Book Review: Better Homes and Gardens New Garden Book

new garden book 300x300 Book Review: Better Homes and Gardens New Garden BookWhen people ask me what my favorite gardening book is, this is always the first book that comes to mind!  Whether I am working in my own yard, or helping a friend with theirs, this is my favorite “first line of defense” book for handling basic gardening questions, and this is always the first book I loan out to people.  I recommend this book to any gardener, green or black thumbed, since it is so easy to read, has brilliant illustrations, and photography, and it covers all the major topics of concern for the urban, or city gardener. From tool selection, pruning, and propagation, to pest identification, and pond building, this book covers all the common home and garden topics under the direction of various authors who specialize in each field of discussion. A hefty paperback book of six hundred pages, this is no afternoon read, but the organization of the chapters makes any topic you need to research a breeze to find.  The Better Homes and Gardens New Garden Book is a also a valuable encyclopedia of annuals, and perennials, with detailed descriptions and photographs of thousands of individual plants.

This book ambitiously “throws the net wide” in an attempt to meet the common gardener where they are at, and succeeds in providing a valuable teaching tool, garden encyclopedia, and beautiful coffee table book, that I am proud to share with my friends and family.  You’re bound to find new inspiration, and new ideas for your hobby or vegetable garden with this book!

If you’d like your own copy, click here Book Review: Better Homes and Gardens New Garden Book for new and used copies at Amazon.com.

Your thoughts: Do you have a favorite gardening reference that you recommend to others?

Natural Cat Repellent: A Natural Way to Keep Away Stray Cats

cat under cover 300x199 Natural Cat Repellent: A Natural Way to Keep Away Stray CatsThere is always a way to maximize the uses you get out of your garden, and the plants you grow there, and sometimes what you discover as a new use for an old plant may surprise you!

This is one great “green idea” that I stumbled on myself quite accidentally!  When moving fresh cut Rosemary from my yard into my kitchen to hang and dry, my cat dashed in to check out the leafy greens in my hand, no doubt to see how edible they were.  His fascination led him to continually dart his head close to the plant, only to jump back, and blink in confusion.  He swatted at the plant a few times, and then repeated the same pattern, but as the oils from the plant attached to the paws of his front feet he began to back away from me, and then back away from the smells of the Rosemary plant (now attached to his front paws) that he perceived to be following him.  Over the next few minutes he backed himself around my kitchen several times trying to sneak away from the offending smell, and I took pity on him after he made a few mad dashes to and from the living room, trying to outrun his front paws.  Once my perverse enjoyment of this entertainment passed, I realized I had struck gold in the all-natural cat control department.

How To Make It Work For You:

  • Plant Rosemary in your garden to deter stray cats from leaving deposits in your yard, or hunting your songbirds.
  • Lay fresh trimmings of Rosemary on carpet areas you want a house-cat to avoid.  The oils in the plant are long lasting, and can work at deterring a cat from a designated area for up to two weeks, giving you time to re-train the cat’s behavior.
  • To keep cats away from computer wires, heirloom furniture, or china displays, lay trimmings of Rosemary in the areas around what you are protecting, or place the trimmings in the area the cat uses to access the object.
  • For problem areas, or for repeat offenders, a cotton ball lightly soaked (so as not to leave oil stains) in Rosemary Essential Oil, and placed near the object of your house-cat’s attention can deter the visiting behavior.  Also a dab of the oil of hard surfaces, such as a chair leg, or piece of furniture, will also deter your cat sufficiently.

Try this method out as an alternative to pet store remedies, and see if you can’t solve your cat problem with this great “green” alternative!

Your Thoughts: Have you tried Rosemary (or any other herb) to repell, or deter unwanted feline behavior?  How has it worked for you?  I’d love to hear from you!

(Photo credit: OiMax)

Recognizing and Removing Invasive Plant: The Multiflora Rose

img 0113 225x300 Recognizing and Removing Invasive Plant: The Multiflora RoseThe story of the Multiflora Rose is one I would have loved growing up, because unlike other invasive plant species, the story of the Multiflora Rose begins as a Western, complete with cowboys and gunsmoke!

