Limitless Lavender

Lavender conjures up images of the south of France with row upon row of plants covered in deep purple flowers. Its familiar fragrance is in everything from soaps and soothing beauty products to essential oils. This treasured flower has so many uses and is so easy to grow.

Perennial lavender likes full sun but appreciates some afternoon shade in hot climates. They are hardy in USDA zones 5-10. Feeding with Espoma’s organic Bloom! fertilizer promotes flowering. Water young plants deeply. Once established in the ground, they are drought tolerant. Over watering can stress established plants.

Lavender is considered a woody plant and should be pruned back by one third in the spring to keep them tidy. They bloom in early to mid-summer and the flowers may be harvested to use fresh or dried.

How to Harvest and Use Lavender

  1. Harvest lavender when the flowers just begin to open. They are at their most fragrant and beautiful at that time. Plus, cutting them early encourages plants to flower a second time.
  2. It’s best to harvest lavender in the morning after the dew has dried and before the hot sun draws out their essential oils. Cut them back to about an inch above the place the foliage starts. It’s best to just cut the thin stems and not the foliage.
  3. Use fresh lavender in bouquets to fill your home with their delicate fragrance. Add a fresh organically grown stem to a glass of Prosecco, it looks gorgeous and imbibes the drink with a delicate flavor. Try it in lemonade for a refreshing new twist. Make lavender sugar by layering fresh flowers in between layers of sugar in a jar. The flowers will impart flavor and color. Use it as sanding sugar for cookies or add to ice tea.
  4. Dry lavender in small bunches, hanging upside down in a cool dark place. A drying rack for laundry works well. Keep an eye on them, they may need to be re-tied as they dry and stems shrink.
  5. Dried lavender can be made into sachets, potpourris, soap, and more. Pair dried lavender with a thick slice of brie, drizzled with honey and strewn with a few dried lavender flowers for an “instagramable” cheese board. Keep in mind, dried lavender has a strong flavor, so use it sparingly.

If this isn’t enough to convince you to try growing lavender, it’s good for the environment too. It attracts butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects.

Here are some of our blogs that we think you might be interested in.

Bug Off: Plants to Repel Mosquitoes (Spoiler Alert – one of them is lavender!)

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Espoma Products  Bloom!

Bloom! Plant Food

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TLC for Tomatoes

Tomatoes flourish in full sun and warm temperatures.

However, if you’re in short supply of sunny or warm days, havoc can begin taking over your tomatoes. Dreary-looking young tomato plants WILL flourish, once the weather changes, but it’s important to do what you can to make sure they have some extra care and are fed in the meantime.

Give Tomatoes a Lift

If you’re waiting on the weather to improve, the most important thing you can do for your tomato plants is give them some support. Tomato plants often bend, lean or even break as fruit matures. To help your plant from becoming damaged, get to know the tomato you’re planting. Indeterminate plants benefit from some support, while determinate tomatoes may be just fine on their own.

Use tomato cages, wood or metal stakes, or a trellis to give plants extra support. It’s really a matter of preference which one you choose.

The most important thing is that you’re keeping plants off the ground to avoid pests, diseases and rot. Learn more about supporting your tomatoes here.

Add Nutrients

The trick is to feed tomatoes monthly with an organic, nitrogen-heavy fertilizer. Tomatoes have big appetites, so their all-you-can-eat buffet runs out quick. Feed single in-ground plants with 3 tablespoons of Tomato-tone monthly. For rows of plants, spread 1 cup on each side per 5 feet. Feed potted plants 1.5 teaspoons per 4” pot diameter.

Pests got plants down?

When it comes to insects in your garden, don’t be quick to kill. Not all insects are enemies. In fact, most insects are essential players in your organic garden’s success. Others are neutral and don’t cause any harm. Yet some will ruin your harvest.

Spotting the difference between the good and the bad can be tricky, so keep your eyes peeled. Hornworms, fruitworms, aphids and beet armyworms can all spell disaster for your crop. Identify if these bad bugs are the cause of your problems here.

Less is More

Pruning tomatoes is a controversial practice that many expert gardeners say is unnecessary. There are times when pruning can be beneficial — fewer leaves mean air circulates better and leaves dry quicker, reducing the risk of disease.

Plants with less density direct energy toward producing bigger fruit. Plus, tomatoes often ripen earlier after a good pruning, allowing you to enjoy your harvest sooner.

Vertically grown tomatoes are ultimately easier to prune because unnecessary suckers and leaves are more visible. Though pruned plants may be better protected from insects and disease, staked and pruned plants may be more susceptible to blossom end rot and sunscald. Get the scoop on pruning tomato plants here.

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Bad Fruit

If a dark, water soaked spot has formed on your tomato you may have blossom-end rot. This problem is likely caused by an imbalance of calcium in the plant. Large spots will dry out and appear to be leathery. Maintain consistent soil moisture throughout the growing season. When the weather is dry, water at least twice a week and moisten the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches. Find out more about stopping blossom end rot here.

