Friday Free For All: Free Gardening Resources

free gardening resourcesI love free stuff and I’m sure that you do too. Today’s post is going to be dedicated to free gardening resources so that you can reference them when you have gardening questions or are looking for gardening ideas.

Virginia Cooperative Extension 2012 Pest Management Guide – this is a fabulous resource for treating all types of problems in the garden or around your home. I can’t recommend this enough.

Essence of Permaculture Рthis is an introduction to Permaculture and is available as a free e-book. This same website offers some other freebies as well.

Abundaculture – this is a Christian-based perspective on prepping and homesteading. It covers all facets of homesteading and has been used to help missionaries across the world.

Gardening Journal – while this is labeled as a 2012 journal, I see nothing that limits it to 2012. If you’re a planner like me, you’ll love this. And it’s based on organic principles.

Gardening Without Irrigation Рwritten by Steve Solomon, the same gentleman that gives us the Soil Health Library. Check out this link further to find other free e-books.

The Hive and the Honeybee – this is an online collection of old beekeeping books. They currently have 48 books available. What a great resource!

Free Books on Agriculture – from Appropedia, this site has many free downloads about sustainable agriculture. I’ll be downloading quite a few items from this site!

Vegetable Garden Planner – from Mother Earth News, this veggie garden planner has all sorts of bells and whistles. It’s only free for 30 days so choose your timing carefully.

Plant Hardiness Zones – looking for your zone? Plug in your zip code and see what zone you live in. You can also click on your state to see how your state fares with winter temperatures.

24 Ways to Kill a Tree – for those tree lovers out there, consider printing a color version of this flyer and putting it on your office door or on the outside wall of your cubicle. We did that at my work and we’ve probably educated more people by doing this than any other method.

OK, so that should keep you busy until lunch today…what will you read after lunch and this weekend? ūüôā Do you have any other free gardening resources that you would like to share with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers? If so, leave a comment below or e-mail me. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!





Friday Free For All: Companion Planting for Your Vegetable Garden

companion plantsToday’s post is about companion planting for your vegetable garden. If you listen to anyone for long enough about gardening, particularly vegetable gardening, they’ll tell you about which plants go well with others. That marigolds help repel bad bugs in the garden and that onions don’t get along with pole beans. It can all get very confusing, so I made this chart to help you keep it all straight. I don’t claim that it’s all-inclusive but it’s a very good start. So what shouldn’t you plant with peppers?

Companion Plants

Did you check the chart? If you did, you¬†know that peppers are great with everything! I would love to gather all of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers’ experiences¬†and¬†continue to update this chart.¬†If you’d like to help, please leave me a comment below or e-mail me. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!


Plant Profile: Plant Combinations for Your Containers

Today’s post is going to be a fun one…for me anyway. Sometimes I get bogged down with all of the horrible pests and diseases that can affect the plants that we adore so much. Or I spend too much time researching GMOs and think about how horrible our industrialized food production model has become. But today, today is going to be great. I want to look at plant combinations for your containers. Oooo-la-la!

I’ve been putting together annual plant combinations for years and it never gets boring. They are so delightful and brimming with excitement. To see a full grown container after it has filled in is a work of art. Of course, many of these combinations are easily duplicated in the ground as well and there’s nothing that says that you can’t mix perennials in too. In fact, if you have extra perennials from dividing them, stick a few in the pot and see what happens…you’re sure to be delighted!

plant combinations

In this container, I’ve used Persian Shield (the tall purple guy in the middle) with two different types of Calibrachoa (Million Bells). I love that these plant combinations all focus attention back on the Persian Shield. The yellow Calibrachoa is just enough to offset the magenta blooms of the more prostrate Calibrachoa.

plant combinations

This container uses purple fountain grass, magenta Calibrachoa and white Bacopa. The Calibrachoa and Bacopa fought it out for most of the season…if they are cut back periodically, they’ll give you a full season of blooms.

plant combinations

Pink and purple Angelonia¬†are highlighted by lavender and white Bacopa. I didn’t design this combo¬†but isn’t it beautiful?

