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NASA: Use These Plants To Protect You From Deadly Airborne Chemicals

We breathe 10 to 20 thousand litres of air per day.

With so much air being taken into our lungs every single second, it is vital to ensure we are breathing in clean air, free of toxic chemicals.

Hazardous air pollutants can have a severe impact on your health and can even lead to serious disease and illness. Harmful toxins can be present in our homes, and many are colourful and odourless, so we don’t even know whether or not we’re being harmed by them. Even many air “purifiers” may release significant amounts of ozone into the atmosphere. We can work to prevent these toxins whether in the form of carbon monoxide detectors or lead testers, but there are other ways to purify the air in which we breathe.

When we think about houseplants, we usually think of a way to add colour, livelihood, and decoration to our homes.  Growing plants inside your home can bring beauty, vitality, and life into any living space. Growing certain plants in your home can also have health benefits beyond what you could imagine. We live and breathe in a toxic environmenteven if we don’t wish to admit it or believe it.

What Toxic Chemicals Lurk in Our Air?

Image one toxic air NASA: Use These Plants To Protect You From Deadly Airborne Chemicals

Our modern day homes are rife with pollutants that can cause a host of health problems. Formaldehyde is commonly found in drapes, glues, and coating compounds. Benzene is a component of paint supplies and tobacco smoke, and trichloroethylene is used in adhesives, spot removers, and other household products. Other chemicals from furniture, detergents, air fresheners, and household cleaners can lurk inside poorly ventilated homes, and yes, even homes with good airflow.

These household objects can release harmful gases into the air, which we take in every single day, and these pollutants can have an adverse effect on our health. Poor air quality from pollution, odours, moulds, and chemicals can impact your breathing which can have a variety of negative consequences on your health. So, what does keeping a few houseplants around in your home do to improve the quality of air and thus the quality of life you have?

Plants can act as the middlemen amongst the air you breathe and the toxic chemicals. The plants breathe in the “bad” air and turn dangerous toxins into harmless substances. These plants also contain purifying benefits that help promote relaxation, which can lead to healthier sleeping patterns and overall better (and healthier) days.

How Do Plants Stop Toxins in Their Tracks?

NASA, with assistance from the Associated Landscape Contractors of America, conducted a two-year Clean Air Study, directed by Dr. B.C. Wolverton, an environmental engineer. What started as a study to provide cleaner and purer air for space stations turned into a study on houseplants as healing air purifiers.

Scientists worked to find the most effective common indoor plants for filtering toxins in the air. This study, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, of the interaction of plants and air, found that houseplants, when placed in sealed chambers in the presence of specific chemicals, removed those chemicals from the chambers.

These scientists identified 50 houseplants that remove many of the pollutants and gases in the air. They also found that these plants are effective at removing chemicals that have been linked to health effects like headaches and eye irritation including benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene, xylene, and ammonia from the air.

The NASA study also found out that, in addition to what some plant physiologists already knew, plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as part of the photosynthetic process. As most of us learned in grade school, plants directly absorb carbon in their life-dependent process known as photosynthesis.

By converting carbon dioxide into oxygen during photosynthesis, plants naturally remove excess carbon contained in the seemingly fresh air. During the process of photosynthesis, foliage also removes other chemicals from the atmosphere including nitrogen oxides, airborne ammonia, and sulphur dioxide that are large contributors to the smog and greenhouse effect problems.

By adding plants to your home, you’re both cleaning up the indoor air and also helping out your planet and your health. So, whether or not you have a green thumb, it doesn’t affect your ability to keep some of these toxic-killing plants in your home. Not to mention, they add a gorgeous, homey touch to any and every space. (Just remember to water them as needed!)

Here’s a list of 10 of the houseplants NASA described as helping protect us from deadly airborne chemicals:

1. Areca Palm

areca palm  NASA: Use These Plants To Protect You From Deadly Airborne Chemicals

Noted the very best of the air purifiers from NASA’s study, the Areca Palm is a very popular office and household dweller. Its popularity grew exceptionally when it scored very high in all categories during NASA’s study. It can purify benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene from the air. It is also a very effective air humidifier.

This plant takes carbon dioxide and turns it back into oxygen. In addition to producing oxygen and lowering carbon dioxide levels, it also removes certain pollutants from the air to help provide clean indoor air.

Areca palms prefer bright sunlight, but too much light can scorch the leaves. It is important not to overwater these plants and they do best in moderate temperatures. As the plant grows taller and taller, its air-purifying effects grow even more. Not to mention, the areca palm is non-toxic to pets!

 

2. English Ivy

english ivy  NASA: Use These Plants To Protect You From Deadly Airborne Chemicals

The NASA study concluded that English Ivy is the one of the highest purifying houseplants because it is the most efficient plant to absorb formaldehyde. Its leaves can improve symptoms of allergies and asthma. The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology reported that, in a 2005 experiment, English Ivy removed 94% of airborne faeces and 78% of airborne mould in as little as 12 hours.

Ivy leaves are also commonly used to eliminate respiratory tract congestion and inflammation. Ivy leaves act as an expectorant and can break up the phlegm and mucus in the bronchial system, and by removing these breeding grounds for bacteria, you can improve your overall health and reduce your illness healing time.

English Ivy is easy to grow and survives in moderate temperatures with medium sun exposure. The vine looks great in a hanging basket or on a ledge where the leaves can trail down. This plant can be toxic if ingested by kids or pets so make sure to keep it out of their reach.

3. Aloe Vera

aloe vera  NASA: Use These Plants To Protect You From Deadly Airborne Chemicals

Aloe Vera is well known for soothing inflammation, scars, and burned skin. It is also among the most powerful plant air purifiers in the world. Whilst aloe vera helps clear chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene (a by-product of chemical-based cleaners, plants, and more) from the air, it also lowers carbon dioxide levels. Unlike most plants, it releases oxygen and absorbs carbon dioxide at night.

The rare ability to absorb CO2 concentrations in the dark makes Aloe an excellent bedroom companion that can help you get a more restful sleep. Aloe is also a smart choice for a sunny kitchen window as it needs direct sunlight. Beyond its air-cleaning abilities, Aloe is one of the most notable air purifying plants.

Aloe Vera is very easy to care for, requiring minimum water and attention. Not to mention, the plant is regularly used to heal sunburns, cuts, and wounds. The Egyptians called it the ‘plant of immortality’ because it is so resilient.

4. Snake Plant (Mother-in-Law’s Tongue)

 NASA: Use These Plants To Protect You From Deadly Airborne Chemicals

Otherwise known as the mother-in-law’s tongue, the snake plant is one of the best plants for filtering out formaldehyde, commonly found in cleaning products, toilet paper, and tissues.

You may also want to put a couple of these sharp-leafed plants in your bedroom. Interestingly, they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen at night (the opposite of the process most plants follow). Sharing your room with these plants could give you a slight oxygen boost whilst you sleep.

The NASA study shows that the snake plant can reduce respiratory symptoms, eye irritation, and headaches, whilst also reducing the need for ventilation. During this process, NASA sealed a snake plant in a chamber with various noxious gases for 24 hours and found that it reduced the amount of Benzene in the air by 53% and the amount of Trichloroethylene in the air by 13.4%.

The snake plant is also great for sleeping beside you at night because it can provide a significant amount of oxygen to indoor environments at night. In the bathroom, it’ll thrive with little light and steamy, humid conditions whilst helping filter out air pollutants..

5. Chrysanthemum

chrysanthemum NASA: Use These Plants To Protect You From Deadly Airborne Chemicals

This colourful plant can brighten any room or office. Its blossoms can also filter out benzene, which is commonly found in glue, paint, plastics, and detergent. The name “Chrysanthemum” is derived from the Greek words “gold” and “flower”.

The flower also has many medicinal benefits. It can be used to treat chest pain, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, fever, cold, headache, dizziness, and swelling. When combined with other herbs, it can also be used to treat prostate cancer.

Chrysanthemum tea is a very popular summertime beverage in areas of southern China. These plants need bright sunlight to flourish indoors. It is important to find an area that gets sunlight even in the winter. Water the plant often, keeping the soil damp at all times.

6. Weeping Fig (Ficus)

ficus NASA: Use These Plants To Protect You From Deadly Airborne Chemicals

The Ficus, otherwise known as the “weeping fig,” or the “ficus tree,” is an evergreen, which essentially means it stays green all year round, making it a great indoor house plant.

The Ficus works diligently to remove pollutants from furniture and carpets. It is a popular houseplant that is also very effective at purifying the air in your home. According to NASA’s Clean Air Study, the Ficus tree was effective at cleansing airborne formaldehyde, xylene and toluene.

Though it takes some effort to look after it, making sure you water it moderately and always clean its leaves from dust is a must.

7. Spider Plant

spider plant  NASA: Use These Plants To Protect You From Deadly Airborne Chemicals

The spider plant is one of the easiest plants to both grow and look after and is one of the most common houseplants. It is easy to maintain as it barely requires any water to survive but has an enormous impact on purifying the air we breathe.

The health benefits associated with the spider plant is its ability to absorb carbon monoxide, a colourless, odourless, and tasteless toxic gas. Exposure to carbon monoxide leads to a variety of symptoms that include headache, nausea, weakness, exhaustion, dizziness, and confusion. The spider plant also battles benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene, a solvent used in the leather, rubber and printing industries. (Not to be confused with the toxic spider lily!)

The spider plant purifies air rapidly and works in filtering chemicals released from rubber and leather, making it very suitable for garages or small workshops. These plants are also safe for pets, so no need to fret about keeping too many around your puppy!

8. Peace Lily

 NASA: Use These Plants To Protect You From Deadly Airborne Chemicals

One of the most common houseplants, the peace lily, is a plant that happens to love the shade and thrive in high humidity, which makes it great for decorating the bathroom. The peace lily is also excellent at absorbing airborne toxins. The peace lily can remove benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, ammonia, and trichloroethylene from the air.

This tropical plant breaks down and neutralises toxic gases like formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide. Peace lilies also effectively remove benzene, a by-product of inks, oils, paints, plastics, detergents, and more common household products. (Not to mention, they’re extremely low maintenance.)

The peace lily helps reduce the levels of mould spores that grow in the home by absorbing those spores through its leaves and circulating them to the plant’s roots where they are used as food. In bathrooms, the Peace Lily can help keep shower tiles and curtains free from mildew and the plant can absorb harmful vapours from alcohol and acetone. Research confirms that routine exposure to these chemicals, commonly found in personal care products, can lead to dry eye syndrome, dizziness, and muscle weakness. Though toxic to pets, the peace lily still reaps many benefits to purifying the air for humans.

9. Dracaena

dracaena NASA: Use These Plants To Protect You From Deadly Airborne Chemicals

The Dracaena plant is best for ridding the air of chemicals found in lacquers, varnishes, and gasoline. This species of plant, similar to other houseplants, can help fight against what is known as the “sick building syndrome,” which is caused by polluted indoor air. Sick building syndrome can lead to headaches, sore eyes, nausea, or loss of concentration.

Plants belonging to the Dracaena genus not only purify the air by removing carbon dioxide, but they are also known to remove benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, and xylene.

Besides oxygen, humidity is also an important factor to note. In terms of health ailments, if it is too high or too low, it can lead to health problems. Houseplants including Dracaena species, are known to help with controlling the humidity inside a room, therefore improving your health.

Dracaena absorbs carbon dioxide whilst emitting fresh oxygen, and the more oxygen you get into your body, the more you increase your concentration and productivity. Having a Dracaena plant inside your room will also help reduce stress, anxiety, and mental exhaustion.

10. Golden Pothos

golden pothos  NASA: Use These Plants To Protect You From Deadly Airborne Chemicals

Among the top 10 of air purifiers in NASA’s study, the Golden Pothos cleans the air in the room where you place it of toxic fumes like formaldehyde, which you often find in rooms that have been recently painted or furnished.

Pothos also removes benzene and carbon monoxide from the air, which is why you should put one of these plants in your bedroom to make sure you have enough oxygen whilst you sleep. Also, some studies have found that pothos can help eliminate odours.

For all of these reasons, you can place a pothos plant in your kitchen, bathroom, or living room to spread its benefits throughout your home. Pothos stays green, even if kept in the dark, which makes it ideal for basements and garages.  A proficient grower, Pothos is great in containers and hanging pots where its trailing vines can tumble over the pot’s edge.

How to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

clean air  NASA: Use These Plants To Protect You From Deadly Airborne Chemicals

Every single one of the houseplants listed above is great tools to improve your indoor air quality. For the most part, they’re easy to care for, nice to have around and will help you breathe easier, during both night and daytime. However, they’re just tools to help you stay healthy. In the long run, there are many other things you can do to improve the air quality in your home.

The best method to improve your indoor air quality is to have some of these houseplants around and try to eliminate the source of the pollutants to cleanse the air at all times.

