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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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What’s the Difference between Landscape Designers, Landscape Architects, and Landscape Contractors?

These broad definitions apply to the United States only. Laws vary from state to state regarding the work performed by landscape designers, landscape architects and landscape contractors. Some need to be licensed by the state; others do not. Permits may or may not be required for landscape work performed in your state or locality.

Landscape designers typically have training in landscape design and horticulture through formal education or on-the-job experience. The Association of Professional Landscape Designer’s certification program confers professional recognition to landscape designers based on experience and established standards of excellence. Landscape designers provide design concepts, landscape plans, and selection of materials. Some designers provide only design services, others work closely with contractors during installation and some provide construction services themselves as permitted by state law. Many landscape designers are also professional horticulturists. Landscape designers can provide design services for both residential and commercial clients, although many specialize in residential design.

Landscape architects have obtained a degree in landscape architecture from an accredited school. Only those who have have met their respective state requirements may call themselves landscape architects. A landscape architecture curriculum usually emphasizes site analysis, design, presentation and construction techniques rather than horticulture. In addition to the types of plans provided by a landscape designer, many landscape architects produce plans and construction -ready documents for institutional and commercial projects.

Landscape contractors perform a wide range of services, including garden and lawn installation, garden maintenance, masonry, carpentry, other landscape elements and sometimes design. Many work for nurseries or design/build companies and others have their own firms. When working with a landscape contractor, be sure to clarify the design process used, whether you will receive drawings for your review and approval, or whether you have just a verbal description of the landscape to be installed.


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10 Eco-Friendly Gardening Tips

Taking care of your lawn and garden is just as important as taking care of your roof. An attractive landscape can increase the value of your home and add curb appeal. Maintaining your lawn and garden properly can save money and time. Eco-friendly or “green,” landscaping habits can help the environment and decrease the amount of hazardous chemicals around your home. Did you know that the average suburban lawn uses six times the hazardous chemicals per acre as conventional farming does? Learn how to avoid chemical use below.

Tip 1: Water Efficiently: Water during strategically planned times only. The best time to water is between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. Watering in the afternoon is inefficient since water is lost due to evaporation and wind. The second-best time to water is between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Running an irrigation system excessively can waste a lot of water. Just one hour can use up to 250 gallons of water.

Tip 2: Install an Irrigation System: Consider the installation of a sprinkler or irrigation system for your lawn. Irrigation systems work well at targeting only the specific areas of your lawn that need to be watered, thus cutting back on unnecessary watering of uplanted areas. Irrigation systems are available with a timer option, which helps homeowners avoid overwatering by turning off the system at predetermined times. Make sure to check the weather forecast and turn off the timer when rain is predicted.

Tip 3: Go Organic: Say goodbye to chemical fertilizers and pesticides. There are many top-quality organic and natural weed killers. Additionally, organic compost can be used.

Tip 4: Make Your Own Compost: Make your own compost to use in your garden. Compost can be used as a fertilizer, serving as an excellent alternative to chemical-based fertilizers. Making your own compost involves mixing browns (such as dead leaves, branches or twigs, greens (such as grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps and coffee grounds) and water in a compost bin.

Tip 5: Mulch: Garden mulch can enhance the look of your garden and help keep it healthy. Spreading mulch in your garden can also save time by decreasing the need for watering, applying herbicides and pulling weeds.

Tip 6: Drought-Tolerant Plants: The technique of using drought-tolerant plants, known as xeriscaping will significantly help reduce water usage in your garden.

Tip 7: Native Plants: Planting native plants will cut down on the need for water and fertilizer. For example, if you live in Arizona, don’t plant high water plants such as bluegrass or clover.

Tip 8: Make Your Own Planters: Making your own planters is a great way to reuse empty containers. Rinse out plastic containers (cottage cheese, yogurt and dessert whip containers are just the right size), fill them with dirt, add a plant and you have a great new planter. Not only is this eco-friendly, it’s also inexpensive.

Tip 9: Harvest Rainwater: Harvesting rainwater means collecting and storing rainwater to be used for your lawn or garden. This is a simple way to conserve water and help your garden bloom.

