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In the fall you cleaned out your garden and readied it for the winter. In the winter you organized and planned your garden. In the spring you got everything ready and planted your garden. Now summer's here and it's time to enjoy the garden you've put so much work into. However, to get the most out of it you still need to maintain your garden throughout the summer—perhaps even more carefully than any other season.

Maintaining Your Garden in Summer       Your Summer Garden

      Fertilizer

      Watering

      Enjoy your flowers a little longer

      Air-dry your flowers

      Dry your flowers with silica gel

      Pressing flowers

      Microwaving your flowers

      Water drying your flowers

Your Summer Garden

Fertilizer

Summer is all about maintaining your garden. With the heat of summer, feeding your plants is even more important.

Fertilizing Strawberries

Remember—just like people and pets, plants need feeding. Regular feeding can greatly increase the health of your plants and the production of flowers and/or fruit. And, just like people and pets, over feeding can be very bad.

If you have a planting guide for your plant, it's important to reference it and carefully follow its instructions for feeding. Some plants, like SunPatiens, enjoy feeding more often than other plants. If you don't have a planting guide, find a reliable source on the Internet or a book on gardening that you can trust. Typically fertilizing your garden every two to three weeks works well.

Fertilizing Grafted Tomatoes

Summer heat can really put a strain on your plants. Even roses that enjoy being in the sun can be overwhelmed by too much heat. Regular watering and feeding can be the difference between a beautiful flowering/fruiting plant and one that struggles or dies.

A general fertilizer will work fine for your entire garden ( any feeding is better than no feeding), but using plant specific fertilizers can enhance their performance even more. Take a good look at your fertilizer and most likely there are three numbers somewhere clearly marked on the label. They represent the amount of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium that are blended into the fertilizer. These are the nutrients plants need most. Somewhere on the container will be a list of other nutrients blended in lesser quantities. The mix of these nutrients (primary and secondary) in varied quantities specific to the needs of the plant is what makes fertilizers effective. The proper mix and amount of nutrients applied to your plant at the correct intervals can produce amazing results.

For many plants a simple 15-30-15 mix will work as well as any blend. Other plants perform better with a more specific recipe. A fertilizer blended for fruit and vegetables is likely to give you more fruit than a general fertilizer. A fertilizer for acid-loving plants would produce richer/bluer hydrangea. Again, your planting guide (or gardening information source) will help you decide what's best for your plant.

Dry, liquid and water-soluble fertilizers work pretty much the same, but there are advantages to dry and to liquid or water-soluble.

Dry (granular) fertilizers work best in long-term soil enhancement. Fertilizing with dry fertilizer when first setting up your flowerbeds in the fall (long before plants will be added) can help enrich the soil for the spring.

Granular fertilizer, when used as instructed on its container, can sometimes be a better solution for very large, well established trees since it takes longer for the fertilizer to work its way to the roots.

In most cases, you will benefit from a liquid or water-soluble fertilizer. Dry fertilizers have a much greater risk of burning your roots. Liquid and water-soluble fertilizers, so long as you keep your plants watered and don't over fertilize, shouldn't burn your plants' roots and can reach their roots much quicker than granular fertilizers.

Liquid Fertilizer

Finally, not all fertilizers were created equal. Go with a brand you trust. If you buy an unknown bargain brand you may not get the full benefit of feeding your plants. This may be a shameless plug, but Cottage Farms' Bud-N-Flower Boosters are water-soluble pouches especially formulated to give your plants exactly what they need. The liquid Nature's Source is also a well-balanced general fertilizer that has years of experience and research behind it.

For obvious (somewhat biased) reasons we recommend using one of our fertilizers. However, if you should decide to get your fertilizer elsewhere, don't trade a little savings for quality. A fertilizer from a reputable company gives your plants a better chance to reach their full potential. And as we stated earlier, a plant specific fertilizer can improve your plant's performance even more.

Click here for more detailed information on Fertilizing and Plant Nutrition

Click on the links below for more information about our Bud-N-Flower Boosters (even if you use a different brand, the information on these pages can give you a good idea of what nutrient ratios will work best for your plants):

Bud-N-Flower Booster 15-30-15
Bud-N-Flower Booster for Acid Loving 21-7-7
Bud-N-Flower Booster for Fruits Vegetables 15-10-30
Bud-N-Flower Booster for Roses 18-24-18

Watering Gardens Watering

As important as fertilizing your garden is, nothing is more important for your plants than making sure they get the proper amount of water.

