SMALL SPACE GARDENING: Growing tasty and nutritious leafy greens indoors

by Melinda Myers

Boost the flavor and nutritional value of winter meals by growing a container of greens indoors. Plant, tend and harvest greens for garden-fresh flavor now and throughout the year.

Green leafy vegetables are healthy sources of carbohydrates, typically rich in fiber and nutrients, while also being low in fat and calories. Many of these vegetables can help reduce the risk of stroke, anemia, high blood pressure, certain cancers, and diabetes. They also help improve the health of your gut, heart, bone, and skin while boosting your body’s immunity.

To create your own indoor garden of greens, all you need are seeds, a container, potting mix, and a sunny window or artificial lights. Select a container or planter with drainage holes or reduce maintenance with the help of self-watering containers like the Viva Round or Square self-watering planters. Their water reservoirs reduce watering frequency.

Fill the container with a quality potting mix that is well-drained and retains moisture. Plant seeds as recommended on the seed packet. You can grow each type of green in its own container or mix them up for an attractive display in larger planters like the Tartu Elevated Rectangular Planter (gardeners.com).

Water thoroughly and often enough to keep the soil moist while waiting for the seeds to sprout. Reduce the need for frequent watering by covering newly planted containers with a plastic sheet or dome. Once sprouts appear, remove the plastic and begin watering thoroughly when the top inch of soil begins to dry.

Boost productivity and increase planting space with the help of artificial lights. You will find a variety of setups for any space in your home. Counter and tabletop light stands like the Micro Grow Light Garden can be conveniently located in the kitchen or dining room. Stand-alone light shelves provide more growing space within a small footprint. Furniture-grade light stands make them easy to use in any room in the house.

Grow greens you and your family like to use in your favorite recipes and salads. Green or red leaf lettuce is easy to grow indoors and its mild flavor is most appealing to children and picky eaters.

Spinach is another popular and easy-to-grow leafy green vegetable used fresh in salads and smoothies or added to soups and sauces. It contains many vitamins and nutrients, including iron, folic acid, and calcium.

Kale is considered a superfood. This nutrient-dense vegetable is packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. If the flavor is a bit too intense for you, try the baby leaf types that are milder in flavor, or try braising kale for a milder flavor and more tender texture.

Add a bit of peppery flavor to salads, soups, pastas, and other dishes with arugula. Add a spicier flavor with mustard greens. Sauté mustard greens or add them to your favorite Southern, Asian, Indian or savory dish.

Include color and flavor in your winter meals with beet greens. The leafy part of this vegetable is often overlooked but is the most nutritious part of the plant. Use these the same way you would spinach or kale. You can purchase beet varieties selected for growing the best greens to harvest from baby to full size.

Make it more fun by getting others involved. Hand family members and guests a plate and kitchen shears so they can harvest and help prepare the meal.

Melinda Myers is the author of more than 20 gardening books. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and 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 website is www.MelindaMyers.com.

SMALL SPACE GARDENING: Grow a beautiful indoor succulent garden

Succulents are low-maintenance houseplants that add interest and beauty to indoor décor. (photo courtesy of Gardener’s Supply Company/gardeners.com)

by Melinda Myers

It’s no surprise that succulents, including cacti, are popular. These easy-care houseplants come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes making them perfect for any home.

All you need is a lot of light and benign neglect to raise healthy and beautiful succulents. Place the plants near an unobstructed south, west- or east-facing window.

Don’t let a lack of light stop you from enjoying these beautiful plants in your home. You’ll find many attractive options for displaying your plants while providing the light they need. A single desktop LED plant light, attractive plant light shelves and carts, and furniture-grade light gardens allow you to grow these sun-lovers anywhere in your home.

Grow these plants in cacti and succulent potting mix. These fast-draining mixes help reduce the risk of overwatering which can lead to root rot. Further reduce this risk by using containers with drainage holes that are only slightly larger than the succulents’ root system. Growing them in too large of a container that retains moisture longer can result in root rot, decline, and even the death of your plants.

Water thoroughly whenever the top inch or two of soil is dry. Some gardeners check the soil moisture at the drain hole to ensure it is dry and the plants need to be watered. Always pour off any excess water that collects in the saucer.

Avoid water collecting in the rosette of leaves or the cluster of prickly stems that can lead to crown rot. Use a watering can like the Haws Indoor Watering Can which has a long narrow spout that allows you to reach under the plants to water just the soil.

Make slight adjustments in your watering regime and growing environment as the seasons change. Adapting to changing conditions will keep your plants healthy and looking their best year-round.

