As spring approaches, do you feel an urge to visit a gardening center and buy several large bags of fertilizer? Many of us do this as an annual ritual because we have been told that plants require nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to maintain their health and growth. Fertilizer companies, of course, reinforce this mindset through aggressive marketing campaigns. However, many experts recommend that before you mindlessly apply fertilizer, perform a soil test to determine whether your garden or lawn requires additional nutrients.
Testing your soil will reveal what nutrients are deficient and which ones are abundant (and, therefore, don’t need to be added). Indeed, your jurisdiction might require soil testing to prove deficiencies in phosphorus before you can purchase it. For example, some jurisdictions surrounding the Chesapeake Bay require soil testing to protect the bay from chemicals in runoff.
A soil test provides accurate levels of pH (key to efficient nutrient uptake) and organic matter. Now is when you should test your soil so you’ll know whether and what you need to apply (or not apply) to your garden and lawn when they begin growing. Search online for “soil testing agencies” to learn how to take samples, where to send them and how much testing costs. Each type of garden (lawn, flower, vegetable, herb, etc.) should be tested separately. Urban gardens should be tested for lead and other toxic metals.
One common garden shrub that can benefit from an almost-unrestrained pruning attack is the rosebush.
A good winter prune will produce a plant with larger, if fewer, blooms; a more open appearance; and healthier foliage. A neglected rosebush may eventually reach 8 feet tall and as much across, but its thicket of branches are paltry in flower but full of thorns. An annual prune will keep the rose contained and blooming freely. It’s much harder to reclaim one that has been allowed to think of itself as a tree!
Using loppers and wearing heavy gloves, remove dead canes entirely along with any suckers pushing from the soil. If two canes are rubbing against each other, prune the weaker or misdirected one. Your goal is to form a bush with an open center forming a “wine-glass” shape of five or six canes. The canes you keep are cut back from, say, 4 feet to 18 inches. The trick is to make your final cut (using hand pruners) just above an outward facing bud. This ensures that the spring growth is away from the center of the bush to allow good air movement through the plant to minimize blackspot.
Note: Rambling roses are an exception. Don’t cut them back hard now. When they flower in May, they’ll put out new growth continually. So, if you want to retain a groomed effect for these, trim them as necessary during the season.
Now is the time to prune many types of woody shrubs in your garden, since shrubs are dormant, haven’t used energy for new growth and you can see the branch structure (no leaves or flowers). But leave the plant alone if you’re unclear as to why you’re pruning. And don’t ask the guy who delivers your mulch; he probably hasn’t a clue how to prune. Simply hacking at the plant is bad, so here are a few guidelines to help you prune in a beneficial way that should prevent a lot of gangly and weak suckers (water sprouts) that you often see on badly pruned apple trees and crape myrtles. Carefully prune to eliminate rubbing branches, inward-growing stems, and broken twigs, for example. Shrubs that bloom between now and the end of June flower on last year’s growth, so your snips probably remove flower buds. Although not necessarily bad – reduced flowering may be secondary to restoring the overall vigor of a plant – you’ll risk ruining the whole display of shrubs such as wisterias, lilacs and rhododendrons. Some people have an urge to cut back hard their mophead or lacecap hydrangea to “clean up” its dead, twiggy appearance; but leave it alone if you want a beautiful June display. An old congested one will benefit from the removal (later, in season [See my posts for August 1 and 8, 2014]) of entire canes, especially the oldest and least productive.
Teak is an extremely dense, coarse-grained hardwood. Teak wood is generally straight-grained but occasionally wavy. It has a coarse, uneven texture. The wood contains a high level of silica, which causes rapid blunting of cutting edges.
When fresh-cut, the surface of the wood appears dull. The timber has a distinctive, pleasantly aromatic odor reminiscent of the smell of leather. Fresh-sawn teak has a slightly “oily” feel because of its high oil content. A commonly stated characteristic of teak is its durability. It resists rot caused by fungal decay. The high level of resinous oil in the timber acts as a natural insect repellent so the timber resists attack by termites and other wood-boring insects.
The timber is believed to be resistant to water and many chemical reagents, including acids. It does not have a strong reaction when it comes in contact with metals. These statements regarding the durability of teak have a factual basis in the many instances of the timber withstanding the elements of nature when used as key components in the boat-building industry or when used to make municipal furniture for parks.
