Early Spring Perennials

What better time than snowy February to begin planning your perennial garden. Whether it’s a complete perennial garden or just adding one or three additional plants to an existing garden, now is the time. Here are a few selections from the garden at Iowa State to help in your planning.

iowa stateuniversity©

Coffee grounds in gardening – the hacks that work and the ones that don’t

You’ve probably heard all about using coffee grounds in gardening. But does using coffee actually work, and if so, how do you use coffee grounds correctly, for maximum benefit to your soil and plants?

You’ve put your best coffee maker to good use – now, find out how to make the most of your coffee waste while gardening. When figuring out how to use coffee grounds in the garden, make sure you concentrate your efforts on the garden hacks that are really useful – and avoid those that have been proved to be myths.


1. Make your own fertilizer for plants

You can create your own fertilizer from coffee grounds, saving the expense of buying a commercial version. Fertilizers are used to provide a source of nutrients for plants and improve their growth and, even if your soil is healthy, they could result in a better display from flowering plants and a bigger harvest in kitchen gardens.

Coffee grounds contain many of the nutrients commonly found in plant fertilizer. According to coffee expert Lewis Spencer of Coffee-Direct.co.uk, ‘coffee grounds have a varied amount of essential nutrients in each batch, but they all contain nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus alongside micronutrients.’

There won’t be a huge amount of these nutrients in the coffee grounds – far less than the concentrations found in commercially produced fertilizer – but this can be a good thing, as a slow release of nutrients is actually better for a healthy garden than a massive dose all at once.

According to Spencer, ‘plants such as carrots, azaleas and roses would appreciate a nice boost from coffee grounds.’

There are some plants, however, coffee grounds are not suitable. This isn’t because coffee grounds acidify soil (this is a myth), but because applying coffee grounds straight to the soil can inhibit seedlings from growing. This seems to be especially true of tomato seedlings, so avoid using coffee grounds if you’re growing tomatoes.

You can make your own liquid plant fertilizer by filling a bucket with 5 gallons of water and mix in two cups of brewed coffee grounds. Leave overnight before using. 

2. Use coffee grounds in compost

Coffee grounds are excellent for use in compost; in fact, composting yours is far better for your garden than putting them directly on your veggie beds. One of the main benefits of compost in your garden is opening up the soil structure, which aids aeration and microbial exchange.  

If you know how to make compost then you’ll know that it’s made using both brown ingredients – that’s things like dried leaves, twigs, and newspaper – and green materials, including grass clippings and dead flowers. 

Coffee grounds can contribute to its green ingredients. Add the filter paper, too – only if it’s unbleached – which can be part of the mix and means you’ll be generating even less household waste. 

3. Add coffee grounds to mulch

Using mulch in the garden has an array of advantages. Mulching is one of the best ways to kill weeds naturally by inhibiting their growth. It can help the soil retain water, which protects the roots from drying out and can help protect plants from frost. 

Mix the coffee grounds with other organic matter such as leaf mold. In this way, you’ll reduce the risk of clumps which could stop the water from reaching plant roots. Make sure you don’t use a thick layer either because plants could be sensitive to the caffeine in the grounds.

4. Feed worms with coffee grounds

Worms, or at least the sort that you’d use in a wormery, are fans of coffee grounds, it seems. If you’re are a vermicomposter – or like the idea of becoming one – coffee grounds can be part of the kitchen waste you add to your worm bin.

Vermicomposting employs the skills of particular types of worm to turn scraps from the kitchen along with other green waste into both compost rich in nutrients and liquid fertilizer. 

You can add a cup of coffee grounds a week to a small worm bin. Make sure you never put in too much at one time, though, as the acidity could be a problem. Oh, and you can add the paper filter as well. Neat.

Which vegetable plants in particular like used coffee grounds and why?

‘As coffee grounds are close to pH neutral, acid-loving vegetable plants will benefit the most. This is because the grounds lead to better harvest by providing extra nutrients. Cabbage, carrots, potatoes, radishes, turnips, squash, and soybeans all like used coffee grounds,’ says Spencer. 

Can you put too many coffee grounds in your garden? 

In a word, yes. This isn’t because coffee grounds will acidify your soil (they’re not nearly acidic enough to do this), but because, as Spencer explains, ‘the small particles can clump together creating a water-resistant barrier, stunting plant growth.’ 

