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Greener Earth Blog

Easy Composting for the Beginner!

Hardly anything feeds garden plants better than rich, organic compost. So why not make your own! It’s easier than most people think and will save you the high cost of purchasing it from the garden store.

 

A quick list of starting materials…

  • Grass clippings, plants, leaves and branches from the yard. Do not compost any plants infected with disease. Also note that very thick, highly glossy leaves (like those from Rhododendrons) take much longer to compost.
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Coffee grounds
  • Egg and nut shells
  • Straw or hay

 

It is best to stay away from trying to compost meats, fish and dairy as they will smell and can attract undesirable pests.

 

Shredding, grinding or chopping your material before adding to the composting pile will quicken the process. If your pile does not contain about 1/3 grass clippings you may want to add a nitrogen based fertilizer to your mix to speed up the process. Blood meal and/or manure are also good nitrogen-rich amendments.

 

If at all possible, pick a well protected spot for your pile that is out of direct sunlight. Ultimately your developing compost will need to be slightly moist at all times to properly decay. Too much water, or too little will stop the process. A light watering from time to time if in a sunny spot or drier climate may be necessary.

 

The compaction of all these organic materials when they are piled on one another will generate some heat. When the center of your composting pile cools, it signals the need for turning it over and mixing. A simple pitchfork works best for this practice as it shreds materials while you mix. Generally, a pile should be mixed anywhere from every 3 days to bi-weekly. The more it’s churned the faster the process will go! So make sure your composting pile is in an accessible spot. The compost enclosure should be well ventilated whether it is handmade or store bought.

 

Which brings us to your enclosure! The easiest thing might be to invest in a store bought compost bin or tumbler. These are specially designed to hold your materials while providing adequate air circulation. The tumblers are generally constructed off of the ground on a swivel – which makes turning your mix as effortless as possible! However, many people prefer to build their own enclosure. Wooden pallets make great enclosure walls and are an economical option. Be sure to top it off with a water proof tarp to keep out excess moisture.

 

Remember, when it comes to getting started with composting – keep it simple. As you get the hang of it, you will be able to add more materials and create more compost. Before you know it, you’ll have less waste, healthier gardens and hopefully, more change in your pocket!

 

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Xeriscaping and Drought Tolerant Plants

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, Xeriscaping is a landscaping method developed especially for arid and semiarid climates that utilizes water-conserving techniques. Many gardeners have chosen to utilize this practice in more temperate regions as well, since drought tolerant plants need less maintenance and can be left on their own for longer periods of time.

 

All plants need regular watering while first being established. But after a good root system has developed, plants suitable for xeriscaping can go for sustained periods without water and here’s why….

 

Many prairie and meadow plants have very deep roots that can access moisture deep within the earth. These types of roots evolved from centuries of wind-whipped, sun scorching summers on the high plains. They also aided in keeping the plant viable underground as fires scorched the open prairies. Cone Flowers, Coreopsis, Rudbeckia, Asters and many ornamental grasses such as Blue Sedge, Blue Stem, and Zebra Grasses remain colorful and healthy during extreme summer conditions.

 

Succulents are another great option for xeriscaping. These plants are related to cactus and store water within their leaves, giving them their ‘succulent’ or ‘juicy’ appearance! The most popular succulents are ornamental sedums. Many of which can be tucked into crevices, rock gardens, or planted in mass as a drought tolerant groundcover.

 

Lawn substitutes need less water than turf and are options for low traffic areas. There are a host of drought tolerant stepable groundcovers that are perfect for in between pavers, slopes, or hard to reach areas of the landscape. Blue Moneywort, certain Wormwoods, Thyme, and Blue Star Creeper are good examples that will add something unique to your landscape and require minimal maintenance!

 

Even low-growing, spreading shrubs like Blue Rug Juniper and Cotoneaster act as drought tolerant groundcovers in the landscape. And while they cannot survive foot traffic, they will be spill wonderfully over a retaining wall or hillside and need little attention after establishment.

 

There is little doubt as to why xeriscaping is increasing in popularity. It’s a win-win-win scenario, planting an eco-friendly landscape that will ultimately save you time and labor!

