Summer Pests Part One

pestsAs summer quickly approaches and you think about your lovely garden plans, you are probably thinking about the need to protect against the natural increase of your encounters with pests. Insects thrive in warmer weather, and some of the most common in New Jersey that you will see a spring and summer influx of are ants, spiders and mosquitoes.

Ants usually strike us as harmless but, there are some in our Garden State of New Jersey that can cause trouble.  These include:

  1. The Black “Odorous House Ant” is the one you see in and around your kitchen and pantry. When crushed they have a strong odor. It is true these little scavengers do not pose a health risk, but they will get into your stored foods. Like us, they love sweet stuff! Seal things tightly and keep containers wiped off.
  2. Pavement Ants are small dark brown creatures that make themselves at home under concrete.  While they are not dangerous, they do manage to present themselves as quite the nuisance when their colonies get so large that they are swarming the pavement of your sidewalk or home. You often need to make a real effort to destroy the colony. They can end up on your porch, or in your home.
  3. Pharaoh Ants build their nests just about anywhere sheltered and warm. They are small yellow ants with red and black marks on their abdomens. You will find their favorite places to make their nests will be in wall cavities, cabinet voids, behind refrigerators and baseboards, the hollows of curtain rods and the folds of clothes, just to name a few. These little creepers are of common concern in hospitals and health care facilities as they do have the ability to carry and spread viruses and diseases.

These are just a few of the ant species you will find residing in your lawn or garden during any given summer. If you suspect an ant problem of the aforementioned variety or any other, there are a few common, simple steps to try and keep them at bay:

  • Keep counters clear of food crumbs and spilled liquids
  • Keep sink and dishes rinsed clean
  • Remove trash on a daily basis
  • Keep trash indoors and outdoors covered with a tight lid
  • Store food in airtight containers
  • Do not leave dog food sitting in bowls for any length of time
  • Remove and prevent standing water inside and outside
  • Spray your sidewalks and porch perimeter with a bug deterrent or outdoor ant spray every 6 months.

Taking these steps will make your surroundings less attractive to ants but, to eliminate them completely if they become a real problem, you may l need to hire a professional.

Spiders are another type of insect you will see more of during warmer weather. They will appear in eaves, basements and the corners of your rooms.  Most spiders in New Jersey are harmless. The most common are the house spider and the wolf spider. Remember that spiders do help to keep the fly and insect population down a little by catching them in their nests and devouring them. There are only two varieties of spiders in New Jersey that will prove to be harmful. They are known as the “Brown Recluse” and the “Black Widow” but, they are quite rare. Each one has a painful bite that can be dangerously toxic to children or the elderly.  Anyone who suspects they have been bitten by one of these spiders, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.

Then there are Mosquitoes, which are an ever present and overly abundant summer time pest! These winged blood suckers are everywhere but, they amass near water. For them to breed, they need any type of standing water.  Because their breeding and life cycles are very short and quick they are almost always being replenished. They also have the proven ability to carry diseases and viruses that they can transmit to humans.  The best defense is to eliminate freestanding water from your surroundings since mosquitoes are very hard to eradicate. Standing water if it must be left should be treated with chlorine or some deterrent to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.

In our beautiful state of New Jersey, summer is a time to get outside and enjoy the warm weather without worrying about insects or pests hindering the fun. Talk with your landscaper about all your best options for garden friendly methods for reducing the pest population in and around your home this summer.

Our next article will talk about the pests that are attracted to our garden plants, veggies and lawn shrubbery, and how to prevent and treat them.

 

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How to Prepare Your Lawn for Summer in the Great State of New Jersey!

lawnBy applying this planned approach to your lawn and garden now, you will develop a resilient lawn that’s resistant to the effect of the summer sun, weeds, pests and heavy foot traffic. The secret to having a thriving yard through the summer lies in the lawn-care techniques you implement during the spring. These are the steps to follow for a beautiful lawn….

Aerate

Many experts suggest aerating your lawn every 1-3 years. Note that high-traffic areas will probably require more frequent attention. Aeration allows the grass to breathe, and also enables water and nutrients to reach the root system more efficiently. Perform this task in the autumn if your lawn is made up of a cool-season grass like bluegrass or ryegrass. If you live in a climate where warm-season grasses thrive, like St. Augustine or Bermuda grass, aerate in early spring.

