A hummingbird is a beautiful garden visitor. The color, flight, and sounds is unlike any other. These miniature powerhouses require an immense amount of food to sustain their activity level. Because of their small size, they end up in almost constant search of food.
Providing food for these flying works of art can come in flower or liquid form. Visit our Hummingbird Garden page for a list of plants that attract and feed hummingbirds. We also suggest a new flowering annual called Vermillionairre which is fantastic for attracting these birds.
If flowers aren't enough, a sugar syrup mixture in feeder can help attact sustain them. A 3-1 or 4-1 water to sugar ratio provides a treasure of food. However, consistent food supply and proper maintenance is crutial to take good care of the hummingbirds. Inconsistent food supply may cause birds to seek a new location for food. Providing a food in an unclean feeder can be down right dangerous for hummingbirds. A recent article from Real Farmacy outlines some of the dangers to these birds from improper care.
Taking the time to properly maintain your gardens and feeders is beneficial to hummingbirds and humans. The birds remain healthy, and visiting your garden frequently. In that case, we all win.
Thinking about ways to be healthier this new year? Gardening can help you achieve those goals. Gardening provides means to stay active, flexible & fit outdoors along with emotional/mental health benefits. Digging in the garden has been shown to be an effective way to combat stress and stress-related complications. Vegetable & herb gardening gives those same benefits, plus provides healthy food to make the body thrive.
If you are considering if the work of gardening is worth it, consider it's benefits. Take a look at the health benefits of gardening:
The Health Benefits of Gardening - Prevention.com
Why Gardening is Good for Your Health - CNN.com
6 Reasons Gardening is Good for You - GoodHousekeeping.com
Health Benefits Bloom By Digging In the Garden - USAToday.com
Health Benefits of Gardening - Illinois.edu
We've all been there. The garden is looking great. Plants are growing well, and then one morning you wake up and your plant is desimated. A squash vine borer eats through the stem on your zucchini, aphids have overtaken your calibrachoa, earwigs have chewed up leaves and taken up residence inside your kale, or hornworms have left you with stems instead of tomato plants.
It's hard to see your plants taken down in the prime of their life cycle... BEFORE you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. But don't give up hope. There are some things to can do to prevent pests in the garden and also ways to treat many of the pests once they arrive.
- Make sure to leave enough room between plants for air circulation to reduce moisture. Bringing leaves up off the ground can also reduce the infestation of some pests. Keeping the garden area clean of clutter and debris is helpful.
- Plant natural repellents. P. Allen Smith has a great run down of many options, but here are a few more notable/tried & true garden helps
- Nasturtium - squash bugs, cucumber beetles, & more
- Catnip - beetles, aphids, ants, squash bugs, etc.
- Petunias - some aphids, tomato worms, & more
- Four O'Clocks - poisonous to japanese beetles (but also to people & pets so use with care)
- Marigolds - nematodes, rabbit, deer (can attract snails though)
- Apply insecticidal garden dust at the time of planting
- Spraying plants with insecticidal soaps or hot sauce mixers can deter munching varieties of pests.
Once you've discovered your pest problem there are several methods for removal. Depending on the size and variety of pests, some work better than other.
- Hand Removal - this works best with large pests like slugs, snails, & catepillars. Check the underside of leaves or the base of stems for large pests (often after dark). Squishing or disposing in soapy water are common methods for pest removal. Removing the effected blossoms or stems can be helpful with small pests (aphids, mites, etc) but doesn't guarantee that all the insects are removed. It does help with egg elimination and reducing the risk factor later on.
- Natural Pests - Spiders and lady bugs are your friends in the garden. They like to feed on garden pests and can be helpful in maintaining a healthy garden.
- Pesticides - A wide range of pesticides are available ranging from organic (usually causes pest dehydration) to traditional varieties that when applied early can stop damage. May require repeat application(s). Read labels closely for use on food plants and harvesting timelines. Some products will slow down plant development, but so will the pests.
