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Hardy Hibiscus

hardy hibiscus

Most of us constantly dream of a little sun-soaked tropical getaway to escape to, to relax and forget about all of the worries in our daily life. Since most of us can’t actually run away to a tropical island paradise whenever we want to, it’s a lot easier to bring some of those tropical vibes home to us with a Hibiscus plant. These are the quintessential tropical plant, but their secret is that their tropical look can actually be added to any garden. 

While there are truly tropical types of this plant, these are for careful collectors only. There’s an increasingly popular trend focused on the hardier hibiscus types that thrive at home in our cooler climate. The hardy temperate hibiscus makes bringing a slice of paradise home a reality for everyone.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

Hardy Hibiscus:
Temperate hibiscuses have the same exotic feels as their truly tropical cousins but can still survive in our backyards. With some hardiness to temperatures up here, north of the equator, these plants are pros at handling seasonal changes like dips in temperature and periods of drought. Conditions that would immediately kill off their delicate, exotic cousin are no problem for hardy hibiscus. 

These hibiscus plants thrive in USDA zones 4-8 —making them a reality for any garden across the state of Iowa. Hardy hibiscus comes in a wide range of colors from pink to red to white. Each beautiful bloom also has the iconic five-petaled shape and showy stamen that we’ve come to expect from these plants. Each bloom can be up to 12” in size and will eventually drop only to be replaced by a new flower. While they die off in the fall, they’ll come back and continue to create a little paradise at home again next year.

Pictured Below: Starry Starry Night and Mars Madness Hardy Hibiscus via Plantfinder

hardy hibiscus

How to Grow Hibiscus at Home:
We love the perennial hardy hibiscus because it is a resilient plant, it provides endless showy blooms and the pollinators love it too!  A few of our favorite varieties here are Mars Madness and Starry Starry Night.

The key to keeping a hibiscus happy in a temperate zone is to keep them in full sun conditions and to use very well-draining soil to protect their delicate roots from rotting. These plants can tolerate a little drought so if your schedule gets thrown off, it isn’t the end of the world, but they generally prefer to have uniformly and consistently moist roots. Beyond finding the right level of water, these blooms are very self-sufficient and will reward you will gorgeous tropical flowers in the middle of Iowa, even with a little bit of neglect. 

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Hardy hibiscus can be slow to emerge here in Iowa.  Often times the plant stalks may not pop appear until early June.  Once a frost has occurred in the fall, cut your plant back to the ground. 

We live in a world where when we want something, we can often get it easily with the swipe of a card. The good news for us gardeners is that when we want a tropical getaway, instead of an expensive vacation, we can simply bring paradise home with a simple plant, like hardy hibiscus. With these basic steps of care, you’ll be able to enjoy exotic blooms all summer long, year after year.

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Ten Tips for Growing Great Tomatoes

ten tips for growing great tomatoes

We’re not sure if there’s anything that tastes more like summer than a delicious, garden-fresh tomato. The supermarket can’t even touch the quality of these gems fresh from our gardens. When you bite into a sun-ripened tomato straight from the plant, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would bother buying them from a store.

Tomatoes are simple and easy to grow, but if you want that knock-out flavor without the frustration, our pros have some recommendations for how to make your plants thrive this summer. Garden success has never tasted this good.

Tip #1: Do Some Research:
There are so many delicious tomato plants to choose from, so it can be daunting to make a decision on which one(s) to include in your garden. When it comes to annuals and pretty blooms, we advocate for falling in love with your favorites and letting some creativity flow. But when it comes to the more practical tomato plant, a bit of research ahead of time is important. Ask yourself what kind of tomato crop you want — small cherry tomatoes, big beefy tomatoes or something in between, and what kind of plant you want to be growing — determinate or indeterminate.

