“Can watermelon vines be grown in containers?” Question from George of Hagerstown, MD
Answer: Watermelons can be grown in large containers if you choose a compact variety. Here are my recommendations regarding potted watermelon culture.
Growing Potted Watermelons
First, choose a more compact, short-vine watermelon variety suited for container growing. ‘Cal Sweet Bush‘, a 2019 AAS award winner, has excellent melons and vines that do not take over, and ‘Bush Sugar Baby‘ is another small-vined type with tasty melons. Next, choose a large container that’s between 18 to 24 inches. There must be holes at the bottom for drainage. Plastic or glazed containers hold water better in the heat of summer. Fill the pot with quality, porous potting soil that holds water well. I would choose Black Gold Natural & Organic Raised Bed & Potting Mix. Place the pot in a spot where it gets full sun, and the vining stems can hang down and spread a little. Patios or open garden areas work well for large potted vegetables like this.
Plant one or two watermelons in the pot in spring after the threat of frost has passed. Keep the soil moist. When the vines have reached a good size in summer, water daily in the absence of rain. Fertilizer well from the beginning. A good slow-release fertilizer formulated for vegetables is ideal. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s application instructions.
Melons should start to appear by late July or August.
Hot peppers have a cult following. Those that eat, hybridize, and grow the hottest peppers in the world are all part of the wicked hot-pepper culture where Scoville Units below 1,000,000 are too cool to be cool. Breeders and growers choose only the most dangerously scorching Capsicum fruits on the planet. Each year, newer, hotter peppers appear in the pursuit of extreme heat.
Hot peppers comprise several important species that all originate from the tropical Americas. The hottest peppers in the world comprise habanero-types (Capsicum chinense) that include ghost or Bhut jolokia peppers and the dreaded ‘Carolina Reaper’, as well as Scotch bonnets. Small-fruited Tabasco peppers, piri piri African bird’s-eye peppers, and other mini hots are all members of Capsicum frutescens. Most cultivated peppers are Capsicum annuum species, which comprise everything from sweet bell peppers to poblanos, jalapenos, and many chili peppers like cayenne and serrano. Other peppers cultivated for their high heat include Capsicum baccatum, which has somewhat elongated chili peppers of yellow, orange, and red, and Capsicum pubescens, whose bulbous, rounded fruits are hot but not scorching.
Understanding the Scoville Scale
Pepper heat is measured on the Scoville Scale in Scoville Units (SHU). The units measure 22 pepper chemicals called capsaicinoids, which are generally referred to as capsaicins. Originally, Scoville Units were qualitatively measured by careful taste testing. The method of measurement was created in 1912 by Wilbur Scoville, a New England pharmacist interested in measuring chili pepper sensitivity in people. Scoville Units are now quantified using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) where the capsaicin content in each pepper is fully measured in Pungency Units (one-part capsaicin per million parts dried pepper mass). Pungency Units are then mathematically converted to Scoville Units. For a more practical example, the hottest pepper in the world, the ‘Carolina Reaper‘, has up to 2,200,000 SHU while the average poblano pepper has only between 1,000 to 4,000 SHU.
Ten Notable Hot Peppers
The challenge to breed hotter and hotter peppers is put to the test by several chili pepper breeders. Many of their peppers are on this list. Do not grow any of these if you have small children or pets that might be attracted to their pretty fruits and get into them.
7 Pot Lava Pepper (Capsicum chinense ‘7 Pot Lava’, 800,000 to 1,000, 000 SHU): The wrinkled, bright orange-red peppers are very hot with a fruity flavor from the start.
‘Bhut Jolokia’ (Capsicum chinense ‘Bhut Jolokia’, 855,000 – 1,041,427 SHU): The classic ghost pepper was the World record-holder for four years! It was bred in northern India and is noted for its terrible heat.
Carolina Reaper (Capsicum chinense Carolina Reaper®, 1,641,300- 2,200,000 SHU): According to the 2020 Guinness Book of World Records, this is the hottest pepper in the world. It was bred by Ed (‘Smokin’ Ed) Currie, the founder, and president of the Puckerbutt Pepper Company. The bumpy red peppers are of nightmares. Beware!
Death Spiral (Capsicum chinense Death Spiral, 1,300,000+ SHU): Bred in the UK, this flavorful hot pepper has superheat.
‘Bhut Jolokia Chocolate’ (Capsicum chinense ‘Bhut Jolokia Chocolate’, 855,000 – 1,041,427 SHU): This red-brown ghost pepper is sweeter than the standard.
‘Hot Paper Lantern’ (Capsicum chinense ‘Hot Paper Lantern’, 150,000 – 400,000 SHU): The elongated, red habanero is really hot, but not quite as scorching as the others on the list, but I like it. Plants are prolific!
