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Gutter and Rain Water Collecting Can Help Save You Money

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Collecting rain water isn’t hard, but there are a few things you will need to do before you begin. You actually want to start by checking your gutters and your roof.

If your gutters have been painted with lead based paint or have lead solder in them then it’s a good idea to have them replaced before you try to build a rain water collection system. This is especially true if you think you’re going to try to purify your rain water for drinking.

You should also look at your roof. Treated cedar shake, tar, gravel, and asbestos roofing material can all contaminate the rainwater beyond any ability to use.

Next, you’re going to want to make sure your downspouts are long enough. Each downspout will need to reach into each of your rain barrels. You may need an extender. The gutters may also have to be adjusted in other ways to handle the system.

Next, choose your rain barrel. Larger rain barrels will mean a system that requires less of your time, since you’ll have to transfer collected rain water to other barrels if your barrel gets too full.

Some people choose to create and customize their own barrels, but there are plenty available at the store. These will already have spouts attached so you can get at the water from the other side. Some can hold incredibly impressive amounts of water!

You need to make sure that you’ve placed your rain barrel on level ground. Otherwise the barrel may pull at your downspouts as it fills and becomes unbalanced. This could damage your entire gutter system, so this step is important.

If you can’t find level ground you may have to create it. This can mean using gravel or cinder blocks to make sure the barrel is sitting flat when it goes to work.

Next, you’ll need to install a filter. If you’re going to use your rain water for watering the lawn, watering your garden, filling your toilet or washing your car you’ll need only a simple filter to keep debris out of your rain barrel.

If you plan on drinking your water then you’ll need a filter with a little more kick. This means a chemical filter or a reverse osmosis filter. You’ll also need to purchase a water testing kit to be absolutely sure the water is safe to drink.

Most people don’t drink their rain water. They simply reserve it for other uses.

 

The Best Vegetables to Plant in Early Spring

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The Best Vegetables to Plant in Early Spring

Start Them Early, but Enjoy Them for Weeks

The first vine-ripened tomato may still be a few months away, but there’s plenty to keep you busy in the vegetable garden. Take advantage of the cool, wet weather of spring to put in multiple crops of peas and lettuce. It’s also a great time to get your perennial vegetables, like asparagus and rhubarb, started.

 

    • Rows of growing Asparagus

      Photo: © Marie Iannotti

      There are many perennial vegetables – vegetables you can plant once and harvest for many years to come – but we only seem to grow a handful of them in our gardens. It’s true you have to devote space to them, sometimes for decades, but it’s worth it. Asparagus plants get more productive every year, and a mature harvest can last for months. Looking forward to the first tender, pencil-sized spears of asparagus poking through in the garden is a rite of spring. If you thought you didn’t likeMORE asparagus, you haven’t tried it freshly picked.

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      Rows of growing lettuce

      Carol Sharp Corbis/ Documentary/ Getty Images

      The cool, wet weather of Spring is the perfect time to grow lettuce, and there are hundreds of varieties to choose from. Lettuce may take a little protection to get it going in the early spring, but, oh, it never tastes better than when it’s grown in the crisp spring air. You will get the earliest and longest harvest from the cut-and-come-again varieties. Lettuce may require a little frost protection in spring, but it won’t bolt, and you will probably have time for 2-3 succession plantings.

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      A vast pile of snow peas

      Emmanuelle Grimaud / Getty Images

      There’s a tradition of planting the first peas on St. Patrick’s Day. Many of us don’t always get to take part in that tradition because of the snow covering our vegetable gardens. However, even in years when you can manage to get out there early, the peas planted later in April will quickly catch up to the peas planted in March. Peas don’t like freezing temperature, but they dislike heat worse. So don’t miss the window of opportunity. Get out there and plant a crop of your favorites, whetherMORE its shelling peas, snow peas or sugar snap peas.

