Category: Garden

Autumn is a Prime Time to Tend Lawns and Gardens

Autumn is gardening season. That statement may not seem right to those who think of the spring as the peak time to care for lawns and gardens. However, autumn is an ideal time to get into the garden and ensure that flowers, trees and garden beds will over-winter successfully.

A number of things make autumn a prime gardening season. The cooler days of fall enable gardeners to spend ample time outdoors without the threat of blazing heat. In addition, soil harbors a lot of residual warmth in autumn. Also, the colder temperatures haven’t yet arrived in autumn, nor have the leaves completely fallen, making fall a prime time to assess what’s already in the landscape, what needs pruning back and where to address planting for next year.

Gardening enthusiasts can focus their attention on these areas this fall.

• Pamper perennials. As annuals and perennials start to fall back, mark the spots where perennials are located so they can be easily identified later on. This way, when planning spots for spring bulbs or other spring layouts for next year, perennials won’t be overlooked or covered over.

• Prune shrubs. Look at shrubs and trees and cut out dead or diseased wood.

• Clean up borders. Weed and tidy up borders and lawn edging.

• Install pavers or rock wall. Embrace the cooler temperatures to work on labor-intensive projects, such as putting in a garden bed, retaining wall or walkway.

• Remove spent summer veggies. Take out vegetable garden plants that have already bloomed and borne fruit. Tidy up vegetable gardens and start to sow cooler weather plants, such as onions, garlic, beans, and sweet peas.

• Rake and compost. Rake the leaves and gather grass clippings to add to the compost pile.

• Plant spring bulbs. Get tulips and other spring bulbs ready for planting so they’ll burst with color next year.

• Dig up herbs. Relocate herbs like parsley or basil to indoor gardens. Otherwise, strip all leaves and freeze for storage during winter.

• Consider mums. Chrysanthemum plants are perennials. While they look beautiful in pots, if planted, maintained and winterized, they can bloom every fall.

• Fertilize the lawn. Fertilizing in autumn helps ensure grass will stay healthy throughout the winter.

• Add mulch and compost to the garden. Replenish spent soil with mulch and compost so garden beds will be revitalized for spring planting.

• Prune hedges. Tidy up hedges, as they won’t be growing much more this year.

• Clean and store equipment. Clean, sharpen and oil all equipment, storing lawn and garden tools properly so they are ready for spring and not lying out all winter.

Autumn may not seem like gardening season, but there are plenty of lawn and garden tasks to tend to during this time of year.

The Benefits of Shopping Farmers Markets

Farmers markets have grown in popularity in recent years. Nowadays, consumers interested in farmers markets can likely find one near their homes whether those homes are in rural communities, the suburbs or bustling cities.

People who have never before shopped farmers markets may be curious as to why many people find them so appealing. The following are a handful of benefits of shopping farmers markets that might turn market novices into full-fledged devotees.

• Freshness:

Many people visit farmers markets because the fruits and vegetables sold at such markets seem to taste more fresh than those sold at chain grocery stores. People are not mistaken, as the produce available at farmers markets often comes from local farms, meaning there’s no long-distance shipping necessary. Locally sourced foods need not be frozen en route to the market, meaning foods purchased there tend to taste especially fresh.

• In-season foods:

Some grocery stores may sell fruits and vegetables even when those foods are out of season. Farmers markets only sell in-season fruits and vegetables. To grow fruits and vegetables out-of-season, farmers may need to rely on chemicals or other unnatural methods. No such means are necessary when farmers stick to growing foods in-season.

Environmental benefits:

According to the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, food in the United States travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to consumers’ plates. Such journeys burn natural resources, pollute the air and produce sizable amounts of trash that ultimately ends up in landfills and/or the world’s oceans. Because food sold at farmers markets is locally sourced, considerably fewer natural resources are necessary to transport the food from farm to table, and the relatively short distances the food travels translates to less air pollution.

