Mother Earth Living

In the Garden

Get down and dirty in the garden

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As much as we’d all love the space and weather to continuously have an herb garden growing in our backyards, it doesn’t often happen. Fortunately, it’s not all that difficult to grow them inside, if you pick the right kinds. You just need a few basics for the actual growing, and maybe a little ingenuity to find space for them. The space aspect can be extremely important, especially in a house with pets or small children.

potted herb plant
Photo by iStock.

Hanging Basil Garden

Basil loves light and warmth, so if you have a nice window in your kitchen, you can grow basil there. You can get as fancy as you like, but the simplest version is to just get a shower rod and hang a pot or small bucket from it. Fill the bottom with small rocks and sand for drainage, fill the rest up with potting soil and stick a plant in. Basil smells amazing, so even if you don’t use it regularly, it’ll still scent your kitchen.

Bottles of Chives

Another sun lover, chives are simple to care for. If you dig them up from outside, be sure to give them a few days to adjust to being indoors by leaving them in the coolest area of your house.

Self-watering planters are a neat way to upcycle old bottles. You can cut or break them neatly, then use the neck end as your planter. Drop a string down the neck and attach it to the bowl — tape works well. Fill the bowl with dirt, and place it upside down in a Mason jar partially filled with water. Then just add the plant. Chives work well because their roots are flexible and don’t have to go very deep to produce a decent plant, and the sting will draw water up to the dirt, doing the watering for you.

Bay Ladder

Let’s face it: Ladders are basically shelves. Bay grows well in well-lit areas, but it doesn’t need sunlight all day — about half the day is plenty. It does need a little more space than some other plants, which is why using a ladder can give you enough room.

Just grab an old ladder, paint it and do the same for some old plywood. Nail the plywood to the ladder rungs and you suddenly have a nice, vertical garden. The bottom shelf can hold toys, while plants can be kept a bit higher if you’re hoping to keep little hands out of the dirt. Just be sure to secure the ladder.

Wall-Art Oregano

Oregano loves warmth and light, so a south-facing window is perfect. It’s also a bit like growing a tiny shrub, in that it won’t get too out of control and requires minimal maintenance as long as you provide plenty of drainage for it.

As for the wall-art bit, it’s a pretty free-range project. The main idea is to get a small planter and attach it to something you can then hang on the wall. Strangely enough, a sturdy picture frame is actually perfect for this, as long as you reinforce the backing.

One-Pot Garden: Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

By far, the lowest-maintenance garden you can do is just to put a bunch of herbs in one pot and take care of them that way. These three herbs all like about the same amounts of water and sunlight — which is lots of sun and slightly damp soil, so they do well together. They also tend to be pretty well-behaved and won’t crowd each other out.

So, while you don’t have to go shopping for any heavy duty tools, you can certainly use some tools around the house to get creative. These are only a few ideas — let your imagination and your hammer arm — go wild and you’re sure to come up with something new.

Ali Lawrence is a tea-sipping writer who focuses on healthy and sustainable living via her family blog Homey Improvements. She was born and raised in Alaska and dabbles in PR, Pilates, and is a princess for hire for kid’s parties. Find her on Twitter @DIYfolks.


Photo by Upsplash

Spring is coming, and that means it’s time to start thinking about your garden again. Whether you’re starting from scratch as a beginner or have years of experience growing flowers to beautify your landscape, roses have always been the Holy Grail of garden plants. Prized for their scent as well as their beauty, these flowers represent the pinnacle of success for many gardeners.

Roses can be prickly, though — in more ways than one. Sure, the thorns are likely to get you, but these queens of the garden can also be persnickety about their growing conditions, and they have a reputation for being difficult plants.

The rewards of growing beautiful roses make them worthwhile, and you too can be successful with these plants. Follow these tips to grow healthy roses in your garden this spring and summer:

1. Choose the Right Variety

In recent years, rose breeders have responded to the demand for roses that can grow in less-than-perfect conditions. Knock-Out roses come in many colors, bloom throughout the summer and are highly resistant to diseases like black spot that can take down other roses. Because they’re so easy to grow, they’re hugely popular — you should be able to find them at nearly any reputable nursery.

