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Monthly Archives: August 2016

Feed Your Pets With These Garden Plants

Fresh vegetables are an important part of our human diet, but they also are essential for the health of our animals. They provide essential vitamins and minerals and protect their cells from disease. By growing some of your own plants for your pets, you cut down significantly on your pet food costs, and your animals will gain the health benefits of fresh veggies. An added bonus is that most pet-friendly plants are easy to grow.

Here are 14 garden plants that you can safely grow to feed your furry friends.

All Animals

1. Wheat and Barley Grass

These all-purpose grasses are easy to grow and maintain, and they are an excellent source of antioxidant nutrients, vitamins A, B-complex, C, E, K, minerals, amino acids, and even a bit if calcium. But the best part? Most animals love them. Cats will nibble grass right out of a container in a sunny windowsill, or you can feed it in clumps to your rabbits.

Dogs

Although they love meat, dogs are omnivores, so a dog’s healthy, balanced diet will always have vegetables make up about a third of the meal. Dogs and also be fed some fruits and vegetables for easy, nutritious treats.

1. Melons

On a hot summer day, my dog begs for watermelon. Turns out, she knows what is good for her. Watermelon is a good source of lycopene for dogs and provides thiamin, vitamins A, B-6, and C. Plus, it is hydrating!

Cantaloupe is packed with vitamin A and beta-carotene, both of which are good for your dog’s health. However, if you feed either of these melons to your pooch, just make sure to remove the rinds and seeds first.

2. Green Beans

Steam these easy-to-grow garden plants before offering them to your dog. Green beans provide important omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A, C, and K, and since they are low in calories, yet high in fiber, they are great for dogs that need to lose a little weight.

3. Spinach

The boost of iron gained from adding spinach to your dog’s diet helps your pet fight any inflammatory and cardiovascular problems and may help prevent certain forms of cancer. Spinach also is a natural source of calcium.

Cats

Cats are obligate carnivores, so meat must be their main food source. However, they too enjoy fresh vegetables in their diet on occasion. These plants should usually be offered as treats for your cat or meal additives, not as a replacement for a regular meal.

1. Carrots

Cook and dice carrots before mixing them in with your cat’s meaty entree. Carrots are a great source of healthy beta-carotene as well as other important vitamins and minerals. Never serve your cat raw carrots, as they present a choking hazard.

2. Peas

Mash some cooked peas into kitty’s regular food for a healthy boost of proteins and carbohydrates. In some cases, peas have even been known to help with gastrointestinal problems in cats. Any variety of peas will be fine for your cat, but since the pods will likely be too tough for them, feed them only the peas themselves.

3. Broccoli

Kitties like to nibble, and when your cat nibbles on steamed broccoli, she will gain a blend of healthy antioxidants that will boost her immune system.

Rabbits

Contrary to what most people think, rabbits are not strictly herbivores. Rabbits are classified as obligate herbivores, which means, in terms of diet, they are the opposite of cats. Plants must be their main food source, but they can also eat meat.

Since rabbits are voracious eaters, growing some of your own bunny food will save you quite a bit of expense.

1. Herbs

As many gardeners have found out, sometimes to their displeasure, rabbits love herbs, so if you have pet bunnies, why not try growing some herbs just for them? They will love the taste, and they will gain all the nutritional benefits. A few of their favorites are basil, chamomile, cilantro, dill, oregano, mint, parsley, sage, thyme, and rosemary.

2. Dandelions

I grow dandelions and clover whether I want to or not, so it is good to know that they are good bunny food. In fact, those pesky dandelions contain more beta-carotene that carrots and more iron and calcium than spinach. Just be sure these plants come from a lawn that has not been treated with chemicals before you feed them to your rabbit.

3. Marigolds

Marigolds are a great addition to any rabbit lover’s garden. They are colorful, easy to grow, and rabbits love them. In fact, your hungry bunnies will eat them—flowers, leaves, stems, and all! Select the Calendula species of marigolds (Pot or English marigolds) as other varieties have a much stronger scent that may actually repel rabbits.

4. Leaf Lettuce

You know bunnies love lettuce, but for their health, did you know that the darker it is, the better? The good news about growing lettuce for rabbits is that they are not as fussy about taste as we are. They will eat an enjoy lettuce even after it has bolted.

Although we all are familiar with the image of Bugs Bunny munching on a carrot, feed them sparingly to your pet bunnies! Carrots are high in sugar and can cause digestive upset when eaten in excess.

Goats

It is in the popular mindset that goats will eat anything, but when they nose around things like your clothing, a box, or a can, goats really are just investigating whether it is edible or not. Goats are herbivores and ruminant animals, which means they chew cud. They enjoy hay and grass, but you also can grow other plants for your goats’ benefit!

1. Vetch

This fast growing cover crop is in the family of legume flowering plants. It actually helps the nitrogen levels in your soil and provides a solid protein source for your goats.

2. Root Vegetables

Goats enjoy eating the leaves, roots, and leaves of beets, carrots, turnips, and radishes. As they munch, they will be getting valuable vitamins and minerals.

