Keep Holiday Plants Looking Their Best

December 6, 2018  
Filed under Feature Stories, Home & Garden


By Melinda Myers

The holiday season has arrived.  That means you will be on the giving or receiving end of a poinsettia, Christmas cactus, cyclamen, amaryllis or other holiday plant.  Extend the beauty and longevity of these holiday beauties with proper care.

And that starts the minute you leave the florist or garden center.  Always protect your gift plants from the harsh outdoors.  Professional florists and garden center staff will provide a care tag and wrap your plants in a plastic or paper sleeve.

Remove the wrap as soon as you arrive home. This is especially important when caring for poinsettias. The upturned leaves emit ethylene, a ripening hormone, that can shorten the longevity of your poinsettia’s colorful display.

Rewrap your holiday plant anytime you move it outdoors and never leave it sitting in a cold car while running errands. A chilled plant looks fine until it thaws. By the next day the plant turns grayish-green, wilts and may die.  Not such a nice gift after all.

Once your plant arrives home, place it in a cool, brightly lit location.  The cool temperatures and indirect light help the blooms last longer.  Avoid drafts of hot and cold air.  These can dry or chill the plant, resulting in leaf and blossom drop.  Fold down the foil wrap to allow sunlight to reach all the leaves.

Keep the soil moist, like a damp sponge, but not wet. A quick touch of the top inch or two of soil will let you know when it is time to water. Water thoroughly whenever the top few inches of soil are crumbly and just slightly moist.

Pour out any water that collects in the foil, basket, decorative pot or saucer. Or place pebbles in the bottom of the container or saucer to elevate the plant above any sitting water.

Plant your amaryllis bulb in a container that is slightly larger than the bulb and has drainage holes. Set the bulb in a well-drained potting mix with 1/3 of the pointed end exposed. Water the potting mix thoroughly and place the container in a cool sunny location. Continue to water thoroughly, but only often enough to keep the soil barely moist.

Or go soilless. Place several inches of pebbles in the bottom of a glass vase or watertight container. Cover the pebbles with water. Set the bulb on top of the pebbles, adding more stones around the bulb to hold it in place.  Leave the top one third of the bulb exposed. Add water as needed to maintain the water level just below the bulb.

Now relax and wait the month or more needed for your amaryllis bulb to wake up and start growing.  Water more often once sprouts appear.

Keep your floral display looking its best by removing spent flowers from azaleas, Christmas cactus, cyclamen and kalanchoes. This keeps the plant looking fresh and often encourages more blooms. Remove the true flowers, those yellow knobs in the center of the colorful leaves of the poinsettia. This extends the longevity and beauty of the poinsettia plant.

And once the holidays are past, keep enjoying these plants through the gray days of winter. Move the plants to a sunny window, fertilize with a dilute solution of complete or flowering plant fertilizer and water as needed.

Add some artificial berries, cut flowers in water picks or silk blooms to replace the faded flowers. Use colorful stakes or natural twigs for added beauty and to support floppy leaves and stems.

Be sure to add a few holiday plants to this year’s gift list. They’re guaranteed to brighten everyone’s holiday celebrations.

Plants for Every Room of Your Home

November 26, 2018  
Filed under Home & Garden

 

By Melinda Myers

Gardeners know the benefits of digging in the soil. It elevates a person’s mood, improves mental and physical well-being and the outcome is always good – added beauty or tasty nutritional food.  But many of us are stuck indoors for the winter, have a lack of space to garden outdoors or just can’t get enough of this healthful activity.  Adding greenery indoors expands our gardening opportunities and provides the many benefits of living with and tending plants.

Let’s start with the kitchen. Boost the flavor and nutrition of winter meals by growing leafy greens and herbs in a sunny window or under a cabinet with the help of a Growbar LED light fixture.  Start plants from seeds or purchase transplants to grow indoors. Place your indoor kitchen garden in a brightly lit location, free of cold drafts and with easy access to harvest and use. Then enlist the whole family and even your guests into harvesting greens for their salad and herbs to season their meals. This is sure to turn family and friend gatherings into unique and memorable experiences.