If we use the food analogy, you can survive a lot longer without food than you can without water. The same can be said about your plant. It will get at least some nutrients from the soil around it's roots. But without water, the plant will shrivel up and die. Too much water and it will drown (or rot).

Many factors affect how often you must water your plants. Some of these factors are heat, humidity, wind, season, soil, and type of plant.

Water enough so that the soil becomes wet throughout the entire root area. This will require a slow, soaking irrigation. Water should be applied only as quickly as it can be absorbed by the soil. Keep in mind your deepest roots will be located below the trunk and limbs of the plant. This area will require more water than the shallower roots located near the end of your farthest watering area. Root depths are commonly 6 to 12 inches for annuals, vegetables, and lawns—12 to 24 inches for perennials and shrubs—and 28 to 36 inches or more for trees.

Once a plant has become established most recommendations suggest it needs at least 1 inch of rain (or watering equivalent) every week during your growing season. Fast growing plants will require more water than slower growing plants.

Keep in mind that the soil type will greatly affect how often you will need to water your plants. Sandy soils do not hold much water, so when you irrigate or when it rains, most of the water percolates rapidly down and out of the root zone. Plants grown in sandy soils will need to be watered more frequently. On the other hand clay based soils hold more moisture which remains available to the plant for longer periods of time. Plants growing in clay soils require less watering.

Hot, dry, or windy weather increase the need for extra irrigation. Pay attention to your entire garden and water as necessary. It is best to water during the early morning or late evening, but if a plant needs water, water it regardless of the time of day.

Since summer offers some of the hottest days, depending on how much sun your garden gets, it is possible some or all of your plants may need to be watered every day.

If you are unsure that your plants are getting the proper amount of water, try the scratch method to help judge the situation. Using a hand trowel or other implement, scratch below the surface of the soil and check the soil in the root zone for moisture. Moist soil tends to hold together when squeezed, dry soil typically will fall apart. If you judge the soil is too wet—stop watering for a while and let the plant dry out. If you judge the soil is too dry, water it as outlined above.

As a general rule, container plants typically need more watering than those in the ground. But be careful to make sure the pots/baskets/boxes/containers have proper drainage or you're back to drowning the plant.
Over Watering

As always, your planting guides are going to do a much better job of instructing you on how much water your different plants need than we can do in one article. Plus they often offer guidance on using things like mulch or specific soil combinations that will help the plant maintain the ideal amount of moisture.

Even with a planting guide, watching your plant and the soil is important.

Signs of "Over Watering": Too much water drowns the roots and deprives the plant of the food and moisture that the roots are supposed to supply. The first signs of too much water show up in the roots. They become brown and mushy. This is hard to see in the garden but easy to check with plants grown in containers. In the garden, symptoms of over watering are yellow leaves (generally all over the plant) which will soon drop off. Once this occurs, it is often too late to save the plant.

Signs of "Under Watering": Too little water deprives the plant of the moisture needed to grow and live. First signs are a slightly washed out color in the leaves, followed by wilting, starting with the youngest and tenderest foliage. If wilting is severe enough, damaged leaves with brown crisp edges may remain even after watering. Very severe wilting is not reversible and plants will die.

Finally, who ever said gardening had to be boring? Keep it fun. Make gardening a family activity. Check the plants and soil moisture with the kids. Let them be involved in watering and feeding the plants. And, somehow, a garden hose always turns into more than simply watering the garden.

Enjoy your flowers a little longer

Dried Flowers

Summer is when all of your hard work starts paying off. It brings you the "fruits of your labor"—literally. This is when you (if all went well) begin to see blooms on many of your plants and can start pulling fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs from your garden.

Of course your fruit and vegetables are great for eating and your cut flowers are great for decorating your house on the inside while your blooming plants beautify your yard. But you can also get creative in preserving your blooms and enjoy them longer.

In much the same way as canning your foods can give you a much longer enjoyment from your edible garden, drying and pressing your flowers can let you enjoy your blooms for a very long time.