3. Pea and Bean Vines

Harvest the peas and the beans for your family, and then let your goats nibble on the vines for the nutritional benefits.

What Not to Plant

Some garden plants are not safe for your animals to eat. These include tomatoes, potatoes, rhubarb, and onions. Certain varieties of flowers are even toxic to most pets, including clematis, crocus, daffodils, day lilies, foxglove, morning glory, narcissus, and lily of the valley. Not all parts of a plant may be toxic, however, but it is best to keep these away from your pets as best you can.

Symptoms of plant poisoning include sudden vomiting, diarrhea, heavy breathing, and listlessness. Call your vet immediately if you suspect poisoning, and if you think a certain plant is the cause, take part of it with you to the vet’s office.

Fall Garden Cleanup?, Here Its Tips

As gardeners, we never want the gardening season to come to an end. But, in most of North America, we must welcome the coming cold months by preparing our gardens for winter. Follow the tips below for a few good basic steps in preparing your beloved garden for the coming chill:

* Dig up tender bulbs for storage until next year

* As perennials quit blooming or die back, trim the dead foliage. You can compost the healthy trimmings to continue the cycle of nature.

* But, some perennials, if left alone, look great as winter interest and/or provide winter food for wildlife.

* Clean away any and all diseased plants and dropped leaves.  It will make next year’s gardening that much easier.

*  If you live in an area with cold winters but not much snow as protection, mulching in the fall will protect your plant investments.

* Vegetable gardens are best completely cleared up to prevent any disease or pest overwintering.

* Move your indoor foliage plants back inside before even the first light frost.

* And, don’t forget your gardening tools.  A thorough cleaning and sharpening now will save valuable time next spring.

Learn more about Container Gardening

Container gardening offers many advantages that people can tend to overlook: containers can be less work because they can be placed closer to a water source; they offer a smaller soil area to have to weed; they can be placed at a height that can minimize bending for watering and tending; movable containers can “follow the sun” if you have changing exposure; they can provide a garden plot even in high-rise apartments or homes with no space for a traditional garden; and just about any plant—flower or vegetable—can be grown in a container.

Selecting a Container

Virtually anything that will hold soil and water is a candidate for container growing. From a bag of soil with holes punched for planting and drainage to wooden tubs, old riding boots, milk cans, hanging baskets and fancy ornamental pots. You can choose the size, shape and cost to fit your needs and desires.

The deeper the pot the less watering it will need. Pots with a small soil volume will dry out faster and require more frequent watering. Unlike plants in the ground, plants in pots or hanging baskets in the yard, on a deck or on a windowsill are exposed on all sides to the drying effects of wind and sun. On hot, windy days you may have to water them more than once.

Darker colored containers will absorb more heat, which can get seeds and transplants off to a faster start, but these containers will need more watering if they are in direct sunlight. Lighter colored containers may be better for most people.

Select a container that will give your plant’s roots room to grow, but not so much that it will not fill out the pot. Consider the mature size of the plants you will be growing, and follow the spacing recommendations on the seed packet or plant label. Plant leaves should grow to touch each other in a container, providing shade that will help retain moisture in the pot. Because weeding will be minimal and you can easily reach into a pot, there is no need to plant in rows and you can space plants closer together in a container than in a garden.

Plastic vs. Clay

While unglazed clay containers, such as those made of terra cotta, may seem more “natural” or appeal to those who want a certain look, plastic containers offer an advantage if they are to be placed in full sun. Unglazed clay pots are porous and water can quickly evaporate from them, while plastic containers do not “breathe” and therefore they will not need watering as often as clay. If you like the look of clay, there are look-alikes available in plastic.

Drainage is Important

Be sure that your container allows for drainage when you water. If the pot doesn’t have a drainage hole in the bottom, add one. If you don’t want to put a hole in a decorative ceramic container you can simply put a smaller pot inside the decorative one, being sure there is some room at the bottom for water to drain out. This will provide a reservoir for the water to drain into. The soil has to drain water or the plant roots won’t be able to breathe.

Soil Selection

Some people are tempted to just dig up some garden soil and put it in a container. Generally, though, you are better off buying a prepared soilless mix for container growing because it is free of weeds and often contains added nutrients to help plants grow. Choose a potting soil that will provide support for plants as they grow, and one that will help retain moisture. A peat and perlite or peat and vermiculite mixture is usually a good choice.

Planting Procedures

Thoroughly water the soil before planting. Water gently until water drains from the bottom of the pot. This way you can be assured that the entire soil mass is wet. If you are going to move the pots, you may want to move them before watering so they will not be as heavy as they will be after watering.

For seeds, follow the seed packet directions for spacing and whether or not to cover the seeds with soil. Keep the soil moist by gentle misting or watering several times a day. When seedlings emerge keep them watered, and if you have too many plants thin them by plucking out the weakest looking ones.

For transplants, plant the top of the root ball even with the soil line and keep plants well watered as they get established.

A simple test as to whether or not to water is to stick your finger into the top inch of soil. If it feels damp, there is no immediate need to water; if it feels dry then you should water until some runs out the bottom of the container.