Find a cool, sunny, draft-free location for your cacti and succulents in the fall and winter. Maximize the amount of light the plants receive by moving them to the sunniest, usually south-facing, window in your home. Water thoroughly but only when the top few inches of soil are dry and just often enough to keep the plants from shriveling. These changes in the growing conditions often encourage a spring display of colorful and unique flowers.

Boost your succulents’ natural beauty by displaying them in unique containers or places in your home. Create a living wall display with a 3-tier vertical wall planter (gardeners.com) or Mini Magnetic Galvanized Planter Pockets.

Grow a succulent centerpiece that can be enjoyed year-round. Plant a variety of succulents in a long narrow planter like the Veradek GEO Series Planter boxes. Display it on the table, and if needed, move it back to its sunny location between dinner parties. Small containers like the heart-shaped concrete tabletop planters allow you to create an attractive dish garden even when space is limited.

Whether you’re a busy, experienced, or new indoor gardener, creating a succulent garden may be just what you need to brighten your home and elevate your mood.

Melinda Myers is the author of more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening and Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and 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 website is www.MelindaMyers.com.

SMALL SPACE GARDENING: Boost the health and beauty of your house plants

by Melinda Myers

Fight the post-holiday blues with a bit of indoor gardening. Keeping your houseplants healthy and looking their best with a bit of grooming this winter is sure to lift your spirits.

Clip off any dead leaves as they appear. Use a sharp snips or bypass pruner to make a clean cut that looks tidy and closes up quickly. An occasional brown leaf is not usually a problem but if browning continues, it might be time to take action. Evaluate the growing conditions and make needed adjustments.

Brown leaves are often caused by low humidity which is common in many homes during winter. Boost the humidity in your home by grouping plants together. As one plant loses moisture through its leaves through transpiration the neighboring plants benefit. Add pebbles or marbles to the saucer or trays beneath the plants. Allow excess water to collect in the pebbles below the pot. As the water evaporates it increases the humidity right around the plant. Move plants that require moist soil and high humidity into a terrarium. They are attractive living decorations and make caring for high-maintenance plants easier.

Over and under-watering can also result in brown leaves, leaf edges, and tips. Water thoroughly when needed. Base frequency on the plants you are growing, room temperature and humidity. Tropical plants need more consistently moist soil while cacti and succulents like it drier. With lower light conditions in many homes, plants grow slower and may need less frequent watering in winter. Pour off any excess water that collects in the saucer which can lead to root rot.

Stop fertilizing indoor plants in winter unless they are actively growing. Applying fertilizer that plants don’t need can cause root damage, leading to leaf discoloration.

Trim off brown tips that are common on spider plants, dracaenas, Ti plants, and prayer plants sensitive to the chlorine and fluoride in water. Avoid the problem by using chemical-free water.

Wipe dust off the leaves with a damp cloth. Use a cosmetic brush to clean the fuzzy leaves of plants like African violets. Keeping your plants clean and well-groomed also helps reduce insect and disease problems.

Further protect plants from pests with Summit Sticky Traps (SummitResponsibleSolutions.com). Just place one or two in the pot with the sticky side exposed. The yellow attracts fungus gnats, aphids, thrips, leaf miners, and other harmful pests feeding on your plants. The sticky surface traps the insects causing them to die without the use of pesticides. Replace the trap once it is covered with insects or every three months.

Boost indoor plant resilience by providing the right amount of light. Move plants to a sunnier window or add artificial lights as needed. Then give plants a quarter turn every time you water. This promotes more balanced growth by exposing all parts of the plant to the light source.

Taking time to tend to your plants improves their health and beauty while elevating your mood and helping fight stress.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” instant video and DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Summit for her expertise to write this article. Myers’ website is www.MelindaMyers.com.

SMALL SPACE GARDENING: Keep holiday greens looking their best

When outdoor temperatures are cooler, green arrangements, like this winter container garden, last much longer than indoor displays. (photo courtesy of MelindaMyers.com)

by Melinda Myers

Wreaths, door swags, garlands, and containers filled with evergreens have long been part of winter celebrations and displays. Keep them fresh and looking their best throughout the holidays with minimal effort.

Fresh greenery with pliable branches and firmly attached needles will last the longest. Check for good color and an aroma you prefer. Consider buying extra greenery and storing it in the garage or another cool location. Use these to replace any indoor greenery that is starting to brown.

Recut the bottom of the stems with a sharp bypass pruner. Totally submerge the greenery in a tub of room-temperature water overnight to help rehydrate the needles. Gently crush the cut end to allow it to better absorb moisture.

