Gardening Basics #7: Container Gardening

Perhaps you live in an apartment, have limited space in your yard, or just don’t want to have a full-scale garden. By growing in containers, you can have an abundance of fresh vegetables and herbs just steps from the kitchen. These plants can be attractive and will enhance your patio, deck, or balcony. Nothing tastes better or is more nutritious or flavorful than fruits, vegetables, or herbs harvested minutes before eating. Paying attention to a few important rules and investing only a little time will assure you of a container garden that will be easy to set up and maintain and one that will offer a bountiful harvest. Here are the aspects you must consider:

Sunlight is the most important factor. Track the sun and shade patterns in your immediate area to get a good sense of the space where you intend to garden and what plants will do well there.

Fruit trees and vegetables that set flowers (such as oranges, plums, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, or squash) need a lot of sunlight. Photosynthesis produces sugars that directly feed flowers and help grow fruits of appealing size, taste, and nutritional value. A good local nursery staff member can tell you how much sun is needed in your area for any plants you want to grow.

Container size is the second most important variable for container gardening. The more soil volume your plants have, the more extensive the root system to draw on a larger pool of nutrients and water. Available container space directly influences the nutritional value, size and quality of the fruits, vegetables and herbs you will harvest. More is definitely better. For example, tomatoes require a minimum of 15 gallons of soil in order to develop into full size plants that will produce tomatoes with rewarding taste and nutrition. Other vegetable crops can survive in smaller containers with less soil volume but would benefit from more.

Terracotta, redwood, or cedar containers give the best results because they “breathe” and their temperature doesn’t fluctuate as quickly as other material. They also retain water better. Plastic containers can work well if you mulch to retain moisture and be sure to water more frequently. It is a good idea to mulch all container plants.

Potting medium matters. The quality of the soil has a major impact on plant health and crop quality. In bagged potting soils, watch out for chemicals, such as synthetic plant nutrients. For peace of mind, choose Dr. Earth® bagged soils, knowing they are made from only the best natural ingredients and are never contaminated. We know how to formulate the most well-balanced mixture, one that drains quickly but also retains moisture to support a healthy transfer of nutrients to the roots.

You can use some of your own compost from kitchen and yard waste, mixing at the rate of about 1/3 compost to 2/3 potting soil. In the limited space of a container, a plant has access only to what you provide, so invest in the best soil available – Dr. Earth®.

Fertilizer feeds the living soil that feeds your plants’ root systems. Chemically fertilized soils lack organic matter and are more vulnerable to drought and extreme temperature changes. Organic gardening is based on soil health and the natural relationship between soil microbes and roots.
Fruit trees, tomatoes and most other vegetables, especially in containers, need a lot of fertilizer to reach full potential. Feed
the roots in your container plants slowly with the best, Dr. Earth® organic fertilizer for maximum nutrition from your plants. Sea-based organic fertilizers are superior and contain the most multi-minerals, from which you will benefit when you consume them. Feed container plants often throughout the year.

Trellising Support provides form and structure for better plant health. Exposing as many leaves to sunlight as possible helps to increase your harvest. Not all vegetables will require support, but cucumbers, tomatoes and other vine plants do. Trellises also create air space between plants to minimize fungal diseases and make flowers more accessible to insects that help to pollinate.

Some plants may need a stake in the center of the container, while a tomato wants a sturdy cage, and a cucumber needs a grid-like trellis. You can build many of these support systems from scraps around the house.

Gardening Basics is a nine part series outlining how you can get a healthy and beautiful garden the organic and natural way

Giant Pumpkins


Giant Pumpkin Secret Growing Instructions and Tips

Selecting a Planting Site
Select a sunny place in your garden. Giant pumpkins thrive best in strong sunshine. The larger the area, the better (500-1000 sq. ft.), but smaller areas have been successfully planted too. An area that receives eight to twelve hours of sunlight per day is ideal.

