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More Than Just Mulch

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mulch_2Not only does mulch add a decorative finish to your flower beds, it also keeps the soil cool and moist and thus reduces the need for watering. By using a pre-emergent herbicide with mulch, weed seeds are discouraged from germinating and growing. But which mulch should you use?

Types of Mulch

There are several types of mulch to choose from, and each type can give your landscaping a different finishing touch.

  • Pine Bark and Nuggets
    These types of mulches release acid when they break down. Pine mulches should be used around plants that need a more acidic soil. Use around azaleas, rhododendron, pieris japonica and holly.
  • Shredded Hardwood
    This is by far the most popular mulch. It has a dark color and knits together well so that it does not wash away. This mulch is often available in different colors, including black, red and brown.
  • Cypress
    This long-lasting mulch has a pleasant fragrance. Cypress mulch also knits together well, and it is thought to repel insects.
  • Artificial Mulch
    Artificial mulches may look like bark, nuggets or hardwood shreds, but they are really shredded rubber or similar materials. They are often dyed in natural tones to mimic organic mulches, but could also be dyed in outrageous colors. These mulches do not break down and will not benefit the soil, but they do not need replacing as often as organic mulches that will eventually decompose.
  • Yard Waste
    Many gardeners use yard waste such as shredded leaves, grass clippings or pine needles as mulch. While these can be effective mulches to conserve moisture and repel weeds, and they are certainly more economical, they do not have the refined look of wood mulches. Yard waste mulches will also decay and discolor much more quickly than wood mulches.

Using Mulch

No matter which mulch you choose, it is important to use it properly. It is recommended that mulch be applied 2-3 inches deep around plants, in flowerbeds and in garden areas – less depth will not be as effective to shield and protect the soil, while deeper mulch may actually protect too much and could restrict water from entering the soil. Take care not to pile mulch directly next to stems and trunks, which could invite insects and rot to invade the plant.

Over time, mulches will decay and compact, at which time they can be removed and added to a compost pile, or simply turned and worked into the soil around the plants they’ve been protecting. To preserve mulch a bit longer, raking and turning it over will refresh its color and reduce compaction.

Not sure which mulch will be best for your plants? Our experts will be happy to help you choose!

Growing Veggies in Containers

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veg_3Do you dream of a delicious, homegrown harvest but don’t have the land to use? No longer should a shortage of garden space prevent you from growing your own fresh vegetables. As long as you have a sunny location you can have your own mini-farm on your porch, patio, deck, balcony, roof-top or doorstep!

Why Use Containers?

The benefits of growing containerized vegetables go beyond the issue of space. There are plenty of other compelling reasons to plant your veggies in pots, including…

  1. Vegetables are amazingly ornamental and can be just as decorative as any other container plants or flowers.
  2. There are fewer problems with pests such as groundhogs, deer and rabbits and soil borne diseases.
  3. The soil in pots warms up more quickly in the spring allowing for earlier planting and an extended growing season.
  4. Less bending, squatting and kneeling is required for gardeners with limited mobility.

Vegetables can be grown in any vessel that can hold soil, has adequate drainage and is large enough to hold a plant. There are endless options available on the market or you may recycle items that you already have as long as they meet these requirements. Use your imagination – try a wheelbarrow, wine barrel or just a plastic bin, and you’re ready to plant!

Best Vegetables for Containers

While all veggies can be grown in containers, some are better suited than others. Plants that grow particularly large, that sprawl or that must be grown in large numbers to ensure an adequate yield may take more effort and careful site planning with an adequate container. Similarly, vining plants need not be avoided. Trellis these plants up against a wall or fence or allow them to cascade down from a taller pot or a container placed up high like on a stone wall. For smaller selections, a hanging basket or window box may be used. Many sprawling and vining vegetables are now available by seed in dwarf, compact or bush varieties. These are bred specifically for small spaces and containers and are worth seeking out.

