March 14, 2012

faq - the garden and greenhouse

Before we talk gardening, I want to thank you all for your well wishes after my last post!

I am doing fabulous, (fabulously?) thank you very much, and it won't be long before I can no longer use my recovery as an excuse to get me out of various and assorted unsavory tasks.

Like getting dressed.

Basically, I've been doing a whole lotta nothing the last couple weeks, which results in a whole lotta nothing to blog about. Since a bunch of us seem to have spring fever, I thought maybe it would be a good idea to answer some of the gardening questions that I get on a fairly consistent basis.

BTW, it's snowing here. I'm trying really hard to be happy for all of you in the Midwest and East, but it's hard.

Weather jealousy is not pretty.

I am green with weather envy.

First up, the greenhouse.

Y'all love the greenhouse and many of you have asked about plans, etc.

There are no plans.

I know that's not the answer you were looking for and I am very sorry about that. We have a contractor who is able to build pretty much anything from nothing. I don't think we even gave him a sketch. We just kind of tell him what we want and he builds it.

As far as winter and the greenhouse, we have a propane heater and we keep the thermostat set a little above freezing. This is the first year our impatiens have made it through the winter, and it's so fun to have them blooming right now. It usually takes the strawberry pots a couple months to really fill in, so I love the fact that they'll be full and pretty right away in June when I set them out.

We also overwinter our geraniums and petunias and many herbs. I even managed to keep a parsley plant alive this year. Now that the days are getting longer, things are really starting to grow. I'll give almost everything one more good cutting back, and then let them go crazy between now and the first of June, which is when it's usually safe to set things outside.

We do struggle with a major aphid problem in the greenhouse, but we order ladybugs to keep it under control and they really do a great job. Plus, they're cute, and who doesn't like cute!

We also have an issue with slugs, but I'm working hard to rid the greenhouse of the slimy dudes that are straight from the pit of hell.

Slugs are the Spawn of Satan.

Moving out to the gardens. Some of you have asked for gardening advice, tips and tricks, what to plant, etc.

I don't think I can really help you out with what to plant, as that depends so much on where you live and your garden zone, your weather conditions, your soil and a million other factors, such as whether you live in the country and have the other garden Spawn of Satan known as deer that come into your garden and eat every single gorgeous rose and snarf every single delphinium bud right before they bloom.

I used to like deer. I used to think they were pretty and wonderful.

I'd better move on before I say anything more to encourage the onslaught of deer loving hate mail I feel coming my way.

Don't hate the hater.


There are, however, two things that are major factors in how my gardens look.

First, I over plant.

I usually ignore spacing guidelines and never, ever thin things out. Our growing season is so short that I try to pack as much punch in as possible.

We use a drip irrigation system and the water emitters are spaced every six inches, and I plant an annual by almost every emitter.

I do have a small amount of reason when it comes to perennials though, and give them plenty of space to grow and fill in over the years.

Fertilizer is the second weapon in my gardening arsenal.

For the perennial beds, I usually sprinkle a slow release, granular fertilzer around the plants one time early in the growing season, and then we also use a compost rich mulch to dress the beds and keep the weeds under control.

I take care of my annuals in a different way.

I fertilize my annuals (herb garden, greenhouse garden, vegetable garden, pots and hanging baskets) weekly with a water soluble fertilizer. At least until about the end of August, when I start to run out of fertilizer steam.

I use Miracle Grow, which I get at Costco, and I alternate that with a bloom booster. Years ago, Costco sold its own Kirkland brand of fertilizer which had a 20-20-20 formula. I would mix that into the rotation as well. I think K-mart sells a 20-20-20, and sometimes I'll buy that and rotate it in.

Some years, I just use Miracle Grow. It all depends on just how obsessed I am with having my garden look its best.

Last year, leading up to my son's wedding, I was fertilizing things about every five days.

This year, we are taking it easy and have no big events here at the farm, so it's going to be a much more low key gardening year.

And by that I mean that I'll probably only plant 800 zinnias, instead of 1110.

Oh, one more fertilizer fact. I use a watering can, not a hose sprayer. I have never found a sprayer that evenly distributes the fertilizer, and as I'm a control freak, I like to mix my own. It's a lot more work, (last year, it took more than three hours to fertilize everything) but that's how I like to do it.

