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Aphids Got You Down?

Posted on 20 March 2011 | No responses

Anna Bellamie, Denver Landscape Network                                        March 19, 2011

You’ve put so much work into making your landscaping and gardens colorful, luscious, and thriving.  The hours of toil, weeding, watering, and pruning have paid off.  Then you start to notice some of your plants are ailing… aphids have arrived.  These teeny tiny creatures, also known as “plant lice”, are among the most destructive pests of cultivated plants in most regions.  With over 4,400 species, these soft-bodied plant-snackers, can take down a happy flower garden with ease.

Don’t despair!  The good news is that you can combat an aphid problem without using any harmful chemicals, with another insect, the adorable yet fierce ladybug.  A member of the beetle family, ladybugs will eat up to 60 aphids a day, and a variety of other pests, including mites and mealy bugs.  They are natural enemies of a long list of insects, and they eat and eat and eat… til the bad guys are gone.  When aphids as a food source run out, they will also stock up on pollen and store for fall/winter hibernation.

There are a couple of ways you can make sure you’ve got some of these “good guys” in your garden.  First, use plants they are naturally attracted to, including ones with umbrella-shaped flowers like fennel, cilantro, caraway, and dill (which are also all wonderful for your Culinary Landscape).  They also like geraniums and cosmos.  By avoiding the use of insecticides, you’ll also promote your ladybug population.  Here’s the tricky part, though:  you’re going to have to have at least some aphid-affected plants in your garden to keep up the food source of your little red-and-black friends.  Once you’ve got a bigger aphid problem under control, though, that shouldn’t be too hard.  As long as they’ve got something to eat, they will continue their life cycles in your garden, laying eggs.

If you are unsuccessful in attracting them naturally at first, consider purchasing ladybugs to get them established.  For under $15 at your local garden supply store (or online), you can get about a thousand ladybugs.  Once you have them, put the bag in a cool place until late in the day or very early morning (before the sun is up).  Give their new home a good shower of water.  Release them at sundown as they do not fly at night, gently scattering them so they can start snacking immediately.

It may take a couple of tries, so be patient.  If they don’t like their new environment, they may leave, but with a little luck from Mother Nature, the bugs who remain will stay awhile and begin laying eggs, too.  If your garden has various flowering plants with pollen that you keep watered well, you should have no problems.  With a gentle hand, you can move the ladybugs all over the garden, and you’ll be saying, “What aphids?” in no time.

The Practice of Pruning

Posted on 16 March 2011 | No responses

Pruning refers to trimming off dead portions of plant life. The process of clipping back spent blooms, also known as deadheading during the season, promotes blooming and thus improves the shape, growth and appearance of a plant. It can even super charge growth of an otherwise limp plant. Pruning also helps in removing the potential threat of plant disease by removing pest’s most likely harboring locations.

 Pruning improves the appearance of a plant, by letting more sunlight and air into the center of the plant. By removing its uncontrolled growth for better circulation and to control the quantity and quality of the flowers produced, pruning will help stimulate initial growth in the direction the gardener desires. Here is how it is done:

 Step 1

Cut down the entire rose bush or shrub to a foot or two feet above the crown of the rose or roughly half of its original size. Larger bushes can be cut back just until the green within the branch is visible. What appears drastic, will result in rapid growth and more abundant flower blooming.

Step 2

Clean upall of the cuttings and any debris that has fallen or been blown under the bush during the winter to clean up the soil surface and prevent the spread of disease from insects.

Step 3

Water deeply after pruning and cleaning up the soil. Drench the soil and apply a fresh layer of shredded bark or cocoa bean hull mulch around the base of the bush. Keep the mulch a few inches away from the trunk of the rose and extend it at least a few inches past the drip line.

Many landscape maintenance companies consider the practice of pruning  essential as an early spring task with great low maintenance and long term benefits. Of course, pruning can easily be done by yourself. Do not overlook shrubs, bushes and larger trees as well. Dead branches just weigh down the bush or tree, so get rid of them. Think of it like giving your plants a haircut. The remaining follicles, or foliage in this case, will look more finished and produce healthier and often thicker growth.

