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Fall gardening chores and checklist

5 Things to Do Now In The Garden

Fall Tips For An Amazing Spring

Ever been out in the garden and wondered, is there something more I can do now to have a more glorious Spring? I have always loved to see the fruits of my labor, and get a surprise in Spring that was either new or unexpected when it comes to the flower garden. Here are 5 things you can do in the garden now, for an even better garden in Spring:

  1. Collect seeds. Seed collecting is one of the easiest and simplest ways to extend and selectively enhance your garden. Fall is the time to do it, and you can walk through your garden and in minutes have a supply of selected and adored plant seeds for the following season. If you haven’t collected seeds before, with most flowers its simple and fun! You can use our unique seed collecting envelopes to label and store your bounty.
  2. Change the color of your hydrangeas. Here at Celtic Farm, hydrangeas are one of our favorite flowers, and we have had so much fun over the years changing the soil Ph, and seeing the affect on the blossoms. The pinks, blue and purples are just breathtaking. Not all hydrangeas can be altered, and typically your standard pink varieties are the best subjects for experiment. Here is a blog post describing the technique and results: How to Change Hydrangea Color.
  3. Plant fall flower bulbs. Nothing says Spring like the blooming of Daffodils, Tulips and Hyacinth. Their flowers tell us that warmer weather is on the way, and when planted en masse, create a stunning visual in the garden and landscape. (Fall Flower Bulb Collection)
  4. Mark and organize your garden. I am getting old, and do so much planting in fall, if I don’t mark our beds, I typically forget my varieties :). First off, start a journal to log your handy work. These notes will pay dividends, and make sure you know the variety and where you sourced the bulbs and seeds. Secondly, use garden markers to label your planting areas.
  5. Compost your leaves!! It breaks my heart to see piles of leaves on the city streets that are waiting to be taken away. We have found over the years that leaves make the best compost and provide substance and nutrients to the soil. Try my lazy method: I just place layers of leaves over new farm or garden areas and give them a good soaking. When planting time comes, I till them in and create an amazing soil base.

Five quick things to do here in Fall out in the garden. I guarantee you will love the results.

trimming and pruning lavender

How to Prune Your Lavender

Pruning Your Lavender Bush to Ignite Growth

Pruning your lavender is critical to plant health and the longevity of the plant. When proper care is applied to your plants, lavender can last upwards of 20 years! Pruning is required, and there is definitely a technique you must follow. Without this annual care, your lavender will grow long and lanky, and typically split. Here are the steps:

Steps for Pruning Lavender Varieties

  1. Look for the woody growth. Old growth turns brown and woody, and this is your key reference point for the pruning. Typically, plants in year two of growth will have this established growth.
  2. Prune the soft growth. Measure up about 3 inches from the woody growth you have identified on your lavender, and this soft growth area will be your target pruning point.
  3. Get the shape right. The result of pruning your lavender should be a dome or mound looking bush.
  4. Deadhead during growing season. For certain varieties, a quick deadhead prune can urge a second flowering and bloom.

How Not To Prune Your Lavender

Pruning your lavender is quite simple once you know the technique. But there are certain things you should not do.

Don’t cut into the woody stems at the heart of your plant. This old growth grows slow, and may not grow new stems at all.

Don’t prune in fall. New growth will die quickly in the cold of Fall and Winter, and stress your lavender plants. Finish up pruning by end of August.

Don’t take off too much. A good rule of thumb is to only remove the top 1/3rd of the plant. Too much more and you risk the health of your lavender.

A quick guide for you to keep your plants healthy, and enjoy the bloom season after season.

bulb planting tools for tulips, daffodils, hyacinth and crocus

The Bulb Planter – Tools for Planting Bulbs

Fall and Spring Bulb Planters for Your Garden

Planting bulbs is one of my favorite chores on the farm and in our flower gardens. But ask any gardener “What is the best tool for planting fall and spring bulbs?” and you will get a different answer from everyone you ask. Here are some quick questions to ask before we review each of the tool types:

What Type of Bulbs Are You Planting?

