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Kids and Nature: Uncovering Surprises Everywhere

Wherever you live, nature is always near, with entire worlds to discover around the trees in your yard, in the carpet of grass or beneath that pile of rocks. With school vacations rapidly approaching, you may already be thinking of ways to keep your children or grandchildren busy during the long summer months. Well, how about setting up your own Nature Camp! An appreciation of nature will stay with children forever and teach them the importance of caring for the environment and all living things, including themselves. 

Top Nature Activities for Kids

Spring and summer nature activities with your child could be as simple as a daily walk around the block or backyard, or as complex as starting your own backyard wildlife preserve. Popular options include… 

  • A stroll through the woods or a nearby meadow, observing or gathering things of interest along the way. Spend some time watching ants or earthworms, caterpillars or butterflies. Take an evening walk to look for fireflies and bats or to listen to crickets and frogs. Note different species of birds, or look for other wildlife such as squirrels, rabbits or deer.
  • Very young children love collecting things – rocks, feathers, flowers, shells and leaves are a few easy examples. See how many different types, colors, shapes or sizes they can find. Older children might want to start a pressed leaf or flower collection, or capture some insects for identification and observation.
  • Raising butterflies or moths from caterpillars, noting how they grow and change in a nature journal or through a series of photographs to create a scrapbook of the experience. When they’re ready to be released, let the child have the wonder of connecting with nature as their fluttering friends fly free.
  • A more extensive nature activity could be to help your child plan and plant a whole garden devoted to attracting wildlife. By planting trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals that attract birds (including hummingbirds) and butterflies, and by installing bird feeders, bird houses and bird baths, you can create a miniature wildlife refuge that you and your child can enjoy for many years to come.

We’ll be delighted to help you and your future naturalist select plants suitable for a wildlife garden, plan a backyard refuge or to identify flowers or leaves that have been collected on your nature walks. 

So, what are you waiting for? Make the most of this spring with a child and go back to nature!

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Raise ‘Em Right

Lousy soil? Not to worry! Try growing in a raised bed. Popular in colonial times, this style of gardening is making a tremendous resurgence and is ideal for many types of gardening ambitions.

Why Raised Beds

There are many benefits to gardening above the grade, including…

  • Better Soil Conditions
    Growing in raised beds is an excellent choice if you have poor soil. Once constructed, you may add the soil and amendments of your choice to provide the optimum conditions for root growth in exactly the space you will be planting. Because a raised bed is not stepped in and is carefully monitored, it is easy to maintain this peak condition.
  • Higher Yield
    Better soil equals better root growth which then leads higher yield of flowers, produce or herbs. Also, intensive planting in raised beds means more plants can be grown in a smaller area than with conventional row-cropping as no space is wasted between rows.
  • Maintenance
    If properly thought out, every area of the raised bed may be comfortably reached from the side allowing for less bending and reaching and easier maintenance for thinning, weeding and other garden tasks. A garden seat makes gardening in raised beds even easier by bringing the soil surface closer to your upper body. Intensive planting cuts down on weeds by shading the soil surface. Improved soil conditions (less compaction and controlled moisture) make weed removal easier.
  • Critter Control
    Pests are less of a problem in raised beds. A simple frame may be erected with plant stakes or bamboo. Cover the frame with garden netting to prevent birds and other critters from destroying your plants. The bottom of the bed may be lined with hardware cloth to prevent burrowing rodents from getting in. The smaller area of a raised bed is also easier to protect from unwanted insects.
  • Water Conservation
    A raised bed is advantageous for water conservation. Use an appropriate watering system to ensure that water gets only to where it is needed. Soaker hoses and drip-type irrigation systems disperse water in patterns well suited to raised beds. They also reduce disease by directing water to the soil instead of wetting the leaf surface with overhead irrigation.
  • Extended Growing Season
    Increased drainage speeds up soil warming and allows it to dry quicker after a spring rain for earlier planting. The addition of a portable cold frame will extend the growing season even further by also keeping the soil warm later in the fall. Not only does this allow for later harvesting, but it is possible to harvest crops from raised beds that simply wouldn’t have time to mature in a traditional garden.

