About the SFMGA

Saturday, April 26, 2008

3 Mulching Tips

  • Pull the mulch 3-6 inches away from tree trunks.
  • Thin the mulch so it is no more than 4 inches deep.
  • Loosen the mulch periodically to improve air and water penetration.

Summer Recipes with Herbs

by Janet Hirons, Master Gardener

A quick guide to drying herbs

For the most pungent flavor, pick herbs early in the day. Remove dead or discolored leaves. Choose a drying area dedicated to the drying as it can take a few days to a few weeks for most leaves, stems or flowers. Good air flow with a low humidity level is essential for decreasing the chance of powdery mold developing. Tie together small bunches of stemmed herbs and hang them upside down, or loosely spread them out on a large screen.

You can freeze herbs right from the garden in plastic bags. Use them in soups and stews as you would use fresh. Another quick but costly drying method is to bury herbs in silica crystals.

Once the herbs are dried, they can be crushed and stored. Because light and oxygen are the biggest culprits in destroying the potency of herbs amber glass or ceramic containers are best.

Buttermilk Herb Dip

  • 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup thinly sliced fresh chives
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh dill
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbs. cider vinegar
  • ¼ tsp. Tabasco
  • 1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 ½ tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

Whisk ingredients together. Season with more Tabasco, salt, and pepper to taste. Let sit for 15 minutes, then serve. Yields 3 cups dip; serve with fresh vegetables.

Citrus Marinade

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped shallots or green onions
  • 2 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme, tarragon, dill or sage
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ ground black pepper
Whisk ingredients together; use immediately or refrigerate in a tightly covered jar for up to 2 days. Makes about 1 cup, enough for 2-3 lb. veal or pork chops, steaks, fish, or chicken.

What is a weed? I have heard it said that there are sixty definitions. For me, a weed is a plant out of place. -Donald Culross Peattie, The Flowering Earth

White Wine Marinade

  • 1 bottle, about 3½ cups dry white wine
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tb. chopped fresh thyme, rosemary, or tarragon
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. ground black pepper

Whisk ingredients together, use immediately, or refrigerate in a tightly covered jar for up to 2 days. Makes about 5 cups, enough for a whole chicken.

Dividing Perennials

Keep an eye out for clumps that have grown 2-3 times their size within 2-5 years. Any overgrown clump or any clump that has simply exceeded the space allotted is a candidate for division.

Early spring is a good time for division, when the plants have begun active growth but not so well developed that the root system can't take a little disturbance.

A few things about trees

How to choose the best tree

The most important tip in tree planting

Loosen and break up the soil at least 3 feet out from the trunk of the tree, to a depth of 1 to 1½ feet. This will allow feeder roots to move easily through soil and allow water to percolate down to those roots.

  • strong, straight trunk
  • no cuts or trunk damage
  • evenly spaced branches along trunk
  • no split or broken branches
  • full leaf canopy unless dormant
  • mostly green, healthy leaves unless dormant
  • no diseases or insects present
  • no roots growing out of root ball or container
  • firm, round root ball
  • no roots circling top of container
  • no weeds growing in container
  • moist soil in container

An excellent website for tree information

Here is an excellent site on basic tree, shrub and groundcover information. It includes a pictorial section on practice pruning to help identify pruning needs. University of Florida Professor Ed Gilman on Landscape Plants: http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody

Hypertufa Planters

The look like stone, but you can make them yourself. Create custom shape and size containers for miniature landscapes or for special plants or placement or for a birdbath.

What you need

  • Plastic sheeting or heavy trash bags
  • Molds (start small with plastic bowls and tubs, foam coolers or boxes covered with plastic)
  • Disposable gloves and dust mask
  • Large mixing tub or pail and trowel
  • Measuring container (coffee can, etc.)
  • Sifted peat moss
  • Vermiculite or perlite
  • Fibermesh (fiberglass reinforcing fibers)
  • Cement coloring (optional, add ½ cup per 1 quart cement or experiment with it)
  • Portland cement
  • Wire brush
  • Dowels (½-1") or drill for drainage holes

What you do

Set up your mold or form upside down on a piece of plastic with enough overhang to cover it. The mold should allow your planter to be at least 5 or 6" deep. Cover mold with plastic to facilitate removal. (Or line the inside of the mold and form the planter in the inside shape.) Work in a place out of direct sunlight where it will not freeze and where the planter will not have to be moved for a few weeks. Large containers will be heavy, so you may wish to make them where thy will eventually be placed.

Put on your mask and gloves and mix on part perlite and one part peat in your tub with the trowel. Next add one part Portland cement and color if you wish. Proportions can vary. Combine well. Begin to add water slowly along with a handful of fibermesh. Stir well and thoroughly before adding more water. Mixture should be slightly damp and stick together when you squeeze it. Remove your mask when there are no more hazardous dusk particles in the air.

