Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Garden Update: Transplanting Tomatoes

It's hard to believe that April is gone and May is here.  With May comes more outside gardening work and that includes transplanting seedlings that have been started indoors and hardened off outside.  I started them using recycled materials that I wrote about in a previous post.  In mini-green houses, I set them near registers indoors to germinate and then took them outside, covered, on warmer sunny days to harden off.  The method worked out great as it allowed me to get them started inside but used the sun outside instead of sun lamps or placed on the windowsills.

 This method also caused the plants to become hardier and sturdier than they would be if completely raised inside.  Even though these little seedlings leaves are a bit battered from being outside in the elements, their new leaves will be more than ready to do the job.  

You will know it's time to transplant once the second set or "true" set of leaves start to appear.  When these leaves appear, the plants put out a long tap root and you'll want to transplant before that happens to make the it less stressful for the tomatoes. 

I decided to use some small plastic cups (8 oz size) that I had left over to use as the new tomato plant containers.  These would be perfect for the job.  However, drainage is vital for each new plant so I needed a fast way to put in drainage holes.  Here's a photo tutorial on how to easily do this.  I found this on another garden bloggers site.  A great idea I have to say...

With all the drainage holes in place in each cup, I went on to put drainage holes in my mini-greenhouse containers too.  Then filling each cup with planting mix, I wet the soil thoroughly and went to hang some clothes out on the line while the soil-less mix absorbed the water.  I like to give it some time to settle in before planting the new seedlings.

To actually transplant the seedlings, I used a plastic fork to gently loosen the soil around the plant holding the plant by its leaves (never the stem.)  Once it was loosened, I was able to dislodge it from the soil and place it in its new home.

Because tomatoes are a vine, you can bury the stem as deep as you want.  It will form roots along the stem and become stronger as it grows.  These plants got a bit "leggy" from a lack of light inside, but transplanting them deeper solves this problem.

And there you have it...25 plants all relocated into new homes; larger pots...or in this case - cups.  I'll just recycle the cups when they're finished too.  I will probably transplant the tomatoes one more time to larger pots before putting in the garden in late May or earliest June.  Now that they are in a bigger pot, they'll take off with this round of warm weather we're expecting to have around here.  To give them extra warmth, I'll cover them with their greenhouse lids at night to help keep the temps stable and to give them the best start.  Tomatoes like warm weather.

Tomatoes done for now...peppers are next!!  Looking forward to a great garden this year.  Hope yours is too....Blessings!

What are you doing in the garden right now??

Linked to these amazing blog parties...Waste Not, Want Not Wednesdays
Seasonal Celebration  Wildcrafting Wednesday
Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways Simple Lives Thursday
The Homeacre Hop Farmgirl Friday
Natural Living Mondays Homestead Barn Hop

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How to Plant a Cottage-Style Window Box

What brings to mind the cozy look of a cottage more than a window box?  At least that's what I thought when we first moved into our small cottage-esque starter home so many years ago.  While our house is not quaint or very special on its own, adding a large custom built window box made it feel more like the cottage inspired home and garden we were looking for.

My love of the cottage look is in the small collection of flower beds surrounding our home.  I define cottage-style as a loose, informal grouping of classic annual flowers reminiscent of times gone by.  I don't stick with any strict rules that they have to be cottage flowers, but it's more of an unconstrained, informal type planting.  No orderly plantings here, but only what feels like you would find in a field of wildflowers.  So here is some loose guidelines for you to plant your own amazing cottage style window box.

1. Start with a great loose soil that is has potting soil and a mix of perilite, vermiculite or other soil lightener. 
Great soil is always key when container planting.  You want something that has good drainage, is light yet is able to retain enough moisture that you don't have to water constantly.  I have to admit I reuse my soil year after year and freshen it up with every new planting.  I've yet to have any problems with soil disease (thankfully) and it has saved me lots of $$$.  You can decide if you want to do this...the flowers I plant are very hardy and as you can see, it doesn't affect their growth. 

