All posts by Botanical Interests

10 Flowers for Quick Color

2014-07-07 10.12.12

The growing season has arrived in Colorado, and I couldn’t be happier! The garden calls, so I have been making a list of some varieties that can be direct sown and flower quickly adding some new bursts of color this summer. I am always able to find a little bare patch here and there between my long-standing perennials that can use a punch of color. You probably already know about bachelor’s buttons, cosmos, and zinnias. Here are more of my favorite, throw and grow, last-minute lovelies.

  1. Sweet Alyssum is oh so fragrant, attracts beneficial insects, and ever-blooming in my climate. In hot areas, expect it to take a mid-summer siesta.
  2. California Bluebells remind me of hiking amid the dazzling wildflowers of California. I sowed these in a rock wall bordering the garden and fell in love with the color!
  3. Calendula accepts neglect and keeps producing sunny flowers all season, and year after year if you let them reseed. ‘Oopsy Daisy’ is really compact and cute as a button!
  4. Flax flowers quickly and handles dry, hot conditions with ease. Expect them to reseed for years of color!
  5. Moss Rose Portulaca creates a carpet of color that doesn’t flinch at hot, droughty conditions.  Expect these practically care-free flowers to reseed too.
  6. Nasturtiums, which I affectionately call “nasties” (partly because one of our warehouse managers couldn’t pronounce “nasturtium”), have not only lovely blooms, but also gorgeous foliage. But don’t let the nickname fool you, they add a nice peppery kick and wonderful color to salads.
  7. Poppies are so easy to grow; just scatter seeds! With so many shapes and sizes, it’s easy to fall in love with them. They’re drought tolerant, too! The color of ‘Mikado’ is really eye catching and ‘Lauren’s Grape’ is a dramatic purple!
  8. Sunflowers seem to go from seed to towering flower in almost no time and they feed the birds in the fall!
  9. ‘Striped Japonica’ Ornamental Corn adds big, bold texture and colors with its striped magenta, white, and green leaves. At 5’–6′ tall it makes an excellent backdrop for other flowers or a lovely privacy screen.
  10. Violas are the first and last to bloom, since they thrive in cooler weather. I love the royal purple faces of ‘King Henry’ or and the tri-colored ‘Johnny-Jump-Up’ always makes me smile. Violas  I love these edible cuties in a salad!

    Violets in Judy's Salad
    Violas in my salad!

Flower mixes are also as easy as throwing and growing. With some watering of course, they provide endless color all growing season! Flower mixes may be sown as early as 4 weeks before your average last frost until the end of May.

Use the comments to let us know what quick color you are sowing in your garden. Wishing you a colorful spring!

Patio Gardening is Easier Than you Think!

Banner Patio 2

I do not remember a time when I haven’t gardened. Even as a 20-something living in an apartment with a small balcony, I gardened. I suppose I am the epitome of “If there is a will, there is a way.” With some creativity (most gardeners’ middle name) and some specially selected varieties, my containers became absolutely beautiful, productive, and, as a thrifty 20-something, I was able to do it on a budget.

These are the essentials:

  • At least 4 hours of sun
  • Water
  • Containers with drainage. (Think outside the box! You can use 5 gallon pickle buckets from the local sub shop as long as you drill holes in the bottom.)
  • Potting Soil
  • Liquid Fertilizer
  • Most importantly, if your space is really limited, narrow down your list by choosing only the plants you love to eat & flowers to attract pollinators.

With 4 hours of sun you can grow leafy crops like lettuce, rainbow colored Swiss chard, mustards, and herbs. Leafy crops are beautiful with so many textures and colors; they almost look ornamental. Leafy greens and herbs will be happy even in short or smaller pots; however, the smaller the pot, the more often you may need to water. I would recommend pots that are around 8″ deep or greater.

