Monday, February 22, 2021

Jen Plans Her Vegetable Garden


Jen's country property is ready for a garden expansion

I opened the curtains to see the snowfall and decided that it was the perfect time to plan my garden. Well, to finish planning it. I’ve planned for the spring; now it’s time to get the summer planned. And since my snow day has given me loads of extra time, I can get those spring vegetable seeds started! YAY!

Read the seed labels. Marshmallow needs cold stratification before planting; that means time in the refrigerator before planting.

Every time I sit down to plan out the garden, I'm nervous. Can I grow everything that I want to grow? Do I have space? Can I find the seeds? Every. Single. Time. Having a plan for the spring already in place doesn't stop me from being worried about planning my summer vegetables today. 

Here are 3 steps to planning the garden. 

Step #1: Ask yourself, what do you want to grow?

It was quite easy for me this year. I had a problem starting seeds last year and ended up buying the plants. I still have all the seeds though, and they are still good. I already know what I want to grow. I also know that last year I didn’t grow enough San Marzano tomatoes (I have watery salsa to be eaten this winter…YUCK!).

Jen's snowy day project

Armed with my list of vegetables to grow, I drew out my garden. Ask yourself, what do you enjoy eating? For example, I like eggplant, but not enough that I want to grow it. I can get it at the farmer’s market and still have it fresh if I get a hankering for it. If you are going to eat it or preserve it, then you should grow it!

Plant your friend's favorites

Step #2: Plan where it will go

This part is easy/difficult. That makes no sense, I know – but, hear me out. I grow my vegetables and herbs in-ground, in raised beds, and in containers. Most of my herbs, because many are perennial, are in the ground. That leaves me with raised beds and containers for my vegetables. That’s the easy part. I have space; I know where it is and how much I have. The difficult part for me is how to get ALL of what I want to grow in that space. Even if you can’t grow in-ground, there are many options for growing in containers that make gardening more accessible than ever.

Jen makes use of many materials to create her garden plots

Beautiful surroundings make this garden even more enjoyable!

Plenty of space between plants

Pots come in a variety of colors, sizes, and materials

Earthboxes are a favorite 

Smart Pots are easily stored and are a lightweight option for garden pots and beds

If you look at my garden plan you can see that I have more than one plant per bed. This is where your garden center is your best friend. Another example: from working at Valley View, I have learned that tomatoes need space around them (it helps to cut back on diseases with better airflow and means they are not fighting for nutrients and water). If you have questions, call and ask us. I personally love to talk about growing veggies and herbs! So, in my 4’x3’ raised bed I’ll plant 3 tomatoes maximum, but I’ll throw extra basil and dill plants in the bed too. Just because I can!

Upright supports allow for better air movement and easier harvest

Raised bed gardens look ready to harvest

Salad for dinner tonight!

A quick google search will give you more information about plants that can be grown together. Also, use the University of Maryland Extension's Grow It, Eat It page for recommendations. My personal favorite is to  type into google,  “can I plant (blank) with (blank)?” I was checking if it would be okay to plant my peppers with beans. I got a few mixed messages but decided that I would try it. A lot of gardening and companion planting is all about experimentation. Most of the sites talked about green beans, so I decided I would plant my black beans there and plant my green beans with squash and zucchini which I know do well together. Hopefully, it turns into a winning solution.

Step #3: Prepare

You have the list of what you want to plant, and you know where it is going to go The next step is to prepare for the planting. Do you have enough fertilizer? Is your soil at the proper pH for your tomatoes to thrive? What problems did you have last year that could be fixed this year?

Invest in good, ergonomic garden tools

Plenty of organic and synthetic fertilizer options

I’m planning on putting my tomatoes in at the end of May. Knowing when you are going to plant means that you’ll know when to start your seeds, or when to buy the transplants. Remember to talk to your garden center employees; they can answer your questions.

This year I will have 6 more rows of peas than I did last year and 4 more rows of beans. I don’t have enough supports for all of them, so I will be looking for stakes, netting, and fencing to add to my garden structures. Knowing what you are planting, when you are planting them, and how to head off any problems is the recipe for success.

Another gardener's bean crop

We are here for you at the garden center to help inspire and guide you through planning and planting your garden. Stop in for helpful handouts and informational signage to get started. 

Informational signs help with plant selection
Over 70 varieties of tomatoes!

