It's Our Garden

Wildflower Gardens

There is something very satisfying about restoring the natural beauty so often lost to suburban sprawl. But the benefits of goingwild go beyond beauty and personal satisfaction. Whether your plot of ground is meadow, prairie, woodland or even desert, awell-designed wildflower planting will require less of just about everything most cultivated flowers demand, like watering,fertilizing, weeding and controlling pests ( not to mention mowing). You'll be amazed at the numbers of beneficial insects andbutterflies that will make your wildflower patch their home.

North America is rich with wildflowers, more than 7,000 species thrive throughout the continent. To get a better idea about which ones might look and do best for you, visit a nearby natural area with similar environmental conditions to your site. Youalso need to consider the scale of your future planting. Do you want just a few clumps of wildflowers in a traditional garden setting or are you tempted by the thought of creating an all-out nature preserve and wildflower meadow?

For soil preparation, remove competing grasses and weeds. This is extremely important. If you're converting part of a lawn to wildflowers, we recommend that you start in spring to prepare for fall seed/sowing. Either till the area every three weeks through out the spring and summer to bring up and kill all perennial weeds and weed seeds, or cover the area with heavy blackplastic until you're ready to sow in fall.

To prepare a wooded site to create a woodl and garden with shade-loving native plants, simply rake away the leaves, loosenthe soil, spread compost and plant. Another approach is during the fall and winter months, we set plants directly into mowedstrips of lawn (12 to 24-feet wide), then mulch the surrounding turf with 6-inches of leaves to kill the competing grass.

If you're planting a large wildflower patch, your best bet is to direct-seed using a carefully selected seed mix or, even better, amix you make yourself from scratch. Sow the seeds on the surface of the prepared ground and rake them in lightly. (Note:Seeding rate should be 4-ozs. per 1,000-square feet, or 6-Lbs. per acre). Since a little seed goes a long way, we recommendmixing the seed with a gallon of potting soil before sowing to help distribute it evenly.

Fall is the natural time to do this, since many species either need a cold winter or, in milder areas, the rains. For a smallerwildflower planting, use individual plants. Either buy them from a nursery that propagates them or start the seeds in containersyourself.

An established wildflower garden or meadow can be an extremely low maintenance way to get a flowery 4-season display. Butit usually takes several seasons of careful tending to get there. In most cases, your wild flowers need to be watered to getestablished. Water, and water consistently, keeping the soil moist until the seedlings emerge. Then be prepared to providewater during dry spells or when plants show signs of wilting.

Weeding early plantings is absolutely essential. Starting with transplants, mulch is the best way to keep weeds down. But mulchmay be detrimental, however, for seed/sown plantings. In large prairie and meadow perennial displays, you can control annualweeds by mowing your planting 6 to 8-inches high once a month throughout the first growing season. The third year, the onlymaintenance needed for most meadow and prairie plantings will be an annual mowing. Mow in late fall, or early spring. (Note:rake off clippings so that self-sown wildflower seedlings can emerge easily. You can reseed lightly each year at the proper sowing time if you wish.

So get your seeds ready and go wild. You'll really enjoy watching Nature's floral palette come alive.


Starting Flowers From Seed

Growing your own plants from seed is neither difficult nor expensive. For one thing, you don't need a collection of costly special tool and equipment.

Losses from severe winterkill, over-crowding by more belligerent plants, and neglecting to divide and reset took away anumber of species we consider essential to a good perennial border. So last spring we ordered some new seeds and prepared abed. Previously, we tried starting perennials in cold frames in February and March, and also made fall plantings in September.

A few annuals were also planted in this seedbed and, probably because it quickly exceeded in growth seed planted 2-weeks earlier where it was to remain. The planting was done the first week in June, and by the first week in July we was able to transplant some of the perennials to their permanent bed, while we were getting some nice rains.

Lupines, in particular, need to be transplanted when very small, for they have a long taproot, and do not do well if this isbroken. This is also true of hollyhocks, and it is really better to plant these where they are to remain.

The gilia or standing cypress, one of the most striking plants in the border when in bloom, is not difficult to grow if it is planted where water will not be over the crown during the first year of its growth. It is not a long-lived perennial, and perhaps should betreated as a biennial with new seed planted each year. Once started, it will reseed itself. Just remember to set the plants onhigher ground, and do not let leaves mat on it during the winter. Small branches may be placed on the plants before the leaves drift over them to help protect them over winter.

