Emerging bean seedlings

Now that you have your seeds and you’ve decided which seeds to start indoors and which to direct sow, the question becomes, when do you plant?

Determining when to start seeds for transplants

Tomato seedlings growing under lights

Tomato seedlings growing under lights

Starting your seeds indoors at the right time will give you nice, healthy, transplant-size plants at the ideal planting time in the spring. The correct timing depends upon where you live (what your average last frost date is) and the type of vegetables you grow.

Cool season crops like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower are tolerant of colder temperatures and transplants can be placed out in the garden earlier than warm season crops.

In general, cool season crops for transplanting should be grown indoors for about 4 to 6 weeks, but they can be planted outdoors 2 or 3 weeks before the last frost date. For some, these crops can be started pretty soon!

Peppers grow slowly and should be grown for about 8 weeks before transplanting

Peppers grow slowly and should
be grown for about 8 weeks
before transplanting outside

Warm season crops should be grown indoors for about 6-8 weeks but they should not be transplanted into the garden until a week or two after the last frost date. It doesn’t do any good to plant warm season crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant early because, if the soil and/or air temperature is not optimal, the plants will just sit and not grow much until it gets warmer. These plants need warm temperatures to spur growth.

Here is a link to calculate (by zip code) your average date of last 32°F temperature (50% column on the chart).

Johnny’s Selected Seeds has developed a chart that will give you a date range for starting your seeds indoors and also when it is best to transplant your seedlings outdoors. All you need to do is input your spring frost-free date. You might want to use a more conservative date for this – maybe the 20% column rather than the 50% (average date) column.

When to sow seeds directly in the garden

Root crops like carrots do best when direct-sown in the garden

Root crops like carrots do best
when direct-sown in the garden

The timing for direct seeding into the garden is really more dependent on the spring weather conditions and the temperature of the soil. In general, it is safe to sow seeds directly in the garden after the last frost date but most vegetable seeds have specific soil temperature requirements for germination. It’s not the air temperature but the soil temperature that is critical in seed germination. Seeds begin growing when the soil reaches the optimal temperature for germination.

Seeds can rot in the ground before they germinate if planted in soil that is too cold – a waste of time and money!

Peas can be planted early since they are more cold hardy plants. Pea seeds can germinate in soils as cool as 40°F; whereas cucumbers germinate best when the soil temperature is 70°F and will not germinate at all if the soil temperature is below 50°F.

As you can see, it can be really helpful to have a soil thermometer!

Your seed packets will often provide information on the optimal soil temps for germination and this is the best guideline to follow. Many seed websites, like Johnny’s Selected Seeds, provide detailed growing information including when to direct seed each variety.

A ball of soil too wet to break apart when tapped. Garden needs to dry out more!

A ball of soil too wet to break
apart when tapped. This garden
needs to dry out more!

A word of caution!
Never work in the soil when it is wet – even if the soil temperature is perfect for planting. Digging or tilling in wet soil (or very dry soil) can destroy its structure by compressing the soil particles tightly together so that the pore spaces that hold air and water are lost. This hinders aeration and drainage and can quickly turn good soil into something almost as hard and crusty as concrete.

It is very important to make sure your soil is dry enough before you get in there and tromp around in the garden. You can test this by taking a handful of soil and squeezing it into a ball. If the ball breaks apart when you tap it, the soil is dry enough to be worked.

Using Phenology to determine planting time

Rather than going by a certain calendar date, some gardeners use phenology to determine the optimal time for various gardening chores, such as planting, pruning, weed control, etc. Phenology is the study of the timing of certain events in nature (for instance, the swelling of buds or the appearance of flowers) in relation to weather and climate.

For generations, many farmers and gardeners have relied on these observations of nature rather than the calendar. Plants and animals don’t know when the first day of spring is or what the average date of last frost is but they do respond to changes in local temperature and precipitation and their responses can give us a pretty good idea of how spring is progressing (or not) in any particular year.

The flowering sequence of forsythia provides a timeline for spring gardening chores

The flowering of forsythia
provides a timeline for many
spring gardening chores

“Indicator plants” are commonly used as a guide for planting and other spring chores.

Lilacs have proven to be a good indicator plant but one of Andre’s favorites is forsythia.