• Biodiversity:

Many farmers market shoppers find unique foods not readily available at their local grocery stores. This is not only a great way to discover new and delicious foods, but also a way to promote biodiversity.

• Hormone-free animal products:

Farmers markets do not exclusively sell fruits and vegetables. Many farmers markets also are great places to find meats, cheeses and eggs. Animal products sold at farmers markets are typically antibiotic- and hormone-free, which is both more humane to the animals and healthier than animal products produced with hormones or antibiotics.

Farmers markets are more accessible than ever, and the benefits to shopping such markets are endless.

Early-Blooming Spring Flowers

The arrival of spring is a welcome occurrence for many people. Budding flowers are among the harbingers of spring. Spring flowers can revitalize winter-weary people just when they need it most — and provide reassurance that brighter, warmer and longer hours of sunlight are just around the corner. Cold-tolerant flowers are hardy enough to start blooming before the last frosts have dissipated. Other flowers will begin to fill in as days warm a little bit more, according to Better Homes and Gardens. Home gardeners looking to warm up their gardens with early blooms can use these flowers in their early-season containers, window boxes and planting beds.

Pansy

Pansies prefer cool weather, which can make them one of the best flowers to plant in early spring and late fall. Pansies come in a variety of colors, so there’s bound to be an offering that will blend with any homeowners’ landscape design.

Creeping phlox

Also known “moss phlox,” creeping phlox is a short ground-cover that is a herbaceous perennial. Phlox produces small, fragrant flowers in dense clusters, which can attract wildlife, such as butterflies, to their mats across the soil surface.

Snowdrops

Snowdrops can peek out even when there is snow still on the ground — sometimes as early as January and February. But their name is actually a reference to their appearance, as snowdrops have three white petals that hang down like drops dripping off the stem.

Violets

These flowers are closely related to pansies and, as a result, prefer cool seasons. Violets are generally slightly smaller than pansy blooms, but they can be just as beautiful. But as with pansies, violets will start to fade when the heat arrives.

Crocus

Crocus plants are relatively small, only reaching three to six inches in height. However, their grass-like leaves are some of the first sprouts that can be seen among bulb and corm plantings. Preferring full to partial sun, these gold, purple, lavender, white, or yellow flowers can be enjoyed during the earliest days of spring.

Daffodil

Daffodil bulbs produce cheerful, yellow flowers in early spring. They’re one of the most recognizable flowers thanks to their familiar shape and fragrant aroma.

Lenten rose

Hellebores, also called the Lenten rose or Christmas rose, can tolerate light frosts. These blooms get their name from the time of year when they bloom, which is typically around the Christian Lenten season. Despite their name, these delicate flowers are not actually related to roses, however.

Early-blooming flowers give winter-weary gardeners hope that spring has arrived.

Green Tomatoes Not Just for the Frying Pan

Perhaps in part due to the popular 1991 film “Fried Green Tomatoes,” many people are familiar with the Southern United States side dish of the same name. But as proven by the following recipe for “Grilled Green Tomato ‘Sandwiches’ with Herbed Cream Cheese” from Karen Adler and Judith Fertig’s “The Gardener & The Grill” (Running Press), green tomatoes can be even more delicious when grilled than they are when fried.

Grilled Green Tomato “Sandwiches” with Herbed Cream Cheese (Serves 6)

Herbed Cream Cheese

1 8-ounce package cream cheese at room temperature
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives

Tomatoes

4 large green tomatoes (about 11/2 pounds), sliced 3/4-inch thick (to make 12 slices)

Olive oil, for brushing

2 teaspoons Seasoning Salt (see below) or kosher salt

Ground black pepper

Prepare a medium-hot fire in your grill. Place a well-oiled perforated grill rack over direct heat.

In a bowl, blend the cream cheese, garlic, basil, and chives together until smooth. Set aside.

Brush the tomato slices with olive oil on both sides and season with seasoning salt and pepper. Place the slices on a baking sheet and bring out to the grill with the bowl of Herbed Cream Cheese and a knife for spreading.

