Preparing Your Garden fo the Winter

Some people believe that when the weather starts getting colder and the
leaves start to fall, it is time to put away the gardening tools and wait
until next spring to work on their garden again. Wrong. Winter is an
important time to maintain your garden’s health and assure yourself a good
crop for next year. You may think that might take to long to prepare your
garden, but the truth is that it takes less than one day to prepare your
garden for the upcoming winter.

When the nighttime temperatures drop to less than forty-five degrees
Fahrenheit for more than four days in a row, or frost is forecasted for
your area (usually around late October or November) you know its time to
begin preparing your garden. You should begin by evaluating your garden
design, check which plants grew well in the past season, and which plants
did not do well. Fall is a good time to decide which plants will remain in
you garden next year, and which ones should go.

It is also a good time to decide which new plants you want to grow. To
make your garden more colorful and healthy, be sure only to plant the more
hardy plants during the fall so that they can withstand the winter. Some
plants that will do fine being planted in fall are: rudbeckia, Aster
Novi-belgii, Anemone Japonica, panicle hyandea, endive, escarole, and
Brussels sprouts. You can find all of these and more in gardening
magazines or your local nursery.

After you have finished this you should begin cleaning up your garden.
Begin by pulling out weeds that may have cropped up, and raking fallen
leaves. Weeds and rotten leaves can carry insects and diseases that might
be harmful to your garden. You should also rid your garden of spent annual
plants, and harvest your vegetables and other plants that cannot withstand
the winter weather. After fall has come and gone, the leaves will be off
your trees and you can see the rotten branches. Trimming off the unwanted
branches from your trees isn’t necessary to your gardens health, but may
help later on by not dropping branches on your plants and not blocking too
much of the sun.

If you have younger trees you should consider wrapping them and supporting
them with stakes to help them survive the winter wind and cold. Putting
mulch over your garden for the winter can be a helpful way to protect
plants from sudden temperature changes and heavy snow. For mulch you can
use about five inches of shredded bark, pine needles, or a variety of
other materials. You have to be careful not to mulch too early, because
some insects may still be alive and able to take shelter in it for the
winter.

Once you are finished with your gardening tools you should clean them and
make sure they are in a safe place where they won’t rust and you know
where they’ll be for next year. Before winter comes you should always set
out slug repellent, as slugs are one of the worst bugs to have in your
garden. If you have a pool or fountain in your garden, be sure to take out
any fish that you have in them and bring them inside. There’s nothing
sadder than a fish frozen in a block of ice.
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Picking the Right Gardening Tools

If you’re thinking about taking your gardening seriously and getting out
there every day to increase the attractiveness of your garden, then you
will want to get the right tools to help you in this. You might be tempted
to go out to the store and just buy the nearest things you see, but you’ll
be much happier if you put lots of thought into the styles and types of
tools you’re buying. There are styles designed just for gardening, and
you’ll be better off buying those.

You can find most of the tools you will need at your local gardening or
home improvement shop. Usually the employees will be simply thrilled to
assist you in finding the ideal tools. If you go to a shop that
specializes in gardening, you can usually get some advice in addition to
service. Gardening store employees are usually an untapped wealth of
wisdom, and they are how I learned almost all that I know about gardening
today.

If you are having a hard time finding the right tool or if you want to
save some money, you might try looking online for the supplies you need.
You’ll have to pay the shipping costs and wait an extra week or two, but
often if you buy more than one tool, the total savings will be worth it.
You should always buy from a reputable seller, though, and search around
beforehand for anything negative that people had to say about their buying
experience.

As far as basic digging tools go, you might already have all you’ll need.
There are several types that you should get though, for different specific
tasks. A round point shovel is good for digging holes for plants. A spade
is necessary for all the more intricate work. A garden fork you might not
use as much, but I have one in my tool shed and I’ve been thankful for it
on multiple occasions. Having these different varieties of digging tools
can help you to minimize the work you have to do. For example, if you try
digging a big hole with a little spade then you’ll end up rather tired.
The same goes if you are attempting to do more detailed work with a big
clumsy shovel.

A rake is an absolute necessity. You most likely already have one, but I’m
guessing it’s a lawn rake and not a garden rake. There is definitely a
difference, and if you try to use a lawn rake in a garden then you will
not be happy with the results. Same if you buy a grading or a contractor’s
rake. You’ll want to look for a bowhead rake. I’ve found these are the
best for gardening purposes. They will provide you the maximum control and
accuracy, so you don’t accidentally tear up your precious plants.

