Seasonal Tips

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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.

How To Properly Close Your Pool For The Season

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The main purpose in winterizing your swimming pool is to protect it from damage due to freezing water. You also want to keep your swimming pool as clean as possible for the next season. Closing your swim pool properly can save you a lot of work when it comes time to open the above ground swimming pool for the summer.

  • The first step in the winterization procedure is to make sure your water chemistry is balanced. You should make sure that your pH, Total Alkalinity, and Calcium Hardness are all balanced. By balancing your water chemistry you are protecting the surface of the above ground pool from staining and etching. Adding a winterizing chemical kit to your water will help keep it blue and clear for the next season. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the kit.
  • Do not use a floater that contains a strong oxidizer (chlorine or bromine) as the floater will stick against the wall and stain and/or bleach your wall, especially a vinyl liner. For the same reasons DO NOT throw chlorine or bromine tablets into the above ground pool. They will sink to the bottom and damage your above ground pool’s surface.
  • When water freezes, it expands. This can cause great damage to your above ground pool, pool plumbing, and its filter system. If you are closing up your above ground pool for the winter, you should always take precautions to protect from freeze damage no matter where you live. You can never be sure that it will not drop below freezing, even in the Sun Belt.
  • Lower swimming pool water level below the mouth of the skimmer. This will get the water out of the throat of the skimmer which can be easily damaged if water were to freeze here.
  • Another option is to put an Aquador over the mouth of the skimmer. This is a plastic dam which holds out the water from the skimmer, allowing you to leave the water level up for the winter.
  • The water left in the pool, along with air pillow(s) will help in supporting your cover.
  • Drain all the water from your filter equipment and hoses.
    • Start by putting a plug in your return fitting (where water returns to above ground pool).
    • Disconnect your hoses from the return and skimmer or at the filter system and drain them.
    • The filter should have a plug at the bottom that will allow it to drain.
    • Put the multiport valve in the closed or “winterize” position and remove the pressure gauge.
    • Drain the pump by removing the drain plug(s). There may be two plugs to remove here.
    • After draining the pump, turn it on for a brief second to get the water out of the veins of the impeller. Do not run the pump more than a second or two because you can burn out the seal very quickly.
    • If possible take the pump inside to protect it for the winter.
    • If you have a chemical feeder, you should have let the chemicals (chlorine/bromine tablets) run out of your feeder so that no chemicals are left in it. Leaving chemicals in your feeder over the winter can cause damage to it and other equipment.
    • You will now be able to drain your chemical feeder.
    • If you put all the plugs that you have removed into the pump strainer basket, they will be easily found in the spring.
    • It is a good idea to take the pressure gauge inside for the winter because water collects in its tube which can freeze and cause breakage.
    • Do not put the plugs back on the equipment. If the equipment should get water in it, the plugs will prevent proper drainage.
  • The final step is to cover your above ground swim pool to keep out the debris.Solid covers keeps out all debris and sunlight. This will keep the pool totally clean and prevent most algae growth.

August Gardening Tips

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Temperatures Soar and Color Sizzles

Some plants thrive as summer heats up. If your perennial beds lack color, try a few of these plants that flower through sweltering August afternoons. All are drought-tolerant once established.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.) brightens the garden with cheery yellow blooms perfect for cutting. It’s a good choice for a wildlife garden. Flowers beckon butterflies; seed heads are a goldfinch favorite.

Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) unfurls silvery foliage accented with lavender blooms. Plants are deer-resistant.

Threadleaf tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata) opens daisylike blooms in shades of yellow, white, or pink. Low-maintenance plants have fine foliage and open flowers steadily until frost.

Yarrow (Achillea) sounds a steady note of drought-resistant color in the summer garden. Look for flowers in many shades, from white, to red, to peach, to yellow.

Test Garden Tip: Even the most reliable summer bloomers stage a stronger show when you faithfully remove faded flowers.

August Watering Tips

Water plants a few hours before applying pesticides, especially during times of drought. In these conditions, plants have less water in tissues, and as pesticides enter cells, they may burn leaves.

Avoid watering during midday, when more water will evaporate than soak into soil.

