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Starting Seeds Indoors: Bring a Little Bit of Spring Inside During Dark Winter Months!

The dark days of winter can be rough. Snow and cold can make almost anyone miss the verdant days of summer. Those of us that spend our spring and summer in the garden can really feel down when there’s nothing to tend to. If you just can’t wait to get your hands in the dirt, starting your seedlings early can give you a taste of the gardening you’re missing. 

How to Start:

There are a couple of ways to start seedlings indoors. You can either grow plants from seed or buy seedlings that have already gotten their start indoors at a nursery. Watching seeds germinate can be extremely satisfying and will give you a little bit longer with the plant indoors, though buying pre-started plants is easier and sometimes more reliable. 

Before you sow seeds check the date on your seed packet. Seeds have an expiration date and while they may germinate after this date, they will be less likely to do so. Most garden centers sell seeds of all kinds all year long, so you can begin to plant from seed at any time of the year. 

To begin starting seeds you should place the seeds in a warm, dark, and moist area, such as between two damp paper towels on a set of plates. Keep them damp, but not soaking wet, and in a few days, you’ll see a root emerging from your seed. Once the root is exposed you can plant this seedling in the seed starting mix. When growing seeds indoors use peat pots to hold the soil, because once the outdoor growing season starts you can just plant them, pots and all, into the soil. This keeps the root systems from becoming damaged. 

Keep Them Going:

Once your seeds are planted keep your eyes out for the first sprout they put out. You’ll see a tiny little set of leaves come up, and that will be the start of your new plant. Once you have seedlings growing you’ll want to keep them warm; if you are using natural light place them near a window. In the winter using natural light can become very cold so provide them with bottom heat by using a heat mat. If you are not keeping your seedling by a window consider using a grow light to help it along until spring. You should also make sure you give them plenty of air circulation to ensure that your new plants don’t succumb to fungal infections. 

Time to Move:

When it’s time to move your plant outdoors you’ll need to decide whether you want to plant it into a larger pot or directly into the ground. Either way, you’ll need to “harden” the plant—meaning you’ll have to get it used to living outside. To do this, bring it outside for a few hours at a time for a few days. This will prevent shock and sunburn. If you plant in a container make sure it has drainage holes so that you don’t drown the plant. If you’ll be planting in the ground give the plant a little bit of compost to help it along and you’ll be harvesting in no time!

Winter Gardening Tasks: Keeping Busy During the Cold Months

During this time of year, it may seem as though spring and summer will never arrive. While it’s definitely not the growing season there are still plenty of garden chores to keep you busy through these winter months.

Though you’ve probably already completed your fall cleanup, it’s important to keep any new leaves from staying on the grass for too long. These leaves can smother the grass and make your lawn care work come spring a lot more difficult. Rake them up and use them as mulch for perennials and bulb planting beds, or put them in with your compost for next year’s garden beds. Your vegetables will thank you.

During the winter most plants and trees are dormant, meaning they’re not actively growing, so it can be a great time to trim your trees and shrubs. This is known as dormant pruning and is actually healthier for your trees and shrubs than pruning during their actively growing stage. You’ll be at less risk for spreading diseases and fewer bugs will be around to attack the wound on the plant. 

Keep your eye on evergreen shrubs and if they need it, tie and support them to keep them from breaking in the snow. If you find them bending too much during the early snow that’s a sign that the tree can use a little more support.

Using burlap can help you by providing a windbreak for sensitive hedges, but it can also protect shrubs from deer who get more and more likely to feed in residential areas as the winter wears on. 

Finally, if you feed the birds during the summer it’s very important that you keep your feeders full during the winter. Birds become dependent on human-provided food sources over time and having them suddenly disappear can be hard on them during the cold winter months. 

Taking care of these winter yard work chores a little bit at a time on the weekends can help make the winter hours pass until you can get back to your more traditional gardening tasks once more.

Five Snow Shoveling Tips to Help You Ditch the Snow!

There’s still a bit of snow on the ground from our last dusting and more is surely on the way. Before you grab your shovel and head out to clear the driveway, check out these snow shoveling tips to make sure you’re not one of the thousands of people who suffer an injury from shoveling snow and ice this winter. 