So, ‘always use the grounds sparingly and never in large quantities. Coffee grounds will not kill grown plants, it will just take some recovery time in the event of excess application. To rectify using too much, use a rake to separate the particles into finer bits.’

Can you put coffee grounds in potted plants?

This isn’t recommended. ‘As coffee grounds can easily become compact, adding them directly to the potting soil of potted plants could create a thick layer. This will trap the plant of moisture and can cause fungal overgrowth. 

‘Instead of direct application, only use a thin ½ inch layer before covering with a four inch layer of mulch. Coffee grounds work best as mulch when mixed with organic matter. Only do this if your plants are large, small potted plants won’t benefit from the grounds as they have less surface area to retain moisture.’

Do coffee grounds repel slugs?

This one is a myth, unfortunately. Blogger at Garden Myths Robert Pavlis tried the coffee grounds method – and, guess what, the slugs happily crawled all over the coffee grounds and still ate his plants.

What does work, according to a study by Nature.com, is freshly brewed, strong coffee that’s been cooled down. Water the area that slugs frequent; the slugs will absorb the caffeine through their bodies and die. It’s not a humane method of getting rid of them, but it will work.

We should all be drinking more coffee ☕️ right?

Article by Sarah Warwick for Real Homes©

Source: How to use coffee grounds in gardening – the hacks that work and the ones that don’t (msn.com)

More Gardening Trends For 2022

The Outdoor Office

If you’ve been following all the trends, then you’ve put in a lot of work to create a beautiful, stress-relieving place full of interesting sights, scents, and sounds. Are you only going to use it when you’ve got time off on the weekends? Many people are saying absolutely not to that idea! With more people than ever before working from home, outdoor offices are starting to trend.

What does it take to build an outdoor office? If you’ve built an outdoor living room, then you likely already have most of what you need. The key elements are a workspace, which will consist of a table and chair within Wi-Fi range and near to power outlets, shade to keep the glare off your laptop, and privacy in the form of hedges, fences, or lush trellises so that your neighbors don’t accidentally interrupt your Zoom meetings.

Gardening For Climate Change

As the effects of climate change become more extreme, people have started to respond with the way that they garden—though this means different things in different areas. Areas that are experiencing record-breaking wildfires are doing what’s known as “firescaping.” Firescaping means fireproofing the landscape as much as possible by doing things like:

  • Planting water-retaining plants, which are slower to catch fire.
  • Creating defensible spaces around the home, which often means moving wood-mulched beds away and creating fire-resistant beds immediately around the house instead.
  • Using stone, brick, or concrete paths or walls to create firebreaks within the landscape.

Elsewhere, where people are experiencing record rainfall, popular gardening trends include planting water-loving plants in lower areas where water collects or protecting against erosion with groundcovers and other things that have root systems to keep soil in place.

One part of this trend defies regional conditions, and that is the rise of low carbon gardening. Low carbon gardening places an emphasis on purchasing locally produced plants, materials and products for the garden, thereby reducing the carbon emissions created via long-distance shipping. Many also choose to reduce their environmental impact even further by not only purchasing local goods, but also by purchasing renewable or easily recyclable things such as wood or metal patio furniture instead of plastic.

Ready to get growing? Use these trends as your roadmap to create a gorgeous outdoor space for the summer! 

Article by Amber Kanuckel for Farmer’s almanac.com©

Source: Gardening Trends for 2022 – Farmers’ Almanac (farmersalmanac.com)

For more gardening trends, click here: Gardening Trends For 2022 – TUTORING YOU

Create a Focal Point in your Garden Bed 

Another way that you can arrange plants in your landscape is by creating a focal point. Pick a superstar plant that you love or even position a sculpture or other object as the focus of your garden bed. Then arrange plants around the focal point to bring it all together. 

(CC0 1.0), via Pixabay

In landscaping, focal points are plants or objects that stand out from the background. Place focal points within the landscape in a way that will draw attention to a particular area of the garden. The purpose of focal points in a landscape are many. Focal points do several things in a landscape. First, they create a resting spot in your garden. Focal points are a great way to guide a person to a destination. They are an important tool for garden designers. Why? Because they are a way to control how people will view the garden. When used correctly, focal points will create a special moment (or moments) in your garden.

It’s important to note that focal points do not exist in a vacuum. Focal points are always viewed WITH the other plants and elements in your landscape. So, while they are the element that stands out and guides the eye, they also have to fit with the overall aesthetic of the landscape they are placed into.

