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Propagating Houseplants from Stem Cuttings

This post was originally published on May 12, 2019.

If you’ve been wanting to try your hand at propagating your houseplants, now is a great time to get started. There are many methods of houseplant propagation, but stem cuttings are an especially fun and easy option to try out, since it can be very rewarding to produce new plants from 4-5 inch cuttings of your favorite houseplants. You can use this method to grow new plants for your own home, make your plants fuller or to give as gifts to friends.

Houseplant Propagation - Good Plants to Propogate

Sampling of Popular Plants to Propagate by Stem Cutting

These are not the only plants that can be propagated in this way, but these are some of the more popular types of plants that this technique works for.

  1. Philodendron ‘Basil’
  2. Marble Queen Pothos
  3. Ficus elastica ‘Burgundy’
  4. Golden Pothos
  5. English Ivy
  6. Tradescantia
Houseplant Propagation Tools and Supplies

What You Need

  • Propagation medium (choose from water, pebbles, LECA, soil or moss)
  • Sharp scissors or pruners
  • Fertilome Rooting Powder (optional)
  • Containers to hold medium and cuttings while propagating (glasses, vases, jars, clean take-out food containers, etc.)

Propagating Your Plants

  1. For best results, select a healthy portion of your plant that is at least 4-6 inches in length. It should have 2-3 leaves and at least one node. A node is a small bump on the plant from which stems, leaves or areal roots grow. 
  2. After choosing the location of your cutting, cut the stem to the correct length with your pruners or scissors. A sharp, clean cut made at a 45 degree angle is most likely to be successful. 
  3. Remove any leaves that will be below the surface of your propagating medium.
  4. Prepare the vessel for your new cutting.  Moss should be  thoroughly moistened, water should be warm and LECA should be thoroughly rinsed several times and soaked overnight. Rinse LECA outside in a strainer or in a bucket of water as the silt can easily clog indoor plumbing  

From here on, the steps you take will be dependent on the propagating medium you have chosen to use:

Using Water

You can root your plants in any type of water. Tap, distilled, spring water or even rain water works just fine, as long as it is the correct temperature. If you are going to have a difficult time maintaining your water at room temperature, you may want to place your vessel on a seedling heat mat, which is especially helpful during cold winter months. Place your stem cutting in your vessel with enough water to cover the node. The water level will drop due to evaporation, so you should add water every 3-5 days as needed. You can watch the roots develop if you have chosen a clear vessel for your cutting. When there are 3 or more roots that measure 3-5 inches in length, it is time to plant your cutting in soil. Take care to plant in a small pot that is appropriate for the size of the small roots.

Using LECA

LECA, or Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate, is a good alternative to just using water as the pebbles will stabilize the plant, deliver more oxygen to your cuttings, and enable them to grow without being exposed to light, so that the transition to the soil is easier.

Prior to using, rinse LECA very well several times in a strainer outside or in a bucket as the silt can clog indoor plumbing.  After LECA is rinsed it should be soaked in water overnight. When your LECA is finished soaking, add at least an inch or two of LECA to glass container.  Place your stem cutting in the container, and fill in around it with more LECA, to within an inch of the top of the container. Next, add water to the container to come to about an inch from the top of the LECA.

Monitor the water level as it will drop over time due to evaporation.  The LECA will wick water up to the nodes as long as there is water at the base of the container so over time you can allow the water level to decrease, but never allow all the water to evaporate. You can gently remove the cutting at weekly intervals to check for growth. Do not attempt to remove LECA from the roots of your plant. 

LECA is reusable so you can use it for multiple cuttings. Make sure to thoroughly clean and rinse prior to using a second time.

Using Soil or Moss

You can plant your cutting directly in soil, or root it in moss, if you wish. The method used for both mediums is very similar. Dip the end of your cutting in your rooting powder to encourage faster root growth (this is optional). Moss and soil should be thoroughly moistened prior to using. You will need to monitor cuttings planted in moss and transition them to soil when they reach 3-5 inches. A plastic bag can be tented over the container to encourage humidity or small vessels can be placed inside a gallon Ziploc bag. Make sure to leave a small portion of the bag open or punch a few holes in the bag to allow venting. Placing the tented container or bag on a seedling heat mat will speed up root growth.  Cuttings planted in soil will grow roots more slowly.  Make sure to keep soil / moss moist. This is easiest if you tent with a plastic bag or use a covered container such as a clean, lidded take-out food container.  Check the plants weekly for moisture and growth.

