Monthly Archives: March 2017

Nice garden design

Rain gardens benefit our environment in several ways: They increase the amount of water that filters into the ground, they help protect communities from flooding and drainage problems, they help protect streams and lakes from pollutants, and they provide a valuable habitat for birds, butterflies, and many beneficial bugs.

While rain gardens are a highly functional way to help protect water quality, they are also gardens and should be an attractive part of your yard and neighborhood. Think of the rain garden in the context of your home’s overall landscape design. Here are a few tips:

When choosing native plants for the garden, it is important to consider the height of each plant, bloom time and color, and its overall texture. Use plants that bloom at different times to create a long flowering season. Mix heights, shapes, and textures to give the garden depth and dimension. This will keep the rain garden looking interesting even when few wildflowers are in bloom.

When laying plants out, randomly clump individual species in groups of 3 to 7 plants to provide a bolder statement of color. Make sure to repeat these individual groupings to create repetition and cohesion in a planting. This will provide a more traditional formal look to the planting.

Try incorporating a diverse mixture of sedges, rushes, and grasses with your flowering species (forbs). This creates necessary root competition that will allow plants to follow their normal growth patterns and not outgrow or out-compete other species. In natural areas, a diversity of plant types not only adds beauty but also create a thick underground root matrix that keeps the entire plant community in balance. In fact, 80% of the plant mass in native prairie communities is underground. Once the rain garden has matured and your sedges, rushes and grasses have established a deep, thick root system, there will be less change in species location from year to year, and weeds will naturally decline.

Finally, consider enhancing the rain garden by using local or existing stone, ornamental fences, trails, garden benches, or additional wildflower plantings. This will help give the new garden an intentional and cohesive look and provide a feeling of neatness that the neighbors will appreciate.

5 Tips for Effective Weed Control

1. LET SLEEPING WEEDS LIE

Kill weeds at their roots but leave the soil—and dormant weed seeds—largely undisturbed. of your garden contains weed seeds, but only those in the top inch or two of soil get enough light to trigger germination. Digging and cultivating brings hidden weed seeds to the surface, so assume weed seeds are there ready to erupt, like ants from an upset anthill, every time you open a patch of ground. Dig only when you need to and immediately salve the disturbed spot with plants or mulch.

In lawns, minimize soil disturbance by using a sharp knife with a narrow blade to slice through the roots of dandelions and other lawn weeds to sever their feed source rather than digging them out. Keep in mind that weed seeds can remain dormant for a long, long time.

2. MULCH, MULCH, MULCH

Mulch benefits plants by keeping the soil cool and moist and depriving weeds of light. Organic mulches, in particular, can actually host crickets and carabid beetles, which seek out and devour thousands of weed seeds.

Some light passes through chunky mulches, and often you will discover—too late—that the mulch you used was laced with weed seeds. It’s important to replenish the mulch as needed to keep it about 2 inches deep (more than 3 inches deep can deprive soil of oxygen). In any case, you can set weeds way back by covering the soil’s surface with a light-blocking sheet of cardboard, newspaper, or biode­gradable fabric and then spreading prettier mulch over it.

If you choose to use this method on seldom-dug areas, such as the root zones of shrubs and trees, opt for tough landscape fabric for the light-blocking bottom sheet. There is a catch, however: As soon as enough organic matter accumulates on the landscape fabric, weed seeds dropped by birds or carried in on the wind will start to grow. For the bottom layer of fabric to be effective, these must be pulled before they sink their roots through and into the ground.

2. MULCH, MULCH, MULCH

Mulch benefits plants by keeping the soil cool and moist and depriving weeds of light. Organic mulches, in particular, can actually host crickets and carabid beetles, which seek out and devour thousands of weed seeds.

Some light passes through chunky mulches, and often you will discover—too late—that the mulch you used was laced with weed seeds. It’s important to replenish the mulch as needed to keep it about 2 inches deep (more than 3 inches deep can deprive soil of oxygen). In any case, you can set weeds way back by covering the soil’s surface with a light-blocking sheet of cardboard, newspaper, or biode­gradable fabric and then spreading prettier mulch over it.

If you choose to use this method on seldom-dug areas, such as the root zones of shrubs and trees, opt for tough landscape fabric for the light-blocking bottom sheet. There is a catch, however: As soon as enough organic matter accumulates on the landscape fabric, weed seeds dropped by birds or carried in on the wind will start to grow. For the bottom layer of fabric to be effective, these must be pulled before they sink their roots through and into the ground.

4. LOP OFF THEIR HEADS

When you can’t remove weeds, the next best thing is to chop off their heads. With annual weeds, dead­heading buys you a few weeks of time before the weed “seed rain” begins. Cutting back the tops of perennial weeds, like bindweed, reduces reseeding and forces them to use up food reserves and exhaust their supply of root buds, thus limiting their spread.

You will need pruning loppers to take down towers of ragweed or poke, or you can step up to a string trimmer equipped with a blade attachment to cut prickly thistles or brambles down to nubs. No matter which method you choose, chopping down weeds before they go to seed will help keep them from spreading.

5. MIND THE GAPS BETWEEN PLANTS

Close plant spacing chokes out emerging weeds by shading the soil between plants. You can prevent weed-friendly gaps from the get-go by designing with mass plantings or in drifts of closely spaced plants rather than with polka dots of widely scattered ones. You can usually shave off about 25 percent from the recommended spacing.

Most spacing recommendations, however, are based on the assumption that adjoining plants will barely touch when they reach mature size, so stick with the guidelines when working with plants that are prone to foliar diseases, such as bee balms (Monarda didymaand cvs., USDA Hardiness Zones 4–9) and phloxes (Phlox paniculataand cvs., Zones 4–8).

