Sunday, April 15, 2012

Should you reuse container soil again?

Do you throw out your container soil? What do you do to keep it fresh?   Do you mix your own container mix?

Gardening in containers require the soil be light and airy as well as have good drainage. This allows the roots to grow and "breath" So should you reuse your soil?

In the years I have gardened I have had to use containers as I have a brick back yard that is about
15 by 12. I always felt you could reuse the "dirt" soiless mix for containers again, if you helped it the next year with admendments and cleaned it out of the roots and debris. This was, of course, if you did not have any disease in the growing season. Soil that has had diseased plants or may have overwintering soil dwelling insects and their eggs should be discarded. Garden sanitation is essential in containers as well as the regular garden.

This has always worked for me and I didn't reconsider until recently when I started reading answers to the question........Can I reuse my container soil? It was confusing to say the least.

Some say, just throw it on the compost pile.         I don't have a compost pile.
Reuse it in your garden.                                       Again no garden.
And yes recycle that soil unless the actual structure has changed over the years.

When I start my growing season, I dump all of the pots, clean them out with a light bleach solution and start my new soil mix. I add my amendments, manure, perlite and peat moss, more soiless mix and mix mix mix. I use dehydrated manure because I do not have a compost pile, perlite and peat moss.
If I find the soil looks and feels spent I dump it in the recycle bag and take it to my local composting site.

I finish with a mulch on top to retain moisture and fertilize through the summer. So far it seems to have worked OK. This year I am using coir and mushroom compost as it is supposed to be better. To be determined.

Rotation with vegetables is also recommended as you would rotate in a raised bed. Heavy feeders, light feeders and light are all considerations. Most of my pots are flowers so it is easier, I feel, than growing vegetables in those pots. Since I dump and start anew every year it is easier to not worry about rotation.

So can you reuse your potting soil? Yes and No. If you dump amend and reuse yes. If you leave it in a pot and keep reusing I say no. I am sure there are many answers and many conclusions. This is mine from my experience.

Good Luck

Additional Information..........

What's coir? Coir, pronounced kwar, is a rising star in horticulture. Also known as "coco coir" because it is made from fibrous coconut husks, coir is an effective, economical and earth-friendly addition or alternative to traditional peat-based blends. 

From Fine Gardening

Getting to the Coir of the Matter

Gardeners for years have lined their hanging baskets with long-fiber coir. Learn how this material differs from peat.

Enlightened gardeners may be noticing something new in their potting media: a dark brown, fibrous material that has the look and feel of peat. The material is coir (pronounced “core”) dust. Like peat, it can be used as an organic component in potting media, or alone to amend garden soil or propagate plants.
So why would you choose one material over the other? One reason may have to do with your definition of a renewable resource. Peat comes from decomposed plant remains that have accumulated in waterlogged soils for thousands of years, and some people worry about diminishing peat bogs. Coir comes from a resource that many people consider more sustainable: coconuts.
The difference between peat and coir doesn’t end there. While peat tends to be acidic, coir leans toward a near-ideal pH, depending on the source. Some people also find that coir is easier to work with than peat. Coir retains more water than peat, making it a wise choice for many containers and hanging baskets. But the potential for high levels of soluble salts to accumulate is greater with coir-based than with peat-based soils. To eliminate any cause for concern, be sure to buy coir products from a reputable company.
Coir has been used for a decade in the United States by the commercial greenhouse industry and even longer by growers in the world’s tropical, palm-rich regions where it is produced, including Sri Lanka, Philippines, Mexico, and India.
Gardeners for years have lined their hanging baskets with long-fiber coir, and coir fibers are used to make common household items such as rope, doormats, and upholstery stuffing. Coir fibers are generated when the coconut husk is ground. Coir dust is the by-product of this process. Some of you probably have used chunks of coir dust to grow orchids, ferns, anthuriums, bromeliads, and other tropical plants.  

