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Grow Your Own Grilling Herbs

There’s nothing that tastes more like summer than anything grilled – from a prime cut steak to a juicy chicken breast to all your favorite burgers, bratwurst, and garden veggies. But to bring out the fullest flavor of a grilled menu, you need the very best herbs. Why not grow your own herbs for the richest, freshest flavors right from your garden?

Flavoring with Herbs

Smoking is the most common and familiar flavoring technique for grilling, using different types of wood with subtle notes of maple, hickory, and apple to enhance meat and vegetables. Grilling with herbs can be even tastier and infuses grilled food with rich flavors and earthy freshness. This can also be a very healthy option for seasoning food, as there is no need for heavy sauces filled with salt and preservatives. Different combinations of herbs can also add many different flavor notes to beef, chicken, and fish, as well as creating more flavor depth for all types of vegetables.

Why Grow Your Own Herbs?

Herbs are at their most flavorful with the most seasoning power as soon as they are picked. The oils and flavonoids that add aroma and taste to herbs begin to evaporate and fade as soon as a sprig is snipped, and if you purchase herbs you have no way to know how long ago they were picked before they arrived at a store or farmer’s market and made it to your grill. If you grow your own grilling herbs in containers or right in your garden, however, you can snip, pick, pluck, and chop the herbs just seconds before they’re added to your grill, ensuring the most robust flavor and biggest impact on every dish you grill.

Best Herbs for Grilling

All different herbs can be used while grilling, though hardier plants with stronger flavors are typically preferred because they will stand up to the heat of the grill more easily, giving foods the best infusion of flavor. Popular herbs that are versatile for all types of grilling include:

  • Chives
  • Dill
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme

Choose different varieties of these great grilling herbs or your other favorite herbs to experiment with different subtle flavors, and combine herbs in different ways for amazing flavor profiles.

Grilling with Your Herbs

There are two different ways to grill with fresh herbs. Finely chopped fresh herbs can be sprinkled directly onto coals that have ashed over, and will add subtle aromatic flavors to any food being grilled. For stronger, more direct flavoring or for use in a gas grill without coals, use whole sprigs of herbs to create a mat or bed on the grill’s grate. Place the meat or vegetables directly on the herbs, similar to plank grilling, for direct infusion. To help release the herb flavors even more, soak the sprigs briefly before adding them to the grill for either cooking method.

Indirect heat is best for grilling with herbs, as it will give the meat more time to absorb the subtle flavors of the herbs, and the herbs will not burn or char, which could taint their flavor. Close the lid and allow the herbs to work their magic, and you’ll be rewarded with grilled meats and vegetables that are more amazingly seasoned and flavorful than you could have imagined.

More Flavorful Summer Foods with Herbs

Grilling with herbs can make meat the centerpiece of your summer dining experience, but there are many other ways to use your garden-fresh herbs in tasty dishes to accompany a grilled extravaganza. Add herbs to…

  • Marinades to give meats even more flavoring before they’re grilled.
  • Salads for more flavor notes that pair well with vegetables from your garden.
  • Drinks for a unique flavor profile in summer teas and lemonades.

With so many uses for grilling herbs – both on the grill and off – you’ll want to be sure to add plenty of these flavorful plants to your garden for a full menu of delicious summer options.

Fourth of July Porch Pots

A porch pot can be a beautiful accent to any entryway, and with a bit of patriotic flair, you can easily style a Fourth of July porch pot as a decorative highlight for all your summer festivities. By carefully designing the pot and the plants it showcases, it can burst into festive glory just in time for the holiday.

Beyond the Porch

A porch pot is traditionally an elegant container positioned at the main front entryway, but for summer porch pots it’s fun to look beyond the porch for where to show off your festive container. Where will you be greeting guests and entertaining during the summer months? Any gathering spot can be made more seasonal with the right porch pot, so consider placing one or more pots…

  • In the corners of a deck or patio
  • Spaced along a bare section of fence
  • On stairs leading up to a deck or porch
  • Framing an outdoor kitchen or grill area
  • Accenting a pool surround
  • As an outdoor table centerpiece

Wherever your pots can be seen, they’re sure to add a patriotic bit of color to give a party-like atmosphere to your outdoor living spaces.

Picking the Pot

When choosing a container for a Fourth of July pot, first consider where the pot will be located and choose an appropriate size for that location. Be mindful that the pot will not block walkways or cause a trip hazard on stairs, and be sure it is sturdy enough to hold up the plants you want to showcase.

The pot style can vary, and choosing a pot with patriotic colors can add instant flair to your decorative arrangement. Red, white, or blue pots are always popular choices, or the pot could be painted with a patriotic theme such as stars and stripes. Spattering a white pot with red and blue is a more subtle but festive option, or larger polka dots could be a bold and colorful statement. To honor a military connection, consider a pot with a camouflage pattern, or choose a more demure, understated pot to let the plants be the true stars of the arrangement.

