We called them snowball bushes when I was young. They are hydrangeas, a colorful summertime staple in yards across the country. The hydrangea is usually a reliable, months-long bloomer. However, in many areas of the United States, last winter’s “polar vortex” devastated many otherwise reliable plants, such as camellias, hybrid tea roses, rosemaries and, yes, hydrangeas. An expert at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., reported that for hydrangeas suffering from winter kill, she had to remove all the old top growth (instead of the usual one-third of old branches) to allow fresh growth. No blooms are expected from these plants this season. If you did the same, I hope you removed dead branches and not old wood. The old wood is the source of buds for new growth.
If your hydrangeas are doing relatively well, you can coax them to perform better. Hydrangeas need some sun and like some shade. The farther north they are, the more sun they can tolerate; in the South, maybe three hours of sun. Many types love a coastal setting, where breezes can dissipate heat. Other varieties tolerate high heat and sun exposure, while others are bred for more-shady conditions.
(To be continued)
Is your deck décor looking drab and tired? You can rehab it with a few new pieces of furniture and some planters and rugs. Here are some ideas to get you started … just in time for Labor Day festivities!
Wicker furniture paired with cushions (use bright colors and designs) manufactured for the outdoors (moisture-, mildew-, soil- and ultraviolet-light-resistant) create a lovely, comfortable, living-room-style seating arrangement for reading, relaxing and entertaining. If you have enough space, arrange separate areas for dining and relaxing. Use umbrellas in both areas to provide shade. Scatter some outdoor rugs in colorful designs to provide a change in pattern for the neutral deck. Scatter container gardens in a variety of planters (cedar, ceramic, plastic, even metal) to add pops of color throughout the deck.
Finally, (again, if you have the room) arrange a bar area between two arbors or behind one arbor, which should be able to accommodate at least one and maybe two bar stools.
The July 4th holiday is a few days away. Now is the time to decide what to offer your guests on the barbecue/cookout menu. Burgers, hot dogs, potato salad, chips, ribs, maybe some French fries and watermelon can become predictable and boring after a while, don’t you think?
It isn’t too late to do a bit of shopping for your holiday eats, so I’m passing along links to Fourth of July recipes that can also be found on The Washington Post‘s Lifestyle/Home-Garden Page on its Web site. Most of the recipes are variations on traditional items, such as cole slaw and burgers. http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/recipes-for-a-scrumptious-fourth-of-july/2011/06/30/AGPsrbtH_gallery.html#photo=1. Also, try the scrumptious-looking dessert recipes provided by Better Homes & Gardens at http://www.bhg.com/holidays/july-4th/recipes/july-4th-desserts/?sssdmh=dm17.744337&esrc=nwwr062314. (If the links don’t work, copy and paste them into your browser.)
If you’re looking for something new and different this July 4th, try one or two of these. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. And to provide plenty of room for your spread, check out one of my table sets, such as the Teak Oval Extension Table Set … with umbrella, of course! Your purchase might be late for July 4th; but there’s always Labor Day! Happy Independence Day!
The front porch as a “necessity” for a well-designed home was popularized more than 170 years ago. The concept is that “a welcoming home begins at the front door.” Many of us don’t have a long or wraparound porch; but even a tiny, 5-square-foot space beside your townhouse front door can be accessorized stylishly. Start with seating.
A long or wraparound porch will accommodate a variety of seating arrangements: a group of two or more rocking chairs and/or a bench or love seat. A tête-de-tête (either side by side or angled as if for a corner) or bistro set located strategically beside the door or at either end of the porch provides comfortable seating á deux plus a table for beverages and snacks. Porch swings are always in style; but if you can’t hang a swing, try a glider. Don’t be afraid to mix and match your seating choices!
Dress up your seating arrangements: colorful, seasonal throws and pillows; plants (flowers, small trees, ferns, etc., as your space allows); wreaths, signs, decorative house numbers, even picture frames! Try a fancy doormat or indoor/outdoor rug for comfort under foot. Hanging lanterns or decorative ceiling lights and a bright-color paint job on the door and/or porch floor can complete your welcoming space.
It’s Memorial Day weekend … time to haul out the grill (or prepare the gas-fired grill or brick barbecue grill) for a lovely afternoon or evening of food, drink and fun with family and friends. Instead of your time-tested or family traditional recipes, why not vary the menu with different dishes or a different cooking method or recipe.
Try the links below (copy and paste into your browser) for recipes for side dishes, chicken, burgers and desserts. Try the Smoked Macaroni and Cheese with Grilled Chicken. Yes, you’ve cooked macaroni and cheese with chicken before. The twist is you cook this cheesy casserole on the grill with the chicken. It adds extra smokiness. You’ll also find recipes for Chicken Caesar Burger and Chicken and Artichoke Carbonara (a great way to serve pasta with the grilled chicken).
Load your picnic or market table with delicious side dishes. The second link leads to a Classic Potato Salad and variations thereof. Finally, there’s a link to a variety of side dishes like a grilled vegetable platter, Twice-Baked New Potatoes and Grilled-Corn Salad. Happy Memorial Day!
Over the past couple of months, I have accumulated a trove of gardening/outdoor tips. I thought I’d share a few in-season ones with you in this blog. NOTE: Watch for tips (according to the seasons) as the year goes by.
