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Entrance Way Evergreens

Cool and classic or chic and contemporary, no matter what your style, you’ll always be proud of an entrance flanked with beautiful containers highlighting just-right evergreens. In this case, “evergreen” doesn’t necessarily mean a conifer, either – many other shrubs remain green in the winter and can be beautiful showpieces welcoming guests to your home.

Planting Your Container

Entrance way evergreens are generally planted in containers and frame a doorway, walkway or arch. If you truly want your evergreens to take center stage, opt for more understated, neutral containers, but select shapes that match the architecture of your home. You can opt for a boldly colored container, but take care that the container’s decorations won’t overwhelm your evergreens.

You will want to use high quality potting soil for the container to provide adequate nutrition for your evergreens to thrive. Also pay careful attention to the moisture levels, watering the plants appropriately – containers often need more frequent watering than plants in your landscape. You can rotate the containers regularly to help the plants get even sun exposure, and regular fertilizing will help keep them healthy.

If you’re not sure how to plant a container, try this simple formula: “Use a thriller, filler and spiller.” Thriller refers to the tallest or showiest plant, the one that immediately catches the eye. The fillers are the plants surrounding the thriller that add more structure and bulk to the arrangement, filling in empty spaces. The spillers are plants to grow over, and soften, the edge of the container, giving it a more natural, organic look.

Here’s a listing of “thriller” plants to consider for your door decor. We can make recommendations of dwarf cultivars of many of these plants. Dwarfs will take longer to out-grow their container. Happy potting!

  • Shade
  • Azalea*
  • Boxwood
  • Camellia*
  • Evergreen Viburnum*
  • Japanese Andromeda*
  • Heavenly Bamboo*
  • Mountain Laurel*
  • Sun
  • Arborvitae
  • False Cypress
  • Juniper
  • Heavenly Bamboo*
  • Holly
  • Pine
  • Spruce
  • Yews
  • Yucca*


* These plants flower!

Accents for Your Entrance Evergreens

In addition to welcoming your visitors with a beautiful entrance, it’s easy to entertain them and show your style when you accessorize your evergreens. Festively dress your plants to coordinate with seasons or holidays. Fun and creative options include…

  • Spring: Small bunnies, silk spring blooms such as daffodils, pastel Easter eggs
  • Summer: Patriotic flags or ribbons for Memorial Day and the Fourth of July
  • Fall: Scarecrows, pumpkins, Indian corn, Halloween decorations
  • Winter: Holly sprigs, tiny twinkling lights, beaded garlands, snowflake ornaments

You can also personalize your entrance evergreens for birthdays, anniversaries or to showcase your favorite teams, colleges, hobbies and more. All are easy to do, fun, and affordable, and make your entrance truly eye-catching.

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Deterring Deer

Deer may be beautiful and elegant, but they aren’t always welcome in the garden. Even just a few visiting deer can tear up a landscape, eat an entire crop, destroy a carefully cultivated bed and cause other havoc, such as creating a traffic hazard, damaging bird feeders or leaving behind unwanted “gifts” on sidewalks and pathways. But how can you keep deer out of your yard and away from your garden and landscape?

Popular Deer Deterrent Techniques

People try all sorts of home-grown methods to keep deer from destroying their landscape and gardens. Some of the more common tactics include…

  • 8 ft. fencing, including wire or electric fences
  • Big, loud dogs on guard in the yard
  • Deer repellents such as commercial chemicals
  • Predator urine or other anti-deer scents
  • Motion detectors connected to lights or sprinklers

All of these methods work but are limited in their effectiveness. Fencing is costly and unsightly. Repellents and urine wash away. Sprinklers or lighted areas can be easily avoided. So what can you do to keep deer away permanently?

