Category: Garden

February Bloom: Camellia Japonica

One of the showiest blooms in a Southern garden makes its appearance in late February when everything else is still asleep. It’s the Camellia japonica, cousin to the autumn flowering Camellia sasanqua. While sasanquas tend to be delicate, Camellia japonica is a bold, fleshy flower that screams, “Look at me!”

With their dark, evergreen leaves Camellias make beautiful hedges and the blooms create a seasonal focal point.

January Giveaway – Self-watering Seedling Greenhouse

Congratulations to Anita Spence! She’s the randomly selected winner of the Self-watering Greenhouse. Check your email Anita for confirmation!

When it comes to sowing seeds I love English peas, sweet peas, hyacinth bean vine, gourds, yard long green beans and of course, sunflowers.

What’s your favorite plant to grow from seeds? Tell me for a chance to win a Jiffy self-watering seedling greenhouse. This handy seed starting tray comes with starter pellets, a no-mess self-watering mat and a lid to keep in moisture.

Enter your response in the comments section below and I’ll pick a random winner on Wednesday February 6, 2013 at 10:30 a.m. CST. Click here for the official rules.

Apple Seeds Teaches Kids Healthy Nutrition through Gardening

I want to get on my “seed box” for a minute about a topic that shouldn’t be a topic in one of the richest countries in the world – childhood hunger. Arkansas has the highest rate of childhood hunger in the nation. At the same time, approximately 38 percent of Arkansas students have been found to be overweight or at risk of being overweight each school year. My recent visit to Northwest Arkansas and the Apple Seeds afterschool program introduced me to those baffling statistics, but also made me wonder “how do we fix it?”

According to Beth Ashbaugh, executive director of Apple Seeds, it’s all about community buy-in.

Apple Seeds is an after-school program based in three Fayetteville schools that focuses on creating healthy lifestyles for students and their families. School gardens, cooking, field trips, and farm-to-fork initiatives are what make healthy living come alive for these students. Their hands-on activities help teach them to make lifelong nutritious food choices and to create a sustainable food system.

“Gardening is just the catalyst to get the kids interested in something they wouldn’t be likely to care about otherwise,” said Lucy Kagan, an AmeriCorp VISTA volunteer and the Plant to Plate coordinator for Apple Seeds.

At Owl Creek Elementary, one of the afterschool gardening programs, there are six adult volunteers that make the program a success. They have students work in the gardens, write about what they’re seeing, cook with the ingredients that they’ve grown, and eat these healthy snacks.
“The organization has been growing and empowering healthy children for seven years, but we saw a huge jump in the impact of the program once we started getting more community participation,” Ashbaugh said.

While Ashbaugh organizes the gardens and shows kids how to plant, she says that it’s the knowledge of the other program leaders that truly brings that information to life. A local chef teaches the students’ parents how to cook simple, healthy meals, the 5th grade science teacher uses the gardens as a lab for the students, and the school nurse instructs the kids on fitness and healthy living choices.

“Our mission can go so much farther when other people, especially experts, offer their skills,” Ashbaugh said. “One of our goals is to find community partners that we can set up with the resources that they need and support them. They, in turn, support these kids.”

Kagan’s goal is for every child to know where his or her food comes from, and she thinks the program is making that a reality.

“The change in attitudes that you see from kids after three weeks of working in a garden is amazing,” she said. “There’s an attitude of positive peer pressure with ‘who can eat the weirdest thing’ and the students see a connection with their bodies and what they eat. You never know what will lead kids to make better eating choices in the future, but it’s happening here every day.”

Just witnessing the program in action was an inspiration, but like Kagan and Ashbaugh pointed out, “there’s something like this in every community- it’s going mainstream now.”

“People are looking for alternatives. The economy is weak, we have more access to information about good foods versus bad foods, and people want to know about and cook their own food. They just need a little guidance and advice, and we can do that.”

I encourage you to reach out to these types of programs in your own community. You never know how your skills might help create healthier lives.

Win a Pair of Dramm Hand Pruners

I can’t believe what an awesome response we received on this contest. I wish I had more pruners to give away. Today’s winner by random draw is Tammy Hathaway. Congratulations Tammy and thanks to everyone for participating. I’m blown away.

People often ask me about which plants to cut back in autumn and when to cut them back. I advise to wait until a killing freeze to cut back perennials and pull out summer annuals. If a plant had problems during the summer always through the foliage in the trash rather than the compost bin to prevent carrying fungus and disease over into next year.

I like to leave some of my perennials and ornamental grasses uncut for winter interest and bird habitat. How about you? Do you prefer a tidy winter garden or is a little frowzy more your style?