Preparing the Soil and Mound
1.) The best pumpkins come from the best-prepared soil. Dig a hole, 40”-48” deep, 3′-5′ in diameter, and mix the soil well with 6-8 bags (8-12 cubic feet) of soil amendments such as Dr. Earth® Planting Mix. More is better!
2.) You should have a mound, 3′-5′ in diameter, 16”-18” high at its center.
3.) Allow 15′-25′ between individual mounds if you are planning on more than one vine

Germinating Giant Gumpkin Seeds
1.) Soak seeds overnight in warm water (8-12 hours.) This softens the pumpkins seed’s shell and accelerates germination. Start germinating seeds early May to late May.
2.) Plant seeds in a 4” minimum or larger peat pot, in a seed germinating mix, laid flat, 1”-1.5” deep.
3.) Keep seeds moist and warm, 75-80 degrees F., is ideal.
4.) Under these conditions, seeds should sprout in 5-10 days, sometimes even sooner.
5.) After the seedling has developed 2-3 true leaves, it is ready to be transplanted into the mound.
6.) Allow the seedling to ”harden-off” for 1-2 days, or get used to being outside by placing it outdoors for 6-10 hours each day, prior to transplanting.
7.) Or, you may sow your seeds directly into the mound. Competitive giant pumpkin growers have successfully used both methods.

Transplanting Seedlings
1.) Plant the seedling, peat pot and all, in the center of the mound. Peat pot should be well below the top surface of the mound. Transplanting late afternoon/early evening will help reduce initial sun and wind damage. Water the seedling thoroughly.
2.) Protect the seedling from winds, strong sunlight, insects and other potential damage by placing and open cardboard box around the seedling until it gets fully established, usually, 7-10 days.

Watering, Fertilizing and General Care
1.) Pumpkins are 90% water. Soil should be kept moist. Water once a day, or up to once every 4-5 days, depending on the weather and your soil conditions. Watering times should be consistent. Early mornings, late afternoons, and early evenings, in this order, are the best times to water.
2.) Be sure to use Dr. Earth® Organic 5™ Vegetable Fertilizer at the time of transplanting. Then use Dr. Earth® Liquid Solution™ fertilizer every 10 days for maximum size and production.
3.) Mulch around the main stem with compost, straw, or well-aged manure spread 4”-5” deep. Leave 9”-12” of clearance around the stem. Mulching will help regulate the temperature and retain moisture around the main stem and root system.
4.) Cover the pumpkin with shade cloth once it reaches 24”-36” in diameter to help keep the pumpkin’s skin from hardening and cracking from the hot, late summer/early fall sun.
5.) Place a wooden pallet underneath the pumpkin before it gets difficult to move (25-30 pounds) to keep the pumpkin’s bottom from rotting, and to facilitate lifting and transporting it later.

The most important tip of all: have fun and good luck!

Stuart Shin
Giant Pumpkin Expert

Growing Organic Avocados


Avocado trees are attractive, broad-leaved evergreens. The yellow-green flesh of the fruits is rich in oil and protein. They are easy to grow outdoors in most of California, Florida, and Texas. They also make attractive houseplants but will not bear fruit indoors.

Selecting Trees
Avocado trees mature to a height of 15 to 45 feet and are as wide as they are high, so give them plenty of space. Mexican types have dark, rough skins and are hardy to about 22° F. Guatemalan and West Indian hybrids have smooth, green skins and are less hardy. Not all cultivars are self-fertile; check pollination requirements before you plant. Ask your local independent nursery for further information about the variety that will grow best in your area.

Purchase a grafted tree and plant it slightly higher than it was growing, in the original container. Dig the hole twice as wide as the container size it is growing in. Use Dr. Earth® Planting Mix at a rate of 50% Planting Mix and % native soil, plus Dr. Earth® Starter Fertilizer, according to product directions. Choose full sun and very well-drained soil with a pH of 5.5-6.5. If you have poor drainage, plant your tree in a large raised bed or mound. Avoid windy locations, as the trees are prone to breakage.

Water young trees weekly, mature trees every other week or often enough to prevent wilting. If your water contains a lot of salts, flood the tree every fourth watering to flush out salt built-up and lessen possible root damage. Feed every other month with Dr. Earth® Fruit Tree Fertilizer to ensure a healthy and hardy crop. Apply a thick layer of organic mulch out to the drip line to conserve water and protect roots. Keep mulch one foot away from the trunk. If a young tree is not growing vigorously, an application of compost in early spring to midsummer is helpful. If new leaves yellow, have the soil tested. It may be a pH problem. Using a foliar fertilizer such as Dr. Earth® Liquid Solution will give the tree quick results.

Avocados need very little pruning. Pinch back upright shoots to control the height. Other than that, pruning will reduce yields and expose the trunk to sunburn damage.