Deer are creatures of habit and they are easily scared. Anything you can do to mix up their habits or make them think there is danger nearby might be enough to make them go elsewhere in search of food. But deer aren’t foolish and if they realize the danger isn’t real, they will return. Therefore, you must rotate any scare tactics you try and reapply repellents frequently. This can be a lot of work to keep your garden safe, but you can make your garden do the work for you.

Plants Deer Won’t Like

While deer in large herds with insufficient food will eat almost any garden vegetation, particularly in harsh winters, you can opt for plants that aren’t popular with deer to minimize deer damage. At the same time, avoid planting favorite deer plants, such as azaleas, rhododendrons, yews, roses, Japanese maples, winged euonymous, hemlocks and arborvitae, as well as any edible garden produce.

So what can you plant in your landscape to discourage deer? There are many attractive plants deer will avoid, including…

Trees

  • Chinese Paper Birch
  • Colorado Blue Spruce
  • Dragon Lady Holly
  • Douglas Fir
  • Japanese Cedar
  • San Jose Holly
  • Serviceberry
  • Scotch Pine

Shrubs & Climbers

  • Barberry
  • Bearberry
  • Blueberry Elder
  • Boxwood
  • Caryopteris
  • Common Buckhorn
  • Creeping Wintergreen
  • European Privet
  • Japanese Andromeda
  • Japanese Plum Yew
  • Leucothoe
  • Rose of Sharon
  • Russian Olive

Try using these less deer-friendly plants to create a dense border around your yard and garden area, and deer will be less inclined to work their way toward the tastier plants. When combined with other deterrent techniques, it is possible to have a stunning landscape without being stunned by deer damage.

 

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Healthy Soil: Winter Cover Crops

It’s fall and our annual and vegetable gardens are winding down for the season. Now is the time to invest a little extra time and effort to prepare your soil for next year. Whether your garden is large or small, all annual planting beds will benefit from the addition of a winter cover crop.

Benefits of Cover Crops

A cover crop is a fast-growing, low-maintenance crop that can be used to protect your garden and landscaping beds in fall and winter. Depending on the crop you choose, it can provide many benefits to your garden, including…

  • Stabilizing soil and preventing erosion
  • Adding organic matter back into the soil to nurture later crops
  • Adding nutrients to the soil that have been used by previous crops
  • Suppressing disease that can wither new crops even before they start
  • Repressing weeds that will take over a garden
  • Improving soil structure with aeration and better drainage
  • Encouraging beneficial insects that will help later crops

Recommended Cover Crops

Different cover crops work best in different areas, and the climate, soil type and growing season will help determine which cover crops will work best for your gardening needs. The most popular recommended cover crops for our area are oats, rye and wheat.

  • Oats
    Sow 6-8 weeks before the first hard frost. Planted early, oats will provide a quick covering with the added benefit of providing an early planting time for next spring’s crops. Oats are not winter hardy, but they will grow in the fall and die in the winter, leaving behind nutritious mulch that will easily decompose when incorporated into the soil in the spring. This is a great cover crop choice for low- or no-till gardens. Sow at 2 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft. for the best coverage.
  • Winter Rye
    Sow 2-4 weeks before the first hard frost. This is a good choice for gardeners who have late season crops and don’t want to cut off that last harvest. If hardened off before frost arrives, winter rye will continue to grow over the winter. Rye is a vigorous grower and can be difficult to turn in the spring, so bear that in mind depending on what crops you will be planting in spring. Sow at 3-4 lbs. per 1000 sq. ft. for appropriate coverage.
  • Winter Wheat
    Sow 2-4 weeks before the first hard frost. Wheat will cover quickly but is not as aggressive as winter rye. Winter wheat is also leafier, making it easier than winter rye to turn into the soil in the spring. Sow at 3 lbs. per 1000 sq. ft. to provide good coverage.

