Garden Planning – Dream Big!

Submitted by Faye Mahaffey

OSUE Brown County Master Gardener Volunteer

Rain, Snow, Frigid Temperatures and then a spike to 50 degrees – welcome to Ohio. Are you thinking about involving some young gardeners this year?  You still have a chance to design your home garden to match your family’s personalities and needs. Give your children a voice in your garden’s design and plantings to help generate interest and a lifelong passion for nature. It will also create memories and teach cooperation, patience, and responsibility. Brainstorm together and don’t be afraid to use your imagination!

Get out your old magazines, seed catalogs and art materials. Start by creating poster board size version of the garden. Label structures and identify desired flowers and plants. This is your family’s time to “Dream Big” as you share visions of a perfect garden. Young children might request castles, waterfalls or other water features. Be sure to listen to all ideas and take notes. There might be a possibility of creating a smaller or alternative version of those ideas!

When it comes to implementing ideas and making an official plan, you may need to scale it down. Have you chosen your site? Be sure to place the garden/play area where you can see it from your kitchen window or other rooms you spend a lot of time in. Look up and down. Before you dig, be aware of any power lines, pipes, septic systems, or other existing limitations. Consider where there is the most sunlight and the most shade; you will need to choose plants accordingly.

Now you need draw a model of your garden space. Sketch the shape onto graph paper, trying to keep it to a scale using one square equal to one foot. Add paths or any permanent structures that exit in your space. Next draw any structures you’d like to include. The last step will be choosing plants that best accommodate your design, space and budget.

No space for a castle, moat, or climbing rock? Here are a few ideas that could generate excitement and joy in your garden! 1) Plan a sunflower house by planting sunflowers in a square to form a “room”, 2) Using five or more poles or large branches bound at the top and grow gourds, beans, cucumbers or miniature pumpkins, 3) Create a tunnel: insert 8-foot poles every 3 feet along both sides of a path; lash horizontal poles at 2-, 4-, and 6-foot heights; and then plant and train vines along this corridor, 4) Use a simple platform to create a stage or gathering place for kids’ outdoor lunches,  5) instead of a water feature, create a shallow bird bath, 6) arrange 4-5 tree stumps at varying heights (not too tall) for children to step across or move throughout the yard, or 7) use a shallow children’s pool as a circular raised garden bed and then try planting in unique shapes and patterns!

Remember to consider your plants needs: Sunlight, Access, Spacing and Water. Do your research!

One of my favorite garden bloggers, “Gardenista” summed up how I feel about involving children in the garden. She says, “If you’ve ever watched a child pull a fresh carrot from the ground and eat it, you will know what sheer surprise and delight look like. There are countless benefits to children when they help plant and grow fruits and vegetables. Some favorites: gaining an interest in eating vegetables, appreciating where their food comes from, increasing focus and attention, teaching delayed gratification, disconnecting from technology, and creating future stewards of the land. Let’s give thanks this year to children everywhere who get dirty, try a spicy radish for the first time, and watch a ladybug meander up their arm.

Don’t forget to mark your calendars for our garden seminar on Wednesday, February 19, 2020 at the Mt. Orab Campus of Southern State Community College. Christine Tailer will be talking about Starting Seeds with Float Beds. All seminars are free and open to the public and start at 7:00 p.m. in Room 208. Remember, if the Mt. Orab campus is closed due to bad weather, the seminar is cancelled.

It’s time to start planning your garden! Spring is around the corner!

Chicory and Chiggers

Submitted by Faye Mahaffey

OSUE Brown County Master Gardener Volunteer

My husband and I love to take long drives in the surrounding areas to check the crops. The soaring temperatures have certainly put stress on everything, and we all are hoping for cooler weather and some rain. (I know, can you believe I am wishing for rain now?) I continue to water my tomatoes, cucumbers and squash every other day. The plants in the perennial bed are looking very thirsty. I try not to look their way as I carry water to the petunias planted close by.

