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Spring is fast approaching and now is the time to start thinking about designing your vegetable garden. Not sure where to begin? Here are some simple tips to help get you started.

vegetables growing in a garden bed

1 Measure the area that you're going to use for your garden. Don't be afraid to think outside the "box" - vegetable gardens can be any shape you want: round, curved, L-shaped, as well as the traditional rectangular plot.

a sketch planning a garden layout

2 Make a simple sketch of your garden on some graph paper. Drawing it to scale will help you figure out how many plants you can actually fit in the space. Start at 1:50, where every inch of paper = 4 ft. of garden space. You can adjust the scale up or down depending on how big your garden is.

3 Make a list of what you'd like to grow and how many of each plant you'd like to have.

4 Calculate how much space the plants will take up. Each plant or seed packet will provide spacing information so you can determine how big they will get. One of the most common problems people experience in vegetable gardening is overcrowding, which diminishes yields and increases the risk of disease. Taking the time to figure out what will actually fit will make your garden more successful.

5 Start drawing vegetables on your garden sketch. Use circles to represent individual plants and rows to represent direct sown items like carrots, beets, and radishes. Remember, it doesn't have to be perfect! The goal is to get a rough idea of how many plants you can actually fit in your garden.

6 Place plants thoughtfully - put taller plants on the north or northwest side of the garden so they won't shade other plants. Medium height plants should go in the middle, and shorter plants should go on the south side of the garden. This will maximize sun exposure and air flow in the garden.

Main Garden Catagories

  • Cole Crops (Cabbage Family) Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kale
  • Cucurbits (Cucumber Family) Cucumbers, Gourds, Pumpkins, Squash, Watermelon
  • Solanaceous (Tobacco Family) Egglpant, Peppers, Tomatoes
  • Legumes (Pea Family) Beans, Peas

7 Crop rotation can prevent a buildup of soil-borne pests and diseases specific to one type of crop that can occur when the same type of plants are grown in the same spot year after year. Group plants by their category and rotate where you plant each category in the garden (see right).

8 Place perennial vegetables or herbs (artichoke, asparagus, rhubarb, etc.) in their own bed or in the corner of the garden so they are not disturbed when other vegetables are cultivated.

9 Vining plants like cucumbers and squash can take up a lot of space in the garden. Growing them on trellises or supports not only saves space, but also adds visual interest and makes harvesting easier.

10 Take notes! Keep a record of planting times, harvest times, successes and failures, so planning the garden next year becomes even easier.

Enjoy these unique snow white hydrangeas for the holidays!

shooting star hydrangea blooms
shooting star hydrangea blooms

Each of the ‘Shooting Star’ double flowers are shaped like a bright white star within a star. The white flowers continue to bloom for 4 to 6 weeks. They are wonderful companion plants at Christmas, along with your poinsettias or other holiday greens. As they mature, the flowers often develop a greenish hue. While indoors, keep plants in a cool spot where they’ll receive plenty of light. Under good conditions 'shooting star' hydrangeas will stay in flower well into May.

  • Very bright light and cool to moderate temperatures
  • Water when the top ½ inch of soil dries out
  • As flowers fade, snip them off

Planting outside:

After enjoying the indoor display, these hydrangeas can be good garden shrubs that grow about 5 to 6 feet tall and wide. After the danger of frost has passed and temperatures begin to warm, plant in the ground or in a container. They like part shade, regular water and fertilizer when new growth stars.

To air-dry blooms:

Cut of several whole flower heads when blossoms are fully open and still fresh. Put the stems in a small vase with about 2 inches of water in the bottom. As the water evaporates, flowers will being to dry, turning pale lime green in the process. When fully dried (in several weeks), snip individual blossoms from flower heads.

a close up of a Yuletide Camellia bloom

Yuletide Camellia

Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'

This compact evergreen shrub with an upright growing habit has single bright red flowers with yellow stamens and glossy leaves.

  • Prefers full sun in cool summer climate areas, part shade elsewhere.
  • Keep soil moist but well drained. Mulch to keep roots cool and promote moisture retention.
  • Feed in autumn with fertilizer for acid loving plants.
  • Prune after flowering or during summer. Remove dead or weak wood.
  • Will grow up to 10' tall and 10' wide.
red berries of the Creeping Wintergreen

Creeping Wintergreens

Gaultheria procumbens

This easy evergreen ground cover has small pale pink flowers in spring with bright scarlet berries by late summer.

  • Water thoroughly as needed during the growing season until established.
  • Fertilize lightly 1-3 times during the growing season.
  • Treat for diseases or insects as needed.
  • Will grow up to 6-12" tall and 2-3' wide.
  • The berries are edible - and they taste like wintergreen!

