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Growing Healthy Houseplants

houseplant
By Jodi Torpey

Have you taken a good look at your houseplants lately? Are there yellowing leaves, brown leaf tips or leaf drop? If so, your plants are trying to tell you something.

Many houseplants, like philodendron, palms and ferns, are tropical plants and they don’t like cold weather any more than we do. A winter’s worth of low light, fluctuating indoor temperatures and dry air means plants need some extra special care.  

Besides adding greenery to the indoor scenery, healthy houseplants provide the vital function of exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen to improve indoor air quality. Plants also filter common toxins and keep our green thumbs in shape for gardening season.  

Houseplants do so much for us, they deserve a little TLC. Here’s how to give your houseplants a boost of good health by adjusting temperature and humidity, lighting, watering and fertilizing.

Temperature and Humidity

Houseplants prefer a consistently temperate indoor climate. In general, houseplants do best when daytime temperatures are 65 to 70 degrees and 60 to 65 at night.

Keep plants away from entry doors to protect them from cold drafts and make sure leaves aren’t touching chilly windows. Some plants may need to be moved to a warmer spot, as long as it’s not near hot air vents, fireplaces or radiators.

Humidity, the amount of water moisture in the air, benefits people and plants alike. Experts recommend an indoor humidity level between 30 to 40 percent. While some homes are equipped with a whole-house humidifier, a portable room humidifier can also do the job.

Placing plants on trays of moist gravel and clustering them close together can also increase the amount of humidity around plants. Although it works temporarily, misting isn’t an effective way to sufficiently increase humidity levels.

Light  

Light levels change from winter into spring and some plants may need to be moved to a sunnier window. Because plants will grow toward the light source, be sure to turn plants every so often to prevent them from becoming leggy or misshapen.  

If you have blooming houseplants, like begonias, fuchsias or African violets, consider supplementing natural light with fluorescent or plant grow lights. Artificial lighting is usually placed one foot above plants. Expose plants to about 16 hours of light each day.  

Water

Did you know over watering is the reason most houseplants meet an untimely demise? Instead of watering on a regular schedule, adapt your watering habits to match the plant’s needs. Some plants need consistently moist soil; others need soil that dries a bit between waterings.

If you’re not sure when to water, allow the upper one inch of soil to dry before watering again. Discard any excess water that drains into the saucer.

Fertilizer

Spring is the time when houseplants start growing again, so it’s time to begin fertilizing. Use an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer. Spring is the time when houseplants start growing again, so it’s time to begin fertilizing. Use an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer.

One last thing, show your plants how much you care by dusting their leaves with a soft, moist cloth. Not only will they shine, but you’ll be able to catch any plant health problems early so you can nip them in the bud.

Growing Seeds Indoors

starting seeds

Start Seeds Indoors for Early Planting

By Jodi Torpey

When you live in a region with short summers, it pays to get a head start on planting. The best way to get started is by sowing warm-season vegetables indoors.There’s nothing complicated about starting seeds indoors. There are just three basic steps: seeding, growing on, and hardening off. You don’t need a lot of expensive equipment to get started, either. I start my tomato and pepper seeds in the basement and grow them under ordinary shop lights.

The best time to start seeds is about 6-8 weeks before the average frost date. (May 15 is usually the last frost date for Denver. Mountain residents have a later last frost date.)You’ll need seeds, a good quality seed-starting mix and small containers. Now cover the counter with newspapers and get going. Select the tomato, pepper, eggplant and other warm-season vegetable varieties you want to grow.

Fill containers with the seed-starting mix and moisten it. Plant seeds a quarter-inch deep in potting mix; spray with a water mist; cover with plastic wrap. Set containers in a warm place, out of direct sunlight, until seeds germinate. When seedlings emerge, remove the plastic cover and move containers under lights or to a sunny spot. Transplant to individual containers when seedlings have two pairs of leaves. Harden off (acclimate) seedlings to the garden by placing them outside in a sheltered place for several days after weather has warmed. You may need to bring plants inside at night. As soon as the night-time temperatures are a reliable 55 degrees, it’s time to plant.

I always plant some new-to-me tomato varieties in my vegetable garden every year.
What do you recommend I add this season?

Cutting Back Perennial Grasses

ornamental grass

Spring Gardening Tips for Ornamental Grasses

By Jodi Torpey

Ornamental grasses ask so little from gardeners and give back so much. They offer nearly four seasons of interest to our gardens and require hardly any maintenance.

That is until it’s time for some spring cleaning in the garden.

Most ornamental grasses are perennial performers, and after winter they need to shed their old foliage so they can start growing again. Gardeners can help encourage healthier grasses by cutting back the old growth to make way for the new.

Besides growing a healthier plant, cutting back ornamental grasses in spring encourages earlier growth. That’s because the plant can spread out to let the crown to warm up faster.

