Category Archives: Garden

How to Keep Your Yard Healthy

Preventing problems in the landscape is much easier – and less expensive – than reacting to trouble after it happens. Treating for bugs, trying to control diseases, and replacing dead or struggling plants is a lot of work. Here are 8 tactics to head off that kind of unwelcome work in your yard-care regimen:

1. Good plants, right spot. Some plants are more likely to run into bug and disease trouble than others. Dwarf Alberta spruce (mites), euonymus (scale), dogwood (anthracnose), impatiens (downy mildew), and hybrid tea roses (a little bit of everything) are examples of common plants with common problems. It’s worth doing the homework to learn the key potential problems with plants in your area, and better yet, ones that seldom run into trouble. Local professionals know these well, so consult with resources such as Master Gardeners, garden-center staffers, Extension Service educators, and even experienced local gardeners. Online plant lists and regional plant books also are well worth the investment. Once you zero in on the best choices, get them in the proper place, i.e. sun-lovers in sun, damp-preferrers in wet spots and so on.

2. Improve the soil. Many gardeners are faced with planting in yards that were heavily graded before construction. That soil tends to be compacted and layered, which is terrible for drainage and root growth. Even native soil can often be too clayish, too rocky or too sandy. Most plants grow best in loose, well drained and reasonably nutritious soil, which may require some adjustment to bring to optimal levels. If you’re lucky enough to have decent soil, you can just dig and plant. But if you’re dealing with compacted or poor-quality soil, consider improving it before planting. A good strategy is to loosen the soil to at least 10-12 inches, and work in an inch or two of compost, rotted leaves, bagged planting mix from the garden center or similar organic matter. The result will be slightly raised planting beds.

Composting is not only a good way to recycle organic yard waste, but
the finished product adds nutrition, organic matter, and disease-
fighting properties to planting beds.

3. Make your own compost.First, composting is an excellent way to recycle leaves, grass clippings, kitchen peelings and other organic household waste. Second, the result is the best product for improving garden soil (see above) and for adding nutrition by topping it on existing beds or the lawn. Third, compost has natural disease-fighting properties, not to mention a multitude of microbes that benefit the living ecosystem that your soil should be.

4. Plant at the right depth.Too-deep planting is a leading cause of tree death. Sometimes plants end up too deep from settling in over-dug holes, but most of the time the plants are just set too deep at planting. Buried trunks are prone to rotting, and deeply set root systems suffer from lack of oxygen. Container-grown shrubs and perennials are easy to figure out since you can usually plant at the same depth that the rootball was growing in the pot. But for trees, it’s important to locate the “root flare” – the point at the base of the trunk where the wood widens out and the roots begin. That point needs to be placed slightly above grade. You might even need to remove some of the soil from around your tree’s base to find the flare. Planting too high is also bad if roots are exposed to drying air above ground. If that’s the case, you’ll need to deepen the hole or tamp a heaved-up rootball back down or cover the exposed roots with 2-3 inches of mulch (no more).

Some mulch is good for retaining soil moisture and choking weeds,but mulch packed up onto tree bark can rot the bark and potentially
kill the tree.

5. Water the ground, not the plants. The main problem with watering over top of plants is that most plant diseases thrive on damp leaves. You can also lessen the odds of plant disease by thinning out overly dense trees and shrubs and by dividing perennial beds that are too crowded. Densely packed canopies impede air flow that helps dry out leaves and head off moisture-fed disease. If you must water over top of plants, at least do it in early morning (the best time for leaves to dry) or early evening (so leaves aren’t wet going into the slow-drying overnight hours).

6. No excess mulch. Piling on the mulch has the same effect as planting too deeply. One to 2 inches is ideal around flowers, and 2 to 3 inches is enough around shrubs and trees. Don’t keep adding more mulch every year unless the old mulch is decaying to below those amounts. Eight inches of mulch will stop weeds nicely, but it’ll also stunt or kill your plants. Also, keep mulch a few inches back away from trunks and stems to discourage rotting.