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Don’t Put Your Guard Down in Your Garden: These Deadly Plants May Be Lurking In Your Backyard

Your garden may be a relaxing retreat, hideaway, or even your favourite outdoor spot, but it’s not a place to let your guard down. Before planting your favourite gardening chair in the ground and getting down to business, realise that not all that’s green is good.

Some popular plants you prize for their ornamental beauty can turn into toxic killers within minutes if ingested, whether consumed out of curiosity or by mistake.

With this list, you’ll know which flowers, shrubs, and berries to warn young minds about and which bushes and flowers to keep out of your pet’s reach.

You’ll also learn the symptoms of poisoning because—after prevention—rapid treatment is the only defence against death.

 

1. Wolfsbane

wolfsbane Dont Put Your Guard Down in Your Garden: These Deadly Plants May Be Lurking In Your Backyard

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Wolfsbane, also known as women’s bane or devils helmet, is a perennial plant and is native to mountainous regions in the northern hemisphere. Wolfsbane contains large quantities of a poison called pseudaconitine. In large doses, death can occur in as little as 2-6 hours.

Poisoning may occur following picking the leaves without wearing gloves, in which the aconitine toxin is absorbed easily through the skin. In this event, there will be no gastrointestinal effects, but tingling will start at the point of absorption and extend up the arm to the shoulder, after which the heart will start to be affected. The tingling will be followed by unpleasant numbness. Treatment is similar to poisoning caused by oral ingestion.

When ingested, an intense burning feeling in the limbs and abdomen is immediately felt. The gastrointestinal symptoms can include nausea and vomiting, which is followed by a sensation of burning, tingling, and numbness in the mouth and face, and of burning in the abdomen. In severe cases, pronounced motor weakness occurs and sensations of tingling and numbness spread to the limbs. Other symptoms may include sweating, dizziness, difficulty in breathing, headache, and confusion.

Identifying Wolfsbane

These plants are chiefly natives of the mountainous parts of the northern hemisphere, growing in damp soils on mountain meadows.

The flowering stem can reach a height of 80 inches, and the flowers are impressive. These are eye-catching plants, and the tall stem is adorned with eye-catching blue, purple, white, yellow or pink zygomorphic flowers with numerous stamens. The Wolfsbane flower in June-July, and reside in broad-leaved forests, beside swamps.

 

2. Daffodils

daffodils Dont Put Your Guard Down in Your Garden: These Deadly Plants May Be Lurking In Your Backyard

Did this one surprise you? Daffodils are classified in the Narcissus genus that is mainly made up of spring-flowering bulbs native to Europe, North Africa, and Asia.  All Narcissus species contain the “alkaloid poison lycorine,” mostly in the bulb but also in the leaves.

Daffodil bulbs can sometimes be confused with onions and lead to accidental poisoning.  Florists often suffer from “daffodil itch” that involves dryness, scaling and erythema in the hands. This is said to be blamed on the exposure to calcium oxalate in the sap. The clear fact is children, adults, and animals should not eat daffodils. Though not deadly, daffodils will mainly cause an upset stomach and possible vomiting if ingested.

Identifying Daffodils

Botanists differ, but there are at least 50 species of daffodils, some with a great many different forms, and several natural hybrids. In addition to the species, there are over 13,000 hybrids of the daffodil, which are split among the thirteen divisions of the official classification system. Daffodils come in all sizes, from five-inch blooms on two-foot stems to half-inch flowers on two-inch stems.

Their attractive flowers usually bear showy yellow or white flowers with six petals and a trumpet-shape central corona. Leafless stems bear between one and 20 flowers, and sometimes the flowers need to be staked so that they don’t weigh down the stems.

Colours of daffodils range from white to yellow, pink, salmon, orange, and red-orange. Several species of daffodils are very sweetly scented.

 

3. Water Hemlock

water hemlock Dont Put Your Guard Down in Your Garden: These Deadly Plants May Be Lurking In Your Backyard

 

Deemed by the USDA as the most deadly plant in North America, the water hemlock is commonly mistaken for parsnips because of its scent. The water hemlock contains a toxin called cicutoxin, a violent convulsant, which acts as a stimulant in the central nervous system, causing seizures – which include loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions – and eventual death.

Water hemlock is different from poison hemlock (the plant which killed Socrates), in that it contains coniine alkaloids that kill by paralysing a victim’s respiratory system. Both are actually members of the carrot family.

Identifying Water Hemlocks

A water hemlock is a perennial plant that grows to a height of three to seven feet tall. The leaves are up to 15 inches long, alternately arranged, and contain numerous two to five-inch ovate leaflets. They are also sharply toothed, and the leaf “veins” terminate at the bottom of leaf serrations and not at the tips, which helps to identify this plant.

Flowers are pure white and tiny, have both five petals and stamens that grow in umbrella-like clusters two to eight inches across. The plant flowers in spring or early summer, and the stem is smooth and hollow. It has a tuberous root with root stalks that are multi-chambered and contain a yellowish oily liquid. This liquid is poisonous and is said to smell like raw parsnip.

 

4. Foxglove

foxglove Dont Put Your Guard Down in Your Garden: These Deadly Plants May Be Lurking In Your Backyard

Foxglove grows in woodlands and hedgerows and is also a common garden plant popular for its tall stem and, in the most common form, purple flowers.

Eating any part of the plant  causes vomiting, extreme stomach pain, and can even result in heart attacks. Sucking the flowers or seeds is the most common cause of foxglove poisoning, and contact with the skin can also cause a rash. All parts of the plant are toxic, not just for humans, but also for dogs and cats. Even drinking the water that cut foxgloves are sitting in can be deadly.

Oddly enough, the plant has saved far more lives than it has cost as drugs derived from it are used to treat heart conditions.

Identifying Foxgloves

Foxgloves have very distinct flower stalks that contain many clustered blooms and rise above the foliage of the plant. The individual blooms are long, bell-shaped and point downwards. Foxglove flowers come in shades of pink, purple, lavender, yellow, and white; many have white or purple spots inside the blooms. The plant base rarely exceeds two feet tall, but the flower stalk rises above it to three to five feet high, so height is a good identifier.

Foxgloves also have grey-green leaves about four-twelve inches wide with a noticeable vein structure. Foxgloves produce a large stalk with the flowers located at the top of the plant, so the leaves are found toward the base of the plant. During the earlier summer months, Foxgloves produce the densest quantity of leaves.

 

5. Rosary Pea

rosary pea Dont Put Your Guard Down in Your Garden: These Deadly Plants May Be Lurking In Your Backyard

This plant may sound harmful, but it’s actually deadly. Rosary peas got their name from their traditional use as ornamental beads for rosaries. The plant is still best known for its seeds, which are used as beads and in percussion instruments, and are toxic because of the presence of abrin—a close relative of ricin and one of the most fatal toxins on Earth.

They are used in jewellery around the world. Many jewellery makers have died after pricking a finger whilst handling a rosary pea, and ingestion of a single seed can be fatal to both adults and children.

Identifying Rosary Peas

The Rosary Pea twines around trees, shrubs, and hedges. It has alternate compound leaves, two to five inches long, with five to fifteen pairs of oblong leaflets. A key characteristic in identifying rosary pea is the lack of a terminal leaflet on the compound leaves. The flowers are small, pale, and violet to pink.

The plant, of course, is highly known for its seeds, and the red variety with black eye is the most common colouring for the seeds, although there are black, white, and green varieties as well.

Rosary pea is native to the Old World tropics, but now grows widely throughout tropical and subtropical areas of the world where it has been introduced.

 

6. Deadly Nightshade

deadly nightshade Dont Put Your Guard Down in Your Garden: These Deadly Plants May Be Lurking In Your Backyard

There’s nothing that says “pleasant” about the name “deadly nightshade,” and both the foliage and the berries of this plant are extremely toxic. Deadly nightshade has a long, colourful history of use as a poison, but what many people don’t realise is that the nightshade family includes common food plants, including potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and chili peppers.

In fact, all of these plants contain toxins — usually in their foliage — that can be very harmful. In particular, both humans and pets should avoid potato and tomato foliage and vines in the garden.

The berries release a poison that paralyses nerve endings in blood vessels, the heart and gastrointestinal muscles. Symptoms of poisoning include dilated pupils, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, headaches, confusion, and convulsions. Two berries will kill a child and 10 to 20, an adult.

Identifying Deadly Nightshades

The Deadly Nightshade is most common in central and southern England, but the herb grows wildly in many parts of the United States, mostly in dumps, quarries, near old ruins, under shade trees, or on top of wooded hills. The Deadly Nightshade is a branching plant that often grows to resemble a shrub of about four feet in height within a single growing season.

The leaves of the Deadly Nightshade are long, extending seven inches, and its bell-shaped flowers are purple with green tinges that are about an inch long. The fruit and berries appear a pale green colour when growing, but, as the toxins get stronger in the ripening stage, turn to a shiny black colour and almost resemble cherries.

The Deadly Nightshade blooms in midsummer through early fall, and its roots are thick, fleshy, and white, growing to about six inches or more in length.

 

7. English Yew

yew  Dont Put Your Guard Down in Your Garden: These Deadly Plants May Be Lurking In Your Backyard

Known also as the European Yew, the English Yew is native to western, central and southern Europe.

All parts of a yew plant are toxic to humans with the exception of the yew berries (however, their seeds are toxic). Additionally, male and monoecious yews in this genus release cytotoxic pollen, which can cause headaches, lethargy, aching joints, itching, and skin rashes, and it is also a trigger for asthma.

The foliage itself remains toxic even when wilted, and toxicity increases in potency when dried.

Symptoms of yew poisoning include an accelerated heart rate, coldness, weak pulse, muscle tremors, convulsions, difficulty breathing, and eventually, cardiac arrest. However, there may be no symptoms, and if poisoning remains undetected, death may occur within hours. Fatal poisoning in humans is very rare, usually occurring after consuming yew foliage. The leaves are more toxic than the seed.

In fact, in Harry Potter, Tom Riddle’s wand was made of English Yew. Now that’s a deadly plant…

On the positive side, yew extract is used to formulate the drug paclitaxel, or Taxol, which slows the growth of cancer.

Identifying English Yews

Mature English Yew can grow up to 20 metres, and the bark is reddish-brown with purple tones. The leaves of the tree are straight and contain small needles with a pointed tips. As for the flowers of the Yew, they are dioecious, which means that male and female flowers grow on separate trees and are visible in March and April.

Male flowers are insignificant white-yellow globe-like structures. Female flowers are bud-like and scaly, and green when young but become brown and acorn-like with age.

The English Yew does not actually bear its seeds in a cone, but instead, each seed is enclosed in a red, fleshy, berry-like structure known as an “aril,” which is open at the tip.

The foliage and seed coat of yew are what contain a cocktail of highly toxic alkaloids. The aril is not toxic and is a favourite meal of blackbirds.

 

8. Datura (Angel’s Trumpet)

angels trumpets Dont Put Your Guard Down in Your Garden: These Deadly Plants May Be Lurking In Your Backyard

Every part of the angel trumpet is highly poisonous, including the leaves, flowers, seeds and roots. All contain the toxic alkaloids “scopolamine,” “atropine”, and “hyoscyamine,” which are widely synthesized into modern medicinal compounds but are deadly poisonous if used outside a doctor’s supervision.

Although every part of the plant is dangerous, the fruit-like seed pods and colourful flowers pose the greatest risk in gardens because they are visually appealing to children and pets, and because they contain the highest concentration of toxic compounds. So, keep your play equipment and trampolines away from these angel trumpets if you have them in your garden or spot them in your backyard.

Poisoning occurs when plant residue from angel trumpets enters the bloodstream or gastrointestinal tract, whether by accidental ingestion or absorption through the mucous membranes. Symptoms include muscle weakness, dilated pupils and dry mouth, as well as a rapid pulse, fever, and hallucinations. Paralysis and convulsions may also occur, as well as coma and in serious cases, death.

Documented in the 2007 documentary “Colombian Devil’s Breath,” nefarious individuals in Colombia extract scopolamine from the plant and use it as a potent drug which leaves victims completely unaware of what they are doing but entirely conscious. It essentially leaves them completely hypnotised. Since scopolamine can be easily absorbed through the skin and mucous membranes, the attackers can simply blow the powder in a victim’s face to trigger the full effects on victims.

Identifying Angel’s Trumpets

Angel’s Trumpets are easily recognised by its long, white blooms, bluish foliage and unusual seed pods. The spent flowers leave behind a burr-covered, walnut-sized seed pod that contains numerous black, kidney-shaped seeds. Seed pods are green early on but turn brown as they ripen.

The Angel’s Trumpets produce four to eight inch-long, white trumpet-shaped flowers that may be tinged with pale lavender. The plants bloom during summer, and they grow three to five feet tall with bluish-green foliage.

Whilst most Angel’s Trumpets produce white blooms, they can also produce lavender, yellow, and red blooms. Depending on species, the blooms may be single, double, or even triple.

