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Category: Gardening

Free Potting Bench Plans and Tips

Winter can be a great time to gather materials and build gardening accessories, start seedlings or just browse through gardening catalogs, imagining the garden to come. It can also be the perfect time to find what you need to build a free potting bench. We’ve done this several times. Try these steps to do the […]

The Best Vegetables to Grow in Containers

Why Use Containers to Grow Vegetables? Container gardening is widely popular for the vegetable-growing enthusiast with limited gardening space. Plant containers can be placed in any sunny or mostly sunny location, like on a deck, patio, in the yard or on a balcony. Balcony-grown container plants will do best on a west or south exposure, […]

Beautiful Fringed Tulips

When people think of tulips, the flowers that most often come to mind are the classic red and yellow varieties. Classic varieties of tulips add color and beauty to a yard or garden, but there are varieties of tulips that are extraordinary. Fringed tulips are exceptionally beautiful, and there are a number of fringed tulips […]

Gardening Tips for Beginners: Natural Garden Pest Control and Smart Watering Tips

Controlling garden pests and watering your plants properly will help your garden flourish. There are many alternatives to toxic insecticides, including beneficial garden insects, such as ladybugs, which I will discuss here. I will also explain how you can water your garden in a water-saving, plant-friendly way.

Natural pest control

Before you use harsh chemical pesticides, consider using nature’s own pest controllers. Lady bugs, praying mantis, and other helpful insects can help keep some common garden pests from destroying your plants.

Ladybugs, also called lady beetles, eat harmful insects such as aphids and are a cost effective and environmentally friendly method of pest control. You can buy ladybugs from many gardening supply stores and can even order them online. A link I’ve supplied at the end of this article will take you to an excellent web page describing lady bugs and the different kinds of garden pests they will eat.

Be sure to follow the instructions that come with your ladybugs. Ladybugs need moisture and if your garden area is dry, it is a good idea to lightly water before setting the ladybugs free. Don’t buy and release ladybugs too early in the season or they won’t have enough food and will die or will leave your garden for, literally, greener pastures.

Praying Mantis are also beneficial insects. However, along with garden pests they will eat the beneficial ladybugs, and I don’t recommending introducing both praying mantis and ladybugs to your garden.

Like ladybugs, praying mantis eat aphids and other garden pests. Unlike ladybugs, Praying Mantis also eat larger insects such as grasshoppers. If grasshoppers are a big problem for your garden, consider getting praying mantis rather than ladybugs

A side-note about another beneficial garden creature – Earth worms.

Earth worms, though unpleasant to look at, are a gardener’s friend. They tunnel through the ground and this action helps aerate your soil. Avoid killing them if you can.

Watering Tips

Sprinklers are convenient but are not always the best method for watering your plants. Some plants are particularly sensitive to getting water on their leaves or flowers. Most vegetable plants do best if they receive water more directly through their root system (which you can assist by using soaker hoses or drip irrigation).

Also, whether you use soaker hoses or a sprinkler system, you should avoid watering in the hottest part of the afternoon because doing so wastes water via evaporation. If you use a sprinkler you should be aware that water on leaves under a hot sun ( for instance on tomato leaves) can scorch the leaves.

In general, the best time to water a lawn or most plants is early morning. This gives the water a chance to soak into the soil, and any moisture left over is evaporated more evenly throughout the day. A second watering in the evening is necessary for thirsty plants. Keep in mind that water remaining on leaves will provide a great breeding ground for unwanted fungus.

Soaker hoses are a good alternative to sprinklers for many plants. Soaker hoses cut down on water waste and are usually better for your plants. As the name implies, these hoses allow water to seep out to your plants rather than spray out over your plants. Soaker hoses are not expensive and can be found in most places that sell gardening supplies.

If you can afford it, you may want to purchase a drip irrigation system instead of simple soaker hoses. The price varies, but I have seen these systems for around $50.