Tell me in the comments section below for a chance to win a cool pair of Dramm ColorPoint™ Bypass Pruners. They are bright yellow, which makes it easy to find them in the garden. I’ll announce the winner on Friday November 02, 2012 at 9:30 a.m. CST. Click here for the official rules.

Dig In!

Congratulations to Cathy Bradford! She’s the winner of the “Clouds of Pink Garden.” Thank you to everyone who entered. Everyone in the office loves reading your comments.

It takes a lot of faith to plant a bulb in fall and trust it will grow and bloom the following spring. Patience too! Fortunately I have plenty of both because tulips are one of my favorite flowers. How about you? Tell me about the spring flowering bulbs you love the most for a chance to win my Clouds of Pink Bulb Garden.

I’ll select a winner at random on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 9:00 a.m. CST.

Use the comment form below to answer. Click here for the official rules.

There are 3 other bulb garden designs in my collection. All are available at independent garden centers. Check them out.

Super Star Shrubs Come in All Sizes

Shrubs have traditionally been cast in supporting roles with the occasional star billing for seasonal blooms or color. However, hybridizers are continuously introducing varieties with attributes that push these workhorses to center stage.

Size is one characteristic that has seen an increase in possibilities. Whether you need a shrub to create an enclosure or brighten the corner of a patio garden, there’s something for you.

From tall to small my friends at Proven Winners® have some fabulous shrubs to choose from. Here are 10 worth considering for setting a dramatic scene in your garden.

‘American Pillar’ Thuja (Arborvitae)
20 – 30 feet tall
3 – 4 feet wide
Evergreen
Full sun to partial shade
Hardy in zones 3a – 7b
This tall, columnar arborvitae is known for its dense branching and rapid growth. It’s an excellent choice for screening and creating enclosures. Learn more about ‘American Pillar’ arborvitae onProvenWinners.com.

Berry Nice® Ilex verticillata (Winterberry)
6 – 8 feet tall
6 – 8 feet wide
Deciduous
Full sun to partial shade
Hardy in zones 3a – 9b
I. verticillata is a deciduous holly with brilliant red berries in winter. It is very dramatic when planted in groupings. Learn more about Berry Nice® Ilex verticillata onProvenWinners.com.

Bloomerang® Purple Syringa (Lilac)
4 – 5 feet tall
4 – 5 feet wide
Deciduous
Full sun
Hardy in zones 3a – 7b
Unlike other lilacs Bloomerang® flowers in spring, then again midsummer and continues through the fall. A compact, mounding shrub that’s suitable for mixed borders, it has the same delightful fragrance you expect from lilacs. Learn more about Bloomerang® Purple lilac on ProvenWinners.com.

Incrediball® Hydrangea arborescens (Smooth Hydrangea)
4 – 5 feet tall
4 – 5 feet wide
Deciduous
Full sun to partial shade
Hardy in zones 3a – 9b
This North American native shrub produces impressive flowers (up to 12 inches across). I love it so much that I selected it for my Platinum Collection. Learn more about Incrediball® Hydrangea arborescens on ProvenWinnners.com.

Snow Storm™ Spiraea x media (Spiraea)
3 – 4 feet tall
3 – 4 feet wide
Deciduous
Full sun
Hardy in zones 4a – 8b
Snow Storm™ produces hefty white blooms in spring. Foliage turns a striking orange-red in fall. This is a good choice for mass plantings or as a seasonal focal point in a mixed border. Learn more about Snow Storm™ spiraea on ProvenWinners.com.

Little Henry® Itea virginica (Sweetspire)
2 – 3 feet tall
2 – 3 feet wide
Deciduous
Sun to part shade
Hardy in zones 5a – 9b
Little Henry® is the compact version of one of my favorite North American native shrubs. It will grow in sun or light shade and tolerates moist soil. Little Henry® produces showy white blooms in early summer and the foliage is fantastic in fall. It’s part of my Platinum Collection. Learn more about Little Henry® Itea on ProvenWinners.com.

Lo & Behold® Blue Chip Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)
24 – 30 inches tall
24-30 inches wide
Deciduous
Full sun
Hardy in zones 5a – 9b
Now everyone can grow a butterfly bush in their garden. This little shrub produces fragrant blooms from mid-summer through fall. It stays under 3 feet tall. It’s a great bedfellow for perennials and annuals or grow it in a container.  Lo & Behold® Blue Chip Buddleia is part of my Platinum Collection. You can learn more about it on ProvenWinners.com.

