Southern Gardening for October 20, 2014 – Give gardens gift of organic matter

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Gardens and landscapes work really hard to give us so much beauty and bounty, so sometimes it’s nice for gardeners to give something back to the earth.

Fall is a really good time to build up your garden soil for next year. Probably the best gift you can give your garden is to amend its soil with organic matter.

Give gardens the gift of organic matter in the fall to thank them for their beauty and bounty and prepare them for the next growing season. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Gary Bachman)
Give gardens the gift of organic matter in the fall to thank them for their beauty and bounty and prepare them for the next growing season. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Gary Bachman)

When you add organic matter to your gardens, you add back microorganisms and improve the life of the soil. Organic matter breaks up heavy clay soil and increases drainage; in sandy soils, it slows down drainage. And while it’s not actually a fertilizer, organic matter does contain essential plant nutrients.

So when you’re looking into the gift of organic matter for the garden, just what are your options?

In Mississippi, a traditional choice has always been cottonseed meal. This soil amendment really boosts the organic matter in our garden soils. Raw or fresh cottonseed meal has a lot of green and brown materials, and it is best added to the garden after it has been composted.

Mississippi is an agricultural state and has an ample supply of agricultural organic wastes, better known as animal manure. Manure is a good source of plant nutrients and is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. When used fresh, it is considered “hot” and can harm plant roots and may spread harmful bacteria. I always recommend using only completely composted manures for the garden.

However, you can apply fresh manure directly to the garden if you work it into the soil at least 90 days before planting. This step allows the manure time to compost in place so it becomes stabilized and beneficial for plant growth. Fall is the perfect time to apply fresh manure in preparation for planting next spring.

Now, while compost is always a good gift for the garden, a really special and thoughtful gift is vermicompost.

Earthworms produce vermicompost as they efficiently break down organic wastes, producing what really can be called “black gold.” I’m an avid worm rancher, and I have several worm bins producing vermicompost for use in my garden and landscape. In fact, I earned my Ph.D. studying the effects of vermicompost on plant growth.

You don’t add vermicompost in nearly the same quantities as a normal composted material. Amend garden soil with small quantities of vermicompost to produce very healthy growing environments. Be aware that vermicompost is not a fertilizer and has limited plant nutrition, but it adds microorganisms and provides other intangible benefits that improve soil life and health.

Coffee grounds are another organic garden amendment that has been getting a lot of attention, especially on Internet gardening sites. What could be easier than taking the morning coffee grounds and spreading them around the garden? Research has demonstrated that coffee grounds have an inhibitory effect on seed germination when used as topdressing. This feature makes them a great way to control weeds in the garden.

If you don’t drink as many cups of coffee as I do each day, many coffee shops generally will give you their spent grounds as a way to recycle these wastes.

So don’t worry about finding the perfect box and ribbon when giving the gift of organic matter to your garden. A bucket and shovel will do just fine.

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Southern Gardening TV for October 19, 2014 – Country Pumpkins

The autumn season is a great time to enjoy the season by visiting a pumpkin patch

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Southern Gardening for October 13, 2014 – Summer zinnias recharge in fall’s cooler weather

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It’s not just people who are happy when temperatures finally start to decrease in the fall. Many summer-flowering annuals that look pretty worn out at Labor Day get a second wind and perk back up.

For this reason, late September and October give us some of the best annual color of the entire year.

Cactus-flowers zinnias such as this Inca are very different from traditional zinnias. Each flower displays masses of thin, almost needle-like petals that come in a range of long-lasting flower colors. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Gary Bachman)
Cactus-flowers zinnias such as this Inca are very different from traditional zinnias. Each flower displays masses of thin, almost needle-like petals that come in a range of long-lasting flower colors. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Gary Bachman)

Some of my favorite fall-flowering summer annuals are Zahara zinnias, which produce mounds of colorful flowers. The plants are robust and have excellent branching to support the many flowers. Plus, these plants have a natural resistance to powdery mildew.

I really like the double-flowered selections Double Cherry and Double Fire. Double Cherry has deep-magenta blooms, while Double Fire is a hot scarlet-orange. Each has centers that lighten as the flowers mature.

I also like the bicolor selections. A favorite of mine is Starlight Rose, which has white petals with a splash of deep rose shining from the center. The deep-rose coloration is highly variable and does not develop very well when nights are warm. But when the fall cools off, the red stripe thickens and becomes more pronounced.

A newer introduction I really like is Sunburst. These flowers open gold, followed by the appearance of a red stripe down the center of the petals. Best yet is the fact that Sunburst flower colors are very consistent throughout the flowering season.

Zahara zinnias are well suited for container gardening. You can extend the flowering season by bringing the containers inside when cold weather arrives.

As gorgeous as Zahara zinnias are in the fall, they just may take a backseat to cactus-flowered zinnias. These zinnias may seem like a new type for the landscape, but they are actually heirloom zinnias that have been around since the 1920s.

Their flowers have a completely different texture than what you may be familiar with. Each full double flower displays masses of thin, almost needle-like petals.

Cactus-flowered zinnias come in a range of long-lasting flower colors, but it’s hard to ignore the variety called Inca. This selection has spectacularly vivid, blazing-orange flowers. Typically these plants will grow to 30 inches tall with sturdy stems. The stems need to be sturdy because each flower can be 5 inches in diameter.

When growing yours at home, keep a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch to maintain soil moisture. Although zinnias are tolerant of drought conditions, they still need supplemental irrigation during periods of extreme drought. Irrigation needs drop dramatically with the onset of lower temperatures. If you do irrigate your fall zinnias, I find soaker hoses or other drip-type systems are superior and efficient methods of maintaining soil moisture.

And even though it is the fall, don’t neglect the feeding needs of your zinnias. I recommend you use a water-soluble fertilizer as an easy way to keep the plants fed this fall.

So go ahead and enjoy the fall resurgence of zinnias in your landscape. There will be plenty of time to plant traditional cool-season flowering annuals later this fall.

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Southern Gardening TV for October 12, 2014 – Garden Gnomes

Today I’m visiting our friend Kathy who has created a fun landscape with the help of so called mythical creatures.

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Southern Gardening for October 6, 2014 – Flutterby butterfly bushes bring fall butterfly guests

Probably every gardener enjoys the fall season with cooler weather and extra butterfly activity. If you’re one who can’t get enough of the butterflies, you should consider including one of my favorites, the Flutterby Petite butterfly bush, in your landscape.

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Southern Gardening TV for October 5, 2014 – Golden thryallis

Golden thryallis has become one of my favorite late summer and fall plants with it’s very pretty display of yellow flower clusters.

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Southern Gardening TV for Oct 1, 2014 – Ornamental Peppers

My taste buds love hot peppers, but the rest of me really likes the increased use of peppers as ornamentals.

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