We headed to town early this morning and we noticed the familiar bloom of the Chicory plant lining both sides of the road. When I arrived home, I headed to my favorite wildflower reference book, Wildflowers of Ohio, written by Stan Tekiela. My husband quickly commented, “Wildflower? Isn’t that a weed?” Tekiela’s information for Chicory (Cichorium intybus) includes:

Family: Aster (Asteraccae)

Height: 1-4 Feet

Flower: Stalkless sky blue flowers, 11/4 inches wide, each with up to 20 petals (ray flowers); flowers sparsely populate a tall stem and close by early afternoon; petals (ray flower) are square-tipped and fringed; color ranges from white to pink, depending upon age and location

Leaf: long, toothed basal leaves, 3-6 inches long, similar to dandelion leaves; stem leaves are oblong and much smaller, ½-1 inch long, lack teeth and clasp the stem

Bloom: summer, fall

Cycle/Origin: perennial, non-native

Habitat: dry, sun, along roads, open fields

Range: throughout

Also known as Blue Sailor or Ragged Sailor, its few flowers open one at a time and last only one day. This European import, believed to come from Eurasia, was brought to the United States to be cultivated for its long taproot, which can be roasted and ground as a coffee substitute or additive. Its edible leaves, like dandelion leaves, are high in vitamins and minerals, but taste quite bitter. Have you tried Chicory “coffee”? I have to admit that it is not at the top of my list to try!

I’m sure some of you are wondering how Chiggers fit into this story. We stopped at the farm to check on the barn painters. I walked around looking at their progress and of course I was walking in a weedy area. I am basically a chigger “magnet”, and we needed to head home to clean up ASAP. In a recent Ohio State University Extension’s edition of Buckeye Yard and Garden, it was shared that there is probably no creature on earth that can cause as much torment for its size than the tiny chigger. Tiny six-legged chigger larvae attack campers, hikers, bird watchers, berry pickers, fisherman, picnickers, and homeowners in low, damp areas where vegetation is rank such as woodlands, berry patches, orchards, along lakes and streams, and even in driers places where vegetation is low such as lawns, golf courses, and parks.

Contrary to popular belief, chiggers do not burrow into the skin. Instead, they stay on the surface of the skin and crawl to the base of a hair follicle to feed. Once settled, the larva injects the skin with digestive fluids using its piercing, sucking mouthparts (capitulum), and then they ingest the resulting “cell puree”. Some people are highly sensitive to the chigger’s feeding activity, and their skin will swell and surround the larva. This often kills the chigger, and the dead larva found within the swollen skin gives rise to the misconception that chiggers burrow into the skin.

Chiggers are usually associated with spring and early summer; however, they can undergo three generations per year in warm climates. To avoid being the victim of chiggers, avoid walking through brushy areas or wear long white pants with the socks pulled over the pant legs (quite the fashion statement, don’t you think?). Insect repellents such as DEET can help to ward off chiggers. Apply repellent to both the skin and clothing, especially to clothing openings at cuffs, neck, waistband and upper edges of socks. Follow all directions carefully. It takes several hours for the chiggers to settle, so bathing immediately after hiking in weedy areas can significantly reduce the number of bites. Calamine lotion and similar products will help to reduce itching and the risk for subsequent skin infections.

Insecticides can be sprayed to control chiggers. For the best results, target areas where chiggers are most likely to converge, such as fence rows and garden edges where shrubbery is dense. Before using anypesticide, always read the label and follow directions and safety precautions.

The bottom line for me and other chigger “magnets” is to be pro-active and use a repellent before you head out to enjoy the outdoors!


Tomatoes in the Home Garden

Submitted by Faye Mahaffey

Brown County OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

Leaf spot diseases of tomatoes enjoy the warm, humid weather that most of us experience in Ohio. Many of these leaf spot diseases can mimic each other in their early stages of development.

If you have access to a computer, I highly recommend visiting the Ohioline website to look at Fact Sheet HYG-1624-10. Authors, Gary Gao, Brad Bergefurd, and Bob Precheur provide readers with a fantastic list of suggested tomato cultivars to use in the home garden. Information on:  Climate requirement, Site Requirements, Sunlight Requirements, Fertilization, Disease Resistance, Establishing the Plants, Plant Spacing, Supporting Tomato Plants, Growing Tomatoes in Containers, Watering Tomato Plants, Mulching, Diseases, Insects, Weed Control, Harvest and Storage, and Special Problems with Tomatoes, will help the home gardener increase their harvest.

I have received some phone calls and there are loads of photos on Facebook about spots on tomato leaves, so I am hoping this information will help gardeners determine what may be affecting their tomato plants. Proper diagnosis will help one select the most appropriate management for each disease.

