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Cultivate Curb Appeal With A Sustainable Landscape

Fixing up the inside of a home and cleaning up the yard is challenging in itself. Overhauling a yard can get expensive and time consuming. But while you spruce up outdoors, look at ways you can blend resourceful designs into your home’s curb appeal.

With growing demands for green building and sustainable landscaping, more homeowners want natural luxury outside their front door—without the extra maintenance. Sustainable landscaping is practical since it integrates plants and materials, which are in balance with the local climate.

Every yard is unique. You can incorporate just a few well-placed plants to save water. Or for a really self-sustaining garden, have a lawn like a meadow with every variety of herb, flower, grass, vegetable and fruit.

With careful planning, sustainable design:

  • Adds distinctive visual beauty—from formal to informal design.
  • Is low maintenance and cost effective long term.
  • Is easy to implement.
  • Requires minimal inputs and resources—less water, fertilizer or pesticides.
  • Reduces your home’s energy consumption.
  • Is environmentally sound—reducing carbon, chemicals and toxins.

Plan with Maintenance in Mind

Walk around your property to identify areas you want to accentuate for beauty and functionality. Whether you want to add an herb garden, a work area or patio, work with the slopes and boundaries of your yard. By designing with the natural patterns in the landscape, you make the most of space and maximize drainage for growing the best plants.

If possible, work with existing pathways as part of the outline for your yard. For interest and safety, modify pathways or make new ones that follow higher grades and natural curves in the land.

Consider sun and shade patterns, wind patterns and soil conditions throughout the yard. Different plants will do better in varying conditions or microclimates within your yard.

A landscape designer or contractor can help you choose the best plants for a sustainable landscape.

Grow Beauty and Function with Sustainable Vegetation

Sustainable landscapes grow a full spectrum of plants fitted for any style—from informal cottage to formal Chinese and everything in between.

Add sturdy lushness to your yard with native plants, which adapt easily to local climates and need less water. Self-seeding grasses and plants are ideal for sustainable landscapes—simply gather seedpods to crush and spread seeds where you want them to grow. Plants will flourish naturally. To minimize water requirements, keep plants with similar needs together in the same areas.

Fruit and nut-bearing trees, herbs, vegetables and edible flowers can be combined in any aesthetic variation, while providing food for you and local wildlife.

Deciduous trees, like maple, oak and elm, give shade in summer and allow sun in winter. Planted near the house, they provide comfort, while cutting down on energy bills. Turn a section of your yard into a cool summer woodland to further reduce air conditioning bills. Trees and hedges also form windbreaks, helping to cut your home’s fuel consumption by 1/3 and more.

Vines and bamboo gardens create privacy and shade around patios.

Use Eco-friendly Materials

A sustainable landscape relies more on vegetation, than hardscape materials, for forming boundaries like walls and fences. For walkways and driveways, be resourceful by using porous materials such as mulch, gravel or crushed stone, which are abundant and allow drainage. Try to use local and salvaged materials like used bricks or concrete.

Work with Nature

Attractive landscaping of any kind grows out of functional design planning. Whether you hire a landscape expert or do-it-yourself, work with the existing natural environment to develop a sustainable yard fitted to your lifestyle. No matter what you design—from an herb and vegetable garden to a meandering walkway or a meadow-like grass to a self-seeded lawn—shape areas and borders with vegetation suited to the climate and location. By working with the land you can create a self-sustaining yard over time tailored for your lifestyle. Instead of watering and fertilizing, you can spend more time enjoying the natural beauty, which is an extension of your home.

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4 Edible Landscaping Ideas

Introduce edible plants into your landscape.

Michael Seliga, owner of Cascadian Edible Landscapes shares his tips for introducing edible plants into your landscape.

Sneaking a few perennial edibles into your vegetable garden, and even your ornamental borders, cuts down on work and increases the amount of food you can harvest.

Start with herbs. “Herbs are expensive to buy at the store,” Seliga says. “So adding them to your landscape makes good economic sense.” Reserve a small section of your vegetable garden for herbs or integrate them into your landscape. Rosemary, sages, thymes, winter savory, basils, and oregano all blend in well with flowering perennials.

Plant fruiting shrubs. Blueberries, currants, and elderberries are attractive shrubs in their own right, putting out pretty flowers in spring and, especially in the case of blueberries, a colorful fall show. Plus, they produce loads of delicious fruit.

Bring on the berries. Raspberries and blackberries reliably produce loads of fruit for years with minimal care. All they need is a sunny spot with well-drained soil, some basic pruning in winter, and a coat of compost over their beds in spring.

Go undercover. Low-growing, spreading strawberries, especially alpine varieties, make an attractive groundcover in sunny spots.

(original post here)

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How To Prepare Your Lawn and Garden For Fall

Gardening expert Paul James offers advice on fertilizing, seeding and planting.

