Archive for September, 2014

Wildlife Gardening

Sep 11 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

Water Ponds And Wildlife – How To Attract More Animals To Your Backyard

butterflyWildlife require water just as humans do. Water is essential for life. Songbirds use it for bathing and preening; waterfowl and shorebirds for finding food and escaping predators; and muskrat, mink and beaver for every part of their existence.

Providing water can be as simple as a bird bath or small fiberglass water pond or as complex as the construction of a large, excavated wetland with an artificial or clay liner.

The simplest method of providing water is a bird bath. The structure need not be elaborate, an old pie tin works as well as a prefabricated concrete structure. Make sure the water is no deeper than three inches and that smooth bottom baths are enhanced with some type of structure or objects for perching. To cut back on maintenance, simply hang a garden hose above the bath and allow water to drip into the bath at a slow rate.

Birds also require water in winter. By providing open water, you may potentially attract more birds for viewing. There are a variety of options including dog and poultry water heaters as well as commercial water heaters designed specifically for bird baths.

It is important that you always keep placement in mind both for the bird’s safety and for your viewing enjoyment. Keep the bird bath near a favorite viewing location but at least ten feet away from vegetation or other cover. This will help in preventing neighborhood predators such as domestic cats from killing birds.

Small backyard ponds with artificial liners are another method of providing water for wildlife. Choose a location that receives sun part of the day to stimulate plant growth. Begin pond construction with a pre-fabricated fiberglass shell or similar item such as a kid’s wading pool or old washtub. A good option to both of these methods is utilization of 20 mil black plastic.

If you begin with a child’s wading pool or washtub, it should be lined with 10-30 mil black plastic. This will insure water does not leak from the pond and will give a more natural background color than that of a wading pool or other structure.

Begin by excavating soil out of an area roughly equal to the size and shape of your liner. Remember, the location of your pond should be where you can view it from your house. You should also consider keeping it within reach of a garden hose for filling purposes or and electrical supply for powering any pumps or aerators. A pond need not be more that ten feet long and two to five feet wide. Providing varying depths from a few inches to a couple feet will increase chances of different wildlife using your pond

After fitting the liner, field stones, flat rocks or timber can help hold and hide the edges of the plastic liner. Adding soil over the top of the positioned liner will allow future planting of aquatic vegetation. An alternate method to lining the entire pond bottom with soil is to put aquatic plants into pots and then submerge the pots in desired locations within the pond. Stabilize pots with rocks or other means to prevent tipping. Plan to have enough aquatic plants to cover 30-40 percent of the surface area.

Provide areas for birds and turtles to make use of your pond by adding log perches or a rock island. Creating a sandy, gravel beach in one corner can provide the grit birds require for digesting food. A sandy substrate also makes looking for wildlife tracks an educational experience. After you have completed all the necessary preparations, fill the pond with water. If using tap water rather than well water, let stand for a week to let chemicals like chlorine dissipate.

You may choose to see if plants will come naturally. This could occur through transfer of seeds on bird’s feet or from their droppings. Another method to introduce potential plant and invertebrate life is to scoop muck from an existing wetland and transfer it to your pond.

Keep an eye on your pond often and log the plant growth as a family activity. And be sure to keep watching for new wildlife to your new oasis.

Creating Wildlife Gardens

hedgehogCreating a wildlife garden allows you take part in your larger surrounding environment. Often gardens are completely shut out from the natural landscape around it and aren’t welcoming to birds and other wildlife. Adding a few well placed and well chosen shrubs or trees can make all the difference when trying to attract birds to your garden.

Map out and observe your surroundings to see what natural habitats are close by. Are there any ponds, rivers, or streams? Are parks, golf courses or nature reserves nearby? Remember, your garden is part of the larger environment. Knowing what the local ecosystems are will better enable you to plan your garden.

In order to attract birds, gardens must supply them with food, water, shelter and nesting areas. Provide for different bird species by making available a variety of seed and berry producing trees and shrubs, such as Washington hawthorn, mountain ash, cherry and viburnum. Flowers such as hollyhock, nasturtium, and sunflower produce seed which attract birds as well. Indigenous plants, those which grow naturally in a specific area, are very effective at attracting local bird species. Try to incorporate some of these into your garden.

