Use These Garden Staples to Avoid Being Bugged at Your Next Barbecue

With Memorial Day in the rearview, summer is officially here once again — and while we wish that meant nothing but sunshine and barbecues, bugs seem to always make an appearance this time of year. But did you know there are ways to avoid getting bitten and bugged every time you want to relax outside?

The fragrance of certain plants can actually block the receptors insects use to find us. It’s just another great reason to get a garden going in your backyard, around your patio, or anywhere you like to enjoy fresh air. All you really need to sustain these helpful plants is some good starter fertilizer like Espoma’s organic Bio-tone Starter Plus and to make sure they’re fed every two to four weeks with Grow! to ensure they get the proper nutrients.

So, if you’re getting some unwanted guests during those summer cookouts, try planting some of these simple staples.

Lemon Grass

Did you know many mosquito repelling candles and sprays are made from citronella oil? Lemon grass naturally produces this ingredient and doubles as a beautiful grassy plant for walkways and around tables. Alternatively, you can plant it in its own pot and use it wherever your local mosquitos tend to congregate.

Other Lemon-Scented Plants

Similar to lemongrass, other plants that give off a strong citrus fragrance — like lemon-scent geraniums, lemon thyme, and lemon balm — work well to repel bugs. These plants use their fresh scent to keep their leaves from being eaten — and in turn can help you keep from being bitten.

Lavender

Despite lavender’s sweet smell being quite popular among people, most insects hate it. Keeping this plant near seating areas will help ward away mosquitos and other pesky flies. A great thing about this plant is that you can use it fresh or dried to get the job done — or even just use the extracted oil. This way you have different options on how you want to decorate while still keeping the pests at bay.

Rosemary

Rosemary is a great addition to your cookout. Throw a few sprigs on the grill as you’re cooking to release its fragrance into the air. It’ll smell wonderful to you and your family but make the bugs fly in the other direction.

Basil

Basil is another herb that will keep the mosquitos away. It’s also toxic to mosquito larvae, so placing this plant near water can help discourage mosquitoes from laying eggs.

Mint

Mint’s fragrance is great at repelling pests like ants, mosquitoes, and even mice. It’s also always a nice addition to any dish, so incorporating it into your barbecue can be beneficial in more ways than one.

Garlic

If cabbage moths are just as pesky as mosquitoes in your backyard, garlic can be your saving grace. When crushed, the garlic bulbs release allicin — an enzyme that produces that classic garlic smell. Your local pests will definitely not enjoy your garlic breath, so go ahead and use it up all weekend long.

Any and all of these plants can be used purely to keep the bugs away, but they’re also beautiful decor for your outdoor area. Be sure to keep up with them all season long in order to reap the benefits whenever your cookouts come around.

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

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Frost Tips For Citrus

Citrus is one of the most rewarding plants to grow indoors or out. The fragrance of citrus blossoms is unforgettable. Seeing your tree covered in ripe fruit backed by dark green foliage looks like a snapshot from the Mediterranean. And, fresh, tree-ripened fruit is simply the best tasting.

If you live in the “Citrus Belt” that stretches from California, along the Gulf Coast to Florida, (USDA Zones 8-10) you can grow citrus trees outdoors all year long. But even in these warm climates, occasional cold snaps can occur. Gardeners in the Northern states can grow citrus in pots and bring them inside for the winter. No matter where you live, get ready to protect your beautiful plants.


Four Tips for Bringing Potted Citrus Indoors for Winter

  1. Wash Citrus. Using a hose, spray foliage and branches to remove insects and allow to drip dry. Next, spray with an organic, insect killer like Espoma’s Insect Soap, covering both the top and undersides of the leaves, to make sure you aren’t bringing any pests indoors.
  2. Re-Home. Citrus trees do well in cool temps from about 50 to 70 degrees with as much bright light as possible. Eight hours of sun per day would be ideal. South-facing windows usually have the most favorable light for citrus trees. Repot plant if it’s outgrown its current container with Espoma’s Cactus potting mix to give citrus plants proper drainage.
  3. Feed Plants. Feed your citrus plant every four weeks with a fertilizer specially formulated for citrus, like Espoma’s Citrus! Unlike trees planted in the ground, potted plants quickly use up the food in the soil and it needs to be replenished.
  4. No Wet Feet. Citrus will not thrive in consistently wet soil, so make sure your citrus pots have excellent drainage. Set the pot on a saucer of pebbles to allow excess water can drain off. Water well when the top two inches of soil feels dry, once a week on average.

Four Frost Protection Tips for Outdoor Citrus Trees

Citrus are subtropical plants and will not survive freezing temperatures. To protect plants, they will need to be covered one way or another. If temperatures dip down to 30 degrees, it’s time to take action. This is especially important for young citrus trees.

