Author Archives: Kelsey Savage

Kelsey Savage

About Kelsey Savage

Kelsey Savage writes about home and garden care in between doing her crafty best to update her small New York space. She has worked for Martha Stewart Living and Country Living. Check her out on Google +!

Lasagna Gardening: It’s Only a Little Like It Sounds

Build your soil layer by layer—like a lasagna—to make it richer and more fertile, and keep weeds at bay.

Lasagna Gardening


Mulching has its rewards: Not only does it give you richer and more nutritious soil, but it can also suppress weeds, enabling gardeners to use fewer chemicals and spend less time in the dirt. So how do we fully embrace the power of mulch? For some, the answer has been to construct a multilayered soil system.

Intimidating as that may sound, a technique known as lasagna gardening, or sheet mulching, provides an easy and rewarding way to get started, whether you’re establishing a new landscape or enhancing last year’s. Begin now, and come springtime you will have a healthy environment for your plants.

Place compost or manure directly over the grass (or patches of weeds) on your property. Rich in nitrogen, this material will stimulate the soil, readying it to sustain new life. It’s recommended that you obtain a soil analysis to help you identify your soil’s deficiencies and determine whether it would benefit from supplements.

Lasagna Gardening - Diagram


Lay down a barrier to prevent the germination and emergence of weeds. Use anywhere from two to five inches of organic material—cardboard, newspaper, and natural-fiber carpeting are common choices. Make sure that it covers the entire area, and as you’re adding the material, give it a good soaking.

Over the weed barrier, lay down another layer of compost, this time one that includes a mix of nitrogen-rich organic matter (for example, grass clippings, decaying leaves, or seaweed). Important: Make sure that these scraps do not contain weed seeds, because if they do, you may be jeopardizing the work you have done so far.

Finally, add about three inches of mulch—wood chips or pine bark. It will need replenishment over the season, but one of the great benefits of the lasagna gardening system is that there’s no tilling necessary.

What you end up with is a soil that emulates the fertile floor of the rainforest, perfectly balancing layers of decaying material and barriers to weed growth. Perhaps best of all, you reap the benefits of this productive substrate while performing only minimal maintenance.

Everywhere Ferns: Choosing the Right Variety for Your Garden

Leafy, airy, and verdant, ferns bring drama and texture to the garden. They require little in return—just an appropriate spot where they can flourish. Here are a few ferns that have flexible siting requirements.

Fern Gardening


With a history dating back 300 million years, ferns have proven their staying power. Today, their frilled fronds and varied green shades entice gardeners who appreciate their graceful appearance as well as their easy maintenance and ability to spread. Although ferns do not produce flowers, their budding fronds, called fiddleheads, are a delicious addition to homemade salads in the spring.

Related: 10 Plants for Where the Sun Don’t Shine

Ferns tend to flourish where there is shade and plenty of moisture, in soils with a high concentration of organic matter. They not only survive but thrive in locations that would test the endurance of other species—under trees, for example, or in wooded areas. It would be a mistake, however, to consider ferns as fit only for gloomy, humid glens. Among the large and versatile fern family, you can find a variety to suit almost any environment.



Fern Gardening - Lady Fern

Lady fern. Photo:

Distinguished by its large, feathery, pale green fronds, the lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) equally enjoys sun or shade, so long as there’s enough—but not too much—moisture. Another option is the evergreen lip fern (Cheilanthes), which tolerates partial sun, especially if conditions are dry and the site is rocky.



Fern Gardening - Oak Fern

Oak fern. Photo:

Common to woodlands of the United States and Canada, healthy oak fern (Gymnocarpium dryopteris) can be expected to spread out over time, making it a reliable ground cover, pleasing to the eye with its delicate, triangular, blue-green fronds. It prefers shade but does well in either moist or dry settings.



Fern Gardening - Christmas Fern

Christmas fern. Photo:

Once used in holiday decorations, the Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) stays green all winter long. So too does the Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum), whose fronds boast three distinct hues: green, maroon, and silvery gray. Both are hardy varieties requiring little care.



Fern Gardening - Boston Fern


Indoors, ferns do best in low light and high humidity. The easiest to grow are bird’s nest (Asplenium nidus), Boston (Nephrolepis exaltata)brake (Pteris), and the dramatic staghorn (Platycerium). Situate your selection in a north-facing window or beside a curtained south- or west-facing exposure. For best results, place a potted fern over a water-filled tray of pebbles, and mist regularly.

Managing 3 Common Problems Faced by Roses

While everyone's favorite bloom, roses are not free or problems—even with proper care and maintenance. Here are three of the most popular rose ailments and how to cure them.

The rewards of roses are not easily earned. These universally prized flowers behave temperamentally whenever they are not properly cared for, and sometimes even when they are carefully and appropriately managed.