Rake, Fertilize

Raking your lawn and removing the decaying plant material known as thatch gives healthy grass plants the best chance for survival during the winter. This is because a thatch layer exceeding a half-inch can block sunlight from grass and prevent water from reaching deep roots. Dethatching should be in autumn and spring, in conjunction with aeration, if your goal is a beautiful lawn. Fertilizing your lawn at least twice a year, but do it soon. You want to be done fertilizing about 30 days before peak summer temperatures.

Water

Watering your lawn, keeping the roots in mind for lush grass, is essential. Most grasses need about 1 inch of irrigation per week during peak growing seasons. Now is a time to make sure your lawn is staying moist. Note that frequent brief sprinklings encourage unfavorable shallow root penetration – so water well rather than frequent light waterings. Deep roots are crucial in helping grass plants withstand hot summer conditions, including droughts. A single deep irrigation is preferable, and for best results water your lawn during the early morning or night.

Mow

Mowing is important for the overall health of your lawn. A systematic approach to mowing is important. Never cut more than one-third of the height of the grass during each mowing. Frequent springtime mowing helps strengthen the roots, making the plants hardy and healthy. Raise the cutting height of your lawnmower as the summer months approach. Longer grass shades the soil better, keeping it moist. Preferably in the fall, reseed bare patches prior to the grass-type’s peak growing season.

Sharpen or replace a dull lawnmower blade. A dull or chipped blade will pull grass blades out of the ground instead of cutting them. If local restrictions limit the amount of watering you can do, target areas of your lawn that get the most foot traffic. These areas need strong root systems to withstand the constant wear.

These are the tools you will need for your success…a rake with steel tines, a lawnmower, a lawn aerator, fertilizer and grass seed. Follow these lawn care guidelines and you will create a lawn that you will love and be proud of all summer long. You can always ask us for assistance, your New Jersey landscaper and garden professionals!

 

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The Top Ten Hearty, Colorful Blooms for Your Garden

Throughout the northeastern region of the country (zones 2b to 7), you have a wide variety of blooms to choose from if you wish to add hearty, long lasting color to your garden. Here are our Top 10 Favorites. Save this list for when you may want to add some color to your landscape!

1.Blanket Flower
Blanket flower (gaillardia) is a drought- and heat-tolerant perennial wildflower that provides long-lasting color in a sunny border with poor soil. With robust shades of red, gold, or brown, its daisy-like, 3-inch wide, single or double perennial flowers bloom through the summer and well into the fall. Although often short-lived, it is easy to grow and will flower the first year from seed.

2.Veronica
This is a 7-inch spike of a bloom atop 12- to 24-inch plants that grown into rich shades of blue or red from early summer through to fall. In the North, Veronica prefers sun, but it likes a bit of shade in the South. Plant these perennial flowers at the front of your beds.

3.Tall Garden Phlox
Phlox paniculata grows into tall or border blooms of 3 to 4 feet while bearing large trusses of fragrant perennial flowers from summer to the early part of fall. It is a traditional favorite with few rivals for the color it displays. It is ideal for the back of the garden and is often seen around cottages.

4.Russian Sage
Ideal for larger gardens, this 3-foot-wide by 5-foot-tall perennial creates various shades of blue flowers in late summer. It likes the sun, and tolerates dry or drought conditions and heat. Plant these perennial flowers at the back of your garden bed and give it room to grow.

5. Perennial Sage
This is a hybrid relative and an herb garden favorite that develops into 18-inch spikes of blue, purple, or white perennial flowers with attractive gray-green foliage. It thrives in the sun so plant it in the front or middle of the border in a sunny spot.

6. Asters
A long-time staple of any garden, asters burst with a star-like flower in late summer and autumn. The colors range from rich hues of pinks, blues, purples, and ruby reds. They can get up to 5 feet depending on the species and are excellent for beds and/or borders. They are also great cutting flowers for decorating with inside your home.

7. Astilbe
This is a plume of feathery like foliage that rises above fern-like foliage for an average of 1-2 months in late spring and well into early summer. The species are available in tones of pink, white and red. Astilbe is perfect for shady, moist spots. Plant these 2 to 3 foot-tall perennial flowers for a memorable display year after year.

8. Purple Coneflower
This is a prairie wildflower that adds a level of sophistication and is in the ‘Magnus’ variety, which throws its petals out horizontally daisy-style. Coneflowers tolerate heat and drought, and bloom all summer long. Like the name implies, you will get richly tones shades of purple which grow up to 30-inch-tall. These are well positioned in the middle or back of the garden bad.

