Gardener's Corner

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Gardener's Corner

Chief Walks In Shadows is a Florida State Master Gardener.
He will post information that he feels will benefit everyone as a whole. But basically this will be a question and answer group.
Chief Walks will answer all questions asked to him directly. He has over 40 years of experience. And a sizable personal research library.

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The USDA Hardiness Zone Map divides North America into 11 separate zones; each zone is 10°F warmer (or colder) in an average winter than the adjacent zone. If you see a hardiness zone in a catalog or plant description, chances are it refers to the USDA map. To find your USDA Hardiness Zone or use the map below. 



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Comment by Chief Walks on April 26, 2013 at 10:49am

Aloe vera has qualities that will help heal stretch marks. It will help moisturize and keep skin supple so that stretch marks will not occur and can help heal. Stretch marks occur when skin stretches due to weight gain. Pregnant women become concerned that they will have stretch marks on their stomach after their pregnancy but applying aloe vera will help alleviate this.

Aloe vera comes in many forms, but the key to preventing and healing stretch marks is the vitamins it contains.

The aloe vera plant is where the ingredients for this originate. Mixing the contents of this plant with oil and extra vitamins will help enhance the healing qualities of aloe vera.
The application of aloe vera is just like any other lotion or cream. Simply put it on the affected or desired area a couple times a day. If you live in a dry area or your skin is exposed to the elements, you may want to apply it more than a couple times a day.
Aloe vera can be used in many different forms. If you live in an area where these plants grow, you can slice open a leaf and use the liquid that oozes out. It is completely harmless and will only help your skin. Apply it directly to the affected areas. This has a bit of a slimy feeling so do not put clothes or other materials on it because they will get the aloe on it. Due to this, it is sometimes diluted with other ingredients so that it can be fully absorbed into the skin. Also, you can drink aloe vera to make sure it is getting into your system and you are staying hydrated.

If you would rather make your own aloe vera gel, you can do so at home. Combine olive oil, aloe vera, vitamin A and vitamin E. The combination of these will make sure that your skin is protected and a lot is absorbed, however, it will not fully be absorbed so make sure that you are not wearing clothes that could be ruined by the gel.


While aloe vera has been proven to help reduce the effects of stretch marks, and it will keep skin moisturized to help prevent them, there is no guaranteeing that it will get rid of all stretch marks. They will most likely be reduced, but older stretch marks are harder to get rid of so the amount they shrink may be less.

Comment by Chief Walks on April 26, 2013 at 10:49am

Abrupt weather changes and extreme conditions, at any time of year, can do a number on plants. I recommends spot-checking your landscape to see how things are faring.

Trees and Shrubs

Evergreen trees and shrubs often take the biggest hit during the winter months, especially when conditions are both cold and dry for extended periods. You’re likely to notice the colors fading in most evergreens, whether they’re green, blue or yellow evergreens. Some may even turn a slight bronze color, which is perfectly natural. But brown isn’t a color you want to see in evergreen plants. When you see brown, it almost always means the plant is a goner.

Chances are the cause of the plant’s demise was a lack of water, assuming it was hardy to begin with. That’s why I’ve stressed for years the importance of watering evergreens during the winter months. After the first hard freeze of winter, it’s equally important to apply a fresh layer of mulch three to four inches deep around evergreens.

Deciduous trees and shrubs tend to fare better under extreme and changing conditions, but they too often need some attention. For example, they may need to be pruned to remove deadwood, open the interior to promote better air circulation and thereby minimize fungal diseases, or merely to reshape the plant. Just remember not to remove more than one-third of the growth. Any more than that may stress the plants beyond the point of recovery. Also remember as you prune to try to retain the natural shape of the plant. In other words, don’t just lop off the top growth to create a tabletop or lollipop shape.

