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Gardening By Design: March 2014

We're all looking for plants that are easy to grow so we can spend more time enjoying them and less time maintaining them. So, here's the challenge to people looking for plants to enrich their lives: Prior planning prevents poor performance. Getting an area ready for planting will always define the difference between plants that thrive and plants that dive. So, let's change those problem areas into a place that you can enjoy through the changing seasons.

FlowerStart with a plan/design that provides a place to spend time relaxing outside.
Trees and shrubs are the backbone of any design and your best starting point. Also referred to as screens, garden backdrops, and vertical elements, shrubs provide privacy and a sense of enclosure as we avoid views and noises from intrusive surroundings by creating spaces to enjoy being outdoors. I advocate using a mix rather than single variety plantings in an effort to create diversity in the landscape. Adding perennials and annuals further increases the overall beauty and adds seasonal interest. On the design, the average garden depth is two-thirds of the mature height of the tallest planting.
Ex: A design that includes shrubs that mature at 8' need to be a minimum of 6' in depth.

FlowerEstablish edges to define where the garden begins and ends.
Edging is available in a range of materials. Criteria can include ease of installation, durability, aesthetic qualities, and availability for future installations. Using consistent edging material for nearby areas as they're developed adds continuity to the site. Garden walls and other raised bed designs hold soil in place and add a vertical element to an otherwise one-dimensional view of the garden. Hardscapes including buildings, fencing, or walkways can be used to define the front or back of the garden. To avoid plant damage and soil compaction, it's best to do those needed fixer-upper chores to hardscapes prior to planting.

FlowerImprove soil for plant root development and water conservation.
I work new beds 10-12 inches in depth with a tiller then topdress with 2-3 inches of organic amendments. Bring the tiller tines up and incorporate the amendments into the top 4-6 inches of soil. Machinery can be rented or digging by hand is always an option. The time and energy spent breaking up compacted soil and preparing a garden area for planting will always pay off in the long run. I prefer to use organic amendments since they feed both the soil and the plants. Rejuvenating an existing garden? Start by digging out weeds and weedy looking plants that don't fit into the design; if it's a really cool plant, lift it out for saving, otherwise... toss it.

FlowerEstablish how the garden will be most easily, yet efficiently, watered.
In-ground systems with flexible poly and rigid risers are easy to install, manageable, and reliable, but, risk saturating blooms with water and are blocked as plants mature. Connected emitters on a drip system, low-volume soaker hoses, and drip tube systems are water-wise, but need to be constantly monitored to ensure that they are delivering enough water to thoroughly soak the entire root zone of all plantings. Water timers at the faucet can be used to deliver water intermittently. Our 5,000 sq.ft. lawn is on a pop-up system and programmed to receive two-twenty minute cycles, twice a week in the heat of summer. Over the past two summers, we have averaged 30,000 gallons of water in July and in August to maintain a fully developed landscape, the greenhouse and nursery, and for use in the home.

FlowerSelect and group plants that have the same light, soil, and water requirements.
Do your homework so you can shop with a list of possibilities. Pictures of the area or a picture from a magazine that appeals to you are also ways to increase your chances of finding just the right plants, but be flexible and willing to try plants suggested by a trusted retailer. Gardening is for those who love to be around plants and enjoy spending time outside caring for them.

FlowerTopdress with a slow-release fertilizer and 2-4 inches of mulch.
Do this before when planting plants in 6" or smaller pots fairly close to one another. Do this after for bigger perennials and shrubs. I apply a 14-14-14 slow-release fertilizer combined with iron at the rate of one pound per 100 sq.ft. of garden area. Mulching is an important step since it will deter weeds, conserve water, and improve the tilth of the soil. Gardeners have their own favorite, I like those that break down within two seasons, feeding the soil and the organisms that make healthy plants possible.

FlowerWater newly planted gardens thoroughly and frequently until established.
Even water-wise plants need to be kept evenly moist while roots work their way into the soil, especially those planted in July-August. Once established, after one full growing season, continue to water thoroughly, but less frequently. All plants need a supply of oxygen to the roots, so avoid over-watering once plants are established. As temperatures rise in July and August, we increase watering to every five days. With our 12 gardens, using an excel spread sheet to schedule watering days. A deep, thorough watering is better than light, frequent watering.