As far as hoes go, I don’t believe any gardener should have less than 3.
There are so many useful varieties on the market that I have a hard time
recommending just one, and that’s why I’ll tell you all the ones I usually
use. The one I use the most is the onion hoe, which is very lightweight
and ideal for small cultivations and weeding. The Warren hoe is a larger
model, with a pointed end. If you need to make a hole or dig out a pesky
weed, this is the one for you. There are several other varieties, but I
recommend starting with the ones I mentioned. As you progress in your
gardening savvy, you will find the need for more types.

Most people believe that gardening just consists of a simple spade. But
there are many, many tools with many more variations that you will use in
your gardening career. Usually you can start with just a few different
tools, but you’ll always find that you can use more varieties for special
situations. It’s just a matter of recognizing when one tool could be more
efficient than another.

Preparing Healthy Soil

If you’re getting ready to go on a new garden venture, you need to prepare
your soil to ideally house your plants. The best thing you can do in the
soil preparation process is to reach the perfect mixture of sand, silt,
and clay. Preferably there would be 40 percent sand, 40 percent silt, and
20 percent clay. There are several tests used by experienced gardeners to
tell whether the soil has a good composition. First you can compress it in
your hand. If it doesn’t hold its shape and crumbles without any outside
force, your sand ratio is probably a little high. If you poke the
compressed ball with your finger and it doesn’t fall apart easily, your
soil contains too much clay.

If you’re still not sure about the content of your soil, you can separate
each ingredient by using this simple method. Put a cup or two of dirt into
a jar of water. Shake the water up until the soil is suspended, then let
it set until you see it separate into 3 separate layers. The top layer is
clay, the next is silt, and on the bottom is sand. You should be able to
judge the presence of each component within your dirt, and act accordingly.

After you’ve analyzed the content of your soil, if you decide that it is
low on a certain ingredient then you should definitely do something to fix
it. If dealing with too much silt or sand, it’s best to add some peat moss
or compost. If you’ve got too much clay, add a mixture of peat moss and
sand. The peat moss, when moistens, helps for the new ingredient to
infiltrate the mixture better. If you can’t seem to manage to attain a
proper mixture, just head down to your local gardening store. You should
be able to find some kind of product to aid you.

The water content of the soil is another important thing to consider when
preparing for your garden. If your garden is at the bottom of an incline,
it is most likely going to absorb too much water and drown out the plants.
If this is the case, you should probably elevate your garden a few inches
(4 or 5) over the rest of the ground. This will allow for more drainage
and less saturation.

Adding nutrients to your soil is also a vital part of the process, as most
urban soils have little to no nutrients already in them naturally. One to
two weeks prior to planting, you should add a good amount of fertilizer to
your garden. Mix it in really well and let it sit for a while. Once you
have done this, your soil will be completely ready for whatever seeds you
may plant in it.

Once your seeds are planted, you still want to pay attention to the soil.
The first few weeks, the seeds are desperately using up all the nutrients
around them to sprout into a real plant. If they run out of food, how are
they supposed to grow? About a week after planting, you should add the
same amount of fertilizer that you added before. After this you should
continue to use fertilizer, but not as often. If you add a tiny bit every
couple of weeks, that should be plenty to keep your garden thriving.

Basically, the entire process of soil care can be compressed into just
several steps… ensure the makeup of the soil is satisfactory, make sure
you have proper drainage in your garden, add fertilizer before and after
planting, then add fertilizer regularly after that. Follow these simple
steps, and you’ll have a plethora of healthy plants in no time. And if you
need any more details on an individual step, just go to your local nursery
and enquire there. Most of the employees will be more than happy to give
you advice.

The Psychology Behind Gardening

I don’t know what it is about a garden that has always drawn humans to
them. But they’ve always been very popular, and an integral part of
peoples’ lifestyles. Most religions feature gardens as the settings for
some of the biggest events According to Christianity, humanity was started
in a garden and the son of God was resurrected in a garden. The Buddhist
build gardens to allow nature to permeate their surroundings. Almost every
major palace and government building has a garden. But what’s so great
about them? They’re just a bunch of plants, after all.

Of course, the reasoning is fairly obvious behind why people grow food in
gardens. It’s to eat! If you live off the fat of the land and actually
survive on stuff from your garden, it’s easy to understand the reasoning.
But I’m thinking about those people who plant flower gardens just for the
sake of looking nice. There’s no immediate benefit that I can see; you
just have a bunch of flowers in your yard! However, after thinking
extensively about the motivation behind planting decorative gardens, I’ve
conceived several possible theories.

