Tag: Ornamental Plants

The Two Easiest Ways to Attract Hummingbirds
The Sunflower State

The Two Easiest Ways to Attract Hummingbirds

The Two Easiest Ways to Attract HummingbirdsAttracting 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!

The Two Easiest Ways to Attract Hummingbirds

Butterflies love bee balm, too!

Red flowers that hummingbirds enjoy include:

  • Begonia.
  • Columbine.
  • Daylily.
  • Gilia.
  • Hibiscus.
  • Lantana.
  • Peony.
  • Zinnia.
  • 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:

  • Foxglove.
  • Geranium.
  • Hollyhock.
  • Impatiens.
  • Nasturtium.
  • Petunia.
  • Phlox.
  • Yucca.
  • Blazing star.
  • Butterfly bush.
  • Purple coneflower.

Note that tube-shaped blossoms help the hummingbirds access the nectar.


The Two Easiest Ways to Attract HummingbirdsFill a Nectar Feeder

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!

Keeping a Garden Journal
The Garden

Keeping a Garden Journal

Keeping a Garden JournalGardening 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.


Helpful Resource

The Family Garden JournalThe 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.

Luster Leaf Rapitest Soil Test Kit
The Garden

Luster Leaf Rapitest Soil Test Kit

Luster Leaf Rapitest Soil Test KitKnowing 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:

  • pH.
  • Nitrogen.
  • Phosphorus.
  • Potassium.

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:

  1. Prepare the soil sample.
  2. Dilute the soil sample according to the directions.
  3. Put the solution into the test container.
  4. Add the appropriate powder to the solution.
  5. 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.

The Family Garden Journal
The Garden

Family Garden Journal Introductory Price Ends January 2017

The Family Garden JournalThe new compact edition of The Family Garden Journal, published by Homestead on the Range, is currently available for $19.99 at Amazon.  This offer will end at the beginning of the new year!

This beautiful paperback journal can help you or a loved one develop a green thumb while creating a keepsake:

  • Start by planning for success with our Step-by-Step Gardening Guide.
  • Check items off of your shopping list as you collect seeds for the growing season.
  • Mark each plant’s place on your garden map.
  • Build a customized schedule to ensure that each seed makes it into the ground at the proper time.
  • Divide the work among several family members with one handy table.
  • Build your own gardening manual with attractive reference pages and a 366-day journal—now in a handy, compact size.
  • Find out with the turn of a page which plant varieties were your favorites, which pest control methods worked best, and how much produce you harvested.

The Family Garden Journal makes a great gift, so take advantage of the introductory pricing and order a copy or two before Christmas.  Don’t forget to buy one for your own family!

Sample pages are available for preview here.

Walnut Toxicity
The Garden

Walnut Toxicity

Walnut ToxicityTo protect themselves from competition, black walnut trees exude a toxin called juglone.  Gardens planted near black walnut trees or roostocks frequently fail to thrive due to this toxin.  Many plants can be affected, but tomatoes and potatoes show the greatest susceptibility.

Juglone enters the soil from the roots, bark, leaves, and nut hulls of the walnut tree.  It cannot move far, as it is not water-soluble, but it impacts nearby garden plants by interfering with their respiration.  This weakens the plants and eventually causes their death.



  • Stunted growth.
  • Sudden wilting.
  • Twisted, yellow leaves.
  • Death.


Walnut ToxicityTreatment

There is no cure for walnut toxicity.  If it becomes a problem, the garden must be relocated or moved into raised beds.



If you can, choose a garden location away from walnut trees.  On small properties, this may not be an option, but you still have two other possibilities to consider:

  • Choose only plants tolerant of juglone (see Helpful Resources below).
  • Grow all plants in raised beds, regularly swept clean of leaves and nuts.

Even if your garden is in an ideal location, never use black walnut leaves, bark, or chips as mulch.


Helpful Resource

Black Walnut Toxicity
Handy factsheet offering more information, including lists of plants susceptible and resistant to juglone.


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Top 10 Books for Beginning Farmers
The Farm

Top 10 Books for Beginning Farmers

Top 10 Books for Beginning FarmersJust getting started?

Whether you are still in the early planning stage or are trying to overcome your first obstacle, one of the best things you can do is to read extensively. Many others have walked the path before you. Why not smooth your own learning curve and take advantage of their experience?

While there are many excellent books we could recommend (just check out our bookshelf), we have picked out 10 must-reads to get you going.


10.  Wildflowers & Grasses of Kansas

Need to identify a plant in your pasture? Start here. Although a little technical, it is well organized and supplied with a glossary and illustrations for ease of use. The plant descriptions include useful notes on suitability for livestock where applicable. (Not from Kansas? Search Amazon for a guide tailored to your state or region.) Read our full review.


