The Primary Advantages of Mulching Plants and Gardens

“Mulching” is a way of giving your plant beds a change. It makes plants healthier and garden maintenance hassle free. Organic mulch is more beneficial and easy to find. These include wood fragments, straw, grass trimmings, and leaves. Plants require sufficient moisture to grow properly. These substances keep the soil moist longer because of the ability to absorb rainwater and irrigation. It holds back evaporation of wetness in the soil. Enhanced water preservation reduces the need for repeated irrigation. It also allows plant growers to schedule watering. Mulch can decelerate erosion since it prevents water from washing out soil.

Mulch insulates the soil. Thus, soil temperature increases slowly. The soil remains cool for a longer period if you apply mulch in spring or early summer. The material takes in some of sunlight. As the temperatures declines, mulch helps the soil to maintain heat. Warm soil protects the roots from severe winter temperature. It also controls growth of weeds since it serves as barrier against the sunlight to penetrate sprouting weeds.

Mulch should be applied properly. In the case of decorative plants, the mulch bed should be spread over at the plant’s drip line. On the other hand, mulch beds may not be symmetrical or properly lineal. This may be used to bring together isolated plants and form slack groupings in the garden. Tree saucers should be a minimum of three feet in diameter around the foundation. These can stretch to the perimeter of drip lines. The mulch bed must not be thicker than three inches so it will not limit the flow of oxygen to the roots. Besides, too much soil covering that will create conditions for anaerobic putrefaction.

Allow the mulch to decay before you scatter these on your plants. If not, it may decompose underneath the plants. The process of rotting may produce discharge of gases, timber alcohol and strong organic matter. These can drain from the bottom and temperatures will shoot up to 160 until 180 degrees Fahrenheit and heat the plants. The excessive heat can also damage the lawn. Cultivate the soil around the tree for ventilation purposes and put an inch of mulch substance on top. It should not be put on near the bark or on top of perennial plants. The substance will preserve soil moisture and prevent the tree from drying quickly if the cover is applied appropriately. It turns into organic matter as soon as it crumbles.

Simple Tips For Effective Landscape Gardening

There are many people who believe that there are just two ways to keep your lawn. There are those who believe that you spend no money on it at all and ignore the fact that it looks like a trailer park, or else you have to you lavish care on it and make it look like the White House lawn. Of course, as with everything else that takes an extreme view of things, and is fundamentally flawed in its outlook. Affordable landscaping is eminently possible and it can be yours if you know how.

If you’re actually trying to win awards for your landscaping, of course, then you need to put a lot more effort into your landscape gardening but that’s not what we’re trying to do here. We’re just trying to make affordable landscaping possible so that you and your family can enjoy nice, well-kept grounds. But even if you are trying to make everyone green with envy, these tips for affordable landscaping should help you.

What makes a person look really healthy and well-taken care of? Well, it’s a healthy diet of course. And so it is with your yard. The better-fed it is, the better it looks. The best lawn feed hands-down is compost, of course. The great thing about compost as we all know is that it is organic; but more importantly, it is free. Whatever you use in the kitchen at home – from apple cores to coffee grounds – throw them all in the compost heap, and you get what experienced gardeners call black gold. With a garden this healthy, you’ll spend a lot less on all of the other stuff.

It’s not a good idea to skimp on your fertilizer though. Using great homemade compost doesn’t preclude the need for quality fertilizer as well. Get a professional to come in and spray good quality fertilizer and weedicide on your yard. Usually, for the average-sized home yard, you can expect to pay something like $70. But there is a better way to do it.

You can keep weeds off your yard simply by fertilizing the right way. You’ll basically need to go to one of those small garden centers that are run by truly knowledgeable people. There, you will need to ask them about the kind of fertilizing schedule you should utilise for your local area, and you will need to ask them for the best fertilizer to go for. Usually, you’ll get a much lower quote than at Home Depot and you won’t have to spend on weedicide.

