VIDEO: Planting Bush Clematis, Ornamental Oregano and a Bloomerang Lilac Tree!

Espoma Organic Land & Sea Compost and Bio-tone Starter Plus will help ensure these different perennials and lilac trees establish fast and live long and happy lives. Join Garden Answer and see how it’s done!

Why Gardening Should Always be a Team Effort

people gardening together

Spring is here, and there’s no better way to celebrate the new season than by getting outside and gardening. Even better, why not garden with your friends, families, and community members? It’s the perfect way to help our planet while also connecting with the people closest in your life. Don’t believe it? Here’s why gardening with other people should be at the top of your to-do list this spring.

Woman and child in garden

1. It benefits your health.

Verywell Family says that gardening is a moderately intense form of exercise. It’s a great way to burn some calories without feeling like you’ve just run a marathon. This also means it’s a fun way to get your family physically active as well. The website states that, “Kids ages three to five need to get three hours of physical activity each day, and older kids need a minimum of an hour daily.” You and your family can bond over planting onions, corn, potatoes, you name it! As a bonus, Espoma’s Garden-tone Natural & Organic Fertilizer will have your family fawning over your healthy crops all season long.

basket of carrots

2. It benefits the environment.

It goes without saying that when you plant a garden, you’re significantly doing good for the environment. Greenmatters claims that gardening improves air quality, protects soil, lessens global warming, minimizes landfills, and saves different kinds of wildlife. These might seem like daunting tasks, but it’s really easier than you think. Verywell Family suggests that when gardening with your family, “You might invest in a rain barrel and start a compost pile to make your garden more Earth-friendly, too.” 

Gardens for kids are an easy, engaging way to learn more about sustainability and its importance for our planet. And even for those who aren’t children, you’re never too late to learn something new. Gardening can teach your friends, family, and fellow neighbors about all the green benefits of growing plants and crops.

child taking picture of a flower

3. It’s just plain fun.

Whoever you plant your garden with, you go on a journey together to grow something entirely new. 

Harddy explains that Watching the plants start to grow is an incredible achievement. When the planting is done together as a family, it makes the entire process even more meaningful from start to finish.” 

This rewarding process is a bonding experience that can strengthen your relationship with your family and local community. There’s also tons of ways to spice up your garden to make it a fun time for everyone involved. 

Playful Acre thinks that adding themes to your garden can make your children more engaged and interested in helping out. The blog tells us that having garden bed ideas spanning from “fairy tales to stories to favorite vacations abroad” can make your time outside all the more fulfilling.

Once your luscious garden is complete, the fun does not end there. There’s lots of ways afterwards to enhance the beauty of all your hard work.

Harddy recommends to “Use this time to come up with some beautiful decor you and your children can make together. Buy some terra cotta pots and have everyone paint one in their own unique designs. You can also clip the flowers you’ve grown to make gorgeous decorative arrangements for the dinner table.”

Flower arrangements

No matter who you garden with, whether your family, friends, or other local green thumbs, social gardening is your answer to springtime fun. Just as importantly, there are health benefits to gardening that keeps you and your close circle physically active on a daily basis. And of course, we need to upkeep our planet to make it a safe, beautiful place for everyone, and gardening helps us accomplish exactly that.

We can’t wait to see you and your squad planting seeds and growing meaningful relationships. Check out all our products ranging from fertilizers, to soils, and everything in between to make your next planting party a success. Happy gardening!

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Meet Your New Gardening Guide: Kaleb Wyse

Kaleb Wyse

Kaleb Wyse is a fourth-generation to live on his family farm in Iowa. Leaving business and accounting, Kaleb started Wyse Guide as an outlet for his passions in the garden and indoors in the kitchen. His goal is to show viewers how they can start a garden no matter the size, preserve food, and create the home they love to live in.

Some things about Kaleb? You won’t find spirea or daylily in his garden. When Kaleb isn’t gardening, he’s busy crafting new recipes of his favorite foods, like ice cream and gourmet popcorn. While you’d think his favorite season is summer because he loves to garden, he adores the winter; he likes to slow down and curate his plans for springtime gardening season while he looks out at the Iowa snow. 

Kaleb Wyse and Kippie

His 3 year-old Frenchie, Kip, helps him out in the garden when he needs an extra hand, or paw in this case. Though he doesn’t like to do any garden work, he’s a good supervisor. 

Vegetable gardening is incredibly important to Kaleb — “We have the ability to grow actual food, think about how amazing that is! We can enrich our soil to be healthy and full of nutrients that will transfer to the vegetable garden plants we grow, making them more nutritious that what we buy that is mass grown.” He never grows tired of the excitement about how he can take a seed into something he can eat. Kaleb’s passions have sprouted instructional videos, recipes, and home gardening tips for everyone to use.

Kaleb with house plants

Be sure to check out Kaleb’s amazing gardening tips and recipes on Wyse Guide. When you have your list of garden vegetables you’re ready to plant, we’ve got you covered with fertilizers and soils sure to start the season off the right way.

Bonsai Care 101

Picture of Bonsai tree

Bonsai Care 101

Bonsai trees–if you’re a millennial, you probably remember them from The Karate Kid movies. Did you know it’s actually pronounced “bone-sigh”? Bonsai means “to plant in a container or a potted plant.”

This blog all about bonsai care is inspired by Episode 119 of Bloom and Grow Radio–where host Maria Failla interviewed Bjorn from Eisei-En Bonsai.

Can Any Tree Be a Bonsai?

