Frequently Asked Gardening Questions:
Q: When should I start my seeds?
A: There are 2 things that we need to determine first… Your hardiness zone, and your area’s last spring frost date. Both of which are easy to find!
1) The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive in their area. It will also help you to determine, based on the number of “frost free days” you have, whether you will need to start your seeds indoors, or if you are able to direct sow them outside. If you google “USDA Hardiness Zone Map,” you very quickly will be able to determine your zone. Prior to making your final seed selections, double check on the packet that your zone is listed on it.
2) The “last spring frost date” is the average date of the last cold freeze in spring, and/or the first light freeze in the fall for your area. This date is important because it is used as the starting date when planning out your planting schedule. Planting your crops too soon or too late can cause heavy damage from the cold temperatures.
Spring Frost Date Calculator – Our friends at the Farmer’s Almanac have a super easy calculator on their website. You simply enter your ZIP or Postal code in the field above to see frost dates for your location.
3) When to plant what – Timing is everything! – What to start when, is based on both the last spring frost date, and the seed’s specific germination timing. For example, Onions should be started now (8-10 week head start required) vs. watermelon which should be started in late April (3-4 week head start required.) Our friends at Johnny’s seeds, right here in Maine, have an excellent “seed-starting date calculator.” Simply enter your area’s last spring frost date, (described above) and it will quickly generate a list of suggested crops, the dates to start them inside, AND their setting out dates, allowing you to easily create your own sowing schedule.
Q: I’m starting seeds for the first time. Do you have any tips or recommendations for me?
A: We have heard from more people this past year than ever before, that are attempting to start seeds for the very first time. Here are our tips for seed starting success:
1) Light: If your window light is insufficient, your seedlings will grow spindly and weak. A fail-safe way to prevent “leggy seedlings” is to use grow lights. They can easily be installed under a shelf with hooks and wire. Lower the lights as needed, so they hover just an inch or two away from your seedlings.
2) Temperature: If your room temperatures are insufficient, seedling growth with be slow, or even stall. Seeds like heat! They actually prefer bottom heat – Gardening heating pads work great! The preferred temperature is about 80°- 85° (once they sprout, they’ll want sunlight.)
3) Water: Over-watering can cause the seedling’s tiny roots to rot. It also promotes a fungal disease called damping off. Water seedlings when the surface of the soil is dry to the touch. Don’t water from the top! – Place seeds trays inside a plastic basin. Water by simply filling the basin, but don’t let them continually sit in water. Be sure to drain the excess and use a spray bottle to lightly spritz them intermittently if needed.
4) Air Circulation: Air moving around your seedlings is a good thing! It actually helps to strengthen the stem tissues of the plants. It also will reduce moisture/humidity that can lead to mold and fungus. Position a fan nearby to blow (not directly on) for 1-2 hours a day.
5) Nutrition: Seedlings are extremely delicate and can get overwhelmed easily. Sowing your seeds in a soil that is too nutrient-rich can cause “fertilizer burn,” damaging roots and tender foliage. Seed starter mixes, (like CoM’s Sprout Island Blend) are formulated with just the right nutrients to create the ideal biologically diverse environment for seed germination. Important!! Do not use soil from your garden or re-use potting soil from your houseplants, as they can harbor soil-borne diseases seedlings can’t fight.
6) Planting: Plant seeds at the right depth – Seeds should be planted at a depth no more than 3X their size. Teeny tiny seeds, like lettuce, should barely be covered with soil. TIP: Use a small salt shaker to evenly distribute small seeds in your trays and flats.
Q: My seedlings were fine one day, now they are all wilting, and have white, cobweb-like growth on them! What is wrong!?
A: Sounds like “Damping off.”
It is a fungal disease which affects the new plants stems just at soil level. Damping off is most prevalent in wet and cool soil conditions. It typically occurs when seeds are over watered, crowded, or when seedlings are planted with insufficient light, temperature, or poor soil drainage. There is no cure for damping off, and it spreads rapidly, so prevention is key! Sorry. You may have to start your seeds over.
Here are our tips to help prevent damping off:
1) Use sterilized pots and trays with adequate drainage and use new, clean seed starting soil, like Coast of Maine’s Sprout Island Blend, Organic Seed Starter!
2) Follow the instructions on your seed packets. Make sure not to over crowd the seeds and to plant your seeds at the proper depth, so they don’t have to work so hard to find the light and germinate.
