Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Weeding, weeding, weeding....

All of the rain this spring has sure helped the weeds to grow like crazy....and I really don't like to pull weeds!  It is so time consuming, taking me away from other jobs that need to be done, besides being uncomfortable on the knees, back and hands!!  So, a few years ago when I first learned of the product Preen Weed Preventer, my life as a gardener was changed forever.  (too dramatic again? Sorry, but yah its that big of a deal!)

A couple of people have recently asked me about this product, and I told them what I knew, but decided I should actually research it and make sure I was correctly informed before I shared with anyone else.  Preen.com has a lot of helpful info on the products, safety information, and a plant search option to see if your plants are compatible with the use of Preen.

Basically, Preen creates a barrier on the soil which prevents weeds seeds from germinating in the first place.  It does not however do anything for existing weeds or weed roots left in the soil.

Tips to have a weed free garden (or at least significantly less weeding by hand) :

1.  Clean up first, pulling or digging out any and all weeds in your flower beds/around trees/planting areas. Be sure to get the roots!

2.  Add a layer of mulch if you can and disperse Preen Weed Preventer on surface of the mulch (or right on the dirt if you are not mulching, or if it will be some time before you get the mulch installed).

3.  Application of the Preen should occur when plant foliage is dry and when ground temperature is 50 degrees F or above.  Some of the product containers come equipped with a convenient scoop to use when spreading the Preen, but read the packaging to see how heavily to apply to the area.

4.  You should double check the extensive list on the products website before applying to your gardens, however a general rule is that it can be used around established plants, shrubs, trees, etc, that are at least 3 inches tall,

5.  Watering in or rain shortly after application is necessary as it "activates" the product

6.  Excessive watering or heavy rains maybe shorten the effective period of the product, and Preen may need to be reapplied sooner. Usually, though it is effective in preventing new weeds from sprouting for 8-12 weeks with one application.

7.  Use your gloves! and do not inhale the particles  Protect your self from the chemical and carrier dust when applying. (The active ingredient is called Treflan and it is combined with a "carrier" such as ground up corn cob to allow it to be dispensed.)

8.  Do not apply directly to a water source, pond, birdbath, etc. or bird feeder.

9.  Preen may stain certain porous surfaces  like patio stones, cement driveways, bricks etc.

Since I have used Preen in all of our flower beds, around tree trunks, in stone pathways, and even in the veggie garden in the past and have been very pleased with the results, I will continue to do so and save myself some work for the whole growing season.  A goal of mine is to reapply Preen after fall leaf cleanup is complete, hopefully helping to inhibit those early weed seeds in the following spring.  I highly recommend the use of this product, no matter at what stage of gardening ability/interest you are currently--because if you have to spend less time pulling pesky weeds, I am very sure you will have increased interest in other aspects of gardening.

I hope you find this quick post helpful, and I will be back soon with an update on our seedlings as planting out date has finally arrived!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wildlife Feature: Red-Shouldered Hawk

Over the last couple of weeks I have been seeing a lot of hawk activity in our back yard...in the air over head, in the trees, swooping down in the yard...a lot more than usual.  So I began watching more closely and discovered a nest in one of our neighbor's large trees.  Of course I had to get the camera out right away and see what kind of pictures I could capture to share with you before the trees get too leafy to see the birds clearly.  I got several neat shots with the zoom, although some I wish were not quite so blurry/grainy. I would have liked to have gotten a few action views of them swooping around before I put up the post, but here's what we have so far!

Mr. & Mrs. Red-Shouldered Hawk
At first I was telling everyone that we had a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks nesting here. But after photographing, and then researching a little bit to have some factual info to write about them, I realized they are actually the Red-Shouldered Hawk.  Wikipedia and AllAboutBirds.org have good articles and graphics on both types.

The statistics and information I learned are as follows:

Male: body 17-23 inches long, weight 19 oz (or 1.2pounds), wingspan 38 inches
Female: slightly larger body 19-24 inches long, weight 25 oz, wingspan 41 inches

Coloring: brownish head, reddish chest, paler underparts with reddish barring,  red "shoulders" visible when perched, back/wings are darker brown with light markings, tail dark with narrow white bands

 Formal name/description: Buteo lineatus, a medium sized raptor with robust body and broad wings. Accipiter-like flight pattern which is several wing flaps followed by a glide.
While momma sat in the nest, Mr. Hawk cooperated for a photo session,
 displaying the distinctive markings of the birds.
Momma getting settled back into the nest
after a short flight to stretch her wings!

Behavior:  Monogamous, breeding occurs once per year between April and July. Males perform "courtship sky dances" involving soaring high, steep dives, and wide spirals.  Loud screeching (kee-aaah) repeated 3 or 4 times, is typically heard when establishing territories.

Nest:  Together the pair works on the nest or refurbish one from a prior year--a large and deep bowl of sticks, twigs, leaves, strips of bark, moss, placed in a main crook of a large tree, between 20 and 60 feet above ground.

Eggs: 3 or 4 layed within 2-3 days, white with brown blotches, incubate 33 days, hatch over the course of 7 days.