You should also inspect the swelling or emerging buds on your plants, whether flower or leaf buds or both. Unseasonably warm temperatures followed by hard freezes may damage those buds, causing them to shrivel up or fall off. Unfortunately there’s nothing you can do to reverse the damage, but at least you’ll know why a particular plant failed to bloom later in the season. And thankfully, in the case of leaf buds, many plants will produce secondary buds to take the place of the damaged primary buds.

Deciduous trees and shrubs may need a shot of horticultural oil while still dormant to smother scale, mites and other insects that might have overwintered on the plants.

Don’t be alarmed if some of your trees and shrubs still have brown leaves clinging to the branches this time of year. A number of deciduous plants – pin oaks, Japanese maples and hydrangeas among them – often retain their leaves throughout the winter months, even into early spring. So while they may appear to be in trouble, chances are they’re just fine.

Perennial Plants
Certain perennials might need to be tended to this time of year as well. In mass plantings of mondo grass and the similar-looking liriope, many people use a string trimmer or mower in late winter to cut back the bulk of the foliage. That’s fine, because both plants are extremely rugged; however, as with ferns, try not to damage the crowns.
When cutting large clumps of ornamental grasses, I suggests wearing a long-sleeved shirt and gloves. Why? "Grass blades are sharp, and without protection you’ll wind up with what appear to be dozens of painful paper cuts,"

Comment by Chief Walks on April 26, 2013 at 10:49am

Natural Pest Control
Late February is a good time to try out an organic herbicide. When sprinkled throughout your garden, corn gluten meal will naturally prevent annual weeds from growing from seed. I highly recommend using corn gluten meal to both fertilize your plants and to prevent weeds from coming up in the spring.
Weeds that appear in the winter such as henbit and bluegrass can also be prevented with corn gluten meal. Spread it out during the late fall and early winter. Water the corn meal thoroughly after you apply it so that it won’t attract animals.

Chemical weed and feeds are very convenient for lawn care, but can burn your lawn and harm the environment. Finally, here’s an organic preemergent weed and feed that won't burn your lawn, harm your pets, or kill your shrubs. It's safe, because it is made from food ingredients and can be handled just as you would touch flour, corn meal or baker's yeast. This is a great organic weed and feed choice for lawns.

Corn gluten meal doesn't kill existing weeds. It actually prevents weed seeds from germinating. So the best time to use it for weed prevention is early fall for winter weeds, and the end of winter for spring weeds.
You can apply it with a regular fertilizer spreader at a rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. In general, you'll want to set the spreader to 85 to 95 percent open. You can also apply it by hand, or with a coffee can.
And it is also just as effective in and around vegetable and herb gardens, flowers, shrubs, rose gardens, ornamental trees, citrus, annual and perennial bulbs, and virtually any woody and herbaceous plant.

Comment by Chief Walks on April 26, 2013 at 10:48am

Little Miss Muffet had it all wrong. There was no need for the famous nursery-rhyme character to be frightened by her eight-legged lunch companion. In fact, these beneficial critters are great friends to gardeners.

Spiders are arachnids, not insects. They have two body segments instead of three, eight legs instead of six, and no antennae or wings. Unlike insects, spiders possess special body parts, called spinnerets, that allow them to spin webs.

All spiders are predators. They immobilize their prey with venom injected through specially designed fangs. The vast majority of the roughly 3,000 species that inhabit North America, however, are completely harmless to people. In fact, most species lack mouthparts that can penetrate human skin. Of those that can, there are only three that pose any threat to people: the black widow, the brown recluse, and the hobo.

The stereotypical spider spins a web in the vegetation and waits patiently for an insect to stumble or fly into the sticky threads and become trapped. Many of the most commonly seen spiders use this method. Other species don’t use webs at all to capture their prey. Wolf spiders, for example, stalk and actively hunt for their food on the ground. Jumping spiders also stalk their prey and, as their name suggests, capture food with impressive pounces many times their body length. Other spiders, such as crab spiders, lie waiting in camouflage for an unsuspecting insect to come within striking range. Some spider species even inhabit tunnels or funnel-shaped webs from which they snatch prey.

