April 2011 Archives

Dollar Weeds: A Guide

Dollar weeds are a warm-region aquatic weed. They spread very quickly and can choke out other aquatic plants by robbing the water around them of oxygen, depriving aquatic wildlife as well as plants.

Dollar Weeds Are Common

One of the most common weeds in the U.S., dollars weed is not only an aquatic weed, but also thrive in lawns among St. Augustine grass.

Shiny Leaves

You can easily identify dollar weeds by their round shiny leaves that resemble silver dollars. They are a creeping weed and have small flowers that bloom in July and August.

Dollar Weed Growth

Wherever there is a shady area, you will probably find dollar weed. They will thrive in different soil conditions, shady areas and wet places. Bogs, swamps, lakes, and standing water are all great places for dollar weed to grow.

Dollar Weeds Take Control

If this weed is left to grow, it will quickly spread out and form a strong carpet, choking out any other plants in the area and, in a short period of time, completely take over your lawn or pond.

Get Rid Of Dollar Weed

The best way to rid your lawn of dollar weed is to pull it out by hand before it really starts to take control. Thanks to its small, shallow roots, it will come out easily.

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Photo copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

How to Grow a Weeping Mulberry Tree

A weeping mulberry tree is a flowering tree that can add texture and interest to your yard. Weeping mulberries are pretty versatile and can grow in most areas. Here's how you can grow your own.




Materials Needed

  • Mulch
  • Shovel
  • Garden Shears
  • Water
  • Weeping Mulberry Tree

Step 1

Choose a site where you want your tree to grow. These tree's grow best in zones 4 through 8, but are pretty hardy and with some care will grow almost anywhere. The tree will flourish even in drought conditions and can be grown in sun or partial shade. It is important to remember how big these trees can get. Plan for a tree that can grow 20 feet in width and up to 50 feet high. Of course, it will take years for your tree to reach these dimensions, but you should plan for it when choosing a location for the tree.

Step 2

Prepare the mulberry for planting. A weeping mulberry will transplant fairly easily. Try to choose a plant that has been balled and burlapped for transplant. You will need to remove any twine and wire that is on the tree and cut half of the burlap from the root.

Step 3

Dig a hole that is 4 times the width of the root and equal to its depth. Place the tree in the hole and ensure that it's standing completely vertical. Once you know it's straight add some of the original soil back to the ground. This will help to stabilize the plant. Fill the hole with water to help to prevent shock to the tree. You can then add the remaining soil to the hole.

Step 4

Now you can dress the area by spreading a 4-inch layer of mulch all around the tree. The mulch placed around the planting area will help the tree retain moisture and can help prevent weeds from sprouting up.

Additional Tips

  1. Avoid planting your weeping mulberry near sidewalks or driveways. The root system in these trees are very strong and can easily cause damage by lifting and cracking concrete if they are planted too closely.
  2. For the first couple of years you may want to stake the tree. Weeping mulberries can  get very top heavy the first few years they are growing.
  3. Weeping mulberries love well-drained soil. If the soil isn't well drained, you may find that the tree's growth is stunted.

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Photo copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

Lime Trees For Your Home Garden

Lime is one of the most popular kinds of citrus in the United States today. If you have a lime tree in your backyard or are planning on planting one soon, there are several things you should know before planting this wonderful fruit tree.

Varieties

There are a number of lime varieties that are popular in the United States, but the two most popular are the Key Lime (also known as the Mexican Lime) and the Tahiti Lime (also known as the Persian Lime). Key Limes are sweeter and bear small fruit that is about two inches in size. Tahiti Limes are larger and bear fruit that is approximately thee to four inches in size.

Lime Tree Care

Lime trees do well in regions with moderate climates during the winter months. On average, the temperature should range between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. If your climate varies outside of that range, especially if it is colder, you should consider planting your lime tree in a container that can be moved inside during cold winter months.

You should also feed your lime trees often, since they require a great deal of soil nutrients. Use a fertilizer that is specially formulated for citrus fruit. Fertilize every few months in order to make sure that the trees have the right level of soil nutrients. Without regular feeding, limes will drop their leaves and will fail to flower or bear fruit.

Planting

First, begin by selecting a spot in your backyard that will give your tree at least eight hours of sunlight per day. Lime trees need a great deal of sunlight in order to thrive, particularly during their high growth periods.

Next, dig a hole that is approximately six to nine inches larger around than the root ball of the tree. Dig the hole deep enough to not only place the tree inside it, but also so that the root ball will actually be covered completely with soil.

Take the soil from the hole you have just dug and supplement it with a fertilizer designed for citrus trees. Also, if the soil is not prone to good drainage, supplement it with organics like sand or mulch that will help improve water flow.

Back fill the soil into the hole around the root ball, taking care to push it down firmly and slightly above the root ball.

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Photo copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

Winter Friendly Plants for Window Boxes

Window boxes are a great way to show off beautiful plants and flowers for both you and your neighbors to enjoy, but which flowers won't whither away and die in the wintertime? Here are some of the better choices for winter friendly plants to fill up your window boxes.

Autumn Crocus Flowers

One pretty choice for winter window boxes is the autumn crocus flower. It's really a lily, and it can be grown from seeds and blooms in the fall. It has purple, white, bluish or pink blooms on it. It is considered fairly easy to grow and should be planted in August or September if you want it to come up in the fall.

Snowdrops

This winter blooming flower has little white blossoms, and the plant grows to about six-inches tall. The flowers are shaped like little bells. It needs plenty of water and will stay alive even if it gets covered over by a layer of snow.

Hellebores

This flower blooms in January, making it a perfect choice for winter window boxes. It blooms with a flower that ranges in color from white to pink. It needs well-drained soil to grow and grows best with a little shade.

Camellias

This beautiful pink flower also thrives in winter window boxes. It will bloom for several months and needs good drainage. Some other kinds are also available that are white or maroon in color. While these plants are grown mostly for their ornamental flowers, in Japan there is also a special tea that can be made from their leaves.

Boston Ivy

If you prefer greenery to flowers, then the Boston Ivy plant will look great in your winter window boxes. It is very decorative, as it forms little tiny green flower clusters and a small grape-like fruit that birds like to eat. These hardy vines can survive temperatures down to 28 degrees below zero but do better in warmer temperatures. However, they don't do well in low water areas, so be sure to water them regularly.

Virginia Creeper Vine

If you like both greenery and flowers, you may want to consider the Virginia Creeper Vine. This hardy vine will also produce little green clusters of flowers in the fall. It also has little berries on it that are sometimes eaten by birds. This plant could probably be used to fill up a flower box, as it spreads out after being planted.

Holly

Another flowering vine that a lot of people are used to seeing in the wintertime is holly. This plant is popular at Christmas because of its tiny red berries and dark green leaves. If you grow it in your window box, you need to have both male and female plants, or it won't grow those beautiful festive red berries. Holly can be grown all over the United States and comes in more than 400 varieties. The berries can also be other colors, such as orange or yellow.

There are many choices besides the few above. Having winter window boxes is a great way to brighten up the dullness of winter and make your home a bright spot in the neighborhood.

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Photo copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

4 Cedar Pergola Maintenance Tips

A cedar pergola is a good choice if you want to boost the natural appeal of your garden. It acts as a excellent support structure for your plants. A pergola can also enhance the appearance of walkways and patios. Cedar is one of the most suitable woods you can select for a pergola. It has a high resistance to rot and insect damage. However, as with all wooden outdoor structures, proper maintenance helps to keep it in good condition for longer. Below are 4 tips to help you care for yours.

1.   Cleaning

Wash your pergola regularly to keep it clean. It is less likely to attract mildew from dirt build-up if you wash frequently. Avoid harsh cleaning detergents and abrasives. These can cause discoloration on your pergola. They also weaken the composition of wood. Use a mild detergent and water to clean your pergola well. A soft bristle brush helps to remove dirt effectively. Rinse well with a garden hose and allow it to dry naturally. You may choose to simply hose down your pergola when you don't have the time for a through wash. It helps to get rid of dust and dislodge dirt like bird droppings. Be sure to use a medium pressure setting on your garden hose for your pergola. High pressure can damage the structure of the wood. It is a good idea to wash your pergola every 2 to 3 weeks.

2.   Mildew and Stains

Whenever you spot mildew on your wooden pergola, you need to act fast. If left unattended to, it can develop extensively and ruin the fine appearance of your pergola. Fasteners used on the pergola may also cause stains with time. Corrosive fasteners create black or dark brown stains on the wood. Mix a cup of oxygen bleach with a gallon of water. Place in a spray bottle. Apply onto the fence after you've washed. Allow the solution to clear the stains. Once you see them lighten, you can wash again with soapy water followed by a good rinse.

3.   Staining and Sealing

With time, the color of your pergola will turn from its light reddish color to silvery-gray. This is due to the natural weathering process of cedar. You may wish to preserve the original color. A sealant especially suited for hardwoods can assist in color preservation. It is best to clean your pergola first before you apply a stain and sealant. Spray the pergola with a semi-transparent oil-based wood stain that is suitable for cedar. Allow it to dry completely before you spray on a sealant. You may re-apply every 3 to 4 years.

4.   Repairs

If you notice stains caused by corrosive fasteners, it is best to replace these. Use fasteners such as aluminum or stainless steel that won't react with cedar. Although these cost more, they help to give your pergola a nice and clean look. This also helps to prevent the incidence of stains and reduce the maintenance work that goes with it. Tighten any loose fasteners. Undertake repairs on damaged sections in good time so that the whole structure reflects uniform beauty.

pergola



Installing and Using Trellis Netting

Installing and using trellis netting is not difficult at all. If you are looking to set up trellis netting in your yard, here are a few key things that you will want to consider.

Setting Up Trellis Netting

Trellis netting is easy to set up. If you are installing the netting against a brick or metal wall or fence, you can use hooks to attach the netting to. Placing the hooks so that the netting stands how you would like. If you are attaching the netting to wood or a fence that can be easily hammered into or stapled, then you can use one of those methods. You can also attach the netting to PVC poles and attach them to the ground if you want a free standing trellis.

Netting Life

While you are looking for the netting you want to use, you will need to consider how long you are going to keep it up and how long it will last. This is especially important to think about for those who experience winters in there area. Then, you will have to put up the netting and take it down or perhaps leave it up and then replace it for the next season. When kept in good shape and taken care of, the netting for a trellis can last up to about 5 years before having to be replaced. This time frame though will depend on your winter or rain and how severe it is.

Trellis Netting Size

When it comes to the size of the trellis netting, there are a few things that you will want to consider. First, you want to make sure that the trellis netting isn't going all of the way down to the ground. This leaves the plants a little room to grow and expand first and also allows for room for the other plants or flowers that do not need the trellis netting to help them thrive or stand. Then, you will need to think about the size of your plants. Typically the netting will go to about 7 feet or even up to 10 feet. 6 to 8 feet though is the average for a good size trellis.

Reason Behind the Trellis Netting

Trellises have been around for many years. The reason for them is to help the plants and flowers grow and thrive. Many times they cannot stand on their own, especially when they first begin to grow. The trellis also helps to keep the plant growing in the right direction. Another great reason for the trellis is that it helps to increase space when you have several crops. If you keep them growing up and in the right direction, you have room, especially in a smaller space, for other plants to grow and to make the garden bigger and more productive. It also gives off a cool and gardeny look. You can find trellises and netting in all different colors and styles to help make yours unique.

Netting.jpg

How to Care for Your Wooden Lattice

Having a wooden lattice around your backyard creates privacy for the family and gives your home a beautiful look. It is a relatively inexpensive fence, and quite easy to maintain. Even treated and quality wood, needs to be taken care of. If not, it degrades over time and the poor condition of your fence reduces the value of your home.

Due to water, sun light exposure, mold, mildew, algae and fungus, your wooden lattice can deteriorate rapidly. Even elements like contamination of food, dirt and atmospheric pollution are working to destroy it. Apart from that, the wooden lattice is also exposed to damage by shovels and other activities carried around it.

Wooden fences need regular maintenance, repairing, cleaning and staining or painting. By following these instructions, you will keep your wooden lattice in optimum condition.

Tools and Material Needed:

  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • Shovel
  • Level or Post Square
  • Sledgehammer
  • Pressure Washer
  • Lattice slats or panels
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood Filler
  • Primer/Sealer
  • Staining or Paint
  • Paintbrushes and Rollers
  • Bleach

Step 1 - Maintenance and Repair

With routine check-ups, you avoid the wood degrading too much, and the upkeep of your fence will be made easier. Start by repairing any damage on the exterior surface. Inspect and replace, if needed, any broken or missing lattice, split wood and other parts. If the fence is wobbly or no longer in level, set it back in place. If you have premature failure of the posts, install steel posts on the construction of your fence. Check, and if needed, rearrange the gate. Make sure that it does not sag, stick or slip out of alignment.

Step 2 - Cleaning

Clean away any dirt with a pressure washer. Allow the fence to dry before scraping off any loose paint. Lightly sand the wood to even the surface. This is an important process before staining, since it helps the pores to absorb the paint better. Another way to clean the wood before staining is to use a combination of water and chemicals like chlorine bleach. After, rinse with water to remove all residue.

Step 3 - Apply the Sealer

To protect the lattice wood, use a good quality primer to seal it properly. Never try to stain or paint a raw, unpainted wooden fence without priming it first. Work around all surfaces and crevices. There are several types of sealants, including, open finishes (least effective against elements), closed finishes (water resistant), and Microporous (considered to be the best option). When you buy a sealer, get one with good quality, high resin content.

Step 4 - Staining or Painting

Finally, stain or paint your fence. Make sure that you buy a very good exterior paint, in at least a semi-gloss finish. It is up to you whether you choose to work with a roller or a paint brush. Another faster way to finish off painting is by using a sprayer, but this applicator may cause a lot of mess. Cover or remove anything near the fence before painting. Avoid rainy days, so you have enough time until the paint dries completely.

The process of staining lattice properly requires patience and precision. Uniformity on your wooden lattice guarantees attractiveness, while regular maintenance will put your mind at rest for unnecessary hard work and expenses in the near future.

Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

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2 Tips on Making a Homemade Squirrel Repellent

Here are some tips on making homemade squirrel repellent. Squirrels can be infinitely entertaining, but they may be annoying to you and destructive to your lawn and bird feeders.

Tip 1 - Flower Beds

Squirrels like to dig and to hide nuts, flower bulbs and anything else they can plunder from your yard, or from your neighbors. In the process of digging, they will destroy the flower beds you just planted. Scatter moth balls around the flower beds as squirrels don't like the smell of them. Don't use this tip if you have pets as they can be lethal to a cat or dog. Children shouldn't be in the area either.

Tip 2 - Bird Feeders

Squirrels not only will empty a bird feeder in a short period of time, they will also chew on it and ruin it. There are a couple of things you can do to stop this. Mix red pepper powder or flakes with your bird food. The squirrels don't like it and the birds don't seem to notice it. Another tip is to use only safflower seed to feed the birds. Squirrels don't like this type of seed. You can also put duct tape, sticky side up, at the base of the feeder.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


Cleaning a Wood Fence

A wood fence is a common outdoor fixture in many homes. These fences are amongst the most affordable on the market. Installation can be done easily, which appeals to homeowners. With time, exposure to the elements can affect the appearance of your fence. You can paint your fence to improve its appearance. A coat of paint also serves as a protective coat which extends life of the fence. You also need to clean your fence regularly. This will help maintain its fine appearance. Below is a guide on how to clean.

Materials Needed

  • Plastic sheeting
  • Power washer
  • Deck brightener
  • Sprayer
  • Wood oil stain
  • Paint roller
  • Gloves
  • Safety goggles

Step 1 - Lay out Plastic Sheeting

The grass and surrounding plants must be protected from the effects of cleaners. Some cleaning agents can ruin the health of plant life. Tie back nearby plants and cover the grass underneath the fence with plastic sheeting.

Step 2 - Prepare the Brightener

Mix brightener with water as per the instructions on the brightener label. You can obtain brightener from a home improvement store. Place mixture in a sprayer.

Step 3 - Spray the Fence

The brightener helps to remove dirt and discolorations. It also helps to kill fungus and mold in the wood. Spray the solution over the entire fence. It is best to begin at the top and work across as you move downwards. For best results, spray generously.

Step 4 - Allow Time to Brighten

The instructions on the brightener label specify how long you should wait for the agent to work. After several minutes you should be able to see discolorations on the fence disappear. You can then proceed to power wash.

Step 5 - Power Wash

A power washer allows you to clean quickly and with ease. Many home improvement stores allow you to rent one. Get one that operates at 1,500 to 2,000 PSI. Those that are very powerful will damage the wood. Be sure to adjust the nozzle to the widest degree. This will prevent damage to the wood by high water pressure. Do not place the nozzle too close to the fence when you wash, otherwise it will pulverize the fence. It is best to maintain a distance of 12 to 18 inches away from the fence. This allows an effective wash yet keeps the wood safe. Wash away the brightener solution. Work from the top and proceed sideways, then downwards. The power washer should clear all dirt and grime. Be sure to rinse away all traces of the cleaning agent.

Step 6 - Remove Plastic Sheeting

Pick up the plastic sheeting and discard. If left too long on the grass it will block air supply and cause the grass to die. Let the fence dry.

Step 7 - Stain the Fence

Use a paint roller to apply oil stain over the entire fence. This will protect the wood and also prevent discolorations. Work from the top and proceed towards the bottom. Be sure to stain over the entire fence.

 Tip

  • Be sure to put on gloves and safety goggles. These will protect your hands and eyes from the cleaning agent.
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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Humane Ways to Remove a Mole from Your Lawn

Mole lawn traps may hurt and kill moles and other small creatures in your lawn. Although moles are annoying creatures and they leave a lot of holes in your yard, this is not an excuse to kill these creatures or hurt them for that matter. If you want to get rid of moles, you should do it in a humane way. Below are some tips on how to get rid of moles without hurting or killing them.

Plant Daffodils and Marigolds

Moles detest the smell of daffodils and marigold so you should use these flower bearing plants as hedges on your lawns and gardens. Although you cannot expect that moles will leave your entire yard or garden alone if you plant daffodils and marigolds, you can be sure that they will keep off the area near these plants. A bonus for planting these types of plants in your lawn or garden is that they will not only ward of the feisty moles, they can also make your lawn and garden look lovely.

Reduce the Amount of Water in Your Lawn or Garden

Moles dig holes in your yard and garden to find worms. When you water your yard or garden frequently, worms will rise near the surface of the moist soil, inviting the moles to come and hunt for them. To deter moles from destroying your garden or yard, reduce the amount of moisture in the soil. Put just enough water in your yard and garden for the plants to thrive. Instead of watering your yard or garden everyday, you may do so every two or three days.

Use Castor Oil

Moles cannot stand the smell of castor oil so you may want to use this oil to make your own mole repellant. To do this, mix 6 ounces of castor oil with 2 tablespoons of soap to create a mole repellant concentrate. You may apply the concentrate directly to your garden using a spray bottle or add the concentrate to the water you use on your plants. As a general rule, you need to mix one ounce of castor concentrate for every gallon of water. 

The smell of castor oil usually lingers in your garden for a day. To make sure that your lawn or garden is protected from moles, you must reapply your homemade mole repellant every two days. You should also reapply the repellant after it rains.

Put Cat Litter Inside the Mole Holes

If you want to drive the moles out of these holes, all you need to do its dump cat litter into these holes. Cats are natural predators of moles and these small creatures will literally run out of their holes when they smell cats. Dumping cat litter into the home of the moles is an effective method to send these little creatures scurrying away from your garden.

Install Vibrating Stakes Around your Lawn or Garden

Solar and battery operated vibrating stakes are good at scaring the moles away. If your homemade mole repellants do not work, you might want to invest money into these devices.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


How to Prevent Attracting a Mole to Your Lawn

A problem that many people find with their lawn is a mole infestation. Moles can wreak havoc with a lawn, or a garden, because of the way that they tunnel through the roots and soil. Moles do not actually eat any of the vegetation, or even the roots. However, the tunneling does damage the roots and can leave hollow areas that lead to bumps in the lawn. Getting rid of moles can be done through a process of proper care for the lawn and pest prevention techniques. 

Tools and Materials Needed

  • Pest Control Chemicals
  • Lawn Aerator
  • Mole Traps
  • Castor Oil Granules

Step 1: Aerate Lawn with Spike Aerator

One way to keep moles from digging under the lawn is to remove the thatch that builds up under the surface of the roots. Grubs, worms and small bugs make their home in this thatch and moles feed on them. If the moles lose this food source, they won't bother your lawn. Use the spike aerator to break up the thatch.

Step 2: Set Mole Traps

Mole traps are another way to get rid of the moles that you currently have in your yard, as well as keeping them from returning. Make sure that you use gloves when setting the traps or the moles will smell your scent and be scared away. Set the trap in the main tunnel, and several of the offshoots. Once the moles in your lawn are removed you will need to continually use the traps to make sure they stay away. 

Step 3: Use Pest Control Chemicals

A mole is attracted to your lawn for the food source it provides. If you can get rid of the pests that make their home in your lawn, the mole will leave to look for food elsewhere. Look for pest control chemicals that are good for insects, grubs, worms, and other earth tunneling bugs. 

Step 4: Set A Boundary of Castor Oil Granules

Many home remedies that people use today to control moles--pickles, bleach, red peppers, and other types of foods and liquids--do not work most of the time. Usually the only reason moles leave the area is when their food supply has dried up. One remedy that has proven effective, however, is the use of castor oil granules. Spread out these granules around the area of your lawn at a rate of a pound per thousand square feet. 

Step 5: Modify Yard

Preventing moles from inhabiting your lawn is next to impossible. As long as there is lawn, and food, you can only hope to keep the mole population down. However, you can make your habitat less desirable by modifying your yard. Cut out some of the lawn and place a patio, use raised planting beds for gardens and flowers, put in a pond, or lay some crushed stone in certain areas. 

Step 6: Water Less

The food that moles like to eat will come to the surface if there is a lot of water in the ground. This makes the mole damage the lawn more by surfacing to get at the food. Water only enough to feed the plants, not to saturate the earth.

Lawn.jpg

Bearwood House Lawn (don cload) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Popular Types of Trellises for Climbing Rose Plants

There are many types of trellis designs and materials to choose from for your climbing rose plants. A trellis is a very versatile accent that can be used against a wall, as a screen, or as the main feature of your garden. Outlined in this article are tips for choosing the right trellis for your home or garden. Alternatively, you could even make your own using a kit from a gardening store or some basic materials. 

Metal Trellis

A metal trellis is one of the more formal and expensive varieties. Since they look great by themselves without rose plants climbing over them, a metal trellis appears as more of a sculpture for your garden. Metal trellises can be made out of copper, iron or steel and come in many intricate designs and patterns. Many have plant holders on the ends of them and are shaped into circles, diamond shapes, squares, points and swirls. Some are shaped into animals or figures, creating a unique focal point in the garden once the plant has grown over it.

Planter Trellis

A planter trellis is ideal for a small garden on a balcony, deck or patio and can also double as a beautiful privacy screen. Some models are divided into three sections with hinges that can be bent to the angle of your choosing. You can purchase a planter trellis from your local garden store, and they typically come in vinyl as well as different varieties of wood. If you want to garden from your window ledge, you can also buy a window box with a miniature trellis attached.

Vinyl Trellis

Vinyl trellises are very durable and, thus, an excellent choice for climates where weather is sporadic and freezing temperatures occur.

Wood Trellis

A wood trellis is an inexpensive alternative for your climbing roses. Wood is also the most common type for rose plants and are the most plant friendly in general since they are all natural. Wood trellises are also great because they can be painted or stained to match the color scheme of your home or garden.

Wire Trellis

Wire is the easiest of all the trellises to build yourself. All you need to do is string galvanized wire between two posts about 8 to 12 inches apart. Then, use plastic stretch tape and tie the vines to the wire in order to train the plant to grow horizontally.

Twig Trellis

Twig trellises give your garden a more rustic and charming look. It is also possible to make your own twig trellis.

Plastic Trellis

A plastic trellis is a good option for gravestones and memorial sites. Plastic varieties also come in many different color options.

Obelisk Trellis

An obelisk trellis is a three dimensional trellis that often looks very statuesque and fits beautifully in a larger garden. Obelisk trellises come in many different varieties and designs with curves, intricate patterns or grid shapes. In particular, you will find the most variety and options for obelisk trellises if you look in garden shops that specialize in trellises. Additionally, the internet is bound to have a plethora of choices. 

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

How to Replace a Bearing in a Disc Harrow

Basically, a disc harrow is a type of a piece of farm equipment that is used for soil. It will cultivate soil wherever the crops are going to need to be planted. Not only is it used for soil cultivation, but it is also used so that you can chop up any unwanted crop remainders or weeds. It is very large in size and consists of several steel or iron discs that are just slightly concaved. They are arranged in sections that are usually in 2s or 4s. Replacing the bearing in one is not a very difficult thing to do as long as you have the proper tools and knowhow of the equipment that you will be working on.

Materials Needed

  • Bearing Blocks
  • Bearings
  • Side Cuts
  • Wrench 
  • Screwdriver

Step 1 - Remove Deck

The first thing that you are going to have to do is take off the deck of the disc harrow. There are probably going to be multiple cotter pins that you will need to remove using your side cuts so that the deck will slide out completely. You will need this to happen so that you can have access to your blocks. They will be bolted together. 

Step 2 - Blocks

Your bearing blocks are something that you may need to replace while you are working on the disc harrow. Take a look at them to see if they are in very good shape and move them around to see how they move. If you do end up replacing the blocks, it is a good idea for you to be careful whenever you tighten them using your wrench. Do not tighten them too much as you can crack the blocks when you do this. 

Step 3 - Bearings

Once you have the blocks replaced, then you can move on to your bearings. You will need to remove a pulley from its spindle after the deck has been removed. The shaft should come out easily once you have done this. Your bearing should be able to be tapped out easily. You may need to use the handle end of your screwdriver so that you can tap out the bearing easily. Get out your new bearings and put them back into place where the old ones were. This is something that is going to be less expensive and much easier than replacing your entire spindle. 

Step 4 - Considerations

You will find that the best way for you to make working on your disc harrow easy in the future is to take pictures of the pieces that you take off as you take them off. This will allow you to put things back together easily. Make sure that you do everything in order and do not get ahead of yourself. You will find that doing things in the exact same order that you undid them will allow you the ability to remember how to do it much easier the next time around. You are going to be able to find all of the necessary parts for a disc harrow at any auto parts store. 

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


Common Indoor Tropical Plants

Indoor tropical plants are becoming quite common in homes since they are often much appreciated for their vivid colors. These plants are native to rain forests and so they need to be watered often to remain strong and healthy. Here are some of the best tropical indoor plants which you can easily grow in you rown house.

Croton Plants

The colorful leaves are the most attractive aspect of these plants which are native habitats of the Pacific Islands and Malaysia. Croton plants, however, need a lot of light and a high humidity level while they also need to be continuously wet since they are tropical rainforest plants. Misting these plants once or twice a week will be sufficient.

Dumb Cane

Native to Brazil, dumb canes have become so common in our homes that it is difficult to imagine them growing in their natural habitat. Although they are tropical plants, they can adapt to average humidity and moderate light. An interesting fact about these plants is that they periodically drop their bottom leaves to enforce the top leaves and grow taller. Furthermore, it is strongly recommended to avoid contact with the milky sap of these plants which quite a poisonous one.

Bromeliads

In their native habitat, bromeliads can even grow on other tree's branches and so these plants can easily adapt to a wide range of environments. Strangely enough these plants can support drought conditions and they only need to be watered once a week. Bromeliads must never be kept in standing water for a long time and they also need to be planted in a quick-draining soil.

Bird of Paradise

This beautiful plants needs at least four hours of direct sunlight a day and it should have bright light all day. It is also essential to provide a good drainage system to these plants while keeping the soil wet except during the winter period when the plant should be as dry as possible. If you like to grow your plants for seeds, you must be very patient with this plant since it can take from seven to ten years to grow its first flower.

Angel Ivy Ring Topiary

These plants are also known as wire vines and they also need moist soil and a lot of water to grow healthy. Topiary need to be in perfect conditions and so they need to be fertilized every three months and keep winding the new growth around the plant itself. Dry leaves should be removed and every now and then, clean its leaves with some soapy water to remove debris and insects.

Chinese Evergreen

Chinese evergreens must strongly be kept in warm temperatures above 55 degrees F or they will start to develop brown spots on their wonderful silvery green leaves. Moreover if the soil is too wet, they will eventually stop from growing otherwise, if the soil is too dry, their leaves will turn yellowish. Hence, this plant needs a lot of specific care and it's better not to own one if you only have little time available for your plants.

These are just some of the most common tropical indoor plants. A general rule for these plants is to water them weekly and to keep their soil moist while removing any dry foliage. Once flourishing, they should become great natural ornaments to your home.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Nurturing Your Asparagus Fern

Asparagus ferns come in a number of varieties and are related to the asparagus vegetable. Its growth expands to form feathery stems from 1 to 2 feet long. There are a few key factors to nurturing your asparagus fern into good growth. A few of these factors are allowing them to have full sunlight, moderately watering them and setting them in soil that is well drained. The asparagus fern will even tolerate low light, but the growth will be stunted. Whether they are grown indoors or outdoors, they need to have a sufficient amount of moisture.

Growing the Asparagus Fern Indoors

When growing the asparagus fern indoors, it is best to keep the plant in a cooler environment. The asparagus plant is considered a hardy plant, so growing it is actually quite simple (Hardy meaning it can survive a frost). To get started, healthy seeds must be purchased at your local garden center or nursery. You can purchase and already established plant, but that is not advised for the best results. Create a soil mixture of 1/3 each sand, potting soil and peat moss. The seeds will need to be planted in the middle. 

The soil needs to be watered so that it is moist, but the pot should have drain holes so that the water will be able to drain well. The asparagus fern does not need to be watered again until the soil is completely dry. It will be at its best in an area where it can get half shade and half direct sun. Since you are growing it inside, too much shade will turn the leaves yellow. The potted asparagus fern will need weekly fertilization starting in the spring up to the early fall. Any indoor plant food can be used but it will need to be cut in half. The plant will outgrow its pot which at that point will need to be placed in a larger container. The root ball can actually be split so you will have 2 plants at this point. To pot the plants in a larger container, use the same soil mixture as when you first started. This will nurture the plant into a healthy one.

Growing the Asparagus Fern Outdoors

When trying to nurture an outdoor asparagus fern, it needs to be planted in partial sun in soil that is able to be well drained. These too need to be watered sufficiently when the warm season comes. The soil needs to stay moist but not soggy. It is good to let the soil dry out before watering again. You will need to watch the soil if you live in a hot or humid area. 

The asparagus fern needs to be fed with a balanced fertilizer. In the summer months, fertilize the plant weekly while fertilizing it every 2 weeks in the winter. The fertilizer needs to be either water soluble or a granule fertilizer. You can use fertilizer stakes as they last a month. Check the asparagus fern on a regular basis for insects. Pinch back the plant at the tip of the stems using pruning shears. If preferable, you can prune the plant down to the soil level. 

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Photo copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

Weed Eater Repair: Recoil Starter Springs

If you need to perform some simple weed eater repair tasks, then you can begin by trying to refit the recoil starter springs on your machine. These springs are notoriously difficult to refit, as they need to be quite taut when they are placed in the weed eater. If you have a weed eater repair manual, then this will be a great way to get the answers on fitting a weed eater recoil starter spring, but if you don't have one, and can't find an answer on the web, then there are still some things that you can do to perform this essential weed eater repair. This is quite a complicated task, so be prepared for it to take you a while.

Materials Needed

  • Recoil Spring
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Vise
  • Drill
  • Drill Bits
  • Weed Eater 
  • Safety gloves
  • Safety glasses

Step 1 -  Extract the Old Spring

You will need to take out the old recoil starter spring before you can fit a new one. Do this by opening up the starter mechanism, and locating the spring. This may be screwed into place, or you may simply be able to remove it by using some needle nose pliers to pull it out. Take care when pulling out the spring that it does not slip out of place and hit you. It may be best to wear safety glasses while performing this part of the procedure, and also a pair of safety gloves which will keep your hands safe.

Step 2 - Wind up the New Spring

Wind your new spring around the metal cup in your weed eater. Do this in a counter-clockwise motion, until there is enough tension in the spring for it to start pulling at the starter rope. Fit the starter rope pulley around the spring as it winds, so they are both tense. You should then put your spring into a vise, keeping the tension on the spring pulley.

Step 3 - Drill Out

You can then start making holes in the pulley. Start by making a small hole into the pulley, and then out through the back of the retainer. You should then remove the drill, keeping the bit in the same place. Rotate 180 degrees, and do the same with a different drill bit. You will then have secured the pulley.

Step 4 - Finishing up

You can then push the spring out of the vise, and reinstall it into the cover. You can then push the other side of the spring back into the cover using the needle nose pliers. When you are drilling, make sure that you only drill through the pulley, and that you don't hit the spring by accident. You will also need to have the spring perfectly taut. If it is not taut enough, then all of the pulley drilling in the world will not secure the spring. If you find that the spring is not wound around the area tightly enough, then you will have to repeat the whole process.

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4 Flowering Shrubs for Clay Soil

The low nutrient content of clay soil presents a challenge to even the experienced gardener, but unfortunately some of us have no choice. However, if you make the right planting selections and take good care of your shrubs, you will be enjoying blossoming plants for months to come.

1 - Potentilla

This yellow-flowered plant is extremely rugged, and has no problem making its home in a bed of clay soil. Additionally, its flowers can survive frost and will often last far longer than other flowering shrubs.

2 - Rock Rose

The hearty Rock Rose is a popular choice for gardens because of its adaptability for poor soil. This plant isn't just pragmatic however--its pink, white, and yellow flowers are also uniquely beautiful. Unfortunately, the flowers are relatively short-lived and likely won't last past August.

3 - Viburnum

While all of these shrubs are great, Viburnum may be the ultimate win-win plant. Not only will it grow in clay soil, it will decorate your garden all year long through a combination of colorful flowers, fruits, and foliage.

4 - Blackberries

There's a reason you always see blackberry bushes on the side of the road--they're extremely adaptable plants! Blackberry bushes will grow in clay soil and produce elegant white flowers, to say nothing of the delicious berries they will soon produce!

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


What is Composite Fencing?

Composite fencing looks and feels like a real wood fence, but it's not. It's generally made from recycled materials such as plastic and wood fibers. Read on to find out more.

What is Composite Fencing?

The "composite" in composite fencing refers to the process of binding 2 or more dissimilar materials together to create something new and generally stronger; in this case wood fibers and plastic. Years before there was composite fencing, composite lumber was used mostly in decks. Composite lumber can be a lot more expensive than wood, and it was a long time before the companies that made composite decks had a lot of requests for composite fences. It was easier for people to justify to themselves that the expense was worth it when it came to something that they used almost everyday for activities ranging from relaxing in the sun to hosting a family barbeque. Eventually the increasing demand for low-maintenance "green" materials had people looking to composite lumber for their fencing needs too.

Benefits

Fences made from composite materials are strong, durable, and they are mostly unaffected by moisture. Composite fencing is also low maintenance. Most of the time all you have to do is hose your fence down and let it dry. Stubborn areas can be taken care of with a pressure washer or cleaning fluids and a scrub brush.