With a large variation of sizes and planting depths, the bulb planting tool you select will likely depend on what flower bulbs you are planting. For instance, a large DN2 18cm Daffodil bulb requires a much larger hole than a small Allium flower bulb. (Read our post on Flower Bulb Sizes). Also, not all tools can work in harder ground, or at deeper bulb planting depths.

Bulb types determine the bulb planting tool

What Type of Soil Do You Have?

Your soil type will also help you decide on your garden bulb weapon of choice. If you have prepared a nice raised bed garden with rich, loose soil, you may use a different tool than if you are “roughing” it an digging in native soil to get the naturalized look.

How Is Your Back? 😉

Alright, alright. Let’s get real. For the older ones in the crowd (I am one of them), your back may not be ready for hours of hunching, and you may want to use a tool that allows you to stand up for the digging part.

The Bulb Planter

Ok, so now that we have some of the bulb type, soil and the state of your back :), let’s move on to the different types and their pros and cons:

The Garden Hand Trowel

Back to basics. If you are planting a few flower bulbs, or just digging a trench in which to place your flower bulbs, the old standby trowel will work just fine. Also know as the small shovel, it is a bit old school, but when used correctly will do the job.

Pros of the Trowel for Bulb Planting

  • Everyone has one
  • Easy to use
  • Great for small volume planting
  • Good for most soil types

Cons of the Trowel for Planting Bulbs

  • Hard on the ol’ back
  • Not optimal for large quantities of bulbs
  • Can be difficult to use for deep planting

The Bulb Dibbler

The simplest tool a gardener can own has been used for millennia to plant seeds and plants of all types: The garden dibble/dibbler. Essentially a piece of wood to poke holes in the ground, the bulb planting dibbler is made for quick use. Seed dibbles are long and pointy, and bulb dibbles are fat and stout. The bulb dibbler is simple to use and effective.

Pros of the Dibbler for Bulb Planting

  • So simple, even a caveman can do it
  • Rapid bulb hole making
  • Usable for deep and shallow, big and small
  • Conveniently marked for easy depth gauging
  • Made of all-natural hardwood

Cons of The Dibbler for Bulbs

  • Most effective in softer soils

Metal Scoop Planter for Bulbs

These are your typical twist and scoop planter for bulbs. Usually made of metal with a plastic or wood handle, the scoop is angled to try and keep the dirt in and create your hole. I personally don’t like these bulb planters, but many people use them, and its a preference.

Pros of the Metal Bulb Planting Scoop

  • Do well in varied soils
  • Good for shallow bulb planting
  • Make uniform holes

Cons for the Metal Bulb Planter

  • Contant twisting to remove dirt
  • Dirt gets stuck in clay type soil
  • Hard to get deep bulb holes made
  • Made of metal and plastic 🙁

The Bulb Auger

The bulb auger planting tool is essentially a drill bit for the garden. Attach the metal or plastic end to a power drill, or if using a manual auger, twist the handle to dig your bulb hole.

Pros of the Bulb Auger Planting Tool

  • Stand up version is easy on the back
  • Works well in loose soil
  • Allows for any depth

Cons of the Bulb Auger

  • Hard to gauge depth
  • A little messy
  • Impossible to dig holes close to each other (Soil fills in bulb holes)

So, that’s a quick view of the bulb planting tool world. You can use them all for any bulb type, and there are enough for any preference in the garden. Go plant some bulbs! You can read our tips for planting bulbs here:

How to Plant Flower Bulbs: 6 Tips

Flower Bulb Sizing

Flower Bulbs: How To Choose The Best Bulbs

How to buy quality flower bulbs

There are so many different outlets for purchasing flower bulbs for Fall and Spring. But how do you know you are buying a quality bulb that will produce amazing flowers in Spring or Summer? Bulbs come in all shapes and sizes, and depending on the variety and flower type, they can differ by quite a bit. There is one rule when it come to buying bulbs: the large the bulb, the bigger and more beautiful the flower. Just think of that bulk as energy to produce beauty and size in the end result. Here are some quick rules of thumb for buying the best, high quality flower bulbs for specific flower varieties.