It’s not uncommon for plants to wilt on hot afternoons even though soil has adequate moisture. The wilting occurs because plants are losing water faster than their roots can absorb it. Leaves should revive by early evening, after the sun is no longer directly on leaves. If not, water deeply.

Some shrubs need weekly deep watering now. Rhododendrons are beginning to form flower buds for next year’s show, and adequate water is vital. Fruiting plants, such as hollies and firethorn, need water to ensure berries mature and don’t drop.

Test Garden Tip: Water newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennials — any plants you added to your yard last fall or spring. These plants need weekly irrigation to ensure roots establish deeply.

Garden-Fresh Flavors from the Herb and Vegetable Garden

Peppers: Pick peppers at any stage of development. The longer fruits stay on a plant, the more intense flavor becomes — sweet peppers grow sweeter, and hot peppers develop a stronger burn.

Herbs: It’s best to pick herbs before they flower. Harvest herbs on a dry morning, after dew has dried. The exception is mint, which you want to pick at midday, when essential oil concentrations in leaves are greatest. Avoid harvesting herbs following a rain, when foliage is wet.

Tomatoes: Even though tomatoes continue to ripen after picking, fruits develop greatest flavor when allowed to ripen on plants. The exception is cherry tomatoes, which are prone to splitting. Pick these tasty morsels as soon as fruits start showing color.

It’s Time to Stop…

Fertilizing roses. Stop feeding roses this month so that growth can harden sufficiently before killing frost arrives. This will help reduce the amount of winter kill.

Pruning evergreens. As August arrives, put away the pruners as far as evergreens are concerned. If you prune now, you risk plants pushing new growth, which won’t harden off and will be killed during winter’s chill.

Ignoring zucchini. Daily inspections of squash vines are a must. In August heat, small, tasty fruit can transform into inedible baseball bats overnight.

Composting weed seeds. Unless your compost pile gets hot enough to kill seeds, it’s best to destroy weeds with seed heads. If your town has a community composting facility, place seedy weeds at the curb. The community compost will be hot enough to kill seeds.

August Garden Chores for the Northeast

Pull annuals that are past their prime and aren’t likely to recover. Cover bare soil to deter weeds.

Take cuttings of plants you want to overwinter. Choices may include fuchsia, scented geranium, coleus, or wax begonia. Stick 3- to 4-inch green stem cuttings in soil. Place pots in a shaded spot, and keep soil moist.

Make sure mower height is raised so you’re cutting grass higher. When grass is taller, it shades soil beneath, which reduces water evaporation from soil. Taller grass generally has deeper roots, which helps it withstand drought better.

September is peony planting time. That means August is the month to order peony roots. You should have peonies in the ground about a month before the average first frost date.

Tree Care Tips

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Tree Watering

Tree watering is a key part of tree care and it is difficult to recommend an exact amount due to the varieties of climates. But a few guidelines will help you to water your trees properly.

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  • Watering Newly Planted Trees: For new trees, water immediately after you plant a tree.
  • Watering Trees During First Two Years: During the first couple growing seasons, your newly planted tree is expending a lot of energy trying to get its roots established in the soil. Especially during the first few summers of your new trees life, it will have a difficult time dealing with heat and drought. You can make this easier by providing water and covering the soil with wood-chip mulch. Deep watering can help speed the root establishment. Deep water consists of keeping the soil moist to a depth that includes all the roots.
  • How Much Water and When: Not enough water is harmful for the tree but too much water is bad as well. Over-watering is a common tree care mistake. Please note that moist is different than soggy, and you can judge this by feel. A damp soil that dries for a short period will allow adequate oxygen to permeate the soil.

    WateringAs general rule, your soil should be moist. Usually 30 seconds with a steady stream of water from a garden hose w/ a diffuser nozzle per tree seedling is sufficient. Mulching is also key in retaining moisture in the soil.

    You can check soil moisture by using a garden trowel and inserting it into the ground to a depth of 2″, and then move the blade of the trowel back and forth to create a small narrow trench. Then use your finger to touch the soil. If it is moist to the touch, then they do not need water.

