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Anti-Desiccants: Why, What, and When

You’ve removed late-autumn weeds, layered on the mulch, pruned appropriately, possibly even covered or wrapped your plants – so why do some still die in the winter, despite all your well-meaning efforts?

Many plants die during winter because they dry out, or desiccate. As temperatures drop, the ground freezes and plant roots cannot take water from the soil, no matter how much snow may fall. This causes the plant to use stored water from the leaves and stems as part of the transpiration process, during which water exits the plant through the leaves. If the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, transpiration increases and more water exits the leaves. If no water is available and transpiration continues, the plant will soon die. Because evergreen plants do not drop their leaves, they are especially susceptible to this death.

Preventing Desiccation

How can you help your plants stay well-hydrated through the frozen drought of winter? The first step is to remember healthy plants in the summer survive the hardships of winter far better than sickly or stressed plants. Through the spring, summer and fall, you should always be on the lookout for signs of pests, diseases and damage, and take all necessary steps to keep your plants thriving.

Second, be sure to water well even when temperatures begin dropping below freezing. Later, if the ground thaws, water before the ground refreezes. Water slowly to provide a deep drink without waterlogging the roots, however, so they are not damaged by ice.

The third step is to use an anti-desiccant, also called an anti-transpirant, to reduce the moisture loss from the leaves and needles. Because broadleaf evergreens such as boxwood, aucuba, holly, rhododendron, many laurels, Japanese skimmia and leucothoe do not drop their leaves, they are especially vulnerable to winter death. Using a product such as Wilt-Pruf to reduce transpiration by protecting the pores will save many broadleaf evergreens.

When using any horticultural product, be sure to check the label and follow all instructions properly. Some conifers such as cedar, cypress, juniper and pine may benefit from these products. However, be sure to read the instructions to prevent burning specific conifers. Also, do not use on “waxy” blue conifers, such as blue spruce, which already have an oily protective film on the nettles.

Here are a few reminders to get the best protection from an anti-desiccant:

  • Plan to apply when day temperatures begin dropping below 50⁰ Fahrenheit. Apply when temperatures are above freezing on a dry day with no rain or snow anticipated within 24 hours. This allows the product to thoroughly dry. Spraying in freezing temperatures will cause plant damage.
  • Do not spray conifers until thoroughly dormant, generally in late winter. This prevents trapping moisture in the needles which could burst when frozen.
  • Generously apply to dry leaves and needles. Don’t forget the undersides. Spray from several angles to ensure complete coverage.
  • Because the anti-desiccant will break down in light and warmth, reapply in late winter on a dry day when temperatures are above freezing for at least 24 hours.

Beyond Winter Drought

Other than protecting your landscape evergreens from winter drought, there are other uses for anti-desiccants. Many gardeners use it to protect newly transplanted shrubs from drying winds and sunshine as they settle in. It also provides protection to tender bulbs going into storage. A quick spray in early winter protects rose canes and hydrangea stems. Spraying onto live or cut Christmas trees and carved pumpkins slows the drying process, making them last longer for greater holiday enjoyment.

To answer your questions, or to choose the best product for your landscape plants, come in to discuss anti-desiccants with one of our friendly and knowledgeable staff members. Together, we can reduce the number of plants you lose to the dryness of winter and keep your garden beautiful and healthy.

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7 Top Trees for Multi-Season Interest

7trees_2What’s not to love about a tree? As they grow, their photosynthesis removes and stores carbon dioxide, maintaining a safe oxygen level for us to breathe and cleaning pollutants out of the air. They provide beauty in our gardens and parks. Many provide shade, fruit, syrup, nesting places and animal refuges. They can be a windbreak or a privacy screen. They can be ornamental and practical all at once, and can thrive with little or no care.

We want you to get the most enjoyment out of your trees. Therefore, we have selected seven underused but special trees for you to consider in your landscape. Very hardy, these trees provide all-year interest in mid-Atlantic gardens.

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Of course, these aren’t the only trees with year-round interest. Harry Lauder’s Walkingstick, paperbark maple, tri-colored beech, ‘JN Strain’ musclewood and the various cherries are just a few others that can be showstoppers in your landscape throughout the year.

