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Growing Crabapple Trees

There are several reasons to consider planting a crabapple tree this season. Their ability to help pollinate other apple trees, their tasty fruit can be used to make jellies, preserves, and cider, as well as their amazing blooms,  make a beautiful addition to your yard or orchard.  If you are interested in planting a crabapple tree and learning about its many uses then read on.

The history of apples is tangled, gnarly, and otherwise difficult to understand. It has taken scientists with their knowledge of DNA and archeologists decades to unravel the origins of this fruit.  The cultivated sweet apple, Malus domestica, was domesticated from Malus sieversii, a wild apple that thrived in the Tian Shan mountains in Central Asia. Apple cultivation expanded along the Silk Road trade routes linking both Europe and Asia.  On its migration to Europe, these apple trees further hybridized with other wild apple species to develop the European crabapple, Malus sylvestris.  From there crabapples expanded into many different varieties from ornamentals to pollinators.  So as you can see, it was a tangled mess of cross-pollination and human intervention over many centuries that gave us these trees as we know them today.

The English generally used the fruit from crabapple trees to make hard cider. In fact, the word crab comes from the old English crabbe, meaning bitter or sharp tasting.  Eventually, the colonist brought crabapples to settlements in America. Starting as early as 1623, colonists brought seeds from Europe to plant crabapple trees. As in England, the orchards planted in America were used primarily for making hard cider, as the fermentation process sterilized cider through the addition of alcohol. This made the cider safer to drink than the water in early America.

crab-apples-fruit
Crabapples are deciduous, their leaves are simple and arranged alternately. Their fruits are small usually between 1/4″ to 2″.

Growing Your Own Crabapple Tree

Most temperate climates from USDA planting zones 4 to 10 will support the growth of crabapples. These trees vary from a large shrub-like plant, 6 to 8 feet, to a medium tree, 15 to 35 feet tall. They prefer to inhabit relatively open areas with lots of sun exposure and good air circulation. Crabapple trees do not have a particular soil preference. They do best in moist, well-drained, and slightly acidic soils. The site for planting should be prepared a year ahead so that early spring plantings can be made into weed-free locations. For the best success, the hole for planting needs to be approximately two feet larger in radius than the seedling’s root system.   If the tree was grafted to a rootstock then the graft must remain above ground.

Ornamental Crabapples Make A Lovely Addition To Your Garden

Adam’s Crabapple Marilee Crabapple
Cardinal Crabapple Pink Princess
Ivory Spear Crabapple  Prairie Rose Crabapple
Lollipop Crabapple Royal Beauty Crabapple
Louisa Crabapple Show Time Crabapple
crab-apple-flowers
The fragrant, five-petaled, white, pink, carmine or purplish flowers appear early in showy groups, some cultivars producing semi-double (6–10 petals) or double (more than 10 petals) per blossom.

Can You Eat Crabapples?

Absolutely! They’re perfectly edible.  The difference between edible crabapples and ornamental crabapples is the size of the fruit. Edible varieties have fruit that are about two inches in diameter or less. These varieties are excellent for making cider or jellies, whereas ornamentals have tiny fruit or no fruit at all and have not been bred for flavor. If you are going to eat your crabapples, plant a variety with large fruit to get the largest yield from your tree.

Crabapple fruits are high in pectin. Pectin is a natural fiber found in plant cell walls and is most concentrated in the fruit skin. It is water-soluble and binds with sugar and fruit acid to form a gel. So what does all this mean? It means that to make crabapple jelly all you need is fruit, sugar, and spices. Additionally, crabapple fruits are a good source of malic and tartaric acid which gives the fruit its sour flavor and may have some medicinal benefits.  With so many different varieties of crabapples and their unique flavors, I can’t think of a single reason for not having a few crabapples in the yard.

Crabapples As Pollinators of Sweeter and Larger Apple Varieties

Some crabapples can be used for cross-pollination if they flower at the same time as the larger, sweeter commercial apple varieties.  Almost all apple trees require pollen from another compatible apple variety to set fruit, we call this cross-pollenation. This is because the majority of apple trees are what we call self-incompatible, that is they need another variety called a pollenizer to make fertilization happen. It just so happens that crabapple tree pollen will pollinate most larger and sweeter commercial apple varieties provided that they blossom at the same time. However, there are a few triploid ornamental crab apple varieties with sterile pollen or little to no pollen. So if you are buying new trees, check to see whether the trees you are purchasing have viable pollen for cross-pollination.

So think of a crabapple tree as some type of universal apple pollenizer. Crabapples are so effective at pollinating other apple varieties that growers can add them to their orchards to promote fruit set. When you are planting apple trees in a new garden, plant a crabapple within 50 feet of your other apple trees to ensure good pollination.  In fact, just a few cut branches of crab apples in bloom in a bucket of water in the middle of an apple orchard is enough to promote pollination.  It turns out these trees are magnets for the honey bee. The bees visit the crabapple blossoms and then visit the apple blossoms as they open on the sweeter and larger apple trees, thus improving the fruit set.

