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RE: Freezing With or Without Blanching or Cooking? (Follow-Up #2)

posted by: okiedawn on 08.05.2009 at 07:50 pm in Oklahoma Gardening Forum


Generally, I blanch just about everything, except onions and peppers.

Blanching is important because it deactivates enzymes in fresh produce that continue the ripening process even after the food is put into the freezer. So, to me, putting veggies in the freezer without blanching first is the same as picking food over-ripe and then freezing it.

You can blanch most veggies in boiling water at the rate of 1 gallon of water per 1 lb. of veggies. With most, you plunge them into a bowl or pot of ice water to chill them fast and stop the blanching process. Then you drain them well, seal them into a container and put the in the freezer. It is better to steam blanch some veggies, like shredded zucchini and some people prefer to dry-blanch their okra on a cookie sheet in the oven if they are going to eventually fry it when they use it.

The amount of time required for blanching varies from veggie to veggie, so I've linked the National Center for Home Preservation's website, which is my food preservation bible. I generally try to abide by its recommendations. (I don't blanch sliced or chopped onions though, or sweet peppers.)

If you want to bread the okra first, you can water blanch it, dry it, slice it, dredge it in corn meal or a corn meal/flour mixture--your preference and then freeze it just enough to hold its shape on a cookie sheet in the freezer. Once it is firm, you can remove it from the cookie sheet and put it into a container for the freezer.

Now, a funny blanching story. When I was a kid in the 1960s and 1970s, I always thought my grandmother made the best green beans in the world. They were, of course, always the beans my grandparents raised in their garden and she cooked them up with either lard or bacon fat and lots of salt and pepper. They were so tasty and had a very soft, almost mushy, texture that I adored. They were completely different from the canned green beans my mom fed us. Of course, my grandmother passed away long before I had a large enough garden to freeze green beans, so I never thought to ask her how she froze them. After I began growing a large garden and raising (and freezing) green beans, I wondered why I couldn't get mine the same texture as hers. So, finally, I asked my uncle (who is himself a very accomplished gardener and food preserver) what I was doing wrong because I could get the flavor of Mamaw's green beans but not the texture. He had me describe my freezing process, and as soon as I said I blanched them, he stopped me and said that she never blanched them and that's why they had that mushy texture! So, one of these days I need to freeze some without blanching and see if I get the mushy texture I remember so well from so many years ago.

And, in the way that one story leads to you have to endure a story about my uncle. About 25 years ago, my uncle, his son-in-laws, my brother and my husband built my aunt and uncle's retirement home--a gorgeous log cabin kit home--at a lake in east Texas. We'd go there for Thanksgiving or Christmas every so often as our children were growing up. At first he had 2 lots, then 3, then 4. What was he doing on those lots? Raising an ever-increasing in size garden. Every time we went there, it seemed like he'd bought a new lake lot and started another new garden plot. Eventually, he built a metal barn. Inside that barn? A special rack for storing potatoes and sweet potatoes and SEVERAL deep freezes. I remember he had one deep freeze just for blueberries and blackberries! So, when I keep enlarging my garden, and keep buying another freezer every couple of years to hold the increasingly large harvests.....I am just carrying on a family tradition. By the way, back then I thought he was getting a bit carried away with all the gardening/food preserving. Ha! I am just like him.

Carol, I bread okra up front while I am doing a whole lot at one time because I think it is easier than breading smaller batches as I remove them from the freezer and cook them. Everyone in my family prefers it breaded instead of stewed, so I just bread all I freeze.

You are a very good gardener so give yourself some credit. You stay a lot busier with other stuff--like the house--than I do.


Here is a link that might be useful: National Center for Home Preservation


clipped on: 07.03.2014 at 02:53 am    last updated on: 07.03.2014 at 02:53 am

Which Tomatoes Have Disappointed You?

posted by: okiedawn on 09.19.2007 at 05:55 pm in Oklahoma Gardening Forum

Hi Y'all,

Over the years, I have been disappointed by many tomatoes that other people raved about and even by AAS winners that sounded wonderful in the promo material but failed to deliver. So, here's what I am wondering: what tomatoes have you been so disappointed with, as grown in your garden, that you will not grow them again?

To earn the right to stay in my garden, a variety has to have above-average flavor, good productivity, and good disease resistance. Brandywine is an exception. Even though it has low productivity and below-average disease resistance in rainy, humid years, I still grow it every other year or so.

Here's some of the ones from my list of "Least Favorites":

Oregon Spring: poor flavor, low productivity

Kimberly: poor productivity

BHN 444: poor disease resistance

Glory: poor productivity and poor disease resistance

Marglobe: poor productivity

Sioux/Super Sioux: poor productivity, poor flavor

Super Boy: Produced DOZENS and DOZENS of fruit per plant in spite of lots of foliar disease. Unfortunately they had little flavor.

Fourth of July: This might not belong on the least favorite list as I grow it some years as a 'giveaway'. This plant produces tons of tomatoes and it produces them early and all season long. It has good to great disease resistance. Unfortunately, the flavor is average to below-average. Some years, though, I grow them as an easy 'giveaway'......people who have NOT become spoiled by ther GREAT flavor of heirloom tomatoes find the flavor of these perfectly acceptable. I don't eat them myself though.

Zapotec Pleated: Poor flavor, poor productivity

Burpee's Supersteak: poor flavor

Burpee's Big Girl: poor flavor, not as early here as it is advertised to be

Delicious: supposed to grow large, tasty fruit. It doesn't.

German Head: poor productivity

German Johnson: poor productivity, poor disease resistance

German Pink: poor productivity, poor disease resistance

Goliath: flavor only average but productivity and disease resistance were good

Mexico: poor productivity, poor flavor

Omar's Lebanese: flavor only so-so, only average productivity

Purple Brandywine: poor everything

Ceylon: tastes good, but low productivity

Jolly: so-so taste

Jelly Bean: produces lots of fruit with average flavor

Juliet: produces well but flavor is only so-so

Patio: poor flavor

Red Pear: nothing special, plenty of better-tasting red cherry types

Yellow Pear: I grew this for at least 15 years because DH's boss loves them. I finally quit growing them, though, because there are several yellow cherries with superior flavor and less disease problems. They also crack and split a lot.

Sugary: only so-so flavor and disease resistance

Sweet Baby Girl: only average flavor. There's lots of red cherries that taste better.

Sweet Chelsea: lots of disease problems and average flavor

Georgia Streak: poor productivity

Isis Candy: poor disease resistance

Mr. Stripey: flavor only average

Black: taste is not as good as Black Krim

Blue Fruit: less productive/less tasty than Black Krim

Nyagous: less productive/more disease than Black Krim

Purple Calabash: poor productivity, poor flavor

Purple Russian: I like this one but its' productivity is low.

Southern Night: The fruit taste good, but horrible disease resistance. This is the only tomato plant I have ever lost to southern blight.

Green Grape: so-so flavor

Lime Green Salad: OK, but not as good as Aunt Ruby's Green

Green Zebra: so-so flavor

Jubilee: heavy producer, good flavor, but very poor disease resistance

Orange Banana: only moderately productive

Galina's Cherry: poor disease resistance. I grow Dr. Carolyn instead.

Lemon Boy: heavy producer, so-so disease resistance, only average flavor

Yellow Brandywine: Low productivity. I do think that Yellow Brandywine-Platfoot Strain is better than plain old Yellow Brandywine, but neither is really worth the space they occupy.

Christmas Grapes: plenty of better red grapes out there

Red Star: low productivity, ho-hum flavor

Red Lightning: poor flavor

Big Zac: A huge disappointment. Poor disease resistance and poor flavor.

Red Zebra: nothing special

Ultimate Opener: Supposed to be an Early Girl type but it is considerably later than Early Girl for me and has inferior flavor.

Tangerine: not nearly as good as Nebraska Wedding or Jaune Flamme'

Plum Dandy: nothing special

Japanese Black Trifele: low productivity although it had good flavor

Paul Robeson: This is one of those tomatoes that I keep wanting to grow, even though its' performance is disappointing. It has great flavor some years, but not others. It also struggles with our heat and has lots of foliar diseases.

Mirabelle: This is the first small yellowish-white tomato I ever grew and it has good to great flavor but low productivity. Coyote is a better performer and has replaced it in my garden.

Moskovich: Slow to produce and only average flavor.


clipped on: 06.18.2014 at 01:01 pm    last updated on: 06.18.2014 at 01:01 pm

Planning the Fall Garden: It's Hard!

posted by: okiedawn on 05.30.2008 at 11:23 am in Oklahoma Gardening Forum

Well, today I sat down with a notebook and started trying to figure out what plants are going to go where in the fall garden. Every year this drives me nuts, because I have to figure out where plants will go a month or two from now.

Everything in the garden looks great right now and it is hard to imagine the lovely lush plants I see won't last forever. BUT, experience tells me that a garden that is lovely and green and productive in late May or early June will be mostly burnt up and used up by mid-July to late-July or early August.

So, for anyone else who wants to plant a fall garden, here are some planting dates to use in your planning. This first set of dates is from OSU's fall planting guide. I kind of follow them, but not totally.

JULY 15-AUG 15:

Brussels Sprouts

AUG 1 - AUG 15:

Irish Potato
Leaf Lettuce (This is the date recommmended by OSU, but I think it is too hot in southern OK in August, so I wait at least until Sept. 1)

AUG 1 - AUG 25:
Chinese Cabbage

AUG 1 - SEPT 1:

AUG 1 - SEPT 15:
Swiss Chard

AUG 15 - SEPT 1:
Peas (green, not southern)

AUG 15 - SEPT 15:

AUG 15 - OCT 10:

Kale Kohlrabi

SEPT 1 - OCT 15:

SEPT 5 - SEPT 25:

SEPT 10 - OCT 10:

Because I lived in Texas forever, I still use my fall gardening dates from Texas to help me figure out what to plant when. Here's their planting dates for the part of North Texas that is just across the Red River from me.

These dates are for SEED sown directly into the garden.

JUNE 15:

Southern Peas (Black-eyes, cream, crowder, etc.)
Winter Squash

JULY 25:
Bush Lima Beans

Brussels Sprouts
Garlic (from cloves, not seed)
Irish Potato

AUG 10:
Sweet Corn

AUG 15:
Bush beans (green, purple, yellow or bicolor)
Swiss Chard
Summer Squash

Leaf Lettuce

OCT 1:
Parsley (overwinters)

OCT 15:

If Planting From TRANSPLANTS:

JUL 10:

AUG 20:
Brussels Sprouts

One reason it is so hard to figure out what to plant when and where is that the summer garden sometimes is still going strong when it is time to plant fall crops. I use several creative ways to get around this. For example, if the okra survives the repeated deer attacks and is still productive, I plant lettuce on the east or north side of the okra (depending on which way that year's okra bed runs) and let the okra shade it.

If the summer tomatoes are somehow surviving the annual onslaught of disease and bugs, I often cut them back, or only remove sickly or less-productive ones. Then, I put some of the fall crops where I took out those particular spring-planted tomatoes.

Sometimes I feel like I simply CANNOT touch the spring-planted garden because it is going like gangbusters. In those cases, I get out the tiller and make the garden still larger so I can plant fall plants.

Usually, though, I put in fall crops as I harvest spring-planted crops like onions, potatoes, earlier beans, early or mid-season corn, etc.

And for some plants, like Cucumbers, that produce as expected and then decline fairly quickly in our heat, I'll take out the old ones and plant seed for new ones in the exact same spot.

Planting a fall garden is hard. Sometimes I wish I had an entire second garden plot just for fall crops. I could plant a cover crop in it in early Spring, till the cover crop into the ground in late-May, and start planting the fall garden in June. (I don't think my DH would like this plan at all. And, truthfully, I dread the idea of having to till up soil, remove grass roots, enrich the soil, build raised beds, etc. all over again.)

Fall gardening can be just as risky, frost and freeze-wise, as spring gardening. In my location, the average fall frost usually arrives in November and sometimes as late as mid-December. However, in other years it is MUCH earlier--either our first or second year here, we had a very hard killing frost on September 30th.

For me, planting fall tomatoes is the hardest part of it. They need a lot of room to grow and I hate taking out the spring tomatoes as long as they are still bearing. When I decide to carry over all the spring-planted tomatoes, I usually regret it, though. In July or August, it is almost a given the spring-planted tomatoes will get hit by either spider mites or stink bugs. Fresh plants are not really susceptible to either--the pests seem to go for the older, stressed plants, so I know it is important to plant new ones for fall.

In a year like this where the cool nights hang on forever, the garden might be just reaching its' most productive point at the time that I need to plant the new fall crops. Sometimes I get around this by starting plants in paper cups instead of direct seeding them. That way, I can harvest the "old" plants for 2 or 3 weeks longer. I then plant, cup and all, to reduce transplant shock and the "new" plants usually take off pretty fast as long as they are being watered.



clipped on: 06.06.2014 at 01:38 am    last updated on: 06.06.2014 at 01:38 am

RE: 2014 Tomato Grow List (Follow-Up #39)

posted by: okiedawn on 05.12.2014 at 09:04 pm in Oklahoma Gardening Forum


I like Opalka, but it really struggles in our hot, dry summers. I just got to the point where I wanted to grow canning varieties that produce reliably heavy yields every single year, which Opalka did not. It was great in cooler, rainier years, but at my house we rarely have cooler, rainier years any more. It seems like they are more or less a thing of the past. It seems as if every spring/summer tomato season is trying to be hotter, drier and more miserable than the previous one. So, for heavier yields despite the weather, I switched to Heidi. I figured that since it came here to this country from Cameroon, it ought to be able to handle OKlahoma heat and drought. It does. After seeing how well Heidi produces no matter what is going on with the weather here in southern OK, it replaced Opalka, probably for good.

If I could grow only one paste type, it would be Heidi. I adore Speckled Roman too, and Schiavonne Italian Paste.

There's also a constant rotation of new paste varieties on my grow lists because I now dehydrate a lot of tomatoes, in addition to canning them, so I am looking for varieties that make great sun-dried tomatoes. For a long time I used Principe' Borghese for this purpose but after spending endless hours in the garden picking them in ridiculous heat, I want to find larger tomatoes for drying that translate to fewer hours in the garden harvesting tomatoes and more time in the air-conditioned house processing them.

Tess' Land Race Currant (not a paste tomato, but a great example of how aging changes your grow list) is another long time tomato that has fallen off my list, maybe forever. It produced about 3 million tiny tomatoes per plant, but who wants to be out there all day every day harvesting them? Not I. Maybe 5-10 years ago when I was a bit younger and didn't mind the heat so much, it was okay if I spent 3 hours picking all the ripe tomatoes off of Tess' Land Race Currant. Tess and I had a good run together that lasted about a decade, but now I'm over it. : )

With San Marzano, I've grown a bunch of the different ones that have SM in the name, and San Marzano Redorta has better flavor, produces more heavily, I think, and doesn't seem to have as much of an issue with disease. It isn't that there is anything wrong with SM---I just think SMR is better.

Hope this helps,



clipped on: 05.13.2014 at 02:01 am    last updated on: 05.13.2014 at 02:01 am

RE: New to OK gardening (Follow-Up #3)

posted by: okiedawn on 02.26.2014 at 12:11 pm in Oklahoma Gardening Forum

Hi Jim and Katie, Welcome to the OK Forum and welcome to Oklahoma too. With your vast gardening experience at polar opposites, you should be well-prepared for Oklahoma....except for this......some years we have winter weather and summer weather all in the same week! I wish I was kidding......(grin).

Your raised beds sound terrific and you may find that you want to use either netting or a lightweight row cover to exclude some insects earlier in the season and then, depending on the crop, you might switch to shade cloth later in the season. A lot depends on what sort of summer weather you have in a given year. Some years I don't use shade cloth at all, but we haven't had a cooler, more pleasant summer since 2010, so in recent years, I generally put shade cloth up over the pepper plants and some of the tomato plants in July and leave it there until about mid- to late-August, depending on when the temperatures start to drop. I don't think I used shade cloth at all in 2001, 2004, 2007 or 2010, so based on that, I shouldn't have to use it about 1 year out of every 3. Last year should have been that good year but, alas, it was not. Maybe this year will be the good year, but it seems more likely we'll have to wait until 2015 for a shade-cloth-free-year.

Pretty much any Jalapeno pepper you select to grow will perform very well here. We just happen to have the sort of weather the jalapenos like so I tend to select jalapeno varieties based on their DTMs or the heat levels. We like our jalapenos on the hotter side, so I usually grow Chichimeca, Mucho Nacho, Early Jalapeno, Purple Jalapeno, Ixtapa, Grande, Gigante, Mammoth and Biker Billy. If you like the flavor of jalapenos but don't like a lot of heat, then TAM Mild is a really mild one, and Jalapeno M is not as hot as the ones I listed above. Keep in mind the fact that hotter, drier summers give you hot peppers with hotter-than-usual flavor, so in some hot, dry years, the hotter types of jalapenos are almost unbearably hot. To some extent, you can manipulate your hot peppers by keeping them a bit on the dry side, which will stress them and cause them to be hotter than they otherwise will be.

Normally we plant garlic in the fall here and harvest it in very late spring or early summer when the foliage yellows and dies back. I've never planted a single variety of garlic that didn't grow well here, unless the ground was perpetually wet and flooded, so you can choose your garlic variety based on the flavor. I have 6 or 8 varieties growing now, including Music, German Red, Russian Red, Purple Glazer, California Late White, and Purple Italian. I've even planted cloves from grocery store bulbs and they've grown and produced just fine, though I think their flavor is more bland that the varieties I grew from purchased garlic seed stock.

Carrots are pretty easy to grow and I don't know that I'd say one variety grows better than another. YaYa and Napoli are a couple of our favorites, and I like the short ones like Short 'N Sweet because they produce pretty early. I also like to buy a packet of the Bupee Blend on seed racks in the stores that have a mix of orange, yellow, purple, red and maybe white carrots. With carrots, the earlier we can get them planted, sprouted and growing the better so that they can finish up before the weather gets insanely hot.

Onions: Many, many varieties perform well here as long as you start out with purchased bundles of plants, which generally appear in the stores here in January or which can be ordered from an onion supplier like Dixondale Farms. If you buy the little hard bulb-like sets that come packaged in cellophane bags, more often than not those are long-day onion types that never bulb up here. Both short-day and intermediate day-length onions will grow well there for you in central OK. I generally grow Texas 1015Y (also known as Texas Supersweet), Candy, Superstar, and for a red one, either Red Candy Apple, Creole, Burgundy Red
or Southern Belle.

This year I am growing Tx 1015Y, Super Star, Candy, Red Candy Apple, Red Creole, Texas Early White, HIghlander, and Red River. I haven't grown Red RIver or Highlander before, but the others have been in my regular growing rotation for a long time or, if they are newer varieties, I've grown them ever since they hit the market. I probably could be pretty happy if all I grew was 1015Y and Candy, but I like having a nice variety of onions to choose from because I do a lot of canning and use a lot of onions.

Radishes are simple and any variety you plant will do well here. You can succession plant some radish seed every week to have fresh radishes over a long period of time. In addition to the standard salad-type radishes, I like to grow rat-tailed radishes, both for their seed pods (you stir fry them) and for their flowers. They are a great companion plant for squash, so I usually plant them on all 4 sides of my squash patch as a sort of border to attract beneficial insects that help control squash pests.

Beets--I think with these you just pick the ones you like to eat. If there is a beet variety that doesn't grow well here, I haven't found it. I particularly like Chioggia and Golden Beets.

Lettuce can be tricky if the weather is uncooperative. Often it gets so hot so early that many varieties will bolt. I usually sow lettuce seed in February and in most years we still are harvesting lettuce when June arrives. It will eventually bolt, but I tend to plant mine where it gets morning sun and then is in shade beginning around noon, and I think that helps keep it from bolting quite as early. Last year we still had lettuce until early July because it was growing in partial shade. In full sun, it sometimes bolts as early as late May.

