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This is what my mother’s vegetable garden looks like in the middle of winter.  
 
She works hard at growing a variety of vegetables in her two raised beds.  On Wednesday nights, we all gather for dinner at her house and get to enjoy many of the delicious vegetables straight from her garden.   
 
Sadly, her plans for this season’s vegetable garden faced a serious setback.
 
 
My mother fell and broke her leg while cooking dinner with my youngest daughter.  Both bones in her lower leg suffered multiple fractures, and a metal rod had to be inserted down into her tibia.
 
Understandably, she cannot put any weight on her foot for at least two months.  So, while she works hard at physical therapy to gain as much independence as she can – we decided to help out with her garden.
 
 
My kids, along with my nephews, were eager to help with Grandma’s garden.  We stopped by the nursery to pick up broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and leaf lettuce transplants while I brought some carrot and radish seeds from home.
 
Lucky for us, she had already amended her soil with one of my favorite soil amendments – used coffee grounds (from Starbucks).  I added some of my favorite organic vegetable fertilizer for the garden, and we were ready to start planting.
 
 
I instructed the kids on where and how to plant the vegetable transplants in staggered rows.
 
My sister was also watching us and even stepped in to help out, despite the fact that she never gardens.  
 
 
The kids were eager to help out their grandmother, and we all enjoyed out time out in the garden.  
 
I took a few photos to bring back to her at the rehabilitation facility where she is recuperating, to show her what her grandkids had done for her.


My mother is doing well and is working hard at her daily physical therapy sessions so that she can get home as soon as possible.  We visit her daily, and her room has pictures drawn by her grandchildren and cards from friends and family.

On our most recent visit, my grandson discovered the delights of pushing around his grandpa using great-grandma’s wheelchair.  His smile and laughter brightened everyone’s day.
 
Meanwhile, back at the vegetable garden.

 

 
I came back to check on the newly planted vegetables.  Most were doing quite well, but I did see a few plants with telltale holes in their leaves.
 
 
I discovered the culprit nearby.  Cutworms are caterpillars that eat holes in leafy vegetables as well as ‘cut’ off young vegetable transplants at their base. 
 
  
The cutworms did kill some of the newly transplanted broccoli, but most of the leafy greens were fine other than a few holes in the leaves.
 
I brought my favorite organic pesticide, BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), which kills the caterpillars.  I like to use Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz in my own garden, which helps keep the caterpillars at bay.
 
 
I sprayed all the vegetables, taking care to spray both top and underneath the leaves.  
 
BT can be reapplied every 7 – 10 days until the caterpillars are gone.  
 
**Note; it can be hard to find BT in your local big box store or even some nurseries.  However, you can find it offered online from garden supply companies and Amazon (affiliate link).
 

Have you planted any vegetables this season?  What are your favorites?

It’s hard to believe that we have made it through another summer.  

Oh, I realize that we have a few more weeks of 100+ degree weather, but whenever there is month that ends with the letters “ber” it just feels cooler to me.

I am gearing up for my favorite season in the garden.  In my last post, I talked about the reasons why fall is the best time to add new plants to the Southwest landscape.  

Today, I’d like to share with you three tips to help you make the most of your fall planting.

This planting hole is too small.

It all comes down to the hole.  It’s hard to believe that often what determines a plant’s initial success is the size of the hole it is planted in.

If you are digging holes like the one above – then you may be in trouble.  That hole is too narrow.

The ideal hole should be 3X as wide as the root ball.  

Why?

Well, most of a plant’s roots grow outward into the soil.  When they are placed in a hole like the one above, the recently loosened soil makes it much easier for roots to grow into, which helps the plant to establish much sooner.

*It’s important to note that the depth of the hole should be the same depth as the root ball or even a few inches shallower.  This helps prevent problems from the dirt settling, which can leave your new plant sitting rather low in the soil where problems with becoming waterlogged can happen.


The big question – whether to add soil amendments or not?

When you go to your local nursery to buy new plants, you may be encouraged to buy soil amendments such as compost, potting soil or even manure.