Nutrient and pH differences

In substituting coir for peat—whether using it alone as a garden soil amendment or in the potting mixes you make—be alert to possible differences in results. Coir is rich in potassium (K) and the micronutrients iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), and copper (Cu). The high potassium content means that a gardener could use a fertilizer that’s lower in potassium and still get good results. The other nutrients are a bonus—just like adding a vitamin pill to our daily diets. Because the pH of coir (5.5 to 6.8) is more neutral than that of peat (3.6 to 4.5), some gardeners may find that coir does not work as well for acid-loving plants, such as azaleas and blueberries.
Most gardeners are familiar with the challenge of wetting dry peat; coir is praised for being easier to rewet from a dry state. Overall, coir is a wonderful amendment if you want to improve the water retention of your hanging basket or container. Coir can absorb water at a rate of about seven times its dry weight. This is almost 30 percent more water than peat can hold.
While coir may not replace peat, it is nice to have a more easily renewable option. The positive qualities of this coconut by-product make it a natural fit in many garden applications.

The dos and don'ts of using coir

soak a compressed brick, block, or bale in water for at least 15 minutes before using.
make sure the soaking container is big enough; coir will expand five to seven times in volume. For a brick, which yields about 1/3 cubic foot of coir dust, a drywall bucket will do. For a bale (about 2 1/2 cubic feet), use a child’s small swimming pool or an outdoor garbage can.
add coir to garden soil as an amendment, or use it as an ingredient in potting mixes. Like peat, it can account for up to 40 percent of the potting mix.
Don'tuse bricks that fail to absorb water readily and expand.
try to slice a brick in half. Even a chain saw won’t cut it.
toss out any unused coir. It retains its properties and can be stored—covered— for several years.
Photo: Melissa Lucas
From Fine Gardening 105 , pp. 20

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Super Easy, Super Thrifty, Seed Tape!

By Jessica S. Herwick

Seed tape is a gardener and thoughtful landscaper tool.  It is used to manage the tiniest of seeds by securing them evenly throughout a strip of biodegradable material.  The strips can be cut and planted directly in your garden soil, producing evenly spaced, securely rooted plants.

You may have noticed seed tape advertised in seed catalogs or at your local nursery.  Lately I have been noticing seed tape making it’s way, more and more, onto the horticulture market.  I even saw carrot and lettuce tape for sale at the Lowe’s this year!  When I saw how much they were charging, I decided to come straight home and write this blog.  You see, I have been making my own seed tape for years, after receiving a free sample in the mail one winter.  It costs practically nothing and is made with materials you already have at home.  Follow the directions below to make, store and use your own seed tape and save your money for more seeds!

Why use seed tape at all?  There is a reason (several reasons, actually) why this item is becoming more popular among mainstream distributors.  Here are a few...
·        * It spares your back and your eyes: Planting seed tape is easier than crouching down over your seed beds and fussing with proper placement of the smaller seed varieties. 
·       *  It eliminates the need to thin seedlings: Seed tape places seeds the proper distance from each other and the paper holds small seeds in place while they germinate.  This prevents the sow-er from dropping too many seeds in one place (we’ve all done it).  It also prevents the seeds from gathering into small clumps and germinating together, which is usually why we have to thin the seedlings. 
·        * Perfection: It creates rows of annuals, veggies and herbs that come as close to being perfectly spaced as Mother Nature will allow.
·        * It gives the garden designer more control: Seed tape enables you to manipulate the seeds to create designs – imagine how much easier it would be to spell out your school’s name in flowers using seed tape for the design and planting!  Once practiced, even elementary school students could create a professional looking landscape or perfectly placed herb garden.

Newspaper (Black and White print ONLY! NO COLOR)
  Alternative to newspaper – white paper towels, white tissue paper
Wax paper
¼ Cup of Flour
¼ Cup of Water (room temperature)
Small Bowl
Paint Brush (small, hard bristled watercolor brush)
  Alternative to paint brush – toothpick, cotton swab

1. Cut newspaper (or paper towels, tissue paper) into long strips, about ½ inch to 1 inch thick.

2. Lay out wax paper.  

3. Place newspaper strips in rows on top of the wax paper.

4. Mix the Flour Paste: Combine ¼ cup flour and ¼ cup water.  Stir until a smooth, glue-like mixture is formed.  You may need to adjust – add enough water so that the mixture becomes thick, but thin enough to pour from the spoon.  Adjust consistency by adding more water or more flour as needed.     

