Healthy Soil

Soil is a composition of weather-beaten rock, minerals, decayed plant materials and other organic ingredients. All this takes a long time to develop, but can be damaged by our action or neglect in a single season.

For soil to be healthy, it should contain a balanced mix of air, water, nutrients, and organic matter. There are a couple things we can do to protect this mixture.

Adding organic matter on a regular basis is probably one of the most important things we can do. Adding compost and animal manure can do many things, for instance:

Increases the soil’s capability to hold nutrients.

Makes food available to plants over a longer period of time.

Lessens the amount of nutrients lost by erosion or leaching.

Provides micronutrients that are needed by plants in small amounts.

Releases nutrients already in the soil by increasing the action of beneficial microorganisms.

Increases the water-holding capacity for sandy soils.

Increases the drainage of clay soils.

Saves money.

Do not apply fertilizer to lawns until we get a good soaking rain, and for best, safest, long-lasting results use organic fertilizers. The wet soil puts the nutrients into a solution and helps distribute the nutrients to the plant roots to be absorbed.

The ability of soil to drain water is important. However, when you read phrases like “plant in a well-drained soil” or “does not like wet feet”, they are talking about the plant’s need for air. The roots of plants require oxygen and any soil that is waterlogged will be lacking oxygen.

Many plants will put up with high moisture-conditions during the growing season, but when the plants are dormant, the same conditions may kill them. By improving the drainage, the plant will have a better growing environment.

Another problem is soil becoming compacted by tractors and other equipment or just by tilling it year after year. You will find soil compaction in most soils, from gardens to farm fields.

Tilling the soil when it is too wet will clump and ruin the composition of the soil. This condition takes a long period of time to bring it back to health. To tell if the soil is too wet take a handful and squeeze it, if it crumbles in your hand then it is ready to till but if it clumps then it is too wet. Some people now believe that tilling at all is not good for the structure of the soil. It exposes the helpful microorganisms to the environment and they are destroyed.

However, gardeners may wonder if it is best to till the garden in the fall or spring. Tilling the soil in the fall has advantages over springtime. When spring arrives, it allows for earlier planting since the basic soil preparation is done. Tilling in the fall allows a large amount of organic matter to be turned into the soil and start decomposing because the microbes are active currently.

An excellent source of organic matter is the fall leaves. Try tilling a thick layer of leaves into the soil this fall and by spring, it will have decomposed.

Sowing a cover crop, like winter rye, is very beneficial by adding valuable nutrients and organic matter when tilled into the soil the following spring. Fall tilling will disrupt the bad insects, diseases, and weeds, reducing their population.

Fall is a good time to test your soil and should be done every couple of years. In conclusion, doing all the previous steps should be done the organic gardening way. It is back to basics when it comes to gardening.

Rose Garden Planting

Roses which are dormant and bare roots grow well but usually don’t bloom as long as those in the containers or pots. The latter are usually growing and not dormant.
If you are buying dormant plants make sure that you are getting #1 grade. These will give you a much better crop during the summer to your rose garden.

Preparing The Soil

Pick an area that will get at least 5-6 hours of sunlight a day. Sun is a very important part of the growth cycle of your rose garden.

The soil should be a good loam and can be mixed with some clay. The loam should be down to a depth of at least 12-15 inches. Dig the soil out for the plant so that it will fit the plant with no damage to the roots and that the first bud spike will set about an inch below the surface.

I would also suggest that at the bottom of the hole you use a fork to loosen the dirt.

Now The Planting

Before setting the plant into the hole in the rose garden, I suggest that you mix some farm manure into the loosened dirt at the bottom. Trim any damaged roots and then set it into the hole.

Now that the rose is set into the hole be sure that the loam you put put around the plant is loose as well. Fill the hole to about 2/3 – 3/4 and tap it down. Water the plant and the dirt. Let the water settle then add the rest of the loam.

Be sure that the first bud spike is at least one inch below the surface.

For dormant plants mound the soil over the plant so it will not dry out. For plants that were in pots or containers there is no need to mound the soil in the rose garden.

It is fine to have a few inches of mulch around the plant base as this contains the moisture.