Think seriously about your garden and what you want from it: are you willing to put in more hours of work for the tastiest of heirloom tomatoes from more challenging plants? Or would you rather spend your summer relaxing and enjoying a beautiful garden with determinate plants that mostly take care of themselves? Thankfully it’s not an all-or-nothing game, you can plant as much of however many types as you want! A bit of research is all you need to start on the right foot and avoid any summer surprises as you grow.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Tip #2: Some of Our Favorites:
Picking a tomato variety can be difficult because there are just so many good choices to pick from! To make it easier, these are some of our favorite tomatoes for all garden needs.

Roma is a great jack-of-all-trades tomato that doesn’t require much maintenance. For a simple and straightforward garden, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Beefmaster is an indeterminate variety that requires some work like pruning and staking to keep it in line, but the resulting harvest is worth the effort. Consider staking these plants, as their tomatoes are so heavy that they can bend or damage the stems!

Early Girl is another indeterminate, requiring a modest amount of maintenance. But with an early maturity, you’ll get to enjoy tomatoes sooner in the season and for longer with this plant.

Sweet Million has it all in the name, an indeterminate with millions (ok, hundreds) of tasty little tomatoes — perfect for snacking!

Green Zebra and Black Krim are heirloom tomatoes for those that are both adventurous and traditional. Heirlooms are varieties that have been passed down for decades, and these tomatoes offer unique looks for their heritage. You’ll also be impressed by their delicious taste.

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Tip #3: Start Off Right:
Whether you’re growing from seeds or buying starter plants, at some point you’ll be taking small little seedlings and planting them outside into your garden or containers. Only stocky plants, ones that aren’t lanky and floppy, should make the final cut and be planted in your garden. These are going to be the most successful at growing with the least amount of work from you.

Tip #4: Sun and Heat:
Tomatoes thrive with some warm weather and soil, so choosing a spot with maximum heat and sun exposure is the best way to get the tastiest tomatoes. We promise that with a good location, you’ll be able to taste the difference that sunshine makes.

If you have the option, the best places for many tomatoes are in big containers or raised beds, where their soil and roots are easily warmed by the sun. Pass on the traditional bed with one of these methods, and you’ll have your friends and neighbors begging for your secret when they have a taste of your tomatoes.

If you plant in a traditional bed make sure to plant your tomatoes in a different spot than the previous year.  This will help prevent disease and insect problems that can lay dormant in the soil until the following year.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Tip #5: Drainage:
Tomatoes don’t like to have wet feet, so make sure your soil drains well. If it naturally retains water, you don’t have to give up, though. Simply add some peat moss into the mix before you plant, giving them the structure, nutrients, and drainage that they crave.

These plants are heavy feeders, too, so make sure you establish a fertilizing schedule to give them the nutritional boost they need to produce delicious crops. Use an all-purpose fertilizer for the best results.

Tip #6: Planting:
Tomatoes will sprout roots wherever the soil touches the stem. Start by submerging a third of the stem when you plant — you’ll get a head start on developing a healthy root system! Just make sure you take off any leaves that will be buried so you don’t invite rot.

If your tomato plants got a little lanky while you were waiting to plant, simply plant them a little deeper than normally would. This technique transforms that lanky and floppy stem into a healthy root system, saving the plant and encouraging successful crops.

When you plant consider adding an organic fertilizer to your planting hole to give your plants an extra burst of nutrients.  You can also consider adding a handful of egg shells, which contain calcium and will help deter blossom end rot.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Tip #7: Mulching:
Mulch is a fantastic tool in the garden, as it suppresses weeds and insulates the roots of your plant keeping heat and water in. Your tomatoes will benefit from keeping more heat and moisture at their roots, which is exactly where they want it! Perhaps the best part about mulching is how much it cuts down on garden work by stifling weeds, which also leads to less competition for nutrients for your plants. Spread a natural mulch in a generous layer around your plants and reap the benefits!

There are lots of options for natural mulch that work fantastic in the garden. For your edibles, we suggest something that isn’t chemically treated. You can choose from all kinds of naturally-occurring woods and barks to find something that satisfies both your practical and design needs.

Tip #8: Proper Staking and Tying Up:
This tip is for indeterminate tomatoes primarily, because the determinate types have a bushy habit and generally take care of themselves.