7. Fertilize properly. More isn’t better. Research has found that over-fertilized plants are often more attractive to bugs, probably because there’s more nutrition available. The goal is to give plants soil that provides them with optimal nutrients. Soil lacking in key nutrients hurts plant health, but soil that’s excessive in one or more nutrients or out of whack altogether from over-fertilization isn’t helpful either. Poorly performing or poorly colored plants are clues that something could be amiss nutrition-wise. If you’ve never done it (or haven’t done it in awhile), invest in a do-it-yourself soil test. Those are available through most Extension services, land-grant universities and garden centers. Test results will tell you what to add and in what amounts. Otherwise, you’re just guessing.

8. Pay attention. It’s much easier to solve a pest or disease problem when you catch it early. That doesn’t mean spray the whole yard at the first sign of a bug crawling on a leaf, but it does mean monitoring your plants. Know what your plants normally look like (or should look like), and assess whether there’s a problem brewing if that changes. A lot of bug and disease problems are temporary and/or cosmetic that can be ignored or treated by something simple, such as a swift blast of hose water or picking off the leaves of an early disease threat. If what you see looks like more than just a temporary or cosmetic matter, research the most targeted and least disruptive way of dealing with that particular problem.

Ways Mowing Grass with Right Equipment

Choices range from the simple, reel push mowers to ultra-modern cordless, battery-operated equipment. Selecting the right mower ensures the most efficient tool for your specific landscape and that your lawn will look its best.

Here are some things to consider:

  • For southern lawns of St. Augustine or Bermuda grasses, many homeowners use a walk-behind, gasoline-powered reel mower, because of the nice, even cut. You push the mower, which resembles a reel push mower, except this one runs on gasoline.
  • Small yards can be mowed with a reel push mower, especially if the lawn and ground are relatively even or smooth. This human-powered mower has blades that cut as they rotate. This would not be a good choice for cutting tall grass or weedy areas. However, this is the most environmentally friendly lawnmower you can have.
  • For a fairly level yard less than one-half acre, a cordless, battery-operated lawn mower may be the answer. This is almost silent, emitting a slight, high-speed whirr, as it cuts the grass, making it ideal for smaller urban and suburban yards. The mower plugs into a special battery for recharging. Once charged, which usually takes several hours, the mower is unplugged. It stores its energy for the next mowing. Most battery-operated mowers are not recommended for cutting tall grass or weeds; however, there are a few models designed for those tasks.
  • The walk-behind, gas-powered, rotary lawnmower is what most people use to cut the grass. This push mower can be used to mow the lawn and all but the tallest weeds. This is a good choice for most northern lawns of blue grass and fescue. It gives a nice, even cut.
  • Gasoline-powered riding mowers or small tractors may be the right choice for very large landscapes. Again, make sure you can maneuver the equipment safely.
  • For larger landscapes, those that are hilly or have steep slopes, a good choice is a self-propelled mower. This gasoline-powered mower moves when you put it in gear, so you need to be able to handle its pull and weight in a safe manner.
  • Buy a mulching mower, which comes in almost all styles. This machine cuts the grass into tiny pieces, which remain on the lawn and eliminate the need to bag clippings.

Other mowing tips for a great looking lawn:

  • Make sure you can easily adjust the mowing height of the equipment.
  • Keep the lawnmower in good running condition and the blade sharp. A sharp blade cuts the grass evenly, without tearing the blades, which can cause brown tips. Ragged cuts also open up grass blades to insect and disease damage.
  • Mow high, keeping the grass about 3 inches tall. Taller grass reduces the chance weeds will take hold and it shades the soil, helping to retain moisture and moderating its temperature. That usually means you’ll mow more frequently in spring, when the grass is growing fast, and less in summer and fall, when the growth rate has slowed.
  • Avoid cutting off more than one-third of the height of the grass blades at a time.
  • To reduce stress on the lawn, mow in early evening or early- to mid-morning.
  • Don’t mow the grass when it is wet.
  • Don’t bag the clippings. A mulching mower chops the grass into tiny bits, which stay on the lawn. The bits quickly break down, adding nutrients to the soil as they do.

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.

Planning Ideas for Your Garden

Key Planning Tips

Start Small. If you decide to plant up some new areas this year, start small so that you can test for success and appearance. You can always make it bigger next year.