Cornell University provides a tool to assist you in choosing the correct cover crop for your situation. (https://covercrops.cals.cornell.edu/decision-tool.php)

Planting Cover Crops

Before planting a cover crop, clean out garden beds, removing all roots and plant material. Compost all plant matter that is not diseased. Broadcast seed evenly and cover with soil. Water thoroughly when planting and when necessary during dry periods. In the spring, till or fork oats into the planting bed and you are ready to plant. For winter rye and wheat, mow or chop tops 4 weeks before planting leaving cut cover crop on top to dry. Till or fork dried wheat and rye into the bed before planting.

With the appropriate cover crop, you can protect your garden’s most valuable asset – the soil – and be sure it is ready for spring planting.

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Making a Terrarium

Hold onto your gardening hats, folks! Remember terrariums? A new trend revitalizing this old style is now better than ever. Creating a theme for your terrarium is easier too, with the all the miniatures now available. Remember those skinny-necked bottles and what a hassle they were? New container styles make terrariums easier to plant, simple to maintain and more beautiful in your home.

Style

What is your terrarium’s style? Tropical with ferns, arid with cacti or beach-like with tiny grasses, sand and water-like pebbles? Will you have figures such as fairies or gnomes? To choose the plants, consider the lighting where you plan to place the terrarium. If your gnome home is to be in the corner, consider using a cute fluorescent light or similar illumination to help keep your terrarium’s plants healthy and thriving.

Container Shape and Size

Choose your container and ensure it has enough room for your completed dream. Clear glass allows views of different layers of sand, soil and top dressing, giving your terrarium extra depth. Container shapes include hanging, footed, cylindrical, spherical, even leaning. Multi-sided geometric shapes are popular, as are smooth, curved shapes with a natural flow. If your garden includes tropical plants, consider a container with a smaller opening or a lid to increase humidity for healthier plants.

Don’t forget to consider size – tiny terrariums with just a plant or two are popular and can be hung like ornaments or make great gifts, while larger containers can create an entire microcosm and unique environment for a stunning display.

How to Plant

Planting a terrarium takes a little extra care, but is no more difficult than planting any houseplant.

  1. Put an inch or two of small gravel, pebbles or expanded clay pellets into the container, providing a drainage base. Mixing in several tablespoons of horticultural charcoal prevents odors. If the container is large enough, layer other colors or sizes of pebbles or sands to create visual interest when viewed from the side.
  2. Soil goes in next. Many plants grow well in light soils mixed with peat moss and vermiculite or perlite. Moistened coir is another option. Alternatively, consider special prepared soil mixes for African violets, succulents or cacti.
  3. Create a landscape plan by first arranging the plants on the tabletop to determine where they will be placed in the container, taking into account how the plants may touch the sides or top of the container.
  4. Plant the largest plant first. Dig a small hole, place the plant, and firmly tamp the soil around it. This is very important to stabilize the plants and remove air pockets. If the space is tight, smaller plants may be able to help stabilize larger plants.
  5. After placing the plants, you may want to top-dress with decorative pebbles or bark. Sand looks great around cacti. This is also the time to place fairies, cottages, twigs, larger stones, marbles and other decorative items in your terrarium to create the desired theme.
  6. When everything looks good (look at it from all sides and angles), use a small artist brush to clean any loose dirt or sand away from the sides and leaves.
  7. Use a mister to water the plants. Because the container acts as a small biosphere and much of the moisture is recycled, a little water lasts for quite awhile. Do not overwater your terrarium or the plants may rot, and replacing them can be a challenge.

Place your terrarium in its new location and enjoy its beauty and your accomplishment!

Gardener’s Calendar

Continue planting trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, vegetables and herbs. Consider adding some exotic color to your deck or patio with tropical blooming plants. We have a great selection of color this summer.

It’s time for your houseplant’s summer vacation! Take outside to a shady place. Repot if necessary, fertilize and check for pests and diseases. They’ll thrive in their outdoor location all summer. Be sure to bring them back inside in early fall.