Related: Roses — 11 Sensational Varieties to Consider

Besides the devoted attention of gardeners, roses also attract insects, fungi, and viruses. Here are a few tips on treating three of the most common problems that roses face, particularly in the summer.



Rose Problems - Powdery Mildew


Spread through the wind in dry weather, powdery mildew spores are activated by moisture, and the result is much like what the name suggests. Although powdery mildew rarely kills rose plants, the fungal disease quickly compromises their beauty.

Prevent an outbreak by planting your roses in areas with good air circulation and by keeping them well hydrated. If powdery mildew is already appearing on your foliage, prune the affected leaves and spray the rest with either an organic fungicide or a mixture of baking soda and water.



Rose Problems - Botrytis Blight


If you notice new flowers that instead of opening, develop a brownish-gray growth, then your roses have fallen prey to Botrytis Blight. This fungus can affect the stem, leaves, or blooms. It comes about during especially wet and humid summers.

Immediately remove blighted flowers and leaves, sterilizing your pruners to prevent the problem from spreading. Treat your remaining healthy roses with a fungicide that includes cholorothalonil or neem oil as an ingredient.



Rose Problems - Aphids


While aphids feed off roses, they secrete a substance that causes blackening mold. Look for these tiny insects on new growth. To control an outbreak, drench your plants with water from the hose or use an insecticidal soap. If you find the aphids are returning again and again, try introducing ladybugs, aphids’ natural enemy.

Tips for preventing problems
Start by picking the variety of roses best suited for your area. Plant in a sunny area with good drainage. When watering, focus on hydrating the roots. Mulch thoroughly and fertilize often. Deadhead to keep your rose blooming throughout the season. Most important of all—enjoy!

The Plight of the Impatiens

While a troublesome plant disease has made it difficult for gardeners to find healthy impatiens, there are many equally beautiful and hardy annuals to consider as alternatives.

Downy Mold and Impatiens - Red Variety

Healthy impatiens grow beside a paver pathway. Photo:

This year, many are struggling to find a beloved mainstay of the American garden: impatiens. Sought for the vibrant colors of their blooms, as well for their tolerance of shady conditions, impatiens have been affected of late by an especially pervasive strain of downy mildew.

Related: 11 Signs of an Unhealthy Houseplant (and How You Can Help)

The fungal disease appears on the underside of leaves as almost fluffy-looking blanket of spores. First, the flowers droop and then shortly after, the plant starts to die. Impatiens walleriana is the one variety known to be vulnerable; hybrids like SunPatiens are safe.

If you suspect downy mildew has become a problem for your impatiens, brace yourself: there’s no remedy. If you want to protect any plants that have managed to stay healthy, you might try using a fungicide, but the most important thing to do is remove the diseased ones immediately (and do not compost them).

Down Mold and Impatiens - Infection

Downy mold appears on the underside of the leaves of impatiens. Photo:

If you have not yet planted impatiens but still want to, proceed carefully and take preventative measures. Start with plants that show no sign of infection, and to avoid possible pathogens in the soil, add your plants to a plot that has not hosted impatiens for at least a few seasons.

Leave enough space for air circulation between impatiens. Remember to water in the mornings; that way, the plants have time to dry out over the course of the day (long periods of wetness being known to invite mold).

Or skip the impatiens and instead, experiment with a new species. Choose from a wide selection of shade-tolerant plants. Consider:

Torenia does as well in containers and as it does in the landscape, its pink and purple blooms thriving even in high-humidity conditions.

Begonias are mound-shaped bedding plants that come in so many different colors, you’re bound to find one that would complement your garden.

Fuchsia handles shady sites as successfully as impatiens, plus its vibrant pink flowers rarely fail to attract butterflies.

Salvia offers height and structure, not to mention lively color, and as a member of the mint family, the plant draws birds and bees to the landscape.

3 Special Geraniums to Seek Out for Your Garden

Available in hundreds of hardy varieties, geraniums can be found easily in home centers and grocery stores around the country, but there are some favorites that deserve to be sought out specially.

Choosing Geraniums - Rushmoor Golden Ruffles

Rushmoor Golden Ruffles Geranium. Photo:

With a reputation for hardiness, geraniums can be found in literally hundreds of varieties, many that boast impressive, bright, and summery colors. Whether in a hanging basket, patio container, flower bed or a pot indoors, these Victorian favorites are versatile enough to fit nearly every need.

Related: 10 New Perennials to Perk Up Your Garden

So long as geraniums are given strong sun at least six hours per day, they can be counted on to thrive. In fact, they’ll even function as shrubs if grown as perennials in warmer climates (up to zone 10). In colder areas, geraniums overwinter easily in a brightly lit window.