Grill all of the tomatoes on one side for about 3 minutes with the lid open, then flip and grill on the other side for 3 minutes more, or until the tomatoes have good grill marks.

Remove the tomato slices from the grill and allow to cool slightly on the baking sheet. Spread Herbed Cream Cheese on half of the slices, top with a second slice and set the sandwiches on a platter. Serve the sandwiches hot, with oozing cream cheese filling.

Variation: Grill all of the tomato slices as above and top each grilled tomato with a dollop of the cream cheese and serve open-faced.

Seasoning Salt (Makes 11/4 cups)

1 cup sea salt
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon dried chives
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon red pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a glass jar and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Shake to blend. This keeps for several months in the pantry.

Inexpensive Ways to Boost a Home’s Curb Appeal

Curb appeal can go a long way toward making a home more attractive to its inhabitants as well as prospective buyers once the house is put on the market. Improving curb appeal is a goal for many homeowners, and while many projects aimed at making homes more aesthetically appealing can be costly, there are ways for cost-conscious homeowners to improve their properties without breaking the bank.

· Put your green thumb to use. A well-maintained landscape can dramatically improve a home’s curb appeal. Pay attention to the plants, shrubs and trees throughout your property, watering them during periods of little rainfall and trimming them when necessary so your lawn does not look like an overgrown, neglected suburban jungle. Professional landscaping services can help you maintain your property, but even if your budget does not allow for such an expense, you can still make sure your landscape adds to your home’s appeal by keeping a watchful eye on the property and addressing any issues that arise. Maintain your lawn through the colder months of the year as well, making sure no one walks on the grass when frost has settled, as doing so can produce dead spots throughout the lawn.

· Redo your front door. While their eyes may initially be drawn to a well-manicured lawn, prospective buyers will eventually find their way to the front door. If your door is especially old, consider replacing it. If your budget does not allow for such an expense, you can still give your home’s front entrance an entirely new look by installing some inexpensive molding around the door before giving the door a fresh coat of paint. Molding around the front door can make an entrance more impressive, while a new coat of paint can make a home feel warmer and more vibrant.

· Plant flowers. Another inexpensive way to make a home more appealing is to plant some colorful flowers around the property. Line walkways with flowers native to your region, as such plants will last longer than exotic alternatives that may not be capable of adapting to the local climate. In addition to lining walkways, hang window boxes filled with colorful flowers or plants outside naked windows. Doing so can make windows seem larger and add some color to your home’s exterior.

Another creative way to make use of colorful flowers is to place a few planters at the foot of your driveway and painting the numbers of your address on the planters. This can be both effortless and inexpensive, but it can instantly make a home more inviting to prospective buyers.

· Spotlight certain parts of your property. Many homeowners focus on improving the curb appeal of their property during the daytime hours, but you can take steps to make a home more appealing at night as well. Solar spotlights placed around trees and other attractive features in your yard can shed light on those areas of your property you’re most proud of, even after the sun has gone down. Solar spotlights won’t add to your energy bill, as they are powered by the sun, and they can make certain accents on your property stand out at night.

Improving curb appeal may sound like a significant undertaking, but there are many ways budget-conscious homeowners can make their home’s exterior more appealing without going broke.

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Avoid Aches & Pains When Gardening

People who have not spent much time in a garden may not consider this rewarding hobby much of a threat to their health. But as veteran gardeners can attest, gardening can contribute to nagging aches and pains that can force even the most ardent green-thumbers indoors.

Gardening is a physical activity that, despite its peaceful nature, can be demanding on the body. Thankfully, there are several ways that gardening enthusiasts can prevent the aches and pains that can sometimes pop up after long days in the garden.