Before You Go Out

Your preparation for shoveling should begin before you even get outside. Get your body ready for the work ahead by stretching and warming up for at least 5 minutes before going outside. Try squats, walking, or stretching to get your heart going. When you’re warmed up grab a bottle of water to bring outside with you. It’s important to stay hydrated while working. 

Layers Are Key

It’s very important to stay warm while shoveling. Layers will help to keep you warm while you shovel. Don’t forget to wear a hat as you lose much of your body’s heat through your head. 

Prep Your Tools

Whether you have a plastic shovel or a metal one before you start shoveling spray down the shovel blade with a liberal amount of cooking spray. This will keep snow from sticking and help the blade glide through the snow.

Don’t Wait

Shoveling a few inches of snow is easier than shoveling a foot of snow that’s been packed down. If the forecast calls for all-day snow it’s usually a good idea to shovel a few times throughout the day rather than all at once at the end. If you know the snow is coming spread ice melt on your drive and walkways to make them less slippery. 

How to Shovel

Before you start shoveling, plan to take frequent breaks. Sudden bursts of vigorous exercise in cold temperatures can cause heart attacks. Snow removal is a hard job; respect that and you’ll have a better time of it. 

The American Heart Association recommends shoveling on a mostly empty stomach and using a smaller shovel or snow blower for snow removal as both put less strain on your heart. 

Back injuries are extremely common when people get out the snow shovel, but they don’t have to happen to you. Remember to lift with your legs and bend your knees when shoveling, but don’t twist. Throw snow forward, not to the side. Remember to hold the snow shovel close to your body. Overreaching causes strain on your arms, shoulders, and back. Alternately you can try pushing the snow away from you, which is often easier than shoveling. 

Consider the Alternative

Before you bundle up and head out to shovel consider hiring someone else to do the snow clearing for you. The cost is generally minimal and may be well worth it to avoid an injury.

How to Maintain Colorful Winter Gardens

Winter is almost here and the lush color of summer is far behind us. After a showy fall many gardens become drab, but they don’t have to. For a colorful winter landscape try the following:

Witch Hazel

Witch hazel blooms in winter, all the way to early spring. It will be covered in bright red or yellow flowers, depending on the species, bringing winter color to your backyard garden. 

Arctic Fire

Arctic fire is one of the dwarf varieties of shrub that can bring a riot of bright red branches to decorate your winter garden. They bring a truly beautiful pop of color after their leaves have fallen. If you have a winter fire plant be sure to cut back old wood in spring, as only newer branches will get the gorgeous blood-red coloration. Blood Twig Dogwood’s “Magic Flame” and “Midwinter Fire” are other options for orange and yellow stems. 

Camellias 

Camellias are a plant that blooms from late summer, through fall and winter to early spring. The color they bring when they bloom in winter should be a welcome addition to any garden. It produces flowers in shades of pink, red, white and even bicolor blooms. 

Winter Jasmine

Winter jasmine is another cold weather wonder that produces bright yellow flowers on bright green stems through the winter. 

Winter Aconite

Winter aconite is in the buttercup family and also produces yellow flowers during winter. They do not do well in full sun and would be perfect under small trees to add color to the landscape. 

Fullmoon Polyspora

Looking for a colorful tree or shrub? Fullmoon polyspora will reward you with beautiful white flowers with bright yellow centers in late winter. It has evergreen leaves that start out red and later turn a glossy green. 

Snowdrops

Snowdrops are a bulb you can plant that will result in white, bell shaped flowers that often push up through the snow to delight with their beauty. 

By doing a little research and creative planning you can ensure that your garden is colorful all year round. To have a garden plan created especially for you, contact Organically Green Horticultural Services.  

Trees and Snow: The Do’s and Don’ts of Winter Tree Care

We’ve already had a tiny bit of snow here on the Island. The light kind of snow that melts as soon as it hits the ground and is prettier to look at than worrisome. However, with winter just around the corner—and an abundance of storms predicted—it pays to go over what to do about your trees and shrubs after a heavy snowfall. 

Heavy wet snow can cause damage to delicate young trees and shrubs. The weight of snow can break branches or split them, and some may even be uprooted if the snow is heavy enough. 

