If your yard had seen better days, why not give your outdoor space a much-needed update? Contrary to popular notion, there is no need to spend thousands of dollars on a professional landscaping job to create a stunning outdoor space. As long as you know all the design elements that come to play in a well-designed patio or garden, you too, can build the yard of your dreams. Today, we are outlining simple and easy landscaping tips for a stunning outdoor space:
Function Before Form
Anyone wants a gorgeous yard but before thinking about what design to choose or collecting pegs, think about the purpose of the redesign in the first place. Knowing what purpose the space will serve is the first step to designing the perfect outdoor space. Would you like a beautiful flower garden – complete with raised beds – so you can relax any time of the day? Are you updating your yard for a vegetable garden? Would you like to build an outdoor play area for the kids? After figuring out what you hope to achieve from this project, you can start with the design planning. Don’t be afraid to play with different ideas but make sure you are decided on a specific design. That’s because updating an outdoor space, no matter the size, takes a lot of time and effort.
Perfecting Your Setup
Some common landscaping mistakes have dire consequences. For instance, setting the patio in a sunny spot with zero shade or installing the BBQ pit in a windy area could lead to all sorts of issues that will affect the usability of your outdoor space. During the design planning, take into account the places in the yard that gets a lot of sun and design your outdoor setup accordingly. This goes the same for windy or shady spots; take these into account especially if you are updating your outdoor space with plans to entertain guests in the future.
Fine a Focal Point
Once you are ready to make major changes in the yard, pick a focal point and define this space. A focal point is a spot that draws the eyes naturally. A tree, a statute, a gorgeous view, even your home’s architectural feature could serve as your yard’s focal point. Try exploring different parts of the yard at certain times of the day to discover a focal point. Look for a spot that’s different in form, color, or texture from the rest of the yard. Once you’ve decided on a focal point, define it to make it stand out even more. You can use a variety of outdoor decors and pieces of patio furniture to define your focal point.
It’s tempting to go all out when you’re in the heat of it but don’t splurge on a total yard makeover just yet. Develop a great plan, start small, and enjoy the process of transforming something lackluster into a stunner. If you want to turn your yard into a flower garden, start with a couple of plant bedsand perhaps a couple of potted plants here and there. Want to turn your small patch of land into a vegetable garden? Start with a couple of raised beds, plant several veggies and take it from there. Once you are happy with these small changes, you can follow up with more. By starting small, you make fewer mistakes and possibly, avoid costly renovations.
Check the Scale and Dimension
Give your outdoor space a cohesive, pulled-together look by paying close attention to the scale and dimension of the design elements. If you are working with a modest space, it makes sense to use compact pieces of furniture and decors. This way, you can decorate your yard without overwhelming an otherwise cramped space. If the outdoor space is expansive, you have more freedom to experiment with different-sized decors. When decorating your outdoor space, try to add as much variety as you can. Do not be afraid to experiment with different shapes, sizes, and colors to showcase your eclectic taste. Depending on the size of the space you are working on, you may have to repeat certain elements to achieve a cohesive design. A pop of color, a standout piece of furniture, an accent décor, any of these design elements will define your space and make your outdoor space standout even more.
Highlight Your Home with Plants
Careful planting is an effective way of highlighting your home! Strategic planting helps frame the house while complementing its surroundings. An explosion of colors adds an interesting detail to your outdoor setup. If your home has architectural features that you’d like to highlight, you can use plants to make these details pop. You can also use plants to soften harsh angles. Of course, be sure to pick the right plants and maintain your outdoor garden regularly. You don’t want the overgrown shrubbery to take over the entire property!
Sometimes an existing feature that’s been there for years will only get in the way of redecorating your outdoor space. If a certain design element is ruining the look of your outdoor space – such as a worn-out deck, a broken water feature, or a moldy tree stump – consider removing them. You can use the blank spot to build a vegetable patch, an herb garden, or set up a couple of raised beds for a flower garden.
Go for Long, Subtle Curves
Incorporating sweeping arcs, semi-circles, and spirals is a terrific way of adding interesting details to your outdoor setup. But don’t go overboard with short, curvy walkways or a number of curved beds. Not every design benefits from the presence of curves. Though sometimes it is hard to stop because curved lines add an intimate connection to the land, too much of a good thing isn’t good either. A great landscape design is balanced. Opt for long, subtle curves so the curved lines will not dominate your space.
Creating a stunning landscape design does not have to be complicated. As long as you planned the design carefully and you’ve arranged all the design elements thoughtfully, you can create an exceptional landscape design that will bring you years of enjoyment! Found these design tips helpful? Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest landscaping tips and gardening resources straight to your inbox!
