Gardening and Landscaping Safety

Call Before You Dig:  In most areas, an organization or public official needs to give approval to excavate even the smallest areas.  This is because of the damage and destruction that can result if an unaware homeowner compromises a natural gas or electrical line.

Major utility providers will almost always send a representative to the proposed dig site to evaluate the safety of the proposed location.  Utility lines and pipelines are often located deep underground, often with a marker indicating their depth.  If the proposed excavation is extremely dangerous, a building inspector or code enforcement office may become involved and deny the necessary permit.

Never dig without notifying the utility providers.  Otherwise, you could experience tremendous loss and put other people in danger.

Keep an Eye out for Dangers:  Gardening is a favorite spring pastime, but beware of potential dangers lurking in your lawn and gardens.  Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are dangerous plants that can cause life-threatening reactions in many people.  Know how to spot them and safely remove them from your property.

Also, keep an eye out for pests.  Moles, chipmunks and other small animals present little threat to your family, but if you find a nest of field mice, a litter of baby raccoons, or any other potentially dangerous animals, call the local authorities to request traps or removal services.

Insect threats are also common in the spring.  If you notice a beehive, wasp hole, or termite nest, call the exterminator or carefully remove the hazard on your own.  Wear protective gear and a mask if you are working with dangerous chemicals.  Spring is a good time for this extermination, because in many areas of the country the fledgling insects have not yet hatched or are still docile and harmless.

Don’t Overdo It:  Most people have limited physical activity during the winter.  Therefore, be extremely cautious when starting outdoor projects in the spring.  Just because you could easily lift your mower over a walkway in September does not mean that you won’t hurt yourself in April if your muscles are out of practice.

Take your projects slowly.  You do not want to spend the rest of the spring recovering from a muscle injury that could have been easily avoided.

April Showers:  The old adage is true – April showers do bring May flowers, but they can also bring dangerous conditions in some areas.  Spring storms may cause flooding or power outages.  If you live in a flood-prone area, be prepared.  Keep your basement clear and keep your belongings off of the floor as much as possible.  Most items damaged by flood waters become unsafe and need to be replaced.

Power outages are almost always uneventful, but it is best to be prepared.  Candles are an excellent source of light, but they should never be left burning unattended.  Avoid accidental fires by being vigilant when burning candles during a power outage.

Unplug your electrical equipment.  A single power surge can destroy computers and stereo equipment.  Once the power is on again, plug in only one item at a time.

Spring is a wonderful and beautiful season.  It is the perfect time to pay attention to your home and garden and ensure that the rest of your year will be free of danger.  Protect your assets against the damage caused by springtime storms and heavy rainfall that are common in many areas during April and May.  If you take preventative measures now, you can relax knowing that you have taken the necessary steps to increase the beauty and safety of your home and garden.

Planning a Garden

Garden Design

Whether you’re going to make a full scale drawing or just jot down a few notes, planning a garden should start with a few basic elements.

1. How plants will grow in the conditions of your garden.
2. How will the plant’s shape your gardens structure.
3. Qualities that add interest and excitement to the garden.

Whether you’re starting with a bare yard or improving an existing landscape, do a quick analysis of the area.

  • Determine the sunny and shady locations, including the north, south, east and west sides of your house.  Do you need more or less shade?
  • Check natural slope and drainage patterns and find out where water will collect.
  • Examine the soil and check its ability to retain or drain water.
  • Think about pathways you will need.
  • Study existing plants you might be able to utilize in a new or revitalized landscaping, either i their present location or by transplanting.

Consider the following when making your plan:

Plant Function – Where do you need windbreaks or privacy?  If you need space for outdoor activities, will you need hedges for privacy or to define spaces?

Sun and Shade – Plan for solar penetration or protection.  Deciduous trees provide summer shade and allow sun penetration during the winter.  Evergreens provide consistent, year round shade.

Visual Impact – Plan for visual points of view – what will the garden look like through favorite windows or from an outdoor seating area.

Multipurpose Plants – To get the most from your garden, use plants that serve more than one purpose.  For example, use a fruit or nut tree for a shade tree.  Many perennial herbs can double as attractive borders or ground covers.

Low Maintenance – Plan the garden for the amount of time and effort you’ll have to maintain it.  Lawns usually require the most maintenance unless you choose a type that is designed for low maintenance landscaping.  To reduce pruning chores, select slow growing plants for clipped formal hedges or plant an informal hedge.  Use narrow, upright shrubs or trees where space is limited.  Use flowering ground covers, shrubs or perennials for color.  Use annual flowers as colorful accent plants, not as the foundation of the garden.  To reduce watering chores, select drought tolerate plants.

Plant Size – Fit plants to the space you have available.  Consider the mature size of the plants when you are selecting them.  Choose plants that complement the architectural style of your house.  Use tall hedges to block unsightly views from the yard.