Jay’s Peach (Capsicum chinense Jay’s Peach, 1,000,000 SHU): The classic ghost pepper was crossed with Trinidad Scorpion to yield this pretty pink, screaming hot pepper.
Naga Viper (Capsicum chinense Naga Viper, 1,349,000 SHU): This UK introduction, is purported to be the fourth hottest pepper in the world.
Peppers are warm-season vegetables, so plant sturdy, hardened-off seedlings outdoors when late-spring weather has heated up. Environmental factors truly impact the heat of hot peppers. Full, bright sun and hot weather will result in spicer peppers and happier, more productive plants. Slightly dry soil will also reduce pepper water content and increase the heat.
Give pepper plants loose, friable, soil with average fertility and a slightly acid pH. Amend with fertile Black Gold Garden Soil or Black Gold Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend at planting time. Raised bed gardeners should try Black Gold® Natural & Organic Raised Bed & Potting Mix. In the absence of rain, make sure that they do not get too dry. Average water is recommended once plants are well-established and growing. Fertilize, using an OMRI Listed tomato and pepper fertilizer, as directed. Also consider applying a little garden-grade Epsom salt to protect against magnesium deficiency, a common pepper problem. Stake or cage taller plants to keep them from toppling. Don’t fear hot weather or even drought. Peppers are well-adapted to it, and hot weather increases pepper heat. (As I wrote in a previous article for Fafard about hot peppers: “Hot, dry weather tends to generate more intense fruits with more intense spice and “bite”, while cooler, moister weather yields milder peppers.”)
Harvesting and Processing Hot Peppers
Bees pollinate the blooms for fruit-set. Green fruits have a sharp taste that becomes sweeter as they mature and change color. The color change occurs faster in hotter weather. Wear gloves when harvesting or chopping and processing hot peppers. You will thank yourself. They can burn the skin and fingers for days, otherwise. Peppers can be frozen whole, canned whole, or processed into pepper jam or hot sauce. Always cook the hot sauce, jelly, or any hot pepper product with lots of peppers OUTSIDE or in a location with lots of ventilation. The steam and fumes from the sauce or jelly can be dangerous to breathe in or get into your eyes. (Click here for a hot-sauce-making tutorial and recipes, click here for a hot pepper jelly recipe, and click here for freezing guidelines.
Hot Pepper Cautions
I may sound uncool, but approach faddish hot pepper challenges, eating contests, and high-voltage foodstuffs with caution and knowledge before diving in. Get an idea of how you react to them first. Sensitivity and allergic reactions have put many unfortunate persons in the hospital. After reading about various gastrointestinal blowouts and even esophageal ruptures, I felt that a word of warning was warranted. Handle and consume hot peppers with care. Always harvest and chop them while wearing oil-impermeable gloves. And, if you do eat them, taste a tiny bit first, and have a glass of milk and chunk of plain bread on hand to take the intense heat away, if needed. These are not dive-in fruits. Be wary.
Peppers do have some disease problems, so choose disease-resistant varieties when possible. Various vascular wilts, tobacco mosaic virus, and fungal problems can befall plants and fruits, but more often than not they are not needy. Good spacing (between 18″-28″, depending on plant size) will help with airflow and discourage most diseases. (Click here for a chili pepper disease guide.)
“I live in south Georgia and I would love to plant peonies, but I was told by a local nursery that they can’t survive here because we don’t have cold enough winters for them to reset, is this true?” Question from Ladonna of Naylor, Georgia
Answer: It is partially true. The most popular peonies in the US are common garden peonies (Paeonia lactiflora). The large, bushy plants produce loads of big, late-spring flowers and are hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 3-7 (sometimes 3-8b), so you are on the edge of their hardiness. They do need winter cold for several months to produce blooms and survive in the long term, but Naylor, Georgia (USDA Hardiness Zones 8b) is cold enough to sustain some peonies. If you want to be on the safe side, there are other peonies that can survive with even less winter cold. This includes some tree peonies (Paeonia species and hybrids, varying zones, sometimes down to zone 9), and Intersectional (ITOH Hybrids (Zones 4-9), which are hybrids between common and tree peonies.
Peonies for Southern Gardeners
Here are seven good herbaceous peony varieties for southern gardens.
‘America’ (Zones 4-8b)- a single, red herbaceous peony that is award-winning and has HUGE blooms
‘Coral Charm‘ (Zones 3-8b) – a semi-double coral-pink award-winner (one of my favorites!)