Tip 10: Hang Birdfeeders and Nesting Boxes: Birdfeeders and nesting boxes attract birds to your garden. Birds are a great benefit to gardens as they eat unwanted pests, such as snails and slugs. Instead of using pesticide against these little bugs, simply invite the birds in and they’ll take care of the pests naturally.

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A Look Back at Long Island Modernism

There was a time in the not too distant past when architects brought their vision, talent and enthusiasm to the East End to build dream homes for young families. These homes were unlike the shingled monstrosities which litter the landscape today and are surrounded by the giant hedges and other non-native plantings that conspire to block the open views.

Rather this was the architecture of Long Island Modernism. Popular more than half a century ago, the hey day for the style was the period after World War II when the possibilities of American ingenuity were realized in the former farm fields and defunct estates of rural Long Island. Shopping malls, hospital complexes, homes and corporate headquarters were all built in this new style throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties as the population fled east from New York City for the dream of suburbia.

Though locally, the most familiar of the modern houses came to be known as the “white boxes of Sagaponack” (in later years, derisively so), today, those that remain serve as a poignant reminder of what has been lost.

To that end, author Caroline Rob Zaleski has just published “Long Island Modernism: 1930 – 1980,” a new book by W.W. Norton & Company detailing the history of the movement through a series of essays about the important architects and designers who shaped it, as well as documentation of the modern structures built throughout the island.

“There was a period in the ‘50s when they were very much the way most people wanted to build on the East End,” says Zaleski. “By the late ‘70s, the white box Modernism had become completely reviled.”

Which, Zaleski notes, is a shame since these homes were way ahead of their time. They embraced a pared down minimalism and an ecologically-sensitive carbon footprint long before anyone knew what that term meant. For the families who lived in these homes, the stark design, low maintenance systems, natural landscaping and simple furnishings kept the focus on the beauty of the area and gave residents time to enjoy it.

“Now looking back, I see it was a wonderful time,” says Zaleski. “Minimal means low budget, simple beach houses. It was all about living in nature and taking in nature. Before the nurseries took over, you used to be able to see the ocean. But the McMansion of today is the new ‘norm.’”

“What amazed me during my research was how rampant Modernism was as a style and as a way of life,” she says. “It’s just horrifying in a time of global climate change where life on earth is threatened that Modernism as an experiment failed. Almost all buildings erected today are dependent on electricity and an enormous amount of wasted energy is going into maintaining them as well as trucking building materials and non-indigenous plants into the region.”

Zaleski’s book is based on a survey of modern architecture which she conducted for SPLIA (Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities). The book contains essays on the 25 most important architects and designers from the movement — from German Bauhaus furniture designer Marcel Breuer and Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe to Philip Johnson, I.M. Pei and even Frank Lloyd Wright. While the book doesn’t focus specifically on East End homes, several are featured in the essays, including those built by Gordon Chadwick with George Nelson, Hamilton P. Smith, Antonin Raymond and Richard Meier, among others.

“SPLIA, which is based in Cold Spring Harbor, asked me to conduct a field survey in quest of important modern architecture on Long Island as well as the narrative of the individuals, the clients and architects who were modern minded,” says Zaleski in explaining how the book came about. “It has a preservation purpose which is to provide an enduring record of the island’s architectural history during this modern epoch. I stop at 1980, because by then, post-modernism has completely taken hold among clients and architects and Modernism becomes reviled.”

While it really hit its stride on Long Island in the post-war 1950s and ‘60s, the New York World’s Fair of 1939 really paved the way for the notion of Modernism as an uniquely American style of architecture — literally.

“The fair was billed as ‘The World of Tomorrow,’” explains Zaleski. “The movers and the shakers who put it together, including Robert Moses, promulgated the idea of a regional plan where New York would be the center and people would move out of the city and be interconnected through the system of highways and bridges which Moses had designed.”

Among the images in Zaleski’s book is a 1940 map of Long Island from a brochure which was handed out to fair-goers at the New York Pavilion.

“You could see by 1940, the bridges, tunnels and roadways were already in place, but Nassau and Suffolk was still vast areas of farmland and open land owned by great estate owners,” she says. “This vision was put on hold because of the war. Postwar is really when it was built out.”

