Friday, April 30, 2010

Maintenance Free Gardening (and I have a Bridge!)

Gardening Ideas for Low Maintenance Gardens

I've heard this so much.  "I want a yard that I don't have to do anything."  Impossible - certainly, unless you have a gardener on the payroll!  But  I do have some ideas to make your weekends less 'yard chores' and more 'sit back and enjoy'.

Naturescaping with native plants is the next best thing to 'maintenance free' gardening.

Most 'traditional' landscaping consists of 1) lawn, 2) shrubs, and 3) maintenance.  The lawn needs to be cut, trimmed, and have products like fertilizer and pesticides applied.  The shrubs need to be manicured to keep their boxy shape.  This 'standard' is what we grew up with, and what we feel we need to perpetuate.  The nursery industry encourages us to follow these practices because they have grown lots of these plants and want us to buy them. 

Native plants are quite different.  They have not been cloned.  They have survived the weather. They have adapted to the water availability in the region. Native plants have an immunity or resistance to insects that keeps them healthy.
Incorporating a naturescape into you landscape requires a new way of thinking. 
And that is the idea that 'nature' can take care of our plants so we don't have to'

Initially this means we need to choose plants that grow naturally in the area.  There are many gorgeous varieties from which to pick.   So don't feel that you have to settle for a mediocre garden.

This false indigo, Baptisia and Turtlehead are just some of the gorgeous blooms you can look for.  The Baptisia blooms in the early summer  and has been chosen as Perennial Plant of the Year. The Turtlehead blooms in my yard around Labor Day.  Paired with the Sedum, Autumn Joy, which blooms about the same time, this is spectacular.

Naturescaping with native plants offers other benefits.  Besides using less water, once established, these plants need little supplemental fertilizer.  No need for pesticides or fungicides means less dollars from your wallet.
These plants do not require manicureing, leaving your weekends free from yard duty.  Sounds like a win- win for all of us. 

Critters will take advantage of your generosity too.  Seeds, berries, and shelter will draw songbirds.  Populations of songbirds have dropped steadily in the past several decades - up to 5-10%, per year due mostly from the loss of habitat. Pollinator's like bees and butterflies will visit also. 

The naturescape is the best option to a  low maintenance landscape.  Less lawn care, less watering, less pruning, less fertilizing, less spraying for pests. Native plants, trees, shrubs, and perennials, are available in the marketplace.  A comprehensive list is available through the OSU website: 

Naturescape - low maintenance.   Lawn - high maintenance. Just nature scaping a portion of your yard will free up your time and money.  Do you need your yard to mirror the neighbors, or are you ready to step out of your comfort zone and truly be comfortable?  Enjoy. 


Monday, April 26, 2010

Ground Covers - The Good, Bad, Ugly

The idea of ground covers is to green the area and cover the ground.  Duh!!  I've spent years trying to find the ideal ground cover.  The idea sounds simple enough, but ....

This is 'snow-on-the-mountain.' Other common names include Bishop's Weed, Gout Weed, Ground Elder. It's botanical name is Aegopodium. a perennial, ground cover Boy does it.  This plant spreads  by runners, under ground. Snow-on-the-mountain is very aggressive and invasive.  Use a non-selective herbicide to the leaves to inhibit its spreading.  I'd use this plant in containers where you can restrict its growth.  But, as you can see, Gout Weed has moved all around my garden. Now I'm on a mission to remove it once and for all.

Another 'goof' I admit to (Other's not so much) is 'creeping jenny'.  I initially loved the bright, gold shades it offered the garden.  But once again, (Lysimachia nummularia) - plant has gone wild! The plant can jump and creep.  I've found it in areas not even close to the original bed.  I've used creeping jenny in containers too, but I urge you to be very careful where you put them.


This photo is wild strawberry. It is also known as Frais des bois, or Woodland strawberry. I have never planted this wild strawberry so I'm blaming birds for their deposit of this fruit to my yard.  Again, strawberries are everywhere - in the beds and in the lawn.  The fruit is quite edible, and the yellow blossoms are pretty but just not uninvited!

