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Monthly Archives: July 2016

Preparing Garden Tools

preparing-garden-toolsPrior to a solitary plant even touches the ground in your patio nursery, it is shrewd to invest energy setting up the dirt. Your dirt’s wellbeing is the premise of the achievement or disappointment of your greenery enclosure plants. Much the same as in the familiar adage, “An ounce of counteractive action is justified regardless of a pound of cure;” on the off chance that you set up the dirt legitimately now you’ll have less weeds and ailments and better plant development, blooming, and fruiting later.

Starting From Scratch

If you’re gardening in an established garden plot, skip this section and go right to assessing the soil. For a new garden, here are the steps you’ll need to follow to create a clean planting bed:

# Strip and compost the top 2 to 3 inches of sod or weeds with a spade or sod stripper.

# Remove any deep-rooted weeds, such as sumac and dandelion.

# Dig out and remove any large rocks with a digging fork and use them for walls or walkways.

# If you plan well ahead of time, you can try an alternative method to removing sod. Cover the new garden area in fall with a plastic tarp, old rug, or cardboard. By spring the grass will be dead, and the soil can be tilled without having to remove the sod. However, perennial weeds like burdock may survive and have to be dug by hand.

Assessing the Soil

Once the soil is clear of debris, it’s time to get your hands dirty and assess the health of your soil. A simple test will tell you what type of soil you have. Take a handful of moist soil and rub some between your fingers. If the feeling is slippery and smooth, your soil is mostly composed of clay. If the soil feels gritty, it’s mostly sand.

To further determine the amount of sand, silt, and clay, try a jar test. Place a 1-inch layer of crushed garden soil — free of roots, rocks, and debris — in a one-quart glass jar that’s two-thirds filled with water. Add one teaspoon of liquid soap and shake. Sand will settle in a few minutes. Silt will settle in 2 to 5 hours. The clay will settle in a few days. Measure each layer as it forms. By knowing the depth of each layer, you can determine which type of soil particle is dominant in your soil. For example, if the sand layer is 1/4 inch thick, sand makes up 25 percent of your soil.

Knowing the dominant type of soil you have tells you much about its performance. A clay soil will retain water and nutrients better than a sandy soil, but it’s slow to dry out. Sandy soil is less fertile than clay soil but drains water faster and heats up quicker. Also, certain plants are better adapted to certain soils. For example, portulaca grows best in a sandy soil.

Testing the Soil

Once you know the type of soil you have, assess the nutrient composition with a soil test. You can purchase a do-it-yourself soil test kit that gives a snapshot picture of your soil’s nutrient health, or you can send a soil sample off to a state university soil lab or a private lab for a more extensive analysis. The results usually include levels of organic matter, pH, and major nutrients. If you are gardening in an urban area, you may want a special test for heavy metal contaminants.

Adding Organic Matter

Organic matter provides the essential building blocks of your soil. Adding organic matter annually is essential to your soil’s tilth, fertility,and water drainage and retention. Organic matter can be in the form of compost,aged manure, grass clippings, shredded leaves, hay, or straw. Work the compost into the top 4 to 6 inches of soil with a spade or garden fork before planting.

Adding Nutrients

Soil can’t live on organic matter alone. Based on the soil test, add lime or sulfur to raise or lower the soil pH to the recommended level for most plants — between 6.0 and 7.0. Add fertilizers containing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium as recommended. Organic fertilizers, such as soybean meal, have the advantage of breaking down slowly in the soil so they are available when plants need them. Chemical fertilizers, such as 10-10-10, offer a quick dose of readily available nutrients, but they don’t last as long in the soil. Spread the nutrients on the top layers of the soil and work them in with a digging fork or soil rake.

Shaping the Beds

Once the soil is properly amended, it’s time to get creative. Raised beds are a good solution for annual vegetable and flower gardens, especially if you have heavy clay soils. Soil formed into raised beds warms up faster and dries out quicker in spring, and the soil around the roots is less compacted. All of this means better plant growth.

