I moved into a new house in August and couldn’t stand the front yard. I got to work right away at adding some curb appeal. It wasn’t hard at all! The photo below was 7-8 hours work and $200 (being the end of the season, I got some great deals!)

At the beginning….

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The Steps:

  1. Choose your Space – Consider location, snow piles, dog’s peeing, ease of mowing, postman paths and kid routes.
  2. Plan and Design – Iscape and other apps, use other gardens for inspiration, be realistic about the size and maintenance
  3. Utilities Check – Ontario One Call!
  4. Get Rid of the Grass – Dig it out, solarize or sheet mulching. Make sure you get rid of ALL the grass and roots
  5. Amend  the Soil – Compost made from yard waste/ vegetative matter is the best!
  6. Choose your Plants  – Consider hydrozones, choose non-invasive (watching out for “spreads easily” on the plant tag), use some native plants, shrubs are a must have and VERY low maintenance, look for drought tolerant, hardy perennials.
  7. Mulch –  natural products are the best (wood chips, cedar, pine bark), 2-3 inches
  8. Efficient Irrigation – water only when necessary – use your finger to see if the soil is dry down 2-3 inches before adding any water), check the forecast!

Digging the edge…

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The Plants I used (although the weren’t planted in the “after” photo below”:

Daffodils – Narcissus

Purple Coneflower – Echinacea Purpea

Sedum Autumn Joy “Purple Emperor”

Dwarf Goatsbeard – Aruncus aethusfolius

Coral Bells – Heuchera “Peach Flambe”

The Shrubs:

Tiger Eye Sumac – Rhus Typhina “Tiger Bailtiger”

Ninebark – Physcocarpus opulifolius “Diablo”

Emerald Cedar – Thuja occidentalis “Smaragd”

Golden Globe Cedar – Thuja occidentalis”Golden Globe”

 Almost done….

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What I wanted to Plant if I had more sun….

Lavender – Lavandula angustifolia

Allium – Allium Spp – they are all great but have to be planted in the fall

Butterfly Weed – Asclepias tuberosa

Variegated Iris – Iris Pallida “variegata”

 Time and Water: Precious resources wasted on the pursuit of a green lawn!

How to save money on your new garden?

  • ˜Fall Discounts – up to 50%, but no warranty…
  • ˜Donations from friends– but be CAREFUL!
  • ˜Buy bulk mulch and compost
  • ˜Investment plants; shrubs and perennials – no annuals
  • ˜Less watering needed when planted in the fall – and choosing drought tolerant plants and shrubs means less/no watering next year!
  • ˜Reuse the existing plants until fall sales start (if you are impatient like me…)
Its not that hard, let me know if you have any questions!
Happy Gardening!
Aileen

To make sure your gardens their best this summer, here are some last minute tips. Consider keeping a garden notebook to make your yearly maintenance much easier by recording the following:

– Make a map of your plants
– Note any problems such as disease/pests
– Record any changes you should make (divide or transplant)
– Take pictures throughout the seasons

When tidying your garden beds, clear away any diseased or dead matter (including plants left for winter interest), and of course, newly growing weeds. There is no need to till your soil. That will ruin the soil ecosystem and may turn up weed seeds. Instead, just top dress with a good compost (plant or mixed). This will:

– Keep the soil micro-organisms and ecosystem happy and healthy
– Increase water holding capacity
– Add a range of nutrients and maintain good pH
– Improve drainage

This is a good time to divide plants that were too big last year, or that need revitalizing. Divide with a sharp knife or a double pitch fork. Add water to the hole and also wet the roots. Protect the soil with 2-3” of mulch and don’t pile against plant stems. Either wood chips (organic) or stone aggregate (inorganic) will work, but organic is better.

Organic mulch, such as woodchips, are a must-have for any garden. They prevent water loss, protect roots and keeps weeds at bay.

Organic mulch, such as woodchips, are a must-have for any garden. They prevent water loss, protect roots and keeps weeds at bay.

Keep your beds edged with a “Dutch Edge” to keep grass out.

Keeping your garden beds edged at a 30 -45 degree angel will help deter grass roots from wandering in.

Keeping your garden beds edged at a 30 -45 degree angle will help deter grass roots from wandering in.

When it comes to garden pests and diseases, practice prevention for long term success. Keep your garden soil healthy, make sure there is good air flow through the plants and attract the help of beneficial insects and birds. There are options natural remedies for control, but these are only band aid solutions for the short term, prevention is the best long term solution. It is important that you understand how these work so that you use them right and not kill those beneficial insects. Make sure to properly identify which bug is doing damage before setting out to destroy it.

Properly ID which bugs are doing damage. This is the Red Lily Beetle, which cause problems for the Asiatic Lily. Not a beneficial bug for your garden.