There are 3 characteristics to look for to help transform trees into the bonsai art we know and love:

  • Smaller leaves. You’re trying to create a large tree shrunk down into miniature form–so if you’re using a trunk with very large leaves, it looks quite out of proportion with the overall size of the plant.
  • Plants with bark on them. You should have to work with woody plants to achieve the true bonsai form. All of the conifers like juniper and pine are great for this!
  • Look for plants with apical dominance. Apical what?! Apical dominance means the bud at the tip of the stem stops the growth that occurs on the other buds along the stem. It does this to become the dominant stem and allow woody plants to grow taller–which is great for bonsai shaping!

Are Bonsai Grown Indoors or Outdoors?

You may be wondering, “can I grow a bonsai as a houseplant?” And the answer is yes–but with a few caveats.

You need to figure out if it’s a tropical or a temperate climate tree. Temperate climate trees have four seasons and need to go through their life cycles outdoors–think oaks and maples.

Tropical climate trees do not survive freezing temperatures and suffer in below 55 degrees F conditions, so these would be better options as indoor bonsai plants. Ficuses like the Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) and the Pot-Bellied Ficus (Ficus microcarpa) would both work great!

If you want an indoor bonsai, try sticking with the subtropical and tropical climate plants. And check out the Top 5 Bonsai Trees (Indoor and Outdoor Options) with Bjorn from Eisei-en Bonsai for more variety options!

How to Care for Bonsai Trees

Now that we know more about what to look for, let’s jump right into bonsai care. We’ll cover all the basics for soil, fertilizer, water, light, and pruning. Buckle up, ‘cause we’re on this road of planty learning for a while!

What Is the Right Soil for Bonsai?

Since your goal is total control over the growth of the bonsai, you have to use almost entirely inorganic components when you mix your soil together. To make your own, try getting your hands on these 3 basic components:

  1. Expanded Shale: great for aeration and drainage
  2. Calcined Clay: holds a lot of moisture, but also releases that moisture & fertilizer back to the plants easily
  3. Aged Forest Products: also good for aeration, drainage, and root growth.

The particle size is quite large at 3/16 inch to ensure as much drainage and aeration to the root system as possible. Don’t want to make your own soil mix? Check out our Organic Bonsai Mix.

By keeping the plants in a mostly inert soil mix, you can then decide how much fertilizer to give the tree and the type of growth that you’re going to get out of the plant.

Bonsai Potting Mix

How Do I Fertilize Bonsai? 

Fertilizer is the key to controlling your plant’s growth. To keep the soil from clogging up, Bjorn recommends distributing bonsai fertilizer by adding synthetic or organic fertilizer to a tea bag and slowly allowing the nutrients to leach into the soil. Every time you water your bonsai, water directly over your nutrient tea bag.

So how much fertilizer and what type of fertilizer should you apply? That all depends on the stage of tree development.

  • Young Trees: at this stage you want to thicken the trunk of the plant. Use a very high-nitrogen synthetic or inorganic fertilizer, which produces elongating, inner nodes and bigger leaves on your tree.
  • Older Trees: with older trees, you’re simply in maintenance mode. Here you’ll need fertilizer that has a much lower nitrogen value and well-rounded, equal amounts of nutrients.

Bonsai Fertilizers

How Do I Water Bonsai?

Since you’re using a rockier, more aerated soil, you’ll be watering more frequently than you would a regular potting mix.

A good general watering rule with bonsai plants: Bjorn suggests checking on them twice a day and water when the soil surface is slightly dry. Stick to the basic schedule of checking on your bonsai morning and evening, and all should be well in the bonsai world!

Bonsai Watering Guidelines

How Much Light Do Bonsai Need? 

In general, you want your bonsai plants to have as much light as possible. Bjorn says the more light you have, the smaller the leaf size and the softer the branch structure. In the long run it will be easier to maintain that tree’s shape.

If you plan to keep an outdoor bonsai, morning sun and afternoon shade is best during summer. Indoor bonsai plants will need supplemental light, especially during the fall and winter months. Generally speaking, 12-14 hours of direct light is best for bonsai growth.

Bonsai Light Guidelines

How to Prune Bonsai? 

You might have guessed that pruning is one of the most important factors in creating a bonsai tree. There are two main parts to pruning: roots and shoots. Let’s go over both.

What is the difference between Root Pruning and Shoot Pruning?

Root pruning should happen every 2-5 years in spring when you notice water is no longer penetrating the soil and simply pooling on the surface. Remove a lot of the old soil with a root rake or wooden chopstick. You will inevitably remove some roots through that process, but removing that old soil exposes the outer and underside of the root system. Make sure you don’t prune back more than 20-30% of the roots. Then simply replenish the space you’ve created with new potting mix. Since the mix is fresh, make sure to use your hands to pat the soil within the root system of the plant and give it a good watering to help settle the soil.

Shoot pruning is also done every 2-5 years in late spring or early summer after new growth has appeared. Your bonsai should have put out about 6-10 leaves–cut it back to two leaves with dormant buds. Essentially, you want to look for those little bitty nubs that are right at the base of the leaves. As long as you’re counting at least two, you can cut them back.

Think about pruning like you’re always trying to push the growth back and create desired directionality in one direction or another within the plant. Make sure to avoid pruning your roots and shoots in the same year–that would be far too much stress on your precious bonsai.

Bonsai Pruning Guidelines

Bonsai is a Wonderful Practice for Mindful Plant Parents!

Are you someone who likes to interact with your plants on a daily basis, control all the elements, and look towards the future? Then the bonsai is a perfect fit for you! Caring for a bonsai is one of the most engaging and interesting hobbies you can get into. It really shifts your perspective on instant gratification, which will definitely make you think differently about not only plants, but also life in general.

Ready, Set, Grow!

If you’re ready to grow your own bonsai, make sure to check out the Eisei-en Bonsai YouTube channel with Bjorn and find all the specific guidelines for each tree variety along with tons of other helpful information.