Good Crabapple pollinizers for domestic apples. 

Chestnut Crab Blooms early to midseason
Crimson Gold Blooms midseason to late
Frettingham Crab Blooms mid to late
Indian Summer Blooms same time as Red Delicious
Manchurian Blooms early to midseason
Mt. Blanc™ Blooms late
Mt. Evereste™ Blooms early to midseason
Simpson 10-35 Crab Blooms mid to late
Snowdrift Blooms midseason to late

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Composting with a GEOBIN

There are many different methods of composting and there are many different commercially available composters that help you to get that work done.  In this post, we review the GEOBIN composting system for its ease of setup, functionality and overall success at making compost.  If you are new to gardening and want to learn more about composting or you are looking for different alternatives to compost, then read on.

 

composting with GEOBIN

Last year, here at the Plant King Blog, we purchased our first GEOBIN system from Amazon for $34.99.  We were so pleased with the success of making compost that we bought a second one this year. It is one of the least expensive and largest capacity composting bins on the market today. The GEOBIN backyard compost system is easy to set up and is ideal for all skill levels. Use the finished compost around flowers and garden plants to amend your soil with rich recycled nutrients. Here are some GEOBIN statistics:

  • Large capacity—expandable up to 4 feet across
  • Easy to assemble with closure keys
  • Made from 50% recycled plastic content
  • Easy to store and reassemble
  • Excellent slotted ventilation 
Geobin composting system
The GEOBIN comes ready to use out of the box. Remove that wrapper and insert the keys. Follow the instructions, it’s that easy.

Backyard Composting Basics: The term “hot composting” refers to a method in which microbial activity within the compost pile is at its optimum level.  The end result is that you end up with finished compost in a much shorter period of time. So what exactly is compost?  Compost is simply decomposed organic matter that is rich in nutrients. Composting is an aerobic process so it requires oxygen. Additionally, nitrogen, carbon, moisture along with beneficial microorganisms are needed as well. Remember making your own compost helps the environment and benefits good insects, soil bacteria and other microorganisms.  The GEOBIN is perfect for hot composting.

Compost Pile Size: The size of your compost bin or pile is very important when it comes to hot composting. The GEOBIN is about 4 feet wide and 3 feet tall.  These dimensions happen to be ideal is for hot composting.  Smaller piles will not generate sufficient heat and larger piles become unmanageable. The composting system should be placed in full sun, less sun will slow down the process.

A working geobin
A GEOBIN in action, fill it up, watch it work.

How do you start a compost pile? The idea behind hot composting is to get the pile to heat up as fast as possible. For this to occur, we need a large amount of organic matter, with the correct carbon to nitrogen ratio, right from the start. This carbon to nitrogen ratio enhances microbial activity and ramps up the composting process.  If you are interested in composting then you will need to collect organic material from the table below.  Add the materials to the GEOBIN, mix well, add water.  If you have older compost mix, it is already teeming with microorganisms and will serve as an activator, add it to the new pile.

Carbon-Rich Materials Nitrogen-Rich Materials
Straw Grass clippings
Shredded paper Fresh cut weeds
Corn Stalks Vegetable and fruit scraps
Fall leaves Deadheading
Twigs Coffee grounds

Compost Happens: The optimal temperature for microbial activity is 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, microbes break down organic matter and reproduce at high rates. This temperature range is also hot enough to kill most weed seeds and harmful bacteria in the pile. The composting process also requires water.  The contents of your compost pile should feel like a wrung-out sponge.

Compost
Happiness is well-made compost. Thank you, GEOBIN.

If you are having problems with your compost pile, don’t give up hope.  For a compost pile that does not heat up, try the following:

  • the pile is too small
  • not enough air
  • not enough nitrogen
  • the pile is too wet or too dry

Good luck composting, if you have any questions or comments please post them below.

Happy Gardening, from The Plant King.