Include plants in your home or work office. Greenery helps reduce stress even when working at your desk or tackling homework at the end of a long day. Set a few plants on or near your desk or other workspace. And don’t let a lack of light stop you from growing a bit of green stress relief. Stylish energy efficient full spectrum plant lights, like the Felt Pendant Grow Light (modsprout.com), fit any décor, direct light where it is needed and promote healthy plant growth.

Take advantage of your bathroom’s high humidity. Grow ferns, orchids, bromeliads and other humidity-loving plants in this space.  Consider these and other low light plants like cast iron, pothos and philodendron if natural light is limited. Imagine stepping out of the shower into a mini tropical zone. What a nice way to ease into your day.

Get a good night’s sleep with a bit of homegrown aromatherapy in the bedroom. Grow lavender, rosemary, chamomile and other soothing herbs in your bedroom in front of a sunny window, on a shelf or other naturally or artificially lit, bright location. Just be sure to give the plants a pet to release their fragrance into the air before crawling into bed for a long restful sleep.

Bring the garden to your living room. Create your own miniature tropical, moss or desert garden in a terrarium that serves as a focal point in any living space or centerpiece on the dining room table. Use an open terrarium for succulents and other plants that need airflow, lower humidity and space to grow. Enlist closed systems for moss and tropical plants that benefit from the high humidity and condensation that provides continual watering. Select systems like the Botanica Biodome that minimize maintenance and provide easy access for tending mini eco-systems.

Now’s a great time to consider rethinking your home décor to include greenery in every space. You and your family will enjoy improved air quality, elevated moods, a reduction in stress and the many other benefits plants provide.

Create a Healthy Foundation for Fall Plantings

August 14, 2018  
Filed under Home & Garden

By Melinda Myers

Fall is a great time to start a garden or renovate an existing planting bed. The soil is warm while the air is cool – a perfect combination for establishing new plantings. It is also a great time to prepare gardens for the next planting season. Investing time up front to create a healthy foundation for your plants will pay off with years of beautiful, healthy and productive gardens.

When you read plant tags and seed packets you’ll find that the majority of plants prefer moist well-drained soil. Unfortunately, most gardeners aren’t growing in plant-friendly soils. Heavy clay, sandy and droughty soils are much more common. Understanding what you have is the best place to start when creating a healthy soil foundation for new and existing gardens.

Start with a soil test. Contact the local office of your Extension Service or state certified soil testing lab for details. They can direct you on how to take a soil test and where to send the sample. The test results will tell you how much, if any, fertilizer, lime, or sulfur is needed.  Following soil test recommendations can save you money spent on and time applying unnecessary soil additives. Plus, following the results will increase your gardening success.

While waiting for the results you can do a bit of analysis yourself.  Soils are made of clay, sand, and silt particles. The feel and cohesive nature of this sample will tell you a bit about your soil. Take a handful of soil and create a ribbon by rubbing it through your thumb and index finger to get a feel for your soil type.

If the soil easily forms a ball or rolls into a sausage shape, feels slippery when wet and smoother when dry, you have a high percent of clay in your soil.  Soils with a high percent of the very small clay particles are often called heavy soils. They stay wet longer and hold onto soil nutrients. Clay soils are slow to dry out and warm up in the spring. Avoid working them when wet. This leads to compaction and clods you will be contending with all season long.

Soils with a larger percent of sand particles don’t form a ball when moist and feel gritty to the touch. The much larger sand particles create bigger pores in the soil for water and nutrients to move through quickly. They tend to be nutrient deficient, fast draining and dry. But they warm up and dry quickly in the spring.

Silt feels smooth like flour when dry and soapy slick when wet. They are the middle-sized particles that hold water and nutrients longer than sand, but not as much as clay particles. Silty soils drain slower and stay colder longer than sandy soils in the spring. Overworking soils with a high percent of silt leads to crusting and compaction, decreasing drainage and water infiltration.

Consult your soil test report when preparing your new garden beds. Prior to planting is the easiest time to add organic matter to any of these soil types. It increases the water-holding ability, the infiltration rate so less water runs off the soil surface and builds plant-friendly soil structure. Incorporate several inches of compost, aged manure or other organic matter into the top eight to twelve inches of soil.

Further improve your soil by using a slow release fertilizer with a high percent of organic matter like Milorganite (milorganite.com). The 85% organic matter feeds the soil microorganisms and your plants as it improves all soil types. You get multiple benefits with this type of fertilizer.