 2. Choose plants that are tall, medium and spreading.
Here I have Tall Ageratum in the back, Black and Blue Salvia in the middle section alone.  I also have Zinnia "White Profusion" on the ends with begonias tucked in here and there for a shot of bright color.
This is basic when planting a one sided container.  Tall growers in the back and medium or spreading plants in the front depending on the growing space in your box.  It's important to use "untidy" flowers in order to get that free form cottage look.  Really read your flower labels and check out other planters in the garden center to get ideas from what they've created.  Don't be afraid to ask them what plants they used when you find something you like.

3. Try to use some unusual or uncommon flowers in your box and fill in with less expensive flowers.
The salvias are a bit pricey, but I find I only need two of them to fill out the box.  They grow quickly and I don't have to wait long for the box itself to become lush with flowers.  I like to buy flats of other easy to grow and common flowers to use in the box and my other containers.
I also like to "overplant" my flowers in order to get them to fill in quickly.  I can do this when the flowers aren't overly expensive.  Impatiens and begonias are flower varieties that fill out quickly and are great for shade.   

4. Look for butterfly and hummingbird flower varieties.
The salvia I use every year because they attract hummingbirds like crazy.  I would much rather plant flowers to attract them than use feeders as I don't want to keep up the feeders.  I know it sounds lazy, but what can I say...I'm being honest!
These salvia get quite tall and the first year I planted them I was embarrassed by their height.  However, once the hummingbirds came, I was all about these beauties.  By planting such tall flowers, I have a great view of them AND the wildlife from inside the house. The ageratum and zinnia attract lots of butterflies too.

5. Be sure to use a long term fertilizer followed by a liquid fertilizer. 
This is essential for a beautiful window box.  Fertilize ( I use an organic one) and water daily once summer's heat hits. My early flower box plantings were less than impressive until I talked to a friend who had a beautiful box.  I asked her the secret and she said to fertilize it.  Simple enough but so important to get that lush growth and amazing blooms that make your garden really stand out.

That's it.  Nothing too complicated but so wonderful to look at.  My favorite thing to plant every year is our double window flower box.  I always like to imagine what it will look like year after year as I tend to experiment with flower choices (except the salvia).  

Hope this inspires you to be creative this year with your plantings.  Have fun!  

What's your favorite cottage -style flower?

For more on flower plantings, check out my post...Container Plant How-To's


Simple Lives Thursday


Linked to these amazing blog parties... Empty Your Archive
Waste Not Want Not Wednesday Seasonal Celebration Wednesdays
Wildcrafting Wednesdays Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways
Simple Lives Thursday Homestead Barn Hop
Farmgirl Friday 

Friday, April 19, 2013

April Flower Collage


Spring's arrival is more than just a date on the calender It may be official on paper but we really need to experience it in order for us to understand what it really is.  The warm sunshine, refreshing rains and of course its profusion of spring flowers.

Hyacinth - bud and flower

 We finally have had breakthrough in our endless winter here with warm temperatures bringing up all the spring bulbs and putting on a pretty amazing show.  Totally soothing to this snow-weary soul...
Spring in April - 2013

Spring is a promise come true and a herald of new beginnings...may all your promises come true and new beginnings be sweet. 


Linked to these amazing blog parties... Weekly Top Shot
Homestead Barn Hop Hello Mondays
Natural Living Mondays
Seasonal Celebration Wednesdays Wildcrafting Wednesdays
Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways Simple Lives Thursday
Farmgirl Friday 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Container Plant How-to's

Whenever I'm looking for a burst of color in a sea of gray pavement, nothing does the trick of filling out a space like container plants.  They are colorful and mobile and bring life to an otherwise boring spot in the yard.
I've been growing flowers in pots for years now and learn something new every year.  I've really settled on flowers that I love and always look in gardening catalogs for new inspiration with different color and plant combinations.  
If you're considering making your own flower containers this year, it's good to know some basic information in order to have the best flower display all summer long.

