet of billboards on all the roads.”

Months ago, I listened to a description of plans for light posts at the end of a long driveway, at the end of a private street. The posts, as presented, were large enough to fit a person inside them. I couldn’t help but wonder if the homeowners were going to station guards there.

The East End, for an architect, is a series of never-ending fascinations of architectural philosophy — and psychology.

(by Erica Broberg at The East Hampton Star)

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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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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)

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14 Simple Gardening Tips and Tricks

From using leftover coffee beans to preventing dirt from getting underneath fingernails, master gardener Paul James shares his top 14 tips and shortcuts to make spring gardening a breeze.

1. To remove the salt deposits that form on clay pots, combine equal parts white vinegar, rubbing alcohol and water in a spray bottle. Apply the mixture to the pot and scrub with a plastic brush. Let the pot dry before you plant anything in it.

2. To prevent accumulating dirt under your fingernails while you work in the garden, draw your fingernails across a bar of soap and you’ll effectively seal the undersides of your nails so dirt can’t collect beneath them. Then, after you’ve finished in the garden, use a nailbrush to remove the soap and your nails will be sparkling clean.

3. To prevent the line on your string trimmer from jamming or breaking, treat with a spray vegetable oil before installing it in the trimmer.

4. Turn a long-handled tool into a measuring stick! Lay a long-handled garden tool on the ground, and next to it place a tape measure. Using a permanent marker, write inch and foot marks on the handle. When you need to space plants a certain distance apart (from just an inch to several feet) you’ll already have a measuring device in your hand.

5. To have garden twine handy when you need it, just stick a ball of twine in a small clay pot, pull the end of the twine through the drainage hole, and set the pot upside down in the garden. Do that, and you’ll never go looking for twine again.

6. Little clay pots make great cloches for protecting young plants from sudden, overnight frosts and freezes.

7. To turn a clay pot into a hose guide, just stab a roughly one-foot length of steel reinforcing bar into the ground at the corner of a bed and slip two clay pots over it: one facing down, the other facing up. The guides will prevent damage to your plants as you drag the hose along the bed.

8. To create perfectly natural markers, write the names of plants (using a permanent marker) on the flat faces of stones of various sizes and place them at or near the base of your plants.

9. Got aphids? You can control them with a strong blast of water from the hose or with insecticidal soap. But here’s another suggestion, one that’s a lot more fun; get some tape! Wrap a wide strip of tape around your hand, sticky side out, and pat the leaves of plants infested with aphids. Concentrate on the undersides of leaves, because that’s where the little buggers like to hide.

10. The next time you boil or steam vegetables, don’t pour the water down the drain, use it to water potted patio plants, and you’ll be amazed at how the plants respond to the “vegetable soup.”

11. Use leftover tea and coffee grounds to acidify the soil of acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, gardenias and even blueberries. A light sprinkling of about one-quarter of an inch applied once a month will keep the pH of the soil on the acidic side.

12. Use chamomile tea to control damping-off fungus, which often attacks young seedlings quite suddenly. Just add a spot of tea to the soil around the base of seedlings once a week or use it as a foliar spray.

13. If you need an instant table for tea service, look no farther than your collection of clay pots and saucers. Just flip a good-sized pot over, and top it off with a large saucer. And when you’ve had your share of tea, fill the saucer with water, and your “table” is now a birdbath.

14. The quickest way in the world to dry herbs: just lay a sheet of newspaper on the seat of your car, arrange the herbs in a single layer, then roll up the windows and close the doors. Your herbs will be quickly dried to perfection. What’s more, your car will smell great.

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4 Edible Landscaping Ideas

Introduce edible plants into your landscape.

Michael Seliga, owner of Cascadian Edible Landscapes shares his tips for introducing edible plants into your landscape.

Sneaking a few perennial edibles into your vegetable garden, and even your ornamental borders, cuts down on work and increases the amount of food you can harvest.

Start with herbs. “Herbs are expensive to buy at the store,” Seliga says. “So adding them to your landscape makes good economic sense.” Reserve a small section of your vegetable garden for herbs or integrate them into your landscape. Rosemary, sages, thymes, winter savory, basils, and oregano all blend in well with flowering perennials.

