Care for Houseplants

Houseplants are a diverse group; the term is used to describe everything from a cactus to an orchid. This diversity can make plant care challenging (and occasionally frustrating). There are some pretty simple and common things to remember when selecting and caring for houseplants.

Choosing Houseplants

If you haven’t purchased a plant yet, choose a healthy plant to begin with:

  • Look for a plant that’s bushy, with buds or new growth. Avoid plants that are “leggy,” (a term used to describe plants that are too tall and thin).
  • Avoid plants with brown edges on the leaves – which could mean the plant has been subjected to too much heat or fertilizer.
  • Beware of pale or yellow lower leaves, a sign of improper watering.
  • When you get home, do not be surprised if some lower leaves drop off. The plant may simply be adjusting to its new environment.

Proper Light for Houseplants

Without light a plant will starve, unable to produce food, or photosynthesize. (Plant photosynthesis is also the process that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, replacing it with oxygen). So, the placement of your plants in the home is critical. A home will contain many microclimates; for example kitchens and baths normally are more humid. Plants do not have to reside on a windowsill, but if yours do, here are some enlightening facts.

Remember that windows facing:

  • North – receive no direct sun, but supply good light for foliage plants. Providing extra light in winter might be in order.
  • South – are the brightest and may be too bright in summer.
  • East – get the “cooler” morning sun, which is excellent for growing.
  • West – receive a lot of sun, also excellent for growing. However, plants may need some relief from intense sunlight.

More Light Facts

  • Plants are phototrophic – they grow towards the light source. Turn your plants regularly to maintain even growth, at least every time you water.
  • Variegated (foliage plants with leaves of more than one color or shade) plants require more light than purely green ones.
  • Most plants do their growing at night, so make sure to provide a daily period of darkness.
  • Light colored walls reflect more light than dark walls. Plants will feel the effects of this indirect light – something to keep in mind when placing plants.
  • Flowering plants will generally need more light than foliage plants. In fact, the more light they receive, the more flowers they will produce. (But don’t forget a nightly rest in the dark).
  • You may want to consider providing additional artificial light in areas where sunlight is scarce during winter months.

Temperature and Air

As stated above, most plants do their growing at night. Just as plants need light to produce food, they also need a daily period of cool and dark to prosper. Temperature needs vary by plant, but on average, houseplants enjoy temperatures ranging from 65° to 80° F during the day and 55° to 65° F at night. Today, most homeowners tend to maintain a constant temperature, averaging around 70° F. Most plants will adapt to this temperature, but some flowering plants cannot set new flowers without cool evenings.

As always, read the plant label for its specific requirements.

  • Do not let leaves touch windowpanes, especially if your winters are cold.
  • Plants need circulation, but do not respond well to drafts.
  • Pollution from smoke, gas, kerosene, even ripe apples (which create ethylene gas) can affect plants.

Watering Houseplants

Overwatering is the most common cause of plant death. Roots need air as well as water. Soil that is too wet will begin to smell, the roots will rot, and diseases will find a home in the wet environment.

When to Water
Some plants need constant moisture; some prefer a much drier environment. The good old standby test is to stick your finger into the soil to a depth of 1 – 1 1/2 inches midway between the rim of the pot and the base of the plant. If the soil feels dry, then it’s time to water. In most cases, watering should be done in the morning. As you’ve probably heard, plants don’t like to go to bed with wet feet.

How to Water
Water must reach all of the root system to be beneficial, so when you water, do it generously rather than a little every day. Always read the plant tag for specific instructions. Water around the base of the plant, not over the flowers or foliage. Use room temperature or tepid (around 90° F) water. When water begins to flow from the drainage hole – stop. Pour off the excess water from the saucer. If the water comes out of the drain hole immediately, the plant may be completely dried out.

Another sign of an overly dry plant is when the soil is pulled away from the outside edge of the container. An extremely dry plant can be immersed in a sink or other container of water for about 30 minutes. The moisture will be drawn up through the drainage hole.