A free Vegetable Planting Guide provides tips, planting dates, and more

The snow will be gone soon. 


Friday, January 8, 2021

Bonsai Styles

 The following post is presented by Jen Kostick, our in-house Bonsai expert. As many of you know, we usually hold Bonsai classes on the first Saturday of most months. Unable to do so during the pandemic, we will be reaching out via Facebook to our Bonsai enthusiasts. We will be using Facebook live for various classes on Saturdays. Last week's class featured Bonsai Basics (and an audio issue). We will be repeating the class in a week or so. Here is Jen's post on Bonsai Styles. 


Bonsai Styles

 Let’s talk about some of the more popular bonsai styles. Bonsai trees are meant to mimic the trees found in nature. Today we are focusing on formal upright, informal upright, semi-cascade, and cascade.


Formal Upright vs. Informal Upright

Trees with formal upright styling mimic trees that have received ideal conditions – proper light, water, and fertilizer with no crazy weather – Marylanders will not know what that is like! They have strong, straight trunks that narrow to the top. Having enough space around them, the bottom branches are longer than the top and naturally create a pyramid shape.

Conversely, an informal upright has not received the same ideal conditions. In nature, these trees have competed for light, water, or food with other trees. The trunks and branches twist and bend, searching for what they need. This is one, if not the most, popular bonsai style.


Against All Odds: Semi-Cascade and Cascade

The most striking of bonsai styles, to me anyway, is the cascade and semi-cascade. These are the trees that live, even thrive, though the cards are stacked against them.

Semi-Cascade mimics the trees that you find reaching over the water. The tree grows horizontally, clinging to the soil of the bank while still reaching for the light.

Cascading trees are found high up on mountainsides. They have the same reaching habit as a semi-cascade, but the weight of the tree, gravity and even harsh mountain weather will push the trunk of the tree down.


Tips to achieving your style:

·         Think nature. Now is a great time to get out and see how trees are growing. Bundle up and take a walk around to see the trees without their leaves; you can really focus on the trunk line.

·         Visualize the triangle. Keeping a basic triangle shape allows light to reach every branch. Branches should climb from the bottom of the tree to the top like a spiral staircase.

·         Use wire to add bends in branches to shorten them without needing to prune. You can also use wire to bend the ends of the bottom branches slightly down to make the tree seem older. Bending a branch slightly upward will encourage new growth in that branch.

·         Semi-cascade trees grow horizontally and should not dip below the top of the pot.

·         Pinch out new growth on your trees to force more growing energy into the tree. A tree with a thick trunk will look older than it really is. Pinching out the new growth will also force the tree to add branches lower on the trunk.



Saturday, November 21, 2020

Poinsettia---La Flor de Nochebuena

Poinsettias as tree decorations at Longwood Gardens

 My Mom's favorite flower, the red poinsettia, has been associated with Christmas since the Ecke family, growers in Encinitas, California, began marketing it as such in the early 1900s. Paul Ecke saw how the poinsettia grew and bloomed late in the season, and established greenhouses that began to cultivate the plant through breeding.
The Ecke name is synonymous with poinsettias

As the business grew, his son and grandson, Paul Ecke Jr. and III found ways to market the plant to the American consumer first, then to Europe and beyond. In the USA and Canada, poinsettias are the best selling potted flower in the land. Orchids own the title worldwide. 

Today, poinsettias are grown and sold in the millions. While red plants reign supreme, shades of pink, bi-colors, and white plants with interesting bract shapes and even variegated leaves are available from area growers and our own greenhouses in Hydes. Maryland. 

Poinsettias on display in our greenhouse 

Princettias, with bright colors and unique growth habits, arrived on the scene a few years ago. They have become popular in our own greenhouses, especially in smaller pots and in our custom holiday baskets. 

Princettias are more compact than most poinsettias

The poinsettia is named for Joel Poinsett. As a scientist and diplomat, Poinsett traveled much of the world, though he called South Carolina home. He brought poinsettias back from Mexico, where he served as ambassador, and began cultivating them in his greenhouse. National Poinsettia Day is observed on December 12th each year, the day of Poinsett's death. The Congress passed the proclamation that created Poinsettia Day in honor of Paul Ecke Jr. who tirelessly promoted the plant.
Like pink? These poinsettias are for you

Poinsettias are easy to care for if a few simple procedures are followed. They thrive in room temperatures between 60 and 75 F. The cooler temperatures in the 60s will help the color last longer on the bracts which give the poinsettia its color. Remove plant sleeves that protect the plant from cold, as soon as they are home. Also, provide good drainage for the plants. Remove the foil pot cover often used for decoration when watering the plant. Place the poinsettia back in the foil cover or a decorative container once the excess water has drained through the soil. 