Lettuce varieties I generally grow include: Drunken Woman, Jericho, Nevada, Sea of Red, New Red Fire, Salad Bowl, Oakleaf, Australian Yellow Leaf, Anuenue, Ben Shemen and Black-Seeded Simpson. I also often sow a couple of different kinds of mesclun mix so we have an endless variety of greens. This year I am growing most of the above and also added some mixed lettuce packets from Renee's Garden Seeds, including Stardom Mix, which has an emerald green butterhead and a deep burgundy butterhead, Ruby and Emerald Duet (a green butterhead and a red crispy mini leaf lettuce). Often (but not always since the weather can be so variable) the last lettuces to bolt in my garden are Anuenue, Ben Shemen and Australian Yellow Leaf. In the winter months, I sometimes grow some other winter lettuce varieties, but those are solely for winter because they bolt very early in spring.

Snap Peas normally do really well here as long as we don't have abnormally hot weather incredibly early. My favorites are Sugar Snap and Super Sugar Snap. This year I added Snappy and I'm also growing Cascadia. Some years I add some color with Spring Blush, which produces snap peas with a pinkish color to the pods, and Opal Creek Yellow, but I didn't plant either of those two this year.

Bush Beans are a particular favorite of mine and I consider it a lackluster year if I grow less than 8 or 10 different varieties of them. You cannot go wrong with Provider and Contender. Others that generally join those two on my grow list include Tanya's Pink Pod, Red Swan, Purple Queen, Capitano, Royal Burgundy, Purpiat, Soleil, Velour, and Maxibel. Some years I add both Marconi and Rocquencout from Franchi-Simenti Seeds (

With cucumbers, I mostly grow them for pickling and just choose pickling types which also are pretty good for fresh eating. I grow County Fair every year because it is the most disease-tolerant and pest-resistant variety I've ever found. Some years either disease or cucumber beetles get the other varieties, but I don't think I've ever lost the County Fair crop to either one. I also like to grow Sumter and Eureka, and this year I'm trying Endeavor. I like the old heirloom types like Lemon Cucumber and Boston Pickling too, and always grow Armenian Cucumbers, which actually are melons that can be harvested and eaten as cucumbers while young. I grow both the solid light green Armenian cukes and the green striped ones. They are very heat-tolerant and drought-tolerant and pest resistant. Sometimes in a wet year the Armenian cukes seem prone to cucumber mosaic virus. I am about 100 or 110 miles south of OKC so wet years are fairly rare for me--y'all usually have better moisture than I do during the growing season, though sometimes my rainfall is heavy enough in late autumn and early winter that we catch up with y'all on year-to-date rainfall, albeit not until the growing season is over. Last year was one of the best cucumber years I've had in ages here. Even the pickling cukes produced until late in August despite a pronounced lack of rainfall, and the Armenians produced until frost got them. I was out harvesting the last ones just a few hours before that first freezing night.

Pumpkins, which technically are winter squash, can be tricky here but it just depends on how long you can keep the winter squash hidden from the squash vine borers. We moved here in 1999 and, technically, I planted my first garden here in 1998 while the house was being built, and I was able to grow any and every kind of pumpkin and winter squash I wanted until about 2007 or 2008, which is when the squash vine borers really and truly found us and became a permanent problem. Well, I shouldn't say permanent. I didn't have any SVBs in at least 1 year, and possibly 2 years, since 2007. After the Squash Vine Borers arrived, I gradually gave up growing the pumpkins and winter squash that are in the C. pepo and C. maxima groups and just focused on growing the ones that are C. moschata. The C. moschata types have solid rather than hollow stems, which is why the squash vine borers seldom bother them. Dropping the C. pepo and C. maxima types just about killed me, because before the SVBs found us, I'd grow up to 30 varieties a year. Since, then, I grow maybe a maximum of 6-8 kinds of winter squash/pumpkins in a given year, and some years I only grow 2 or 3 kinds.

The best one for this area (you cannot kill it and neither can anything else and it won't die until it freezes) is Seminole Pumpkin. It produces smallish, buff-colored winter squash in great profusion despite the onslaught of pests, heat, drought, etc. They are very hard-shelled (we joke that it takes a chainsaw to cut them open but that's a bit of an exaggeration) and I have had them last up to 18 months in storage. Their flavor and texture are superb. Other winter squash that we generally grow include Waltham butternut, Long Island Cheese, Cornfield Pumpkin, Lungo di Napoli (Long of Napoli)), and Musquee de Provence. If you want to try a C. pepo , you could try Spaghetti Squash, Howden, Winter Luxury Pie, Small Sugar Pie or Bush Delicata. In the C. maxima group, my faves are Galeux d'Eysines, Red Kuri. Rouge Vif d'Etampes, and Cinderella.

If you want to grow ornamental pumpkins, both Baby Boo and Jack-B-Little produce small ornamental pumpkins on vines that easily climb a trellis or fence. In the last year in which we did not have SVBs, I grew both Goosebumps and Knucklehead, which are warted pumpkins that make great jack-o-lanterns. I've grown them 3 or 4 times, but the SVBs get them most years. Seminole, by the way, should you choose to grow it is an incredibly vigorous grower so it can be hard to contain it. I generally plant it near a fence (my deer fences are at least 8' tall and even taller in some places because of the slope of our land) and it will run 30' or more along the fenceline. If tree are nearby, it will climb right up into them and I don't mind that because the trees are on the north side of the garden.

Gourds are simple to grow here. You wait until the soil is really warm and direct-sow the seeds, and they will grow like crazy. I always grow birdhouse gourds here, and usually one of the blends of ornamental warted gourds. Some years I grow bushel gourds and luffas. The sky is the limit here, but they need a long growing season and they can take over a small garden. I plant them where they can climb the garden fences constructed to keep the abundant deer herd here out of the garden. Two of my favorite ornamental gourd mixes are Gremlins and Lunch Ladies.

What kind of flowers are you interested in growing? Perennials? Annuals? Also, is your soil sandy loam or does it tend to be more clayey? Do you know the pH of your soil?Many, many kinds of flowers grow well here, but it is easier for us to suggest the types for you that would do best for you if we know what sort of soil you have.



clipped on: 02.27.2014 at 09:33 am    last updated on: 05.11.2014 at 02:36 pm

Dirt Bombs...

posted by: solsthumper on 03.06.2007 at 08:41 pm in Cooking Forum

Stacy and Annie, kids of all ages love these, it's a cross between a cinnamom sugar doughnut and a muffin. Enjoy.

Dirt Bombs
Yields: 12 muffins*

3 cups AP flour, minus 3 tablespoons
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cardamon
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk **

Topping ***

¾ cups unsalted butter, melted
½ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400º F. Place the rack in the center position. Generously grease a 12-cup standard muffin pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cardamon into a mixing bowl. In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl down half way through. Mix in the eggs. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk in two additions, mixing gently by hand to incorporate all the flour. The batter will be on the stiff side, but airy. Don’t over mix or beat the batter as this will make the muffins tough. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, without smoothing the tops. Bake for about 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. As soon as the muffins are cool enough to handle, turn them out onto a wire rack.

Add the melted butter to a bowl. In another bowl, mix the sugar and cinnamon.
Dip the muffins (top, sides and bottom) in the butter, using a pastry brush -if necessary- to cover areas not buttered by dipping. Immediately roll the muffins in the cinnamon sugar mixture. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*I've made this twice, and both times, this recipe has yielded 16 muffins instead of 12.
**I substituted whole buttermilk for whole milk because I always have it on hand and prefer it for baking.
*** The amounts listed for the sugar and cinnamon are not quite enough to coat all the muffins, so I recommend you double it.



clipped on: 03.05.2014 at 02:02 pm    last updated on: 03.05.2014 at 02:02 pm

RE: Mulch in vegetable garden? (Follow-Up #4)

posted by: okiedawn on 02.08.2014 at 01:15 pm in Oklahoma Gardening Forum

Hi Okieladybug,

Welcome back!

First of all, it depends on what you're starting out with. If you have already prepared your soil and amended it, you can lay down several thicknesses of newspaper or cardboard and put mulch on top and that will help a great deal in preventing weeds from sprouting. Then you put your mulch on top. The newspaper and/or cardboard prevents seeds from sprouting beneath them...or, if they sprout, they can't break through the layers of cardboard and paper and reach the light and grow. If weeds sprout in the mulch you put on top of the newspaper and/or cardboard, those materials keep their roots from reaching the soil beneath and make it simple for you to pull the shallowly-rooted weeds out of your mulch. If you are starting out with grass sod, weeds, etc. I refer you back to everything Mia said. You absolutely must remove all the bermuda grass stolons and runners, and if you have Johnson grass, the same thing is true. Otherwise, you'll be fighting a losing battle with them both throughout the garden season.

If you had a year to kill before planting a new garden, you could put down a layer or two of thick black plastic (preferably 4 mm to 6 mm thick) and weigh down the edges so it won't blow away. Then you could wait for the black plastic plus the heat from the summer sun to smother out and kill the bermuda grass (if you have any) and to solarize the soil and kill the weed seeds. Then you'd amend the soil, adding plenty of organic matter. The organic matter helps in several ways: it breaks up densely compacted soil and makes it drain better, it leaves air pores in between particles of minerals and organic matter, and that is where the plant roots the open spaces. It also provides nutrition for the plants as the organic matter breaks down, and in the looser soil you will find it easier to plant, to harvest root crops and to pull out or dig out weeds. Once your soil is in good shape, then you put the mulch on top of it to keep it that way. As the mulch breaks down (which it does on a continual basis), it breaks down into humus/compost and further enriches the soil and feeds the plants. So, mulch not only helps keep soil moist and helps reduce the amount of weeds you have to deal with, but it also improves the soil on a perpetual basis. Remember that heat and moisture contribute to how quickly all organic matter, including mulch, decomposes, so mulching is not one of those areas where you do it once and it is done. It is a perpetual job. It also makes soil improvement a cinch over the years, with the mulch enriching the soil as it breaks down.

I like to leave mulch on the beds over the winter so that weed seeds are less likely to sprout, but I do rake it back out of the way when it is time to sow seeds. In some beds where I grow herbs and flowers that self-sow seeds every year (chamomile, Laura Bush petunia, larkspur and poppy seeds germinate in my garden as early as December or early January some years) I rake back that mulch in December so the volunteers can sprout. On beds that will have transplants put into the ground later in the season (tomatoes, peppers and the like), I'll rake back the mulch only a couple of weeks before my targeted planting date so the soil can warm up more before I put the plants in the ground. After I plant, I rake the mulch back into place, but only a thin layer of about an inch to keep weed seeds from sprouting. I want for the soil to stay as warm as possible without it being so bare that weeds erupt everywhere. As spring goes on and the temperatures warm up not only the air temperatures but the soil temperatures, I continue to add mulch. My goal is to have 3 or 4" of mulch on each bed before the real summer heat arrives sometime in June. A thick layer of mulch can keep your soil 20 or more degrees cooler than bare soil that is exposed to full sun all day long.

There are various forms of mulch. My favorite bottom layer in growing beds is cardboard and newspaper, and in the pathways I use a high-quality landscape fabric covered with hay, chopped or shredded leaves and grass clippings. On the beds, I use a variety of things. Because my garden is huge, I'd go broke buying mulch, so I try to use materials I can find here on our property. Sometimes some of my ranching neighbors give me old, spoiled hay, but you have to be careful with something like that because there are some herbicides sprayed on hayfields (and city parks and golf courses) that can persist and kill everything in your garden. Because of that, I use hay a lot less than I used to. Every time we mow (and we mow from 1 to 3 acres depending on the time of the year), we catch the grass clippings in our lawn mowers' grass catchers and add the clippings to the garden beds or pathways. I've done that the entire 15 years we've gardened here, and it has done more to improve the garden than anything else I've done. Using autumn leaves is just as beneficial, as long as you chop them up or shred them first so they are in small pieces that stick together and stay in place). Because the grass breaks down quickly, it continuously adds nutrients to the soil. I am in a pretty dry area, so generally can add grass clippings the same day the grass is cut. I add thin layers of a half-inch or less each week on top of the existing mulch. Spreading it thin like that keeps it from heating up and turning into a slimy mess. If I lived in an area that had heavier rainfall, I might have to let the grass clippings dry out a few days before adding them to the garden beds or pathways.

When I have to buy mulch, I buy whatever is cheapest but is of the minimal quality I expect. Sometimes the cheapest mulch isn't the best....for example, some bags of cheap wood mulch are ground-up, chipped or shredded wood pallets or whiskey barrels (the smell of the wood is the giveaway). I prefer mixed hardwood mulch that contains a variety of wood sources. I think cedar looks nice and smells good, but used it for 3 or 4 years and couldn't tell it made any difference whatsoever in pest levels, which was a major disappointment. One thing I learned our first few years here (and we are out in the country) was that the eastern red cedar trees harbored tiny ticks that jumped out of the trees and landed on people and pets who got close to them. Once we took out all the cedar trees in our yard and anywhere close to our house and garden, all the ticks were gone and they've never come back. I was so excited by that. It did shake my faith in cedar being pest-repellent. Although it repels some pests, it harbors others. Buy whatever sort of mulch appeals to you and makes you happy. That could vary depending on what sort of soil you have and on how flat your garden plot is, or isn't. When I use wood mulch, it rarely is the top layer because it tends to float away since I garden on a sloping piece of property. If I have chopped/shredded autumn leaves or grass clippings on top of the wood, they pack down on top of it and help hold it in place.

There are many forms of mulch. I use lots of nasturtiums, dwarf zinnias, ornamental sweet potatoes, chamomile, Laura Bush petunias (a very heat-tolerant and drought-tolerant petunia that is bred from petunias native to Texas and South America), dwarf marigolds and other herbs as a living mulch underneath taller plants. Even my watermelon plants are used as a living mulch beneath widely-spaced okra plants. You also can use clover and other low-growing plants as a living mulch. Normally I like to let the living mulch plants shade the ground under taller plants, but I'll still have an inch or two of mulch on the soil under the living mulch plants so they don't get invaded by weeds. In my corn-growing areas, I often grow vining variety of gourds, pumpkins and winter squash to serve as a living mulch underneath the corn plants. The ground also is mulched with hay or grass clippings to keep the weeds down, but it mainly is the shade of the dense squash plantings that keep the weeds to a minimum in the corn bed. Because my garden is very large, I employ various forms of mulch in various areas....depending on what is growing in each area, the quality of the soil in that area, the slope of the ground, etc. I try to tailor the mulch to what the area needs.

My first few years I used pine bark mulch and worked it into the dense red clay at the end of each growing season. That helped a great deal to improve the tilth of my soil. It did mean I had to buy more mulch every year, but it was necessary at that point in the life of our garden because we started out mostly with very dense, very compacted, very red clay that was very fertile but that did not allow roots to grow freely and did not absorb moisture well. Nowadays, I just add grass clippings, hay and leaves when they are available. Using mulch will improve your garden is so many ways that I always am shocked my how many people don't use mulch in veggie gardens.

One additional note about using hay: it will come full of weed seeds, so if you use hay, you always need a layer of something between the hay mulch and the soil so that the weed seeds cannot sprout in the ground right beneath the mulch.

Keep in mind if you want to garden as organically as possible that you need to be very careful with the sources you use for organic matter that you bring onto your property and put in your garden. You have no idea what has been sprayed on trees or fed to them, for example, before they are chipped, shredded or ground up and turned into mulch. I avoid the use of municipal compost because (and this would vary from city to city and even from one batch to the next) they tend to have lots of items in there that I don't want in my garden. You'll often find shredded plastic, rocks, little pieces of aluminum cans, etc. If you use municipal compost, sometimes you can remove a lot of that unwanted junk by putting your compost throw a compost screen or sieve before you add it to your garden beds.

My favorite way to mulch a new bed that I've just built (which means it has freshly-amended soil with good soil structure and tilth) is to put down a half-inch of home-made compost first (an inch would be better, but I cannot make enough compost to use that much on one bed at one time), then a layer of cardboard two thicknesses deep or newspaper 8-12 sheets of newsprint thick, then an inch of grass clippings, hay or chopped/shredded autumn leaves. This is for beds into which I'm transplanting plants. I cut holes in the newspaper or cardboard and put the plants in the ground. If I am sowing seeds, I sow the seeds and wait for them to germinate, and then mulch after the new plants are about 3" tall. It depends on the time of the year---in early spring, I wait for the plants to get 3" tall because if I don't, the little pest insects hide in the mulch and gobble up the plants at night. In hotter weather, I mulch after the little sprouts are just an inch or two tall. Mainly that's because the ground gets too hot if I leave it bare for very long. You have to adapt your use of mulch to the weather conditions at the time.

I'd like to make a special note about corn. Right after corn seeds sprout, you have all these neat tidy rows of little green sprouts shining like a beacon of light in the rich, brown, loamy soil. So, what is the problem with that? Crows. Crows love corn. Crows will pull up your freshly sprouted corn plants so they can devour whatever is left of the corn seed. To get around that, after I sow corn seed in the ground, I immediately add about a half-inch to one inch of grass clippings. The green sprouts in the grass clippings (whether they are fresh green clippings or older straw-colored ones) blend in and merely look like young grass sprouting in a lawn of old grass (the mulch). Since I began mulching my corn beds at planting time with a thin layer of grass clippings, I no longer have to deal with crows pulling up corn plants.

A note about freshly-sprouted bean plants and mulch: in my garden which tends to have heavy mulch most of the year, we have tons of pill bugs and sow bugs. They live in the soil, in the mulch, etc. and congregate alongside the wood boards that frame all my raised beds. While the pill bugs and sow bugs actually are decomposers who help break down organic matter like your mulch, they also will devour freshly sprouted bean plants like crazy in mid-spring. So, I do not mulch the bean plants until they are several inches tall. If I mulch them too soon, the pill bugs and sow bugs attracted to the mulch will devour the bean plants with days of them sprouting. Once the bean spouts are larger and taller, they are less appealing to the pill bugs and sow bugs. So, while mulch in general is wonderful and highly recommended, there also are some drawbacks to using the various kinds of mulch. In my specific location with my soil and my pests, the biggest drawback to mulching is the pill bugs and sow bugs. I also use Escar-Go! or Sluggo/Sluggo Plus in wet years to help control them. In hot, dry years, there usually is not enough moisture for the pill bug and sow bug population to get large enough to do much damage.
I also prefer grass clippings, hay or straw over wood mulch in my veggie garden beds because the snakes that scare me in my garden (rattlesnakes and copperheads, although the sight of non-venomous snakes in the garden doesn't thrill me either) blend in too well with wood mulches in general. Because the grass clippings turn the same color as hay or straw, it is easier to find the snakes before they find me.

I hope this helps. Mulch is always good, but it is even better when you can tailor it specifically to whatever needs you have and can manage it in a way that you get the benefits of having it, but without the accompanying pests that might come in with it. I have noticed that scorpions also like to reside in the bark mulch, so I am really cautious about touching bark mulch with a hand, even a gloved hand...I use a trowel or some other tool instead.



clipped on: 02.27.2014 at 11:22 am    last updated on: 02.27.2014 at 11:22 am

Multipurpose Companion Plants for Edible Gardens

posted by: okiedawn on 01.09.2013 at 05:20 pm in Oklahoma Gardening Forum

In response to a request from Charlie for info on companion plants that can be useful in edible gardens, here's some that I use.

Compost Crops: In order to garden as sustainably as possible, I try to gather compost materials here from our property and I grow some compost crops. The fewer compost-type materials you bring in from an outside source, the more control you have over the quality of your compost. This is a bigger deal than it seems because ever since about 2000 or 2001, there have been persistent problems with contaminated hay, compost, manure, grass clippings in municipal compost, etc. that contain herbicide residue that kills many of the plants in a person's garden and stunts many of the ones that survive.

So, if you have space to grow your own compost crops (also referred to as green manure), here's a few that are useful:
Clovers of many different kinds (short Dutch White, taller New Zealand White, Crimson, Red, Sweet White)
Fava Beans (cool season)
Vetch (hairy or wooly)
Cereal Rye (especially important to grow this in sandy soils that are infested with root knot nematodes)
Winter Rye
Austrian Field Peas/Winter Field Peas
Amaranths (the tall grain types make oodles of material for your compost pile)
Phacelia tanacetifolia
Agricultural mustard
Lupines (in our climate I use Texas Bluebonnets)

I plant all of these in different ways. You have to experiment and see what works for you. Many serve a cual purpose. For example, the tall grain types of amaranths produce large flower heads that are highly ornamental. You can cut the seedheads and use them dried as fall decorations. You can thresh the seeds and use them as an edible grain crop. You can eat young tender leaves of amaranth. You can put any and all of the plants in your compost pile. The big stalks get huge in summer, so I like to chop them up (a machete makes quick work of them) into smaller pieces before composting. I usually plant amaranth on the northern edge of the veggie garden right along the fence line...just outside the fence line so I can use the ground inside for beans, peas, cukes, melons, etc. that will climb the 8' tall garden fence which doubles as a trellis. Once the amaranth is tall enough, it also serves as a windbreak.