Once upon a time out west there actually were “free range” cattle, who probably ate organic food, and slept on bedding made of 100% natural fibers (if you consider hay a fiber).  These cows however were difficult to keep track of, and occasionally wandered out of range, or “found new homes,” and when the time came to round them up, the cowboys had a difficult time accounting for every animal.  A new idea was born somewhere in the late eighteen hundreds, and “green fencing” was invented in the US.  I’m sure that this wave of “green thinking” was a breakthrough for it’s time, saving cowboys and ranchers time and money that had previously been spent in the purchase, mending, and placing of wooden fences. Cattlemen of all types discovered a favorite plant in a new import from Asia, called the “Mutliflora Rose,” a plant that thrived in its role as a living barrier and hedge around pastureland, channeling the traffic patterns of steer and cow across the prairie.  The rose was dutifully planted across the west, and served it’s purpose beautifully!

A natural, flowering, rosebush fence  must have been the best of all possible worlds, providing function, and beauty – two things I love myself!  Unfortunately, in the mid nineteen hundreds, the plant was selected again, this time by the highway administrations of the day, to fill in median strips, and brighten up the roadsides throughout the United States.  Hindsight being 20/20, we now know that the plant has a tendency to spread, and take over naturalized woodland areas, choking out native vegetation.

I was recently taking a walk through the woods, in a designated wildlife area that I manage, and found this rose cheerfully blooming away. I quickly made a note of the young rose’s location, and planned coming back another day to spray the plant with Round-Up.

Why You Need To Recognize this Plant:

  1. This plant currently infests up to 45 million acres in the Eastern United States alone!  Severe infestations lower property values, and cause our government to spend 30 million (plus) per year to help agricultural businesses, and recreationsal spaces reclaim their land from this plant.
  2. One single bush can produce half a million seeds, that once fallen on the soil, can remain viable for up to 20 years.  That’s one long term problem you don’t want to deal with!
  3. Each bush can grow to a height of approximately 6-10 feet tall, and 13 feet wide. Rare specimins have grown 20 feet tall.
  4. The plant’s growth pattern creates tangled, thorny thickets impenitrible to humans, small mammals, and deer, ruining park land, and fields, and causing eye and skin reactions in cattle.
  5. Wild birds especially find the fruit of this plant irresistable, and will unintentionally spread this plant, through their feces, throughout your neighborhood, or property.  Quick identification of this plant, and timely removal will save you untold amounts of work in the future.

For the eco-conscious gardener, homeowner, or business person, this is one plant to keep an eye on, and remove by hand, or with herbicide, when possible.  It is one exotic invasive plant that is gaining turf in backyards, and highway islands across the nation, and the government can use our help in eradicating it.

Removal:

  1. Green methods include: cutting, and bagging, controlled burns (by professionals please!), and mowing. Mowing with large equipment will kill young plants, while heavy infestations will need regular mowings for up to a few years to kill mature plants, and prevent it’s spread.
  2. In areas where Multiflora Rose is returning after mowing or pruning, an herbicide, or Round-Up sprayed on the exposed (freshly trimmed) stump, will kill the shrub.
  3. Large infestations often call for broadcast spreading of herbicide to kill the plant in place.

For more information on this plant, visit The United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library

Container Garden Ideas: Hanging Basket For Full Sun (#003)

container garden 003 225x300 Container Garden Ideas: Hanging Basket For Full Sun (#003)Here is a bright idea for a full sun area that will assist you in cheerfully welcoming visitors to your home. This basket idea is simple, and only requires two varieties of plants!

Both considered annuals in areas with frost, African Daisies (Osteospermum), and Lantana (any variety) blend beautifully in this hanging basket, attracting butterflies, and comments galore.  I prefer this basket with only two main colors present, but both the African Daisy, and the Lantana come in several colors, which can be mixed, and matched for whatever look you want to achieve.  The African Daisy will bloom for approximately three months, and can be pruned to encourage re-blooming.  Lantana’s charm is in its tiny multi-colored blooms, which often darken with age, creating the effect of more colors present in one flower head.

