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Gardening Nature Uncategorized

Letting Nature Do Its Thing; Balancing the Birds and Bugs in Our Gardens

Something is happening in our gardens. Little by little, a very unsettling silence is falling upon them. During my childhood, our garden was a blur of color as a multitude of brightly patterned insects busied themselves amongst the flowers. The number of bee species on the lavender bushes was a sight to behold and butterflies were aplenty. Iridescent ground beetles could be found in abundance, scurrying along the ground. Birds bobbed and weaved from tree, to bush, to lawn and back again, catching what they could to feed their waiting chicks.

All the vegetables we grew in the garden had bugs of one sort or another on them. Cauliflower had to be soaked in salt water to rid them of aphids, soft fruits freed of slugs and apples checked for codling moth larvae. Many a dinner time was punctuated with shrieks of disgust at the discovery of an errant caterpillar hiding in the folds of a lettuce leaf!

The number of (once common) insects has now reduced to a deeply worrying level. Over the past 25 years, global insect biomass has reduced by over 75%. Yay! I hear some people cry. However, the harsh reality of this situation is very different.

Consider the facts. Insects have been around for approximately 400 million years. They co-evolved with plants, pollinating their flowers and adapting some highly specialized characteristics in the process. To this day, insects provide pollination services for wild flowers, our gardens, and agriculture. It is estimated that 80% of wild plants need insects for pollination. Insects play a huge role in the functioning of ecosystems. They help to feed us and are the tiny engines that keep the world as we know it turning. We all enjoy a juicy tomato, don’t we? Bumblebees with their ‘buzz pollination’ are responsible for them. How about the deliciously heady fragrance of honeysuckle in the evening? Thank the moths for pollinating those flowers!

Not only are insects vital for our lives, and the lives of the plants that depend on them, they are also vital to countless other species. They provide food for approximately 60% of bird species as well as mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Remember that unsettling silence that is falling upon us? Songbirds are becoming a rarity.
Last spring was a particularly challenging one in the UK, with temperatures being the lowest on record for 60 years. April had the lowest average minimum temperature since 1922. Following this period, the emergence of moths was delayed by over a month resulting in a mismatch between wild bird chicks hatching and their food source being available. During this time, a friend of mine in Wales was monitoring a nesting box of Great tits. Six little eggs were laid, six little chicks hatched, but despite the efforts of their parents, one by one they succumbed to starvation. This is happening all over the UK, and indeed, much further afield. Many bird species in the UK are in steep decline, 29% being on the ‘Red list’ of conservation concern. The cuckoo, whose call was once synonymous with the start of summer, is once such bird. A bird I haven’t heard since I was a child.

What can we do to address this problem? One option is to allow our gardens to find a natural balance. Allow plants to be attacked by caterpillars and the birds and their young will feast upon these caterpillars. Allow snails and slugs to munch their way through some of our soft fruit and vegetables; birds, amphibians and mammals will chow down on them. Nature will find a way if we allow it to. ‘Sacrifice’ plants can be grown; a parsnip left to go to seed, a cabbage left un-netted, a patch of nettles or some weeds left to go wild. All can support insect and bird life.

To further help our feathered friends, their food intake can be supplemented with wild bird food and fresh water and fat balls in the winter. All vessels should be kept clean and changed regularly to avoid the spreading of diseases such as Avian flu. Put up nesting boxes around your garden, varying the size and shape of the entrance holes to attract different species; believe me, the sight of a tiny face poking out of a nesting box hole is worth the effort. Remember that an ‘untidy’ garden is a good thing too. Not only does it offer food and shelter, but also nesting material. I once witnessed an audacious blackbird plucking fur from our rabbit’s bottom; he remaining oblivious to his provision of the softest of nest liners.

Let our gardens be unkempt. Let the bugs thrive. If we don’t help them all now, not only may we go hungry, but the generations to come will never know the joy of bird song or the rainbow of colorful insects that we have had the privilege of knowing in our childhoods.

 

Hallmann. C, Sorg. M, Jongejans. E, Siepel. H, Hofland. N, Schwan. H, Stenmans. W, Müller. A, Sumser. H, Hörren, Goulson. T and de Kroon. H (2017) More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLOS ONE. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185809
https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-you-can-help-birds/
https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/new-uk-red-list-for-birds/
https://www.countryfile.com/wildlife/birds/britains-best-songbirds-how-to-identify-each-species/
Wagner.D, Grames. E, Forister. M, Berenbaum. R and Stopak. D (2021) Insect decline in the Anthropocene: Death by a thousand cuts. PNAS. 118 (2) https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2023989118

 

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Relationships Gardening

The Acts of Giving and Receiving; Volunteering in Your Community

Have you ever had that warm fuzzy feeling when you help an elderly person carry their shopping, or return a wallet dropped by a parent struggling to cope with screaming children? Similarly, a simple smile from a stranger when your eyes meet whilst walking down the street can leave both parties with a spring in their step. These moments in time can boost your mood for the rest of the day.

Simple acts of kindness make us feel positive. We feel good, and those that receive the acts of kindness do too. Trials have shown that the majority of people who receive ‘pay it forward’ acts of kindness are likely to pass on acts of kindness to others. Spread the love, I say! I recall a day, cycling in torrential rain shortly after moving to Japan. A white van suddenly pulled over and an old man thrust an umbrella out of his passenger window at me before driving off. After the initial confusion/alarm, I realized he was donating his umbrella to protect me from the rain. The memory of this selfless gesture has stayed with me to this day.

To pass on some of that love, I later volunteered in the same town giving classes in British cuisine. I must admit, I loved feeling like Mary Berry (our version of Julia Childs) on a cookery show, but the looks on the ladies’ faces and the cries of “Oishii!” (delicious) on tasting their homemade British dishes was the most heart-warming part of it all. I am doubtless there are several families in central Japan that now make Scottish shortbread and fruit scones for school fêtes and festivals! It was a great way to be able to give to the local community and feel like part of it in return.

Studies demonstrate that showing care and compassion for others can reduce depression and build a kinder and more humane society in general. Modern culture may encourage us to look after ‘number one’, however, evidence suggests that prosocial behavior (doing acts of kindness for others) results in greater positive psychological benefits than caring solely for oneself; positive emotions are boosted and negative emotions reduced. This behavior was evident in my village during the pandemic; neighbors would call across the road to each other to see if families were well or if any shopping needed to be done. Although as a society we all suffered, each person tried to help and offer support where they could. People were showing care. The elderly were protected, and the more mobile neighbors volunteered their time and effort to see to it.

Studies performed on the relationships between kindness and happiness, and gratitude and happiness, have also shown that if people feel happy, they are more likely to recognize those traits in others and more likely to demonstrate acts of kindness. Happiness and gratefulness are also increased by counting one’s own acts of kindness. Remember that fuzzy feeling when you helped the elderly person up the stairs with their groceries?

As the majority of people are aware, life can be extremely difficult at times; for the past two years it has been unbearable for many. Since the lockdown, rules have thankfully allowed for more social interaction and the chance to get outside. As there are so many positive benefits to interacting with the natural world, I decided to give back to nature in my village and get some of those positive feelings in return. We have an area of land owned by the Parish Council which is being converted into a public space full of trees; a place to exercise, to see wild flora and fauna, to walk the dog and just breathe. It has been a lifesaver for many during these hard times. For those living alone, walking in this area was the only chance they had of seeing another human being, one lady said it literally saved her life as she was close to taking her own. My first day of volunteering there gave me a real buzz. Run by a group of retired people (I reduced the average age by quite a few years when I joined the group!), tree-planting, pruning and path maintenance were organized with military precision. Now a regular volunteer, I am proud to say I have planted dozens of trees which, with a bit of luck, will be there long after I am gone. I also greatly value the friendships I have forged in my local community with people I would not have otherwise met.