New to gardening? Gardening is a relaxing and rewarding hobby; it’s the kind of activity that adults and kids will love. And don’t think you need a massive yard before taking up this hobby, even a tiny slice of space can be turned into a thriving garden. Gardening takes patience and practice. You have to learn certain tricks and skills to ensure a fabulous yield, season after season. If you’re new to gardening and you’d like to start your newfound hobby the right way, try any of these gardening tips straight from the experts:
Do Your Research
It’s tempting to hoard all the pretty plants you see in the plant nursery but don’t. Pick the plants carefully and know each plant’s specific needs. Do your research first, learn all about the different types of plants that are suitable for the local climate and your home’s micro-climate. You can also ask a professional gardener for advice.
Plants have different needs and they should be handled accordingly. Some plants love direct sunlight, others prefer shady or damp environments. If you are building an indoor garden, opt for plants that love shady, damp environments such as orchids, bromeliads, cyclamen, and gardenia. For busybodies looking for hardy houseplants that won’t die easily, we recommend cactus, aloe vera, Golden Pothos, and rubber tree plant. On the other hand, outdoor plants like purple coneflower, day lily, lavender, verbena, and Shasta daisy, need direct sunlight.
Try a Container Garden
No outdoor space is too small for a garden. If you live in a rental, try starting your hobby with a container garden. A container garden is perfect for city dwellers or homeowners with zero space for a garden. Just re-pot several plants using decorative planters and arrange the plants in groups. Depending on the size and types of plants you chose, you can set your container garden indoors or outdoors.
Lighten Heavy Planters
Re-arranging potted plants is a great way to refresh the look of the garden but if lifting heavy planters is putting a strain on your back, try this trick: do not fill your planters with heavy potting soil. Place a layer of packing peanuts at the base of the pot then top it with a piece of landscape fabric. Plant the foliage of your choice and then fill the planter with potting soil. If you want to lighten your planters even further, try mixing vermiculite and peat moss with potting soil.
Tweak Your Rain Gauge
A rain gauge is an instrument that collects and measures the amount of rain that falls over a set period of time. This instrument makes a terrific addition to any garden, particularly in places that get a lot of rain every year. If reading your rain gauge becomes increasingly difficult, try adding a few drops of food dye to the bottom of the device. Once the rain comes, the collected water will mix with the dye, allowing you to check the water level with ease! Pretty nifty, right?
Controlling Aggressive Plants
Some plants are more aggressive than others. These plants, called invasive plants, spread quickly if left untended for a certain period of time. Gooseneck loosestrife, creeping bellflower, Lily of the valley, and Bee Balm are just a few of the many different types of invasive plants. You have to contain aggressive plants so they do not take over the entire garden. You can do this by planting invasive plants in plastic containers. Also trim the underground roots with a knife regularly. Trimming the roots prevents invasive plants from crowding the entire garden.
A Quick Fix for Root-Bound Plants
Some potted plants tend to run out of room for the roots to grow. When this happens, the roots will start forming tight circles in the pot, which could affect nutrient absorption and cause the plant to die. A quick fix for root-bound plants is to guide the roots outward using your fingers. If the roots are bound too tightly, get a knife and gently make vertical cuts to set the roots free. Do this gently because you don’t want to hurt the plant roots.
Preventing Garden Pests
We don’t recommend using pesticides and herbicides to eliminate pests because these repellants tend to leave traces of chemicals that are harmful to the health. In addition, these chemicals kill harmful and beneficial bugs alike. Not all bugs are bad, some are beneficial to plants. Lady beetles, damsel bugs, and lacewings are beneficial bugs while earwigs, mealy bugs, and squash bugs are harmful to the plants. Pests such as small rodents will always be a problem but you can avoid an invasion before it starts by installing a physical barrier over the plants. Installing staking nets is one way to discourage pests from nibbling on young plants and flower bulbs. Once spring season comes, just remove the netting or cut holes to give the plants room to grow.
It also helps if you set your flower plots and raised beds in high traffic areas. This trick will discourage shy critters, such as rabbits and mice, from feasting on your flower bulbs. Finally, try using different baits to keep snails and slugs from ruining your vegetable garden without using chemical repellants.
Pick Beginner-Friendly Plants
Some plants are delicate and require regular maintenance; others are quite hardy and easy to grow. If you are new to gardening, it makes sense to choose beginner-friendly plants. Beginner-friendly plants require minimal maintenance and not much else. If you are building a flower garden, we recommend can’t-kill-flowering plants like sunflowers, foxgloves, petunias, sweet pea, marigold, zinnias or pansies. If you want a vegetable garden, try growing tomatoes, onions, chard, bush beans, and peppers! If you’re having trouble picking the best can’t kill plants in the nursery, ask the nursery employee for advice.
