For the soil- and drainage-poor gardener, a raised garden bed offers the opportunity to perfect your environment and control many of the factors that are otherwise left up to nature. Building a raised garden bed allows you to optimize soil nutrients and drainage, even as you prevent soil erosion and save your back from added strain during weeding and harvesting.
Author Archives: Kelsey Savage
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- The Basics: Building a Raised Garden Bed
The Basics: Building a Raised Garden Bed
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- How To: Mow Your Lawn Properly
How To: Mow Your Lawn Properly
A chore though it may be, mowing your lawn properly will do more than just improve its appearance.
When it comes to your landscape, one of the most time-consuming summer chores is mowing. At this time of year, under the right circumstances, the grass puts all its energy into growing, leaving you struggling to keep a tidy lawn. But mowing is not just a chore–done right, it’s one of the most effective ways of maintaining healthy turf. Here’s how to mow properly…
Mow more often
It might be more convenient to wait for the lawn to get straggly before mowing, but doing it every 4-5 days during the growing season will keep you from cutting too much off for healthy growth. Aim to take off no more than one-third of a blade’s height at once. This leaves enough leaf tissue so that the plant can continue photosynthesis. If you get behind one week, raise the mowing height to keep from cutting off too much at one time.
Don’t bag the clippings
Assuming you are mowing often enough so that the clippings aren’t excessive, leave them on the lawn to decompose and fertilize the soil. If it looks untidy, redistribute with a rake.
Sharpen those mower blades
Start the season with a sharp blade and replace as necessary. Help maintain sharpness by mowing when the grass is dry to keep wet leaves from clinging to the blades.
It doesn’t actually matter whether you mow in rows or spirals, but switching it up will help reduce soil compaction and turf wear.
Get the right mower for your lawn
- Manual-reel mowers: The best for the environment but requiring a lot of manpower, reel mowers demand keeping the grass quite short, which means cutting more often. They are easier to store for those lacking garage space and are perfect for those with small lawn space.
- Electric mowers: With an electric motor that pushes a rotating blade are second best in turns of minimal effect on the environment because they don’t produce exhaust. They are best for homeowners that have level lawns. Try a cordless one with a side or rear bag to catch the clippings if you chose to bag, otherwise get one that cuts finely enough to let them settle on the yard.
- Gas-powered mowers and lawn tractors: The exchange for power and usability does come with a heavy toll on the environment, so please choose a newer model that produces less exhaust emissions. Also part of the exchange for convenience comes the required maintenance—regular tune-ups, refuels, and oil changes. But for larger yards, they are the most practical solution.
For more how to’s and quick tips, consider:
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- How To: Care for Roses
How To: Care for Roses
Roses need special care to reach their full potential. Follow these guidelines to get the most our of your summer blooms.
Like most stars, roses are divas. When left to their own devices, they get tangled and produce only when they feel like it. They need special care to live up to their star potential. Follow a few guidelines and you’ll secure bountiful blooms, no matter the variety.
Watering: Most areas of the country need to provide additional water for their roses. Water the soil around the rose providing about one or two inches of water every week—more in dry times. Rose root systems go quite deep, so make sure to water long enough to get 15 or so inches down. The best time to water is in the early morning, so that any residual moisture left on the leaves burns off, preventing fungal infections.
Fertilize: After each flush of blooms, feed your flowers. Any general-purpose fertilizer will do. Stop only in August to keep from encouraging new growth that will struggle come fall. In addition, mulch will deter excessive weed growth and moisture loss and will enrich the soil as it breaks down. Lay down two to four inches and continue replenishing as the season continues.
Deadhead: Trick your re-blooming roses into continual flowering by removing spent blossoms, so that the plant keeps trying to reproduce (rather than ending the season with rose hips, the fruit of roses). This means cutting back the bloom stem down to the first or second five-leaf set—do so by keeping a 45-degree angle and sloping away from the outside of the cane.
Pruning: After blooming has finished, you can do some pruning to ensure next year’s harvest. Take out all the dead branches and cut away any damaged canes first, before shaping the shrub to open up the center for better circulation. Cut back any old canes until they show healthy green tissue. Invest in a sharp pair of good quality pruners. Don’t forget to remove suckers or that new root growth sometimes crowds out the established canes.
Don’t miss Roses: 11 Sensational Varieties to Consider for a slideshow of rose varieties certain to add color, beauty, and fragrance to your yard and garden this summer.
For more on roses. visit our slideshow Roses: 11 Sensational Varieties to Consider.