He says …

  • When the forsythia are in bloom, it’s time to direct sow cool-season crops in the vegetable garden. These include: spinach, lettuce, peas, carrots, chard, beets, and radishes.
  • When the forsythia are in full bloom, it is time to prune your hybrid tea roses, floribunda roses, and grandiflora roses.
  • Before the forsythia petals drop, apply a pre-emergent herbicide to control crabgrass in your lawn.
  • When the forsythia petals begin to drop, cut your Buddleia (butterfly bushes) back to about 12″-18″ from the ground. Use this same timing for cutting back your Caryopteris and Vitex.
  • When the forsythia have finished blooming, you can safely plant potatoes.
Lilac are another good indicator plant

Lilacs are another good indicator plant

Here are some others:

  • When daffodils bloom, plant spinach, beets, onions, and kale
  • When apple blossoms drop their petals or the lilacs are in full bloom, plant bush beans, pole beans, cucumbers, squash, and corn
  • When peonies flower, transplant tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and melons

Well, there you have it; a few good tips on when to do some planting!

Until next time –

Happy Planting!

Nothing better than fresh, home-grown vegetables.

The time has come to pour through your favorite seed catalogs and make some decisions about what you want to grow this season!

Rattlesnake beans

Usually, I can only find my favorite
rattlesnake pole beans in catalogs!

These catalogs (and their websites) offer a much wider selection of vegetable seeds than you will see in most garden stores. So if you want some varieties that are a little out of the ordinary, ordering from a seed company is the way to go.

Of course you have your old tried and true favorites but every year there will be some exciting new varieties that are hard to resist and in most cases, you will only be able to find these new and different vegetable seeds in your catalogs or online.

Don’t procrastinate!

Order your seeds soon so they arrive in time to start some of your crops indoors to get a jump on the season.

Transplants vs. Direct-sowing

Confused about which seeds to start indoors and which are best to sow directly in the garden? There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these practices and the answer really depends upon the individual crop.

  • Plastic lids cover each flat.

    Indoors, you can control lighting,
    humidity, and temperature for
    optimal germination and growth

    Starting seeds indoors allows you to have more control over the growing environment.

  • Certain pest and disease problems that plague young seedlings in the garden are avoided when plants are started indoors.
  • Pre-emergence weed preventers can usually be used in areas of the garden where transplants will be set out but not where you plan on planting seeds. Read the label before using a pre-emergent to be sure it is safe for your transplants!
  • Replacing early season crops in the garden with started plants allows you to produce another crop quickly.
  • Transplants must be hardened off before planting in the garden. Direct-sowing avoids this.

Certain crops perform better when set out as transplants while others do better when the seed is planted directly into the garden soil.

Here are some general guidelines:

Eggplant seedlings grow under lights until it is safe to plant in the garden

Eggplant seedlings grow under lights
until it is safe to plant in the garden

  • Crops with rapid top growth and slow root growth, like corn, beans, squash, and melons, don’t transplant well and are generally more successful when seeded directly in the garden.
  • Crops with rapid root growth and slower top growth, such as tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and celery, will do better when planted as transplants.
  • Root crops are more successful when they are direct-sown as they tend to be more flavorful, tender, and straight if they grow at a steady rate from germination to harvest. Transplanting interrupts this steady growth.

Cool-season veggies to start indoors:

Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, Kale, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts

Cucumber seedlings transplanted and mulched in the garden

Cucumber seedlings transplanted
and mulched in the garden

Cool-season veggies to direct-sow:

Peas, radishes, turnips, parsnips, beets, spinach, carrots, potatoes (from seed potatoes)

Warm-season veggies to start indoors:

Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, celery

Warm-season veggies to direct-sow:

Beans, corn, okra, cucumbers*, squash, melons, pumpkins

* – Cucumbers can also be started indoors to get a jump on the season.

Next time …

When to start your seeds; both indoors and direct seeding in the garden

Until then – Happy Gardening and get those seeds on order!

A bright red cardinal sits atop a snowy honeysuckle
With the impending nor’easter heading toward the mid-Atlantic and southern New England, homeowners have been stocking up on supplies in preparation. Many may also be thinking about ways to prevent damage to their trees and shrubs that may be caused by a heavy snow burden.

A rhododendron droops under the weight of the snow.

A rhododendron droops under
the weight of the snow.