Transferring Your Cuttings to Regular Containers

Once your cuttings have developed three or more roots measuring 3 or more inches in length you can transfer them to soil.  Don’t be in a hurry! Cuttings with just a few short roots will be more difficult to acclimate to soil. Start by transferring the cuttings to moist soil in small pots.  I like to use 2.5 or 3 inch plastic pots to start. Make sure to use a high quality potting mix specifically formulated for houseplants such as ProMix Premium Potting Mix or Espoma Organic Potting Mix.  Once you have transitioned your cuttings into soil, you can care for them as you would any other plant! Ensure they are receiving the correct amount of light, and water them when needed. 

If you have questions or need advice about propagating your houseplants, please contact us or visit us in the store!

Basil Fresh Herbs

Basil Growing Guide

The key ingredient in pesto, ensalada caprese and tomato sauce, or a garnish to anything and everything, basil is my favorite herb. It must be fresh, possibly frozen, but never that culinary abomination, dried. Fortunately for chefs and gardeners, it is easy to grow anywhere you can find at least a half day or more of sunlight.

Basil in Container

Planting, Feeding and Watering Tips

Basil is easy to grow in pots or in garden beds as long as it is placed in a sheltered area where it can remain slightly moist. Wind and extremely hot, dry conditions will damage the plants. 

You can get a head start on the growing season by purchasing transplants as opposed to planting seeds. When planting, amending your soil or potting mix with Bumper Crop or Garden-Tone helps to ensure balanced nutrition. Basil is not a “heavy feeder”, but fertilizing once every 4-6 weeks will improve it’s growth. Water often enough to keep the soil feeling moist, but not wet.

When the fall arrives, you can further extend your growing season by bringing your basil plants or cuttings indoors when temperatures begin falling below 50 degrees. Basil can be grown indoors in a very sunny window. It will not be as vigorous or productive, but some fresh basil is better than none.

Maximizing Your Harvest 

Extending Your Harvest

Basil is an annual plant. It’s mission is to sprout, grow, flower and produce seeds as quickly as possible, which has to be accomplished during warm weather while temperatures remain above 50 degrees. As gardeners, we want to keep this from happening for as long as possible. After the plant flowers, the leaves become less aromatic, and it develops a bitter flavor. By delaying the flowering, you can extend the time of harvest and increase yield of tender, tasty leaves from your basil. 

Removing (pinching) the growing tips encourages the basil to branch out and produce more leaves. For the same reason, we remove (deadhead) the flowers to encourage the leaves to keep growing and prevent the plant from completing its growth and blooming cycle. Frequent pinching of the new growth is also a good source of fresh basil to use in the kitchen.

Basil Pesto For Freezing

Storing Your Harvest

If you harvest more basil than you can use, there are a variety of ways you can store it for future use. My favorite way to harvest and store basil is to turn it into pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays. This way I can easily adjust the serving size. Because I don’t like the texture of frozen cheese, I add this later, at the time of use. (3 cups basil leaves, ¾ cup olive oil, ¾ cup walnuts, 3-4 cloves garlic)

Basil Spoilers

Basil Downy Mildew (BDM) is the most troublesome disease of basil. It was discovered in 2007 in the United States after accidentally being introduced from Africa. The spores can be transported with contaminated seeds or soil and are dispersed by the wind. It infects plants during warm, humid, wet weather and the spores can persist in the soil for several years. It can be treated with fungicides, but that is not generally a good option considering you want to use your harvest for cooking. Sweet basil, the most popular variety of basil, is particularly susceptible to this disease.

Disease Resistant Basil Varieties

Fortunately for all of us, beginning in 2018 BDM resistant varieties of basil were introduced and are gradually making their way into local garden centers. I grew ‘Amazel’ last year (and again this year) and it lives up to its’ name. ‘Amazel’ is prolific and disease resistant. The flavor is more pungent and leaves are not as tender as other sweet basil, but it is excellent when used in sauces or for pesto.

Japanese Beetle

Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles and slugs also like basil. Covering the plants with a row cover or micromesh in July while beetles are active is an easy and effective way to manage this problem and Sluggo is an organic, people and pet friendly way to manage slugs.

Cherry Tomatoes, Summer Vegetables

Tomato Growing Guide

As anyone who has ever experienced the delicious flavor of a tomato fresh from the vine will know, there is nothing quite as good as garden-grown tomatoes. It’s no surprise that tomatoes are America’s favorite homegrown food. While there are many varieties, and every veteran gardener has slightly different methods they swear by, you can easily be successful by understanding some of the basic needs of the plants. Whether you are new to gardening or a veteran, we’ve got your guide to the ins and outs of growing tomatoes at home.

