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Glorifying Garden Gloves

Many gardeners believe garden gloves are easy to do without. Those of us who love gardening enjoy the feel of soil running through our fingers, and we don’t mind the line of dirt under our fingernails. We prefer to not have anything impede the dexterity needed to sow small seeds or pinch a plant, and we like the textures of the plants we cultivate. We would rather spend our budgeted gardening dollars on the latest herbaceous sensation rather than unnecessary gloves, and, frankly, nobody likes sweaty hands.

Why Gloves Matter

Despite the prejudice against covering our hands, gloves are the single most important piece of garden clothing that a person should own. In addition to the fact that they come in every color and pattern under the sun, making them an attractive and matching accessory to your garden wardrobe, garden gloves provide many benefits, such as…

  • Improving your grip on tools, minimizing accidental drops that can damage expensive tools.
  • Keeping hands warm in cold weather so we can garden in comfort even in early spring or late fall.
  • Keeping hands dry in wet weather to prevent skin irritation and problems that could limit our gardening.
  • Preventing contact with animal waste that may carry bacteria, mites or other pests that could harbor diseases.
  • Helping avert calluses and blisters that can make even simple gardening tasks painful and unpleasant.
  • Protecting hands from cuts, splinters and thorn pricks from aggressive plants so we aren’t limited in our gardening choices.
  • Preventing contact with poisonous plant oils that cause rashes and allergic dermatitis.
  • Keeping nails clean and help prevent nail breakage so our hands can be as beautiful as our garden.
  • Protecting from soil borne fungal and bacterial infections that could be spread around the garden easily.

With so many great reasons to use garden gloves, which ones should you choose?

Selecting Gloves

Gardening gloves come in an almost limitless array of colors, styles and patterns. Features may include…

  • Different types of fabric or weave densities that affect air circulation to keep hands cool and comfortable
  • Anti-slip grips or rubber palms and fingers for excellent traction in all types of gardening conditions
  • Broad, wide cuffs for an easy fit or snug, form-fitting cuffs for a secure fit that won’t let in any dirt or debris
  • Different sizes and proportions to suit men, women and children

With so many gloves on the market there’s a style available for every garden chore, season, weather condition, hand size and preference. Check out our selection today. We are happy to help you choose a pair or two that work best for you and your gardening needs.

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The Great Squirrel Battle for the Bulbs

Autumn is the catalog time of year, when gardeners devour and drool over the spring-blooming bulb catalogs, eagerly fantasizing about next year’s flowerbeds. We picture drifts of crocus and gaily swaying tulips, lush daffodils and glorious hyacinths. Snowdrops, irises, daylilies… Ah, the garden will be great this next spring.

Then we remember last spring – hours of labor and dozens of bulbs meticulously planted, but only one or two emerged to flaunt their blooms. What happened?

Squirrels and Bulbs

Squirrels like flower bulbs just as much as gardeners, but unfortunately not for their beauty. From the looks of the remains – chewed remnants, dug up holes, battered foliage – those bulbs became expensive squirrel food. Fortunately, if you want to plant daffodils, alliums, scilla, hyacinths, squills or fritillaria, your bulbs should be safe. Generally, squirrels don’t eat these. But how can you protect the bulbs that make the tastiest squirrel treats?

Keeping Squirrels Out of the Flowerbeds

Go ahead and order your bulbs. While you’re waiting for delivery, decide which of the three basic methods you will use to prevent the squirrel attacks. A small investment of time and materials will protect your bulbs.

  1. Mesh Barriers
    Wire mesh is the best protection to keep squirrels away from bulbs. Dig the hole for several bulbs, make a “cage” using mesh around the bulbs and fill in the soil. If the squirrels dig, the mesh will prevent them from eating the bulbs. You may also plant the bulbs as usual and place a layer of mesh on the soil. You’ll have to secure it to keep it in place then cover with mulch. Be sure the mesh layer is wide enough so squirrels cannot easily dig around the sides to reach the bulbs.
  1. Repellants
    Garden centers sell many different squirrel repellants, and deer repellants also repel squirrels. Some gardeners swear to the effective use of red pepper flakes mixed in the soil around, and over, the bulbs. Many squirrels don’t like spicy tastes, but pepper flakes may need to be replaced after heavy spring rains to be the most effective.
  1. Sharp Gravel
    Adding sharp gravel to the soil around and over the bulbs also deters squirrels from digging. Not only do they not like the feel of the gravel on their sensitive paws, but the gravel – which is heavier than dirt or mulch – is more difficult to move, so the bulbs stay safer.