Drying your blooms is easy but will take a little time, patience and the right place to store them.

There are numerous ways to dry flowers. We're going to touch on a few of our favorites here.

  Air-dry your flowers

Air-drying is probably one of the oldest and most effective ways to dry flowers. Though there are a few steps to air-drying, the basic premise is separating your plants and letting them dry in the open air.
Air Dried Flowers

Air-drying works well for more robust flowers like roses and hydrangea (though water drying, which will be discussed below, is better for hydrangea). Air-drying also works well for plants like Baby's Breath and herbs.

Cut the stems of your flowers at least six inches long (longer stems are easier to work with). Strip off all excess leaves/foliage.

If you're drying hydrangea blooms you will probably want to do one or two by themselves, however, most plants can be gathered into groups (like a bouquet) tied together at the bottom of the stems using string, dental floss, a rubber band, etc. Unless you're drying a bouquet that is already together, you will probably have better results if you separate your bundles into like plants. If you're drying a bouquet that was pre-arranged and separating them can be done without damaging the individual plants, you should still separate them and hang in groups of like plants. You can put your arrangement together when all of the plants have dried.

Using string, wire, prefabricated hooks, etc. hang the plants upside down from a hook, rod, or some form of edge in a dark, dry room with good air flow like a garage, utility room or closet. Attaching several of the upside down hanging bundles to a coat hanger creates easy to hang groups.

Keep the drying plants out of the light as much as possible. The less light they encounter the better they will retain their color.

Let the bundles hang for two to four weeks until they are completely dry. Avoid touching the plants while they're drying to minimize discoloration and the loss of leaves and/or petals.

When the plants are dried, separate the individual plants from their bundles and spray with hairspray or Dried Floral Preservative (available at many hobby stores) to help strengthen the leaves and petals and maintain their color longer.

  Dry your flowers with silica gel

If you've never used it, silica gel works really well for drying plants (and wet electronics).

Silica gel is formed into little translucent bebe sized pellets that absorb moisture. For my projects I've used a brand called Dri Splendor™. The instructions on the resealable bag are easy to follow:

MICROWAVE: Select a microwave-safe container that can hold the floral. Cover container bottom with 1/2 inch silica gel. Separate flowers in silica gel face up. Cover flowers with silica gel. Using medium setting, microwave for two minutes. Let cool. If flowers not completely dry, microwave for one minute increments until dry. Carefully remove flowers. Silica gel can be repoured into bag for reuse.

NON-MICROWAVE: Follow steps above. Instead of microwave, place in air-tight container for a week. "Indicating crystals" are blue crystals. When these blue crystals turn pink, your silica gel has reached its maximum moisture absorption. You can "re-dry" your crystals by placing them in a pan in an oven at 250 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes. Moisture is removed from [them] turning the indicating crystals back to blue. Perennial Hibiscus

A few years ago I decided to attempt drying our large perennial hibiscus (some with blooms 13 inches across). I used two different methods, air-dry with silica gel and pressing.

After numerous attempts using silica gel to dry the flowers I finally had to give up and move onto other methods. The gel worked incredibly well in drying the plants, and I was nearly successful several times, but ultimately the petals were too thin and would tear like extremely delicate tissue paper as I removed them from the gel beads. Because I was attempting to capture the size of the blooms, I was using flowers that had matured too much. I might have had more success if I had used flowers that had just opened. Plus, the petals shrank as the flowers dried, so I lost the desired effect anyway.

Even though my attempt to dry the hibiscus with silica gel was unsuccessful, I was very impressed with how well it worked. Used on the right type of flower/plant silica gel is a great way to dry the plant quickly and retain a good bit of its color. I haven't tried drying a hydrangea with silica gel (yet), but since it's a strong plant, I suspect the gel would work well on the flower and probably hold a great deal of its color.

And, not too long after my experiments with silica gel, we learned that it worked well in removing moisture from a cell phone that had been dropped in water.

  Pressing flowers

Where using silica gel to air-dry my perennial hibiscus didn't work for me, pressing the blooms worked very well.
Pressing Flowers

Probably as long as there have been books, people have been pressing flowers in them. It's an easy concept—place your flower or delicate plant on a page in the middle of a book and close the book. After some time has passed, you get a nicely pressed decoration. As a child I used this method a to save a couple of four-leaf clovers I'd found.