The ease at which composite fencing can be put up is also appealing. The steps to install composite fencing is much the same as with wood fencing; there is usually no call for special tools, which are expensive and a lot of people view as a waste of money because they are only used for one project. Some manufactures make it so that traditional woodworking tools, such as routers and table saws, can be used for construction and customization. The ability to customize your fence and make it unique is much better than with vinyl fencing (another popular alternative to wood fencing).

There are environmental benefits to using composite fencing as well. The people who make composite decking and fencing were "green" before it became popular. Most composite fencing is made from 50 to 100 percent recycled materials. It keeps plastics like shrink wrap and grocery bags out of the landfills, and it creates a use for leftover wood pulp from paper mills that would normally go to waste. Another point in composite fencing's favor is that it isn't laced with chemicals like pressure treated wood is. These chemicals can sometimes leech into the surrounding area-especially if the structure or fence is several years old and decaying- and the sawdust from pressure treated wood can be hazardous to your health if ingested or inhaled.

Uses

Composite fencing has a wide variety of uses. It doesn't rot or decay, so it is ideal for constructing a compost bin. You can also use it to build a privacy fence for your pool or hot tub. Before you purchase the materials, though, make sure it won't stain if splashed with chlorinated water. If you are looking to fence in your yard to keep kids and pets in or unwanted visitors out, the strength and durability of composite fencing as opposed to vinyl fencing makes it the better choice.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

How to Replace a Cracked Sprinkler Riser

A damaged sprinkler riser may be the most common problem a homeowner experiences with lawn maintenance. The most common cause of riser damage is from a spinning lawnmower blade. Another problem for the homeowner may be that he is unaware that he can replace one of these damaged risers. It is, in fact, quite simple. Here are 5 steps that will guide you in replacing your damaged sprinkler riser.

Tools and Materials Needed:

  • 2 Lockjaw pliers
  • Screwdriver
  • Roundmouth shovel
  • Plastic Sheet
  • Riser Removal tool

Step 1 - Locate the Broken Riser

You'll first know you have a broken sprinkler when you find dry or soggy places on your lawn, when your sprinkler is on and you see water gushing from a broken sprinkler riser. If you're not sure you have a broken riser, turn on your sprinkler system and find the sprinkler head that isn't working as it should. That is where you'll normally find your broken riser.

Step 2 - Remove the Sod and Soil from around the Riser

Use your shovel to dig up the sod and soil from around the riser and sprinkler head. Remove all the soil from around the base of the riser where it screws into the pipe. This will prevent dirt from falling into the open pipe when the riser is removed. If dirt falls into the open pipe, it can clog the sprinkler head when the head and the new riser are screwed back in place.

Step 3 - Remove the Riser

To unscrew the riser from the system PVC pipe, hold the riser with one of your pliers, and then use the other pliers to loosen the sprinkler head from the riser. Remove he head, then unscrew the riser from the lateral PVC pipe it's connected to. You may need one of your pliers to loosen it. The riser may be broken off, so be sure you remove all of it from the pipe.

Step 4 - Remove Broken Riser Pieces

There's a good chance the riser, itself, will be broken off, since it is more fragile than the head it's screwed into it. If the riser is broken off with a piece of it lodged inside the pipe, try to remove the loose piece, then unscrew the lodged piece that's left screwed into the lateral pipe. If this piece is too small to grasp with your fingers, you might be able to unscrew it with your pliers. If it is broken off so short that you can't grasp it with your pliers, you should next use a riser removal tool to unscrew it. Try to avoid getting dirt into the pipe opening.

Step 5 - Attach the New Riser

Screw the new riser into the lateral pipe by turning the riser clockwise. When you have it screwed into the pipe, turn on your sprinklers and allow the gushing water to wash out any dirt in the pipe or the riser. Then turn off the water, screw on the sprinkler head, and position it so that it will spray in the right direction. Finally, replace the dirt and sod, turn on the sprinkler, and test the new riser.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


How to Repair a Cracked Ceramic Bird Bath

A ceramic bird bath often cracks due to extreme drops in temperature, such as that in winter. Sometimes, it gets cracked when it falls to the ground and hit a solid object. Repairing the crack on the ceramic bird bath is a better option than throwing the precious ornamental structure away. Before deciding to buy a new one, here's a simple procedure that will get the structure fixed.

Tools and Materials:

  • Waterproof Silicone Caulk or Epoxy
  • Putty Knife
  • Cloth
  • Soap
  • Bucket
  • Sponge

Step 1 - Empty Cracked Bird Bath

Empty the bird bath of any water. This can be accomplished by tilting it gently until the water gets drained. Do this before relocating it to a safer place to work on.

Step 2 - Transfer the Bird Bath to a Safe Working Place

Carry the bird bath to the garage or any other place where it can be safe from damage while it is being repaired.

Step 3 - Clean the Bird Bath

Before fixing the damage, make sure to clean every surface to ensure that the glue, caulk or epoxy will work effectively on the cracks. Fill a bucket with water and wet a sponge. Wash any dirt on the surface of the bath first. Use soap if necessary and work the sponge on the surfaces to thoroughly clean it. Allow it to dry.

Step 4 - Apply Glue

If using epoxy, mix the resin and the hardener first on a container. Apply the epoxy, the waterproof silicon caulk or any other type of caulk to the entire crack using a putty knife. Make sure to remove any excess epoxy or caulk before working on other cracks. When filling the cracks with caulk or epoxy, make sure that every inch of the crack is covered. A good amount of epoxy or caulk will also serve as a sealant. Make sure that all the cracks are sealed properly. Allow the glue to dry for about 48 hours.

Step 5 - Reapply Glue if Necessary

After the drying process, check the cracks to see if reapplication of glue is necessary. Usually, some parts of the crack may require reapplication. Place a sufficient amount of epoxy or caulk on the cracks and allow the glue to dry.

Step 6 - Apply Ceramic Sealant

When the epoxy or caulk dries, apply ceramic sealant on the ceramic birdbath. The ceramic sealant will add further protection to the glued cracks. Allow the sealant to dry for about 48 hours depending on the temperature.

Tips:

If the crack needs to be held onto while being repaired, make use of copper wire to wrap the bird bath. The copper wire will apply a gentle pressure on the bird bath to ensure that the cracked parts are held into place. After the caulk or epoxy has dried, remove the copper wire.

Make sure to bring the bird bath in a dry covered place when doing repairs in case it might rain. 

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Lawn Dethatcher vs Lawn Aerator

A lawn dethatcher, also known as a power rake, is sure to help you maintain a healthier lawn. The tool resembles a large rake. It is used to extract thatch lodged between the grass blades and soil. Thatch is often created from accumulated debris, grass clippings and fertilizers. When you dethatch your lawn frequently, it enhances the health and appearance of the lawn. A lawn aerator is also useful in lawn maintenance. The tool is used to create holes in the ground. This enables better infiltration of air, water and nutrients into the ground. With better distribution of these elements, the health of the soil is enhanced which also improves the lawn. A comparison of both tools is given below.

Lawn Dethatcher Advantages

A power rake is a high efficacy tool in the removal of thatch. This is enabled by multiple sets of blades which spin vertically as they strike the ground. The rake then combs out the thatch but leaves the lawn in place. The heavy weight of the machine adds to its capacity to rake well. A power rake works better than an aerator when you need to improve the overall appearance of your lawn. This is due to its high level rake capabilities. The power rake enables you to achieve better results when you fertilize. When you dethatch before you fertilize, you're assured of higher absorption of nutrients in the soil. This is because the power rake clears old organic matter very efficiently. The rotating blades of the rake can be adjusted depending on the amount of thatch you wish to extract. You can also use the power rake to weed your lawn. This adds to the versatility of the tool.

Disadvantages

Dethatchers are operated by an engine. When heavily taxed, the wear and tear increases. Engine breakdowns will result which necessitate repair or replacement of the tool. The tool is composed of various moving parts such as engine, pulley and blades which necessitates frequent care. This makes power rakes high maintenance tools. Dethatchers are also heavyweight machines. They weigh about twice as much as the average lawn mower. You're bound to experience higher levels of fatigue and muscle strain when you work with a dethatcher.

Lawn Aerators Advantages

Aerators are much lighter than power rakes. This contributes to their ease of use and lower fatigue levels. The lightweight nature of aerators also adds to ease of storage. Various models of aerators abound on the market. This gives consumers a wide variety to choose from. Whatever model you pick, the design of aerators is generally simple. This is because the tools are assembled from fewer parts than dethatchers. Aerators are also low maintenance tools. This contributes to a higher durability for aerators compared to dethatchers.

Disadvantages

Aerators aren't as effective for thatch removal because they have a limited capacity to dislodge hard materials. The tools also necessitate more time when used on the lawn due to their lower power capacity. If you have a large yard, you must plan for ample time to do aeration. Dethatchers however perform their job a lot faster.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


How to Sharpen an Electric Hedge Trimmer

An electric hedge trimmer is much easier to use than a manual trimmer, and it produces more precise results. While this is a sturdy tool that seldom needs servicing, the blades can get worn around the edges with frequent use. Moisture from the air and plants can also rust the blades, making it difficult for them to cut with speed and precision. Follow a periodic blade-sharpening regimen to ensure that the worn-off or rusted edges of the blades are shaved-off, revealing a sharper edge. Professional blade-sharpening services can be expensive, but you can easily sharpen hedge-trimmer blades at home following the steps below.

Tools and Materials

  • Electric hedge trimmers (with removable blades)
  • Table with a flat top
  • Protective gear (eye-gear and gloves)
  • Bench vice
  • A4 paper sheet
  • Linseed oil
  • Pliers
  • Metal file

Step 1 -- Get Started

Find a table with a flat surface to work on, and put on your eye-protection gear. This is very critical since miniscule pieces of metal fly off from the blade during filing. Without protection gear, these particles can damage the eye. Ideally, you should also wear tight-fitting, thick gloves.

Unplug the electric trimmer. Turn the motor of the trimmer until the blades are easily accessible and face away from your body.

Step 2 -- Disengage Electric Hedge Trimmer Blades

Locate the bolt-screw on the electric trimmer. This is the main screw that holds together the blades. Firmly grip the bolt-screw with a pair of pliers. Clamp the pliers hard since the bolt screw is usually screwed very hard. Now, twist the bolt screw in the anti-clockwise direction. This is the easiest methods to separate the blades.

Step 3 -- File Trimmer Blades

A bench-vice is critical to properly secure the blades. Start with the first blade. Place it in the bench-vice and clamp it tightly. Identify the sharp edge of the blade. This is vital because some blades have a smaller/inner flat edge that should not be sharpened. Using the metal file, start filing the blade. Ideally, you should slide the file in the downward direction, i.e. away from your body, towards the tip of the blade.

Continue with the filing for about 2 minutes. Unsecure the clamp of the bench-vice and remove the blade. File the other blade in the same manner.

Step 4 -- Test Sharpened Blades

You need to test whether appropriate sharpness has been achieved. This can be easily done with a sheet of paper. It is recommended to use the A4 sheets used in computer printers rather than newspaper. Hold the paper above the sharpened blade. Without applying much force, move it along the edge of the blade. The blade should easily slice through the paper. If this does not happen, repeat the filing process, as explained above.

Step 5 -- Take Care of Rusting & Wrap Up

To ensure that the freshly-sharpened edges don't rust, apply a thin coat of linseed oil along the edges of the sharpened blades. Secure the blades in their original position. Tighten the bolt-screw with pliers.

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Setting up Aquaponics in Your Koi Pond

If you have a beautiful garden at home and a Koi pond to go with it, setting up an aquaponics system is the ideal way of bringing together the two practices and making the most of available resources. Kitchen gardens are an excellent hobby for those who like to grow their own vegetables. Keeping a Koi pond is recommended because it not only adds to the beauty of the garden, but also allows one to set up a small ecological system within the boundaries of the home. Here is how to set up the aquaponics in your Koi pond.

Required Materials:

  • Large garden hose
  • Bird wire
  • Extension cable (10 meters)
  • Grow tub (150 liters)
  • Pond bin (250 liters)
  • Pond pump (1000 liters per hour)
  • Fine gravel (50 kilograms)
  • Tomato plants
  • Roof tiles
  • Bricks
  • Digital timer
  • Air pump with two outlets
  • 6 Koi fish

Step 1: Digging for the Fish Tub

Digging a hole for the fish tub has to be done very carefully, since it is important to ensure that the pond will receive some shade so that the water does not evaporate. Also, the tub must be placed a little lower than the ground surface so that the water remains at an even temperature.

Step 2: Placing the Extension Cable and Connecting Pumps

The waterproof extension cable has to be placed from a secure electric source (for example, in a shed) near the pond. The water pump and air pump have to be attached to the electric supply outlet. Make sure that all electrical materials and leads are safely stored in a waterproof box away from this system.

Step 3: Drilling

Drill holes at the base of the grow tub. This is needed for the water to be able to flow backward into the fish tub. Next, place the fish tub in close proximity of the grow tub so that the water pump does not get strained in pumping water between the two tubs.

Step 4: Connecting Hoses

Take a hose and affix it to the 1000 liter pond pump, and then run it to the grow tub as well. The digital timer has to be set up at this stage and fixed according to the cycle one wants to follow. The timer will ensure that the pond pump switches on and off as needed without fail.

Step 5: Filling the Tub

Pour water into the fish tub that does not have chlorine traces and put the fish in. Start the system to see if the water is passing between the fish tub and the grow tub and back again as it should. Note the speed of the water passage, as this will reduce to a great extent once the gravel is added for the garden growth.

Step 6: Adding the Gravel

Ensure that the gravel has been washed and cleansed thoroughly before piling it into the grow tub. The next step is to add seeds or transplanted growing plants to the gravel. Wait patiently for the germination to occur.

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How to Identify and Eliminate Root Knot Nematodes

Nematodes or roundworms are the parasitic and almost microscopic worms found in almost every type of environment. As pathogens, nematodes can infect plants as well as animals. Nematodes that propagate on plants can be beneficial as well as detrimental. Depending on the species, either nematodes act as predators of cutworms (in gardens and fields, thus playing a beneficial role) or cause a commonly known condition in plants called root knots.

Nematodes that cause root knots in plants affect plant roots resulting in formation of galls or knots in them. As this particular type of nematodes feed on plant tissue, the toxins and bacteria released by them as waste cause this condition in plant roots. Garden plants such as carrots, corn, tomatoes, okra, peppers, lettuce, onions, rye, alfalfa, and chrysanthemums are particularly vulnerable to root knot nematodes due to their root structure. A typical root knot nematode plant will have root swelling, tangle, and deformities. The good part is root knot nematodes cannot stand cold temperatures; so if you reside in one of the colder regions where winters are long and summers short, you need not worry much about them. You also need not worry if your garden plants have dense root systems.  

Identifying Root Knot Nematodes 

  • At the initial stages of infection, the leaves of infected plants exhibit a yellowish tinge on them.
  • Try and uproot one of such infected plants. If the roots are swollen and has knots at the root tips or if the roots are deformed, the plant is definitely suffering from root knot nematodes.
  • For some reason, if the plant is drying out in spite of regular watering and no apparent disease on its body, possibly it is suffering from root knot nematodes. Due to knot formation in roots, water and nutrient-absorbing capabilities of the plant get severely affected.

Controlling Root Knot Nematodes

What makes root knot nematodes doubly fatal for plants is the fact that once these worms infect plants, they also help other bacteria and fungi to propagate at ground and upper ground level. Infection severity varies from plant to plant and depends on shape, size, and soil of plants. To control the infection, try the following methods.

  • In absence of any sure-shot cure, preventing root knot nematodes is the only way.
  • If you are buying seeds or seedlings or plants for your garden, make sure that they have been already treated with relevant nematode resistant materials. Buying any sort of garden plants from authorized seller will definitely help.
  • Before planting anything, clear the soil of any leftover roots and plant debris. Mulching will also be helpful in long run.
  • A regular crop rotation is necessary to keep these microscopic parasitic worms at bay. Plants with extensive root network will keep the population in check and in some cases, may even destroy the worms.
  • Another organic method is to use resistant cultivators and organic fertilizers on plants. Fertilizers made out of chicken dung, basil extract, garlic extract, neem seed extract, and pongam cake are found to be particularly helpful in fighting root knot nematode infections.
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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


5 Honeysuckle Vine Care Tips

Honeysuckle vines are very hardy in nature and commonly found in gardens. There are more than 180 species of honey suckle vines, of which 50 can be grown in gardens. Even if you forget to take care of them after their planting, they will, in all probability, continue to grow by fending for themselves. However, in such cases, do not expect them to produce those colorful and sweet-smelling nectar-filled flowers for you. And, if at all the flowers bloom, they may not be of a good quality to attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.

In addition to attracting insects such as bees, honeysuckles are great hummingbird magnets. Some honeysuckle vines even produce berries; however, you need to make sure that they are edible before biting into them. To grow healthy honeysuckle vines, follow the below tips.

Tip #1 - Right Soil

Honeysuckles require acidic soil to grow well; therefore, take care to maintain the pH level of the soil in the range of 5.5 to 7. As in the case of most plants, mulching helps these vines to grow up fast, healthy, and produce good flowers. Good nitrogen supply and high water retention of the soil is required for healthy growth of honeysuckles. Use decaying manure for mulching honeysuckle vines so that these requirements are effectively met. Since these vines can grow up to 20 feet in height, plant them at a distance of 6 feet between each other.

Tip #2 - Favorable Climate

Though honeysuckle vines can grow in sun, as well as in shade, it is always better to plant them in areas that receive a lot of sunlight. This is particularly important if you wish to see these vines bloom during the flowering season. Placing them in partial shade for the remaining part of the year would not make much of a difference to their growth. However, it is vital that they receive at least four hours of sunlight every day.

Tip #3 - Proper Watering

Honeysuckle requires moderate amounts of water. They require more water only during the initial few months; once their roots get planted firmly, watering them once serves the purpose. The same applies for potted honeysuckle vines. During the summer, water them thrice a week in moderate amounts to keep them fresh. As a thumb rule, do not allow the soil to go bone dry under any circumstances.

Tip #4 - Pruning on Time

Once the vines have adapted to their surroundings, they grow very rapidly. This indicates that these plants are receiving good care. Pruning at the initial stages of the plant's growth is necessary to promote their bushy appearance; however, in the later stages, they require regular pruning to prevent them from encroaching on other plants. If you wish to landscape your garden, then you could make good use of the rapid growth of the honeysuckle vines.

Tip #5 - Recognizing Harmful Insects

Honeysuckle vines produce sweet-smelling flowers filled with nectar; due to this, bees, insects such as aphids, and moths get attracted to them. However, unlike the bees that help the growth of vines, aphids and moths cause considerable damage to them. If infected by these insects, cut off the affected parts without delay to contain the infection. Spray the plant with a soapy solution to eliminate the aphids and moths. The best way to control aphids is to prohibit ant movement; however, in the most extreme cases of infestation, use insecticides.

 

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Photo copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

Spotting and Removing Black Mold in Soil

One thing you hope you never see in your garden soil or flower beds is black mold. The mold creates black patches on the soil which are easily recognized, and can pose serious health threats. If it is not treated and removed, it will spread quickly. It is possible to treat the mold yourself, as long as it has not been allowed to get out of control. If you suspect that the mold is too wide spread for you to handle on your own, you will need to call professional with experience in treating black mold.

There are two ways you can deal with black mold, and the method you choose will most likely be based on the amount of mold you have. Before you take any steps to remove the mold, dry the area out. Do not water anywhere near the mold, as this will only make it spread more quickly and make it harder to treat.

Tools and Materials

  • Shovel
  • Thin clear plastic
  • Heat resistant adhesive
  • Spade or tiller

Step 1--Physically Remove the Mold

If you have spotted just a few patches here and there, you can easily dig up the mold using a shovel. Dig several inches below the surface spot to make sure you get all of it. Replace the soil with healthy, well draining soil. When you have removed all of the patches, do daily checks for more signs of mold. If you find any, remove it right away.

Step 2--Solarize the Area

The second method involves using solarization to kill the fungus. This is only a solution if the area to be treated receives a lot of full sun. As you did in step 1, remove any visible signs of the mold. Then, work the soil well using a spade or a tiller. Manually remove any mold you find. When the soil has been worked well, smooth the surface with a rake. Dig a trench around the area to be treated. Your trench will need to be 1 foot deep and 6 inches wide. Then water the area well. You want the ground to be very saturated. When the ground is well watered, cover the area with a thin, clear plastic. If  you have to use more than one sheet to cover the area, use a heat resistant adhesive to glue the sheets together. When you have the plastic in place, start at one corner and begin burying the plastic in the trench. You want the area to be as airtight as possible. You may need to work from side to side instead of moving around the area in order to make sure the plastic stays tight. Make sure to pack the soil in around the plastic tightly.

Step 3--Remove the Plastic

After the area has been covered for two months, you can remove the plastic and the area should be mold free. If the treatment period was not extremely sunny and warm, you may want to leave the plastic over the area for longer.

You may have to postpone your growing season when you are dealing with black mold, because you never want to plant anything where the mold lives.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


How to Purify and Decontaminate Your Soil

If you are planning to start a garden, but discover that your soil is contaminated, there are steps you can take to purify and decontaminate before you begin. It is important to know what has contaminated the soil before you choose a method. If it is contaminated with deadly chemicals, the best option is to have the soil professionally handled, or completely removed and replaced. If the soil has been contaminated with oil-based elements or petroleum distillates, it would be best to have the soil professionally remediated.

For less threatening contaminates, like animal feces, there are ways you can decontaminate yourself without too much expense or difficulty.

Tools and Materials

  • Standard gardening tools and a tiller
  • Charcoal
  • Compost, gypsum, coarse sand, and fertilizer
  • Ferns and sunflower plants
  • Plastic sheeting

Step 1 - Remove Any Remaining Contaminants

If the contaminant is something solid, like animal feces, remove as much of the remaining material and dispose of properly.

Step 2 - Add Some Charcoal

If the contamination is recent, like a small chemical spill, try adding some activated charcoal the the soil. The charcoal will act as a sponge and soak up the chemical. When you are through, you simply remove the charcoal.

Step 3 - Maximize the Soils Ability to Heal

When ridding your garden of contaminants and toxins, it is important to have good drainage. Adding compost and gypsum to the soil will improve drainage and encourage worms to inhabit the area. Worms are natural aerators, and will improve soils quality. If your soil is dense or has a high clay content, you may want to add sand or pea gravel to the area to improve drainage.

Step 4 - Grow Plants that Detoxify

Some plants act as natural detoxifiers and soil cleansers. Sunflowers have long been used to clean toxins. Another plant you can use is the ferns. Both act as leeches, pulling contaminants from the soil with their roots, and thus decontaminating it.

Step 5 - Bake the Soil by Solarization

Start by adding organic materials and fertilizers to the soil. Work these in well with a garden tiller or a spade. Rake the surface of your garden as smooth as possible. Get the ground moist before covering it. Do not over water the area; you just want the ground to be damp. Cover your garden with a layer of plastic. It is best to make the area as airtight as possible, and you may want to consider digging a trench around your garden to bury the plastic. If you need to use more than one piece of plastic, use a heat and weather resistant sealant to glue them together. Bury the sides of the plastic in the ground well. Pull the plastic tight as you go to make sure it is airtight. Leave the plastic in place over the winter months.

Step 6 - Prepare the Soil

When you have decontaminated the area, it is a good idea to do another soil test to determine what the soil may still be lacking. Add compost, fertilizer, or nutrient additives as needed. Work the soil well. If you used the solarization method in Step 5, you should have no weeds to worry about, so the soil should then be ready for planting.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Transplanting a Dwarf Peach Tree

Before transplanting a Dwarf Peach Tree, it is important to consider some general guidelines. Trees often fail to transplant due to water loss, but if properly transplanted, they can flourish and grow.  Before you begin, consider the size of the tree. If the tree is smaller and has only been in the ground for a short time, the risk of hurting the tree is much less than a well-rooted and older tree. The time of year is a factor as well. The ground should not be too brittle, but the tree should still be dormant, with a few buds at most.

Digging Out the Tree

Begin by spaying straight down in a circle around the trunk in order to collect most of the root ball. Follow by watering. In 2 to 3 days, continue this same process but attempt to dig a little deeper so that you can get the entirety of the root ball. After waiting another 2 to 3 days remove the Dwarf Peach tree entirely, wrapping the roots in something that will keep them intact. The bigger the size of the root ball; the better.

Preparing the Tree's New Home

Choose a new location for the tree with similar soil quality and light source. Dig a hole slightly wider than that of the tree's root ball and prepare it with a very small amount of time release fertilizer. Make sure the area is moist and will allow the transplanted tree to regain the water it loses during the transplanting process.

The Transplant

Place the Dwarf Peach tree in its new hole, cover the roots with well-packed dirt, and water consistently. It is best to continue watering once a week if there is no rain. It may take a full season for the transplanted tree to bloom again.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

If the tree has put out leaves prior to transplanting you may consider stripping off the Dwarf Peach tree's leaves completely before moving it to its new location. The main reason any transplanted tree dies during the transplanting process is usually shock due to water loss, which occurs when a trees roots are cut. The Dwarf Peach tree is as susceptible to this ailment as any other tree. Maintain a constant watering schedule to allow maximum growth. Trees lose a majority of their water through leaves. The defoliation will not affect the tree permanently-- the leaves will reappear next season.

Though some tree fruits require cross-pollination peach trees are self-fruitful. If the tree remains hydrated and has ample access to sunlight you will be enjoying juicy homegrown peaches in no time.

Peach tree.jpg



Mistakes to Avoid when Growing Turnips

There are mistakes that you want to avoid when growing turnips. Turnips are a handy vegetable to grow in your garden and following these tips will help ensure a good crop yield and healthy, edible turnip plants for you and your family to enjoy.

How Turnips Grow

Turnips grow easily and can be planted in spring, late summer or fall. Turnips grown in the fall are planted in larger quantities in order to be harvest and stored for winter use. Turnips also include rutabagas, which are a cross between cabbage and turnips. Turnips take about two months to grow before cultivation and use, while rutabagas require and an additional four weeks before they are ready to eat.

Fall Plantings of Turnips

If planting turnips in the fall for winter yield, they should be planted at least 100 days before the first frost. Avoid planting your fall turnip crop any later than this in order to have them ready for use, as well as avoid the turnip crop dying or becoming ruined because of the cold. 

Allow Sufficient Room Between Rows

You want to make sure to allow sufficient room between rows when planting turnips. At least 12 to 24 inches (1 to 2 feet) between rows with seeds planted at a depth of 1/2 inch. You can plant 3 to 20 seeds per row, but should avoid putting too many turnip seeds in any one row. If you are growing turnips for the turnip greens, be sure to cut the tops when they grow to 4 to 6 inches. If you do not properly cut the greens at the growing points, located at the top of the turnip, they will grow back.

Proper Cultivation of the Turnips

You can cultivate the plants within 2 to 3 inches when you first plant the turnips. As they grow, cultivate up to 1 inch. This will prevent damage to the roots, which could prevent further growth from taking place.

Apply Appropriate Insecticides

Apply the appropriate insecticide to treat any root maggots that may get into the soil. Be sure to ask when buying the turnip seeds from a home or garden and plant store for the best insecticide to use, particularly one that will cause little or no harm to the turnip plants.

Harvesting the Turnips

Turnips planted in the Spring should be harvested when they reach a decent size for storage and preparing. The turnips will continue to grow if left in the ground, particularly as the weather gets better. Get them out of the ground as soon as they reach maturity. An appropriate size for turnips at harvest is 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Any larger than that and they lose some of their sweetness and taste.

Harvesting turnips when planted in the fall for winter use should be done before the first frost. If you like, cover the plants with a straw mulch to keep them warm. Remembering to pull the plants when they are large enough.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

How to Harvest and Store Catnip

A member of the mint family, catnip is best known for its euphoric effect on cats. It also makes an excellent base for herbal teas and may serve as an addition to salads and flavoring for foods. Catnip works as a sedative, lowers fevers, soothes stomach troubles and clears sinuses. Such a long list of health benefits makes catnip a useful herb to have available.

While catnip is available in cat toys and health food stores, the best way to obtain it is to grow and harvest it yourself. Fortunately, catnip is a hearty and prolific plant that is easy to grow and loves to be harvested.


Harvesting Catnip

You may harvest catnip leaves at any time in the growing season. However, the oils that so entrance cats reach their peak when the plant flowers. You can also harvest the flowers and use them like the leaves.

To minimize the chance of the catnip molding instead of drying, wait until any dew has evaporated before harvesting. This means mid-morning or early afternoon is the best time of day to harvest.

Cut entire stems at the base of the plant. This method will provide you with a collection of leaves and flowers to use or dry. Catnip grows quickly and will soon replace any removed plant matter. However, it will replace removed stems more quickly than randomly removed leaves.

Early in the season you can pinch off the tips of shoots to encourage more bushy growth for later harvesting. You can use whatever you pinch off. Dry and save it, or use it fresh. It just won't be quite as strong in scent or effectiveness..


Storing Fresh Catnip

Fresh catnip can entrance cats, make tea, or enhance salads. To keep it fresh a little longer, place it in the refrigerator. However, don't expect it to last more than a few days. If you want fresh catnip for your cat or a recipe, go to your garden and harvest some.

Drying Catnip

Spread the stems across a drying rack and leave them to dry in a cool, dark area. Alternately, tie the stems in small bunches; hang the bunches, with the flowers downward, in a cool, dark area. When the plants are dry enough to store, a leaf will crumble easily between your fingers.


Storing Dried Catnip

Separate the leaves and flowers from the stems. Dispose of the stems. Crumble the dried leaves and flowers into a bag. Plastic bags with an airtight seal are best to lock moisture out of the dried catnip. Seal all bags.

Store the bags in a cool, dry place, as heat or sunlight will cause the quality of the catnip to degrade. The freezer can also provide an effective place for storage, if you have removed the moisture completely from the catnip. A dark cabinet works well, too.

Dried catnip will last for several months, at least. However, the quality will degrade with time, so you'll want to restock yearly.


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Photo copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

How to Prevent Rabbits from Eating Your Garden

Rabbits are one of the banes of gardening, eating the tender seedlings or mowing an entire row down in an evening. Gardens give rabbits a convenient, easy foraging ground. A combination of 3basic strategies--keep them out, keep them away and give them greener pastures--can keep rabbits from eating your garden by making the garden a less convenient food source.

Step 1 - Exclusion

Whatever other rabbit countermeasures you take, physical barriers between the garden and the rabbit are essential. You can protect individual plants with cloches or row covers, and a fence will provide whole-garden protection. Rabbit fences needs to be at least two feet tall, extend six inches underground and have holes no larger than 1 inch across.

To install a rabbit-excluding fence around your garden, you need:

  • Fence stakes
  • ¾-inch chicken wire or hardware cloth, 36 inches wide
  • Wire cutters

Galvanized rabbit fencing is another option for fencing, with wires closer together near the ground and farther apart at the top of the fence panel.

Dig a trench around the perimeter of the garden, 6 inches wide and 6 inches deep. Drive the stakes on the inside edge of the trench. Bend the wire fencing so it lays along the bottom of the trench and runs up the side of the trench nearest the inside of the garden and secure it to the stakes. Cut the horizontal part of the fencing to go around corners. Fill the trench back in. You should be left with a two foot tall fence, with fencing extending down 6 inches and 6 inches outward from the garden. The underground portion deters burrowing.

Step 2 - Deterrence

Odors such as human hair and predator urine are two popular deterrents. Garden centers stock predator urine spray. You can also sprinkle urine-soiled kitty litter around gardens that aren't growing vegetables or herbs intended for human consumption.

Cayenne powder is sometimes used as a rabbit deterrent. However, cayenne's effectiveness relies on the rabbit connecting the painful burning sensation in its mouth with eating the cayenne-laced plants. Not only is this of limited effectiveness, but if a rabbit accidentally gets some of the hot pepper in its eye, it may go as far as to scratch its own eye out from the pain.

Marigolds, lavender and garlic deter rabbits at a distance through their odors. Although they won't replace a good fence, plenty of garlic, lavender and marigolds around the perimeter of the garden, outside the fence, may discourage rabbits from attempting a garden break-in. Catnip also deters rabbits, but it attracts stray and feral cats that can cause as much damage.

Lures

If rabbits have an easy food source that isn't the garden, they are less likely to try to get into the garden for a meal. Giving them a better foraging ground can be as easy as not weed-whacking some edges near the garden, so they have long grass to graze in a convenient spot. You can also plant a patch of clover specifically for the rabbits. Some gardeners give the bunnies an unfenced patch of lettuce, but this risks giving them a taste of what's beyond the fence.

Traps

Trapping is generally not an effective method of keeping rabbits out of the garden. Humane trapping requires vigilant attention to the traps, lest the animal die of exposure or dehydration, and other rabbits often move in to take up the slack.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


Growing a Garden for Pet Rabbits

When it comes to garden pets, rabbits are one of the hot favorites. If you are a skilled gardener and want to reward your pet rabbit with the  freshest, most natural nutrients, growing a "rabbit garden" with the following requirements is advisable.

Grow all Types of "Rabbit Food"

The three main types of food preferred by rabbits are vegetables and fruits, hay, and green leaves. As it is difficult to determine beforehand the exact liking of your rabbit; ensure that your garden provides for all three of them.

Opt for vegetables and fruits with low-sugar content, such as pears, apples, radishes, carrots, and sweet potatoes. However, this category of foodstuffs should constitute only a small part of the rabbit's diet.

Of these, the requirement for grass and hay can be met by planting lawn grasses (allow them to grow tall), kudzu, or green corn stalks.

Finally, the requirement for green leaves can be met for by planting collard greens, dandelions, and lettuce-like plants (except head and iceberg lettuce).

Use of Pesticides

It is vital that you avoid the use of pesticides or herbicides as these could negatively affect the bunnies.

Creating a Mini-Garden

If you do not have a yard big enough to convert into a garden, create a mini-garden by growing your plants in a big tray placed in your window sill or balcony, provided it receives plenty of sun. After your plants are fully grown, allow your rabbit to enjoy the feast!

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Taking Care of Potted Mum Plants

The chrysanthemum or mum is a very popular plant which can be grown successfully indoors our outside in the garden. With the right care and attention it's possible to make potted mums last throughout the winter. It's also possible to take cuttings and grow new mum plants for free.

Planting Mums

It will be easiest if you sew the mums from seed during the spring. You should use high quality potting compost when planting mums indoors. Soil from your garden is only suitable for use outside and should not be used in the house.

Watering

It's important to water your potted mums on a regular basis. Water them until the water runs out of the bottom of the pot. You should water the plants every day and make sure that you don't let the soil in the pot become too dry, if it does dry out then this can damage the plant.

Light

Whether you are keeping your potted mums indoors or outside you need to make sure they have plenty of natural light available to them. Artificial light at night can actually damage the plants and upset their natural cycles.

Deadheading Mums

Once the mums have finished flowers and the flowers had died off you should pick them off the plant. Deadheading needs to be done throughout the season however all of the flowers will need to be remvoed by the end of the summer. By picking the dead heads off the plant you can make the plant healthier because it won't produce any seeds.

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Photo copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

Repairing a PVC Pipe Break in a Sprinkler Line

You can repair a PVC pipe break in a sprinkler line instead of calling a landscaper to do it for you. Two of the most common reasons a PVC pipe will break are improper drainage before winter and hitting a pipe while digging.

