Petunia Care: How to Prune Petunias

How to Prune Petunias

I mostly limit my gardening to my organic veggie garden, but I do love the look of flowers around the house. I love petunias for their bright, happy looking flowers, but somehow mine always end up looking leggy and ragged a few weeks after I bring them home from the nursery. I did a search on the web to find the answers to the burning question of how to properly care for and prune petunias. Here is what I found.

How to Cut Back My Petunias to Make Them Bloom More

This article from SFGate has a good basic step by step for cutting back petunias.

Locate a node or point at least half way between the tip and base of the main stem where smaller stems or leaves branch. When petunias produce long stems with few leaves and stop producing flowers, trimming them back improves the overall look and promotes new growth and flower production. Make these pruning cuts in mid-summer.

This video has a nice demonstration where to clip the stems (at about 1:57 seconds he shows the part of the stem that you should remove behind the spent flower).

And this article from does a very good job of explaining how to keep your petunias full of flowers and bushy vs. “stemmy”

Problems with Petunias

If you look at your petunia plants you will notice that they only form flowers at the END of the stems.  So as the stems grow longer all the flowers are at the edges of the plants, with bare stems leading up to them.  This is the case if you are growing the Wave, Super Petunias or regular ones.

In order to keep the plants full, bushy and not “stemmy” – you need to clip some of the stems each week.

And here’s some really great advice for rejuvenating a stemmy plant and even rooting the cuttings that you take from the plant… and who doesn’t love MORE plants for FREE??

What should you do if your plant is “stemmy” or has stopped flowering?  Clip the stems back by 2/3 and fertilize.  You could clip all at once, or do a third at a time (randomly over the plant – clip a third every week or 10 days) so that the plant isn’t cut back all at once.

You can also root the ends of the stems you clip off – cut them to 8″ long and put them in fresh, damp potting soil after coating the stems with rooting hormone.

Lastly, don’t forget to fertilize! The GardenLady recommends every three weeks. Always water first, never fertilize a thirsty plant.

Plant Propagation – New Plants from Cuttings

After experiencing a bit of “sticker shock” after a foray into the garden store…. somehow all those plants just leaped into my carriage! I decided that I would give plant propagation a try.

Dip cuttings in Rootone
A few years ago, I got a little “pot maker” that makes tiny pots out of newspaper. They’re very handy in that I can make as many as I want and then when it’s time to transplant the seedlings or cuttings, the paper pot can go right into the soil and will decompose.

I used the homemade organic potting soil from the other day, well moistened, to fill the pots. I took cuttings from Rosemary, Sage, Lavender, Thyme and Basil. Dipped the cuttings in a little Rootone and tucked them into the pots. I then gave them a good watering and covered my trays with plastic grocery bags to keep in the moisture. The one bummer about these pots is that I don’t think they would work as well if you tried to water from the bottom, which is what a lot of seed starting and propagating websites advise. I guess I could try it… but with paper pots, I’m not sure how it would go.

It’s been a couple of days and the cuttings seem to be doing well. At least they’re not dead yet! I’m not sure how long it will take until they have roots enough to be transplanted… time for some more reading and research.

What plants have you propagated from cuttings? Do you have any hints or tips to share?

Why Not Use Peat Moss?

Just the other day I wrote a post about making organic potting soil with peat moss as one of the major components.


According to

“Canadian sphagnum peat moss is a natural, organic soil conditioner that regulates moisture and air around plant roots for ideal growing conditions. It will help to:

  • Save Water.
  • Aerate Heavy, Clay Soil.
  • Bind Sandy Soil.
  • Reduce Leaching.
  • Protect Soil.
  • Make Better Compost.”

Then I started doing some research on Peat Moss. I found that peat moss is not a readily renewable resource at the rate we are currently consuming it.

Peat moss is the partially decomposed remains of formerly living sphagnum moss from bogs.

Peat moss is mined, which involves scraping off the top layer of living sphagnum moss. The sphagnum peat bog above the mined product is a habitat for plants like sundews, butterwort and bog rosemary, as well as rare and endangered animals like dragonflies, frogs and birds, not to mention the living moss itself.