The question is, do you really need it?  Often you don’t.  

I have planted thousands of plants throughout my career as a horticulturist and most of them without adding anything to the soil.  The plants were healthy and did very well without any extra additions to the soil.

Here a few guidelines to follow to help you decide whether or not to add any amendments to the soil before planting.

– If your soil is well-drained AND your new plants are native to any of the desert regions of the United States, than the answer is “no”.  

Native plants are adapted to growing in the nutrient poor soils of the desert and do best when nothing is added to the soil.  In fact, if the soil is too fertile – you’ll often see green growth, but flowering will be decreased.

Valentine (Eremophila maculata), Feathery Cassia (Senna artemisoides) and Purple Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis) planted without needing any soil amendments.

The same can be said of some non-native plants – particularly those from Australia such as Eremophila and Senna species.

So, are some times when adding soil amendments is a good idea?

Absolutely!

– If you have heavy clay soil or very sandy soils, than adding compost to the planting hole can help.  Mixing compost in with clay soils help them to drain better.  This is important because most plants that grow in the Southwest do best in well-drained soil.

Conversely, sandy soils have a hard time holding onto enough water, so compost helps those soils to hold onto more water.

Add 1 part compost to 1 part native soil and mix together before planting.


– Amend the soil when planting non-native plants that do not originate from arid climates.

Plants like day lilies, iris, roses, etc. require fertile soil to grow their best.  Amending the soil with compost, manure and other amendments will improve the soil texture, add small levels of nutrients and add beneficial microorganisms which will benefit your plants.  

Plants such as these will need regular applications of fertilizer to do their best.

Personally, I like to grow what I like to call ‘fuss-free’ plants where I don’t have to add fertilizer with the exception of my roses.


Skip the fertilizer for newly planted plants.  This tip is NOT always popular with some nurseries who often encourage the application of fertilizer at the time of planting.

So, let’s talk about when to add fertilizer.

– Most native plants will not need fertilizer ever.  In fact, many can make their own fertilizer.

– For plants that do need fertilizer such as hibiscus,  iris, roses, etc. – wait until you see new growth occurring before adding fertilizer.

The reason for this is that when you first add a new plant, it needs to concentrate on growing new roots in order to support future top growth (stems, branches and leaves).  If you add fertilizer at the time of planting, you are forcing the plant to focus on the top growth before it has the roots to support it.

So, a general rule is to wait until you see new top growth before adding fertilizer.

– The rule for fruit trees is slightly different.  It is recommended to wait until 1 year after planting before fertilizing.

Again, you may hear differently from your nursery who in addition to wanting you to be happy with your purchase, also has their bottom line (profits) in mind.

I am not including all nurseries or nursery professionals into this one group.  However, I have visited nurseries where customers are told that they need to fertilize all their plants.  Many of my clients are thrilled when I tell them to throw out their fertilizer because their native plants don’t need it.

*I remember a story from one of my horticulture professors who talked about standing in line behind a customer at the store with a cart filled with native, desert plants and another cart with ‘special’ fertilizers that they were encouraged to buy.

My professor loudly commented to her husband, standing next to her, that “Numerous studies have shown that fertilizer is a waste of money when used for native plants.”

So, are you ready to add some new plants to your landscape?

Before you head out to the nursery, I invite you to come back for my next post, when I’ll share with you some tips on how to select healthy plants AND I will reveal to you what my favorite plant nursery is!

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I apologize for the relative lack of recent posts.  Life has been very busy with the kids back in school, increased landscape consults and getting ready to go visit my daughter, Rachele, who is expecting.  We will find in a few days whether we will be welcoming a boy or girl!

I have two biological children – both girls and my oldest daughter, Brittney, has a daughter.  So, we will see if Rachele will break the pink trend in our family.

My son Kai (who is adopted from China) and has four sisters and a niece is really hoping for a boy 😉

Wouldn’t it be great to have one basic tool that you could attach a different gardening power tools too?  I am so excited to show you this new product from the folks at Troy-Bilt who I have partnered with on this new campaign.

