Take a color-themed approach for more attractive arrangements

This floral arrangement combines burgundy colored Tamburo dahlia with the peach hues of HS Date, Maarn, Linda’s Baby and Belle of Barmera dahlias. (Photo courtesy of Longfield-Gardens.com)


by Melinda Myers

Growing dahlias is a must for anyone who loves cutting and arranging flowers. But there are hundreds of beautiful dahlia varieties to choose from and that can be overwhelming. To make the selection process easier, choose compatible colors that will look good together in the garden and in arrangements.

The combination of peach and burgundy is both striking and sophisticated. Peach-colored flowers add a fresh and soothing feel to the garden. Dahlia American Dawn is a blend of peach, mango, and papaya with plum-purple highlights. Good partners include other varieties in the same warm, sunset tones, such as dinnerplate dahlia Belle of Barmera, decorative dahlia Great Silence and ball dahlia Maarn.

Planting dahlias in a perennial garden ensures non-stop color from July into October. The fluttering, melon-colored blooms of HS Date work particularly well, due to this variety’s maroon foliage and open growth habit. Complete your peach and burgundy theme with the dark-hued flowers of Rip City. These large, velvety flowers are almost black in the center and soften to wine-red toward the petal edges. Add ball dahlia Jowey Mirella for blooms that are smaller in size yet equally striking.

For another eye-catching color combination, narrow your selection to dahlias with purple and hot-pink flowers. Historically, purple was associated with royalty, spirituality, and knowledge. While pastel purple evokes a sense of calm and serenity, deeper tones add drama and excitement. Dinnerplate dahlia Lilac Time is an heirloom variety with fluffy, lavender blooms that can measure eight to ten inches across. Be sure to also include flowers in juicy grape and violet hues such as dahlias Thomas Edison, Cartouche and Purple Taiheijo.

Complement these moody purples with vivid pink dahlias. Burlesca is a cute little pompon dahlia with tightly rolled petals that reveal hints of peach, burgundy and violet. Fascination’s rose-pink, semi-double flowers contrast beautifully with the plant’s dark foliage and the blossoms are irresistible to bees and butterflies. Ball dahlia Rocco is an all-star variety that is long lasting in both garden and vase.

If you prefer pastels to brights, choose dahlias in shades of pale yellow, soft pink and cream. The enormous flowers of dinnerplate dahlia Café au Lait are a must. Complement them with ball dahlias such as peachy Linda’s Baby or buttery Boom Boom yellow. Decorative dahlia Fluffles has taffy-pink petals that fade to white, while Milena Fleur’s are a mélange of pink, peach and pale butterscotch.

When you start with flowers in compatible colors, designing floral arrangements becomes so much easier. You’ll have all you need to quickly create a centerpiece for any gathering, an impressive bouquet for your own home, or an informal handful of blooms to share with friends.

For more tips about cut flowers, read the Longfield Gardens article How to Design a Cutting Garden (www.longfield-gardens.com).

Melinda Myers is the author of more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Longfield Gardens for her expertise to write this article. Her web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.

Save money and boost seed starting success

Seed-starting trays are reusable and make it easy to pop out young seedlings without damaging the plant’s roots. (Photo courtesy of Gardener’s Supply Company/gardeners.com)


by Melinda Myers

Boost your success, save money, and reduce plastic waste when starting plants from seeds this year. The options are many, so you are sure to find one that works for you.

Reuse plastic containers for starting plants from seeds. Disinfect the pots, flats, and cell packs before planting to avoid problems with damping off and other diseases. Soak the containers in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water for ten minutes. Rinse with clear water. The pots are now clean and safe for starting seeds.

Biodegradable pots are another option. They have been around for many years, eliminating plastic and reducing transplant shock. Just plant the container along with the seedling when moving plants into the garden. You will find degradable pots made from a variety of materials.

Organic gardeners may want to use biodegradable pots made from sustainably grown wood fiber. These contain no glue or binders and are Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) listed. Cow pots are not currently OMRI listed but are made from odor-free composted cow manure and an alternative to plastic and peat. These are biodegradable and add nutrients and organic matter to the soil at planting.

Replace plastic seed starting cell packs with Honeycomb Paper pots. This 50-cell interlocking paper seed starter expands to fill a flat for easy planting. Roots expand through the open bottom and the cells easily separate, making it easy to move transplants into the garden. Once in the garden, the paper liners decompose.

Invest once and use the dishwasher-safe Sili-Seedlings Seeding Tray for years of seed starting. These durable and reusable seed trays are made of BPA-free food-grade silicone. The flexible cells allow you to easily pop seedlings out without pulling and tugging. After the transplants are removed, rinse off any remaining soil and place in the dishwasher so the trays are ready to use for future plantings.