Water plants and lawns deeply during periods of dry weather. Annuals, perennials, vegetables, trees and shrubs should be watered with a slow trickling or soaker hose. Pay extra attention to plants in containers and hanging baskets – check them regularly. Remember that clay pots dry out faster than plastic.

Apply a 2-3″ layer of mulch on your garden beds in preparation for summer. Mulch conserves valuable moisture in the soil, helps keep weeds down, maintains even soil temperatures, and gives an attractive finishing touch to your beds and borders.

Spray azaleas, Pieris japonica, laurel and Rhododendron with Bonide All-Season Oil to control lacebug. Spray early in the morning or evening when temperatures are moderate and there is no rain in the forecast.

Warm, humid weather encourages the development of fungal diseases such as Black Spot and Powdery Mildew on roses. Water roses in the early morning and avoid overhead watering if possible. Clean up any fallen leaves and follow a regular fungicide spray program. We recommend the Bayer Rose and Flower All in One for good control of fungus diseases.

Prune evergreens such as pines, cypress, hollies, euonymus and boxwood, to shape as needed. Remove faded flowers of annuals regularly, to encourage more flowers. Annuals will also benefit from regular applications of a water-soluble fertilizer right through summer.

Attract hummingbirds and butterflies to your landscape by planting Butterfly Bush, Bee Balm (Mondarda), Hardy Hibiscus, Lobelia, Scabiosa and Coreopsis.

Trackable Tools

It’s the beginning of a new gardening season. Hopefully you took out last year’s journal in January or February and reviewed your notes. Now is the time to begin implementing some of those great ideas.

One common problem in the garden is misplaced tools. We’ve all found hand tools in the spring that were inadvertently thrown in the compost pile or left under a shrub during fall cleanup. Many of us have spent time we didn’t have to spare, walking in circles, looking for the shovel that we just had in our hand. It was laid down for a moment and seemed to disappear into thin air.

Well, let’s do things differently this year. Let’s save time, money and our precious tools. Resolve to only buy new hand tools with bright colored handles that are easily seen from afar and stand out when picking up after a long tiring day in the garden. Stop in and see what we have to offer, there are so many choices available. And, if you already have a good selection of tools that you love and wish to keep track of, simply cover the handle with a bright colored spray paint on a sunny spring day. You’ll be glad that you did.

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Mowing. Do It Right

If you have a lawn then you need to mow. If you need to mow then you may as well do it right. Here are the basics:

  1.  Service your lawn mower in the fall, after your last cut, so that you start the next season right. Change the oil, drain the gas, replace the spark plug and air filter, lubricate the throttle cord and sharpen the blade.
  2. Before your first cut of the spring season, fill your tank with gas and adjust your wheel height. Cool-season grasses should generally be cut at a height of 3 to 3 ½ inches. Never remove more than 1/3 of the plant. This longer height will require that you mow more frequently but it will ensure a stronger root system, help maintain soil moisture and will greatly reduce weed competition.
  3. Only mow a dry lawn. Cutting a wet lawn is a sure way to spread disease. The best time of the day to do this is in the evening. Early in the morning, after the dew has dried, is the second best time.  Mowing in the heat of the day will cause your turf grass to go into shock.
  4. Before you start your mower, clear all objects from the lawn. This includes toys, lawn furniture, trash, fallen branches, stones and anything that would cause you to stop and restart the mower. Keep your eye out for anything that is a hazard, items that may jam your mower or become projectiles.
  5. Grass clippings are loaded with Nitrogen, just what your lawn needs to stay healthy. Leaving them where they lie can reduce your fertilizer use by as much as 25%. Spread them out so that they don’t become anaerobic.
  6. Always remember to keep your mower blades sharp. You may need to resharpen them during the growing season. Dull blades rip and tear at the grass and create an environment conducive to the spread of disease.
  7. Change directions each time you mow. Mowing causes the grass to lie over.  Alternating your direction will correct this problem.
  8. Did you know that dirt and debris are the main cause of lawn mower engine failure? Always take a few moments after mowing for some preventative maintenance. Grab an old rag and wipe down your equipment including air vent grates.
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Hurry Up the Harvest – Ways to Extend the Growing Season

