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Things to Save for Your Gardens  April 29th, 2002

It is important that you save some common items for gardening to not only help yourself out of some dilemmas but to also save money.  Gardening can be an expensive 'hobby' so it is always nice to have areas where you can trim costs.  Here are some ideas to get you started; maybe some of you have other suggestions.  If you do, please send them into the 'Garden Questions and Discussion' forum.  Look for the category 'Favorites' and enter your suggestions there.

Reducing The Weight and Soil In Large Pots - You can plant beautiful arrangements in over-size pots for your porch or patios but to fill them with soil all the way to the bottom can cause the pot to become too heavy and also be an added expense in potting soil.  Save Styrofoam packing material or Soda Bottles and fill the bottom half or so of the pot with them.  (Some packing 'peanuts' are the new 'biodegradable peanuts' for composting, don't use this type because they will decompose on you.) Your plants don't need all that room for roots and you will cut the weight and cost considerably.

Keeping The Soil Where It Belongs - It is important that all pots have drain holes or you will end up with unhealthy plants after hard rains.  But all you really want to come out of those holes is the extra water not the soil.  Save old screen material, coffee filters, dryer sheets or scraps of landscape fabric to cover the holes with.  The soil will stay where it belongs, in the pot.

Seed Saving - If you grow plants from seeds you will probably end up with some seeds left over at the end of the summer.  Moisture is your saved seeds worst enemy.  Save those 'Desiccant' packets you get with vitamins, new shoes (found in the shoe box), etc.  Put them in a zip-lock bag along with your seed packets, seal and moisture will not bother your precious seeds.  Make sure seeds are completely dry before storage. 

Marking Your Plants - Marking your plants (especially perennials for next year when things are coming up) will help you not only remember their names but where they are planted.  I had some lovely blue fescue that my sister grew from seed for me and if it hadn't been marked the first two years I know they would have been 'weeded', thinking it was just regular grass.  Now that it is bigger I can tell the difference but not at first.  As you are out at 'Garage Sales' this year look for old tableware.  You can use a waterproof crayon or marker on the knife blade, spoon head, or fork handle.  You could even turn the fork around and slip a plant tag in the tongs of the fork.

More Marking Your Plants - Have you ever told yourself that you needed to move something after it was done blooming or save some seed from a particular color plant and once it was done blooming you couldn't remember whether it was "this one or that one?"  Save plastic tabs from bread bags and write on them with waterproof marker what information you need.  Just slip the tab around a stem and when it is done blooming or the seed is mature you will be able to identify it properly.  

Save Your Plant Receipts!!! - I can't emphasize this enough.  Many trees, bushes, and even perennials have one-year guarantees.  But you need the receipts to return them next year should they die.  But there are other reasons to save your receipts.  Many times I refer back to receipts for names of cultivars or the company where I bought a certain seed from.  It doesn't help if you save something if you can't find it when you need it, so create a file, envelope, folder or something similar for your receipts.   You should also save all plant tags.  You will probably think that you will remember the new plant's name but unless you have a super memory there will be a certain plant a friend will ask you about and you won't be able to tell them the name.  I have a friend that had the most beautiful plant still blooming beautifully on her porch in December and I sure would like to grow it.  But she couldn't remember the name and now a year later I can't remember exactly what it looked like.  Bummer!!!

Buckets - I can't even begin to list all the things we do with buckets but will give you some:  dumping potting soil into them, harvesting, rock picking, collecting weeds in them to tote to the compost pile, seed collecting, take water out to the garden for fresh flower bouquet picking, etc.  The uses are endless.  I haven't met a bucket I didn't like!  In fact, I notice very quickly if my buckets have 'walked off' with a certain someone and often ask when they are returning.

Mesh Bags - Mesh bags are handy for storing onions, bulbs, garlic etc.  They need air circulation; which the mesh bag provides.

That is the end of my list, now let's hear your ideas!

 

Potatoes & Potato Beetles   April 22, 2002

Potatoes are an easy plant to grow but they attract the creepy (in my opinion) Colorado Potato Beetle.  The adult beetle isn't so bad but the larval stage is pretty grouse.  It gives me the shivers just thinking about those greasy looking squishy things, YUK!