Wicks and self-watering systems are options you may want to consider. Wicks are inserted through the drainage hole. The pot sits slightly elevated in a saucer or other container (not directly in the water). The other end of the wick is placed in the saucer, which contains water. The wick ensures that the soil will remain consistently moist (as long as the water level is maintained in the saucer).

Providing Humidity
Homes are generally dry. Additional moisture can be provided by grouping plants or placing in a tray on a layer of damp pebbles. Smooth-leaved plants can be misted or washed. Do not spray or wash a hairy-leaved plant (such as an African violet).

Using the Right Soil

The growing medium is an important aspect of plant care. Your best bet is to buy prepackaged soils. Soil from your garden could contain fungi, bacteria, insect eggs, weed seeds or undesirable elements that you wouldn’t want to bring into your house.

The most common types of bagged soil include:

Potting mix – the best choice for potting or repotting. Potting mix should contain organic matter, as well as elements for aeration and moisture retention (perlite and vermiculite). Charcoal may also be an ingredient.

Professional grower’s mix – also known as greenhouse mix. Because of its fine texture, it is very good for starting seeds. But for the same reason, it will also dry out very quickly.

Planting mix – contains compost and sand and is recommended for outdoor use, not houseplants.

Topsoil – is basically compost. Because of the rough texture, it’s best to use in the yard, not as a potting soil.

Flowering plant mix – contains more acid to promote flowers, otherwise similar to potting mix.

Cactus mix – absorbs water easily, and then dries quickly. Use with cacti and succulents.

Feeding Houseplants

A houseplant’s root system is limited by the boundaries of its container and cannot go in search of food as an outdoor plant will. For that reason, feeding is necessary for a healthy plant. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are the three main nutrients contained in most plant foods.

Fertilize houseplants during their growing (not dormant) season. Too much fertilizer can damage a plant. Specific needs will depend on several factors – the plant itself, the amount of light it requires, whether it is a flowering or foliage plant. In general, plants that require more light will require more frequent feeding. Above all – read the label on the plant food.

Feeding “Don’ts”

  • Do not apply heavily if the soil is dry, the fertilizer could burn the roots.
  • Do not feed if the plant is dormant. Wait until they are actively growing.
  • Do not exceed the recommended dosage.

Repotting a Plant

The container of the plant affects how often you should water it. Clay dries out more quickly than plastic since the material is porous which helps prevent the soil from getting too saturated. Because of this same characteristic, plants in clay pots may need watering more frequently. Clay pots can be waterproofed if you wish.

Other waterproof containers, such as plastic and ceramic, will definitely hold water, so look for a container with a drainage hole. Drainage holes allow excess water and harmful salts to escape. Remember any pot with a drainage hole in the bottom needs a saucer underneath.

Within a plants’ lifetime it may become necessary to move it to a bigger container. A few plants need to be slightly rootbound in order to prosper but most plant need additional space as they mature. Repotting is essential to allow root growth.

When the time comes to repot, you may see some of the following signals:

  • New leaves are developing smaller than established leaves.
  • The plant wilts between normal watering, or the leaves turn yellow.
  • Roots are visible on the soil surface or coming from the drainage holes.

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:

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.

One Technique for Painting Succulents with Watercolors

This article is an introduction on how to do some watercolor paintings of some of the simpler succulents (Aloes, Agaves etc.).Some painting tips will be mentioned and some sample paintings will be shown as they develop from the start to finish.

To me painting is no substitute for photography, either in terms of accuracy, or even color or form. But sometimes painting can add things impossible to create with simple photography. And though photographs themselves can certainly be art, there is something satisfyingly ‘artistic’ about making a painting of a plant, even if it’s directly from a photograph, no matter how formulaic this might sound. One can add a lot or take away a lot from the original image by painting, exaggerate or alter the colors, blur or simplify the background, simplify or alter the form, add objects (I usually add lizards) and basically change a ‘factual’ photograph into one’s own interpretation of the ‘facts’. Paintings do not have to be accurate, or even duplicate reality in the least. In fact, one has nearly infinite freedom when painting. But in this article I use traced images to simplify the process, speed things up a great deal and preserve some accuracy. I find the wonderful symmetries of some of the plants I paint are difficult to reproduce without tracing. What one does from there is totally up to each individual, but at least this will give the reader/painter a start.