So, as you plan your new landscape additions this fall, include testing and amending the existing soil into your plans. Understanding your soil can help you create a strong foundation important to the health, longevity and beauty of your gardens and landscapes.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening for Everyone” DVD set and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Milorganite for her expertise to write this article. Myers’ web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.

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Melinda Myers LLC, P.O. Box 798, Mukwonago,, WI 53149 United States

Summer Care for Perennial Gardens

June 28, 2018  
Filed under Home & Garden

By Melinda Myers

Keep your perennial gardens looking their best throughout the hot summer months with a bit of midsummer grooming and care. Investing time midseason means you’ll be enjoying beautiful gardens now through the end of the growing season. Read more

Making an Entrance

June 14, 2018  
Filed under Home & Garden

Get the most out of foyer decor

By Melissa Erickson

The foyer is a place of welcome and transition. Enhance your entryway with some tips from expert designers:

“Given your entryway may be the only room a person ever sees, consider what you want people to know about you. It’s a great place to hang a sign saying something about your family, your love of a pet, your beliefs, a motivational saying. The entryway is usually a place where so much happens, so it’s important that everything in there serve a purpose, especially if you are tight on space,” said interior decorator Ellen Lindgren, owner of Ellen Lindgren Interiors.

Clutter-free and organized

“Nothing makes a small space look cluttered faster than shoes, keys, backpacks and other accoutrements that end up on the floor or bench instead of in their proper home,” said Lesley Myrick, owner of Lesley Myrick Art + Design. “If there’s a closet, invest in a great closet system to maximize storage. If you’re without a closet, a tall, slender shelving unit with bins or baskets can bring order to the chaos.”

“Since the entryway is likely the collection spot for a lot of the random things that come through your door, give it a home,” whether that means generic square cubbies with basket inserts or a small built-in, said Kayla Hein, creative director at ModernCastle.com. “Painting an entry built-in the same color as the existing trim in your home will help it to look like it was always there. Simply adding painted beadboard and hooks is a quick and inexpensive way to get the built-in look without the cost.”

“If a shoe cabinet would never work for your family, consider placing a large wicker basket in your entryway. Kids can just kick their shoes off and throw them in the basket,” said Sarah Karakaian, interior designer and owner of Nestrs. “Make it a chore for someone to return all the shoes to their rightful owners before bedtime.”

Tight space

“The biggest mistake people make with small entries, believe it or not, is going too small with their design elements,” said interior designer Rebecca West, owner of Seriously Happy Homes. “Choose as large a rug as will fit in the space, and hang a large mirror or piece of art. Having fewer, larger things can make a space feel intentional and interesting, while a bunch of small things ends up looking cluttered. Go smaller on depth — keep tables, benches and other things that protrude into the room as shallow as possible.”

If space is lacking, think vertically

“Interesting wall hooks for coats or bags could serve as art pieces as well as for having a place to hang things,” said Marina V. Umali of Marina V Design Studio.

“For small entries, shallow wall-mount shelves can be a great way to provide a place for mail and a few decorative accents without sacrificing valuable floor space,” said Tory Keith, president of Board and Park.

“For small-sized entryways, consider implementing multifunctional furniture pieces into your design — trunks provide storage, but can also double as a bench,” said Tracy Stern, of T&T Design,.

Let there be light

“Invest in a pretty chandelier to greet guests,” said designer Shell Neeley of J. Banks Design. “Layers of lighting are great. If you have room for a side table, add lamps. These create a nice ambiance.

“Incorporating pendant lighting adds a touch of warm and inviting character to any space. Hanging lights also take up less space than a table or floor lamp, which will make your foyer seem larger and clutter-free,” said Molly Kay, community manager at Arhaus Furniture.

Design wise

“I think we are seeing a rise in the appreciation of hand craftsmanship, so we are starting to see some beautiful rugs making an entry come alive, or some fantastic handmade frames, etc. People are looking for unique and unusual pieces so that they can use this moment as a statement of their taste but also of their ability to curate an interesting collection,” said interior designer Mark Cutler.

