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Category Archives: Gardening

Create Backyard Oasis

Garden ponds come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The size of your garden pond will very much depend on your personal taste. While they do differ in shape and size, most garden ponds have similar components such as aquatic plants and fish. There are countless ways to approach your garden pond maintenance. In our experience, the best way to ensure the success of your garden pond is to strike a delicate balance between nature and technology.

While many people have elaborate pumping systems and waterfalls, they are not entirely necessary. For instance, certain types of fish can minimize any issues you may have regarding algae. Goldfish are extremely popular in outdoor garden ponds. There are over 100 varieties of goldfish to choose from, many of which have delightful colors and markings. Japanese Koi are also commonly used in garden ponds, but keep in mind that they need a lot of room.

The golden rule for introducing fish into your pond is to ensure that you have established all of the plant life first. Also be sure that the water is clear and balanced before you introduce the fish. There are many types of aquatic plant life that you can use in your garden pond, and they are divided into distinct categories. Oxygenators are essential, as they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as they grow. Water lilies can add some wonderfully beautiful colors to your pond. The other types include floaters, marginals, and marsh plants.

Nature itself can pose certain problems for outdoor garden ponds. For example, a neighborhood cat could easily make a meal of your prized Koi. More often than not, animals will use the pond as a source for drinking water only. Frogs and toads can also make a home in your pond. This is generally not a problem, unless they begin breeding. This can create a population explosion that your pond is not able to sustain. If this does happen, you should receive some professional advice. Alternately, you can visit our website for more information.

About Growing Grass Under Trees

Shade tolerant grasses:

If you are determined to grow grass under and around trees you need to use a shade tolerant grass. In our area Fine Fescue is your best bet. However once again you are fighting the shade issue. Fine Fescue requires at least a 50% exposure to sunlight to thrive. This sunlight does not need to be direct as shifting intermittent from the sun as it travels through its day is fine.

Grass under spruce and pine:

As many homeowners have noticed grass growing under these conifers do even worse than under most deciduous trees. Along with the shade, lack of moisture, less nutrients and less air movement, these trees have an extra trick up their sleeves. When these trees drop their needles (needle cast) the needles cause the soil around the tree to increase in acidity. Once again it is just another form of defense trees will use to compete with other plant life.

Growing grass in the shade:

The number one thing you must do to grow grass in the shade is to use a shade tolerant grass such as Fine Fescue. Removing lower branches and a light pruning of the inner growth allows more sunlight to penetrate the lawn below. If you are mowing under the trees, raise the mower blade 1 level to leave more leaf blade to increase the grass plant’s chance at photosynthesis. These areas also require more watering during dry spells to compensate for the amount the trees will be using at this time. Light fertilization is recommended in these areas as generally the grass is under stress for most of the year.

Improve Garden Soil Naturally

Soil life eats organic matter, decomposing it and creating a crucial soil element called humus. Humus is decayed organic material. The process of decomposition releases nutrients in forms that plants can absorb. In other words, decomposition of organic material has a fertilizing effect.

But fertility is only part of the value of regularly feeding the soil with organic material. Humus also contributes to the sponge-like soil texture that allows air circulation and moisture retention. Loam — the ideal soil for growing plants – is a balanced mixture of sand, clay, silt, and organic matter. Humus will bind sandy soil or loosen hard-packed clay.

For these beneficial results (for fertility and texture), the life in soil needs fresh food. Regular doses of organic material will ensure that garden dirt is enhanced rather than depleted over the lifetime of the garden. Every year, a 30 by 40 foot garden needs around 400 pounds (equivalent to 10 bales of hay) of organic material, but it doesn’t need to be added all at once.

Additions of organic material take a variety of forms. For starters, chop garden residues into the soil: weeds, mulch, and plants left after harvest. Hauling in compost by the yard from nurseries or hauling animal manures from nearby farms is also an option. But the easiest and most cost effective method of continuous additions of organic material is to grow cover crops, also known as green manures.

Cover crops are grown and tilled into the soil, replenishing rather than removing nutrients. Even in a small garden, this is an effective method when a harvest crop and a green manure are grown in rotation. For instance, plant a late summer green manure after an early crop such as peas or broccoli.

