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What You Need To Know About Black Spot Plant Disease


While you may think this fungus affects only roses, black spot plant disease doesn’t discriminate. With the right conditions, it will latch on to any plant with fleshy leaves and stems. Black spot fungus loves the wet, cool temperatures of spring.

The disease starts with tiny black spots on leaves. As time progresses, the spots develop a yellow ring and eventually take over the leaf until it dies.

Prevention tips

The first step to preventing black spot disease in your garden is to pay close attention and inspect your garden on a regular basis. The earlier you catch it, the brighter the future for any infected plants you might find.

Take preventive measures and keep your garden beautiful and lively. Spray an organic fungicide or neem oil early in the spring season before temperatures reach 60 degrees. For additional peace of mind, make sure your plants get plenty of suns and good air circulation. Avoid watering on cloudy days to cut down on excess moisture.

Black spot treatment options

If you notice an outbreak, dispose of or burn all affected leaves and stems immediately. When treated correctly, black spot fungus will rarely kill the entire host plant. Black spot fungus spores travel from leaf to leaf and plant to plant, both with the wind and thorough watering.

It’s important to treat the disease right from the start. Spray the affected area with fungicide or neem oil.

List of Perennial Flowers


I have a long list of perennial flowers that I love! I most definitely prefer perennial plants to annuals, even though the flower display isn’t QUITE as impressive. Perennials are planted once, and come back year after year, whereas annual flowers must be planted…you guessed it…annually!

Perennials tend to double in size with each passing year, and may need to be divided periodically to prevent over-crowding and to revitalize tired plants. This is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned, since that means that you have a never ending supply of plants to relocate throughout your yard!

The perennial flowers available to you are extensive, and I won’t be able to cover them all here. I will hit the highlights for popular perennials in the mid-west, and will provide you with information to help you decide which plants are right for you.

When deciding on your perennials, the key is to create a design for the area that you wish to focus on, taking into consideration the height, shape, color, and texture of the plants that you’d like to include. Be sure to educate yourself about bloom time and color. It will be important to have flowers blooming on different plants throughout the season, so that when one plant is dying back, another one is coming into full bloom. Carefully select colors that will compliment each other when they are in full bloom.

Climbing Vines

Climbing Vines

Climbing vines such as clematis, fill up empty spaces quite nicely, particularly when placed in full sun. A friend of mine has a clematis vine just like this one, along the east side of her home, and it is in full glory by mid-summer. This vine grows well with little maintenance once it’s established, and can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions. Clematis is definitely one of the easier flowers to grow in the yard, and is a good choice for beginners and pros alike.

Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental Grasses

How I love these! I have Zebra Ornamental Grasses planted in my garden design, and have also worked with fountain grass, blue fescue, and others. Grasses are typically very low maintenance and make a nice balance amount other perennials, annuals and bushes in a garden design. Be sure to keep the grasses up throughout the winter, and wait to cut them back until spring. Perennial ornamental grasses are known for providing beautiful winter interest in the garden…plums are often full and foliage has turned color during the fall. Plant grasses in clusters to maximize their impact.



Daylilies are a favorite in many gardens throughout the Midwest. I have a row of Stella Doro daylilies planted along with the garage, but mass plantings of daylilies can sometimes be an “over-utilized” design. Try some of the more unique daylilies with varying heights and colors, and plant them as specimen plants in the garden among your other perennials. These perennials should be dead headed on a regular basis to encourage repeat blooms. Pull the entire flower stalk out once it has bloomed, and get rid of any brown foliage. While dead-heading isn’t a necessary step, it will help keep these plants looking their best.

Lamb’s Ears

If you’ve not had experience with lamb’s ears, you’ll quickly figure out how they got their name…soft, fuzzy foliage! These have got to be one of the hardiest perennials I’ve ever seen! This plant grows relatively low to the ground – about 6 inches tall – but has tall flower stalks that shoot up throughout the summer. The stalks can be over 2 feet tall.

Lamb's Ears

This perennial gets mixed reviews from me and from others. The foliage is somewhat interesting, but the flower shoots make the plant look a bit sloppy in my opinion. It can also spread fairly easily throughout an area, which may or may not be a good thing. I’ve used lamb’s ears for areas in the yard where literally no other plant will grow well. The first time I planted them, it was in very dry, gravely soil next to my driveway. And….I’m ashamed to admit….I drove over them numerous times. Oops! But they survived regardless, and kept coming back year after year. I simply cut down the flower stalks when they would appear, and it functioned as a nice ground cover. The foliage is interesting, and filled up a space where most other plants would have quickly perished.

Black-Eyed Susan

There are several different cultivars of black-eyed susan, and Goldstrum is one that should be avoided! Unfortunately, Goldstrum is HIGHLY susceptible to a fungal disease called Botrytis. Botrytis affects the foliage and the flowers of the plant, and can spread relatively quickly across an entire planting.

Black-Eyed Susan

It cannot be cured, and the entire planting will need to be removed. In addition, Botrytis can be spread to other flowers via pollinators. A safer bet is to purchase a different variety of black-eyed susan other than Goldstrum. Black-eyed susan is a dependable perennial with long-lasting blooms. Plants can tolerate a variety of soil conditions and is relatively low maintenance. Plants grow to be about 2-3 feet tall and produce yellow daisies with brown centers. Due to their spreading habits, they do a fairly good job of keeping weeds at bay. Plants will need to be divided every couple of years to maintain their healthy appearance.

Balloon Flowers

These perennials are just so pretty to me! As they establish themselves, they can look so graceful in groupings. I ordered blue and white Balloon Flowers and I just love the way they look in my garden! You may want to consider providing support for them as they grow to over 3 feet tall. While their stems are sturdy, they tend to lop over a bit due to their weight.


Delphiniums are another beautiful, graceful perennial that exhibits some of the most wonderful shades of blue and pink. Unfortunately, I have not been terribly successful with these plants. They tend to be a little more delicate than the others I work with. They like the right amount of sun, nutrient rich, well-drained soil, and the right amount of water. If you go with delphinium, be sure to choose the right location and you will not be disappointed! Depending on the variety you select, they range in height from about 18” to over 3 feet.