Also, be sure to provide food throughout the year. For example, in the spring have a few different berry producing shrubs available, such as blueberries and raspberries. In the summer, perennials provide seed and in the fall trees such as dogwood and serviceberry bear fruit which birds will seek out. Birds which over winter in your area will need sustenance provided by winterberry and other fruit bearing shrubs.

Different birds need different foods and different environments in which to live. Robins, for example, eat at ground level where they forage for insects and worms while many other birds prefer to be off the ground a bit in the midst of a perennials garden where they eat the seeds of the flowers. Some birds, like grosbeaks, prefer the height of shrubs and others still, such as the woodpecker, prefer to be in the canopy of taller trees where their able to find insects in the tree’s bark.

Plants, while providing food, also supply birds with shelter. Evergreens and other dense shrubs provide nesting areas and protection from cold winter winds and create shade in the heat of the summer. While it may be impossible to incorporate all these habitats into your garden, plan at least a couple. The more habitats you can provide the more birds will flock to your garden.

Along with food, birds require water for both drinking and bathing. If there aren’t any natural water sources near your garden, be sure to place a birdbath or water dish in the area. Keep the water fresh by filling it daily. In the winter when the water freezes knock out the ice and replace with fresh water. Most home and garden stores that stock birdbaths sell small water heaters which will prevent freezing. If you are considering using one of these consult an electrician to help with the installation. If their aren’t any natural water systems in your area, consider planning a water garden, just remember bird prefer shallow water to deep water. Waterfalls and bubbling fountains will attract a number of birds since most species are drawn to the sound of running water.

If you’re contemplating using a bird feeder, maintain it and be sure to keep it stocked as birds often come to depend on these feeders, especially during the lean, harsh months of winter. Since birds are attracted to a variety of different foods, supply them with seeds, berries, fats, breads and nuts. Avoid salty foods. Using a birdhouse for your seed provides shelter as well as a place for food.

Creating a garden which attracts birds has positive effect on the environment; you’re providing a new habitat for birds and well as beneficial insects and other wildlife. While birds will thrive and will benefit the most from your efforts, you’re also providing years of enjoyment for both yourself and visitors to your garden.

Bird Feeders – A Little Kindness To Our Feathered Friends

birdA bird feeder is a small container usually shaped like a cylinder used to attract birds to a garden. They vary in shape but are often designed to be tall and slender and to hang from a tree branch. The container is filled with birdseed and usually has a grill or small opening through which the bird can get the food. Most have small perches on which the birds can stand, but some simple use a wire mesh that the birds can easily grip. The owner may buy a small tray that fits underneath the feeder to catch errant seeds.

The colour of the feeder, and the type of seeds placed in the container, are changed in order to attract different species of birds. The most common is millet or sunflower seed but any can be used that apply to the diet of the local wildlife. This is useful to bird watchers who want to attract various species of bird to their home for photography or study. Living food such as mealworms can be placed in some feeders, allowing birds with offspring to use the device.

One problem with bird feeders is that other garden animals will be attracted. Often, squirrels or even mice will steal the seed. Some companies produce separate feeders for mammals, and some employ inventive methods of deterring pests. Some feeders have perches that very lightly shock or fold downwards when an object heavier than a bird is placed on it, causing any interlopers to be cast aside.

Different types of birds sometimes have their own types of bird feeder. For insect eating birds you can get a feeder that contains a block of suet that can be slowly worked away on. For birds like hummingbirds, which feed off nectar, there are feeders that contain a liquid and sugar mixture than the birds can drink. Some species of birds like to feed at ground level, and so there are feeders built for this purpose.

Planting For Wildlife

robinThere is one indisputable fact; our natural world is shrinking. As we make our way through any community, the signs of growth are everywhere: new communities being built on what was once a corn field, a strip mall or “fashion” park emerging from once dense forest land, an office park here and there completes the scene. Growth is inevitable, but it is important that we view the ramifications from all sides.