Tips for Container Vegetable Gardens

Growing vegetables in containers does take some unique thought and isn’t quite the same as planting in a traditional garden. When planning your delicious container garden, consider…

  • Containers: Size matters when planting in containers. The bigger the container, the more soil it can hold. More soil more and more moisture means less watering. Take note that porous containers like terra cotta dry out more quickly and will therefore require more frequent watering.
  • Soil: When planting, choose a good quality potting mix. Soil from the ground may contain insects or disease or may be too heavy. Add an all-purpose balanced fertilizer at time of planting. It is also good idea to mix water absorbing polymers into the soil. These granules can hold up to 400 times their weight in water and help reduce watering from 30-50 percent.
  • Plants: Some of the vegetables that you select may be directly seeded into your container; these would include peas, beans, radishes and corn. With most vegetables you may wish to transplant seedlings into your container, either home-grown or garden center purchased. You will generally find a wider selection of vegetable varieties and unique options available in seed as opposed to purchased seedlings, if you want to use your containers experimentally.
  • Supports: Supports should be placed at time of planting for large or vining plants. This will ensure the young plants are not disturbed or damaged with supports added at a later time. If the supports are outside the container, however, they can be added only when they are needed.
  • Location: Your vegetables will require at least 6 hours of direct sun a day. If this is not possible you may try placing your pots on dollies or carts and moving them to a sunnier location as the sun moves throughout the day. Note that good air circulation is important for disease control.
  • Watering: Test soil frequently for water to make sure that you keep it evenly moist. Water the soil, not the plants, to avoid the spread of disease. Check soil moisture more frequently during the summer months when evaporation is faster. Mulching your containers with salt hay or grass clippings will help keep soil cool during the summer months and reduce the frequency of watering. If possible, a drip system can be a great option for keeping containers watered.
  • Fertilization: Fertilizer leaches through pots quickly. Fertilize containerized vegetables at least once a week with a water soluble fertilizer. Always be careful to follow the directions on the fertilizer package and follow the recommended rate. Too much fertilizer may burn or kill your plants, but too little will result in undernourished, underperforming plants.

With appropriate care that caters to the needs of containers, your small-scale vegetable garden can be just as lush and productive as any larger, more intensive space, and you’ll soon have a bountiful harvest to enjoy.

Spring Flowering Fantasy

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The arrival of spring is evident more in the blossoms of trees than anything else.  The joyful coloring of the landscape by spring-flowering trees truly lifts the spirits – the pinks and whites of dogwoods and crabapples, the glorious blossoms of magnolia and ornamental pears that magically appear almost overnight.  Together, they proclaim that winter is finally over.

Some of our favorite early flowering trees include:

Magnolia – The first to bloom is the Star Magnolia with its many petaled, white flowers.  A week later several varieties of Saucer Magnolias make their debut with big, rich, full, cup-shaped flowers in shades of white, pink and purple.

Ornamental Pear – Smothered with small white flowers, Ornamental Pears also have rich leaf color in late fall.  Use as a specimen or accent as well as a street tree.

Ornamental Cherry – Every landscape should have at least one cherry tree.  The breath-taking Weeping Cherry announces spring’s arrival, followed by the famous Yoshino Cherry of Washington D.C.  Next, the popular vase-shaped Kwansan Cherry explodes into bloom with deep pink, double flowers.

Redbud – An adaptable tree with charming bright purple flowers along its bare branches.  ‘Forest Pansy’ also boasts purplish foliage all summer.  This is one of the few trees that will tolerate shade.

Dogwood – Our native Dogwood is one of the most beautiful flowering trees.  Graceful flowers in white, pink and red appear to float on its bare branches.  In fall, leaves turn to a reddish purple color with clusters of red berries.

Early Spring Gardening Calendar

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cal2 cal3 cal1* Plan your summer vegetable and herb garden. We offer a wide selection of seeds that include all of your favorite annuals, perennials, vegetables and other novelties as well as many hard-to-find selections. Inventory your pots and flats and discard unusable ones. Make a list of the supplies you will need. Have your garden soil tested for nutrient content. We offer a variety of do-it-yourself soil test kits.