Want more How To? Browse all projects in 30 Days of Easy Summer DIY
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- Air Plants: Growing Tillandsia
Air Plants: Growing Tillandsia
Air plants—or tillandsias—are one of my favorite indoor plants. I bought my first little pup about a year ago and since then, I’ve divided it into three larger versions of the tiny original. Some growers choose to let the plant grow undivided for years, but I like the idea of having a large group of easygoing friends.
While the vibrant green spikes look a little complicated, they require minimal care. Because they don’t grow in soil, you can stick them in hanging glass globes, mount them on any sort of untreated lumber, or stick them into any other decorative item—a souvenir set of wooden shoes from Holland, for example.
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- Top Tips for Growing Tomatoes
Top Tips for Growing Tomatoes
There’s really nothing better than a vine-ripened tomato plucked from the plant in your vegetable garden and still warm from the sun. Well, that will come later this season. Now it’s time to get your tomato seedlings into the ground, so that you’ll have a plentiful harvest in a few weeks and you can start serving all your favorites: BLTs, caprese salad, homemade tomato sauce… better start growing!
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- How To: Keep a Christmas Tree Fresh
How To: Keep a Christmas Tree Fresh
Preserve live Christmas trees from early December into the new year.
It’s the time of year when Christmas tree lots start appearing around your community, bringing with them a difficult decision–will bringing home your evergreen so early in the season mean having a Charlie Brown-style tree come Christmas Day? Luckily, Dr. Larry Kuhns, Professor Emeritus of Ornamental Horticulture and owner of Kuhns Tree Farm, has some tips on maintaining a fresh pine.
First off, pick the right tree. “True firs nearly always have good needle retention,” said Dr. Kuhns. That doesn’t include the confusingly named Douglas Fir, which is another species, and has less longevity. Frasier Firs are a better option. At the lot, give your choice a shake and watch the type of needles that fall. “Brown needles, which come from the center near the trunk, are fine, but fallen green needles means the tree has gotten dry,” Dr. Kuhns explained.
Related: Christmas Trees: Real vs. Artificial
Because trees are often cut several weeks before appearing on the lot, they have a lot of time to dehydrate—if they aren’t sprayed often with water or are stored in the sun, you’ll end up with more needles under the tree than presents. After getting a fresh cut on the trunk, rush your tree home to get it into water as soon as possible. If you don’t plan on putting it up right away, store your tree in a cool place, like the garage, in a bucket of water.
Once you’re ready to deck the boughs, find a good quality tree stand. Dr. Kuhns noted, “The biggest mistake people make is getting a cheap tree stand that doesn’t hold enough water.” Those that require a hole drilled in the base of the trunk are good for providing stability, but they don’t affect the water intake. Keep replenishing with fresh water daily, and if possible, mix in floral preservative, which you can pick up at the florist, or at the Christmas tree lot. Make sure to place the tree in a cooler area of the house, away from heat sources and preferably away from the sun (or just keep the blind drawn). As long as your tree stays moist, it should last several weeks, maybe even until New Years.
For more on Christmas trees, consider:
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- Christmas Trees—Real vs. Artificial?
Christmas Trees—Real vs. Artificial?
The great debate continues.
Christmas season is upon us so it’s time to dig around in the attic, the garage, and the basement for all that stored tinsel, and start decorating your tree. Will you choose a real evergreen or will you go faux? More than thirty million evergreens are sold every year, but increasingly, consumers are choosing to purchase artificial trees. Last year, Americans bought about twelve million artificials, which means the debate between real and fake has only become more heated since Teddy Roosevelt declared in 1901, “It’s not good to cut down trees for mere decoration.”
The reasons to pick a real tree are numerous—the fresh scent that can’t be bought, the tradition of picking one out, and pure authenticity. An exhaustive, independent study released in 2009 by Ellipsos, a Montreal-based sustainable development consulting firm, even indicated that despite Teddy’s stance, on a year-to-year basis, a cut pine leaves a smaller carbon-imprint then its artificial copy-cat. Because Christmas trees are raised expressly for the purpose of being cut down, tree farmers aren’t destroying forests to get their crop. Additionally, the 400 or so million trees currently maturing (it takes 7-10 years before a tree is ready to cut) on farms generate oxygen and provide habitat for birds and animals, as well as preserve acres of farmland and green space from urban development. Artificial trees on the other hand, contain PVC and other plastics, and metals that can’t be recycled. Unfortunately, they are also often made overseas. Over time however, they end up having about the same carbon imprint as a living tree: As long as you use the artificial version for at least nine yuletides, the environment isn’t a reason not to get one. And the reason to purchase one are numerous—so much so that over half of Americans now choose to go with a fake.