9. Doll’s Eyes

dolls eyes  Dont Put Your Guard Down in Your Garden: These Deadly Plants May Be Lurking In Your Backyard

Don’t fall victim to this candy-looking (or eerie monster-looking) plant. It is deadly. Also known as White Baneberry, Doll’s eyes are a flowering plant and are most prevalent in Northern and Eastern North America. The name originates from the fruit of the plant, which is a tiny white berry with a contrasting black dot, which looks very similar to an eye.

Although the whole plant is toxic when ingested by humans, the fruit or ‘the eye’ is where most of the toxins are concentrated. Because they look like little candies and are sweet tasting, the plant is notorious for claiming children’s lives who are drawn to the visually appealing colours. The toxin produced by the plant is carcinogenic and has an immediate, sedative effect on human cardiac muscles and will cause a quick death.

Identifying Doll’s Eyes 

The flowers are in oblong clusters on thick, red stalks, and of course, the most prominent feature is white spherical berries with black dots on the tip, hence the common name. The leaflets also have sharp teeth, and the leaves are twice-divided.

Found in mature forests ranging from southern Canada to Georgia and west to Minnesota, the Doll’s Eye fruits are present from May through October. If you see those creepy eye-looking fruits, stay away!

 

10. Lily of the Valley

lily of the valley Dont Put Your Guard Down in Your Garden: These Deadly Plants May Be Lurking In Your Backyard

Known by the scientific name Convallaria majalis, the lily of the valley is an herbaceous (the leaves and stems die at the end of the growing season and there’s no woody stem) perennial found in temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere. The plant forms large colonies by spreading underground stems and appears above ground with upright stems called “pips.” The lily blooms in the late spring and has white, bell-shaped, sweet-smelling flowers and small orange-red berries.

Though gorgeous in appearance, the entire plant of the lily of the valley is poisonous and poisoning occurs when someone eats part of the plant (no matter which part). The red berries of this plant are particularly attractive to children, who may be drawn to the fruit, but if ingested, even in small amounts, can lead to abdominal pain, vomiting, and reduced heart rate.

Identifying the Lily Of The Valley

The lily of the valley grows low to the ground and contains spires of tiny, white, bell-shaped flowers. Toxicity is the plant’s defence against animals eating its seeds. Cruel, huh?

Found widespread in the wild across Asia, continental Europe, England and the Appalachia region of the eastern United States, the lily of the valley is a popular garden plant because of its sweet-smelling flowers and ground-covering ability, so it wouldn’t be shocking to find it in a garden outside of its native range.

Lily of the valley packs a potent, sweet-smelling scent, despite its small size.

 

Related reading:

The Health Risks & Benefits of the Oleander Plant

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GARDENING: A Comprehensive Guide From Planning to Harvesting, and More

If you feel there is a gardener in you but haven’t got around to doing garden stuff, you are missing out on a very fulfilling hobby.

Take these wonderful benefits that gardening offers.

health benefits of gardening infographic GARDENING: A Comprehensive Guide From Planning to Harvesting, and More

Problem is: You don’t have the faintest idea how to begin and go about your garden journey.

So, here we’ll guide you to all things gardening, one step at a time. Learn how to plan your first plot or pot of plants, discover great gardening ideas for beginners, and find simple tips and tricks to succeed in gardening.

As an enthusiast or established gardener, this comprehensive gardening resource serves as an additional reference and handy audit of your gardening work.  Once properly laid out, these helpful tips will make growing your vegetables comfortably easier. Take that to mean having more time to host small backyard parties with your portable gas barbecue or trusty cooking grill to keep you company and your kids’ backyard trampoline to add to the fun!

Follow this blog series or browse through the chapters you feel most near to your needs.

Preparing the Garden and You
A. Things to Consider (Planning Stage)
B. Get Up Close with the Soil (Preparing the Foundation)
C. Understand the Season and Weather (What’s in Season)
D. Tools and Structures You’ll Need (Gathering the Essentials)

Dig In and Get Growing (With Recommended Plants for Beginners)
A. Start Planting
B. Vegetable and Herb Garden
C. Flower Garden
D. Fruit Tree Garden

Keep Up the Work
A. Maintaining Plants’ Basic Needs
B. Pests and Pest Control
C. Weeds and Weed Control
D. Plant Diseases and How to Prevent Them

Reap the Fruit of Your Labour
A. Harvesting
B. Preserving Your Harvest
C. Food Waste, No More

Best Practices in Gardening
A. Going Organic
B. Planting Systems to Increase Productivity

Specialty Gardens and Other Gardening Concepts
A. Garden Style Based on Focal Plants
B. Garden styles Based on Location or Space
C. Contemporary Gardening Methods

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I. PREPARING THE GARDEN AND YOU

A. Things to Consider (Planning Stage)

Planning is a key to success. And so it goes with gardening. Most gardeners jump head on to the task and end up wasting resources. Proper planning helps eliminate or reduce wasted time and effort. And the best part is: It improves the result.

  1. Determine your goal. Why do you want to garden in the first place? Is it to fulfill your lifelong desire to grow a garden, try out something new and different, sustain your family with homegrown foods, produce plants for profit, or simply to go green and environmental? And what kind of fruits, vegetables, or trees do you like? How do you imagine your garden to be? Giving a thought about all of these will help quick start your gardening venture and motivate you to keep your plants in their best condition till you see them through to harvest.
  1. Space for a garden. One common dilemma of would-be gardeners is the lack of space to plant in. But space is not a definite problem when it comes to gardening. It will simply determine the style that will make up your garden. If you’re creative and serious enough to get into this craft, you’ll find there is a lot of style options to garden according to the amount of space you have. Many types of fruits and vegetables can also grow in containers. If a backyard or ground soil is unavailable, you can turn your balcony into a paradise of potted plants. Only make sure that the container is of the right size for crop to grow.
  1. Time to spend tending to the garden. Gardening is time-consuming and effort-demanding. How much of your time and effort are you willing to spend on this endeavor? So you can manage the tasks at hand, it’s always advisable to start small and with easy to grow plants. Get the feel of the task then work way up from there.
  1. Plan out the location. Every type of plant has their own growing and environment condition needs. Planting them just about anywhere will greatly affect their growth. That is why planning out the location is of the essence. Here are the things you may need to consider:
  • Air flowGrowing plants need to be protected from air and turbulence. Place hedges, fences, or screens to filter the wind and protect your plants in an open space.
  • Sunlight. Vegetables and fruits love direct sunlight whilst a few salad green do well even in little hours of sun. Peas and other cool season plants grow best in shady areas. Assess your area and see how much sunlight or shade it gets during the whole day. Then position your plants accordingly.
  • Moisture. Areas near massive walls or overhanging trees usually block rain, leaving the soil dry and unsuited for planting for some type of crops. Make sure to place an outdoor water source near the garden for convenient watering.
  1. Choose your style of gardening. As mentioned, the amount of space available shapes the design of your garden. But it is not the only determining factor in deciding how and where you’ll plant your favourite crops. It will also depend on the type of plant you will grow and personal preferences in building a garden. Common gardening styles include:
  • Ground Bed – Dugged into an existing soil. Ground beds require at least 2 feet deep topsoil. 
  • Raised Bed – Above ground level, Has edgings like wood pallets, rocks, steel.Ideal for gardening on concrete. Invest in material and construction.
  • Mounded Plots – layered organic matter over an existing topsoil. Contains added soil with green wastes and compost.
  • Container gardens – running out of space, perhaps you’re living in an apartment. Containers and pot solutions, design to choose from. Easier to move around due to weather condition or to redesign your garden or patio.
  • Vertical gardens – space saving solution, creative; can be used for container plants or climbing plants

B. Get Up-Close with the Soil (Preparing the Foundation)

Studies show that soil holds the key to a great garden. As a gardener, it is important you get to know your soil and provide it with the right nutrients, moisture, and air to produce a healthy garden and high-quality yields.

Different types of garden soil

  1. Sand – Loose soil and allows water to penetrate too quickly. Holds much air but have poor water retention. To make it ideal for gardening, improve with organic matter. Avoid if possible.
  2. Clay – Sticky particles and forms lump when squeezed together. Holds water well but becomes compacted when wet. Improve through regular aeration. Potatoes work fine in it.
  3. Loam – In between sand and clay, loam has the fine particles. Naturally contains organic matter, retains water and nutrients well. Perfect soil for edible plants.

Feeding the Soil

We commonly associate soil with dirt. Yes, it may be, but there’s so much more to it. Down lives microorganisms which give the soil its life and nutrient. It is these microbes that break organic matter, regulate soil temperature and ph balance, and aids in retaining water and nutrients. Feeding these creatures is feeding the soil and the plants that are rooted in it. And that leads us to one important aspect of gardening: Improving the soil.

Here are the keys to a healthy soil:

  1. Keep the pH level at a balance. pH is the level of acid or alkaline present in the soil. It affects the microbes living in the soil and the nutrients that will be available to the plant. Plants have different ph needs, but most prefer a neutral 6.5 – 7.5 ph level. Regularly check the pH with some soil testing kit.If the soil is too acidic, apply dolomite or lime and regularly mulch. If the soil is too alkaline, add elemental sulfur or mulch with coffee grounds.
  2.  Supplement with nutrients and minerals. Soil has natural nutrients but often they get lost in run-offs or irrigation. Among these important soil nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. These nutrients must be maintained. This is where fertilizers come in. Nitrogen-based fertilizers help, but it is likely to upset the natural balance within the soil. Organic fertilisers are preferable as they are safer for soil microorganisms and the plant. This include:
  • Compost
  • Well-rotten manure
  • Mulch
  • Grass clippings and dry leaves
  • Sawdust and wood pellets

Composting

For the purpose of this great venture to gardening, we’ll look into the more organic and natural way of achieving a rich, fertile soil: Composting.

Composting is the process of supplementing the soil with nutrient-rich humus. It is an organic material made from decomposed plant parts and well-rotted manure. And the good thing is, compost can easily be done at home.

Benefits of compost

  1. Conditions the soil with the right nutrients and moisture.
  2. Beneficial microbes are at work, helping to aerate the soil and break down organic materials for plant use.
  3. Safer to the environment than chemical fertilisers.

What to compost

  • Fruits and vegetable scraps
  • Dry leaves
  • Grass clippings
  • Garden weeds
  • Straw or hay
  • Pine needles
  • Seaweed and kelp

What not to compost

  • Manure of animals that do not feed on organic food/materials
  • Lawn clippings from pesticide-treated plants
  • Plants parts from a diseased plant
  • Meat and dairy products

Step by step guides to making your own compost

  1. Prepare the compost bin of your choice. This could be a wooden compost bin, straw bale, trench bin, rotary-style composter, or raised bed.
  2. Start piling up your organic materials, alternating the moist and dry materials. Food scraps and seaweeds are wet ingredients, whilst leaves and wood ashes make up the dry ones.
  3. Add green manure such as wheatgrass and grass clippings to aid in the processing of decomposition.
  4. Keep the nitrogen and carbon at a balance. A good compost uses one-third greens and two-third browns, creating more carbon than nitrogen.
  5. Mix and turn the pile occasionally with the use of a rake, pitchfork, or shovel. This helps aerate the soil and add oxygen.
  6. How long will your compost be ripe enough for use depends on the method of composting. Hot turn compost takes only about 20 days; worm bins take about 1-3 months; whilst No turn pile may need 3-12 months.

C. Understand the Season and Weather (What’s in Season)

A gardener’s essential skill in maintaining a good yield involves a basic understanding of the seasons and how it affects the growth of plants. Some plants thrive in cold weather; others love the warmth. The kind of weather also determines which seeds are best started indoors or directly in the garden.

Learning about when to plant and which type of plant to sow can be daunting for beginners. But a brief guide on seasonal plants and crop timing will pave the way for a better gardening start.

Seasonal categories of plants

  1. Short-season cool-weather plants. Fast-maturing crops that prefer cool temperatures include beets, lettuce, radishes, and peas. They are usually best sown directly into the garden, rather than started indoors, and are ready to harvest by early summer.
  2. Long-season cool-weather plants. Broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage are cool-season crops that do better when set in the garden as transplants. They are started as seeds indoors in early spring and then transplanted a few weeks before the last spring frost. This gives them time to mature before hot weather arrives.
  3. Short-season warm-weather plants. Plants that like warm weather and develop quickly include beans and corn. They are also best sown directly into the garden after the last frost date, and when the soil has warmed and dried out from spring rains.
  4. Long-season warm-weather plants. Tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers require a long, frost-free growing season. These crops are best started indoors from seed and set in the garden as transplants.

Planting calendar (Sample from Thompson-Morgan.com.)

growing calendar GARDENING: A Comprehensive Guide From Planning to Harvesting, and More

D. Tools and Structures You’ll Need (Gathering the Essentials)

Gardening requires elbow grease, which then need the right tools and materials to aid in the process. Having the necessary tools at hand will make the work less time consuming.

