Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) receives its name from its blue inflorescence, an open, branching, pyramid-shaped structure known as a panicle. The panicle is 1-1/2 to 5 inches long and 1 to 3 inches wide. The waving branches bear spikelets on their ends. Each spikelet has three to six flowers capable of producing abundant awnless seed. Read More
Silver bluestem (Bothriochloa saccharoides) is a unique, attractive bunchgrass that derives its name from its silky white inflorescences. These silvery plumes range from 2-1/2 to 6 inches in length and obtain their distinctive appearance from their short, bent awns. Another name this species has received from its appearance is silver beardgrass. Read More
Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) is one of the most iconic plants of the tallgrass prairie. Its sturdy, upright stems are usually covered with a blue, waxy coating, giving it its name. These stems grow in clumps and vary dramatically in height depending on the environment. Big bluestem can be a modest three feet tall, but it can also reach an amazing nine feet in height. The scale of the stems pale in comparison to the root system, however, which may probe as deep as 13 feet below the surface of the ground! Read More
Foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum) receives its common name from its unique bushy inflorescence, or flower, which is similar in shape to the tail of a fox. This flower averages about two to five inches long and is soft and greenish or purplish. Its fluffy appearance comes from the awns, which can measure up to three inches long. Each yellowish-brown seed typically has four to eight awns, and it is also armed with tiny barbs along the edges. Read More
If you are new to gardening, you definitely need to give mulch some consideration. There are good reasons that many experienced gardeners use mulch. In short, mulch is good for both you and your plants. Here’s why. Read More
Spring is only a month away, and with spring comes gardening season. Now is a good time to check the germination rates of those seeds you have stashed away in the basement—before you need to plant them! Read More
Attracting hummingbirds to your backyard doesn’t have to be complicated! If you want to enjoy the beautiful sight of these tiny creatures hovering outside, there are two incredibly simple ways to put out the welcome mat. One requires a little advanced planning, and one can be implemented today.
Plant Hummingbird-Friendly Flowers
A diverse display of flowers is a sight few hummingbirds can resist. And if a few blooms feature their favorite color—red—so much the better!
Red flowers that hummingbirds enjoy include:
- Bee balm.
- Scarlet sage.
- Trumpet honeysuckle.
- Red cardinal flower.
But just because it isn’t red doesn’t mean that hummingbirds won’t like it! Other proven favorites include:
- Blazing star.
- Butterfly bush.
- Purple coneflower.
Note that tube-shaped blossoms help the hummingbirds access the nectar.
Have you ever been tempted to buy a hummingbird nectar mix from your favorite supplier of all things bird-related? Resist the urge! Commercial nectar mixes usually contain artificial colorings and preservatives that are actually harmful to hummingbirds.
Incidentally, the cheapest and easiest solution is actually the best for the birds—just dissolve plain old white cane sugar in clean water in a 1:4 ratio. White sugar is sucrose, which is a major part of the natural diet of a hummingbird. While there are other nutrients hummingbirds need, they will obtain those by sipping out of the flowers you planted for them.
Never feed any of these ingredients to hummingbirds:
- Honey; it will ferment outdoors and produce deadly bacteria.
- Artificial sweeteners (sucralose, xylitol, etc.).
- Minimally processed sugars (sucanat, turbinado, etc.); they contain iron, which is toxic to hummingbirds.
And please do not add red food coloring to your homemade nectar. Red food coloring usually contains red dye #40, which can be toxic to hummingbirds. Instead, alert hummingbirds to the presence of nectar by selecting a feeder that displays red prominently. This one fits the bill, plus does not tend to jettison nectar by blowing around in a strong wind like some models do.
Enjoy the Hummingbirds!
Attracting hummingbirds is easy! With these two easy steps, you’ll be sure to enjoy the tiny creatures this summer. Keep your camera handy!
Gardening season is finally upon us! If you’re like most gardeners, you are looking forward to planting seeds with the full expectation of making this the best gardening year yet.
While much of gardening comes down to experience, diligence, and creativity, having the right tools makes a big difference. One handy tool is the garden journal.
Advantages of Keeping a Garden Journal
- Permanent record. While you can keep gardening notes on loose sheets of paper or sticky notes, the chances of you finding and referring to these notes in the future are slim to none. When your notes are in one place, whether that is a binder or a real journal, you have access to valuable information.
- Memory aid. Really, are you going to remember what’s going on in your garden from one year to the next? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably not. Write down important information. It will save you a few headaches.