plant combinations

Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’ in the center is accented by yellow Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky’ and Ageratum ‘Blue Danube’. Who says that parking lot islands can’t be attractive?

plant combinations

Purple coleus and sweet potato vine are offset by pink and white petunias and purple Angelonia. I think this is a gorgeous combination.


plant combinations


This planting ended up being a free-for-all and I decided to include it to show you how aggressive sweet potato vine is in case you didn’t know. Those little red flowers are impatiens and they were crowded out by the sweet potato vine. A little more maintenance keeping the sweet¬†potato vine in check would have gone a long way¬†with¬†this plant combination.

So what are your favorite plant combinations for containers or your borders? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me to let me know. I’d love to post your pictures for other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers…don’t be shy! Send them in! If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!


Friday Free For All: Is It Too Late to Plant Your Vegetable Garden?

I’ve received quite a few questions in the last week¬†asking is it¬†too late to plant your vegetable garden? I understand why people are concerned…the weather has been spring-like for the past seven to eight weeks here in central Virginia and fellow gardeners have been planting their crops for weeks. Lest you feel alone if you’re just getting around to planting your veggie garden…we just planted ours last weekend and still have a few more plants to get into the ground. Life gets busy and time slips away from you and before you know it, its¬†second week of May.

There are a few plants that you may have missed the boat on if they’re not in the ground. Let’s take a look at those before we move on to what you should be planting now and whether they should be started from seeds or transplants:

  1. Broccoli
  2. Cauliflower
  3. Potatoes
  4. Cabbage – I have a little disclaimer to make here; I know several people that¬†plant their cabbage plants with other warm season veggies and they seem to do fine. Experiment and try some now if you want to…what do you have to lose?
  5. Fava Beans
  6. Peas


So what can you still plant in your veggie garden? Virtually everything!

  1. Tomatoes – only from transplants
  2. Peppers – only from transplants
  3. Cucumbers – seed or transplants
  4. Squash – seed or transplants
  5. Zucchini – seed or transplants
  6. Melons – seed or transplants
  7. Sweet potatoes – sets
  8. Basil – seed or transplants
  9. Carrots – seed
  10. Pole or bush beans – seed
  11. Lima beans (aka butterbeans) – seed
  12. Lettuce – seed or transplants
  13. Cilantro – seeds or transplants


Now with cilantro, you need to watch it closely so that it doesn’t go to seed. If it does, it turns into coriander instead of cilantro. I wish that someone would develop a cilantro that wouldn’t bolt so early. I can’t ever seem to have cilantro and tomatoes that are ready at the same time. You can always dehydrate the cilantro and use it in salsa later but it would really be nice to have fresh cilantro available when the tomatoes start rolling in.

I want to give you a reminder that I know you already know. Don’t be discouraged by the size of your plants when you put them in the ground. It’s so easy to look at your 6″ tall plants and then see your neighbors that are 2′ tall and be discouraged. But don’t be. Our veggies are so small right now that I’m embarrassed to post pictures of them. I’m embarrassed but I’m not discouraged. Look at these two pictures of the broccoli that we planted on March 22.

is it too late to plant your vegetable garden


Here they are on May 6:

is it too late to plant your vegetable garden


Aren’t plants amazing? Now get out there this weekend and get your veggies in the ground! Let me know what you’ve been up to in your vegetable garden. Send me your pictures…I’d love to¬†share them with¬†other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. Send them to If you’re a little less boastful, then just leave me a comment below. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!



Reader Questions: Growing Salad in Summer Heat

Today’s Reader Question comes from¬†Kate in Virginia:

I need your ideas on growing salad throughout the summer. My lettuce bolts when it gets hot outside and my spinach just stops producing. Do you have any recommendations?

Great question Kate! The Mid-Atlantic gardening region warms up quickly in the summer and we’ve already experienced 90+ degree days and it’s only the first week of May. As you know, salad greens are cool season crops that enjoy temperatures above freezing but below 70 degrees. A few spikes in the thermometer won’t put an end to your salad greens but sustained hot temperatures will. So what can you do to keep the temperatures cooler?