During most snow and ice storms, you won’t have to do anything to your trees and shrubs. Nature is pretty good at taking care of itself, but once in a while, it can use a helping hand. While a light covering of snow won’t do any damage, if you see branches—or in the case of some shrubs like arborvitae, the whole plant—being pulled to the ground by the weight of the snow you may want to get some of the snow off before the branches or trunk snap under the weight. If a plant tips you’ll have to wait until spring to right it, and once you do you should stake it with supports for at least a year or two so that it can regrow a strong root base. 

It is best to remove the snow before it freezes over as removing the snow which has frozen to the plant can cause more damage than you’ll save by getting it off. Branches can be more delicate than they look and when already weakened by the weight of ice and snow they can snap off easily. 

If branches have already broken, there isn’t much you can do to save them. It’s best to just leave them until spring to prune. However, if the branch is a safety hazard you should trim it right away or call a professional like Organically Green Horticultural Services to come and take a look at the damage, assess it, and find the best solution for the health of the plant. 

Tips for Cold Frame Gardening

What is a cold frame? A cold frame is simply a translucent or clear box without a bottom that is used to protect tender plants from the cold weather of late fall and early spring.  

Most people who go about building a cold frame will use a wooden base and then a glass or plastic window over the top. (Old recycled windows make for a wonderful cold frame top.) The cold frame uses solar energy to trap heat inside, warming the ground and plants, to allow you to extend your growing season past the first frost. It can also be used to harden off seedlings that were started indoors—ensuring their survival through the season—or for seed starting directly in the ground under the frame. 

A cold frame can be made simply, or it can be relatively complex. Remember all it has to do is protect plants and hold in heat. A simple cold frame can be made from recycled milk jugs. Just cut off the bottom and bury the edges slightly in the dirt over a plant. On a sunny day, the milk jug will trap heat in the same way the glass windows will, and you can open the caps to allow for ventilation. 

If you want to get more complicated you can make a wooden frame and use windows that open and close and create hot beds. A hot bed is a cold frame that has electric heating inside. If you prefer not to use electricity you can also dig down into the ground about 15 inches and fill the bed with manure around your plants. As the manure breaks down it will create heat to warm your plants at the same time it feeds them. 

Come spring you can sow seeds weeks earlier if you utilize a cold frame; combining that with the longer growing season into fall you can add a whole two months or more to your growing season.

It’s a Stink Bug Invasion! How to Keep These Creepers out of Your Home.

Now that the weather is cooling, there’s a good chance you may encounter a Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (or Halyomorpha Halys if you want the scientific name!). An invasive species originating from China and Japan, these largely harmless bugs get in through damaged screens, crawl spaces, and door and window gaps. They will not bite, but they do release an extremely unpleasant odor when injured, upset, or killed. For this reason, large groups of stink bugs can be quite a disturbing nuisance. Sealing cracks around doors and windows with a quality silicone or silicone latex caulk is a good first step toward preventing a stink bug infestation. Stink bugs also enter homes through chimneys, openings around pipes, and underneath the wood fascia. Anywhere there is a crack they’ll try to get in. 

Stink bugs have spread to 44 states and can damage both fruits and vegetable plantings. On a large scale, they have caused agricultural damage; but in your yard, they will be attracted to vegetable gardens and can even be attracted to the plants inside of your home. They will not damage your home’s structure, however, so there is little need to worry in the way you would when you see a termite.  

Ripe fruit attracts stink bugs, so if you have fruit-bearing trees or vines outside be sure to harvest them in a timely fashion and don’t let them rot on the vine. Keeping your garden free of decomposing debris is another way to help keep stink bugs at bay as they like hiding in decaying vegetable matter. To further repel stink bugs, you can out-stink the little stinkers by planting smelly flowers! Autumn flowers such as marigold and chrysanthemum will repel them with scents that most people don’t find unpleasant in the least. 

For stink bug control prevention is everything; but in the event that they do get into your home, proceed with caution if you don’t want to encounter a stink that has been described as everything from dirty socks to skunks. 

The easiest way to dispose of stink bugs is to use your vacuum cleaner, though your vacuum may not smell very good after you do so. There are also stink bug traps available at hardware stores if you’re not the hands-on type. Flushing them down the toilet is another option if you can catch them without upsetting them too much. Whichever way you take care of the problem, just remember stink bugs won’t hurt you or your pets, so don’t panic!