FlowerAvoid the use of chemicals to eradicate weeds and insects.
It's a buggy world, but they're not all bad guys. The use of chemicals in the home landscape has been the leading cause of the decline in beneficial insects that keep populations of detrimental insects in check. In driveway areas, weed burners provide a safer alternative to spraying. Pulling weeds is part of gardening and if you get them before they go to seed, the chore is made exponentially easier

 A,B, Seed Starting: April 2014

Growing plants from seeds can be rewarding since it allows you to watch the seedlings develop into mature plants, controlling each step of the process. When we first opened in December of 1991, we started all of our perennials, herbs, veggies, and flowering annuals from seed. Now, we buy from large growers who specialize in seedling and cutting liners for next step growers, just like us. But, there are some veggie varieties that we prefer to seed ourselves and have had great success with over the years including tomatoes, peppers, and annual herbs. In March, we started 5 tomato varieties and 5 pepper varieties from seed and plan to offer them in 3.5" pots starting in mid-May.

FlowerI'll explain one example of starting a long-time favorite tomato, 'Oregon Spring'.
At my potting table, I start with a clean seeding tray that I fill mid-way with a well-balanced, soiless potting mix. Tomato seeds, like most veggie seeds, are large enough that I can easily handle them and space them evenly on the soiless mix at about 150 seeds per tray (we do two trays of this variety). I use a short piece of 2x4 to gently press the seeds down so they come into contact with the soiless mix, then cover the seeds with a light layer of coarse vermiculite (you can use the soiless mix). The trays are then moved onto a bench in the warmest spot in the greenhouse and watered with a misting sprayer until the vermiculite is saturated. The trays are then covered with another seeding tray that is removed each morning to vent and apply another misting. The tray stays covered until most of the seeds sprout, about 10 days. After the seeds sprout, I cut back on the misting/watering and water only when the vermiculite dries (visibly shrinks) and leave the tray uncovered. Once the seedlings have two sets of true leaves, I gently tease the roots loose using a sharpened dowel and transplant each seedling into a clean, 3.5" pot, using a well-balanced, soiless mix. I fertilize with a water-soluble fertilizer at the recommended rate, every third watering. About 3 weeks later, the plants are ready for acclimating (inside at night/outside on warm days).

FlowerSuggested supplies to consider using to start seeds indoors:
Seeds (we like Territorial Seed Company @ 541-942-9547), seeding trays, soiless potting mix, low-volume water nozzle, sharpened pencil, and small, clean pots. 18-3.5" pots fit nicely into the tray used to cover the seed trays. A limited number of trays, pots, and blank labels are available for sale at the greenhouse.

FlowerAdvice to consider:
Look for short-season varieties (72-80 days). Example: 'Oregon Spring' tomatoes at 77 days. Seeds sown first week of April, transplanted about 3 weeks later, mature by about mid-July (77 days from transplant).
Sow close to the number of seedlings you plan to grow. Label varieties as they're sown and use a blank label to divide them. You can use the same tray for tomato varieties and annual herbs, and another for pepper varieties. Peppers are slow pokes and usually take up to two full weeks longer before they're ready to transplant. Remember, I sow 150 seeds per tray, so unless you're feeding a small army, a couple of trays should be plenty. Store extra seeds in an airtight container up to 3 years in the refrigerator. Once the seeds sprout, keep in a sunny location (or close to the light source if that's how you're growing) to avoid stretch. A low-speed fan will allow the stems to strengthen and avoid dampening off.
Disregard the calendar when it comes to planting up in container gardens or in ground. Instead, go with a good five-day forecast and always be ready to cover if temperatures are predicted to fall below 38 degrees. Memorial Day is the earliest I would consider planting tomatoes and peppers. Brassicas, including Broccoli, Cabbage, and Cauliflower germinate quickly and can be started and planted earlier since they are much more cold-hardy than tomatoes and peppers. Squash, cucumbers, and beans are very cold-sensitive and do well with a direct, in ground, sowing about Memorial Day.