 

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Best Shade Trees & Why We Love Them

Properly placed shade trees provide a multitude of benefits. Including reducing air conditioning costs, protecting deck-wood from sun exposure, and best of all they may even improve property value!  But before you go shopping for the right one, consider a few basic factors…

 

Don’t necessarily go for the super fast growers. Weeping Willows and Silver Maples grow quickly, but this renders their wood weak and often susceptible to pests.

 

Will your new tree have profuse flowers or seeds that will blanket your area, fill your gutters, and stain your patio? If so, you may need to seek a different kind of tree that won’t leave you in the shade with a headache.

 

 

Large Shade Trees to Love…

 

The Burr Oak could be considered the ‘Grand Daddy’ of all shade trees! Wide spread branches can stretch up to 100’ feet and exude an imposing presence. They need sun and space, and most of all they need time. You may have to wait decades to see this slow growing, majestic beauty radiate its magnificence the way they did when they graced open prairies in years past.  But consider planting one anyway. Future generations of humans and wildlife will thank you!

 

Red Oaks are a bit smaller and grow more quickly than Burr Oaks. Brilliant fall foliage and its ability to tolerate poor conditions make it a dynamic shade tree for urban areas.

 

Sugar Maples are slower growing than many other maples, but will get very large up to 100’ tall. They also have strong wood and gorgeous fall color, for a stable and attractive addition to your yard.

 

Silver Lindens tolerance for pollution makes it a good choice for city dwellers. The leaves have a silver sheen on the underside that gives them a beautiful character all their own.

 

 

Medium Shade Trees to Love…

 

The Katsura Tree is a unique and underutilized tree. Constantly changing foliage will supply your landscape with gorgeous color and interest throughout the growing season.

 

Red Buds are a popular and native species that bloom brightly in spring. They usually grow quickly and do rather well close to a house or deck. Shedding flowers may make a temporary small mess early on, but its heart shaped leaves will provide a delicate dappled shade all summer long.

 

Green Ash can be found nearly everywhere in the continental Untied States. Fast growing and hardy, this is a suburban yard staple and a golden beauty come autumn.

 

Most Dogwoods grow to 25’ with a variety of blooming colors and are popular choices for smaller spaces. The Giant Dogwood can grow to 40’ if you desire something a little larger. These provide white blooms in spring followed by red and black berries in fall.

 

 

Make sure to check your local hardiness zone before falling in love with a shade tree. Once planted, proper fertilization and minimal pruning will also help your new landscape addition thrive.

 

Eventually, there will be little to do but sit back under its refreshing canopy and enjoy!

 

http://www.arborday.org/GeneralInfo/SiteSearch.cfm?criteria=shade%20trees&q=shade%20trees

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All You Need for Beauteous Butterfly Gardens!

Creating butterfly habitats is a growing practice for many gardeners. The benefits include a garden with beautiful and diverse plants. As well as, giving our gorgeous insect pollinators a wonderful place to live and feel safe.

 
Like the rest of us, butterflies need three basic elements to survive… food, water and shelter.

 
Butterfly feeders, similar to hummingbird feeders can be bought and filled with nectar, but most gardeners choose to use a variety of plants to attract them. And don’t forget the caterpillars! Certain caterpillars will only eat off of specific host plants. For instance, the Monarch caterpillar solely eats milkweed. While the Painted Lady caterpillar dines only on thistle, hollyhock and sunflowers. Both these species eat from many more plant varieties when adult butterflies.

 
The good news is butterfly gardening doesn’t have to get that complicated. If you choose to keep it simple, here is a list of some good ‘general’ butterfly-friendly plants to consider…
Asters, Black Eyed Susan, Butterfly Weed, Butterfly Bush, Bergamot (Bee Balm), Cardinal Flowers, Clovers, Golden Rod, Milkweeds, Purple Coneflowers, Sunflowers, and Zinnias to name a few.

 
All that flying around and sweet nectar can make a butterfly thirsty! Providing water is important for the well-being of your garden guests. Creating small mud puddles is an easy way to provide water. Filling a plant saucer with sand and water is also a good way to provide a place to drink and helps the butterflies get the salts they need.