It’s best to cut back grasses before they start growing. You don’t want to shear off any new growth while you’re cutting back the old. It’s a good idea to pull on a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of gardening gloves. Some ornamental grasses have sharp leaves.

  1. Stand back and visually divide the grass into thirds. You’ll want to leave about one-third of the grass standing.
  2. For easier handling after the grass is cut, bundle the leaves together and tie with a rope, twine or bungee cord. Tie about two-thirds of the grass into the bundle.
  3. Use pruning shears, an electric hedge trimmer or hand pruners and cut across the plant, leaving about one-third standing.
  4. Take the bundle of grass to the compost bin for shredding or place it in a large trash bag to chop and use for mulch later in the season.

An added benefit of cutting back ornamental grasses is you can see if there’s any die out in the center of the plant. This is fairly typical with older perennial grasses and it’s a sign the plant needs dividing.

Depending on the size of the plant, use a trowel or a shovel to carefully dig up half of the grass, including plenty of roots. Transplant to another part of your garden or pass along to another gardener.

Cutting back and dividing perennial grasses is a great way to spring forward on your early season garden clean up.

What tips do you have for taking care of the ornamental grasses in your landscape?

Six Easy Steps to Growing Onions

onionsBy Jodi Torpey

There’s no crying in onion-growing. That’s because it’s easy to grow onions in your vegetable garden when you start with healthy onion sets.

Onions are a cool-season, biennial vegetable and onion sets make planting simple. An onion set is a small bulb that will grow into a larger bulb, because it’s already gone through one bulbing process. Here are six steps to homegrown onion success:

Step One: Select the onion varieties meant for the region, like day-neutral types. These onions will know when to start forming their bulbs once they’ve received their preferred number of daylight hours.

Step Two: Plant onion sets in early spring ( about 4-6 weeks before the last freeze date) in a garden spot that has rich, well-drained soil and gets full sun. Onions will grow as big as their space allows.

Plant onion sets about 1 inch deep and space plants so there’s no crowding. Make sure their limited root system can spread out (about 4-6 inches). Onions can also be planted in raised beds.

Step Three: Be sure to show your onions a lot of love. In addition to soil that’s well-amended with compost and other organic matter, onions need a consistent supply of fertilizer while they’re growing. Some gardeners say onions may need as much as twice the amount of fertilizer as other garden-grown vegetables.

Step Four: As bulbs start getting larger, side-dress the onion patch with additional nutrients. Use a balanced fertilizer or good quality compost and apply in a shallow channel near the onion rows, then cover with soil. Take care to keep fertilizer away from the foliage and bulbs themselves.

Step Five: Keep watering the onions to allow nutrients to slowly reach the roots. Don’t let plants dry out or bulbs may split. If leaves start to yellow, plants may be getting too much water. Keep onion bed weed-free with mulch and avoid cultivating or pulling weeds that can disturb the onion’s delicate root system.

Step Six: When onions start pushing the topsoil away, stop fertilizing and let bulbs grow. Some of the bulb will start to show above the soil, but resist the urge to re-cover it. As soon as onion tops begin to topple over, stop watering and get ready to harvest.

Dig onions when most of the green tops have fallen, but before the foliage dries completely.

Any ideas for how you’ll use all of your delicious, home-grown onions?

Planting Cool Season Crops

cool season vegetablesBy Jodi Torpey

If you’ve had enough of winter, then it’s time to celebrate spring. Even if there's a light dusting of snow on the ground, it's time to start thinking about planting your cool season garden. Really.

March 17 typically signals the day to plant cool-season vegetable crops like carrots, lettuce, spinach, peas, radishes, broccoli, cabbage, onions and turnips. Getting outside to plant a spring garden, no matter its size, will banish winter-time blues and give you some fresh, good-for-you veggies.

These hardy vegetables can tolerate a light frost, and some can survive a hard freeze. Most of these cool weather crops can be planted anytime from 2 to 4 weeks before the average last spring frost.

You can either start by planting seeds or buying ready-to-plant cool season crops, like onion sets, that makes planting even easier.

Soil temperature plays a role in planting these early crops, so check to make sure the soil is diggable and is fairly dry. I've had good luck in the past planting a variety of leaf lettuces and spinach in my patio container garden.

This works well for me for several reasons: I can move containers into the sunniest spot on the patio, monitor the greens more closely, and toss a cover on the container garden if the weather turns especially cold. The containers are also right out the backdoor, making it easy to clip and bring inside.

An easy way to plant some cool-season greens is to use a garden fork to scratch the surface of the soil, sprinkle part of a package of seeds about 1/4-inch deep, lightly cover with soil and sprinkle with water. It will take about a week or so for the seeds to germinate.