By using natural pest control and good watering techniques, you can help your garden thrive and you won’t have to worry about residual, harmful, pesticides. Creating a natural insecticide-free garden may seem like more work, but will pay off in the end. Remember that when you use chemical pesticides, you kill off all the beneficial insects as well and this throws your garden’s ecosystem off balance.



Solar Gardening: Solar Panels Gardeners Creative Options

The advent of solar panels has liberated the adventuresome gardener and landscaper. No longer tethered to electrical outlets by extension cords, even the most distant corner of the yard has now become part of the living canvas. Whether it be decorative lighting, fountains, ponds or lit walkways, technology has opened up a world of possibilities.

The creation and technological improvements of the photo-voltaic or solar cells created this miracle. Made of silicon, the units are usually very small and individually produce only 1 or 2 watts of power. However, when placed in modules their power increases exponentially in relation to the size and number of the modules working together in the array. Systems can be large enough to power homes or even entire communities, but for gardening and landscaping purposes they are usually only about a foot long and are easily installed by connecting the solar panel to the unit and placing the panel in direct sunlight.

Solar power works on two basic concepts: direct usage and battery storage. In direct usage, the sun charges the panel, which in turn creates the current for immediate use. If for whatever reason, sunlight is not available, the solar panel no longer produces power and whatever system it was powering shuts down. With a battery storage system, the electricity created by the solar panel is stored for use at a later time.

solar-panel-powerThis method is commonly used in decorative lighting in conjunction to on/off switches, which are connected to automatic sensors. When the sensors perceive a change in the light level, they automatically turn the light on or off. However, there are some water fountains that utilize both.

During the day, the direct sunlight not only runs the pump, but also charges the batteries for nighttime usage. Most batteries will remain effective for eight to ten hours before their charge is depleted. Originally, NiCad (Nickel-Cadmium) rechargeable batteries were used in the systems. Even though they had an increased degree of efficiency, being able handle the high rate of charges or discharges (typically over 1.5-2 amps), their toxic effect on the environment out weighed their benefits. NiMh batteries (Nickel-Metal Hydride) are more environmentally friendly and are more effective for applications that call for long duration but not a high amp load. It was for these reasons that the current landscaping systems were switched to the NiMh batteries.

As more people actively use solar power, the cost decreases and the diversity increases. However, at first glance the cost factor makes the more traditional landscape decorations more attractive, until you balance out the other factors. The freedom from extension cords is the first benefit. The solar panels allow the landscaper to decide where to place ponds, fountains or the multitude of decorations available without considering the power source placement.

Any area where sunshine is accessible is part of the natural landscaping canvas. In addition, solar panels are safer than running extension cords to your ornaments. Extension cords can bring safety issues that limit their usage. Another factor to consider is lawn care. Mowing the lawn would require extra care to prevent damaging them.

Even if they are buried, they are easily damaged by moisture, burrowing animals or an ill-fated shovel. To mark the path of the cord would diminish the view of the landscaper’s hard work. Once the cord has been cut, it will have to be dug up and replaced, costing extra time, money and damaging beauty of the area. The second factor and the greatest balancing element is the cost of electricity. With the increasing cost of utilities, solar power becomes that much more cost efficient. Sunshine is free. Once the system is put into place, it cost nothing to power it.

Fountains and decorative ponds have become increasingly fashionable and easier to install. With the sturdier liners and the solid plastic forms, ponds no longer require skill with cement or masonry; anyone, who is willing to follow the instructions, is capable of creating a decorative pond in their yard. There are kits complete with pumps however, most of the current ones available require an outlet. The individual components, including the liners or forms are sold separately with several size and capability options. The solar pumps also vary in size and options. Improvements (www.improvementscatalog.com) has two sizes. The small pump circulates 33 gallons an hour with a 17-inch spray height –  it is designed for smaller ponds or birdbaths. The larger pump moves 105 gallons per hour and the water reaches a height of approximately 40 inches. It is recommended for larger ponds. Both are powered by solar cells, but don’t have the battery back up. There are pumps available complete with batteries that would be charged during the day and held in reserve for cloudy days or nighttime use.