Consider water access. If you are planting an area far from a water source, figure out how you are going to get water there. If a long hose isn’t practical, you may have to carry water there, or plan on carrying the plants (assuming they are in containers) to the water source.

Try something new each year. If something in a seed catalog or in the garden center captures your imagination – try it. Starting on a small scale and a new spot, you can test the plant without a lot of expense or disappointment if it doesn’t please or doesn’t succeed.

Go for variety. Even within the confines of a color family you can achieve a pleasing mixture of different flower forms, heights and textures. While large displays of a single flower can be awesome, too much of a good thing can be boring.

Keep a “cookbook. In a notebook, write down which classes and varieties you planted where. Often you can just tape a plant label to a page and write “front door,” or “patio tubs” next to it. At the end of the season you can write down how it performed and whether you want to plant those again, try them somewhere else, or try something new.

To be sure you take advantage of all your growing areas, get a piece of paper and a pencil and make a rough “bird’s eye” sketch of your lot, including marking out where your house is. Indicate which areas are the sunny, partially sunny, and shady areas. Be as detailed or as rough as you want. The idea is to identify all potential growing spots and then decide what to put where.

Once you have your sketch made, think about each area and where you would like the color and texture of plants. If you have a deck or patio, baskets or tubs of flowers can add a lot to the appearance. If there is a spot in your yard that you look at all the time from the kitchen window or that guests in your yard naturally tend to look at, brighten it up with flowers. And there is no rule that says you have to shove your garden back against the fence or property line – a garden spot in the middle of a yard can become a focal point and attractively break up boring expanses of grass.

If you already have a focal point such as a fountain, a brick barbecue, or even a tree, you can make it more attractive by planting flowers around it to draw even more attention to it. This idea also works for storage sheds or objects that you may consider as less than attractive focal points. Chances are these aren’t going to go away, so dress them up and make them worthwhile to look at.

Choosing a Color Theme

For a really sophisticated look, choose a family of colors for all your flowers. If you choose red, for example, you can select flowers in pink, rose and bright red. You will still be able to get a variety of flowers and plants, but the look will be more unified if you have an overall color theme.

Sun and Shade

Most yards have a mix of full sun and some shade, so you should have plantings for both. If you are planning a vegetable garden it should get the prime sunny spot whenever possible. Even if the sun shines only on your deck or patio you can grow vegetables. Many can be successfully grown in containers, letting you “move” the garden into the sun.

Many people get discouraged over getting any color into shady areas. However, prudent planning can get color just about anywhere. There are a number of colorful plants that will do well in all but the deepest shade. Impatiens are outstanding for brightening up shady spots, as are coleus and begonias. These also have the advantage of a wide variety of colors for your overall theme. If the shady area also has the problem of poor soil conditions, a raised garden bed or different size pots and containers can overcome that problem without a lot of work. Baskets hung from tree limbs can draw attention to the beauty and position of the tree in the garden.

Key Areas

In addition to the yard areas where you are most likely to want an attractive display of flowers and plants, consider the impression your house makes on passersby and visitors. Baskets, pots or a small flower bed near the front door can say “welcome” and give your home a well-cared for appearance. The driveway and garage area is another often overlooked opportunity for gardening. Lining the driveway or putting some baskets or pots in a few selected areas can make an otherwise utilitarian area come alive.

Getting Started

One of the ways to get your garden into bloom or fruit as early as possible is to start plants indoors. Basically, a good sunny location for the started plants is all that is needed, or grow lights if you don’t have a sunny location. You can buy “seed starter kits” at most garden retailers, or do your own seed starting in containers as simple as egg cartons. Books on the subject can be found at your library and at garden retailers, and a wealth of information is available on the web. Within reason, the earlier you start, the more mature and established your plants will be when transplanted outdoors to the garden or to containers. If you start too early, your plants will become overgrown and you may have to cut them back and start with a funny-looking garden. Six weeks or so before the last frost date or normal planting time in your area is a good rule of thumb for starting indoors.

If you don’t have the time or confidence to start plants from seed, there are a rainbow of colorful bedding plant flowers and vegetables at your local garden centers or retailers.