*Early Blight– This is a fungal disease that can infect all above ground parts of the tomato plant. The symptoms usually begin on the leaves and start out as small necrotic (brown) spots that expand rapidly and eventually grow together, usually from the bottom of the plant, up. There is usually a small yellow halo surrounding the necrotic region. These symptoms eventually form a bull’s-eye appearance and cause leaf defoliation. Fruit symptoms include concentric rings of dead tissue, also giving the lesion a bull’s-eye appearance, these spots become large and eventually will cause fruit drop. This disease overwinters on infected plant material in the soil and seed. An OSU Extension Fact Sheet on “Early Blight of Potato and Tomato” can be found at:

*Late Blight– This is a fungal disease that infects quickly and can infect all above ground parts of the tomato plant. Rapid fungal development is usually enhanced by humidity and rainfall. This disease creates brown, water-soaked, or greasy lesions on stems, leaves, and fruit. Management of this disease is very important. An OSU Extension Fact Sheet on “Late Blight of Potato and Tomato” can be found at:

*Septoria Leaf Spot– Septoria is a fungal disease of tomatoes that affects the foliage. In some cases, the disease can be so severe that it defoliates the entire plant in a growing season causing little to no fruit production. This disease produces lesions that are usually brown, circular, and small with a yellow halo. Fungal fruiting bodies known as pycnidia can be seen usually in the middle of the mature lesion as tiny, black dots. Septoria starts on the lower leaves and works its way up the plant. Sanitation is key in managing this disease. An OSU Extension Fact Sheet on “Septoria Leaf Spot of Tomato” can be found at:

By now you know that the Mahaffey household loves their tomatoes. My husband wants me to hang a water-proof saltshaker on the Texas Tomato Cages so he can salt as he grazes in the tomato patch. Not a bad idea, really.

I found a great quote from Lewis Grizzard that says, “It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a home-grown tomato.”

Here’s hoping for a long and bountiful tomato season!

Raised Bed Gardening

Submitted by Faye Mahaffey

OSUE Brown County Master Gardener Volunteer

Growing up on the farm we had a huge garden. My mom and I worked in it every day, and my dad would hoe weeds if they got ahead of us. My mom loved flowers and loved to take a vase of cut flowers to church each Sunday. I remember my Grandpa Haines asking my Mom what she had planted so far, and her reply was, “4 rows of Zinnias, 4 rows of Cosmos and 4 rows of Gladiolas.” Not the answer my Grandpa was looking for!

Raised garden bedAs my parents aged the garden grew smaller. Finally, we built some raised beds for some tomato plants. We were not canning like we had in the past, and we were tired of fighting weeds. It was nice to be able to mow around the beds and spend less time weeding around plants.

When I moved to our current home, the garden was larger. I even attempted to grow some sweet corn, but the raccoons beat me to the harvest. My husband used to have a huge garden because he went up and down between the rows with a tiller. When I arrived on the scene and tried to convince him that tilling so often was creating more weed issues, the garden became mine. I wasn’t interested in canning lots of green beans for just the two of us, so the garden started shrinking in size. I make a batch of pickles every other year and still like to can some chili sauce each year.

Remember the crazy weather we had last summer? Every time it got dry enough in my garden to hoe weeds, it seemed that there were other things I needed to be doing. Then….it would rain again! I threatened to put boards down in between the rows so that I could weed but didn’t get that done either! When it came time to pick green beans, I had to use the weed trimmer in-between the rows! That was the day that I resolved to make some changes.

I knew that I wanted raised beds but wasn’t sure what size or shape. The research started on Pinterest and my Raised Bed Board was soon full of a variety of raised beds. I would sit and look at each photo and made notes about my favorites.

I researched online at, the University of Missouri Extension, and Purdue Extension. Of course, I purchased a book, “Raised Bed Revolution” by Tara Nolan and did research at Mother Earth News.

The results are exciting! I have 3 large beds that are 16 feet long, 22 inches high and 4 feet wide. Some fun additions to the garden are 2 pieces of old Pride of the Farm Hog feeders, one of which will be where I plant asparagus. We are building a 2-bin composting station this week.

I am looking at a variety of planting plans and am really interested in a 3-season raised-bed plan that I found in a Garden Project book. I will share more as the weeks pass. For now, there will not be a fence around the beds. But that might change, since I just counted 5 deer walking by my potting shed!


What Do You Need From A Plant?

