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Durango, Colorado

Purple Passionflower

Irvine, California

Macro photo of Orange Tulip Petals

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Mary Beth: This was my project last weekend for my raised vegetable beds.

I got this idea from the Sunset web site and it worked amazingly well. Ray and I modified the design a bit based on how I made the beds which are on a slope and are very irregularly shaped. When I made them I used rocks for the sides of the beds instead of lumber, but it actually turned out to be a perfect way to protect my crops.

Ray used 2 foot pieces of rebar for the stakes. We hammered the bars into the ground along the long sides of the tomato and squash beds and slipped the PVC pipe on each opposite pair creating a half hoop. Then I covered the hoops with plastic.

The plants seem to be responding well. I think the plastic covers over the squash and tomatoes are keeping them warm at night when our mountain temps get down to the low 50’s. Cool nights will slow them down, but by using hoops to retain the warmth it should extend the season so I can have veggies well into October and maybe even November.

I also put hoops on my cool-weather plant beds, but I covered these with netting to protect those crops from the birds.

This is one of those “Why did I take so long to do this?!”  projects.

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Here are a few tips for making sure the seedings you started inside stay alive and thrive.

  • Seedlings should have plenty of light to prevent them from getting leggy. Grow lights should be 2 inches above seedlings. If you have a south facing window you can put your pots close to the window and rotate every day to prevent them from overreaching towards the sunlight.
  • Seedlings should have good drainage and air flow to prevent damping off (a fungus that will cause seedlings to fall over and die). Place a small fan next to seedlings and set it on low.
  • If you see any signs of fungus or damping off make some chamomile tea and spray the cooled tea on the plants.
  • Be sure to keep soil evenly moist. Seedlings are very delicate and will die quickly if the soil dries out.
  • Feed the plants after they get their true leaves, the second set of leaves. (The first set of “leaves” is called the cotyledon or seed leaves.) Once the plant has its the true leaves, you should fertilize with a half-strength solution of liquid fertilizer.

These seedlings are ready for thinning or pricking out.

Once seedlings have true leaves it’s time to give those babies some room!

I know it’s difficult, but you need to thin or prick out your plants now. You can thin the seedlings by snipping off the tops of the unwanted plants. I have a hard time doing this, but your plants will be much healthier when they have room to grow.

Pricking out is the process of separating seedlings and putting them into individual pots. Choose the best and healthiest plants to repot. Take a spoon or fork and lift up the soil under the seedlings. Gently pull them apart by tugging on their leaves — the stems are too delicate to handle at this point. Then plant them into individual pots immediately. You can poke a hole into moistened soil with your finger or a pencil and then gently pat it into place. Remember that the roots are very fragile, be gentle and never let them get dry.

Prepare your seedlings for the great outdoors.

When the weather is finally warm enough (usually after last frost date) to plant your plants outside, you will have to harden your seedlings off. This means acclimating them to the outside weather. Do this slowly.

If you don’t have a cold frame to place them in you will need to slowly expose them to direct sunlight and fluctuating temps. Take them out into the morning sun for a little while then bring them back inside. Slowly over a few days increase their exposure a few hours each day until they are strong enough to be planted in the ground.

Taking care of your seedlings now means you’ll have lots of strong healthy plants to transplant into the ground in a few weeks.

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Durango, Colorado

Irvine, California


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Durango, Colorado

Del Mar, California



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Hello? Tink, tink, tink — anybody out there? Activity in blog-land is at a near standstill and we feel like we’ve been talking to ourselves the past couple of weeks. Of course everyone is busy with the holidays, but still…it’s a little lonely in here.

We thought we’d share a bit about the past gardening season — successes and failures, plants or plant combos that excited us. This kind of review is very helpful for planning for next year’s garden.

Mary Beth: This was my first growing season back in Colorado after 5 years on Block Island. I enjoyed reconnecting with my poor, neglected garden.

My vegetable garden was mostly successful with lettuce, strawberries, beets, herbs, tomatillos, and radishes all doing well. The exceptions were kale, chard and squash, which grew to two inches and then, for reasons unknown, stopped. In spite of that little glitch, I was so pleased with how well the vegetable garden did that I put in more beds with about twice the amount of room for veggies this coming season. I also had great success with the potted vegetables (tomatoes and peppers) that I grew on the deck.

I noticed that our Colorado garden had a lot of pinks and blues. So to remedy this I bought some plants in different colors towards the end of the season. I also divided and moved many plants into new and existing beds this fall. I’m looking forward to seeing how it will all come together.

Plant combos I can’t wait to see when they fill in: new bareroot Basye’s Purple rose from the Rose Emporium planted next to the Iceberg climbing rose. The orange butterfly weed combined with Jupiter’s Beard. The one flower the butterfly weed had in the fall looked amazing with the Jupiter’s Beard, very hot color combo. Agastache ‘Desert Sunrise’ combined with Russian Sage and a soft pink rosa rugosa and miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ that I placed in a new bed next to the pond. This coming season I plan on adding more white, silver and flowing grasses to all the beds.

Barbara: I’m still fighting the idea that I have a shade garden and am frustrated that the low light prevents me from growing any vegetable but lettuce. Still my tomato jealousy was at an all-time low this year because all the gardeners in this coastal region of Southern California had a less-than-ideal tomato season. The weather was too cool and overcast for these sun- and heat-loving plants.

I did find a bit of sun in which to plant blood butterfly weed, Asclepias curassavica, (similar to the one MB planted) with Mexican sage. It looked great. Soon I’ll move them even closer because if I can get them to intertwine a bit I think it would look even better. These are also plants that hummingbirds, and of course butterflies, love. We’re always thinking about the birds and the beneficial insects as we plant.

The coffeeberry — Rhamnus californica ‘Eve Case’ — I planted this spring is doing very well. It’s a handsome plant with large cranberry-to-deep-purple berries (for the birds) and grey-green leaves. I want to get a couple more.

In the next few weeks I’m going to start moving plants around. I’ll give a few of them a second chance in different locations. And I’ll “shovel prune” the ones that didn’t perform.

In my clients’ gardens I had great success with giant blue scabiosa. I just planted Convolvulus cneorum ‘Snow Angel’ in another’s garden. (Click here for a “beauty shot.”) I hope it does well because I’m in love with its sweet white flower and silvery, soft grey leaves.

As we get ready to celebrate a brand new year, we’re looking forward to the growing season ahead of us and to sharing our experiences with all of you. Thanks for coming to visit. We appreciate each and every one of you!

Wishing you a healthy, happy and prosperous 2011!

Barbara & Mary Beth

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Durango, Colorado

Irvine, California


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