Ali Lawrence has been gardening since she was five. She was born and raised in Alaska but now resides in Pennsylvania where her family grows a large garden every year. Her passions include writing haikus and finding new ways to use her essential oils! Read more articles from Ali at and connect with her on Pinterest.


4 Plants to Try to Grow During the Colder Months
by Ali Lawrence - posted 11/10/16

cold climate cabbage

If you love gardening and fresh vegetables, it might be hard to see winter arrive. After all, the garden is going to be gone once frost hits, right?

Well, some crops will be gone — tomatoes and corn, certainly. But a surprising amount of vegetables and other crops can be grown in the fall and even into the winter. Try these for variety.

Leafy Green Vegetables

If you have an idea that leafy green vegetables are delicate and shrink at first frost, think again. It’s true of some leafy greens, but not all. Leafy greens that are low to the ground absorb heat from the earth because of the proximity. They are therefore slow to freeze. The greenery also augments their energy absorption from the sun. Cabbage, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens and kale will all grow nicely until the weather hits a steady 20 degrees Farenheit. Look for late summer and Fall varieties of cabbage, such as vantage point.

Root Vegetables

Why does it seem like root vegetables and cold temperatures go together so nicely in cooking, as in pot roasts with carrots and potatoes? Well, in the days before vegetables could be flown in to your local grocery store from all around the world, they were the only vegetables that kept growing once the weather got cold. The ground protects them, to some degree.

Beets, carrots and radishes will grace your gardenuntil the temperature hits the high 20 degrees Farenheit. Rutabagas and turnips can grow until the temperature hits 20 degrees Farenheit.


If your green thumb cries out to be used during the colder months, turn to herbs. They will also go well with the vegetables.

You can also have an herb garden during the colder months by growing them indoors, in containers. Be sure that any container you buy has excellent drainage at the bottom. The bottom of containers need to be covered in porous material, so draining can take place and root rot — a condition caused by too much water — doesn’t set in.

Basil will thrive indoors in winter in containers, as long as it can receive 6 full hours of sunlight. It grows well indoors for the winter in well-drained containers. It’s an herb that complements most dishes, from pasta to roast meat. It can also be made into pesto for pasta and other sauces.

Chives also grow well during the winter. They’re slightly onion-like in flavor and go well with soups, potatoes and dips.

Rosemary will be robust in the winter as long as there is enough sun. It needs a few hours of sun or partial shade per day. Rosemary is a great herb for roast meats.


Many ornamentals are another plant that can be grown in colder climates.

Evergreens are good choices for winter, and they will make your garden look vibrant even during the snow. Wintergreen, for example, tastes like mint and can be harvested for the flavor. Holly is another ornamental that will grow all year and sprout jewel-like red berries in the winter.

Container gardens are also a good way to grow ornamentals. Dwarf spruce and cypress are particularly hardy during the winter months.

Growing doesn’t stop because the weather turns cold. You can be rewarded with healthy eating and vibrant gardens all year long. 

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Preparing the Garden for Winter
by Ali Lawrence - posted 11/01/16

cat in garden during fall

Now that the hot weather is over, fall is truly settling in. As the leaves start to fall in earnest and the first frost looms on the horizon, it’s time to start thinking about winterizing your garden. The changing of the seasons can be especially daunting for beginner gardeners. If it’s your first winter, it can be hard to know where to start or how to begin preparing for the colder months.

The following basic steps can take the stress out of your winter garden preparations.

Tidy Up

With any project, gardening or otherwise, you should start off by getting rid of any junk that’s in your way, so you can focus on prepping healthy plants and clearing soil for the coming months.

Start by removing anything that is dead or dying. Pull diseased plants and gather debris like branches and dead-heading plants. Next, pull your annuals — roots and all. One-year-only plants shouldn’t take up space and attention. Cleaning up will help narrow your focus, protect your healthy plants and give you a fresh slate for spring. For any diseased plants, throw in the trash. But all other plants or brush can be added to your compost pile.

Address the Plumbing and Water

Once you’re done watering or irrigating for the year, it’s time to winterize your water system. To avoid frozen pipes, drain water from hoses and lines. Turn off the water to your outdoor faucets and store drained hoses in a shed or basement until spring.

If you have a sprinkler or irrigation system, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines or obtain specific instructions from a trusted tutorial.


Mulching your garden beds helps stabilize the ground temperature. A thick layer of mulch isn’t meant to keep the ground from freezing. It ensures the ground stays frozen, rather than thawing and refreezing as temperatures fluctuate.

If you have lots of downed leaves in your yard during autumn, consider mulching them to create or supplement your mulch. For more delicate items like bulbs, consider adding evergreen branches for increased protection.


