Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Contemporary Twist

Brighten up your porch, front steps, or entryway with this cheerful container
By: Amy Sitze

If you’re drawn more toward contemporary designs than traditional decor, here’s a modern twist on a holiday container.


• Colorful twigs such as yellow-twig dogwood and redtwig dogwood
• Florist’s wire and 6-inch florist’s pick, both available at craft stores
• Pine cones
• Arborvitae branches (or other evergreens with a feathery texture)


First, add tall redtwig dogwood branches to the center of the container. They should be about twice the height of the container.

Next, add arborvitae branches (or other evergreens with a feathery texture) evenly around the sides of the container, hiding the soil or sand. (See Photo to the right)

For an even more dramatic look, hide white holiday lights deep in the arborvitae, where individual light bulbs can’t be seen but produce a pretty glow.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Plan for More Garden Space

During winter, a lot of us make a plan for the next gardening season, and chances are, that plan involves making more space to garden.

If you've thought about increasing your garden space but you're not sure where to start, we can help with a few ideas on how to downsize your lawn and turn it into space for planting. Follow these tips for getting started.

   Develop an overall plan. Decide how much lawn you really need, and for what purposes. A landscape designer can be helpful and can offer advice on replacement plants suitable for your soil and climate.

   Phase in the changes. Set up a season-by-season schedule for your lawn conversion, arranged in order of importance. For example, shade trees should get high priority, since they require years to mature.

Tired of Turf?

   Once a week, my town sends an 18-ton sanitation truck rumbling down my road to collect yard waste. As the crew gathers up bag after bag of lawn clippings from my neighbors, I can’t help feeling that robbery is afoot. But far more is at stake with a lawn than what happens when grass clippings are trucked away instead of being left to return their rich nutrients to the soil.
   Lawns are a 20th-century import from northern Europe. Most lawn grasses are better suited to English gardens than to the varied soils and climates in our North American yards. So maintaining a traditional “putting green” lawn often requires extreme measures that have profound effects on your yard’s ecosystem. Consequently, they’ve been called “green deserts.”
   According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, American lawns guzzle up to 60 percent of our cities’ clean water annually, plus 67 million pounds of pesticides and $5 billion in fertilizers (more fertilizer per acre than farmers use). Conventional lawns account for an estimated 90 percent of landscaping costs. In addition, 10 percent of the air pollution caused by gasoline engines comes from lawn-care equipment.
   Overuse of pesticides, weed killers, and chemical fertilizers destroys the soil’s natural ecology by eradicating most earthworms, insects, spiders, and millions of other beneficial organisms necessary for your garden’s health. Surviving pests can develop resistance to chemicals, leaving lawns dependent on even stronger chemicals. In addition, the shallow, dense root systems of lawn grass prevent moisture from penetrating deeply into the soil, causing run-off of precious rainwater.
   To birds, frogs, bees, and other wildlife, a conventional lawn has all the appeal of a sun-blasted concrete parking lot. As with concrete, a large expanse of clipped lawn reflects more heat than do natural plantings, resulting in higher summer cooling costs for nearby houses.
   Lawns do have their uses, (playing areas for young children for example), and it’s understandable that most people aren’t willing to give them up completely. Still, many gardeners have decided to replace their lawns (or parts of their lawns) with more natural, earth-friendly plantings. Shrinking or eliminating a lawn can be a formidable undertaking, so you may opt to tackle the conversion in stages over several years.
   Develop an overall plan. Decide how much lawn you really need, and for what purposes. A landscape designer can be helpful  and can offer advice on replacement plants suitable for your soil and climate. Besides trees, shrubs, ground covers, and nonlawn grasses, your master plan might include vegetable gardens, mulched walkways, bird-feeding stations, and ponds.
   Phase in the changes. Set up a season-by-season schedule for your lawn conversion, arranged in order of importance. Shade trees should get high priority, since they require years to mature. And if you’re replacing lawn grass with drought-tolerant native plants, put them in areas farthest from water outlets—this will substantially reduce watering chores as soon as the new plants become established.
   Kill unwanted grass. Using herbicides to eradicate grass can harm beneficial soil organisms. Instead, I’ve had good results using two or three layers of newspaper covered with grass clippings, shredded leaves, or wood chips. This starves grass of light while allowing rainwater to penetrate the soil. In small areas, you can simply dig out lawn grass by hand.