Hatchlings: brooded by the female, while the male brings food to the nest for her and the chicks. Chick begin leaving the nest after 40 days, but are still fed by both parents for 8-10 more weeks. At 17 -19 weeks old, chicks become independent of the parents, however still roost at night near the nest.  Breeding begins around 1 year of age.

Feeding/Hunting: The birds normally wait perched with a good view of the ground, and swoop down to catch their prey which consists of small mammals (chipmunks, mice, squirrels) and occasionally small snakes, toads, other birds, and large insects.

Hunting: just missed a chipmunk!
 Friends & Foes:  Predators include the Great Horned Owl, Racoon, Red-Tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, and martens and fishers (in the weasel family).   Sometimes this hawk can be found cooperating with the American Crow (who is normally an enemy of all other birds because of their egg-eating habits)--to gang up on Red-Tailed Hawks and Great Horned Owls.


 So, I know we have a type of hawk not an eagle but as I have been looking at this last picture of the bird as it was just about to take off in flight, it makes me think of a verse in the Bible:

"But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew [their] strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; [and] they shall walk, and not faint"---Isaiah 40:31.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A nice day off during the week=lots accomplished outside!

A day off during the week, and it was a warm sunny day, and I got to spend 10 hours of it working outside beautifying our yard…woohoo!

The first thing I had to take care of was trimming the Boxwood bushes and the Burning Bushes in our front gardens.  Some people like to do the pruning in the fall, or while the bushes are dormant, but with these particular types I always trim them this time of year, just before installing fresh new mulch.  I prefer these plants to look very neat and proper rather than “fluffy”, however more importantly, the trimming helps the bush to stay full and leafy instead of growing stringy and sparse.  As some of the new growth starts to look shaggy, I give them a hair cut, just snipping off a little of that part, to keep the bushes even, and let them use their energy growing leafiness rather than length. Don’t worry I don’t trim off all that much; the overall plant is still getting bigger each season.
Trimming Tip:  Use sharp long bladed scissor style hedge trimmers
sharp so that they will actually cut cleanly and not damage the part of the plant you want to keep intact and a long blade allows for easier, more level cutting.

When you are cleaning up things in the garden, you might be tempted to chop off all those green leaves still standing from the daffodils which are finished blooming now.  DON’T do it!  Daffodils, along with all other bulb type of flowers, must keep their leaves for a while after their blossoms have faded. It is in those leaves that photosynthesis takes place…feeding the plant and rejuvenating the bulb to last through dormancy and happily bloom for you next spring.  A general rule is when the leaves have wilted and turned yellow, then you may cut them off to the surface of the ground.  Before that point, if you get tired of looking at them, just do what I do…tie them in a knot. Yep, just like in this picture. This allows the  bulb to be fed but gets those stringy leaves down low and less noticeable in your flower beds.

Now is also a good time for splitting some plants that have multiplied and overgrown their spot in the garden.  One such culprit is the Hosta, a good grower in shady locations.  As you can see in the picture here, the plant is just beginning to come up and open some of its leaves, so you can definitely see where it is and if it is still going to be the right size once it opens fully.  If you wait too much longer to divide or move the Hosta, then the foliage will wilt back considerably and you will have to cut it off and wait for new growth to come up.

Hosta Happenings: Divide & Conquer--Its ok to dig up the whole root ball now and then pull apart the clump carefully removing enough so the remaining plant and its neighbors will have enough space. Replant the part you want right there and move the extra pieces someplace else or give them away.  Be sure to thoroughly water your transplant and your disrupted main plant to help them get reestablished.

After tidying up the flowerbeds, and rebuilding some stones around the mailbox and a decorative pathway, I was ready to mulch! And mulch I did! I think I ended up installing half of our pile so far, right around 5 yards.  PHEW! Lots of work, but it looks good.  We like to use a mulch color that is called “cherry chocolate”.  Sounds good right?  

My Mind on Mulching:
Good mulch is aged somewhat and ground up well. It does not have huge slabs of wood in it, and is not so fresh (“green”) that it is steaming hot (yah, you can see the little heat wiggles coming off of the pile, just like off a hot car sitting in the sun)  If your mulch is too “hot” then it will most likely burn your plants, not all of them just the ones you have to spend money on every year (annuals like petunias, impatiens, begonias, geraniums and so on). So, it is beneficial to go to the supplier and look at the product, rather than simply calling up the neighborhood landscraper and ordering up a delivery of some mystery material made of old pallets and who knows what else!  Oh, I almost forgot, the reasons for mulching are that it makes the flowerbeds and areas around some of the trees look more well-kept (duh, of course) but it first helps retain moisture in the soil  Secondly, it fosters nice climate for earthworms (not to be dug up to go fishin’ but for keeping the dirt loose and aerated).  And thirdly, mulch acts as a barrier against weed growth.

I think that is enough work for one day, so I’ll be back soon to tell you what else is on my to do list.

A few sunny days...

Thank you Lord for the sunshine!  A few sunny days and we are showing some progress in the yard work and gardening department. 