Sowing and Planting

You can grow tomatoes from seed or starter plants in containers or in the ground. If you are starting in May, you will want to plant a starter plant. Whether you are growing in the ground or in a container on your balcony, you will want to plant your tomatoes in soil with added compost, lime and fertilizer. 

Each gardener has their own recipe, but lately I am a fan of Bumper Crop as it has all of these ingredients in one bag and is certified OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) organic. When planting in the ground, dig into and loosen the soil at a depth of 8 to 12″ and mix in a 1 to 2″ layer of Bumper Crop. When growing in pots, mix 80 to 90% potting mix with 10 to 20% Bumper Crop. 

Starting from seed? See our resources on starting seeds indoors and starting seeds outdoors. If you’re planting in containers, see our guide on planting tomato transplants in containers for more information on getting started. 

Sunlight

Tomatoes need a minimum of 5 hours of direct sun each day, but even more is better.

Water

Check the soil often and keep your tomatoes consistently moist throughout the growing season. If it feels like a moist or wet sponge, your plant has a good amount of water. Too much water can cause disease and will cause your tomatoes to crack. Too little water on the other hand reduces the quantity and quality of your tomatoes and can lead to blossom end rot.

Space and Support

Tomatoes are vines that continue growing throughout the entire summer. It’s not unusual to have tomato vines reach 8 to 10′ by the end of the season. Growing tomatoes in “cages” that help support the plant is one of the easiest and best ways to hold the plants upright, off the ground. You can also support the plants with stakes or on a trellis. A few varieties, such as ‘Celebrity’, ‘Rutgers’ and ‘Patio’ are smaller (determinate) plants that are good for limited spaces.

Growing Tips

While your plants are growing, there are a few tasks you will want to complete regularly as well as a few issues to keep an eye out for that commonly cause problems for tomato gardeners.

Fertilizer

 Apply Tomato Tone every 4-6 weeks throughout the growing season to keep your tomatoes fed with plenty of nutrients.

Pollination

Bumble bees are the primary pollinators of tomatoes, and you will need to attract them if you do not want to pollinate your plants by hand to ensure a good harvest. To bring the bees, plant zinnia, hyssop, portulaca and other flowers near your tomato plants.

Pest and Disease Prevention and Solutions

Fungal Diseases

Tomatoes are susceptible to several fungal diseases. Here are a few steps you can take to prevent your plants from becoming infected:

  • Place your tomatoes 3 to 4 feet apart, allowing plenty of room for good air circulation. 
  • Mulch around the base of your plants to prevent contact with the soil, where fungal diseases may reside.
  • Avoid prolonged periods of leaf wetness as it can promote infection and disease spread. You can do this by watering in the morning so that the sun dries the leaves, or by watering at the base of the plant so that the leaves do not get wet. 

Pests

Tomato hornworm, aphids and mites are the most common pests that can affect tomato plants. You can remove hornworms by hand and manage aphids and mites with insecticidal soap applied according to the package directions.

Tomato Hornworm, Pest

Remove Tomato Hornworm by hand.

Aphids

Use an insecticidal soap to deal with aphids.

Spider Mite Colony

Use an insecticidal soap to manage mites.

Squirrels, Chipmunks and Birds

A number of common garden critters love tomatoes, and will take a bite (or several) out of your plants. If they are getting more tomatoes than you are, consider picking them early, at the first sign of color, and let them ripen up indoors in safety.

ISTOCK seed potatoes

How to Start a Vegetable Garden with Your Family

With spring officially here, now is a great time to start a cool season vegetable garden with herbs, potatoes, onions and leafy greens. This is a great activity to bring the whole family outdoors for weeks on end, as you plant your seeds, watch them grow, and finally harvest mature veggies later this season. There are many plants that can be harvested quickly to enjoy the rewards of your work while you are waiting on your slower growing vegetables to mature, and all you need to get started is a small area with plenty of sunlight, seeds and a few supplies.

Virginia may still have some nights with frost, so at this point you will want to choose frost hardy plants that can tolerate the cool nights of spring. Greens, root vegetables and a variety of herbs are good picks. 

