Spring is here. Really?

Let’s face it. Winter melted into a face spring, so far. But if you’re getting the itch to get back in the garden, here are some tops from Mother Earth News.

It’s important to plant your garden seeds at the right time, and the key is knowing when your area will see its last spring frost. Some garden plants taste even better after a little frost, but you’ll sure be sorry if you put your warm season crops in the ground too soon.

Some crops thrive in cool weather, while others only grow well when it’s warmer. So how do you know when to plant what? The key factor that should guide your decisions is your average last spring frost date.

Most cool season crops, like cabbage, broccoli, lettuce and many others, can tolerate a light frost and will grow best when sown a couple weeks before your last spring frost. Some, like peas and spinach, are so cold-hardy they can even be planted “as soon as the ground can be worked,” as many seed packets say. But warm season crops like squash, cucumber and basil will be killed by frost if your seeds come up too soon. Ditto for warm season transplants such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants — if you don’t wait until danger of frost has passed before you set them out, a late frost will kill them.

Thus on seed packets you often see “Plant after all danger of frost has passed.”

So, how do you find the average last spring frost date for your area? A great tool to find your average frost dates is the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Vegetable Garden Planner.

The Planner will even send you customized planting reminders for which crops need planting based on your frost dates and location.

Here’s a summary of which crops to plant early, and which ones not to plant until after your last spring frost date:

Very early spring (as soon as the ground can be worked)

  • Onions
  • peas
  • spinach

Early spring

  • lettuce
  • beets
  • carrots
  • radishes
  • dill
  • cilantro
  • cabbage
  • broccoli
  • celery
  • kale
  • potatoes

After last frost date

  • beans
  • corn
  • melons
  • cucumbers
  • squash
  • tomatoes
  • peppers
  • pumpkins
  • eggplant
  • basil

Now for a breath of fresh winter air

HGTV reminds us that gardens are gorgeous, even in winter. Here’s what it looks like when Mother Nature covers everything with a beautiful blanket of white.

Bare wisteria branches make a wintery canopy at Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art in Nashville, Tennessee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hydrangeas are even beautiful when they’re not in bloom at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

 

 

 

 

 

A statue crowned with snow seems like it’s shivering in the Farwell Landscape Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

 

 

 

 

The trees may be dormant, but this snowy pathway at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, is alive with beauty.

 

 

 

One of the first sights guests see when they enter Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, in the winter is Copper beech trees laden with snow.

 

 

 

Sage, thyme, parsley and other herbs sleep the winter away at the Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden at the New York Botanical Garden.

 

 

 

 

A dusting of snow decorates the United States Botanical Garden in Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

 

 

Originally called the fountain of water and light, Bartholdi fountain at the United States Botanical Garden in Washington, D.C. was designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who also created the Statue of Liberty.

 

 

 

 

Snow doesn’t stop New Yorkers from strolling around the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Bringing Christmas home

 

 

 

At the Tree Lot: Once you’ve picked your tree, ask the seller to saw off at least one-half inch from the trunk. This fresh cut helps the tree absorb more water and last longer. Make sure he or she shakes off and lose needles before wrapping the tree in netting.

The Ride Home: Before loading the tree onto your car’s roof, lay down a tarp or blanket to protect your car’s paint for scratches. Trees are netted with the branches pointing up. Position the top of the tree over the rear of the car so branches don’t meet air resistance and break as you drive. No roof rack? Open all the doors and tie the tree to the roof before shutting them for the drive. If a tree hangs off the back of the car, tie on a reflective flag to alert other drivers.

The Set Up: Direct heat can dry a tree out making it both an eyesore at a fire hazard. Park yours away from radiators, heating vents, fireplaces and holiday candles. Place an oversized garbage bag beneath the stand. This will help catch falling needles once it is time to take the tree down sparing you a big vacuum job. Be sure to use a stand made to accommodate your tree’s height. You’ll also need one with the built-in reservoir that holds at least a gallon of water. Have two people place the tree in the stand – one to hold and steady the tree, the other to tighten the screws around the trunk. Be sure to keep the netting on as it will make the tree easier to handle.

Shaping and Caring: If your tree needs a trim, use pruners to snip away any small branches that are sticking out. To cut larger branches, use a handsaw or lopper. If your hands get covered with tree sap, rub them with olive oil or baby oil to help remove the residue. Or better yet, wear gardening gloves before you start the entire process.

Garlands and Lights: The best way to put up lights for even twinkle-filled look is to plug a set of three connected strands into a surge protector. Then string straight up the tree, as close to the trunk as possible. Once at the top, start wrapping the strands down around the outer branches. When you need more, plug another strand into the surge protector. Run the lights up the trunk and start wrapping again where the last lights left off.

Perfect plants for chilly and wintery weather

When the winds are a’blowin, your landscape can keep a’growin with these beauties.

Cabbages and Kales

Ornamental kale and cabbage are some of the most popular winter annual plants. They lend a completely different texture to a winter landscape bed. Once the plants are hardened by cooler night temperatures they can survive most cold winters.

