Sun Gro Horticulture will be promoting its retail potting soil, and amendment brands, Black Gold, Fafard, and Sunshine at the Do It Best 2019 Fall Market held from October 18-21, 2019 at the Indiana Convention Center, in Indianapolis, Indiana. We have lots of new products and services available in 2020, so come by and see us!
Now in its 16th year, the L&L 2019 Marketplace Retailer Show is the West Coast’s biggest independent lawn and garden retailer trade show. It will be held in Reno, Nevada’s Silver Legacy Resort and Casino from October 9-10, 2019. Sun Gro Horticulture and Black Gold will be at the tradeshow along with over 300 other vendor booths. We hope to see you there!
Black Gold and Sun Gro Horticulture have lots of new retail products to show off at the Arett Open House 2019! It will be held from September 8-10, 2019 at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Sun Gro will be on the trade show floor with hundreds of other green-industry companies. Check out our new products for 2020, discounts, and shipping options. We hope to see you there!
Produced by the Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association (FNGLA), The Landscape Show will be held from September 19 – 21, 2019 in the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. And, Black Gold and Sun Gro Horticulture will be there!
The Landscape Show is one of the biggest nursery and landscape industry shows in the South. The trade show has over 800 booths with green-industry professionals showing the best that they have to offer for 2020.
I tend to divide the world into two kinds of people: those who walk or drive down a street, oblivious to their surroundings, and those who notice everything, especially cool gardens. The latter group often dreams of strolling through gates and peaking over fences into the lush backyards and courtyards of others. If you notice everything (and of course you do), spring or summer is your lucky season for garden tours, private or public. And, if you lack garden tours in your community, consider creating your own!
Types of Garden Tours
Garden tours are usually organized or offered by garden clubs, garden societies, and or public gardens. Some benefit causes like school gardens or educational scholarships or community beautification projects. Other tours, such as native garden tours, have an educational goal. Still, other tours are just for the fun of it. I went on a first garden tour more than 25 years ago. Since then, I’ve attended dozens, held my own garden on tour many times, and designed tours for the public.
Starting a Community Garden Tour
If you are innovative and know lots of other enthusiastic gardeners, you can start your own garden tour in your community. That’s just what I did. In 2005, I was first asked to head a tour for my community, the Encinitas Garden Festival & Tour. Then in 2010 an annual self-guided walking tour of over 23 private gardens (a school garden, a butterfly vivarium, and even a fire station garden) was created where I live! Thousands now attend the event, which also features a marketplace of vendors selling plants, pots, tools, and garden soil (like Black Gold®), and close to a dozen talks on gardening topics.
Our tour is unusual in its size and scope, but if you develop and host a tour annually, it will surely grow. Typically, a new garden tour features four, five, or maybe ten gardens on a driving and walking tour. For the price of admission, attendees generally get a map of the garden locations and a description of what makes each one special, in addition to garden access. Garden hosts are at the ready to help attendees better understand the plants, development, and overall design scheme of their gardens. Each tour will be as unique as its community. As it grows, so can its offerings.
The Dos and Don’ts of Garden Tours
Whichever tour you choose to attend or host, here are some dos and don’ts:
Buy tickets ahead of time, so you know where to go, and so organizers can anticipate how many people to host.
Wear comfortable shoes. (I’m always amazed to see high heels teetering down a garden path.)
Wear sunscreen, a hat, and bring a bottle of water — common sense.
If you have trouble walking or negotiating rough surfaces, inquire about the garden accessibility ahead of time. This is especially essential for people in wheelchairs and parents with children in strollers. Many private gardens are not designed for public access or ADA compatibility.
Get an estimate of how long it might take to visit the gardens, so you can plan your day.
With tours where there are just a few gardens but lots of people, expect some lines. Be patient. While you wait, strike up a conversation with the person next to you. You may learn an interesting gardening tip or, at least, make a new friend.
Leave the dog at home. Fido may adore the walk but garden owners won’t be appreciative.
Bring a camera! Bring a camera! Bring a camera! And a notebook.
Pick flowers, collect seeds, or take cuttings. Taking anything from a garden without permission is, well, stealing. If you see a plant you like, take a photo or note its name. Take that information to your local nursery.
Go into areas marked as being off-limits. There is a reason they are marked that way.
Try to visit a garden that is not on the tour, even if it looks absolutely fascinating.
Criticize a garden. Their owners work hard to prepare for your visit.