Fatigue from two world wars was one reason, says Zaleski, why in the 1950s Americans were ready to turn their back on old world design and embrace the new modern style, whether it was in corporate buildings or private homes.

“American Modernism became a kind of blend of these ideas that had to do with American ingenuity and being at the forefront of industry and scientific invention worldwide,” explains Zaleski. “It was a melding of modern styles like those that had been developed at the Bauhaus School or as part of the work of great French architect and theorist Le Corbusier.”

“In modernism people saw a style that would express the machine age,” she adds.

And on Long Island, architects and designers found new highways and plenty of open space to explore that style.

“Long Island was the perfect testing ground for modern architecture and modern minded clients,” explains Zaleski. “The regional plans were in place so people could easily drive out from Manhattan when it was less populated. It was the golden age when estates and farmland was breaking up and being subdivided.”

In those days, Zaleski notes even someone with a small budget could engage an architect to build a second home or primary residence in the vast open space of Long Island.

And build homes they did — along with all sorts of other buildings, 500 of which are on Zaleski’s “Inventory of Architects and Their Long Island Projects,” the master list in her book of Long Island Modernism.

“I spent several years doing the field survey,” she says. “I followed leads from journal articles to see if buildings I had read and heard about were still there. I spent a lot of time going back and forth.”

In the end, Zaleski found that only about 35 percent of the buildings in her survey still existed in original condition.

“It was heartbreaking and often I’d come to a building that had been destroyed or dramatically altered, with an interior renovation that had wiped out the original,” she notes. “But the list is proof positive that important architecture was built on Long Island during this epoch.

And while the results of Zaleski’s hard work is “Long Island Modernism” a beautifully designed book with striking architectural images that would do justice to any coffee table it graces, Zaleski hopes it will serve a higher purpose by calling attention to the importance of an architectural movement which has largely been dismissed in the past three decades.

“SPLIA wanted an enduring record of what had been built, but a book can also be a preservation tool,” says Zaleski who notes that another SPLIA book on Long Island’s great estates can be found most real estate offices and is frequently referred to by town boards. “For the modern period, this is a record and I’m hoping after seeing this book, those involved with protecting important architecture on Long Island will understand the modern period is as important as any other.”

With many historical societies and village boards focused so closely on preserving “ye olde,” as Zaleski describes it, she cautions that valuable resources from later eras can be easily lost.

“When you study preservation, a great deal comes from recognizing the significance of buildings and putting together lists of them,” she adds. “I think it would be wonderful if every village on Long Island could get together and list their modern resources, and start to get them recognized.”

After all, as Zaleski and preservationists everywhere are quick to point out, “The most endangered past is the recent past.”

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Water-Saving Ideas For Your Garden

Simple xeriscaping techniques have a big impact.

Nature usually knows best. When it comes to designing our backyards, we can all emulate nature by using xeriscape techniques, a term coined to describe creative landscaping practices that minimize the use of water. Many assume that xeriscaping means growing only cacti and yuccas, or covering the soil with gravel, but nothing could be further from the truth. Lauren Springer, in her book, The Undaunted Garden, refers to her xeriscape as a “lush, dry garden.” Plants classified as xerophytic require less water, or have better methods of obtaining water (for example, a long taproot system) or retaining it (for example, waxy leaves that slow transpiration). Xeriscaping doesn’t mean avoiding water-guzzlers, such as astilbes or ligularias, altogether. It is simply a matter of organization – grouping plants together according to their water requirements.

Xeriscaping has become a way of life in areas where water is scarce. Since the 1995 drought and severe water restrictions in England, signage saying “drought tolerant” has been seen at all British nurseries. In Colorado, many homeowners leave a buffer zone between their lawns and the street, so that runoff water from lawn sprinklers doesn’t run down the gutters. In some cases, this is simply a mulched area planted with low-growing junipers and large rocks, or it may be a flower garden that needs only the lawn’s excess water. In Europe, the formerly pristine lawns at Versailles, Vaux-le-Vicomte and Tuileries Gardens are now low-growing, flowery meadows. City parks in Germany also feature low-maintenance perennial and annual plantings that never need watering.

