Get Your Garden in Shape for Winter

Are you sad to see the end of the summer but also relieved that there are now fewer tasks to undertake?

Weeding, watering, pruning, and more weeding is over for the year and with a few more chores the outdoor gardening year draws to a close. Most of what needs to be done is cleaning up and covering up.

Practical steps to preparing your outdoor garden for winter involve:

1. Protecting plants. There are different opinions concerning whether to cut down or leave plants standing through the winter. Some people leave their perennials standing for a variety of reasons. In particular, trapping any snow cover is important for protection of plants and retaining moisture. Snow cover acts the same as good mulch by insulating the soil. Many perennial stems and seed heads are also very attractive for winter interest and provide food for the birds.
After the ground freezes, mulch perennials and shrub beds with pine needles, compost, peat moss, or chopped leaves. This protects the soil and plant roots and moderates the effects of extreme temperature changes during winter periods of freezes and thaws.

2. Cleaning-up the garden.  Harvest warm-season crops such as tomatoes even if they are still green. Place out on windowsills; or layer in boxes with newspapers between the layers of tomatoes. They will slowly ripen or you can use green tomatoes for fried green tomatoes or various green tomato recipes.
Pull out any remaining crops or spent annuals; clean up remaining debris and weeds to decrease the possibility of disease problems in the spring.

3. Evaluate your garden design. Before you start winterising your garden, take a few minutes to review what worked and what didn’t and make note of any areas that you would like to change in the spring.

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4. Prepare the soil for early spring seeding. Turn over the garden soil late in the season while amending with organic matter such as leaves, compost, or well-rotted manure. In the spring, a light raking is all that is needed.

5. Caring for trees and lawns. Protect the tender bark of young trees from rabbits and gnawing creatures by wrapping stems or trunks with chicken wire or commercial tree-guard products. To prevent rodents from nesting near buildings and trees, trim tall grass, and remove weeds.
Water trees and shrubs very thoroughly so that they go into winter well hydrated. Don’t prune shrubs and trees as it may stimulate new growth just before the harsh weather. Cut lawns and fertilise if you wish with a low nitrogen ‘winter’ blend. Use grass clippings for mulch or compost. Never send them to the landfill, as they are excellent fertiliser left on the lawn (if they are not too long) and/or make terrific compost/mulch dug straight into the garden or used for pathways. Once rotted on garden pathways, dig into the garden and replace with new grass clippings.

6. Planting before winter. Now is the time to plant bulbs. Garden centres carry many varieties. Remember: buy good quality as – the larger the bulb – the larger the bloom. Look for plumpness, firmness, clean skin, and surface. Directions for planting are usually included with the package.

7. Composting. Compost dead plant debris including leaves. Leaves are a valuable natural resource. Rather than a nuisance, they are the best soil amendment as well as terrific mulches. Leaves take very little effort to recycle into a wonderful soil conditioner – leaf mould – for the yard and garden. You can make leaf mould by the same process nature does. Pile up moist leaves and wait for them to decompose or shred the leaves into smaller pieces before piling them up. If you wish, you can enclose the pile with chicken wire, snow fencing, or something similar. In the spring you can rake up dry leaves and dig them straight into the vegetable garden.

8. Cleaning your tools. Clean the soil from all your gardening tools, oil any wooden handles and moving parts, sharpen any blades, and then store them in a dry place for the winter.

9. Water Gardening. Bring in pumps, drain, clean, refill (if necessary) and store tender water plants prior to freezing weather.

10. Bringing in your indoor plants. Before bringing in any houseplants that have spent the summer outdoors, examine them for bugs, wash them, and spray with soapy water or insecticidal soap. Use sterilised potting soil purchased from garden centres or shopping malls if re-potting your plants. Don’t use garden soil as it may harbour insects, weed seeds, disease, and fungi.

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Summer Gardening Tips


Don’t be afraid to trim those flowering shrubs and trees that need it. Failure to prune is probably the biggest gardening mistake a person can make. I spent 20 years landscaping homes and businesses, and I watched people make the investment in my services, then they failed to prune when the plants needed it, and before you know it their landscape looks terrible.

If you make a mistake pruning, don’t worry about it. It’s like a bad haircut, it will grow out. Of course use common sense and read the previous articles that I’ve written on pruning.