Top Fourth of July Flower Picks

You can add any type of flowers you’d like to a Fourth of July porch pot, but red, white, and blue blooms are always favorites. Fortunately, there are many flower choices that can work into this color palette, including…

  • Red – Petunia, zinnia, verbena, cardinal flower, impatiens, geraniums, nasturtium
  • White – Zinnia, dahlia, geranium, verbena, daisy, petunia, cleome, vinca, snapdragon, impatiens
  • Blue – Agapanthus, clematis, scabiosa, verbena, wishbone flower, lobelia, salvia, ageratum

In addition to bloom colors, you can also consider flower shape and opt for star-shaped blooms such as lilies, pentas, or star jasmine. Tall, flowing grasses with arcing plumes are another elegant option that mimics the gracefulness of fireworks. The round balls of allium and the spikes of salvia are other interesting shapes popular in patriotic displays.

Whichever plants you choose for your pot, remember the thriller-filler-spiller rule of thumb to create a lush, eye-catching arrangement, and it will sure to be a stunning decoration.

Planting Your Pot

Ideally, a Fourth of July porch pot should be planted several weeks before the holiday or any summer event so the plants have a chance to settle and fill in the pot before the celebration. If you’ve chosen a larger pot, add a layer of rocks or a brick or two to the bottom of the pot so it is properly weighted and will be less likely to tip over if accidentally bumped. Choose high quality potting soil to give each plant the proper nourishment, and ideally choose plants that all have similar sunlight and watering needs so they will thrive together.

Summer Porch Pot Care

Once planted, you will need to give your Fourth of July porch pot the proper care so it continues to look its best. Positioning the pot on a moveable stand or casters will help you be sure it has adequate light even as shadows shift from week to week, and rotating the pot will ensure the plants grow evenly. Water the pot appropriately, bearing in mind that smaller pots will need more frequent watering, especially on hot summer days. Fertilizing should not be necessary if you’ve used high quality potting soil, but if needed, fertilize sparingly to avoid burning roots or causing uneven growth. As the plants get taller, stake them if necessary, and protect the pot from sudden summer storms so it is not tipped or flooded.

Decorative Accents for a Fourth of July Porch Pot

It’s easy to add a bit of holiday flair to the pot if you choose decorative stakes with a red, white, and blue theme. Miniature flags are a popular choice, or you can find metallic sprays or faux firework rockets that will add a fun touch to the arrangement. Pinwheels are another great option that add a bit of movement to the pot.

Tying a ribbon around the pot can also add a holiday touch. Choose red, white, or blue ribbons, or opt for a rustic theme with gingham or checked patterns. Gold ribbons can also be a meaningful way to honor military members and deployed troops.

Be creative and fun with decorative accents for your porch pot, and it will be an eye-catching, attractive arrangement and a focal point for all your summer holiday entertaining.

Grow a Calming Container Garden

The soothing benefits of gardening are well known, but you don’t have to have extensive acreage, a large yard, or even any plot of your own to find those benefits. No matter where you live, how much time you have, or how green your thumb may be, you can grow a calming container garden to connect with nature and enrich your gardening spirit.

Why Garden in a Container?

While you won’t be able to have as many plants or as bountiful a harvest by gardening in just one or two pots, a container garden can be just right for many people who may want to enjoy gardening but don’t have the time, budget, experience, or patience for a larger project. Even just one container can be a great start for a peaceful, engaging garden, and there are many benefits to a potted plot, including…

  • Using pots can be less expensive than planting a larger garden, as it won’t require as much fertilization, watering, multiple plants, or other associated costs.
  • Containers are more controllable in terms of soil quality and amendments, without needing to work with potentially inadequate soil, rocky land, or uneven terrain.
  • Containers can easily be moved to take advantage of different light sources, helping plants grow their very best even as sunlight levels change in different seasons.
  • Containers can be positioned on a bench or table, making them more accessible for gardeners who may have joint difficulties or mobility concerns.
  • Because containers are mobile, they can be moved indoors to continue gardening efforts long after outdoor plots are unusable in winter.
  • Containers take less time and effort to give the very best care than larger gardens, making them ideal for anyone with a busy schedule.

With so many benefits in addition to all the pleasures of traditional gardening, there is no reason why a container garden should not bring you the same peace and satisfaction as a regular garden.

Peaceful Tips for Your Container Garden

Even though container gardens are smaller and easier to tend than larger plots, it is important to plan a calming container garden that will nurture your soul rather than add more chores to your to-do list or increase your stress levels with extra work. When designing your container garden, consider…