Not all garden seed catalogs list gilia, but the rubra variety will grow from 4 to 6-feet high, with great spikes of scarlet blooms.By watching the plants and the weather, we are able to transplant all the plants that we have places for by August, keeping them watered. Thus they become well established during the fall growing season, ready for immediate growth when spring arrives.

There are three requirements or rules which must be observed by any gardener; be they a rank beginner or the most experienced green-thumber: 1) A well-prepared level seedbed of good organic soil. Notice the emphasis on level. Fine seed(and much seed is fine) must be planted very shallow. Even a slight slope will erode with the hard rains common in spring, and valuable seed will be washed out or covered too deeply. So select the spot for a seedbed with this in mind. Prepare the soil carefully, leaving no clods, and firm it well. A board laid down and walked on several times, repeating until the whole bed is well flattened, is the best way to accomplish this, or wait for a good rain to settle the soil. 2) Never let the surface of the beddry out. Make the bed within reach of the garden hose, so that it may be thoroughly showered every day with a fine spray ofwater. 3) Secure fresh seed from a reliable garden seed catalog. Do not depend on a packet of seeds from your local supermarket. Flower seeds are very short-lived, and many will sprout only the first year. No reliable seed company will sendout old seeds, and most will guarantee satisfaction.

Another advantage in ordering from a garden seed catalog is that you have a big variety to choose from. There are many newer introductions of almost every species, and it may have been one of these you admired so much in one of your friends' garden. So it is advisable to inquire as to the particular variety when viewing other gardens.


Fall Lawn Care Now, For A Healthy Lawn Next Spring

Long Islanders are, as people say, "into" lawns. Thick, attractive, fairly weed-free turf has become a status symbol in many neighborhoods. But lawn care can be a burden, especially for the home gardener who doesn't want to be weeding and feeding the lawn when their beans are ready for harvest or they have to do battle with potato bugs.

For those who have a portion of lawn they wish to keep mowed and smooth, care need not be troublesome. There's no need to keep grass mowed so close it looks a putting green. In fact, that's bad for it, just a couple of hot days will burn it brown. Grass kept at anywhere from 3 to 11 inches in height is attractive, doesn't require such frequent mowing, and stays greener inhot spells.

Grass seed planted in the fall does not normally need to be mulched with straw unless you are planting on a terrace or slopewhere run-off may be a problem.

Last, for those who have very limited garden space, you can do away with a lawn entirely and put the whole area into fruit,vegetables and flower beds. Or you can dig circles here and there and set such handsome food plants as tomatoes, greenpeppers or onions in them. That way you can have your lawn and eat it to.

Proper organic fertilization takes time, but can reduce mowing chores as well as the need to use pesticides and herbicides,while making for a prettier and healthier lawn. The object of fertilizing is to encourage vigorous root growth without stimulatingtoo much leaf growth. Vigorous root growth means a healthy organic lawn which resists drought, pests and diseases, while excessive leaf growth just means mowing.

Before you start fertilizing, find out how fertile your lawn already is. Take a soil sample, and bring it to a reputable soil laboratory They will test it and tell you the proper organic fertilizer to use on your lawn. This way you will get the best results,and save money by note putting down more than your lawn needs. The results will indicate what analysis organic fertilizer isbest for your conditions and how much to apply, probably some where in the range of 3 to 5 pounds actual nitrogen (N) perthous and square feet of lawn per year.

For cool-season grasses, split the desired amount of organic fertilizers over 2 monthly fall fertilizations, starting in September and ending in Oct. Contrary to popular belief, not all lawns need lime every year. Lime is only necessary when the pH of your soil (a measure of soil acidity or alkalinity) drops to an undesirable level. A soil pH in the range of 7.0 to 7.5 favors most varieties of turf grasses.

Soil testing is the only way to know your soil pH. Since you have already tested your soil for fertility, all you need do is check those result, which will include soil pH. Our soil test results also specify how much lime to apply. Spread lime in the fall of theyear, it takes about 2 months to change the pH. If more than 50 pounds of lime per 1000 square feet is required, split the amount into separate applications applied several months apart.

WATERING

It doesn't hurt a lawn to go brown in midsummer. All this means is that the grasses are dormant, waiting for fall rains. If youmust have a lush green turf throughout the summer, you will probably have to water. Should you choose to do so, remember these rules. Water deeply and water regularly.

Deep watering, enough to wet 6 inches down in the soil, encourages roots to grow downwards, instead of staying near the surface. Surface-rooted plants require more frequent watering. This results in constantly moist surface which encourages weeds to germinate, and disease to spread. Deep roots stay cooler, and are less likely to go dormant in summer's heat. Most lawns require about one inch of water per week to continue growing.