Do you have any lightly shaded areas that you can use for growing salad? Not dense shade but a nice cool, lightly shaded spot. I know that my yard has several pockets of cooler growing areas…your landscape probably does too. Take advantage of these areas by tucking a few salad greens into empty spots.

Consider creating your own shade. There are several ways that you can accomplish this. Do you have any potted plants that you could place near your salad greens to cast shade on them? Or can you grow your salad greens in easily movable containers that you can move to shade when the temperatures climb?

growing saladAnother way to create shade is with shade cloth. Shade cloth is used extensively in the nursery industry and it’s practical to use in your veggie garden. Create some hoops out of PVC and secure your shade cloth to it for instant shade. Here is a link to Gardener’s Supply where a 6′ x¬†12′¬†piece can be purchased for $27.95. If you have a nursery grower near you, give them a call to see if they have any shade cloth that they’d be interested in selling…often times, they have scrap pieces lying around that are too small for their beds but may be perfect for yours.

Let’s talk about plant selection. Try to find an heirloom¬†seed supplier that is located in your gardening region…they may have varieties of salad greens that have been selected to perform better in the heat. Since you’re in Virginia, take a look at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. They’re located in Louisa and have a variety of romaine lettuce, Jericho, that grows well in our summer heat. If you’re looking for spinach that will keep on keeping on, try Red Malabar spinach. It’s a vining type that needs to be trellised so it will take up less room in the garden too. Southern Exposure recommends growing them on your pea trellises…as the peas finish growing, the Red Malabar spinach will take over where they left off.

I’m sure that other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers have other creative ideas for growing salad in summer heat. Please leave a comment below or e-mail me at If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

Plant Profile: Peonies

Everywhere I look these days, I see peonies blooming their little hearts out. In nicely¬†landscaped yards, around older and established homes, and near abandoned homesteads. Perhaps that should be the criteria we use to select plants for our landscapes…if it can survive on an abandoned homestead, then it deserves a place in our garden.

Peonies are one of those old-fashioned plants that your grandmother probably had growing in her garden. They’ve been cultivated for seemingly eons and with good reason. They are really tough plants and once they’re established, they’re almost maintenance free. For all of your hard work (not) you are rewarded with gorgeous blooms that can be as large as 8″ across.


They come in singles and doubles and in colors that range from pink to white to red and bicolors.





Peonies flourish in full sun but will do quite well in lightly shaded areas as well. They are tolerant of a wide range of soils but will not survive in wet soils. If your yard is plagued with low spots that retain water, either plant your peonies in containers or pick another plant.

The foliage of peonies¬†is deciduous and it’s best to¬†cut back and remove the foliage once the first¬†hard frost arrives in fall. Peonies are pretty¬†pest and disease¬†free but if the foliage is left throughout the¬†winter, they can suffer from some fungal issues. (Pssst…don’t tell the ones that¬†were left behind on the homesteads…they obviously don’t know any better).

peoniesA common question regarding peonies is whether or not¬†the ants that¬†undoubtedly run amok on the blossoms affect the blooms or the health of the plants. The answer is no. The ants are only there because the buds have a sweet covering and they’re looking for a little snack. Ants are often overlooked as pollinators but their role in the ecosystem is vital.

Peonies make beautiful cut flowers and they last a good while indoors. To get the greatest longevity out of your blooms, cut them when they’re in the marshmallow stage: the buds haven’t quite opened yet and the buds have the texture of a marshmallow. They’ll open beautifully indoors where you can enjoy the blooms up close.

Butterflies love peonies when they’re in bloom. Pick early, mid and late blooming peonies to extend your season of bloom from¬†April through early June. The butterflies will thank you and you’ll be rewarded with an amazing display of breathtaking blooms.

Which peonies do you have growing in your garden? Are they hand-me-downs from fellow gardeners? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!


