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Friday, April 29, 2011

Reminder: UCB Spring Plant Sale Tomorrow

University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley is having its Public Spring Plant Sale tomorrow between 10 AM and 2 PM.  They have exotic and unusual plants, and specialize in mediterranean-climate plants including California natives, and plants from South Africa, Australia, the Mediterranean region and South America.  For a list of plants that are available and more information about the Spring Plant Sale click here.  They accept cash, check or credit card.

Easier Way to Start Grow Pots

Photo: Successfully Sprouted Basil Seeds in Smith & Hawken Grow Pot

I finally got around to trying the Smith & Hawken Basil Grow Pot that I purchased last December.  The Smith & Hawken basil grow kit comes with a pretty glazed planter, soil and 3 different seed packets (i.e., Sweet Basil, Cinnamon Basil and Opal Basil).

The Smith & Hawken Planting Instructions: 
Remove the seeds and soil bag from the container.  Open the soil bag and pour the soil into the container.  Add lukewarm water to moisten.  Open the seed packets over a paper towel so that the seeds do not get misplaced.  Sprinkle seeds evenly on the soil, with one variety per section.  Press seeds gently into the soil no more than 1/4"deep.  Place pot in a sunny location.  Continue to keep the soil slightly moist by misting the soil until the seeds sprout.  As the plants grow,  gently water whenever the soil feels dry to touch.  Do not overwater, as this will cause roots to rot.  Rotate the planter daily so that each side receives equal sunlight.    

Apt Garden Tips:
  1. Plant Identification.  I divided the soil in thirds, and planted the seeds in alphabetical order (i.e., Cinnamon, Opal and Sweet) so that I will be able to easily identify the plants after they have sprouted.  This works because I can easily identify the front from the back by the design on the planter.  Alternatively, you can use plant markers.       
  2. Sprinkling Seeds.  Hold the seed packet upright and tap the top of the seed packet a few times so that all of the seeds settle to the bottom.  Then snip a small corner off the packet.  Sprinkle the seeds over the soil by turning the packet to the side and gently tapping the other end of the packet so that the seeds come out a little at a time.  This gives you more control over where you want to plant your seeds.  The seed packets come with more than enough seeds.  In fact, I did not plant them all.  I saved some for my outdoor garden.  
  3. Germinating Seeds. Instead of constantly misting the soil to keep the soil moist, just wrap a plastic shopping bag around the planter and tie the handles on the side to seal it.  Then place the whole thing on a sunny windowsill and forget about it for a few days.  The plastic bag will trap most of the moisture.  As the sun warms the soil, the water will evaporate, hit the plastic ceiling, and then "rain" down on the soil again.  After the seeds have sprouted, remove the plastic bag and then water the plants whenever the soil feels dry to touch.          

Thursday, April 28, 2011

DIY Mother's Day Blooming Planter for Under $25

Photo: Blooming Planter full of Daffodils Created for Under $25

Mother's Day is on Sunday, May 8th, 2011.  Instead of getting your mom a cut bouquet of flowers this year, give her a planter filled with blooming plants.  It is more personal, will last longer and provide her years of future enjoyment.  It is easy to do, and it can also be cheaper than purchasing them from a florist.  For example, a blooming planter of calla lillies costs about $50 to $90 at  You can recreate this gift and add some personal touches (e.g. bows, planters, etc.) for less than $25.  Just check your local gardening center to see what is blooming.  Freesias have a wonderful fragrance and were only $3.33 per potted plant at Home Depot.  Other great plant choices are calla lillies, lavender, gardenia, and miniature roses.  You can make the gift even more personal by planting them in one-of-the kind planters that speak to your mom's personality.  For example, if she loves tea, plant some miniature roses in a pretty ceramic teapot.  If she loves shopping, plant some flowers in a sturdy, fashionable purse.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Free Plants By Mail

Photo: Marginata, Free Plant of the Month by

Free Plants By Mail ( was started by local growers as a way to use the surplus plants from nurseries and also as a way to support The Nature Conservancy.  Free Plants By Mail offers a new free plant each month.  Although the plant itself is free, you do have to pay a small shipping and handling fee of $6.95.  This organization also has over 100 plants available for sale on their site.  100% of the proceeds from the sale will go to The Nature Conservancy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sluggo: Slug & Snail Killer Certified for Organic Gardening

Monterey LG6515 Sluggo Snail & Slug Control For Organic Gardening - 1 lb Shaker Can

Monterey Sluggo is a cheap and effective way to control the slug and snail problem in your yard.  A little of this stuff goes a long way.  This product is also certified for organic gardening by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), and it is safe to use around pets and other wildlife.   It does not contain metaldehyde (which is toxic to all organisms); instead Monterey Sluggo's active ingredient is iron phosphate, which occurs naturally in soil.  Iron phosphate is also used as an ingredient in fertilizer.

