Tag: garden (page 1 of 3)

Have a garden question? There’s an app for that.

This is a completely unsponsored post. I’ve just found this app useful and wanted to share it with you.

It’s no secret that I love podcasts. I listen to them while I clean the house, do the laundry, make dinner, and work on the computer. If you were to look at the podcasts I’ve subscribed to, you’d notice the topics range from science news to money and business to motherhood. And, of course, gardening.

It was on one of these gardening podcasts that I first learned about the topic of this post – a gardening app.

One day last year I was listening to the We Dig Plants podcast (they “put the culture in horticulture”) and they were speaking with one of the developers of an app called “GrowIt! Mobile“. A gardening app that is also a social media platform? I was intrigued, so naturally I downloaded it. My first impression wasn’t all that favorable – it seemed fairly limited in its usefulness. However, with some recent (read: in the past few months) updates, I’m becoming a bigger fan.

With GrowIt! you can post pictures of your plants, or you can also create projects that can be public or private where you can showcase something you are working on or simply just gather ideas for the future.

With GrowIt! you can post pictures of your plants, or you can also create projects that can be public or private where you can showcase something you are working on or simply just gather ideas for the future.

The idea of a garden app isn’t new; I’ve tried various apps, usually from different Extension programs, and they’ve all been fairly similar – you can select a plant from a list and you’ll be able to see the pertinent information for growing it (sunlight, water needs, growing time, etc.) The GrowIt! app, though it tells you all those same things, puts a different spin on it by calling it a way to “garden socially”. Instead of simply selecting a plant from a list, you can interact with other gardeners in your same area to rate various plants, ask for plant i.d. or other gardening help, or chime in with your own two cents on which plants are best to grow in the shade in your area.

Besides showcasing your own plants, you can search for plants that might grow well in your area.

Besides showcasing your own plants, you can search for plants that might grow well in your area.

The way it works is you create a profile (which can be as simple as a username) and using the GPS in your phone, it automatically pull into your feed pictures and questions from other GrowIt! Mobile users within a certain distance. You can change your location as well as the range it will pull from, and this can be a tricky part of the app. You want your range big enough to pull in other users to make it useful. But on the other hand, you’ll get the best advice and answers to questions from people who live in a similar climate and geographic location that you do. After that you can scroll through and admire the plants that others are growing, you can answer questions that might show up, or you can post pictures of your own plants and ask your own questions. Another features is the “Projects” tab where you can create your own projects (that can remain private, or be shared publicly) or you can follow along on others’ gardening projects.

The most useful (in my opinion) features of the app are the "plant identification" and "ask a question" options.

The most useful (in my opinion) features of the app are the “plant identification” and “ask a question” options.

I do have a couple of complaints about it. First, the number of plants in their database is obviously not infinite – there are plants that just don’t show up from their pick-lists when you’re trying to identify something, and this is especially true of weeds. On more than a few occasions I have come across a “Help Me Identify This Plant” questions/photo, with the plant in question being a weed. But because the plant name doesn’t occur in the database, I have to leave a comment instead of just identifying it, and I think that sometimes that makes things confusing. That being said, the list has expanded in the time I have been using it, and I imagine it will keep expanding. It also tends to be a little glitchy, and doesn’t always refresh well. All in all, these are minor complaints.

There is one area of the app that I still just don’t really get, and that is the “Gro-wards”. I guess maybe because I’m not a gamer, the idea of growing a pretend plant just doesn’t appeal to me. So I use the app to try and be helpful to others, to get some of my own questions answered, and to spark some ideas for my own current and future gardens; and I don’t really care what my “Grow-ward Level” is.

In the end, I think what I’ve decided is that the app is only as good (and as useful) as the community who uses it. In areas where there are more users, you’re able to connect with more gardeners and really make it a way to garden socially.

With all of that, I have an invitation: would you like to join me on GrowIt! Mobile? Connect with me (I’m heathersgarden) and we can swap plant ideas and tips.

Get Outside – Gardening with Kids

I saw an ad today that said we spend 95% of our time indoors; that we were facing an “indoor epidemic”. Now, I know a few people for whom this is not accurate at all, but sadly for the majority (and even more sadly, for me lately) is that it’s probably pretty close.

I used to spend the majority of my work time from April – September outside. That’s just what happens when you work in weed science. But over the years I’ve been finding myself at my computer more often than out in a field, and especially since having a baby and transitioning to working from home I spend all of my work time inside.

But it’s not just for work that I’ve found myself staying inside. I’ve been making all sorts of excuses for staying indoors – it’s hot and we don’t have a lot of shade anymore since they took down the tree and I don’t want Grace (or myself) to get sunburned, Grace is napping so I should stay inside, I just cleaned Grace up and don’t want her crawling through the grass and dirt again, etc. Notice a trend? I keep blaming it on my baby! This is the complete opposite of the mom I envisioned I’d be while pregnant.