9. Switchgrass
To tone down the use of color or add something that enhances the color scheme you are creating in your garden without detracting from the central theme, you can add some lovely North American native prairie grass known as “Switchgrass”. It is a beautiful, low maintenance compliment with varieties, which grow from 2 to 6 feet tall and add abundant airy, cloud-like plumes. But, if you wish to use some that may also add color you can ask for the varieties that offer rich red or purple foliage in autumn.

10. Yarrow
Lastly, this classic is ideal for a freshman or more experienced gardener because it can be grown with very little effort. Yarrow is an amazing perennial that is hardy throughout most of the United States and can withstand heat, drought, and cold. These perennial flowers offer every garden a ferny, gray-green or dark green, spicy-scented foliage and showy, flat-topped clusters of flowers in pink, red, white, or yellow appearing from late spring through summer to early fall.

As the cold weather moves in, you can sit by the fire and make notes, planning out your beautiful blooms for when the snow melts!

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Gardening for small spaces

flower bedMany people love to garden. It can be fun, calming, and therapeutic. Not to mention, it can produce flowers, herbs, or veggies for you to enjoy. For those of you that have small spaces, here are some suggestions. We know that depending on where you live in New Jersey, your space is limited. But you don’t need to have a half an acre to enjoy the benefits and rewards of cultivating a garden. As your New Jersey landscaping and gardening specialist, we know what to plant for maximum utilization of a small space. Read on to consider your options.

Small Flowerbeds

For those of you who have a 25 square feet area, you can start with a small flower bed and can plant approximately 20-30 plants. We suggest three types of annuals and one or two perennials. Remember that smaller plants go in the front of the bed. Our gardening experts are happy to make specific plant suggestions.

Just a Border

Small borders are fun. Two or three plants sharing a fancy container or two can look beautiful, so consider making a border and arrange the plants in an appealing way.  You can experiment with bricks or small fences along the edge of your border, or stain or paint any rocks you may already have, to make your border unique. Border a path, walkway, a porch or patio.

Six hours of sunlight is good for the greatest variety of plants. It is also wise to allow at least three feet from a building or solid fence. Also, be careful to stay away from underground utility lines.

If your garden area experiences relentless afternoon sun, you need to adjust for providing afternoon shade, or choose flowers that love and can handle full exposure to sun all day. Don’t forget to water frequently to keep your plants healthy.

Window Garden or Container Garden

For really small spaces, make a window or container garden to sit on a window ledge, wall ledge, or one side or corner of your patio, balcony or porch. A wide range of containers can be chosen, from sandbox type enclosures to fish tanks, large bowls or baskets, we’ve even seen someone use an old tire, painted bright red, with a “bowl” in the middle full of herbs.

A new term gaining popularity is “window farming”. You can grow organic and or hydroponic plantings and enjoy the “fruits” of your labor. With more and more people realizing the benefits of eating organic vegetables and herbs, this may be ideal for you.

You’ll need to choose a good soil – ask your landscape professional for a recommendation –and instantly transform a “blah” spot to one that is green and full of life!

Our next article will contain more gardening tips and creative ideas. Stay tuned!

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The Top Ten Hearty, Colorful Blooms for Your Garden

russian sageThroughout the northeastern region of the country (zones 2b to 7), you have a wide variety of blooms to choose from if you wish to add hearty, long lasting color to your garden.  Here are our Top 10 Favorites. Save this list for when you may want to add some color to your landscape!

1.Blanket Flower

Blanket flower (gaillardia) is a drought- and heat-tolerant perennial wildflower that provides long-lasting color in a sunny border with poor soil. With robust shades of red, gold, or brown, its daisy-like, 3-inch wide, single or double perennial flowers bloom through the summer and well into the fall.  Although often short-lived, it is easy to grow and will flower the first year from seed.

2.Veronica

This is a 7-inch spike of a bloom atop 12- to 24-inch plants that grown into rich shades of blue or red from early summer through to fall.  In the North, Veronica prefers sun, but it likes a bit of shade in the South. Plant these perennial flowers at the front of your beds.

3. Tall Garden Phlox

Phlox paniculata grows into tall or border blooms of 3 to 4 feet while bearing large trusses of fragrant perennial flowers from summer to the early part of fall.  It is a traditional favorite with few rivals for the color it displays.  It is ideal for the back of the garden and is often seen around cottages.