· Use ergonomic gardening tools. Ergonomic gardening tools are designed to prevent the types of aches, pains and injuries that can cut gardeners’ seasons short. Gardening injuries can affect any area of the body, but injuries or aches and pains affecting the back, wrists and hands are among the most common physical problems gardeners endure. Look for ergonomic tools that reduce the strain on these areas of the body. Even arthritis sufferers who love to garden may find that ergonomic tools make it possible for them to spend more time in their gardens without increasing their risk for injury.

· Alternate tasks. Repetitive-strain injuries can affect gardeners who spend long periods of time performing the same activity in their gardens. By alternating tasks during gardening sessions, gardeners can reduce their risk of suffering repetitive strain injuries. Alternate tasks not just on muscle groups worked, but also level of difficulty. Remember to include some simple jobs even on busy gardening days so the body gets a break.

· Take frequent breaks. Frequent breaks can help combat the stiffness and muscle aches that may not appear until gardeners finish their gardening sessions. Breaks help to alleviate muscles or joints that can become overtaxed when gardening for long, uninterrupted periods of time. When leaning down or working on your hands and knees, stand up to take breaks every 20 minutes or the moment aches and pains start to make their presence felt.

· Maintain good posture. Back injuries have a tendency to linger, which can keep gardeners indoors and out of their gardens. When gardening, maintain good posture to prevent back injuries. Gardening back braces can protect the back by providing support and making it easier for gardeners to maintain their posture. Tool pouches attached to gardening stools or chairs also can be less taxing on the back than gardening belts tied around the waist.

Gardening might not be a contact sport, but it can cause pain if gardeners do not take steps to prevent the onset of muscle aches and strains when spending time in their gardens.

Identifying Problems That Can Threaten Lush Lawns

Landscaping can be a rewarding hobby that instills a sense of pride in homeowners. Whether you prefer to get your hands dirty planting perennials or devote the bulk of your attention to crafting a lush, green lawn, chances are you will run into a problem during lawn and garden season.

Some problems are easy to identify, while others are more complex. The following are a handful of diseases homeowners may encounter when spending time on maintaining their lawns and gardens over the next several months.

Anthracnose

Anthracnose is a term used to describe various diseases that produce a host of unsightly symptoms. Those symptoms include tan to brown leaf spots or blotches; distorted, cupped or curled leaves; irregular defoliation, such as leaves falling in spring; and dieback, a condition in which trees or shrubs begin to die from the tips of their leaves or roots backward. Permanent damage due to anthracnose is rare, but the diseases can weaken trees over time and that can leave them vulnerable to pest infestations.

Brown Patch

Brown patch is unsightly and most likely to occur during summer. According to the Penn State Center for Turfgrass Science, perennial ryegrass, tall fescue and bentgrasses are the grass species most susceptible to brown patch. When a lawn is suffering from brown patch, its leaves and stems die out in large, circular patches. In high-cut grasses, these patches can stretch from a few inches to several feet. Tall fescue grasses may not exhibit symptoms of brown patch in patches. In such instances, the brown patch may be noticeable on individual leaves that feature tan or light brown lesions, and the Center for Turfgrass Science notes that these lesions will be surrounded by dark brown borders.

Dollar Spot

The American Phytopathological Society notes that dollar spot refers to a disease of the leaves of turfgrass. Grasses suffering from dollar spot will have white to straw-colored lesions that progress downward from the leaf tip or laterally across leaf blades. Leaf blades affected by dollar spot may have several small lesions or one large lesion, and in some instances, the entire leaf blade may be affected. Turfgrass affected by dollar spot may be susceptible to weed invasions.

Summer Patch

Summer patch is most common in warm climates and is characterized by yellow to straw-colored patches that can be several inches or several feet in diameter. According to Scotts Lawnservice, summer patch is often linked to shallow root systems that result from poor soil conditions. Large swaths of grass suffering from summer patch can be an eyesore, appearing as though the grass has burned under the summer sun.

Lawns, gardens, trees and shrubs are susceptible to the elements. Identifying lawn diseases quickly can help homeowners find solutions before the problems escalate.

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How to Pick the Best Apples & Pumpkins!