Beginning at the bottom, press small handfuls of the tufa mixture against the mold about 1" thick. If your mold is more than 12" in diameter, make the walls 2" thick. Too thick is better than too thin. Pat and tamp well to remove air bubbles and to bond tufa mix. Work your way up the mold and cover the top (which will be bottom when you turn it right side up) with 1" to 2" of the mixture, keeping what will be the bottom surface flat. To form the drainage hole now, use your finger or a dowel to poke holes.

When you have the shape and thickness you want, wrap the overhanging plastic around the tufa covered form. Mist it to keep it moist if necessary depending on weather conditions. After 2-7 days it will be firm enough to remove the mold, but it will be several weeks before it is fully cured. The longer you allow for the curing stage, the stronger it will be. Keep planter covered with plastic to slow drying until thoroughly cured.

When the planter is dry, use the wire brush to do any additional shaping or texturing. Any fiberglass that shows on the outside can be burned off with a blowtorch. Because concrete is highly alkaline, it is best to let the planter weather for a few more weeks outside so that the lime can be leached by soaking with a hose or from rain before planting. Cover drain holes with landscape fabric or plastic window screening before adding soil appropriate to your plants.

Your planter should last for many years outside.

Building a Desert Rainwater Garden

©Robert Dailey, Editor, http://desertgardens.suite101.com/

Even with a few inches of rainfall a year, desert gardeners can build a rain garden. Rain gardens are simple, economical ways for desert gardeners to collect rainwater and place it exactly where they want it to go.

When rainwater (or melted snow) runs off a roof, it generally goes down a gutter, onto a splash plate or a French drain and then is shunted away from the house.

For gardeners (and anyone interested in water conservation) there are simple methods to use that water immediately on plants or collect it for later use. The gardener also gets instant gratification the first time it rains.

Building a rain garden

Do you know where your rainwater is?

In general, runoff from a flat roof is 600 gallons of water per inch of rain per thousand square feet of catchment area. Here is the basic formula for calculating the potential amount that can be collected: Multiply the catchment area of building by inches of rain by 600 gallons. Then divide the answer by 1000 to give you the approximate gallons of water coming off your roof.

Example: a 1000 square-foot roof times 2 inches of rain times 600 gallons = 1200,000 divided by 1000 = 1200 gallons of water

Any collection system needs a way to catch runoff. By far the simplest way is to construct a holding area in the landscape: build a rain garden. That's simply a concave area in your yard, garden, hillside, or any other area that will collect any runoff directed to it.

Instead of building a complex drainage system, simply place the collection area where gutter-fed water from the roof will drain into it. Gravity will do the rest.

Next, build a small bermed edge around the concave area. This will help retain more water long enough for plants to absorb the water. Remember that the concave area doesn't have to be circular. It can be elongated (like a dry streambed), irregularly shaped (kidney-shaped for example) or it can meander through other plantings.

Plant the concave area with native vegetation. If you'd like, use true desert plants that tend to bloom when watered by irregular rainfall.

How big do you make your rain garden?

The size of your rain garden depends on the size of the roof or surface area from which the water is drained and the amount of precipitation you receive.

And a rain garden doesn't have to be gargantuan. It can be a few feet or larger in diameter or length.

Rain gardens can also be developed on hillsides. Channels, streambeds, ditches and swales can be built to move and retain water.

A small hillside garden a few feet in diameter can help stabilize a slope. Eventually the vegetation planted there will colonize other areas around it.

Other rain garden catchment areas

Another example of a catchment is the area directly below the drip line from an eave. Make it slightly concave so rainwater will tend to collect along it. Then plant it with vegetation.

Even a slightly sloping sidewalk can be used to direct water into a small holding area where it can nourish plants.

If you've got a paved driveway, this is another opportunity to create a small rain garden at the base of it.

How to use companion plants

Companion planting has been round for centuries. In the days when chemical pesticides did not exist, farmers had to find more natural ways to keep harmful bugs from infesting their crops. Over time they began to realize that certain plants did better when planted with each other, sharing in their fight against harmful bugs, while others fared badly if placed too close together. Modern gardeners have continued to use and perfect this technique, called companion planting.

We come from the earth, we return to the earth, and in between we garden. "When the world wearies and society wearies and society ceases to satisfy there is always the garden." -M. Aumonier

When planning your garden, simply keep this chart in mind. The following list suggests good and bad companion plants:

