Category Archives: Garden Blog

Fighting the Blues

St. John the Baptist, the New Testament healer, lends his name to St. John’s wort, which blooms during summer near the time of the feast of St. John. This short, yellow-flowering herb, botanically known as Hypericum, has been used since ancient times to treat all nerve-related problems, including depression, a disorder of the central nervous system. The species Hypericum perforatum is said to have the greatest amount of active ingredient for medicinal purposes, but many of the perennial species have at least some.

The aboveground portions of the plant contain the essential oils from which the medicinal qualities of St. John’s wort are derived. Ground-up flowers of St. John’s wort suspended in vegetable oil are used to relieve pain from neurological disorders like tennis elbow and sciatica. When made into a tea, St. John’s wort has been known to relieve symptoms of ulcers, gout, and arthritis. But St. John’s wort is best-known for its effectiveness in the battle against depression, and because there are no recorded side effects from using St. John’s wort, it is fast becoming an alternative to prescription antidepressants.

St. John’s wort is easy to grow and is well suited for a healing or wildflower garden. Its mid-green to blue-green foliage provides an attractive backdrop for the bright yellow flowers with their prominent yellow stamens. Choose a sunny spot in the garden with moist but well-drained soil, and expect your plants to reach two to three feet in height with a spread of at least two feet. With this sunny-yellow healer gracing the garden, you’ll find it hard to keep singing the Blues!

BUG OFF! Nature’s Way

Not all insects are harmful to your garden; in fact, many are beneficial and are an important part of the ecosystem. Chemicals used to eliminate insects do not discriminate between the good bugs and the bad ones, so you can limit the damage done to beneficial insects and, at the same time, keep harmful chemicals out of the environment by practicing organic pest control.

Here are a few simple and effective ways to eliminate bugs and other pests naturally:

Handpicking: Insects can be handpicked from plants, and pests like potato bugs can easily be shaken from plants into a box. Use a butterfly net to capture white cabbageworm butterflies before they lay their eggs on your crucifers.

Traps: Slugs love to slurp beer from cans strategically placed in the garden, but don’t open the tops all the way lest the openings become two-way streets. Sticky traps hung in apple trees attract and trap apple maggot flies. Brush-on insect trap coating can be applied to small boards on stakes and used throughout the garden. Painting the boards a bright color will make them even more effective. Pheromone traps draw insects like Japanese beetles to their own hormonal scents and safely capture them in boxes away from prized roses and peonies.

Covers: Using lightweight floating covers on crops such as blueberries keeps those pesky birds, rabbits, and deer from eating you out of house and home. Of course, don’t install them until after pollination so that bees can do their job first.

Biological Pest Control: Releasing beneficial bugs into your garden to feed on bad bugs is a fine way of eliminating pests. Ladybugs love aphids, and certain wasps lay eggs on the eggs of other insects, such as cutworms and cornborers; when the wasp eggs hatch, they feed on the pest eggs. The bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is found in spray form and is used to control cabbageworms and their cousins.

Botanical Pest Control: Natural insecticides made from plants like the pyrethrum daisy (Tanacetum coccineum) are used very effectively and are a major force in the bad bug patrol. Pyrethrum, rotenone, and sabadilla are a few of these botanicals, which disperse quickly and do not leave residues.

Gardens That Heal

Planting medicinal herbs is an ancient practice. Earliest accounts date back more than 6,000 years, when the Sumerians, a now-extinct civilization, recorded herbs and their medicinal properties on clay tablets. Ancient Chinese, Greek, and Indian healers depended on herbs to prevent and correct imbalances in the body. And the Greek physician Hypocrites, whose oath has been taken by medical practitioners since early times, believed that nature itself was healing. His herbal was filled with plants such as burdock for arthritis and healthy kidney function and blessed thistle for increasing circulation and strengthening the heart and lungs. Pilgrims brought herbs with them to plant in their gardens in the New World and learned from Native Americans how to grow and use the land’s herbal bounty. Today, many people are turning to herbal remedies to avoid the sometimes harmful side effects of prescription drugs, and scientists are increasingly focusing on the natural world for cures for some of our most serious diseases.