“Interesting flooring that can be installed to visually enlarge a small entranceway, such as installing tile or wood planks on an angle or juxtaposition to the flooring of the room adjacent to the entryway, can set off the entry as an interesting, but separate room,” said Leslie Markman-Stern, president of Leslie M. Stern Design.“Circular mirrors have been increasingly popular in 2018, are great for small spaces and blend nicely across most design styles. Complete the space with a dramatic pendant light fixture. We find that geometric shapes work best in foyer areas as these shapes distribute light across the whole room, while providing the biggest ‘wow’ factor,” said interior designer Dayna Hairston.

The DOs and DON’Ts of backyard composting

June 14, 2018  
Filed under Home & Garden

By Jonny Finity, Chittenden Solid Waste District (CSWD)

DO: Line your kitchen pail with a paper towel or newsprint before you fill it with food scraps. This will help maintain a clean pail and keep odors down.

DON’T: Throw your food scraps in a pile and expect to get compost. This is a quick way to produce bad odors and attract animals. The microbes that support the composting process need a balanced diet of nitrogen (food scraps) and carbon (leaves, wood shavings, newsprint).

DO: Keep some leaves handy! When you empty a pail of food scraps into your compost pile, cover them with 1-3 pailfuls of leaves. Using enough leaves will control odors and avoid attracting animals. If you don’t have a lot of trees where you live, don’t worry! You can use newsprint, shredded cardboard, wood shavings, or other carbon-rich materials to balance out the high nitrogen content of food scraps.

DON’T: Add meat, bones, or dairy products to a backyard pile. They take a long time to break down, and will often attract unwanted attention from animals or pests.

DO: Store your food scrap pail in the freezer, especially if it takes more than a week for you to fill it.

DON’T: Add pet waste to your compost pile if you plan to use the compost. Pet waste may contain pathogens that aren’t killed off in a backyard compost system.

DO: Test the moisture level in your compost pile. Make a ball of compost – it should stick together, but it shouldn’t drip. If it’s too wet, you probably need to add more leaves. If it’s too dry, you may need to reduce the amount of leaves, or give it some water.

DON’T: Worry! There is no problem with a compost pile that can’t be solved. If you’re having trouble with your compost pile, there’s probably an easy solution that you just haven’t found yet. Contact your local solid waste district or call a master composter for advice.

For more tips on composting, including information about upcoming workshops, contact CSWD at 872-8100 or visit www.cswd.net/composting. 

Elevated Gardens

June 14, 2018  
Filed under Home & Garden

Add Space, Beauty and Ease

By Melinda Myers

Elevate your gardens to waist high level for convenience and easy access.  Elevated gardens are easy on your back and knees and are perfect for the patio, balcony, deck or any area where a bit of planting space is desired. Place them near your kitchen door, grill or table for easy cooking and serving access. You’ll be able to plant, weed and harvest with minimal bending or even from a chair.

Purchase one on wheels or add casters to the legs of your elevated garden for added mobility. Then wheel it into the sun or shade as needed each day or out of the way when you entertain.

Set the garden in place first. Once it’s filled with soil, it will be very heavy and difficult to move. Those gardening on a balcony should confirm the space will hold the weight of the elevated garden you select when filled with soil and mature plants.

Make sure you have easy access to water. Since this is basically a container, you will need to check the soil moisture daily and water thoroughly as needed. Fill the elevated garden with a well-drained planting mix that holds moisture while providing needed drainage.

Incorporate a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer like Milorganite (milorganite.com) at planting. It contains 85% organic matter, feeding the plants and soil. Slow release fertilizers provide plants with needed nutrients for several months, eliminating the need for weekly fertilization.

Grow a variety of your favorite herbs and vegetables like basil, parsley, compact tomatoes, and peppers.  Support vining plants or try compact ones like Mascotte compact bush bean. Add color and dress up your planter with flowers like edible nasturtiums and trailing herbs like thyme and oregano which will cascade over the edge of the planter.

Maximize your growing space by planting quick maturing vegetables like radishes, beets and lettuce in between tomatoes, peppers, cabbage and other vegetables that take longer to reach their mature size. You’ll be harvesting the short season vegetables just as the bigger plants need the space.

Further increase your garden’s productivity with succession plantings. Fill vacant spaces that are left once a row or block of vegetables are harvested.  Add more planting mix if needed.

Select seeds and transplants that will have time to reach maturity for harvesting before the growing season ends.  Broccoli, cabbage, compact Patio Pride peas, lettuce, spinach and other greens taste best when harvested in cooler fall temperatures.