Properly ID which bugs are doing damage. This is the Red Lily Beetle, which cause problems for the Asiatic Lily. Not a beneficial bug for your garden.

Preparation and maintenance is the way to keep your gardens blooming beautifully. If you have a lawn, see our blog on how to maintain it so it too is ready for the season.

Happy Gardening!

It had to be done. The Weigela branch with all its beautiful pink flowers had to be cut; it was broken. It was a painful thing to have to do, but I became brazen as I pruned out another branch that was shading a part of my window basket, impacting the plants in the basket’s growth.

This is what pruning is really all about – a sometimes painful process where you are cutting away all that growth which represents energy and time, time that you spent patiently waiting for the plant to come to its glory ….then you ruthlessly cut it away. But, done correctly, this effort means better health for the plant as well as its neighbours, amounting to a great garden.

The process is prune, patience, and then pleasure. But I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t part with the perfectly laid out branch of pink blooms that I had waited so long for. So I decided to add another step to the process, which I call “prolong their presence”.  As I held this branch, I couldn’t help but think that it still had much to give, as did a few other plants in my garden.

I decided to throw these together into a vase and wow, was I ever rewarded! The new arrangement on my counter was absolutely stunning. I no longer had to peak out the window to enjoy these plants in bloom, I could just wander into my kitchen.

Soon after, I noticed my Euonymus had a growth spurt. It was now shading a good portion of my white columnar cedar. If I left those branches, they would shade my cedar causing a bald spot, so I did some more pruning. Next, I turned to my Saliva (nemorosa) and pruned a few of its flower heads that were nearing their end. Cedar saved, Euonymus shaped, more salvia blooms in the future and another great looking arrangement on my outdoor table.

The byproduct of Sabrina’s pruning…

Make the most of all your pruning. Remember to prune properly and at the right time in order to keep your plants and their companion’s healthy and happy.  We are already coming to a time where some early flowering shrubs and plants need to be pruned now before the season moves along. Here are some general pruning rules (and I do emphasize ‘general’).

1)    Prune right after flowering. Many flowering shrubs that have their blooms on now, and nearing their end will then take the rest of the season to grow more branches etc. On this new growth is where next season’s blooms will flourish. If you prune out these branches too late (i.e. in the fall or early next spring), you will prune the blooms ready for next spring.

2)    Do not prune out more than 1/3 of the total plant in one pruning; this may stress the plant.

3)    At any time, prune out anything that is dead or dying. You do not want the plant expending energy to this ‘injured’ part, nor do you want to leave this wound and invite further problems to the plant.

4)    Make clean cuts, preferable at the joint or intersection of two branches, so you are not left with half a branch oddly sticking out. The branch will usually start dying from the tip down, inviting pest or disease

Pruning need not be painful, do it correctly and at the right time and find pleasure in every stage of your plant’s lives.

Happy Gardening!

(This blog has been contributed by Sabrina who is  Program Manager with RMSi )

Sabrina

Easy Weedin’

April 12, 2012

Cosmetic pesticides are now banned for use in Ontario, meaning you cannot buy them or APPLY them (even if you get them from the states). As easy as they seemed for getting rid of weeds and pests, they did not solve the problem, they merely treated the symptoms. The new approach to pesticide-free lawn care may seem like more work, but it will pay off in the end.

 

Many people are complaining about the ban, but I think it’s a great idea. When I mention this to those who do not support the ban, they often respond with details on how the pesticides aren’t that bad and that the health claims against them are false or overhyped.  I admit I don’t know every detail of the health impacts of pesticides, but I do know that they are chemicals that kill living things.

 

My biggest concern about the use of cosmetic pesticides on residential lawns is what I call the “Idiot Factor”.  These are the people that do not follow the proper guidelines for the use of these chemicals.  I have been in garden centres, pre-ban, and heard people say that they weren’t really sure what was causing the dead patches on their lawns, so they were going to buy one of each pesticide and apply them all together, figuring that something would work. I have also heard people talk about how they would double or triple the application rates for better results.

 

I have seen lawn care companies go to the wrong address and spray the backyard with pesticides, right over top of the homeowner’s young children’s toys that were in the backyard. One of the children had severe sensitivities to chemicals and they had to throw out all of his toys that were sprayed, much to the child’s disappointment and to the parents’ fury.

 

I have had lawn care summer students tell me that the dead patch on my lawn was definitely grub damage and that I would have to spray my entire lawn to get rid of them. The dead patch was where because I had left a bad bag of compost out for too long in the sun. The rest of my lawn was free of any dead patches and any sign of grub damage.