We live in a time when, thanks to advances in horticulture, we can basically grow anything, anywhere. For example, it’s quite easy, these days to get a plant that’s not entirely native to your area and even though it’s going to take a bit extra effort in that you’re going to have to compensate for its lack of natural defenses by pumping the earth full of artificial fertilizer, it’s still possible to make it flourish. However, is that really such a good idea? Personally, I think it’s a waste of time and money when you could simply do the right thing and populate your garden with local plants. You’ll find that you’ll run into a lot less trouble.

The author is an experienced Aberdeen landscape gardener. You can check out their website for a range of services and tips on how to make your garden look great no matter what you budget, climate or level of expertise.

Norma’s Garden Pool

As a lover of plants and flowers, I am captivated by the garden and consider the swimming pool a nice touch. Youngsters are captivated by the swimming pool. They may or may not ever notice the garden (except on occasion when a buzzing bee gives them a reason to jump into the pool.)


It all began in 1977 when Kenny and Norma Wilson, with a “Yes!” vote from their four children, chose to build an in-ground swimming pool on the family homestead. The youngest was three years old at the time.

The 20 x 40-foot pool has a concrete walk as its perimeter, bordered by a narrow strip of grass on all sides. Norma’s garden meets the grass. This inviting combination of lovely home, nice family, and swimming pool with a garden has been a refreshing place to visit for thirty-six years now. The pool has served Kenny and Norma’s children, their thirteen grandchildren, and now their great-grandchildren (as Norma affectionately refers to those youngsters that are close to her family).

This week, I paid a visit to Norma to tell her that I would like to write a little article about her garden. So we chatted, and then I took pictures of the plants that surround the pool.
The pool was quiet on this day as we shared memories of children happily splashing in it over the years. Besides family, the pool welcomes friends, parties, celebrations, and baptisms.

All the while these poolside events are taking place, there is a graceful lady watching over her garden in that skillful, invisible way that graceful ladies do. One look at the garden, and it is obvious that an industrious hand and a creative mind are at work.

Perennials are the mainstay of Norma’s garden, with annuals added in. Shrubs and vines are focal points of interest, and garden decor complements the plantings in a subtle way. All of it says, “Welcome.” Although it would take volumes to tell the whole story, here are some of the highlights that caught my attention.
The deep end of the swimming pool is the side where many butterflies flit and flutter on the pendulous, thin spikes of Norma’s butterfly bush. It is flanked by crepe myrtles, lovely in their own right. The butterflies fluttering on that bush were many, and they were very active. I finally pulled myself away so that I could photograph the other plants and flowers. (I will return to try and see if I can get three or four swallowtails in one frame.)

Norma then pointed out her “Chaste Bushes”, and I thought it fitting to have a bush so aptly named at the home of a devout Christian family. As any true gardener would, Norma bemoaned the fact that her lilies were finished blooming but had looked very nice in the center of those two bushes. I completely understood.

The tall chaste bush (tree) looks a little like a butterfly bush, but its flower spikes are upright. In a gentle breeze, it sways and invites butterflies as well, adding charm yet majesty to the poolside.
Around the corner from the chaste bushes is the vegetable section that includes cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions and fits right in with the overall flower scheme. (Since you’re gardening, why not literally enjoy the fruits of all your hard work?) Norma gave me a few cucumbers from her abundance that day. The cucumbers tasted great; I ate them out-of-hand, like an apple. They were sweet and filled with the goodness of summer.

(I made a mental note of the wire support used for the cucumber vines in case I want to try making one someday. But as the only one in my family who likes cucumbers, it might be best to just visit Norma each summer at cucumber time.)

Although the regal chaste bushes, the lovely crepe myrtles, and the magical butterfly bush command attention, what pulls everything together is the flower design. It is a feast for the eyes! The varieties are delightful and numerous. The four o’ clocks are my favorite. Or is it the zinnias? Or the coreopsis … It is difficult to decide. Meanwhile, the tall phlox makes a bold statement, agastache lends vertical lines, and a demure rose bush commands attention near the deck. Here are some snapshots that give us a glimpse into the enchanting world of the garden:

Yellow coreopsis with dainty, needle-like leaves Four o’ clocks grow bush-like at the entrance to the porchImageImageImageA strong, circular wire cage with an equally strong cucumber vine growing upward

Swimming pool with mature crepe myrtles and butterfly bushMedium-pink, upright phlox in bloom

Deep pink phlox blooming next to AgastacheCompact rudbeckias with yellow eyes surrounded by tall, fuchsia-colored zinnias

Watering the garden is a daily task in the hot summer months. Norma’s sprinkler does a fine job and only has to be moved from section to section at intervals.