Try arranging a group of plants around a focal point, like a pot, statue or even a vibrant plant. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

Source: Arrange Plants In Your Garden – 3 Simple Ways – Pretty Purple Door

Install a Rain Barrel This Summer

If you are concerned about conserving water resources and
have noticed runoff or erosion issues in your community, your
home might be the perfect environment for a rain barrel!
You’ll especially love rain barrels if you are busy gardening
during the summer months.
According to the United States Geological Survey, a 1-inch
rainstorm over a 40×70 foot roof can equal over 1,700 gallons
of water. Imagine all the ways you could use that water if you
could keep it on your property! That is where rain barrels
come in.


Rain barrels utilize a large container that is designed to collect
rainwater. These can be either store-bought or homemade, but
the purpose is the same: collect rainwater for plant irrigation.
Rain barrels can reduce flooding along with irrigating plants
like woody and herbaceous ornamentals along with lawns.
Rain barrels also direct water away from home foundations
and therefore can prevent basement flooding and save on
costs. In addition, rain barrels reduce the amount of water
running into lakes and rivers, thus reducing erosion and
storm water pollution.
Now is the time that you might ask yourself, “Is the water safe
to use in my vegetable garden?” Unfortunately, there are
limited studies to answer this question fully, but a few have
been done on asphalt roofs. Because of possible leaching from
asbestos roofs, it is generally recommended to avoid using a
rain barrel to catch and use that water. Rutgers researchers
found that heavy metal and pathogen levels did not exceed
EPA standards, but precautions should be taken to minimize
risk. Most notably, the water should be treated with 1/8 a
teaspoon of household bleach per 1 gallon of water. This
amounts to about an ounce if you have a standard 55-gallon
rain barrel. After applying the bleach, wait 24 hours before
using the water.

Rain barrels should be installed on even surfaces that are
slightly raised to increase pressure and encourage the flow of
water when emptying. Be sure to secure the rain barrel to
prevent tipping as they are very heavy when full and can be a
hazard. Be sure the inlet leads is protected by a screen to
prevent debris from clogging your hoses.
To maximize the conversation impact of your new rain barrel,
consider planting drought resistant plants such as native
Illinois prairie plants. These plant roots are deep and can
handle large rainfalls along with the hot dry summers.
Consider planting them along the path of your rain barrel
overflow spout to create a small rain garden and absorb the
extra water

By Gemini Bhalsod

Source: gardeners_corner_2019_summer.pdf (illinois.edu)


April gardening jobs come thick and fast as it is the prime month for getting your plot ready for the rest of the year.

The soil will be warming up and dampened by showers, making it perfect for planting and sowing, and plants are growing well, filling beds, borders and containers with that luscious fresh green that is the calling card of spring.

The most important April gardening jobs include some of the best ways of keeping plants healthy and flowering, as well as preparing your plot for the longer days and plentiful sunshine ahead. 


(Image credit: Alamy/Britain Gardens and Flowers)

Shrubs grown as part of your container gardening ideas will need some extra love now as they return to growth. Whether they are ornamental plants or one of the many fruit bushes that thrive in a confined space, they need some extra goodness to start them off.

Because they only have a finite amount of food in their pots, you need to topdress them – remove the top couple of inches of old compost, add a granular fertilizer, then replenish with fresh compost and water well.

While you do so, check for creamy vine weevil grubs that eat the roots of many container plants. They are often curled into a C-shape and have brown heads and can be killed off with a solution of Vine Weevil Killer, available from Amazon.

Top tip: If you are growing rhododendrons, azaleas or blueberries in pots, make sure you use ericaceous compost and fertilizer.


(Image credit: Future/Ruth Hayes)

Any softwood or semi-ripe cuttings taken from perennials last autumn should have rooted and grown through winter and will be ready to pot up individually now.

Hardwood cuttings taken from shrubs should be left alone until the coming fall, as they take a lot longer to produce roots than their more flexible cuttings cousins.

Once you’ve learned how to take cuttings from plants, you’ll be able to spot if the cuttings have rooted, or ‘taken’ successfully because they will have grown since they were potted up.

Start the potting-up process by standing the cuttings’ pot or pots in water for around 30 minutes to soak the compost, then gently tap them out. If you have more than one cutting per pot, carefully separate the roots so the young plants can be potted up individually.