Yes, peat moss is a renewable resource, but it can take hundreds to thousands of years to form.

read more:

Wow, I never thought of all that…. and all this time I’ve been using peat moss without even thinking of the long term consequences. (H’mmm how common is that?)

So I started my search for substitutes and found that there are a couple of good ones: Coconut Coir and Leaf Mold.

Coconut coir is one material being suggested as a good replacement for peat moss. It’s a byproduct of the coconut processing industry. It’s made from the fibers found between the husk and shell of a mature ripe coconut. The brown fibers are high in lignin and are water-proof.”Coco” doormats and stuffing for automobile seats and mattresses are made from coconut coir fiber.

read more:

You should be able to get coconut coir at your local garden store, though I haven’t shopped for it since I discovered the other good peat moss substitute is easier for me to get (and free)!

Leaf mold is the result of leaves on the forest floor decomposing. You can’t buy it, but all you need to make it are leaves, moisture and time. I had thought to mix leaves in with my compost, and you can do this to a small degree if you chop the leaves up finely, but the kind of decomposition of a compost pile is slightly different. Leaf mold relies almost exclusively on fungus and compost relies more on bacteria (as well as fungus).

At any rate, leaves are something we have plenty of!

Catching up with Autumn

“Catching up with Autumn” by McKay Savage used under a Creative Commons Attribution license

In fact my dear husband thinks we might be able to break a record for the largest human-raked leaf pile. It’s not as tall now after some heavy rains (thank you Tropical Storm Andrea), but it was quite impressive this fall! And all raked by hand (no leaf blower for us.:-)

The leaf pile

Unfortunately, it takes at least 6 months to a year to make leaf mold. I did read that you can speed up the creation of leaf mold by layering leaves with some alfalfa meal or other “activator” (I have to look into this more…) But since this giant leaf pile has been growing since 2001, I think I could probably get all the leaf mold I need by digging under and around the edges of it.

So, I’m a convert. No more peat moss for me. It’s leaf mold all the way for my organic potting soil. I read that leaf mold makes a really nice mulch for perennial beds too.


Homemade Organic Potting Soil

This post was originally posted in June 2013: Mixed up some potting soil this weekend. It was very easy to make, the texture is great, and it’s organic. I had always thought it was curious that most gardening sites recommend a sterile soil for seed starting and for propogating plants. I just loved this quote I found on the forum:

I’d no sooner raise seedlings in sterile potting mix than raise kids in an apartment without a yard; some things that are done are just not natural.

So I started looking for information to backup this opinion and found this article online: that made really good point.

The ultimate mixture for a potting mix should be teaming with life. Compost is the key in suppressing soil born disease. It is an amazing thing that the living organisms within the soil will eat each other. Your seedlings and young plants will have all the perfect nutrients in which to grow strong and healthy.

Their recipe for potting soil is 4 parts screened compost, 2 parts organic sphagnum peat moss, 1 part perlite and 1 part vermiculite (make sure they’re organic and not chemically treated).

Easy Homemade Potting Soil

We have a backyard composter where garden waste and kitchen scraps are composted. I don’t yet have a nice framed screen to screen the compost, but a bit of screening put over your mixing bucket will work just fine in a pinch.

I didn’t measure very carefully (lazy gardener!) but I did base my “parts” on the number of shovelfuls of material I used.

My plan for my lovely trug full of organic potting soil? I’ve started some cuttings of rosemary, thyme, sage and lavender. I will write more about that project and process next time.

Do you have a favorite recipe for potting soil? Please share.


Yellow Fuzzy Caterpillar: Apatelodes torrefacta

Look at this lovely we found on the deck last night…

Apatelodes torrefactaAfter a bit of research… and I did use Google Image Search to start (that handy little tool that lets you drag and drop an image onto the search page and it returns similar/related results) I found out that this is probably an

Apatelodes torrefacta, or Spotted Apatelodes, is a species of moth in the Bombycidae or Apatelodidae (if this family is considered valid) family. It is found from Maine and southern Ontario to Florida, west to Texas, and north to Wisconsin.