Watering

Roses should be watered about every 7 – 10 days and you need to water the base of the plant. If you water the flower it is easier for the plant to have disease infect it.

Although this presents as a diversion from orchids it is definitely in line with our additional items we have added.

Planting Season

Planting can take place between mid October and mid May. You should not plant or transplant after mid May until October. Good growing in your rose garden.

Terrace Gardening

The terrace may be either at ground level, below ground level, or raised above it. The simplest type is ground level, which requires only the grading we have indicated. There is a wide choice of flooring materials to use. One may use cement, poured and levelled with a large board, but in maintaining the drainage grade or including shallow drainage paths, smooth turf may be used, in which case the preparation will be the same as for other lawn areas and various other types of bases.

The use of flagstones is made simple by applying a load of sand or gravel to the subsoil and digging the flagstones into the sand or gravel. The niches between the stones can be dug out and filled with top-soil and grass or other cover planted between them. This gives a very pleasing effect.

Hollow clay building tiles can be split and laid as units in the terrace floor, their rough edges in the soil. Another good surfacing material is “exposed aggregate,” which is free from glare because of its rough finish. For this type of surface, build a form of 2 x 4’s. Pour the flooring in squares, one square at a time, and level with a straight board. The material used is a mixture of cement, sharp sand and crushed rock or pebbles.

Redwood or cypress blocks may also be used for terrace floors and are very attractive, although somewhat less durable than stone or brick. You can buy the blocks cut to size and lay them directly in a bed of sand, which in turn has been laid on compacted gravel or cinder. Un-mortared brick, laid in a pattern, on 2 to 4 inches of well-tamped sand, with loose sand in the crevices for grass, makes a hardy and simple-to-construct terrace floor. The bricks may be laid flat or on end, and to keep them from spreading, drive an angle iron against the corners. Use a pattern that follows the lines of your terrace.

The Sunken Terrace Gardening

A sunken terrace is one which is below ground level. It can be very attractive, and it does give a feeling of coolness on a humid day or a hot night. The sunken terrace requires a retaining wall to prevent soil from continually eroding into it, and also to maintain the topsoil of the surrounding garden. The subsoil must be dug to a depth of about 5 or 6 inches below the level you wish to attain with the terrace itself. The use of sand or gravel as a base is of importance. The top treatment can follow your own dictates.

The Raised Terrace Gardening

The raised terrace is generally not fully raised, but starts at the house level and is raised at its outer edge. Again, a retaining wall is called for. The principle problem with the raised terrace is levelling. Once this is accomplished, and the retaining wall built, construction follows the same procedure as in any other case. Drainage is supplied either by a central drain, going into a tile line, or by underground piping through the retaining wall.

Some Flowers For Spring

Winter Aconite, or Eranthis hyemalis, will give you yellow flowers approximately three inches in height and resemble common buttercups. These particular bulbs may begin to flower as early as January if you live in a warm area and you will get the best results if you plant them in masses as they grow low to the ground.

Glory Of The Snow, or Chionodoxa luciliare, produce flowers that are bright blue with a white center. The plants will grow between six and ten inches tall, making this particular plant very handy for walkways, borders, and rock gardens. You may also be able to find white/pink varieties depending on the area in which you live

Spring Snowflake, or leucojum vernum, give you bell-shaped flowers that droop from the green part of the plant. These plants will be six to twelve inches in height and are white in color with small green spots on the ends of the petals. You will get the best results if you plant them in clumps and you can expect to see blooms in late February to early March. As with any other springtime bulb, they are best planted in the fall but you can plant in the mid to late winter if you purchase potted bulbs that have already begun the growing cycle.

Netted Iris, or iris reticulate, are wonderfully scented and are most commonly purple in color, although you can also find light blue and white irises in many areas. Irises are one of the earliest blooming plants and you can expect a beautiful display of flowers in early March. As with any other type of bulb, after several growing seasons you will have to thin the bulbs from time to time, as they tend to reproduce rapidly and could actually begin to stunt the growth of the plants due to over-crowding.

