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Test Your Soil

Test Your SoilKnowing the basics behind organic gardening can put you on the right path to creating your own Eden. All you need is patience, a willingness to get muddy, and this quick tip.

Before planting anything, first determine the measure of acidity or alkalinity (known as pH) of your soil with a home testing kit.

For most vegetables, the magic number is 6.5. Too acidic (on the low end of the 0-to-14 scale) or too alkaline (on the high end) and your plants won’t be able to access the soil’s nutrients. Boost your pH with a line spread, found at garden stores, or lower it with powdered sulfur. Seedlings can then be planted straight in the ground.

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How To Grow Peppers & Actually Succeed

peppersWhether you’re looking for information on how to grow jalapenos, bell peppers, habaneros, ghost chiles or any other type of pepper, this article will provide a few tips so you can produce the most bountiful harvests possible. Not only are peppers an ornamental addition to your landscaping, but they’re also quite tasty.

The first thing to consider when growing peppers is your local weather. Peppers are not frost tolerant, so it’s important to sow seeds or transplant seedlings after the last chance of frost. Once the possibility of turning your pepper plants into popsicles has passed, start thinking about where exactly you intend to plant them. They require full sun and rich, well-draining soil which makes containers a great idea, especially for beginner gardeners. Containers can be easily moved and require very little when it comes to soil amendments. Simply grab a bag of high quality potting mix (preferably organic) from your local garden center, dump it in a pot, and you’re off to the races.

When transplanting seedlings, your goal is to create a cozy home for newborn pepper plants. Not only will they require consistent watering, they’ll need nutrients to flourish. I suggest using an organic starter fertilizer, such as E.B. Stone’s Sure Start, to ensure plants have what they need to mature and pump out spicy pods like nobody’s business. Sure Start contains a plethora of goodies that plants love, such as: blood meal, feather meal, bone meal, dried chicken manure, bat guano, alfalfa meal, kelp meal, potassium sulfate, humic acids and soil microbes including mycorrhizal fungi.

After planting, you must master the art of controlling your temptations; namely the urge to overwater. Unlike tomatoes and other needy plants, peppers actually do better when they’re not babied. They don’t like to be overwatered and a small amount of stress, such as letting the soil slightly dry before watering, produces more fruit and hotter fruit. Keep in mind peppers grown in containers will require more frequent watering than peppers grown in the ground.

With sun, heat, water and fertilizer, pepper plants will shoot up like crazy and start flowering in no time. After peppers form, you have the choice to pick them right away or wait until they mature and turn color (varies by type).

From a landscaping perspective, pepper plants are an awesome addition to any landscape. They sport a wide variety of colors, are relatively easy to care for, and produce food. (Doesn’t get much better than that.)

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5 Frugal Fall Gardening Tips

Spring fever is for spendthrifts. For cheapskates, Fall’s the time to garden.

Sure, everybody’s green thumb seems to blossom with the first warmish day of Spring, just about the same day the green blades of the daffodils pop up in the flowerbed. But by Autumn, most fair weather gardeners have long ago hung up their hoes for the season and planted their butts firmly in front of the TV to watch football.

That’s a shame, because in most parts of the country the Fall is the best time of year for all kinds of garden activities, including planting and transplanting my types of plants. It’s also the time of year when you can save a bushel of cash on gardening equipment and nursery stock, and save even more by properly tucking in your garden and equipment for its long winter’s nap. Here’s how:

Great deals on end of season nursery stock:

In most climate zones, Fall is actually a better time of year than even spring to plant or transplant trees, shrubs, and many other perennial plants. The soil tends to be warmer which promotes root growth, and — unlike with Spring planting — there’s not the potential of a long, hot, dry summer facing the young upstarts. And, if you’re going to put down sod, Fall is also generally the best – and cheapest – time to do it. Many nurseries dramatically discount their remaining container-grown plants and other nursery stock, both to avoid over-wintering them and to make room for the soon-to-arrive Halloween pumpkins and Christmas trees. I’ve found it’s a great time to negotiate an even better deal by simply asking for an additional reduction on already discounted nursery stock.

Best prices on garden tools and equipment:

By shopping around, in the Fall you’ll likely find the best deals of the year on all types of gardening tools, equipment and other supplies – with the possible exception of snow blowers, chain saws, and snow shovels. It’s also a great time to go hunting for used lawn mowers, weed trimmers, and other lawn and garden equipment, since many people dump their used equipment at thrift stores, flea markets and yard sales at the end of the season. And if you’re in the market for something major – like a lawn or garden tractor – it’s worth calling some area landscaping companies to see if they plan on selling off any of their used equipment now that their busy season is over; a few years ago, I bought a heavy-duty (and lightly used) weed trimmer from a local landscaper at the end of the season for about ten cents on the dollar compared to what he’d paid for it new six months earlier.

Time to put away and tune-up equipment and tools:

Lawn and garden tools can cost a bundle, even when they’re on sale at the end of the season. It pays to take care of the equipment you own, and Fall is the perfect time to give then a little TLC. One of many great uses for aluminum foil: it makes a great scrub pad to remove dirt and rust from shovels, hoes, and other metal gardening tools. And when you’re done scrubbing them, sharpen your pruners and other gardening sheers by simply cutting through the aluminum foil scouring pad a few times. Oil all metal surfaces on your tools – used motor oil works fine for that – and put the business ends of your gardening tools in a plastic bag along with a couple of pieces of leftover summer charcoal to keep tools from rusting. Lawnmowers and other gas powered garden equipment should be thoroughly cleaned. Air and fuel filters should be changed (along with the oil). And, most experts agree, the gas tank should be kept filled with gasoline that has been treated with a stabilizer; this keeps the gas fresh and prevents condensation and deposits from developing in the engine (run the engine for about 10 minutes after adding the stabilized gasoline).

