Thought of the Day

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Keep Vine Roots Away from Walls!

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Plant the roots of climbing plants well away from drying walls. Source: Claire Tourigny, from the book Les 1500 trucs du jardinier paresseux

Whether you let them cling directly to the wall or have them climbing up a trellis attached to the wall, growing climbing plants on your house creates a charming effect.

The problem is that, if there is one place where the roots of climbing plants are unhappy, it’s in contact with the building’s foundation. This is usually the driest spot in your entire yard, as they’ll find themselves in the rain shadow caused by the eaves above, and this means very little precipitation reaches the ground. Also, the foundation gives off heat, drying out the soil at the base of the wall even further. In addition, the average foundation is made of concrete, a very alkaline product that leaches into the adjacent soil, yet most climbers prefer their soil slightly acid or at worst, no more than neutral.

Fortunately, it’s easy to grow climbers in such a way that they can work their way up your wall without their roots being in the foundation’s dead zone. Just plant them at a distance from the wall, in the area beyond the eaves that receives normal rainfall, and then direct the stems towards the wall they are to climb.

To do this, plant the plant at an angle, almost horizontally, with the root ball pointing away from the wall. That way the roots will be located in rain-rich, less alkaline soil while the branches will automatically be oriented towards their future support. Easy peasy!

Matchmaking for Lonely Fruit Trees

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Sometimes you have to act like a matchmaker for your fruit trees! Source:,, &, montage:

Most fruiting trees (and shrubs) need cross-pollination, that is, pollen from another cultivar, in order to produce fruit. Even those reputed to be self-fruitful (that can produce fruit in contact with their own pollen) will bear more abundantly when there is cross-pollination (pollination with another variety).

The classic solution is, of course, to always plant at least two compatible varieties in proximity to one another. And proximity does not necessarily mean a few yards apart: it can be 100 feet (30 m) for many fruit trees! Of course, the two varieties have to be in bloom at the same time, so an early bloomer and a late bloomer of the same species would not be a good match. And only apple trees will pollinate apple trees, only pears will pollinate pears, etc. And I won’t even get into the complications of plum pollination, where European plums will only pollinate European plums, Japanese plums, only Japanese plums or Japanese hybrid plums, etc.

All on Its Lonesome

But what do you do if you have only one fruit tree and there are no others nearby? Or you have two, but, for whatever reason, one of the pair isn’t in bloom this spring? For that, you’ll have to do a bit of matchmaking!

When your tree starts to bloom, locate an appropriate match (a different cultivar of the same species) and ask the owner if he can share a branch. Bring the blooming branch back to your plant and set it out near your tree in a bucket of water. Bees will then go from the cut branch to those on your tree and bring pollen back and forth, pollinating the tree’s flowers. When flowers fade, chop up the cut branch and add it to the compost. And enjoy your harvest later in the season!

When Is It Safe To Plant Out Vegetables?


There is often a long period in the spring when it’s be warm enough to acclimatize vegetable plants tou outdoor conditions during the day, but still too cold at night to plant them out permanently. Source:

Gardeners go through the same questioning every spring: when can they sow or plant out vegetables? Of course, most plants won’t tolerate frost, so do check with a weather service about whether one is expected over the weeks just after you plan to start. However, when there appears to be no risk of frost, is that enough? Sometimes nights are still cold, but days are warm. Is that alright?

Here’s a guide.

Direct Sowing



Sowing seeds is a bit less stressful on the gardener than planting out vegetables started indoors. In most cases, cooler soil temperatures that actually required will simply slow germination down, not stop it. Plus it will take a week or so before the seedlings are tall enough to really be exposed to cold night air, giving you a bit of leeway. When the seeds do germinate, sign the soil is warm enough, usually nights have warmed up too and they’ll simply grow normally. So if you sow seeds a bit early, that doesn’t necessarily delay the harvest to come.

