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A Time To Plant

For your reading convenients below you will find all the A Time To Plant published in 2018

January 2018

Plant Basics:

Let's find out about plants. This applies to most plants, but there are some exceptions. Because we are located in many areas of the world, I want to focus here on general information.
What is a plant? It is a living organism. There are two types of living organisms: one is plant the other is animal. We will focus on plants.

There are 3 basic components to plants: roots, stems and leaves.
Roots are the supportive structure at the base of a plant. This part transports nutrients and water to the rest of the plant. Located under the soil, we often don't pay attention to this because roots aren't noticeable. Some roots grow close to the soil level and are shallow. Other roots grow deep.
An example of a plant with a shallow root system is grass. The root system stays close to the level of the earth it is anchored to.

Above the root system, above the soil, a stem develops. It supports the leaves, flowers and fruits, where nutrients and water are transported and circulated. These then travel back down to the roots.

Leaves have many variations in size and shape. Jan Ingenhousz discovered that plant respiration absorbs carbon dioxide, and releases oxygen at the cellular level. Animal kingdom life, with its intake of oxygen and expiration of carbon dioxide helps balance the cycle of plant respiration. Photosynthesis, the greening aspect of plants, takes place in the leaves.

A simple experiment, if you want to see the root, stem and leaf structures, it can be done with a clear drinking glass, raw beans or raw peanuts, and paper towels.
Hypothesis: a seed will produce life, forming roots, stem and leaves.
Directions:
Dampen several paper towels, place in drinking glass. Place one or several raw beans or raw peanuts against the glass. Add more damp paper towels to hold beans in place. For several days, keep this out of direct sunlight, then it can go into indirect light. Keep paper towel moist, not wet. After a week or two, roots should form. Watch for a sprout, which will come to the surface of the towels, and produce leaves.
If your plant does not stick to the glass, it can be planted in soil once there are 6 leaves, the first two along with 2 more sets. Cover with soil just over the seed you originally watched grow. At this point, your experiment will have shown that from a seed, roots, a stem and leaves develop. Discard the experiment if you don't want to continue watching your plant grow.
If your vision does not allow you to see, then gently feel the experiment!
It is “thyme” for me to get back to my garden.

February 2018

What is needed to be able to grow plants? Decide what you would like to grow, then consider good locations for that type of plant.
Most vegetables need full sunlight. There are some plants that prefer shade. Some plants, such as elephant ears, appear different depending on whether they grow in the sun (black leaves) or in the shade (green leaves). Your plant might need some sun, some shade.

What space do you have for a garden? If you want plants in containers, think about where the containers will be placed. Containers can go on flat surfaces like patios or tables. Plants grow, so consider the size of a full-grown plant for your location. You may need to start a tiny plant in a small container, then repot it into a larger container later. Will it still fit in your desired location?

Do you want containers that hang? Will hooks need to be mounted to walls or ceilings? Make sure the wall/ceiling structure can handle the weight of your plant(s), the container(s), and water. If you are a renter, you may need to get permission to hang plants.

Do you want your plants growing indoors or outdoors? Plants freshen the environmental pollution in your house or apartment and may require artificial lighting. Outdoor plants can either grow in containers or be planted directly into the ground.

Do you have pets? Curious cats like to investigate places to dig. Dogs might want to chew plant greenery. Know whether your choice of plant(s) is safe for your animals.

Location is important for growing conditions like lighting and for the amount of space you can put plant(s) in. Consider their area such as on a flat surface, in the ground, or hanging in a container as they take up space! Outdoor plants do well in their native environment, but tender varieties may make good houseplants, especially in the winter. Houseplants may help purify the house atmosphere. Consider pet safety. There are many reasons to find an ideal location for your plant(s). You may think of some I did not even mention!

Now, it is “thyme” for me to get back to my garden!

March 2018

Food that can be grown indoors year round is our topic now. Have you ever grown sprouts?

Start sprouts from food grade seeds or beans. They take several days to several weeks to get to the eating stage. Seeds or beans from the grocery store will work; ones meant for the garden are better off not used for sprouts as they have a chemical layer applied that you may not want to ingest. Online or in health food stores you can purchase seeds or beans labeled as sprouting seeds.

