Friday, May 6, 2016

How to make your Garden Bloom

Great garden borders: The basic ingredients

Herb border

Cool spot in the sun

Warm bed in the shade

Foliage border

Colorful border for three seasons

Pool garden border

Lawn accent

Soften a wall

Fringe a path

Edge a sidewalk

Frame a focal point

Sun-loving plants

Shade lovers

Pink garden border

Edible garden path

Ornamental grass

Using the right balance

Cool perennials

Flowers and edibles

Tropical jewels


Five Landscape Planting Mistakes

In a residential landscape, there will be mistakes. Some of these are related to construction and appear immediately, but others don't present themselves until many years later. The majority of these are related to plants which can become problems as they mature. An innocent little sapling can indeed become a destructive monster ten years later. Such mistakes can be enormous and very expensive to resolve. Landscape architects fear the potential law suits they cause. So to free yourself from the most costly repairs and even the prospect of litigation, avoid the following five bad planting ideas.
1. Vines penetrate structureThere is nothing more beautiful than a front porch dripping with long lavender wisteria blossoms in spring. But one home engulfed with this vine literally had its roof raised by the pressure. This is one of the vines that produces slender runners that are adept at penetrating the tiniest slots and gaps in a structure. Runners gradually grow thicker over time, and harden into woody branches. A thin runner that penetrates a gap in your eaves will increase in diameter with each new season. When it exceeds the allowances of the space this plant is strong enough to pull nails out of lumber raising up a roof joist a few millimeters every year.
This example doesn't mean you can't enjoy wisteria, it just means that you must be attentive to its adventurous growth and cut it back enough each year to reveal any penetration. The same applies to English ivy which also reaches large diameter with time. If you are not willing or able to give your vines this kind of attention, then it's best not to plant them.
  • Pro Tip: Vines allowed to grow up tree trunks into the canopy can kill their host. Those that climb telephone poles can be very expensive to remove. A good rule of thumb is "Never allow your vines to grow beyond the reach of your ladder.
Possible Problem Plants
Problematic large vines: Wisteria, English Ivy, Honeysuckle, Trumpet Vine, Grapes
Trees with problem roots: Maple, Poplar, Willow, Locust, Fig
2. Underground utility invasionWhen the toilet won't flush and the kitchen drain clogs up, chances are you have roots in the sewer line. This problem can arise from trees and shrubs planted on or next to water lines, sewer, septic tanks and leach fields. While all trees are water seekers, there are two groups that are the biggest offenders: water lovers such as willow and drought tolerant species such as locust. Willows and their kin produce a vast network of fine roots designed to hold banks of rivers, and these are the most able to penetrate the tiny gaps in underground pipes. Drought tolerant species evolved large and aggressive root systems able to travel a great distance and to surprising depths to reach water in their arid homelands. Both groups are excellent water sensors and always root directly toward any regular source.
It's always wise to know exactly where all your underground utilities lie on site. This includes underground electric, phone and cable because these must be accessible for future service. If there is a large shrub or tree growing on top of the line, replacement or repair is next to impossible without damaging or even killing the plant. Keep woody plants well away from all utilities to save you plumbing problems and replacement dilemmas when things go awry in the future.
  • Pro Tip: Trees considered fast growing often produce aggressive roots to feed all that new growth.
3. Power line interferenceMost power companies advertise their mantra: Don't Plant Under Power Lines. They must budget tremendous amounts of money each year to have old established trees pruned back due to interference. If they don't prune them, there is always a threat that your trees may cause damages that could end up costing you plenty. Also be fully aware of utility easements on your property which are provided in the event that overhead lines are one day undergrounded. Trees on or at this easement will be destroyed should this change occur.
Abrasion is one of the key causes of damage to power lines, which is caused when wind moves tree branches back and forth where contacting the wires. This gradually wears away the insulating cover to eventually expose twigs to the bare copper wire. This can cause a short that can blow up a transformer or start a fire. The primary offenders are palm trees with dead fronds that contact the wires or poles. Even the slightest spark can lodge in the dry tinder of a palm and set it on fire.
If overhead utilities exist on your site, make sure your planting is well away from the lines. This requires a knowledge of how large a tree will be at maturity to ensure there is enough clearance. Otherwise you will suffer the tragic practical pruning of trees that leaves them flat topped or the canopy cut in half to allow lines to travel through unencumbered.
4. Set back from masonryAnywhere you have paving, foundations, curbs and other forms of masonry, consider how close the trees are to these elements. Masonry tends to trap moisture in the soils beneath a concrete slab, for instance. Trees located near that slab will try to root there to access the cool damp conditions in the heat of summer. Year after year they continue tapping into this resource, and like vines, grow larger in diameter. The result is inevitably pressure upon the masonry, no matter what kind it is, and soon it will crack or buckle under the pressure.
Not only do you want to set the tree or large shrub back from the masonry, be sure to select a tree that bears a well-behaved root system. City street tree lists are often the best source of species screened for local adaptability and a lack of aggressive rooting. If there's no way to avoid placing a tree near masonry, install a root barrier product to separate roots from masonry underground. This device works with newly planted container root ball, preventing it from branching out horizontally so growth is forced downward, to reach deeper soil moisture.
5. Property line disputesLarge trees, shrubs and vines on property lines are the bane of city public works and the money makers for lawyers and tree trimmers. The potential size of a large tree at maturity is enough to negatively influence conditions in your neighbors' yards. It may shed litter, produce hazardous branches, send roots under the fence to invade the lawn, and present a dozen other common problems that crop up on property lines. And if your neighbor has a swimming pool, consider this doubly important.
To preserve your next door relationship and avoid litigation, keep shade trees well inside your lot. Avoid invasive vines on perimeter fences and walls because inevitably they'll find conditions more to their liking next door. If your neighbor is not a lover of plants, this results in serious conflicts. Where there is a situation of liability present, such as a dangerous overhanging limb that could fall on a person or vehicle in the next storm, the cost to remove it can become a bone of contention since this can require a cherry picker or other special equipment if access is limited. If you fail to correct this and someone is hurt, you may find yourself in court accused of negligence.
Getting plant selection and placement right from the beginning will help you avoid major headaches and costly repairs. Vines and trees with aggressive roots are examples of plants that can mature into problems. You can avoid planting mistakes by knowing the growth habits of the plants you select, as well as their mature size. Don't be afraid to ask your designer about this especially when it comes to plants that will be growing near your homes eaves, underground utilities, power lines, masonry work, or property lines.

