Watering African Violets 101 Different Strokes for Different Folks

With any watering method, keep in mind that African violets hate “wet feet.” Letting the soil go dry for a few days every so often will help keep the roots healthy. Too much water and too little water can produce the same symptoms – a wilted looking plant with drooping leaves. Until you figure out what works for your plants, you’ll want to pay close attention to moisture levels.

Top Watering is what we’re most familiar with, when we water our houseplants. African violets don’t mind being watered from the top. Contrary to popular advice, they also don’t mind getting their leaves wet. Leaves that stay wet, however, are another story. Water sitting on leaves can cause spots from sun or cold damage. Wet crowns can lead to rot. If they do get wet, blot the water from the leaves and crown with a paper towel. Condiment style squirt bottles can help you water without wetting the leaves.

Bottom Watering simply means watering the pot from the bottom. The potting mix soaks up moisture through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. This method waters the roots and keeps the foliage dry and happy. The surface of the potting mix also stays on the dry side, discouraging fungus gnats, algae and mold.

Wick Watering is a method using a wick to draw water up into the potting mix from a reservoir. Mason twine and strips of old pantyhose make excellent wicks. Put the wick up inside the pot, so it makes good contact with the potting mix and then extends through the drainage hole and into the water reservoir. Many different containers can work as reservoirs. You can also create a communal reservoir by putting a plastic grid over a sturdy nursery tray. The pots sit on the grid, and their wicks go down into the water.Capillary Mats go directly under pots. The drainage holes in the pot provide contact between the potting mix and the mat. When the mat is wet, capillary action carries moisture from the mat up into the potting mix. You can buy special material and cut it to fit your tray or saucer. Or you can cut up an acrylic blanket. Natural fibers generally break down too quickly to be practical. The mat can simply be placed on the bottom of a tray, under the pots. After bottom watering, the mat will absorb extra water and make it available to the plants over the next several days. Alternately, the mat can be used to wick water from a communal reservoir. Place the mat on a grid, set over a sturdy nursery tray. Let one end of the mat extend down into a reservoir of water in the tray, to keep the mat moist.

Self-watering Pots are the two-piece ceramic planters often sold as “African violet pots.” The unglazed inner pot absorbs moisture from the reservoir of water in the outer pot. Many AV varieties love growing in these pots, but I’ve had a few that just sulked until moved back to a regular plastic pot. It’s especially important to use a light soil mixture (at least half perlite) in these pots to keep the roots from getting too wet. Filling the reservoir only partway so just the bottom quarter inch or so of the inner pot gets wet will also help keep it from getting waterlogged.

The Texas-style Potting Method uses a layer of fine gravel or perlite at the bottom of the pot to wick water up from a saucer or tray. The commercial two piece plastic pots called Oyama Planters are a self-watering option utilizing a similar concept.

Tricks and Tips
The constant moisture of many of these methods make it especially important to use a light potting mix. I use a little more than 1 part perlite to 1 part good quality soil-less potting mix. A bit of activated charcoal in the bottom of the pot can also help keep wet soil from getting funky.

Constant-watering methods save time and are especially useful if you’re often away. Give your plants a break from constantly moist conditions every month or two by emptying reservoirs and letting potting mix dry out for about a week. Since dried potting mix may pull away from a wick or from the sides of a self-watering pot, a little top watering might be necessary to restart the action.

Using community trays with capillary mats or wicked pots lets you spend less time watering. If you have a large collection or are doing a lot of propagating, this can be a big time saver. Community watering does carry more risk of spreading pests and diseases between plants, so there’s a trade-off. You may see green algae growing in your reservoir trays or on your capillary mats. It’s usually harmless, but if you don’t like the way it looks you can add a control product like PhysanTM to the water.

Experiment with different watering styles and techniques until you find one that suits you and your plants. With any method, watering from the top with plain water every so often will help flush excess fertilizer salts from the soil.