4.Russian Sage

Ideal for larger gardens, this 3-foot-wide by 5-foot-tall perennial creates various shades of blue flowers in late summer. It likes the sun, and tolerates dry or drought conditions and heat. Plant these perennial flowers at the back of your garden bed and give it room to grow.

5. Perennial Sage

This is a hybrid relative and an herb garden favorite that develops into 18-inch spikes of blue, purple, or white perennial flowers with attractive gray-green foliage. It thrives in the sun so plant it in the front or middle of the border in a sunny spot.

6. Asters

A long-time staple of any garden, asters burst with a star-like flower in late summer and autumn.  The colors range from rich hues of pinks, blues, purples, and ruby reds.  They can get up to 5 feet depending on the species and are excellent for beds and/or borders.  They are also great cutting flowers for decorating with inside your home.

7. Astilbe

This is a plume of feathery like plant that rises above fern-like foliage for an average of 1-2 months in late spring and well into early summer.  The species are available in tones of pink, white and red.  Astilbe is perfect for shady, moist spots. Plant these 2 to 3 foot-tall perennial flowers for a memorable display year after year.

8. Purple Coneflower

This is a prairie wildflower that adds a level of sophistication and is in the ‘Magnus’ variety, which throws its petals out horizontally daisy-style. Coneflowers tolerate heat and drought, and bloom all summer long. Like the name implies, you will get richly toned shades of purple, with growth up to 30 inches tall.  These are well positioned in the middle or back of the garden bed.

9. Switchgrass

To tone down the use of color or add something that enhances the color scheme you are creating in your garden without detracting from it, you can add some lovely North American native prairie grass known as “Switchgrass”.  It is a beautiful, low maintenance compliment with varieties, which grow from 2 to 6 feet tall and add abundant airy, cloud-like plumes. But, if you wish to use switchgrass that may also add color, you can ask for the varieties that offer rich red or purple foliage in autumn.

10. Yarrow

Lastly, this classic is ideal for a new gardener because it can be grown with very little effort. Yarrow is an amazing perennial that is hardy throughout most of the United States and can withstand heat, drought, and cold. These perennial flowers offer every garden a ferny, gray-green or dark green, spicy-scented foliage and showy, flat-topped clusters of flowers in pink, red, white, or yellow. Flowers appear from late spring through summer to early fall.

As the cold weather lessens, you can sit by the fire and make notes, planning out your beautiful blooms for when the snow is all gone!

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Grow Your Own Herbs

herb gardenOver the course of time, herbs have been used to flavor foods and beverages, perfume our homes and bodies, decorate our gardens, and treat our ills.  The utility of herbs can’t be measured. Here we share how you grow your own selection, indoors or outdoors.

1st – Prepare your soil A rich soil is best, and is easy to work with.  Most herbs will thrive and survive in a wide variety of soil types, and by making simple improvements, you will yield a soil ideal for the herb.  First, test your soil for texture and fertility.  A good soil is 50% solids and 50% porous space.  The porous space provides room for water, air, and plant roots. The solids things like fine rock particles and organic matter such as decayed plant matter. Loam is the ideal garden soil, with a combination of 20 percent clay, 40 percent silt, and 40 percent sand.  To make the soil drain better or hold more water, you can easily add organic matter.  Organic matter is any material that was once living but is now dead and decaying. You can use ground corncobs, sawdust, bark chips, straw, hay, eggshells, or grass clippings from your own yard.

Remember, your soil should be at least 6 inches deep regardless of whether you are growing your herbs indoors or outdoors.  If you are starting with plants, be sure to place the base of the stem 1 inch below the lip of the pot when growing them indoors.
2nd – Choose your space You will have many opportunities to be creative with the layout and location of your herb garden.  Maybe you would like a container garden in or close to the kitchen for the aromatic herbs that you love to use in your gourmet recipes.  Or you would like the look and aroma of rows of lacy anise swaying in the breeze along the walk to and from your house.  And, note that while a separate herb garden is aromatic and beautiful, you can blend herbs with flowers, vegetables and even your shrub beds.  Your landscape professional / garden center professional can help you select the easiest growing herbs for the area you have in mind.

3rd – Make your selections

The best way to select which herbs to grow is to make a list of those you will most likely use and enjoy.  Then determine their soil, light, and water needs.  Use their height, spread and growth habits to decide where to place them.  During winter, Mint, Chives, Rosemary, Basil and Parsley do very well indoors.  For the outdoors, good herbs to plant in the spring include Chervil, Cilantro (also known as Coriander), and Dill.