How Do you Measure Flower Bulbs?

Flower bulbs are measured by circumference, or distance around the thickest part of the bulb. Daffodil bulbs are also rated by a DN (double-nosed) rating, which is their ability to produce multiple flowers. DN1 being largest, DN3 being smallest.

DN1,DN2,DN3 bulb sizing explained
Double nose example on a daffodil bulb

Flower Bulb Size

Tulip Bulbs

There is nothing quite like a mass of blooming tulips to take your breath away in spring. In order to have the most spectacular bloom, tulip bulb size is extremely important. Smaller bulb sizes are usually cheap, or on sale at home improvement stores, and typically measure 10cm or less in circumference. High quality bulbs are typically 12 cm, with firm skin and a solid feel and weight. Make no mistake, this may seem like a small size difference, but the results will differ dramatically. Large flower bulbs of the Darwin variety will produce blooms the size of tennis balls!

Allium Bulbs

The allium family is a broad family of bulbs with many unique varieties that range from small to large. The flower bulbs are equally as diverse, and as a rule of thumb, small bulbs produce small flowers, and large bulbs produce larger flowers. Large varieties will have sizes of 18-20cm bulbs, while smaller, miniature flower bulbs will be around 5cm.

Daffodil Bulbs

I remember the first time I opened a box of Daffodil bulbs from our Dutch bulb importer. I was shocked at how huge they were compared to others we had purchased and planted on the farm in the past. Daffodil bulbs, if they are high quality, should be 12-16cm, and the larger the better.

Hyacinth Bulbs

Ah, the sweet, sweet scent of Hyacinth in the Spring. Hyacinth bulbs for
planting out in the garden whether in planting beds, in borders or in pots should have a circumference of least 14 cm. Hyacinth bulbs that have been grown specifically for planting indoors, also known as forced hyacinths, can be up to 16 cm around. After the flowers have bloomed indoors, you can replant them outside in fall in the garden, where they will bloom again the following Spring.

You can see that size is very important, and the bigger the bulb the better! Now that you have them, how do you plant them for success? See our latest post and guide on How to Plant Fall Flower Bulbs.

Fall Gift Ideas for the Gardener

Fall Gift Ideas for Gardeners

Best Gifts For Any Gardener As Summer Ends

As the leaves begin to fall, the weather turn colder and our garden goes brown, there are still some great gardening gift ideas for the gardener in your life. First off, its maintenance time, so we need to clean up our garden. Prune and cut back, dig up and get ready to plant our fall bulbs. Here is a short list of great gardening and housewarming gifts for men and women alike:

  1. Quality Pruners – When Pruning back our bushes and perennials, nothing is valued more than a great set of garden pruners. The best garden pruners are made of stainless steel with aluminum handles, and are sharp and light. This is on the top of our “Gardening Gifts” list
  2. Hori Hori – the Hori Hori Garden Tool is a must as we move into fall. We Use it to dig, divide, cut roots and weed during the fall season. It is handy, and makes gardening more enjoyable.
  3. Bulb Planter – As we start to plant our tulips, hyacinth and daffodils, a bulb planter/dibbler is our best friend. This hardwood planting tool looks great, and making planting bulbs a breeze.
  4. Fall Flower Bulbs – One of the best things about fall is the planting of fall flower bulbs. As we plant, the anticipation of what we will see in spring is invigorating.
  5. Garden Sharpener SetSharpening garden tools without the right sharpener is painful at best, and a sharpener set is one of the top gardening gift ideas. As the seasons end, it is a required task to sharpen and oil your tools to have them ready in Spring.
  6. Copper Garden Markers – If you are like me, you forget where you planted certain varieties. Never forget again by using copper garden markers to identify what lies beneath!
Fall Gardening Gift Ideas
Bulbs are a great fall gardening gift.