I think one of the reasons people love gardens so much is that while we
have a natural desire to progress and industrialize, deep within all of us
is a primal love for nature. While this desire might not be as strong as
the desire for modernism, it is still strong enough to compel us to create
gardens, small outlets of nature, in the midst of all our hustle and
bustle. Since being in nature is like regressing to an earlier stage of
humanity, we too can regress to a time of comfort and utter happiness.
This is why gardens are so relaxing and calming to be in. This is why
gardens are a good place to meditate and do tai chi exercises. A garden is
a way to quickly escape from the busy world.

I’ve thought at times that perhaps we as humans feel a sort of guilt
driving us to restore nature and care for it. This guilt could stem from
the knowledge that we, not personally but as a race, have destroyed so
much of nature to get where we are today. It’s the least we can do to
build a small garden in remembrance of all the trees we kill every day.
It’s my theory that this is the underlying reason for most people to take
up gardening as a hobby.

Gardening is definitely a healthy habit though, don’t get me wrong. Any
hobby that provides physical exercise, helps the environment, and improves
your diet can’t be a negative thing. So no matter what the underlying
psychological cause for gardening is, I think that everyone should
continue to do so. In the USA especially, which is dealing with obesity
and pollution as its two major problems, I think gardening can only serve
to improve the state of the world.

Of course I’m no psychologist; I’m just a curious gardener. I often stay
up for hours wondering what makes me garden. What is it that makes me go
outside for a few hours every day with my gardening tools, and facilitate
the small-time growth of plants that would grow naturally on their own? I
may never know, but in this case ignorance truly is bliss.

Using Gardening to Get in Shape

While gardening is usually thought of as a productive way to grow beautiful plants and obtain tasty fruits and vegetables, few gardeners have ever considered the immense amounts of exercise one can get in the process of gardening. While you can get almost as much muscle (if not more) exercise as you do working out, it is very productive at the same time.

You may wonder how gardening could possibly give as much exercise as working out. Just think about all the various facets of preparing a garden. There are holes to be dug, bags and pots to be carried, and weeds to be pulled. Doing all of these things help to work out almost every group of muscles in your body.

My brother is a fanatic about working out. Almost every time I call his house, I end up interrupting some muscle toning activity. I’ve never really enjoyed working out, though, as it seems that the constant lifting of heavy things just puts a strain on my body with no immediate positive results. But while he is into working out, I am almost equally enthusiastic about gardening. I work outside improving my garden almost every day. I think I definitely surprised my brother when he realized that I am almost as muscular as he is; but I have never lifted a single dumbbell!

Before you go out into your garden, you should always stretch out. Even if your goal isn’t to work out and get exercise, it’s still a good idea. Often gardeners spend long periods of time hunched over or bent over. This can be bad for your back. So not only should you stretch out before hand, but you should always take frequent breaks if you’re spending long amounts of time in these positions.

Weeding and pruning are some of the best workouts a gardener can get. With the constant crouching and standing, the legs get a great workout. If your weeds are particularly resistant, your arms will become particularly toned just from the effort required to remove them from the ground. If you plan on taking the whole workout think very seriously, you should always be switching arms and positions to spread out the work between different areas of your body.

One of the most obvious ways to get exercise is in the transporting and lifting of bags and pots. Between the nursery and your house, you will have to move the bags multiple times (to the checkout, to your car, to your garden, and then spreading them out accordingly). As long as you remember to lift with your legs and not your back, transporting bags and pots can give you a fairly big workout, even though you probably don’t make those purchases very often.

Mowing your grass can also be a great exercise. If you’ve got an older mower that isn’t self propelled, just the act of pushing it through the grass will give you more of a workout than going to the gym for a few hours. During the course of mowing the grass, you use your chest, arms, back, and shoulder to keep the mower ahead of you. Your thighs and butt also get worked a lot to propel the mower. Not only do you get an all around muscle work out, but it can improve your heart’s health. It’s good for you as a cardiovascular activity, as well as a great way to lose weight due to the increased heart rate and heavy breathing.

If you plan on using gardening as a way to get in shape or lose some weight, you can hardly go wrong. Just be sure to stretch out, drink plenty of water, and apply sunscreen. As long as you take steps to prevent the few negative effects such as pulled muscles, dehydration and sunburn, I think you’ll have a great time and end up being a healthier person because of it.