Have a hankering for homegrown tomatoes?  Even though it’s early spring, you can extend the growing season and hurry up your harvest by trying some of these tips and products:

  • Gain 3 weeks on the growing season by pre-warming the soil with black, porous plastic landscape fabric. This product can be laid over your prepared garden soil and secured with landscape pins.  Allow at least 5 days of sunny weather to warm the soil.  When ready, cut x’s in the plastic and plant through them.  As the season progresses and the air and the soil temperatures increase, you may mulch directly on top of the this porous material with salt hay to keep the soil moist and cool. 
  • Warm the soil around your plants with a floating row covers or garden cloche (mini greenhouse). Lay row cover fabric over your newly planted seedlings to hold in the warmth and protect them from frost.  Anchor loosely with landscape pins so the plants have room to grow – or, even better, attach it to wire hoops.  Place cloches directly over individual plants for frost protection. Remember to remove them on warm or sunny day to prevent overheating your seedlings.  
  • Another way to extend the growing season is by using a cold frame. Place it in the garden at least 10 days before you wish to plant.  Orient the frame so it runs east to west. This allows for a Southern exposure and more sun to reach the plants.  If the soil has been prepared, you may plant directly into the frame.  Remove the cold frame when temperatures are no longer a threat to young plants. Venting is important to keep seedlings from getting too hot. 

 

 

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Scented Geraniums

Unmatched for fragrance and beauty in the garden, scented geraniums are undoubtedly showstoppers. With many to choose from, each with its own distinctive habit and fragrance, scented geraniums are also great for hanging baskets, window boxes or any type of container. Although the colorful flowers are small, the leaves of the scented geranium are the most spectacular part of this unusual herb.

A Bouquet of Scents

Scented geraniums come in a wide range of distinctive aromas. Some of the most popular varieties include…

  • Rose Geranium: This cultivar has spicy rose-scented foliage with small clusters of pink flowers among the dark green leaves.
  • Peppermint Geranium: This is a fast growing geranium that spreads to a 4-6 foot mound with clusters of white flowers appearing in summer. Leaves are lobed and medium green. This is a particularly good one for hanging baskets.
  • Lime Geranium: This geranium shows off beautiful lavender flowers in summer and its leaves are serrated, round and light green. These can become quite bushy.
  • Apple Geranium: Apple-scented geranium is another good one for a hanging basket. Clusters of white flowers appear on trailing stems and leaves are round and ruffled.
  • Lemon Geranium: This geranium has tiny purplish flowers and small wrinkled leaves. This one features a nice clean lemon scent that freshens a room quickly.
  • Coconut Geranium: This plant has a trailing habit that works nicely as a ground cover or in a hanging basket. Its flowers are in small clusters and its leaves are round and dark green.

Other popular scented geraniums include chocolate, nutmeg, orange, apricot and almond.

Growing Tips

Scented geraniums are not particular about soil, as long as it is drained – they do not tolerate wet roots well. These plants enjoy full sun and cool climates, with partial shade in warm areas. Pinching off end leaves will encourage bushiness to help keep a fuller, more compact form.

The leaves can be harvested any time and used fresh or dried.

Harvesting and Use

One of the real joys of scented geraniums is harvesting the leaves and using their fragrance in a variety of ways. The leaves can be harvested at any time, and they may be used fresh or dried, though the fragrance may change somewhat or its potency may change as it is dried. Experiment with both fresh and dried leaves to find the aromas you like best.

Scented geraniums can be used in some jellies, puddings, stuffing, punches, teas and vinegars. The oils in leaves are often distilled to make perfume, and the leaves make a sweet addition to sachets and potpourris. No matter how you use them, or even if you simply enjoy them in the garden, these lovely plants are sure to be a welcome addition to your garden and landscaping.

