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Plant Now For Great Garlic

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If you like garlic, now’s the time to plant some in your garden. You’ll thank yourself next summer when you dig up beautiful heads of flavorful garlic.

Garlic is actually an herb that’s a member of the lily family. It may have originated in Central Asia, but it’s so adaptable it can grow just about anywhere.

There are just a few gardening ideas to keep in mind when planting garlic. First, choose the freshest seed garlic you can find at the garden center. Look for large firm and unblemished bulbs without any obvious problems. One pound of seed garlic will yield between 8-10 pounds of harvested garlic.

Second, choose varieties based on how you plan to use your homegrown garlic. Choose from hardneck or softneck varieties.

Hardneck garlic varieties are popular for their flavor, are easier to peel and can be stored for up to 6 months. Hardneck varieties produce a flower stalk called a scape, which can also be used in cooking.

Softneck varieties are the same kind of garlic found in grocery stores. Softneck varieties are usually more productive than hardneck garlic and can be stored for up to a year. Because they’re good for storing, softneck garlic types are often used for braiding. Another difference is softneck varieties don’t produce a flower stalk.

Locate your garlic bed in a sunny spot in the garden that has fluffy, fertile, and well-drained soil. The night before you plant your garlic, separate the cloves from each bulb and soak in Liquid Kelp to give the cloves a good start. Don’t let cloves dry out.

Plant only the largest cloves for the biggest heads of garlic. Place the pointy end up, 1-2 inches below the surface of the soil and about 3-4 inches apart. Cover with about 2 inches of soil, water in deeply and add a thick layer of organic mulch. Straw, chopped leaves or dry, untreated grass clippings will help retain soil moisture.

Keep an eye on your garlic bed over winter and water if the soil is dry and daytime temperatures warm above 40 degrees.

In spring, once the danger of frost has passed, remove the thick mulch from the garlic bed and water deeply. Be sure to keep up with watering so soil stays moist and the garlic doesn’t have a chance to dry out.

Feed the garlic crop with either a composted manure or a well-balanced fertilizer as bulbs begin to grow. Be sure to keep the garlic bed weeded to avoid competition for space and nutrients.

If you planted hardneck garlic, watch for the tall flower stalks called scapes to emerge and cut them while they’re still young and tender (be sure to use the tender scapes in cooking). A good garlic gardening tip is to leave one scape standing. When the curly part starts to unfurl, your garlic is ready to harvest.

Another way to tell if garlic is ready to harvest is to watch for the green leaves to turn yellow. Stop watering and wait for the bottom leaves to turn brown. Use a garden fork to carefully lift the entire plant from the soil. Be careful and don’t damage the soft bulbs during harvest.

Place the fresh garlic in the shade to dry or cure for long-term storage. Once cured, store garlic bulbs in a mesh bag to allow for air circulation.

Then use your fresh garlic to flavor all your favorite savory dishes. And get ready to plant another crop next fall.

Recipe For Perfect Fall Containers

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September signals the changing of the seasons, and one of the best ways to transition into fall is by changing out summer container plantings. It’s time to replace those tired pink petunias with more seasonal offerings.

It’s easy to create a perfect fall container if you follow this simple recipe: Take one part fall flowers in complementary colors, mix in plants with attractive textures and plant tightly in an autumn-like container. Finish your fall container by garnishing with some of the bounty of available fruits and vegetables.

Now, let’s get cooking:

First, choose a color palette for your fall container. Decide whether you’d like a warm look with reds, oranges and yellows or a cool container with purples, blues and whites.

Second, decide on a container. Whether an urn, squatty square container or pumpkin-shaped pot, the most attractive plantings are those that match the look of the container. Choose a container that will fit its surroundings from September through November.

Third, grab a shopping cart and wander around Nick’s. Look for the flower colors of your warm or cool plant palette. Select several varieties of flowering plants in lighter and darker shades of the same color. Look for plants with foliage in lighter and darker variations, too.

A good formula is to select 1 upright plant, 3-5 mounding or filler plants, and 1-3 trailing plants. I like to group the plants together in the cart to see how well they fit together and then keeping wandering!

Here are some favorite fall plants to help you get started:

Mums are the classic go-to for fall because they come in many different colors, and they look great in containers.

Black-eyed Susans are a flowering perennial plant, but these look beautiful in fall containers.

Pansies in jewel tones are always a nice addition around the sides of fall containers. Look for pansies in rich colors like ruby, dark purple, and deep orange.

Ornamental kale is a fall filler plant because of its striking foliage, and kale can tolerant some cooler temperatures, too.