Young plants need plenty of water and depending on the type of plants you have in your garden, you may have to water them several times per week. Do note that the way you water the plants affects their health and growth. Avoid wetting the plants’ leaves because this can lead to mold growth and rot. Overwatering can kill a plant, especially delicate plants that thrive in desert-like environments. Ideally, sprouts need about an inch of water per week. But again, this will depend on the kind of plants you have in your garden. Keep an eye out for yellowing leaves, which is a sign that the plant is absorbing too much water!
Add Eggshells to the Soil
Got leftover eggshells from breakfast? Save these for later, you can use eggshells to boost your potting soil’s nutrition. Eggshells enrich plant soil with calcium as they decompose, preventing rot in blossoming plants. On top of that, crushed eggshells repel slugs and snails. When placed at the bottom of the planter, crushed eggshells could block the drain holes for extra thirsty foliage. To use eggshells to enrich the soil and prevent pests, ground the eggshells and stir into the soil. You can also combine the crushed eggshells with coffee grounds before stirring the mixture into the potting soil.
If you’re using the eggshells to block the planter holes, just spread a layer of the crushed eggshells at the bottom of the planter. Add a layer of potting soil, place the plant then cover the plant roots with more potting soil and you’re done. Found these gardening tips helpful? We’ve got lots more coming your way! Sign up for our newsletter to enjoy exciting discounts and more eco-friendly gardening tips straight from the experts!
A person who writes about gardening as much as I do—both in fiction and nonfiction— theoretically should have perfect flower beds. Unfortunately, all that writing doesn’t leave much time for the actual gardening. And I live on a small Pennsylvania farm populated by free-ranging farmyard fowl, as well as cows, pigs, and sheep which aren’t supposed to be free-ranging but often are anyhow.
Under those circumstances, perfection is an impossibility. But those of us who weren’t to the manor born learn to be happy with a naturally unkempt look. After all, the so-called casual “cottage garden style” is much more appropriate for our smaller homes than it is for those stately British ones!
Since my father is a farmer and my late mother always kept a large vegetable garden, a penchant for growing things came packed into my genes. There once was an old house adjacent to ours where the residents tossed their wood ashes out the back door. After years of such applications, the soil turned black and fluffy, unlike our typical clay-larded loam.
So, when I was a teenager, I rolled some of the old foundation stones left from the house around that particular plot of land—now situated behind our garage—and claimed it as mine. Its former residents had also thrown their trash out back, so I frequently uncover shards of old pottery when I am digging.
Unlike Mom, I’ve always had a preference for flowers and herbs rather than vegetables. And, the more unusual those flowers, the better! Stubbornly refusing to be limited by my location in USDA zone 5, I often keep tropical plants in pots which I lug indoors and stash under makeshift grow-lights (shop lights) in winter. Those plants generally get both leggy and buggy by spring, but most of them do survive.
Since the garden with the good soil has become somewhat shaded over the years, it’s now mostly dedicated to plants such as bleeding hearts, columbines, sweet cicely, sweet woodruff, violets, etc. The more sunny beds on the south side of the house are filled with light-loving favorites such as roses, lilies, irises, black-eyed Susans, and hardy geraniums. I’ve even been known to plant daffodils, tulips, and crocuses in the lawn, since there is little room for them elsewhere, though my recent discovery of grow bags has expanded my options considerably!
With the exception of plants which grow from bulbs or tubers and a few of the newest petunias and other container plants which I purchase from a local Amish greenhouse, I start most of my own -flowers from seed. I sometimes begin the following year’s garden in autumn or early winter by placing seeds in damp paper towels in the refrigerator to stratify, though I put off most of the actual indoor seed sowing until about mid-February.
Over the years, I’ve acquired a large percentage of my seeds via trades, first in one-on-one swaps with other gardeners on sites such as GardenWeb, more recently in large multi-gardener seed exchanges on the National Gardening Association’s web site. With a little additional help from my favorite gardening products such as Superthrive and Spray ‘N Grow, even a genuine cottage gardener such as myself is limited only by her imagination!.
Although I’ve previously written articles on planting raised beds, I derived that information from research. At the time, all our garden plots here were the flat-out kind.
That or our heavy clay soil might explain why so many of our tomatoes had been blighting during recent soggy summers. So, when I got the chance to try a 2 X 4-foot ECOgardener Premium Raised Bed Garden Planter, I jumped at the opportunity.