Plant fruiting shrubs. Blueberries, currants, and elderberries are attractive shrubs in their own right, putting out pretty flowers in spring and, especially in the case of blueberries, a colorful fall show. Plus, they produce loads of delicious fruit.

Bring on the berries. Raspberries and blackberries reliably produce loads of fruit for years with minimal care. All they need is a sunny spot with well-drained soil, some basic pruning in winter, and a coat of compost over their beds in spring.

Go undercover. Low-growing, spreading strawberries, especially alpine varieties, make an attractive groundcover in sunny spots.

(original post here)

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Sunflower Varieties For All Occasions

Which sunflower varieties are best for your garden?


The Best Sunflowers for the Birds and Bees

‘Giganteus’ produces heads a foot or more across (county fair alert!) on plants growing to 12 feet or more in height. It doesn’t need to be staked and produces pounds of seeds (for you and the birds).

‘Lemon Queen’ is the sunflower chosen by the Great Sunflower Project for its annual bee count. Bees love this sunflower, which can be grown in containers. It tops out at about 72 inches tall in the ground. Find out more about the project at greatsunflower.org.

‘Mammoth Grey Stripe’ is huge—growing to 12 feet tall—and it produces seed that both you and the birds will love on blooms about a foot across.

The Best Sunflowers for Cut Flowers

‘Autumn Beauty’, a multistem variety, grows 40 to 60 inches tall with 5-inch flowers in shades of red and yellow and bronze.

‘Chianti Hybrid’ is wine-red with flecks of gold, a real showstopper that tops out at around 5 feet. It’s multiple-branched with purple stems.

‘Italian White’ produces delicate 3-to-4-inch white to pale yellow blooms with brown centers on a 60-inch plant.

‘Soraya’ is the first sunflower named an All-America Selections Winner. Raised both for flowers and to attract birds, this branching plant produces 4-to-6-inch flowers in orange with dark centers on 6-foot-tall plants.

‘Taiyo’ is a top florists’ choice. Its 10-to-12-inch yellow blooms grow on a 5-to-6-foot plant.

The Best Big and Tall Sunflowers

‘Kong Hybrid’ is a sturdy-stemmed, 14-foot sunflower with perfectly round 10-inch golden flowers.

‘Mammoth Russian’ is the classic county-fair competition sunflower. It grows 12 to 15 feet with a 15-inch head filled with striped, edible seeds.

‘Sunzilla’ will grow to 16 feet tall with golden flowers filled with edible seeds.

‘Titan’ is an heirloom with giant golden flower heads growing to as much as 24 inches across.

The Best Small Sunflowers

‘Big Smile’ will give you one. These 10-to-24-inch plants produce 3-to-6-inch blooms in bright golden yellow with nearly black centers. Perfect for containers.

‘Elf’ produces 4-inch blooms on a plant that grows to only 16 inches tall—great for containers. Also attracts butterflies.

‘Junior’ is the first pollen-free, dwarf, branching sunflower. The 2-foot-high plants boast bright yellow petals on 4-to-5-inch faces.

‘Little Becka’ packs a lot of personality into a relatively small package. At only 3 feet high, it produces a profusion of 6-inch bicolor flowers of red and yellow.

The Best Pollen-Free Sunflowers

‘Bashful’ is a bushy plant producing 4-inch flowers of pastel yellow and salmon pink. And it’s a dwarf (could you tell by the name?) at only 36 inches high.

‘Chocolate Cherry’ is a midsized plant covered by chocolate-burgundy petals that surround dark brown disks.

‘Firecracker’ yields armfuls of gold and russet flowers on a compact, multistemmed plant that grows 2 to 3 feet high.

‘Moulin Rouge’ is a branching, 60-to-80-inch plant bearing 3-to-4-inch dark burgundy blooms.

The Best Sunflowers for Snacking

‘Hopi Black Dye’ is an indigenous variety once grown by Native Americans for use as both dye and food. Golden yellow petals surround a dark, blue-black center on a plant that grows to about 9 feet tall.

‘Royal Hybrid’ is a high-yielding seed used by growers to produce bird and snack seed for the market. Plants grow 7 feet and up and produce large, edible seeds on 8-inch flowerheads.

‘Snack Seed’ is a large-headed hybrid producing pounds of fat seeds for humans and birds.

‘Super Snack Mix’ produces only single, 10-inch flowers on a 5-foot plant, but the seeds are extremely large and easy to crack.