Depending on the weather and how soon you can get outdoors, it is a good idea to prepare your garden bed by digging it up, turning it over, adding amendments such as compost or fertilizer. Your local County Extension Agent can tell you how to have a soil test performed, or soil test kits can be purchased. Soil preparation is one of those areas that often gets ignored, yet is vitally important to your garden’s success.


To create a garden with beauty and balance, begin with planning, not digging. A way to start a plan is by drawing a sketch of all garden areas. This sketch will help identify all of the outside areas to be decorated with flowers or vegetables. Adding a color theme to your garden will help unify it. To record successful plans, or even failures, keep a simple ‘cookbook’ of plants and their performance. This “Cookbook” can be the start of next year’s garden.

Choosing a Special Place to Grow

“What’s best for the environment?” is often asked these days. Well, what’s best for the environment is teaching our children respect and concern for nature. One way to start this training early, and have some fun doing it, is a child’s garden. The immediate and long-term benefits of encouraging a child to plant his or her own garden are enormous.

Through school and the media, many youngsters, even preschoolers, are already very aware of nature and ecology. The garden is an excellent place to reinforce what they have heard and learned and a great place to encourage their creativity and self-discipline. They will be exposed to the beauty of Nature, a beauty they will help nurture, and through growing vegetables they may learn a degree of self-sufficiency. A childhood start on understanding and respecting the environment plants the “seeds” for future responsibilities. We all know it needs to be done, so let’s do it with fun.

Lions and Dragons

Did you ever “snap” the jaws of a snapdragon, or “see” fantastic faces in pansies, or savor the tangy aroma of fresh mint when you crushed some leaves in your hands when you were a child? Whether you did or you didn’t, there are numerous plants that provide their own extra-special sense of fun and learning. Below are a few suggestions. Maybe you have some childhood memories to add.

Some “Fun” Plants to Grow

Four O-Clocks – Easy to grow from seed, these colorful flowers don’t open until mid-to late afternoon.

Lunaria – The ‘money plant’ forms disc shaped seedpods that can be easily rubbed and polished to resemble a silvery quarter sized coin.

Calceolaria – called the “”pocketbook” plant, the blooms resemble old-fashioned purses.

Scallop Squash – Summer squashes that resemble flying saucers

Impatiens – “Bizzy Lizzy” or “Impatient” plant. The ripe seedpods burst open to scatter seed. Put a fat one in your hand and press lightly for a good tickle when it bursts.

Sweet Peas – Dwarf or climbing, these lovely flowers have the same name as the character in Popeye cartoons. Maybe you should plant it next to the spinach.

Torenia – The “wishbone plant.” Inside the bloom is a small ridge shaped just like a wishbone.

Starter Suggestions

A small garden, perhaps no more than 4 feet by 4 feet and planted with a mix of flowers and vegetables, can instill not only an appreciation of Nature, but also provide a place for fun learning activities. Although there is a chance that a child’s garden might not be as neatly tended as a parent’s, give the choicest garden spot you can to the child. Lots of sun and good soil will aid in success. A section of your garden or a separate child’s garden next to yours can make the garden chores a family affair.

Let your child help prepare the garden soil. Dirt can be turned over with a small shovel or trowel, and clumps broken up by hand or by “stomping” on them. Kids love dirt!

Choose easy-to-grow plants and as many different ones as you can get into the small space. Carrots, radishes, lettuces and tomatoes are good vegetable choices. If you have room for the vines, maybe a giant Jack O ‘Lantern or a mini-pumpkin can make the garden experience last a little longer.

For flowers, choose at least some that can be used as cut flowers or decorations for the dinner table or for special “gifts.” Zinnias, marigolds, salvia, and snapdragons are a few recommendations. For something spectacular to a child, plant a few sunflowers, which can range form 2 feet to 10 feet tall. The seeds can be toasted and eaten for a healthy snack, or saved to be put out to feed squirrels or other animals.

Starting from seed is a good learning experience, and starting early indoors in a sunny spot will provide daily “excitement” as a child watches the growth. Small children will find large seeds such as beans and sunflowers easy to handle and plant. Bedding plants too, are an excellent choice for getting started and are good choices for selections such as geraniums, petunias, begonias and many vegetable plants.