 

 

 

Fruitless Sweetgum Tree Facts

American sweetgums are deciduous trees prized for their star-shaped leaves that turn a brilliant mix of fall colors. Sweetgums are native to the southeastern United States. It is classified according to its Latin name Liquidambar styraciflua and it belongs to the Altingiaceae family. From many perspectives, the American sweetgum is a good tree for the urban landscape. It grows fast in acidic loamy soil and has few insect or disease issues. American sweetgum trees are best grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 9.  However, the one major flaw of this tree species is that it produces large amounts of fruit or seedpods.  These spiky seedpods litter lawns which ultimately makes the tree much less desirable for any landscaping.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a fruitless sweetgum tree, that is to have everything except the spiky mess.  Sometimes a plant may grow that differs substantially than others in a population. We call this genetic mutation a “sport” and if that mutation happens to be desirable then we can make many exact copies of it through propagation techniques. So, Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Rotundiloba,’ is a sterile, non-fruiting cultivar of the American sweetgum that does not produce the famous spiky seed pods. A cultivar is a plant selected from the wild or intentionally bred that differs from the typical member of the species it was selected from or bred.  If you are interested in planting a fruitless sweetgum tree then this article is for you.

sweetgum tree leaves
The fruitless American Sweetgum tree, Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Rotundiloba’ with its characteristic lobed leaves.  This cultivar is sterile and does not produce seedpods.

A problem with growing ‘Rotundiloba’ has been its lack of symmetry. Instead of having the cookie-cutter appearance, the fruitless sweet gum has a more free form habit, especially with lateral branches. In formal plantings, let’s say like at mall parking lots, where exact size duplicates are needed, this has caused some disappointment.

fruitless sweetgum tree form
Fruitless Sweetgum trees require corrective pruning especially with lateral branches as seen here. Mature trees reach 50 feet in height.

As always, a tree this rare is not likely to be found at a large discount nursery, instead, it is more likely found in select plant nurseries or from mail-order tree nurseries. Below is a list of other cultivars that are considered nearly fruitless and may be considered as options to the sterile ‘Rotundiloba’.

Liquidambar syraciflua Cultivars Fruit Production
‘Ward’ Nearly Fruitless
‘Slender Silhouette’ Nearly Fruitless
‘Worplesdon’ Nearly Fruitless

 

Bottom Line:  If you are planting a sweetgum tree then most likely you interested in it as a specimen tree.  The main drawback of using a native tree is the large amounts of fruit or seedpods that it produces and the extra cleanup work that it entails.  The alternative is the sterile ‘Rotundiloba’ cultivar.  Just be prepared for some additional pruning early in the tree’s development and losses due to cold temperatures in Northern latitudes.

native american sweetgum tree distribution
Native American Sweetgum tree distribution

For additional information regarding Sweet-gumfs_list2can be found here.

Propagating Azaleas Using Softwood Cuttings

In our previous post, we discussed the care of azaleas.  In this post, The Plant King tells you how to propagate azaleas using softwood cuttings.  Why use cuttings?  In simple terms, we are making a duplicate or exact copy of a plant.  We may like the flower color, or plant height or another characteristic that intrigues us.  We make exact duplicates or clones of plants by using softwood cuttings.  If we were to plant from seed, then there is no telling what mother nature would give us, smaller flowers or other variations that are not interesting. It is, for this reason, that plant nurseries and home gardeners use cuttings instead of seeds.  They know exactly what plant they are producing for a particular and fickle market of buyers.

Azaleas are easy-care flowering shrubs that reward gardeners with massive blooms.  They’re a must-have in your garden. Azaleas are closely related to Rhododendron, in fact, they are in the same genus. There are literally thousands of azalea varieties and cultivated hybrids available. They come in many flower colors, including red, pink, yellow and white. Though most plants flower for about two weeks in April and May, there are also summer-blooming varieties that add color and grace to any garden later in the season.  Keep reading to find out more about propagating azaleas using softwood cuttings.  After all, who doesn’t want more azaleas?

azalea-blue-bush

Let’s get Started: Azaleas and other ornamental shrubs in the home landscape can be propagated by softwood cuttings. In most cases, plant propagation is dictated by the calendar.  Softwood cuttings are taken in June and July and sometimes into early August from the current season’s growth. Cutting material should be flexible but mature enough to snap when sharply bent.

Here’s what you’ll need for propagating azaleas using softwood cuttings:

  1. With pruning shears remove 3″ to 5″ of new growth.  I usually add the cuttings to a plastic bag with a wet paper towel inside to prevent excess water loss from newly cut stems. Choose only healthy plants with no insect damage, no leaf discoloration, or disease.
  2. Bring the cuttings back to your garden bench and cut them again at the base with a sharp knife just below the point where one or two leaves are attached to the stem (node).  This clean cut will have much less tissue damage and will increase success rates so it is worth the extra time.
  3. Remove the leaves from the lower half of each cutting and scrape the bark from one side of the stem. This wound will help to induce root production.  Wet the lower portion of the cutting with water then roll the end of the cutting in rooting hormone. Tap off any surplus material. Softwood cuttings root more successfully when a rooting hormone is used.
  4. Stick the lower end of the cutting where the leaves were removed about 2″ into the rooting medium. Firm the medium around the stem to make the cutting stay in place.
  5. Mist with water regularly and cover with a clear or white plastic bag. The bag prevents excess water loss and will again increase success rates.  Place in a location with bright but indirect light. Rooting should take approximately 6 to 8 weeks.

