Fun feature: Ask-a-Gardener
smramsey asks:I have a fig tree rooted in a pot (about 16" tall). It is VERY hot (Alabama) and I don't know if I should go ahead and plant it now or try to keep it inside or on my screened porch during the winter in the pot and wait until fall or spring? to plant it. Help is appreciated!!!
Sallyg answers: You're right to be cautious in this weather. Unpotting and planting almost surely stresses the plant, no matter how careful you are. Is the fig currently in the sun outside? If so you must be taking good care of it. You could dig a hole in the garden and "sink" it, pot and all. Pretend the pot is not there, but plant it. That gives the roots a milder environment than in a pot above ground. Is the fig currently on your screen porch, or in some other slightly protected place? Then DO NOT plant it in the garden in midsummer. You'll not only change the exposure, you'll also take away the protective pot, disturb the roots, and expose them to the water sucking effects of the hot soil around them. Give your potted fig some gentle fertilizer and good care until fall. Fall is a great season for planting shrubs. They love the mild weather, and you can keep the soil watered much more easily. They will grow roots while the top of the plant doesn't seem to do anything.
cazgram asks: What can I plant after garlic is harvested?
What you have in mind, growing a new crop shortly after another is harvested, is a form of succession planting. It's a great way to get more out of a given plot of ground. You'll need to consider your fall frost date first. If you're on the eastern end of New York State, it may be middle October (mine is late October). Plant in mid July and you would have just three months of growing season for frost tender vegetables. Bush beans, cucumbers, and summer squash are fast growing summer vegetables that might be ready to harvest inside of three months. I'm not feeling very confident about those choices. Cut it too close, and you'll get nothing for your efforts. Let's leave those for the more southern gardeners. You have multiple options in the leafy green, or root, vegetable categories. Many do very well as late summer, technically "fall," crops. Often they shrug off mild frosts too, so you don't lose them all as you might with squash or beans.
Leafy greens: spinach, kale, collards, swiss chard, lettuce, arugula, radicchio, pak choi, cabbage etc.
Roots: carrots, beets, radishes, turnips
Other: English peas, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts
As soon as the garlic is harvested, consider adding compost or fertilizer to the area. It may be somewhat depleted from the first crop. Give your seeds and young seedlings extra care in the remaining hot weather. Lengthen your fall growing season by adding frost protection. I used jugs of water and a row cover to carry lettuce through the Blizzard of 2010. Good luck, and thanks for the question--I need to consider that in my own garden, as my yellow squash collapses.
roofgardencairo asks: Hello, I'm new to gardening and I'm trying to set up a potted rooftop garden on my very hot, very sunny roof in Cairo, Egypt. There is almost no shade throughout the day. The air is fairly dry, dusty, and polluted. The water, I believe, has a high mineral and chlorine content. I have a variety of plants, not all of which I've been able to identify. I'm watering all of them every night; then I mist them with a spray bottle (because the climate here is fairly dry). The problems:
- The leaves on the regular bougainvillea vines appear to be wilting.
- A smaller more spindly bougainvillea (or what I was told was a kind of bougainvillea) has turned completely yellow and wilted. It's in a clay pot and the soil is very firm.
- Some of the leaves on the African jasmine have turned from evergreen color to a paler kelly green
- There's another tree that I think may be related to jasmine (it has very small white, fragrant flowers), and that tree is looking very dry-- a few branches have died. The flowers have dried up and fallen off. I'm wondering if it's not able to handle the sun...
- The tips of my yuccas have turned brown and dry.
Kelli answers:Though you are new to gardening, you have picked up right away on two of challenges to growing things in pots - a hot, dry climate and hard water. Soil in pots dries out much faster than soil in the ground. Soil in unglazed clay pots dries out faster than soil in glazed clay pots or plastic pots. Because of that, I recommend that in hot, dry climates, plants other than cactuses and other true succulents be planted in plastic or glazed pots. Use a good-quality potting soil that contains some organic matter, or add peat moss, coconut fiber, or polymer crystals. It doesn't hurt to mulch the soil in pots, either. Stones are reasonably effective and decorative. In most cases, you will want the pots to sit in some sort of catch basin so that the water has a chance to soak into the soil. Dry soil can be somewhat waterproof and the water can run through the gap between the soil and the pot and never soak into the soil.
Self-watering pots are also an option. These are pots that contain a water reservoir that will release water to the soil as it starts to dry. You would not want to grow a desert cactus in a pot like that, but many plants, such as bougainvillea and daylilies which are often touted as xeriscape plants to be treated more like conventional plants when grown in a true desert environment.
Another problem with growing in pots is that the soil gets hotter than it does in the ground, since the sun can beat on a pot from several directions, not just from above. If Egyptian growers are like American growers, they often offer young plants growing in black pots. That is good for getting the root system of a young plant started, especially in cool weather, but it is not so good for an unprotected plant in the hot sun all day. The simplest, though not the most effective thing to do is to use light-colored pots or paint dark pots a light color. More effective is to put the potted plant, pot and all, inside a larger pot or box so that there is a gap of at least 3 cm around the inner pot. You can fill the gap with an insulating material like Styrofoam, crumpled newspaper, dead leaves, or more potting soil if desired.