  • Pot Size – A larger pot will support a greater number of plants, but even small pots can be enjoyable bits of gardening. Choose a pot that will be easy to lift and move if necessary when it is filled and plants are mature, or add a rolling plant stand or casters to help the pot be more moveable.
  • Pot Style – Every pot should have adequate drainage for the plants’ health, and you will want to choose a design or color you enjoy. You might opt for your favorite color, or a fun painted design, or a relaxing pot in a neutral tone. Consider a unique shape for even more personal flair.
  • Soil Quality – Choose the best potting soil your budget can afford to properly nourish your container garden. Specialized soil blends for herbs, flowers, foliage, and succulents can help you give your plants the exact environment they need to thrive.
  • Plant Styles – The classic formula for container plants is to choose plants that fulfill thriller, spiller, and filler roles. Thrillers add a wow factor and catch the eye, while spillers cascade over the edge for more growing room. Fillers, of course, fill in more of the pot so all the space is used.
  • Unique Plants – Think beyond classic container gardens when planning your calming space. Potted trees are an unexpected option that can bring you pleasure for years, or you might opt for different grasses or climbing vines instead. Mosses and bulbs can also be part of unique container gardens.
  • Plant Texture – Consider the textures of plants to invite gentle touching that will engage you with your garden. Fuzzy foliage and velvety petals give you a soft, pleasurable garden, or you can choose satiny plants, long airy stems, and other unusual and intriguing textures.
  • Plant Scents – Activate more senses and draw yourself deeper into your container garden when you include plants with pleasing aromas. Including fragrant blooms and aromatic herbs will give you plenty of olfactory enjoyment as you work on and admire your container garden.
  • Plant Colors – Use any color palette you like for your calming container, whether you prefer a monochromatic arrangement or a bold rainbow of energetic colors. Calming shades such as blues and purples are always delightful, pastels are a sweet option, and dark hues are boldy dramatic.
  • Top Dressing – A top dressing can be an elegant finishing touch for your container garden and will unify the space between plants. Gravel, crushed shells, sand, and river pebbles are all popular options, or you can use colorful marbles, sea glass, or other creative choices.
  • Open Space – While many container gardens are designed to fully fill the pot, leaving some open space invites your thoughts deeper into your container whenever you see it, and allows you to enjoy the top dressing or decorative accents you may have as part of your garden.
  • Decorative Accents – It’s easy to add personal flair to your container garden. You might nestle a unique rock among the foliage, or add some fairy accents for mystical visitors. A small bird feeder could hang from a mini garden hook in your container, or a ribbon can decorate the pot – whatever brings you joy.

Caring for Your Container Garden in a Calm Way

No matter how you’ve designed your container garden, proper care is essential or it will be far less calming than you’d hoped. Take time to focus on your container every day, noting fresh new growth and trimming away spent plants. Check moisture levels to be sure the container is adequately watered, and rotate the pot as needed so each plant gets proper sun exposure for lush growth. As you work with the container, you’ll get more familiar with the texture of the dirt, the healthy feel of the plants, and even the smell of your flowers and foliage. That familiarity will help you to notice changes, ensuring that you can tweak your garden’s care whenever needed, and you’ll be amazed at how even the small attentions you pay to the garden will reap rewards both for you and the plants you care for, nurturing you both.

Best Scents for a Mindful Garden

Gardening is an immersive, sensory experience. You see the rich colors of the flowers, foliage, and produce you grow, and hear the bees buzzing, birds singing, and wind rustling whenever you work in the garden. You feel the grains of dirt beneath your fingers with planting and weeding, and feel all the textures of your plants as well as the heat of the sun and the wetness of the rain. You will even taste your harvest and herbs. Smell, however, is often overlooked or restricted to just a few classically fragrant blooms. There are many innovative options to add an aromatic atmosphere to your garden, however, to truly help you focus all your senses on the beauty of nature.

Scents of the Garden

When you’re working in your garden, you will easily enjoy the naturally fresh, cleaner air among your plants. You may smell the richness of the soil, a hint of compost, or subtle aromas from typical garden plants. More intense scents invite you to pause and breathe deeply, savoring the moment and refreshing your mind as well as your nose. The more you notice scents in your garden, the more you will be aware of subtle aromatic changes that may indicate a rotting plant, a fungal infection, overwatering, or other problems that need addressing. Sweeter scents will lead you to prolific blooms, ripe produce, and the peak of your harvest. Whichever scents are part of your garden, you need to take the time to appreciate each of them and the distinct outdoor perfume they create.

Adding Scents to Your Garden

There are many outstanding plants that can add even more enticing aromas to your garden. Many beautiful flowers have rich and pleasing scents, including…

  • Angel’s trumpet – Soft and exotic with light, lemony overtones
  • Butterfly bush – A lighter scent reminiscent of mild lilacs
  • Dianthus – Intensely aromatic with a spicy hint of cloves
  • Flowering tobacco – A sweeter scent especially potent at night
  • Freesia – Fresh and sweet without being overpowering
  • Gardenia – Strong and sultry with a velvety scent
  • Heliotrope – Sweet with hints of vanilla and cherry
  • Honeysuckle – Sweet and potent with a touch of honey
  • Hyacinth – Lightly floral scent that gradually intensifies
  • Jasmine – Rich and sweet, but not all varieties are equally potent
  • Lilac – Intensely floral and a characteristic scent of spring
  • Lily-of-the-valley – Sweet and fresh without an overpowering aroma
  • Mock orange – Bold scent highly reminiscent of oranges
  • Peony – Freshly floral with different intensities depending on variety
  • Phlox – Sweet and intense, but can be overpowering in large amounts
  • Plumeria – Beautifully tropical with hints of sweet peaches or citrus
  • Rose – Classically floral with many variations from rich to sweet
  • Sweet alyssum – Intensely sweet with notes of honey
  • Sweet autumn clematis – Heady and sweet for summer and fall gardens
  • Sweet pea – Lightly fragrant and classically floral
  • Viburnum – Potent and spicy, though different cultivars have different scents

In addition to flowers, herbs can also add aromatic accents to the garden, though often with earthier or muskier tones than most flowers. The most scent-sational herbs include…

