High Altitude Gardening

Garden TomatoesGetting Results From A Short Season

Gardening at elevations of 5,000 feet and higher in America’s mountainous west presents unique challenges. The high country gardener must pay careful attention to the weather and its effect on growth to be successful. A little knowledge regarding climate and growing seasons, soil conditions, moisture and pest control — knowledge that all gardeners should posses no matter where they garden — will result in minimal failures and maximum success.

My own high altitude gardening knowledge came hard. Back when all of us wannabe hippies soured on the urban commune and decided it was time to get back to nature we, of course, struck out for the hills. The high, mountainous country of the American West, as it had for generations of Americans, represented freedom, a fresh start and a return to nature. Live off the land! Grow your own vegetables! Become self-sufficient!

Our desire for a life in concert with the land was superseded only by our ignorance. Even those of us who’d had farm experience in the Midwest and had raised vegetables with our parents and grandparents had no idea of the growing challenges at high altitude. We soon found out. (more…)

Herb Gardening 101

Herb GardeningHerbs have long been revered for both their medicinal and culinary value. They may cure colds, help you sleep and add flavor and zest to dinner. Fortunately for home gardeners, growing herbs is relatively easy. They thrive in just about any type of soil, do not require much fertilizer, and are not often bothered by insect or disease pests.

Defined as a plant without a woody stem that dies back at the end of each growing season, herbs were once considered a gift of the gods. Elaborate ceremonies and rituals celebrated their growth, harvest and use. Today, herbs are popular in many home gardens, where their leaves are utilized for flavoring and an entire plant may be used for medicinal purposes. (more…)

Garden Planning and Design

Herb Garden BorderA beautiful garden takes time, effort, money and maintenance. Starting with a good garden plan can help cut down on all of those things. Thinking about your yard or garden before getting to work can create a unified area that accents your home and provides years of enjoyment. Consider the factors that will affect how your garden will grow — sunlight, shade, wind, drainage, access to water, foot traffic patterns — and the balance between lawn, shrubs, flowers and vegetables. A landscape analysis that considers these and other factors is an important first step in garden planning.

Start With A Map

Before you know what you want, you need to figure out what you have. Start by drawing a map of your yard with existing trees, shrubs, slopes, patios and whatever else is out there. The map can be as formal (a scale version on graph paper) or casual as your need for detail dictates, but the more accurate it is, the more thorough your garden plan will be. (more…)

Gardening with Children

Gardening KidChildren love to play in the dirt. They like to search for earthworms and bugs. They like to create things. They like destroying things just as much. Watering plants, and anything else, brings great joy. Our little ones want to be part of the household and do some of the same things as mom and dad. Why not involve them in the garden?

Gardening with kids can be anything from planting seeds inside on a windowsill to caring for houseplants, to helping design and maintain a full-fledged garden. Big or small, growing projects teach kids to nurture seeds and plants — and thus themselves — and responsibility. They gain self-esteem and a deeper connection to the natural world. By prepping soil, sowing seeds and watching seedlings sprout, kids get important lessons in science and the environment without even knowing it. They might even want to eat the vegetables they tended to. (more…)

Seasonal Garden Care

Garden Care“To every thing there is a season…” Ecclesiastes

Garden care is a year-round activity, its rhythms dictated by seasonal conditions and local climates. April showers may bring spring flowers in temperate zones, late frosts and snow may continue at higher elevations while harvests of greens, peas and other vegetables may be well under way in the coastal south. Wherever you live, lawn and garden care is required throughout the year to a varying degree. The kind of attention and level of intensity depend on your growing zone and micro-climate conditions. Whether you are mulching, fertilizing, planting or harvesting, there is work to be done all spring, summer, fall and winter. A little planning and consideration to the longevity and health of your plants and soil will give you an enviable yard and garden to be enjoyed year round.

Spring

Spring may come shortly after the New Year to coastal California and the South, not until May and June in the higher elevations of the West. You know when it reaches your area; the days begin to warm and nights hover above freezing, trees and shrubs swell with buds, lawns green in the first rains. Start a garden journal that records last frosts and other weather conditions, planting dates and germination times; any and all information that will be useful to future gardening seasons. (more…)

Flower Gardening 101

Flower GardeningFlower gardening can brighten up and enliven any landscape. It can turn an ordinary garden into a colorful showcase or create a border that pops. Whether you choose an easy to manage perennial or a particularly touchy annual, growing flowers is a rewarding addition to any yard, garden or border.