Things to keep in mind when choosing plant material:

  • plants must be healthy pest and disease-free
  • younger plants work better than older plants
  • lateral shoots work better than terminal shoots
  • take cuttings in the early morning when plants are well hydrated
  • if not planting immediately refrigerate cuttings

azalea-softwood-cuttings

Rooting Medium: There are many options for rooting medium. It must not only retain moisture but also drain well and provide physical support.  For our example of propagating azaleas from softwood cuttings, we find it best to work with masonry sand or potting mix.

  • peat – partially decayed vegetation or organic matter
  • vermiculite – a mineral used in soilless growing systems
  • perlite – a form of amorphous volcanic glass that looks like styrofoam
  • masonry sand – all-purpose sand used for masonry work
  • potting mix – most potting soils are made of peat, vermiculite, and bark

It will take several years for a rooted cutting to become a nice size plant. That is definitely delayed satisfaction.  Still, many gardeners find rooting cuttings and growing the young plants to be fun and rewarding.

Growing Microgreens, A Starter Guide

Microgreens are easy and fun to grow. They are great for garnishing sandwiches and adding to salads. Most microgreens are fast growers that have a quick turnaround to harvest time. The majority of vegetable varieties grown as microgreens are ready for harvest in about 10 to 14 days.  Nutritional studies have found that microgreens pack a nutritional punch.  They are higher in vitamin C, E, and K than mature plants. However, if grown under incorrect conditions microgreens can be the source of foodborne bacterial infections.  So if you are interested in growing microgreens, our starter guide is helpful reading.

red cabbage microgreens

What Are Microgreens? Plants go through several developmental stages.  For our discussion let’s call these stages: sprout → microgreen → baby →  mature plant.  Spouts grow for about 3-5 days and usually, we eat the whole plant.  Sprouts require a high moisture environment with no soil or media.  Microgreens have grown for about 10-14 days and harvested by clipping just above the soil. These plants have cotyledons and may also have true leaves. As the name implies, baby plants, have further developed with 14 -30 days of growth and look more or less like the adult form. At this stage, plants have true leaves and there is more distance between each plant. A more detailed diagram listing the stages of seed germination is listed below.

Capture-Pa
Stages in seed germination: A-seed coat, B- radicle, C- primary root, D- secondary root, E- cotyledon, F – plumule, G- leaf, H- taproot Source: WikiCommons, Aslyntodd.

Choice of Seeds: There are dozens of crops that can be grown as microgreens.  If you are just getting started to begin growing with the easiest varieties or with a professionally premixed selection of microgreens. As you gain confidence, then diversify your selection. It’s important to understand upfront that microgreens require more seeds than let’s say growing a row of garden vegetables. Additionally, seeds should be sanitized prior to use to reduce fungi and bacteria. When purchasing seeds, it is most economical to purchase in bulk. An excellent source for obtaining microgreen seeds is Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Below is our microgreens list.

Easiest Intermediate Hardest
Arugula Anise Amaranth
Bok Choy/Pak Choi Celery Leaf Basil
Broccoli Coriander Beets
Buckwheat Dill Chard
Cabbage Fennel Chives
Cauliflower Fenugreek Cilantro
Chia Leek Cress
Chinese Mustard Peas  
Endive Spinach  
Kale Sorrel  
Kohlrabi    
Lettuce    
Mustard    
Red Clover    
Tatsoi    
Sunflower    
Wheatgrass    

basic salad mix

How To Grow Microgreens: You will be needing some basic supplies, those being seeds, a growing tray, and growing medium.  To start seeds indoors, another obvious requirement is light which can be as simple as a bright window or a more controlled setting using a greenhouse and supplemental grow lights.  Heat mats may also be necessary to help with germination and temperature control. 

microgreen_5

Microgreens can be grown in soil or they can be grown hydroponically.  With soil-based systems, seeds are densely sown directly on the soil surface. Harvesting requires the microgreens to then be harvested by cutting. The microgreens will not regrow and the soil is not reusable and should be composted.  With their short crop cycles and minimum to no fertility requirements, microgreens are an excellent crop for hydroponic culture. Hydroponic based systems use fiber mats wet with water for the length of the growth cycle. Reusing mats also asks for root and seed diseases that can affect the next crop and should not be used again.

Are Microgreens Safe?  The short answer is it depends on several factors.  First is seed sanitization.  For maximum safety, it is recommended that you disinfect the outside of your seeds and your sprouting container prior to sprouting using 3% hydrogen peroxide.  If you see white fuze growing on roots, do not be alarmed these are naturally occurring root hairs.  If you observe or more importantly smell any sign of declining freshness, it is time to toss your microgreen lot; clean and disinfect your trays before starting a new crop.