9.  Insects in Kansas

To solve problems with insect pests, you must first be able to identify the culprit. This guide offers descriptions of 850 species, liberally illustrated with color photos. Bonus: It includes a section on beekeeping! (Not from Kansas? Search Amazon for a guide tailored to your state or region.) Read our full review.


Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business8.  Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business

How to start a farm business in 10 steps. This is a concise introduction to the questions you will have to answer as you get started. Learn how to write a business plan, find funding, choose venues, price products, meet legal requirements, market effectively, and more. Helpful resources are provided each step of the way. Read our full review.


7.  HomeMade

Need equipment for your farm? See if you can build what you need before you buy something. This book offers ideas for projects useful around the farm, the garden, and the house alike. Whether you need a fence, a compost bin, a simple animal shelter, or just an easy way to bale hay on a small scale, you’ll find plenty of inspiration here. Read our full review.


6.  Veterinary Guide for Animal Owners

Great starting point for animal health research. Covers the basic care of cattle, horses, goats, sheep, swine, poultry, rabbits, dogs, and cats. Each chapter begins with the basics of animal housing and feeding specific to the species in question, and then moves to a discussion of the symptoms and treatment of the most common health problems. Advice on home vet care basics, such as first aid and administering medication, is also provided. Read our full review.


Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening5.  Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening

Is a garden or orchard part of your plan? Make sure you have this encyclopedia on your shelf. If you have a question, whether about the needs of a specific plant or about implementing a sustainable gardening practice, you will find a concise answer here. No wonder this book has stood the test of time! Read our full review.


4.  Stocking Up

Whatever type of food you need to preserve, it is almost certain that you will find directions in one of the editions of this classic. The original edition offers good old down-home cooking, while the third edition was made for the health-conscious crowd. Both include substantial information on making the most of your harvest, whether it be fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk, or meat. Read our full review.


3.  Kansas Crop Planting Guide

If you intend to grow field crops in Kansas, this one is not optional. (Good news—it’s free!) Multiple charts tell you when to plant and at what rate. (Not from Kansas? Check your local extension service to see if they offer a similar resource.)


Building a Sustainable Business2.  Building a Sustainable Business

This one is a must! Even if farming is your hobby, you can still benefit from the valuable planning tools provided in this book. In five straightforward steps, learn how to write a business plan that you will actually use. Identify your values, recognize your current position, develop your vision, examine your options, and choose your path. Worksheets and examples help you through the process. Highly recommended—and it’s free! Read our full review.


1.  You Can Farm

Need inspiration or ideas? Give this one a try. Joel Salatin shares valuable tips for successful and profitable farming, drawing from his experience along the way. Learn how to choose enterprises that will work for you, then develop your farming philosophy and dive into direct marketing. You don’t need a large land base or a well-filled wallet to get started. Salatin demonstrates that it is your mindset that makes the difference. A must for all beginning farmers! Read our full review.

Verticillium Wilt
The Garden

Verticillium Wilt

Verticillium WiltVerticillium wilt is caused by six different species of fungus, all of the genus Verticillium.  These six fungi can attack most of the plants and trees that gardeners like to grow, including vegetables, fruits, and ornamental plants.

Verticillium fungi spend the winter in plant debris lying on the ground.  Cool, wet weather triggers it to spread rapidly, creeping into wounded tissue or entering the soil where it can be taken up in plant roots.  Once verticillium has established a presence inside a plant, it colonizes the xylem, or vascular tissue, of its host.  When hot weather hits, the fungus interferes with the plant’s ability to transport water to its branches and leaves, causing the demise of the host.



  • Generalized wilting over time.
  • Stunted growth.
  • Yellow leaves with scorched edges.
  • Gradual leaf drop.
  • Brown to black streaks on runners.
  • Wilting and death of branches.
  • Stem discoloration, starting at the base and gradually moving upward.
  • Pinkish potato tubers.
  • Small fruits.
  • Excessive seed production.
  • Premature death.



Unfortunately, there is no fungicide, natural or otherwise, that is entirely effective for treating verticillium wilt.  Annual plants should be carefully bagged up and burned as soon as symptoms appear.  Because verticillium fungi can survive in the soil for over 10 years without a host, a new garden site should be chosen.  If this is not possible, cover the ground with clear plastic and allow the sun to thoroughly cook the soil before further use.

If you want to make an effort to save a valuable perennial plant, note that your options are limited and that you will have to be careful to avoid spreading the fungus to other plants.  Prune out all obviously affected tissue, sterilizing pruning tools in bleach solution between every cut.  Rake up and destroy all fallen leaves and fruits.  Pay close attention to maintaining plant health with adequate water.  If verticillium wilt symptoms worsen or continue into the next growing season, you are probably better off to destroy the plant.