There are many organizations out there, urban and rural. A few minutes of online research can reward you with years of community work and potential friendships. Volunteering has also been associated with increased physical activity, better health and a reduction in the symptoms of depression. It gives you a new purpose in life. It helps you to develop relationships.

Although we may be tempted to opt for ‘retail therapy’, or going for a nice meal to make ourselves feel good; spending time on others, contributing to community activities and helping to make a difference may be the answer we are all looking for.

 

Anderson, N. D., Damianakis, T., Kröger, E., Wagner, L. M., Dawson, D. R., Binns, M. A., Bernstein, S., Caspi, E., Cook, S. L., & The BRAVO Team. (2014). The benefits associated with volunteering among seniors: A critical review and recommendations for future research. Psychological Bulletin, 140(6), pp:1505–1533. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037610
Joonmo Son. J and Wilson, J (2012) Volunteer Work and Hedonic, Eudemonic, and Social Well-Being. Sociological Forum 27 (3) pp:658-681 https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1573-7861.2012.01340.x
Nelson, S. K., Layous, K., Cole, S. W., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2016). Do unto others or treat yourself? The effects of prosocial and self-focused behavior on psychological flourishing. Emotion, 16(6), pp:850–861 https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000178
Otake. K, Shimai.S, Tanaka-Matsumi. J, Otsui. K and Fredrickson. B (2006) Happy People Become Happier Through Kindness: A Counting Kindnesses Intervention. Journal of Happiness Studies 7 pp:361–375. DOI 10.1007/s10902-005-3650-z
Pressman. S, Kraft. T and Cross. M (2015) It’s good to do good and receive good: The impact of a ‘pay it forward’ style kindness intervention on giver and receiver well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 10(4), pp:293-302 https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2014.965269

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Gardening Lifestyle

Composting for Beginners

In gardening, composting is important and beneficial to the plants and flowers you grow, to the environment, as you are reducing your waste footprint, and to society at large, as composting dates back at least 12,000 years. There are things you should compost and things you shouldn’t —and learning the difference is important.

The benefits of composting include reducing certain food wastes that would end up in landfills, fertilizing and improving your garden soil, growing healthier flowers and more nutritious foods, and potentially saving money in the process.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that “in 2018, 2.6 million tons of food (4.1 percent of wasted food) was composted.” The agency further states that in 2018, “Americans recovered over 69 million tons of MSW [municipal solid waste] through recycling, and almost 25 million tons through composting.”

Compost begins with not discarding your kitchen scraps. (Lenka Dzurendova/Unsplash)

What Is Composting, and Why Should You Do It?

Composting is simply taking fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps, and things like coffee grounds and tea leaves, and putting them in a pile in your yard, or in a composting barrel. You can add grass clippings and dead leaves, then let nature get to work breaking down the materials you’ve added to your compost pile.

As the scraps break down, compost becomes nutrient-rich, inviting insects, worms, and beneficial bacteria to live and grow, which further breaks down the materials and enriches your compost pile. In time, you’ll have a fertilizer-like product you can add to your vegetable and flower beds that will improve the soil, add nutrients to your foods, and keep your garden beds producing year after year.

However, compost is not fertilizer. The simplest way to distinguish between compost and fertilizer is to remember this: Compost feeds the soil and fertilizer feeds the plants.

Whatever you add to your compost pile will become the nutrients your garden will use to grow healthier foods. Instead of buying a bag of carrots or a few tomatoes—produce that might have been sprayed with pesticides, or sat on a truck for a week as it made its way to your store—now you can pick and prepare your food the same day. There is no loss of nutrition or taste, and you know what went into each vegetable (and more importantly, what did not go into it).

What Can Be Composted?

Now that we know what composting is and why it’s a good idea, let’s talk about what we should and shouldn’t include in our compost piles. Most of the fruit and vegetable scraps in your kitchen can be composted. Things that you shouldn’t add to your compost pile include meat (cooked or raw), dairy and cheese products, fat, grease, and oil of any kind, and cooked foods such as rice and bread.

Here is a small list of items that can be easily incorporated into your compost pile. All vegetable and fruit waste, even moldy pieces—cores, peels, pits, rinds, and skins—can be composted.

  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Loose-leaf tea and tea bags
  • Corn husks
  • Eggshells that have been rinsed and crushed
  • Expired spices
  • Flowers from bouquets
  • Juicer pulp
  • Shredded, ink-free unbleached paper and cardboard
  • Healthy household plant clippings and leaves
Rinsed egg shells are among the things you can safely add to your compost pile. (Jonathan Kemper/Unsplash)

Starting a Compost Pile: Do’s and Don’ts

You only need a few tools to start your compost pile. If you want to increase your chances of having a successful pile, you can buy a few things that can help move it along.

For starters, buy a small container that you can keep in your kitchen to hold food scraps; this will encourage you to sort your compostable garbage and reduce the frequency of your compost pile visits. It can be any small container, but its size will partly determine how often you empty it out onto your pile. Many products offer various features, but you don’t need anything fancy to get started—just a container with a lid in which you can deposit your scraps until you move them outside.

If you want to have usable compost sooner, one option is to add a compost activator, which speeds up the decomposition process by adding nitrogen to your pile.

A successful compost pile is a careful balance of dry, brown items containing carbon, such as dead leaves, and wet, green matter containing nitrogen, such as food scraps. An equal one-to-one ratio of these materials works best. Make sure to regularly mix your compost pile, so that air can get in and help the decomposition process.

You can also break down your waste materials ahead of time to help things along, by blending your scraps or chopping them into smaller bits before adding them to your compost pile, as doing so will also speed the transformation from waste to compost.

A compost pile is a valuable resource for a beginning gardener. It takes a bit of time and the development of new habits, but the benefits are truly numerous. You can actively reduce the amount of waste going into landfills while recycling your own garbage in the best possible way—by composting it and putting it right back into your garden to nourish your flowers and veggies and grow healthy food for years to come.

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Gardening Lifestyle

Poinsettia Perfection

A bright red poinsettia, or a grouping of the increasingly popular salmon, pink, and creamy white varieties, have a way of instantly instilling a sense of Christmas-season cheer. The decorating efforts of homes, offices, museums, historic sites, and retail stores are often not considered complete until poinsettias grace the setting.

But how did the poinsettia become synonymous with the most significant annual holiday?

(Yuletide at Winterthur, Courtesy of Winterthur Museum)

A Bit of History

Although the plant harkens from warm southern climates, such as those of Central America and Mexico, it was first introduced to the United States in 1827 by amateur botanist Joel Robert Poinsett, who was America’s first Minister (ambassador) to Mexico and served as Secretary of War under President Van Buren. The South Carolinian was also a U.S. congressman and was involved in the founding of the Smithsonian Institution.

In Mexico, poinsettias are called Flor de Nochebuena, meaning Christmas Eve flower, or Flor de Santa Catarina. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, poinsettias have become “the number-one flowering potted plant in the United States, even though its traditional sales period is just six weeks. In 2019, the wholesale value of the poinsettia crop reached nearly $170 million—a jump of more than 400 percent from 1976.”

Besides the Christmas tree, no other plant distinguishes the December holiday like the poinsettia, and millions of dollars’ worth of the potted plants are raised and sold annually in the United States. (Yuletide at Winterthur, Courtesy of Winterthur Museum)

Paul Ecke Ranch in California has been a historically significant grower of poinsettias in the United States. “About 70% of the potted poinsettias in the United States and half of them worldwide got their start at Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, just north of San Diego,” reports See California. “Starting in the 1920s with a Mexican native plant that grows wild along Southern California’s coastline, the Eckes developed more than 100 new varieties.”