Humidity . . .

Along with summer time comes high humidity. High humidity can cause a lot of problems with the plants in your garden and around your house. One of the simple things you can do is don’t water just before dark. Make sure your plants are nice and dry when you tuck them in for the night and you can cut down of the chance fungus being a problem.

One of the more common fungi that I get asked about a lot is powdery mildew. This appears as a white film on the leaves of ornamental plants. Dogwoods and Purple Sandcherry are often the victim of powdery mildew. Powdery mildew isn’t extremely harmful to the plants, it’s just that the foliage is damaged, and little growing takes place once it sets in.   Usually once the plant defoliates in the fall the plant is back to normal.

Fungus problems . . .

If you have Perennial Rye Grass in your lawn, and you probably do if you’re in the north, you must be careful not to leave your grass wet at night. There is a fungus known as Pythium Blight that appears in very humid conditions. This fungus attacks and kills perennial rye grasses. Here in the north most of our lawns are a blend of fescues, perennial ryes, and Kentucky Blue Grass.

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If you have problems with pythium blight you will lose the perennial rye grass in large areas of your lawn, and even though the other grasses will still be there and fill in, your lawn will have areas that are much darker green than the rest of the lawn because you will then have concentrations of Kentucky Blue grass.

You can see this fungus in the early morning. It looks like white cotton candy laying on top of your lawn. It usually appears along walks and driveways where the soil is the wet if you have been watering. To prevent pythium blight, water as early in the day as possible.

Another nasty little blight that likes summer time is Fire Blight. Fire Blight attacks ornamentals, especially Apple trees, Crabapple trees, Cotoneasters, and Pyracantha. You know you have Fire Blight when a branch on one of your plants dies and turns almost red. The leaves usually hang on but turn reddish brown. The damage usually starts out near the end of the branch and works its way toward the main stem of the plant. There is little you can do except prune out the affected branch, cutting it as far back as possible.

Fire Blight is very contagious to plants so you should burn the branches you prune out. You should also dip or wash your pruning shears in rubbing alcohol after each cut to keep from spreading this deadly fungus.

Yet another fungus problem. . .

Unfortunately, I’ve got one more summer time culprit to warn you about. It’s a handy little fungus that grows in mulch. Actually there are all kinds of fungi that tend to grow in mulches, and most of them are really disgusting looking. But this little gem is unique in the fact that as it grows it tends to swell. Then somehow it manages to explode, and it will spatter your house with tiny brown specks. The experts have appropriately named this one “Shotgun Fungus”. Isn’t that a cute name?

These tiny little brown specks will fly as high as eight feet into the air, and once they stick to your house or windows, they stick like glue. I know that right now there are people hollering across the house at their spouse, “Hey, remember those brown specks all over the house? I know what they are. It’s from the mulch!” Tell me I’m wrong, but I know I’m not.

A lot of people are victims of this nasty little fungus, but they don’t know it. All they know is that there are tiny brown specks on the house that look like paint. So far they have blamed everything from spiders to aliens.

There’s not a lot you can do to prevent this fungus. I have found that if you keep the mulch loose so air can circulate it is less likely to grow fungi. Don’t just keep adding layer after layer to the mulch around your house. You should skip at least every other year and just loosen the mulch you already have down. If you loosen it and then rake it flat it will look like you’ve just mulched. Mulch is great, just don’t let it get packed down hard. Loosen it up at least once a year.

Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this article. Visit his most interesting website, and sign up for his excellent gardening newsletter. Article provided by

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Spring Transplanting Tips

Early spring is an excellent time to transplant trees and shrubs, but you must do this before they wake up.  Transplanting is a very traumatic experience for the plant – if it is awake.  It’s like doing surgery on a person who is awake.

Dormancy starts in the autumn as soon as you experience a good hard freeze, and the plants remain dormant until the weather warms up in the spring. This is when you should transplant, while the plants are dormant.


You can transplant in the spring up until the plants leaf out. When the buds are green and swollen you are usually safe to transplant, but once the leaf develops, you should wait until autumn.

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When transplanting you can dig the shrubs out bare root, but just make sure they are out of the ground for as short a time as possible, and keep the roots damp while out of the ground.

