Monday, April 25, 2011

Landscaping for Dogs

If you are like me and love a dog (or two) - there can be some gardening drama! Here are a few ideas about how to design your yard to be dog, and gardener friendly! We all know it is a hard trick to establish with a chewing, digging, eliminating animal in your yard. Find a way to enjoy your yard space together with that puppy in your life.

Tip #1- Establish a "dog area" in your yard! Make sure it is a large enough area the dog can roam free a little and find some fun things to add to make it a comfortable place for your dog to be. Make sure the area has shade for your dog house and a place where they can drink (a fountain or small pool for drinking/swimming depending on what your dog likes is fun to try). My dogs are both Labs as you can see, so I plan to add a small pool/water feature that they can swim and cool off in the hot Utah summers. I let my dogs out of the dog area at least once a day to run/play or go on a walk but the main area for pottying is in the dog area! You can also place a water outlet in the area with a lick-spout attached for clean fresh water. There are so many good drinking ideas!! Another, if your dog is really posh is to place a mister on your hose (on a timer) that will mist the dog area a few times a day in the hottest hours. What more can a dog really want?

Tip #2- Does your dog love to dig? Make a place in the dog area your dog CAN dig without getting in trouble... Add a pile of dirt and even bury a bone or treat every once in a while to show the dog where she is allowed to dig. It also helps in training them, if you catch them digging somewhere else to bring them to that spot and say "dig!"

Tip #3- Create stepping stone paths in the naturally worn paths your dog makes (usually along the fence line of your home). This will eliminate unsightly dog paths in the lawn and help your dog keep their natural territorial instincts without getting into trouble.

Tip #4- Make sure you don't have poisonous plants in your yard that could harm your dog. For a list of poisonous plants check the link below.

Tip #5- Find suitable ground cover for your "dog area." A lot of dog owners use wood chips or heavy mulch instead of lawn because of the damage dog urine does to your turf. I use a combination of both because I don't mind re-seeding a few spots every spring... Use your preference- but please find a way to make it look attractive. Add a cute fire-hydrant planter, some hardy perennials, or some flowering shrubs. Landscaping for dogs can be a lot of fun!!

Happy Gardening!


Monday, April 18, 2011

Backyard Composting

I know you've seen it... that rich, dark, soft soil- easy to weed and will grow the most beautiful plants in the universe? Now that can be yours with a few easy steps to building your own compost pile.

Spring is a great time to start a compost pile that will help you naturally amend your soil into something magnificent! Your soil is a living organism that constantly needs to be fed and amended to get best results from your gardening experience. From my many college soils classes I have taken I always heard that the MOST important and beneficial thing you can do for your soil is to add organic matter. Organic matter is simply decomposed materials such as kitchen scraps (fruits and veggies), grass clippings, leaves and weeds, manures, coffee grounds, wood chips, bark etc. I can't tell you enough the benefit it adds to your garden and the results you get from it! It is SO worth it!

What is composting?
Composting according to Utah State University Extension is the aerobic, or oxygen-requiring, decomposition of organic materials by microorganisms under controlled conditions.

I had read about it for years and finally had the space to make my own compost bin in my back yard. Little did I know you can also do the same in a small space if you are willing. Here are some steps to get you started and know how to make some successful compost GOLD!

Step 1- Find a container! If you have space for a larger compost bin it can be made inexpensively with poles and chicken wire, wooden bins, or open sided cinder blocks. I made mine out of wood pallets that I got for free from a local store. You only need three sides so you can build the pile inside of it. (keep in mind you need something you can get wet, and will circulate air through easily) If you have a small space you can but a compost turner, or simply start with a bucket under your kitchen sink of scraps that can be put directly into your garden soil. (kitchen scraps decompose very quickly)

Step 2- Select the site! For the perfect composting location you need at least 6 hours of sunlight, a convenient location for adding and removing compost, and available to water. You might also think of a place that is inconspicuous in your landscape for aesthetic purposes.

Step 3- Gather suitable materials- any of the above mentioned organic materials CAN be added to your pile- things that are not acceptable are as follows: meats, bones, large branches, dairy products, synthetic products and plastics.

Step 4- Making the pile work- Structure the compost pile with layers that will help the pile decompose correctly. Mine went something like this- Plant waste, fertilizer, soil, plant waste, fertilizer, soil. You must add nitrogen fertilizer every 1-2 feet to decrease the Carbon to Nitrogen ratio. A 1" layer of soil from your yard will increase microbial activity in your pile. Build the pile 3-5 feet tall with an equal circumference so it will heat enough for good composting. Turn the pile every 2-4 weeks (or more often for quicker composting) and keep the pile moist to speed composting.

Remember- if your pile starts to stink- you need to turn it. Adequate oxygen and moisture will eliminate unpleasant odors.

Another good thing to do if you live in the country is to make sure your pile is secure from roaming animals- I think last year we fed quite a few neighborhood dogs, a snake, and a skunk with our delicious compost before I was smart enough to keep it covered! At least my kids got to see a real live skunk right? (they named him stinky face)

The compost is ready when it starts to look like real soil and has no more recognizable materials. It usually takes a few months to get to this point.