How it Works:
Slugs and snails find Sluggo appetizing, and are attracted to this bait.  After they eat the pellets, they will cease feeding all together.  They will become less mobile, and will eventually die within three to six days.

Caution: Although this product is certified for organic gardening it does not mean it is harmless.  The Sluggo product label does warn consumers that it will cause moderate eye irritation so avoid making contact with your eyes or clothing, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after use.  The label also warns consumers to avoid contamination of water, food or feed by storage or disposal.

That being said for those of you who are opposed to hand picking snails at night and smashing them *cringe*,  "wasting" beer for beer slug traps, setting up copper barriers and so forth, this is the product for you.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pitcher Plants from Lowes

Photo: Pitcher Plant in homemade self-watering greenhouse

Last week I purchased a pitcher plant (Sarracenia Purpurea) from Lowes for $4.48.  This plant is supposed to be hardy in my zone.  I intend for this pitcher plant to stay outside on top or near the outdoor dining table so that it can eventually trap mosquitos or flies.

I transplanted it into a makeshift self-watering, greenhouse made out of soda bottles and yarn.  The soil has to be consistently moist so I kept the pitcher moss in Sphagnum moss and planted it in garden soil and topped it off with more moss.  The yarn that I intertwined in the soil leads to the water chamber below and will wick up water when the plant needs it.  The water chamber below holds fish water from my pond.  I take the cover off during the day, and replace it in the evening.  It is doing really well in this set up.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Get Free Trees

Lowes is giving away a million trees to celebrate Earth Day.  Visit your local Lowes on April 23rd to get your free tree.  While supplies last.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

'Wildman' Brill Edible Plants App

Photo: iPhone Screen Shots [Credit]

"Wildman" Steve Brill recently released his Wild Edibles app!  This app helps users identify edible, medicinal and poisonous plants in the wild.  It also includes harvesting methods, preparation instructions, and recipes to help prepare foraged foods.  The beginners version that contains the most common plants is free.  The full version currently costs $7.99.  For more information about "Wildman" Steve Brill and his apps click here.

Beer Slug Traps

Turn an ordinary yogurt cup into an effective organic slug trap.  Just dig a hole, and place the empty yogurt cup into the hole.  Make sure the soil line is flush with the top of the cup.  Then pour cheap beer into the cup.  The slugs are attracted to the beer, and unwittingly fall into the cup of beer and drown.  It works!  I have caught some pill bugs (a.k.a. roly polies) too.  You can empty them out weekly, and resupply with new beer.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Propagating Stragglers

Photo 1

Photo 2

This flowering plant was spreading across the sidewalk (See Photo 1) so I decided to take a small cutting (See Photo 2).  I am attempting to propagate it using this propagation method.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Painted Aspen Print by Matthew Lew

I am in love with this Painted Aspen Print by Matthew Lew.  On his CB2 profile, he has a low budget decorating tip that is suitable for renters.  He suggests making a mosaic statement on an accent wall using 8.5"x11" black and white photo copies of a repeated image.  You can use adhesives that will not damage your wall, and the the project will cost under $25 depending on your wall size. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lizard by the Pond

Spotted this large lizard by the pond today.

UPDATE:  I have seen this big boy sunbathing on the rocks by the pond almost every single day.  It looks like we have a pet lizard!  

Tomatoes: Transplants vs. Seeds

Although tomatoes are easy to start from seeds, I purchased several different varieties of heirloom tomato transplants from Home Depot.  They were selling them for $3.48 each, and they came in 5" peat pots.  So why did I purchase transplants if tomatoes are so easy to grow from seeds?

  1. Early Harvesting Time.  Transplants have been started indoors from seeds several weeks prior to the spring planting season.  This means my newly purchased tomato transplants will set fruit much earlier than a tomato plant started from seed during the normal planting season.  It will continue to set fruit until the first frost in fall.  
  2. Cheaper for People with Limited Gardening Space.  Unless you harvest seeds from an heirloom tomato from the market or can get them on the cheap, it may be slightly more expensive to buy a standard pack of seeds.  For example, Burpee is selling a packet of 50 Black Krim seeds for $3.95.  That packet of seeds cost $0.47 more than a transplant.
  3. Limited Space.  I do not need 50 Black Krim tomato plants.  I only want one for now.  I do not have the space for it, and I am more interested in having a variety of plants in my garden.  
  4. Free Future Seeds.  I can still easily save seeds from the tomatoes my transplants will produce this year, and start my own transplants early next year.   