When you’re tying up your more wild-growing indeterminate tomatoes, try to use something soft and flexible so that their stems aren’t broken by the ties. You can purchase ready-made ties for your garden that are designed for the task, or even use something like strips of old pantyhose to keep things tidy. Tie it loosely but secure with a knot to keep your plant in order and off of the ground.  Sturdy tomato cages can also be used to stake your tomatoes.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Tip #9: Pruning is for Suckers:
Tomato plants, especially indeterminates, send out “suckers” during the growing season. These growths don’t help you and your tomato crop very much and actually pull nutrients away from the fruit that you are trying to grow. Prune away these growths, keeping all of the nutrients and hard work that your plant is doing focused on important things, like growing fruit!

Near the end of the season, pruning can also be useful for other parts of the plant that are wasting energy. As you near the first frost of the season, start thinking about cutting your losses and discarding some tomatoes that simply won’t make it to maturity so that your plant can focus its efforts on the last few crops of the year.

Tip #10: When to and Not to Refrigerate:
The ideal temperature for ripening tomatoes is at room temperature. Place fresh produce that you plan to consume right away on the counter to get the most out of their superior, from-the-garden taste. Trying to ripen tomatoes in the fridge is likely to leave you with tomatoes that lose their fantastic flavor and could end up mealy and lacking in texture.

While you might want to refrigerate some tomatoes if they are already ripe and you won’t be eating them quite yet, you can still end up losing flavor and quality this way. Instead, think about all of the fantastic dishes that you can cook them into now that you can save for later. Things like pasta sauces or salsas will help you make the most of your garden produce.

Growing tomatoes is popular and easy, but there’s more to know than just putting your plants in the ground and watching them grow. With a couple of simple tips, you’ll have all the tools you need to have phenomenal crops all summer long, to be enjoyed by you, your friends, and your family. If only we had tips for what to do with all of your bountiful harvests!

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Best Patio Veggie Varieties

Ted Lare Best Patio Veggie Varieties

Getting in our daily serving of vegetables can be a challenge, and when your produce from the supermarket tastes less than stellar, it can be even harder. Having delicious, fresh edibles straight from the garden makes getting your daily servings a whole lot easier. With a patio garden, you’ll have all of the best garden flavors as close as possible to your kitchen— you’ll barely even need to leave the house to pick tomatoes straight from the vine! Get your fresh produce from plant to table in record time by growing your favorite flavors on the patio.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

Container Gardening with Vegetables:
Gardening trends are always evolving and vegetable gardens are not immune to the growing understanding of the “best” way to go about growing your freshest flavors. These days, our homegrown produce isn’t limited to rows upon rows in a garden bed in the backyard. You can grow food just as delicious in containers, mixing up your gardening routine to something a little more convenient.

Container gardening has lots of advantages that make the most of their space. This growing style offers simpler upkeep, is easy to place wherever is most convenient, reduces the amount of work needed, and often even boosts the flavor of your edibles!

Best Patio Vegetables:
Patio gardening has traditionally been confined to little plants, like herbs. While herb gardens are still a valuable part of your patio garden repertoire, there’s so much more that you can do just outside your door! Container gardens are surprisingly flexible and there are lots of ways to bring beautiful and functional edible gardens to your home:

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Herbs
For edible garden beginners, home chefs, and those that like to keep things simple, herb containers are the perfect place to get started. They are low-maintenance, filled with delicious herbs that will elevate your cooking to the next level, and are adaptable to fill your balcony, patio, or windowsill with lush and fragrant foliage ready for the picking.

Each plant has its own unique set of needs, but many of the most popular herbs are happy growing in a smaller container and don’t grow to an unmanageable size. Simply ensure proper drainage, use good quality potting soil, and find a watering schedule that is right for your plants. Then, get ready to enjoy their delicious flavors in your cooking!