How do you like my Nikko Blue Hydrangea?? No, your eyes don’t deceive you, and the picture isn’t bad…the flowers are in fact…pink. The flowers of this plant are affected by the acidity/alkalinity of the soil.


Many people choose to increase or decrease the acidity of the soil in order to produce the flower color of their choice, but I find that to be a little too high maintenance for me, so I enjoy the color that the plants produce naturally in my yard.

If you’re interested in learning more about this phenomenon, or have a desire to change the color of your hydrangea, check out the information at Growing Blue Hydrangeas.

Peony Bushes

Peony bushes come in all different colors, and grow to be about 3 feet tall, and 2 to 3 feet wide. These plants need full sun to perform at their best, however I have been able to grow them in partial shade. The peony makes my list of perennial flowers because of how amazingly reliable and hardy these bushes are once they’re established.

Peony Bushes

On an interesting side note, however…they do NOT transplant well. (Trust me, I’ve tried!) I had one bush growing next to my house with no sunlight and very little water. That trouper survived for years until I decided that it was time to transplant it to a healthy, sunny spot in my garden. That was the beginning of the end for that sad plant. 🙁

Flowers bloom in early spring and plants grow into temporary bushes, dying back at the end of the season every year. Flowers are good for cut arrangements, however be sure to cut no more than 1/3 of the flowers off every year, or flower production will suffer in subsequent years.


Consider establishing a basic herb garden in your own yard. Many herbs are perennials, such as this oregano plant I’ve had for years. They make interesting foliage and contribute to the garden design…in addition to being just plain old delicious!


You can’t beat fresh herbs for cooking, and you’ll be delighted to find out how many perennial herbs return, and quickly spread, each year! Try oregano, chive, Echinacea, lavender, sage and mint. Mint is one of my favorites for teas and drinks, but it takes over a garden area if you let it! For that reason, be careful where you establish your herb garden, as it may spread more than you want it to.

How to Make Vermicompost – Guide for Beginners


Vermicompost is WORM compost!


Ah, yes……this true that worm compost is not for the faint of heart….or the queasy of stomach!

This method of composting produces the most beneficial compost around, and it can be added to both indoor and outdoor plants.

Is it right for you, and will it be part of your backyard landscaping adventure?

Let’s talk about what’s involved, and you can be the judge of that…

How does this vermicompost process actually work?

Well, the worms, which must be ‘Red Wigglers’ are a specifically selected variety designed to produce the highest quality ‘dung’ imaginable!

They are not your average garden variety worms that are available in the soil.

Nope! They are specific worms that are designed to munch away on certain types of kitchen scraps.

Where and how does one produce vermicompost?

Well, a composting bin that can be purchased, or made from scratch is made specifically to hold the worm composters.

As approved kitchen scraps are added to their bin…they munch to completion….expel the brown gold…and prepare themselves for the next helping.

So, imagine a bin of worms ready to go to work for you. Think for a moment if you will, where one of these bins might need to be housed? Obviously they can’t get too cold….or they’ll die….and they can’t get too hot….or they’ll die.

As Goldilocks once said, they need to be “just right”!

Now where in the world, would there be a good location, to keep those worms not too hot and not too cold?

Those little buggers need to be kept nice and comfy in your home with you!

Under the kitchen sink? In the basement? It doesn’t really matter as long as it’s a moderately tempered environment – approximately 55-75 degrees.

Some will say that they can be kept in the garage, or outside if the temperature is right, however this can be problematic. If they’re kept outside, there is a possibility that they can get too hot, cold, or too wet from the rain.

If they’re in your garage, same problem minus the too wet part. And if you’re going to go through the trouble of doing this, you might want to keep your worms as safe from the elements as possible.

The worms will have to be Red Wigglers. Do not try to use earthworms as they will not produce the results that you’re looking for. Best to leave those buggers out in the yard!

Red Wigglers can be purchased from a local fishing supplies store, or on the internet. Believe it or not, they do survive the shipping process!

I have ordered my Red Wigglers from what seems to be a reputable supplier, and have just finished adding them to their new home.

Let’s talk about how to make a compost bin so you can decide whether you’d like to build one yourself, or get one pre-made:

Easy to make a bin for vermicompost:

There’s a lot of info on the web these days about vermicomposting and fancy bins to go along with it, but you probably already have much of what you need on hand at your house.

Well, except for the worms…


  • 1 8-10 gallon Rubbermaid container with lid
  • shredded newspaper
  • piece of cardboard that is the same size as the opening to the container
  • 2 mesh screens (window screens) that are a couple of inches longer and wider than the Rubbermaid container with holes big enough for small worms to crawl through (1/8 of an inch)
  • several rocks/bricks/wood pieces, or something to elevate the worms off of the bottom of the container
  • kitchen scraps – coffee grounds, vegetable and fruits scraps, egg shells, etc. NO CITRUS! The worms don’t like citrus.

Vermi Compost Bin – Step 1

First you will want to drill holes all the way around the top of the Rubbermaid container. The worms need to breathe! 🙂

Make sure that the holes are large enough – about 1/2 inch in diameter, and that they are drilled ALL THE WAY around the container.

If you are using 2 bins (one sits inside the other) you can also drill holes on the bottom of this container. I’m only using one bin, so I won’t do that step.


Vermi Compost Bin – Step 2

Next you’ll want to set the rocks/bricks/or wood in the bottom of the container.

This is done to keep the worms elevated from any ‘worm tea’ that falls to the bottom of the bin. (This tea is valuable, by the way, and can be poured on your garden plants!)

If the worms sit in any standing liquid, or are too wet, they could die. You want to have a moist environment, but not a soggy one.


Vermi Compost Bin – Step 3

Then you’ll want to lay one of the mesh screens on top of the wood, folding in the sides just a bit.

This mesh screen will hold the worms and their food nicely.


Vermi Compost Bin – Step 4

Time to load your bin with worms and food!