Make sure that there are no air pockets around the roots when you replant them. Wherever possible, it is always better to dig a ball of earth with the plants when you transplant them. The rule of thumb is 12″ of root ball for every 1″ of stem caliper. If the diameter of the stem of a tree is 2″, then you should dig a root ball 24″ in diameter.

Don’t be afraid of cutting a few roots when you transplant. Just try not to cut them any shorter than the above guidelines allow. Cutting the roots will actually help to reinvigorate the plant. It’s a process simply known as root pruning.

When the roots are severed, the plant then develops lateral roots to make up for what is lost. These lateral roots are more fibrous in nature, and have more ability to pick up water and nutrients.

Some nurseries drive tractors over the plants in the field with a device that undercuts the roots of the plant just to force the plant to develop more fibrous roots. This makes transplanting the plant the following year much more successful, and makes for a stronger and healthier plant.

The old timers root pruned by hand by forcing a spade in the ground around their plants. If you have a plant in your landscape that is doing poorly, a little root pruning while the plant is dormant could bring it around. It’s worth the effort.

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Growing Winter Potatoes in Organic Gardens

Winter Potatoes

Winter potato growing is best done in a warm climate or in sheltered containers. This is because it can be difficult to dig them up if the ground is frozen hard. The potatoes will also suffer from frost if they are left in the ground during winter in a cold climate.

There is nothing, though, to stop you growing winter potatoes in a greenhouse or conservatory, for instance, even though you may live in an area where frost and snow are common in winter. You will simply need a greenhouse heater that switches on automatically and so prevent the temperature dipping below freezing point.

When growing winter potatoes it is important to remember that growth will slow down when the days are shorter and colder. Therefore you need to start them in the summer (August or early September) if you want to harvest at Christmas, or a little earlier for Thanksgiving in the northern US. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to serve your own new potatoes with the family dinner on these holidays!


What is chitting and is it necessary?

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People will often recommend that you leave potatoes in a dark, cool place and wait for them to begin to sprout (chitting) before you plant them. If you have time to do this, that’s great. You may see that some potatoes are failing to sprout and you can choose the ones with the healthiest looking sprouts to plant. However, if you don’t have time for this, don’t worry about it. Most potatoes will grow just fine without chitting.

If using tub containers, you can put 3 plants into an 18 inch diameter container. Be sure that the containers are cleaned well with water and have drainage holes. Place a couple of inches of gravel at the bottom of the container to prevent waterlogging.

After this, for growing winter potatoes, place 3 inches of mulch, leaves or straw on top of the gravel. This will produce heat as it breaks down and help to keep the potatoes frost free.

Plant them in about 3 inches of compost and fertilise well. Continue to add more compost and fertilizer as the plants grow, so that you gradually fill the container. If you can find organic potato fertilizer, that is ideal. Manure is too strong and will burn the roots of the plants.

The plants will continue to grow after the container is full. Then they will flower and a few weeks later the tops will start to die off. At that time the potatoes are ready. If you leave them a couple more weeks, they will continue to grow bigger.

Which varieties

Good varieties are Maris Peer, Charlotte and many others. You can buy seed potatoes or (provided you are growing in containers) you can use organic potatoes from the grocery store or locally grown organic potatoes from a farmers’ market.

Do not plant bought potatoes that are not seed potatoes in the soil of your garden, however, because they can carry disease which will then stay in the soil and affect future crops. For the same reason, if you grow grocery store potatoes in containers, do not spread the compost on your garden after you have finished growing winter potatoes.

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Autumn Gardening

Gardening in Autumn

Some gardeners are not interested in gardening in autumn because they feel winter frosts arrive early and make all their work count for nothing. However, autumn (or fall) gardening can produce excellent vegetables and also will extend availability of crops long after spring planted plants are finished. Vegetables produced from autumn gardening can be sometimes milder and sweeter than those that are grown in the summer and will provide a quite different flavour from the same old vegetables.


Your choice of what you grow during your autumn gardening will depend on your available space and what kind of vegetables you enjoy eating – in the same way as spring plants. Even the crops that do well in the heat, such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes, okra, and peppers, can produce until the frosts arrive, which can be quite late in the year in some areas.