Hard water can be a problem, usually not so much because of the calcium content but because it is alkaline. If you can check your tap water, you will probably find that it has a pH of 7.5 or higher. The alkalinity makes it more difficult for the plants to take in minerals such as iron and magnesium. If leaves are looking pale, it might be due to a lack of iron or magnesium and not necessarily because the soil is lacking, but because it is too alkaline for the plants to extract the minerals. One of the simplest things to do is to add some Epsom salts to the water. Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate, which has the magnesium that may be lacking and the sulfur lowers the pH. I do not know what the "official" quantity would be, but a heaping tablespoon (small handful) per gallon (4 litres) of water works for me. I do this once a week until the problem clears up. If there is an iron problem, iron sulfate can be added. Gypsum granules (calcium sulfate) can also be added to lower the pH. I have read that vinegar can be added to water, but I have not tried this.
In the U.S., Epsom salts is used as a medicinal remedy and can be bought at drug stores. Iron sulfate and gypsum or other products for alkaline soil might be found at larger nurseries or stores that sell farming supplies. I usually buy mine online.
Excess chlorine can result in plants with "burned" leaf tips. To get rid of the chlorine, all you need is some time. Let the water set in an open container for a couple days and the chlorine will dissipate. Excessive plant food can also burn leaf tips. This is more of a problem with chemical plant foods than with organic plant foods.
This may not be an option for you, but I also collect water that is not hard. We save what water we can from the roof when it rains and collect the condensate from the air conditioner, which is water vapor from the air.
Desert climates are often windy, and wind makes the plants and soil dry out that much faster. If you can shelter the plants behind a parapet wall, upstairs room, bamboo screen, or the like, it can only help. Just make sure that you don't place the plants along the south side of a wall or the reflected heat might bake them.
mymia asks: Could someone tell me how to get my bouganvillea to trail? It blooms on top and is about two feet tall (planted in ground in spring with full sun), but it will not trail up the trellis behind it. HELP!!:(
Kelli answers: Although bougainvilleas are sometimes described as vines, they are more like rangy shrubs. They lack the tendrils or hold-fasts of most true vines such as morning glories, wisteria, and Virginia creeper. To get your bougainvillea to climb the trellis, you will have to give it some support and direction. Once branches are long enough, tie them to the trellis to get the plant going in a vertical direction. If your plant is not growing much yet, do not worry. Many perennials and shrubs will take a couple of years to get their root system established before they do much growing above ground. Remember this saying about perennials, "The first year they sleep; the second year they creep; the third year they leap."
Questions #5 and#6
John_Smith in Australia asks: "I am interested in organic gardening in the context of being able to grow my own food. As I looked through this forum, it seemed like it was a very large community, but I wasn't able to find anything on that specific topic. If someone could direct me to any resources, discussion groups, etc. on this subject where I could learn how to do what I am trying to do, I'd be extremely grateful!"
crooster48 in Colorado, US asks: "I just moved to Grants Pass last week, 2.5 acres, need to know growing seasons, or any help with can be grown here. Love vegetables gardening and raising chickens for egg and meat, not familiar with weather here. Love it here lots, any help will be appreciated."
carrielamont answers:Here are a few Forums open to all members, not just subscribers, which may interest you:
The Beginning Vegetable Forum , The Australian Gardening Forum, Sustainable Alternatives, Seed Germination and The Homesteading Forum
And if that's not enough, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, subscribe to Dave's Garden. Here you will find 100s of specific subscriber-only forums dedicated to, among other topics, Organic Gardening, Rocky Mountain Gardening, Soil and Composting, Strawbale Gardening, Poultry and Livestock, Pacific Northwest Gardening..interested yet?
Basically, organic gardeners try to grow food and/or pretty flowers without artificial fertilizers or chemicals. You may also be interested in our articles, which are open to all members, too, and represent a wealth of gardening knowledge.
Good luck to you both!
Melody adds: We have helpful members and quite a few experts in these forums. Most questions are answered promptly and with sound advice. The free access forums are available to everyone and some of our most seasoned paid subscribers devote some time each day to help others. The Australian Forum is a fun area and many folks from south of the Equator gather there to discuss their unique growing conditions. If you have a question that you're not sure where to post, click the Contact Us button at the bottom of any page and I'll be happy to help you find the forum that will get you the best advice.
Remember, if you have a gardening question that you would like to suggest for this feature, post it here. Our writers and admins will handpick a few of your questions and answer them in an upcoming Ask-a-Gardener, one of our Saturday morning features. Other questions may be moved to one of our other forums so your fellow members can help you.
A special thanks to Kelli for her fabulous bouganvillea image and to JustmeLisa for her baby fig tree image.
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