Where can one buy a bonsai tree? If you’re in Nashville, Tennessee, you absolutely have to get one of Bjorn’s bonsai plants at Eisei-En Bonsai Garden. Otherwise, check out Brussel’s Bonsai online for plants, tools, and pots!

 

About Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast

Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast helped people care for plants successfully and cultivate more joy in their lives. Host Maria Failla, a former plant killer turned happy plant lady, interviews experts on various aspects of plant care, and encourages listeners to not only care for plants, but learn to care for themselves along the way.

About Our Interviewee

Bjorn from Eisei-En Bonsai

Bjorn Bjorholm’s bonsai love started when he got a bonsai tree for his 13th birthday after watching all the Karate Kid movies. Even though his first bonsai croaked (hello plant parent initiation), Bjorn was hooked and founded the Knoxville Bonsai Society in high school with his father. After graduating from the University of Tennessee focusing on Japanese language and business, he moved to Japan and began a bonsai apprenticeship for 6 years under Master Keiichi Fujikawa at Kouka-en bonsai nursery in Osaka, Japan. His tenure as an apprentice at Kouka-en was followed by three years as artist-in-residence, making him the first foreign-born working bonsai professional in Japan. Bjorn now owns Eisei-en Bonsai in Nashville, TN, the premier bonsai garden, nursery and school of the Eastern US.

Follow Bjorn:

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References

  1. Episode 119 of Bloom and Grow Radio
  2. How Woody Plants Grow: https://extension.illinois.edu/blogs/garden-scoop/2020-12-12-how-woody-plants-grow
    1. Used to describe apical dominance
  3. Temperate Deciduous Forest: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/biome/biotemperate.php
    1. Used for temperate tree examples
  4. Ficus benjamina: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/ficus-benjamina/
    1. Used for info on Ficus benjamina
  5. Ficus microcarpa: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/ficus-microcarpa-ginseng/
    1. Used for info on Ficus microcarpa
  6. A Bonsai Close-Up on Indoor Tropical Bonsai: https://prairiestatebonsai.com/a-bonsai-close-up-on-indoor-tropical-bonsai/
    1. Used for indoor bonsai light requirements

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Rubber Plant Care and FAQs

Rubber Plant Care Guide

Rubber Plant Care and FAQs

Rubber plants (Ficus elastica) don’t get enough credit in the tropical plant world. These humble plants are usually available at the garden center and always affordable, but they tend to get overlooked by some of the “sexier Instagram-worthy plants.” They can be hardy, growing into 6 foot trees from a small 4-inch pot, and come in beautiful variegated varieties. Rubber plants are fantastic for many more reasons that we’re going to dive into.

This blog is inspired by Episode 148 of Bloom and Grow Radio–where host Maria Failla interviewed Raffaele Di Lallo, founder of Ohio Tropics

Let’s first look at different types of rubber plants! 

Types of Rubber Plants

The two types of rubber plants are non-variegated and variegated.

Non-Variegated Rubber Plants: 

Ficus elastica ‘Decora’: typical shiny, green leaves [PHOTO]

Ficus elastica ‘Robusta’: similar, but larger leaves  [PHOTO]

Ficus elastica ‘Burgundy’: gorgeous, super dark, almost black leaves and stems [PHOTO]

Variegated Rubber Plants: 

Ficus elastica ‘Tineke’: different shades of green, yellow, and cream [PHOTO]

Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’: beautiful pink variegation [PHOTO]

Ficus elastica ‘Doescheri’: leaves are a little bit narrower [PHOTO]

PART 1: How to Take Care of Rubber Plants

No matter the variety of rubber plant you have, the care is almost identical. The only minor difference is that variegated plants need more volume of light than non-variegated plants. 

Rubber plants come from the Moraceae family, which also contains figs and mulberries. But don’t be fooled: rubber plants are actually toxic. If you break off a branch or leaf, you’ll notice a white substance dripping out that’s quite toxic to humans and animals. This white latex-like liquid was originally used to create rubber, hence the name rubber plant. Make sure to wear gloves when handling or pruning the plant. 

An easy-to-follow care plan for rubber plants is 1) make sure it gets plenty of direct light and 2) don’t overwater. Let’s get into more details below!

Rubber Plants Most Important Tips

How to Water Rubber Plants

Rubber plants need to dry out sufficiently between waterings. Your finger is your best friend when it comes to determining moisture in your potting mix. Use your finger to determine how dry the potting mix has gotten. If you have a small four-inch pot, let the top 1/2 inch dry out before watering it again thoroughly. If you have a much bigger pot (around 15 inches), let at least the top quarter of the soil (2-3”) in your pot dry out before watering again. 

Always water your rubber plant thoroughly and always have a drainage hole in your pot. Don’t let your soil completely dry out, or you risk stressing out your plant’s roots. How to water rubber plant

How Much Light Do Rubber Plants Need? 

Oftentimes rubber plants are labeled as low light plants, but they really are low light tolerant. You can’t overdo light for your rubber plant indoors! As a general rule of thumb, put your rubber plant right in front of a window, preferably a window with some direct sun. 

An Eastern-facing window that gets morning sun is beautiful, or a Western-facing window that gets afternoon sun is great too. If you live in the Northern hemisphere and you have an unobstructed Southern window, those tend to get a ton of direct sun. Now, if you’re in the Southern hemisphere, North and South are reversed and you’ll have to adjust appropriately.

When it comes to water, the more light you have, the quicker your soil is going to dry out, because your plant will be growing more. So if you have plenty of sun, then you have to monitor your plant a lot more frequently, because it’s going to dry out quicker. How Much Light for Rubber Plant

What Type of Soil Do Rubber Plants Need? 