Did You Know? ET-Based Irrigation Controllers

et-based irrigation controllersET-based irrigation controllers? When you hear that you may think back to the early 80’s when E.T. was all the rage. But the ET I’m referring to has nothing to do with phoning home. ET stands for evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration, as defined by the Irrigation Association,¬†is¬†the loss of water from the earth‚Äôs surface through the combined processes of evaporation from soil and plant surfaces, and plant transpiration. So what does all of this have to do with your irrigation system? Simply put…everything.

If you have an irrigation system in your garden you should be concerned with evapotranspiration. When you set your irrigation timer to water Monday, Wednesday and Friday for 30 minutes on each zone, your system will water the same whether the temperature is 70 or 90 degrees, whether there is a light breeze or 20 mph wind, whether the humidity is 40% or 90%. Unless you have a rain sensor on your system (which you should…they can be installed by a professional for less than $100), your system will water for 30 minutes if it rained 1/10″ or 2″ earlier in the day. What if you could have a controller that would take all of that into account and then water based on your plants’ needs. You can with an ET-based irrigation controller.

Hunter makes a very nice ET-based irrigation¬†controller that I have personal experience with. Other irrigation manufacturers, including Toro, Rainbird and Irritrol, make ET-based irrigation controllers but I can’t speak to the quality of those controllers since I don’t have any experience with them. With the Hunter ET-based irrigation controller, you have your own weather station that records real-time data and converts all of that information so that your plants receive the water that they need. Here’s what it looks like:

hunter ET-based irrigation controller

It has a rain gauge, an anemometer that measures wind speed and a thermometer to determine the temperature at your specific site. When setting up the controller, you enter the following data that helps the computer determine when and how long to water:

  • Soil type
  • Slope
  • Crop being grown
  • Age of crop (new vs. established)
  • Sun exposure


This information is critical and the ET-based irrigation controller is only as good as the information that is entered at this stage. It is very handy to be able to enter different information for different zones according to their site conditions. Most landscapes have some sun and some shade, some turf and some landscape beds and some new plantings intermingled with the older ones. By entering and updating the information as conditions change, the controller is able to adjust the watering times and durations accordingly. Pretty cool huh?

So what does all of this cost? Well, that depends. If you already own an irrigation controller that is compatible with the ET-module, the cost is very reasonable…you can buy the module without the anemometer¬†for the Hunter ET-based irrigation controller for $239.07 online. The anemometer is about the same price…so maybe you take baby steps in converting your existing system over….the choice is yours. While the upfront cost may turn you off initially, you should do the math to see how long the payback takes. Many localities are now charging a higher rate for water usage over a certain limit, aimed at users with irrigation systems. If you live in suburbia and have to pay sewer charges, the payback will likely take far less time unless you have a separate meter for your irrigation system. Also, consider the benefit of set-it-and-forget-it. No more adjusting your watering program when the temperatures soar to 95 degrees…the ET-based irrigation controller will adjust the watering times for you…yeah!

Of course, if you’re like me, my irrigation system is in the sky and it is completely at God’s will. If the rain doesn’t fall on my landscape, the plants don’t get watered. They’ll either live or die trying. My only exceptions to that rule¬†are newly transplanted¬†plants and vegetables. Since I don’t have a veggie garden at my house due to the abundance of shade, I don’t have that concern for now. Consider hugelkultur if you will be installing new beds in the future. It’s a way to garden without watering at all. That’s my kind of garden!

Let me know your thoughts about ET-based irrigation controllers…leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

Friday Free For All: Using Water Wisely

Well, it’s happening already. The Mid-Atlantic gardening region is dry. Granted, we have 1″-2″ of rain expected this weekend but the rain has been pretty negligible in central Virginia since the middle of March. I hope that this isn’t a sign of things to come this summer. My mind has been churning about how much water we use. Not just my family or community but as a nation…as a world. Water is a renewable resource but that doesn’t mean that we can use it with reckless abandon. Let’s delve deeper to look at how we can use water more wisely in our gardens.

