Gardening Essentials

Friday, December 11th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Living Christmas trees are now available. The slower growing spruces can be used for several Christmases before you need to plant them.
    • Dogwood trees, flowering magnolias (or tulip trees), and Japanese maples are some of the balled and burlapped items you will find available now.
    • Wind chimes make wonderful gifts that fill the air with music whenever the wind blows.
    • Fruit trees can be planted now from containers while the soil is easy to dig.
    • Dress up your interior landscape with some new houseplants for the holidays ahead.

Gardening Essentials

At heart, garden people are plant people. But dedicated gardeners also know the pleasure of quality garden tools. Cheap tools bend and break and can be the source of much frustration. A good garden tool is something to treasure.

The spade, the shovel and the spading fork are three primary tools with overlapping functions. The spade is essential for “double-digging”, for loosening the soil and for incorporating organic materials. The spading fork is easiest to use in light loamy or sandy soils, or in heavy soil that has been well-worked. The pointed-blade shovel can do both jobs and is generally the first choice of the beginning gardener. It serves the additional purpose of moving gravel and sand.

Hand tools are essential for all gardeners. Choose the best aluminum or steel-bladed trowel available. Flimsy, low-priced tools won’t last one single use in tough soil – they just bend out of shape. A hand trowel, a 3-pronged cultivator and a weeder make a nice “tool trio”. The Japanese Hori-Hori weeder knife is especially strong and versatile.

Another fine gift is a good pair of hand shears. Beginning gardeners usually choose the anvil type, in which the blade comes down on a soft steel “anvil.” This type will cut larger branches without springing the blade. The more experienced gardeners like the scissor or “bypass” shear which makes a clean cut every time. New shears have handles curved to fit your hand, which are more comfortable than the old designs and leave you with fewer blisters. Top quality Felco shears are made with replaceable blades and are built to last a lifetime.

Bonsai enthusiasts will enjoy a ceramic pot or specialty tool, or a new book with instructions and ideas for interesting forms to work with. There are books at the nursery on a dozen subjects from garden pools, landscaping and pruning to the newest “Western Garden Book” and “How to Grow More Vegetables.”

Bird feeders provide hours of entertainment for older folks and housebound people. Not only will they have the joy of watching wild birds, but you will be helping them with baby bird care and raising their young through the fledging stage. Hummingbird feeders attract those colorful birds to your patio year-round.

Bulbs can still be planted for spring flowers. Daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and crocus bring cheerful color to the garden after a long, cold winter. Holiday Amaryllis in gift boxes make nice gifts at a reasonable price.

Add a gardening calendar and you and your gardening friends can look forward to another great year of gardening pleasures. The “2010 Garden Calendar” from Ecology Action has a handy “things to do” list for each month. The “Gardening by the Moon” Calendar gives detailed timing for appropriate gardening activities, and the “Old Farmer’s Almanac” is a helpful and fun book to have on hand.

We wish you all a very happy holiday season, and hope we can help you be successful gardeners in the year ahead!

Bird Gardens

Friday, October 16th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Garlic cloves can be planted now. Keep them watered and weeded through the winter and you will harvest healthy large bulbs next June.
    • Chrysanthemums are the brightest flowers for the fall garden. Plant some now.
    • Naked lady amaryllis have lovely, fragrant pink flowers that bloom in late summer with little or no care. Plant the bulbs, available at local nurseries, now.
    • Seed slopes with annual ryegrass to prevent erosion and improve the soil for later plantings.
    • Fragrant hyacinths make a colorful display in a garden bed, or can be grown in pots. They come in red, pink, blue and white and can be planted now.

Attract migrating birds to your garden

Many different birds pass through our area each year, sharing their colorful plumage and distinctive songs with bird watchers. Birds offer us our best chance to observe wild creatures close at hand. To attract birds to your garden, you need to create a habitat that contains the resources that they need: food, water and shelter.

The best way to attract birds is to offer them something that they have trouble finding in your neighborhood. If there is no water around, put out a birdbath or build a small pond. Birds are strongly attracted to the sound of running water. A small fountain or tinkling little waterfall is sure to bring them to your yard.

If there are no winter berries in your area, plant a pyracantha or holly bush and they will come. If you have an open yard, plant shrub borders along one side and trees beside the shrubs. Create an island of trees, shrubs, and flowers and add a birdbath and you will be providing birds with a wealth of food, water and cover.

Plants offer birds food, shelter and nesting sites. Birds favor areas where different kinds of vegetation come together. Trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses and vines offer a variety of advantages to birds.

Seeds come from annuals, perennials, grasses and evergreen trees. You will have to let your flowers dry and go to seed to make food for the birds. Gloriosa daisy, purple coneflower, asters, coreopsis, sunflowers and ornamental grasses are excellent seed sources. Cone-bearing evergreens attract finches and crossbills.

There are many shrubs that have winter berries. Nandina, holly, viburnums, pyracantha, Japanese barberry, privets, dogwood, hawthorn and crabapples, to name a few. A few vines make berries that are attractive to birds. These include English ivy and Virginia creeper. As vines get large and bushy they provide a pleasant place for birds to take cover as well.

Of course there are a wide variety of bird feeders to attract birds also. Nuthatches, titmice and chickadees visit seed feeders, suet and even seed tables and ground food. Sociable finches love niger thistle, which needs a special feeder. Robins and towhees will come to feeding tables and are attracted to peanuts and dried fruit.

Whether you are creating a new landscape or making changes in an old one, try to attract the birds to areas where they are visible from a window. Most birds prefer shaggy shrubbery, so let the plants grow naturally.

Few birds are comfortable feeding or drinking in the open for very long. Most birds prefer to have cover nearby to hide quickly from dangers. Place bird feeders and baths so the birds can reach shrubbery in a moment but not so close that a cat can pounce on them from a hiding place.

Fall is a good time to create a bird habitat, or to make plans for planting one next year.