Xeriscaping is also becoming popular in Canada. To educate consumers about water-wise gardening practices, Ontario’s Durham Region decided to develop a demonstration Water Efficient Garden in the town of Whitby. The beauty of this garden, watered only by Mother Nature, has educated and amazed many of its visitors.

Besides the desire to conserve water, there are several other reasons to consider xeriscaping. Your property may have sandy soil, steep slopes or a garden that you can only tend to on weekends. You might find the cost of irrigation equipment and water prohibitive, or simply hate hauling hoses around. Whatever your reasons may be, follow some basic steps to create a beautiful xeriscape:

1. Planning and design

Limit your manicured lawn to a flat, easily irrigated shape (no long, narrow strips of grass), and convert large grass areas to natural meadows with mown pathways. Plant slopes with xerophytic plants, or terrace them for better water retention. Group plants according to their moisture requirements – place the ones needing the most moisture near the water source.

2. Soil structure

Add organic matter to the soil to improve water retention and increase fertility.

3. Plant selection

Select drought-tolerant plants. Good choices are native plants or naturalized species from dry habitats; plants that have fuzzy, waxy or finely divided foliage; or plants that are dormant during summer’s heat.

4. Planting techniques

Planting techniques are important – dig a hole, fill it with water, and wait for the soil to absorb the moisture. Then open the plant’s soil ball, spreading the roots so they will quickly grow into the earth. Place the plant in the hole and fill with soil, then water again. Water regularly until established, then gradually reduce the frequency. The ideal time for installing a xeriscape is late summer to early autumn, which allows for maximum root development before the drought of the following summer.

5. Irrigate efficiently

Water turf and garden areas no more than once a week, but apply at least two inches of water at a time. This forces the plants to develop extensive root systems between waterings. Drip irrigation (with soaker hoses) cuts down on the amount of water lost to evaporation by sprinkler systems. Harvest the water from your roof using rain barrels – a quarter of an inch of rainfall on a 1,000-square-foot roof provides up to 150 gallons of water. Learn to measure weekly rainfall, and irrigate only when necessary.

6. Mulch

Mulching bare soil to a depth of two to four inches prevents water evaporation, maintains an even, cool soil temperature, and prevents the germination of weeds. Choose a mulch that is as natural in appearance as possible. The best time to apply mulch is in late spring, after the soil has warmed and before summer’s heat begins.

Xeriscaping is a fun and sustainable way to garden!

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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.

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Design a Stroll Garden

If you have enough space, a stroll garden can be a rewarding replacement for much or all of your lawn. It will introduce secret delights and their anticipation, promote contemplation, and draw you and your visitors out among the plants.

The Physical Journey

In her motivational book The Inward Garden, landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy writes:

The single most useful image that I know for composing the elements of a landscape into a coherent and interesting whole is the journey.”

Messervy studied the art of garden design in Japan, where the stroll garden is a well-known form. Its key requirement is space—not to produce sufficient exercise, but rather to give ample stimulation for the stroller’s mind.

A stroll garden can take several forms:

  • a path to a destination, excellent for a long skinny yard
  • a loop past a series of destinations, for a wider space
  • a network of loops and branches

The Anticipation

Suspense and discovery are key moods in a stroll garden, which should not be entirely visible from any point but should hold hidden elements to be discovered around bends, over rises, in the shadows, and behind bushes. This allows the stroller to experience the garden as a series of events, not just a static view–to participate and not simply observe. Alvin Horton explains in Creating Japanese Gardens:

The idea of anticipating and then discovering beauty, detail by detail, is central to the stroll-style garden. Such beauty is often subtle, so its discovery requires a pleasant effort by the stroller.”

The Discovery

What the stroller will discover are your garden’s focal points. Anything sufficiently interesting can be a focal point: a sculpture, a dramatic plant, a group of plants, a section of the garden, or a view of a distant scene. As the garden’s designer, it will be your job to create these focal points.

Instead of trying to fit many focal points into a smaller garden, you can build it around one major element, having that come into and out of view from several well-chosen vantage points along the path. This change of perspective, seeing something from a new side or within a new context, can generate sufficient surprise and mystery to reward strollers.

