In the Garden
Get down and dirty in the garden

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.

3 Tips for Growing a Perfect Summer Garden

From fruit and veggie plots to flower beds, your summertime garden provides a wonderful way to pass time throughout the summer months, all while enjoying their color and harvest. However, summer gardens face a unique set of growing challenges. Overwatering, pesky insects and weeds can wreak havoc on your garden. Here are a few tips to help you maintain and enjoy the beauty of your garden this summer.

grow a perfect summer garden
Photo courtesy shutterstock.

Avoid Overwatering

Sure, it may be heating up, but that doesn’t mean you have to water your plants more than you typically do. First, consider the fact that you may be watering your garden all wrong. Bonnie Plants, a national plant wholesaler, suggests avoiding wetting the leaves because it can potentially cause disease. If you water with a sprinkler, getting the leaves wet is almost unavoidable; however, if you water early in the day the foliage dries out quickly, minimizing the chance of disease. If you’re not an early riser, use a sprinkler timer.

Bonnie Plants also recommends watering your garden veggies just three times a week. If you’re growing in containers, you may need to water more frequently because they tend to dry out much faster than in-ground plants.

Make sure to keep an eye out for your garden’s indicator plant, or the plant that tends to wilt first in warm summer conditions, such as big-leafed plants like melon, cucumber and squash. If you notice wilting, it’s time to water the garden!

Keep Summertime Pests Away

No garden is off limits when it comes to summertime pests, however, common garden pests like slugs and earwigs can be eliminated. If you notice that your plants have holes in their leaves, it’s likely that you have slugs in your garden. These pests can be treated with baits, which can even be found in non-toxic forms, such as Natria, that are safe for other types of wildlife as well as kids and pets.

Earwigs are considered to be decomposers. Although they feed on old plant material, which is beneficial to your garden, they eat the healthy stuff, too. Fortunately, a simple home remedy can take care of your earwig problem. Place a tuna can on the ground so that it's level with the soil and add a tiny bit of vegetable oil inside to capture the earwigs.

Additionally, pests like termites thrive in moist conditions, so the mulch you’re using in your garden may help termites get closer to your home. Termites feed on wood-based materials and most mulch is made from wood chips. The pest control experts from suggest keeping mulch at least six inches away from the base of your home and other wood structures to reduce the risk of an infestation. Mulch alternatives include sand, pea gravel, rubber mulch and decorative stone.

Eliminate Weeds

Weeds are a common perennial garden problem. There are many ways to keep your garden weed-free this summer. Arm yourself with a set of good gardening tools, like a sharp trowel and claw, and uproot the weeds by hand. For a natural, less-strenuous method, sprinkle corn gluten meal throughout your garden. This method keeps weed seeds from germinating, according to the Bob Villa website.

Lauren Topor is a lifestyle writer based in the Southwest who spends her days writing about food and health, fashion, fitness and entertainment.

Tips for Planting Your First Garden at Home

More and more people are now getting into home gardening. Last year, the National Gardening Association reported that 35 percent of households in America are growing their own food, resulting in a 17 percent increase in home gardeners—the highest in the U.S. in more than a decade. Aside from the financial benefits that self-sufficiency brings, home gardening can also improve your physical and mental health.                                                                                 

If you want to start home gardening, but have certain dilemmas such as space constraints or are simply at a loss on how to begin, fret not. Tap the power of your inner green thumb. Here, I will walk you through some simple home gardening tips to get you on the right path for the very first time.

What To Plant
Photo courtesy Jinho Jung/Flickr

Carefully Choose What to Plant

Whether you’re planting a vegetable, herb or flower garden for the first time, be specific when planning your home garden design. Envision how you want your home garden to look, but set realistic goals. Start small instead of aiming for a grand garden that belongs in a palace. You can always add more plants to it later on. Decide if you’re starting from scratch with seeds or using transplants. You may want to first prepare your plants indoors if you’re growing them from seeds. Consider well the time that you can devote to this whole home gardening endeavor.