Some suggestions for cover crops include legumes, buckwheat, and ryegrass.

Legumes such as peas and soybeans fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil when inoculated seeds that attract certain micro-organisms are used. In addition, these legumes are vegetables, making a single planting both a harvest crop and a green manure.

For bulk and quick growth, ryegrass or other annual grains are good choices. In colder climates these are especially good cover crops for the end of summer because they die over the winter and are easy to till in the spring. For the poorest soils, buckwheat is most useful.

Green manures can work with or without using powered equipment, but in larger gardens a roto-tiller certainly makes the process easier. In smaller gardens, the question of whether it makes financial sense to invest in renting or buying a roto-tiller has to be weighed against the cost of hauling in compost and animal manures.

Watering Lawn

Most grass plants have their roots at a depth of 4-6 inches. The soil should be moistened to this depth. Soil composition is the biggest factor when figuring out how much water is required to achieve this depth. Although it will vary from lawn to lawn, a good general rule to follow is; loam and clay soils require 1-1 ½ inches of water, while sandy soil requires ½ to ¾ of an inch of water to moisten to the same depth. Soils differ in the time it takes to achieve these levels of moisture. Clay soil is very compacted and water takes a long time to penetrate such a soil. Sandy soils on the other hand are very loosely compacted and require very little time to achieve the desired depth.

The time in which you water is on of the most important aspects of your success with your watering schedule. Mornings are the best time for watering. The grass has a chance to utilize the water before evaporating, and the leaf blade dries out during the day. Evenings are your 2nd best time if you are unable to water in the mornings. One of the drawbacks to watering in the evening is the leaf blade has a good chance of remaining wet throughout the night. Given the right conditions, this can lead to diseases such as Red Thread or Leaf Spot. Watering during the day is the worst time to water. Most of the water put down is lost to evaporation and the droplets can act as a magnifying glass and cause damage to the leaf blade. If this is the only time you can water, it is better than nothing, if your lawn is showing signs of drought stress.

Most lawns require 1-2 inches of water per week during the growing season. This will vary with local weather conditions. Hot, dry, windy weather creates the need for greater moisture in your lawn. An excessive thatch layer acts like a sponge and traps much of the moisture you put down. Aerating your lawn will improve water transfer to your grass’s root system. Trees in your lawn will compete aggressively for any water you put down. These areas require more moisture than other areas of your lawn. Gradually lessen your watering schedule as fall approaches. This tells your lawn to “harden off” and prepare for winter. Watering up till the first heavy frost will freeze your leaf blades causing massive damage to the cell structure of the plant. This will cause many problems come springtime.

About Controlling Spider Mites

Spider mites can be found in most species of spruce but are predominately found on Colorado or White spruce. Spruce spider mites are tiny and very difficult to see. They are approximately .5 millimeters and are a dark green to dark brown in colouration. The best method to find out if your spruce tree may have mites is to place a white piece of paper under a branch and shake it repeatedly. Fold the paper in half, if red smears appear after opening the paper, chances are you have spider mites living in your trees. Ensure you check your trees on a regular basis as mite populations can grow quite rapidly.

By using their sucking mouth- parts the spider mites pierce the needle and extract sap from within. This feeding causes the needles to take on a bleached look to them. If the population is large enough the feeding can cause the needles to become a yellow to brownish colour. These needles eventually dry out and fall off. Spider mites begin feeding on the lower branches of the tree, feeding from the inner needles outward. They use a silk webbing throughout the area they are feeding on. Most trees are able to withstand an infestation, but a newly planted tree or one that is under stress from other factors is more likely to be injured by this pest.

As with many tree pests’ weather such as wind rain and temperature are a great help in controlling an infestation. You may also be able to achieve acceptable control by using your garden hose to spray down any trees that may be under attack. Looks for the silk webbing the mites create which is found on the underside of the lower branches. If you are using a chemical control it is advisable to hire a reputable tree service to perform this task. The reason for this is that any insecticides used must be applied at high pressure to ensure the chemical reaches the inner branches of the tree. Most garden hoses will not achieve the type of pressure needed to achieve good control.