3) Don’t over water! Water your seeds just enough to keep the soil moist. Use pots with drainage holes to ensure good drainage of excess water. *Tip: Water seedlings from the bottom by placing the seed pack container into a separate tray and filling the tray with water. Allow the soil to absorb the water, but not saturate. Make sure to drain off any excess.
4) Use clean, warm water (68°-75°) to water your seedlings. Cold water (50°) can slow plant growth and increase the chances for infection to set in.
5) Give your seedlings plenty of heat and light. Seedlings prefer bottom heat. (Gardening heating pads work great!) The preferred temperature is about 80°- 85°. They also require 12-16 hrs of light. (Soft white fluorescent or grow lights are recommended.) 6) Reduce humidity by placing a small fan nearby and turning it on periodically each day.
Q: Is it really important to bring my seedlings outside for a few hours daily? Why can’t I just plant them?
A: Yes, it is extremely important! Before moving your new seedlings or container plants outside into your yard or garden, you’ll need to get them acclimated to their new growing conditions: direct sunlight, cooler nights, and drying winds. The process is called “hardening off” and it should be done for 10-14 days.
1) Your plants should be healthy & seedlings should be showing their first real leaves.
2) Move the plants outdoors in a protected spot, (free from wind) where they can absorb sunlight for increasing amounts of time, several days in a row. (for seedlings, start with 2-3 hours at a time, then simply add 1 hour each day)
3) As you gradually increase the amount of time they spend outside & the amount of sunlight they receive, try to reduce the frequency you water them (making sure not to let them to wilt)
4) For seedlings, after the first week, start to increase their exposure to the cooler night temperatures. (Again starting with 2-3 hours at a time) For containers, be mindful of temps and wait until they are consistently over 50° to leave them overnight. ** Tip: If purchasing seedlings at a local garden center, make sure to ask them if they have already been “hardened off.” If they haven’t, make sure to follow the steps we’ve listed.
5) When you’re ready to plant seedlings, make sure to water them well before & after transplanting. Also, apply an organic low NPK fertilizer, to give their roots a boost & to help avoid transplant shock. (Coast of Maine’s Liquid Kelp is perfect for this!)
Check out Coast of Maine’s “New Gardener Series,” of videos on YouTube! Episode 4 of 5 talks about this very topic: Hardening off your seedlings
Q: Help! I planted my seeds in seed trays and the package said to direct sow! Is there anything I can do to possibly help my seedlings survive the transplant into my garden?
A: Most gardeners start at least some of their seeds inside. Up here in Maine, with our short growing seasons, it is an absolute MUST to start seeds indoors in order to fit them all in! Most root vegetables (like carrots, radishes, and turnips) do not transplant well and suffer “transplant shock” when their roots are disturbed. Their packaging for sure lists, ” Direct sow only.” Sunflowers also fall into that category. Because of the taproot, moving sunflowers is not advisable. But… all is not lost! There are a few things you can do to lessen the likelihood of “transplant shock.” It may not work for all plants, but it will help in most cases.
1) If possible, prior to transplanting, (at least 30-60 min before) bottom feed the seedlings with a strengthening drink of seaweed fertilizer. (Like Coast of Maine’s Liquid Kelp!) Liquid Kelp contains dozens of valuable micro-nutrients that act like a vitamin! Giving the roots an added boost to reduce those stressors. It is diluted (2 tbsp of liquid kelp, per gallon of water)
2) Take great caution to disturb as little of the roots as possible. Try to pop out the soil and root structure fully intact from cell. Do not shake out the soil when moving the plant. (a popsicle stick can be a useful tool. Slide it down the side of the cell as gently as possible to the bottom. Then, using it as a lever, try to free the entire soil structure out.)
3) After you plant your seedlings, make sure to water them really well again, to establish good capillary action between the new soil and the original surrounding soil from the cell/seed tray.
4) Check on them frequently for signs of deterioration or disease.
Q: I am planting my first vegetable garden. Do you have any tips to help me determine what to plant, where?