When it arrived by mail, all the pieces looked reassuringly sturdy and simple enough that even a construction klutz such as myself should be able to assemble them. I stowed the parts in the garage in the meantime, warning my elderly farmer father not to trip over them.
Perhaps due to his knowledge of my klutziness or perhaps just due to boredom on a day when he couldn’t be out in the fields, he promptly bolted the bed together for me. Proving that a 90-year-old with failing eyesight also could manage that task with no problems.
Since he and the other guys were out in the fields on the day I needed to move the bed, I set it on end in my garden wagon and wheeled it to a sunny position in front of some peonies. That plot was about as flat as ground gets in Pennsylvania—which is not very!
If I’d had the time to spare, I would have dug up the area and leveled it. But, already running behind in the middle of the planting season, I just covered the grass with newspaper and plunked the bed down atop that. Using a level, I determined that the ground wasn’t as flat as I’d thought.
Fortunately, I was able to find a narrow plank to slide under “the wrong side of the bed,” which caused the level’s little bubble to move close enough to where it was supposed to be to satisfy me. Then I roamed around looking for dirt to dig up. Although I did have a couple large bags of potting soil and another of compost on hand, they wouldn’t be enough to fill the bed, and I didn’t want to buy more since I also am dirt cheap.
Unfortunately, the pile of old sheep manure near the barn was still matted rather than crumbling compost-ily. I also cast a thoughtful glance at the edges of our recently sown large sweet corn patch, but the soil there was much too gravelly and the ditches already ankle-twistingly deep.
So I consulted the Internet and discovered lasagna gardening where raised beds are partially filled with compostable materials such as twigs and straw before having loam added on top. Twigs and straw we had plenty of.
After packing the bottom of the bed with those, I dumped in one of the bags of soil. The way it bounced off the layer beneath it, as if off actual bedsprings, was somewhat amusing—before the weight of the soil sank that layer. I decided I would need another stratum of straw in my lasagna, and finished up with a bag of compost and one of soil.
I then planted a little salad garden, with three heirloom tomato plants across the back, some peppers—including one purely decorative one—toward the middle, and lettuce and parsley occupying the front corners. Once I find my basil seeds, I’ll sprinkle some of them in front of the peppers.
Even if this bed isn’t better at raising tomatoes than our larger garden, it at least will be closer to the back door when I want to grab ingredients for fresh salad. Or for actual lasagna!
1. Save your Easter lily.
2. Deadhead faded daffodils and tulips, but allow their foliage to die back gradually.
3. Cut back groundcovers.
4. Mow your grass in a way that encourages healthy growth.
5. Apply compost to garden beds and containers.
At a loss as to what to do with the potted lily you received or purchased for Easter? The white variety generally forced for the holiday is Lilium longiflorum, which is hardy in USDA zones higher than 4 and naturally blooms in mid-summer in the garden. So you can save your lily if you live in those zones, probably even in zone 4 if you mulch it a bit.
After the plant has finished blooming, snip off its faded trumpets and begin to accustom it gradually to more sunlight, caring for it as you would other houseplants. When all threat of frost has passed, move it outdoors, placing it in a shady position first and shifting it gradually into the sun.
Once it has grown accustomed to those rays, remove it from its pot and plant it in a sunny, well-drained position, digging a hole deep enough that the top of the lily’s bulb will be 6 inches beneath the soil’s surface. The foliage may have begun to die back by that time. However, as long as the bulb feels firm, it still is alive. It may bloom again late in the growing season or wait until the following summer to do so.
Die-back on other types of bulbs can look like a problem as well. Although it may be tempting to cut off the yellowing foliage of daffodils and tulips after they bloom, please don’t do that! Those leaves’ absorption of sunlight provides energy to the bulbs, which they will need to bloom well the following year. So, although you should snip off the faded flowers, you need to let the foliage die back at its own pace if you want your bulbs to be perennial.
Speaking of snipping, your groundcovers probably are looking tattered about now. You can give them a quick “pruning” by mowing off their tops—with your mower deck at its highest setting. However, this probably isn’t a good idea for groundcovers which bloom in the spring, such as Vinca species, since it could set back their flowering.
You’ll want to leave that mower deck fairly high while mowing your lawn. To keep it naturally healthy, avoid buzz cuts, and mow your grass so that it stands a lush 2 1/2 to 3 inches tall. (You can make exceptions for zoysia grass and bermuda grass which should be cut to 2 inches and 1 inch respectively.) For the best results, keep your mower blades sharp and mow your grass only when it is dry, preferably in late afternoon before evening dew begins to fall.