The only drawback to some of the modern wonders of breeding is that they don’t have much of a scent. If you literally want to take time to smell your roses, look to ancient varieties like Rosa mundi, apothecary roses and some classic varieties like “Pink Meidiland” or “Carefree Beauty" that have stood the test of time.

2. Choose the Right Location

Roses need full sunlight for about eight hours a day to produce strong canes and lots of blooms. They also need soil that drains well, so be sure to choose a spot that isn’t subject to standing water or puddling when it rains.

You also want to make sure that your roses are protected from the wind and have sufficient support if you choose a climbing variety. Install a strong trellis and start training the cane in the very first year to get the look you want — you’ll have a bloody battle against the thorny canes in the future if you don’t tie them to the trellis when they are young and pliable.

Photo by Upsplash

3. Feed the Flowers

Roses require fertile soil to do well, so make sure that you dig a deep hole and backfill it with a 50/50 mixture of soil and rich, organic compost when you plant. This will give the roots plenty of room to spread in nice, loose soil. Apply a balanced fertilizer about once a month, starting when the roses begin to put out a set of new leaves each spring. Continue feeding until the last month before frost — stopping the food source will help your plant stay strong as temperature cool down.

When fertilizing roses, it's best to use natural, organic fertilizer. Commercial fertilizers can do serious environmental damage if left unprotected, so if you do choose to use one, keep everything sealed tightly and stored out of the way, where children and pets can’t reach it.

4. Watch Out for Disease

One of the biggest problems roses face is disease. Planting the right varieties for the climate will help, as will choosing a good location. Still, sometimes bad things happen to good roses despite your best efforts.

For the best chance of curing your roses of diseases like black spot or powdery mildew, you need to catch the problem early. Get in the habit of inspecting your roses at least once a week to check for signs of disease. At the first sign of trouble, treat your roses with a pest spray. Here are instructions to make your own organic spray.

Photo by Upsplash

5. Keep Pests at Bay

Most animals stay away from roses thanks to the sharp thorns, but insects are another story. Japanese beetles, aphids and rose slugs can all wreak havoc on your plants, eating away the leaves and severely weakening the rose bush. You can spray for insects with an insecticidal soap or tea tree oil for an organic solution. Some commercial insecticides are harmful to honeybees, so if you're buying one, pay attention to the ingredients.

With a little research about the best roses for your area and a commitment to check on your roses often to catch problems before they spiral out of control, you can enjoy these beautiful flowers in your garden this summer. “Inspecting” your roses should be fun — all you have to do is walk past them and take a good look. Since you planted them to enjoy them, this should be the most pleasant garden task of all.

Megan Wild is a slowly but surely learning the ins and outs of creating a healthy flower garden. Her favorite type of flower is either a tulip or a daisy, so she plants as many of them as possible. Check out her tips and tricks for gardening on her blog, Your Wild Home.


Edge Fork

1. Grab a Forkful (of Dirt)

Designed to be easy on hands and wrists, the NRG PRO Mid-Length Border Fork includes a circular handgrip and a life-time guarantee.

To Buy: $40, Mother Earth Living Store

Biodegradable Pots

2. Poo Poo Planter

Give seedlings a strong start with these biodegradable pots. Made from composted cow manure, they break down to enrich your soil.

To Buy: $8 for a pack of 12,

Gardener Hand Scrub

3. Treat Hard-Working Hands

After a day of digging, refresh tired hands with these all-natural herbal soaps that gently scrub away garden dirt. Choose between Basil Poppy Seed and Lemon Calendula.

To Buy: $7, Botanical Interests

gopher stake

4. Pest Prevention

This solar-powered stake humanely redirects moles and gophers. Using a sonic pulse, it disrupts the animals’ sleep cycles, and makes them irritated enough to leave.

To Buy: $25, Clean Air Gardening

Butterfly Puddler stone

5. Butterfly Hospitality

The Butterfly Puddler has a recycled-glass well at the center that holds sand and water. As the water evaporates, butterflies are attracted to the minerals left behind.