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Smart Savings on Magazine Subscriptions

Would you rather pay $10.99 per issue or $0.85 per issue?  I purchased a couple of magazines from the grocery store rack during my trip.  I needed something to keep me entertained during the flight back.  One of the magazines I purchased was by Southern Living.  It was a issue focusing on Backyard Retreats.  I purchased a single issue for $10.99, but after doing some research I learned how to get them for as little as $0.85 per issue.  All you have to do is use your free ebates account, and then use the additional coupon code SPRINGMAGS which gives you $5 off your purchase.  If you do not have an ebates account, you should sign up for one today by clicking here.  It is absolutely free, and it will save you lots of money in the future.  Although I used Southern Living as my example, you can apply the $5 discount and additional 26% off on other magazines.

Savings Break Down Using Southern Living Subscription as an Example:

A.  Purchasing 1 Issue at a Time at the Store:
1 issue at the store $10.99

B.  Purchasing 13 issues through and will cost:

13 issues at $19.95 + $5 off coupon using coupon code SPRINGMAGS + 26% EBATES Discount + Free Shipping = $11.06 for 13 issues, which breaks down to $0.85 per issue!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Container Plants Survived Week Long Vacation with Easy DIY Tricks

Photo: butternut squash (left) and early sunglow corn (right) both from seeds

I went on a week long vacation to the tropics.  I started some seeds in containers on March 28, 2011 and left them outdoors in DIY mini-greenhouses to germinate.  Most of them had already sprouted before leaving for my trip.  I watered the plants thoroughly, and used the plastic bag method and homemade greenhouses to keep the soil moist and the plants happy while I was away.  I am happy to report that not only did all of the seedlings survive, but also more seeds have sprouted!

Photo: Romaine Lettuce from seeds

Photo: Cantelope (left) and Cucumber (right) both from seeds

Photo: Bush Bean from seed

Photo: Late Corn (left) and Watermelon (right) both from seeds

UCB Spring Plant Sale 2011

University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley is having its Public Spring Plant Sale on Saturday, April 30, 2011 between 10 AM and 2 PM.  They have exotic and unusual plants, and specialize in mediterranean-climate plants including California natives, and plants from South Africa, Australia, the Mediterranean region and South America.  For a list of plants that are available and more information about the Spring Plant Sale click here.  They accept cash, check or credit card.

If you have never visited UC Botanical Gardens at Berkeley, you are in for a treat!  This place is enormous and they have many beautiful, inspiring gardens.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cheap Reusable Plant Labels

I have had a difficult time finding inexpensive plant labels in mainstream stores.  Here are some plant markers that are available online and are eligible for free shipping.  You can write on them with a pencil, and then erase and reuse them.    
Luster Leaf Rapiclip 6-Inch Garden Plant Labels - 50 Pack 840
Luster Leaf Rapiclip 6-Inch Garden Plant Labels - 50 Pack 840 ($4.74 + Eligible for Amazon Free Shipping)

Jump Start Reusable Plant Markers 50 Ct.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Smart Hanging Basket Liners

If you are tired of constantly watering your hanging basket plants, consider updating your liners with AquaSav's baket liners.  These liners require 50% less watering than standard basket liners.  A layer of 100% recycled post-consumer plastic liner is sandwiched between natural coir fiber.  The replacement liners are inexpensive, and come in various sizes.  Alternatively, you can line the bottom of an ordinary basket liner with pond plastic or even an inexpensive plastic bowl.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Disinfecting and Reusing Old Planters

I save my transplant packs and plastic pots for future use.  Many of us do.  They are stackable, reusable, take up a small amount of space, and saves us money in our gardening budget.  However, when reusing old planters, I want to remind you to disinfect them prior to planting new seedlings.  If you do not, you may accidentally pass off disease to your new seedlings.

You can easily sanitize your pots by swirling them or dipping them in a disinfectant solution.  I use a 1:10 ratio of bleach to water solution.

