The reward of starting seeds

Bloom n gardens seed startingDo you love fresh veggies from the garden? I do.  There is nothing quite like picking a ripe tomato straight off the vine, taste just like summer. …Yum!  Vegetable gardening is an art that has seen some resurrection in the past few years. It seems like everyone is focused on eating healthy and saving money, which bodes well for backyard vegetable plots.  Ask the old farmer when to plant a summer vegetable garden and he will tell you Mother’s Day.  Why Mother’s Day you ask, that is around about the time the soil warms enough making it hospitable for seeds to germinate and roots of transplants thrive and grow.  More technically, for summer vegetables, the soil temperature should be about 60oF. [Read more…]

No “Bones” About It

Belgard paversThere is a very common old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Which we all take to mean it’s what a person has on the inside that counts not the overall outward appearance.  What makes each of us unique is the combination of flesh, bones, and soul that all combines to make us who we are, Individuals.   This same concept can be translated to your homes landscape, as well. I know it might seem like a stretch, but hear me out on this.  Of course, when we first look at a landscape, we hope to see pretty plants, clean beds, and freshly laid straw, these items are known as the “Softscape”. This outward appearance can be fussy, or as low maintenance as you like.  The important thing in making a good first impression is clean and neat, but all the fluff is what takes a landscape from good to great. Think about your morning routine, does it take a little or a lot of effort to create your unique look.  Do you make a good first impression? Let’s hope so. [Read more…]

Focus on “Special Effects” for Your Garden.

Bloom n gardens fat lambNow that March has come in like a lamb, the most exciting (and frustrating) time of the year begins for garden folks.  Every day it seems that something is exploding into bloom, tempting us to put out the summer annuals and tomatoes that are starting to show up in garden centers.  Even though it doesn’t seem possible sometimes, there is always the danger of frost.  So what’s a gardener to do?  Channel that spring energy into inspirations for landscape “special effects”.  Is there a cherry tree right outside your window?  Make it pop by planting some dark evergreens behind.  Are your hellebores blooming beautifully?  Encourage visitors to discover them by adding one of the many fragrant early spring flowering plants nearby.  Looking for ways to accent your garden is also a great way to enjoy the beautiful weather!

The Science Behind the Show: Autumn Color’s Chemical Change

fall-color-mapleHave you booked your leaf viewing trip yet? With the current state of the government many of our beloved treasures may be closed this year.  If you are a fan of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park or any of the National Forests, tourists beware; you very well might be shut out.  Stick close to State Parks and back country roads for the best leaf spotting with minimal hassle. What makes us head to the mountains in droves during leaf season anyway? I know that I love to watch the transformation from green to brilliant hues, leaving me to wonder how autumn color happens in the first place. For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that happen to trees and shrubs in the autumn. Every detail may not yet be revealed, but it is known that three factors influence autumn leaf color; leaf pigments, length of night, and weather. The timing of the color change and leaf fall is primarily regulated by the calendar, that is, the increasing length of night. As days grow shorter, and nights grow longer and cooler, biochemical processes in the leaf begin to paint the landscape with Nature’s autumn palette. A color palette needs pigments, and there are three types that are involved in autumn color.

  • Chlorophyll, which gives leaves their basic green color. It is necessary for photosynthesis, the chemical reaction that enables plants to use sunlight to manufacture sugars for their food. Trees in the temperate zones store these sugars for their winter dormant period.
  • Carotenoids, which produce yellow, orange, and brown colors in such things as corn, carrots, and daffodils, as well as rutabagas, buttercups, and bananas.
  • Anthocyanins, which give color to such familiar things as cranberries, red apples, concord grapes, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, and plums. They are water soluble and appear in the watery liquid of leaf cells.