Cool season herb seeds, parsley, fennel and dill

Supplies

  • Shovel, hoe or small trowel
  • Organic compost, such as Bumper Crop (2 cu. ft. bag covers 25-50 sq. ft.)
  • Organic fertilizer, such as Plant-tone or Garden-tone (3.5 lbs. per 50 sq. ft.)
  • Cool season seeds
    • Herbs: Cilantro, dill, fennel and parsley
    • Leafy Greens: Cabbage, kale, loose-leaf lettuces and spinach are a few good picks. Loose-leaf lettuce will harvest quickly so are great picks for planting with your kids.
    • Root vegetables: Garlic, potatoes and onions

Prepare Your Garden Bed

Regardless of the crops you will be planting, you can set your plants up for success by preparing the soil in advance. To give your veggies a boost, turn up the soil in the area you will be planting with a hoe, shovel or trowel. Next, spread your organic compost over the area in a 1/2 inch to 1 inch layer and add about 3.5 lbs. of fertilizer per 50 sq. ft. of soil. Mix both into your turned up soil.

How to Start Seeds in the Ground

The plants suggested in this post are all frost hardy, and can handle some of the cool weather we may still experience between now and our final frost date later this season. You can work with other plants, but keep in mind that the average last frost date of our area is still several weeks away. You may need to take steps to keep non-frost hardy plants safe from the cold weather. 

Planting Steps

For more detailed instructions on direct sowing seeds in the ground, you can see our post on starting fall seeds. The method of direct sowing in the spring is the same.

  1. Review each seed packet before planting to make sure that you are planting at the correct depth and spacing. 
  2. Make a groove in the soil to the depth indicated on your seed packet. Sow seeds along the groove spaced according to the directions on your seed packet. 
  3. Cover the seeds gently with soil, and water carefully with a gentle spray of the hose or a watering wand.

When to Harvest

Most cool season vegetables are at their best when temperatures are 55-65 degrees and should be harvested before the arrival of summer heat. When temperatures jump into the 80’s, they may begin to flower. This causes the plant to produce fewer, less flavorful leaves. Gardeners call this ‘bolting’. Some herbs, such as fennel and dill have flavorful seeds and you can allow them to continue growing into the summer to enjoy their flowers and seeds.

Planting Onions, Potatoes and Garlic

Onions, potatoes and garlic are a bit different from our other cool season veggies in that you do not start them from a typical seed. Rather, you actually use part of a seed potato or dried onion or garlic bulb. Avoid using traditional potatoes, onion and garlic purchased from the grocery store as they are treated with sprout inhibitors to prevent them from sprouting on the shelf or in your pantry. 

ISTOCK seed potatoes

Seed Potatoes

  1. Prepare your seed potatoes for planting a couple of days ahead of time by cutting the potatoes into large pieces, each with one or two “eyes” 
  2. Spread them out to dry indoors for a couple of days to prevent rot once they are in the soil. 
  3. Place seed potato cuttings about a foot apart in holes approximately 2-3 inches deep, with the cut side down. Cover with soil.
  4. Water with a gentle spray of the hose or with a watering wand.

Dried Onions

Onions can be planted from seed, but onion sets, which are just dried onions, will mature much faster. 

  1. Plant your onion sets, placing bulbs approximately 6 inches apart and bury them no more than 1 inch deep in the soil. 
  2. Water with a gentle spray of the hose or with a watering wand.

Dried Garlic

Garlic is grown from the individual cloves. Each clove will produce one ‘head’ of garlic.

  1. Separate the head of garlic into individual cloves
  2. Plant each clove approximately 4 – 6 inches apart and bury them no more than 1 inch deep in the soil. 
  3. Water with a gentle spray of the hose or with a watering wand.

When to Harvest Garlic, Onions and Potatoes

Harvest your garlic and onion greens by pulling them out of the ground while they are still young, before they form bulbs. These are delicious in salads or as seasoning in other dishes. If you are growing them for the bulbs, leave them in the ground until summer, when the greens begin to yellow and fade. You should remove any flower buds so the plants will put more of their energy producing a larger bulb.

Harvest potatoes soon after the plants reach the flowering stage. At this time they are still small, thin skinned and called “new potatoes”. For larger, mature potatoes, wait until late summer or fall when the plants yellow and wither to the ground.

Feeding and Watering Your Plants

You can continue to fertilize your growing vegetables with an organic fertilizer throughout the growing season. Use 1/3 of a cup per plant, or 1 1/3 of a cup per 5 ft. row of plantings. 

When watering newly planted seeds, be careful about washing them away. It is best to use a gentle spray from a hose or a watering wand to keep them moist as they begin to sprout and develop roots. Try to check daily and see that the soil is moist and water when it begins to feel dry. After they have grown to be about three inches or more, it’s a good time to spread mulch around the plants. One to two inches of straw will help to prevent weeds, conserve moisture and prevent the soil from eroding or splashing on to your vegetables. Now that your vegetables and herbs are off to a strong start, you can begin to water more deeply and less often. Still, try to check in every 1-2 days to see what is new or may need attention. If you have any questions about caring for your vegetable garden, let us know! We are happy to provide tips and advice.

