GardenDishes

dishin' the DIRT on hit and myth landscaping

Always Best to Buy (or GROW) Organic Produce?

Lately, I’m getting more requests from my landscaping clients who’ve never considered themselves gardeners to grow their own food.

And they want to do it organically.

Horror stories of tainted greens drive many to question what else they might be buying in that bag of lettuce or spinach. Restaurants, bars, and even airlines blame skyrocketing prices for dropping lime and avocado from their menus. It might tempt some folks to just grow their own food. While citrus and other heat loving plants thrive in my part of the world, what about you who don’t have the weather – or space – to grow your own? Should you move? Well, maybe.

At my house, produce may be found throughout the landscape. If I cannot grow enough, the rest is bought from local farmers whenever possible. I believe in permaculture, which is simply good stewardship of the land. But, as I said before, my options for growing food are vast because of where I live.  And I enjoy gardening.

Should you buy or try? Check this chart to see what produce you should ALWAYS buy organic.

Check this chart to see what produce you should ALWAYS buy organic. Green means little pesticides, red shows what has the most pesticides in traditionally grown produce.

If you’re confused about buying organic produce, check out this chart I made for a lecture I gave. It shows which traditionally grown produce items have the highest pesticide levels. Scary? That’s not the purpose of my talk or why I’m sharing this information. I simply want to give you guidelines on which items deserve the extra bucks to buy organic, or extra time and space to grow in your yard, if your climate allows. Although this won’t necessarily make you a better organic gardener, it could make you a better shopper when it comes to organic produce.

NOTE: if you want an easy-to-reproduce copy of this chart, just let me know. I’m happy to send you a larger JPEG or PDF of it.

The Strike of The Poison Sisters (ivy, sumac, & oak)

Next time, I'm hoping to get an earful of the Pointer Sisters instead of the poison sisters.

Next time, I’m hoping to get an earful of the Pointer Sisters instead of The Poison Sisters. (This is AFTER 3 days of steroids & with a load of cream on it to stop the itching.) 

My friend Kylee announced last week she had contracted a common gardening disease. My exposure coincided with hers, although we live nowhere close to one another. And we aren’t unique this time of year. As seedlings emerge in the warm spring sun, so do we gardeners. For the 85% of Americans who react to some degree to a plant oil called urushiol (yoo-ROO-shee-all), spring springs with more than we’d hoped.

My allergic reaction to urushiol – found in The Poison Sisters (oak, sumac, & ivy) - seems to be increasing annually. Or even semi-annually as I’ve gotten it spring AND fall in the last year. WebMD says it can either become more severe with additional exposures, or go away altogether as you’re desensitized. Mine is not going away. To be honest, the fact I’m more often around it since we bought our farm probably explains the increase in frequency, if not the increase in reaction.

Here’s info on what your skin‘s reaction might look like, and here are photos so you can spot The Poison Sisters before they spot you.  My friend Kylee Baumlee - co-author with Jenny Peterson of INDOOR PLANT DECOR from St. Lynn’s Press – shares her suggestions on how to get rid of the plant once you find it on her blog.

Zanfel 4 pois ivy

If you don’t catch the poison ivy exposure in time to wash it away, this scratches the itch.

Unfortunately, once again I had to go the steroids route to get it under control. Next time I’ll do it differently.

My friend Edgar Graham discovered if he immediately washes the area with DAWN dish detergent to cut the oil, he rarely has a reaction to the poison ivy. If he misses a spot washing and the dermatitis appears, he dabs a product called Zanfel to any bumps and within a few minutes the itch is gone and in a few days the rash disappears. Why Dawn? Maybe the Poison Sisters and Tony Orlando’s girls are like oil and water.

This photo, from Mother Nature Network, proves that DAWN dish detergent is for the birds. Or the ducks, anyway.

This photo, from Mother Nature Network, proves that DAWN dish detergent is for the birds. Or the ducks, anyway. My friend Edgar proves it’s effective on fighting The Poison Sisters, too.

 

Best fertilizer? Holy crap, BATMAN!

We’ve put in some new plants this spring and wondered what type of fertilizer you’d recommend.

Depends. What type of plants? What type of soil?  The best fertilizer for all plants and all soil types is rich soil. Don’t have that yet? Here’s my favorite fertility Rxs for the plantings here in my Texas garden. Here goes:

Crap happens. And when it does, let it rot and put it on your garden!

Crap happens. And when it does, let it rot and put it on your garden. Great soil is the best fertilizer for ANY plant!

