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Companion Gardening Expands Options for Small-Space Vegetable Gardens

companion plantingThere are just some things in life that make ideal combinations.

It’s peanut butter and jelly for lunch; cookies and milk for dessert.

When it comes to the garden, there’s tomatoes and basil; radishes and spinach.

These combinations of vegetables and herbs make perfect partners when grown together in the garden, especially if you’re gardening in a small space.

Basil makes the tomatoes tastier and radishes attract destructive leafminers away from the spinach. These botanical buddies are two examples of how plants team together to help each other.

Companion planting is the art and science of arranging combinations of two or more plants to benefit one another. Planting certain crops together saves garden space, controls pests and encourages healthy gardens.

Native Americans practiced companion planting for centuries by growing corn, beans and squash together. These vegetables are called the Three Sisters because they complement each other when planted in the same hill.

An Herb a Day Keeps Mosquitoes Away

green leavesThe American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) wants you to know this is National Mosquito Control Awareness Week.

You are aware of mosquitoes, aren’t you?

That’s what I thought!

Mosquitoes are certainly annoying, but they can also spread West Nile virus. That’s why it’s important for gardeners to do all they can to control these insect pests.

“Over the last few years, the U.S. has had increased cases of mosquito-borne illnesses such as the West Nile Virus and other exotic diseases such as dengue fever and Chikungunya threaten our shores,” says AMCA Technical Advisor Joe Conlon. “To ensure the safety of family, friends and pets, it’s extremely important to make sure you’re taking the proper steps: first, reducing mosquito breeding through water management and source reduction, and second, reducing adult
mosquito populations.”

The AMCA says one of the easiest and most crucial thing to do is to remove any standing water around your property. Empty pots, tarps, tools and trash cans of any water that has collected as they are all breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Defining Seed and Plant Terms Avoids Confusion

seed packetWhile answering questions after a recent vegetable gardening talk, a beginning gardener asked me to explain some common seed terms found in garden catalogs and on seed packets.

Because there’s a lot of confusion these days about seed and plant terms, I thought I’d share my answers to help you with your seed sorting, too.

Common Seed Terms Defined

GE—Genetically Engineered seed describes the method of incorporating genes directly into an organism. These seeds are not found in nature, but they are genetically engineered in the laboratory. Some examples of genetically engineered crops include corn modified to protect itself from corn borer damage and herbicide-resistant soybeans, canola and other crops. It’s unlikely that home gardeners will see any packets of GE seeds in garden centers or catalogs.

Organic Gardening Tip Protects Cucumber Seedlings

plastic berry boxI hate it when something eats my cucumbers before I do. Especially before they even get the chance to grow into those cool fruits.

Cucumber seedlings are especially attractive to garden pests, but I think I’ve found a simple, organic gardening method to outsmart the hungry critters, like cutworms and birds.

Last season, the trouble cropped up right after planting the seeds.

I’d soak the seeds overnight to soften them a bit for planting, then I’d prepare the garden bed, plant the seeds, and celebrate seeing the first seedlings pop up from the ground.

The next day their heads would be missing, leaving a tiny stalk standing.

My first thought was that cutworms were feasting on the cucumber seedlings, so I tried protecting them with collars, toothpicks, and other homemade guards.

But when these defenses failed, I knew I had other pests, probably birds and squirrels were snacking on the seedlings.

How to Save Money While Gardening

Small budget gardenerLandscape designer, horticulturist and author Maureen Gilmer’s book, The Small Budget Gardener: All the Dirt on Saving Money in Your Garden hit the bookstores a few years ago, but her frugal gardening advice will never go out of style.

In fact, you can snatch up a copy of her book at a bargain, too. I found new and used copies of this great little guide on Amazon for under $1 (plus shipping).

The Small Budget Gardener will appeal to any gardener who wants to save money on gardening. And that describes just about every gardener I’ve ever met. Who isn’t looking for ways to find inexpensive or free alternatives for soil amendments, tools, seeds, plants and garden structures?

The author writes from her own money-saving experiences and recommends all gardeners pretend they live 30 miles from town, as she once did. That means every trip to the store to buy gardening gear is carefully considered before hopping in the car.