To capture a viewer’s full attention, allow only one focal point to be visible at a time. Obscure the view until you are ready to reveal it. You can do this with tall plants or a section of fencing, by causing the path to go up or down a hill, or by curving the path.

Curves give the added benefit of making your garden seem larger. The trick is that, to discourage short cuts and make the path feel natural, every curve must have a clear purpose, either turning toward a goal (a bench, a statue, a gate) or curving around an obstacle (a boulder, a shrub, a clump of grass).

The Mind Journey

Messervy suggests that when people view your garden, they “unconsciously take a journey through it in their minds.” To invite meditation, include a comfortable seat or a sturdy surface from which to view each focal point. The vantage point should feel safe; you can achieve this by having walls (of living material or hardscape) at its back and sides to “enfold” the viewer, relaxing the body and releasing the mind to wander.

Unplanned focal points can appear in your garden. A flock of cedar waxwings descends on your highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) and strips it of berries. A rabbit or frog leaps across the path. Dew touches the giant web of a skilled spider. These chance events make strollers more alert and add to their sense of discovery.

The Road Traveled

Your choice and placement of path materials will significantly affect a stroller’s experience.

With stepping stones, you can influence the speed with which strollers progress and the attention they pay to their feet, and therefore indirectly the attention that remains to give their surroundings. Small stones with rough surfaces set farther apart will keep people’s eyes on the path. Place larger stones where you want them to pause, look up, and appreciate the view.

Wide, clear paths foster a slow pace and constant observation of the garden, while narrow or overgrown paths increase the stroller’s speed. Widen your path at viewing areas to allow strollers to notice your focal point.

Changing your path material can signal a change in the mood or character of the garden. In fact, if you do change your path significantly and the garden doesn’t follow through on the promise, your visitors may be subtly disappointed.

One well-designed urban park in Saint Paul, Minnesota, includes two paths that deliver contrasting experiences. Around the edges of the park, the country path of crushed gravel meanders under trees footed by wildflowers, then crosses a brook on stepping stones. The city path, wider and laid with rows of brick, flows past benches and open paved areas in the park’s center. Using well-chosen path materials, the park offers two distinct journeys within the same city block.

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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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A Water-Wise Hamptons Summer

Drought. It’s an ominous word that arrives here in the Hamptons. Ever since the National Weather Service reported that Long Island had been suffering the driest winter and spring in 13 years, concerns about water usage and conservation have been part of every thought and conversation on topics from watering the lawn to making a cool glass of iced tea.

The Irrigation Association is educating irrigation professionals and the public with some sensible programs and promotions for water-efficient products and services. “Using these types of controllers has dramatically reduced unnecessary water consumption,” says Robert Boyle of RB Irrigation in Westhampton Beach.

The first of these, called WaterSense, is a voluntary public-private partnership program sponsored by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Its mission is to protect the future of our nation’s water supply by promoting and enhancing the market for more water-efficient products and services.

WaterSense recommends these simple methods of saving water:

For Lawns & Landscapes:

  • Water lawns and gardens during the coolest part of the day, such as early morning, when there’s less evaporation.
  • Set sprinklers to ensure they’re watering grass and plants, not getting on the street or sidewalk.
  • Use soaker hoses or trickle irrigation systems for trees and shrubs.

Use Your Appliances Wisely:

  • Wash only full loads.
  • Scrape off dishes before loading into the dishwasher, don’t rinse them.
  • Replace old washers with Energy Star qualified appliances that use less water.

Replace Leaky Toilets:

  • Use high-efficiency models that use less than 1.3 gallons per flush.

Conserve Drinking Water:

  • Keep cold water in the refrigerator – don’t run water out of tap until it is cold.
  • If you can, use left over water for other projects such as watering plants or cleaning.

Consult an irrigation professional who is certified through a WaterSense program. A certified professional can design, install and, most of all, maintain your system to ensure optimal efficiency.

At the present time there is a need in the irrigation industry for irrigation professionals to become certified in auditing in order to help conserve water. This gives your irrigation contractor the knowledge needed to inform you and to utilize the types of water-saving technology such as weather-based irrigation controllers and moisture sensors, available for your outdoor watering system.