ALL: Add 1-2″ composted manure over the whole landscape at least once per year. I try to do this Valentine’s Day. Why Valentine’s Day? It’s important this process occurs in cool months so plants or lawn won’t burn. The other reason for that date is I can remember it…fertility & Valentine’s go hand-in-hand…. or, well, you get the idea. For how long? I plan to stop with my annual cupid compost ceremony when I die, move, or my soil morphs into a rich loam yielding not only great produce, but also a shovel full of earthworms every time I effortlessly dig a hole. By the way, this is NOT mulch; it’s besides and underneath a spring application of mulch.

Osmaco&MedinaVEGGIES, FLOWERS, ETC. – Used as a foliar spray or poured-on soil activator, I keep a jug of Medina’s MEDINA PLUS  handy for monthly after-planting-pep-ups. This is also what I put into my compost to heat it up.

My double compost tumbler also boasts a spigot and container on bottom for an easy compost tea treat.

My double compost tumbler also boasts a spigot and container on bottom for an easy compost tea treat.

Speaking of which,  COMPOST TEA is a cheap – as in FREE - fertilizer. At my house, making compost tea is easy because of the composter I use: a double barrel tumbler with tea spout in the bottom. Never heard of compost tea? Here’s how to make it happen.

A local company (in Houston) called MICROLIFE has come up with great all-around organic fertilizers in several formulations for the different applications in the garden. They also have specialty formulations for specific plants, like azaleas and citrus, as well as for problems in the lawn, like brown patch. Their nifty online chart tells you what to use and when. I buy MicroLife by the 40 lb. bag, I’m such a fan.

When I tuck in just about any flowering/fruiting plant, I often add a dash of Osmocote for Flowers & Vegetables. This slow release, balanced (14-14-14) formula feeds the babies without burning or giving too much nitrogen (the 1st number in the 3 part formulation numbers, N-P-K), which makes it develop gorgeous green but few flowers. NEVER use lawn fertilizer in flowerbeds with blooming plants or they’ll spend all of their energy on the leaves and none on the blooms.

Another commonly used fertilizer that has no place in my garden is a “weed and feed” product. I absolutely hate these for many reasons, only one of which is how destructive it can be to plants other than lawn grasses. So if you have a grudge against me, you now know the chink in my armor!

NOTE: I am not paid, nor do I receive these products to endorse. I buy them at my local garden center just like you will.

Poinsettia Pointers & Other Plants to Ring in the New Year

The only care-free poinsettia is a fake one.

The only care-free poinsettia is a fake one, remaining perky even in snow. Or in the attic.

If you’re like me, it’s tough passing up after-Christmas bargains. And since my drug of choice is plants, a trip to the nursery the 1st week of January means I’ll extend the season with HUGE, beautiful poinsettias for less than $5 each. I look at this as a quick high, a temporary fix, though. You CAN get a return bloom next year, if you are willing to put in the effort. For 5 bucks, I’m not. In case you’re on JEOPARDY, by the way, what we call the blooms  are actually brightly colored leaves – or “bracts” – with the actual flower the tiny middle part. Feel free to share the prize money. It should get me a few more poinsettias for next year.

Kolanchoes have a long bloom period, come in several colors, and thrive indoors if given lots of light.

Kolanchoes (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana)

have a long bloom period, come in several colors, and thrive indoors if given lots of light.

Want an alternate, repeat-blooming Christmas-y flower without the hassle? Try kolanchoe. No. It doesn’t double as a breakfast food. You’re thinking ko-LA-che. Don’t eat these. Like poinsettias and many other houseplants, kolanchoes are POISONOUS to people and pets if ingested. (Here’s a list with more poisonous houseplants for you.) Kolanchoes not only make great houseplants, they can be planted in the ground for almost year-round color in warmer climates.

Christmas cactus - Schlumbergera bridesii - may be an old-fashioned, hand-me-down plant, but it continues to be one of my favorites for its dependability in low light conditions. My original plant came from Dad 15+ years ago and I’m pretty sure his was a cutting from someone else. It always amazes me when the buds start to pop out of nowhere around the 2nd week of December. I’ve divided mine now and am sharing pieces with friends, too, which is one of my favorite parts of gardening. And yes, having indoor plants is still gardening!

This year I surprised several special people in my life with red amaryllis bulbs for Christmas. My friend (and my co-author on HEIRLOOM BULBS FOR TODAY) Chris Wiesinger at The Southern Bulb Company offers them in a ready-to-give package. You can find a number of incredible bulbs to force for the holidays from Chris and Rebecca, in fact. Then after the blooms are done, plant them in your garden, if you live in a temperate locale like I do.

Do you have a favorite Christmas plant that’s easy to take care for? Not counting the silk poinsettias in your attic, of course.

