Tag Archives: gardening

Garden Clean Up Under Way!

Even though there are some flurries falling, and there is a light coating of snow on the ground, I’m choosing to ignore it.  I’m focused, instead, on the nice weather we had last week.  The sun was finally shining, and the snow was melting.  I took this opportunity to go outside and start my garden clean up!

Beds BeforeFor me, March always means garden clean up.  I get excited knowing that the nice weather is approaching.  This year, with all of the snow we’ve had, I had to wait a bit longer, but I was able to get outside last week and clean up some of the beds.  It’s always great to pull out the old leaves and junk that filled the garden during the winter and see what’s starting to emerge underneath.

RakingThe first thing I do when I’m cleaning up after the winter is cut anything back that I didn’t cut in the fall.  I do go through and cut back in the fall, but often times, there are some plans that have interesting leaves or even the dried blooms have enough appeal that I want to keep them into the winter.  And my mums were blooming well into December, so I just let them go.  Cutting back now just cleans up the garden and gets everything ready for new growth.

DaffodilsThe next thing I do is rake.  This is really the biggest part of the spring cleaning in the garden.  I have a metal rake that is pretty flexible, so it won’t do too much damage, especially since I do rake rigorously.  I’m trying to clear out all of the dead leaves and branches that have fallen into the garden and gotten matted down from the snow.  The important thing to remember, though, if you’re taking this approach, is you need to do it early in the season.  As the plants start to grow, if you’re raking through them, you could do some damage.  Here, I had some Plants Emergedaffodils starting to emerge, and some chrysanthemums, but that was really it.  Both were small enough, so the rake didn’t do any damage.  But in some of the areas, I did reach in and remove the leaves and other debris with my hands, just to be sure.

Once the dead stuff is removed, you really have a better view into how things are progressing.  You may see a plant emerging that you didn’t want in a particular spot, or maybe you had forgotten about a bulb when you planted something else during the Clean Up Donesummer.  This is a good time to inspect and move things around if it’s early enough to do so.  I also love to just see what has made it through the winter.  The spring blooms are some of my favorite, especially since there haven’t been any blooms all winter.  It’s always so nice to see everything starting back up again.

The other thing I do while I’m doing the clean up is I inspect any of the bigger bushes or trees.  Some of these branches will need to be cut back because they are crossing another or just growing in the wrong spot.  This is a good time to do some of that pruning, early enough so that you aren’t impacting the growth.

DebrisFinally, this is a great time to take a look at any supports or hardscaping.  This year, as I was cleaning, I noticed my wrought iron supports around the porch that have roses, clematis, and wisteria growing on them are rusting.  I’ll need to sand and paint them this year.  Because I have plants that grow up these support, I’ll need to take care of this project soon, before the plants are covering them.  Hopefully in a week or so it will stay warm enough to get this done.

Ready for Compost PileOne thing that I want to stress about the clean up is please, don’t just trash all of the leaves and debris that you’ve raked and pulled from the garden.  This already decomposing plant material is perfect for the compost pile.  If you have one, definitely add it to the pile.  It’s already on its way to becoming amazingly rich food for your plants.  If you don’t have a pile yet, consider starting one, especially since you have this great material to start with.  It really is easy, just pile up the organic matter (get rid of any trash, plastic, or other material that may have blown into the beds) at this point…but don’t throw it away!  It’s good stuff.

I’m very excited that I have started the yard work.  I think my next project this week will be to start the seeds indoors.  Spring is almost here, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait!

Ordering Seeds and Getting Ready for SPRING!

I had a glimmer of hope for spring this week, and now I just can’t let it go.  I was in Austin at a conference for work, and while it wasn’t as warm as it could be in Texas this time of year, it was in the 60s, and it made me excited for spring…even after I came back to the snow.  But spring is coming, and if it’s coming, for me, that means planning for the garden and ordering seeds.

CatalogsI love gardening.  Whether it be flowers, trees, shrubs, vegetables, it doesn’t matter, I just love to play in the dirt, as I like to say.  And when those catalogs arrive (see my post from January for more on that), I get so excited about the possibilities.  The most exciting for me at this time of year is the vegetable garden, because I basically start from scratch every year.  While there are some perennials people may have (like rhubarb or asparagus), I don’t have any in my vegetable patch.  I get to reconfigure every year, and last week, that’s just what I did. 

Fava BeansMy first step was figuring out what I wanted to plant this year.  Sure, I have the staples every year, tomatoes, lettuces, zucchini, and squash.  But this year, I wanted to try a few new vegetables.  I love beets and kale, and especially fava beans, so I’m adding those to the mix this year.  And I’m giving Brussels sprouts a try (mainly because I love them).  The next step was figuring out the varieties.  If you’re used to picking up plants at your local garden center, you probably haven’t had the opportunity to play with different varieties.  Sure, there were probably many Listvarieties of tomatoes, and maybe even one or two heirlooms, but aside from that, many garden centers just carry one variety of other vegetables.  That’s one of the reasons why I like to start from seed.  When you open those seed catalogs, there are so many different varieties, it’s amazing.

