Urban Garden

Pets, Places, & Things, Urban Garden

Taking Care of Tannenbaum!

By Dr. Gary Chastagner and Dr. Eric Hinesley Use lots of water! When a Christmas tree is cut, more than half its weight is water. With proper care, you can maintain the quality of your tree. Below are a number of tips on caring for your tree: -Displaying trees in water in a traditional reservoir type stand is the most effective way of maintaining their freshness and minimizing needle loss problems. -To display the trees indoors, use a stand with an adequate water holding capacity for the tree. As a general rule, stands should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Devices are available that help maintain a constant water level in the stand. -Use a stand that fits your tree. Avoid whittling the sides of the trunk down to fit a stand. The outer layers of wood are the most efficient in taking up water and should not be removed. -Make a fresh cut to remove about a 1/2-inch thick disk of wood from the base of the trunk before putting the tree in the stand. Make the cut perpendicular to the stem axis. Don’t cut the trunk at an angle, or into a v-shape, which makes it far more difficult to hold the tree in the stand and also reduces the amount of water available to the tree. -Drilling a hole in the base of the trunk does NOT improve water uptake. -Once home, place the tree in water as soon as possible. Most species can go 6 to 8 hours after cutting the trunk and still take up water. Don’t bruise the cut surface or get it dirty. If needed, trees can be temporarily stored for several days in a cool location. Place the freshly cut trunk in a bucket that is kept full…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Urban Garden

Fruits of the Fall

The Fruits Some years are better than others, but if you plant enough varieties, you’re bound to get something delicious in return. Apples. Pears. Peaches. Blueberries. Blackberries. Raspberries. Grapes. Pumpkin. Onions. Tomatoes. Leeks. It’s easy to make pies from many of the autumn harvests. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the mix, even try odd, but delicious combinations like pumpkin and grapes, or onion and apples; make it savory with some sauteed chicken with garlic, applesauce, a squeeze of lemon and a touch of whisky or pernod. Yarrow in the American Landscape Believed to be both a plant foretelling the future and a medicine, the Yarrow plant falls into that strange category of ubiquitous or ‘common’ plants that brings centuries of migration and cohabitation to light. Yarrow lives all over the world, and has become a companion plant for countless cultures. Fifty-eight stalks are needed to ask a question of the ancient Chinese oracle, the I Ching. It is easy to harvest your Yarrow for this purpose and properly prepared bundles of fifty-eight stalks make great gifts. In the Americas, different traditions portend and retell a time when the Yarrow stalks are drying in the foothill sun, giving us the color and feel of Thanksgiving and plenty seed for next year. During the gold rush in the West, including the mineral rich rivers of the Sierra and Northern California’s Trinity and Klammath river canyons, Chinese workers and artisans would gather the yarrow each autumn for philosophical activities. With extremely strong cultural ties to ancient traditions of profound thought and artistic accomplishment, finding, gathering and using an ancient companion plant in a new land was one of the simple ways to help keep the community close even in times of strife and uncertainty. The landscapes we live in are all too…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Urban Garden

How to Pick the Perfect Pumpkin

by Bob Matthews Going out to a pumpkin patch to pick pumpkins, is a fun filled rite of the fall season. Whether you go out to a field filled with pumpkins, or get them from a roadside stand, we want to be certain that you get the absolutely best pumpkin for carving, decorating and eating! Pumpkins are called “Long keepers”. A healthy, uncarved pumpkin can last to Thanksgiving and beyond. How to Select the Perfect Pumpkin: -Select a pumpkin that is completely orange. A partially green pumpkin might not ripen any further. -Size is an important factor. Medium pumpkins are best for pumpkin carving. Small pumpkins are better for cooking. -Do not pick a pumpkin that is too big for you to carry, especially if you have back problems. -Does the shade of orange matter? If so, there are hundreds of varieties, some with different shades of orange. -Selecting the shape is a matter of personal preference. Some like ’em tall. Others, like ’em round. -Often, people select shapes to fit the carving patterns they will use. Pick your pattern before you go. -Do not lift or carry a pumpkin by its stem. The pumpkin stem gives it character. -A ripe pumpkin has a hard shell that does not dent or scratch easily when pressing on it with a thumbnail. Do this on the back or bottom of the fruit…….never on the face. -Examine the entire pumpkin carefully for soft spots. If you find even one soft spot, go on to the next pumpkin. -Check the pumpkin for cracks and splits. If you find one, examine it to be sure it is not turning into a soft spot or has mold inside of the crack. -Look for bugs and insects. Specifically, look for holes in the pumpkin, which are indicative…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Urban Garden

Refresh, Research & Carry Over!