If you notice a drop in water pressure to your sprinkler heads or dead spots of lawn, you may have a broken pipe. There are 5 simple steps to help you fix your broken pipe and save some money.

Tools You'll Need

  • PVC cutter
  • PVC glue
  • PVC couplers**
  • PVC pipe**
  • Shovel
  • Gloves

**Make sure the PVC couplers and the PVC pipe are the same size as the existing sprinkler line.

Step 1: Locate the Brake

Find out where the break is. You may have to dig around a little bit to find it, but once you do, turn off the water going to that area.

Step 2: Dig it Out

Dig an area approximately 6 inches around the break and 2 to 3 inches below it. If the hole fills up with water, scoop it out with a cup until it is low enough you can work.

Step 3: Cut the Pipe

Use your PVC cutter and cut the pipe 4 to 6 inches away from the break on each side. Be sure to clean the ends well so they are free of mud and other debris. If you don't clean the ends, the glue will not stick.

Step 4: Cut Out the Old

Cut your PVC pipe to replace the broken piece. Take a tape measure and measure from the middle of one coupler to the middle of the other coupler to get the correct length. Slide the pipe into the couplers to be sure it fits before you glue it. Make any adjustments, if necessary.

Step 5: Fix the Break

Prime one end of the replacement PVC and wait for 5 to 10 seconds. Put a light coat of glue on one end and slide it into one coupler. Twist the pipe until it stops. Repeat the process for the other end of the pipe. PVC pipe can bend quite a bit without breaking, so don't worry about flexing the pipe in order to get it into the other coupler.

Wait 5 minutes to be sure the glue is dry before testing your replacement pipe. Turn the valve back on, and watch for any leaks. You may want to wait 24 hours before putting full pressure on the sprinkler system.

Once you are satisfied that the leak has been fixed, cover the hole back up and do a full check of your sprinkler system to make sure there are no other leaks anywhere else. If you do find another leak, repeat these steps again.

pvc.jpg



Xeriscape Gardening on a Slope

Starting a xeriscape garden is wonderful if you live in a arid to semi-arid climate, but it can also be a good option for gardening on a slope. Anyone who has experienced the frustration of trying to make things grow on a hill or a slope will most likely tell you there are ways it can be done. There are tips and tricks you can use to have beauty in even the most inhospitable areas.

Tools and Materials

  • 1, 2, 5 gallon buckets
  • Landscaping cinder blocks, timbers, bricks, or stones
  • Ornamental rocks
  • A list of native plants, flowers, shrubs, and grasses
  • General gardening tools

Step 1- Observe the Area and Choose the Best Solution

If you can, spend some time watching the area during the rainy season and discover where the natural flow of run-off goes. Use stakes or flags to mark the paths, because it is unlikely that you will remember their exact route come planting time. Also pay attention to where the gathering point of the water is at the end of the slope, because this will make a good spot for plants that like wetter conditions. You can also discover what part of the area has the most natural erosion, and plant things to reinforce the ground in those spots. Based on your specific slope, you can proceed with any of the following solutions.

Step 2- Stabilize the Area

Where the ground is eroding away due to water run-off, plant perennials that have deep root systems to help hold the ground in place. Ground cover with stems that spread can also work. For perennials that reseed each year, it is best to plant toward the top of the slope so that their seeds work their way down the hill. Some that work well are Sun Drops, Blue Flax, Prairie Coneflower, and Big Leaf Periwinkle. Shrubs that have deep root systems and work well on slopes include Apache Plume, Autumn Amber, and Select Spreader. Check to see which are native to your area and will have the best chance of success.

Step 3- Plant in the Zone

Plant near the run-off zones and in the water accumulation zone. This way you can water toward the top of the slope and know that your plants will get the moisture.

Step 4- Make Wells for Your Plants

If you cut the tops off of large circular containers, like 1, 2, and 5 gallon buckets, you can pushe them into the ground around your plants to create a well that will retain moisture longer and give the plants more time to gather water.

Step 5- Make Terraces

If you don't mind the work, you can terrace a slope. Good barriers include brick, treated lumber, stone, and landscaping cinder block. Once the barriers are in place, you can start moving dirt to a more level and workable angle.

Step 6- Make a Rock Garden

Create a rock garden using any variety of decorative rocks. You can plant numerous flowers, ground covers, shrubs, and ornamental grasses that do well in rock gardens. This works especially well on slopes that are already rocky.

xeriscape

Using Eucalyptus to Get Rid of Black Ants

Black ants can be a very persistent pest. Killing individual ants tends to be futile; once you have one ant, it seems that the remainder of the nest is close behind no matter what you do. It is possible to exterminate ants by fumigating, but there are many reasons to want to avoid doing this. Is there a more natural solution to an ant infestation? Luckily, the answer is yes.

Ants navigate by smell. They spread out, and the ones that find food report back to the main group, signaling by scent where they should go. Because of this, ants are vulnerable to certain strong smells. Eucalyptus oil, with its strong scent, will drive away ants by leaving them unable to find your food. The following should help you keep your home free of ants using eucalyptus oil.

Materials

  • eucalyptus oil
  • water
  • spray bottle

Step 1 - Getting Ready

Rather than trying to kill every single ant that is near your house, your goal is to prevent ants from getting inside. Because of this, you need to figure out where the ants are entering your house from before you do anything. Usually, ants will form lines, so if you find one ant, you can follow the line back to the entrance. Sometimes, however, this will not be the case. If there is no line of ants to follow, you will simply have to look carefully for their entrance.

Once you have found out how the ants get inside, fill your spray bottle with water and add 15 drops of eucalyptus oil.

Step 2 - Applying Oil

Spray the area that the ants are using to get inside thoroughly with your spray bottle. You want to cover the entire area in such a way that the ants can't get in or out without crossing the oil.

You should also spray other areas the ants are using. Figure out what food source attracted the ants, and spray the area around it. Also, you should spray any areas that are travelled heavily by the ants.

Step 3 - Preventing Future Problems

Spraying eucalyptus oil in this way should be enough to drive out any ants you have in your house, and keep the rest out. But preventing ant infestations in the first place is easier than eliminating one that already exists. Now that your home is free of ants, you should take some precautions to make sure that it stays that way.

First, you should give ants no reason to enter your home. This means keeping all things they could eat unavailable to them. Clean up all spills immediately, keep your food containers closed tightly, and keep your garbage firmly sealed. If there is nothing to serve as ant bait, the ants should stay away. Pay close attention to what attracted the ants in the first place, and make sure it doesn't happen again.

In addition, you should try to prevent ants from being able to get inside. Use caulk on all cracks and gaps, and use weather stripping on doors and windows. Be sure to deal with whatever tiny hole that your ant problem exploited.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


How to Plant and Grow Blood Grass

The Imperator cylindrical is commonly called the Japanese blood grass. It is essentially an ornamental grass, grown for landscaping household gardens. This grass has a typical appearance with sharp, spiked grass blades having bright-red coloration. It is often planted with flowering plants like marigolds to create contrasting garden borders. Even during the fall season, when the blades lose their red hue and turn slightly brown, the grass is a landscape accessory. The brown color is intense and doesn't have the usual winter season, weathered appearance. This lends a distinct woody appearance to the winter garden. You can easily grow blood grass in your garden by following these instructions:

Things Needed:

  • Retailed blood grass
  • Shovel
  • Mulch
  • Water

Procuring Blood Grass

It is advised not to borrow mature blood grass from neighboring gardens. Blood grass procured from established gardens does not plant well. Buying blood grass, grown in containers, from garden supply stores is the norm. The most popular blood grass variety is the Rubra grass because its foliage offers the brightest shade of red along with having a longer growing season. Blood grass is self-propagating and grows very fast. Starting with two-to-three containers is sufficient for creating a large blood grass-covered garden spread.

Planting Blood Grass

This is the most critical aspect of growing blood grass in your garden. The planting site should be carefully chosen. Ensure that the chosen spot receives sufficient sunlight and has quick-draining soil. However, the sunlight exposure shouldn't be so extreme that the young grass blades are scorched. To increase the water-draining capacity of the soil, you can add some organic mulch.

Using a spade, dig at the chosen site to create planting holes. Each planting hole should be at least 18-inches apart. Ensure that each hole is about three times wider than the root ball of the retailed blood grass. Extract the blood grass from the container and place it in the holes. For safe extraction from the containers, tap repeatedly on the container's surface to loosen the roothold of the grass. This prevents transplanting stress. Start filling the hole with the dug-up soil, clamping some soil around the young, root balls. After backfilling, water the soil bed to ensure that the soil is moist. Mulch again, around the base of grass to ensure there is no waterlogging.

Blood Grass Propagation

You can fasten the grass' growth through manual manipulation. This should be ideally done two weeks after planting. Blood grass grows in small clumps. The trick is to divide the blood grass clumps to create numerous, individual grass groupings. Each separated grass clump tends to grow faster since manual separation creates physical stress on the plant, speeding-up its growth mechanism. To separate the grass clumps, use a spade and dig it through the center of the clump, deep into the soil. The spade should be dug deep enough to separate the underground rhizomes (grass tubers).

Basic Care

Slight pruning is recommended, particularly before the growing season. Cut back the outermost grass blades just before the spring season. While cutting the grass, try to slice-off the grass crowns. Don't prune during the winters. Blood grass doesn't need fertilization of any kind. Daily watering is sufficient to ensure a compact, blood grass spread.

Japanese Blood Grass.jpg Photo copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

How to Transplant a Ginkgo Tree

The ginkgo tree or maidenhair fern, is a popular ornamental tree widely known for its use in medicinal tinctures and traditional herbal treatments. The ginkgo tree is also loved for its historical connection, as it is a direct descendant of trees which grew 200 million years ago-it is sometimes known as the "Living Fossil" tree.

Despite its great age, the ginkgo tree comes in many varieties, and is often regarded as an ideal ornamental tree. While most of the ginkgo tree family reach up to 30 feet tall, small ginkgo trees have been developed, which means that any size backyard can now contain the beautiful ginkgo tree.

Transplanting the Ginkgo Tree

Ginkgos are extremely adaptable, and grow in many soils; the ginkgo will be happy with virtually any soil, although it prefers a moist area with plenty of sun.

Step 1 - Roots

The ginkgo tree can be either dug from an existing place, or purchased from a garden center. Ginkgo trees bought from stores usually come wrapped in plastic bags which are sealed with wire, so before transplanting the ginkgo tree, remove the wire with cutters, and remove the bag gently from around the root ball.

If you are moving the Ginkgo from one area to another in the garden, be sure to dig the root ball some distance from the base of the tree-the hole should be at least 2 feet across (or more), depending upon the height of the tree. Ensure that all roots are taken from the soil.

Step 2 - Location

When digging a hole for the ginkgo tree, consider how tall the tree is likely to be; planting too near to houses or other large trees can cause problems.

Step 3 - Digging the Hole

The hole should be about twice the width of the root ball, and just as deep. The soil at the edges of the hole should be 'cut' with a spade, in order to allow the ginkgo tree roots to work their way through.

Step 4 - Planting the Ginkgo Tree

  • Place the tree upright in the middle of the hole, and, using your fingers, carefully divide the roots.
  • Push them down into the hole.
  • The very top of the ginkgo tree's root ball should be slightly higher than the surrounding soil.
  • Now is the time to move the ginkgo tree into its final position; put its best side towards the window.

Step 5 - Watering

  • Fill the hole with remaining soil up to half-way.
  • Water thoroughly, and allow the soil and the ginkgo tree root ball to absorb the water before the next stage.
  • When the water is gone, put more soil on, until the hole is almost full.
  • Water, and leave overnight, to allow the ginkgo tree to 'settle' in its new home.

Step 6 - Mulch

The following day, water again, and add mulch to fill the top of the whole-a small gap in the mulch should be left around the base, in order to prevent fungus. The use of water in the stages of filling helps to eliminate air pockets in the soil.

Step 7 - Finishing Up

Once the tree is planted, water and add mulch regularly for the first year, until the Ginkgo roots are properly grown into the soil.

Ginkgo Tree.jpg

Photo copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

Ginkgo Tree Propagation Methods

Successful Ginkgo tree propagation methods are many and diverse. Growing from seed, cuttings, layers, and grafts are all accepted, widespread methods in use. Each has a role to play in the continued cultivation of this ancient plant.

Preparing Seeds

Growing the Gingko, or Maidenhair, tree from seed is not difficult. The seeds are gathered in October. A smelly outer layer must be carefully washed away. The butyric acid it contains causes nausea and dermatitis. It is also responsible for the smell that is similar to rancid butter. The seeds need to warm stratify for a period of two months. This is a period of time when the embryos develop as the seeds rest undisturbed at temperatures of 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. After this, the seeds must cold stratify for another two months at temperatures of 34 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit. It is vital for the seeds to remain moist during this process. To maintain adequate water content, growers often cover the seeds with damp vermiculite or peat moss. The stratification process complete, the seeds are ready for germination and planting. The Gingko thrives in full sun to light shade. It prefers fertile, heavy, moist soil with good drainage. With protection from the wind, regular watering and feeding, the Gingko rapidly becomes established.

Growing Cuttings

Gingko trees are frequently grown from cuttings. Determining the sex of a young Gingko can be difficult. In raising trees from cuttings, the sex is assured. Male trees are often selected for use in landscaping urban areas. The Gingko's tall, upright habit, pest and disease resistance and tolerance of pollutants make it an ideal choice. The female trees, with their smelly fruit, are less desirable for such applications. In Japan, the female trees are preferred, as the fruit is a popular food source. Cuttings are an efficient way to consistently produce plants of a known quality and gender. Softwood cuttings are taken in the spring. Semi-ripe cuttings are available in early summer, and hardwood cuttings in the fall. Cuttings are treated with rooting hormone. Kept moist, they develop roots within a couple of weeks and are ready for planting.

Layering

Air layering Gingko trees is a method of propagation similar in some respects to cuttings.  Instead if severing a portion of the parent tree immediately, a wound is made to the bark of a stem or tip. Rooting hormone is applied, and the damaged area covered. Root growth is encouraged by this method, while the stem still receives nourishment from the parent plant. When an adequate root system is developed to sustain the new plant, it is removed from the parent and planted. This method allows for the development of larger new plants with more highly developed roots than traditional cuttings.

Grafting

Finally, grafting has a role to play in Gingko tree propagation. In nature, a male and female Gingko must grow in close proximity to allow the development of fertile seeds. By grafting branches of one sex onto trees of the other, pollination can occur without the risks of overcrowding. Mature trees lacking a suitable counterpart can thus remain viable contributors to the continuation of the species.

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Photo copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

Caring for a Beech Tree

The beech tree is amongst the most popular of household, ornamental trees. Beech trees are easy to maintain, needing minimal seasonal care. However, there are some basic beech care requirements that should not be neglected. There are two main types of beech trees -- American Beech and European Beech. These two varieties have some typical features that should be considered when caring for them.

American Beech Care Tips

The American beech is also called the beechnut tree because of the edible, beechnut that it produces in the fall season. Its scientific name is the Fagus grandiflora.

Soil Compaction

A fundamental aspect of growing an American beech is the soil bed. Areas with regular human/vehicular traffic are not suited for this tree. American beeches need more soil surface ventilation than most trees and compacted soil beds can lead to stunted growth.

Transplantation

American beech needs special care during transplantation. This is because the soil bed needs to be slightly acidic or within the neutral-to-acidic range. If you aren't sure about the pH of your garden soil, it is best to get it confirmed from an experienced gardener. Altering the soil pH levels is not demanding. Soil additives for this purpose are available at garden supply stores.

European Beech Care Tip: Mulching

The European beech has a fibrous root system that makes it easier-to-plant than the American beech. It doesn't have soil pH issues like the American beech. However, this is a faster growing variety of beech. Therefore, it needs a perennially moist soil bed that makes it easier for the young roots to grow deeper. Excessive watering, and resulting waterlogging, can make this tree susceptible to fungal infections. Hence, regular mulching of the European beech is recommended. You should use mulch prepared from wood bits and perlite. This helps to keep the soil bed moisturized along with ensuring that excess water is drained.

General Beech Tree Care

The following tips are applicable to both types of beech trees discussed above:

Pruning

The foliage of the beech tree is often clustered around the basal stem region. This increases the chances of the leaves being affected by soil-borne fungal spores. Further, the stems may branch excessively during the growth season, cutting-off ventilation among the inner foliage. Therefore, repeated pruning in beech trees is needed. Always prune the tree, particularly central and basal foliage, before and after the growing season.

Watering Regimen

Beech trees need to be watered regularly during the dry season as the bark can get scorched. Powdery mildew is the most common fungal infection among beech trees. It can be easily detected due to its typical symptom of a white, powdery coating enveloping the leaves. This fungal infection can be controlled by avoiding spray-based watering. Try to use a soaker-system of watering.

Insect Infestation Prevention

The compact bark is a popular, ornamental feature of beech trees but its wood isn't very hard. This makes the bark vulnerable to attacks by pests like aphid and borers. Aphids can be easily controlled by regularly spraying the tree with insect sprays that have Malathion as an ingredient. Common beech tree borers include the apple tree borer and chestnut borer. Dry-season spraying of the tree with a mixture of soap, oil and multipurpose insecticide helps to keep away the borers.

Beech Bark Disease Prevention (Fertilization)

Beech trees grown in nutritionally-deficient soil beds often become susceptible to the damaging, beech bark disease. Beech bark is actually a fugal infection that usually affects the lower stem region. Beech bark disease is initiated by the feeding injury marks created by the beech scales. These injury sites are eventually invaded by the Nectria fungus. 

Please understand that cases of advanced bark disease cannot be controlled through organic or chemical control. Appropriate soil fertilization is critical to prevent bark disease. Ensure that the soil is enriched with basic, NPK fertilizers at least once every growing season. You should regularly check for any kind of spotting on the main stem. The spots of bark disease have defined, blackish outer margins. Regularly spray the infected stem with a mixture of horticultural oil and lime-sulfur. If the scale disease still seems to be spreading, you can consider chemical control. You should use fungicides that have high concentrations of benomyl.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


Beech Tree Propagation Methods

Beech tree propagation methods offer challenges for the grower. Easily grown from seed, the beech is a stately, long-lived addition to your landscape. Commercial growers remain frustrated by the frequent inability of cuttings to survive winters, despite the development of roots and buds. Layering has also failed to provide winter-hardy plants. Grafting and growing from seed remain the only viable commercial propagation methods currently available.

Gathering Seed

Beech trees are most often grown from seed. You can gather seeds in the fall either after the fruit falls to the ground or after you pick the fruit from the tree. Beech trees are often so tall that it is difficult to reach the ripening fruit. Raking up fallen fruit is easier, although you do encounter an increased risk of insects infesting the seeds. Even under the best of conditions, you will find many empty husks. Take care to gather at least twice the number of seeds required.

Stratification

The seeds require a period of cold, moist stratification that lasts approximately 90 days. You can achieve this stratification either by fall planting or by keeping the seeds in a damp environment at temperatures no greater than 41 degrees Fahrenheit for the time required.

Early planting affords you a measure of convenience. But the drawbacks to this method are the increased predation of seeds by wildlife and your inability to monitor seed development.

Many growers prefer to stratify beech tree seeds in the refrigerator. Here you can monitor and maintain adequate moisture levels--a crucial factor in successful germination.

Carefully cover the beech tree seeds with moistened vermiculite, sand or peat moss inside a perforated sealable plastic bag. Place the bag in the refrigerator vegetable drawer or on the back of a shelf. Check the bag once a month.  Ensure that the covering is moist but not wet. Also check the nuts for signs of mold. Discard seeds that have begun to rot.

Planting

After the cold stratification, you may plant the beech tree seeds at a depth of 2 inches in moist, well-drained and acidic soil. Beeches prefer full sun but can survive in shady areas.

Select a site that can accommodate a beech tree 70 to 120 feet in height with a spread of 40 to 50 feet. Once planted, the seedling may need some protection from the sun and wind until its root system is well established. Water it regularly and keep a vigilant watch for signs of stress due to insects.

Maintainance

Beech trees require little pruning. They sometimes have a tendency to fork close to the ground. Watch for apparent suckers at the base. Remove these to avoid low forking and preserve a straight, true trunk.

You may thin dense branches, as the beech tree matures, to improve air circulation and allow light to reach inner branches. Remember that while the beech tree is slow in growing, it can live for over 340 years. Truly it will offer a lasting legacy.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


Planting a Green Ash Tree

The green ash tree can grow as tall as 60 feet, and it is one of the first trees to take on the fall colors of red and yellow. You can use the green ash tree as a fence or a landscape tree; it also makes a durable tree for your front garden and provides ample shade.

Planting Conditions for a Green Ash Tree

The green ash tree can adapt to a variety of soil types, including clay. It can also grow in acid or alkaline soils. Like most of the ash family, it enjoys moist surroundings, but the green ash tree can grow almost anywhere. It even copes in both drought-stricken and flooded areas. Plant the tree in full sun for best effect.

When planting, you need to dig a large enough hole for the root to grow rapidly without too much strain. If you are digging in clay soil, the hole will need to be at least 6 times the width of the root ball.

The Planting Process

If you brought the tree in a container, lay the entire thing on the ground and roll the container from side to side. This action should loosen the soil in the container enough for you to gently remove the container from the roots. Removed wire from the root bags with clippers and cut the bag away with either a knife or scissors.

Next, place the ash in the center of the hole. Allow the root to spread around the bottom. Fill in a little bit of the soil; then water thoroughly. Let the soil and roots absorb this water. Fill the hole until the soil is almost level with the surrounding earth. Water the planting site again.

Leave for 24 hours. When you return, ensure that the tree is now fully supported by the soil. Mulch the base of the tree and surrounding earth before you water the third time.

Caring for the Tree

Green ash trees need regular watering in dry months and can also benefit from mulching and fertilizing during the winter. Check the trunk and branches regularly for infestation and diseases during watering, particularly during the first few years when the ash is vulnerable.

Problems with the Green Ash Tree

The green ash is generally considered to be the hardiest of all the ash tree varieties. Even so, it is vulnerable to pests such as the emerald ash borer, a pest which has recently traveled from Asia to the West Coast of the U.S. This pest has no current enemies in America and spreads easily. As a result, many green ash trees are now vulnerable to destruction from this tiny insect.

The tree may also suffer from canker in the branches and trunk, a condition which can cause serious problems.

 

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


How to Grow a Serviceberry from Seeds

The serviceberry tree is a popular ornamental and fruit tree that grows in moist conditions, and serviceberry seeds and berries attract a range of birds and insects into the garden. While it is more common to purchase a serviceberry sapling from a garden center, it is possible to grow a tree from a serviceberry seed. Seeds become available in late summer and early fall, when they can be easily gathered from wild plants and planted in containers. It is rare for serviceberry trees to be grown from cuttings, as seeds and seedlings are abundant.

Gathering Serviceberry Seeds

Serviceberries are very popular with birds, so gardeners eager to gather serviceberry seeds may have to compete with wildlife.

It is necessary to remove the seeds from the berry before sowing, as planting whole berries will probably result in the seeds fermenting and failing to germinate. This can be done through stratification--which involves the chilling the seeds--or by using well-drained gravel or sand to strip pulp from the seeds.

If winter is not cold enough, or it does not appear that the serviceberry seeds are germinating, then it is possible to treat the seeds in a fridge. Put the seeds into a mix with double the amount of peat moss or damp sand. Seal into a plastic bag, and leave in a temperate room for about a week. After this, place in the fridge and monitor often for signs of germination, such as the seed case splitting or shoots/roots appearing. Keep the moss or sand damp and if necessary, couple with periods of warmth (placing the plastic bag in a warm room for a week or so). If seeds fail to germinate after this, it may be necessary to wait until the following summer to try again.

Planting Serviceberry Seeds

During August, collect ripe berries, and place in a pail of clean sand. Crush the berries between the fingers while mixing them into the sand; once this is done for all the berries, sieve through a mesh or window screen, removing the larger pieces of pulp. Before planting the seeds, prepare the containers by filling yogurt-sized pots with about three inches of soil, and watering well. Alternatively, seed containers can be bought from local garden stores, and filled to the recommended level with a mix of soil and compost. When all of the sand and seeds have been sifted, plant the remaining seeds into the containers, keeping to about 3 serviceberry seeds per inch of soil. The containers should be kept moist throughout the winter, and once spring arrives, mulched or fertilized until seedlings appear.

Growing the Seeds

Serviceberry seeds planted in this manner will germinate the following spring. While seedlings will probably grow from less than 50% of planted seeds, serviceberries grow rapidly from this poor start, and can easily grow a foot a year after planting.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


Propagating a Magnolia Tree

With a little luck and a lot of patience, you can successfully propagate a magnolia tree to grow a second tree in your yard. You can propagate a magnolia by seed, by grafting or by cuttings taken in the spring. However, established magnolia roots don't like to be disturbed, so it may be best to leave rooting from cuttings and grafting to horticulturists. Read on to learn how to propagate a magnolia tree from seed.

Seeds vs. Cuttings

Among the propagation types, cuttings are preferred to seedlings. Plants grown from cuttings will bloom 1 to 2 years after propagation, while seedlings may take 15 to 20 years (or longer, depending on species) to bear the first flowers.

Propagating from Seed

Collect magnolia seeds as soon as possible after the fruit matures in mid-September or early October. Allow the cone-like fruit is cone-like to dry in the sun until the outer coat of orange or red turns dull and begins to split. Once dried, shake the seeds from the cone.

Next, whether sowing right away or storing the seed, soak the seeds overnight in warm water. Rub seeds against a piece of window screening to remove oil from the fleshy outer parts. Without removing the oil, the seeds won't propagate.

To store mangolia seeds, place them in layers in a plastic bag filled with moist peat. Tie off the bag and refrigerate at about 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

To sow, cover with ¼-inch of soil (2 parts peat, 1 part loam and 1 part sand) and then mulch to prevent drying out. Keep the soil moist until seeds germinate. Transfer magnolia tree seedlings into individual pots after about a month. Keep the seedlings in partial shade for the first summer.

A Quick Solution: Container-Grown Magnolia Trees

If the idea of waiting 15 years for your propagated magnolia to bloom is just not acceptable, why not buy one already grown? Either container-grown or balled and burlapped magnolia trees will reward with flowers in much less time. Keep in mind that each species of magnolia tree species takes a different amount of time to mature and bloom.

As a hobby or just for fun, try propagating some from seed as an experiment. Some home gardeners have been able to get blooms from certain species within 10 years or so.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


How to Fix a Flooded Lawn Mower

A common problem with gasoline engines, whether automobile, snowmobile, or lawn mower, is that they can become flooded. This usually means the carburetor has become overloaded with gasoline and is not able to get enough air. When flooding occurs, the only way to get the engine running again is to normalize the gas-air mixture. With a lawn mower, this flooding can be caused when you give the primer button too many pumps. Or, it can be caused by a gas-saturated air filter. Here are 5 steps you can use to restore that balance.

Step 1 - Test the Engine for Flooding

Before committing yourself to the time it will take to manually remove gas from a saturated filter, you will be wise to do a test that will tell you whether or not the mower's starting problem is cause by flooding or something else.

2 - Remove the Gas Filter

Locate the mower's filter box, usually a plastic box about 4" to 5" square. When you have found it, remove it's cover which will normally be kept in place with a single screw. You can easily remove this screw with a screwdriver. Then, remove box cover. Inside, you'll find the filter, sitting unattached in the box. The filter will typically be composed of paper, sponge, or a cloth-like material. When you remove the filter you will be able to feel or see whether or not the filter is saturated with gasoline. If it is, chances are good that failure of the mower to start was due to flooding of its engine.

Step 3 - Allow the Filter to Dry by itself

If you wait long enough--usually an hour or longer--the gasoline will have evaporated from the filter and will allow air to again enter the engine's combustion chamber. Drying time will vary according to outside air temperature and humidity. Ultimately, if you wait long enough, the filter will dry out and you will be able to start the engine, using normal starting procedures.

Step 4 - Speed Up the Evaporation Process

Should you decide not to wait for normal evaporation to fix the problem, you can speed up the evaporation process by exposing the filter to sun and air. Just leave the cover off and wait for the fuel to evaporate.

Step 5 -  Do a Manual Fix

An optional way to fix the flooding problem will be to manually remove the fuel from the filter. To do this, you must first remove the filter from its compartment. The filter will be composed of a heavy and porous paper, sponge, metal mesh, or a material that resembles cloth. If your filter is the paper variety, you will need to be careful in handling it. Otherwise, it is likely to disintegrate. Other filter materials will not be as fragile as the paper type, and you will be able to squeeze them and force out any gas the material contains.

Once fuel has been removed from the saturated filter, replace the filter and its cover, and you should be able to start your mower with no trouble. 

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How to Change a Riding Lawn Mower Belt

A lawn mower can make caring for your grass much easier. Sometimes though, the belt on your lawn mower may need replacing. This guide will show you how to change the belt on a riding lawn mower.

What You'll Need

  • A riding lawn mower
  • A replacement belt

Step 1- Removing the Lawn Mower Deck

The very first thing you will need to do in this process is to remove the lawn mower deck. This is the casing that holds your motor and other various mechanical instruments in place, keeping them safe. Somewhere along the deck, you should find pins that hold it into place. You may also find a release switch similar to the switch you pull to raise the hood on a car. If after trying both of these methods you still can't figure out how to remove the deck, consult the owner's manual that came with your lawn mower. It will tell you exactly how to remove your riding lawn mower's deck for your specific machine.

Step 2- Locating the Belt

The belt should not be too difficult for you to locate. Look for a belt that wraps around a disc shaped pulley. There should be three or four of these discs, some larger than others.

Step 3- Removing the Belt

Before you remove the belt, either take a picture or draw a simple sketch depicting the position of the belt. This will make reassembly easier and help avoid any possible confusion that may result in the belt being put on wrong. Before you take the belt off, you may want to look for the pieces that lock your height adjustment into place. If raising the height will make accessing and changing the belt easier, raise the height level as high as you can. Once this is done,  find a lock or two near the belt system that will unlock the deck. This should be easy since most of the deck is already off of the lawn mower.

Removing these locks should give the belt some slack, making it easy to remove. If you can't find the pieces mentioned, you may need to consult the owner's manual as every model of riding lawn mower is different.

Step 4- Replacing the Belt

Now that there is no belt on your lawn mower, you can replace it with your new one. Using your picture or sketch as a guide, replace the belt the exact same way it was on before you took off the first belt.

Step 5- Replacing the Deck

Tighten up any locks or mechanisms you unlocked or loosened to reach the belt. Once this is done and everything is securely locked, you can put the deck back on your lawn mower. Lock the deck in place and you are done.

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How to Uproot a Rose Bush

Moving a rose bush is a difficult task, particularly if it has grown to a significant size or established a firm root system. To uproot roses safely and without damaging the plants, you must ensure that the entire root system is managed carefully. If you are planning on moving your rose bush, follow the steps outlined below to uproot roses safely and carefully.

Plan for the Move

Before you begin to move your rose bush, decide where you would like to transplant it. Depending upon the size and maturity of the plant, you will need to prepare a pot or dig a hole of sufficient size to accommodate the root system. Mature rose bushes may have roots that extend for several feet into the ground.

If at all possible, plan on moving rose bushes that are not yet fully mature. These are smaller and easier to manage. However, they may be more susceptible to damage if you accidentally cut their roots. In all cases, take care not to damage the above- or below-ground portions of the plant.

When you have prepared the transplant space, follow these steps to move your rose bush:

Step 1: Dig a Circle Around the Bush

Using a shovel, outline a circle about 2 feet out from the central stem of the rose bush. Plant your shovel in the ground and move it slightly to loosen the dirt. You may break through some outlying roots, but this is not cause for concern. Repeat this pattern until you have formed a ring around the base of the bush, with the stem as the center.

Step 2: Lever the Bush out of the Ground

Plant your shovel firmly in the ground and tip the top of the handle away from the rose bush until you have begun to wedge the bush out of the ground. Repeat as necessary until the bush and the surrounding soil are loose enough to move easily.

During this process, keep an eye out for the central tap root, which extends for several feet below the stem of the rose bush. Damaging this root endangers the rose bush significantly.

Step 3: Lift the Rose Bush out of the Ground

Once the area around the rose bush is sufficiently broken up, grasp the bush where the stem meets the soil and gently but firmly pull it out of the ground. Ideally, the clumps of dirt surrounding the roots will remain attached. It may be beneficial to employ a second set of hands to lift larger bushes or to ensure that the dirt surrounding the root system does not fall away.

Step 4: Replant the Bush

Replant the rose bush in the prepared hole as quickly as possible. Fill in missing dirt, firm the soil around the new location by patting it, and nourish the rose bush with fertilizer and water.

With patience and care, it is possible to uproot a rose bush and safely replant it in a new location. Take your time and ensure that you protect the root system as thoroughly as possible. For further advice, consult a gardening or home improvement center.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Winterizing an Arborvitae

Shrubs such as arborvitae are prone to being damaged during the winter season. These plants are easily destroyed by wind and snow storms. Try the following steps to ensure that your arborvitae will survive the winter.

Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Bark mulch or ground-up leaves
  • Rolls of burlap
  • Jute twine
  • Good pair of scissors

Step 1: Start Preparing During Fall

Don't fail to water your arborvitae everyday during Fall. Spread bark mulch at the base of the plant. You could also use ground-up leaves here just be sure that the spread out proportion is around 4 inches.

Step 2: Set-up a Wind Barrier

Use around four wooden stakes that you would dig into the imaginary four corners of the shrub. Wrap your burlap roll around these stakes.  Make sure that you don't break any stem while rapping your arborvitae. Give it enough space to breathe. The burlap should also not deform your arborvitae.

Step 3: Doubling the Protection

Seal the burlap using jute twine. Do not use wires as these could damage your plants. You can also tie the twines to sturdy foliage like trees around the area of your shrubbery.

Arborvitae.jpg

Photo copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

How to Grow Dwarf Pineapples

Dwarf pineapples, members of the Bromeliad family, are slowly gaining popularity as ornamental plants. They are commonly known as "pink pineapples," and are scientifically known as Ananas nanus. Even though the fruit of this plant is edible, it is widely used for decorations and flower arrangements.

Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Pots
  • Growing medium
  • Organic fertilizer
  • Water can
  • Spade
  • Peat moss or vermiculate
  • Pineapple plant

Step 1 - Check the Soil and Temperature

Plant the dwarf pineapples in 3.5-inch pots or in sites where they are intended to be grown. They require a sunny to partially shaded site to grow well. Make sure that the plants get a minimum temperature of 59°F. Use loose and well-drained soil (pH 4.6 to 5.5) for planting along with a small amount of peat moss or vermiculate, which retains the moisture in the soil.

Step 2 - Spacing and Positioning Your Pineapple Plants

If planting the pineapples directly on the ground, space them at least 12 to 15 inches apart. Place them where they receive ample sunlight at least for 3 to 4 hours per day; this is important as they thrive in warm and bright conditions.

Step 3 -Allow Acclimation of Plants

While returning the plants outside, allow them to get acclimated to the change in conditions gradually. Initially, ensure that they are placed in a partially shaded area; after a few days, you can move them to full sunlight. This is important to prevent scalding of the plants. They can be grown either indoors or outdoors in humid, warm areas.