I found a solution last year that didn't require any extra work on my part to battle the beetles; growing the plants in containers such as oversize pots, stacked tires, barrels, etc.  I discovered that the plants I had in oversize pots didn't have one single beetle, not one!  But the ones I planted in the garden sure did.  You would think potato plants have some kind of flashing beacon to help the potato beetles locate them.  Since we garden organically I found the battle with the potato beetles to rival the tenacity we use in fighting the dreaded squash bug*.

At first I thought it must have been because I had the pots on the edge of our driveway (didn't want to set them on the grass and kill it) and that it was too hot for them.  But during the winter I read an article in a gardening publication (can't remember which one) that past experience showed the writer that the beetles don't like container-grown potatoes.  I was surprised to hear someone else had the same results!

Now I realize that I am not going to have a bumper crop with this method, unless I wanted to have a ton of pots lining my driveway.  But it will give us those wonderful new potatoes that you can't get in the store.  We also grow peas and I can't wait until I can make new potatoes and fresh peas, YUM!!

To try this method you will need compost or a rich potting mix, just regular garden soil isn't loose enough.  I don't understand why but putting garden soil into a container makes soil that was once nice loam into a brick.  Go figure!  Anyways...!

Here is the procedure:  Take any large container with drainage holes and put at least 3 inches of compost in the bottom.  Place your seed potato (one per pot, larger containers such as barrels can handle more) on top and cover with more compost, a couple of inches will do, and water.  As the potatoes grow several inches tall cover with more compost.  Keep covering the plants until your pot is full.  Make sure you don't forget to keep them watered.  The potatoes grow all along the stems of the potato plant. 

Once the flowers have stopped and the plants begin to die back, tip over the pot and there are your potatoes sitting on top of the ground, no digging required!  To get those new potatoes, just gently dig around the plants with your fingers, after they have been flowering for several weeks, until you find some, remove them and cover the spot back up.  I liked to go out to the garden as dinnertime approaches and pull out some fresh new potatoes.  Can't find them fresher or better anywhere!

Now if you want a large size crop I have read about terrific results using a barrel and growing Kennebec potatoes.  One guy grew Kennebecs in an old whiskey barrel with sandy loam and grew 148lbs. of potatoes!  He drilled 1/2-inch holes in the bottom for drainage, then added 8 inches of sandy loam.  Because he had a large surface area he added 5 seed potatoes.  He gradually filled the barrel with soil as the potatoes grew.  He also used a row cover on top of the barrel to keep out Colorado Potato Beetle.  Since I didn't use a barrel I can't make comment on this point.  All I know is that I didn't need to fight the beetles using pots. 

*Organic methods require more diligence on the part of the gardener than someone who just goes to the store and buys the most deadly insect killer allowed.  But there is a rebound effect, not to mention contact with nasty chemicals, that happens in gardens where everything in sight is killed.  Many problem insects have other insect predators (called beneficials) that keep them in check.  When you kill beneficials along with the problem insect you have now thrown the 'system' out of balance.  Studies have shown the rebound can often be worse than the original problem.  Using organic methods will promote a 'healthy garden' where nature is given a chance to fight also.

 

Tip of the Week  April 15, 2002

Raspberries:

Spring is an important time to tend to your raspberries.  New growth has started and it is important to clean up and prune out dead canes.  There are two types of raspberries: summer bearing (floricane) and everbearing types (primocane).  Some people cut the everbearing type down to the ground after a fall crop so this creates what many people think of as 'fall bearing raspberries.  In reality fall bearing and everbearing are the same, only pruned differently.

The easiest pruning method, especially if you don't know what kind of raspberries you have, will be to prune out any dead canes in the spring when you see new growth start.  Also cut off the old tops where berries formed last year, they are dead also.

The following procedure is performed if a larger fall crop is desired for the everbearing type: after the fall harvest cut all canes down to the ground.  This will cause all new canes to emerge next spring but they will not produce a summer crop, only a fall crop.

