Monthly Archives: March 2017

Garden Maintenance And Improvement

Keeping your garden healthy is not only a way to beautify your yard, it can actually addsignificant value to your home.

Whether you’re a green-thumbed newbie or have been gardening for years, it’s important to know how to maintain your plants in the most efficient and cost-effective ways. From regular upkeep to making additions, we’re here to guide you through the best garden maintenance and improvements.

General Garden Upkeep

Watering

It’s important to note that some areas have watering restrictions, as well as strict laws when it comes to watering during droughts. Enter your zip code here to see if your area is experiencing a drought  and check local watering guidelines for your city.

Although watering your garden probably seems like the most straightforward part of upkeep, there are actually a few things to keep in mind:

  • Stick to a watering schedule and try to water early in the morning when the ground is cool and the sun isn’t as bright.
  • You should water deeply at the base of the plant so the roots can easily access the water. Focusing on the leaves and upper foliage not only deprives the roots of nutrients, it can lead to fungus.
  • Trees and shrubs should receive direct watering about every 7-10 days.
  • Potted and other contained plants in general should be watered once a day. (Not sure if you’re overwatering? Try placing your finger into the soil up to your second knuckle. If it’s dry all the way through, it needs water.)

If you use a sprinkler system, use one with fixtures close to the ground instead of those that waste water by shooting it into the air where it mostly evaporates.

There are also a few watering tools you should use for the most effective hydration depending on what kind of garden you’re raising:

  • For vegetable gardens, use a soaker hose.
  • For annuals and perennials, use a watering wand.
  • For potted plants, use a watering can or wand.

Soil Testing

It’s important to ensure that you use the best possible soil for your garden and the best way to figure out where yours measures up is to perform a soil test. This will allow you to discover its pH level, how acidic (sometimes called “sour”) or alkaline (“sweet”) it is, and thus how easily your plants are able to pull nutrients from it. pH is measured on a scale from 1 (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline), with 7 acting as the general neutral point around which most plants prefer.

You can find a soil testing kit at most gardening or home improvement stores. Within minutes of testing, you’ll learn both your soil’s pH and nutrient levels. Some will also tell you specifically what your soil is lacking, as well as how to fix the issue. Generally, overly-acidic soil can be remedied with lime and overly-alkaline soil calls for a sulfur-based conditioner.

Read and follow the kit instructions carefully. Most will have you take a soil sample, then add a designated chemical along with distilled water. After a designated amount of time (usually just a few minutes), you’ll use a color chart to evaluate your results. Newer gardeners may benefit from asking for a gardening buddy’s expertise for the first test to help assess both the results of the test and how to best fix any problems.

Fertilizing

There are a few choices to make when it comes to fertilizing. You can buy manmade plant food and fertilizer from your local gardening, home improvement, or even some grocery stores. Or if you prefer the all-natural route, you can opt to compost or buy organic fertilizer.

Fertilizer comes in a few different forms such as dry, liquid, slow-releasing and manure:

Dry fertilizer is used mainly as a way to improve the fertility of soil ready for planting, or for increasing the nutrients in well-established plants. It can be dispersed around developed shrubs and trees, or even to perennial beds.

Liquid fertilizer is often used with fruit and vegetable gardens, or for other plants simply in need of a nutrient boost. You can dilute it and add it to soil or compost, or add it to a spraying system to use as foliage feed.

Slow-release fertilizer is great for the gardener on the go: it feeds plants over an extended period of time and typically only requires a single application. You can mix it into compost or add it right to the soil to be absorbed.

Manure is one of the most basic, albeit probably the smelliest, forms of fertilizer and has some amazing benefits. Not only is it rich with nutrients, it also has the ability to improve the soil’s ability to retain water. Use it as a kind of mulching for developed gardens or add it to dug areas you’re preparing to plant.

No matter the form, don’t forget to always wear gloves when working with fertilizer!

Let your soil test help guide your decision as far as what nutrients you look for in a fertilizer. Pay close attention to the product’s instructions for how much and often to fertilize. Too little can lead to weak plant growth, while too much can cause soft, sappy shoot systems attractive to bugs and weak against colder conditions. If a plant seems to be struggling but you can’t figure out its deficiency on your own, talk to a local gardening specialist, even bringing in the plant if possible.

