Advice for New Gardeners

In this discussion we heard from veteran growers on their tips and tricks for beginner gardeners

February 7, 2019

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Audio Transcript


Hadley Growers: Advice for New Gardeners

Presented by Ed Haines

February 7, 2019

Ed: Welcome, everyone, to growing with Hadley, and happy February. Hope everybody's excited. I know I am. This is the highlight of my day. We're getting another eight inches of snow today. We had eight inches yesterday, and it's hard to imagine a garden actually being productive outside, but we know it will be. Before we get started with our discussion, I just have a bit of housekeeping that has to do with the Zoom platform we're using today. Because we have over 30 folks, I'm going to keep everybody muted just to minimize the background noise. This happens with a lot of people in the room. That being said, I really hope this is a lively discussion. I would love for everybody to be able to participate.

To help things run smoothly, I'm just going to read you some information about the Zoom format we're using today that I hope will be helpful. When you need to mute, or unmute yourself, and you have that ability to do it yourself, use star six if you called in from your phone. If you're on a PC, use Alt A. If you're on a Mac, use command shift A. Now some of you may be using an app on your smartphone. Depending on your smartphone, you'll have to explore your screen to find your mute button. Also, it just helps things from getting too chaotic.

If you want to raise your hand to indicate you'd like to speak, then I can call on you. What I'm going to do is either use your first name, or I will use the last three digits of your phone number, or yeah, I'll use the last three digits of your phone number, so bear that in mind. If I say, "Okay, 123. What do you have to say to us?" I'm talking to you. I don't see your names when you call in from your phone. Otherwise, I'll use first names only. If you want to raise your hand on the phone, that's star nine. On the PC, it's Alt Y. On the Mac, Command Shift Y. Again, if you're coming in from an app on your phone, you'll have to find that button as you explore your screen.

If you would, try to keep yourself muted until you're ready to ask a question or make a comment. Then if you would, please mute again once you're done. That will help us with background noise. Looks like we have coming up to 40 people on this call. That's wonderful.

With all that out of the way, let me just get things started with today's topic, and that is tips and tricks for new gardeners. This is by popular demand. After our last discussion, I asked folks to email me with what they'd be interested in. We had a lot of new gardeners email me, and say, "Look. I really appreciated hearing from veteran gardens. I'd like to hear from them advice on how to get [crosstalk], and things to do, pitfalls to avoid, all that kind of good stuff." This is a perfect example for more seasoned gardeners to share their knowledge. We all know gardeners love to talk about their knowledge of gardening. It's just one of those things. I'm going to open up the floor, and if anybody has some tips for beginning gardeners out there, or if beginning gardeners have any questions that they want to ask seasoned veterans, let's get started.

And we've got a hand up. The last of the phone number is 036.

Nancy: This is Nancy from Maine.

Ed: Hi, Nancy.

Nancy: I'm a veteran gardener, and I wrote down a few things that I thought might be helpful-

Ed: Well, thank you.

Nancy: To people who are looking at gardening. When people garden, the map of the United States and Canada, they have what are called zones. Depending on where you live, you get a number. My number is 4B. If you live down in Florida, you might be a 10 or a 12, just to give you an example. That's information you need to have when you go to get plants because you will find some plants have zone specific to areas.

The second thing I'd like to say is location, location, location. Whether you want full sun, which is six hours or more, or shade, or partial shade, you need to determine whether you're gardening in pots, or whether you're gardening in the ground what your daylight is, what your shade is. You're not going to want to plant something like a tomato in a full shade because it needs sun. Whereas, if you're growing something like lettuce, that can be a partial shade or shade. It'll grow in both places. That's important to figure that out before you determine exactly where your garden's going to be.

Then you need to think about your layout. Do you want to do a traditional garden in the ground? Are you going to do what's called square foot gardening? Which is basically a raised box that has dirt in it that you put string across to make squares. Or are you going to garden in pots? You need to determine your soil. A lot of raised beds and pots use soil that can be made out of something like a pro-mix, and a perlite, and compost. It doesn't really have any real dirt, as you think of digging dirt in your garden.

The last thing that I wanted to say is decide what you want to plant. If you're pretty new, I always found if I wanted to grow some tomatoes, and say some peppers, I'd go buy a couple of six packs versus trying to do things from seed. Lettuce is pretty easy to do from seed, and a few other things, but if you're beginning, you really have to think about where you're going to put things, and planting is very important.

It's also not a bad idea to know where your water source is. Do you want to be carrying a lot of water down to your garden? Or is it pretty close to your outside faucet? Those are my hints, and hopefully that helps somebody.

Ed: Thanks a lot. Thanks. I really appreciate it. Very valuable hints. Anybody else? How about 175. You've got your hand up.

Jim: Hi, good afternoon. Jim from just South of Philadelphia.