Whether pruning a shrub or a rose bush, careful attention should be paid to the type of gear used. For large branches use a pruning shears or sturdy branch clippers, otherwise for smaller rose bushes, typically a hand held clipper will do fine. Also, it is not a bad idea to wear long sleeves. Rose bushes can grab and scratch without much effort.  Keep in mind, the simple effort of pruning, which rarely can be done incorrectly, has tremendous advantage for your future rose bush or garden shrubs.

Written by, Janine Buchal, March 2011

Spring Cleaning

Posted on 15 March 2011 | No responses

Spring Cleaning

Anna Bellamie, Denver Landscape Network                                                3/11/11

It’s official, with the time change upon us, Spring is here.  While it may not quite yet be time for a whole garden overhaul, there are many things you can do now to prepare the impending new growth and maintenance your landscaping will need to look its best this season.  Here are a few things you can do now to get ready.

1.  Start removing large piles of debris, sticks, pine cones, and leaves that may have accumulated over the winter, so budding grasses and plants can “breathe” as they begin to grow.

2.  Take the opportunity to split any larger plants that you might be able to use elsewhere, too.  You’ve already put in the work establishing them last season, might as well make the most of them!

3.  Spread a 2-3 inch layer of shredded bark, natural and undyed, over your landscape beds.  The bark will also act as a fertilizer as it decomposes, and you can turn it later in the summer.

4.  Prepare your flower beds by weeding, adding a fertilizer, and giving them a good soak.

5.  Start to think about annuals you want to cultivate this year, and plan for where they will be planted.

6.  Pressure wash your patio, deck, or other hard surfaces.

7.  Inspect the pumps and tubing for any water fixtures you may have had turned off over the winter and clean out any ponds or birdbaths.

These quick chores should be a breeze to get out of the way so the real fun can begin in a few more weeks, when it’s time to begin adding new plants and watching the first blooms of the season start to appear.  Spring cleaning is also a good way to get reacquainted with your gardens and landscaping spaces that may have been neglected during the cold months.  Nothing like seeing the first crocus of the season pop up!  Happy cleaning.

Culinary Landscaping 1: Rosemary and Basil

Posted on 15 March 2011 | No responses

Culinary Landscaping 1:  Rosemary and Basil

Anna Bellamie, Denver Landscaping Network                                          3/13/11

With spring just around the corner, outdoor cooking season isn’t far off.  One way to add depth not only to your home garden but also your plate is to incorporate hearty and versatile herbs to your culinary landscape.

One very popular and easy to maintain bush is Rosemary (rosemarinus oficianalis), a woodsy, perennial herb native to the Mediterranean but easily grown just about anywhere, even in arid Colorado.  Quick-growing, an established rosemary bush can reach up to 5 feet tall, making it an easy choice for an edge shrub.  The sweet and complex aroma carries, and the bushes themselves are pest-resistant, making this plant a great choice near your outdoor cooking area.  Rosemary can also be used as topiary, as it is easily pruned and shaped.  While some bushed will remain green, you may also see varieties with beautiful small flowers ranging from white to purpe.  Use cut branches as floral decoration around the home, dry the leaves for later use, or use for cooking.  Large enough branches, soaked in water first to prevent burning, are a fun and different skewer to use on the barbeque, in place of a plain old wooden one.  Their flavor will infuse through vegetables or meat as they cook on the grill, not to mention impress your guests!

Another easy addition to a cook’s garden is basil.  Given it’s propensity to take over an area quickly, though, you may consider keeping it in a large pot, unless you’ve lots of room to spare, as it can spread rapidly.  Most varieties of Basil (ocimum basilicum), culinary superstar of Italian and Asian cuisines, act as an annual and do not do well in cold conditions, making it the perfect summer herb, thriving in heat and strong sunlight.  Basil can be subject to a couple of different kinds of mold, but in general, this plant is a no-fuss and very inexpensive addition to your culinary landscape.  For a perfect spring meal straight from your garden or patio, toss fresh basil leaves with tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil and serve with pasta or something from the grill.  Sweet basil is also wonderful in cocktails or adding an interesting take on classic lemonade.  If you find you have more basil than you know what to do with, once it’s taken off mid-summer, pesto is a great gift and freezes well, making your basil essentially last well into winter.