Personally we prefer to have a summer crop of berries; it is such a treat to go out in the morning to pick fresh berries for breakfast in the summer.  Plus our first frosts come in the fall before all the berries would have a chance to ripen so we prune our raspberries so they produce both summer and fall berries.  We prune out any dead canes and dead tops in the spring.

If you have black raspberries (many wild types are black raspberries) they tend to grow very long canes.  These canes can be a real nuisance when you are picking and it is not necessary to grow them that long for good berry production.   Only allow new canes to grow 2 to 3 feet and cut back the tips by 3 to 6 inches once they have reached this length.  This will be about midsummer so write a note on your calendar as a reminder for this 'tipping'.   Remove any short spindly canes to ground level.  Remove any canes with peeling bark; they are old canes and will not produce fruit.  New canes also have a healthier color than the old canes.  

Weed around your raspberries and fertilize in the spring.  Raspberries require plenty of water (1 inch a week); if rainfall has been in short supply supplement with irrigation.  Lack of water will cause poor fruit production and they will be more prone to disease and insect damage.  Mulching your raspberry patch will help maintain moisture and control weeds.

 

Tip of the Week  April 8, 2002

Easter Lilies:

Don't throw away your Easter Lily after it is done blooming.  It will make a great perennial in most zones.  You won't see blooms this year but next summer you should have some.

Trim off the old flowers.  This will leave you with the stalk and leaves.  Keep in a sunny location and lightly watered.  Once the ground warms you can plant it outside in a sunny location.  Plant deeper than the depth it is planted in the pot; the top of the bulb needs to be 4 to 6 inches below ground.  Locate in a well-drained area with good loamy soil.  Allow the leaves and stalk to remain until they die back naturally.

Zone 4 or colder zones will need 4 to 6 inches of loose mulch put over the area once the ground has frozen in the fall.  You won't always be able to bring them back to life in these colder regions but you haven't anything to loose by trying.

It is very rewarding to bring a plant back into bloom, even if it will take more than a year to see it.  In fact, sometimes you forget about them and what a special surprise you get when they open up to gorgeous flowers.  Can't get much better than that!

If you see someone throwing away their Easter Lily, don't be shy; ask if you can have it.  I once saw someone throwing away a hardy mum that they purchased for indoors.  Once it was done blooming they were going to throw it away.  I asked if I could have it, planted it and it was one of the prettiest mums last summer in my yard!

Amaryllis:

If you have an Amaryllis that is done blooming you will be able to bring it back into bloom next year also.  I have all ready outlined directions for doing this.  Go to our archives of old 'Tips of the Week', 'more Tips page 1' (Click Here) and scroll down to 3-19-01.  Follow those directions and you will have blooms next year.  If yours didn't bloom this year and all you have are leaves, don't despair.  It either didn't have enough fertilizer last year or enough sunshine.  Nurse it through the summer with both of those requirements; let it rest in a dark cool place for a few months in the fall/winter, water and bring it into a sunny place.  Next year you should have blossoms!

 

Tip of the Week  April 1st, 2002

Tending to your Asparagus:

Clean up asparagus beds and cover with 1 to 2 inches of compost.   Every year I get asparagus beetles after the first two weeks of picking.  This causes them to become deformed, covered with little black eggs that are hard to remove, and just plain yucky.  (How is that for a 'professional' gardening term?)

Last year I used 'Pyola' for the first time on the asparagus and was able to extend picking until the asparagus was getting too small to pick any longer; once asparagus doesn't get any larger in diameter than a pencil it is time to stop picking.  'Pyola' was well worth the cost and effort.  As with most organic pest controls, it will need to be sprayed frequently; the beetles are very persistent.  But just imagine what gets sprayed on the asparagus you buy in the store!

'Pyola' can be purchased from Gardens Alive.  There may be other organic products that will work but I have used 'Pyola' and know it works.

I was going to write directions for planting asparagus but due to having family over for Easter I have run out of time.  But if any of you would like to know, please submit a question to our 'Garden Question and Discussion' page and I will get the directions written up. 