ROSES. Looking for natural aids to help your roses? Try Epsom salts to encourage bushiness and promote flowering. Banana skins, too, help by providing potassium. Just don’t use skins if your yard’s in an area where critters like raccoons and rats roam.
MULCH VS. MANURE. According to a local (Washington, D.C., area) garden columnist, repeatedly layering bark or wood mulch might be harmful to the soil due to the high levels of manganese that result. Leaf mold or compost is healthier for the soil.
GREEN “FENCE” OR SCREEN. Mountain laurels (with their glossy, evergreen foliage, lovely blooms and manageable size) can make an ideal living “fence” or screen between properties. However, these plants are difficult to establish. Try some viburnums (evergreen or deciduous), oleanders, lilacs or some hibiscus. Try blueberry bushes if you have acidic soil you can water during droughts.
The long, harsh winter that finally ended has bestowed some late-occurring events upon us: pollen from trees and plants has been late arriving, so late-remaining. And winter weeds that usually disappear by late April (lamium, chickweed and hairy bittercress) are now joined by usual spring suspects like wild onion, common blue violet and dandelion.
If lamium crams your vegetable garden, turn the bed with a garden fork, pulling out the weeds as you go and bagging them. DON’T COMPOST THEM! The seeds will return like bad pennies! To remove lawn weeds, don’t use herbicides, either yourself or through a landscaping service. These chemicals can cause other problems. Use a fishtail weeder on deep-rooted dandelions, onions and violets. Remove other weeds with a hoe. A “standard-issue,” clunky hoe that you pull is not the proper tool. Use a hoe with a straight, razor-sharp blade (a draw hoe or a Dutch hoe) that you push. Find one at a garden center, in a garden-supply catalog or online.
Removing lingering winter weeds now will reduce next year’s seeding. If not removed, they’ll leave holes in the lawn as they die naturally. Wire grass, crabgrass and chicory will fill these gaps, requiring additional attention.
Returning to the subject of my April 13 post, how to repel mosquitoes, I submit these eco-friendly suggestions to help you regain control of your outdoor spaces. Some of these ideas are dual purpose: They also decorate your space! You can also become a walking mosquito repeller: Camping and sports stores often sell clothes treated with permethrin, which has been called “highly effective” in repelling and killing mosquitoes and ticks.
Your plants can be your first line of defense. Citronella, geraniums and lemongrass repel mosquitoes but not in small numbers. Plant several of these in areas of your yard where you spend the most time. Note that citronella candles, made from the oil from citronella plants, has a weak deterrent effect. So, you might want to supplement them with other measures, such as bug spray. Mosquitoes are weak flyers. If your outdoor space has a roof or ceiling (think porch, gazebo or covered deck), install a ceiling fan or two to disrupt their assaults. Smoke keeps mosquitoes away; try tiki torches, a fire or barbecue pit, or charcoal grill.
If you have features that retain water, like a pond, fountain, or watering or feeding structure, try commercial water additives that drown or otherwise destroy mosquito larvae.
Easter occurs this weekend, and a fun way to celebrate with family and friends is by hosting an Easter Egg Hunt. Planning one needn’t be complicated and time-consuming; keep it simple.
Decorate with pastel balloons and streamers and some spring- or Easter-themed door hangings. If you’re serving refreshments, cover tables with pastel tablecloths, napkins and Easter-style centerpieces. Prepare Easter baskets for the children to collect the eggs. Purchase inexpensive baskets, “grass,” bows and candy at local supermarkets, dollar stores and drugstores. Fill plastic eggs with surprises, like candy, small toys or tokens for bigger prizes (stuffed animals, chocolate bunnies, books or gift certificates). Estimate a dozen eggs per guest.
For small children, place eggs in easy-to-find places (low branches, base of trees, in the open). For older kids: drain spouts, under leaves, in a mailbox or planters, on a car tire. Be sure to track how many eggs you hide so you’ll know when they’re all found! Some games to play: Golden Egg (hide an egg with money in it) and Egg Bowling (use colored eggs to roll closest to a white egg rolled into the center of an area). No kids? Adapt for adults! HAPPY EASTER!
Summer is approaching; and with it, a major bane of outdoor activities: the mosquito! Instead of cowering inside, here are some ways to alleviate this air-borne onslaught:
Discourage mosquitoes by emptying any containers of standing water, which is where the blood-suckers breed. By container, I mean anything that can hold any amount of water, even Coke bottle tops, plastic cups and “empty” beer cans. This action also helps prevent the spread of the West Nile virus by mosquitoes.
Keep your yard tidy; remove grass clippings, fallen leaves and other excess foliage, which reduces places where mosquitoes harbor.
Be aware that some “solutions” for repelling mosquitoes don’t work. For example, bug zappers kill beetles and other bugs but not mosquitoes, according to a representative of the American Mosquito Control Association, who also cautions against misting systems. He says they unnecessarily spray pesticides into the air every day at the same time; and, while they kill mosquitoes, they also kill other bugs (many of them beneficial to your garden) and encourage pesticide resistance.
In another post I will suggest some eco-friendly measures to repel mosquitoes and reclaim your yard.