Lawns & Landscapes

You want to make your lawns and landscapes, the places where your children play and your vegetables grow, as safe as possible. We provide the information – and practical experience – to help you do it.

Plant A Live Christmas Tree

Christmas TreeWhat’s not to like about a live Christmas tree? After serving as the center of holiday celebrations, they come to anchor family memories in an honored place in your yard. They’re less a fire hazard when inside the home and once out they provide all the beauty and CO2 reducing benefits, no matter how tiny, to the environment. Planting a living tree, the one your kids were around when they opened their gifts, is a great family activity.

But how many times have you heard this? “We bought a living tree for the holidays but it died after we planted it.” Otherwise successful arborists find getting a living Christmas tree to take a risky proposition. Why? The planting of living Christmas trees happen under two special circumstances. The trees spend a period of time indoors under warm conditions that replicate spring thaw. This signals the tree — prematurely — that it’s time to start the growing season. The second circumstance is winter planting. The middle of winter isn’t the ideal time for putting trees in the ground.

Having a living tree in your home surrounded by presents on Christmas morning and then having it transferred to an honored place in your landscape — for years! — is not an impossibility. But it does take extra special care. Basically, after buying the tree, you store it cold, recreate the conditions of a short winter thaw when you bring it inside, then recondition it to cold and outdoor planting. The other problem is digging the hole. If the ground is solidly frozen, well, even your ice fishing auger won’t be much help. (more…)

Preparing Garden Soil for Planting

Organic Garden SoilHealthy soil is the basis of healthy plants and a healthy environment. When garden soil is in good shape there is less need for fertilizers or pesticides. As author and respected gardener Frank Tozer writes, “When building soil you not only improve your plants health, but you can also improve your own.”

Organic soil is rich in humus, the end result of decaying materials such as leaves, grass clippings and compost. It holds moisture, but drains well. Good organic garden soil is loose and fluffy — filled with air that plant roots need — and it has plenty of minerals essential for vigorous plant growth. It is alive with living organisms — from earthworms to fungi and bacteria — that help maintain the quality of the soil. Proper pH is also an essential characteristic of healthy soil.

So, how do you know if your soil is healthy? And what do you do if it isn’t? (more…)

Organic Fertilizer Benefits

Healthy PlantsWhy not use chemical fertilizers? It’s a reasonable question. After all, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium ARE chemicals, so where is the advantage in these bags of heavy, grainy stuff, that need to be measured and mixed and then dug in, when you can just pick up a small plastic bottle of the blue stuff?

There are several organic fertilizer benefits, some purely altruistic, others much more self-interested. First of all, most chemical fertilizers provide only that well-known trio, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). These three, known as the macro-nutrients, are indeed required in greater quantity than any others, but they are only three of the thirteen nutrients plants need. The three chemicals that qualify as secondary nutrients, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium are generally ignored, as are the trace nutrients, boron, chlorine, manganese, iron, zinc, copper, and molybdenum. While these are needed in far smaller quantities than the macro-nutrients, they are still essential.

This might not matter if plants could just get these other nutrients from the soil, and this is indeed what usually happens. But over time, and in several ways, chemical fertilizers can interfere with plants’ ability to take up nutrients. (more…)

Theme Gardens: Now there’s an idea!

Butterfly GardenYou may not know the term “theme gardens,” but you’d recognize one if you saw one. A Japanese garden is a theme garden. So is an herb garden, and a rose garden, and a rock garden. A garden with only shades of blue has a theme, as does a maze, or a garden with a dozen fountains, or one with a little gnome behind every second bush. Any garden organized around some unifying idea is a theme garden.

Clearly, there’s an infinite range of choices, for theme gardens can be arranged around types of plant (such as gardens growing roses, growing herbs, and even growing vegetables) or around colors, shapes, or the type of visitors you wish to attract, such as butterflies, honeybees or birds. Other options include a country, a historical period, or an ethnic group. Examples of ethnic gardens include the Japanese garden mentioned above, or the African American Garden described by the DuSable Museum of African American History, an Italian garden, or the Native American garden grown by an elementary school in Illinois (see link below).
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Sustainable Gardening: It’s All The Rage!

Organic VegetablesPrinciples and Practices for the Organic Gardener

By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

Sustainability is a movement that embraces all facets of human endeavor. “Sustainable” means to perpetuate existence as well as to provide sustenance and nourishment. Today, the word is attached to everything from forestry to ceiling tile.

Sustainability is most often associated with the environment and specifically to our landscapes and gardens. What is a sustainable garden? It is an organic garden taken a step further. Following organic gardening practices will sustain soils and plants while it nourishes and sustains your family, both physically and aesthetically. Organic gardening also points us towards other gardening practices that pursue the goal of sustainability by conserving resources.

Sustainability isn’t a commodity as much as it is a lifestyle. It has immediate as well as long-term rewards. Generally, sustainability is forward-thinking, looking ahead to secure a future for you and yours, getting things to last, making things better than you’ve found them. When one chooses to preserve and protect resources, to make as little negative impact on the earth as possible, to nurture the planet as well as those around us, one has chosen the path of sustainability.
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Rose Gardening 101

Rose GardenRoses are one of the most popular plants in flower gardens and landscapes. From delicate tea roses to voluptuous Grandiflora blooms, roses delight all the senses. Roses also have a reputation for being difficult. But like anything, rose gardening is easy… if you know the tips and tricks of the trade.

Select a Site

Before planting your rose garden take some time to determine the best site. If possible, check out the site at different times during the day and different times during the year.

• Find a place with rich, well-drained soil. If this doesn’t sound like any spot in your yard, amend the soil with compost before planting.

• Roses prefer slightly acidic soil (6.0-6.5 pH is best). Don’t know your soil’s pH? Get a pH test kit and find out.

• Be sure your rose site will get plenty of water. Plan to install a drip irrigation system or use a garden hose to water regularly (see Drip Irrigation for Home Gardens).

• Roses need at least 8-10 hours of sun a day, so choose a site away from shade-inducing trees or houses. (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…)

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…)

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…)

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