Plants

Shawna Coronado

Top 5 Secret and Natural Soil Additives For A Healthy Garden

Shawna Coronado front lawn vegetable garden

Eleven years ago I was a “traditional gardener”, meaning I used the traditionally advertised products on the market that were filled with chemicals to treat my garden. This led to over-fertilizing and using chemical pesticides regularly. Bottom line: I wantonly abandoned the idea of doing healthy things for my garden in favor of what the media told me I should do. At that time I would consider my garden an average garden even with all of my chemical efforts. Then one season a friend of mine suggested I grow in an environmentally healthy fashion and stop listening to the hype. I thoroughly researched the importance of how to go chemical free and gradually converted my entire property over to about 98.9% organic and natural. An amazing and surprising thing happened in response to that changeover – my garden grew more beautiful, astounding, and lush than it had ever been when I used all those chemical solutions.

The secret for using less chemicals and pesticides in your garden is this: good soil grows healthy plant roots. With healthy plant roots you have strong plants that can survive tough conditions. Over the last ten years I have discovered what type of amendments work best in gardens nationwide and in my own garden. I have my favorite list of five all natural products and organic matter that really work well in my front lawn vegetable garden (seen in the photo above) and in gardens all across the country.

5 Amazing Soil Additives

Rotted Manure

Without a doubt, rotted manure is an important organic amendment for your soil because of its nutrient rich content which is the basis for building a strong structure of carbon compounds within the soil. Be sure that the manure is well rotted or it will burn your plants. You can get it in bagged form at your local garden center or find a farmer nearby. Be advised that manure from a farmer sometimes contains grass and weed seed. I add a generous amount of well rotted manure to the garden soil before I plant a garden, then again annually as a top dressing around plants.

Worm castings

Worm castings is worm poop – that’s right – worm poop. Like rotted manure, worm castings create a strong soil structure and add beneficial biology to the root zone of your plants. Worm castings help hold moisture so you water less. Mix ¼ cup of worm castings into the soil planting hole for each plant. I use Organic Mechanics worm castings which are OMRI and Organic certified (below you see a mix of rotted manure and worm castings added to my spring front lawn vegetable garden).

Spring rotted manure application on Shawna Coronado front lawn vegetable garden

Actino-Iron

Soil Amendment Actino-Iron 2Actino-Iron is an all natural OMRI certified granular soil additive that combines the Actinovate organic fungicide with organic iron and humates. Actino-Iron is a product that is already used in many of the soil mixes you find professionally in the market because it helps control root diseases and keep your plants greener. I have used it for three years in a row and found it works very well to strengthen the root systems of my plants. Last year I had a drought and the plants stayed green and healthier because Actino-Iron builds a relationship between the root zone and soil microbes, strengthening the roots by growing more root hairs. I had a couple tablespoons in the root zone of each plant (see photo below).

Soil amendment Actino-Iron

Pure Elements SoilSuccess

Soil Amendment Pure Elements SoilSuccessPure Elements has several gypsum based products that are great soil amendments for all types of growing such as grass renewal, perennial beds, annual flower gardens, and vegetable gardening. My favorite is Pure Elements SoilSuccess Renew + Transform because it adds humates to the soil and helps reduce tomato bottom end rot. This is a good product to increase soil microbial activity and improve germination, shoot, and root growth in all your garden beds, particularly your vegetable beds. My plants are crazy huge this season and I applied about one pound of SoilSuccess per 100 feet of garden.

Homemade Compost

#1 rule of healthy organic gardening – make your own compost. Below is a photo of my overly stuffed composter doing its happy work in my garden. While there are many ways to make your own compost, the fact that it is absolutely free for you to build makes it one of the best ideas ever. Using grass clippings, kitchen scraps, dry leaves, and all types of natural things from your home like coffee grounds, you can create “black gold” for your garden beds. Compost has amazing nutrients in it which helps your garden soil be the perfect place for microbes to interact with root hairs. In other words, by adding compost, you are building stronger roots. I add compost to the soil in new gardens and also use it as a top dressing to smother weeds around healthy plants.

Shawna Coronado Soil Amendment Compost Bin

According the FTC, you need to know that I received products in this story at no cost in exchange for reviewing them.


Shawna Coronado

3 Ways To Attract Hummingbirds to Your Garden

Hummingbird Feeder in Shawna Coronado's front lawn

Hummingbirds are an entertaining way to enjoy nature. We all adore them and want them in our gardens, but sometimes a feeder alone does not attract our humming friends. Here are three tips to get them to come to your yard and recognize your feeder as a place to return to often.

1. Plant nectar producing flowers in your garden that attract hummers. My favorites include Salvia, Nepeta, Bee Balm, Delphinium, Hollyhock, Canna, Morning Glory, Trumpet Vine, and Lantana. In the photo to the right you see the perennial Nepeta Six Hills Giant. Hummingbird with Nepeta in Shawna Coronado's garden.

2. Use bright colors to tempt them in – especially red. In the top photo you can see the red Antique Bottle Hummingbird Feeder from Perky-Pet I have set up in my early spring garden. Set a red or brightly colored feeder out as soon as you are able in the spring in order to let the early hummingbird scouts know where their feeding locations are.

3. Keep the feeder clean. Hummingbirds love fresh nectar and do not like a dirty hummingbird feeder, so be sure to keep your feeder clean and change your nectar at least twice per week. Feeding hummingbirds is super easy. Mix 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. Boil the water solution for two minutes, let cool, then fill the feeder.