Still, it’s wise to know that some vegetables (cool season crops) germinate quite readily at fairly low temperatures (beets, carrots, lettuce, onions, parsley, parsnips, radishes, etc.) and you can consider it safe to sow them when the soil temperature has reached about 45˚ F (7˚ C), while 55˚ F (12˚ C) is safer for turnips, the various cabbages (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, etc.), Swiss chard and corn. Wait until they reach a balmy 70˚ F (21˚ C) before you sow warm season vegetables like beans, cucumbers, squash and melons.

You can find an inexpensive soil temperature thermometer at a garden center or online. Take the temperature at about a depth of 4 inches (10 cm).

Does the Moon Have an Influence on Frost?

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The last frost date has no relation to the phases of the moon. Source: Myriams-Fotos, &, montage:

In short, no. None whatsoever. Look it up on any serious gardening site and you’ll see. That it is safe to plant out after the full moon of May (or March, or April, or whatever the local legend says) is just another gardening myth. Like the one that says it is safe to plant out once oak leaves reach the size of mouse ears. Oaks do get frosted occasionally, even when they are leafing out or even in full leaf. You just can’t trust Mother Nature when it comes to frost!

Planting Out

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You don’t want to risk planting seedlings out too early. Source: WorldVegetableCenter

This is where things become serious. You carefully sowed the seeds of many vegetables indoors to get a head start on the season and you’ve been caring for them for weeks. Or you bought them at great expense. You certainly don’t want to risk harming them or even slowing down their progress when you plant them out.

Since sprouted vegetables are immediately exposed to air temperatures as well as soil ones, you’ll need to take air temperatures into account. And by mid-spring, the soil, having absorbed the sun’s heat all day, is often warmer than the night air. Look most carefully at night air temperatures, cooler than day ones … often considerably so! And even when night temperatures warm up, you still have to consider the possibility of late frosts (see above).

Note that you need to acclimatize seedlings started indoors to outdoor conditions before you plant them out (a few days in the shade, then a few in partial shade before exposing them to sun) and you can usually start to do up to 10 days before you actually expect to plant them out, putting them out on balmy days. But do bring them in at night if night temperatures drop to any degree (as they often do early in the season).

There are a few cool season vegetables that are often started indoors, like leeks, lettuce, onions and again, the various cabbages. You can plant them out quite early, when night temperatures remain above 45˚ F (7˚ C)… assuming that, by there, there is no danger of frost in your area!


Wait until nights warm up before planting out warm season vegetables like tomatoes. Source:

Warm season vegetables don’t usually die under cool night temperatures (unless there is frost), but instead go into shock and slow down, which delays the harvest. Plant out a tomato or cucumber plant too early and it will actually come into fruit later than one transplanted a week or two later, when temperatures are warmer.

Consider night temperatures of 55˚ F (12˚ C) as an absolute minimum for transplanting tomatoes (but even so, they prefer warmer temps). The other warm season vegetables are even less happy with cool nights. I suggest 65˚ F (18˚ C) for cucumbers and peppers and 70˚ F (21˚ C) for eggplants (aubergines), melons, okra and squash (including pumpkins and zucchinis).

I hope the above information will help you decided what to plant out when!20180522A

Less Fertilizer Less Often for a Beautiful Lawn

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Seek and ye shall find! Yes, 1-step lawn fertilizers do exist! Source:, montage:

You really don’t need to apply as much lawn fertilizer as most fertilizer salespeople tell you, nor as frequently. The usual 3- or 4-step programs are costly and require a lot of effort on your part. Plus grasses can’t absorb the massive doses of rapid-release fertilizer applied and much of it ends up polluting waterways. Instead, consider the idea that single application of slow-release fertilizer, preferably organic, in the spring or fall, can give the lawn all the minerals it needs for healthy, season-long growth.

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Recycle grass clippings by leaving them on the lawn. Source:

And if you leave grass clippings on the lawn after you mow rather than raking them up, an age-old technique with a new name, grasscycling, that also fertilizes the lawn. The clippings simply decompose where they lie, returning their minerals to the soil where they “feed” the lawn. So, you’ve already given the turf at least half of the minerals it needs. That way, when you do apply your “1-Step Fertilizer,” you can cut the application rate by half, leaving even more cash in your pocket!