 
Finally, you will need to provide shelter from the elements. Butterfly houses can be purchased at most garden centers and provide safe havens to get out of a rain storm or seek shade from the heat. When the weather is cold, placing stones in a sunny spot is a wonderful way for the insects to sit and warm themselves.

 
The delicate wings of the butterfly are no match for gusty winds. Try and build your habitat in a spot that will be protected from the wind, or build a windbreak using fencing or trellises. Of course planting butterfly-friendly shrubs and trees as a windbreak is the best of both worlds! Here is a short list of some great options… Spirea, Rhododendrons and Azaleas, Privets, Sumac, Weigela, and Potentilla.

 
Creating butterfly gardens is exciting and fun. If you plant it – they will come!

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Getting Creative with Container Gardening!

Nothing spruces up an otherwise dreary deck or patio like potted plants! The world of container gardening is especially exciting because not only do you transform your outdoor spaces, but you can create a different theme each year! For instance, one spring you might decide to go tropical(link) and use plants like dieffenbachia, palms and crotons for a lush jungle effect. The next year, you might go all out with annuals and perennials that flower profusely all season long.

 

You can even use small shrubs like spruce and junipers in symmetry to flank an entryway for a grand and formal appearance. Or… create a small herb garden for fresh spices grown right at home!

 

The possibilities are endless when it comes to container gardening. But, there are some basic guidelines to get the most out of your potted oasis no matter what theme you choose.

 

Keep in mind that you don’t always need to use the standard terra cotta pot. Although they are nice, there are SO many other varieties to choose from. And if you don’t want to break the bank, use things from around the home for a truly eclectic look and feel…

 

  • -Old soup or coffee cans
  • -An old pair of rubber garden shoes or boots
  • -Old watering cans
  • -Jars and vases
  • -Your kids old wagon they never use anymore
  • -Wheelbarrows
  • -Galvanized tubs
  • -Wooden boxes or crates (You can even paint these for a truly unique and ‘you’ effect!)

 

Basically anything that will hold a plant and some soil should work. Just be sure there is proper drainage by drilling some holes. When you are dealing with plastic and other non-breathable material, the more drainage holes the better!

 

Select proper plants that will be able to handle the environment in which they will live in regards to sun and wind conditions. Generally, plants that sit higher on shelves or hang will dry out more quickly. Daily watering might be required during the hottest months.

 

Fertilizing isn’t just for your yard. In fact, potted plants need more fertilization because they can’t pull any natural nutrients from the earth. If you use a synthetic form like Miracle Gro, make sure that you continue it on a regular basis throughout the year. You may choose to use organic compost or fertilizer which will require fewer applications and is best for plants that you may eventually eat – like herbs.

 

Adding potted plants on your deck or patio will bring about beauty and serenity. And getting creative with your containers makes that part of your gardening almost as exciting as the plants themselves!

 

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Using Cascading & Trailing Plants for a Lush Landscape

Whether you’re talking about baskets, containers or retaining walls, they all look better when foliage and flowers are beautifully cascading down the side. Many trailing plants are also wonderful for covering hillsides and often help with erosion control as well as aesthetics.

 

Annuals

There are plenty of quick growing annual species that gardeners use in baskets and flower pots. The bold colors of Sweet Potato Vine or the wispy nature of the Asparagus Fern are great trailing varieties that offer beautiful foliage color and texture.

 

But if you’re looking strictly for blooms, you won’t be disappointed. Improved varieties are giving fresh life to some old favorites. For instance, Ivy Geranium and Wave Petunias will spread and cascade like pros over a container or retaining wall. Come early to mid-July when plants start looking straggly many trailers like Petunias do well when trimmed back. Simply cut the biggest branches (never more than ¼ of the entire plant), fertilize and watch it come back bigger and better to finish off the summer!

