Love-in-a-Mist, aka Ragged Lady, or Persian Jewels, is a hardy annual with fine, thread like leaves and intricate 1½ in. flowers at the end of each branch. An excellent cut flower, Love-in-a-Mist, Nigella damascena, forms interesting horned seed capsules surrounded by ferny mist-like foliage and are beautiful in dried arrangements. Plants grow to 1½ ft. tall and prefer cool weather. If you let the flowers go to seed, they will often self slow and come up the next year without any work on your part.
Aptly named, Love in a Mist, is only available by seeds, and has become one of my favorite cool weather flowers. For more on growing early spring cold loving flowers, go to my post on Cool Flowers. Direct sow the seeds and press into moist soil in early spring, and you are sure to have a nice clump of Love in a Mist.
Blue, mauve, pink, purple, and white blooms clothed in a lacy netting of greenery, this is an old-fashioned heirloom favorite for fresh or dried flowers.
Scattering the seed in a cleared area that has been raked to loosen the soil, is the easiest way to sow the seeds. I walk over the area to press the seeds firmly into the ground so there is good soil contact.
Where winters are mild, like USDA zones 8 or 9, seed can be sown in the late winter or fall, and by making successive sowings, you can ensure a continuous supply of cut flowers. Flowers are excellent for cutting, with the horned seed capsules highly decorative in dried arrangements. Deer tend to leave this little beauty alone.
The black chunky seeds contained in the seed capsule have a strong aroma and taste, and have notes of onion, oregano, and black pepper, thus are used in cooking. The seeds have many health benefits. They carry antioxidant properties helping with several inflammation issues, especially on the skin.
Love in a Mist seeds also have an antihistamine element and can aid in assisting with sore throats. Used in the traditional Naan bread of Indian cooking, they are also called black cumin. If you aren’t interested in using them in your culinary adventures, save some for sprinkling in the garden in the spring.
The grass is starting to green up and bulbs are peeking through the soil and spring is around the corner. Gardening chores come fast and furious once warm weather hits and sometimes you don’t have time to fit all the tasks in. To jump-start your gardening year, you can hit the ground running early to get a head start. Late winter is my favorite time to get many of the spring jobs done or at least started, to lessen the springtime stress of overload.
Weeding-My top priority in late winter/early spring is keeping weeds under control. Cold weather weeds such as chickweed and mustard are much easier to hand weed when small. Plus, the weeds haven’t gone to seed yet to spread around. Adopt a policy of a little weeding often to reduce your weeding burden.
Soil Test-Everything starts with good soil. Many nurseries or extension offices offer soil testing services. Take advantage of these by finding out what nutrients your soil needs by submitting a soil sample.
Fertilize-Fertilize trees and ornamentals with a balanced granular fertilizer when the soil is dry. I use an old coffee can with a plastic lid with perforated holes to sprinkle the recommended amount around the plant and water in. If you are an organic gardener, apply a layer of compost around the plant.
Rake-Rake out loose leaves and debris from your gardening beds so that mulch can be applied evenly. Be sure to remove pockets of old leaves that get caught up in twiggy shrubs.
Mulch-Apply an organic mulch about 2 inches thick avoiding the base of trees and shrubs. This will help retain moisture during dry spells, reduce weeds, and improve soil structure. Don’t create mulch volcanoes around your trees as this can invite insect damage and disease.
Lawn-Rake out old thatch and remove weedy patches, seeding bare areas. Scratch the grass seed into the top layer so that seed has good contact with the soil. Spread a pre-emergent to stop weeds from germinating and a “Weed and Feed” to promote strong roots.
Prune-With leaves absent, you can easily see damaged and broken limbs that need to be removed. Renewal pruning to renovate older overgrown shrubs should be done now before they put on new growth. Cut back to the ground shrubs such as butterfly bush, spirea, hypericum, and hardy hibiscus. Knock Out Roses should be cut to about 10 inches high to keep these manageable.
Container Refresh-Remove the top 3-4 inches of old potting medium from your containers and replace with fresh compost and potting soil. Make sure the drainage holes aren’t clogged with old roots. I use a metal rod to punch through the fibrous roots.
Seed Starting-Start seeds of tomatoes/peppers/eggplants indoors for transplanting in the spring. Outdoors plant seeds of cold tolerant annuals such as snapdragons, larkspur, poppies, and nigella. See my post on Seed Starting for pointers.