Ornamental peppers are a colorful filler plant. The peppers persist on the plants, and they look good even when they dry.

Rosemary is an herb that makes for an interesting upright plant, as does millet, sedge and different types of ornamental grasses.

Fresh miniature pumpkins, warty gourds, small squashes and other vegetables can also easily take the place of a mounding plant or two. Tuck several into the front and sides of the container.

Foliage plants like heuchera, coleus and sedum add texture to fall containers. Mix and match for the most eye-pleasing display.

Once your fall container is planted, add natural adornments like curly twigs, gnarly branches, vines with dried berries, and colorful leaves for the perfect finishing touch.

When To Harvest Your Vegetables

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It was late summer a few years ago when one of my gardening friends asked what sounded like a silly question. “How do you know when it’s time to pick green tomatoes?”

She was talking about the tomato varieties that are naturally green, like Green Grape, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, and Green Zebra.

It’s easier to time the green-tomato harvest if you know what to look for. Green tomatoes are ripe when they turn from bright green to a deeper color of green with hints of yellow or amber.

It’s important to know when to harvest fruits and vegetables for several reasons. If left on the plant too long, fruits and vegetables will become over-ripe and lose their fresh flavor. Another reason is when fruits are left on the plant too long, the plant starts setting seed and stops producing new fruits.

For example, one of the common mistakes gardeners make is waiting for homegrown eggplants to reach the size of the ones we buy at the grocery store. But the best time to clip eggplants from the plant is when the fruits are young and the outer skin is still shiny. Waiting too long means the fruit gets seedy, tough and bitter.

Here’s how to tell when it’s time to harvest some of the most popular fruits and vegetables from your garden:

Cucumbers are ready to harvest when they’re firm, green and the right size for the variety. The tastiest cucumbers are picked while small and tender, and before seeds start to mature. Clip fruits from the vine and leave a bit of stem to protect the end.

Leafy vegetables, like kale or chard, are best enjoyed when the leaves are young. Snip the greens from the outside leaves to the inside. Keep the growing tip intact so the plant will continue to send out new leaves.

Peppers can be clipped from their plants as soon as they’ve reached their full size for the variety. All peppers will turn color if left on the plant long enough, but that takes time. If you want a continuous harvest, keep harvesting the peppers, and plants will keep producing.

Tomatoes are ready to pick when they have their deep, mature color (whether red, yellow, orange, black or green) and the right size for the variety. Tomatoes should be slightly soft with shiny, smooth skin and a nice tomato aroma. Use clippers to snip tomatoes from the plant to protect the vines.

Winter squashes need to stay on their vines until the rind is dull and hard enough to resist a fingernail pushed into it. Use pruners to cut the squash from its vine and make sure to leave a handle. Winter squashes need to be cured in a warm place for a week or more to allow for longer storage in a cooler spot.

Zucchini and summer squashes need to be harvested while fruits are still small, about 4-7 inches long. Smaller is better for round squashes and patty pan squashes, too. Keep an eye on your squash plants because fruits can be ready to pick 7-10 days after flowering.

What To Plant In September

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If you’re wondering what to plant in September, the better question is what can’t you plant this month?

September is an ideal time for planting trees, shrubs, perennials, vegetables, herbs, and even some annuals. There are a few plants that will grow better when planted in spring, such as fall-blooming and heat-loving plants. You may want to avoid planting evergreen trees, too, because their needles can lose too much moisture during the winter causing problems when trees start regrowing in spring.

Here are some planting ideas to make the most of your September garden:

Buy spring-blooming bulbs now for planting through fall. For a long-lasting display next spring, buy bulbs with a range of bloom times. Crocuses and snowdrops usually appear first, followed by early varieties of daffodils and tulips, and then hyacinths. If you want to feel especially springy next year, plant mid-season and late-season bulbs, too.

Plant perennials while the weather is cooler. Black-eyed Susans and coneflowers are just two of the many perennials that can add a bit of color to gardens now and then return next season.

Add something new to the garden, like hops, a vining perennial. Plant along a sturdy trellis and water by hand to help the plant get established. Vines can grow quite long over time, and start flowering in the second or third year.

Improve the landscape for fall with colorful mums, violas and pansies. Look for hardy pansies in a range of colors to carry you through fall and then wait for them to reappear next spring.

Buy fall vegetable transplants to fill droopy annual containers or to fill in empty spots in the garden. There are plenty of good options for the fall harvest including beets, spinach, lettuce, mesclun mixes, mustard greens, chard, arugula, and much more.