The most common avocado problem is root rot. Symptoms include no new growth, very small fruit, and leaf yellowing and wilting. In advanced cases, a tree may die or survive in poor health for many years. Prevent root rot by providing good drainage and not over-watering. Avocados are sometimes attacked by fungal disease such as anthracnose, scab, and powdery mildew. They all thrive in high humidity. Control fungal diseases by spacing trees widely and trimming back surrounding trees to increase sunlight. Insects do very little damage to avocado trees, unless the tree is weakened by disease. Some cultivars naturally tend to fruit lightly, then heavily, in alternate years. Check with your local independent nursery for the best variety for your area.

Avocados bear in about three years. They ripen almost year-‘round, depending on cultivar and location. Avocados stay hard on the tree and soften only after they are picked. They are ready to harvest when they reach full size and the skin starts to change color. Pick one and let it sit indoors for a day or two. If the stem end doesn’t shrivel or turn dark, you can pick others the same size. You don’t need to pick them all at once, but don’t leave them on the tree too long or they’ll begin to lose flavor. Harvest avocados by cutting the fruit from the tree, leaving a small piece of stem attached. Handle carefully to avoid bruising. Avocados are ready to eat when they yield slightly when squeezed.

Growing Organic Apricots


Growing organic apricots can be a little bit challenging, but the sweet, aromatic fruit makes it well worth your effort. This juicy and naturally sweet fruit is one of my favorites to eat right off of the tree.

Selecting Trees
Doing a little research ahead of time, can help you to choose the tree best suited for your climate and will provide the best chance for success. Some apricots are self-fruiting; others need a second tree for cross-pollination. While winter-hardy, if you chose a variety that blooms too early for your climate you may lose its crop due to frost. Many cultivars don’t do well in high-humidity areas. Select trees grafted to seedling apricot rootstock. These do the best. Avoid those grafted to peach or to dwarfing rootstocks.

Dig the planting hole at least twice as wide as the container the tree came in, but the same depth or a couple of inches shallower. This will ensure that the tree does not settle and become prone to fungal diseases. Use Dr. Earth® Planting Mix at a rate of 1/3 planting mix and 2/3 native soil, plus Dr. Earth® Starter Fertilizer according to product directions. Space trees 20 to 25 feet apart, or a little closer, for better pollination.

Apricots, like any other fruit tree, need to be fed on a regular basis. Use Dr. Earth® Fruit Tree Fertilizer in early spring, just before they break dormancy, and then every other month, until the harvest is completed. Feed once again after harvest to replenish the soil of nutrients that have been depleted.

Apricot trees can grow up to 30 feet tall. Train them to an open center shape. Where diseases are a problem, limit pruning cuts, and slow down growth by spreading young limbs. With newly planted trees, make the first cut low, to encourage low branching for better access to fruit.

If your tree escapes frost, it may set too many fruits, and you’ll need to thin by hand. While leaving all the fruits that set is very tempting, thinning a tree provides larger apricots and removes the danger of breaking limbs. Remove smaller and damaged fruits before the pits harden. Where summers are moist, leave enough space between fruits to prevent them from touching.

Apricots bear fruit in four to five years. Harvest when the skin turns a beautiful orange and the fruit is soft. They dry well.

Best Cultivars
If you have spring frosts and humid summers, look for late-blooming, disease-resistant cultivars such as ‘Jerseycot’, ‘Harcot’, and others starting with ”Har,” including ‘Harglow’, ‘Hargrand’, ‘Harlayne’, ‘Harogem’, and ‘Harval’.

Growing Organic Apples


Biting into a crisp apple picked fresh from your own tree is so rewarding and full of nutrition. You may never taste anything quite so delicious. Growing apples organically is easy if you follow a few basic rules. Once you have grown a successful crop, tasted the fruit of your labor, you will never want to bite into a store bought apple again.

Selecting Trees
Since apple trees take at least several years to bear fruit, it pays to select trees carefully before you invest time and energy in them. Consider these factors: Apple trees come in wide range of sizes to suit any yard, they also make attractive landscape trees. Apples are subject to many serious diseases such as apple scab. Choose resistant cultivars; new ones are being released every year.