Environmental Factors and Plant Placement

Earth, air, fire, and water.  These four classical elements correspond to the four most important environmental factors we thoughtfully consider and manage in every successful landscape: soil, temperature, sun, and water. Understanding the balance of these four elements in your outdoor space will help you choose the right plants that will flourish and thrive without the need of additional water or insecticides, which is the first step in growing a sustainable garden.

Soil

Most plants do best in well-drained, evenly moist soil that is slightly acidic. Our notoriously clay-filled soil in Northern Virginia certainly meets the general need for acidity. However, in the construction of our neighborhoods, we bring the hardest clay to the top layers of the soil. As a result, to create ideal growing conditions, we amend our clay soil with organic matter. This increases drainage and moisture retention so that plants can establish roots quicker, equipping them to withstand temperature extremes as the seasons change.

You can read more about preparing soil for low maintenance gardens in my friend and colleague Nikki Norton’s post on this topic.

Temperature

Soil type is fairly uniform throughout the northern Virginia region, but air temperatures range widely. Travelling east from the Blue Ridge, through the Piedmont into the area around Falls Church, the elevation drops as the mountains give way to the coastal plain. As a result, gardeners in our region may be in one of several hardiness zones –  regions assigned by the USDA according to the average minimum temperature expected in the winter. These zones are widely used in horticulture as a guideline for choosing plants that can survive in the landscape. Higher numbered zones have warmer climates, and lower numbers have cooler climates. People living out west might be in zone 6, while people closer to Washington, DC will be closer to zone 7.

Visit the US Department of Agriculture to learn more about your neighborhood’s hardiness zone.

While our regional hardiness zones serve as a general guideline, remember that environmental factors can create warmer and cooler spaces in our gardens that enable plants to grow outside of their usual hardiness zones. For example, camellias and gardenias are rated for zones 7 and above; but anyone in the cooler end of zone 7 or zone 6 may still be able to have these beautiful plants! Plant them close to your house to protect them from winter winds. The warmer temperatures of a sheltered space next to a home is just one example of a microclimate.

Limelight Hydrangea, Shrub

Sun

Sun exposure can be the most confusing environmental aspect to understand.The light requirements found on plant labels generally fall within a recommended range that can seem vague or confusing to beginner gardeners.

To demystify these labels, here is some more information on the most common sun requirements:

  • Full sun means that an area receives 6 hours or more of direct sunlight.
  • Part sun means an area receives 2-6 hours of direct sunlight.
  • Part shade receives 2-3 hours of sun per day or less, but indicates that the sun should be dappled, or filtered through the canopy of a tree.
  • Shade is anything less than 2 hours of direct sun.

While these labels address duration of sunlight, they do not address intensity. The eastern sky provides the ideal sunlight. The less intense morning sun brings cooler temperatures, while the southern and western skies give the hottest, most intense sun of the afternoon. Delicate plants will prefer the cooler morning sun, while heat tolerant plants will do fine in hotter temperatures of southern and western exposure.

If you are not sure how much sun the area you will be planting in receives or when it will receive it, try staking a white paper plate into the ground and checking it periodically throughout the day to get an idea of how much direct sunlight is shining on the plate.

Water

Water is life, but the most important part of watering is to remember to never water a plant unless it needs it.

You can see our proper watering guidelines for more information.

Soil drainage and the amount of sun a location receives both affect the amount of water needed in an area and the types of plants that will thrive in it. Some plants are unable to tolerate poorly draining soil—which is why gardeners talk about plants not liking “wet feet.” While it is certainly possible to amend your soil to improve drainage, it may be easier to select plants which can handle that soil type. Sweetbay Magnolia or Inkberry holly are great choices.

If you have questions, come see us!

Understanding the basic conditions that affect plant health is the first step toward growing a sustainable, low-maintenance garden. A happy plant is a healthy plant, so it is important to know the balance of these elements in your own garden so your plants will thrive. As always, our experts at Merrifield Garden Center are always here to help you make the wisest plant selections for your garden.

Pruning, Winter

Getting Your Garden into Spring Shape

Spring is almost here and it’s time to start getting our gardens ready for the season. As you plan your March and early April gardening projects, here are some tasks you may need to complete.