- Simplicity. Writing in a garden journal gives you an opportunity to condense your thoughts and observations into key information that you can use.
- Learning tool. By noting our successes and mistakes, we have a road map to use in future years. This helps us build expertise quickly, since we are not wasting time repeating mistakes.
- Sharpen observation skills. Part of becoming a green thumb is observation. If you have a journal that invites you to note your observations, you might just find yourself looking for new ways to fill the pages. Your powers of observation improve, and so does your understanding of your unique garden.
- Proof of progress. You really are developing a green thumb, and your garden journal contains proof. A review of past journals can keep you motivated and spark ideas for overcoming current challenges.
- Gardening memories. If you have gardened long enough, you have undoubtedly made some great memories. A glance through an old journal can bring recollections back as though the events happened yesterday.
What to Write in a Garden Journal
- Garden plans. Did you know that a garden journal can double as a planning tool? You can use your journal to keep track of seed lists, garden maps, and planting dates. This is an especially good use of a journal, since it keeps all of your gardening information in one place.
- Frost dates. While you can find average first and last frost dates for your area easily enough, you will have much better results if you track the frost dates in your own garden. After several years, calculate the average. Does your garden tend to be warmer or cooler than the surrounding area? It makes a difference!
- Signs of the seasons. Let nature be your guide. Every spring comes a little earlier or later than the last one. With practice, you can learn to plant in sync with the seasons. A journal can help you keep track of signs to look for.
- Crop rotations. Don’t let diseases or nutrient deficiencies build up in your soil! Hang onto your map and planting records. Having access to last year’s information is a big help. Having access to the last three years’ information is even better.
- To-dos. Keep track of gardening chores and how often they need to be done. While you’re writing down what you observed today, jot notes on what you need to do tomorrow or in a week. Staying organized is suddenly quite easy!
- Experiments and their results. Are you trying something new this year? Write it down, and be sure to note the results as they arise. Not only does the process of writing cement information in our heads, but even if we do forget we have a permanent record to refer to.
- Notes on favorite plants. Need to remember when to cultivate the asparagus bed? How to prune the blackberries? Where to plant nasturtiums to take advantage of their pest-repelling properties? Keep pages in your journal specifically for notes on plants that you grow every year. Now you don’t just have a journal—you have a personalized reference book!
- Favorite varieties. Likewise, keep track of your favorite plant varieties. Note which tomatoes were the easiest to grow and which lettuce tasted the best. When it’s time to buy seeds again, you’ll already know what kinds to get.
- Pests and diseases. Every gardener (particularly every organic gardener) has a list of “bad guys” that they count on battling every year. Improve your warfare strategy by recording the habits and preferences of the bug or fungus in question, then list ways to deter or destroy it.
A Final Tip
The most important thing to remember about keeping a garden journal is that it should be simple. If wrestling with a bulky binder feels complicated to you, you may very well give up on your journal before the season ends. If writing a detailed essay on your garden every day feels complicated to you, you probably will avoid the task like the plague.
Find a journal that invites you to jot down your thoughts. Then write down only what you are interested in remembering.
The Family Garden Journal
Our 466-page journal offers room for both planning and observing, featuring a shopping list, a planting schedule, a garden map, a maintenance page, a daily journal, and pages for notes on plants, pests, and diseases. Preview sample pages and more information here.
Knowing the state of your garden soil is handy, but if your garden is for personal family use only, you probably don’t feel justified in ordering a professional lab analysis. Fortunately, inexpensive test kits are available online.
This kit by Luster Leaf seems to do a fair job. It tests:
As you can see, only the bare basics are included. The tests focus on NPK, not trace minerals. Fortunately, it is fairly easy to keep trace mineral levels in balance by regular applications of compost and organic matter.
Using the kit is easy. Complete instructions are included, but the basic procedure is:
- Prepare the soil sample.
- Dilute the soil sample according to the directions.
- Put the solution into the test container.
- Add the appropriate powder to the solution.
- Compare the color of the solution to the color chart on the container.
Did you detect a problem with your garden soil? The instructions offer advice on how to remedy the situation.
One word of advice: The powder may lose some of its efficiency over time. Keep the powder capsules stored in the included airtight bags in a cool, dry, dark place. Try to use the tests within about 18 months for the most reliable results.
Simple and inexpensive—perfect for the budget-conscious gardener.