Speaking of the Question site... Have you checked out the new set-up?  Would you consider registering as a member?  It's free and not difficult.  We have had a few people submit questions since the change but only one new member.  We would love to see many of you become 'members'. 

Weed Control:

Michigan State University Extension Service has an article about weed control through tilling at night.  This is not an "April Fools" joke, it really is for real.  It is extremely interesting and thought we might have some readers who are interested in learning new weed control methods.  We have decided we are going to try it this year, might even run an experiment with a control plot.  Check it out: http://www.msue.msu.edu/ipm/CAT02_fld/FC3-21-02.htm

 

Tip of the Week  March 25, 2002

Earlier Strawberries with greater yields:

Would you like earlier strawberries and more of them?  Remove the straw mulch and replace it with row covers now that winter is over.  This should be done now, don't wait much longer.  Strawberries still need protection from spring freezes, frosts and cold winds, which the row covers provide, but the covers allow sunshine and warmth in.  Remove the covers when the plants begin to blossom for pollination.

Speaking of row covers:

I have been reading a lot lately about using row covers on many different crops and each report gives glowing accounts of their performance.  I read one report (along with the pictures to 'prove' the results) that stated that they had four times greater winter squash than the vines that were not covered with row covers.  There were not only greater amounts of squash but they were also larger in size.  Row covers are especially good for any crops in the cucurbit family, (cucumber, squash, melons, etc).  The covers protect them from pests that can carry disease (e.g. cucumber beetles) or from those that actually damage the plant themselves (e.g. squash bugs).  The covers also provide warmth, which any of the cucurbits just simply adore.

For crops that need pollination from insects be sure to remove the cover when flowers begin to form.

You can find row covers in many seed and plant catalogs and more garden centers are carrying them.  I even found some the other day at Meijers!!  Couldn't believe my eyes!  And I paid half the price I paid through mail order.  Snatched those babies right up!!

You can increase the yields further on cucurbits by laying down black colored mulch (even cheap black plastic works) or some of the new silvery mulches.  We grew melons last year with black mulch with better results than when none is used.  This year we will 'trial' the shiny mulch also. 

If you use mulch for cucurbits here is an extra 'tip':  Place some kind of marker (stick, flag, etc) where the plant is planted into the 'sheet' of mulch.  Do this 'marking' at planting time so you won't damage the roots.  Last year there were times when I wanted to know where the plant originated from but couldn't locate the spot once the vines started growing everywhere.

 

Tip of the Week    March 18, 2002

Bare root plants and trees:

Sometimes you get bare root plants and trees because the selection can be greater than area nursery's supply or the "price is right".  I have also had those special little trees from 'Arbor Day' brought home by my daughters when they were little.  Tending to these little 'babies' can be extra work, more than just buying a perennial, tree or shrub all ready growing in a pot.  Usually the plants growing in pots have well developed roots and tending to them is fairly easy.  But keeping a bare root tree and shrub watered enough can be hard.  Trying to remember that you have a little 'baby' out in the backyard that can't go dry is asking an awful lot of our over taxed memories.  Perennials aren't as unforgiving as trees and shrubs but the following procedure can be followed for them also with nearly 'impossible to fail' results.

Plant these needy plants in a pot large enough to accommodate their roots with a good potting mix.  Keep the pot on your porch, deck or somewhere you will pass by daily.  They need a good amount of sunshine, (unless you are starting a plant that prefers shady conditions).  Make sure they don't completely dry out but don't keep them waterlogged either.  Speaking of waterlogged, make sure your pot has drainage holes.  Too much water can kill also, not just 'too little water'. 

Sometimes I have nursed plants like this all summer long on my porch, especially if we had a really dry summer.  It is just so much easier to keep them watered along with my flowerpots.  I can promise you I would forget that they were 'out there' if planted in the yard and would loose some of them.

After it has developed a good root system you can put it into it's new home.  Still keep it watered but now it won't be so hard to tend to.  If it dries out some (unless it is a plant that requires constant moisture) you won't kill it.  If you mulch it well after planting it will be extra happy.