With so many benefits, why not get started with raised beds this year?

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Viburnums

Viburnums are one of the most outstanding groups of shrubs for use in landscape planting. Varying in height from 2-30 feet, viburnums can be found to suit most any planting location. Their varied growth habits, excellent foliage, striking and fragrant flowers, showy fruit and interesting winter appearance make them an excellent choice for most gardeners.

Which Viburnum to Choose

Effective in many situations, the smaller shrub forms, such as Viburnum carlesi ‘Compacta’ and V. opulus ‘Compactum’, are excellent for planting close to houses or in tighter spaces, such as narrow flowerbeds or in side yards. The larger forms, such as V. lantana and V. prunifolium, make good specimen and screen plantings to be a centerpiece in the garden or provide privacy. Which one will work best in your landscape will also depend on the available space you have, your soil type and the sunlight needs of individual plants.

Flowers and Foliage

Viburnum flowers, primarily white in color, are borne in clusters, ranging from a rounded snowball shape to a flat form. Large, white snowball clusters of florets are found on V. carlcephalum and V. macrocephalum. Half-round flower forms are borne on such types as V. carlesi and V. burkwoodi. Most of the others have a flat cluster of florets such as V. plicatum ‘Tomentosum,’ V. dilatatum and others.

Viburnum foliage can be extraordinary with types that include a velvety smooth leaf surface, bold rough-veined textures and glossy leathery character, all of which add more textural interest to the landscape. In addition, some forms have attractive fall leaf color such as the purplish red of V. dentatum and V. dilatatum, as well as the brilliant red of V. opulus.

Brilliant Berries

In the fall and winter there is also ornamental value with berries. Many viburnums produce lovely fruits in shades of red, pink, yellow and blue-black which not only add to fall and winter interest, but can also be attractive to birds and other backyard wildlife.

Viburnum Care

With so many many pleasing aesthetic features of these plants, how easy are they to care for? Easier than you may think! Viburnums are very hardy, resistant to serious pests, thrive in a variety of soil and environmental conditions and require little pruning. They will grow in either sun or shade; however, flowering and fruiting will be more profuse in a sunny location.

With so much to choose from and so many advantages to these shrubs, there’s sure to be one to suit all your landscaping needs. Stop in to consult with our landscaping experts today, and we can help you choose the perfect viburnum to complement your landscape.

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Vegetable Garden Weed Control

You may want to grow many different things in your vegetable garden, but weeds probably aren’t on your favorite edibles list. Weeding can be an enormous time-drain and is one of the the least liked gardening chores. What’s wonderful is that we have so many weed control methods to choose from; there’s a solution for every type of gardener and their schedule.

Safe Control Methods in Edible Gardens

When it comes to vegetable gardening, many gardeners are very particular about what goes into their soil and onto their plants, as it will eventually end up on their plates and in their bodies. Here are some indisputable safe and effective ways to control weeds, without chemicals, in your veggie or any other garden for that matter.

  • Apply corn gluten meal to prevent weed seeds from germinating (don’t use if direct seeding your garden as all seeds will be affected).
  • Plan your garden to crowd edible plants together, effectively crowding out weeds because there isn’t space left for them to grow.
  • Manually pull weeds when the soil is wet and roots are looser. This can be done after a natural rainfall or after supplemental watering.
  • Hoe when the soil is dry to break apart weeds and damage their roots. Pick up larger weeds after hoeing so they cannot reestablish themselves.
  • Mulch with salt hay which contains no weed seeds. The hay will shield weed seeds from the sunlight and moisture they need for germinating.
  • Lay biodegradable and compostable mulch film down to create a firm barrier to keep weeds out or to prevent existing weed seeds from germinating.
  • Attract seed-loving birds such as finches and sparrows, which will happily eat hundreds of weed seeds each day for natural control.
  • Consider raised beds or container gardening to more effectively control weeds and make any remaining weeding easier.
  • Use fire (with all appropriate safety precautions) to burn out unwanted weeds, especially in pathway areas or along garden borders.
  • Treat exposed weeds with boiling water – the hotter the better – to cook and kill them. Several treatments may be needed for the best effects.