As fall weather takes hold, you need to change your gardening practices to get your landscape ready for the season ahead. But when do you start? And what should you do? Gardening by the Yard host Paul James offers advice on the intricacies of preparing for autumn:

His first bit of advice: Start your work about six weeks before the first hard freeze.

Preparing the lawn.

This will be the ideal time to sow cool-season grasses such as fescue and rye; it will give them the opportunity to germinate and develop a good root system before freezing temperatures arrive.

It’s also the right time to fertilize turfgrasses, preferably with slow-release, all-natural fertilizer. When given adequate nutrients, turfgrasses can store food in the form of carbohydrates during the winter months. That will mean a better-looking lawn come spring.

This six-week window is also the perfect time to put down a second application of selective, pre-emergent herbicide.

The first application — which lawn enthusiasts usually apply in late winter to early spring — takes care of weed seeds that overwintered in the lawn. The second application deals with weed seeds that were deposited during the summer months. (You can buy all-natural pre-emergent herbicides made from corn gluten.)

At the end of the year, you can also make an application of post-emergent herbicide, or you can spot-treat weeds with a nonselective herbicide such as glyphosate. For spot treatments, you can also use an all-natural formulation such as horticultural vinegar or clove oil.

Caution: Know the difference between selective and nonselective herbicides. Selective herbicides target specific weeds or seeds without damaging turf grass or landscape plants in the process. Nonselective herbicides destroy anything and everything green.

Maintain the landscape.

This is the time to tidy up a bit, removing unsightly foliage, dried stems and similar debris. It’s also a good time to fluff your mulch with a steel rake to allow water to penetrate deep into the subsoil.

While you’re messing around with the landscape, you can also fill it out with new plants. Trees, shrubs and various perennials — especially those that give seasonal color such as mums, asters and pansies — are some good options. You could even tackle a cool-season vegetable garden consisting of lettuce and other greens, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, turnips and even potatoes.

As you take care of your landscape, use as much of your compost as you can, spreading it in flower beds and at the base of trees and shrubs. That way you’ll have plenty of room in your pile or bins for all the leaves that will soon fall.

A note of caution: Resist the urge to prune, because the tender new growth that would result may not have a chance to harden off sufficiently before cold weather arrives, and that can lead to damage.

Ready your container plants.

Believe it or not, the most overlooked group of plants this time of year is container plants, and there are plenty of things to consider with respect to their care:

  • Annuals. By definition, these plants only last a year, but there are ways to extend their lives. You can, for example, take cuttings of various annuals and root them in either water or a potting medium such as vermiculite, perlite or soil-less potting mix. Just remember to strip all but the top few leaves off the stem, keep the potting medium moist at all times and keep plants out of direct sunlight. Within a few weeks the plants should develop a dense mass of roots, at which point you can pot them up and grow them as houseplants. This doesn’t work with all annuals, but it’s fun to experiment.
  • Tropical plants. Many of them, including palms and bananas, make excellent houseplants throughout the winter months. A good move now is to make room for all your tropical plants indoors, because this is also the time of year when sudden drops in temperature can come seemingly out of nowhere. Woody tropicals such as plumeria and citrus can easily be overwintered indoors – or in the garage, as long as the temperature doesn’t drop below freezing.
  • Perennials. Consider transplanting perennials from their containers directly into the garden. Carefully remove them from their pots, trim their roots a bit to stimulate the growth of new feeder roots, stick them in the ground and trim their top growth a little.
  • Herbs. They tend to look pretty shabby toward the end of summer, so either harvest and dry them or consider moving them indoors. Generally, though, herbs don’t do very well inside unless they get a lot of natural or fluorescent light. (The same goes for most succulents, though cacti seem to fair best among them.)

Keep the birds coming.

When you invite birds into your yard by feeding them, they do a fantastic job of keeping the insect population in check, which means you don’t have to spray or dust as often to control pests.

Don’t forget the shed!

Take time to clean your garden storage area, tossing old chemicals — responsibly of course — and taking note of what you’ll need to replenish before next spring.

A number of gardening products have a shelf life and may lose their effectiveness over time or if they get too hot or too cold. That’s particularly true of botanical insecticides such as Bt and beneficial fungi.

And of course you should tend to your tools. Rub metal tool surfaces with a light coating or oil; rub wooden tool handles with boiled linseed oil; and sharpen everything that needs it with a proper file.

(original source)

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7 Secrets for a High-Yield Vegetable Garden

Imagine harvesting nearly half a ton of tasty, beautiful, organically grown vegetables from a 15-by-20-foot plot, 100 pounds of tomatoes from just 100 square feet (a 4-by-25-foot bed), or 20 pounds of carrots from just 24 square feet.

Yields like these are easier to achieve than you may think. The secret to superproductive gardening is taking the time now to plan strategies that will work for your garden. Here are seven high-yield strategies gleaned from gardeners who have learned to make the most of their garden space.