Essential gardening tools

  1. Spade – Used for breaking up soil, digging, shovelling, planting, and harvesting. It is basically an all-around tool. Invest in quality spade with a metal blade and wooden handle.
  2. Garden Rake – Comes handy in collecting fallen leaves, hay, and dead grasses off the lawn. Also used for loosening and levelling the soil as preparation for planting.
  3. Hoe – Some hoes are made to scrape the ground, to draw lines and till on it, to make water trenches or trails, or to cut down roots.
  4. Trowel – Mini-spades used for digging holes, weeding, and planting vegetables or flowers.
  5. Pruning Shears –  Also known as secateurs, these are scissors designed for cutting plant stems. Shears are made of sturdy materials to make cutting and pruning of thick branches easier.
  6. Wheelbarrow – Wagons designed for carrying and moving around garden materials, soil, and garden products.
  7. Water hoses – Keep a good water system near your garden with water hoses.

Tips:

  1. As in all tools, proper handling is important to maintain a working place safe.
  2. Invest in quality tools and structures than the sub-standard ones.
  3. Keep a practical storage space for all your garden tools.  

 

II. DIG IN AND GET GROWING (With Recommended Plants for Beginners)

A. Start Planting 

Starting seeds

Ready to get planting? One the great way to start a plant is to grow it from seeds. Take note that each plant requires unique seed-starting processes and level of maintenance. These include a plant’s response to the frost or cold temperatures. Some plants are frost tender which needed to start indoors and grow to a small plant before planting to the garden soil after the last frost. As a beginner, it’s best to begin with easy to plant varieties such as tomato and basil. The Baker Creek Heirloom Seed has a definitive guide on raising seeds.

Step by step guide

  1. Find the right containers or pots. A seed tray is your most convenient seed planters as it has built-in drainage and handles. But any type of container will do such as yogurt cups, paper cups, or any household discards that are at least 2-3” deep and holed at the bottom for drainage.
  2. Get a good soil. Seeds and young plants also need a special choice of soil. Garden soil or re-used potting soil may contain microbes that are too harsh for a growing plant. If you are to make your own soil, carefully select and screen your garden soil and compost. Or you may opt for commercial potting soil with seed starting mixture.
  3. Plant in the seeds. Refer to each seed packet for instructions on how to plant the seed. Some may be sprinkled right on top of the soil, others may be pressed in gently exposing some parts to sunlight for faster germination, still others may need to be buried well enough. After placing your seeds, apply a few more soil mixture and a mist of water. Then cover the containers with plastic wraps to lock in the moisture and remove when the first sprout appear. Don’t forget to label your containers, too.
  4. Keep the warmth and light. To encourage sprouting, seeds need a right amount of heat so keep them in warm spots in your home like on top of your refrigerator. If a warm area is not available, buy seed heating mats. And when sprouts do appear, place the containers in a sunlit area such as the windowsill. Allow at least 15 hours of sunlight and 9 hours of rest in the shade.

Transplanting

When true leaves (3rd and 4th leaves to appear) sprout from your seedlings, it may be time to transplant them into a larger container or the garden bed. Transplanting will allow more room for roots to grow and nurture the seedlings.

Tips for moving or transplanting to container:

  1. Prepare a clean container and fill them with new potting soil.
  2. Choose the best-growing seedlings in the batch. Use a digging instrument when nudging out the young plant from their beds with as much roots as possible.
  3. Handle the stem or leaves very gently and position the plant firmly in its new container.
  4. Nurture your newly-transplanted plants with diluted fertilisers until you decide to plant them out.

Tips for moving or transplanting to garden bed:

  1. Make the transition from indoor to outdoor gradual. This is the hardening phase, where new plants are toughened to withstand the harsh outdoor condition.
  2. A week before transplanting, place them in a shaded area outdoors for a few hours and bring them back inside at night. Do this for a week, whilst exposing them to more and more sunshine and wind.
  3. Reduce also the amount of water and fertiliser during the whole week of hardening.
  4. When setting the new plants in the garden, water them in and cover the roots with loose soil.

Propagating a plant

Aside from starting seeds, new plants are created by taking a part of a parent plant to regenerate itself and from a new set. This results in a more genetically identical plant, which allows a gardener to grow the best species available.

  1. Cuttings. Cutting is a vegetative plant part such as stem, root, or leaf taken from a mature plant. Taking a cut usually needs sharp blade to reduce injury on the mother plant. Root cuttings are placed in sterile and well-moisturized rooting medium under a dark area. Stem and leaf cuttings, on the other hand, are placed in bright areas.
  2.  Layering. Without taking any cuttings, new plants may grow by wounding one side of the stem or burying a branch or tip of a plant to the ground and letting it take roots. This method gives the new growing plant a secure water and food stock from the parent plant. Once the new plant has grown, it can now be moved to another area or container.
  3. Dividing. Dividing is the cutting or breaking up a cluster of suckers, crown, or clump into smaller segments containing a bud. Each of the segment is planted separately to form new individual plants. Perennial plants benefit most from dividing as it allows them to spread more in the garden.
  4. Grafting/Budding. Joining separate plant parts to grow as one is another method of propagating known as grafting or budding. This is best done on cultivars that do not root well. Through grafting or cutting, one or more new varieties grow out of existing fruit and nut trees.

Now let’s look into some of the most common home gardens and some varieties of plants in each type of gardens. A backyard or space at home may come in a single or combination of these types of growing plants.   

B. Vegetable and Herb Garden

One of the great rewards for tilling the soil and planting crops is the food it provides on your table. Knowing the rise in demand and cost of agricultural products, you get to enjoy a year-round supply of fresh produce right in your backyard when to tend your own vegetable garden.

What vegetables to grow for beginners

The kind of vegetables to grow in your garden depends, mainly, on the kind of vegetables you’d love to eat and serve the family. But it’s also important to pick vegetables based on where you live, the season, and what you have access to in your area. For first-time gardeners, start with the easy to grow and steady producer of crops, including:

  1. Lettuce – There are several varieties of lettuce which you can grow at the same time. Gardeners love it for its high-producing yield even with limited space and low maintenance against pests and diseases. It can be harvested any time after true leaves form.
  2. Garlic & Onions – Easy to grow in pots or directly into the ground, thrive in fertile soil and warm area, and great food flavour enhancers for most kitchen recipes. These kitchen wonders usually take about three months to mature.
  3. Peas – Are crops that enjoy cool, moist weather. It can be sown directly into the ground with supporting structures for its climbing stems. Other than watering, peas need no extra attention. When harvested, the more they produce, so pick frequently as every other day.
  4. Basil – One of the tangiest herbs, basil has bushy foliage which easily grows from seed or transplants, in garden beds or containers. It thrives in the summer months so plan your it accordingly. Prune it regularly and harvest right when the plant starts to bud.
  5. Potatoes – Valued for its nutritious starch content, potatoes belong to staple foods which are worthwhile and so easy to grow. Plant the eyes directly into deep, well-drained soil under direct sunlight. It takes about ten weeks after planting for a new potato to get ready for harvest.
  6. Beans – Popular vegetable and one of the easiest to grow. It is best to sow bean seeds in the spring or after the last frost but may stop producing during the hottest point of summer. Like peas, beans produce more when frequently picked or harvested.
  7. Mint - All types of mint grows and spreads fast, forming lush green patches. When looking for a location to plant mint, choose a place for them to spread and where it receives a good amount of morning sun. Keep it in check by pinching the tips or pulling wayward runners.

Tips to achieve a bountiful produce

  1. Vegetables grow best in areas where they are suited. Choose plants accordingly.
  2. Pay attention to how you arrange your vegetables in bed. Allow some space for each plant to grow in a row and avoid overcrowding. Learn more about proper plant spacing in the following chapters.
  3. Grow more vegetables by going vertical. Use trellis, fences, or cages to support vining crops like peas, beans, and cucumbers. More about vertical gardening in the next chapters.
  4. Keep weeds off your vegetables by spreading 1-2 inch layer of mulch around each plant.
  5. For most vegetables, overwatering can be more harmful than under watering. Use a soaker hose and drip lines to irrigate slowly which allows roots time to absorb.
  6. Over-riped garden vegetables are an easy target for pests. Remove them as soon as possible.
  7. Take some time between a month and a full year after crop harvest before starting another batch of plants in a garden bed. This will help the soil rest and rejuvenate.

C. Flower Garden

Flower gardening is more of a passion and art, but starting this hobby can be overwhelming. There are several varieties of flowers to choose from, each with a unique way of tending and cultivating. Whatever the type of flower you want to grow, it is always considered as a rewarding and colourful addition to any space or landscape.

Types of flowers

  1. Annuals - Group of flowering plants that live and complete its cycle in one full year. It goes from seed to seed then dies off during one growing season. It has to be replanted to enjoy another blooming season. They are further grouped into hardy, half-hardy, and tender annuals. Examples include Coleus, Geraniums, Marigolds, Pansies, and Sunflower.
  2. BiennialsPlant category that usually takes two growing seasons to complete their life cycle. Foliage grows during the first year followed by its flowers and set seeds in the next season. Popular flowers falling under biennials are Poppy, Foxglove, and Wallflower.
  3. Perennials – Plants that live longer than two years. It starts as a seed every year and dies back to the ground but their active root systems allow the plant to grow back under the right condition. This includes Alliums, Chrysanthemums, Dahlia, Hydrangeas, and Tulips

Easy to grow flowers for beginners

  1. Sunflower – Can be started indoors or on direct soil, after the spring frost. Plant them in rows, about 6 inches apart in a shallow trench of 1-2 inch deep. Sunflowers are tough plants and will survive even with the absence of fertiliser. Depending on the variety, it matures after 80-120 days.
  2. Marigold - Easy to handle and grows quick. It thrives in full sun and accepts even a poor to average type of soil. Thin and transplant young marigolds for best results and water them down during periods of high heat.
  3. Geraniums – Hardy geraniums are low-maintenance blooms that come in different varieties and colours. They can be planted in areas with full sun and do not need to be watered regularly. Keep them healthy by removing dead flowers and stalks.
  4. Pansy – Can be started in any season, indoors or directly in the garden. It requires minimum care. They like well-drained soil full sun. Pansies will flower even more if spent flower heads are removed.
  5. Fuschia – Are easy to grow patio plants and best loved for their added colour and shape in flower containers. They can grow in bush form, upright, or trails. Pinch out the growing tips of fuchsia to promote bushier growth, water regularly to maintain moist, and feed them at least every few weeks in the summer.

D. Fruit Garden

Growing fruit in your backyard means having a supply of fruit varieties that are high in quality. You get to reap all the healthful qualities of fruits from vitamins and minerals to fiber and antioxidant properties. It also saves you from high-cost store-bought fruits.

Guide to choosing fruits to plant

  1. Fruits that are adaptable to your area’s climate.
  2. For beginners, start with the low maintenance and disease- or insect-resistant varieties such as apples, cherries, and persimmons.
  3. Choose the kind of fruits you love to eat and share.

Setting a fruit orchard

  1. Where to Plant. Fruit trees will be around for quite a long time so choose a dedicated location for this plant. Aside from good soil, the location must have good air and water drainage as well.
  2. The minimum size for a tree hole must be three times the size of the root ball. When the plant is settled on the hole, pile up the topsoil and well-aged compost.
  3. Plant regular fruit trees at least 20 ft apart from other trees. Dwarf fruit trees can be spaced at ten ft apart.

Fruit trees for beginners

  1. Apples – There are several varieties of apple, which thrive in cool to cold areas. It is advisable to grow at least two varieties for cross-fertilization. Your pruning job on apple trees takes after two years of growth. As it grows, short clusters of branch develop along the real branch, from which fruits bear. Apple trees take about 5-6 years before producing its first fruits and peaks by the tenth year.
  2. Cherries – Cherries grow in the same climatic condition as apples. Grow several varieties of sweet and sour cherries at the same time to aid in the fertilization. Cherries are pruned for easier picking and bigger yields. Pruning for maintenance consists of trimming out cross-branches and dead or sickly branches. When harvesting for eating, pick the fruit without its stems to lessen the stain of the tree.
  3. Pears – Pears need to be winter-chilled, but it can do well in poor soil as long as it is well-drained. Plant in different varieties for self-sterilisation. Prune your pear trees in the initial planting and avoid heavy pruning the succeeding years. Harvest pears before they are ripe. To be certain, pick the mature in size but just starting to turn colour.

Garden Tips:

  • Start your garden with one or a combination of these gardens.
  • Pick the easier ones to grow in each type of garden, then work your way up from there.
  • Aim to grow less to achieve more. One of the common errors for beginners is planting too much too soon and way more than anybody could eat or want.  

 

III. KEEP UP THE WORK

Setting up a garden is one thing, but keeping the plants steadily growing is another thing. Although a perfect start paves the way to a smooth gardening, proper maintenance is just as important to achieve a good harvest.