Growing your own plants for herbal remedies such as teas and ointments makes the healing garden useful as well as beautiful, and the range of plant material available is surprisingly large. By definition, a healing herb is any plant or part of a plant that can be used to increase health and alleviate distress. Therefore, many plants we don’t traditionally call herbs, such as peonies, apples, and cabbage, are herbs in the medicinal sense because they promote healing. Healing gardens can be large enough to accommodate trees such as ginkgo, whose leaves are said to be effective in improving concentration and easing the symptoms of PMS, and willow (Salix), from whose bark aspirin is derived. Small healing gardens are best filled with perennials like catnip (Nepeta cataria), which when made into a tea relaxes and calms digestive system illnesses. The roots of coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) can be made into a tincture to speed healing of burns or diluted into a tea for help with arthritis pain and toothaches. German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), usually made into a tea, eases tension and reduces fever. The common garlic plant (Allium sativum) has been shown to be effective in reducing cholesterol, ginseng (Panax) guards against stress, and St. John’s wort (Hypericum) relieves depression and also the pain caused by neurological disorders. The list of healing plants is long and varied, and with some research, a veritable pharmacopoeia can be planted in your own backyard.

The healing power of plants is truly a marvel. As the medicinal qualities of some plants can be quite potent, we encourage you to educate yourself before experimenting with herbal remedies. Even if you never make one tea or salve from the plants in your healing garden, the simple acts of planting and working in the garden relieve the stresses of everyday life and impart a positive feeling and sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. It’s no wonder that gardening is America’s number-one hobby.

Improving Soil Drainage

The rising temperatures of Spring are right around the corner, and with it comes the thawing out of frozen ground. The remains of winter will melt into a quagmire interspersed only by early crocus.

This is the perfect time to come to understand the draining capacity of your soil. Why is this so important? It can make the difference between life and death for some plants.

Take, for example, Roses. Good draining soil is a must for success. Poor drainage can also lead to fungus diseases in lawns, perennials and many annuals.

So how do you know if your soil drains well? There are a few simple tests you can take to give you an idea of how well your soil drains. An easy, accurate and effective test would be to take a shovel full of soil. This can be done as early in the season, (or whenever you want to know), as the soil can be worked. Take a shovel-depth amount of soil, set it aside and fill the hole half-full with water. Come back in an hour or so.

If there is water remaining in the hole you have a drainage problem. If there is nothing left in the hole, or a small amount remaining then your problem is less dramatic.

The next step is the solution(s). The answer is going to be different for each situation, i.e., in a container garden, in a lawn, or a garden bed. Soil composition is very important. In a container garden, when using a whiskey barrel, clay pot or urn, you can provide a custom soil mix easily-it comes ready mixed in the bag. Make sure the mix has either perlite, vermiculite or some sort of soil conditioner.

As easy as it is to get perfect soil in a bag (for your potted pots), it is sometimes as daunting to produce similar results in a lawn or garden bed. It is not feasible to tear up your lawn to amend the soil mechanically, nor is it a good idea to try to displace an existing perennial bed.

There are some soil amenders you can add that work their way into the soil. For example, garden gypsum, an organic material that aids drainage, can be applied with a spreader and gets good results. You can use it on lawns as well as garden beds. Coarse sand can be added and scratched into the top two-three inches of soil. This is best used in garden beds.

In annual beds, or in planting situations, entire beds can have their soil re-worked. It’s best to add as much organic material as possible. Peat moss, manures and humus based top soils can do wonders in a planting situation. Remember to neutralize your soil with a bit of ground limestone to reach an optimum pH of 6.5-7.

Lawns, or mature beds, can be top dressed with organic material that will eventually work its way into the soil structure. A simple drainage test can go along way to answer your gardening problems.

A Greener Lawn Is In The Bag!

Fertilizing Your Lawn

A greener lawn just seems to make you feel better. It makes your home and gardens more beautiful. But how do you keep it green? Just as you and I need our three square meals a day, utilizing all the food groups (of course), a lawn has similar nutritional needs. Your lawn’s needs are simple…it needs nitrogen for lush, green grass, phosphate for strong, deep root development and potash for growth and drought resistance. These elements are known as N-P-K for Nitrogen, Phosphate and Potash. To keep it straight, just remember N (for nitrogen) is for everything above ground (grass leaf)-P (for phosphate) is for everything below ground (roots) and K (for potash) helps the lawn interact with the soil. These elements are present in most balanced fertilizer products. The percentage of each element might differ, but these percentages are listed on every fertilizer product. They are the three numbers listed in the formulation; i.e., 25-5-5 would 25% of the bag weight would be available nitrogen, 5% phosphate and 5% potash.