Inspect the roots to make sure they are robust and healthy (if they aren’t strong, repot them in cuttings compost, water them in and leave them for a few more weeks) then pot each plantlet in its own 3in (7cm) pot of multipurpose or John Innes No 2 compost.

Set them somewhere light and frost-free for a few more weeks, keeping their compost damp and the plants pest-free. They can be hardened off and planted out to flower this summer.

Top tip: If the cuttings starts to produce flower buds while they are still in the greenhouse, pinch them out so all energy is directed towards growing rather than flowering.


(Image credit: Future)

Now the weather should be getting reliably warmer, you can cut back the more tender perennials you have growing in your garden.

Penstemons and salvias are not a big fan of our grey wet winters, and it is not unusual for both plants to turn up their toes in sodden, freezing soils during the coldest months. One of the best ways to help them survive winter is to leave last year’s stems attached in fall, as they help insulate the crown. 

Penstemon shoots appearing at the base of healthy plants now is the signal to remove the old stems. Cut them down to just above the lowest new shoots, then feed with blood, fish and bone or another granular fertilizer and water it in. They should soon start to grow well.

Click the link below for more April gardening tips.

Article by Ruth Hayes for Gardeningetc.com©

Source: April gardening jobs: our top 10 tasks to do this month | GardeningEtc

How to Create a Garden on Your Balcony in 4 Easy Steps

Because spring has sprung and waits for no one

A balcony at a home in Germany.Photo: Getty Images

Designing a green space on your balcony or terrace does not only enhance your wellbeing by bringing nature to your doorstep, but it also adds an element of beauty that can provide fresh ingredients for your kitchen. As there’s no natural soil on a balcony, this exercise goes hand-in-hand with any potted plants you might want to add to your indoor space while you are at the garden center. 

There’s a Chinese proverb that reads, “Life begins the day you start a garden.” As life begins anew with the spring equinox, AD spoke to three experts about how to build a garden on a balcony of your own in four simple steps.

Conduct some initial research and examine your space

Before you get started, double check your building’s rules to make sure you’re actually allowed to install trellises in your space. It’s worth finding out if you’re permitted to paint the sidewalls of your balcony as well. From there, figure out what you can grow according to your local climate. This can be easily done by logging your zip code into the USDA Hardiness Zone Map. Next, check which plants are best suited to your location as every balcony has slightly different challenges to consider. For example, is your space in the full sun all day? Is it open to the elements and gets windy and cold? Depending on the exposure to the elements, you have to slightly adjust which plants you can grow.

After conducting some research, the real fun can begin—designing and planting. Interior and garden designer and author Jane Cumberbatch suggests using your balcony as part of your living space: “However small, it’s about treating your outside space as if it’s an extension of your interior no matter how many floors above ground level. Folding chairs and a table to eat and drink at, or while away an afternoon with a book, are essential features.”

Cumberbatch recommends painting your balcony in a sludgy garden green for a back-to-nature or cottage garden look, or simply white for a more modern feel. She adds, “Think also how you might use the walls or railings as supports for climbers such as a fragrant jasmine or honeysuckle.”

Figure out what to plant

You’ll want to decide what it is you are after: Is it color? Greenery? Or perhaps an outdoor larder for fresh ingredients? Josh Kirschenbaum, vegetable accounts manager from PanAmerican Seed suggests that “if you like flower-filled containers but have no sun to speak of, Impatiens are your plant. They have great flower coverage and come in pink, violet, and red hues, along with white for great contrast. Or try a “Shangri-La” Philodendron, which has large split-leaf branches with a tropical appearance, making your balcony feel like a true getaway.” Try these varieties for a splash of verdant beauty.

Get ahold of the right materials

Scouring flea markets for interesting items that might double as planters or extend your indoor design scheme to your outdoor space is always a good idea. Head to garden centers and home decor stores for inspiration, and choose pots and planters—maybe an antique ladder as a shelf alternative—and an overall color scheme. As Kirschenbaum advises, “The container size should be large and sturdy enough to hold enough soil volume for the plant and its root system. Plus, larger containers will retain more moisture, and containers always need more watering than plants grown in the ground.”

Do your bit for the environment

Keeping the “reduce, reuse, recycle” philosophy in mind, consider dedicating a corner of your kitchen or outdoor space to composting. “Composting allows you to feed house plants and balcony containers, reduces household waste, and saves you a trip to the dumpster,” Gail Pabst from the National Garden Bureau says.” Something like this Ceramic Compost Crock is perfect for collection.”

By Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey for AD©

Source: How to Create a Balcony Garden in 4 Easy Steps | Architectural Digest | Architectural Digest

Pinching Plants: How to Pinch a Plant for Better Growth

Pinching plants is a surefire way to achieve fuller, lusher plants without a lot of effort by simply removing the top portion. But if the thought of deliberately removing stems from your beloved plants sounds scary, we’ve got your back. Successful plant-pinching all comes down to timing and technique. Here’s how to pinch a plant and why it could be the perfect way to take your plants from basic to beautiful.

What Is Plant Pinching?

Pinching plants is the act of removing the end of a plant just above a node (or bulge) on the stem where the leaves are attached. You remove the end set of leaves or buds and, in response, the plant sends out two new branches (also known as lateral stems), which results in more leaves and flowers. While pinching isn’t absolutely essential, it’s a next-level gardening trick that can help many plants perform better.

Plants You Should Pinch

Certain plants benefit from pinching more than others. Here are a few to prioritize.

Late-season flowering perennials, such as:

  • Aster
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Helenium
  • Perovskia (aka Russian sage)
  • Phlox
  • Sedum
  • Veronica

Flowering annuals, such as:

  • Coleus
  • Cosmos
  • Impatiens
  • Petunia
  • Salvia
  • Snapdragon
  • Verbena
  • Zinnia

Many common herbs, such as:

  • Basil
  • Lavender
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme

Plants You Shouldn’t Pinch

In general, resist the urge to pinch plants with one flower per stem or low-to-the-ground leaves. If you pinch these plants, you could inadvertently remove the only flowers they’ll produce for the year.

Specific examples include:

  • Astilbe
  • Columbine
  • Daylily and other types of lilies
  • Delphinium
  • Dianthus
  • Heuchera
  • Hosta
  • Hydrangea
  • Iris
  • Peony

How to Pinch a Plant

The only tools you need to pinch a plant are your thumb and forefinger. Simply grab on at the end of a node, push your fingernails in and give a gentle tug. For bigger jobs, you can use a pair of scissors or handheld shears.

When to Pinch Plants

When to pinch depends on the type of plant. As a general rule, most pinchable plants benefit from one or two good sessions per growing season.

Pinch back fall-blooming perennials, such as asters and chrysanthemums, every several weeks, but stop by the 4th of July so they have enough time to produce their signature autumn colors. The University of Nebraska Extension recommends pinching flowering annuals when they reach 12 to 18 inches tall and start to look a bit leggy — most likely sometime in June through August. Prioritize pinching herbs earlier in the growing season to set yourself up for a bigger harvest down the road (and as a bonus, you can top your pizza with whatever you pull off).

Benefits of Pinching Plants

Gardeners pinch plants primarily to encourage a fuller growth habit and more flowers. You can also use pinching as a method to stagger and extend your plants’ bloom time. By pinching back a third to a half of your stems, they’ll bloom later than those left unpinched. Instead of one big burst of color, you’ll have waves several weeks apart. It’s also a great way to even out your plant if one spot had a growth spurt and now looks uneven.

Other Ways to Cut Back Your Plants

In addition to pinching, you can use other methods to cut back plants. While the techniques differ, they’re all ways to help plants achieve a desired look and shape.

  • Deadheading: While it may sound frightening, deadheading is simply the act of popping off flowers that are past their prime. It encourages plants to either produce more flowers or develop stronger roots, stems and foliage instead of producing seeds. As with pinching, simply pop off spent blooms with your fingers.
  • Pruning: More commonly used to maintain shrubs and trees, pruning is the act of cutting back or removing stems, branches or portions of the plant that are dead, unhealthy or otherwise unwanted. Some gardeners also prune to encourage new growth or achieve a specific shape on established plants. Unlike pinching and deadheading, gardeners typically prune using shears or loppers.
  • Shearing: Shearing plants is akin to a buzz cut. You’re simply removing the outer layers in a uniform manner. Picture a square-shaped hedge in a formal garden — chances are its signature shape is maintained through shearing. It’s most commonly performed on evergreens and shrubs using — you guessed it — shears to achieve a uniform, tailored look.

It’s understandable that it can be challenging to bring yourself to pinch back the stems you worked so hard to grow. But you’ll experience the payoff in the form of fuller, lusher plants in just a few weeks.

