Posted by JoAnn M. Drabble on 11/9/2018

Mulch Pile

When gardeners think of applying fall mulch, their thoughts typically turn to that extra layer that protects plants in cold regions from the ravages of a hard winter. But you can apply fall mulch just like you do in spring, adding enough to refresh what’s broken down. Many landscaping professionals actually practice—and prefer—fall mulching. Fall mulch works like spring mulch to retain soil moisture, suppress weed growth and protect bare soil from erosion. But it also accomplishes a few more things:

  • Fall mulch insulates soil, providing a warmer environment for the soil-food web, including earthworms and microbes. Warm soil means these organisms stay active longer into the cold season, improving your soil.
  • Fall mulch insulates plant roots. In coldest regions, soil may eventually freeze solid in the heart of winter, but in many areas, soil cycles through freezing and thawing all winter long. Those freeze-thaw patterns put stress on anything in the top few inches of soil, including plant roots. Mulch moderates the temperature swing.

4 Reasons to Practice Fall Mulching

  1. Mulch in fall to skip that job come spring. Every gardener knows spring is a busy time, and late fall typically offers a leaner to-do list of garden chores. Fall mulching frees up time next spring.
  2. Cooler weather makes tackling a heavy job like mulching more pleasant. You work up less of sweat when air temps hover in the 50-degree range.
  3. Cut back perennials for winter, and you create a clean bed surface that makes mulching a snap. There’s no dodging emerging bulbs, perennial shoots or seedlings. The bonus is that cutting perennial stems down in fall takes that chore off your spring to-do list.
    • Fall mulching gives you another chance to enjoy the Great Outdoors before winter weather ends your outside garden season.

4 Reasons to Skip Fall Mulching

  1. For best mulching results, you need to cut back perennial stems to 6- to 12-inch stubs so you can apply mulch evenly around them. Fall mulching isn’t for you if you like to leave perennial stems to provide winter interest and insect or bird shelter.
  2. If self-sowers play a large role in your plantings, skip fall mulching. That fresh layer could interfere with seed germination in spring.
  3. The biggest challenge with fall mulch is that you need to squeeze the job in on weekends, especially in areas that practice daylight saving time.
  4. In regions where snow starts flying early, you run the risk of having a snow-covered mulch pile if you don’t get it all put out before winter arrives.

The Dos and Don’ts of Fall Mulch

  • Do choose mulch that traps air, much like down in a winter coat. Trapped air provides insulation and warmth. Good choices include shredded leaves, weed-free straw and shredded bark.
  • Do aim to apply a 3-inch-thick mulch layer.
  • Do choose the right mulch for the job: a formal, eye-pleasing mulch like shredded bark for front yard beds, pine straw for acid-loving azalea, rhododendron, holly, camellia, hydrangea and fothergilla, and informal straw or shredded leaves for vegetable gardens.
  • Don’t apply fall mulch too early. Wait until after the first hard freeze, so you can cut back perennials.
  • Don’t layer mulch deeply over perennial plant crowns (the growing points). 
  • Don’t forget to anchor mulch in windy areas by covering it with wire fencing or chicken wire.




Categories: Uncategorized  


Posted by JoAnn M. Drabble on 11/7/2018

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Lawns

If you have cool-season turf, like fescue or bluegrass, you are about out of time to renovate or overseed your lawn. However, if this is still on your to-do list, be sure your soil pH is around 6.0 to 6.5. A soil test from your county extension service can give you this information, as well as any additional nutrient requirements that might be needed, along with the appropriate amounts to add to your lawn.

However, these reports can take a couple of weeks to get back. Depending on where you live in the country, by then you may have missed your window for this season. Go ahead and add seed now if needed. You can add the required nutrients after you get your report. Keep new grass seed moist. You may have to water briefly several times each day until germination. Try to keep fallen leaves off the seeds without disturbing your seeds in the process.


Vegetables

It's time to clean up the summer garden. Many pests and diseases over-winter in old plant debris. Get it out of your garden and into the compost pile, as long as it is not diseased. Otherwise, have it removed from your property.

Hopefully you're growing some cool-season crops right now such as broccoli, spinach and lettuce. Floating row covers do a great job of providing a few extra degrees of heat and provide frost protection for those tender young seedlings. Most cool-season crops can handle cooler temperatures than you might imagine, and many taste even better after a few light frosts. If you've never had a fall vegetable garden, you're missing a real treat.


Landscaping

Fall is absolutely the best time of year to plant any tree and /or shrub. The soil is still warm enough for roots to actively grow and yet the demand on foliage growth is waning. Trees and shrubs planted now have months to develop a healthy root system before the heat of next year.