I want my girl to love the outdoors, and I don’t want to be the one that’s getting in her way.

Which is one reason why I make it a point to involve her with my gardening. Sure, she likes to pour all the water out of the watering can all over herself. Sure, she likes to taste the dirt and get it all over her hair and face. And, sure, I might lose a few leaves from my strawberry or onions. But I *think* in the end that having a girl who doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty and exploring the great outdoors will be worth any plant casualties or extra loads of laundry.

Do you have experience gardening with kids? What are your tips? Or what do you do to get outside?

The Right Plant for the Right Place

This post isn’t meant to get in to the ethics or morals (or lack thereof) of big-box stores. It’s just an observation from a recent perusal of my local Wal-Mart’s Garden Center, and a caution to new (and experienced) gardeners.

We were nearly out of toothpaste and sunscreen, so yesterday I decided to run to Wal-Mart to pick them up. As I got out of the car I noticed the big outdoor section of the Garden Center, and as I’ve been busy dreaming up the landscape for our soon-to-be new home, I decided I’d walk through for a bit of inspiration.

On the second table of plants I looked at, (the first held some saddish looking roses, so I didn’t spend much time there) I found three that caught my eye. Not because they were flowering and beautiful (though one did have flowers), but because they seemed rather out of place.

The first was heather (Erica vulgaris). A small, kind of scrubby looking plant, but touted to be a great plant for tough sites with cute little flowers in the spring. That sounds all well and good, until you turn the label over and see this:

heather label

Notice that second bullet point? “I prefer acidic, fertile but well-drained soil…” Utah known to have alkaline soils; the opposite of acidic. Now, this isn’t to say that you can’t successfully grow Heather here, but it would definitely take more work than is implied on the label.

The next was an azalea (Azalea sp). Beautiful plants, but not something I think of when I think of Utah landscapes. It fits better in Seattle, or a similar environment. The Azalea label was very similar to the Heather:

azalea label

See that second bullet point again? “I do best in slightly acidic, organic-rich soil…” Once again, not impossible, but one that could definitely be a struggle.

As I looked up from the azalea, I noticed some yellow pea-shaped flowers, and I thought to myself, “No. That can’t be. Could it?”  I came around to the other side of the table, and unfortunately it was what I thought it was (or at least very close): a broom. The reason for my surprise? Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) was recently included on the Utah Noxious Weed List. Now, this particular “Flowering Broom” is Cytisus x praecox.

flowering broom flowering broom label

That x indicates that it is a hybrid, which gave me hope that maybe this particular broom wouldn’t have the potential to spread into unwanted areas. I had that hope until I was reading a description of it on the Monrovia website where it states that one of its attributes is that “it fits into wild landscapes where it naturalizes”. If it naturalizes – reseeds or otherwise propagates itself to spread – in your yard, it is also likely to naturalize outside of it. Not a problem if you live in a dense urban environment, but very much a problem if you live near the foothills of Utah’s mountains. Or if you live in many other areas of the western United States – Scotch broom is also on the noxious weed lists for Idaho, Washington, California, Oregon, and Hawaii.

Besides the questionable choice of selling a plant that is closely related to a noxious weed, I think that nothing so quickly quashes the enthusiasm of a new gardener as the disappointment of a failed planting. Obviously I suggest that people know and understand what hardiness zone they garden in, and that they should get a soil test to see whether they have an acidic (low pH) or alkaline (high pH) soil. But this is also another lesson in reading labels: just because it is being sold in your town doesn’t make it the right plant for the right place.

Happiness is…gardening

Earlier this year I had the crazy thought that I wouldn’t plant a garden this year. I’ve got a new baby, I’m still working part-time, we’ll be moving into a new house this summer so by the time we get in it might be too late to get a garden in, etc. Basically I almost had myself convinced that planting and maintaining a garden would just be too much work.

And then I realized that I just couldn’t not plant a garden. And I also realized that the way I’ve been doing a lot of my gardening the last few years – aka in buckets – really cancels out all of my previous concerns:

  • They are portable! I can plant them now, here at my apartment, and then whenever we happen to move, I can easily take them with me.
  • They are easy to maintain – besides daily watering and an occasional feeding with fertilizer, they don’t need too much fussing. (Read: no weeding here!)
  • I can plant my lettuce and spinach and onions now, and if I don’t get to planting a tomato (because I must have garden-fresh tomatoes in the summer) until we move, it will still have enough time to mature.

So, in the spirit of National Gardening Month, I planted up my bucket garden – at least a couple buckets worth of it – last week and I am oh, so happy I did.

Gardening really is good for the soul. (Well, my soul, at least.)


Is gardening a happiness boost for you?

It’s Spring Again!