  • Basil – Reminiscent of both pepper and mint with a touch of anise
  • Lemon balm – A blended scent of citrus with a hint of mint
  • Marjoram – Slightly woody and spicy but not generally overpowering
  • Mint – Refreshing and cleansing, with many varieties available
  • Pineapple sage – Startlingly reminiscent of fresh, ripe pineapple
  • Rosemary – Earthy and savory, with hints of pine
  • Spearmint – A light and sweet mint variety
  • Thyme – Strong, hot, sometimes pungent scent

No matter which scented plants you choose to grow in your garden, you can either grow them as separate and distinct plants so each one can be savored individually, or you might group several compatible scents together to create a customized perfume. Starting with just a few aromas can help you better learn which scents work well together to enhance different aromas, and as you get more familiar with each scent, you’ll have a much better sense of which aromas are your favorites for blending into rich bouquets to savor.

Stop and Smell Your Garden

There are many ways to enjoy the scents in your garden, and you should always take time for a simple pause and a few deep breaths to take in the aromas you’ve carefully chosen. Strategic planting can also provide reminders to do just that when you position sweetly scented plants near pathways and entrances, climbing over an arbor, or filling a window box – places you’re more likely to catch a wafting aroma. Be sure to visit your garden and focus on the subtle changes in scents in different temperatures, after a rainstorm, or during different parts of the season, and you’ll better understand the gentle nuances your garden brings to your life with every meaningful inhalation.

Working With Your Sandy Soil

Sandy soil may seem like a gardener’s nightmare, but in many coastal areas and desert regions, this loose, well-draining soil is common and widespread. Fortunately, working with your sandy soil doesn’t have to be hopeless. With the right preparation, plant selection, and care, even the sandiest soil can still be nourishing for your landscape and garden.

About Sandy Soil

Sandy soil is composed of relatively large, coarse particles, ranging from .05-2 millimeters in size. This type of soil is typically rich in silica and quartz, may be high in salts, and is often very acidic. Many organic nutrients, however, wash out of the soil quickly with rain or irrigation, as it is extremely porous and holds water poorly. Sandy soil dries out quickly and can be prone to erosion.

On the other hand, there are very positive characteristics of sandy soil. It is typically lighter and easier to work than heavily clay soils, and it strongly resists compaction that can stunt root growth. This type of soil warms up quickly in the spring, allowing gardeners to extend the growing season.

To determine if you have sandy soil, take a handful of dirt and squeeze it into a ball. If the ball will not hold at all or falls apart very quickly, the soil has a high percentage of sand. If the soil shifts underneath your feet with simply walking across it, it is also very sandy.

Enriching Sandy Soil

Because sandy soil has very little organic material, it needs enrichment to add appropriate nutrients to nourish and support plants. Furthermore, adding organic material to sandy soil will help improve its water retention so it will not dry out as quickly and nutrients will not leach out as rapidly. There are several easy ways to enrich sandy soil…

  • Add 3-4 inches of well-ripened manure or finished compost to the top of the soil and till it in to the upper layer of the planting area before initial planting.
  • Use 3-4 inches of organic mulch such as bark, shredded leaves, or hay around established plants to protect the plants and gradually add more nutrients to the top of the soil.
  • Choose slow-release fertilizer formulas for regular applications throughout the growing season, opting for blends specially suited to the plant types you grow.

Over time, the soil’s composition will improve and its nutrient supplements may need adjusting. Regularly testing the soil will help keep it nutritionally balanced so it continues to help every plant thrive.

Watering in Sandy Soil

Sandy soil is very loose and porous, and water can run through it very quickly – too quickly for plants to take up as much water as they need. Furthermore, excess water can quickly rinse away nutrition so it is no longer available for plants, but instead may contaminate local waterways with too much nitrogen or phosphorous. Smart watering is essential when you are working with sandy soil.

  • Water deep and long, but at infrequent intervals, to encourage plants to develop broad, deep root systems that will reach out for as much water as possible.
  • Use 2-3 inches of mulch at the base of plants to help curb evaporation and keep moisture available.
  • Consider using soaker hoses, drip systems, or other slow watering systems rather than overloading soil with too much water all at once.

With care, it is possible to thoroughly water plants even in sandy soil or drought-ridden areas. Being water-wise can help gardeners best manage their sandy soil without making any plants go thirsty.

Plants That Thrive in Sand

Choosing the best plants to grow in sandy soil can be a challenge. The exact plants that do best in sandy areas will have fast-growing roots and a sturdy structures. They are often drought-tolerant and easy to grow. There are flowers, trees, herbs, and even fruits and vegetables that can all do well in sandy soil, including…

  • Azalea
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Blanket flower
  • Blueberry
  • Butterfly bush
  • Carrot
  • Collard greens
  • Columbine
  • Corn
  • Cosmos
  • Crape myrtle
  • Daylily
  • Hosta
  • Lavender
  • Oregano
  • Parsnip
  • Phlox
  • Rosemary
  • Salvia
  • Sedum
  • Strawberry
  • Yarrow
  • Zucchini

These plants are just a few that can grow well in sandy soil, and it is best to visit your local garden center for more recommendations specifically for your area. The exact plants that will do best in any particular sandy patch also depends on more than just the quality and condition of the soil. Examine light levels, consider USDA hardiness recommendations, available moisture, and the length of the growing season to choose the very best plants to take advantage of your sandy soil’s natural qualities.