Both of these plant will need to be watered on a daily basis until two weeks past the planting date, to help them establish well in the container. After that time, a regular watering schedule a few times per week will prevent the root systems from drying up.

Tip: Drier, hotter weather in the summer requires daily watering for hanging baskets, who’s root systems are not fully protected from the sun, or evaporation.  The drainage holes on a container, or the woven natural fiber lining of a cage basket, all contribute to a hanging baskets water loss, as they assist in the dehydration process.  Remember, a dry and stressed plant will first reduce the amount of blooms it produces, and a lack of watering can directly translate into a basket producing nothing but green leaves.

Your thoughts: Have you ever made a hanging basket for the summer?  What combinations of flowers did you use?  I’m always looking for new ideas!

Green Tips: Watering Your Lawn and Garden in the Summer

vstep background 300x167 Green Tips: Watering Your Lawn and Garden in the Summer

We all want a healthy lawn, but when the summer heat strikes, it may be hard to know how to achieve that end when it comes to proper watering.  We’ve all heard that ‘less can be more,’ but in lawn care, that adage has a different meaning.  Grass is, as a rule, a cool weather crop.  There are many varieties of grass that respond differently to heat, drought, and certain times of the year, and I will go into that at another time.  Today though I want to give you a few rules of thumb on how to assist your lawn through hot weather.

  1. Set your expectations realistically. Not every lawn can be a green carpet through the summer. There are varieties of grass that will go dormant in the summer sun (as part of their regular life cycle) no matter how often you water the area.  Most homeowners have lawns that were designed with a mixture of grass seeds in them, and none of these varieties of grass respond exactly the same as the others.  Often, when brown blades of grass are mixed in with green grassy areas it is simply what is known as “shedding.”  And as turf grass grows and spreads, it sheds it’s older blades. Decide for yourself whether the lawn is exhibiting signs of normal seasonal change, or if there is a greater problem in your lawn.
  2. Avoid watering your lawn in the summer between the hours of 10am and 5pm.  Each droplet of water on your lawn during peak sun hours can act like a magnifying glass on the grass, and fry the leaf tissue of the plant.  We all know what happens to ants under magnifying glasses, make sure you don’t do the same to your lawn.
  3. Remember that if you are running a sprinkler system, or an oscilating sprinkler from a hose, that much of the water you are applying will not make it into the soil, or stay there long, due to the evaporation effect present in hot weather.  Watering a section of lawn for anything less than 30 minutes of continuous spray, or sprinkling, is only hurting the grass, encouraging root systems to grow nearest the surface of the soil where they are the most vulnerable.  (In shady areas, grass will not need as much watering, so use your judgement when deciding if an area needs more water.)  Set a timer, to alert you as to when you will need to move your mobile sprinkler, if you need to water more than one section of grass.
  4. The ideal depth of saturation in soil for root growth is in the ballpark of 4-6 inches.  Generally speaking, this is a textbook recommended depth, but not a realistic number to keep in mind when watering your lawn with a goal of achieving it in one day, or even one week.  True moist soil will take a few weeks of repeated watering, although, as I hinted at one above, less can be more.  A few deep waterings, of 30 minutes per patch of grass, are better than daily sprinkles that do not penetrate the soil well, or daily waterings of one hour stretches at a time that create a runny soup of the soil, bogging the area down, or washing the soil’s nutrients down the road with the run-off water.
  5. For people with sprinkler systems, or those in the “Green business” I recommend tackling tough open areas (especially around new construction), exposed to a lot of sun with two waterings a day. One shift should be in the early morning, and one in the early evening (to allow for evaporation).  These shift waterings can both be about 30 minutes long, taking into account water loss from sprinkler heads, and the amount of ground each sprinkler head is covering.

Your thoughts:  Do you have any techniques you’ve successfully used to keep your lawn green and lush?