The wingspan is 32–42 mm. Adults are on wing from May to August. There are two generations per year in the south and one in the north.

The larvae feed on FraxinusPrunusAcer and Quercus species.

From: Wikipedia:

I had never seen one before… and quite frankly I think the adult moth that comes from this caterpillar is rather frightening looking.

Spotted Apatelodes, Apatelodes torrefacta
Spotted Apatelodes, Apatelodes torrefacta by Michael Hodge used under a Creative Commons Attribution license

However, there is a joy in learning about new creatures in one’s environment, even if they are a little scary looking. The caterpillar is certainly an eye-catcher.

Hay Mulch – Why I will never neglect it again!

I’ve been an organic gardener for over 10 years now. I have always followed the Ruth Stout method of a year-round hay mulch on my garden. Before I had a compost bin, I used to compost kitchen scraps by burying them under the hay mulch. The hay itself  decomposes to keep the soil nourished. The hay also keeps the soil moist in drier weather and, most important of all to a lazy gardener, the hay keeps the weeds from growing.
Hay Bale 1Well, this past year, for a variety of reasons I didn’t “put the garden to bed” in the Fall with a new blanket of hay, nor did I order hay in the Spring for a fresh layer of mulch. I decided to try the green mulch method of Dick Joy. It has worked well so far in the area where I thickly planted green beans – that is, it’s shading the lettuce and also keeping down the weeds between the plants in that bed.

However, in the rest of the garden… the edges of the beds are getting over-run with weeds:


And it’s making me crazy! As a lazy gardener, who gets eaten alive by the ubiquitous mosquitos at this time of year, I can’t spend too much time out there weeding without getting covered in bites. Yet, looking at my poor veggies being over-run with crabgrassarrowleaf tearthumbasiatic dayflower andclover is so depressing!

This Fall, I’m definitely putting the garden to bed with a heavy layer of hay and in the Spring, I will “tuck in” all my garden beds with a nice thick layer of hay to keep the weeds at bay. Actually, I should probably order some hay right now (we get it from, Castle Hill Farm) so I can save myself weeding for the rest of the summer.

Do you have any secrets to keeping weeding to a minimum? I would love to hear them.

Softwood Cuttings – Mock Orange Propagation

After some initial success at herbaceous propagation (rooting cuttings from herbs), I decided to give it a try on a Mock Orange Bush (Philadelphus coronarius) I got from my sister a few years ago. She has since moved and I thought it would be great to give her back a cutting from the bush she gave me.

Falscher Jasmin (Philadelphus coronarius)

I did a little reading about Mock Orange plants and found this tidbit:

Mock orange will root if softwood cuttings are taken at this time of year. The cuttings should be treated with a rooting powder or liquid and stuck in a sand/peat media. The cuttings should be in partial shade and kept moist.

read more:

I started on June 3rd, when the bush was flowering and had soft, green shoots with new leaves. I snipped a few of the shoots just above a leaf node, but made sure to include at least one other leaf node on the cutting. I dipped the bottom of the cutting in rooting hormone and popped it into a prepared hole in my organic potting mix.

I watered them well and left them. That first day, I didn’t even think of covering the cuttings with plastic to keep them moist and prevent them from dying from over-transpiration. By the end of the day they were totally flopsy and looked about ready to keel over. 🙂

So I did a little more reading and found:

A greenhouse is not necessary for successful propagation by stem cuttings; however, maintaining high humidity around the cutting is critical….. Maintain high humidity by covering the pot with a bottomless milk jug or by placing the pot into a clear plastic bag.

read more:

So, I watered them some more, said a little prayer and covered them with some translucent grocery bags. I also moved them to the North side of the house so that they would be protected from the sun.

Softwood Cuttings with Grocery Bags

So, it’s now over 2 weeks later. I’m not sure how long they will take to root. I found some info online that said 2-3 weeks. But it didn’t specify if that was for herbaceous or softwood cuttings. My guess is that it will take at least 3 weeks or maybe more.