The genus Pelargonium, to which geraniums belong, comprises several groupings. In non-specialty stores, you’ll find perfectly serviceable and cheery zonal geraniums, but I recommend keeping an eye out for some special favorites, including:



Choosing Geraniums - Scented Leaf

Scented Leaf Geranium. Photo:

With aromas as varied as pineapple, apricot, rose, mint and cinnamon, perhaps it’s no surprise that scented-leaf geraniums finds their way into many recipes.



Choosing Geraniums - Martha Washington

Martha Washington Geranium. Photo:

Also known as the regal geranium, this beloved variety native to South Africa features showy blooms with luxurious bi-colored frills. Talk about a show-stopper!



Choosing Geraniums - Stellars

Double Stellar Geranium. Photo:

Stellars, a subgroup of geraniums, stay relatively small even when mature, but their unusual star-shaped flowers intrigue the eye with long, thin petals.


Once you’ve found a variety you can’t get enough of, geraniums prove easy to propagate. Take a stem cutting from a new shoot and after dipping the cut end into a rooting hormone, allow it to root in a sand-vermiculite mixture. Cover the cutting loosely with a Ziploc (unzipped, of course), provide plenty of sunshine, and water occasionally until roots have developed; the latter usually takes several weeks. Finally, transplant into a new container, and enjoy!

Dividing Perennials in the Spring

Divide your fall-blooming perennials in spring to give them enough time to take root and flourish before summer comes.

Dividing Perennials


One of the pleasures of spring is taking stock in your garden: Which perennials are ready to be doubled (or even tripled)? To address your spring bloomers, you must wait until fall. But now is the time to divide fall bloomers so that before summer arrives, they will have ample recovery time.

Dividing plants not only benefits your garden, it also gives older perennials a chance to rejuvenate and thrive once again. Doing this chore isn’t necessary every year; depending on the species, every two to five years is sufficient.

Related: 5 Spring Garden Favorites to Plant Right Now

In picking candidates for division, focus on perennial clumps that have been producing fewer flowers, or flowers with hollow, dead centers. Chrysanthemums, asters, cannas, ornamental grasses, coneflowers and astilbe will all appreciate the extra attention.

A few days before you divide them, give your plants extra water, and make sure to prepare the bed, so you can pop the new divisions into the ground right away. If possible, pick an overcast day for the task. Dig around the plant, giving it a four- to six-inch berth. Remove the root ball of the entire clump and separate out sections as gently as possible.

Dividing Perennials in Spring - Root Ball

Dividing Perennials with a Knife. Photo:

To separate very tangled roots, greater force might be needed. Pry the roots apart with two garden forks placed back to back. Try to wriggle rather than tear. Use a kitchen knife judiciously to pull apart the toughest clumps. Finally, make sure you get your new divisions into the ground that day, and provide plenty of mulch and water to help them settle into their new location.

We Heart Azaleas: Top Tips on Care

Azaleas Care - Winterthur


Azaleas are getting ready to set gardens on fire. The fluorescent shades of this plant’s hallmark blooms tend to make a near-instant impact on the landscape. Though a signature of the South, azaleas—classified in the genus Rhododendron—thrive on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.

Read the rest of this entry »

5 Spring Garden Favorites to Plant Right Now

The time to dream about your spring planting has passed. Now is the time to get going in the garden. So here are five flowering choices to consider for your landscape. Just remember that no matter what you’re planting, it’s important to water frequently as the growing season rapidly approaches.



Spring Planting - Heather

Scottish Heather. Photo:

Heathers come in a variety of colors and as an added bonus, they are a big draw for pollinators. Choose your variety of this Scotland native according to the needs of your garden design. A lower, spreading-type variety is suitable as a ground cover while an upright heather would work wonderfully as a border.



Spring Planting - Asiatic Lilies

Asiatic Lily. Photo:

Despite their exotic, if not fussy, appearance, Asiatic lilies require no stakes and are remarkably easy to grow. And so long as you provide adequate drainage, they tolerate many soils. Plant your bulbs in a sunny spot sooner rather than later.



Spring Planting - Gardenias

Gardenia. Photo:

A garden classic, gardenias don’t grow everywhere, but if you’re in the Southeast, tuck this evergreen shrub near the deck or beneath a window to enjoy its fragrance. For best results, treat your soil so that it maintains an acidic pH between 5 and 6.0.



Spring Planting - Zinnias

Zinnia. Photo:

Those in warmer climates are able to plant these undemanding annuals under a light covering of soil, one-quarter-inch deep or so. Shorter growing season? Start your zinnia in a peat pot, then in a few weeks, plant the pot directly into the garden. No matter where you live, these cheerful blooms will brighten your garden—and your mood.