How To: Prune Geranium Flowers For The Summer

geraniums How To: Prune Geranium Flowers For The SummerThe smell of geraniums reminds me of my parents house when I was growing up.  The summer was always rung in with potted Geraniums on the front porch, and winter found those same plants waiting out the cold temperatures inside my parents bathroom, perching beside the soaking tub.

One of the great things about geraniums is that fact that they are constant bloomers when they receive enough water, and are pruned on a regular basis.  Having compound flower heads with multiple blooms on them, spent flowers can be pinched off singularly as they age, to keep a few flowers visible.  When an entire stem of blooms begins to look sparse, or is past it’s peak, the best thing to do to encourage more blooms is to remove the entire flower stem. With Geraniums, no tools are needed to efficiently remove dying flowers, and the method I suggest will also eliminate the unsightly dead, or dying stem left from using Pruning Shears.

geranium stem 002 225x300 How To: Prune Geranium Flowers For The SummerEvery Geranium flower stem has a large elbow at the base of it where it joins the main stem of the plant, on occasion, a flower stem will have an “elbow” half way up a flower stem as well (this usually happens in plants that have grown very tall, to maximize their exposure to the sun).  These elbows snap off easily with little pressure, to neatly and efficiently prune the plant in a way that the Geranium can heal from quicker than from pruning with shears.  Pruning entire stems at once encourages more vigorous growth of the plant, and cuts back the time between blooming flower heads.

Garden Tip: DIY Deer Repellent with Dried Milk

dried milk 300x300 Garden Tip: DIY Deer Repellent with Dried MilkYou don’t have to go any farther than your grocery store to purchase a green, and low cost solution that will solve your deer problems with a handy deer repellent.  I for one believe that if a homeowner wants to grow Vegetables, Tulips, Hosta, or Hibiscus, that they should be able to, without having to errect an 8ft. fence around them!

Common powdered milk, when dusted on your garden will easily prevent deer from eating those treasures in your garden!  Like many of the more expensive (and potentially harmful) chemical treatments on the market today, dried milk renders a plant inedible, and scent deterring to deer.  Deer do not like the smell or taste of milk after they have been weaned, and routine dustings of this harmless grocery item on your plants will train deer to believe that what you are growing in your yard is not edible.

If you are having trouble with deer try this method out!  It works on flowers, shrubs, and sapling trees. Powdered milk won’t harm your plants, or deter pollinators from them, and its a cheap fix that you can stock up on the next time you are already planning a trip to the grocery store.

Your Thoughts: Have you found a unique home remedy that works on repelling deer?  Have you tried Powdered milk?  Let me know if you find this method works for you!

How To: Keep Geese Off Your Waterfront Property or Pond

rope fence 300x214 How To: Keep Geese Off Your Waterfront Property or PondIn my area in particular, Canadian Geese are a large seasonal problem.  With each goose producing a pound of poop a day, they can quickly wear out their welcome, and your lawn! I’ve seen several suggestions online, as to how to control a goose population, including swan decoys, lawn treatments, and planting options, but I want to share with you an idea that is cheaper, and that will produce far more consistent results!  I manage several large community ponds, mowed and natural. I have tried versions of many things to humanely reduce and control the  goose population,  but for the homeowner who wants to discourage water birds in general from landing on your yard and grazing there, here is a quick and cheap way to keep waterfowl out, without using chemicals, or repellents, and without planting shrubs that will distort your water view.

What to Do: Measure the perimeter around the body of water that borders your property, preferably 2-3 feet from the water line. Divide the perimeter number by five. This is the number of posts you will need to buy. The second calculation you need with the original perimeter number is for the length of rope you will need. To get this number, multiply the perimeter number by 2.

What to Buy:

  • Purchase 3-4 foot stakes, or posts (metal, wood, bamboo, or pier pilings, depending on the look you want to achieve).
  • Purchase commercial-grade rope, of white, or yellow color.  The thickness of the rope doesn’t matter, thin rope will work just as well.