This may look like an ordinary string trimmer, but it is so much more…

 
 
Leave it to folks at TroyBilt to create a line of string trimmers that can be interchanged with a variety of gardening tools such as a cultivator and a pole chain saw (pictured above with the string trimmer attachment).
 
But TroyBilt didn’t stop there – they also created turbo leaf blower, lawn edger, hedge trimmer, broom and brush cutter attachments as well.

 
 
Earlier this year, I was asked to be a part of the ‘Saturday 6’, which is a group six of garden bloggers from around the country.  As part of TroyBilt’s Saturday 6, we have been asked to evaluate a number of their products and give our honest opinion about their performance.
 


I must admit that my favorite attachment has been my new cultivator.

Of course, my husband would differ and say that our new TroyBilt string trimmer is his favorite.

 
 
I have been waiting patiently (not really) to use the cultivator in my vegetable gardens since my TroyBilt equipment arrived in March.
 
But, I have had to wait until my lettuce was done for the season and then harvest my garlic before I could cultivate the soil.
 
Finally, the day arrived for my TrimmerPlus Add-On Cultivator to make its debut in my garden.
 
 
Before using the cultivator, I had to start it first.
 
 One complaint that I have with using power equipment is the pull-start.  It can be very hard for women to use a pull-start (me included).  In the past, I would call a crew member over to start equipment for me.  Since I don’t have a crew anymore, I often ask my husband to help me if I can’t start it myself.

 

Well, I don’t have to worry about pull-starts anymore, thanks to TroyBilt.

 

 

 

 

 

They have created the JumpStart, which is an electrical starter that easily starts most of their power equipment without using the pull-start.

 

 

 

 

 

All you need to do is to fit the JumpStart into a special portal…
 
 
And it starts up easily!  The JumpStart is battery powered and can be plugged in to re-charge.
 
The equipment does have a pull-start, so the JumpStart is optional.  I have had no problem using the pull-start of my favorite TroyBilt cultivator/string trimmer, but the JumpStart is easier to use.
 
Before cultivating my soil, I added compost, manure, blood and bone meal to my vegetable garden.  Now, I was ready to mix my amendments in.
 
 
The cultivator was lightweight, easy to use and tilled my soil perfectly without going too deep.
 

 
One of my vegetable gardens is rather narrow, which makes my new cultivator easy to use because it can work in narrow spaces.  Unlike larger tillers, this cultivator is perfect for smaller spaces and is easier to handle.
 
 
After I was finished tilling my vegetable gardens, there were some left over bits and pieces of plants that got caught up in the tines.  It was easy to remove them afterward by taking the tines off and cleaning them. 
 
In the past, tilling soil using a rake or shovel always took me a lot longer and I was a tired, hot, sweaty mess afterward with a sore back to boot.
With my new cultivator, I can till my soil quickly, without the negative side effects 😉
 
 
As a Certified Arborist, I am often instructing my clients how to prune and care for their trees.  While I don’t prune their trees for them, I do like to prune my own trees whenever possible.
 
 
I had a little pruning to perform for my Desert Willow, so the cultivator attachment came off and the TrimmerPlus Add-On Pole Chain Saw was attached (no tools are needed to add the different attachments).
 
 
This branch had suffered damage in a wind storm when part of it peeled off.  It left the branch weak, so it needed to be removed.  I started by pruning away the top part of the branch first.
 
The pole chain saw worked very well for me.  It comes with an additional extension pole for when you need to reach higher up (up to 11 feet), but I didn’t need it for this limb.  It is self-oiling, which keeps the bar and chain lubricated.
 
Using a pole chain saw saves you from having to climb a ladder to prune branches that are high up and it is lighter then using a regular chain saw.
 
 
My husband has been using our TroyBilt 4-Cycle Gas Straight Shaft String Trimmer for weeks now.  His initial impression was that it was more powerful then our old trimmer.  It also has a larger cutting width (18″) and as a result, edging our lawn goes more quickly.
 