1. Build up your soil.

Expert gardeners agree that building up the soil is the single most important factor in pumping up yields. A deep, organically rich soil encourages the growth of healthy, extensive roots that are able to reach more nutrients and water. The result: extra-lush, extra-productive growth above ground.

The fastest way to get that deep layer of fertile soil is to make raised beds. Raised beds yield up to four times more than the same amount of space planted in rows. That’s due not only to their loose, fertile soil but also to efficient spacing—by using less space for paths, you have more room to grow plants.

Raised beds save you time, too. One researcher tracked the time it took to plant and maintain a 30-by-30-foot garden planted in beds, and found that he needed to spend just 27 hours in the garden from mid-May to mid-October. Yet he was able to harvest 1,900 pounds of fresh vegetables—that’s a year’s supply of food for three people from about 3 total days of work!

How do raised beds save so much time? Plants grow close enough together to shade out competing weeds, so you spend less time weeding. The close spacing also makes watering and harvesting more efficient.

2. Round out your beds.

The shape of your beds can make a difference, too. Raised beds are more space-efficient if the tops are gently rounded to form an arc, rather than flat. A rounded bed that is 5 feet wide across its base, for instance, will give you a 6-foot-wide arc above it—creating a planting surface that’s a foot wider than that of a flat bed. That foot might not seem like much, but multiply it by the length of your bed and you’ll see that it can make a big difference in total planting area.

In a 20-foot-long bed, for example, rounding the top increases your total planting area from 100 to 120 square feet. That’s a 20 percent gain in planting space in a bed that takes up the same amount of ground space! Lettuce, spinach, and other greens are perfect crops for planting on the edges of a rounded bed.

3. Space smartly.

To get the maximum yields from each bed, pay attention to how you arrange your plants. Avoid planting in square patterns or rows. Instead, stagger the plants by planting in triangles. By doing so, you can fit 10 to 14 percent more plants in each bed.

Just be careful not to space your plants too tightly. Some plants won’t reach their full size—or yield—when crowded. For instance, when one researcher increased the spacing between romaine lettuces from 8 to 10 inches, the harvest weight per plant doubled. (Remember that weight yield per square foot is more important than the number of plants per square foot.)

Overly tight spacing can also stress plants, making them more susceptible to diseases and insect attack.

4. Grow up!

No matter how small your garden, you can grow more by going vertical. Grow space-hungry vining crops—such as tomatoes, pole beans, peas, squash, melons, cukes, and so on—straight up, supported by trellises, fences, cages, or stakes.

Growing vegetables vertically also saves time. Harvest and maintenance go faster because you can see exactly where the fruits are. And upward-bound plants are less likely to be hit by fungal diseases thanks to the improved air circulation around the foliage.

Try growing vining crops on trellises along one side of raised beds, using sturdy end posts with nylon mesh netting or string in between to provide a climbing surface. Tie the growing vines to the trellis. But don’t worry about securing heavy fruits—even squash and melons will develop thicker stems for support.

5. Mix it up.

Interplanting compatible crops saves space, too. Consider the classic Native American combination, the “three sisters”—corn, beans, and squash. Sturdy cornstalks support the pole beans, while squash grows freely on the ground below, shading out competing weeds. This combination works because the crops are compatible. Other compatible combinations include tomatoes, basil, and onions; leaf lettuce and peas or brassicas; carrots, onions, and radishes; and beets and celery.

6. Succeed with successions.

Succession planting allows you to grow more than one crop in a given space over the course of a growing season. That way, many gardeners are able to harvest three or even four crops from a single area.

For instance, an early crop of leaf lettuce can be followed with a fast-maturing corn, and the corn followed by more greens or overwintered garlic—all within a single growing season.

To get the most from your succession plantings:

  • Use transplants. A transplant is already a month or so old when you plant it, and so will mature that much faster than a direct-seeded plant (one grown from seeds sown in the garden).
  • Choose fast-maturing varieties.
  • Replenish the soil with a ¼-to-½-inch layer of compost (about 2 cubic feet per 100 square feet) each time you replant. Work it into the top few inches of soil.

7. Stretch your season.

Adding a few weeks to each end of the growing season can buy you enough time to grow yet another succession crop—say a planting of leaf lettuce, kale, or turnips—or to harvest more end-of-the-season tomatoes.

To get those extra weeks of production, you need to keep the air around your plants warm, even when the weather is cold, by using mulches, cloches, row covers, or coldframes.

Or give heat-loving crops (such as melons, peppers, and eggplants) an extra-early start by using two “blankets”—one to warm the air and one to warm the soil in early spring. About 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date, preheat cold soil by covering it with either infrared-transmitting (IRT) mulch or black plastic, which will absorb heat. Then, cover the bed with a slitted, clear plastic tunnel. When the soil temperature reaches 65° to 70°F, set out plants and cover the black plastic mulch with straw to keep it from trapping too much heat. Remove the clear plastic tunnel when the air temperature warms and all danger of frost has passed. Install it again at the end of the season, when temperatures cool.

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