  • Watering Trees After the First Two Years: After your tree has been established in your yard for two years the roots will be established. This will allow your tree to withstand a wider range of water conditions including on its own because it has a proper root structure.

Drought-Tolerant Species

If your area constantly deals with drought you will want to consider trees listed as drought-tolerant. These trees are adapted to sites in their native habitat that regularly experience prolonged dry spells. Although they are native to drought and are more tolerant than others the first few years of life is critical to the survival of the any tree and follow the steps above will help your trees grow.

Some Drought-Tolerant Species Include

  • Thornless Honeylocust (Zones 3 to 9)
  • Arizona Cypress (Zones 7 to 9)
  • Japanese Zelkova (Zones 5 to 8)
  • White Fir (Zones 4 to 7)
  • Kentucky Coffeetree (Zones 3 to 8)

High Soil Moisture-Tolerant Species

On the opposite side of the spectrum if your area deals with a large amount of moisture or wet conditions here are a few trees that will do better in wet conditions.

  • Baldcypress (Zones 4 to 10)
  • Shellbark Hickory (Zones 5 to 8)
  • Red Maple (Zones 3 to 9)
  • Silver Maple (Zones 3 to 9)
  • Paper Birch (Zones 2 to 7)
  • River Birch (Zones 4 to 9)
  • Weeping Willow (Zones 6 to 8)

Healthy Soil, Healthy Plants

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HEALTHY SOIL, HEALTHY PLANTS

The key to successful gardening is “healthy soil.” This basic principle of organic gardening applies to all plants. Quite simply, when you feed the soil the proper nutrients, you let the soil feed the plants. So how do you “feed” the soil? First, you need to understand some elementary information about your soil and why it is so important, and then you can take steps to improve it.

To start, you should determine the soil texture by moistening the soil and rubbing it between your thumb and fingers to determine it’s “feel.” Sands are gritty and will barely hold together; clay can be squeezed into a firm shape; and silt will act in a way to allow particles to cling together. Sandy soils tend to dry out quickly because they contain high amounts of soil air. Oppositely, clay soils have a tendency to pack together, shutting out air and water. The best garden soil, “loam,” has moderate amounts of sand, silt and clay. Generally, soil in our area tends to be clayey. This condition can be improved by adding a soil conditioner, gypsum or slate particles. For sandy soils, humus should be added to help retain moisture and nutrients.

Next, you must evaluate the soil structure. Soil structure is affected by soil pH, the amount of humus and the combination of minerals in the soil. Ideal soils allow soil particles to clump together with air spaces between them for water drainage as well as oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide release from plant roots. The best way to improve soil structure is to add high amounts of organic matter like humus, dehydrated manure, composted manure, mushroom compost, alfalfa meal, peat moss, or worm castings.

You will also need to take a soil sample, to measure the pH and amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the soil as well as other nutrients. This will help determine exactly what the soil needs. Your local Master Nursery Garden Center will help you read the results and determine what to add to your soil and how much. Generally, a pH of 6.0 to 7.0 is acceptable. If your pH is lower than this, your soil is too acidic and requires lime to be added. If your soil is low in organic matter, it will often have a high pH level. All plants require a proper balance of nutrients – nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Soils lacking any one of these elements will not produce healthy plants. Refer to the Organic Fertilizer Chart for suggested amendments.

When dealing with poor or improperly balanced soils, obtaining “healthy” soil may take two to five years to acquire. The best thing you can do to supplement your soil program is to use various organic fertilizers to meet your plants’ needs and regularly add organic matter; we suggest Bumper Crop Soil Amendments, and Fertilizers. Black Forest, Gardener’s Gold, Pay Dirt and Pay Dirt Plus are all excellent choices as soil amenders that will continue to help the soil structure as well as create biological activity that is also a vital part of developing productive soil.

Key Words
Soil Texture – The proportional amount of sand, silt and clay in the soil.
Soil Structure – The arrangement of soil particles in the soil.
Soil pH – The measurement of acidity or alkalinity of the soil.
Organic Matter – Various forms of living and dead plant and animal matter.

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