Remember that a waterlogged African violet with root rot will look just like a wilted, too-dry African violet. So stick your finger in the potting mix to test for moisture before pouring on more water to “rescue” a drooping plant.

Having so many possibilities to choose from can seem complicated, but it gives you a lot of flexibility. Having more than one “right” answer to “How should I water my African violet?” lets you find the answer that works best for you!


Use these water-saving gardening techniques to survive a “mega-drought”

Whether or not you believe in man-made climate change, one thing is indisputable: that the Southwestern United States are experiencing a record-breaking drought that has lasted for around 14 years. This particular drought has the potential of becoming what is termed a “megadrought” — one which lasts more than two decades.

But even if you don’t live in one of the drought-affected areas, water conservation is still important. As the population increases, so does the demand on our water resources, and there is simply no excuse for wasting this precious commodity which is so vital to our very existence.

So in this article I’d like to give you some tips for drought gardening techniques and also some general methods of reducing water waste. Even if you have no water restrictions in your area, you’ll save money and help the environment by incorporating these in your landscaping and gardening routine.

You’ve probably heard the term “xeriscaping,” which doesn’t necessarily mean replacing your lawn and garden with cacti and rocks. Xeriscaping merely means employing techniques that reduce water waste and overall usage.

Here are a few useful water conservation tips that you can begin using right now, no matter where you live:

Early morning and night watering — Watering your lawn or garden in the nighttime or early morning hours reduces the amount of water evaporation. Hook up timers in your watering system to make this easier.

Avoid using overhead sprinklers — Overhead sprinklers lose a lot of water to evaporation. Use drip systems or soaker hoses, or water your lawn and garden manually.

Group plants with similar water needs — Plant rows or areas with plants that require the same amount of water, so that you can use consistent (and therefore conservative) irrigation techniques.

Use mulch — A mulch layer of 3″ or 4″ will reduce evaporation and help keep weeds out of your garden.

Water deeper and less often — This will encourage roots to grow deeper, making plants more drought-resistant.

Adjust your lawn height — Mow your grass at a higher setting on your lawnmower to reduce growth rate, encourage deeper roots and shade the soil, all of which reduce watering demands.

Fix leaks — Fix leaks in your watering system, such as hose fittings. Also fix any leaks inside your house as well (the average home loses more than 10 percent of its water to leaks).

Start conserving waste water — Begin collecting “grey” water and other wasted water in your household. For instance, the water wasted while waiting for your shower to heat up can be collected in a bucket for outdoor watering. Collect rainwater from gutters and drains.

Don’t over-fertilize — Over-fertilizing leads to excessive growth, which in turn means more watering is needed.

Choose appropriate plants — Before planting lawns, gardens, trees or ornamentals, take into consideration how much water each requires. Select plants that thrive in your surroundings without much extra watering.

If you live in a drought-prone area, you may be tempted to feel guilty about planting a food garden due to the watering requirements. Of course, you need to obey any local water restrictions, but keep in mind that you are doing the environment a favor by growing your own food.

For one thing, you can grow more efficiently in terms of water usage than a large-scale commercial farm can, and since there are no transport costs (and the resulting environmental impact), you are actually helping to conserve water and other resources.

We live in a world where we can no longer afford to waste natural resources, and by rethinking our relationship to our environment, we can not only become better stewards of the planet but also enjoy a happier and healthier lifestyle.

Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/050003_drought_gardening_water_conservation_xeriscaping.html#ixzz41cnkpDAE

Grow Herbs in Your Garden

Types of Herbs

Herbs bring a lot of value to the home garden. Most are easy to grow, asking only for sunshine and well-drained soil. Some herbs are annuals. Other perennial varieties stay vibrant and productive for years. They work great as container plants, grown alone or mixed with other plants. The contrasting leaf shapes, textures, colors and sizes make herbs excellent ornamental plants. On the practical side, most herbs are drought-tolerant, making them great candidates for xeriscapes or rock gardens. Depending on the plant, the usable parts include roots, stems, bark, leaves, fruit, seeds and oils. There are hundreds of plants that are considered herbs. Here are just a few of the better-known members of the family.