If you leave the grass clippings lie rather than gathering them, they will help feed the lawn as they break down. A thin layer of compost raked into the sod also will fertilize it and attract earthworms, which help break up thatch.
You’ll want to add compost to your flower beds and grow bags about now too. See the attached article for more information on going compost-al!
Were you foresighted enough to make compost from your fallen leaves, plant debris, and grass clippings last autumn? If so, it should be ready for use about now. If that was one of the things on your to-do list which never got to done, you generally can buy the “black gold” from your garden center—or perhaps even from your local municipality, since some towns leverage the leaves they pick up in the fall by composting them.
First, determine whether or not your compost truly is well-rotted by checking to make sure that it appears dark and fluffy, with no unpleasant odors, and is no longer retaining heat. If it looks ready to crumble, you can apply it to the surface of empty garden beds several weeks before you plan to plant them.
Provided that your garden loam’s texture and fertility already are good and you just are practicing maintenance, you can simply spread a 2 to 3 inch layer of compost over the top of the bed and incorporate it into the top 9 inches or so of soil with a spade or tiller. However, for ground that is either too heavy to drain well or too sandy to retain enough moisture, you should work about 4 or 5 inches of compost into that top 9 inches.
To fertilize existing perennial beds with compost, scatter 2 to 3 inches of it over the surface of the soil, keeping it back from the plants’ stems , and allow nature to eventually incorporate it into the ground. This helps preserve many of the beneficial bacteria and fungi which could be disturbed by too much tilling, plus it will avoid your chopping up any earthworms which might want to wriggle down into your soil. The layer of compost can even act as a mulch for a while, suppressing a few weeds and saving your back as well as the bacteria.
Should you want to add compost to your pots or grow-bags, rub it through a screen with 1/2-inch holes first, to make its texture finer. Then combine it with equal parts of peat moss or coir, perlite, sand, and top soil. For the latter, purchased bagged soil probably will work best, as it is less likely to contain weed seeds than your own garden soil is.
You also can make a free liquid fertilizer from your compost by packing about a gallon of it into an old pillowcase. Suspend the case like a teabag inside a five-gallon bucket of water for several days, stirring that water frequently. You then should dilute the “tea” by adding one part of it to ten parts of water before you water or spray your plants with it.
No matter how pretty compost looks, it does contain those bacteria and fungi mentioned earlier, which may not be as good for you as they are for your garden. So always treat it like dirt and wash your hands well after handling it, just as you would for other soil. Then sit back and wait for your garden to become considerably more lovely and lively!
1. Place guard stakes around lilies.
2. Prepare seedlings for transplant into garden beds.
3. Fill grow-bags and other containers.
4. Plant summer-blooming container bulbs and tubers such as begonias and achimenes.
5. Move houseplants outdoors for their summer vacation.
By May, the gardening season has shifted into high gear for most gardeners. In the rush, don’t forget to place your own version of Maypoles around your Asiatic, Oriental, Trumpet, and Orienpet lilies.
Position bamboo stakes close to those lilies’ tips as soon as they emerge from the ground in the spring, encircling the whole patch with those stakes if you can. Even though the lily shoots won’t be tall enough to attach to anything at that point, those bamboo uprights deliver the same message a Revolutionary War flag once did: “Don’t tread on me.” When spaced closely enough together, they also should deter pets from gamboling over that patch.
Should the tips of lilies which grow from bulbs get broken off for any reason, they won’t return during the same growing season. That means your garden could be lamentably low on lilies for one summer at least! Actually, since bulbs derive much of their energy from their foliage absorbing light during the summer, it’s possible that broken-off lilies may not survive to try again.
Speaking of protection, if you started seedlings indoors under a grow light, you’ll need to adapt them gradually to real rather than simulated sun. Otherwise, they will burn like your own winter-wan skin does under spring’s rays. It’s a good idea to first place those seedlings in a protected outdoor location, such as towards the back of a south-facing porch, where they will receive only bright indirect light. Once they have adapted to that, move them gradually forward until they are receiving sunlight for several hours per day.
At that point, you may want to shift them completely outdoors, perhaps to a table positioned partially under a tree where they will receive sunlight in the morning and shade in the afternoon. You then can edge the table further and further out from under the tree’s canopy until the seedlings are receiving sunlight all day. Although you should start the acclimatization process a couple weeks before your last frost date, remember to take the plants indoors on nippy nights or you could end up with frost-burned rather than sun-burned seedlings.