Weeds can be some of our worst enemies in the garden, and it is impossible to eliminate every single weed all the time. By using multiple methods and keeping on top of the task, however, it is possible to minimize weeds and make this chore less onerous, without resorting to harsh chemicals.

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Growing Exotic Citrus

Citrus trees grown in fancy terra cotta pots, light-weight decorative containers or wooden planters can be used to adorn your garden, no matter how small it is. Use a potted citrus as a centerpiece for an herb garden, place several in a series on your steps or decorate your deck with these grand-looking accent plants. Dark, glossy green leaves look beautiful all season long while colorful, healthy fruit dangles enticingly from the branches. Although citrus plants are not winter hardy in the north, they may be moved indoors during this time. For added pleasure, citrus offers weeks of fragrant flowers in the spring.

Top Citrus Picks

There are several varieties of exotic citrus trees that can be stunning in the landscape. The most popular options include…

  • Calamondin Orange – This cross between a mandarin and kumquat produces miniature oranges that are somewhat tart but make excellent marmalade.
  • Ponderosa Lemons – Producing fruits that weigh up to a whopping 5 pounds each, Ponderosa Lemons have a thick ring with very little juice.
  • Variegated Pink Lemons – This lemon has variegated foliage and produces a yellowish-pink fruit.
  • Meyer Lemon – Although not a true lemon (it is said to be a cross between a lemon and either an orange or mandarin), the Meyer Lemon is one of the sweetest lemons.
  • Key Lime – Also known as Mexican Lime, this selection is highly prized for making Key Lime Pie. The plant is very thorny and produces small aromatic fruits.
  • Goliath Pummels – The largest of all citrus fruits, pummels taste similar to grapefruit.
  • Blood Orange – Having an unusual red flesh, these oranges are prized by gourmet cooks for their slight berry-like flavor.
  • Flame Red Seedless Grapefruit – This grapefruit variety produces medium-sized pinkish-colored fruits.
  • Cocktail Trees – These are a grafted tree that usually contains 4 to 5 different types of citrus on the same plant, great for your own fruit salad in minimal space.

Citrus Care

Place citrus plants in a sunny location where they will receive a minimum of 6 hours of sun to ensure the best possible fruit. Water regularly and feed with a fertilizer listed specifically for citrus plants every two weeks. During the summer months, citrus plants will produce a lot of new growth. In the early fall, before bringing plants indoors, prune citrus plants back about 1/8 of their existing size. This will help to minimize the shock that plants often experience when being moved. Use a humidity tray indoors or mist daily. Avoid placing your plant in a drafty area or by a heating vent. Provide a minimum of 6-8 hours of daily sun or very bright light in the winter months. It may be necessary to supplement with an artificial light source at this time of the year to keep the plant at its best.

It may seem unusual to have strange citrus trees in your yard or even right inside your home, but with a little care, you’ll be amazed at how much fun these plants can be to grow, and their sweet fruit is a wonderful reward for your efforts.

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Rose – Queen of the Garden

We all love roses. It may be the luxurious fragrances, rich colors or the elegant flower forms that attract us. It may be the memories that roses evoke. Whatever the reason, roses are one of the world’s most popular flowers. With so many different types of roses available, ranging from the diminutive miniatures to the towering climbers, there is no excuse to exclude this “Queen of Flowers” from your garden.