A: Yes. This is called “companion planting.” Essentially, it is the planting of different crops in proximity of each other to create a symbiotic environment/ecosystem. They may provide a mutually beneficial nutrient exchange, or offer pest-repelling abilities, a habitat for beneficial insects, or even help to maximize the use of space and accessibility of sunlight. You can find TONS of information on it online that will specifically pertain to whatever you’re planting, but here are some common ones:
Plant a variable mix of plants together with staggered maturity dates to ensure they don’t crowd each other or steal each-other’s nutrients/sun. By interplanting “fast growers” like spinach, arugula, or radish around “slow to fill out,” larger plants, like Kale, and Cauliflower, you can harvest and remove the smaller plants before the larger ones begin to fill in.
Plant tall / climbing vegetables, such as sweet corn, or pole beans, on the NORTH side of your garden so they won’t cast shadows/shade over your other plants when they are fully grown.
Some combinations actually can help keep pests away! Here are some examples:
Plant Basil –> Next to tomatoes – It detracts tomato horn worms, AND enhances the flavor of the tomatoes!
Plant Thyme –> Next to cabbage – it detracts cabbage worms, AND its flowers attract honey bees!
Plant Garlic, or Dill –> Next to broccoli – they are so aromatic that they deter aphids, and Japanese beetles
Plant Zinnias –> Near brussels sprouts or broccoli – they attract lady bugs that will EAT aphids!
Q: Last year my lettuce and broccoli bolted really early in the season. Can you recommend anything to help prevent that?
A: Yes. Bolting is the term applied to vegetable crops when they prematurely advance into the flower stage of growth and run to seed. This changes not only the plant’s appearance, but also unfortunately, their taste! The major causes are soil temperature (that summer heat!) and the existence of stresses such as insufficient water or minerals.
Here are some tips to help you delay your bolt-prone plants (Lettuce, Spinach, Broccoli, Cauliflower) from jumping into their flowering stages too soon.
1) Water Regularly: Consistent, even watering is the key! Watering plants regularly will help keep the soil temperature down and reduce the plant’s stress levels. (Once a plant has fully bolted, the plant is essentially inedible. When the plant puts it’s energy into flowering/producing seeds, the parts of the plant that we eat, will then be robbed of the nutrition they need, and unfortunately the flavor becomes tasteless or even bitter.)
2) Apply Mulch: Adding mulch and ground cover to the area will help to keep the soil temperatures down. Mulch also prevents weeds from forming which are common stressors to plants. (We suggest Coast of Maine’s Dark Harbor Blend or Fundy Blend, organic enriching mulches!)
3) Feed your Plants: Inadequate food resources can cause a plant to stress. Give your plants a mid-season nutrient pick-up with an organic all-purpose fertilizer like our Stonington Blend Plant Food 5-2-4 to keep them happy and healthy.
4) Snip off the buds – if you catch a plant in the very early stages of bolting, you can temporarily reverse the process by snipping off the flowers and flower buds. In some plants, like basil, lettuce and spinach the plant will actually stop bolting and resume producing leaves. It will at least buy you some extra time to harvest the crop before it becomes inedible.
Raised Bed / Container Gardening:
Q: I am starting my first raised bed garden. How big should I make it, and where should I put it?
A: Congratulations! Raised beds have numerous benefits! They allow you to control soil conditions, provide good drainage and create a barrier to pests such as slugs and snails. Here are our tips:
1) Garden Size – How big should your garden be? Garden sections should be kept to a maximum of 4 feet wide. The average person’s arm reach is just over 2 feet. By keeping the garden width down to 4 feet, it will allow you to comfortably tend to the plants from any side. TIP: The easy math is to map out a 10ft wide garden, with a 2ft wide path down the middle. If you prefer a raised bed, it couldn’t be easier! Lumber typically comes in 8 foot lengths. You can create several small 4×4 (16 sq ft) raised vegetable garden beds quite simply by cutting the lumber pieces in half. * Avoid using pressure treated wood, as the compounds in the treatment can leach into your soil.
2) Plan for Sunlight – A general rule of thumb is to provide 6-8 hours of direct sunlight for a healthy garden. To ensure you are getting the best available sun, follow the daily patterns of light and shadows cast in your intended garden area. Take snapshots at different times of day over the course of a few sunny days, and compare. TIP: There are a few “sunlight tracker” apps available (for a small fee) that will map the sun’s exposure, position and path hourly for you by location (“Sun Seeker” app.)
3) Plan for watering – Water needs to be readily available and easy to deliver to your plants. Make sure your garden is placed in an area that a hose with a sprayer attachment can reach, or even better, in an area that you can employ a buried soaker hose with a timer!