It is really hard to kill a plant using this method, you would have to be totally neglectful and maybe even down right mean!  And if you are that rough on your plants chances are you wouldn't be spending time on your computer learning about how to care for them.

 

Tip of the Week        March 11, 2002

Starting Sweet Potatoes Early:

Last winter our Son-in-law, who doesn't garden, (doesn't even like to garden!), taught us something new.  It turned out so successful that we are doing it again this year.  Travis and my daughter Lindsay had bought some garnet red sweet potatoes and one of them was never eaten.  It started to sprout so Travis put it in some water.  After many weeks they took pity on it and finally came over and got a pot and soil from me and planted it.  This was during the winter months.  It grew into a nice size plant and after awhile I was given the potted sweet potato to take care of.  It really needed some sunshine, the weather was getting nice and they were living in a tall apartment building on a college campus.  The weather still wasn't consistently warm enough yet to plant it in the garden so I had the job of taking it in at night after spending the warm sunny days outside in the pot.  Travis would ask me every time they came to visit if it was 'time' yet to plant it in the garden.  FINALLY, after many "No Travis, it is still too chilly" responses (sweet potatoes are extremely cold sensitive) we went out together to plant this red sweet potato plant. 

If you haven't had a baked garnet red sweet potato you are really missing a treat!!!  It is sooooo sweet and delicious you don't have to put a thing on it, (it has to be the red ones to get the extra sweet flavor.)

Well, all summer I kept hearing, "Can I dig it up yet?"  Sweet potatoes are a long season grower so Travis's patience was wearing thin by the time late summer rolled along, and unfortunately he wasn't around when the time came.  As we dug up the plant we couldn't believe our eyes!  We had a pretty good crop of those wonderful red sweet potatoes.

Would you believe that when I went to visit Travis and Lindsay this winter there were sprouting red sweet potatoes on the top of their cabinet that for some strange reason they never ate?  These were the 'babies' from this past summer.  So I brought them home and potted them up.  If I waited to put them into the garden after the soil and weather warmed up, without starting them first in the house, our season would not be long enough for them. 

They didn't have pest problems like the regular potatoes out in the same garden.  Something did eat little holes in some of the leaves but it was no big deal.  I'm excited to be growing them again this year.  Amazing what we can learn even after so many years of gardening; even from someone who doesn't even like gardening!  I don't think there will ever be a time when I can't learn something new, even from a young wiper snapper!

Tree Sale:

We have many subscribers that live in Michigan that will benefit from a 2002 Tree Sale put on by www.globalreleaf.org.  (If you live in another place possibly you could locate a similar sale in your area.  I have some ideas listed on the 'Garden Question and Discussion' page.  Go back to the question from 'Sandy' on Sept. 14th for places to start.)  The Global Releaf organization has some really interesting trees for sale for $25.00 ea. or 6 or more for $20.00.   Even though I need more trees like I need a hole in my head I will be ordering some because the selection is interesting.  You need to be able to pick them up on delivery day but there are many locations (only in Michigan, sorry) so check it out.

 

Tip of the Week   March 4, 2002

Damping Off:

Damping Off is a fungal disease that can attack seedlings and cause them to fall over and die.  A watery soft rot can be seen at the soil line in the stem.  Once it hits you can't do much to save your precious seedlings so prevention is of utmost importance.  We have only experienced it once and since then take steps to never have it visit again.  (That year was very disappointing because we had to 'settle' for nursery grown tomatoes and they just aren't as good as the special ones we so carefully pick out.)

Start with clean containers:  Use containers that have been cleaned in a solution of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach or cleaned thoroughly with hot water.

Use sterile growing medium:  We prefer "seed starter mix"; it is sterile soil-less mix that is lightweight so seeds grow easily in it.  Don't use soil from your garden unless it is sterilized.  Sterilizing your soil is a smelly job, (if done in your house, which I strongly discourage), and the quality of the soil will just not be the best for your seedlings.  Put a few extra dollars into growing your seedlings and you will reap the rewards. 