Ed: Hi, Jim.

Jim: Where it is quite muddy, and been able to get out this week and put down some food for my bulbs, and actually spray my roses and lilac with a fungicide to get a little bit of an early start.

Ed: Wow.

Jim: Quick ... The weather was so crazy last fall, there was just no opportunity to really get out and put down the fertilizer late in the fall like I usually do, so I got out there as soon as I could, and took advantage of the unusually warm weather that we got hit with this week.

I would only add, and that information just given was very, very valuable, very much appreciated. I do have a question. I would add that it never hurts, number one, know what plants are indigenous to your area. In other words, what plants do the best. If you're just starting out, the last thing you need to do is to go out and buy something that will look good for a month, month and a half. You've done everything you can do, but then have it die. As much as I enjoy going to nurseries and all, their first goal is to sell you plants. Sometimes they're not all indigenous to the area. So yes, know your zone, and know what really does well in your area.

The other thing I would recommend is if you do not know what your soil is composed of, a lot of clay, a lot of sand, whatever, take a sample, and have it analyzed. From that being analyzed, then know what your plant thrives on. If it's more acidic, you might want to use something like cottonseed meal. Obviously lime. Something to add pH to the ground. These are things that I started out learning, and I admit I've lost my share of plants. Thankfully I've been able to save some too.

My question to someone out there because there are so many master gardeners in the group is I have a row of arborvitaes, and I have a row of rhododendron. From my knowledge, which is limited, I understand they have shallow root systems. Where my lawn ends, the grass of my lawn ends, it goes slightly down where those bushes are planted. I'd like to build that bed up, but I want to make sure that I'm using a soil that will breathe, for lack of a better term, will allow the roots to breathe. I'd like to build it up, and I'd appreciate any recommendation. Thanks a lot.

Ed: No. Thanks a lot for that hint about testing your soil. That is something that a lot of folks just don't think of doing. I'm talking about testing soil when you're planting your plants in the ground, not when you're using containers, and using potting mix. If you're thinking of doing flower beds, and planting your flowers or vegetables in the ground, we often don't want to test our soil. It's time consuming. I'll tell you what, I'm so glad you brought this up because if anyone knows of a soil test kit that's accessible to persons with vision impairments, I would love to know about it. To my knowledge, I've never seen one. That's an issue. A sighted person can just go buy a test kit, which basically relies on pH strips and color, and they can buy it at a local nursery, and test their own soil. For folks who cannot see those kits, it's a little more difficult. You have to reach out to your Ag agent or your county extension office, etceteria. Thanks for mentioning that. If anyone knows of an accessible soil test kit, let me know, or speak up.

And we've got 588 with the hand raised. Go ahead.

Doug: Hey, Ed and gardeners. This is Doug out in California.

Ed: Hey, Doug.

Doug: Hi. One tool that if I could recommend that you get that's been a lifesaver for me once I discovered it. It's called a hori knife, H-O-R-I. They come in different lengths and a couple different widths you might find. It's a nice gardening tool. It's a knife, slash saw, slash planting tool. Yeah, that would be one of my favorite things to recommend people. Also, once I started using a good top dressing or mulch, I found that helps down the weeds, hold in the moisture. I think I've used one that's a soil conditioner, maybe from Gardener Blue Company. Something like that. That's what I got for today.

Ed: Well, thanks, Doug. That's great. Mulch is a great idea. I often when I teach the gardening class, I get questions, "How can I tell weeds from seedlings?" A garden that's properly mulched, you won't have a whole lot of weeds, and what ends up growing are the things you actually planted. It becomes a lot more easy to tell. You can get some dark colored mulches out there. I'm thinking more cocoa bean husks, and stuff like that. You can add contrast between your plants and the soil, so if you do have some residual vision, you can see your plants better. I don't want to put Doug on the spot, also, but if we have time later in the discussion, I will tell folks that Doug is a veteran water gardener. In fact, he's a professional designer of water gardens, and he knows everything there is to know about water gardening. So, sorry, Doug. I don't want to put you on the spot.

Doug: It's okay.

Ed: If folks have questions about water gardening, he is the guy. Thanks, Doug.

Doug: You're welcome.

Ed: Anybody else have suggestions for new gardeners?

We've got a bunch of hands coming up. The first one was 166 is the final three numbers of their phone number.

Sue: Hi, Ed. This is Sue from Alabama.

Ed: Hi, Sue.

Sue: Hi. Hey. One of the tips that I have because this week has had such lovely weather, make sure that as a new gardener, you don't get over excited, and put your seeds in the soil outside right now. You can plant seeds, but keep them indoors until the last frost has gone away as far as the date on the zone that you're in. One of the people yesterday at a gardening lecture was asking about can she go ahead and plant her seeds because we were having 70 degree weather. The answer is not yet. It's too soon.

