Archive for July, 2013

July 30, 2013

How To Keep Your (Old-Fashioned) Petunias Lush and Blooming All Summer Long

Petunias, ya either love ’em or hate ’em.  When I was a kid petunias were big flowers offered in a handful of colors: red, white, purple and pink, or at least that’s what I remember.  My mom used to plant them in our window box on the front of our house every year.  I remember watching them grow from little mounds of color to flowers overflowing from the box later in the summer.

For me, petunias have a bit of nostalgia.  Add the lovely scent of the grandiflora petunias (the big flowers, reminiscent of a twirling gown) to the childhood memories and petunias do a little tugging on my heart-strings.  But petunias get a bad rap in many parts of the green (as in plant) industry.  They complain that they get long and scraggly if you don’t prune them.  They get seed pods and tiny seeds all over and they “burn out” in the summer.  For many they just aren’t cool enough.  So people have been working to perfect the petunia, because, well a lot of people love petunias.  So they came up with newer versions: along came plants that didn’t require pruning, flowers of any size from large to tiny and loads of new colors, but something was lost along the way: that sweet summer scent.

Are there some fun, new petunias?  Sure.  Can you match them to your garden or home decor?  Practically.  And while I like those just fine, there’s something to be said for the “old-fashioned” large blossomed, sweetly scented petunia.  And if you love them, or even just kind of like them, here is a super simple tip on keeping your old-fashioned (grandiflora) petunias lush and blooming all summer long.

Petunias grow and bloom from the base of the plant out toward the end of the stem.  As petunias continue to grow and bloom the plant is busy working behind the scenes on setting seed so it can complete its life cycle (die).  If petunias are left to just take their natural course, they will continue blooming at the tip of the stem, but the rest of the plant will look long, spindly and frankly pretty ratty.  That will go on until the plant decides it has set enough seed to be able to have at least one plant grow up and continue the family name, in which case it will then die.  However, if you were, instead, to prune off the spent blossoms (those that have finished) all the way back to the stem, another set of leaves and blossoms will be ready and waiting to take their turn filling out and blooming, leaving you with a full, lush blooming plant.  Let’s take a peak as to how to do this, shall we?


Here we see our lovely petunia with her large ruffled flowers.  Behind those flowers you can see tan-colored spent blossoms, about to drop.  And if you look further behind, you’ll see a slightly shiny, tan, conical-shaped seed pod.


Prune Here

Here we are a little closer.  We snuck behind the blossoms so you can see what we are about to prune.  In this picture you can see two spent blossoms, one mature seed pod and one seed pod just starting to emerge from a blossom that has recently fallen off.  We will pinch or prune these back to the stem with a small (bypass) pruners or even just our fingernails.  You will find that pruning petunias is sticky business.  Nothing too repulsive, but it will leave your fingers a bit tacky.


Pruned Stem

This is our pruned stem.  Notice that the old blossoms and seed pods have been removed exposing the new set of leaves and buds to begin blooming.  Keep on top of this throughout the season and you will have lush petunias all summer long.

But wait!  What if your plant is already long and leggy?  Is it too late?  Not at all.  In this case you would want to cut the main stem back about a third (or so) to force the plant to fill out instead of continuing to get longer.  The down side of this is that your plant will appear to have gotten a haircut for a while and won’t have blossoms on it for a couple of weeks while it puts its energy back into green growth and new buds, but the upside is that you will have lovely petunias again in a couple of weeks.  If you don’t have the heart to chop back the entire plant at once or you want to sneak in the pruning, you could always do it in stages by trimming a few stems one week, a few stems the next week and so on.  If, however, we were were nearing the end of summer, the plant had gotten really leggy and the side stems, where the blossoms once sat, look and feel more like dead twigs than a green plant, and if the seed pods have all dried and popped open, then the plant has probably already reached the point of no return, in which case pruning may be ineffective.

But summer is nowhere near over yet, so get out there and pinch those petunias!  And while you’re at it, don’t forget to stop and smell the… blossoms of course!


July 28, 2013

Cover Thy Buds

Another cool night is forecasted for the Twin Cities, lows are to hit 52 degrees tomorrow around 6:00 a.m.