Then once you enter each garden, take a good attitude and have a good time! After you complete your garden tour, your next step should be to go home and implement some of your new garden ideas using Black Gold®!
They are living jewelry no woman can resist, the most coveted house plant, string of pearls. This tender succulent is feminine looking, delicate yet tough, low maintenance and incredibly rewarding. There are two species that can transform traditional or modern spaces, indoors or out. Hang them like living necklaces to bring awe to your home.
The true string of pearls is a South African native from the maritime Cape of Good Hope, so it loves the humid coast. Dubbed Senecio rowleyanus, its leaves are like tiny grey-green peas on the finest dangling stems. Its cousin from drier inland is Senecio radicans, fondly called “string of bananas” due to its sickle-shaped leaves. These do better in hot inland climates. Both make great house plants.
In the wild, both senecios grow as ground covers that root as they spread, so they rarely look like the hanging beauties we buy from the garden center. Yet, when planted to dangle in hanging baskets or raised pots and placed in a bright room, specimens almost look like living sculptures.
In gardens where winters are mild, these senecios can be grown outside, usually in raised pots or baskets that ensure perfect drainage. Indoors they are equally desirous of porous soils and hanging pots that are shallow and wide. Wide pots allow the ground-hugging plants to generate a lot of surface roots to hold soil tightly against the weight of their hanging strands.
A key to success is rapid drainage in your container. The best hanging pots have many holes in the bottom to ensure plants remain dry at the root zone. When creating your hanging string-of-pearls sculpture, start with the right pot—perhaps a mid-century throwback with a macramé hanger. Once you’ve found it, buy your pearls or bananas and get ‘er done.
You’ll need super well-drained potting soil to keep your plants from becoming too wet. When transplanting to your beautiful hanging pot, Black Gold Cactus Mix offers the ideal porosity. This fast-draining potting soil will make it much harder to over water your string of pearls.
When you get ready to transplant these senecios, study the root ball that comes out of the nursery pot. Gently remove any potting soil that does not have roots on the lower half of the mass. This will allow you to better fit the root ball into your shallow pot.
Set the plant, then lightly backfill with Black Gold Cactus Mix that has not been pre-moistened. If it sifts out of the drain holes, line the bottom with salvaged window screen before planting. Finally, tap the pot to help the plant settle into the potting soil, and wait to water. Allow a day or two for any damaged succulent tissues to callus over before you introduce moisture. This is essential to avoiding potential rot at the soil line.
When you do water, plug the drain of your kitchen sink, add 2 inches of water, and put the whole pot in the sink. Let it wick up water until you can see wet soil on top. This means it’s time to drain the sink. Leave the pot to drain for a few hours before returning it to its hanger. This watering method keeps moisture away from rot-prone stems that are the Achilles heel
of these delicate succulents. As strands grow longer, be sure to lay them along the counter on the sink’s edge to keep them from getting wet.
A final key to success with all dangling succulents, particularly fine-stemmed ones like these, is avoiding the wind. Continual swaying wears down the stems along the pot edge, causing injury that limits moisture transfer to the stem tips where new growth occurs.
These senecios are easy to root, so if you find one that works well for you, propagate it. Just take a runner and bend it up to the soil mass on top where it will root on contact quickly. Then sever it from the mother plant to start a whole new living sculpture of favorite pearls or bananas galore, without risk.
The dry edible garden is rooted in classical civilizations around the Mediterranean Sea. The Greeks, Romans, and Carthaginians shared their ancient local food crops throughout the western world. Some of the best are grapes, pomegranates, date palms, rosemary, artichokes, cardoons, and figs. All are still vital to contemporary agriculture in deserts and dry places around the world and make great choices for arid-zone gardens.
Growing Mediterranean Edibles
Because most of these Mediterranean edibles are not very cold hardy, you need to know their tolerances before trying to grow any outdoors. Further north, grow dwarf varieties in containers that can be brought indoors for the winter. Water-holding, Black Gold Moisture Supreme potting soil is an ideal mix for contained arid food plants.
One potential problem is that some of these plants, such as date palms, need long-term high heat for their fruit to ripen properly. Though fruits might appear in cooler temps, they aren’t nearly as sweet or just won’t fully ripen.
If you live where they are hardy, grapes, pomegranates, date palms, rosemary, artichokes, cardoons, and figs make outstanding landscape plants that thrive despite limited water and high heat. Keep in mind that sufficient irrigation is required, particularly in porous, fast draining soils, if they are to produce quality fruit. Here are additional tips for growing each.
