Tag: vegetable gardening

Nine Flowers for your Vegetable Garden

A vegetable garden without blooms is like a cocktail without a garnish. Flowers aren’t essential in a vegetable garden, but they sure make it better. From a practical stand point flowers work to attract pollinators and add the unexpected to your garden’s design. Plus by combining ornamentals and edibles you’ll maximize your available space.

If you want to mix and mingle vegetables and flowers with success remember, as with all bedfellows, to choose plants with the same growing requirements. Typically vegetables require at least 6 hours of sun each day. There are exceptions such as lettuce, parsley and spinach that will tolerate light shade. Vegetables also need well-draining soil and consistent moisture. There is a huge selection of blooming plants that like full sun as well and benefit from a similar watering routine as their edible companions but always check the plant tags to make sure.

Below are nine plants from my Proven Winners® Platinum Collection that will add the maraschino cherry and twist of lime to your vegetable garden.

‘Cat’s Meow’ Nepeta


Catmint is an excellent companion plant to help keep away flea beetles, aphids, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, ants, and weevils. I also place bowls of the dried blooms on the kitchen counter to deter ants. ‘Cat’s Meow’ will cover itself with blue flowers without much attention from you.
Perennial zones 3 – 8; full sun; upright habit; 17 to 20 inches tall.

Dark Knight™ Lobularia


This low growing plant is an excellent choice to use as edging or mix among salad greens. The fragrant, deep lavender flowers are favored by butterflies and honey bees.
Annual; full sun to partial shade; mounding; 4 to 6 inches.

Supertunia® Pretty Much Picasso® Petunia


Petunias are a helpful pest control plant that repel asparagus beetles, leafhoppers, aphids and tomato worms. These flowers are a delightful blend of hot pink and chartreuse – a real conversation starter.
Annual except in zones 10 and 11; full sun; trailing habit; 8 – 12 inches tall.

Senorita Rosalita® Cleome

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This cleome is thornless with sterile flowers that don’t produce seeds, which means it won’t spread. The lavender pink blossoms are produced on upright stems. It’s a great plant for mixing with bold-leaved vegetables such as squash.
Annual except in zones 8 – 11; full sun; upright habit; 24 to 48 inches tall.

Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum® Petunia

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These hearty petunias will produce mounds of bubblegum pink blooms even during periods of heat and drought. I like to plant them where they will spill over edges and into garden paths.
Annual; full sun; mounding habit; 16 to 24 inches tall.

Luscious® Bananarama Lantana


Butterflies and hummingbirds will gravitate to the clusters of yellow flowers. This is a great plant to take the attention off of a heat weary vegetable garden because it really kicks into high gear during hot weather.
Annual except in zones 10 – 11; full sun; mounding habit; 18 to 30 inches tall.

Supertunia® Black Cherry Petunia


Smoky red blooms shaped like a gramophone horn send out a clarion call to honey bees and other nectar seeking beneficials. The color is lovely when paired with purple basil.
Annual; full sun; mounding and trailing habit; 8 to 12 inches tall; trails to 24 inches.

Lo & Behold® ‘Lilac Chip’ Buddleia


The pollinators love the fragrant, lavender blooms that appear from spring until fall. ‘Lilac Chip’ is non-invasive so it won’t spread through your vegetable garden.
Shrub zones 5 – 9; full sun; mounding habit; 2 feet tall.

My Monet® Sunset Weigela


My Monet® has a compact habit (18 inches tall) that makes it perfect for edging vegetable beds or planting in a container. The foliage transforms from chartreuse to purple to sunset orange as the seasons change.
Shrub zones 5 – 8; full sun; mounding habit; 12 to 18 inches tall.

Small Beginnings, Big Rewards

Children who are involved in gardening reap benefits that are both tangible and intangible. Studies show they tend to eat more vegetables and be healthier overall, while growing a portion of their own food provides them with a sense of self-reliance, knowledge of plants, awareness of the seasons and higher self-esteem. Involvement in gardening helps them understand their connection to the earth and encourages eco-friendly living. Moreover, hands-on experience with gardening connects them with the agricultural roots of America.

I believe that teaching children to garden helps them to see the parallels between the care and growth of living things with the care and growth of their own lives, families and communities. You could say that it’s my mission to grow more gardeners so I was delighted when Bonnie Plants asked me to travel to southeast Arkansas to meet Emily McTigrit of Star City’s Jimmy Brown Elementary School.

Emily grew a 16-pound cabbage with a circumference of 43.5 inches this year, making her Arkansas’ Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program winner.

Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program provides more than one million free cabbage plants to 3rd grade classes around the country each year. This program fosters a love of vegetable gardening in youth. Here’s how it works: Children raise their cabbages at home or in the school garden with the goal of growing a monster-size cabbage. The variety, the O.S. Cross, produces giant heads, and some have been known to grow up to 50 pounds. That’s right— a 50-pound head of cabbage! At the end of the season, the child who grows the largest cabbage in the state wins a $1,000 scholarship.

Emily was presented with her check in a school-wide assembly, and I interviewed her for my TV show. She told me all about how she watered and fertilized the cabbage, made sure to pick a sunny location and how the 16 pounds of cabbage provided her family with buckets of coleslaw.