Here are some tips:

With snow accumulation, if it’s not too wet and heavy, you can sometimes take a broom or a leaf rake and gently brush the snow from the branches. If you keep up with this throughout the storm, you can prevent a heavy buildup. It is best not to shake the branches as this can cause breakage.

In the case of an accumulation of ice or heavy, wet snow, it is better to just wait and let it melt off naturally. If you try to knock it off you will usually do more damage to your trees and shrubs. It’s also very dangerous! Most trees and shrubs will bounce back after the snow or ice melts off so it is usually safer to be patient and wait until they thaw out.

Boxwood nearly flattened by a heavy load of snow

Boxwood nearly flattened by
a heavy load of snow

Snow damage is usually worse on evergreens because the foliage can hold the snow on the branches. Sometimes, the outer branches of shrubs like boxwood, yew, and azalea become weighed down with snow, separated from the center, and pinned to the ground. If you try to remove the snow, you can do more damage to the shrub. Let the snow melt off naturally! Once everything melts, you will be able to see if any permanent damage was done.

Click for some tips for dealing with snow damaged shrubs

What should you do for damaged trees in the aftermath of a destructive winter storm?

Heavy, wet snow can sometimes cause irreparable damage to trees

Heavy, wet snow can sometimes cause irreparable damage to trees

The most important thing is to be safe!

  • Don’t go near trees or branches that have fallen on power lines.
  • Watch for large broken branches that are hanging precariously and could fall in a gust of wind.
  • Assess the damage to determine if it is something that you can handle yourself or if you need to call in a professional tree service for help. Large limbs can be extremely heavy (hundreds of pounds) and dangerous!
  • Avoid any trimming or pruning that necessitates getting up on a ladder. This can be extremely dangerous especially if there is snow or ice on the ground.
  • When using a pole saw or trimmer, be mindful of any telephone or power lines and stay well away from these. It’s very easy to lose track of where they are in relation to where you are cutting! Better yet, leave this pruning to a professional.

What is the first step?

Large branch on a maple broken during an early fall snowstorm

A large maple branch broken
during an early fall snowstorm

The first thing you need to do is evaluate the damage to your tree. Study it from all angles and determine the best way to proceed. Severe damage may warrant a call to a professional tree service like Bartlett Tree Experts, while more minor damage can often be tackled by the homeowner.

Broken branches are one of the most common types of storm damage to trees, whether by snow, wind, or heavy rain. The three D’s of pruning dictates that you can remove these broken branches at any time regardless of when they occur. This is mainly because the ragged wound left from the break can be an entrance point for insects and disease.

Remember, hire a professional to remove very large branches or those that you can’t safely reach from the ground. Ladders can be very dangerous for pruning!

Tips for removing broken branches safely and with minimal, additional damage to the tree

  • Make clean cuts by using a sharp tool – a clean cut speeds callus formation and healing.
  • When removing a branch, make the cut close to the stem just outside the natural branch collar. The branch collar or bark ridge is an area/ridge at the base of a branch that contains cells that multiply quickly to close off and heal a wound. If you cut the branch inside this branch collar, you hinder the natural healing properties of the tree.
The natural branch collar contains cells that speed healing.

The natural branch collar contains
cells that speed healing.

Proper pruning removes the branch just outside the branch collar.

Proper pruning removes the branch
just outside the branch collar.


  • Leaving stubs is a very poor pruning practice.

    Leaving stubs is a very
    poor pruning practice.

    Do not leave stubs. Leaving a stub is almost worse than cutting the branch too short. Stubs will die back and leave the tree open to disease and insect damage. The tree cannot heal over a stub.

  • Smaller branches, less than 2″ in diameter, can be removed with one cut using good quality shears or loppers.
  • Remove larger branches in sections. This takes the weight off the break and makes the final pruning cuts easier and safer.
  • Once you have a shorter section to remove, use the three-cut method to remove the branch completely. The three-cut method prevents tearing or stripping of the bark as the final section is removed.
The first two cuts of the three-cut pruning method. The third cut will remove the remaining stub.

The first two cuts of the three-cut pruning method.
The third cut will remove the remaining stub.

  • There is generally no need to use any kind of wound paint. Painting the wound can inhibit the natural healing of the tree; however, sometimes larger cuts can be coated with orange shellac.
  • If a branch has broken and peeled the bark down on the trunk in the process, remove the branch using the procedure above and then trim off any loose bark.