To Buy: $40, UncommonGoods


Now that we’re shaking off winter’s chill, it’s that wonderful time of year when we can get back into the garden, dig in the cool earth, breathe the fresh air, and prepare for a season of beauty and bounty. With the right tools and planning for landscape, climate and soil quality, you can create gorgeous, versatile outdoor spaces that will fill your heart with pride—and your belly with food. Whether you live in the mountains, the desert or right in the middle, use the tips in this issue to get a jump on your best gardening season yet.

Extreme Heat

Indian Summer Black-Eyed Susans 

1. ‘Indian Summer’ Black-Eyed Susan: Rudbeckia hirta ‘Indian Summer’, Zones 3 to 7

✽ Huge, golden flowers
✽ Blooms early summer to first frost
✽ Full sun
✽ Moist to average soil

Crape Myrtle 

2. Crape Myrtle: Lagerstroemia indica, Zones 8 to 10

✽ Flowering tree
✽ About 20 feet high with a spread of 20 feet
✽ Partial to full sun
✽ Average, well-drained soil

Mealy Cup Sage 

3. Mealy Cup Sage: Salvia farinacea, Zones 8 to 10

✽ Native to New Mexico/Texas
✽ Deer resistant
✽ May be perennial in warm areas
✽ Partial to full sun
✽ Blooms early summer to fall
✽ Well-drained soil

Mild Summer

Purple Coneflower 

1. Purple Coneflower: Echinacea purpurea, Zones 1 to 5

✽ Many medicinal uses
✽ Deer resistant
✽ Attracts birds, bees, butterflies
✽ Full sun
✽ Sandy, well-drained soil

Woodland Sage 

2. Woodland Sage: Salvia sylvestris, Zones 1 to 5

✽ Long bloom time
✽ Deer & rabbit resistant
✽ Attracts bees, butterflies, hummingbirds
✽ Full sun
✽ Average, well-drained soil

Butterfly Weed 

3. Butterfly Weed: Asclepias tuberosa, Zones 3 to 9

✽ Attracts butterflies
✽ Showy wildflower
✽ Blooms May to September
✽ Full sun
✽ Native to North America
✽ Drought tolerant
✽ Well-drained to dry soil


Faassen's Catmint 

1. Faassen’s Catmint: Nepeta × faassenii, Zones 3 to 9

✽ Low-maintenance
✽ Attracts pollinators
✽ Likes hot, dry weather
✽ Partial shade to full sun
✽ Average, well-drained soil

Desert Marigold 

2. Desert Marigold: Baileya multiradiata, Zones 8 to 10

✽ Southwest native
✽ May be perennial in warm areas
✽ Blooms early spring to midsummer
✽ Partial shade to full sun
✽ Well-drained soil

Palo Verde 

3. Palo Verde: Parkinsonia microphylla (yellow) and P. florida (blue), Zones 8 to 10

✽ Native to Southwest
✽ Blooms March to May
✽ Full sun
✽ Well-drained to dry soil


Greenwax Golden Bamboo 

1. Greenwax Golden Bamboo: Phyllostachys viridiglaucescens, Zones 7 to 10

✽ Tall and vigorous
✽ Can be invasive; consider container planting
✽ Partial to full shade
✽ Moist, well-drained soil


2. Hosta: Hosta spp., Zones 3 to 9

✽ Hardy, easy-growing perennial
✽ Partial to full shade
✽ Tolerates clay soil well
✽ Moist, well-drained soil

New England Aster

3. New England Aster: Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, Zones 4 to 8

✽ Wildflower native to North America east of the Rockies
✽ Attracts butterflies
✽ Full sun
✽ Moist, rich soil

No matter where you live, consider companion planting (growing mutually beneficial plants together) to naturally discourage pests and maximize space. Learn more in our Companion Planting Guide.


Missing or bitten fruit, dig marks, bits of fur and chomped leaves are all signs that a pesky animal is enjoying the fruits of your labor. Each of these occurrences can leave clues as to just who is munching on your beautiful shrubs. There are a variety of reasons that animals would like to stop by your garden for dinner (or even call it home!). Knowing the signs of animal intruders will help to properly identify how to safely repel any pest from the area.

Flowers missing or bitten

Photo by Fotolia

Deer love snacking on fresh flowers, but they won’t eat the entire plant. If the bloom is missing from the tops of your flowers a deer might be to blame. Check near the garden area for hoof marks and even trees that are missing spots of bark. These guys love to rub their antlers against trees. They also leave behind small oval-shaped droppings.