Both chlorophyll and carotenoids are present in the chloroplasts of leaf cells throughout the growing season. Most anthocyanins are produced in the autumn, in response to bright light and excess plant sugars within leaf cells. During the growing season, chlorophyll is continually being produced and broken down and leaves appear green. As night length increases in the autumn, chlorophyll production slows down and then stops and eventually all the chlorophyll is destroyed. The carotenoids that are present in the leaf are then unmasked and show their colors. As leaves begin the process leading up to their fall, the veins that carry fluids into and out of the leaf gradually close off as a layer of cells forms at the base of each leaf. These clogged veins trap sugars in the leaf and promote the production of anthocyanins. Once this separation layer is complete and the connecting tissues are sealed off, the leaf is ready to fall.

Certain colors are characteristic of particular species. Oaks turn red, brown, or russet; hickories, golden bronze; aspen and yellow-poplar, golden yellow; dogwood, purplish red; beech, light tan; and sourwood and black tupelo, crimson. Maples differ species by species-red maple turns brilliant scarlet; sugar maple, orange-red; and black maple, glowing yellow. Leaves of some species such as the elms simply shrivel up and fall, exhibiting little color other than drab brown. The timing of the color change also varies by species, as best described by Sourwoods and Oaks. These differences in timing among species seem to be genetically inherited. The amount and brilliance of the colors that develop in any particular autumn season are related to weather conditions that occur before and during the time the chlorophyll in the leaves is dwindling. Temperature and moisture are the main influences. Take a look at your garden or landscape and see if you can use the fall color to identify the tree species present.  

Concrete “Trash to Treasure”

          

Recycled Concrete Wall at Callaway Gardens, Sibley Horticultural Center

Recycled Concrete Wall at Callaway Gardens, Sibley Horticultural Center

  On a recent trip to visit my daughter at college, we took in a concert at the outdoor amphitheater.  The band was not that good, but I was very intrigued by the stone work that comprised the main stage and aprons.  From a distance, it appeared to be constructed of natural field stone as the colors varied throughout the facing. However, upon closer inspection, I found it to be recycled concrete. Now I have seen concrete re-purposed before, in fact a classic example lies at Callaway Gardens in the Sibley Horticultural Center.  But the difference there is that the concrete is mixed with real stone to give a much more natural look.  In the amphitheater example, pictured, the walls are completely comprised of broken pieces of concrete. The look comes off as a cross between natural stone and manufactured segmental wall blocks.

            The ecological benefits of using recycled concrete are huge. Since concrete is one of the world’s most popular building materials having a lifespan of 50-75 years before needing to be replaced, the importance of keeping old concrete out of our landfills is paramount.  Additionally, by recycling an existing concrete surface, you eliminate the need to manufacture new concrete material for your wall project, thus eliminating transportation/fuel costs, gravel mining, and water usage.

Amphitheater at Mississippi State University

Amphitheater at Mississippi State University

 

Recycled concrete walls are constructed by using broken up pieces of concrete mortared together to create a wall that uses its own weight for stability.  When constructed, the base will be wider than the top and the wall should angle back into the slope slightly. This type of wall is considered a mass gravity wall and is one of the earliest types of wall construction.  Have you ever seen pictures or visited a site that had old walls outlining the fields?  These are typically mass gravity walls.  The character and charm they create is wonderful and can be imitated quite cost effectively using recycled concrete.

            Constructing recycled concrete walls makes the most sense when you have a source for the concrete readily available.  Keep your eyes out for neighbors replacing driveways or contact contractors who may relish the idea of offloading their debris with you. Better yet, if you can recycle the concrete you already have on site; its carbon footprint is drastically reduced.

It’s August, it is time to plant fall veggies, YUM!

            Over the weekend I made it round to several farmers markets, to include a few International grocery stores, in order to acquire the necessary items needed to begin my yearly task of “putting up” my own pickles and relish.  I love to can all sorts of items, from Jams/Jellies to pickles and soups, which my family can enjoy all year long.  Although I do grow some of my own vegetables, I sometimes just don’t have the yield necessary to do mass canning, so I find it easier to use my local farmer and grocery to help round out my stock.  Typically, I am well aware of what I will pay for the additional produce, but on this trip I was continually confronted with a markedly high rise in costs.   Each time I pulled out my wallet, it reinforced the thought that I really needed to work on my vegetable garden and increase my production.

