horticulture

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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The Colorful Science Behind Autumn Foliage

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Why Do Leaves Change Color In The Fall?

By: Lauren M. Liff for Dabah Landscape Designs

 

            As we inch closer to the fall and the hot summer heat turns into a cool autumn breeze, all eyes gaze upon the trees in anticipation for their bright seasonal color show. When the bright blossom colors of summer begin to fade and plants begin their transition into dormancy, the trees push out one last seasonal spectacular burst of color before their leaves drop. There’s no question that people everywhere admire the fall for this beautiful transformation, but why and how does it happen? The science behind the colorful changing leaves of fall is actually quite remarkable.

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            During the growing season, the leaves act essentially as a small factory; this is where the nutrients essential to a tree’s growth are manufactured. The cells within each leave contain chlorophyll, which gives the leaf its green color. Chlorophyll absorbs the energy from the sunlight that is used to transform carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates like sugars and starch. Aside from the green pigment in the foliage, there are also yellow to orange pigments (carotenes and xanthophyll pigments) that are overpowered by the green coloring during the growing season. These pigments, for example, are what make carrots orange.

            When fall arrives it brings with it shorter days and cooler temperatures causing the leaves to stop making food for the trees as they prepare for dormancy. As a result, the chlorophyll begins to break down and the amount of green color deteriorates leaving the yellow to orange pigments free to shine. But not all trees are coated with the same dazzling colored foliage and that is because there is a miniature art class that’s taking place within the leaves! As the chlorophyll breaks down, red anthocyanin pigments are developed which create the beautiful reds and purples. The pigments mix and mash to create that brilliant array of autumn tones. Some mixtures create the red and purple colors seen on dogwoods and sumacs while other mixtures cause the sugar maple to adorn that beautiful orange. Other trees will show mostly yellow leaves while still others, like oak trees, will show mostly browns. This varying color pallet is all due to the pigments mixing together in different amounts.

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            Weather also can affect the intensity of the fall foliage colors. Factors like temperature, light and water supply can impact the degree and duration of the fall color show. Low temperatures that are above freezing will aid in anthocyanin formation, creating the bright reds more commonly seen in maples. However this bright red color could be weakened by an early frost. A significant number of rainy or overcast days could increase the brightness of the leaf color. The best time to observe this incredibly beautiful transformation is on a clear, dry and cool (not freezing) autumn day – make sure to seize the moment because before you know it, those colors will fade as well with a chilly breeze whispering, “winter is coming”.

 
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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. 

Kopper King: The Hibiscus With Larger Than Life Flowers

Hibiscus x moscheutos 'Kopper King': The Kopper King Hibiscus

By: Lauren M. Liff for Dabah Landscape Designs

 

            In New Jersey, the tropical hibiscus is one of the more sought after annuals seen quite frequently in entryway urns, patio planters and especially surrounding pools – but did you know that there are hibiscus plants that are actually hardy for our area? The Kopper King hibiscus is stopping people in their tracks wherever they are seen and for good reason! Becoming more popular in the New Jersey landscape, this perennial beauty is absolutely breathtaking with its massive blossoms, striking colors and stunning foliage. As opposed to the tropical hibiscus, this perennial is easier to grow and maintain and will be your landscape show stopper year after year.

            With a sturdy, compact and slightly rounded habit, this woody-based perennial grows to be about 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 4 feet wide. The size of the flowers is comparable to that of a dinner plate measuring from 10 to 12 inches in diameter. The remarkable size of the blooms makes them one of the largest flowers produced by any perennial in this area. The flowers resemble that of its cousin the hollyhock; they are light pink with showy red veins leading to a bright red center. These massive blooms sit atop foliage that has a striking deep purple-red color, giving the plant its name ‘Kopper King’. One of the wonderful characteristics of this perennial is its extended bloom period, which goes from mid summer to early fall and sometimes even to the first frost.