There is another option to keep squirrels away from bulbs without completely discouraging their visits. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em – because squirrels look for the easiest food sources, a squirrel feeding station stocked with corn and peanuts may be just the thing to keep the squirrels from looking for your buried treasures!

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Winter Pond Prep Checklist

Your pond can be an attractive and valuable focal point of your landscaping, but it can also be a delicate one. As winter approaches, certain steps should be taken to ensure plant and fish survival so your pond will still be at its best next spring.

  1. Clean Out Debris
    Use a netted scooper, a rake, your hands and, if possible, a pond vacuum to clean out pond debris. Rotting vegetation produces gas under winter ice that can be fatal to fish, frogs or other aquatic wildlife. This is also a good time to reduce any mud coverage over the pond’s bottom.
  2. Trim Pond Plants
    Trim and move hardy pond plants to the deep end of the pond (minimum 18” depth) to prevent them from freezing. Cut their vegetative growth back to about one inch above the soil line. Extra foliage will be more delicate and could rot over the winter. Especially be sure to trim any foliage that is already broken, wilting or damaged.
  3. Remove Tropical Plants
    Tropical plants or any delicate vegetation should be removed from the pond and placed in a basement or garage where they will not freeze. Keep plants moist throughout the fall and winter months until it is time to return them to the pond.
  4. Disassemble Summer Equipment
    Remove and clean the pond pump and waterfall or fountain feature (if applicable). Store them inside for the winter. See your maintenance guidelines for proper storage recommendations to keep the equipment in peak condition.
  5. Clean Pond Filter
    Thoroughly clean the pond filter and inspect it for any damage. If necessary, repair or replace the filter.
  6. Change Fish Diet
    Feed fish with spring/autumn food mixtures to provide good nutrition for their slowing metabolism. Stop feeding them completely when temperatures drop consistently below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid overfeeding, which would contribute to excess debris and decay in the pond over the winter.
  7. Set Up Pond Heater
    If needed, set up your pond heater for winter use. Test the equipment to be sure it is functioning properly and make any repairs or adjustments as needed.
  8. Cover the Pond
    Cover your pond with netting, screening or a shade cloth to minimize debris that will fall into the water throughout the winter. Secure the perimeter with sod staples or rocks to prevent the covering from blowing away. This will make spring cleanup and restarting your pond much easier.
  9. Relax until spring!
    Your pond will be ready for warmer temperatures when you are.

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Healthy Soil: Winter Cover Crops

It’s fall and our annual and vegetable gardens are winding down for the season. Now is the time to invest a little extra time and effort to prepare your soil for next year. Whether your garden is large or small, all annual planting beds will benefit from the addition of a winter cover crop.

Benefits of Cover Crops

A cover crop is a fast-growing, low-maintenance crop that can be used to protect your garden and landscaping beds in fall and winter. Depending on the crop you choose, it can provide many benefits to your garden, including…

  • Stabilizing soil and preventing erosion
  • Adding organic matter back into the soil to nurture later crops
  • Adding nutrients to the soil that have been used by previous crops
  • Suppressing disease that can wither new crops even before they start
  • Repressing weeds that will take over a garden
  • Improving soil structure with aeration and better drainage
  • Encouraging beneficial insects that will help later crops

Recommended Cover Crops

Different cover crops work best in different areas, and the climate, soil type and growing season will help determine which cover crops will work best for your gardening needs. The most popular recommended cover crops for our area are oats, rye and wheat.