Choosing verticillium-resistant plant varieties is a great starting point.  Otherwise, avoiding this fungal disease is a matter of garden sanitation:

  • Buy seeds from reputable sources.
  • Practice crop rotation in the garden.
  • Keep weeds in check.
  • Don’t overdo the fertilizer, which causes rapid growth of soft, disease-prone tissue.
  • Clean up dead plant matter on a regular basis.


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Tobacco Mosaic Virus
The Garden

Tobacco Mosaic Virus

Tobacco Mosaic VirusTobacco mosaic virus (TMV) has a long history of infecting garden plants. Although its most common victims are members of the nightshade family, it can infect a surprisingly diverse array of garden plants, including:

  • Tomato.
  • Pepper.
  • Potato.
  • Petunia.
  • Impatiens.
  • Chrysanthemum.
  • Geranium.
  • Begonia.
  • Verbena.

TMV is typically spread in sap.  Surprisingly, insects that suck sap from plants do not carry the disease.  Insects that chew leaves, however, spread TMV.  Anything else that has come into contact with sap of infected plants is a potential source of trouble.  Gardeners typically introduce the virus into their garden on seeds, tools, hands, clothing, or tobacco products.

Once TMV has arrived, it can lay dormant in soil and plant debris for as long as 50 years, practically ensuring its permanent residence.  It enters plants through small scrapes and cuts.



  • Stunted growth.
  • Mottled leaves.
  • Yellow leaf veins.
  • Distorted leaf shape.
  • Brown streaks on flowers.
  • Streaked or mottled fruits.
  • Fruit death.


Tobacco Mosaic VirusTreatment

There is no cure for TMV.  All infected plants must be destroyed, as well as any weeds growing nearby.  Treat all gardening tools with disinfectant before further use.



Choosing resistant plant varieties is an excellent first step when trying to prevent a TMV outbreak in your garden.  However, paying attention to garden sanitation is also essential:

  • Buy seeds from reliable sources.
  • Raise your own seedlings.
  • Do not allow anyone to smoke, chew, or carry tobacco products in pockets while in the garden.
  • Wash your hands before touching your plants.
  • Clean garden tools periodically.


Helpful Resource

Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV)
Factsheet from PennState Extension to provide you with more information and preventative measures.


Complete Series

Garden & Orchard DiseasesGarden & Orchard Diseases


Powdery Mildew
The Garden

Powdery Mildew

Powdery MildewPowdery mildew is caused by one of the most common and widely distributed fungi that plague gardens.  The disease can attack a wide range of plants, as it is caused by several species of the order Erysiphales.  A sampling of commonly affected plants includes:

The fungus arrives on the scene in the form of spores carried by the wind.  It takes up residence in cool, shady areas and places where air does not circulate, and thrives on the soft plant tissues promoted by nitrogen fertilizer.  It overwinters in dormant grass.



Powdery Mildew

  • Poor plant vigor.
  • Stunted plants.
  • White or grayish powdery substance on leaves.
  • Deformed, shriveled, or dead leaves, shoots, vines, and flower buds.
  • Sunburn on fruits.
  • Small, discolored fruits.
  • Prematurely ripened fruit with poor flavor and texture.



Annual vegetables, fruits, and ornamental plants suffering from powdery mildew should ideally be destroyed to prevent the further spread of the disease.  However, if you want to make an attempt to save them, you may have success with a bit of pruning and one of these fungicides:

  • Sulfur.
  • Raw milk.
  • Baking soda.
  • Hydrogen peroxide.

Organic mildew treatments are also available.  Note that any fungicides must be applied as soon as symptoms first appear to be effective.

The treatments listed above will work for perennials, as well.  They can be used on lawns, but this is rarely worth the cost.  Most lawns will eventually recover on their own as long as they are not stressed.


Powdery MildewPrevention

Site your garden in a place where the plants will receive sunlight and air circulation most of the day.  If you do plant grass, flowers, or shrubs in a shady location, choose only varieties that prefer those types of conditions.

To ensure that light and air can penetrate the plants:

  • Make sure greenhouses and tunnels are well ventilated.
  • Prune plants appropriately for the species.
  • Remove all dead plant matter on a regular basis.
  • Control weeds.

Keep your plants healthy and stress-free to further reduce the risk of disease.  Make sure their nutrient needs are met, but be conservative with fast-release nitrogen.  In the case of lawns, do not weaken plants by mowing too low.

Finally, avoid wetting foliage when watering the garden.  Water on the leaves tends to promote fungal growth.


Complete Series

Garden & Orchard DiseasesGarden & Orchard Diseases