Show Off™ Sugar Baby Forsythia
18 – 30 inches tall
18 – 30 inches wide
Deciduous
Full sun
Hardy in zones 4a – 8b
Show Off™ Sugar Baby produces the same amount of bloom as larger Forsythia varieties but on a compact plant. Mass plant in larger gardens or use as a spring focal point in small spaces. I love it in a container, surrounded by daffodils and grape hyacinths. Learn more about Show Off™ Sugar Baby Forsythia on ProvenWinners.com.

Sunjoy® Mini Saffron Berberis thungergii  (Barberry)
18 – 24 inches tall
24 – 30 inches wide
Deciduous
Full sun
Hardy in zones 4a – 8b
Sunjoy® Mini Saffron sets itself apart with its compact form and dazzling foliage. The sunny yellow leaves tinged with orange turn a sunset orange-red in fall. Learn more about Sunjoy® Mini Saffron barberry on ProvenWinners.com.

My Monet® Weigela
12 – 18 inches tall
12 – 18 inches wide
Deciduous
Full sun to partial shade
Hardy in zones 4a – 6b
My Monet® boasts variegated foliage and pink flowers but in a petite form. Mix it with perennials and annuals in a flower bed or group several together for impact. It also grows well in containers. Learn more about My Monet® Wiegela on ProvenWinners.com.

Fertilizer Test

Whew. What a summer. It’s like Mother Nature has a magnifying glass pointed right at the central U.S. Here in Arkansas the growing season started about a month early this year. We were planting tomatoes in March and by the end of May it was as hot as July.

When the forecast is hot and dry for the foreseeable future the best thing for the vegetable garden is consistent, even moisture and an organic, water soluble or slow release fertilizer that won’t over stimulate heat and drought stressed plants.

My fertilizer of choice for edibles is Jobe’s Organics Vegetables and Tomatoes. It’s organic, but produces quick results. The granular and stakes are slow release and there is a new water soluble version too that’s perfect for our current weather.

The reason Jobe’s is my choice is it’s organic and it works. I can see the difference in the health of my plants and the flavor of the vegetables they produce.

This year I decided to put Jobe’s to the test to see how vegetables fed with Jobe’s matched up to those that went without. In early May I set up an experiment by planting two 6’x6’ raised beds with tomatoes and peppers. I added Jobe’s Organics Vegetables and Tomatoes granular fertilizer to the experimental bed and left the control bed unfertilized.

Over the summer, I’ve continued feeding with Jobe’s Organics water soluble. It’s easy to do with a hose end feeder, but you can also mix it up in a watering can.

In spite of the horrendous heat (11 days of near 100 and above 100 degree temperatures), both beds have continued producing a harvest, but the Jobe’s tomatoes and peppers are more robust and flavorful.

Are you curious how your vegetable garden would perform with Jobe’s Organics Vegetables and Tomatoes? Tell me how your garden is growing in the comments below for a chance to win a bag! Congratulations to Christine! She’s the winner of the Jobe’s Organics Fertilizer. Thank you to everyone for entering. Sounds like the heat and drought aren’t keeping you guys out of the garden!

Click here to find a store in your area that sells Jobe’s Organics.

Ten Tips from Heifer Ranch

There is so much to discuss about Heifer Ranch I thought it deserved a second post. In the first post I introduced you to this farm and learning center that is a part of Heifer International. With only three full time gardeners who maintain almost four acres of produce, I figured the folks at Heifer Ranch would have some good tips for us home gardeners. Here’s what they had to say.