This is just a quick set of fall gardening gift ideas, and gardening gift items we have seen over and over. They will provide great utility and joy in the Fall gardening months. Shop our store for more great gardening gift ideas.

planting flower bulbs

6 Keys to Bulb Planting Success

Tips: How to Plant Flower Bulbs

Planting bulbs in Fall and Spring is one of my favorite things to do. A little investment and a ton of joy at bloom time. But over the years I’ve figured out it’s not as simple as just grabbing your sturdy bulb planter, making a hole, plopping in the bulb and done. My painful lessons learned, are now turned into 6 key tips for success when planting flower bulbs.

  1. Location is Everything – as with any plant, insuring the right amount of sunlight is key to growing beautiful flowers. For most bulbs, they will need at least 6 hours of sunlight to mature and produce flowers. Soil is key, and bulbs are heavy feeders and need fertile, well drained soil. Without drainage, the bulbs will rot over time and you will have nothing for your efforts. For early bloomers like Daffodils, you can plant the bulbs under trees as the blooms will happen before the leaves appear.
  2. Bed Preparation is Key – weed and loosen the planting area, and add a rich dose of compost to the soil as a preparation for planting your bulbs. Bulb depth is key, as bulbs that are plated too shallow or too deep will not grow. A good rule of thumb is 3 times the bulb size as a depth gauge. And make sure the pointy side is up!!!! A bulb planter with depth marks can really help.
  3. When to Buy Bulbs – it seems there is always a buying frenzy at the end of summer/beginning of fall to buy bulbs before they sell out. Buying bulbs early is fine, but proper storage until planting time is key. Bulbs need to be stored in a cool, well ventilated space to prevent rot, and keep them dormant until planting time. (see our lovely Dutch Flower Bulb selection).
  4. When to Plant Bulbs – timing on planting your bulbs is key, and all bulbs need time to “chill” before they go into growth mode. Timing varies across growing zones, but as a rule of thumb, once ground temperatures are 40-50 degrees F , you can go ahead and plant. For areas that dont have cool soil temps, you will need to place your bulbs in the fridge for 6 or so weeks to get results.
  5. Bulbs and Fertilizing – If you prepared the soil correctly as outline earlier, your bulbs will have all the nutrients they need to grow through fall and winter. You won’t have to fertilize until the first sign of green poking through your soil.
  6. Right Bulbs at the Right Time – remember, you can really classify all bulbs into Fall and Spring bulbs, and planting at the right time for the specific bulb is critical to success.

Good luck planting your bulbs!!!

Best Pruner Shears

Pruner Shears – Finding the Best Pruners for You

What makes the best hand pruners, and how to buy ones that are right for you.

We have been through a lot of different pruner shears in our time gardening and on the farm here at Celtic. And I can tell you, there is nothing worse than using a bad set of hand pruners all day. What are some of the key problems with pruners? Well, here is a quick list of things we have experienced over the years:

  • Cheap Metal Pruner Blade – any pruner that is black metal is typically made of cheap steel and will rust, pit and get dents in the pruner cutting blade. We like stainless, shiny blades for all our garden pruners.
  • No leverage – Sometimes we have to cut thick stalks and branches with our pruning tools. Many pruners have straight handles with no offset, and this means no leverage in the blade, and pain in the hands.
  • Not Wide Enough – to cut those big dahlia stalks, or the sunflower broom handle shoots, we need an opening that can handle a decent diameter.
  • Heavy – low quality hand pruners weigh a ton (cheap steel).
  • Poor Spring – low quality pruners are not snappy when you open and close them due to a cheap metal spring.

Ok, enough of the bad stuff, the question is, how can I tell a high quality set of pruning shears? Here you go:

  • Shiny carbon steel/stainless, curved pruner blade.
  • Offset pruner handle and blade for leverage.
  • Wide opening blade mouth for easy big cutting.
  • Stainless spring.
  • Lightweight aluminum shear handles.
  • Sharp, tough cutting edge.
  • Smooth, quiet cutting action.