 

Perennials

There are also plenty of options for the perennial enthusiast. These species will come back year after year as they steadily grow and spread. Groundcovers are a natural place to start looking for cascading species. Vinca (also known as Periwinkle), Virginia Creeper, and Winter Creeper will quickly fill in a large space and then some! Not only do these hardy varieties trail wonderfully, but can climb up a trellis, rock wall or tree! Climbing plants can be trained by tying or clipping them into place if you desire a more formal or uniformed look.

 

Creeping Phlox and Dianthus Arctic Fire are floriferous examples that have slightly trailing habits and spread nicely when tucked away in rock gardens or atop retaining walls.  Trimming stems after blooming can encourage a second bloom season! Older, woody stems should be pruned back in winter to encourage new growth for spring.

 

Shrubs

Finally there are shrubs! Yes, many shrubs will cascade to grace an otherwise nondescript hillside or large retaining wall.

Certain Cotoneasters, spreading Junipers, and Gro-Low Sumac offer height, width and make a serious statement when planted in mass. These plants are often considered groundcovers by their spreading capability and may help with erosion and weed control. Although when planted singly will look well placed cascading in a rock garden or small courtyard.

 

Trailing plants add a multidimensional look and lush feel to a landscape or patio. With several categories to choose from, there should be plenty of options for finding the perfect plant for your special spot!

 

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Using Plants for Erosion Control

Rains and wind can take a toll on the earth. And if your property has hills and slopes, you could be dealing with erosion problems. We all know that permanent structures like retaining walls can help tremendously. But there are also plants that are used specifically for their strong root systems to stabilize soil. Best of all, most are ornamental species that will look gorgeous and no one will suspect they are doing a double duty job!

 

Prairie and Meadow Plants

These species grew wild in open fields and developed deep root systems. This provided them water during drought and helped sustain life after fire. Today, gardeners use Asters, Black-Eyed Susans, Coneflowers and other prairie species for their ability to hold soil in place as well as for their beauty, drought tolerance and ability to attract song birds and butterflies!

 

Grasses

Ornamental grasses could be considered prairie plants, but there are so many great varieties they deserve their own section! Deer Grass (actually deer resistant), Maiden Grass, Little Bluestem and Northern Lights are all examples of attractive erosion control species.

 

Shrubs

Trailing Blue Rug Juniper looks fantastic in mass, will secure your slope and cascades beautifully over a retaining wall. If you are looking for something a little taller you might consider Dwarf Blue Arctic Willow, Spirea or Burning Bush, to name a few!

 

Groundcovers

Several low growing species have deep and complex enough root systems to help keep a hillside in place. Massachusetts Kinnikinnick is used specifically for this purpose and offers changing beauty throughout the seasons.  Ornamental Strawberry and Ajuga are other examples of groundcovers that will stabilize soil and reduce weed growth at the same time.

 

Happy Planting!

 

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Using Tropical Plants in the Landscape

Using Tropical Plants in the LandscapeLong winters leave most of us longing for the tropics. So why not bring the tropics to you!? A new and exciting trend is happening in the garden world. The heat and humidity of summer is the perfect climate for some tropical beauties in your landscape!

 

Keep the following tips in mind…

  • Tropical plants make a statement, so use in a well suited area such as mixed borders or as a focal point near an entryway. If placed in the middle of a more traditional, northerly landscape they can look lost and out of place.
  • ‘Trops’ typically need more water than your average, well-established perennial. Keep this in mind as you will likely need to be watering on a regular basis especially if the weather is hot and dry.
  • All tropical plants are not created equal! Some require more moisture than others and/or more shade. Research your plants to make sure they can survive your typical summer. If you live in a milder climate with only occasional frosts, you may get away with keeping your trops outdoors year-round. You may even consider building a micro-climate for them! There are a growing amount of cold tolerant species on the market, like the beautiful Hibiscus Moscheutos that comes in a wide array of blooming colors.
  • Many people prefer to leave their tropicals in containers and decorate their patios, entryways and decks. This makes them particularly easy to bring indoors during winter.

Do you like the idea of using tropicals to spice up your garden, but have no idea where to start? Here’s a quick list of some good plants that will help get you going…

 

Hardy varieties like True and False Palms are great if you have a big space to fill.  Tree Ferns are also wonderful, large plants with a tropical flare.