FlowerCaring for your newly planted veggies and herbs.
Keep soil/container garden mix evenly moist. Wet/dry watering cycles can cause delayed fruiting, stem end cracks, and blossom end rot. Go easy on the fertilizer. Sure plants need feeding, but over doing it will lead to lots of leaves and few blooms. We use Osmocote®, a slow-release fertilizer that lasts for about 3 months. Planting colorful annuals (especially yellow ones) in with your veggies will attract pollinators and other beneficials that keep pests in check. Know thy enemy! Check for pests, especially on the underside of the leaves. A brisk rinse with a water nozzle will knock most of them off, so avoid using chemicals.
Our Annuals Availability List Page will be posted in April. Happy Gardening!

Annuals, and Perennials, and Shrubs...OH MY!: May 2014

FlowerAnnuals are a gardener's best friend when it comes to all summer color in beds and containers. We usually start with those cold-hardy varieties including pansies, violas, and snapdragons that can breeze through those inevitable, late-spring cold snaps that would nip other annuals. Then there are those tender perennials (AKA cold-hardy annuals) that are up next for planting including salvias, coreopsis, and assorted others that can take below freezing temps through spring. We've given up on marigolds, zinnias, portulacca and the like since they have zero tolerance for even a hint of frost in the air. What's equally nice about cold-hardy annuals is that they are also the last ones to freeze out, when our early-fall frost first strikes, lasting well into September and even into October. Petunias, calibrachoa, and verbena can also be trusted to tough out some chilly spring weather and will also hang in there through early-fall, but we usually hold off until early-May to consider taking them out for acclimating. I'm a creature of habit, and have planted our display garden containers on Earth Day, then start to acclimate for my personal containers and in ground planting no sooner than early-May. By then, the picnic table is out and I can shove them under there if snow strikes late. A light cotton sheet works best for needed covering since it can be left on through the day.

FlowerPerennials are my choice for nearly all in ground planting since they come back every year providing me with a better value and a one-time bed prep prior to planting. As I explain to my newbies, some perennials are short-lived (3-5 years), like the coreopsis, delphinium, and shasta daisies while some live for generations including peonies, daylilies, and iris. Some spread vigorously within two seasons, and some take 3-5 years to get settled in. Some will spread their seeds here, there, and everywhere while some are sterile and will stay neatly where planted. Our website is a hybrid between a catalog and a newsletter. I try to provide information about the individual plants, but go a bit further and share some things I've learned about gardening in Northern Nevada. I get a range of people stopping by, from those who have forgotten more than I'll ever know, and those that are just getting started. Both have found our website helpful and I suggest at least looking over it prior to making plant selections.

FlowerShrubs will always be an important element to any landscape. Available in a wide range of sizes, leaf texture, foliage color, and branching habit, shrubs fill needs for either a city lot or large acreage designs. Used in landscape designs for...ever, shrubs are a structural element used to divide areas/rooms in the same way that walls serve the interior design. Also referred to as screens, garden backdrops, and vertical elements, shrubs provide privacy and a sense of enclosure as we avoid views and noises from intrusive surroundings by creating spaces to relax and enjoy being outdoors. Using a mix rather than a single variety planting creates diversity especially when accentuated by groupings of colorful perennials. Shrubs that turn to shades of yellow, orange, and red continue their seasonal interest into fall as gardeners spend the last warm days of the season out in their gardens. They also provide a vertical element to an otherwise one-dimensional view as gardens are viewed from indoors looking out.

The Language of Gardening: June 2014

Hobby enthusiasts, including gardeners/growers, often use terms that get bantered about which may be unfamiliar to those just getting started. This is a short list of some of those frequently used terms that may help clarify some questions most often asked by people stopping by the greenhouse and nursery.

FlowerAcclimate; Acclimating plants is the process of allowing plants time to become accustomed to their new growing environment prior to planting. Plants from the greenhouse have no experience with wind, direct sun, high daytime temps or low nighttime temps, so their tender growth needs time to toughen up, literally, to the conditions they will face once planted. We suggest at least 3-4 days and nights.