One thing is true of all spiders: They’re phenomenal predators of a vast array of insect pests. Collectively, spiders consume everything from aphids and beetles to moths and mosquitoes. Anyone with a garden—indeed, anyone who spends any time outdoors—should welcome spiders.

Comment by Chief Walks on April 26, 2013 at 10:47am

Understanding Fertilizer Labels
Fertilizers can provide plants with nutrients that help them grow. But before you use it, it's important to understand the fertilizer's label. The label includes a series of numbers that indicate the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, by weight. For example, a 16-4-8 fertilizer contains 16 percent nitrogen, 4 percent phosphorous, and 8 percent potassium.
The label also lists all of the other nutrients as part of the guaranteed analysis, and information about how to properly apply the product. The fertilizer label specifies if the fertilizer is water soluble or controlled release, indicating if the nutrients will be available immediately to plants or slowly over time.
Remember that you should apply only as much fertilizer as plants can use, and always fertilize responsibly.

Comment by Chief Walks on April 26, 2013 at 10:47am

Farmers’ Almanac Top Ten Gardening Hints
1. Harvest your vegetable plants often. The more you pick tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash, the more they’ll grow.
2. Place freshly picked, green tomatoes in a brown paper bag to ripen. (Contrary to what many people believe, its temperature, not sunshine, that makes tomatoes turn red).
3. Animal pests don’t like strong-smelling plants. Surround your garden with marigolds, zinnias, or wormwood. Sneaky yet easy: To keep small animals out of your garden, cut an old hose in three-foot lengths. Place the pieces around your garden. These fake snakes will scare away small animals.
4. Plant dill near tomato plants to prevent tomato worms. It works.
5. Start seeds in eggshell halves. It’s economical and earth-friendly. Fill shell 3/4ths of the way to top with planting soil and seed, then store in egg cartons. This will keep the shell safe and allow you to easily carry the seedlings to sunnier locations or out to the garden. When ready to plant, leave the seedling in the shell. The roots will break through and the decomposed shell will act as a fertilizer.
6. When choosing annuals, bigger isn’t always better. When shopping at your local greenhouse, choose the plant that is well proportioned, not the tall one that has become root bound. Watch out for signs of insects or diseases.
7. Sprinkling the lawn out of habit is wasting a natural resource and money, too. A healthy lawn will signal it’s thirsty when walking on it makes footprints.
8. Some vegetable gardeners use newspapers as a mulch when cold weather threatens. This practice is ecologically good but don’t use the colored sheets. They contain harmful chemicals.
9. Position garden stakes so the wind blows plants toward the supports, not away from them.
10. To catch slugs, put a dish of beer in the garden at night. They will desert the plants and drown in the brew.

Comment by Chief Walks on April 26, 2013 at 10:46am
Comment by Chief Walks on April 26, 2013 at 10:46am

4 Best Ways To Use Fall Leaves In Your Garden

The tree leaves that accumulate around your yard or garden can be a valuable natural resource for you to use because they provide a good source of organic matter and nutrients.
Leaves don’t always seem like a good thing however, especially when you have a lot of raking to do, but if you can, be thankful and hang on to your leaves.
Leaves contain 50 to 80 percent of the nutrients a plant extracts from the soil and air during the season, so if you can, use and recycle your leaves around your property rather than raking them up and throwing them away.