It’s easy to buy plants on impulse, but if you rely on impulse alone, you may end up with no more than a collection of interesting plants that neither grow well or look good in your garden.

Concentrate on the major elements first and keep the plan simple.  Some of the most beautiful gardens are a simple combination of a few trees, one or two ground covers or a lawn and a hedge of a single type of evergreen shrub to make a private spot.  After you’ve addressed the essentials, you can begin to elaborate with the special plants you enjoy – a fragrant jasmine, a border of flowers or herbs.

Basic Herbs

Miracle Grow AeroGarden

General guidelines and advice for a few basic herbs.

Rosemary:
Rosemary doesn’t like to be moved so plant it where you plan on leaving it. Try to buy the rosemary from an herb specialist. Large, general garden centers often do not label specific varieties which come in several foliage forms and bloom in various colors such as white, pink, deep blue or light blue flowers. Plant rosemary in a 12 inch by 12 inch pot with plenty of drainage. Use a light but coarse potting soil such as a cactus soil. Then keep the soil moist but never wet by misting the plant twice a week with warm water. Feed the plants monthly with compost tea. Place the pot in a sunny south or west window.

Chives:
Chives adapt well to indoor living. They need to be 9 inches to a foot from anything else. The green stems can be cut close to the ground three to four times in a season.

Thyme:
Thyme comes in a variety of flavors, fragrances, growth habits, hardiness ranges, and flower colors of pink, white or lilac. If you plant thyme seeds, do not be scared if you don’t see anything happen quickly because they germinate slowly. Thyme needs 6 to 12 inches from other plants and likes a sandy soil mix. Make sure you cut the plants back after they flower to promote the plant to get bushy.

Mint:
Be careful because mint will take over any soil you give it. Mint likes partial shade and moisture. Mint doesn’t grow well from seed, so simply buy your mint plants at any nursery. Mint loves a 10 inch deep and 6 to 8 inch across clay pot with drainage tiles. At the end of each spring, pinch stem ends off to keep plants bushy and at the end of the season, prune the plants back to near ground level and top-dress with compost.

Basil:
Basil grows easily in the ground or containers. Basil needs a soil that drains well and retains enough moisture so that it won’t wilt. Work organic material into the soil to give you the right combination. Water the herbs regularly with air-temperature water to encourage growth. Put the seedlings about 6 inches apart and then when the plants are six inches high, pinch off the tips to encourage bushier growth. Pinch off the bud of flowers as soon as they appear in order to encourage leave growth.

Cilantro:
Cilantro produces the dried seeds called coriander. It thrives in damp, cool springs and hot, dry summers. Like most herbs, cilantro needs sunlight, well-drained soil, and plenty of compost. Cilantro does not like to be transplanted, as it has a taproot that develops quickly. Plant cilantro 4 inches apart from other plants, and give it 12 inches in depth to establish its taproot. Harvest the entire plant when they are 6 inches high if you only want the leaves. For the seeds, wait until the seeds start to ripen and then cut the plants off at the base and hang them upside down in paper bags to finish drying.

Try other herbs such as bay, garlic chives, marjoram, oregano, parsley, and sage. Try a few different herbs each year to sample new fresh flavors. Enjoy the smell, look and taste of your homegrown herbs.

Grow Your Own Herbs

AeroGarden

Growing your favorite herbs at home can be simple, fun, and year-round, providing you with seasonings, teas and even potpourri fixings all year.

First, select a spot that gets at least 4 hours of direct sunlight a day. Keep the herbs from direct drafts or areas where the temperature is constantly changing. Select containers by style, color, height and width that will fit in the area that you’ve chosen.

Then you will want to decide which herbs you want to grow. Do a little research on the basics of indoor herb gardens so you’ll understand the type of care that each plant will require. Then you’ll need to decide the purpose of the herbs such as are you going to eat them, make potpourri, using them for scent and/or just looking at them. Bushy perennial herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage grow better indoors than those with soft stems such as mint and tarragon. Or if you like scented herbs, choose lemon verbena, basil, coriander and lavender.

Select a container that will hold several plants and provide good drainage. Usually clay, wood or ceramic pots work well. The containers should be at least 8 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches across for each plant. If you are planting multiple plants in a large container, simply allow 6 to 8 inches between each kind of plant. Fill the container with a premium quality, well draining potting soil mixture.

Try to buy your herbs from a nursery that specializes in herbs. Your selection will be much bigger than it will at a general nursery, and the staff will likely be knowledgeable and enthusiastic about your indoor herb garden.

To transplant your herbs, gently remove the herb out of the nursery container, making sure not to damage or break the roots. The rule of thumb is transplant plants at the same depth they were growing in the nursery pots. Dig a hole in your new pot and place the herb. Push soil in around the plant.