(original article here)

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How to Plant a Kitchen Herb Garden

Have some extra space in your yard or garden? Plant a fresh and simple herb garden only steps away from the kitchen.

Suggested Herbs

  • basil (‘Purple Ruffles’ or ‘Dani’)
  • sage
  • oregano
  • common thyme
  • sweet marjoram
  • lavender
  • rosemary
  • parsley
  • chives
  • cilantro

Pick a Location

Pick the location for your herb garden. An ideal location would be a few steps from your kitchen, but any spot that gets about six hours of sun a day is good. If you have space in front of a kitchen window, plant the herbs in small containers for an indoor garden.

Prepare the Area for Planting

Prepare the area for planting by loosening the soil. If the soil is compacted or consists of heavy clay, improve drainage by adding some compost, peat moss or coarse sand. Work the material into the top foot of soil before you plant. Tip: Plant early in the morning or late in the afternoon to prevent the transplants from wilting in the midday sun.

Dig Planting Holes

Because you are starting herbs from bedding plants and not seeds, you will need to create larger planting holes. Dig each hole to about twice the width of the root ball of the new plant.

Add Plants to Soil

Space the bedding plants about 18 inches apart to give them room to spread out and grow. Tip: Place taller herbs, like sage, rosemary and marjoram, toward the back of the garden, and place parsley and cilantro at the front.

Label Herbs

Add labels to each of your freshly planted herbs to make them easy to identify when cooking.

Surround With Flowering Plants

For accents of color in your herb garden, add flowering plants like zinnias and salvia. Tip: Plant perennials on one side and annuals on the other for easier replanting next year.

Water Regularly

Give the new transplants plenty of water. Once established, make sure your herbs get an inch of water each week throughout the growing season.

Harvest Mature Herbs

Begin harvesting from the herbs as soon as they are mature, but take only a little bit each time you harvest. If you remove more than a third of the plant at one time, it takes longer to recover and produce new foliage. To promote branching, keep the tops of the plants pinched back in early summer. With judicious picking, most herbs can be harvested for several months. Tip: Fresh herbs taste best when harvested in the morning. Also, herbs are most flavorful if harvested before they bloom.

(original source)

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Notes from the Garden: The Art of Garden Accessories

An exquisite garden is a planned one, in which each plant has been selected to compliment the others in size, shape and color. Accessories such as benches, sculptures, mirrors and lanterns can be included to enhance the magnetism of the environment where the garden is located.

Sculptures accent sweeping lawns when they are large in size. Large sculptures should be positioned on an angle with landscaping corners. Small sculptures can be placed inside borders with plants surrounding them. I suggest using any kind of sculpture, made by sandstone or marble, because when those materials are exposed to the weather, they age gracefully. Frogs, bunnies and turtles in neutral colors appear magical when placed in flowerbeds or close to pools and fountains. They also can be placed on top of birdbaths, so they are visible from a distance. By pools, certain statues can be connected to water and spill water into the pools.

Bird baths have an important use: centralizing views. They should be placed in the center of the beds, or borders on different garden structures. The height is very important. Usually, three to four feet is the correct height, although the ones low to the ground in the shape of shells and flowers, made in sandstone, are glorious along the edge of flowerbeds, shrubs or under trees.

Spheres in concrete or stainless steel give a clean look to the landscaped areas due to simplicity and shape. Spheres in stainless steel reflect sunlight and moonlight. Spheres made of French popular wood exhibit exquisite colors when weathered, matching the natural tones of the tree bark.

Outdoor mirrors are a British garden tradition, yet usually forgotten in our English country style gardens. When hung outside, they reflect the beauty of a garden. They can be found in iron, wood and acrylic, and they can be hung near porches, pool houses, or any outside wall located near a garden.

Oriental garden stools, made of ceramic in different colors and shapes, look very special when they are placed along borders, gardens or by swimming pools. These seats are a long-time oriental tradition in gardens. More traditional benches in concrete or wood bring romance to wooded areas under the canopy trees.

Lanterns and torches should be placed in permanent spots along areas where light is needed. The glow of a candle is the ideal tool to give your garden more intimacy. Standing torches in stainless steel have a sophisticated look and are durable. Citronella oil is used to light these torches and help keep the undesired night bugs away. Lanterns by the steps, patios, or hanging by trees or pergolas reflect the right amount of light to compliment the beauty of outdoor areas. Larger lanterns, made in stainless steel with unbreakable glass, improve all outdoor areas and may also be used on top of the table.