‘Felix Crousse‘ (Zones 3-8b) – an herbaceous heirloom (1881) with fragrant double-red blooms
“Is there a type of ornamental tree that I can plant within 6 feet of my house (in zone 5)?” Amy of Grand Rapids, Michigan
Answer: Aside from being attractive and suited to your garden and area, any tree that you choose must be compact and have a root system that is somewhat shallow. Here are five selections that are both beautiful, compact, and native.
Lavender Twist® Weeping Redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Covey’): This small tree reaches between 8-12 feet when fully mature, but its weeping crown maintains a tidy, compact appearance. Redbuds are native to eastern North America and have beautiful spring flowers of purplish-red. Grow this one in full sun and well-drained fertile soil.
Spring Glory®Serviceberry(Amelanchiercanadensis ‘Sprizam’): White spring blooms, edible summer fruits that attract birds, and orange-red fall leaves make this an outstanding 12-foot small tree for home gardens. Grow this one in full to partial sun.
Golden Shadows®Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia ‘Wstackman’): The gold and green foliage of this 10- to 12-foot variegated dogwood will light up any partially shaded location around the home.
Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus): Loads of delicate, fringed, fragrant ivory flowers in spring make this small tree an excellent specimen to plant near a home. Mature specimens may reach 12 to 20 feet, so this is on the larger end of what you can plant close to the home. Full to partial sun is preferred.
Blue Arrow Juniper(Juniperus scopulorum ‘Blue Arrow’): Here’s an evergreen option that hails from Colorado. It has tidy blue-green foliage and a narrow, upright habit. Trees reach just 12 feet at maturity. Full sun is required.
Weed competition drags gardens down in every way. Ignore your garden for just a couple of weeks, and weeds can take over in a flash–turning once tidy, pretty beds into a tangled mess of green interlopers with no room to spare. If you use the right tools, techniques, and timing necessary to stop a weed takeover, it will save you trouble and reward you with bountiful flowers, vegetables, and fruits.
Common, aggressive garden weeds spread by many means. If allowed to set seed, they will pepper the garden ground with loads of obnoxious seedlings crying to be hoed away. Some have the deepest, most far-spreading root systems that will get away from a gardener in no time if allowed to take hold. Different weeds appear at different times of the season. The most unexpected are prolific winter weeds that will happily fill your beds in late winter and set seed by late spring. Summer weeds require heat to germinate, so you can expect them to start popping up as soon as the weather becomes truly beautiful.
Knowledge is power when it comes to weeds. Here are the essentials necessary to keep your beds happy and weed-free throughout the year.
Know Your Weeds and Their Spreading Power
Your worst weed enemies are perennial weeds that are deep-rooted, fast-spreading, and produce generous amounts of seeds that spread and sprout quickly. Annual weeds are also pesky, but they are generally more shallow-rooted and easier to kill by quick digging and hoeing before they set seed. Here are five of the worst perennial weeds that you may face. From there, I recommend relying on the helpful, Farmer’s Almanac Common Weed List, as well as the excellent UC Davis IPM Guide for common weeds.
Worst Perennial Weeds
Field Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis): Here is a real monster of a spreader that’s hard to remove. The hardy perennial sets fleshy rhizomatous roots that can extend deep into the ground and many feet from the parent plant. The vine twines and strangles garden plants and then becomes covered with little, white, morning-glory-like flowers that set hundreds if not thousands of seeds. Scrape and dig the seedlings on-site and try to dig the root systems as soon as possible. Smothering and covering infested areas is also a good method, but it takes time. (Click here to learn more about bindweed removal.)
Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense): Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) is notoriously difficult to remove and is also a notorious spreader. Its leaves and stems are painfully prickly, and pollinated summer flowers produce loads of puffy seeds that get caught in the wind and spread everywhere. (Don’t let this go to seed anywhere near your yard or garden!) When they sprout, a single plant can become a dense colony connected by deep, rooting rhizomes that are impossible to dig out. Leave just one piece, and it will return. It is also resistant to all but the strongest herbicides.
Aside from using commercial-grade herbicides, the second-best method is to smother plants with weed cloth and mulch until they are gone. Watch out for plants that creep into the grass, once they do, a good broadleaf herbicide is your only option, unless you want to kill everything and start over.
Dandelion (Taraxicum tomentosum): Dandelions spread by seed but can be tamed, so I don’t mind them growing in the lawn. Bees and other early pollinators rely on their golden flowers for pollen and nectar, so they do some good, but they have no place in my garden where they compete with other garden flowers. The deep-rooted perennials are easy to grub out with a garden knife, as long as you remove the whole root and leave no pieces behind. The key is keeping them from setting seed. This is the source of dandelions in the garden. In the spring months, I try to mow low and often to chop off the seed heads before they release their seeds.
