Gardening: How to grow edible flowers!

By Tiffany Selvey, Master Gardener and mama of 1

Have you ever been to one of those fancy restaurants that serve you a plate of food too pretty to eat? Usually it includes a grain that’s shaped into a miracle of physics, topped with a piece of meat only found in one square mile in a small province of France, finished off with a vegetable floating on top and garnished with flowers. Flowers! On a plate! How impossibly elegant.

I can’t help you secure rare meat, nor do I understand the physics of food stacking, but I can help you grow edible flowers for food garnishes and cocktails. Like most herbs, these flowers actually prefer less fertile soils, so simply remove all weeds from existing soil and plant. Skip the fertilization.

  • Borage- This flower is on nearly every list of flowers I write. Want to attract bees? Plant borage. Desire a wildflower garden? Again, borage. Edible flowers? Borage! This lovely plant grows to be about 2 ½ feet tall and makes a really pretty addition to a flower bed or vegetable garden. The leaves are also edible, and are often cooked like spinach, kale, turnip tops or any other greens. The delicate blooms can be frozen into ice cubes or used fresh to top salads or drinks. Growing borage is as simple as sprinkling seeds on the surface of prepared soil where all grass and weeds have been removed, then water gently. Borage reseeds itself freely, so if you plant it once, it will return for as long as you allow it to grow and bloom.
  • Nasturtium- This is one of my favorite flowers, not only because it’s so functional but simply because it’s so pretty. Like borage, all the parts of of this plant are edible. The leaves are often added to fresh salads and the peppery blooms are often used as stunning garnishes on a plate. Even the seeds are pickled and eaten like capers. In the garden, nasturtiums planted beside squash deters squash bugs, making it useful on so many levels. Available in orange, red, white, pink and yellow, this flower works well as a potted plant for an edible addition to a patio. In prepared soil, plant seeds about an inch deep and water well.

    edible flowers

    Nasturtium blooms make an elegant addition to family dinner.

  • Calendula- This bright orange bloom can be infused in oil to impart color, used whole as a plate garnish, or the petals can be scattered on top of soups or salads. At about 12 inches tall, calendula can be added to nearly any garden space to add a pop of color. Like borage, calendula will reseed itself freely, returning year after year. To plant calendula, space seeds about 6 inches apart, cover lightly with soil and water well.

Edible blooms are not just for fancy meals. Add them to lunch, lemonade or tea anytime you need a pick-me-up. Since you’re growing your own, it won’t cost you a thing to add these lovelies to your meal, but they will absolutely brighten your day.

Happy gardening!

Note from the mamas: If you’d like to have your edible flowers on top of some amazing home-grown tomatoes this summer, check out these two articles by our Master Gardener, Tiffany Selvey:

Tiffany Selvey, Master GardenerTiffany Selvey is a Master Gardener who writes about her passion for growing, cooking, and living naturally atwww.Songbird-Gardens.com. When she’s not elbow deep in soil, she enjoys raising a very active son, laughing with her husband, and wrangling their pets. Follow Tiffany’s gardening adventures on facebook , instagram and on twitter.

For more advice on growing your own vegetables this summer, click HERE to read more how-to articles by Tiffany.

Time to plant flowers in Northwest Arkansas

Flower garden how toApril showers bring May flowers…but first they must be planted. This is the perfect time of year to plant flowers in Northwest Arkansas, so let’s get started.

flower-vase-393423_640 (2)If you’ve ever received a surprise bouquet of flowers (and if you haven’t, go out and buy yourself one because you deserve it!) then you know the effect a vase of fresh cut flowers has on a space. Some of the most beautiful cut flowers are easy to grow right in your own back yard, and they’re a great benefit to the bees and butterflies.

With your own cutting garden, you won’t have to wait for someone to buy you flowers. You can cut your own, slip them into a vase and instantly brighten up any room in the house.

The downside of growing your own cutting flowers is that someone has to do the maintenance, right? All the bouquets in the world won’t make up for sweating while pulling weeds in July humidity. (And don’t even get me started on the mosquitoes.)

The key to avoiding the drudgery is selecting the right plants and planting them closely enough that there is no room for weeds.