First, put down a layer of shredded newspaper. This serves as bedding for the worms, and they will actually eat through these items. The newspaper strips should be about 1 inch thick.

Make sure that the newspaper you’re adding to the bin is black and white. Do not use any advertisements or parts of the paper that are ‘shiny’. Some say it’s ok to use the non-shiny parts of the paper that have color ink, but I prefer to stick with the black and white.


Next you’ll add a layer of kitchen scraps. I added about one gallon bucket of coffee grounds with filters, strawberries, old cilantro, onions, potato peelings, and carrot peelings.


Add your worms directly on top of that.

My worms came in a gallon sized ziploc baggie with small holes in it. The worms had some soil to crawl around in, but nothing else in the bag. I added everything evenly on top of the scraps.

If you have some good potting soil around, you can add that too. I don’t know that garden soil is prohibited, but I wouldn’t add it…there could be pathogens or diseases in the soil that you’re unaware of, and it’s best to keep things a bit ‘cleaner’ in the worm bin.

Add no more than a cup or two of soil.


Then on top of the worms, add ANOTHER layer of shredded newspaper. Again, this serves as bedding for the worms which they will eat through.

Then sprinkle the entire pile with water. The worms want to be kept moist, but not soggy. The newspaper shreds help with this as they will retain moisture better than the other material in the bin.


Vermi Compost Bin – Step 5

The final layer is a thick piece of cardboard that has been moistened sufficiently.

This will not only serve to keep the moisture in the pile, but it will also serve to keep the fruit flies away.

Or so I’m told….we’ll see how that one works out. I’ll keep you updated for sure!


So what’s the deal with the second piece of mesh???

Once the worms have eaten through most of the scraps and the newspaper in their bed, they’ll be ready for more, and you’ll want to collect all that brown gold they’ve created!

This is where the 2nd mesh screen comes into play.

Remove the piece of cardboard, and lay the next mesh piece on top of the already composted worm compost.

Make sure that this second screen, once loaded, lays ON TOP OF and TOUCHES the contents in the lower screen!

This is an important step because you are going to get the worms to MIGRATE UP to the second screen.

Complete the same process that you did for the first screen, adding layers of kitchen scraps and newspaper, wetting everything down. Although this time I’d make the first layer of newspaper very light so that the worms are ‘lured’ upwards by the kitchen scraps.

Because the worms have finished going through the first load of kitchen scraps, they will be hungry and looking for more. Putting a second layer on top of the old layer allows them to crawl up through the mesh to their new feeding ground.

Eventually, they will all (or most of them) will migrate up, and you’ll be able to lift the top layer off, and pick up the bottom layer of finished compost.

This will save you from separating the worms from the finished compost, and will hopefully decrease the amount of mess you have to deal with.

Then put the new screen back on the bottom of the bin, and use your finished compost as you’d like!

The finished compost is rich in nutrients, and is a super ingredient for plants!

Now that you know what’s involved in building your own bin, you may find that buying one already made is a better option for you.

I completely understand!

Worm Factory

This is the one that they have at the Horticulture Club at my college!

This fancy gadget works really well, and does encourage the upward migration that you’re going for with the bin and mesh screens. There is also a spigot to collect all that precious worm tea easily and effortlessly!

If you get this or something similar, the only extra purchase you should have to make is for the Red Wigglers.

Redworms can be purchased from a local fishing supplies store, or online, and will reportedly stay in the box as long as they are fed.

My advice to you? Don’t let those babies go hungry? 🙂

I have purchased my worms from Wiser Worm Farm. (This site does not receive any commission for referrals to the Wiser Worm Farm.)

You’ll have to see how long it takes for your worms to go through their food. Initially, the process will be a bit slower as the worms have not yet multiplied, and are doing the best they can.

Check your bin at least every couple of days to make sure it’s moist enough and has enough food. The first load of compost will take a couple of months to complete.

Once it’s done, you can add the vermicompost to house plants or in the garden. Add about 1/2 to 1 cup of worm compost around the base of the plant, and work lightly into the top of the soil.

Enjoy the journey with your new gardening companions!

Update on my vermicompost adventure!

Well, my little red wiggler friends and I have encountered our first problem….there is soft, white, fluffy mold growing in the bin.


See it?

That means that there’s not enough air flow, and things have gotten TOO moist.

So, I’ve moved the bin out to the garage (temperatures are low, but it’s ok in there) and drilled more holes around the center of the bin and along the bottom.

I then placed the container on top of the lid of another container, so the air flow could be at a premium.

I really didn’t want to have this extra ‘bottom’ bin, or tray, but there was no option with the overly moist environment.


Since I’ve done this the worms are much happier, and they are vermicomposting at a fast rate! They are getting fatter by the day!

I’ve looked through some of the spoils with the worms, and I’m noticing that the bigger chunks of fruits and veggies are not getting eaten as fast, while the smaller items are disappearing steadily.

They are particularly found on coffee grounds!

Also, the newspaper that I have laid on top of them and the compost is left untouched, while the newspaper underneath seems to be getting eaten.

What I can surmise from this is, mix in a few shreds of newspaper along with your compost and feed to the worms. Also, keep the scraps as soft as possible to quicken the digestion process.

I’ll go in again in a week or two to see their progress!

To be continued…..

Organic Weed Control: Some Useful Tips You Can Consider


Utilizing organic weed control methods can be challenging when trying to rid your yard of these invasive critters.

Weeds must be dealt with in your vegetable garden, your perennial garden, your annual garden, your lawn, your patio, in between cracks in the driveway and growing up through the cracks and crevices in your deck. They like the sun, they like the shade, they grow in dry soil, they grow in moist soil, they are an ongoing, never-ending issue!

What is a weed and what is a precious plant?

Just pull on it! If it comes out of the ground easily, rest assured it was a precious plant! 😉

Of course, every area comes with its own unique set of opportunities and challenges. There are also your own personal feelings and preferences that you have to grapple with as you decide how to proceed.

Personally, I would like to get myself to a point of gardening and landscaping in a completely organic way, including organic weed control. While for the most part, I think I have been successful, controlling weeds without herbicides can be a challenge. (Unless you have an exorbitant amount of time to pull them by hand, of course, which I don’t.)

What is a weed and what is a precious plant?

My most favorite form of keeping these nasty little suckers at bay is using a biodegradable landscaping fabric such as newspaper, and then layering it with 4-6 inches of organic mulch. This is a preventative form of organic weed control which is very effective!

I’ve had lots of success controlling weeds in many areas of my yard using this preventative measure to eliminate the need for pesticides.

Ground Covers

Utilizing plants that function as ground covers is another method of organic weed control that is extremely effective. Ground covers are those plants that do not grow very tall, and tend to “hug” the ground, forming thick, dense mats that prevent any weed growth from happening.

Ground covers that I have found effective are Blue Rug Juniper, Lamb’s Ears, and Day Lilies. Be careful with the ground cover that you select as some are quite invasive. I have Lamb’s Ears planted next to the road at the end of my driveway.

They are one of the most resilient plants I’ve seen!

I’ve driven over them numerous times, cut them off with a lawnmower, and planted them in the most awful, gravel-filled soil I’ve seen, and they continue to thrive. They are somewhat invasive, however, and have tried to sprout up in the surrounding lawn.

Nice healthy ground covers cover an area very well which makes yearly maintenance a breeze!

Use a Fertilizer

Truly, the key to organic weed control in any yard is preventative maintenance. Once weeds are out of control, it often takes extra measures to get rid of them which may involve pesticides.

For organic weed control in your lawn, use a fertilizer such as Milorganite. It can be located near the lawn seed and fertilizer. However if you have trouble finding it, store employees should be able to assist you by simply asking for it by name.

This product is safe to use around children and dogs, and is gentle on the lawn. Plants will take in only the nutrients that are needed at the time. This product will help encourage the healthy growth of turf and other plants in the yard, which will help keep the bad stuff at bay.

More information on Milorganite can be obtained from the official Milorganite website if you’d like all the juicy details about this great product.

Vegetation Killer

Maintaining a healthy lawn will keep weeds at bay as the lawn functions as the ultimate ground cover. Where a healthy lawn grows, weeds cannot take hold!

When it comes to unwanted growth between pavers in your patio, or cracks in the cement, organic weed control can be challenging. I have used total vegetation killer, which wipes out any vegetation that it touches for up to a period of one year. I utilized the product early in the season, and all plant growth between the stone was prevented for a full year.

While the product did achieve the desired result, I can’t say that I felt good about using such a toxic product. I do have a dog and had to be extremely cautious to prevent her from walking in the area for a period of time. Also, now that I have two beautiful nieces, I would not use anything this toxic again.

If you do use this product, and end up using a watering can to spread the liquid, do not use that same watering can for any valuable plants again. Traces of the chemicals can remain in the container even once it is rinsed out and could cause damage or destruction to other plants. Such a toxic product can be dangerous to surround plants depending on the root system. If you were to pour this product into the ground, and it had contact with the root of a precious plant, tree or bush, the plant would die.

Some Type of Light Mulch

To maintain organic weed control in cracks and crevices, you’ll need to stay on top of your weeds, pulling them as they emerge. When it comes to a patio made with landscaping stone or pavers, a low growing plant such as moss can be planted between the crevices. The growth of the moss will prevent any weeds from growing as with other ground covers already discussed.

Organic weed control in the garden can be a little tricky due to the fact that you probably won’t be using a very heavy layer of mulch, if you use any at all.

However, the garden is one area that you would DEFINITELY want to employ organic weed control techniques to preserve the integrity of your fruits and vegetables.

I would recommend putting down some type of light mulch such as chopped up leaves or grass to provide a walking surface amongst the plants, and to prevent weeds from growing within the rows.

To help you control weeds in the garden, you’ll probably need one of the following garden tools: a garden hoe to hack away the young weeds on a regular basis, or a device such as the Garden weasel to turn over the soil as new growth emerges.

It is possible to turn weeds into the soil because it adds organic matter to the soil, thus improving the overall condition of the soil. As long as you get rid of weeds and seeds before they grow too big, the process should be relatively painless.

I hope this gives you some helpful information on organic weed control in your own yard.

Mums Flowers: Your Fall Planting Guide


When summer fades and fall arrives, it can be hard not to mourn the loss of daylight and brightly colored blooms. Have no fear, however, because your garden can flourish in color well after August comes to a close. Fall decorating with mums, or chrysanthemums, provides endless beauty as one season changes to the next.

Mums, which are bright and versatile, are a fall gardening favorite. With hundreds of varieties that tend to thrive in cooler temperatures, you can create beautiful harvest presentations. Native to Asia and northeastern Europe, mums give you the option to choose from a number of various colors, shapes and bloom times. Mums also prosper in containers, so you can easily use them to decorate indoors. They look great in clay pots or lined up in a window box. They add texture to any garden or indoor space, and they provide an easy and inexpensive pop of color.

You can find mums at almost any garden store or center. Although mums are best when planted in the spring, these stores often sell them year-round. From vibrant purples and yellows to blazing oranges, reds and pinks, mums promise new life anywhere you choose to plant them.

Florist and Hardy Mums

Florist and Hardy Mums

There are two different types of mum plants that stem from the same original parent. Florist, or cutting mums, have larger flowers and form a variety of bloom shapes. These types of mums grow only in greenhouses and are mainly indoor plants. Florist mums are often used in the short-term, as they lack underground stolons, which are what a plant uses to survive in cold temperatures. You can plant a florist mum, but it will not survive the winter no matter how much protection it receives.

Hardy mums, or garden mums, however, produce much stronger root systems, allowing them to withstand colder temperatures. Hardy mums are usually perennials that are much tougher than the florist variety.

Caring for Mums

Mums can be planted as both annuals and perennials. Mums are typically inexpensive, so you won’t feel guilty planting them as annuals, since planting in the fall reduces their ability to survive a cold winter. If your plan is to keep them as perennials, it’s best to plant in the spring to give the roots more time to establish themselves. These roots are fragile and easily damaged by the winter’s ongoing cycle of freezing and thawing.