Ground ivy(Glechoma hederacea): The aggressive member of the mint family is a ground-covering weed with creeping stems that root and spread fast. Its spring flowers set lots of seeds, which sprout quickly. It also thrives in lawns, so you will need to rely on a broadleaf herbicide for the lawn if you want to truly get rid of it.
Thankfully, this weed is relatively easy to pull, but if you leave even the tiniest piece in the ground it will root and regrow. T manage it well, remove it from garden beds first thing every spring, and then apply a 3-inch layer of mulch, being sure to leave the crowns of garden perennials uncovered. If stray pieces emerge from the mulch, pull them on site.
Nutsedge(Cyperus esculentus): Unless you live in the desert, your garden has likely experienced nutsedge. The aggressive, moisture-loving sedge produces copious seeds in summer that sprout everywhere. Even worst, the plants have fine, spreading roots that develop small, brown nutlet tubers. Leave one tuber in the ground, and it will sprout into a whole new plant. (Quirky fact: The tasty nutlets can be harvested and eaten.)
All of these weeds require good tools for thorough removal, followed up by mulch, and often herbicides or other harsher measures. Once again, annual weeds, like winter chickweed, summer purslane, pigweed, or spotted sandmat euphorbia, are very easy to dig and pull. The key is removing them before they can set seed and germinate or add to your garden’s soil weed seed bank.
Know Your Weeding Tools
Over the years I have used a number of different weeding tools. A few have stood out and become fast favorites. The three key characteristics I look for in a good gardening hand tool are 1. ease of use, 2. working power, and 3. durability. These criteria are met by the following tools:
Prohoe Rogue Do It All Tool and 7-inch Hoe: The hoes made by this company are wonderfully sturdy and well-made, razor-sharp, and long-handled for those of us that do not like to bend. The Do It All Tool is triangular on one side and has a raking tool on the other. It is perfect for rogueing our deep-rooted weeds. The thin, 7-inch Pro Hoe is ideal for scratching up mats of shallow weed seedlings. These hoes are so strong and sharp, the job will get done in an instant.
Pullerbear Uprooter: For big “weeds” choose a Pullerbear uprooter. In a matter of minutes, an area riddled with small weed trees can be cleaned beautifully roots and all. It works like no other tool I’ve tried. Just clench the base of the sapling or small tree and pull. Ignore the fact that it’s a bit pricey. It will pay for itself quickly in time and effort saved wrangling with hard-to-pull woody weeds.
My trust garden knife (also called a soil knife or Japanese hori-hori) goes with me everywhere. It can cut into the soil to deep roots below and saw through the roots or bases of tough plants. I even use it for harvesting greens and cole crops. One side of the knife is sharp for slicing, and the other is serrated for sawing. They can easily break through the skin, so I use mine while wearing garden gloves and I store it in a leather belt sheath.
Fine-bladed hand trowels are excellent all-purpose tools for weeding and planting. They quickly cut at deep or shallow roots in no time and withstand lots of wear and tear if made well. The “rockery hand trowel” at Clarington Forge is just such a fine-bladed tool, and it’s beautifully crafted for the long haul. Its fine blade makes for easy weeding and planting–especially in heavier or pebbly soils. The narrow rockery hand trowel from Clarington Forge easily expels weeds and gets into small spaces. (image care of Clarington Forge)
For super fast hand weeding nothing beats the classic ho-mi (hoe-mee), also called the Korean hand plow or cultivator. This sharp, downward-facing tool can get to the base of a dandelion root in seconds with a quick chop, chop, chop. Nothing is more effective. For smaller weeds, I use the side of the ho-mi to scratch and smooth the soil. It’s an excellent tool for lightly aerating the base of a plant or getting to the root of a tough herbaceous weed as well as planting new plugs. If well cared for, a ho-mi will last forever (if cleaned after use and oiled to prevent rust). It’s relatively cheap, too. Long-handled versions are also very useful. Just be careful when chopping away with this sharp tool. Its tip can be nasty.
Practice Timely Weeding
I weed two ways be either casually weeding as I water, harvest, and enjoy my garden, or intensively bed by bed. I do casual weeding almost daily. More intensive weeding is something I do three times a month in summer. I also try to catch weeds at various times in their life cycles.
Catching weeds before they flower and set seed is timely weeding. I write this article as the winter weeds in my vegetable garden have begun to set seed. A busy spring pushed back my weeding schedule, and I am paying for it. Had I removed these weeds just two weeks earlier, before they had begun to release seeds,
Catching weed seedlings before they become large is timely weeding. Digging or hoeing up weed seedlings before they become large and take hold will make your garden life so much easier.
Smothering beds before seeds sprout is timely weeding. Adding mulch in late winter or spring, before weed seeds really sprout is very important to keeping weeds down. Miss just one year, and you will pay for it.