  1. Water well. Water-deprived trees freeze faster. Moist soil also absorbs more heat from the sun than dry soil does.
  2. Remove mulch. Expose the soil to the sun for winter months to enable plants to absorb more heat.
  3. Know when to cover up. If freezing temperatures happen often in your area, you can build a simple structure out of wood to surround plants and cover it with plastic, burlap or even old blankets. Fasten the cover with tacks or staples so they can’t blow off.
  4. Let citrus breathe. If day time temperatures are warm, remove the covers to allow for ventilation.

Here are some other citrus blogs we think you will enjoy.

Feeding Citrus for the Most Fruit, Growing Food Out of Your Zone from the Citrus Guy, When Life Gives You Lemons – Grow Them Indoors

Espoma Products for Happy Citrus

Fall Flowers Extend the Season In Your Garden and Beauty in Your Home

It’s not too hard to walk through the yard in mid-summer and pick enough flowers for a vase. But, oftentimes, gardens are less showy in autumn. Heare are five winners you should look for now and plant next spring. All five varieties can be grown from seed for pennies. They will liven up your fall bouquets and your fall garden next year. Best of all, three of them dry beautifully and will last all winter. Don’t forget to feed your flowers Espoma’s liquid Grow! fertilizer for the best possible harvest.

Chinese Lanterns

Chinese lanterns, sometimes called Japanese lanterns, have bright orange seed pods that look like puffy lanterns hanging from their stems. These dry beautifully and may be used in arrangements for many months, even years. Their vivid orange color makes them ideal for all things Halloween. You can sow the seeds indoors in the spring or outside directly in the soil. They are vigorous growers and can be grown in pots to keep them in check.

Blackberry Lily

This is a twofer. Blackberry lilies have beautiful, bright orange flowers with deep orange freckles on tall graceful stems. After they bloom, seed is produced inside puffy capsules. In late summer the capsules break open and you’re left with a cluster of black seeds that looks exactly like big, fat, juicy blackberries. The glossy berries look beautiful in fresh or dried arrangements. Together with the Chinese lanterns, you’ll have the ultimate Halloween combination.

Zinnias

Zinnia’s have been garden favorites for hundreds of years because they are so easy to grow from seed and come in so many different colors, shapes, and sizes. They’ll start flowering in mid-summer and bloom until frost, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. They make outstanding cut flowers and long-lasing bloomers in the garden. They like good air circulation and always water at ground level, wet leaves can lead to mildew. 

Money Plant

Money plant, also called the silver dollar plant is not the same as the house plant. Its botanical name is Lunaria. This lovely annual blooms in spring with bright pinkish-purple flowers but don’t cut them. After they bloom, they develop an oval seed pod. Toward the end of summer, the pod becomes papery and if you carefully rub them the husks and seeds fall off and you are left with a stem of almost transparent, silver dollar-sized disks that look like parchment. They are so unusual and because of their neutral color, they blend well in any bouquet. Throw the seeds back where they came from for and you’ll get more the next year.

Sunflowers

Annual sunflowers now come in a wide range of colors from yellow, orange and bronze to ruby red and even white. They also come in a variety of heights from six feet tall to shorter branching varieties to dwarf varieties that reach just a foot or two. They are all easy to grow from seed and are especially fun to grow with kids because they grow so fast. Cut them early in the morning, when the flower petals are just beginning to open for the longest lasting cut flowers.

Foraging

If you don’t have enough varieties of fall blooming flowers, foraging may be an option. Foraging isn’t legal everywhere but if you have friends or family with some property ask if you could cut some wildflowers. Goldenrod, asters, and tansy can add beautiful and flare to a cut flower bouquet. Think of berries too. Many shrubs have fall berries and many roses offer hips. Don’t forget about adding dried grasses, hydrangeas and foliage with fall color. The most important thing is just to be creative and have fun. Mother Nature already made the flowers beautiful, so you can’t miss.

Here are links to other blogs we hope you’ll find interesting.

Nature Never Goes out of Style – Transition into a Fall Cutting Garden

Create the Perfect Centerpiece for Fall Gatherings

Fall Foliage Adds Spark

Espoma Products – Grow!

Grow! Plant Food

6 Kid and Pet Friendly Plants

Danger could be lurking anywhere when you’ve got kids and pets. That’s why parents do their best to baby-proof and petscape. And when you’re a plant parent, the last thing you want to think about is your real babies or furbabies snacking on your plant babies.

Whether it’s because they’re poisonous or prickly, some plants are just not safe for consumption.

Luckily, many plants are non-toxic and safe for the whole family to enjoy.

Photo courtesy of Costa Farms

Boston Ferns

Not only are Boston ferns safe to have around pets and kids, but they also clean the air every minute of the day. Studies from the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) have found that levels of indoor air pollution can be two to five times— and in some cases 10 times — more polluted than outdoor air. Feed ferns every two to four weeks with Espoma’s liquid Indoor! fertilizer to keep plants growing.