Must Know about Transplanting Trees

Many times a homeowner will be tempted to use a lower priced tree or shrub. Often these plants will have an underdeveloped root structure that is unable to support the plant. The root structure may be overgrown from being in a container too long. It may have broken branches or damaged bark. Ensure the plant is suited for the hardiness zone you live in. Check with a local nursery if you are unsure of which zone you live in. If you choose a tree or shrub that will outgrow the location you have chosen, move it to another location. Try to imagine what the plant will look like in 15-20 years, this will aid in your selection of location. By doing this you will cut down on the need for excessive pruning in later years. Generally trees and shrubs of poorer quality will be slow to establish themselves, they will exhibit signs of reduced vigor, die-back, and poor growth.

Characteristics of a location will also contribute to transplant problems. Almost all trees and shrubs need a well-drained soil that is moist. Many areas within an urban environment are poorly drained. The soil pH level may be unsuitable for the tree or shrub you have selected. Most trees and shrubs also require a specific sun and shade schedule. A poorly chosen site will affect a tree or shrub in many ways. Poor growth, and or poor colour will occur. Generally speaking trees and shrubs in poor locations will also not respond favourably to a good fertilizer program or good cultural practices.

By planting incorrectly you dramatically increase the chance of your new tree or shrub failing. Several things that can go wrong are as follows. Many times the homeowner will plant too deep or too shallow. By planting too deep you have a good chance of suffocating the roots. This is caused by oxygen deprivation. Planting too shallow can cause exposure of the root structure. This will cause drying out of the root system and kill the plant. Watering improperly is another problem encountered by the homeowner.

By watering too much you run the risk of root decay or you have the potential to drown the roots. By watering too little the plant becomes stressed and could eventually die. Leaving wire, string, rope, or burlap on the plant can encourage girdling which can eventually kill the plant in later years. Improper staking can cause the plant to be blown over in severe weather. If you leave the staking material on too long you once again run the risk of girdling.

When you are planting your new tree or shrub ensure you correct as many of these problems as possible. Do not purchase plants with poorly developed root structures. Ensure the plant is compatible with the zone in which you live. Solve any drainage and pH problems before you transplant your new addition. Remove all burlap, wire, string, or rope that has the potential to cause girdling in later years. Make sure you plant at the proper depth. Generally you do this so the top roots are just covered by soil. Water deeply and infrequently. This will encourage your new plant to develop deep roots that will aid in stability in the years to come. Water slowly as this will enable more moisture to be taken in by the plant. Watering quickly causes run-off and is just wasting your time and money. Stake your plant if it is in an exposed area to wind.

Spring Foraging

  • Identify the plant correctly. Always be 100% sure of the plant’s identification before you harvest and consume. Many plants have poisonous look-alikes so it is imperative you can ID with certainty. Pay attention to the old adage “when in doubt, throw it out”. There are a number of great plant ID books on the market that cover most geographical areas. You may also find foraging classes in your area which can be a fun way to learn about local plants.
  • Practice sustainable harvesting for any plants you harvest. Never take more than you need and be sure to leave enough for the plants to survive and prosper. Keep in mind that unless you are eradicating an invasive species, foraging should never negatively impact the survival of the plant population. Take time to learn what plants are invasive in your area and also what plants are endangered and should never be harvested.
  • Forage in areas you know are clean and have not been treated with chemicals. Be wary of foraging along roadsides and under power lines.
  • Harvest underground storage organs; bulbs, tubers, rhizomes, etc. with additional consideration as harvesting can kill the plant. Early spring and late fall are the best times to harvest underground storage organs as the plant’s energy is conserved below ground. In late spring and summer, the plant will redirect energy to above ground growth and production of flowers and seed. A few examples of bountiful roots to forage in spring are chicory, dandelion, and burdock.
  • Seek out leafy greens as they are the stars of spring foraging. This fresh food is available long before our gardens start producing. In most areas, there are quite a few leafy greens to choose from. Dandelion, chickweed, lamb’s quarter, garlic mustard, and violet are all commonly foraged greens. Do some research to find which greens are best eaten raw and which taste best steamed or sautéed.

