Monthly Archives: May 2016

Tips on Choosing the Right Grass Seed

Most home market grass seed options tend to lean toward bargain varieties because seed-shoppers generally don’t realize there’s a performance difference. Buyers beware – as bargain varieties are often the poorest performers in university turf grass studies and are more prone to bugs, diseases, weather stresses and short life span. Discerning homeowners can buy many of the same superior varieties used by golf courses, public parks and athletic fields and reap the same advantages with some guidance. It’s important to view your lawn as a long-term investment when choosing the right seed, versus feeling you are getting a deal. Whether you’re filling in a spot on an existing lawn, or seeding a new lawn – it’s important to choose wisely.

Many consumer grass seed options are simply described as Sun and Shade Mix, Fast Grow Mix, Dense Shade Mix, or High-Traffic Mix. There are even those that highlight a specific blend for a State or region such as Northern or Southern. The challenge is figuring out how these grass seed product names, translate to a grass type that will grow well in your region.

The first step in zeroing in on the best grass type depends on your climate. Lawn grasses come in two main categories: Warm-season grasses are ones that perform best in long, hot summers with mild winters (i.e. the South, Southwest and lower West Coast), while cool-season grasses are ones that perform best in more moderate summers and colder winters (i.e. the North, Midwest and most of the Mid-Atlantic). Some grasses in either camp will grow in the transition zone between North and South. It’s important to double-check the seed label detail on the packages that identify the grass type or types – as many bags come in mixed of more than one species.

Kick-start your investigation by learning a little bit more about the characteristics of several common species.

Here are the positives for four most common types of cool-season grasses:

  • Fine fescue:  Has good shade tolerance; attractive fine texture; low fertilizer needs; good drought tolerance.
  • Kentucky bluegrass: Has good dark-green color and attractive fine texture; quick to fill in and recover from injury; very good cold tolerance; good tolerance to foot traffic.
  • Perennial ryegrass : Is very quick to germinate; tolerant of foot traffic; has a glossy sheen and attractive fine texture.
  • Tall fescue: Has excellent tolerance to foot traffic; tolerates some shade; good drought tolerance in cool climates; tolerates high heat better than other cool-season grasses, making it useful in transition zones and even warm-season areas

Here are the positives for six most common types of warm-season grasses:

  • Bahiagrass: Tolerates sandy and acidic soil as well as salty conditions; heat- and drought-tough; tolerates foot traffic very well; good disease resistance; forms a dense mat to discourage weeds.
  • St. Augustinegrass: Has good shade tolerance; tolerates sandy soil and salty conditions; good heat tolerance; forms dense mat to discourage weeds.
  • Bermudagrass: Easy to grow from seed; heat- and drought-tough; tolerant of foot traffic; fills in thickly and quickly; tolerates cooler temperatures better than most warm-season grasses.
    Buffalograss: Very drought-tough; good tolerance of foot traffic; attractive fine texture; has low fertilizer needs; good heat tolerance and is also more cold-tolerant than most warm-season grasses.
  • Zoysiagrass:  Does very well in heat and drought; very good in all but the heaviest foot traffic; tolerates partial shade; slow-grower so it doesn’t need as frequent mowing; performs well in transition zones; eventually forms a very thick, weed-discouraging mat.
  • Centipedegrass: Slow-grower and so needs less mowing; low fertilizer needs; tolerates sandy soil; tolerant of partial shade; performs well in transition zones.

How to Choose Design for Garden

Is your garden a certain style? Or is it eclectic, which in gardening terms means a little of this, a little of that? If you find it hard to resist a new plant, your garden is probably eclectic. Nothing wrong with that, as long as you try for some semblance of order; even the simple technique of planting at least three of one kind of plant and repeating the grouping more than once in a border or elsewhere in the yard will provide the appearance of a planned, organized design.