Pros For Microgreens:

  • growing microgreens is fast and easy
  • some studies show higher nutritional value than mature plants
  • little setup costs

Cons For Microgreens:

  • a fragile product with high moisture content
  • eating raw microgreens may cause bacterial infections from E. coli and Salmonella among others
  • microgreens have a short shelf life

How To Control Japanese Beetles

The Japanese beetle, Popillia japonica, is a highly destructive nonnative plant pest that has become a threat to American agriculture. Homeowners encounter this pest during the summer months as the adults fly and aggregate in clusters to feed upon plant leaves. These skeletonized leaves, missing soft leaf tissues, are a tell tall sign of Japanese beetle activity. If you are having problems with these insects then continue to read and learn about their life cycle, what they like to eat and finally methods of control.

Adult Japanese beetle

How to control Japanese beetles begins with understanding the insect’s life cycle.  The life cycle of a beetle is known as a complete metamorphosis, meaning it has four very different stages: egg, larval, pupal and adult. The eggs are laid in the soil about two to four inches down where they can absorb moisture. A female can lay about 40 eggs over her entire lifetime. Eventually, these eggs develop into beetle larvae or grubs which feed on the roots plants and grasses. The larvae are typically white in color and go through several molts. Larvae are mobile and can become so numerous that they often destroy lawns and turf in golf courses.  Larvae will then pupate, change color and transform into adults which leave the soil and begin to immediately search for food.

As adults,  Japanese beetles are also destructive plant pests. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), adults forage on the leaves and fruits of several hundred species of trees, shrubs, vines, and vegetables. A telltale sign of their presence is skeletonized leaves and large, irregular holes. The Japanese beetle is considered the most widespread turf-grass pest in the United States.

As we mentioned earlier, the Japanese beetle is a nonnative or invasive species, an organism outside its native distributional range that was most likely introduced by human activity.  The Japanese beetle is native to eastern Asia, however, it was first found in the United States in a nursery in southern New Jersey in 1916 probably coming over with a shipment of ornamental flower bulbs. Since this organism had no native biological controls their populations exploded as seen by the USDA map below.

Japanese Beetle Distribution Map
The Japanese beetle has become a serious plant pest and a threat to American agriculture.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) comes from the idea that if a pest population is targeted then beneficial insects and other organisms in the environment will be impacted as well. So IPM serves as a means of controlling pest population to levels that lessen their economic impact. It is not the eradication of an invasive species rather IPM can be implemented using biological, chemical, cultural and mechanical methods that are complementary to each other. It is important to understand that using an integrated pest management approach will not completely eliminate Japanese beetles from your property.  These particular insects are here to stay, we just need to minimize its impact on our environment.

Although the Japanese beetle feeds on almost 300 species of plants, it feeds sparingly or not at all on many cultivated plants. The various kinds of plants on your property can significantly influence the susceptibility of your property and plants to Japanese beetle damage.

Wood Plants Resistant to Adult Japanese Beetles
Hemlock Yew Northern red oak Pine
Arborvitae Spruce Magnolia Sweetgum
Juniper Holly Ash Forsythia
Dogwood Redbud Hickory Boxwood
Herbaceous Plants Resistant to Adult Japanese Beetles
Violet Nasturtium Sedum Poppy
Forget-Me-Not Lantana Impatiens Hosta
Foxglove Larkspur Coreopsis Lily of the valley
Begonia Dusty-Miller Columbine Ageratum

Pesticides which are useful against adult beetles include Permethrin, Deltamethrin, and Bifenthrin. Homeowners and gardeners need first to assess the risks and benefits of pesticide use. This includes application timing, toxicity, and the fate of pesticides in the environment.

pyrethrin chemical structure
Pyrethrin chemical structure is modified to produce insecticides effective against the Japanese beetle’s nervous system.

Biological controls include, Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, is a species of entomopathogenic nematode known commonly as beneficial nematodes. They are microscopic and are used in gardening as a form of biological pest control against Japanese beetles.

A naturally occurring soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis or just Bt is used as a microbial insecticide. The Bt strain used for the Japanese beetle is for grub stage only. Bt is an insect digestive system poison that must be ingested to be effective.

Mechanical traps can easily capture thousands of Japanese beetles. This trapping method is an easy and inexpensive way to reduce beetle populations and reduce egg laying. According to the USDA, under favorable conditions, a trap will capture approximately 75 percent of the beetles that approach it. Because these traps attract more beetles than they capture, be sure to place traps away from your favorite plants and vegetable garden. Not only are you attracting and capturing adults on your property but also from the surrounding area. So install traps at the borders of your property. Trap placement should be timed to coincide with the emergence of adult Japanese beetles in your area usually between early June and late August.

japenese beetle lure
A chemical lure using floral volatiles to attract males and females. Additionally, it contains a sex pheromone to attract male Japanese beetles.