More Tips for Your Sandy Soil

No matter what you plant, there are other ways to make the most of every square inch of sandy soil in your yard, landscape, or garden.

  • Test your soil to monitor its pH, microbe activity, and other characteristics in addition to the soil’s structure. The more intimate knowledge you have about your soil, the better you will be able to work with it.
  • Dig and work with the soil in the cooler temperatures of late fall and/or early spring when it may be a bit stiffer and will hold holes and structure slightly better. This will also give any organic material you’ve added extra time to break down so plants can take it up more easily.
  • Water new plants more frequently until they become established, as they will not yet have deeper roots, but do water efficiently so they are encouraged to grow.
  • Select drought tolerant plants.
  • Use stakes or other supports to bolster young trees or any larger plantings until they become established and are firmly set in the sandy soil. Depending on the plant’s growth rate, the plants may need support for several years.

Sandy soil is no better or worse than any other type of soil, but the better you understand it, the better you will be able to work with sandy soil so your lawn, garden, flowerbeds, trees, and overall landscape look their very best and every plant will thrive.

Know What You’re Eating – Grow It Yourself

With growing concerns over the increased use of chemical pesticides, genetically modified plants, unsafe food handling, and other potentially hazardous agricultural conditions, it can be hard to know what you’re eating when you buy your produce at a large grocery store. If you grow your own herbs, fruits, and vegetables, however, it is much easier to be aware of how your food has been treated and what you are putting in your body and providing to your family.

Why Grow Your Own Food?

Along with concerns about chemical contamination from pesticides, herbicides, pollution, and other environmental toxins, there are many other reasons to grow your own food. By taking charge of your garden and growing what you eat, you can…

  • Gain Personal Satisfaction From Your Efforts
    Nurturing your garden from planting to harvest can provide a great sense of accomplishment with every bite you take. The act of growing your own food can help you connect with nature, which can improve mood, promote mindfulness, alleviate depression, and provide other mental and physical benefits.
  • Save Money
    As grocery costs rise, it can be very economical to grow your own food. The cost of seeds or seedlings can be much less than a single week’s worth of produce, yet the plants you grow can yield many weeks of healthy meals for just pennies per serving.
  • Ensure Complete Good Treatment
    Chemical contamination is only one way produce may be mistreated when it is grown commercially. When you grow your own food, you do not risk a sick worker handling the food you buy, the harvest being picked outside of peak production, or unethical labor being used to cultivate the food.
  • Lower Your Carbon Footprint
    Stores don’t always carry locally grown produce, and fruits and vegetables that are shipped on trucks, planes, or ships all contribute to greenhouse gasses and other environmental toxins. Growing your own food ensures there is no shipping to bring the harvest to your table.
  • Guarantee the Freshest Food
    Produce is often harvested several days before it reaches a store, and it may remain on store shelves for several more days before you purchase it. If the food comes from your own garden, however, you know exactly when it was picked, and can even pick your produce just minutes or hours before your meal.

With so many benefits to growing your own food, it makes great sense to plant your favorite herbs, fruits, and vegetables in your own garden so you know exactly what you are eating.

Stay Informed About the Food You Grow

Knowing what you eat starts long before you plant your first seed or seedling, and continues long after you harvest your produce. If you are fully aware about your garden and what grows in it, you will be more confident in every bite you enjoy from the food you nurture.

  • Test Your Soil
    The soil in your garden provides all the nutrients your plants need to grow. A soil test can tell you what nutrients are abundant or lacking so you can choose plants that will thrive in your garden, or else take steps to amend your soil so your plants can reach their full potential.
  • Test Your Water
    All gardens need water for plants to grow and produce to mature, but not all water sources are equally healthy. If your garden requires irrigation and supplemental watering, test the water to be sure it is not accidentally introducing contaminants to your plants.
  • Investigate Plant Sources
    Whether you opt for seeds or seedlings, take a few moments to learn where they come from and how they are treated before being put in your soil. After your first harvest, you will be able to save your own seeds to grow the next season, so you will be confident about their origins.
  • Choose Fertilizer Carefully
    Feeding your plants the proper fertilizer can help them grow larger and be more productive for a more bountiful harvest. Choose fertilizer blends that are specially formulated for the plants in your garden, from herbs to fruits and vegetables to berries.
  • Use Thoughtful Pest Control
    Your garden will be just as delicious to insects and wildlife as it is to you and your family, but not all guests may be welcome to share in the harvest. Choose the pest control methods you are most comfortable with, whether you opt for pesticides, insecticidal soaps, hand-picking, or other methods.
  • Harvest Appropriately
    Plan your harvest to take advantage of the peak ripeness of your plants, and stagger harvesting to increase the yield of every plant. Inspecting your garden daily can help you learn growth patterns and be sure not to miss any delicious produce.
  • Prepare Produce Thoughtfully
    Commercial produce may be washed with soaps or coated with waxes to make it appear more attractive, but you can treat your own produce more carefully when preparing meals. Use the oldest produce first, and experiment with new meals and different tastes to fully enjoy all the bounty of your garden.
  • Put Your Garden to Bed
    After your seasonal harvest is complete, winterize your garden and allow it to rest so it will be ready for another bountiful season next spring. This may mean tilling the soil, planting a cover crop, applying a layer of compost, or otherwise doing just what your garden needs to remain productive from year to year.