            You may think it is too late to address your vegetable garden this year, after all tomatoes and cucumbers were planted way back in April and May and there is no chance of starting any of those now, Right? True, but did you know a whole new crop of veggies can be started in August.  Now is the time to start seeds of winter vegetables. Below is a brief list, just to name a few.


Great fall veggies, some are planted by seeding, others by transplant. All Delicious!

  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Garlic
  • Lettuce
  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • Parsnip
  • Cabbage
  • Turnip

              By August, many of us have lost the steam needed to keep a vegetable garden going year round, but with our grocery budgets shrinking, you may want to reconsider.  Growing fall vegetables is not at all difficult, and working in a fall garden can be a lot more enjoyable than your summer plot.  Cooler temperatures and bug free environments can be thanked for that. Fall gardening is not much different than summer gardening, to get started you will want to transfer the old spent summer vegetables to the compost bin after you have completed your harvest. Next you need to replenish the nutrients of your soil with some new compost and start your seeds and install your transplants.  What could be simpler? A good trick to extend the harvest of many of your vegetables is to add row covers to your vegetable plot.  If using, it is best to construct your framework now prior to sowing, that way you will be ready to add the frost protection when needed.  Now that you have completed the work, sit back and know that you will have fresh vegetables into the fall and won’t have to rely on the supermarket quite as much.

Shot Hole Borer Attacks Stressed/Weakend Trees

Have you ever witnessed a relatively healthy tree seemingly die overnight, or so it appeared.  Well this is exactly the experience we had recently at a client’s home.  Granted it really didn’t die overnight, but the death was relatively quick.  The exact tree in question was an ornamental weeping cherry tree that was fairly young, approximately 5” in diameter.  From examination, I found tiny round holes all through the bark almost as if a BB gun had attacked the tree Al Capone style.  This is a distinct indicator of Shot Hole Borer. 

Shot hole borer (Scolytus rugulosus) is a bark beetle that lives between the bark and the surface of the wood where it can feed on the succulent phloem tissue.  The larvae overwinter in this space and emerge in spring into early summer to feed at the base of the leaves or small twigs until it is time to tunnel back into the bark.  The adult beetles will then create galleries parallel to the grain and lay approximately 50 eggs. The larvae will then expand the tunnels at right angles to the primary tunnel which effectively girdles the plant. After pupating the beetles will burrow exit holes in the bark to start the cycle all over again.  The numerous entrance and exit holes are the defining characteristic of the infestation.  Two life-cycles can effectively occur each year creating havoc in our landscapes

In Atlanta, we experienced a severe drought, in the mid 2000’s, that lasted several years.  Witnessing a Shot Hole Borer infestation is just one indicator that our trees are under stress.  Unfortunately there is little remedy for Shot Hole Borer except to keep trees healthy and vigorous.  Good watering practices along with a consistent fertilization program will help to aid trees recover from stressful situations like drought.  It is important to remove and burn any infected trees in winter before the adult beetles can emerge in spring.  Shot Hole Borer is mainly a problem in fruit trees like apple, pear, cherry, and plum.

The Secrets Behind a Life with Bees

bee swarm in georgia

Bees swarm together to create a new hive or continue the work of their current one.

What would you do if you came across a swarm of bees?

Recently, a Facebook friend posted this picture of a swarm he stumbled across; it quickly received comments of “EWWW!,” “Yikes!,” and “OMG!” Yet, before you let the image on your screen cause you to panic or recoil, keep in mind the important role that bees play every year in Georgia ecosystem and beyond.

How important are bees to Georgia gardens and ecosystems?