Sprinkle grass seed to fill in bare spots in the lawn. September is a good time to either start a new lawn or add grass seed to help thicken areas in a tired lawn.

Look for a new shade tree to add to the landscape. Be sure to read the tree’s specifications to make sure there’s enough space for the tree when it reaches maturity.

Add a shrub or two to enhance the front or backyards. Take your time to find shrubs that offer more than one attractive feature. For example, look for shrubs that bloom in spring, offer fruit for wildlife and provide a blast of color in fall.

Revive container plantings by removing tired annuals and replacing them with new plants for a more seasonal look with mums, ornamental kale, and orange and black pansies.

Plant onions for overwintering in your garden. Fall-planted onions can start to grow while the ground is still warm, spend the winter in the garden, and then start growing again in spring. For the best results, buy onions that are known for overwintering in our area, plant autumn planting onion sets or look for multiplier onions. Add winter protection, like a low tunnel or thick layer of mulch.

Save Energy And Money With Plants

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It’s been a hot summer and the heat’s still on. Everyone I know is trying to find ways to stay cool, but running the AC all day means higher energy costs. One solution is to plant more trees, shrubs and vines to help with cooling.

Planting for beauty is one thing, but the shade that trees produce is more valuable than you think. Some experts estimate by strategically planting just three shade trees, you can save up to $250 a year in energy costs.

In addition to planting shade trees, there are other ways plants can help reduce energy costs. Here are some ideas for putting plants to work for you:

Plant shade trees on the south side of the house to provide the most shade in summer and warmth from the sun in winter.
Use dense evergreens, planted on the north and northwest sides of the house or other structures as windbreaks to also help reduce cooling costs.
Landscape so trees, vines and shrubs shade driveways, courtyards, and large windows.
Allow at least one foot between the house and the plants to add an extra layer of insulation.
Plant climbing vines on trellises for shade and to reduce reflected sunlight from buildings, walls and fences.
Add an arbor near the patio for a climbing rose that will offer shade and attract beneficial insects.
Plant drought-tolerant groundcovers as a living mulch or use them to reduce the amount of turfgrass to water.
Keep the lawn healthy by irrigating deeply, but less frequently. Follow the watering rules for your community and water the lawn only when allowed.
Test to see if the lawn needs watering by walking across the grass first. If the grass springs back when you lift your foot, it doesn’t need water.
Top dress the lawn with a thin layer of compost to encourage healthy roots by feeding beneficial microorganisms and slowing water runoff.
Layer mulch around trees and plants to help maintain soil moisture and slow evaporation.
Use a mulching mower and leave grass clippings on the lawn to add nutrients back into the soil.

Solving Summer Garden Problems

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This summer certainly has been tough on the landscape. Strings of 90-degree heat, low humidity and the lack of reliable precipitation have taken their toll on plants and gardeners alike.

Even though we may want instant results, it takes time and patience to solve some of summer’s lawn and garden problems. The most important step in the problem-solving process is to diagnose the problem correctly. An incorrect diagnosis can lead to even more problems.

For example, many lawn issues can look similar, but have different causes. That patch of dead grass on the front lawn could be caused by a lack of water, insect damage, a fungus or a dog spot.

If you’re seeing problems in your bluegrass lawn right now, it might be a fungus called summer patch. Sometimes summer patch starts as small circles of dead grass or larger patches that seem to appear overnight.

This plant fungus takes over turfgrass roots when there are extended periods of hot temperatures following wet weather. Sound familiar?

Because summer patch is a root disease, solving this problem means using good lawn practices to encourage healthier roots. One method is to raise the mower height to leave grass blades taller. Aeration to improve drainage may also help.

But lawns that look like they have summer patch might have necrotic ring spot instead. Both show up in the same way in lawns and the only way to know for sure is to have a turfgrass sample evaluated.

You can take a sample to one of the lawn and garden experts at Nick’s or you can contact your county’s Extension office to ask about plant diagnostics. The key to a good diagnosis of the problem is a fresh sample. Once the sample has died or is dry, it’s almost impossible to distinguish one problem from another.

For lawn samples you’ll need a large sample (about the size of a shoebox) that shows the transition from the healthy grass to the affected area. It’s important to keep the roots covered and take the sample in quickly before it dies or dries.

For samples of trees and shrubs, it’s best to take a sample of a branch that’s at least 12 inches long and that has leaves attached. Again, the sample should show both healthy and affected leaves.

Weeds are also easier to identify if you bring in as many fresh plant parts as you can collect.