The one side that often is overlooked is the impact of this growth on the natural world: the destruction of natural habitat and the loss of species diversity. Habitat is many things: food, water, cover and protection, nesting sites. And, different animals need different habitats. When acres of former wildlife habitat are destroyed, it is important to consider what happens to all of the creatures that called those acres home.

There is so much individual homeowners can do to restore that lost habitat. And, as one backyard after another makes a few important additions to improve habitat, they begin to develop a network of “greenways” which are simple safe havens in which animals can safely live and move.

In our own yard, we have made a few additions that have both improved the beauty of our landscape and have created a safe and happy home for so many birds that call our backyard home. The first step was to provide plenty of food and water. We have a number of elevated bird bathes near shrubs and trees. In addition, we are blessed with a creek that runs through the front of our property. Just remember to keep your birdbath filled with fresh water, especially during the summer months. And, keep those feeders full. In addition to a variety of seeds and nuts, make sure to provide much needed suet in the cold winter months.

Last fall, we made the decision to continue ridding our yard of grass, and planted our front yard with a multitude of small trees and shrubs, mostly native varieties. Many wildlife species depend upon evergreen and deciduous berry-producing shrubs. They provide shelter, nesting sites and food. Bushes that provide good food sources and are wonderful landscape plants include: northern bayberry, dogwood, winterberry, serviceberry, clethra, inkberry and hollies.

It is essential for birds to have safe nesting sites, so consider investing in a few nesting boxes this spring…. put them up quickly as the birds have begun their work. We have left a few trees in our woods that are somewhat unsightly, but we know that each year they provide nesting cavities for our feathered families.

A note of caution … the family cat. We have a much loved kitty, Peaches, who would like nothing more than hunting down those birds and small mammals that we work hard to protect. The domestic cat is among the most numerous pet in the country (nearly 30% of households have cats and it is estimated that there are 40 million feral cats as well). It is thought that birds make up approximately 20 – 30% of cats prey. That is enormous stress on an already compromised population. So, be mindful of the family kitty and either keep them inside (which we simply cannot do) or make sure that the birds hear him coming!

So, let’s all do our part to ensure that future generations will not be denied the pleasures of a natural world that we sometimes take for granted. They cannot afford lobbyists in Congress, nor can they petition for their survival. It is up to us to give them a voice, and a chance.

In 1985, Briscoe White opened The Growers Exchange in an abandoned Texaco station on a busy urban street corner in Richmond, Virginia. The facility has grown over the years, and is now 5 distinct growing environments with 5 acres under cover. Briscoe has over 25 years of gardening experience. For further information on gardening products or gardening tips please visit our gardening blog.

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Container Gardening

Sep 10 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

A First Year Experience In Container Gardening

container1Growing vegetables in a regular garden just didn’t work. It took too much effort to control weeds, pests and a couple of critters called raccoons. So I decided to try growing in containers. At first, I thought that meant going to the store and buying some pretty pots. As inexpensive as they were, I was going to need a lot of them to make up the space I needed. So I started thinking of the things I could use as containers just until I had the money.

I have eight cats, six inside cats and two outdoors. Now these cats go through a lot of cat litter in a month’s time. I have all these 27-35 pound cat litter containers hanging around my garage, most times until I manage to put them out to the garbage dump. I thought I’d try to use a cat litter container as a make-shift planter. I cleaned it out thoroughly with a little soap and water. I knew it had to have holes in the bottom to allow for sufficient drainage. I drilled holes into it with a smaller sized drill bit. I plopped the potting soil and behold! A garden pot was born! My kids think I should have decorated up the sides so that the kitty litter panels wouldn’t show up but it didn’t bother me a bit. I was recycling something that would just end up in the trash anyway.

In that same week, I got my answer to how I was going to plant the squash. I knew the squash would need some significant room to bush out. I was driving down a back country road and came upon a heap of tires. I thought I remember reading somewhere that tires would make excellent planters. I grabbed a few and by the end of the season was very surprised at the results. Not only did my squash go crazy in the tires, we had enough squash for the whole neighborhood.

