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.

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Tool Time: Caring for Garden Tools

Heirloom Garden ToolsWe’re a little lost this time of year when it comes to gardening. Sure there’s plenty else to do and our indoor plants provide just enough green contact to keep us in touch with growing things. But looking out over a mulch or snow-covered garden gets us a bit anxious to get outside and start gardening again. What to do in the meantime?

Take care of our garden tools. Grandma’s maxim — “It’s not what you have but how you take care of what you have” — applies to garden tools, especially the ones we inherited from her. How did they last that long? See Grandma’s maxim.

By now, of course, you’ve drained the hoses and brought them inside for winter storage, unless your climate is such that you are able to water all year ’round. But have you taken a wire brush to your shovel, turning fork, and hoe to clean away all traces of dirt and rust? Have you taken special care to clean debris away from where the head of the tool meets the handle to avoid hidden rot and decay? Did you treat those wooden handles with linseed oil to assure that they won’t turn brittle and crack… or worse? (more…)

Plan On Planting Apple Trees Now

Apple TreeThere’s no more rewarding investment than planting trees. Apple trees that you plant early next spring may start yielding fruit in three to four years. But they’ll be giving joy almost immediately. Planting apple trees with your children can be especially rewarding. They’ll grow right along with your kids. A picture journal that begins at the first day of planting and continues through the years, with your kids standing right alongside their tree in each picture, will give you family memories that will last a lifetime, as will the tree itself.

Now you might be thinking that I’m jumping the gun here in late October. Nearly everyone recommends planting fruit trees in the spring, although you can get away with it in the fall if you have mild winters and protect the newly transplanted roots with plenty of mulch. But good organic tree-planting practice starts in the fall even if your trees won’t go in the ground until spring. We went to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association to find out more. Here (with some additions) is what they recommend. (more…)

Gleanings, Seedings, Weedings

Autumn ColorsHere’s a few short items pulled from the web this fall, most related to gardening news previously addressed, one even fresh plucked. Feel free to suggest links and add further information to any of our posts (and don’t forget corrections!). Help make this a conversation. And thanks to those who have!

A local worm rancher responding to our post on the uses of straw bales in gardening, says we missed one. He suggests that bales make good worm corrals in the winter, keeping your worms working, if ever so slowly in the cold weather, and keeping them from burrowing out of the pile and into the ground. Bales make good insulation, no doubt about it; these days, they’re even used to build green homes. As the bales break down the following spring and summer, they can just be added to the compost pile or used for mulch. We looked into it further: some gardeners build complete worm systems out of hay bales. Hay bales… the gift that keeps on giving. (more…)

Prepare Garden Mulch Now

Garden MulchYou’ve been mulching all during gardening season, both to preserve moisture and inhibit weeds. But fall is the time to start collecting as much garden mulch as you can. Winter is just around the corner and your trees and shrubs will appreciate a good mulching to protect them from freezing. This is especially important where winter temperatures can be  harsh (I’m thinking of you, Bozeman, Montana). It’s also important not to pile mulch too high — a practice known as over mulching — around your trees and shrubs.

Mulch is also useful in getting an early start on spring vegetables. Seeds sown under a heavy layer of mulch will, even if sprouted, survive the winter with a little luck. When the mulch is pulled away in the spring — even if there is still the threat of frost — frost-tolerant plants will jump at the chance to get a little sunshine. Garlic and onions are traditionally planted in the fall and over-winter under a warm blanket of mulch. (more…)

Fall In the Xeriscape

Fall GardenWatering in the fall can be particularly problematic. Conditions continue to be dry and trees, shrubs, and lawns need water to avoid stress. Too little water during the fall and winter months can cause root die-off, something that may not be noticeable until well into the next growing season. Water stress during fall and winter can also mean that weakened plants will be more susceptible to insects and disease come summer. Too much water during these seasons can be a bad thing. In areas where there are water restrictions, autumn may require you to do more with even less.