      A closeup of growing rhubarb

      Photo: © Marie Iannotti

      Rhubarb is a vegetable we prepare like a fruit, and it is the first sweet “fruit” of the season. Rhubarb is another perennial gem of the vegetable garden. It really is a shame rhubarb is so underused in cooking, because it’s very easy to grow. Once you get your bed established, you can look forward to a rhubarb harvest every spring. One word of warning: the rhubarb crown quickly turns into a very dense brick that is hard to divide. If you need to move your rhubarb or want to divide theMORE plant, do it while the plant is young before it has time to develop strong roots.

  • A vast pile of spinach

    Tracy Packer Photography / Getty Images

    Spinach must be grown in cool weather, or it will quickly bolt to seed. There are varieties that claim to be bolt-resistant, but sooner or later, (usually sooner), they all go to seed. Luckily it also grows extremely quickly – which means you don’t have to wait long to enjoy it, but you’ll also have to keep planting new spinach, to extend the harvest. Getting spinach to grow is easy. Keeping your spinach growing takes some extra care, but it’s worth it. Fresh spinach is crisper, tangier andMORE more tender than any you’ll find in a cellophane bag. And it can grow in the shade of crops that will be taking off just as your spinach fades.

Dealing With Winter Damage

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Dealing With Winter Damage

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It’s early spring – time to survey the damage that winter has produced. In some areas, shrubs may still be hiding under piles of frozen snow, and could be crushed or compacted. Severed tree limbs may lie scattered across the landscape, and bark may be torn and stripped from trunks. It’s difficult to know what to tackle first, but fortunately, much of the damage is easily correctible.

Repairing Winter-Damaged Trees

When surveying and repairing winter damage, start with your trees – they are generally the most valuable additions to your property. As you survey the damage – broken limbs, torn bark, a tilting trunk – ask yourself “Is this tree salvageable or should it be removed?” If the damage is extensive, or you are unsure about how the damage may affect the tree’s overall health or future growth, hire a professional for a consultation. Replacing a severely damaged tree with a younger one, perhaps a type you like even better, may be the best solution.

If a limb is broken somewhere along its length, or damaged beyond repair, employ good pruning practices and saw off the remaining piece at the branch collar, being careful not to cut into the trunk or leave a stub. Sometimes a fallen limb may strip bark off the tree trunk. To repair this damage, cut the ragged edges of the loose bark away from the stripped area to firmly affixed healthy bark. Nature will take care of the rest. Even if the trunk of the tree is split, the tree may still be saved. For large trees, repairing this type of damage usually requires cabling and bracing done by a professional. If the tree is still young, the crotch may be pulled tightly together and tied or taped until the wound eventually heals.

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Repairing Winter-Damaged Shrubs

Shrubs can suffer the same damage as trees, including broken limbs and stripped bark. Heavy snowfall can crush smaller shrubs, and larger varieties may have their trunks or centers split from heavy snow or ice accumulation. Most shrubs are resilient, however, and slowly regain their shape as the weather warms. If branches are bent but not broken, you may tie them together to help them along and prevent further damage from late-season storms. Do not tie tightly and remove twine after about a year. Completely broken branches may be pruned away, but take care to maintain the shrub’s form and balance, keeping in mind its growth pattern so it will not look lopsided or ungainly. Again, if the damage is severe, you may need to replace the plant.

The harder the winter is, the more of a beating trees and shrubs will take. With prompt attention in early spring, however, you can easily undo much of the damage and help your landscape recover with ease.

Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Yard and Garden

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Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Yard and Garden

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The snow and ice have melted, but this winter’s wild storms have left yards across the country in need of a major spring-cleaning. Here are some ideas for how to begin, inspired by the hyper-organized folks at Uncluttered:

  1. Remove the debris. If the winter’s seemingly incessant wind, rain, and snow have done a number on your trees, start your clean-up efforts by collecting the fallen branches and scattered sticks. If your town doesn’t pick up lawn debris on a regular basis, find out if any spring collection days have been planned or if there’s a nearby drop-off location you can deliver it to. You also can rent a wood-chipper from many garden or hardware stores and turn your debris into mulch.
  2. Rake dead leaves and twigs. Last year’s leaves will make great compost, but not if they keep the grass from absorbing sunlight. Thoroughly rake the yard and garden beds and, if you don’t plan to compost, investigate whether your town will be making special arrangements to collect bagged leaves.
  3. Prune and trim. Prune back weatherworn bushes and hedges as well as any perennials that look overgrown. Trim damaged tree limbs and branches that you can reach, and make arrangements for a professional tree-trimmer to take care of the rest.
  4. Map out landscaping and garden plans. If you’re going to make any changes to your current landscaping, make a sketch of your lawn indicating what sort of trees, shrubs, or plants you’d like to add. Even for DIY types, it’s always a good idea to consult with a gardener or landscaper at the nursery before making any final decisions or purchases.
  5. Start planting. Check the planting dates on your new purchases. Any plants, trees or shrubbery hearty enough to survive early spring’s still-cool nights can be put in the ground now.

Source: Unclutterer.com

MID-WINTER CHORES AND OTHER FEBRUARY GARDENING TIPS

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It’s hard to be inspired about gardening when the ground is frozen and wintry winds howl outside your window. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get into gardening this month.

While February is still too early to start most seeds indoors, it’s the right time to prepare for seeding by purchasing seed flats, containers, and peat pellets, as well as check your cold frame for needed repairs. It’s also a good time to finish up your seed order, if you haven’t done so already.

If you want to grow your own celery, leek, or onion transplants, February is the time to start them because these slow growers need several months before they are ready to set out. This also is the time to start small-seeded flowers such as begonias and petunias

If you potted bulbs for forcing last fall, check their progress. Soil should be barely moist. If tips have sprouted and have a few inches of growth, bring the pot into a cool, bright room (50 to 60 degrees F). Gradually expose the plant to increasing warmth and indirect sunlight. Increase waterings. Feed once a week with half-strength houseplant fertilizer.
To help the stems grow straight, turn the pot every day. When buds and foliage are fully developed, bring into full sunlight, and enjoy!

If you didn’t force any bulbs, you can still brighten up your home by forcing branches of spring-flowering trees such as forsythia, dogwood, and crabapple. It’s simple. Just cut the branches, place them in a bucket of warm water, and recut the stems to enhance water absorption. Then sit back and let nature take over. In a few days the branches should produce flowers.

Outdoors, check your perennial plants. An “open winter,” like this one demonstrates the need for protective mulch on strawberries and many perennial flowers as well as garlic, over-wintered spinach, and other crops that can easily be damaged by alternate warming and freezing of the soil. Although it is too late to undo any damage that’s done, mulching now can prevent additional damage caused by spring fluctuations in soil temperatures.

You also should take a walk around the garden to check for ice and snow damage to shrubs, evergreens, and trees. Look for damage by rabbits and rodents, too. Install hardware cloth around stems to protect against further damage.

February is a great time to think about the birds. In addition to keeping the feeders full, you can attract them to your yard and garden next spring by building a birdhouse now.

There are a few things to keep in mind. First, the size of the entrance must be proportionate to the type of bird you want to attract. You also will need to provide a rough surface both inside and outside the entrance to facilitate access.

In addition, ventilation holes are important. When you put up your birdhouse this spring, be sure to place it at least six feet off the ground to keep cats, raccoons, and other predators away. A protective collar hung just below the birdhouse also deters unwelcome visitors.

Plans for building birdhouses are available in many gardening books. Or browse the Internet, which is also a source of good information on a number of gardening topics.

Herbal Delights

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Herbal Delights

 

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No matter how cold the temperatures or how deep the snow, you can enjoy the pleasures of herbs this winter season by growing them in your windowsill. Herbs are great for adding zest to any food and are a delicious substitute for salt and artificial flavors. They can also make dinner a visual delight! Add herbs to breads, soups and stews for flavor or use as a lovely garnish. Here are some great selections to try…

Rosemary is a must for the cook. Fresh rosemary is much richer and more fragrant than dried sprigs. Its needle-like foliage has a piney or resinous aroma and flavor. Rosemary is good with any meat or poultry, with stronger tasting fish, and with pizza, breads and potatoes. It is companionable with garlic and citrus flavors. A pleasing apple jelly can be scented with rosemary for a gourmet touch.