 1. Know your location.

 Is your spot shady?  Full sun?  Windy? Sheltered?  These are all important things to know when considering what plants to choose for your containers.  Place an empty pot in the spot you're looking to plant and get a general idea of the sun/shade conditions.  I tend to go with plants that can tolerate sun/part shade as I have mostly an eastern exposure with some later afternoon sun.  
Is the spot near a easy water source?  Locating pots far away from easy watering is an invitation to dead plants.  My pots are always located close to an outside rain barrel or indoor water source.  
Is the spot in a hot,  non sheltered location? You may also want to consider using a self-watering planter and plants that are good with hot sun for 6-8 hours.  This will limit your flower choices but it's so important to plant to your location for the best results.

2. Make sure to pick great soil and use the best pots. 

I like to make my own potting mix blend.  I generally use a bag of great basic potting soil, a bag or two of vermiculite or perlite, and a bag of peat moss.  I don't like watering plants twice a day so I tend to use half soil and half of a soil lightener to get a great mix.  I try to use a bit less soil in the hanging plants so they aren't so heavy but enough soil so one watering will be good for them.  
I like plastic pots the best.  I do have a terra cotta pot I use, but I have to keep it in standing water as it dries out way too fast.  Plastic is light, moisture retentive, easy to store and reusable year after year.  Porcelain is nice too, but is heavy and can't be kept out all winter as it will crack.   

3. Pick the flowers and plants that will work best for your containers.

You will want to choose the best flowers for your sun/shade location and ones that will give you continuous color all season long.   I have gone back and forth with flower choices over the years to figure out what works best for us.  I like pinks, blues and purples the most, but have found my tastes have evolved as I discovered certain flowers just didn't handle the long bloom season.  Like the "Wave" series of petunias would be beautiful for a month or so but would really burn out by mid-summer.  I would have to pinch them way back and wait for them to rebloom.  It didn't work for me because I want color all the time...all season.  The flowers in the photo above are excellent in containers giving me great color all season, holding their color, not needing deadheading, can handle dry conditions and are generally hardy.  Some are old fashioned, like begonias and coleus, but they are beautiful and last a long time.  Don't forget to add non-flowering plants like coleus, caladium bulbs and even herbs to your collection.
You may want to plant the same kind of flowers all in one pot when placing the pots in a large display.  Some plants are more vigorous and will overtake another plant.  Try to find out what the flowers growing habits are before putting them together.  I solved this problem by planting the same flower varieties in the same pot and then placing the pots all together.  It also helped me to see what plants were more aggressive.  Always check the growth size of your plants as well.  Taller plants will always overtake the shorter varieties.

4. "Overplant" your flowers and fertilize with a long 
 season fertilizer as well as weekly feedings.

You will want to plant as many flowers in a pot in order to get the pot to be lush and overflowing.  This is the one time you can ignore the little tags as to flower spacing and "crowd" your container with flowers. I figured this out after buying different hanging flowers pots.  After the growing season, I noticed they overfilled their containers with plants.  By doing this, your pots will fill out quickly with foliage and eventually blooms instead of waiting the whole growing season for this look, you can achieve it much faster by overplanting.
Fertilize, fertilize and fertilize!!  I use an organic 2 month granular fertilizer as well as an organic weekly or monthly one.  This will keep all the blooms nice and healthy and solves the problem of the overplanted container.  As long as you water and fertilizer consistently, you're sure to have beautiful blooms.

This is the basic information that I have discovered along the way and I continue to learn more as I experiment with different flowers and plant combinations.  Planting your own containers is a great way to express your own creativity and to create your own floral space.  

What are some of your favorite flower combinations?  Blessings!

Linked to these amazing blog parties...Waste Not, Want Not Wednesdays
Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways Wildcrafting Wednesday
Farmgirl Friday Homestead Barn Hop
Tuesdays with a Twist Empty Your Archives
Seasonal Celebration Wednesdays Simple Lives Thursday