Gardening from the Ground Up: Tips and Tricks

Recently I had the opportunity to teach a class on the basics of gardening. It was fun and worth all of the planning and gardening projects needed to get ready to host this and two additional classes at our home. What a whirlwind! So now it’s time to share the basic information to help others grow more food, ornamentals, trees, and bushes. We live in zone 5b/6a where the soil is more clay and alkaline so some tips may need adjustment to your growing zone, soil conditions. In the USA, I direct you to your local extension office for more information; find the best information when you search online by using “.ext” and “.edu” after your search words. In Allen County of Indiana, contact the Master Garden Hotline at Purdue Extension at 260-481-6826, extension 2. Happy growing! JJ

Gardening from the Ground Up: Tips and Tricks

Julie Horney MS, OTR/L Extension Master Gardener

The Gardening from the Ground Up class is for the person newer to gardening or who ends up with more brown than green by the end of the season!

Tools

Lightweight shovel

Generally use the largest containers (with drain holes) or grow bags you can afford

Hand trowel and hand rake; optional:  hoe for weeding, pitch fork and rake for mulching large areas

Garden gloves

Hand pruners

Cart or 2-wheeled wheelbarrow to transport supplies for larger gardens

What are your favorites?

Call 811 to have your utility lines marked before you dig and as you are planning your garden areas.

Soil:  You’re only as good as your soil!

Soil demonstration:  Sand/silt/clay; ph; compost; fertilizer

Raised Bed Tour

Planters:  Rocks, empty plastic bottles with caps on, or pot shards in bottom for drainage.  Pre-moisten potting soil mix (with vermiculite or soil moisture crystals).  No garden soil or compost as it will make the soil too compacted, hard for roots to grow! 

Raised beds:  Black topsoil and peat mixture (can be mixed with vermiculite or coconut coir in place of peat).  Mix top layer with balanced fertilizer and top with compost if desired.  Need drainage so no regular garden soil.  Search “soil calculator” online for how much to use.  Delivery of cubic yards of your soil mix is generally more cost-effective than bagged products. 

Plots:  Consider testing your soil before beginning or buying anything.  We largely have very alkaline soil here that needs much help (compost, sulfur, aluminum sulfate, peat, and gypsum all help lower ph) before planting in the ground!  2 cups of soil tested at Ag Plus or Purdue Extension, $25/20.  Suggest 3-in-1 or similar soil mix that contains compost.  Kill or remove all grass & weeds before planting.  Use only composted never fresh manure; no dog or cat waste.  Raw kitchen scraps can leach nitrogen from soil when planted in garden beds before composted.

Consider starting a compost pile of your own:  2/3 brown material (leaves, sticks, shredded brown paper bags) and 1/3 chopped raw veggie, fruit, eggshell scraps without seeds.  Turn at least weekly, crumbly not wet, and protect from critters with fencing.  No fireplace ash or lime if soil is alkaline.  Ideal is 6-7 for most vegetables, flowers, fruit (except blue and blackberries), bushes, and trees.  Always check first!

Fertilizer

Balanced slow-release fertilizer for initial plantings.  Optional:  Biotone for new plantings.  Balanced/lower first number for edibles and flowers in N-P-K ratings (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium); higher middle number for tomatoes & asparagus. 

Slow-release types generally applied 2x per growing season; liquid fertilizer every 1-2 weeks.  Always check instructions on product labels.  Fertilize hanging baskets weekly and re-pot into larger container when they are drying out too fast or “root-bound.”

Fertilize bushes and trees at “drip line.” 

Note which plants are acid-loving and add sulfur to soil amendments; gypsum adds calcium often needed for tomatoes.  Compost is virtually always helpful in building your soil but you still need to add fertilizer periodically.  Side-dress veggie and fruit rows with fertilizer. 

Plants:  Right plant, right place

Sun exposure:  6+ hours of sun is considered “full sun” but watch changes over the daytime.

Seed-starting:  dedicate some time to research heat mats, grow lights, seed-starting soil mix, pre-soaking select seeds, hardening-off and transplanting for best success.  See guide in Files of WRCA Gardening Group on Facebook for when to sow seeds and planting timetable.

Direct-sow:  Some plants do better direct-sown into the ground/don’t like roots disturbed such as radishes, corn, lettuce, cucumbers.  Follow package directions especially for soil-temp and spacing guidelines.  Don’t be afraid to thin your plants such as carrots, radishes, and lettuce!  Planting tomatoes and peppers too early stunts their growth!