Here are a few low-maintenance flowers I recommend for your cutting garden:

  • Echinacea – Also known as purple coneflower, this plant is one of the easiest to grow, blooms throughout summer and fall, and grows closely enough that there is little room for weeds. After the last chance of frost has passed (approximately April 15), lightly rake the surface of the soil in a prepared bed, where all grass and weeds have been removed. Sprinkle seeds about 6-inches apart and water well.
  • Zinnias – This popular cutting flower also blooms throughout summer and fall and comes in many colors. In prepared soil after the last chance of frost, plant a few zinnia seeds 6 to 12-inches apart and cover with ¼-inch of soil. Water well.

    TiffanySelveyWAZinnia

    Red zinnias look great in the garden and gorgeous in a vase on the kitchen table, too.

  • Milkweed – There has been a lot of talk lately about severely declining Monarch butterfly populations. Milkweed is the host plant for Monarchs, which means this is the only one which they will lay eggs on because it is the only plant the larvae can eat. There are many different types of milkweed, including many varieties that are native to Northwest Arkansas. A popular variety is tropical milkweed. While not native to our area, this variety grows well in our climate and blooms through summer and fall. It’s a stunning orange and red cut flower. Just be sure to add plenty of plants and leave some blooms for the butterflies.
  • Daisies – This simple yet beautiful flower is a staple in any cutting garden. It’s a perennial that also re-seeds, making it a low-maintenance flower year after year. While the white Shasta is the most widely known variety, there are plenty of daisies in different colors. Sow a few daisy seeds in a prepared bed 12-inches apart, ¼-inch deep in March or early April. Water well.

Consider planting several different flowers in one bed to create interest in the space. Combine colors, sizes and textures for a beautiful environment that will attract bees and butterflies.

Consider adding easy herbs like dill or basil to your flower gardens to attract even more pollinators.

What is your favorite cut flower? Post your suggestions in the space below!

Tiffany Selvey, Master GardenerTiffany Selvey is a Master Gardener who writes about her passion for growing, cooking, and living naturally atwww.Songbird-Gardens.com. When she’s not elbow deep in soil, she enjoys raising a very active son, laughing with her husband, and wrangling their pets. Follow Tiffany’s gardening adventures on facebook , instagram and on twitter.

For more advice on growing your own vegetables this summer, click HERE to read more how-to articles by Tiffany.

Gardening: Get ready for Fall gardening

By Tiffany Selvey, Master Gardener and mama of 1

Given our recent weather patterns it might surprise you to hear that we are not, in fact, in the Autumn season yet. Luckily for us, there is still plenty of time to plant and grow a fall container garden.

I like fall crops because they grow fast, which is great for those of us who love instant gratification. While there’s no real “instant” gratification, radishes mature in just over a month. That’s about as instant as it gets in the garden.

As with all seasons, we must plant the right crops for success in the fall garden. What we are looking for are fast growing, frost-tolerant crops such as:

  • august 2014 post picLettuce
  • Radishes
  • Turnips
  • Arugula
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Mustard

These veggies and herbs are a collection of easy to grow, nutrient-dense crops that produce a lot of food in a small space. Some of these veggies, like arugula and kale, actually taste better after the first light frost, making them a good option even for ornamental containers. Each of these veggies also grow easily from seed, making them an economical option.

Each of these crops have slightly different requirements, so be sure to read the seed package for seed sowing depth and spacing requirements. However, here are a few things that apply to all of these varieties.

  • Make simple container soil with equal parts organic compost, potting soil and vermiculite. Mix well.
  • Add the appropriate amount of organic fertilizer to the potting mixture before planting (do not over fertilize). I like Winchester Gardens or Jobe’s Organics.
  • Sow seeds according to the seed package instructions and water well. Keep the soil consistently moist until the plants grow their first leaves, then taper back watering.

Fall can be a wonderful season in the garden. We tend to have fewer pest issues, the weather is lovely and fall crops are versatile enough to use for a wide variety of meals. What kind of veggies would you like to try to grow this fall?

Tiffany Selvey, Master GardenerTiffany Selvey is a Master Gardener who writes about her passion for growing, cooking, and living naturally at www.Songbird-Gardens.com. When she’s not elbow deep in soil, she enjoys raising a very active son, laughing with her husband, and wrangling their pets. Follow Tiffany’s gardening adventures on facebook, instagram and on twitter.