Regular watering keeps the lawn from fluctuating between periods of dormancy and growth several times per season, which can weaken the turf. If you forget to water your lawn one week and it turns brown, let it stay that way until it naturally comesout of dormancy with the return of regular rains. It may not look pretty, but the lawn will be healthier than if you continued towater it sporadically.

WEEDING WORRIES

Weeds are another possible problem that may sprout up. Annual weed grasses such as crabgrass can be crowded out of your lawn by healthy grass mowed high, and fertilized in the fall with a 3-6-3 organic fertilizer. We are always amazed at the intertwining of all aspects of organic lawn care. Mowing heights affects the health of the grass roots, as does the timing of fertilization, which can affect how much mowing is necessary, and so on. A lawn is a complex community of plants, insects and microorganisms, and the more we understand it the easier it is to successfully maintain it. Sure, it is still work, but at least wedon't have to work against ourselves with toxic chemicals. And even mowing is almost pleasant when the lawn is healthy andgreen.


Getting Ready For Winter

Picture your yard in winter, crystalline pines, rhododendrons and boxwood, frosted with ice or snow. Does the thought makeyou smile or cringe? Planning ahead can prevent a cold weather disaster. Some protective chores, such as watering, mulching,staking and covering, are best done now, before the arrival of the potential damaging winter.

Deep and consistent watering before the onset of cold weather is probably the easiest way to forestall winter injury. Because evergreens keep their leaves through winter, they are particularly vunerable to cold blasts of wind, which evaporate moisture.Both evergreen and deciduous plants will benefit from a thorough soaking just before the ground freezes. Note: plant roots function until the soil temperature reaches 30'F. Pay special attention to container plants kept outdoors year-round. Container soil dries out almost as quickly in winter as summer; water generously during thaws.

Mulching will help retain soil moisture. The mulches I use resemble the litter of fallen leaves, twigs and other natural debris found in woods and meadows. Not only does the material preserve moisture, but it also supplies nutrients, checks erosion,moderates temperature fluctuations and adds a tidy look.

Nature has produced many evergreens adapted to regions that receive regular snowfall. Spruces and hemlocks have perfect examples of down-turned main branches which quickly shed snow. Ice, followed by strong wind, still can tear off weakened branches, but these trees resist mutilation better than most. The long, horizontal branches of pines, on the other hand, trap large amounts of ice and snow. To keep from losing major branches, thin the crowns of pines on a regular basis during the dormant season. Remove overlapping branches so that the center of the tree is opened yet its natural silhouette is maintained.

An alternative method for supporting tall shrubs is to wrap the stems with wire, stout twine, hemp rope or nylon fishing line. Togently lock branches in place, wrap in a downward spiral from the top. Snow will slide off the upward, non-spreading branches.

Deciduous trees, such as maples, with wide spreading crowns and extensive, long branches are prone to cracking from theweight of ice and snow. Thinning and reducing the spread helps prevent winter damage and ultimately adds years of life to theplant.

Brittle-stemmed trees, such as willow and silver maple, can benefit more flexible and resistant to damage from snow overload. Most shrubs suffer less difficulties in winter, yet those in unsheltered sites will benefit from some protection. To guard agains twinter-burn, especially for truly sensitive shrubs such as boxwood and rhododendron, wrap them with burlap covers held bysturdy stakes and loosely tied with soft cord.

Where snowslides from a roof create havoc for plants, use sturdy wood-frame teepees to cover the shrubs. Winter protection of some sort is necessary for hybrid roses. An economical system is to hill up earth around the bottom 12 to 15 inches of stems,before the soil has frozen. Rather than take soil away from the surrounding area where it protects roots from the cold, use newsoil. Pat it snugly into a cone, then prune the rose tops halfway. After the soil has frozen slightly, mulch with pine needles orleaves. Mound soil around the base of climbing roses and wrap the canes with burlap.

None of these measures, of course, guarantees that all of your trees, shrubs and perennials will make it to springtime grandeur.Plants that are not suited to their locations are, apt to suffer winter damage, regardless. But home owners who take these simple precautions: watering, mulching, pruning and staking, can greatly increase their plants chances for survival. By winterizing yourlandscape in fall, or early winter, you can enjoy the full beauty of all the seasons to come.

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Written by: Crow Miller, Syndication OrganicCyberGarden


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