Also, petunias L.O.V.E fertilizer, so sometimes I'll add an extra between feedings feeding just for them.

I've lived in Montana for eleven years now, and it's taken years of trial and error to discover what works best for me here.

There are many, many basic plants that I just cannot get to grow well.

Cilantro and basil are two of my most wanted herbs, but I can't grow either to save my life.

Many different annuals that are gorgeous in the nursery, look like death warmed over after just a couple weeks at my house, and I have no clue why.

If you're just starting out, it might be fun to buy a wide variety of whatever catches your eye at the nursery, and see what does well in your garden.

I highly recommend a good potting soil, and make sure you take note of the sun/shade requirements for the plants you choose.

Most of my gardening know how has come from simply flying by the seat of my pants.

I am not an expert.

I am not a master gardener.

I don't know the latin name for anything.

I am not an Organic Olivia.

I have no doubt there are many other ways to get the job done, but this is what works for me.

So, there you have it! If you have any other gardening questions, feel free to ask and I'll go ahead and answer them right here in the comments.

Have a wonderful Wednesday, and if it's gorgeous and sunny where you are, please wear some flip flops just for me.


  1. I would love to wear some flip flops for you, or at least have it warm enough here to do so. We are getting a steady rain all this week. I am so with you on the deer issue, they love to nosh on my favorite blooms as well, another "Spawn" creature here is the raccoons, they love to dig up any and all potted things on my deck (where the deer cannot get) and ruin them. What I use in the greenhouse for the slugs is Diatomaceous Earth. I sprinkle it on the gravel floor of my greenhouse and it wipes them out. Don't put it on the leaves of the plants when your ladybugs are around, it will harm them as well. I get mine at the feed store and it is not expensive.

  2. Always love visiting...your gardens are inspiring. Just what we need right now! Thanks for sharing your tips & how-to's. Here in the Midwest we're being teased with's 71 degrees now, but a couple of weeks ago we had a winter storm warning! What's a girl to do?

  3. Ahh, flip flops.....YES! Your photos of your garden and truly amazing and inspiring to say the least. I have always been a lover of the land and it has been a dream of mine to one day visit Montana......ONE DAY!

    Blessings to you~

  4. Wearing flip flops today in your honor. Your garden inspires me, but alas in Florida most plants wilt under our summer heat. Glad you are feeling better.

  5. Your gardening tips are great! I do not have a green house so I don't get to keep plants growing through the winter but I do try to get an early start on what ever I plant by starting seeds indoors. It helps some. Especially with the vegetables.
    Oh to be able to put on a pair of flip flops today or anytime soon...what a wonderful thought. Too cold here right now. But the thought of warmer temps is on my mind. Looking forward to it.

    Snooks @ 3 Beeze Homestead

  6. Okay, I'm just sayin'... a "nothing" day at your house yields far more beautiful photos than a GREAT day at my house. Alas, I am gushing over your photos again.

    Today, it is in the high 60's and very sunny. No snow. No sign of snow that I know of (or am willing to admit to). LET IT BE SPRING! (my proclamation!)

    Glad you're feeling good. Love, SallyWally

  7. Sigh. Your flowers are lovely, I can't get anything to survive here because the summers are too hot. Everything literally fries to death. And I'm not a fan of cactus. :(

    I am going to attempt some vegetables this year though. I'm sure it will be a massacre, but you have to start somewhere right?

  8. I have nearly every one of your garden pictures in my 'ideas' file. You really do have the knack. I live in the Sierra mountains with a nearly identical climate to yours. (As in, it snowed here today, daggum it!!!) I use almost all the same plants and yep, same thing with Miracle Grow and my can. I've never been able to gauge the dang sprayer thing. Thanks for the tips!

  9. Thanks for sharing your tips. I always envy your greenhouse and gardens

  10. Your pictures are sensational.

  11. So glad you are feeling better and thank you for all of your gardening tips. They encourage me to just go for it! Love your photos as well:)

  12. Your garden always looks so great! I so wish I could keep plants alive...glad to know you're feeling better!


  13. you might have weather envy but I have greenhouse envy and Montana living envy and... ha never mind! I love living here as well just always kinda dreamed of the wider open West. In case your interested, my garden parsley and leeks was used periodically throughout the winter (they were unprotected, just stuck out there in the cold ground) and the new growth is on it's way. Very mild winter here. Glad you're feeling better!