  • Prune woody plants while dormant, including fruit trees, summer- and fall-blooming shrubs and vines. Limit pruning of spring-blooming trees and shrubs to the removal of sucker growth and rubbing or broken branches. Spray trees and shrubs with year-round horticultural oil to reduce insect population.
  • Sharpen, clean and oil tools and lawn mowers. Begin heavy annual pruning of shrub roses as new leaves appear.
  • Plant pansies, English daisies and primrose as soon as the earth is workable. Plant strawberry plants. Sow cool-season vegetables and herbs in the garden.
  • Start spring cleanup and begin major lawn work. Remove debris, dethatch your lawn or aerate compacted areas to improve water penetration.
  • Spray needles and limbs of Arborvitae, Cryptomeria, false cypress, fir, hemlock, Juniper, pine, yew and spruce (except blue spruce) for spider mites with year-round horticultural oil.
  • Apply fertilizer to perennials and roses with. Feed berry bushes, grapevines, rhubarb and asparagus a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer before new growth begins. Fertilize trees and shrubs.
  • Apply crabgrass preventer with fertilizer to feed the lawn and control crabgrass. Do not use on newly seeded lawns.
  • Continue spring cleanup. Cultivate to remove winter weeds and debris from the planting beds. Apply corn gluten or a pre-emergent herbicide with fertilizer specified for gardens and scratch it in to prevent future weeds. Do not use in gardens where you will be direct seeding.
  • Reseed bare spots in established lawns. Keep the area moist until seedlings appear, then mow when the new grass is 3″ high.
  • Prune forsythia and other spring-flowering trees & shrubs after the flowers fall.

7 Top Trees for Multi-Season Interest

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7trees_2What’s not to love about a tree? As they grow, their photosynthesis removes and stores carbon dioxide, maintaining a safe oxygen level for us to breathe and cleaning pollutants out of the air. They provide beauty in our gardens and parks. Many provide shade, fruit, syrup, nesting places and animal refuges. They can be a windbreak or a privacy screen. They can be ornamental and practical all at once, and can thrive with little or no care.

We want you to get the most enjoyment out of your trees. Therefore, we have selected seven underused but special trees for you to consider in your landscape. Very hardy, these trees provide all-year interest in mid-Atlantic gardens.

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Of course, these aren’t the only trees with year-round interest. Harry Lauder’s Walkingstick, paperbark maple, tri-colored beech, ‘JN Strain’ musclewood and the various cherries are just a few others that can be showstoppers in your landscape throughout the year.

Come on in to see our diverse and incredible selection of beautiful trees. We’ll help you select the perfect one for your landscaping needs and ensure you enjoy it throughout the year.

Design a Raised Landscape That Works

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Raised beds have been around for years, but have become increasingly popular recently because they make the landscape orderly, organized and easy to maintain. You can readily reach over and pull weeds as they appear, plant more comfortably and enjoy the new tiered depth and dimension of your lawn and garden. Raised beds are also particularly helpful if you are working with heavy soils that drain poorly, or if you have mobility limits that make getting down to ground level more difficult.

If you’re just getting started with raised beds, it’s easy to successfully bring your gardening to a higher level:

  1. Define the bed lines with a rope or hose. Consider the overall bed size, as well as the size and shape of your building material. You may want to position the bed along a fence or in a corner for more dimension and support.
  2. Dig a 4-6” deep edge along the perimeter. Don’t worry if this line isn’t as neat as you would like, because it will be more refined once you construct the bed frame.
  3. Remove existing sod/grass from the bed. You can compost the removed material, or use it to patch other spots in your lawn or turf as needed.
  4. Place concrete blocks, wall stone or other edging along this new bed line to build your bed frame. Wooden railroad ties or planks can also be used, but be aware that they may warp or decay in time. In general, stone or other sturdy materials are preferred.
  5. Build up your flower bed approximately 6-8” with top soil, mixing in peat moss for better drainage and compost, leaf mulch, cow manure or similar organic material to adequately nourish the soil.
  6. Compact your soil mixture as you build up each layer. This will help keep the bed from settling excessively as you plant and water.
  7. Increase the visual impact of your flower bed or gardening area by planting at different levels. Arrange shorter, lower growing plants in front, followed by medium and then tall plants in the back. You might consider some “spiller” plants along the sides and front if desired. Choose plants carefully to match the size of the bed, avoiding plants that will quickly outgrow the smaller, more confined space.
  8. Apply a 2-3” layer of mulch or stone and thoroughly soak your new landscape feature. Sprinkle Miracle Gro Weed Preventer or a similar product over the area to provide an invisible layer of protection against germinating weeds.