  • Good: marigold, pepper, tomato
Beans (bush):
  • Good: beets, cabbage, carrots, celery, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, marigold, pea, radish, savory, strawberry, tansy
  • Bad: fennel, onion
Beans (pole):
  • Good: carrots, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, pea, radish, savory, tansy
  • Bad: beets, fennel, onion
  • Good: beans (bush), kohlrabi, lettuce
  • Bad: mustard, beans (pole)
Broccoli and Cabbage:
  • Good: any strong herbs, beans (bush), beets, celery, marigold, nasturtium, onions, potatoes
  • Bad: beans (pole), strawberry, tomato
  • Good:beans (bush and pole), lettuce, onion, peas, radish, sage, tomato
  • Bad: dill
  • Good: beans (bush and pole), corn, lettuce, marigold, nasturtium, onion, peas, radish, savory, sunflowers
  • Bad: any strong herbs, potatoes
  • Good: beans (bush and pole), spinach
  • Good: beans (bush and pole), carrots, cucumbers, onions, radish, strawberries
  • Good: beets, cabbage, carrots, celery, cucumber, lettuce, pepper, savory, squash, strawberries, tomato
  • Bad: beans (bush and pole), peas
  • Good: tomato
  • Good: beans (bush and pole), carrots, corn, cucumber, radish, turnips
  • Bad: onion
  • Good: onion
  • Good: beans (bush and pole), carrots, cucumber, lettuce, melons, peas, spinach, squash
  • Bad: broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, turnips
  • Good: cauliflower, celery, eggplant
  • Good: corn, onion, radish
  • Good: carrots, celery, mint, onion, parsley
  • Bad: cabbage, cauliflower, corn, fennel

Make your own organic soil mix

The organic soil mix is nice for those gardeners who want to know precisely what is going into their soil and garden. To prepare it, blend 2 parts vermiculite, 3 parts fine peat moss, 2 parts perlite, 2 parts manure, 3 parts topsoil, ½ part bonemeal. For an easy general purpose mix, blend 1 part commercial potting soil, 1 part vermiculite, and 1 part peat moss.

The Basics to Planting Tomatoes

Choose a variety that will perform well in your area. The easiest way to do this is to purchase seedlings from a knowledgeable local nursery or garden center. Knowing which varieties work well in Santa Fe climate is the best way to start.

Choose the right place to plant tomatoes. These plants will require at least 6 hours of full sun and rich fertile soil to grow successfully. Scout out your yard, keeping in mind how the sun moves across the sky and how shade from buildings, sheds, carports and trees moves throughout the day. Even the worst soil can be amended with compost, fertilizer and tomato plant food to provide a successful environment.

Tomatoes like plenty of room, at least a foot and a half in all directions. Keep this in mind while you are considering number of plants and location.

Planting Instructions:

Dig a trench at least 1 foot deep. Amend the soil by dumping in equal amounts of compost/fertilizer and soil. Add the recommended amount of plant food. Mix well, keeping the soil loose and friable without large air pockets.

Look at your plant. Pinch off all leaves except for the top cluster (usually 3-6 leaves).

Dig a hole in the amended soil deep enough so as much of the stem as possible is under the soil. The more stem you get under the soil, the better the root system will be. Backfill the hole with soil.

Water slow and deep, allowing the water to soak in slowly. Add a cage or stake to help support the plant, as it grows taller. It should be at least six feet tall and driven about 6 inches into the ground, making sure the stakes are well out of the area of the root ball. Ground cover, like mulch or leaves, can be layered on top of the soil drying out in between watering.

Tomato Growing Advice

Tomatoes take about 12 weeks to grow from seeds to the blossom stage and another 8 weeks to produce ripe fruit. They want overnight temperatures consistently above 55 degrees or protection from cold.

Care instructions:

For the first week, water every other day, making sure it's a deep and slow watering. After that, water once a week, deep and slow. Whenever you water, pull any weeds and survey your plants for any pests.

As the plant grows, you may have to tie the plant to the stake or cage with a bit of yarn or twine, to help provide more support, especially when it begins to bear fruit. Add plant food as directed, making sure to water well after application. Tomato plants are voracious feeders so don't skimp on feeding. When the plant begins to produce, check every other day for ripe fruit and to make sure pests are not "snacking" on your reward.

Transplanting Cacti

When transplanting cacti, position them so plants face the same direction as they did before they were planted. South and southwest sides of plants have been exposed to more direct sunlight and have become toughened and resistant to sunburn. The north and east sides of the plant are more tender and more likely to sunburn and scar or even rot if exposed to intense sunshine. Before transplanting, mark the north side of each plant with chalk or ribbon and replant so that side will again face north.

All about roots

by Janet Hirons, Master Gardener

Most plants absorb very little moisture through their leaves. Almost all the water they need has to get absorbed through their roots. So the more roots they have, the better equipped they are to find and absorb moisture. A well-developed root system with lots of little sponge-like root hairs is a plant's best insurance for survival in drought conditions.

Rainbows and butterflies, cattails and dandelions, waterfalls and rainforests, puppy dogs and dragonflies, sea foam and orcas, sunshine and comets, snowflakes and ice cycles, wildflowers and gardens. The universe thinks of everything.

For a plant to develop a good root system, the roots need to be able to push out into the soil. And to do that, they need to be working in a loose, friable soil—not one that is hard and compacted. Gardeners can help create good conditions for root growth by breaking up hard-packed soil mechanically and/or by adding organic matter. Mixing organic matter in with native soil loosens up the soil and makes it much easier for roots to move in all directions.