Tree Size
An important consideration. Standard trees can reach 30′ and take 6 years to bear fruit. Most home gardeners prefer dwarf and semi-dwarf trees, which are grafted on a rootstock that keeps them small, grow 6′-20′ tall (depending on the rootstock used), and produce full-size apples in just a few years. The final height of your trees will also depend on what cultivar you select, because some cultivars are more compact than others. Tree size will also depend on growing conditions and pruning and training techniques. Some cultivars bear fruit on short twigs called spurs, while others produce fruit along branches. Spur-bearing cultivars have more fruiting twigs than non-spur trees do, and produce more apples. Cultivars that have a strong, horizontal branching habit are easy for beginners to prune.

Most cultivars need to be pollinated by a second compatible apple or crab apple within 40′-50′ that blooms at the same time. Some cultivars, such as ‘Mutsu’ and ‘Jonagold’, produce almost no pollen and cannot serve as pollinators. A few cultivars including ‘Golden Delicious’ are self-pollinators. If you only have space for one tree, improve fruit set by grafting a branch of a suitable pollinator onto the tree.

When choosing apple trees, consider your climate. Your tree will produce more fruit and live longer if it is suited to your area. Antique apples can be fun to grow but require careful selection because many are susceptible to diseases.

Sample the fruit before you choose. Find some less familiar cultivars at farmer’s markets and orchards, or order a collection from a mail-taste order sampler company. The range of aroma, taste, flesh texture, shape, color and size of apple is far greater than a trip to your local supermarket would even begin to suggest.

Buy dormant one year un-branched grafted trees, sometimes called whips. Plant apples in the early spring in most areas, or in late fall in the Southern climates. Space standard trees 20′-30′ apart; semi-dwarfs 15′-20′; and dwarfs, 10′-15′. Start training immediately.

Healthy apples grow 8”-12” per year. Have the soil tested if growth is less. Low levels of potassium, calcium, or boron may cause reduced growth and poor-quality fruit. Apples thrive with a yearly mulch of 2” of compost and Dr. Earth fruit tree fertilizer. Apples also benefit from foliar feeding. Spray Dr. Earth Liquid Solution when the buds show color, after the petals fall, and again when young fruits reach 1/2”-1”diameter to improve yields. If testing shows calcium is low, spray 4 more times at two week intervals.

Begin training to a central leader shape immediately after planting. Prune trees yearly, generally in late winter or early spring.

Once your tree starts bearing, you need to remove excess fruit if want large and flavorful apples. Thinning also helps prevent trees from bearing fruit every other year. Remove the smaller apples in each cluster before they reach 1” in diameter. Leave one fruit per spur on dwarf trees, two per spur on larger trees.

Insects and diseases are a major frustration for organic apple growers, but new resistant cultivars and pheromone-bated insect traps make it easier to grow apples organically. Common apple pests include apple maggots, codling moths, green fruit worms, leafhoppers and mites. Aphids, scale, and tarnished plant bugs can also cause problems. Fall webworms and tent caterpillars spin webs in branches and munch on leaves. Remove and destroy webs as soon as you see them. Spray BTK (Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki) where caterpillars are feeding. Leaf rollers pull leaves together and spin small webs. They feed on buds, leaves, and developing fruit. Native beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps help control them. Spray dormant oil just before bud break to kill eggs. Monitor with pheromone traps, and spray with BTK or Dr. Earth Pro-Active insect spray, handpick after webs appear. To help prevent disease problems, dispose of all pruned wood as well as fallen leaves and fruit.

Apples ripen from midsummer through late fall. Early apples tend to ripen unevenly over several weeks. Late apples can all ripen the same day. If you have room for a few trees, you can select cultivars that ripen at different times and pick apples all season. Taste apples to decide when they are ready to pick. Skin color and the first fallen apple may be good clues, but taste is the best method. If they taste starchy, they are still green. Some apples are ideal picked early. Others improve as they linger on the branch. You may have to experiment to find when each cultivar tastes best. Lift each fruit in the palm of your hand and twist the stem. If ripe, it will part easily from the twig without tearing. Handle apples with care so they don’t get bruised.

Apples vary greatly in their keeping quality. In general, late apples are better keepers than summer apples. Store apples in a humid refrigerator at temperatures just above 32° F. If you have several trees full of fruit, you might want to be the generous provider to family and friends. Remember to check regularly for that one bad apple that really will spoil the barrel.

Best Cultivars
There are hundreds of apple cultivars to choose from. Here are a few with particular characteristics.

Disease Resistance
New resistant cultivars are being released every year; check nursery catalogs to find out what’s new. Two good cultivars immune to apple scab are ”Red Free” with medium-sized, dark red, slightly tart fruit and ”Williams Pride” with sweet, medium-sized, dark red fruit. Both mature in mid-to late August.