4th – Plant your herbs Most of us decide to try our hand at growing a few favorite herbs first. You might want to start with just two, until you get a feel for it. Common choices are basil,  parsley, dill, cilantro, oregano or thyme in a pot on the windowsill.  Once you get started, you might find yourself adding to the selection simply because it is easy for most herbs to thrive with little care.  Many herbs, such as mint, do have the ability to grow quite quickly. Plant them according to the instructions provided with the herbs you purchased. It’s important to allow enough depth for good growth. Be sure pots are not too small.

 

5th – Harvest with care

When you have your plants going, take special care when harvesting. Pruning too much off at one time off any one plant can kill it.  The best strategy is to harvest a little at a time, but harvest often. It is also helpful to inspect the individual plants before harvesting. Allow plants that do not look too healthy a bit more time to recover between harvests. Not only will you improve the longevity, you will also improve the quality of the herbs as they make their way to your dinner table. Your herb plants, if looked after, will continue providing flavor, scent, and pleasure for many years!

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TRELLISES AND CLIMBING PLANTS, VINES

trellisTrellises offer charm even as they stand alone but, most people can’t wait to plant a climbing plant to enhance the trellis with natural beauty. Consider adding a trellis to your front or back yard, side yard, courtyard or walkway. You can add a traditional look with ivy or toss in color with flowers, berries…even fruits or vegetables.

Perennial flowering vines like the trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) is one of the best trellis plants because it grows in a clinging way as much as 30 feet each year.  It also thrives in most climates and has huge, showy, reddish-orange flowers.  It flourishes best with full sun exposure and drier, poorer soils.

Clematis vines are also great for growing on trellises.  This variety sticks to and climbs the trellis with small tendrils at a rate of up to 12 feet per year.  The Clematis species also have a wide selection of flower colors to select from and they grow best in full sun to part shade.   Consider the Dropmore Scarlet Honeysuckle (Lonicera x brownie “Dropmore Scarlet”), which blooms with red flowers and doesn’t die in winter.

Annual Flowering vines bring some of the best annual trellis plants including the Hyacinth Bean (Dolichos lablab), which has charming purple flowers and grows up to 15 feet long.  A well known and easy to find option is the Morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor).  Morning glories have rich blue, purple or pink flowers and may grow up to 10 feet.  The Cardinal Climber vine (Ipomoea quamoclit), the Black Eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata) and the Moonflower vine (Ipomoea alba) are also fantastic trellis climbers that you can consider. Your landscaping/gardening professional at our center can help you make the best choice!

Climbing roses offer delicious fragrances and are hardy, re-blooming varieties.  They usually grow up to 8-10 feet, which means you may need a few of them to cover a trellis.  Please make a special note about climbing roses: Climbing roses don’t have tendrils to stick onto the trellis supports.  Thus, you need to tie the canes of the plant to the trellis to keep them upright.  Some beautiful climbing roses include cultivars like Seven Sisters, William Baffin, Henry Kelsey and John Davis.

Climbers of the fruit and berry varieties include hardy kiwi and grapes.  They grow very well on trellis support.  The hop vine (Humulus lupulus) is also a great choice and happens to yield the flowers used to make beer.  Hardy kiwis and hops do well with partial shade while grapes do best in full sunlight.

There is a great selection of vegetables that grow wonderfully on trellises.  Their cover lasts for up to two seasons a year.  The key is to select a non-bush plant such as tomatoes, peas, cucumbers or pole bean gourds.  You may also choose to use a non-bush vegetable plant that generates fruit smaller than a soccer ball can be grown on a trellis as well.  Those options include some melons, squash and small pumpkins.  You may look for the Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus cocineus), which produces edible pods.

So you can have a beautiful ivy-covered or flowered trellis for looks, or a veggie trellis for function!

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UNDERSTANDING SOIL TYPES

soilFor gardeners and property owners, there are up to five different soil types that you can utilize for lawn, garden and landscaping.  Each of the five is made up of a combination of three types of weathered rock particles: sand, silt, and clay.  The balance of how these three particles are combined defines the soil’s type—how it feels to the touch and how it retains water and nutrients. And so – how it helps plants and trees to grow.