If you were to buy a 50 pound bag (10,000 sq ft coverage) of 25-5-5 fertilizer, then 25% or 12.5 pounds would be nitrogen, 2.5 pounds would be phosphate and 2.5 pounds would be potash. To finish the equation, you then divide the total pounds by the coverage area. In this case you would apply about 1.25 pounds of nitrogen. An average lawn needs 4 pounds of nitrogen (per 1000 sq ft or M), 2 pounds of phosphate (/M) and 1 pound of potash (/M) annually. Your lawn might differ from the average, but if you are looking for a “green-up” then look for high nitrogen fertilizers. If your lawn seems to wilt under the stress of summer heat waves, consider a fertilizer higher in phosphate and potash.

Now you know how to fertilize like a pro. There is an easier way. Most fertilizer companies now offer “four-step” programs for your lawn. It is usually sold as a set of four bags in 5-10,000 or now even 15,000 square foot sizes. It pre-packages everything your lawn needs for the year. Simply apply at rates shown on the bag at the times recommended. This ensures the proper amount of nutrients are applied at optimum timing.

Most folks like to see a quick green-up, but be careful, as too quick a top growth can occur at the expense of good root development. A good solution to this problem is WIN or W (ater) I (insoluble) N (itrogen). It allows the nitrogen to be released over a longer period of time. It is usually coated so that it is broken down over natural weathering process.

A great lawn is in the bag…literally. Knowing what’s in the bag should keep you and your lawn in the green! Stop by with any questions.

April’s Featured Houseplant: Calathea

The Calathea plant is a popular plant used for indoor office decoration purposes. It is often used in homes and businesses as well. It is a type of plant that prefers indirect lighting, which means makes it perfect for indoor usage and office buildings. Calathea plants are popular for indoor purposes because they are generally easy to care for and they look great, offering bright green plants to liven up indoor spaces. 

The genus Calathea includes some of the most beautiful and striking tropical foliage plants in the world. Calathea species generally have boldly marked, upright, oblong leaves in a dazzling array of colors held on long, upright stalks. Because of the plant’s bold markings, it goes by nicknames such as zebra plant, peacock plant, and rattlesnake plant, that reflect that. 

Grow calathea in medium to low light. This beautiful tropical doesn’t like much sun on its leaves, so shield it from direct light to prevent sunburn. Water calathea enough to keep it moist, but not wet or saturated. This isn’t a drought-tolerant houseplant, but it is relatively forgiving if you forget to water it from time to time. Extended periods of dryness can result in brown leaf tips or edges. 

Got Spring Fever? Visit the flower gardens at Keukenhof in Holland!

Have a bad case of Spring fever? Let’s go to Holland! Ok, maybe we all can’t hop on a plane, but we can take a video visit to Keukenhof where you will experience the gorgeous views of blooming Dutch tulips and other flowers for which Holland is famous. Keukenhof is the most famous and largest flower park in the world and lies not far from Amsterdam.

7 million flower bulbs

 


 

Tulips from Holland are world famous. If you want to see the Dutch tulip fields in bloom, you should visit Holland in April and May. This is the same period in which the biggest flower park in the world, Keukenhof, opens its doors.

Keukenhof is a park where more than 7 million flower bulbs are planted every year. Gardens and four pavilions show a fantastic collection of: tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, orchids, roses, carnations, irises, lilies and many other flowers. You will be overwhelmed by a spectacle of colors and perfumes.

March Houseplant of the Month – Pothos

Whether you are new to houseplants, or have a tendency towards killing anything you bring home, have we got a plant for you. Pothos, or Epipremnum aureum, is a lovely plant that is probably the easiest houseplant to grow. You have probably seen them in dorm rooms, offices, or even tropical locations like steamy bathrooms. Speaking of tropical, you might have even seen a few whose trailing vines have grown to 10, 20 or even 30 feet long. They are not a terribly finicky plant as they tolerate low light and lax watering habits. They are perfect for those of us who are too busy, or consider ourselves non-plant people.  It is a great plant for those looking to find fulfillment caring for houseplants.

Pothos plants do well in ordinary, well-draining potting soil. They tolerate low natural light (even growing under fluorescent lights), or shady spots in a warm-weather garden. Ideal is bright, indirect light. You should let the plant dry out between waterings as too much water will rot the roots.

Due to their trailing habits, Pothos are a great way to get trendy by growing yours in a cool macrame hanger. Want another reason to pick up this popular plant? They are an air purifier removing harmful chemicals. So if you are looking for a starter plant, or just a plant that’s as easy to care for as it is easy on the eyes, bring one or two home today!