Chives, being a member of the onion family, is one of the few flavoring plants that appreciates some fertilizer. The hollow spears should be cut as needed by clipping a few spears just above the ground. It is used mostly as a garnish or final ingredient wherever a light onion taste is wanted, and it won’t overpower your recipes.

Mints are a necessity for herb windowsill gardens. No one would want to be without spearmint and peppermint, and maybe orange mint, for fresh teas and additions to fruit cups and ice cream. Fragrant and luscious, mints also make delightful garnishes for drinks or can be frozen into ice cubes.

Sage is a standby for poultry, breads and stuffing and combines well with corn or apples. Fried leaves are good to nibble. Experiment with different types of sage to enjoy their subtle variations and different flavors.

Thyme, a huge family of small upright, mounding or creeping plants, comes in a variety of flavors. You will find varieties labeled French, English, Common and Lemon, with leaves that may be all green or silver-edged or even variegated with gold. Every herb garden should have some thyme, and it pairs will with lamb as well as in marinades and salads.

Oregano is the hardier cousin of marjoram. It is a familiar flavoring in Italian and Greek cooking, in meats, sauces and of course in pizza. Oregano can be added to salads, used in marinades or mixed in with breads for rich flavor without any butter needed.

When growing your herbs, be mindful of their sunlight needs and keep them away from heating vents that can dry the soil out too quickly. Use organic fertilizers like fish emulsion and seaweed sparingly. Although fertilizers make the plants beautiful to look at, the less fertilizer used on an herb, the better it will taste. Now is a great time to start growing or to add to your culinary herb collection. Winter is the perfect time to start adding zest and flavor to your cooking!

Why use wood pellets?

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Wood Pellets: the Basics

Wood pellets are a heating fuel typically made from the compacted sawdust and industrial waste from the milling of lumber as well as the manufacture of wood products like wood furniture and flooring.

They are extremely efficient, easy to use, renewable, and 100% natural. The average homeowner will save $682 each year by heating with wood pellets instead of heating oil, reduce carbon emissions by 4.8 tons, and support the domestic economy and local jobs!

What’s So Green About Wood Pellets, Anyway?

When you burn a ton of wood pellets, you’re saving the same amount of fossil fuels as if you replaced your car with a hybrid… for a whole year!

Pellets are carbon neutral, because they are made with sustainably harvested wood, and they emit less carbon than a decomposing tree. And because pellet stoves are so efficient, you’re getting more heat for less money out of fewer resources… and that’s pretty green!

Learn more

Making the Investment

Switching to wood pellet heat is easier than you think!

Some states have grants to help with the upfront costs. Installation is a snap. And we can help you find a pellet stove from a local stove dealer that will fit your home, your budget, and your expectations!

Storing, Burning, Maintaining

Most homeowners use about three tons of pellets a year to heat their homes.

You can stash pellets just about anywhere – your garage, shed, or basement are great places to keep your pellets sheltered and dry. Once you start burning, we recommend weekly cleanings to keep your stove running smoothly, and a visit once a year from a friendly professional to perform a tune-up, inspection, and a full-service cleaning.

How To Select The Perfect Christmas Tree

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Step 1: Choose the Right Tree
christmas tree with ornaments and lightsSelecting the perfect tree is essential when it comes to decorating for Christmas. Get the best tree you can to ensure it lasts and looks great the entire holiday season. There are a lot of Christmas tree options out there from which to choose. Here are some examples of the most common trees out there at hardware stores and garden centers.

  • Douglas Fir. These are the most common trees available. The trees are tall, slender and aromatic and their needles are short, soft and bluish-green. They need plenty of water to avoid shedding.
  • Scotch Pine. Another common tree type. Scotch pines are the #1 sold Christmas tree in the U.S. They have very sturdy branches and also retain their needles better and last longer than some species. Needles are dark green.
  • Blue Spruce. These trees have stiff needles that are a silvery green color. When watered adequately, these trees can last for a month and still look great.
  • Fraser Fir. An attractive tree with green-and-silver, two-toned needles with good needle retention. Often referred to as the “no shed” tree.