The low growing dutch white clover can be planted in garden pathways. It doesn't mind being walked on, it can attract beneficials, and you can clip it and use it as mulch or put it on the compost pile. You also can plant it in orchards where it is more useful than grass. Grassroots compete with your orchard trees. Clovers fix nitrogen in the soil.

I'm not going to go through every use for every plant or I'd end up writing a book, but every plant listed above produces lots of organic matter for your compost pile, attracts insects when blooming, and, if legumes, improve the soil. I plant some on the edge of the garden during the main garden season, use others as off-season cover crops, and grow some inside the garden mixed with veggies, herbs and flowers.

PLANTS THAT ATTRACT BENEFICIAL INSECTS: Most of the following plants attract many, many different kinds of beneficial insects. In some cases, they are mainly attracting butterflies, which makes the garden a more enjoyable place to spend time. In other cases, they attract bees which are essential for good pollination of some crops, and other pollinators of all kinds. They attract many kinds of good insects that are carnivores who will prey upon the herbivore insects that eat your plants. Some of them release enzymes that deter pests. Some have fragrances that repel bad insects but not good ones. They are many reasons to grow these. In my garden, most of these are generally scattered around here and there. Sometimes I put a specific plant next to a specific vegetable or fruit for a specific reason. A few of these can be invasive in some situations. When I find one to be excessively invasive I tend to move it outside the garden and plant it where its rampant growth doesn't threaten the veggies, herbs and flowers inside the fenced garden. These companion plants can be annuals, biennials, perennials and include flowers and herbs. Some are considered common weeds, but remember that a weed is in the eye of the beholder. To many people, a dandelion is a weed, but it is helpful as a dynamic accumulator, which I'll get into in a minute.

Here are some great companion plants:

Sweet Alyssum--I grow this as an edging in some raised beds, or underneath taller plants as a form of living mulch.

Bishop Weed (Ammi visnaga)--Interplant these with leaf crop plants to protect them from leaf-eating insects. They'll attract beneficial insects that prey upon the leaf-eating insects.

Nasturtium--in addition to attracting beneficial insects, these produce edible flowers. I especially like to plant these around squash plants.

Calendula, aka Pot Marigold -- attract beneficial insects, flowers are edible.

Cosmos--attract butterflies and beneficial insects

Nicotiana--The various nicotianas are both beautiful and beneficial. Their flowers attract beneficial insects and, as a bonus, the undersides of their leaves are sort of icky-sticky and will catch/trap whiteflies and some other pest insects. Then, as a bonus, you can brew some nicotiana tea and spray it on your plants as a natural pesticide. DON'T drink it! The flowering nicotine family is huge. I grow the white flowered ones like N. sylvestris and N. alata in my moon garden near the chicken coop, and grow a few in my veggie garden. They self-sow there, so when they pop up, I leave them where I want them and pull the rest. I grow some of the newer, shorter ones with flowers in different colors in my flower border.

Sunflowers--I mentioned these in another thread. They are a great trap crop for some pest insects. Just plant them some distance away from your garden so they attract pests away from your garden, not to it.

Yarrow--attracts many beneficial insects. I transplanted some native yarrow from my pasture to my veggie garden years ago. Its foliage emerges in Nov. or Dec. and it grows fast when the weather warms up. Attracts beneficials very early in the season before some of the other companion plants are up and growing much.

These are herbs that are multipurpose. Most of them attract beneficial insects, but there's several whose aroma repels herbivore insects.

Sage(Salvia officinalis)--Repels insects, especially cabbage worm butterflies. Useful as a kitchen herb.

Wormwood (Artemesia absintheum)--Repels cabbage worms if planted near your cabbage plants. It has some compounds that serve as growth retardents, which helps it keep competing weeds away from it, so I plant it about 3' away from my cabbage plants, usually just outside the garden fence. It will discourage some burrowing pests, and deer normally won't eat it.

Thyme--attracts beneficial insects when blooming. Grows low so can be used as a living mulch. Needs well-drained soil. Useful as a kitchen herb.

Sweet Annie (Artimesia annua). Attracts beneficials and deer generally won't eat it. I put it on the north side of the garden because it can get tall and shade other plants. Can be used a bouquet filler or as a background plants in wreaths.

Mint-generally repel insects, but can be invasive. Attracts beneficials when flowering, repels ants. Useful in herbal tea or tea blends, or a single leaf can be used to flavor regular iced tea. Can be used to make mint jelly.

Hopi tobacco -- N. rustica---not as attractive as the flowering nicotines mentioned above, but does attract beneficial insects, and repels some of the herbivore insects. Better as a background plant as it has large coarse leaves.

Basil - Improves the growth and flavor or tomatoes when grown nearby. Attracts beneficial insects when flowering. Useful as a kitchen herb.

Parsley--useful as an herb, but I mainly plant it specifically to attract swallowtail butterflies. Their larvae eat the parsley, so if growing it, understand at times they may eat it down to the ground. Useful as a kitchen herb.

Winter Savory--attracts beneficials. Useful as a kitchen herb.

Skullcap-- attracts beneficials

Oregano--attracts beneficials. Useful as a kitchen herb.

Licorice mint (A. foeniculum)--attracts beneficials

Catnip--attracts beneficials and cats (felines). Useful as catnip tea. Readily reseeds.

Catmint--attracts beneficials and cats (felines)

With both of the above, if you have pet cats or neighborhood cats that like to hang out in your garden, you can plant then some catnip and catmint adjacent to the edible garden, along with some catgrass or variegated cat grass, and they'll be more attracted to the little spot of cat garden plants than to your nice edible plants. Sometimes in the past, we've had bobcats pop up in the garden. We joke that they were attracted to the cat garden plants, but I think they are sitting in there waiting for sometime to come into the garden that they can prey upon. Since we raised the garden fence to a much taller height, the bobcats are less common as long as I remember to keep the gates closed.

Stinging nettle--multipurpose

Lemon balm--attracts beneficials, useful as a kitchen herb.

Lavender--repels pests, useful as a kitchen herb.

Hyssop officinalis--attracts beneficials

Chamomile--attracts beneficials readily and esp. early in the season when few companion plants are blooming. Flowers can be harvested and used to make chamomile tea, which is a great preventive treatment for damping off in seedlings. Useful as herbal tea.

Dill--attracts beneficials, useful as a kitchen herb as both dill weed and dill seed

Cilantro--attracts beneficials if you let it go to seed.( The seeds can be collected, and in this form is known as coriander. The leaves are harvested and used as a kitchen herb.

Fennel--attracts butterflies and beneficials, useful as a kitchen herb

Calendula--attracts beneficial insects, edible flowers

Feverfew--attracts beneficials, can be used for migraine headache relief

Chives--repels pests, especially aphids, but also attracts beneficial insects when in bloom, useful as a kitchen herb. Sometimes I use the lilac-colored flowers (from regular chives) or the white flowers (from garlic chives) as a garnish along with parsley on platters of deviled eggs.

Tansy--attracts beneficials, but can be tall and rangy in good soil I usually plant it outside the garden fence, and often plant it near the chicken runs because it repels flies.

Almost any flowers that produce either pollen, nectar or both will attract beneficials. I like to use old-fashioned varieties that date back decades. Some of the newer flowers are bred more for appearance and may lack nectar and pollen that the insects need, or their nectar/pollen is not attractive to the beneficial insects.

Here are some of the 'antique', heirloom or open-pollinated flowers I like to plant around the garden. These are different from the ones mentioned above in that they aren't as multipurpose--I just like them because they look good and the beneficial insects like them:

Fire Chief petunia

Laura Bush petunia

Four O'Clocks (also seem to deter tomato hornworms and tobacco hornworms)

Texas Hummingbird Sage (a salvia)

Salvia farinacea (blue flowers)

Pincushion Flowers, aka Sweet Scabious

Verbena bonariensis--also known as tall verbena. One of the best butterfly-attracting plants in my garden

Henbit--in bloom very late in winter or early in spring when few other plants are and when beneficials desperately need to find flowers

Poppies--for early spring blooms for beneficials

Larkspur--for early spring blooms for beneficials

Sunflowers--to attract beneficials, to serve as a trap crop for stink bugs, to provide sunflower seeds for the birds (I cut and dry the heads and save them for winter)

Zinnias and other daisy-like flowers--for the butterflies.

Butterfly weed - for the monarchs

Cleome -- for the butterflies

I'm sure I've forgotten plenty.

I deliberately didn't mention marigolds before now for a reason. Marigolds are a two-edged sword. In some cases, I don't think they perform as well in real life as garden writers would have you believe, at least not in my garden. Some of them actually attract spider mites, so I plant those outside of and away from the garden. I tuck a few into the flower border hear and there, but don't put them right in the beds with the veggies much any more.

It isn't necessarily about which flowers or herbs, or shrubs or trees, you plant in proximity to your garden. It is just more about having as wide of a variety of plants as possible. You never know which plants will attract which insects. I have found that even carrots and onions if left in the garden and allowed to flower both produce flowers that beneficial insects like.

Sometimes you learn the functions of the various companion plants merely by planting them. I've always loved lemon balm and like to plant it where it hangs over the edge of a raised bed and I brush it as I walk by, thereby releasing its lovely fragrance. I also like to use it in cooking. One of these days I will plant a little lemon bed with nothing but lemon-related plants in it. Anyhow, through observation I learned that very often if I am paying attention I will find the very first, tiny, newly-hatched grasshoppers sitting on the lemon balm leaves eating them. So, I watch them when it is grasshopper egg-hatching time, and when they show up, I immediately sprinkle Semaspore on the leaves to control them. It is most useful when they are in the younger instars from about 1/4 to 1/2" in length, so watching the lemon balm for young grasshoppers allows me to spot them easily at that size.

I didn't mention garlic, onions or chives in much detail, though I discussed them in an earlier thread. Garlic is a great repellent and often organic gardeners plant it under and around their fruit trees. Ditto with the chives. Garlic, chive or onion tea can be sprayed on plants to repel pest insects.

For years and years I tried to apply traditional companion planting bush beans with potatoes or tomatoes with basil and borage....but I don't know if it really is effective. I think it is just as effective, in general, to scatter those companion plants all over the garden, though there's still a few I like to place close to the plant that they are said to help. I'll mention some of those in the post on planting schemes.

Charlie, I hope this is the kind of info you were looking for.



clipped on: 01.18.2014 at 05:59 pm    last updated on: 02.14.2014 at 12:49 pm

RE: Hooray for interesting options! (Follow-Up #12)

posted by: GreatPlains1 on 02.13.2014 at 03:02 pm in Oklahoma Gardening Forum

My favorites are Mountain Pinks, Ephedra viridis (Mormon Tea) and Damianita which is a tight dark green, small leaf subshrub that smells like nothing else (wonderfully medicinal) and is smothered in tiny yellow blooms on and off during the season.

I've got a large Spanish Broom plant that is only green stems until spring when it bursts into yellow sweet pea type blooms. I like it because it looks like a grass so its unexpected when it blooms. Its considered invasive in some regions but I don't ever see seedlings. I saw this on Classen Blvd. many years ago thinking it was some weird kind of large grass until it bloomed and got some seeds.

I also like the Pink Flamingo muhly grass which is a naturally occurring cross between M. lindheimerri and gulf muhly so it is uncommon in that it has the height of the big M. lindheimeri with the pink blooms of the gulf type muhly.

Dyssodia is another native favorite because you don't see it in gardens. They are teeny tiny compact subshrubs that are like little yellow bouquets all season.

Desert Spoon. It makes a great sculptural statement, has blue serrated leaves and requires no care.

Perennial Snakeweed is gorgeous in fall. A low growing, solid yellow perfectly rounded mound.

There are many interesting and unusual native plants to consider that you definitely will not see in most gardens. The choices are endless and I have lots of favorites.

Shown here is a Mountain pink and a small ephedra


clipped on: 02.13.2014 at 06:23 pm    last updated on: 02.13.2014 at 06:24 pm

RE: Fertilizering Containerized Plants IV (Follow-Up #39)

posted by: tapla on 08.14.2012 at 09:53 pm in Container Gardening Forum

There's little difference between 2:1:2 and 3:1:3 when your focus is to limit the amount of N you're supplying. If you just reduce the amount of 3:1:2 ratio fertilizer you're supplying in order to induce a mild N deficiency, you're going to get a K deficiency to go right along with it. The extra K included when you cut back on the dosage of N prevents that likely K deficiency. When the ratio is 3:1:3, you just do a little more limiting. ;-) Instead of looking for a 2:1:2 ratio fertilizer that won't be easy to find, you can utilize the added versatility that an extra shot of K adds to your 3:1:2 ratio fertilizer, but you're still the guy in charge of the N supply, not the fertilizer's ratio. People lose sight of that all the time. They might say I use a 1:1:1 ratio fertilizer because I don't like all that N in a 3:1:3 ratio fertilizer, but they promptly feed the plant enough N to make it happy. They end up giving the plant the same amount of N either way - it's just that with the 1:1:1 ratio fertilizers it's impossible to give a plant enough N without OVER-supplying both P and K, but especially P.

I'm off on an adventure in the morning. A visit with my daughter & family, then on to Chicago for some fun at the Midwest Bonsai Show. I'll see you guys on Sunday.



clipped on: 02.04.2014 at 02:10 pm    last updated on: 02.04.2014 at 02:10 pm

RE: Fertilizering Containerized Plants IV (Follow-Up #36)

posted by: tapla on 08.14.2012 at 06:37 pm in Container Gardening Forum

There is little variation in the nutritional content of the various organs of any given plant. While you're told that N is for foliage, P is for roots, ..... - the fact is, the plant needs all the essential elements in roughly the same ratio for all it's parts. If you would like to curtail vegetative growth and promote the plant's allocating more energy to fruit production, simply reduce the N you're supplying. I do this by reducing the frequency of my applications of fertilizer and/or the strength of the solution, and by adding either KCl (potash) or Pro-TeKt 0-0-3 to the fertilizer solution. In essence, it changes my fertilizer ratio to something close to 3:1:3. It's important to understand that you have to ACTUALLY TAKE CONTROL of the N you're supplying and make sure you're creating a N deficiency to accomplish this goal. It's not the fertilizer ratio that controls how much N is delivered, it's the grower's hand on the watering can that contains the solution. Just changing the ratio to 3:1:3 won't do it if you continue to supply all the N the plant wants. The extra K is just ensuring there won't be a K deficiency if you are in control enough to keep the foliage a lighter shade of green, indicating your strategy is probably working. You'll probably be sacrificing some older and interior foliage as a result of your reduction in the amount of N you're supplying if it's working as you planned.



clipped on: 02.04.2014 at 02:09 pm    last updated on: 02.04.2014 at 02:09 pm

RE: Tasty Rich Tomato Variety (Follow-Up #2)

posted by: okiedawn on 12.20.2013 at 10:23 pm in Oklahoma Gardening Forum

For something unique, Bon, I'd send him seeds of one of the blue tomatoes. They mostly don't stay blue but have some blue-ish to purple-ish coloring. Indigo Rose is one I've grown. Its flavor is not special....just typical hybrid tomato flavor, but it isn't bad. Even the foliage has blue tones, especially on new leaves, and the color of the fruit blows people away.I've linked a page below that offers several blues.

Or, for a tomato with a beautiful appearance, almost any of Brad Gates' Wild Boar Farms varieties will fit the bill. I am partial to WBF's Michael Pollan (a yellow and green striped one) and Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye. Orange tomatoes are different and some have great flavor. Nebraska Wedding has done well for me, and I'm going to try Jumbo Jim in 2014. Porter produces small pear-shaped pink tomatoes and it produces well in heat. I could make suggestions all day. I'd send him an heirloom variety and avoid sending him a red, hybrid type since they all are more or less the same. If he hasn't grown many yellow tomatoes, he might enjoy trying Lemon Boy or Ildi (a cherry type with superb flavor). I could suggest 1,000 more. To find tomato varieties that are a little different, go to Victory Seeds website and look at their old Livingston tomatoes. I especially love Magnus and Paragon from that group, although all of them grow well for me and taste great. Or, at the website of Marianne's Heirloom Seeds (, you're bound to find a whole lot of tomatoes that no one has ever heard of. I've been buying some of her less well-known seeds in recent years.

For very reliable, true-to-type heirlooms, anything from Glecker Seedmen will be superb, and the prices of seed packets at Sample Seed Shop are superb. Everything I've purchased there from Remy has done great for me.

Seeds are available for thousands of varieties of tomatoes, so finding something unique just means looking for some you've never heard of.

Here is a link that might be useful: Blue Tomato Page at Totally Tomatoes


clipped on: 01.25.2014 at 04:13 pm    last updated on: 01.25.2014 at 04:13 pm

RE: 2013 Tomato Grow List (Follow-Up #14)

posted by: okiedawn on 11.19.2012 at 11:19 am in Oklahoma Gardening Forum


The seed I am going to sow at the end of November are meant to go into movable containers I can push, pull, carry or drag into the garage when the weather drops below 45 degrees. These are for my mid-February planting. I put about 6 to 8 plants into movable containers (except last year one wasn't movable) and we start harvesting fruit from them between mid- and late-April. In the past, we'd drive to the D-FW metro area around Feb 7th or 8th to see if the stores had the plants yet. If they didn't, they always had them the next week. I'd buy Bonnie Plants transplants in 5 or 6" plantable pots. Those plants usually are about 10-15" tall but very thick and bushy, leading me to believe they're cutting grown. Their main stem usually is about as big around as my little finger and they either are already in bloom or have buds forming they will bloom within a few days. Since BP has a really limited selection of early plants available in February (generally Red Beefsteak/Ponderosa, Better Bush, Husky Red Cherry, Early Girl, Better Boy and this past year Chocolate Cherry), I finally decided I'd just grow my own for February transplants.

The rest of my seeds likely will be started in early January for transplanting out into the ground and/or containers in early to mid-March. My actual last frost date is supposed to be March 29th, but ever since either 2007 or 2008, it was May 3rd or May 4th until last year, when we finally did not have the dreaded late frost in May. Last year the last frost was March 4th. The OSU-recommended planting dates for tomatoes here are April 1-10. Does any of this make sense? No, but it is the world in which I live and garden. When I wait until the OSU-recommended dates to plant, I run the risk of the heat arriving early and the plants not having a chance to set much fruit before the temperatures get so high that fruit set is impeded. So, I take extreme risks to plant in March, and the earlier the better. Last year I planted a month earlier than I had in 2011 and had at least 4 times as many fruit per plant.

I find it hard to trust our average first and last frost dates because our real weather fluctuates so much. Our average first frost is about the same as yours, but we had our first killing freeze and frost on September 29th in 1999 and in about 2003 or 2004 it didn't arrive until mid-December. This year? Would you believe October 4th? (sigh) That's why I mulch heavily, use floating row covers, etc. to extend the harvest in both spring and fall....because Mother Nature throws us too many curve balls.

The February-planted tomatoes actually were an attempt (the first year I planted them) to get a few plants started so we'd have early tomatoes without me risking the whole tomato crop by putting it into the ground too early in our oh-so-changeable weather. Of course, when we got our first fruit that year around April 15th, I was hooked on the idea of always having our first fruit that early. Meanwhile, if I put tomato plants in the ground in early to mid-March, depending on what the weather does and on how well I protect them from the scattered freezing nights, we normally are harvesting from in-ground plants no later than Memorial Day, and often by mid-May. Using container plants, row cover and the greenhouse to extend the season means we usually harvest our last tomatoes in November or December. This means one thing: we are very spoiled, very used to eating fresh tomatoes from April through November and often into December and not likely to be happy when the eating season starts later or ends earlier.