Sure, we love the look and aroma of the traditional Christmas Tree, but here are a few ideas that any gardener can appreciate. These would make great gift to go along side someone's traditional tree, or may be the perfect size to be the main tree in a limited space.

Rosemary Topiary decorated for Christmas

Rosemary Topiary

Aren’t these adorable! Christmas trees in Lavender or Rosemary are the perfect gift for the gardener. These would make a wonderful centerpiece for a holiday party, but for the longevity of the plant, add them to your outdoor decorations once your guests have left. These topiaries will look great on your front porch, and they smell so good!

Norfolk Island Pine decorated for Christmas

Norfolk Island Pine

Norfolk Island Pines are also a great alternative to a full size tree. Norfolk Island Pines are native to Norfolk Island, which is located between New Caledonia and Australia in the South Pacific. They can reach 80 feet in their natural habitat, but will maintain their size when grown in a container.

Lemon Cypress Topiary decorated for Christmas

Cypress Topiary

A beautiful lemon cypress topiary pruned and shaped into cone form works great as well. It’s foliage has a wonderful lemon scent when touched. Like a living Christmas Tree, A lemon cypress can brighten up your home, however, you will want to move it outdoors after a week or so to keep it growing for years to come.

Along with that bottle of wine you may be taking to Thanksgiving dinner, why not include a hostess gift that will last long after the last piece of pumpkin pie. With a little thought, you can bring color into your host or hostess’ home during the winter months.

Cyclamen and Anthuriums
light purple cyclamen in bloom


  • Place in indirect light or bright indirect light.
  • Cyclamen like to be a little on the cooler side, with temperatures around 61˚F.
  • While in bloom, keep the root ball moist and feed the plant every 2 weeks.
  • Water Cylamen in a tray allowing the roots to take up the water, instead of watering from above the plant.
  • Remove yellow leaves and spent flowers.
fuchsia Christmas Cactus in bloom

Christmas Cactus

  • Treat your cactus as a regular houseplant for most of the year.
  • Keep it in a bright location and let it dry out between watering.
  • To promote bloom at holiday time, give your cactus long uninterrupted dark periods, about 12 hours each night.
  • For timely blooms, begin the dark treatments in mid-October. You can place the plants in a dark closet from about 8PM to 8AM each night for 6-8 weeks or until you see buds forming.
  • Alternately, cacti can be encouraged to bloom if they are subjected to cool temperatures of about 50-55° F for about 6 weeks. This will eliminate the need for dark treatments.
  • Remember to water less during this time of bud formation.
red Anthurium bloom


  • Grows best in bright, indirect light.
  • Soil should be free draining but hold some water.
  • Only water when the soil is dry to the touch.
  • Fertilized with a one-quarter strength fertilizer once every three to four months.

Tree spraying can be as easy as 1-2-3 when you follow these simple guidelines:

an orchard of apple trees
Liqui-Cop RTS fruit tree sprayMonterey ®Ligui-Cop controls many diseases that can attack dormant fruit trees. Available at Al's in a 32 oz. ready-to-spray bottle and 1 pint concentrate.

1) Fall

As soon as all the leaves have fallen off, use Monterey ®Ligui-Cop. Spraying your tree will help control bacterial blights, leaf curls, and other fungal diseases. Usually between November – December.

2) Winter

When trees are dormant, use Monterey ® Liqui-Cop again. Proper application requires a second coating to ensure that all bacteria and fungus have been controlled. Usually in January.

3) Spring

Use Monterey ® Liqui-Cop when buds have started to swell, and then again 7 days after the 1st Spring application. This spray is usually in late February.

These basic applications should control the most common diseases and insects and have you enjoying better fruit yields.

The goal of home composting is to support nature’s self-regenerating power in ways that work harmoniously with the needs of your back yard. Many people start composting for practical reasons. Home composting your leaves, grass clippings, garden waste and food scraps reduces the amount of garbage you generate. Plus, compost is essential for a great garden, and starting your own pile ensures a free, regular supply.

a bin full of compost

A compost pile starts out as a diverse pile of kitchen and garden “waste.” Left alone, any of these materials would eventually decompose. But when a variety of materials are mixed together and kept moist and aerated, the process accelerates. Compost matures into what soil scientists call active organic matter.

Why add compost to garden soil?

  • It increases its water-holding capacity
  • It invigorates the soils food and provides a buffet of plant nutrients
  • It enhances your plants’ ability to respond to challenges from insects and disease
  • Starting a new compost pile can be a fast, easy project
close up of compost material

Balancing ingredients is optional

To help compost decompose rapidly, a balance of “two parts brown to one part green” is often preached as composting gospel, but in truth, keeping a balanced ratio is simply an option.