Place a layer of fertilizer in the fall to ensure existing plants receive the nutrients they need to make it through winter and come out strong in the spring. Not all fertilizers are the same. They all contain nitrogen, phosphate and potash, but your specific needs will determine the optimal ratio of ingredients in your fertilizer. Choose a product that will meet your needs for winterizing your lawn and garden.

Plan Ahead

Plan ahead for next year as your amount of daily garden work dwindles. Planting bulbs for spring is one of the most common pre-winter tasks. There are plenty of bulbs you can plant now that will give your garden a variety of blooms all year round. Be careful not to leave standing water in barrels or bird baths, water is breeding ground for mosquitoes so by eliminating standing water you can stop mosquitoes come spring.

If you want to expand your gardening repertoire, consider using the winter to start on or expand your composting project. You could start your first hot compost pile, build or buy a permanent compost bin. Click here to learn how to compost your fall leaves.

Remember to check out your local nurseries and garden shops for advice on plants and answers to Pennsylvania-specific questions. Local experts are a great resource for understanding the specific needs of the region.

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Step-By-Step Guide to Composting Your Fall Leaves
by Ali Lawrence - posted 10/27/16

composting fall leaves

Raking up fall leaves is probably only enjoyed by children plotting to jump in the pile as soon as they have it big enough. But if you knew how fall leaves could benefit your garden’s soil next spring, you might not be as reluctant to rake them. By following these simple steps, your garden could be the envy of the neighborhood next spring.

Soil gets depleted, and by adding compost to it, you’re giving it the equivalent of a Vitamin B shot. Compost will add nutrients, encourage plant growth and restore your soil with a rich humus. Compost will stimulate the roots.

It can also help sandy soil to retain moisture, which, combined with mulching, can help your garden survive the occasional dry spell. If you live in an area that has hard clay soil, compost can help to loosen it.

1. Select a compost bin that will hold a sufficient amount of leaves. You can make one yourself out of wood or a large plastic trash bin. You can also fence off a square in your yard to use — just be sure you can easily rotate the composting materials with a rake or pitchfork.

Commercially made bins are also available at most hardware or garden centers. You will want to select one that can rotate, or that you will be able to get a pitchfork into so you can aerate the materials. Most people prefer closed bins for compost since it controls the smell, stops animals from getting into the compost bin, and keeps rain away from washing out all the nutrients.

2. Add the right balance of materials to your compost. Brown (carbon rich) materials consist of your fall leaves, shredded newspaper and hay or straw. Green (nitrogen rich) materials are vegetable scraps, grass clippings and manure from herbivores. You should have two buckets of brown material for every one bucket of green material.

Chicken manure will activate your compost by adding nitrogen. Just make sure if you are using manure to let it mature for 6 months before adding to the soil.

You can also add grass or plant clippings, egg shells, coffee grounds (including the filters), and vegetable trimmings like potato skins, carrot peelings and lettuce or cabbage hearts. These are all considered green (or moist) composting materials.

Before adding materials to your compost bin, shred all items to make your compost pile cook faster.

Check out this infographic by Safer Brand to see what materials you can add to fix nutritional deficiencies in your plants.

how to make great compost - Safer Brand infographic

3. There are some things you should never add, because they will either lengthen the time it will take for your compost to mature, or they will be unsafe. Dairy products will slow down the process because they block the oxygen that good organisms need. Human and pet feces (dog or cat) can spread disease and should never be added.

Meats, whole bones (bone meal is fine though), fish scraps and animal fats should also not be added, along with any treated wood shavings or sawdust. The chemicals used to treat the wood will add poisons to your compost, which could be absorbed by foods growing in your garden. Peels, such as banana, peach or citrus rinds should also be avoided, along with black walnut leaves. Perennial weeds, if added, will spread with the compost.

4. Keep your compost damp. It’s important to occasionally water your compost to keep it damp (not too wet though!). When adding ingredients, layer them evenly on top, water, and then mix it all together.

5. Turning the compost every one to two weeks to aerate it and help it to “cook.” Covering your compost with a bin lid, wood or plastic will help to retain moisture and heat.

6. Use your compost in vegetable and flower beds, around trees, newly turned or established areas for planting, house plants and in your next batch of compost.

7. Too many leaves to use in your compost? They can be composted alone by just raking them to an area with good drainage. Choosing a sunny location in your yard for a stationary pile of leaves will allow it to get as much heat as it can, to speed up the composting process. You can choose a shaded location, but the process will take longer — especially during the winter months.

A pile that’s at least four feet around and three feet high, with a thin layer of dirt between each foot of leaves, is ideal. It will compost in approximately five months, and should only be used to amend and condition soil, since it will not have many nutrients.

No matter how you choose to start your composting, there isn’t any wrong reason for doing it. You will be benefitting your garden, reducing your carbon footprint and enjoying a healthier harvest.

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