You may want to wait until after that last frost date to plant your grow bags and other containers too, but that will depend on what you are placing in them. As mentioned in a previous article, you can start slow-maturing species early indoors to give yourself a head start on the planting season. Or you actually can slow things down for certain plants which tend to bolt easily—such as salad greens—by planting them in grow bags or pots which you can move into the shade during the hottest days.
Such containers often are the best choice for the bulbs of summer-blooming shade plants such as achimenes and tuberous begonias also. Since they may burn if exposed to too much sunlight, you simply can move their containers to a more shady position if you notice that their foliage is becoming scorched.
If you bring your houseplants outdoors for the summer, most of them probably will be happiest in bright shade too. Because they tend to be rainforest species that prefer indirect light like that under the forest canopy, you often can place them beneath a high tree for their vacation. Like gardeners who have been cooped up for too long, plants which work hard all winter to adapt to the dim and arid environment indoors will appreciate the chance to be back in their natural element!
1. Lift and divide overcrowded daffodil bulbs.
2. Prune spring-flowering trees and shrubs.
3. Deadhead ever-blooming roses and apply more fertilizer.
4. Sow salad greens every two weeks all summer.
5. Harvest early potatoes.
“Then, if ever, come perfect days,” James Lowell wrote of June. So you’ll want to take some time to bask in all that verdure—between accomplishing the following chores!
If you noticed that your bulbs failed to produce Wordsworth’s “host of golden daffodils” this spring, those bulbs may have become overcrowded. You’ll want to divide them now, while their yellowing foliage still shows you where to dig.
When unearthing them, keep your shovel blade far enough back from each clump to avoid slicing through bulbs. Once you have lifted out a mass, you can shake off the soil, pull those bulbs apart, and replant them then with their foliage still attached. Or you may want to dry them instead, store them in a cool basement over the summer, and replant them in autumn. In either case, set them about 6 inches deep and 3-4 inches apart.
While you are thinking about springs to come, you may want to prune any of your congested or overgrown spring-blooming shrubs, such as forsythia, flowering quince, and bridal wreath spirea. You can thin such caning types by removing up to a third of those canes, preferably the oldest ones, cutting them all the way back to the ground to preserve the shrubs’ naturally arching shapes. Try to get this done by early summer, as these shrubs will bloom next spring on the wood they produced this summer, so they’ll need time to make plenty of it.
Speaking of blooming bushes, you’ll also want to snip off the faded flowers on ever-blooming roses to encourage them to make more. For once-blooming roses, which perform only early in the season, you may want to leave the blown flowers in place to produce hips for the birds. Generally, it’s a good idea to fertilize an ever-blooming rose again after its first bevy of blooms, to encourage it to provide encores.
If you want to keep fresh garden greens coming all summer as well, sow them about once every two weeks, so you always have new ones sprouting to replace those which bolt or get bolted down by your hungry family. Gardeners who live in hot climates may want to plant those greens in shade to slow their tendency to shoot up along with the temperature.
Finally, don’t forget to harvest a few new potatoes to eat, creamed, in their jackets with fresh peas for a delectable early-summer feast. They should be ready about 70 days after your potatoes were planted or two to three weeks after their blossoms have faded. You’ll probably want to dig those tubers from the end of a row to avoid disturbing those which you want to grow larger. Eat them within a day or two, as they don’t keep well. Those rare days of June don’t last either, so take time to fill up on the scent of the roses too.
1. Cut back on the amount of water and fertilizer you give potted plants after you bring them indoors.
2. Provide proper care for holiday plants if you want them to survive into the new year.
3. Take advantage of the holiday season to pass on your houseplants’ excessive offspring.
4. Throw strong hints about the tools and seeds you’ll need for next year.
5. Plan in advance to recycle your Christmas tree.
After moving your potted plants indoors for the winter, cut back on the amount of water you give them and cease fertilizing them until March unless they are positioned under grow lights. The shorter days of winter and the reduced light levels indoors generally also will reduce the amount of food and water that resting plants need. When you purchase or receive holiday flowers such as poinsettias, Christmas cacti, and kalanchoes, keep in mind that they are sold at this time of the year because they bloom when the days grow shorter. So, if you can contrive to keep them alive until next winter, you can force them to re-bloom by providing short days again. As soon as you get those plants home, remove the plastic sleeves and/or foil wrappings from their pots and place them atop easily emptied plant saucers or a tray of gravel instead. Otherwise, water may get trapped in the wrappings and keep the soil sodden, which can cause root rot.