A good diagnosis takes the guesswork out of solving the problem. Once you know the reason for the plant problem, you’ll be able to discuss the options for controlling it.

Summer Tips For Tomatoes

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Gardeners start the season with such high hopes for growing bushels of beautiful tomatoes. Then August hits and we’re reminded that tomatoes can sometimes be challenging to grow.

Often the problem is obvious, like when a hungry squirrel eats half a ripe tomato right off the vine. Other times, the problems come from plant diseases or insect pests.

Here are some common tomato problems for this time of year, and what to do about them:

Plants are wilting. Sometimes wilting is because plants need water and other times it’s because tomatoes are being overwatered. Before watering plants, be sure to check to make sure the first inch or two of soil is dry. If plants start to wilt in the middle of the day, even when the soil is moist, the problem may be a soil-borne fungal disease like verticillium wilt or fusarium wilt. Pull up plants that don’t recover and dispose of them in the trash.

Damage on tomatoes. When you see problems starting on the tomatoes, pick those fruits and toss them on the compost pile. There’s no reason to leave wormy fruit or tomatoes with blossom end rot on the plant because it takes energy away from forming other tomatoes.

Soil dries too quickly. Mulch around each plant (even in containers) with an organic mulch like thin layers of dry, untreated grass clippings, dried tree leaves, or straw. Water plants deeply, but infrequently.

Blossoms are dropping. When daytime temperatures heat up too quickly and nighttime temperatures remain high, tomato plants can drop their flowers. There’s not much you can do except to wait for cooler nighttime temperatures.

Spots on leaves. Spots could be caused by a fungus, most likely late blight at this point in the summer. Look for problem leaves growing on the upper part of plants that shrivel and die. In the future, space plants farther apart to help with air circulation and be sure to water at soil level to keep leaves dry.

Leaves disappear overnight. Look for tomato hornworms, those large green caterpillars that eat the leaves off plants. These insects are difficult to see because they’re the same color as the plants. Look closely, pick them off by hand and drop them into a paper bag or bucket of soapy water.

Leaves that yellow and curl. The problem could be psyllids, tiny insects that also feed on plants. Pick off the unhealthy leaves and throw them away, and then look on the undersides of healthy leaves. Hose off the insects with a blast of water early in the day so leaves have time to dry.

Tomatoes with cracks. Cracks that appear as circles at the stem end of the tomatoes or along the side are the result of rapid growth. This problem is usually caused by wet weather followed by dry weather. Use mulch and be sure to keep the soil deeply and evenly moist.

Leaves turn yellow and drop. Spider mites may be the culprit. Infestations of these pests show up as small specks on leaves. Look for these small red mites on the underside of leaves and hose them off with water. Keep checking to make sure they don’t return.

Tomatoes aren’t ripening. Root pruning may help speed up the ripening process. Remove any tomato blossoms that form in late August (they probably won’t have time to mature), stop fertilizing plants to slow growth, then use a shovel or hand trowel to cut through the roots around the plant, about 8 inches from the stem. Leave the soil in place. Pruning tells the plant to get busy ripening the fruit because the end of the season is near.

What To Plant Now – August

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August seems like the time when some gardeners start to let gardening tasks slip. But don’t give up yet! There’s still time to get out and enjoy the garden while summer is in full swing. Keep pulling those weeds and watering those plants. If your landscape is starting to look a little droopy, perk it up with some new plantings.

Here’s what you can do in the garden this month:

Remember to plant biennials. Biennial plants, like hollyhocks, can be planted now so they have time to start growing and set good roots before the ground freezes. They’ll start regrowing next spring, ready to bloom.

Search for shrubs. Take a walk around your yard and look for places that could use a new shrub or two. If you want to see your landscape in a new way, set your camera to black and white to take a few photos. By taking the color out of the picture, you’ll be able to see blank spots or what plant sizes and shapes are missing from the landscape.

Plan for perennials. Look for hardy perennials that will bloom next season. Planting them now gives roots time to start growing through fall. Then next year they’ll be ready to start growing again.

Add new annuals. Sometimes annual plantings can be refreshed by cutting stems back and fertilizing. While you’re waiting for the next flush of flowers, buy a few new annuals for instant color.

Pull out spindly plants in containers and window boxes. Replant containers with a few fresh plants for a new look. One of the easiest ways to do this is to make room in the soil for the plant and its container. As the seasons change, it’s simple to remove the container and pop something new in its place.