Natural rattan is a vine-like palm plant with long, thin fronds. The dried fronds can be woven into many shapes but are especially popular for making patio furniture. Today, most rattan patio furniture is manufactured using a plastic resin called PVC which emulates the qualities of natural rattan—hence, PVC rattan.
PVC Rattan furniture has the appearance and color of natural rattan, so it maintains that traditional country garden look you’re seeking. But it is more durable and more affordable than natural rattan. Water does not affect it, and it withstands heat and cold, which makes it a material for all climates. In addition, today’s manufacturing methods include UV inhibitors to produce a rattan weave that is colorfast. So, you needn’t worry about your lovely PVC Rattan furniture fading from long exposure to the sun.
Thus, PVC Rattan is truly a material for all-weather outdoor furniture. With pieces of PVC Rattan garden furniture you won’t have to completely replace your garden furniture every two or three years. And the look of rattan is versatile: It may also be used in an enclosed porch, a sunroom or even your living room.
January is a good time to review the design of your outdoor living areas, no matter what the climate is where you live.
While many of you may be creative at this, some of you might want outside help in planning your landscape and outdoor planting.
Web sites abound that address every aspect of gardening. You might try the Web site of the Royal Horticultural Society, the United Kingdom’s leading charity for promoting good gardening. It offers books, magazines and loads of gardening and how-to information. Another good source of information is the Complete Gardener Series by Time-Life Editors. The series comprises volumes devoted to topics like landscape design, ferns, shrubs and trees, and vegetables and herbs. Check Amazon.com and eBay to obtain these books. Don’t forget so-called coffee-table books on English- and American-style gardens. These are filled with color photographs that you can use as inspiration for your own designs. Finally, many popular magazines contain photos of homes and gardens as part of their feature stories or advertisements.
And why not include one of my 100 percent Western Red Cedar garden hutches to store your outdoor equipment in one convenient place? They are available in three sizes (27, 30 and 49 inches) to suit the needs of your yard or deck.
You have this big, leafy tree that provides wonderful shade and a cool environment for enjoying an al fresco lunch or dinner or a glass of wine and a good book. But, you have a problem: How can you relax under your tree if there’s no comfortable place to sit?
You can spread a blanket or set up a lounge or beach chair. But these solutions usually aren’t very comfortable. The hard ground under the blanket bothers your legs and back…and your arms if you’re trying to read a book by lying on your stomach and leaning on your elbows. And the lounge chair or beach chair sometimes sits lopsided because of the tree’s roots or the unevenness of the ground at the base of the tree.
We have two possible solutions to this dilemma: our around-the-tree bench or our backless quarter bench (the subject of our next post). The tree bench provides five sides to choose from; so, you’ll always find a perfect spot to relax under your favorite tree. This bench is so practical and inviting and will fit around any tree up to 24 inches! It can also provide seating around a favorite statue or similar garden enhancement.
I’m sure many of you have placed your holiday decorations already. Even if you have, though, here’s a great idea for a holiday get-together for family and friends: a wreath- or ornament-making party. The first step is to gather the natural materials you’ll need: evergreen clippings, holly or pyracanthus berries, pine cones, eucalyptus leaves, mistletoe, poinsettia flowers and leaves, and sprigs of bay laurel. You might find these materials in your or an invited friend’s yard, or you or a friend could stop at a home store and purchase them. Or consider asking various guests to contribute the natural materials for the wreaths; ornament designs and materials; and tools like clippers, green wire or wire frames for the wreath frames, and glue or glue gun. This party is great to hold outdoors or in your basement. Remember to lay down some newspapers or a drop cloth around the work table, so glue and other dropped materials don’t mess up your floors or deck.
Creating the wreaths and ornaments isn’t very difficult and doesn’t require special techniques. You can find plenty of design inspiration online, or grab some green wire and start adding the natural embellishments. Set up a few bowls with diluted green, red, gold or silver paint so you can dip the pine cones or plain vine branches in the paint, allowing them to dry on waxed paper, to lend a variety of color to the wreaths. A different look can be achieved by soaking the cones in bleach for a day or two.