Before you know it, your new raised bed will be thriving and will quickly become the centerpiece of your landscaping. Then it’s time to construct another!

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Dormant Pruning With the Proper Tools

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Late winter pruning is often recommended for many trees and shrubs. Pruning the plants while they are dormant is less stressful for the plant and it’s also easier to view the structure of deciduous trees and shrubs without leaves to ensure the pruning helps create the desired shape. It’s also a time of the year when late winter sunshine makes us all long to be in our gardens and pruning is an excellent job to get us out there.

Pruning Tools

To get out and get pruning, you will need the proper tools. There are several types of pruners that should be in every serious gardener’s tool shed.

  • Hand Pruners
    The simplest tool, but the hardest to choose, is the hand pruner. There are two distinct styles of hand pruners: the anvil type and the bypass. The anvil pruner is good for pruning deadwood or undesirable growth. For more valuable specimens anvil pruners tend to smash the wood during cutting, leaving the wound open to insects and disease. Bypass pruners are like a pair of scissors and give you an easier, cleaner healthier cut. Different hand pruners are available in different sizes and grip styles, including options for both right-handed and left-handed gardeners. To get the best results, it is important to choose a hand pruner that feels comfortable but still provides adequate strength for the job.
  • Lopping Shears
    Another tool that comes in handy is the lopping shear. They are used for making larger cuts up to 1-1/2″ in diameter, and have longer handles to provide more power without stress or strain. The longer handles also provide a better reach than hand pruners. They are also excellent for clearing away undesirable growth in your yard, including trimming hedges.
  • Pole Pruners
    The last tool you’ll need is a pole pruner. It is a combination lopping shear and pruning saw. The pole pruner extends out to twelve feet and can be used for making small cosmetic cuts or larger limb removals without needing to set up a ladder. Pole pruners are also useful in dense canopies when using a ladder would not be practical or suitable.

To learn more about pruning specific trees or shrubs and to choose the appropriate tools for the job, please stop in or give us a call. We’ll be happy to help you be sure you are equipped to make clean, appropriate cuts that will help your trees and shrubs look their very best.

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Flirting with Spring

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In January and February, winter flirts with spring. Despite snow on the ground, there will be occasional warm days, balmy breezes and stunning blue skies that remind us of the rich colors of spring. On these flirtatious days, quince, forsythia and pussy willow begin to emerge from dormancy. With this slight swelling of buds, it is time to cut a few branches to bring spring indoors, so even when winter reappears with the next freeze or storm, we’re reminded of the warmer times to come.

Forcing Branches

Just like forcing bulbs, forcing branches will bring their buds into full beauty even if the outside weather isn’t quite right yet. To force branches, select plants that have set their buds in the fall or early winter. Look for branches with plump flower buds, and cut branches that you would have normally pruned in order to preserve the shape and health of the plant.

Next, scrape about 2 inches of the bark from the pruned end of the branch and make a 3-5 inch cut up the branch (lengthwise from the pruned end) to allow water to be absorbed. You can also split the end by carefully hammering it, but avoid crushing the tissues. Fill a tall container or vase with room-temperature water and floral preserver, then place the cut branches in it. Place the arrangement in a dimly lit room for 2-3 days, then move into a brighter area (but no direct sunlight). Change the water and cut 1 inch off the bottom of the stem each week. Mist the branches daily. Although they may take up to 3 weeks to bloom, the delightful bursts of color will be a celebrated reward for your time and efforts.

Flowering Branches for Forcing

Depending on when you want your buds to bloom, there are a variety of great branches you can work to force into brilliance even when spring is weeks away.

Early bloomers…

  • Witch Hazel
  • Cornelian Cherry
  • Forsythia
  • Pussy Willow
  • Azalea
  • Flowering Quince

For Later Blooms…

  • Magnolia
  • Apple
  • Crab Apple
  • Flowering Dogwood
  • Hawthorn
  • Red Bud
  • Mockorange

 Decorating With Forced Branches

There are many different ways you can add a little spring glory to your interior décor with forced branches. Consider…

  • Using blooming branches in lieu of any flowers in vases.
  • Putting shorter branches in bud vases on a windowsill.
  • Adding branches to candle centerpieces or other arrangements.
  • Twining thinner branches around a wreath form.
  • Using the tallest branches in a tall, thin floor vase.