The other thing is when you're planting bulbs, make sure that you dress the soil before you put your bulbs in. For instance, yesterday and today, I was doing narcissus paperwhites and spider lilies. I dug the soil. I put in bone meal, and you have to stir the bone meal in with the soil, and then you put the bulbs in, and right now, the bulbs still have the leaves attached although the flowers have died off. Then you put the soil around, and mulch on top of all of that so that in a couple of weeks when the leaves die off, you wait a whole year until they come up in the fall and in the winter. I guess that's all I have to say.

Ed: Thanks, Sue. I really appreciate that. We have phone number 373 with a hand raised. Go ahead.

Judith Holly: This is Judith Holly out here in Independence, where we're all iced up.

Ed: Hi, Judith.

Judith Holly: Hi. I'm going to tell two unusual things that I've learned in my gardening. Throwing it out for people who really do a lot of big gardening. We had a grasshopper infestation in the large garden one year. A fellow friend, who was really quite a wise man, went to a garage sale, got a blender. Then he went out to the tomatoes where all these grasshoppers were, gathered up the grasshoppers, put them in this old blender with a little bit of water, blended them up, put them in a pump, the kind you pump up and down, a spray pump, and then sprayed them back on the tomatoes, and the grasshoppers went away.

The other thing is that I have a friend, and he taught me this, he said the broader the weed leaf, the better. He would take a five-gallon bucket, and sometimes even a great, big, metal container, and he would put water it in, and put these leaves that he had pulled the weeds, broad-leaf weeds into this water, and leave it to ferment. Then he would put that into cans, or a watering can, or into a milk jar, and pour it onto his plants in his garden. It was the most fantastic fertilizer you could ever want, all natural.

Ed: Wow. Thanks. I'm just trying to imagine what my spouse would say about me filling our blender with grasshoppers.

Judith Holly: That's why Eddie went to a garage sale and got an old one.

Ed: I was going to say, but nonetheless, it's an intriguing idea. With regard to the broad-leaves, just a word of caution, we need to make sure they are not poison ivy, or a similar broad-leaf toxic plants, but thanks for that.

Anybody else? All right. We don't have a hand raised, so I have some ideas. First off, when we're teaching the gardening course at Hadley, I get a lot of beginning gardeners would have really ambitious plans for choosing their plants. Almost invariably, the beginning gardener would say, "I want to grow roses. I want to grow fruit trees." Roses and fruit trees are pretty complicated to grow sometimes. Roses, particularly, can be sort of fussy. They're susceptible to mildew and all sorts of other. Anyone's who's gardened knows they're fussy. There are some varieties that aren't. Fruit trees take a long time, and they're not really amenable to containers.

I like for beginning gardeners, and you folks know if you've listened to this group before, I associate anything to do with gardening with eating. I recommend culinary herbs for beginning gardeners. I just think you can get culinary herbs as transplants from even big box stores. You know the big box stores that are out there. They're relatively inexpensive, and culinary herbs like oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, all the classics are pretty disease resistance, and they can take a lot of neglect. As long as they have a sunny spot, they're going to do, more or less, pretty well. They don't even need to be watered as often as a lot of other plants. Then there's that immediate payoff of being able to cook, and eat with your own fresh herbs. Frankly, it doesn't matter how much money you have, you can't buy something that fresh even in the most expensive, gourmet, grocery stores. That's my little hint. I really love culinary herbs. They're easy to grow. They're cheap. There's a big payoff. That's my input. Anybody else?

Doug: Yeah, Ed, can you hear me?

Ed: Yep.

Doug: It's Doug. Let's see. I want to back you up on that herb thing. I would recommend that for the beginner. That's immediate payoff.

Oh, about this zone thing. I don't know if you guys, I have a spreadsheet, where if you want to find out what your latest frost, and I think your earliest frost, I can send you this spreadsheet. I think you put in your zip code, and it will give you approximate dates when to expect that. That can be helpful.

Ed: Well, thanks, Doug. Folks, if anyone wants that spreadsheet, why don't you send me an email, and then I can hook you up with Doug, I guess. Does that sound good, Doug?

Doug: Yeah, or I'll try to send it to you, and then you can just give it to them.

Ed: Oh, perfect. That'd be easier on you, and that'd be great.

Doug: Okay.

Ed: If you want to send it to me, and then if folks request it, I can certainly pass it out. That sounds wonderful. Thanks.

Doug: Yep.

Ed: It looks like we have Crystal.

Crystal: Yes.

Ed: Yeah, go ahead, Crystal.

Crystal: Yes. I'm a beginner at Hadley. I started in August at Hadley.

Ed: Okay.

Crystal: I started in August 2018, and I have had to drop classes-

Ed: Is this a gardening question, Crystal?

Crystal: Yes.

Ed: Okay, great.