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Fire Escape Gardening

Is it possible to nurture a thriving urban garden when your garden space is simply just a narrow passage, stunted landing, and metal railings of a fire escape? Indeed, it is! Fire escape gardening can be fare more pleasant and productive than you may realize, if you adapt your gardening techniques to the unique challenges of the space.

Before You Begin

Before you plan an elaborate garden setup on your fire escape, check your building’s restrictions and local regulations about fire escape gardening. In many areas, storing items – including gardening supplies and plants – on a fire escape is not allowed, and you could be subject to fines, loss of insurance coverage, and other penalties for violating those restrictions, even up to facing eviction. If minimal use of the space is permitted, always be certain to leave an obvious aisle clear and do nothing to impede movement through the space or the functioning of any gates, hatches, ladders, or other equipment that is part of the fire escape’s main function. Different buildings and municipalities may have different codes covering fire escape use and gardening, and always follow the appropriate laws and guidelines.

Tips for Fire Escape Gardening

After doing your homework, if you are permitted to use your fire escape for a garden space, it can be a creative and unique challenge to stretch your gardening skills. To make the most of your fire escape and nurture a thriving garden…

  • Keep It Light – You don’t want to fill your fire escape with large, heavy concrete or ceramic pots. Not only can they be difficult to work with, but if one should fall, it could create not only a mess, but significant damage as well. Instead, consider lighter plastic pots, cloth pots, or other unique containers, such as wellingtons, woven baskets, or mesh structures with lightweight liners.
  • Be a Minimalist – Avoid overcrowding your fire escape with a burgeoning jungle, and instead opt for compact plants that will do well in small spaces. Ultimately, you should still see more metal than green in a fire escape garden, ensuring that that space remains safe and usable in case of an emergency.
  • Embrace Mobility – Opt for containers and plants that you can move quickly if necessary, not just in case of emergency, but to maximize the efficiency of your garden. Movable pots or plant stands with casters can be rearranged to make the best use of seasonally shifting sunlight or can be moved indoors during storms or the colder winter months.
  • Make the Most of the Railing – Your fire escape railing can be prime real estate for gardening efforts. Use planters mounted on the railing or that can hang over the side. You may also use macramé hangers to hang small pots between support rails. Take care not to block essential handrail space, however, which can be necessary for a safe descent in an emergency.
  • Be Aware of Neighbors – Be mindful of the neighbors who share your fire escape, especially those directly below, when you water your plants. Either bring your plants inside to water them in a sink or be sure to water at time when it will not bother others.
  • Keep Away Unwanted Guests – Even gardens in the most urbanized areas can attract squirrels, as well as other tenacious wildlife such as mice, pigeons, and rats. Takes steps to keep these unwanted visitors away from your garden with mesh barriers and other deterrents, such as using organic bloodmeal fertilizers to discourage visits.

Best Plants for a Fire Escape Garden

Ultimately, you can grow anything in a fire escape garden that you would grow in any urban garden space, provided you have the sunlight levels and suitable size growing area to accommodate the plants. Because fire escape gardens can be so small, however, you may want to concentrate your efforts on the plants you will eat and enjoy the most, particularly small cultivars that are well adapted to urban conditions. Leafy greens such as kale, lettuce, and spinach are top choices, as are bush varieties of beans, peppers, and tomatoes. Different berries can add a sweet touch to your fire escape garden, and flavorful herbs are always a favorite to add tantalizing tastes to everything you grow.

Moving Your Garden

Regardless of the size of your fire escape garden or what you’ve chosen to grow, always be aware that you may need to move your plants on short notice. This could be due to changes in building codes or fire regulations, or you may simply be moving and want to transport your garden as you relocate, hopefully to a new residence that will provide even more growing space. Move your plants gently and thoughtfully, and they will be happy to relocate along with you.