The key to pest control careful observation. If a plant is under-performing, wilting, or showing signs of holes it's time to take a closer look. Flip over some leaves, look at the underside of blossoms, take a look in the "Y" junction where stems or leaves meet. If you need help identifying your pest, UMN has a great pest library that helps identify the culprit and recommended treatments.
Creekside Growers has a wide variety products available to help you treat what ails your garden.
Welcome back to our trouble shooting series. We've taken a look at amending soil, and up next is identifying and treating pests. But for right now we'll take a look at the tricky issues of watering and fertilizing.
Want the best blooms and bumper crops? The key is often in proper watering and fertilizing. In a perfect world, all of our plants would have the same needs and it would make caring for them so much easier. But watering needs vary among plants and flowers. Different fertilizers will be more helpful at various stages in plant growth/development. So let's break down a few of the basics.
- Watering by Weight - One of the easiest ways to water a basket or container garden is based on weight. Slightly lift a fully watered basket to see how heavy it is. Later, you can lift the container and compare weight to know how much water is present. A lighter basket will require more water.
- Watering by Touch - Your index finger is a great water gauge. Drill your finger an inch into the soil to check for moisture content. Even though the surface soil by be dry, if there is moisture an inch down still you may not need to water (or water less).
- Watering by Sight - Dry soil will have a lighter appearance, cracking occurs, or pulls away from the sides of it's container. Many plants give visible clues that they need water. A limp appearance is often a plant in need of water. Yellowing leaves can indicate a need for more or less water. Using sight as your only indicator is a bit of a gamble. It's easy to over or under water without actually checking.
- Watering by Variety - Know the watering needs for your particular plants. Vinca requires very little water with New Guinea Impatiens and Petunias require more. Watering Begonias in bright daylight can magnify the sun's rays and leave burn marks on the leaves. Blooms on most plants will last longer if they aren't coated with water. Try to water at the base when at all possible. Ask one of our helpful staff members about watering instructions for the plants you are purchasing or suggestions for plants that best fit your location.
- Watering by Location - The more sun your plants receive the more evaporation will occur from the soil, therefore requiring more water. Take it easy on watering shady areas so that fungus and mildew don't become an issue.
- Basket Best - Container gardens often do best with a good shot of fertilizer as they don't have access to significant amount of soil to pull nutrients out of. Baskets with lots of blooms (petunias, calibrachoa, etc) in particular will perform and bloom more with a phosphorus rich fertilizer. Potassium will help with disease resistance and nitrogen is great for keeping it green and healthy.
- Know Your Numbers - Most fertilizers have a 3 number ratio listed on the packaging. The numbers are a ratio of how much Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (N,P,K) is in the package. For example a 5-6-7 fertilizer package contains 5% nitrogen, 6% phosphorus, and 7% Potassium. The rest is fillers for distribution. The greater the percentage is on the packaging, the more careful you need to be about "burning" or damaging the plant in application. Always following packaging information.
- Nitrogen is key for strong plants and green growth. Lawn fertilizers are often high in nitrogen. This is best used early in plant development when the experiencing rapid growth. Over watering removes/flushes nitrogen from the soil and can leave behind a yellowed plant.
- Phosphorus is essential for blooms and veggie/fruit production. The application of phosphorus periodically through bloom cycle and just prior to food production can create greater production.
- Potassium is great for strengthening plants. It helps strengthen the plant against disease and for enduring the winter season.
- Fertilizing Naturally - There are many natural and organic means to boost your garden production that can be cost effective and safe for pets/humans.
- Manure & Compost - a great source of natural nutrient for your garden. Several favorites include cow, horse, and chicken manure. If buying in bulk make sure the manure is well ages. Fresh manure will burn your plants. Packaged options like our "Wholly Cow" are a great to mix in to existing soil to give it a boost.
- Peat - this form of moss mixed into your soil helps with water retention and lightening heavy clay soil.
- Blood Meal - High in nitrogen, blood meal heps develop large green, strong plants. In the veggie garden that gives any plant a strong start but is especially helpful with greens like lettuce, brussels sprouts and kale.
- Bone Meal - Rich in phosphorus with a bit of calcium and nitrogen, bone meal is taken up by plants slowly over time and great to mix in during spring. Found especially helpful with roses and bulbs.