Submitted by Faye Mahaffey

OSUE Brown County Master Gardener Volunteer

Emerging Daffodils

As the roller coaster Ohio weather treats us to 20-degree mornings and 55-degree afternoons and lots of rain, have you had a chance to walk around and make your list of changes in the landscape for next season? In an article in Ohio Gardener, Scott Beuerlein shares your 3 choices when making improvements in your yard:

1. Remove ugly things,

2. install pretty things,

3. Move pretty things around.

Beuerlein believes that removing ugly things might be the hardest choice. Gardeners loathe digging up and tossing living plants – even the ugliest ones! Don’t save it because it came from your old garden, or that it came from your favorite Aunt. If it’s ugly, it’s compost!

Installing pretty things usually involves shopping trips to your local nursery. Beuerlein recommends picking two or three of your best nurseries and trying to go to them regularly throughout the season. (I really like this tip, don’t you?)  This is the best way to find new things that will guarantee a full season of interest. Establish a relationship with the smartest person at each nursery and during each visit ask them what is currently exciting them the most. Work these new acquisitions into the places ugly plants once occupied.

Moving pretty plants around will have to wait until spring. Make a note on your list of what you would like to move and where. I still have some flags in my daylily bed to remind me that a few cultivars need divided.

What do you need from a plant?  In my garden, a plant needs to be low maintenance. I don’t like a “needy” plant.

A plant that joins my garden needs to be able to survive on its own. If it needs extra water, food, or protection, it won’t be on my list. Many gardeners buy a plant that comes with “must do” chores with good intentions, but who are we kidding? Do you really have time to attend to its needs?

Next a plant in my garden needs to be able to take weather extremes in stride. Every growing season we complain about the weather knowing that we have no way to control Mother Nature. Too wet, too dry, too hot, too cold – welcome to Ohio!

Lastly, we all need our gardens to make us look good. Come on, admit it. We want our plants to be attractive, but we can’t expect them to flower all the time! Gardeners need to be smart about what plants they choose to achieve a garden that has blooms all season long. Reading the plant labels carefully and doing some extra research will pay off in the end.

The research on raised beds for my vegetable garden has turned up a beautiful plan that has received the “husband approval”, which is very important since he will be the head carpenter on the project! The material list is being drawn up as I write this article. I will share more information in the coming weeks.

Have you been enjoying the fruits of your labor in the garden? We enjoyed some bread and butter pickles with some delicious cheese and the pot of chili was especially tasty thanks to the addition of the chili sauce (Ball Book).

After a walk in the woods over the weekend, I have pulled out the tree identification books. Identifying a tree by its bark is a challenge for me, how about you?


Learn More About Pollinators

Submitted by Faye Mahaffey

OSUE Brown County Master Gardener Volunteer

Interested in learning more about pollination and pollinators? Hopefully, by now, you realize just how important pollinators are to our existence. The act of “pollination” occurs when pollen grains are moved between two flowers of the same species by wind or animals. Successful “Pollination” results in the production of healthy fruit and fertile seeds, allowing plants to reproduce. Without pollinator visits to tomatoes and other fruit and vegetable plants in our gardens, we would have no produce!

Almost 90% of all flowering plants rely on animal pollinators for fertilization, and about 200,000 species of animals act as pollinators. Of those, 1,000 are hummingbirds, bats and other mammals such as mice. The rest are insects like beetles, bees, ants, wasps, butterflies and moths.

Ohio State University Program Director for Honey Bee and Native Pollinator Education, Denise Ellsworth, will be visiting Clermont and Brown Counties for 2 days of pollinator education hosted by the Clermont and Brown County OSUE Master Gardener Volunteers, and the Brown County Beekeepers Association.

On March 12, 2019, you will have the opportunity to become certified as an Ohio Pollinator Advocate. Ohio Pollinator Advocates are certified, trained volunteers who spread the word about the importance of pollinators. Advocates complete at least 2 hours of training in pollination biology, Ohio bee identification, bee biology and habitat enhancement. Once certified, advocates agree to share their knowledge of why pollinators matter. This new training is sponsored by The Ohio State University Bee Lab. This training will take place at the Clermont County Fairgrounds, 4-H Hall, 1000 Locust Street, Owensville, Oh 45160 from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. The training is free and open to the public, but you will need to register by contacting the Clermont County Extension Office at 513-732-7070.

