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Saturday, June 1, 2019

Don't Cut Corners in your Vegetable Garden!

You Can Be Frugal and Successful!

There are a lot of ways to cut corners in the garden to save money. Buying garden supplies such as containers, watering cans, etc from a second-hand store is one way. Building your own raised garden beds or trellises is another.

But there are five categories of gardening items that you definitely should not skimp on.  Here's the list.


I've learned this lesson the hard way. Seed trades over the internet seem like a good idea to save money until you find out later that the seeds are old and don't even germinate. Even worse can be the trade seed packets that are mismarked.

You don't want to end up planting what was marked as a “Space Saver Cucumber” in a matching small pot only to find out mid-season that it was really more like an “Intimidator Cucumber" and have to replant it later. 

Unfortunately by the time you find out the seed packet was mismarked, it could be too late to get the seeds you wanted and start again that season.

The top seed companies are popular for a reason. Their seeds are more expensive, but it's well worth the money to get what you wanted and to know that they are fresh. Leave the seed trades for some fun garden experiments and not anything you are counting on.


Starting out with healthy well-draining soil will give you the best chance at growing healthy plants. If you're reusing container soil from last year, make sure you refresh the soil.

For a detailed article on refreshing last year's potting soil, click here.

For a detailed article on soil amendments, click here.

Yard/Garden Tools

Like any other endeavor, quality tools are important. You can save money by buying tools like rakes or shovels second-hand, but for those tools that actually touch your plants, snippers, lopers, and hand tools, spend the money on the quality ones. If you keep them cleaned and oiled before you store them over the winter, they will last a long time.



Whether that's a good garden book or joining relevant internet groups, don't skimp on knowledge. Having a good plan before starting the season involves learning what each plant needs in order to grow to harvest.


Haste makes waste, and that is true when growing food. Before your gardening season begins, estimate how much time you reasonably can spend in your garden and create a growing schedule that you can manage. 

Add some time to do weekly walk-throughs just to examine your plants and take notes. A lot of learning comes from the experience of watching a plant grow through its entire cycle.

This is also a great time to check for harmful animal or insect damage and correct it before it takes hold. Also, add some time to relax and enjoy what you're creating.

Things to concentrate on are:

This is especially important when growing plants like tomatoes that take longer to come to harvest longer growing season. A late start may cost you a good harvest.

Plant Placement
Sun or shade or a little of both.  The right placement can determine the outcome.  Make sure each vegetable you plant is in a spot to get the right amount of sun.

Both the amount, the type and when to fertilize. Not all plants have the same needs. For instance, using a high nitrogen fertilizer on plants you grow for their leaves (like lettuce or spinach) is great, but if you use too much nitrogen on root plants, you'll end up with a lot of top leafy growth and not enough root to harvest.


If you save where you can and spend wisely, you can achieve a great healthy veggie garden at a minimal cost.

Love hostas or know someone who does?
Visit our website for great hostas at an affordable price.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Refresh Your Potting Soil and Save Money

Leftover potting soil can look a bit spent after a year or two, but experts agree that it still has life-giving potential, especially if you take the time to condition it properly. 

Once you learn the basics of healthy soil, you'll be able to refresh your old potting soil and save a lot of money by doing so.

Pot potting soil and gloves

What happens to potting soil over time?

Potting soil is technically not soil at all. It is a sterile mix of filler ingredients and organic matter. Some manufacturers may add some starter fertilizer.

Most bagged potting soil mixes contain a lot of cheap pine bark. You may notice that the soil level in the pots has dropped over the season due to the pine bark breaking down.

If you noticed the water was pouring straight through the old soil in the pots, the soil has become water repellent. It has lost the ability to absorb and hold the water that the plants will need for good, healthy growth.

Old soil can become compacted over time.
It may harbor weed seeds and insects from its past residents if leftover from past occupants.

The salts may have accumulated in the soil and on the pots forming a white ring.

The nutrients have probably been flushed out over repeated waterings.

handful of great potting soil

The Goal:  Rich soil that smells earthy

The goal is to create a potting soil that is:

  • Free of weeds and disease.
  • Aerated so the plants can get oxygen from the soil.
  • Light enough to allow water (and the air) to flow through the soil easily, yet be firm enough to support the plant.
  • Be able to retain the water without draining through too fast.
  • Be able to retain the nutrients that you add.

Types of soil amendments.

bag or garden soil

Garden Soil (Not Top Soil)

Garden soil refers to the loamy soils sold in most garden centers. It is mixed to incorporate a variety of soils and textures and usually targets right on the label a certain type of garden or plant.

  • It's sterile, so you can avoid disease, insects and weed problems. 
  • It's a far better choice for potting soil recipes over Top Soil because Garden Soil is made to mix with fertilizer and organic matter where Top Soil is not. 

Side Note
Never add soil from your garden. It is un-sterilized and may harbor disease, insects and weed seeds which can cause future problems such as dead, deformed or stunted seedlings or plants.


chain fence surrounding compost in winter snow


A mixture that consists of various decayed plants and vegetative waste is added to the soil to help plants grow.