1. Sandy soil, of all the types, has the largest particles.  It is dry and gritty to the touch and because the particles have huge spaces between them, it doesn’t retain water well.  Instead, water drains rapidly and falls straight through to the places where the roots, particularly those of seedlings, cannot reach.  The nutrients in sandy soil are not utilized by the plants because they are quickly carried away with the runoff.  The benefit of sandy soil is that it is lightweight and warms up quickly with the spring sun.  To determine how sandy the soil is that you are working with, you simply moisten it and roll it into a ball to check the predominant particle type.  If it is sandy soil, your effort to form a ball will fail and it will crumble through your fingers.

2. Silty soil has smaller particles than sandy soil, which makes it smooth to the touch.  When wet it is sort of soapy, slick, and when you roll it between your fingers there will be a coat of dirt left on your skin.  Silty soil retains water well but it doesn’t hold on to as much volume of nutrients making it just fairly fertile.  Due to its moisture-retentive quality, silty soil is cold and drains poorly.  Silty soil can also easily compact, so it is best to avoid trampling on it when working in the garden.  It can become poorly aerated, too.

3. Clay soil has the smallest particles among the three, so it offers good water storage qualities.  It is also sticky to the touch when wet and smooth when dry.  Because of the tiny size of the particles and its tendency to settle together, little air passes through its spaces.  It is also slower to drain and has a tighter hold on plant nutrients.  Thus, clay soil is rich in plant food, which is better for growth.  It takes longer to warm up in response to the sun because the water trapped within it also needs to be warmed up.  The downside to clay soil is it can be very heavy to work with, wet or dry.  In summer months, it turns hard and compact which makes it difficult to turn. To determine if you have clay, wet it and try rolling it up into a ball.  If it forms a ball or sausage-like shape, then you have clay.

4. Peaty soil is dark brown or black in color, soft, easily compressed due to its high water content, and rich in organic matter.  When peat is drained it turns into a good growing medium.  In the summer sun and heat, peat can become very dry and create a fire hazard.  The best benefits of peat soil are its ability to hold water during the dry months and protect the roots from damage during the very wet months.  It is also helpful to regulate the soil chemistry or pH levels as well as acting like an agent of disease control for the soil.  You can tell if you have peat in your hands by wetting it and trying to form a ball.  It won’t take shape, as it is a spongy material and when squeezed, water will be released.

5. Saline soil is usually found in extremely dry regions and is usually briny because of its high salt content.  It can cause damage by stalling plant growth and germination.  It can cause problems with irrigation too.  The salty content is due to the collection of soluble salts in the rhizosphere* – high salt contents prevent water uptake by plants, leading to drought and stress to the plant.  As with the other soils, it is easy to find if you have saline soil.  You will probably see a white layer coating on the surface, your plants aren’t doing well, and you will see leaf tip burn on the younger leaves.

Loam is the ideal soil type for gardening.  It contains a balance of sand, silt and clay that creates higher pH and calcium levels due to its previous organic matter content. The key characteristics of loam are its dark color and mealy texture, which is soft, dry and crumbly.  It holds nutrients well and yet drains well.  The touch test for loam is a smooth, partly gritty, partly sticky ball that crumbles easily.  Although loamy soil is the ideal material to work with, don’t despair if you don’t have it in our garden.  You can condition your soil by adding beneficial soil inoculents, cover your soil with compost or simply spray the area with compost tea. Don’t hesitate to ask your landscaping and gardening professional here at our center about how to improve your soil and growing power!

*The rhizosphere is a certain section of the soil in the ground and will be the subject of an upcoming article.

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Gardening in the wintertime…Grow some herbs!

Yes, it’s cold out. Yes, there is snow on the ground or if not, there will be soon. You sigh as you look out the window, missing the sunny days tending your garden. Well, that knack for nurturing green things can be put to good use during cold winter months, by growing herbs to cook with! Save money, and have some fun, and take pleasure in the herbs that do well and end up in your meals!

First, get veggie friendly potting soil and place into a window box or other gardening container, and make room at one of your brightly lit windows! Find the sunniest window you’ve got. Now, go to your landscaping and garden store (ours! ) and pick out herbs you and your family like. Oregano and basil are hardy and fairly easy to grow. Oregano needs the most light. Chives, Thyme, Rosemary, and Mint are other grower-friendly choices.

Chives can be used in dips, spreads, salads (like onion). Mint can be used in teas, desserts, and soups. Rosemary is known for lamb but try it with beef or pork or chicken too. Oregano – and pasta – a match made in heaven! Also any Italian dish will welcome your Oregano.