Hummingbird splashing in sprinkler water

While not all feeders need to be placed in shade, I have found that a shady spot seems to be a great spot for the hummers as it keeps them cooler in the hot summer heat and prevents nectar spoilage. They love water too. Here you see an adorable hummingbird that landed on a hosta in my garden and is washing his wings in my sprinkler.

Hummingbirds are amazing to watch and a grand part of the summer garden. Lure these delightful birds in with plants and feeders then invite your friends over to watch the fun.

According the FTC, I need to let you know that I received a product in this post at no cost in exchange for reviewing it.


James A. Baggett

Rays of Catalog Sun

sprngmag1My mailbox was frozen shut yesterday, but boy was I glad once I pried it open. Inside I discovered another ray of catalog sunshine waiting for me. There’s something so hopeful and reassuring about the pile of seed and plant catalogs piling up beside my bed while the thermometer outside my window dips below zero. I love nothing more than to pore through each and every mouthwatering catalog, even if the plants they offer up would be as out of place in my Zone 5a garden as lilacs in Louisiana. Since most of us are already familiar with the Burpee and Park Seed catalogs with their staggering Technicolor photographs and whopper flower and vegetable seeds, I thought I’d share some of my favorite lesser-known catalogs (above) well worth hunkering down with during this dreariest time of year:

• High Country Gardens (highcountrygardens.com) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, makes the case for alternatives to conventional turfgrass lawns, and offers plenty of plants that will look great with minimal upkeep, especially water. When it comes to native and low-work and water lawn choices, David Salman is a true pioneer. I’m excited to try their new pink cotton lamb’s ear (Stachys lavandulifolius), an amazing wildflower with a profuse display of fuzzy, bright pink flower spikes that’ll be right at home in the hard clay of my hellstrip.

• Prairie Moon Nursery (prairiemoon.com) in Winona, Minnesota, is nothing if not passionate about native plants and prairie restoration for the Upper Midwest. They are the source for more than 600 native species, from the familiar (Culver’s root) to the hard-to-find (small-flowered leafcup). I only wish I had space for all eight varieties of liatris they offer.

• Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SouthernExposure.com) in Mineral, Virginia, features more than 700 varieties of heirloom and organic seeds in addition to tried-and-true favorites, with an emphasis on heritage, flavor, and disease resistance. If only our growing season was long enough to try their ‘Whopper’ peanuts, which the catalog says are twice as big as ‘Virginia Jumbo’.

• Sand Hill Preservation Center (sandhillpreservation.com) in Calamus, Iowa, is stewarded by Glenn and Linda Drowns, “genetic preservationists that are in this for the genetic diversity of this planet we call home.” They offer more than 1,600 rare and genetic treasures—seeds and poultry—for your selection. They produce all of their eggs for hatches, tend all of their own flocks, weed and care for the seed crops, and produce about 80 percent of the seed they sell.

• Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (rareseeds.com) in Mansfield, Missouri, carries one of the largest selections of seeds from the 19th century, including many Asian and European varieties. Baker Creek was started by Jere Gettle at the age of 17, when he printed the first catalog in 1998. The company has grown to offer 1,300 varieties of vegetables, flowers, and herbs—the largest selection of heirloom varieties in the United States—and we’re glad to call them our friends. Their breathtakingly gorgeous radishes will be featured in the Fall 2011 issue of Country Gardens.


Everyday Gardeners

Protecting Potted Plants in Winter

Say you live in Zone 5 and experience cold winters. Shouldn’t affect your red oak, right? I mean, that’s a species that is cold tolerant down to Zone 3! But if it’s in a container, the otherwise-hardy tree is automatically more at risk in winter. That goes for shrubs and perennials, too, which need insulation for their roots. Fortunately, there are several solutions.

Here are several potted oak that I am overwintering. I dug them into the ground and placed them--pot and all--in the hole, then backfilled and covered with shredded leaves. This is the best protection you can get, but it takes the labor of digging the hole. Be sure to protect the tender bark from rabbits and field mice (note white bark guard in foreground).

Here are several potted oaks that I am overwintering. I dug them into the ground and placed them--pot and all--in the hole, then backfilled and covered with shredded leaves. This is the best protection you can get, but it takes the labor of digging the hole. Be sure to protect the tender bark from rabbits and field mice (note white bark guard in foreground).

Lazy man's protection: I put several potted trees in a small cove and filled the gaps with bagged leaves I rescued from the curb. Pack the leaves so there are no air pockets; remove in spring and add to your compost pile (or as a mulch for your flowerbeds).

Lazy man's protection: I put several potted trees in a small cove and filled the gaps with bagged leaves I rescued from the curb. Pack the leaves so there are no air pockets; remove in spring and add to your compost pile (or use as a mulch for flowerbeds).

If you don't have an existing cove, make one your own. I stacked some blocks near a chainlink fence, then filled the space with potted trees. After that, I dumped bags and bags of leaves around the potted trees, compacting them so they formed a tight mulch around the pots. Again, these leaves can be removed in spring and added to the garden as a super mulch or compost starter.

If you don't have an existing cove, make your own. I stacked some blocks near a chainlink fence, then filled the space with potted trees. After that, I dumped bags and bags of leaves around the potted trees, compacting them so they formed a tight mulch around the pots. Again, these leaves can be removed in spring and added to the garden as a mulch or compost ingredient.

Smaller trees can be stored in an unheated basement or attached garage (an attached garage probably won't go below 20 degrees in winter...temps of 15 and lower can damage or kill potted tree roots)..

Smaller trees can be stored in an unheated basement or attached garage (an attached garage probably won't go below 20 degrees in winter...temps of 15 and lower can damage or kill potted tree roots)..