Rose Types

There are many types of roses to cultivate, and it can be difficult to choose. If you’re just getting started with roses, consider some of these popular favorites…

  • Hybrid Tea Roses: These blooms are a favorite of rose gardeners who enjoy long-stemmed, large flowers. Hybrid tea flowers have many petals and plants grow upright and tall, about 3-7 feet. These roses are appropriate in either a formal garden or informal planting.
  • Floribunda Roses: These roses have smaller flowers than hybrid teas with the flowers arranged in clusters. This rose bush is useful as a hedge for a border or privacy screen, and is equally stunning in mass plantings.
  • Grandiflora Roses: These beauties were developed by crossing hybrid teas with floribundas. This rose grows to around 10 feet tall so it should be used in the back of the border where its beauty won’t shroud other plants. The flowers of the Grandiflora are hybrid tea form and can be single stemmed or borne in clusters depending on the cultivar.
  • Climbing Roses: These roses make an outstanding vertical display when trained on arbors, walls, fences, trellises and pergolas and can grow from 8-15 feet tall. Flowers may be borne large and single or small and arranged in clusters.
  • Miniature Roses: These delicate nymphs are dwarf in every way – flowers, leaves and height. This rose may be mass planted as a ground cover, used as border or grown in containers on decks, patios and porches.
  • Shrub Roses: These flowers are renowned for their bushy habit and superior disease resistance making them an excellent choice for mass planting. The shrub rose flower may be either single or double. Some types have very showy rose hips.
  • Old Roses: These luscious heirlooms are making a come-back! Although bloom times and color choices are limited, old roses are much more fragrant, vigorous and disease resistant than modern roses. To obtain all the qualities of an old rose combined with a long bloom time of a modern rose, look for the David Austin varieties.

Not sure which rose is just right for your landscape or garden? Our rose experts will be glad to help you choose the perfect rose no matter what thoughts or emotions you want your garden to evoke. Stop in today to see the latest types of roses and the most popular cultivars for this year’s gardening.

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Determinate Versus Indeterminate Tomatoes

It’s tomato-planting time again! If you’ve grown tomatoes in the past, you most likely have your favorites. If not, just ask! You’ll find some pretty strong opinions regarding tomato choices, and every gardener has their own top choices, must haves and great picks for tomatoes.

Choosing Tomatoes

Along with soil type, climate, moisture and other typical gardening considerations, one of the features you will need to take into account when choosing what type of tomato to grow is plant habit. The two main habit classifications are “determinate” and “indeterminate” and are based on fruit use, available growing space and length of growing season. Both habit classifications include fruit selections in a wide variety of colors, sizes, shapes and tastes.

Determinate Tomatoes

Tomatoes from a determinate plant are produced earlier in the growing season, on terminal ends of a compact bush. This type of tomato generally reaches 3-4 feet in height and is easily supported with a tomato cage or may even be self-supporting. Due to its compact habit, it may even be grown in containers, ideal for gardeners with less available space. Because all the fruit ripens at the same time, determinate tomatoes are an excellent choice if you plan to can your fruit or make sauce, as you won’t need to worry about collecting enough fruit to work with. Determinate classification includes popular tomato varieties such as:

  • “Celebrity” – an eating tomato
  • “Roma” – a paste tomato
  • “Patio” – a dwarf selection
  • “Baby Cakes” – a cherry tomato
  • “Carolina Gold” – extra large, yellow fruit

Indeterminate Tomatoes

Indeterminate tomato plants will fruit along the entire length of the stem over a longer period of time, in fact continually, until frost. Smaller amounts of fruit ripening regularly throughout the growing season makes an indeterminate tomato plant an excellent choice if you cannot cook or consume a large quantity of this perishable fruit all at one time. Indeterminate tomato plants are vines, requiring proper pruning and support, to reach their ultimate height of 8 feet or more. Indeterminate classification includes popular varieties like:

  • “Amish Paste” – heirloom, paste tomato
  • “Beefmaster” – extra large sandwich tomato
  • “Better Boy” – juicy but firm, compact vine with shorter internodes
  • “Black Krim” – deep color, rich flavor
  • “Chocolate Cherry” – cherry, chocolate red in color

By understanding the differences between these basic tomato classifications, it will be easy for you to choose the tastiest tomato to suit your gardening needs and harvest preferences. Many gardeners choose more than one of each type of tomato, ensuring there is always a bountiful supply to use, to share and to enjoy!