Lots of lawn grasses and weeds like to creep into garden beds. Once in your garden, they become weeds. To stop this, it helps to edge your gardens, especially at the start of the gardening season. Edged beds also look tidier and nicer. Mowing your lawn regularly to stop weeds from flowering and setting seeds is also advisable. (Click here for a tutorial about how to edge beds.)
Soil polarization is a method of weed removal that relies on the heat of the sun to kill weeds en masse. Methods vary, but in general, it involves covering a bed area with tacked-down sheets of clear or black plastic for several weeks during the summer. When it works, the heat generated heat cooks everything below–plants, seeds, and all. Keep in mind, the method is used to revive whole beds and remove all weeds, so no desirable plants can be present. It is also less effective further north where summer temperatures rarely exceed 90 degrees F.
Use Herbicides as a Last Resort
Herbicides that really work are generally toxic and best applied by garden professionals. If you have a severe problem with one of the worst perennial weeds mentioned, like Canada thistle or field bindweed, then you may consider resorting to a professional-grade herbicide very selectively applied by a trained horticulturist. Otherwise, they are not needed. More natural means of weed removal are safer and better.
Stay on top of your weeds, and your gardens will prosper. Put aside just a little time each week and it will be a small burden to bear.
Vegetable gardening is on the rise. Gardeners of all experience levels and backgrounds are growing their own food, whether they live in urban environments or spacious suburbs and countrysides. Those living where space is limited have extra challenges, which means that they must garden differently to produce enough food to enjoy all season. Here are some of the ways that we have used to grow fresh food where space and sunshine are at a premium.
Plant in Spacious Pots
If you have a sunny balcony or patio with just enough space for a couple of pots, choose the largest, deepest pots that will fill the space. Large containers (22 to 24 inches minimum) Let gardeners grow more produce, and they have deeper reservoirs for soil and water to encourage more root growth and reduce the need to water as often. The pots must have good drainage and be filled with a quality mix, such as Black Gold® Natural and Organic Raised Bed & Potting Mix. A couple of large pots, or one long, deep raised pot, will be vastly more productive than several smaller ones, so go big! (Click here for more tips on growing potted vegetables.)
Gardeners with a little more space, like a small, sunny rear patio or yard, should consider growing one or more vertical gardens. Clever vertical planters are being designed to allow lots of vegetables to be grown in a small space. There are also plenty of DIY vertical garden designs to consider if you are the creative type. Whether you choose a premade product or go for a less expensive make-your-own vertical garden, make sure that the design allows for easy irrigation, holds enough soil for plants to grow well, and will last for a long time.
Smaller vegetables and fruits are made for container growing, so choose varieties better suited to pot culture. This includes non-vining bush tomatoes, such as ‘Mountain Merit‘ and ‘Celebrity‘, both AAS winners. The tiny, cute cherry tomato Tempting Tomatoes® Patio Sunshine is another excellent choice. These are just a few of the many quality little tomatoes available. Tiny bush basils are fun to grow at the base of potted tomatoes. Windowbox Mini from Renee’s Garden Seeds is a superior little basil that’s very easy to start from seed.
There are plenty of other compact bush vegetables, such as ‘Bush Pickle‘ cucumber, the little butternut ‘Butterbush‘, and compact zucchini ‘Fordhook‘. If you like melons, the compact ‘Minnesota Midget‘ cantaloupe and short-vined watermelon ‘Bush Sugar Baby‘ both grow well sprawling from a large pot. Strawberries of all types are great for pots. The beautiful Berried Treasure® strawberries, with their double pink, red, or white blossoms, also yield delicious sweet berries through summer.
Some vegetables and fruits grow beautifully in large hanging baskets. As with the pots, go big to minimize watering and maximize performance. The best vegetables for hanging are cascaders, such as compact tomatoes, strawberries, dwarf cucumbers, and peppers. The new, compact Pot-a-Peño jalapeño pepper is ideal for hanging baskets. This variety is also a 2021 AAS award winner, so it is sure to perform well.
Rotate Potted Vegetables
Vegetable gardening is a dynamic process. Gardeners have to shift from cool-season spring vegetables to warm-season summer vegetables back to cool-weather crops. In between, smart gardeners rotate their crops to continue the harvest and encourage garden health. Plan to harvest and plant, harvest and plant until fall to boost your garden’s yields and diversity of crops. Seasonal planting and rotation keep soil diseases and pests from taking hold. (Click here to learn more about rotating vegetables.)