  14. I'm so glad you're feeling better! I never say LOL, but I did about the zinnias. Yay! A q&a...first, where do you get your terra cotta pots? I love them. They look thick, and smooth. Also, I know you're in a completely different zone, but can you recommend an annual that would be easy to start indoors, to cut and sell at the farmer's market. Last year I grew zinnias, cosmos, and sunflowers, but I want to try something different this year. Thanks!

    1. Hi Kelly!
      My pots are all from Home Depot or K-mart. I try to buy extras when K-mart is closing them out in the fall because I always break a few during the summer.
      Oooh, zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers are the best. Larkspur is another really fun and pretty cutting flower. I can't wait for farmer's market season to be here!

  15. No big events this year???
    just kidding!
    800 zinnias sounds big enough!
    I am wearing flip-flops for you! My garden is blooming, it's beautiful weather here... 79 degrees right now. BUT, Sunday the high will be 59 degrees, what the heck?

  16. Thanks for the garden blog! You will not hear anything nice about deer from me. I call them big mice.

  17. Great words . . . helpful thoughts . . . we are changing up an area this year so you gave me ideas. Going with drip irrigation and not following space suggestions.

  18. Great post Teresa!!! I have weather envy too, however with a few more days like today it should be GONE! I have greenhouse envy now, after reading your post. I laughed about your slug comment : )
    I can't wait to get out and get my hands dirty. I will wish some great weather your way okay?

  19. I love all of your gardening tips! Spring is just around the corner and I can hardly wait! Love the photos, especially the ladybugs.


  20. It snowed here too. Dying for some sun and planting time!


  21. I'm sure glad to hear you're better. We had snow this week too.. I am *so* over the winter/snow thing. I want warmth and sun.. bring it on. We wintered over a big red banana plant and some geraniums. Hope they do okay when we bring them out. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

  22. We had a problem with deer also-until we got our Labrador. He stays out (unless it gets very cold) on an electric fence and no more deer! I did have to re-route the wire for the electric b/c he liked to lay on the hostas!
    Thanks for the tips!

  23. Thanks for your gardening tips, and I am glad you are feeling better! Stunning photos! Have a blessed week! xo Heather

  24. glad to hear you're doing better! love all the garden info - it may even help my black thumb!

  25. Yeah!! You are better!! Thanks for the great tips. We finally put a deer fence around the back yard and "gave" the front to the sweet little critters. About the Lady bugs...I noticed in your first picture the Ladys had a yellowish/orange color and the others were red. We get a swarm of the y/o ones in the fall and they hibernate in our garage and attic. Now that the weather is a little warmer they are coming in the house. I understand they are "foreign" bugs that don't die off in winter....any info you may have on them??

  26. Millie and I went on a 25 minute walk through town today and thought of you. Thank you for more great gardening advice. I will admit that I cannot imagine my life without fresh basil. Keep in mind while you are looking through the Village real estate guide that you can have loads of it effort free when you move here.

  27. Thank you for the permission to over plant. I always do that for the same reason you do, despite the raised eyebrows of other, well-haved, rule-following gardeners.

    And why is it when I watched the weather report last night, every inch of the country had a big, yellow sun on the map except for our little corner of the country which had a big, dumb snowflake on it? It is March, universe! Bring me some sun, please.

  28. Well first of all, I'll wear flip flops for you... except that it has been a constant downpour here and I'd have prune feet AND I don't actually own or wear flips flops... will Chacos do? They'd probably work better in the rain too!

    Thanks for all of the gardening tips. I admit I need to fertilize MORE than I do but I also use a watering can and am just too lazy I suppose. I also tend to over plant and never thin! If I planted that seed and it grows I can't bear to pull it out :( I'm about to get my impatien and wave petunia seeds planted to keep indoors for now... my zinnias, sunflowers, marigolds, etc won't be planted until April and I do them in my (unheated) greenhouse.

    I for one cannot wait for spring and some COLOR! Tired of grey, wet days.


    PS happy to hear you are on the mend!