Here are some tips for dealing with split branches or trunks

Severe damage to trees

Always prune to an outward facing branch or bud.

Always prune to an outward
facing branch or bud.

In many cases, depending on the species of tree, younger trees can bounce back from fairly severe damage – up to 40% loss of their branches. These smaller trees should be pruned to remove damaged branches, making new clean cuts back to a branch collar. If just the tip of a branch is damaged, prune the branch back to an outward facing branch or bud.

In the late spring, you will be able to determine if the tree has survived. Summer pruning may be necessary to reshape the tree and remove additional dead twigs or branches.

In cases of severe damage to larger trees, it is best to consult a certified local arborist such as Bartlett Tree Experts to get their recommendation on whether the tree can be salvaged. If the loss of branches is greater than 40%, the chances of survival can be greatly diminished and you may have to have the tree removed. Even if it survives, it may be severely weakened and it may become a hazard in the future. It’s wise to consult a professional arborist to determine a course of action.

Trees are a renewable and replaceable resource.

If you are forced to remove a tree, consider replacing it with a tree that produces well-spaced, wide angled branches which provide greater strength and resist breakage. To eliminate the problem of trunk splitting, look for trees that produce a single main trunk. Bradford pears are very popular landscape trees but they have weak branches and are very prone to storm damage.
Consider the loss of your tree an opportunity to try an exciting new variety!

Until next time – Be safe and enjoy the snow!

The winter sun peeks through ice covered branches.

Happy Winter!

Today, December 21st at 11:49 PM EST marks the 2015 winter solstice. At this moment in time, the North Pole (due to the axial tilt of the earth) is at its furthest point from the sun.

My post from December, 2011 expresses my sentiments of this day.

And … my Christmas Rose is blooming! Right on time!


The day on which the winter solstice occurs is deemed the first day of winter. It is the shortest day of the year and consequently the longest night of the year. For eons, many different festivals have been held in observance of this annual astronomical event, most of them celebrating the birth of the new solar year.

I find it a time to reflect on the beauty of the season – the quiet stillness of winter. And when there is snow on the ground – even better, softer, quieter …

Flower buds of the native dogwood lie in wait under a coating of fresh snow.

Flower buds of the native dogwood lie in wait under a coating of fresh snow.

But even in the midst of this tranquility, one can catch a glimpse of the dynamic new season that awaits us. A leisurely walk through the winter garden can be very peaceful; but at the same time quite exciting if you are observant to the world around you.

Though most plants are “sleeping” at this time of year, many show the promise of the beautiful blooms to come with plump flower buds adorning their otherwise naked (except for the evergreens of course!) branches.

Rhododendron flower buds are wrapped up tightly for the winter but come spring ...

Rhododendron flower buds are wrapped up tightly for the winter but come spring …

Dogwoods, azaleas, rhododendrons, and other spring blooming trees and shrubs all produced their flower buds last season. These buds lay dormant now but as spring approaches they will begin to swell and then it won’t be long until they burst into a glorious display of blossoms.

Something to look forward to!

The herbaceous perennials may be brown and dry above the ground but I know that below the soil surface, the new buds are cozy and protected, just waiting for the first warm breaths of spring to initiate their growth.

A cardinal sits on the snowy branches of a honeysuckle vine.

A bright red cardinal sits on the snowy branches of a honeysuckle vine.


The woods are full of the sights and sounds of critters scurrying around busy with their winter activities. Walking through the woodland garden, we always see loads of birds flitting through the trees and shrubs foraging on a wide variety of seeds and berries. We typically leave everything standing in our gardens over the winter and this provides an abundance of food for the birds. There is a wonderful diversity of wild birds that live and winter in the woods around our house. They’re great fun to watch at the feeders during the winter and happily many of them stick around to gobble up some of the insect pests in the vegetable garden during the summer!

The elongated hole is typical of the Pileated Woodpecker. Notice the strategically placed holes! Do you think they were using the shelf fungus as an unbrella?

The elongated hole is typical of the Pileated Woodpecker. Notice the strategically placed holes! Do you think they were using the shelf fungus as an umbrella?

Often the silence is broken by the drumming of woodpeckers in the surrounding woods. We purposely leave dead trees standing –
if they’re in an area where we’re sure they won’t fall on the house or across our driveway! The woodpeckers love them and most of these trees are riddled with holes of all sizes and shapes where the different species of woodpeckers have been pecking for insect treats.