Painting from a photograph has always seemed to me a form of cheating and certainly without many of the challenges and satisfaction of plein air painting (painting from real life out in nature).I love painting and drawing from real life, but it is a very time-consuming effort.One does not always have the time to sit outdoors and paint while the light is right and the plant is right.In fact I never have time for this anymore.A photograph can capture a plant in the proper light or position forever and allow one an indefinite amount of time to paint… so this is what I do.

Watercolors are an ideal medium for me in that they take up very little room, so are easy to transport and set up anywhere (work or home). The paintings themselves are easy to keep, store, move about and work on whenever (compare this to oil, pastel, or to a lesser degree, acrylic painting – all messy, difficult to transport and easy to damage). And though there are certainly limitations to watercolors along with a degree of ‘unforgivability’ not inherent with the other painting forms, there is more latitude and flexibility to watercolors than many may realize. Watercolors can be tight (controlled) or loose -wild and crazy, impressionistic, cartoon-like or whatever- there is definitely a lot of freedom as well as convenience with this medium.

This is all the room the whole kit takes up… other than the painting itself and a cup of water

Why succulents? Most botanical artists paint flowers, or scenery or perhaps even do scientific illustration. I find succulents an ideal model for me because I don’t have much interest in painting flowers, scenery is too complex for my skill level, and scientific illustrations are too exacting and time-consuming. Most succulents grow well in pots and can be moved to different lighting arrangements easily. Many succulents are small and simple enough that one can enjoy painting them in entirety without sweating the details. And many have symmetry that makes painting them akin to coloring in a coloring book… just get the shapes close and fill in the spaces, and you have a painting of a succulent! Painting succulents can make one seem like a skillful artist while one is still learning (good boost to one’s ego- just what one needs to encourage one to keep painting!). Agaves and Aloes are particularly ideal subjects having few annoying details but wonderful shapes and symmetry that are both fun and easy to paint.

One of my first watercolor attempts- Aeonium (no idea what species) partially from real life, partially from photo (no tracing with this one)

This first painting I show here is of an Agave parryi I have in the front yard I photographed from above. Though I like to draw from my photographs by just looking at them, this often results in somewhat lopsided drawings (if you’re good, that doesn’t happen… oh well). But when painting something with wonderful symmetry or annoying details, tracing the original photograph saves me both time and frustration. To copy a photo I just print it out on an 8×11 sheet of paper and cover the back side with graphite (#2 pencil is perfect, though slightly softer pencils work well, too… very dark/soft pencils or charcoal make too dark and image and one that smears too easily, too). Then I transfer the painting onto watercolor paper by tracing the outlines of the photograph. Be sure to tape the photo onto the watercolor paper somewhat securely or the drawing may not transfer accurately (shifting a bit side to side as one traces), and/or the graphite might smear all over making it hard to see the transferred drawing. I find scotch tape works fine and doesn’t stick so well to watercolor paper that it damages it pulling it off later. But you can use masking tape or drafting tape (made specifically for this purpose). Duct tape sticks too well and will damage the watercolor paper. Trace the major shapes on the photo using a ball-point pen or strong but somewhat dull pencil to be sure the transferred image is dark enough to see once you’re done. I prefer a pen for this as it rarely tears the paper and I can then see what shapes I have traced and which ones I still have yet to do. It is not usually essential to trace every little detail- it is probably best to deal with those, if at all, once you start actually painting. Tracing details will usually complicate the final drawing too much and make it difficult to tell what’s what after you take the photo away.