Once the herbs have been planted and soil is pushed around them, give the herbs some water. Stand each pot in an inch of lukewarm water until the soil is moist but not saturated. After the initial watering, the herbs will probably only need to be watered once or maybe twice a week. Be careful not to over water. When the plants are actively growing, fertilize them once a week.

Make sure to clip outer leaves as you need them but always leave plenty of growth on the plant or you will drastically slow down the plant growth or possibly kill the plant.

Outdoor Entertaining

Rattan Cool Bar

If you enjoy spending time outdoors, design an outdoor entertaining area that combines style and function and brings indoor comfort outside. With added durability, new products from comfy throw pillows to trendy rugs make designing outdoor space easier than ever.

Start by determining how much outdoor space will be used for entertaining and/or lounging around on those summer days and nights. Group your outdoor furniture to maximize the purpose of the outdoor area. For example, if you entertain a lot, you can use sectional furniture that can be moved and configured to fit the size of the party. Layering accessories such as colorful trays, detailed lanterns and floral arrangements will create a cheerful centerpiece that will make your guests feel welcome.

An outdoor entertaining area lends itself to adventure. Don’t be afraid to combine colors and patterns. Be bold and step out of your comfort zone. Mix and match different colors and patterns to create an atmosphere that is both comfortable and makes a statement. Personalize your space with accents such as outdoor artwork, planters, and umbrellas.

Outdoor rugs will tie everything together and really bring life to your outdoor area. Layer a rug with your seating arrangement, colorful cushions and pillows and everyone will enjoy spending time lounging in the area.
Outdoor Dinnerware
Not all of your outdoor entertaining will be done during the day when the sun is shining. Create a delightful, welcoming atmosphere with a variety of outdoor lighting options, such as string lights, paper lanterns or floating LED candles placed around the area.

A self-service food station or bar enhances the casual tone, freeing your guests to grab refreshments whenever they please. This will also allow you, the host or hostess, to enjoy more of the fun. Look for serving and drink carts that also provide storage or have additional shelves to store extra supplies, snacks or lawn games.

Design the area you choose for your outdoor entertaining area to be comfortable and fit your lifestyle. Then everyone will enjoy the experience.

Water Ponds

Water Ponds
With more people spending their vacation time close to home, adding a water pond in your backyard can create a paradise right at home. You can relax listening to the soothing sounds of your water feature. If you wish, you can install a waterfall that ends in a pond, add some fish and plants and you have the perfect area to unwind and enjoy live.

Typically the water in many water ponds is self-contained and is re-circulated by pumps. You will need a skimmer to remove any debris that should fall into the pond to avoid clogging the filters and detracting from the pond. Algae can be the biggest problem you will have with your water ponds. There are treatments available to help you control the algae.

You first step in designing your water pond is to decide if you want a water garden or a fish pond. If you decide you want a fish pond, the most common type of fish is koi. A koi pond is usually larger than a water garden because koi can grow to be quite large and will need more room. A koi pond will also need to be deeper than a water garden. If you decide you want a water garden and fish, goldfish is an excellent selection and do well and won’t eat all your aquatic plants.

Locate your water pond close to your house so that you can enjoy the sight and sounds it will provide. Avoid placing your pond close to trees so that you aren’t consistently cleaning leaves and branches out of the water. You’ll also want to make sure and place your water pond so that run off from rain doesn’t flow into the pond. This run off may carry chemicals, fertilizers and other organic debris that could affect your plant or fish life.

Installing a water pond in your backyard can create the perfect environment for years of enjoying a peaceful and soothing atmosphere.

Trek Deck

Deck Designs
Having an outdoor deck area is a must for any backyard landscaping design. A trek deck allows you to have the natural beauty of wood, without the rotting, warping and splinters. A trek deck is easy to maintain since you don’t need to paint or stain it, so you can spend more time relaxing instead of maintaining your deck. Trek decking is smooth to the touch so you can walk around barefoot without worrying about splinters.

Your trek deck will require cleaning just like any exterior building materials. You can use either a composite deck cleaner or a combination of soap, hot water, and a soft bristle brush. You will typically want to clean your deck in the spring and fall. It is not recommended to use a pressure washer on your trek deck because it could cause damage.

A trek deck is environmentally friendly because it contains a wood polymer combination and the same plastic bags retailers stock to package goods. Recycled, these plastic bags get a second life rather than clogging up the landfills. So you will be getting a deck that has some wood qualities but does not require the same level of maintenance that an all wood deck would require.

Types of Pecan Trees

Pecans
There are over 500 different types of pecan trees that grow in various regions and come in different shapes and sizes. Pecan trees need moist soil to grow and thrive which is why many varieties of the tree grow in the coastal and southern regions of the United States.

