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13 Dec 2012

Let Nature Work for You

Since the first greenery sprouted, Mother Nature nurtured forests, fields and flowers quite nicely without the artificial “help” provided by fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Today, homeowners and avid gardeners are re-discovering the joys of cultivating lush landscapes, thriving gardens and robust plants in harmony with nature with organic composting and natural pest control. Reducing and eliminating artificial applications in favor of nature’s way is a gift that keeps on giving by making residential and commercial landscapes safe for people and pets and protecting precious resources from runoff contamination.

Organic Composting

In woodlands, wetlands and nature preserves, dead vegetation falls to the ground and degrades, and the nutrients return to the environment to nourish life in a perfectly balanced cycle. Organic composting – returning biodegradable materials to the earth – puts this natural cycle to work in an environmentally friendly way that any gardener can use.

Leaves, straw, dead flowers and shredded newspaper are carbon rich materials, while garden trimmings, grass clippings, fruit rinds and vegetable peels are sources of nitrogen. All these “discards” that usually make their way into the landfill or waste system can be collected and “worked” into a safe, high-quality soil and source of nutrients.

A starter compost pile can be as small as a three-by-three patch in an obscure corner of the yard. Spread a layer of the coarse carbon-rich materials, then add a layer of the nitrogen-rich vegetation. Top with a thin layer of soil and moisten the collection. Keep repeating the layering over time until the compost heap is about three feet high. Every two weeks or so, “work” the compost by turning it, moving the center material toward the edges and the outer vegetation toward the center, then moisten again. The waste will degrade into a sweet, black, nutrient-rich soil. Naturally.

Avid gardeners with large landscapes may choose to use compost bins that come in a range of sizes, many with mechanisms to make turning the compost a quick and easy task.

“Bugging Out”

Nature’s natural protections, which include her own system of pest control, have been compromised. In an effort to create the perfect gardens and landscapes, many lawn services and home gardeners have assaulted every insect with regularly-scheduled pesticide applications that kill almost everything that flies, creeps or crawls.

Indiscriminate and broad-spectrum spraying destroys the good bugs along with the bad ones, kills butterfly caterpillars, robs birds of food sources, and puts people and pets at risk. Pesticides along with herbicides (which kill weeds and unwanted “intruders”) are among the most toxic contaminants to water supplies, bays, estuaries, wetlands and preserves. Not a pretty picture. But there ARE alternatives that are environmentally friendly – reducing pesticide applications to an as-needed basis and protecting good insects that survive by eating many of the bad ones that damage your gardens, lawns and trees.

Lists of beneficial insects are available at garden outlets, nurseries, nature centers and libraries. Here are a few examples of ones that will help you eliminate garden pests while making a priceless contribution to the environment.

Ladybugs and ladybird beetles

Small, oval and usually brightly colored, these natural wonders feed on aphids (a nemesis for roses and other garden treasures), scale (which causes black spots on leaves) and mealybugs (sap suckers that can weaken and kill plants and destroy leaves).

Praying mantids

These green beauties on stick legs look like they are in a praying pose, hence the name. They are voracious eaters and feed on bugs (and, unfortunately, even each other). They lay eggs on twigs and in thick grasses, which are destroyed by pesticides.

Dragonflies

Large and sometimes colorful, these wonders of nature are perpetually on the fly. Their restaurant is mid-air – they catch and consume other flying insects including pesky mosquitoes and flies.

My Botanica is a premier source of environmentally sensitive pest control products. Our team of professionals welcomes the opportunity to answer your questions to help you enjoy nature-friendly gardens and choose the best products for your individual needs. Please call toll free 1-888-722-4308.

13 Dec 2012

Cultivating Roses, Nature’s Gift to the Senses

Romeo: “What’s in a name?”
Juliet: “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

– William Shakespeare

Delicate petals in alabaster hues … magnificent clusters of burgundy blooms … pastel peaches, pinks and yellows … more than 4,000 varieties in a staggering array of colors can confound even veteran gardeners. The challenge isn’t deciding whether or not to plant roses, it’s having to choose which ones.

Note: Different areas of the country may require slightly different planting and growing techniques from the general guidelines here. Please check with nurseries, agricultural extensions or an experienced rose gardener for local requirements.

Making a Bed for Roses to Lie In

Miniature, dwarf, standard, climber or hybrid tea – no matter which you choose, they will add sweet scents for the senses.

Roses require abundant sunshine, rich, well-drained soil, dry leaves and ample water. They also like to be tucked into a custom-made bed that begins with a hole dug in two stages and soil layered with nutrients, such as manure.

Digging

Making a proper bed for the garden royals may seem a bit fussy, but so are the roses.

Begin by removing the dirt from a hole about two feet wide and 18 inches deep. Spread three inches of manure over the bottom of the hole (or choose a fertilizer recommended by your nursery or garden center). Dig another 18 inches, but do not remove the dirt. Instead, work the nutrient into the softened soil.

Return just 12 inches of dirt to the hole and mix the layers softened soil. (A rototiller does an excellent job here.) Then back to the shovel detail. Remove enough soil to make a hole two feet deep in a cone shape, which will help direct the plant’s roots as they grow. (The additional softened soil under that keeps drainage high and the chance of wet roots low.)