Number 2 pencil on back of photograph (another Agave parryi photo) and the subsequent tracing next to the photo

Larger paintings from tracings require special printing abilities (my printer does not print paper larger than 8×11) or other copying equipment (camera lucida or some sort of projector). I find that though the larger the painting, the more impressive once finished, 8×11 keeps the painting size to a ‘doable’ one (large paintings take a lot longer and I get bored quickly) and easier to store, too. This does tend to make all my paintings about the same size, which is both convenient (for matting purposes) but less interesting if one plans to sell/show ones paintings (not me).

I like rough or cold-press watercolor paper, the thicker the better (thicker papers warp less and tolerate a lot more abuse… but can be really expensive!). These papers are not very smooth surfaced, but that makes the watercolor painting process itself more interesting, and the water doesn’t dry too fast. Hot press watercolor paper is nice and smooth, but to me it tends to dry so fast that blending colors is difficult. However hot press is better if you want a really detailed painting in the end. I use dry paper. Some like to do watercolors on soaking wet paper but this technique not only offers one little control of details, but makes it harder to see the faint penciled image. Also, wet paper requires a board to staple the paper onto, and is messy and time consuming anyway. However it is generally considered more ‘artsy’. I like ease and simplicity of dry paper, though. Since I rarely get to finish a painting at one sitting, I like the freedom of being able to toss my painting into the car and take with me wherever I go, and if some free time comes up, I can paint a little more. All I need is the original photograph I used for the transfer, the painting and my little portable watercolor palette with a few brushes. I use fairly cheap and small watercolor brushes (if I were a professional, or a lot better at this, I might care more about costly brushes, but I have used some pretty nice brushes and in most instances have not benefited from the higher quality, so the quality was lost on my skill level and the excess cost was not worth it).

Once I have the photograph transferred onto the paper, I usually paint the plant, leaf by leaf, worrying little about details of color and shading. I like to get the shapes blocked in for two reasons… it gives me a feeling I have gotten somewhere (this is important as starting a painting is always the hardest part to me), and it keeps the pencil from smearing. Painting over the pencil rarely is a problem in terms of the final image, as the transferred image rarely is dark enough to show through the painting, or at least not enough to annoy me. And one can actually erase some pencil right through the watercolor afterwards (I do not understand how that is possible, but it is).

Here I am working on two differnt paintings at the same time (that way while one is drying I can paint on the other… plus it saves on paper)

Once the basic shape is on paper in watercolor, the fun part begins. Up to now it has just been painting like a child colors a coloring book. The hard part- the shapes- are taken care of thanks to tracing the image. Now it is time to ‘sculpt’ the painting. I am sure that is not the right term, but that is sort of how it feels as I go back over and over and over again, adding a bit more paint each time, layer after layer, slowly getting the colors darker and richer, and creating the shading and details that make the painting interesting. It reminds me of slowly sculpting a piece of wood or marble, only this is an additive process, not one where one takes a bit away.

There is no ‘teaching’ this part, but if one just goes slowly and uses a small brush, one will find soon enough that it is not that difficult. Once I have a leaf shape painted a certain color (color accuracy is not too important to me- see the bizarrely colored agave painting below) I try to get the ‘tone’ right. Tone is far more important than color for making a painting work. In fact, one could probably pick any color one likes as long as the tone is right. Tone is basically the relative amount of light or dark one is left with if the painting is reduced to just the darks and lights (or black and white). I can see tones best if I squint at the photo or painting to the point I can’t see the color anymore (my way of seeing a photo/painting in just the darks and lights). Then one can see how dark or light the area is one’s working on and compare it to the original photograph. Watercolors are naturally fairly transparent. But they don’t have to be. As one adds more and more layers they become less and less transparent, the tones/shades get richer and more interesting. The reason I use a small brush is to force me to add these layers slowly. One thing watercolors are not, compared to other media I have used (paints, pencil and pastel), is overly forgiving. Too much and too dark a paint is hard to do much about. One can take up some watercolor paint from a painting with water and a sponge but this can damage the paper, make a huge smudge and smear nearby lines and shapes. There is really no way to cover up a bad mistake or correct way too much paint like one can with pastel or oil/acrylic paint. So, being a chicken watercolorer, I proceed tentatively and build up to the darkest shades slowly. If one is an oil painter or using pastels, one probably is used to starting with the darkest shades first and adding the light ones later as highlights. This won’t work with watercolors- just the opposite. The highlights have to be done first and left alone after that, slowly making the rest darker and darker. It took me a while to get used to this after years of the opposite process doing pastels. Basically work on the lightest areas first, then leave them alone, concentrating on the darkest areas last.

