Ways to perk up your raised beds


    Does the soil in raised beds get old and tired over time? Mike McGrath, host of You Bet Your Garden, will look at the potential causes and cures for a poorly performing potager. Plus: A sneak peak at this year’s Philly Flower Show; and answers to all your growing questions.

    Question of the Week:

    “In 2000, we put in two 4′ x 8′ raised beds. Over the years, we have added beds and now have a total of five. In the beginning, we filled each bed with Leafgro Soil Conditioner. Each spring, we add many bags of Leafgro and use a pitch fork to turn the soil. In addition to adding air and nutrients to the soil, this process raises the soil level as it seems to get compressed during the growing season and winter. We also put plastic tarp over one of the garden beds from April-May to heat the soil and kill the nematodes and other organisms. But last year, the beds did not produce all that well. One problem is lack of sun from trees that have grown dramatically over the years. Another is that we didn’t rotate crops until last year because we wanted the tomatoes to get the most sun. Our question: After 14 years of use, is our raised bed soil so old it needs to be removed? Behind our backyard are woods where we can place the soil (and our kids can make levees or whatever). “

    — Susan in Vienna, Virginia

    Learn how to improve the soil quality in your raised beds »

    Highlights from show for February 15, 2014:

    Tips for growing tea at home

    Sherry from Hawaii is a commercial tea farmer and wanted to respond to a previous caller’s questions about growing the Camellia sinensis variety. She explained that while these plants do better in warmer climates, there are some varieties that are frost tolerant. Sherry explains, sharing some professional tips and tricks from the trade: “They need about 80 inches of rain a year, so if he’s not freezing them to death and he’s watering them properly, I think he could pull off a pot of tea or two … There are two sub-varieties [of Camellia sinensis], there’s a Assam variety and a Chinese variety, and they’ve developed lots of clones off those two sub-species. But it’s all the same plant … if you just took the leaves from the plant and threw them in a pot, you get something really, really bitter and probably not taste very good. So they do need to be processed to bring out the good flavors.”

    One last way to use a rosemary plant

    It’s been a cold winter and Rocky from Chapel Hill, Tennessee is concerned about his herb garden. When Mike hears that Rocky’s butterfly bush and rosemary plant look especially hard-hit he has good and bad news: the butterfly bush will be just fine with no special care, but there’s no way to save the rosemary plant. A Mediterranean herb, even the hardiest rosemary plant will whither in a harsh winter, so Mike advises Rocky to replace the plant with a variety that can be easily potted and moved indoors. Mike also has one more idea for Rocky’s plant: “I suggest that you mix it in with some really nice firewood, maybe some apple or some other fruit-tree wood, and you burn it in a way that you can enjoy that scent one last time.” But Rocky has an even better plan, he’s going to use the rosemary wood the next time he makes Tennessee barbeque.

    2014 Philadelphia Flower Show preview

    Mike gives us a sneak peek of this years Philadelphia Flower Show with Alan Jaffe Director of Communications at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and Robin Heller from Flowers by David, who is display ing at this years show. This years theme is Articulture, a blend of art and horticulture. Alan takes us through some of the great art that will be incorporated into this years show. Robin tells us how her display helped students express themselves and learn about art.

    Planting near a house, but keeping termites away

    Barbara from Doylestown, Pennsylvania wants to plant near the foundation of her house, but she’s concerned about attracting termites. Mike reminds listeners that his advice for Barbara only works for the northeast where there is only one species of termite. Mike explains that this northeastern variety burrows underground and any landscaping that meets your home’s foundation can encourage termites to set up camp. Mike says: “I think everybody understands that if you have wood mulch — this crappy wood mulch that’s foisted on the public — if you have that right up against your house, it’s obvious to people that that becomes a highway for termites. Because people are thinking, yeah, termites eat wood, you give ’em this food, they follow the food, they get to the side of your house, they get interested in your framing. But really, that could be a piece of plastic, a heavy leaf mulch, it could be stones — it turns out anything next to the side of the house that covers the soil and holds moisture makes it easy for termites to move in. Whereby (and you’ll find this in every university bulletin) having a six inch to one foot open area against your foundation of absolutely nothing — just dirt, the drier the better — is the best prevention against termites.”

    Transplanting healthy plants

    Jeff just bought a new house in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and would like to transfer plants he had been growing in community plots to his new property. The community plots, however, have been having disease problems and Jeff is concerned about transplanting potentially unhealthy plants. Mike advises: “First of all, if these are plants that you truly love and they keep coming back year after year and the disease shows up when the garden gets real crowded and people are spraying water all over, I wouldn’t think twice about trying to move some of them. You’re going to need to find a good source of compost to fill the beds with it, at least. I would suggest a mix of one-third compost, one-third topsoil, and then because you’ve been having disease problems, I would mix in one-third of a soil-free mix. You know, something that’s very high in perlite to keep the drainage good.”

    — This week’s post was written by Marissa Nicosia, You Bet Your Garden intern

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