Perennial Dividing-Now is the perfect time to split up and divide overgrown perennials such as iris and hosta and move them around. Waiting later in the season to divide a fully-grown plant can be cumbersome and hard work. Plus, the perennials have a longer time to root in to produce more prolific flowers. I like to divide when the first stems with leaves are emerging.
Tools-Clean rust and mud off your tools and oil and sharpen them. Organize your potting or tool shed so that you can find things in a hurry.
Compost-I always clean out my compost pile by spreading the rich loamy material around my ornamentals and in my vegetable garden. If you don’t have a compost pile, now is the time to start one. Using a length of snow fencing attached to metal stakes is the easiest way to start either a large or small one. A gate can even be created with a hinged portion of the snow fence.
Sunny yellow blooms fringed with a green ruff green poking through snow is my first sign that spring has sprung. Eranthis hyamalis, in the buttercup family, is a spring ephemeral, which means that it is a short-lived plant above ground with a burst of blooms, then disappears, remaining under ground until next winter.
Beaming a golden light in the cloudy winter days, I welcome the appearance of this charming little bulbs that appear in the slightest bit of warmth in winter. Popping up when it is warm(above 40 degrees) with a little bit of sunshine, they retract back in the ground, if cold wintry weather returns, and wait. When everything else surrounding the bulbs looks dead and lifeless, these cheerful little splashes of sunshine appear.
Easily Grown in Shade or Sun
The plant takes advantage of the deciduous woodland canopy, flowering at the time of maximum sunlight reaching the forest floor, then completely dying back to its underground tuber after flowering. So, for about eight weeks starting in late February, I see the plant above ground, celebrate its arrival and the bees devour it! Flowering when little else is in bloom, the blossom is a very important nectar and pollen source for my honeybees. On a nice sunny day above 45 degrees in late winter, the bees are darting in and out of the blossoms, quickly taking advantage of the brief show of color.
I started my Winter Aconites with tubers which resemble a dried pea by planting them one to two inches deep and waiting to see how many emerged. Only about 25% of the corms sprouted but that was enough to start my stock going for years to come as they will seed in. I have read that the little flowers can become invasive by reseeding in odd places, but I welcome all comers! I also transplant the clumps when in flower or “in green” and separate them and scatter them in my planting beds to make future blankets of yellow.
Such a cheerful little flower that is attractive to all pollinators is welcome in my garden anytime. A good companion to Snowdrops, Winter Aconites will live for years without any disturbance. The flowers push up through a stand of Germander and other thick ground covers and stick around for weeks, opening when the sun comes out, and closing when nightfall comes. Even successful under large shade trees, like Sycamores, these little bulbs are tough and resilient once they get going.
What planters are light weight, 100% recyclable, will not fade or crack, withstand harsh weather and UV rays, and offer a 10 year warranty? Drum roll please……… Crescent Garden Planters. Oh, did I mention they are self watering? Containing a very large reservoir, I never had to water my Crescent Planter last summer, not once! We did have a lot of rainfall in the summer, but I had to water all my other containers periodically. I have embedded the video explaining how the Trudrop system works below:
Starting the planter in the spring using a white and black color scheme-I called it my tuxedo pot-I enjoyed it on my patio all season long. Adding some granular long-lasting fertilizer like Osmocote to the soil, ensured that I didn’t have to add any additional fertilizer. Or if you prefer, you can add a liquid fertilizer and pour over the plants once a month. It really was my most successful experiment in low maintenance gardening! Having tried many self-watering containers, I had to see and experience it to believe it.
The Crescent Garden Planters have a patented tru-drop self-watering system that is ideal both for indoor and outdoor use. Unlike traditional systems this will autoregulate even with rain water to make sure you have enough water when you need it and not too much when you do not need it. You just pop off the clear cover and insert your hose to fill the reservoir up, which will then be gradually used to water the container as needed.
Perfect if you travel a lot when you have containers outdoors or indoors. The enclosed water supply or reservoir holds enough water to last 6 weeks or more, depending on weather conditions. If used outdoors, there is an overfill drain designed to drain excess rain water.
Watering from the bottom up lets your plants take only the amount of water they need and lowers the risk of fungus and disease.