Deal With Cucumber Bitterness

If you are harvesting bitter Cucumbers, the most likely explanation is that you are growing them incorrectly.

On no account let your Cucumber become stressed (lack of water, for example), they tend to bitter up.

If you grow the right kind of Cucumber, and keep the plant free from anything that might check their growth then you will have perfectly nutritious cucumbers that are crisp, refreshing pick-me-ups on a hot summers day.

However, if you want to be on the safe side, there is a trick for removing bitterness. This bitterness is almost all concentrated in the leaves, stems and skin of the Cucumber. If you remove one inch of the cucumber’s stem end and peel the skin back to a thin layer of flesh directly beneath the skin.

I have also found that scoring cucumbers with a fork makes the difference between faintly bitter and palatable cucumbers. You can try this out yourself. Peel a Cucumber. Take two center section. Score one and leave the other alone. Cut a slice from each and taste. You will find that the slice that has been scored is less bitter.

All this is aimed at making the cucumber less bitter, however you may well like bitter ones, in which case grow old varieties.

In the main there are three types of cucumber: field or standard ones, which grow quite large with a bright green color; smaller pickling ones with a more yellowish tone to the skin; and greenhouse forced varieties, which are bred to grow fruit in somewhat lower temperatures like the UK. I find in a good summer here in Oxford I can grow all three. In cool summers the outside ones do not do so well.

You can sow cucumber seeds straight into the ground, however I prefer to start my off in seed-trays and them pot them on until they are big enough to be planted out in the open or glasshouse.

I could list varieties here, but the best is to see what your neighbors are growing or which plants are for sale in your local shop.

Cucumbers are very heavy feeders so grow them in enriched soil with well-rotted manure or compost. Watch out for the usual pest and deal with them.

Water Gardens

Water garden construction is, in principle anyway, easy. It is simply a matter of digging a hole, dropping in an underliner, a liner and a re circulating pump and filling with water. Put in a few plants, fish, snails and such and its done. You have a functional water garden. How attractive it is, though, is another story – and that is where a lot of the work comes in.

The hole should be of a pleasing shape, geometric for a formal garden, natural for an informal. Depth is not terribly critical for over wintering fish because of the effective pond heaters which can be purchased. (As long as the water doesn’t freeze all the way down, and poisonous gasses can escape, the fish will be fine all winter.) But a pond that is three feet or more in any direction looks best with a depth of at least 18 inches. For larger ponds, some portion, especially in cold areas, should be 3 or 4′ deep. (My water garden is about 6 ft. on the long side and over two feet in depth at the deepest part. Vary the depth. A shallow section where the fish are easily visible and where you can feed them and watch them romping around is a pleasant feature.

Also, when digging the hole, build shelves into the sides. These are useful for placing margin plants and for hiding the liner and pump elements with river stones. Two shelves is ideal but one will work, especially on a small pool.

It is critical that the top edge of the hole be level all around. To check this, take a long, straight board and lay it across the pool with a level on it, or use a string with a line-level. Where it is low, build up with soil or lower where it is high. Getting this right will make it possible to fill the pool to the top with no portion of liner showing.

When the hole is dug, clean it of any protruding roots and large rocks, then place in the underliner. This can be an old carpet, a carpet liner or liner protection fabric, purchased from the suppliers. Make it as smooth and neat inside as possible, folding the material into pleats. Work from the inside to the outside, starting at one place and working around the sides in one direction. Leave a little extra over the edges and cut away the rest.

Next comes the liner. There are several material choices for the liner, my preference generally being 45 mil EPDM Pond Liner material. This is flexible, relatively easy to work with and is strong. 30 mil Butyl rubber Pond Liner is also good and is a little easier to work with. Lay the liner in as you did the underliner, working out the wrinkles, and folding over the excess. Leave about a ft. extra over the edge and trim away the rest. (A linoleum knife, if you can find one, works well. A utility knife is also fine.)

