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The Great Squirrel Battle for the Bulbs

Autumn is the catalog time of year, when gardeners devour and drool over the spring-blooming bulb catalogs, eagerly fantasizing about next year’s flowerbeds. We picture drifts of crocus and gaily swaying tulips, lush daffodils and glorious hyacinths. Snowdrops, irises, daylilies… Ah, the garden will be great this next spring.

Then we remember last spring – hours of labor and dozens of bulbs meticulously planted, but only one or two emerged to flaunt their blooms. What happened?

Squirrels and Bulbs

Squirrels like flower bulbs just as much as gardeners, but unfortunately not for their beauty. From the looks of the remains – chewed remnants, dug up holes, battered foliage – those bulbs became expensive squirrel food. Fortunately, if you want to plant daffodils, alliums, scilla, hyacinths, squills or fritillaria, your bulbs should be safe. Generally, squirrels don’t eat these. But how can you protect the bulbs that make the tastiest squirrel treats?

Keeping Squirrels Out of the Flowerbeds

Go ahead and order your bulbs. While you’re waiting for delivery, decide which of the three basic methods you will use to prevent the squirrel attacks. A small investment of time and materials will protect your bulbs.

  1. Mesh Barriers
    Wire mesh is the best protection to keep squirrels away from bulbs. Dig the hole for several bulbs, make a “cage” using mesh around the bulbs and fill in the soil. If the squirrels dig, the mesh will prevent them from eating the bulbs. You may also plant the bulbs as usual and place a layer of mesh on the soil. You’ll have to secure it to keep it in place then cover with mulch. Be sure the mesh layer is wide enough so squirrels cannot easily dig around the sides to reach the bulbs.
  1. Repellants
    Garden centers sell many different squirrel repellants, and deer repellants also repel squirrels. Some gardeners swear to the effective use of red pepper flakes mixed in the soil around, and over, the bulbs. Many squirrels don’t like spicy tastes, but pepper flakes may need to be replaced after heavy spring rains to be the most effective.
  1. Sharp Gravel
    Adding sharp gravel to the soil around and over the bulbs also deters squirrels from digging. Not only do they not like the feel of the gravel on their sensitive paws, but the gravel – which is heavier than dirt or mulch – is more difficult to move, so the bulbs stay safer.

There is another option to keep squirrels away from bulbs without completely discouraging their visits. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em – because squirrels look for the easiest food sources, a squirrel feeding station stocked with corn and peanuts may be just the thing to keep the squirrels from looking for your buried treasures!

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Fairy Garden Magic

Do you think your tiny balcony terrace means you can’t have a grand garden? Are you looking for a clever and imaginative way to introduce a child to the world of plants? Have you ever dreamed of your own “McGregor’s Garden?” One of the newest gardening trends can do all these and a whole lot more!

Start planning…and playing…in your fairy garden!

About Fairy Gardens

One of the newest gardening trends, fairy gardening is the new-and-improved miniature gardening of yesteryear with all sorts of new products, idea books and plants. Despite their small size, the themes, designs and creativity of these tiny garden spaces is boundless. Any container, nearly any type of plant and any type of design can add a bit of garden magic even to a tiny space. Go small and have fun.

Designing a Fairy Garden

You can create your fairy garden just about anywhere. For portability, consider a pot, basin or terrarium. Or, for a more rustic appeal, plant an old lunchbox, garden bucket or child’s wagon. Old shoes, a stack of broken pots, a rusty wheelbarrow or a concrete bird bath are other great planting options.

Fairy gardens can be positioned anywhere. A smaller design can be a fun centerpiece to patio furniture, or it can be part of an entryway display. To heighten the intrigue, find a secret place in your own garden to lure the garden fairies. Between tree roots, beside a water feature or in a grove under flowering shrubs… The possibilities are endless.