Tips for Growing Non-Toxic Lawns:

If you still want to grow some grass, you can minimize your use of chemicals and water by following these tips:
   • Mow with a sharp blade. Dull blades tear the grass, providing openings for disease organisms.
   • Cut only one third of the grass blade at each mowing. Taller grass suppresses weeds and develops deep, drought-tolerant root systems. I leave my lawn at 2" all year long.
   • Leave grass clippings on the lawn. They supply at least a third of your lawn’s yearly nitrogen requirement. Use a mulching blade if you can and rake up only the thick grasses that may damage the lawn if not removed.
   • Water deeply and infrequently. Frequent, light watering encourages shallow roots and reduces drought tolerance. To reduce evaporation, water in the early morning. Never water at night; this could cause other grass deseases to develope. By watering deeper you are training the roots to grow downward into the soil and this makes for a more drought tolarant lawn.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Prepare Water Gardens for Winter


As frost begins to nip at our gardens, it's time to think about winterizing ponds and other water features. The experts at TetraPond, a water-garden supplier in Blacksburg, Virginia, offer the following tips:

Cut back lilies and other deep-water plants to about one inch above the tip. Replace soil and gravel, as needed. To prevent rot, be sure not to cover the plants' crowns.

Move plants to deeper water if you live in a climate where ponds freeze.

■Cut back all growth on bog plants surrounding your pond and mulch with 6 inches of straw.

■Place tender floating plants like water hyacinth in a 3-inch water-filled tray and move them to a frost-free shed or greenhouse.

■When temperatures drop and fish spend most of their time on the bottom of the pond, stop feeding them.

■To reduce next spring's chores, clean out leaves and twigs that fall into the pond and remove as much duckweed as possible. You may want to buy a pond netting to aid in the leaf removal.

■If you don't already have a de-icer or bubble airater, buy one now to keep a small area of the pond ice-free. This will help your fish survive by creating a spot for harmful gasses to escape.

■Turn off filters, (other than fall boxes and skimmers; these can remain running.), then clean them and store them inside.

*Check out Ken's Landscape Designs website store for products.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Awesome Autumn Container

Create a colorful autumn container
By: Michelle Leise
Follow our steps to create a colorful and vibrant autumn container.
• Drill with 5/8- to 1/2-inch bit
• Pot, about 24 inches high with a diameter of 24 inches at the top
• Plastic saucer with a diameter of about 18 inches
• Trowel
• Potting soil
• Assorted fall perennials and annuals
• Put in more plants than you think you’ll need. You’ll be surprised by how many will fit and still flourish, and it’s really the only way to get a spectacular-looking container.
• Fertilize once a month and water as needed, depending on the weather and amount of rain.
• For cold climates, use pots made of fiberglass, which withstand freezing temperatures better than plastic and terra cotta.
• Protect your potted perennials during winter if you live in a cold climate. In late fall, carry the pot to an out-of-the-way location and tip it upside down with the plants and soil left in the pot. Don’t bother trimming anything—even the grasses—because the extra foliage will provide warmth and protection during the winter. The foliage will get crushed when you tip the pot over, which is fine. The plants and soil will stay secure because the roots will have combined into a single root ball. Pile plenty of straw around the pot to insulate the plants during the winter.
• When danger of frost has passed in spring, tip the pot back over, trim back the perennials, discard the old annuals, and plant new annuals in their place.
• After a perennial grows for two to three years in the container, divide it so it stays healthy.


-Step 1: Drill drainage holes. Drill three to five drainage holes into the plastic saucer. If the pot doesn’t have drainage holes, drill several of them.

-Step 2: Choose pot and placement. Use a pot that’s sturdy enough to hold large plants and big enough to look visually balanced when you add tall grasses. Place the pot close to its permanent location so you won’t
have to carry it far when it’s full.

-Step 3: Fill with soil. Set the saucer into the pot (see step 3 photo) so it rests about 6 to 8 inches into the pot—that way, you won’t have to fill the entire container with soil, which saves money. Fill with potting soil until the soil is 2 to 3 inches from the top. Don’t fill to the brim or soil will spill out as you add plants.
-Step 4: Group plants. Group together the plants you’re considering so you can look at the overall color scheme and see how their textures and heights work together (see step 4 photo).