With yesterday being the first official day of spring, a lot of people’s thoughts turn to gardening. Maybe you’ve still got snow where you live, but you’re itching to see something green. Or maybe it has felt like spring for a couple weeks now, but you’re wondering when it will be safe to start planting. To help answer some of your questions, or satisfy your need for green, I’ve rounded up some of my “getting ready to garden” posts:

Hardiness Zones

When Can I Plant?

Bucket Gardening 101 and Bucket Gardening Video

The Dirt on Soil

Starting Seeds Indoors (1)

Starting Seeds Indoors (2)

Hardening Off Plants


I’m interested to know what the gardening timeline looks like in your neck of the woods. Is it at your doorstep? Or still only a distant dream?

Either way, when the time comes, Happy Gardening!

Tomato, tomahto

It’s funny that when I think of summer garden bounty I always think of tomatoes first. It’s funny because here in Northern Utah they don’t really start coming on in force until the end of summer. And that is where we are at now; the very end of summer. Fall officially, or atsronomically, begins on Thursday (meteorologically speaking, it’s been feeling like fall for a week or so now).

But guess what? Tomatoes are still to be found aplenty; slowing down, perhaps, but still around. I can still enjoy a fresh tomato with practically every meal, and hopefully I still have time to bottle some for the upcoming winter months (babies tend to have their own plans, I’m discovering, which aren’t always conducive to preserving fruit).

Whether or not I get to the tomato-bottling project, I did want to record a few notes about the tomatoes I planted in my garden this year. This is probably more for my own benefit than for anyone else, but maybe it will help you in deciding what kind of tomatoes to plant next year in your garden.

This year I planted five different varieties. There were more options available, and I considered buying one of each, but in the end the research technician inside of me came out and said, “do you really want to try and compare that many? Limit the variables!” I listened to that voice, and came away from the greenhouse shop with two cherry tomato varieties and three types of slicing/canning tomatoes. What follows is my very non-scientific review. I promise I’m much more detailed in my other research endeavors.

Since the cherry tomatoes were the first to ripen, let’s talk about them first. I planted them in my bucket garden where I could easily keep track of them, and easily harvest and eat them. Here are my thoughts about the two varieties I planted this year:

  1. Supersweet 100 – the tag indicated they mature in 65 days; according to Instagram, I harvested the first ones around July 27, so without knowing the exact day of when the plant was started, I’d say that timeline is pretty accurate. These tomatoes were pretty uniform in size (maybe about a U.S. nickel-size diameter), and ripened up to a lovely red. Though the name says they will be “supersweet”, I found them to have a pleasant, though definitely prominent, acidic note. I wish I had some quantitative measurements on the  yield I’d probably plant these again, but if other options were available I wouldn’t have a problem trying something new.
    Cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, supersweet 100

    The Supersweet 100 tomatoes are what you typically think of in a cherry tomato: cherry red color, and cherry-sized.


  2. Sunsugar – these were said to mature in 75 days; again, according to Instagram, I harvested the first ones around August 2, so my guess is this timeline is also fairly accurate. These tomatoes had a wide range of sizes, from very small to largeish (about a U.S. quarter-size in diameter). I found these to be much sweeter than the “Supersweets”, and much to my pleasant surprise they were a bright orange when fully ripe. My first few were perhaps a little under-ripe, but I learned that they only got sweeter and more orange with time. I will definitely be planting this variety again.

    tomato, cherry tomato, sunsugar

    This bright orange color means they are ripe and ready to eat.

As for the other tomatoes, I planted the following varieties: Early Girl, Better Boy, and Hamson (also known locally as DX-52). I don’t have a lot to say about these because my garden was so neglected this year due to my pregnant self’s lack of motivation to weed. I chose Early Girl so I could have some early slicing tomatoes, but I didn’t harvest my first one until well after my cherry tomatoes were ripe, and I’m pretty sure well after any of my grandpa’s were ripe. Better Boy is supposedly known for producing abundant fruit, but as of this writing, I have picked maybe two tomatoes from it. I planted the Hamsons so I could have some tomatoes to bottle, but again, I have harvested a paltry dozen; enough to eat, but not enough to bother with for canning. I knew it would grow well, since my grandpa swears by it, and this is the only kind he grows. It was bred by a USU Extension Professor to grow well in Utah conditions and be able to hold up well under the canning process. Unfortunately for me, it was not bred well to produce abundantly even while neglected. Here’s hoping I have more motivation and time next year.


My Summer of Growing Both a Garden and a Baby

During these last few weeks of waiting for my baby to arrive I’ve been thinking about how things (babies, in particular) grow. I really think it’s quite a miraculous process. And maybe we can blame it on all of the BabyCenter weekly updates comparing my growing baby to a random piece of produce, but I got thinking about other miraculous growth processes – like my garden, for example – and how they are kind of the same.