Remove the cuttings from the water and once dry, seal in the moisture by spraying the greens with an anti-transpirant, often called anti-desiccant. These products seal in moisture, reducing drying due to warm, dry air indoors and drying winds and sunlight outside.

Follow label directions for application tips and dilution rates based on what you are treating. Avoid using these on juniper berries, cedar and blue spruce. The waxy coating that makes these look blue can be damaged by these products. Apply anti-desiccant products outdoors during the day, as light is needed to activate some of these chemicals. Allow the treated greens to dry for three to four hours before moving them inside.

Display indoor greenery in cool locations out of direct sunlight. This reduces moisture loss and extends the life of your garland, wreaths, and arrangements.

Keep greenery away from heat sources that speed drying, decorative lights that generate heat, and flames from candles. Check the greens every few days and replace dry, brittle, and brown cuttings with fresh greens.

Outdoor greenery lasts much longer when temperatures are cooler than indoors. Further extend their longevity by placing them in more sheltered locations, out of direct sunlight and wind where they suffer less drying. Avoid hanging wreaths and swags in front of windows in direct sunlight where the reflected light can burn the foliage. Use an anti-transpirant on outdoor greenery to help reduce moisture loss and extend your enjoyment.

Keep outdoor planters of greens looking their best throughout the winter. Keep the soil moist until it freezes when displaying spruce tips, cut holiday trees, and evergreen stems in outdoor containers. If and when the ground freezes, you can stop watering.

A bit of effort goes a long way in extending the beauty of holiday greenery.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” instant video and DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.

SMALL SPACE GARDENING: Fall care of perennials

The seed heads of rudbeckia attract seed-eating songbirds to the winter garden.
Photo courtesy of MelindaMyers.com

by Melinda Myers

As you transition your gardens from fall to winter, you may be contemplating a bit of garden clean up. Before reaching for the pruners and rakes, consider all the benefits and beauty of leaving healthy perennials stand for winter.

The seed heads of many perennials like coneflower, rudbeckias, liatris and bee balm attract seed-eating songbirds like finches, sparrow, chickadees, juncos, and jays to the winter garden. These winged visitors add motion and color to the winter garden. Best of all, you don’t need to refill and clean this natural food source.

Many of these plants provide homes for beneficial insects, including native bees and other pollinators. A variety of these insects overwinter in or near the stems of perennials.

Native plants have evolved with many of these insects, birds and wildlife and most provide homes and food for native insects, songbirds, and wildlife. Purple coneflower, liatris, rudbeckias, sunflowers, asters, goldenrod, yucca, and Joe Pye weed are just a few of these native plants you might be growing.

Enjoy the winter foliage of evergreen and semi-evergreen perennials by leaving them intact in the garden. Watch for and avoid disturbing the green leaves at the base of perennials like yarrow, Shasta daisy, and globe thistle.

Leave borderline hardy perennials intact to improve their chances of surviving a harsher-than-normal winter. The stems capture any snow and helps retain any additional winter mulch, both providing needed root insulation.

Remove any diseased or insect-pest-infested plants. Removing this from the garden in fall reduces the risk of these problems occurring next year. Discard do not compost this material as most compost piles do not heat up to high enough temperatures to kill them. Contact your local municipality for disposal options.

Remove hosta leaves once the fall color fades and leaves die to reduce the risk of leaf nematodes overwintering in the crown of the plants. It also eliminates a winter home for slugs and their eggs.

Wait for several hard frosts when cutting back perennials in the fall. In milder climates, wait for leaves to brown and dry completely. This ensures the plant has stored all the energy it produced in the roots for healthy growth next spring.

Use sharp bypass pruners to make a clean cut through the stem. Disinfect tools by dipping in rubbing alcohol or spraying with a disinfect spray to prevent the spread of disease.

Rake leaves into the garden over the soil surface around the plants instead of to the curb. Fall leaves make great mulch that moderates soil temperature, suppresses weeds, conserves moisture, and improves the soil as they break down. Plus, they are free.

Wait to finish removing perennials until spring temperatures regularly hover in the 50’s. This allows overwintering insects a chance to leave their winter homes. It also provides songbirds much needed food in spring before many of our plants begin producing seeds and berries.

Once the garden is set for winter, you can relax and make plans for the spring garden.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” instant video and DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.