Varieties and Growers

Popular poinsettia varieties include Holly Point, Tri-Color, Plum Pudding, Visions of Grandeur, Winter Rose Red, Jingle Bells, and Prestige Maroon. The poinsettia is a plant with bracts, which means it displays something between a leaf and a flower, and a poinsettia’s bract edges can come ruffled, fluted, and curled.

Rocket Farms in Northern California, a major U.S. poinsettia grower for the last few decades, devotes about 3.5 million square feet of greenhouse space to the holiday crop, cites See California. The farm sells to major retailers such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Costco, Safeway, Albertsons, and Save Mart.

(Yuletide at Winterthur, Courtesy of Winterthur Museum)

Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, in Winterthur, Del., uses a closer-proximity poinsettia grower, Pratt’s Greenhouse, an almost 100-year-old plant cultivation business in Kennett Square, Pa., and purchases from 150 to 300 poinsettias annually to decorate the historic site.

From early November to about mid-January, Asheville, N.C.’s Biltmore House features more than 1,200 strategically placed poinsettias. Dozens of the brightly hued plants adorn the Winter Garden during Christmas at Biltmore; this glass-domed room at America’s largest historic home has hosted countless musicians, carolers, and even ballerinas during the holidays, and since the early 1900s, the room has been resplendent with red, pink, and white poinsettias for the holiday season. This year, Biltmore’s floral display team will place 175 poinsettias throughout Biltmore House.

Many of Biltmore’s poinsettias are propagated and grown by professional horticulturists on the property, while other plants are purchased from North Carolina growers. After the holidays, poinsettias are mulched and the mulch is used around the grounds.

Care

While many varieties of flowers are sold by the stem, poinsettias are almost always sold as a potted plant. However, most poinsettia consumers ditch their plants after the holidays without realizing that keeping them year after year is possible. Technically, poinsettias are a perennial, but the plants require special care in order to be enjoyed each year. While basic poinsettia plant care during the holiday season includes conservative watering and placement in bright indoor sunlight, Rocket Farms’ suggestions for long-lasting care include:

  • Transplanting the poinsettia to a larger pot or tub filled with a quality, well-draining planting mix
  • Keeping the plant in full sun and in a warm place inside by a window or in a protected area (such as a greenhouse), where temperatures will not drop below 55° F
  • Using a liquid fertilizer monthly during the late spring through summer, and ceasing fertilizer treatments in fall and winter months

A poinsettia can be pruned in February or early March, which involves cutting stems back so that they remain 4–6 inches in length, with no more than three leaves remaining on each stem.

The poinsettia, in order for its leaves and bracts to change color, needs 12 hours of darkness per day for at least five consecutive days. Then, in order to maintain color that lasts throughout the holiday season, the plants need at least six hours of indirect sunlight per day.

When shopping for a poinsettia, consumers should look for bracts that are full on all sides of the plant; bracts should be perky, the stem should be stiff, and soil should be moist. Dried and falling leaves are signs of an unhealthy plant.

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Gardening Lifestyle

Beware of backyard pet dangers

Summer sunshine calls to us, ‘Get the bike, light the grill, grab the ball, spend the day in the pool and enjoy a day outside with family, friends, and pets.” Trips to the local park, grilling out, or even hanging out in the yard can pose dangers to our pets.

To fully enjoy summers with our pets, we must be mindful of the hidden dangers in our own backyards that threaten their health.

Cookouts

Cookouts and picnics are summer traditions that can be enjoyed safely with your pets if we take precautions. Many foods we take for granted pose can cause serious harm to pets.

The sugar-free sweetener Xylitol is highly toxic to pets. Found in diet beverages and foods – sugar-free gum, candies, ice cream and yogurt, as well as mouthwash, toothpaste, vitamins, and even medicines, Xylitol is potentially fatal. It interferes with your pets’ ability to control their blood sugar. Even in small doses, it can cause seizures, liver failure, and death.

Having fun is what summer is all about, lets make sure our pets are safe as we enjoy the warmer weather. (Hiro Takashima/Unsplash)

Raisins, grapes, onions, macadamia nuts, avocado, chocolate, and coffee are considered poisonous to pets. Corn on the cob and any cooked food containing bones present a choking hazard. While raw meat bones are often consumed without incident, grilling or cooking meat makes the bones brittle. These brittle bones, when chewed, break into sharp pieces that can perforate organs or cause blockage, leading to medical emergencies.

Pests

Unfortunately, summertime brings unwanted pests, fleas, ticks, mosquitoes. Yuk.

Fortunately, the health risks from the diseases these pests carry can be prevented with the assistance of your veterinarian. But these creepy crawlies also cause your pet to scratch and cause skin irritation. Add in the summertime heat and humidity, along with the scratching and the normal bacteria of the skin can get out of control. It doesn’t take long for the skin to become irritated, inflamed, raw, and weep, creating what is commonly referred to as a “hot spot.”

More often than not, these irritations require veterinary care to combat the inflammation and overgrowth of bacteria. Keeping pets well-groomed, free of matted hair, and making sure they dry thoroughly after swimming or playing in the water will decrease the chances of hot spots occurring. If their coat remains wet, pets are at risk for fly strike and maggots, making simple hot spots seem like a walk in the park.

There can be tiny pests in yards and gardens that can affect your pets, taking precautions can make summer fun for everyone, including our pets. (Hendo Wang/Unsplash)

Flies are attracted to moisture and any open wounds; they lay eggs producing maggots. Maggots burrow into their fur and begin eating. No question, it is one of the most unpleasant experiences for both pets and owners. Preventing fly strike is worth taking the extra time to dry your pet and treat any wounds.

Inhalant and contact allergies also flare up during the summer months. They affect pets just like they do us. Pet’s ears, eyes, and or skin itch causing them to lick and scratch, intensifying the problem. Again, ensuring your pet’s coat dries all the way to the skin and regularly using a vet recommended solution to clean and dry their ears can prevent problems.

Bee stings also can cause mild discomfort. Like us, some pets are allergic to bee stings and can have a more severe reaction. Signs of a reaction that require medical attention can include hives, significant selling, general weakness, and difficulty breathing.

Pools

Swimming in a backyard pool that is properly maintained is generally safe for dogs, but there are some precautions that will help keep your pet safe if you own a pool. Dogs, like children, should be monitored if they have access to a pool. Not all dogs swim well, and most will have trouble exiting a pool.

Installing a ramp and teaching your dog how and where to exit the pool is a great safety measure. A pool alarm that is activated when there is movement in the pool gives added peace of mind. Pool chemicals can cause skin irritation, so it’s best to rinse your dog off after swimming and ensure their coat dries completely.

Pet life vests may also give added security if your pet doesn’t swim well. Pets don’t understand they can’t walk on pool covers. To them, it looks like a solid surface. Floating covers can trap pets (and children) preventing them from reaching the surface or exiting the pool. Pool safety covers that strap to the sides of the pool and can support your pet’s weight will provide more security.

Discourage your dog from drinking pool water; it can lead to intestinal upset, typically nausea, vomiting. Drinking excessive amounts of water from any source can cause a critical imbalance of electrolytes in the body, in both pets and people. This condition called water intoxication, while rare, can lead to severe consequences and can be fatal.

Lawn and Garden Hazards

Plants and Shrubs

Plants and flowers inside our homes and in our yards also pose dangers to pets. Many bushes that contain berries are tempting for kittens and pups. Just like kids, more often than not, our pets put things in their mouths that they shouldn’t. While most plants, if chewed on or eaten, can cause upset stomachs or diarrhea, some plants can cause more serious illness. Before planting items outside or bringing plants and flowers inside, it’s always best to check if they are potentially toxic.