Weeding

The key to preventing and eliminating weeds is to understand how they work. Though their seeds spread easily (and just about everywhere), not all of them are high enough in the soil to receive the sunlight needed to grow. However when you break into a piece of ground and move around the soil, you run the risk of bringing some of the deeper seedlings to surface and accidentally making them viable. A general rule to avoid this is to dig only when you must and once done, cover the area with mulch or other plants.

Ideally it’s best to weed while it’s wet outside and a fishtail weeder can help you pull invasive plants up from their roots. For weeding while it’s dry outside, use a sharp-edged hoe to cut a weed just below the soil line. Some more stubborn weeds may call for stronger or sharper tools like weed wackers, but always use them with caution and keep a close eye out for curious animals and children who may not realize the danger. If you’re unable to completely remove a weed, you can cut off their seed-spreading tops for a quick, but temporary, fix.

Garden Improvements

Perhaps you’re putting your house on the market and hope to add curb appeal with some nice accents to your garden, or maybe you’ve got a pest problem that needs resolved. It could even be that you’re simply bored with its current look. You can recruit the help of a landscapedesigner or come up with your own plan, but either way there are plenty of options for making improvements to your garden.

Tree and Stump Removal

It could be that you’ve decided to get rid of an overgrown eyesore, or maybe the old stump that once made a folksy addition to your garden display is now too rotted to stick around. Whatever the case, there are a few routes you can take to getting rid of unwanted trees and stumps. Keep in mind that if you’re not used to working with large power tools, it might be worth the investment to hire professional help to avoid personal injury or home damage.

Whenever possible, it’s best to remove the stump completely. Small trees should be cut with about four feet of height so they can be pulled out using a winch and a relatively powerful automobile. If the stump is too big to remove in one shot, you can use a mini excavator to break down the root system or with large but rotted stumps, use a grub hoe to clear it out. If you’re really experienced, you can opt for a stump grinder, though hiring a professional is always the safest route.

Stump killers are another helpful tool for this improvement endeavor. Often, this involves drilling holes or re-cutting the stump at the top since the chemicals used will be most effective on freshly-cut wood. Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely and wear gloves while working.

Paths

A pathway through your garden or yard is a beautiful addition that can really bring the whole look together. Whether you’re looking for a more polished look or something a little more rustic, there are a few basic options to choose from:

  • Mulch
  • Gravel
  • Stepping stones
  • Planted paths

Mulch and gravel will be two of the least expensive options and are relatively simple to build. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll have to edge your pathways to avoid the material spreading. Gravel will be heavier and somewhat more stagnant, but mulch is softer and more kid-friendly, especially if you have little ones who haven’t quite mastered walking just yet!

Stepping stones require little digging and because they allow you to maximize so much space with just one stone, they can be a cost effective option. Generally, you’ll want stones about 18 inches across and 2 inches thick. You’ll have to see specifically which kinds of stone are available in your area, but your local home improvement store should give you great insight into your best options.

Planted paths are a great choice if you’re worried about the tedious task of lining up the stones just right. Any imperfections or uneven placements can be hidden with ground cover plants and give it a more rustic look.

Garden fencing

If critters are creating a problem in your garden, a fence is a terrific way to deter them. The kind of fence you choose may depend on the look you want to achieve, but when possible it’s ideal to make it solid. If the animal can’t see what he’s missing, he’s a lot less likely to try to break in! An alternative would be to install an electric fence that, while more expensive, will be effective at protecting your garden as well as less restrictive on the view.

If it’s a household pet that can’t contain its curiosity, a 3-foot wire mesh fence with strong posts is an easy fix. If your pet is prone to digging, reinforce the fence even further by bending the base into a 2-foot wide apron. Rabbits can be deterred with a similar structure, though it’s recommended you use chicken wire with 1-inch diameter holes. Don’t forget the apron — a hungry rabbit just might dig to get his dinner!

Learn More About French Drains

Excess water in your yard can be a pain. Having your basement flood every time you get a heavy rain can be even worse. Inadequate yard draining can keep you from your chores, from enjoying your lawn, or it can even wear away your home’s foundation, causing structural damage. These problems may seem ubiquitous and largely unsolvable, but the reality is a simple landscape installation can dry out your lawn and protect your foundation. A French drain is a simple trench drain that siphons water away from the more important and heavily used areas of your yard. It’s a home improvement gem in that it’s a simple, economical installation that can reap huge benefits.