These are two Agave paintings done with less than realistic colors, yet they can still be recognized as Agaves

The final touches are added with dark paint (indigo or some dark brown works best… I never use black as black seems so black it looks weird- few plants in nature have truly black color or shadows). These final dark additions should be minimal so they don’t overpower the painting, and they will also stand out better. But I am hardly one to tell you what to do- for all I know huge areas of dark could look really great- just not in my paintings. Details like these are totally up the artist. I am just explaining how I do them.

Like I said, this is only how I do things… there are as many ways to paint as there are people. Experiment, don’t worry about the end product at first (usually my best paintings are the ones I worried the least about and had the most fun with) and don’t get too frustrated. Good luck and have fun!These are some other Agaves I have painted… the two variegated Agaves were simple enough to be painted free hand while the Agave margarita in the middle was tracedA traced Agave ocahui painting, and free-hand Aloe petricola painting, and another traced painting of an Echeveria runyonii ‘Topsy Turvy’

Great Gardeners Use Seed – Everything Old Is New Again

The National Garden Bureau launches a campaign to revitalize the ease and pleasure of growing from seed. This logo will be used to identify educational information on gardening from seed or bedding plants from seed. National Garden Bureau members will encourage the art and craft of gardening with seed using the Great Gardeners Use Seed™ logo. This is a commitment to reach teachers, youth, and adults teaching the benefits of gardening with seed and plants from seed. Founded in 1920, the Bureau’s original mission was to disseminate basic instructions for backyard gardening. In the 21st century, the Bureau has published Today’s Garden and the “Year of” fact sheets and offered the same valuable gardening advice on the website, In addition to general public education, the Bureau has sponsored programs that teach youth science with the use of garden-based activities. The Bureau acknowledges that previous generations were taught to garden by their parents, grandparents, or other family members. Millions of children and older youth have not had the opportunity to sow a seed and nurture the plant grown from seed. Garden-based activities – the GrowLab® Program Over 50 GrowLabs have been donated to teachers for classroom use. A GrowLab® is a tabletop structure that serves as a germination chamber and growing laboratory for children to sow seed, nurture growing plants, learn botany and become familiar with plant needs. Teachers are given guidelines, seed, soil, and the tools to lead youth through the growing process. Each spring the Bureau contacts the teachers to learn if they have needs for materials to continue using the GrowLab®. Teachers applaud this program. The Bureau works with the National Gardening Association to provide the GrowLabs and necessary supplies. Teacher’s Educational Kits The Bureau partners with the National Gardening Association to distribute educational kits to teachers. There were two educational kits created this year. Since 2005 is the ‘Year of the Melon,’ the fact sheets and melon seed were sent to teachers who requested the kit on the NGA website. Each year more than 500 educational kits are sent to teachers upon request. This year 37,000 teachers received seed packets donated primarily by the National Garden Bureau members and a poster sponsored by Dole Foods. This educational kit was organized by NGA to celebrate National Gardening Month in April. The kits were sent to teachers who subscribe to the Weekly Reader. The Bureau is supporting numerous projects that teach the miracle of seed, growing plants from seed and bedding plants from seed. This NGB Today’s Garden proudly features the following AAS winners that have earned the status of “heirlooms.”