Plant starts:  Local nurseries tend to have plants without pesticides such as neonicotinoids that can kill bees.  Mix balanced fertilizer into soil (and optional Biotone in plant hole) at proper depth & spacing.  Pre-moisten soil of pots before planting.  Do finger test to know when to water each week. Consider inter-planting herbs and flowers in edible gardens for pollination and pest control.

All gardens can benefit from adding native plants.  They attract pollinators and may deter pests, help cultivate, filter, and hold the soil in place; and generally are hardier, requiring less water once established.  Rain gardens specifically help manage and filter water runoff as well.  See Riverview Nursery and Arbor Farms locally plus the references in Files of WRCA Gardening Group on Facebook for some ideas.

Except for some bushes, trees, and cool season veggies, put most plants into the ground after our 6a last frost date of May 1st.  Select plants hardy to Zone 5 or below and watch the weather before-and-after planting!  Planting trees, re-seeding and treating lawns, and dividing plants early in the fall is often better than the spring; mulch plants heavily.

General Landscape Design Tips 

Don’t go too big when just starting your first garden!  How much time can you devote a minimum of 3x per week to water, weed, make adjustments (e.g. staking plants, turning containers) FOR FIVE MONTHS?  What is your budget for everything you need for success?

Water:  Plant within the length of your hose or irrigation line attached to a water source.  Chemicals won’t solve fungal problems that stem from overhead watering; water at the root zone, soil level and in the morning as much as possible.  Consistency of watering is key to success.  Consider adding a simple irrigation system on a timer.

Start small and increase with experience, resources, and success.  You will likely need to move or replace plants, make tweaks each year.

Containers:  Thriller, spiller, filler design principles. 

Landscape perennials and annuals look nice in odd numbers, staggered plantings, swaths of color.

Fall tip:  plant spring bulbs in the Fall and before October.  O.k. to put more than one bulb in each hole; fertilize with bulb booster at fall planting time and after bloom in the spring.

Pest Deterrents

Water in the morning at ground level, avoiding plant leaves.  Consider an irrigation system later on for consistency and to help avoid wetting plant leaves. 

Right plant, right location (e.g. 6+ hours of sun for edibles).  Ensure proper water drainage plus spacing of plants for air circulation.  Consider native plants to increase pollinators for edibles; these take a couple of years to mature.  Don’t plant in the ground anywhere near walnut trees.

Organics:  Apply when needed:  Dipel dust on leaves or neem oil spray, both according to package directions.  Bad infestations might benefit from Spinosad or Captain Jack’s Bug Juice.

Rabbits:  Liquid Fence on leaves of all tender plants as soon as they emerge and afterwards per package directions.  Minimum 3 foot tall fencing around edibles and plants they keep munching!  Make a ring out of poultry wire to place around favorite plants, edibles.

Japanese Beetles:  Make a plan with your neighbors!  Apply GrubEx or similar product to lawn in May and apply Neem oil EARLY (as directed on label) when they emerge, to leaves of plants they attacked last year.  Pick off Japanese beetles in morning into bucket of soapy water and discard.  Organics include BeetleJus and Captain Jack’s Bug Juice.  Use Sevin dust according to package instructions only for bad infestation and continue knocking them off. No JB traps!  Reference:  JB fact sheet in WRCA Gardening Group Files or E-45-W at the Purdue Education Store.

Brood X Cicadas:  In the Midwest in 2021, plan to wrap the trunk and cover the canopy of (1/4” or smaller mesh) young bushes and trees if you are within 50 yards of 17+ year old trees,maybe further!  They might be everywhere or might not be bad at all.  We shall see!  Consider waiting to plant new stock until after they depart if it’s not too hot- or-wait until the fall.  Reference:  Cicada fact sheet in WRCA Gardening Group Files or E-47-W at the Purdue Education Store.

Pick off tomato hornworms and plant tomatoes in a different location next year. Remove lower leaves and stake plants (especially indeterminate varieties) so no branches touch the ground.

Remember with chemicals:  less is more!  Read package labels and wear protection when using.  Spray diluted, unscented mild dishwashing detergent to leaves to deter bugs. Treat in morning, shady days.  Call the Master Gardener Hotline to help diagnose and treat problems (see page 5).

Weed Deterrents

Keep soil covered with mulch such as leaves, wood chips (no dyed chips in beds with edibles), strips of cardboard, or straw.  Groundcover plants help ornamental beds.