Squirrels are busy rustling through the dry oak leaves in the woods sniffing out acorns, hickory nuts, and other seeds that have fallen to the ground in great abundance. They scurry up the nearest tree if we get too close and then sit on a branch flicking their tails and scolding us for disturbing their foraging.

A fluffed up bluebird tried to stay warm on a snowy day.

A fluffed up bluebird tries to stay warm on a snowy day.



I have so much to be thankful for and a quiet walk through the woods on a beautiful winter day just seems to be a fitting time to reflect on all the good things that life has brought and to look forward to a wonderful new year full of promise.

My Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) is beginning to bloom right now!

My Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) is beginning to bloom right now!




So on this winter solstice, take some time away from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Enjoy a relaxing stroll through your garden and just immerse yourself in the quiet beauty of the winter day!


Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays to all!

I’m looking forward to sharing many new gardening adventures with you in 2012!


Noon in Alaska on the solstice. The beautiful Chugach mountain range. Sent to me by Bill McDonald

Noon in Alaska on the solstice. The beautiful Chugach mountain range.

A cardinal sits in a paperbark maple tree

Where IS winter?

It sure doesn’t FEEL like winter right now! The winter of 2015 is starting out rather mild to say the least! The whole east coast has “enjoyed” record warm December temperatures. USA Today has reported that in the eastern US, over 1,000 new record highs have been recorded so far this December! People around here have been mowing their lawns! It’s crazy! Who mows their lawn in December in the Shenandoah Valley!

Thankfully, the temperatures are supposed to start dropping to more seasonal levels by the end of the week.

It still LOOKS like winter despite the unseasonably warm temperatures. The winter landscape is quiet and peaceful with leafless trees standing tall and majestic. Here is a post I wrote in December 2012. I think it bears re-posting!

Happy Holidays everyone! Enjoy …

Have you ever looked at trees in the winter?

Trees against a winter skyI mean REALLY looked? I’m talking about the deciduous trees with their bare limbs silhouetted against the sky. Many of them are really quite beautiful in a simple kind of way.

Driving to work the other day I happened to focus on a large, solitary maple that was in someone’s yard. The bare branches gave the tree such an attractive shape against the brilliant blue sky. It struck me that the “skeleton” of the tree was just as interesting in the landscape as the tree was in full foliage – if not more so. This revelation made me pay closer attention to the other trees around me. Maples, oaks, hickories, sycamores, dogwoods …

A majestic oak silhouetted against the winter sky

A majestic oak silhouetted
against the winter sky

The distinctive growth form and branch structure of these trees, which can really only be seen during the winter, add an element of beauty to the winter landscape. Each species has its own unique pattern. It’s something that you can’t really appreciate in the summer when the trees are covered with leaves but it definitely becomes a major part of the charm of the winter landscape. In fact, tree form, branch structure, and bark texture might be features to keep in mind when choosing the trees and shrubs to plant in your garden or around your home.

If you spend some time in the winter garden, you might be surprised at the subtle beauty and tranquility you will find at this more simple time in the gardening year. The winter landscape is all about muted colors and the bare bones of the garden. It’s not just the form and structure of the trees that provide character to the winter landscape, but also the interesting colors and textures you will find in their bark. In the winter when we aren’t distracted by foliage, the bark becomes a much more prominent characteristic of the trees.

Sycamore trees show their attractive form and beautiful bark in winter

Sycamore trees show their attractive form and beautiful bark in winter

As I neared the nursery, I noticed the large sycamore trees which grow along the creek that flows through one of the fields. The sycamore is a tree that I find to be much more appealing in the winter than at any other time of the year. To me, this is when you can really appreciate the grandeur of this massive tree. The open, wide-spreading crown has a beautiful silhouette against the winter sky. In addition, sycamores have wonderful exfoliating bark on the upper trunk and branches which peels away to reveal a striking white inner bark. Much of this interesting bark pattern is hidden during the summer and only becomes visible in the winter months when the leaves have dropped.

White oak (left) and chestnut oak (right) have very different bark textures.

White oak (left) and chestnut oak (right) have different bark textures.

The oaks are one of my favorite trees when it comes to bark texture. Chestnut oaks have beautiful dark colored bark which is deeply furrowed and coarse while the white oak has light grayish bark that has a finer textured and is almost flaky. So beautiful in the winter!