Thomas Haman, founder of Balsam Hill and one of the Directors of the American Christmas Tree Association (christmastreeassociation.org) says the most common reason people cite when going artificial is saving money. A good quality version can cost quite a bit up front, but over the course of many years, it works out to be a great deal, especially if you follow the growing trend of installing several trees in your home. Artificial trees are also much easier to set-up, most with those highly irritating lights already strung, and they don’t have any sap or carry mold to irritate those with allergies. “Another factor not to overlook is that artificial trees are less of a fire risk that a dried out real tree that has been under watered for several weeks,” says Thomas.
Paying attention to a few telling traits will secure you a good quality artificial tree. “Take a look at the warranty,” suggests Thomas. How can you center a yearly tradition on something guaranteed for only one season? Certain details in particular make for a more realistic tree, particularly the needle tips. High quality trees have hand-painted molded tips and a brown stem; others will have shredded tips and be completely green. Don’t neglect to examine the density of the branches—you don’t want to be able to see the pole when the tree has been properly fluffed out. Finally, get one made mostly from polyethylene, and that actually resembles a real species, not just taking the name of one.
To keep your artificial tree looking real year after year, store it in a plastic tree storage bag in a cool, dry spot. Garages, or basements are best, and a vented attic is ok too. But you don’t have to rush to put your artificial tree away—one of the nicest perks is that they will last as long as you decide to continue caroling.
For more on Christmas trees, consider:
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- 5 Ways to a Greener Lawn
5 Ways to a Greener Lawn
Here are five tips for achieving a fertilizer-free, greener lawn this spring.
To achieve a greener lawn, you don’t have to layer on the artificial fertilizers and toxic pesticides. Using natural lawn care tricks will help you maintain lush grass throughout the spring and summer.
Overseed By seeding your lawn regularly, you’ll help your grass edge out competing weeds. To give the seed the best chance for growth, prepare the soil first by top-dressing it with compost. Then protect the lawn from foot traffic and water gently on a daily basis.
Weed-control Spring is the best time to proactively prevent weeds by laying down pre-emergent herbicides. Apply corn gluten meal in late spring and activate it with water. The organic meal will remain effective for five to six weeks after every application. Keep in mind that herbicides will also prevent new seed growth, so pick whether the lawn needs more seeding or weed-control.
Compost Tea Home-brewed or purchased, either way, compost tea sprayed on your lawn throughout the growing season will invigorate your grass. The potent brew contains microorganisms that provide nourishment and other benefits to the soil. And because it’s liquid, it works faster than using dry compost. Be sure to water after spritzing to help the compost tea soak in.
Don’t be afraid of clover A green lawn requires nitrogen and nothing provides nitrogen better than clover, which draws it from the air and affixes it into the soil for your grass to access. Supplement grass seed with clover and the healthy mix will make your lawn pop with green.
Treat your soil kindly Don’t guess at what your lawn needs. Instead, visit your local extension agent for a soil test. The data will guide your choices when deciding how to prepare your lawn for the growing season. Also, don’t forget to aerate: Pulling plugs out of the soil with a specialized machine or hand tool will make the lawn more receptive to air, water, and fertilizer.
For more on lawn care, learn how to cool your home with smart landscaping.
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- Easy Ground Covers: 7 Varieties to Enhance Any Landscape
Easy Ground Covers: 7 Varieties to Enhance Any Landscape
A great solution to those patchy parts of your landscape, ‘ground cover’ is a general term for perennials that are known for their ability to spread. Not only do they enhance the areas of your lawn where grass is difficult to sustain, but they often require less water than grass and are a great way to prevent erosion in hilly areas. Once established, ground covers are generally low-maintenance.
When picking your ground cover, consider light, water and soil requirements as well as how much foot traffic the plants will be subject to. Some plant brands—Stepables and Jeepers Creepers, for example—specialize in ground covers, making it easy to find the perfect plant for your property.
Here are a few standard groundcovers to get you started:
Sedum. The succulent Sedum is not only drought-resistant but especially great for erosion control. Try incorporating a few different varieties for a patchwork effect in a large space.
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- 7 Eye-Catching New Annuals
7 Eye-Catching New Annuals
While there’s no need to dismiss those hardworking favorites with which you fill your garden year in and year out, here are seven of the most eye-catching annuals new on the market. Today’s introductions could be next year’s classics!