These ground covers would be classed as The Bad.  They are out of control and I'm ready to initiate a full fledged assault.  I'll let you know how that works!

The Good -
Not all ground covers don't mind their manners.  Some are quite nice.  I particularly like sweet woodruff, Galium odoratum, a shade gardeners delight.  It grows quickly and has a vanilla fragrance in early spring when it blooms. Sweet woodruff is a valuable herb in the garden as it has culinary and medicinal uses. It's a perfect choice for those shady spots near trees and overhangs. It's also a natural insect repellent. Sweet woodruff grows 8-12" tall and prefers moist, well-drained soils.

Pachysandra terminalis is perhaps the best evergreen ground cover for moderately- to deeply-shaded sites, forming dense mats of glossy dark green foliage.  The white flowers are not significant, but do brighten the area for a week or so in the early spring.  I've got this under a white pine which is a very dry area and pachysandra has taken many years to spread into this 30' by 15' area.  I started with only a dozen plants, so my waiting has paid off with a really dark green, well-behaved covering.

One more ground cover I enjoy is sedum.(I don't know the variety - sorry).  Here in a very hot, sunny area, this guy just hangs out.  The golden blooms in late summer are contrasted by the blue-green foliage. Full sun - at least six hours a day - make this plant perform well. 
The Ugly - Again -- this is subjective, but I am really about over the 'sweet violets' and the vinca that love the shade under the lilac bushes.  This too is an area that I need to revamp.
  The non-selective herbicides may get applied once I remove the perennials that I want to save - the hostas, the Solomon's seal, and some ferns.  The herbicide I like is an OMRI  listed product from St Gabriel Labs, called Burn Out II.  It's all organic and naturally degrades in the soil, leaving no chemical  residue to contaminate the soil or water. Since it is a 'non-selective' herbicide, it will kill anything you spray it on.  Use caution around desirable plants and turf.

The last ground cover I have to deal with is the grasses that pop up in the gravel paths and in unmulched areas.  The Burn Out II will work on these too. 
What ground covers do you like?  What invasive plants drive you crazy?   How do you deal with them?
I'd like to hear from you.  

Monday, April 19, 2010

Spring - A Thing of Beauty

This spring has to be one of the most spectacular I've seen in many years!  The Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio is the setting for these views of crabapple trees.    I've been on campus a lot lately, and the grounds are really easy on the eyes. 

We have had 70 degree days for several weeks now, and trees have exploded with color.  I hope you have had a chance to take in some of these spring events in your area.

Now some reality has set in!  This is in my driveway waiting for me.  My plan is to shovel some, sit some.  Life is good!

This is mushroom compost - a blend of horse manure and spaghnem peat.  I'm going to give the micro organisms in the soil a feast!  We are applying this compost for the second year.  The plants have really good color, stronger stems, and have larger clumps than previously.  I give last year's mushroom compost the credit. 

I'm going to rake some of this compost into thin areas of the lawn too.  

I've been able to divide quite a few of the established perennials in the last few weeks.  I move them around in the garden to fill in bare spots, and the cost is $0. 

Getting plants for free is good, and selling them to eager gardeners is even better.  I've potted up 150 or so starts that I'll put in a plant sale in a few weeks.  One of the joys of gardening is sharing it with others.  By offering plants for sale I can truly say these work in this area. And  at $.50 to $2.00 - 4.00, it is a way for me to subsidize my next trip to the garden center. 

Guess I'd better get outside - The dirt is calling me. 

Do you offer plants to others?  Let me know.  

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Soil, The Beginning of a Garden ....Rich and Nutritious

How to Get Healthy Soil 

Warm temperatures indicate the growing season is here. and the flowers are close behind.  Before heading  to the garden center for that special plant, make sure the soil is alive and well. This lovely cottage garden did not just happen.  Rich soil is hard to find in most of our yards, and these next few steps are well worth the effort.