”Liberty” produces dessert-quality apples, is immune to scab, and resists cedar apple rust, powdery mildew, and fire blight, and it ripens in September. ”Sir Prize”, another scab-immune cultivar, bears fruit similar to ”Golden Delicious” but bruises easily and is susceptible to cedar apple rust. Two antique apples with good disease are ”Summer Rambo” from the sixteenth-century France and ”Yellow Transparent” from Russia.

Ease of Pruning
Cultivars that have a strong, horizontal branching habit such as ”Haralson” and ”Honey Gold” are easy for beginners to prune. Those with upright habits, like ”Red Delicious,” are harder.

Growing Organic Citrus


Every home should have at least one citrus tree in the garden, where suited to the climate, to provide delicious fruits packed with vitamin C. Few things beat a freshly picked juicy tangerine just off the tree, or squeezing a little fresh lemon juice on your organic salad. Citrus trees have shiny evergreen leaves, fragrant flowers, and attractive fruits that hang for months without dropping. In northern climates, you can grow dwarf citrus trees in containers and bring them indoors during the winter.

Selecting Trees
There are so many types of citrus that you may have trouble deciding which to grow. Edible types include grapefruit, lemon, lime, kumquat, mandarin orange, tangerine, orange, tangelo, and temple orange.

Consider the yearly range of temperatures and possible frost, when making your selection. Local nurseries usually stock citrus that grow well in the area. The fruit of all types is easily damaged by frost, but the leaves and wood of some are more cold-resistant. In general, limes are the least hardy, oranges slightly hardier; kumquats are the most hardy, withstanding low winter frost temperatures.

A single mature citrus tree yields more than enough fruit for a family. If you plant more than one tree of the same type, select cultivars with different harvest times, or plant different types of citrus so you won’t be overwhelmed with one kind of fruit. Almost all citrus are self-pollinating. A few hybrids are not; be sure to check for the kind you want when you buy.

Select sturdy nursery-raised trees. A one-year-old tree should have a trunk diameter of ¾ inch. A two-year-old plant should have a diameter of at least 1 inch. Those with fewer fruits and flowers are better because they have put more energy into sturdy top and root growth.

Most commercially grown citrus fruits are grafted onto rootstocks that are resistant to frost and insect attack. Select the proper citrus for your area when your soil is susceptible to nematode attack and other soil problems. Your local extension office or a good quality nursery could tell you what rootstock is best in your region.

Citrus do best at pH 6.0-6.5. They are not fussy about soil but do require good drainage. If drainage is a problem, plant trees in a raised soil mound, about 1½ feet high.

Select a sheltered area with full sun, such as a sheltered, south-facing alcove of a building. Citrus flowers attract bees, so don’t plant them in high-traffic areas.

It is best to plant citrus in late winter or early spring. Keep the graft union six inches above soil surface when planting. Full-sized trees require at least 25 feet between trees; smaller trees need less.

Citrus bark is thin and easily sunburned. Wrap the trunk with commercial tree wrap or newspaper for the first year, or paint it with diluted white latex paint.

In dry areas, water newly planted trees at least once a week for the first year. Once established, trees need less-frequent watering, but never wait until leaves wilt to water. Water stress can cause developing fruit to drop; prolonged drought causes leaf drop and may kill the tree. Water slowly and deeply; shallow sprinkling does more harm than good. In drought areas, construct a shallow watering basin that extends from six inches away from the trunk to one foot beyond the drip line. Or install drip irrigation under a thick layer of mulch to conserve water and protect shallow feeder roots. Keep mulch six inches away from the trunk.

In citrus-growing areas, soils often lack organic matter and nitrogen. Spread compost, mulch and Dr. Earth® Fruit Tree Fertilizer on the soil surface out to the drip line four times a year, beginning in February. This will help to ensure a healthy productive crop that will be full of nutrition for you and your family.

Most citrus trees need little pruning beyond removing dead or broken branches. Limit the tree’s size by thinning out fast growing shoots that outgrow other branches. Thin the branches, rather than shortening them. Remove suckers as soon as they emerge from the ground.

You can revitalize an old unproductive citrus tree by pruning severely in early spring. Wear thick gloves if the tree has thorns. Cut off all branches two inches or larger in diameter flush to the trunk, and feed and water heavily for the next year. Note: Very severe pruning may stop fruiting for up to two years.