Dog peeking thru shrubs. (Dagmar Klauzova/Unsplash)

Here are just a few of the most common flowers toxic to pets:

  • AZALEA AND RHODODENDRON
  • SPRING BULBS
  • LILY
  • CHRYSANTHEMUM
  • ENGLISH IVY
  • LANTANA
  • ZONAL GERANIUMS (Pelargonium) – the annual, also called common geranium is harmful to pets. perennial cranesbill geraniums (Geranium spp.) not harmful.
  • HELLEBORE (Helleborus spp.) – known as Lenten rose, Easter rose, or Christmas rose
  • HYDRANGEA
  • DAYLILY
  • FOXGLOVE
  • BLEEDING HEART

Many plants are more toxic to cats than dogs. In some instances, animals can even become ill if the groom themselves after coming into contact with the plant or pollen. Drinking the water from flower vases containing some of these dangerous flowers can be toxic.

Landscape Material

Mulches and rocks used in landscaping can also pose a danger. Some mulch is treated with chemical preservatives or artificial coloring that can cause intestinal problems.

Cocoa bean mulch contains the same toxic ingredients as chocolate, theobromine and caffeine. These chemicals can cause vomiting, diarrhea, an increased heart rate, tremors and seizures.

Even rocks in landscaping can lead to complications. An amazing number of dogs ingest rocks. Pets chew on the rocks or play with them, then end up swallowing the rocks. Rocks, and any non-digestible material, can lead to stomach and intestinal complications. Removal of indigestible items often requires surgery.

Try to use natural remedies in your yard and gardens, this reduces the chances of your pets getting sick from chemicals used to treats lawns and plants. (Feri Tasos/Unsplash)

Chemicals

Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers need used with caution around pets. Pets are sensitive to chemicals that we typically use on ourselves to prevent ticks and mosquitos. Don’t assume because products are safe for us, they are safe for pets. Human products like Deet are harmful to pets.

Generally, pets should not come into contact with wet chemicals. Read the labels, follow individual instructions, or question your lawn care professionals concerning the safety of products. Ensure all chemicals and medicines, even pet medications, are out of reach of curious pets.

The Pet Poison Helpline and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center are staffed by veterinarians and qualified experts 24 hours a day. The Pet Poison staff is capable of assisting with exotic and large animals in addition to dogs and cats. Both services require payment.

  • Pet Poison Helpline (toll free) 1-855-764-7611 Website: http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/
  • ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (toll free) 1-888-426-4435.
  • Website: http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/

Prevention and Treatment

Taking precautions to avoid harmful chemicals, products, and dangerous situations is always the best course of action. However, even the best plans sometimes fail.

If you feel your pet is ill because of coming into contact with a household substance, lawn chemical, harmful food, or plant, contact your vet, the local emergency clinic, or one of the pet poison hotlines. It is always a good idea to have the product and label available if you are sure of exposure.

Some pets have adverse reactions to not only human medications but pet medications, in particular flea and tick preventatives. It is important you contact a local clinic or a poison control center with these packages also in hand so the professional can give you the best advice.

Frequent Rest Breaks and Taking Precautions Ensure Summer Fun

Remember, pet can’t sweat to cool off like we can. Pets cool off by panting, lying in the shade, and drinking cool water. Providing for your pet’s needs and ensuring they take frequent breaks from playing when it is hot and humid will lead to your pets enjoying the summer as much as you.
Taking precautions and supervising your pet so they avoid the many backyard summertime dangers will help you enjoy long fun filled days together playing frisbee, swimming, or just hanging out under a shade tree.

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Gardening Lifestyle

Pollinator Gardens that Gets the Butterflies and Bees Buzzing

Want to create a pollinator garden that will be all the buzz? It doesn’t matter if you live in the country, have a yard in the suburbs, or live in an apartment in the middle of a city; container gardens, rooftop gardens, raised beds, window boxes, and traditional gardens all can provide a feast for pollinators.

There is no better time to celebrate pollinators and contribute to their health than National Pollinator Week June 21 – 27, 2001. Creating a special pollinator garden or adding flowers to an existing garden is a great way to repay them for all the benefits they provide us. (reference other article)

Many varieties and kinds of flowers makes for a great pollinator garden. (Jeffrey Eisen/Unsplash)

Attracting Pollinators

The color, size, shape, and even the smell of flowers, no matter where they grow, attract specific pollinators. However, pollinators require more than just flowers. They need places to overwinter, hide, and lay eggs. Some also need certain plants for their young. Don’t overlook to include host plants that are pollinator nurseries for caterpillars in your garden. Plants like milkweed (Asclepias) is needed for Monarchs and wild indigo (Baptisia) is the host for Duskywing butterflies. Other butterflies prefer perennial sunflowers (Helianthus), butterfly weed (Asclepias), and even ornamental grasses for host plants and nectar. Adding flowering shrubs and trees to your garden or yard are also great additions for pollinators. Blueberry, cherry, dogwood, plum, willow, and popular provide some of the first pollen and nectar in early spring when food is scarce.

Individual plant characteristics attract different pollinators

Flowers have a vast array of diverse fragrances, sizes, shapes, and colors. Each unique characteristic attracts specific pollinators.

Flower Color

Pollinators will feed on a multitude of flowers, regardless of color, but they do have color preferences. Blue and yellow flowers attract bees. Butterflies prefer purple and orange, but also like pink and periwinkle pastel-colored flowers. Hummingbirds are attracted to red and orange, while moths go for white and light-colored flowers open at night.

Flower Shape

The size of flower, shape of petals, and even the way the flower is positioned on the stem can make the more or less appealing to pollinators. The flower’s shape also dictates which pollinators will be able to access its nectar and pollen.

wide and flat petals allow pollinators to land and gather pollen and nectar. (Mark Teachey/Unsplash)

Flat disc-shaped composite flowers, like black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) or sunflower (Helianthus), offer easy access and a flat landing surface attractive to most bees and butterflies.

Umbrella-shaped flowers, technically called umbelliferous flowers, like milkweed (Asclepias) or Queen Anne’s lace or wild carrot (Daucus carota), also offer good landing platforms as well as easy access to short and long-tongued pollinators. Interestingly, each butterfly species has a different length of tongue which determines what/which flowers have nectar within reach.

More complex flower shapes, like tubular flowers, make it more difficult and at times impossible for most pollinators to access pollen and nectar. Lobelia (Lobelia spp) and beardtongue (Penstemon spp) are tubular flowers with a large flat bottom petal that allows pollinators to land and then crawl inside. However, hummingbirds with their long tongues and hovering ability excel at feeding from tubular flowers. Nodding flowers like columbine provide yet another challenge, but bumble bees can hang on to these flowers and extract nectar.

Fragrance

Pollinators are also attracted by fragrance. There are tiny hairs on insect’s antennae and mouthparts called sensilla that pick up the odor and guide pollinators to the source. Butterflies are drawn to sweet and spicy scents, while bees are fond of fruity or floral fragrances.

Butterflies might not have a “nose” but they rely on smell alot. (Amy Lynn Grover/Unsplash)

Textures, leaf types, and seed heads

Another way to attract pollinators is to supply a wide variety of materials they need. Some bees line their nests with oils and resins collected from flowers. This lining offers waterproofing and antimicrobial properties, which benefits the developing bees. Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantine) and mullein (Verbascum spp) provide plant fuzz, called pubescence. Wool carder bees use the pubescence to line their nests located in hollow stems of last year’s flowers.

Including native plants with different textures, leaf types, seed heads, and hollow stems will enable pollinators to not only dine in your garden but also nest and raise their young.

Don’t clean up the garden too early

Allowing leaf litter and dried stems to remain in the garden until late spring increases the chances of pollinators benefiting from the material. Once temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees F you can usually remove them. Just to ensure any young bees or other insects have emerged, place the dried leaves and hollow stems etc in a sunny location for a few more weeks.