  • Brown materials: Dry materials, such as leaves, pine needles and dead plants
  • Green materials: Wetter materials, such as grass clippings and kitchen waste

Good compost can be either hot or cold

Most people who carefully manage their compost piles for a balance of ingredients are trying to produce hot compost, which heats up or “cooks” as the materials decompose. Hot compost is the fastest type of compost to produce, but it’s not necessarily better. Intensively worked hot compost that’s produced in only three to four weeks ranks pretty low in terms of microbial diversity.

If you want the best compost, you want cured compost. This is mature compost that is set aside in a covered place where it can age for at least a couple of months. Bacteria produced this way “prime” plants to do a superior job of defending themselves from pests and diseases.

Small or large — any size pile will work just fine

Simply pile stuff together until the heap is big enough to merit some attention. Then, one day, when you’re in a composting mood, pick up a digging fork and spend some time mixing the materials in the pile, adding water to keep it moist.

Turning compost is optional.

Reasons to turn compost include:

  • Achieving a good mix of materials
  • Discovering dry pockets in need of moisture
  • Breaking compost into smaller pieces, which helps push almost-done compost to full maturity
  • Satisfying your curiosity as to what’s happening in your heap!

Gauge the moisture level of your compost pile by its fragrance

When you dig around in a heap and don’t smell the desired earthy fragrance, lack of moisture is usually the reason. To make it easier to keep these piles wet, there is no easier way to moisten the inside of a dry heap than by using a soaker hose.

Unpleasant odors in compost can be caused by the materials themselves, but even smelly things won’t stink if they are buried a few inches deep. Enclosed compost can go stinky if it’s too wet. If you’re using a plastic bin or tumbler, do pay close attention to water, because it’s easy to add too much.

Compost need not be a secret

Locate compost as close as possible to where the materials are generated or where the finished compost will be used.

an earthworm

With a worm bin, you can even compost indoors

Composting with captive earthworms, called vermicomposting, is a great way to compost paper products and food waste from your kitchen. Vermicomposting bins can be kept indoors or outside, but they work great indoors in winter, when outdoor heaps often freeze.

You can safely compost livestock manure

This biologically active material is a terrific soil amendment, and composting livestock manure makes it safe to use in the garden. You should use caution with animal manures because many do contain bacteria, but making and using manure-enriched compost won’t make you sick unless you’re careless.

There are good uses for immature compost

You can make compost by piling up stuff in layered beds, some people call this lasagna compost. If you top off the layers with burlap or some other water-permeable cloth, you can call it Interbay compost, named after the innovative gardeners at Interbay Community Garden in Seattle, who reuse burlap coffee bags to cover layered compost. I call it comforter compost because it’s such a good way to tuck in soil for winter, or begin the healing process for soil that’s been neglected or abused.

Every gardener wants to make great compost, and experience is the best teacher. Just know you cannot fail, because compost knows what to do. Trust the composting process, follow nature’s lead, and things will turn out great in the end.

September is Houseplant Month
A Homalomena plant

This Week: Homalomena

Homalomena is a clump-forming evergreen perennial with arrowhead or heart-shaped leaves. It's this shape that gives it the common name "Queen of Hearts". The flowers are tiny and without petals, enclosed in a usally greenish spathe hidden by the leaves.

Homalomena generally need indirect light and well-draining soil. Tropical in origin, the foliage will stay evergreen as long as temperatures never drop below 40 degrees F. They are widely considered great houseplant, due to their ease of care, disease resistance and their ability to tolerate low lighting conditions.

  • Easy care, no fuss
  • Keep soil evenly moist
  • Low to bright light, no sun conditions
  • Great for office settings
  • Native plants that can be found on the Rain Forest floors in Costa Rica, Columbia and The Philippines
  • Relative of Philodendrons

When you talk about fall lawn care it’s mostly all about aeration, seeding, and fertilizing. But there is one more critical element that can help your lawn and garden actually benefit from the nutrients in the soil – Lime.

a bag of Encap Fast Acting Lime

Agricultural lime is a soil additive made from pulverized limestone or chalk. The primary active component is calcium carbonate.

Places like the beautiful Pacific Northwest enjoy higher rainfall levels than other parts of the country. As a result, the rain can actually leach, or wash away, the calcium and magnesium in the soil, making it too acidic.

