Friday, February 28, 2020

Planning To Plant? Give Your Soil A Meal First.

A collection of plants, pots and tools in preparation for planting.
In recent weeks, we’ve published blogs with an eye to helping you prepare for spring planting. There was one on the types of soil to use and one about soil pH. Last year about this time I did one on soil amendments. This time around, I thought I’d throw out the Single Ingredient Meals option. We have been working on expanding our line of these particular soil amendments as they are an excellent choice for someone who wants an effective amendment without having to fuss over the various nutrient options. These meals are also naturally sourced and slow to break down, giving your plants long-lasting, healthy and environmentally friendly benefits. In fact, most are OMRI listed or certified organic from another entity. Meals can also  be mixed with other meals and fertilizers to fit your unique needs and desires. With Single Ingredient Meals, you cannot make a wrong choice – they are all great for your plants. Let’s run through what we have to offer:

Purple alfalfa flowers on a green stalk.
Alfalfa flower
Alfalfa Meal: Alfalfa is just an all-round great addition to your garden. This perennial flowering plant is in the legume family and is stuffed with vitamins, amino acids and minerals. It is also a nitrogen-fixer and contains triacontanol, a hormone that stimulates root growth. It even helps with decomposition to keep that good organic material and all those nutrients in the soil and accessible to your plants. Alfalfa Meal also works well as a tea, which can then be applied as foliar feed. Roses love alfalfa, but it works equally well for other flowers as well as herbs, shrubs and trees. We carry Alfalfa Meal in a 40 lb. bag and in smaller boxes.  For more on the greatness of alfalfa, check out this article.

Green spinach leaves next to a bowl of pink salt.Blood Meal: This fertilizer is a by-product of meat packing and is usually sourced from cow blood. It is very high in nitrogen, which encourages leaf growth. It can also raise the acid level and lower the pH in soil. This meal is particularly effective when used for nitrogen-loving plants such as corn, broccoli, spinach, and other leafy greens. A side benefit of Blood Meal is that has some repellent properties when dry; deer and rabbits don’t like it. This article has some informative do’s and don’ts when using Blood Meal.

Three brown bulbs with white buds emerging.Bone Meal: This is another by-product of the meat industry and, like Blood Meal, it generally comes from cows. Bones are dense in calcium and phosphorous to keep vertebrates strong and healthy. Plants need these same minerals to grow vigorous and robust cells and roots and to photosynthesis efficiently. Use Bone Meal early in the growing cycle to get those plants going. It is particularly good to use when planting bulbs, flowering annuals, perennials and ornamentals. Bone Meal can be dangerous to dogs if they consume it, this article has more on that and other guidelines for usage.

A pile of beige and orange-ish crabs
Crab Meal: Also sourced from a food industry, Crab Meal (and other shellfish fertilizers) is made from the left-over shells after the meat has been removed. These Crustacean shells are high in nitrogen, but also contain plenty of calcium, phosphorous and magnesium. While all of these ingredients are excellent for your plants, it is the chitin in Crab Meal that sets it apart. Chitin increases plants' cell wall strength and encourages populations of beneficial soil microorganisms. These microorganisms release enzymes that help control pest nematodes in the soil. Slugs and snails don’t like it either. Crab Meal can be applied anywhere in the garden, but is especially helpful in vegetable gardens/flower beds and when used as a compost amendment to stimulate decomposition and nutrient availability. Here is a short, but helpful, article on shellfish fertilizers.

Bright pick roses over a white picket fence.
Fish Bone Meal: This fertilizer, a byproduct of the fishing industry, is a comfortable alternative for many people made uncomfortable by the slaughterhouse source of traditional mammal bone meals. Fish Bone Meal is high in phosphorous and calcium and will give you plants that can absorb water and nutrients more easily. Great for all plants, but particularly for flowering plants, bulbs and new garden beds. You will see the results in bigger, brighter blooms and more vibrant vegetables. Here is a video on the subject.

An assortment of fresh vegetables in a greyish-brown basket.
Kelp Meal: This first-rate fertilizer is made from Ascophyllum nodosum seaweed found in the waters of the North Atlantic. As it floats around, the kelp plant is able to filter the nutrient-rich ocean water to harness a multitude of micro and macro-nutrients. This allows kelp to grow at an amazing rate and, once dried and milled, Kelp Meal can do the same for your plants. Kelp Meal contains upwards of 60 minerals or elements, 12 vitamins and 21 amino acids. All plants love kelp, so feel free to use on any type of plant at any point in the growing season. We carry Kelp Meal from Down to Earth, Maxicrop and Soil Mender in a variety of sizes and prices, so you should easily find one that works for you. For more on Kelp Meal, read this article.