Keys to planting gardens to attract the most pollinators

All pollinators worship the sun. Splendid sunshine places the buzz in bees and butterflies by warming them up and drying their wings. Choosing a location with full sun and plants which also thrive in sunshine will enable pollinators to hang out all day, dining at will in your garden. Planting flowers in dense clusters and sprays of similar colors will alert pollinators that your dining room is indeed open for business. Overlap flowering times with species that bloom early in the spring through late fall will enable pollinators to drop in and forage continually throughout the year. To ensure a wide variety of pollinators visit your pollinator outdoor dining room include an array various colors, shapes, and sizes of flowers.

You can improve pollinators’ access to the nodding and tubular flowers by planting them on the outer edges of gardens. The flat, composite, and umbelliferous flowers can be planted toward the center since they have large landing areas. Along with the flowers, provide plants that serve as host species and nesting material to encourage pollinators to raise their young in your garden. Don’t forget pollinators need to drink more than nectar. A shallow water source, like clay dish or decorative bowl with a few sparkling stones or colorful marbles, would be perfect. Seek out those native species of plants rather than hybrids because native plants are best suited for both your climate and the local pollinators.

Garden characteristics to bring the buzz

  • Here is a quick checklist for your pollinator garden.
  • The best pollinator gardens include:
  • Plant a variety of trees, shrubs, and flowers so that the garden will offer continuous blooms of different shapes, colors, and textures throughout the growing season
  • Native plants are most adapted to your regions soil, climate conditions, and native pollinators
  • Single flowers – those with one ring of petals around a central disc provide more nectar and pollen than pompom-shaped flowers
  • Bees and Butterflies prefer flowers in full sun
  • Bees are most attracted to blue & yellow flowers
  • Butterflies prefer purple & orange flowers
  • Hummingbirds first choice is red flowers
  • Plant host species and well as food sources
  • Include areas of shelter – dead logs, branches, rocks…
  • Incorporate plants that provide nesting material
  • Add a hummingbird feeder
  • Provide a shallow water source
  • Create a shallow basin of bare soil that catches rainfall to provide pollinators with minerals. Apply water to this area during dry spells.

A window box display, containers clustered together, a raised bed, or simply colorful flower sprays added to your current landscaping will provide a buzz worthy dining area for pollinators. They aren’t choosey where the next meal comes from. If You Plant It – They Will Come.

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Gardening Lifestyle

Saving the Monarch Butterfly—Jeff and Roxanne Stelle’s butterfly sanctuary

Monarch butterflies have a friend in Jeff and Roxanne Stelle of Springfield, Illinois, who have set up “butterfly gardens” throughout their back and front yards that will help the insects survive.

A chief nursing officer at an Illinois hospital, Roxanne Stelle began last summer working in the garden when she returned home from long hours at work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I just started learning about the decline in butterflies, and I think I just started kind of shifting my focus that way,” Roxanne Stelle told Radiant Life. “Something in my heartstrings tugged … (butterflies) have had an 80 percent decline.”

Having contrasting colors of black and orange, monarch butterflies need “a warm climate and food plants (milkweeds for larvae, nectar from general flowers for adults)” to survive, the Smithsonian said.

 

Monarch butterflies need habitats that include milkweeds and nectar plants in order to survive. (Public Domain“Several broods are produced throughout the year. After migrating and overwintering in the south (California and Mexico), the adults travel north in the spring, laying eggs along the way,” the Smithsonian said.

The survival of the eastern monarch butterfly population, in particular, has been of grave concern for several groups that have been tracing their decline for years. Butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains make up the eastern monarch population, which is approximately “99% of all North American monarchs,” the Center for Biological Diversity said.

Eastern monarch butterflies “used to number in the hundreds of millions but the population has declined by approximately 80%,” said the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. The monarch butterflies have lost their habitat, and thus, the ability to survive mostly through loss of milkweed host plants from herbicide use, the Xerces Society’s “Monarch Nectar Plant Guides” said. “…and loss or degradation of nectar-rich habitat from other causes, natural disease and predation, climate change, and widespread insecticide use are probably also contributing to declines,” the Xerces Society’s “Monarch Nectar Plant Guides” said.

Watching for monarchs

Several groups such as Monarch Watch are rallying others to “create, conserve and protect monarch habitats” that contain milkweed and nectar plants needed for the monarch’s survival. Monarch Watch promotes a “Monarch Waystation Program” to encourage the creation of “Monarch Waystations… places that provide resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration.”

“Creating a Monarch Waystation can be as simple as adding milkweeds and nectar sources to existing gardens or maintaining natural habitats with milkweeds. No effort is too small to have a positive impact,” the Monarch Waystation Program said.

The Stelles showed their support of monarch conservation by having their monarch habitat areas certified as an official Monarch Waystation by Monarch Watch. The online Monarch Waystation Registry, which lists Monarch Waystations worldwide, listed 33,356 Monarch Waystation habitats registered as of May 12, 2021.

Several areas in the Stelles’ front and back yards have plants and flowers conducive to helping monarch butterflies.

 

Roxanne Stelle stands in an area of her backyard in Springfield, Illinois, where she planted a monarch butterfly habitat. (Tamara Browning/Radiant LifeMonarch butterflies have several resources to avail themselves with in the Stelles’ areas, including milkweed, zinnias, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans and phlox.

“Just try to spread it out so they have different areas to go to — different stages. It’s important to have things like spring, summer, fall so that throughout the growing season they have food and nectar sources throughout the season,” said Roxanne Stelle, whose garden also has been designated a “Pollinator Habitat” by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. “Really focusing on native plants to your area is what they recommend because that’s what the butterflies… grew up on back in the day before they declined.”

The Monarch Waystation Program divides the United States into four eco-regions (Northeast, South Central, Southeast and West), and for each region, suggests milkweeds that are native to that particular region that people may plant. The suggested milkweeds are “preferred by monarchs and relatively easy to establish in gardens and fields,” the Monarch Waystation Program said.

For example, for the Northeast Region that includes states such as New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and more, the following are the suggested milkweeds: common milkweed, swamp milkweed, butterfly milkweed and poke milkweed.

“Monarch Nectar Plant Guides” by states offered on the Xerces Society’s website helps primarily gardeners and landscape designers determine what nectar plants are food for their locations. Examples of monarch nectar plants good for the Midwest states of Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana include prairie blazing star, false boneset, New England aster, Ontario blazing star, sawtooth sunflower, stiff goldenrod, tall blazing star, hoary verbena and wild bergamot.

“At first, you just think they just need the nectar, but … they talk a lot about the milkweed and the host plants where they can have their eggs and become caterpillars and then go from there,” Roxanne Stelle said.

A butterfly weed, a species of milkweed, blooms in a “Pollinator Friendly Garden” planted in a park in Springfield, Illinois. (Tamara Browning/Radiant LifePeople should “read up on nectar and host plants native to the area that they live in” so that they may include in their yards native plants that butterflies like best, Roxanne Stelle said.

“At first I included some other types, but I always found the butterflies around the native ones – and so I switched them out,” Roxanne Stelle said. “Different butterflies like different things, just like people. I would also suggest if (individuals) are on social media to join groups. They are really helpful for asking questions and learning.”

 

Categories
Gardening Lifestyle

How to earn money and travel by working on farms

Like travel? Love gardening or have a special affinity for critters? Enjoy using your hands and learning new things? Well- there are farms, ranches and orchards of all kinds looking for YOU. Everywhere.