Organic matter—such as compost, peat moss, and shredded leaves—makes soil more porous, reducing runoff and helping soil retain water, making more moisture available to roots for a longer time.

Absorbing moisture is the task of the youngest, most tender part of a plants root system—the rooting tips and root hairs. When moisture conditions alternate radically between wet and dry, these root hairs get stressed and damaged. Covering the soil surface with a thick layer of mulch reduces water loss due evaporation, and just as importantly, helps maintain a consistent moisture level in the soil to keep delicate root hairs healthy.

Gardening for Hummingbirds and Butterflies!

by Joy Mandelbaum, Master Gardener and Audubon Project Leader

Flower nectar provides an important part of the diet for both hummingbirds and butterflies.

Think gaudy for hummingbirds — red, yellow, orange and hot pink long tubular flowers.

Plant in masses, stagger the blooming season, and keep bee-attractive plants separate from hummingbird-attracting. For the Santa Fe area, try:

  • Crabapple trees
  • Honey Locust trees
  • Redbud trees
  • Butterfly bushes
  • Lilac bushes
  • Trumpet vines
  • Wisteria vines
  • Agastache
  • Bleeding Hearts
  • Columbines
  • Daylilies
  • Heuchera
  • Kniphofias
  • Lobelia Cardinalis
  • Monarda
  • Cleome
  • Desert Four O'clocks
  • Impatiens
  • Mexican sage
  • Morning Glories
  • Pineapple Sage
  • Salvias
  • Scarlet Sage

Butterflies have somewhat indiscriminate lifestyles. They love a variety of food and nectar sources in a very sunny location—a mud puddle (the pool), some rocks on which to sun (the beach), overripe fruit (dinner) and some of Rover's dung (dessert). Top that off with open-faced flowers in blue-purple and yellow-orange shades. Pupal and larval stage butterflies need food provided by plant leaves and stems. Plants that attract New Mexico's skipper, monarchs, and fritillaries, include:

  • Butterfly bushes
  • Lilac bushes
  • Spirea bushes
  • Wisteria vine
  • Aster family
  • Blanketflower
  • Butterfly Weed
  • Coneflower
  • Cosmos
  • Daisy family
  • Goldenrod
  • Heliotrope
  • Marigolds
  • Mexican Sunflowers
  • Scabiosa
  • Sweet Alyssum
  • Verbena
  • Zinnias

Visit the Randall Davey Audubon Center Master Gardener Wildlife Demonstration Garden to see some of these plantings and enjoy the birds and butterflies!

Tips for Transplanting in Hot Weather

  • Water the garden plants to be dug and/or transplanted that day.
  • Transplant when it is overcast or during the cooler evening hours.
  • Never leave the roots exposed to sun, heat or wind. Soak roots in a bucket of water if possible during preparations.
  • Prepare plants one at a time.
  • Water the hole before you place the transplants into it. Allow the water to settle around the roots and then finish filling the hole. Lightly firm the soil around the transplant.
  • Once again, water the whole plant, leaves and all.
  • If possible, shield the new transplant from direct sunlight for 3-5 days.
  • Check the plant daily for the first couple of weeks. Transplants will need watering every day, if not more.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


  • Pruning dead or diseased wood can and should be done any time of year. If there is any chance of disease, tools should be sterilized with a 10% solution of bleach after pruning each plant. If branches are infected by Fireblight, tools should be sterilized after every cut.
  • Pruning deciduous trees in fall at the time of leaf drop should also be avoided.
  • Pruning paint is not recommended to seal a fresh cut. The plant’s own sap is effective in ridding the bacteria that has accumulated on the fresh cut.
  • If a limb of an evergreen is cut back to a point where there are no longer any needles, it is unlikely that the plant will re-produce growth from the cut.
  • Use tools that are sharpened, oiled, and the right size for the job. A sharp tool that is large enough for the job will make a clean cut. Jagged pruning cuts attract insects and disease.
  • A carefully pruned plant will look better after pruning, with an even distribution of branches and un-noticeable pruning cuts. There will be no short stubs. Weak and dead growth will be taken back to main branches or trunks. Old canes will be removed at the base of the plant. Root sprouts will be cut back to below ground level. And the pruning will be timed so that the flowers and fruit remain in abundance.

Dividing the Rhizomes: What, How and Why

By Cindy Bellinger

Now is the time to divide plants that grow from rhizomes such as the Papaver Poppy, the Bearded Irises and Daylilies. Rhizomes are fleshy, underground rootstalks that send out shoots from its many nodules or eyes as they're sometimes called.