The American beech is another favorite with a beautiful spreading crown which creates a lovely silhouette in winter. The smooth, silvery, blue-gray bark creates a striking contrast to the bronze colored fall leaves which often persist on the tree throughout the winter.

Beech trees with their smooth blue-gray bark contrast with the bright white bark of a white birch.

Beech trees with their smooth blue-gray bark contrast with the
bright white bark of a white birch in the Vermont woods.

Exfoliating giraffe-like bark of crape myrtle.

Exfoliating giraffe-like bark
of crape myrtle.

There are many other species of trees that have beautiful bark which provides color and interest in the winter landscape. Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) and many cultivars of crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) have wonderful exfoliating bark which peels away to reveal a rich cinnamon colored inner bark that really stands out in the winter. These bare, leafless trees also have a nice shape at this time of year and, if the seed heads are left on the crape myrtles, they not only provide added interest but they will also supply much needed winter food for the birds.

So, take some time to appreciate the wonderful form that your trees reveal in the winter. Spend a quiet moment or two just observing the simple beauty that can be found at this time of year. Just because there are no colorful flowers around, don’t think that Mother Nature has abandoned her artistry. It just takes on a very different form and you have to look a little harder to see the subtle elegance in the winter landscape.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!


A beautiful "Christmas cactus" blooms on my mom's windowsill in early November

Andre talks about it all the time! Plants are a wonderful “bio-air filter”.

With the increase in energy-efficiency in new homes, indoor air pollution is on the rise. Buildings are being sealed tighter to restrict outside air exchange in order to lower heating and cooling costs. While this does reduce energy consumption, the recirculated air can accumulate a host of pollutants which come from everyday products and activities. These pollutants can build up and cause upper respiratory problems and allergic reactions. They’ve even given this a name: “Sick Building Syndrome”.

But don’t worry – green plants can come to your rescue!

Spider plants are great houseplants and efficient "air cleaners"

Spider plants are great houseplants
and efficient “air cleaners”

There is a lot of scientific evidence showing that plants can actually help improve air quality both indoors and outside. Research conducted by NASA has demonstrated that many plants have rather impressive air-cleaning abilities. In general, NASA found that plants that grow under low light conditions and have large leaves are the most effective at removing indoor pollutants. Spider plants, Peperomia, Schefflera, pothos, Dracaena, and Aloe are some of the best “air purifiers”.

So keep a few houseplants around the house. They not only provide beauty to your indoor landscape but they will act as a great natural air filter as well!

Plants with large leaves are good for filtering the air.

Plants with large leaves are good
for filtering the air.

Keep Them Healthy

Maintaining healthy houseplants will help them perform this important “air-cleaning” task most effectively. The easiest way to ensure that your houseplants remain healthy is to understand their preferred growing conditions. There are many different types of indoor plants and each has its own optimal light conditions, water requirements, and temperature and humidity levels. If you provide them with the right conditions, they will reward you with their beauty and some clean, pure air.

Click for specific growing conditions for some common houseplants.

The following are some general tips to promote the health of your houseplants.

Water Them Correctly

Coleus brought inside over the winter will brighten up your home.

Coleus brought inside over the winter
will brighten up your home.

More houseplants are probably killed due to improper watering than anything else! The rate of water loss and thus the need to water your houseplants depends upon temperature, humidity, and light levels as well as the type of plants you have. Thus, it is hard to set a strict watering schedule.

Know the requirements of your plants and use the “touch method” to evaluate soil moisture and the need (or not) to water.

  • Press the tip of your finger down about 1/4” into the soil.
  • A cool, damp feeling indicates there is still adequate moisture in the soil
  • A dry feeling indicates that you should water.

If you have a lot of house plants, you might want to consider getting a watering wand you can use indoors!

Feed Them!

Plants bring a bit of nature indoors.

Plants bring a bit of nature indoors.

Fresh potting soil contains a reservoir of nutrients but as your plants grow, they absorb this “food” and the nutrients eventually need to be replenished with fertilizers. Fertilizer for houseplants comes in many different forms.

  • Dissolving powders are one of the most economical ways to fertilize your houseplants.
  • Fertilizer spikes and slow release fertilizers are even more convenient and easy to use for your potted plants. Bayer Advanced makes plant spikes for indoor and outdoor potted plants that control certain insect pests and also contain a slow-release fertilizer.
  • Liquid fertilizers are also popular and easy to use.