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Top 10 Disease-Resistant Crabapples

Crabapple trees in flower are a sight to behold. They are the showstopper trees of spring, and are compact enough to fit in nearly any size, shape or style of landscape. But how will you pick the variety that is best for you?

About Crabapples

The unrivaled spring beauty of these trees can take your breath away, as they frequently bud in one color but the flowers open in another, which can create a glorious variegated effect. To add to their appeal, they perform again in the late summer or fall with a fabulous display of hanging, showy fruit that wildlife loves.

Crabapples are available in a range of flower petal colors that include white, pink, red and all shades in between. Flower forms may be single or semi-double with some varieties being fragrant. Selections may be made for fall fruit size and color, including shades of green, yellow, orange, bronze, red and purple. Crabapple trees are also available in a variety of leaf color, size and growth habit to accommodate a landscape of any style and size.

Crabapple Problems

Although these trees have the potential to be stunningly beautiful, crabapples are subject to a number of serious diseases that can leave them unattractive through most of the growing season. The four main offenders are…

  • Apple Scab: This disease manifests as unsightly dark lesions on the leaves and fruit and will cause premature leaf drop.
  • Cedar-Apple Rust: This blight presents as yellow spots on the upper side of the leaves early in the season, followed by orange rust spots on the underside of the leaves in the late summer. This disease will cause premature leaf drop.
  • Fire Blight: This infection gives new shoots the appearance of being scorched by fire and the fruit will look dark and shriveled.
  • Powdery Mildew: This common disease will cause the leaves to be deformed and give them a white, powdery appearance.

There is, however, good news. You can plant a crabapple today without hesitation, because we carry crabapple selections with an excellent degree of disease resistance. Here is our list of the top 10 stunning crabapples with the best disease resistance. We may not have all of these varieties in our current inventory but we certainly have a great assortment on hand for you to choose from. Stop in today to see which varieties we have available or what other cultivars we may be able to recommend for your exact landscaping needs and preferences.

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Conserving Water Through Proper Planting

Worried that you may have to give up color in your landscape to save on maintenance and water? Afraid that watering restrictions in your area will put a damper on your colorful flowerbeds, borders and shrubs? It doesn’t have to be that way! Many brightly-colored trees, shrubs and flowers don’t require as much water once they become established, which generally takes about a year. The key is knowing which plants to select and how to treat them for that year. 

Choosing Plants That Tolerate Drought 

The key to keeping your color while losing the water is to opt for plants that aren’t quite so thirsty. Fortunately, there are all types of beautiful drought-tolerant plants to choose from, with more cultivars being developed every year. 

Dry soil tolerant plants include: 

Annuals

  • Cosmos
  • Nasturtium
  • Portulaca
  • Strawflower
  • Verbena

Perennials

  • Achillea (Yarrow)
  • Anthemis (Golden Marguerite)
  • Artemesia (Wormwood)
  • Asclepias (Butterflyweed)
  • Baptisia (False Indigo)
  • Echinops (Globe Thistle)
  • Gallardia (Blanket Flower)
  • Hemerocallus (Daylily)
  • Rudbeckia (Black-Eyed Susan)
  • Salvia (Sage)
  • Sedum (Stonecrop)
  • Stachys (Lamb’s Ear)

Shrubs

  • Berberis (Japanese Barberry)
  • Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)
  • Chaenomeles (Quince)
  • Cotinus (Smokebush)
  • Hamemelis (Witchazel)
  • Hypericum (St. John’s Wort)
  • Juniper
  • Ligustrum (Privet)
  • Myrica (Bayberry)
  • Potentilla
  • Rhamnus (Tallhedge)
  • Pyracantha (Firethorn)
  • Vitex (Chastetree)
  • Yucca

Establishing Drought-Tolerant Plants 

To be sure drought-tolerant, water-saving plants get the good start they need, it is important to plant them in appropriate locations. Some do well in full sun, others need varying amounts of shade. Also pay close attention to soil needs, including pH values – the chemical composition of the soil affects its water retention and the ability of plants to absorb that water effectively. If your plants are in the right spot, they will flourish with the best foliage and flowering possible, even with little watering. 