If you have a spot along the sunny side of a fence, peas make for good planting there, especially if the bed is raised. There are lots of peas to choose from including shelling (or English) peas, sugar snap peas and snow peas. Choose several varieties or just the ones you prefer to use in your cooking.

To guarantee a long season of harvesting peas, plant early, midseason and late varieties. Some peas can be ready in just 50 days.

For best results, soak seeds overnight before planting to make for easier germination. Train peas to climb some kind of support, mulch and keep them moist. It's especially important to water when the plants are in blossom and producing pods.

What would you like to add to your spring garden this month?

Top Perennial Flowers for Spring Color

By Jodi Torpey

One of the best flower combinations I’ve planted for spring color happened by accident. One year I planted the lovely low-growing perennial called basket of gold. The next year I planted several containers of creeping phlox. I wish I’d planted these perennials together sooner.

Basket of gold is a little treasure, with its dense green foliage and small, bright yellow flowers. The phlox has small lavender flowers, but the brilliant pink phlox would’ve been a nice choice, too.

The combination makes for a stunning spring flower display that returns year after year.

But you don’t have to wait for a happy accident for these spring bloomers to appear in your flower garden. You can plant this colorful combination together right now.

Use them as a border in front of taller perennials, plant them in your rock garden or add them along the walk that leads to your front door. These garden gems will creep and crawl to fill in the space with a super splash of spring color.

After the first blooms fade, the plants leave behind a lush green groundcover. If you trim the spent blossoms, there may be a second, smaller blush of flowers later in the season.

Once you’ve added these colorful groundcovers, keep going.

Flowering shrubs provide plenty of potential for spring color, too. One of my all-time favorites is Forsythia because its vivid golden-yellow flowers boldly announce spring has finally arrived.

Forsythia is an all-purpose garden shrub that can serve as an attractive specimen plant when planted alone or it can be used along a border as a flowering hedge when several shrubs are planted together.

While shopping for flowering shrubs, you might want to look for those that can add even more oomph to your garden. There are many shrubs, like Nanking cherry, Serviceberry and Golden currant, that burst forth with brilliant flowers in spring, then set fruit that attracts wild birds to your landscape in summer.

After a full season of beauty, these deciduous shrubs shed their leaves, but their beautiful bare branches give structure to the garden all fall and winter.

Do you have any favorite flowering combinations for spring? Please add your suggestions HERE!

basketgoldpurplephlox

How to Maintain a Healthy Lawn

By Jodi Torpey

Do you think of your lawn as a piece of old green carpet or as the perennial groundcover that it is?

Most folks forget that a lawn is made up of many individual plants that are all begging for some attention. With the right amount of TLC, your lush green lawn can increase the value of your home by 5-15 percent, according to the Professional Lawn Care Association.

In our climate, lawns need some kind of care during all four seasons. There’s aerating, fertilizing and watering starting in spring, mowing and managing weeds through summer, aerating and fertilizing in fall and watering during dry times in winter.

One way to keep your lawn healthy over summer is to top dress it with compost. Spreading a thin layer of compost, about ¼ to ½ inch deep, over your lawn gives your soil a boost of nutrients, helps feed beneficial soil organisms and works to hold in moisture.

Compost will also help reduce the need for weed killers because a thick, healthy lawn is the best way to prevent weed seeds from finding a place to land.

You may think watering your lawn is the key to keeping it healthy, but good mowing practices are just as important. Resist the urge to mow grass blades shorter than 2 inches tall. Mowing lower can damage or kill grass roots. Keeping grass taller (about 2-3 ½ inches tall) helps shade the roots so they can grow deeper and need less water.

Remove only 1/3 of the grass blade during each mowing. This may mean mowing more than once a week, but your lawn will be healthier and thicker.

Speaking of mowing, if you use a mulching lawn mower, you can leave your grass clippings on the lawn instead of bagging them. Leaving grass clippings on your lawn after mowing reduces the need for extra fertilizer because clippings quickly decompose and add nutrients to your soil. (It also means you’ll be sending fewer bags of yard waste to the landfill.)

Another key to maintaining a healthy lawn is by watering deeply and infrequently. Frequent shallow waterings keeps grass roots close to the surface of the soil where they can dry out quicker.

Water only when your grass needs it. Test the soil moisture by pushing in a screwdriver about 6 or 8 inches deep. If the screwdriver goes in easily, the grass won’t need extra water. If the screwdriver goes in only a few inches, it’s time to water.

For a bluegrass lawn, apply fertilizer four times during the year: mid-March to April, May to mid-June, mid-August to mid-September, and early October to early November (while grass is still green).

The fall application is what gives lawns the nutrients needed to green up quickly in spring. Use fertilizer in the recommended amounts. Excess lawn fertilizer becomes a major source of pollution when it washes off lawns and into the storm water system.

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basketgoldpurplephlox