Be sure to keep your new plants watered. The drying winds of the cooler weather can quickly dehydrate plants. Check the soil moisture often, and water when needed. For new plantings, provide water once a week in the absence of rain.

Organic Gardening

Don't waste those fallen leaves. My single biggest job this time of year is rounding up all of my and my neighbor's leaves. As they say, one man's trash is another's treasure. My neighbors are glad to let me take their leaves off their hands.

I dump the leaves onto my grass, and run my mower over them. This shreds them into small pieces, which then get raked into my beds. They break down rather quickly and are a very good way to add organic amendments to my beds. They also pull double-duty, serving as that important layer of mulch over the winter.


Flower Gardening

Plant those bulbs, or at least store them in a cool, dry place like the refrigerator. In cooler climates, plant in October. In southern climates, the best time for bulb planting is in middle to late November. Tulips, daffodils, crocus, iris and hyacinths are all great choices for spring color. This is also the ideal time to divide perennials and plant perennial seeds for next spring.

That should keep you busy for the next few weeks. The best part is that next spring, our efforts will be rewarded with a garden that comes alive, looking better than ever and due in large part to the work we're doing now.





Posted by JoAnn M. Drabble on 3/2/2018

Working in a spring garden

Read these spring landscape maintenance tips as soon as Old Man Winter eases his icy grip on your gardens, so that you can hit the ground running once warmer temperatures prevail. For those of you who have large lawns, spring cleaning in the yard has its share of lawn chores. But there is much more to take care of, whether it be pruning the winterkill off an arborvitae or getting rid of dandelions.

Some of it is fairly obvious (such as remembering to remove any burlap that you have used for winter protection for shrubs), but other tasks are easy to overlook.

When Is It Safe to Plant Annuals in Spring?

Local frost dates determine when it is safe to plant annuals and vegetables in a particular region. For annuals you will be transplanting from pots, six-packs or flats bought at the garden center, it's safe to plant when the last frost date is past.

For seeds that are expected to sprout in two weeks, plant the seeds two weeks prior to the last frost date.

Old-timers often have rules of thumb for planting times for a given area of the country. For example, in New England, U.S, gardeners traditionally planted their annuals around Memorial Day (late May). Alternatively, you can find out when the projected last frost date is in your area by checking with your local county extension office.

How and When Should I Apply Lawn Fertilizers in Spring?

Slow-release lawn fertilizers are generally the best type to apply on your grass. That addresses the "how" part of the question. Bu what about the "when?"

Scotts provides a four-part schedule for you to go by if you wish to know, more or less precisely, when to apply lawn fertilizers, beginning with your spring grass. The best time to spread fertilizer on your lawn will depend on where you live and your grass-type.

Of course, if you prefer to shun conventional practice, the organic route is always a possible alternative: Use compost.

How Often Should I Be Fertilizing Older Trees?

That older tree looming so large in your yard may seem to be beyond the need for tree fertilizers.

But that's not the case. So how often should you fertilize long-established trees? Some arborists recommend that you do several feedings a year but that you go lightly with each feeding. In fact, it is good advice in general to err on the side of less rather than more when fertilizing plants, since over-fertilizing can cause significant damage.

While you have fertilizing on your mind in spring, it is a good idea to hit your ground covers with fertilizer, too, after removing any fallen leaves, dead branches, and other refuse that has accumulated in them.

What Do I Do With a Cover Crop Now That Spring Has Returned?

First of all, what is a cover crop? Cover crops are plants that are primarily planted not to be harvested for food but for soil erosion control, for weed control (in which case they are designated a "living mulch") and as a soil amendment (in which case they are synonymous with "green manure crops").

An example is winter rye (.

From the landscape designer's perspective, the choice between various cover crops could be influenced by aesthetics, since the cover crop is, after all, taking the place of garden plants in between growing seasons. As such, it makes sense that it might be selected partly with an eye to its appearance, in addition to practical considerations. However, when plants are chosen to cover the ground based mainly on aesthetic considerations, they are no longer considered "cover crops." Instead, such plants are classified as ground covers. Furthermore, while most cover crops are planted with the intention of tilling them into the soil later, ground covers are not tilled into the soil.

Gardeners on large properties sometimes sow a cover crop on a vegetable garden or annual flower bed in the fall to protect the land in winter from erosion and to improve its soil. When spring comes and you are preparing the garden for planting again, you need to get the cover crops out of the way. But you can kill two birds with one stone: Rototilling cover crops both frees up the garden for spring planting and puts nutrients into the soil.

Mow cover crops first, then run the rototiller over the garden -- a process known as "tilling under" the cover crops. By mowing first, the garden tilling will go easier, since you will be tilling shorter vegetation. After mowing, spread compost over the same garden bed, and till that under, too, just as you would even in beds that did not have cover crops.