In this chapter, we’ll run through the basic maintenance needs of your plants once they are settled on the ground or containers. Learn about smart management techniques as well to keep that great harvest going through the seasons and back.

A. Maintaining Plants’ Basic Needs

1. Water. Like men, plants generally need water to survive. But even with watering, a few guides and tricks are worth considering to ensure water is optimally used to particular types of plants.

  • The amount of water to give plants depends on the plant itself. Some are water-loving like melons and lettuce, others are naturally drought-resistant like mustard. Get to know your plants’ specific water requirement.
  • Seeds may need only to stay moist for sprouting; seedlings and mature plants, on the other hand, may enjoy a splash of water.
  • Consistent watering works best for most type of plants. Drought-resistant plants, may only need a touch of water a few times within long droughts.
  • Early morning is the best time to water plants. That will give ample time to absorb the water before the heat of the day strikes.
  • Use the most convenient watering tools or systems for your garden. Overhead Sprinklers covers much of the garden area when placed accordingly, but it can be pretty water-consuming. Soaker Hose is more efficient and low-maintenance, whilst your whole garden enjoys a steady and right supply of water. Or opt for traditional and reliable watering tool for most gardeners, watering cans.

2. Sunlight. During the planning stage, plants must have been located in areas where they receive a good amount of light – or shade – depending on their needs. Here are some tips to meet the light needs of plants:

  • Check on your plants for signs of sunlight deficiency or too much heat. Plants that starts to droop, leaf edges burnt, and flower colours look faded may be exposed much to heat. If plant is not getting enough of light, it shows lanky stems, fewer flower buds, and sparse growth. Adjust them accordingly.
  • Keep the space adequate between plants to ensure they each get sufficient amount of light.
  • When plants are struggling against too much sun heat, install an arbor or plant a shrub near enough to cast shadow on the dry plant.

3. Mulch. Mulch is the undecomposed version of compost, used to improve the soil. But more than that, mulch also helps prevent the growth of weeds, retain water, prevents soil erosion, regulate temperature, reduce diseases. It is a must have multi-purpose, labour-saving product.  It includes coffee grounds, leafmold, pine needles, bark, and shredded wood chips. Remeber these tips when applying mulch:

  • Apply mulch after right after planting new, and once a year, particularly in spring or fall.
  • Weed out and loosen the soil before applying at least 2” mulch.
  • Avoid sprinkling mulch over the plant or on stems.

4. Fertiliser. In addition to mulch, plants are most happy when their soil is fed with organic fertiliser. Organic materials applied on soil eventually decompose and are consumed by plants. So it wouldn’t hurt to replace them regularly to keep up the nutrients. Here’s how:

  • Replenish your soil with organic fertiliser as much as possible. If not, check on the commercially-produced fertilisers that best suit the nutrient needs of your soil and plant.  
  • Apply in a slow and steady fashion all throughout the season.

B. Pests and Pest Control

Gardens almost always come with tiny plant chewers and dwellers. That’s natural. And it does not always mean bad. Though some insects are considered a pest to the garden and to you, others prove to be more beneficial. So it’s best to get yourself acquainted with the real pests and how to control them. Plus, learn about other ways to work around garden pests.

Integrated pest management (three-pronged approach)

  1. Prevention. Discourage them from coming in the first place by pulling out any weak plants, debris, and weeds. Rotating crops each year will also avoid re-infestation.
  1. Observation. Check plants daily or weekly for any presence of pests. Keep a handy insect guide to help you recognize garden pests in your garden.
  1. Intervention. This is where natural remedies come in. Start by picking off the insects by hand. Then attract beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings, hoverflies, and praying mantis into your garden. If you are to use pesticides, opt for homemade or organic products.

Common pests and how to control them

  1. Aphids. Sap-sucking insects that feed on clusters of new plants. Heavy infestation of aphids will curl up and wilt leaves and cause stunted growth. Use organic fertilizer to get rid of aphids, and pinch off the infested leaves or other plant parts.
  2. Armyworms. Small insects that travel in groups or armies and consumes everything in their path. They feed on grasses then move up to feed on leaves and fruits. Avoid using pesticide against them. Invite their natural predators, instead, like birds and beneficial insects.
  3. Cabbage Looper. Also known as inchworms, they are the common and destructive pest among cabbage family and cole crops such as lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. Once established, loopers can be difficult to get rid of, so act on them before they start an outbreak. Cover your plants with row covers to keep migrating moths from landing and laying eggs.
  4. Cutworms. Are moths that feed at night and burrow into the soil during the day. They commonly feed on plants stems, cutting them down eventually. Handpick these caterpillars at night especially after a rain. Beneficial nematodes released in the soil will attack the cutworms living underground.
  5. Flea Beetle. Small jumping insects found in home gardens early in the growing season. They can damage plants by chewing numerous tiny holes in the leaves and defoliate an entire plant. Beans, eggplant, corn, tomatoes, ands most seedlings are their favourite target. Row covers effectively prevents flea beetle attacks.
  6. Leafminer. Larvae of an insect family that feeds between the upper and lower surface of plants. They may not be threatening, but visible tunnels marked on the leaves reduces crop value and restrict plant growth. They infest cabbage, lettuce, and a variety of ornamental flowers, trees, and shrubs. Deal with them in natural, organic method.
  7. Slugs and snails. Some of the most troublesome pests found in home gardens. They thrive in damp, shady areas, even in well-mulched gardens. To avoid them, remove garden debris, lumber piles, and weeds and refrain from applying heavy layers of mulch. Handpick them out after sunset or install traps like cardboards to collect them at daytime.

C. Weeds and Weed Control

Weeds compete with your plants for water, nutrients, and even space to grow. They could end up ruining your plants and landscape all together. As in pest control, identify the kind of weeds that grow in your garden and deal with based on how and when they grow.

Types of Weeds

Annual Weeds

  1. Chickweed. Cool-season annual weeds that spreads over the soil, ruining the look of borders. Pull them up by hand or with hoe, preferably before flowering.
  2. Groundsel. Are native annuals present in any soil type. It occurs in great number and smothers young crop. Tackle them by hoeing the seedlings and removing the uprooted large plants to avoid the spread of its seeds.
  3. Hairy Bittercress. Broad-leaved weeds that annoy container plants, greenhouse plants, and railways. Regular hoeing will prevent it from flowering and shedding seeds. Carefully uproot them off the soil to avoid the seeds from scattering.

Perennial Weeds

  1. Dandelion. One of the most persistent weed. Its taproots are difficult to extract by hand, and cutting it with blade may not be effective. Use a hoe to remove it and spot treat with organic herbicide.
  2. Japanese Knotweed. Invasive perennials that grow rapidly and underground stems spread widely. They must be removed as soon as they’re seen by digging out regularly. Once established, they are much more difficult to deal with.
  3. Hedge Bindweed. Perennials with long climbing stems that swamps flowers and shrubs. Remove its rootstock to reduce its regeneration.

Managing Weeds

Weeds that grow in home gardens may be tackled in several ways depending on their strength and prevalence. This include:

  1. Prevent with organic weed preventers. Spray them around the plants to prevent weeds from germinating.
  2. Remove manually. This is the cheapest but labor-intensive method of getting rid of weeds with shallow-roots. Make sure to uproot the weed completely.
  3. Use garden tools. Hoes and weed pullers are common tools used for weeding. It is especially useful against deep-rooted and persistent weeds.   

D. Plant Diseases and Control

Observing best growing practices thwarts most garden diseases and disorders. But, however good the circumstance is, diseases develop and find its way to fester your garden. So a little knowhow will give you an edge at controlling and treating these plant diseases. But when things starts to get out of hands, seek advice from the plant disease experts or pathologist.

Things you need to know

  • Plant diseases shows several symptoms like wilting, rotting, moldy coatings, and the appearance of scabs and blotches.
  • To minimize diseases, choose disease-free seeds or starter plants.
  • Some diseases occur on certain types of plants. Choose varieties that are more tolerant to that disease, meaning they have the ability to overcome its effect to a certain degree.
  • Keep your plants healthy and vigorously growing by keeping your garden clean, watering properly, and regularly applying fertiliser.
  • When it comes to applying treatments, make sure you are treating the disease precisely. Choose treatment that is also convenient but suits your need.

Common garden plant diseases

  1. Leaf Spots. Caused by either fungi or bacteria. They look like a blotch on the leaves which eventually turns brown and fall. Fungus on spotted leaf flourish because of moisture and poor air circulation. So water the soil instead of the foliage and leave space between pots for good circulation. You can also apply organic treatment.   
  2. Powdery Mildew. A fungal disease that forms white to gray powdery growth on the leaf surface. It affects most edible and ornamental garden plants including apples, blackcurrant, cucumbers, roses, and azaleas. Fungicides may help treat the disease but natural remedies are preferable like early pruning, mulching, and applying homemade cure.
  3. Club Root. Fungal infection of the cabbage-family, causing swollen roots and stunted growth. Its fungi live in moist and warm soil for several years. Buy brassica plants from clubroot-free sources and give it a healthy head start by raising the soil pH level with lime. If the soil is already affected by clubroot, discard the plants and the entire root system to prevent the spread of disease.   
  4. Common Rust. a fungal disease that affects woody perennials and other mature plants. It results in rust-colored pores on the underside of leaves and stems. Rust fungi thrives in wet environment so avoid watering your plants. Destroy the infected leaves at the first sign of rust, and never use it for composting.        
  5. Box Blight. A serious box disease caused by Cylindrocladium buxicola. It results in bare patches and brown leaves. Treatment includes sanitising or keeping the affected plant from destroying other plants.    

 

IV. REAP THE FRUIT OF YOUR LABOR

One of the heartening part of gardening is when harvest time comes or the flowers come to bloom. You get to pick and enjoy the fruit of your day-to-day nurturing, at last. It’s a reward that never fails to thrill, whether you’re a beginner or expert at gardening.

But even with harvesting garden produce and picking of flowers, a lot of thought must also be considered. How do you know if a fruit or vegetable is mature enough to harvest?  When is the best time to harvest? What if you harvest too much edibles for your family’s consumption? Can you preserve those produce for longer periods? How? Read on.

A. Harvesting

Learning when and how to harvest begins in identifying what stage of maturity is a vegetable or fruit at. Then be guided on how and when to pick your fresh produce.

Experts distinguish plants’ maturity stages as:

1. Mature. Fruit or vegetable is ready for harvest. Skin colour, shape, size, aroma, and leaf quality indicates maturity of some fruits and vegetable. These signs may be subtle and takes practice to get familiar with them.

2. Ripe. Edible part of the fruit or vegetable is fully developed in size but may not be ready for consumption.

3. Senescent. Natural degradation of a fruit or vegetable.

When to harvest your garden produce often depends on the specific plant you’re growing. It also helps if you kept track of your plant including the expected maturation date.

Here are more pointers when harvesting

  • Leafy greens and some root crops are best harvested and consumed while they are at their youngest, most tender state. Edible seed-bearing part of a plant, on the other hand, tastes better when they are fully ripened.
  • For most fruits, check the ripeness with a few fruit samples in terms of visual clues, taste, and texture.
  • Cut and harvest flowers for display when they are starting to open.
  • Handle the produce carefully when picking or harvesting. Hold fruits and vegetables firmly but twist them off the stems or soil gently. Use scissors if needed.    
  • Morning is the best time to harvest as water content in vegetables, fruits, and even flowers is still high.
  • Come up with a picking strategy before you go on a harvest spree. Are you going to harvest everything at once, or harvest a few but more often?
  • Watch out for signs of wilting or decay and remove these problem parts.
  • Get your tools fruit picker, baskets or carts, sharp knife or pruning shears, spade or shovel, and/or ladders clean and ready.
  • Prepare storage areas and containers, as well. Root crops do best in cool dark places. Some vegetables and fruits may sit on top of kitchen counters to rest and ripen. Cut flowers, on the other hand, must be taken indoors immediately and placed in vases or other containers.  

B. Preserving Vegetables and Fruits

If you’re blessed with more than enough garden produce in a day, why not share it with other relatives, friends, or your neighbors? And if good harvest keeps coming, it’s time to do some preserving to last your food needs for months to come. Here are some easy-to-do preservation methods you can practice at home

1. Freezing. One of the easiest options to store your fresh fruits and vegetables is freezing. It requires very few equipment or skill, but can only hold the freshness of your produce for as long. Here are the simple steps in freezing your produce.

  1. Wash the fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Slice your fruits, if you like. Let them sit for a bit to reach room temperature.
  2. Lay them in a tray or covered containers and try to leave an inch of room from the lid to the top layer of the foods. If you’re using a food wrapper, let all the air out before freezing.
  3. Label the containers with the content and date of freezing to ensure that the earliest frozen foods are consumed first.
  4. If you want a long-term freezing, invest in deep freeze appliance to chill the food to at least 0⁰F.