Employ self-watering systems like Pop-Out Pots (gardeners.com). Move tomatoes and other transplants from seedling trays into these larger containers. The Pop-Out system, made from recycled polypropylene, uses wicks to move water from the reservoir to the plants as needed. Transplants are easily removed, and both the pots and wicks can be reused after hand washing in hot water.

Skip the pots and avoid transplant shock by using a soil blocker to create an endless supply of soil blocks for planting. Just moisten the potting mix, preferably one with a high percent of organic matter, to help the blocks hold their shape. Press the soil block maker into the moistened potting mix and rock back and forth to fill. Then place the blocks on a clean seed tray. Once planted, water from the bottom to avoid disturbing the soil block.

Look for ways to repurpose any remaining plastic containers. Use smaller containers to apply fertilizer, animal repellents or other granular material. Just scoop and shake to distribute the fertilizer over the garden bed.

Cover plants with empty pots when applying mulch to garden beds. Spread the mulch then lift the pot when the job is finished. Use them for double potting. Grow your plant in an old nursery pot and set it inside a decorative pot that lacks drainage.

Some nurseries are asking customers to return plastic containers and flats for their use. Other plant retailers have an area set aside for customers to return plastic pots for other customers to use or for recycling.

Sustainable gardening starts with products used for starting seeds. Continue the trend throughout the growing season by conserving water, repurposing leaves into mulch and recycling plant trimmings into valuable compost.

Melinda Myers is the author of more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Gardener’s Supply for her expertise to write this article. Her web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.

Grow a few vegetables indoors this winter

Dwarf sugar snap peas sprouting under artificial lights. (Photo courtesy of MelindaMyers.com)


by Melinda Myers

Limited outdoor growing space or cold winters may have you missing fresh homegrown vegetables. Make this the winter you try growing a few vegetables in a sunny window or under artificial lights.

Greens are one of the easiest to grow indoors. Most leafy vegetables tolerate the lower light indoors, require minimal space, and prefer cool temperatures.

Select a container with drainage holes that will fit near a sunny window or under an artificial light set up. Keep the artificial lights about six inches above the top of these and other plants. Fill the container with a well-drained potting mix and sprinkle seeds of your favorite leafy greens over the soil surface. Lightly cover the seeds and moisten the soil.

Remove overcrowded plants, called thinning, to provide sufficient space for the remaining plants to reach full size. Begin harvesting the outer leaves when four to six inches tall.

Extend the time between watering and increase success when growing these and other vegetables by amending the soil with a moisture-retaining product, like Wild Valley Farms’ wool pellets (wildvalleyfarms.com). This organic and sustainable product holds 20% of its weight in water and slowly releases moisture into the soil when needed.

Add some crunch to your salads with quick maturing salad radishes. Plant seeds ¼” deep and thin to one to two inches apart. Use scissors to the thin the plantings at ground level and use the greens to add a bit of zip to salads and sandwiches.

Expand your indoor edible garden by growing dwarf sugar snap peas. These and other vegetables that you eat the fruit or flowers need more light. Supplementing natural sunlight with artificial lights will help increase success.

Select shorter varieties that will be easier to train. Patio Pride grows only nine to 16” tall while Sugar Ann and Little Marvel grow up to 18” tall.

Plant two seeds in each three-inch pot or several seeds two inches apart in a long rectangular container.

Once the seedlings reach two inches tall, thin the plantings. Leave one plant in each individual pot and seedlings spaced four inches apart in larger containers. Cut the extra sprouts at ground level and use them in salads, sandwiches and stir fries.

Peas are self-fertile, so no bees are needed. Harvest pods when they reach the size you prefer.

Don’t forget the tomatoes. These take longer and are a bit more challenging but that is the joy of gardening. Start your plants from seeds if transplants are not available.

Consider growing one of the many small-scale tomato varieties that require less space and increase your chance of success. All-America Selections winners Patio Choice Yellow, Lizzano, Torenzo as well as Tiny Tim and Micro tomatoes are some varieties you may want to try.

Grow small plants in one- to two-gallon pots and larger varieties in three- to five-gallon size containers. Water thoroughly when the top few inches of soil begin to dry. Once flowers form, lightly shake the stem to aid in pollination.

Growing vegetables indoors is a fun way to enjoy edible gardening year-round. With every planting you’ll increase your overall gardening experience and success.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV and radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Wild Valley Farms for her expertise to write this article. Myers’ website is www.MelindaMyers.com.