With floating fountains, the solar panels are self-contained within the unit. Whether anchored or allowed to float free, the floating fountains give their own unique effects. Since their water height ranges from 12 to 18 inches, they are excellent for smaller ponds where water radius needs to be more contained. However, for larger ponds multiple floating fountains increase the water flow and add a unique beauty all of their own. By allowing the fountains to free-float, the design of the pond is every changing and recreating itself. By adding a solar lighting system, the landscaper completes the vision by creating a focal point around the spray or a soft glow beneath the water surface.

Freestanding solar fountains are the third option. Completely self-contained, these fountains are both indoor as well as outdoor. Coming in a variety of sizes, shapes, and capabilities, these fountains can be as simply as creating soothing bubbling sounds to actively moving parts, which give visual elements as well as auditory. Ranging in height from a couple of feet to over six foot tall and made from field stone, granite, ceramic, or various metals, these fountains can create focal points with the yard or add subtle embellishment to an existing display.

Solar lighting systems are not only effective for ponds and fountains, but they also highlight other features of the landscape and provide an efficient way to light your yard for additional security. Floodlights are available in 60-watt units and have been used commercially for years. Effective, but plain spot lights are useful where light is needed, but where appearance is unimportant. However, there are varieties of hanging and decorative lights, which are not only attractive, but are an efficient way to give additional security to your home.

When starting with a full charge, these LED’s can illuminate any dark corner for up to fifteen hours and then recharge during the day for the next night. Coming in a variety of sizes and themes, these lights also add texture and fantasy to your living canvas. Whether in the shape of your favorite breed of dog, frogs, or fairies, these statues are capable of multi-tasking–by day they are simple lawn ornaments; by night, they are beacons to ward off things that go bump in the night. Hanging lights also come in a variety of shapes.

From the traditional style of the old gas lamps to a more modern globe, hanging lights can be chosen to fit any landscape design. In addition, solar stepping-stones, string lights, bricks, and accent lights can be beacons to guide the way around your yard or to your front door. Complete with two LED and their own solar panel, the stepping-stones and bricks are designed to be built into walkways.

The LED’s and batteries are easily replaceable. For special occasions or as holiday decorations string lights are small globes, humming birds or dragonflies, which are staked down along your walkway or garden beds. Coming in various lengths, they are powered by solar panels that are disguised a rocks. Accent lights also come in various styles and sizes; some of which also act as bug zappers. Set on top of stakes, which range in height from 12 inches to several feet, these lights act independently of each other and can be place anywhere additional lighting is needed or desired.

Landscaping and Planting an Edible Garden

In the past generations, the main interest in landscaping was food! Our grandmothers and great grandmothers could step out of their kitchen, into their garden and harvest vegetables, fruits and herbs. Grandma wasn’t as concerned about the “look” of her garden as she was after with what it produced. Whether you have a desire to “work the soil” or just a need to trim your budget, planting an edible landscape is a smart way to go.

You need a Good Planning

With a little planning, an edible landscape can be beautiful and functional at the same time. The same considerations should be given to sunlight, and soil composition as you would when planting a traditional landscape. Make sure you have an area with enough sunshine, most fruits and vegetable will require at least six hours of full sunlight per day with well-drained and well composted soil.

vegetable-harvest-in-the-backyardWhen choosing your plants, remember that annual edibles are more labor intensive than perennial edibles. Annuals will cost more than perennial plants because you will have to replace them every year or as they are eaten. Perennial edibles such as fruit trees and trees/bushes that produce nuts and berries may take a few years to start producing fruit, so you may want to “fill in” with annuals until the perennials get established and begin to produce.