How To Disinfect Old Planters

  • dishwashing gloves or rubber gloves 
  • shallow tub
  • sponge or small plastic bristle brush
  • dishwashing soap
  • bleach
  • water

  1. Protection. Put on your gloves.
  2. Scrub pots.  Scrub away dirt and crusted debris with a little soap, water and sponge or plastic bristle brush.  Empty out your tub.  
  3. Make Disinfectant Solution.  Pour 9 parts water into a shallow tub, and then mix in 1 part bleach into the water.       
  4. Disinfect Planters.  Sanitize your planters by swirling the planters in the disinfectant solution.  You can also use your sponge to get hard-to-reach areas.  
  5. Rinse and Dry.  Rinse your pots with clean water and allow them to dry.  Now you are ready to plant your new seeds! 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Get Free Mosquitofish

Photo: Mosquito Fish (Gambusia affinis) by Arizona Aquatics Garden

The dreaded mosquitos are back!  With the rising rates of foreclosures, more swimming pools, spas and ornamental ponds are being neglected, providing mosquitos the perfect breeding ground.  Did you know that mosquitos only need a few tablespoons of water to complete a life cycle?  An unmaintained swimming pool or spa is an ideal source for more than 1 million mosquitos that may go on to become infected with West Nile virus, and infect people within a 5 mile radius!

In order to control the mosquito population, Gambusia affinis a.k.a. "mosquito fish" have been introduced to these isolated stagnant bodies of water.  Mosquitofish are live bearing freshwater minnows related to guppies.  Adult mosquitofish measure 1 to 2 inches in length, and can eat 500 mosquito larvae a day!  They also eat wind-blown organic debris at the surface of the water.

To get free mosquitofish, check with your local Mosquito and Vector Control Associations.
Contra Costa County's Mosquito and Vector Control District are giving away free mosquitofish to its residents.  They are available for pickup at the District's office located at 155 Mason Circle, Concord, CA Monday through Friday (except Holidays).

Contra Costa residents can also report neglected swimming pools here.

If you cannot get free mosquito fish in your area, you can purchase them online at Arizona Aquatics Garden.

Important: Please do NOT release any live mosquitofish in open waters.  It is against the law to do so, and may disrupt the ecological balance in natural habitats.

Plastic Shopping Bag Greenhouse

Photo: Two transplant flats are placed side by side inside a Target plastic shopping bag.  
The handles are tied on the side.

You can easily start seedlings outdoors by growing them in individual greenhouses made out of old plastic shopping bags.  

The seeds in my outdoor garden were taking a long time to germinate so I decided to start some more seedlings in pots.  To accelerate the germination time, I transformed the pots into greenhouses by wrapping them in old shopping plastic bags and tying them shut.  I placed the wrapped pots in a sunny location, and checked the bags once a day to make sure the soil was still moist and to see if anything had sprouted.  

These shopping bags make a significant difference.

Early Corn Germination Times
Method                                                                        Days to Germination
Burpee Seed Starter Kit (indoors)................................. 4
Plastic Shopping Bag Greenhouse (outdoors)...............5
Direct Seed Planting in Garden (outdoors)...................13

To check out my other germination tips and methods click here.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Plastic Knife Plant Labels

Photo: Early Corn plant label made out of a plastic knife

Have you ever wondered what to do with those plastic knives you get with your take-out orders or have leftover from a mixed plastic cutlery set?  Turn them into plant labels!

You can make simple plant labels by using a plain permanent marker (not the fine point kind) to label the knife handle.   Alternatively, you can dress up your plant labels like I did with a little paint and creativity.  Keep reading for instructions on how to make your own weather-resistant or weatherproof plant labels out of plastic knives.

Directions on How to Make Plastic Knife Plant Labels



Photo: Prepping the work area

Photo: Finished plastic knife plant labels
  1. Preparation.  Change into old clothes or put on a smock.  Then find a comfortable place to paint.  Prep your work area by laying down newspaper to prevent paint from accidentally ruining your furniture.  Weigh down or tape the edges of the newspaper to the table.  Then gather the rest of your materials.
  2. Sand the Plastic Knife Handle.  Roughen up the surface of the plastic knives with sandpaper.  Then wipe down the knife with a moist paper towel.  Allow the knife to dry.  This will create a better surface for the paint to adhere to, and prevent the paint from peeling off the plastic.               
  3. Prepare a Design or Dive In.  Acrylic dries quickly so I like to think about what I will draw and what colors I will use prior to painting, but feel free to dive in and start painting.  
  4. Paint.  Start painting.  I painted in layers.  First, I mixed blue and white on my palette to create a light blue paint.  Then I painted the knife handle and about 3/4" past the knife handle a light blue.  It is not necessary to paint the whole knife because the serrated edge of the knife will be beneath the soil line.  While I waited for my first layer to dry, I cleaned my paint brush by swirling it in water and drying off the excess moisture.  Then I painted a picture of the fruit or vegetable (also in layers).  Lastly, I used a fine brush and black acrylic paint to "write" the plant names.  
  5. Stick it in the Ground.  Place the knife in the ground so that the painted handle is exposed.  Now you have a unique, inexpensive, weather-proof plant label!