Why Divide

Dividing improves the vigor of plants. In some cases, like the irises, if they get overgrown they may develop a kind of soft, mushy rot that can be taken care of by separating parts of the root. If left undivided, the root systems become enmeshed resulting in:

  • the reduction of size and numbers of flowers
  • many shoots that remain undeveloped
  • new foliage grows poorly

When to Divide

Most can be divided as soon as they are through blooming for the year, and it all depends on the growing conditions. If your plants are happy, they may need dividing sooner because that means they're growing quickly. But here's the rule of thumb:

Papaver Poppies
every 5 years
Bearded Iris
every 2-3 years
every 3-4 years

Late summer is the best time to divide these plants because they've finished blooming and the plants are resting before going into dormancy. When poppies are growing, they become sensitive to disturbance around their roots; so it's best to wait until they've finished their blooms. Irises and daylilies aren't so particular.

How to Divide

The best tools to use are garden forks or rounded spade shovels.

  • water the plant the day before to keep the soil intact
  • dig around and under the entire plant; lifting it carefully
  • prune the blades to about 6 inches; daylilies about 12 inches
  • separate nodules by breaking or using a sharp knife

Planting New Divisions


These plants don't like to have their soil disturbed so try not to knock off the dirt. Set immediately into new holes about 12 to 15 inches apart. They like improved soil. Cover with ½ inch of soil.


Dig hole deep enough to accommodate all those gangly roots, spreading them out the best you can. Iris are tough little guys and don't require much fussing, especially in the Santa Fe area. Our soil dries out enough to discourage rot. But they still like to have portions of the root exposed a bit to catch the air.


Dig a wide shallow hole, making the depth slightly less than the height of the rootball and 6 to 9 inches wider. Place in the hole and backfill with soil, lightly tamping into place.

Gardens and Rabbits: A Relationship Forever

By Cindy Bellinger

My neighbor, who doesn't garden, has taken to naming the cute little bunnies that run around his place. And there seems to be a lot of them as summer comes to a close. So far they haven't nibbled at my place, but I suspect it's just a matter of time. And since I'm getting ready to do some fall planting, it only makes sense to use plants these critters don't like.

Following is a partial list of plants that rabbits usually stay away from. I say usually because it all depends. If they're hungry, they'll eat just about anything. We keep a full list of rabbit resistant plants in our garden center: read another article from our library:

Rabbit Resistant Plants

Try Planting for the Rabbits, Too

A new line of thinking these days is to install a perimeter around a garden with plants that rabbits like. The idea is to give preferred food so they'll leave the rest of the garden alone.

Food Rabbits Like

To plant for rabbits consider the following goodies:

  • parsley
  • mint
  • oregano
  • kale
  • comfrey
  • cauliflower
  • borage
  • basil
  • and don't forget the carrots.

Clover and plantain are other rabbit favorites.

More Rabbit Notes

Master Gardener, Bob Hatton of Amarillo, Texas writes: My cottage garden is home to several rabbits--young and old and year 'round. And if they're hungry enough, they'll eat most anything. But usually I grow the following without damage:

  • Roses (they'll nibble my miniature ones in early spring, but haven't killed any)
  • Abelia, Monarda (Bee balm)
  • Rumex sanguineus Bloody Sorrel)
  • Campanula rotundifolia (Bluebells)
  • Ilex cornuta (Burford holly)
  • Berlandiera lyrata (Chocolate flower)
  • Clematis 'Madame Julia Correvon'
  • Heuchera sanguinea (Coral Bells)
  • Petroselinum (Curly leaf parsley)
  • various Dianthus, Catananche coerulea (Hibiscus)
  • Liatris spicata (Gayfeather)
  • Teucrium chamaedris (Germander)
  • Eupatorium coelestinum (Hardy ageratum)
  • Centranthus ruber (Jupiter's Beard)
  • Ruellia brittoniana (Mexican Petunia)
  • Scabiosa columbaria (Pincushion flower)
  • Ajania pacifica (Silver and gold chrysanthemum)
  • Cerastium tomentosum columnae (Snow in Summer)
  • Verbena goodingii (Verbena)

How often should new plants be watered?

Ask yourself the following questions to develop a feel for watering frequency.

  1. How long since transplanting? Newly planted plants require more frequent watering than established plants. Begin to cut back the frequency after 2 to 3 weeks as the plant roots start growing out into the surrounding soil and the above ground portion of the plant shows strong signs of new growth.
  2. How hot and windy is it? Heat and wind cause increased water loss by plants. When daytime temperatures move into the 80’s, water newly transplanted plants every other day. Once the air temperature hits the 90 degree mark check the plants morning and evening, looking for wilted leaves as an indicator of dryness. Initially, a daily watering WILL be needed for small plants.
  3. How deep did that last rain penetrate the soil? Rain amounts can be deceiving. Always stick a shovel into the ground after a rain and do a visual check as to how deeply the water soaked into the soil. The soil needs to be damp at least 4 inches deep to do new transplants any good.
  4. What pot size was the plant was grown in? Small perennials and bedding plants transplanted from 4 packs and 4” pots will need more frequent irrigation than 5 gallon sized trees. Don’t water 4” and 5 gallon plants on the same schedule.
  5. Have the plants been mulched? Mulching plants can cut watering frequency by half (e.g. every other day vs. daily, twice weekly vs. every other day.)
  6. What type of soil you have? Compost enriched soils hold more water in the root zone that unprepared soils. Clay and loam type soils hold more water than sandy soils. Sandy soils dry out very quickly and plants will need very frequent irrigation when first planted. Also keep in mind that when climate conditions are very dry, extra water is needed to replaced moisture lost to the dry soil surrounding the planting hole.