I lost my first lettuces to the critters called raccoons. But not because they ate them. They tipped them over and spilled out the lettuces. What a huge mess it caused. But I as determined to set it right. I soon learned to plant the lettuces in a garden away from the deck. I came upon some idea of using cinder (concrete) blocks to make a raised bed. Similar to a container garden, a raised bed garden would be better suited to lettuce gardening. So I made my first bed using cinder blocks. They never lined up completely as I planned them but they worked out just fine. The lettuces grew, so did the spinach that I threw in beside the lettuce.

I had two small kids blue swimming pools just wasting space in the yard so I used them as a lettuce garden as well. I cut more holes in the pools and filled them with lettuce and one was filled with onion sets.

With a little thought and creativity, anything can become a planter. Before you throw it out, think. Could I envision something grown in this?

Container Vegetable Garden Tips

container2Vegetable container gardening is an attractive way for many apartment and condo dwellers to have fresh vegetables in spite of the fact that they have no place to put a regular garden. It’s also a good way for anyone to have fresh vegetables year round, even in the coldest or hottest climates.

However, like almost any type of gardening, there will be times when problems arise, and your vegetable garden will not be producing well. Here are a few tips to get your container garden back on track and producing fresh vegetables again. This is a list of some of the typical indoor container garden problems, the probable cause, and some suggested solutions to try.

Plants are tall and spindly with no production: This is usually due to insufficient light. Artificial lights need to be put closer to the plants, or you may need to keep them on longer.

Vegetables plants are stunted: Due to inadequate levels of phosphate in the fertilizer levels. Change the fertilizer. For warm weather crops this can also be due to the ambient temperature being too low.

Wilted vegetable plants: Usually related to watering. Either not enough water, or may be due to inadequate drainage. Check that the drainage holes are working in the container. Check that the container garden has sufficient water for the plant, or that you are watering regularly enough.

Burned plant leaves: Often due to high salt levels in the soil. Symptom is crusty white top of the soil in the container. Flush the soil out with water.

Plants yellowing, some leaves dropping: Too much moisture in the container. Reduce the frequency of watering, and check the drainage from the container. Also caused by inadequate fertilization.

Spots on the leaves: Typically some kind of plant disease. Apply an appropriate fungicide.

Hopefully these tips can help you keep your vegetable container garden up and producing for many months to come.

Container Gardening In Apartments Or Condos

container3Container gardening is for many people that think that their gardening days are over when they move to an apartment or condo. You can still grow pretty and useful plants if you opt for a container garden. There are a few rules you will have to follow when starting your container garden. The five elements that are crucial to your container garden are the pot (size for each individual plant), the soil, how much light your plants will need, watering requirements and fertilizer. For example herbs do not need big pots but they do need at least six hours of sunlight. Their fertilizing is minimal and they need good drainage in loose soil.

Choosing the right container is very important for you and your plants. You will want to choose a pot that is complementary to your home or outside patio and you also want to meet the needs of the plants. Cedar and redwood containers are rot resistant while other woods will rot. If you do choose to use wood pots make sure that they are not treated with harmful chemicals that will be detrimental to your plants. Do not use plastic pots in the sun; they will fall apart very quickly. Terra Cotta containers do not do well in the sunlight. They dry out quickly and have a tendency to crack and break. The best pots to use for your container garden on the patio are glazed ceramic pots. These are pretty and colorful but make sure there are plenty of drainage holes.

For soil that is completely dependent on what kind of plants you plan to grow. Remember you are going to be growing your garden in limited space so make sure that the soil will drain sufficiently. The key here is to have a soil mixture that will retain moisture put has adequate drainage as not to drown the roots. A little bit of research into the type of plant you are growing should tell you each individual plants needs. For instance some plants may require a little sand be added to the mix. In container gardening getting all the components right is absolutely necessary for your success.

Another aspect of your research is to know how much light your plants need. All plants have different light levels. For instance, impatiens do well in the shade while vegetables and flowers thrive in the sunlight.

Fertilizing is a most important aspect of container gardening. When a plant is in a container it only has a small amount of soil to draw nutrients from so you will have to give it a little help. To be consistent it is advised to fertilize on every other watering. Don’t just use one fertilizer; a mix of nutrients will keep your plants happy and healthy.

Watering a container garden should be your utmost concern. It will take time to determine the right schedule for the individual plants since they all have different needs. If you are having an extremely hot spell it will be necessary to water everyday.

You will be surprised how rewarding container gardening will be for you. It allows city folk to experience a bit of the outdoors in limited space. Once you have researched and decided what type of plants to grow your next step is to gather the necessary materials and plant your container garden. You will reap your rewards when you use your fresh herbs or vegetables in your next dish or you cut beautiful flowers to adorn your home.

Perfect Potting Secrets Reveal

container4What a silly topic – potting plants – just throw a plant in a pot and heave some dirt over it, right? Well, sort of, but let’s “dig” a little deeper. (Pardon the pun.)

There are many things to consider when potting plants into containers. Let’s concentrate on two basic principles: learning the proper planting depth and providing enough space in the pot to water correctly. Then we’ll finish with the techniques required to pot plants perfectly.

When container-planting, the top of the media should match up exactly with the crown of the plant. This area (where crown-meets-media) is called the “soil line.” Proper planting depth will ensure that very little stem is below the soil line and that the roots are covered sufficiently with media so that they’re not exposed to the air. Too deep, and the covered stem is susceptible to disease. Not deep enough, and the exposed roots may dry out and be killed.

Next, provide enough space between the top of the media and the top of the pot. This space is called the “reservoir.” The purpose of the reservoir is to hold enough water so that the plant gets thoroughly saturated in one application. It also prevents the media from being blasted out of the pot when watering. The reservoir depth is measured after the plant has been potted and watered-in and the media has settled.

The required reservoir depth depends on the diameter of the pot: The larger the diameter, the deeper the reservoir should be. As a guide, a ¼-inch reservoir depth is needed for a 4-inch pot, and a 1½-inch reservoir depth is needed for a 14-inch pot.

So now we’re ready to plant…

Fill about 1/3 of your container with media. Center the plant over the pot, suspending it in the air. Line the crown up with the side of the pot at just above the proper reservoir depth. Pour media in the pot and around the roots, with enough media to fill up the pot in-line with the crown.

Tamp the pot down on your potting bench or other flat surface several times to encourage the media to settle. The plant and the media should settle together to the correct reservoir depth. (If for some reason it doesn’t settle to the correct depth, simply scoop out some soil from the surface.)

Now unless you have it on good authority that your plant may try to escape, do not compact the media by pushing down on it from the top. Compaction of this magnitude will squeeze out the media’s air pockets, which can be detrimental to the plant’s roots. Tamping and watering-in should provide the needed compaction to support and anchor the plant in the pot.

Correct potting provides optimum growing conditions and makes for easier, more effective watering – keeping both plant and plant owner happy.

Grow Tomatoes In Containers For An Extended Season

container5One big advantage to growing tomatoes in containers is that you can grow them just about anywhere with lots of sunlight. You can move them to protect them from bad cold spells, and sneak a few extra weeks into the growing season. With a little extra attention to watering, you will be rewarded with a bumper crop of tomatoes.

The Keys to successful tomato container plantings include:

The container: A standard type pot with a diameter of at least 12 inches is recommended is a good choice. It must have drainage holes in the bottom to avoid root rot. Half whiskey barrels and and bushel baskets can be used too.

Choose Your Tomato: Most varieties of tomato will grow in a container, but make sure that the variety that you choose fits the area you’ve chosen. Choose smaller tomatoes like cherry tomatoes for hotter climates since they will set fruit longer. Sweet 100 is always a favorite.

Getting Started: The easiest way to start the plants it to buy them from the nursery. If you can’t find what you want at the local nursery, you may want to start your own using peat pellets or pots.

Your container soil: In a container you can mix the soil as you wish to give you the best yields. Always use lots of organic matter to improve drainage. A soil mix of one part each of potting soil, perlite, sphagnum peat moss and compost is good. Tomatoes usually require some type of fertilizer. Make sure that it’s a fertilizer for tomatoes.

Planting in the container Fill the container most of the way with your soil mix. Put the soil mix around the plant up to the first set of true leaves. Water and add more soil until it comes close to the top of the container.