Replace weather-worn flowers with cool weather beauties like pansies, nemesias, dianthus, alyssum and snapdragons. Fertilize the whole planter so new plantings and existing plants have the nutrients they need to finish out the season.

Protect your fall flowers, herbs and vegetables from hard frosts with floating row covers. These fabrics allow air, light and water through while trapping the heat around the plant.

Once you discover the fun, flavor and ease of waist high gardening, you’ll likely make room for more elevated planters for your future gardening endeavors.   

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books,and is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine.

Tips for a Greener Thumb

June 14, 2018  
Filed under Home & Garden

By Melissa Erickson

Employing some smart gardening tips will have you enjoying your landscape more while spending less time and effort.

“The quality of plant material available and the way the green industry is responding to what gardeners want mean that we can have beautiful gardens that are environmentally responsible and demand less time and energy, less water and fertilizer, are pollinator-friendly and offer incredible color from foliage and flowers,” said garden designer Kerry Ann Mendez, author of “The Right-Size Flower Garden” and just-published “The Budget-Wise Gardener.”

The key is to have the “right-sized garden,” Mendez said.

“Most of us are busy. We like the idea of a beautiful garden, but we want to put time back in our pockets,” she said.

The two largest age groups, millennials and baby boomers, gravitate toward gardens on a smaller scale, Mendez said. Millennials are more likely to live in urban settings, while boomers are downsizing because many don’t want to spend so much time maintaining a large landscape.

Picking Plants

In order for your gardening endeavors to be enjoyable, “pick the right plant for the right place,” Mendez said. That means a plant’s sunlight and soil needs should be a good match for the garden where it’s being placed.

“It should be a good marriage,” Mendez said.

Smart sizing

Sometimes your garden just gets out of hand, or maybe you’ve moved and inherited a big garden that requires too much effort. Mendez’s mantra is, “Plants are not your children or pets. You can ditch those that are too much trouble or never performed well in the garden.”

Plant subtraction is difficult, but a smart choice for people who want to enjoy their garden more. The garden should be a place of escape from the business of life, a place for family time, Mendez said.

“Get rid of what doesn’t work. Replace or remove. Take off your rosy glasses and stop feeling guilty,” said Mendez, who downsized her own garden to add an outside patio.

Two-fers

“Pick plants that are two-fers,” Mendez said, meaning perennials or shrubs should have long bloom times or feature blooms plus interesting foliage. “You’ve got to give me more than just flowers,” she said.

For example, the perennial foamy bells (heucherella) can thrive in sun or shade depending where you live.

“Gorgeous and easy to grow, foamy bells has dazzling, eye-catching clumps of foliage and tiny yet incredible flowers. Pollinators love it, and it requires low water. It’s a real workhorse plant,” Mendez said.

For a comparable shrub, consider the oakleaf hydrangea, which is one of the few hydrangeas native to the United States. Stunning flowers bloom in early spring/summer, and if not cut they dry on the plant and last into fall when foliage turns a stunning shade of burgundy, Mendez said.

“Over winter, its bark exfoliates, or peels back, to reveal a rich underlayer. It’s a four-season plant,” Mendez said.

Get Contained

A “huge revolution” is taking place in container gardening, Mendez said. The industry is responding to what people want and offering lightweight, self-watering containers pretty enough to be used indoors and out. They’re practical, efficient and great for people with poor soil or limited space. For example, Crescent Garden’s True Drop planters can go without watering for up to six weeks, Mendez said.

Mendez hosts free monthly online webinars on the art of high-impact, low maintenance, sustainable flower gardening and landscaping. Sign up at her website, Perennially Yours, pyours.com.

Happiness is a butterfly…

June 14, 2018  
Filed under Home & Garden

Butterflies are the closest thing we have to living magical creatures – like fairies come to life. They delight us when we spot them in a field or garden. To be able to wander among over 4,000 of them is just enchanting.

Read more

More than ‘downsizing’

June 14, 2018  
Filed under Feature Stories, Home & Garden

By Melissa Erickson

Explore ‘rightsizing” to find your perfect home.

After the kids move out on their own, many adults consider downsizing to a new home, possibly moving to the city or to a beach town away from it all. Why downsize, though, when the better option is to rightsize? Read more

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