For a fall planting, purples, grays, silvers, and burgundies combine beautifully, especially when they have diverse textures. Think of plants such as kale, purple fountain grass, miniature asters, mums, sedum, and licorice plant. Look to recycle summer container plants—we reused Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’ and Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ from a summer pot we took apart.

-Step 5: Plant selections. After you remove plants from their nursery pots, use your hand or a trowel to gently spread out roots that appear root-bound (growing in a tight circle). Mums are especially prone to this.

To get lots of color and size right away, put in healthy potted plants from a nursery and some well-established perennials that you (or a friend) have grown for at least a year or two. Ornamental grasses, for instance, will be taller and more lush if you divide them from a mature plant.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How to Preserve Your Harvest

Learn how to store and preserve your favorite fruits and veggies
By: Veronica Lorson Fowler

Got tomatoes coming out of your ears? Running out of room on the countertop for all that squash? Just served green beans for the fifth night in a row? It’s time to “put up” all that bounty, as our grandmothers might say. But don’t panic—you don’t need a big country kitchen, a pressure-cooker, or even a pantry. Preserving food these days is faster and easier than ever.

Stash it

One of the easiest ways to preserve garden produce is to keep it at plain old room temperature. Onions, garlic, dried herbs, and winter squashes (such as butternut and acorn) will stay good for weeks. Just harvest, brush off any dirt, and “cure” them for a few days by spreading them out on newspaper in a cool, breezy place out of direct light.

Dry it out

Drying and dehydrating is another time-tested way to store foods. For example, you can cut herbs from the garden, gather their stems together with rubber bands, and hang them upside down in a cool, dry place (such as a closet) for a few weeks.

Apples and tomatoes can be dried in the oven. Wash them thoroughly, slice them up, and treat fruits as needed with ascorbic-acid color keeper (such as Fruit Fresh) to prevent discoloration. Spread out on multiple cookie sheets and bake in a 250°F oven for several hours, turning once or twice, until leathery. Since it’s difficult to get the produce dry enough with this method to prevent any spoilage, store in plastic bags in the freezer.

A food dehydrator is a more efficient way to dry food. It allows you to process large amounts of fruit and vegetables. A dehydrator, which starts atabout $60, dries food so well that you can keep the dehydrated produce at room temperature for several months.

The big chill

Freezing food is one of the easiest methods around. It preserves the flavor, color, and texture of foods extremely well. Deep freezers are surprisingly affordable—they start at just $150.

Freezing is ideal for most fruits and berries. No method preserves their taste and texture better. Wash thoroughly. Cut up larger fruits. Treat apples, pears, peaches, and other produce that might brown with ascorbic-acid color keeper. Freeze on cookie sheets until frozen solid. Store in plastic bags or rigid plastic containers for up to one year.

Or, go ahead and prepare some of your favorite desserts and freeze them unbaked. Fruit pies and fruit crisps freeze unbaked very well. (Some pie aficionados argue that fruit pies actually bake better this way.) Then bake as usual, still frozen, but allowing extra time. Freeze up to three months.

Soups and sauces made with homegrown produce also freeze easily. Tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, tomato soup, vegetable soup, and squash soup freeze beautifully. Dishes containing pasta, rice, or potatoes, however, don’t freeze well. They absorb too much liquid and get mushy or mealy. Pack into rigid plastic containers and keep for up to a year.

Can you can?

Canning strikes terror in the soul of some cooks. It seems old-fashioned, difficult, and rife with the danger of food poisoning. But as long as you follow a reliable recipe and take the specified precautions, you’ll be fine.

Canning is divided into two basic methods. The easiest—boiling-water canning—requires a special canner pot or a big stockpot with a lid. Just boil filled jars for a specified period of time to sterilize the food and seal the jar. (Times vary; check canning recipes for details.) This simple method works for pickles, jams, jellies, salsas, plain tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, most fruits, and many other foods.

Pressure-cooker canning is used for foods with lower acid levels, in which more types of harmful microorganisms can thrive. The pressure canner (which starts at about $60) heats food to a hotter temperature than a boiling-water canner. Forget the horror stories you’ve heard about exploding pressure cookers—today’s pressure cookers are safer than ever. Just follow directions. Pressure cookers are required to safely process green beans and other vegetables (except most tomato recipes), most soups, and anything containing meat.