By Jacqueline Murphy It’s September already and your garden may be looking a little fatigued, which is entirely natural. Soon it will be time to put it to bed for its winter rest. This does not mean, however, that you should toss aside your tools and put up your feet for the season. Whether your garden consists of a window box or two or a spacious yard, there is work to be done yet. If you must take a rest before starting on the more arduous tasks to hand, use that quiet time to cast a discerning eye upon the fruits of your labor to date. I like to assess the previous growing season and mentally catalog what worked well, what didn’t, what needs to be divided, pruned, etc., and start thinking about what I want to accomplish next year. Refresh worn-out plantings. September is also a good time to consider sprucing up a tired design with some late season color, either by adding some annuals (pansies, snapdragons, stock, ornamental kale) perennials (asters, mums, ornamental grasses), or woody plants that will offer some structure and visual interest into the winter months (camellia, beautyberry, hypericum, oakleaf hydrangea). Do your research. No idea what these plants look like, you say? Looking at photos in books and on the Internet is nice but it’s so much better to see the plants in situ in a well-tended garden. If you live in Alexandria, you won’t have far to go. Chances are very good that there are some fabulous gardens on your street. Most gardeners I know are delighted to show off their handiwork and discuss their triumphs with admirers so trot over and chat them up. If you’re too shy to quiz your neighbors about their horticultural endeavors, head to the nearest garden center…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Urban Garden

Preserving Your Summer Garden Produce for Delicious Winter Meals

By Melinda Myers All your hard work is paying off with a bountiful harvest. Fresh produce is filling your garden, countertops, and refrigerator while the garden keeps producing more. Preserve some of your harvest to enjoy throughout the winter with some tried-and-true or updated variation of food preservation techniques. Hanging bundles of herbs to dry is a long-time practice that works. Harvest herbs in the morning just after the dew has dried off the leaves. Rinse, allow them to dry, and remove any damaged or dried leaves. Gather the dry herbs into small bundles and secure with a rubber band. Use a spring-type clothespin to hang the bundles from a clothesline or hanger in a warm, dry, airy place out of direct sunlight. A modern twist on this tradition is the space-saving Stack!t Herb Drying Rack (gardeners.com) hung from the ceiling. You will be able to dry large quantities of herbs in any narrow, out-of-the-way space. Extend the life, flavor, and nutritional value of squash with proper harvesting and storage. Only store blemish- and damage-free fruits and vegetables to reduce the risk of mold and decay developing during storage. Harvest zucchini when the fruit is six to eight inches long and scalloped squash when three to six inches in diameter. Store these in a plastic bag inside the vegetable crisper drawer in your refrigerator for several days. Wait to harvest winter squash when the fruit is full-sized, and the rinds are firm and glossy. The portion touching the ground turns from cream to orange when the fruit is ripe. Use a pruner to harvest the fruit, leaving a one-inch stem on each fruit. Cure all winter squash, except for acorn, in a warm, humid location. Then move to a cool, dry, well-ventilated area to store for several months.  In the…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Urban Garden

July In the Garden

Thanks to our friends at GardenHelper.com, here are a few gardening tasks and projects that you can do to help keep your garden looking it’s best for the rest of this season as well as what you can do to make sure your garden comes back in full force next spring. We have been utilizing the “expertise” of these “experts” off and on for several years. Watering The amount of water that your garden will need is going to depend on the weather conditions in your area. The primary rule of summer watering is to water thoroughly and deeply each time and to allow the soil dry out between waterings. Deep watering will allow the plant’s roots to grow deeper, where they are less likely to dry out, as well as the added benefit of anchoring the plant into the ground better. Light, surface watering actually wastes water, because the water never actually reaches the root zone of the plant, and the moisture rapidly evaporates from the top inch of soil. The best way to tell if your plants are receiving enough water is to take a trowel or shovel and dig down a few inches. The soil should be moist at least 3 or 4 inches deep to insure that the water is reaching the root zone of the plants. Of course, if you planted drought resistant plants in your garden, you won’t have to water as often, but the principal of deep watering still applies. As the weather dries out, your container plants may need daily watering, especially if the pots are exposed to the drying sunlight. Push your finger into the soil in your container plantings at least once a day (more often on hot, dry days) to feel for moisture and be certain that plants are…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Urban Garden

Take It Up a Notch Out Back – Adding Appeal to your Patio or Deck

By Melinda Myers Summer means time spent gardening and relaxing with friends.  And just like the kitchen in winter, the patio or deck tends to be the gathering spot when the weather turns warm. Get the most from this space with a bit of preseason planning and decorating.  Select functional and beautiful furnishings to create a special spot for you, family and friends to enjoy whenever the weather allows. First, sketch out the space and measure the dimensions of all furnishings you are considering, making sure they will fit.  Allow extra space for people to pull chairs in and out from the table and navigate around furnishings, preferably 3 to 4 feet. Next, select a table that fits the space and provides ample serving space.  An extension table allows you to expand your surface if a few more folks drop by.  A round folding table provides space for guests, and it can be stashed against the wall when workspace is needed. Small and large-space gardeners will enjoy the benefits of elevated gardens with built-in trellises.  These maximize growing space even on a small deck or patio and bring the garden to the party. Look for self-watering planters and especially those with wheels so you can easily move them out of the way of a family gathering or closer to the kitchen for easy harvesting. Include a multifunctional piece like a potting bench.  Look for a versatile and well-built, furniture-quality piece like that complements other furnishings and can be used as a serving surface when entertaining.  Consider features like a faucet for washing and watering that drains into a bucket or the ground, as well as hooks for hanging tools and baskets and space for storage. Bring nature to your door and mask unwanted background noise with the soothing sound of…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Urban Garden