Once the liner is in place, mark the water level, fill it and let it sit several hours. There should be no drop in water level. If there is, go all along the sides and look for a low spot. Most likely that is where it is losing water. Holes are not common and should not occur if you have been reasonably careful.

Being possessed of abundant wisdom you no doubt acquired all the materials you would need for this project before beginning. Thus, you now find yourself surrounded by a ton of river rock and perhaps field stone of all sizes and shapes. River stone is rounded by the effect of water and looks right in water. Field stone is also a natural stone, weathered and smoothed and looks good around the outside of the pond.

You also have your pump near by. (The size of the pump you will need is a factor of the gallon capacity of the pond. Your supplier will tell you how to determine that and help you to select the right size.) (Or go to landscape-design-garden-plans.com).

Recirculating pumps draw water in through a filter and pump it back out, usually through plastic tubing which runs from the pump to outside the pond, usually to some sort of waterfall. From there it runs back into the pond, aerating the water and providing visual and audio pleasure. (Fish love this. You’ll often find them sporting in the water as it pours into the pond.) The filter can either be connected to the pump or you can use an external filter for easy cleaning.

Place the pump in the deepest portion of the pond, on the opposite end from where the water returns to the pond. Hopefully that will also be somewhere you can easily get at it. Run both the electric cord and the plastic return hose up the sides of the pond. Before you cut the hose, which carries the water from the pump to the waterfall, make sure it is in place with enough extra hose with the pump for easy lifting for cleaning. Since you don’t want to see the pump, place rocks on both sides of it, both just a little taller than the pump, and lay a rock over the top. Use the rest of your river stone and the field stone to lay into the sides and along the top for a natural look. Sand and or small rounded gravel can be poured over the bottom.

You next need to create the means by which the water is returned to the pool – a waterfall of some sort. This needn’t be elaborate and shouldn’t be out of proportion to the pond. Above all, make sure that where the water comes out of the tubing, no portion of it fails to make it back to the pond. If it does, the pond will slowly, but surely empty. This is why you left extra liner. Put extra liner behind and around the waterfall, all sloping to the pond. Water may escape and run under the bottom of the rocks but will still end up back in the pond. More than ninety percent of ‘leaks’ occur at the waterfall.

Build your flow-way or water fall over the liner and try to have the water drop from the lip of a smooth, flat stone into the pool, or to run over rounded rocks into the pool. Put attractive stones over the tubing, making sure not to crush it so much such that you get a spray of water instead of a flow.

It is a good idea to look at natural water features, streams and such, or at pictures of them to get stone placement right. Nature has a wonderful way of distributing stones along and within a stream or pond and an imitation of that, as much as possible, will give you the best look.

Garden Paths

Landscape gardening may follow along very formal lines or along informal lines. The first would have straight paths, straight rows in stiff beds, everything, as the name tells, perfectly formal. The other method is, of course, the exact opposite.

The formal arrangement is likely to look too stiff; the informal, too fussy, too wiggly. As far as paths go, keep this in mind, that a path should always lead to somewhere and to direct one to a definite place. Now, straight, even paths are not unpleasing if the effect is to be that of a formal garden. To avoid an abrupt curve and a whirligig effect in a curved path, t is far better to stick to straight paths unless you can make a really beautiful curve.

Garden paths may be of gravel, of stepping stones, of dirt, or of grass. One sees grass paths in some very lovely gardens. They may not work well in small gardens with limited garden areas that they are re-spaded each season. Of course, a gravel path makes a fine appearance, but again you may not have gravel at your command. Stepping stones, plain or decorated with a picture, suite your garden as well. To place stepping stones, dig out the path for two feet, then put in six inches of stone or clinker. Over this, pack in the dirt, rounding it slightly toward the center of the path. They form convenient places for water to stand. The under layer of stone makes a natural drainage system.

Gardening is limited only by your imagination. There’re so many things you can do with the garden. Besides garden paths, trees and flower beds, wind chimes brings relaxation and joy to your garden as well. In a nice summer morning, listening to your wind chimes while you garden. To hang wind chimes from the top of your porch, you can use a simple C shaped hook or any type hook that screws into the ceiling.