Maintain to Maximize Production
Place containers and gardens where they get maximum sunlight. Eight hours a day or more is recommended. Start with great soil that holds water well, has ample air space, and drains well. Black Gold®Natural & Organic Potting Mix is ideal for growing all types of vegetables in containers and it is OMRI Listed® for organic gardening. It’s wise to add a little Black Gold Earthworm Castings Blend 0.8-0.0-0.0, which is rich in nitrogen, to pots with greens and herbs. Change a pot’s soil every two to three years because peat-based potting mixes break down, lose structure, and acidify over time.
Fertilize regularly to encourage the best growth and production. Lots of vegetables are “heavy feeders”, which means they deplete nutrients from the soil fast. Apply a slow-release fertilizer formulated for vegetable gardening at the start of the season. For heavy feeders, like tomatoes, follow up with applications of a water-soluble fertilizer formulated for vegetables. This is especially important to do just before the fruits develop.
Lack of water is the main cause of container vegetable failure. During the hottest days of summer, daily water will likely be needed, especially if your pots are in the full, hot sun. At watering time, water until its starts to run out of the pot drain holes. This indicates that the container is saturated. Thorough watering encourages deeper root development and stronger, more stable plants.
2020 was quite a year–with more downs than ups for most of us. One bright spot was the big boost in gardening nationwide. New gardeners arose from every corner of the country, trying their hand at raising their own vegetables, flowers, herbs, and house plants. It’s equally bright that this year offers no shortage of new and exciting herbs and vegetables. Promising new introductions, for both novice and seasoned gardeners, are diverse and many.
Several new and improved basils are offered this year, and two are on my to-get list. One that will be new to my garden, is the disease-resistant Amazel Basil®sweet Italian basil from Proven Winners®. The tasty variety has large leaves and is sterile, so it never flowers and stays sweet. Another is the highly disease-resistant ‘Rutgers Passion’, a new Italian basil available at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. The classic, large-leafed plants have notably sweet, aromatic leaves and are slow to bolt.
The unusually ferny cilantro‘Confetti’ is a tasty new variety from Johnny’s Selected Seeds that is fast growing and ideal for baby greens. It yields herbal greens in just 30-35 days from seed! If you prefer more traditional cilantro then grow ‘Marino‘, a new introduction from Park Seed. It has large, lush leaves and the vigorous plants are very slow to flower, which means more cilantro for longer.
Proven Winner’s ‘Drops of Jupiter’ ornamental oregano is both attractive and delicious, with mild oregano flavor. Its chartreuse leaves look extra pretty when the numerous purplish-pink flowers appear in midsummer. The beautiful flowers are also edible and attract bees and butterflies.
New 2021 Vegetable Introductions
There are so many new vegetables on the market, it was hard to know where to start when choosing the best picks to present and try in my own garden, but I managed.
I jar pickles, so I always grow cucumbers. That’s why I could not pass up the 2020 AAS award-winning Beit-Alpha-type cucumber ‘Green Light‘. It has small, crisp, sweet, seedless cucumbers that yield early. Each compact vine can produce up to 40 cucumbers, and fruits may begin to appear as fast as 42 days from seed!
Edamamesoybeans are making their way into American vegetable gardens where they are grown just like string beans. (Click here to learn how to grow string beans.) The new, prolific, early-yielding edamame ‘BeSweet‘ bears lots of flavorful beans excellent for steaming and eating from the pod.
Okra lovers can plant fewer plants and get all the okra they need with ‘Heavy Hitter‘. The new offering from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds produces huge yields of tender, green okra pods over a long period of time. Harvest pods regularly to keep production booming.
Flavorful slicing tomatoes are my favorite, and the super disease-resistant heirloom-type tomato ‘GinFiz‘ from Johnny’s Selected Seeds is on the top of my list. It has the five traits that I look for in a tomato: sweet full flavor, beauty, vigor, excellent disease resistance, and good yields. Another impressive slicer I’ve chosen is Baker Creek’s large-fruited ‘Orange Accordion‘. It is reportedly very delicious and uniquely beautiful with its deeply lobed, accordion-shaped fruits of bright orange. Pot and patio gardeners will want to try Proven Winners® miniature Tempting Tomatoes®Patio SunshineCherry Tomato. The tiny tomato plants become covered with so many fruits that they start crowding the foliage. (Click here to learn how to grow tomatoes from seed to harvest.)
Bell-pepper lovers should try the new disease-resistant, high-yielding ‘Karisma‘ bell from Park Seed. The blocky, thick-walled sweet peppers produce continuously throughout the season and turn from green to bright red. For even blockier sweet red bells borne in high quantities on larger plants, try ‘Double Up’–just be sure to cage the plants for needed stability. Small-space gardeners can try the new, compact Pot-a-Peño jalapeño pepper, which is ideal for container gardens. This variety also happens to be 2021 AAS award winner, which means it is sure to perform well. (Click here to learn how to grow your own peppers.)