 

These people are the reason why I support the ban. Even if 99% of people were using cosmetic pesticides the correct way and the “Idiot Factor” only represented 1%, that is 1% of trouble I would rather not see.

 

So, how can you get rid of your weeds?  First of all, it is time to rethink the lawn. Even golf courses do not have 100% grass blade turf.  Nature does not naturally have pure monocultures of any species, including grass.  Do you really want to spend your free time fighting the forces of nature?

 

Secondly, look at the weeds as a symptom, not the problem. If you have weeds on your lawn, they are there because of a bigger problem. A thick healthy lawn is the best defense against weeds. Weeds arrive when there is compaction, bare spots or thin turf, basically a sign your lawn is weak and needs to toughen up.  For more information on lawn care, see my previous post…

For picking weeds, I have played with several weed “pluckers” and I have my favourite type…

 

My preferred weed plucker

I find this one works well and does not take a huge chunk out of my lawn like the Fiskar’s model. It also works to aerate compacted lawns. After you pull out the weed, fill the hole in with a mixture of sand and seed, and if mixed and used on the same day, some compost.

 

 

Twist, pull and push it out.

Looking for a cost-effective option, try a steak knife and some pre-weeding stretches. For years, my mother would wander around the lawn with her steak knife cutting out the weeds. The lawn always looked great and she only spent around 15 minutes each week weeding.

No one wants to go out in the rain, but if you can get out just after the rain, the weeds pull out much easier… You may get dirtier than on a dry day, but a little dirt has got to be good for the soul.

At minimum, make sure to pick off the  weed flower heads before they go to seed (when they are blooming) to reduce the weed seed bank in your lawn and  garden.

Lastly, are the “weeds” you are worrying about really a bad thing? Some see clover as a weed. Clover has the ability to take Nitrogen from the air and make it accessible to roots under the ground. Why spend all that money on lawn fertilizer when clover gives it to you for free. Cost effective plant magic! Clover also stays green during a drought and provides pollen for bees. (FYI – our bee populations are in big trouble and they pollinate a huge majority of our food crops, they really need our help and do not generally sting unless heavily provoked).

Because your lawn is pesticide free, dandelion leaves are safe for consumption. They are great in a mixed salad and you can make wine from them! No matter how ugly you think dandelions are, can you really hate anything that gives you wine?

If in doubt about how your lawn looks, go across the road and look at it from the neighbors’ perspective, it probably looks much better…If it still looks less than perfect, have a glass or two of wine and repeat.

 

Nutritious and you can make wine from them!

 

If you have a specific question about weeds, email us at info@rmsi.ca

For more information on the ban visit: http://www.ene.gov.on.ca/environment/en/category/pesticides/index.htm

Happy Gardening!
Aileen

The movement towards natural lawn care is often perceived as a waste of time, and nowhere near as effective as applying pesticides and fertilizers.   Although chemical-based lawn care can be a quick fix, in the long-term, it is simply a band-aid solution.  Using a natural approach to lawn care will take a bit longer for results, but the results will last a long time.  Now that the hot, dry weather is passed, a few maintenance steps for your lawn will help to create a green, sustainable lawn that will stay that way.
Fall is a great time to prepare for a great spring lawn.

AERATE: This is likely the most difficult step for lawn care. If you have sandy soils, then skip this part, there is no need. If you have clay soils, then this is a must. The best way to aerate is to rent a machine, or hire someone to do this for you. Although aerating services tend to be more prolific during the spring, fall is really the best time for aeration. Shoes that poke holes into the ground may help at reducing compaction for the depth of the spike, but with double the level of compaction at the depth below the spike as the soil is squished down. By pulling out the plugs of compacted soil, you can increase the amount of water and air that gets into the soil, feeding the grass roots.

TOP DRESS with high quality, screened compost. Rake over the lawn to a depth of 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Avoid triple mix, black soil, peat moss and other types of soil mixes. Compost would be comparable to giving your lawn a healthy salad, as opposed to a processed fruit bar.  The compost will fill the holes created through aeration, adding much-needed organic matter to clay soils.

OVERSEED with perennial ryes and fescue grass seed. Kentucky Blue Grass is a type of grass that needs lot of water and is more susceptible to grubs and chinch bugs.
Grass species such as ryes and fescues are more drought tolerant so they
can better handle long hot periods. These types of grasses are also less appealing to grubs and Chinch bugs,meaning less pest problems.  Seeds can be added at the same time as the compost application. Keep in mind that the seeds needs to be kept moist, but not wet until germination begins (when the grass blades start to show).

These methods will not be a one time effort. Doing these things annually will help to establish a sustainable, healthy lawn. The benefits are a safe, healthy and natural defensive lawn that you and your kids or pets can roll around on without the risk of harmful chemicals.