Crystal: Yes. I had to drop some classes with the teacher, and some of the teachers don't understand that I have a disability.

Ed: Crystal, I bet, that sounds like a really serious concern. I thank you for sharing that. If you don't have a gardening question, we might move on, but I want to make sure that I can talk with you about this later. Okay?

Crystal: Okay.

Ed: Will you send me your phone number to my email address?

Crystal: Yes.

Ed: Okay. My email address is So send me your phone number. I can give you a holler, all right?

Crystal: Okay.

Ed: Okay. Thanks.

Crystal: Okay.

Ed: Anybody else with a gardening comment? How about, we've got, it just says iPhone with your hand up.

Tony: Hello?

Ed: Hi there.

Tony: Hi. I'm Tony from California. I am a new gardener.

Ed: Hi, Tony.

Tony: Hi. I had a question, and it's kind of embarrassing, and girly, but how do you guys avoid getting bit by bugs, and just randomly sticking your hands in rosemary bushes, and things like that, that I know are just full of spiders?

Ed: That's not a girly question at all. It's just an occupational hazard. My initial response is where gardening gloves. Anybody else have any ideas? Just chime in.

Tony: I've tried gardening gloves, and the problem is I can't feel the leaves and things.

Ed: Yep. That's a problem. Anybody else?

Tony: Okay. Well, I have to figure that out. My second question then would be too is do you guys have any suggestions for labeling what you plant where, in some sort of accessible format?

Ed: That's a good question.

Jim: I do have a recommendation about the bugs.

Ed: Okay, great.

Jim: I've run into that a lot myself, and obviously no fun. If you're not willing to spray yourself with some sort of insecticide like Off or something before plunging in, I recommend doing your gardening very early in the morning when they are least active. As the day warms up, they get more active.

Ed: Great advice. Great advice. Go ahead.

Doug: It's Doug for Connie. Do you read braille?

Tony: Yeah, I do.

Doug: Okay. I found some good, I call them T-shaped plastic labels at the gardening store.

Tony: Okay.

Doug: You can get them in different sizes, so if you think of a print T. The top of the T is, you can get them anywhere from two inches wide, to one inch high. You'll find they come in different sizes. I bought the bigger ones, and I stuck them in the Perkins Braille writer. You can Braille on them. My wife is sighted, so she would take a grease pencil, or some kind of stuff that will hold up in the garden, and she writes on one side. I Braille on the other one. I just put it near what we wanted. We used them in the water plant business. I could read stuff when it got gooey and she couldn't read it.

Tony: Great idea. Thank you.

Ed: Great idea. Yeah, there's all sorts of Braille labeling tape out there, but I like the idea of Brailling right on the marker. Tape sometimes falls off. It's exposed to the elements, that kind of stuff. Thanks, Doug. Great idea.

Evelyn: Ed?

Ed: Yes.

Evelyn: This is Evelyn from Montana.

Ed: Hi, Evelyn.

Evelyn: Hi. About the gloves, instead of using gardening gloves, I use, I call them the old surgical gloves. They're a rubber that the doctor's pull on and throw away.

Ed: Sure. Okay.

Evelyn: To me, they're finer. They're not as ... I still lose a little bit of my ability to feel, but they're much better than gardening gloves.

Ed: Great suggestion. Thanks. Anybody else have some bug related or labeling related suggestions?

Alice: This is Alice from Milwaukee.

Ed: Hi, Alice.

Alice: Hi, Ed and everyone. I also use those surgical gloves as Evelyn was talking about. I have a fairly large container garden. It's going to be about my 19th or 20th year for it. That's what I do. I always say, "If I were on television, I would probably be the messy gardener." It just helps with cleaning up, and everything, I find if I use those surgical gloves. I use them for other purposes first, and then after I've used them for something else, then I save them, and can use them for gardening purposes.

I wholeheartedly agree with the herbs. I love growing herbs. Each year, I try to experiment, and find a new one or two that I can add, and maybe delete another one. I really enjoy growing herbs, very, very much. I think for beginning gardeners, geraniums are an easy choice for flowers to grow. I recommend those. If you're doing container gardening, you can just sometimes use some different kinds of pots to know what color is where, or what plant is where. Also, by the location, if you don't want to get into put little labels on everything. I tend to have a garden that's like music chairs. As the season goes on, I like to combine different containers in different ways, and change the color schemes together in different places, and just use different combinations, and move my lawn furniture around and such, so that I have a little different perspective for people who come as the summer and season goes on.

Just one other little tip, although I do purchase both flowers and herbs from the supermarket that is within walking distance from me, at the beginning of the season, I do like to go somewhere else to get some other plants also. I have found a really good place that just sets up for the season, and they're people from a farm. I live right in the middle of the city, but this particular farm comes into the city to sell plants, all varieties, herbs, and vegetable plants, and flowers also. I have found the dirt that those little startings are in is just absolutely wonderful compared to the ones I buy at the supermarket. I've had good luck with most of the ones from the supermarket, but the ones that were grown by the farmers are just of such superior quality. If you have that possibility, I would go with that. Thank you. Happy gardening, everyone.