A well-draining, all-purpose potting mix will do wonders for your rubber plant. Check out Espoma’s Organic Potting Soil Mix to get you started; it’s often the best soil for indoor plants. Adding in perlite or orchid mix will provide that extra aeration to make sure your mix is well draining. To get a good balance between moisture retention and drainage, use three parts all-purpose potting mix and one part perlite. 

What Type of Soil for Rubber Plant

How to Fertilize Rubber Plants

You can use any all-purpose houseplant fertilizer for rubber plants. There are two options: liquid fertilizer or a slow-release fertilizer you can add to your potting mix. 

If you don’t like liquid fertilizers, you can always use a slow-release plant food  that you add to your potting mix when you plant your rubber plant. Those fertilizers generally last up to 6 months. 

Now that you know all about rubber plant care, let’s get into some frequently asked questions! 

How to fertilize rubber plants

PART 2: Rubber Plant Frequently Asked Questions and Answers from Raffaele di Lallo

Why Is My Rubber Plant Not Growing? 

Your rubber plant needs more light! If your rubber plant is in a far corner from your window, it might be time to move it to brighter light. Remember, rubber plants thrive in bright, direct sunlight. 

How Do I Get My Rubber Plant to Branch and Be Bushier Instead of Taller? 

Don’t be afraid to prune! Just hack it off wherever you want (just not all the way down to the soil) and chop off a good portion of it. Pruning your rubber plant forces new branches to form, resulting in a bushier rubber plant. 

You can also try air layering, which is propagating from stems still attached to the plant. Take a sharp knife and make a diagonal cut about halfway into your rubber plant trunk. Then add some sphagnum moss in the cut and wrap the entire branch with moss. Put plastic wrap around it and tie it on both ends. Over the course of a few months, it’s going to send out roots from where you cut it, which you should be able to see through the plastic wrap. Then you simply cut the stem right under your air layering and replant it. 

What Are the Best Ways to Propagate a Rubber Plant?

The first way to propagate a rubber plant is air layering, described above. This works especially well if you have woody branches already formed. Air layering takes a few months to achieve new root growth. 

The second propagation method is making individual node cuttings. Find the spot where the leaf meets the branch and cut it off on each side, leaving half an inch on either side. You’re basically left with a leaf and then part of the stem, where the node is. At that point, you can either stick the stem in water or soil to grow roots. 

Be aware that if you try propagating your rubber plant in winter, you might have a lower success rate and it will be substantially slower compared to trying it in spring or summer when the plant is actively growing

Why Are New Leaves on My Rubber Plants Smaller Than the Older Ones?

Number one, our conditions at home are nothing like ideal conditions in the greenhouses that these plants were grown in. That in and of itself could be a cause. 

Poor, inconsistent conditions could be your second culprit. Poor lighting and letting your plant dry out too much as its developing new leaves can also affect the leaf size.

Why is My Rubber Plant Dropping Leaves? 

Rubber plants don’t like to be moved, first and foremost. And if you bring your plant home and shove it in a dark hole, you will get leaves dropping off. Your plant is not going to be able to support all the leaves it had when it was growing in good conditions.

If your plant is horribly root bound, it’s going to be very hard to keep up with the watering required to keep the roots hydrated. This could also be contributing to dropping leaves. At that point, you really need to re-pot it in a bigger pot. 

My Rubber Plant Looks Healthy, But the Branches Are All Over the Place. Why Is This Happening?

Indoors, we don’t have the benefit of wind that strengthens plants outside. Because of this, our indoor plants may need a little help compensating. It’s totally okay to tie up your plant. Rafaelle uses a bamboo stake that he inserted right through the root ball, gently tying the branches that were getting unruly. 

Why Are the Edges of My Variegated Rubber Plant Browning? 

You might not be watering your rubber plant properly. Avoid letting your soil dry out completely or letting your rubber plant soak in water for too long. Once you get the watering right, make sure your rubber plant is supplemented with enough light! 

What Are the Tiny White Spots on My Rubber Plant? 

Those tiny white spots are called lithocysts and pose no harm to your rubber plant. They are cells that contain calcium carbonate. 

Which Rubber Plant Should I Get?

Now that you know how to care for rubber plants and troubleshoot any issues, let’s figure out which rubber plant is right for you! 

If you’re getting your first rubber plant and have never grown one before, Raffaele recommends sticking with a non-variegated plant, since they’re going to be a little bit easier to care for. ‘Robusta’ is a great beginner rubber plant. And if you really love variegated plants, try the ‘Tineke’ or the ‘Ruby’ cultivars. 

Want to learn more about rubber plants and houseplants? Make sure to check out Raffaele’s blog and brand new book, Houseplant Warrior coming out soon! 

 

About Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast

Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast helped people care for plants successfully and cultivate more joy in their lives. Host Maria Failla, a former plant killer turned happy plant lady, interviews experts on various aspects of plant care, and encourages listeners to not only care for plants, but learn to care for themselves along the way.

About Our Interviewee

Engineer and plant parent for more than thirty years, Raffaele Di Lallo knows that the world of houseplants can be full of confusing myths and conflicting care advice. Raffaele started his blog Ohio Tropics focused on gardening with a tropical flare in cold weather climates. It quickly became a blog all about houseplant care. Five years later and he’s still writing about all things houseplants! 

His new book Houseplant Warrior: 7 Keys to Unlocking the Mysteries of Houseplant Care demystifies every aspect of plant parenting and is set to release on March 15, 2022. Houseplant Warrior is particularly relevant for the beginner or any houseplant aficionado struggling with their houseplants. Raffaele teaches a holistic approach to houseplant care and understanding how all of the conditions work together.