Why This is Happening to You

What can be particularly frustrating is when your yard is overrun with water while your neighbor’s yard is just fine. There are several contributing factors to inadequate drainage and some of them may apply to your yard but not your neighbor’s. The two biggest factors are your lawn’s soil content and its lack of contour. When water enters your lawn it sinks into the soil and displaces the air, pushing it up. Heavy, compacted clay may contain a significantly less amount of air to displace, causing water to crest above the surface of your lawn much more easily.

The ability of water to move around your lawn also greatly increases its ability to effectively drain. If your neighbor’s lawn is above yours his or her rain water can be feeding into your lawn. Meanwhile, if you have a mostly level lawn, that water is just going to sit there. When these two factors are working together, they are simply waiting for the next heavy rain to turn your lawn into a swamp.

Hiring a Contractor

The installation of a French drain is a little more complicated than digging a ditch and laying down pipe, but not much. You need to make sure you have a consistent slope for the drain to work. You need to make sure you lay down washed gravel underneath and above the pipe.

The complicated part of a French drain isn’t the installation work, it’s the knowledge of where to dig the ditch to make sure the drain is effective. To dry out your lawn, for example, you should start at the highest point of your lawn and run the trench down to the lowest point. However, this type of trench drain won’t protect your foundation. A linear drain that acts like a moat may need to be installed around your foundation. Depending on how level your lawn is, a series of trenches may need to be dug to effectively drain your lawn.

Ideally, your trench drain should extend to a lightly used area of your lawn that has a more sand-based soil. Your situation may make this impractical. Plus, if your drain extends anywhere close to a neighbor’s property, you should consult a professional before you simply run all your water off into your neighbor’s lawn.

Learn More About Garden Art

Any gardener will tell you that the best gardens usually involve the placing of “garden bones.” Garden bones are more permanent structures that you build the rest of your garden around. This can be something as organic as evergreen trees or as stylized as metal garden art. Of course, garden art can function as more than just the framing structure for your garden. It can provide you with a place to sit or lounge as you enjoy your garden or simply enhance the stroll through your backyard.

Custom Garden Art

You may have a very specific idea of what you want. Garden styles are various and prescriptive, and by the time you add your own touch to the appearance of your garden, you may have trouble finding what you’re looking for. It may not occur to you, but contractors are out there who specialize in customized decorative pieces for your home. You can tell them the material you want and the design you want and they can make it for you. Depending on what you want, you may have to pay a premium price, but if you’re working within a budget, the contractor may have suggestions to produce something similar within your price range.

Use Recycled Items for Garden Art

Recycled items may not be the first thing that comes to your mind for garden art, and admittedly, it’s not for everyone. If you’re looking for a way to spruce up your garden on a truly limited budget, this may be the way to do it. Old newspapers or soda cans aren’t going to work, but any number of household items can be reused as garden art long after they’ve worn out their welcome indoors. Old furniture, especially unique coffee tables, storage cabinets, or baby cribs, can be garden gems. Plus, you’d be surprised how your old bathtub can be transformed into a beautiful piece of garden art. Even though newspaper doesn’t last and has no particular visual appeal, other household items such as old clothes, book covers, or other flat items of possible sentimental or aesthetic value can make for one amazing scarecrow.

Garden Art Alternatives

Garden art can be almost anything, even when it’s not called garden art. Garden furniture, most commonly benches but also tables and chairs, is great for livening up your garden with an artist’s touch. Trellises or other walkway coverings are an ideal way to create a secluded, romantic atmosphere to your garden. Birdbaths, bat houses, and other artificial wildlife habitats can be just as decorative as any other piece of art and are just as integral as the flowers you plant to create a wildlife garden.

Metal Garden Art

Metal may seem like a strange material to include in your garden, but it offers a flexibility and affordability that few other materials can. Be it a classic wrought iron bench or gate, or a more custom metal sculpture, you’re bound to find some piece of metal garden art that will greatly enhance the look of an outdoor space. Metal fabricators can create a wide variety of customized metal garden art, including animal sculptures and other complicated and decorative designs. For larger garden items, such as gazebos, a metal like aluminum may be the only way to make the project feasible, as it is a lot cheaper (and more durable) than wood.