To minimize the frequency of watering, mulch thoroughly, enrich the soil with compost and mix in water holding crystals (Broadleaf P-4). As a point of reference, during hot, rainless periods a healthy, established annual or perennial plant should be watered one to three times a week. A woody tree or shrub under these same conditions would need a thorough soaking once or twice weekly.

How much should the plants be watered?

Always construct an ample water saucer (well) around each plant and mulch. When it is time to water, fill the well twice allowing the water to be absorbed completely before filling it a second time. During the dry, hot months of the summer conventional turf lawns and groundcover beds will need one inch of water every week. Native grass lawns and xeric groundcovers need one inch every other week. Set out a rain gauge or coffee can to measure the amount applied.

When you water, soak the soil thoroughly. It is preferable to water more heavily and less frequently than to water lightly with much greater frequency. Deep watering promotes deep root growth.

What are signs of over-watering?

When the soil stays wet and the leaves of recent transplants become yellow and chlorotic looking, cut back your watering by half. Not half the amount, half the frequency. If you’re watering every other day, cut back to once every forth day.

If you are watering regularly but the leaves look wilted all the time, the plant roots are dying of suffocation. Too much water keeps the soil waterlogged and oxygen deficient. Pull back the mulch from the plant and let the top inch of the soil dry between waterings.

But these plants are supposed to be xeric!

“I planted my xeric Penstemon and watered it that day. I came back two weeks later and it was dead! I thought this plant didn’t need any extra water?” To this I say “yes and no”. No, xeric plants don’t need much extra water once established. But yes, even xeric plants need careful attention to their watering needs during the first growing season. Xeric plants have extensive root systems that pull water from the surrounding soil, but until a new transplant can re-establish its root system, it needs regular irrigation during rainless periods to grow and prosper.

Forget the Thumb over the end of the hose Method

When hand-watering with a hose, it is of critical importance that some type of water breaker be used. A hard stream of water straight from the end of the hose will dig-up smaller plants and expose the roots of trees and shrubs. We use a water wand (a tubular metal extension handle with a hand grip and thumb operated on-off valve) with a round waterbreaker on the end. The waterbreaker divides the forceful stream of water into hundreds of small streams thus dissipating the force of the water and creating a gentle rain to water with. Dramm makes an excellent water wand and waterbreaker combination.

When watering small seedlings or plants on a slope, I like to use a rose flare type waterbreaker to provide a gentle, low volume water flow. When hand watering on a slope with a rose flare, water until the water is not being absorbed by the soil and begins to run-off. Stop, let it soak in a few minutes and start again. Repeat this process 4 or 5 time until the soil is wet to a depth of 4 or more inches. This technique will reduce the amount of run-off and slope erosion.

And a Rule of Thumb

Watering schedules depend on where you live, the type of garden soil, the type of plants. Generally, non-xeric plants need irrigating 1 to 2 times weekly in the summer. Xeric plants need a deep soaking once every week to ten days. Very xeric trees and shrubs need a deep soaking monthly if conditions are dry.


  • A 5-gallon potted xeric shrub/tree needs 5 gallons of water per application
  • Most perennials need 1 to 2 gallons of water 2 times a week.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Garden Gold

The single most important thing the home gardener can do for his garden is to learn how to compost. Continually adding compost to the home garden

  • Increases its water-holding capacity
  • Invigorates the soil food web
  • Increases plant nutrients
  • Aids in plants' ability to respond to insects and diseases
  • Detoxifies the soil

Compost is the product is the product of a controlled biological process that decomposes organic material in rapid fashion. Speed is the difference in the way man and nature create the same thing. Nature mulches over a long time. Man creates compost by controlling the natural mulching process in a short time.


Worms Eat My Garbage, Mary Appelhof, Flowerfield Enterprises, 2006

The process begins with vegetable material that is broken down by the biological process. Carbon-heavy materials like straw, leaves, newspaper, and sawdust are balanced with nitrogen-heavy materials like manures (herbivore only), grass clippings, or food waste. These materials are best mixed in a ratio of 3 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen by volume. Composting will occur best in some sort of structure such as heaps, piles, bins, or barrels.

The compost process requires several other things to be successful:

  • Air – turning over the compost in its structure is essential. Air is circulated and particles are broken up.
  • Moisture – some moisture exists in the materials being composted, but adding a little more to ensure an even level of moisture throughout is a good practice.
  • Particle size – the smaller, the better. Materials should be no larger than two inches. Shedding materials is a good practice that shortens the time it takes to compost completely.