To build a raised bed, mound soil 10 inches high in 3- to 4-foot-wide beds running as long as you wish. You can also get whimsical by creating oval, round, or even heart-shaped raised beds. Level the tops of beds with a soil rake or cultivator. Once the beds are made, you can feel confident planting seeds or transplants, knowing your soil is ready to support their growth.

Butterflies Landscaping Tips

We are frequently informed that one of the most ideal approaches to urge butterflies to visit our property is to scene with local plants. While it’s actual that local plants can be awesome larval host plants and nectar hotspots for grown-ups, numerous butterfly species have likewise adjusted to non-local plants, which can likewise give imperative backing to both caterpillars and grown-up butterflies. Truth be told, by master Sharon Stichter of the Massachusetts Butterfly Club, some butterfly species have changed over from a local to a presented host or nectar plant in light of the fact that the local is not effectively accessible or is a less powerful nourishment source.

Writing in the August 2012 Ecological Landscaping Association newsletter, she notes that the lovely black swallowtail butterfly, which used native water hemlock and water parsnip as larval host plants in the nineteenth century, now thrives by using the more widely found non-natives, Queen Ann’s lace, parsley, dill, and fennel, almost exclusively. Similarly, naturalized field clovers and meadow vetches serve as important nectar sources for the adults of many species.

Another way to provide good butterfly habitat is to let some of your property grow as meadow or grassland. But in most parts of the county, these areas need to be mowed periodically to keep them open. To benefit the most butterfly species, the meadow should be mowed no more than once a year in late fall, keeping the mower height at least 4-6 inches off the ground to avoid the overwintering larvae at the bases of plants. If possible, mow only a section of the meadow each year, in rotation, so that there is always an unmown area of refuge for insects.

Recommended Gardening Books

Consistently the American Horticultural Society, whose mission mixes instruction, social obligation, and natural stewardship with the workmanship and exploration of agriculture, exhibits its yearly Garden Book Award in acknowledgment of extraordinary cultivating books distributed in the earlier year. Chosen by an advisory group of plant specialists, the current year’s book grants went to four books that cover the cultivating range from eatable to decorative planting.

Armitage’s Vines and Climbers: A Gardener’s Guide to the Best Vertical Plants (Timber Press) is another helpful offering from Allan M. Armitage, who runs the research gardens at the University of Georgia. Based on his years of personal experience growing and evaluating plants, this book contains an A-Z listing of climbing plants, both annual and perennial and including new and unusual choices, that can help you add a new dimension to your landscape design.

Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy (Sierra Club Books) is an updated version of her classic book, first published in 1982, that shows gardeners how to incorporate edible plants into ornamental garden design for a landscape that is both attractive and productive. This new edition contains general information on design, including solving small-space challenges, as well as an extensive encyclopedia of edibles. Beautifully designed, with lots of gorgeous photos, this book will both inspire and guide you.

From Art to Landscape: Unleashing Creativity in Garden Design by W. Gary Smith (Timber Press) guides you in cultivating an artist’s eye and tools in order to create a garden that combines the unique character of your setting with an expression of your own spirit. Full of innovative design ideas, this book will inspire you to craft a unique and personally meaningful garden.

In Gardening for a Lifetime: How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older (Timber Press), author and expert gardener Sydney Eddison confronts the physical limitations we all face as we grow older and gives excellent advice on how to keep gardening a joyful endeavor as the years advance. Drawing on her own decades of experience in her expansive Connecticut garden, as well as the wisdom of other expert yet aging gardeners, she offers both concrete, practical advice as well as suggestions on changing attitudes and expectations, so that gardening can remain a pleasure, not a chore, as we age. Even those gardeners whose knees don’t yet creak will appreciate Eddison’s graceful prose and find much that can help make gardening easier and more enjoyable.