Neem tree
Neem Seed Meal: This soil additive is yet another beneficial product from the venerable tree. Neem Seed Meal is what remains after the oils are extracted and it is packed with macro and micro-nutrients that your plants will love. All those nutrients will help build a healthy microbial system and strong roots. This fertilizer also improves soil texture and increases organic matter in the soil. As if that weren’t enough, Neem Seed Meal also has a secret weapon – pest control. Just as Azadirachtin from the tree serves as a potent insecticide and repellent, the meal does much the same thing. The  target pests here are soil-dwelling and include grubs, root knot nematodes and root aphids. Use Neem Seed Meal on anything you grow; but it has a strong odor, so you probably won’t want to use it on indoor plants. We offer this remarkable plant product in the meal form and in the cake form. Here’s more on pesticides from the Neem tree pesticides.

A white dog lying on a bright green lawn.Corn Gluten Meal:  This is another fertilizer with a secret weapon – more on that in a minute. As a fertilizer, Corn Gluten Meal offers a non-burning, slow-release dose of nitrogen that will get the green going in your plants. This is especially true of turf, grasses, shrubs, trees and vegetable greens. This fertilizer should only be used on established lawns and plants (those that are rooted with true leaves), but use it as soon as the plants are ready in the spring to give them a strong start. And now to the secret weapon: When used in higher amounts than the fertilizer rate, Corn Gluten (in both granular and liquid forms) is an excellent pre-emergent to combat weeds. If you use it for this purpose, be careful to not apply in anywhere that you have just planted seeds or transplants.We carry a variety of Corn Gluten products. For more on this seemingly magical growth promoter and inhibitor in one, check out our blog on the subject.

A cartoon of a bagged product being added to a flower pot-which makes the flowers grow.

Here’s to happy planting!

Submitted by Pam

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Preparing To Plant? Get Your Soil pH Right Ahead Of Time.

An illustration of garden tools and white pots on brown soil next to blue-green wheelbarrow

What is soil pH? 

In simple terms, it represents the acidity or alkalinity of the soil on a scale from 0-14. Anything lower than 7 is acidic, while anything higher than 7 is alkaline. While most plants prefer slightly acidic conditions (roughly 6.5), a number of flowering plants prefer soil in the range of 4.5-5.5. You should be able to determine what your plants like with a simple internet search.

Why does it matter? 

Soil pH indirectly affects plants in many ways. Chief among them is nutrient availability as soil pH directly impacts how a nutrient gets to plants.

Truog, E. (1946). Soil reaction influence on availability of plant nutrients. Soil Science Society of America Proceedings 11, 305-308

Something diagnosed as an iron deficiency based on plant symptoms may actually be a result of high pH not allowing the right iron compounds to form, leading to a lack of uptake. On the other hand, overly acidic conditions leave plants vulnerable to manganese toxicity from over-absorption (similar to metal poisoning in people). Soil pH also impacts soil life–again, slightly acidic is ideal for most soil-born organisms including earthworms and most microbes.

Why does it change?

Soil pH fluctuates based on a number of natural factors including rainwater leaching, acids formed from root respiration and acid formation from decomposition. Human inputs like chemical fertilizers can also have significant effects.

Monitoring & Adjusting:
A person crouched down and writing on a white pad next rows of green plants in black containers.

  • First things first – test your soil. There are many choices for you test-wise, we carry a variety, but there are also high-end options out there. There are even some DIY techniques out there that you could give a whirl. Once you know the status, you can plan accordingly. 
  • Need to acidify the soil? Elemental sulfur may be your best bet and it can be top dressed to soil or worked into the top 6”. Tiger 90CR® Organic Sulphur should do the trick. If you prefer using a liquid (or are growing hydroponically), SaferGro pH Down will work wonders.
  • Need to boost alkalinity? Look to lime – commonly bought as calcitic limestone or dolomitic limestone. Not only does it raise pH, lime provides the secondary macronutrients calcium and magnesium. We recommend BONIDE® Hydrated Lime
Whether the soil needs major adjustment or not, it is a good practice to test soil pH seasonally in order to maximize your growing potential. Three green plants growing from mounds of brown dirt.
Submitted by Sterling (with Pam)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