Gardening: When, how long and how to water

By Tiffany Selvey, Master Gardener and mama of 1

We have had a really pleasant beginning to summer with warm days and plenty of rain. It’s very rare to make it to the beginning of July without having to occasionally break out the sprinkler system for the vegetable garden. This year has been the exception, which makes me happy because I have yet to set up my rain barrels, and am not excited about a significant increase in my water bill. Because I know dryer days are coming, I am prepared to water the garden when it’s needed. Here are a few tips for watering your garden.

When do I Water?

Containers and raised beds dry out faster than in-ground gardens, so they require more frequent watering than in-ground plants. The rule with watering anything — houseplants, outdoor containers, in-ground plants, etc. — is to water when the soil is dry one inch below the surface

How Long do I Water?

The duration of watering depends on your watering method; drip irrigation systems will water more slowly than an overhead sprinkler. Making sure you water thoroughly will take some trial and error. Water for 30 minutes, then dig a hole and see how deep the water has penetrated. Adjust your timing as needed to make sure water reaches the plant roots at 4 to 6 inches deep. Water after dusk or before dawn to keep evaporation to a minimum. Mulching well also prevents evaporation.water sprayer

What is the Best Method?

There is no one-size-fits-all method of watering. For small gardens and containers, a hose end sprayer works well. For large gardens, an overhead sprinkler is a frugal option, while a drip irrigation system offers an efficient use of water. For gardens close to the house, a rain barrel provides the best solution for free, biologically active water which is the best option for a healthy soil environment. Think about your budget and the size of your garden before deciding on an irrigation system. A combination of systems may work well for a large yard; consider a rain barrel for a small garden close to the house and a large overhead sprinkler for the veggie garden.

Dry spells are hard to anticipate but we almost always have at least six dry weeks in the summer, sometimes a lot more. Have your irrigation plan in place before the hot, dry days get here so you are prepared to keep your plants happy and healthy.

Tiffany Selvey, Master GardenerTiffany Selvey is a Master Gardener who writes about her passion for growing, cooking, and living naturally at www.Songbird-Gardens.com. When she’s not elbow deep in soil, she enjoys raising a very active son, laughing with her husband, and wrangling their pets. Follow Tiffany’s gardening adventures on facebook, instagram and on twitter.

Gardening: Good Bug, Bad Bug

By Tiffany Selvey, Master Gardener and mama of 1

I’ve never had the typical “freak out” factor about bugs that folks expect from southern ladies. From the very beginning, I have found the world of insects fascinating. I didn’t like them to the extreme of wanting to become an entomologist, but rather on a superficial entertainment level, like a tiny, slow-moving TV show.

I still love to sit and watch the bugs in my garden although now my observations are as much about entertainment as they are about functionality. It’s important that I know what the good guys and the bad guys are doing.

Before I can know what my bugs are doing, I must be able to identify them. While some are easy to identify, others can be tricky. Here are a few insects that can easily be mistaken for each other:

ladybug cucumber beetleLadybugs and Cucumber Beetles: Sure, we all know what ladybugs look like. They are perfectly round in shades of orange and red, some with dots, some without. Similar beetles, called cucumber beetles, are sometimes mistaken for friendly ladybugs because they are also spotted beetles. While ladybugs are excellent at keeping aphids away, cucumber beetles actually do damage to plant leaves and fruit.

bee wasp

Bees and Wasps- They both sting when agitated, but there are many benefits to bees in the garden while wasps are just pests. In all my years of gardening, I’ve never been stung by a bee. I work around them all the time, often harvesting fruits while they collect nectar. I’ve never seen one act aggressively toward me. Wasps, on the other hand, will chase and sting. They are bad dudes and they hurt! Keep the bees, we need them as valuable pollinators, but steer clear of wasps.

butterfly cabbage mothButterflies and Cabbage Moths- Butterflies add beauty to the garden and act as living indicators of a healthy garden environment. There are many types of butterflies that you should be happy to see in the garden, but if you see something that looks like a small white butterfly circling any brassicas (kale, cabbages, broccoli, etc.), this is a cabbage moth.

There are many different management techniques for each pest, a topic better suited for a book than a blog post, but there are great online resources for pest management. If you have gardening questions or need help identifying the good vs. the bad, join and post to our NWA Gardeners facebook page. We would be happy to help!