  • It will suppress disease. 
  • It retains minerals. 
  • It provides moisture and plant food. 
  • It improves the structure of the soil. 
  • It adds several macro and micronutrients to the soil along with several trace elements. 
  • The compost will be more alkaline and is the better choice instead of Peat Moss for Boxwoods, Hydrangeas, Lavender, and Thyme. 

bag of peat moss

The “Peats”
Coconut Peat, Peat Moss, and Sphagnum Peat Moss.

These are types of Peat generally added to potting soils. Here are some of the advantages:

  • Peats are highly absorbent material.
  • Peats retain water well.
  • Peats are a sterile medium.
  • Each type of Peat is listed below with the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Coconut Peat

This is a by-product of the coconut processing industry. It's the finer product that's left behind in processing.

  • Coconut Peat doesn't break down as quickly as Peat Moss does. 
  • It's a renewable resource, unlike Peat Moss. 
  • It lasts much longer in your soil than Peat Moss. 
  • It has a more neutral pH than Peat Moss and is good for flowering and fruiting plants that prefer a neutral pH. 

Peat Moss/Sphagnum Peat Moss

These are the dead fibrous materials that form when mosses and other living material decompose in peat bogs. Both come in convenient dry, light-weight compact blocks and can be found at garden centers.

  • It has an acid pH and is ideal for acid-loving plants such as blueberries, camellias, hostas, etc. 


  • It is composed mostly of moss, and since the process of decomposition is so slow, it is not considered a renewable resource. 
  • It tends to become water repellent as its moisture content drops to below 30%. 
  • It compacts quickly. 

Vemiculite and Perlite

Vermiculite and Perlite

These filler materials are frequently added to potting soils for their ability to lighten and aerate the soil.


Perlite is the round white styrofoam-looking specks you see in potting soil.

  • It helps to aerate the soil. 
  • It aids in water retention. 


  • It has a tendency to float to the top of the medium when watered. 
  • Perlite dust is harmful if inhaled and should be moistened before you mix it in. A mask is also recommended when using it. 


Vermiculite is the sparking particles that you often see in potting mixes. It is a natural volcanic mineral that has been expanded with heat to increase its water-holding capacity.


  • It is more superior than Perlite for water retention. The particles soak up the moisture and nutrients and keep them in the mix so the plants can access them. 
  • It's a permanent ingredient that won't deteriorate or lose volume in the mix. 
  • It is also sterile and will not become moldy or rot. 


  • It can easily compact. 

Sand Coarse or Builder's Sand

A primary ingredient in potting mixes.
  • Sand improves drainage. 
  • It aerates the soil. 

  • It does not improve water-holding capacity. 
  • Too much sand will make the mix too heavy. 

leaf mold in wood bin

Leaf Mold

Simply, leaf mold is decomposed leaves used to condition the soil. The end result will be dark brown and crumbly.


  • It's easier to make than compost. Just pile it up and let it decompose. No mixing browns and greens. 
  • It increases water retention. It has been known to hold up to 400% of its own weight in water. 
  • It keeps down the weeds when used as a mulch. 
  • It provides a great habitat for soil life including earthworms and beneficial bacteria. 
  • It will lighten up clay soil. 
  • It will help prevent sandy soils from drying out too fast. 
  • It's a free, renewable resource! 

assorted bags of commercial soil

Ready to refresh the soil?

Rule of Thumb: Considering your old soil to be “one part” you can mix in up to three parts of soil amendments. Frugal gardeners have reported good results with a 50/50 split.

Pour out the soil from each pot onto a tarp placed in the sun. Spread out the soil as thinly as you have room for and let it dry out. Working with dry ingredients will ensure a better mix.

Choose from the above list of soil additives and mix the dry ingredients thoroughly, then fill a few pots. Run water through to check and see if more amendments are needed for adequate drainage. The amounts you need will depend on how compacted your soil has become, and the nature of the soil you used previously.

When you have soil that is well-draining and ready to hold onto water and nutrients, you will need to refresh the nutrients that have been flushed out the previous year.

Your choice of fertilizers will depend on the plants you are going to put in the pots. If you had success the previous year with the fertilizer you were using, by all means, duplicate that.

Dry out the old soil.

Other Tips

  • Don't reuse any soil that has been used with a diseased plant.
  • Don't grow new or young plants in refreshed soil. Mature plants will fare much better.
  • Don't use refreshed soil to start seeds. The seed starting mix needs to be sterile for the best results.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after mixing the ingredients.

Disinfecting your pots before reusing

Check the inside rims of the pot for white salty deposits. Excessive levels of salts can be detrimental to plant development.

Check the pot for white fuzzy growth. This is caused by the soil remaining wet and soggy and not draining well. 