I have grown sprouts in wide mouth quart sized jars, comparable to liter containers, for many years.

You will need a jar, a measuring cup or spoon, and a screen. Your screen can be the kind specifically made for sprouting or can be a cloth, such as several layers of cheesecloth cut in five or six inch squares, which can be secured with a rubber band. The screen allows some air flow and will keep insects out.

Radish, alfalfa, or cabbage sprouts start from tiny seeds. With low vision, I like bean sprouts because they are larger and can be seen and/or felt.

Place two tablespoons of tiny sprouting seeds or one quarter cup of beans in a jar. Cover with one cup of water, and let sit for about eight hours after covering the jar with a screen. Drain off the water. If you can leave the jar leaning in a downward angle, do that. Otherwise, lay on a flat surface; don’t leave upright. Cover the sprouts with water, then drain the liquid, two or three times daily. Keep away from direct sunlight. When the sprouts have started to turn green or when they just about fill the jar, set the jar in the sunshine for several hours to let them “green up”.

You can sample the sprouts as they grow! Once you have them just about filling the jar, they should be refrigerated and consumed within a week.

Sprouting bags, cloth bags with drawstrings, can be used instead of jars. Soak your seeds as described above, then put into a bag. The rinsing and draining can be done right in the bag, then hung from your kitchen cabinet. The bag allows air flow to your sprouts. Since I have not used a sprouting bag, I can’t offer more info.

It is “thyme” for me to get back to the garden!

April 2018

We need to consider where to put our plants. You could use the ground, but with limited or no vision, perhaps containers might be easier to find. Some think a container is a square foot garden, others think a hanging basket is one, and others think of unique items in their environment. They could all be right!

If you have a plant in mind, figure out if the roots would stay covered in that container. Some small plants need room to grow, while others need some confinement. A tall plant could easily tip over in a small pot.

Figure out where you want to place your plants. Large pots should be where you can reach them for both watering and relocating if needed. Some plants sit better on tabletops. Hanging baskets or window boxes need to be convenient to water, but out of the way so that you don’t bump into them!

What is needed for a container? Many materials could work: clay (sometimes called terra cotta), plastic, and ceramic are just a few examples. Some people like to use unique items such as tin pails or glassware. Whatever you choose, make sure it has, or you can put, at least one drainage hole in your container. In another issue I will cover terrariums and fairy gardens, which are exceptions to this rule.

Thoroughly wash pre-used containers. Let your plants have as many advantages of a healthy start as is possible.

If your container will be outside on a deck or patio, raise it off the surface area. A heavy rain could cause the roots to stay wet if it does not get a chance to drain. A plant stand could work. Consider raising the pot by putting blocks under it.

Colorful pots add a whimsical fancy to your containers. Especially with groups of containers, consider coordinating or contrasting the containers with the plants you intend to grow there. Even if you don’t see colors well, your family or guests might enjoy them.

Now it is “thyme” for me to get back to my garden!

May 2018

Plant sales! Which plants to buy?

Each area of the world has a planting guide indicating the frost date. In the spring, you should be aware that your area (planting zone) has a date of when the last frost could happen in a normal year. In the fall, there is a zone of when the first frost is likely to happen. Because some plants are not cold hardy, they are the ones you should not have outdoors between the first fall frost date and the last spring frost date. An example would be tropical plants that thrive in warm areas, but would not be able to tolerate cold temperatures.

We here in the Northern hemisphere are experiencing the spring time according to the calendar. If you want to purchase seeds, there is usually a chart indicating when to plant according to the area you live in. If you get seeds from a friend, they may be able to tell you when you can set your plants outside. Any plant that can be transplanted into soil should follow the same guidelines.

There are thermometers that show soil temperatures, so a gardener can plant when the ground temperature is good for a particular variety of plant. Most of us just need to follow the recommendations of planting within our zone.