Keep Them Clean

Wipe dust off large shiny leaves with a soft cloth

Wipe dust off large shiny leaves
with a soft cloth

Dust and dirt on leaves block light and reduce photosynthetic activity. This causes decreased vigor and gradual decline in the plants. There are many ways to clean your houseplants.

  • Larger plants can be put directly in the sink or shower and sprayed with water.
  • Smaller and more delicate plants can be turned upside down (use your hands to hold back the soil) and dunked and swirled around in a sink or bucket of water.
  • Always let the leaves dry completely before exposing them to direct sunlight.
  • For a glossier surface, wipe the leaves with a piece of soft cheesecloth

For more information on the air filtering qualities of plants, check out Andre’s favorite book on the subject: How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office by Dr. B.C. Wolverton.

Until next time – have a Happy Thanksgiving!

White pine shedding 1-year old needles

White pine needle sheddingI have been noticing a lot of yellowing needles on the pine trees in our area this fall and it reminded me of the blog post I published in the fall of 2012.

When a large number of pine needles start to turn yellow then drop, homeowners can become quite concerned and this may be one of those years when needle drop, especially in white pines, is especially noticeable.

It’s important to understand that this doesn’t necessarily mean you have a disease or insect problem.

Read on …

From October 17, 2012 …


Help! A lot of the needles on my pine tree are turning brown and falling off. What’s going on? Should I be worried? Is my tree dying?

White pines shed the previous year's needles each fall.

White pines shed the previous
year’s needles each fall.

We often get questions like this in the fall. The keyword here is “fall”. Everyone is used to the deciduous trees coloring up and dropping their leaves in the fall but many are not aware that pines and many other evergreens also go through a natural “leaf” drop at this time of the year.

But they’re evergreens! They’re not supposed to lose their needles.

The difference is that evergreens don’t drop all of their “leaves” at one time like deciduous trees and shrubs do so it normally goes unnoticed.
Every year all evergreens, including the broadleaf evergreens, shed at least some of their older foliage. When this leaf or needle drop occurs and how much is shed depends upon the species.

Since we aren’t accustomed to thinking of fall needle drop as being a normal occurrence for pines and other evergreens, many people automatically assume that they have an insect or disease problem when this happens. They’re quite relieved to find out that it’s normal.

1-year old growth drops it's needles while the current season's growth remains green.

1-year old growth drops it’s needles while
the current season’s growth remains green.

Pines as a group shed their oldest needles in the fall. Most pines keep their needles for 3 to 5 years spreading out the needle drop over that period. White pines, on the other hand, hold their needles for only one year. Because of this, in certain years, the needle drop on white pines can be rather dramatic. This seems to be one of those years. At least in our area of the Shenandoah Valley, the white pines seem to be full of yellowing needles and this can be a bit alarming to a homeowner.

Why do you notice this in white pines especially?

White pine needles turn yellow then brown before they drop

White pine needles turn yellow then
brown before they drop in the fall.

It’s because, since they only hold their needles for one year, variations in growth rate from one year to the next can have an effect on the percentage of needles that are shed in a given fall. When you look carefully at white pine branches in the fall, you should see that the needles at the ends of the branches (the current year’s growth) are healthy and green and that the one year old needles behind them towards the interior of the tree are the ones that are yellowing and turning brown. Eventually these will be shed.

When environmental conditions favor good, strong spring growth, the lush, new foliage will usually hide the shedding needles behind it. In these years, the natural needle drop in the fall is less obvious.

Browning needles on the one-year old white pine growth

Last year’s needles have turned brown.

However, if new growth in the spring is slowed due to drought for instance, this growth will be shorter and will produce fewer needles than the previous year’s growth (assuming a normal growing season in that year). This sometimes means that a higher percentage of the needles on the tree are one year old needles and when these needles begin to turn yellow and brown in the fall, it becomes much more noticeable (especially if there was a good growing season the year before).

This seems to be the situation for us this year. During the time when new growth was forming on the white pines, our temperatures were above normal but rainfall was well below normal. This resulted in reduced spring growth and consequently, it’s possible that more needles may be shed this fall than are retained on the tree. Interesting, huh?

So now you know and you can rest assured that your white pines are probably not sick or insect infested – they are just shedding … naturally!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!


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