Mum plants require a little bit of maintenance if you plan to keep them past the winter. To help with the process, cut the plants back to the ground after the first hard frost. Then, apply a thick layer of mulch to protect the plant roots. After the last hard frost, remove the mulch and wait for new mum blossoms to appear.

Here are some more mum-care best practices:

  • Mums need plenty of sun, so choose a spot that gets at least six hours of sunlight per day.
  • Mums like well-drained soil and have shallow roots. Plant them at a depth of 8 to 12 inches, and be careful when spreading the roots.
  • Your soil should always be moist, but never damp.
  • Monitor your mums and remove faded blooms to encourage more buds to open. This means you’ll have blooms deeper into the season.
  • New mum plants need to be watered thoroughly a few times a week. Once established, stick to one inch of water every week.
  • Fall annual mums don’t need fertilizer. If you plan to have them last through the winter, though, they’ll need a high-phosphorus fertilizer to encourage root health and growth.
  • Mums that grow as perennials should be divided every few years. When new growth springs up after the last hard frost, dig up the entire plant and separate pieces from the center using a sharp blade. Replant the outer portions and discard the original center of the plant.
  • Aphids and spiders like to hang out around mum plants, but they aren’t likely to cause any damage or harm.

Pinching Back Your Mums

Mums begin to sprout in the spring and grow in a bush-like shape. As a result, a mum plant left un-pruned often develops a gaping hole in the center as the weight of the flower blossoms pulls the individual stems outward. To prevent this from happening, it’s important to pinch back your mums starting in early spring and continuing throughout the growing season, beginning once the plant is about five inches tall.

To pinch back your mums, place your index finger and thumb about two inches from the base of the stem and just above a leaf. Pluck the stem just above the leaf. Continue to pluck throughout the plant and repeat this process once the plant reaches about five inches in height again.

Tips for Decorating with Mums

  • Combining colors: Create classic fall color combinations like red, gold, and orange, and then pair with a creamy white. These fire-hued plants perfectly pop against the background of a neutral front porch.
  • Intricate pots: Pair mums with other plants for a striking and unexpected potted plant look. Bright purple mums fit nicely alongside green grasses, flowering kale or ornamental cabbage.
  • Add height: Nearly everyone keeps their mums close to the ground. Use a plant stand to bring your mums closer to eye level so they really stand out for your visitors.
  • Mixed materials: Get creative with the rest of your fall décor when you add tiny pumpkins or gourds to accent the fall colors in your potted mums. The orange and yellows produced by the mini gourds look especially appealing against bright purple blossoms.
  • Choose dark colors: The blooms on darker-colored mums tend to last longer than lighter-hued blooms. Additionally, spent flowers are less noticeable so your plant appears lively for a few more weeks before winter. Mums with double blossoms will also appear healthier than those with single blossoms.
  • Clear the clutter: If you plan to decorate your front porch for fall with mums, make sure it’s free of summer clutter and décor. Stray pots, flags and wreaths can all be stored for next year.
  • Use decorative planters: Mums can be repotted into almost anything, and they look great in Coco Planters. You can also grab an eye-catching planter to replant your mums into a more attractive and eye-catching home.
  • Unlikely containers: An old wheelbarrow makes the perfect setting for an overflow of mums and greenery. Place purple mums in the middle and surround them with sprouts of flowering kale to create an interesting focal point in your front yard.
  • Coordinate with falling leaves: If there’s a big tree in your yard that turns bright red each year, add harmony to your fall landscaping with a few pots of exuberant red-hued mums. On the other hand, if your yard has more evergreens, try accenting them with pink, lavender or white mums.

Popular Varieties of Mums

  • Spider mums feature long, dangly petals, like the legs of a spider.
  • Quill mums have quilled petals with hooks or coils on the ends.
  • Button mums have smaller blossoms with many petals and tend to form tiny, tight bouquets with several stems.
  • Cushion mums grow shorter and usually form a mound or cushion of blossoms.
  • Vicki mums are decorative, rich orange blooms with a dark orange center.
  • Anemone mums have one or more rows of petals with a raised center of disk-shaped florets. These blooms are often darker in color.

Mums in Your Yard

How does your yard look? Send us a photo of your mums. Do you have any questions about the care of mums? Leave us a comment below.

A Guide To Using Essential Oils In The Garden


For years, consumers never questioned the ingredients in the products they bought each year. That’s all changed now. As more people have become aware of the potentially dangerous chemicals in foods, beauty supplies, and lawn care products, consumers have turned to natural, safer alternatives. One such alternative currently gaining popularity is essential oils.

Essential oils are all the rage right now, and it’s not hard to understand why. One small bottle of rose or lavender essential oil can be used for a variety of purposes – from lowering stress to replacing perfumes with harmful ingredients. Essential oils are most often used as natural solutions for beauty and health. What some people don’t know is that these powerful oils can be used in the garden as well.

If you prefer using only natural and organic products in the garden, consider essential oils as a way to help your plants grow. This helpful guide explains what essential oils are, how they can be used in the garden and the best way to apply oils to your plants. Let’s dive in.

What are essential oils?

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are highly concentrated liquids distilled from the stems, leaves, and roots of plants. They’re called “essential,” because these oils contain the true essence of the plant.

There’s a long list of essential oils you can buy today, including peppermint, rosemary, lemongrass, and basil. Because they are a plant-derived oil, you can feel good knowing exactly where the liquid came from and that it contains no synthetic ingredients.

How can I use essential oils in the garden?

Essential oils are a popular garden solution because they can be used to prevent and solve a variety of plant issues. Here are just a handful of ways to reap the benefits of essential oils in your garden this growing season.

1. Use essential oils as an insect repellent:

To keep your garden both pest- and chemical-free, use essential oils like peppermint and clove oil to repel insects. These strong fragrances keep bothersome pests away and help your plants continue to thrive. Try mixing rosemary, peppermint, and clove oils to create a more effective repellent.