FlowerGenus; Along with variety, cultivar, and species are words that are often used interchangeably in reference to the botanical name of a plant. We usually opt for genus since most plants that reach the mainstream trade via growers are from, but not the same as, plants found in the wild. Example: Echinacea purpurea 'Ruby Star' is the genus, species, and cultivar of the Purple Coneflower we offer. Echinacea purpurea 'Cheyenne Spirit', same genus and species, different cultivar. There are also plants that are patented or branded, for example Proven Winners. Some series of plants are registered names, for example, Wave Petunias.

FlowerAmendment; A broad term which can include organic matter such as composted manures, wood mulch, peat moss, or kitchen compost that can be incorporated into the soil. I think of incorporating amendments as feeding both the soil and the plants. By improving/amending the soil, plantings are better able to develop a vigorous root system. This applies to intended lawn areas, beds, borders, hedges, and vegetable gardens. When you are ready to amend the soil prior to planting the area, the tiller's tines need to be brought up since amendments do their best work when limited to the top 4-6 inches of soil. Organic amendments break down as they are used and need to be replaced seasonally.

FlowerMulch; Literally defined, means a protective covering spread on the ground to reduce evaporation and suppress weeds. Mulches include, chipped or shredded bark, clean gravel, ground fabrics, rubber (yuck!), and given the creative forces behind gardening, the list goes on. We don't use ground fabric in the gardens, but we do use it under the washed gravel in the outdoor retail areas and under bark in the gazebo area. Gravel as mulch in the gardens is preferred by xeric plants and designs that include rock gardens. I include small bark chips in my "mix" and use it between perennials and shrubs in the gardens after cutting back the perennials in late fall. So, you might be asking yourself, "What's the difference between adding an amendment, and using mulch?", short answer, not much. Typically, amendments are incorporated before planting, and mulch is used after.

FlowerWater-wise; A term that refers to the plants, not the people who water them. It's a favorite listing because there's such a wide variety of plants available to choose from and because, let's face it...we live in a high desert and water-wise plants are a smart choice. I believe that most mortalities in the landscape can be directed to the amount of water a plant needs vs. the amount of water a plant gets. Water-wise plants have adapted over many years to hold the water they need in their roots and foliage. Pubescent foliage with its fine hairs, traps moisture, narrow leaves also tend to require less water. An example of a xeric (zir-ik) plant with both characteristics is Cerastium 'Snow in Summer'. Xeriscape; Landscape principles that make a low-maintenance, water-wise landscape both attractive and attainable: Thoughtful planning, Improving soil conditions, Limiting turf areas, Mulching, Grouping plants with similar water needs, Efficient irrigation, and Maintenance including weeding, pruning, and scheduled fertilizing. Consider this, whether to water depends on the weather.

FlowerAeration; Via aerators for lawn areas and via incorporating coarse materials including sand, bark chips, perlite, etc. into the soil to allow for water and nutrients to flow evenly through the root profile and to reduce soil compaction.

FlowerFertilizer; N-P-K: Percentage of Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium. A balanced fertilizer is suitable for most plants. Water-soluble fertilizers dissolve easily in warm water and can be applied through a sprayer for foliar feeding or a nozzle applied directly to the roots. Slow-release fertilizers have prills with small amounts of water-soluble fertilizer that release small increments of fertilizer each time the plant is watered. The more often you water, the more often fertilizer is released.

You're Never Alone In The Gardens: July 2014

Lacewing Fly

Beneficial insects thrive in healthy gardens, keeping pests in check, and adding to the sensory pleasures of being outside. A commitment to stop spraying persistent, non-specific insecticides in the gardens and landscape is the first step to ensuring the safety of beneficials. Once they return, providing food (including pollen and nectar from flowers), water, and shelter will nurture them and their offspring for generations. Planting a diversity of flower types increases the number of individual species attracted. Birds, including the ever-favorite hummingbird, are voracious feeders and will also do their part in a healthy ecosystem to keep pests in check.