Thrilling Results with a Tomato Trellis

Posted on 14 March 2011 | No responses

Tomatoes are traditionally grown using stakes or even tomato cages.  Stakes often break in the wind and require tying the plant. Cages make is difficult to prune the tomato plant as it grows.  So why not try a trellis?

There are several advantages to using a tomato trellis. The trellis allows good air circulation around the foliage, helping it dry out between waterings. It also allows for maximum sun as the plant grows vertically. Not the least of which, becomes fewer hiding places for pests. It will also be easier to prune suckers and  pick your harvest.

As a common practice at many greenhouse, growing tomatoes on a vertical string, is also an option. It makes sense. Wrapping a vine around a string already in place is faster than tying a plant to a stake. The strings also make it easier to keep track of the suckers that will need pruning.  Less vine and plant damage tends to occur. Chicken wire fencing is often used as well.

A unique and successful new trellis is the “A frame” which allows for maximum use of garden space, great sun exposure, an enormous space for tomato vine to run, and ease of harvesting. In addition, they are easy to assemble and disassemble and can be quite portable.

Great results have been produced using this form of trellis with higher than average tomato yields, more even coloring of the tomato and less bug or pest infestation.

Flat metal trellis’ are also an option.  The same type used for clematis or other plant vines can be utilized for good tomato plant production. This type does not require as much space as they typically stand less than two feet tall yet still helps hold the plant upward for maximum sun exposure.

Similar to most planting, trellis use depends on the amount of space the gardener has to utilize. If you choose the vertical option, your space is practically endless. Trellis use clearly allows for more organization within the garden, more definition of soil, less competetion amongst other plants for well spaced roots and plants.

Having home grown tomatos in late summer is a great feeling. Somehow they even seem to taste better. Knowing your garden is set up for optimal production is also helpful.  Tomatos are one of the easiest plants to see great results from and using a trellis can certain have many benefits.

Written by, Janine Buchal, March 2011

Easy Tips for a Low Maintenance Landscape

Posted on 9 March 2011 | No responses

If you are looking for an easy and breezy walk in the park when it comes the landscape maintenance of your home, there are some great tips that can be offered. Taking care of your own yard can yield you many desirable results for the efforts and hard work that you put into it. Hopefully, some of these 7  tips can help you reduce the man hours of time that you need in order to enjoy having a beautiful home and yard.

  1. Xeriscaping your yard is the process of removing water hungry plants, most often going with a really low maintenance yard that is generally like a desert landscaping. In places like Denver, and some other states, these yards are really popular.
  2. Automated irrigation can save you time and money. Use your hose for your garden and consider installing automated irrigations systems into your yard so you can set it and forget it.
  3. Use clovers instead of grass. You can cut down on water and pests, the seeds are year round and really cheap, and it looks great, too!
  4. Plant low maintenance plants that are drought tolerant so they don’t require very much water annually. This will save you time and money and ensure that your yard looks great during all seasons.
  5. Consider rock gardens; they include many low maintenance plants that are drought resistance and look wonderful in any yard.
  6. Harness the power of mulch. If you have dead spots that are bare and a sore to the eyes, turn to mulch as your savior. It’s cheap, it’s easy to use and it can work wonders on barren areas of your yard relatively quickly.
  7. Make snowy Mondays a thing of the past. You know, where you used to have to shovel your driveway to even pull the car out. Not anymore. Newer technology has brought to us what are called snow melt systems. They eliminate the need to ever shovel your driveway again. Imagine that!

Sometimes landscape maintenance can be tedious and tiring. Especially if you have been at work all day long and you have to maintain your yard during your time off. Many people actually prefer to perform their landscape maintenance during the weekends. Again, this can mean that you are out there in the sun for many hours during your free time on Saturdays or Sundays. For others, contracting the services experienced landscape maintenance companies usually makes the most sense. This way they don’t have to worry about their landscape maintenance and can enjoy their time off when they are not at work.