This is just a quick article on how to spot the best pruning shears when you are shopping. If you want to see our recommended shear for pruning, you can find it here in our store:

Our Best Pruning Shears

Garden tool sharpening of pruners and loppers

How to Sharpen Pruners, Loppers and Shears

Sharpening Garden Tools

In my first post on Sharpening Scissors, I sowed you a quick and easy way to sharpen your garden scissors with my favorite sharpening tool: the diamond hone sharpening paddle. This guide will give you some insight and techniques to keep your garden tools (pruners, loppers and shears) sharp and in tip top shape for the garden. I guess you are asking: Aren’t they sharp enough? Most gardeners will not maintain their tools, and just go on using dull, ineffective blades. But clean cuts are imperative to keeping your plants healthy, and a sharp set of tools makes garden that much more fun, and reduces the time to prune and cut.

Steps for Sharpening Pruners and Other Curved Blade Tools

Clean your blades. We have to get to the steel before we can sharpen. Cleaning the gunk off the blades can help tool function immediately, and the sap dirt and grime can harden over time and make your tools almost useless. You can clean your pruners with dish soap, warm water and a brush or scrubbing sponge. For dried sap on the blades, scrubbing bubbles will help break down the sticky stuff.

Remove rust. You can remove rust by soaking the blades in white vinegar overnight. For stubborn, rusted blades you can also use a wire brush to remove the oxidized metal.

Removing rust from garden tools
Rusty, sappy tools prevent clean cuts.

File down large nicks. The sharpening process requires a move from coarse to fine. If you have diamond stone paddles, it makes the process simple. Grab your coarse paddle and run it over the blades at an angle equal to the existing bevel. Focus on any damage areas to smooth out the blade curve. The coarse paddle will remove the top layer of metal and get you to the good shiny stuff. Make sure and get both sides of the blade, but on the flat part, keep your hone flat and just do a few passes.

Sharpening time. Call me strange, but I love this part. Take your medium grit hone and run it over your blade. After a few passes, you will start to feel the metal get smoother, and your blade will begin to sharpen. After quite a few passes of the sharpener, switch to your fine diamond paddle. This will really put a shine to the blade and start to really put that cutting edge in shape. As you sharpen one side of the blade, it will build up a burr on the backside. Make sure and do a few strokes to remove this.

A bit of oil. When sharpening your garden tools, its a great opportunity to lubricate the joints for smooth operation. I use regular sewing machine oil, and just put a few drops on the pruner or lopper nut. Also take a rag and put a drop or two of oil on, and run it over your sharpening work. This will protect the blade from rust and keep the sap from sticking.

Conclusion

And that’s it, simple and effective. Now go enjoy your work! We carry the diamond stone paddles for sharpening in our store, and you can find them here:

Garden Tool Sharpening Kit

Soil in the raised garden bed

Raised Beds and Soil

What Type of Soil To Put in Your Raised Bed

This post is a continuation of our raised bed series with all you need to know about raised bed gardening. So, you’ve built your raised bed, and its sitting empty, just waiting for soil so you can begin planting. What you put in your bed is extremely important to the health and longevity of your plants. Soil supports plant growth by providing 5 core items:

  1. An anchor for root systems. By allowing the spread and anchoring of roots, soil provides a means for the plant to remain safe and connected to the ground.
  2. Oxygen – The spaces within good soil allow root systems to access oxygen to grow and prosper.
  3. Water – Soil provides the spaces that hold water for plant growth.
  4. Insulation – soil is a natural blanket for root systems during extreme temperature fluctuations.
  5. Nutrients – Soil provides access to nutrients for plants to grow and thrive.

How you build out your soil composition to provide an optimal growth environment for your plants is key to raised garden success.