Over the weekend, with the help of four hard working teenage boys, we accomplished the huge task of raking the entire yard, and getting rid of all the rest of the leaves from last fall, plus the tons of branches that came down during the winter and early spring storms...enough to fill a 30 yard dumpster!

With the guys working hard on those things, that left me to accomplish quite a lot of other tasks. First I ripped out some scraggly old holly bushes that didn't quite make the winter this time, replanted some Variegated Euonymus Shrubs in their place, and added in a few other bushes to fill up one of the beds that has always been quite bare and boring.  

The peas and sugar snap peas were ready to go in the ground.  Because they need something to climb on as they grow, I used the wooden stakes and twine to make a simple trellis.  Between my planting rows you can see that I put down black landscape fabric since I found a good deal on 100ft rolls for $5.  Using the long U-shaped staples that come with it to hold it down, laying it in place takes no time at all but saves hours and hours of weeding all summer long.   The black color also absorbs heat warming the soil along around the plants roots. Besides those benefits, I like to have pathways so that visitors can have a closer look and not get muddy feet!

I was also able to put in the strawberry patch...20 plants in a raised bed. They are looking good, but I am disappointed after learning that I am supposed to pick off all the blossoms this year (that means no berries) so as to establish the patch for next year.  Once again, I admit I am not good at waiting...so...we might take our chances and have a few berries this summer anyways, but shhhh don't tell....

Everyday, especially when it is sunny and warm, I check on the seedlings in the greenhouse at least twice but sometimes every few hours or so when I am home, (ok ok, you're right!  It’s hard to KEEP me OUT of the greenhouse!)  Well, it is vital to make sure the temperature is not getting too high in there for the tiny plants (last summer it reached temps up to 130 degrees!) and also to see that the soil in the seed pots is not drying out.  Remember to water gently!!

The tomato plants are growing slowly but surely. Perhaps this weekend I will dilute some miracle grow to a little less than half the suggested strength and give them a little drink.  Since they are so tender a full dosage would be way too potent and do more harm than good (probably would kill them.)

The pepper plants are still being difficult...the ones that finally sprouted are still very small, so small that I am sure that I will be purchasing plants from one of the local garden centers when planting out time comes.

All types of the squash are doing just fine…well…except for the pumpkins. We have a mystery concerning the pumpkins!  I planted all 25 Amish Pie Pumpkin seeds from the packet, and none sprouted in all this time, so one day last week I was curious and poked 
around in the seed pots to see if any seeds were even sprouted under the soil or if they had rotted.  I found no sign of seeds at all! They had completely vanished!  A couple days later, I discovered 4 or 5 plants coming up in the container where I started more lettuce, which look an awful lot like young pumpkin plants!  So my theory is that a small perpetrator perhaps grey or brown in fur, with a little rat tail and sneaky little paws, found a way inside the greenhouse and moved the pumpkin seeds to more convenient snacking hideaways.  Once the few plants are more established I will move them into their own container so they won't hinder the small lettuce plants until everyone is ready to go outside to the garden.

Coming up next: dealing with the 10 yards of mulch we had delivered, overall tidying up of the flower beds, trimming, splitting, transplanting…busy busy!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Seedling Update

Today is Wednesday May 4th and its still RAINING and chilly.  And, our seedlings are having a difficult time as they have no sunshine to motivate them to grow!  Further complications include so much rain water leaking in through the greenhouse roof panels and thoroughly saturating our seed pots, moldy newspaper pots, & cold temperatures delaying the starting of the herb seeds.

Here you can see that a few of the bean plants are getting bigger leaves, but some have yet to even sprout up from the dirt at all!   They look ok though and I think if we have just a little warmth and sunshine they will really do well.  

This picture is showing the upper shelf of peas and the lower shelf of cucumbers looking very healthy, with dark green leaves and sturdy stems--the beginning of some very hearty veggie plants.

The zucchini and yellow summer squash are finally up (left) as well as the acorn squash (below).  However, still no sign of the butternut squash or the pumpkins.

 Most of the tomato seed pots have some tiny plants growing, although I am sort of anxious about the speed at which they are growing (or not)...Only approx 3 1/2 weeks until planting out date, and they are soooo small!  Sunshine, please Lord, a little sunshine!!!

We may end up having to purchase all of our pepper plants!  Only 3 sickly green pepper sprouts are up, and nearly all of the pots are moldy!  I am not sure at this time if they are moldy because of being flooded with rain water so many times, or from the cool damp temperatures, or because of the newspaper, or all of the above?!  The newspaper pots containing tomatoes are not moldy, only all pots containing the 4 varieties of peppers that I was looking forward to growing.  Hmmmm....I'm waiting a little longer before giving up all together, but its sure not looking good for the peppers.

I planted an assortment of herb seeds last weekend in peat pots (ice cube tray style) in the greenhouse. If we had warmer weather, they should have been started a few weeks earlier, so I am not really sure if they are going to grow either, but since I had the packets of seeds I figured I had better give it a try.

Oh, wait, what's this I see, is it a glimpse of sun? Oh, nope, nevermind, it's already gone again....