Our weather is so erratic it is almost beyond words. We usually hit the mid-teens for low temps in December but still have December and January days that will have highs anywhere from the 50s through the 70s, but they are interspersed with days that have highs only in the 30s or 40s. We usually go down into the single digits a few times each winter, though we did not last year, which was a very warm winter. In February through April, we have fairly frequent days with highs in the 70s and 80s and sometimes in the 90s, though highs in the 40s through 60s or low 70s would be more typical. It makes me crazy. Those early unseasonably warm days wreak havoc on the fruit trees, often causing them to bloom in February and then lose the flowers or young fruit sometime in the next month when colder temperatures return. Sometimes the blackberries bloom too early, even the native ones which you think would be more adapted to the local temperatures in which they've always grown.

Because of the occasional warm days, my soil temps usually are warm enough whenever the air temps are, and if they aren't, I force them to warm up. You can put down black plastic over the soil (or clear plastic, but I prefer black because weeds don't sprout under it as much as they do under clear plastic) when you want to plant your tomatoes and it will warm up the soil to an acceptable level in a week or two. I rarely have to do that because the warm days do it for me. I plant by the thermometer, relying on temperatures of soil and air to tell me when I can plant, rather than by relying on the calendar. After all, the plants grow whenever the soil and air temps hit the right range, not when the calendar says they should.

Susan, You have no idea how close I came to only planting 6 or 8 plants. It is hard to describe what this past summer was like, tomato-wise, without sounding like I am bragging. I wanted a lot of tomatoes because 2011 was such a poor year that I didn't have many to preserve, and I wanted really good production from all the plants. I wanted them to produce well both early and late. I gave the soil extra attention when I prepared it before planting, I planted early, mulched well, watered often, fought the dreaded climbing cutworms, and spent the rest of the spring and summer harvesting and canning. Did I get what I wished for? Yes, and I am here to tell you that too much of a good thing is still too much!

In late May through mid-July, I often spent 8 to 10 hours a day just harvesting tomatoes, and that was about every 3rd day. They were piled up all over the house on every flat surface, and in every basket, box, bucket or bowl I could round up. I canned literally every single day. Even after harvesting all day long, I'd come in totally exhausted from the heat, and then can tomatoes for a few hours. I canned hundreds of jars of anything/everything with tomatoes in it, putting up a 2-3 year supply of tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, Annie's Salsa, chili base, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, catsup, tomato-peach salsa, etc. Once the pantry (which is deep and goes way back up under the staircase) was full, I started freezing tomatoes. I have about 40 quarts of tomato sauce in my big chest freezer still, and about 8 or 9 gallon ziplock bags each containing prepared tomatoes for Annie's Salsa. Each bag = one batch of Salsa. I have another 6 or 8 gallon bags of frozen, whole tomatoes which I can thaw and use in cooking. There's also 7 or 8 gallons of dehydrated, frozen tomatoes. It takes a ton of dehyhdrated tomatoes to fill up a gallon freezer bag, and it takes along time to eat and use up even one gallon of them. At this point, the ones in my freezer look like a lifetime supply. I try to use preserved tomatoes at least a couple of times a week and we are barely making a dent in the tons of preserved tomatoes. So, with all that in mind, we hardly need to grow any at all in 2013 and probably not in 2014, except for fresh eating.

It is going to take a lot of discipline for me not to come back and add, add, add to the list, but I do intend to exercise that discipline. I'm sure I'll add a few more varieties because I haven't even decided on which 2 paste varieties I want to try this year that will be new to me, and I usually grow any AAS-winning tomatoes their first year too, so if I find 'Jasper', I'll plant at least one of it.

I believe my memories of this past summer will keep be from going overboard on adding much to the list though. This past summer is just a blur of tomatoes....while I picked all day long once or twice a week, I often picked for an hour or two every day in between, and if I wasn't in the garden harvesting, I was in the kitchen processing produce, often from 7 a.m. to midnight. In between all that, we ate all that we could eat fresh so that I'd have fewer to process. I am too old to work that hard to process a huge tomato harvest every summer. I felt like a hamster running on a wheel and I couldn't stop and get off the wheel. I need to grow fewer and do things in moderation in the future. Towards the end of the 2012 season, I was wondering if my obituary would read "she worked herself to death trying to deal with a huge tomato harvest".

This summer I want to grow a lot more corn, beans and cucumbers. I didn't make as many jars of pickles as I would have liked. I made plenty for us, but only have an extra dozen or two jars to give away, and usually I give away a lot more than that. I also intend to plant fewer sweet peppers and more hot peppers. The sweets just do not produce as well in the summer in recent years as they did until about 2007. I'd rather use the space on hot peppers that give me a great harvest no matter what. It wasn't like the tomato harvest was the only thing I had. I still was picking, cooking, and eating all the other veggies, and preserving the excess from them as well. Since we have a winter garden, I still am picking and processing broccoli, cabbage and other stuff, and all 3 freezers are full. As soon as we use a few packages of frozen veggies or fruit and open up a spot in the freezer, I harvest broccoli or something else and fill it up again. In the meantime, I also am filling up the closet in the guest room with empty jars as we use up canned stuff. I already have 20 cases of unopened jars in there that I bought at the end-of-summer sales, and now I am stacking plastic storage totes of emptied jars on top of those.

I am not complaining. It is marvelous to have had such wonderful production this year and to have the time to put up so much of the produce. If I'd had this kind of production last year when we were fighting wildfires almost every day, the food would have gone to waste because I wouldn't have had time to pick it and process it. I am grateful for the wonderful harvests in 2012, but don't want to have a huge harvest of the same types of food in 2013. I need to have a huge harvest of other stuff, like corn. 2012 was a poor corn year and I intend to plant a lot of corn as early as possible to insure I get a great corn harvest next year. Maybe corn will take the place of tomatoes in terms of filling up my days with harvesting and preserving and filling my freezers with food. Of course, since most corn varieties tend to ripen sort of all-at-once, I'll need to plant several varieties with various DTMs so that I do not have more corn to harvest and deal with than I can manage at any given time.

I also want to leave more space for flowers. The drought has been so hard on flowers the last few years and I have missed having armloads of them to cut and bring into the house. I didn't dare cut any this year because the bees and butterflies needed them so much once the heat and drought dried up the native wildflowers. I am planning to plant lots of OP flowers this year, as much for the wild things as for myself.

Who knows what the potential drought of 2013 will do to our plans for the garden? My big plan is to plant everything as early as I can, including under protective low plastic tunnels, and try to get maximum production and harvest mostly done by the end of June, so I can mostly hibernate inside in the air conditioning in July while making plans for the fall garden.

When we first moved here, I met an older gentleman who had an amazing garden every year. Actually he had three--a huge one at the house where he lived and two others on separate family-owned property. He was an amazing gardener. He planted by the calendar. Strictly by the calendar. He'd lived here his whole life and didn't want to fret and worry over the weather, so he planted everything April 1st, and he stopped watering July 1st. Period. No matter the weather, he never seemed to deviate from his plan. Generally, his corn, tomatoes, okra and southern peas produced throughout July even without irrigation and he kept harvesting as long as they kept producing. He kept his irrigation costs down by not trying to keep stuff alive in July and August. I never have had his discipline, but I understand why he had developed that method of gardening. I'd like to develop the discipline to just let the garden go beginning July 1st and just not worry about it after that and not run up a big water bill. I don't know if I can do that, though. Once I have a garden growing and producing, it is hard for me to close the gate, turn off the water faucet and let the drought kill it.

I love, love, love tomatoes but I grew too many of them in 2012 and had to deal with a harvest that just wouldn't quit. I couldn't handle another year like that in 2013. I think it would kill me. So, I'll save my own life, y'all, by planting a lot fewer tomato plants this coming spring.

And, now for a word about hybrids versus open-pollinated heirloom types. In 2012 I had plenty of both, but what I noticed as I was picking and processing was that literally ALL the hybrids went into salsa, canned tomatoes, dehydrated tomatoes, etc. We never ate the hybrids fresh if we had ripe OPs at the same time, other than the cherry types, especially SunGold. We devoured the SunGolds. So, I decided since I didn't need a lot of tomatoes this year, I'd mostly go with OPs. I did include some hybrids because the ones I grow tend to produce well in the heat while some OPs do not. There was a point, though, where I toyed with not planting any hybrids at all this year.

I think it is good to shake up your garden plan and do things differently every now and then. For me, 2013 is going to be a year in which I do a lot of things differently, mostly because not "having to" plant a lot of tomatoes frees up the space for other stuff.



clipped on: 01.23.2014 at 07:52 pm    last updated on: 01.23.2014 at 07:52 pm

RE: I bought a compost bin... (Follow-Up #10)

posted by: okiedawn on 10.06.2012 at 09:54 am in Oklahoma Gardening Forum

In the non-gardening season I use a coffee can or ice cream bucket, but in the summer when I am processing lots of veggies from the garden, I use a Tidy Cat litter bucket and, on a busy day when I am canning or freezing lots of produce, I empty it multiple times. At one point I had an actual compost pail with a snap-on lid and I no longer even remember what became of it. It was made of stainless steel and had a matching lid. I bought it at The Container Store many years ago and think it cost about $12-$15 at that time.

With careful attention to putting in the right mix of greens and browns, chopping up stuff into small pieces before you put it into the bin, keeping it properly moist but not too wet, and turning or stirring it daily, you can make finished compost in a bin in 30 days. However, to do that you have to fill it up and then not add to it during that 30 days. When you are continually adding stuff, the new stuff obviously decomposes more slowly than older stuff so you have material in different stages---some that is almost done, but other material that is not and you generally don't get any finished compost in as little as 30 days.

I used a bin when we lived in town and just filled it up from the top continuously and in winter/early spring, I removed finished compost to put into garden beds. Since we moved to the country and I compost on a much larger scale, I just have a huge pile on the ground but still compost the same way---new stuff on top, with the good stuff removed in late winter and added to beds. I cannot turn my piles in snake season because snakes will hang out in the compost pile, but I can turn the material between about early December and late February when the snakes are not active.

I also do sheet composting in the pathways between my raised beds. In spring I spread hay, chopped leaves, grass clippings, etc. between 4-8" deep as mulch and let it decompose over the course of the growing season. So, even though my beds are raised 4-8" above grade level, the garden does not necessarily look like it has raised beds because the pathway mulch makes the pathways about the same height as the beds. I add to the pathway all the time during gardening season. By mid-winter all of the prior season's mulch in the pathways (and, of course, the mulch in the raised beds as well) has decomposed down into compost and I use a compost scoop to scoop it up out of the pathways and put it into the adjacent beds before I plant. This is the most efficient composting I've done because I don't have to get out the wheelbarrow, fill it with compost and haul it to the garden. I like being able to shovel the compost from pathway to bed so simply. Then I add compost from the big pile to beds that need more--usually those are newer beds that have not been enriched as much as the older ones over the years.

My main pile is near my garden but also not so far from the house that taking the compost pail out there to empty it is an issue. I find that a compost pile works best when it is in a convenient spot. If it is out of sight, that sometimes means it is out of mind.

Ezzirah, when compost is fully complete and ready to use, it is roughly 1-3% if the volume of the material that you composted, so keep that in mind for planning purposes. This explains why I build a pile that can be 20-40'long, 6-8' wide and tops out around 6' tall in fall when I add manure/straw from the chicken coops and chopped leaves collected from the yard. All that amount of material will compost down to a ridiculously small amount in comparison to its volume before it began composting. The larger the garden you have, the harder it is to produce enough compost solely from the compostable material on your own property.

I also grow compost crops and cover crops to add more organic matter to the compost pile or the garden beds.

When I was a kid, my dad composted but I didn't pay a lot of attention to his pile. As an adult with a yard and garden of my own, I started composting in the 1980s and was shocked to see the small amount of finished compost I got from huge amounts of raw ingredients. That was sort of disheartening, but that's just how it works and there's nothing we can do about it.



clipped on: 01.19.2014 at 03:51 pm    last updated on: 01.19.2014 at 03:52 pm

Planting Tips For Cool-Season Crops

posted by: okiedawn on 02.18.2011 at 03:04 pm in Oklahoma Gardening Forum

This info is partly for Brandy who asked about planting calendars on another thread, but it also is info I've wanted to pull together into one thread for a while because we increase our odds of success with cool-season crops if we plant them when the temperatures are right for them.

This is about cool-season crops. Within the category of cool-season crops, there are two basic sub-categories, although at least one more crop could sort of fit into a third category.

There are cold hardy crops, which are those that can tolerate some sub-freezing temperatures at least down to a certain level, and they can be planted before our average last frost dates. These cool-season crops are hardy ones: aspargus, rhubarb, cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, onion, peas, spinach, radishes, turnips and rutabagas.

There are semi-hardy crops, which are those that will be damaged by sub-freezing temperatures, but which otherwise will grow well in cool weather and generally are not harmed by a very light frost or brief periods of freezing temperatures. Cool season crops that are semi-hardy are carrots, cauliflowers, Irish potatoes, beets, lettuce and beets.

Swiss chard, technically speaking is semi-tender and needs warmer temperatures, but it is closely related to beets and in my garden I treat it like a semi-hardy crop. However, it has better heat-tolerance than true cool-season crops.

Each crop has specific temperatures it needs in order to perform best. Sometimes in our highly variable climate it can be difficult to get each crop into the ground at the right time, but we increase our harvest potential when we're able to do so. I plant more by soil temperature, air temperature and 10-day forecast than by a calendar and I base planting decisions on knowing what each crop needs as detailed below.

BEETS: You can sow beet seed into the ground 4 to 6 weeks before your average last frost date, but if you sow it too early, it takes so long to germinate that the seed might rot before it sprouts. For best results, sow your beet seeds after your soil temperature at planting depth has reached 45 degrees and is staying there consistently. For the best-quality crop, plant as early as you reasonably can so your crop can mature before daytime high temperatures are regularly exceeding 65 degrees.

If you plant too early and your plants happen to sprout and grow quickly, they can be "endangered" if you have a long cold spell of a couple of weeks of 45 degrees or lower once your plants are 4-6" tall. This can cause them to go dormant and then when temperatures warm up again they can bolt and go to seed. This is a common problem with all cool-season biennial vegetables.

BROCCOLI: Broccoli produces more reliably when you start your plants inside and set them out when they have 3 to 5 leaves or when they are about 3 to 5 weeks old. Your broccoli will give you the best possible harvest when it grows and matures when temperatures are between 45 and 75 degrees, and in our climate, that's a fairly brief period, which is why it is best to start with seedlings. As with beets, a prolonged period of cold temperatures (40 degrees and below for broccoli) once plants are 4-6" tall can induce dormancy, and then often the plants will form only small button heads once their dormancy breaks. Temperatures below the mid-20s can kill your broccoli plants so try to transplant them into the ground after your 20-degree nights have passed. Warm temperatures can cause your plants to bolt, or flower and go to seed, so you need to plant early enough that your plants have time to form harvestable heads before it gets too hot.

Some forms of sprouting broccoli tolerate warmer temperatures and continue forming small sideshoots in pretty warm temperatures.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS: In the warmer parts of our area, this does better as a fall crop, but in northern parts of OK and northward it sometimes performs well in the spring. Brussels sprouts have very specific temperature needs and will give the best crop if it can mature when temperatures are between 55 and 65 degrees. Brussels sprouts can tolerate cooler temperatures, but doesn't produce well at much higher temperatures. As with other cool-season biennial crops, prolonged temperatures below 40 degrees can induce bolting, but otherwise the plants themselves are cold hardy to temperatures down to about 20-degrees. It is better to start with transplants as that helps increase your odds of harvesting a good crop before the heat arrives.

CABBAGE: Cabbage is very cold tolerant and can handle temperatures down into the low 20s, but if direct sown from seed, germinates and grows best once soil temperatures are at or above 50 degrees. This is one reason many people start transplants indoors where the seeds will germinate more quickly than those sown directly into the ground. As with other cool-season crops, long-term exposure to temperatures below 40 degrees once the cabbage are a certain size can induce dormancy followed by bolting. If temperatures get too hot too fast, the heads can become puffy and misshapen although I haven't noticed that often, even with cabbage that isn't harvested until June or July.

CARROTS: Carrots have a reputation (somewhat justified) for being hard to grow, but they are not that hard if you are able to meet their needs. Carrots produce best and have the best flavor if they grow and mature when temperatures are between 45 and 85 degrees. Generally you want to plant your seed about 90 days before your daytime high temperatures begin regularly exceeding 85 degrees. Unfortunately, in our climate those mid-80s can arrive pretty early and carrot seed can be slow to sprout in cool soils. Sow your carrot seed after soil temps have warmed to 45 degrees. It is important to keep the soil moist, but not soggy, and one way to do this is to place a board, a piece of cardboard, or a sheet of plastic over the bed where carrot seeds have been sown. Check underneath it daily, mist the soil surface lightly and remove the covering for good once you see the earliest sprouts. Carrots are fairly cold tolerant, but temperatures in the low 20s can kill the plants. Like other cool-season biennial crops, carrots can bolt if subject to long-term temperatures below 45 degrees while already a good sized plant. If you leave your carrots in the ground too long, even though they seem fine, their flavor will be negatively impacted and they may become tough.

CAULIFLOWER: This does best in southern OK as a fall crop, but folks from central OK northward might have more luck with it as a spring crop than we do down here. Cauliflower produces the best-quality harvest when the heads mature before daytime highs begin regularly exceeding 75 degrees, which can be a problem in areas where your temperatures warm up very quickly. Some newer hybrids mature more quickly than older OP varieties and may increase your chance of success. Because of the heat issues, Cauliflower is easiest when grown from transplants and can tolerate very cool temperatures if well-hardened off.

COLLARDS/KALE: These grow best between 45 and 75 degrees but will tolerate a very wide range of temperatures. You can direct-seed collards and kale seeds once soil temperatures reach 40 degrees. For many people they grow better as a fall crop than as a spring crop, although in long cool springs they perform well. Even though they can
"survive" in warm temperaturs, their flavor can become very hot or strong. Often they will overwinter (might not have done so in NE OK last week!) if planted in fall a month or two before your first fall froze. You can plant them in fall, harvest from them during the winter and into spring, but warm spring temps will cause them to bolt.

KOHLRABI: Technically a cool-season temperature but can tolerate pretty warm temperatures. The best quality harvest will come before daytime highs regularly are exceeding 75 degrees. You can direct-sow kohlrabi after soil temps are at 45 degrees or above. Temperatures below 20 degrees can kill kohlrabi plants and, like other cool-season biennals, prolonged exposure to temps below 40 degrees once the plants are a certain size can cause bolting.

LETTUCE: In our climate, lettuce is strictly a cool-season crop although some people grow it indoors year-round. You can direct-seed lettuce about 4 to 6 weeks before your average last frost date although temperatures in the mid- to upper-20s can kill some varieties. A few varieties are somewhat more cold-tolerant. Very few lettuce varieties have any heat tolerance in terms of what we consider "heat" here in this part of the country. Those lettuce varieties described as "heat-tolerant" may be hate-tolerant in Pennsylvania or Michigan or New Hampshire, but onlly because their summer heat is not as extreme as ours. The most heat-tolerant lettuces I've found are those from very hot parts of the world, like Australia or Israel. Your best quality harvest will be that harvested before your daytime high temps are exceeding 80 degrees.

MUSTARD: Mustard greens need to mature at cooler temperatures are the flavor can become more strong than most taste buds can bear. Plant mustard greens about 3 to 4 weeks before the last killing frost, and aim to harvest your crop before daytime highs begin regularly exceeding 70 degrees.

PEAS: This refers to English peas, snow peas and snap peas. All other peas like black-eyed, purplehull pinkeye, cream, zipper and lady peas are warm-season crops generally referred to as "southern peas".

Peas are highest in quality when they mature before daytime highs regularly exceed 75 degrees. You can direct sow them but they can be so slow to germinate in cool soil that they rot before sprouting. Pre-sprouting them indoors in a damp coffee filter or paper towel placed in a ziplock bag can help work your way around that issue. You should plant your peas late enough that they receive as little exposure as possible to temperatures in the low- to mid-20s. While small, pea plants tolerate cold temps and even snow, but once the plants are blooming, freezing temps can freeze back the tips of the plants and can knock the blossoms off the plants. Smooth-seeded varieties are more cold-tolerant than wrinkle-seeded ones.