Walk around your yard and do a little tidying/weeding every day.  If you keep pulling weeds, the roots of most weeds and even invasives like Canadian thistle will eventually lose energy from the starch stored in its roots and will stop sending up new leaves.  Kill sod and weeds by covering with cardboard or black plastic or digging it out.  This takes time.  Minimize tiling when possible.

Homemade Weed Control

Ricky’s Gardening Tips and Tricks

From:  Ricky’s Gardening Tips and Tricks and Home Horticulture, April 2020

Ricky D. Kemery, Allen County Extension Educator Retired  

Keep in mind that this method only burns-down plants; it doesn’t travel within the plant like systemic herbicides such as glyphosate (Round- Up). Since many folks don’t want to use Round-Up because of health concerns, this can be an alternative control for common weeds.

People still need to be careful, wearing gloves, eye protection, long sleeves and pants when spraying. This will also damage desirable plants, so use pieces of cardboard to prevent spray drift. 

Plants will grow back usually so several applications may be necessary. One can also use this without Epsom salts, as the salts might damage soil if used repeatedly.

1.  Mix a gallon of five-percent household white vinegar with a cup of Epsom salt and stir until the salt is completely dissolved.

2.  Next, add a tablespoonful of Dawn dish soap to act as a surfactant. Surfactants help solutions adhere better to their targets upon contact. Again, stir the mixture for nice blend.

3.  Transfer the solution into an empty plastic spray bottle. Then proceed to spray all weed plants (as needed).

Garden notebook, importance of keeping records

The Pilot, The Pilot’s Wife

The Pilot

Twas the night before Christmas – Aviation Style

Twas the night before Christmas, and out on the ramp, Not an airplane was stirring, not even a Champ.

The aircraft were fastened to tie downs with care, In hopes that come morning, they all would be there.

The fuel trucks were nestled, all snug in their spots, With gusts from two-forty at 39 knots.

I slumped at the fuel desk, now finally caught up, And settled down comfortably, resting my butt.

When the radio lit up with noise and with chatter, I turned up the scanner to see what was the matter.

A voice clearly heard over static and snow, Called for clearance to land at the airport below.

He barked his transmission so lively and quick, I’d have sworn that the call sign he used was “St. Nick”.

I ran to the panel to turn up the lights, The better to welcome this magical flight.

He called his position, no room for denial, “St. Nicholas One, turnin’ left onto final.”

And what to my wondering eyes should appear, But a Rutan-built sleigh, with eight Rotax Reindeer!

With vectors to final, down the glideslope he came, As he passed all fixes, he called them by name:

“Now Ringo! Now Tolga! Now Trini and Bacun! On Comet! On Cupid!” What pills was he takin’?

While controllers were sittin’, and scratchin’ their head, They phoned to my office, and I heard it with dread,

The message they left was both urgent and dour: “When Santa pulls in, have him please call the tower.”

He landed like silk, with the sled runners sparking, Then I heard “Left at Charlie,” and “Taxi to parking.”

He slowed to a taxi, turned off of three-oh And stopped on the ramp with a “Ho, ho-ho-ho…”

He stepped out of the sleigh, but before he could talk, I ran out to meet him with my best set of chocks.

His red helmet and goggles were covered with frost And his beard was all blackened from Reindeer exhaust.

His breath smelled like peppermint, gone slightly stale, And he puffed on a pipe, but he didn’t inhale.

His cheeks were all rosy and jiggled like jelly, His boots were as black as a crop duster’s belly.

He was chubby and plump, in his suit of bright red, And he asked me to “fill it, with hundred low-lead.”

He came dashing in from the snow-covered pump, I knew he was anxious for drainin’ the sump.

I spoke not a word, but went straight to my work, And I filled up the sleigh, but I spilled like a jerk.

He came out of the restroom, and sighed in relief, Then he picked up a phone for a Flight Service brief.

And I thought as he silently scribed in his log, These reindeer could land in an eighth-mile fog.

He completed his pre-flight, from the front to the rear, Then he put on his headset, and I heard him yell,

“Clear!” And laying a finger on his push-to-talk, He called up the tower for clearance and squawk.

“Take taxiway Charlie, the southbound direction, Turn right three-two-zero at pilot’s discretion”

He sped down the runway, the best of the best, “Your traffic’s a Grumman, inbound from the west.”

Then I heard him proclaim, as he climbed through the night, “Merry Christmas to all! I have traffic in sight.”