Continue planting cool-season vegetables for fall harvesting. Good choices to plant in August include beets, kale, lettuces, mustard greens, radishes, spinach and turnip greens. Save growing time by planting some vegetables from transplants instead of seeds.

Plant more herbs. Arugula, chives, cilantro, dill and parsley all make for a second season of summer harvesting. Look for transplants or seeds that will sprout and grow in the shortest number of days.

Protect Pollinators With Safe Pesticide Use

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It’s not often I resort to a toxic chemical to get rid of insect pests in my garden. But when hollyhock weevils showed up again this year, I knew I had to take some drastic action.

These weevils not only eat big gaping holes in the plant’s leaves, they use their long beaks for chewing into the flower buds so they can lay their eggs. Then the grubs feed on the seeds which can spell the end to having hollyhocks in the future.

Last year I spent many summer mornings picking these destructive pests off the plants and crushing them with my fingers. Damaged pods had to go, too.

So at the first sign of weevil damage this season, I decided to bring out the heavy artillery. I spent a lot of time researching pesticides before finding one that would take care of the weevils, but wouldn’t kill beneficial insects, too.

When using pesticides, it’s important to keep pollinators in mind. Bees are especially vulnerable to pesticides, and they need our help to keep their environment (and ours) safe and healthy.

Maintaining a healthy garden is the best way to avoid using pesticides in the first place. Start with clean soil, use adequate amounts of water without overwatering, and destroy unhealthy plants. At the end of the season, clean up garden debris so pests can’t overwinter.

Be observant in the garden and take action as soon as you spot a problem and before it can get worse. Some insect problems can be solved with several days of strong blasts of water from the garden hose.

Another organic method to get rid of insect pests is handpicking them off of plants and dropping them into a paper bag, trapping them with sticky traps or dishes of beer (or yeast-water mixture), or laying out boards for them to hide under at night and removing them the next day.

If pest problems persist, use the least toxic chemicals first, like neem oil, insecticidal soaps and repellants.

When you do decide to use a toxic pesticide, be thoughtful about it. Remember that fewer than 10 percent of insect pests warrant the use of pesticides. Decide if the plant damage is significant enough to call for using a pesticide in the garden.

Don’t grab the first pesticide you see. Read the label carefully to make sure it will treat the insect you’re after without causing harm to other insects or animals.

Follow all label directions precisely and wear the correct safety gear when applying. Use the right amount to spot treat the problem. Avoid indiscriminate spraying of all plants to solve one pest problem.

If spraying, do so at night when bees and other pollinators aren’t active in the garden. And when you’re done, store or dispose of containers properly.

Another method for dealing with insect pests is to take a wait-and-see approach. If you wait before using toxic chemicals, you’ll often see the problem isn’t as bad as you first thought.

Shady Places Are Creative Spaces

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Want to cool off in the garden this summer? Then plant a shade garden. It’s easy to create a shady retreat under tall trees, next to the shady side of the house and garage or to plant a small garden in an underused space.

Some gardeners shun the shade because they think it’s too challenging to plant where the sun doesn’t shine. But there are plenty of opportunities to plant a green and growing garden in the shade. Shade gardening is all about foliage color, shape, size, and texture.

The key to gardening in shade is to carefully match the plants to the site and to each other. A simple combination of hosta plants in different sizes mixed together with colorful impatiens will add depth and color to just about any shady spot.

For a fun take on a kitchen garden, look for plants that are named after favorite foods. Hostas are especially appetizing in a shade garden when they have names like ‘Java’, ‘Cookie Crumbs’, ‘Peanut’ and ‘Squash Casserole’.

Impatiens typically perform well in partial shade with early morning or late afternoon sun. Good colors for shade include deep pink, salmon and violet.

The colorful foliage of coleus plants can add striking texture to the shade garden. New varieties feature bright and novel colors, like burgundy tinged green leaves or multicolored plants with finely textured foliage.

Another simple way to start planting in shade is to plant in different sizes of containers. Mix or match the container materials for added interest and then fill them with an assortment of shade-loving plants. Tall ornamental grasses, daylilies and tuberous begonias all work well together in shade.

In deep shade gardens, fountains, bird baths, statues, urns and tall obelisks add structure and can take up large spaces. If there’s room in your shade garden, a garden bench or table and chairs makes for a cool seating area.

Use groundcovers to provide the finishing touch. Vinca can act as a green carpet with shiny, dense foliage and small lavender or blue flowers. Dead nettle is another groundcover that adds texture to the shade garden with silvery foliage and small flowers.

What else would you add to your shade garden to make it a perfect place to relax this summer?