We get a lot of questions about why things aren't growing well in customers' gardens. There are many factors to consider. Are plants getting enough or too much sun? Are they receiving the enough water for weather conditions? Are there natural predators (insects & animals) causing havoc? Does the soil need more nutrients? Is there too much acid or alkaline in the soil? Is the soil to hard (clay) or too porous (sand)?
Any of those factors can play a part in under-performing gardens. We will break down the concerns in this 3 part series.
- Part 1: Amending Your Soil
- Part 2: Watering & Fertilizing - Best Blooms & Bumper Crops
- Part 3: Identifying and Treating Pests
Soil seems to be an area where gardeners struggle most. So let's break down the basics.
Clay Soil - This is the stiff, thick, dense soil that many in our area struggle with. The density of the soil often prevents roots of plants from spreading out and plants from thriving. Considering working in peat and manure/compost to break down the density of soil to help plants get better established. Fertilizer is important to promote growth.
Sandy Soil - While this soil seems easier to work in than clay, it lakes nutrient and dries out quickly. The sandy soil found in much of this area will cause plants to wilt quickly even if you are watering. Use you your hands to feel the moisture content in the dirt rather than trusting the amount you have watered. Considering working in some manure/compost to enrich the soil. Peat can help with water retention. Fertilizer is important to promote growth.
Acid Soil - There are many plants that thrive in acidic soil. In fact, adding acid to your hydrangeas can turn blooms blue. Rutgers has a great article called "Soil pH and Lime Requirement for Home Grounds Plantings" that outlines acidic plants, and ammending soil for those plants & shrubs. To add acid we suggest using aluminum sulfate or cottonseed meal. Please handle aluminum sulfate with care. Gloves are recommended and wait 3-7 days after adding to plant in that area. To reduce acid you can add lime to your soil.
Alkaline Soil - Other plants like dianthus, coral bells, and hostas enjoy a more alkaline soil. The University of Minnesota compiled a list of some of the best plants for alkaline soils with a pH of 7.0-8.0. To add alkaline to your soil you can use lime. To reduce alkaline, consider aluminum sulfate or cottonseed meal.
Container Garden Soil - For plants to grow well in a container, a light soil mix such as a potting mix is best. There is a remarkable difference in the development of plants grown in a potting mix verses traditional top soil or a heavier perennial mix. Reusing the same soil from year to year will drain the nutrient from the soil and produce lack luster results. The time and expense you put into good soil for your containers will be rewarded with better plant production.
Guest Post by: Jenelle Jonkman
My childhood experience with gardening consisted of trying to keep a few geraniums and dusty miller alive in a whisky barrel container garden. Some years we made it through July and sometimes we did not. We did our best, but gardening was not a family talent.
So when I married into a family of skilled perennial gardeners, I was in for a whole new world. I was anxious to impress when I planted my first gardens. My mother-in-law patiently walked me through the basics after she found me several flats deep in petunias. I had never heard of dead-heading let alone having a clue what she meant by "pinching back." She graciously shared her gardening knowledge, splits of her prolific perennials, and a love for flowers.
What started as a way to connect with my mother-in-law became my own love for gardening. I carefully studied her gardens and gardening books. I figured with more knowledge and experience, I too could have a "perfect garden" like the ones I saw in the books, magazines, and my mother-in-law's yard.
My pursuit of the perfect garden left me feeling inadequate. Plants didn't perform in my gardens like the tags and recommendations said they would. Weeds grew happily though. My efforts didn't seem good enough.
Then my mother-in-law shared something profound with me. Nothing in the garden needs to be permanent. If something doesn't work - move it, replace it, or help it along. That's when it happened. I stopped looking at my garden as something to accomplish and it became a process to enjoy.
Some years and houses were better than others, but they all became the setting for memories. Chubby little toddler hands picked flowers for me out of those gardens (whether he should have or not). Neighborhood parties and family gatherings surrounded them. The flowers that grew there graced our kitchen table. I became the one to share prolific perennials with friends and family.