Integrated Pest Management to Reduce Japanese Beetle Populations

  • Remove older fruit from the ground, the odor of such fruit will attract beetles
  • When considering new plantings use trees, shrubs, and other plants that are not preferred by the beetle.
  • Make use of both chemical and biological controls
  • Use of mechanical traps baited with sex pheromone and floral volatiles

What is Deep Water Culture (DWC) Hydroponics?

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil where plants are fed using a nutrient solution. The plants are supported in various substrates such as rock wool, expanded clay aggregate, gravel, sand, or coir peat. Since most hydroponic methods employ some type of growing support these methods are often referred to as “soilless culture”, while water culture alone is true hydroponics.  In this post, we will explore what deep water culture hydroponics is all about and take a look at how the process works.

hydroponics
Deep water culture is both an easy and effective method of hydroponic gardening.

In deep water culture, plants are grown in containers full of nutrient solution.  These containers can be small 5 gallon buckets or larger tubs and tanks for commercial systems. The nutrient solution in which the plant roots are suspended is usually aerated with an electric pump, tubing, and airstone which help to diffuse the air into solution. Generally speaking, aerated solutions are required to prevent roots from drowning.  More exactly, roots require oxygen in air because they perform a metabolic process called aerobic cell respiration. Just remember, DWC is the practice of growing plants in aerated water. It’s considered by many to be the simplest form of hydroponics. If you are a beginner in the field of growing plants then a DWC system is for you. These hydroponic systems are cheap and simple for DIYers to setup.

Plants are grown in slotted net pots suspended in holes cut in the lid of the reservoir.  Larger systems use a flotation raft instead of a simple lid. Reservoir size can be increased as plant size increases.  A single reservoir can be dedicated to an individual plant or many plants.  A large scale “raft” deep water culture system is shown below.

hydroponics deep water culture
A large commercial deep water culture system. In DWC, growth rates and yields can be astounding.

Which water level is best?

A well-hydrated plant typically grows incredibly fast and growers can manipulate water and nutrients levels in the root zone to decrease vegetative times by 15 to 25%. This decrease can trigger plant responses such as essential oil production, flowering, and fruiting. For instance, a dryer root zone can cause basil plants to increase their essential oil production. Whereas, a wetter root zone can cause plants to increase their photosynthetic rates by focusing on larger vegetative leaf production.

Choosing the Best Crops for Deep Water Culture

Are there any specific plants that DWC suits best? Here’s a list of potential crops for first-time growers.

Crop Growth Rates
Basil 8–10 weeks from seed
Lettuce 5–6 weeks from seed
Okra 7–9 weeks from seed
Kale 5–6 weeks from seed
Collard Greens 7–8 weeks from seed
Sorrel 4–6 weeks from seed
Chard 4–5 weeks from seed
Bok Choy 8–11 weeks from seed
Tomatoes 8 -10 weeks

Pros of Deep Water Culture:

  • Great for fast-growing plants
  • Flexible plant container sizes
  • Allows for larger root mass
  • Efficient use of water
  • Fewer plants with larger yield
  • Cost-effective to build and requires few parts

Cons of Deep Water Culture:

  • A chiller will likely be needed to cool the reservoir
  • Plants can be prone to root diseases
  • pH fluctuation may occur and requires periodic monitoring

 

Dwarf or Semi-Dwarf Fruit Trees? When Size Matters.

When starting a backyard orchard, there are many decisions to make regarding fruit type,  number of trees, amount of light, and soil composition.  But before all that, the most fundamental question that a gardener should ask is “What size tree can I fit on my property?” Is there sufficient room to grow a standard size tree or is it best to plant semi-dwarf or dwarf trees? You see, it’s all about size.  Dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees offer a compact alternative to standard size fruit trees.  From a practical point of view, the tree size of either makes them much easier to prune and pick, not to mention you can add more trees and more varieties to your backyard orchard. Smaller trees also mean that the use of ladders for harvesting may be eliminated completely.

apple tree dwarf apple tree red apples
Fruit trees are an investment in time, money and space. Pick wisely and watch your harvest grow year after year.

What Are Dwarf Fruit Trees? Generally speaking, the fruit trees with the smallest mature height are considered dwarf trees. Dwarf fruit trees grow 8-10 feet tall and wide. If you have limited space for your backyard orchard then dwarf trees are for you. The fruit is the same size as a standard tree, but harvesting is much simpler because of the tree size.  There is a downside to dwarf trees since this type of tree usually has a reduced root system size due to the rootstock used.  Because of this, most dwarf trees require a stake in order to support the additional weight of the fruit. These trees may require more staking in very windy areas.  Additionally, dwarf trees require more fertile soil due to their smaller root systems.

