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With record temperatures and much of the United States in drought, garden care can become a little more complicated. Soil dries out faster and sensitive plants may wilt in the heat of the afternoon. Enduring an abnormally hot summer can put a lot of stress on plants as well as the unprepared gardener. There are some simple precautions that can be taken to ensure any garden withstands the heat.

Keeping Cool

The heat will quickly rid pots of precious moisture. I recommend checking plants twice daily and watering as needed. Plants that are root bound will need to be watered more often, up to twice a day. Be careful not to overwater; soil should dry 2” down between watering to prevent root rot. Protect plants from direct sunlight damage by watering in the early morning or evening. Be cautious when watering in the evening, some plants are prone to fungal diseases if they stay wet.

Avoid evening watering:

  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Orchids
  • Beebalm
  • Cucurbitacae: cucumbers, squash, zucchini, melons
  • Solanaceae: tomatoes, potatoes, peppers

Dryer than a Desert

Soil that is too dry will be reluctant to retain moisture. The best way to combat this is to water the plant and then let the pot sit in a tray of water until it has soaked up the moisture. If the soil dries out completely, the plant will need to soak in a tray of water until it will retain moisture again.

A Solid Watering Idea: Ice cubes!

Need to keep plants cool and watered throughout the day during the summer? Try placing a layer of ice cubes on top of the soil. As the cubes melt, they will not only provide a steady water source but can also cool the soil down. Any plants that are root bound and dry out quickly during the day will appreciate the steady water source. A steady water source will help prevent having to water multiple times throughout the day.

Take a Second Look: Pot Color

If temperatures are high and plants are in direct sun, avoid using black containers. Black attracts the heat from the sun and can overheat sensitive plants. Notice a plant wilting in the middle of the day despite being well-watered? Try moving it to an area that is shaded from the afternoon sun. Ensuring plants are protected from the heat of the day will give delicate plants a much needed break.

Staying in the Shade

Any plants that are found wilting in the blazing afternoon sun should be relocated to a more protected area. Many of these plants are either not hardened to the direct sunlight or are intolerant of full sunlight and require morning sunlight or shade. Being aware of a plant’s light requirements can help eliminate unnecessary stress that may slow or kill growth.  If the plant simply needs hardening off, place the plant in the direct sunlight and gradually increase the amount of time. For example, start with 15 minute increments and increase the time daily

Being able to help a garden endure these unrelenting, scorching temperatures will ensure it’s survival. The now prepared gardener can beat the heat without breaking a sweat.

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Starting your garden from seed may sound like a great, thrifty way to save some cash. However, there are several herbs that will give a variety of disastrous results when grown from seed. I strongly recommend propagating the following by cuttings or plant division.

Tarragon

When looking to grow Tarragon, never buy seeds. It is very important to be aware of what you’re buying because incorrect labeling does occur. Many times, when you see seed or plants for sale, they will either be Russian Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus L.) or Mexican Tarragon (Tageteslucida). Look for French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa). Taste a leaf before purchase to ensure the plant is labeled correctly—look for a numbing effect on the tongue when purchasing French Tarragon.

The Differences

French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa)

  • Superior flavor
  • Preferred in culinary
  • Numbing effect on tongue
  • Rarely flowers, seeds are typically sterile
  • Can be finicky to grow

Russian Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus L.)

  • Belongs to same family as French Tarragon
  • Lacks flavor, may be bitter
  • Readily flowers and sets seed
  • Hardier and more tolerant than French Tarragon

Mexican Tarragon (Tageteslucida)

  • Actually a variety of Marigold
  • Closest in flavor to French Tarragon, so may be used as a substitute

Rosemary

I recommend everybody interested in growing rosemary to buy an already established plant or start with a cutting from an established plant. The seed germination rate is incredibly low—I had only one germinate last year. If you’re lucky enough to get the seeds to germinate, the seedlings can be fussy and difficult to keep alive. The seedlings seem to prefer a moist, well-draining soil and will quickly die if the soil remains dry too long. Rosemary is also slow growing and will take at least a year to establish.