Food safe for edibles is another attribute, and I will try growing some edible plants this summer in my planter. For the winter care, just make sure the container is drained if exposed to freezing temps. Available on Amazon and various local garden centers, I am going to add to my collection every year.
Seed starting in spring is a rite of passage for me. Fingering all the seed packets, shaking them, and admiring the beautiful covers is all part of the process. If I don’t have at least a hundred seed packets stacked up, I get restless and start browsing more seed catalogs.
It is a lot of work to start them, and it requires some equipment to do it right, but when late winter/early spring rolls around, it is kind of like Christmas with the new shoots poking though. My slow period for my landscape business is the winter, so I have the time to devote to seed starting. Here are the reasons you should be seed starting:
1. More Choices-At a nursery they might sell 20-25 varieties of tomatoes. From seed you can grow at least a thousand more. The varieties that you can grow are mind boggling, and only a fraction of these are grown and sold at a local nursery. Some flower varieties like Nigella, Love-in-a-mist, or annual Poppies must be started from seed outside to be successful. See my post on Cool Flowers-Early Spring Bloomers.
2. Save Money
A packet of Zinnias will set you back by $2.50. If you bought all those packs of annuals at the nursery that one packet can start, you pay that many times over. Plus, if you grow heirlooms, you can save the seeds and regrow every year.
3. It’s Easy
Most vegetables should be started directly into the garden. Planting transplants of cucs, beans, peas, beets, carrots, lettuce……. the list goes on, is expensive and time consuming, and not practical. Starting seed directly into a vegetable garden avoids transplant shock and gives veggies a head start.
4. Save the Bees
Many transplants and soils have been treated with insecticides that negatively impact bee visits. Some nurseries are careful and transparent, but some are not, and many times aren’t labeled with the insecticide treatment. Go to my post on Pesticide Free Nurseries. You are controlling your quality of new transplants by starting them yourself.
5. It’s Fun !
Reconnect with nature during the dark days of winter and watch your seedlings grow! I love watching the snow pile up outside while my healthy seedlings are growing before my eyes inside.
My most important piece of equipment is a PVC light stand for my grow light. Go to PVC Light Stand for easy to follow, inexpensive directions for a light stand. I put this together myself, so anyone can construct one. Yes, you can use your window sills for light, but a light hung a few inches above seedlings is vastly superior and will make your seedlings fat and happy, not thin and spindly. There are too many cloudy winter days for seedlings to get their required allotment of light. I just use a simple LED shop light, available at any hardware store. LED is the key word here, as it gives off a much stronger light than fluorescent.
Most seedling benefit from bottom heat and will shoot up much quicker. You could use a radiator or other warm surface, but I like the heat mat as it fits exactly under a flat and you can control the temperature. Inexpensive also, heat mats are available on Amazon.
Flats are simply low narrow trays that you can fill with soilless medium. Once filled, you nest into another waterproof tray to catch any excess water and you can also use the clear lid to create a moist environment to enhance seed starting. Some trays are divided into cells, so you are growing a seedling in its own contained root run.
How many times have you started seedlings, and found to your horror that they fall over and die? This is the consequence of “damping off”, a far to common occurrence which is a fungal disease that occurs under damp, moist conditions. Right! Your seedlings are damp and moist because you are misting them to encourage them to sprout! So, I use a small fan attached to my light stand to circulate the air to discourage “damping off”. And it works. Simple solution, but effective.
I like to water with a mister, as it disturbs the seedlings the least. But it requires a lot of time to mist all my seedlings by hand, so I have graduated to a large (6 liter) watering can with a fine mesh “rose”. A “rose” just diffuses the water so it falls gently onto the seedlings and is much more efficient than a mister.
Additional Lighting Units
The LED grow lights are wonderful, but sometimes every seedling won’t fit under the grow light. So, I supplement with LED spray lights.
You need a source of sterile soilless medium to start your seeds. I use coconut coir, which is a coconut fiber extracted from the husk of coconut. The beauty of coir, which is sold in a compressed form, is that I am not lugging home heavy bags of potting soil. Instead, I buy small compressed blocks of coir, 3″ x 6″, hydrate it in water, and I end up with 8 quarts of potting medium. Much less expensive and more convenient, you can find this online or at Home Depot, or other hardware stores. There is no nutrition in this soil medium, so as soon as your seedlings are up and running, you need to fertilize.