This year, I decided to get my vegetable seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  I really wanted to focus on heirloom varieties this year, and I’ve heard great things about their seeds from a friend of mine (who also blogs, but, unfortunately for me, it’s in French…Le Hamburger et le Croissant).  If you haven’t seen their site or catalog, Baker Creek has a great variety, and their catalog is beautiful.  The vegetables and plants are expertly photographed.

GraphThe next part, and for me one of the most fun, is planning out the layout.  I’ve found the easiest way to plan out the garden is to use graph paper.  Just figure out your dimensions and use some sort of scale.  I used one block for one foot in the garden.  Then go through and plot out your garden.  Pay special attention to any light restrictions (mine is all in the sun, so that wasn’t an issue) but also how far something spreads, if they are vines, etc.  Once you have this map, it’s so much easier to get out there and actually plant in the next few months.

I don’t know about you but I’m excited.  My seeds are already on their way, and I’m looking forward to starting them indoors.  I’ll probably write about that in another week or two.  Oh, and if you’re interested in what I purchased, here’s what I chose:

  • Extra Precoce A Grano Violetto Fava Bean-SKU: FB105
  • Detroit Dark Red Beet-SKU: BT110
  • Long Island Improved Brussels Sprouts-SKU: BS101
  • Marketmore 76 Cucumber-SKU: CU101
  • Astrakom Eggplant-SKU: EG174
  • Birdhouse Gourd-SKU: GD108
  • Tronchuda Kale-SKU: KA107
  • Sugar Snap Pea-SKU: SN106
  • Caserta Squash-SKU: SSQ138
  • Rouge Vif D’ Etampes Pumpkin-SKU: SQ118
  • Boston Marrow Squash-SKU: SQ221
  • Brandywine Tomato-SKU: TK115
  • Zucchini-Lungo Bianco Squash-SKU: SSQ119

Happy gardening (or at least thinking of gardening if you’re still dealing with snow on the ground like we are)!


Amaryllis, the Perfect Flower for…Valentines Day???

I will admit, I love amaryllises (and yes, I got the plural right…but I’ll admit, I had to look it up).  Those giant bulbs, the perfect green spears, and finally, that amazing, huge, showstopping bloom!  It’s the perfect flower, and, like many others, I love to use them at Christmastime.  But, I’m sure you’re wondering, why am I talking about it today, Valentine’s Day?  Well, sadly, I didn’t have much luck this year…my amaryllises are just blooming now!

Kitchen WindowIn my kitchen, I have a perfect spot for flowers.  The sink is angled and in the corner, and above the sink are two huge windows.  There is a perfect triangular spot for flowers, and I love to swap those out during the year for the seasons.  A few years ago, I had the brilliant idea of planting amaryllis bulbs and paper whites.  I ran to my local Home Depot, color coordinated the blooms, planted, and waited for them to come.  Sure enough, they were perfect!  I had some buds showing by Thanksgiving, and by Christmas, they were in full bloom. Needless to say, I was proud!

Buds StartingSo, being the optimist that I am, I thought, I need to save these bulbs, because I can do it again next year!  And I did just that.  I cut the leaves and stems off, shook off the dirt, and put them in my shed.  And then, come October, I potted them up (as I had read, about 8-10 weeks before you want them to bloom).  They started to sprout right away, and I was thrilled.  Those leaves shot up, and more leaves, and more leaves, and, well, that was it, just leaves.  No buds ever came.  Realizing I had either underestimated the re-blooming process or overestimated my gardening skills, I did some research.  What I found out was you have to keep them growing and feed them into late winter, spring, and summer.  So last year, after the holidays and my sad leaf display, I re-potted the bulbs (after all, I had to rotate in some spring flowers for my kitchen display), kept them watered and fed, and eventually, when it was warm enough, I moved them to the porch.

Making ProgressI can proudly tell you, after following these guidelines, I was the only house on the block that was sporting huge amaryllis blooms in June!  That’s right, after I re-potted them and once they started growing, several sent up blooms.  I’m sure it was because I didn’t give them the nutrients they needed to develop the buds, but once I kept them going, they finally had blooms.  So, keeping with my research, I read that you should keep them going all summer, then, in mid-August, stop watering and move them to a dark, cool location.

AlmostBeing the rule follower that I am, I did just that.  I moved them to a cool, dark part of the basement and stopped watering them.  It lasted for 8 weeks.  After that time, in October, I re-potted them and began to water.  Sure enough, there was growth, and I was thrilled.  But the problem was, my timing was still off.  While I had growth, and eventually buds, I was a few months off.

I’ve watered these buds, and talked to them, coaxing out a bloom, but I wasn’t rewarded until now, about 2 months after I wanted the show.  But, I have to say, I’m still relieved that they bloomed this year, and not in the summer.  Maybe this year I’ll move my timing up a bit, but hopefully the bulbs are now getting back into the routine after I messed with them for a while year.  We’ll see!  Hopefully you have more luck.  I’d love to hear how you’ve succeeded (if you have).

So, for Valentine’s Day this year, we have beautiful amaryllises.  Hopefully you have some lovely flowers today also.  Happy Valentine’s Day!Blooms

Saving the Garden from the Snow…and Ice!