The pecan tree enjoys climates that have long, hot summers and moderately cool winters. Pecan trees are very large and can reach a mature growth of 70 feet in height and 6 feet in trunk diameter. Nuts that the tree produces grow in clusters with 2 to 6 nut per cluster. Pecan trees begin bearing nuts 5 to 10 years after planting and like most nut bearing trees, requires at least two of the species to produce nuts.

Some of the most popular species are:

Cape Fear
This type of pecan tree is native to the North Carolina area. The trees grow upright and bear nuts that range from ovals to oblong in shape and are encased in moderately thick shells.

Elliott
The Elliott pecan tree originated in northwest Florida and is a good cross-pollinating choice with the Cape Fear and Desirable. The nuts produced by this tree are round with pointed tips. The shell encasing the nut is moderately thick. These trees are well suited for the extreme southern states.

Desirable
These trees are native to Mississippi, but do very well in places such as Georgia and Florida. They do not take long to produce large nuts with thick bumpy shells and will produce a large volume of nuts during the lifetime of the tree. These trees are good at cross pollinating other types of pecan trees.

Moreland
Louisiana is where this type of pecan tree originated. The tree produces a dense canopy which provides a excellent shade source and the nuts vary from slightly egg-shaped to oblong. The shell encasing the nut is thin enough for someone to crack it open by hand.

Gloria Grande
These sturdy pecan trees are native to South Carolina. They grow upright and will produce large nuts that are oblong with a rounded tip. The nuts are encased in moderately thick shells.

Stuart
These pecan trees thrive in the southeastern United States as well as other parts of the world. This trees are sturdy and strong and will take approximately 10 years to bear fruit. They are a good choice of to cross pollinate
with other pecan trees such as the Desirable. Stuart pecan tree shells are moderately thick and vary in shape from oblong to oval.

The health benefits of pecans are that they are a good source of protein and unsaturated fats. The antioxidants and plant sterols (which are known for their cholesterol-lowering ability) found in pecans reduce high cholesterol by reducing the “bad” cholesterol levels.

Spring Flowering Bulbs

Spring Flowering Bulbs
After a long winter, spring flowering bulbs add a colorful display when most of us need it the most. Choose spring flowering bulbs that are best suited for your particular area. Preparing the soil at the time you plant is the key to large, healthy flowering bulbs.

Choose healthy bulbs. Don’t plant bulbs that are dry and withered, spongy or moldy. Most spring flowering bulbs prefer full sunlight. Plant your bulbs in well draining soil to prevent rotting in cool weather. If you live in an area that has cold winters, you can plant your bulbs as long as the soil is soft enough to dig. Always plant your spring flowering bulbs with the pointed side up. This is the stem of the plant. Bulbs should be planted at a depth of 3 times the bulbs diameter. Mix some bone meal or superphosphate into the soil at the bottom of the hole when planting to encourage strong root growth.

If you have a problem with squirrels and other animals digging up your bulbs or eating the plants, try planting daffodils, hyacinths and crown imperials. Most animals don’t like the way these plants taste. You could also sprinkle some red pepper in the planting hole to help stop rodents from eating the bulbs. A more secure method of protecting your bulbs is to make a cage out of hardware cloth. The roots and stems of the bulbs can grow through but the rodents can’t get bulb.

Plant your spring flowering bulbs in clusters so when they bloom, the flowers will look like a bouquet. Or plant small bulbs right on top of larger bulbs. If these two bulbs flower at the same time, it creates a colorful two-tone effect.

When selecting colors for your bulbs choose “warm” colors like reds and yellows to evoke feelings of passion and energy and choose “cool” colors such as blues and greens for a more laid back and serene feel. When your flowers have finished blooming, cut back the flower stalks to ground level. Don’t cut back the flowers while they are still green because they need time to photosynthesize and make food reserves for next year’s flowers.

Patio Fountains

Patio Fountains
Patio fountains are a popular addition to any patio, deck or garden. Patio fountains will add soothing water sounds that range from gushing waterfalls to babbling brooks. When you are designing your outdoor living area, you want it to be a place where you can go every day and unwind, relax and enjoy your surroundings.

Adding a patio fountain to your backyard landscaping will make the area feel cooler with the movement of water. The fountain will also help down out background noises such as the next door neighbor, barking dogs and planes flying overhead. A backyard or patio fountain will create a more pleasing backyard environment.

Patio fountains come in a variety of shapes and sizes. When you are selecting your fountain make sure that it is attractive when you look at it from the inside of your house and make sure the fountain complements your overall backyard landscaping theme. A patio fountain can also provide a fresh water source for any birds that happen to visit your backyard.

An excellent choice for a fountain is a solar powered patio fountain. This type of fountain is powered by solar power and will save you electricity. The fountain charges solar panels during daylight hours to power up the fountain pump. This is a great alternative if you want to place your fountain away from a convenient power source.