Pots and planters should be outside year-round. Concrete, fiberglass, metal pots, planters and urns can be used year-round in Hampton’s weather. They give majestic structure to driveways and entrances, especially when elevated by columns. I even love to see them when they are covered in snow.

All this detail compliments our gardens and makes them even more special. Personalizing them with the correct elements is important. Different accents bring movement, character and interest to the landscape. Every single well-placed detail will amplify the harmony of nature.

There are numerous ways to utilize garden accessories to achieve a better and more attractive landscape design.

(original post)

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Tips for Growing an Organic Vegetable Garden

Enjoy healthy, tasty, organic vegetables fresh from your garden.
Try these tips for success.

Starting Out Right

For the healthiest plants, make sure you have good growing conditions. For most vegetables, that means full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sun a day). If you have poor soil, amend it with lots of organic matter, such as compost.

Choose Plants Sensibly

Some plants, such as tomatoes, are naturally more susceptible to pest and disease problems than others. To reduce problems, look for disease-resistant varieties. (Disease resistance is usually mentioned in catalog listings, seed packets, and plant tags.)

Feed Your Plants Naturally

In most soils, fertilizing your vegetables isn’t necessary, but it will help them grow faster and give better crops. If you feed your plants, choose natural products. Well-rotted animal manure from plant-eating critters (rabbits, horses, sheep, chickens) is a great source. Or look for prepackaged organic materials online or at your local garden center.

Note: If you have rich soil already, you may be best off not fertilizing. Too much of a good thing can make your plants put on lots of lush, soft growth that’s loved by pests. Slower-growing plants often resist insects and disease better.

Practice Rotation

If you plant the same vegetables in the same spot every year, disease can build up and be ready before your plants have much of a chance. Keep the element of surprise against your disease foes and try to plant your crops in different parts of the garden each year.

Because many closely related plants are affected by the same diseases, avoid planting them where their relatives were the year or two before. Two of the biggest families are the tomato family (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant) and the squash family (squash, pumpkin, cucumber, watermelon).

Mulch Well

A layer of mulch over the soil not only helps reduce weeds, but it creates a barrier that can prevent fungal disease spores from splashing up onto plant leaves. In most cases, a layer of mulch 1 to 2 inches thick is best.

For an extra bonus, use a mulch made from an organic material that will decompose (such as cocoa hulls or weed-free straw). As it breaks down, it adds organic matter to the soil for you.

Declare War on Weeds

Weeds not only compete with your plants for water and nutrients, but they may also attract insect pests. And many insects spread disease as they feed from one plant to the next.

Keep It Clean

Many diseases spread rapidly in dead, fallen foliage. Regularly — once a week or more if you have time — walk through your garden and pick up shed foliage.

Also: You can sometimes prevent a disease from spreading through an entire plant just by picking off an infected leaf. Throw dead or diseased leaves in the trash, not in your compost pile.

Water Wisely

Wet leaves, especially in the afternoon or evening hours, can attract disease. Avoid watering your plants with a sprinkler. Instead, use a water-saving soaker hose to deliver water directly to the roots.

Give Them Some Air

While jamming plants in is a great way to get the most from your plot, it can also cause problems. Avoid planting your vegetables too close together. Good air flow between the plants can help prevent many types of fungal diseases.

Plant Some Flowers

A few flowers will not only help your garden look prettier, but they may also attract beneficial bugs. These good guys in the garden attack insect pests such as aphids and tomato hornworms. Don’t worry about these good bugs: Most types are small enough that you’ll hardly notice them in the garden.

Some of the best plants for attracting beneficial insects are:

  • Bachelor’s Button
  • Cleome
  • Cosmos
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Daisy
  • Marigold
  • Nasturtium
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Salvia
  • Sunflower
  • Yarrow
  • Zinnia

Be Realistic

One of the hardest lessons for first-time organic vegetable growers is that organic gardens don’t look perfect. They’ve achieved a balance where there’s usually some form of damage from pests and diseases. Nature comes to the rescue before that spotted leaf becomes a plague.

(view original source)