 

Canna lilies are large leafed plants that sport flower stalks mid-summer. These are highly prized for their variegated foliage and blooms that typically last until the first frosts.

 

Crotons, Jenny Craigs, Elephant Ears, Dracenas and Snake Plants are all used for their interesting foliage colors and textures.

 

Pothos and certain Coleus are wonderful trailing varieties that look stunning cascading over a pot or retaining wall.

 

Enjoy!

 

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The “How To” for Planning Dynamic Mixed Border Gardens!

The “How To” for Planning Dynamic Mixed Border Gardens!Gone are the days of rigid garden rules. Today, gardeners are mixing perennials, annuals and hardwoods to create dynamic displays that extenuate walkways, paths and define spaces.

 

Mixed borders are different than formal borders in that that they mimic nature. Using different plant categories helps create patterns that you might see growing ‘in the wild.’  Space, climate and sun conditions will put limitations on what types of plants you can use, which might not be a bad thing, since even with these restraints the possibilities are endless!

 

Tips for planning a dynamic border garden…

  • Start with shrubs and/or small trees. These will take up the most room, and eventually cast shade. Landscape designers most often plant hardwoods in odd numbered groups. (Read Learn the Basics of Landscape Design for more tips)
  • Rarely, if ever, in nature do you see plants growing in straight lines. So group your plants in bunches. For instance, plant several clusters of Black Eyed Susans, never in rows.
  • Group taller plants in the back of your border where they will not block the viewing of shorter growing plants.
  • Select your perennials to maximize bloom time, picking spring, summer and fall flowering selections if possible. Consider the foliage and contrast the color and texture to your selected shrubs. Using ornamental grasses is a great option that offers vibrant interest over the entire year if left standing through winter!
  • Groundcovers can’t be beat for adding more consistent color and contrast. Plan for these last and use near the front wherever the space affords.

Don’t rush it! Starting with your bigger plants and letting them fill in a little, will help you judge what other plants you will need to add diversity. Overcrowding by planting too soon and too quickly induces stress and can even cause them to die back. It’s better to go slow and steady… filling spaces with mulch or annuals until it all comes together!

 

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Perennials & Annuals: A Powerful Pair!

Perennials & Annuals: A Powerful Pair!Perennials are plants that overwinter and return each year. An advantage to using perennials is that they need only be planted once, reducing cost and labor. In addition, many species will self-seed or can be divided; yielding more plants that can eventually be distributed throughout your landscape - for free!

 

Annuals need to be planted each year, usually in spring. An advantage of using annuals is their long blooming cycle. Many varieties consistently flower until the first frosts.

 

Using both perennials and annuals in the landscape will give you the benefits of what each have to offer. You may wish to think of using annuals as a supplementation to your perennials. For instance, when there are little perennials in bloom, your annuals will be there keeping your garden beds looking colorful.

 

The trickiest part of using perennials and annuals close to each other is getting the water and sun conditions right. For example…

 

Pansies, Calendula, Ageratum and Snapdragons are cool season annuals, ideal for spring and fall. They will bloom nicely when little else is, and generally need full to partial sun. Violas are related to pansies and are another cool season plant that will tolerate partial shade.

 

When temperatures rise you may need to replace your cool season annuals with ones better equipped for heat. Impatiens and Begonias are two very popular choices that offer a lot of reliable color in shady areas. They look great next to big leafy Hostas and other shade loving perennials. Coleus is used for its colorful foliage and looks tropical and gorgeous towering over a lower growing shade loving groundcover.

 

The list of sun loving annuals is extensive with Petunias and Moss Rose making excellent choices to fill in between taller perennials and shrubs. Zinnias, Cosmos and Geraniums offer height and fill in vertical space with varieties that come in a myriad of lively colors.

 

Annuals typically need more water than perennials. When planting both in the same bed, try and clump the annuals and perennials separately so that you can spot-water the annuals without soaking their perennial neighbors. These kinds of ‘combo beds’ do best with well drained soil as it helps to keep perennials happy as they inadvertently get more water than they might otherwise be accustomed to.

 

Happy Planting!

 

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