Come on in to see our diverse and incredible selection of beautiful trees. We’ll help you select the perfect one for your landscaping needs and ensure you enjoy it throughout the year.

Feeding Birds in Winter

Winter is a crucial time for birds. As temperatures drop, there are no insects to eat and the natural seeds are covered with snow, and as the season lengthens, the berries and crab apples are long gone. Birds need enough food to maintain their body temperatures and must search for food from sun up to dusk. If you provide nutritious options at feeders, birds will flock to your yard all winter long.

Best Foods for Winter Birds

Fatty, high-calorie foods are important for winter birds. Fat is metabolized into energy much quicker and more efficiently than seeds to help them maintain their high body temperature necessary for survival.

A number of backyard foods are excellent sources of quick energy and protein to nourish winter birds, including…

  • Suet
    Suet cakes provide an excellent energy source for birds and are often mixed with seeds, berries, fruit and peanut butter to appeal to a wider range of species. These fatty cakes are easy to add to cage or mesh feeders, or suet balls, plugs, shreds and nuggets are also available.
  • Peanut Butter
    Peanut Butter is also very popular with a large number of birds. To reduce the cost of feeding peanut butter, you can melt it down and mix it with suet or mix in cornmeal so it is not quite so sticky. Smear peanut butter on pine cones and hang them for fast, easy feeders.
  • Seeds
    When native seeds may all be eaten or hidden under snow, seeds at feeders are very important. Seeds contain high levels of carbohydrates that are turned into glucose to help with the bird’s high energy demands. They also are a good source for vitamins and some protein. Make sure the seed you purchase does not have a lot of fillers (milo and wheat seeds) that are not eaten. Mixes with sunflower seeds and millet are preferred.
  • Sunflower Seeds
    If you want to offer just one seed to birds, you can’t beat sunflower seed. Black oil sunflower seeds have a softer shell than the striped seeds and can be eaten by sparrows and juncos, as well as cardinals, finches, jays and many other birds. These seeds have a number of advantages: they are not overly expensive, they appeal to a wider variety of species and they contain a larger amount of vegetable oil to help supply the energy birds need to maintain their body heat in the winter. They are also a good source of protein.
  • Cracked Corn
    Cracked Corn is a good, inexpensive food that appeals to a large number of birds, including doves, sparrows, juncos, quail and cardinals, as well as starlings and grackles. Sprinkle the corn liberally right on the ground for larger ground-feeding birds to enjoy.
  • Nyjer
    Nyjer (thistle) seeds are small, oil-rich black seeds typically offered in tube feeders or fine mesh feeders small birds can cling to as they feed. These seeds are tiny but they pack a huge punch for oil and calories, ideal for winter feeding. Nyjer is a favorite of goldfinches, pine siskins and redpolls.
  • Nuts
    Nut meats are highly nutritious and provide necessary amino acids and protein a bird’s body cannot produce. They also have oil and are high in energy. Peanuts are the most popular nuts to offer to backyard birds, but walnuts are also a good option. Avoid using any nuts that are salted or seasoned, however, as they are not healthy for birds.

Other Winter Feeding Tips

Just providing food for winter birds isn’t enough to help your feathered friends stay well-nourished during the coldest months of the year. For the best feeding…

  • Position feeders 5-10 feet away from bushes and shrubs that may conceal hungry predators.
  • Use broad baffles to keep squirrels off feeders and to shelter the feeders from snow and freezing rain.
  • Refill feeders frequently so birds do not need to search for a more reliable food source, especially right before and after storms.
  • Use multiple feeders so you can offer a wider variety of different foods and more aggressive birds cannot monopolize the feeder.
  • Provide water in a heated bird bath so thirsty birds do not have to use critical energy to melt ice and snow to drink.

Feeding birds in the backyard can be a wonderful winter activity, and if you offer the best, calorie-rich foods birds need, you’ll be amazed at home many birds come visit the buffet.

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Dormant Pruning With the Proper Tools

Late winter pruning is often recommended for many trees and shrubs. Pruning the plants while they are dormant is less stressful for the plant and it’s also easier to view the structure of deciduous trees and shrubs without leaves to ensure the pruning helps create the desired shape. It’s also a time of the year when late winter sunshine makes us all long to be in our gardens and pruning is an excellent job to get us out there.