Choosing Flowers

Selecting the right plants for your flower garden is often a matter of preference, but with so many species and varieties available it can be mind-boggling. Consider the following when designing a flower garden: hardiness, color, fragrance, height, time of bloom and size of plant. Do you want to attract hummingbirds, butterflies, or song birds? Or are you trying to create a work of beauty just for you?

It is also imperative to think about your growing space. Is it in full sun? Partial shade? Is your soil well-drained and loamy? Or will your plant roots have to fight through clay soil? (more…)

The Companion Planting Controversy

Companion PlantsAnd, ah, yes: ‘companion planting’; a topic laced with more folklore, hopefulness, bad information and just plain hype than just about any other in the gardening world. It’s said to have begun just as the world was going from BC to AD, when the oft-quoted Pliny the Elder wrote that the (highly toxic) plant rue was a “very friendly” companion to figs. – Mike McGrath, “The Truth About Companion Planting”

McGrath’s is not an uncommon position. Companion planting is a messy topic than needn’t be messy. It’s messy first because a lot of pseudo-scientific nonsense has been published on the topic, and second because even within the area of what makes sense, there’s a wide variety of approaches and techniques.

The basic idea behind companion planting is both simple and sensible: many plants grow better near some companions than they do near others or when alone. The devil is, as usual, in the details, in this case in the precise definition. (more…)

Companion Planting: A Common Sense Guide

Companion PlantingThe basic idea behind companion planting is both simple and sensible: many plants grow better near some companions than they do near others or when alone. By itself it will not work miracles, but applied in a well-maintained garden, it can produce startling results. It can drastically improve the use of space, reduce the number of weeds and garden pests, and provide protection from heat, wind, and even the crushing weight of snow. In the vegetable garden, all this adds up to the best thing of all: increased yield.

Most people think of companion planting in connection with vegetable gardens, but it can also be used when flower gardening and in full-scale fields. Some of the most familiar examples come from farming, where it’s a long-standing practice to sow vetch or some other legume in the fall after the harvest. This cover crop provides erosion control through storms, and supplies both nitrogen and organic material to the soil when it is plowed under in spring. (more…)

Reel Mowing Tips

Reel Mowing

Whether you’re new to lawn care or a seasoned expert, our collection of 25 reel mowing tips should help. Enjoy!

1. The direction of your mowing can have a tremendous effect on how good your lawn looks. This is because grass has a growing pattern that can vary greatly between varieties.

2. Mow no more than 1/3 of the grass blade, so that a deeper roots are encouraged. A lawn with healthy roots is better able to seek out water and nutrients and can crowd out weeds.

3. Increase the amount of overlap in your mowing if your lawn reaches a height of 4 inches or more. You can mow in a checkerboard pattern or once up and once back to achieve the look you want.

4. Mow according to rainfall and temperature, rather than once a week. Warmer temperatures and increased rainfall mean faster growing grass.

5. During the summer months grass has less moisture and tends to droop. It may be necessary to mow at a shorter height to get the desired appearance.

6. If you’re an early riser, mow in the morning. Push mowers are quiet and start when you do.

7. Try not to mow when the grass is wet. It usually produces a very uneven cut. (more…)

Reel Lawn Mowers

Reel WorkoutMow Better… Get Reel

By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

You know the advantages of reel lawn mowers. They start every time. They’re much quieter than gas-powered mowers, so quiet that you can mow early Sunday morning without waking the neighbors. They’re fuel-free unless you count those bowls of cereal or peanut butter sandwiches that power your engine. They don’t degrade air quality (lawn mower engines are terribly inefficient and emit more than 10 times the hydrocarbons per amount of gas burned than auto engines). Not only are reel mowers great for the environment, they require little maintenance and are a great means of exercise. And, they’re cheaper than gas-powered mowers, both in initial outlay and operating costs.

What you may not know is that they’re better for your lawn than gas-powered, rotary mowers. Rotary lawn mowers tend to tear off the tops of grass blades, leaving them exposed to disease. Ever notice how the tops of each grass blade turn brown after mowing with a gas machine? A reel mower snips the grass, like scissors, leaving finer trimmings to mulch in your yard. This mulch not only nourishes your lawn, it prevents weed seeds from germinating. Rotary mowers also create a vacuum as they pass (that’s why they’re great for cutting tall, droopy weeds). They literally vacuum the mulch layer off the ground, providing an opportunity for weeds to find space to take root. Reel mowers will cut shorter (approximately 1-3/4 to 2-1/2 inches depending on the model) without disturbing the soil surface. (more…)

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