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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.

(original post)

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Hang a Pallet Garden

Get ideas for repurposing old items into unique garden elements.

Pallet, Plants, Vertical, Garden

The strong desire to be sustainable has led to an increase in the use of recycled materials in landscape design.

Up-cycling and vertical gardening are very popular, this idea combines them both. Take a discarded shipping pallet and turn it into a vertical garden. This one is backed with roofing paper and chicken wire and planted with ornamental plants. If growing herbs, it is recommended to use landscape fabric as the backer because it will not leach toxic chemicals into the plants.

An added benefit is that a garden like this will keep plants up out of the reach of destructive pets and critters. Other ideas for using recycled pallets in your garden include making a coffee table, a strawberry hut or even a fence.

(original source)

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Organic Gardening Techniques Help Control Pests

There are many benefits and lessons to learn from organic gardening. Among them is how to control insects through plant diversity.

When insects like bees and leafhoppers can control their own populations, there’s no need for pesticides. Insects keep themselves in natural check because some of them are natural predators of each other, says organic expert Erica Renaud at Seeds of Change in El Guique, N.M. “But also they are competing for food sources, so when that happens they will monitor and manage their own population.”

To create what Renaud calls an “insectary,” pick the right plants. For example, purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a native species that attracts butterflies and bees. “This is an example of both an insectary and cover crop, so plant this to attract insects and pollinators and to cover the soil and protect it from erosion,” she says.

Cover cropping is another organic technique where crops are planted for the sole purpose of conditioning the soil. Used to promote soil fertility, cover cropping also helps with water drainage and weed control. Buckwheat, fava beans and clover are great cover crops.

Compost plays a huge part in the organic growing process. At the Seeds of Change farm, composting is done on a large scale in formations called windrows. A windrow is usually about 8 feet wide and 5 feet tall in full form. The compost is a mixture of manure for nitrogen, twigs and leaves for carbon and vegetable matter for nutrients.

As a general rule, the more compost is turned, the faster it matures. The maturation process for one windrow is eight to nine months. At the end of the process, it should look just like soil – indicating a high humus count -and have no unpleasant aroma. “If your compost still has a bad anaerobic smell-it has too much oxygen and is still fermenting – then it’s not ready. It can actually be toxic to your plants,” Renaud says.

One of the objectives of the farm is to develop new organic varieties of crops that can grow in a range of climates. Onions are one such crop popular among growers all over the country. The ‘Rossa Di Milano’ onion has a globelike shape, keeps for a long time and has a sweet flavor.

Lime, lemon, cinnamon and Italian large-leaf basil are popular herbs. ‘Red Rubin’ is a favorite among growers for its striking purple foliage. It can be used as a culinary herb as well as an accent plant.

Genovese basil is particularly popular because it’s used in making pesto. Harvest by pinching just below the leaf nodes (where the leaves are attached to the stem). This helps to make the plant bush out, giving you more volume and more basil to harvest.

Some brightly colored flowers at the grocery store are synthetically dyed, but you don’t have to sacrifice flower color when you go organic. There are several cultivars of zinnia that come in a variety of colors and can be harvested all season long. But gardeners aren’t the only ones attracted to their brilliant colors. “Butterflies are really attracted to color,” says Renaud. “There are lots of pinks and oranges, and they are really attracted to that.”

(original source here)