2. Discourage pets and vermin:

Sometimes pests aren’t the problem — it’s your pets that are damaging your crop. Fortunately, the same oils you can use to repel insects also work well to discourage pets and vermin, too. Peppermint, for example, keeps small animals like mice and squirrels from eating your plants. If you have cats, use rosemary to discourage them from eating leaves. Cats dislike the smell of rosemary, and will assume your plants taste bad because of their unappetizing smell. Dogs, on the other hand, hate the smell of pepper; apply any kind of pepper oil to your plants to prevent your pups from digging into your plants.

3. Treat fungus:

Garden fungus causes the majority of plant diseases, and it easily spreads when left untreated. Treat fungus to reduce the risk of disease, and continue to use only natural solutions with essential oils. Tea tree oil is extremely effective for preventing and killing fungus. Other oils that you can try include neem oil (which only works to treat infections), citronella oil, rosemary, and peppermint.

4. Attract pollinators:

You can use essential oils strategically to repel the pests you don’t want near your garden, as well as attract the animals you do want. Sweet fragrances like orange blossom, lavender, and sage can be used to draw in both bees and butterflies, which will then pollinate your garden and help it grow.

5. Create a calm environment to enhance your gardening experience:

Essential oils are used in aromatherapy to help people feel less stressed and more at ease. Bring aromatherapy into the garden by choosing essential oils that deter insects, prevent diseases, and also smell amazing to you.

Maybe you like the soothing smell of lavender or the energizing scent of peppermint; consider which fragrances are most appealing to you when choosing oils to use in the garden. You can even create a nook in the garden, complete with outdoor furniture, to relax when you’re ready to unwind.

6. Treat gardening ailments, such as sore muscles or bug bites:

You find gardening relaxing and fun, but sometimes spending the afternoon planting takes a toll on your body. Use essential oils to treat a variety of ailments and feel better.

Salve blends, which often have a mixture of different healing oils, are great to use on sore muscles. Lavender, which you’ve already seen mentioned numerous times above, again works well to soothe the skin.

How do I apply the oil to plants?

Pure essential oils are very powerful, so it’s important to watch how much oil you’re using and to dilute the oil by mixing it with water. The Paleo Mama explains exactly how much oil to mix with water (it depends on the oil type and what you’re using the mixture for).

Oftentimes you need just a few drops of oil to get results. After making your oil and water solution, be sure to keep shaking the spray bottle, as essential oils tend not to mix well with water.

Along with the spray-bottle method, you can incorporate essential oils into your garden by applying a couple of drops of oil onto cloth strips to hang between plants. This is a good method to try if fruit and veggies are starting to show and you don’t want to spray the crop with oil.

Remember to buy organic

Essential oils are derived from plants, which means they can be contaminated by harmful pesticides if not labeled as being “organic.” When browsing oils to try at your local health store, be sure to look closely at the label and only buy oils distilled from organically grown plants.

The powers of essential oils are still being discovered, but we’ve learned enough about these incredibly potent liquids to know that they can be an effective gardening solution. Many people find these plant-derived liquids helpful in the home as well.

How to Make a Compost: A Step by Step Guide


Before we discuss HOW to compost, let’s talk about exactly what this stuff is and why we need it!

What is Compost

“Compost is a rich and crumbly blend of partially decomposed organic material that does wonderful things for your garden.”

What exactly is this “rich and crumbly blend of partially decomposed organic material” you ask?

Well, virtually anything that is produced in nature, and therefore can be returned to nature…pine needles, leaves, sticks and twigs, raw fruits and vegetables, eggshells, and coffee grounds to name a few. When all of this aforementioned “stuff” breaks down and decomposes, we call it compost.

Why Would We Want it in Our Garden?

All garden soil needs to be improved, and all gardeners should be concerned about, and take steps toward, improving the condition of their garden soil.

Adding compost to your soil on a regular basis...and by “regular” I mean at least on an annual basis…adds texture to the soil, increases its water holding capacity and increases the nutrients that are present in the soil, making it optimal for healthy plant growth. Adding compost to your garden’s soil will help turn that soil into a light, fluffy, easily manipulated growing medium for young plants.

finished compost

AND, in contrast to fertilizer, you can never add too much compost to the soil. Because compost is natural and “organic” plants take in ONLY the nutrients they need at the time they need it.

So your compost can be JAM-PACKED with nutrients, and it will not harm your plants by over fertilizing them. Man-made fertilizer, on the other hand, can be added in excessive quantities and can do real damage to your plants if you’re not careful.

The natural way is ALWAYS the better way, and compost is a natural way!

When learning how to compost, there are 4 key ingredients you need to be familiar with:


This is the dry, or “brown” material you add to the pile, such as dry leaves, dry grass clippings, shredded mulch, straw, sticks, sawdust, pine needles and shredded paper (only black and white newspaper or plain cardboard should be used). Keeping extra peat moss near your compost pile is a handy way to add some brown material after placing kitchen scraps or fresh lawn clippings onto the pile.


This is the wet, or “green” material you add to the pile, such as fresh grass clippings, plant cuttings, and kitchen scraps such as coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, eggshells and any raw fruits and vegetables such as celery, carrots, peppers, apples, papayas, avocados, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, potatoes, etc.


The correct amount of moisture in composting is critical to how quickly the decomposing process will take place. The compost pile should be moist, but not wet; close to the consistency of a wrung-out sponge is a good barometer. If the correct amount of carbon and nitrogen are present in the pile, there will usually be no need to add additional water.


The microorganisms in the compost pile must have enough air in order to do their work effectively. A compost pile should be turned regularly to maintain appropriate levels of oxygen, or should be constructed in such a way so as to allow the pile to “breathe.” Compost bins should be built to be no larger than 3 feet cubed, and should have sides that allow air in.

To get oxygen to the center of the compost pile, the pile will either need to be turned regularly, or have air pockets in the center. Some gardeners insert aerators into their compost piles, such as PVC pipes with intermittent holes drilled throughout, however an easier way to accomplish this is by laying sticks down in a criss cross fashion on the bottom of the pile. This will give the pile enough oxygen to accomplish the composting task, and the sticks will eventually decompose themselves.