Seed starting setup
Going through my seed packets
Punch hole for seeds with a pencil
My watering can has a 6 liter capacity with a long watering wand
Creating seed pots with newspaper
Creating seed pots with newspaper
Label all your seeds
My watering can has a 6 liter capacity with a long watering wand
Flat with spray LED lighting
A breath of fresh air on a winter night
Poppies, here it is “Lauren’s Grape”, do best direct seeded in the garden
I love looking through all my seed packets
Compressed coconut coir ready to be hydrated
Spray LED lights are valuable for lighting
I attach a small fan to move air to avoid “damping off”
Come on….admit it, you are eating way more cauliflower than kale. Searches for cauliflower rice recipes are up 135 percent on pinterest in the last couple of years. I wrote about Cauliflower being an up and coming veggie in 2016 at Gardening Trends for 2016.
Flower Power-Cauliflower is the next Kale
Traveling to lots of nurseryman’s and flower shows, cutting edge gardens, and keeping up with my blog, gives me a good handle on what is up and coming in the gardening world. Some of these are trends have been around and are still going strong, like Cauliflower!
According to the National Gardening Bureau who names the ‘plants of the year’, 2017 marked the year of the Brassica. Brassica vegetables, including bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, rutabagas, and turnips are popular around the world today and are enjoying a renaissance.
Growing Cauliflower (taken from the National Gardening Bureau)
Cauliflower plants prefer to grow without heat stress and do best in fall or in areas with mild summers. Popular types include the standard white varieties and more exotic colors and shapes also available to home gardeners. In recent years cooked cauliflower has become popular as a replacement for potatoes or flour in many recipes (like mashed potatoes or pizza crust).White types are most often self-blanching- meaning inner leaves cover the curds and protect them from the sun. Varieties include Flamenco F1 (summer production), Toledo F1 (fall production), Snowball, Snowbowl F1, Symphony F1.
Romanesco types are a special type of green cauliflower. The head is a collection of spiraled florets and will be a great way to teach your kids about the Fibonacci numbers (math during dinner!). Romanesco is great for roasting – it is a bit drier than regular cauliflower. Varieties include Veronica F1, Romanesco. Another plant that is modeled on the Fibonacci number is the Sunflower.
Novelty Types are also a lot of fun for the garden. Try a purple or orange variety! They have a similar flavor but add an unexpected pop of color to a veggie tray. Varieties include Graffiti F1 (purple head), Cheddar F1 (orange head), and Vitaverde F1 (green head).
The rise of cauliflower, a cruciferous vitamin packed veggie, that has a unique ability to absorb flavors from other ingredients, rather like a chameleon, has been a long time coming. From cauliflower grilled steaks to peanut butter brownies, cauliflower has landed on top of the heap for a lot of people. California Pizza Kitchen is even offering a cauliflower crust option on their pizzas. And for people who are on Keto diets or who just want to cut down on carbs, this is a great alternative.
I tested making these brownies and they were some of the most flavorful moist brownies that I have ever had! Forget these have cauliflower, they are really good.
2CupsSteamed Cauliflower FloretsI steamed these and smashed them into a 2 Cup measuring cup, and place them in the food processor
1 1/4 CupDark Chocolate MorselsMelt these in a microwave and stir until creamy
1/2CupCream Cheese, softened
4TbspPeanut Butter, smooth or chunkyI only had on hand chunky, but the food processor makes it smooth
1/2CupAlmond FlourYou can use regular flour also
1 TspVanilla Extract
1CupWhite Chocolate Morsels
1/2Cup Peanuts (optional)I used unsalted
1/2CupPeanut Butter Morsels
Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9x13 container
In a food processor, process the 2 cups of cauliflower until completely smooth – this is important as if it is not smooth; it will result in a grainy textured brownie
Add the cream cheese, peanut butter, eggs and sugar then blend again until smooth
Add the almond flour, baking powder, vanilla, and melted chocolate morsels, and blend well
Spoon ½ the mixture into the container, then scatter the Peanut butter morsels, white chocolate morsels, and peanuts over the layer
Spoon the remaining mixture into the pan spreading to cover all the morsels, then bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, until an inserted fork is clean
Basically, it’s the vegetable for the perfect time. I grow it every year with varying success and I had good luck with the Purple Sicily variety last year.