POTATOES: This refers to Irist potatoes and not to sweet potatoes, which are a warm-season crop. Potatoes grow and produce best when they have nighttime lows between 45 and 55 degrees and daytime highs between 60 and 75 degrees, a period of time that is all too brief in our climate. Plant your seed potatoes in the ground about 4 weeks before your average frost date. Late plantings will produce smaller crops because your plants need to set and size their tubers before your temps are hitting 85 degrees. Heavy mulching can keep the ground somewhat cooler, but don't mulch until foliage is up above the ground.

RADISHES: These are very easy. You can sow radish seed once your soil temp is exceeding 45 degeres and can continue to succession every week or two until about a month before your daytime highs begin exceeding 80 degrees. Radishes harvested once temps are that high often have a strong, unpleasant flavor and pithy texture.

SPINACH: A true cool-season crop, spinach matures best before daytime highs regularly exceed 50 degrees, so often performs better here as a fall crop than a spring one. Spinach seed sprouts best once soil temps are 45 degrees or warmer, which is one reason it is hard to get a spring crop.

TURNIPS/RUTABAGAS: These grow best at temperatures between 40 and 80 degrees. You can sow the seed pretty early in spring or even in late winter but not so early that your plants will be exposed to temperatures below 20 degrees.

ONIONS: These have very specific needs and you must plant precisely at the correct times in order to maximize your harvest. You want to plant as early as possible so the plants can get as large as possible before bulbing is initiated by daylength. This is where onions from transplants have the advantage over those sown from seed in our climate. Generally, the best time to plant is 4-6 weeks before your average last frost date.

Many people experience trouble with onions bolting(flowering and going to seed). As with other cool-season biennial crops, this occurs once plants of a certain size are exposed to temperatures below 45 degrees for about 10 to 14 days. The size? Roughly one-quarter inch, or about when the plant has formed 6 leaves. There is little you can do to avoid this other than planting at the proper time, planting at the proper depth (planting too deeply harms them) and hoping for consistently cool weather. Always choose the right type of plants for your climate, selecting either short day, intermediate or long-day types as recommended for your specific region. Onions bulb when daylength (i.e. number of hours of daily sunlight) reaches a certain level no matter when you planted them. So, earlier planting (as long as it isn't so early they'll freeze or bolt) gives you the best chance of raising nice big onions.

In our climate, you just have to accept that some years the weather is so erratic and bolting will occur.

I'm linking Tom Clothier's seed germination/temperature data base as I often do when we're discussing seed-starting and germination issues. It is full of useful information, but you cannot go to it and just pick the best germination temperature that gives you the highest percentage of seed germinated in the shortest number of days. Why? Because if you do that, you'll be planting much too late for many cool-season crops. Carrots, for example, germinate best at 77 degrees, with 96% of the seeds germinated in 6 days. However, carrots grow and produce best when grown at air temps between 45 and 85 degrees, and if you wait until your soil temp is 77, your air temps likely will be in the upper 70s or 80s already and soon to move into the 90s. So, you have to compare the temperatures each crop needs for good growing conditions to the seed-germination temperatures and choose a temperature that will get your crop growing in time to take advantage of the best growing temperatures.

Hope this info is helpful.


Here is a link that might be useful: Seed Germination Temperature Charts


clipped on: 01.15.2014 at 02:13 am    last updated on: 01.16.2014 at 09:28 pm

Tips For Planting of Warm-Season Crops

posted by: okiedawn on 03.19.2011 at 11:25 am in Oklahoma Gardening Forum

By now, for most parts of Oklahoma, the cool-season crops should be in the ground (you still could be succession sowing radishes weekly) or about to go into the ground soon. (Broccoli is an exception. Some of us have found that planting broccoli in latest March or earliest April reduces the likeliness of recurring cold weather causing bolting or buttonheads.) Now it is time to turn our focus to planting the warm season crops.

Warm-season crops fall into two general categories: tender and very tender. In general, tender crops can be planted at or near the last frost date and very tender crops need to go in a bit later when the soil is a bit warmer.

By date, here's the OSU-recommended planting dates for tender and very tender vegetable garden crops:

Sweet Corn, planted from seed or plants, tender

APRIL 10-30:
Snap beans (bush or pole), from seed, tender
Eggplants, from plants, very tender (planting towards the end of the recommended period lessens flea beetle damage most years)
Tomatoes, from plants, tender

Cucumbers, from seed or plants, very tender
Okra, from seed, tender
Peppers, from plants, tender (planting later in recommended period gives better results most years)
Pumpkins, from seed, tender
Summer squash, from seed, very tender

APRIL 15-30:
Lima Beans, from seed, tender

MAY 1-20:
Cantaloupes, seed or plants, tender
Watermelons, seed, very tender

MAY 1-JUNE 10:
Southern Peas, seed, tender
Sweet Potatoes, plants (slips), very tender

MAY 15-JUNE 15
Winter Squash, Seed or Plants, very tender


BEANS: Most beans germinate best if planted after soil temperature at planting depth is staying consistently at or above 60 degrees. Beans planted into colder soil tend to germinate poorly or rot before germination and if they germinate in the colder soil they still are very vulnerable to diseases in cooler soil temps.

For Lima Beans, wait until soil temps are staying at 65 degrees.

Beans produce poorly when air temps are high, so planting on-time or slightly early can pay off in better yields and earlier yields as long as the soil temps are in the right range for seed germination.

CANTALOUPE/MUSKMELON/OTHER MISCELLANEOUS MELONS BUT NOT WATERMELONS: Sow seed or transplant young plants raised in plantable pots only after soil temps are staying consistently above 60 degrees. If your soil is still cold and you are eager to plant, lay down black plastic on a prepared seedbed for about 7-10 days to preheat the soil and raise its temperature a little. Planting into cold soils can give poor germination rates and weak seedlings that remain stunted and slow to grow and produce.

To start your own seedlings indoors, sow seed indoors into plantable pots to reduce transplant shock about 2-4 weeks before your anticipated transplant date. Harden off properly before transplanting into garden.

CUCUMBERS: Sow seeds or transplant your indoor-raised seedlings in plantable pots only after soil at planting depth is remaining at or above 60 degrees. Ideal transplants would be about 3 weeks old and planted in plantable pots or peat pellets to minimize transplant shock. As with beans above, you can lay down black plastic in advance of planting to warm up the soil. If you diret-seed into cold soils, germination rates may be poor and the young seedlings very vulnerable to disease.

EGGPLANTS: Very sensitive to cold weather and frost. While tomato plants can tolerate air temperatures right down to just above freezing, eggplant can be damaged by those cold temps. It generally is recommended that eggplants can go into the ground about 2 weeks after tomato plants. Plant after air and soil temps are stable and soil temps are staying consistently above 65 degrees.

OKRA: Plant seed when soil temperature at planting depth is consistently staying at or above 68 degrees, and only after you've had at least 5 consecutive days with nighttime low temps staying above 50 degrees and unlikely to drop below that level very much again if at all. Okra does best when direct-seeded. If using transplants, use plantable pots. To increase germination rates, you can pre-soak your okra seed in room-temperature water for 24 hours before direct-sowing into the ground, or if desired, heat up water to 110 degrees but no hotter and pre-soak the okra seed for 90 minutes before direct-sowing.

PEPPERS: For best and earliest yields, always use transplants instead of direct seeding. Plants that are direct-seeded tend to not produce well until fall's cooler temps arrive because by the time they're large enough to produce, they're having to fight really high air and soil temperatures although the heat is more of a problem for sweet peppers than hot peppers. (High humidity plays a role in this too.)

Like tomatoes, peppers are very heat-sensitive, and have very specific temperatures at which the best fruitset occurs. In general, and once again this applies more to sweets than hots, peppers set fruit best when nighttime air temps remain above 60 degrees and daytime highs remain below 80 degrees. Luckily for us here in Oklahoma, most peppers set fruit somewhat better at higher temps since we often are exceeding 80 degrees pretty early in the year.

Transplants that are about 8 to 10 weeks old and are 6-8" tall are optimal, but taller and older transplants will work as long as they aren't rootbound.

Peppers are set back by cold temperatures so plant them a couple of weeks after tomatoes.

Pepper plants that are exposed to temperatures in the 40s for only a brief time can remain stunted and produce poorly for their entire life. Some will outgrow the cold-related stunting but still not produce well, and some will outgrow the stunting but not produce well until the fall. Thus, it is advisable to not let your plants be exposed to temps in the 40s if you want an early crop and a big crop.

You can transplant pepper plants into the ground once soil temps have remained above 55 degrees for 3 or more consecutive days. I usually wait until soil temps are 65 degrees or higher and I get better and EARLIER yields from those late plantings that from earlier plantings.

PUMPKINS: Technically these can be planted any time after the last killing frost. However, they'll germinate fastest and produce best if you wait until soil temperatures are staying consistently above 70 degrees.

SOUTHERN PEAS: These are the warm-season peas like blackeyed peas, purple hull pink eye peas, lady, crowder, cream or zipper peas. (The green English peas, shelling peas, or sugar snap peas are cool-season crops that should have been planted in February through mid-March.) Southern peas should be planted only after soil temperature at planting depth is staying consistently above 65 degrees.

SQUASH, SUMMER: These are very cold-sensitive. Plant only after all danger of frost is past and soil temperatures are staying at or above 60 degrees at planting depth and daytime high temps are staying above 65 degrees consistently.

SWEET CORN: Because there are several different types of sweet corn, the planting of sweet corn has become more complicated than it used to be and you need to know what type of corn you're planting in order to know what soil temperatures it needs for best germination and growth.

In each instance, plant only after soil temperatures at planting depth are staying consistently at or above the temperature recommended for that specific type of corn. Corn seed planted into soil temps below 50 degrees tends to rot and germinate poorly if at all.

TRADITIONAL SWEET CORN (SU): This is the traditional sweet corn grown for hundreds of years and there are both open-pollinated and hybrid types. This has traditional corn flavor and is not terribly sweet. The amount of sweetness varies from one variety to another. This is the most cold-tolerant corn. SU corns have sugars that convert rapidly to starch after harvest. Seeds can germinate at soil temperatures as low as 50 degrees but it is better to wait until soil temperatures at planting depth are staying consistently above 55 degrees.

SUGARY ENHANCED (SE, SE+, EH or Enhanced Heritage) corn is bred to have increased tenderness and more sweetness than SU corn types. Its sugars convert to starches more slowly than SU's. No isolation from SU corn is needed. SE corn germinates at or above 60 degrees, and 65-70 is even better.

SHRUNKEN GENE (SH): Commonly referred to as supersweet corn. These are easily recognized because the dry kernels (seed corn, for example) have a shriveled or shrunken appearance. The presence of the SH gene gives the corn much more sweetness and a much slower conversion of starches to sugars after harvest. These SH corn varieties must be isoalted from SU, SE and Synergistic corn varieties to prevent cross-pollination which will give you tough, starchy kernels. In a home garden planting, isolation of 25' is usually recommended or time isolation of 2 weeks between pollination times. Supersweet corns should be planted only after soil temperature is consistently staying at or above 70 degrees.

SYNERGISTIC (AKA TRIPLESWEETS): These ears are 75% SE kernels and 25% SH kernels so they have the tenderness of the SE's and the extreme sweetness of the SH's. These can be grown with other Synergistic varieties, SE's and SU's but cannot be grown with SH's or they will cross-pollinate and all your corn will be starchy and not sweet. Triplesweets can germinate at 65 degrees but 70 degrees is even better.

SWEET POTATOES: Plant from slips after soil temperatures at planting depth are staying consistently at or above 60 degrees.

TOMATOES: Transplant into the ground as soon as possible after the last frost date but only once temperatures have stabilized enough that a return to frost and freezing temperatures is unlikely. Be prepared to cover up the plants to protect them from any possible late frosts or freezes. Planting only after soil temps are at a stable 50-55 degrees at planting depth is recommended.

For the best yields, you want your plants in the ground early enough that they can flower, pollinate and set fruit earlier in the season while temperatures are in the right range. Once it is excessively hot, especially in combination with excessive humidity, pollination and fertilization can be impeded.
You'll get the best bloom and fertilization resulting in good fruit set when the nighttime lows are staying above 55 degrees but below 72-75 degrees. Plants that produce bite-sized tomatoes (grape, cherry, currant, plum or pear-shaped) are not impacted by high temperatures and high humidity to the extent that plants producing larger tomatoes are.

While tomato plants can endure cold soil temps and even cold but above-freezing air temps, they can be damaged or killed by freezing temperatures or frost, so always cover them up if those conditions threaten after plants are in the ground.

Once daytime temperatures are exceeding about 92-95 degrees and night-time temperatures are exceeding 72-75 degrees, fruit-set can be affected as those higher temps can cause blossom drop. That is why we risk planting earlier and covering up plants if late frost or freeze threatens.

WATERMELONS: These need warm weather to germinate and grow. Plant only after soil temperatures have stabilized at or above 70 degrees and all danger of frost has ended.

I hope the above info helps. Although we humans like to use a planting calender, plants don't grow because the calendar says they should. They grow when planted at the right soil and air temperatures, so if your soil/air are at the right level and are staying there consistently, that's the right time to plant no matter what the calendar says. In our state, though, you always have to be prepared for an occasional cold spell even after the last frost date and may need to cover up plants to protect them during an occasional late cold spell.

You may wonder how much later you can plant than the recommended dates or soil temperatures and that is a very complicated topic to discuss because every vegetable is affected negatively by hot temperatures in some way. For example, bean blossoms can drop off the plants at high temperatures, thereby reducing yields. Very hot air temperaturs can impede corn from pollinating/fertilizing properly so that you may get cobs but few corn kernels on sweet corn that pollinates/fertilizes at high temps.

On the crops that have a planting date with the words "or later" added, you can plant later than the recommended dates but your success with later plantings can vary depending on how hot the weather is and how early in the plants' growth it occurs.

Finally, if you are in an area plagued by drought, later plantings may not produce well in extreme heat and extreme drought, so the earlier you can plant the better. In a drought year, I push myself to plant as early as is reasonably possible and I water well and fertilize well (without overfertilizing) to try to push the plants to produce as early as possible before the heat shuts them down.

Also, you should know that in a drought year like much of the state is currently facing, pests tend to arrive early and often, so be prepared to go after them vigorously and to protect your crops from them so that your veggie crops can produce a good yield despite the drought and pests.

You can check the OK Mesonet for your county's soil temps, or use a kitchen thermometer or soil thermometer with a metal probe to check your soil's temperature at planting dept. With beds raised above grade level, you usually will have warmer temps earlier than with grade-level beds.

I've linked the OSU Garden Planning Guide for you as it contains not only planting dates, but also contains in-row spacing, spacing between rows and other helpful info.


Here is a link that might be useful: OSU Garden Planning Guide


clipped on: 01.16.2014 at 07:53 pm    last updated on: 01.16.2014 at 08:02 pm

Recommended Plants for Oklahoma

posted by: OkieDawn on 05.03.2005 at 04:19 pm in Oklahoma Gardening Forum

I'm posting this list for Mariposa, who has been at the mercy of the guys at Home Depot who are, let's just say they are recommending some unusual plants.

Since we want for Mariposa to have gardening success, let's give her a list of plants she can use to landscape her home.
I hope those of you reading this post will add to the thread, beccause lots of heads are better than just one!

Here's my list:

First the disclaimer, almost everything I list will do well if you have good drainage, have amended the soil with some organic material, mulch it well and water it occasionally.

Secondly, think of your house as having four microclimates--east, west, north, south. A plant listed as doing well in one microclimate may or may not do well in another. For example, most plants that would like the shady north side of the house would hate the bright sunny west side, unless you are in an old, established neighborhood with huge trees and lots of shade.

For the north side of your house, which tends to be shadier and cooler than the rest of the yard, and more exposed to winter's cold fronts:

TREES: Redbud (Cercis canadensis)--grows as an understory tree in the forest, so can handle quite a lot of shade. The spring blooms are a bonus.

Amur Maple (Acer ginala)--tough tree and lovely fall color

Possumhaw Holly--(Ilex ?)--a tough native that grows as an understory tree in the wild. Starts out shrub-size but can easily attain 10-15 feet in height. Deciduous. Berries.

SHRUBS: All of these like full shade to part shade.

Oregon Grape Holly (Mahonia aquifolium)
Leatherleaf Mahonia (Mahonia bealei)
Acuba (Acuba japonica)--needs shade in both summer or winter or it will get leaf scorch and die; it is beautiful
Nandina (Nandina domestica)
Viburnums (there are many kinds: Rusty Blackhaw Virburnum, Arrowwood Virburnum, Burkwood Viburnum)
Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata--many named cultivars are available--research to find one the right height)

GROUNDCOVERS: (In addition to the hostas and vinca you have, Mariposa, here's a couple of others you could use)

Monkey Grass/Mondo Grass (Ophiopgon japonicus)
Liriope/Lily-Turf (Liriope muscari)
English Ivy (Hedera helix)
Persian Ivy ((Hedera colchica)
Autumn Fern (Dryopterix erythrosora)

Ajuga (Ajuga reptens)--could also be used as a ground cover;
blooms in spring and a little on and off after that, spreads easily)
Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis)
Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)

ANNUALS: (for color if you want it)

Wax begonias (Begonia semperflorens)
Caladium (Caladiums area available in many colors/heights)
Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides)--the old standards love shade; there are some new ones called Sun Coleus that will grow in shade or quite a bit of sun
Impatiens (Impatiens wallerana)--these guzzle lots of water!

For the east side of your house, which likely gets morning sun and is shadier in the afternoon, or is at least more sheltered from the western sun than the west & south sides of your house:

The ones already listed for the north side of the house, plus:

Caddo Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum 'Caddo')--would likely take full sun, but would like some afternoon shade better
Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)--gets huge!
Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia soulandiana)--also gets quite large. There are so smaller cultivars of magnolias available, like 'Little Gem"--maybe 10 to 12' tall eventually
Leyland Cypress
Atlas Cedar


Abelia grandiflora
Boxwood, small-leaved (Buxus microphylla)
Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)--many named cultivars available
Hollies: Burford Holly, Dwarf Burford Holly, Yaupon Holly, Dwarf Yaupon Holly, Foster's Holly, Nellie R. Stevens Holly (should be listed as a tree, 'cause Nellie R. Stevens gets huge!)


Purple wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei)
Liriope/Lily-turf (Liriope muscari)
Moneygrass/mondograss (Ophiopogon japonicus)
Bishop's Weed (Aegopodium podogaria)--can be invasive

Coral Bells (Heuchera sanguinea)
Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
Four O'Clocks (Mirabilis jalapa)
Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides)
Iris hybrids
Sweet violet (Viola odorata)--can be invasive

ANNUALS: All those listed for the north side would do well on the east side, plus these:

Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana alata)
Geraniums (Perlargoniums)
Wishbone Flower (Torenias)

SOUTH AND WEST: Any plants on the south and west sides of your home will need to be able to handle lots of sun and the drying south winds (unless you have huge, old established shade trees).


Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii)
Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muhlenbergii)
Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima)
Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)
Leyland Cypress
Kentucky Coffee Tree (gets huge & very drought tolerant)
Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis)
Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpus)
Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia)
Lacebark Em (Ulmus parvifolia)
Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus) bluish blooms in summer, will grow short of shrubby but you can prune it into a tree form
and there's many, many more.