See how Laura from Garden Answer grows tomatoes upside down!

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Tomato-tone

Plant Parents: Summer Houseplant Care

Summer sun can be tough on houseplants. They’ll need us to turn up the love and give them a little extra TLC during warmer temps and sunny days.

Even though many houseplants originate in the tropics, too much heat can be stressful. Your houseplant may be trying to tell you something if you see wilting, yellow or brown leaves. These are signs your houseplant is stressed! Brown patches could be sunburn.

Here are some ways to make sure your plant babies get through the summer months with flying colors.

Photo courtesy of Costa Farms

Made in the Shade

Hot sun magnified by window glass can cause even cacti and succulents to get sunburnt. Check on plants in windows with a southern exposure. If you see signs of too much sun, such as browning, move them back or relocate them for a few months. If that’s not possible try to pull down the shades during the hottest part of the day.  

Chill Pill

Air-conditioning can be a saving grace in the summertime heat, but plants need to be out of the direct line of cold air. Just like people, they get chilly. Air-conditioning dehydrates the air and your tropical babes need humidity. If your space is especially dry, place plants on a saucer filled with pebbles and water. It will slowly evaporate and provide some much needed moisture. Misting plants often will make them very happy. Moving plants into the kitchen or bathroom where there’s running water will provide a touch more humidity for them.

Photo courtesy of Garden Answer

Hydration Station

Chances are you’ll need to water your plants more often in the summertime. Check to see if they feel dry more often than usual. Watering deeply is also important. Put plants in a sink filled partway with water and allow them to soak it up for 20 minutes or so. Pull the plug and let the plants drain completely before placing them back in their space.

What’s Bugging You?

Houseplants can be prone to pests in the summertime. Keep an eye on them and if you see any insects, cobwebs or white powdery substances, take action. Sometimes it’s enough to take them outside and wash them off with a gentle stream of the hose. If it persists, use Espoma’s organic insect spray or neem oil. Remove any dead leaves or other debris from the soil surface to prevent mildew and other disease.

Shower Them

Nothing is better than fresh air flowing through open windows on a cool summer day. The down side is that a lot of pollen, air pollutants and dust blow in and build up on plant leaves. That makes it hard for plants to breathe and absorb sunshine. Wipe off foliage with a damp cloth every couple of weeks or give them a soft shower. They will love getting a deep watering, lots of humidity and having clean fresh leaves. After the shower, give the plants some time to drip dry. This allows the water to completely drain out of the pot too.

Photo courtesy of Garden Answer

Nature’s Vitamins

This is the perfect time to feed your plants. In spring and summer it’s a good idea to keep plants on a regular feeding schedule with an organic liquid fertilizer like Espoma’s Indoor! Feeding after watering helps ensure that the plant food doesn’t just run out of the pot. Moist soil is better at absorbing the food.  

Now that your plants are clean and fed, we think you might enjoy these blogs.

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Get Plants off to a Good Start with Bio-tone Starter Plus

Why does Laura from Garden Answer use Bio-tone Starter Plus? Because it’s the ultimate starter fertilizer. Bio-tone Starter Plus is super charged with microbes and mycorrhizae to help new plants establish quickly, grow more robust root systems and experience less transplant shock.  Let’s break it down.

Mycorrhizae

Unlike maintenance fertilizers that are generally spread on the surface of the ground and lightly worked into the soil, Bio-tone Starter Plus is added to the planting hole, where it is in direct contact with the roots. Fun fact: Mycorrhizae literally means “fungus roots.” These specialized fungi act like extensions of the roots themselves, creating hundreds or thousands more entry points for the roots to take up water and nutrients.

Microbes

Microbes are bacteria that breakdown nutrients to make them available for plants to take up. Bio-tone contains 50 percent more microbes than maintenance fertilizers like Holly-tone, for example. These microbes and mycorrhizae help restore balance to your soil and are a cornerstone of the “Regenerative Gardening” trend.

No Sludges or Fillers

At Espoma, we’re proud to offer products that are organic and do not contain any sludges or fillers. Sand and lime are often used as filler ingredients that don’t add any nutrient for plants. Sludge, or Bio-solids comes from waste treatment plants — it’s never allowed in organic gardening. All ingredient in Bio-tone Starter Plus and all Espoma Organic ‘Tone’ plant foods are helping to feed the plant.

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Tips to Get Squirrels to Scram

Squirrels are the acrobats of the backyard. They can bend and stretch in every possible direction in order to reach a birdfeeder and their high-velocity chase scenes rival The Avengers. If you aren’t charmed by these antics, you’re not alone. Most gardeners are tired of them digging up their plants and eating more than their fair share of birdseed.

Don’t give up, here are a few ideas to deter them.