Heart of Muslim Vacances

Timely harvest of vegetables sown or planted outside early in the growing season, and ones that generally mature rapidly or during cooler temperatures, results in the best flavor and longest harvest period.  Many of these also make good fall crops, started later in the season.

Snap asparagus spears off at ground level when they are six to ten inches tall.  Harvest over a period of six to eight weeks, as long as they are pencil thin.

If you planted beets in spring, July may be too late to harvest.  Begin harvest when beets reach one inch in diameter, with the main harvest when beets are two to three inches across.  Young beet greens are great harvested and cooked too.  Harvest fall beets before a moderate freeze (24 to 28 degrees F), or mulch heavily for continued harvest through fall.

Cool crops are ones that you started outdoors during the cool of spring, and that like cool temperatures to grow well.  They also can be planted in late summer for a fall crop.  Harvest broccoli before flowers start to open, while the individual flower parts (florets) are still tight and dark green.  Harvest cabbage when heads are solid.  If you wait too long, heads may split.  To help prevent this, and to delay harvest, a trick is to pull up on the head until you hear the upper roots snap.  When cauliflower heads (curds) are two inches across, tie outer leaves above the head with rubber bands to keep them white.  You can then harvest in a couple weeks when heads are larger.

Begin harvest of carrots when they are one to two inches thick.  Refer to packet or catalog information for your specific varieties.  Harvesting also can be used to thin carrots so some can grow larger.  Harvest spring-sown carrots before the heat of July, and late-season carrots before the ground freezes in late fall.

You can harvest leaf lettuce as soon as leaves get to the size you want.  Harvest only outer leaves, letting more grow from the inside.  Regular picking of leaves extends the harvest season, as does sowing successive crops two to three weeks apart.  Spinach can be harvested similarly, or you can harvest the whole plant. Once days get longer than 14 hours, or in heat, spinach will grow tall and bloom—called “bolting”.  For this reason it is often grown in the fall, as well as it being able to tolerate temperatures in the teens to low 20s.

For green onions, harvest when they get to the size you desire.  For dry onions, harvest them when they are between one-quarter and one inch across for table use (eating).

When garden pea pods are light green and full, but before they yellow, is the best time to harvest.  On the other hand, harvest snow peas when the seeds start to show in pods but before they fill out.

Harvest radishes when they are one-half to one inch across.  Finish harvest before the heat of July, or for fall crops before the ground freezes in late fall.

Only harvest stalks of rhubarb, not leaves, as the leaves contain oxalic acid which can be toxic.  Pick when stalks are one-half to one inch in diameter.

As soon as turnips reach one inch across you can begin their harvest.  They, too, are a good fall crop and will withstand several light freezes, as can kale.  Frost, in fact, improves the flavor of both.  If left too long, or grown poorly, turnip stems may become woody. Harvest kale when leaves are the size of your hand.

Forest Landscape Plants

Birch leafminer and borer, eastern tent caterpillars, and fall webworms are some of the common pests on trees and shrubs in landscapes.  Knowing these, and their least toxic controls, will help you to have healthier plants with the least harm to the environment.

Birch leaf miner larvae feed inside birch leaves, causing tan-colored blotches.  In severe infestations, leaves may be almost totally brown.  Gray birch and paper birch are most susceptible, with other birches much less so.  It is much easier to control adults in spring as the new leaves emerge, before adult miners lay eggs   The larvae that hatch, being inside the leaves, are much harder to control.  If this pest is severe for several years, trees can be weakened and attacked by the bronze birch borer.

The bronze birch borer is the larva of a beetle which tunnels through the bark, eventually resulting in tree death.  This happens from the borer eating and cutting off the vascular tissue— that part of the tree that conducts water and nutrients below the bark surface.  Once you see raised areas in the bark, control may be too late.  Most commonly injured are paper and white birches, with other species more resistant.  Preventing injury from birch leaf miner helps, as does keeping trees healthy, and not pruning trees during summer when adult beetles are flying about. Larvae, once inside trees, are difficult to control.

Eastern tent caterpillars are recognized by many from their white webbed “tents” in branch crotches, teaming with black caterpillars.  These insects hatch from eggs in early spring as buds open on apples, crabapples, cherries, and their relatives.  They emerge from the nests on warm days to feed on leaves, at which time they can be controlled with sprays such as insecticidal soap.  Nests can be pruned out in early summer and destroyed, as can the shiny black egg masses (about one inch long) found on twigs in winter.

Fall webworms are similar in that they make web nests, but these are on branch tips and appear in mid to late summer.  There often are several nests per plant, compared to one for tent caterpillars.  And the larvae of fall webworm feed from within their silky nest, expanding the nest down the plant as they feed.  Nests can be pruned out as for tent caterpillars.  Don’t use fire to destroy these or tent caterpillar nests, as the fire may damage the host plants.  Many different plants host this pest, including birch, lilac, crabapple, and cherry.  Since feeding is late in the season, it is more an aesthetic problem than harm to plants.

Viburnums are great landscape shrubs but unfortunately, the viburnum leaf beetle is particularly fond of some species.  Both larvae and adults can quickly defoliate plants, only leaf skeletons remaining.  Eggs hatch in late spring when the young larvae begin feeding, followed by adults in mid-summer. If you monitor plants almost daily, as a friend of mine does, you can pick off insects as they appear and you see them.  If you use pesticides, use least toxic ones such as insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, or neem products so that you don’t harm beneficial insects, which feed on adult beetles.  You can learn more about this pest, and which species are most resistant to it, from Cornell University (www.hort.cornell.edu/vlb/).

Other potentially serious pests to watch for on landscape plants include the Japanese beetle, black vine weevil, and white pine weevil.  More on these and others, and their controls, can be found from the University of Massachusetts (ag.umass.edu/landscape/fact-sheets).