  29. My job has kept me away from blogging for a bit so I just read of your surgery today. So glad to hear all went well. I was laughing with you on the doctors leaving things in you comment. I think I watched the same episode. My husband is a doctor and tells me that it doesn't happen as much as we think, but once is too much for me! I finally figured out my plants don't last long because I'm not fertilizing them enough (or ever), so because of you, I'm going to do better this year and respect my plants. Have a wonderful weekend!

  30. To get rid of slugs ...I have tried this and it works. Use washed out tuna cans, add beer to the can. Place under plants. It has always worked for me.

  31. ...So glad to hear you're feeling better! Where have I been that I missed out on all of this badness (you in surgery) & goodness (you sharing gardening tips)? Sheesh. And sadly my brain fog isn't caused from a little heavenly pill either. *sigh*giggle* ;o)

    ...Thank you so much for sharing your tips with us! I never over plant my annuals and now I see why my pots and window boxes look so sparse compared to yours. And I only fertilized every couple of weeks, if my plants were lucky. :o\ Now that I know your secrets I am gonna really try and do it up right this year, I'm gonna follow your advice to a "T" and see if I can't get my flowers to rock like yours. Wish me luck. :o)

    ...I do have one teeny question for you if you're still taking questions. What do you use for your lawn? I've noticed in your awesome photos that your lawn is just as beautiful as your flowers. Do you fertilize each Spring? Reseed? Plant plugs? If you fertilize or use a lawn treatment would you share the brand please? Thank you so much!

    ...Sorry my Get Well wishes are so late but I'm glad to hear you're doing fine.

    ...Have a wonderful weekend!

    ...Blessings :o)

  32. Thanks for sharing your secrets. Hopefully a greenhouse is in my future, albeit distantly. We had lots of sun in Colorado this past week but if we don't get more snow, we'll be paying for it later this summer!

    I hope you are feeling better :)

  33. I can't grow anything to save my life, even when I plant things they die. I don't have a green thumb that's for sure. Our first garden we were semi successful with little tomatoes and those deer got them. I love deer but I really wanted to ring their necks. We were waiting so patiently for just the right moment to go get them and we go down there and they were all gone. We thought at first someone stole them, I was saying- who would come and steal our tomatoes and my neighbor said- The deer. I didn't know they ate them and I just gave away how clueless I am. Anyway I never planted anything again because I know of the trouble everyone else around me has with the deer eating all their hard work. Love your photos by the way!

  34. Wow, I'm a little behind! So glad you are taking everything in stride. And I wanted to let you know that your lovely shot of the birdhouse and barn is beautifully framed at Pinecone Meadow Farm in lovely Fennville, Michigan. If you get this way I'll invite you over to see it!

  35. I wandered onto your blog this morning (the first weekend I've had off in almost a month) and discovered this entry. Hooray for more advice right before planting time! I can't thank you enough for your advice regarding my upcoming wedding and the window boxes. Maybe I can help with basil... the one thing I have grown successfully (besides vegetables) since moving to the great white north and a climate similar to yours.

    A few years ago, after killing several basil plants, a local farmer suggested that I needed to treat it to an outdoor "Mediterranean climate" since it would like a greenhouse as little as it would like my northern soil (I rolled my eyes and glanced out the window at the snow and he kindly explained). He suggested starting it indoors at the same time I do my tomatoes and NEVER plant it in anything but pots with excellent drainage. So I invested in a few of those "feed from the bottom" pots. Now, here's the fun part. You harden it off like any other plant, and it lives outside, but if the temperature is going below fifty at night, you bring it inside. Also... it comes in when we get a hard rain... so, last year I grew fifty basil plants and am still eating fresh pesto regularly... and yes, it is a TON of work... but being able to take a packet of basil out of the freezer (what I didn't turn into pesto and freeze in ice cube trays immediately, I quick froze in 2c. baggies) is well worth it!. I fertilized it about once a week with miracle grow and ONLY watered from the top gently with a watering can, but holy basil that farmer was right!

    I may have a basil problem like your zinnia problem... this year I have planted 72 seedlings.

  36. You must have an awesome camera. Want to share what kind it is? Nice photos.

  37. Your blog is so inspiring! I love to come here with my cup of coffee…so relaxing.

    ☺ Hope

  38. Your gardening tips are great!Love your photos!Amazing and fantastic!

  39. I needed some inspiration for gardening. And your gardens are inspiring! Nice pictures really.

    - Herman Swan