Full of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, this is a power vegetable. The sulfur compounds it contains, which give off that sharp smell when steamed, may prevent some types of cancers and fight other kinds.
My next top recipe for Cauliflower is Cauliflower Gnocchi, which is one of Trader Joe’s most popular frozen foods. I wanted to make my own and searched on-line and used a recipe that I found with some revisions. My inspiration was finding riced cauliflower at Sam’s Club. And to simplify, I don’t boil the gnocchi I broil it. With so many people on paleo or keto diets, this one should satisfy that carb craving with very little carbs at all.
Davidia involucrata, commonly called dove tree, is a tree that I have known about for twenty years, but rarely have seen in the U.S. On my travels through the UK, I have seen many beautiful specimens and am inspired to plant my own. Now I am ready to get one, if I can find one.
Native to woodlands in central China, Dove tree is a deciduous tree that typically grows 20-40’ tall with a broad pyramidal habit. Flowering in May, the white fluttery flowers look like handkerchiefs (it is also known as the handkerchief tree or ghost tree), this treasure is sure to draw a lot of attention when it blooms. Here are the facts from the Missouri Botanical Garden:
Common Name: Dove tree
Family: Nyssaceae Native Range: Southwestern China
Zone: 6 to 8
Height: 20.00 to 40.00 feet
Spread: 20.00 to 40.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Bloom Description: Red (flowers) and white (bracts)
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Suggested Use: Shade Tree, Flowering Tree
Leaf: Good Fall
Grown in organically rich, consistently moist, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade, Davidia can take 10 years to flower from seed, and it may not flower regularly after that. I am sure that is a factor that stops it being more widely used, but there are newer cultivars, namely at Broken Arrow Nursery, that bloom much sooner. Some have variegated foliage, so I am tempted to try one of these.
Red-anthered flowers in rounded clusters bloom in April-May. They really show off in a good wind and look exactly like fluttering handkerchiefs! Look at this video I took at Miserden Gardens in the UK in May.
The creamy white bracts flutter in the slightest breeze, and, from a distance, look like white doves sitting in the tree, hence the common name. Flowers are followed by round, golf ball-sized fruits on 2-3” hanging stems.
Fall color is variable ranging from dull to bright oranges and reds, depending on location. I wouldn’t depend on it for good fall color, as it is worth it alone for the spring flowering.
To complete this perfect little specimen tree, there are no serious insect or disease problems. I will keep you posted on whether I find a transplant of this tree in my travels.
The 22nd annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) started Friday, February 15, through Monday, February 18, 2019. Visit the official website at birdcount.org for more information or The Audubon Society but continue here for the event highlights:
A citizen science event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations, the GBBC is a great activity for kids and adults. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, balcony, or anywhere in the world. Sounds easy… and no stress? Just count your bird sightings for 15 minutes and you have contributed to the backyard bird statistics that scientist use for their research.
Citizen Science is trendy now for good reason. People feel empowered when they can contribute to the data base that scientists from all over the world can use in their studies of bird migrations. And what better research than backyard bird behaviors and numbers? This part of the natural world is very visible and of interest to many people.
Observe Birds that Visit Your Feeders
We are a nation of “bird feeders”! More than 52 million Americans feed wild birds or other wildlife around their homes according to The Bird Watching Daily. Some statistics: “Two-thirds are women, and nearly 60 percent were between the ages of 45 and 64. On average, participants had been feeding birds for 18 years”. Wanting to bring nature, therapy, education, and beauty to their backyard, many bird feeders are passionate about birds and spend big bucks on this multi-million industry. Suet, nectar feeding, bird feeders, houses, and baths can be added to this list along with the more mundane birdseed.
Another important fact on The Bird Watching Daily: “Participation in the wild-bird-feeding hobby” they write, “may be an excellent catalyst for engagement in greater levels of outdoor recreation and greater stewardship of the natural world.” Amen! We need more outdoor appreciation and engagement of our natural world in this digital age. Go to my post on Extreme Weather Strategies for Feeding Birds. I include tips on winter feeding and recipes for suet.
