Container Gardening with Ashley Bachtel-Bodkins – The Garden Thyme Podcast

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In this month’s episode, we are talking about container gardening with Ashley Bachtel-Bodkins, Senior Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator for the University of Maryland Extension in Garrett County.  If you are limited on space and time, a container garden may be a perfect way to add in the garden you’ve always wanted. We talk about picking the correct size container for your plant needs, drainage tips, and growing media. 

We also have our: 

  •  Native Plant of the Month (Sweet Bay Magnolia, Magnolia virginiana ) at 26:00
  •  Bug of the Month (Spongy moth, Lymantria dispar) at  30:45
  • Garden Tips of the Month at 38:45.

If you have any garden-related questions please email us at UMEGardenPodcast@gmail.com or look us up on Facebook.

The Garden Thyme Podcast is brought to you by the University of Maryland Extension. Hosts are Mikaela Boley, Senior Agent Associate (Talbot County) for Horticulture; Rachel Rhodes, Agent Associate for Horticulture (Queen Anne’s County); and Emily Zobel, Senior Agent Associate for Agriculture (Dorchester County).

Theme Song: By Jason Inc

Q&A: Winter gardening tasks

Q: Is there any outdoor garden task this time of year that I may be forgetting to do? I’ve foregone a fall clean-up for the benefit of overwintering wildlife, and the lawn and veggie garden are “asleep” for the season.

A: There are a few things that are good to accomplish during the dormant season. Yard tools like pruners, loppers, shovels, spades, and mower blades are best stored clean, sharpened, and oiled. There may be local businesses that offer sharpening services, but you can also do it yourself with a metal file or sharpening stone or rod.

Ideally, sharpen mower blades annually so the turf doesn’t have the added stress of ragged, torn leaf blades which can be more vulnerable to infection. A steel wool scrubber or a wad of sandpaper can take off early stages of rust and caked-on sap before you focus on the blades of pruning tools and shovels. Good-quality hand pruners can usually be disassembled for easier maintenance, and lightly wiping with oil afterwards helps lubricate the metal and resist rust. Linseed oil (or vegetable oil in a pinch) can be rubbed into wooden tool handles to protect them from aging.

Check on the location of pesticide containers and protect them from extreme temperatures (including freezing). Always store them away from human and animal food and well-secured from children and pets. Products you rarely use should be dated (if you recall when you bought or opened them) since they may only have a useful shelf life of a couple of years. Old pesticides can be disposed of by looking for household hazardous waste collection sites near you.

If you have staked any new plantings, check their ties to make sure the plants still have wiggle-room and bark isn’t being abraded. Stakes that have been in place for six to twelve months can be removed; they’ve either done their job by now or weren’t working in the first place. (Staking is actually not often needed, but at the very least it’s key to let a staked plant’s trunk sway in the breeze so stabilizing root growth and trunk thickening are stimulated.)

Similarly, if you left ID tags tied to any plants, remove them and any other plastic or elastic nursery tags before they damage the stems. Otherwise, any material that gets embedded in expanding growth will be impossible to remove and could cause branch decline in the future if it interferes with sap flow. Alternatively, tags may disintegrate over time and fall off, which means you’ll have lost your plant name. Tags will be easier to spot now on deciduous plants. Keep a record of the plant ID another way – a garden diagram or journal, or written on a stake at the plant’s base – as variety-specific features might impact care advice or future troubleshooting.

Lastly, if you’re overwintering hardy plants in containers, consider using “pot feet” or “pot risers” to raise the pot’s base off decking or pavement by an inch or two. This lets excess moisture clear the drainage holes so it doesn’t freeze into an ice dam, which would risk flooding roots. Any sturdy material where you can find several pieces the same height would suffice, but you could also purchase them in an array of materials, often in packs of three or four “feet” per pot.

By Miri Talabac, Horticulturist, University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center. Miri writes the Garden Q&A for The Baltimore Sun. Read additional articles by Miri.

Have a plant or insect question? The University of Maryland Extension has answers! Send your questions and photos to Ask Extension.

Fighting CO2 on a Balcony

It’s well known that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the leading causes of climate change and that plants play a role in mitigating its impact by taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. But did you know that even the smallest gardens can make a difference? Container gardens can be effective ways for adding plants to the ecosystem, nurturing pollinators and other beneficial insects, and even providing food for your table.

A container garden with mixed perennials and annuals provides beauty, food, and habitat. Photo: Pat Wilson

High above Columbia’s Wilde Lake at the Residences at Vantage Point, long-time gardener Barbara Schuyler continues the gardening that was her passion when she and her wife Pat Wilson lived on a rural property. More than 90 containers of shrubs, annuals, perennials, and vegetables grace two balconies that face west and south.

Barbara’s approach to container gardening

Shrubs and perennials comprise a significant part of the garden. Hardy perennials winter over and are especially effective at drawing down carbon dioxide. Some of the perennials, like the orange butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) pictured below, are natives. Native plants are well-suited to our climate, require less care than imported species, and support native insects. Barbara’s native plants also include lots of Rudbeckia, some Echinacea, and several Heuchera

orange and blue flowers planted in a container garden
Native butterfly milkweed (orange flowers) combines beautifully with the blue-theme flowers. Photo: Barbara Schuyler

In addition, each year Barbara and Pat decide on a theme and collect annual seeds to plant when the temperature warms up each spring. Last year, the blue flower theme provided a consistent backdrop for the foliage and flowers of other plants.