  • Oats
    Sow 6-8 weeks before the first hard frost. Planted early, oats will provide a quick covering with the added benefit of providing an early planting time for next spring’s crops. Oats are not winter hardy, but they will grow in the fall and die in the winter, leaving behind nutritious mulch that will easily decompose when incorporated into the soil in the spring. This is a great cover crop choice for low- or no-till gardens. Sow at 2 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft. for the best coverage.
  • Winter Rye
    Sow 2-4 weeks before the first hard frost. This is a good choice for gardeners who have late season crops and don’t want to cut off that last harvest. If hardened off before frost arrives, winter rye will continue to grow over the winter. Rye is a vigorous grower and can be difficult to turn in the spring, so bear that in mind depending on what crops you will be planting in spring. Sow at 3-4 lbs. per 1000 sq. ft. for appropriate coverage.
  • Winter Wheat
    Sow 2-4 weeks before the first hard frost. Wheat will cover quickly but is not as aggressive as winter rye. Winter wheat is also leafier, making it easier than winter rye to turn into the soil in the spring. Sow at 3 lbs. per 1000 sq. ft. to provide good coverage.

Cornell University provides a tool to assist you in choosing the correct cover crop for your situation. (http://covercrops.cals.cornell.edu/decision-tool.php)

Planting Cover Crops

Before planting a cover crop, clean out garden beds, removing all roots and plant material. Compost all plant matter that is not diseased. Broadcast seed evenly and cover with soil. Water thoroughly when planting and when necessary during dry periods. In the spring, till or fork oats into the planting bed and you are ready to plant. For winter rye and wheat, mow or chop tops 4 weeks before planting leaving cut cover crop on top to dry. Till or fork dried wheat and rye into the bed before planting.

With the appropriate cover crop, you can protect your garden’s most valuable asset – the soil – and be sure it is ready for spring planting.

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Fairy Garden Magic

Do you think your tiny balcony terrace means you can’t have a grand garden? Are you looking for a clever and imaginative way to introduce a child to the world of plants? Have you ever dreamed of your own “McGregor’s Garden?” One of the newest gardening trends can do all these and a whole lot more!

Start planning…and playing…in your fairy garden!

About Fairy Gardens

One of the newest gardening trends, fairy gardening is the new-and-improved miniature gardening of yesteryear with all sorts of new products, idea books and plants. Despite their small size, the themes, designs and creativity of these tiny garden spaces is boundless. Any container, nearly any type of plant and any type of design can add a bit of garden magic even to a tiny space. Go small and have fun.

Designing a Fairy Garden

You can create your fairy garden just about anywhere. For portability, consider a pot, basin or terrarium. Or, for a more rustic appeal, plant an old lunchbox, garden bucket or child’s wagon. Old shoes, a stack of broken pots, a rusty wheelbarrow or a concrete bird bath are other great planting options.

Fairy gardens can be positioned anywhere. A smaller design can be a fun centerpiece to patio furniture, or it can be part of an entryway display. To heighten the intrigue, find a secret place in your own garden to lure the garden fairies. Between tree roots, beside a water feature or in a grove under flowering shrubs… The possibilities are endless.

Design the overall look of your fairy garden just as you would a larger garden. What is its theme? Is it a fantasyland for unicorns? A gnome family farm? A replica of your own big house? It can be anything you imagine. Consider tiers, layers and depth as well to create a truly impactful scene in your miniature fairy world.

If you’re having trouble coming up with an idea, visit your garden center to check out all the products. If you need some inspiration, our Enchanted Garden products by Grassland Road will get you started. Whimsical and charming, they’ll help you create your own mini-fantasy scene. From arbors and benches to umbrellas and miniature tools, the possibilities are amazing. If you’re not sure your resident garden fairies will understand your invitation, you can always buy a mannequin fairy to entice them to share the fun.

This visit also sets the mind whirling with ideas for plant materials. Consider the mixture of colors, textures, shapes, and scents… in miniature. Tiny groundcovers such as moss or creeping thyme create beautiful “lawns.” Pebbles become paths. Sand creates shores. Twigs make houses, fences and other structures. What can you do with a small pinecone or acorn? How can you recreate a Disney-type pumpkin carriage?