  1. Plant Early: Ryan, manager of the garden, says the first step to success is putting in a spring crop as early as possible. It helps the workers get a jump on the season and take advantage of Arkansas’ short spring before the weather turns too hot.
  2. Succession Planting: To stay in constant supply of fresh produce, the gardeners plant the same crops every 3-4 weeks. This is especially helpful for pest-vulnerable crops like squash, but it also helps if a heat wave or flash flood destroys one planting group.
  3. Row Covers: Many people shy away from them, but row covers made from thin agricultural fabrics are used to cover plantings for two main purposes: frost protection and as an insect barrier. This is an added protection for tip 1- planting early- but it also helps with weed control.
  4. Rotation: The Heifer Ranch gardeners try not to plant a crop of the same family in a particular spot within four years of another member of that family being planted there. For example, the areas that have tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant this year will not have any of those items planted there for the foreseeable future. It’s a task that requires a little note keeping, but it greatly helps with the prevention of disease and insect pressure for future crops.
  5. Drip Irrigation: With the typical Arkansas summer, and especially this year’s drought-plagued summer, drip irrigation is a saving grace. The use of drip tape or line helps them conserve water and helps keep plants foliage dry, which reduces disease. It’s especially useful to keeping the soil moist when plants are young so that roots won’t dry out.
  6. Compost: The dynamic duo of food waste from the cafeteria and manure from the barns with the addition of garden remnants creates “black gold” to greatly enhance garden soil.
  7. Cover Cropping: Despite the extra work it may entail, the gardeners try to never have bare soil. When a “cash crop” is finished producing, they quickly plant a crop like cowpeas in the summer or winter wheat in the fall because in sustainable farming, cover crops help manage soil fertility & quality by adding nutrients back into the ground and help keep weeds, pests and diseases at bay.
  8. Mulch: By placing mulch around the base of plants, the gardeners can keep the soil consistently moist and cool while also discouraging weeds- the less weeding they have to do, the more time they have for planting and harvesting.
  9. Organic Pest Control: Heifer Ranch is a certified organic producer and they avoid chemical-based pest controls. But as a last resort for those hard-to-beat pests, they rely on the organic pyrethrum-based controls for blister beetles and fire ants and baits containing Nosema locustae against tomato hornworms and grasshoppers.
  10. Hard Work: What garden doesn’t require this? All of the vegetables are harvested by hand, so the three full-time gardeners are out in the sun for 8-10 hours a day. Even so, they rely on help from volunteers, guests, and CSA members to keep things fully harvested. Gardening and farming are social events at Heifer Ranch.

Do you use any of these methods to keep your garden in top form? We’d love to hear which of these you use, or any other tips you have to make a garden manageable.

Rose Woes? I’ve got solutions.


Summer is in full swing and so begins the annual watch for signs of pests and diseases in the garden. Roses are especially susceptible to troubles as temperatures and humidity rises, but rose problems are general easy to manage. The key is early detection and identification.

Looking for help with your rose woes? Read this excerpt from my eBook Garden 101: Growing and Caring for Roses.

What do you think is the most carefree rose? Tell me for a chance to win a copy of Garden 101: Growing and Caring for Roses for your Kindle or to read on your computer. I’ll select a winner on Monday July 16, 2012. Read the official rules.

Congratulations to Adele, Susan, Susan O., Cindy M. and Jo S. You gals won a copy of my eBook!. Check your email for confirmation. Thank you to everyone for entering! I especially enjoyed reading the deer tips!

Gardening 101: Growing and Caring for Roses “Common Rose Problems”

Now, some may say that roses are prima donnas that are susceptible to all kinds of maladies. Really, though, roses only have a few problems. The truth is, many of these issues can be prevented with good cultural practices and simple treatments. My best advice is to choose the right rose for your conditions and then make certain that the rose is growing in the right place. Happy roses are healthy roses.

Know the Enemies …

Insect Pests

Admittedly, gardeners aren’t the only ones who love roses. Lots of bugs love roses, too. When dealing with insect pests, I like to use methods with low environmental impact. I keep everything orderly to make the garden as inhospitable as possible to these unwelcome guests. I handpick them or use bug traps. On occasion, I’ll use a spot spray of insecticidal soap or pyrethrum-based insecticides. A stealth tactic such as using garlic or marigolds in the garden sneakily repels insects, too.

Here are some of my best tips to prevent and control specific pests.

Japanese Beetle: If you see that your rose leaves are skeletonized and the flowers have been eaten, it’s a good bet you have Japanese beetles. The beetles have coppery-green wings with five little white “tufts” on their sides. Your best defense is to handpick the adult beetles and drop them in a jar of soapy water. Natural repellents include catnip, chives, garlic and tansy, or you can use an insecticidal soap. If the garden is too overwhelmed with them, try bacterial controls or bug traps.

Aphids: Look for reduced shoot growth and distorted or pale foliage with small insects clustered on stems and shoots. Many natural enemies, such as ladybugs, exist that can eat many of the aphids. A strong jet of water can wash away the colonies from the buds. You can also spray thoroughly with an insecticidal soap.

Sawfly Larvae (Rose Slugs): When upper-leaf surfaces are skeletonized or complete leaves have been devoured with only the midvein remaining, you have rose slugs. If the infestation is manageable, handpick the rose slugs and the affected leaves. If the rose slugs persist, then spray with an insecticidal soap.

Spider Mites: You have mites if the leaves are rough and appear stippled with tiny, light-colored dots. To beat spider mites, you have to be persistent. Make sure you spray under the leaves to be effective, because that’s where spider mites live. Spray every seven to 10 days, alternating between a hot-pepper spray and an insecticidal soap. Other pest arsenal options are neem tree oil, BT, garlic insect repellent and pyrethrins.

An Ounce of Prevention …

Roses are susceptible to a number of fungi such as black spot, powdery mildew, downy mildew and rust. I’d like to alert you to some symptoms so you can be on the lookout. When trouble crops up, you can be ready with a quick solution.