Winter Protection
Citrus are usually grown outdoors in climates where frost is rare. Some types of citrus fruit are vulnerable when frost does occur. In areas where mild frost is common, don’t plant cultivars that bear in winter and early spring. Since succulent new growth is more prone to frost injury, withhold extra water in late summer to limit new growth. When frost does threaten, cover trees with large fabric sheets. Use fans to keep air circulating around the trees. If symptoms of frost damage appear, wait until spring growth starts to see the true extent of damage. A tree that loses all its leaves can still rejuvenate. If damage is severe, dieback may continue during the growing season.

Citrus trees usually bear in three to four years. It can be hard to tell when citrus fruit is ready to pick. Color is not a good indicator. Fruit can have ripe coloration several months before being ready to harvest or remain green and unappealing even when ripe and juicy inside. Use the taste test to determine when fruit is at its peak flavor. Allow fruit to ripen on the tree before picking.

Use pruning shears to cut stems close to the fruit when harvesting. Don’t just pull fruit off the tree. Ripe citrus fruit can remain on the tree for up to three months. Once harvested, citrus can be stored in the refrigerator for three more weeks. Enjoy the fruits of your labor; they will be juicy and full of flavor and nutrition.

Growing Organic Roses


Few flowers can compete with the elegance and beauty of roses. Throughout history, and throughout the world, roses have been associated with beautifully maintained estate gardens. The good news is that you don’t have to be born rich, or own a large estate, to be able to enjoy a gorgeous rose garden. All you have to do is go to your local independent garden center to find a wide variety of roses you can plant at home and then learn the basic principles.

When you grow your roses organically, they are free of pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals that may be harmful to our family and pets. Organically grown roses offer us the option of using the pedals and other parts of the plant in our food arrangements, making rose tea, distilling rose water, blending potpourri and even concocting homemade cosmetic products. Just the peace of mind that comes with knowing that we are not exposing ourselves to anything potentially toxic is the most important thing. But just as the “organic life” is healthier for us, so is it for the roses too.

Easy Steps To Rich Rewards
Organic roses are fun and easy to grow. We just need to understand their four basic requirements: sun, water, feeding and pruning.

Full sunlight is best, although some varieties still perform well in less sunlight. If you do not have a lot of sun in your garden, the experts at your local independent nursery will be able to recommend varieties better suited for your location. Another advantage you gain by visiting independent nurseries is that they usually offer selections of roses that are not available at the big box stores. Also, I have experienced that they are usually more knowledgeable about roses in general

Providing roses with the correct amount of water is very important. Please do not use sprinklers to water your roses, even in the morning! I have seen too many diseased roses that have been watered this way. Try to pay close attention to the wetness of your soil. Water if it is dry to the touch two inches below the soil surface.

Higher quality soil will be better able to retain water. Rich soils consist of a variety of organic components such as redwood, compost, peat moss and organic fertilizers. Wet the soil to the point that it looks and feels saturated at a depth of six inches. People often make the mistake of watering too frequently and not deeply enough. This approach will promote shallow root growth, which will make your rose plants less drought tolerant and susceptible to drought stress more quickly.

Deep roots, encouraged by deep watering, have access to more water, primary nutrients, and minerals and will support the production of more blooms in general. Deep roots also develop a more productive association with endo-mycorrhizae.

Roses are heavy feeders. They love their nutrients! Try to add as many organic amendments to the soil as you can. Your roses will show you their gratitude by producing an abundant crop of blooms.

It is best to add both amendments and fertilizer to your soil. Amendments come in the form of planting mixes, composts, soil conditioners, mulches, and other coarse organic materials that will directly improve the texture of the soil. They have some nutritional value, but not nearly enough to maximize your roses’ growth potential. Dr. Earth® Organic 3™ Rose and Flower Fertilizer will contribute greatly to your soil texture, but more importantly it contains high levels of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, secondary nutrients and Pro-Biotic®, a champion biological soil inoculant that is perfectly formulated for rosarians who expect the best and demand the most.

Use Dr. Earth® Organic 3™ Rose and Flower Fertilizer for a completely balanced diet that contains everything a rose plant will require. Try to work the organic components (amendments and fertilizer) deep into the soil— at least 2 inches to 8 inches for maximum results. Organic nutrients are released slowly, as the beneficial soil microbes digest and decompose the nutrients and convert them into a form that the plants roots can absorb. This is the way nature indended.