Everything Old Is New Again

It is curious that at the same time modern hybrid plants are getting attention, heirlooms are garnering more appeal among home gardeners. So, what are heirlooms? They are cultivated plant varieties that have been grown for at least 50 years, time-tested and open-pollinated. Chiefly of European descent, heirloom seeds have been passed down from one generation to the next. Through the centuries, people selected out and conserved seeds of those plants with enhanced characteristics such as flavor, vigor, scent, and local hardiness. Heirloom seeds were often among the few belongings immigrants brought to America. Many heirlooms are still being kept in families and some are now available to gardeners everywhere. What accounts for the ever-growing interest in and cultivation of more heirlooms? People are rediscovering the great diversity—flavor, color, texture, fragrance, size, form, and shape—of flowers, vegetables, and herbs that have been around for many years and enjoyed by people of many nations and cultures. You may already be growing heirlooms and not realize it. More than 40 of the All-America Selections varieties can be considered heirlooms because after more than 50 years they are still available. Among the initial AAS introductions—from the early 1930s—was the Gleam Series of Nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus. ‘Golden Gleam,’ with its brilliant gold flowers—and spicy flavor—made its debut in 1933, followed by the handsome deep red ‘Scarlet Gleam’ and the ‘Gleam Mix,’ both in 1935. Hollyhock ‘Indian Spring,’ Alcea rosea , a 1939 AAS winner, bears single and semi-double blossoms in shades of pink, rose and white on impressive 7-foot stems. A favorite pink Cleome, ‘Pink Queen,’ Cleome Hasslerana , came on the scene in 1942. In 1947, the ever-popular French Marigold ‘Naughty Marietta,’ Tagetes patula, with its bright yellow petals marked with maroon at their centers, made its debut. ‘Purple Robe’ nierembergia, Nierembergia hippomanica , which was awarded AAS status in 1942, is still the only purple nierembergia grown from seed. Zinnia ‘Persian Carpet,’ Zinnia haageana , (also called Mexican zinnia), an AAS selection for 1952, bearing variegated fully to semi-double flowers in shades of red, gold and white, is popular for attracting butterflies. Two favorite Morning Glories, Ipomoea purpurea , iridescent ‘Pearly Gates’ and ‘Scarlett O’Hara’ date back to 1942 and 1939, respectively. Tithonia ‘Torch,’ Tithonia rotundifolia , (Mexican sunflower) came onto the scene in 1951. The AAS heirlooms include several classic vegetables: Cucumber, Cucumis sativus , ‘Straight 8’ (1935), ‘Salad Bowl’ lettuce, Lactuca sativa , (1952), ‘Clemson Spineless’ okra, Abelmoschus esculentus , (1939), and ‘Cherry Belle’ radish, Raphanus sativus (1949). It may be a shock to realize seeds that were introduced during your childhood are designated as heirlooms. These open-pollinated varieties have withstood the test of time as AAS Winners and heirlooms.

10 Ways to Keep Your Garden Healthy

One of the most mystifying things that can happen in your garden is when a plant gets a disease. How did it happen? Will it spread? Will all my plants die? How can I get rid of it? The most important thing to understand about disease prevention is something called the disease triangle (drawing, right). Disease can only happen when three things coincide: you have a plant that can get sick (a host), a pathogen (like a fungus, bacterium, or virus) that can attack the plant, and environmental conditions (like humidity or drought) that promote the disease. If any one of these things is not present, the disease will not happen, so prevention involves knocking out at least one side of the triangle. Rather than waiting for a problem to pop up in your garden, consider the best defense against disease to be a good offense. What follows are 10 ways you can eliminate at least one side of the disease triangle and keep your plants healthy.

1. Examine plants carefully before buying


The easiest way to limit disease in your garden is to avoid introducing it in the first place. Getting a disease with a new plant is not the kind of bonus that any of us wants. One of the hardest things to learn is what a healthy plant should look like, making it difficult to know if the one you want is sick.