Step 4 - Propagation

Seeds are not used for propagating dwarf pineapples. These plants are usually propagated by the following methods.

  • Breaking or twisting off the young side shoots or "pups" from the existing plant
  • Slicing off the fruit crown with a little bit of the dwarf pineapple attached
  • Dividing the "ratoons" or the root sections of the mother plant.

Allow the selected ratoons, pups, or fruit crowns to dry for a few days so that they develop roots; thereafter, plant them evenly onto the soil.

Step 5 - Adequate Watering

Water once in 7 days; this provides the soil with sufficient moisture. Avoid overwatering to prevent root rot. Protect the plants from frosts.

Step 6 - Timely Application of Fertilizers

Feed the plants every 6 to 8 weeks with a fertilizer containing nitrogen, zinc, and iron. Fertilize them every 2 or 3 months during their growing period and less frequently during cooler months.

Step 7 - Plant Care During Flowering Time

The plants grow clusters of leaves at the center after about 8 weeks and the fruits appear. The blooms swell and ripen into tiny, beautiful fruits, which grow up to 4 to 6 inches in length and are edible after they ripen (2 to 4 months). After a few rounds of harvesting, the quality of the fruits gradually reduces. Therefore, it would be good to grow another batch of these plants.

Step 8 - Timely Pruning

Pruning is not a requirement in dwarf pineapples. Just make sure that you periodically remove the fruits and damaged leaves.

Step 9 - Control of Pests and Diseases

Mealybugs are the worst enemies of the dwarf pineapples. As these pests are spread by ants, curb their attack by controlling ants. In case of severe infestation by root nematodes, destroy the entire plant.

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Mistakes to Avoid when Growing a Juniper Tree

The hardy juniper tree is a beautiful and fairly easy plant to maintain. Species vary from full trees to small shrubs and bushes ideal for bonsai. As established juniper require very little care, they are ideal garden plants. Follow this guide to help your trees successfully reach that stage by avoiding some of the most common mistakes when caring for a juniper.

Planting and Early Care

Juniper seeds are very hard to germinate and don't usually success. For this reason, your best bet is to buy a young tree that has already sprouted. Plant in the fall months.

Different species of juniper grow in almost every region of the world and can handle poor soil conditions, though they grow best in clay soil. Some varieties grow wider or wider than others, so spaceing greatly depends on the variety you have. For the wider, shrubbier plants, space them at least the same width as they are tall. If you are creating a privacy or wind barrier, do not space them so far as to compromise the desired result.

Water junipers more in the summer months, but allow to dry out just a bit when the cold comes around. Avoid overwatering as this type of tree does not do well in water-logged soil. After planting in the fall, water every week until first frost. If the ground does not freeze where you live, it is safe to water the juniper in the winter time.

Mature Juniper Care

As previously mentioned, a mature and developed juniper requires virtually no care. After a year or two, depending on varying conditions such as climate, soil and care, your juniper will be ready to flourish completely of its own accord.

One of the most common mistakes made is over-caring for junipers. You don't really need to even water an established tree unless you notice it starting to dry out too much, which is unlikely to happen. Avoid over-watering your juniper tree or shrub once it is an established part of your garden.

Juniper Tree.jpg

Photo copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

Tips for Growing a Japanese Holly

Most gardeners wrongly consider Japanese holly to be a member of the box family. However, Japanese holly, also known as Ilex Crenata, belongs to the holly family. Japanese holly is an evergreen shrub with soft leaves. It has small, silky, dark green leaves that are oval in shape with little scalloped edges.

Japanese holly is commonly found in gardens of North America, Korea and Japan. It is often planted as an alternative to boxwood. In Japan, locals clip the Japanese holly into pom-poms or intricate cloud shaped bushes. They have calm green gardens with a carpet of moss that serves perfectly as a background for the dark green leaves of the Japanese holly that can live up to a 100 years.

Japanese holly can be used in formal gardens along with other foliage plants. London Pride, black-leaved Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' etc. can all grow well with Japanese holly. Japanese holly has a slow growth, which makes it perfect for small gardens. Here are some tips to grow Japanese holly in your garden.

Soil and Location

Japanese holly needs a moist, rich, acidic soil with thick mulch and good drainage for its healthy growth. These shrubs are easy to grow on all kind of soils as they adapt easily and tolerate clay and lime.

Like all the other hollies, the Japanese holly has male and female forms, but only the female forms can bear berries. Plant them in a location that has full sunlight along with some shade.

Japanese holly can grow very well in pots, but make sure that you check on it to prevent the roots from freezing. Place them in sheltered pots in bad weather and feed them slow-release plant food to maintain healthy foliage. The Japanese holly shrub can tolerate humidity, wind, slope and heat. The water range should be from normal to moist.

Propagation

You can grow Japanese holly by stem sections and semi-cuttings. Start looking for new shoots in July to September. Growing Japanese holly from seeds takes around 2 to 3 years for germination.

Cut the shoots up to 1.5 to 12 inches in length and place them in seed trays with 50 percent horticultural sand and 50 percent compost, stripping off the lower leaves. Place the cuttings in a cold frame for a year before placing them in pots individually.

After planting, if it produces a strong shoot of about 12 inches, slash the stem into four parts and place all of them in a 3 inch pot. They will root slowly, but yield larger plants quickly.

You can also grow Japanese holly with spring bulbs in containers, but see to it that you use only small spring bulbs as they can obstruct the height of these low-growing shrubs.

Japanese Holly.jpgPhoto copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

How to Transplant Peas

Although peas are hardy and can sprout even in the coolest northern climate zones directly from seeds, you might want to get a jump on the season and start your peas indoors, to protect the new seeds and sprouts from garden slugs. Here is a method to follow for starting peas indoors and then transplanting outdoors.

Materials and Tools You Will Need:

  • Commercial potting soil, 5 lb. bag
  • Planting trays divided into individual cells (10 to 12 cells to a tray)
  • Pea seeds
  • Balanced complete fertilizer, 12-12-12 blend
  • Garden fork and hoe

Step 1: Purchase Materials and Prepare Planting Trays

After mid-February, buy any of the materials you need to start your peas indoors at your garden center. Prepare the planting trays by filling the cells with commercial potting soil. Plant three seeds to a cell about 1/2 inch down in the growing medium. Water thoroughly, and do not water again until the soil has dried about half the depth of the tray cell. Place the planting trays in a sunny window to sprout. They should form their roots within about 2 weeks.

Step 2: Prepare Garden Soil to Receive Transplants

As soon as all the frost has evaporated out of your garden soil, prepare your plot to transplant your peas. Choose a spot in full sunlight, with moist soil that can drain well. Add some rough sand or large gravel if your soil has a high proportion of clay.  Loosen the soil with a large garden fork down to about 15 inches deep, and blend in 2 inches of organic compost.

Step 3: Transplant the Pea Seedlings

When the pea seedlings are at least 4 inches tall (or long for dwarf varieties), get them ready to go out into the garden. If you chose a tall climbing pea, place your trellis or other support near the pea planting soil in the garden so you can train the shoots up it right away. For dwarf peas, no support is needed.

On a cloudy day, to avoid scorching the seedlings, dig rows in the garden 1 inch in width, 2 inches deep and 8 inches apart with the hoe to accept the seedlings. Tip the seedlings out of the cells, leaving the potting soil around the roots, and plant them in the rows. Separate them by 2 inches within the rows. To deter garden slugs, sprinkle diatomaceous earth formulated for gardens around the base of each seedling clump. Press the garden soil down firmly around the pea seedlings and water them well. Apply a balanced complete fertilizer in a 12-12-12 blend according to the maker's instructions on the container, after watering the seedlings. This will prevent burning the young plants.

Care for the Transplanted Peas

Water the seedlings and weed the peas regularly. The weeds will not be dense as the pea vines will choke them out. Continue to fertilize every 2 weeks until the pea pods are mature. Once the pea pods begin to ripen, harvest peas from the rows daily to get them at their freshest.

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Preventing Harmful Lettuce Diseases

Lettuce is vulnerable to many types of diseases, particularly fungal infections. It has been observed that lettuce harvested during the summer and fall season tends to attract more pests. The combination of pests, humid conditions and leafy lettuce leaves create a breeding ground for plant diseases. You should equip yourself with a basic understanding about each type of lettuce disease and learn how to prevent them.

Anthracnose Fungal Infection

This destructive fungal infection spreads quickly through a lettuce crop, particularly during rainy seasons. The disease is communicated to surrounding plants through weathered, rotting foliage or garden debris. Plants infected with Anthracnose should never be used for composting. You should dig these plants and burn them. Ensure proper garden hygiene by clearing debris that contains any kind of dead plant matter. Anthracnose infections can survive in a dormant form in the soil and suddenly surface among the plants when the conditions are moist.

Mosaic Viral Infection

The mosaic virus is carried by garden pests like aphids. Young lettuce plants affected by mosaic show a curled-up foliage pattern. There is significant brown spotting all over the lettuce foliage. You should use organic insecticides to control aphid populations. Using a high-pressure hose for watering helps to destroy the eggs laid by aphids. Once the aphids have been eradicated, you can keep them away by regularly spraying the lettuce with a mixture of soap water and neem seed oil. Mosaic-infected lettuce should be dug and destroyed, as the infection transmits very quickly.

Bottom Rot Disease

This fungal disease is caused by the Rhizoctonia solani fungus. It is more common among the mature and ready-for-harvest lettuce. It is often propagated by the presence of old, rotting garden mulch. Lettuce with bottom rotting shows severe necrosis along the stem and the basal leaves. The first symptoms are small brown spots on the lower leaves. Bottom rotting breeds in waterlogged garden beds. A properly mulched garden bed needs proper drainage. You should not over-water the lettuce soil bed. You can try watering the plant with a soaker hose. This helps control watering by minimizing water spraying. Another useful but slightly expensive option is using drip irrigation.

Gray Mold Disease

Lettuce molding is commonly caused by the Botrytis fungus. This is the most common form of lettuce-based fungal infection. The molded spinach seedlings rot with a typical look of being water-soaked. This is why gray mold is often called the Damping-off disease. This is a hard-to-control disease, since it spreads through the soil, quickly devouring the entire lettuce crop. The mold patterns are clearly visible on the lettuce stem and leaves touching the soil. Sometimes small, hard pea-like formations are found on lettuce during the winter. To avoid lettuce mold. regularly use organic fungicide. Fungicidal sprays should be initiated as soon as lettuce is planted to avoid molding problems.

Varnish Spot

This is an uncommon bacterial infection of lettuce caused by the Pseudomonas bacteria. It is transmitted through a soil bed that is perpetually wet or concentrated with rotting organic matter. This is one of the most difficult lettuce diseases to detect since it affects the inner leaves first. The only way to guard your lettuce spread against varnish spotting is to use a crop-rotation cycle every year.

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Caring for Your Lettuce Plants

Lettuce is a leafy vegetable that is cultivated in different parts of the world. Its mild flavor and crisp texture make it a perfect addition to salads and sandwiches. This plant has several different varieties, including Romaine lettuce, Iceberg lettuce, Butterhead lettuce, and the common leaf lettuce. Easy to grow and maintain, you can enjoy homegrown lettuce with some basic care.

Planting Lettuce

When you plant lettuce, consider carefully the amount of shade in the planting spot, as well as the condition of the soil. Lettuce plants thrive in partial shade and cooler temperatures. Most varieties of lettuce are not heat-tolerant, so you must select a spot where the plant will be protected from the heat of the mid-day sun. The ideal temperature for growth is between 15ºC -20ºC. This plant requires rich, moist, well-drained soil. Before sowing the seeds or planting the seedlings, incorporate generous amounts of mature compost in the soil.

You can start lettuce seedlings indoors a few weeks before the last frost of the season, or you can sow the seeds directly in the backyard in the spring. Sow lettuce seeds a quarter inch deep. When the seedlings develop, thin them out to leave a space of 8 inches between Butterhead lettuce plants, 5 inches for leaf lettuce, and a foot apart for head lettuce varieties. Mulching is beneficial in keeping the soil moist and cool, and also in preventing weeds.

Watering Lettuce

Lettuce requires frequent, light watering for optimum growth. Ensure that the soil is kept moist, but not soggy. Dry conditions cause wilting of the leaves, and can also make the plant go to seed fast, making the leaves bitter and inedible. Over watering can harm the plant and contribute to disease. One of the common side effects of excessive water is a burnt texture developing on the leaf margins.

Fertilizing Lettuce

In addition to incorporating organic matter in the soil before planting, you must also provide regular fertilization, either by incorporating it in the soil or feeding mild amounts of a general purpose liquid fertilizer at regular intervals.

General Care

Lettuce plants are generally resistant to most pests and diseases. Some of the pests that may attack lettuce are slugs and aphids. These can be controlled with insecticidal soap. Watering the plant lightly at regular intervals will prevent rotting, as well as burning of the leaf tips. Also make sure the plant has adequate ventilation at all times.

Harvesting Lettuce

You can harvest most varieties of lettuce a couple a few months after planting. Watch for any signs of seeding, which indicate that it the plant is over-ripe. Always harvest the plant when it is young, tender, and mild in flavor. As the plant grows older and begins to flower, the leaves turn bitter. By cutting the leaves slightly above ground level, you can have repeated harvests, as the leaves will develop again, throughout the growing season. You can store unwashed lettuce in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a few days. Avoid storing near ethylene-producing fruits such as apples, pineapples, and bananas.

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Harvesting and Storing Lettuce

There are three basic lettuce types grown across the world. Looseleaf and Butterhead lettuce are regarded as the conventional, easy-to-grow lettuce varieties. These two are recommended for growing in household gardens. The other fresh lettuce variety is the Crisphead or the Romaine lettuce. Harvesting and storing lettuce isn't difficult but you should follow some basic instructions.

Lettuce Harvesting Basics

Most lettuces are ready for harvesting within 60 days of planting them. Every lettuce has a sizeable edible part, in the form of lettuce leaves, growing above the ground. You should know about the leaf pattern of each lettuce type to approximate the correct harvesting time: 

Butterhead Lettuce

It has a very prominent leaf head growing above the soil bed. It is advisable to harvest the Buttherheads when it seems that the head isn't developing any further. This gives the plant time to develop seeds that can be used for the next season. A mature Butterhead lettuce head can be easily cut-off using gardening scissors. 

Crisphead Lettuce

The leaf head of the Romaine variety is much smaller. It is also called the Iceberg lettuce. It has slightly elongated leaves that overlap each other to form a smaller, compact head. Ideally, you should harvest the Romaine lettuce when its head is between 6-to-8-inches tall.

Looseleaf Lettuce

This is the only lettuce variety that doesn't have a distinct head formation, i.e. the leaves may cluster but they don't form a compact head-like formation. Some cold-temperature varieties of Looseleaf lettuces may even have radiating, curly leaves in a rosette pattern. You should harvest this variety when the leaf spread is between 4-to-8-inches tall and at least 8-inches wide. 

Looseleaf Lettuce Harvesting

You can harvest Looseleaf lettuce in two simple ways. The conventional method is to pick the outer leaves when they are about 2-inches long. You should do this manually, i.e. without using any pruning or gardening equipment. The picking of leaves can be done regularly for about four weeks. The other approach is to slice-off the lettuce leaves, using gardening scissors. However, for Looseleaf, cutting the leaves is slightly demanding because the leaf spread is extensive. You should cut the leaves about one-inch above the soil bed. It is critical that you leave an unharmed stub that will start growing again within a few weeks. 

Butterhead/Crisphead Lettuce Harvesting

The most important consideration is to cut the leafy head near to the soil bed. You should harvest the lettuce during early mornings, as the leaves are still crisp, i.e. easy-to-cut. You can use lightweight pruning scissors for harvesting lettuce. Harvest the leafy heads that feel firm. You should unwrap the outermost leaf and try crushing it with your hand. If the texture isn't soft and it is easy-to-crush, the leaves are turning crisp, i.e. appropriate for harvesting. You should cut the external leaves of the leafy cluster, ensuring that some of the younger, inner leaves are left intact. This is vital to ensure future growth in the plant. If you have already harvested a lettuce three-to-four times, you can cut the entire head, i.e. including the inner leaves but leaving the stub. 

Storing Lettuce

Lettuce should not be canned or put in deep freeze. You should wash the leaves thoroughly before storing them. After washing the leaves, let them drip-dry. You should pack the leaves in plastic bags and place them in a refrigerator. The ideal storage temperature is about 32° F. If you want to preserve them for a longer period, roll the leaves in moist paper towels before refrigerating them. Crisphead lettuce is known to last the longest, often retaining its freshness for two weeks, i.e. in a refrigerator. You should ensure that refrigerated lettuce isn't placed in proximity of fruits like pears or apples as this causes early spotting of the leaves. These fruits release a ripening agent that initiates a chemical reaction in lettuce, leaving brown spots on the leaves.

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Growing Carrots from Seeds

Carrot seeds are a great addition to any vegetable garden because they are easy to grow, packed with vitamins and fiber, and the lacy foliage looks beautiful in flowerbeds and containers alike. Carrots are typically cool season vegetables, but thrive in temperatures between 60 and 75 degrees F.

Seed Selection

There are many varieties of carrots, so choose the ones that suit your garden conditions.

  • For rocky or hard clay soils, choose the short-rooted varieties that are as small as 2 inches, but are the quickest to mature.
  • For rich compost loaded soil, choose the long-rooted varieties. These take the longest time to mature and are not very sweet tasting. 
  • For a successful crop, home gardeners prefer the medium rooted varieties that are sown slightly after the short-rooted ones.

Site Selection

Carrots thrive in an area that receives full sunlight or partial shade. The earliest you should plant is 3 weeks before the last frost in spring. Carrots prefer a moist, well-drained soil, so prepare the site by mixing in plenty of compost.

Sowing Carrot Seeds

  • Sprinkle seeds into the soil surface, dropping one seed every 1 to 2 inches
  • Gently press them down 1/4 inch to maintain good seed-soil contact. Do not worry if you sprinkle too many tiny seeds in one spot, you will have to thin seedling out anyway.
  • If planting two or more rows of seeds, provide a spacing of at least 18 to 24 inches. 
  • Broadcast sowing seeds is also popular with carrots, where seeds are sprinkled or spread randomly over the planting area instead of developing into rows.
  • Water the surface of the soil evenly after sowing, and sprinkle a thin layer or compost or peat moss over it.

Seed Germination

Seed germination should take between 2 to 3 weeks. Remove any weeds that grow along their side, since carrots cannot compete with them. Overcrowding impairs their growth, so thin carrot seedlings 2 to 3 inches apart by snipping them off with scissors at soil level.

Caring for the Seedlings

Water your seedlings frequently with a deep soaking to ensure the soil is moist and well drained. Avoid watering, however, on rainy days.

Use a mild liquid fertilizer every 3 weeks, keeping away from nitrogen-based fertilizers that may cause the delicate roots to burn.

Pests and Disease

Carrots are susceptible to the carrot fly, which is a 1/4 inch white maggot that is attracted to the smell of its foliage and feeds on the outside surface. Cover your seedlings in light mesh netting to prevent this pest, or plant onions or leek alongside which are known to repel the bug.

Mice, moles and rabbits may also pose a threat for carrots.

In wet weather some diseases may infest your carrot crop, so check with your local nursery for appropriate preventive measures.

Harvesting Mature Carrots

Depending on the variety sown, carrots are generally harvested 12 weeks after sowing. Begin by pulling every other carrot, providing the remaining carrot space to grow. Carrots do not have to be immediately harvested and can remain in the soil weeks after the plants have dried off, especially if storage is a problem.

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How to Prune a Spirea

Spirea in the home garden requires a bit of regular care and maintenance. This involves pruning, but the techniques aren't all that difficult. Follow these steps to prune spirea.

Tools and Materials Required

  • Garden loppers
  • Hand-held pruners

Why Pruning is Necessary with Spirea

According to garden experts on shrub pruning, there are two basic reasons to prune deciduous shrubs - including spirea. First, prune to rejuvenate plants that have become overgrown or have a tangled mass of stems at the base. Second, prune to renew plants, promoting new growth and encouraging more flowers to bloom.

Plant shaping of spirea can be accomplished by either rejuvenating or renewing.

Pruning Spring-Blooming Spirea

If the spirea in question blooms from late spring to early June, the flowers are formed from last season's buds. Experts recommend pruning spring-blooming spirea, such as Bridalwreath and Snowmound, within 2 weeks after the shrubs flower.

  1. Cut out undesirable branches at the ground level.
  2. Trim and shape the plant or size it with necessary cuts.
  3. If numerous new stems are present coming out of the base, cut out the old and dark stems completely (cutting right back to the surface of the soil). This helps encourage new growth.
  4. If no proliferation of stems exists, prune back all the branches to about two to three remaining buds - or three or more low-lying side branches.

Pruning Summer-Blooming Spirea

Spirea that blooms in mid-June to late summer - such as Spirea japonica - requires pruning blooms when the plant is dormant. This is because they bloom from buds on new growth wood, or growth that has occurred this growing season. Follow these steps:

  1. To make a large spirea smaller, cut back to about ½ or 1/3 the size.
  2. After initial pruning, take a good look at the spirea. Experts say you can't prune it back too hard, so it may be worth taking out the loppers and excising a bit more.
  3. Remove fading or spent flowers at any time if their appearance is unsightly.

Tips on Pruning Spirea

Always use clean and sharp garden tools. Clean with a wire brush. Rinse in a bucket of cold water. Sharpen with sharpening tool. To disinfect, use one part chlorine bleach to 9 parts water.

Remember that the idea is to allow the spirea to follow its natural shape. In most cases, this is a rounded or mounding shape. It's not recommended to try to force a Bridalwreath spirea into a uniform shape of a box hedge. That's an unnatural shaping.

Generally speaking, cut out damaged or unnecessary stems and branches. Only prune drastically when needed due to overgrown or severely neglected spirea bushes.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


Boxwood Propagation Methods

Among the many varieties of easy-to-grow garden shrubs, the boxwood is the preferred choice for many gardeners. Boxwoods are sturdy shrubs, tolerant to most weather conditions and need a basic care regimen. Most boxwood shrubs can grow up to 15 feet and are equally comfortable in sunny and shaded areas.

Boxwoods can be used in various forms to suit a garden setting. They can be used as a standalone shrub in one corner of the garden or grown in proximity of flowering plants to create mixed borders. They are commonly used for edging bigger garden beds. In order to use boxwoods for landscaping the garden, you will need to propagate the shrub, i.e. substantially multiply the number of shrubs. Boxwood propagation is particularly easy and you can easily spread the shrub by following the conventional propagation techniques. Using stem cuttings and propagation by layering are the most commonly used boxwood propagation methods.

Using Stem Cuttings for Boxwood Propagation

The ideal time to take cut a stem off a boxwood shrub extends from July to December. Stem cuttings taken during this period survive much longer and are resistant to wilting. Cuttings procured in very cold seasons have significantly slower root development. Morning time is suggested to obtain the cutting because the stems are the freshest during this time. Choose smaller 1-year old branches as they have a higher concentration of growth hormones.

Tolls and Materials Needed:

  • Garden shears
  • Rooting compound
  • Plant growth hormone
  • Perlite
  • Sand
  • Plastic container

Stem Cuttings Instructions

  • Using the garden shears, slice-off a young stem from a boxwood shrub.
  • Try to cut the stem according to a basic estimation recommended for different boxwood varieties. For Boxwood sempervirens (Suffruticosa shrub), the cutting should be about 2-inches tall. For Boxwood microphylla, it should be at least 4-inches long.
  • The cutting should be stripped of all leaves, particularly around the bottom area.
  • Tap-off any excess water that is commonly found in fresh stems.
  • You can dip the cutting in a rooting compound or plant growth hormone--this isn't a rule but ensures faster rooting.
  • Use a container with good drainage to provide the growing medium for the cutting.
  • Prepare a mixture of horticultural sand and perlite. You can also add some pine bark. Fill 3/4 of the container with this mixture.
  • Place the cuttings in the container and water it immediately.
  • Place the container in a well-ventilated and shaded area for the first two weeks. Ideally, the roots should start to develop within 2 months.
  • Ensure that you maintain good drainage during this period. Root witling due to water stagnation is common in boxwood.
  • Shift the container after the initial 2 to 3 weeks. Placing the cutting in slightly shaded and humid areas helps to fasten the rooting process. You can also water spray the cuttings to create a humid environment.

Using Layering for Boxwood Propagation

Layering is a process wherein the new roots develop on a stem while it is still attached to the parent plant. Such a stem can be manipulated to develop into a new plant. There are different types of layering but boxwoods can be propagated by Simple Layering. 

Boxwood Layering Instructions

  • Choose a low-growing boxwood branch that is flexible enough to be bent downwards without breaking.
  • Bend this branch and cover 3/4 of its length with soil. Ideally, there should be only 6 to 10 inches of the branch above the soil.
  • Stake the free part of the branch to help it stand vertically.
  • The part buried in the ground soon develops new fibrous roots.
  • Ensure that you water the layered branch frequently.
  • Once the layered branch starts developing new leaves, it is ready to be planted anywhere else in the garden.
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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


Tips for Cutting Landscape Blocks

Installing landscape blocks sometimes requires that you cut the blocks to fit. This need not be a challenge, but can be done safely and quickly with the proper tools. Here are some tips to help you make clean, smooth cuts in any landscape border material.

Measure Carefully and Establish the Cut Line

Sometimes even ready-made half-blocks will not fit the arrangement. You may need a quarter-block or other unusual size. Measure carefully with a tape measure to determine exactly where you want to cut the block. Use a 3.5-inch wide brick chisel and a 3-lb. small sledgehammer to tap a cut line around the whole block: top, bottom and ends. Wear heavy work gloves and safety glasses while establishing the cut line to protect yourself from concrete or stone chips and dust. Tap all the way through the block with the chisel if it is more than 2 inches thick. When you reach the point where it will break, the impact sound of the chisel hitting it will rise in pitch. If the retaining wall blocks or pavers are less than 2 inches thick, set the cut line, and then saw to finish the cut cleanly.

Types of Saw to Use to Cut Landscape Blocks

A standard 10-inch circular saw blade is strong enough to cut through most types of landscape blocks, including retaining wall blocks. If you are cutting several blocks, change the standard blade for a masonry blade with a diamond or carbide edge, and dampen it with water to reduce friction. For small landscape edging blocks, use a 7.5-inch blade. For shallow blocks, use a band saw, and make long, smooth strokes to avoid shredding the concrete or composite material.

To make clean splits in brick and concrete pavers, you can also use a slab splitter. These are available for rental from companies specializing in construction tools. Place the block in the slot between the top and bottom blades of the splitter, and press down firmly on the lever handle. Get a manual splitter with smooth blades for clay brick, or one with notched blades to cut rough materials like stone, concrete and composites. If you are cutting very thick landscape blocks, rent a hydraulic-powered splitter.

How to Cut Landscape Blocks With a Saw

Mark the cut line once on the block with the sledgehammer and chisel, and draw it in with a permanent marker. Line up the notch of the cut line with the circular saw blade and slide the block slowly forward. Work slowly and smoothly to keep the block from splitting unevenly or flying away from your hands. Wear gloves and safety glasses to prevent chips and dust from getting into your eyes or abrading your hands. Wear steel-toed boots to protect your feet while you work with heavy concrete or brick landscaping blocks.

When you approach the task of cutting landscape blocks with attention to precision and safety, your result will be smooth block segments that will fit exactly where you want them.

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Training Wisteria Vines to Grow Upwards

Wisteria vines are a great addition to any garden. This vine has been heralded by many landscapers and has tremendous displays of flower blossoms with an inviting fragrance. Wisteria vines can be a little tricky to get started, but when they mature are much easier to take care of. They will not need a lot of water or fertilizer to continue producing their flowers.

One of the most important parts of growing wisteria vines in our garden, around your arbor, or even on your porch or near you home is to control its growth. Wisteria vines can get easily out of control and start growing somewhere you do not want it to. These vines have been known to damage homes and other structures when allowed to get out of control. Training wisteria vines to grow upwards is something that is done early on. Once that has been completed, the vines will continue to grow on their own.

What You Will Need

  • Pruning Shears
  • Garden Arbor or Trellis
  • Fabric Ties

Step One - Start Near Strong Support

Wisteria vines are a very fast growing vine. They are also known as a very strong vine. They can grow upwards of 20 feet long with very thick vines. The pressure they can exert on a structure when they are growing around it is tremendous. They have been known to snap wood that is small than a 4x4 post. When you are training your vine to grow, make sure the structure you are using to support it is sturdy and strong.

Step Two - Prune Often

When the upright stems begin to grow you will need to keep a close eye on it. Since the wisteria vines grow very rapidly you will be pruning often. Training your plant begins when the upright stems begin to grow. Keep the offshoot vines pruned back so you can grow the stem upward.

Step Three - Tie To Post

Using some fabric ties, loosely tie the vine to a post as it grows. Continue the pruning of excess vines and let it crawl up the post. You want the vine to start wrapping around the post or structure. As it grows, you will have to wrap it around. Tie it as you go. Keep a good distance between the vines as you wrap it around. Two to three inches is enough.

Step Four - Keep Watered

When the wisteria vine is young, it will need to be watered for the continued growth.

Step Five - Be Prepared For The Long Haul

It can take up to two years to successfully train your wisteria vine to grow up your structure. During this time you should continue to water, and prune back the excess vines. In the winter is a perfect time to prune it back considerably. It will grow even more in the spring, giving you a healthier vine. As it grows up the structure, continually work newer vines in to give it strength.

Once you have the vine trained to grow up, it will continue to grow in that direction until the structure changes. After the vine gets to the size you want it, then keep it pruned to that size or it will continue to grow.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


Growing a Camellia from Seeds in 7 Steps

Camellia seeds can be harvested from garden camellia plants in order to reproduce new camellia. Be advised, however, that results may be quite a bit different than the original camellia variety, as seed-grown camellias are seldom true to their parent plant. Still, home gardeners can enjoy the fruits of their labor-and the resulting new camellias-with a few specific steps:

Tools and Materials Required:

  • Seeds harvested from camellias
  • Growing medium
  • Flats or containers
  • Water
  • Filtered sun location

Step 1 - Harvesting Camellia Seeds

According to the American Camellia Society, the best seed for propagation are those from single or semi-double types of plants. Seed pods mature in September or early October when the plant's woody capsule covering the seed bursts open. This is too late to harvest seeds. The best time to collect seeds from the pods is the latter part of August or early September. At this point, the seeds still have sufficient moisture and will germinate quicker.

Step 2 - Soak Seeds

Next, soak the seeds for about 12 hours or crack apart the hard coating. Both procedures help speed germination.

Step 3 - Plant Camellia Seeds

Plant the seeds in good soil, peat moss or peat moss and sand.

Step 4 - Keep Soil Moist

Remember that camellia seeds need moisture, so keep the soil damp-but not wet.

Step 5 - Camellia Seeds Need Heat and Light

Place the container with the newly-planted camellia seeds in a spot that receives plenty of light (about 8 hours a day) and has a temperature range of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Seed germination should occur in about a month for camellia seeds planted immediately after harvesting. Otherwise, it may be the following spring for seeds that have been stored in a plastic bag and refrigerated.  

Step 6 - When to Transplant

Identifying taproots is important to successfully growing camellia seeds. After about 2 weeks, a white root begins to grow from the seed. This is the tap root. Tips on propagating camellias from seed recommend pinching off the end of this tap root when it is about 1 to 1-1/2 inches long. This forces the plant to send out feeder roots. The seedlings can be transplanted to flats with peat moss and sand or returned to their original location until they develop two to four leaves. At that time, the camellia seedlings can be transplanted to 4-inch pots.

The American Camellia Society says that cutting off the tap root will result in a more fibrous root system and is therefore good for container-grown camellias. For camellias to be planted outdoors, leaving the tap root intact will help the plant survive periods of drought and cold.

Step 7 - Watch and Wait

Propagating camellias from seeds requires a great deal of patience. Don't expect to see blooms from the growing plants for several years. Some may take as long as 7 years or more before the first blooms. Still, the practice of growing camellias from seeds harvested from existing plants in the garden can prove to be an interesting hobby, one which many gardeners find surprising and enjoyable.

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Photo copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

 

Adjusting Oscillating Sprinklers in 5 Easy Steps

Oscillating sprinklers often require cleaning or adjustment in order to provide necessary watering to lawns and gardens. Their nozzles can get clogged with hard water deposits and grit, which prevents successful water flow. If you need to do a sprinkler repair, or to adjust your sprinkler, here are some steps to help resolve the problem.

Step 1: Clean Nozzles

If you suspect there is dirt clogging your oscillating sprinkler, or you can see dirt build-up on it, try poking a hatpin or a long sewing needle into each nozzle along the spray tube. Poke and prod until you've removed any accumulated debris or dirt that might be obstructing the nozzle.

Step 2: Remove Nozzles

If the debris is too big, you might need to remove the nozzles altogether. Use pliers to extract the nozzles. You also may be able to simply unscrew them. Once you've separated the nozzles from your oscillating sprinkler, soak these parts in vinegar and water, then wash from both ends with a pin. Once you've done this, put the washed nozzles back into the spray tube.

Step 3: Adjust Spray Pattern

To adjust the spray pattern on your oscillating sprinkler, first loosen the screw on the sprinkler's dial arm using a screwdriver. Rotate the spray tube just a tad and then tighten the screw. Test the altered pattern by turning the water on. If you're still not satisfied with this adjusted spray pattern, repeat this procedure until you come up with a satisfactory pattern.

Step 4: Bend the Spray Tube

If your oscillating sprinkler's spray tube is made of flexible material, you can bend the tube to adjust the spray pattern to either narrow or wide coverage. You can also use this method to give it either a left or right bias.

Step 5: Adjust the Water Flow

If you have a large coverage area, you may need to turn the water up high to reach it all. Even this might not be sufficient sometimes, as you may need to move your oscillating sprinklers multiple times in order to completely cover your property. If you only intend to reach a small area with moisture, turn the water on low.

It's always a good idea to check your sprinkler regularly to see if a little dirt removal might be in order. Get to know the various spray patterns available on your oscillating sprinkler, and familiarize yourself with bending the spray tube - if your model allows for that sort of adjustment. When it comes to watering lawns and gardens, some experimentation may be necessary. Try a few different approaches until you're satisfied with the results. Oscillating sprinklers are wonderful, time-saving tools. But like any other tool, they're only useful if you use them correctly.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


Starting Hollyhock Seeds in 6 Steps

You can obtain hollyhock seeds from a neighbor's plant or at a nearby garden center. Hollyhocks are tall, abundantly flowering plants that will add color and deep green foliage to any garden. Hollyhocks are available in varieties that produce flowers of many colors and are hardy in virtually all gardening zones. Read on to find out tips about starting hollyhock seeds indoors.

Step 1:    Find Out if You Have Biennial or Perennial Hollyhocks

Biennial hollyhocks will bloom only every 2 years, whereas perennials will bloom annually. Both types will self-seed once they have flowered. You should be able to get hollyhock blooms in the first year you have them outdoors by starting indoors the previous fall.  