Pruning Tools

To get out and get pruning, you will need the proper tools. There are several types of pruners that should be in every serious gardener’s tool shed.

  • Hand Pruners
    The simplest tool, but the hardest to choose, is the hand pruner. There are two distinct styles of hand pruners: the anvil type and the bypass. The anvil pruner is good for pruning deadwood or undesirable growth. For more valuable specimens anvil pruners tend to smash the wood during cutting, leaving the wound open to insects and disease. Bypass pruners are like a pair of scissors and give you an easier, cleaner healthier cut. Different hand pruners are available in different sizes and grip styles, including options for both right-handed and left-handed gardeners. To get the best results, it is important to choose a hand pruner that feels comfortable but still provides adequate strength for the job.
  • Lopping Shears
    Another tool that comes in handy is the lopping shear. They are used for making larger cuts up to 1-1/2″ in diameter, and have longer handles to provide more power without stress or strain. The longer handles also provide a better reach than hand pruners. They are also excellent for clearing away undesirable growth in your yard, including trimming hedges.
  • Pole Pruners
    The last tool you’ll need is a pole pruner. It is a combination lopping shear and pruning saw. The pole pruner extends out to twelve feet and can be used for making small cosmetic cuts or larger limb removals without needing to set up a ladder. Pole pruners are also useful in dense canopies when using a ladder would not be practical or suitable.

To learn more about pruning specific trees or shrubs and to choose the appropriate tools for the job, please stop in or give us a call. We’ll be happy to help you be sure you are equipped to make clean, appropriate cuts that will help your trees and shrubs look their very best.

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The Benefits of Plants in the Workplace

Time spent in nature is well known to provide many physical, mental and emotional benefits, but what if your work schedule and career keep you in an office without many opportunities for heading outdoors? You can bring the outdoors in and reap many of the same benefits.

Plants Can Improve Your Workplace

There has been extensive research done regarding the benefits of plants in the workplace. With full time employees spending approximately one-quarter of their lives at work it is important that these buildings provide an environment of beauty, health and comfort. Studies confirm that there are both physiological and psychological benefits to surrounding yourself with nature at work. An eight-month study conducted by a Texas A&M University research team has concluded that plants significantly reduce workplace stress and enhance employee productivity, a win-win situation for both employer and employee. Other studies have verified those findings, as well as expanded the list of benefits plants can provide when used judiciously as part of an indoor workplace.

The presence of plants in the workplace can…

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce stress
  • Increase humidity
  • Reduce illness
  • Purify air
  • Reduce dust
  • Lower energy costs
  • Quicken employee response time
  • Enhance problem solving ability
  • Spark creativity
  • Increase brain activity
  • Provide a positive outlook
  • Act as a mood elevator
  • Have a calming affect
  • Boost learning
  • Contribute to noise reduction
  • Improve office appearance
  • Reduce distractions

With so many obvious benefits just by including plants in office décor, every office – whether it is a large corporation, a simple business or a cozy home office – should include at least a few plants.

Bringing Plants to Work

There are many easy ways to blend plants into office décor. Popular ways to integrate plants into the office include…

  • Larger potted plants or containers in a greeting or reception area.
  • Ferns or hanging pots in broad windows.
  • A ficus tree or other large pot near a water cooler.
  • Pothos or other trailing plants on top of cabinets in a break area.
  • Small plants and flowers on individual desks.
  • Decorating for holidays with seasonal plants.
  • Giving office plants as gifts for work anniversaries, welcomes, etc.

When choosing plants for the office, be sure to opt for plants that will function best in the environment. Take into consideration temperatures, light levels and humidity so the plants will thrive. Selecting low-maintenance plants that can withstand good-natured neglect is also wise, so they will still thrive even when project deadlines, committee meetings and vacation days may make their care sporadic. Fortunately, there are many great plants that can liven up an office, and each one will bring great benefits to the workplace.

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Orchids: Exotic Beauties To Warm The Winter

Orchids are some of the most exotic plants on earth. They display an amazing range of diversity in the size, shape and color of their unique flowers. There is a misconception, however, that these floral treasures are difficult to grow, when in fact more and more gardeners are growing and collecting orchids each year. Provide the essentials of good care and you too can grow orchids easily!