Spring Planting - Snapdragons

Snapdragon flowers. Photo:

It’s a bit surprising that such delicate, vibrant blooms are able to handle a few nights of frost, but as cool-season annuals, Snapdragons may actually be sown before your area’s last frost date. Add them to containers, beds, or borders, but prepare yourself to remove spent flowers (or ‘deadhead’) with some frequency.


For more on gardening, consider:

10 Hydrangea Showstoppers
5 Ways to Jump-Start Your Garden for Spring
Boxwoods: Maintaining Structure in Your Garden

To Fertilize or Not to Fertilize?

Fertilizing Grass - Spreader

Photo: Ace Hardware

As the growing season picks up, so does the drive to fertilize. Surely, your lawn could use a little help as it gets going—that’s what you’d assume anyway, based on all of the fertilizer tips and products appearing in stores this time of year.

If you really want to give your lawn a boost, it helps to know a bit more about what fertilizer is really doing.

Grass requires small amounts of many nutrients (calcium, magnesium, and sulfur to name a few). Macronutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are needed in larger quantities.

Nitrogen—which promotes growth and gives grass its green color—is the nutrient your lawn needs the most of. But you shouldn’t indiscriminately lay down a nitrogen supplement. Instead, follow these tips:

Get a soil test.
A soil test performed by your local extension office will reveal what your lawn needs to succeed. The results of the test will include a range of information, such as your soil’s pH. Liming and fertilizer recommendations are also given to help you avoid applying products unnecessarily. A soil test may also indicate whether your grass is sufficient in phosphorus; if it is, then low-phosphorus fertilizer is recommended.

Determine your type of grass.
Cool-season grasses (including Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue) benefit most from fertilizer in the fall, at which time the added nutrients go a long way toward bolstering root growth. In the spring, fertilizer promotes the shoots of cool-season grasses to the detriment of their roots. The result is more mowing and less healthy grass. If you forgot to fertilize in the fall, or if your lawn suffered winter damage, a light application now isn’t a bad idea—just wait until the soil has warmed up to at least 55 degrees. For warm-season grasses (including zoysia and Bermuda), springtime fertilization is appropriate once the lawn is actively growing, about six weeks after the last frost date.

Release slow, not fast.
Using slow-release fertilizer prevents nutrient overload and lowers the risk that your application will contribute to shoot, not root growth. Before purchasing a fertilizer, compare product labels and be sure that at least one-third of the nitrogen content in your choice is slow-release.

Pick a sunny day.
Fertilizing immediately prior to a rainstorm makes the water supply vulnerable to chemical runoff. Even in the best weather, consider organic fertilizers like fish emulsion and blood meal, or eschew all synthetics and opt for all-natural compost tea.

Fertilizing Grass - Corn Gluten Meal

Corn Gluten Meal. Photo:

While you are at it, use corn gluten.
Organic corn gluten not only gives your lawn a shot of nitrogen, but it also acts as a natural pre-emergent weed suppressant. Add it to your grass now to keep weed seeds from sprouting up during the heart of the growing season.

For more on lawn care, consider:

5 Ways to a Greener Lawn
How To: Mow Your Lawn Properly
Artificial Turf: 7 Reasons to Consider the New Grass Alternative

5 Ways to Jump-Start Your Garden for Spring

Spring Gardening Tips


Ready for spring to arrive? So is your garden.

The ground may still be cold, but longer days have already begun to coax your plants out of their winter dormancy. It’s undoubtedly early—there’s not a lot of true gardening to do yet—but there are several valuable ways that you can prepare for the busy spring and summer seasons ahead.

1. Assess and Repair
Check your garden for winter damage. Shake off any snow that remains on delicate branches, and clean up any boughs that were broken in storms. Add mulch to areas where your fall application has thinned, and replant any shrubs that were pushed up by frost heave. As you work, try not to walk on muddy areas, as your footsteps will compact the soil.

2. Water
Here’s a fair-weather gardening instruction that is also relevant during the cool weeks of late winter and early spring: On sunny days, give your flower beds a good soaking—warm fronts are on the horizon, after all.

3. Prune
With newly sharpened garden tools, prune all dead or diseased branches, not to mention branches whose appearance contrasts with the prevailing aesthetic of your shrub or tree. Avoid cutting any species that bloom early, such as lilacs or azaleas.

4. Fertilize
Compared to plants growing outdoors, your houseplants will return more quickly. Help their growth by dosing your regular spring fertilizer at half strength.

5. Start Seeds
Not everything needs a head start, but if you’re itching to get back into the garden, why not experiment with early- and slow-growers like peas, lettuce, carrots and leeks? Now is also the time sit down with a seed catalogue to select and buy all of the varieties you wish to try this year.

For more on gardening, consider:

Starting Tomatoes from Seed
Plant Cool Weather Crops in Containers for Spring Salad
7 Popular Groundcovers to Enhance Any Yard