Design the overall look of your fairy garden just as you would a larger garden. What is its theme? Is it a fantasyland for unicorns? A gnome family farm? A replica of your own big house? It can be anything you imagine. Consider tiers, layers and depth as well to create a truly impactful scene in your miniature fairy world.

If you’re having trouble coming up with an idea, visit your garden center to check out all the products. If you need some inspiration, our Enchanted Garden products by Grassland Road will get you started. Whimsical and charming, they’ll help you create your own mini-fantasy scene. From arbors and benches to umbrellas and miniature tools, the possibilities are amazing. If you’re not sure your resident garden fairies will understand your invitation, you can always buy a mannequin fairy to entice them to share the fun.

This visit also sets the mind whirling with ideas for plant materials. Consider the mixture of colors, textures, shapes, and scents… in miniature. Tiny groundcovers such as moss or creeping thyme create beautiful “lawns.” Pebbles become paths. Sand creates shores. Twigs make houses, fences and other structures. What can you do with a small pinecone or acorn? How can you recreate a Disney-type pumpkin carriage?

Creativity knows no limits, and the fairies will love you for it!

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Kale, the Super Food

Did you know kale is a super food? Kale belongs to the same family as cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. It is a rich source of vitamins C, A, & B6, and is loaded with manganese, calcium, copper and potassium, with no fat or cholesterol. Add it to your garden for a healthy harvest!

Planting

In the fall, set out transplants or sow kale seeds about 6-8 weeks before first frost in deep rich soil. Kale will need at least 6 hours of sun per day. Enrich your planting soil with plenty of compost. Planting kale in nutritious soil will promote faster plant growth and thus provide a tender, richer crop. Soil pH should be between 6.5 and 6.8. Sow seeds roughly one-half inch deep and thin seedlings to 8-12 inches apart to provide adequate air circulation. When thinning kale shoots, however, bear in mind that larger spacing will produce larger plants, larger plants produce larger leaves and larger leaves are generally tougher. Keep soil moist and mulch to control weeds. Water when planting and during dry spells.

Harvesting

Don’t worry about frost harming your harvest, a light frost will only enhance the sweetness of kale. Harvest the outer leaves of kale as they are needed for salads and recipes. Young tender leaves will grow from the center of the plant. Use the young leaves for salads and keep older leaves for cooking, which will help tenderize those larger leaves. Kale will continue to produce throughout fall in the warmer sections of our area. In low lying areas or where it is colder, use floating row covers or low tunnels to extend the life of your kale. Kale will bolt (elongate) and flower in the spring. This signifies the end, and it is time to pull it up and compost the remaining plant.

Cooking

Kale may be used fresh or frozen. It may be steamed or stir-fried, or used in soups, stews, omelets and casseroles. It is a tasty base for salads or can be added to sandwiches. It may be used in recipes as a replacement for spinach and collard greens. It even makes fantastic chips!

Kale Chips

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Clean Kale and spin dry. Remove all the tough stems.
  • Drizzle about 8 cups of leaves with one tablespoon of olive oil and toss to coat.
  • Place Kale leaves in a single layer on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes or until leaves are crisp but not scorched.
  • Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with generous amount of flaky sea salt.
  • Devour!

With so many tasty options for kale and so many nutritional benefits from this super food, there’s no excuse not to add this easy-to-grow dietary wonder to your garden!

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Fall-Blooming Camellias

We love camellias! An Asian native and an old southern standby, they are now a favorite in the northern states as well. In recent years, new varieties have been developed for their increased cold hardiness, giving northern gardeners even more opportunities to enjoy these charming beauties. Blooming in October, November and even into early December, fall-blooming camellias provide an abundance of colorful showy blooms that can now be enjoyed in colder climates.