Organic farms, fish or shrimp farms (aquaculture), flower farms, orchards, cattle and horse ranches, apiaries (bees), turkey farms, llama farms, goats, rice farms, U-pick-It’s. Big farms, little farms, tree farms. The list is long. In a nutshell, if you can eat it or make fiber with it- it is grown on a farm. Which means you are only limited by what you want to do and how far you’re willing to go on a working vacation.

 

Volunteering and being a part of nature at the same time is a deeply rewarding experience. (Jim Choate/FlckrMaybe you want to head over seas. Yep, there are opportunities there too. How about a sheep farm in Ireland? How cool would that be? You’d still have to get yourself there, but they’ll feed and house you. So if you’re already over there, why not?

Travel, making memories on a working vacation

What??? Why would someone want to do manual, sweaty, dirty labor for FREE???? For all the benefits. That’s why. “Ahhhhh- the smell of money!”
For the joy of the sunrise. For making new friends. For learning new skills or honing existing ones. For the love of good road trips or for the pocket book. Stress busting, new job skills, the reasons are many, as are the rewards. These opportunities can be for one day or an entire year.

A huge benefit of working on one of these farms, even if just for a few days, is that it will you much better understanding about where your food comes from and how gets through the entire process. After this last year, it can’t hurt to know.

 

Picture yourself bringing down the cows from summer pastures. (Phinehas Adams/UnsplashFor the record- they are not all dirty and sweaty. There are plenty of other offerings like seed selections, egg painting and fiber arts. There is literally a spot for every age and ability. Want to count and package seeds? Try a flower farm. Looking for something more labor intensive? Try a sheep or cattle ranch. Want to learn to make cheese? Try a goat farm. Go crazy and make a family vacation out of it.

All these places will give you housing (or provide space for your own camper) nearly every single one will guarantee meals. While you could work 16+ hour days, you won’t. Most will ask you for a fair days work (about 6 hours) and there will always be time/days off depending on your stay. One thing to note- Due diligence makes a world of difference. Some of these farms may be way off the beaten path, and not a great fit if you don’t already own a vehicle in case you do need to get into town. Some farms will be itty bitty, but let that fool your a second. Some farms will be so big you can see forever. Be honest with yourself.. What kind of work do you want to do? No sense picking one that may ask you to something you are not willing to try. You won’t enjoy the experience and it will make things harder for the farmer and other volunteers. Keep in mind that farmers farm literally 365 days a year. There is always something to do. So don’t think this only something you can do in the summer. Why not fall in New England or mid-winter in Wisconsin?

Make it an adventure, you can come and pick your own fruits and veggies at many farms. (Timothy Meinberg/UnsplashWhere can you find such opportunities to both travel and get paid? You can start looking in your own neighborhood! Simply search online using key phrases like organic farm near me, farm internships, working vacation or plow shares. You can contact your state Extension Office. EO’s are offices generally within the college system or county and are primarily an agriculture and natural resource clearing house. These places usually know everyone locally. Another good starting point is your states Tourism Department. Generally each state has a website for tourism and you can find volunteer opportunities by looking under a heading like “places to stay” or “things to do.” Airbnb and VRBO both have spots where you can search for farm stays.

Have your own farm you’d like to list?? The process stays the same. Just search for the same terms, and call them up and ask them how to get listed, added or registered. This is a great way to have young people come and volunteer, do a short internship and have rewards far and above just a paycheck!

But, if you just want to get right to it, here is a list of websites to check for you.

  • World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) This is probably one the most popular sites to use and has been connecting folks like us to opportunities all over the world for over 50 years.
  • Mother Earth News and Backwoods Home are but a couple of the many magazines out there. But they will all have a section in the classified ads section for working vacations.
  • Volunteer World is another one that specializes in farm stays over seas.
  • The Food Project has multiple locations in the Boston and northern Massachusetts.
  • Farm Stay (US) – Ok, this one is NOT a volunteer opportunity( that means it isn’t free) , but it IS still an authentic experience while being a little pampered at the same time.
  • Work Away, From ranches to farms. From the Pacific Northwest to the high desert. WorkAway can help you find just the right experience for you.

Happy travels!

 

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Gardening Lifestyle

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens: An Old Charm

Almost every Miami resident is familiar with Vizcaya and has visited the villa at some point in their lives. It is well-known as the ideal location for a beautiful wedding photo or a special occasion. The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is a historical treasure that protects its cultural and natural resources so that visitors can learn about the past to shape the present and future.

Vizcaya was the winter home of farming industrialist James Deering. It is one of the most preserved castles of all time in American history when the country’s most successful businesses had built estates inspired by European homes. Vizcaya has a main house with a detailed art collection, 10 acres of formal gardens, a subtropical mangrove forest, and a historic community that is being restored to portray the whole narrative of Vizcaya.

The Story

Although the palace is located in a city known for its opulent lifestyle, sandy beaches, and vibrant nightlife, it offers an entirely different experience. James Deering was an Italian businessman from the Midwest and upon retiring as vice-president of the International Harvester Company in 1908, he did what any self-respecting middle-aged retiree would do: he bought real estate in South Florida.

Deering was a conservationist and was inspired to preserve the mangrove swamps and tropical forests. His main home was established in 1916, and the surrounding towns and gardens were finished by 1923. Due to World War I, there have been significant drawbacks in the fulfillment of the villa. Deering was then diagnosed with pernicious anemia and died in 1925, passing on the estate to his brother Charles who died only two years later, leaving Vizcaya in the hands of Deering’s two nieces.

Two hurricanes struck South Florida in 1926 and 1935, wreaking havoc on the Vizcaya estate’s main home, as well as the neighboring hamlet and gardens. After the hurricane, Deering’s heirs contacted Chalfin and he came back, restored the estate, and turned it into a museum. 17 years later, the villa was in severe need of rehabilitation and was sold to Miami-Dade County for $1 million. Deering’s heirs gave the villa’s furnishings and antiques to the County-Museum. The museum, which is now known as Vizcaya, first opened its doors in 1953. The estate was announced as a National Historic Landmark in 1994. Vizcaya is a true gem to behold.

The Architecture

In 1910, Deering met Paul Chalfin, the artistic director. They immediately bonded and came up with the vision to build a European-inspired winter home. After touring Italian residencies and collecting vintage antiques for his new project, Deering chose Francis Burrall Hoffman, Jr. as the architect to build his dream-like mansion on the 130 acres of land upon the shores of Biscayne Bay. Deering returned to Florence and met Diego Suarez, a bright Colombian landscape architect. Deering finalized his masterpiece by making Diego in charge of Vizcaya’s scrupulous garden design.

The estate took more than 8 years to construct and the design of the main house took another 2 years to complete. Despite its old-fashioned appearance, Villa Vizcaya was equipped with 20th-century conveniences such as a central vacuum system, elevators, and water filtering systems. To complement Miami’s tropical climate, a variety of different architectural aspects were used. The designers customized the estate based on Deering’s details but still made it blend with the ambiance of the structure. That’s why, even now, each room appears to be a different style, expertly organized to showcase Deering’s many collections combined throughout his trips across the globe.

Upon visiting, you can learn about the details of each room’s unique display pieces and designs.

The Garden

Deering recreated the European gardens and lawns he visited during his travels. The majority of the fountains and sculptures were made of coral and limestone, inspired by gardens from the 18th century in Italy and France. Most of the gardens have aged due to the use of indigenous materials that have weathered over time. Vizcaya used to be around 180 acres, but it is now only about 50 acres.

With marble statues, stone grottos, labyrinths, palm trees, and hundreds of species of local and exotic flora and animals, the gardens encapsulate an almost surreal encounter between the steamy Floridian ecosystem and grandiose Mediterranean design.

Historical Attraction

Since its opening to the public in 1953, Vizcaya has served as a community center, attracting 300,000 visitors each year. The estate and accompanying gardens have attracted many prominent ceremonies and events. It’s ideal for wedding venues, private parties, or for individuals who simply wish to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and instead relax in the Estate’s decorative rooms and stunning Italian gardens.