Just as every gardener has different preferences for the foods they grow, every gardener will have different preferences for how their food is treated before it reaches their table. By growing your own food, you will know exactly what you eat and how it has been handled during every step of its growth, maturation, harvest, and preparation, giving you greater confidence that you are choosing the best, healthiest food for you and your family.

Inorganic Mulches: Are They Right for You?

Mulch is an essential part of any garden or landscape, and an inorganic mulch can be a good option if it meets your gardening needs. But what is an inorganic mulch, and is it right for you and your garden?

What Is Inorganic Mulch?

By definition, organic materials, including mulches, are derived from living matter, while inorganic mulches are not. Organic mulches were once alive and growing and may have been parts of trees, bushes, grains, or grasses, and include mulches such as wood chips, shredded bark, pine needles, grass clippings, rice hulls, shredded leaves, hay, and straw. Inorganic mulches may still be natural, such as rocks, pebbles, and gravel, or could be artificial materials such as landscape fabric, weed barrier fabric, plastic sheeting, rubber chips, and tumbled glass.

The sources for both organic and inorganic mulches may vary. Organic mulches can come right from your own yard, or may be purchased from commercial suppliers. Some municipalities may even offer organic mulch material available at very low cost or free for local residents. Inorganic mulches are also available from many commercial retailers, including garden centers, nurseries, and landscaping companies.

Pros and Cons of Inorganic Mulches

Both organic and inorganic mulches serve the same purposes in the garden and landscape. All mulches help suppress weeds, insulate plant roots, reduce soil erosion, retain soil moisture, and unify the look of a landscape. Before choosing an inorganic mulch, however, it is important to recognize the different pros and cons of these materials to be sure you make the best choice for your mulching needs.

The pros of inorganic mulches and what makes them attractive to many gardeners and landscapers include…

  • Longevity – Inorganic mulches will not decay for years, making them a more long-lasting choice that will not need to be refreshed, topped off, or reapplied frequently.
  • Pest Resistance – Because there is no organic material in these mulches, they do not attract unwanted pests such as slugs, termites, or other insects that can harm a garden or landscape.
  • Recycling – Many artificial inorganic mulches are made from recycled materials, such as shredded tires, making them a conscientious choice for a thoughtful garden.
  • Decorative Options – Inorganic mulches typically offer more color variations and styles than organic mulches, giving gardeners more options to match design preferences and personal style.

At the same time, it is important to acknowledge the possible cons of inorganic mulches, including…

  • Initial Expense – Inorganic mulches are typically more expensive for their initial purchase, though they can be more cost effective in the long run because they need less replacing.
  • Lack of Nutrients – Because inorganic mulches do not decay, they will not gradually add nutrition to back to the soil to nourish nearby plants.
  • Nutrient and Water Limitation – Depending on the mulch used, such as plastic sheeting or large rocks, essential nutrients and water may be prevented from reaching the soil.
  • Less “Natural” Appearance – Depending on how they are used, inorganic mulches can give a garden or landscape an industrial appearance rather than a more pleasing natural design.

It is also important to note that some inorganic mulches may actually pose hazards in the yard, such as chemicals or odors from recycled rubber that can leach into the soil, or tangled shreds from landscape fabric that could threaten wildlife. What types of mulches are used, how they are installed, and what climate they are part of can all impact these potential concerns.

Choosing Inorganic Mulches

After considering the pros and cons of inorganic mulches, there are a few additional factors that should be taken into account before choosing the best mulch for your garden or landscape. Before making a final choice, consider…

  • Your overall budget, including the cost of both purchase and installation of the mulch.
  • Ease of installation, including whether professional assistance may be necessary.
  • Soil type, and what type of mulch can best protect the soil and keep it healthy.
  • Design options and what type of mulch will best enhance the look of your landscape.
  • Permanence of the landscape and how easy it may be to change the mulch in the future.
  • Irrigation type and what inorganic mulch is best for your plants’ watering needs.

Depending on your landscaping needs, it is also possible to combine more than one type of inorganic mulch to find your best solution. Laying a layer of weed barrier fabric first and covering it with gravel, for example, can give you all the benefits of sturdy weed protection without sacrificing the more natural look of rocks. No single type of mulch will work best in every garden or for every gardener, and carefully considering your preferences and needs will help you make an informed, confident decision about inorganic mulches and how best to add one to your landscape.

Great Gifts for Dad

Is your dad a hands-in-the-dirt, let’s-get-sweaty, these-weeds-will-never-win gardener? Whether he gardens with a fierce passion, calculates his harvest, or just enjoys this hands-on hobby, there are many great gifts for Dad to help him enjoy every moment he spends tilling, planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting.

Garden Center Gifts for Dad

Garden centers have a full crop of gifts for the gardening Dad. He’s always done his best to be a good provider, so why not give him a gift to make his gardening time even more productive? These top options are always popular gifts.