Basil (Ocimum varieties), a culinary favorite, especially for those who consider pesto a basic food group. Grown as an annual, basil’s many varieties can have big or small leaves, upright or mounding form, and green or purple foliage. Basil likes the heat of summer. Keep the flower buds pinched back for maximum leaf production. Height is around 2-ft

Bay (Laurus nobilis) is another kitchen standard sometimes known as “bay tree.” Reaching 50-ft in tree form, 10-ft is a more normal size to expect at maturity. Bay makes a dramatic statement when grown in a large container.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is indeed a favorite of felines. Its color, fragrance and form make it a great addition to any herb garden. Catnip or its smaller cousin catmint (Nepeta mussinii) range from 1-3-ft high.

(Matricaria recutita) brings to mind tea, potpourri and bath products. Add some color to an often uncolorful herb garden with chamomile’s delicate yellow and white daisy-like flowers. Grows up to 2-ft tall.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are appealing both for their grass-like appearance and distinctive pink flowers. The mild onion flavor is excellent for seasoning. Chives grow about 8-in tall.

Cilantro and Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) gives you a two for one benefit from the same plant. Cilantro leaves are a must for fresh salsa. Coriander seeds are used in many recipes. The plants grow 1-2-ft tall.

Dill (Anethum graveolens) is much more than just pickles. Dill can also be used to season vegetable, meat and egg dishes. The tall feathery plants add contrast to the herb garden. Mature height can be 5-ft at maturity.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is also one of the taller herbs, growing up to 6-ft. Colors range from green to bronze. Stems, leaves and seeds are all used in the kitchen.

Garlic (Allium sativum) is perhaps the most noticeable of the onion family. The oft-maligned odor from its cloves is redeemed by the health benefits it offers. Garlic chives grow 18-36-in tall and bear white flowers from late spring to early summer.

Geranium (scented Pelargonium varieties) invite you to stop and smell the foliage – that’s where the aroma is. The blooms are also quite attractive. Scented geraniums vary greatly in size, color, leaf shape and scent.

Lavender (Lavendula varieties) is best known for its fragrance and is a favorite for drying. Lavender’s popularity is proven by the fact that its very name also describes its color. Depending on the variety, the plants grow 1-3-ft tall.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has deliciously-scented foliage that is a treat in the garden. It looks like oversized mint and if not kept in check can quickly spread both by runners and seed. Lemon balm grows 2′ – 3′ in height.

Lemon Grass
(Cymbopogon citrates) Used as a culinary additive in Asian cooking, it also makes an attractive and aromatic ornamental plant. Lemon grass is fast-growing, but not cold-hardy. It can reach 4-ft in height in a season and is easily propagated by division.

Marjoram (Origanum varieties) is a very close relative of oregano. Sweet marjoram is a tasty salad additive and is also used in potpourri. Can reach 2-ft in height.

Oregano (Origanum varieties) is a staple in many Italian and Greek dishes. There are many varieties, some more flavorful than others. Expect most types to grow to 18-in.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a great filler in the garden or window box. Do not relegate it to the corner of the dinner plate as a garnish, fresh parsley has a great flavor. Grows to about 2-ft tall in one season.

Peppermint (Mentha varieties) can be invasive. With that bit of negative publicity out of the way, you should consider planting something from the mint family anyway. Spreading varieties can easily be controlled by planting in containers. Choose from dozens of flavors and varieties for cooking or aroma. Depending on the species, mints can reach 36-in in height.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a favorite for seasoning pork and soups. It can reach a diameter of 4-ft when grown in a protected area. It blooms in late winter and early spring and has a savory, pine-like scent.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) leaves and flowers are used in cooking and salads. Can you imagine stuffing without sage? The plant’s upright form also provides visual contrast in the herb garden. A sage plant can reach 3-ft in height.