Article by Kelly Reilly for Burpee©

Source: Pinching Plants: How to Pinch a Plant for Better Growth – Burpee

Gardening Made Easy With Straw Bales!

Gardening can be tricky even when you are graced with good soil, but what if you’re dealing with unpleasant growing conditions? Or does the very idea of endless weeding give you a backache? Starting a straw bale garden this spring may be the answer to all your gardening prayers. This method of gardening uses bales of straw as your garden beds — with no soil — and is a versatile, thrifty, and easy way to garden.

Image credit: Ruth Temple @ Flickr

What Is Straw Bale Gardening?

Straw bale gardening is essentially a form of container gardening with the container being the bale of straw itself. Straw’s hollow tube design helps to soak up and hold moisture, making it an ideal material for growing vegetables. These mud-free and weed-free gardens can be started anywhere that gets six to eight hours per day of direct sunlight. Arrange as few or as many bales as you wish right on your lawn, or even in your driveway (maybe you will inspire a neighbor or two!).

The Benefits of Using Straw Bales

Straw bale gardens are an ideal alternative for those with physical impairments. You can make them as tall as you’d like, which means no bending over – good news for sufferers of back pain. Lugging and digging heavy soil and wedding is also a thing of the past. And the best part of all: straw bale gardening can result in a 25% higher crop yield. This is mainly attributed to the excellent root run and air circulation. The bales also heat up much quicker than soil making them a perfect option for northern climates with shorter growing seasons. Building a garden out of bales of straw creates a whole new range of possibilities!

What Can You Grow In A Straw Bale Garden?

Almost any vegetable, herb, or annual flower can be grown in a straw bale. As the straw begins to break down, it is transformed into a rich, compostable planter ideal for growing. As a bonus, straw bale gardens are a biodegradable equivalent of a raised bed. After your crops are harvested, the straw can be used as a top soil dressing to your garden beds or an excellent addition to your compost pile. Do not confuse straw bale gardening with using loose straw on your garden for mulch or compost.

How To Get Started!

Step 1 – Choose Your Straw
When planting a straw bale garden, you will obviously need bales of straw. They can be bales of wheat, oats, barley, alfalfa or rye. Local garden centers and nurseries usually sell straw bales, however if you want to garden organically it is best to go directly to the source. Find a local farmer who does not use pesticides on his or her crops.

Note: Don’t be tempted to buy hay in place of straw to save a few dollars! Hay tends to be very seedy which can create a weed problem in your garden.

Step 2 – Choose A Location
You will need to pick a spot in your yard that receives at least six hours of bright, direct sunlight a day. While some veggies such as lettuce and green beans can grow in partial shade, most need full sun to thrive. Be sure to choose a spot with access to water. Once you water your bales, they will become too heavy to move, so decide on your location before you get started.

Fig. A Be sure the cut side of the straw in the bale is facing up.

Your bales can be configured however you wish. You can create square or rectangular shaped raised beds, or arrange them in rows. If you decide to lay your bales side by side in rows, be sure to leave enough space to mow your lawn in between. Set up the bales so that the twine holding them together runs horizontally to the ground, with the cut side facing up (see Fig. A) — this allows the open stems to absorb water and fertilizer your plants need more easily. If you have physical limitations and would prefer to garden standing up — straw bale gardening is perfect, as you can stack the bales on top of each other, or on wooden pallets.

Step 3 – Condition Your Bales
Before you start planting you will need to prepare your bales. Conditioning the bales is an essential part of the process and takes about two to three weeks for the initial decomposition process to be complete and for the temperature inside the bales to cool down. You don’t want to cook your seeds and seedlings! Moisture is required for the decomposition process, so you will need to water your bales thoroughly.

A nitrogen source, such as an organic fertilizer or blood meal is suggested to jump start the composting process and to create an ideal environment for plant roots. Choose a fertilizer with a minimum of five percent active nitrogen content.

  • Week 1: water the bales thoroughly every day (you should see water running out the bottom). Then, every other day, sprinkle the surface of each bale with fertilizer prior to watering (half cup per bale of a nitrogen source fertilizer, or three cups of blood meal).
  • Week 2: Apply half of the amount of nitrogen source for three days, followed by a watering. The following three days, water daily. At the end of the two weeks, your bales should be ready for planting.
  • Take the Temperature: Stick your finger into the bale. It should feel warm, but not hot. If it feels hot, wait another couple of days before you begin planting. You can also use a compost thermometer to check the temperature. It should be between 75-80 degrees F. If you wish to build trellises or install posts for tomatoes or assorted vine vegetables, this would be a good time to do it. You may also want to consider laying a soaker hose on the top of your bales to efficiently irrigate your bales.