If traditional canning sounds a little daunting, start out by doing some “cheater” canning. Make refrigerator pickles, refrigerator pickled garlic, pickled hot peppers, and other pickled vegetables that don’t require heat processing. Just cut up fresh cucumbers and other fresh produce, pack in jars with a vinegar-based brine (often prepared with no cooking), and store in the fridge for at least a week or up to several weeks, depending on the recipe.

Or you can make freezer jam—just mash up fruit, sugar, and pectin. It’s softer than traditional jam, but with a delicious, fresh flavor. It will keep for up to six months in a freezer.

Other preserving methods

There are other delicious ways to preserve the bounty from your garden, too. Try preserving in alcohol. Brandied peaches or pears are wonderful topped with ice cream. Or make a fruit cordial—a combination of fruit, alcohol, and syrups. Some recipes are more about preserving the fruit to eat and some are more about creating a memorable after-dinner sipping beverage. To make brandied fruit or other fruit preserved in alcohol, simply submerge washed fruit (either whole or cut up) in brandy to which some sugar has been added. Use a plate or other clean weight to hold the fruit under the liquid. Look for recipes online, including ones that include a variety of fruits, spices, and other sweeteners. Food preserved in alcohol will last several months and often years.

You can also preserve foods in vinegar or create flavored vinegars with produce from your garden. Make herb vinegar (tarragon is a favorite) or fruit vinegar (raspberry is classic).

Oil is also a centuries-old way of preserving food, though these days food scientists recommend that it be stored in the fridge to prevent spoilage. Try dried tomatoes preserved in olive oil, or make your own garlic oil.

Few things are more satisfying than lining a shelf with neat rows ofhomemade preserves, salsas, and sauces to enjoy for months to come. Or, on a wintry day, enjoying toast topped with raspberry jam you made back in July. You’ll savor the food—and a true sense of accomplishment.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mulch......One of my pet peeves.

That's right, it's one of my pet peeves because I see way to many people, (including contractors), just wasting their money when applying mulch to their landscape beds. That's not to say that mulch shouldn't be used around shrubbery, I believe that quality mulch is one of the best ground covers for plants. It provides cooling from the suns heat, retains moister for the plants, ads an attractive color, and gives some weed protection. Where I see the waste of money is in the weed barrier fabric that everyone seems to want to put under the mulch. This is not necessary because of the for mentioned factors. Because mulch can hold moister and with the small grains of dust and dirt that can naturally blow into the mulch; weed seeds that can also blow in with the wind will root themselves right into the mulch. The mulch will provide enough cover as to kill the weeds under it so, you do not need the weed fabric. Fabric can also stop a good amount of water from getting to the roots of your plants. Many of the available fabrics have a run-off factor, more so on hills. It also makes it very difficult to add new plants to your beds later, and can stop perennials from growing larger or expanding. Here is what I do for new beds:

Preparation of a new planting bed.

1) Outline your bed area with some form of marking system. I use field marking paint.

2) Spray inner area with Vegetation contact killer. Be careful not to go outside of your lines or over spray were you don't want to kill vegetation. Be very careful around plants in that area. Remember, Vegetation killer is just that, it will kill what it lands on. Allow area to begin dieing off; when lawn and/or weeds look to be yellow or faded, you can begin to work the bed.

3) Trench or install your edging around the border of your bed. I recommend some form of edging that goes into the ground a minimum of 4 inches to prevent the grass from growing into your bed and eliminate your trenching/trimming each year.

4) Bring in any soil you need to add to the bed. I.E. if you want to raise the bed above the ground level. Rake out to a pre-planting grade.

5) Plant your area with desired plants. Be aware that you will be adding a 3 inch or more cover of mulch to the bed later so, you may want to leave the plant/pot ball up an inch or two from your final grade of soil to allow for this mulch cover. Note: if planting a perennial bed, you should use a lighter cover of mulch as not to prohibit growth or expansion of the perennials. You may also want to plant perennials after you apply your mulch cover.

6) Adjust and rake out the final soil grade of your bed and apply your mulch cover. Note: Do not bury your plants with mulch. Many people pull the mulch right up tight to their plants and end up killing the plant. Too much mulch next to your smaller plants can suffocate them; they need air flow under them so they don't suffocate or rot off with too much water.