Before you dig, remember your garden should enhance your home. Consider the size of your property and the location of existing trees. Note what’s growing well in your town and your neighborhood. Visit local nurseries, libraries, bookstores or garden websites to learn the requirements of the plants you like. No matter what garden design and plants you select, your garden should reflect your personal preferences.

If you want to plan traditional garden designs, follow these basic guidelines. For beginning gardeners, following others’ leads at the outset often results in the most success and the best designs. Remember that a garden consists of more than plants; ornaments, rocks, fences, trellises, and paths contribute to the overall style of the design.

Natural Garden

Think of a tall-grass prairie or a field of flowers and grasses swaying in the breeze. Today’s field may be a sunny side yard, an area in the backyard surrounded with a split rail fence, a double border on either side of the front walk, or the entire front yard. To start a natural garden, remove sod and weeds to give native plants and seeds an opportunity to grow without competition from plant intruders. Remember that not only herbaceous plants but also trees and shrubs belong in a natural, wild garden. Plants for a natural garden include perennial and annual wildflowers indigenous to your area, ornamental grasses, and native trees and shrubs. In a 21st century suburb, neatness with such a design often counts for pleasing neighbors and local zoning codes. Mow broad grass paths through and around your “field” to give it the appearance of a standard garden. Accent it with accessories, such as birdhouses, a birdbath, and a bench at the end of one path as a destination. (Check with your county or state extension service.

Cottage Garden

Whether you call it a country garden or an English cottage garden, this style says old-fashioned with its plants and layout. At first glance, it looks disorganized as it overflows with a mix of perennials, vines, even vegetables and herbs. Edging plants spill over onto straight stone or brick paths, softening the front of the border. Tall, background plants intertwine without support. Many of the perennials and hardy annuals seed themselves around the border. The disorder is an illusion. You need to train vining plants, at least in the beginning, up and over trellises and arbors. Plant three to five of each perennial you choose and repeat the planting three or more times. Keep the jungle-look under control by weeding out overly rambunctious seedlings. For this style, select plants with an eye to their foliage texture, shape and their growth habit as much as to the colors of the blooms. Consider growing these plants for a cottage garden: beebalm, columbine, coneflower, daisy, delphiniums, dianthus, English daisy, foxglove, hardy geranium, hollyhock, iris, lamb’s ears, larkspur, lavender, phlox, peony, Russian sage, clematis, climbing rose, morning glory, and trumpet vine.

Oriental Garden

A sense of peace pervades an oriental-style garden, where careful placement of rocks and paths takes equal importance with plants. Function and ornamentation combine in stone benches, wooden bridges and fences. Interest comes more from foliage texture and plant shapes (pruning is involved here) than from colorful flower displays. Water plays a major role, whether in a small pond, a cascading waterfall, or a simple trickle from a fountain made with bamboo. For gardeners with shady yards, oriental designs deliver beauty without the necessity of flowers from spring to frost. The primary color in an oriental garden is green. Plants for an oriental garden include: agastache, Asparagus densiflorus, fall flowering chrysanthemum, flowering cabbage or kale, nicotiana lemon-lime flowers, Zinnia ‘Envy’ green flowers, basil, chives, dill, thyme, moss, ferns, and bamboo.

Kitchen Garden

Traditionally a garden by the back door, handy for everyday use, a kitchen garden contains vegetables, herbs, and flowers for cutting. In colonial times, it would have held medicinal as well as culinary herbs, fruit trees and berried shrubs. Nowadays, site it anywhere in the yard, front or back, that gets full sun for most of the day. Surround the garden with a wire or picket fence or a living evergreen hedge. Keep paths to a minimum by making wide rows, three to four feet wide; historically, rows were narrow, but space was not at a premium then. Construct raised beds, using lumber or brick, in rectangular or other shapes, if you want, and devote one vegetable to each; plant herbs along the edges. Make paths with packed soil, gravel, or brick. Group vegetables for their decorative qualities, as well as for ease of care. Grow vining plants on tepees (great focal points) and on an arbor at the entrance to the garden. Plant the perimeter, inside and out, with flowers. Plants for a kitchen garden include: annual and perennial herbs, such as basil, cilantro, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and thyme; root, leafy, and vining vegetables; flowers for cutting, such as bachelor’s buttons, marigolds, snapdragons, and zinnias, and flowers for eating such as calendulas, dianthus, pansies, marigolds, nasturtiums, and violas. A rainbow of unusual colored and ornamental vegetables can add interest to your garden and to your dinner table. Seed catalogs and seed racks in retail stores offer numerous new and exciting flowers and vegetables for your garden.