It’s well worth the journey. Not only do you get an ethereal photo shoot, but you can roam around and take in the beauty and magnificence of rich lifestyles from the 19th century. Vizcaya is a must-see and one of the most beautiful venues in Miami Florida.

The villa was made to protect the surrounding mangrove swamps and forest. (Jonathan Gutierrez)
Vice President of International Harvester James Deering (1859-1925) built Vizcaya as his winter residence. (Jonathan Gutierrez)
The eighteenth-century Italian-inspired fountain. (Jonathan Gutierrez)
Modeled after the extravagance of Italian and French Renaissance gardens. (Jonathan Gutierrez)
This magnificent estate sits right on Biscayne Bay. (Michelleraponi/ Pixabay)
Categories
Gardening Lifestyle

Creating a Low Maintenance Garden

Enjoying a morning coffee or cup of tea surrounded by the peaceful harmony of a beautiful, lush garden is a relaxing way to begin any day. It is even more satisfying when you’ve created the environment yourself.

Of course, maintaining that beautiful garden sometimes delivers the opposite of relaxation. If you find your summer months filled with seemingly endless watering and weeding chores, you may consider giving up your outdoor space altogether.

But don’t throw in the towel quite yet. There are some easy strategies you can adopt that will give you the garden you want without all the work.

Choose Plants Wisely

Just like people, some plants are higher maintenance than others. When creating a low maintenance garden, choosing easy-to-grow flowers is one way to take the hassle out of maintaining your green space. Plants and flowers like lavender, marigolds, and daffodils are very easy to grow, even for beginners. Once established, these hearty plants require very little attention or care.

Before choosing any plant, though, it pays to understand your local climate. Knowing your hardiness growing zone and finding flowers best suited to it is one way to avoid future maintenance nightmares. Another way to get more results with less effort is to pay attention to the flowering schedules of the plants you eventually select. By choosing a variety of low-maintenance flowers with different bloom times, you can enjoy beautiful color all summer long without additional effort.

 

Marigolds are very low maintenance flowers that add a pop of color to any garden. (Couleur/PixabayPerennials are also a great way to achieve a low-maintenance garden. Plants that come back year after year, with little to no intervention on your part, will go a long way toward turning your garden into a joy instead of a burden. Ornamental grasses are another great choice. Similar in performance to perennials, they offer a variety of colors and shapes that complement other plants. At the end of the growing season, you can opt to cut the grass down to its crown or leave the old growth for visual diversity throughout the colder winter months.

By choosing plants that will thrive in your local growing conditions, you eliminate unnecessary frustration and extra work in your backyard space.

Prepare Your Area

No matter where in the world you are, when it comes to growing a beautiful garden, everything begins with good soil. Most plants don’t need a lot to thrive, but well-fertilized, well-draining soil is your starting point for success. Mixing compost with your dirt before you start planting is one way to achieve this. Compost can be store-bought or made at home for no cost.

Once your garden is planted, weeds become your next concern. The good news is that keeping weeds at bay is fairly easy. Whether you’ve planted annuals, perennials, or shrubs, placing a layer of mulch four to six inches deep around your fresh plantings does two things. It slows down evaporation between waterings, keeping the soil around the plant roots consistently moist. It also blocks sunlight, keeping most weeds from ever taking root.

Mulching around garden plants prevents weeds and keeps your soil moist. (Tatiana Syrikova/PexelsThere is a variety of mulch available, from shredded wood and wood bark to stones and gravel. They all work on the same light-blocking and water-preservation principles. The type you choose depends primarily on aesthetics and what is readily available in your area.

Make Watering Easier

One thing the novice gardener often underestimates is the time it takes to keep a garden hydrated. Especially in the hot summer months, a garden will require a daily drink of H2O. For many people with busy schedules, the daily ritual of watering is a task that often falls by the wayside. Unfortunately, your garden needs regular watering to ensure optimal plant health and performance. This is when an automated watering system can be a lifesaver.

There are many types of automated watering systems available on the market and they all function in a similar way. A series of hoses or plastic tubing, controlled by a timer, delivers water to your garden. From basic to elaborate, they all offer the same benefits, too. Running on a timer, you’ll never have to drag the garden hose out again. Preset start and stop times mean over- or underwatering is a thing of the past. You can take your pick from basic systems with mechanical timers to high-tech offerings that you control from your smartphone.

Not ready to invest in an automated system? Another way to minimize the impact of a missed day or two of watering is to select drought-tolerant plants native to your region. Plants like aloe vera, butterfly bush, and yarrow can all withstand longer periods without water. So, if you get busy and forget a day or two of watering, it won’t result in your garden’s immediate demise.

Expand Your Outdoor Living Area

The long, balmy days of summer are the perfect time to entertain friends and family in your backyard. Take these gatherings to the next level by expanding your outdoor living space. Whether you extend your patio, build a fire pit gathering spot, or add a dedicated grilling area – or do all three – these projects all reduce the amount of green space left over for planting and maintenance.

There isn’t anything lower maintenance than having less garden area in the first place.

Fire pits create ideal gathering spots and complement any garden. (travel4foodfun/PixabayLikewise, in the garden space that remains, incorporate cozy seating areas that further reduce the area available for plants and flowers. Whether located in a shady nook or on a sunny patch of grass, these intimate resting spots blend harmoniously with your beautiful garden. By expanding your outdoor living spaces, you and your guests will have more room to spread out and enjoy the smaller and lower-maintenance garden you’ve created.

 

A US expat who has lived in many different regions of the world, Liz has honed her gardening expertise in a variety of climates and environments. Whether mastering the rainy environs of the Pacific Northwest to battling iguanas and other invasive garden critters on an arid Caribbean island, she’s been planting and experimenting with new gardening techniques for decades. You can find out more about her and her writing at www.lizwegerer.com.

 

Categories
Gardening Lifestyle

How to Fill Your Garden for Less

For those who love gardening, nothing beats a few hours meandering the aisles of your favorite garden center. Down every row and around every corner, you discover beautiful blooms and lush greenery easily visualized in your own garden.

But those inspiring visits can quickly put a dent in your wallet. Buying bigger plants can be expensive. It can also turn your passion for gardening into a costly hobby. Knowing how to cultivate new plants from existing plants is a handy skill for any recreational gardener.

Propagation, the technical term for growing new plants from existing ones, can be done in many ways. Most home gardeners use the three simplest methods – seeds, cuttings, and division. Whether you rely on the plants you already have or barter with fellow gardeners to trade seeds and plants, these strategies offer great ways to fill your garden for less.

Of course, growing your own plants is sometimes a struggle for the gardener who demands instant gratification. A dash of patience is also required to make these cost-saving strategies a success.

Growing Plants from Seeds

A one-time purchase of a plant that naturally provides seeds can be a worthwhile investment. Many popular flowering plants bloom all summer long, then gift you with seeds to start the next generation.

Some plants, like foxglove and columbine are self-seeding, meaning you don’t have to do any of the work. They bloom, then drop their seeds to grow the following season. All you do is sit back and enjoy beautiful flowers year after year. It doesn’t get easier than this.

Growing plants from seeds is an easy way to diversify your garden. (J Garget/PixabayOthers, like petunias and purple coneflowers, bloom throughout the season and then offer up seeds for you to collect from the spent flowers. You can replant those seeds directly into the ground the following spring after the last frost. You can also get a jump start by starting the seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last expected frost, then transplanting them in late spring.

Growing new plants from seeds is a very cost-effective way to spread color throughout your garden without spending a lot each year.