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is renowned for its sweetness. This native of South America is just finding its way into modern herb gardens. A mature stevia plant may reach 3-ft tall.

Summer Savory (Satureja hortenis) is not showy — more substance than style. Its peppery flavor makes an excellent seasoning for vegetables or meats. Grown as an annual, its cousin winter savory is a perennial herb.

Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) used sparingly (to avoid bitterness) is a great addition to meats, vegetables, vinegars and a must-have ingredient for Sauce Bernaise. The 2-3-ft upright plant also makes an attractive addition to the garden.

Thyme (Thymus varieties) can be found in hundreds of varieties, with just as many uses. Ranging in size from 1-in – 2-ft tall, forms include creeping (makes a great ground cover) to upright and bushy.

Herb Planting Tips

Whether you’re short on gardening space or just trying to make care and harvesting easier, containers offer a great way to grow edibles. Herbs in particular are a natural in pots. You can extend the season by bringing them inside in colder temperatures and you can keep them close at hand, where you’re most likely to use them.

If you have more room to work with, an herb garden can become both a focal point and a source of culinary inspiration. This circular herb garden plan will show you how.

Learn more about the best culinary herbs for your area of the country and get growing tips from Lowe’s regional gardening contributors.

Preserve Fruits, Vegetables and Herbs

In midwinter, there’s nothing like a little taste of summer. Preserve some of this year’s harvest of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. It requires a little effort, but you’ll be glad you did when you dig into that homemade marinara sauce some snowy day. Preservation is simple and inexpensive; plus you get even more bragging rights when someone compliments your cooking.


Canning, Freezing and Drying Garden Produce

The preservation of food is not a new idea. In fact, cold storage in a root cellar was one of the first methods of preserving and overwintering produce. All that was needed was a cool, dark area with some humidity and air circulation to prevent the harvest from shriveling, spoiling, or sprouting.

Some more modern preservation methods are:

Canning follows pretty straightforward guidelines. It requires more effort and equipment, but the results are almost foolproof if you follow the instructions carefully. Tomatoes and beans are two summer crops that be canned very successfully. Jellies, jams, and preserves are perfect for using extra fruit, but don’t think jellies are only good for PB&J sandwiches. Jellied herbs and garlic make excellent condiments and spreads.

Freezing is a simple means of preservation. Some vegetables will need blanching before freezing. Not all goods freeze with acceptable results — avoid lettuce, green onions, uncooked tomatoes, and radishes. Herbs, however, can be frozen successfully.

Drying is easy, but not necessarily simple. If you dry food too fast, enough moisture will remain to allow bacteria to grow. If you dry too long, you may end up with dust. The idea is to find the proper heat needed to remove moisture but not cook the product. Drying times vary based on the type of food and the drying method used.

The traditional method for drying fruits is air drying outdoors. Food is spread on racks, screens, or tables; the sun and wind do the rest. An obvious drawback to the outdoor method is the exposure to insects and the uncertainty of weather. Fruit dried outdoors also needs to be treated with sulfur or ascorbic acid to prevent spoilage and darkening. To avoid the complications of the outdoor approach, drying can be done in conventional and microwave ovens. Food dehydrators are the most reliable drying tool since they are designed specifically for that purpose.

Follow these general guidelines when drying foods:

  • Use quality produce. Preserving will not improve its taste, texture, or looks.
  • Always practice cleanliness.
  • Food dries better when cut into uniform pieces.
  • Store in a cool, dark place in airtight containers.
  • Dried foods can also be frozen. When preparing recipes with dried foods, remember they have a more intense flavor.

Freezing and Drying Herbs

Herbs are great candidates for preserving. When you are ready to harvest herbs, remember that most herbs’ oil content is highest when flower buds are just beginning to form – don’t wait until they open. Take cuttings in the morning when the oil levels are highest in the leaves. Cut the stems with pruners or scissors. Late in the season, most herbs can be cut by one half to two thirds. Rinse the herbs thoroughly before preserving.