Rock Garden

To imitate nature, a rock garden should be on a hillside or at least an incline. To create one on a level surface, mound soil slightly and bury rocks from half to three-quarters deep to make them look as if they have forced their way above ground or been worn down by wind and water over centuries. Use rocks and stones that occur naturally in your area; set them in a freeform, informal pattern. Traditional plants for a rock garden consist of alpines and miniatures that survive on a minimum of soil and water in their natural habitat. In practice, you can use any delicate-looking plants, those that grow from tufts of foliage or spread slowly, plants with small stature, and even a few dwarf evergreens. Rocks and large stones are terrific accents in any garden, except a formal one, but placing a few among plants in your border does not make it a rock garden. Plants for a rock garden: armeria, baby-blue-eyes, perennial candytuft, evening primrose, lupine, maiden pinks, phlox, rockcress, sanvitalia, snow-in-summer, sweet alyssum, sweet william pinks, creeping thyme, viola, pansy, Iceland poppy, zinnia, and succulents such as sedums and sempervivuim.

Choosing Container Gardening

Container gardening offers many advantages that people can tend to overlook: containers can be less work because they can be placed closer to a water source; they offer a smaller soil area to have to weed; they can be placed at a height that can minimize bending for watering and tending; movable containers can “follow the sun” if you have changing exposure; they can provide a garden plot even in high-rise apartments or homes with no space for a traditional garden; and just about any plant—flower or vegetable—can be grown in a container.

Selecting a Container

Virtually anything that will hold soil and water is a candidate for container growing. From a bag of soil with holes punched for planting and drainage to wooden tubs, old riding boots, milk cans, hanging baskets and fancy ornamental pots. You can choose the size, shape and cost to fit your needs and desires.

The deeper the pot the less watering it will need. Pots with a small soil volume will dry out faster and require more frequent watering. Unlike plants in the ground, plants in pots or hanging baskets in the yard, on a deck or on a windowsill are exposed on all sides to the drying effects of wind and sun. On hot, windy days you may have to water them more than once.

Darker colored containers will absorb more heat, which can get seeds and transplants off to a faster start, but these containers will need more watering if they are in direct sunlight. Lighter colored containers may be better for most people.

Select a container that will give your plant’s roots room to grow, but not so much that it will not fill out the pot. Consider the mature size of the plants you will be growing, and follow the spacing recommendations on the seed packet or plant label. Plant leaves should grow to touch each other in a container, providing shade that will help retain moisture in the pot. Because weeding will be minimal and you can easily reach into a pot, there is no need to plant in rows and you can space plants closer together in a container than in a garden.

Plastic vs. Clay

While unglazed clay containers, such as those made of terra cotta, may seem more “natural” or appeal to those who want a certain look, plastic containers offer an advantage if they are to be placed in full sun. Unglazed clay pots are porous and water can quickly evaporate from them, while plastic containers do not “breathe” and therefore they will not need watering as often as clay. If you like the look of clay, there are look-alikes available in plastic.

Drainage is Important

Be sure that your container allows for drainage when you water. If the pot doesn’t have a drainage hole in the bottom, add one. If you don’t want to put a hole in a decorative ceramic container you can simply put a smaller pot inside the decorative one, being sure there is some room at the bottom for water to drain out. This will provide a reservoir for the water to drain into. The soil has to drain water or the plant roots won’t be able to breathe.