Planting

As painful as it may be, the height of the rose bush may have to be pruned short enough for the immature roots to support the plant but without cutting below the graft site. Trim damaged roots, set the plant in the hole, return the dirt, press to firm it, and shape the surface dirt into a cone around the stalk.

Tending

Like people, roses need food, water and regular grooming. The menu is simple – handful of fertilizer made just for roses once a month and enough water to keep the soil moist but not wet (no puddles please!).

Clip dead and dying blooms. “Deadheading” preserves energy and encourages new buds.

Watch for garden pests like beetles and aphids. In nature’s balanced cycle, ants dine on aphids, so protect them. In return, you can nurture the earth by trying natural remedies before resorting to chemicals. Garlic planted in the rose bed discourages many bugs from setting up housekeeping, as does a bit of dishwashing detergent in the water applied to the bushes.

If you must eventually consider chemical pesticides, use only ones specific to roses and follow the directions. More is not better.

Fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides that run off, leach during rains and become airborne in the wind are the greatest sources of damage to waterways and contamination of drinking water. You can make a difference.

My Botanica is your source of products carefully chosen for their environmentally sensitive character. Our team is always available to help you make a difference while helping you grow and nurture prize roses. Please call toll free 1-888-722-4308.

Recomended Links:

The American Rose Society provides an excellent FAQ on, among other matters, pruning and deadheading rose bushes.

The American Rose Society has also an evolving classification system for rose bushes, but David Austin’s schema Roses for Specific Purposes/Positions is more useful for the beginner.

For a detailed article on planting bare root rose bushes, see Mark Whitelaw’s Planting Bare Root Rose Bushes.

13 Dec 2012

5 Top Picks for Fabulous Foliage

Lush landscapes and thriving gardens begin with the right plants in the right places. Here are our top picks for fabulous foliage that complement almost any design and flourish with little maintenance.

Australian Willow (Agonis flexuosa)

The Australian Willow, a picturesque tree with a cloud-shaped canopy, is a low-maintenance addition to any landscape and an outstanding roadside adornment. Long, slender leaves are abundant, giving the tree a lush look year round, and tiny white flowers add flair in the spring. The “evergreen” nature of the Australian Willow means there’s no leaf-drop season, and no seeds or fruit drop. This landscape showcase typically grows at a moderate rate to a height of 20 or 30 feet, tolerates drought and sandy soil, is pest resistant and requires almost no attention short of an occasional light pruning. The Australian Willow fares best in areas that do not experience strong winds, heavy fog or salt air.

Loropetalum, Razzleberry variety (Loropetalum chinense)

The Razzleberry, with a heritage rooted in China, is a showy shrub often used as a perimeter plant to enhance the privacy of pool/patio areas. Clusters of brilliant pink blooms add pizzazz in the spring and fall and will even reward gardeners with some summer splashes of color. The Razzleberry enriches landscapes with texture created by rich green leaves that turn to a distinctive bronze in the fall and winter, which makes this showpiece an excellent contrast to other landscape choices. Despite the dramatic changes, the Razzleberry – which can grow to six feet and fares well in both sun and shade – is a year-round plant with no leaf drop to fuss with.

Lily of the Valley Shrub (Pieris japonica)

The versatility of the Lily of the Valley Shrub and its ability to thrive in a wide range of planting conditions and soils makes it a perfect landscape choice. The compact shrub with white blossoms reaches up to six feet by six feet at maturity and rewards gardeners with a kaleidoscope of new-growth red leaves and rich-green mature leaves. The evergreen and cold-hardy character of the Lily of the Valley Shrub, which should not be pruned or trimmed, means this accent to any landscape is virtually maintenance free. It needs shade and cannot tolerate full sun, which makes it an ideal choice as an under-story plant.

Butterfly Bush/Summer Lilac (Buddleja davidii)

Bright clusters of lavender-pink flowers and variegated leaves make the Butterfly Bush a magnificent complement to any landscape. As the name implies, butterflies love the nectar-laden blossoms that grow like lilacs along “spikes” at the tips of branches. White velvet under the long, tapered leaves and the shrub’s round shape make it an ideal choice as a background accent and especially as a fragrant addition to a butterfly garden. The shrub – which averages four feet tall but can grow to 10 feet – fares well in full sun and requires little attention beyond tending to a moderate leaf drop.

Azalea (from the Rhododendron family)

Azaleas have been landscape darlings with both landscape designers and home gardeners since the world’s first cluster of spring blooms popped. This member of the Rhododendron family delights the senses with flowers dressed in Crayola colors, from angel white to pinks, reds, peach, orange and even vibrant purple, all nestled in beds of bold green foliage. Dozens of choices that range from a diminutive 12 inches to eight feet tall offer a myriad of planting options, including clusters in stand-alone gardens, brilliant hedge-like arrangements and borders. Azaleas have few requirements beyond acidic, well-drained soil, occasional grooming with pruning sheers and an annual fertilizer dinner. We love them all.

My Botanica’s team welcomes the opportunity to help you choose the proper plant for the proper job and the proper location. Our fine line of environmentally friendly products will help you maintain a thriving landscape and gardens and keep your plants and trees lush. Please call toll free 1-888-722-4308.