Factor in the Season and Your Climate

It’s best to work with nature as plants need their ideal temperature and lighting conditions. For example, if you live in a place where it almost always rains, opt for plants that thrive in the shade. To get started, check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s guide to know the plants that you can grow in your area, as well as the best time of the year to plant.

Raised Garden Bed
Photo courtesy Sean Freese/Flickr

Consider Your Space

Take a good look at your premises to maximize what you have. If you have a backyard, you can plant directly on the ground or you can build raised garden beds. If you live in a condo or an apartment, you can still grow some greens or blooms. According to DMCI Leasing, an online condo rental site, there are still ways to put up a garden in your condo or home. You can use a trellis, a terrarium, an aquarium or simply reuse containers. Wall gardening is also a good option when it comes to planting in vertical-living spaces. In any case, put your plants where there is enough light and humidity, and where you can easily tend to them.

Prepare the Soil

If you’re using a backyard, till the soil and remove stones, weeds and other things that can hinder your plant’s development. You may want to have your soil tested by the agricultural extension office in your area. You can also just buy soil from stores, especially if you don’t have a yard to get it from.

Enhancing Soil
Photo courtesy Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Health Campaign/Flickr

Enhance the Soil

Make your soil as healthy and nourishing as possible for your plants. Old leaves, grass clippings and manure make great organic matter for rich soil. Mix in generous amounts of it—a thick layer of about 3 inches—into your soil.

Know What’s Harmful to Your Plants

Throughout the course of your home gardening, you will encounter a variety of organisms that will either harm your plants or help them grow. Take the necessary steps based on your circumstances. For instance, while weeds are almost a constant trouble to every plant, some plants may be more prone to aphids. On the other hand, if something aids in the growth of your home garden, such as earthworms, let them stay.

Plant Seedlings
Photo courtesy Pink Sherbet Photography/Flickr

Properly Plant Seedlings or Transplants

If you’re starting from seeds, make sure to prepare your seedlings carefully first before you set them into place in your backyard. This can be done by growing them under controlled conditions and by carefully following the directions on the seeds’ package. Once your seedlings are big enough, transfer them to the spot where they can fully develop. Meanwhile, if you’re buying young plants instead of seeds, ask for specific instructions and tips from the store where you bought the plants.

Watch the Water

Seeds require plenty of water as they germinate. Same thing goes for seedlings that you transplanted to your home garden, as their roots are still finding their way into the new soil. With this, don’t forget the optimal levels of water your plants need to survive. This is another reason why it’s important to put your plants in an easily accessible place.

Garden Mulch
Photo courtesy rfduck/Flickr

Put Down Mulch

Keep soil temperature, water levels and earthworm activity in check, and keep annoying weeds out with this layer of protection for your home garden—mulch. You can choose organic mulches such as shredded old leaves, cocoa hulls and grass clippings or inorganic mulches such as stones and plastic. Cover the soil with about 2 inches of the mulch of your choice and leave space for the stems.

Just Keep Going

Preparing the soil and setting your plants in place is only half the battle. Conscientiously look after your vegetables, herbs or flowers. Never let them wilt due to lack of water and nourishment. If you must use fertilizer, follow directions to the letter. But if you decide to grow your home garden the organic way, prepare to have plenty of compost. Take proactive steps to protect your home garden from weeds, pests and animals. You may have to build fences regarding the last one.

Beginners may feel overwhelmed with the array of plants and articles on gardening. Remember that these ways to initially start a home garden so you can be right on track. Remember, start small. After all, you’re nurturing nature here. Once you see your plants grow and produce food or flowers, you will be reaping the fruits of your labor along with the satisfaction of sustaining life.

Aby League is a medical practitioner and an Elite Daily writer. She also writes about business and other topics of great interest. She also writes a blog, About Possibilities. Follow her @abyleague and circle her on Google+.