Creativity knows no limits, and the fairies will love you for it!

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Kale, the Super Food

Did you know kale is a super food? Kale belongs to the same family as cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. It is a rich source of vitamins C, A, & B6, and is loaded with manganese, calcium, copper and potassium, with no fat or cholesterol. Add it to your garden for a healthy harvest!

Planting

In the fall, set out transplants or sow kale seeds about 6-8 weeks before first frost in deep rich soil. Kale will need at least 6 hours of sun per day. Enrich your planting soil with plenty of compost. Planting kale in nutritious soil will promote faster plant growth and thus provide a tender, richer crop. Soil pH should be between 6.5 and 6.8. Sow seeds roughly one-half inch deep and thin seedlings to 8-12 inches apart to provide adequate air circulation. When thinning kale shoots, however, bear in mind that larger spacing will produce larger plants, larger plants produce larger leaves and larger leaves are generally tougher. Keep soil moist and mulch to control weeds. Water when planting and during dry spells.

Harvesting

Don’t worry about frost harming your harvest, a light frost will only enhance the sweetness of kale. Harvest the outer leaves of kale as they are needed for salads and recipes. Young tender leaves will grow from the center of the plant. Use the young leaves for salads and keep older leaves for cooking, which will help tenderize those larger leaves. Kale will continue to produce throughout fall in the warmer sections of our area. In low lying areas or where it is colder, use floating row covers or low tunnels to extend the life of your kale. Kale will bolt (elongate) and flower in the spring. This signifies the end, and it is time to pull it up and compost the remaining plant.

Cooking

Kale may be used fresh or frozen. It may be steamed or stir-fried, or used in soups, stews, omelets and casseroles. It is a tasty base for salads or can be added to sandwiches. It may be used in recipes as a replacement for spinach and collard greens. It even makes fantastic chips!

Kale Chips

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Clean Kale and spin dry. Remove all the tough stems.
  • Drizzle about 8 cups of leaves with one tablespoon of olive oil and toss to coat.
  • Place Kale leaves in a single layer on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes or until leaves are crisp but not scorched.
  • Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with generous amount of flaky sea salt.
  • Devour!

With so many tasty options for kale and so many nutritional benefits from this super food, there’s no excuse not to add this easy-to-grow dietary wonder to your garden!

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Minor Bulbs: Perfect Partners for Early Spring Color

A garden stroll in the early spring offers a great deal of promise but generally little color. You can rectify this with a little planning and planting this fall to ensure bright spring blooms to enjoy.

What Is a “Minor” Bulb?

Often passed over at the garden center for showy, larger-flowering bulbs, minor spring bulbs give the garden a head start on spring, extending the season by blooming as early as February and March. These beautifully blossomed seasonal gems are short in stature and produce daintier flowers but, when planted en masse, make as powerful a statement as any daffodil, tulip or hyacinth planting.

Chionodoxa, Muscari, Eranthis, Galanthus and other minor bulbs are planted at the same time as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, and in the same way, although not so deeply. The general rule of thumb is to plant bulbs three times as deep as the bulb is high. Your soil should be well drained so the bulbs do not rot. Don’t forget to include bone meal in the planting hole for strong growth in the spring.

Minor bulbs make perfect partners for all of your other traditional spring-flowering bulbs. Their size makes them suitable for rock gardens and walkways, as well as filling in spaces between other spring bloomers. They also naturalize well and will help fill in any gaps in a spring garden or wildflower lawn.