One consideration of plants concerns invasive species. These are plants that look nice in one area, but rapidly grow out of bounds in other climates. If you choose to grow this kind of plant, container gardening allows you to have the growing plant, but the roots don’t spread beyond the confines of the pot. Make sure that the holes at the bottom of the pot are not root escape hatches!

When choosing plants, select varieties that have green, not brown, wilted leaves. Bigger is not necessarily better. You may want a more developed leaf structure. If you select a plant which is fruiting, such as the tomato plant with tiny tomatoes, the fruit might not be able to withstand transplanting. Transplant shock happens when the environment of the plant is changed.

For successful transplanting, water the hole you will put your plant in. Turn the plant upside-down while holding the stem between your fingers, ensuring that the root system emerges from its’ confined space. Turn right side up, and place it in the soil. Try to keep the top of the root system in the same area of the stem when transplanting. Tamp or lightly pack the soil into the space between the root ball and the soil you have dug out. Water again. For the first week or so, check to see the condition of your plants. Make sure they remain upright; they may need to be staked in that position. Loosely tie a plant to a stake with a cord that can be repositioned, if needed. Make sure there is enough water for the type of plant.

If transplanting in full sun, you may need some shade cover for the first week, more shade at the beginning of the week, less late in the week. Plants grown from seed, kept in the same location, don’t experience transplant shock.

This information is for plants no matter what time of year you are growing them or whether they are outside or indoor plants.
It is now thyme for me to get back in my garden!

June 2018

When considering containers to put plants in, there are many choices. Which will be best for you?

The size of the container will depend on the size of the plant(s). Most times, you will want space for the roots to spread. If there is not enough spread space, the roots bind to the sides, and out those drainage holes. In a garden, plants can spread, and are not bound by space.

The shape of the container is up to you. Conventional containers can be found in many locations. Repurposing of objects allows your creativity to shine when your plants are in unique containers! Make sure your containers have adequate drainage holes.

Clay pots, known as terra cotta, are medium priced. They draw moisture from the potting soil, and often have limited drainage available. Many are quite attractive. They are heavy enough to not tip over easily.
Inexpensive plastic containers are lightweight, often with more drainage holes than other materials. They help retain moisture. Because these are manmade, their toxins may affect your food plants. Generally, their lifespan is no longer than a few growing seasons.
Metal containers retain heat and are usually medium priced. They can be decorative, and look whimsical when plants spill over the sides. They are resistant to breakage, chipping and cracking.
Stone containers are solid, last a long time and tend to insulate well. They withstand windy conditions.
Fabric containers, also known as grow bags, are lightweight, can easily be transported, and are inexpensive. Plant roots get air circulation, so don’t easily get root bound.

Depending on your growing conditions, these containers can meet many of your plant needs. I have many kinds of containers, some are on tables and windowsills, others are hanging baskets.

Check your plants frequently, making sure they have their watering needs met and stay healthy looking.

It is thyme for me to get back to gardening!

July 2018

Let’s get those plants into your containers. You can start from seeds. Plants grown from seeds will take a while to grow. Use seeds dated for this year; there will be a germination date on the package. Often, seeds will have an 85 to 90 percent chance of growing. Older seeds or those leftover from previous years might grow, but the germination rate will probably be lower.

This late in the summer season, you may think about plants that are already growing. Whether you purchase them or get them from someone you know, choose healthy starts. They should appear green and strong for their size.

Get your container ready for the plants. If they are new, they are ready. If they were previously used, it is best to wash them in a mild bleach solution to avoid possible contamination. Many people think they can skip this step, but if you want to give your plant the best chance for survival, take this precaution now. Rinse the pot out, and let it dry, in the sun if possible.

There are potting mixes made for container gardening. The soil in your yard does not have all the beneficial compounds needed, and may be greatly lacking in nutrients. You may find potting mixtures specifically made for the type of plant you want to grow, such as a sandy/gritty mix for cacti and succulents. In a separate container, add water according to the instructions on your potting mix. Let it sit for about half an hour to absorb the moisture.

Check to see that your container has drainage holes. If there are none, drill some.

Water the plants you want in your container, and let the roots get wet. Small plants in moist soil might only need a little bit of water, but trees might need several hours long water bath.