5. Using a paintbrush or cotton swab, place one small dot of the flour paste where each seed should go.  I usually eye this up, but you can measure and mark the newspaper ahead of time to make this step easier.

Refer to your seed packets for spacing.  Different plants need different amounts of space to grow properly.  Using the tape should eliminate the need to thin seedlings.  So, you want to space your seeds using the final spacing noted on the seed’s packet.  Usually the packet will tell you to “thin the seedlings to #inches apart”.  This is the measurement you will use for spacing your seeds on the tape. 

6. Lay one seed lightly on top of each flour paste dot.

7. Place a clean strip of newspaper on top of the strip you have just prepared with seeds and press down lightly until you see the liquid wet through both sides of the paper. 

8. Label the strip of seed tape and set aside on a clean, dry piece of wax paper.
9. Allow seed tape to air dry for 24 hours on the wax paper.

To Store:  Place seed tape in freezer bags with a zip seal.  Tape can be gently rolled up or folded to fit into bags.  You can also roll tape up and store in a Tupperware container with an airtight lid. 

To Plant: Follow the directions on the back of the seed packet for planting times and depth.  Dig thin trenches at the appropriate depth and lay seed tape into the trench.  Water well (so the newspaper is clearly wet all the way through) and cover with soil.  Water once again, and keep your eyes peeled for seedlings to emerge.

Click here for more seed starting tips and money saving tricks!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Summer bulbs

By Michele Koskinen  

White fragrant lilies and hardy gladiola
When you hear bulbs what is the first flower you see in your mind? Is it a tulip, daffodil, crocus, snowdrop or other fall planted bulb. Can you name your favorite summer bulb? Flowers planted in the spring from bulbs or corms or rhizomes are called "Summer Bulbs". These include begonia, caladium, canna, dahlias, gladiola, lilies of many varieties, oxalis, and many more. Some are tubers and others corms but for this discussion they are all grouped together as summer bulbs. 

Fragrant Oriental Lily

Growing conditions for summer bulbs are different from spring bulbs in that a summer bulb needs full sunshine, with some exceptions, and decent soil and excellent drainage  (if the soil is clay and drainage is poor, the bulbs will rot). If those 3 conditions are met, it will most certainly give the summer bulbs a good growing habitat. Spring flowering bulbs will thrive in poor and infertile soil and extreme conditions of heat and cold. Summer bulbs need their requirements met to thrive. 

To get off to a good start, the bulbs need consistently warm soil. The planting date should always be after the last frost and the temperature preferably between 50 and 60 degree. 

 Many summer flowering bulbs and tubers are well suited for patio containers and should be planted closer for a full look. The most popular are begonia, dwarf canna, caladium and dwarf dahlia. 
Caladium and begonia

Summer bulbs also require winter storage in a cool dry place after being dug up for the winter. Most of the tender bulbs require 40 to 50 degree temps in dry vermiculite or peat moss. Some grown in containers can be moved indoors and left in the pots to 
overwinter. A too warm storage climate dries them out and they are not viable the next season. 

Many summer bulbs are considered  hardy in our zone 6B-7 and do not need to be lifted. Iris and lilies are two that can be left in the ground and will multiply through the years as a regular perennial. For more information on the hardiness of the bulb, read the growing directions for the specific bulb you are planting.

A few tips from professionals.
Summer bulbs require a great deal of water immediately after planting. 
The soil in your garden should be continually moist not wet.
Sprouting is healthy; plants are anxious to get into the ground again. 
Maintain a pH level of 6 to 7 to bring out the true color of flower bulbs. 
Additional fertilizer is not necessary for summer flowering bulbs and tubers.