Garden at the balcony

With 6 or more hours of sun, the possibilities with fruiting crops like tomatoes, peppers, melon, eggplant, beans, and cucumbers are nearly endless! In the case of tomatoes, determinate types or semi-determinate types stay shorter, but if you have a trellis that can support a 6′ indeterminate tomato, go for it! Tomatoes, in particular, need a good amount of root space; I would recommend a 5-gallon, bucket-sized pot. Peppers and eggplant do well in a 3-gallon pot. Beans (pole or bush) cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash need at least 1.5’ or so. Left untrellised, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash will appreciate about a 2′ wide pot to support plants.

Typically, cucumbers, squashes, melons, tomatoes and pumpkins are generally thought of as space hogs, so we intentionally carry some real space-efficient choices. ‘Spacemaster’ is an excellent bushy, rather than vining cucumber especially for small spaces. The same is true of ‘Gold Nugget’ winter squash, which is very compact, and I love that each squash is a perfectly delicious serving for two! ‘Emerald Delight’ gives and gives dark green, tasty zucchini all summer from productive, compact plants that are resistant to powdery mildew and other diseases. ‘Minnesota Midget’ is also a space saver and produces the most delectable, 4”, sweet melons in no time! ‘Lizzano’ is a well-behaved cherry tomato, perfect for hanging baskets or other small spaces. ‘Jack Be Little’ is the cutest little pumpkin you have ever seen, and the flavor is actually amazing. These diminutive pumpkins make perfect bowls for pumpkin soup, or beautiful, long-lasting fall décor.

Young Cucumbers on vine

Here’s another great tip I learned: Growing vertically gives you more room! Use wall planters, hanging baskets, or trellises. A piece of lattice, cattle panel, or remesh (the less expensive option) is sturdy enough to hold up tomatoes, small winter squash, and cucumbers. Create your own vertical planters using pallets, gutters, or sticks and strings to help you bring your garden to new “heights”. If you build it, plants will climb it.

Remember, no matter the space, the miracle is in the seed. Seeds are programmed to grow, they just need you to give them that little bit of soil, sun, water, and love.

We love to hear what and how you are growing! Please share your patio garden tips with us in the comments below.

 

4 Transplanting Steps

Planting vegetable garden

The precious seedlings you started indoors need time to adapt to life outdoors. Their climate-controlled environment and perfect growing medium has given them a great start, with little to no stress, but now it’s time to give them a new home in the garden.

No stress here! To reduce any transplant stress, harden off your seedlings to help them adjust to the outdoor conditions. Gradually expose your plants to more sunshine and elements each day until they are acclimated. (Read complete instructions in our article, 5 Steps to Hardening Off Seedlings.)

Get ready! I dig a hole with my transplanter, the same depth as my starter pot, but three times as wide. The transplanter has measurements on it, making this task really easy. I’ve found that this is also a good time to mix in some compost if needed (two parts soil to one part compost is a good ratio). Water seedlings before transplanting them so that their roots are more flexible and less likely to tear. A dilute mixture of liquid kelp or seaweed fertilizer in the water can help them handle the stress of moving, too.

 Time to transplant. I usually transplant in the evening or on a cloudy day to ease the seedlings into their new home. You will find that even well-hardened-off seedlings may wilt if they are transplanted in the heat of the day. They will recover, but the stress can slow progress. I love how our paper pots reduce stress at transplanting, so I use them every chance I get. I’ve found that if I soak the bottom, the perforation tears even easier. I just place my seedlings in the hole and backfill, making sure the garden soil level matches the soil level in the pot and cover the top of the pot with soil. You really only want to bury a lot of the stem of plants like leeks or tomatoes.

Grow baby grow! While the seedlings are growing new roots in their new home, they need lots of water, so for the next few weeks after transplanting, I’m diligent about their moisture levels. I poke a finger in the soil (just far enough away so that I’m not disturbing roots) every couple days and make sure not to let them dry out.

It’s that simple! By following these transplanting tips and more organic gardening tips found inside Botanical Interests’ seed packets you are well on your way to enjoying a beautiful and bountiful garden season!