Here are 4 of the best ways to use leaves in your yard, garden, or landscape:
1. Leaf Uses – Mowing
Mowing leaves that have fallen on your lawn area is most effective when a mulching mower is used, but if the leaf drop is light, a regular mower will work just fine. In fact, during times of light leaf drop, or if there are only a few small trees in your yard, simply leave the shredded leaves in place on the lawn. They will act as a beneficial mulch and compost and will help your lawn.
2. Leaf Uses – Mulching
Leaves can be used as mulch in vegetable gardens, flower beds and around shrubs and trees. The best way is to rake the leaves into a pile and then shred them with your lawn mower or a shredder if you have one.
It you have the option, use a lawn mower with a bagging attachment because it is a fast and easy way to shred and collect the leaves. Leaves that have been mowed or run through some other type of shredder will decompose faster.
Leaves that are not shredded won’t decompose as well and will only smother what they are put on. Try and never let leaves remain on a lawn without raking them up or they can smother the grass underneath.
* Apply a 3 to 6 inch (7.5 to 15 cm) layer of shredded leaves around the base of trees and shrubs making sure not to put any right up against the trunk or main stem of trees or shrubs.
* In annual and perennial flower beds, a 2 to 3 inch (5 to 7.5 cm) mulch of shredded leaves is good.
* For vegetable gardens, a thick layer of leaves placed in between the rows work both as a mulch and as an all-weather walkway that will allow you to work in your garden during wet periods.
3. Leaf Uses – Soil Improvement
Leaves that have been raked and shredded can be worked directly into your garden and flower beds. A 6 to 8 inch (15 to 20 cm) layer of leaves tilled into a heavy, clay soil will improve aeration and drainage. The same amount worked into a light, sandy soil, will improve water and nutrient holding capacity.
Note: A basic strategy for using leaves to improve soil in vegetable gardens and annual planting beds is to collect and work them into the soil during the fall. This allows sufficient time for the leaves to decompose prior to spring planting. Adding a little fertilizer to the soil after working in the leaves will hasten their decomposition.
4. Leaf Uses – Composting
Leaves are great to add to your compost pile or bin. Once again, shredding them first will help them decompose faster, but whole leaves can be added in as well.

Comment by Chief Walks on April 26, 2013 at 10:45am

Active compost pile
An active compost pile means building a simple container; usually a three-sided wooden box. Be sure to balance the nitrogen and carbon-containing materials that you add to your compost pile; you can find helpful charts for this in most organic gardening manuals. Keep your compost pile moist and turn often. The hotter your compost pile gets, the more likely it is to kill off diseases and unwanted weed seeds.
A successful compost heap contains a proper ratio of carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials. Some of the best materials to put into a compost include composted dairy manure, composted chicken manure, worm castings, bat guano, kelp meal and ground oyster shells. Also, kitchen scraps are generally nitrogen-rich and hay, straw, bark and black and white newspaper articles are examples of carbon-rich materials needed to balance the nitrogen levels. These are often referred to as the “green” and “brown” ingredients in a healthy compost heap.
It’s important to remember, though, that a long list of popular plant food products actually derive their nitrogen content from petroleum. Not only is that gross, but it’s far from organic.
While almost any waste can ultimately be composted, some things should not go into your garden compost. It may seem obvious to many gardeners, but we it’s worth mentioning that cat, dog and human feces are big no-no’s in composting. That’s because they may contain unfavorable bacteria, which you do not want spread into your garden.
In addition, bones and meat are unfavorable as they will attract raccoons and rats, dairy and high-oil content wastes will take a very long time to compost and metal, rubber, glass and plastic may take decades to biodegrade! It is also important that you avoid adding pest or disease-ridden material to your compost as this will spread to the healthy plants in your garden.
Animal manure (provided it’s not from cats or dogs) can be added to your compost as a means for activating the decaying process. Fresh, rather than rotted manure is best for this as it still contains the necessary living bacteria. Also, manure can raise the temperature of the compost pile, thus helping to activate the existing bacteria and further speeding the decomposition process.
You will know your compost is ready to use when it is soil-like, odor free, moist (but not wet) and dark. Now it is time to add it to your garden. Only a little is needed, but it will make a world of difference. Compost not only adds nutrients to your garden, but aids with drainage, nutrient and water retention and disease prevention!

Comment by Chief Walks on April 26, 2013 at 10:45am

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