Black Spot: Black spot is your culprit if you see circular to irregularly shaped black spots on the upper surface of the rose leaves or if you find leaf yellowing, leaf drop or canes with raised purple-red blotches that turn black with age. Carefully prune and discard the affected plant parts when the foliage is dry. I like to use a three-in-one spray (fungicide, insecticide and miticide) made with neem oil that also controls insect pests.

Powdery Mildew: Symptoms of this problem include a powdery, white growth covering the leaves’ upper surface that can also distort the leaves. Prune to improve air flow around the rose shrub as well as around the surrounding plantings. Once I’ve trimmed, I’ll use neem oil to treat the powdery mildew.

Rust: Orange, powdery spores that are usually confined to the lower-leaf surfaces signal a rust problem. If left untreated, orange-brown spots will appear later in the season on the upper-leaf surfaces, and infected young stems and sepals may become distorted. The best offense is a good defense — so again, avoid crowding and prune your roses and the plantings around them to improve air circulation. When you first see rust pustules on lower-leaf surfaces, apply fungicide at regular intervals. Spray every seven to 10 days, except during extreme heat and drought. Again, I have a lot of success with neem oil.

Wildlife

Thorns or no thorns, many animals will eat a rose bush to the ground. If an animal is hungry enough, it will eat anything. Bird netting is one way to keep out those unwanted garden guests, since many animals shy away from the feel of the plastic. Using the bird netting won’t mar the appearance of the landscape either, since it’s hard to see from a distance. I’ve also had luck with liquid repellents, but I have to remember to apply them after every rain.

A Special Note About Keeping Out Deer

Deer are a problem nationwide and I receive questions about deer everywhere I go. Strangely enough, I haven’t had any deer problems in my rose beds at the farm. I also realize I may be tempting fate with those words, considering the fact the Retreat is surrounding by woods. There have been plenty of deer sightings, so I know it won’t last forever. I have some tricks up my sleeve to deter them, yet I’m mindful that they were here first, so my defensive measures will at the very least keep me in their good graces.

Deer Fence: Deer can jump pretty high, but they don’t like to jump across a double barrier. So a fence inside a fence is much more effective than one tall fence. At the farm I’m building two 4-foot fences that are 5 feet apart. The space between the fences will be wide enough for a wheelbarrow or lawn mower to get through, but it will be too far for a deer to jump across.

Deer Netting: Deer netting can be draped over plants or attached to existing fencing. Deer don’t like the way it feels on their muzzles so they avoid it and whatever it protects.

Plant Choices: Avoid traditional deer favorites such as rhododendron, azaleas and hostas. Why tempt them with their favorite salad bowl? I also planted daffodils instead of tulips because deer won’t eat them. Deer also dislike plants with a pungent fragrance, including marigolds, lavender, boxwood and herbs. Fuzzy foliage plants such as lamb’s ear are also not on a deer’s menu. Very few plants are actually deer proof, but, it never hurts to try.

Here Come the Bugs!

The mild temperatures of the past winter came at a price and now it’s time to pay up. Bugs. Without freezing winter temperatures to reduce their populations the insect pests in my garden are back with a vengeance. Pest management is going to be tough this growing season, but I’m trying something new that gives me hope that I can stay one step ahead.

AzaGuard® Insecticide and Insect Repellant is a broad spectrum insecticide, nematicide and repellant. Here are a few points that convinced me to give AzaGuard® a try.

  1. It’s organic, non-toxic and safe to use both indoors and out.
  2. AzaGuard® contains the OMRI listed insect growth inhibitor Azadirachtin. This prevents insect growth, feeding and reproduction. It works on over 300 pests including aphids, beetles, grasshoppers, grubs, and whiteflies.
  3. The active ingredient Azadirachtin has a low impact on the environment and no effect on birds or other wildlife.
  4. In addition to being a growth inhibitor AzaGuard® is also a repellant that works on flying insects like house flies.
  5. AzaGuard® controls parasitic nematodes.
  6. I can mix AzaGuard® in my sprayer with other chemicals such as BioSafe System’s fungicide/bacteriacide OxiDate®.
  7. The packaging is designed with the environment in mind. Each spray bottle comes with 3 ampoules of water soluble product providing 96 fluid ounces of spray. All I have to do is pour the contents of 1 ampoule in the bottle and add water. When I that runs out I can mix up more without purchasing a second spray bottle.

If you want to try BioSafe® Systems AzaGuard® in your garden look for it at your local independent garden center or hardware stores such as True Value or United Hardware.