Top Minor Bulbs

There are many lovely bulbs with smaller, stunning spring flowers to choose from. Some of the most popular and versatile options include…

  • Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow): Small, 1 inch white-centered blue or pink flowers appear on leafless stems. Plant in large groups in front of early blooming shrubs or naturalize in the lawn. When grown in shade, blooms last several weeks. Plants grow 4-10 inches tall.
  • Muscari (Grape Hyacinths): Offering the rare and cherished blue color in the garden, Muscari have small spherical blossoms bunched into triangular clusters on top of delicate 6-9 inch stems. Grape hyacinths are available in various shades of blue, purple and white.
  • Eranthis (Winter Aconite): A relative to the buttercup, Eranthis unfolds bright yellow, honey-scented blossoms that can carpet the chilly ground and bring life to a dormant rock garden. Plants grow 2-4 inches tall.
  • Galanthus (Snowdrops): The cold is no deterrent to the bell-shaped frosty white flowers of Galanthus. This plant thrives in light shade under leafless trees and is well suited to random planting amidst tough grass. Shorter varieties grow to 4 inches while giant snowdrops reach 10 inches.
  • Leucojum (Giant Snowflake): Drooping bells of white or pink flowers with green tips adorn this frost-hardy 4 inch plant.
  • Pushkinia (Striped Squill): The white flowers of this plant look light blue because of the blue stripes on the petals. Plant in sun or partial shade in well-drained soil. Striped Squill grows 6-8 inches tall.
  • Scilla (Spanish Squill): This late spring-flowering plant has multiple stems with up to 12 bells on each stem. Colors are blue, pink and white. Scilla needs adequate moisture in the flowering season as it grows to 10-12″ in height. Plant in full sun or partial shade.
  • Frittilaria meleagris (Checkered Lily): This small Frittilaria grows to only 9 inches tall compared to its sibling Frittilaria imperalis (Crown Imperial) that grows to a height of 3 feet. The checkered lily’s name is derived from its checker-patterned petals.

Any of these smaller, less obtrusive bulbs can make a great early spring statement in your garden or landscape, bringing it to life long before most spring blooms are at their peak.

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Fall-Blooming Camellias

We love camellias! An Asian native and an old southern standby, they are now a favorite in the northern states as well. In recent years, new varieties have been developed for their increased cold hardiness, giving northern gardeners even more opportunities to enjoy these charming beauties. Blooming in October, November and even into early December, fall-blooming camellias provide an abundance of colorful showy blooms that can now be enjoyed in colder climates.

Camellias do best in rich, moist, well-drained, acidic (5.5-6.5 pH) soil. Plant camellias in a location where they will be protected from the drying winter sun and wind or else the delicate blooms may suffer. Because these shrubs are shallow-rooted, they should be planted no deeper than they are planted in the pot that you purchase them in. Apply 3-4 inches of mulch to the root zone to keep soil moist and control weeds. Compost added to the soil can also help provide suitable nutrition to keep these plants healthy. Water camellias first when newly planted and frequently during times of low rainfall – a drip system can be a great option to keep these shrubs suitably moist. Fertilize in the spring with a fertilizer specified for acid-loving plants. If purchasing and planting camellias in the fall, be sure to give them a little extra TLC to help them through their first couple of winters and they will reward you with their beauty for years to come.

To help you choose the most beautiful fall-blooming camellias for your landscape, consider these attractive cultivar options!

  • Ashton’s Pride: Lavender-pink, single flowers with yellow centers
  • Ashton’s Snow: Creamy white flowers in semi-double blooms
  • Long Island Pink: Single blooms with bright pink colors and ruffled petals
  • Mason Farm: Pink, single flowers with a white tinge
  • Northern Exposure: Pink buds that open to single white, papery flowers
  • Winter’s Darling: Deep pink flowers with anemone shapes
  • Winter’s Fancy: Deep rich pink, semi-double blooms
  • Winter’s Interlude: Light pink blooms with anemone shapes and peachy centers
  • Winter’s Joy: Bright bold pink, semi-double blooms
  • Winter’s Star: Single lavender-pink pale blooms with yellow centers
  • Winter’s Water Lily: Elegant white flowers with a formal double shape

No matter which fall-blooming camellia you choose, if you give it the proper care, it will love you right back with abundant growth and stunning blooms that bring an air of southern charm and hospitality to your yard.