How to Count The Birds
Count birds anywhere you want. Inside observing your bird feeder, or outside on a hike or a park stroll for at least 15 minutes. Keep track of the numbers and species and the time length.
Make an estimate of how many birds you saw of each species. Flocks of birds are tough, but use your best guess.
Enter your list online at BirdCount.0rg, after first establishing an account. You can start recording your bird sightings at midnight local time on the first day of the count from anywhere in the world.
When you enter your information, you will see a list of birds that could be in your area in February. If the bird you see is unusual, there is a checklist of “rare species” that you can use. Compiled by local bird experts, bird lists should be comprehensive. But if you enter a species of an unusual bird, you get a message asking you to confirm the report and another check box will come up.
All of these unusual sightings go to a volunteer in the area who reviews these reports and who might even contact you to get more details. Adding photos is especially important for unusual species.
Bird populations are always shifting and changing and in 2014, Snowy Owl sightings spiked in the northeast and mid-Atlantic, which were recorded on the GBBC. Like a bellwether, climate changes such as warming weather also shows up in these bird counts. More southerly birds are migrating further north, or birds are changing their routes, shortening or completely cancelling their journey as a result of changing temperatures.
Some birds, such as winter finches, appear in large numbers during some years but not other species. Scientists can learn from the different patterns exhibited from year to year.
An estimated 163,763 bird watchers from more than 130 countries participated in the GBBC in 2016, with the U.S. the top participant followed by Canada and India. To see the summary of results for 2016, go to GBBC Summary for 2016 and see the top sighted birds. Even if you can’t identify all your birds that you have observed, if you look at these lists and photos, you are sure to spot your birds. And if you participate, you are adding to the vast trove of data needed to study bird populations around the world.
Having a bunch of succulents on hand from various projects, I wanted to create something special for Valentine’s Day. Rooting succulents is easy and I wanted to make the rooting process attractive as well as productive.
Succulent cuttings simply involves cutting a 3″ terminal branch and removing the lower leaves. Leave them out for a few days to form a ‘callus’, a hard, dry, crust at the stem cut. This will prevent the cuttings from rotting which can easily happen with succulents.
All these rooted cuttings will be made part of my spring containers.
I thought I would use hypertufa which is a lightweight stone-like material made from Portland cement, peat moss, and perlite. Read my post on a Hypertufa Party. But in the middle of winter, I didn’t want to get into a messy outdoor project so turned instead to Shapecrete. An easy to use clay-like material that you mix with water, I picked up a tub at Home Depot. Simply mix with water, and shape into your preferred shape, and it hardens like concrete. Watch this video on how to use it. Another product that I use for lots of craft projects is Wonderflex, a plastic-like composite material used in theater, puppetry, and costume making. Easy to cut and shape, I use it for lots of things.
DIY Succulent Hearts
Shape strips of plastic called Wonderflex (available on-line)into a heart shape and fasten with a clip on a cardboard covered table. Attach the Wonderflex to the cardboard with duct tape all around the inside of the heart.
Mix up your shapecrete according to the directions on the tub and smear into the heart forming a lip around the perimeter about 1/2 inch high. Poke some drainage holes with a dowel in the bottom.
Moisten some sphagnum moss and place in the bottom, inserting the succulent cuttings. Keep the cuttings moist, misting them every day and they will root in a couple of months.
I made three different sizes of hearts, ranging from 5″ wide up to 10″ wide. for a trio of hearts. Any shape will work though…..
If you start the day with a steaming hot cup of java, you’re not alone. Americans drink 700 million cups of coffee per day, and we create tons of coffee grounds in the process. Instead of throwing coffee grounds in the trash, why not put them to use in the garden? While there are plenty of uses for coffee grounds, they’re a secret weapon to help grow a beautiful garden. However, some of the advice you’ve read about using them may be wrong. Let’s dive into the research about the best (and worst) way to use coffee grounds to help plants grow.
Are coffee grounds good for plants?
Coffee grounds provide phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and copper to growing plants. Moreover, as grounds biodegrade they release nitrogen, a vital element essential for plant growth. (A cubic yard of coffee grounds contains 10.31 pounds of nitrogen, according to an analysis done by Sunset Magazine.)
However, many people misunderstand how to recycle coffee grounds in the garden. Some blogs and articles advise gardeners to work coffee grounds into garden soil to feed plants, but research suggests this practice may inhibit the growth of many plants.
