Tag Archives: container gardening

Four Ways to Prevent Dampening Off

One of the many reasons I haven’t been blogging is that whenever I started writing about gardening I found myself on another rant about climate change. There is nothing like paying close attention to the weather to make one notice strange patterns. So rather than going on another rant, I will simply reference this Sac Bee article on the changes in the jet stream that has made this winter-spring so cold in much of the West.

A mixed bunch of seedlings (with the names in notes, roll your mouse over ...)
Creative Commons License photo credit: hardworkinghippy

Here in the Williamette Valley temperatures are still below normal. I lost some basil to dampening off. When conditions are cold and damp they stress tiny seedlings and promote the growth of fungus. If this happens seedlings will suddenly just fall over and die. So sad.

So here are four things to do to prevent dampening off.

1. Clean your containers. Recycling old containers is very environmentally friendly, but without a good cleaning they can harbor diseases. Before reusing your containers, wash them with very hot water and a biodegradable soap. If you still have trouble, you can mix a small amount of bleach in to help sterilize things.

2. Sterilize your seed starting mix. If you are reusing old potting mix it also could be hiding diseases. Commercial mixes aren’t always sterile either. You can bake your potting soil in the oven at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes. However this process does involve a smell that some might not enjoy. Another option is to cook your seed starting mix in the microwave. Cover and cook for about 8-10 minutes until steaming. Allow to cool.

3. Provide ventilation. Seeds need to stay moist in order to germinate, but there can be too much of a good thing. Providing a little fan for your seedlings can help them grow strong and stocky as well.

4. Avoid overwatering. You don’t need to water unless you see the top of the soil is starting to get dry, especially once the seeds have germinated. I find that even tiny seedlings without their first “true leaves” often have roots going right down to the bottom of the container.

Truthfully most of the time I find I can just buy some seed starting mix, pop it in a container, water, add seeds, water again, and presto! Baby plants! However, if you are starting seeds when it is cold and wet, dampening off can be a problem. Depending on what seeds you are starting, you might need to provide a seedling heating mat to avoid stressing your little darlings. In general, the more ideal the conditions, the less you have to worry. So give them lots of warmth and light too!

Hopefully warm, sunny weather will be on the way soon and we can forget all about the dreaded dampening off.

Squirrels! How to deal with Animal Pests in your Patio Garden

This weekend I did some work to get my patio garden really going. I mixed up some of my very own potting soil mix and bought a few winter greens and flowers to put out in my containers. I also pulled out my box of ancient seeds to see what I might be able to sprinkle on the soil. Now November is not the best time to start seeds of anything because many seeds are dependent on light to germinate, and shorter days doesn’t make for great sprouting. But I figured that if they didn’t sprout now, they might sit in the soil, getting ready for next spring. I sprinkled some mache, arugula, and watercress seeds in some containers on my patio, pressed them firmly into the soil and figured all would be well.

Little did I know that in a few hours I would discover squirrels digging in my newly planted containers! So now the question is what to do about the squirrels. Mammals can do a lot of damage to a garden, both through digging and by eating newly planted seedlings. Now if we manage to get our patio door latch fixed so that we can let the cats in and out easily they could guard my patio plantings. But the cats sleep at least 12 hours a day, so that isn’t a complete solution.

Since I’m mainly gardening in containers I don’t have to worry about groundhogs and moles like many gardeners do. (The solution there is to dig down into your soil, lay down some sort of gardening fence, like chicken wire, underground and then place the soil on top. Imagine making an underground cage for the roots of your plants so that the digging animals can’t get inside.)

For rabbits, squirrels, and mice or rats, which can all be garden pests, I would advocate protective coverings for your new plantings. There is nothing tastier than newly sprouted seedlings and mammals know that. Essentially, you need to make a cage above ground for your plants. The problem with this is it’s not very attractive. The other alternative is to fence your entire garden, but building a squirrel proof fence is a lot of work! My grandparents regularly put out poison and traps for rats and moles, but I can’t imagine trapping for squirrels. Anyway, once you start down that road you will have to continue, periodically to maintain your traps or put out more poison because new individual animals will move into the area around your garden, replacing those you kill. I kind of enjoy watching the squirrel hop around on the lawn, so I’m not planning to kill them. I would rather limit their access to my delicacies.

Patio Gardening – Six Common Mistakes in Choosing Containers

the flower riot
Creative Commons License photo credit: la fattina

This fall I’m starting a brand new patio garden at my new home in Eugene. One of my first steps was acquiring some nice containers. My patio does have some soil around the edges, but it’s fairly shady and the soil is filled with tree roots, so I’m focusing on planting in containers for now.

Plants in containers are much more susceptible to overheating, lack of water, or drying winds than plants in your garden beds. In order to be successful in growing plants in containers you need to choose your containers carefully. Here are six common mistakes gardeners make when choosing containers for their patio garden:

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