If you are cutting your own Christmas tree, there are likely many tree farms in your area that will allow you to choose a tree and cut it down yourself. If you’ll be cutting your own, be sure you leave the house with a hand saw, some twine, a blanket for when you strap the tree to your vehicle and some gloves to protect your hands.

If you will be buying a pre-cut tree, make sure it is freshly cut. Touch the needles and branches to see if a significant amount comes off in your hand. Lightly bang the base of the tree on the ground; if an excessive amount of needles falls off, the tree is not fresh. Test the limbs to see if they are sturdy enough to hold the weight of ornaments. Also, if the tree is fresh, you should be able to smell the tree’s fragrance easily. The tree should be a dark green color all over with no areas of brown needles. Check to be sure that the bottom of the tree trunk is sticky with resin. Needles should not break when bent between your fingers. As when cutting down a tree yourself, bring twine and a blanket for strapping the tree to the top of your car, if you don’t have a truck or similar vehicle with room to stow the tree for the trip to your home.

 

  • Step 2: Find the Right Spot

    Find the right location for your tree. A little forethought will help avoid any problems once you have your tree and start decorating for Christmas. Take the time to measure the dimensions of your room. Use a measuring tape to check the height, bearing in mind the dimensions of your tree stand. It’s a good idea to leave at least 6″ from the ceiling to the top of your tree. Don’t forget to ensure that the room is wide enough for the size of tree you want if you’re going to place the tree in a corner or alcove. Write these measurements down. Take your tape measure with you when you go to purchase the tree to be sure the Christmas tree you select will fit.

    When you get your new tree home, be sure to put it into a bucket of water as you prepare to erect it. Don’t place the tree in high-traffic areas where it could get knocked over by children or pets, or where your family could trip over tree light electrical cords. Trees are usually best placed in a corner or in front of a window for optimal effect.

    Safety Alert!

    Never place your Christmas tree near a heat source, such as a radiator or fireplace, as this can present a fire hazard.

    Helpful Tip

    Consider anchoring the tree to a wall with a thin rope or heavy-duty string and an eyebolt as an added safety feature to help stabilize the tree. You can use this safety feature and easily hide it so it doesn’t detract from your tree’s appearance.

  • Step 3: Give It Water

    Water your tree daily to keep your tree alive. Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times. The average tree can soak up to a gallon of water a day. When choosing a tree stand, be sure to find out how much water the stand holds when a tree is in it. Consider using Tree Preserve, a water additive that extends the life of the tree, keeps it greener longer, and helps prevent the needles from drying out. Remember, a thriving tree stays green longer and it makes it less of a safety hazard, as water keeps the tree moist and more fire-resistant.

    Safety Alerts!

    A dry tree can be a fire hazard. Before stringing lights on the tree, make sure the bulbs and the light string itself is in working order and intact without fraying or tears. Use lights rated for indoor use only. Do not place the tree directly in front of a heat or air conditioning duct as this will dry out the needles faster.

    When the tree is plugged in, be careful when watering to avoid electric shock.

  • Step 4: Decorate It

    Decorate the tree the way you want. This is the fun part! When adding lights to your Christmas tree, work from the inside, close to the tree trunk and out toward the tips of the branches. When you reach the tip of a branch, wrap your way back toward the trunk. Mini lights and C7 Christmas lights are typically used to decorate indoor trees.

    Helpful Tip

    Consider using LED holiday lights. They’re more efficient than regular light strings and don’t put off as much heat.

  • Step 5: Recycle It

    Dispose of your tree properly after the holiday season—don’t just throw out your tree with the trash. Recycle or mulch it yourself. Many municipalities have recycling centers where you can take your tree or have it picked up for recycling. Check with your local officials to see what options are available.

    Happy holidays! With good care, a Christmas tree can easily stay fresh for a month or even longer.