Here’s an excellent article on watering trees and shrubs in the fall from the Colorado State University Extension Service. Some takeaways: shrubs and perennials with shallow root systems are most in need of water during these seasons to avoid root die-off. Mulch is important, not just in keeping moisture in the soil but to prevent soil from cracking (cracks allow cold to invade to greater depths, risking tender roots). Don’t water when temperatures are below 40 degrees; there’s a good chance soil moisture will freeze and damage roots. Water at mid-day so moisture will have a chance to soak into the ground before night-time freezes. (more…)

Fall Planting, Spring Color

Garden BulbsFall is the time for making sure you’ll have plenty of color in your landscape come spring. Now’s the time to divide perennials, if you haven’t done so in the last few years. If your perennials are showing smaller blossoms or dying off in the center, then dig them up, clip the crowns, and spread them around after cutting out dead and crowded roots. They like room for their roots to grow. Keep the cutting moist until you’ve put them back in the soil. Do this early; don’t wait until there’s a chance that your soil will start to freeze. If there’s a question, wait until early spring, just as the ground thaws and the plants begin to show signs of life. Either way, be sure to add some compost to the soil where they’re planted.

September is also the time to plant bulbs for spring crocus, daffodils, and tulips. Wait until the nights have become cool. The ideal soil temperature for planting bulbs is around 60 degrees. For tight, impressive displays, plant bulbs in a circle. Or just place them where ever you have room and they’ll have enough sunlight to thrive. (more…)

Garden Tool: The Camera

Taking PicturesNo doubt your gardens are at their best now, full to bursting with plants and vegetables, draped with flowers and struggling ahead of the coming frosts to seed and put on growth. Come the dead of winter, we love to recall them this way, in all their green glory. And often, as we plan our next garden, we struggle to remember the details of their opulence after the garden has been put to bed and mulch and snow cover everything. Just where did we plant that row of peas?

We’ve often promoted keeping a record — a garden journal — that records weather conditions on a semi-daily basis as well as documenting the growth and harvest success of various vegetable plants and landscape shrubs, flowers, and ground covers. Do as we say. But if you’re like us and end up doing what we do — in other words, not keeping our journal as current and as detailed as we should — there may be a simpler solution. Take pictures of this year’s garden with a camera. (more…)

Plants On Walls

Living WallYou already know about green roofs. But green walls? Yes! A friend interested in interior design introduced me to the notion of living walls and it didn’t take much to discover how fast the idea is catching on. Also called “vertical gardens,” the idea is being championed by a number of eco-minded builders of both large buildings and small. Businesses devoted specifically to living walls are popping up, self-contained living-wall units are available and some cities are encouraging their use.

Vertical gardens can be designed for both inside and outside walls. The benefits are many. Most obvious are aesthetic. “When I walk by, it’s calming, just a little more serene, maybe a little bohemian,” says one living wall owner in this Wall Street Journal story. “I call it Prozac on a wall,” says another. A living wall adds color, texture and interest. But that’s not all. Having a wall of plants will naturally filter the air, removing pollutants that make indoor air often more dangerous than out. Indoor living walls provide insulating value, reducing heating and cooling costs. On outside walls, a vertical garden will help protect the structure from strong sunlight as well as keep it cool. Outside living walls also shield the inside from noise. Inside living walls improve acoustics. (more…)

Compost In the Xeriscape

Steaming Compost PilesIt seems that no matter the problem we face in our gardens, the answer — or at least a part of the answer — frequently includes compost. This is certainly true in xeriscape gardening, the process of using minimal moisture effectively. Soil conditioning is one of the seven principles of xeriscaping. Soil that retains moisture while still allowing moisture to move through it is the goal. While there are many amendments that can be added to particular kinds of soil — clay or coarse — to help them conduct and retain moisture properly, the first and best step (because it also adds valuable microorganisms to the soil) is composting. (more…)

Xeriscape Landscaping

XeriscapingDrought tolerant landscaping with minimal water or only the moisture nature provides was dubbed “xeriscaping” a few decades back and the term has caught on. The word comes from combining the Greek word for “dry” and “landscaping.” Thought to have originated with the water-conscious experts at Denver Water, the city’s municipal water provider, the term has seen growing use over the last few drought-burdened seasons. The principles of xeriscape landscaping are principles dear to organic gardeners’ hearts. Soil improvement, mulching and wise planning are all part of the successful xeriscape. Proper watering is key. And the rewards include savings on water bills (or protecting your well’s ground water supply) as well as healthy, rewarding, easy-to-maintain lawns and gardens. (more…)

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