Purchase local or indigenous materials

Using locally-produced materials has multiple advantages. It reduces the fossil fuels and associated pollutants, including greenhouse gas emissions, required for shipping. It supports local businesses and feeds money into the regional economy. And one of the beauties of landscaping with local materials is that they seem to belong and enhance the region’s unique sense of place.

What constitutes “local” varies to some extent, depending on the type of material. The heavier the material, the more energy it consumes and the more pollutants emitted during transport, and therefore the closer the source should be. The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ recommends the following guidelines:
  • Crushed concrete and other aggregates used as a foundation for paths and driveways should be extracted, recovered, or manufactured within 50 miles of the site
  • Compost and other soil amendments should come from within 50 miles of the site
  • Plants should be grown at a facility within 250 miles of the site
  • All other materials should be extracted, harvested, recovered, and manufactured within 500 miles of the siteExamples of local materials
Local landscape architecture firms which have pursued LEED® certification from the U.S. Green Building Council or follow the Sustainable Sites Initiative criteria have likely conducted research and can recommend local materials. Other potential resources include local nurseries or garden centers.

Stone wall constructed from materials found on-site. Image credit: Philip Hawkins, Wildflower Center staff

Decomposed granite trails at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The d.g. is the by-product of granite mining and comes from a local quarry. Image credit: Heather Venhaus


Water-Saving Tips For The Lawn And Garden

As a gardener, I know the challenges of keeping both your garden plants and lawn looking their best. This can be especially difficult if you live in a region where water is scarce or heat is a factor, as I do. So how do you maintain a healthy landscape in such extremes? Simple. You need to practice a few water-saving tips along with the right tool for the job.

When you begin a garden or landscape design, it’s important to plan carefully. Don’t jump the gun and start planting whatever you like simply because it’s pretty. After all, looks will fade in time, especially when not suited for the area you put them in. So do your research and choose native plants for your region as well as drought tolerant ones that don’t require as much watering. Don’t forget the mulch – this will greatly reduce your watering needs, as it helps retain moisture.

Likewise, choose your planting area wisely. If your garden is located in full sun, you’ll need plants that are adapted for intense heat. Wind-prone areas rely on plants that handle both the harsh swaying and drier conditions. And whenever possible, use those shady areas. There are many plants that tolerate shade and look good too. Even better, they generally require less watering. When it comes to your lawn, look at its size. If you have a large expanse of unused grass, which requires a lot of water, consider dialing it down some by substituting with other alternatives like drought tolerant ground covers or even hardscape.

To make the most of irrigation in the landscape whenever you do water, opt for early morning to prevent moisture loss through evaporation. Of course, sometimes that’s not possible so late afternoon works in a pinch. But avoid sprinklers, as these rarely penetrate the ground. Instead, use soaker hoses if you can. In lieu of this, a good, water efficient hose will do, watering deeply. Get rid of that leaky, water squirting hose you’ve had for years. You might want to consider using a retractable hose reel too.

I’m not a big person, so lugging around a long, heavy water hose is too much of a chore. Using a retractable hose reel, like that from Hoselink, solves this problem. They’re easy to manage, they look better (no messy hose laying around) and no kinks to worry with. These durable hose reels mount easily where you need them and stay there. And the retractable hoses lock in place when you’ve reached your spot, but continue on with a slight tug as you move further on. And when you’re finished, there’s an automatic rewind – no more dragging or winding the hose up.