Of course, you don't want to try this with a nice book you wish to keep in good condition, but it works. And, of course, you don't have to use the pages of a book to press your flowers.

There are actually plant presses that people construct that work very well. Most use two sheets of plywood (or similar strong, flat surfaces) bound together with straps, rubber bands or even wing nuts run through holes on all four corners of the plywood to apply pressure to the plant(s).

If you don't wish to build or buy a press for your flowers, it's easy enough to quickly put together a press using items around the house.

Even though we're using newspaper here, understand that it is possible (though unlikely) to get some staining on whatever objects are used. We don't recommend pressing your flowers on prized items.

Lay a sheet of newspaper/newsprint paper (or several sheets if you prefer) on a smooth flat surface (like a table or plywood). Most any non-glossy paper or wax paper should work if you can't find newsprint paper or newspaper. Place the flower you wish to press on the newspaper. If there's room, you can do more than one on a layer, but don't let them overlay or touch. Cover the flower(s) with another sheet of newspaper.

Pressed Flowers

If you wish to do more than one layer, you can place a sheet of plywood, cardboard, etc. between the layers, making sure each layer of flowers have a sheet of newspaper below and above them.

Once your plants and newspaper are in place, put heavy books or boxes on top (the book/box directly on top of the stack must be at least a little larger than the flower(s) being pressed and smooth/flat). You may also use a piece of plywood (or

equivalant) and place heavy objects evenly on top.

Optional: After one week, carefully switch out your newspaper with fresh, dry paper and reset your flower(s) to be pressed. This can speed up drying.

If you have tissue paper larger than the flower, you can put a piece under and over the flowers (between the newspaper) to help speed up drying. If you use tissue paper, switch it out when you refresh your newspaper.

Let the flowers press/dry for about 2 to 3 weeks (very small flowers might dry as quickly as one week).

One of the nicest devices I've seen for pressing flowers was the one we borrowed to press our perennial hibiscus. It was multiple sheets of plywood each cut into a two-foot square with a hole drilled in each corner. A long bolt ran through each of the holes and was topped with a wing nut. We used newspaper as directed above and tightened the wing nuts a little every day or two as the plants dried. If you find you enjoy pressing plants, I highly recommend building such a device.

Once you have a nicely dried, flattened flower/plant, they work great in frames and shadow boxes. I've also seen pressed plants used effectively to decorate homemade/craft candles (showing through the wax from inside the candle).

  Microwaving your flowers

Since we mentioned microwaving with silica gel, it should probably be mentioned that you can use your microwave as a drying tool.

In much the same way that you can use the silica gel in the microwave to quickly dry your flowers, you may also use paper towels or cat litter.

If you use cat litter, follow the instructions for silica gel (cat litter should also work without the microwave in much the same way as silica gel—minus the pink/blue crystals).

If you use paper towels, put your flower between two paper towels and microwave on medium for about 2 minutes. If the flower is not dry, switch out the paper towels with fresh ones and microwave another minute. Continue until your flower is dry and then let it cool.

  Water drying your flowers

There are some plants that work best with water drying—a process most of us have probably done accidentally.
Drying Hydrangeas

The idea here is to slowly dry the plant to hold the color a little better and make the blooms a little less brittle. Though water drying might be good for other plants (with strong stems), the hydrangea benefits the greatest from this method.

Try to catch your blooms when they are at their peak—while they're changing colors and just before they start to go toward unwanted colors (most likely somewhere between August and October. You may want to test earlier blooms to see how they work for you. Letting the hydrangea bloom dry a little on the plant is going to give you the best control over the flower's color).

Cut the stems to about 12 to 18 inches long and remove any unwanted foliage.

Put the flowers in a vase filled with about 6 inches of water and place the vase in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Since these will actually work nicely as cut flowers, you can use them as decorations. Just make sure they are kept inside and away from windows.

Let the water evaporate. When the vase is dry, the flowers should be ready. Your plants should hold their color for several months.

Drying plants is as much trial and error as it is art or science. The fun is in trying—then enjoying the dried flowers that work.


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