Position the plants where they will receive bright indirect light and treat them as you would other houseplants, removing the blooms or bracts after they shrivel. When new growth begins in spring, cut poinsettias back to 8 inches tall. Place all the plants outdoors in partial sunlight or bright shade during the summer. Continue to pinch back poinsettias occasionally until August to encourage them to bush out. Around the beginning of October, move all your Christmas plants indoors to a windowsill in a rarely-used room which isn’t illuminated at all during the evening and nighttime hours. If they receive only about eight hours of natural light per day, they should begin to show color again after a couple months.
Speaking of gift plants, when you need a last-minute present and have no time to run to the store, you often can separate an offshoot from one of your overly healthy houseplants. Those which send up such easily detached and easy to grow offspring include the burn plant (Aloe vera), zebra plant (Haworthia spp.), and snake plant (Sansevieria spp.). Spider plants (Chlorophytum spp.) and moth orchids (Phalaenopsis spp.) often make small plantlets at the end of arching stems which also can be cut from their mothers’ apron springs. If you never receive any gardening-related gifts yourself, despite your friends and loved ones being aware of your hobby, don’t assume that they are inconsiderate boors. They may just not know enough about gardening themselves to have any clue as to what to buy. If you are fed up with receiving sweaters or bath salts every year, be specific about what you would like--as in handing them a list with links to items on the ECOgardener site!
Consider purchasing a balled and burlapped live Christmas tree for those gifts to go under this year, since you can add such a tree to your landscaping after decorating your house with it. You may want to dig its planting hole in advance, if there is any possibility that your ground will be frozen solid by the end of the holiday season. You can lop off the branches of a cut tree and use them to mulch marginal plants over the winter. The purpose of such cover isn’t to keep the plants warm, but to keep the ground around them frozen, so they won’t attempt to emerge from dormancy too early. Speaking of dormancy, keep in mind that—due to reduced activity levels—resting gardeners also require less food during the winter months. Otherwise, you may find that your holiday spread has caused you to spread as well!
1. Plan your 2018 garden.
2. Order your new plants, seeds, and garden supplies early.
3. Grow mushrooms in your basement.
4. Check on dormant plants and tubers.
5. Brush excessive snow off of your evergreens.
January is the traditional month for making new plans, so grab a pencil and graph paper and begin making a sketch of your landscaping. Depending on your personality type, you either can draw everything to scale—using one square of graph paper per square foot of garden space—or you can guesstimate. After studying what already is taking up space in your landscape, determine how much room you have for new garden borders, grow bags, or raised beds. Theoretically, this should keep you from over-ordering from all those enticing plant and seed catalogs which swarm in like birds around the feeder about now.
Even if you still overindulge in new stuff, all that plotting and list making should at least keep you happily occupied for many winter evenings. And you always can dig up more of the lawn if you have to, or park plant containers on top of it. Who needs grounds which look like a golf course anyway? It’s always a good idea to order early, especially for those of you in the south who often can begin planting while everybody else still is dealing with cold, colds, and cabin fever. But even you northerners should order early to make sure that the seed or garden supply company doesn’t sell out of your choices before you get around to reserving them.
If you didn’t receive a mushroom kit for Christmas, you might want to order one now, fungi being among the few living things which actually thrive in dim, indoor conditions. Or, if you prefer doing things yourself, you can consult How to Grow Mushrooms in Your Basement—on Purpose! This will work best if said basement is on the cool side. While you are down there, check on all the tubers you are storing over the winter, such as dahlias, tuberous begonias, achimenes, etc. In fact, it’s a good idea to inspect them at least once every couple weeks or so to make sure that they aren’t either rotting or shriveling.
Begonia and achimenes tubers usually can stand being completely dry over the winter months. However, you generally want the medium in which you are storing dahlia tubers lightly damp to prevent them from dehydrating. Plants which are kept dormant in the dark over the winter—such as daturas, brugmansias, fuchsias, and mums—need a modicum of moisture as well, but sogginess can be fatal. While you northern gardeners may be tempted to go a bit dormant yourselves during this season, you should steel yourselves to emerge from your lairs after a heavy snowfall, and sweep the excessive pileup from shrubs and evergreens with a soft broom. What bends those trees and bushes may also break them, pruning them in ways you hadn’t envisioned.
If ice is present, you’ll probably just have to wait for it to melt off, as attempting to chip at it usually does more harm than good. Besides, you want to get back to the fireside and your drift of catalogs as soon as possible!