Ornamental Grass Pruned

Prune Perennials and Shrubs

Cut back the old, browned growth of perennials and groundcovers and trim the leaves of grasses and liriope back to almost ground level. Removing the old growth will make way for fresh, green growth that will emerge this spring. Remove old stems of sedum, coneflower, chrysanthemums and other perennials back to where the new buds are beginning to emerge. This will help keep your perennials full and stocky while giving your garden a fresh look. After cutting back your perennials, thin boxwoods and prune hollies and yews. Needled evergreens such as junipers and cypress can be lightly sheared or thinned, but avoid any extensive pruning. If you prune back into the old growth on these plants, they will not fill back in. This is also a great time to prune crape myrtle, roses and other summer blooming shrubs, with the exception of bigleaf and oakleaf hydrangeas. Avoid heavy pruning for these plants, as this will interfere with their flowering. If you are looking for more detailed information on pruning times and methods for some of our most popular landscape plants in our northern Virginia region,check out our tree and shrub pruning guide.

Clean Up Landscape Beds

Give your landscape beds a professional look using a spade or edging tool to define borders with smooth, sweeping curves or straight lines. After this is complete, add fresh mulch to protect and improve the soil, conserve moisture and discourage weeds. There are several different types of mulch to choose from, and they all do a good job. Pick the one with the color, texture and price that suits your taste. As a note: never layer more than 3 inches of mulch in your landscape beds – it is possible to have too much of a good thing!

Eliminate Weeds

Get ahead of the weeds! As you are cleaning up your established landscape beds, pull out any weeds that crept in this winter and apply a weed preventer. Weed preventers create a chemical barrier in the surface of the soil to inhibit germinating seeds from becoming established. Just be sure not to use weed preventers in any beds where you will be adding new plantings this spring. For more information check our blog posts on treating winter weeds and preventing summer weeds.

Prepare Garden Beds for New Plantings

Amend the soil of garden beds where you will be adding new plantings with fertilizer and soil conditioner. We recommend using Merrifield Starter Plant Food for your fertilizer and Merrifield Planting Mix for the soil conditioner. Preparing beds now will make it easier and more enjoyable when you are ready to start planting.

Plant Cold Hardy Trees, Shrubs, Perennials, Vegetables and Annuals

You can begin planting cold hardy trees, shrubs, perennials, vegetables and annuals. Be aware that we will continue to have freezing temperatures and frosty mornings throughout our area until late April. If you have plants with tender new foliage or flowers, be prepared to cover them with a frost cloth on those cold nights and days. Pansies, violas and primroses will all provide spring color, but are cold tolerant and can handle the chill of early spring. We get new plants all the time, so you can always stop by and ask our plant specialists about what will work well in your garden. Improve the growth, color and flowering of your favorite garden plants by fertilizing now as the growing season begins. We have made this super easy. If you want to promote blooms, use Merrifield Flowering Plant Food, if you want to promote lush, green vegetative growth, use Merrifield Tree and Shrub Food.

If you have any questions about preparing your garden for spring, give us a call, email us at service@mgcmail.com, or drop by the store and talk to us!

Sunflowers, Annual

Unique Edible Plants for Fall Cooking

With fall on its way we are all starting to think about our cool season vegetable gardens. In addition to well-known fruits and vegetables, there are also a wide variety of edible annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs which you may already be growing ornamentally in your landscape. By learning to incorporate these plants into our cooking, we can add some unique flavors to our meals. Whether you are new to edible gardening or are just looking for some new plants to add to your established fall garden, consider adding some of these herbaceous edible plants to your landscape this year.

Herbaceous Edibles

Taro

Generally grown for its foliage, one of its species is called “elephant’s ear” due to the size and shape of its leaves. Taro has an edible corm which can be used in the same way as a potato. It is known for its purple color and can also be used to make chips, tea, ice cream and candy. Taro is grown commercially as a food crop in Hawaii and many other parts of the world, and grows well in wet soil, making it an excellent choice for areas in your garden with poor drainage.

I like this recipe from ChefInYou for Taro Root Roast.

Flowers

Pansy, Annual

Pansy

A popular flower for fall containers and garden beds! The petals of pansies have a mild, fresh flavor and can be used as a garnish for cocktails, salads, soups and desserts. Try sugaring them to make a beautiful candied garnish for baking.

Tuberous Begonia

The flower petals of tuberous begonia have a light citrus taste and crisp texture. These are commonly used in salads, sandwiches, yogurt or ice cream. You can also use them as a garnish – sugared or plain. Edible varieties of begonia include: B. annulata (aka B. hatacoa), B. auriculata, B. barbata, B. gracilis, B. hernandioides, B. malabarica, B. mannii, B. picta, B. palmata, B. Semperflorens and B. fimbristipula (used to make a tea).