All plants have a pH preference, and grass is no exception. If your soil is too acidic (or too alkaline), your lawn simply cannot access the important nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the soil. The goal is to keep a very slightly acidic soil, because:

  • It improves the uptake of major plant nutrients.
  • It improves water penetration in your garden.
  • It provides a source of calcium and magnesium for your plants.
  • Moss prefers a less alkaline soil. We prefer less moss in our lawns.
a chart of the effects of soil ph on nutrient availabilityChart of the Effects of Soil pH on Nutrient Availability. The green area represents the optimum pH range for your lawn. Chart courtesy of

The reason to apply agricultural lime is to correct the unfavorably high levels of acidity in your soil. Strong acidic soils reduce plant growth – and we don’t want that! A simple way to know for sure, is to perform a soil test using a soil pH meter.

As the heat of summer gives way to the cooler, crisper days of fall, it is time to switch your gardening focus from watering and dead-heading to preparing your yard for fall and winter. Whether you are reseeding, fertilizing or redoing your lawn, fall is the best time of the year. Your lawn will respond better to all your efforts, especially in the months of September and early October.

grass kissed with dew

Time to Seed

Why is fall the best time to seed? In the fall, soil temperatures are warmer. They’ve had all summer to heat up. This along with our frequent rains helps the seeds germinate quickly. The faster the seed germinates and the lawn becomes more established, the less competition it has with weeds. The cool air temperatures also allow the young lawn to grow strong without the threat of heat stress.

a woman with a hand fertilizer spreader

Don’t Forget to Fertilize

You will want to fertilize your lawn twice this season, once in early September and once in mid-November. When you feed your lawn in the fall with a Fall and Winter Fertilizer, the nutrients are changed into carbohydrates which improve the root system in your lawn. By putting energy into the roots instead of promoting blade growth you are improving your lawn for next spring and summer. The expanded root system also allows the grass plants to send out new rhizomes and encourages deeper roots. Fall and Winter Fertilizers are formulated to feed your lawn without causing a lot of blade growth, so your lawn is completely focused on root growth and you don’t have to worry about mowing your lush lawn until next spring.

Air it out

Aeration is one simple thing that you can do for your lawn each year to help it grow healthy and lush. This of course comes after mowing, watering and fertilizing. Aeration has several benefits for your lawn. First, it takes compaction out of the soil. This allows for better water percolation and allows fertilizer to reach the root zone. The plugs that are left on the surface due to aeration also have a purpose: They allow microbes to decompose thatch. Thatch is the major cause of many ailments in your lawn. The soil from the plugs will dissolve into your turf and the microbes from the soil will start decomposing the thatch. To make your aerating easier, water your lawn a day or two before having it aerated. This will help you draw longer plugs. The deeper the aeration plug, the better.

a liquid weed killer being sprayed on lawn

Get it Under Control

Fall is a great time to control broadleaf weeds in your lawn. Broadleaf weeds like clover and dandelions are preparing themselves for winter in the fall months. They are in the same mode as your lawn, storing carbohydrates in their root system instead of growing above ground. If you don’t take care of them in the fall, come spring your weeds are going to be stronger than ever. There are many options for lawn weed killer. Weed killers work by causing the plant to grow beyond its ability to sustain that growth. For best results, try to spray for weeds when temperatures are in the mid-50’s or warmer. A couple of good suggestions for weed killers are Bayer Advanced All-In-One Weed Killer for Lawns or Ferti-lome’s Weed Free Zone.

Mow it Down

As the weather cools down in the fall, lower the height of your mower. Mowing the lawn shorter in the fall encourages rhizome development in the turf which will thicken the lawn and help choke out weeds. Begin in September and continue through October, gradually reducing the height of your lawn until you’re mowing to a height of approximately one inch. By slowly reducing the height, your lawn will not be stressed by the shorter mower height as the fall temperatures cool.

Over Seed it

If you have areas in your lawn that have thinned out over the summer, fall is the perfect time to take care of those less than stellar areas. Many things can cause your lawn to thin out, the most common being weed invasions and areas that don’t get enough sunlight. These areas can be fixed with over seeding. Over seeding is as simple as it sounds – spreading seed over your existing lawn. If weeds have caused your thin areas, make sure you kill and remove the weeds before over seeding. When over seeding, lightly sprinkle some fresh grass seed over the area and cover it with a thin layer of compost or peat moss. Be sure to use the appropriate seed for the sun exposure of the area you are repairing. Grass seed comes in sun, sun/shade, and shade mixes. If you are unsure about your sun exposure or have areas with different amounts of sun, use the sun/shade mix. It contains a mix of seed that will grow in both conditions. To keep your lawn looking uniform, it is a good idea to lightly over seed your whole lawn with whatever mix you choose. Over seeding should be done at a rate of 3.5 – 5 pounds of seed per 100 square feet. Don’t let your lawn get left behind this fall. Take the necessary steps now and you will be rewarded with a beautiful, green, weed-free lawn next spring!