  • Tools – Give Dad a helping hand in the garden with new hand tools or other small tools. If he’s a lefty, left-handed tools will have a more comfortable grip, or choose ergonomic designs. New tool designs may make gardening tools more efficient, or look for upgraded options for Dad’s favorite tools.
  • Tools for Tools – If Dad prefers his old tools, help keep them in good condition with a new whetstone or sharpener, appropriate oiling, or new grips. A tool organizer belt or stand can be a great gift, or find accessories to help out in the garden, such as a hose extender.
  • Plants – Help Dad expand his garden with a gift of plants, from established seedlings to dormant bulbs to seeds for all his favorites. For a more unique gift, consider finding heirloom vegetable varieties or planning a grilling herb garden that Dad will love.
  • Space – Give Dad more room to grow when you expand his garden space with an elevated planter or green wall, hanging planters, or an arbor, trellis, or other support structure that can give climbing vegetables more room to thrive.
  • Attire – Make sure Dad is well-equipped for his gardening efforts with the right clothing. A broad-brimmed hat, durable gloves, and waterproof boots can help him tend to gardening chores in any weather.
  • Feeders – A garden feeds more than just a family, and if Dad doesn’t mind a few wildlife guests sneaking a free meal, help him attract birds and butterflies with the right feeders or houses to welcome those guests.
  • Excluders – Not all garden guests are equally welcome, and some men will prefer gifts that keep unwanted visitors away from the harvest. Baffles, deer-resistant plants, or humane traps can be good options for only letting welcome guests into Dad’s garden.
  • Monitors – Let Dad get all the data he wants to make his garden great when you give him an outdoor thermometer, barometer, or complete weather station setup. Rain gauges, hose timers, and soil test kits are other useful choices.
  • Signage – Tell the world how great Dad’s garden is with a sign that proclaims “Dad’s Garden” or is personalized with his name. Other personalization, such as jobs or favorite sports teams, can be fun options to add Dad’s flair to his garden.
  • Nourishment – It may not be the cleanest gift but it can be a clever one if you give Dad a load of compost, manure, or other fertilizer to help his garden grow. Even better is if your gift includes plenty of help to spread that nourishment around and work it into the soil.

The Best Gift for Dad

The very best garden-themed gift of all is showing Dad how much you appreciate both him and his garden. Spend time with him in the garden attending to necessary tasks or harvesting the latest tasty vegetables. Compliment how productive his plants are or how bountiful the harvest has been, and ask for tips and guidance to bring his expertise to your own planting and gardening efforts. The more you spend time with Dad in the garden, the more wonderful memories you will be able to grow together that you can harvest and enjoy for years to come.

Light Up Your Landscape

When the sun goes down, your landscape doesn’t need to go dark with it. There are many energy-efficient, attractive options for landscape lighting that can showcase your favorite specimen plants, prized flowerbeds and unique landscaping features even long after dark.

Why We Need Light

Plants don’t need light 24 hours a day, so why is adding light to the landscape so popular? There are many reasons why you should consider adding a nighttime glow to your garden and yard.

  • Entertaining: If you use outdoor space for entertaining, proper lighting can make it a bright, enjoyable area when your guests arrive and keep the party going even after sunset.
  • Safety: The right lighting can help keep you safe when you’re enjoying your yard by illuminating stairs, gates and walkways to minimize the risk of trips or falls.
  • Curb Appeal: Good landscape lighting highlights your home, lighting up not only plants but also stunning garden accents and your house’s amazing architectural features.
  • Holiday Fun: If you have good lighting in place, it will be simple to add extra holiday lighting to your landscape whenever you wish, or to swap out bulbs for fun holiday colors.

Basics of Landscape Lighting

When you’re ready to light up your landscape, you will want to…

  • Mark Boundaries
    Show off the flowing curves or geometry of your flowerbeds and landscape features by using lights to mark different boundaries. You can also light up property lines or show the edges of pathways, decks and driveways to create inviting illumination that will welcome guests to your home.
  • Guide Not Glare
    It is easy to go overboard with landscape lighting, but less can be more when adding a glow to your property. Consider where shadows fall to create a sense of space and texture with your lighting, and use cleverly positioned lights to draw eyes just where you want them.
  • Consider Color
    While you can choose landscape lights in both warm and cool colors depending on the type of lighting you prefer, don’t forget to consider the colors of the plants and structures those lights are highlighting. This will help you create a cohesive, attractive lighting design.
  • Spotlight Specimens
    If you have a stunning specimen plant in your landscape, a favorite piece of yard art or even an unusual architectural feature on your home, use lighting to highlight that detail. Uplighting and spotlights can be useful for showing off your proudest features.
  • Use Ground Level Lights
    Lights set into the ground are often overlooked, but they can be an amazing component of landscape lighting. You can recess lights to help illuminate a pond, pool or other water feature, as well, giving the water a luscious glow after dark.
  • Set a Mood
    The way you light up your landscape will create an evening and nighttime mood for your property. Lights can be positioned to create a dramatic feel, a romantic ambiance or an exciting party atmosphere. You can even opt for different types of lights to change the mood as desired.
  • Avoid Light Pollution
    Too much light, or lights that are poorly positioned, can create light pollution that leaks through windows, lights up unwanted spaces, shines in the eyes of passersby or intrudes on neighbors’ spaces. Check your lighting plan carefully to be sure it is safe and attractive at all times, and consider timers to help control your lights appropriately.