A party isn’t a party without refreshments. Provide a table laden with hot cocoa in different flavors in thermoses or jugs, and various add-ins, like marshmallows, whipped cream and candy sprinkles. Plates of cookies, brownies and fudge are great, too. A bar providing stronger beverages … seasonal ales, bourbon punch (see my last post) and wine … rounds out the offerings for an afternoon or evening of family fun. Happy Holidays!
The holiday season is fast approaching, so here are a few new food, drink and party suggestions for holiday entertaining. Try this “gothic” pattern from Better Homes and Gardens to carve pumpkin lanterns to light your walkways and holiday tables: http://www.bhg.com/videos/m/96042975/carved-pumpkin-lantern-a-dramatic-way-to-carve-a-pumpkin.htm?q=Thanksgiving+pumpkin+lantern. Create an instant centerpiece by filling a decorative bowl, vase or pitcher with fall foliage, flowers or berries (like pyracanthus or bittersweet).
Place large kettles of spiced cider, mulled wine, and seasonal soup or stew on your grill or next to your fire pit. Remember to use oven mitts to grasp the ladles when serving. Recipes abound on the Internet for these seasonal beverages and culinary delights. Need a tasty cold beverage? Stir the following in a large pitcher: 3½ Cups chilled white wine, 2 Cups cranberry juice, 1½ Cups bourbon, ⅓ Cup lime juice and 12 oz. lemon-lime soda. Toss in a handful of frozen grapes. Serving cheese balls? Why not shape your favorite recipe into small pumpkins or apples? If you’re providing a cheese-tasting board with a variety of cheeses, don’t forget the cheese toppers, like chutney, jam or honey in addition to an assortment of bread and crackers. Create labels so your guests will know which type of cheese is featured in each ball or on your cheese board. Popcorn is an excellent munchie, especially when tossed with nuts, dried berries, and powdered blue or cheddar cheese.
Finally, dress up candy apples by layering chilled apples with melted caramel, white and dark chocolate, and butterscotch. Find recipe details at BHG.com/CandyApples.
Your Halloween party checklist seems to be complete: pumpkins, food, keg. Wait a minute! Why not turn one of your pumpkins into a keg? First, you’ll need a large pumpkin, one you might be able to put a small child inside (but don’t do that to check the size!).
To fill the pumpkin: a generous serving of a beer that doesn’t require chilling: an IPA, stout, pumpkin beer or English-style cask ale. Andy Farrell, beer director for City Tap House, Washington, D.C., and creator of the beer-o-lantern, says the pumpkin won’t impart much flavor, especially if you scoop it out well. But the finished keg will surely put last year’s punch bowl to shame. Here’s what you need to create your pumpkin keg:
Very large pumpkin, Sharp carving knife, Large spoon for scooping, Trash bag for seeds, Flathead screwdriver, Hammer, Cask spigot (available at home brewing stores, online or from a local beer bar if they’ll trust you to return it), Candle, Beer (of course!), Plastic wrap
1. Pick a pumpkin
Select a fresh one without bruises, as well as one that lies flat instead of tilting.
2. Get scooping
Cut off the top, creating a hole large enough to thoroughly scoop the seeds and inside flesh. BE VERY THOROUGH, since stray debris can clog the tap. The inner wall should be as white and gunk-free as possible. If you want, retain the seeds. They can be used in many recipes.
3. Cut a hole for the spigot
This is tricky, like executing a dainty jack-o-lantern nose. Carving shapes in pumpkins with too much force can crack the outside. Measure the diameter of the spigot, then draw it on the gourd’s surface a quarter of the way from the bottom so the beer flows nicely. Soften the flesh around the spigot’s perimeter by gently pounding a flathead screwdriver with a hammer. It may be best to lay the pumpkin on its side on the table during this step, depending on your angle.
4. Insert the spigot
Once the area around the spigot has been thoroughly loosened, pop it in. If the flesh cracks or the hole is too big, drip candle wax around the exterior to seal-in the spigot. Black candle wax creates a more festive look.
5. Fill the “Keg”
Pour the beer into the top hole, making sure the spigot is turned to the off position. Again, use a brew that doesn’t require chilling.
6. Seal Up the “Keg”
Cover the top with plastic wrap and place the pumpkin lid on top. If you wish, seal the top with more candle wax and cut away any loose plastic wrap.
7. Now, Party Down!