 
There is no need to mix oil and gas – it runs on regular gasoline.  One of the most frustrating tasks when using a string trimmer is to having to refill the string – not a problem with TroyBilt’s string trimmer, which has the ‘Click N Trim’ Pro cutting head. You can simply thread the line through the eyelets and twist to wind up the line.  No more taking apart the cutting head.
 
The string trimmer can be started with the JumpStart, which I mentioned earlier.  But, the pull start is surprisingly easy to use due to the ‘Spring Assist Starting Technology’.
(I must admit that I like to use the pull-start, because I am thrilled with how easy it is to do with all my TroyBilt equipment, compared to the pull-starts of other equipment that I have used in the past).
 
Do you have a garage or shed full of garden equipment, with room for little else?  Wouldn’t it be great to have a string trimmer that can be used with a variety of attachments? 
 
Think of how much room you would save!
 
Okay, here is the part you have been waiting for…
 
**TROYBILT GIVEAWAY** 
for readers of my blog.
 
Would you like to have a TroyBilt string trimmer with your choice of attachment for your garden?
 
The wonderful folks at TroyBilt are giving away a their top-of-the-line TB6044 XP Straight Shaft String Trimmer.
 
 
Plus, your choice of one of the following attachments:
 
 
Now, if that isn’t enough, TroyBilt will also giveaway their JumpStart cordless engine starter to the winner along with the string trimmer, and choice of attachment.
 
1. To enter, simply leave me a comment with your choice of attachment.  (Be sure to leave your email address if it’s not on your profile, or I won’t have any way to contact you.)
 
2. For a bonus entry, become a new follower of my blog,  ‘Like’ me on Facebook or ‘follow’ me on Twitter – (be sure to let me know in your comment).
 
Let your friends know about this great giveaway and I will select a random winner in one week!
**I am paid for my involvement with the Saturday 6 and the equipment, described above, was provided to me at no cost by TroyBilt, who wanted my honest opinion – good or bad.  I can honestly state that I am very impressed by the quality and design of their power equipment.

Using soil amendments is one of the best ways to grow healthy flowers and vegetables.

There are different types of soil amendments that act in different ways.

In order to help explain which soil amendments to use in your garden – I was to do a “How-To” video about the subject.  I hope you find it helpful.
*I must admit that I’m not comfortable watching myself on video – but I just remind myself that it isn’t about how my hair looks or if I repeated the same word too often – as long as I am able to help someone learn about gardening 😉

The other day, my husband and I stopped by Starbucks for some coffee.  Starbucks for us is a guilty pleasure.  We don’t go there all the time.  Maybe 3 – 4 times a month.

Well, as we were waiting for our coffee to be ready, I noticed a bin filled with bags that caught my attention….


Some of you may be wondering what coffee grounds have to do with gardening.  Well they actually work in a variety of ways that benefit the soil in your garden.

Used coffee grounds:

– slowly release nitrogen into the soil
– improve the texture of both sandy and clay soils
– are loved by earthworms who ‘eat’ them and leave behind their coveted droppings
– are a source of phosphorus, potassium and micro-nutrients such as magnesium, copper and calcium
– can be used in compost piles instead of manure

So…..are you tempted to use coffee grounds in your garden?  Do not just throw them out in the garden.  You need to mix them with your existing soil.  Apply a 1/4″ layer and then rake them into your existing soil. 

You can also use them in your compost pile.  Used coffee grounds are a ‘green’ compost material and shouldn’t make up more then 20% of your compost.

So, are you still wavering on whether or not to use them?  Okay, how about this fact:


**Starbucks gives their used coffee grounds away for free.  If you don’t often find yourself inside of a Starbucks, you can always use your own coffee grounds.

Now, maybe your local Starbucks doesn’t give away their coffee grounds.  Well, you should ask.  The more people ask for them, the more likely they are to ‘bag’ their used coffee grounds and give them away. 

You can always wait until the baristas are not busy and ask if you can have their used coffee grounds that they have right then.  You can even offer to take them in the plastic trash bag that they are already in.

Now, that I know that I can find used coffee grounds at my local Starbucks, I will just have to stop by more often and of course, I will have to get some coffee.

What a sacrifice….. 😉