1. 2. Artichokes and Cardoons
Out in the garden, the easiest arid vegetables to start with are artichokes and their close relative, cardoon. Both act as ornamental and edible perennials. The artichoke we eat is the flower bud, which should be harvested when buds are full-sized with tight bracts. For a big floral show, leave the buds to mature into huge, purple thistle-like blooms. This plant also bears fabulous lobed grayish foliage that’s exceptional for gray gardens. [Click here to learn more about growing artichokes.]
Cardoons have flavorful stems that can be blanched and eaten. The bold silvery leaves also look great when planted in arid flower gardens, and are followed by large, purplish, thistle-like flowers.
3. Date Palms
Mediterranean date palms (Phoenix dactylifera) reach up to 100-feet and like heat and drought. They are hardy to USDA Zones 8b – 11, so they can only be grown in the hot and dry American landscapes of Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, and Florida. Full sun and well-drained dry soil are required for good growth. Male and female flowers exist on separate plants, so at least one male and female plant are needed for cross-pollination and fruit set.
(Editor’s Note: If space is limited, try growing the Southeast Asian pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii), which reaches 8-10 feet, can be container grown, and is hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 9 to 11. Its dark purplish fruits are thin-skinnedbut edible.)
Dwarf forms of fig (Ficus carica) are specially bred for small-space areas. They grow well in containers that are fit for small city gardens or high-density neighborhoods in hot climates. Hardiness depends on the variety. Some are hardy to USDA Zone 6, as is the case with ‘Chicago Hardy’, while most others are hardy to USDA Zones 8-11. Here too, learn if their fruit cycle works locally by checking with your local garden center. You want the plant to thrive in a large patio container during summer, then plan for winter protection strategies. You may need wheels or a good dolly to bring pots indoors.
Common grapes (Vitis vinifera) are amazing vines that provide both extensive shade and an annual crop of fruit grown for fresh eating or winemaking. Grapevine covered ramadas were landscape fixtures in early California and served as the first true “outdoor rooms” in the region.
The beauty of grapes is that they have one stem per plant, making irrigation of single plants easy. Drip irrigation helps sustain vines that survive an average of 30-40 years and become enormous over time, even with pruning. Grapes offer more than fruit; the young leaves are easily canned for homemade stuffed grape leaves (dolmas) from scratch.
Today’s pomegranate (Punica granatum) trees come in a huge range of sizes, with smaller trees for city yards or larger trees for orchards or spacious landscape plantings. So long as the local climate is within the cold tolerance range (USDA Hardiness Zones 8-11) and summers are not humid and rainy, pomegranates should thrive.
They grow well in poor, dry, rocky soils, but benefit from soils fortified with organic matter. (Commercial growers know that to achieve the largest juiciest fruits regular moisture and nutrition are needed.) If the soil drains well, a pomegranate will appreciate added soil amendment. The best choice is to blend Black Gold Garden Compost into the soil at planting time. This helps young potted trees transition from potting soil to native soil. [Click here to learn more about growing pomegranates.]
The herb rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a large evergreen shrub that grows well in arid regions and tolerates intense sun. It has many uses. Enjoy it as a culinary herb, cut flower, and or essential oil scent. The fresh stems also make great flavored kebob sticks and/or barbecue brushes. Plant potted rosemary in Black Gold potting soil and place on a sunny, west-facing patio or deck.
Quality potting soils with high water-holding capacity are the best choice for growing edible plants with fewer irrigation demands. Good mixes rich in organics hold more water for longer than low-grade potting mixes. That means you can grow more with less water, and harvest fruit and veggies at a fraction of the price of shipped fruit from grocery stores.
As with most things French, even vegetable gardens can be decidedly beautiful. What makes them so special are parterre potagers, a practice of creating symmetrical, geometric patterns with beds of vegetables of different colors and textures. Within the geometric beds, which are often lined with trimmed boxwood, rosemary, or santolina hedges, are planted many different food crops over the season, sometimes formal, sometimes country casual. What they all share, however, is the highly geometric layouts and the diversity of plants grown there.
Parterres were originally created using clipped hedges and colorful ornamentals placed in grand designs for the French Aristocracy. They were to be appreciated from the high windows of a palace or chateau, such as the famous Chateau de Villandry built in the Loire Valley during the Renaissance. Patterns can be as simple as repeating squares and rectangles or consist of intricate designs, such as repeating Fleur de Lis, knotwork, and starbursts. The designs were created on a large scale, but their clean geometry also made them adaptable on a smaller scale with more functional plants.