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Devil’s Darning Needle

Fall is here and after hiding inside in the cool comfort of our air conditioning through the hottest, driest, buggiest time of the year, our interest in revisiting the outdoors is renewed. Reemerging from self-imposed exile into the garden, it is pure joy and a relief to witness the tenacity of late season bloomers that have had to bear, with no assistance or relief, the dog days of summer. One such plant, reliable and prolific, is Clematis virginiana, better known as Devil’s Darning Needle.

Devil’s Darning Needle – also called Devil’s Hair, Love Vine and Woodbine – is a North American native vine. It is very similar in habit and appearance to the Japanese native, Sweet Autumn Clematis (C. terniflora) that most of us are familiar with, yet Devil’s Darning Needle is not as aggressive and can be better controlled in the landscape. C. virginiana is a vigorous, twining, deciduous vine, growing about 15 feet in a season. This plant is in best form when planted next to a supporting structure such as an arbor, trellis, fence, tree or shrub. Its quick growth rate makes this an excellent choice where quick privacy is needed, such as along a fence, shielding a patio or forming a wall around a deck. If unsupported, it will sprawl along the ground.

What makes this plant so alluring is its annual, overwhelming display of 1 and 1/4 inch, highly fragrant, star-shaped, pure white blossoms produced in billowy masses in the fall followed by ornamental, silvery, plume-like seed heads. Both flowers and seed heads work well in floral arrangements. Either in the yard or in a vase, this prolific bloomer will not disappoint.

Devil’s Darning Needle is easy to grow. As a low-maintenance vine, it is rarely troubled by pests or disease. It performs well in moist to wet soil of average fertility and prefers full sun to part shade, although it will thrive and bloom in considerable shade. Supplemental watering may be necessary during times of drought. In late winter or early spring, prune C. virginiana back hard to about one foot from the ground to encourage spring growth, but be certain to leave at least two strong buds on each stem. During the growing season, monitor the vine if it is growing through a shrub to make certain that the shrub is not being overwhelmed. No special care is needed to trim it back to control size, but it can be pruned for shape if desired.

Devil’s Darning Needle can be an amazing addition to your landscape, and its late summer and early fall beauty is sure to delight just when other plants begin to fade.

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Over-Wintering Container Plants Outdoors

All containerized plants that are considered hardy in your zone can spend the winter outdoors, but you do need to take a little special care to keep them safe and comfortable as temperatures drop. Despite their hardiness, winter is still a challenging season, but it is possible to keep your container plants healthy until the days grow longer and warmer again.

Options to Overwinter Your Container Plants

  • In the late summer or fall, removed the plant from its container and plant it in the ground while the soil is still warm. Another method is to bury the pot, with the plant in it, in the garden and remove the pot following spring. Both of these methods will help insulate the root system, preventing it from freezing solid and killing the root system.
  • Place containerized plants in an unheated garage but along a heated wall. This is an excellent method for very large pots or porous pots that tend to break apart from the constant cycle of freezing and thawing, and so would not be very hardy if buried. For extra root protection and insulation, wrap the pots in plastic bubble wrap or wrap an old comforter or quilt around the pots.
  • Group pots together along the sunny side of your house or shed. If this area is windy, create a windscreen with stakes and burlap. Place bales of straw or hay around the perimeter of the grouping up against the pots to further protect plants from cold winds. Fill in areas between pots with mulch, shredded leaves, grass clippings or hay for insulation. Lay evergreen branches or place a layer of mulch on top of the pots for additional protection.
  • Use a cold frame covered with plastic or Reemay fabric to help control temperatures and reduce light as well, helping plants stay dormant in winter. It will still be necessary to use mulch, shredded leaves or hay around and in-between pots for insulation. Rodent control, such as Havahart traps, may be necessary when using this method.

Watering Container Plants in Winter

Make sure that plants go into the winter with moist soil so that there is water available to plant roots. Check soil moisture occasionally, never allowing it to dry completely. It is also a very good idea to spray needled and broadleaf evergreens with an anti-desiccant. This acts as a protective coating for plant foliage and stems as it helps them retain moisture.

With just a little care and forethought, you can easily prepare containers for winter without risking the plants and arrangements you have so carefully cultivated.

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