Camellias do best in rich, moist, well-drained, acidic (5.5-6.5 pH) soil. Plant camellias in a location where they will be protected from the drying winter sun and wind or else the delicate blooms may suffer. Because these shrubs are shallow-rooted, they should be planted no deeper than they are planted in the pot that you purchase them in. Apply 3-4 inches of mulch to the root zone to keep soil moist and control weeds. Compost added to the soil can also help provide suitable nutrition to keep these plants healthy. Water camellias first when newly planted and frequently during times of low rainfall – a drip system can be a great option to keep these shrubs suitably moist. Fertilize in the spring with a fertilizer specified for acid-loving plants. If purchasing and planting camellias in the fall, be sure to give them a little extra TLC to help them through their first couple of winters and they will reward you with their beauty for years to come.

To help you choose the most beautiful fall-blooming camellias for your landscape, consider these attractive cultivar options!

  • Ashton’s Pride: Lavender-pink, single flowers with yellow centers
  • Ashton’s Snow: Creamy white flowers in semi-double blooms
  • Long Island Pink: Single blooms with bright pink colors and ruffled petals
  • Mason Farm: Pink, single flowers with a white tinge
  • Northern Exposure: Pink buds that open to single white, papery flowers
  • Winter’s Darling: Deep pink flowers with anemone shapes
  • Winter’s Fancy: Deep rich pink, semi-double blooms
  • Winter’s Interlude: Light pink blooms with anemone shapes and peachy centers
  • Winter’s Joy: Bright bold pink, semi-double blooms
  • Winter’s Star: Single lavender-pink pale blooms with yellow centers
  • Winter’s Water Lily: Elegant white flowers with a formal double shape

No matter which fall-blooming camellia you choose, if you give it the proper care, it will love you right back with abundant growth and stunning blooms that bring an air of southern charm and hospitality to your yard.

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Devil’s Darning Needle

Fall is here and after hiding inside in the cool comfort of our air conditioning through the hottest, driest, buggiest time of the year, our interest in revisiting the outdoors is renewed. Reemerging from self-imposed exile into the garden, it is pure joy and a relief to witness the tenacity of late season bloomers that have had to bear, with no assistance or relief, the dog days of summer. One such plant, reliable and prolific, is Clematis virginiana, better known as Devil’s Darning Needle.

Devil’s Darning Needle – also called Devil’s Hair, Love Vine and Woodbine – is a North American native vine. It is very similar in habit and appearance to the Japanese native, Sweet Autumn Clematis (C. terniflora) that most of us are familiar with, yet Devil’s Darning Needle is not as aggressive and can be better controlled in the landscape. C. virginiana is a vigorous, twining, deciduous vine, growing about 15 feet in a season. This plant is in best form when planted next to a supporting structure such as an arbor, trellis, fence, tree or shrub. Its quick growth rate makes this an excellent choice where quick privacy is needed, such as along a fence, shielding a patio or forming a wall around a deck. If unsupported, it will sprawl along the ground.

What makes this plant so alluring is its annual, overwhelming display of 1 and 1/4 inch, highly fragrant, star-shaped, pure white blossoms produced in billowy masses in the fall followed by ornamental, silvery, plume-like seed heads. Both flowers and seed heads work well in floral arrangements. Either in the yard or in a vase, this prolific bloomer will not disappoint.

Devil’s Darning Needle is easy to grow. As a low-maintenance vine, it is rarely troubled by pests or disease. It performs well in moist to wet soil of average fertility and prefers full sun to part shade, although it will thrive and bloom in considerable shade. Supplemental watering may be necessary during times of drought. In late winter or early spring, prune C. virginiana back hard to about one foot from the ground to encourage spring growth, but be certain to leave at least two strong buds on each stem. During the growing season, monitor the vine if it is growing through a shrub to make certain that the shrub is not being overwhelmed. No special care is needed to trim it back to control size, but it can be pruned for shape if desired.

Devil’s Darning Needle can be an amazing addition to your landscape, and its late summer and early fall beauty is sure to delight just when other plants begin to fade.

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Bringing Your Tropical Plants Indoors for the Winter

As the summer comes to an end and autumn approaches, the days get shorter and cooler temperatures signal the time to ready your plants for winter. How can you protect your treasured tropicals from winter damage?