The potager parterre doubles as both a kitchen garden and appealing ornamental garden and fits nicely into small spaces. Raised edging can create the same impact as low hedges without additional maintenance. This makes it easier to create a unique look with symmetrically designed beds delineated by edging and gravel walkways.
What makes the French garden so fun is that it’s rich in herbs as well as vegetables and other plants that contribute to the famous cuisine. Some may be perennial, such as lavender, rosemary, and thyme, while most others are annual vegetables of all kinds. Often the annuals are cycled in and out of the same ground, as the cool and warm seasons pass. In the South of France, where conditions are warmer, these hard-working gardens are packed with heavy feeding veggies most of the year. Unfortunately, many of these gardens experience a nutrient decline over time unless the soils are routinely fed with quality soil amendments and added fertilizer.
Amending Parterre Soil
When native soil is worn out and the microbial content depleted, it’s best to err on the side of overdoing it. It is rare to experience ill effects caused by too much compost, because it’s quickly consumed by soil microbes, in a healthy organic environment. The more the microbes feed, the more amendments you need to keep their numbers high for consistent soil fertility year in and year out.
The best choice for in-ground parterres is OMRI Listed® Black Gold Garden Compost Blend, which is superb food for microbes. Compost can be added to natural soil in spring and fall. Turn your earth gently with a fork and blend in the compost at least 6-inches deep before planting. This ensures there will be plentiful organic matter for crops to do their best.
For additional grow power and added nitrogen, amend with OMRI Listed® Black Gold Earthworm Castings Blend. At planting time, work a handful of castings into each planting hole to ensure the roots will encounter a boost of natural nitrogen and micro-nutrients derived from the earthworm’s diet.
For parterres with hedge edges, mulch them with the leftover compost and worm castings to keep them healthy, green, and beautiful. Just leave a 3″ ring of open ground around the base of the hedges to let their trunks breathe.
Petite parterres are a great way to create a formal look or one that’s rooted in history. They can be planted with vegetables, or flowers, or both. That’s what makes this garden style so inspiring. One can grow good food while never sacrificing great design.
Second gardens are always better than first gardens. When those first gardens were your raised beds, then maybe it’s time to raise the bar. Bigger, better, and more prolific are garden characteristics that all gardeners want, so perhaps it’s time to rehab and expand in preparation for next year’s summer garden.
So many raised beds were at first experimental or created with the kids as a family project without long-term planning and smart design. That’s why they often don’t last as long as they should. Earth-to-wood contact (something forbidden in house building) introduces wood rot and invites pests, such as termites. You need to know what you are doing to get more life from your raised bed.
Choosing the Best Raised Bed Building Materials
Early on, wooden railroad tie beds [read more about railroad tie beds] became popular and kept the rot problem at bay, but ties are made from heavily treated wood. They contain dangerous heavy metals and creosote, which can leach into the soil and be taken up by edible plants. Pressure treated wood has the same problem. It is treated with fungicides and other compounds to reduce rot that can leach into the soil.
Untreated woods are not all the same. Many break down fast, resulting in short-lived raised beds. If you want long-lasting beds, avoid soft or rustic reclaimed woods certain to rot quickly. Instead, choose long-lasting red cedar or redwood. Both decompose slowly and are the most recommended for beautiful frames that resist rot. Trex, and other polymer/wood alternatives, also last forever and look great. All of the rot-resistant options are initially more expensive but worth it if you plan to garden for years.
Rehabbing Your Raised Bed
If you already have raised beds made with fast-to-decompose wood, you may already be experiencing the unfortunate and very common results. They are rotting, bowing, or breaking open at the seams due to decomposing edges weakened by the weight of soil, plants, and mulch. This means it is either time to rebuild or refurbish the frames.
Moreover, if you have had your beds for a while, the soil will be low and in need of replacement. Like all garden beds, soil volume falls as microbes consume the fine humus, and nutrients are depleted by garden plants. Poor garden soil will produce poor garden plants.
Fall is the best time to replenish raised bed soil and fix repairs. Take advantage of the fabulous fall weather to replace all rotting or bowing boards or edges, and revive sad, tired soil. Here’s the five-step process in a nutshell:
Remove existing soil, if it’s degraded to mostly woody matter and perlite. Stockpile the old soil material for future use as summer mulch, or layer it into the compost heap.