Weeds or Woes? Choosing an Organic Method COULD Save Your Life!

Recently I heard you speak and you mentioned using RoundUp could hurt more than the weeds in my yard.

Can you explain?

New research shows WEEDS are not the only thing killed by Roundup....

New research shows WEEDS are not the only thing killed by Roundup….

Happy to expound on this one. A few weeks ago a neighborhood association asked me to look over their contract with a local lawn maintenance company. Immediately I redlined a problem: it specifically asked that RoundUp ®, a widely advertised glyphosate used in home and commercial gardening, be sprayed for weed control. I freaked, mainly because this is my HOA spraying next to my garden! I’d discovered genocide was going on in the neighborhood shortly after I moved in last fall when I drove up to a masked man, spray wand in hand in my front yard. I jerked open the car door, jumping up and down, screaming at the poor guy to get him to stop. I told him I’m an organic gardener and NEVER wanted to see his sorry spraying self in my garden again. He shrugged and moved the 4 feet over to my neighbor’s and began misting his poison again. 

So what’s the big deal? If you aren’t growing edibles – which I do throughout my entire landscape – you might not see any harm in using glyphosate as a short cut to weed eradication. Let’s face it: easy helps. Weeding is the toilet cleaning of gardening, in my opinion. And like toilets, it very seldom gets noticed… unless it does NOT get done. More and more research on what glyphosate does to our environmental systems AND our body systems should give us the heebie jeebies, even more than a nasty toilet. Just as it does with plants, glyphosate messes with our hormonal balance and cellular production. And since it’s designed to kill ALL plants, new findings show it does so IN us as well as around us, decimating the good bacteria needed for our intestinal health. And in September, the National Institutes of Health linked glyphosate to breast cancer. Here’s the article on their website. photo 1The stuff is especially dangerous to small children and pets. That means your little one playing in the lush lawn, or your pooch taking a poop where glyphosate has been applied exposes them to incredible danger, according to the National Pesticide Information Center, who offers some of the symptoms you can expect to see.

So what’s a healthy alternative? I’ll offer a few of my favorites – including cinnamon and white vinegar – in an upcoming article.

Many of the health issues we experience link unbreakably to our determination to travel easy street. The use of glyphosate is just one of the many toxic trails we find ourselves following when searching for a magic pill to perfection. I’m praying that as the public becomes more informed, getting rid of weeds the easy way won’t be as enticing to home gardeners and consumers as will good health for our loved ones and the planet we love. If we’ll insist commercial growers and maintenance companies ditch the poison completely, we might see a turn around in our generation. One neighborhood at a time.

Oh, deer, not tonight, please

Help! We bought a house in the suburbs that needed new landscaping, but every time I put out plants, the deer come during the night and eat them. What can I do?

Deer nibble much of the green in their paths unless your plants don't rate high on the menu.

Deer nibble much of the green in their paths unless your plants don’t rate high on the menu.

Ask folks planning a move into the countryside how they feel about nature and they’ll express devotion. A year and hundreds of landscaping dollars later, the attitude often has drastically changed. Pest control companies make their living off this fact: we like the natural world as long as it stays in our control… nature within prescribed boundaries. Termites tunneling in downed timber? Mosquitoes munched by mockingbirds? Snakes snacking on mice and rats? Wonderful! Deer munching in a serene landscape on the horizon? Lovely. When it’s OUR serene landscape where they’re munching, however, that’s a different story.

So how can we protect nature while keeping our gardens from becoming the Luann platter tonight? Deer-free zones don’t exist where deer do, but you can follow some simple steps to encourage nibbling elsewhere with PLANTS, PARAPHERNALIA, and PARABLES. This post goes over the plants. Looks for the next two deer-deterents later, same bat-time, same bat-channel. (Only those of us over a certain age will know what the heck I’m talking about, and only YOUR hairdresser knows for sure…. Yes, another oldie but goodie from ads of Christmas past!)

• PLANTS – Love fresh greens in your salad? So do deer! New growth lures deer in for the locavore smorgasbord. But there are specific plants they don’t find quite as appealing. Look to the surrounding area for ideas. What plants do deer ignore in others’ gardens or in the indigenous plantings nearby? If your yard is an undistinguishable humdrum café, deer will look around for culinary excitement.

Not only can you discourage browsing ON certain plants, but WITH certain plants. Strong herbs such as rosemary or society garlic to throw off the scent and repel deer. Native plants are also naturally more deer resistant as edging can signal b-o-r-i-n-g, and keep deer in the dark about the rest of your yard. For a list of plants to use, contact your local native plant society or Master Gardener group.

all lit up and nowhere to go

My newest book is progressing nicely. All work on it has halted for the moment, however: the boss bumped me to a new office upstairs.