Four Season Sun Rooms

Posted on 8 March 2011 | No responses

With 300 days of sunshine, Colorado is a great place to have a four season sun room so you can maximize the feel and fun of outdoor living year round. Enjoy the sights and sounds of nature without the bugs, temperature swings or wild winds.  Many landscape contractors can do the work for you.  Go on line or give a call for a free quote.

There are a variety of styles and sizes and even customized options for the outdoor enthusiast to choose from including:

Conservatory – a unique add on or stand alone design resembling a plant oasis but personalized for your home.

Cathedral– Dramatic use of light and space drive cathedral sun room designs, adding a new dimension to your home and lifestyle. Energy efficient and perfect for that green house feeling.

Skylight– Incredible open feel adding tremendous overhead natural light and openness.

Free Standing– Can be built separate from the house and give an amazing new and useful finished look to yet another room of the house. The additional square footage is particularly useful when guests arrive.

Straight & Curved Eave Designs: Choose from wood framed or metal. The uniqueness of the Straight-Eave design allows for variations in the pitch of the roof to accommodate any style of home.

A sun room can instantly become the focal point of any house. Sun rooms have an abundance of natural light so it becomes a great place to grow plants as well as entertain. They are built durable enough to withstand rain, snow and colder temperatures without damage.  The glass is even insulated so the sun room does not become the coldest or hottest room in the house. Instead, a sun room adds value and beauty to your home.

Not all sun rooms are created equal, so it is a good idea to ask about a warranty program for your new purchase.  Many come with a limited warranty.  Hopefully it will not be needed but it is always good practice to make a choice you are most comfortable living with and that covers you in an emergency.

 Home and garden shows are a great place to view the many options available in your price range.  Contractors are eager to design and customize a sun room specifically for your home. There are many prefab options as well that can work, but know that you can customize the size, look and materials to your specifications, if you like.

Benefits of Mulching

Posted on 7 March 2011 | No responses

Mulching, though somewhat tedious, time consuming and costly, has a number of benefits. Two obvious benefits of garden mulch are weed suppression and erosion control. Truthfully, any garden mulch distributed properly will cut down on weeds and erosion. 

Mulch is particularly good with reducing weeds as it covers evenly blocking sun to the weed root and thus slowing weed growth. In addition, mulch helps to keep erosion in check. With frequent watering or precipitation, mulch helps disperse the water more evenly throughout the soil and thus lowers erosion.

 Placing mulch around ornamental grasses will help the soil beneath remain cool, meaning you will have to water less. When you do water, the mulch will aid the soil in retaining that water longer. A successful summer insulator, mulch will both reduce the need for watering and protect roots against extreme heat. Extra bonus.

Generally, soils in moist climates tend to be acid and those in dry climates are alkaline. A soil with a pH lower than 7.0 is an acid soil and one with a pH higher than 7.0 is alkaline. Mulch can help adjust these levels, if necessary. Some argue, garden mulch has little impact on soil pH. For instance, while oak-leaf garden mulch may be acidic when fresh, most experts now say that it becomes more and more alkaline over time.  Sometimes the soil must be adjusted to suit the plant which will occupy that area. Furthermore, it is now generally thought that a garden mulch composed of pine needles lowers soil pH to only a negligible degree, if at all.   

There are two types of mulch, organic and inorganic. For our purpose we will cover only orgainic mulch, which can be defined as any material that provides protection and improves the soil when applied to the soil surface including wood and bark chips, straw, grass clippings and seed hulls.

USDA recommends mulch be applied according to the area you are covering as well as the type of mulch. Here is a look at the USDA mulch recommendations:

Bark mulch 2-4 inches Smaller chips are easier to spread, especially around small plants. Excellent for use around trees, shrubs, and perennial gardens. When spreading mulch around trees, keep the mulch an inch or two away from the trunk. A couple inches of mulch is adequate.
Wood chips 2-4 inches Similar to bark mulch. If using fresh wood chips that are mixed with a lot of leaves, composting may be beneficial.
Leaves 3-4 inches Best to chop and compost before spreading. If using dry leaves, apply about 6 inches.
Grass clippings 2-3 inches Thicker layers tend to compact and rot, becoming quite slimy and smelly. Add additional layers as clippings decompose. Do not use clippings from lawns treated with herbicides.
Newspaper 1/4 inch Apply sheets of newspaper and cover lightly with grass clippings or other mulch material to anchor. If other mulch materials are not available, cover edges of paper with soil. Applying on a windy day can be a problem.
Compost 3-4 inches Excellent material for enriching soil.