Dirty terracotta pots

To clean the pots

  • Remove any debris stuck to the sides with mild soapy water. 
  • Use a brush or steel wool for the stubborn parts. 
  • Use a solution of 10% bleach to 90% water to submerge the pot for 10 to 15 minutes. I use my big coolers for this because it also gets my coolers clean for summer use. 
  • Give the pots a good final rinse and set them out to thoroughly dry. 
  • If you added gravel to the bottom of the pot, rinse the gravel with the above bleach solution and rinse thoroughly. 



The cost of purchasing expensive bagged potting soil is a good enough reason to learn to amend the potting soil from the previous year. Save that money for extra plants! 



Love hostas or know someone who does?
Visit our website for great hostas at an affordable price.

Hostas Growing Slowly

Hostas are naturally very hardy plants. One of the reasons they remain so popular for perennials gardens is their ability to perform reliably year after year, even in some shade.

There are several different cultivars of hostas on the market varying in size, leaf color, striations. They also vary in the speed in which they grow.

There are fast-growing hostas, like Guacamole, Blue Angel and the Tiara hosta group (including the Golden Tiara hostas pictured below.)  

These cultivars will quickly produce large numbers of buds each season which results in a larger clump the following year. There are also slow growers like Praying Hands Hosta.



If you think your hostas should be growing at a faster rate than they are, here are some things to consider to change that.

The Amount of Shade

The most common reason for slow growth in a hosta is the lack of sunlight. It is not true that hostas can grow in complete shade. 

All hostas need some sunlight for healthy growth. A site with morning sun and afternoon shade are commonly felt like the best spot for healthy hosta growth.   

Perhaps over the years, a tree has grown over the hostas cutting down on the amount of sun they're getting. If too much shade is the problem, simply moving it to a sunnier area may very well correct the problem.


There are sun tolerant hostas, like Sum and Substance pictured above, that can take even more sun than their shade-loving cousins. For a list of our sun-tolerant hostas, click here.

Adequate Moisture

Another misconception of hostas is that they are always drought tolerant.  Although once hostas have grown to their mature size they can tolerate an occasional drought, they are certainly not always drought tolerant.

Hostas receive as much as 60" of rainfall in their native land, so a steady dose of water is necessary during the season, especially in the hottest days of summer. 

If you have a large garden, a good soaker hose is definitely worth the investment.  I use several like the one pictured above.  It's very lightweight, stores easily and I can move it around the garden.

In hotter climates, the heat may cause a hosta to temporarily go dormant and stop growing. You may notice that the outer leaves dry up and wither. Once the temperatures have cooled as Fall approaches, though, the leaf growth will usually resume. Additional watering during the hottest summer temperatures will go a long way in keeping the hosta healthy

Hostas may need to be watered during the Fall also.  This is because when a hosta emerges in the Spring, it is emerging on the energy and food reserves that the plant stored in its rhizome late the previous Summer and Fall. If the hosta received sufficient water in late Summer and Fall, it should emerge the next spring as a larger plant because it was able to store away more energy than it used. 

However, a hosta that does not receive adequate moisture in late Summer and Fall cannot build up the energy reserves it needs to increase in size. The result is a hosta that emerges the following Spring smaller than it was the year before.

Multiple unusually dry Summers or Falls in a row can be especially devastating for hostas, as they are unable to replenish their depleted energy reserves.

If your hosta leaves are looking healthy, though, moisture is probably not the problem. Dry soil will cause the hostas to grow more slowly and put out fewer leaves.



When hostas are allowed to grow through to flowering, energy is diverted from the leaves and roots.  Cutting back the hosta flower stalks as they appear will keep the energy focused on growing the plant.


Although hostas are known to grow in nearly every soil type (another reason for its continued popularity), a yearly treatment of fertilizer will help it to thrive. If your hosta is remaining smaller than expected, this made give the plant the jolt it needs.

A balanced fertilizer like the one pictured above will do just fine.

There are as many fertilizing techniques for plants are there are gardeners. One way to give your hostas a boost is to apply a balanced 10-10-10 slow-release fertilizer around the emerging clumps in the spring as they emerge. Hostas fertilized in the spring will likely not need another treatment. 

Do not fertilize the hosta in the Fall, as the plant is getting ready for winter dormancy.

A Treatment with Epsom Salt

The benefits of Epsom Salt on plants are many including that it’s organic, it’s gentle on plants and it’s inexpensive!  

To read our article on the benefits of using Epsom Salt on plants, especially hostas, click here.

Dead/Damaged Leaves

By the same token, removing dead or damaged leaves right where they emerge from the plant will go a long way to keeping the hosta healthy. 

Dead plant material left around the hosta has been known to harbor pests that lead to disease. Autumn is the perfect time for a major clean-up as this is the beginning of the hosta's dormant season.



If you have a large space to fill quickly, starting out with fast-growing hosta cultivars are your best bet. Site them as recommended and give them plenty of water and a shot of spring fertilizer.

Here at Sunset Hosta Farm, we grow and sell a number of fast-growing hostas.  To see our list of great fast-growing hostas, click here.


Where to go next!

 This post may contain Amazon affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases without costing you anything.

Love hostas or know someone who does?
Visit our website for great hostas at an affordable price!

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