What Are Semi-Dwarf Fruit Trees? Semi-dwarf is the next-larger size in fruit trees. These trees will reach 12-15 feet tall and wide.  A considerable advantage is the average semi-dwarf fruit tree may yield almost twice as much fruit as a dwarf-sized one, without taking up much more space.  Semi-dwarf trees do not need staking since they have stronger root systems. A tree’s productive life usually lasts for 15 to 20 years.  For example, a single semi-dwarf apple tree can produce up to 500 apples in a season.  Their fruit sizes are also the same size as a standard tree.

It’s all about Root Stocks. Fruit trees are grafted to rootstocks rather than being grown from seed. This is because they are not “true-to-type” when grown from seed. What this means is that you do not get the same fruit characteristics as the parent plant due to genetic recombination.  In most cases, growing trees for example, from apple seeds is a waste of time.

For this reason, both dwarf and semi-dwarf trees are propagated using budding and grafting techniques. Grafting allows for exact clones of trees to be produced with identical fruit characteristics as the parent tree. A scion or bud from the desired tree is grafted to a rootstock.  Rootstocks serve as the root system of the tree. The selection of rootstock by the grower has a direct impact on the size of the tree at maturity as well as disease resistance. Dwarfing rootstocks typically produce trees that are about 30% to 60% of the size of standard trees while semi-dwarfing rootstocks typically produce trees that are about 60% to 90% of standard size.

TreeSize

When Can I expect fruit? Semi-dwarf and dwarf fruit trees reach their mature size more quickly than standard varieties. Dwarf apple trees can begin producing full crops of fruit within 2-3 years after planting, while semi-dwarf apple trees typically begin producing crops of fruit at about 4-6 years after planting.  Typically, when you are buying a fruit tree at a nursery it’s probably already about 2-years old.

Which Type Is Best? Well, it depends on your particular situation.  If you have limited growing space, then it would be best to pick the dwarf variety. The care for this tree in terms of pruning will be easier too. Dwarf trees generally reach maturity and begin producing fruit more quickly than their semi-dwarf counterparts. However, if you have the extra room then plant semi-dwarf fruit trees, they will bear more than twice the fruit of its dwarf counterpart.

 

Growing Hops In A Container

hops cones

What do you do if you want to grow hops, Humulus lupulus, and you have limited space?  Not every craft brewer has access to a plot of land or even a backyard. Maybe you live in a condo with a sunny balcony or maybe there’s just not enough room to build a hops arbor.  So if you are living in the urban jungle, then the answer is to grow hops in containers.  You can do it! It’s easy and with these gardening tips you will get up to speed and growing hops in no time.

Scout the location:

Hops love the sun so pick a location that receives adequate light throughout the day.   This can be a porch, patio, deck, driveway, yard or anywhere that gets the right amount of light. Put some effort into your decision, you need to find an area that gets as much sun as possible from the late morning to afternoon. Hops grow vigorously within USDA hardiness zones 4 through 8. Hops are a hardy perennial plant that will actually thrive in climates that experience all four seasons.

Get your rhizomes:

There are many different varieties of hops to choose from based on key factors for brewing.  We chose to grow Centennial hops, the rhizomes are pictured below.  The first three are healthy with new bud growth and root production. The last shows little development yet it was still viable. Remember, you are planting female plants since they produce the hops cones necessary for  brewing.  Chances are you will order hops online.  We ordered these from a seller on eBay. If you receive rhizomes by mail, refrigerate them prior to planting.

hops rhizomes

Alpha acids from hops contribute to the bitterness in beer. The more alpha acids the more bittering potential. The actual alpha acids vary from year to year depending on the weather, harvest conditions, and storage. Here is a list of common hops and their alpha acid content.

Common Hops Alpha Acid Content
Cascade 6
Centennial 10.5
Chinook 13
Citra 11
Galaxy 13.5
Mosaic 11.5
Willamette 5.5

Planting time:

Obtain a half-barrel planter or another container with a diameter and depth of at least 20 inches. Make sure the container has several holes along the bottom to allow for adequate drainage. Fill the pot with potting soil, dig a 4″ trench and lay the rhizome in with the buds upward and root facing downward then cover with adequate potting soil.  We made a sturdy trellis from garden fencing. Despite their large size, hops grow well in containers and if provided with abundant water and ample supplemental nutrients they will produce, to your delight, an abundance of cones.

Care and Feeding:

Be sure to water your hops as needed, thoroughly wet the soil in the container.  Never let your plants begin to become dry, brown and brittle. These are indicators that your little plants are asking for more water.  Alternatively, if they begin showing discolored, yellow leaves, then dial back, they are probably receiving too much water. Feed container-grown hops plants with a liquid fertilizer diluted to quarter-strength. Apply the fertilizer every four weeks from the time the vines emerge to when they begin to develop cones.