Growing Orchids

Orchids have some unique needs when it comes to proper care. Because they can be temperamental at times, it is best to carefully investigate the types of orchids you are interested in growing and be sure you can meet their individual needs.

  • Light: Most orchids prefer abundant, filtered sunlight. This can be met with west- or south-facing windows, or you may need some supplemental light sources. A few popular orchid varieties can grow in lower light levels.
  • Temperature: Like any plants, orchids can do well in a temperature range, though some prefer warmer locations and some prefer cooler locations. Measure the temperature range where you want to grow orchids and select varieties that will do well in that range.
  • Humidity: Orchids are tropical plants that do well in more humid environments. They can do well in terrariums or greenhouses where the humidity can be elevated, or you can take steps to increase the humidity around the orchids in your home, such as through plant grouping, pebble trays or misting.
  • Watering: Orchids tend to do best if they dry out somewhat between thorough waterings. Plant your orchids in an appropriate medium, and take great care with watering so they can absorb sufficient moisture without fostering root rot or other mildew.
  • Fertilizing: Fertilizers are not critical for blooming orchids, but they can help provide better nourishment. Fertilizing lightly is better than over-fertilizing, and fertilizer should only be applied during active growth periods.

The exact care your orchids will need will depend on the varieties you choose. Research their optimal environments and you’ll be well prepared to host an array of stunning orchids in your home.

Common Orchid Varieties and Care

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Flirting with Spring

In January and February, winter flirts with spring. Despite snow on the ground, there will be occasional warm days, balmy breezes and stunning blue skies that remind us of the rich colors of spring. On these flirtatious days, quince, forsythia and pussy willow begin to emerge from dormancy. With this slight swelling of buds, it is time to cut a few branches to bring spring indoors, so even when winter reappears with the next freeze or storm, we’re reminded of the warmer times to come.

Forcing Branches

Just like forcing bulbs, forcing branches will bring their buds into full beauty even if the outside weather isn’t quite right yet. To force branches, select plants that have set their buds in the fall or early winter. Look for branches with plump flower buds, and cut branches that you would have normally pruned in order to preserve the shape and health of the plant.

Next, scrape about 2 inches of the bark from the pruned end of the branch and make a 3-5 inch cut up the branch (lengthwise from the pruned end) to allow water to be absorbed. You can also split the end by carefully hammering it, but avoid crushing the tissues. Fill a tall container or vase with room-temperature water and floral preserver, then place the cut branches in it. Place the arrangement in a dimly lit room for 2-3 days, then move into a brighter area (but no direct sunlight). Change the water and cut 1 inch off the bottom of the stem each week. Mist the branches daily. Although they may take up to 3 weeks to bloom, the delightful bursts of color will be a celebrated reward for your time and efforts.

Flowering Branches for Forcing

Depending on when you want your buds to bloom, there are a variety of great branches you can work to force into brilliance even when spring is weeks away.

Early bloomers…

  • Witch Hazel
  • Cornelian Cherry
  • Forsythia
  • Pussy Willow
  • Azalea
  • Flowering Quince

For Later Blooms…

  • Magnolia
  • Apple
  • Crab Apple
  • Flowering Dogwood
  • Hawthorn
  • Red Bud
  • Mockorange

 Decorating With Forced Branches

There are many different ways you can add a little spring glory to your interior décor with forced branches. Consider…

  • Using blooming branches in lieu of any flowers in vases.
  • Putting shorter branches in bud vases on a windowsill.
  • Adding branches to candle centerpieces or other arrangements.
  • Twining thinner branches around a wreath form.
  • Using the tallest branches in a tall, thin floor vase.

Spring will be here before you know it, and you can speed it along when you force branches to enjoy their blooms a few weeks early!

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Japanese Pieris

Looking for an easy-care spring-blooming shrub that supplies year-round beauty? Take a look at Japanese Pieris this season – you won’t be disappointed!

About Japanese Pieris

Pieris japonica is an upright evergreen shrub with spreading branches. It has the potential to grow 6-8 feet high and 4-6 feet wide. This is an easy to care for four-season plant that can be a stunner in the yard throughout the year. Except when they emerge in early spring with a bronzy hue, the leaves of the Pieris are lance-shaped and glossy deep-green throughout the year. The flowers appear in April and last well into May. The urn-shaped blooms, like those of lily-of-the-valley, hang in heavy, drooping, pendulous clusters that are 3-6 inches long. The fruit is ornamental and will persist through the winter, but it is best to remove the fruit so that the plant will put its energy into developing next year’s flowers.