Use "Milled Sphagnum Moss":  Milled Sphagnum Moss has an antibiotic effect and has never failed us.  It can be found in garden centers but not all carry it.  Call around if you are having trouble locating it.  We keep it in a bowl and use an old tablespoon to apply it around the plants.  If your plants need to be moved into larger pots be sure to add more MSM after transplanting them.

Use a fan:  As your plants get larger, they need better air circulation; especially ones you are starting very early.  Blow a fan gently on your plants for several hours, either daily or several days a week.  You will have to be the judge on how much.  Using a fan on your plants also helps prepare them for "hardening off".

For more 'Tips' on 'Seed Starting' Click Here.

Foster & Gallagher Buy Out:

Last year a large gardening company named "Foster & Gallagher" filled for bankruptcy and many gardeners were left out in the cold with no products in return for their money.  F & G was the parent company to many plant, bulb and seed companies.  If you ordered something from one of the following companies and never received your merchandise, I have some news that may help you. 

Their names are Breck's, Gurney's, Henry Field's, Michigan Bulb Co., New Holland Bulb, Spring Hill Nursery, Stark Bros., Vermont Wildflower Farm, The Garden Store, and MySeasons.com.

The strong and healthy company named "Gardens Alive" bought the bankrupt conglomerate and is offering double credit to former customers that lost their money.  ("Gardens Alive" is the company I am always mentioning because they sell organic products that are hard to find in the stores.  I have purchased their products for years.)  They don't have to give any credit to former customers of F&G but desire to do so.  Contact them with pertinent information on your old order and find out if they can help you, www.gardensalive.com or 812-537-8650.

 

Pruning your fruit trees and ornamental shrubs  

Pruning is a necessary job for your fruit trees and some shrubs.  Don't be timid and you will find your trees and shrubs responding favorably.  You will get larger fruit that is easier to pick and if you spray your trees they will be easier to tend to.

The best time to prune most fruit trees is during the dormant season.  February, March and April is a good time for zones that experience winters with freezing temperatures.  An exception to this would be peaches and nectarines.  They should be pruned as close to the bloom time as possible.

Use only sharp tools, never leave torn or jagged stubs; they promote disease and decay.  Look closely to where branches are attached to the trunk and you will see an area that is thick and kind of wrinkly; this is called a branch collar.  Don't cut into this area, cut just up to it with a nice clean cut.

In the past experts recommend putting pruning sealer on cuts but that has changed.  It is better for the tree to heal naturally.  If you used sharp tools and leave the branch collar the tree will heal just fine.  The exception to this is for peaches.  They attract peach tree borer so seal cuts with pruning seal. 

Remove dead, damaged or diseased branches along with any branches that cross over one another.  Suckers (the shoots that come up from the soil line) and water sprouts (shoots growing straight up from larger branches) need to be removed.  Shape your trees and to make picking easier you might consider lowering tree height.  Your fruit trees need sunlight and good air circulation which pruning will promote.  For branches that need to be headed back select nodes that grow outward, not inward; cut just beyond these nodes.

You can prune water sprouts, suckers, dead or damaged branches in the summer but the majority of your pruning should occur in late winter or very early spring.

Spring flowering shrubs:

Your spring flowering shrubs, such as forsythia and lilacs, have all ready formed their flower buds and should not be pruned until after flowering.  If you really need to prune due to excessive growth, you could prune some branches off for forcing indoors.  To do this put the branches in tepid clean water, add a drop of chlorine and store in a cool dim location.  When you start to see the buds swell bring them into a bright sunny room.  Instant spring!!!  Some other branches that can be forced are apple, cherry, redbud, flowering quince, and pear.  For more information on this subject click on 'Garden Crafts' from our 'Home' page.  Scroll down to 'Forcing Branches to Bloom'.   

Some shrubs, such as red twig dogwood, will benefit from severe pruning to generate new bright red growth.  Prune down to 4 inches above ground and the bush will reward you with new red twigs.  If this is too drastic for you, at least prune down any older growth that has lost its red color.