Grab some plastic or (row) covers and pull them up over your plants. Just like last night, if you live in the Twin Cities you need to Protect your tomatoes, peppers and eggplants tonight!. Make a mini greenhouse to keep them warm and keep the fruit coming.


July 27, 2013

Protect your tomatoes, peppers and eggplants tonight!

Brrr… It’s been more like September or October the past couple of days, with our cool, wet, windy days and chilly nights. But more than it being out of character for a summer day, it has an effect on our veggies too.

I’ll make this short and to the point, the Twin Cities are expected to have lows reaching 52 degrees tonight which means your tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are vulnerable to blossom drop, meaning the blossoms will drop off the plants prior to being pollinated and not produce fruit.

Tomatoes and eggplants are susceptible to blossom drop when evening temperatures drop below 55 degrees, peppers below 58 degrees.

Although it seems crazy to be saying this at the end of July, it would probably be worth covering those plants tonight (and possibly the next couple of nights) to limit the risk of loosing the flowers and missing out on tomatoes in a few weeks.

Just remember to pull the covers off later in the morning so the flowers have the opportunity to be visited by our pollinating friends.


July 22, 2013

55 Days – 10 Things to Plant Now for Fall Harvest


I don’t want to be the one to break the news, but we have about 55 days left until our average first frost hits the Twin Cities.  Now before you get mad at me for mentioning frost, keep in mind that I’m actually trying to give you good news.  That means it’s time to do some succession planting!

“What’s that?” you say.  That is where you take places in your garden where you once had lettuce or radishes or peas… and now have holes and fill those holes with plants that will mature and be harvest-able in the 55 or so days.  You’re looking for plants that prefer warmer soil temperatures for germination, but will also do well when they mature when the days are shorter and nights are cooler.  Think fast growing warm season crops or longer growing cool season crops.  You want the warm season crops to be wrapping up (beans, beets, etc.) and cool season crops to be beginning to peak, because cool season crops actually grow and taste better with a little cold snap (it brings the natural sugars out).

Below, I’ve listed plants that could be planted now for fall harvest and some that should wait a couple of weeks.  You’ll notice I have some duplicates under different time frames.  Why do I have radishes at 20 Days and at 50 days?  Well, it depends on the radish.  Check your seed packets for the “Days to Maturity” section, this number will tell you how many days it should take (on average) for your plant to go from seed to harvest.  Also check for “Planting Tips”, “Green Thumb Tips”, etc.  A lot of times they will provide the information you need on when to plant right on the seed packet.  Take the French Breakfast Radish, for example, (which has 26 days to maturity) the packet notes that it germinates best when the soil temperature is 80 degrees, which is where our soil temperature in the Twin Cities is right now.  Other packets will say “Best grown in cool weather.” Or “Warm days, cool nights.” All of these are flags telling us the best time to plant for optimal harvest.  The trick is really to read the packet, determine what conditions they grow best in and then check the days to maturity to see if we have enough time to grow it.

Examples in order of days to maturity, meaning if you can’t get them all in the ground today, start planting those with the most days to maturity first, followed by those with the least days to maturity.  You can also do a series of plantings with faster growing crops like radishes and arugula, then you’ll be able to harvest some about 3 weeks from now and some about 6 weeks from now, or plant a little each week for harvest 3, 4, 5 and 6 weeks out.

If you were to plant all of these today, you would have something to harvest every week starting 3 weeks from now, through fall.

20 Days: Beet Greens, Radishes

35 Days: Arugula

45 Days: Lettuce, Beets, Spinach, Broccoli Raab, Peas

50 Days: Beets, Beans, Red Malabar Spinach, Carrots, Radishes, Broccoli, Pickling Cucumbers

55 Days: Golden Beets, Broccoli Raab, Beans

55+ Days: Carrots

One more thing to keep in mind is that the average first frost is not necessarily the end of the gardening season (many crops will do well in cool weather) it’s just another tool to use to help us grow as much as we can in our gardens.

So, while the days are still warm and we still have nearly 2 months of summer weather, grab your seeds, get out there and fill those holes!

Happy succession planting!