​​Follow Raffaele: 

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Seed Starting 101: How to Start Seeds Successfully

Seed starting setup

Seed starting is upon us in the gardening world! There is no better way to connect with the food we eat than by growing it ourselves. Starting edible plants from seed can be intimidating, but we’re here to break it down and answer all your burning questions. 

This blog is inspired by Episode 114 of Bloom and Grow Radio–where host Maria Failla interviewed Joe Lamp’l–the Joe behind The joe gardener Show.

Before we dive into the how of seed starting, let’s understand the why

Why Start Your Garden from Seed? 

In our world of instant gratification, what’s better than starting your gardening season way sooner than most gardeners?! When you start seeds indoors, you get your hands in the dirt and get a jump on the growing season. And what a rewarding feeling it is to start your plants from seed, and enjoy the journey of bringing them from seed to plate. 

If you love your edibles, decide what you want to eat and which varieties you want. Don’t leave it up to what’s available at the garden center. Think about how much you can choose when you start from seed: flavor, varieties, and the stories behind different heirlooms. You can really expand your food choices when you get to pick exactly what you grow. 

Another great reason to start your own seeds is to make sure you’re growing the right kind of plant for your needs. Do you absolutely love tomatoes, but only have a small balcony to grow them? Look for microdwarf tomato varieties that only grow about 1-2 feet tall! If you have a short growing season, you’d also want to make sure you choose “early” or “short season” plant varieties. 

Starting from seed offers us the ability to be in control of the varieties we grow, plan in advance, and save lots of money in the long run. Speaking of starting seeds on a budget…

How to Get Your Seed Starting Setup for Under $100

Your seed starting setup can be super budget-friendly if you take the time to look at the components. For under a hundred dollars, you can put together everything you need! Let’s break down the materials, costs, alternatives, and conditions you need for seed starting. 

Seed Starting Mix

To start, you need a good seed starting mix. It’s called a “mix,” because there’s really no soil in it. It’s made of natural ingredients like peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite. A bag of seed starting mix is going to cost between $5-$10.

Espoma Organics takes the guesswork out of your selection by providing their high quality seed starting mix

Seed Starting Trays

With one bag of seed starting mix, you can fill about two seed starting trays, which is your next material needed. Seed starting trays can give you anywhere between 18 to 72 cells to sow your seeds. You can get two trays for about $10. 

Look for seed starting trays with cells about 3.5 inches or smaller. In a traditional seed starting tray, cells are deep so seedling roots have more room to grow down. About 4 weeks from germination you’ll have to transplant your seedlings into a larger individual pot, AKA “potting up”.

Best Grow Lights for Seed Starting

Next is a grow light. Grow lights are where you could spend a lot of money in your seed starting setup, but if you’re on a budget, there is nothing wrong with buying a LED or fluorescent shop light for $20. You can get your seeds sprouted and ready for planting outside in good condition with a very inexpensive shop light. Will it be as good as a seedling that’s under a more expensive light? Maybe not, but all you’re really trying to do is rear those seedlings to the point that they are ready to go outside. Once they get outside, mother nature knows what to do and so does that seedling.

What are Heat Mats for Seed Starting important?

Heat mats are seed starting game changers. Heat mats raise the soil temperature, which helps your seeds sprout faster. Seeds have an ideal range of soil temperature in which they sprout the best, and can be anywhere from 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Seed mats will cost you between $15 and $35, depending on whether you get a thermostat attached.

Once most of your seeds have germinated, remove them from the heat mats. If you leave your seedlings on heat too long, they can start to become leggy. 

Humidity Dome for Germination

You’ll also want a humidity dome. It’s a clear plastic top that you put over the seed tray to hold the moisture in the soil until the seed germinates. If you don’t have a cover on your tray, the moisture won’t stay in the soil and the seed is not as likely to germinate. For two humidity domes, you’ll probably pay about $6. You can also use plastic wrap and lay it over the top to hold in moisture for your seedlings. 

A key point to remember with humidity domes: once your seeds germinate, remove the humidity dome so seedlings get enough oxygen. Air flow brings us to the next material needed. 

Small Fan for Seed Starting

Last but not least, a fan. You can get a cheap clip-on fan for $15. Fans are important because once the seed germinates, you need air movement across that soil surface. Air movement reduces the chance of a fungal disease called damping off, which can kill your seedlings. Fans also simulate wind, making the stems sturdier and ready for outdoor conditions.

Total Seed Starting Materials Cost

Here’s the cost breakdown to get your seed starting setup for less than $100:

Bag of seed starting mix: $10

2 seed starting trays: $10

Shop light: $20

Heat mat: $15 – $35

Humidity dome: $6

Clip-on fan: $15

TOTAL: $81 – $96

All about Seeds: Where to Buy Them, Expiration Dates, & Non-GMOs

It’s important to find a good seed company. Here are some tips when you’re searching: 

  • Look for companies that have been around for a while with a good reputation. 
    • Do they have good customer service? 
    • Are their staff knowledgeable about their seeds? 
  • Find local or regional seed companies that grow their seeds close to home. Some seed companies can outsource their seeds from overseas from a huge commercial supplier. It’s important to know where your seeds are grown. 
  • When you grow seeds adapted to your area, plants have a much better success rate. The more you grow those seeds and save them, the more adapted they’ll become to your specific microclimate too! 

Seed Expiration Dates 

Seed packets will show the day that the seed was packed. Assuming you have leftover seeds and you keep them in a cool, dark, dry place, they will last anywhere from as little as one year to many years, depending on the seed. 

How do you know when a seed is still good or if it’s gone bad? Do a germination test! Before you plant your seeds, put about 10 seeds in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag. Check the moisture daily and after about 10-14 days, your seeds will either have sprouted or not. If 7 out of 10 sprouted, your viability is about 70%. Depending on your viability you can either plant extra or compost unusable seeds.