What’s the recipe for how to compost?

You know there must be a specific recipe for producing compost, right? I mean if you’ve done ANY googling about this subject you will have no doubt stumbled upon all types of specifics as to how to create the best and brownest compost ever!

Well, let’s break the ‘how to compost’ journey down just a bit, with a big ‘ole BUT preceding it…and that BUT is…

Don’t let this information scare you away from your composting journey! When I first started learning how to compost, some of the educational material made it seem like if I didn’t have the exact percentage of ingredients required, my compost pile would be a flat out failure.

It just ain’t so!

Compost happens naturally in nature all the time, so you really can’t mess it up too bad (even if you mess it up). Do your best to follow some general guidelines, and make it work for you! Some composting is better than none!

What you will basically need to achieve is a ratio of brown (carbon-rich) to green (nitrogen-rich) material, at a rate of about 4 to 1.

Meaning, you need a whole lot of brown material for a little green material…basically.

I try and use about 3 or 4 times as much brown material as green material and find that my compost pile usually turns out just fine.

So you’ve got your brown material and you’ve got your green material…

Now What?

Well, there are a couple of options…

  1. You can layer this stuff in an open pile and let it decompose over time (no intervention from you except to construct the pile initially).
  2. OR you can build a contained area such as this one and then decide if you’re going to let it be or turn it regularly (turning it regularly produces compost faster, and keeping it contained is usually preferable in a residential yard).
  3. OR you can use a handy dandy compost tumbler of your choice and produce compost at a wicked fast rate (although the stuff you produce won’t be quite as beautiful as the other methods of production).
  4. AND you can always add a few tricks up your sleeve to make things even easier for you! (Intrigued, aren’t you?? ;).

While it’s true that you will produce compost even if you do virtually nothing to the material you’ve already added to your pile, you probably want to produce it in a shorter amount of time than nature would.

You want to give Mother Nature the proverbial “helping hand” if you will…

What will happen in your compost pile is that the material that’s at the center of the pile will start to decompose, and in doing so, will produce heat.

To help the outer layers of the pile decompose, you’ll have to “turn” your pile about once every week to move the outer material to the inner core where the majority of the composting work is happening.

If there’s too much brown material in your pile, it will be relatively inactive (i.e. no heat), and composting will take a very long time to occur.

If there’s too much green material or the pile gets too much water (for example during a rainy spring), the pile will be thick and heavy, and may start to smell.

Some people add a tarp to their pile to avoid it getting too wet.

As you learn how to compost, you’ll discover that the speed at which you produce compost is directly dependent on the amount of effort you exert in the process.

Do nothing, and it’ll take a year or more to get your garden waste to turn into good, useable compost. Turn it regularly, and you could have some great compost in as little as a few weeks!

Composting in a small yard:

  • Are you afraid to learn how to compost because you think it can’t be done in a small yard? Or…
  • Do you frown on the idea of standing in a pile of decomposing material with a pitchfork on a hot sunny day, lifting and turning it in order to get composting action underway? Or…
  • Do you think the idea of a huge decomposing pile of what is essentially…garbage…sitting in your residential back yard is somewhat unappealing?

Then this article is a MUST read for you! There are several ways that you can produce compost quite discretely AND in a small residential backyard.

Tips for Maintaining your Fall Flowers


Most people see the fall as a time to clean up flowerbeds and prepare for winter. That may be true, but it can also be an opportunity to add and renew the color to your outdoor décor.

With the right plant selection, you can have a second influx of color around your home just as the leaves on most of your trees start to change color! Consult the Avant Garden Décor fall flower container gardening guide for some great ideas on fall flowers for your coco baskets, flower pots, and flower boxes.

More Tips for Fall Flowers

Fall Flowers

Maintaining your fall flowers may seem tricky, but here are a few tips to get the most from your late-season beauties:

  • Try deadheading flowers to prolong the fall blooming period.
  • If you have a plant designated as tropical, be patient with it. The plant may require more time to mature and bloom if you aren’t in the ideal plant hardiness zone.
  • Water plants sparingly through the early fall. When the leaves on your trees drop, this is a signal to give your annuals, shrubs, and remaining plants one more deep watering before winter. After that, allow these plants to go dormant.
  • Looking for even more late-season ideas? Some perennials that reach their peak late in the year include ligularia, snakeroot, anise hyssop, purple coneflower, and rudbeckias. Some of the best long-blooming annuals are geraniums, petunias, marigolds, and daturas.

Here are a few more tidbits on the flowers we’ve featured in the “9 Fall Flowers for a Stunning Container Garden” infographic.

  • Mums are great plants for hanging baskets! For the best results, consult with your garden center and buy a cultivar with a bloom that lasts a bit longer than your first frost.
  • Pansies are the perfect plant for beginning gardeners. To keep them blooming, simply remove spent flower heads. Fall-planted pansies are even known to survive mild winters!
  • Verbena has a long-lasting bloom that can reach deep into the fall. The key to consistent blooming is to provide it with an inch of water per week and regular trimming.
  • Camellias originally came from East Asia and thrive well in shade. These shrubs do well in containers and will bloom from November through April. If treated right, these hardy plants can grow up to 8 feet tall!
  • Celosia is also called cockscomb thanks to its masses of soft, feathery plumes. If you want to produce more plumes, pinch back the first one, which spurs branching.
  • Black-eyed Susans will bloom through the early fall. If you remove blooms as they wither, you help the plant conserve nutrients for use with the remaining blooms.
  • Sedum has fleshy succulent leaves topped by flowers of pink, red, yellow or white. There are varieties that will grow as tall as 2 feet high and others that top out at a mere 2 inches tall.
  • Aster flowers bring a beautiful purple to fall settings. When watering these easy-to-care-for plants, avoid splashing the foliage. Doing so can invite powdery mildew to take hold of the plant.
  • Nasturtium is the ultimate flowering plant for the plant-it-and-forget-it gardener. They don’t require fertilizer, can survive mild drought conditions and still produce beautiful flowers.