Any junipers
Any nandina
Any barberry
Rose of Sharon/Althea (Hibiscus syriacus)
Any burford or yaupon holly
Crape Myrtle (Lagersromia indica)--some get tree-sized, some are medium-sized, some are dwarf
and many others

GROUNDCOVERS/CLIMBING VINES (to shade the house or porch):

American Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)--climber
Boston Ivy (Parthenocisus triscuspidata)--climber
Trumpetcreeper Vine (Campsis radicans) hummers love it but it can be very invasive--climber
Virginia Creeper (dreeps or climbs)
Climbing Roses (climbs if it has something to climb, or arches)

GROUNDCOVERS: these are the tough ones that can handle the heat and sun

Stonecrop (Sedum species--many varieties)
Junipers (the low, spreading species of juniper)
Hardy Ice Plant (Delosperma copperi)
Asian jasmine


Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii)
Cannas (Canna hybrids--they won't die, and you can't kill them!)
Coneflowers (Echinaceas)
Coreopsis (Coreopsis)
Gaillardia aka Blanket Flower (Gaillardia grandiflora)
Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)

Cockscombs (Celosia sp.)
Cosmos (Cosmos sp.)
Copper Plant (Acalypha wilkesiana)
Gazania daisy (Gazania splendens)
Globe Amaranth/Gomphrena (Gomphrena globosa)
Ornamental Sweet Potato (Ipomea batatas)--there's "Blackie" which is maroon, "Marguerite" which is chartreuse, a variegated one with pink/green/white leaves whose name I don't remember, and one that's new (at least to me) "Ladyfingers"
Periwinkle/Annual Vinca (Catharanthus roseus)
Summer Snapdragon (Angelonia angustifolia)
Zinnia (Zinnia elegans)
Daylily (Hemerocallis species/hybrids)
Mexican Petunia (Ruellia brittoniana)
Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
Wormwood (Artemesia species)
Verbeba (Verbena canadensis)

Oh, and I didn't even touch on the idea of ornamental grasses really. There are many, most for some degree of sun.

Got questions? Ask!



clipped on: 01.16.2014 at 07:51 pm    last updated on: 01.16.2014 at 07:52 pm

RE: Brand New to Gardening (Follow-Up #47)

posted by: mulberryknob on 01.08.2013 at 06:09 pm in Oklahoma Gardening Forum

Dulahey, I've been raising broccoli for many years and in an earlier post gave detailed comments on how I do it, but the most important thing is to raise your own seedlings and you said this year you wouldn't, so the most important thing for this year is to be sure you don't buy transplants that are too old, too "woody looking" too pale or purple looking. You want plants that are dark green, supple, and fresh looking without big roots poking through the bottoms of the containers. And while you have to start early, too early a start will likely lead to "buttonheading" as broccoli cannot handle as cold weather as cabbage. I like to put my starts in the ground no earlier than midMarch--in a warm year--or later than midApril--in a cool year. And look for a short DTM (day to maturity) Packman is a good one, Calabrese is not. If you can start your own seeds in years to come, do a site search and you should find plenty of info. I am in zone 6b most years with an average last frost date of April 15. Last frost last year was early in March so I had broccoli in the ground by midMarch, holding enough plants back should I need to replant.

I don't raise brussels sprouts as I tried in one of the coolest years we've had for years both spring and fall and didn't get enough to make it worth while.

Spinach I simply seed into the garden in late February and again in September. Then in Oct or early Nov, I plant in the greenhouse.

If you want to raise sugar snap peas, you can do a site search and get a lot of info. The most important thing is to start the seeds indoors in the warmth, plant in peat pots or toilet paper tubes and get them into the ground about March 1st. It only takes 2-3 weeks lead time so I start my seeds MidFeb for the first planting and March 1 for the second. I tried direct planting peas for years only to have the seed either rot or be eating by gophers before I learned how to get a good crop.

Good luck with everything.


clipped on: 01.16.2014 at 07:49 pm    last updated on: 01.16.2014 at 07:49 pm

2014 Tomato Grow List

posted by: okiedawn on 01.10.2014 at 06:43 pm in Oklahoma Gardening Forum

I really wanted to "go big" with my 2014 tomato grow list, but I still don't want to go too big in case drought returns to our area. A portion of our county hasn't even made it out of drought yet, so I don't have a good feeling yet that the spring rains will be kind to us. So instead of going big, I have a medium sized grow list. It isn't the smallest one I've had since moving here, nor the largest.

My list leans heavily towards paste tomatoes because I want for this to be a big salsa year. It also is mostly OP types with just a handful of F-1s.

There's a few on the list that are new to me, and a few are returning after being absent for a few years.

Here it is:

Paste Tomatoes:

Carol Chyko's Big Paste
Carol Chykos's Big Paste Black
Darth Mater
Giant Pepperview
Heidi *
Jersey Giant
San Marzano Redorta *
Schiavone Italian Paste
Seache's Italian
Speckled Roman *

Cherry Tomatoes:

Black Cherry *
SunGold (F-1) *
Sweet Million (F-1)

Slicers, Salad Types and Beefsteaks:

Big Beef (F-1)
Black Krim *
Brad's Black Heart
Brandywine * (produces poorly in our heat, but worth it)
Cherokee Purple *
Cherokee Purple Heart
Chianti Rose
Chocolate Stripes
Dolly Parton
Dr. Wyche's Red
Gary O Sena *
German Giant
Gregori's Altai
Greek Rose *
Indian Stripe-Burson
JD's Special C-Tex *
Jim Dandy
Jumbo Jim Orange
Momotaro (F-1)
Orange Minsk *
Pruden's Purple
Spudakee Purple
Stump of the World *
Virginia Sweets
Woodle Orange

This is just the list of what I'm growing from seed.

There's really not any good short DTM types for early tomatoes on my list this year. I usually pick up between 4 and 8 plants for early tomatoes as soon as the tomato plants arrive in the stores, and one or two of those with be Early Girl or something similar. In 2012 and 2013, the tomato transplants arrived in the stores near us the last week of January. It is insanely early for tomato plants at that time, but I don't let that stop me from buying a few plants so that we can be harvesting fruit by the end of April from those store-bought plants.

That's my current 2014 Tomato Grow List, y'all. Now, show me yours. : )

I came back to this post Sunday evening to add an asterisk to my faves on this list.


This post was edited by okiedawn on Sun, Jan 12, 14 at 22:59


clipped on: 01.15.2014 at 02:12 am    last updated on: 01.15.2014 at 02:12 am

Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

posted by: tapla on 10.21.2011 at 02:00 pm in House Plants Forum

Good Growing Practices -
An Overview for Beginners

My hope is that this thread becomes a gathering place for beginners and the experienced alike, a place where reliable information that is rooted in sound science and horticulture can be found. We will see how that 'gathering' part goes, but I have enjoyed enthusiastic participation on many of my other threads on this and other fora, so I am optimistic.

As I consider what I am going to share with you and how to go about sharing it, I am compelled to offer some background that will hopefully allow some degree of comfort in placing some measure of value on my commentary. I enjoy the growing experience tremendously. I have worked hard toward increasing my skill level for more than 20 years, and I look at sharing what I have learned about the growing sciences as a natural extension of the enjoyment I get from nurturing plants - sort of nurturing people who nurture plants. I am invited to lecture frequently in the mid-MI area, and occasionally beyond. I lecture, conduct workshops, and do demonstrations on a variety of subjects related to growing, but most frequently I talk about things related to container culture, with maintaining houseplants being one of the most requested topics. I also enjoy participating here at Garden Web and at another popular garden forum sites. Hopefully we will be using some links to some of my other offerings here that will help you share some of the confidence others have shown in the reliability of my offerings. Those that know me know I am not after recognition or glory, I simply feel I can help any beginner with a willingness to learn and apply the newfound information, and I get a large measure of personal satisfaction from the feeling I may have helped someone along the path to becoming a better grower.

The first challenge is to offer information that a beginner can digest, and in such a way that he or she feels it is important enough to act on. I am first going to flesh out the main issues that, if understood, will make anyone a better grower and hope I have created enough interest that there will be plenty of questions so I can go into greater detail in the answers. For what it is worth, I tend to look at growing anything in containers from the perspective of what is best for the plant, not what is best for the grower. Far more often than not, the two ideas are mutually exclusive, so if grower convenience is a large priority of anyone reading this, there is not much sense in reading on. Growing well does take a little thought and a little effort.

The houseplants we grow are perennials nearly all, capable of growing for many, many years and of being passed from generation to generation. With attention to the areas I will cover in this post, you will discover that you can maintain your plants in good health for as long as you continue to commit to providing favorable cultural conditions. Your plants are all genetically programmed by Mother Nature to grow well and look beautiful. It is only a lack of knowledge and skill in the area of providing the cultural conditions they prefer that prevents them from growing to their potential. That sounds harsh, but it is the truth.

I have never seen anyone other than me discuss growing plants in containers from this perspective, that is (and it bears repeating) your plants are already genetically programmed to grow well and look beautiful, but it is up to you as a grower to eliminate the limitations so often associated with growing in containers. This post is about isolating some of the factors that are commonly the most limiting and helping you to reduce the limiting effects. For more information on the concept of limiting effects, do a search using the words "Liebig's Law of the Minimum" or follow this embedded link to How Plant Growth is Limited additional discussion.

Soil choice - Growers should realize that the most important choice they will make when establishing a new planting or when repotting is their choice of soil. A poor soil is probably behind more than 90% of the issues that growers come to the forums seeking remedial help for. Collapsed or dead plants, spoiled foliage, insect infestations, disease issues are all symptoms usually traceable directly or indirectly to a poor soil. This is so important to understand, that I will devote the bulk of my effort toward making it clear why I offer this contention.

Light is extremely important to plants. Plants make their own food, using water, CO2, and energy from the sun. Inadequate light means the plant cannot make enough food to grow to the potential for which it was genetically programmed. I will not go into great detail about light because when it comes to houseplants; you either have good light or are forced to deal with the limiting effects of inadequate light. If the thread finds favor, we can discuss supplementing light and how to prune to help compensate for the leggy appearance caused by insufficient light, or explore other topics of interest relating to light.

Nutrition supplementation is a requirement for normal growth and good health when growing plants in containers. In the earth, many of the nutrients are supplied by minerals in the soil. Container soils usually have no mineral component (and it is best that they do not in most cases - more later), and the soil components break down so slowly and are washed from the soil so quickly that deficiencies are virtually assured if you do not fertilize. Choice of fertilizer is also an important consideration, as we will see.

Repotting vs. potting up - that there is a difference between the two operations is a concept foreign to most hobby growers. One of the practices ensures your plants will at least have the opportunity to grow to their genetic potential within the limits of other cultural conditions; that would be repotting, with its accompanying root maintenance, complete or partial bare-rooting, and a change of soil. Potting up, on the other hand, only temporarily allows the plant to grow a little closer to its genetic potential before root congestion and a diminished number of fine roots quickly returns the plant to the state of limited growth and vitality it was experiencing before potting up.

Watering habits - extremely important and inextricably linked to soil choice, which is why I saved it until the end of this, the short list - so it would lead me back to the most important consideration - the one most apt to determine the difference between frustration and a rewarding growing experience.

Air is as important as water in all soils plants are to be grown in. Plants absolutely love plenty of air in the root zone, and rebel very quickly at too much water in the soil. I am going to describe what happens when you water plants growing in a soil that retains too much water. There are actually two possibilities. The first is, you water, and a part of the soil near the bottom of the container does not drain. This water has a name, it is called 'perched water', so named because it 'perches' (like a bird) in the soil above the pot bottom. This excess water is critically important because it very quickly begins to kill roots growing near the bottom of the pot - within hours. The first roots to die are the roots that do the lion's share of the work - the very fine roots often referred to as 'hair roots'. The longer the soil remains saturated, the larger the diameter of the roots killed. When air finally returns to this once saturated soil, roots can only then begin to regenerate. This takes energy and is extremely expensive for the plant in terms of energy outlay. During the cyclic death and regeneration of roots associated with excessively water-retentive soils, the plant is actually forced by chemical messengers that tell it to 'grow roots', to direct energy that would have otherwise gone into growing more leaves, branches, blooms, fruit, or just increasing the overall mass of the plant, to replacing the lost roots.

The second thing that might happen when you water if you are using a water retentive soil is, you adopt the practice of watering in 'small sips' so the soil remains damp instead of wet; this, to guard against root rot. It makes sense to only give the plant a little water at a time so the soil never gets soggy - right? That might be a workable option if you have the luxury of using water that has been processed through a reverse osmosis water filtering system, or if you are watering with distilled water, but regular tap water has things dissolved in it, like magnesium, calcium, iron, sulfur, and others. If you water in 'sips', these dissolved solids remain in the soil and build up over time. This has an impact on the plant's ability to absorb water and the nutrients dissolved in water. To illustrate the potential impact these dissolved solids have on a plant, picture in your mind what curing salt does to ham or bacon. It literally pulls water from the cells & dries out the meat. Any solutes (anything dissolved) in the solution surrounding plant roots can have the same potential effect on plant cells. It can make it difficult for plants to absorb water and nutrients, it can make it impossible, and in some cases can actually reverse the flow of water so it moves OUT of cells, effectively collapsing and killing them. We commonly call this 'fertilizer burn', but it does not necessarily have to result from an over-application of fertilizer. When people come here wanting a remedy for foliage that is dying, with dried edges & tips, almost always it is the result of over-watering exacerbated by water-retentive soils and the accompanying limitation that has on root function and metabolism, or as a result of the presence of a high level of dissolved solids from fertilizers and tap water having accumulated in the soil making it difficult for the plant to take up water. Both are so closely related to poor, water-retentive soils we can say the problem is inherent if not addressed directly.

Misting cannot correct a problem related to over-watering or a high level of solutes in your plant's soil. Low humidity can be a contributing factor to the common symptoms of necrotic (dead) leaf tips and margins (edges), but for the actual cause, look to impaired root function from over-watering or a high level of dissolved solids in the soil. BOTH of these conditions are nearly always linked to a poor soil. Misting raises humidity for a few minutes, but there are almost 1,500 minutes in a day. Raising humidity for 10 of the 1,500 has virtually no impact on the plant's ability to keep foliage hydrated. If you have foliage with burned leaf tips and margins, you should look to the soil and the state of root health for the cause.

When using water-retentive soils, it seems almost as though we are on the horns of a dilemma. If we water generously, we risk the soil remaining saturated so long it causes root rot, or at a minimum - impaired root function. If we water sparingly, in small sips, we risk an accumulation of dissolved solids from tap water and fertilizer solutions in the soil - so what to do? Well - I think we should look at an option that solves both issues and makes things much easier for the grower, while also providing the grower with considerably more latitude when it comes to watering and fertilizing.

The factor that determines how water retentive and difficult a soil is to grow in, is the size of the particles it is made from. The smaller the particles - the greater the water retention and the greater the degree of difficulty for growers. Soils made of any combination of peat, coir, compost, sand, topsoil, and other fine particulates are going to be very water retentive, which we know is undesirable from the perspective of the plant, and they cannot be suitably amended to correct drainage or the height of the perched water by adding perlite or other drainage material. If anyone disagrees with that statement, please ask for an explanation before mounting an argument or offering individual observations. Adding perlite to soils reduces the overall water retention of the soil, the reduction usually being a plus, but it does nothing measurable for drainage (flow-through rates) or the height of the perched water table, the later being the critical consideration when it comes to a healthy root zone.

Soils made of a high % of pine bark or other inorganic particles will have plenty of large air spaces called macropores. These are pores that will not hold water, only air, even when the soil is as saturated is it can be. They are critical to a healthy root zone. If you build a soil with plenty of air space, it hardly matters what the soil is made from. What is important is how the soil is structured. I will grow a perfectly healthy plant in a bucket of broken glass on a dare and a wager if anyone is interested in taking me up on it. If you have a soil with a healthy structure, a good nutritional supplementation program, and have good available light, the rest is so easy anyone can do it - honest. I have seen it happen over & over and over again. You will not go wrong if your primary focus is providing a healthy - a truly healthy environment for roots. Roots are the heart of the plant. Roots come first. If you cannot keep the roots happy, there is no chance you can keep the rest of the plant happy. That was a paraphrased quote from Dr. Carl Whitcomb, PhD, who wrote the bible on "Plant Production in Containers".

This ends the beginning discussion about soils. Until you are able to grow plants, the growth rate and appearance of which you are happy with, focusing on removing the limitations placed on your plants by soil choice will almost always constitute the best use of your energies. After reading this far, if nothing else, I hope you take that concept from this offering. It is the most important point and the best piece of advice I can give you. If you are interested in knowing HOW to make soils that will help you remove the limitations, now is the time to ask.

Nutrition is an area that is very misunderstood when it comes to container culture, but it is actually very easy. It is also very easy to become confused because there are so many numbers that represent different fertilizer NPK percentages and so many different kinds of fertilizers. I will need to use some numbers, but I think an understanding of NPK percentages as opposed to fertilizer RATIOS is important. NPK %s tell us how much (N)itrogen, (P)hosphorous pentoxide, and (K) potassium oxide (the symbol for potassium is 'K') are in a fertilizer by weight. So a fertilizer that is labeled "All Purpose 24-8-16" is 24% nitrogen, 8% phosphorous, and 16% potassium. 12-4-8 is also a common "all-purpose" fertilizer. It has exactly half the nutrients of 24-8-16, but both are 3:1:2 RATIO fertilizers. Ratios are a way of describing the amount of nutrients in a fertilizer as they relate to each other. Why is this important? It is important because we know that on average, plants use about 6 times as much N as P, and they use about 3/5 as much K as N, and now I will tell you how we can use this information to our plant's advantage.

The ideal way to fertilize is to supply fertilizer at the same ratio in which plants use the nutrients. The reason is because optimal growth and vitality can be had only when nutrients are in the soil at overall levels low enough that it does not become difficult for plants to take up water and nutrients dissolved in that water. Remember what we said above about a high level of soluble in the soil making it difficult for roots to absorb water and nutrients? Nutrients also need to be present at levels high enough to prevent deficiencies. If we think about it for a second, we can see that the best way to achieve this end is to supply nutrients at the same ratio in which they are used.

I noted that the NPK percentages actually tell us how much phosphorous pentoxide and potassium oxide are in a fertilizer so I can show you how fertilizer manufacturers arrived at a 3:1:2 ratio as their "all-purpose" blend. Only 43% of the P reported on a fertilizer label is actually P, and only 83% of the K reported is actually K. Once you apply these factors to any of the 3:1:2 ratio fertilizers (24-8-16, 12-4-8, and 9-3-6 are all popular 3:1:2 ratios), you will see they supply nutrients in almost exactly the same ratios as the average that plants actually use, and these fertilizers are excellent at keeping the overall level of solubles as low as they can be without creating nutritional deficiencies.

There is no need to use 'specialty' fertilizers; and many specialty fertilizers, like the advertised "bloom boosters" with up to 30 times more phosphorous than a plant could ever use (in relation to the amount of N used), can be (almost always are) moderately to severely limiting because the excess nutrients are a limiting factor.

The question often arises, "Should I use a synthetic or an organic fertilizer"? The answer is: "Use whichever you wish"; but the qualifiers are: Organic fertilizers are actually more accurately called soil amendments. They are mixed into the soil in the hope that at some point soil organisms will digest them and make them available in elemental form so plants can absorb them. The problem with that approach is that the populations and activity levels of soil life populations in containers are erratic and unreliable, making the delivery of nutrients from organic sources just as erratic and unreliable. What you apply today, may not be available until next month, and there is no way to determine what residual amounts of which elements remain in the soil. Soluble fertilizers like Miracle-Gro and others are completely available as soon as applied, and we know exactly what our plants are getting. They are simply much easier to use and deliver nutrients much more reliably than other fertilizer types. You can lump controlled release fertilizers like Osmocote and others in with the soluble synthetic fertilizers. With them, you get an extra measure of convenience but sacrifice a measure of control. As with all fertilizers, it is important to note the NPK percentages to be sure you are supplying the fertilizer in a favorable ratio if you want your plants to be all they can be.

When it comes right down to what occurs at the molecular/cellular levels, plants take up nutrients in elemental form. They cannot absorb the nutrients that are locked in the hydrocarbon chains that make up organic fertilizers until the molecules are broken down into their most basic elemental form. At that point, all nutrients are taken up as salts, and all are in the same form, no matter if they came from compost, a dead fish, or a hose end sprayer. Plants could care less where their nutrients come from, as long as they have a constant supply of all essential nutrients at all times.

It is not going to kill your plants if you use a fertilizer with a less than favorable ratio because plants tend to take the nutrients they need from the soil (solution) and leave the rest, but it is important to understand that it is 'the rest' that constitutes a limiting factor; so avoiding unnecessarily high levels of any one nutrient or nutrients whenever possible is to your (plant's) benefit.