Compost is the single most valuable amendment you can put in your soil.  Compost is decaying organic matter, such as yard debris, food scraps, and manures.  By adding compost to your garden, you are feeding the millions of micro organisms that live there.  This whole eco-system below ground is so valuable to life on this planet. 

These amebea, fungi, protozoa, and bacterium feed on the organic matter and create enzymes that direct nutrients up into the roots of plants.  Good nutrition is key to healthy plants, and healthy plants are less likely to suffer from insects and disease.  Healthy plants have healthy root systems too.

Light, loose soil, is the key to these results.  And compost is the ingredient to make soil, any soil, capable of sustaining  a healthy garden. If you have clay, compost can allow more air and water to hold in the soil.  This is called Water Holding Capacity (WHC).  The pores of clay are more balanced with air and water to allow the roots to grow and expand.  Sandy soil can benefit from compost too.  Sandy soil does not hold water well, and roots tend to dry out quickly.  Compost can increase the WHC of sandy soil and keep the roots moist longer.

This is probably the most simple way to create compost . By adding green (nitrogen)  and brown (carbon) plant material, you can get a workable product in several months.   The more you turn (stir) the more 'heat' will break down this waste into great food for your soil. 
However, I've been known to buy bags for compost and humas (another step in the composting equation) and apply that to my beds.  Most big box stores like Wal-Mart or Lowes carry these and the price is reasonable.
By applying compost to your garden now, you are allowing those micro organisms to 'chow down' and make the nutrients available to your plants when you install them in a few weeks.  Then the nutrients will be in place to feed your plants all season long.

Do you have a compost pile?  What inspired you?  Let us know.  Thanks for visiting.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Building Blocks of a Landscape

Landscape Ideas to Begin Your Garden Project

One of the first toys we played with as very young children was blocks.  We stacked them, lined them up, knocked them over.  These block were the foundation of our learning, reasoning, and hand/eye coordination. The same foundation is needed in our yards.  Before we get too excited about putting in plant material, we need to set the foundation.

Landscape ideas that include Hardscapes such as patios, walls, walkways, and paths need to be planned and implemented before the plants.  I know!  That is the hard work part; but this step is essential for the future use, convenience, and visual appeal you want in your yard. The process doe not have to be extremely expensive either.

We've used hard wood mulch for paths, with the edges lines with 'found' rocks.    The sitting area can be just a patch of grass that you plan to set a table and chairs on.  The walkways that invite folks through you garden can also be turf shaped between beds that is easy to travel and cool to the eye.

Another easy, inexpensive material  for a path is gravel.  Decomposed granite is a powdery material with a powdery blend to 1/4" in size. This can be tamped into a sturdy surface that will also drain water.  This drainage will allow plant and trees roots to get water that would otherwise be heading for the nearest sewer.

Larger sized gravels can also be an economical option   The gravel we used was tamped down with a tamper. The gravel and tamper were not too pricey and we make the weekly trip to Lowes for these supplies.  I have to say, however, that the larger gravel paths were not comfortable for the dog.  She struggles finding her footing and often resorts to walking in the beds.

Making areas that you want to plant may require you to 'build up' a raised bed.  This will allow you to put in lots of compost, and ensure good drainage.  Whether you are preparing this bed for vegetables, perennials, or shrubbery,  I find building up is easier than having to dig in heavy soil.  In our yard we used stackable blocks just like the good old days!

The stepping stones used here were needed because of the heavy foot traffic in an area that retains water.  Take a good look around your yard for these types of issues too.  Planning ahead will allow you to really enjoy your space.
Of course if you envision a bigger project , it is always wise to consult a professional landscape designer or architect. Depending on your skill level, you  may attempt some of the projects yourself. And a word to the wise, too often the budget can get out of hand quickly! So envision your space, enrich your space, but most of all, enjoy your space.

I've touch on a few items that I'd like to address next time.  The building of 'good soil', and  conserving water.  Hope to see your soon. Thanks for visiting.