2. Canning. Canning requires modest investment in materials or equipment. It also needs some understanding and practice in the method to save you from food poisoning that usually comes with canned foods. Tips in canning food at home:

  1. There are two methods of canning depending on the food. Acidic foods (4.6pH below) like most fruits and fruits jams or butters are canned through hot-water bath, in which food is sealed in jars, submerged in a pot of water, and brought to a boil according to recommended time. Low acid foods (4.6pH above) like fresh vegetables and some fruits are canned using pressure-canning method, in which food-filled jars are placed in a pressure canner that does all the trick, destroying heat-resistant organisms to as high as 240⁰F.
  2. Whichever method you use, make sure to clean the jars and lid. Wipe down the rims of your jar and lid to ensure they fit tight, which is vital to keep the food safe. Invest in canning jars that comes in various sizes to suit your canning needs.
  3. Most canned foods are salty, but you may or may not use all that sodium. Use canning salt over table salt, if you must.
  4. Check out canning recipes for each specific fruit and vegetable for best results.

3. Pickling. One of the oldest methods of preserving food is the use of salt and vinegar to inhibit the growth of bacteria. Pickling will prolong the shelf life of food to about 3 months and longer. Almost any vegetable can be preserved through pickling. Guides and tips in making pickled produce:

  1. Check out specific pickling recipes and follow the ratios to the letter, if possible.
  2. Use canning salt or pickling salt rather than the common table salt. White or cider vinegar with 5% acidity is also recommended.
  3. As in all method using jars as storage, ensure that the jars and lids are cleaned or sterilised.
  4. Store the jar in the refrigerator to preserve the pickles longer.

4. Drying. Also a common and old method of preserving food is drying. It takes out the moisture or all water content from the food to inhibit the growth of mold and bacteria, but some nutrients will be lost as months and years passed. Fruits, herbs, and seeds are commonly preserved through drying. Here are the methods and tools used for drying:

  1. Traditional drying is done under the 100⁰ heat of the sun in 3-4 consecutive days. It is most convenient to do in hot, arid regions.
  2. The more easier way of drying involves the use of commercial dehydrators which takes up several hours to days of drying foods completely.
  3. If you’re not into investing a food dehydrator appliance at home, conventional gas or electric oven will do. See some food preservation books for instructions in using your oven as dehydrators.

C. Food Waste, No More

Did you know?

  • Out of the 6.7 million tonnes of wasted food in UK households, 40% is made up of consumable fruits and vegetables.
  • The most common reason for throwing away fruits and vegetables is that they were mouldy (37%) and perceived to be ‘off’ in terms of appearance and texture (25%).
  • Most of these “waste” are also thrown away as a result of not being used in time. Top fruits and vegetables thrown away whole and untouched include Potatoes at 5.1 million/day and Apples at 4.4 million/day.

So, how can we lessen the wastes on our garden produce?

  • Refrigerate most fruits and vegetables to maintain freshness and extend storage life. Oranges and pears will last up to two weeks longer if kept in the fridge; Peppers, carrots, and tomatoes will last for at least a week. Also, practice other home preservation methods discussed above.
  • Ditch the “ugly veg and fruit goes to trash” mindset. A lot of researches and campaigns have successfully proven and promoted ugly foods as a healthy food option. Embrace wonky fruits and vegetables and you help reduce food waste (and needless rejection) to a significant portion. Plus, these natural products don’t taste any different from perfectly-shaped produced.     
  • Sauces and soups are prepared not only from fresh vegetable or fruits but also from their scraps. So you can also prepare your own sauce and soup out of vegetable peels, skins, stalks and other discarded parts. Simmer these ingredients in a pan for a few hours, then let cool and store in the refrigerator until you want to make a soup or sauce out of this stock.
  • If you’re keen on retaining quality produce, why not try to re-grow your best home-grown fruit or vegetable product? It is a frugal gardening trick that will save you a lot of food waste in the long run. And re-growing fruits and vegetables from scraps is so easy, even a kid can make a home project out of it.    
  • All parts of a vegetable and fruit waste, even when mouldy or ugly, can be used for composting. Store them in plastic bags in your refrigerator or in a securely lidded kitchen pail until you decide to mix them in your compost bin. To avoid the odour, empty the containers daily or cover the inside with a wet paper towel.

 

V. BEST PRACTICES IN GARDENING

A. Going Organic

Organic gardening defined

According to USDA, “organic” is something produced using sustainable production practices without the use of most conventional pesticides or synthetic fertilisers. Gardening organically means supporting the health of the whole garden system, from the plants being grown to the microbes in the soil.   

How it started

Contrary to what most people think, organic gardening is not a new concept. It has been around for thousands of years, practiced by our ancestors in growing their own food. But soon people looked for undemanding planting methods, products that could kill whatever weed or pest, any shortcut to gardening success. And the sad part is, big industries cash in on these needs, introducing chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilisers, and other inventions.

Organic gardening was then embraced only by a few health conscious and green advocates. But continuous studies and campaigns for this natural approach gain traction.  Now the concept bares an important role in almost every home and commercial gardens.

Why go organic?

Why not? Organic gardening is the closest to safe food and positive environment impact we can get. It keeps us from the threat of genetically modified foods and toxic products. We know exactly how our edibles were planted and what has gone into them. Having a homegrown plant makes us confident that the food we and our family eat is clean.

On the flip side – if it is a flip side at all – people view organic gardening as an expensive and labour-intensive approach. At some point, it is. But in the long run, using compost to enrich the soil or growing climate-appropriate plants prove to be more cost-efficient and worth all the trouble. And not to mention, organically-grown plants grow more vigorously and yield healthier fruits.

How to practice organic gardening

  • Plant high-quality, certified organic seeds. You will find 100% organic seeds of different plant varieties from organic gardens and stores, even from your friendly organic gardeners. Once these seeds are purchased and grown, you can use the same variety to grow more organic plants.
  • Prefer plants that are native and suited to your area’s’ climate. Plants that are well-adapted to your place’ condition thrive more healthily and need little amount of attention or boosters to keep them productive. Observe the plants in your local farmers’ market or contact your hardiness zones experts.
  • Make your own compost. Compost is the ideal organic matter to feed your soil with. Made from equally organic ingredients such as grass clippings and kitchen scraps, compost can be made right in your homes. See chapter on Composting.
  • Supply the soil with organic fertilizers. Aside from compost, supplement your soil’s nutrient needs with fertilizers made of animal manures, rock phosphate, and plant products such as seaweed. Also, agricultural lime raises soil ph level, as needed.
  • Encourage beneficial insects to your garden to combat destructive pests. As discussed, beneficial insects keep pests population down without compromising plants and soil health. It includes aphid midge, damsel bugs, ground beetles, lady beetles, and lacewings. Encourage them by planting a wide variety of plants and flowers and avoid using synthetic pesticides

B. Planting Systems for a More Productive Harvest

Sometimes all it takes to make gardening a lot easy yet productive is having a good grasp of how plants behave and relate with each other.

In this section, we’ll get into smart and creative methods of planting your crops. All with the intent to maintain plant and soil health over the long term and achieve the best yield possible from the space available.

Crop Rotation

Some pests and diseases are host-specific. Cabbage loopers, for example, feed on a large variety of brassicas. If you continue to plant cabbages or any in its family over the next planting seasons, the problem on this pest persists. Plus, the same plant uses the same nutrients and minerals. If planted successively, it could result in nutrient depletion in the soil.

This is where the idea of crop rotation comes in. Gardeners plan out their crops in specific orders, taking note that the succeeding crop does not belong to the same family as the immediate past one. A 2-3 year or longer period is required in planning the rotation.

To help you plan your own rotation, here’s a useful crop rotation guide. Choose your next-season plants that belong to a different family and most preferably in the order of crop families shown in the table.

crop families GARDENING: A Comprehensive Guide From Planning to Harvesting, and More

growveg.com

Companion Planting

Even plants complement each other. How? Some plants come in strong odours which serve as repellents against insects. This odour protects not only the plant itself but other crops that are prey to the same insect.

In the same way, some plants support the growth of other plants. Leafy greens, for example, can cheerfully bask in the shadow cast by corn plants, and the roots of bush beans occupy different levels in the soil as corn so they don’t compete for water and nutrients.

Here’s a list of plants that are friends and/or enemies with each other.

companion planting chart4 GARDENING: A Comprehensive Guide From Planning to Harvesting, and More

clearcreekseeds.com

 Also, by learning which plant makes a good companion for which plant, you can decide with less difficulty on what to choose among the many types and varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Win-win situation.

Succession Planting

To maximise the yield in a specific area of a garden, gardeners grow different crops with different maturation or harvest season. For example, early beets and carrots are cool-weather crops that can be planted first. As it reaches maturity, warm-weather plant like melons and tomatoes are then grown. The earlier plants may have been harvested but the succeeding plants grow about half-way. This way, gardeners harvest crops all-year round.

How to do it

  • Get started by making a list of what to plant, making sure that you have a good understanding of their growing habits and preferences.
  • Refer to seed catalogs for instructions and information about planting a specific variety.
  • Begin planting with early, quick crops followed by long-season ones.
  • Take note also of plants that belong to the same family. Avoid planting them on the same area for at least 2-3 years.
  • For continuous harvest, choose varieties that consistently yield over a longer period like broccoli and tomatoes.

Square Foot Gardening

As the name implies, square-foot gardening entails measuring a grid of squares over a garden bed or the use of garden box frames that is planted thickly with different varieties.

This method is best for small gardens. It makes growing in small space more bountiful, though not as large a harvest as bigger spaces.

Steps to build square foot garden

  1. Make a layout of squares on your bed in 4 ft x 4ft each. Provide a box built from wood, vinyl, or cinder blocks. If you plan to have more than one box, separate them to at least 3 ft for the walkway.
  2. Supply your box with a good weed fabric and fill it with your soil mix.
  3. Place a permanent grid in each box, dividing the frame into at least 16 one-foot squares.
  4. Plant in your favourite crops in each foot. Two or three seeds are preferable in each foot.
  5. Tend to your plants regularly by watering the root area only with a cup of warm water and by trimming dead leaves.
  6. Harvest accordingly. When a foot is emptied, add a compost into the soil and plant a new different crop.

 

VI. SPECIALTY GARDENS AND OTHER GARDENING CONCEPTS

Gardening is an art. It comes in forms or medium as varied and creative as the mind of many artists – the gardener. Plants may be their constant element, but garden styles and themes range from formal to customary to the most innovative.

Discover the different garden styles which reveal unique interests of gardeners all around. This styles could be your thing too.

A. Garden styles based on predominant plants and other natural elements

Woodland Gardens

woodland garden GARDENING: A Comprehensive Guide From Planning to Harvesting, and More

General feature:
Mimics the natural habitats of woodland plants, usually those that are native to your place.

Common plants:
Woodland plants, wildflowers like black-eyed Susan and zinnia, flowering or grassy type of annuals and perennials, and/or a mix of shrubs and herbs.

Place suited:
Cool regions; wide outdoor areas for gardening

Cottage Gardens

cottage garden GARDENING: A Comprehensive Guide From Planning to Harvesting, and More

General feature:
Characteristically a British countryside garden in appeal. Flowers are spread out in random.

Common plants:
Annuals and perennials like cornflower, hollyhocks, and poppies; Fruits, vegetables, and herbs are also traditionally included in a cottage style garden.

Place suited:
Lawns with meandering paths, gently-curved beds, and weathered stone pavings.

Tropical Gardens

tropical garden GARDENING: A Comprehensive Guide From Planning to Harvesting, and More

General feature:
Brings the tropic feel, complete with exotic plants, into the garden

Common plants:
Thick green foliage; vibrant flowers like geraniums, begonias, and elephant ears; palms and cycads.

Place suited:
Warm climate areas

 

Water Gardens

water garden GARDENING: A Comprehensive Guide From Planning to Harvesting, and More

General feature:
A garden that makes use of small water ponds, streams, and fountain as their focal point. It can also imitate the look of a bog or wetland in low-lying areas or around ponds.

Common plants:
Water lilies, cattails, giant rhubarb, carnivorous plants like venus flytrap, and some woodland plants like blue-eyed grass and turtlehead.

 

Rock Garden

rock garden GARDENING: A Comprehensive Guide From Planning to Harvesting, and More

General feature:
Garden style that imitates a mountainside with rough-hewn rocks and grasses.

Common plants:
A mix of shade and sun-loving plants such as low-lying shrubs, bulbous plants, succulents, and ornamental grasses.

Place suited:
Works well in dry areas with sloped surface in the lawn

 

B. Garden styles based on location or space

Indoor Gardens

indoor garden GARDENING: A Comprehensive Guide From Planning to Harvesting, and More

Why plant indoors?
When a backyard is too full of growing plants or there is no backyard at all, the indoors render a very convenient space to garden in. Plus, it allows a gardener or plant enthusiast to grow a plant when winter or heavy wind strikes outdoors.