Best of all, there’s more than one retractable hose reel to choose from depending on your specific watering needs. So with a few simple watering tips and the right tool, maintaining a healthy lawn and garden is more than possible!

Flex Your Green Thumb with These 7 Garden-centric Projects

Looking to add a little life to your yard? These projects are all simple and can give your landscape a more sustainable and visually charming appeal. Give one (or more) a try and enjoy the results for years to come!

Rain Barrels

Every garden needs to have a source of water, and what better way to help your garden thrive than by using the water that Mother Nature already supplies.
The simplest rain barrel can be built and installed for around $50. Pick up a sturdy, plastic trash can, enough fiberglass window screening to cover the top of the can, and an outdoor faucet. You will also need something sturdy for your rain barrel to sit on, but a couple cinder blocks will work just fine.
To attach the faucet and keep it from leaking, you will need two metal and two rubber washers. Use a conduit lock nut to screw the faucet into place.
Cut a hole 2 inches up from the bottom of the can, big enough to fit the back of the faucet through. The order of the washers is important: metal washer, then rubber washer. Thread the faucet through your opening and add one rubber washer and the last metal washer. Tighten down the lock nut and your faucet is ready.
Fit the screen on top of the can and secure it either with staples or a giant rubber band. This will keep mosquitoes and debris from getting into your collected rainwater.
The lid needs to be cut to accommodate your downspout. Place the lid back on the can, position under the downspout, and you are done.
raised garden with lettuce

Raised Garden Bed

Now that you have your water source, you can build your raised garden bed. A raised garden bed is attractive and adds function to your landscape.
The easiest plan is simply using landscape timbers. They can be made into a square or any shape you want that has flat sides.
Plan where you want them by placing the first level of timbers. If you want them four or more timbers high, you have to drill holes 4 inches from the ends of each timber, making sure the holes all line up. Now pound a piece of rebar through the holes and into the ground. Voila, the beds are done.

Cement Stepping Stones

How about making your own cement paver stepping stones that lead to your new garden beds? All it takes is a couple bags of ready cement, some water, a container to mix the cement in, and some forms.
Forms can be purchased just about anywhere these days. The least expensive are a simple plastic that you simply fill with mixed cement and let dry. Once dry, flip out the stepping stone and make your path.

Solar Path Lighting

To add a little pizazz to your stepping stones, complement them with solar path lights. They come in sets or single applications. Most also come with a stake. Lighting a path has never been so easy. Nowadays you can even get them with LED lights that are brighter, last longer, and are more environmentally friendly.
herbs in pots by window

Container Herb Gardens

Herbs taste wonderful when they've been freshly cut, and actually grow better when cut often. You can mix and match different herbs in one container too, so it makes them attractive to the eye and your taste buds. I tend to plant perennial herbs separate from annuals. Basil and thyme make a good pairing.
Herbs do not like soil that is packed too tight, so add some small bark pieces into the soil before planting. There are some containers that are made especially for herbs. Plastic is better, as the soil won’t dry out as fast as clay pots tend to.

Freshly Planted Trees

So now that you have your herb garden planted, how about adding a tree (or two) to the yard?
Keep in mind whether the sapling will be in the sun or shaded by an older tree, and check for any electrical wires that may eventually get in the way when the tree reaches its full potential. Also, check with your local Diggers Hotline to check where it is safe to dig. Check the soil for acidity/alkalinity and make the proper adjustments with additives.
The hole must be two to three times the diameter of the longest branches of the tree. It should only be as deep as the root ball. Also, when digging, try to form the hole into a cone-like shape to prevent the tree from leaning when planed.
Take the tree out of its container or burlap only when you are sure you are ready to plant. You do not want the roots to dry out or get damaged waiting to be planted. Place the root ball over the cone and measure to make sure the hole is not too deep. Where the trunk turns into root should be level with the top of the hole.
Backfill the hole about half way and tamp down with your hand gently. Add some water to get the air pockets out, and then finish filling the hole. Water thoroughly every day for the first couple of weeks, and then about once a week. A slow trickle of water is best as to allow water ample time to travel to the roots.

Seed Bombs

Now your yard is perfect, but the land next to yours is vacant and needs some attention, what can you do? Seed bombs are the perfect answer.
You will need some clay from your area. If that isn’t available, you can purchase art clay from a hobby store. You will also need some seeds (preferably seeds that are indigenous to your area) and some compost. Mix 5 parts clay with 1 part compost and 1 part seeds.
Carefully add drops of water until it is just enough so that when kneaded the mixture can be formed into balls about the size of a golf ball. Let them dry overnight. Toss them into the vacant lot and soon it will be full of flowers.
The idea behind the ball is to protect the seeds from birds, give them enough time to germinate, and have the nutrients they need to grow right in their own little world of the seed bomb.