Overwintering Tropical Plants

Don’t wait until frost warnings or freezes occur to bring tropical plants inside, especially since these plants are more susceptible to dropping temperatures. Try to have all of your plants acclimated to the new indoor environment by the end of October. Avoid the temptation to move your tropicals back outside if it suddenly gets warm, because they will have to re-acclimate when you bring them back inside again. With a little extra care even exotic hibiscus can be over-wintered inside the house.

First, it’s a good idea to prune approximately one-eighth to one-fourth off the total height of the plant’s foliage. This helps reduce the shock that the plant receives with the change of conditions when bringing them indoors. Check the plants for signs of insects and treat them with insecticidal soap or pyrethrin spray as well as a systemic insecticide that will provide protection for up to six weeks.

Position indoor tropical plants in a very bright location that receives no less than 6 hours of light per day. If the winter is very cloudy, supplement your plants with an artificial light source. Be sure the room is warm, but avoid putting the plants too close to a heating vent, which can dry them out drastically.

Because they are tropical plants, they will need good humidity which can be achieved by using a humidity tray. Use a saucer that is at least 3-4 inches larger than the pot and fill it with an inch of stones. Pour water over the stones until they are half covered, then place the pot on top of the stones. The humidity immediately around the plant will be increased, but avoid setting the pot directly in any water, which can lead to fungus and rotting. Grouping several plants close together can also help them preserve humidity for more luxuriant growth.

Fertilizing should be continued throughout the winter, but at a rate of once per week. You will find the plant will not utilize as much water in the winter because its growth has slowed. Generally, plants should be watered every 4-7 days depending on location, pot size, soil type and plant type.

If you have any questions about winter care of your plants, our staff will be glad to help you keep your tropicals in good condition all winter long.

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Fall in Love with Fall Pansies

Ideal for fall gardens, pansies offer a colorful display for almost six months – in the fall when they are planted, in the winter during a stretch of sunny days and again in spring! Winter pansies may be planted anytime starting in mid-September and continuing through October. Multiple plantings spaced a week or two apart can also ensure even more blooms to enjoy throughout otherwise drab months.

Planting Pansies

As with any plant, pansies perform better if the soil that you place them in is well prepared. Choose a planting location that is well-drained and work in 4-6 inches of rich organic matter, such as garden compost, peat moss or Bumper Crop. Plant pansies at about the same level, or slightly higher, than they were growing in their market packs or containers, taking care not to plant too deep or the plants may wilt and rot and the roots could smother. After planting, mulch and water the bed thoroughly. Remember to check the plants often during the first three weeks after planting or until new growth begins, to ensure adequate moisture necessary for healthy growth. Because these plants require very little care, no other maintenance is usually necessary for them to reach their full potential.

Where to Plant Pansies

These versatile blooms can be used in many different parts of your garden or landscape. Add a graceful drift of single-colored pansies or a mass of mixed colors to brighten a border, under a tree or along a fence, pathway, deck or wall. Try tucking single plants in garden beds around perennials and shrubs that have finished blooming to brighten up an otherwise dreary section of the landscape and to help mask older, spent growth. Pansies also do well in containers placed on a deck or patio or next to the entrance of your home to greet your guests with welcoming color. Try pansies in a hanging basket and you can even move them indoors to enjoy when the weather is too poor for outdoor gardening. A small container of fall pansies can also be a great gift for winter holidays, birthdays or just to brighten the day of anyone who could use a touch of color in their life.

With so much color to enjoy in so many ways, fall and winter pansies should be a staple of any garden and will bring great gardening joy to the landscape even during colder, dreary months.

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Fall Lawn Care

Fall is the best time of the year to overseed your existing lawn or establish a new lawn. If your lawn is a bit thin, has bare patches or needs good care, now is the time to take care of it so it can become thoroughly established before warm temperatures arrive in spring.

