Thursday, October 30, 2014

Giving Tender Plants Extra Frost/Freeze Protection

“Bundle up,” your mom always advised you when you went out to play in the frigid winds. The same advice applies for your tender and newer outdoor plantings. The freezing northern winds and freezing nighttime temps can damage or kill those annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees that are more marginal in our Mid-Atlantic planting zones. If a plant is classified as hardy only to zone 8 or above, than it is wise to take a few minutes to evaluate it for frost/freeze protection needs. Here are the top methods to give your plantings a bit of warmth and relief during any freeze/frost alerts:
  • Take it indoors. You may not have a greenhouse, but you probably have a garage, cellar, or protected porch. Sometimes all your potted tender plant needs is a sheltered spot for those worst weeks of the year. You can also wrap a blanket or burlap around the base of the pot to keep it insulated. Alternatively, group a bunch of pots together and stuff the area with leaves.
  • Plant it right. The warmest part of your yard is most likely at the base of a southern-facing wall. This is the spot to plant your camellias, figs, and others in your zonal edge.
  • Mulch it. Pile up mulch around the base of the plant to give its root-zone a nice blanket of warmth. Grafted trees and shrubs especially are vulnerable to die-back, so give an extra mulching to your fruit trees and rose bushes now. Be sure to pull pack that mulch layer at the first signs of spring.
  • Cover it. If you have just a few small tender plants to cover or want to give an early start to next season, use a cloche or glass bell. (An assortment of Colonial era cloches is pictured here.). You can make a modern cloche out of plastic soda bottles or milk jugs. Be sure to take them off or vent them during the day. To vent them, you can prop them up with a small stick or on stones.
  • Blanket it. Watch the local weather closely and on the coldest nights of the year, have old blankets and sheets on the ready to throw over your plants. This is a good precaution to take on nights with an ice warning. Many plants that are solid Zone 6 and 7 can still suffer severe frost damage and breakage, so go ahead and cover them when an ice storm is predicted. Then uncover when the danger of icing has passed.
  • Insulate it. Surround your most vulnerable plants with a metal cage (like your old tomato cages) or plastic mesh and stuff the frame full of leaves. You can also wrap the plant burlap tied with twine to achieve the same purpose. Then unwrap and unstuffy your plant in early spring.
Finally, if you find you have a real cold spot in your garden that is a frigid micro-climate, consider more long-term solutions for this spot... 
See the rest of the article in the Washington Gardener November 2011 issue posted here:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Video Wednesday: Save Seeds Before Winter

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Here is another "vintage" video from our productions. It is about Save Seeds Before Winter. Enjoy! (BTW, you may have to wait a few seconds for the video to load while listening to a brief sponsor commercial.)

Speaking of Seed Saving, our dual Seed Exchanges are set for early 2015. In the drab, dreary heart of winter, join us for seed swapping, expert speakers, great goody bags, and much more. Save these dates: January 31, 2015 at Behnke Nurseries in Beltsville, MD and February 7, 2015 at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, VA. Registration and full details will be posted in early December.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Announcing the Washington Gardener Magazine Book Club 2015 Selections

With the success of another year of the Washington Gardener Magazine Book Club, we are announcing our 2015 selections and schedule so that you can get a head start on obtaining the books and reading them.

For our first 2015 selection, we will be reading: Tulipomania by Mike Dash. I am reserving a meeting room at a DC Library for a weekday evening in early February. (We will move the location around to various DC library locations near public transit for each meeting pending library staff approvals, the location will be confirmed to you when you RSVP.) The library room allows food and drink and you may bring your dinner and/or snacks to share.

The book club meetings are FREE and open to anyone who would like to attend. Please RSVP to "WG Book Club" at I will be limiting attendance to 20. If you need to cancel, let me know ASAP so we can give your spot to someone else, should we have a wait-list.

I will announce the date for the next book club meeting's date and location after each previous meeting. We will meet roughly once each quarter/season.
The other book club selections for 2015 are:

~ Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
~ Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life by Marta McDowell
~ Teaching the Trees by Joan Maloof 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Fenton Friday: Full Plot and New Markers

 Yay! We got new plot markers this week at the Fenton Community Garden, which is great as the old wooden stakes were rotting and mine no longer could stand up. I find my new marker in the middle of my neighbor's plot and quickly moved it lest he think I was staking a claim on his Swiss Chard!

My plot is busting out of bounds, but I still have lots of tomatoes ripening and annual flowers blooming so I will keep stuffing cool season crops in around them as best I can. The photo above is an overview of the whole plot. Going clockwise from the top-left corner are: tomatoes on top pf potatoes, cosmos tangled with a morning glory vine, parsley and cilantro, cool season crops (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, arugula, carrots, and radishes), strawberry with asparagus in the middle, a pot of hot peppers, a dying okra, marigolds, Swiss chard, celosia and lisianthus. I'm sure I've forgotten a few things, but that gives you a good overview and what a contrast to way back to the start of the season pictured here!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Video Wednesday: Create a New Garden Bed Without Digging

Here is another video from our "classics" vault:

In this video, Kathy Jentz, Editor/Publisher of Washington Gardener Magazine, demonstrates how to winterize a vegetable garden including how to create a new garden bed without digging.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativus): Grow Your Own Spice Cabinet

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Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativus) is the source of saffron that makes Indian curry and Spanish paella so special. You understand why this spice is so expensive when you see how tiny the red-orange stigma (female organs) of the flower are and that it takes dozens of these little threads to make enough to be used for one dish.

This bulb is reliably hardy here in the Mid-Atlantic region (USDA Zone 6-8) and just needs good, well-draining soil and a full sun location. It is best to plant them in a bed that is not irrigated so they do not rot over the summer when they are dormant.

Whether your bring them home from a local garden center or buy them via mial-order, the corms (bulbs) should be planted immediately upon arrival. As you can see in the photo above, the bulbs I received from were already sprouting and ready to go.

This crocus blooms in the fall season and they are often lumped in with the autumn-blooming colchicums. However, colchicums are in the lily family and saffron crocus is related it iris, along with freesia and crocosmia.

Even though the emphasis is on their culinary use, I think these bulbs hold their own just for their ornamental value. The blooms are a translucent purple with darker veining and a deep-purple center that make them a striking addition to any garden.

Colchicums are members of the lily family whereas crocus belong to the iris group - See more at:
Colchicums are members of the lily family whereas crocus belong to the iris group - See more at:

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fenton Friday: Sweet Potato Plot

This week at my plot in the Fenton Community Garden, we had another round of torrential rains (almost 3 inches dumped at once) along with tornado warnings and fierce winds. I did not get much time out in the garden, but did manage to dig up the one sweet potato I planted. It was almost 3 pounds worth from one tiny slip so I'm happy with that. It is now curing in my sunroom.

I did notice that my brussel sprouts are taking off rapidly and I have high hopes of being able to harvest some for Thanksgiving!

How is your edible garden growing?