Softwood Cuttings
Mock Orange Cuttings after 2 weeks.

They’re not quite as perky as when I first took the cuttings, but they’re not dead yet! So, there’s hope. I’ll keep you posted on how they do.

Oddities of Gardeners – Why I Love my Soil Knife

Have you ever had this happen… you’re out gardening and a weed catches your eye, you pull it. Then you see another and another. Somehow you end up about 15 feet away from your trowel (or clippers, or knife..) and you come upon a monster weed that requires digging up instead of pulling up. You’re so into the task of conquering this weed that getting up to walk the 15 feet to your trowel doesn’t even occur to you and instead you find yourself tugging, pulling, even digging at the weed with a nearby stick instead of stopping to get up and get the right tool?

Ok, so maybe I’m strange, but that has certainly happened to me… on more than one occasion.

Soil Knife

Enter the greatest gardening tool I have ever owned, my soil knife. This knife is a multi-function tool that, in my opinion, is all I need on a regular day in the garden. It has depth markings on the blade, a little notch in the side for cutting twine or string, a super strong blade and sturdy handle, and a serrated edge (which was perfect for the lettuce crew cut I did this morning). It even comes with a handy-dandy leather sheath that can hook onto your belt.

I use this knife to dig holes for transplants, to stir up the soil before broadcasting seeds, to cut twine, to tie up floppy plants and even to gouge out weeds and sweep them under the garden walkways to decompose.

Just this weekend I learned a new way of harvesting lettuce where my soil knife comes in very handy. Previously I had just harvested the outer leaves of lettuce to make my salad, but I read of another method in Garden Way’s Joy of Gardening. The author recommends giving your early lettuce a crew cut instead of cutting just a few leaves. He says pulling just a few leaves allows the lettuce to keep on with it’s original life-cycle toward bolting and flowering and that giving the lettuce a crew cut forces it to start again with tender new leaves in a few weeks time, thereby giving you an easy second harvest and possibly a third after that before the plants are done for the season.

Soil KnifeHe also recommends sowing seeds very thickly in a wide row instead of using the recommendations on the seed packets. The lettuce plants above were transplants fromShortt’s Organic Farm, but the picture below shows how I did sow some lettuce seed very thickly. They’re still too small to harvest, but will be ready soon.

Baby Lettuce

If you have gardening tips to share on how to make gardening easier or increase yields, I would love to hear from you.

Weeds that Split Seeds! Hairy Bittercress

Last year I discovered a few of these in my garden… as I started to pull them up, and disturbed the plant, the seeds flew upward as if the plant were spitting in my face.

Hairy BittercressI looked it up and found that it’s called Hairy Bittercress. It’s scientific name is:  Cardamine hirsuta L.. and here’s the USDA website about these plants:

I didn’t have too  much of it last year, but found I have soooo much now, it’s everywhere. And with a propogation mechanism of spitting it’s pointy seeds high into the air and around itself, it’s no wonder!

Right now, the plants are young and the seeds are not yet spitting. I recommend pulling them up now, once they start spitting their seeds, they will spread everywhere.

Hairy Bittercress

I found a site about foraging these “weeds” which I found really intriguing.

To gather the hairy bittercress, we just lift up the cluster of leaf stalks and cut them with a knife near the ground. Then we wash the greens and pick through them, discarding the yellow leaves and pinching off some of the larger stems and flower stalks. They add a peppery bite to raw salads, and can be cooked with soups or in a recipe like other greens. We did eat a big salad with a yogurt and bittercress dressing for dinner one night, and may try some potatoes cooked with bittercress and field onions into a breakfast hash this week.


I also learned something new about how to get great images from Flickr and use the proper copyright attributions.

Cardamine hirsuta (Hairy Bittercress) by born1945, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  born1945 
And here’s one with a close up of those ultra-efficient seeds:
Hairy Bittercress by born1945, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License

  by  born1945 

References & Resources: