garden lovers

Gardening Tips That Don't Have A Root To Stand On

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10 Garden Myths Debunked

Many of the garden tips and tricks floating around out there have been passed down through generations, spread by word of mouth or found on the Internet. Many gardeners tend to rely on these methods and some of them are accurate and incredibly helpful, however there are a few, very common tricks that are actually big misconceptions. These misconceptions act as more of a hindrance than a helpful garden hack. Let’s expose these common garden myths and make your gardening experience a whole lot easier for next season.

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Most people believe that adding a layer of gravel or stone at the bottom of a container will help improve drainage. I have actually heard this tip a number of times and I have tried it but with no avail. The gravel you place at the bottom of your planter will actually prevent free drainage and lead to moisture collecting around the roots. To avoid the inevitable root rot and disease, use a container with a drainage hole as well as a good potting mix. It has been said that planting “smelly” plants around the outside of your garden will keep deer and other pests away. I have been struggling with keeping deer out of my garden for some time now, and I can tell you first hand that smelly plants do not do the trick. The deer are smart and they quickly learn to simply walk around the smelly plants to get to feast on your garden. Click here for some alternative methods to keep the deer from invading your outdoor space.

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There seems to be a lot of misconceptions regarding the fertilization of plants as well as lawns. Some people believe that since a little fertilizer is good for the plants, then adding more will work better. This is incredibly wrong. Adding too much fertilizer to your plants will fry the roots as well as stunt the plants natural growth habit. Most fertilizers have a high content of nitrogen; too much will result in a lot of thick foliage but no blossoms or fruit. The excess fertilizer can also wash into the ground water, which has been causing problems for local bodies of water throughout the state. Too much fertilizer on your lawn will result in burning; your green grass will look like straw.

Many gardeners want to have a drought-tolerant garden. This is mainly due to the misconception that these drought-tolerant plants require no water. Drought-tolerant does not mean: “no water required” it simply means that the plant requires less watering than others. No matter what, all plants need regular water until the plant is well established. Certain plants do become drought-tolerant after they are established, but they still require occasional watering. Especially in the heat of summer, make sure you are watering your drought-tolerant plants moderately. When it comes to watering lawns, there are many opinions on the best time to complete this task. Most people tend to believe that watering at night will help save water and keep the grass healthy. However, if you are watering your lawn at night, the water will sit on the lawn throughout the evening and thus inviting mildew and fungal diseases. In truth, it is best to water your lawn in the morning, giving it more than enough time to dry before nightfall.

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Gardeners everywhere love using mulch in the garden, however most people believe that the mulch should be piled up against the shrubs to keep them healthy and protected from possible winter damage. This is also false, Mulch helps retain moisture and keeping the plant material constantly damp can lead to a number of diseases and fungus. When mulching in your garden, be sure to keep it a few inches from the trunk of your plant material. There is another misconception that sand will improve the quality of clay soil. Adding sand to clay soil will result in your soil having consistency comparable to mortar. The best way to improve clay soil is by introducing organic material, compost or finely chopped bark will do the trick. English ivy can be invasive but is not a parasitic plant, as some believe. It can grow up to 90 feet and kills other plants by blocking out the sunlight necessary for success.

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Most people tend to believe that sterilizing their garden tools with a bleach and water mixture works the best. Bleach is actually corrosive and will gradually ruin the quality of your tools. Some alternatives are rubbing alcohol, Listerine, Lysol or WD40 – these products are relatively safe to use in small quantities. Always make sure that you sharpen and clean your garden tools regularly - this will help to avoid spreading any fungus or disease to your other plant materials. Another tip most gardeners tend to follow is that young newly planted trees should always be staked. The truth is allowing the young tree to move freely allows it to grow stronger and sturdier. If you are planting your new tree in a fairly windy spot or if the tree tends to be top-heavy, it can be loosely staked with a flexible and soft material. Make sure that the stake isn’t in place for longer than six months. 

Use the tips we have listed in this article to help avoid these common garden myths. If you are unsure of a garden hack that a friend or relative mentioned to you, a little research won’t hurt. As landscape designers, we love our gardens as much as you do! We want to make sure that your gardening experience is as relaxing, enjoyable, successful and most importantly, SAFE. We all can’t wait for the next gardening season, but keep these tips in mind and if you have any proven garden hacks or other myths to be debunked, please post them in the comment section on our Facebook.

 

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DIY: At Home Soil Tests

Testing Your Soil: Texture and pH Level

By: Lauren M. Liff for Dabah Landscape Designs

 

            The soil in your garden is extremely important to your plants: it provides nourishment during the growing season, protects the roots in the winter and allows them to grow and reach their full potential. Testing your soil regularly can help ensure that the plants in your garden are happy and healthy year round. Knowing what type of soil is in your landscape and knowing the pH level of that soil is more important than most people would think. The pH level of your soil effects what nutrients are present and how available they are for your landscape plants. Although soil tests are usually inexpensive, it does require money nonetheless – not to mention time to receive your results. In this article I’m going to explain a step-by-step method to test your soils pH level and texture without a kit. With this DIY soil test you’ll be able to learn what amendments you need to make to provide your plants with a healthy soil environment and allow for maximum plant growth.

            The pH level of your soil is key; when the pH level rises, nutrients like phosphorus and iron (for example) become less available. When the pH level drops, you run the risk of your soil becoming toxic and causing harm to your plant material.  Each plant has a preference in terms of the pH level of the soil; most plants do well in a slightly acidic environment with a pH of 6.0 – 6.5. Some plants however, like hollies and azaleas, thrive in a more acidic environment. Knowing the acidity level of your soil will help you to identify and fix any deficiencies that may be present.  This DIY pH test is very simple: all you need is vinegar, baking soda, distilled water and of course, soil!

Step 1: Collect 1 cup of soil – for the most accurate results collect samples from different spots in your garden. Try to dig at least 6 inches down to collect your samples.

Step 2: Mix your soil samples together thoroughly; get two empty containers and put 2 teaspoons of your soil sample into each container

Step 3: Add a ½ cup of vinegar to one of the cups of soil

**If the mixture starts to fizz then you have alkaline soil – a pH between 7 and 8**

Step 4: Add distilled water to the other container of soil – enough to make the soil muddy

Step 5: Add a ½ cup of baking soda to the muddy mixture

**If the mixture starts to fizz then you have acidic soil – a pH between 5 and 6**

**If your soil doesn’t fizz at all in either container then the soil is neutral with a pH of 7**

 

            Now that we know roughly the pH level of your soil, let’s take a look at the soil texture. Soil is made up of 3 main components: clay, sand and silt. Knowing the texture of your soil will show you how your soil absorbs water and what you will need to use to amend it (compost, mulch, or manure for example).  The ideal mix of these 3 components would be: 20% clay, 40% silt and 40% sand – this would be considered a loam soil which is the ideal soil texture. All you need for this soil texture test is a clean jar with a tight lid (a pint or quart mason jar works the best), water, dish soap and soil. 

Step 1: Collect soil samples from your garden (if you did the pH test you can use the leftover soil) – and using a mason jar, fill it halfway with soil.

Step 2: Fill the jar with water so that it is about ¾ full then add in a teaspoon of liquid dish soap.

Step 3: Tighten the lid and shake the jar for several minutes to mix up the particles.

Step 4: Put your jar aside and let it sit for several hours to give the particles time to settle

Step 5: Use the soil textural triangle to calculate your gardens' soil texture

 

            The particles will separate into layers: the heaviest particles will sink to the bottom – this will be the sand layer, next will be the silt layer, and on top will be the clay particles. Any organic matter in the soil will float to the top of the jar. The color of the soil itself will tell you about the organic matter content of your soil. Lighter soils have less organic matter and darker soils will warm up faster in the spring. 

            The longer you wait for soil test to settle, the more accurate your reading will be. When I did this test I left my soil sample to sit for just about 24 hours and then took the reading the following afternoon. You can use a ruler to measure your layers: take the measurement of each layer and divide it by the measurement of all 3 layers combined and multiply by 100 to get the percentage. You can use a permanent marker to mark off the layers to make the measuring a bit easier. Once you have your percentages, you can use the soil textural triangle (pictured below) to decipher what kind of soil you have; simply plot your percentages on the triangle to find your exact soil texture. Once you have found your soil texture, you will be able to plan a course of action to amend it (if needed).

 

            Based on your soil pH reading and the results from your texture test you will know what amendments need to be made to ensure that your soil is as healthy as it can be for your plants. You can test your soil yearly if significant amendments need to be made or you can test it as needed. If you do decide to test your soil regularly, it’s best to test it in the fall and any amendments you need to make should be done in the spring. These tests are very easy to do and will tell you a lot about your garden; the more you know about your soil, the easier it will be to provide your plants with the healthiest growing environment.