Garden in Winter

Just because all your annual and herbaceous flowers are over and now a mass of frosted stems does not mean that there can be nothing to enjoy in the garden. Even without leaves and flowers many shrubs can provide a colorful display through the winter months. Dogwood (cornus alba) has bright red stems throughout the winter. Yellow stems are found on several varieties of willow. Many garden trees exhibit colorful trunks and branches which are only clearly revealed once they have lost their leaves.

With all this talk of bare stems you should remember that there are many shrubs that keep their leaves and do produce flowers during the winter. The Winter Jasmine (jasminum nudiflorum) is a sturdy shrub which will grow almost anywhere whose bright yellow flowers light up any dull winter’s day. Mahonia (M. japonica) is another shrub with yellow flowers which has the added benefit of a fragrant scent. Rose pink blooms are borne from December to February by one of the Viburnums (V. x bodnantense).

Another group that can provide interest in winter are those that have finished flowering but then produce colorful berries. Cotoneaster, Pyracanthus and Skimmia all have bright red berries which make a striking display and also attract wild birds into your garden in their search food.

So far we have been concentrating on shrubs. But what about smaller plants? Does your flowerbed have to remain bare all winter? Not at all, there are plenty of hardy plants that can survive the winter frosts and snow. The Christmas Rose is one of the several varieties of hellebores that flower at this time of year.

Simple Steps to Taking Cuttings

1. Cut about half a dozen growing tips from the plant – about 4″ using a sharp knife or secateurs and pop straight into a polythene bag to keep the cutting moist

2. Use either special cuttings compost, or make up a half and half mix of multi-purpose compost and vermiculite or sharp sand

3. You can use small 3″ pots for individual cuttings, or a larger 5″ pot and place up to 5 cuttings around the edge

4. Trim each cutting so that the bottom is just below a leaf joint (node) – make the cut a slanted one if you can

5. Take off all the bottom leaves, leaving just 3-4 at the top, and pinch out the growing tip

6. If you are using hormone rooting powder, dip the bottom end of the cutting in water, then into the powder and shake off any excess

7. Push the cutting into the compost in the pot up to about a third of its length, and water

8. Cover the pot with a clear polythene bag making sure the bag does not press against the leaves, and place on a bright, sunny window ledge or in a greenhouse

9. Check every few days, but they should not need much watering

10. When you see new leaves appearing, you will know that the cutting has rooted – you can then re-pot the new plant into normal potting compost

Choose Wood Porch Swing

Different styles of porch swing

Most patio swings have similar seats made of horizontal slats, but what makes the difference is the style of the back. The most traditional is a straight top to bottom back with vertical slats. This style of back offers you a classic look and the most comfort. You can also get backs that are straight at the bottom and then roll backward at the top. Some swing backs also have decorative carvings at the top.

The style you choose is a matter of personal preference. But when you get to the furniture shop, try sitting in the swing that you fancy – something that looks very attractive is not necessarily comfortable or practical.

How much would a good porch swing cost?

You can find quality wood porch swings from 200 to 800 dollars. The cost of your patio swings depends most on the type of wood they are made of. Western Red Cedar is the most beautiful and also most expensive. Cypress, pine and alder swings are a more budget-conscious option, with pine being the least expensive.

The construction of your porch swing also determines its price. Some swings come with a canopy, and these are more expensive. But if you plan to put your swing on a covered veranda, you don’t need a canopy. And of course, additional decorations will always cost you more.

Where to get best deals on porch swings

The first place to look would be your local outdoor furniture stores. You can see what style is most comfortable for you and suitable for your porch. But don’t hurry to purchase your swings in local shops. After you find a general style you like, check online furniture stores and compare prices. There are many sites that sell discounted garden furniture and usually you can get a good deal when you buy your wooden porch swings online.

Planning Garden from Scratch

Assuming that you have neighbours and need or want to demark your boundary, what do you want to look at? Trees? A hedge? A fence? Let’s consider a few alternatives.