Training Time:

As your hops grow in length, they need to be attached to the trellis.  Weave the bine in and out in a clockwise direction for best results. Prune the hops bines once they overgrow their trellis. Remove the leaves from the lower 1 foot of bine to increase air circulation and decrease the likelihood of pests and disease.

Harvest:

As summer passes and fall begins, it is time to start thinking about harvesting your hops! You should expect to begin harvesting sometime between mid-August and September. As the cones reach maturity, the tips of the cones will begin to turn light brown.  First-year plants may produce as much as ½ pound of hops, while established plants can produce in excess of 2 pounds per year.

 

 

 

10 EASIEST FLOWERS FOR BEGINNERS

Caring for flowers should be easy, fun and enjoyable.  Often beginner gardeners lose interest because some plants are more difficult to care for than others and maybe their plants failed to flower.  Why not focus on plants that are easy to grow? Your chances of success will go up tremendously. As your experience and your passion for gardening continue to grow so will the different varieties that will thrive under your care.

In this post, we add to our growing list with the 10 easiest flowers for beginners.

Sunflowers

sunflowers

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: Annual

Flower Colors: Yellows, Red hues, Orange hues, browns, and mixed

Plant Height: 3-16 feet

  • Blooms during summer
  • Drought and heat tolerant
  • Attracts birds, bees and butterflies
  • Thrive in full sun
  • Tolerates most soil types

Zinnias

zinnias

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: Annual

Flower Colors: Multicolor, Orange, Pink, Purple, Red, White, Yellow

Plant Height: 20-24 inches

  • Blooms during summer
  • The shape of bloom differs by variety
  • Attracts butterflies
  • Prefers loamy, well-drained soil
  • Sensitive to frost
  • Has moderate water requirements
  • Grows best in full sun

Marigolds

marigolds

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: Annual

Flower Colors: Multicolor, Orange, Red, White, Yellow

Plant Height: 6-36 inches

  • Blooms through spring, summer, and fall
  • Helps repel mosquitoes and other insects
  • Prefers well-drained loamy soil
  • Water well, but allow the soil to dry between waterings
  • Best grown in full sun

Morning Glories

morning glories

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: Annual

Flower Colors: Blue, Pink, Purple, Red, White

Plant Height: 6 to 15 feet

  • Blooms from summer through fall
  • Support climbers with structures like trellises or arches
  • Attracts birds, bees and butterflies
  • Requires fertile, loamy soil
  • Water weekly during dry periods
  • require full sun

Pansies

pansies

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: Annuals (can be perennial/biennial in Zones 6-10)

Flower Colors: Blue, Multicolor, Orange, Pink, Purple, Red, White, Yellow

Plant Height: 6-9 inches

  • Attract butterflies
  • Like rich, well-drained soil
  • Needs regular watering
  • Will bloom in full sun or partial sun
  • Start pansy seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last spring frost

Coneflowers

coneflowers

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Flower Colors: Pink, Purple, Red, White, bicolor and more

Plant Height: Up to 6 feet

  • Will bloom for months
  • Make great cut flowers
  • Attracts bees and other pollinators
  • Sow seeds in spring or fall
  • Like rich, loamy well-drained soil
  • Plant in full sun

Lupines

lupines

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: 4-8 (often grown as an annual)

Flower Colors: Blue, white, yellow, pink, and purple

Plant Height: Up to 4 feet

  • Well suited for use in borders
  • Produces seeds that will self-sow
  • Attracts butterflies
  • Likes loamy, well-drained soil
  • Provide deep watering, and allow to dry in between
  • Plant in full sun

Geraniums

geranium flowers

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: 10-11 (grown as an annual elsewhere)

Flower Colors: White, pink, red, lavender, purple, magenta, and rose

Plant Height: 3-24 inches

  • Low-maintenance color from spring until fall
  • Good for use in window boxes, hanging baskets or containers
  • Prefer sandy soil
  • Like to be watered regularly, but don’t over-water
  • Maximum blooming requires 4-6 hours of sunlight daily

Lavender

lavender flowers

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: 5-9

Flower Colors: Blue, Pink, Purple, White

Plant Height: 20-24 inches

  • Technically an herb, this hardy plant requires minimal care once established
  • Blooms throughout the summer
  • Attracts butterflies
  • Requires well-drained soil
  • Should be watered deeply, but infrequently
  • Plant in full sun

Daylilies

day lilies

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: 4-8

Flower Colors: Orange, Pink, Red, White, Yellow

Plant Height: 12-48 inches

  • Flower continuously over a long period of time
  • Excellent for massing in large areas
  • Grow in rich, well-drained soil
  • Attracts butterflies
  • Provide deep watering in summer
  • Flower best in full sun to partial sun

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