  1. Hugelkultur – if you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you know that I am big fan of hugelkultur. It just makes sense…use wood that nature has provided for us to help plants through the dry spells. Check out the link for more information if you’re unfamiliar with the practice of hugelkultur.
  2. Reduce your plants dependence on irrigation – while it is vitally important to make sure that newly transplanted plants are watered until they can get their roots in the ground, it is generally not necessary to water them for the rest of their lives. We had¬†an extreme drought in 2010 here in central Virginia and¬†emergency water restrictions were put in place; those restrictions meant that you couldn’t water…at all. One of the reservoirs that feed our public water supply, Lake Chesdin, was¬†all but reduced to a pond. It was truly an amazing sight to see. During that¬†drought, guess how many times I watered, even¬†before the emergency water restrictions were in place.¬†Zero. Zip. Nada. I am of the mindset that my plants will either live or die trying. I don’t have the desire or time to water them regularly. So do you know what they do to compensate for my lack of interest? They send their roots further into the ground to search for their own water. For the record, I didn’t lose one plant during the drought either.

    using water wisely

    Lake Chesdin 2010 Photo courtesy of Richard MacDonald

  3. Water wisely Рfor those newly transplanted plants, get creative with your watering. For trees, water slowly and deeply to make sure that the rootball is being wet thoroughly. You can accomplish this in several ways. One way is by using a treegator. These are available in either donut shapes for multi-stemmed trees or upright bags that zip shut around the tree trunk. You fill them with water and the water drips out slowly and wets the rootball. If you want to make your own cheap tree gator, get a few 5-gallon buckets and drill tiny holes in the bottom. Set them around the base of the tree and fill them with water. The water will trickle out slowly and water the rootball. You can also just let the hose run at a trickle for a half hour or so at the base of the tree.using water wisely
  4. Mulch – mulching your garden will help to reduce evaporation and regulate soil temperature, both of which will reduce your plants need for water. Mulch should be applied 2″-4″ thick. If you apply it thicker, you will reduce the amount of oxygen that is penetrating into the soil and that will impair the plants’ root growth. For heaven’s sake, don’t end up with mulch volcanoes around your trees!
  5. Apply compost – this is such an important part of using water wisely. By adding compost, you are improving soil structure. By improving your soil structure, your sandy soil is able to hold more moisture and your clay soil begins to open up to allow water in. Adding compost is the magic ingredient that makes all of the other items we discussed today possible.


So what will you do in your garden to use water wisely this summer? There are many other ways to reduce your water usage and I’d love to hear what you are doing. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy Friday and happy gardening!

Did You Know? You Don’t Have to Till Your Garden

tilling your garden

Here is an example of our vegetable garden mulched. Look! No weeds (in the areas we had mulched when this picture was taken)

I’m excited about today’s post! It deals with tilling your vegetable garden and anything dealing with the vegetable garden gets me excited. Growing up we always had a vegetable garden and part of the spring chores before planting involved tilling. The tiller we had was a front tine tiller and only the adult men were allowed to run it. Being a girl that believes she can do anything a man can do, I convinced my stepdad Don to let me have a chance. I’m sure he chuckled to himself as he fired it up and explained to me¬†how it worked. He warned me that it was hard to control but I just knew that it wouldn’t be a problem for me. As the tiller dragged me around the garden bucking and barely breaking the soil surface, I conceded that Don was right…using a front tine tiller was work for a grown man.

Fast forward years down the road and I purchased a rear tine tiller. This thing was like a Cadillac as compared to the front tine tiller of my youth. I tilled effortlessly, often with one hand. I loved the fluffy soil that resulted. I could plant with only the assistance of my hand…no shovels required. It was like a dream. I started learning more and more about vegetable gardening and came across what is known as sheet mulching or lasagna gardening. With these methods, you don’t till your garden. At all. Never. Ever. Could it be possible that you can retire the tiller altogether? Let’s take a look at how it’s possible to never till again. And we’ll look at some of the advantages and disadvantages.