Warmer Zones:

A reminder to our warm climate friends:  You are several weeks ahead of us in your outdoor chores so to find 'Tips' that relate to your schedule check out last year's  'Tip of the Week'.  They can be found by clicking "More Helpful Tips" at the end of the this page.

 

Tip of the Week  February 18, 2002

Many of you are making plans for building outdoor structures this year and there is always the question, "What kind of building materials will be used?"  As some of you all ready know, I have advised our readers to stay away from pressure treated wood for building raised beds.  (You can find out more about this subject by doing a search from our 'Home' page for pressure treated wood.)  I received word this week that the lumber industry is going to stop producing arsenic-based preserved wood, (commonly know as 'pressure treated wood'), for wood used for decks, playground equipment, etc.  An agreement was reached with the EPA to end the use of chromated copper arsenate (CCA) by December 2003 in almost all lumber used for residential projects.

Unfortunately many people have this wood around their homes and yards.  Tests have shown that the arsenic ends up contaminating the soil and even children.  Children play and walk on this stuff and it ends up on their feet and hands; it isn't great for adults either.

I was shocked last year when I saw signs posted at Home Depot stating that the lumber was safe and not to worry about it.  They know that it isn't since they don't allow their employees to cut it for customers!

If you are building new structures this year don't use CCA pressure treated wood if at all possible.  I realize this causes a great dilemma for finding a substitute but try to find an alternative.  Cedar, composites and plastic can be used for decks; playground equipment can be either plastic or metal.  I have listed some alternatives for raised beds all ready in questions about raised beds, (find this info in a 'search'.)  Sometimes you just can't avoid its use.  We recently built our deck and needed to use pressure treated wood for support members but used the plastic decking material for the top and rails; anything that gets 'touched by hands and feet'.

If you have pressure treated wood (and a lot of us do) you can minimize its transfer unto feet and hands.  Keep the wood well protected with coatings or paint.  Try to keep children in their shoes while walking on your deck, (yea right!) and wash hands after touching this wood.  Don't allow children to play under a structure built with pressure treated wood.  Don't ever burn pressure treated wood or use the sawdust, shavings or scraps from it for other purposes.  Wear gloves when working with it and wear a mask while cutting it.  Finally, if I had a raised bed made with it I would rip it out, soil and all.

For those that still aren't convinced there is a serious health risk associated with this lumber ask yourself why the lumber industry "agreed to stop using arsenic-based preservatives" in wood used for the homeowner.  They voluntarily "agreed"; there must be pretty solid evidence to its risks or they would have fought tooth and nail to keep producing this huge moneymaker.

In researching this I came across some information on ACQ pressure treated wood.  The information I found states that it: "contains no EPA listed hazardous compounds like arsenic or chromium and, it's guaranteed to protect against rot, decay and termite attack".  I don't know enough about it to say it is truly "Safe" but it sounds much better than CCA pressure treated wood. 

If this 'Tip' has caused you stress because you have pressure treated wood please forgive me.  But I felt this information was necessary to send out for your sake & your loved ones.

To our 'warm climate' Readers:  Since we live in the 'North' where we still have weeks before we can get out to do yard work and you are way ahead of us in your outdoor projects may I suggest you go back through our 'Tip of the Week' ideas for last year, they can be found by clicking on "More Helpful Tips" at the end of this page.  You will find good information for your yard and gardens in your time frame, not ours.

 

Tip of the Week     February 11, 2002

Seed Tapes:

Spring is right around the corner and most gardeners find it a very busy time of the year.  Spring clean up and planting combined make for days that can be very long and tiring.  To help you save some time you could use your evenings now (maybe while watching TV or a project for the family) to make your own seed tapes for seeds that are sown in rows.  It is easy and very cheap.

  1. Cut strips of newspaper.  Separate into single strips.

  2. Make a paste of flour and water.

  3. Place dots of paste along the strips, spacing them according to the package directions for planting.

  4. Place a seed on each 'dot'.

  5. Allow to dry.

  6. Label the strips.

  7. Roll strips up, loosely secure with rubber band and store in a cool dark place.

  8. If you have little pouches of desiccant, (I save any that come in boxes of shoes, etc.), you can put the strips and desiccant in a container for storage.