    • Wire fence – not pretty but you can grow climbing plants up it and bushes in front and eventually, it will become invisible (and so will your neighbours).
    • Wood panel fencing – not too bad to look at but you will need to paint or spray on some sort of preservative. Creosote is quite cheap but smells horrible and damages plants (don’t forget there may be some on the other side of the fence). Other preservatives cost a bit more but come in a variety of colours so you can have a light or dark wood or even green or blue if you want. This will need redoing every couple of years depending on weather conditions where you live. If you have concrete posts and the panels need replacing, you can just slide the old ones out and the new ones in. Wooden posts need to be embedded in cement as do concrete ones but wooden ones frequently rot so you will need to replace the post and dig out and replace the cement.
    • Wooden rail and overlapping plank fencing – each plank needs to be nailed to the horizontal rails. It looks nice but also needs a protective coating. It can be cheap and easy to repair if only a few planks rot at a time.
    • A hedge. No matter what you choose in terms of hedge plants, you will need to clip your hedge at least once a year to keep it tidy. When choosing, you need to decide whether you want evergreen or deciduous, how tall you want it to be, what soil it needs and how quickly you want it to grow. My advice would be to choose something which will grow to the required height and no more and only needs annual pruning. Don’t forget that conifers such as Leylandii grow very quickly and can lose foliage at the bottom if they’re not kept in check. In addition, nothing else will grow below them and they may well end up blocking out both your and your neighbours’ light, particularly if your garden is not large.

Grass

Do you want a lawn? Bear in mind that it will need watering in dry spells, feeding about twice a year, mowing at least once a week in the growing season (including tidying up the edges), aerating occasionally, scarifying to remove the dead bits underneath and worse still, kept weed free. On the plus side, mowing etc. can be very therapeutic and satisfying, a well-kept lawn is lovely underfoot and much nicer to look at than concrete. Of course you can always invest in Astroturf for the same effect!

Hard Landscaping

If you ever saw the popular TV series “Ground Force”, you will know that there are endless possibilities for hard landscaping. You can have a paved patio or a wooden deck, raised flower beds of stone or brick, or terraced flower beds and steps if your garden slopes. Ou can have paths of gravel or pebbles or coloured slate or stepping stones. You can have pebbly or gravelled areas with artistic arrangements of plant-filled pots, coloured china balls and any other garden ornament you can think of. How about a deck or other seating area away from the house to catch the last of the evening sun?

 

Grow Wildflowers

Two reasons.

One, they were armed with a lack of good information, and two, they were led to believe that planting a beautiful bed of wildflowers is so easy that a child could do it. Actually, a child could do it, and with great success. But only if that child were extremely lucky, or had a basic understanding of exactly how to plant a bed of wildflowers and achieve incredible success.

In the next few minutes I intend to arm you with enough good information so you can successfully plant a beautiful bed of wildflowers, and have your neighbors hanging over the fence asking you how ya did it.

First of all, you’ve got to understand what kind of a neighborhood wildflowers like to live in. They tend to prefer wide open spaces with at least 8 hours of sunshine each day. It’s true, they are sun worshipers. They also like the soil to be rich in nutrients, and well drained. They don’t like hard packed soil, and they don’t like to get their sneakers wet, only for short periods of time.

If you have an area that tends to be wet, wildflowers are not the answer.

Wildflowers can be used for weed control, and with a great deal of success. But you have to give the wildflowers a running start, or the weeds will keep the area “Wildflower Free”. Weeds and wildflowers are both sun worshipers, so whoever reaches the top first wins. Neither will grow well without adequate sunlight. If you use this to your advantage you can have a beautiful bed of wildflowers that requires little maintenance.

The secret is proper bed preparation. You must create a bed that is as weed free as possible. You can do this by removing all the vegetation from the area you intend to plant in, and then prepare the soil for planting by tilling or raking to a depth of just one inch or less. Do not disturb the soil any deeper than that, or you will just disturb dormant weed seeds that are just waiting to be brought back to the surface so they can grow. You should consider spraying the existing vegetation with Roundup before you remove it. This will kill all the roots that might still be in the soil.