Suzanne and Katie, our 2019 Poinsettia Duo

Poinsettia displays in our greenhouse a few years ago

Poinsettias bloom with the arrival of short days. Would you like to rebloom last year's poinsettia? It will need about 14 hours of darkness daily, with no light interruption during those hours, starting about October 1. 

Most of our poinsettias are grown in our own greenhouses

November poinsettia color

Happily, tests conducted by the Ohio State University,  Penn State, Cornell, and other veterinarian learning institutions have concluded that the poinsettia is not poisonous. The white sap in the stems can be irritating and cause diarrhea and nausea, so do keep the plants away from pets. 

This plant with such a varied history was used as dye and medicine by the ancient Aztec civilization. My favorite story is the legend of the Poinsettia. Little Pepita, a young Mexican girl, was traveling to the chapel to view the manger and Baby Jesus. Being poor, Pepita had no gift to offer. She picked some weeds by the side of the road and laid them at the manger, where they turned into beautiful red flowers. La Flor de Nochebueana, Flowers of the Holy Night, has been part of our shared cultures' holiday remembrances for about a century. 


Saturday, October 31, 2020

Herbs to Banish Evil


Guest blogger Jen Kostick shares this blog about herbs that may ward off evil spirits.


Legends say that on Halloween the veils between the real world and the spiritual world thin. Spirits, both good and evil, can cross from the beyond into our world. In fact, one of the most recognizable symbols of Halloween, the jack o’lantern, was thought to ward off evil from entering the home.

Many herbs were also used for similar purposes. Deemed to have protective properties, the herbs were scattered around the home, crafted into wreaths, even tied into bundles, and placed over doors and windows. Perhaps one of the most well-known herbs for this purpose is white sage. White sage is often burned as an incense after being formed into smudge sticks. The bundle is burned to cleanse a space of negative energy.


Other herbs such as dill and rue were also used to ward off evil spirits, while rosemary was used to increase happiness. A few cultures planted basil as a protective charm to rid the area of evil. Though not technically an herb, garlic is a famous deterrent to evil, specifically vampires, so the legends say. But a braid of garlic hung in the home was said to ward off evil as well.

According to the Aztecs, marigolds were the “flowers of death,” the only flower that spirits could smell from the other side of the veil. Not sure if the spirits can smell it, but it has also been widely used to keep bunnies out of the flower bed. My mother swears by it and I must plant it every year…but we do not have a bunny problem to begin with.

My research turned up many other herbs that have been used to banish evil, including angelica, borage, hyssop, horehound, and marjoram. I’m not sure how effective these are against banishing evil. I’ve planted them all in my garden and they certainly make it a happy place. But whether these herbs help keep you safe from evil; I hope you have a safe and fun Halloween.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Putting the Garden to Bed

 New gardeners have joined us this year as Covid 19 has changed our lifestyles and kept us at home much more. 

We've been asked by several organizations to provide a virtual meeting about cleaning up the garden and putting it to bed.  Fall is the single best time to promote good gardening habits. Start with simple observations. What did well this year, and what were some of the challenges? My phone records much of that for me.  For example, my tomato plants were perfect this year. When I went to harvest the tomatoes, I was surprised to see spots on the fruit. It turned out that I had a disease called anthracnose. As I researched the cause, I realized I had planted the transplants in soil from last year (in pots). That will not happen again. I will get rid of the soil, disinfect the pots, and be more successful next year. 

Here is a to-do list in the garden this fall. 

Late fall color ar Longwood Gardens

Putting the Garden to Bed and other Fall Chores

·         Observe, take pictures, keep a garden diary.

·         Remove dead branches from trees and shrubs.

·         Clean up leaf litter around diseased plants.

·         Is the right plant in the right place? What may have changed?

·         Don’t be too neat. Leave spaces for turtles, and native beneficial insects like mason bees.


The Lawn

John is adding Leafgro to add organic matter for a seedbed

·         Seed the lawn now. Fill barespots or redo entire areas that were struggling.