Learn to make sugared flowers from this video at Southern Living.

Sunflowers

In addition to the seeds, the entire sunflower plant can be eaten from the roots up to the flower. Eat sprouts thinned out from your garden bed on salads, tossed in your favorite dressing. Try a sunflower bud, which tastes like an artichoke – these are delicious roasted in garlic butter! Mature sunflower leaves can be used in stir fry, provided you remove the tough center ribs. Stalks can be used in the same way as celery for their crunchy texture and mild flavor. If you want sunflower seeds, place sunflower heads in a bright location and allow them to mature so you can collect the seeds for use in your cooking and snacks.

Food and Wine offers a variety of ideas for using all parts of sunflowers in your cooking.

Ornamental Vegetables

Ornamental Cabbage ISTOCK

Many of the vegetables we know and love come in beautiful, ornamental versions – which are still edible! Make the most out of every square inch of your landscape by filling in your garden beds with the beautiful foliage of vegetables like ornamental cabbage and kale. Onions and garlic also produce lovely blooms (think of allium – they are in the same family). You can then use ornamental plants in your fall cooking, just as you would the non-ornamental variety.

Important Tips for Using Edible Plants

Before you begin your edible garden, it is vital to remember the following rules when deciding which plants are safe to eat from your garden.

  1. Be conscious of which plants you will be eating when applying pesticides and fungicides. Knowing which products are safe to treat plants you are growing for food is very important. Any plant you eat must be grown organically, without the use of pesticides or other chemicals.
  2. Be certain you are using an edible variety of plant. If you are not sure that the plant you have is safe to eat – bring it in for us to identify, or start from scratch by planting the correct varieties (or seeds of those varieties) in your landscape.
  3. Start small. Our stomachs need time to adapt to new foods. Try eating small amounts first and give your body time to adjust to new ingredients. If you have food allergies, be especially conscious of the foods you are consuming.

If you have questions about starting your own edible garden, come in to any of our stores to talk with a plant specialist!

Creating a Custom Container Garden

Container gardening can add ambiance to your backyard patio, tie into the architecture of your home and welcome your guests at your entrance. It’s also ideal for small spaces. You can have all of the convenience of a yard right outside your front or back door.

I love incorporating container gardens throughout my garden to create focal points in my sitting areas. Here are the simple steps I follow to construct my containers that you can easily follow to create your own custom container garden.

Step one: Select your plants

The goal with any container planting is to have the perfect combination of plants to thrill, spill and fill:

  • Thrill plants draw your eye into the container, creating a focal point through height, color, bloom or texture.
  • Spill plants draw your eye down and through the container by trailing over the edge.
  • Fill plants are those that help to fill the voids in the pot. They typically provide contrast to your thrill plant and add interest.

You can collect these plants from all different areas of the nursery. We love combining traditional blooming and foliaged annuals with perennials and petite shrubs for a unique combination. Plus, when you incorporate perennials and shrubs, you have the added benefit of having your container garden morph with you into future seasons where you can simply replace the faded annuals with cool season annuals when the weather changes.

We selected:

  • Variegated dracaena for our thrill
  • Setcreasea ‘Purple Heart’, jurassic purple begonia, and begonia hiemals as our fill
  • Airy asparagus fern as our spill

For our 14” container we selected a total of seven plants to fill the space, but not overcrowd.

Container Blog Photos
  1. Variegated dracaena 2. Begonia hiemals 3. Jurassic purple begonia 4. Setcreasea ‘Purple Heart’ 5. Asparagus fern

Step two: Select your materials

Once you have your plants selected, choose a container that compliments the blooms and foliage. You want to choose a vessel that will allow your plants to pop! When selecting a container, make sure it has a hole in the bottom for drainage. Here are a few other supplies you’ll need to get started:

  • Small square of landscape fabric: You’ll place this over the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot to prevent the soil from escaping the bottom (and the critters from coming up into the pot).
  • Potting soil: Potting soil is nice and lightweight, making it easy to work with in a container setting. We recommend using our Merrifield Potting Mix. For our 14” pot we’ll need two, 16 qt. bags.
  • Fertilizer: To keep your blooms ongoing throughout the season, we recommend using fertilizer at the time of planting. You can use an organic option such as Espoma Plant Tone, or an inorganic, slow release granular, such as our Merrifield Flowering Plant Food or Osmocote.
  • River jack stones or seminole chips to cover the top of the container surface: Squirrels love to burry in fresh soil, using small river jack stones or seminole chip will keep them out of your fresh plants. And, using either as a topper helps prevent the dirt from washing over the edge of the container when watering.
  • Hand shovel for scooping up the potting mix
  • Gardening gloves