Growing a baby and growing a garden. I mean, sure, they are both living things, but at first glance that seems to be the only similarity. One happens on the inside, one on the outside. One you can eat or put in a vase when ready, the other you probably shouldn’t. But as I’ve been doing both this summer – growing a baby and a garden – I’ve realized that there are some things that are true for both.

First, let’s talk about water.

I’ve written specifically about watering your lawn or garden a couple of times this year, and in every house plants post I mention something about watering, and really, I could probably spend more time talking about it (and most likely will at some point). It really is that important for growing healthy plants.

sprinkler, beans, garden, watering

Keeping that garden, and that baby-growing body, properly watered can sometimes be a delicate balance.

Well, it seems that proper hydration is the answer to a lot of pregnancy complaints too. Have a headache? Try drinking more water. Feeling Braxton-Hicks contractions? You’re probably dehydrated, so drink more water. Swelling up? Here’s a glass of water.

The problem with drinking all this water is that, like when you over-water your house plants and it starts to leak out the catch trays, over-watering yourself may also lead to unfortunate leaks. Or at least increasingly frequent trips to the restroom…

A word on nutrition.

Earlier this month I gave an update on my bucket garden and mentioned how much better my tomatoes were doing this year because I had actually fertilized them. I’ve also discussed the nutritional benefits of compost over at the Longbourn Farm blog, and given a brief explanation of what that sometimes-confusing fertilizer label means here. Though plants technically make their own “food” through the wonderful process of photosynthesis, having the proper nutrients available benefits growth and increases yield. Both good things for that garden you are growing.

lettuce, spinach

I mixed in some extra fertilizer to the potting soil when I planted my lettuce and spinach this year, and got some early, healthy crops.

While I don’t make my own food in quite the same way plants do, eating well is important for both me and my growing baby. And it seems to me that my prenatal vitamins are doing the same kind of thing as the fertilizer – supplementing what is already there (through what I eat) to grow a healthy baby.

s'mores, campfire, mountains

So maybe making s’mores isn’t the best nutritional choice, but it’s summer time, so s’mores must be eaten.

Time flies when you’re having fun.

Oh time. Sometimes it seems to fly by and sometimes it drags on and on and on. Especially when you’re waiting for those tomatoes to ripen or that baby to make her appearance. When growing either plants or babies there are general timelines for reaching “ripeness”; but for both they are really just guidelines. Sometimes it takes longer than the 75 days it says on the label before you can pick that juicy tomato. And sometimes babies show up earlier (or later) than that magical 40 week deadline. Gardens and babies both seem to have their own timetables.

flowers, bucket garden, patio garden, pink zinnia

Though all the zinnias were planted at the same time, you can see there were a couple early-birds among the bunch.

Excitement about “milestones” helps that time to pass more swiftly.

From the moment a seed germinates or starts to sprout through the soil I get excited and love to follow its progress. I often come in to the house reporting to my husband things like “ooh, you should see how much the lettuce is growing!” or “my zinnias have buds!” or “the tomatoes are almost ready to eat!” Whether or not he really cares is a mystery because he always responds encouragingly.

He does get more excited about the “milestones” of growing a baby, though. Maybe not exactly about my monthly (and then weekly) doctors visit updates: “the baby’s heart rate was ___” or “my blood pressure was ___”,  but definitely about the big things (which have been the best parts) like actually seeing the progress – the ultrasounds, watching my belly expand, feeling the kicks, etc.

Comparing our growing bellies with my sister-in-law.

Comparing our growing bellies with my sister-in-law.

The ultimate milestone for gardening is picking that perfectly ripe fruit or enjoying that perfectly beautiful blossom.

This sunflower was a welcome volunteer from last year's flower garden.

This sunflower was a welcome volunteer from last year’s flower garden.

By the time you are reading this, I hope we’ve also reached that ultimate milestone of growing a baby: meeting her for the first time.

Understanding the Fertilizer Label

Have you ever found yourself on the fertilizer aisle at the garden center overwhelmed with all the different options? My sister and my sister-in-law both did earlier this year. (And I really hope I helped them out when they texted me with questions.)

But I had almost forgotten about those incidents until I mentioned last week in my garden update that my cherry tomatoes were doing much better this year, thanks largely to the additional fertilizer I gave them.

So I thought I’d share a quick and brief explanation of just what those fertilizer labels mean. Continue reading

Bucket Garden Update – August 2016

I thought I’d give you a bit of an update on my bucket garden and how it is doing this summer compared to this time last year.

Continue reading

How to control those pesky weeds

Last week, I confessed that my garden was not in the immaculate weed-free state I would hope for it to be – or that you might expect from a weed scientist.

Today let’s talk about some options for controlling them. That is, if you are in the same state as me. And if you haven’t yet subscribed to the “if you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em” (or use them as dye) theory.

Continue reading

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