Dr. Earth® Organic 3™ Rose and Flower Fertilizer contains mycorrhizae, a beneficial soil fungus that develops a symbiotic relationship with the roots of roses and other flowering plants, enabling them to absorb more water and nutrients. Michorrhizae also contribute to good soil structure and help plants to resist soil-borne diseases. All of this happens when we are organic gardeners; we do not have to apply chemicals to our soil to achieve maximum plant potential.

Proper rose pruning is essential for a beautiful rose garden. I recommend that if you do not know how to properly prune your rose plants, take a rose pruning class at your local independent nursery. Many nurseries will offer these classes on weekends, free of charge. The more knowledgeable you are on proper pruning techniques, the more successful you will be.

The Rewards
Being an organic rosarian is a very rewarding experience. Organically grown roses are easy to achieve, especially after you have built a rich and nutritious soil. Organically grown roses can be more drought tolerant and disease resistant, and require fewer applications of fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides, because they have been grown steadily without the typical unnatural growth spurts that they experience with chemical fertilizers.

Please consult with your local independent nursery for more advice and tips on growing organic roses. I also enjoy listening to the smart hosts of radio gardening shows like John Bagnasco ad Sharon Asakawa of “Garden Compass” in Southern California, Mike Nowak in Chicago and Paul Parent in the New England area. These gardening gurus know roses and what makes them grow!

Growing Organic Herbs


Outside of my kitchen I have four wine barrels full of herbs. Just about every night, I harvest a variety of herbs and mix them into my salad, something I love to do.

I grow mint, mustard greens, basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley, coriander, and several other types of herbs that are stunning in color and taste. Nothing dresses up a plate of food like fresh picked herbs; they add excitement to flavor and presentation.

Where Do I Start?
Starting with a good idea of what you like to eat will help to simplify the choices and make your job easier. You must know if the herbs you want to grow will thrive in sunny or shady areas, or maybe a little bit of both. Ask your local independent nursery professional for the best varieties for your garden. You might want to have a couple of herb gardens.

I like to grow all my herbs in containers because it gives me the ability to place them where they will thrive best. Remember that sunlight is energy, so if those sun-loving herbs do not receive the required sunlight, they will not grow to their full potential. Seek the advice of a nursery professional when purchasing your seeds or transplants.

What Should I Grow?
I buy just about all the common varieties of herbs that will grow in my area. If I do not consume the herbs, I can be sure that they will be a beautiful addition to my garden. If you have a favorite herb that you like, focus more on that. If you enjoy mint lemonade once in a while, grow a little mint. If you love Italian food, focus a little more on basil and oregano. Salsa, anyone? Grow a bunch of cilantro! The idea is to grow a variety of herbs that you enjoy using even if it is only once in a while. Also, keep in mind that many herbs have medicinal qualities and may be very good for you, especially if they have been grown organically.

Preparing the Soil
Herbs, like most plants, will need good healthy soil to grow in. Soil rich in organic matter will yield the greatest harvest. If you are growing in containers buy the best quality potting soil you can find such as Dr. Earth®.

Fill the container to about two inches below the top of the pot. That allows enough space to comfortably water your plants as they grow. Use the best quality organic fertilizer, such as Dr. Earth® Tomato, Vegetable, and Herb Fertilizer. This will ensure your soil is packed full of nutrition for your herbs. Remember: you are what you eat! So feed your soil with high-quality nutrients. This way you will consume herbs that are packed full of nutrition for you and your family. The best tasting herbs are grown in rich organic matter.

I grow herbs every year and every year I give a few friends some young herb plants to grow. And every year the herbs I grow always taste better than my friends’ herbs. Last year I gave my neighbor three basil plants, the same exact variety that I was growing, from the same exact source. Even though the plants were grown next door in the same microclimate, they did not taste nearly as good as mine. Could I be biased, or is it the soil? Year after year, I taste different plants grown by friends and neighbors, and consistently my plants outperform theirs. I am convinced that it is Dr. Earth® soil and fertilizer that makes such a huge difference. My herbs taste like they were grown on an organic farm in the country, fresh and full of flavor.

Planting Trees & Shrubs

Select a site with good drainage and the proper sun exposure. If water stands, or the soil is often soggy, a raised planter may be preferable.