This article provided courtesy of the Fayette County Master Gardeners, Lexington, KY

Plant Trees to Offset Global Warming

Trees are important tools in the fight to stave off global warming because they absorb and store CO2 (carbon sequestration) before it has a chance to reach the upper atmosphere where it can trap heat around the earth's surface. Trees process significantly more CO2 than smaller plants because of their size and extensive root structures. They exude oxygen as they absorb CO2, thereby serving as the lungs of the earth.


Firefly Encyclopedia of Trees, Steve Cafferty, Firefly Press

Well placed trees can also lower utility bills. a shaded house needs less air conditioning, reducing the use of fossil fuels. The evaporation of moisture from leaves cools the air around the home. The absence of leaves in winter allows the sun's rays to pass through the bare branches to help heat the home.

So, plant a tree… or many trees! Before planting, however, consult an urban forester for a list of appropriate trees for your site. Choose native trees, which are already adapted to our climate, soils, and weather conditions. Avoid trees that require a lot of maintenance, because the burning of fossil fuels for power equipment such as chain saws and trucks will only erase the carbon absorption gains otherwise made.

Google "New Mexico native trees" or Ask a Master Gardener for lists of native trees to sequester carbon.

Man – despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication, and his many accomplishments – owes his existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.

This article provided courtesy of the Fayette County Master Gardeners, Lexington, KY

Propagation – Plants for Free


How to Propagate: Techniques and Tips for Over 1000 Plants, John Cushnie, Ball Publishing, 2007

Propagation is starting plants from seeds, division, or cuttings. Here are some easy ways to propagate plants that will give you many free plants for your use or for sharing.

Sowing and saving seeds:
  • Annuals and biennials such as sunflower, poppy, zinnia, cockscomb, cleome, nigella, and heirloom vegetables are excellent for harvesting seeds.
  • Allow the seeds to dry on the plant or cut them and place them in a warm place. The seedpod will open. Use a sieve to extract the seeds.
  • Store the seeds in your refrigerator. Use clearly marked sealed paper envelopes placed in a lidded plastic container. Sow seeds at the appropriate time for your zone and seed type.
Dividing plants:
  • Division is best saved for autumn: intense summer heat will stress the plant.
  • Dig up the plant and cut the root ball into pieces with a sharp shovel or knife. This works well with hostas, phlox, day lilies, and many perennials.
  • Cut apart the rhizomes or tubers of calla lilies, banana, elephant ears, cannas, and iris to increase the number of plants.
  • A new plant may be started from cuttings by using a stem, leaf, or part of the roots.
  • A growing medium is critical for success, and a hormone-rooting compound is commonly used to encourage growth.
  • Cuttings should be taken from healthy plants with sharp tools so no damage is done to the parent plant or the cutting.

Other methods of propagation include air layering, grafting, budding and tissue culure. Books abound on the topic and are important for plant specific information. Please remember that some plants are patented. Review this website for more information: www.ams.usda.gov/science/pvpo/PVPindex.htm

This article was provided courtesy of the Fayette County Master Gardeners, Lexington, KY

Bug Me!

Beneficial Insects in the Yard and Garden

Did you know that fewer than 10% of insects cause damage to gardens? The remaining 90% of insects are either helpful or at least non-destructive. People often spend money and time on broad spectrum insecticides, which kill all the insects in their yards and gardens. Only later do they discover that they have destroyed the very insects that were helping the garden. These beneficial insects serve a number of different functions.

  • They help in the production of fruits, vegetables, and flowers by pollinating the blossoms.
  • Parasitic insects destroy other harmful insects by living on or in their bodies and their eggs.
  • Insect predators capture and devour other insects.
  • Scavenging insects eat the bodies of dead animals and plants and bury carcasses and dung.

A few beneficial insects to watch for in the garden include

  • assassin bugs that eat caterpillar pests
  • bees, butterflies, and moths that pollinate flowers, fruits, and vegetables
  • centipedes that eat slugs, snails, and ground beetles
  • green lacewings that eat aphids
  • praying mantids that feed on aphids, flies, beetles, and grasshoppers


Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, Fern Marshall Bradley, Rodale Press, 1993

Gardens with a wide variety of nectar producing plants attract beneficial insects. Ideally, a garden should have plants in continuous bloom for as long as possible. A thick layer of mulch around plants not only retains moisture and controls weeds, but also provides shelter for some of the most valuable insect predators. Providing beneficial insects with food and shelter increases their numbers and provides plenty of organic insect control for the garden's ecosystem.