Visit BonnieCabbageProgram.com to see more big cabbages and learn how to participate in the program.

Tomato Tales

This is an excerpt from my column in AY Magazine. Read the entire article here.

Long before social media was even a spark in our collective conscious, bits of “wisdom” have been going viral via word of mouth in the form of old wives tales and folklore.

For me, these stories are interesting because they are part of our oral tradition. For instance, how many of you have heard that it is bad luck to place a hat on a bed or that going out in the cold with wet hair will make you sick?

Of course, my favorite anecdotes are about gardening and some of the best are related to growing tomatoes. It seems everyone’s grandmother had a pearl of wisdom about getting the growing the best tasting tomato.

Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato

Here are a few tomato tales that I’m familiar with. Some are based in fact, while others are pure fiction.

  1. Sprinkle sugar in the planting hole or water your tomatoes with sugar water to make them sweeter. This is untrue. The sweetness of a tomato is determined by the variety. If you want a sweet tomato try planting ‘Sungold’ or ‘Mr. Stripey’.
  2. If you have a tomato plant that is lush, but doesn’t set fruit, beat it with a broom. The idea behind this tip is that the beating will stress the plant and prompt bloom. More blooms mean a better chance for tomatoes. I haven’t tried this one, but the old-timers swear by it.
  3. To prevent blossom end rot add crushed eggshells to the planting hole. This suggestion actually has legs to it. The eggshells are a good source of calcium, which helps reduce blossom end rot.How about you? What’s the best tomato growing “advice” you know? Have you tried any of these tips?

Essential Tools for the Vegetable Garden

Walk into any garden center or flip through a garden supply catalog and you are bound to see an overwhelming number of garden tools. From hedge shears to hukari knives there is a tool for every task. When it comes to vegetable gardening there are seven essential tools you want to have on hand – a trowel, sharp shooter, garden fork, watering wand, hand pruners, staking materials, and twine.

Trowel – A trowel makes actions like digging, mixing and planting easier on you because it’s basically used as an extension of your hand.

Sharp Shooter – To create deeper, more precise holes, you’ll need a sharp shooter. This is a specific type of shovel with a long, narrow blade. It provides you with more leverage than a trowel and more control than a large garden shovel.

Garden Fork – Another great tool for working with the soil is a garden fork. Its primary function is to loosen or turn over soil, but it can also be used to rake out weeds or large rocks.

Watering Wand – Once your plants are in place, you will really appreciate the value of a watering wand. This tool allows you to be more precise in the amount of water applied to a particular area, which means more consistent watering with less waste. It also prevents some of the achy muscles associated with bending and stretching to water those hard-to-reach areas.

Hand Pruners – There’s nothing better than a great pair of pruners to manage the size and shape of individual plants. This is especially true when it comes to the lanky varieties that can easily over grow their bed companions. They are also handy for harvesting fruits and veggies with tough stems like tomatoes and peppers.

Staking and Twine – The last two things that every gardener needs to have on hand are staking materials and twine. These two work together to keep your vegetable garden in order. First, they provide an area for climbing plants to grow. And secondly, they create an aesthetic design element as a focal point in the garden.

Having the right tool for the job simplifies things and will ultimately give you more time to enjoy your garden.

Growing Edibles in Small Spaces

This is an excerpt from my column in AY Magazine. Read the entire article here.

You don’t need a lot of space to grow vegetables and herbs. In fact, in a 4 x 4 raised bed you can grow enough food to feed a family of four. You can supplement your groceries with edibles grown in containers, hanging baskets, pallet gardens and window boxes.

Need inspiration? Check out these photos.

You can grow many ebibles in a window box. Here I've planted cool season herbs, lettuce and strawberries. Geraniums are in the mix to take over when the weather warms.

Drill a few holes in the bottom and a galvanized pale turns into a chic planter.

GrowBoxes are ideal for limited space and time. The water tank and slow release fertilizer strip take the guess work out.

A pot of annuals or colorful vegetables creates a focal point in a raised bed.

Edibles and flowers make beautiful companions. Here I've planted dwarf cherry tomatoes, purple basil and red geraniums.

These 3 containers will yield plenty of strawberries, chard and English peas for me to eat.

Tomatoes are happy in pots. Choose a determinate (grows to a determined size) variety and stake as soon as you plant.

 

Soil Prep for Edibles

The first week of March definitely came in like a lamb this year with temperatures in the 60s and 70s. It was beautiful weather for working in the staff garden at the City Garden Home.

The soil needed some TLC after working hard all fall and winter. Vegetables are needy when it comes to soil. They require fertile, well draining ground for optimal growth. I like to refresh the soil after each growing season to replenish nutrients. Gardening is raised beds makes it easy. I take the existing soil and mix in well rotted manure and compost or humus. A good ratio is 2 parts soil to 1 part manure and 1 part compost.

As a final step Jobe’s Organics All Purpose fertilizer was added. This stuff is powerfully good at breaking down nutrients in the soil for plants to absorb.

This year is going to be the best yet for the staff garden.