Overseeding A Weak Lawn

A weak lawn may have thin or scraggly patches, seem overrun with weeds or have bare patches that are difficult to keep green and lush. Overseeding can help eliminate these problem areas and create a more consistent, luxurious lawn.

  1. Spray broadleaf weeds with a selective herbicide and wait 2 weeks for the weeds to disappear. Several treatments may be necessary if the yard is thick with weeds.
  2. Take a soil sample of your lawn to determine the pH. A garden extension service can help determine pH levels, or home test kits are available.
  3. Mow shorter than normal and rake clean to remove unnecessary debris that may keep seeds from reaching the soil.
  4. Core aerate if you have compacted soil or heavy thatch. Remove the cores and dispose of them properly to keep the soil light and airy for seeding.
  5. Apply starter fertilizer and lime if determined to be needed by the pH test, or choose a grass type that will thrive in your soil’s conditions.
  6. Dethatch your lawn if thatch is thicker than ½ inch. This can be done with heavy raking or a special dethatching rake may be necessary in extreme cases.
  7. Overseed with the proper seed. If core aerating, lightly topdress with topsoil or humus.
  8. If needed, cover the freshly seeded area with netting or hay to discourage birds or other wildlife from consuming the seed before it grows.
  9. Water daily until grass has germinated, then soak once a week to encourage deep root growth.
  10. Fertilize in late fall with fall fertilizer.

Seeding A New Lawn

If you have no existing lawn or the entire ground is overrun with nothing but weeds, it may be best to start from scratch and create the lawn of your dreams.

  1. Kill existing vegetation with nonselective herbicide. If you want to preserve nearby trees or shrubs, take steps to protect that vegetation from the treatment.
  2. Take a soil sample of your lawn to determine the pH. A testing kit can provide a good pH estimate, or a gardening center or garden extension service can provide a more precise evaluation.
  3. Prepare soil by breaking up the surface with a rake or spade using a crisscross pattern. All large lumps should be broken up, and any large rocks should be removed.
  4. Broadcast starter fertilizer, lime and gypsum as determined by the pH test. This will provide a nutrition boost for fresh seeds.
  5. Spread topsoil or humus to a ½ inch depth for appropriate planting.
  6. Rototill to a depth of 4 inches and grade smooth. This will mix all the top layers together for uniform soil and nutrition, ensuring even turf growth.
  7. Sow proper seed and mulch lightly with salt hay to control erosion and conserve moisture.
  8. Water daily until grass has germinated, then soak once a week to encourage deeper root growth to resist droughts and repel weeds.
  9. Fertilize in late fall with fall fertilizer to provide nutrition throughout the season.

Which Seed?

Not every lawn will thrive with the same type of grass seed. Allow our staff to help you select the seed that best suits your needs, soil type and planting conditions. Apply at the recommended rate and incorporate into the top ¼” of soil. Do not bury the seed or it may not germinate evenly.

No matter what the condition of your lawn, fall is the best time to take steps to help it rejuvenate so you have an amazing lawn to enjoy in spring.

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Plant a Tree This Fall

There are so many reasons to add a new tree to your landscape this fall that it’s hard to find a reason not to.