As always, we welcome your trusty tips and tricks in the comments section!

 

Sowing it Forward!

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My May Day tradition is to share seedlings with friends, family, and neighbors. It is easy and enjoyable in late winter to sow a few extra seeds with loved ones in mind. I would label little plastic cells with masking tape and cut the cells apart—it wasn’t elegant but it was functional.

Then a few years ago, eureka! I had the idea for our fun, recycled paper pots that make it easy to not only start our seed, but share the seedlings with friends, family, and neighbors! There is nothing like seeing the excitement of a gardener’s face when given a little life to tend in spring! The pots solve other gardener obstacles as well—they can be individually labeled with variety, date sown, and at transplanting, the perforated bottom tears away so I can plop the whole biodegradable pot in the ground. Before we designed the larger 3” and 4” recycled paper pots, I never bothered starting cucurbits indoors (squash, cucumber, melon) because they do not like the inevitable root disturbance at transplanting. The perforated bottoms on these pots means I no longer have to worry about root disturbance, and I can grow longer season watermelons!

I knew there had to be other home gardeners that were not only plant-sharers like me, but that were also looking for a greener, easier way to start seeds. Because so many gardeners loved the 3″ paper pots, we added a 4″ and 1½” pots with a tray so gardeners have more options. More options equals more sharing!

Share what you are sowing! Tag us with #botanicalinterests or comment below.

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Garden Planning Time!

onion starters

When I lived in California, I would joke that I gardened until Thanksgiving, rested until New Year, and then started gardening again. Gardening in Colorado is a completely different ball game! The ground is frozen, the air is cold, and we’re not even through the worst of it. With these cold temperatures, it is sometimes hard (even for me) to remember to start sowing seeds now—spring will be here before I know it!

The new catalog is out, and I have been enjoying it (and our new coloring book) cozied up by the fireplace with the dogs but, goodness, I need to get planning and sowing! This year, I want to add foxgloves, Canterbury Bells, and delphiniums to my flower beds; artichokes, celery, and onions in my vegetable garden; and I would hate to miss out on our pumpkin on a stick ornamental eggplant for fall décor. But, if I want to enjoy these plants in June, I need to start planning now. Here are a few things that benefit from an early start indoors (10 to 12 weeks before our average last spring frost):

Artichoke Columbine
Celery Echinacea
Eggplant Little Bluestem Grass
Onion Heliotrope
Rosemary Lavender
Penstemon barbatus
Verbena

I use several of the printable charts available online to help with the planning process. They keep me so organized! Our sowing guides are also extremely helpful. I will get out my planning charts and a calendar, mark my average last frost date, organize my seed packets by number of weeks until average last frost, and get to sowing!

when to sow

If you don’t know your average last frost date, contact your county extension office or a reputable local garden center to find out. Using that frost date, I can count the weeks back to know when to sow or stratify and mark it on our handy Indoor Seed Starting Worksheet. So here I go, coloring book down (for now); let the planning and sowing begin.

 

 

To plant a 6-pack or to direct sow…that is the question

seedling

I was at our local garden center the other day with a gardening friend, Sue. We marveled over the 4” double impatiens, “ooohed” and “aaahed” at the hanging basket of fuchsias that looked like dancing ballerinas, and made jokes about the extensive, but wonderful, choices of hot peppers.

As we neared the back of the greenhouse, we came to the area filled with 6-packs. Now, before I start ranting, I must disclose that I had more than a couple of flats of 6-packs on my cart before the days end, but there were things I would not buy in a 6-pack, as there are many herbs, veggies, and flowers that just don’t transplant well. When Sue picked up a 6-pack of parsley, she didn’t realize she was about to receive a lecture. She is a good gardener and sows seed often, so I was surprised by her choice. Parsley is one example of a plant that doesn’t transplant well. Parsley grown in a warm greenhouse, and then transplanted into a cool garden can often go into shock and bolt. The radical change in temperature makes the plant think it is fall and should focus its energy into seed production instead of leaf production. Parsley is a cool season herb that prefers to germinate in cool soil, and then grow in warm soil. It really does best sown directly in the ground in early spring.