Growing Plants from Cuttings

One of the easiest and fastest ways to multiply your existing plants is through cuttings. In fact, starting a new plant with a cutting from an existing plant can give you a full-sized plant in half the time it takes to grow one from seed. This is a great option for the impatient gardener.

How you root a healthy cutting depends on the type of plant. Cuttings from soft-stemmed plants like spider plants and inch plants quickly sprout tender roots when placed in water. Once these roots form, you can transplant them to pots, planters, or directly into prepared ground soil.

Plants and shrubs with woodier growth, like butterfly bush and rosemary, are more successful when you treat the fresh cut with rooting hormone and place the stem directly into a prepared potting mix. You can purchase rooting hormone at your local garden center or make your own. Cinnamon, honey, or apple cider vinegar each make a great rooting hormone, and you likely have at least one of these items already in your kitchen.

 

Butterfly bush is beautiful and easy to propagate from cuttings. (Alicja/PixabayWhen you take the cutting can also make a difference in your success. For soft-stemmed plants, you can root new cuttings anytime. However, woodier species generally have optimal times in their growth cycle to propagate cuttings. It may take some trial and error to determine the best time to cultivate new plants from cuttings, but it is a good way to experiment and learn.

Growing Plants through Division

For the gardener who wants to see nearly instant results, nothing beats division to fill in empty garden space. It can also be an extremely beneficial way to enhance the health and performance of your existing plants, since removing some of the root system means less competition for nutrients and water.

Division is a method most often used with perennials and is best accomplished either early or late in the growing season. You can also divide newly purchased plants before putting them in the ground, giving you more plant bang for your buck. The key to successful division is working with plants that form clumping roots. Hostas, ornamental grasses, and bamboo are just a few of the plants that can be successfully propagated via division.

Dividing plants with clumping roots looks intimidating but is very healthy for the plant. (Bluebudgie/PixabayThe process of division is straightforward. For a potted plant, remove it from the pot and split the root clump into separate pieces using a sharp knife or garden scissors. For in-ground plants, use a sharp spade to cut around half the base, then down the middle of the mound to loosen and divide the roots. Remove the loosened half and replant it in the desired location.

Many novice gardeners fear the division method, because they think they will damage the roots and kill the plant. Actually, the opposite is true. Division stimulates new root growth and robust plant performance for each of the newly separated plants. Plus, this tried-and-true propagation method costs you nothing but a little time and effort to fill in your garden with more of your favorite plants.

 

A US expat who has lived in many different regions of the world, Liz has honed her gardening expertise in a variety of climates and environments. Whether mastering the rainy environs of the Pacific Northwest to battling iguanas and other invasive garden critters on an arid Caribbean island, she’s been planting and experimenting with new gardening techniques for decades. You can find out more about her and her writing at www.lizwegerer.com.gar

 

Categories
Gardening Lifestyle

How to Create the Ultimate Small Space Garden

For those living in an urban setting, growing vegetables or creating an outdoor sanctuary of greenery and blooms can seem like an impossible dream. When confronted with tiny terraces or balconies, many would-be gardeners living in apartments or small city spaces give up before they start. The great news is with just a bit of knowledge and a dash of creativity, you can unleash your green thumb and take your outdoor space from blah to beautiful – no matter its size.

Think Outside the Box

When your gardening space is small, it can be difficult to envision more than a potted plant or two in the corner. They key to maximizing your limited outdoor area is to think of it in three dimensions. You don’t just have a floor. You have walls and perhaps even a ceiling as your canvas.

Walls are the perfect spot to create vertical gardens. You can build a simple framework to hold containers in a variety of shapes and sizes. You can also repurpose old furniture like dressers and bookshelves to create multi-level structures that display pots filled with your favorite plants, vegetables, and herbs.

 

Get creative with your vertical space. (Maike und Björn Bröskamp/PixabayIf you have a roof or ceiling above your small space, don’t be afraid to incorporate it. Lightweight pots can be nested in a variety of hangers. Coco baskets add even more visual diversity to the space. No ceiling? No problem. Wall mounted brackets in varying arm lengths are readily available at any garden center or home improvement store. These offer an easy way to add vertical appeal and dimension to your space.

Take Cues from the Design World

A singular, dramatic focal point delivers high impact in a small space. A colorful lemon tree or tropical frangipani in an eye-catching planter makes an ideal statement piece. Incorporate flowering groundcover around the plant’s base and the arrangement becomes a true showstopper. Situate the planter so it is the first thing you see when entering the area, and coordinate the rest of your plants to harmonize with the attention-grabbing piece.

Color is also one of the easiest ways to maximize the appeal of limited garden spaces. Well-planned splashes of color add contrast and visual appeal. When choosing colorful plants, it is helpful to know a little bit about color theory. Understanding which colors complement and contrast each other helps you plan an attractive and cohesive overall design.

Following a color theme within a planter or group of planters is another way to build visual harmony in a compact area. You’re not limited to flowers, either. There are many herbs and vegetables that produce pops of color. Dill, thyme, chives, and sage are just a few herbs that boast bright blooms. Planted together or individually, herbs contribute nicely to your garden’s aesthetic, while also offering the benefit of being edible.

 

Herbs, like sage, add a burst of color to any container. (Planet_fox/PixabayFollowing the Rule of Three also makes a major impact in any garden. This simple design concept holds that things arranged in odd numbers are more visually appealing than even-numbered groupings. For small areas, select three complementary planters in varying sizes and group them together to maximize visual harmony. Choose similar plant combinations for each planter to strengthen the overall cohesiveness of the collection.

Know Your Growing Conditions

One of the most important ways to ensure the success of your small garden area is to understand its unique growing conditions. Before you buy a single plant, take some time to get to know your space. Note how much direct sunlight there is throughout the day and from which direction it comes. Soft morning light from the east is dramatically different than bright afternoon light from the west.

Different plants have different sunlight needs to achieve optimal growth. Trying to force a plant to grow in sub-optimal light conditions is a recipe for poor performance for the plant and frustration for you. A Boston fern situated in a spot that receives harsh afternoon sun will result in brown, burned leaves. A sun-loving specimen placed on a shady balcony will struggle to bloom. You will enjoy more success when you know the ideal light exposure a plant requires and select plants that match your conditions.

Don’t Forget to Nurture Your plants

Watching small plants blossom into mature, beautiful specimens is one of life’s more satisfying experiences. But it doesn’t happen without regular attention.

Container gardens require more water than their counterparts in the ground. Creating a regular watering schedule keeps your plants thriving and happy. While you don’t need anything more than a plastic cup or pitcher to get the job done, a watering can will make the job infinitely quicker and easier. Available in a variety of styles, watering cans also offer another way to add a dash of artistic flair to your outdoor space. They become garden art when they’re not in use.

Watering cans even make stylish vases and planters. (43965 from Pixabay)

Of course, be careful not to overwater. Each plant has its own requirements to achieve optimal growth, and too much water can also cause problems. A soil moisture meter is one inexpensive investment every container gardener should make. This simple tool is inserted near a plant’s base and indicates whether the soil is dry, moist, or wet. Using a soil moisture meter eliminates guesswork, so you can build a proper watering schedule.

Finally, don’t forget to regularly fertilize your plants. Container plants require regular nutrient boosts to thrive. You can find general plant fertilizer that is suitable for most plants and also plant-specific fertilizers. Whatever you choose, follow the application instructions. Just like too much water, too much fertilizer can inhibit your plants best performance.

 

A US expat who has lived in many different regions of the world, Liz has honed her gardening expertise in a variety of climates and environments. Whether mastering the rainy environs of the Pacific Northwest to battling iguanas and other invasive garden critters on an arid Caribbean island, she’s been planting and experimenting with new gardening techniques for decades. You can find out more about her and her writing at www.lizwegerer.com.