What are Non-GMO Seeds?

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. Many seed companies have jumped on the bandwagon saying all of their seeds are “certified non-GMO.” There actually aren’t any GMO gardening seeds available for home gardeners. None of the seeds you purchase will ever be GMO seeds. GMO seeds are present in the commercial agriculture industry, but it’s expensive to produce a GMO seed and it’s not anything that we’re going to even be able to buy. So if a company is touting non-GMO seeds, that’s true, they are. But so are everyone else’s.

The Best Time to Start Your Seeds

The most important date you need to know is the last day that you are potentially going to have frost. This is called your frost-free date in Spring. You can find yours by Googling “last frost date” in your area. Once you have that date, then you work backwards to about 6-8 weeks. That’s when you’ll be sowing most of your seeds.

You want to time your seed starting so you give your seeds about 6-8 weeks of growing time indoors. By the end of the 6-8 weeks, seedlings will have grown to a sturdy size and are then ready to grow outdoors. If you choose a good seed company, there should be lots of information about this on the back of the seed packet.

If you start your seeds too early, you risk your plants getting too big and outgrowing their space. They’re going to be looking for resources that you probably can’t provide indoors, like more light, nutrition in the soil, and space to grow. The longer your seedlings are confined indoors without the right environment, the more stressed they become. Timing when you plant your seeds is crucial to the seed starting process. 

Let’s Get Planting! 

Now that you’ve got your seed starting setup and timing down, how do you get your seeds in the soil? 

First, look at the information on your seed packet. It will typically have all that important seed starting information you need, including how many weeks to start indoors, days to maturity, and growth patterns. 

Make sure your seed starting mix is pre-moistened, like a damp sponge. Most seeds don’t need light to germinate, but they don’t need to be planted very deeply either. Once you have your seeds in, sprinkle a little bit of extra seed starting mix on top. Spray the tops of the soil gently with water so you don’t move the seeds around too much.

When your seeds are planted, place your humidity dome on top, put your tray on your heat mat, and turn your lights on. Your seedlings are going to sprout in a matter of days to a week, maybe two weeks at most. Once your seeds germinate, remove your humidity dome and turn on your fan. From there, you’re just ensuring that the soil stays moist.

The first leaves that come up are called seed leaves, or cotyledons. In a few weeks, your plants will grow new “true” leaves. Once those new true leaves emerge, you can start to add small amounts of supplemental fertilizer.

Your job over the next 4-5 weeks will be monitoring plant growth and making sure everything looks good. Keeping the lights at the proper distance above the tops of the seedlings is also key–not too close, not too far away.

The Final Step: How to Harden Off Your Plants

Hardening off is about 7 to 10 days of transitioning your seedlings slowly to outdoor conditions. You slowly increase the tender, new leaves’ exposure to sun and wind over about two weeks. Make sure outdoor temperatures are above 45 degrees Fahrenheit with no inclement weather during this period, and bring plants indoors every evening.

Here is a rough schedule to follow: 

  • Days 1-2: 1-3 hours outdoors in shade
  • Days 3-4: 3-5 hours outdoors in shade
  • Days 5-6: 3-5 hours outdoors in morning sun
  • Days 7-8: 7-12 hours outdoors in sun
  • Days 9-10: Leave plants outdoors overnight 

Once you’ve gotten your plants used to the outdoor elements, they’re all ready to be planted in their new homes outdoors! 

Botanical Black History: 3 Brilliant Black Plant People You’ll Love

3 Brilliant Black Plant People

For Black History Month, we want to highlight three amazing, historic Black plant people. Two you’ve almost certainly heard of before: Harriet Tubman and George Washington Carver. But did you know that Tubman was an herbalist and Carver spearheaded regenerative agriculture? Our third Black plant person was Wangari Maathai–the very first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her environmental, women’s rights, and political work. 

This blog is inspired by Episodes 85 and 146 of Bloom and Grow Radio–where host Maria Failla interviewed Colah, host of Black in the Garden Podcast, about figures who inspire her.

Read on to learn more about how these brilliant Black plant leaders contributed to what we know in the plant world today! 

1. Harriet Tubman–The Herbalist You Never Knew

You’ve probably heard of Harriet Tubman as being a leader of the Underground Railroad, helping 300 enslaved people escape during the 1800s. On top of all that incredible work during the Civil War, she was also an herbalist, forager, and healer! 

One of the main conductor duties of the Underground Railroad was to find nourishment for the many enslaved seeking safe passage. Tubman’s extensive knowledge on foraging was absolutely essential as a conductor. She was taught how to forage for food and herbs in the surrounding forest, learning which plants were safe to eat, and how they could treat ailments. Knowing how to forage for foods like black cherry, paw-paw, and sassafras while avoiding toxic plants no doubt saved the many lives she encountered. 

Tubman also used herbal remedies passed down from her grandmother for so many treatments. She boiled cranesbill and lily roots to make medicine for wounded Civil War soldiers, treating things like smallpox, fevers, and other infectious diseases. To keep babies from crying and put them to sleep during treacherous journeys, she dosed their bread with laudanum, a tincture of opium. Tubman learned and practiced herbalism at great costs, as enslavers banned herbal practices from fears of being poisoned. 

Harriet Tubman had an understanding of the land–a deep intuitiveness and connection with nature. She was able to really use that to benefit the hundreds of enslaved people she freed. 

Harriet Tubman

2. George Washington Carver–Way More Than the Peanut Guy

Yep, you’ve probably heard of George Washington Carver as the Peanut Guy, inventing hundreds of ways to use the humble peanut. But his story is WAY more incredible than that. Let’s dive in. 