(From Dave Williams, Light Sport Aircraft, Facebook 12.24.2020)

Snoopy Flying Ace

The Pilot’s Wife

Just 3 years ago

After chants akin to nag

I gifted my true love

The journey to a flight bag.

Study hard he did so

Sans rain, sleet, and snow

VFR and 5 comps later

The man flies in the know.

But why should it end

With just takin’ to da sky

There’s always one more

Dream for this river guy.

Rolls and spins and water

Landings rather than surfs

In a home-built (or relic?)

Makes me blue like a smurf!

A hundred-dollar burger

And a few cool pics alof

Are my bennies for braving

The dreams of my spouse.

So ladies just do it

Love your man and take note

If his hanger is ever gets filled

This Master Gardener’s conservatory will have been built!

(From Yours Truly to my beloved Fly Bear, Steve!)

Merry Christmas Gentle Reader. JJ

When Garden Art Comes Home

Garden Art Comes Home, Part 1

By AMG Julie

Little did I know when Bethany wrote her colorful article on Garden Art in the June issue of Across the Fence (publication of the Master Gardeners of Allen County, Indiana, of which I am Editor) that I would soon receive an unexpected gift of my own!

About 5 years ago I decided to send a letter to the owner of my childhood home.  There was a unique piece of garden art in the backyard placed there over a dozen years ago by my now deceased Mom.  Is it still there?  If it is and you find that you no longer want it, would you kindly let me know?  I didn’t hear anything and never drove by the house during that time to see if it was still there, visible from the street.  Life went on until I got a surprise phone call on Friday, June 5, 2020.

I found your letter in the back of a bathroom cabinet when I was remodeling a few months ago.  I have the metal piece sitting outside against the house in the backyard if you want it.  I figured it would be meaningful to someone.  Give me a call if you do . . . 

I was in shock!  Holy cow!  Mark J had removed the garden gate from the garden “hill”  on the side of the house, concrete and all, and had it neatly secured with pavers against the red bricks of the old house.  I talked to my husband (always up for a driving adventure), thought about it overnight.  And then I got really excited!  I called Mark on Saturday and said YES!  We’ll come get it!

My childhood home is in Warren, Michigan.  I had moved away in 1983 after college to the Chicagoland area then again north of Fort Wayne in 2007.  Favorite plants made the journey here as well.  But I never would have expected that this prized possession of the original garden master in my life would come home too.  I called my brother right away and had some fun reminiscing about our garden projects with our mother over the years.  I sent him photos of the garden gate on Saturday when Mark forwarded them to me.  Plans were coming together to drive up to Michigan on Sunday to pick up our new found treasure and have a quick visit with my brother and his family as well. 

The visit never happened.  Or at least not yet.  Twenty-six minutes before Mike would have received the photos that I sent by text, he went into a medical crisis that would end his life.  He never saw the photos.  We did not drive to Michigan that weekend.  I never saw my brother alive again . . .

The meaningfulness of this experience and simple piece of garden art is now greater than ever before.  Mike made his gateway to heaven the very day after our Mom’s garden gate came back into our lives.  When this time of mourning has passed, my beloved and I will make our way to Michigan for a Memorial Service and retrieval of a memorable artifact from my personal heritage.  It’s a little thing in the scheme of life yet I’ll bet that I’m not the only one out there with meaningful touch points in his or her garden beds that reflect your own stories as well.

I’d love to hear them.  JJ

It’s like I’m writing my thesis again

A long time ago in another State, marriage, home, and occupation I was writing my Master’s thesis.  As a matter of fact the weekend after I came home from my honeymoon (with the man who eventually decided he was Mr. Wrong), I spent over 20 hours pounding on the keys of an IBM computer.  Remember word processing in DOS?  No, not me either.  That actually came 3 years later.  I was typing at a TYPEWRITER and hired a TYPIST to create the final 125-page report!  Back then a trip to the copy place was an event and choosing the right type of watermark paper could make a difference between acceptance and rejection of an important document.  At least having it professionally bound was not a requirement back then . . .