1. Start the seeds which you didn’t get started earlier.
2. Plant new berry bushes.
3. Spray your still dormant fruit trees and bushes with insecticidal oils and/or fungicides.
4. Repot pot bound houseplants and begin fertilizing them again.
5. Pot up tubers which need an early start.
March may find you scrambling to sow all the seeds which you didn’t get started earlier. Since seedlings of the most common plants usually are inexpensively available at local garden businesses and department stores, you’ll probably want to reserve the space on your windowsills and under your grow lights for harder-to-find or too-costly-to-purchase varieties. You can find more information on speeding up their germination at the following link:
Speaking of purchases, if you plan to set out new bareroot berry bushes this year, you’d best do that as early in the spring as possible—usually about six weeks before your last frost date. Don’t start when your ground is soggy, though, or you shortly can turn hard-to-dig into hardpan. Wait until the soil crumbles when you squeeze it rather than compacting into a weighty ball in your hand. Now also is the time for dormant sprays, those which should be applied before trees and bushes leaf out to avoid burning their foliage. They include oil sprays—used to suffocate overwintering pests such as mites and scale on apple, pear, and plum trees—as well as fungicides such as liquid lime sulfur spray, which help prevent diseases on your peach trees, berry bushes, and grape vines.
For the best results, wait until a day when the weather forecast doesn’t call for precipitation anytime soon and when temperatures will remain above freezing for at least 24 hours. Always wear protective clothing, goggles, and a respirator while spraying, to keep the liquids out of your lungs and eyes. Don’t attempt to mix the two types of sprays with each other or to apply them within a week of each other, as that may damage your trees and bushes. Even before those trees emerge from their deeper dormancy, your “sleeping” houseplants should perk up as spring approaches. So now is the time to repot any that need more root room, to prune any that seem likely to surpass their space, and to begin fertilizing them again. If you’ve just moved a plant into new “digs”—fresh potting soil that already contains some plant food—put off feeding it for six weeks or so until that fertilizer is depleted.
An early start also is a good idea for tuberous plants such as dahlias and tuberoses. If they don’t get a long enough season to bloom well in your zone, try potting them up about six weeks before your last frost date. You should then keep them in a sunny location indoors until after that date. If you start the tubers in large containers such as grow bags, you may be able to leave them in those containers when you move them outdoors. Otherwise, transplant them into your flower bed, and congratulate yourself that this year your dahlias will have no excuse for dallying!
1. Sort your seeds according to what date you will need to sow them.
2. Sow seeds of slow-growing plants indoors.
3. Force branches of blooming bushes and trees.
4. Begin pruning fruit-bearing trees, bushes, and vines.
5. Revive dormant fuchsia plants.
Although February kicks off the indoor seed-starting season for many gardeners, you don’t want to sow everything then. Instead, make yourself a schedule which takes into account how rapidly each type of seedling grows and how early it can be moved outdoors. For example, you might want to sow cabbage, collards, and kale about ten weeks before your last frost date. They often can be set out a month before that date, if your garden plot is workable then or if you intend to plant them in grow bags or raised beds full of new soil instead of in the ground. You can sow less hardy vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers two months before the last frost date, to be set out a week or two after that date. A planting calculator such as the one at the following link can do much of the figuring for you.
Keep in mind that some seeds should be sown in late winter simply because they require a long time to germinate and/or grow. For example, flower plants started from tiny seeds—such as prairie gentian (Eustoma or Lisianthus spp.) and begonia (Begonia spp.)—may take a leisurely six months to reach blooming size. However, annual sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) can rocket to maturity in as little as two months. Since they quickly become too large for indoor conditions, you won’t want to plant them early. Speaking of early, if you’d like a foretaste of spring before that season actually arrives, try forcing branches of spring-blooming bushes or trees such as forsythia, flowering quince, and crabapple. For the best results, choose 1 to 2-foot sections of branches that are about the size of a pencil in diameter and contain plenty of rounded buds. Cut them on a day when the temperature is above the freezing point.
After bringing the branches indoors, remove all growth that will be below water-level in your vase or vases, and smash the bases of the stems with a hammer. Place them in warm water, so that they will soak up that moisture quickly. Then keep the branches in a cool, dim location, misting them frequently and changing their water every three days or so, until they flower. That may take only one week for forsythia, but as long as five weeks for later bloomers such as dogwood. While you have your pruning shears out, you may want to begin pruning your fruit trees and berry bushes. This generally is best done when the plants still are dormant in late winter, since their lack of foliage at that time allows you to view their framework more clearly. However, since peach trees tend to be more sensitive to cold than other fruit trees, some sources suggest that you postpone their pruning until close to their bloom time.
You shouldn’t postpone the pruning of potted fuchsias, though, since they require lots of pinching back in late winter and early spring. If you’ve been keeping a basket of those plants dormant in your basement or garage, late February is a good time for you to start reviving them by repotting them in fresh soil and placing them on a sunny windowsill. You can find more information on their subsequent care and pruning in the following article.