Mulch can often be purchased bagged or bulk from garden centers. Bulk may be cheaper if you need large volumes and have a way to haul it. Recycling centers also have free mulch available. Bagged mulch is often easier to handle, especially for smaller projects. Most bagged mulch comes in 3-cubic-feet bags.  Many gardeners use grass and leave clippings that have been re-mowed to fine particles and are then applied when dried.

Often garden mulch needs to be removed in spring as heavy organic garden mulches can smother emerging spring plants. This is obviously less of a factor, however, for plants that remain alive aboveground, throughout the winter. Those that are alive and ready to spring to life can profit from having the soil around their roots warmed by the spring sun, a process facilitated by the temporary removal of the garden mulch. Crocus and scilla, for example, seem to sprout forth as early as March in some parts of Colorado.

It seems to be a matter of balance when applying mulch to your garden or plants. Utilizing the package suggestions or USDA recommendations for mulching is helpful.  Mulch does have obvious benenfits and is generally utilized for optimal plant growth and happiness.

Written by Janine Buchal, March 2011

Colorado Spring Blooms

Posted on 7 March 2011 | 2 responses

Eagar to jump-start Spring? You have several choices to consider when planting Spring blooms.  Several spring blooms can be planted inside and transferred by pot or transplanted into soil outdoors fairly soon. Consider pansies, primrose, crocus, daffodil, scilla, lilies and  allium for your early to rise Spring options.  Many have bright colors and work well together in a pot and will flourish when brought outdoors as temperatures rise.

 Pansies can withstand cool temperatures but tend to seek out lots of sun. They are available in an amazing array and pattern or colors.  Primrose has hearty features as well but is only recommended to withstand above freezing temperatures. Crocus; however, are known to be amongst the first to poke through the snow as the sun warms the soil. A high rate of success is often attained with crocus planted from bulbs. Crocuses produce small, cup-shaped blooms in white, yellow, purple, and variegated colors and are one of the earliest bloomers in spring. They are best planted in large groups for charming effect, in sunny areas. They can be planted among rocks, along walkways or hillsides. They do not do well in damp soil.

Spring-flowering daffodils chase away winter blahs. The hardy, deer-resistant plants look good both in the yard and as cut flowers. Among common daffodil species are the sweetly fragrant jonquils. For best results, choose large, firm, healthy-looking bulbs.

 Scilla produces charming, tiny bell-shaped blooms on stems about 6 to 8 inches high that emerge in early spring. Plant in fall before hard frost occurs. Bulbs should be planted 3 to 4 inches deep, about 4 inches apart. Plant in groups for delicate groups of light blue flowers. Scilla thrives in a variety of light conditions.

Lilies are available in several types and in colors ranging from white and yellow to deep red. While lilies are perennial, some do not survive Colorado’s winters. To test hardiness of a particular lily, dig a portion of the plants and pack the rhizomes in sawdust, perlite or vermiculite. Store the rhizomes in a frost-free location during the winter. Replant the stored lilies in the spring. The plants remaining in the garden should be heavily mulched to avoid winter kill. Plant the lilies to a depth three times the height of the bulb. Easter lilies can also be planted into Colorado gardens with varied success.

Allium is a member of the onion family, but these plants are very ornamental and showy. Plants vary in height, and flowers can range from two to ten inches in diameter. Dwarf species thrive in rock gardens, and taller species enhance larger gardens. Allium flowers are ball-shaped and consist of many tiny florets in hues of white, yellow and blue. These bulbs make great cut flowers that last for a long period of time; flower heads can also be left to dry on the plant and later cut for dried arrangements. While alliums do not need to be dug from the ground after frost, be sure to mulch the bulbs well to ensure winter survival.