From simple solar lights to spotlights, lanterns, specialty lights and even fun light strands, there are many different ways to light up your landscape and bring a bit of brightness to even the darkest nights.

Starting Up With Succulents

Succulents are charming plants and can be a great addition to your household jungle. Learning more about these popular plants can help you give them the best growing environment so they are sure to thrive and show off their unique foliage, amazing colors and fascinating structures.

What Are Succulents?

If you are familiar with aloe, agave, jade or snake plants, you already know some of the most popular succulents. But what makes these plants different from other houseplants? Succulents store moisture in their thick, fleshy leaves and can go long periods without regular watering, making them ideal for anyone with a busy schedule. These plants are also great choices for growing in arid or drought-prone areas, xeriscaping zones and rock gardens, and they are especially quaint in all sorts of containers. They are slow growers and very forgiving of occasional neglect, which makes them perfect for anyone whose green thumb might not be quite so green when it comes to houseplants. Yet with a tremendous variety of succulents available, even the most experienced houseplant gardener can find a new succulent to enjoy and appreciate.

Choosing Succulents

There are many beautiful succulents available, with sizes ranging from tiny, delicate plants perfect for a miniature scene or fairy garden to much larger, stately plants that make excellent statement pieces. When choosing succulents, look for a variety of colors, textures and shapes to experiment with, and consider mixing and matching smaller plants for more visual interest in one arrangement. Take care, however, that the plants you choose for the same arrangement have similar care requirements and needs so they can grow comfortably together. If you’re choosing larger plants, a single succulent can be amazing on its own as it reaches its full potential.

Caring for Succulents

Succulents are relatively easy-care plants, but they do have specific needs. By meeting those needs, you are sure to give all your succulents excellent care.

POTS

A pot for succulents must have excellent drainage with one or more drainage holes. These plants do not like wet feet, and unfinished terra cotta pots are perfect, as the porous pots breathe and help keep soil from retaining too much moisture. Shallow or otherwise small pots are fine for succulents, as these slow-growers don’t mind being a bit cramped.

SOIL

Fast-draining soil is a must for succulents, and there are specialized soil blends formulated precisely for succulents. Adding coarse, sharp sand or a handful or two of perlite will help improve any soil’s drainage and make it even more suitable for succulents.

FERTILIZER

These plants need only mild feeding, and a well-balanced, general fertilizer diluted to half strength will offer them the nutrition they require. Succulents should be fed monthly from spring through fall when they are actively growing, but do not need to be fed when their growth has slowed in winter.

SUNLIGHT

Succulents love bright sunlight, and will have their best color and keep their compact, geometric shapes when they get, on average, 6 hours of sunlight each day. South or west-facing windows will offer the best sunlight, and rotating pots every few days can help ensure straight, even growth. For larger succulent containers, use wheeled stands or coasters so they can be rotated easily

TEMPERATURE

These plants do well in typical household temperatures, but do like slightly cooler temperatures when their growth slows in winter. At that time, moving them to a cooler room can help ease their stress and keep their seasonal pattern intact.

WATER

While succulents thrive in arid climates, they do need proper watering to stay plump and fresh. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings, but when you do water succulents, water them thoroughly. Do not let the plants stand in water; empty saucers immediately. For larger potted succulents, pot feet, to lift the plants off the ground, will assist in drainage. Avoid pouring water directly on the fleshy leaves. Instead, water the soil using an indoor watering can.

OUR 10 FAVORITE, EASY-TO-GROW SUCCULENTS

  1. Aloe (Aloe vera) Aloe extract is frequently used in producing moisturizers and cosmetics and as a home remedy for treating burns.
  2. Echeveria (Echeveria species) Commonly known as ‘Hens and Chicks’, Echeveria come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes.
  3. String of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus) This unusual succulent has a unique leaf that is the shape, size and color of a small pea. It is typically grown in a hanging basket to suit its creeping habit.
  4. Paddle Plant (Kalanchoe tetraphylla) Large, rounded, think, paddle-shaped leaves give this succulent its unique look. The leaves take on a reddish tint in the winter.
  5. Jade Plant (Crassula ovata) Long-lived and very easy to grow, the Jade plant takes on the look of a bonsai tree as it grows and is considered a symbol of good luck.
  6. Zebra Plant (Zebra haworthia) This succulent has a similar growth habit to an Aloe but is dark green with white stripes, small and very slow growing. The Zebra Plant is a great addition to a succulent terrarium.
  7. Burro’s Tail (Sedum morganianum) This is another succulent that is usually planted in a hanging basket. The unique Burro’s Tail sports small, thick, fleshy leaves whorled on drooping stems.
  8. Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) The Snake Plant thrives on neglect and can take less sun than most other succulents.
  9. Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) This holiday blooming favorite is another succulent that, due to its trailing habit, may be planted in a hanging basket. This plant is fantastic for holiday gift giving.
  10. Panda Plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa) This darling succulent, sometimes called ‘Pussy Ears’ is a favorite of children as it has grayish-blue, velvety, succulent leaves.