Ed: Thanks so much. That's great advice. I always like to ... Someone else made a comment earlier on, to try to grow things that grow well in your area. One of the advantages of growing from a produce, or transplants, etceteria, from a local farm is that you know that these are things that have been cultivated right in your geographic area. They're used to your climate. That's great advice. It's always more fun to buy plants from a private grower. Then you get their story behind them, too, sometimes. You know where they're from. I think that's really valuable. Thanks so much for that.

I think we have 686 was the next person, if I'm correct. Who's 686?

Alice: Ed, that was Alice.

Ed: All right. Sorry about that, Alice. I think then we have, did I call on Karen yet?

Karen: No, this is Karen.

Ed: Karen, go ahead.

Karen: Yes. Hi. I'm from Massachusets, and last year was the first year that I planted herbs. I agree. It was pretty simple, and I will continue to do it. Nothing like fresh dill on fish, and I had a lemon chives for vegetables, and I have a wonderful window with a wide windowsill, and just bright sunshine. Oh, it's great. Thank you.

Ed: Thanks for that comment. You mentioned chives, and a lot of herbs, one of the wonderful things about them, culinary herbs, is that they have edible flowers as well. Chives are a classic example of that. The foliage of chives is terrific, but then they also have flowers that are perfect for garnishing salads. I told you everything I talk about is relating to food. Even flowers from oregano, and other herbs are just wonderful.

Now that brings to mind another suggestion I always give people are nasturtiums. I think nasturtiums are just so easy to grow from seed, and again they have edible flowers that can be used as garnishes, and in salads all over the place. They're a wonderful, unsung hero of the garden. Thanks, Karen, for jogging my memory.

We have number 381, I think is the next person in queue. Go ahead. 381, we're all ready for you.

Okay. We had a question a while back from the gentleman, I believe in Philadelphia, who wanted to do some landscaping, and change the contour of his lawn, and was worried about the root system of his arborvitae. Does anybody have any suggestions about that? My initial, and I'm no expert on landscaping, but my initial reservation is that if soil is put over that root system, it might actually suffocate the root system a little bit. What does anybody else think?

Doug: I didn't understand what Jim was asking. What did you want to do, Jim?

Ed: If you're there, Jim, you would ask the question again.

Jim: Yes. Hi, everyone. What I was asking is I wanted to raise the ground up a little bit to make it more level with my lawn because the water does go down into the area, and I've had no problems thus far, but have a concern. Exactly what you said, Ed, I don't want to smoother the root system, so I was looking for perhaps soil that I could put in there, gradually, perhaps, that would allow the roots to continue to breath, and wouldn't cause any damage to the root system.

Ed: So, Jim, are you going to be putting turf on top of this soil also?

Jim: No. There's just soil now. I keep it clean around both the arborvitaes and the rhododendron.

Ed: Okay.

Jim: I'm just looking to raise up ... You know, if you step from my grass to where the plants begin, there's a slight slope. Then they're against the house. Then it goes right against the house.

Ed: So, you're sloping toward the house. Okay.

Jim: Exactly. So I want to eliminate that slope, and also at the same time, just level things out.

Ed: Yes. You don't want water going toward the foundation.

Jim: Exactly. Together with just raising it up a little bit. I didn't know whether or not it's too late, or anything that I could gradually do with respect to adding soil. I certainly don't want to just go out and buy top soil, and do it. I think top soil would just be too heavy.

Ed: I guess my first question is, Jim, how much do you love those arborvitaes?

Jim: I'll go before they go.

Ed: You're going to let your ... Do you have a sump pump?

Jim: No. That's what's the wife told me. No. I try to keep everything going. I haven't done much switching around with the shrubbery. I would make one quick recommendation though is that a very easy flower to grow in the summertime, to have at least, that's a vinca. They handle the heat extremely well. They really only need to be watered if there is a drought condition. They only need to be watered about once a week. They're very colorful. They come in a lot of different colors. I, too, grow herbs. One of the things I enjoy the most are the smells. Being Italian, the sweet basil is a staple at my house.

Ed: Yeah, mine too. Absolutely. I don't know what to tell you about the soil next to your shrubs. You are going to run the risk of suffocating those roots. Maybe if you do it, maybe an inch a year, or something, so that the roots have time to adjust. I don't know.

Jim: That's what I was thinking.

Ed: I'm not a landscape expert, but it might ... I wouldn't do it all at once.

Jim: What would the soil though be? Would it be a vermiculate, or a perlite mixture to use? Which is of course lighter.