The deep-purple Asian eggplant ‘Shikou’ is a very early producer of tender, long, flavorful eggplants that produce one week earlier than many other varieties of its kind. It is remarkably heat-tolerant and will also withstand limited drought.
Summer and winter squash are not in short supply when it comes to new offerings. The perfect little golden patty pan ‘Lemon Sun‘ produces lots of little uniform squashes. It’s a good choice for baby vegetable growers. Winter squash lovers will swoon over ‘Harvest Moon‘, a long-keeping, blue-skinned winter squash with a pumpkin shape and bright orange flesh. The Burpee exclusive has heirloom looks, sweet flavor, and keeping power of up to a year. Those with less space can try ‘Goldilocks‘ acorn squash. The 2021 AAS winner displays lots of orange, sweet, and nutty acorn squashes on bush-type plants.
My fall vegetable garden will certainly contain the dusty purple, mini ‘Bonarda‘ broccoli. It looks beautiful, tastes delicious, and winters over well, from fall to winter, like a perennial. If planted in mid-fall, its small, colorful broccoli florets will be produced the following spring above white and green leaves.
Now’s the time to purchase seeds for these vegetables, if you are inclined to grow your own from seed (click here to learn how). Vegetable gardening is still hot, so hot that seeds are selling out at record speed, so now is the time to buy. You may also want to pick up a bag of OMRI Listed Black Gold Seedling Mix while you are at it.
Homemade wreath making can be expensive if you invest in pricy greens, berried branches, premium pinecones, and premade bows and baubles. But, wreath making can also be inexpensive, which is especially welcome during tough economic times when money is tight. Harvest ornamental branches and clippings from the garden, ask your local tree-yard for free evergreen branches, and you can create outstanding wreaths for very little. Learn to make your own festive bows, and your wreath will be a little less than the final cost of a wreath frame, florist’s wire, ribbon, and a little elbow grease and creative inspiration.
I like to gather wreath materials from my garden and use trimmed branches from my Christmas tree, but not all readers may have this advantage. Thankfully, many tree yards offer inexpensive or free greens, cones, and other decorations for wreath-making. Garden centers also sell a variety of greens and berries–some pricy and some reasonable. It is easy to err on the frugal side and still have materials to create something pretty and testing. Either way, making your own wreath is far cheaper than purchasing pre-made wreaths, and you end up with custom-made creations with personality.
DIY Garden Wreath Components
My favorite wreath components include evergreen branches, pine cones, dried flower heads, berried branches, dried grasses, and festive embellishments, such as metallic spray paint, a touch of glitter, and a bow. If I am feeling really frugal, I will even reuse a wreath frame by deconstructing my wreath creations yearly at the end of the season.
In addition to extra Frasier or balsam fir branches from my Chrismas trees, here are wreath components that I have in my yard:
Miscanthis Grass Plumes
Dried Hydrangea Flowers (I did not add these to this year’s wreath)
White pine cones (I refrained from adding these to my wreath this year.)
Here are the extra materials I use for wreath making:
Metal or grapevine wreath frame
A paddle of florist’s wire
Decorative florist’s ribbon for the holidays or winter
DIY Wreath Technique
Here are the steps I took to put my wreath together. The process is easy, and the basic principles can be used to create lots of different wreath creations at different times of the year. Just be sure to use fresh plant materials that are long-lasting. Happy wreath making!
To make your porch look even more festive, make these holiday containers. They look wintery and pretty up until spring when you can dismantle them to make way for spring containers.
Succulents have had a place in my home since I was in college. In fact, as life became busier and busier, I began to replace more tender, needy house plants with resilient succulents. By the time I had children, I only had succulent indoor plants. Then I realized that hanging succulents were even more convenient because they were out of reach from the kids and cats. They are beautiful and convenient if you have lots of windows that stream sunlight into your home. Some can even take the partial sun.
Another perk is that succulents lack the woes of average, needier hanging plants. They don’t need to be constantly watered and tended to due to higher exposure to the elements. Succulents are much slower to dry out and far more forgiving if the soil runs a little dry. The foliage will continue to look lush as long as you keep giving them a little care each week.
It is good for the health of any house plant to be taken outdoors during the frost-free growing months. Hang them along a bright porch or patio where they will get some protection from the high midday sun and strong winds. Regardless of their drought-tolerant status, they will still require weekly to twice-weekly water when outdoors. Light, slow-release fertilizer, and intermittent water-soluble fertilizer will encourage robust growth. They must be well-rooted and established in their baskets before they are fully tolerant of dry heat and winds, so keep a more watchful eye on new plantings.