Step three: Assemble your container

  • Since your container can be heavy once its filled with the soil and plants, it’s best to set the container into place before you plant.
  • Place your piece of landscape fabric over the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot.
  • Fill your container 2/3 of the way with potting soil.
  • Add your granular fertilizer to the potting soil and mix with your hand shovel. Be sure to follow the instructions on the label to determine the appropriate amount of fertilizer to mix in.
  • Place your plants into your container and adjust to alternate the color and texture until you balance out the interest throughout the pot. For a container that needs interest from all angles, place the thrill in the middle. If you’re designing a container for a corner area, you can place the thrill in the back of the pot and work down toward your spill plants in the foreground.
  • Top off the container with soil, but keep it an inch from the top of the container.
  • Cover the surface of the soil with a half-of-an-inch of small river jacks or seminole chips.

Step four: Care for your container garden

Container Blog Photos

Once your container garden is set, water it thoroughly using a watering wand and garden hose. Run the water over your container, letting it drain out of the bottom. How frequently your container garden will need water depends on the size of the container, plant mix and placement (full sun containers will dry out more quickly than shade containers). Check your container for water every few days to ensure that it does not dry out. As the weather warms you may need to check it more frequently.

To keep your blooms looking their best all season, we recommend using a water-soluble fertilizer, such as Jack’s Classic Blossom Booster. I like to use a half strength dosage every other week when watering.

Gardens for Play

Mary Kirk Menefee, Merrifield Landscape Designer

Even before I became a mom, I was fascinated by how children play and their special connection with the outdoors. Maybe it goes back to my own childhood of romping in the woods, where slate ledges covered in moss were grand staircases and the creek was the exploration route of daring explorers. Maybe it has to do with how I found a grown-up way to never stop playing outside. Whatever the reason, now that I have a little one to guide through the world, his experience playing outdoors is top of mind.

Need for Outdoor Play Spaces

Like many parents, I am struck by how much has changed since my own childhood. Study after study pops up on my Twitter feed regarding the damage that an overly organized, scheduled and indoor childhood can do.  It turns out that outdoor free play is one of the essential ingredients for happy, healthy children.  And, since imagining and creating outdoor spaces is what I do, I decided to dig into what makes the best outdoor space for kids given the ways we live today.

The best places to play respond to how children think and view the world at every stage of their development. For instance:

  • Toddlers use all of their senses to explore and learn about the world.
  • Toddlers don’t draw lines between play, work and learning.
  • Young children love to take control of and manipulate their environment.
  • Young children apply imagination to even the most mundane places and objects.
  • Older children begin to see the outdoors as a place to be social.

Suggested Elements

Unfortunately, most traditional play equipment doesn’t take these ideas into account.  It is generally static with a prescribed purpose and distinctly separate from the surrounding environment. Once a child has mastered its challenges, it becomes boring. On the other hand, open-ended places that are connected to their surroundings require imagination and can be reinvented each day for renewed fun.  These open-ended places have a few key ingredients:

  • Natural materials—boulders, logs, plants, etc., provide a strong connection to nature and blend a place into the surroundings.
  • Sand or mud—kids needs a place for digging, construction, etc.
  • Access to running water—kids are fascinated by water for its own sake and for mixing with the above sand and mud.
  • Things to climb and balance on—it doesn’t take much for a small child to double their height and completely change what they see, so boulders, hills and logs are all fun.
  • Places to hide—kids love cozy places, especially when they feel like they are out of adult’s view.
  • Things to move—loose parts and props are the linchpin of creative play.
  • Things for sound—wind chimes, drums, etc., bring a musical element to a space.
  • Wildlife—even very young children delight in seeing birds, bugs and other animals.
  • Plants—no garden is complete without them. For children, those that can be touched, smelled and even tasted are best.

When thinking about how to blend all of these elements to construct such a place, it is helpful to remember two tried and true adages: less is more and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In other words, the best spaces don’t always look like much. A sand pit, a pile of rocks, a messy herb garden—all of these can be magical to a child. But, as a designer and a homeowner, I would probably not be satisfied to look out my window at a pile of sand and rocks no matter how beloved it is—perhaps there is a way to meet in the middle.