Spring will be here before you know it, and you can speed it along when you force branches to enjoy their blooms a few weeks early!

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Seed Starting

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Starting seeds indoors is a rewarding gardening experience and can help extend your growing season to include more plant varieties than your outdoor season may permit. Furthermore, a larger selection of seed varieties doesn’t limit your opportunities to growing only those transplants that are available at planting time. The key to success in growing seedlings is in creating the proper environment.

What Seeds Need

Seeds are generally hardy, but to start them properly they do need gentle nurturing so they can produce healthy, vibrant plants. In general, seeds should be started 4-6 weeks before the recommended planting time so the seedlings will be large and strong enough to withstand the stresses of transplanting. Use a sterile growing mix which is light enough to encourage rich root growth. Sow the seeds thinly and cover lightly with sphagnum peat moss. Water using a fine spray but do not soak the seeds – they also need oxygen to germinate, and if they are overwatered they will drown. Cover the container with clear plastic to hold the moisture and increase humidity. Place the containers in a warm (70-80 degrees) spot and watch daily for germination. The top of the refrigerator is often an ideal location. When the first seeds germinate, place the seedlings in bright light or under artificial lights (tube lights should be 2-3” from seedling tops) for several hours each day, since late winter sunlight will not usually be sufficient to prevent weak, leggy seedlings. Daytime temperatures should range from 70-75 degrees. Night time temperatures should range from 60-65 degrees.

As Seeds Grow

When the seedlings develop their first true sets of leaves, add half-strength water soluble fertilizer to their water – organic fish emulsion or seaweed fertilizers are great to use. Repeat every second week to provide good nourishment. Thin the seedlings or transplant them to larger containers as they grow. Before planting outdoors, harden-off the plants at least one week before the planting date. Take the transplants outdoors in the daytime and bring them in at night if frost is likely. Gradually expose them to lower temperatures and more sunlight. The use of hotcaps and frost blankets to cover early plantings will also aid in the hardening off process so the seedlings can adjust well to their new outdoor environment.

Transplanting Seeds

Transplant seedlings into the garden after the safe planting date on a calm, overcast day. Pack the soil around the transplant with as little root disturbance as possible. Sprinkle the plants with water, keeping the soil moist until the plants become established.

Popular Indoor Seed Start Dates

The exact dates you want to start seeds will vary depending on your local growing season, the varieties of plants you choose and what their needs are. In general, dates for the most popular produce include…

Vegetable Seed Starting Dates

  • February – Asparagus, celery, onion
  • March 1 – Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, lettuce
  • March 15 – Eggplant, peppers, tomatoes
  • April 1 – Summer squash
  • April 15 – Cantaloupes, cucumbers, winter squash

Flower Seed Starting Dates

  • January/February – Begonia, carnation, geranium, impatiens, nicotiana, pansy, rudbeckia, salvia, snapdragon, verbena, vinca
  • March 1 – Ageratum, dahlia, dianthus, petunia
  • April 15 – Aster, calendula, celosia, marigold, zinnia

Use seed starting dates as a general guide to ensure your seeds have plenty of time to reach their full harvest potential before the weather turns in autumn. At the same time, consider staggering seed starting every few days to lengthen your harvest and keep your favorite vegetables and flowers coming even longer during the growing season. As you gain more experience with starting seeds, you’ll be able to carefully plan your seed calendar to ensure a lush, rich, long harvest season.

Creating Depth and Character in the Garden

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No matter what you grow, your garden does not have to be a bland, predictable space. With careful planning, it is easy to create depth and character in the garden to reflect your personal flair and the enjoyment you find among your flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Understanding Your Foreground, Middle Ground and Background

Before planning your garden to enhance its depth and character, it is important to understand the different levels of space you have to work with. Your garden’s location, size and shape, as well as the overall layout, are part of these levels and can help you plan the best design to reflect your personal style.

  • Foreground – The front of your garden, including borders, edging, fences, and entryways, as well as the first plants a visitor encounters when stepping into the space. Visually, this area is the welcome to your gardening or landscaping space.
  • Middle Ground – The bulk of the garden or landscape, the center or middle areas. This will include most open spaces and the most heavily used parts of your garden, those that are accessed and admired the most.
  • Background – The furthest, rear point of your gardening space, that provides a backdrop or endpoint for the design. This can include rear fences, walls or property borders and is the stopping point for your garden.