Fill your container half to three fourths full of potting mix. Dig a hole in your pot that is as big around and just as deep as its current container. After gently squeezing the new plant’s current container several times, place the stem between two fingers, turn the plant over above the potting soil, and gently tamp the plant out of the container. Take the root section in your other hand and guide it into the hole, removing your spread fingers from the stem. Now, make sure your plant is upright. With the potting mix, fill in the area between your hole and the plant. You may need to gently press your plant in place. Plants need air around their roots, so you don’t want to compact your potting mix. Mulch can be a great filler in your pot, and it will help conserve moisture.

Roots need the moisture, so it is best to water the soil. Water your plant until it flows out of the drainage hole, then let it drip for about 20 minutes. Plants don’t like to stay soggy!

Provide some shade for your new plant at this time, then gradually, over several days, let it be exposed to the sunlight where you intend to leave the plant.

It is thyme for me to get back to all of my plants that need transplanting!

August 2018

Have you tried to grow herbs? I grow many varieties of mint in hanging baskets. Each time I walk by, I can rub the leaves to smell the mint fragrance. By picking off a sprig, I can refresh a glass of water. Seeing and tasting mint leaves in their ice cubes is fun! Chopped mint adds a sparkle to fruit salads or a tasty addition to coleslaw.

Some people grow single containers of herbs as a focal point for entertaining. Group several small containers on a table if salad is one of the menu items. Some people prefer only lettuce, while others like to snip off a few pieces of chives or have a few basil leaves in addition to their basic greenery. A meal is interesting when you can see and feel the herbs used in sauces or garnishes.

Large containers can be planted with a variety of herbs. When planting a few herbs together, different plants can be emphasized. Consider the height of full grown plants, the colors of the leaves or flowers, textures, and possibly the scents.

Search the internet to discover the potential height of full grown plants. When considering where to place them in a container, allow tall plants to be in the center of a round container that can be walked around or on the backside of a container close to a wall. Ground cover varieties will grow out and drape over the side of planters. Medium sized choices fill spaces between tall and short plants. Tall varieties are known as thriller plants, medium sized varieties can be called the filler plants, and the ground cover ones are known as spiller plants. If you keep the thriller, filler and spiller theme in mind, a large container will appear well designed.

Some plants offer exciting colors. A variegated plant will have automatic color appeal. Same named plants, such as wild purple basil, which has reddish-purple leaves, and green leaf basil, which most people are familiar with, allow you to choose colorful options. When your herbs display flowers, that also adds a “pop” of color.

Leaf size might offer an appealing array for you to feel. Thyme, with small draping leaves, medium sized oregano plants with larger leaves, and lemon grass with long slender leaves could be arrangement for different textured leaves. Shiny vs. fuzzy leaves could offer a sensual variety for those of us who like to touch our plants.

Fragrant plants can be grouped together for a focus. Consider for example, the lemon scented plants. Lemon mint, lemon verbena, and lemon grass are just a few choices you could consider. You might get to the point where you recognize your plants by their scents.

Whether you have a single herb in a small container or a large planter with several varieties of herbs, I encourage you to experiment with your gardening skills. Plants that you can savor might become your new hobby!

Now I have to take “thyme” to get my newest herbs planted!

September 2018

Houseplants are a misconception. While it is true that plants can be grown indoors, plants originally had a native habitat. Tropical plants would die if left in a chilling environment during our cold months. Houseplants tend to be tropical varieties that we enjoy in our homes.

We live in hardiness zones, where plants should be grown during the time when it is most favorable for their existence. In the fall, pay attention to the first frost date. Frost will probably kill tender plants. An early frost, according to meteorological statistics, might occur about the time of a first frost date. In the spring, the last frost date is when a late frost might occur in the region. There are world maps that provide this information. If you live near an intersection of zones, prepare for the colder time so that your plants have the best chance of survival in your zone.

Some plants can stay outside during cold months if protected with mulching and kept at the ground level. The ground provides some protection compared to plants exposed to wind and cold from all directions.