Regenerative agriculture is a phrase you may have heard thrown around in the plant community, but is nothing new. Regenerative agriculture practices building soil health to offset many environmental problems we face today for future generations of farmers. Carver played a crucial part in regenerating soil in the farming communities of the South. One big way he did that? Peanuts. 

Of course it wasn’t JUST peanuts. At that time Carver was working at the Tuskegee Institute as an agricultural research scientist. Soil was horribly depleted from years of cotton and tobacco monoculture farming, and Carver was on a mission to improve the soil and make farming more attainable for poor farmers of the South. Instead of the expensive fertilizers that were being pushed, Carver showed farmers they could use resources all around them to amend the soil. Surrounding woods had biodegradable materials like leaves, logs, and swamp muck–all perfect for in-ground composting that added rich organic nutrients and important microorganisms back into the soil. We truly owe American agriculture and organic farming to Carver, who pioneered much of the important soil and regenerative agriculture knowledge we practice now. 

So after teaching farmers how to use their surrounding resources, he wanted to continue building the soil with different nitrogen-fixing crops and crop rotation. In comes the peanut! Legumes, like the peanut and soy bean that Carver encouraged, are nitrogen-fixing plants that restore soil even more. But farmers had to be convinced that these crops could sell–so Carver set off to invent literally hundreds of ways to use peanuts, soy beans, and sweet potatoes in his laboratory. He made biofuel, amazing dyes, milk, butter, oils, cosmetics, and industrial products, just to name a few. He did this for multiple reasons: to make growing these plants profitable to farmers who were often farming on debts to white landowners; to regenerate the soil; and to make a protein-rich crop like peanuts readily accessible to many poor Southerners who couldn’t afford nutrient-dense foods. 

Despite being a research scientist, developing hundreds of new products in his lab, and tending to a farm research plot, he didn’t stop there. To make his research more accessible to farmers he was trying to reach, he created mobile agricultural schools called “Farmers Institutes.” These schools literally traveled from town to town via wagon, teaching farmers these regenerative agriculture techniques. It was so successful and popular that the USDA later adopted Carver’s outreach model. 

Carver’s work enabled Black farmers to turn their farms into productive, regenerative, and self-sufficient lands to alleviate poverty. What an amazing, trailblazing human! 

Check out Colah B. Tawkin’s Black in the Garden two-part podcast series on George Washington Carver, the botanical GOAT, to hear more about Carver. 

George Washington Carver

3. Dr. Wangari Maathai–A Trailblazing Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees

Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. But she was also the first woman from East and Central Africa to earn a PhD, moving on to be the first female professor in her home country of Kenya. And those weren’t her only firsts!

Dr. Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977. This grassroots organization encouraged women to plant trees in their local communities in Africa to fight environmental degradation and deforestation. These women were observing the very real effects of deforestation–receding streams, soil erosion, and habitat loss. Dr. Maathai’s solution not only encouraged trees to combat all these issues, but put women at the center of this incredibly important movement. She didn’t stop there. 

Dr. Maathai used her work on the Green Belt Movement to bring attention to the democratic struggle in Kenya. Due to governmental corruption, public lands were being privatized and illegally developed, wreaking havoc on the environment. Dr. Maathai realized she must approach the situation more systematically to address the problem. Her protests were met with harassment and beatings, landing her in jail–but she remained undaunted. She went on to serve on countless international commissions and committees, working tirelessly to fight for women’s rights, environmental issues, against land grabbing, and misogyny.

Her work led to over 50 million trees planted–can you imagine how HUGE that is? That totals to 1 million acres or 1,600 square miles. That’s bigger than Rhode Island! Not only did these trees help the local environments, but they also removed 2.5 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. Dr. Maathai’s legacy proves how a single human can be an incredible force for change.Wangari Muta Maathai

Botanical Black History in the Making

Out of her studies in broadcasting and her love for plants, Colah created the Black in the Garden podcast to highlight Black voices and Black people in horticulture. She is creating a space for Black people to connect with their history and culture through her media. 

As Black in the Garden has evolved, Colah’s mission has developed to explore the past, present, and future of Black people in horticulture. Colah herself has just announced an initiative to plant a tree in every state and make history as the first Black woman to do it, inspired by Dr. Wangari Maathai.

Follow her journey on the Black in the Garden podcast.

About Our Interviewee

Colah B. Tawkin is the juggernaut creator, producer, and voice behind the renowned Black in the Garden podcast, a podcast that exists specifically to highlight Black voices and Black people. Using her extensive horticultural knowledge, her endless love for Black people, and her keen ability to teach in a spirit of joy and kinship, she has built a village of Soil Cousins that have come to not only love, but trust her voice. Her aim is to grow and foster village-building, education, and healing through gardening. And she’ll make you laugh while she does it, too.

Her most recent work is the Black in the Garden Coloring Book, featuring podcast guests and 20 pages of illustrated botanical black excellence. 