But explaining all this to Sue just got me going. I noticed 6-packs of carrots, lettuce, fennel, squash, corn, and radishes! All of those vegetables are so easy to direct sow, and do so much better sown directly in the ground. Transplanted seedlings go through a period of adjustment, which can also lengthen the time it takes them to reach bloom or harvest.  Some crops are so quick; the transplant shock really slows things down. Some plants have a long taproot that just gets tangled up in a container, and therefore, won’t transplant well. Direct seeding is not only easier and better in many cases; it is cheaper! There are things like perennial flowers, tomatoes and peppers that I like to start indoors to get a jump on my area’s short season, then transplant them out into their final garden home. It is important to understand which crops have an advantage being transplanted versus direct sown, in order to avoid slow, weak, or poor yielding plants.  I explained to Sue that I worry about beginning gardeners that may use these 6-packs, then give up when they are not successful. I ranted for a fair amount of time about the pitfalls for new gardeners, when Sue reminded me of the resilient and positive spirit of gardeners. “It’s all trial and error. Gardeners never give up. We learn and we grow and then we plan next year’s garden.” She’s right. But just in case, here is a list to consider:

Plants that perform better when directly sown are usually faster crops; ones that do not like their roots disturbed, and all root crops.

Arugula
Basil
Beans
Borage
Cilantro
Chervil
Corn
Cress
Cucumber
Dill
Fennel
Lettuce
Melon
Peas
Parsley
Pumpkin
Root crops (beets, carrots, radish, rutabaga, turnip, etc.)
Spinach
Squash (summer and winter)
Watermelon

Bachelor’s buttons
Calendula
Cardinal Climber
China Aster
Cosmos
Cypress Vine
Hollyhock
Larkspur
Love-in-a-Mist
Moonflower
Morning Glory
Nasturtium
Poppy
Sunflowers
Sweet Pea
Zinnia

Moon Garden Daydream

Moonflower at Night

As a kid I was fascinated with the moon. I remember lying in bed, squinting into binoculars for what seemed like hours, wondering if the surface was meant to look like a face and imagining what its mysterious landscape looked like up close. I haven’t outgrown my relationship with the moon. On full moon nights I am not beyond howling at the moon with my family. I love that my now teenage girls and I still echo back and forth, “I love you to the moon and back”—our special saying that they remember from a sleepy childhood bedtime story.

For years I have sown moonflower vine outside from seed. The 15’ vigorous vine has palm-sized night-blooming flowers that waft an intoxicating perfume you cannot ignore. Another fragrant moon garden favorite of mine is Indian Peace Pipe Nicotiana. This stately plant stands 3’–5’ tall, blooming jasmine-scented white flowers from summer to fall, day and night. Both of these spectacular moon garden flowers attract large night moths. Hummingbird moths (also called Hawk or Sphinx moths) are the size of a tiny hummingbird, and hover just like one, too. Hummingbird moths are mostly active at night and are specially adapted to pollinate the moonflower with their long proboscis (tube-like mouth). Seeing these magnificent moths drawn to the heavy moonflower and nicotiana perfume, much like I am, reminds me that nature’s activity doesn’t end when the sun goes down. Providing unique moon garden varieties is another way to create a habitat for creatures that I may not see often, but that share my love of the moon.

Will you start a moon garden this year? Share your enchanted garden photos with us!

 

 

Moonflower 1120p-Nicotiana-Indian-Peace-Pipe-m

 

See all Botanical Interests moon garden varieties 

 

 

 

Peas are a-shootin’

Pea shoots

Peas are up and my mind is a-flurry with all the fresh flavors my garden will soon yield.  But right now, I can enjoy pea shoots—one of my favorite early garden treats. The tender green tendrils may grab at the trellis to grow, but the shoots are edible and taste a lot like peas. Harvesting a few pea shoots won’t harm the vines’ growth, but actually encourages more branches, potentially producing more peas at harvest. When plants are a few inches tall, select 2”–4” shoots from the top of the plants and pinch them off using your fingernails or scissors, leaving at least one set of true leaves on the plant (see illustration). Assuming you don’t snack on them right in the garden, add them to a salad or use them as a garnish for dinner.