It is a good idea to collect a few books, magazines, and catalogs that show what a healthy specimen looks like. Don’t take home a plant with dead spots, rotted stems, or insects. These problems can easily spread to your healthy plants and are sometimes hard to get rid of once established.

In addition to checking the tops of plants, always inspect the root quality. One does not often see customers doing this in a garden center, but it should be a common sight. Place your hand on the soil surface with the plant stem between your fingers. Gently invert the pot and shake the plant loose. You may have to tap the edge of the pot against a solid surface to loosen the roots from the pot. Roots should be firm, usually white, and spaced all over the root-ball. Dark or mushy roots are not a good sign. Even when the tops appear healthy, it’s just a matter of time before a rotted root system kills a plant.

2. Use fully composted yard waste


Not all materials in a compost pile decompose at the same rate. Some materials may have degraded sufficiently to be put in the garden, while others have not. Thorough composting generates high temperatures for extended lengths of time, which actually kill any pathogens in the material. Infected plant debris that has not undergone this process will reintroduce potential diseases into your garden. If you are not sure of the conditions of your compost pile, you should avoid using yard waste as mulch under sensitive plants and avoid including possibly infected debris in your pile.

3. Keep an eye on your bugs


Insect damage to plants is much more than cos­metic. Viruses and bacteria often can only enter a plant through some sort of opening, and bug damage provides that. Some insects actually act as a transport for viruses, spreading them from one plant to the next. Aphids are one of the most common carriers, and thrips spread impatiens necrotic spot virus, which has become a serious problem for commercial producers over the past 10 years. Aster yellows (photo, right) is a disease carried by leaf­hoppers and has a huge range of host plants. Insect attacks are another way to put a plant under stress, rendering it less likely to fend off disease.

4. Clean up in the fall

It is always best to clean out the garden in the fall, even if you live in a moderate climate. This is not only an effective deterrent to disease but also a good way to control diseases already in your garden.

Diseases can overwinter on dead leaves and debris and attack the new leaves as they emerge in spring. Iris leaf spot, daylily leaf streak, and black spot on roses are examples of diseases that can be dramatically reduced if the dead leaves are cleared away each fall. If you are leaving stems and foliage to create winter interest, be sure to remove them before new growth starts in spring.

5. Apply the correct fertilizer

You need to take care when fertilizing plants since too much of any fertilizer can burn roots, reducing their ability to absorb water. This, in turn, makes the plants more susceptible to stress from drought, cold, and heat. Plants starved for nutrients are smaller and can be badly affected by leaf spots, while a stronger plant can fight off diseases. An overabundance of a particular nutrient is another way to put stress on a plant.

Getting a soil test through your local extension agency will provide you with accurate information on nutrient levels in your soil. Without it, any feeding of your plants is likely to be guesswork on your part and may result in too much of one nutrient or not enough of another.

6. Plant disease-resistant varieties

Disease-resistant plants are those that might get sick with a particular problem but will fight off the disease instead of succumbing to it. For instance, some tomatoes are coded as “VFN resistant,” which means the tomato variety is resistant to the fungi Verticillium and Fusarium and to nematodes.

If you start looking for these codes on flowers, you’ll probably be dis­appointed because disease resistance is rarely iden­tified on plant tags. This doesn’t mean that numerous flower varieties are not resistant to disease. Many rose companies offer plants that are resistant to diseases like powdery mildew and black spot.

Nursery employees and fellow gardeners can help you identify the best or most resistant varieties of many plants. Reference books and catalogs may also list plants and varieties resistant to particular diseases.

7. Prune damaged limbs at the right time

Trimming trees and shrubs in late winter is better than waiting until spring. Wounded limbs can become infected over the winter, allowing disease to become established when the plant is dormant. Late-winter pruning prevents disease from spreading to new growth. Although late-winter storms can cause new damage, it is still better to trim back a broken limb than ignore it until spring is underway. Always use sharp tools to make clean cuts that heal rapidly, and make sure to cut back to healthy, living tissue.