In one study, coffee grounds were mixed with urban agricultural soil in different concentrations. Every concentration level decreased the growth of five plants: broccoli, leek, radish, viola, and sunflower. Coffee grounds have also inhibited the growth of Chinese mustard, geranium, and other plants.
London botanist James Wong conducted his own experiment by planting two identical gardens of tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, and flowers. He used coffee as fertilizer in one bed and the results were disastrous. “The crop yield and growth of pretty much everything in the coffee bed became noticeably worse within about two weeks of application,” he writes. “Plant growth slowed, some developed leaf yellowing, others defoliated and died.” It may be the caffeine or phytotoxins in coffee grounds that stunt plant growth.
But to confuse the matter, a few plants may get a boost from coffee grounds. Coffee grounds may aid the germination of sugar beet seeds and the growth of soybeans and cabbage, according to Linda Chalker-Scott, a certified Master Gardener and professor at Washington State University.
What’s a gardener to do with this conflicting information? Many horticulture experts advise against working coffee grounds directly into garden soil. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use them. There are two effective ways to use spent coffee grounds to grow beautiful plants.
Click to Enlarge Image
Perk Up a Compost Pile
Coffee grounds add nutrients to a compost pile. Moreover, they help a compost pile sustain the high temperatures needed to kill weed seeds and pathogens. Informal research conducted by the Oregon State University Extension Service suggests coffee grounds can keep compost temperatures between 135°F and 155°F for two weeks. That’s long enough to kill significant amounts of weed seeds and pathogens. Moreover, coffee grounds compost sustained more heat than animal manure in the trials.
Ready to transform coffee grounds into a nutritious soil amendment? It’s easy! (If you’ve never composted, choose a compost bin, and get started.) The basic concept of composting is to layer nitrogen-rich materials—including coffee grounds, grass clippings, and fruit and veggie scraps—with carbon-rich materials, such as dry leaves, straw, twigs, and sawdust.
Here’s how to:
Start a pile by laying a generous layer of carbon-rich materials on the bottom.
Add a thin layer of cooled coffee grounds on top. If desired, mix coffee grounds with other nitrogen-rich materials, such as fruit and veggie scraps or grass clippings.
Cover the nitrogen-rich layer with a generous layer of carbon-rich materials.
Repeat the process, aiming for a ratio of one part nitrogen-rich materials to three parts carbon-rich materials.
Repeat the process, aiming for a ratio of one part nitrogen-rich materials to three parts carbon-rich materials.
Coffee grounds should make up between 10 and 25 percent of the total volume of compost. Composting usually takes a few months, but it may take longer depending on the mix of materials, moisture content, and other factors. You’ll know it’s done when it’s dark brown and smells like earth. Work the finished compost into the top three to four inches of garden soil to add organic matter and nutrients, and improve the soil structure.
Mulch Acid-Loving Plants
Perhaps you’ve heard coffee grounds acidify soil for plants that prefer a low pH. It’s true; coffee grounds can be acidic, and many plants prefer acidic soil. Those include:
There’s one problem though: It’s hard to know the pH of coffee grounds without testing them because acidity leeches out of coffee beans during the brewing process. In experiments, some spent coffee grounds are highly acidic, some are neutral, and some are even alkaline. Thus, coffee grounds may help acidify soil, but they won’t predictably do so.
Coffee grounds may offer other benefits though. As mentioned, they supply nitrogen and other nutrients to soil. Moreover, they may deter the growth of weeds. In one study, a mulch made of coffee grounds completely controlled weed growth around blueberry plants when used in combination with a weed mat (a barrier material that blocks weeds).
Bottom line? Experience is the best teacher in the garden. It won’t hurt to try using coffee grounds as a mulch around acid-loving plants, and it may benefit the plants. Follow these steps:
Apply mulch in the spring after the soil warms up, and then again in the fall.
Sprinkle a half inch or less of coffee grounds onto the top of the soil around the plants, keeping grounds away from the roots.
Cover the coffee grounds with a generous layer of dry leaves or bark mulch.
The waste from your favorite morning beverage can help grow healthy plants in the garden. Be cautious about working coffee grounds directly into garden soil as a fertilizer. Instead, add them to a compost pile or use them as a mulch around acid-loving plants.