Follow Colah & Black in the Garden

Website 

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Facebook 

Twitter

YouTube

References

Harriet Tubman: herbalism, food, foraging

  1. https://www.botanicgardens.org/blog/representation-botany-and-horticulture-part-2 
  2. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/04/27/475768129/nurse-spy-cook-how-harriet-tubman-found-freedom-through-food 
  3. https://www.nursing.virginia.edu/news/flashback-harriet-tubman-nurse/
  4. https://theherbalacademy.com/african-american-herbalism-history/ 

Underground Railroad

  1. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/underground-railroad

George Washington Carver

  1. https://www.usda.gov/oascr/carver 
  2. https://agriculture.mo.gov/gwc.php
  3. https://www.cbf.org/blogs/save-the-bay/2021/02/what-we-owe-to-george-washington-carver.html
  4. https://www.nmhealthysoil.org/2021/01/28/soil-health-pioneer-george-washington-carver/ 
  5. https://www.csuchico.edu/regenerativeagriculture/blog/blm-reg-ag.shtml
  6. https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/carver.html

Wangari Maathai

  1. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2004/maathai/biographical/ 
  2. https://www.un.org/africarenewal/web-features/wangari-maathai-woman-trees-dies
  3. https://en.unesco.org/womeninafrica/wangari-maathai/biography
  4. https://wangarimaathai.org/wangaris-story/

10 Ways to Repurpose Your Christmas Tree

 

Photo by Jimmy Chan from Pexels

Now that the holiday season is coming to a close, you’re probably wondering what to do with that giant, luscious tree in your house. Don’t toss it just yet! There are plenty of earth-friendly ways to dispose of or repurpose it. Here are our top 10 ways to repurpose your Christmas tree!

1.) Mulch

Before having your tree picked up by your usual garbage crew, do a quick Google search to see if there are any mulching programs in your area. Old trees can be great to use as barriers against sand and soil erosion, and can also be used for local water-way stabilization. It’s a great way to help your environment!

 

2.) Compost

There’s always a way to turn your old organic material into compost! Cut the branches to fit the inside of your bin, and layer them in a criss-cross pattern about 6–8 inches high to ensure good airflow through the bottom of the pile. Then add your vegetable scraps, leaf litter, and any other compostable materials. Over time, the branches will break down and turn into compost themselves.

 

3.) Replant

If you live in a mild climate, you probably purchased your living tree either balled and burlapped or in a pot. If you can’t seem to let it go, just plant it in your yard! Dig a large hole in the ground and water it thoroughly. Then add a thick layer of mulch with either wood chips or leaves. Add some extra nutrients to help it get through the rest of winter with Espoma Evergreen-tone.

 

Photo by Devin Justesen on Unsplash

4.) Chip it
If you have access to a chipper (which usually can be rented), feed your tree through it. Come springtime, you can use the wood chips to bring nutrients to your soil!

 

5.) Feed the birds

Did you know that you could turn your old tree into a bird feeder? Remove all of the non-organic decorations like ornaments, hooks, and tinsel. Then place it outside while still in the stand and place it in a spot where you’ll be able to see it from indoors. Next, decorate it again by adding things like orange slices, strung popcorn, little bunches of bird feed, and anything else a bird would like to nibble on. Now you have a wonderful haven for birds to eat and shelter themselves that you can watch all season long from the warmth of your home.

 

6.) Make a wreath

Gather some wire, scissors, and any other pieces of decoration you’d like to add. Snip off individual branches and create a beautiful decorative wreath for your front door! You can keep this up all winter long — no need to take it down after the holidays have gone.

Photo by Kieran White on Unsplash

 

 

7.) Chop firewood

Have a fireplace? Put your tree to good use and heat up the house using the wood! All you have to do is chop it up and keep it handy for when you’re ready to light a fire.

 

8.) Get crafty

There are so many different ways to use the trunk of your tree for crafts! Cut thin slices and turn them into rustic coasters. Cut up multiple slices and add it to your wreath. If it’s big enough, slice it, write a fun saying on it, and turn it into a sign! The possibilities are endless.

 

9.) Make stakes

Got leggy plants? Stake them up with small branches from your tree! No need to go out and buy wire stakes when you can make your own right from home.

 

10.) Toss it properly

If you just want to throw out the tree, start by contacting your local waste provider as they usually pick up trees in the weeks that follow Christmas.

 

 

Keep in mind plastic or flocked trees unfortunately cannot be recycled, and need to be cut into small pieces and disposed of in the regular trash. But if you have a live tree you’re no longer using, consider using some of these nature-friendly tips to give them more uses before finally getting rid of them at the end of the season!

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Video: How to Begin Winter Seed Starting with Garden Answer!

The cold weather is no match for Laura at Garden Answer’s greenhouse! Follow along to see how Laura gets a head start on seed starting to plant amaryllis bulbs and indoor plants before the spring with the help of Espm Organic Seed Starter and Potting Mix!

 

 

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Five Herbs to Plant This Fall

You may think that when the weather cools, the gardening stops. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Planting herbs in the fall can make for a great head start in the spring. Plus, who doesn’t love to garden year-round? Here are our top five picks to get you started.

 

Parsley

 

Did you know that parsley planted in the fall actually produces more harvest than parsley planted in the spring? Grow it in part shade to full sun and keep the soil moist by watering regularly. Give it the healthiest start by using organic potting mix.

 

Thyme

Thyme is a great addition to almost any dish and the perfect garnish for your fall cocktails! Grow this herb in full sun near your brightest window. As a bonus, you can plant thyme alongside rosemary, which has the same light and watering needs.

 

Sage

Sage is a fragrant herb that also makes a great addition to your kitchen for special meals. Make sure this herb gets plenty of sunlight and water once the top layer of soil is dry. Be wary of mildew growing on your sage, and be sure to give it proper air circulation. Give it a head start with Espoma Bio-tone Starter Plus.

Lavender

Who doesn’t love the smell of lavender? Whether dried or fresh, this fragrant herb can change the ambiance of your home with its calming scent and its beautiful purple appearance. Give your lavender full sun — at least six hour a day — and allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Be careful not to overwater this herb, especially in the cooler months.

Chives 

As another great culinary herb, chives can add the ideal amount of seasoning to so many dishes. Grow them in a sunny spot and be careful not to keep them too close to your heater. Let the soil dry between waterings.

Don’t let the cooler weather stop you from gardening! If you’re struggling to get enough light for any of these herbs, consider supplementing with grow lights.