Although scores of people cite summer as their favorite time of year, autumn also is a beloved season. Cool breezes and crisp air seem tailor-made for afternoons spent enjoying the great outdoors. The pleasant autumn weather and awe-inspiring foliage may be the reason so many festivals and outdoor events are scheduled this time of year.

Apple- and pumpkin-picking are popular fall pastimes. Neighborhood orchards open their doors to the public, allowing men, women and children to scour their fields and trees for the perfect finds. Heed these picking tips to make the experience even more of a success.

Apples

Many orchards that have open picking seasons plant dwarf apple trees to make the picking process easier, particularly for young children, so there’s no need to bring along a ladder. You should still be able to find plenty of apples close to the ground.

A good farmer will know when certain varieties of apples are ripe, and he or she will likely cordon off trees that are not ready for picking. Ripe apples will be crisp and firm. Keep in mind that apples ripen from the outside of the tree inward. Those are the ones usually picked first, anyway.

Try to get to an orchard earlier in the season. If you wait too long, the trees may be picked of most of the best fruit. Depending on where you live, apple-picking season may begin in mid-September and continue into mid-October.

Apples can bruise, so don’t toss them into baskets when picking. Also, wait to wash apples until right before eating to prevent moisture-related spoilage. Apples keep best in a cool location.

Pumpkins

Pumpkin patches are often found in close proximity to apple orchards. Picking pumpkins to eat or decorate the home is a popular autumn activity, one that families often enjoy together.

When visiting a pumpkin patch, dress accordingly. That means wearing shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty, as the patch may be muddy. Layer clothing in case it is a chilly day. Breezes are more pronounced in open fields.

Pumpkins are “long-keepers,” which means if they are uncut or not damaged, they can last for several weeks. This means you can pick pumpkins at the same time as apples. When selecting a pumpkin, look for one that is completely orange. After picking, a green or yellow pumpkin may never ripen to orange.

Bring along a small wagon and knife so that you can cut the vine, if necessary. Pumpkins are heavy, and a wagon will come in handy, especially with youngsters in tow.

Ripe pumpkins should not dent easily. Examine your pumpkin for holes or insects, which could indicate internal rot that greatly reduces the shelf life of the pumpkin. Remember, carving the pumpkin reduces its life expectancy, so be sure to reserve that task until close to Halloween.

If you desire a pumpkin to turn into a baked treat or other dish, you will need a type of small, sweet cooking pumpkin known as a “sugar pumpkin.” The meat of this pumpkin is much less stringy and more smooth than decorative pumpkin varieties.

Autumn is the season for apple- and pumpkin-picking. This is a great way to spend an afternoon outdoors with the family. If possible, visit an orchard on a weekday, when the crowds will be much smaller than during prime fall weekends.


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Recycle Yard Waste Into Valuable Compost

Composting may be a person’s first foray into an eco-friendly lifestyle. Compost is a nutrient-rich natural fertilizer that some people refer to as “black gold.” It can be made from most types of lawn and garden waste as well as some discarded items from the kitchen.

Many people have renewed interest in composting because they understand the environmental ramifications of over-reliance on chemical fertilizers. Ground water may become contaminated and certain fertilizers may have adverse effects on wildlife. Compost, a living organism of sorts, comprised of beneficial bacteria, insect life and nutrients for plants, is on the other side of the plant food spectrum. Because it can be generated for little to no cost, compost is not only environmentally responsible but economical as well.

A home landscape can provide a wealth of material to use in a compost heap or bin. Rather than putting fallen leaves or lawn clippings to the curb or in the trash, they can be turned into beneficial material to help keep your garden self-sustained.

To begin, you will first need to determine the composting method that will work for you. Compost can be generated from a pile of material placed in an out-of-the-way corner of the yard or be created in a specially designed, expensive compost bin. Many homeowners fall in between these two methods with their compost systems. Most create their own bins from wood and chicken wire or even use a trash container to contain the compost.