Small paw marks in the dirt & digging

This could actually be a variety of different animals. Usually the only animals that leave behind strictly claw marks and dig marks are skunks, cats, and squirrels. You may be able to find some feces around the area which might help determine which animal is doing the digging. Cats will usually dig in areas they feel have become a nice potty spot. However, occasionally they will nibble on grassy plants and possibly herbs. Squirrels may leave many holes in the dirt, going after freshly planted seeds for food. Skunks like to dig around for bugs in the soil, and will leave an aroma when they are near.

Clean marks or holes in produce

Photo by Fotolia

Undoubtedly, this would point to a bird problem in your garden. Bugs can do this from time to time as well, but in that case, you can usually find the culprit sitting right on the fruit. Birds love to peck at ripe fruits and veggies. Usually they will stay away from eating the whole fruit. Mostly birds just want the bugs that live around the plants, but occasionally they do like to cause mayhem in a garden. If they make a home near the garden you may be troubled by their loud squawking on a regular basis as well.

Leafy vegetables with angled bite marks

Although bunnies love carrots and other produce, they love healthy leafy plants just as much. Any big green leaves will be nibbled away in a hurry. Rabbits have sharp teeth that were made to crunch right through foliage. Look for clean edges on leaves and many small droppings nearby. Also, take a look around areas with too much overgrowth. Families of rabbits will quickly call any space near a garden home.

Produce missing or bitten

Photo by Fotolia

Raccoons and opossums love to eat produce right off of the plant. Nevertheless, they will get food wherever they can. That means old fruit and veggies that have fallen to the ground definitely still look like a meal to these creatures. It’s also imperative to keep any debris or trash away from these nearby areas.

Plants dying or roots eaten

Small underground creatures like mice, voles and groundhogs may cause plants to suddenly die. These critters will usually leave signs of life nearby. They will gather dried grass and leave holes right into their lairs. Very small droppings or footprints may be a sign that these animals have made a home nearby. Pay close attention to structures like garages and sheds that might be close to the garden. Small animals love to burrow in walls whenever possible.


Nothing is more frustrating than spending hours in the sun doing back-breaking work on your garden only to find it overrun with weeds. This situation has led even the most steadfast organic gardeners to thinking about reaching for a bottle of pesticide.

Luckily for farmers who are near their breaking point, a new method of weed removal is gaining traction with organic farmers—weed blasters. Forget the old methods. No more pulling by hand or hoeing until you ache. This method can save time and effort on your part, and may even make your soil healthier.

natural weed control
Photo by Fotolia.

What Is Weed Blasting?

Weed blasting is a method currently being tested by U.S. Department of Agriculture agronomist Frank Forcella. Weed blasting is done by using an air compressor to spray weeds with gritty material such as corncob grit, walnut shells, corn gluten meal or soybean meal. While the grit shreds weeds, stronger crops like corn, soybeans and tomatoes are left unharmed. Using a portable air compressor mounted to a tractor, you blast at either side of the row of crops.

Success Rate

In an initial test with tomatoes, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois Department of Crop Sciences found a 75 percent reduction of weeds with one application. Forcella said season-long weed control has a success rate of 80-90 percent. While those numbers clearly aren’t perfect, weed blasting goes a long way toward reducing the overall number of weeds in the garden, and can help keep the number of weeds down so they can be easily managed with more conventional methods.

Other Benefits

Aside from just destroying weeds, you can help prevent more weeds and even fertilize the soil as you work. Using corn gluten meal as your grit can work to keep reducing weed population even after you’ve finished blasting, and it can double as a fertilizer. Soil too acidic? You can use lime as your blaster and help your soil at the same time.

Plant Safety

One of the biggest questions about using a method that shreds plant-matter is if it is safe for crops. Testing has found that spraying crops, such as corn, when they’re around 4-6 inches tall and then again around 1 foot destroys the weeds while leaving the crop unharmed.

Even when using this method on more delicate plants, such as tomatoes and peppers, the crops weren’t harmed at an unacceptable level. Even with some grit hitting the stems of tomato plants, the tops of the plants were still safe and intact, showing the future of this method to be very promising.


