Gardener's Corner

Join us for tips, helps, questions and answers about the gardening world. Monitored by a Certified Master Gardener but wisdom is shared by ALL.

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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.

We are here to meet ALL of your gardening questions and/or related subjects.



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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 10:51am

Square Foot Gardening is the concept of square foot gardening. Over the years, it has revolutionized the way people think about planting their gardens.
The idea is simple: Instead of planting a big vegetable garden with long narrow beds separated by walking paths, divide your garden into 4 ft. x 4 ft. planting blocks. These blocks were then further divided into a grid of 1 ft. square planting blocks. Each block was planted and managed as a garden unto itself.One square might contain a pepper plant, the next some spinach and the next a cucumber plant.
Plants are happier, healthier and more productive when they’re allocated their own “room”. Gardeners are also happier and more successful when they’re tending a garden that’s not too big to manage.

Comment by Chief Walks on April 26, 2013 at 10:51am

Potatoes are easy to grow, but they prefer cool weather so you should try to get them into the ground at the right time. You can order seed potatoes through mail-order garden companies or buy them at local garden centers or hardware stores. (You could use supermarket potatoes, but be aware they have probably been treated with chemicals to inhibit sprouting, so they may not grow well.) Store your seed potatoes in the refrigerator.

Your next step is to determine the recommended planting time for your climate. Since it takes potatoes two to three weeks to emerge from the ground, the earliest you should plant seed potatoes is two weeks before your last anticipated freeze date of 28 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. About a week before your planting-out date, bring the seed out of the fridge and place it in a bright warm window for about a week. This will help break the spuds' dormancy and assure they will grow quickly when you put them into the still-cool spring soil.

If you garden in areas that have hot summers be sure to plant your potatoes early, and to play it safe, choose varieties that mature in early- or mid-season. This is because potatoes do not do well when the temperatures climb into the 90s. They may actually keel over and die when the temperature gets to 95 degrees. If a late planting or a late season variety runs into that hot weather while the tubers are in the early bulking stage you may get a very low yield.

To save work, or as a way to start a new garden bed, some people like to just toss their potato seed pieces onto bare ground or even a patch of sod, and then cover the pieces with a heavy mulch of straw or leaves. I've always wondered if you get as many potatoes with this short-cut method as you would if you buried the seed in a prepared garden bed, so I asked Jim and Megan Gerritsen, who grow and sell certified organic potatoes at Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater, Maine, what they think of this technique. The Gerritsens have been advising gardeners all across the continent since 1976.

Q: Does planting potatoes in a deep mulch on uncultivated ground still give reasonably good yields?

A: This deep mulch potato planting technique is called the Stout method, named after the old-time popular organic gardener Ruth Stout. Over the years Ruth had created beautiful soil and that fertile soil was a big factor in her success. Perform the Stout method on great soil and expect great yields of delicious potatoes. But try the technique on old worn out and unimproved ground and get ready to learn some patience and gain some humility. Potatoes are heavy feeders and they will respond dramatically to good fertility and tilth. Your yield will suffer to the extent that the soil you plant in lacks proper fertility and water.

Over the years, Stout's deep mulching technique will help you build wonderful soil fertility plus conserve water. In the meantime, working some organic fertilizer (we like fish meal) into the soil while you are building the organic matter and fertility will pay big dividends with any method of growing potatoes.

As to laying the seed pieces on top of the ground, shallow planting the potato seed piece into 1 to 2 inches of soil beneath the deep mulch would be a good compromise and would provide superior results because it is more in keeping with tried and true traditional potato planting methods Also, be sure the mulch is not so dense and packed that the developing potato plants can't find their way to sunlight. One final word of caution: If you have big problems with slugs or mice the deep mulch method can add to your troubles.

Comment by Chief Walks on April 26, 2013 at 10:51am

To make the most of limited garden space, plant leaf and head lettuce around taller plants like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes. The lettuce helps its neighbor by acting as a living mulch to keep the soil moist and cool and to keep weeds at bay. As summer approaches, the taller plants provide shade for the lettuce. You can produce two crops in the same space! It's amazing how much lettuce can be grown in what is usually wasted space. Keep extra lettuce seeds or seedlings on hand in the spring and again in late summer for filling vacancies as they occur.

Comment by Chief Walks on April 26, 2013 at 10:50am

Keep Cats Out of the Garden
Got Cats?When you think of pests in the garden, you probably think of insects or digging squirrels, rather than that fluffy ball of fur that purrs away on your lap as you read your favorite magazine.

But the truth is that cats, whether feral or wandering visitors from two doors down, can be a problem in the garden. Alley Cat Allies offers these tips for dealing with unwanted feline garden visitors:

Use scent. Scatter fresh orange and lemon peels or spray citrus-scented fragrances. Oil of lavender, lemongrass, citronella, and eucalyptus deter cats.
Plant rue. This evergreen herb repels cats. You can also sprinkle dried rue over the garden.
Keep it covered. Cover exposed ground in flower beds with large, attractive river rocks to prevent cats from digging. (They have the added benefit of deterring weeds.)

Comment by Chief Walks on April 26, 2013 at 10:50am

Buying everything organic might be a healthy choice for the body, but many have found it's less than healthy for the household budget.

For those that can't afford to go all organic, certain foods take priority over others, because organic foods cost more, it is important to pick and choose foods that really make a difference in your health and the health of your family. Not all purchased foods need to be organic, espacially when shopping on a budget.

Nutritionally there is NO difference between organic versus non-organic foods! The vitamins and minerals in an apple are the same whether it is organic or not. The primary difference with organic foods is in the production and processing methods used.

Organic food has been grown or raised without chemical fertilizers, pesticides weed killers or drugs. By definition organic foods are produced according to government established production standards. Organic produce is grown without the use of conventional pesticides or artificial fertilizers and contain no food additives. Organic beef, pork and poultry come from animals reared without the routine use of antibiotics and without a trace of growth hormones.

The best for your budget may be to clean all vegetables thoroughly before eating or cooking. Cooking your meat and eggs thoroughly to the prescribed temperatures for each kind of meat also.

Organic does have it's benefits but being able to afford organic foods may not be for everyone and their budgets.

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.


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