Growing Tips

Not as fussy as other ericaceous plants like heath and heather, Pieris prefers a moist, well-drained, acidic soil with a pH in the range of 5.0-6.0. When planting, amend soil with plenty of peat moss; this will aid in drainage and help make the soil more acidic. Organic matter like compost should be added to compacted soil to increase drainage and should also be added to sandy soil to enhance water retaining capability. Sulfur may be added to the soil to lower the pH if it is too high. After planting, mulch the soil around the base of the plant with two inches of bark mulch, making sure to keep it from touching the trunk of the shrub. Pine bark mulch is a good choice when mulching Pieris because it will acidify the soil as it decomposes.

Pieris likes a semi-shady location and will flower best in areas where it receives some sun during the day. Protect all broadleaf evergreens from the prevailing winter winds. If this is not possible, spray them in the winter with Wilt-Pruf, an anti-desiccant, to prevent winter burn. Pieris must be watered frequently during the first year after planting to encourage root growth. The addition of a root stimulator at planting time will encourage the plant to quickly create deep, strong roots. After becoming established, Pieris is relatively drought tolerant but does, of course, grow best with consistent adequate moisture and regular fertilization.

Pruning Pieris is usually not required. When purchasing, know the ultimate size of the cultivar you desire so that you may choose a suitable location in your landscape where the plant may grow to its full potential. If pruning is necessary, prune immediately after flowering so as not to interfere with the formation of next season’s buds.

Pieris in the Landscape

Pieris mixes well with shade-loving plants that require acidic soils such as azaleas and rhododendrons. Highly diversified in its design use, Pieris works well in a Japanese garden, woodland setting, shrub border, foundation or even a mass planting. The smaller varieties look great in containers and rock gardens. Pieris is deer-resistant as well, making it a great border or screen for other plants.

Cultivars

We have a great collection of Pieris cultivars to satisfy the novice as well as the discriminating connoisseur. Consider the following varieties, or come in to see the latest Pieris types and let us help you choose the best one for your landscape.

  • ‘Brookside’ – New growth is chartreuse. It has upright white flowers and a dwarf habit, maturing at only 1-2 feet tall.
  • ‘Brower’s Beauty’ – Compact form, 4 feet wide by 6 feet high. This is a heavy bloomer with large trusses of white flowers in spring.
  • ‘Cavatine’ – This is a low growing, compact mounding cultivar with white flowers that are held upright on the plant. This cultivar blooms slightly later than others.
  • ‘Dorothy Wycoff’ – Compact form, 4 feet wide by 6 feet high. Dorothy has dark red buds opening to pale pink flowers.
  • ‘Flaming Silver’ – Leaves emerge a brilliant red, turning green with a pink margin and finally becoming green with a silver-white edge. This cultivar matures at 6 feet wide by 6 feet high.
  • ‘Forest Flame’ – Light pink leaves mixed among brilliant red appear after the plant has finished blooming in spring. Flowers are white. This Pieris grows 8-10 feet tall.
  • ‘Mountain Fire’ – With its vivid fiery-red new growth, clean white flowers and a compact uniform growth habit, this Pieris has become increasingly popular in the last few years. ‘Mountain Fire’ matures at 4 feet high by 4 feet wide.
  • ‘Prelude’ – This cultivar would make a wonderful addition to any rock garden. It is a dense mounding, low growing plant with red new growth that blooms slightly later than most other Pieris.
  • ‘Valley Fire’ – The young growth on this vigorous grower is a brilliant red. This cultivar has white flowers that are larger than most other Pieris.
  • ‘Valley Valentine’ – This Pieris has deep maroon flower buds on pendulous flower stems that open into deep rose-pink, long-lasting flower chains. It is a slow-growing cultivar with a compact mounding habit maturing at about 5 feet tall by 6 feet wide.
  • ‘Variegata’ – Attractive leaves are green with white margins. Flowers gracefully droop in white clusters. This Pieris grows to 5 feet tall in the garden or landscape.