·         Feed with a fall lawn food, high in the nutrients that lawns are looking for this time of year. 

·         Aerate to create air spaces in compressed soil.

·         Mow high and let it lie. Most of the grasses we currently use are best at about 3".


The Perennial and Annual Gardens


A fall perennial garden

·         Move, divide, cut-back. Read The Well-Tended Perennial Garden for great tips.

·         Plant perennials from containers into the garden.

·         Use shredded leaves as mulch.

·         Don’t cut back woody or evergreen perennials.

·         Spray deer deterrent.

·         Clean up leaf litter around diseased plants.

·         To mulch or not to mulch…reseeding annuals, Ghost ferns, Black-eyed Susans.

·         Leave seed heads up or  collect seed for next spring.

·         Remove summer blooming bulbs.

Dahlias, Cannas and other summer flowering bulbs should be dug up andh stored over winter

·         Plant bulbs…deep. Use Bobbex as a bulb dip for protection against rodents. Consider many of the deer resistant bulbs. Plant them around tulips and other deer food.

·         Use pansies or violas as cover over the bulbs. 

 Trees and Shrubs

·         Plant while air is cool and soil is warm.

·         Continue to water newly planted trees  and evergreens as needed.

·         Consider an anti-dessicant for broad-leaved evergreens; use for cut greens at holiday time too.

·         Leaf drop is normal as is needle drop in some evergreens.

·         Prune as needed. Wait until March for butterfly bushes, and grasses. Hydrangeas that grow on old or new wood can be cut-back anytime. Do not over prune those hydrangeas that bloom on old wood.

·         Used decayed compost in beds and around trees. Leave a trunk flare. Avoid mulch or compost too close to the trunk of trees where voles may gnaw on bark.  Stamp down snow around trees as well.

·         Remove snow load from bushes, especially under the eaves of rooflines. Use a broom or blower.

·         Spray Deer Stopper to prevent rutting on bark of trees.

Deer Stopper comes in a spray as well. I like the ribbon around the garden or a group of trees. Use it 30" high for best results. 

·         Plant for wildlife…berried treasure like dogwoods, calicarpa and many hollies are sought after. 

Feed the birds. Trees and shrubs provide shelter for our feathered friends. 


·         Identify the evergreens and others to prune later for decorating for the holidays

Vegetable Gardens

Extend the growing season by adding Harvest Guard over the raised bed hoops

If you have knowldge and skills to share, reach out to a community garden

·         Harvest.

·         Clean out and do not compost diseased plants.

·         Plant radishes and carrots to improve soil drainage in spring.

·         Plant a cover crop of winter rye or clover as green manure.

·         Add organic matter, lime and other soil additives now. Test the soil for pH.

Though we are not offering soil testing at this time, we do sell DIY kits


·         Remove old soil from containers; clean and store pots.

·         Cut back, dry and preserve herbs.

·         Take photos, re-design garden to foster crop rotation.

·         Mulch strawberries and other berries. Cut-back raspberry canes.

·         Okay to add ash from fireplaces to the compost pile.

·         Protect figs.

·         Prune stone fruits…peaches, plums.

Tools, house, etc.

·         Clean and sharpen pruners.

  •      Sand wooden long-handled tools. Rub with linseed oil.  

·         Caulk around house to prevent rodents, stink bugs, lady bugs

·         Feed the birds; store birs seed and pet foods in rodent-proof containers

·         Use Mouse Magic around mowers, grills, covered furniture….



Houseplants add fresh air inside the home

·         Move houseplants inside.

·         Use horticultural oil, soap or systemic insecticide to treat any insects.

·         Fertilize one more time, then hold off until March.

·         Give the plants a shower.

·         Consider a humidifier.

·         Turn them a quarter a week to keep growth even. 

Add grow lights if needed.


·         Check leaves for sticky-ness; treat accordingly.

·         Keep Christmas Cacti cool.

·         Pot up paperwhites and Amaryllis for Christmas gifts.

·         Poinsettia, Cyclamen, Violets, Kalanchoe, and orchids offer beautiful color indoors.

·         Force bulbs. Use the beverage fridge to cool bulbs for about 12 weeks. Pot them amd put them in the refriferator. 

There is always something to do in the garden, but do take the time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Working on these tasks now will save time in the spring when we'll all be ready to get started again. 

Enjoy and let us know if we can help.