It is important to understand that growing in containers is markedly different than growing in gardens. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being growing in the garden and 10 being hydroponics, gardening in containers is much closer to hydroponics than gardens, getting a rating of somewhere around 7 or 8. This is why many of the practices that serve us so well in our gardens do not work well in containers. One area that is often a sticking point is the idea we need to "feed the soil". While that is an admirable and productive approach to gardening in the earth, container soils are more about their structure than about any nutrients they might supply. If you concentrate on your soils structure and durability, and more specifically its ability to hold plenty of air, you will greatly increase both the probability of consistent success and the margin for grower error. Well-aerated soils are easier to grow in and offer much greater opportunity for plants that will grow as near to their potential as possible.

As noted above, most growers draw no distinction between 'repotting' and 'potting up'. I have spent literally thousands of hours digging around in the root-balls of containerized plants. Old plants from nurseries of greenhouses are probably the closest examples to what most houseplants are like below the soil line, so I'll offer my thoughts for you to consider or discard as you find fitting.

I have also helped salvage many plants that had been containerized for long periods and were 'circling the drain'. Illustration: Not long ago, our bonsai club invited a visiting artist to conduct a workshop with mugo pines. The nursery (a huge operation) where we have our meetings happened to have purchased several thousand of the mugos somewhere around 10 - 12 years prior and they had been potted up into continually larger containers ever since. Why relate these uninteresting snippets? In the cases of material that has been progressively potted-up only, large perennial roots occupied nearly the entire volume of the container, plant vitality was in severe decline, and soil in the original root-ball had become so hard that in some cases a chisel was required to remove it.
In plants that are potted up, rootage becomes entangled. As root diameters increase, portions of the roots constrict other roots and impair the flow of water and nutrients through them, much the same as in the case of girdling or encircling roots on trees grown in-ground. The ratio of fine, feeder roots to more lignified (woody) and perennial roots becomes skewed to favor the larger, and practically speaking, useless roots.

The initial symptoms of poor root conditions are progressive diminishing of branch extension on plants that branch, loss/shedding of foliage on the parts of branches nearest to the main stems or trunk, often giving the plant a 'poodle look', and reduced vitality. As rootage becomes continually compressed and restricted, branch extension stops and individual branches might die as water/nutrient movement is further compromised. Foliage quality may not (important to understand) indicate the tree is struggling until the condition is severe, but if you observe your plants carefully, you will find them increasingly unable to cope with stressful conditions - too much/too little water, heat, sun, etc. Plants operating under conditions of stress that has progressed to strain, will usually be diagnosed in the end as suffering from attack by insects or other bio-agents/disease while the underlying cause goes unnoticed.

I will mention again that I draw distinct delineation between simply potting up and repotting. Potting up temporarily offers room for fine rootage to grow and do the necessary work of water/nutrient uptake, but these new roots soon lignify, while rootage in the old root mass continues to grow and become increasingly restrictive. The larger and larger containers required for potting-up & the difficulty in handling them also makes us increasingly reluctant to undertake even potting up, let alone undertake the task of repotting/root-pruning, which grows increasingly difficult with each up-potting.
So we are clear on terminology, potting up simply involves moving the plant with its root mass and soil intact, or nearly so, to a larger container and filling in around the root/soil mass with additional soil. Repotting, on the other hand, includes the removal of all or part of the soil and the pruning of roots, with an eye to removing the largest roots, as well as those that would be considered defective. Examples are roots that are dead, those growing back toward the center of the root mass, encircling, girdling or j-hooked roots, and otherwise damaged roots.

I often explain the effects of repotting vs potting up like this:
I will rate growth/vitality potential on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best. We are going to say that plants in containers can only achieve a growth/vitality rating of 9, due to the somewhat limiting effects container culture has on all plants. Lets also imagine that for every year a plant goes w/o repotting or potting up, its measure of growth/vitality slips by 1 number, That is to say you pot a plant and the first year it grows at a level of 9, the next year, an 8, the next year a 7. Also imagine please, we're going to go 3 years between repotting or potting up, which is how the illustration is structured.
Here's what happens to the plant you repot/root prune:
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
You can see that a full repotting and root pruning returns the plant to its full potential within the limits of other cultural influences for as long as you care to repot/root prune.
Looking now at how woody plants respond to only potting up:
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
pot up
year 1: 8
year 2: 7
year 3: 6
pot up
year 1: 7
year 2: 6
year 3: 5
pot up
year 1: 6
year 2: 5
year 3: 4
pot up
year 1: 5
year 2: 4
year 3: 3
pot up
year 1: 4
year 2: 3
year 3: 2
pot up
year 1: 3
year 2: 2
year 3: 1
This is a fairly accurate illustration of the influence tight roots have on a plant's growth/vitality. You might think of it for a moment in the context of the longevity of bonsai trees vs the life expectancy of most trees grown as houseplants, or the difference between less than 4 years versus more than 400 years, lying primarily in how the roots are treated.

I have not yet mentioned that the dissimilar characteristics of the old soil as compared to the new soil when potting-up; and potentially mixing soils are also a potential recipe for trouble. With a compacted soil in the old roots and a fresh batch of soil surrounding the roots of a freshly potted up plant, it is nearly impossible to establish a watering regimen that doesn't keep the differing soils either too wet or too dry, both conditions occurring concurrently being a limiting factor and the rule rather than the exception.

Most who read this would have great difficulty showing me a containerized plant that is more than 10 years old and as vigorous as it could be, unless it has been root-pruned at repotting time; yet I can show you hundreds of trees 20 years to 200 years old and older, and many of my very old houseplants/succulents that are in perfect health. All have been root-pruned and given a fresh footing in new soil at regular and frequent intervals, the same treatment all my houseplants get.

Thanks to any/all who made it this far. This is only an overview, but with even a rudimentary understanding of how to go about reducing the effects of the limiting factors that restrict growth and vitality, I know you can improve on how well your plants can grow, as well as on the degree of satisfaction you get from your growing experience - my only reasons for writing this. Hopefully the offering leaves you with many questions.



clipped on: 01.15.2014 at 02:10 am    last updated on: 01.15.2014 at 02:10 am

Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVII

posted by: tapla on 06.10.2013 at 04:52 pm in Container Gardening Forum

Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVII

I first posted this thread back in March of '05. Sixteen times it has reached the maximum number of posts GW allows to a single thread, which is much more attention than I ever imagined it would garner. I have reposted it in no small part because it has been great fun, and a wonderful catalyst in the forging of new friendships and in increasing my list of acquaintances with similar growing interests. The forum and email exchanges that stem so often from the subject are in themselves enough to make me hope the subject continues to pique interest, and the exchanges provide helpful information. Most of the motivation for posting this thread another time comes from the reinforcement of hundreds of participants over the years that strongly suggests the information provided in good-spirited collective exchange has made a significant difference in the quality of their growing experience. I'll provide links to some of the more recent of the previous dozen threads and nearly 2,500 posts at the end of what I have written - just in case you have interest in reviewing them. Thank you for taking the time to examine this topic - I hope that any/all who read it take at least something interesting and helpful from it. I know it's long. My hope is that you find it worth the read, and the time you invest results in a significantly improved growing experience.

Since there are many questions about soils appropriate for use in containers, I'll post basic mix recipes later, in case any would like to try the soil. It will follow the information.

Before we get started, I'd like to mention that I wrote a reply and posted it to a thread recently, and I think it is well worth considering. It not only sets a minimum standard for what constitutes a 'GOOD' soil, but also points to the fact that not all growers look at container soils from the same perspective, which is why growers so often disagree on what makes a 'good' soil. I hope you find it thought provoking:

Is Soil X a 'Good' Soil?

I think any discussion on this topic must largely center around the word "GOOD", and we can broaden the term 'good' so it also includes 'quality' or 'suitable', as in "Is soil X a quality or suitable soil?"

How do we determine if soil A or soil B is a good soil? and before we do that, we'd better decide if we are going to look at it from the plant's perspective or from the grower's perspective, because often there is a considerable amount of conflict to be found in the overlap - so much so that one can often be mutually exclusive of the other.

We can imagine that grower A might not be happy or satisfied unless knows he is squeezing every bit of potential from his plants, and grower Z might not be happy or content unless he can water his plants before leaving on a 2-week jaunt, and still have a weeks worth of not having to water when he returns. Everyone else is somewhere between A and Z; with B, D, F, H, J, L, N, P, R, T, V, X, and Y either unaware of how much difference soil choice can make, or they understand but don't care.

I said all that to illustrate the large measure of futility in trying to establish any sort of standard as to what makes a good soil from the individual grower's perspective; but let's change our focus from the pointless to the possible.

We're only interested in the comparative degrees of 'good' and 'better' here. It would be presumptive to label any soil "best". 'Best I've found' or 'best I've used' CAN sometimes be useful for comparative purposes, but that's a very subjective judgment. Let's tackle 'good', then move on to 'better', and finally see what we can do about qualifying these descriptors so they can apply to all growers.

I would like to think that everyone would prefer to use a soil that can be described as 'good' from the plant's perspective. How do we determine what a plant wants? Surprisingly, we can use %s established by truly scientific studies that are widely accepted in the greenhouse and nursery trades to determine if a soil is good or not good - from the plant's perspective, that is. Rather than use confusing numbers that mean nothing to the hobby grower, I can suggest that our standard for a good soil should be, at a minimum, that you can water that soil properly. That means, that at any time during the growth cycle, you can water your plantings to beyond the point of saturation (so excess water is draining from the pot) without the fear of root rot or compromised root function or metabolism due to (take your pick) too much water or too little air in the root zone.

I think it's very reasonable to withhold the comparative basic descriptor, 'GOOD', from soils that can't be watered properly without compromising root function, or worse, suffering one of the fungaluglies that cause root rot. I also think anyone wishing to make the case from the plant's perspective that a soil that can't be watered to beyond saturation w/o compromising root health can be called 'good', is fighting on the UP side logic hill.

So I contend that 'good' soils are soils we can water correctly; that is, we can flush the soil when we water without concern for compromising root health/function/metabolism. If you ask yourself, "Can I water correctly if I use this soil?" and the answer is 'NO' ... it's not a good soil ... for the reasons stated above.

Can you water correctly using most of the bagged soils readily available? 'NO', I don't think I need to point to a conclusion.

What about 'BETTER'? Can we determine what might make a better soil? Yes, we can. If we start with a soil that meets the minimum standard of 'good', and improve either the physical and/or chemical properties of that soil, or make it last longer, then we have 'better'. Even if we cannot agree on how low we wish to set the bar for what constitutes 'good', we should be able to agree that any soil that reduces excess water retention, increases aeration, ensures increased potential for optimal root health, and lasts longer than soils that only meet some one's individual and arbitrary standard of 'good', is a 'better' soil.

All the plants we grow, unless grown from seed, have the genetic potential to be beautiful specimens. It's easy to say, and easy to see the absolute truth in the idea that if you give a plant everything it wants it will flourish and grow; after all, plants are programmed to grow just that way. Our growing skills are defined by our ability to give plants what they want. The better we are at it, the better our plants will grow. But we all know it's not that easy. Lifetimes are spent in careful study, trying to determine just exactly what it is that plants want and need to make them grow best.

Since this is a soil discussion, let's see what the plant wants from its soil. The plant wants a soil in which we have endeavored to provide in available form, all the essential nutrients, in the ratio in at which the plant uses them, and at a concentration high enough to prevent deficiencies yet low enough to make it easy to take up water (and the nutrients dissolved in the water). First and foremost, though, the plant wants a container soil that is evenly damp, never wet or soggy. Giving a plant what it wants, to flourish and grow, doesn't include a soil that is half saturated for a week before aeration returns to the entire soil mass, even if you only water in small sips. Plants might do 'ok' in some soils, but to actually flourish, like they are genetically programmed to do, they would need to be unencumbered by wet, soggy soils.

We become better growers by improving our ability to reduce the effects of limiting factors, or by eliminating those limiting factors entirely; in other words, by clearing out those influences that stand in the way of the plant reaching its genetic potential. Even if we are able to make every other factor that influences plant growth/vitality absolutely perfect, it could not make up for a substandard soil. For a plant to grow to its genetic potential, every factor has to be perfect, including the soil. Of course, we'll never manage to get to that point, but the good news is that as we get closer and closer, our plants get better and better; and hopefully, we'll get more from our growing experience.

In my travels, I've discovered it almost always ends up being that one little factor that we willingly or unwittingly overlooked that limits us in our abilities, and our plants in their potential.

Food for thought:
A 2-bit plant in a $10 soil has a future full of potential, where a $10 plant in a 2-bit soil has only a future filled with limitations. ~ Al

Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention,

As container gardeners, our first priority should be to ensure the soils we use are adequately aerated for the life of the planting, or in the case of perennial material (trees, shrubs, garden perennials), from repot to repot. Soil aeration/drainage is the most important consideration in any container planting. Soils are the foundation that all container plantings are built on, and aeration is the very cornerstone of that foundation. Since aeration and drainage are inversely linked to soil particle size, it makes good sense to try to find and use soils or primary components with particles larger than peat/compost/coir. Durability and stability of soil components so they contribute to the retention of soil structure for extended periods is also extremely important. Pine and some other types of conifer bark fit the bill nicely, but I'll talk more about various components later.

What I will write also hits pretty hard against the futility in using a drainage layer of coarse materials in attempt to improve drainage. It just doesn't work. All it does is reduce the total volume of soil available for root colonization. A wick can be employed to remove water from the saturated layer of soil at the container bottom, but a drainage layer is not effective. A wick can be made to work in reverse of the self-watering pots widely being discussed on this forum now.

Consider this if you will:

Container soils are all about structure, and particle size plays the primary role in determining whether a soil is suited or unsuited to the application. Soil fills only a few needs in container culture. Among them are: Anchorage - a place for roots to extend, securing the plant and preventing it from toppling. Nutrient Retention - it must retain a nutrient supply in available form sufficient to sustain plant systems. Gas Exchange - it must be amply porous to allow air to move through the root system and gasses that are the by-product of decomposition to escape. Water - it must retain water enough in liquid and/or vapor form to sustain plants between waterings. Air - it must contain a volume of air sufficient to ensure that root function/metabolism/growth is not impaired. This is extremely important and the primary reason that heavy, water-retentive soils are so limiting in their affect. Most plants can be grown without soil as long as we can provide air, nutrients, and water, (witness hydroponics). Here, I will concentrate primarily on the movement and retention of water in container soil(s).

There are two forces that cause water to move through soil - one is gravity, the other capillary action. Gravity needs little explanation, but for this writing I would like to note: Gravitational flow potential (GFP) is greater for water at the top of the container than it is for water at the bottom. I'll return to that later.

Capillarity is a function of the natural forces of adhesion and cohesion. Adhesion is water's tendency to stick to solid objects like soil particles and the sides of the pot. Cohesion is the tendency for water to stick to itself. Cohesion is why we often find water in droplet form - because cohesion is at times stronger than adhesion; in other words, water's bond to itself can be stronger than the bond to the object it might be in contact with; cohesion is what makes water form drops. Capillary action is in evidence when we dip a paper towel in water. The water will soak into the towel and rise several inches above the surface of the water. It will not drain back into the source, and it will stop rising when the GFP equals the capillary attraction of the fibers in the paper.

There will be a naturally occurring "perched water table" (PWT) in containers when soil particulate size is under about .100 (just under 1/8) inch. Perched water is water that occupies a layer of soil at the bottom of containers or above coarse drainage layers that tends to remain saturated & will not drain from the portion of the pot it occupies. It can evaporate or be used by the plant, but physical forces will not allow it to drain. It is there because the capillary pull of the soil at some point will surpass the GFP; therefore, the water does not drain, it is said to be 'perched'. The smaller the size of the particles in a soil, the greater the height of the PWT. Perched water can be tightly held in heavy (comprised of small particles) soils where it perches (think of a bird on a perch) just above the container bottom where it will not drain; or, it can perch in a layer of heavy soil on top of a coarse drainage layer, where it will not drain.

Imagine that we have five cylinders of varying heights, shapes, and diameters, each with drain holes. If we fill them all with the same soil mix, then saturate the soil, the PWT will be exactly the same height in each container. This saturated area of the container is where roots initially seldom penetrate & where root problems frequently begin due to a lack of aeration and the production of noxious gasses. Water and nutrient uptake are also compromised by lack of air in the root zone. Keeping in mind the fact that the PWT height is dependent on soil particle size and has nothing to do with height or shape of the container, we can draw the conclusion that: If using a soil that supports perched water, tall growing containers will always have a higher percentage of unsaturated soil than squat containers when using the same soil mix. The reason: The level of the PWT will be the same in each container, with the taller container providing more usable, air holding soil above the PWT. From this, we could make a good case that taller containers are easier to grow in.

A given volume of large soil particles has less overall surface area when compared to the same volume of small particles and therefore less overall adhesive attraction to water. So, in soils with large particles, GFP more readily overcomes capillary attraction. They simply drain better and hold more air. We all know this, but the reason, often unclear, is that the height of the PWT is lower in coarse soils than in fine soils. The key to good drainage is size and uniformity of soil particles. Mixing large particles with small is often very ineffective because the smaller particles fit between the large, increasing surface area which increases the capillary attraction and thus the water holding potential. An illustrative question: How much perlite do we need to add to pudding to make it drain well?

I already stated I hold as true that the grower's soil choice when establishing a planting for the long term is the most important decision he/she will make. There is no question that the roots are the heart of the plant, and plant vitality is inextricably linked in a hard lock-up with root vitality. In order to get the best from your plants, you absolutely must have happy roots.

If you start with a water-retentive medium, you cannot effectively amend it to improve aeration or drainage characteristics by adding larger particulates. Sand, perlite, Turface, calcined DE ...... none of them will work effectively. To visualize why sand and perlite can't change drainage/aeration, think of how well a pot full of BBs would drain (perlite); then think of how poorly a pot full of pudding would drain (bagged soil). Even mixing the pudding and perlite/BBs together 1:1 in a third pot yields a mix that retains the drainage characteristics and PWT height of the pudding. It's only after the perlite become the largest fraction of the mix (60-75%) that drainage & PWT height begins to improve. At that point, you're growing in perlite amended with a little potting soil.

You cannot add coarse material to fine material and improve drainage or the ht of the PWT. Use the same example as above & replace the pudding with play sand or peat moss or a peat-based potting soil - same results. The benefit in adding perlite to heavy soils doesn't come from the fact that they drain better. The fine peat or pudding particles simply 'fill in' around the perlite, so drainage & the ht of the PWT remains the same. All perlite does in heavy soils is occupy space that would otherwise be full of water. Perlite simply reduces the amount of water a soil is capable of holding because it is not internally porous. IOW - all it does is take up space. That can be a considerable benefit, but it makes more sense to approach the problem from an angle that also allows us to increase the aeration AND durability of the soil. That is where Pine bark comes in, and I will get to that soon.

If you want to profit from a soil that offers superior drainage and aeration, you need to start with an ingredient as the basis for your soils that already HAVE those properties, by ensuring that the soil is primarily comprised of particles much larger than those in peat/compost/coir/sand/topsoil, which is why the recipes I suggest as starting points all direct readers to START with the foremost fraction of the soil being large particles, to ensure excellent aeration. From there, if you choose, you can add an appropriate volume of finer particles to increase water retention. You do not have that option with a soil that is already extremely water-retentive right out of the bag.

I fully understand that many are happy with the results they get when using commercially prepared soils, and I'm not trying to get anyone to change anything. My intent is to make sure that those who are having trouble with issues related to soil, understand why the issues occur, that there are options, and what they are.

We have seen that adding a coarse drainage layer at the container bottom does not improve drainage. It does though, reduce the volume of soil required to fill a container, making the container lighter. When we employ a drainage layer in an attempt to improve drainage, what we are actually doing is moving the level of the PWT higher in the pot. This simply reduces the volume of soil available for roots to colonize. Containers with uniform soil particle size from top of container to bottom will yield better and more uniform drainage and have a lower PWT than containers using the same soil with added drainage layers.