Using Rain Barrels to Survive Droughts

If you’re a gardener that has an unlimited supply of water, consider
yourself lucky. There are many of us who live in drought zones where the
garden and lawn watering rules are very constrictive to the healthy growth
of gardens and plants. Many people just give up when they find out how few
gallons of water they are permitted to use, but some of us have just found
ways to cope with less water. There are many ways to optimize ones garden
to conserve water while still keeping it lush.

Some of the ways include drip irrigation (the use of a pipe or hose with
small holes to gradually seep into the roots of the plant), the placement
of plants in groups of equal watering needs (to prevent wasting water on
plants that don’t need it), and using compost or mulch to insulate the
water and prevent drainage.

But one of the best ways to keep your garden alive during a drought is to
take preventative measures. Occasionally a drought will be predicted far
in advanced, or those already experiencing a drought will be given a few
weeks of heavy rain. When this occurs, you should take the opportunity to
set up several rain barrels. Many people think this would be a time
consuming, silly thing to do. But it can save you many gallons of water,
and hardly requires any work.

Finding the barrels will probably be the hardest part. You can use your
own garbage cans, or head to your home improvement store to get a few 55
gallon plastic drums. These can be expensive and difficult to transport,
so keep that in mind before you go to the store. You will probably want to
cover the top of the barrel with a screen of some sort to filter out any
unwanted leaves or debris that might fall off the roof of your house.

Once you have your barrels ready, you’re faced with the decision of where
to place them. Usually during rainfall, there is one corner or segment of
the house that rain tends to pour off of. If you are taking the simple
approach to barrel placement, just place the barrel under all the places
where you see large amounts of drips. However, while this might be the
easiest way to place them, you won’t see very high volumes of rain in the
barrels.

If you want to take a more complicated approach to placing the barrels,
you should consider tweaking your gutter system a bit. If you remove each
individual segment and place it at a very slight slant so that all the
water is diverted to the nearest corner of the house, you can place a rain
barrel at each corner. So essentially your entire house acts as a catcher
for the rain, instead of just a few feet worth of shingles. This is how to
maximize the amount of water your rain barrel will catch.

After a heavy rainfall, each individual barrel probably won’t see very
much rain. If it looks like it won’t be raining more any time soon, it’s a
good idea to empty each barrel into one main central barrel. Seal it and
save it out of the way, for whenever you may need it. Then the next time
it starts to rain, you’ll be able to quickly put all your catching barrels
into place without having to lug around all the water you’ve accumulated
so far.

Using Vines to Decorate your Garden

A great way to decorate your garden is the use of vines. They are very low maintenance and look good on almost anything. If you’ve got a fence or separator that really stands out in the field of green that is your garden, then growing a vine over it can be a quick and aesthetically pleasing solution. However, there are many types of vines for different situations, whether you are trying to grow it up the side of a house, along the ground, or up a tree.

Many different ground vines are available. These types grow fast and strong, and just inch their ways along the ground. They are very easy to direct, so they can make a border around your garden, or just weave in and out of the plants. I suggest using these as a hardy ground cover if you just want some green on your dirt or mulch. Usually you can find a variety that is resistant to being stepped on. It’s like a leafy, nice alternative to grass. Even if you have kids and a dog, it should have no problems staying alive.

Another type of vine that is available is a “twining” vine. This refers to their method of climbing. Twining vines require a lattice or equally porous surface to climb up, since they are not sticky at all. They just climb by sending out small tendrils to loop around whatever is nearby. I suggest using this type of vine for climbing up trees, or any type of mesh. Usually you have to guide them a lot more during their early stages, and after that they will go wherever you want them to.

Vines not only look good on the ground or on lattices, you can blend them in to the very architecture of your house. This is usually achieved through the use of vines with small tendrils that have adhesive tips. They extend from the vine and attach themselves to almost any surface. If your garden is adjacent to your house and you want something to camouflage the big unsightly wall, it’s a great idea to start out a few vines near the base. If you have a vine like the Virginia Creeper growing, then your entire wall will be covered in a matter of months. However I have seen situations where the vine got out of control. After that, you have no choice but to watch the vine take over your entire house.

One of the vines that you would probably recognize is Ivy. You see it around a lot, generally because it is so adaptable. Out of the types I mentioned above (ground, twining, and sticky pads), Ivy can fill in for pretty much anything. It makes a great ground cover, and will grow up about any surface you put it on. Although it grows quick and strong, I wouldn’t suggest growing it up your house. This is because recently, buildings which have had ivy for many years have found that it has been deteriorating the building.