Give it a try! Compost added to any flower bed or garden space will be SO beneficial!

Happy Gardening!


Click here to learn more about composting and see my reference for this post.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sneaky tricks of having AMAZING hanging baskets...

So we have all seen and been seduced by the beautiful hanging baskets in the nurseries- you know the ones that are overflowing with bloom and color and texture that we all want at our house... I always wanted to know how people planted them and actually were able to keep them alive for the whole summer. I finally learned their sneaky tricks that will help your annual hanging baskets, or porch pots looking amazing!! After I tried these tips the last few years my hanging baskets have been so much fun!

Trick #1- When planting annuals change the soil in your container make sure to change your potting soil EVERY year for best results!, (or at least every two years) Make sure it is good quality potting soil. Clean out your pot when you switch the soil. I usually just dump the old soil in my flower bed. If you have had any problems that year with pests/fungus it is a good idea to use some diluted bleach water to sanitize your pot. DON'T FORGET to drill drainage holes in your pot if they aren't already there... the water needs to be able to drain out to avoid fungus/over-watering problems. (roots need oxygen as much as water to be able to do their job! no drainage=no oxygen) Notice drainage holes in pot below! A good drill will do the trick.

Trick #2- Add a slow release fertilizer to your potting soil. Potting soil is depleated of it's nutrients very quickly because of the ammount of plants you are craming into the pot. You want a big show from your flowers so adding a slow release such as Osmocote REALLY helps your plants a lot! Follow label directions to know how much to add for the size of the pot.

Trick #3- Choose the right plants for the right location... Make sure all your plants are the correct light requirement for the area you plan to place your container. Make sure the plant also does well in your zone (I am amazed at how many nurseries sell plants that will die in my zone) Some of my full sun favorites for hanging baskets are- Wave Petunias, Million Bells, Bacopa, Sweet potato vine, and Lobelia. Ask your local nursery-man/woman for help choosing good plants for your zone.

Trick #4- Water often if your plant is in full sun! I watered mine once a day in the full sun, in the hottest part of the summer I found they sometimes needed twice a day. I know it sounds crazy- but hey this is Utah I'm talking about. Check if it needs water by putting your finger 1" into the soil to see if it is wet at root level. If it is wet wait a day, if not it's time to water again.

Trick #5 - Water with Miracle grow or similar fertilizer as often as label directs- (usually every 7-10 days) They really do need a lot of fertilizer for maximum performance! Believe me it will be worth all the time you put into it to enjoy the beauty you have created!

Please don't attempt to plant your pots till after the last freeze date in your zone. In Utah it is May 5th... California; March 5th... find out the last freeze date and plant accordingly.
I hope you enjoy your beautiful hanging baskets as much as I do!

Happy Gardening


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Give your Front Yard a Face-Lift!

I have been really focused on vegetables since I started this blog (probably because I am expecting a baby and all I can think about is food!) but, I want to switch gears and talk a little bit about my truest love Garden Design!

Think about your front yard for a minute... is it a place you want to sit and hang out? Is it calm, tranquil and beautiful everywhere you look? or is it like the typical front yard, more ownership to the neighborhood and those who drive by than to you who actually own the property? I hate unusable space in a front yard- and lets face it- that's what most of us have right? The typical front yard is a sea of grass and a thin sidewalk that leads in an "L" shape from the driveway to the door. Oh, and don't forget the "kidney bean" shaped flower bed.

Here's a few tips to spruce up a front yard and make the space more usable for you and your family.

1) Widen the walkways! Two people should be able to walk side by side on your walkway to your front door- it will help people feel more comfortable and at ease when visiting you!

2) Make the front door the MAIN focal point from the street! This can be done by color, plant material placement or placement of the path that leads to your front door. Make it inviting, easy to access and your curb appeal will triple.

3) Add a bench, a screen from the street, and some trickling water. Find a place to make a nook where you can sit and enjoy your yard and not be viewed by the whole neighborhood. The water sounds are also calming and inviting to your guests. If you are lucky enough to have a mature tree, a wood swing is also a good way to make your front yard usable for kids!

4) Don't be afraid to get rid of more lawn- The domesticated world is lawn-crazy! It is actually less maintenance to take care of a well planned flower bed than turf- believe it or not. Add some paths and nice plant material that will add to texture, color and aesthetic pleasure of being outdoors!

5) Especially for the front yard you need something that smells good!! Lilacs, Lavender, Hyacinths, and Mint (only planted in a container, mint is very aggressive!) are a few of my favorites. Plant near your sitting area or near the front door. You will love it more than you now realize!

6) Plant containers, pots and flower boxes to soften look of your home! (container planting tips coming soon!, very soon! ) Open your eyes to the possibilities of having a space you can actually use in your front yard! It's a whole new world out there!

Happy Gardening!