Certain plants are proven to effectively clean the air or combat chemicals normally used at home. So plants make an environment-friendly home accessory, apart from adding natural beauty to your interiors.

General feature:
This is a gardening style that doesn’t take up much space. Usually planted in containers, indoor plants are started and grown right on top of your table, hanged on the wall, set in a shady corner of a room, or lined on a sunny windowsill or kitchen countertops.

Common plant choices:
In the kitchen –  Container Vegetables like salad greens, carrots, peppers, tomatoes; and Herbs like basil, parsley, rosemary, chives
Other home interiors – Flowers like geraniums, roses, marigold, petunia; and Ornamental plants and succulents

Urban Gardens

urban garden GARDENING: A Comprehensive Guide From Planning to Harvesting, and More

Why garden in urban areas
Many city dwellers stressed about wanting to grow their own food just so they could abandon the costly and chemically-grown grocery foods. Urban garden is the answer.

General feature:
Gardening done in an apartment or small spaces within an urban area. Gardens are usually created on the rooftop, balconies, window boxes, or even on a slab of concrete.

Common plants:
Any container plant, vegetable or flower.  

Community Garden

community garden GARDENING: A Comprehensive Guide From Planning to Harvesting, and More

What is a community garden
Also known as allotment garden, community gardens are planting areas organized by a neighborhood or gardening groups to raise edible plants for the benefit of the whole community.

More than providing fresh food, community gardens foster friendship and deep bonds among neighbors or common interest groups.

General feature:
A typical allotment garden consists of several plots or garden beds assigned to individuals or families. It can be built on reclaimed lands (legalities considered) or residential building grounds. Some community gardens come in child-friendly features like a separate plot just for the kids to dig in and learn. This article from Harrow in Leaf presents a quick guide for new allotment holders.

Common plants:
Community gardens are specially allocated for edible plants.  

C. Contemporary Gardening Methods

 Hydroponics

hydroponics GARDENING: A Comprehensive Guide From Planning to Harvesting, and More

What is Hydroponics
It is the art of growing plants in water, instead of soil. Water is used to transport the nutrients and energy through different mediums and into the plant.

This method of growing plant is based on studies that water in the soil provides the minerals that plants need to grow. This lead to the thought that water alone could be used to effectively grow crops and other plants.

General feature
A hydroponic gardening system consists chiefly of water, planting medium, nutrient solution, and the plant. Each of this component is present and vital in any hydroponic method.

Growing medium serves as plant support and water retainers. It includes coconut fiber, perlite, rock wool, and starter sponge. Nutrient solution, on the other hand, is essential to provide the nutrient needs of plants. It is infused in the water.

Common plants
Vegetable and herbs that thrive in a hydroponic system are lettuce, tomato, basil, parsley, and coriander.  

Aquaponics

aquaponics GARDENING: A Comprehensive Guide From Planning to Harvesting, and More

What is aquaponics
Combines the growing method of hydroponics with aquaculture or the raising of fish in one integrated system. The plants provide natural filter in the water that keeps it safe for fishes to thrive in. The fishes, in turn, produce wastes that are converted by microbes into vermicompost or organic fertiliser for the growing plants.

General feature
An aquaponic system of gardening consists of a balanced amount of water, plants, fish and fish wastes, and microbes that work in a cycle of use and reuse.

Home-level aquaponic will do well with the basic equipment as small tanks, grow trays, and pumps and drains.

Common plants
Hydroponic-thriving vegetable and herbs also do well in an aquaponic system.

Common fishes

Includes tilapia, catfish, carp, and goldfish. Fishes grown in an aquaponic system are raised primarily to provide fertiliser to plant; consuming them requires other feeding and maintenance consideration.

 

Resources:

http://www.americanmeadows.com/
http://www.thompson-morgan.com/
http://www.burpee.com/
http://www.planetnatural.com/
http://gardening.about.com/
https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/
http://www.motherearthnews.com/
http://www.sustainable-gardening.com/
http://eartheasy.com/
http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/
https://www.rhs.org.uk/
http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/
http://www.fao.org/
http://www.sparkpeople.com/
http://www.wrap.org.uk/
http://www.homecompostingmadeeasy.com/
https://pender.ces.ncsu.edu/
http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/
http://www.usda.gov/
https://www.growveg.com/
http://www.oisat.org/
http://www.almanac.com/
http://www.melbartholomew.com/
http://www.theaquaponicsource.com/
http://www.thegarlicfarm.co.uk/growing/tips-and-advice/

William Walsworth, Gardening: Essential Beginners Guide to Gardening and Growing Organic vegetables
Nancy Ross, Gardening: The Complete Guide to Vegetable Gardening for Beginners
Ziggie Woodworth, Gardening: The Ultimate Gardening Guide Book for Organic Vegetables and Fruits with Gardening Techniques, Tools, Supplies, Tool Set, Equipment
Andy Jacobson, Hydroponics: The Essential Guide
Kaye Dennan and Jason Wright, Complete Hydroponic Gardening Book

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Composting Guide for Beginners: Helpful Tips To Make Great Compost

Studies and first-hand experiences have shown the potency of compost in bringing vitality to the garden soil and plants. And the good news is that making compost is easy and environmentally-friendly. It could be made from kitchen scraps such banana peelings, wood ashes collected from outdoor barbecue grills or worn out pieces of age-old garden table and chairs. There are indeed a great deal of compostable pieces you have lying around but fail to notice. The now damaged parts of your once comfortable rattan outdoor garden furniture may well be used as plant food if processed properly.

This guide will help you or any beginner to create a compost of your own, rather than purchase from the store. Here you will learn what compost is, how to make compost, what materials to add to your compost and how to build a compost bin. Also, there are helpful reference charts on how to fix common composting problems.

With the right choices of materials and following expert tips on composting, you’ll get the most of the benefits from this organic fertiliser.

What is compost?

Compost is an organic material produced from heaps of decomposed plant parts and manure of plant-eating animals. With the help of soil-dwelling microbes, the decomposed materials generate nutrients that plants need for healthy growth. It is basically nature’s way of recycling.

How does compost help the garden?

Aside from providing nutrients to plants, compost also improves the soil structure by producing rich humus to nurture the ground soil and increase its ability to retain water. It also helps moderate the soil’s pH level.

Most importantly, compost feeds soil organisms. These soil organisms are essential for plant health and continual soil improvement. It includes fungi, protozoa, nematodes and earthworms that depend on organic materials to supply their daily food.Learning about all these

Learning about all these will also help you and even young minds appreciate the world of microbes and how it wonderfully transforms a soil into a productive gardening site.


“Under the surface, a complex web of dirt, roots, microbes and fungi transforms plain old dirt into a superior growing medium. But that intricate web will exist only if you boost your plain old dirt with nutritious amendments, such as homemade compost.” Heidi Hunt, Editor – Mother Earth News

What can compost be used for?

As a soil fertiliser on:

  1. Flower and vegetable beds
  2. Houseplants
  3. Lawn top dressing
  4. New planting areas
  5. Around trees

What to compost?

Almost anything made from organic material can be made into compost. See the tabulated list below:

Alfalfa meal and hay Cottonseed hulls Grass clippings (in thin layers) Peanut hulls Soybean straw
Algae (pondweeds) Cowpeas Greensand Pea pods and vines Sphagnum moss
Apple pomace (from cider making) Cucumber vines Hay Peat moss Sugarcane residue
Bean shells and stalks Eelgrass Hedge clippings Phosphate rock Tea leaves
Broccoli stalks (but not cords) Eggshells (crushed) Hops Potash rock Vegetable peels, stalks and foliage
Citrus rinds Farm animal manures (plant eating animals) Kelp Potato skins and vines (unless diseased) Vetch
Clover Flowers Leaf mold and leaves Rhubarb leaves Weeds
Cocoa hulls Fruit peels Lettuce and other greens Rice hulls Wheat straw
Coffee grounds Granite dust Melon vines, leaves and rinds Shells (ground clam, crab, lobster, mussel, oyster, well buried in the pile)
Corncobs (chopped) Grape pomace (from wine making) Oat straw Sod

 

The right balance of carbon and nitrogen

Carbon and nitrogen are two of the most important elements in a compost. Composting occurs fastest when about 30 parts of carbon are used to 1 part of nitrogen.

Sources of Carbon:

  • Straw — Includes oats, barley, wheat and rye. They are composed of hollow stalks, which are good for the decomposition process.
  • Cornstalks, pea and bean vines — They are most useful when dried out.
  • Autumn leaves — Mix in few leaves only as leaves tend to trap air from entering the pile.
  • Hay — This may contain weeds, which may be killed in the heat of composting.
  • Wood shavings and sawdust — These materials decompose more slowly and have a lower pH level than the rest of the pile.

Sources of Nitrogen:

  • Any type of fresh or wilted plant matter
  • Grass clippings and non-pollinated weeds
  • Kitchen scraps
  • Seaweed and kelp

For a better mix of organic materials, make sure to blend in proportional amounts of quick and slow rotters. These will give your home compost an ideal texture throughout the heap.

What NOT to compost:

  • Diseased plants — Some plant parts are likely to carry diseases that should not be composed at all.
  • Some kinds of manure — Pet’s manure such as that of dogs or cats may contain diseases or parasites that are harmful to plants and man.
  • Some lawn clippings — Some lawns are treated with herbicides and should not be added to your compost pile.
  • Meat and dairy products — These will decompose but will only attract pests.

Tools needed for composting:

  • Compost Thermometer —This thermometer allows you to check the temperature of your hot compost pile so you can tell if the pile needs to be turned or when the compost is full.
  • Six-tine manure fork — This is more like a pitchfork to help you turn the compost pile.
  • Lawnmower — This helps you shred leaves and other compost material. Add the shredded materials to the compost and use rake to mix in.
  • Watering hose — You’d want to water the pile as it needs to be moist at all times.

How to build a compost bin:

There are several types of bins you can make for your compost. There’s the wooden compost bin, the free-cycle compost bin, the straw bale hot bin and others. All of these will create a nutrient-rich compost. And although a compost bin isn’t required, it makes the job a lot faster and easier.

Wooden compost bin shutterstock 191684348 Composting Guide for Beginners: Helpful Tips To Make Great Compost

Most compost bins made of wood uses white cedar, which is naturally a rot-resistant wood. Other woods that will work are redwood, tamarack and oak.

This bin is good for hot composting and is portable. You start the compost pile by filling one or two sections with organic matter and then stack the next sections with more organic materials.

 

straw bale Composting Guide for Beginners: Helpful Tips To Make Great Compost

Straw bale hot bin

If you have a source of old straw bales, this can make a functional compost bin. The straw bale will hold together longer if the baling is wired. If not, tie twine around it. After a couple of years, the bin will decompose, and you’ll have to create a new bin.

 

 

 

Trenching bintrench bin Composting Guide for Beginners: Helpful Tips To Make Great Compost

For this type of composting, you dig a trench or pit about 8 inches deep. You bury the organic matter below the trench until it decomposes.

Nature will do the rest of the work, and all you need to do is build a garden above the compost. The trenching should be done at least two months before you wish to grow any vegetable or fruit.

 

 

 

 

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Do-it-yourself (DIY) trash bin

This is one of the easiest and most affordable way to build a compost. Buy a rubber trash can with a secure lifting lid. Use a drill to create 5 to 6 holes in the lid, the sides and bottom of the can. This creates proper air-flow that’s essential for the breakdown of organic materials.

 

 

 

Rotary-style composter bin

shutterstock 141498154 Composting Guide for Beginners: Helpful Tips To Make Great Compost

This bin can be placed anywhere, and it keeps all the materials organized and off the ground. This method of composting decomposes materials quickly because it’s easy to turn and aerate the organic material. But the material does tend to dry out more quickly, so you’ll need to monitor and water it more often

 

 

 

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Worm bin

This is ideal for gardeners who don’t have the outdoor space for compost bins. You can create a worm bin from a plastic tub. You’ll need shredded newspaper, food scraps, and 10 to 15 dozen worms to eat your garbage. Use only red worms (Lumbricus rubellus) or manure worms (Eisenia foetida).

This method requires a lot more attention, but you will get the most fertilised and nutrient-rich soil.

 

Raised Bed

raised garden bed month e1460971844164 Composting Guide for Beginners: Helpful Tips To Make Great Compost

If you want to get more serious about composting, then go for the hugelkultur beds or mound culture. This method uses large pieces of wood for long-term decomposition. The humus building process takes place below the ground for years, whilst allowing you to cultivate the raised bed.

 

 

Choosing your compost method: Hot or cold?

Hot composting:

A hot compost pile is the best way to produce large amounts of compost in a short period of time. The hot compost has the advantage of killing off many pathogenic organisms and weed seeds that may present themselves in the compost. A hot pile works best if it is made up all at once with mostly nitrogen materials. This is called a garden lasagna because of the multiple materials stacked on top of each other.