There are lots of herbs that pair well together in dishes and in containers for growing, as they have similar needs. We love the fragrant and lush look of rosemary, oregano, and thyme together for a Mediterranean blend, or a combination of basil, parsley, and mint for a container for more temperate homes.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Tomatoes
These are one of the garden staples that simply can’t be forgotten when putting together your patio containers. We’re lucky that this delicious vegetable staple absolutely flourishes in containers, making it easy to care for and perfect for the patio. You’ll instantly be able to taste the difference between your homegrown tomatoes and those you pick up from the supermarket—and these lush plants dripping ruby jewels of produce for you makes for a pleasant addition to your backyard.

Determinate tomatoes are the best choice for containers because of their more compact growing habit that doesn’t require as much maintenance to keep upright. These plants ripen quickly and need only a little support from a trellis or cage. Choose from a variety of sizes for all of your snacking, salad, and sandwich needs.  

The key to impressive tomato flavor is consistent watering. Keeping the soil evenly moist, but not waterlogged, will give you produce that is the envy of your whole neighborhood. Try using self-watering containers for a stress-free way to keep your plants hydrated, or develop a schedule that has you checking your plants regularly in the mornings.

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Peppers
Given the right love and care, some peppers actually grow better in containers than they do in the garden, thanks to their need for warmer soil temperatures. Bushy plants with small, delicate—and brightly colored, ornamental-looking—fruits are perfect for container growing.

Keep your peppers in a sunny spot where they can soak up all the heat that they can. Especially important for hot peppers, a little heat is important while they are growing to bring out the spice in them! Keep your peppers well hydrated to help them make the most of the constant heat and exposure.

Don’t be shy to repot your peppers as they grow and flourish into gorgeous mature plants. With a pot that’s a little bigger than normal, you’ll have a much easier time keeping their roots well hydrated even in the hottest days of the summer. For the best, tastiest, and prettiest pepper results, fertilize with a water-soluble fertilizer every 1-2 weeks.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Leafy Greens
There’s nothing quite as satisfying or healthy as a fresh, crisp serving of greens from the garden. Favorite leafy greens, like lettuce, spinach, and kale, are extremely popular options that really fill out a container garden. Not only will you enjoy the easy access to get them into your kitchen, but you’ll also love that their proximity to your home in containers discourages backyard critters from nibbling away at them before you have the opportunity to!

Most leafy greens are vegetables that prefer growing in the cool season, thriving in the spring and fall, but diminishing in the heat of the summer. These vegetables are perfect for grazing on and pulling a little bit to eat at a time rather than harvesting it all at once.

These greens grow with roots that are shallow and spread out, so planting them in a fitting, wide, and shallow container is ideal. This is a great way to add visual interest to your container garden, too, with a bit of a new size and dimension to enjoy. Plant lettuce, spinach, and kale with lots of sunlight so their broad leaves can soak up the rays. Plant with good quality soil and in a container with drainage, and keep them consistently moist for the lushest and tastiest results.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Bulbs
Bulbs do most of their growing work underground, so bulb edibles aren’t naturally the first option people think of with their container gardening. However, they’re actually a perfect fit for containers, which actually keep them very low maintenance and just as delicious. Onions and garlic are great container garden options as they are key ingredients in so many of our favorite dishes.

Plant garlic in the fall, with a bit of time to get established before the first fall frosts arrive. If you missed the fall planting, you can still plant in the spring, but you won’t get to experience end results that are nearly as big. Make sure that you use new, bagged soil and not recycled soil from the garden with your garlic so that you will have fewer problems with pests and disease. Place the container in a sunny part of your patio and watch it flourish with very little work from you!

While you can plant onion from scratch it’ll be much more worth your time and patience to start from sets. Plant them in a large and wide container so that you can get more harvest, and keep consistently moist.

Vegetable gardening doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task and you don’t have to commit large parts of your landscape to gardening to be able to enjoy the most delicious produce. You can have a source of tasty, fresh edibles that are good for you and your family and bring unparalleled flavor to your kitchen. With plants that grow lush, green, and often adorned with beautiful produce, you won’t even need to sacrifice aesthetic to have it all this summer.