Recycling is an important part of our planet’s future, and few activities lend themselves to this as well as gardening does. To grow up to 12 plants you can use a clean egg carton as a seed starter kit. Be sure to punch holes in the bottom of each section for drainage, and use a soilless germinating mix.

Outdoors, small plants can be protected from the weather and hungry animals by cutting the bottom or side out of a milk carton and covering tender plants.

Grass clippings, shredded leaves and vegetable matter can be put into a composting bin to be recycled into composted soil that is very nutritious for plants.

Many communities have active recycling program on a drop-off basis, or as part of their garbage pickup. Instead of just separating recyclable materials for some far-off re-use, using the materials in gardening demonstrates the true meaning of active recycling and may instill the idea of recycling in other ways as well. Less garbage in landfills means more land left for nature.

Garden Anywhere

Don’t despair if you don’t have an outdoor garden plot. Vegetables and flowers can be successfully grown in pots and containers. There are books and online sources available on container growing, and many general gardening books cover the topic as well. A container garden on a balcony, patio or deck can produce a lot of flowers and vegetables, and it often makes the task of weeding simpler.

Getting Personal

Children love something to be their “very own.” Keep your child interested and aware of his or her garden by putting a sign in it that says “Mary’s Garden” (or whatever name is appropriate). For real personalization, make up plant stakes or labels that say “Mary’s beans,” “John’s zinnias,” etc. If more than one child has plants growing in the same garden, this can minimize disputes over whose plants are whose.

If you start from seed, you can use the seed packet stapled to a stake with the child’s name written on it. Bedding plants usually come with a plant tag you might use. Colorful pictures help children imagine what will eventually grow.

Watering and Weeding

Children love to water – particularly at full force of the hose. You will want to remind them that rain usually falls a little more gently and they should imitate the rain. A personalized sprinkling can is a good idea for younger children.

Weeding is another matter. At first, even for adults, it can be difficult to tell small wanted plants from small-unwanted weeds. You may want to let things grow a little before weeding too much. Since children may find weeds as fascinating and as pretty as the chosen plants, a little explanation that the weeds are “little bullies” and want to take too much room and too much food away from the “good” plants may ease the trauma of pulling out some plants.

“Patience is a virtue,” goes an old saying, and the wait for flowers and vegetables to mature can begin to teach the rewards of patience. Watching a garden grow may not be easy: children may want to pull up young carrots and radishes to see if they are “done.” Even if they do pull up a few young plants, they may be far enough along to wash off and give a taste of bigger things to come.

Older Children

Children by age eight or nine may want to be more involved in what plants are grown in their gardens. They might enjoy planning a salad garden that can be harvested and shared with the family at dinnertime, or they might enjoy something special like a garden planted to look like the American Flag.

You may not have to supervise weeding and watering quite as closely, but a wise parent always keeps one of the eyes in the back of the head open.

Watching your child grow

Gardening activities provide an ideal time to really talk to your child. Of course you will want to talk a little about how plants grow, and talk about the birds, insects and worms (kids love worms!) and all that good gardening stuff. But the privacy and quiet of a garden is also an excellent place to just talk about “things” such as school and friends, hopes and dreams. Ask them if they were a plant, what would they tell the gardener?

You’ll be surprised what you can learn in your child’s garden, and your opportunity to hear your child’s thoughts will help you guide their personal growth as well as their gardening growth.

Whether you are in a city, suburb or rural area, the future of the environment is a concern to all. Instilling love, respect and understanding of how nature works and how it affects us all is especially important for the future of our children and the world at large.

And it can all begin in a child’s garden.

Quick Tips to Coloring

In this issue of Today’s Garden we are offering a variety of quick tips for using color, and a brief interview with a color expert – information we think you will be able to use in many different ways.