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Worm-Casting Tea

Perhaps you have used compost tea on your plants and saw the amazing effect it had. However, if you think your plants loved their compost tea, try giving them a drink of worm-casting tea. No, it’s not the liquid dripping from the bottom of an elevated worm bin – so what is it?

Making Worm-Casting Tea

This “tea” is a liquid concoction made by steeping worm castings (worm poop) in water. This is an extracting process that draws the nutrients from the castings into the water so they can be more easily and quickly absorbed by thirsty plants. Use it on your plants by drenching the soil around the roots or spray onto the leaves for foliar absorption. Both spraying and drenching eliminate the labor of spreading solid compost. And, applied as a liquid, plant resistance to pests and diseases and microbial activity in the soil are all increased. While compost tea contains many beneficial microbes, it’s nothing compared to worm-casting tea that contains a much larger and diverse microbial population due to the various physiological life processes of the worm.

To really kick up the benefits of worm-casting tea, try aerobically brewing a batch. This simple process increases the microbial populations by circulating the microbes in a nutritious and aerated solution to double the population every 20 minutes. This method also eliminates any possibility of E. coli, which can be present in both compost and worm-casting tea brewed by extraction.

To brew your worm-casting tea…

  1. Connect 3’ of tubing to an air stone. Attach other end to small air pump.
  2. Put 4 gallons of water into a clean 5-gallon bucket. Let sit for 24 hours to allow chlorine to dissipate. Alternatively, use non-chlorinated water.
  3. Add:
    1. ¼ cup sulfur free molasses or corn syrup
    2. 1 tablespoon water-soluble sea plant extract
    3. 2 tablespoons soluble fish power or liquid fish
  4. Plug in pump and place air stone at bottom of bucket to begin agitation.
  5. Add 4-8 cups earthworm castings, crushed into small bits, if possible.
  6. Brew until a froth or slime appears on the water surface. The smell should now be gone or very weak. This indicates the maximum population has been reached and no food remains for the microbes to eat. This solution may contain over one billion microbes per teaspoon of solution! The overall brewing time is temperature dependent, however, and warmer solutions will brew more quickly. At all times, leave the bubbler on to continue oxygenating the microbes.
  7. Strain the solution to remove any solid particles. Apply to plants as soon as possible to take maximum advantage of your tea’s nutritious properties.

Note: The odor should be minimal or vaguely pleasant. If the smell is strongly unpleasant or similar to sulfur, do not use. Pour it over some weeds for a natural herbicide instead.

You can use your worm casting tea anywhere in your garden: upper and lower sides of leaves, on flowers, vegetables, trees, shrubs or soil. Spray in the early morning or evening or in the shade during the rest of the day. Use the remaining castings as you would any compost, after all, they still contain a diverse microbial population!

Now, raise your teacup and toast to a healthy, luxurious garden and landscape, all thanks to nutritious worm-casting tea!

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Vermicomposting

Have you tried vermicomposting, otherwise known as worm composting? This simple process mixes food scraps with yard waste and other organic materials in an enclosed area containing specific types of worms. The worms (and associated microorganisms) eat the organics and turn them into a beautiful light and fertile soil amendment. This compost is almost magical! It’s packed with nutrients, improves soil structure, increases drainage and appears to improve plant growth while decreasing pest damage and plant diseases. Not only environmentally friendly, vermicomposting doesn’t require much space, is inexpensive and easy, and it’s a fun hobby for the entire family.

The Worms

The two recommended worms for vermicomposting are Red Wigglers (Eisenia fetida) and European night crawlers (Eisenia hortensis). The latter grows bigger, eats coarser food and may be heartier. They each eat their own weight in food every other day. Do not use native earthworms, as they do not live well in bin conditions.

Most people begin with 1 lb (16 ounces) of worms. These will eat 8 ounces of food every day.

TIP: To determine your average daily food waste, weigh your food debris each day for a week. Add these amounts and divide by 7. (Do not include meat, fish, oily scraps, fat chunks, bones, or dairy products, as they are not suitable for the worms or compost.)

When you know your amount of food debris, buy twice as many pounds of worms. For example, if your average daily food debris is 1 pound, order 2 pounds of worms. If your average daily food debris is 4 ounces, order 8 ounces of worms.

