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In the Garden
Get down and dirty in the garden

5 Great Lawn and Garden Tools for Spring

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

Know Your Garden Zones

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.

Identifying Garden Pests

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.

A New Look at Natural Weed Control

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.

How to Grow Plants Indoors Over Winter


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.

Thoughtful Planting: Gardening Tips to Keep Bugs at Bay

As a homeowner, you're proud of your beautiful garden, but hate losing a certain percentage of your produce to pests each year. Dealing with pests that find their way into your house after they devour your garden can be even worse!

Luckily, a few gardening tips can help you keep the bugs out of your home, and away from your garden for good. Follow these tips for a pest-free gardening season and a beautiful yard.

garden pests

Plant Shrubs and Bushes Mindfully

Shrubs and bushes give your yard a beautiful burst of green, but if you plant them too close to your home, they can introduce pests to your foundation. As their roots grow, they can reach down to the foundation and cause cracks, which allow water to seep through and pests to burrow into. Save your foundation by planting your shrubs and bushes several feet away from your home. As you plan your plants' placement, keep their mature growth in mind. You'll have a hard time moving the mature plant if it grows too near your foundation.

Eliminate Standing Water

Water features can give your garden a more elegant, soothing atmosphere. But standing water also invites bug infestations, especially mosquitoes. To ensure your water features don't become breeding grounds for these obnoxious pests, be sure to change still, unmoving water at least once a week. If you have a decorative pond or reflective pool, you can also go the extra mile and introduce fish species that feed on pests.

Plant Fragrant Herbs

Add a few herbs to your garden to keep bugs away naturally. Try fragrant herbs like basil, lemon grass and lemon thyme, rosemary, and mint to repel mosquitoes. Chives and dill repel aphids, while bay leaves scare away flies. Plant oregano to repel a variety of pests, from cabbage butterflies to cucumber beetles.

Add Ornamental Flowers

Certain flowers do more than simply look beautiful. Plant chrysanthemums to scare away ants, roaches, ticks, bedbugs, and Japanese beetles. Choose marigolds to keep mosquitoes and aphids at bay. Select brightly colored petunias and nasturtiums to eliminate asparagus beetles and aphids. If you feel particularly daring, you can always add carnivorous plants like the Venus fly trap to your garden.

Attract Beneficial Bugs

Bugs that pollinate your flowers and eat other pests are your garden's best friends. Plant flowers that attract honeybees, like lavender, and introduce ladybugs and praying mantises to keep the aphid population down.

Contact a Pest Control Company

If you ever feel your pest problem is too big to handle, contact a local pest control company. They can eliminate your pests and even give you advice on how to avoid similar problems in the future.

With these six tips in hand, you have the tools you need to enjoy a pest-free garden.

Brooke ChaplanBrooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening. For more information, contact Brooke via Twitter @BrookeChaplan.

Bolted Vegetable Flower Arrangements

Has your garden gotten away from you? It happens to the best of us. You go on vacation and when you get back your lettuce is a foot taller and flowering. And so is your spinach. And your cilantro.

Some vegetables are only meant to grow in cooler temperatures, so when the height of summer hits, they react to the heat and bolt: They get tall and leggy and produce flowers and seeds. And then they die. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a gardener. It just means you’ve witnessed the entire life cycle of a plant.


Vegetables that produce their seeds in fruit, such as tomatoes, squash and peas, flower earlier in their lives and will often continue to flower if the fruit is picked. For leafy greens and root vegetables that don’t produce fruit, however, their traditional harvest period is all just warming up for the big show. As far as the plant is concerned, those tasty leaves are just there to gather energy for the real objective: pollination and seed production. If you want to try your hand at collecting seeds, you should leave your plants in the ground until they start to wither and brown before harvesting them.

If its flowers you’re after, however, pick with abandon! Pick them at their peak and arrange them in vases around your home. You can also dry them by hanging them upside down in a shady, airy place, so you can keep them arranged in a dry vase for much longer.

Cilantro gets especially impressive when it flowers, and it keeps its smell. Put it in a vase in your kitchen for delicate white flower clusters and the occasional waft of deliciousness.


Leeks are hardy, and if you missed one or two last summer, they’re probably right where you left them. You can eat them after they’ve overwintered, but if you let them go too long into the summer they’ll shoot straight up and burst into these amazing Dr. Seuss pom-poms that keep their shape when dried.

Dill explodes upward and outward into delicate yellow flowers that look great on their own or as filler around larger, stronger flowers.

Radishes and lettuce take on a strong and bitter taste when the weather gets too hot. If you’re willing to leave them in the garden a bit longer, however, they’ll sprout a tall central stalk that branches out into delicate, soft blooms in yellow, white and pink.

Chives blossom early in the spring, creating their own, subtle pom-poms. Cut them at their best and bring them inside to dry. Shake them gently over a jar to collect the seeds that fall out easily, then keep them for flower arrangements.


So if you’ve come back to an overgrown, inedible garden, don’t despair! Cut those flowers and bring them inside. Leeks and radishes on the kitchen table make for a great conversation piece! Virtually all leafy greens and roots will flower if left long enough, particularly in summer heat.

One vegetable that should be avoided, however, is the parsnip. Parsnips blossom into beautiful yellow branched flowers that look a lot like dill. Tempting as it may be, do not cut those parsnip flowers! When cut, parsnip greens exude a sticky white sap that can cause serious irritation, and even blistering if it comes into contact with skin. If your parsnips are flowering, just leave them where they are and appreciate them from afar.

Liz Baessler is a New England-based freelance writer who loves to travel, cook, and watch things grow. You can follow her gardening adventures or hire her to write for you.