Ed: I would use just regular, good quality top soil.

Jim: Really?

Ed: Yeah, but don't email, and yell at me because your arborvitaes died.

Jim: No, I'll just come visit you.

Ed: Yeah, go visit me.

Jim: We here in Philadelphia take that very seriously.

Ed: Regular, good-quality top soil, and just do it very slowly. That would be my advice. What do you think, Doug, or anybody else that's dealt with this kind of problem?

Doug: I don't know, it kind of sounds like ... I don't know, if it's working, and you're not having problems with your foundation, I don't know if I'd mess with it. I would be more drastic, and dig everything out, and try to maybe build a raised bed there to keep the water away from your foundation if that's a concern.

Jim: No, there's no problem with the foundation. There really isn't. It's not that drastic a slope.

Ed: I might just leave it. I think Doug's right. If it works, don't fix it.

Jim: I would agree with you. By the way, if I could make one tip-

Ed: Sure.

Jim: Those who have access to the NLS BARD, there are a number of excellent publications on there for people gardening who have disabilities, or are elderly. All sorts of great tips in there in those publications on how to handle physical issues when you're trying to garden. And vice versa, of course.

Ed: You know, that's fantastic. If you know of some, would you mind emailing ... One of the features of our new discussion groups is that we're going to have a specific page on the website each discussion group. On that page, we'll have a spot where we can put additional resources that gardeners suggest. Anything like that, I'd love it if you emailed me those resources, and we can see if we can get those up on the page so other people could take advantage of them.

Jim: I would be happy to do so.

Ed: Thanks.

Jim: You're welcome.

Ed: And Doug, we can maybe do the same thing with your spreadsheet.

Doug: Yes.

Ed: We've heard from a lot of seasoned gardeners, not so much from beginning gardeners. How about some more beginning gardeners out there? Anybody want some help, or have some questions? This is the time to ask.

JD: Ed.

Ed: Go ahead.

JD: Yes. I was 381. I was having a hard time getting unmuted. My name's JD, and I'm from Colorado. I'm growing some peppermint inside. I grew it from seed, and it's getting up there. I was just wondering how the best way to trim that is. If I could just shear it with some grass shears, and trim it down to two or three inches to the base, and it would sprout back up. Or how do I thin that out a little bit without losing my plants?

Ed: It's getting kind of leggy? I think I would pinch it off. I think that would be the best way. Pinch off the growth at the top, and it will branch out, and get more bushy. The nice thing about mint, and other folks, chime in here, is that mint is incredibly hardy. You probably could shear it off, and it will come back up. Mint spreads like the dickens, so if you're planting it in the garden, you'll end up having mint all over the place. The root system is really hardy. It'll come up from runners from the roots. You probably could shear it off, but I would try pinching off the growth tips first to encourage it to branch out. What does anybody else think?

Doug: Sounds good.

Ed: See. I have to keep my mouth shut, and let other people talk. Anybody else have any questions they want to ask gardeners?

Irene: Irene.

Ed: Hi, Irene.

Irene: Hello, Ed, and just absolutely envious of those people that have got the 70 degree temperatures. Yeah, we're still dealing with that minus 40 windchill factor. Oh, forgotten, Canadian. That would be, yeah, minus 40 is minus 40, whether whatever scale-

Ed: Whatever scale you're using. Right.

Irene: It's cold. In order to have something green growing, and I'm caught up with the fact that you can start sprouting this time of year, and being that I'm short of things to sprout, I have now sprouted barley, oats, and the theory that I'm working on is that it has to be in warm place, and once you get it up about six inches, I think you do that steering thing, and what are the recipes for barley and oat sprouts in coleslaw, or salads, or is it useless to cook it? Go ahead, Ed.

Ed: Gosh. I don't know. Barley and oat sprouts. I guess I'm thinking immediately of salads. Some people have juicers where they juice sprouts. I don't know if anyone's tried that. I actually have a juicer that sat in my garage its entire lifespan. I've never used it, but I know people do. I bought it with really good intentions, and it just never ended up being used. Anybody else have any suggestions?

Irene: You could take out those grasshoppers with that juicer there, Ed.

Ed: Good suggestion. Better than the blender, yeah. You're quite right since I don't use the juicer anyway. You may have stumped us, Irene.

Irene: Okay.

Sue: Ed.

Ed: Wait, we've got somebody.

Sue: Ed, this is Sue. I want to say about sprouting. Any grain is going to be like wheat grass, and it's going to really have a grassy taste. Now, when I make sprouts, I go for the radish, and broccoli, and you name it, and just about anything except a grain is the kind of sprouts I use for making salads, or just eating plain. Does that answer the question?