Step 2:     Prepare the Hollyhock Seeds for Planting

In the late summer or early fall, obtain your seeds.  Plant them in pots 12 inches or more deep as the hollyhock develops long root systems. Use an excellent quality garden soil with good drainage. Fill the pots with the garden soil,  mixed with a bit of vermiculite. Sprinkle 2 or 3 seeds into the top of eah container, cover with soil to a depth of 1/4 inch, then water till all the soil is damp.  Set the pots in a sunny window, and rotate them often so all get equal sunlight.
Alternatively, put several seeds in a fine-gauge clear plastic bag with soil, and moisten till damp. Seed germination will start within 2 weeks. Keep the bag in a sunlit spot, so the roots can develop.

Step 3:    Choose the Location to Transplant

Take the successful seedlings outdoors a few weeks after the final frost. Find a location with plenty of sunlight and soil with little or no clay. If you can, select a spot with a fence or wall at the back of of the hollyhock plantings so the seedlings will be supported and screened from wind.

Step 4:    Transplant the Hollyhock Seedlings

In the garden, dig very deep holes about 18 inches apart, and 12 inches deep. The hollyhock is a tall plant, reaching 5 feet or taller quickly, so it needs this deep foundation to stand up straight. Insert the seedling gently into the ground, spreading out its roots. Add compost and garden soil, and pack it down around the root and stem. With enough water, the seedlings will be successful and may flower in the first year. If you get only vegetation and no flowers, do not be discouraged. Once they have overwintered in the cold they will bounce back and bloom profusely next spring.

Step 5:    Next Year's Flowers

If you want the hollyhocks to self-seed and perpetuate their growth, allow the flowers to die back rather than deadheading. If not, then snip the flower heads back immediately after they fade, before the seed pods form.

Step 6:      Harvest Seeds from the Hollyhocks

Hollyhocks form stiff pods for their seeds in late summer . When these turn brown they are ready to be collected. Open the pods and pull out the black seeds. Dry them in labeled trays, and put them away in paper bags to plant next spring.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Advantages of Steel Landscape Edging

There are many advantages to applying steel landscape edging. Therefore, if you're planning to do some landscape edging on your property, here are a few reasons to consider using steel.

It Gives Definition

Steel landscape edging is perfect for defining paths of such things as flower beds within gardens. It also helps better contain foliage.

It's Good for the Soil

Steel landscape edging keeps soil and gravel contained inside your flower beds, and guards against grass and weeds, which can sometimes sprout up along paths and driveways.

It comes in Many Varieties

Steel landscape edging is nearly inconspicuous, and comes in many different styles. It can be found as unpainted steel, galvanized steel, and in many differing colors in the form of powder-coated veneer. Brown and black are the most popular powder-coated colors for steel landscape edging.

It's Easy on the Eyes

Unlike that green metallic look that comes with metal landscaping, steel landscape edging is an aesthetically likeable visual alternative.

It's Made to Last

It is difficult to break steel landscape edging, which makes it about as close to a permanent edging solution as you'll likely find. It is also not harmed by frost heave, or displaced by any ground movement as well as thermal accommodation movements.

Clearly, there are good reasons to choose steel landscape edging to frame your property. Please keep the above advantages in mind, the next time you need to do some landscape edging.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

How to Remove a Landscape Stone Wall

A landscape stone wall is something that can stand for a long time holding back the side of a hill, or as a fence. They can look great over time. However, there will be times when they need to be removed. Removal is not a hard project to do, but one that requires careful attention and lots of manual labor. You must always be watching your surroundings to make sure that the stones do not fall and cause bodily injury. Follow these steps when removing a landscape stone wall.

What You Will Need

  • Sledge Hammer
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Wood Braces

Step One - Start With Ground First

When removing a landscape stone wall you must always be concerned about safety. Stone can fall very easily with little in the way of help. However, if you begin to take remove a wall that is holding back a hill side you may have to worry about more than just the stones.


Start removing the wall by removing some of the pressure behind the wall. Start digging out the top of the soil behind your stone retaining wall. You do not have to remove all of it, but a good portion of it directly behind the wall. This will relieve some of the pressure so there is not as much worry about a cave in.

Step Two - Start At Top

Before you start smashing away at the stone wall, keep in mind that if you take anything off from the bottom that the top will come crashing down. Begin at the top of the stone wall and work down. Hit the stones with a sledge hammer to loosen them up. If they are just setting on top of each other you will simply be able to lift them off. If there is mortar in between the stones, you will need to hit them with the hammer.

Step Three - Stay Above Stones

As you work down the landscape stone wall, make sure you stay above the level of the wall. When you get the bottom of the rows where you can stand on the ground, you can move around the front. Until then, you are better off working from behind, or on the side, to reach the stones.

Step Four - Load Stones into Wheelbarrow

As you remove the stones, you should load them into a wheelbarrow. Once it is full take it away and dump into bin or truck for hauling away. If you are rebuilding wall somewhere else you can cart the stones there for building.

Step Five - Fill In Dirt

Once you have the wall taken care of, you can begin to put the dirt back that you dug out. If you are going to put in another wall, begin preparing the ground for the material you will be using by cleaning out the foundation and making sure it is level.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Double Impatiens Explained

Double impatiens are some of the most popular plants for use in flower beds and gardens. Among all types of annual flowers and herbaceous plants, double impatiens are beautiful and varied and grow in many types of environments. Impatiens can enhance a flower bed, planter, box or yard by adding splashes of beautiful color.

Double impatiens grow natively in warm, moist environments in South America and Australia, although they can be encouraged to grow successfully in both very dry and very wet climates. There are hundreds of varieties of impatiens plants, each with unique flowers and needs, but the species as a whole has several elements that are consistent from plant to plant.

Double Impatiens Versus Regular Varieties

Double impatiens tend to be taller, more expansive and brighter in color than other varieties of impatiens. They bloom in spring and early summer with rose-like petals of a variety of colors, depending upon the specific type of plant.

Planting Double Impatiens

Double impatiens function well in the shade, but do require sunlight in order to bloom fully. Choose a planting site where your impatiens will receive a mixture of sunlight and shade, and ensure that the plants will not be in full and direct sunlight in the afternoon if possible.

Impatiens of all varieties require a good deal of moisture in the soil. Plant your impatiens in soil that can remain consistently moist without developing pools of standing water. Impatiens in improper soil or soil that is too dry will not bloom well and may die.

Plant your impatiens in late spring to avoid any late-season frosts that may damage your plants. Impatiens are sensitive to extreme cold and will not function well if planted during a cold time of year.

Caring for Double Impatiens

Impatiens do not require pruning or clipping, but will drop leaves and flowers as they die. You may prune the plant to a moderate degree without damaging your impatiens, but this will not necessarily promote further growth and is generally unnecessary. Do clean up any leaves, flowers or other pieces that your plants have shed to the ground. Some impatiens will overgrow if not pinched back, but this depends upon the variety of impatiens that you plant and on the conditions and climate.

All varieties of impatiens require substantial fertilization. Ensure that your plants are well fertilized to help promote overall growth and blooming in the spring and early summer.

When Your Double Impatiens Don't Grow or Bloom Properly

Impatiens may struggle or die in soil that is too cold, so it is best to wait until the weather has begun to warm before planting your impatiens in the spring. Otherwise, the most common problems that gardeners face when caring for impatiens are insufficient soil moisture and improper sunlight/shade balance.

Impatiens are a beautiful addition to any garden or outdoor space. They require minimal maintenance and bloom yearly if planted and cared for properly. For further information about double impatiens and their care, consult with a home improvement specialist or visit your local garden supply center.

Double impatiens.jpg

Photo copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

Growing Chocolate Cosmos in 7 Steps

Chocolate cosmos is one of the rarest but most tantalizing varieties of the cosmos flower. The good news is tha it is a perennials, so once you find one you don't have to replace it every year. The bad news is that it doesn't throw fertile seeds, so this plant propagates by its roots. The flower is rare but the sweet, chocolaty scent this flower exudes, combined with it's soft, chocolaty, maroon petals makes it well worth the effort finding it.

Once you have found the chocolate cosmos of your dreams, what is next?

Step 1 - Container or Ground?

Chocolate cosmos will grow well in either the ground or in a container. The choice is mostly a personal one depending on where you want this flower to be located. Just keep in mind that your cosmos will want lots of sun (at least 6 hours a day), a minimum of water and nutrients (or you get lots of leaves and few flowers), and protection from frost.

Step 2 - Prepare the Soil

Cosmos plants like well-drained soil with some good organics. Raised flower beds are good if the flowers are planted in the ground. If you prefer to plant your chocolate cosmos in a pot, make sure the pot drains well.

Step 3 - Plant Your Cosmos

Dig a hole large enough to bury the root by several inches and place the plant in the hole. This depth will help protect your plant after the weather turns cold if you prefer to leave it in the ground all year.

Step 4 - Water

Too much water will cause the roots to rot. However, chocolate cosmos like moist soil, especially when establishing themselves. Keep the soil moist until you can see that your cosmos is growing well. If you don't get rain in your area, water the plant weekly. A single deep watering every week tends to work better than smaller regular waterings. This is a plant that originally grew in a dry area, so it's used to breaks between drinks.

Step 5 - Enjoy

Your cosmos should leaf out and start blooming within about 2 months after planting a root, sooner if you found a plant with leaves. An established chocolate cosmos will bloom from late spring until autumn. Before winter, the plant will die back to the root.

Step 6 - Winterizing a Chocolate Cosmos

If it's planted deep enough, a layer of mulch over your cosmos may be enough to protect it through the winter. If you aren't willing to trust to that, there are other options.

  • You can dig up the root each year, storing it in a pot or peat moss inside. Keep the root lightly moist to keep the plant healthy. Replant in the early spring.
  • If your cosmos is in a container, move the container inside your home or garage during the winter. Move the container back outside in the spring.

Step 7 - Propagation

Chocolate cosmoses propagate by branching off the main tuberous root. When the whole mass gets large enough, every few years, consider dividing up the root and replanting as several different plants.


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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

How to Plant Aster Seeds

Using aster seeds to grow aster flowers for your home or garden is a very rewarding experience that will result in beautiful, colorful blooms that you can be proud of. Aster flowers can grow in many soil types, and are easy to plant and care for. While growing asters from seed is not difficult, these steps will help you make a success of it.

What You Will Need

  • Aster flower seeds
  • Compost
  • All-purpose fertilizer
  • Animal manure or super phosphate
  • Garden spade

Step 1: Purchase Aster Flower Seeds

Visit your local home improvement store or garden nursery and purchase aster flower seeds for the variety you wish to plant.

Step 2: Prepare the Soil

Before sowing your aster flower seeds, you will need to prepare the soil. Add compost and animal manure to the soil and turn it. If you do not have animal manure available, purchase a quality super phosphate nutrient additive from your local nursery or home improvement store.

Step 3: Sow the Aster Seeds

Sow the seeds for your aster plants as early in the season as possible, but make sure to plant after the last frost. Aster seeds normally germinate in about 10 to 14 days. Make sure not to cover the seeds with too much soil. For the best results, cover your aster flower seeds with 1/8 to 1/4 inch of soil.

Step 4: Add Mulch

Add quality organic mulch around the area where you planted your aster seeds. Make sure to allow about 2 inches of clearance so that the aster plant can break through the soil and not be impeded by the mulch. Using quality organic cedar mulch will also help by acting as a fertilizer as the most decomposes.

Step 5: First Watering

The initial watering of your aster seeds should be thorough, but do not soak the soil too much. Aster plants don't usually do very well in wet soils, and they can withstand dry spells very well. So, make sure the soil is moist but not soaked.

Step 6: Add Fertilizer

Add good-quality, all-purpose fertilizer that is high in phosphate concentration to your aster seeds. You should continue to add fertilizer once a month to your aster plants as they grow.

Step 7: Cut Back the Plants

Aster flowers will usually begin to bloom mid to late summer and continue blooming until late fall or winter. You should occasionally remove dead flower bloom growth to improve the appearance of your aster plants. For large variety aster plants, cut back stalks as needed to maintain appearance and promote new growth. If you live in an area where winters are particularly cold, you might want to consider cutting the aster down to where the stem only protrudes about 2 or 3 inches out of the soil. You can also add additional cedar mulch to help protect the aster and its root system from the cold as well. After the last frost, clear away any mulch so that the aster flower can begin to grow again.

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Photo copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

Snowdrop Planting: Growing Indoors

Snowdrops are a hardy outdoor plant, but can be grown indoors. The best type of pot to keep them in is terracotta, because it offers good drainage and is light to handle. Snowdrop bulbs must be split every three years to maintain their condition. It's very important to remember that snowdrops cannot survive drying out. This is even more important with plants in containers, because they can dry out quickly in warm conditions.

Snowdrop as a House Plant

Snowdrops require a period of cold to really help them to prosper. Growing them indoors works well but they should be kept cool and shaded. Two or three bulbs should be planted together in a good quality potting compost. It doesn't matter what time of year you plant them, but they will only start to develop after winter. Once the bulbs are planted and watered they must be kept in a cool spot until January. In January bring the pots out into the winter sunshine. As the year progresses, make sure that you give the snowdrops plenty of shade.

After Flowering

After the snowdrop has finished flowering it will continue as a green plant until late in June. You need to allow the shoots to die back naturally. Do not cut the shoots, no matter how untidy they look. The green shoots will be photosynthesizing food to help the snowdrop bulb develop for the next year's growth.

Every Three Years

Every three years you should take out the snowdrop plants and split the bulb clumps. It's best to do this after the plants have become dormant towards the end of August. If you do not split the bulb clusters you risk the bulbs becoming pot bound. You can either pot the extra bulbs indoors or use them to extend your stock of snowdrops outdoors.

Window Boxes

Snowdrops can do very well with window box planting on the shaded side of the house. As long as the soil they're in is well drained and constantly moist, they'll do fine.

Fertilization

If you want to grow seeds from your indoor snowdrops you might have to fertilize the flowers by hand. You can do this with a very soft brush. If you have different varieties growing indoors, you can try to hybridize them by cross pollinating. If you have different varieties growing in your garden or in local parks and woods, you can also collect pollen from them. It's impossible to predict how the hybrids will turn out, but it could be an interesting experiment.

Growing from Seed Indoors

Growing snowdrops from seed indoors is possible, but it's a lengthy process. You could try to plant seeds and bulbs at the same time in a container. This way you will have two ages of plant growing side by side. This will ensure that there is some good greenery for at least six months of the year, and you're less likely to forget to water the containers.

Snowdrops grown indoors will also give you the chance to smell the delightful scent they have. This is often not noticed because the plant is so close to the ground.

Snowdrop.jpg

Photo credit: Galanthophile from DavesGarden.com

Saving Hyacinth Bulbs

Hyacinth bulbs, like those of many bulb flowers, can be extracted from the garden and saved until the following autumn for replanting, or they can be revived after a forced bloom with some extra care. Here are some tips on how to preserve your hyacinth bulbs for planting outdoors in soil.

Bulbs from Forced Blooms

Many people who live in climates with long harsh winters are rejuvenated by the gift of a potted hyacinth in February. Once the bloom has died, you can salvage the hyacinth bulb for planting. When the flowers have died, trim back the blooms and stems, retaining the leaves. Continue to provide water to the bulb and roots, and set it near a south or west window where it will get sustained daily sunlight. This ensures the leaves can continue to produce food for the bulb through photosynthesis.

As the leaves yellow and start to wilt, cut back watering to half the amount. After the leaves turn crisp and brown, stop watering and let the soil water evaporate fully. Retrieve the bulbs and trim off the dead leaves near the bulb's base. Dust off all soil and any mold from the bulbs and keep them away from all moisture sources. Place them in a mesh or paper bag in a cool, dry, dark place until the fall. Ensure adequate air circulation around the bulbs to prevent mold formation and rotting.

In the fall, plant the bulbs outside in your garden. They will bloom sparsely the first year, but with sufficient nutrients and rainfall, they will eventually return to full growth and abundant flowering.

Bulbs Recovered from the Garden

Hyacinths, as perennials, are not usually dug up every fall. However, if you are moving and want to take some with you, or you are preparing a new flowerbed that won't be ready till after spring, you can recover some of your current hyacinth bulbs for planting the next autumn.

In the spring when they are blooming, take a photograph of the flowers to record their color. Put the photo on the bag where you will store the bulbs. Next, mark the location of the bulbs you want to dig up with a brightly colored plastic stick. Once the leaves die back, it is often hard to pinpoint the location of the bulbs.

To get them out of the garden in the fall, dig in a circle around them with a pointed spade. Avoid piercing or denting them. Lift the bulbs straight up out of the dirt, and shake gently to brush off loose dirt. In the house, lay them out on newsprint sheets in a dark spot for a full week to thoroughly dry out. Insert them into a mesh bag and hang in a dry, cool location with good ventilation. You can force them to bloom in the winter months, or take them with you to your new garden to plant in the fall. Either way, your hyacinth bulbs will live on to bloom another season.

Grape Hyacinth.jpg
Photo copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

Build an Herb Spiral: Give Your Garden Ancient Flare

Growing many different herbs in a small space is easy if you build an herb spiral. An herb spiral is a popular feature of permaculture, the approach to designing agricultural systems that mimic patterns found in nature. An herb spiral provides aesthetic pleasure while creating a habitat well-suited to dozens of herbs.

Description

An herb spiral is a walled spiral structure that gradually becomes taller towards the center of the spiral. The planting surface slopes so that the surface is the same distance from the top of the wall throughout. 

  • Height: Most spirals are about 1 meter high.
  • Diameter: It's helpful to be able to reach the center of the spiral from the outside without climbing on the walls, so a 2 meter diameter is common. 

Purpose

The structure of the spiral will provide you with a range of wet to dry soil and sunny to shady areas. The top and center of the spiral will contain the driest soil and the sunniest growing area, and the bottom and end of the spiral will have the wettest soil and the shadiest growing area. 

Materials

  • Rocks or bricks for wall 
  • 2 meter square of cardboard to lay over surface before building
  • Dried moss, straw, manure
  • Gravel and sand for high precipitation area
  • Compost soil
  • Stick and 1 meter string for drawing the perfect circle

Step 1- Prepare the Surface

Lay your 2 meter square of cardboard down on a cleared area. The cardboard keeps weeds from growing amongst the wall, and will eventually decompose. You can just place cardboard under where the wall will be, but the cardboard serves as a nice drawing board to outline your spiral wall.

Step 2- Draw a Perfect Circle

Press a stick into the approximate center of the cardboard square. Tie the pencil to one end of the string and the other end of the string to the stick. Draw a circle on the cardboard. Use this as a starting point for drawing your spiral. Face the end northwards or where there will be the most shade. 

Step 3-Build the Wall

Using bricks or rocks, outline the spiral evenly about one foot high. Then beginning at the end gradually add rocks and/or bricks until the center is about 1 meter high. 

Step 4-Layer with Compost, Top with Soil

If you live in area the gets a lot of rain, you may want to fill the bottom several inches with gravel and sand to help with drainage, or you can just start layering with several inches of straw (not hay), and manure. Dried moss can be added at the end towards the open end of the spiral to aid with keeping the ground more moist. Water after each layer. You will add many more layers towards the center of the spiral than on the end. Add several inches of compost soil once you are about a foot from the top of the wall. Cover evenly and smooth out. The surface should look like a gentle slope.

Step 5- Plant Herbs

Do your research, but as a starting point these herbs are listed from those requiring the driest soil (top of spiral) to wettest (bottom).

  • Rosemary
  • Aloe
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Sage
  • Tarragon
  • Coriander/cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Chives
  • Chamomile
  • Mint

The herb spiral makes space out of nothing and treats each herb to each personal paradise! 

25 - Herb Spiral.JPGPhoto by Marcus Busby (circlesdesignandbuild.blogspot.com)


Advantages of Planting Zinnias as a Companion Plant

Among their other popular features, zinnias are known to attract wasps and butterflies. You may not think of the wasp as a desired insect in the garden, but wasps are predatory, and help keep a garden healthy by eliminating parasites and scavenger insects. Butterflies are very effective as pollinators, alighting on various blossoms around the garden as they fly around.

As a complementary plant, the zinnia encourages a thriving ecosystem, attracting helpful insects and providing an appealing plant, even during dry spells when other plants are struggling to stay alive. If you're trying to decide what combination would go well with zinnias, some of the more popular combinations are listed here.

Licorice Plants

Zinnias are great at protecting garden flowers, such as licorice plants. Because of the hardy nature of the zinnia, it can be planted alongside many common garden flowers, in just about any type of soil you wish. Like the zinnia, licorice plants prefer soil that is reasonably dry. To make the partnership complete, licorice plants are regarded as a natural repellent for mammals, including deer and rabbits. The zinnia will attract pollinating insects that are beneficial to both plants. Licorice plants also bring a rich, distinctive aroma to the garden.

Petunias

Petunias and zinnias are great partners in the garden. Keep in mind that there are many different sizes of zinnia, and plant accordingly. It would be a shame to spend a lot of time and effort on designing a colorful flower garden, only to have parts of it eclipsed by a misplaced plant or two. You should take care that enough room is provided in the soil for petunias to get plenty of water, without damaging your zinnias. It may be a good idea to plant one or the other in flower pots, so that the differences in soil moisture will not cause problems for either plant.

Asparagus Ferns

The zinnia is a perfect complementary idea for asparagus ferns. It provides a welcome counter-point, offering bright and varied colors alongside the lush green of the asparagus fern. Even though it belongs to the lily family, asparagus fern has stalks adorned with feathery leaflets. The white flowers followed by red berries make a great backdrop for the profuse variety of colors available with zinnias.

Summer Annuals

You can plant zinnias among most other summer annuals. With the many different varieties available, you can use zinnias in several different places without ever making your flower garden appear redundant.

Take care that you don't mix them in with plants that require copious amounts of water. This could endanger all of the plants in your flower garden. The zinnia is notorious as a target for mold and fungal growths, both because the wet soil weakens the zinnia, and because most spores grow well in warm, moist environments. Zinnias like moist soil, but are not tolerant of too much moisture.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

How to Train Climbing Vines

Climbing vines will go anywhere their growth will allow. Sometimes it is not so easy to get them to go where you want.  Here are the steps to training a climbing vine.

Materials

  • Scaffold poles
  • Steel wire

Step 1 - Decide Where You Want Your Vine to Go

The type of vine that will have some bearing on the location. A vine of a creeping ivy plant will probably be allowed to go anywhere as long as it doesn't cover windows and block out the light. A grape vine will need to be kept within reasonably easy reach so that the grapes can be harvested.

Step 2 - Work Out The Support Your Vine Needs

A vine that does not support itself will need to have a network of supports installed on a building or in an open space, while a self supporting vine won't need anything at all - just something to climb on. The ivy only needs a rough wall to climb up. The grape vine cannot support itself, so it will need a network of strong supports.

Step 3 - Check the Supports

Starting with the self supporting vine, you need to check that the surface you want it to grow over is strong enough to take the extra weight. The little gluey pads that ivy uses to attach itself to surfaces could be enough to support the vine. The number of support points that are holding up the vine will spread the load, but will the load be too much?

With the grape vine you know that this will be easy to grow across a frame work about eight feet above the ground. What is harder to estimate is the weight that a mature vine can attain when it is covered in fruit. You can, though, assume that the support structure must be very strong to support it.

Step 4 - Start the Vine

Once you have decided where the vine is going to go you need to encourage it to grow so that you can train it into the right direction. The chances are that the ivy is already reasonably well established near the wall you want it to climb, so you just need to move the main stems towards it. If they will reach and go up the wall you should hammer some nails into the wall and tie the vines to them. The vines will always tend to grow vertically and they will attach themselves to the wall, so you only need to let the vine grow.

The grape vine will need a strong framework built. If the vine is not very big you can start with a frame made of scaffold poles. Measure the area the vine is going to cover and install a ten foot scaffold pole in each corner. Pound the pole into the ground until it is eight feet tall. Link the tops of the poles with a rectangle of other scaffold poles. Use heavy duty steel wire to bridge the frame from one side to the other so that the vine has several horizontal routes across the frame.

Both vines can be controlled once they establish themselves. The ivy can be trained around windows by simply replacing any tendrils that come across it. The grape vine will simply be directed across the frame. It will find its own way across the wires.

Vine.jpg

Mistakes to Avoid When Growing Gardenias

Gardenias are flowering plants that generally grow to a height of about 3 to 6 feet. Their dark green leaves are broad and thick, and the strongly scented flowers bloom from mid-spring to mid-summer. Healthy gardenias require lot of sunlight and adequate humidity. Here are some common mistakes that should be avoided while growing gardenias.

Low Humidity

Avoid growing gardenias under dry conditions as they tend to lose their buds before maturing. Keep the soil sufficiently moist all the time. For indoor plants, use a humidifier or a humidity tray to help obtain adequate humidity.

Overwatering and Underwatering

Avoid watering the gardenias excessively or too sparsely. Overwatering causes the foliage to turn yellow and gradually fall off. Underwatering dries up the soil and stunts the growth of the plant. The soil should always remain evenly moist. On the other hand, deep wetting at the base of the plant can cause root decay.

Neutral Soils

Avoid a neutral or alkaline-based soil; instead, give your gardenias a highly acidic soil. Peat-based soil is best, and it can be further enriched with acidic mulch such as pine needles and bark lumps, and oak leaves. If the plants are grown in pots, repot them every spring. Use water-soluble acidic fertilizers every 2 to 3 weeks for healthy flowers.

Winter Pruning

Avoid pruning gardenias during winter as this may kill them. Ideal time for pruning gardenias is early spring and before the start of flowering. Remove the withered flowers and leaves to encourage more blooms. Do not remove all the leaves as it might hamper food production in the plant.

Incorrect Placement of Pots

Avoid direct sunlight. Morning sun followed by cooler shades in the hot afternoon is ideal for the proper growth of gardenias. Outdoor plants need a shaded area, preferably close to the house. If your gardenias are indoors, choose a sun-facing window that helps the plants to receive adequate sunlight.

Avoid planting them next to concrete patios and walkways. Concrete raises the pH levels of the soil, which does not suit the gardenias. Also, avoid planting them in a location where the water drips onto the plants. This may lead to the formation of leaf spots.

Planting in Afternoons

Avoid planting gardenias in a hot afternoon as the leaves may undergo bleaching.  

Overcrowding Gardenias

Avoid the overcrowding of gardenias as this attracts pests such as aphids. Most of the pests prefer moist, warm and humid areas. On infestation, black molds form on the leaves. Therefore, you must adequately space the gardenias while planting them. Use organic insecticides to control pests.

Planting Gardenias Near Pecan Trees

Avoid planting gardenias near pecan trees. Pecan trees drop branches all the time, and the pests are also blown along with these branches. Gardenias can easily become a breeding ground for these types of insects.

Sudden Temperature Drops

Arid climate conditions inhibit the growth of gardenias. The temperature range best suited for these flowers is between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Sudden temperature drops may cause the leaves to fall. Therefore, it is important to keep a check on the changes in the surrounding temperature. While indoors, do not place  gardenias in a sun-facing room.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Companion Plants to Complement a Dahlia

Companion planting isn't just about planting flowers that look good next to each other. When choosing companion plants to complement a dahlia, look for plants that mutually benefit each other and aid in fighting off the dahlia's common pests. Although companion planting is popular now among organic farmers because it often eliminates the need for fertilizers, companion planting is not a new phenomenon. Evidence of companion planting can be traced back to ancient Roman times and the Native Americans in the Americas. 

Common roles of companion plants:

  • Nurse plants serve as a breeding ground for favorable bugs that may eat common pests
  • Trap plants lure pests away and sacrifice itself for the benefit of others. Some trap plants will also poison their prey.
  • Strongly scented plants often deter unwanted pests.

When choosing your companion plants keep these facts in mind about the dahlia.

  • Slugs, snalis, japanese beetles, and aphids are the dahlia's common enemies.
  • Dahlias generally grow several feet tall, so companion plants, if small, should be able to grow in partial shade.
  • Dahlias repel nematodes (roundworms), so they will be of benefit to many herbs and vegetables.

Consider complementing and protecting your dahlias with a few of these plants.

Artemisia

The genus Artemisia includes many varieties with insecticidal properties. Plant a species of Artemisia, like wormwood or tarragon, to deter slugs. The strong scent of this shrub will help keep away the hated slug, probably the dahlia's most feared pest. If you grow as a border around your garden, wormwood will deter animals as well.

Salvia, Flowering Sage

A member of the genus salvia, the flowering sage grows spikes or towers of flowers (look like rock candy) that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Not only will they add beauty, but the butterflies and hummingbirds will eat aphids and beetles. Salvia grows in clumps and requires full sun, so don't plant too close to the dahlias. The flowering sage come in different colors (red, white, blue, violet, and pink) and sizes (18 inches to 5 feet) so you can match appropriately with your dahilas.

Nasturtium

Pronounced NAH-STIR-SHUM, this hardy annual is famous for growing almost anywhere. It repels black aphids and its leaves have a delicious peppery flavor that you can add to your salads. Their colorful flowers are also edible and make beautiful and delicious garnishes for soups, salads, deserts, fruit trays, etc. Most varieties will do well in partial shade. Great for bordering, these low-growing plants will provide a a colorful ground cover around or next to their taller neighbors.

Four O'Clocks and White Geraniums

These two both serve as a "trap crop" for japanese beetles, which means they will lure the beetles away from your dahlias. Both are also poisonous to the aphids if consumed. The Four o'Clock has beautiful delicate blooms but are tougher than they look, holding out for long stretches of drought and poor soil. 

Red or Creeping Comfrey

These two ornamental varieties of the herb grow well in shade and deter slugs.

Coriander and Anise

Anise is a host plant for predatory wasps that kill aphids. Both coriander and anise deter aphids. 

Growing these plants along with your dahlias will complement them aesthetically as well as protecting them from pests.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

 

 

 

How to Prune a Dahlia

Dahlias are perennial plants native to Central America and Columbia. They grow from bulbs which germinate in the spring producing flower blooms which last through to the fall. The flowers are used for medicinal purposes and decoration. There are over 35 species of dahlia, with additional varieties from hybrids. Flower sizes can range from small to dinner plate size, in all different colors and shapes. Dahlias are planted from tubers which are kept indoors over the winter. They are sensitive plants which will die if subjected to frost.

Step 1 - Planting the dahlias

Once the dahlia tubers have been planted, branches will begin to grow with leaves. Once two or three sets of leaves appear, the branches can be pruned. Once the shoot is about 6 inches high, it can be pruned. The branches can be pinched by the thumb and finger. Prune enough branches to get the desired number of stems for flowering. Higher branches will need to be supported once flowering begins.

Step 2 - Remove excess buds

  • The number of flowers will depend on the number of buds. Budding will begin soon after the stems get to a certain height. There may be more buds than necessary so removing the buds or 'disbudding' can begin. If the number and size of the flowers do not matter, then disbudding will not be necessary.
  • Disbudding will increase the flower size of the leader bud. There are three buds in a set. The middle bud will produce the biggest bloom. Smaller buds are on each side of the leader bud. These can be removed by pinching or cutting them to the base of the leaf where it attaches to the stem or 'axil'. To maintain a fuller plant with room for the flowers to bloom and capture the most sun, start the disbudding process at the central stalk, and repeat for all the surrounding stalks. Extra stalks can be removed if there are too many to support the number of flowers.

Step 3 - Prune buds

Pinching or pruning lower lateral buds from the stalks will yield bigger flowers. Higher stalks may require tying to stakes so that they will grow without drooping or breaking off. Keep the plant balanced when leaving buds to grow into flowers.

Step 4 - Prune leaves for pest control

Aphids and slugs are a pest of the dahlia early in the season. Spider mites start to infest dahlias in the mid to late summer, which is the prime flowering time. Prune bottom leaves and use directed water streams to wash off the mites and other pests. Pinch off any small stubs under the bottom leaves, which can become branches.

Step 5 - Prune off faded flowers

After the dahlia flowers, prune the spent blossoms. This is called 'deadheading' and will encourage the plant to produce more flowers. If the stem has buds, it can be pruned down to the bud level to allow the flower to bloom without the stem in its way.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Mistakes to Avoid When Growing a Petunia

Because of its wide trumpet shaped flowers, branching foliage and wide variety of colors, the Petunia is one of the most popular flower bed and garden flowers today. Prolific bloomers, Petunias are relatively easy to grow; however, there are some mistakes you need to avoid if you want to produce healthy and beautiful petunias year after year.

Sowing Too Deep

When sowing Petunia seeds, don't sow the seeds deeper than three or four times the diameter size of the Petunia seed. If you plant the seeds too deep, the heat from the sun will not be able to adequately warm the seeds enough to allow for proper germination and plant growth. Some varieties of petunias should not be covered with soil at all.

Starting Petunias Too Late

Petunias require a long growing season and should be started in early March for best results. If you live in a warmer climate you should be able to start the seeds outside as early as the first week of March. In colder climates zones, you should start your petunias inside and then transfer them outside when the weather is a little warmer.

Planting Petunia Seed Too Thickly

Overcrowding petunia seeds, or planting the seeds to thickly will usually result in too many seedlings growing and a small area. Overcrowding of petunias invites a host of fungi that will cause powdery mildew disease as well as many other fungi related problems.

Poor Soil Preparation

In order to produce the most blooms and flowers for your petunia plants, you need to plant the seeds in a soil that has been well worked. Make sure to pulverize the soil completely and rake it smooth before planting petunias.

Planting Petunias in Acidic Soil

Always test the pH level of your soil before planting petunias. Petunias require a soil pH below 6.5. If your soil is more acidic than this, try adding lime to the soil to soften the acidity level a little.

Dividing or Transplanting Petunias in Direct Sunlight

Trying to divide or transplant petunias in direct sunlight on hot, sunny days often results in plants being wilted by the hot sun. So, choose a cloudy day to reduce the chances of wilting. Also, transplanting on a cloudy day may eliminate the need for watering as well.

Overwatering During Propagation

Petunia cuttings are usually very small or thin and too much water may cause the plug of the Petunia to become oversaturated. If you over saturate a Petunia cutting with water, it will usually result in uneven roots, yellowing of the growing tips, uneven growth and even hardened cuttings.

Failure to Prevent Weeds

If you space your petunias 6 to 12 inches apart, weeds sprouting between the plants will be an issue if you do not cultivate the soil often or use mulch.

Failure to Deadhead

Many varieties of petunias will stop producing blossoms if they are not deadheaded on a regular basis. So clip or pinch faded or dead blooms often to promote the growth of new blooms and flowers.

Too Much Water

Watering petunias too match will be cause them to become leggy and produce more stems than flowers. Water petunias to where the top of the soil is barely damp and not too wet.

Petunia.jpgPhoto copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

Different Types of Petunias

Petunias are easy to grow, can adjust to most types of soils and offer an unparalleled range of colors and blooming patterns. When choosing petunias for your garden, know the basic petunia types and their defining features.

1. Grandiflora Petunias

Grandifloras are counted among the oldest of petunia varieties. They grow nearly 12 inches high in shades of purple and fucshia. They have the biggest flowers among all petunias, and are particularly famous for their large, seasonal blooms. The most popular varieties include:

  • Prism Sunshine
  • Supertunia Silver

2. Multiflora Petunias

Flowers are a bit smaller than the Grandiflora variety due to their compact formation. The vary from light pink to dark red, with centers of yellow or white or even white stripes on the petals. Stems are stronger, making them better suited for windy areas. Multiflora petunias are common in household gardens, as they are resistant to slight temperature and moistures changes.