What choice should be made concerning the plants that you want to have live during your cold season? Is there room for a plant in your house? Some plants help to freshen the environment inside. Is there adequate light for a plant? A northern window might not be enough; an eastern, southern or western exposure might need your consideration. Some people think that lights labeled as growing lights work; it is your responsibility to find out how long to leave that light on each day and where it should be placed for the plant to thrive.

Remember that plants need watering, so make sure you have an idea of how much water your plant in a winterized location takes. Because humidity in an indoor environment is different than in an outdoor setting, you might have a different watering schedule than you did with outside plants. Most plants aren’t in their season of growth, so won’t need as much watering.

If you want to bring plants inside that have been outside for the previous season, check for insect life. It is best to treat an insect population before plants are brought into your dwelling space!

Can you plant anything now that will come up outside next year? Yes! Some root vegetables can be put into your square foot gardens if you pay attention to depth and mulching. Also, some flower bulbs can be planted in square foot gardens for spring blooms. Fall planting in hanging baskets is not a good option if you live in a cold zone.

Inside, some bulbs can be placed in shallow rock beds and watered for beautiful blooms when it is too cold for them to bloom outside. Find a chart that tells how long between planting and blooming a particular bulb takes for blooming when you desire. Spring blooming bulbs are available now at nurseries and retailers. These bulbs are ready to force bloom earlier than if you planted them outside.

Have a wonderful “thyme” taking care of your plants as the season changes!

October 2018

If your garden plants grow in the ground, ideally, you should have the soil contents checked. At a cost, this service is available from many universities that have an emphasis on agriculture. There are other places that analyze soil as well.

Instructions include how to take soil samples and tell you where to send your sample. The results indicate which nutrients should be added to your soil to improve chances of growing healthy plants. The potting soil for container plants is difficult to analyze; it is easier to replace with fresh potting soil.

As you water your plants, nutrients leach out from the soil. Plants take in and use some nutrients for growth, leaving it less fertile. These are reasons soil must be replenished with nutrients such as fertilizers. Organic fertilizers don’t have chemicals that may contribute to environmental issues, while chemical fertilizers are easy to find. Schedules on fertilizers indicate the frequency of application for different types of plants. They also list ratios for mixing powder products with water. Liquid fertilizers are also available.

Most fertilizers are known by three major elements: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Nitrogen aids in the foliage or leaf development of plants. Phosphorus stimulates root growth. Potassium helps keep plants vigorous and growing. Products containing the major elements list percentage amounts on the container. Other elements may be beneficial, but not all fertilizers contain micronutrients.

Generally speaking, organic fertilizers release nutrients over a period of time, improving the odds of creating healthy soil. Chemical fertilizers can be absorbed by plants soon after application, giving plants a quick boost, but do little to aid soil structure. Absorption of nutrients is most efficient through plant leaves, not the roots, so you may notice that by spraying the correct amount of fertilizer, you appear to have robust plants. By fertilizing plants at the most critical times for development, apply when transplanted, when they bloom and when fruit comes on.

Most outdoor plants become dormant in the cold weather months, so won’t need to be fertilized as often as they do during their growing season. A good idea for square foot gardens is to put organic mulch on the soil, protecting the plants and adding nutrients which can be absorbed by the soil. Indoor plants can be helped with a layer of mulch, helping them retain moisture in the atmosphere of a dry house.

If, after the current growing season, you decide to toss the plants out, preferably to a compost pile, the planting pot(s) can be saved for new plants at a later time. Some people reuse the old potting soil, but experts recommend starting with new soil. To keep bacteria and fungus from harming your next plants, clean pots at the end of the growing season. First, empty out plant material and soil. Pots (not plastic ones!) could be baked in a low temperature oven for about an hour, then cooled and stored. Pots could be dunked in a mild bleach or vinegar solution, then dried for several days, then stored. If you have a large pot, just wipe it with one of the solutions. Note that it says either bleach or vinegar, not both!

Now it is “thyme” for me to get ready for the next plant season. I have to figure out which plants to bring inside during the cold months, which ones to give away, and which plants will be staying outside in the cold.

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