Pea plant for shoots

If you love pea shoots as much as I do, at any time of year you can sow a container of peas for shoots. Sometime in February I got the itch for a fresh salad, so I set up a container indoors in front of a sunny window and sowed pea seeds 1” apart on all sides. Pea seeds germinate faster if they are soaked 12 to 24 hours prior to sowing, but it isn’t necessary. In just two to four weeks you will be eating fresh shoots! Our Peas for Shoots Microgreens variety is delicious and can easily be grow indoors any time of year. You can even harvest a crop two or three times to get your fill.

If your pea plants start to flower, you can eat those, too! I harvest just a few at a time so I don’t impact the pea yield. Usually, you will see two flowers coming from one leaf junction. By harvesting one of the pair, you are actually making the remaining flower generate a larger pea than it otherwise would have. Aren’t pea plants interesting?

Did you sow peas this year? What seedlings are you starting to see in your garden?

 

Spring Into Peas

Garden, sowing - woman sowing seeds into the soil

 

At the beginning of winter, I enjoy its neutral color scheme, fuzzy sweaters, crackling fires, and warm bowls of soup. But by mid-winter, I need to see color, and have the promise of spring that a beautiful flower arrangement affords me. That’s why through January, February, and March I maintain at least four vases of cut flowers in my house.

My longing for that promise is over because today is the first day of spring! Today I am sowing peas–snap peas and sweet peas. Even though a few bulbs and violas have already begun to sprout in my garden, the ceremony of sowing peas is my official “It’s spring” ritual. I usually soak my pea and sweet pea seeds overnight (but it isn’t a deal breaker).  Then, I love taking the round, plump seeds and snuggling them into a blanket of soil. I know that within a few days, the seedlings’ bright green foliage will appear, warming my green thumb, and signaling that my vegetable garden is officially open for business! Color will soon return to my previously frozen, snow-covered garden.

What are you sowing on the first day of spring? What’s your garden signal that spring has begun?

Butterfly Haven

Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, Michoacan (Mexico)

When I think about warmer weather (because it’s currently 14ºF in Colorado), I think about enjoying the scents and sounds in my garden, including the delicate flutter of butterflies. Because of the monarch’s sharp decline over the last 20 years, Botanical Interests donates packets each year to National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) pollinator programs and partnered with the Pollinator Partnership to create our I Love Pollinators seed packet, donating all proceeds back to them

Curtis and I have a special connection to the Monarch butterfly—our first date was to the Natural Bridges State Beach Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve in Santa Cruz, California. Monarchs dripping from the swaying eucalyptus branches and fluttering over our heads was a beautiful sight and very romantic. Sowing butterfly-friendly varieties in my garden each year keeps that memory fresh.

One of the best group of plants to sow for monarch butterflies is the milkweed (Asclepias species).  Butterflies will flock to your garden, and you’ll be able to observe the life cycle of the monarch butterfly, as milkweed is the only plant that the adult female monarch butterfly will lay eggs on, and the sole source of food for their larvae (caterpillars). I love the fiery, red-orange flowers of our Butterfly Flower Milkweed, the cool tones of our Irresistible Blend, and the robust, sweetly-scented flowers of Showy Milkweed and Common Milkweed. Monarchs do need both the host plant (milkweed) and nectar plants, so be sure to provide a variety of flowers for nectar to feed the adult monarchs.

We hope that by growing milkweed and other butterfly-friendly varieties, including rudbeckia and dill, in our garden, as well as partnering with pollinator organizations, we can inspire other Botanical Interests gardeners to do a small part in their gardens, too. Together we can make a big difference in replenishing butterfly habitats.