SMALL SPACE GARDENING: Boost your indoor garden’s beauty

Tradescantia cutting

by Melinda Myers

Whether your indoor garden has outgrown its location or you are looking to expand your garden, a bit of pinching, pruning or propagating may be the answer. Grooming houseplants keeps your indoor garden looking its best and plants contained to the available space. You can use some of the trimmings to start new plants.

Give plants with long, leggy stems a pinch. Removing a small or large portion of the growing tip encourages the plant to form more branches and compact growth. Pinching removes a growth hormone produced in the stem tip called auxin. This hormone encourages upward growth of the stem. Removing the stem tip reduces the auxin and allows more branches to develop along the stem.

A soft pinch removes just the uppermost portion of the stem with developing leaves and the stem tip. A hard pinch, more like pruning, removes the tip and several inches of the leafy stem. These stem pieces can be used to start new plants.

Some gardeners pinch with their fingers, but I prefer using sharp snips like Corona Tools ComfortGEL® micro snips with stainless steel blades that resist the buildup of plant residue or Corona bypass pruners that make a clean cut that closes quickly and looks better.

When pinching and pruning your houseplants make the cuts just above a set of leaves. The plant remains relatively attractive while you wait for new leaves and stems to grow. Avoid leaving stubs by making cuts elsewhere as these detract from the plant’s appearance and can create entryways for insects and disease.

Houseplants can be propagated in several different ways. Avoid propagating patented plants protected by patent laws. These laws are designed to protect the investment of the plant breeder. Respecting patent laws allows companies to continue breeding improvements into plants for all of us to enjoy in the future.

Use leaf stem cuttings to start a variety of houseplants like inch plants, philodendron, pothos, dieffenbachias, dracaenas, jade plants and many more. Use a sharp knife, snips or bypass pruner to cut three- to six-inch-long pieces from firm, mature, non-woody stems. Remove the lowest leaf or two that will be buried in the potting mix. This is where new roots will form. If you have had trouble rooting cuttings in the past, try using rooting hormone labeled for use on houseplants. It contains fungicides to fight disease and hormones to encourage root development.

Root cuttings in a small container filled with vermiculate or a well-drained potting mix. Make a hole in the mix, insert the cut end, and gently push the potting mix around the stem. Loosely cover the potted cutting with a plastic bag left open at the top. This increases the humidity around the cutting to compensate for the lack of roots. Set the container in a bright location out of direct sun for several weeks as roots develop. Give the stem a gentle tug to see if roots have formed. Move the rooted cutting into a container filled with well-drained potting mix, place it in a location with the proper amount of sunlight and water as needed.

You’ll be amazed at how a bit of grooming and propagating can perk up a tired indoor garden. Share or trade extra rooted cuttings with family and friends so each of you can grow your indoor garden and memories.

For more ways to start new plants and answers to your indoor gardening questions, join Melinda for her webinar on November 2 at 6:30 p.m. CT. The webinar is free, but registration is required. Register at https://bit.ly/3vDVRr5 or www.MelindaMyers.com.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” instant video series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Corona Tools for her expertise to write this article. Myers’ web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.

SMALL SPACE GARDENING: Harvest, store and preserve herbs from the garden

English Thyme growing in the garden. (photo courtesy of MelindaMyers.com)

by Melinda Myers

Keep enjoying your homegrown herbs all year round. Harvest throughout the growing season and include them in garden-fresh meals. Then preserve a few for the winter ahead.

Snip a few leaves or leaf-covered stems as needed. For the same intensity of flavor, you generally need two to three times more fresh herbs than dried except for Rosemary which has an equally strong flavor fresh or dried. So, if the recipe calls for one teaspoon of dried parsley use one Tablespoon (3 teaspoons) of fresh parsley leaves.

Continue harvesting herbs as needed throughout the growing season. And don’t worry about harming the plant because regular harvesting encourages new growth which means more for you to harvest. Just be sure to leave enough of the leaves intact to maintain plant growth.

You can remove as much as fifty percent of the leaves from established annual herb plants. This is about when the plants near their final height. You can remove up to one third from established perennial plants that have been in the garden for several months or more. Harvest when the plant has formed buds, but before they open into flowers for the greatest concentration of flavor. This is the perfect time to harvest herbs you plan to preserve.

Use a pair of garden scissors or bypass pruners for faster and easier harvesting. Make your cuts above a set of healthy leaves to keep the plants looking good. Then, preserve the flavor and zest of herbs with proper storage and preservation.

Store thin leafy herbs like parsley and cilantro for up to a week in the refrigerator. Place the stems in a jar of water, like a flower arrangement, and loosely cover with a plastic bag. Keep basil out of the fridge to avoid discoloration and others on the counter for quick and frequent use.