Mint

Mint plants should be incredibly easy to find and are even easier to propagate from cuttings or division. Due to hybridization, mint should not be started from seeds. This causes the mint to have a rank odor and taste. If possible, I strongly recommend finding a good wild or heirloom variety to start with. I have purchased mint varieties from stores that turn rank after a couple years of growth. Since mint tends to readily take over where it’s grown, I encourage everybody interested in growing mint to check with friends and family for a clipping or plant division.

Lavender

If absolutely insistent upon starting from seed, Lavender would be the safest from this list. The biggest problem with Lavender seed is that it can take up to three months to sprout. From there, it may take one year for the plant to become established and bloom. There are also many varieties of Lavender to choose from, just make sure to choose an edible variety.

These plants may sound discouraging to grow, but with a little attention a garden can be saved from imposters. Starting plants from seeds may sound like a cost-efficient method to acquiring a garden, but it may have the hidden cost of replacing poor quality varieties with the proper plant. If looking to save money, cutting and plant division are the keys to success with these four plants.

Looking to start from seeds? Try reading “Seed Sowing: Timely, Thrifty, Universal Methods”

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Sitting on an apartment balcony in the early morning, the rising sun awakens birds singing a morning song to be heard; however, there isn’t a single bird in sight. Apartment balconies are notorious for being void of wildlife. With a few simple changes a thriving sanctuary can be created on any balcony.

Attracting Birds

Feeders are one of the easiest and quickest ways to attract a variety of birds. Use tube feeders to attract Goldfinches, Chickadees, and finches that prefer thistle and small seeds. Hopper feeders work well for Blue Jays, Cardinals, House Finches,  Purple Finches, Tufted Titmice and Buntings—a favorite is sunflower seeds and cracked peanuts. Suet cages work well as a companion feeder and will attract Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, and Nuthatches. If wanting to attract Orioles, provide fresh slices of oranges.  Thinking thrifty? Even a shallow dish filled with seed, peanuts, or meal worms will attract birds—they aren’t picky. Any seed mix containing the large, brown, round millet should be avoided as birds do not readily eat it.

The Hummers

A petite, colorful hummingbird is always an exciting and welcomed visitor. By placing a hummingbird feeder on the balcony, you’ll be sure to attract the small bird. The syrup is easy and quick to make at home. Boil 1 cup of sugar with 4 cups of water—the syrup will keep for up to one week in the refrigerator. Change the syrup regularly in accordance to outside temperature—hummingbirds will refuse spoiled syrup. This tiny, flying package will be full of attitude and provide a viewer with countless hours of its antics.

Splishin’ & Splashin’

By also providing wild birds with a source of fresh water, they will be assured that your balcony is the place to be. A traditional bird bath will work, but they also make hanging bird baths. For a more cost-effective solution, wild birds will be just as pleased with a shallow dish filled with water.

Go Natural

By growing certain plants, you can provide a natural source of nutrition for wildlife. This is beneficial as it provides wildlife with the proper nutrition and encourages natural survival skills that are not reliant on people—if you’ve ever had a hoard of House Finches at your bird feeder or would like to find out, then you’ll know what I mean! Plant flowers that are attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.

A few balcony friendly plants:

  • Petunia
  • Fuschia
  • Salvia
  • Lantana
  • Beebalm
  • Snapdragon

More than Novelty

Enthusiasts of colorful caterpillars and butterflies may also grow host plants for caterpillars. Providing the host plant of a favorite caterpillar will attract not only the colorful caterpillars that rely upon them for food, but also the butterfly looking to lay eggs.

By growing a variety of plants and providing a food source for varying wildlife, your balcony will soon be thriving with its own wildlife oasis. For every garden pest I’ve found, I had a garden predator that preyed upon them—from hungry birds looking for juicy, fattened caterpillars to colorful predatory insects looking for a sticky slug.


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