As you design your garden, each of these areas can be enhanced to create a more aesthetically pleasing space and an overall design rich in texture, color and creativity.

Depth in the Garden

Adding depth to the garden varies the space and makes the garden appear larger and more spacious. This can easily improve a narrow landscaping area or open up a small garden, and it maximizes growing space to allow for more plants. Great options to add more garden depth include…

  • Tiers
    Tiers, with taller plants at the back and shorter plants in the foreground, expand the space and give it a better scale. Taller plants can be added in corners or at the sides, with shorter plants filling in the center. Terraces, containers and raised beds can all create tiers.
  • Colors
    Warm colors, such as red, yellow and orange, are bold and filling, and are best used at the front of the garden to create a welcoming flow. Cooler tones, such as greens and blues, are best in the background where they recede from the eye and give an illusion of greater depth and openness.
  • Contrasting Textures
    Gardens and landscapes look smaller when they are uniform. Textural contrasts, however, break up sightlines and add more visual interest, enhancing depth. Opt for finer textures and airy plant structures to increase depth in the middle ground and background, while fuller, more compact textures are best in the foreground.
  • Plant Size
    Positioning larger, taller plants in the background and reserving smaller plants for the foreground of your garden will enhance its depth. In small gardens, dwarf or miniature plant varieties immediately create greater depth and make the space seem more generous.
  • Secret Spaces
    Adding a secret space will create depth as it draws the eye into the landscaping design and encourages more detailed examination of the area. Meditation niches, cozy benches or swings, or other places invite more interest in the garden and improve the depth.
  • Reflections
    Just like a mirror creates more depth in a small room, reflections create more depth in a garden. Gazing balls, reflecting pools or mosaics are great options, but be sure there are no overly focused reflections that might damage nearby plants with excess glare.
  • Views
    If your garden overlooks a dramatic view, such as a mountain range, ocean cliff or adjacent park, take advantage of that view for more personal garden depth. Avoid blocking the view, and instead frame it to draw the eye deeper into your space.
  • Vertical Gardening
    Taking your garden vertical with climbing plants on a green wall, trellis or other support is a great way to increase depth and add more gardening space. Many vegetables and flowering vines can easily be trained to grow vertically.

Character in the Garden

Adding character to the garden personalizes it to reflect your unique style and flair. This adds a meaningful touch to your space, no matter how big or small it may be. Fun ways to give your garden more character include…

  • Specimen Plants
    Unusual plants create a focal point in your garden and draw the eye into the space. Even in a veggie garden or berry patch, an unexpected specimen can be an interesting feature.
  • Unique Shapes
    Give your garden extra flair by incorporating unusual shapes, such as topiaries or plants with unexpected foliage or flower shapes. This extra texture will also enhance the garden’s depth.
  • Curves
    Gardens and landscaping don’t need to follow straight lines. Help your landscape flow with curved garden rows, curving beds or other smooth, elegant lines.
  • Fill-Ins
    Bare spaces cause a disjointed look in the garden, but you can easily fill in patches with extra herbs, flowers or ornamental grasses. This will add even more texture and interest to the area.
  • Welcomes
    Welcome visitors to your garden with a fun, customized gate, quirky arbor or unique archway. This feature will draw the eye and encourage visitors to enter and enjoy the space.
  • Curbing
    Get creative with curbing to border your garden area with personal flair. Instead of predictable options, choose colored curbing or add accents such as glass bottles or stepping stones.
  • Wildlife
    Welcome wildlife to your garden to add life to the space. Bird feeders and baths, a butterfly, bee or toad house, or even a koi pond can bring movement and life to your garden.
  • Surprises
    There’s always room in the garden for a surprise or two. It might be a hidden gnome peeking out at guests, scattered sunflowers that grow through other plantings, exotic edibles or flowers with potent perfumes to lure guests in to seek out the surprise.

You can add depth and character to your garden in many ways. If you aren’t sure just how to go about personalizing and enhancing your garden, ask our experts for help to create the garden of your dreams!

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