Sheet mulching or lasagna gardening, or any of the other names that it goes by essentially works like this:

  1. Add compost in a layer on top of the soil
  2. Add newspaper or cardboard on top of the compost
  3. Add more compost on top of the newspaper/cardboard
  4. Add mulch on top of the compost


You may be wondering where the plants are in this mix. The answer is that it depends. You can either plant and then add the layers or you can put down the layers first and then plant. People often get freaked out trying to figure out how to plant in these layers but it’s actually quite simple. If you are planting seeds, pull those layers back enough to plant your seeds. Don’t cover them up with mulch…leave the hole open. As the plants grow up, add the mulch back around the plants. If you are starting with plants, pull the mulch and compost back. Use a razor knife or other implement to make a hole in the newspaper/cardboard and then plant. Add the compost and other layers back and you’re done. It’s so easy that it seems too easy to actually work. But it does. Let’s look at advantages and disadvantages of this way to plant.


  1. It¬†eliminates the need to till your garden. Take a moment to contemplate this statement alone. Over time, tilling can degrade the tilth of your soil. It also stirs up all of those beautiful colonies of microorganisms that you’ve worked so hard to develop. Leaving the soil life¬†undisturbed is enough reason for me to not till my garden.
  2. It reduces weeding to a reasonable level. I think that one of the reasons gardeners throw their hands up and walk away from their veggie gardens is the weeds. As summer wears on, the weeds outcompete your plants and eventually you have to hunt through the weeds to even find your plants. It doesn’t have to be that way!
  3. It reduces water needs in the garden. The second reason that people walk away from the garden is watering. Let’s face it…in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region, by the time the tomatoes start producing, the rain stops falling. And you are left watering a garden full of weeds. That’s discouraging to even the most seasoned gardener.



I can think of only one. If you are going to use wood mulch, you can’t till the garden while the wood is intact. If you do, your soil structure will be worse off then when you started. Make sure that you want to garden this way for years before you apply your wood mulch. If you are unsure that you want to garden this way for years, I think it is a wise recommendation to try a small portion of your garden using this method. After your first season, I think you’ll be convinced that this is the way vegetable gardening is supposed to be.

So go ahead, give it a try. Keep me posted on your efforts and let me know how your garden progresses. One word of caution before you begin…you’ll need to figure out what you’re going to do with all of your spare time that you used to spend tilling, weeding and watering your garden. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

April 16, 2012Permalink 9 Comments

Did You Know? Your Local Extension Agent is a Great Resource

local extension agentI’m always surprised when I refer people to their local extension agent and they reply “who?”. I have relied on the local Extension office for years to help me solve problems that I may not have encountered before. I don’t think that I’ve ever taken an issue to the Extension office that they hadn’t seen before. Do you know who your local Extension agent is and the services they offer?

Cooperative Extension was established in 1914 by the Smith-Lever Act. This act helped to formalize an agreement between the USDA and the land-grant universities to help educate people about issues surrounding the home, garden and farm. Since that time, Cooperative Extension has evolved into a network of local extension agents, Master Gardener Coordinators, 4-H specialists and other professionals.


  1. One of the primary ways is by knowing your area. Your local extension agent knows the climate, what plants grow well and which don’t, the pests that are likely to affect your garden and how to treat them.
  2. In many states, the Master Gardener program functions as a service to help educate the public and address concerns that fellow gardeners may have. Master Gardeners go through an extensive training process and must volunteer to maintain their accreditation. In Virginia, Master Gardeners donated more than 811,000 hours in 2010. Very impressive.
  3. Cooperative Extension offers a wealth of publications to help you with any issues that you may be having. Here is a link to the Virginia 2012 Pest Management Guide. It contains all sorts of information from field crops like corn, to horticultural and forest crops, to bees. It is an invaluable resource that the Extension office offers as a free service to the residents.

To find your local extension agent, you can check out this map offered through the USDA. Click on your county and you will be connected to your local office. Call your local extension agent’s office and see what programs they have going on…chances are pretty high that they will have several opportunities for you to connect. Let me know how your local extension agent has helped you and your garden. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Don’t forget to sign up for our e-mail list (top right corner), like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Happy gardening!