Designing a Beautiful Garden for You and the Pollinators

By Melinda Myer You don’t need a prairie or large lot to attract and support pollinators. A meadow or informal, formal and even container gardens can bring in bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to help pollinate plants. It’s just a matter of selecting the right plants, adjusting your maintenance practices, and skipping the pesticides. Create your garden by converting a few square feet of lawn, garden bed or front yard into a pollinator-friendly garden. You may want to start by switching out part of an existing garden or container to more pollinator-friendly flowers. Expand your planting options by converting a portion of your lawn into a pollinator garden. Outline the bed with a hose or rope. Remove the sod, add compost as needed to improve drainage and you’ll be ready to plant. Simplify and dress up your efforts by using an easy-to-assemble raised garden kit like the Pollinator Garden Bed (gardeners.com). Its long-lasting cedar planks slide into aluminum corners to create a hexagonal bed. Get creative while increasing the garden’s size by adding additional sections to create a honeycomb or other interesting design. Mark the outline of the raised bed you select. Cut the grass short and cover with newspaper. Set your raised bed in place and fill with a quality planting mix. Mulch four to six inches surrounding the raised bed for ease of mowing and to eliminate the need to hand trim. Once your planting bed is prepared, you’re ready to plant. Include single daisy-like black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, and asters that allow visiting insects to rest and warm when sipping on nectar or dining on pollen.  Add a few tubular flowers for butterflies and hummingbirds. They both like bright colors and can be seen visiting salvias, penstemon and nasturtiums.  And don’t forget the bees that are attracted to bright…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Urban Garden

Spring Has Sprung…

As you begin your quest for the perfect garden, don’t overdo it! It’s probably been a few months since you gave those muscles and bones a good workout, so start out slowly and avoid that Monday morning backache. Because the world has such a multitude of microclimates, it would be impossible to create a list of gardening tasks that would cover everyone. Therefore, this monthly list is based on general weather patterns for the northern United States (zones 6-8). Much of the information may also be useful for other areas of the world in coming months. Here are a few April garden projects that you can do to help keep your garden looking its best the rest of this season. Shrubs and Trees There still is time to plant trees and shrubs. However, by mid-month it will be a little late to transplant large trees or shrubs, so do them now. The months of March, April and May are ideal for pruning evergreens. So if you have a Juniper, Cypress or conifer that need shearing or pruning this is a good time to accomplish this task. Remove all dead, diseased, and undesirable wood. However, do not prune back into the bare wood part of the plant. Prune your Forsythia after it finishes flowering and remember that broadleaf and needle leaf evergreens benefit most from lightly spreading a high nitrogen fertilizer around their bases. Perennials, Annuals, and Bulbs April is the month for planting summer flowering bulbs like http://www.thegardenhelper.com/bulbsrhizomes.htmldahlias, gladiolas and lilies. Mix bulb fertilizer, processed manure and peat moss into the planting soil. Tuberous Begonias and Canna should not be set outdoors until all danger of frost has passed, so wait until next month. Plant annual seeds of asters, cosmos, marigolds, zinnias in the garden. When all frost danger has…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Urban Garden

How to Grow a Shamrock!

In the spirit of the month of March and one of the Old Town Crier’s favorite celebration days – St. Patrick’s Day – here is the annual scoop on what you need to know and a couple of secrets to growing these lucky plants! Stories have it that shamrocks won’t grow any place other than in Irish dirt. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. The word, “shamrock” is the English form of the Irish word “seamrog,” which means “little clover” and clover is something that grows just about everywhere. If you’d like to grow shamrock, also known as “white clover,” you’ll find it to be a fun and flowering, low maintenance plant. Read on to learn how to grow shamrock: Select a good plant by looking for one with new growth, a few flower buds just opening and more ready to bloom. You can grow shamrock from seed, but starting with a plant is much more reliable.   While it can be grown outside, it does best indoors. Shamrock needs bright light (not full sun) and moist, well-drained soil until its two- or three-month dormancy period in the winter. That’s when you’ll need to keep the plant in a cool, dry area and the soil barely moist until spring when watering should resume.   Place plants in trays or flower boxes for best results. Shamrock grows from the tip by sending out runners that take root. Being in containers allow the tips to make contact with the soil to produce the runners.   Keep your plants cool at night, about 50 to 65 F and don’t let them get any warmer than 70 to 75 F during the day. Plants habitually exposed to warmer environments will go dormant quicker.   Fertilize your shamrock once a month during the…

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