It’s been a rough week in the Philadelphia area.  We started with I think 8 or so inches of snow on Monday, then we got serious ice on Wednesday.  There have been tons of people with fallen trees, downed power lines, and no electricity.  Luckily, I’ve had power, and haven’t had to go anywhere!  But, one of the things I did need to do was brave the snow and ice to save some of my trees.

Snow Crushing TreeWhen the snow comes down like it did on Monday, wet and packable, it can be absolutely beautiful.  It sticks to the trees and makes everything look magical.  But that heavy snow can do serious damage to your trees and plants.  The weight of the snow crushes the branches, breaking, or sometimes permanently damaging, the plant.  Thankfully, you can take some steps to deal with the snow, and that’s just what I did this week, before the ice came.

Once the snow stopped, and I saw how badly the trees were crushed, I went outside with my trusty broom and tried to get as much snow off as possible.  It’s really a pretty easy job…usually.  You just start by brushing off as much as you can from the tree.  Sometimes, that’s enough for the branches to bounce back into shape.  But, with the snow we had, I had to take it a step further.  I had to shake some of the branches, pushing theClearedm around to try and get the snow to fall.  Unfortunately, the best leverage is usually under the tree, where you get rained on, or snowed on in this case, coming out soaking wet. And trust me, you won’t need to go to the gym afterwards, it’s great cardio! 🙂

Getting that snow off as quickly as possible can save the trees and plants.  The extra weight very easily breaks tender branches.  And, even if the branches aren’t broken, they can be damaged, sometimes even permanently bent one way or another.  The faster you can get the weight off so they can return to normal, the more likely you can save the shape, and also the more likely the branches won’t break.  The branches may need to be cut eventually if they are stuck a certain way, and the tree may also need a severe prune, or worse.  But save that for later, after the tree has had a chance to try and bounce back.  Then you can assess the damages.

ClearedSo the next time you get a snow storm, unfortunately you may need to venture out for a little while.  But, in the spring, when the garden looks great and you’ve forgotten about the snow, it will be all worth it.

If you experienced storms in your area, I hope you were safe this week, and this winter for that matter!  It’s been a cold and snowy one!  I love the snow, but….when is it spring?!?!?!

It May be Freezing Out But Start Thinking about the Garden!

I don’t know about you, but here, outside of Philadelphia, we’ve been getting slammed this winter.  We’ve had tons of snow, crazy wind and wind chills, and even the polar vortex, whatever that is!?!?  But, in the midst of the snow, ice, and frozen limbs, the winter is a great time to start thinking about your garden!

Martha Stewart GardeningWhen I was in my early twenties, I was thrilled to get my first gardening book.  I had always loved to garden, having spent tons of time with my grandmother, helping her care for her immaculate roses (I still can’t get mine, or even hers, to perform as amazing as she did), and I took over my parents’ landscaping when I was in high school.  But I needed to better understand design, when to do certain things, and even what type of flowers were available.  So, for my 21st birthday, my parents gave me Martha Stewart’s Gardening: Month by Month, an absolutely beautiful book that shows month by month what Martha does in, and can expect from, her garden.  And right away, I was hooked.  I know what you’re thinking, what 21 year old boy wants a gardening book, let alone Martha Stewart’s, but I was, am, and always will be a huge fan.  What can I say, “it’s a good thing!”

There were so many great ideas in that book.  I think my favorite part was the sources section in the back, where I now had the names, addresses, and phone numbers (remember, we’re talking 1996, sadly there were no websites) of amazing providers of mail order plants, trees, and seeds.  I immediately called those companies and got on the mailing lists, and I’ve been on their mailing lists ever since.  The beautiful thing is, usually around late December, early January, they send you these wonderful catalogs and you can get lost dreaming about the garden, even with a foot of snow outside.  The catalogs have proven to be invaluable for inspiration on different varieties, and often times, the plants are incredibly cost effective.  They have so much more than your local Home Depot (I can only have so many black eyed susans, daisies, and standard hydrangeas).  Below are a few links to some of my favorite companies, but really, if you haven’t yet, look online, find some good suppliers, and give it a try.

My Garden LogOne other thing I did, taking direction from Martha of course, was I started to keep a garden log, noting how things were progressing in the garden.  This proved to be invaluable.  So many years, I’ll remember I planted the pumpkins too early, or the frost took those tender annuals, but I can’t remember exactly when I planted them and how I should adjust.  Keeping a quick log is so helpful to plan for the following year.  If you don’t do it, you should try.  It doesn’t have to be time consuming or difficult.  Just jot down some notes, and date it.  I’ll admit, I haven’t done it in years, but this year, I’m starting again (thanks to a little encouragement from Grow Tend Cook Eat).

Martha's Garden SketchSo, grab some catalogs, or your tablet/laptop, curl up with a blanket, maybe a drink, dream about the garden, and start planning.  And if you happen to have Martha’s book, or come across it, definitely take a look at the inside cover.  I fell in love with the sketches of her amazing property…and I have to admit, I still try to create similar sketches of my garden today, although mine are no where near as beautiful as hers.  Of course, I don’t have half a billion dollars to support it and a staff of who knows how many, but I can dream!