Image courtesy of Costa Farms

Spider Plant

This 70s mainstay and easy care plant is one of the safest you can find. Spider plants also great for teaching small children about plant propagation. Just snip off the babies and transplant into Espoma’s organic potting mix to create more plants.

Christmas Cactus

With their flat green leaves, stunning blooms in pink or lilac and longevity, Christmas cacti can sometimes be family heirlooms handed down from one generation to the next. To trigger blooming, these plants need darkness for at least 14 hours a day and sunlight between 8 to 10 hours a day for six weeks. You can cover your cacti if your indoor lighting is bright to create the needed rest period.

Echeverias

The entire echeveria family is safe for pets and children, although we still don’t advise eating them. This desert native comes in a variety of colors and does best in dry conditions. Echeveria should be watered only once it has dried out. For optimal results, place echeveria in full sun and ensure the soil is well drained. Use Espoma’s Cactus! liquid fertilizer to give succulents the optimal amount of nutrients.

Zebra Plant

Another favorite of succulent lovers, this striking plant gets its name from the horizontal stripes covering its leaves. Growing about 5” tall and 6”wide, the zebra plant is tidy, contained and a perfect addition to any small space. Zebra plants require a moderate amount of sunlight and water.

African Violets

These stunners are known to bloom continuously, even throughout the darker months of winter. Place them throughout the house to enjoy their colors and velvety texture throughout the year.  Once you get in a regular routine of taking care of African violets, you’ll find they’re very easy to grow. All of their basic needs need to be met though, or they won’t bloom. Give them the right temperature, light and a good feeding with Espoma’s Violet! liquid fertilizer, and you’ll be blooming in no time.

Safety First

Tiny hands and paws often find their way into the dirt and end up in the mouth. Picking non-toxic plants is a step in the right direction toward keeping your little ones safe, but go one step further by choosing organic products and soil for your plant babies. Plus, it’s healthy for your plants, and the planet, too.

Espoma Products for Happy Houseplants

Potting Soil

Plant Azaleas in Early Fall

Fall is a great time to plant. First of all, the cooler temperatures make it much more appealing to be outside. Secondly, fall plant sales are the best. Many garden centers offer deep discounts because they don’t want to overwinter plants. Take advantage of these deals to add some spice to your yard and garden.

Photo courtesy of Encore® Azalea

Star of the Show

Azaleas are some of the most beautiful and popular shrubs you can buy. The plants are covered with delicate blooms in spring and summer and many have attractive fall color too. In the right location, they are easy to grow and they’ll soon become the stars of the garden.

Soil and Light

Azaleas are acid-loving plants. That means that they prefer soil with a low pH. Fertilizers like Espoma’s Holly-tone were developed especially for acid-lovers. You apply it once in the spring and again in late fall at half strength. Well-drained soil is also a must. They do best in bright shade. Too much sun can burn the foliage and too little will result in poor flowering.

Photo courtesy of Encore® Azalea

Planting with TLC

Azaleas are shallow-rooted shrubs meaning the roots don’t go deep looking for water. Adding some compost to the soil when planting will help hold moisture around the roots. It’s also a good idea to add Bio-tone Starter Plus to the planting hole. It’s a great starter fertilizer to help make sure your new plant gets established quickly. Water deeply after planting.

Mulching

Fall isn’t the best time to mulch. It can hold warmth in the soil instead of letting the temperatures gently drop, encouraging the plant to go into its natural dormancy. Add a layer of mulch next spring after the soil has warmed up. Bark, pine needles and leaf mold are all good choices.

Photo courtesy of Encore® Azalea

Pruning

Generally speaking, azaleas don’t need to be pruned unless you are trying to reduce their height. In that case, prune the shrubs back after they flower. You can remove dead or damaged branches any time of the year. It is also a good idea to deadhead the flowers once they have finished blooming. That way the plant can use all of its energy to grow bigger and stronger instead of producing seed. Be careful when you snap off the old flowers as the buds for next year are right below them.

Here are some other blog posts we hope you will find interesting.

Step-by-Step: Prep the Garden for Winter

How to Plant Colorful Flowering Shrubs: Azaleas and Rhododendrons

Espoma Products

How to Plant a Terrarium with Summer Rayne, Homestead Brooklyn

Terrariums are beautiful, fun to make and easy to care for. Our favorite Brooklyn plant expert, Summer Rayne Oakes, guides us through the process step-by-step in this episode of Plant One on Me.

Summer covers which plants, tools, containers and soil mix you’ll need. Plus, how to water, the number one reason people kill plants.

If this terrarium seems too large to start with, go with a smaller version.