4) Plan for pest control and pollinator attraction – Planting certain flowers in or around your vegetable garden can help manage insect visits. Some insects we want, and some we don’t! We recommend planting multi-branching sunflowers in the center of your garden to help attract the bees and beneficial insects to your plants, and marigolds on the outside perimeter of the area to help deter harmful pests and deer.
5) Plan for nutrition – The only nutrition your plants will be provided, will come from the soil you use. You will want to make sure you choose a soil blend that is biologically diverse and nutrient-rich, like Coast of Maine’s Castine Blend Raised Bed Mix. It was specifically designed for raised bed gardens! It is ready to use and contains everything your garden bed needs, with no additional mixing required. In addition to the litany of fantastic ingredients, it also includes added Kelp meal and greensand help to replenish micro-nutrients and added biochar to help reduce the leaching/loss of soluble nutrients after heavy rains.
Q: It has been raining for 4 days straight! Are my container gardens going to be ok?
A: The heavy rainfall and storms we have been experiencing lately is great for our lawns, but can take a toll on plants in containers and beds. Here are some tips for wet weather garden care:
1) Check for exposed roots – Heavy rain can cause soil erosion. Check for exposed roots and apply additional soil or compost to cover them before they dry out.
2) Look for signs of nutrition loss – Plants will quickly become nutrient deficient if the excessive rain has caused their soluble nutrition to leach out of their soil. Look for changes in the plant’s leaves (i.e. yellowing, spotting, curling etc. ) TIP: Restore essential micro-nutrients quickly by applying a foliar spray. A quick spray of Coast of Maine’s liquid kelp or liquid squid (diluted with water and applied with a spray bottle) onto plant leaves will help plants bounce back fast. (Plants can absorb trace elements through their leaves much faster than they can from the soil.)
3) Look for pests – Snails and slugs love moist conditions. Inspect your plant’s leaves for their telltale damage: hole-riddled plants and slimy trails. The damage can be extensive, so removing and deterring them is extremely important. TIP: Make a moat of crushed eggshells or course sand around plants to create a barrier that slugs prefer not to cross.
4) Check for proper drainage – Check that your pots and planters are draining properly and haven’t gotten blocked up.
Small Fruit Gardening:
Q: I am interested in planting blueberry bushes. What if I have partial sun? and what soil should I use?
A: August is a great time to plant your blueberry bushes for next year! The roots of these bushes will continue to grow until the soil temperatures go below 45°. This provides them with a slight head start for when the spring rains arrive.
Here are our true/false planting recommendations:
1) Blueberries prefer acidic types of soil in the range of 4.5 to 5.5 pH: True! Blueberries want a soil pH between 4.5-5.5, but really, anything below 6.5 will work. (Coast of Maine’s NEW Planting Soil for Acid-Loving Plants, with a target pH of 6.0, is a perfect choice)
2) Blueberries prefer full sun, but can still grow in partial shade. The output of berries will not be as high, but they will still produce fruit. *Tip: Blueberries have shallow root systems make sure to provide your new plants with a light shade on extremely sunny days to prevent drying and sunburn.
3) Blueberries need at at least two different varieties planted nearby for cross pollination to increase yield. The highbush cultivars are self-fertile, but cross pollination by another variety will produce larger/more berries. Lowbush are not self-fertile, so they definitely require a different variety to pollinate. We recommend visiting your local garden center. They can be a huge help in selecting the right varieties.
4) Note: Plants won’t produce much fruit the first 2 to 3 years: Blueberries begin to really produce fruit in the third season. Tip: Try not to prune your plants until then!
Q: The birds are eating my berries before I do. Can you recommend anything to deter them?
A: Birds will start munching on your tree fruit, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries well before they are even fully ripe. The key to ensuring there’s still fruit left for you, is to get there before they do! Here are some tips for protecting your fruit:
1) Decoys – Set up predator decoys (owls/hawks) with with built-in speakers that play predator cries and bird distress calls across your home orchard. The presence of potential predators and sounds will alarm real birds and keep them away from your trees. TIP: Birds are smart and will eventually get desensitized to the fake predators. Make sure to move the decoys every couple of days and to stagger the timing/duration of the distress calls.