Hybrid Multiflora petunias have been introduced that are particularly suited for gardens exposed to extreme winter conditions. They are often called double petunias, as the double-flowering Multiflora varieties are more common than the single-flowering Multifloras. The Floribundas is a member of the Petunia Primetime Series.

3. Wave Petunias

The name comes from the wavy shape of the flower petals, and the entire flowering cluster that has a ribbon-like outer form. They grow about 6 inches tall and 4 inches wide in white, pink and lavender. Their smaller size makes them ideal for indoor potting. They react well to shaded areas and don't need deadheading. Varieties include:

  • Double wave petunias
  • Easy wave petunias
  • Tidal wave petunias

4. Cascadia/Surfinia Petunias

Surfinia and Cascadia are 2 different types of petunias, but are usually clubbed as one single type. They are famous for their abundant flowering. Most Cascadias can easily grow to about 18-inches tall with flowers that range from pale yellow to bold purple.

  • Blue Spark
  • Pink Vein Petunias

5. Superbell Petunias (Calibrachoa)

With bell-shaped blooms, they are also called Million Bells and Superbells. They are among the smallest of petunias but may look bigger due to the clustered appearance of the seasonal blooms in shades of gold, peach, coral and magenta. Calibrachoa hybrids are the most sturdy and affordable modern-day petunia hybrids. They need little or no deadheading. The most popular type is the Dreamsickle petunia.

6. Supertunia Petunias

Supertunia is not a very common petunia, found most in professionally-maintained gardens. These hybrids are grown from cuttings of branch and root tips and not the seed. They need frequent doses of plant food. A regular supply of nitrogen-rich fertilizers is recommended. Supertunia is known for being highly weather tolerant and can survive the most demanding of winters. Common hybrids include the Red Supertunia and Blue Veined Supertunia.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Basic Requirements to Grow Haworthia

Haworthia is a genus of succulent flowering plants, consisting of around 70 species. These plants grow small white flowers on a rosette-like structure made of fleshy leaves. Haworthia plants are native to South Africa, and are known for their distinctive appearance and decorative leaves. Different species have widely varying forms and structures, which make for striking collections of plants. You can grow Haworthias successfully if you provide a few basic requirements, including plenty of sun, and protection from frost.

Soil

Haworthias need soil with excellent drainage. This is necessary to prevent root rot, to which these plants are susceptible. You can improve drainage properties by adding some perlite or pea gravel in an adequate proportion to the potting soil. Too much organic matter is to be avoided, as this can reduce drainage and contribute to waterlogging.

Methods of Propagation

You can grow Haworthias from seeds or divisions. You will need to sterilize the pot before beginning. After you have the plant pot or container ready, dampen the soil mix with a little water. If you are using seeds, sprinkle the seeds on top of the soil, and then add a fine coating of compost on top. Cover the pot with a plastic wrap that will seal the moisture in, and protect the plant from pests. Choose a spot with optimum warmth for storage, at a temperature not exceeding 20ºC. The plant will germinate after a few days, and can be stored this way till it looks healthy enough to be exposed to the environment.

If you are using plant divisions, you can use a healthy, mature plant as a source. Use a sharp, sterilized knife to cut out the division from the source plant. The division must have a healthy root growth. Monitor the source plant regularly to make sure the wound heals. Keep the division separate for a few days, till the cut is dry. Plant the division only after the wound is completely healed. Do not expose the plant to high temperatures till the roots have established themselves.

Watering

Depending on the climate in your region, the watering needs of Haworthias may widely differ. If you are growing these succulents in a cool, damp environment, you must provide very little water, allowing the plant to dry out between watering sessions. Choose a clay pot that will dry faster. On the other hand, if the climate in your area is hot and dry, you must water the plant regularly, and use a plastic pot that will hold moisture for longer periods of time.

Maintenance

Haworthias are not frost resistant, and must be protected indoors or in a greenhouse in places with severe winters. Exposure to the rain must also be avoided. Haworthias need exposure to light, and do not grow well in shaded places. Good air circulation is also vital to the healthy growth of these plants. Repotting the plants every 4 or 5 years will encourage healthy growth. Fertilization is not necessary, but if you do fertilize the plant, make sure you provide very low quantities. Over-fertilization can be fatal to these plants. Haworthias may be prone to attacks from mealybugs, which can be avoided to a great extent by thoroughly inspecting any new plant before introducing it to your collection. Treat with insecticide if you discover infestation.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Rex Begonia: How to Propagate

Rex begonia requires a little patience and attention to detail to successfully propagate, but the results will be well worth the effort. Just follow these steps to propagate the rex begonia, whether the goal is a couple of plants or many.

Rex begonia is one of the few begonias that will send up a new plant from a single leaf. The leaf portion must contain a main vein. There are 3 types of leaf cuttings that can be used to propagate rex begonia: full leaf, wedge or cone cutting. This article covers wedge cuttings.

Tools And Materials Required:

  • Garden scissors or razor blade
  • Rex begonia leaves
  • Mixture of peat and perlite
  • Small pots or containers
  • Plastic for tenting
  • Fluorescent lighting

Step 1: Choose Healthy Leaves

Ideal leaves for propagating rex begonia are mature ones, but not too old that they're past their prime and not too young that they won't stand up. Remember that many wedge cuts can be taken from a single leaf.

Step 2: Make Appropriate Cuts

Using sterile garden scissors or a razor, cut off the edges of the rex begonia leaves, leaving the inner portion of the leaf. Then make about 2 or 3 wedge-type cuttings in the leaves. Garden scissors can be sterilized with a 5 percent bleach solution to remove any diseases they may have picked up in the garden. That's why a fresh razor blade is best. It's already sterile, is very sharp and will make precise cuts.

Step 3: Using Peat Moss To Grow Roots

While some gardeners prefer to root rex begonia in water, another popular method is to use a 1 to 1 mixture of sterile moist peat moss and vermiculite in little pots. Stick the leaf wedges into the mixture.

Step 4: Cover And Tent

Once all the rex begonia leaf wedges are planted in the peat moss/vermiculite mixture, cover all the pot with a piece of plastic or plastic bag secured with a rubber band. The idea behind sealing with a plastic bag is to keep the leaf wedges moist for a few weeks. They will seldom need watering, but check frequently to make sure the mixture hasn't dried out.

Step 5: Place Pots In Appropriate Light

Put the containers or pots in a spot that receives indirect sunlight or fluorescent light. When using fluorescent lights be sure to leave them on at least 14 hours a day.

Step 6: When To Remove Plastic And Repot

After new growth appears, take off the plastic covering and water sparingly. When growth is sufficient that the newbie rex begonia requires a new pot, transplant to a larger container. If the wedge cuttings are already growing in separate pots, transplanting may not be necessary for quite a while. Leave the baby rex begonias until they're good and ready to move elsewhere.

Growing a couple or many rex begonia plants by using the wedge leaf cutting method identified here is an easy and relatively trouble-free way of ensuring a continuous supply of these spectacular foliage begonias.

27 - Begonia Rex.JPG

  Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


How to Winterize Your Begonias

Begonias need a little extra attention to carry them through the winter, depending on the area of the country. There are two basic methods: bring the begonias inside or protect them outside. The method to use depends on whether there are heavy frosts and/or lots of precipitation.

Winterizing Begonias In Colder Climates

There's no question that begonias need more protection in areas with heavy frost/snow, typically the northern climates. Here are the steps to winterize begonias in these areas.

Step 1 - Trim And Dig Up In-ground Begonias

For begonias that are grown outside, you can't just dig up the entire plant from ground and expect it to thrive indoors. Begonias planted in the ground grow faster than potted ones, so the rootball is likely fairly large. Trim back the plant so the tops match the size of the rootball. Then, dig it up.

Step 2 - Place Begonias In Pots

Next, place the trimmed and dug-up begonias in pots sufficient to contain the rootball. Add potting soil as needed.

Step 3 - Bring Inside To Well-lit Area

Begonias need an indoors location that's well-lit and has adequate humidity. Placing in a single layer dry location is best, perhaps on a bench or table. Fluorescent lights are best.

Step 4 - Watch Humidity Level

A tented light stand can help keep humidity at the appropriate level. This cuts down on watering and promotes healthier plants. Use a clear, nonflammable plastic and make sure it doesn't directly touch the light fixture. Some gardeners place the pots on trays filled with gravel or coarse perlite. This allows the water a place to go and keeps the humidity at the right levels. Other gardeners with only a few plants like to use an aquarium, or mist the potted begonias frequently.

For Potted Begonias

Winterizing potted begonias in colder climates simply requires bringing them inside. Follow steps 3 and 4 as above. Application of a fungicide or neem oil can protect plants from insects and mildew in all cases.

Winterizing Begonias In Warmer Climates

It's a lot easier to protect begonias in areas where there's no frost. In some warmer Western climates, they can remain in the ground year-round.

Step 1 - Move Potted Begonias To Protected Area

Begonia aficionados know that the plants will tolerate cold better than they can wet conditions. It's been said that begonias don't like wet feet. So, protection for the winter in warmer climates means moving the plants to an area out of the wind and rain, such as a porch or under an awning.

Some gardeners construct a shade house with plastic sheeting open to one side to allow for any necessary watering.

Step 2 - Occasional Frost

In areas with occasional frost, in-ground and/or potted begonias left outside can be covered with an old bed sheet. Or, use a large cardboard box. Another suggestion is to use one of the newer plastics that have microscopic holes in it to allow air and water to pass through.

Step 3 - Mulch

Some areas only have infrequent frost. To best protect begonias from frost damage, watch the weather forecast. Trim back the plants and mulch heavily.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Rain Sensor Troubleshooting and Repair

A rain sensor hooked up to an irrigation or sprinkler system can help you save money and water. The sensor is connected to the wiring of an automatic sprinkler or irrigation system so that power must flow through the sensor in order to open up the valves for water to get out. The sensor detects rain and breaks the circuit, preventing those valves from opening up.

Knowing these basic principles of how the rain sensor works is the key to troubleshooting your malfunctioning system. Below are steps to take to solve the 2 most common rain sensor problems. The first 3 steps are for sensors that never let the sprinklers turn on, the latter 3 are for rain sensors that never shut them off.

Materials Needed

  • Wire Strippers
  • Wiring
  • Alligator Clips
  • Electrical Tape
  • User's Manual

Step 1 - Inspect Hygroscopic Disks

Examine your sensor to ensure nothing is obviously wrong with it. Above all, check that the hygroscopic disks are dry. The hygroscopic disks are what absorb water during a rainfall, which causes them to inflate and depress a switch that turns off your system. If they are dry, be sure that no debris of any kind has made its way in there to press the switch.

Step 2 - Inspect Wiring

Give all of your wiring a good inspection. This is especially important for systems with wires that lead from your switch (containing the hygroscopic disks) to the controller for your sprinkler system. Be sure that there are no breaks in the wiring to or from the switch, and that everything is connected in the proper places.

Step 3 - Test Power

Use wire strippers to carefully uncover a small portion of the copper wires leading to and from the switch. Connect a "jumper wire" between the exposed sections using alligator clips, then go turn your sprinkler system on. If the system begins to water, it means your wiring is fine, but the switch is bad and needs repair or replacing. You may need to replace the switch or call someone to repair it. Refer to your user's manual for more detailed troubleshooting instructions.

Step 4 - Location And Wiring

If your rain sensor fails to turn your sprinklers off, look for any obstructions that might keep rain from hitting your rain sensor. If necessary, purchase a wireless sensor so you can put it anywhere. Also, evaluate your wiring to be sure everything is connected properly (though wiring problems usually keep the system from turning on at all).

Step 5 - Check Bypass Switch

Many modern rain sensors come with bypass switches that allow power to reach your water valves regardless of wetness. If this is the case with yours, check that the bypass switch is turned off and working properly.

Step 6 - Inspect Hygroscopic Disks

Be sure that your hygroscopic disks are dry. If they are wet, orthey are simply taking far too long to dry, move your switch to where it always gets hit by direct sunlight after a rainfall. Also, if your rain sensor allows it, adjust the sensitivity of the switch so that it takes more water absorption for the disks to hit the switch. 

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


How to Plant an Olive Tree

With an understanding of soil type, nutrients and irrigation, you can successfully plant and nurture an olive tree in your yard. A minimum average annual rainfall is not necessary to insure growing success thanks to modern drip systems. Although olive trees are not terribly affected by frost, they can be damaged, but only if the temperature drops well below zero. A best bet is to do some research to see if the conditions in your area are favorable to olive trees.

Planting

  • Check the soil where you will plant the olive tree to insure that the pH is neutral and slightly alkaline. It should range between 7.0 and 8.0 in pH.  You can buy a soil testing kit, or contact companies that deal with fertilizer products to test it for you. You might need to add lime to the soil to bring it within the required pH range.
  • Add manure to the soil to insure the addition of nutrients and micro-organisms which will insure successful growth and maturation of your tree. Be sure to use manure sparingly as a little bit goes a long way.
  • The olive tree you choose shouldn't be a twig, but it shouldn't be older than 2 or 3 years. A younger tree will cost less and grow much faster than an older one.
  • If you are planting more than one tree, plant them no more than approximately 20 feet apart.  They will grow wider and taller than you think.  Be sure to stake each tree as protection against strong winds. Use elastic material to secure the tree to the stake to allow for flexibility and strong winds.
  • After choosing your planting site, fill the hole with water and insure that it fully drains off after a short period of time. You want to be sure there is adequate drain off and that the tree does not stand in water.
  • Plant the tree in a hole which will allow it to sit at the same level in the ground as it sat in the pot.
  • Your tree will give better yields and be afforded protection from freezing if planted with a southern exposure.

 

Irrigation

  • It is not necessary to dig a wide trench aroung your tree for irrigation purposes.  Utilizing a drip irrigation system will provide adequate watering for your tree. Plant the tree on a slightly built mound to insure the crown of the tree in not in a puddle of water or situate it on a modest incline or terraced area.
  • Some sources suggest mulching the area around your tree with course straw to conserve water. It is also encouraged to control and hinder the growth of weeds close to your tree. 
  • If you intend to process the tree's olives, you will want them to be dry. Your olive tree will begin to bear fruit after approximately the first 18 months.

Care and feeding

  • Condition your soil with a high-nitrogen fertilizer (17-6-10) for a lush and graceful appearance of your olive tree.
  • Follow directions for fertilization and adhere strictly to the schedule
  • Consult a pruning guide to optimize your tree's growth and shape.

 

103 - Olive Tree.jpg

  Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


How to Design a Bog Garden

A complete departure from the typical manicured and mulched flower garden is the bog garden. Many plants that love moisture, as well as the birds, amphibians and insects that love them, thrive in these pocket-sized wetlands. Follow the guidelines below to stimulate your imagination and design a colorful bog garden that will serve as a micro-habitat for wildlife.

Materials and Tools You Will Need

  • 50 feet of garden hose, stakes and string to plot the layout
  • Large newsprint pad (18 by 30 inches) for sketching the design
  • Books and magazine articles about bog gardening to evoke ideas
  • Soil samples from your selected site

Step 1 - Choose the Location

Decide if you want to grow sun- or shade-loving plants. Then choose the site of your bog. Keep it above the lowest elevation of your property to prevent flooding. For a shady bog, pick an area of your yard near tall pines or other conifers, on the east or southeast side of your yard. For a sunny bog, consider an area on the south or west side of your property, not shaded by any trees. Take a soil sample from the area to determine the soil composition; dig down at least 3 feet. A loamy soil with a high clay percentage is best suited to a bog garden.

Step 2 - Sketch the Shape of Your Bog and Outline It on the Ground

On the newsprint pad, sketch an outline of your bog. A randomly curved shape will be most interesting. The bog bed can be terraced, so plants which prefer the driest conditions will be at the top and those that like the dampest conditions at the bottom.  Include paths through your bog garden to make weeding, deadheading and thinning easier. You can use stepping stones to mark paths in the finished garden. Use the garden hose, stakes and string to outline your bog in its proposed location.

Step 3 - Select the Bog Garden Plants You Want to Use

Plot generally on your large sketch where you will place your bog plants. Ensure that the tall and large plants (like irises) will not cast shade on low plants. Choose perennial plants that will flower and mature at different times in order to maintain a range of color on display all season. Keep in mind how large the plants will grow in 2 to 5 years. Allow adequate space for them to spread.

Typical bog plants include carnivores, like the Venus flytrap and the pitcher plant, and flowers, like bog buttons, lobelia, marsh marigold and bog orchids. Plants with ulignosa ("bog" in Latin) in their name are also ideal for a marsh or bog environment. You may add Japanese and golden-banded iris to your bog garden. Any hemerocallis lilies will suit a bog garden, as will heliotrope with its deep purple color. You may also like loosestrife, with flowers from purple to yellow.

Add plants that will appeal to the wildlife you want in your bog garden. Frogs and toads will enjoy your bog garden if it has a bit of open water with lily pads. Dragonflies and moths like large flowers with wide open heads and a light scent.

 

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Paint a Concrete Bird Bath in 6 Steps

Painting a concrete bird bath is not a hard task to do. Besides enhancing the decorative value of the bird bath, it will also increase its life and durability to a certain extent.

Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Scrub brush
  • Water
  • Bleach
  • Concrete sealer
  • Masonry primer
  • Paint
  • Exterior sealer
  • Paintbrushes of different sizes
  • Scrub brush

Step 1 - Wash the Bird Bath

If your bird bath is not brand new you have to start by washing it thoroughly before you start painting it. This is crucial for the painting job to be done well. Use soap and water and, if required, apply some bleach too. However, if you use any toxic cleansers make sure to rinse them off thoroughly in order to prevent any negative effects on the birds.

Step 2 - Apply Concrete Sealer

Once the bird bath is clean enough rinse it well and leave it to dry. Afterwards apply some concrete sealer to the outside of the bird bath. Allow it to dry well before proceeding. It is best to read the sealer's particular instructions.  

Step 3 - Coat with Masonry Primer

Afterward apply a coating of masonry primer. Select a type which is oil-based for best results.

Step 4 - Start Painting

Once the background for the painting is done you can start the actual painting job. You may need to apply more than one coat of paint to see good results. Leave the first coating to dry before applying any further paint coatings. Keep an eye on how you paint some designs and patterns that may be found on the bird bath. These may be more intricate and might require you to use a smaller paintbrush. You could even consider stenciling or using different colors, in such a way you would be adding a nice decorative effect to the bird bath and to the garden or area where it is situated. Another important aspect is to make sure not to paint the inside of the bowl where the birds drink as this might be harmful for them, especially if you did not manage to purchase non-toxic paint and sealers.

Step 5 - Apply Some Exterior Sealer

Once you have painted the bird bath you may also wish to reinforce and prolong the life of the paint by applying some exterior sealer as a final touch. This will also make the result more presentable since it will give a shiny finish to the bird bath.

Step 6 - Fill with water

Once the paint has dried well you can fill your bird bath with water and enjoy your project and the birds which visit it.

You should try to purchase sealers and paint which are non-toxic since otherwise there might be a harmful impact on the birds that use the bird bath for drinking or washing. The whole job should not be very time consuming, but you need to make sure that you allow all coatings to receive enough drying time before proceeding from one step onto another.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Choosing a Garden Watering System

Whether you have an established garden or are planning to install one, there are several factors to take into account when planning for and choosing a garden watering system. The best watering system for you will meet your personal time and budgetary needs as well as the needs of your garden.

The 3 watering systems addressed in this article can be used individually or together to meet your various needs. Each can use timers, water pressure regulators and filters to provide the most effective and efficient water usage. Each needs periodic maintenance to make sure it is performing optimally. Following are the 3 main types of garden watering systems, as well as their advantages and disadvantages.

Sprinkler Systems

Sprinkler systems use PVC and/or Poly Pipe, connectors, fittings and sprinkler heads. The main advantage to a sprinkler system is ease of use. It is also the best system for watering lawns and can be relatively inexpensive to install. This usually means digging trenches in your yard or digging up existing plantings.

Disadvantages of sprinkler systems include runoff and overwatering. No matter how carefully sprinkler heads are directed, there is almost always runoff on sidewalks and driveways. If the sprinklers overlap, it can lead to too much water. If they do not overlap enough, brown spots can result.

Water from sprinklers is often delivered too quickly for the soil to absorb it, resulting in runoff. Overhead spray can evaporate, be blown elsewhere by wind and contribute to leaf diseases.

Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation uses several drippers or emitters off a main water supply pipe to deliver water. This can be to:

  • Specific plants
  • Contained areas, like medians or raised beds
  • Plants on slopes

A primary advantage of drip irrigation is that it reduces water waste through runoff or evaporation. Water can be aimed at specific plants.

This type of irrigation applies water slowly and more directly to plants' roots than a sprinkler system, thus being more energy efficient. Its targeted watering reduces weed growth and extends the life of mulch.

A disadvantage is that it can be unsightly if there is too much tubing on the ground. Installation can be complicated and expensive. If you plant new plants or move your plants, you have to adjust the system accordingly.  

Soaker Hose

Soaker hoses have tiny holes in them that allow small amounts of water to irrigate the surrounding ground. This type of system is by far the easiest to install and it is relatively inexpensive. Soaker hoses deliver water slowly and saturate planter beds so that the water goes directly to the plant roots. You can add sprayers and mini-sprinklers or use them in conjunction with drip irrigation to improve their efficiency.

Disadvantages include not being able to use these in areas where they can not be laid out straight. They can be unsightly if too much hose is showing above ground, and they can become clogged from dirt or sediment.

Doing the proper planning and making the right choices for your garden will result in a time- and energy-saving watering system and a beautiful garden.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


How to Install a Garden Trellis

A garden trellis is an attractive way to add character to a garden or outdoor space. Use a trellis to divide a space, cover an unsightly wall or area or as an addition to a garden feature to decorate with climbing vines. Whatever the function, you can build a trellis with just a few tools and little experience.

What You Will Need:

  • Trellis panels
  • Hammer or mallet
  • Level
  • Mounting brackets (if necessary)

Step 1 - Preparation and Treatment

Before building, stain or paint the trellis components. Treat any wood that will be below ground level for insects and water damage. Add a good UV protected paint and sealer to protect from color fading and prevent water damage. Make sure all paint treatments are dry between each coating and installation.

Step 2 - Location

If you are planning to attach a climbing plant or vine to the trellis, make sure the plant will receive adequate sunlight. You can mount trellis posts in the ground or in large garden pots. You can later adjust the location by just moving the pots and reinstalling the trellis.

Make sure the pots are at least 2 feet deep. Place a few inches of gravel on the bottom before filling with soil. The post must have adequate drainage so the posts will not sit in standing water.

Step 3 - Mounting Using Posts in the Ground

If the trellis is to be free-standing, place the posts at a depth approximately 2 feet in the ground. If they are not long enough, add a length of treated wood post or galvanized metal pipe. If the trellis is to be mounted in front of a wall, post or any solid structure, secure the trellis mounting brackets.

Step 4 - Drive Posts into Ground

If the ground is soft enough, you can drive the trellis posts directly into the ground with a hammer or mallet. If using a metal hammer, protect the top of the post by placing a piece of scrap wood over the top of it. Alternate hammering both posts a little distance to lower the structure evenly.

If the ground is too hard, dig the holes with a post hole digger. Pack the soil tight around the post after completed.

Step 5 - Check for Level

Use a level to check that both posts are vertical and the trellis is level horizontally. For vertical level, wiggle the post until you reach leve, and then compress the soil to hold. For horizontal level, drive the higher post in increments until level is reached.

Step 6 - Inspection

After installation, inspect the posts for any damage where the wood might have split or chipped. Since this unit will be outside and open to the natural elements, any exposed wood will be open for absorption of water and sunlight. Repaint and seal all damaged areas.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

The Best Conditions to Grow Radishes

Radishes are some of nature's most vitamin-packed vegetables. These tasty and useful cabbage-like roots are high in vitamin C and other important minerals and vitamins. Radishes can be eaten raw as an appetizer, sliced in a salad or as an ingredient in many types of soups. Radishes are very low-maintenance vegetables that are easy to grow.

Growing Quality Radishes

For many gardeners, radishes are not only a vegetable to eat, but they are a tool as well. The plants germinate quickly and mature very fast, and they require very little space to grow. Radishes are often used to mark rows of slower-growing crops, like carrots. They can also loosen up garden soil and attract insects like root maggots away from other cabbage root vegetables in the garden.

Radishes are very easy to grow with properwatering and fertilization. They are best planted in early spring, but successive plantings can occur throughout the entire growing series season. Radishes also do well in containers, window sill boxes, garden beds or even in simple bowls filled with soil.

Radish Growth Planning Considerations

Radishes require rich soil that is loose and moist. A radish grows very quickly--usually in only about 3 to 4 weeks--which allows little opportunity to correct mistakes that are not addressed beforehand.

The plants do best in direct sunlight, but they will go just fine in partly shady areas. If you have a heavy clay soil, you should choose winter radish varieties as these grow better in clay conditions. Regardless of the type of soil you plant in, make sure it contains plenty of humus.

Radish Plant Care

In order to produce radishes with the best taste, pay careful attention to how much water you give. Too much stress from overwatering and moisture will produce the same low-quality crops that will come from poor soil that lacks humus or other nutriens.

Always use a high-quality fertilizer that uses as many organic materials as possible. Avoid fertilizes with too much phosphorus in them as this may result in smaller root sizes. Also, although the growing period is very short, you should attempt to mulch as much as possible for larger and better-tasting vegetables. Finally, do not allow weeds to overrun your radishes.

Radish Pests and Diseases

Radishes are usually resistant to most pests. Part of the reason is because the plant grows and matures so quickly, most diseases don't have a chance to set in. However, root maggots can be a problem for not only radishes, but other cabbage family plants as well. If you live in an area that is susceptible to root maggot infestation, create a collar around the your radishes using anything from carpet or cardboard. This will help prevent root flies from laying eggs that will mature into maggots.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Pruning Azaleas

Azaleas require little maintenance to keep them healthy and full of blooms. One of the home gardener's regular maintenance duties is pruning--and azaleas require pruning. But how much and how often to prune? Here are some steps to follow to ensure proper azalea pruning.

Tools Required:

  • Hand pruning shears or clippers 
  • Lopping shears or loppers

Step 1 - Timing Is Everything

When to prune azaleas isn't complicated. There are two ideal pruning time--in spring right after blooming and in early summer. Spent blooms shrivel and discolor, signaling a good time to prune. Do not prune azalea plants in late summer as this will remove flower buds and prevent blooming.

Step 2 - Size Up Azalea To Be Pruned

Is the azalea a shrub that's overgrown its location? This may require major pruning. Does the azalea only need minimal pruning to help it regain its natural shape? Depending on the amount of pruning required, the task may be quickly accomplished or it may take several hours.

Step 3 - Sharpen Pruning Tools

Be sure the pruning tools are very sharp to provide quick, clean cuts. Some of the more high-quality garden pruning shears and clippers come with replacement blades but you can just as easily use a small file designed specifically for sharpening blades of cutting tools. Do not attempt to prune with dull tools because this will only tear and crush the azalea stems and make the job much more difficult than it needs to be.

Step 4 - Minimal Pruning

Most azaleas require minimal pruning. The first step is to remove any dead wood. Reach into the plant to take out any stray branches. Make the necessary lateral cuts next to the larger, woody branches. Shape as desired, but do not use hedge shears. If the azalea is a large shrub, using hedge shears will result in the plant's requiring constant maintenance. Do this only if the sheared look is a design requirement and you have sufficient time to devote to the upkeep.

Step 5 - Major Pruning

Some varieties of azalea will become overgrown in a short period of time if they have been left to meander and spread too long. In either case, major pruning will be required. Here's what to do:

  • Cut down overgrown plants until they're about 1-foot in height.
  • Fertilize azalea plants with a water-soluble, slow-release fertilizer (12-6-6).
  • Water the cut-back plants frequently. This encourages suckers to grow from the stumps.
  • Each spring when new growth is abundant, remove 2 or 3 branches per piece of wood, leaving only the strongest and best pieces.

Pruning azaleas shouldn't be too time consuming unless the plant is severely overgrown. Read all plant labels carefully before buying azalea plants, as their height and width at maturity varies widely. Some hybrids only grow to about 3 feet while other varieties reach heights of 10 feet.

If a large and overgrown azalea shrub is to remain in the garden, it may need to be moved to a better location where it can grow as it needs.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

How to Propagate Azaleas

Azaleas are fairly easy to propagate using a number of methods. These include layers, cuttings, grafts, hybridizing and seed. By far, the easiest method is to use cuttings, which are the subject of this article. Follow these steps to propagate azaleas from cuttings.

There are evergreen and deciduous azalea and both are members of the rhododendron family. Deciduous drops its leaves in fall and they grow back in spring. Evergreen also drops its leaves, but because it grows two sets of leaves, it appears to be evergreen. Evergreen azalea is also more commercially grown because it is easier to root from cuttings.

Tools and Materials Required:

  • Garden shears
  • Garden gloves
  • Rooting mediium
  • Rooting hormone
  • Pencil end or ruler
  • Growing pot or tray
  • Water
  • Plastic sheet
  • Larger pots for transplanting
  • Planting mix

Step 1 - Use New Growth Only

According to the Azalea Society of America, any time from June on is the right time to take cuttings, but be sure to use new growth only. Of course, this is dependent on the weather. The wood to be cut must be somewhat pliable, but not brittle or bending (like a rubber band).

Step 2 - Cut in the Morning

The best time to take cuttings is in the morning, before the heat of the day adds stress to the plant. Make sure the plant is well watered before attempting to cut it. This will give both parent plant and cutting sufficient moisture to withstand the stress of the cutting itself.

Step 3 - Cut the Short Shoots

Examine the azalea plant. Cuttings should come from the short shoots from the ends of existing wood - not from the thick, strong ones at the plant's base. Cut the short shoots from 2 to 5 inches in length.

Step 4 - Trim Shoots

Pull off any blossoms, and remove all except the top cluster of leaves. If not immediately rooting the stems, moisten them. They can be kept in the refrigerator overnight.

Step 5 - Prepare Cutting Bottom

When ready to root the cutting, either wound the bottom by scraping with a fingernail or use a rooting hormone. Either a liquid like Wood's, or a powder such as Hormodin or Rootone, can be used, but follow instructions.

Step 6 - Place Cuttings in Rooting Medium

The most commonly used evergreen azalea rooting medium is a 50/50 mix of peat and perlite. Other mixtures that also work include peat, sand, vermiculite, coarse perlite and fine pine bark. Lay the rooting medium to a depth of 4 to 6 inches in a flat or 1-gallon pot (which can accommodate up to a dozen cuttings). This rooting medium should be prepared a couple of days prior to setting in the cuttings, and kept moist.

Use a pencil eraser end or a ruler to make the 2- to 3-inch impressions in the rooting mixture. Place the cuttings in the mixture every 2 to 4 inches.

Step 7 - Water and Other Requirements

Once all cuttings are in place, water well to get them established, but avoid wetting the leaves. Cover with a sheet of plastic cut to fit. Place them in a well-lit spot, but avoid over-watering them.

Step 8 - Germination and Transplanting

Cuttings from evergreen azalea should germinate in 4 to 8 weeks. Once they have rooted, open the flat/pot up to more exposure until they get acclimated. Then open up fully for a few days.

The last step is to transplant rooted cuttings to a larger flat or pots containing a mixture of peat moss, leaf mold and sand.

107 - Azaleas.jpg

Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

How to Make Your Own Seaweed Fertilizer Spray

Seaweed has been used as a vegetable fertilizer for centuries. This natural ingredient enriches the soil with up to 60 essential vitamins and nutrients. While most crop fertilizers require placement on or into the soil, others are foliar feeds--liquids that go directly onto the plant's leaves. The leaves absorb the nutrients in the same way they absorb sunlight and other ambient nutrients from rain, air and humidity. Read on to learn how to make your own seaweed fertilizer spray.

You Will Need:

  • Seaweed fertilizer
  • Water, room temperature
  • 1 or 5 gallon garden pump sprayer

Step 1 - Create Your Spray

Though seaweed is healthy for your plants, too much fertilizer can poison or harm them. For this reason, it's important to dilute your seaweed fertilizer.

For foliar feed, dilute 1 part fertilizer to 16 parts water (1:16). This proportion will guarantee that your plants get enough of the seaweed to promote growth, and also can get the water they need to absorb it.

If your soil is nutrient-poor, you can create a solution that is a little more concentrated. Keep the dilution high, but you can add 1 part of fertilizer to 10 parts water (1:10) instead. This way, the plants can access the nutrients in the soil as needed. This will work best for fruit-bearing plants like tomatoes.

Step 2 - Fill Your Sprayer

Fill up your pump garden sprayer, and make sure the water and rotted seaweed mixture is well-blended within the tank. Pump your sprayer well until you can't push down without struggling. This will build up the pressure in the hose. For a gentle spray, pump less.

Step 3 - Spray Plants Or Soil

When spraying your soil, simply moisten the dirt--don't make mud. As with chemical crop fertilizers, you should put the fertilizer on the ground and then water afterwards. Doing so will ensure your plants get the optimal amount of nutrients. Spray around the plants in a sweeping motion, until all the soil immediately around the base of the plant is moist. Afterwards, water the plant.

If you are spraying plants directly (as in foliar feeding), it is best to sweep the sprayer nozzle back and forth with a gentle spray. This ensures that the delicate leaves don't break from the pressure of the liquid coming at them. Evenly coat (but don't soak) the leaves, and leave the plants to absorb the good things seaweed can give them.

Seaweed.jpg
Sand, seaweed and shale (Jonathan Billinger) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Repotting Orchids the Simple and Safe Way

Repotting orchids is sometimes necessary because as the plants grow the old container is no longer suitable. Because the best planters for orchids are only slightly larger than the root system, the change has to be made fairly regularly. You don't need any special knowledge, and only a few household tools, and you can transplant your orchid in a matter of minutes.

Tools and Materials Required:

  • Work gloves
  • Orchid planter
  • Pruning clippers
  • Orchid pots

Orchid Pots

Orchid pots are specially designed so that the roots are able to benefit from oxygen flow through the holes in the sides. These pots are meant for orchids, and make the best planters for these ancient plants. Before you put the plant in the pot, add 1 to 1 1/2 inches of coarse stone in the bottom. This will give excess moisture a way to drain off the plant roots.

Step 1 - Remove the Old Pot

When repotting orchids, remove the orchid from the old pot very carefully. Try not to damage the plant or the roots. Hold the orchid firmly at the base of the stem, and move it slightly from side to side as you lift it free of the container.

Step 2 - Remove the Soil

Repotting orchids is a good time to change the soil they are living in. Holding the plant gently, break apart the soil around the roots. It is not necessary to remove all of the soil, but the more of it that is replaced, the more access to fresh nutrients the plant will have.

Step 3 - Prune the Roots

The roots of orchids need to be pruned to remove diseased or damaged roots. As a general guideline, healthy roots are thick and white-tipped, while unwanted roots are thin or lacking in the characteristic tip color.

Step 4 - Position the Plant

Use fir bark in the container, mixed with 1 cup of sifted compost. If you prefer, substitute potting soil for compost. Fill the container slowly, using your fingers to maneuver the soil and mulch mixture among the roots. The soil should be loosely packed, not forced, and the roots should be positioned so that they are able to grow towards and out of the side opening in the container. Orchid roots take oxygen directly from the air, and need to have sufficient airflow to do so. This is why fir bark, which seems large and coarse, makes such an excellent primary soil. It allows air to move through the orchid soil, reaching the roots and encouraging a healthy plant.