You don’t need a green thumb for this DIY project, promise.

Getting Started

First of all, choose a glass container. It’s easiest if the container is big enough to fit your hand inside. Next, choose plants that have the same kinds of light and water requirements. Check the plant tags to make sure they’ll be compatible. Generally speaking, terrariums are best in bright, indirect light. Full sun can be magnified by the glass and burn foliage. Base the container size on the number of plants you’d like to include.

Tools

Summer uses a set of aquarium tools for her terrariums. It’s a clever idea because they are extra-long. Having said that, it isn’t really necessary to buy this type of set when starting out. A long pair of chopsticks does a great job. She also uses a spoon and a narrow garden trowel. A watering can with a thin spout is handy to direct the water.

Soil Mix

The soil for terrariums needs to be a light, free draining mixture. Espoma’s organic Cactus Mix combined with perlite makes the perfect blend. If plants are small you can start with a drainage layer of an inch or so consisting of small rock and or charcoal. In this case, she didn’t use a drainage layer because the plants were relatively large and would have rooted into the drainage layer too quickly.

Planting

Add an inch or two of the soil mixture to your glass container. Play around with the plants until you have an idea of how you’d like them to look. Every plant won’t be blooming all of the time so choose ones with different textures and foliage to create the terrariums subtle beauty. Plant around the edge first, adding soil around the plants as you go. Plant the centerpiece last.

Watering

Terrariums create their own humidity which means they’ll need to be watered less frequently than houseplants in pots. Water sparingly and keep an eye on them. If plants seem to be wilting, water them. As time goes by, you’ll find the right watering schedule for your terrarium. Once every two weeks is about average.

Plant List

Here is a list of the plants Summer used in this video:

  • Monstera siltepcana – light and dark varieties
  • Peperomia trinervula
  • Hemigraphis/Strobilanthes alternate
  • Pilea asp.
  • Begonia conchifolia
  • Peperomia caperata

More Information

Here are links to other videos and blog posts we think you may find interesting:

How to Make an Easy Terrarium

DIY Terrarium Ideas

Everything Old Can be New Again with Terrariums

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

8 Tips and Tricks for Dwarf Citrus Plants

Citrus trees provide year-round greenery, extraordinarily fragrant flowers and, beautiful, delicious fruit. What plant parent wouldn’t want a baby like that? You don’t need to have a big garden  or year-round summer]  to grow them either. Citrus trees thrive in containers and can be brought indoors for the winter and be enjoyed all year long.

Best Citrus for Containers

All citrus trees can be grown in containers, however, some (like grapefruit and lemon) will outgrow their containers quickly. Choose trees grown on dwarf rootstock such as Meyer lemon and Persian lime. These are naturally smaller trees well-suited for container growing. Dwarf trees produce normal-sized fruit but yield less. Keep in mind that small trees are easier to plant, suffer less from transplant shock and are less expensive.

Pick a Pot

Choose a container that is larger than the nursery pot the tree came in. If the pot needs to be moved indoors in the winter consider the weight of the pot and how you will move it indoors. Make sure the new container has excellent drainage. Drill additional holes if there is only one. Set the new pot on feet so that it’s not sitting in standing water from the saucer underneath it.

Light and Temperature

Citrus are sun-loving plants that need at least eight hours of sun per day. A sunny location, protected from wind is ideal. All citrus trees are sensitive to cold and must be covered during occasional cold snaps. If your winter temperatures are consistently below 35 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll need to bring your citrus indoors for the winter. Kumquat and mandarin are the most cold-hardy, followed by grapefruit and orange. Lemon and lime are the most sensitive to cold.

The Best Soil

The best potting soil for citrus must be free draining. Espoma’s Organic Cactus Mix works perfectly. A soil high in organic matter will decompose and become compacted, holding too much water that could cause roots to rot.

Planting

The new tree should be planted at the same level it was in its nursery pot. Add some soil to the new container, then put in the new tree to check if it is at the right depth. After planting, backfill with more cactus mix, leaving two inches at the top of the pot for watering. Water well and check to see if the soil has settled. If it has, add more soil and water that in too.  

Watering

Watering needs will depend on the size and type of container and the weather. Check regularly. Citrus enjoy moist soil but not consistently wet soil. Stick your finger into the soil a few inches to check moisture level. Wilted leaves could be a sign of too little water, while yellow leaves are often a sign of too much water.

Feeding

All container plants are dependent on their plant parents for all of their nutrients. Citrus plants are heavy feeders]  and need a specially formulated, organic fertilizer like Espoma’s Citrus! It’s recommended to feed your tree every two to four weeks during the growing season because frequent watering washes out some of the nutrients.

Check out our other blogs about growing citrus.

When Life Gives You Lemons – Grow Them Indoors

C