Another example of this technology is the climate or soil moisture sensor-based ‘smart” controllers which evaluate weather and soil moisture conditions. These controllers then calculate and automatically adjust the irrigation schedule to meet the specific needs of your landscape.

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The Best Mulches

Mulch is great for the garden. Use this guide to help you find the best type for your landscape.

Why Mulch

Spreading mulch over your garden soil is the best way to save time and energy in your yard. Mulch helps the soil hold moisture so you don’t have to water as often. It also suppresses weeds. And over time, mulches made from organic materials break down and increase your soil’s structure and fertility.

Shredded Bark

Shredded bark is one of the most common and least expensive mulches. It comes from a variety of sources, including cedar trees. Shredded bark is one of the best mulch types to use on slopes and it breaks down relatively slowly. Some shredded-bark products are byproducts from other industries; they’re considered environmentally friendly. Check the mulch packaging for more information.

Here’s a hint: Shredded bark can take up some nitrogen from the soil as it decomposes. If you have poor soil, adding some organic fertilizer to the soil can help keep your plants healthy.


Save money by shredding fallen leaves in your yard and using them to cover the soil. Fallen leaves break down quickly (often in less than a year), but should be shredded before use to prevent them from matting down. Fallen leaves are commonly used as mulch in winter.

Grass Clippings

Another mulch you can make for free, grass clippings break down fast but add nitrogen to the soil as they do. It’s best to use grass clippings in thin layers or to let the grass dry before spreading it as a mulch — otherwise it starts to stink and rot as it decomposes.

Here’s a hint: Avoid using grass clippings if your lawn is chemically treated, especially if you use it in vegetable gardens. The chemicals may harm your desirable garden plants.


Straw has a beautiful golden color that looks great in the garden. It’s also a bit slower to break down than leaves or grass clippings. But you do need to make sure the straw is free of weed seeds, otherwise it can cause more weeds than it prevents. (Oat straw is often particularly weedy.)


Compost looks like soil, except it’s darker, so it really sets off plants well. This mulch material breaks down quickly but adds to your soil structure the fastest. Plus, it’s inexpensive; you can create your own rich compost for free. Many municipalities give away compost, as well.

Pine Needles

Pine needles add a delicate, fine texture to plantings. They hold in place well, making them useful on slopes, and they’re relatively slow to break down. If you continuously use pine needles as mulch, they may increase the acidity of your soil. This makes them ideal for use with acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, blueberries, and some types of conifers.

Pine Bark Nuggets

Pine bark nuggets are slower to break down than shredded bark, but they don’t stay in place as well. They’re not a good choice for slopes or other areas where they may be washed away by heavy rain. Pine bark nuggets are available in a variety of sizes; the bigger the nugget, the longer it lasts.

Wood Chips

You can often get wood chips for free from local tree trimmers, though the trimmers will usually ask you to haul the chips yourself. Wood chips, especially when they’re freshly made, can take up a fair amount of nitrogen from the soil. They can be acidic and lower your soil’s pH, as well.

Here’s a hint: If you get wood chips from a local source, check if the tree had poison ivy on it. Working with wood chips that contain poison ivy can cause skin irritation. Also: Wood chips from walnut trees may contain natural chemicals that inhibit the growth of many garden plants.

Cocoa Hull Mulch

Cocoa hull mulch is one of the most beautiful, thanks to its fine texture and rich color. And many gardeners appreciate its delightful chocolate fragrance. Cocoa hull mulch is one of the most expensive mulch types, though. It decomposes slowly, and unlike most mulch types, it doesn’t fade with time. It’s a great mulch for small-leafed plants such as herbs where the shells are easy to work around. In areas with hot, humid weather, mold may grow on its surface. Cocoa hull mulch is poisonous to dogs and cats if they eat it.

Here’s a hint: Because cocoa hulls are light, they can blow away unless you spray them down well with water after you first spread them.

Gravel or River Rock

Because they’re inorganic materials, gravel and river rock don’t break down in the landscape, so they don’t need to be reapplied every year. However, it also means they don’t improve your soil over time.

Here’s a hint: It can be very difficult to remove gravel or river rock mulch if you ever change your mind. They can make it more difficult to plant in or divide perennials.

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