Posted by JoAnn M. Drabble on 9/28/2017

Use these must-do fall maintenance tips to keep your house in shape and help keep you warm this winter.

  • Regularly clean gutters and downspouts. Make sure all drainage areas are unblocked by leaves and debris. Consider installing gutter guards to make the job a lot easier.
  • Use a screwdriver to probe the wood trim around windows, doors, railings and decks. Use caulk to fill the holes or completely replace the wood.
  • Lower humidity and cooler (not yet cold) temperatures make fall a good time to paint the exterior of your home.
  • Inspect your roof, or hire a licensed professional to examine your roof for wear and tear. If the shingles are curling, buckling or crackling, replace them. If you have a lot of damage, it's time to replace the entire roof. Also, check the flashing around skylights, pipes and chimneys. If you have any leaks or gaps, heavy snow and ice will find its way in.
  • To prevent exterior water pipes from bursting when the weather gets below freezing, turn off the valves to the exterior hose bibs. Run the water until the pipes are empty. Make sure all the water is drained from the pipes, if not; the water can freeze up and damage the pipes.


  • Have your wood-burning fireplace inspected, cleaned and repaired to prevent chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Wrap water pipes that run along exterior walls with heating tape. It will save energy and prevent them from freezing.
  • Clean and replace filters in your furnace or heating system. Contact a licensed heating contractor to inspect and service your gas heater or furnace to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Your local utility company will often provide this service for free.
  • If you use a hot water system for heating, drain the expansion tank, check the water pressure, and bleed your radiators.
  • Check the attic to make sure the insulation is installed properly. The vapor barrier on insulation should face down toward the living space. If it is installed incorrectly (with the vapor barrier facing up) then the insulation will trap moisture causing possible water problems. Cut slits in the vapor barrier to allow moisture to escape. To install attic insulation, unroll the insulation with the paper side out. Install small pieces of insulation between the joists on the attic floor. Be careful not to step between the joists.


The change in temperature and humidity and normal wear and tear can cause window seals to crack and shrink. Check your windows and doors inside and out for leaks and drafts. Caulk cracks or install weather stripping around windows and doors, including the garage door. Replace screens with storm windows and clean them if needed.


  • Fall is the perfect time to divide or move perennials. Remove dead annuals and mulch hardy perennials. Annuals typically die when temperatures drop below freezing. But perennials often appear as though they too have bitten the bullet. That's because their top growth dies back, although in most cases the root ball is hardy enough to survive even extreme temperatures, especially if it's covered with a layer of mulch.
  • The best time to mulch perennials is after the first hard freeze. Just make sure you don't cover the crown or center of the plant, because that can lead to rot.
  • Clean garden tools before storing for the winter.
  • Trim dead branches out the trees to prevent them from coming down and causing damage in a winter storm.

  • Rake up the thick layers of leaves that settle on lawn surfaces. Large leaves in particular, especially when they get wet, can compact to the point where they suffocate the grass below and lead to all kinds of insect and disease problems. So it's a good idea to routinely rake or blow them off the lawn or, better yet, use a mulching mower to shred them into fine pieces.
  • Put the raked leaves in the compost pile or use as a mulch. Whatever you do, don't waste fallen leaves because they're an excellent source of nutrients and organic matter. You can also add them to flower beds to put a winter blanket on your garden.
  • Fall is a good time to aerate your lawn; it will allow moisture and nutrients to get into the roots. When you're done, spread fertilizer then grass seed.
  • 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 turf grasses, preferably with slow-release, all-natural fertilizer. When given adequate nutrients, turf grasses have the ability to store food in the form of carbohydrates during the winter months. That will mean a better-looking lawn come spring.

  • Pests love attics because they are full of nice warm insulation for nesting, and they offer easy access to the rest of the house. With gable vents that lead into the attic it is a good idea to install a screen behind them to keep those critters out.
  • Even after closing off those entryways, pests can still find a way in. The first place to check for any unwanted guests is under the kitchen cupboards and appliances.

  • Each fall, check carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms and put in fresh batteries. These are very important detectors to have in a home. A smoke alarm can save lives in a house fire. A carbon monoxide detector can also save lives if a home has oil or gas-burning appliances, like a furnace or water heater.
  • Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless byproduct of burning oil or natural gas, and it can be deadly. For just a few dollars, a carbon monoxide detector will sound an alarm if the levels get too high.
  • Always install carbon monoxide detectors according to manufacturer's instructions. Generally they should be installed near each potential source of carbon monoxide, and within ear shot of the living and sleeping areas.







JoAnn M. Drabble