At 7:00 p.m. on March 12, 2019, the Brown County Beekeepers Association will host Denise Ellsworth as their speaker on Phenology for Beekeepers. Phenology is the study of recurring biological phenomena and their relationship to weather and climate. Participants will learn how to track bloom time of local plants using a web-based biological calendar, how native bees emerge in relation to phenology, and how to customize this calendar for bee-specific plants. This seminar will be held at Western Brown High School’s Community Room (back of the school) at 476 W. Main Street, Mt. Orab Oh 45154 from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. This program is free and open to the public and no registration is required.

On March 13, 2019, Denise Ellsworth will present the program, Gardening for Pollinators at the Brown County Fairgrounds, in the carpeted room at Rhonemus Hall, 325 West State Street, Georgetown, Oh 45121, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.  Gardeners play a vital role in the development and conservation of habitat that benefits pollinators, including bees, birds and butterflies. This session will focus on the practical steps gardeners can take to create or enhance habitat, including plant selection and simple design elements. This program is free and open to the public, no registration required.

As we start to make plans for our gardens and order seeds, we need to remember that how we design and what we plant can certainly make a difference in the existence of our pollinators!

We hope that you will mark your calendars and join us for 2 days of Pollinator Education.


February’s List for the Garden

Submitted by Faye Mahaffey

OSUE Brown County Master Gardener Volunteer

Rain, Snow, Ice, and Wind! Welcome to winter in Ohio! The last snowfall was so light and fluffy that moving the 4 inches of new snow could have been done with the leaf blower!

Saturday was Groundhog’s Day and the prediction is for an early spring! Groundhog Day comes from our agricultural past and marks the halfway point to the Spring Equinox. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac website, Groundhog Day always falls on February 2. Today, most people know about the legend of the groundhog: If he sees its shadow on this day, there will be more wintry weather; if it doesn’t, then Spring is right around the corner! How often has the groundhog really predicted the coming of Spring? According to researchers, the groundhog has accurately predicted the coming of Spring only 39% of the time.

If an early Spring is right around the corner, I had better finalize my raised bed plans, make my materials list, and order seeds!

It’s time to review our checklist of gardening tasks for February which include:

Whole Garden:

  • There’s still time to look through catalogs and place orders.
  • Thoroughly clean any flats or pots for seedlings.
  • Set aside a potting area for seed starting and gather the necessary equipment.
  • Sow those seeds that will need 10 to 12 weeks indoors before they can be transplanted outside.
  • Make sure your bluebird boxes are clean.
  • Continue looking for plant damage in your landscape.
  • Test seeds left over from last year for viability.

Trees and Shrubs:

  • Prune off broken twigs and branches on shrubs.
  • Brush off excess snow to avoid breakage.
  • Force branches of spring-blooming shrubs and trees once buds have begun to swell (pussy willow, forsythia, apple, cherry).

Fruits and Vegetables:

  • Plan your vegetable seed-sowing strategy.
  • Begin sowing leek seeds indoors.
  • Prune fall-bearing raspberries in late February.

Well-known gardening author Margaret Roach ( writes in her February garden chores that we must not rush to start our seeds, but instead spend our time mapping out the vegetable garden. Make a list of what you want to grow and how much of each plant you want to grow.

Roach’s gardening mantra this year is “Be thoughtful, keep weeding” with the “thoughtful” part standing for “thoughtful organic gardening” as in thinking carefully before any action is taken. Many gardeners are guilty of spraying first before they have identified the problem or pest.

Roach also asks if polka-dots are dominating your garden – lots of “onesies” (a single plant of each kind, instead of an impactful group or drift of each variety). Last year she forced herself to divide plants and repeat sweeps elsewhere – rather than buy so many new “one-ofs”. She suggests making a list of the large clumps of perennials in your gardens and then dividing them. I guess this is the year I finally divide my daylilies.

Ready to think about your flower and vegetable gardens and the health of your soil?  Plan to attend the gardening seminar on Thursday, February 21 at the Mt. Orab campus of Southern State Community College from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in Room 208. James Morris, Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator and Community Development Educator for Brown County OSU Extension, will talk about soils as well as soil testing. Remember that all seminars are free and open to the public. Please remember that in case of wintry weather, you should check SSCC’s website,, or call 937-444-7722, for any campus closures. If the campus is closed, the seminar will be canceled and rescheduled.

Are you ready to dig in the dirt? It won’t be long now!