Note too that, since these slow-release fertilizers are liberated slowly, grasses absorb the minerals as they are released, so there is no risk of polluting the water table and streams with excess fertilizer.

Less fertilizer, fewer applications and a healthy, green, environmentally friendly lawn? What’s stopping you?

The 15 Pace Rule

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The truth is that many garden infestations really aren’t worth treating. Source:, & worldartsme, montage:

Yes, perfection does exist … in some works of art, but not in the garden. There is almost always something not quite right about any plant you grow: insect holes in a leaf, powdery mildew on lower leaves, a brown spot here and there, etc.

While many gardeners immediately reach for the most powerful pesticide they can find at the first sight of a problem, they’re usually wasting their time. Often the insect that drilled the holes is already moved on and mildew is usually the final stage of a disease that started weeks before and has already stopped spreading, so why bother? Plus often, Mother Nature has already sent in her clean-up team in the form of beneficial insects and do you really want to thwart her plans?

When the disease or insect or “problem” is minor or out-and-out inconsequential in the long run, no treatment is really necessary. At any rate, a few pierced, chewed, spotted, or swollen leaves don’t really disfigure the garden, at least not if you squint a little.

That’s why I suggest you apply the “15 pace rule.” It couldn’t be simpler! Before treating, step back 15 paces: if you can’t see the problem at 15 paces, it’s probably not worth treating! And yes, long-time readers, I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating!

Among the problems that are trivial and rarely worth reacting to are leaf miners, late season powdery mildew, leaf and stem galls, and yellowing lower leaves.


The Long and Short (Days) of Onions

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Day length determines whether onions form a bulb, so you need to plant the right kind, depending on where you garden. Source: &, montage:

When you plant onions (Allium cepa), you expect them to provide you with nice fat bulbs at the end of the season. And as long as you buy your seeds, onion sets or plants locally, that’s just what they’ll do. But did you know that onions only produce a bulb worthy of that name when they receive the right day length? In fact, if you grow the wrong kind of onion, there’ll be no bulb at all!

Here’s an explanation.

Three Categories

There are actually three categories of onions: long-day onions, short-day onions and day-neutral onions.


The 35th parallel north (red) and south (green) help determine where you can grow different types of onion. Source:

In the Northern Hemisphere, long-day onions are grown in the North, above the 35th parallel. That means throughout Canada and the northern states of the USA and through most of Europe and Northern Asia as well. They need 14 to 16 hours of sunlight per day, otherwise no bulb is formed. They are usually planted early in the spring for harvest in late summer. Seed companies from northern areas usually only offer long-day varieties.

In the Southern Hemisphere, long-day onions are rarely grown at all, except in New Zealand, Chile and Argentina, as otherwise southern land masses really don’t really extend far into areas with long summer days.

Long-day onions tend to have a strong taste and store well.

Short-day onions are grown between the 35th parallel and the equator, since they don’t produce bulbs under long days. They form bulbs when the days reach from 10 to 12 hours. Given the hot summers nearer the equator (and onions like things on the cool side), they are usually sown in the fall for a spring crop, quite doable in areas with a mild climate.

Short-day onions tend to have a milder taste than long-day onions, but don’t store as well.


The formation of a bulb shows this onion was grown at the right day length. Source:

Day-neutral onions produce bulbs under the effect of 12- to 14-hour days. They are planted in the spring in cooler climates for harvest in late summer and in the fall in the hotter ones for a spring harvest. They usually give their best performance on either side of the 35th parallel, so are popular in the south of Europe and in the southern United States (except Florida, where short-day onions reign) and are also widely grown in Australia and South Africa.

Day-neutral onions tend to be intermediate in taste and shelf life compared to long- and short-day onions.

If you grow an onion in the wrong area and no bulb forms, all is not lost: you can still use it as a green onion.

How Pertinent Is This Information?

As long as you grow onions from locally produced seeds, plants or sets, the information above will not likely change the way you garden. But if you order seeds by mail, it is important to consider where they came from. The best catalogs will mention the category their various onion varieties belong to.20180519A ENG &