Build a compost pile and mulch:

If you don’t already have one, you definitely want to start a compost pile in the Fall to provide a receptacle for all the leaves, pumpkins and other yard debris you should rake up before winter sets in. Building a compost pile can be as simple as staking up a hoop of three-foot-high “chicken wire” or other mesh fencing; just so long as it allows for air circulation from the sides and is deep enough for leaves and other organic matter to compress itself thanks to the law of gravity. Also, keep your eyes open after Halloween and Thanksgiving for leftover bales of straw that might be discounted – or even put out for the garbage man – now that they’ve served their decorating purposes; straw makes great mulch or can be added to the compost pile. Mulching garden beds in the Fall with wood chips, compost, or other suitable organic matter helps to retain ground moisture and protect plants sleeping underneath. Check with local landscaping and tree removal services in the Fall for some of the best prices of the year on mulch.

Divide and multiply:

In addition to being the best time to plant most Springtime flowering bulbs (e.g. tulips, daffodils, crocuses, irises, etc.) as well as trees and shrubs, many perennial plants and vegetables can be divided in the Fall. Dividing most perennials – once they’re sufficiently mature – will both make them healthier and create multiple plants out of a single one, all for the cost of nothing more than a little light labor. Do your research in advance to determine which types of perennials should be divided in the Fall and the best methods for doing so. In general, perennials should first be thoroughly watered and the entire plant dug out of the ground, with its root ball intact. The root ball should then be separated into smaller plants by pulling it apart with a pitch fork or, in some cases, even cutting it apart with a shovel or other sharp tool. The smaller plants should then be immediately replanted in the ground and watered again.

Once I’ve buttoned down my garden and yard for the season, I’m reminded of a quote from author Stanley Crawford:

Winter is the time of promise because there is so little to do – or because you can now and then permit yourself the luxury of thinking so.”

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Notes from the Garden: The Art of Garden Accessories

An exquisite garden is a planned one, in which each plant has been selected to compliment the others in size, shape and color. Accessories such as benches, sculptures, mirrors and lanterns can be included to enhance the magnetism of the environment where the garden is located.

Sculptures accent sweeping lawns when they are large in size. Large sculptures should be positioned on an angle with landscaping corners. Small sculptures can be placed inside borders with plants surrounding them. I suggest using any kind of sculpture, made by sandstone or marble, because when those materials are exposed to the weather, they age gracefully. Frogs, bunnies and turtles in neutral colors appear magical when placed in flowerbeds or close to pools and fountains. They also can be placed on top of birdbaths, so they are visible from a distance. By pools, certain statues can be connected to water and spill water into the pools.

Bird baths have an important use: centralizing views. They should be placed in the center of the beds, or borders on different garden structures. The height is very important. Usually, three to four feet is the correct height, although the ones low to the ground in the shape of shells and flowers, made in sandstone, are glorious along the edge of flowerbeds, shrubs or under trees.

Spheres in concrete or stainless steel give a clean look to the landscaped areas due to simplicity and shape. Spheres in stainless steel reflect sunlight and moonlight. Spheres made of French popular wood exhibit exquisite colors when weathered, matching the natural tones of the tree bark.

Outdoor mirrors are a British garden tradition, yet usually forgotten in our English country style gardens. When hung outside, they reflect the beauty of a garden. They can be found in iron, wood and acrylic, and they can be hung near porches, pool houses, or any outside wall located near a garden.

Oriental garden stools, made of ceramic in different colors and shapes, look very special when they are placed along borders, gardens or by swimming pools. These seats are a long-time oriental tradition in gardens. More traditional benches in concrete or wood bring romance to wooded areas under the canopy trees.

Lanterns and torches should be placed in permanent spots along areas where light is needed. The glow of a candle is the ideal tool to give your garden more intimacy. Standing torches in stainless steel have a sophisticated look and are durable. Citronella oil is used to light these torches and help keep the undesired night bugs away. Lanterns by the steps, patios, or hanging by trees or pergolas reflect the right amount of light to compliment the beauty of outdoor areas. Larger lanterns, made in stainless steel with unbreakable glass, improve all outdoor areas and may also be used on top of the table.

Pots and planters should be outside year-round. Concrete, fiberglass, metal pots, planters and urns can be used year-round in Hampton’s weather. They give majestic structure to driveways and entrances, especially when elevated by columns. I even love to see them when they are covered in snow.

All this detail compliments our gardens and makes them even more special. Personalizing them with the correct elements is important. Different accents bring movement, character and interest to the landscape. Every single well-placed detail will amplify the harmony of nature.

There are numerous ways to utilize garden accessories to achieve a better and more attractive landscape design.

(original post)

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4 tips for a drought tolerant landscape:

Those of you that live in hot, dry climates know how much water it takes to keep a garden looking its best. If you’re tired of constantly worrying about dying plants and high water bills, then drought resistant landscaping is for you. Here are four tips to get you started.

  1. Avoid a lawn. Lawns take a lot of water and don’t thrive in extreme heat. If you need the space for children or pets, consider synthetic grass, which has come a long way in recent years.
  2. Grow native plants. Native plants are ones that are accustomed to the climate in which you live. They will be the key to successful drought-tolerant, water wise, and low maintenance gardening. Find a native plant nursery near you.
  3. Group plants according to their water needs. This practice is called zoning. Designate areas for plants that will need more water, and areas for plants that will need less water. Zoning will reduce the amount of water wasted.
  4. Know your soil. If you have rocky or sandy soil that drains quickly you should use drip irrigation. If you have dense or clay soil that drains slowly you should use sprinklers and water until saturated.

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