2) Shiny Deterrents – Shiny, moving objects can help frighten hungry birds from the area. Hang aluminum pie tins from strings, and tie long strips of shiny mylar “flash tape” to branches (like streamers)
3) Bird Netting – The most effective protection is netting! Drape netting over berry bushes and small fruit trees. Wire can be used to help hold the netting away from the ripening fruit and prevent damage. For low crops like strawberries, use floating row cover frames to support the netting. Smaller berry bushes can be protected with pop-up screens purchased at your local garden center. Or, if you’d like to go the DIY route, by creating tee-pee shapes with bamboo poles over your crops and draping them with bird netting. Earth Staples can be used to hold the net in place.
Trees & Shrubs:
Q: I found a hydrangea bush on clearance at the garden center. Is it too hot for me to plant it now? (summer)
A: Planting trees, shrubs, and perennials now is a little risky because they may not tolerate the jostling in the hot summer sun, but … with so many of them wearing discount/clearance tags at your local garden center, it is likely worth the risk! Here are some summer tree/shrub planting tips:
1) For best results, make sure the plants are well rooted in the ball/container. Avoid trees/shrubs that arrive bare root/shaken free of soil. (i.e. bare root roses) The heat is often too stressful for them to have any kind of success this late in the planting season. They are best planted in early Spring.
2) Make sure to keep them well watered! Since they will have a limited root system, it is imperative that they receive ample opportunity to drink. Watering early in the AM is always preferred because the water has a chance to soak into the roots instead of getting evaporated by the heat, plus, it leaves time for the area to dry before nightfall, which helps prevent fungal diseases. Amending the planting hole with a rich, quality compost blend will help keep the soil moist and grow healthy roots. (Penobscot Blend, Organic Planting Mix is perfect to use when planting trees, shrubs and perennials!)
3) Keep close watch on your new trees for “scorching.” If the newly planted limbs/stems start to look burned, you can help the plant get better rooted by trimming back any flowers/blooms so it isn’t expending that extra energy on healing and can focus more on growing stronger roots.
Succulents & Cactus:
Q: I received a few succulents as a gift and want to replant them in a container. What do you recommend?
A: Sure! The aloe plant and “burro’s tail” will grow great together. Here are our tips:
1) Choose a container with drainage holes that will allow excess water to escape. Succulent roots will rot if they get too waterlogged. Soggy soil is also a favorable environment for destructive fungi to flourish.
2)Choose a soil made specifically for succulents! Not just any old potting mix will do. The Soil needs to drain well, BUT… not so well that it dries out completely. (Coast of Maine’s Mount Desert Island Blend’s unique compost based formula provides that perfect balance of drainage and water retention. The addition of fish bone meal and kelp meal also promote healthy root and plant growth.)
3) Proper watering is key! Too much water will rot the roots, while too little water will weaken the plant. *Tip-Test the soil by inserting your finger. If the top 1”-1.5” feels dry, it is the green light to water again.
4) Make sure your succulents get enough light. Most succulents require about 6 hours of direct sunlight. *Tip: To ensure the plant is getting full sun exposure on all sides, make sure to rotate it often.
Soil / Bed Preparation:
Q: What do you recommend to use to amend clay soil?
A: To avoid the drainage and compaction problems of clay soil, we recommend amending it with an organic compost (our Quoddy Blend Lobster Compost is perfect for this!) Simply work a 2 inch layer into the top 4 to 6 inches of soil before planting. This will give your plants both the nutrients and the ideal soil conditions to grow happy. Here is a link to a blog we did on amending your soil and features Quoddy: https://coastofmaine.com/getting-down-and-dirty/
Q: How many bags of soil /mulch do I need for my garden?
A: We have a soil/mulch calculator available on our website: https://coastofmaine.com/calculators/
Q: How is Coast of Maine Brands responding to concerns about Peat sustainability?
A: Coast of Maine Brands strives to provide the very best soils available to homeowners and commercial growers who are as concerned as we are about sustainability. Our products have always contained varying amounts of peat moss depending on the product. Most of the peat moss we use comes from Canada and of the 280 million acres of Canadian peatlands, only 0.03% of those acres are being harvested. Despite the regulation and regrowth efforts by harvest companies, the sustainability of peat harvesting is debatable.
In an effort to lessen our dependence on this resource, we are decreasing the volume of peat moss in our soil recipes. It is being replaced by a combination of materials including compost, aged bark fines and wood fibers. You will notice a change in the texture of the mixes and will likely need to adjust watering according to plant needs. Overall, this change will allow us to become more sustainable while delivering the same product quality that you have come to know from our Company.