If you are not a seasoned gardener, start small. Choose a couple of fruit trees, berry bushes and a small plot of vegetables. Here is a list of some easy to care for and low maintenance edible plants you might consider:

  • blue berries
  • high bush cranberries
  • raspberry bushes
  • rhubarb

vegetables-landscapingRed cabbage, string beans, lettuce eggplant, Alliums, Chrysanthemums, Pansies, and Queen Ann’s Lace are all flowering plants that can be eaten. Strawberries make an excellent ground cover and spread fast. Adding a grape arbor would be a beautiful addition to any landscape.

If space is limited, edible gardening in containers is a nice option. Sunlight and soil composition as well as good drainage are still important to the health and growth of your plants. Herbs do well on small containers on a patio or in a sunny window. Tomatoes, onions, lavender, peppers, lettuce, chard, Pansies, and cucumber bushes are all great choices for container gardening.

You must realize that a garden of any kind will demand a certain amount of maintenance to produce and thrive. Once you have chosen the perfect sunny spot, tilled and fertilized the soil, you will need to be committed to weeding and watering daily. Once a month fertilizing is a good idea, the fruit trees will have to be pruned yearly and the annuals will have to be replaced every year.

If you are diligent in careful planning and care of your edible landscape, it will reward you with fresh, tasty fruits and vegetables. As produce prices continue to climb, you will realize the increasing value of your landscape.

Breaking the Boundaries of Bonsai

In Western culture, the word “bonsai” is used as an umbrella term for “bunjae” (Korean), “pen jing” (“tray scenery”, Chinese), and “bonsai” (“potted plant”, Japanese). (Western cultures have also found a way to commercialize this art by selling ‘bonsai starter kits’ for $5.99 in mini boxes, commonly found next to the similar miniature zen gardens in bookstores.)

Traditionally, bonsai is easily summarized as a miniature tree grown in a container. However, it is interesting to view the alternative ways to practice bonsai as a hobby. The late David Hart, used bonsai to create miniature landscapes through out his yard. In the rear, he had a water garden, complete with waterfall and bridge, and surrounded by rocks that he spent years collecting (as opposed to those ‘fake rocks’ used by professional landscapers and water garden installers.)

David used different forms of moss, animals and other appropiate miniature things (foxes, bears, deer, and snakes as well as tunnels, houses, and many other miniature things… commonly made of ceramic or stone.)

David agreed to grant me an interview (a year before he died), as I was absolutely intrigued by his work.

bonsai-david-hart“What was it that inspired your interest in bonsai?” I began, following him through his gardens with a notebook in hand.

“A friend borrowed a book from a relative. I was already a farm boy, I had lots of houseplants. What interested me most about bonsai was the creativity of it. Taking the traditional method (of keeping the trees in a pot) out of it’s norm (as a houseplant) just added more creativity to it.”

“Do you have a favorite piece?” I wondered aloud, a question that had not been in my notepad. Without thinking, David led me to a large, colorful display that was set on a stone slab.

“That would be my Black Forest. This is a piece I have had for 15 years.” He went on to explain that the centerpiece tree was a Black Forest Spruce, and he pointed to the moss on the far side of a large stone. “That moss will be turning a bright orange within the next few days” he told me. I could see the affection as he pointed to a doe and her fawn, and then to a fox. “The fawn and the fox are both looking up into the tree. I am going to find a racoon to put right on this branch.”

“What would you say the benefits are of working with bonsai? Are they more physical or spiritual (emotional)?”

“For me, it is therapeutic because it is a hobby. Just like anything else that takes you away from your day, the construction and creativity involved can be very therapeutic.” He then went on to compare bonsai to an older hobby he had once had… billiards. “A living form of art is even more appealing.”

I was now no longer reading questions I had intended to ask. “What materials would a beginner need to start?”

“In one word… education. Books. Read, read, and then read some more. Bonsai Today is a great magazine to read. As far as materials, it depends on whether you want tropical plants, the traditional form you keep potted… or ‘landscape’… things you can find at a local nursery.”