Keep in mind that you need to spray the weeds or grass with Roundup at least three days before you disturb them. If you feel that the area you have chosen has a significant amount of weed seed near the surface, you might consider letting the soil sit for about six days after you work it, then work it again. Do this over and over, but don’t work the soil more than one inch deep. The longer you continue this process the more apt you are to get the bed as weed free as possible.

Most weed seeds germinate rather quickly, so when you bring them to the surface through your cultivation efforts, you are giving them a chance to germinate. But then when you work the soil again in six days, you will actually interrupt the germination process and the seed will be spent. The longer you continue the process, the fewer viable weed seeds you will have to contend with. Of course additional seeds are blowing in all the time, so it’s unrealistic to think that you can create a planting bed that is free of weed seed.

The most important aspect of this process is to have your bed as ready as possible, at the ideal time for planting wildflower seeds. The secret of success is to plant the wildflower seeds at the ideal time so they take off growing immediately, and beat the weeds at their own game.

The ideal time? Depends on where you live. If you’re in zones one through six, you should plant in the spring. If you’re in zones seven through 11, you should probably plant in the fall.

Wildflower seeds like warm soil. They will germinate best with a soil temperature of 68 to 70 degrees F. So if you live in a cooler region, you should wait until later in the spring to plant. There’s no point planting when the soil temperature is 45 degrees and have the seeds just lay there while some of the weed seeds germinate. You’d be much better off to continue working the soil as described above until the soil temperature is up to 68 degrees.

Make a Weed Dabber

The weed dabber is a tool used for spot treating weeds without getting the herbicide on other plants.

Start by going to your hardware store and buying a piece of 1- 1/2″ PVC pipe. You only need a piece 30″ long, but they might make you buy a 10′ section. It’s pretty cheap though. You’ll need a plastic PVC cap for one end of the pipe, and on the other end you’ll need an adapter to convert the PVC pipe to a standard pipe thread. You’ll have to let the clerk at the hardware store help you find the best combination of fittings to use. What you need to do is to get the PVC pipe reduced down to a male garden hose type fitting. Hardware stores sell brass fittings that convert standard pipe thread to the same thread used on garden hoses.

Probably what you’ll end up with is an adapter that will convert the 1-1/2″ PVC to 3/4″ male pipe. Then an adapter to convert the 3/4″ male pipe to a male garden house fitting. They also make a cap that you can install on the end of a garden hose, you’ll need one of those. This cap must have a rubber garden hose washer in it so it seals properly.

The PVC fittings have to be glued on so you’ll have to pick up some PVC pipe glue and cleaner. You have to use the cleaner to remove the film and gloss from the PVC pipe and fittings before you glue them. Once you have them cleaned, just apply a coating of glue to both the pipe and the fitting, slide the fitting on and twist it at the same time. Hold the fitting tight for 60 seconds and it will be glued tightly.

Cut a piece of pipe 30″ long and glue the pipe cap on one end, and the PVC to pipe thread adapter on the other end. Apply a small amount of pipe dope or Teflon tape to the threads of the adapter, and screw the male garden house fitting onto the adapter. Screw the garden hose cap to the male garden hose fitting.

Now back to the end of the pipe that you glued the pipe cap to. Drill a very small hole right in the middle of the pipe cap. You might have to experiment a little with the size of the hole you need, but make sure you start with a very small hole. I’d start with 1/16″. Cut a piece of regular household sponge in a square about 1-1/2″ square. What you are going to do is place this sponge over the small hole you drilled in the pipe cap, and secure it there by covering it with a piece of lightweight screen or mesh cloth. Maybe even a piece of an onion bag. You can secure the mesh to the PVC pipe with a hose clamp, or electrical tape.

Remove the garden hose cap from the other end of the PVC pipe, and fill the pipe with pre-mixed (ready to use) RoundUp. Replace the garden hose cap and you have yourself a weed dabber. The RoundUp will seep out the hole in the end of the pipe cap and be absorbed by the sponge. As long as the garden hose cap is tight, the vacuum in the pipe will keep the herbicide from running out too fast. Once the sponge is damp, you can start dabbing weeds. Remember, you only want the weeds damp and not dripping wet. As long as you are leaving some RoundUp on the weeds as you dab them, the herbicide should kill them.