An Easier Approach To Roses

Maybe it’s time to break up with your roses.

Every year it’s the same… the snow melts and the rose bush in your garden that has been lying dormant all winter springs to life with the hope and promise of summer. You gently lie your soaker hose under it, and comment how lovely it is looking this year. It flirts with the unfurling of tender, green leaves, and soon colorful little buds are sprouting. You give it a sidelong glance…you think this time it will be different.

However, by mid-summer it’s the same story. You’ve mulched, you’ve watered – taking special care not to dampen the leaves, but one day you see it: the dreaded spot. And by mid-summer the rose bush that you were certain would be a blushing beauty, looks more look more like a sad, spindly bundle of sticks with a few dried out buds and some black-spotted leaves hanging on for dear life. Where did you go wrong?

Don’t blame yourself…

Anyone who has devoted their time and attention to cultivating roses knows they have the reputation of being a bit touchy. Typically, if you see a rose plant with full, lush foliage and heaps of blooms all summer, it has probably had a fair share of coddling to get that way, and even then, they are susceptible to a number of maladies.

The main thing to remember is you shouldn’t blame yourself. Sure, it would be great to be one of those people who can grow magnificent roses. Fact is, you probably are one of those people. That’s right, it’s time to confidently declare that you, yes you, can grow a great rose. It’s easy – when you start with the right plant.

It’s Oso Easy

All of the plants that carry the Proven Winners® ColorChoice® name go through rigorous trials before they reach your favorite garden center. Roses, especially, are subjected to a gauntlet of challenges to make sure they merit inclusion in your garden. The process starts by growing the roses in containers in a greenhouse. They are never sprayed with fungicides. They are overhead watered each day, and kept in the same container for 2-3 years until they’re so stressed that most of them succumb to disease. Survival of the fittest. Only if they’ve made it through the first 3-4 years of the trial with clean, disease-free foliage, vigorous growth, and abundant flowers do they make it to the next phase. On average, the process takes ten years. Though hundreds upon hundreds of rose selections have gone on the trash heap in these trials, fifteen have been deemed worthy of introduction and have been honored with 32 prestigious awards.

One such success story is At Last® rose. Available in garden centers this year, At Last rose was one of the few that proved itself in these rigorous trials. It was chosen for its superb disease resistance and ability to continuously bloom all season long, combined with a rich spicy fragrance that, until now, has never been found in a disease resistant rose. At Last roses never fail to impress with a season-long display of large, sweetly perfumed, sunset-orange blossoms complimented by handsome, glossy foliage. Blooming from late spring through frost with a vigorous, rounded habit, this no-nonsense beauty is ideal in any landscape or flower garden.

Rigorously trialing plants is hard work and time consuming, but it is also rewarding to be able to introduce beautiful, easy care varieties like Oso Easy® roses. With the broadest color range of any landscape rose, all 12 varieties are dressed for success with an impressive display of non-stop color. Oso Easy roses also boast surprising hardiness (some varieties thrive down to USDA zone 3) and are strong rebloomers with dark green, glossy foliage and exceptional disease resistance – plus their tidy habits make them ideally suited to all your gardening and landscaping needs.

Still not sure you have time to take care of rose plants? Low maintenance is the hallmark of Oso Easy and At Last roses – they are self-cleaning, meaning their petals fall off when the flowers fade, instead of turning brown and withering on the plant. That’s right, they require no deadheading or pruning, just give these roses at least 6 hours of sun a day and regular watering, and they’ll give you year-after-year of natural, easy-care beauty all season long. Sounds like a match made in heaven.

What Are the Effects of Rock Salt on Lawn Grass?

Rock salt is commonly used as a deicing agent, helping prevent winter accidents on roads, driveways and sidewalks. Road crews often add rock salt as a preventative measure when wintry weather is predicted. The same qualities that help the salt break through the ice make it deadly for your lawn. In addition to harming your existing lawn, rock salt can keep grass from growing for years.

Moisture

Salt removes the moisture from the soil, keeping it from getting to your lawn’s roots. The plants become dehydrated and die. If the salt touches a growing grass blade, it takes the moisture out of the blade as well, leaving it brown and withered. Touching dormant grass blades doesn’t do much damage, but the damage to the soil can keep dormant grass from getting the water it needs to grow in warmer weather.