To air dry herbs:

1. Tie the stems in bundles and hang the bundle upside down.

2. Store them in a dark room with some air circulation.

3. Fasten a paper bag over the bundle to provide darkness and prevent dust from accumulating.

4. Depending on the size of the leaves, the herbs should be dry in one to two weeks.

To dry herbs in a conventional oven, microwave or dehydrator:

1. Strip the leaves from the stem and place them on the trays.

2. Experiment with the oven method to achieve the right drying time. 3. Be careful — drying herbs too fast removes too much of the oil, and therefore the flavor. You’ll know they’re dry when they become slightly crisp.

4. Store the final product in jars in a dry, dark, place or use it to make oils, vinegars or herb butter.

When freezing herbs: Use quality produce.  Wash, dry and strip the leaves. Then freeze. Or freeze the entire stem leaves and all. Store in a freezer bag and break off what you need for cooking. Use ice cube trays to freeze recipe-sized portions in water to drop right in the stockpot.

Master Gardeners, Who they are, What they do

Since being certified as a Master Gardener in 1997 I’ve met hundreds of gardeners, many of them Master Gardeners so I think I have a pretty good idea of what exactly makes these folks “tick”.

Here on DG and elsewhere I’ve heard folks refer to Master Gardeners as “know it alls”, “uppity”, “they talk down to me”, “ they think they are better than me”, and so forth. I want to proclaim that these statements couldn’t be farther from the truth. Needless to say as in any national organization there are a few bad apples. The majority of Master Gardeners are friendly, generous, helpful and passionate about gardening.

We never stop learning, and believe me we don’t think we know more than anyone else about horticulture.

I want to familiarize you with the program and what a MG does to receive that title and how they use the knowledge gleaned to aid their community.

The Master Gardener program was started back in the 1970’s; it was established to aid the local extension offices to serve the public in the area of horticulture.

All of the 50 states have Master Gardener programs and they are organized by county. The requirements vary slightly from state to state, but the majority of programs are very similar. Most of the information that I’m providing is based on the Michigan program under the auspices of Michigan State University.

In my county there are 2 Master Gardener classes held each year. Each is 14 weeks long and each session lasts for 3 hours. The subjects covered are Soil Science, Plant Science, Lawn Care, Flowers, Woody Ornamentals, Small Fruit culture, Indoor Plants, Tree Fruit culture, Vegetable culture, Integrated Pest Management, Household Insects, Diagnostics, Composting, Volunteering and Community Service. The classes are taught by Extension agents, college professors or Advanced Master Gardeners who are proficient in a particular area. Each student is provided with a handbook (which weighs about 20 pounds). There is a weekly quiz where a grade of 70% or better is required to pass. At the end of the course a final exam is given, again a grade of 70% or better is required.

Upon completion each student must complete 40 hours of community service within 1 year in order to be certified as a Master Gardener. After the first year each Master Gardener must complete 15 hours of community service and 5 hours of education hours in order to remain certified.

The education hours consist of programs, lectures or horticultural classes held by various organizations.

There is also an Advanced Master Gardener designation which consists of a MG completing 65 hours of community service and 30 educational hours within 5 years of completing the initial training.

I think most MG’s think of the community service as a fun event rather than a chore. At our county Master Gardener banquet this year I received my 2500 hour service pin. I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every single hour of my volunteer time.

Probably the most rewarding community service programs consist of working with kids. Schools, Junior Master Gardener programs and 4-H groups are just a few examples.
We answer questions at State and County fairs, Farmer’s Markets, and various flower and garden shows.

Most counties have a horticultural hot line where residents can call in with their home and garden questions. These calls are answered by MG’s. If the problem can’t be resolved over the phone diagnostic services are available. Gardeners bring in a plant or insect sample and MG’s will diagnose the problem. They have a ton of reference books and data bases from which to search for an answer. If the problem can’t be resolved locally the sample is sent to the state university where a solution will be sent to the homeowner in a week or 2.