The Worm Bin

Your worms will need a comfortable place to live. Provide a bin with a surface area that equals the weight of the worm order. In other words, if you order 2 pounds of worms, your worm container will require at least 2 square feet of bin surface (but should be larger). This could be 1’ wide by 2’ long.

Use non-treated wood, plastic, rubber or galvanized bins. A larger container houses more worms to compost more material. Worms do not burrow deeper than 24” therefore the bin should be less than 24” deep.

The bin needs a removable cover to protect from rain, light and drying out. Remove it if the bedding becomes too wet, but place a screen across the top to prevent worms from escaping. If needed, use a moistened strip of burlap or canvas to add moisture to the bin.

Unless using wood, which is naturally porous, provide ventilation in your bin by drilling 12-18 1/8” holes on all four sides. Drill holes on the bottom to prevent your worms drowning if moisture builds up.

Remember, your worm population will increase. When sizing your bin, allow an additional 40 percent of surface area for the increase in addition to the initial population’s requirement.

Positioning Your Bin

Where you put your bin should be convenient for both you and your worms. Elevate the container on bricks to improve ventilation and drainage of excess moisture.

Place the worm bin where it will not receive direct sunlight. In a shed or garage, under house eaves or other shade structure to maintain a temperature above freezing and below 85 degrees is perfect. In the winter, prevent freezing and insulate with sheets of foam on the top and sides, add a heating pad to one side, or move inside a building if needed.

Bin Bedding

Before adding your worms, you will need to add bedding to the container so they have a place to burrow. Soak and squeeze out the excess water from shredded fibrous materials such as newspaper, egg cartons or single-layer cardboard boxes. Mix in dry grass, brown leaves and/or straw. Add sawdust or aged manure, if available. Cover with a thin layer of well-moistened soil. This bedding will give your worms a great start and will help feed your compost.

Feeding Your Worms

Until your worms begin multiplying, only feed them once a week by adding a small amount of food scraps. Chopping or breaking food into small bits helps the worms eat the scraps faster and reduces any smells and fruit flies. Mix the food lightly into the bedding on one side of the worm bin.

Ideal foods to offer your worms include eggshells, non-citrus fruits, coffee grounds, unbleached used coffee filters, leafy green vegetables, rice, grits and vegetable scraps. Do not include meat, fish, oily scraps, fat chunks, bones, dairy products such as milk or cheese or cat or dog waste. Avoid eucalyptus leaves, as these contain a natural insecticide which could kill the worms. Additionally, if adding lawn clippings, be sure the grass hasn’t been chemically treated. Green foods such as leaves, vegetable tops and green grass add additional nitrogen to the finished compost. Eggshells increase the calcium in the final compost and brown foods such as paper, wood chips and leaves increase phosphate and carbon. The more varied your worms’ diet, the richer your compost will be.

When the worms begin to multiply, provide a weekly quart of food scraps per square foot of surface area. If your bin is 2’ square, provide 4 quarts of scraps per week to nourish your worms, but avoid overfeeding. One way to tell if you are feeding too much is by smell. If it smells bad, food is rotting instead of being eaten. Reduce the amount of food going into the bin until the smell disappears.

When adding food, be sure to check the amount of bedding. The bin was full of bedding when the worms were added. When reduced to half, add more newspaper or cardboard strips, hay, straw, etc.

Watering Your Worms

Check the bin every other day and moisten the material, if needed. It should be moist but not wet. Note that the types of scraps you add will contribute to the moisture in the bin, and you do not want any puddles or sopping that could suffocate and drown your worms.

Harvesting Compost

Your worm-assisted compost should be ready in 4-6 months. The easiest way to collect the compost is to scoop out small piles of the material and place onto a flat surface. Remove as many worms as possible and return the un-composted materials and worms to the bin. You may use a wire mesh netting as a screening device. Add more bedding and let the cycle begin again.

After removing the worms and chunks, what’s left? The grand prize of worm castings (poop)! This is the “magical compost.” Some people even call it “black gold” – it’s that fantastic for your garden.

Raising worms and producing your own super compost is easy and fun. Plus, it removes food waste from the local landfills and enriches your garden. What’s not to love?

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