Plant drought-tolerant plants as early as possible so they can begin growing strong, absorbent roots well before the driest days of summer, and use drip watering systems, mulch and windbreaks to protect delicate plants from too much heat stress. Grouping plants with similar watering needs together can also help minimize water loss by avoiding irresponsible watering. 

More Watering Tips 

To make the most of every drop of water you offer to your garden, flowerbeds or landscape… 

  • Water in the very early morning when the air is still cool and less water will evaporate before it soaks into the soil.
  • Water deeply but infrequently to help plants stretch their roots deeper into the soil seeking moisture.
  • Check your irrigation system regularly for any leaks or other problems that could result in poor watering practices.

With thoughtfulness and care, you can easily enjoy beautiful, colorful flowerbeds, gardens and landscaping even without a great deal of water.

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Caution in the Garden… Chlorosis

Yellow means caution, even for plants. While leaf yellowing, known as chlorosis, may be a signal that there is a problem that requires attention, it may also be normal. Understanding when this coloration is to be expected and when it indicates a problem is essential to be sure you’re giving your plants the proper care.

The Good and the Bad About Chlorosis

Chlorosis is the scientific word used to indicate the full or partial yellowing of plant leaves or stems and simply means that chlorophyll is breaking down. There are times when this is normal, expected coloration, and there are times when it indicates deeper problems that need attention.

  • Normal Chlorosis – Yellowing leaves at the base of an otherwise healthy plant is normal; the plant is simply utilizing the nitrogen and magnesium for exposed leaves near its top rather than older, lower leaves. These yellowed, older leaves will eventually shrivel and fall off as newer growth emerges at the top of the plant.
  • Chlorotic Response to Light – Moving a plant from full sun to shade, or visa-versa, can cause yellowing leaves as the plant reacts to the change and stress. Make sure that you grow and maintain your plant in the proper light. Also bear in mind seasonal changes that may affect how much light a plant is exposed to, even if it hasn’t been moved.
  • Chlorotic Response to Moisture – Sudden changes in soil moisture may damage or kill plant roots which can lead to yellowed leaves as the roots are unable to take up sufficient moisture. Most otherwise healthy plants, however, are able to grow new roots as they readjust. Maintain correct soil moisture or move the plants to a more favorable environment.
  • Mineral Deficiency – A shortage of some key mineral nutrients will cause chlorosis in plants. Often, a yellow leaf indicates a lack of nitrogen, however, magnesium, iron, sulfur or manganese deficiencies are indicated by yellowing leaves with prominent green veins. A magnesium deficiency will manifest itself in the yellowing of older leaves. On the other hand, an iron deficiency presents itself in the yellowing of new or young leaves. A simple soil analysis will let you know what minerals or trace elements your soil is deficient in.
  • Soil Factors – Although essential and trace elements may be present in the soil, many other factors affect how the plant uses and absorbs them. If the soil pH is too high/low or there is too much salt in the soil, the plant will not be able to utilize the available nutrients. Test your soil pH and adjust as necessary to be sure the plant can absorb nutrients appropriately to maintain proper foliage colors.
  • Toxins – Although this doesn’t happen frequently, pollutants like paint, oil, chemical solvents, airborne herbicides or pesticides or other pollutants may cause leaves to turn yellow and dark brown before dying. In this case, remove and dispose of the plant and its surrounding soil, and mark the area to be sure it can be treated appropriately and no other plants are inadvertently exposed to the toxins.

It can be alarming to see healthy plants suddenly yellowing, but by understanding chlorosis and how it happens, you can take steps to determine the cause of the color change and what to do to help your plants recover.

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