“How can you grow grass when you have so many trees you get no sunlight on the ground?” Question from Terry of La Place, Louisiana
Answer: Sadly, the best thing to do is to grow something else. Grasses are notoriously sun-loving and none of the common lawn varieties will grow well in deep shade. Beds of attractive, low-growing groundcovers for deep shade are a much better choice. Some options are even grass-like, such as sedges. Here are some of the finest groundcovers for deep shade in Louisiana. You may even mix these up to create a more textural, interesting planting.
Southern Groundcovers for Deep Shade
Ajuga (Ajuga reptans, use in small areas as it is prone to crown rot)
Partidge berry and little brown jug are my favorites because they are native, cute, tough, and feed wildlife. There are also lots of ferns to consider if the soil is not too dry beneath your trees. These include wood fern (Thelypteris kunthii) and Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora).
“Last year my tomatoes struggled a lot. I think my soil might be tired. Should I rotate spots or should I fortify the soil? Thank you.” Question from Lucinda of Pittston, Maine
Answer: Tomatoes must be rotated on a three-year cycle for best performance, especially if they have experienced diseases. They are heavy feeders, experience lots of soil-borne diseases that can carry over in the soil from year to year, and root-knot nematodes are common pests that lower production and can live in the soil from year to year. Rotation fixes all of these problems. I recommend rotating tomatoes with soil-fortifying crops, such as peas and beans, which naturally add nitrogen to the soil. Tomatoes take up lots of nitrogen and fertilizer!
From there, I also suggest that you try short-season varieties adapted to northern climates. You can find several listed in the first article below.
“Is it possible to grow any vegetables indoors in a sunny room with a grow light? I live in NE PA and we have long cold winters. I would love to grow veggies over the winter. I have a room that I think would work.” Question from Melanie or Susquehanna, Pennsylvania
Answer: What a nice space! You can certainly grow container vegetables in your bright, sunny room. It offers so much natural sunlight that only some supplemental grow lights will be needed, if any. Vegetables will grow best in the sunniest window. A south-facing exposure is optimal.
“What do you do with strawberry plants in the winter?” Question from Jacklyn or Portland, Oregon
Answer: In mild areas like yours, strawberries (Fragaria spp., USDA Zones 4-9) are very hardy, so no special overwintering measures need to be taken. You can, however, clean them up and thin clumps that are over 3 years of age to encourage strong fruiting. Central plants that are three or more years old start to produce less and less fruit. If you replace the main plants with one of the plant’s newer offshoots, you will get more strawberries the following year.
Start by weeding around your strawberry plants. You can also protect them with light straw or leaf mulch around the base of the plants. If you have older strawberries that need to be thinned and replaced, remove the central plant, and plant in its place one of the larger offshoots that have rooted. Fertilize your new strawberry plants with an all-purpose slow-release fertilizer to encourage good rooting and growth through fall and again late winter. Feed once more in early to mid-spring.
From there, I encourage you to watch our video about everything that you need to know about growing strawberries.
Your once beautiful house plant has begun to look stressed. Maybe it’s lost some leaves, quit growing, needs more frequent watering, and has visible roots on the soil surface. Then you remember that it’s been three years since you repotted it…That means it’s time to upgrade its container home to improve better growth and overall appearance.
General House Plant Repotting Notes
Different plants have different potting needs–cacti need excellent drainage, most orchids grow best in bark, and hanging baskets like moisture-holding mixes–but there are also a lot of general requirements. Unless you are growing aquatic plants, all potted plants need pots and soils that drain well. Good light is required, so know a plant’s light needs before you try to grow it in your home to make sure that you can support its needs. Supplemental light is an option, but it is never as good as natural light. All potted plants require fertilization at different levels with different foods. When growth ramps up, all plants need more water, and when growth slows down, all plants need less water.
Finally, repotting is best done in spring, before house plants do most of their active growing, or in late summer to fall when they can grow a little before winter. I find that most house plants grow best if brought outdoors in summer. Just be sure to clean them up well before bringing them back inside before frost. (Click here to learn how to clean plants before bringing them indoors.)
Repotting House Plants in Six Steps
Good repotting technique is done in six easy steps. You just need a new pot, fresh potting soil, fertilizer, water, gloves, and pruning shears.
Pick Your Pot: Select something beautiful that you will want in your home for the long haul. There is no reason to have plain plastic pots when you can have elegant ceramic ones. Pick pots that are 2 to 6 inches bigger than the original. Small, slow-growing plants need pots that are just a bit bigger, and large, fast-growing plants need larger pots. Deep-rooted plants need deeper pots and shallow-rooted plants need shallow pots. All containers should have good drainage holes unless you are growing an aquatic plant. (Click here to learn how to plant potted water lilies.) Fast drainage encourages water flow and aeration, which roots need. Pick a sturdy saucer to catch water. Water-impermeable pots, like resin, grazed ceramic, or stone, hold water better. Pots made of TerraCotta and cement are porous and lose water more quickly. If you inherit a pot with no drainage holes, drill holes in the bottom with a pointed drill bit. (Be sure to wear gloves and safety goggles.)
Prune Shoots and Unbind Roots: Remove any dead or unwanted stems and loosen any intertwined (pot-bound) roots, so they will grow well into the new pot and mix. Gently tease tightly-bound roots apart. If they are very dense, make cuts along the base and loosen the roots along the cuts. If your plants look good and their roots are not tightly bound, then bypass this step.
Repot: Remind yourself to leave at least 1-2 inches at the top for water. Place screen or a few pebbles over the bottom holes to hold soil (not necessary for my red pot with a built-in saucer and side drainage holes). Then add a layer of soil at the bottom. Place the plant in the pot and center it. Make sure it is not too high or low. Add mix to the sides and gently pack it in for good root-to-soil contact. Make sure there are no holes in the soil. Level the top, and add any decorative pebbles, moss, or shells along the soil, if you like.
Fertilize: Pick a fertilizer that’s well-matched to your plant. There are many specialty types for orchids, succulents, and foliage plants. Be sure to follow the product instructions. I like using slow-release fertilizer, such as Proven Winners Continuous Release Plant Food.
Newly potted house plants will not produce new top growth until they set new roots, so give them extra good care and a little time. Very soon they will be growing happily as if they had never had a problem in the first place.