Just think about it, trees will…

  • Beautify the Environment
    Trees add texture and color to the landscape. They soften the harsh lines of buildings and driveways, while their foliage and blooms add seasonal color changes and variety.
  • Stabilize Soil
    Tree roots prevent soil from blowing or washing away, minimizing erosion and providing protection for the surrounding landscape.
  • Provide Wildlife Habitat
    Trees provide shelter and food for birds and numerous small animals, including squirrels, raccoons, insects and more.
  • Make Food
    Many trees provide fruits, nuts, seeds, sap and berries for human consumption. Wildlife will also rely on the food provided by trees.
  • Create Oxygen
    Through photosynthesis, trees take in carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and other poisons from our air and release pure oxygen for us to breathe. One tree can produce enough oxygen for 10 humans for one year!
  • Filter the Air
    Trees act as giant filters trapping dust and pollution particles with their leaves and bark until the rain washes the particles away.
  • Cool the Air
    Air will remain several degrees cooler in the shade of a tree canopy. This is accomplished by not only by blocking the sun’s rays but also through transpiration. Tree leave transpire, or release moisture, which cools the surrounding air. A large tree can release as much as 400 gallons of moisture from its leaves daily.
  • Reduce Utility Bills
    Deciduous trees planted on the south and southwest sides of a home will shade the structure during hot summer months and reduce air conditioning or other cooling needs. In the winter, with the leaves fallen, the sun is able to warm the structure, reducing heating bills.
  • Reduce Noise Pollution
    Strategically planted, trees can dramatically reduce the volume of unwanted noise from loud neighbors, nearby businesses or car traffic.
  • Hide undesirable views
    Purposefully sited, trees can camouflage unattractive views and create privacy, providing a natural sanctuary in your yard.

In our area, fall is just about the best time of year to purchase and plant a tree. The soil is warm, air temperature is cool and morning and evening dew increase available moisture to nurture a new tree. Stop in and see our extensive collection, and we can assist you in choosing the tree that is perfect for your landscape and lifestyle needs.

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Deterring Deer

Deer may be beautiful and elegant, but they aren’t always welcome in the garden. Even just a few visiting deer can tear up a landscape, eat an entire crop, destroy a carefully cultivated bed and cause other havoc, such as creating a traffic hazard, damaging bird feeders or leaving behind unwanted “gifts” on sidewalks and pathways. But how can you keep deer out of your yard and away from your garden and landscape?

Popular Deer Deterrent Techniques

People try all sorts of home-grown methods to keep deer from destroying their landscape and gardens. Some of the more common tactics include…

  • 8 ft. fencing, including wire or electric fences
  • Big, loud dogs on guard in the yard
  • Deer repellents such as commercial chemicals
  • Predator urine or other anti-deer scents
  • Motion detectors connected to lights or sprinklers

All of these methods work but are limited in their effectiveness. Fencing is costly and unsightly. Repellents and urine wash away. Sprinklers or lighted areas can be easily avoided. So what can you do to keep deer away permanently?

Deer are creatures of habit and they are easily scared. Anything you can do to mix up their habits or make them think there is danger nearby might be enough to make them go elsewhere in search of food. But deer aren’t foolish and if they realize the danger isn’t real, they will return. Therefore, you must rotate any scare tactics you try and reapply repellents frequently. This can be a lot of work to keep your garden safe, but you can make your garden do the work for you.

Plants Deer Won’t Like

While deer in large herds with insufficient food will eat almost any garden vegetation, particularly in harsh winters, you can opt for plants that aren’t popular with deer to minimize deer damage. At the same time, avoid planting favorite deer plants, such as azaleas, rhododendrons, yews, roses, Japanese maples, winged euonymous, hemlocks and arborvitae, as well as any edible garden produce.

So what can you plant in your landscape to discourage deer? There are many attractive plants deer will avoid, including…

Trees

  • Chinese Paper Birch
  • Colorado Blue Spruce
  • Dragon Lady Holly
  • Douglas Fir
  • Japanese Cedar
  • San Jose Holly
  • Serviceberry
  • Scotch Pine

Shrubs & Climbers

  • Barberry
  • Bearberry
  • Blueberry Elder
  • Boxwood
  • Caryopteris
  • Common Buckhorn
  • Creeping Wintergreen
  • European Privet
  • Japanese Andromeda
  • Japanese Plum Yew
  • Leucothoe
  • Rose of Sharon
  • Russian Olive

Try using these less deer-friendly plants to create a dense border around your yard and garden area, and deer will be less inclined to work their way toward the tastier plants. When combined with other deterrent techniques, it is possible to have a stunning landscape without being stunned by deer damage.

 

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