“So what would you say is the cost to get started?”

“That all depends on your knowledge and, again, what method you want to use. You can buy a tree from somebody that is 50 years old, and it’s going to be very expensive. The method I use mostly costs just time and labor. Finding the rocks you want to add, and other things like that, but it doesn’t really call for much money.”

“What advice would you recommend to anybody interested in starting bonsai as a hobby?”

bonsai-hobby“Well, I’d tell them first to educate themselves. The traditional method can be quite expensive, and there are certain things you have to learn about (growing, forming, and caring). The best advice I can give though is to not get caught up in tradition. Be creative, and use plants (and things) available to you.”

“Where can somebody find information about bonsai as a hobby?”

“Well, the internet is the best place to find information about anything” he laughed. “Just type in bonsai in a search engine. You’ll find all sorts of books, magazines, and information as well as clubs and groups. I am a member of a number of bonsai groups myself… I definitely recommend joining a group. The best magazine is Bonsai Today. They tell you everything you need to know, and they have pictures of all the different stages.”

David added “It’s important to have patience. You have to be able to see where your ‘project’ is now, and how you want it to be, and then have the patience for it to get that way. It’s a really fun hobby.”

Final Thoughts

I’d like to thank Dave for sharing his opinions and advice. I’ll never forget that moment for the rest of my life. He partly influenced me to keep the same hobby until now.

David used to teach lessons and offer free advice to anyone interested. It was a very rare privilege to talk to him. I still remember how happy he was when he was showing me his bonsai creations. I wish he had more time to teach his passion and love for bonsai, for a different hobby that was – to all show us that it was really therapeutic, that it could be an answer to defeat stress everyday.

Unusual Garden Seed Catalogs


Snow is gently falling. Outside my windows, finches are flocking around the bird feeders and perching in the red maple trees. Once upon a time, in the days before computers, I would eagerly await the arrival of garden catalogs, some from large seed companies, and some from tiny little farms.

This is the time to dream of spring, renewing old acquaintances with familiar herbs, vegetables and flowers, and forming new friendships with plants yet to be tended. Today I sit in front of the computer and visit the sites of my favorite seed providers, deciding what lucky seed will find a home in my garden this year.

Robert Fuller published the first seed catalog in this country in 1732. Since then the mail order seed business has flourished. Today, one can find seeds or plants from anywhere in the world and have them delivered right to one’s home.

One of the top if not the number one source for finding plants comes from the University of Minnesota. This site list A to Z plants from thousands of nurseries and garden centers. One can search for plants, seeds or nurseries using their website.

One of my longtime favorites, not only for the unusual seeds offered, but for his biting wit and sarcasm, and his wisdom about responsibility to the earth is J.L.Hudson, Seedsman. This is not a commercial seed company, but rather a seed bank, with a statement of purpose – Preservation through Dissemination and Conservation, Propagation and Education. Talk about seeds from around the world, J.L.Hudson offers seeds from Acacia Auriculiformie, more commonly known as the Ear pod Wattle Tree, from New Guinea, that grows 45 feet tall to Zizyphus Spira-Christi, the Nubk tree also known as Christ’s Thorn from North Africa and West Asia. The seeds from this tree are used by Muslims to make rosaries. Check out this site not only for unusual seeds but for its dose of inspiration and common sense.

The Seed Savers Exchange  is another great source for finding heirloom vegetable seeds. This is a wonderful organization dedicated to preserving seeds that were once planted by our grandparents and great grandparents. Without the dedicated members of the seed saver exchange, our selections of vegetable seeds would be limited to the top selling varieties of the commercially produced seeds. Seed savers have an amazing selection of tomato seeds including black tomato and an unbelievable assortment of beans. Don’t just order seeds from this organization, consider becoming a member of the seed savers exchange and help the planet right from your own back yard.