To prevent weeds from over running your beds, apply a weed preventer to the soil in the spring after you fluff and/or add new mulch. This will prevent up to 75% of new weeds from germinating. If you see weeds starting to grow, spray them when you see leaves forming with contact killer. This will stop all that kneeling and pulling of weeds that I know you just love to do. Two factors will stop your preventer from working well; 1-if you disturb the soil like pulling weeds or digging in the area. This breaks the weed barrier that the preventer makes. 2- if you get a week of 90 plus degree temperature it could knock out the preventer's percentage of effectiveness. You may want to apply it twice a year,(spring and end of summer), if you have a large problem with weeds in your area.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring Cleaning

Spring Cleaning, Backyard Style
Seven time-saving tips to get your backyard ready for summer

(ARA) - Now that the wintry weather is gone and the colorful blooms are back, it’s time to think about spring cleaning. But while you’re washing windows, scrubbing walls and dusting corners inside the house, don’t forget about rolling up those sleeves and giving the outside a once-over, too.

Spending some time in the backyard as soon as spring rolls around can really pay off. “Winter can leave a lawn in pretty tough shape,” says backyard expert Michael Miller, president of backyard tool manufacturer Hound Dog Products. “But there are lots of little things you can do to help spruce up your backyard when the weather starts to turn warmer. By digging in to cleanup in early spring, you’ll be ahead of the game, and your neighbors will be playing catch-up all year long.”

Miller offers seven tips that the professionals use to ensure a successful backyard spring cleanup effort -- and to help your home’s outside sparkle and shine as vibrantly as the inside.
* Rake. As soon as the lawn begins to wake up for the season, give it a light once-over with a rake, taking care not to disturb any new grass plants by raking too hard. In addition to clearing leaves, twigs and other debris left over from last fall, the first raking of the year also allows you to assess the extent of any winter damage to your lawn. Look for early signs of pests or disease, and nip them in the bud before they cause big problems.
* Aerate. Heavy use throughout the year can cause soil to become compacted. Removing plugs of sod in the spring -- aerating -- loosens the soil and lets water, air and fertilizer get down to the grass plant’s root structure. For smaller yards, or for concentrated trouble spots in any size yard, consider using a manual aerating tool that removes plugs from the turf. If you have a large yard, consider renting a power aerator.
* Top dress. After you aerate, spend a few minutes doing what the experts call “top dressing,” spreading a thin layer of peat moss over the lawn with a rake. The top dressing helps to gradually condition the lawn throughout the year, strengthening the grass so it can resist disease, weeds and thatch, and reducing the amount of water and fertilizer it needs.
* Weed. Go after weeds early in the season before they have a chance to go to seed. Cultivating a healthy lawn is one of the simplest ways to crowd out weeds. Or, remove dandelions and other broadleaf weeds with an easy-to-use weeder. Ergonomic tools like the Weed Hound have helped make long afternoons spent weeding nothing more than a backbreaking memory. All you do is place the tool over the weed, step lightly on the footrest, and pull the weed up, root and all.
* Fix bare spots. Whether it’s due to disease or dog urine, bare patches can make a yard look shabby. A quick and easy way of improving the look of your yard is to repair the discolored patches, especially in early spring, when the cooler temperatures help the grass grow. Just clear away the dead-looking patches, sprinkle grass seed on the newly exposed soil, add fertilizer, and keep the area moist until it sprouts.
* Remove thatch build-up. Thatch prevents sunlight, oxygen and moisture from getting to the nutrient-hungry soil below. But it’s easy to remove, especially if you do it regularly -- every year or two. Just go at the yard with a dethatching rake or power dethatcher to clean away the layer of tangled roots and stems. It takes some elbow grease, but it will help clear the way for new growth.
* Give your tools a spring tune-up. Spend a few minutes in the garage or storage shed making sure your tools are in good working condition -- before you need to use them for the first time. Consider taking your lawn mower in for an annual tune-up. The dealer can replace the oil and spark plugs, sharpen the blade, and get it ready for the season.

A little effort in early spring can lay the groundwork for a thriving, healthy backyard -- and have your neighbors turning green with envy. For more backyard tips, visit
Courtesy of ARA Content