Category Archives: News and Tips

Rediscovering a Classic – A Variety of Hydrangeas

Certain plants have the ability to conjure up memories, emotions and feelings of special times and special places. For many the hydrangea’s fairy-tale blue clusters remind us of carefree summer days spent lazing on the Cape, where the showy blooms dress up cottage gardens. We plant hydrangeas in our own beds for the restful feelings they inspire, as well as for the beauty of their opulent midsummer blooms.

Although the most familiar, the blue hydrangea, or more properly, Hydrangea macrophylla, is just one of over a hundred known cultivars of Hydrangea. Along with Hydrangea macprophylla, other varieties that do well in our area include H. paniculata grandiflora and H. anomola petiolaris. Hydrangeas are generally easy to grow, are hardy to zone 6 or in areas of temperate winters, and require little care or maintenance.

Hydrangea macrophylla is divided into two main groups: hortensias, which feature the globular blue, pink, red and white blooms of Cape Cod fame, and lacecaps, which are distinguished by flatter clusters of sterile, papery petallike sepals. Both types can be propagated by suckered division. They are long-lived plants that are relatively trouble free.

As a group, hortensias feature thick, erect, and unbranched stems that easily reach full height in just a single season. Their glossy foliage is striking in its own right, but the plant is characterized by its showy round clusters, which range in color from blue to white to pink, the color varying with the pH level of the soil. Here in the Northeast, our acidic soil (pH range of 5.5 or lower) gives blooms a blue tone. As the soil pH neutralizes, the color of bloom graduates to white, then pink and finally to a near red shade. Adding aluminum sulfate to lower the soil pH results in blue blooms, while raising the soil pH with ground limestone produces pink/red hues. The plants prefer a sunny to partly sunny location, with moist soil that is rich in organic matter.

In recent years, lacecaps have seen a resurgence in popularity as an old-fashioned favorite. Like hortensias, they prefer a sun to part sun and rich, moist soil. The plants benefit from having the stems, that have flowered, removed while the plant is dormant. A more vigorous thinning (as opposed to pruning, or cutting back) will produce larger flower clusters.

Another old-favorite is the Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora or “pee gee” hydrangea. This fast-growing treelike shrub features a mop-head-like flower cluster in mid-to-late summer. The flowers open to white in summer, turn a pinkish hue in September and fade to tan by fall. They are outstanding as a dried flower, sometimes lasting years in dried arrangements. Because pee gee hydrangeas bloom on new wood, prune hard when the plant is dormant to produce larger flowers the next summer. An easy to grow plant, it is extremely long-lived and has been a favorite of gardeners for generations.

The climbing hydrangea, or Hydrangea anomola petiolaris is another versatile performer. Clinging to tree trunks or brick by aerial roots, it can grow to 60 feet, and once established, this plant takes off! Its fragrant white flowers nearly cover it in summer and it does well in the shade of most deciduous trees. Planted at the base of an elm or an oak, this climbing hydrangea will wind its way up the trunk and provide spectacular color all summer long.

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!

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.

It’s Time To Plan Your Spring Veggie Garden

What should I plant? How much should I plant? And where should I plant it? If you’re new to gardening—and even if you’re not—starting your garden can, at times, feel overwhelming. The good news? You don’t have to be a master gardener to create a garden plan that yields a healthy harvest. Here are a few tips to help you kick-start your home garden.

Give It Some Thought

As it does with most endeavors, it pays to think through your garden project before you order your seeds or shop for plants in the Spring. Which vegetable varieties really pique your interest? How much land can you commit to a garden? (Be sure to allow adequate space between rows!) How much time do you have to devote to weeding, mulching, watering, and other garden maintenance? Which plant hardiness zone do you call home, and which plants thrive in that region over the course of the year? Answering these questions will help you develop a garden plan that suits your land and lifestyle.

Whether or not you are new to gardening, prioritize the crops that excite (or perhaps intrigue) you. And if you had a garden last year, make sure to rotate your crops this year, moving the location of each plant family to increase soil fertility and crop yield. Consider saving seeds from your garden, too. With just a few extra considerations, you can also plan to save seeds from your garden.

Choose A Good Location

Most vegetables grow best when they get at least six hours of sun a day, so be sure to plant your garden in a sunlight-rich location. If that sunny spot is close to a convenient water source for irrigation, that’s even better. Sowing your seeds or planting your transplants near a water source will make it easier to keep your soil at the optimal moisture level..

Start Small

Bigger doesn’t always mean better when it comes to basic garden planning. If you’re new to gardening, or if you have limited time to devote to your garden, commit to a plot size that won’t overwhelm you and concentrate on a selection of vegetables you like to eat that are also easy to grow. Radishes, lettuce, spinach, and carrots are just a few of the crops that don’t take a lot of time or experience to produce a harvest.

Pay Attention To Your Soil

There’s no way to overemphasize the importance of good soil: your garden will grow best in nutrient-rich, well-drained, weeded, and loosened (non-compacted) soil. Before you plant each spring, take the time to enrich your soil with quality compost or other organic matter if you want to boost your soil’s fertility and your garden’s production. Mulch (like leaves, straw, and hay) also adds valuable nutrients to the soil and will cut down significantly on your need to weed.

Grow What You Love

What’s the point of growing vegetables you don’t like to eat? Let your palate dictate your choices when choosing your crops, but try to stay open to planting at least a couple new vegetables each year to keep your home garden a bit more exciting. The last thing you want is to have your garden feel like a chore rather than a source of inspiration and relaxation.

Keep Your Tools Simple

Truth is, you don’t need to invest a lot in tools for weeding and breaking up soil or otherwise preparing your soil for seeds or transplants.

How to Care for Garden Tools

Properly caring for your tools will ensure that you enjoy gardening with them for many seasons to come.

5 can-do tool-care tips

  1. Easiest of all, maybe: Simply rinse soil off digging tools after each use, by making a pit stop at the garden hose. Dry thoroughly. A stiff brush hanging by the tap would make for even more thorough cleaning.
  2. It’s often recommended to place a bucket of sand moistened with linseed oil inside the garage, and quickly dip tools into the abrasive, lubricating mix a few times after using them.
  3. Linseed oil is likewise good for wood handles. Hang a rag near the sand bucket to give a quick wipe to wooden tool handles, too. Allow the rag to dry in the open between uses, and when disposing, dry thoroughly first or soak with water before placing in a closed metal can.
  4. Most important of all: Get the tools indoors, and hang them up! Don’t lean them against the garage wall, touching the floor—even if it’s paved. Again, moisture is the enemy here.
  5. Good-quality pruning shears should last a long time—unless you let sap and other residues build up on the blades. As if they were the silverware after supper, wash them. Yes! A quick stop at the sink, with soap and a nail brush or scrubby pad, is ideal. Dry well, and replenish lubrication on the pivot point only. A drop or two of a penetrating product such as 3-in-One oil is better than a lightweight spray lube, which evaporates quicker. Use mineral spirits to remove residues, but preferably prevent them in the future with the quick-wash routine. Invest in a sharpening device meant for shears–a whetstone, or a carbide sharpener, such as you might use for knives or scissors–to complete the care regimen, giving the blades an occasional pass.