Celebrate National Rose Month with Old Garden Roses

white rose with beeI always knew June was the month for roses in my own garden. That’s when my favorite roses put on a fragrant show around the patio and throughout the garden.

It turns out, June is National Rose Month everywhere else, too.

If you want to go all in to celebrate roses this month there are two things you need to do:

1. Plant more roses.

2. Visit the grounds of Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery.

I know it might not sound like the place to hold a celebration, but the cemetery is the second oldest cemetery in Denver and home to at least 300 old garden roses of almost 60 different varieties. The fact that the majority of these old roses are over 100 years old is a testament to their hardiness.

In addition to their long and rich history, old roses have many benefits over some of the modern hybrid roses found in gardens today. Like the settlers that brought them here, these roses are hardy and used to difficult growing conditions.

Add a Tropical Planter to any Patio Garden

Tropical planterMy dry Colorado garden is thousands of miles away from Hawaii’s sandy shores, but I can still enjoy the tropics in my own patio garden.

All I need is a large tropical-looking container, a few tropical plants and some Tiki torches to create the perfect mood.

For this tropical planter I chose a Tropicanna Canna Lily because I fell for its oversized multi-colored leaves and the large, jungle-like tangerine-orange flowers that shoot up from the center.

Canna Lilies that grow in containers reach about 4’ tall. If I lived in any of the warmer Zones, the lily could spend the winter outside. But in my Zone 5, tropical plants like these need to be removed from the container and stored in a cool, dry place over winter.

As a complement to the large lily leaves, I planted mounds of brilliant orange-red Begonias. These plants filled in along the container edges as a nice contrast to the brilliant lime green container I chose for the arrangement.

Xeriscape Garden Finally in Full Bloom

xeriscape gardenHave you heard the old gardening saying about perennial plants?

“The first season they sleep, the second season they creep and the third season they leap.”

That saying sure proves true with the xeriscape garden I’ve planted in my backyard. This is the third year for most of the plants and they certainly have taken the leap. Of course, having rain nearly every day in May certainly helped.

I’ve been adding plants each season over the last few years — some ordered through mail order catalogs, some purchased as “gardener-grown” at plant sales, some free plants to test and many others that are volunteers that sprung up from seeds on their own.

One of the best choices I made for the garden was to plant in unamended slightly sandy soil and to use rock mulch. Xeric plants prefer a well-draining soil to keep roots on the dry side.

Planting Miniclover as a New Lawn Alternative

green cloverMiniclover could be the answer to questions on what works as a good bluegrass lawn alternative.

It’s worth a try.

The idea occurred to me when Outsidepride.com sent a small sample of Miniclover seeds (Trifolium repens) to members of the Garden Writers Association.

Miniclover is a perennial small-leaf clover that grows low to the ground.

Clover has few, if any, fertilizer needs, it uses less water than turfgrass, and there’s no required mowing.

If it grows thick enough there’s no need for pulling or killing weeds.

I asked Outsidepride for more free Miniclover seed to use for renovating a small backyard that needed help.

This yard, in southeastern Colorado, was in desperate need of something. A combination of drought, insect pests and neglect had turned the lush lawn into a weedy patch filled with my most-hated garden foe — crabgrass.

June Blogathon Means 30 Days of Gardening Tips

pink rosesThirty blog posts in 30 days? That’s what the June Blogathon is all about.

Once again, I’ve taken on the challenge of writing 30 different gardening blog posts for the annual writer’s challenge.

Starting today, I’ve committed to posting something new on my WesternGardeners.com blog every day specifically to help all kinds of gardeners.

I’ve created a blogging calendar and have a lot of ground I’d like to cover.

In addition to some of my favorite hardy plants (like the gorgeous John Cabot climbing rose pictured here), I plan on blogging about…

  • New plants and gardening products I’m testing in my garden this season
  • Easy ideas for gardening in small spaces, like balconies and patios
  • How-to’s for saving money and water in the garden
  • Gardening book reviews
  • Vegetable gardening tips
  • Tips for planting healthy trees
  • Recipes for using fresh, garden-grown fruits and vegetables
  • Updates about the annual Weird Veggie and Funny Fruit Contest
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