However, there are some plants that will be finished towards the end of summer like snap-beans, summer squash, and cucumbers. If these vegetables are planted around the middle of the summer they can be harvested until the first frosts as well. Hardy, tough vegetables will grow until the temperature is as low as 20 degrees, but those that aren’t as strong will only be able to grow through light frosts. Remember that if you have root and tuber plants and the tops are killed by a freeze the edible part can be saved if you have used a large amount of mulch.

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With autumn gardening, make sure that you choose the vegetables with the shortest growing season so they can be full grown and harvested before the frost arrives. Most seed packages will be labeled “early season”, or you can find seeds advertising the fewest days to maturity. You may want to look for your seeds for autumn gardening in spring or early summer; they are usually not kept in stock towards the end of summer. If they are stored in a cool and dry location they will keep until you are ready to plant.

When to Start Autumn Gardening

So that you know exactly when the best time is to start autumn gardening, you must get information about when the first hard frost will hit your area. One of the best ways to tell this is by a Farmer’s Almanac. They will give you exact dates and are rarely wrong. You will also need to know exactly how long it is going to take your plants to mature.


To prepare your soil for autumn gardening you should first remove any leftover spring/summer crops and weeds. Crops which are left over from the last season can end up by spreading bacteria and disease if they are left in the garden. Spread a couple of inches of compost or mulch over the garden area to increase the nutrients, however, if spring plants were fertilized heavily it may not need much, if any. Till the top layer of soil, wet it down, and let it set for about 12-24 hours. Once this has been done, you are ready to start planting.


Many gardeners will not even consider autumn gardening, as they don’t wish to have to deal with frosts. However, if tough, sturdy vegetables are planted they can withstand a few frosts and give you some excellent, tasty produce. Autumn gardening gives you the opportunity to enjoy your vegetable garden for at least a little longer.

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Modifying Your Garden for Water Conservation

Modifying your Garden for Water Conservation

Gardeners can sometimes have rather stressful times during water shortages or drought conditions. If you live in area which suffers water shortages frequently it makes sense to take steps to work with these conditions, instead of repeatedly suffering the sight of devastated, completely brown gardens.


Even if you don’t have the problem of water shortages you may just want to save water, to help the environment as well as your wallet.

It is certainly possible to re-organise your garden to make it more
water efficient. The following techniques may be helpful to you if you want to have a garden which will flourish even in dry conditions and when water shortages strike. Your garden will remain viable and undamaged when those around you which have not been modified are dry and suffering.

Modifying the Soil

The first thing to do is to remove all your plants. You should then load up the soil with large amounts of good quality compost to make sure that the ground is able to prevent water from escaping quickly. This will also encourage the roots of your plants to become strong and healthy and more able to survive. When this is done you should only need to water it half as much as you used to do previously.

When you have finished modifying the soil to make it suitable for your new low water consumption system you will be ready to replace your plants.

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Placing your Plants

The placement of your plants will depend on the amount of water required to keep them alive and healthy. The plants that require lesser amounts of water are planted on one side of the garden. Those that require more water are planted on the other side of the garden. In this way water is used where it is most needed and no water is wasted on plants that don’t need it as much.

Drip Irrigation

You may also want to consider installing a drip irrigation system so as to reduce
the amount of water which you need to fully water your garden. The
excellent feature of these systems is that they constantly drip into your
plants, so that every single drop is absorbed. Traditional watering
methods usually overwhelm the roots with the sheer amount of water in the soil. This means that large quantities seep past the roots without being absorbed and this water is wasted. The drip system solves this problem.

Plants for Dry Gardens

If you still believe that you need more water than you can supply to your garden,
it might be time for you to consider which plants you could replace with less water dependent plants. If you are looking for a good shrub that doesn’t use up more than its share of water, look for Heavenly Bamboo. It is not only tolerant of
droughts, but is a decorative addition to any garden. Herbs such as
rosemary and other herbs are useful in the kitchen, and don’t usually require much water..

In the flower garden if you are searching for flowers that can flourish in spite of lower rations of water you might look at penstemon varieties like
Garnet, Apple Blossom, Moonbeam, and Midnight. Varieties like Cosmos and Yarrow will attract hummingbirds and butterflies. These plants don’t look particularly tough, but they are, and just beautiful as well. Anyone looking at your garden will be amazed at how your flowers remain so beautiful and blooming even through dry weather and water regulations.