Remove Food Sources

Squirrels have voracious, gigantic appetites. The best way to deter them is to remove all food sources. If trees are dropping fruit or nuts, rake them up as often as you can. If the vegetable garden is a target, try netting or fencing. Make sure garbage cans are sealed tightly. If you compost without an enclosed composter, you may need to cover it with netting or chicken wire.

The Birdfeeder

This is where these devils really shine. It’s nearly impossible to prevent them from stealing bird food. There are “squirrel proof” feeders and that’s a good place to start. Though sometimes they‘ll jump on them to shake a few seeds loose. They can jump 10 feet, so try hanging the feeder on a hook, far away from trees. Hanging your bird feeder with fishing line can be successful because they can’t climb on that. Wrap around squirrel baffles help too.

Try Scaring Them Away

Put your pets to use. Cats and dogs, particularly the squirrel chasing kind, can help chase pesky squirrels away. Decoys of owls placed on high posts can help, as well as hawk decoys hung from trees. In areas where water is plentiful, motion activated sprinklers are an option.

Purchase Repellent

Squirrels don’t like hot spices like pepper and cayenne. Capsaicin is the compound that makes hot peppers hot and it is widely used in many repellents. The next level of protection comes in the form of predator urine, generally from wolves. The scent scares off squirrels, deer and rabbits, too. Repellents need to be reapplied after the rain.

Plant What They Won’t Eat

Here’s a secret: squirrels hate the smell of mint. Planting mint around the edges of your borders can help to keep squirrels out. Mint can be a very vigorous grower however. There are also a number of flowering bulbs that they don’t care for such as; snowdrops, daffodils, allium, and hyacinth. Try planting tulip bulbs, a delicacy for squirrels, among daffodils for protection.

Use Bone Meal

Espoma’s bone meal is a natural source of nitrogen and phosphorus that is also a repellent to squirrels.  It helps plants to grow sturdy root systems and large flowers. It’s the perfect, all-natural fertilizer to use at planting time. It’s recommended for use on bulbs, perennials, roses, shrubs, and trees.

Read more about flowering bulbs and plant nutrition here.

Get Easy Blooms with Spring Planted Bulbs

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Let Mother Nature Help out at Your Next Bar-B-Q

It’s summer time and that means enjoying more time outdoors — until the mosquitoes descend. While flying insects are an important part of the food cycle — no one wants them at dinner. These annoying pests target us by the odors and gasses we give off like carbon dioxide, sweat and smelly feet. There is however a way to foil their evil plans.

Some plants fragrances can block the receptors insects use to find us. The smell of mint, some fruit and chocolate are all decent blockers. It’s a good idea to add these plants to your garden, especially around decks and patios. They won’t make these areas a complete no fly zone but they will help.

All of the plants we cover in this article do well when grown in containers. This may make it easier to plant them near the places where friends and family gather. One thing to keep in mind about container gardens is that you’ll need to feed them. Start your plants off right with an addition of Espoma’s organic Bio-tone Starter Plus and then feed every two to four weeks with Bloom! to ensure plants get proper nutrients.

Lemon Grass

Lemon grass is used to make citronella oil, a well-known mosquito repellent. The plant does indeed look like tall grass and could be tucked into a container design. It’s delicious in soups and other dishes as well. It’s only hardy in tropical zones, but is a fast growing, inexpensive annual.

Other Lemon Scented Plants

All plants with a strong citrus fragrance will help keep bugs at bay. Think about planting lemon-scented geraniums, lemon thyme, and lemon balm. A word of warning, lemon balm is an aggressive spreader. Grow it in a pot to keep it in check.

Lavender

Lavender has so many fantastic attributes and uses, no garden should be without it. It repels moths, flies, fleas and mosquitoes. It’s easy to grow in pots on the deck in a sunny spot. You can also harvest the flowers and use them dried. Lavender sachets have been used for hundreds of years to keep moths out of linen closets.

Rosemary

Rosemary helps prevent flies and mosquitos from ruining your cookout. Throw a few sprigs on the grill or fire pit. The aromatic smoke will help deter them. In Mexico, they sometimes set small braziers on restaurant tables with a sprig of rosemary, one star anise and a wedge of lime to keep bugs away from diners and it works.

Basil

Another culinary herb to the rescue. Basil repels flies and mosquitoes. It’s toxic to mosquito larvae too. Plant near water features to discourage mosquitoes from laying eggs.

Mint

Mint exudes a strong fragrance that ants, mosquitoes and reportedly even mice don’t like. All members of the mint family are aggressive growers. Unless you’d like to have a big mint patch, grow mint plants in pots.

Garlic

Besides keeping vampires away, garlic also repels mosquitoes and cabbage moths. It has been said that if you eat enough garlic, the smell is released through your pores and that could repel insects, too.

Here are some of our other blogs we thought you might enjoy.

BUG OFF – Plants That Repel Mosquitoes

Perk Up Summer Containers with Stunning Annuals

Growing Scrumptious Tomatoes in Easy Containers

Bloom! Plant Food