In most worlds, moving up in the building = moving up in the company. Not so much here. I’ll have to actually MAKE an office before I can work in it. I’m banned from my garden until I complete the task, too. It’s not a sacrifice staying inside right now since temps still hover in the mid – high 90′s in my garden. It is tough to know I must sacrifice my last BOX BASTION and organize the catch-all-junk-drawer of our house into a usable office.

This old lamp needs a serious make-over.

This old lamp needs a serious make-over.

The most difficult part of the job? It requires completing a project, emptying said boxes and finding a home for the contents. The reason those boxes have been sitting up there since we moved a year ago is I didn’t want to deal with sorting and making decisions on the contents. Some items no longer fit our needs. Some don’t fit our decor. Some were gifts, some we bought on impulse. Most I don’t even remember why we bothered to box and move. Besides an every-growing pile destined for Salvation Army, I’ve decided it’s terribly wasteful to get rid of everything and buy all new. Instead, I’m re-doing lamps and furniture, a mini-makeover, repurposing what I can salvage from our past.

One of my favorite authors – Alice Hoffman – paints her office with each book project. That seems ambitious – and EXPENSIVE – since she writes one every year or so. I actually enjoy construction and would choose busying myself in the garden or my house over writing most days. Writing deadlines are essential for me, primarily since authorship is a love/hate relationship. I LOVE speaking to groups and schools. I LOVE starting new book or magazine projects and doing extensive research. I HATE being forced to sit for hours at a computer to write and find it even more excruciating to stick with things once the new’s worn thin.

Hmmmmm.  I wonder if Alice dreads the deed as much as I do and paints to keep from writing.

Anyway, I’m hoping these quick-fixes in my office tempt me to linger in my chair a little longer, at least until the north wind returns so outside temperatures retreat to tolerable. Wanna see what I’m doing? Here’s my attempt at un-fru-fruing a pair of buffet lamps hiding in one of the boxes.

After: my lamp (and whitewashed table) will feel more at home in a beach-themed office.

After: my lamp (and whitewashed table) will feel more at home in a beach-themed office.

I hope you’ll be inspired to tackle a make-over project for yourself or someone who needs help on one of theirs.  Maybe you’ll even be inspired to FINISH. Now THAT would be ambitious! cc:

WHEN to plant WHAT

Cherie's planting season wheel

My confession that rules were blatantly disregarded when I planted shrubs during  July brought sorrowful bent heads and looks of disapproval.  And those were just from Gus the Wonder Cat…..

Gus the Wonder Cat is wondering why I'm crazy enough to plant shrubs in summer!

Gus the Wonder Cat is wondering why I’m crazy enough to plant shrubs in the heat of summer!

I can imagine what your thoughts on the subject might be.

As a designer, I often myself tempted to The Dark Side, putting FORM before FUNCTION. Someone always pays when that happens. Sometimes it’s Mrs. Skywalker. This time it’s me. I’ve been shlepping water hoses through the common area next to my house several times a week and the newly-planted beauty berry still doesn’t look, well, beautiful. If you don’t want you to fall into the same trap, use this graphic telling you when to plant what at your house.  Your plants will thank you for following the rules. And Gus will think you’re a genius.

Need to know HOW to plant trees and shrubs? Here’s a video from my friends at The National Gardening Association Wanna TRANSPLANT a shrub or tree in the next few months? Here’s how!

Understory beauty berry bush, like this variegated 'Snow Storm' variety, prefer cooler temps when planted and show distress at anything less.

DEAD ENDS take on new meaning: this variegated ‘Snow Storm’ beauty berry is making its displeasure known, dying off on the tip ends after leaving the shade cover of a nursery for the sun cover of July.

FREE FRIDAY! and Summer is NOT the time to plant

To celebrate August, the end-of- summer (since schools start ever-earlier), I’ll have a FREE FRIDAY tomorrow. Go to my author FaceBook page and pick which one of my children’s books you want and I’ll pick you. Or Gus the Wonder Cat will pick for me. IF he’s in the mood for that kind of thing. He IS a cat, after all.  If you don’t FB, just comment on this post to get your name in the hat.

River rock boulder at A&A  Stone (www.A&AStone.com)

Arkansas creek boulder Linda helped me find at A&A Stone. Thanks Linda!

Following an afternoon choosing boulders for my entry garden (I’ll show you the before/after soon), I distinctly heard my name called. Sensing the voice beckoned from the nearby garden center, I was compelled to stop and walk through the rows of newly arrived plant material to make certain my garden was not lacking. As any other gardener would have, I soon recognized my garden was indeed lacking and began piling necessities onto the wagon to remedy my plight.