Time to Think About Planning Your Holiday Lighting!

It may seem early—after all, fall has just arrived—but the time to plan your holiday lighting is now. If you’re going for a professional display slots book quickly, so you should call the pros now to schedule. If you’re more of a DIY person you can still start planning now so you’re ready for a brilliant holiday season. 

When you think of “holiday lighting” you may only be thinking about Christmas, but these days more and more people also create displays for Halloween; so consider a spooky display first before moving onto your Christmas light display. 

Is this your first year decorating? Don’t go overboard. Your best bet is to pick two or three focal points such as your front door and a few bushes and build up from there. Each year you can add a new display or cover a new area in your yard. 

LED lighting is a great and extremely popular choice when it comes to holiday lighting displays, both indoors and out. They’re extremely bright, are able to light up in a number of patterns, and save power during the months when your electric bill is already feeling the burn. 

Safety is important when it comes to all things electrical, and that includes holiday lights! Be sure that the lights you used are marked with the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) label and if you’re putting them outdoors, make sure they’re designed for that purpose. 

When pulling out last year’s string lights check for any frayed wire or burned out bulbs which will pull power from the whole string. 

Avoid using nails or staples to put up your lights and stay off the roof! Leave the roof work to the professionals and use either electrical tape or clips to hold lights up. You’ll avoid damaging your home and run less of a risk of causing damage to the wires. 

If you are going up high to hang lights on gutters or trees make sure you’ve got a sturdy ladder and someone to work with. 

Finally, what goes up must come down. Keep that in mind when creating your outdoor lighting display. What may be a fun holiday tradition on a warm October or November day can be an incredible hassle during a frigid February, and branches may be damaged when you inevitably try the old “yanking” method to pull down lights from trees laden with snow or ice. If you want the lighting, but not the effort, you may want to give Organically Green a call to create a holiday display you’ll love coming home to, without any of the efforts on your part.

Tips for Growing Pumpkins

It’s almost pumpkin season, and while they’re already showing up in supermarkets, if you’re growing your own pumpkins it’s likely that they’re not quite ready yet. Whether you’re a pumpkin pro or want to research how to grow your own for next year, these tips can help you grow pumpkins for pie, Jack-O’-lanterns, or just to feed the critters in your yard. 

First Up, Planting.

Pumpkins and squash have a very long growing season, about 100 days to 120 days, to mature depending on the pumpkin variety. This means you’ll want to plant them as early as possible. If you’re growing them from seeds, sow seeds indoors during March or April and then after you plant the seeds let the plants start to grow indoors until the danger of frost has fully passed.

Where to Plant.

Large pumpkins need a lot of space as they have sprawling vines that can take up to 100 square feet of space. These pumpkin vines can be trained on a trellis; however, supporting the fruit can take a little bit of imagination. Miniature varieties will utilize less space, so choose the variety that works best for your situation. 

Pumpkins like full sun to light shade, so choose your planting location with that in mind as well. 

When planting pumpkins place the seeds or seedlings in the ground in a mound. This will help the seed create new roots and allow it to warm quickly, improving drainage and deterring pests. Use pre-fertilized soil, compost, or manure and continue to feed them throughout the growing season, as pumpkins are extremely heavy feeders. 

Not every flower will bear fruit as some flowers are male and the male flower is there to fertilize the female flower. Make sure to be careful when spraying because bees are necessary to spread the pollen and many insecticides also kill beneficial insects such as bees. 

Pumpkins are susceptible to a number of pests and diseases including squash vine borers, aphids, and powdery mildew, so be on the lookout for these and treat accordingly. 

To make sure the fruit lasts a long time, only harvest the pumpkin when it’s fully mature. To test if the pumpkin is mature, thump it with your finger—it should sound hollow and the rind should be hard. It should also resist puncture if you press your fingernail into it. The pumpkin should also be a deep bright color (depending on the variety, this can be orange, yellow, green, or even white). When harvesting be sure to cut, not break, the stem and include several inches of stem on the pumpkin. This will help the pumpkin to keep as long as possible. After you harvest the pumpkin let it cure in the sun for about a week to toughen the skin. Once that’s all done you can get cooking, or carving, to your heart’s content.