Apr 012015

Seed starting tips

  1. Make your own mini greenhouse. Salad containers like this one work great. You may also cut off the bottom of a milk jug or water bottle. High humidity ensures a higher germination rate. Even covering a container with plastic wrap would work.
    Salad container green house

    Clear plastic clamshell containers make great mini greenhouses for seed starting.

  2. Recycle newspaper into plantable pots. Cut newspaper into 6-inch strips. Roll a strip around a small can (soup or tomato paste cans work well), leaving about an inch of paper overlapping the bottom of the cylinder. Fold the overlapping part over and fill your paper pot with seed-starting mix.
    recycled newspaper pot

    Make your own paper pots by wrapping strips of newspaper around a soup can.

  3. Use the bottom of paper egg carton as a planting tray. Add a little seed-starting mix to each cell and plant according to the seed packet’s directions. Cover the container with plastic wrap to hold in the humidity. After the seeds have sprouted, you can remove the wrap and cut apart the cells. Since paper egg cartons are biodegradable you can plant them right into the ground.
  4. Use egg shells as tiny planting bowls. Instead of planting directly in the egg carton, save it and use it to hold the egg shell halves. Fill each egg shell with soil and plant your seeds. If you’re concerned about salmonella, you may boil the shells first.
  5. Use peat pellets – the old standby! Add water to the pellets to make them expand and then poke your seed into the indentation on top. I like to remove the netting around the peat pellet when planting outdoors to give the developing roots more freedom.
  6. Plant your seedlings in peat pots filled with soil. Like the pellets, the entire peat pot may be planted directly into the ground when the danger of frost is past.
    Peat pots

    Tomatoes and peppers planted in biodegradable peat pots.

  7. Sow seeds directly outdoors. Some seeds, like tomatoes and peppers, need to be started inside to ensure a long growing season. Other plants that mature more quickly, like lettuce or radishes, do better when planted directly in the ground outside. Read the back of your seed packet to determine what’s best for your seeds.Tips from soitgrows.com
Mar 042014
Ollie the labrador loves snow, but the novelty has worn off for his humans.

Here in the Midwest, it feels like we’ve been stuck in the polar vortex all winter. Ice melt has been in high demand — the big box home improvement store near our house said they sold nearly 5,000 bags of the stuff over the weekend. Ice melt has the immediate effect of making concrete driveways and pathways less slippery, but it also has long-term effects on nearby plants. Here are a few tips on how to recognize the signs of ice melt damage to trees and shrubs, as well as how to mitigate the effects of these chemicals.

Many ice melt products contain sodium chloride (rock salt) and ammonium nitrate. Both of these chemicals can harm trees and shrubs. Large amounts can even kill plants. Evergreens are quick to show damage from ice melt. You may notice that the lower needles are turning. The damage will be most evident on the side facing the exposure.

If you have to use an ice melt product, don't overdo it. Too much can damage your plants -- and your concrete!

If you have to use an ice melt product, don’t overdo it. Too much can damage your plants — and your concrete!

Deciduous trees may not show any evidence until the following growing season, but thenĀ  yellowed or dwarfed foliage may become apparent. Branches and leaves often die back. These chemicals can stunt future growth and make your landscape plants more susceptible to disease.

Once you notice the damage, it’s best to just prune away the affected branches. You may also apply gypsum to the soil to neutralize the chemicals. Gypsum is a naturally-occuring mineral that doesn’t harm the environment — you can even apply it as a preventative measure. Horticultural gypsum is available from lawn and garden centers.

If you’re buying ice melt for your own property, look for calcium chloride instead of sodium choloride — it causes less damage. Try to remove ice through mechanical means if possible. Avoid applying ice melt chemicals in late winter or early spring as plants are exiting dormancy, because they are the most vulnerable at this time. Rinse off any visible salt residue from your trees and shrubs.

Here’s hoping that winter is on its way out — I can’t wait for spring!

Ollie the labrador loves snow, but the novelty has worn off for his humans.

Ollie the labrador loves snow, but the novelty has worn off for his humans.