Step 5 - Water Thoroughly

Water the plant thoroughly. Check the soil moisture level after the sun goes down and moisten again if necessary. It is important that the soil remains moist but not wet for the next 2 to 5 days, after which time the plant will have become acclimated to the new soil.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Growing Orchids Indoors

Growing orchids indoors can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience, if you provide these plants the right growing conditions. With some planning and care, your indoor orchids will grow well and produce exquisite blooms for many years.

Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Orchid plant
  • Container
  • Potting mix
  • Peat, gravel, or bark
  • Distilled water
  • Orchid fertilizer
  • Tray
  • Pebbles

Step 1 - Plant the Orchid in a Suitable Container

When you purchase orchids, select a suitable species that will grow well indoors. Moth orchids, Dendrobium and Lady's Slippers are safe choices for indoor growth. Choose a healthy plant that has bright green leaves and is blooming well. It is important to select the right container in which you grow your indoor orchid. Clay containers are widely preferred due to their high porosity.

Orchids require growing media with excellent drainage and aeration. There are specialized orchid pots and potting mixes available, which are the safest to use. You can also improve drainage and aeration of ordinary soil by adding peat, bark or gravel. Remove the plant carefully from its container. Inspect the roots and remove any rotting parts. Place the plant in the container you purchased and fill potting mix around it until the mix is firmly set.

Step 2 - Select a Suitable Spot

Orchids require bright light, but direct exposure to strong sunlight can harm the plant. Placing the orchid in an east-facing window is ideal. In any other location, try to protect the plant from direct sunlight. If the plant gets too little light, the leaves will become dark in color. Too much light can burn the leaves or make them yellow. Remember that the plant needs a good supply of air. Normal indoor temperatures are usually good for orchids.

Step 3 - Watering and Fertilization

Indoor orchids are most likely to succumb to over-watering. Water the orchids once a week during winter months and twice a week in the summer. It is preferable to hold the container over a sink while watering. Water the plant with purified or distilled water until the soil is drenched. Let all the excess water drain out, after which you can put the container back in its base. Water the plant only when the soil is almost dry. Avoid wetting the leaves and flowers. Apply a specialized orchid fertilizer once or twice a month during the growing period. To grow orchids well, you must provide adequate humidity by keeping a humidifier in the room or by placing a tray of pebbles and water under the container, without their touching the base. Never let the plant sit in waterlogged soil.

Step 4 - Maintain and Care for the Plant

Always check your indoor orchid for signs of disease or root rot. Make sure the plant is getting adequate water, humidity and light. Never fertilize the plant in the winter, and cut down on watering in the winter as well. With proper care, your orchids will reward you with exotic blooms that will brighten your home.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Most Appropriate Lawn Care Supplies for the Winter

Winter lawn care is vital for maintaining a healthy lawn all year round. During the winter months your lawn will become dormant and the growth of the grass will slow down. In preparation for the cooler months there are a few lawn care supplies which would be beneficial to have in order to care for your lawn effectively. 

 

Fertilizer

This is one of the key lawn care supplies that you will need for treating your lawn. Fertilizer can be purchased from a local nursery or a garden centre. However, If you have a compost bin in your back yard then you will benefit from having organic fertilizer at your fingertips. 

Fertilizer is rich in the essential nutrients that encourage healthy growth in plants and lawns. In preparation for winter lawn care you should start applying fertilizer to your lawn in the fall. Continue the process regularly throughout the winter unless there is heavy snow in your area. Early fertilizing will also prevent the onset of weeds. Be careful not to use an excessive amount as too much fertilizer will encourage the growth of weeds.

 

Mulch

Mulch is an organic process which is often caused be the decomposing of leaves. If you have trees that overlook or are growing in your back yard then you will have one of the lawn care supplies that are required in the winter. Start by raking up the majority of the leaves that have fallen in your garden. If there are too many leaves, this could result in mould forming on your grass. The best practice is to sprinkle leaves over your lawn conservatively. When they decompose, they will turn into nutrient enriched organic mulch. 

 

Plant Seeds

If you are concerned that there are brown patches developing on your lawn, you can plant grass seeds. Rye grass seeds will grow in the winter without damaging your existing grass. The best time to plant rye seeds is in the fall and this will ensure that you have a lush green grass during winter. 

Invest in a Spiking Tool

A spiking tool or a hand fork will assist in lawn care because you will use it for the aeration process. Aeration allows air to penetrate down to the roots. It will improve drainage and will help future growth because it breaks down hard compacted areas which will have occurred during the summer months when lawns tend to be used more frequently. 

 

Weed Killer

Weed killers will form an integral part of your lawn care supplies. Weeds feed on the nutrients that your grass will need during the winter so it is important that these are eradicated for quality lawn care.

There are plenty of weed killers that are available from garden centers, most of which will be pre-emergent herbicides. This means that they will kill the weeds and try to prevent them from re-growing. For an organic weed killer, you could try applying vinegar to your weeds.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Working with Ants in Your Compost Bin

Ants can be beneficial to the composting process in multiple ways. They are recognized as being macrorganisms or physical decomposers because they are able to break down vegetable and fruit scraps for smaller microorganisms to feed on as part of the decomposition process. Ants can be a great asset to a compost bin

Before deciding to get rid of these decomposers, it's worth seeing how they can benefit the process of decomposition in your compost pile.

Benefit #1- Shred Waste 

Ants have a steady diet of materials such as fungi, seeds, sweets and plant scraps in the compost bin for food and shelter. 

When ants eat they chew, tear or grind on the waste. They also tear up waste to take back to their nest or to clear passageways in the bin. Both of these actions assist in the process of breaking down the green and brown materials in the compost bin. The ants eventually make the material more sizeable for microscopic decomposers. 

The microscopic decomposers can not break down large scraps as quickly as they do smaller pieces so the smaller the ants create scraps, the quicker compost is prepared. 

Benefit #2- Mix Waste 

Ants are natural compost mixers. Brown and green material on the outside of the bin is moved to inside as the ants carry material to and from their nests.

As ants burrow and tunnel through the compost they are also moving fungi and smaller organisms to their nests which in turn move minerals around the compost like phosphorus and potassium. Although it is still a necessity to mix the compost manually, ants provide an ongoing army of workers to carry out a mixing program of their own! 

 

Benefit #3- Create Aeration 

Oxygen is needed to create compost and works in a process called aeration.

Ants dig out hundreds of tunnels to and from their nests in compost piles. This gives them quick access to food in different areas of the bin. As ants create these tunnels, they are also creating airways. Air is able to travel through the tunnels to multiple places in the compost bin allowing the process of aeration to begin.  

 

Benefit #4- Add Fertilizer

As ants eat on kitchen and plant waste that is put into the bin, they create their own waste. Ant excrement is digested by a bacterium that creates more nutrients in the compost bin. As a result, ant waste is enriched fertilizer that is beneficial to the compost. 

Ants not only help in processing compost, but they actually add their own brand of fertilizer to it. 

Benefit #5- Eat Other Insects 

An ants' presence will reduce the presence of other insects in the compost bin. If the compost bin is home to ants, they will keep many other insects from harboring in the bin. 

Ants will eat other insects as well as plant waste. Ants are known to eat insects such as springtails, some types of mites, beetles, nematodes and soil flatworms.

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Making a Worm Compost Bin for Vermiculture

A worm composting bin is relatively simple to make. It only takes a few materials that can be obtained at a hardware store and put together in the convenience of your home.  

The bin can be created using plastic containers, wooden boxes, or galvanized basins. The following directions incorporate plastic containers but they are applicable for other types of bins.  

Tools and Material

  • 2- 8 to 10 gallon plastic storage boxes specifically in a darker color
  • Drill
  • ¼ and 1/16 inch bits
  • Newspaper
  • Twigs
  • Dried Leaves
  • Dirt
  • Large piece of cardboard
  • 1 pound of red worms
  • Blocks or stones

Step 1: Preparing Drainage and Crawl Spaces 

Drill 20 to 30 ¼ to 1/8 inch holes in the bottom of each bin. These holes are for drainage and allow worms to crawl from one bin to the other when harvesting. 

Step 2: Preparing Ventilation Holes 

Drill 1/16 inch holes about 1 to 2 inches apart on each side of bins near the top. Also, drill about 30 1/16 inch holes in 1 of the plastic storage box lids. These holes will allow air to circulate in the bin once it is covered but be small enough to keep the worms from escaping. 

Step 3: Preparing the Bedding 

Shred or cut newspapers into small strips. Soak the strips of newspaper in water squeezing out excess water as you remove the paper from water. The paper needs to be moist for the worms to live. 

Next, place the moist newspaper in the bottom of one bin. Add twigs, dried leaves and dirt to the newspaper, plumping up the newspaper so that there is at least 3 to 5 inches of bedding in the bottom of the bin. 

Step 4: Adding Worms 

For a 10 gallon container, about 1 pound of worms is needed. The worms can't be taken from the earth because they will typically die. The best choice for vermiculture is red worms. 

Also, it is easier to start with too few worms than too many. Too many worms will die if there is not enough food while fewer worms have the capability of reproducing. Just don't over feed the worms.   

Step 5: Completing the Bin 

Cover the bedding and worms with 1 piece of cardboard. Then place the lid with the holes on top of the bin. Place blocks or rocks on top of the unused lid wherever the bin is to be kept and place the bin.  

The lid that is under the bin will catch worm juice and anything else that drops from the bin. Worm juice is a good fertilizing agent that can be added to any garden or soil. You may now begin feeding the worms.  

Step 6: Harvesting 

When the bin is full and there are no more recognizable food scraps left, remove the lid and put the second bin on top of the first one. Put new bedding in the second bin and cover it with a cardboard and the lid. Make sure to follow the same directions in step 3 every time bedding is added.    

Begin feeding the top bin and within 1 or 2 months the worms will move into the second bin. The first bin can then be removed and the compost can be used.

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How to Make Organic Fertilizer for Roses

It is easy to make organic fertilizer at home with common household refuse. Whether you have a nitrogen-rich compost pile or you make organic fertilizers in other ways, it can be done with ease and with little expense. Roses, in particular, will flourish when you add an organic fertilizer to the soil in which they grow. In order to get a rose garden to bloom more copiously and lushly, some fertilizer is necessary but there is no need to spend your money on a store-bought variety because you can make an effective fertilizer with coffee grounds!

Tools and Materials

  • 5 gallon bucket
  • ½ lb. coffee grounds
  • Water

Step 1: Choose a Fertilization Method

There are a couple of different ways you can fertilize your rose bushes with coffee grounds. The first involves diluting the grounds in water and the second method involves baking them at a very low temperature before you add them to the soil.

Step 2: Water with Fertilizer

With the first method, pour ½ lb. of coffee grounds into a 5-gallon bucket filled with water. Let this mixture sit in the sun for a whole day. After it has warmed, give your rose bushes a good fertilizer bath by pouring it over the soil around the roses.

Step 3: Bury the Fertilizer

The other method involves drying the coffee grounds out in an oven at the lowest temperature setting or putting them out in the sun to dry. You can use as little as 6 tbsp. for this method.  After the grounds are thoroughly dry, bury them at a shallow depth around the base of the rose bushes. Add water after the grounds are in place. Be careful not to bury too many grounds or you could over-fertilize the roses.

Step 4: Make compost

Adding coffee grounds-along with other nitrogen and potassium-rich foodstuffs to your compost pile is a great way to make homemade organic fertilizer. Composting is all about good layering. You want a layer of carbon rich refuse like leaves, twigs, and other brown organic materials counterbalanced with nitrogen-rich materials like grass clippings, coffee grounds, eggshells and other food waste. It will take between 2 to 6 months for a compost pile to be ready but if you plan it accordingly, the compost will be ready just in time for the growing season. Make sure you frequently turn the compost pile with a pitchfork to ensure oxygen is getting into all the ingredients. A good compost pile should be quite hot in the center--120 degrees or so.

Once the compost is ready, add it to the base of your rose bushes for a great organic fertilizer.

Fertilizer can be made at home with little effort. Using coffee grounds, you can make organic fertilizer in a day. A compost pile is another great way to make fertilizer. You can use what you make on your entire garden, and it will benefit everything. Fertilizer is best when it is entirely organic. What better way to help your roses flourish than with something you make yourself!

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How to Build Your Own Seed Spreader

If you have a large yard buying a grass seed spreader can be expensive when you are not going to use it that often. Making your own is easy and inexpensive. Here are two ways to make your own spreader. 

Materials Needed (Handheld Spreader):

  • Jug with lid
  • Medium sized nail
  • Hammer
  • Work gloves
  • Safety glasses

Step 1:

Get all of your materials together. Remember to be safe!

  • Wear gloves and safety glasses to protect your fingers and eyes.
  • Punch several holes in the bottom of the jug. The holes need to cover the entire bottom area without breaking into other holes. 
  • Fill the container with grass seed and seal tightly.  

Step 2:

If you are spreading by hand you will need to shake the jug to cover the area you wish.  You can also attach your jug to the back of a lawnmower and spread your seed using the vibration of the mower.

Materials Needed (Large Spreader):

  • Old wagon or wheelbarrow
  • Drill
  • Work gloves
  • Safety glasses

Step 1:

If you don't own one, you can find old wagons or wheelbarrows second hand.

  • Use a strong, slim drill bit that will make holes that won't allow the seed to spill out too fast.
  • Don't turn the wheelbarrow or wagon upside down in order to drill the holes; this is a mistake because it will leave a ledge that the seed needs to get over in order to fall from the holes.
  • Drill holes covering the entire lowest point of the wagon or wheelbarrow without turning two holes into one.  

Step 2:

If you chose a wagon, you will get the added benefit of turning it into a tailgate spreader.  You can attach it to the back of your riding lawnmower and kill two birds with one stone.  The wagon is also easier to maneuver. 

If you chose the wheelbarrow, you might still be able to use it as a tailgate if your lawnmower is wide enough to attach both handles and tall enough to bring the feet off of the ground.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


Adding Corn Gluten Meal to Nitrogen Deficient Soil

Soil that is deficient in nitrogen will not provide the appropriate level of nourishment to your plants. Clay plants don't have this problem as the high concentration of clay ensures a steady supply of nitrogen and phosphorus. However, conventional soil gardens don't have a substantial concentration of clay, and many gardeners find it difficult to measure/add the suitable amount of clay.

An easier way to increase  the nitrogen nutrition for the plants is by adding corn gluten meal (CGM). This is a completely natural derivative produced during the milling of corn. Gluten meal is also used for making many foods like taco shells and corn chips. 

Corn Gluten Meal

CGM is a nitrogen-rich ingredient because nearly 60 percent of its composition is protein. When added to the soil, the protein decomposes, leaching precious nitrogen that can be absorbed by the plants.

Besides being a nitrogenous fertilizer, CGM is also a natural herbicide, known to be effective against many common garden weeds.

Adding Corn Gluten Meal

Adding CGM to your garden soil isn't difficult, but you should know what to expect. CGM can be applied in the form of a yellow-colored powder or as small pellets. The pellet form, however, is used when added as a weedicide in larger farms rather than a nitrogen fertilizer for gardens. 

How Much Corn Gluten Meal to Add

As a general rule of thumb, add 20 lbs. of CGM for every 1000 square feet of the garden soil. However, many retailed CGM packets have their own suggested ratios for application. Another common calculation is 5 to 10 Kg of CGM per 100 square meters of soil.

Every hundred pounds of CGM has more than 10 lbs. of stored nitrogen. It takes nearly 2 months for the results to show. 

How to Apply Corn Gluten Meal

The best method is to mix the powdered form of CGM and with the topsoil (about ¼-inch of the upper soil layer) before transplanting the seedlings or sowing garden seeds. Use a conventional lawn spreader to easily add to your garden.

A few notes on application:

  • When adding CGM for weed control, concentrate the dosage along the soil surface.
  • After application, always water the garden soil.
  • Don't overwater the soil. Just make it wet and then leave it to dry.
  • If you have spilled some CGM, just spread it using a rake. There is no need to remove the spilled extra powder.

When to Add Corn Gluten Meal

CGM can be added to soil as often as 3 times a year. If the soil is seriously nitrogen-deficient, you can even add applications quarterly. For best results, add in fall and spring, as this is the best time for it to seep into the soil bed. If you are using CGM pellets, then application in early spring is ideal.

You may use CGM not only to nourish the soil, but to kill weeds as well. In this case, apply just before the dry period sets in. If your garden tends to dry up quickly, make sure that you water it daily to enable the absorption of CGM.

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Unusual Herbs to Plant in Your Herb Garden

An herb garden can offer more than simple herbs and spices. Whether it's for their culinary advantages or medicinal purposes, you can discover a world of new herbs that you never knew existed. The following article outlines some of the most unique, practical herbs available.

Banana Mint

Although it isn't one of the strongest, most durable herbs, Banana Mint, or Mentha Arvensis, is known for its unique aroma, which smells exactly like bananas. It will need a bit of extra attention during the winter, but this unique herb is sure to grab people's attention.

Marjoram

Also known as Origanum, this is a pretty common herb used in cooking. Although it is physically attractive and will add a nice detail to any herb garden, its main use is in cooking meat dishes and salads. This herb is fairly strong and will not require an excessive amount of care.

Basil Thyme

Also know as Acinos Arvensis, this herb tends to take on an aromatic flavor, mixing the scents of Basil and Thyme. A great herb for cooking, the taste comes off a bit more mild than that of either Basil or Thyme. The herb has also been known to aid in digestion, stomach problem, and pain relief for toothaches.

Stevia Sweet Herb

This herb is commonly used as a substitute for sugar and is also known as Stevia Robaudiana. Great for diabetics, this herb is free of calories and is actually sweeter than sucrose. Simply throwing a leaf or two in your coffee or tea will sweeten it just as sugar would.  This is not an herb that thrives well in cold weather, so bring it indoors during the winter.

Red Sage

Also known as Salvi Miltiorrhiza, this herb has been used in China for its medicinal purposes for years. The herb is known to stabilize the heart, lower blood pressure and even improve circulation. It can also be used to fight skin problems, infections and insomnia. It requires well-drained soil, but can grow in both shady and sunny spots.

Lemon Grass

Generally used in Asian and Indian cooking, the herb known as Cymbopogon Citratus is a classic flavoring plant. Its scent is intoxicating and the leaves can be used to make tea or even added to lemonade. Lemon grass is not winter-friendly and should be moved indoors at that time.

This herb is very similar to Lemon Balm. If you enjoy the flavor of lime, consider adding Lime Balm as well.

St. John's Wort

Also known as Hypericum Perforatum, this is both an attractive and practical herb. It is incredibly easy to cultivate and can grow unattended to for long periods of time. This herb is primarily used for its medicinal purposes. It aids in relaxation and helps mostly with nervous problems.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Making a Trellis for Your Square Foot Garden

A major benefit of square foot gardening is how well the plants grow. Plants like tomatoes and peas that grow on vines need good support, making a trellis essential.

Materials

  • Copper or plastic tubing, or bamboo or esparto grass
  • Elbow joints or cords for joints
  • Cords or netting

Step 1 - Decide on the Size

It will be best if your trellis is designed to fit along one side of your square foot garden. A four foot square garden will need a four foot wide trellis. The trellis should be fitted to a side of the garden box that is not against a wall or fence - you need to be able to get to both sides to harvest your crop properly. When you fit the trellis you should also remember to plant the vines in the squares next to it.

Step 2 - Decide on Materials

You should design your trellis to be as high as possible, or as high as you can reach without using steps. A trellis that is too short can be difficult to extend. Popular materials are copper or plastic tubing, bamboo or esparto grass (sparto grass can grow to 25 feet or more in height), or lengths of timber. The trellis filler can be created simply by using lengths of cord tied from the top to the bottom, chicken wire or using coated plastic netting.

Step 3 - Fitting to the Garden Box

The trellis can be fitted to the garden box by use of brackets. You might decide that safer and better support would be obtained by setting the trellis into the ground next to the trellis. Since you are hoping for a bumper crop, why not use both methods? Drive the trellis uprights into the ground next to the garden box and fit brackets to hold the trellis uprights against the box.

Step 4 - Building the Trellis

The square foot garden box trellis will consist of two uprights as wide apart as the garden box is wide (ie. a 4 square foot box has a 4 foot trellis) and at least one cross piece to bridge the top of the trellis. This can be joined by elbow joints in the case of tubing or tied for most other materials. If you are using chicken wire or some other form of netting, this can be tied around the trellis frame.

Step 5 - Concrete Wire

There has been some debate about avoiding concrete wire in trellises for square foot gardens. Apart from the weight of the wire there seems to be no reasons not to use it. The wire is produced in a nice regular pattern, usually in six inch squares-which is ideal for most vine plants, and is not treated with any hazardous chemicals

Although the trellis for your square foot garden might not be the most elegant, it will be useful in supporting your bumper crops.

trellis.jpg



Growing Green Beans from Seeds

Green beans are a delicious and easy vegetable to plant and grow in your own home garden. You need to make sure that you plant the seeds at the appropriate time so that they will be able to grow and thrive sufficiently. They need healthy soil and need to be watered weekly. Sunlight is an important feature that green bean seeds need in order to grow healthy for you to enjoy. It is easy to grow your own green beans from the seeds, you just need to know how to get started.

Step 1-Plant at Appropriate Time

Make sure that you plant your green bean seeds at the right time of the year. Green bean seeds thrive on warm weather, which means they grow better in warmer soil temperatures, so you should never try to plant the seeds when there is still a chance of frost. Make sure you plant your green bean seeds after the last frost and when the soil temperature is approximately 65 degrees.

Step 2-Plant the Seeds in the Sun

When planting your green bean seeds, make sure you plant them in a place where they are able to get a lot of sunlight. Green beans thrive in a warm and sunny climate.

Step 3-Plant the Seeds

Fertilize the soil before you plant the seeds to ensure that you have a healthy crop. Green bean seeds should be planted in soil that is 1 inch deep. They can be planted in rows that are 2-3 feet apart from each other. Make sure that the seeds have enough room apart from each other so they have proper space to grow.

Step 4-Water the Seeds

Keep the seeds watered well, and you should be able to see sprouting within a week of when you planted them. Once the sprouting occurs it is important to remember to keep the soil fertilized and watered. You should water the soil every week to ensure that the soil does not dry out.

Step 5-Use a Fence

Make sure that you place a fence, stakes or a trellis near your green bean plants so that as they grow, they will have something to grow along. Whichever method that you decide to use for the bean sprouts to grow on, make sure that it is at least 6-8 feet high so that the sprouts will have enough room.

Step 5- Harvest

After 60 days, the green bean plants will harvest. The best time to harvest green beans is when they are crisp. Avoid breaking the stems of the green beans when removing the green bean pod. Pick green beans early on so that they do not lose any flavor. Once green beans have been left in the garden for a longer amount of time, they tend to loose their crisp taste. You are now able to enjoy your own fresh and tasty green beans.

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4 Easy and Effective Organic Soil Mixing Recipes

Organic soil does not mean that soil is not treated for fertility or performance. What the term means is that the soil does not contain any artificial chemicals or additives, and that it is free of pesticides and herbicides. Treating the soil is done by mixing the 3 types of soil--clay, sand and loam--and adding compost or other natural humus to increase fertility and biological activity. This article presents 4 basic soil recipes to bring all types of soil into a fertile balance.

Tools and Materials Required:

  • Potato rake
  • Coarse sand
  • Clay
  • Compost
  • Mixed rock dust or lime

Recipe #1: Composting for Organic Material

The best source of fertilizer is made by composting. Grass cuttings, pulled weeds and various types of kitchen waste including coffee grounds and vegetable peels are mixed up frequently. This promotes bacterial growth and encourages the breakdown of plant matter by mixing air and bacteria throughout the material. Because the compost is in various stages of decomposition, always strain compost through a wire mesh to remove large particles before mixing it into the soil. Large particles can be returned to the composting bin for later use.

Recipe #2: Correcting Sandy Soils

Sandy soils tend to be deficient in both nutrients and minerals. To correct this add 1 part clay and 1 part compost for every 100 square feet of soil to be treated. Spread the clay first, and mix it in well. Then add the humus soil and mix it again. The clay gives sand density and help it retain moisture. The humus fertilizes the soil, and infuses it with beneficial microorganisms.

Recipe #3: Correcting Clay Soils

If you are using clay, plants will benefit from adding both sand and compost. Mix 1 part sand for each 10 parts of clay soil to be treated and mix it until the soil has a gritty texture. Add compost in the same manner. The mixed soil should have a darker color and richer texture. Compost cannot be over-applied, and the amounts listed here are for minimum compost usage. If you have humus available, double or even triple the applications suggested.

Recipe 4: Minerals for Loamy Soil

Loamy soil may not require much compost because it is already rich in plant nutrients. What it may be missing are important minerals and metals, which are rare in plant matter. To correct for this, add 1 cubic foot of clay soil for every 100 square feet of soil to be treated. Mix the soil to a depth of around 10 to 12 inches. If desired, sandy soil can be added to increase soil aeration.

A Note on Correcting Compost Acidity

If your compost becomes acidic, it may need to be treated before use as a fertilizer. To do this, add about 1 cup of lime or talc every 6 months and mix well. If you wish, gypsum can be used instead and has the added benefit of neutralizing salts in the soil as well as bringing the pH into balance.

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Using Worm Compost to Improve the Soil

Worm compost is produced as worm castings. These are the most complete fertilizers and soil conditioners known. As worms eat their way through underground soil they extract every available nutrient. Worm castings are also colloidal and can hold nine times their own weight in water. The natural microbial fauna transferred from the worm to the castings enables a slow release of nutrients and trace elements. This slow release enables plants to absorb them better. The rich variety of vitamins and hormones in the castings can restore soil quality without harming roots and plants. Worms also aerate the soil by their constant excavating for more food.

Soil Structure

Although compost is often used to improve soil structure, the fully digested product of a vermi-composter is far superior. There are no harmful chemicals and the digestive systems of the worms introduce many biological products - including a plant growth hormone. Attempts to improve the soil structure by digging and plowing can have the opposite effect by compacting the soil. Working worm compost into soil gently can improve the soil structure, reduce clay concentration and allow natural drainage and aeration.

Ph Levels

Because it is 100% natural and non-toxic worm compost creates an ideal scenario where Ph levels can adjust themselves automatically. The compost contains much higher levels of organic materials like nitrogen, magnesium and phosphorus. The bacteria introduced can have a very significant effect upon the soil eco system. As the soil structure is improved by the addition of worm compost, plant roots can spread better and draw more nutrients from the soil. Ph levels can also be adversely affected by plant diseases and their effects upon the plants. Worm compost can increase the resistance of plants to harmful organisms and diseases.

Nutrient Levels

Compared with commercial fertilizers worm compost is not as nutritious. This does not mean that they are less effective. Because worm compost is a totally natural product it tends to be absorbed rapidly by the plants. Commercially produced compost is applied as a massive over-dose by comparison and feeds everything - even harmful plants and fungi in the soil. Much of the nutrition is wasted because it cannot be readily absorbed before rain washes it deeper into the ground.

The Colloidal Effect

Worm compost can hold up to nine times its own weight in water. This means that it can hold moisture round the roots of plants for longer. The moisture enables the plants to take full advantage of the nutrition that is available. The compost also contains nitrogen fixing bacteria so nitrogen can be obtained from the air. The improved soil structure enables more air to penetrate the soil.

The total effect of worm compost upon the soil is so comprehensive that Ph levels and any other levels become self regulating. As more of the worm compost is applied to the soil, the soil becomes more viable and structurally sound. The renewed typical granular structure of the soil is an ideal medium for the bacteria in the worm compost to do their work.

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How to Fix a Push Mower

Trying to fire up your push mower and finding that things aren't working as they should can be frustrating. Can you find the problem yourself? Is it something you can fix without needing a professional? Will you have to resort to a new mower?

Thankfully, most common problems fall within the realm of do-it-yourself work. Below, we take a look at the basic steps of troubleshooting and lawn mower repair.

Materials Needed:

  • Wrenches (crescent, socket, etc.)
  • Sand paper
  • Business card
  • Hammer
  • Screwdriver

Step 1 - Check The Simple Things First

Ensure that the spark plug is properly connected and there are no signs of damage, such as corrosion. Other things to check include whether you're out of gas, using bad gas, out of oil or the oil needs changing.

Step 2 - Rust Buildup

A common problem is rust buildup between the fly wheel and the coil, which is underneath your lawn mower cover and connects to your spark plug. Use your wrench to remove the cover. Remove the coil and use sandpaper to sand down both the coil and the fly wheel. To put it back together, here's a little trick you can use with a business card: slide the card between the coil and the flywheel. You'll have to turn the fly wheel until a magnet sucks down the coil. Replace all screws removed, pull out the business card, and fit everything else back together to see if this solved your problem.

Step 3 - Replace The Key

If the problem persists, your mower may have hit something and damaged or knocked off the key that holds the fly wheel to the shaft. You'll have to open the lawn mower back up and remove the fly wheel to replace the key. You'll probably need a hammer to do this, and maybe a fly wheel pulley.

Step 4 - Choked Engine/Lack Of Fuel

The first thing to do is to make sure that you actually have fuel in the lawn mower. If there is fuel, remove the breather with a screwdriver and check it for dirt and debris. Clean it off if necessary with carburetor cleaner.

If this doesn't solve the problem, or if the breather is already clean, press the bulb to prime the engine. With the breather off, you'll be able to see if the gas is squirting into the carburetor. If it is, continue priming several times and try to start again.

At this point, you are getting a spark (and you should, if steps 1 through 3 were followed) and you know that gas is being pumped into the carburetor. If your lawn mower still doesn't want to work, you'll have to buy yourself a carburetor kit (most are available fairly cheap) and rebuild the carburetor. If instructions don't come with your carburetor kit then they canfound with a quick internet search.

Be sure to go through these simple steps before completely breaking down your mower or calling a repairman to check it out.

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How to Set Up and Run LED Landscape Lighting

Setting up and running LED landscape lighting is essentially just like setting up any other low power yard lighting system. While many lighting systems, especially those packaged together in a kit, will come with their own specific instructions, here are some basic guidelines to setting up the lighting system yourself.

Materials Needed:

  • Bulbs
  • Fixtures
  • Connectors
  • Cable
  • Transformer
  • Tape Measure
  • Mallet
  • Stakes
  • PVC pipe
  • Saw

Step 1 - Layout

Decide exactly what layout and lighting plan you want for your system. Draw an overhead picture of your yard and mark out exactly where you want to place each and every light. Plan for highlighting key areas of landscaping, lighting up a dark path, etc. Go ahead and put stakes in the ground as a visual reference for where you want your lighting, then measure the distance from where you want your transformer to each light in the series, and keep track of the total distance (so that you can buy a cable of adequate length.

Step 2 - Buying The Parts

Your lights should be the first thing you purchase. Different lights and fixtures will have different wattages, and you'll need to know your total wattage for your cable and transformer.

For the transformer, be sure that it can handle the full amount of wattage that the lights will be drawing from it. It is a good idea to buy a transformer that can supply some extra watts, in the event that you want to add lights later. However, never use a transformer where less than half of the total potential watts are being used.

For the cable, you'll typically either want to use either 14-gauge or 12-gauge cable on a low-volt system. If your total wattage is under 200, 14-gauge will do. If it is over 200 watts, you should use 12-gauge cable or else your lights may appear dim or won't light at all. You may want to just use the 12-gauge cable anyway, in case you want to add lights later (in which case you'll want to buy it with some excess length, as well).

Step 3 - Place Your Lights

Remove the stakes (if you used them) that marked your light positions. Assemble your lighting fixtures as needed, and plant them in the ground.

Step 4 - The Transformer

Pick a place, preferably on the outside wall of your house, where your transformer can be installed that is at least a foot or two off of the ground.

Step 5 - The Cable

Before plugging anything in, lay out your cable starting at your transformer (with a few feet there to spare) leading all the way to your last light; make sure you lay the cable within a foot or two of each light. Once you are sure that the cable's length is good, attach it to the transformer. Be sure to follow your transformers instructions for connecting the cables into the proper places (especially the grounding wire).

Step 6 - The Connectors

There are many types of connectors out there to choose from, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. If you choose any sort of pierce-point connector, you can turn on your transformer since you won't be stripping the cable wire, to see whether or not the light comes on when you pierce the cable. For any connectors that require stripping the cable, leave the power off. Attach your connectors to both the fixtures and the cable. Once everything is connected, test your system to be sure it is working properly, making any adjustments as needed.

Step 7 - Hiding The Cable

Many people choose to bury their cable. If you do, make sure it is at least a solid foot deep. For any areas that are dug into regularly (like a garden), cut section lengthwise off a piece of PVC pipe and lay it on top of the cable for protection. You may also choose to obscure the wire with rocks, wood chips, mulch, etc.

It's as simple as that. Whether lighting up your entire yard, or just creating some path lighting, these simple steps will help you set up the perfect lighting system for you.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Grow Sweet Corn in Your Garden

Enjoying fresh, sweet corn straight from your garden builds wonderful summer memories and is a great reward for all your hard work in your garden.  Follow these 9 simple steps to grow and care for your sweet corn:

  1. Choose an area in your garden that receives full sun, has well drained soil, and allows you full access to water the area.
  2. Choose the type of sweet corn you want to grow; I recommend buying open pollinated (non-hybrid) varieties such as Golden Bantman or Stowell's Evergreen. Through the use of open pollinated seeds, your crop will produce viable seeds that you then will be able to use next year and therefore prevents the necessity of buying new seed each year.
  3. After the last frost, once your soil is at least 65 F., work your soil at least 6 inches deep and create rows 24-30 inches apart.  Since corn is a wind pollinated crop, it is best to plant 4 or more short rows rather than 1 or 2 long rows, this will ensure the best production possible.
  4. Corn is susceptible to nitrogen deficiency, so before you plant, test your soil to determine your nitrogen levels. Easy to use soil test kits can be bought at most garden and hardware stores. If you find your soil lacking in nitrogen you can either add a starter fertilizer to help them germinate or add the appropriate amount of fertilizer once they have reached 2 feet tall. However, if you are uncomfortable with fertilizing your garden, consider growing beans or other nitrogen-fixing legumes near the corn.
  5. Saturate the rows with water the day before and the day of the planting to ensure your soil doesn't become hydrophobic and that it drains well.
  6. Sow the corn seeds into the soil 1/2-1 inch deep and about 3-4 inches apart within each row. Many gardeners choose to plant three seeds within each hole, especially if you tend to have trouble with birds harvesting your seeds before they sprout. It will take 5-10 days for your seeds to germinate, during this time keep your seeds watered.
  7. Once your seedlings have germinated, thin the crop to 6-12 inches apart within each row, ensuring each seedling will have enough room to grow.
  8. Continue to provide a steady supply of water throughout the growing season, enough to keep the plants from wilting, and increase the amount of water provided during the time that the kernels are being produced. 
  9. Your corn will be ready to harvest in about 95 days, a good way to tell if it is time to harvest your sweet corn is if the juice from the kernels is milky-white.  Once harvested, the corn should be cooked immediately or stored in the refrigerator until it is time to cook it. If you want to store your corn longer than a day or two, consider freezing it until you are ready to use it.
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Testing for Proper Soil Drainage

If you are planning a new flower or plant garden in your yard, or if you simply want to enhance the quality of your garden, proper soil drainage is essential for robust plant and flower growth. Poor drainage is one of the leading causes of failure and frustration for many gardeners. There are many ways that you can improve poorly draining soils. However, you will first need to determine how well your soil is drained. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you determine how well your soil is draining, and tips on how to improve it.

Materials Needed:

  • Shovel
  • Bucket of water or a garden hose

Step 1 - Determine Your Test Area

First, you will need to locate the area where you want to test the soil drainage. If you're planning a garden, you will want to test your soil drainage before you start planting flowers or plants. You should pick an area in your yard that is most suitable for the types of flowers and plants that you want and do your soil drainage testing there.

Step 2- Preparing Your Test Area

In order to prepare your test area, dig a hole in the soil that is approximately 18 to 24 inches deep. This will allow you to pass through the first two layers of topsoil in the earth where you want to test the drainage.

Step 3 - Beginning Your Soil Drainage Test

Fill the hole halfway full with water. There should be approximately 9 to 12 inches of water in the hole. Allow the water to simply sit in the hole.

Step 4 - Gauging the Drainage Results

Depending on the drainage quality of your soil, you may have to look at the water levels in the hole many times to determine the drainage results. You should expect to see the water disappear from the hole within a few hours to a few days. Below is a table of common drainage times that will accurately reflect the quality of your soil drainage:

  • If your soil drains the water in the hole in about four hours or less, your soil has excellent drainage.
  • If the water in the hole is absorbed within four hours to 24 hours, you can consider your soil to be well-drained or above average in its drainage ability.
  • If your soil drains within 24 to 72 hours, you have moderate drainage. This type of drainage will be okay for most types of flowers and plants. It may need to be improved for plants or flowers that are easily damaged by excessive watering.
  • If it takes more than three days for the water in the hole to disappear, you have very poor soil drainage. You'll need to improve the quality of the drainage before planting flowers or plants in your new garden.

If the test results indicate that you have very poor drainage, you may need to dig trenches around your flower or plant garden to help drain the water. You might also need to build up the area where you want to plant, and allow the water to drain downward into an area that is lower than the height of your garden.

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Basic Flagpole Considerations

A flagpole can add a statuesque focal point to a landscaping project. While no standard parameters need to be followed when installing a flagpole, you'll want to find that one that is best suited to your environment and can best support the weight of the flag. Procuring a flagpole isn't difficult, neither is maintaining it, but features such as the pole height, diameter, material and color need to be considered. 

1. Finances

Taller, thicker flagpoles cost more money. Flagpoles retailed as a part of a kit along with installation utilities like flag pole brackets tend to cost a bit more than standalone, commercial poles.

2. Appearance

Different material and color options will make different kinds of statements.

  • Poles made from cast aluminum, i.e. flash-collar poles, are a more contemporary, stylish and expensive option.
  • Plain-painted poles are much cheaper and more commonly available.
  • Colored poles with anti-rust staining are preferred as a low-maintenance option.
  • Homemade flagpoles offer a rustic, personalized appeal.

3. Size

The size of the pole you purchase should be determined based on the following criteria.

  • Surrounding wall height: higher buildings require taller poles
  • Presence of low-profile roof: requires lower poles
  • Landscaping features: If your garden has tall trees, taller and thicker poles are better

4. Strength

If you plan to hang bigger flags, choose a flagpole with a thicker stem that will accommodate the additional weight. Consider the following criteria.

  • Wind velocities near your home
  • The size of the flag that you plan to hang
  • Extreme temperature changes that can affect the pole strength

5. Installation Needs

Before purchasing a retail flagpole, ask the following questions:

  • Does the pole require specific soil conditions like dry soil bed?
  • Can it be affected by too much water in the underground soil?
  • Can it be installed in compacted soil?
Flag.jpg

6 Flower Bed Arrangement Tips

A properly arranged flower bed can add beauty and value to any home. Follow these general ideas and tips to arrange your flower bed and landscaping in an aesthetically pleasing and functional manner.

Shape

Rectangular flower beds can look harsh and boring. Add interest by cutting your flower beds in different shapes, such as kidney-shaped or semi-circular.

Edging

Edging flower beds will make them look much neater. Brick, plastic or metal edging will also prevent the shape being spoiled by the edge breaking down or by the invasion of grass from the lawn.

Plant Distribution

If your flower bed can only be seen from one direction, place the plants that grow tallest toward the back. Fill forward with plants that gradually decrease in size to give a nice graded appearance. For flower beds that can be seen from any angle, put the taller growing plants in the middle and fill around with smaller plants to create a pleasing domed effect.

Colors

You can achieve some dramatic results by carefully selecting the colors of the flowers and the way they are arranged. Mix and match colors according to the color wheel for better contrast and appeal.

Plant Seasons

If possible, mix plants with different flowering seasons so that there won't be a lack of color during the season.

Weed Control

Create a regular routine so that each flower bed gets weeded at least once a week. This will make the job much easier and not give weeds time to mature and spread.

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Creating Garden Stepping Stones

To make your own stepping stone path, the process is as easy as getting a mold, some gravel free cement or mortar and whatever you'd like to adorn it with for a decoration. Garden stepping stones are that much more charming when you make them yourself, especially if you add a creative touch like a footprint! To make stepping stones, you don't need many supplies or tools. You will, however, need a few hours and the patience to let them dry thoroughly. 

Tools and Materials 

  • Mold(s) for stepping stones
  • Gravel free cement or mortar
  • Crisco
  • Stir stick
  • Bucket

Step 1: Prepare Workstation

Before you start mixing the cement or mortar, set all of your tools and materials out on a workbench or the porch. Lay down some newspaper or paper bags to contain the mess. 

Step 2: Plan Pathway 

Many molds are designed in such a way that each piece fits with the others to make a perfect fit. If this is like your mold, you simply have to make as many pieces to cover the entire pathway. If the mold, however, is just a single piece, you should take a moment to plan out the walkway, figuring out how many stones you will need to fill the space. 

Step 2: Mix Up Mortar/Cement

Follow the directions on the mortar or cement, and mix up enough of it with water so you can fill one multi-mold or make a few stones. Mix it in a bucket and use the stir stick to combine the water and cement or mortar thoroughly. Add more cement or water until the consistency is like cake mix, smooth but thick. 

Step 3: Pour Mixture Into Mold(s)

If you have the type of mold that has many interlocking pieces, pour in enough cement or mortar to fill the entire mold. This will produce several pieces at once, of different shapes and sizes. They fit together quite nicely, though. This type of mold you can pull off of the hardening mixture before it's completely dry. Let it set for an hour or so before you pour in another batch. 

If you are using other molds found around the house, such as cake pans, make sure you line each one with some Crisco or shortening before you pour in the cement. Fill each mold halfway and shake it to remove any bubbles. 

Step 4: Continue Pouring

If you are using the multi-mold type, after an hour or so, pour another batch of mortar into the mold and let it harden partially. Make sure you don't try to move the first pieces. Let them harden in place. With cake pan molds, after you have removed the bubbles, fill in the other half, shaking in the same way. 

Step 5: Decorate Shapes

Once the cement or mortar has set for about 10 minutes, you can place decorations in it. These can be shells, tiles, smaller rocks, etc. You can wait until the cake pan molds dry completely to paint the shapes as well.

Step 6: Remove Stones 

If you are using homemade molds, you should wait at least a day before you remove the stones. When you do, turn them upside down and place them on a work towel. Gently but firmly press in the center of the pan, tapping it until the stone comes out. Now you can paint them or decorate them as you wish. 

Measuring and making your own stepping stones is easy and fun. Include your kids, for they will have a fun time putting their hand or fingerprints in the drying mortar (or writing their names). You can make a mold from many objects found around the house (just make sure you can get the dried mortar out of it).

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Encourage Your Anthurium to Bloom Better Flowers

The anthurium is a great choice for an indoor house plant. Once other plants have begun to lose their flowers, and begin to whither, the Anthurium will continue to produce blossoms and flowers year round. They will produce red, pink or white flowers that are heart shaped and will last for 8 weeks at a time.

Use Blooming Plant Food

To encourage the constant blooming of the anthurium plant, or the flamingo flower, you should use a plant food that has a high phosphoric acid content. Feed the plant every month to ensure a healthy blooming plant.

Keep in Light and Dry

Anthuriums crave bright light and should be kept near windows during most of the day. However, they do not like to be wet. Make sure the pot has good drainage, and water them only when the soil is dry. Cover with a mist once a week or so, rather than deluging the flowers with water.

Prune Dead Leaves

As the blossoms begin to fade and dry up, immediately remove them from the plant. Prune back some of the new leaves, and let the anthurium focus on new blossoms.

Transplant into Larger Pots

Once the plant begins reduce its blossoms, it needs to be transplanted into a larger pot. Choose a pot that is only a little larger than the previous, and let the roots grow a little more. This will not only encourage the roots to grow, but new blossoms to sprout.

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How to Make a Garden Fire Pit

Making a garden fire pit can be very simple or highly complex. Most people decorate the area around their fire pits to fit their personal tastes and build their fire pits the same way.  The basic steps involved in building an in-ground garden fire pit allow you to expand and incorporate you own design ideas into the project.

Moderate Experience Required

We are going to presume that you have a working knowledge of basic carpentry and concrete working tools, and have already assembled the required materials. For best results, we recommend using a concrete truck delivery rather than mixing bags of cement.

Pit Layout

Decide where the exact center of the fire pit will be, and drive a stake into that spot. Leave around 12 inches of stake protruding from the ground. Drive a nail part way into the top of the stake. Tie a string loosely to the nail so it can rotate around the nail. Measure out 1/2 the total width of the fire pit, and mark the string with a permanent marker. Hold the mark on the string between your thumb and a spray can of marking paint, pull the string tight and spray a circle around the central stake. This will mark the soil area you need to remove.

Dig the Pit

Try to keep the sides as vertical as possible when digging your garden fire pit. Be careful not to collapse the edges, and dig down to a depth between 1 to 2 feet. The floor of the pit should slope slightly toward the center. In the exact center, dig a hole that is 18 inches square, 6 inches deep, and has a flat bottom. Use a foundation tamper to pack the floor of the pit.

Concrete or Steel

You may purchase a commercial steel fire pit, modify the opening to fit, and place the pit in the ground, or continue building a concrete fire pit. The steel pit is faster and easier, and may even be less expensive, but it won't offer you the sense of accomplishment of building your own.

Notes on Concrete Fire Pits

If you select a concrete pit, pour the surface at least 1 1/2 inch thick, with 2 to 3 inches being optimal. You may want to install steel stakes to support a spark screen or grilling surface before pouring the concrete. If you are not comfortable forming the vertical sides, you can slope them slightly. The concrete surface should be smooth so it can be easily cleaned with a shovel and broom between uses. Form the pit and apron as separate pieces to reduce the possibility of cracking.

Decorate the Area

Decorate the area around the fire pit to match your desired theme. Include seating and fire safety devices as well as subdued lighting for nighttime gatherings. How you decorate the area around your fire pit is up to you, and can make the area very practical or turn it into a complete party or family recreation area.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

The Best Way to Apply an Organic Insecticide

The best way to apply an organic insecticide is by using a spray method. These are easy to use on both indoor and outdoor plants such as flowers, vegetables, fruit trees, citrus, berries, ornamentals, nut trees, shrubs and all other plants found in the home, garden and in greenhouses.

Spray Widely

Use a soaking manner to apply organic insecticide. Always try to hit the insects directly, since insecticidal soap is a contact type of insecticide. It doesn't matter where on the plant you spray, as long as that section has insects visually present on it. Always spray both sides of the leaves. Soaking the entire plant is essential, as crawling bugs can come in contact with sprayed areas before evaporation happens.

When to Spray

Apply insecticidal soap for two to three weeks when insects are still present. Make sure to spray in the early morning or late evening hours to get the best - and longest lasting - application before sunlight causes evaporation.

Do Not Burn

Applied soap has no residual effect on insects. However, repeated application may have a harmful effect on plants, and insecticidal soap may cause a burning effect on some sensitive plants.

Always "test" an insecticidal soap on a pulled leaf from a plant to check how it affects it before applying full coverage.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


Leveling a Retaining Wall

Many homes have a retaining wall to hold back the sides of hills and slopes from caving in on their land. This will also keep down on erosion and provide more usable landscaping for gardens, water features, and playing.

There will be times when repairs are going to be needed in order to keep you retaining wall safe and functioning the way it should. A wall that is holding back the side of a hill is under a lot of strain. Keeping it repaired and level will help ensure the life of the retaining wall.

Signs of Being Unlevel

A retaining wall that is not level anymore means that it is leaning away from the hill is it supposed to be holding back. There are several reasons why might happen.

  • Frost heaves
  • Inadequate materials
  • Protruding rocks
  • Bad construction
  • Weather

Whatever the reason might be, the wall is now dangerous and is presenting a hazard to anyone who is going near it or walking on the ground above it. When you detect that the wall is no longer level, you should address the problem immediately.

Materials Needed

  • Anchor Rods
  • Drill
  • Bearing Plates

Inspect Wall

Before you begin to try and level the wall, you should first try to see what it is that is causing the wall to be leaning. If it is something that is forcing it out, you can easily fix that.

However, if the soil under the wall is eroding, or there are other problems, you might need to remove the wall and start over again.

Push Wall Back Up

Dig out some of the dirt and rock that have fallen in behind the wall and then push it back to a vertical position. Use a level to make sure that the wall is straight and perpendicular. Most walls can simply be pushed or pulled back into position:

  • Use bucket on a tractor
  • Pull with a block and tackle
  • Push with large timber

Drill Holes for Anchors

Drill the first hole in the middle of the wall. This is the core anchor. Drill to the depth as required by your local code.

Drill More Holes Every Two Rises

If your retaining wall is brick: every two risers, drill a new hole through the blocks and into the side of the hill.

Install the Anchors

Slide the anchors into each of the holes according to the required depth.

Bearing Plates

On top of each anchor, install a bearing plate. Bolt the bearing plate to the anchor and make sure it is tightened to the wall face.

Continue Watching Wall

After you have leveled off the wall, keep an eye on it to make sure that it does not come out from the side of the hill again. If it does, then you have some other problems that should be evaluated by a landscaping professional.

retaining wall

Cleaning Your Sprinkler System

Every year, you should plan on cleaning your sprinkler system at least one time to clear out any debris and dirt that may have accumulated in the system when your sprinklers have not been used for an extended period of time.

When to Clean

In areas where sprinkler systems are turned off during cold winter months, sprinkler systems should be cleaned in the early to mid spring before being turned back on for regular use. Over the period of the winter, it is possible for dirt and debris to accumulate in the sprinkler lines or to foul the sprinkler heads, making them spray incorrectly. 

Also, it is possible for sprinkler heads to be broken or damaged over the winter months, particularly in cold weather areas where freezes and thaws happen with some regularity.

Another time to clear and clean the sprinkler system is after a large storm, especially if it is a storm that had a great deal of muddy run-off or flooding.  In this case, your sprinkler lines may be filled with mud and soil debris that has to be cleaned out before your system can begin to work correctly again.

Cleaning Process

Before you begin the process of cleaning out your sprinkler system, it is a good idea to have a few spare sprinkler heads on hand in case you need to replace broken or damaged heads in the process.

Step 1

At your first station, turn on the valve and let the sprinklers run for a few moments.  Let the water run long enough to completely fill the lines attached to that station.

Step 2

As the water is running, check to see if there are any sprinkler heads that are clogged or are not spraying correctly.

Step 3

Turn off the water. Wait to see which sprinkler is the last to stop running. This is the lowest point in the line.
Remove the sprayer from this particular sprinkler head.

Step 4

Turn the water back on and allow it to stay on long enough to flush out any stones or debris from the system line.

Step 5

Turn the water back off and remove all of the sprinkler heads from that line  Turn the water back on to flush out soil, small pebbles and other debris from the line and risers.

Step 6

Replace the sprinkler heads one at a time, starting at the highest point.

Step 7

Repeat all of the above steps with each of the stations, one at a time.  It is a good idea to do check each line or station separately in order to maintain strong water pressure needed to clear the pipes.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


Advantages to Using Sprinklers in Your Vegetable Garden

During the growing season, sprinklers should provide vegetable gardens at least 1 to 2 inches of water per week. If the soil is sandy, the garden will probably need 2 inches, whereas clay-like soils and denser soils will need the 1 inch of water, whether from natural rainwater or from sprinklers.

Portable Lawn Sprinklers

You don't necessarily need a built-in sprinkler system to be able to irrigate your garden with sprinklers. Portable lawn sprinklers are good enough for most vegetable gardens.

Place the sprinkler somewhere so that all plants will receive good coverage, like with no large plants blocking water from reaching plants in rear rows. Sprinklers that are mounted above plants offer rain-like irrigation that can be great for your garden. This can also prevent a problem with plants blocking the pattern of application.

When using overhead mounted sprinklers, be sure to water early in the day when the air is coolest and calm. This will allow the leaves to dry thoroughly so they won't be damp during the cold of night. Also, early watering lets the leaves continue to absorb water throughout the period of the day when the sun is hottest and can be most damaging.

Standard Sprinklers

When using underground sprinklers to irrigate the garden, keep in mind that pop-up sprinklers take 40 or 45 minutes to deliver about an inch of water. Double the time for sprinklers with rotor heads.

How Much Water?

When you use sprinklers to water your vegetable garden, be sure that you wet the soil thoroughly. You want at least the top 3 inches of soil to be wet. You can poke through the soil with your finger to see if it feels dry. Depending on the kinds of vegetables you're growing and how sandy the soil is, you may want to wet the soil up to 5 inches deep.

If you water less than the plants need and the soil only gets wet an inch or 2 down, it prevents plants from growing deep, strong roots. The roots will stay at the top of the soil where it gets wet, and the plants will get weak and die.

How Long to Run the Sprinklers

Since you'll need between 1 and 2 inches of water per week, you should find out how much water you actually apply each day. Get some empty cans of equal diameter and place them in various places throughout your garden.

Run the sprinklers for a single cycle and then check the cans to see how much water is inside. This will not only help you determine how much water pressure to use to ensure that your vegetables receive enough water, but it will show which parts of your garden are getting less water than others. Use this information to help you reposition your sprinklers accordingly.

Vegetable Garden.jpgVegetable garden at Ham House Estate (mym) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Troubleshooting Sprinklers

Your sprinklers represent a big investment. When something goes wrong, paying a professional to diagnose and repair the problem is frustrating and expensive. Try these methods for troubleshooting your sprinkler system with little time, effort, and money.

Check the Power


As with most electrical appliances, when something goes wrong, check the power source. Making sure your sprinkler system is powered up and plugged in is the first thing to do.  If the system is plugged in correctly, but still not working, check the power fuses. These steps are quick and easy to eliminate a simple, potential problem.

Check the Timer


The clock on your sprinklers timer should show the correct time of day. If it doesn't, then it could be that your system is functioning properly, but the timer has it coming on at the wrong time.

Note the Problem Locations


If the problem with your sprinklers is in only one zone of your yard or garden, then you'll want to check the solenoid valve that supplies water to that area. Shut the water off and then check the valve to make sure that it's not blocked. There could be debris that's preventing it from opening. If a sprinkler won't shut off, the valve is probably being held open by debris like a tiny rock. In either case, cleaning out the solenoid valve should remedy the problem.

Gushing Sprinkler Head


If your sprinkler head isn't spraying water so much as gushing it like a geyser, the head is broken. You'll need to replace the head.

Weeping Sprinkler Head

A sprinkler head that doesn't continue to spray when the sprinkler system is off but seems to weep water has a faulty valve. It's probably just worn and not sealing properly. Replacing the valve will solve this problem. It could be that this head is the one in the lowest part and the water is running back to it when the system goes off. Unless it puddles or runs across pavement it shouldn't pose a large problem, but you can have a valve installed to prevent this.

Puddling

If you discover puddling in your yard in just one spot, then the water line that runs underground is most likely broken and leaking. You don't want to wait on this repair because it can cost you in extra water. Sometimes when a line is broken, water will actually spray up from the ground. Turn off the water, locate the broken pipe and replace it.

Head Not Spraying


If your sprinklers work fine overall but one head doesn't spray properly, you've probably got the most common problem among sprinklers. Fortunately, a clogged sprinkler head is easy to repair. You can take stiff wire and poke through the slits and then test again. When badly clogged, sprinklers should be removed and soaked before cleaning.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


Garden Ground Cover: Benefits and Uses

Garden ground cover serves numerous purposes in the garden including weed control and erosion prevention. In addition, ground cover complements the other plants in your garden beautifully by producing various fragrances and blossoms.

Defending your Garden

Planting ground cover prevents invasive species and troublesome weeds from invading your garden. The ground cover thickly smothers the earth surrounding your plants, inhibiting the growth of unwanted plants and weeds. It acts as a protective barrier for your garden while protecting beneficial earthworms from predatory birds.

Attracting Bees & Butterflies

In addition to defending your garden from invasive species, ground cover benefits your garden in other ways. Many species produce flowers which encourage bees to pollinate your entire garden and provide an outstanding habitat for butterflies. Flowering ground cover is available in almost every color and is frequently accompanied by an alluring scent.

Binding the Soil

In the same manner that your lawn keeps the soil beneath it in place, the roots of ground cover binds the soil in which it is planted. These roots prevent erosion and the loss of water through evaporation. Planting ground cover in your garden conserves water because the roots drink the water while the foliage shades the soil beneath from direct sunlight.

Ground cover plants comes in an abundance of varieties that you can position in a way that best suits your garden. Most ground covers do not grow taller than 6 inches when mature and quickly spread out to blanket the surrounding. Various species are adapted to full sun or shade, allowing you to creatively mix species and colors. It is important to consider the amount of sun your garden receives when selecting ground cover. If improperly placed, you will notice that your new plants refuse to grow, do not multiply and cannot reach maturity.

Sunlight Requirements

When purchasing ground cover for your garden consider the specie's sunlight requirements and its ability to spread. Comparing these variables to your garden design will prevent improper placement or overbuying. It generally takes ground cover 2 or 3 years to become fully established; during which time it should be regularly monitored and appropriately tended to.

Ground cover is a hardy garden solution that require very little fertilization during the growing season. In addition, most full-sun species evolve into drought-resistant plants when they reach adulthood, requiring infrequent watering. They will also create a habitat for desirable wildlife in your garden.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


Top 8 Blue Perennial Flowers for Your Garden

Blue perennial flowers add a calm coolness to your garden in the sweltering heat of the summer sun. In varying shapes, sizes and hues, blue perennials are a wonderful enhancement to an all-blue or a mixed garden. There are many blue perennials that would be a beautiful addition to your garden or as potted plants, but here are 8 great blue perennials to add to your garden.

Blue Star

These are beautiful wild flowers that grow in wooded areas and along river banks from Texas to New Jersey. They are tolerant to dry soil and love full sun to partial shade. Growing between 24 and 36 inches tall, Blue Stars are perfect for a wildflower garden. They bloom between May and June, and in the fall, the leaves turn a pretty butterscotch color.

Iris

Irises are also a good blue perennial to add to your garden, especially the Siberian Iris. Hardy in zones 4a to 9b, the Siberian Iris requires average watering. If you live in a wooded area, keep in mind that the Siberian iris is deer-resistant, growing to 24 to 36 inches tall. They love full sun and bloom late spring to midsummer.

Wild Blue Indigo


Baptisia, or Wild Blue Indigo, is a drought-tolerant beauty that loves sunshine. With deep blue blooms, this blue perennial will grow just about anywhere in zones 3a to 10b. The wild Blue Indigo may take up to two years to establish, but is well worth it. Blooming in late spring to early summer, Wild Blue Indigo will grow between 18 - 24 inches tall, perfect for the front or middle of your perennial garden.

Forget-Me-Not

These are a lovely late-winter bloomer that may, in fact, be the first awakening to spring. They will bloom into early summer and need consistently moist soil. Forget- me-nots are especially vigorous after a harsh winter. In addition to their gorgeous blue blooms, Forget-me-nots also sport heart-shaped leaves and grow 12 to 18 inches tall. They prefer partial to full shade and are hardiest in zones 3a to 7b.

Mountain Bluet

For a low maintenance addition to your garden, try the Mountain Bluet. Growing 24 to 36 inches tall with electric blue blooms and fuzzy, velvet-like chartreuse leaves, the Mountain Bluet is a wonderfully easy perennial to grow. Hardy in zones 3a to 8b, the Mountain Bluet is an eye-catching blue perennial that is rugged and spreads quickly. It will bloom from late spring to early fall and require regular watering.

Blue Verbena

Blue Verbena are a very fragrant and drought-tolerant blue perennial. They are a butterfly magnet and bloom from spring to fall. Perfect for the front of your blue perennial garden, Blue Verbena loves the sun and grows between 6 to 12 inches tall. Hardy in zones 7b to 10b, Blue Verbena are also good for drying.

Bluebell

This is a very fragrant blue perennial that grows vigorously. The Bluebell's bell-shaped blue blooms attract butterflies and prefer an organic, well-drained soil. These lovely Bluebells grow between 6 and 18 inches tall and prefer full-sun to partial shade.

Hawaiian Blue Eyes

Also called  Blue Daze, these blue perennials are also a hardy ground cover plant. Preferring a more tropical climate, Hawaiian Blue Eyes are hardy in zones 8 to 11. They bloom mid-summer to mid-fall and are sometimes classified as a tender perennial. They have gorgeous blue-green blooms and fuzzy, velvet leaves, and they need regular watering. They grow 6 to 12 inches tall and make a wonderful addition to any garden.

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Keep Insects Away from Your Organic Blueberry Garden

Effective insect control in your organic blueberry garden does not require expensive equipment or special horticultural training. With some advance planning and attention to detail, you can handle most garden pest outbreaks early-or even plant a garden that can fend pests off on its own.

Choose Pest-Resistant Berries

First, choose your blueberry varieties carefully.  All types of blueberries are generally good at resisting pests, but some blueberry species are especially resistant to insects. A Southern family of blueberries, known as "Rabbiteye" blueberries, is especially good at resisting most common blueberry insect pests, as well as recovering from what little insect damage they do face. Choosing pest-resistant plants in the first place means you won't have as many pests to fight off.

Not All Bugs are Bad

Next, try to attract the RIGHT insects.  Some common blueberry pests, such as aphids or cranberry fruitworms, are actually food for insects such as ladybugs and lacewing insects. Certain wasps also prey on garden pests. If you provide a habitat for aphid-preying insects, they will eat the harmful pests that invade your blueberry garden. Most beneficial insects are drawn to flowering plants, so simply planting flowers along the border of your garden will help. Different flowers bloom at different times, so choose some early-blooming flowers-such as pansies-as well as later-blooming varieties, like marigolds or zinnias. You can also plant some herbs, such as lavender, dill, or mint, which also bear flowers. Some flowers and herbs-such as nasturtiums, chrysanthemums, or spearmint-even repel common blueberry pests on their own. Be sure you keep this border well-watered-the friendly insects need water as well as food.

Set Some Traps

You can also control pests in your organic blueberry garden with insect traps. Most organic garden supply stores carry traps for common blueberry pests, such as aphids and Japanese Beetles.  These traps are generally easy to use-the trap for aphids is nothing more than a piece of sticky paper treated with a chemical which attracts aphids, which stick to the paper. You will need to replace your insect traps a few times during each growing season. 

Natural Insecticides

Some stubborn insects may still stray into your organic blueberry garden - but you can make your own organic insecticides to combat them. A simple solution of soap and water is a surprisingly effective pest spray. Use pure liquid soap, rather than a detergent such as dishwashing liquid, and mix two tablespoons into a spray bottle of water. When you see smaller pests on your blueberries, just give them a spray or two of this soapy water. Carry a cup of soapy water for larger pests-just pick them off the plants and drop them in the cup to drown. For a pest spray that also repels future insects, mix in a tablespoon of hot pepper sauce with the soap.

Last Resorts

If you have tried these methods and still face a pest problem, there are pest control sprays you can use which are still environmentally safe. Pyrethrum is an insecticide made from dried chrysanthemum powder, and is an effective, yet safe, pesticide. Most garden supply shops carry pest sprays with pyrethrum, or may carry pyrethrum in powder form so you can mix your own. Pyrethrum should be used as a last resort, though, because it may also kill beneficial insects.

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 Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)


How to Plant Red Raspberry Plants

Red raspberry plants do best in cooler climates, but thanks to new ever-bearing varieties, raspberries can now be grown successfully in warmer states that don't experience a cool winter season. While raspberries require some care after planting, once established they will thrive with little more than regular watering and occasional feeding.

Tools:

  • Raspberry plants
  • Fertilizer
  • Mulch


Step 1-Choose the Spot and Prepare the Soil

Raspberries love sun, and need 6 to 8 hours of sunshine a day. A spot that's partly shaded won't let your raspberries grow to their full potential and some plants may even die. If you have grown potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant or peppers in that spot in the last four years, choose another location for your raspberries. These common garden vegetables are vulnerable to verticilium, a type of root fungus that also attacks raspberry plants. If you plant your raspberries in the same place as these other plants, you risk that the fungus is already present and ready to do damage to your raspberry plants. Also, make sure the area is clear of  nearby wild blackberry or raspberry bushes that could transmit a virus to your new plants.

Make sure good drainage is available for your raspberry garden. Raspberry plants prefer well-drained sandy loam soil. Soil that has been enriched with peat moss and compost for up to a year in advance is ideal. You can create a truly ideal growing environment for your raspberries by making sure that the pH level of the soil is somewhere between 5.6 and 6.5. Spreading about a half-pound of phosphate fertilizer per every 100 square feet of your raspberry garden will help the roots grow.

Step 2-Plant

Early spring is the time to plant raspberries. The best plant spacing for these berries is about 2 feet apart. Plant your raspberries in rows allowing up to 2 feet in width per row and keep the rows 2 to 3 feet apart.

To determine how deep to plant your raspberries, find the soil mark on the cane from where they had previously been planted. Using that mark as your guide for depth, plant them in the ground and then cover about 2 additional inches of the cane with soil. Let the roots spread out a bit as you do so, then press the soil down firmly taking care not to damage the plants. 

Step 3-Prune

Once the canes are in the soil, you'll want to prune them down to about 4 to 6 inches in height, to facilitate the growth of healthy, fruit-bearing plants. If you skip this step, the plants won't be as hardy or produce as many berries as they would have with proper pruning.

Step 4-Mulch

Raspberry plants need to be kept free from weeds. At this point spread straw mulch or your preferred mulch around the plants to inhibit weed growth. 


Step 5-Water

Now that your raspberry plants are situated in well-fertilized, well-drained soil, pruned to the right height and surrounded by mulch to keep weeds from growing, it's time to begin a watering routine. Water your new red raspberry plants thoroughly, and make sure they get about 1 to 1 ½ inches of moisture per week.

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Photo copyright Dave's Garden (davesgarden.com)

Growing Blueberries: Weeding and Mulching

Growing blueberries in your garden is a great way to enjoy fresh berries all summer. Here are some tips on weeding and mulching to maximize your berry gains.

Mulch for Blueberries and Your Garden

Finding the right mulch specific to your garden can be a daunting task. There are many effective mulches for blueberries, so it's best to find the one or combination that is most readily available to you and suiting to the needs of your garden.

  • Pine Needles/Pine Bark: Pine needles or bark mulch is desired as a fertilizer for its perfect level of acidity. Though it can be cumbersome to acquire, if the PH levels of your home garden are not ideal for blueberry growing, pine needles or bark should do the trick.
  • Peat Moss: Peat moss is expensive and becomes crusty over time, blocking water. The advantage is that it lasts longer and insulates effectively. Peat moss is commonly used in commercial blueberry production when mixed with sand and some form of hydrating agent.
  • Sawdust: One of the most commonly available fertilizers is sawdust. It is absorbed nicely into the ground, enriching the soil and thus providing nutrients and other benefits.
  • Manure: Manure is often used to further enrich fertilizers. Horse manure is the most common, but rabbit manure works great with blueberries and can be used fresh without aging.

Blueberries typically need 2 to 5 inches of mulch to best retain water and curb weed growth. Any more fertilizer may be too much. If mixing different types of mulch, use 1-2 inches of each.

Proper Weeding Is Vital for Garden

Weeds can be a bane to your blueberry bushes. Proper weeding is essential to maintaining the health of your garden. There are two aspects to proper weeding: prevention and clearing. Preventing weeds involves taking a step back to look at the macro scale of your garden. Identify the best spots as well as the troubled spots. If you consistently have weed problems in certain areas, rotate what you grow every season in that area between plants of stronger and weaker constitution. You can stop weeds from spreading through your yard by containing troubled areas with obstructions. Filling in loose cracks in your cement with powdered cement will also help curb weed growth from spawning in weak points of your deck or patio. Finally and most importantly, mulch is vital to preventing weeds because it blocks sunlight to the ground around your garden.

Clearing weeds is a simple if monotonous chore. If you have a light problem with weeds, picking them with gloves is a good option. If your weed problem is more serious, using a tool like a hoe to clear an area before planting is a good idea. 

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Photo copyright Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Pond Bio Filter: Beneficial Bacteria For Your Pond

Your pond will actually need some bacteria to keep it healthy, this is commonly provided by a pond bio filter. Here are suggestions to keep your pond healthy using bio filters.

Heterotrophic Bacteria

This type of bacteria actually grows as it breaks down other organic matter. The presence of this bacteria in your pond will break down non-toxic material that tends to attract organic matter that can be toxic. So while this bacteria isn't necessary to clean the pond, it does help the overall eco-system.

Autotrophic Bacteria


These types of bacteria work differently. They don't feed on organic elements, rather they feed on the chemical elements produced naturally in the pond, such as nitrogen. This is an important step in keeping the pond clean organically. As they feed, they also grow in numbers and help maintain the pond.


Nitrification

This is the process that the Autotrophic bacteria use. Ammonia that is found in the pond (left behind from the excrement of fish) is converted in to nitrogen, and then feeds the bacteria. Ammonia in the water can harm and eventually kill the life in the pond, so it's important that process happens.

Oxygen

The oxygen levels in your pond should be kept as high as possible. The positive bacteria in your pond need oxygen to survive. As the bacteria levels grow, the oxygen levels will decrease if you don't stay on top of this. One of the best ways to keep the levels high is to have lots of oxygen producing plants in the pond. Water plants look pretty, but they also serve several important purposes, and greatly help the eco-system survive. Plants are available in many different varieties and colors, so you have many options. The easiest plants are the free floating plants, such as water hyacinth. These look beautiful, smell great, and will reproduce easily. Just be sure to keep an eye on them, as they have a tendency to grow rapidly and can take over the pond.

Fish

A lot of people try to put algae eating fish, such as the Plecostomus. These fish eat algae to survive. If you've ever been to a pet store you've probably seen these guys stuck to the sides of the tanks. They are cleaning the algae. The problem with the Pleco is that they won't survive cold water temperatures. They are considered a tropical fish. If you decide to try this method of eco-filtration you will need to make sure you are bringing them indoors in to a tank every night, and during the colder months. Some people don't mind doing this, but if your pond is large they may be hard to spot and bring in.

Pre-Made Compounds

To keep the process of bio-filtration system many companies make special bio-filters that release all the necessary compounds automatically. You can also purchase these compounds in liquid and powder form to add to your pond manually. This is probably the best idea for most people, it takes the guess work out and allows you to have a balanced pond and eco-system with very little effort.

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