Mulching Helps

Plants that will be grown outdoors in full sun in containers can benefit from a layer of mulch on top of the soil. Mulch will help retain moisture in the soil, discourage weed growth, and break the harshness of raindrops or watering from a hose or watering can. Sawdust, shredded bark and gravel can act as mulches—choose one appropriate to the container and the plants.

Containers placed in semi-shady or shady areas do not need mulch as much as those planted in full sun, but it is never a bad idea.

Staking Tall Plants

Vining plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers, morning glories, thunbergia and others will need the addition of stakes or a small trellis to support them. Add the stakes or trellis when you first plant the seeds or transplants so that you won’t damage roots by adding them at a later date.

When the plants are large enough that you need to fasten them to the stakes or trellis, do not tie the stem tightly to the stakes. Leave a big loop that will support the stem but not constrict it. For large-stemmed plants like tomatoes and melons, strips of cloth are gentler than plastic or metal twist-ties. When fruits begin to get large, a cloth sling tied around the fruit and fastened to the stake can keep the fruit from falling off before it is ripe.

Extending the Season

One of the special advantages of container growing is that you can extend the harvest or bloom season by moving pots indoors when the weather grows cold. When you move them indoors, put the containers in a location where they will receive maximum sunlight during the day. Eventually, winter’s shorter days will take their toll and your plants will get scraggly looking. You may want to finally get rid of them, but with the right exposure, you can keep plants growing indoors for months after their usual outdoor life.

Other Advantages of Containers

Growing in containers gives you an opportunity to try something new on a small scale. If you have a shady area that you want to test to see how certain plants will grow, putting a few in a pot in that area will let you see how they do without a lot of work. Of course, you can do the same for sunny locations too. By grouping several pots, each with a different selection, you can see which ones do better so that you can decide what to grow more of next year.

Container growing is also an excellent choice for introducing children to gardening. Containers are easy to tend and can be sized to the age and interest of a child. A child’s favorite vegetable or cutting flowers are popular choices to get them started.

Philodendrons

The Namesake of the Genus

These plants are the ones that gave the genus Philodendron the name, as they are the ones that are the “tree lovers”. From delicate vines to tropical jungle lianas, these expert climbers come in all sizes, many varied leaf shapes and a kaleidoscope of colors. Often they will start out with small leaves and, as they grow up a tree, develop leaves of increasing size until they arrive at the tree canopy. There, in the brighter light, they will thicken up and begin blooming. However, most people who have these plants indoors never see the mature sized plants. What they do see is a plant that is prone to roam, growing in every direction in search of a tree to climb!

The thumbnail picture at right shows an example of a plant known as Philodendron superbum, here seen growing up a Queen palm trunk in south Florida. Note how short the internodes are on this specimen. When juvenile, this plant exhibits longer internodes, but upon attaining maturity, the internodes shorten appreciably and the plant may bloom with slender inflorescences.

One of the commonest and most well-known of the climbers is the Heart-leaf Philodendron, also known as Philodendron scandens, P. cordatum or P. oxycardium. A good example from PlantFiles. The Heart-leaf Philodendron is grown easily from cuttings and can make a nice full hanging basket, as seen in the link photo. They will also grow well on a totem, and even when mature do not grow into the heavy liana-like vines that some of the climbers do.

Creep, then climb, or climb, then creep?

I’m familiar with at least one species in this group that seems to alternate between a creeping growth habit and a climbing growth habit (see photo at left). When grown from seed, the plant starts out as a creeper, and stays that way for some time. As the specimen reaches a certain maturity, the internodes elongate and the plant begins seeking a support to grow up. Once established on a support, the plant will develop shorter internodes again as it prepares for a blooming cycle. Interestingly, if grown from a cutting, the plant will begin new growth with longer internodes and develop the shorter ones only after reaching and climbing a suitable support, such as a tree trunk.

Look-Alikes

While the vining members of the genus Philodendron are many and varied, a number of other vining aroid genera are often confused with them. For example, the common Golden Pothos (genus Epipremnum) looks very similar to a vining Philodendron at first glance. I have a Marble Queen Pothos (very similar to the Golden Pothos except with white variegation instead of yellow) growing up one of my Royal Palm trees. It has attained thick stems and huge leaves with natural cuts in them similar to those seen on mature Monstera plants. Unfortunately, most of the growing stems have lost all variegation, but when the occasional huge variegated stem appears, it is truly spectacular!

Another aroid genus that might be confused with Philodendron is the genus Syngonium, also known as “Nephthytis”. Many of the species and varieties of Syngonium have white, silvery, pinkish or reddish variegation on the leaves when juvenile. Most or all of this coloration is lost when the plant reaches mature size, and the leaves change from a simple arrowhead shape to a unique palmately divided structure.

Both the true Philodendron species and the look-alikes grow well in shade, well-drained soil and periodic, moderate fertilization. Oh, and something to climb on is strongly recommended, or else make sure you provide plenty of room for your plant to roam around in!