Toxicity

Salt tends to separate into its basic ions when dissolved in water. The sodium ions block grass roots from getting necessary nutrients such as calcium, potassium and magnesium. The chloride ions are absorbed by the roots instead, growing to toxic levels. When the grass contains too much chloride, it can’t produce chlorophyll effectively and will starve when it can’t turn the sun’s light into energy.

Duration

Soil naturally contains small levels of salt, especially if it’s fertilized regularly. A few wayward chunks of rock salt won’t harm your lawn. Large amounts can stay in the soil for years, though, accumulating every year until the salt creates an environment toxic to your grass. Salt stays there until it’s leached away by rainwater, which means you won’t be able to plant new grass until the salt is gone. You can speed this process by watering the damaged area thoroughly. Give it deep soakings daily as soon as the weather is warm enough to help drain the salt below the lawn’s root level.

Options

You can’t control what your local government uses to keep roads ice-free on those occasions when icy conditions are expected, but you can help protect the areas of your lawn near the road by installing temporary snow or silt fencing. It blocks much of the salt, keeping it off your lawn. You can also cover your grass with plastic sheeting, held down with rocks or landscape staples. For your driveway or sidewalks, try an alternative ice-melt product. Garden centers often carry some that are labeled as safe for landscape use, or you can try sand or kitty litter to give you traction over small, slippery areas.

Most Birds Say “We Love Sunflower Seeds”

The seed that attracts the widest variety of birds, and so the mainstay for most backyard bird feeders, is sunflower. Other varieties of seed can help attract different types of birds to round out your backyard visitors. In general, mixtures that contain red millet, oats, and other “fillers” are not attractive to most birds and can lead to a lot of waste as the birds sort through the mix.

Sunflower

There are two kinds of sunflower—black oil and striped. The black oil seeds (“oilers”) have very thin shells, easy for virtually all seed-eating birds to crack open, and the kernels within have a high fat content, extremely valuable for most winter birds. Striped sunflower seeds have a thicker shell, much harder for House Sparrows and blackbirds to crack open. So if you’re inundated with species you’d rather not subsidize at your black oil sunflower, before you do anything else, try switching to striped sunflower.

People living in apartments or who have trouble raking up seed shells under their feeders often offer shelled sunflower. Many birds love this, as of course do squirrels, and it’s expensive. Without the protection of the shell, sunflower hearts and chips quickly spoil, and can harbor dangerous bacteria, so it’s important to offer no more than can be eaten in a day or two.

Sunflower is very attractive to squirrels, a problem for people who don’t wish to subsidize them. Some kinds of squirrel baffles, and some specialized feeders, are fairly good at excluding them. Sunflower in the shell can be offered in a wide variety of feeders, including trays, tube feeders, hoppers, and acrylic window feeders. Sunflower hearts and chips shouldn’t be offered in tube feeders where moisture can collect.

For more information – https://www.allaboutbirds.org/types-of-bird-seed-a-quick-guide/

February Featured Houseplant: Aloe Vera

Aloe (Aloe spp.), an easy-care succulent, has distinctive elongated leaves that fan out in a vase shape from a central base. Try smaller varieties such as Aloe vera on a sunny kitchen window. Aloes work nicely in dish gardens and in rooms with Southwestern decor. Keep the spiky leaves away from high-traffic areas. The aloe vera plant is an easy, attractive succulent that makes for a great indoor companion. Aloe vera plants are useful, too, as the juice from their leaves can be used to relieve pain from scrapes and burns when applied topically.
 
HOW TO CARE FOR AN ALOE VERA PLANT
 
•Place in bright, indirect sunlight or artificial light. A western or southern window is ideal. Aloe that are kept in low light often grow leggy.
•Aloe vera do best in temperatures between 55 and 80°F (13 and 27°C). 
•Water aloe vera plants deeply, but infrequently. To discourage rot, allow the soil to dry at least 1 to 2 inches deep between waterings. Don’t let your plant sit in water.
•Water about every 3 weeks and even more sparingly during the winter. Use your finger to test dryness before watering. If the potting mix stays wet, the plants’ roots can begin to rot.
•Fertilize sparingly (no more than once a month), and only in the spring and summer with a balanced houseplant formula mixed at ½ strength.

ALOE VERA GEL

To make use of the aloe vera plant’s soothing properties, remove a mature leaf from the plant and cut it lengthwise. Squeeze the gel out of the leaf and apply it to your burn, or simply lay the opened leaf gel-side–down on top of the affected area. 

Do not ingest the gel, as it can cause nausea and other unpleasant symptoms.