Inspect the newly exposed sidewalls by stabbing questionable spots with a screwdriver. If the metal penetrates the wood, then there’s rot, and they need to be replaced. Also, check and reinforce loose corners.
Make repairs to sidewalls using Trex or long-lasting, untreated wood boards. Consider adding more height if you would like to grow plants with deeper root systems. Not only should you use strong, quality wood, but investing in heavy hardware will add to the longevity of your beds. Choose heavy wood screws tightened with an electric screwdriver to keep beds from loosening with the seasonal shrink and swell of the wood.
Replace the soil in stages. Black Gold Just Coir creates a 100% organic matter barrier that holds water and repels root-knot nematodes. The heart of the raised bed should contain a rich mix of local topsoil amended with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend and a soilless potting mix, such as Black Gold Natural and Organic Potting Soil. The combination depends on the quality of your local soil; great topsoil requires fewer amendments. In general, an even mix of 2 parts topsoil to 1 part compost and 1 part soilless potting mix will yield great results. If drought is a problem in your area, adding a mulching layer of Black Gold Just Coir or Garden Compost Blend will reduce surface water loss.
Add an all-purpose fertilizer, at the manufacturer’s prescribed application, to help drive explosive growth.
Irrigate and Sow
Gently water your raised beds to allow them to settle and marry over the winter months. If you don’t already have it, drip irrigation is highly recommended for effortless raised bed gardening. Try soaker hoses or buried underground inline drip tubing that invisibly waters your garden without ugly surface tubes and emitters. If you want to expand next year, put in a new bed close to the old one and share the irrigation.
While watering your rehabbed raised beds, throw in some seeds for beets, radishes, turnips, and other root crops that germinate at temps down to 40 degrees F. The addition of row covers will protect cool-season crops well into winter. Harvest the leaves, eat the sweet roots, and enjoy long winter yields as your refreshed raised beds do all of the work for you.
When the drought is long, soils are poor, and money is short, one way to revitalize struggling garden plants is to protect their roots with mulch. Good mulches help to retain moisture, cool the root zone, and discourage weeds. The conventional wisdom is to mulch with wood chips or ground up bark, but both are very slow to decompose and can bind needed soil nutrients. The better option is to protect small beds and containers with organic-rich amendments that give back.
Garden Mulches for Soil Enrichment
Rich compost, peat moss, coir, or Black Gold Earthworm Castings are all amendments that double as mulches–alone or as home-mixed blends–in small ornamental gardens or vegetable gardens. All offer needed organic matter, which helps soils better retain water and maintain porosity. They also offer structural and water-holding benefits. For example, Black Gold Garden Compost Blend contains peat moss for water retention and compost give poor soils better aeration for easier establishment and performance.
Amendment mulching is often most effective in shaded areas because it helps to simulate conditions on the forest floor. If you take a cross section of this “duff” layer, you’ll see that it’s mostly leaves or needles with a fine, dark layer that sits right on top of the earth. It’s rich in decomposing organic matter, which is why shade plants are often surface rooted.
Landscape Mulches for Trees and Shrubs
This is also true of acid-loving plants, such as azaleas or camellias, which develop a wide, shallow root system where the majority of the soil nutrition lies. In fact, without a yearly surface application of organic matter, these plants can suffer. All too often you see the surface roots of azaleas exposed after years without the addition of a mulch layer. The organic matter is essential to keep their roots moist and cool, especially when drought descends. We recommend mixing a 1:1 of Black Gold Garden Compost Blend and Black Gold Peat Moss for acid lovers. Both products offer needed organic matter and peat moss is a little more acid, which benefits these plants.
Assess your favorite plants, planters, individual trees and shrubs to determine if they will benefit from this special treatment. Apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of amendment around the base of the plant. Always keep it few inches clear of the trunk to prevent bark-to- mulch contact, which can induce stress and rot. Extend the mulch layer out to the edge of the drip line.
Don’t work the amendment in. Just smooth and pat it with your palm to flatten it out for better soil contact. Moisten often with just a light spray or collected household water to keep these amazing shrubs and trees happy on minimal rainfall. For areas with brief drought, mulch provides great short-term protection from an abnormally dry or hot summer.
As landscapes everywhere are being altered to be more efficient, don’t forget that amendment mulch can mean so much more to your plants. If you already have bark mulch in place, the next best thing is to sprinkle amendments over the bark, so they can filter down and provide support the next deep water day or after a welcome summer cloudburst.