The coarser the drainage layer, the more detrimental to drainage it is because water is more (for lack of a better scientific word) reluctant to make the downward transition because the capillary pull of the soil above the drainage layer is stronger than the GFP. The reason for this is there is far more surface area on soil particles for water to be attracted to in the soil above the drainage layer than there is in the drainage layer, so the water perches. I know this goes against what most have thought to be true, but the principle is scientifically sound, and experiments have shown it as so. Many nurserymen employ the pot-in-pot or the pot-in-trench method of growing to capitalize on the science.

If you discover you need to increase drainage, you can simply insert an absorbent wick into a drainage hole & allow it to extend from the saturated soil in the container to a few inches below the bottom of the pot, or allow it to contact soil below the container where the earth acts as a giant wick and will absorb all or most of the perched water in the container, in most cases. Eliminating the PWT has much the same effect as providing your plants much more soil to grow in, as well as allowing more, much needed air in the root zone.

In simple terms: Plants that expire because of drainage problems either die of thirst because the roots have rotted and can no longer take up water, or they suffer/die because there is insufficient air at the root zone to insure normal root function, so water/nutrient uptake and root metabolism become seriously impaired.

To confirm the existence of the PWT and how effective a wick is at removing it, try this experiment: Fill a soft drink cup nearly full of garden soil. Add enough water to fill to the top, being sure all soil is saturated. Punch a drain hole in the bottom of the cup and allow the water to drain. When drainage has stopped, insert a wick into the drain hole . Take note of how much additional water drains. Even touching the soil with a toothpick through the drain hole will cause substantial additional water to drain. The water that drains is water that occupied the PWT. A greatly simplified explanation of what occurs is: The wick or toothpick "fools" the water into thinking the pot is deeper than it is, so water begins to move downward seeking the "new" bottom of the pot, pulling the rest of the water in the PWT along with it. If there is interest, there are other simple and interesting experiments you can perform to confirm the existence of a PWT in container soils. I can expand later in the thread.

I always remain cognizant of these physical principles whenever I build a soil. I have not used a commercially prepared soil in many years, preferring to build a soil or amend one of my 2 basic mixes to suit individual plantings. I keep many ingredients at the ready for building soils, but the basic building process usually starts with conifer bark and perlite. Sphagnum peat plays a secondary role in my container soils because it breaks down too quickly to suit me, and when it does, it impedes drainage and reduces aeration. Size matters. Partially composted conifer bark fines (pine is easiest to find and least expensive) works best in the following recipes, followed by uncomposted bark in the <3/8" range.

Bark fines of pine, fir or hemlock, are excellent as the primary component of your soils. The lignin contained in bark keeps it rigid and the rigidity provides air-holding pockets in the root zone far longer than peat or compost mixes that too quickly break down to a soup-like consistency. Conifer bark also contains suberin, a lipid sometimes referred to as nature's preservative. Suberin, more scarce as a presence in sapwood products and hardwood bark, dramatically slows the decomposition of conifer bark-based soils. It contains highly varied hydrocarbon chains and the microorganisms that turn peat to soup have great difficulty cleaving these chains - it retains its structure.

Note that there is no sand or compost in the soils I use. Sand, as most of you think of it, can improve drainage in some cases, but it reduces aeration by filling valuable macro-pores in soils. Unless sand particle size is fairly uniform and/or larger than about BB size, I leave it out of soils. Compost is too fine and unstable for me to consider using in soils in any significant volume as well. The small amount of micro-nutrients it supplies can easily be delivered by one or more of a number of chemical or organic sources that do not detract from drainage/aeration.

The basic soils I use ....

The 5:1:1 mix:

5 parts pine bark fines, dust - 3/8 (size is important
1 part sphagnum peat (not reed or sedge peat please)
1-2 parts perlite (coarse, if you can get it)
garden lime (or gypsum in some cases)
controlled release fertilizer (if preferred)

Big batch:
2-3 cu ft pine bark fines
5 gallons peat
5 gallons perlite
2 cups dolomitic (garden) lime (or gypsum in some cases)
2 cups CRF (if preferred)

Small batch:
3 gallons pine bark
1/2 gallon peat
1/2 gallon perlite
4 tbsp lime (or gypsum in some cases)
1/4 cup CRF (if preferred)

I have seen advice that some highly organic (practically speaking - almost all container soils are highly organic) container soils are productive for up to 5 years or more. I disagree and will explain why if there is interest. Even if you were to substitute fir bark for pine bark in this recipe (and this recipe will long outlast any peat based soil) you should only expect a maximum of two to three years life before a repot is in order. Usually perennials, including trees (they're perennials too) should be repotted more frequently to insure they can grow at as close to their genetic potential within the limits of other cultural factors as possible. If a soil is desired that will retain structure for long periods, we need to look more to inorganic components. Some examples are crushed granite, fine stone, VERY coarse sand (see above - usually no smaller than BB size in containers, please), Haydite, lava rock (pumice), Turface, calcined DE, and others.

For long term (especially woody) plantings and houseplants, I use a superb soil that is extremely durable and structurally sound. The basic mix is equal parts of screened pine bark, Turface, and crushed granite.

The gritty mix:

1 part uncomposted screened pine or fir bark (1/8-1/4")
1 part screened Turface
1 part crushed Gran-I-Grit (grower size) or #2 cherrystone
1 Tbsp gypsum per gallon of soil (eliminate if your fertilizer has Ca)
CRF (if desired)

I use 1/8 -1/4 tsp Epsom salts (MgSO4) per gallon of fertilizer solution when I fertilize if the fertilizer does not contain Mg (check your fertilizer - if it is soluble, it is probable it does not contain Ca or Mg. If I am using my currently favored fertilizer (I use it on everything), Dyna-Gro's Foliage-Pro in the 9-3-6 formulation, and I don't use gypsum or Epsom salts in the fertilizer solution.

If there is interest, you'll find some of the more recent continuations of the thread at the links below:

Post XVI
Post XV
Post XIV
Post XII

If you feel you were benefited by having read this offering, you might also find this thread about Fertilizing Containerized Plants helpful.

If you do find yourself using soils you feel are too water-retentive, you'll find some Help Dealing with Water Retentive Soils by following this embedded link.

If you happen to be at all curious about How Plant Growth is Limited, just click the embedded link.

Finally, if you are primarily into houseplants, you can find an Overview of the Basics that should provide help in avoiding the most common pitfalls.

As always - best luck. Good growing!! Let me know if you think there is anything I might be able to help you with.


This post was edited by tapla on Mon, Jun 10, 13 at 17:06


clipped on: 01.15.2014 at 01:52 am    last updated on: 01.15.2014 at 01:52 am

Fertilizering Containerized Plants IV

posted by: tapla on 04.06.2012 at 04:30 pm in Container Gardening Forum

This topic has proven to be a fairly popular addition to the Container Gardening forum, having reached the maximum number of posts allowed on three previous occasions, so I'll post it for its fourth go-round. Nutrient supplementation has been discussed frequently, but usually in piecemeal fashion, on this forum and forums related. Prompted originally by a question about fertilizers in another thread, I decided to collect a few thoughts & present an overview that will hopefully be seen as a simplification and found to be helpful.

Fertilizing Containerized Plants IV

Let me begin with a brief and hopefully not too technical explanation of how plants absorb water from the soil and how they obtain the nutrients/solutes that are dissolved in that water. Most of us remember from our biology classes that cells have membranes that are semi-permeable. That is, they allow some things to pass through the walls, like water and select elements in ionic form dissolved in the water, while excluding other materials like large organic molecules. Osmosis is a natural phenomenon that is nature's attempt at creating a balance (isotonicity) in the concentration of solutes in water inside and outside of cells. Water and ionic solutes will pass in and out of cell walls until an equilibrium is reached and the level of solutes in the water surrounding the cell is the same as the level of solutes in the cell.

This process begins when the finest roots absorb water molecule by molecule at the cellular level from colloidal surfaces and water vapor in soil gasses, along with the nutrient load dissolved in that water, and distribute water and nutrients throughout the plant. I want to keep this simple, so I'll just say that the best water absorption occurs when the level of solutes in soil water is lowest, and in the presence of good amounts of oxygen (this is where I get to plug a well-aerated and free-draining soil). Deionized (distilled) water contains no solutes, and is easiest for plants to absorb. Of course, since distilled water contains no nutrients, using it alone practically guarantees deficiencies of multiple nutrients as the plant is shorted the building materials (nutrients) it needs to manufacture food, keep its systems orderly, and keep its metabolism running smoothly.

We already learned that if the dissolved solutes in soil water are low, the plant may be well-hydrated, but starving; however, if they are too high, the plant may have a large store of nutrients in the soil but because of osmotic interference the plant may be unable to absorb the water and could die of thirst in a sea of plenty. When this condition occurs, and is severe enough (high concentrations of solutes in soil water), it causes fertilizer burn (plasmolysis), a condition seen when plasma is torn from cell walls as the water inside the cell exits to maintain solute equilibrium with the water surrounding the cell.

Our job, because we cannot depend on an adequate supply of nutrients being supplied by the organic component of a container soil as it breaks down, is to provide a solution of dissolved nutrients in a concentration high enough that the supply remains in the adequate to luxury range, yet still low enough that it remains easy for the plant to take up enough water to be well-hydrated and free of drought stress. Electrical conductivity (EC) of, and the level of TDS (total dissolved solids) in the soil solution is a reliable way to judge the adequacy of solute concentrations and the plant's ability to take up water. There are meters that measure these concentrations, and for most plants the ideal range of conductivity is from 1.5 - 3.5 mS, with some, like tomatoes, being as high as 4.5 mS. This is more technical than I wanted to be, but I added it in case someone wanted to search 'mS' or 'TDS' or 'EC'. Most of us, including me, will have to be satisfied with simply guessing at concentrations, but understanding how plants take up water and fertilizer, as well as the effects of solute concentrations in soil water is an important piece of the fertilizing puzzle.

Now, some disconcerting news - you have listened to all this talk about nutrient concentrations, but what do we supply, when, and how do we supply them? We have to decide what nutrients are appropriate to add to our supplementation program, but how? Most of us are just hobby growers and cannot do tissue analysis to determine what is lacking. We CAN be observant tough, and learn the symptoms of various nutrient deficiencies - and we CAN make some surprising generalizations.

What if I said that the nutritional needs of all plants is basically the same and that one fertilizer could suit almost all the plants we grow in containers - that by increasing/decreasing the dosage as we water, we could even manipulate plants to bloom and fruit more abundantly? It's really quite logical, so please let me explain.

Tissue analysis of plants will nearly always show NPK %s to be very close to an average ratio of approximately 10:1.5:7. If we assign N the constant of 100, P and K will range from 13-19 and 45-70 respectively. (I'll try to remember to make a chart showing the relative ratios of all the other essential nutrients plants normally take from the soil at the end of what I write.) All we need to do is supply nutrients in approximately the same ratio as plants use them, and at concentrations sufficient to keep them in the adequate to luxury range at all times.

Remember that we can maximize water uptake by keeping the concentrations of solutes low, so a continual supply of a weak solution is best. Nutrients don't often just suddenly appear in large quantities in nature, so the low and continual dose method most closely mimics the nutritional supply Mother Nature offers. If you decide to adopt a "fertilize every time you water" approach, most liquid fertilizers can be applied at 3/4 to 1 tsp per gallon for best results. If you decide that is too much work, try halving the dose recommended & cutting the interval in half. You can work out the math for granular soluble fertilizers and apply at a similar rate.

The system is rather self regulating if fertilizer is applied in low concentrations each time you water, even with houseplants in winter. As the plant's growth slows, so does its need for both water and nutrients. Larger plants and plants that are growing robustly will need more water and nutrients, so linking nutrient supply to the water supply is a win/win situation all around.

Another advantage to supplying a continual low concentration of fertilizer is, it eliminates the tendency of plants to show symptoms of nutrient deficiencies after they have received high doses of fertilizer and then been allowed to return to a more favorable level of soil solute concentrations. Even at perfectly acceptable concentrations of nutrients in the soil, plants previously exposed to high concentrations of nutrients readily display deficiency symptoms, even at normal nutrient loads.

You will still need to guard against watering in sips, and that habit's accompanying tendency to ensure solute (salt) accumulation in soils. Remember that as salts accumulate, both water and nutrient uptake is made more difficult and finally impaired or made impossible in severe cases. Your soils should always allow you to water so that at least 10-15% of the total volume of water applied passes through the soil and out the drain hole to be discarded. This flushes the soil and carries accumulating solutes out the drain hole.

I use a liquid fertilizer with a full compliment of nutrients and micronutrients in a 3:1:2 ratio. Note that 'RATIO' is different than NPK %s. Also note how closely the 3:1:2 ratio fits the average ratio of NPK content in plant tissues, noted above (10:1.5:7). If the P looks a little high at 4, consider that in container soils, P begins to be more tightly held as pH goes from 6.5 to below 6.0, which is on the high side of most container soil's pH, so the manufacturer probably gave this some careful consideration. Also, P and K percentages shown on fertilizer packages are not the actual amount of P or K in the blend. The percentage of P on the package is the percentage of P2O5 (phosphorous pentoxide) and you need to multiply the percentage shown by .43 to get the actual amount of P in the fertilizer. Similarly, the K level percentage shown is actually the level of K2O ( potassium oxide) and must be multiplied by .83 to arrive at the actual amount of K supplied.

To answer the inevitable questions about specialty fertilizers and "special" plant nutritional requirements, let me repeat that plants need nutrients in roughly the same ratio. 'RATIO' is also an entirely a separate consideration from dosage. You'll need to adjust the dosage to fit the plant and perhaps strike a happy medium in containers that have a diversity of material.

If nutrient availability is unbalanced - if plants are getting more than they need of certain nutrients, but less than they need of others, the nutrient they need the most will be the one that limits growth. There are 6 factors that affect plant growth, vitality and yield; they are: air, water, light, temperature, soil or media and nutrients. Liebig's Law of Limiting Factors states the most deficient factor limits plant growth, and increasing the supply of non-limiting factors will not increase plant growth. Only by increasing most deficient nutrient will the plant growth increase. There is also an optimum combination/ratio of nutrients, and increasing them, individually or in various combinations can lead to toxicities and be as limiting as deficiencies.

When individual nutrients are available in excess, it not only unnecessarily contributes to the total volume of solutes in the soil solution, which makes it more difficult for the plant to absorb water and nutrients, it can also create an antagonistic deficiency of other nutrients as toxicity levels block a plant's ability to take them up. E.g., too much Fe (iron) can cause a Mn (manganese) deficiency, with the converse also true, Too much Ca (calcium) can cause a Mg (magnesium) deficiency. Too much P (phosphorous) can cause an insoluble precipitate with Fe and make Fe unavailable. It also interferes with the uptake of several other micro-nutrients. You can see why it is advantageous to supply nutrients in as close to the same ratio in which plants use them and at levels not so high that they interfere with water uptake. I know I'm repeating myself here, but this is an important point.

What about the high-P "Bloom Booster" fertilizers you might ask? To induce more prolific flowering, a reduced N supply will have more and better effect than the high P bloom formulas. When N is reduced, it slows vegetative growth without reducing photosynthesis. Since vegetative growth is limited by a lack of N, and the photosynthetic machinery continues to turn out food, it leaves an expendable surplus for the plant to spend on flowers and fruit. Plants use about 6 times more N than P, so fertilizers that supply more P than N are wasteful and more likely to inhibit blooms (remember that too much P inhibits uptake of Fe and many micro-nutrients - it raises pH unnecessarily as well, which could also be problematic). Popular "bloom-booster" fertilizers like 10-52-10 actually supply about 32x more P than your plant could ever use (in relationship to how much N it uses) and has the potential to wreak all kinds of havoc with your plants.

In a recent conversation with the CEO of Dyna-Gro, he confirmed my long held belief that circumstances would have to be very highly unusual for it to be ever beneficial to use a fertilizer in containers that supplies as much or more P than either N or K. This means that even commonly found 1:1:1 ratios like 20-20-20 or 14-14-14 supply more P than is necessary for best results.

The fact that different species of plants grow in different types of soil where they are naturally found, does not mean that one needs more of a certain nutrient than the other. It just means that the plants have developed strategies to adapt to certain conditions, like excesses and deficiencies of particular nutrients.

Plants that "love" acid soils, e.g., have simply developed strategies to cope with those soils. Their calcium needs are still the same as any other plant and no different from the nutrient requirements of plants that thrive in alkaline soils. The problem for acid-loving plants is that they are unable to adequately limit their calcium uptake, and will absorb too much of it when available, resulting in cellular pH-values that are too high. Some acid-loving plants also have difficulties absorbing Fe, Mn, Cu, or Zn, which is more tightly held in alkaline soils, another reason why they thrive in low pH (acid) soils.

So, If you select a fertilizer that is close in ratio to the concentration of major elements in plant tissues, you are going to be in good shape. Whether the fertilizer is furnished in chemical or organic form matters not a whit to the plant. Ions are ions, but there is one major consideration. Chemical fertilizers are available for immediate uptake while organic fertilizers must be acted on by passing through the gut of micro-organisms to break them down into usable elemental form. Since microorganism populations are affected by cultural conditions like moisture/air levels in the soil, soil pH, fertility levels, temperature, etc., they tend to follow a boom/bust cycle that has an impact on the reliability and timing of delivery of nutrients supplied in organic form, in container culture. Nutrients locked in hydrocarbon chains cannot be relied upon to be available when the plant needs them. This is a particular issue with the immobile nutrients that must be present in the nutrient stream at all times for the plant to grow normally.

What is my approach? I have been very happy with Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 liquid fertilizer. It has all the essential elements in a favorable ratio, and even includes Ca and Mg, which is unusual in soluble fertilizers. Miracle-Gro granular all-purpose fertilizer in 24-8-16 or liquid 12-4-8 are both close seconds and completely soluble, though they do lack Ca and Mg, which you can supply by incorporating lime or by including gypsum and Epsom salts in your fertilizer supplementation program. Ask if you need clarification on this point.

I often incorporate a granular micro-nutrient supplement in my soils when I make them (Micromax) or use a soluble micro-nutrient blend (STEM). I would encourage you to make sure your plants are getting all the micro-nutrients. More readily available than the supplements I use is Earth Juice's 'Microblast'.

When plants are growing robustly, I try to fertilize my plants weakly (pun intended) with a half recommended dose of the concentrate at half the suggested intervals. When plants are growing slowly, I still fertilize often, but with considerably reduced doses. It is important to realize your soil must drain freely and you must water so a fair amount of water drains from your container each time you water to fertilize this way. Last year, my display containers performed better than they ever have in years past & they were still all looking amazingly attractive at the beginning of Oct when I finally decided to dismantle them because of imminent cold weather. I attribute results primarily to a good soil and a healthy nutrient supplementation program.

What would I recommend to someone who asked what to use as an all-purpose fertilizer for nearly all their container plantings? If you can find it, a 3:1:2 ratio soluble liquid fertilizer (24-8-16, 12-4-8, 9-3-6 are all 3:1:2 ratio fertilizers) that contains all the minor elements would great.

How plants use nutrients - the chart I promised:

I gave Nitrogen, because it is the largest nutrient component, the value of 100. Other nutrients are listed as a weight percentage of N.
N 100
P 13-19 (16) 1/6
K 45-80 (62) 3/5
S 6-9 (8) 1/12
Mg 5-15 (10) 1/10
Ca 5-15 (10) 1/10
Fe 0.7
Mn 0.4
B(oron) 0.2
Zn 0.06
Cu 0.03
Cl 0.03
M(olybden) 0.003
To read the chart: P - plants use 13-19 parts of P or an average of about 16 parts for every 100 parts of N, or 6 times more N than P. Plants use about 45-80 parts of K or an average of about 62 parts for every 100 parts of N, or about 3/5 as much K as N, and so on.

If you're still with me - thanks for reading. It makes me feel like the effort was worth it. Let me know what you think - please.

Here is a link to the previous posting of A Fertilizer Program for Containerized Plants, in case you'd like to review some of the exchanges.

Another thread that has proven very helpful to a goodly number of forum participants can be found by following this link to information about How Water Behaves in Container Media. You'll find it a fairly detailed discussion about container soils.

Take care. Good luck and good growing!



clipped on: 01.15.2014 at 12:33 am    last updated on: 01.15.2014 at 12:36 am