Staking your tomatoes: Some tomato plants will need to be staked. Do this when you plant so you don’t damage the roots inserting the stakes later. Tomato cages or stakes can be used.

Water your tomatoes at least once a week, make sure they are staked properly, add fertilizer again when needed, and enjoy your tomatoes. Put them in the garage for that first freeze of the fall, and hope for an extra week or two in your growing season.

Container Gardening – Locate Your Garden Conveniently

container6Container gardening is the growing of plants in anything that will hold soil. It is suspected that the concept of container gardening started with the Egyptians and Romans. Container growing hit its stride in the U. S. in California in the 1950’s when the people started growing plants in containers in all kinds of dwelling places from small apartments to large estates.

The basic elements of container gardening are:

a) Containers

b) Soil and Planting

c) Water and Food

d) Light and Temperature

e) Grooming

The selection of containers is the number one task. Container selection should be given a considerable amount of thought. Container selection depends on what type of plants you intend to grow. Select containers that are large enough to provide an adequate amount of soil for your plant. As your plants grow they will probably need to be moved up to larger containers. Plastic pots deteriorate in the sunlight but are light and easy to move around. Wood will rot after a while. Redwood and cedar do not rot as quickly as some other kinds of woods. Wood allows for various shapes and sizes. Avoid wood containers that are treated with creosote or other toxic chemical preservatives as they will damage you plants. Terracotta pots tend to dry out quickly. Ceramic pots are a good choice. All types of containers must have adequate holes for drainage.

Good growing medium is mandatory. Most container gardeners have found that a “soil less” potting mix is the best. “Soil less” mixes drain well and are free form soil diseases and weed seed. These potting mixes can be obtained at your local nursery or garden store. When you add your medium to your container, leave a 2 inch space between the top of the medium and the top of the container. You will be able to add 1/2 inch or so of mulch later.

Watering frequency and amount depends upon the size and type of plant, the type of container, the amount of sun and shade it gets during the day, and of course, the time of the year. It is best to check containers daily to determine if they require watering. When watering, it is very important that you water the whole soil ball. When water drips out of the drain holes, the plant has probably received enough water.

Plant spacing will be different than it would be in the garden. Vegetables, flowers and herbs should be spaced 1/3 closer to assure a full and balanced container. The root ball for trees and shrubs should be a little less than the container size. All container plants will need to be re-potted as necessary.

Due to the light potting soil and frequent watering, container plants will need to be fertilized frequently. Use a slow-release or water soluble fertilizer.

As a general rule container plants should have some full sun exposure every day. Plants should not be exposed to the full mid day sun. Five hours minimum is a good rule of thumb. The variety of plant determines the amount of sunlight. Generally speaking, leafy vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage will tolerate the most shade. Root vegetables such as carrots will need more sun. Plants such as cucumbers and tomatoes need more sun. Sunlight for flowers depends on the variety. Plants should be turned so that all sides of the container get direct sun light.

Care must be taken to control temperature extremes such as overheating or freezing. Containers will need to be moved to a more friendly environment when necessary.

A certain amount of grooming is required to assure the most healthy and beautiful plants. Plants should be inspected often for pests and disease. Dead foliage and flowers should be removed to prevent fungus. The close proximity of container plants makes them more susceptible to disease.

Container gardening is as old as civilization. Container gardening began its modern growth in California in the middle of the twentieth century, and has grown rapidly in the U.S. since then. Container gardening can be accommodated almost anywhere there is space available. All that is required to be a successful container gardener is to follow a few simple rules. Think through your container garden and then when you have decided on a plan simply choose the proper containers, fill them with the correct potting medium, and follow a few planting rules. Place the containers where they will receive the right amount of sunshine. Water and feed them correctly. Prune and groom them as often as required and keep them from freezing and overheating. Do all of this and you will be an accomplished container gardener.

Container gardening will brighten your dwelling, help feed you and your family and make you feel a sense of calm, and fulfillment. Don’t pass up this beautiful and satisfying experience. It is relatively inexpensive and pays back many times over.

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