Materials needed for a hot compost:

  1. Start with a layer of straw about 3 inches deep.
  2. Add 1 to 6 inches of nitrogen material.
  3. The looser you make the material, the thicker amount of layer you can add.
  4. Leave room for air to circulate throughout the pile.
  5. On top of each nitrogen material layer, add about 1/2 inches of soil.
  6. Add another straw layer and keep building in a “lasagna fashion” style until the pile is about 3 feet tall.

How to succeed with hot composting:

  1. Make layers of straw, nitrogen materials and soil in a lasagna-fashion until the pile is 4 feet high.
  2. Spread the layers and allow spaces for air to circulate through the pile.
  3. The compost will need moisture just as it needs air.  
  4. Add water to the carbon layer, which is the driest, as you build the pile.
  5. After you’ve finished the pile, cover it. This reduces evaporation from the top and prevents over watering from rain.
  6. Check the hot compost pile regularly and use a compost thermometer to check the temperature daily.
  7. The pile should reach 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  8. If the temperature starts to drop then turn the pile.
  9. With each turning, wet the pile as needed, and move the material from the outside to the center.

Cold composting:

Cold composting takes longer and it doesn’t kill pathogens or weed seeds. But the advantage of cold compost is in its use over time. This kind of composting is ideal for recycling small materials.  The bacterial presence in cold piles do all the work and usually don’t heat up past 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

How to succeed with cold composting:

  1. Pile organic materials together such as grass, leaves and manure (plant-eating animals only).
  2. Once the cold pile is constructed, you can leave it for a while.  
  3. Monitor the moisture level and add water if needed.  
  4. After a few months, turn the pile and add water again if necessary.
  5. It takes about a year or more for the compost to be finished.

Some common problems with composting:

Symptoms Possible Causes Solutions
Unpleasant odor Lack of air because of compaction Aerate
Lack of air because of overwatering Add carbon and aerate. The carbon will absorb moisture.
Too much nitrogen (if it smells like ammonia) Add carbon and aerate.
Too wet Add straw or other carbon materials.
Pile doesn’t heat up Lacks moisture Poke holes in a pile so you can water.
Less turning Use fork to bring materials from the outside to the center of the pile
Hot pile cools off Less turning Use fork to bring materials from the outside to the center of the pile
Pile is damp and warm only in the center Too small pile Gather more materials and make a larger pile.
Lacks nitrogen Add nitrogen such as grass or manure.
Animals and pests get into the pile Meat or dairy added in the pile Avoid using meats and dairy products.
Some material isn’t breaking down Lacks nitrogen and moisture Add water if it’s dry and cover the pile. Add grass clippings or manure.
Less mixing Turn pile
Pieces too large Chop material that is cars before adding it to the pile.

Using your compost

After you’ve successfully ‘cooked’ the compost, it’s now ready to be added to the garden soil. Mix or sprinkle it on top of your flower or vegetable plots, rake gently into tree beds, blend with potting soil for indoor plants, or spread among your lawn.  

Also, be sure to save a bit of the compost for the next batch of garden beds you plan to make.

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Winner picked for BillyOh Easter Egg Hunt

More than a hundred BillyOh facebook followers dropped in their guesses in the Easter Egg Hunt Contest for the chance to take home a Mad Dash ‘The One’ 12ft Round Family Trampoline.

Contest2 Winner picked for BillyOh Easter Egg Hunt

But the much-coveted prize goes to Ms. Anna Brown of Boston, Lincolnshire, England. Congratulations! Please wait for a call from our staff within the day to get your prize.

Thank you to all who participated!

The answer to our second egg-hunt? There are EIGHT easter-themed eggs hidden in the image.

 

 

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BillyOh Smartphone Winter Garden Photo Contest Winner Revealed!

Hashtag BillyOhPhotoContest. It was all about wintry garden portraits and entries were brimming with frosty beauty.

Almost a hundred photo were submitted by garden lovers and homeowners in the UK through the official BillyOh social media sites. But the winning image captured a charming reflection of a calm winter with a robin ready to take flight.

Laura Elliott bags the honor for the Best Winter Garden Photo – and a £100 gift voucher from Marks & Spencer. Congratulations!

Presenting the winning photo…

10151356 962685673779675 4293496042025593871 n BillyOh Smartphone Winter Garden Photo Contest Winner Revealed!

Photo Credit: Laura Elliott

 

Other fantastic entries which deserve a special mention…

12514083 963380667043509 1940927851026206681 o BillyOh Smartphone Winter Garden Photo Contest Winner Revealed!Photo Credit: Caroline McCabe

12764860 966035173444725 1747009336693037176 o BillyOh Smartphone Winter Garden Photo Contest Winner Revealed!Photo Credit: Katherine Kay Advincula Mariano

1918177 962685537113022 4968485017703047799 n BillyOh Smartphone Winter Garden Photo Contest Winner Revealed!Photo Credit: Jamie Edwards

12371238 960409284007314 8537285364415946748 o BillyOh Smartphone Winter Garden Photo Contest Winner Revealed!Photo Credit: Joy Dehany

12747490 960409210673988 7164995553094767090 o BillyOh Smartphone Winter Garden Photo Contest Winner Revealed!Photo Credit: Joy Dehany

1517554 962685570446352 6498511697950966896 n BillyOh Smartphone Winter Garden Photo Contest Winner Revealed!Photo Credit: Jessica Townley

12716364 960409164007326 790224434581577462 o BillyOh Smartphone Winter Garden Photo Contest Winner Revealed!Photo Credit: Laura Elliott

BillyOh thanks all the participants who shared with us their time and talent and added fun memories to our winter days. Keep tab of our next Social Media Contest, happening very soon.

Revisit the Winter Garden Photos here.

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Ultimate Guide to Nest Boxes: Why You Should Have Them, and How to Build Your Own

As winter draws to a close and the first spring flowers are braving the cold weather, aside from setting up your trusty patio sets or your favourite gas barbecue grill outside, its time to think about providing nest boxes for garden birds. You might ask ‘why bother?’ Well, believe it or not one of the reasons why birds have declining populations is that our buildings are becoming less and less bird friendly and countryside and woodland management often removed many potential nest sites. Gardens are increasingly important to birds. It doesn’t really matter what materials you will use: old outdoor furniture sets , scrap pallets lying around, or recyclable pieces from your dilapidated rattan patio furniture. Long as you are able to provide our flighty friends with a shelter during the harshest weather conditions, then you’re far from being toast. Twenty million people put out food for the birds in their gardens so we know there is a huge potential out there to do even more to conserve British wildlife.

210 Ultimate Guide to Nest Boxes: Why You Should Have Them, and How to Build Your Own

If you build them, they will come…

Most of our common garden birds are UK permanent residents and will nest as early as the weather allows before the migrants arrive… so February and March is when you should be getting the boxes ready for them. Migrants start arriving at the end of March although a few will not be here until the end of May so there is still a point in getting nest boxes up for some of these late comers into early spring.

 

Do yourself good too…

Of course, once you’ve a nest box up and occupied you will find hours of pleasure in watching the comings and goings as the birds bring nest material, lay eggs then raise, feed and fledge their young well into the summer months. Early breeders may even give it another go later. All those hungry mouths will have an effect on your garden as tits, blackbirds, robins and all search for insect larvae to feed their young. So you can feel good about doing good, enjoy the theatre of the birds and do your garden good all at the same time!

 

Different strokes for different folks…

Just like us birds come in all shapes and sizes and have different habits and needs. You need to ‘target’ the species in order to create a home for it. Fortunately we’ve been providing nestboxes in our gardens for many decades and BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) and RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) have terrific information on their websites to help you make your choices and provide the best boxes for you beautiful birds. Both supply boxes, but its more fun (and cheaper) to build your own and a great indoor day activity for the kids too. See below for what you need and the relevant materials and dimensions.

Most people will have tits visiting their gardens and they take to nestboxes quickly. A small box with the right sized hole will suit bluetits, great tits, coal tits, marsh tits and even willow tits (although they are very scarce these day). But a small box will be great for house and tree sparrows, redstarts, pied flycatchers and nuthatches too.

Nest Box1 Ultimate Guide to Nest Boxes: Why You Should Have Them, and How to Build Your Own

 

Bird 1 Ultimate Guide to Nest Boxes: Why You Should Have Them, and How to Build Your Own

Bird 2 Ultimate Guide to Nest Boxes: Why You Should Have Them, and How to Build Your Own

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Bird 4 Ultimate Guide to Nest Boxes: Why You Should Have Them, and How to Build Your Own

 

Bird 5 Ultimate Guide to Nest Boxes: Why You Should Have Them, and How to Build Your Own

Larger boxes with an entry hole suit starlings, swifts, Great-spotted woodpeckers and little owls. The entry hole must be different sizes for different birds… 25mm or larger for the smaller tits, 28mm or larger for great tit, and tree sparrow and 32mm for house sparrow.

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Other birds prefer open fronted boxes including robins, pied wagtails and spotted flycatchers… so one of each type in your garden would be great and double your chances of occupants!

Nest Box2 Ultimate Guide to Nest Boxes: Why You Should Have Them, and How to Build Your Own

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Bird 12 Ultimate Guide to Nest Boxes: Why You Should Have Them, and How to Build Your Own

Bird 13 Ultimate Guide to Nest Boxes: Why You Should Have Them, and How to Build Your Own

 

Whichever type you decide to make you don’t have to buy new wood to do it if you have some of the right size… but you must use plain wood never wood that is painted or treated with preservatives (Tanalised) as this can harm the birds. In fact old well-seasoned wood is probably better than newly milled wood and will fit into the surroundings nicely, especially if you are attaching your nest boxes to trees. Wood needs to be a minimum of 15mm thick as anything thinner will likely warp. Well made boxes will keep out the weather, but, when you site them try to keep them sheltered by the tree trunk or wall you attach them to.

 

Desirable & safe locations…

We all want to live in a nice neighbourhood with good schools and low crime rate… well birds are the same, although what makes for a good neighbourhood is different.

310 Ultimate Guide to Nest Boxes: Why You Should Have Them, and How to Build Your Own

Just like feeders you need to put nest boxes where predators like cats and squirrels can’t get at them. Obviously, it’s nice to be able to see the boxes from your window, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of predator safety. On a wall slightly above head height is a good idea and don’t be tempted to lift the lid to see what is going on unless you are positive there has been no activity for several days. Sometimes birds do abandoned a finished nest or even a clutch of eggs. If this happens try and work out if the site is too disturbed by family comings and goings or by the attention of cats or magpies for example. Re-siting the box might then make sense.

You will often seen fancy birdhouses for sale… made to look like cottages or windmills or whatever. These are designed to appeal to people not birds. Stick to plain not fancy. Think of all those shows about how to sell your home, you don’t decorate for yourself, but to make it as much of a blank canvas as possible using magnolia throughout!

Make sure, too that there are no perches beside the entry hole, the nesters don’t need them but predators will love them, especially woodpeckers who will use the perch to enable them to enlarge the hole and get eggs or nestlings.

Some birds are getting really scarce because of weather, or persecution, pesticides and herbicides or intensive agriculture here and abroad. A few of them like house martens, swallows and swifts have had a long association with humanity, or at least, our buildings. If you have a suitable property think how you can help. Swift boxes high up under gables etc., could be a life line. House martens build there own nests out of mud, but you can by precast ones that fit under a roof’s eves. Swallows just need a bit of an invitation so if you are lucky enough to have stables or outbuildings leave something ajar for them to find a way in and out.

Big Gardens…

If you have a large garden or a wooded area then you might be lucky enough to attract owls or smaller birds of prey if you fix owl boxes high up in the trees… they too can be easily made.

 

Picture this…

There are now hundreds of inexpensive wildlife and security cameras on the market and this is a great way to keep watch on your nest boxes without disturbing the residents. Fancy ones will even stream colour pictures to your computer. But even cheaply bought and easily installed security cameras can record the daily goings on. Or when you want to get serious with bird watching, get a primer by visiting the Magic Birding and Hiking Circuit of Ecuador. Get to see various species at the belt of our planet.

51 Ultimate Guide to Nest Boxes: Why You Should Have Them, and How to Build Your Own

Last but not least…

Finally, at the end of the season when all the birds have fledged you will need to do a little light housekeeping. With lidded boxes it’s easy to take down the box and empty the contents into the compost bin. Moss, feathers and dropping will rot down nicely so it’s better in the compost than in the box. Moreover, mites, lice and other parasites can build up so when you’ve clean out the old nesting material give them a thorough wash out with plain old boiling water and leave them upside down to completely drain and dry. This will kill off the bugs without leaving any dangerous residues.

Don’t store them away, but put them back in situ… they can be a godsend during the winter for keeping birds warm in cold weather. Wrens in particular are known to roost in such shelter, huddling together to share body warmth. Its even been known for dormice to use them as winter hides to hibernate in!

For more and up to date advice, see the BTO and RSPB websites (linked at the beginning of this article).
**We would like to thank Bo from Fatbirder.com for his contribution to the article.