Irene: Thank you. Yeah. That's what, I do find it a bit grassy, but the theory being that it's that time of year, and we haven't seen anything green in a long time, except at the grocery store. Sunflowers, radishes, there's, I think it's there's certain plants that you can't use, but there's a huge number that you can sprout. The important thing is that you don't put it in direct sunlight. It has to have ambient light. I thought that was a very clever thought, and it's doing well, but I should go out and ... Oh, chickpeas. Have you ever sprouted chickpeas?

Ed: No.

Sue: Yes. You go ahead and start them. They're kind of like any of the bean sprouts that you grow. They will take a little bit longer, but what's a week to two weeks where you're eating your radish sprouts maybe four days after you plant them, or after you start soaking them in water. The first day is soak in water. Then you drain it. The second day, you just rinse off twice a day, and all the days, twice a day. Finally, when they fill up the container, then you're ready to go ahead, and green them up in the sunlight, if you can. If you've got a raining day, just go ahead, and start eating them. You won't get sun on a rainy day. I enjoy making sprouts.

Ed: You know, both Sue and Irene, I'm really glad you brought this up. Irene, particularly with the comment with regard to ambient light because I often get questions from folks who are in apartments who want to try to grow something. As we all know, apartments, many of them, don't have the best light in the world. People get disappointed because their plants don't thrive. That's a great idea for those folks who have just ambient light, and not a really good, South-facing window with a platform they can grow things on. Great comment.

Patty: Hello.

Ed: Hi there.

Patty: Hi. This is Patty [inaudible] from Florida.

Ed: Hi.

Patty: My first question is how do I raise my hand?

Ed: Let me look at my directions again.

Patty: I'm sorry.

Ed: No, no, no. You raising your hand, if you're on the phone is star nine.

Patty: Star nine. Okay. I'm writing that down. Okay. I am still ... I took your class, probably two years ago. Maybe a little longer. I do have a container garden, and a lot of my things have, within those two years, I've killed many things. It's quite horrible. With everything you taught me, I still was killing stuff, which is so horrible. Was I not paying attention? I got a good grade. Anyways, right now what I have living, I've been doing really well with. I've been messing up on watering. I was being extremely lazy, and not watering. Again, I am in Florida. At times, I wouldn't water for four days, and it's 90 degrees outside. It was horrible. So I learned to water. Now I've been watering. Now my parsley is growing beautifully. I have rosemary, and I have basil which recently died, and I believe it's because we had some cold time, and I didn't cover them. Otherwise, they were living no matter how cold it got, so I don't know what happened there. My question is because a lot of them died, I had a really big bush, and all of them died. Some of them are growing on it, but little leaves. Do I still pull them all out, start over? Do I cut them down? Or do I just let the little leaves grow and cut off a lot of the ones that are dead?

Ed: I guess two comments for you. The first is, don't worry. We've all killed lots of plants. That's just the way it is. It's more of a [inaudible] essentially. This second thing is, did the basil flower, and develop seed heads before it died?

Patty: Yes, before that, it had a lot, and I heard somewhere that I had to keep clipping those in order for it to grow round, even though I clipped them, and it still didn't grow round. Yes, it had flowers.

Ed: Basil actually has a life cycle. Most basils, once they flower, and anybody jump in here. Correct me if I'm wrong. Once they flower, and they go to seed, they're going to die back, and they're pretty much done. You probably will have to pull those up, and start again. If you're really vigilant about pinching off those flower heads before they mature, right at the very start, you'll extend the life of your basil for a lot longer.

Patty: Okay. Thank you so much. My last question: I have been trying to grow cilantro in many different ways. I did the seedlings. I did the bulbs. I consistently, they have died. I watched YouTube videos. I am still not successful. I was wondering, should I bring it in the house, and try it? I'm going to try from bulb. I mean already growing, not even a bulb. Just a plant. I was going to transplant it, and have a little container in the house because I put them outside, and they constantly die.

Ed: Gosh. I don't know. Anybody have any ideas about that?

Doug: I think it might be too warm. It's cilantro?

Patty: Oh, yes.

Doug: My cilantro, I've noticed in the warmer weather, slows down. The ones I grow here, they don't like it much over 70. That's just my guess.

Patty: Okay. That sounds perfect. I will try in the house with the AC. Okay. Thank you.

Sue: I've got another comment on the cilantro.

Ed: Sure.

Sue: Just be real careful with it because like he was saying, cilantro is a plant that does not like heat. It will bolt, no questions asked. If you bring it inside, the conditions may not really work out for it. Cilantro is a pretty tricky plant to grow, really.

Patty: Okay. Thank you.

Sue: You might try shade. If you're going to do it, I would go for a shady rather than just an indoor kind of thing. It will be cooler in a shaded area.

Patty: Okay. Thank you.

Ed: I agree with you, Susan. I found cilantro kind of tricky, also. I'm not sure if it's my climate or what, but I just never got it to thrive very well.