  1. When planning a garden, think of it as a three-dimensional painting, and the colorful annuals for beds and containers as colors on an artist’s palette. Some colors will dominate and be spread with broad brush strokes here, while other colors will give depth and dimension with small dabs here and there. Try to envision the whole panorama of your garden as you want it to look when it is at its best, and plan accordingly.
  2. To brighten shady areas use light-colored annuals such as white, light pink or palest blues. Dark colors tend to get “lost” in shady areas. You can still use deep colors in a shady area, but be sure to use lighter colors around or behind them to provide contrast so that they can stand out and be seen. Burgundy impatiens surrounded by pale green coleus or coral impatiens, for example, will stand out due to the contrast.
  3. For maximum effect, think about how the colors of plants will blend or contrast with their surroundings. For example, deep red geraniums or red salvia planted against a red brick or redwood fence will not stand out as well as white or pink geraniums. And white geraniums will not stand out dramatically against a white fence or white siding. Think of using a more dramatic color scheme such as purple or magenta against a white or light-color background, and something lighter, such as peach or pink against darker surfaces.
  4. Just as each room should have a focal point, so should each area of your garden. If there isn’t a natural focal point such as a pool of water or garden statuary, color can create one. Instead of long, uninterrupted rows of flowers, create a focal point by planting a mass of one color in the center of a bed and then surround it with flowers or plants that contrast in color, texture or height. If there is something unsightly in your garden that you can’t get rid of and really can’t hide (like a telephone pole or a fire hydrant), create a colorful focal point away from the object to draw attention in that direction and lessen the effect of a “problem” area.
  5. Colors affect our emotions. Bright colors such as red and yellow excite us and can make us feel warm (that’s why they are often called “hot” or “warm” colors). Colors such as blue, lavender, green, pink and peach are considered cooler and calmer. For the entrance to a home, you may want to create a feeling of warmth and excitement, and could choose stronger, more exciting colors such as yellow marigolds and scarlet dianthus. In the backyard garden or for patio containers, you may want to create a more relaxing and serene mood by choosing cooler or softer colors such as pansy rose shades with blue violas.
  6. Just as interior decorators use three or four colors as a theme throughout a home, “exterior decorators” can do the same. Theme colors used with repetition will unify different garden areas just as they unify the rooms of a house. For example, bordering all your garden plots with a row of yellow marigolds or creamy petunias can tie different garden areas together for a unified look. Repeating the same colors but in different plant types can create the same effect. If white and blue are your colors, for example, plant different types of flowers such as lavender, blue petunias and blue salvia, and for white use white geraniums, white impatiens, white petunias, etc. to carry the theme but vary the look.
  7. Dramatic color combinations can give your garden beds a distinctive look. Instead of something as ordinary as red and white, consider orange and blue (direct complements on the color wheel), or light pink and green. For new color trends and combination ideas, see the sidebar.

Many of today’s annuals are available in more colors, tones and shades than ever before. Impatiens, for instance, now come in 24 separate designer colors or blends. Creating a colorful fresh new look is easier than ever.


What are the “fashionable” colors trends for garden and home this year? National Garden Bureau asked color expert Ken Charbonnau, Director of Color Marketing at Benjamin Moore Paint Company, Montvale, New Jersey, to give us an update.

“The biggest thing affecting color over the last five years has been the economy,” said Ken. “People want more value for their money, so we are seeing a return to more classic colors and color combinations. Colors will be less trendy and more long-lasting.”

What’s the big news in color? Purple and blue-violet, said Ken. “But in small doses. Purple and blue-violet bring out the rest of the palette.” An avid gardener himself, Ken noted that purples and blues tend to fade away in the garden. They need lots of sun to highlight them, be massed to be seen, or combined with white or yellow to really show off. (Home gardeners can bring little doses of purple to their gardens with plants like petunias and a wide choice of other annuals.)

Next on his list of important colors was coral. “What was peach is now turning to coral,” he said. In his yard he has masses of coral and peach colored flowers against a weathered gray fence. “People are just amazed when they see it.

“We are also seeing color being used to link new things with things from the past,” he said, calling them bridging colors. “For example, people tend to think of salvia splendens as coming only in red. Well, have I got news for them – it comes in 12 decorator colors today.” Salvia, a long time favorite, is now fresh and new with its new colors. The past is linked to the new. Ken gave another example from his garden and talked about some traffic stopping window boxes at the front of his brownstone home in New York. “I combined purple salvia, blue ageratum and magenta geraniums. People would stop and take pictures!” Ken mentioned that those colors are the same colors in the slip covers for their summer room. “I took our interior colors to the outside,” he said.