 

Front Porch Ideas For Thanksgiving

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The great thing with Halloween and Thanksgiving in succession is that you can put up fall decorations for both occasions. In fact, with added garden lights and Hollies, it can go all the way until Christmas. Pumpkins and autumn plant colors also give a rustic charm to a Thanksgiving garden–which how this Holiday should always be through the years.

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Nothing says welcome to your guests better than a well-decorated front porch or door. Having some potted Chrysanthemums in handy for a quick and easy design will help.

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Keep the spirit of Thanksgiving in the air with a display of your garden harvests. Even dried up corn stalks can add to the feel of a good harvest this season.

Fall Clean Up Tips

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10 time-saving tips to give your backyard a head start on spring

Aaaah, autumn. The kids are headed back to school, the leaves are turning, and a chill is in the air. If you’re like most homeowners, fall also means an opportunity to spruce up your yard and cut down on the work you’ll need to do when the weather turns warm again.

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  • Rake those leaves. Once the snow flies, an unraked layer of leaves can get matted down over the turf and smother it all winter long. Raking or using a mulching mower in the fall helps avoid dead patches in the spring. But don’t worry about getting every last leaf, especially in the garden. They help insulate plants, and as they decompose, they provide valuable nutrients.
  • Feed the grass. Fertilizing in the fall is like a day at the spa for your lawn. Using a slow-release fertilizer allows the grass to soak up nutrients and – just as important – spend the cool days and nights of autumn recovering from summer heat and stress. And building a healthy, rejuvenated lawn is one of the best ways to protect against heat, cold, drought, insects and other stresses.
  • Weed all about it. Weeding in the fall is probably the most valuable thing you can do to prepare for spring, and it’s one that many people overlook. The good news: Pulling weeds used to be a backbreaking chore, but tools like the Weed Hound have come a long way from the tiny weeding forks of “the good old days.” There’s no reason to get down on your hands and knees and gouge at the turf. All you do is place the tool over the weed, step lightly on the footrest, and pull.
  • Pick up the poop. When the snow melts next spring, the last thing you want to see on your lawn is pet waste. Fall is the perfect time to get out there and clean up Rover’s little leftovers. Don’t look forward to getting on your hands and knees? Hire a neighborhood kid to do the dirty work, or invest in a long-handled pooper scooper.
  • Remove thatch build-up. A build-up of aboveground roots called thatch prevents sunlight, oxygen and moisture from getting to the nutrient-hungry soil below. But it’s easy to remove, especially if you don’t wait until it overwhelms the yard. Just go at the yard with a dethatching rake in early fall, or for an easier – but more expensive – option, rent a power dethatcher.
  • Aerate. Heavy use throughout the summer can cause soil to become compacted. Perforating your lawn with small holes helps reduce compaction and lets water, air and fertilizer get down to the soil, which strengthens the grass plant’s root structure. For smaller yards, a manual aerating tool that removes plugs from the turf while you step should be just fine. If you’ve got a larger yard, consider renting a power aerator.
  • Water trees and shrubs. Dehydration during the colder months is an all-too-common cause of tree damage, but it’s easily preventable. To sustain them over the long winter, it’s important to give trees a drink before putting them to bed. After they go fully dormant – but before the ground freezes – use a soaker hose or root irrigator to water them thoroughly.
  • Clean out your garden. Fruits and vegetables left in the garden can rot all winter long, and provide a comfy home for insect eggs. Gross? Not as gross as they’ll be in the spring. Now’s the time to get rid of diseased plants, too, but keep them out of the compost pile so the problem doesn’t spread to the rest of your garden next year.
  • Plant spring bulbs. Fall is not all about closing up shop. It’s also the perfect time to plant spring flowering bulbs like daffodils and tulips. But pay attention to the weather in your area; planting too early can cause bulbs to sprout before winter, and planting them too late can mean their roots don’t have enough time to develop before the ground freezes.
  • Give your tools a tune-up. When it comes time to put away the backyard tools for the season, don’t just shove them into the garage or shed. Spend a few minutes wiping them down and removing debris and dirt, then apply a light layer of oil to keep them from rusting over the winter. That way they’ll be all set to go again come spring.