Cost is always a factor when it comes to taking care of your garden. Many organic farmers are excited about the potential to build their own blasting kits with an air compressor, applicator and cart for around $2,000.

Sure, it’s not the cheapest method of weed removal, but when it comes to protecting your crops and the environment, in the long run the cost seems pretty reasonable. As this method gains popularity, the cost could drop substantially, and using fertilizer you were already going to be adding to your garden as grit reduces the cost even further.

Weed Blasting: Wave of the Future

While weed blasting is still in its infancy, it shows great promise for protecting the crops of organic farmers and reducing the overall use of harmful pesticides. With this method, you can destroy weeds, help the environment and feed your plants all in one go—a concept that’s pretty hard to beat.

Ali Lawrence is a tea-sipping writer who focuses on healthy and sustainable living via her family blog Homey Improvements. She was born and raised in Alaska and dabbles in PR, Pilates, and is a princess for hire for kid’s parties. Find her on Twitter @DIYfolks.



Winter is a nightmare for any outdoor gardener because it forces us to stop gardening for several months. It is nightmare for the plants themselves, too, because those plants which are not cold-weather hardy somehow need to survive cold temperatures. This is where the concept of over-wintering comes in. Over-wintering is a process where you bring you plants indoors once the weather cools down so they have a warm space to live and can continue to grow. Come spring, they can start to flower and produce.

The Basics of Over-wintering Plants

It is not hard to properly over-winter your plants. However, there are a few things you need to remember so that you can do it successfully.

Firstly, you need to know when to bring your plants indoors. Do it just before the first frost. Better to be safe and bring your plants inside early than to risk your plants getting hurt and not recovering indoors, under artificial light.

Secondly, it is also important to decide which plants are healthy and well enough to actually survive the transition from outdoors to indoor conditions. Because the over-wintering process puts quite a lot of stress on the plants, those that are weak might not be able to adapt to the new conditions. Make sure that you bring in healthy plants and do it in a way that is the least stressful for them. A tip here is to re-pot these plants in fresh soil with fertilizer so they get as many nutrients as possible and don’t forget to give them a lot of water, too, so they can quickly adjust to their new conditions.

Also, make sure that you don’t bring indoor plants that are insect-infested or have some kind of disease. Indoors means a warm environment that can become a breeding ground. The more bugs and disease breed, the more they will spread throughout your plants, and it can be very hard to control insects and plant diseases in an indoor space.


When the Plants Are Indoors

Once your plants are safe and sound indoors, you need to seriously think about the light you will be giving them. Think about whether you will add artificial light, such as t5 grow lights, or can get away with only natural light. I would recommend adding at least one artificial light, because winters tend to be dark, which can result in the plants not growing as well. Artificial light can give your plants additional light that helps them thrive.

You also need to think about light cycles, or how many hours of light and darkness the plants will receive. If you are using artificial lighting, this task will be easier for you, as you can turn the light on and off according to a schedule that you decide. Usually these light cycles are somewhere between 8 hours of light /16 hours of dark and 18 hours of light and 4 hours of dark. You can determine which light cycle to use based on what plants you are growing. Just remember that the more light plants receive, the faster they grow. If you don’t want your plants to grow too much indoors, give them a little less light.  If you choose not to use additional lighting, place the plants close to the window so that during the day they get as much light as possible.

Finally, once you bring the plants indoors, make sure that you put them on a light cycle that is close to the natural light cycle during that time of year, and keep it that way for at least the first week. This will lessen the stress of the transition for the plants. After the first week, you can slowly regulate the light cycle (increase or decrease the hours of light you give to the plants) according to your preference.

Can All Plants Be Over-wintered?

The process of over-wintering depends on multiple factors. But the best plants to over-winter are annuals because you can grow these plants larger and stronger during the winter indoors. Tropical plants are also good candidates. By over-wintering them, you actually keep them alive and well so that they survive until the next season.

Don’t let your plants go to waste because the weather is too cold for them. Bring them indoors and over-winter them until the next gardening season starts.

Ben Thornton runs the website He has always had a passion for gardening, and created his website in hopes of educating others on growing indoors, and showing them that you can garden all year long.

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