Once the container or pile location is established, it is time to start the compost recipe. In order to function optimally, compost should have an abundance of aerobic bacteria, which will compost the waste quickly. Aerobic bacteria need oxygen and a certain amount of moisture to survive. Therefore, it is important to include materials in the compost that will achieve these conditions. Composters frequently refer to “greens” and “browns” in a compost mix. Greens are fresh leaves and grass clippings and kitchen scraps. These materials will have an abundance of moisture as well as nitrogen. Browns are older, dried out plant material and wood. The browns help create air cushions in the compost that facilitate aeration and also contain carbon. Without aeration, the compost will compact down too quickly, which could slow down the decomposition process. This may result in a foul odor.

Avoid the use of bones, meat or cheese in a compost bin. This will only attract scavengers and may rot faster than it can be decomposed by the bacteria. Also, avoid pet waste or any lawn trimmings that have been treated with pesticides.

Turning the compost will help keep it aerated and will also distribute the bacteria. This can help speed along the composting process. Avoid adding weeds to juvenile compost because it may not be hot enough to kill the seeds and then you’ll be stuck with weeds in the compost — and wherever you place that compost.

Moisture is essential to the compost. Each time you add new material to the compost bin, dampen it. It should be moist but not dripping. Adding a balance between greens and browns should help regulate the moisture level as well. Remember, during warmer months, the compost may dry out more, so you will need to be on top of the moisture levels.

The composting process works best at temperatures between 120 and 150 F. The compost will generate its own heat as matter is broken down. However, the heat of warm months can speed up the process. Novice composters may want to begin their composting in the summer as a first attempt.

Hot composting piles can be turned into soil fertilizer in as little as 8 to 10 weeks. Therefore, plan your composting start date accordingly. Soon after you may have a naturally sustainable garden that produces material enough to continually feed your existing compost pile.


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Help Plants Survive Sizzling Summer Heat

Many people consider summer the most enjoyable time of year, as the summer sun and warm breezes make the season perfect for rest and relaxation. But the months of June, July and August, which are often characterized by rising temperatures and stifling humidity, can be tough to endure as well.

When summer heat becomes especially uncomfortable, humans can simply head indoors and beat the heat in air conditioned buildings and homes. Plant life is not so lucky, and homeowners may need to take steps to help the plant life on their properties survive the summer heat.

· Monitor soil moisture. Soil moisture, or a lack thereof, can help homeowners determine if their plants are struggling to survive the heat. To check soil moisture levels, use a ruler or even your finger, sticking either two inches into the ground where you suspect the soil is drying out. If the soil is damp two inches below the surface, then your plants are likely retaining enough moisture to withstand the heat. If the soil is dry two inches below, then you may want to give the soil a deep soak.

· Keep an eye on container gardens. Containers may have an especially difficult time staying moist in the summer heat. That’s particularly true for containers that sit in direct sunlight. Water container gardens daily during summer heat waves, being sure to adhere to any local water restrictions.

· Lay down mulch. Mulch helps insulate and protect soil during summer, when soil can quickly dry out. When applied correctly (ideally before summer temperatures get too hot), mulch helps the soil conserve moisture and prevents weed growth. Weeds can rob soil of the water it needs to promote strong root systems, which can help plants get the nutrients they need to withstand summer heat. Mulched soils also do not experience the fluctuations in temperature that non-mulched soils can experience during summer heat waves, helping plants to grow evenly.

· Move plants when possible. Plant location can affect their chances of surviving summer heat. Driveways lined with flowers or other plants may look nice, but driveways exposed to the sun can radiate heat at temperatures that exceed the temperatures noted on the thermometer. If possible, move plants to locations on your property that are less exposed to the heat and/or less likely to be affected by the heat. Move container plants beneath trees on hot days, and consider summer heat waves before planting new flower beds.

Summer heat can be especially harmful to plant life. But homeowners can employ various strategies to protect the plant life on their properties when temperatures rise during the dog days of summer.


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