She uses regular potting soil and each spring spreads the old soil on a tarp to remove roots and debris and returns it to the pots with a portion of fresh potting soil added.

Her collection of containers is eclectic and includes salad tables for vegetables, wine barrels, ceramic and plastic pots. A container exchange in the building helps many patio gardeners find pots that meet specific size and decorative needs. Reusing and sharing materials can help reduce CO2 associated with buying and shipping new products. She also tried felt bags but was not pleased with the results.

spray handle attached to kitchen sink
Photo: Christine Hipple

Watering 90 containers with a watering can during dry spells would be a major challenge, so Barbara purchased a garden hose sink adapter to allow her to connect a lightweight flexible hose to the kitchen sink.  

One big advantage of balcony gardens is that deer can’t get to them, though she has seen a squirrel or two.

Benefits

Visiting her garden every morning is a joy in itself. It provides Barbara the opportunity to be present with her plants, be aware of their needs, and appreciate what they offer throughout the seasons.

Even at this extreme height, pollinators are attracted to and supported by the garden. Three species of bees, several types of moths, and even a few monarchs have been spotted.

Lettuce and arugula do well in pots, and along with cherry tomatoes provide healthy super-local produce — yet another reduction in their carbon footprint. One lesson Barbara’s learned about cherry tomatoes is not to crowd them. Plant just one to a large pot and prune assertively to be sure the energy goes into making tomatoes rather than excess foliage and that there’s sufficient air circulation.

cherry tomatoes ripening
Growing some food at home is fun and helps reduce the carbon footprint of food transport. Photo: Barbara Schuyler

While there’s some level of physical work involved, container gardening is within the reach of nearly everyone – no matter your available space, skill level, physical abilities, or budget. Start small. Share stories, plants, and pots with other gardeners, and enjoy the benefits for yourself, your community, and the planet!

Are you taking any steps in your garden to help mitigate and adapt to climate change? Have a story to share? Let us know! Leave a comment or contact us.

By Christine Hipple, University of Maryland Extension Master Gardener, Howard County, Maryland

How Horticulturists Turn Quarantine Into ‘Gardentine’

While it seems that everything in our world is different today than it was two months ago, one thing hasn’t changed — nature! Maryland’s stay-at-home order has given everyone the opportunity to explore their natural surroundings and given them the itch to garden to relieve tension and do something productive.

So what do University of Maryland Extension horticulturists do to stay grounded during ‘gardentine?’ Just like you, we take pictures of our flowers, gardening projects, and all things nature and send them to each other, natch!

Stephanie got us started by wishing us a happy Earth Day!

horticultural distancing is not a thing

Stephanie and I went on a socially distant walk, participating in the City Nature Challenge iNaturalist project for the Baltimore area. Here are a few of the 53 species we identified for the project. Not too shabby!

Scroll over or click on the images to see the plant names.

One of my neighbors really upped the game by providing informational signs along the sidewalk for everyone’s enjoyment! Thanks, Kathy!

Christa started her “Sketches from the Yard” journal on the 10th day of quarantine. She says drawing, painting, and writing about her observations around the yard and garden is a creative thing she can do at home and is something that helps her relax during these strange times.

“When I look at the details of a plant and try to document it, it gets my mind off the coronavirus news for a while and helps me focus on what is still normal and beautiful around me. I have appreciated my garden harvests of fresh greens, herbs, and even a few carrots that survived our mild winter. And the new tulips I planted last fall were delightful to see in bloom! At the end of this project, I will have a record of my garden and how meaningful it was to me as a place of serenity during this quarantine time.”

She is quite the garden journalist! You can follow her on Instagram @mrscarignan.

Debbie is growing microgreens in a salad box on her balcony.

microgreens in a salad box
Half of the box is arugula and half is lettuce that has just started to germinate. Proving that you don’t need a lot of space to grow some of your own food! Photo: D. Ricigliano

salad box
This is what a salad box can look like when it’s ready for the first harvest. Yes, you can get multiple harvests from salad greens. Photo: HGIC

Miri has quite the impressive indoor garden! The ridiculous volume of houseplants keeps her sane! (Her words, not mine!) Maybe Miri will write a blog post featuring her various mini orchids and Tillandsias and include the routine she uses to keep them all so happy! (Hint hint!) She also entertains herself by secretly diagnosing plant problems on walks through the neighborhood. No photo evidence of that here!