Soil Selection

Some people are tempted to just dig up some garden soil and put it in a container. Generally, though, you are better off buying a prepared soilless mix for container growing because it is free of weeds and often contains added nutrients to help plants grow. Choose a potting soil that will provide support for plants as they grow, and one that will help retain moisture. A peat and perlite or peat and vermiculite mixture is usually a good choice.

Planting Procedures

Thoroughly water the soil before planting. Water gently until water drains from the bottom of the pot. This way you can be assured that the entire soil mass is wet. If you are going to move the pots, you may want to move them before watering so they will not be as heavy as they will be after watering.

For seeds, follow the seed packet directions for spacing and whether or not to cover the seeds with soil. Keep the soil moist by gentle misting or watering several times a day. When seedlings emerge keep them watered, and if you have too many plants thin them by plucking out the weakest looking ones.

For transplants, plant the top of the root ball even with the soil line and keep plants well watered as they get established.

A simple test as to whether or not to water is to stick your finger into the top inch of soil. If it feels damp, there is no immediate need to water; if it feels dry then you should water until some runs out the bottom of the container.

Mulching Helps

Plants that will be grown outdoors in full sun in containers can benefit from a layer of mulch on top of the soil. Mulch will help retain moisture in the soil, discourage weed growth, and break the harshness of raindrops or watering from a hose or watering can. Sawdust, shredded bark and gravel can act as mulches—choose one appropriate to the container and the plants.

Containers placed in semi-shady or shady areas do not need mulch as much as those planted in full sun, but it is never a bad idea.

Staking Tall Plants

Vining plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers, morning glories, thunbergia and others will need the addition of stakes or a small trellis to support them. Add the stakes or trellis when you first plant the seeds or transplants so that you won’t damage roots by adding them at a later date.

When the plants are large enough that you need to fasten them to the stakes or trellis, do not tie the stem tightly to the stakes. Leave a big loop that will support the stem but not constrict it. For large-stemmed plants like tomatoes and melons, strips of cloth are gentler than plastic or metal twist-ties. When fruits begin to get large, a cloth sling tied around the fruit and fastened to the stake can keep the fruit from falling off before it is ripe.

Extending the Season

One of the special advantages of container growing is that you can extend the harvest or bloom season by moving pots indoors when the weather grows cold. When you move them indoors, put the containers in a location where they will receive maximum sunlight during the day. Eventually, winter’s shorter days will take their toll and your plants will get scraggly looking. You may want to finally get rid of them, but with the right exposure, you can keep plants growing indoors for months after their usual outdoor life.

Other Advantages of Containers

Growing in containers gives you an opportunity to try something new on a small scale. If you have a shady area that you want to test to see how certain plants will grow, putting a few in a pot in that area will let you see how they do without a lot of work. Of course, you can do the same for sunny locations too. By grouping several pots, each with a different selection, you can see which ones do better so that you can decide what to grow more of next year.

Container growing is also an excellent choice for introducing children to gardening. Containers are easy to tend and can be sized to the age and interest of a child. A child’s favorite vegetable or cutting flowers are popular choices to get them started.

Tips on Cleaning Fall Garden

As gardeners, we never want the gardening season to come to an end. But, in most of North America, we must welcome the coming cold months by preparing our gardens for winter. Follow the tips below for a few good basic steps in preparing your beloved garden for the coming chill:

* Dig up tender bulbs for storage until next year

* As perennials quit blooming or die back, trim the dead foliage. You can compost the healthy trimmings to continue the cycle of nature.

* But, some perennials, if left alone, look great as winter interest and/or provide winter food for wildlife.

* Clean away any and all diseased plants and dropped leaves.  It will make next year’s gardening that much easier.

*  If you live in an area with cold winters but not much snow as protection, mulching in the fall will protect your plant investments.

* Vegetable gardens are best completely cleared up to prevent any disease or pest overwintering.

* Move your indoor foliage plants back inside before even the first light frost.

* And, don’t forget your gardening tools.  A thorough cleaning and sharpening now will save valuable time next spring.