When planting time comes, just make your trench the correct depth and place strips in the trench with the seeds facing up.  Water trench and cover with soil.  Don't worry about the newspaper, it will break down.

Paperwhites:

If you have never grown paperwhites (Narcissus) now is a good time to try it.  You can find them in nurseries and sometimes even in discount stores.  They are fun to grow and super easy.  We have directions for growing paperwhites on the 'Kid's Site'.  Go to our 'Home' page, click on 'Kid's Site', and scroll down to 'More Projects'.  Click on 'More Projects' and look for 'Flower Surprise in Rocks'.  If you have children in your house it will make a fun project your family can enjoy together.

 

Houseplants     February 4, 2002

Amaryllis:  Now is a good time to get your amaryllis bulb out of hibernation.  Trim off any dead leaves, put in a bright room, water and watch a miracle happen.  If your bulb received enough food and sunshine last summer it will start to send up a new flower bud(s).  Once you see the new growth, start watering with diluted fertilizer water.  If you only get strap like leaves you will not get blossoms this year.  Keep it watered and fed; put out for the summer in dappled sunshine, feed well and you will have a new chance for next year.

Houseplants are not only great for decorating your surroundings but studies have shown they give our homes the added benefit of cleaning the air we breathe.

Watering:  Improper watering is often the biggest reason they die.  It would be nice if you could just keep a schedule to water them and not have to get your finger dirty but sticking your finger into the soil is a good way to check to see if they need watering.  On the AVERAGE, you need to stick your finger down into the soil to see if it is dry.  When it feels dry, water until the water comes out the bottom.   You need to know what your individual plants require to be healthy.  On the average, most houseplants should have soil just starting to dry out before they are watered again.  This is just an average, not all plants would survive this; some need constant moisture others need to dry out all the way.  Don't let your plant sit in the runoff water.

Softened water is not good for houseplants; the salt can damage them.  If you have softened water look for a water valve in the plumbing before the softener that will give you hard water, (not all plumbing will have this feature.)  Chlorinated water needs to sit for 24 hours in an open container before using.  Rainwater is excellent for houseplants.  Diluted fertilizer water (1/2 strength of directions on bottle) is a good way to feed your plants.  Give them a rest during winter, while they aren't growing too much, with just plain water.

Be careful with 'Moisture Monitors'; salt build-up can throw off the reading.  Also be careful with those cute little creatures, such as the worms, that change color when the soil starts to dry.  They can actually wick the water out of the pot, causing you to have to water more frequently.

Leaching:  If you must use softened water (both your plant and I hope you don't) then you must leach your plants once a month; others will need to leach less frequently.  Leaching is good for all potted plants because is helps remove salt and other mineral build-ups in the pot.  If you see white or crusty formations on the pot or soil you know that you need to leach.  Remove any crusty mineral deposits possible before you leach, no sense running them through the pot.  With your plant in a tub to hold the excess water, run at least two times the amount of water that the pot would hold without a plant in it.  So if you have a gallon pot, run two gallons of water through the soil.  Let all this water drain away, don't let it get absorbed back up into the pot; that water will be full of salt and deposits.  Some people use 1 tablespoon of vinegar (white is cheapest) mixed with a gallon of water to help remove the build-up for a more thorough leaching.

Having a good houseplant book is a good idea; it will give you information about particular plants and their needs.  If you have a birthday coming up (maybe a Valentines gift?) and someone wants to know what to get you, ask for 'Taylor's Guide to Houseplants'.  Taylor has many great books for all kinds of plants: indoor, perennials, annuals, shrubs, etc.  If you would like to check out the books before buying, many libraries have them.

Light Requirements:  Plants vary greatly in their light requirements.  You need to find out what your particular plants need.  Once again, a good book will help you figure out what your plants need.

Your plants eventually will need to be re-potted.  But since this 'Tip' is long enough all ready we will talk about that another time.

 

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