Step 4 – Planting
Growing From Seeds: You can grow from seeds in your straw bales. If you do this, it will help if you lay one to three inches of compost and potting soil mix onto the top of the bales. This will help the seeds to germinate and to prevent the seeds from falling down the porous straw bale. Be sure to not use soil from your yard as you don’t want to introduce weeds and disease to your bales. When sowing seeds directly, do as you normally would and follow the instructions on your seed pack.

Growing from Transplants: To plant seedlings in the bales, simply take a sharp trowel and stick it into the bale and wiggle to make a crack large enough for your seedling to fit into. Per bale, you should be able to fit two to three tomato plants; four pepper plants; two to four squash plants; two to three zucchini plants; four to six cucumber plants; and three to four strawberry plants.

Caring for Your Straw Bale Garden
Maintaining your straw bale garden is painless. Regular watering is necessary to keep the straw bales moist. In the summer heat, you should water daily. It is best to water in the morning, making sure to water the bales and not the leaves. And great news! Since the water drains out the bottom of the bales, you can’t over water your garden.!

You will also need to feed your plants frequently. Fertilize your plants every two weeks while they are young, and every week once they start bearing fruit.

If you see mushrooms popping up in your garden — don’t panic! This is a sign that your bales are working as they should; decomposing slowly. You can pick them out if you like, but do not eat them.

Once your garden is done, you can spread the used straw on your compost pile so that nutrients can be returned to the soil. Straw bale gardens are a great way to reap more, weed less, and garden just about anywhere!

Article by Natalie LaVolpe for The Old Farmer’s Almanac©

Source: Gardening Made Easy with Straw Bales! – Farmers’ Almanac (farmersalmanac.com)

Designing a Sensory Garden

Sensory gardens are areas designed to stimulate one or more of the five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. While often geared toward young children, sensory gardens can be enjoyed by all ages. They can also be therapeutic for individuals with developmental or physical disabilities, sensory processing disorders, or cognitive challenges. While exploring any garden, you are already connecting with some of your senses, but a sensory garden has a more mindful approach by including and arranging specific plants to engage the senses.


Contrasting color, texture, light, shadow and form in the garden can all stimulate our sense of sight. Warm colors, like red, orange and yellow, are energizing, while cool colors, like blue, purple and white, are relaxing. The plants selected should be both stimulating and calming. Bright mixes of garden zinnias (Zinnia elegans) or giant yellow sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) towering above the garden make for an invigorating pop of color, and both will attract beautiful butterflies to the garden. 


Smell is often the strongest human sense, with the potential to bring back specific memories and experiences to individuals. Some plants release scent naturally without the need for touch (roses), while others do not release a scent until they are rubbed or crushed (geranium). Catmint (Neptea mussini), a hardy perennial that produces pale purple flowers from May to September, releases a light lavender-like scent when the leaves are rubbed. 


Some sounds in the garden occur naturally—wind blowing through the plants, or leaves crunching beneath our feet. Wind chimes and water fountains can add a calming sound, as well. Bird feeders and baths can attract our feathered friends to visit the garden to play their song. Ornamental grasses, like switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), rustle in the wind. Dried seed pods on false blue indigo (Baptisia autralis) can make natural maracas as the seed rattles against the hard pod. 


A variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs can be added to a sensory garden to explore tastes. Edible flowers, including nasturtium and pansy, also make tasty additions. Be sure to clearly identify which plants in the garden are edible.


A variety of textures to explore, including rough, smooth, fuzzy and even sticky, should be offered through plant bark, foliage, flowers, seeds, and fruits. Tough plants that can withstand frequent handling should be selected. Lambs ear (Stachys byzantine) is a favorite fuzzy-leaf plant to include. 

Just like with any garden, select plants that are hardy to your area and of various color, height, textures, and bloom times. To ensure safety in the garden, plants should be non-toxic, and pesticides should not be applied. A sensory garden is a great place for anyone to explore their senses and to learn about nature and plants.

by Brittany Haag, Extension Educator – Horticulture 

Source: Gardener’s Corner Spring 2020: University of Illinois Extension

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