February Roses

A dark pink rosebud dusted with snow
February is the perfect time to think about roses, for any number of reasons. Many people are still in the doldrums of winter and the simple act of browsing through images of beautiful blooms can transport a person into the warmer and more fragrant days ahead. There is also a rose care factor to this month; certain maintenance is recommended in this time spot. There is Rose Day; which you may or may not be aware of (but we’ll get to that later). And then there is Valentine’s Day; when more than 224 million roses are grown every year for this day alone.

Hands in orange garden gloves pruning some pink roses.Most rose care calendars recommend pruning in February. If you do so and how you do so will depend on the region you live in and your personal preference. Many people have strong opinions on what is “right”. There are some standard recommendations according to which type you grow; but, when it comes to rose care, the varieties are more alike than not. If you are not committed to a care regime or just need some input, the people at the American Rose Society may be helpful. Here is a link to help you find a chapter near you.
Lovely lavender rosesA dew-kissed yellow and pink Peace Rose
Should you choose to prune this month, follow up with these steps to keep your roses happy as they bounce back:  (1) Dispose of all cuttings carefully (they are great hiding spots for pests). (2) Apply a nice layer of mulch (approximately 3”) around the plant base. (3) Apply products to treat preventatively for mildew, such as Monterey Bi-Carb Fungicide and (for larger applications) Milstop. (4) Keep weeds away (they are also great hiding spots). (5) Fertilize – we recommend DTE Rose & Flower Mix.

Sun shining down on a garden of pink roses
As long as your ground is not frozen and the worst of your winter is over, February can also be a good time to do some rose planting. Bare root plants take to the soil well in this dormant stage and should be established by spring. They are also cheaper than the larger sized plants you’ll find in warmer weather. Transplanting can be done in February as well, with the same stipulations as the bare root plants. If you plant accordingly and keep maintenance going, you should be all set to sit back and watch the flowers pop out as their season arrives.

Close-up of a beautiful yellow roseFebruary 7th is Rose Day (not to be mistaken with National Rose̒ Day for wine lovers). Rose Day, unlike Valentine’s Day, is not necessarily for lovers. Since the different colors of roses are supposed to mean different things, this may be a good day to send some lavender or yellow roses instead of the more romantic-leaning red ones. For more than you ever thought you’d want to know about the meanings behind rose colors, check out this article. Rose Day is apparently meant to be the opening salvo in the war to win the heart of one’s beloved. There is a whole week of warm-ups to the big day of Valentine’s (aka Valentine’s Week): the 8th is Propose Day, the 9th is Chocolate Day, the 10th is Teddy Day, the 11th is Promise Day, the 12th is Hug Day and the 13th is Kiss Day. Does this sound completely unfamiliar to you? It does to me. But, it is apparently a big thing in India.
A bottle full of a clear liquid with pink rose petals in an around it
A perfect white roseSure, roses are beautiful and all, but they are more than just their good looks. Rose water and rose oil have been used for thousands of years for skin and hair care. The heady fragrance has been sought after just as long and has been distilled down from the petals and (in more recent history), manufactured artificially (just not the same). People just love that rose smell and they want it on themselves, in their homes and cars, on their dogs and more places that defy a proper classification (like the human bowel). Luckily, one can appreciate all these rose products year round.

A brick house with climbing pink roses surrounding a windowPlease excuse the awkward segue, but roses are also coveted by many as food. They are a close
relative of other fruits like apples, almonds, cherries, peaches and pears and can be cooked and eaten in the same ways. In case you would like to grow some roses as a way to explore their culinary attributes, here is an excellent article to inspire you. For more recipes, go here.  Get your roses taken care of in February and enjoy some deliciousness in the months to come.
A coffin-shaped black box with a skeleton on front opening to show some more illustrations inside and long-stemmed red roses.

Valentine’s Day is a couple of days away and the kitsch and sweetness level is at an all-time high. And there are a lot of people reaching for those 224 million roses previously mentioned and putting them in lovely vases. There is not much room for sentimentality in my world, so my preference would be the Nightmare Before Christmas roses.

Happy Roses, Everyone!

Submitted by Pam

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