Many gardeners are plotting out their planting options for Spring and you can join them with a little forethought. Getting a large clay pot and spacing out your individual plant choices is a great way to get started. Considering varying colors, textures and heights when potting your spring blooms. These early collections can make a nice gift that will last thought summer for a special person in your life. Othewise, waiting until after the last frost is optimal for any outdoor planting.

Written by, Janine Buchal, March 2011

Ornamental Grasses

Posted on 4 March 2011 | No responses

Grass is a weed, yet a very desirable one within many landscapes and garden settings across Colorado. By contrast to other grasses, ornamental grass is not meant to be mowed, uniform, or  tread upon. So, it is low maintenance, as well. Furthermore, many ornamental grasses are a low-maintenance plant option because they do not require dead heading or excessive watering.

Grasses come in varying heights. Arrange tall grasses in the back, intermediate in the center and low grasses front and center. They thrive in sun and well-drained soil. These grasses hold their shape through the season and some turn a rich golden color in the fall and winter. Tall grasses sway in the wind and make lovely edging plants not to mention a rhythmic swish only heard when the Colorado winds abound.  Let us discuss some specific ornamental grass options in height order:

Tall Grasses

Plume grass (Erianthus ravennae) is grown in zones 4-9. It grows 8′-11′ tall and can spread 3′-4′. This plant, with its tall, thin shafts and fluffy coiffures, exhibits a delicate structure that lends a touch of charm to the harsh winter landscape. Because of its height, a plant such as plume grass can be used as a focal point within a landscape.

Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis) is a fine choice in zones 5-9 for a tall drought-tolerant ornamental grass, as it reaches as much as 7’ in height, with a spread of 5’-6’. Maiden grass bears coppery tassels as a seed-head in early fall, eventually growing lighter in color and adorning the plant as a “plume.” Do not cut the clump’s stems back until after winter passes, since the graceful stems and puffy plumes of this plant will provide some visual interest on an otherwise barren December-February landscape.

Intermediate Ornamental Grasses

Purple fountain (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) is a tropical ornamental grass. If you live in an area subject to harsh winters, you will need to treat it as an annual. The plant reaches a height of 3-5 feet with a spread of 2-4 feet. It holds purplish flower spikes then seeds. Its spiky foliage is burgundy in color.

Blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) is a cool season ornamental grass that can be grown in zones 4-8 and is effective for deer resistance. This ornamental grass attains a size of 2′-3′ x 2′-3′ and grows into a mounded form. Grow it in full sun and well-drained soils, if you plan to enjoy the signature blue hues of its foliage to the fullest. The plant also produces spiky, dark flowers with a bluish tint in summer, that turn harvest gold in autumn.

Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) is an ornamental grass that grows 24″-36″ high in loose clumps of green foliage. This ornamental grass is cold hardy to zone 5. Even after its leaves have dried and died, it provides visual interest to the winter landscape and is also deer resistant.

Short Ornamental Grasses

For a shorter grass plant, try liriope,  or “lilyturf” (Liriope spicata). Lilyturf ornamental grass can be grown in zones 4-10 and reaches only about 1′ in height. Lilyturf likes water, but also prefers well-drained soil. Select an area with partial shade and soil rich in organic matter for best results. This ornamental grass, too, has a spiky flower, ranging in color from white to lavender. In autumn it bears a dark berry. You will want to contain this plant, however, because it is very invasive and will take over a space fairly quickly.

The unusual blue color of the ornamental grass (blue fescue) is striking.  The popularity of this clumping, drought-tolerant ornamental grass lies in the blue color of its foliage, which will beautifully complement any surrounding plants you may have with silvery foliage, such as lamb’s ears. Alongside cactus and yucca, ornamental grass can create a thorny boundary or border as well as terrific texture and style.  Available in an array of blue/green shades, ornamental grass is sought out as often as scrubs and flowering plants.  Its intensity is reached with the hours spent in the sun. As with maiden grass, cut back foliage in early spring. Divide every few years to rejuvenate. 

Written by Janine Buchal, March 2011

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