Magenta is another important color. “What was pink is now moving into magenta. It is replacing the rose/mauve story.” Mauve is rapidly declining – “It was so trendy and so everywhere that we got tired of it.” Ken said he found the mauves, burgundies and deep greens rather “maudlin.” Now, he says, we are moving on to “happy colors.”

Yellow is returning to the color palette after a long absence, said Ken. “It’s been missing for years and now it’s coming back. Right now it’s very new and at the high end.” He talked about combinations such as yellow and white and periwinkle, or yellow and white and purple, pointing out the use of purple in small doses to bring out the other colors.

Gold and yellow-greens are returning. “It’s new to the younger generation who didn’t grow up with avocado green shag rugs and harvest gold appliances,” he pointed out. Some of the older generation may resist it, but the yellow-greens have a very fresh look, he said. “It’s a brighter, cleaner look” than the old yellow-greens.

“Reds are still doing well, but in the classic shades such as wine and burgundy. Bright but not too orange.”

Generally speaking of color trends Ken said that colors will tend to be brighter and stronger than pastels, but still softer and what he calls “relaxed.” Over the long term he thinks that this relaxed feeling will extend to our gardens, and we will see garden design and floral arrangements that are less formal or structured. “People will experiment more with color combinations and not worry so much about what goes together perfectly.”

Choosing Best Gazebo Designs

So you are planning on adding a gazebo to your garden? Good choice I must say, considering that they are an ideal place to relax under the shade with your friends and family, while enjoying the outdoors at the same time. They have a great ornamental value as well and you will see that the moment they are installed in your patio, it will have an all together different look and a unique feel to it.

When deciding on a gazebo for your garden landscaping, you should pay special attention to the designs and plans. You should choose the one which looks attractive, is durable, and meets your purpose.

There are three important things, which you should consider while selecting gazebo designs. Firstly, the plans that you choose should match and complement your garden. Secondly, they should be in accordance with your personal liking. Lastly, they should fit in your budget.

For a Perfect Shape …
As far as the plans are concerned, the octagon shaped gazebo is what majority of the people opt for. A fourteen feet octagon is the ideal size, which easily accommodates six people, plus leaves enough space to move about in between. However, if you plan to house a hot tub or a pool, go in for rectangle or square plans.

For an Understated Look …
For those of you with budget constraints, or those who wish to keep things simple and modern, metal designs which come with four posts, a roof, and a floor will serve the purpose. You can add a few chairs and tables and a few potted plants to enhance the overall look.

For Durability …
Since you are investing a good amount of money in installing a gazebo, use materials which are long-lasting such as wood and aluminum. The structure should have a very strong base, roof, and side poles. Preferably go in for the ones which come with an enclosed roof, as such structures keep the harsh weather conditions at bay.

For a Royal Touch …
When it comes to design plans, the one which comes in a Victorian style is perhaps the most popular these days. Victorian gazebos are mostly made of wood, although they can even be constructed from bricks and stones. They can lend a very classy and elegant look to any garden they are installed in. Some of them come with built-in ramps, stairs, and benches while others are simply basic structures with a roof, floor, and railing. To add a royal English touch to them, a good idea is to hang potted flowers and add climbing plants all around it.

For Relaxation …
Gazebos which house a hot tub or a pool, provide the right venue and atmosphere for relaxation. When it comes to gazebo designs for hot tubs or pools, there are two options, i.e. fully enclosed and open air. One of the most popular open air pool designs is the one which comes with lattice panels on the sides. Of course, you will need to add lots of tall plants on all the sides to maintain your privacy. As far as the fully enclosed ones are concerned, the wooden ones made from pine or cedar wood and which come with windows and screens are a good choice.

Here’s hoping that these suggestions are useful to you. Although adding a gazebo may seem like a big investment initially, but the kind of relaxation and entertainment avenues it provides is worth the price!