Anybody else have any comments? Or just for in general, any questions they want to ask Doug about water gardening? Or new gardeners? Seasoned gardeners? Jump in.

Alice: This is Alice, and just to follow up to the earlier comment about basil. I took the advice, and I think it was from your course, Ed, several years ago about growing basil trees. My basil here in Milwaukee routinely grows to around four feet. It does bush out also. I always keep one on my front porch, which is South facing, and the other on the North side of my townhouse. I have luck with both of them. It's really fun to have them grow to that extent. Just to followup also to the question about peppermint, I found that I prefer to grow spearmint. There was one variety that I purchased, not this past summer, but the summer before, that I particularly liked, that in autumn, it became, someone told me, who was normally sighted, a beautiful autumn red color late in the season. It just has such a wonderful fragrance. I really enjoyed growing the spearmint. The other herb that I'll mention, just because no one else has, the purple sage. I've had particularly good luck with on my South-facing front porch. The purple sage plant, even here in Milwaukee, was still beautiful, and very supple into late November.

Ed: Wow. Wow, that's great. Thanks for that recommendation. I always forget there's lots of varieties of sage out there. Lots of variegated varieties especially. They're really pretty. With that, we've got about four minutes left. We have time for maybe one or two more comments. Anybody got anything they want to add?

Patty: This is Patty. This is Patty, and I have a question. It's not about outside gardening, but inside I have a Christmas cactus. It looks kind of droopy, and so I was just wondering, how often should I water that? And do you have any ideas of why it might be looking droopy, and kind of sad looking?

Ed: Good question. I'll defer to the group because I am not a houseplant gardener. I probably can't give you a good answer. Anybody else have any suggestions for-

Nancy: How often does she water it?

Patty: I water it about maybe once a week, or maybe a week and a half.

Nancy: If you feel it, does it feel sort of soft and mushy?

Patty: Yeah, and the branches on it are just kind of droopy.

Nancy: It could be over watered. I'd let it dry up a little bit. I know mine is just finished blooming. I'd try instead of watering it every week, give it a few days extra, and see how it feels. It's really questionable, I think, of the life of the plant. You'll just have to sort of play it by ear, and see how it does. In the past, I have lost some like that, and I think I just over watered them, and the roots just got too mushy.

Patty: Right. Okay.

Nancy: Yeah.

Patty: Thank you.

Nancy: And I also wanted to say something about the person with the cilantro. They don't like being cold either, so they have to be above 50 degrees.

Ed: Good to know. Thanks.

Nancy: Okay.

Macarena: Hi, this is Macarena. Can you hear me?

Ed: Sure.

Macarena: Can you hear me?

Ed: Yep.

Macarena: Hi, this is Macarena. I'm in South Texas. Very quickly. I'm very impressed with all your knowledge and experience. I've never planted anything, but I want to start. I have limited mobility. I'm totally blind. I want to start with one plant. Only one. What are your suggestions? I was thinking maybe cherry tomatoes? I don't know. I have no idea. Now our weather is crazy. Today it started at 50, and it went up to 85. It's very, very hot. This is South, South Texas. During the summer, it goes up to 105, 110. Any suggestions?

Ed: Good question. What would be the one fool proof, no-fail plant that she could plant that she'd get satisfaction from? Anyone have any ideas? Great question.

Macarena: Thank you.

Sue: Do you like spinach?

Macarena: Yes.

Sue: I would a thing called Malabar. That is a kind of, it's not an actual spinach, but it is a plant like spinach. You can eat the leaves raw or cooked. What you're going need to a pot, and a trellis. Let it climb up this trellis, and it makes it easy to feel the leaves, and pick just a few from various parts on your plant, so that it will keep producing. The Malabar grows in the heat, and the drought conditions. You do have to water it occasionally if it's drought, but it should do well for you.

Macarena: Can you spell that for me because I'm also hard of hearing? Can you spell that for me please?

Sue: M-A-L-A-B-A-R.

Macarena: Malabar. Okay. Okay. Thank you so much. I will try that.

Ed: Thanks for that suggestion. Great idea. Yeah, something that grows in really hot climates.

Folks, I hate to do this, but we are at the top of the hour. I'm sounding like a radio host here, but it's time for us to call it a day. As I said last time, I'm soliciting ideas for next month's group. If anybody has any ideas for a theme for the discussion, please, please send them off to me at I really appreciate it. It's kind of fun to have a theme to start with, but it seems like we branch out to all sorts of different topics, but it's good to have something to get us started.

I really appreciate everyone joining us today. This was the highlight of my week, absolutely. Thank you all very much. Again, this is recorded so folks can listen to the recording later on our website. I believe we're going to have a transcript eventually available of these as well, if people need a transcript. Again, email me with your ideas. This is a lot of fun. Thanks, everybody.

Doug: Thank you.

Macarena: Thank you.