You CAN place each herb in a pot (4 inch, 5 inch) and sit them on your window ledge. But be sure there is a hole in the pot for water to drain or roots will rot. Read the instructions for the right watering amount. If you have outdoor herbs growing, you can move them inside – too late for this year, but something to consider next fall.

Most herbs need 4 to 6 hours of good light, ideally. Another one that is a good kitchen-growing herb is savory. Less known, but just as tasty as those named above. Savory is used in meats, stuffing (dressing), soups and sauces.

You may want to talk to your gardening pro about what soil works best for which herbs. Some need less fertilizing than others. You can also ask about feeding your herbs, and buy the right feed (they’ll need nutrients after the first few weeks).

The neat thing is that, after some experimentation, you’ll end up with ingredients for dishes, and can proudly say, “I used my basil in this dish, see it over there on the window ledge?” It is not uncommon for an herb or two to die out of every 3 to 5 planted. It’s a bit tricky, and you’ll get better at it as you go. So don’t be bothered if your frankincense fizzles or your cilantro curls up and disappears. Be patient, play around a bit, and find your fit with certain herbs. Let the kids help too, for a fun winter project.

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Ideas for Autumn – Enhancing your home

The front porch and entryway is the place where your home makes a first impression. Let’s get this important asset to your home shined up and ready for the festive season, with visits from friends and family!

Replace old hardware
House numbers, the entry door lockset, a wall-mounted mailbox, your doorbell plaquard, and an overhead light fixture are all elements that can add style and interest to your home’s exterior appeal. If any of these things are out of date or dingy, your home may not be conveying the aesthetic you would like. These elements typically add the most appeal when they function collectively, rather than as mix-and-match pieces. So replace one or all of these features for an instant front-of-the-house facelift! Also, clean off any dirty spots around windows, doorknobs, lightswitch plates, and other apparatuses. Use metal polish on the door fixtures or even the hinges. Oiled-bronze finishes suit traditional homes, while brushed nickel suits more contemporary ones.

Apply a fresh coat of paint
Make a statement by giving your front door a blast of color with paint or by installing a custom wood door. For bare wood, use a primer. If it has been painted, lightly sand the surface to improve adhesion, making sure to scrape and spot-prime peeling areas. Your entry should also reflect the home’s interior, so choose an overhead garland or a wreath that reflects your personal style, picked up at your favorite lawn and garden store! (wink wink)

Use color
Create a big impact with your fall displays by using contrasting and complimentary colors. Stick with cool colors, like blues, purples, and greens, to complement different shades of red, orange, and yellow leaves. If decorating with fall foliage or greens, add some color that contrasts the color of your house.

Accent your walkway
Here’s an inexpensive outdoor idea that’s also a cinch to execute. Simply layer a stocky glass vase with faux-snow and real cranberries (or fake, if you’re worried about animals). Tuck in a pillar candle. Align your walkway with fir bundles topped with these pretty luminaries that are easy to make. Pick up some pinecones and they too can be placed in glass squares or cylinders with faux snow and a battery-operated tealight or votive.

Create perfect symmetry
Symmetry is not only pleasing to the eye, it’s also the simplest to arrange. Symmetrical compositions of light fixtures and front-door accents create welcoming entryways and boost curb appeal. A door flanked by two sidelights or lantern-style sconces not only safely guide visitors to the door, but can also be coordinated with the door hardware and matching urns placed in the corner or on either side of the door. Urns can be filled with cinnamon brooms, pussywillows, or other branches, silk or real.

Install outdoor lighting to welcome visitors
Low-voltage landscape lighting makes a huge impact on your home’s curb appeal while also providing safety and security. Fixtures can add accent lighting to trees or the house or can illuminate a walking path. If you aren’t able to use lights that require wiring, install solar fixtures (but understand that their light levels are not as bright or as reliable).

Conceal that unsightly air conditioner
Plantings conceal the unit and also help save energy by shading the air conditioner’s condensing unit for part of the day when the sun is shining. You can use low-care plantings that look great and don’t take up a lot of time. Incorporate hearty plants with shrubbery, which your friendly landscaping professional at our store will gladly recommend! You want to make deer-resistant choices.

Don’t forget the mailbox
If your box is out front on a post, consider a new post, or give it a fresh coat of paint. Maybe it’s time for a new mailbox! Don’t forget to add a festive bow that can share cheer from Thanksgiving through the New Year!

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