            The kopper king will thrive in full sun but can tolerate some light shade. To produce sturdier stems and the best flowers, make sure to plant it in medium to wet soil with good air circulation – this will also help the plant to be stronger and better at resisting diseases. This perennial is susceptible to wind burn so be sure to plant it in a protected area to minimize its risk. Once established, the kopper king does not like to dry out, deep and consistent watering will help to ensure a happy healthy plant! When the flowering season is completed in late autumn, you can prune the stems back 3 to 4 inches to allow for new growth in the spring – this perennial will also benefit from organically rich soils and regular fertilizations during the growing period.

            The kopper king has many uses in the landscape; it can be used as a border, a specimen plant or, for a greater impact, you could use it as a massing plant. Since this plant prefers moist soils, it does very well along streams or ponds and in low or wet areas on your property. This unique plant is the perfect combination of a tropical vibe and a sophisticated appearance. With its beautiful foliage and massive blossoms, the kopper king is a no-brainer when searching for a landscape plant that is a definite head-turner while still being beautifully elegant at the same time. 

The 'What' and 'How' Behind Landscape Design

Landscape Design: More Art than Science

By: Lauren M. Liff for Dabah Landscape Designs

 

            Almost everyone can appreciate a well-designed landscape but chances are that most of them believe that landscape design is merely putting plants in the ground. Truth is, landscape design is so much more than it appears to be. As landscape designers it is our duty to explain to you what exactly landscape design is and what it entails. Landscape design is an art form; it is where nature, culture and vision are combined to transform a property into a functional, creative and beautiful outdoor space.

            To put it simply, landscape design is the practice of putting together a plan that best utilizes an outdoor space in the most beautiful way. Designing a property takes time, energy, imagination, creativity and lots and lots of planning. Landscape design is broken down into two categories: softscapes and hardscapes. Softscapes encompasses all of the plant materials used in the landscape whereas hardscaping pertains to the stonework that is implemented into the design (such as rock walls, walkways, patios and more).

            There are 4 main principles when it comes to landscape design: proportion, order, repetition and unity. Proportion refers to the size of an object in relation to others in the landscape – this is more commonly used when implementing hardscapes into the design. Orders refer mainly to organization and balance in the landscape; this is very important when designing a space with plant materials. Repetition is used to create a familiar pattern and feel to the landscape – a landscape designer will repeat the use of certain plant materials or elements throughout the design. The last principle is unity; this refers to the flow of the landscape. Landscape designers want to ensure that all materials used in the project work together to create a theme, style or specific atmosphere that best reflects the clients’ personality and vision.

            Landscape designers are professionally trained to apply their extensive knowledge of space theory, design principles and the “right plant, right place” concept to best utilize any outdoor space. “Right plant, right place” refers to choosing the correct plant material for the specific site conditions. Soil conditions, amount of sunlight, drainage conditions, wildlife and watering practices are just some of the things that are taken into consideration when selecting the plant material for a project. Landscape designers have an extensive horticultural knowledge base, making them the “go-to” plant experts. Where a plant should be placed, how it should be maintained and how to manage pests and diseases are only a few of the questions professional landscape designers can easily answer.

            Aside from the aesthetics and horticultural knowledge – to ensure the functionality of the design, a landscape designer will take into account the spaces that are used, the clients’ lifestyle and the constantly changing needs of the clients’ home. A landscape designer will use their knowledge and ideas to help a client realize factors that they might not have considered previously. Each project is overseen by the designer, from the initial consultation to the completion of the project – they want to ensure that the completed work exceeds expectation and that the clients’ dream landscape has become a reality.

            When designing an outdoor space, designers take into consideration the clients’ budget and vision, site conditions, amount of usable space and the use of appropriate plants and other materials. Most people rush straight into the installation and construction phase of an outdoor design, without taking these important factors into account. This leads to a project that costs more than what they wanted to spend, more work than they wanted to do and a project that most likely will provide a less than acceptable end result. This is why hiring a professional designer comes in handy; they take all aspects of the job site into account to design and install a breathtaking one-of-a-kind creation. In a time and cost effective manner, landscape designers can transform an ordinary outdoor area into an extraordinary work of art that can last for many seasons to come.

http://apldca.org/what-is-landscape-design/

https://www.landscapingnetwork.com/landscape-design/principles.html

http://cislandscaping.com/what-is-landscape-design-and-why-do-you-need-a-landscape-designer/