My gardens will never grace a garden magazine, and I'm okay with that. Those images are digitally "enhanced" anyways. My gardens are a little piece of me, a growing art display of the colors, shapes, and plants I love. And just like me, my gardens are a work in progress. We both are not quite yet what we will be.
It is finally feeling a bit like spring. After a long winter, it is hard to be patient on waiting to plant until the chance of frost passes. Being patient for consistently warmer weather will save you time and money in the long run.
There are some plants that are safe to get in the ground now. Pansies, violets, snapdragons, and perennials are safe to plant along with other cold crop veggies (brocolli, brussel sprots, peas, etc). Bushes and trees (that have not yet already leafed out) are great to plant this time of year.
In West Michigan, it is too early to plant most other annuals and veggie plants. Mid to late May will be is a more ideal time to plant. Coleus, impatiens, petunias, and tropical plants are all risk for certain doom with a light frost.
Hanging baskets are an option for a spring flower fix as long as you move them to a warmer place on cold nights/days. Succulents work well inside. Try your hand a terrarium. They are easy to grow and require little maintenance. Our staff can help walk you through how to do to build your terrarium or miniature garden.
Compared to the show stopping "Thriller" and main component "Filler" the "Spiller" can easily be overlooked or under valued. But don't give in to that tendency. While the "spiller" is not always needed in a container, it often is the element that gives drama, form, and completion to a design.The name spiller refers to the plants that cascade out and down around the container in which they are placed. This component can come in for form of either flower or foliage, and often a combination of the two.
When choosing a spiller, always check for consistent sun and watering conditions so that your spiller has commonality with the other plants you have chosen. Also think of the lines you want to create and volume you desire. Some foliage spiller like Creeping Jenny will stay very flat and close to the container while coleus and petunias add more volume. Others like bidens & scaevola will cascade out and then wing back up.
Great "Spiller" Options:
- Creeping Jenny
- Bacopa - white or pink mix
- Ivy - green or varigated
- Purple Wandering Jew
- Sweet Potato Vine
- Coleus - cascading/trailing varieties
- Ivy Geraniums (filler + spiller)
- Hybrid or Calibrachoa (filler + spiller)
Last week we took a look at the eye catcher/center focal known as "The Thriller" of your container garden. Now on to "The Filler." These are the plants that will make up the majority of your planter. You can choose one type of plant but in a variety of colors (i.e. petunias in different colors) or a selection of plants that grow well together. If you desire variety, you'll need to make sure that they have the same care needs (water, sun, fertilizer) and that shape-wise they work together.
Examples of Plants That Work Well Together:
- Petunia, Nemesia, and Calibrachoa (all need sun and lots of water)
- Geranium & Lantana (both like heat and sun)
- Coleus, Begonia, & Lobelia (take more shade & need water)
Examples of Plants That Do Not Work Well Together:
- Geranium, Lantana, & Begonia (different water & sun needs)
- Osteospermum & Impatiens (different light needs)
Great "Filler" options:
- Begonia - Non-stop, Illumination, & Dragon-Wing
- Potunia petunias - more compact, bright colors & patterns
- Calibrachoa - variety of colors & patterns
- Lantana - loves heat
- Coleus - variety of colors, foliage shapes, & heights
- Nemesia - great scent
- Geraniums - heat tolerant, low maintenence
- Osteospermum - daisy-like flowers
- Lobelia - color for shade
Creekside Growers offers a wide variety of flowers and foliage that makes for great fillers. New for 2014 is a selection of color combos that have three plants pre-matched for you, already growing together in a single pot. These are perfect to plant if you are unsure how to mix and match flowers on your own or to have the colors/plants well integrated.
Stop in to Creekside Growers to pick the perfect "Fillers" for your your planters. Our staff is available to help with the plant match making.
We are hard at work getting plants ready for our Potting Parties. If you need a little inspiration for what you would like to plant, check out our Container Garden page on Pinterest. At each party we will have an assortment of "recipe cards" with different planters for for a variety of settings pictured and plant suggestions listed to build it.
Hope you can join us.