An excellent drought resistant plant is the Lavender plant. You can plant a large group of Lavender plants in your garden which will make a gorgeous display, but will need hardly any water to keep flourishing. Pineapple sage, a shrub which smells of pineapple is another hardy plant, needing little water and which attracts humming birds.

As you can see, if you have to deal with drought conditions and water shortages there are some techniques you can implement. You can still have a garden to be proud of. If your aim is simply to conserve water or use it more efficiently you can still benefit from modifying your garden for water conservation.

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Grow Roses Organically

How to Grow Roses Organically

Many people with organic gardens want to know how to grow roses organically. The answer is usually- with difficulty!   Although they are some of the most beautiful and traditional of all garden flowers, roses are not easy to grow in an organic garden. Because roses suffer from so many pests and diseases there is always a temptation to rely on chemical solutions.


In this article we will take a look at how to grow roses the organic way – without giving in to the chemical temptation.


Your first object is to start out with a hardy variety of roses if possible – that is, if you don’t already have your roses established in your garden. This means choosing varieties that are more like the wild rose and less hybridized, such as gallica, rugosa, and ramblers with small flowers. There are companies which sell hardy varieties of rose that will do well in organic gardens and don’t need any spraying.

All this may be bad news if you were looking forward to your garden being full of long-stemmed tea roses with huge blooms, but if you think about it, it does make a lot of sense to choose the older varieties. In the same way, like pedigree animals, if plants are selectively bred for their appearance they can start to display weaknesses. The principle of an organic garden is to take a step back from our human desire to be in control of nature to that extent.


In any case, the smaller flowers can be beautiful too, especially if they are deadheaded regularly so that flowers keep on and on coming over a long period.


When you have chosen your roses, let’s now consider how to grow roses organically and successfully even though those annoying pests appear. One thing to note; it is better to plant your rose bushes dispersed in different places around the garden instead of having a dedicated rose garden where they are all close together. This can help prevent diseases such as black spot spreading from one plant to the next.

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A significant part of disease prevention when you are considering how to grow roses is your method of pruning. It is very important to cut stems cleanly, on a diagonal, when pruning. A straight cut edge or a ragged edge to the stem allows water to collect. Fungal infections can then settle and thrive in the damp conditions and so invade the plant.


If your roses still suffer from fungal infections or black spot, it is possible to buy organic sprays for these diseases. However, these are not always the instant solution that chemical sprays will tempt you to use. . It is better to assist your plants to fend off succumbing to the disease in the first place.


In addition to disease, roses have insect pests such as aphids. If you are unfortunate, aphids can completely infest a rose bush. The best way to deal with them organically is to introduce a predator such as ladybugs (ladybirds) into your garden. You can buy a ladybug farm and a feeder so that they stay – although you should not feed them too well, or they will not need to go eating your aphids!


It is also a good idea to have small flowering plants and herbaceous perennials around your roses. This will create a barrier to prevent fungal spores blowing up from the soil onto the leaves of the roses.


Plants that are in flower in late spring and early summer will attract insects that feed on both nectar and aphids, providing another line of defence against these unwanted pests. Nasturtiums will attract aphids away from your roses, while plants of the allium family (onions, leeks, garlic) will repel nematodes. Rosemary, thyme and geranium will help to attract beneficial insects.


If you can let at least one of your rose bushes go to hips instead of deadheading it, you will find that birds are attracted to the hips. The birds will be another line of defence that can be of help to you to grow roses successfully in an organic garden.

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Organic Gardening – Making a Raised Bed

Organic Gardening – Making a Raised Bed

If you are aiming for your organic garden to include plants that require good water drainage, it’s extremely frustrating to have to work with soil that just won’t cooperate.  Some plants can adjust to the excess water in an area that doesn’t drain properly. It might even result in even more lush growth for them. However, there are plants that don’t cope, and boggy ground will cause them to bloat and die. You should always try to find out about the drainage that’s needed for every plant you buy.  Make certain that it will be happy in any of the areas where you intend to plant it.


So that you will know how much water your chosen plot of soil will retain, dig a hole about ten inches deep.  Fill the hole with water, and then check it after a day when all the water has disappeared.   Then fill it again. If the water from the second filling isn’t gone in 10 hours, your soil has a low saturation point. This means that once water soaks into it, it will retain it for a long time before it dissipates. This level of saturation is unacceptable for almost any plant, and you will need to do something to improve matters if you want your plants to survive.