8. Choose and site plants appropriately

Successful gardening is based on using plants appropriate for your zone and site. If you set a shade-loving plant, like an azalea, in full sun, it will grow poorly and be easily attacked by diseases and insects. I once had a crape myrtle planted where part of its leaves were in the shade. This was the only part of the plant that had powdery mildew.
Plants have defenses similar to a human’s immune system, which swing into action when plants are under attack from an insect or disease. If plants are under stress, they cannot react with full strength to fight off or recover from diseases. Stressed plants, therefore, are more likely to succumb to these afflictions.

9. Water properly

Watering your garden is a good thing, but since many diseases need water just as much as plants do, how you go about it makes a big difference. Many pathogens in the soil and air need water to move, grow, and reproduce. To avoid giving these diseases an environment they love, choose watering methods that limit moisture on a plant’s foliage. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation accomplish this. If you are watering by hand, hold the leaves out of the way as you water the roots.

The most common leaf problems are exacerbated when leaves are wet, so overhead sprinkling is the least desirable option. If you choose this method, however, water at a time when the leaves will dry quickly but the roots still have time to absorb the moisture before it evaporates.

Also remember that more isn’t necessarily better when giving your plants a drink. Waterlogged soil or pots promotes some root-rotting fungi and can also suffocate roots, making them easy targets for the rotting fungi.

10. Don’t crowd plants

Take care when spacing transplants, and keep an eye on established plants as they spread. Crowded plants create their own humidity, which allows diseases like powdery mildew (photo, right), rust, and downy mildew to thrive. Improving airflow around your plants reduces this high relative humidity and allows foliage to dry more quickly.

Plants that are placed too closely together tend to grow poorly due to competition for light, water, and nutrients. These weak plants are more susceptible to attack. Diseases also sometimes spread when an infected leaf comes into contact with a healthy one, which is more likely when plants are next to each other.

To lessen the likelihood of disease, trim out crowded, damaged, or old stalks on plants that are prone to powdery mildew, like Phlox paniculata. Dividing or rearranging your plants when they need it will also help.

Garden Fencing That Will Established Your Garden best to Others

Picket secure fencing can vary tall. If you have a number of flowers that happen to be tall, including tulips as well as black-eyed susans, you might want to have a low picketer fence to ensure the flowers are easily seen. On the flip side, if you have plants and flowers of differing heights, think about installing a 3 foot high fence which has a gate. Keep the gateway partially available so passer-bys can hook a peek of your backyard. Picket secure fencing is usually created wood that is painted white-colored or vinyl. If you’re looking to get some privacy in your backyard area, subsequently consider choosing vinyl secure fencing. These walls ranged with four your feet to half a dozen feet upright. Each board consists of half a dozen or more content. Usually you will have choice of round, squared as well as pointed post tops. Softtop fencing is the best well in a large number of kinds of climate. If your backyard contains a compact pond or simply a water water fountain, then this may be a good choice. It will decrease animals as well as small children with entering the backyard. Trellis secure fencing is a wonderful Garden Fencing London choice if you have plants that spread rapidly. Depending on your budget along with your preference, trellis fencing could be made of most wrought iron, hardwood or even sturdy plastic. Trellis fencing is constructed from criss-cross material which makes it possible for plants so that you can weave them selves in and out in the openings. At the beginning of the backyard you can put a trellis as a enticing entrance for the garden. Evening Glories together with other flowers is going to wrap about the trellis. According to location of your respective garden, you would possibly only need to fence a portion from. For example if the garden is actually between your residence and storage, then avoid put up secure fencing by the residence or storage, just fence the other only two sides. Should your garden has come out back in an open area, think about giving a different style to your backyard fencing. There’s really no rule the fact that says it’s important to fence from a straight collection. Whatever sort of garden secure fencing you choose, you’ll setting a garden apart from the people in the location. You may also understand that you’ll want to take more time in your backyard.