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.

SMALL SPACE GARDENING: Hot weather garden woes

by Melinda Myers

Poor flowering and misshapen or a lack of fruit on tomatoes, peppers and squash may be due to the weather, not your gardening skills. Temperature extremes can interfere with flowering and fruit set on these and other vegetables in your garden.

We watch for and can’t wait to taste that first red ripe tomato. It is certainly frustrating when we see flowers drop or the plant fails to form fruit. Tomatoes thrive in warm sunny conditions; but temperature extremes can prevent fruiting, cause misshapen fruit, or reduce the size of the harvest.

When daytime temperatures rise above 90°F and night temperatures remain above 70° F blossom drop and poor fruit development may occur. Combine this with low humidity and the pollen is not viable. In hot and humid conditions, the pollen is too sticky and doesn’t move from the male to the female part of the flower. Without pollination the flowers won’t be fertilized, and fruit will not develop.

Cool weather can result in poor fruiting. Night temperatures below the optimum of 59° to 68°F will reduce the amount and viability of pollen that the plant produces. Less viable pollen means fewer fruit will form. Cooler temperatures below 55°F can result in misshapen fruit and catfacing. Fortunately, the malformed fruit is still tasty and safe to eat.

Temperature extremes also impact pepper productivity. When temperatures climb to 95°F or higher the pollen is sterile and flowers may drop. Small fruit may also fall from the plant during such hot spells. Pepper plants also experience poor fruit set when night temperatures drop below 60°F or rise above 75° F.

Tomatoes and peppers aren’t the only vegetables impacted by temperature extremes. Eggplants, a close relative to tomatoes and peppers, do not set fruit until night temperatures are above 55°F. Beans stop flowering or the flowers die when temperatures rise above 85° F.

Flowering in squash and cucumber plants is also influenced by temperature and other environmental factors. These plants produce separate male and female flowers. The male flowers usually appear first and it is not until both the male and female flowers are present that pollination, fertilization and fruit production can occur.

Research found cool temperatures, bright sunlight, and shorter days encourage female flower production while male flowers are more prolific during warmer temperatures, less sunlight and close spacing. Flowering on squash and cucumbers is also impacted by nitrogen fertilization. Too much can prevent female flower formation while insufficient amounts can reduce the number of male flowers.

The simplest solution is to wait for optimum temperatures and the proper humidity levels to return. Once this happens, the plants will begin producing fruit.

If poor productivity related to the weather is a yearly problem, consider planting more heat tolerant varieties, adjust planting times and look for more suitable growing locations.

When the harvest is delayed, extend the season with the help of row covers. These fabrics allow sunlight, air, and water through while trapping heat around the plants. Just loosely cover plants and anchor the edges with stones, boards, or landscape stapes when frost is in the forecast. You can leave the fabric in place for the remainder of the year. Just lift it to harvest and secure the fabric when done.

If this summer’s weather leaves you disappointed with the harvest, remember there is always next year.

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: Enjoy your garden after dark with landscape lighting

by Melinda Myers

Enjoy your garden and landscape once the sun sets with strategically placed and attractive landscape lighting. Select the best type of light that complements your garden design and best accomplishes the intended purpose.

Solar powered lighting eliminates the need for outdoor outlets, extension cords or buried low voltage lines. The solar panels charge during sunny days and can be mounted on the light or on a long cord, allowing you to place the solar panel where it gets the most sunlight. Some lights turn on automatically at dusk, others have a manual on-off switch, and a few have a remote on-off control.

Votive and pillar candles are longtime favorites. Set them in a container on the table or line a pathway. Unfortunately, the wax does drip, there is a danger of fire, and the flame can blow out in a strong breeze.

Consider using battery-operated candles instead. These look and flicker like the real thing and eliminate some of the problems and dangers of candles. Look for those with remote controls or timers to make lighting your space hassle-free.

Use these battery-operated candles in decorative holders like the Dahlia Blossom Punched Metal Lanterns (gardeners.com). You’ll enjoy the copper cut lanterns as garden art by day and the intricate light pattern they cast at night.

Pot up your favorite flowers and tropical and edible plants in solar illuminated planters. Luminous solar-powered planters are frosted white by day and can be programmed to display one color or set for color-changing mode. These pots have a ten-foot cord, allowing you to place the pots where the plants will thrive and connecting it to its solar panel in a sunny spot nearby.

Solar torch lights have flickering lights that create a realistic look while lighting a pathway or sitting area. Use one to highlight a special spot in your garden or several to light a pathway, patio or larger space when entertaining.

Prevent trips and falls while also boosting safe access to your favorite outdoor spaces by lighting steps as well as pathways. Look for solar powered lights like Maxsa Solar Ninja Stars that can be mounted on steps, the ground, deck, wall, or other flat surfaces. The integrated solar panels come with a rechargeable battery.

Add overhead glow to patios, decks, or balconies with string lights. They come in a variety of styles to light up larger spaces or highlight your favorite tree. Multicolored waterdrop string lights will add a festive look to any space. Luminites® Solar String Lights feature Edison bulbs that provide six to eight hours of steady or gently flashing modes.

Add some fun, personality or added interest with specialty lights. Outdoor lights like the Twinklelite™ Solar Stake Lights have flexible branches covered with 120 LED bulbs. Twist and bend the branches to accomplish the look you desire. Then wait for the lights to turn on automatically at dusk.

Add some landscape lighting to help you enjoy quiet moments or festive gatherings in your gardens after dark. Select the best lighting options that are easy to use, complement your design and provide the needed lighting in your landscape.

Melinda Myers is the author of more than 20 gardening books, 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.