Wrap dry thicker-leafed herbs like sage and thyme in a paper towel, set inside a plastic bag and place in a warmer section of the refrigerator.

Freeze sprigs, whole leaves or chopped clean herbs on a cookie sheet. Or pack clean diced herbs in ice cube trays and fill the empty spaces with water. These are great for use in soups and stews. Store the frozen herbs and ice cubes in an airtight container or baggie in the freezer.

Or bundle several stems together, secure with a rubber band and use a spring type clothespin to hang them in a warm, dry place to dry out. Make your own drying rack from an old embroidery hoop, string, and S hooks.

Get creative and use some of your herbs to make a fragrant edible wreath. Use fresh herbs that are flexible and easier to shape into a wreath. They will dry in place and can be harvested as needed.

Speed up the drying process in the microwave. Place herbs on a paper towel-covered paper plate. Start with one to two minutes on high. Repeat for 30 seconds as needed until the herbs are brittle.

Store dried herbs in an airtight plastic or glass jar.

Keep enjoying these fresh-from-the-garden flavors throughout the remainder of the season. And consider preserving a few for you, your family, and friends to enjoy throughout the winter.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD instant video series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.

SMALL SPACE GARDENING: Composting directly in the garden

Trench composting, a centuries old technique, is low maintenance, effective, eliminates the need to turn piles of plant debris, requires minimal space, and doesn’t smell. (photo courtesy of MelindaMyers.com)

by Melinda Myers

Trench composting: An old tried and true method

Don’t toss those imperfect lettuce leaves, onion tops and strawberry tops into the trash. Instead, convert them into compost right in the garden.

Worm and pile composting are great ways to manage these scraps. But if these methods aren’t for you, try trench composting. This centuries old technique is low effort and effective. The process is basically invisible, eliminates the need to turn a pile of plant debris, requires minimal space and doesn’t smell.

Simply dig a 12-inch-deep trench between the rows of vegetables, in the pathway, or in any vacant spot in the garden. Be careful not to damage the plant roots. Add about four to six inches of kitchen scraps, mix with soil and cover with at least eight inches of soil that you removed from the hole. Co­vering with this much soil helps prevent animals from digging. Repeat until the trench is filled with plant debris and covered in soil.

Just like other composting methods, use plant-based materials only. Do not add meat, dairy and fat that can attract animals and rodents. And this is no place for perennial weeds like quackgrass, annual weeds gone to seed, or invasive plants that can survive the composting and take over the garden.

You can also trench compost one hole at a time. Just dig a hole in a vacant space in the garden, toss in the materials, mix, and cover with soil. I grew up with this method. After dinner or once we had a bowl full of kitchen scraps, we were sent to the garden to dig a hole, dump, and cover.

For those that want to rotate plantings as well as compost, you may want to try one of these two methods. Plant in wide rows and trench compost in the pathway. Next year, move the garden to the path location and make last year’s garden the path. You will be rotating your plantings while improving the soil.

Or designate separate adjacent areas for planting, paths, and composting. Next year, rotate so last year’s composting area becomes garden, the garden becomes the path, and the path is the new section for trench composting. In three years, you will have rotated crops and improved the soil in all three areas.

Start by contacting your local municipality to make sure there are no restrictions on any type of composting. Then get out the shovel and dig your way to healthier soil and a more productive garden.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD instant video series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.

SMALL SPACE GARDENING: Harvesting red and green tomatoes

‘Tye Dye’ tomato in the garden with red and green tomatoes to harvest. (photo courtesy of
MelindaMyers.com)

by Melinda Myers

Nothing beats the flavor of fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes. Harvesting when they are fully ripe ensures the best flavor for eating fresh, cooking, and preserving.

Visit your garden often and watch for the fruit to turn from green to fully colored. Then leave them on the plant for five to eight days. Vine-ripened tomatoes have the best flavor for using fresh or preserving.

Check plants regularly and keep harvesting, so the plants continue to produce. This also reduces problems with insects and disease organisms attacking overripe or rotting fruit. Store mature, fully colored tomatoes in cool, 45-to-50-degree conditions with high humidity. They will last about seven to 14 days in these conditions.

When growing indeterminate tomatoes, you will notice the plants keep growing and producing more flowers and fruit until the frost kills the plant. Redirect the plant’s energy from sprouting new blossoms and fruit to ripening the fruit that is already on the plant. Prune off the stem tip of indeterminate tomatoes about a month before the average first fall frost in your area. This allows the existing flowers to develop into fruit and the existing fruit to mature before the end of the growing season.