My usual time for summer gardening is morning. And when I say “gardening” in the summer, it means making the rounds to be sure everyone is happy and healthy, yanking a few errant weeds: maintenance type chores. Theoretically, PLANTING is an autumn/winter/spring activity. However, since I do not practice what I preach, feel free to drive by and see WHY you should not put out plants in Texas’ summer, which typically lasts from April-October. Other than the desert-dwellers, my new babies are suffering tremendously. Even the true East Texas Pineywoods natives, with almost daily spritzes of hydration from the end of a hose, show a waning spirit.

I don’t blame them a bit. It is August, after all.

I’m putting together a program on WHAT TO PLANT WHEN. If you want to know the answer to that age-old question, respond to this post and I’ll send you the chart.

Living with Low Spots

After it rains, our back yard takes forever to drain. It’s so discouraging to plant things and they drown. How can we get rid of the water without flooding our neighbors?

Drainage dilemmas plague many folks, either with seasonal sinkholes where water collects after a rain or a spot that’s always spongy and nothing grows well but weeds. Now we are talking shallow depression in the yard here, not hole-big-enough-to-eat-the-house-Florida-style.

raindropsLike a leaky roof, you probably don’t even think about drainage until it rains.

Landscaping professionals may disagree on HOW to solve drainage issues, but most agree the best solution financially and physically is to work with what you’ve got. Obviously if muddy waters rage through your yard like the Mississippi at flood stage – and you’re not interested in water-front property – you might need to a more comprehensive remedy. However, if your problem is periodic or simply a nuisance, here are a few inexpensive or even FREE ideas to try.

GRADE: Lawn grass responds best to a minimum 1/4″ drop vertically for every foot horizontal distance. That grade should point AWAY from your house, meaning soil at your home’s foundation should be the highest point. (Unless you live on a mountain, but that’s another post for another day.) Why? Constantly soggy soil means constantly soggy grass which means a lawn in constant distress. Expect diseases, especially fungal infection, and the pests that follow to become the dominant feature of your landscape if the slope’s too slight.

While pleasant to view, moss on a walk-way spells D-A-N-G-E-R! Raise the walk a couple inches and backfill with sand.

While pleasant to view, moss on a walk-way spells D-A-N-G-E-R! Raise the walk a couple inches and backfill with sand.

DRAINS: A “dry river” can be installed to quickly wick water away from your low spot.

River stones, if used in a dry river, must be large enough that they won't wash away in a down-pour.

River stones, if used in a dry river, must be large enough that they won’t wash away in a down-pour.

A bit of river rock, making sure it’s headed DOWNHILL, is an easy fix. But if the stones block instead of remove water, might as well invite the neighborhood over for a  pool party next time a black cloud hovers. Water gushing  down your river?  A large boulder or clump of ornamental grass strategically located slows the flow. If the runoff is more than a dry river can handle alone, or if the area is not conducive to such a feature, consider a French drain instead of or besides. There are plenty of how-to’s online for French drains. If you hire drainage done, you might take the advice of a landscaper friend of mine when interviewing installers: “If you call in somebody to help with drainage and they don’t have a level in their truck, run ‘em off!”

PLANTS: If the area is wet for a short time and not a nuisance, consider planting natives that thrive with wet feet, soaking up the extra moisture. Or how about creating a wildlife or bog garden, or even a water feature to take advantage of your problem? Check your local native plant society for a list of appropriate ones for your area.

One of my favorite plants for low spots is our native river birch, Betula nigra with its gorgeous peely bark.

One of my favorite plants for low spots is our native river birch, Betula nigra with its gorgeous peely bark.

Duel purpose, this container also holds rainwater runoff to irrigate the nearby veggie garden.

Dual purpose, this container also holds rainwater runoff to irrigate the nearby veggie garden.

RAIN BARREL: At my house, rain barrels are going in at the gutter downspouts. When I build my new porch, I’m planning the roof based on collection of rainwater so my garden is self-sustaining when irrigation limitations come back, as they surely will.

Before you head for the big guns, be sure your plumbing or irrigation isn’t leaking and you’re watering properly.  Then next time it rains, look for your low spots. Choose a remedy that will turn your problem on its head, making the area the HIGHlight of your landscape. Not so discouraging after all, is it? cc:

IF YOU HAVE A LANDSCAPING CHALLENGE, SNAP A SHOT AND LET ME KNOW. WE’LL FIGURE IT OUT TOGETHER!

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