Bees are an integral part of pollination as well as the creating force behind the honey and wax that is used to make many products we love. It is a shame that many view the site of them with fear. The importance of bees is most evident in ecosystems largely comprised of flowering plants, including vegetables (Think about your beautiful flower beds and vegetable gardens). It is estimated that a third of our food is pollinated by bees, which are commercially produced by skilled bee keepers.

A day in the life of a bee

In a bee colony there are three types of bees, of course there is your regal queen, whose only responsibility is to mate with the drones (male bees) and lay eggs, all other work, from gathering to tending the young and cleaning the hive, is left to the non reproductive females of the group called worker bees.  The bees spend much of their time foraging plants and collecting pollen that will then be converted into honey.  An indirect result of their foraging is the pollination of plants, essentially the pollen from one flower or plant is transported to another flower or plant in order to fertilize the ovule and create a new plant.  Bees gather the pollen to create the honey as a way to store food for the colder months when pollen is not available.

Being a good bee neighbor

In spring, a colony may decide to swarm. Effectively, about 60% of the worker bees will follow the old queen out of the hive in order to find a new home. The old hive will then choose a new queen from one of the females born and the hive will march on without missing a beat.  It is a natural way for colonies to reproduce.

In the last decade, bee colonies have experienced colony decline, a phenomenon where the bee colony will seem to suddenly die off.  Termed Colony Collapse Disorder, it is not entirely clear why it happens or how to control it, but research continues to work to save the bees.

Instead of viewing bees with fear, start to think of how you can work toward saving the bees.  Start with creating bee friendly habitats that have lots of flowers, limit pesticide use, or take a class in bee keeping and install your own back yard hive. In the end, you’ll be helping the Georgia eco-system, working with your bee neighbors, and helping  your garden with a few extra pollination helpers.

 

Outdoor Entertaining: Lighting the Perfect Al Fresco Dining Space

I don’t know about yours, but with all the rain we have had this spring, utilizing my patio has not been on the forefront of my mind. I typically love to entertain and dine al fresco; one of the cornerstones of my garden is a a wonderful outdoor kitchen that my family loves to utilize just about every night. Hopefully, the constant rain showers will soon come to a close and we can again enjoy our patio regularly. To help welcome the sunshine back, I’m making some changes and upgrades to the space to make it more appealing and functional.

patio lighting in Georgia

Creating a welcoming, functional space with the proper lighting for your outdoor area.

Add ambiance and functionality through proper lighting

One element that I will be adding this year in order to extend the use of my outdoor space is landscape lighting. You might see this a frivolous add on, but it can really help to get the most out of the investment you make in your landscape.

I have friends that drag out a multitude of tiny strings of white lights (think Christmas lights) every time they want to throw a big party. This is a great way to get started lighting the landscape, but setting up the lights each time can be very time consuming, not to mention that these types of lights seem to wear out quickly and, in the long run, can be very expensive.

Understand your patio lighting options

When looking at landscape lighting, think beyond the flood lamps that are installed for security.  There are uplights, downlights, and lanterns offering you the perfect option for any situation. All you need to get started is an electrical receptacle, transformer, wire and few fixtures.

Tips from the team

When designing your outdoor lightscape, a few tips will help you achieve professional results:

  1. Make sure to maintain proper voltages. Improper voltage amounts will shorten the life of your fixtures and transformer.
  2. Use enough variety in your fixture types to make things interesting.
  3. Avoid too much symmetry; this is especially important when utilizing path lights. Straight lines can be reminiscent of a landing strip, and can be avoided by staggering lights.
  4. Balance your lighting across your space to avoid dividing your garden up.

If you want a more intricate landscape lighting design, or aren’t too sure of yourself when it comes to electricity in an outdoor space, it is always best to seek the assistance of a professional. In the end, a properly done lightscape can increase your overall enjoyment of your outdoor space, thus maximizing the investment you have made into your home.