Dig a hole twice as wide as the root structure, and almost as deep as the root ball. Create a soil blend by mixing one part your soil with one part Dr. Earth® Planting Mix along with Dr. Earth® Starter Fertilizer according to product directions.

Remove container and carefully score and loosen the sides and the bottom of the root ball. Plant so that the top of the root ball rests one inch above ground level. Backfill with soil blend around the root ball, firming in the sides to prevent settling. Only backfill to existing ground level. Use the remainder of your garden soil to make a 4 inch tall raised ring around the edge of the hole.

Add more Dr. Earth® Starter Fertilizer according to product instructions around the plant, then mulch with a layer of Dr. Earth® Planting Mix two inches thick , being careful not to buildup around the trunk of the plant. Water thoroughly.

Before next watering, check the soil every two three days to a depth of two to three inches. Water only if soil is damp to damp dry. Soil should be kept moist, not soggy. When watering, fill the basin (the area created by the raised ring) slowly. This will ensure a thoroughly wet root zone and help to leach harmful mineral salts.

Repotting and Transplanting

My many years of experience have proven that repotting plants increases health potential and overall plant growth. There is nothing complicated about moving or repotting plants unless they are enormous. A large tree, for example, will require professional help, but the principles are still the same.

Potting Plants
The health of a potted plant will start to deteriorate if it has out-grown its container. Roots trailing from the bottom of the pot, leaf drop, and depleted soil are signs that the plant needs repotting. One or two pot sizes larger will usually be sufficient. Don’t be too eager to repot everything. Some plants (especially ferns) actually prefer slightly cramped conditions and many flowering plants bloom more prolifically if they are a little root-bound.

Before repotting, water the plant well. When the water has drained away, invert the pot, lightly tapping the sides to release the mass of roots. Add Dr. Earth Potting Soil® to the new pot, and then insert the plant so that it sits at the same surface level as before. Add Dr. Earth® Starter Fertilizer to the potting mix for maximum transplant success. Surround the plant with some more soil mix and firm in. Water the plant well.

Garden Plants
Plants established in the garden may also need moving if they have outgrown their site or are unhappy in a particular position. If possible, try to move them when they are dormant (usually in winter), avoiding extreme weather. If you have to move plants in summer, they will benefit from some temporary shade while they reestablish themselves. Cover the plant with some lightweight fabric and apply Dr. Earth® Planting Mix as mulch to protect the roots.

When moving a medium sized tree or shrub, it is best to break-up the project into a few sessions. Water the ground thoroughly, and then loosen the soil in a wide circle around the plant. Leave it for a few days then repeat the process, gradually digging deeper until it is possible to lift out the root mass. Always use a sharp spade, and if roots look ragged or bruised, re-trim them cleanly.

If you have to move a plant some distance to a new site, wrap its root ball in a piece of plastic or burlap. Plants that are difficult to handle can be pruned before transplanting. Prune them back by up to one-third to reduce the shock to their root system. Immediately transfer the plant to its new hole, adding fresh Dr. Earth® Planting Mix and Dr. Earth® Starter Fertilizer. Firm the soil around the plant and water in well.

If the plant is to have a period in a pot before it is planted, then choose a container only slightly larger than the root ball. Fill any gaps between the roots and the sides of the container with potting soil, then water well, both before and after potting. Only feed if the pot-bound period is to be an extended one.

A certain amount of transplant shock is almost inevitable with a mature specimen. Reactions can vary. The plant may look a bit weedy, or it may drop its leaves. If the latter happens, treat it with consideration, don’t let it dry out or drown. It should recover with time.

Seedlings are easy to transplant, as they haven’t had time to develop an extensive root system. If they have been grown in groups, separate them by gently pulling them apart, or if they have delicate roots, cut them apart with a sharp knife. Make a small hole in the ground, and then position the plants, firming the soil gently around them. Water the seedlings in well and ensure they are kept moist until they become established.

Indoor seedlings may need hardening off before transplanting. Place them in a sheltered place outside for a few hours each day, gradually increasing exposure to full sun and night temperatures over a few weeks.

Seedlings in the garden can be reestablished in a new site that better fits your garden scheme. Dig them out carefully, retaining as much accompanying soil as possible, then plant them as above. Remember to feed every plant that is moved with Dr. Earth® Fertilizer. This will help to reduce transplant shock, increase transplant success, and ensure that your plants are off to a great start.