All of that typing did not do me, my forearms, nor the first years of my marriage any good.  Eventually I graduated with my Master of Science degree with a thesis that was as long as most Doctoral dissertations at the time!  Oh well.  That’s what happens when your first reader is a scholar in your profession and your third reader is the head of the Department of Occupational Therapy in addition to being a pioneer in the field as well.  I remember Dr. Anne Fisher handing back to me the 11th total re-write of my baby:  it was covered in red ink!  “You are a good writer,” she said.  Say what?  Could you maybe mention that to your ball point pen my dear professor!  Sigh.  Back to the typewriter I went on my way to bilateral epicondylitis or whatever.  I think eventually the repetitive motion injury from typing turned into fibromyalgia.  So I got more than my “MS” degree in graduate school but I digress.

That was 25 years ago.  I now live in a different State with my Intended Beloved, a different occupation, pet dog, hobbies, gardens, vehicles, hair styles, family, friends, church, and dress size!  It’s all good.  And today I completed three different writing projects and it only took about 12 hours!  Thank goodness for word processing, the internet, and Office Depot!  The 3 projects included:

  1. Editing and completing the photo layouts/covers of the Fall issue of Canoe News of the United States Canoe Association.  My husband, Steve, is the Editor and I am the Assistant Editor of this quarterly publication; Fall brings the biggest issue of the year.  It took me about a week to get into the right health state to do what needed to be done and now in the wee hours of the morning I am ready to send it back to my River Bear.

  2. Revising the Huntertown Family Park Rain Garden Project proposal and submitting it to my contact person at the Department of Natural Resources Urban Wildlife Program in application for supplemental funding.

  3. Finally figuring out the Microsoft Sway online software program enough to a) export the October issue of Across the Fence to Word then b) create a pdf file to c) email it to the Horticulture Educator at the Allen County Purdue Extension Office.  This will be my first issue as Editor of the ATF newsletter for the Master Gardeners.  The Educator has been answering all my questions and yet it has been frustrating for both of us.  I hit quite a few snafus with the program not working correctly in our Chrome browser at home; going back to Internet Explorer appears to have solved the problems for now!

Tomorrow will be a rest day.  A good volunteer must do her jobs then rest and recover the next day.  Part of my day will be praising the Lord that I could even do these tasks with the lingering effects of serious illness.  Thank you Jesus for sustaining me, clearing my mind, and helping me to do the tasks to which I am called.  I do pray for restoration now as there are many unfinished chores throughout the house.  Please help me to take care of the things you have entrusted to my life, to love and serve my Stevers.  I know that You see my responsibilities and weaknesses and watch over all of the details of my life.  I rest in your gracious care my Lord.  To You be the glory for the good things accomplished this day.

In Jesus name, amen.  JJ

Canoe News, paddling, competition, racing, wife, magazine, Editor, racing, USCA, volunteer
Cover photo from Canoe News, October 2018

rain garden, rocks, drainage, flooding, native plants, volunteer
Rain Garden model bed pending for the Huntertown Family Park

master gardener, volunteer, Purdue Extension, cooperative, gardener, certification, Across the Fence, Editor

What would suit her best?

That funny bush with the orange berries

That I found tucked in a nursery corner

Was her birthday gift many decades ago

And became another treasure of uniqueness, much like that of her own.

Or the specimen discovered from the zoo

When she found the groundskeeper

And pleaded to give her a cutting

To grow with her collection of rare finds and vagabond species too.

Perhaps the devil’s tongue would be it

That bloomed in the closet each Winter

With a stink much worse than her smokes

And a tropical canopy outside in summer:  uniquely placed in the Midwest.

Surely she would be planted on the hill

Where the orange pavers from Woodstock days

Used to mark the side door to the home

Laden with so many memories and metal trash cans covering some of them too.

Oh I’ll bet she’s still out there somewhere

For her ashes got sprinkled into the earth

Forever mixed with the fruit of her hands

And beautiful gardens, a spa, some whimsy, all in squared borders of suburban fare.

Oh mom, how I miss you this day

As I tend to my own soil and dig

Preparing for Spring flowers and food

Adding amendments, turning it over again until everything crumbles just right.

One plant in particular we share

From your garden and mine:

Those “bee bush” perennial sedum

That you made me edge around in the hot summer sun by back-breaking hand!

Oh how you would love

To see me hail a sharpened spade

Defining my borders so clean with

Just one more bed added most years ’cause it’s also a passion for me borne from you.

Maybe the climbing Baffin rose

I will dedicate to you, Rose Anne:

A rambler, a bit wild yet beautiful

Yes this you shall be in my garden scrapbook come alive where you and me will always meet.

JJ

William Baffin, roses, fuscia, pink, red, climbing, vines, fence, garden
Fuscia William Baffin Climbing Roses