There are several questions you need to ask before you get started:

  • What are you planting? A little master of the obvious here, but you would be surprised how plans change 🙂
  • Are there any special soil chemistry requirements?
  • How are you going to irrigate?
  • Are there special drainage requirements?

What Are You Planting?

Be sure and check the soil requirements for the types of plants you want to grow. You can put in a broad and general soil mix, but if you want the best growth and healthiest plants, you will need to tailor the soil makeup for your needs. For example, if you are growing carrots, and don’t add sand to create a loose, free growth medium, it will stunt growth. Likewise, a bed that does not drain well will create an environment where bulbs will rot during rainy weather. Any seed site will provide extensive information on the type of soil required for your plants. Example: Johnny’s Seeds.

Are There Special Soil Chemistry Requirements?

pH is one of the most important soil chemistry levels you can adjust for success of your plantings. Slightly acidic pH levels, 6-6.5, are generally most favorable for plant growth, but certain species require adjustments to these numbers. The great part about raised beds is that you typically fill them with soil that is optimized for general plant growth. Some plants may require slight adjustments, and your garden center can advise different amendments to adjust your pH.

How Will You Irrigate Your Raised Bed?

Providing water and a source can sometimes be an afterthought, but it’s easiest build your irrigation out before you add soil to the raised bed. different soil types and plants may require different types of irrigation: drop, sprinkles, spray heads, etc.

Are There Special Drainage Requirements?

Your soil makeup with have a big impact on moisture retention and drainage. Creating a composition that will provide adequate moisture and drain in heavy downpours can be challenging. Certain types of plants do not tolerate poor drainage well, and without adequate drainage you can rot your roots.

The good news? Nowadays there are so many pre-made soil types and amendments at any garden center, you easily add to your raised bed for any type of growth environment. Below is a great “middle of the road” soil composition for your bed:

  • 60% Topsoil
  • 30% Compost
  • 10% Potting Soil

This mix provides texture and air pockets, along with excellent drainage, and is appropriate for just about any type of plant. You can read more on raised bed gardening and all its glory here: Raised Bed Gardens Category Page

raised bed wall materials

Choosing a Raised Bed Material

What Material Should I Use?

This is the second post in a series on raised bed gardens (First post here: Benefits of Raised Garden Beds). The best thing about raised beds is that you can use just about anything for walls. So how do you build garden box walls? Here is a list of the typical materials you can use.

Wood: The Typical Raised Bed

Creating a wooden raised bed is quite simple, and can range from a few hour project, to one that takes up the whole weekend. You can use just about any type of wood, but ones that naturally prevent rotting are the best choices. Redwood and cedar will provide the most longevity, and turn that beautiful color grey as they age. Avoid pressure treated wood, as the chemicals can leach into the contained soil. How long will wood raised beds last? Cedar and redwood will last 10 – 20 years, other wood types like pine or douglas fir, about 3 – 5 years. 12″ planks are best for the walls, but if you have some carpentry skills, 2-3 feet can provide a convenient gardening experience.

Stone: Raised Bed For the Ages

Stone walls for raised beds have been used for centuries, and endure the test of time. You can use just about any stone, and just stack them or use mortar to make them a bit more permanent. Even if you don’t use mortar, dirt will typically fill the cracks over time for a nice aesthetic.

Concrete: Quick Beds

Concrete blocks can provide a quick and easy road to building a raised garden. You can use traditional square blocks and just stack them, mortar them, or use the manufactured blocks that are so popular at the big home stores. The manufactured blocks are nice as they have grooves to interlock so they don’t fall over. (Home Depot Stackers for Raised Beds)

Metal: The New Raised Bed

Corrugated roofing metal is a new trend in raised beds and if used correctly, it looks quite nice. Combined with a wood top rail, it can provide a nice look and be quite functional. Galvanized metal is rust resistant and will last a long time. You can get the roofing material from any big home store, and its relatively cheap. You just need the means to cut it, and fasten ends.

More on the construction of raised beds in my next post.