How To Build Your Goose Fence:

  • Place the stakes you purchased at five foot intervals, approximately 2-3 feet from the water line, in a row, hugging the shore line.
  • Tap these stakes into the ground ideally leaving 30 inches to 3 and a half feet above the ground (depending on the height of the stake you purchased).  You do not need a tall fence to keep geese, or other water birds away.
  • Tie the rope from post to post, leaving a generous swag bowing down in between each post (this is the key to making this fence work).  The rope must not touch the grass line, and should be about one foot off the ground at it’s lowest point.

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Native Landscaping Plant To Know: Arrowwood Viburnum

container idea mile a minute trees and shrubs 001 225x300 Native Landscaping Plant To Know: Arrowwood ViburnumArrowwood Viburnum, is one of the plants on my “bullet-proof” list, that I recommend to everyone, no matter how green their thumb!  A native North American tree growing naturally from Canada to Texas, Arrowwood Viburnum can be used as either a landscaping tree, or a pruned hedge shrub.

What You’ll Love:

  • This is one very hardy plant, with pest and disease resistance.
  • It thrives in full sun exposure, partial sun, or total shade areas.
  • It can be planted in wet areas, or dry areas.

What It Gives Back To You And Your Yard:

  • Spring: The tree’s blooms are highly visible clusters of white flowers, that attract butterflies, and hummingbirds.
  • Summer: What were blooms in the spring, are now large clusters of blue berries, that feed birds, and look great in table arrangements.
  • Fall: The foliage darkens before it falls, in bright red, orange, and yellow color, adding beautiful color to your yard.

What It Does For The Environment:

  • Like all trees it helps remove carbon dioxide, and provide cleaner air.
  • Fulfills the growing need in developed areas to return beneficial native plants to naturalized, and backyard areas that have been disturbed by construction, and may be falling prey to invasive species.  (Exotic invasive species come from other countries, and often overtake native material, robbing local wildlife of suitable food sources, and habitat, and humans of recreation areas)
  • Provides a natural food source for everything from butterflies, and hummingbirds, to mammals.  This can lead to fewer animals hunting for food in your vegetable patch, or trash bin.
  • Provides an ecologically “greener” way to landscape, with what is consistant in, and suited for the conditions in North America.
  • Adds to the overall health, and beauty of your local ecosystem.

Your Thoughts: I’ve included a picture of my own Arrowwood Viburnum, which is doing really well this year, and is covered in berries.  Have you tried this plant and had success with it, or have you found your own favorite “bullet-proof” plant?  Let me know!

What To Do With Injured Or Abandoned Wild Birds

dove 256x300 What To Do With Injured Or Abandoned Wild Birds

The activity level of wild bird populations in spring and early summer is obviously much higher than in the winter, and with newly fledged birds still learning to navigate through yards and buildings, there is an increased number of bird injuries near human populations.  From house-cat hunting injuries, window collisions, and nests being built in inappropriate places (like clothes dryer vents), there may come a time when you will want to know “what do I do with this bird?”

For young babies, and adult birds, whose survival seems likely, there are Wildlife Rehabilitators in your area who will be able to assist you in bringing your wild bird back to full health.  Most of these rehabilitators have received specialized training and licences to care for wildlife legally, and their services are free to the public.  There have been a few times in the past that I have asked a rehabilitator to take a bird, or a nest full of abandoned babies, and each time, they have not only been helpful, but have also given me valuable information about the species itself.

How To Find A Rehabilitator:

  • Ask your veterinarian if they can recommend anyone to you.
  • Contact the Ornithology Society, or group, active in your state.
  • Contact The Audubon Society, or a Wild Bird Store for local contacts
  • Call your local Humane Society, State Wildlife Agency, or City Animal Control office.
  • Check the US Fish and Wildlife Website, they will have a list for rehabilitators in your area.

For birds in need, visit this great resource, for a visual map, and checklist to help you discern the proper action to take for wounded, or abandoned birds. It also features a detailed list of the steps to take when securing baby birds for pick-up by a rehabilitator.

Your Thoughts: Have you ever run across an injured or abandoned wild bird?  What did you do?