 

 

Camellias

Camellias prefer acidic, moist yet well-drained soil that is high in organic matter. They flower in the fall and winter when their display of colorful blooms is most appreciated. The waxy-petalled flowers linger long on plants, displaying shades of red, pink, coral, white and bicolors. Plants are evergreen, growing to form shrubs or small trees. Once established, camellias are drought-tolerant.

 

Winter Jasmine

Jasminum nudiflorum or winter jasmine is an exceptionally trouble-free plant to grow.

Holly Bush

Hollies bring an eye-catching display of evergreen leaves that is often punctuated with bright red or gold berries.

 

Native Serviceberry

Native serviceberries also earn rave reviews for snow-covered branches. Watch for white blossoms in spring, followed by tasty berries in June. Birds love the berries, so if you want any for a pie, net trees. Fall color features shades of red and orange.

Outdoor Holiday Lighting Ideas That Dazzle

Create a sparkling light display each night during the holiday season with these tips and tricks from HGTV for bringing envy-worthy curb appeal to your front yard.

Colorful Holiday Lights on Antique Sled

Bring rustic appeal to your yard or interior by wrapping weathered architectural relics with lights. The contrast between the dulled, organic surfaces and the boldness of colored lights results in a conversation piece that truly pops.

Sophisticated Lawn Art

Bring a playful glow to your lawn with oversized ornaments made from globe shades, food storage bowls and string lights. For more curb appeal, cluster them together in odd numbers and choose extension cords that blend in with your landscaping.

Lighting Walkways

Since holidays often attract more guests to the home than other times of the year, be sure to keep walkways brightly lit. An easy way to do this is to take advantage of any smaller trees or shrubs along or around the walkway and outfitting them with just a few strands of lights. Although they may be too small to properly read from the street, the subtle glow cast onto pavers, trails or concrete walkways will help guests make their way up to the house safely.

Click here to see additional ideas.

Winterize water features before the cold hits hard

Winterize Water Features

Water features are of particular concern during the winter. Small features will freeze, despite the running water produced by the fountain, and that can ruin the pump and the pot. So make sure you drain them and store the pot and pump in the garage or garden shed. Depending on where you live, larger water features and ponds may freeze over somewhat, but if they are deep enough or have a waterfall rapid and large enough, they shouldn’t freeze solid. Consult a pond installation expert on how to properly winterize your water feature.

Turn off water to irrigation systems and set automatic timers to the “off” mode. You may not want to turn the controller box off completely so you don’t lose the watering schedule and have to reprogram it next season. It may be necessary to drain or blow the water out of the pipes. Consult your local irrigation specialist on recommendations. If any pipes, valves or the backflow preventer are above ground and exposed to the elements, wrap them with protective insulation, like insulator tape, to keep them from freezing. But don’t insulate or block air vents or the pump motor.

Grilled Stout Stuffing

With more people than ever turning to their outdoor grill to roast their Thanksgiving turkey, we wanted to share this grilled stuffing recipe from Mike Lang, police sergeant and Weber blogger.

“Growing up, Thanksgiving was not Thanksgiving without stuffing. While I can’t recall the last time Mom stuffed a bird, I know that whenever we have turkey, we have stuffing. Even if it is July. While cooking stuffing inside a turkey is traditional, I find it much easier, and even better, to grill it separately. Every year, we alternate the major holidays between our homes.  

Knowing full well I will be grilling a turkey before the year is out, I’ve decided to put my spin on stuffing. Not surprisingly, I’m adding beer. It is fitting the month of November is home to International Stout Day. The stout is one of my favorite beer styles. It’s full of roasted malt, often balanced by notes of chocolate and dark fruit. Not only is it great to drink, it is great to grill with, as this stuffing recipe will prove.”

Grilled Stout StuffingThe Recipe

Serves: 6

Ingredients:

½ cup butter (1 stick)

1 leek, white stalk removed, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

1 12 ounce bottle of stout beer, like Guinness

2 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped

2 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, chopped

2 cups chicken broth

2 eggs, beaten

6 cups of dried bread cubes, approximately 1 – ½ square

¾ cup dried cranberries

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

Instructions:

1. Preheat the grill for indirect cooking over medium heat (350F).

2. In a large cast iron skillet, melt the butter over medium high heat on either a stove top or side burner. Add the leek and celery. Cook until lightly brown, stirring occasionally, for approximately 8-10 minutes.

3. Add the bottle of beer, followed by the sage, parsley, chicken broth, and eggs.  If you want to do some quality control testing before pouring the beer, you certainly have my permission to do so.

4. Turn off the heat and stir the contents of the skillet.  Add in the bread cubes, cranberries, salt and pepper.  Stir the bread into the liquid and combine evenly.

5. Using indirect medium heat (350 F), grill the stuffing for approximately 30 minutes.  Remove and serve.