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The method usually used to improve drainage in the garden is to create a raised bed. This will mean making a border for a small bed, and adding sufficient soil and compost to it so as to raise it above the rest of the garden by a minimum of 5 inches. It will surprise you to see how much your water drainage will be improved by this small modification.

If you’re planning to build a raised bed, your working area is either on grass or on soil.  Each of these situations requires to be built slightly differently.

Starting a raised garden in a non grassy area won’t present many problems.  Find find some kind of edging to retain the soil you’ll be adding.  A few two by fours do a good job.  After you’ve created the wall, you must add the right amount of soil and organic manure. Depending on how long you intend to wait before planting, you will want to adjust the ratio to allow for any deterioration that may occur.

If you’re installing a raised bed where grass already exists, you will have slightly more to do. You will need to cut the sod around the perimeter of the garden, and turn it over. This may sound straightforward, but you will need a tool with a very sharp edge to slice the edges of the sod and get under it. Once it is all turned upside down add a layer of straw.  This should discourage the grass from growing back up. On top of the layer of straw, add all the soil and organic manure that a normal garden would need.

You shouldn’t find too many difficulties in planting your plants in the raised bed. It is the same method as your usual planting. you must, however, be sure that the roots don’t extend too far down and reach into the original ground level. The whole point of making the raised bed is to keep the roots away from the soil which saturates easily. Having long roots extending too far will make the whole effort pointless.

When your plants are in your new bed, you’ll notice improvement almost immediately.  The added soil makes for better root development. Simultaneously, evaporation is prevented and decomposition is discouraged. All of these things together make for an ideal environment for the growth of almost any plant.  Don’t be put off by the idea of altering the topography of your garden.  It’s a straightforward process, as you can see, and the results in the long term in your organic garden are very well worth the effort.

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Growing Organic Carrots

Growing carrots in an organic garden is not difficult if you have the right climate and soil. Carrots like loose soil without too much clay, with pH of between 6 and 7. They are happy in cool (but not frosty) weather and they like plenty of water. They grow well in a temperate climate that is not too dry.

If you live in a warm climate, try them at the coolest time of your year, provided of course that the temperature does not dip below freezing, and water them well in dry weather.

Carrots are a root vegetable so you cannot see the actual carrot growing. They have fern-like leaves. They are related to dill and fennel plants, and you will see the similarity in the leaves. If you have not had the satisfaction of growing carrots before, you will know them when they first come up by their feathery leaves that look a little like dill.



The leaves are edible and very nutritious but they contain a lot of potassium which makes them bitter, so they are best mixed with other vegetables in salads or soups. However, they can produce an allergic skin reaction in some people.

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If you decide to grow wild carrots in your organic garden, you should know that the leaves of that plant are toxic. However, regular organic carrot leaves should be fine in small quantities as long as you are not allergic. Carrots were originally cultivated for their leaves, not their roots.

Provided you have the right conditions, growing carrots is pretty simple. You will find that you can buy many different varieties. They are not all long and thin, and they are not all orange. Heirloom varieties may be purple, for example. Remember to look for organic seeds if you want organic carrots to grow from them.

Stubby or round carrots exist, and can be great for growing carrots in containers where you do not have the depth that long carrots would need. Carrots also do well in raised beds.

Carrots will mature in about 2 months from planting the seeds, but this varies according to the variety, so go by what you see on your seed packet. In temperate climates, plant in the spring. You can start before the last frosts provided that the ground is soft and loose enough to be worked.

If you are growing carrots for your own kitchen, you can plant them in succession, planting one short row per week throughout the spring. This way you will have fresh carrots every week instead of having them all ready at the same time.

You will need to thin your plants when they are a couple of inches tall. Thin them so that all of your growing carrots are at least a half inch apart. One inch is better.

Do not harvest them early, thinking that you will get sweet-tasting baby carrots that way. Baby carrots are a special variety. If you harvest regular carrots early, they will be bitter.

Be sure to rotate your carrots around the garden, as you do with other plants. This will prevent pests such as carrot rust from becoming established.

If you follow all of these tips, you should have no trouble growing carrots in your organic garden.

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