Growing plants that attract beneficial insects helps create a balance in the garden. Certain plant families, like carrot, and sunflower, along with nectar-producing flowers, are particularly enticing to beneficial insects. Good plants to grow in the garden or yard to lure beneficial insects and keep them happy include:

bee balmcoreopsisgoldenrodsunflower
cloverevening primroseparseyyarrow

This article provided courtesy of the Fayette County Master Gardeners, Lexington, KY



Green Living, Environmental Magazine, eds., Penguin Group, 2005

Would you like to help reduce waste, consume less energy, and decrease our use of the earth's natural resources? If you don't know where to start, here are some simple ideas for making your life greener and protecting our environment.

  • Use a rain barrel to collect water for your garden.
  • Build a rain garden to intercept and slow runoff, absorb or trap pollutants, and attract wildlife.
  • Grow a vegetable garden or buy locally-grown produce at a farmers' market.
  • Start a compost pile or worm bin. Compost yard and garden waste and kitchen vegetable scraps. Use your compost's black gold in your garden.
  • Mulch your garden. It is moisture-retentive and a natural fertilizer.
  • Create a backyard wildlife habitat and get it certified by the National Wildlife Federation.
  • Plant a tree. Its shade and evaporative cooling will let you use less air conditioning.
  • Use organic fertilizers and pesticides to avoid adding toxic chemicals to the environment. Learn about Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Follow application directions carefully.
  • Recycle newspapers to save trees. Use them as mulch, in your worm bin, or recycle them at a center.
  • Teach your children to recycle. Help them start a recycling program at their school, including composting.
  • Install a graywater system. Reusable graywater makes up 60-65% of the total indoor water consumption in an average American home. Graywater reuse can cut water consumption by 30% for the average family of four.

This article provided courtesy of the Fayette County Master Gardeners, Lexington, KY



Dry-Land Gardener's Handbook, Jennifer Bennett, Firefly Books, Ltd., 2005

In this time of increasing concern regarding our fragile water systems, conservation becomes very important. Incorporating principles of water conservation through creative landscaping is known as xeriscaping.

  1. Planning and design: Have a plan. Become familiar with the topography, exposure, and soil in your garden. Create planting zones and group plants by their needs. Plant in full sun, if plants are tough and drought-tolerant. If less tolerant, give them shade and, for the more delicate plants, select a spot more near water.
  2. Appropriate planting material: For the most part, use plants that thrive in this during low water conditions. This often includes native plants. Also consider designing a succulent garden.
  3. Soil improvement: Incorporate generous amounts of organic matter to improve water penetration and retention in any type of soil. Rich, loose, water-holding soil will encourage good root development which lessens the need for supplemental water.
  4. Mulch: Shredded bark and compost keeps the soil cool, eliminates weed competition, reduces evaporation from the soil surface, and gradually decomposes and feeds the soil.
  5. Lawn: Think about how much water, fertilizer, and gasoline a lawn requires and plan to have less lawn when possible. Take into consideration the purpose of the lawn. If it is primarily a ground cover, there are other options that would be less labor and water intensive.
  6. Efficient watering: In addition to efficient grouping, consider drip irrigation. This system allows control of when and how much water a plant gets and directs the water only to the plants that need it. Soaker hoses are not expensive and are a good choice for watering beds and borders. Base the watering schedule on the plants' needs and not on an arbitrary schedule.
  7. Appropriate maintenance: Watering, weeding, pruning, deadheading, and sensible pest management will all factor into the quality of your garden.

This article provided courtesy of the Fayette County Master Gardeners, Lexington, KY

"Green" Vegetable Gardening

Try it, you'll like it!

Green gardening is an attitude, a holistic approach that seeks to put more back into the soil than is removed by planting, growing, and harvesting vegetables. By constantly improving the soil, a sustainable balance is achieved. Such stewardship of the soil is accomplished by

  • Composting and mulching, which improves water holding capability and enriches the soil without commercial fertilizers
  • Introducing compost regularly, which adds beneficial micro-organisms that aid in keeping pathogenic organisms at bay
  • Employing green cover crops, which improves seed friability, oxygen levels, and drainage once the green manure is turned over.

Diversity is another key to gardening green. Plant several kinds of plants in the same general space. Techniques that improve diversity include

  • Planting different varieties of vegetable and flowers in close proximity to each other
  • Planting companion plants that are beneficial to each other
  • Planting dedicated beds instead of long rows
  • Rotating crops from season to season

Diversity techniques confuse predatory insects, preventing them from gaining a foothold in the garden, help even out nutrient and water requirements of the vegetables, and prevent soil exhaustion. Because inorganic fertilizers are not used, vegetable plants tend to grow stronger and deeper root systems that are healthier and more drought tolerant.

Choosing smarter varieties of vegetables is a good practice as well. Resistance to disease and pests has been introduced into varieties that the green gardener can easily find in seed catalogues. Heirloom varieties are also attractive options. These varieties (and their seeds) have been handed down over the years. Heirlooms have been adapted to the local climate and have a certain degree of evolutionary persistence.

Search for Seed Savers Exchange at www.seedsavers.org

This article provided courtesy of the Fayette County Master Gardeners in Lexington, KY