When you take them indoors in fall as house plants, give them direct sunlight or bright filtered light. Water much less during the cold months–excess water can induce crown or root rot. Thorough water two to three times a month should be sufficient, depending on the plant, pot, temperature, and humidity. (Click here to learn more about winter succulent care.)
Securing Hanging House Plants
If you have a mantle and little inclination to secure hooks to your ceiling, place hanging plants along the edge. Tall, sturdy plant stands also work. Otherwise, hanging plants should be hung from hooks or brackets. Strong hangers and hooks hung over wooden rafters or securely mounted to a wooden ceiling beam are your safest options. Proper installation is key.
Choose a large, solid metal hook to mount in a ceiling joist (supporting beam) to hang a plant. Start with the basic materials: a step ladder, stud finder, pencil, and cordless drill set with the right bit (it should be a little smaller than the hook’s threaded shaft). Stud finders make it easy to find joists. Once you find the right spot, mark it with your pencil, and then drill a straight hole in the spot that is a little deeper than the length of the hook’s threaded shaft. Twist the hook’s base in until flush, and you’re done.
Hanging Succulents for Foliage
Burros, Dolphins, Donkeys, Pearls, and Pickles: There are several senecios that are uniquely attractive. Each grows to great lengths–up to 3 feet or more–and has whimsical succulent strands. Blue Pickle Vine (Senecio radicans ‘Glauca’) has strands of fun, blue-green, pickle-like leaves. String of Dolphins (Senecio peregrinus) is somewhat similar, but its curved fleshy leaves look almost dolphin-like. Burro’s Tail (Sedum morganianum ‘Burrito’) has dense strands of rounded, succulent leaves that look a bit like tails. Donkey’s tails are nearly identical, but the succulent leaves have sharper tips, and the stems tend to grow longer. Finally, Variegated String-of-Pearls (Senecio rowelianus ‘Variegatus’) is one of the easiest and prettiest succulent hanging plants to grow. Its grey-green stems are lined with round baubles of foliage with streaks of ivory and pink highlights. This one’s a little harder to come by, but Mountain Crest Gardens carries it often. Unusual white or lavender-pink flowers rarely appear on each of these plants.
Dancing Bones (Hatiora salicornioides) is a unique spineless cactus. Though delicate, yellow flowers often grace its stems, its glorious, mop-head of foliage is the main show. Grow it in a strong, sturdy hanging basket or tall container. Happy plants mature quickly and become large, so be sure you hang it from a strong hook secured to a beam.
String-of-Turtles (Peperomia prostrata) has flattened, translucent leaves that look much like tiny turtle shells. In time, the plant will form a dense mat of dangling stems. This one can take a little less light. On rare occasions, it may produce spikes of reddish-brown flowers that rise from the foliage.
Variegated String-of-Hearts(Ceropegia woodii ‘Variegata’) has delicate, heart-shaped succulent leaves of silvery-white, pink, and dark green that dangle from the dark stems for an impressive show. It is one of the easier house plants that you can grow, and it does not disappoint when it comes to good looks.
Hanging Succulents for Flowers and Foliage
Chandelier Plant (Kalanchoe manginii) becomes massive with age, so choose a substantial container from the start. Its dense stems have rounded succulent leaves. From late winter to early spring, copious orange to salmon-pink bells bloom for weeks. During the rest of the year, the lush foliage of this Madagascar native looks attractive. Thin out excessive older growth to encourage new.
Flower Dust Plant (Kalanchoe pumila) has very bright silvery-white, almost dusty leaves that spill from any container or hanging basket. When this Madagascar native becomes laden with pretty pink flowers, it looks even prettier. Like chandelier plant, it flowers in late winter and spring.
Rattail Cactus (Disocactusflagelliformis) develops long strands of finely-spined stems that cascade down to form a hair-like mop. Spectacular, large cactus flowers of pink, reddish-pink, or purplish-red appear from spring to summer. Prune off any excessive stems or those that become damaged or tangled.
Easy to Propagate and Share
Most succulents and cacti can be propagated from leaf or stem cuttings. The rarer your plant, the more you will want to propagate it for gifting and friends. Here is what you will need to take stem or leaf cuttings from your hanging succulents.
Rooting hormone with an anti-fungal additive (optional)
Use a sharp knife to gently cut healthy leaves from the stem. Dip the bases of the leaves, or a stem tip, into rooting hormone; rooting hormone hastens the rooting process and reduces rot but is not necessary. Gently moisten the perlite or potting mix in your shallow pots, and nestle the bases of the leaves into the mix. Place the pots in a spot with bright, filtered light and keep the perlite or mix lightly moist to almost dry. Over a matter of weeks, the bases will root and small plantlets will appear. You can pot them up once they have several leaflets.
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.