Marian is helping her daughter plant a salad box from a distance by sharing the Home & Garden Information Center’s salad box instructions. See how you can build and plant a salad box or a salad table too!

salad table
I can see that Marian is also using a floating row cover to protect those seedlings from frost and/or marauding squirrels and chipmunks! Photo: M. Hengemihle

Jon has a huge and very productive garden every year! He always gets his garlic planted in the fall.

garlic
This spring the garlic tips have turned yellow either from the cold or the beginning of his perennial problems with white rot and bulb mites. Oh no! Photo: J. Traunfeld

Jon also grows his own seedlings every year and generously supplies the office with baby plants! Thanks, Jon!

growing transplants on a light stand
Here is Jon’s light stand setup. He’s growing downy mildew resistant ‘Prospera’ basil, many varieties of pepper, tomato, eggplant, zinnia, and tithonia. Photo: J. Traunfeld

Wanda enjoys tending her orchids indoors.

orchids indoors
She soaks them in a container of water for about 10 minutes every 2 weeks in the winter and once a week when it gets warm. Photo: W. MacLachlan

Wanda has lovely gardens outdoors too.

raised beds
Here she and her husband are revamping their raised garden beds in an attempt to exclude deer, raccoons, groundhogs, rabbits and (fingers crossed) chipmunks! When finished, these 3 raised beds will be in a closed cage. Stay tuned for a progress report! Note from Wanda: The dark piles in the 2 beds are castings from her indoor vermicomposting project. Wow! Photo: W. MacLachlan

Jean has a passion for pink and her houseplants prove it!

plants on a windowsill
Luckily, she has a south-facing window so she gets a lot of light. For the succulents, she mixes potting soil with some perlite and avoids overwatering. High sun exposure and good drainage is key to her healthy and happy houseplants! Photo: J. Burchfield

Ria – I sheltered in place for part of the last 6 weeks at the home where I grew up in Virginia. I went on several walks taking photos of things in bloom, but I needed to get my hands in the dirt! I had assured Jon in February that I was absolutely not going to create another garden to manage there. He had a good laugh when he saw the photos of my new garden! So much for my resolve, I needed to garden!

For the last 40 years, only daffodils and a perennial hibiscus have grown in the small triangle of space bordered by the split rail fencing, if you don’t count that sneaky Bermuda grass. If you look closely, you might be able to see the pomegranate that I got in Colonial Williamsburg about 5 years ago. It has never even bloomed, let alone produced fruit!

bare ground new garden
To create the new 24’ x 12’ kitchen garden, I killed the grass (mostly Bermuda grass and various other weeds), spread thick layers of newspaper over the area and covered it with soil that had been excavated to install French drains. Photo: R. Malloy

add organic matter to a garden
Then I spread ten bags (2 cu. ft. each) of media labeled for raised beds in 3 rows each about 2.5’ wide, leaving room for a path between each row. I mulched between the rows and around the perimeter of the garden with wood chips from 3 tree stumps that we ground up last summer. I made sure not to incorporate the wood chips into the soil with the plants. Photo: R. Malloy

planting a new garden
I planted a variety of herbs, sweet cherry and grape tomatoes, salad greens, and flowers to attract pollinators. Photo: R. Malloy

new garden
My husband extended the split rail border. I surrounded the garden with green plastic covered wire mesh fencing to deter the rabbits and groundhogs. I am under no illusions that it will really prevent them from getting in! At some point I will need to add a solar powered electric fence like the one I have in Maryland. Photo: R. Malloy

Please join us by taking time each day to connect in some way with nature and stay grounded during ‘gardentine’ and beyond!

By Ria Malloy, Program Coordinator, Home & Garden Information Center, University of Maryland Extension

Things All New Vegetable Gardeners Need to Know

Do you have garden envy? Do you think seasoned gardeners have perfect looking gardens every year? Think again!

Thanks to my daughter-in-law, Lauren, I’ve become aware of so many things novice gardeners are unaware of. Each year brings different weather patterns and new garden challenges, but some perceived challenges sometimes just need a different perspective.

  1. Even professional gardeners grow odd looking tomatoes.

My daughter-in-law sent me these photos wanting to know why her tomatoes were growing together and not separate. And why weren’t they turning red?

My first thought was, why not leave it on the vine and see what happens? But legitimate questions deserve answers and she honestly wanted to know if she was doing something wrong so she could change her practices.

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Featured Video – Container Gardening

Container gardening is a great way for beginning gardeners to start producing their own food. Jon Traunfeld from the University of Maryland Extension talks about everything you need to know, from potting soil to planting, to grow vegetables in containers. From five-gallon buckets to Earth boxes, container gardening gives you options for any budget.

 

Microgreens: Tasty Accents from Small Spaces

My first response to microgreens was: “Why would I spend my time growing 3-inch tall plants to eat?”

Then I thought about all of the tiny leafy green plants (beet, lettuce, kale, basil, etc.) I had eaten over the years in the process of growing transplants at home and in greenhouses. And it started to make more sense: why not plant seeds closely in a container to just grow baby plants?

"Brassica" microgreens
Tray of “brassica” microgreens ready to harvest

Benefits: When you eat microgreens you are ingesting the cotyledons, stems, and small expanded true leaves of edible plants. Some reasons to give them a try:

  • High in anti-oxidants and other health-promoting substances, like vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and lutein
  • Can be grown year-round inside with strong natural light or inexpensive fluorescent tubes
  • Great for kids at home and in school- sow seeds, watch them sprout and grow for 10-14 days, and eat!
  • Wonderful assortment of colors, flavors, and textures

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