Weed Control Guide: How to Id and Kill Weeds


In early summer, most yards see their strongest growth in the form of weeds. Whether these weeds grow in the lawn, garden or flower bed, they can dominate any green space if you let them get out of control.

The best way to attack weeds is with some carefully applied spot treatments. Safer® Brand Fast Acting Weed & Grass Killer, with its easy-spray bottle, can do the trick without dousing your yard in nasty chemicals. Instead, Safer® uses natural potassium salts, and you’ll see effects on unwanted plants within a few hours of application.

Of course, the first trick of weed control is actually identifying the plant as a weed. And for some people, certain plants aren’t weeds at all!

Still, we assembled a Weed Control Guide in an effort to help you ID common weeds and show you what you can do to destroy them.

Black Medic

Black Medic

This weed is known for growing in compacted soil, so if you see it in your garden, then it’s time to aerate your soil. Identify it by its teardrop shaped leaves and its small clover-like yellow flower.

Catchweed Bedstraw

Catchweed Bedstraw

As soon as you touch this stuff, you’ll know it. Catchweed Bedstraw is a plant that readily mingles with other plants and, most notably, seems to stick to everything it touches including gardening gloves, animal fur and clothing. Try treating Catchweed with a pre-emergent herbicide in early spring. If you’re too late you’ll just have to pull it all summer long.



When crabgrass is cut to the height of your regular lawn, it can be hard to identify. But a few days later, you can see it from across your yard thanks to its angular growth and branching. Spot treatments and targeted herbicides work best on crabgrass.

Creeping Charlie

Creeping Charlie

Also called Ground-Ivy, Creeping Charlie looks cute enough – green with little pink flowers – but if you let it go, it will climb over every plant in your flowerbed. This weed loves shady areas and sparse lawns. Try pulling this weed out after a soaking rain.

Creeping Thistle

Creeping Thistle

This plant starts out as a prickly octopus-like growth close to the ground, but then pops into a tall weed with pink flowers. Butterflies and bees love it, but you won’t! This thistle is incredibly difficult to eradicate, and it often takes a whole season to do it with a weed screen cloth. For temporary relief, mow it down and spot treat with Safer®’s Weed & Grass Killer.



Your best bet against these yellow-flowered monsters is to vigorously dig them up or spot-treat. Notorious for their ability to survive, these weeds also spread easily from yard to yard with their floating seeds. There is a positive to dandelions though: Their young leaves are great to add to your salad!



Sometimes called “nutgrass,” this plant produces thick, stiff grass in groups of three. That isn’t bad in itself, but the problem comes from the fact that nutsedges grow faster than lawn grass. Many herbicides have limited effectiveness on nutsedge, so smothering or pulling are good options. When properly pulled, you’ll find tubers at the base of the plant.



This ugly, wrinkle-leafed plant has nothing to do with the banana-like fruit from the tropics. Instead, this weed loves to take root in tightly packed soil. You should dig this plant out and aerate your soil to keep it from coming back.

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy earns its name for the skin rashes it inflicts on unwary gardeners and unsuspecting hikers. Look for sets of three waxy leaves – green in the spring and summer and slowly turning brownish red until the end of the growing season. A mix of pulling and herbicide can control this beast. Just be sure to wear long sleeves and gloves, and then launder them immediately after you’ve pulled the ivy.

Stinging Nettles

Stinging Nettles

You’ll spot these popping up on the edge of our garden or in pastures with damp, nutrient-rich soil. Stinging Nettles can be recognized by their serrated leaves and microscopic barbs that cause skin irritation for hours. Since they can be spread by tilling and plowing, carefully remove them by hand.

Wild Violet

Wild Violet

Sticking close to the ground, these weeds are certainly cute with their pretty purple flowers. The problem is that they spread fast thanks to their self-fertilizing seeds. At the very least, you can spot-treat mild infestations.

White Clover

White Clover

White clover will grow where competition for space is weak, including a low-nitrogen garden. Look for a cloverleaf formation and a white flower. A strong dose of fertilizer will knock these back – talk about a great solution for weeds!

Are there any other weeds you want to see added to the Weed Control Guide? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll help you with a solution!

What You Need to Know About Powdery Mildew


Have you ever noticed a white dusting on the leaves of your plants? It might not be what you think. When white or gray powdery spots appear, sometimes covering an entire leaf, it could be a sign of powdery mildew. Here’s what you need to know:

What to Look for

Other symptoms of powdery mildew include yellowing or browning foliage that eventually causes the plant to prematurely defoliate. For flowers and trees, this fungus can cause early bud drop and decrease flower quality. Fortunately, powdery mildew is rarely fatal to a plant.

Powdery Mildew

Powdery Mildew Prevention

Powdery mildew thrives in conditions including dry foliage, humid, low light, and moderate temperatures. You can minimize the risk of this disease by:

  • Planting disease-resistant plant varieties.
  • Maintaining air flow between plants by not overcrowding them.
  • Placing plants in an area where they will receive sufficient light for at least six hours per day.
  • Regularly trimming back trees and shrubs that block light.
  • Using a slow-release fertilizer, as over fertilization can make your plants more susceptible to disease.

Powdery Mildew Treatment

Set aside a regular time to monitor your garden for disease. Early detection is your best chance at eliminating the problem. If you find an affected plant, here are your best treatment options:

  • Use a fungicide with the active ingredient “chlorothalonil.” This is proven effective, but leaves the plant surface with a while milky film.
  • Combine baking soda with horticultural grade or dormant oil and liquid soap, applying in the early stages of the mildew outbreak. Continue to spray this solution on plants every one to two weeks.
  • For an organic solution, use Safer® Brand’s sulfur-based fungicide. Potassium bicarbonate, another solution approved for use in organic growing, kills mildew spores right away.
  • The acetic properties of apple cider vinegar can help control this disease. Mix two to three tablespoons with a gallon of water. Be careful when mixing, as too much vinegar can burn your plants.