Extend the harvest season with the help of floating row covers. These fabrics allow air, light, and water through, but trap heat around the plants. Protecting plants from the first few fall frosts often provides time for more tomatoes to ripen.

Sometimes you cannot protect plants from frost or hungry critters prevent you from leaving the tomatoes on the plant to fully ripen. You can pick any tomatoes that are starting to show color before the killing frost and finish ripening them indoors. The blossom end should be greenish white or starting to color up. Use blemished and cracked fruit right away since these do not store well.

Store green and under-ripe tomatoes in a cool 60-to-65-degree location to maximize their storage life. Set the tomatoes on heavy paper spread apart so they are not touching. Or wrap them individually in newspaper so the fruit do not make direct contact. This helps prevent rot spreading from one fruit to the next.

These tomatoes will ripen over the next few weeks. You can speed up the process by moving a few tomatoes to a bright, warm location a few days before they are needed.

Extend the tomato season next year by growing a Long Keeper. The flavor is not as good as vine-ripened fruit, but you can pick these before the first fall frost and enjoy garden tomatoes for up to three months.

And don’t let the rest of the green tomatoes go to waste. Use them for frying, chow chow, green salsa, and other tasty treats.

Keep harvesting and enjoying your garden-fresh tomatoes as long as your growing season allows. Then make space to store them a few weeks after the first fall frost.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardeners Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” instant video and DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.

SMALL SPACE GARDENING: Creative ways to enjoy pansies this fall

Scoop out the inside of a pumpkin, add some drainage holes, and plant some pansies for a festive fall planter. Photo courtesy of MelindaMyers.com

by Melinda Myers

Pansies have long been a fall and winter garden favorite. These cheery flowers are sure to brighten landscapes and containers and add a smile to any occasion. Look for fun and new ways to add them to your garden and fall celebrations.

You will find these cool weather favorites at your local garden center. Pansies thrive in the cooler temperatures of fall and during mild winters when your summer annuals fade or succumb to frost. They make great fillers in garden beds and containers or displayed in their own planter.

Cool Wave®, WonderFall and other trailing pansies are perfect for hanging baskets, as trailers in container gardens, or as edging plants in garden beds. You will need half as many of these pansy varieties to cover the same garden space.

Plant a basket of white trailing pansies, add some sunglasses and you have a ghost for Halloween. Scoop out the inside of a pumpkin, add some drainage holes and use it for a planter. Fill it with potting mix and you’ll have a biodegradable pot for the compost pile when finished. Or simply set a container of pansies inside your pumpkin pot.

Be sure to include a few favorite colors, fragrant varieties, and some All-America Selections winners. Ultima Morpho was the 2002 winner that was selected for its distinct blue and yellow flower design. Padparadja is a true orange pansy that is perfect for fall and Majestic Giants pansy, selected in 1966, can still be found for sale. Generations of gardeners have planted this large-flowered, traditional-faced pansy.

Include pansies in your fall meals and gatherings. Only use pansies and other edible flowers that have not been treated with pesticides. Be sure to let your guests know that the pansies are safe to eat, so they can enjoy this unique dining experience. Otherwise, you will find blossoms at the bottom of glasses or left on plates.

Pick a few flowers, remove the reproductive parts, and freeze them in ice cube trays to serve in your favorite beverage. Float a few of the flower ice cubes in your favorite punch.

Add a gourmet touch, some unique flavor, and color to your salads by topping a bed of greens with a few flowers. Continue the theme by decorating cookies or cakes with a few of your favorite pansies. The cheerful flowers will generate happy thoughts and for some, a way to enjoy the last of this season’s garden.

Brighten the start of school and your classroom while showing your favorite teacher a bit of appreciation. A do-it-yourself planter filled with cheery pansies is sure to elevate the mood of both students and teachers alike.

All you need are two yardsticks, a 4-inch x 4-inch wooden planter box, and a potted pansy and saucer that fit inside the planter box. Gather your glue gun and glue sticks, sandpaper, and a hobby knife to create your gift.

Cut the yardsticks into four-inch pieces and sand the cut edges smooth. Glue the yardstick pieces vertically and next to each other onto all four sides of the planter. Set the saucer in the bottom of the planter box and place the potted pansy on top of it.

Purchase plenty of pansies. You are sure to find other creative ways to utilize them this fall or simply use them as colorful fillers for voids in gardens and containers.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” instant video and DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.