In between garden chores, the pool is handy for taking a dip as often as you want to. Norma went in and out of the pool between watering her garden and accommodating me. That day was hot and humid with a heat index warning, so we made sure to drink water and to sit in the porch for a bit. (Photographing a garden in bare feet in 98º Fahrenheit on pavement was interesting—ok, it was hot!) I was in bare feet because Norma’s garden pool is that kind of place—to just kick your shoes off and relax. I should have brought my swimsuit. And from now on, I will keep my flipflops on at midday in 90+ degrees.

I surely have learned some things about perennial gardening and landscaping just through Norma’s example. She really doesn’t have to say much but is well-versed in gardener’s talk, like when she uses the word, “deadheading”. Whenever she says that word, my face lights up because it means that I get to take some seeds home. Norma freely gives seeds to anyone interested in trying some of her flowers. That will be next season’s project for me.
Postscript: Just off the back porch, in a hanging petunia basket, a tiny bird had built a nest—right in the middle of the hanging flowers! Norma would watch the nest from inside the porch. The morning after snapping these pictures, she informed me that the eggs had hatched.
Having been invited, I am looking forward to taking care of the garden for Norma for a few days this summer. I can’t wait! It will be an honor.

Gardening with Bearded Iris Dividing Irises 101

If you’re nervous about dividing plants, Bearded Irises are a great place to start. Shallow roots make them easy to dig. Big rhizomes make it easy to see where to split up the clump. And their inherent toughness means there’s no way you’ll kill them in the process.


Wait a few weeks after they bloom before dividing irises, as the plants won’t then be in active growth. Try to replant rhizomes at least 4 to 6 weeks before freezing weather, so they can grow new anchoring roots. In most areas, this means dividing in July and August and planting by or before September.

Like mother, like daughter
thick brown root with branching offsets and central bloom stalkThe roots of bearded irises form tuberous structures called rhizomes, at or just below the surface of the soil. Rhizomes store food for making blooms and for making more rhizomes. Each rhizome blooms only once. Future iris flowers come from “daughter” rhizomes that bud and branch out from the “mother” rhizome. Knowing this, you can see why you need to divide irises periodically and how to go about it.

Start by digging up a whole clump of iris. It’s OK to break off a rhizome or two from the edge of a clump to share with a friend, but theImage entire clump does need to be dug up and sorted out every 3 to 5 years. Since they’re such shallow growers, a few angled cuts with a spade or shovel will let you pull up the clump pretty easily. Knock off the dirt, or rinse with the hose, until you can see what’s going on with the rhizomes.

Rhizomes can be long or stubby, fat or thin, straight or twisty. Healthy rhizomes look firm and plump. Definitely discard any rhizomes that are soft, mushy, or damaged. Look for old dried flower stalks or for scars on top of the rhizome where a flower stalk came off. Knowing if a healthy-looking rhizome has bloomed yet or not will help you decide what to do with it.

You’ll need to deconstruct the clump as you sort it out. Rhizomes are easy to separate. Just put one hand on either side of the “joint” between two rhizome sections, and snap it as if snapping a carrot in half.

The “toss it” pile
knobby brown branching rhizome showing pinholes on undersideThe oldest “mother” rhizomes are easy to spot. They look as worn out as they probably feel! They’ll have larger rhizomes branching out from them, but they won’t have much in the way of new leaves or little daughter nubs.

Don’t be alarmed if you see a lot of little holes on the bottom of the older rhizomes. These aren’t made by borers or other pests; they’re just where old roots have fallen away.

These old rhizomes can be discarded. As long as your irises haven’t had pests or diseases, they’ll make a fine addition to your compost pile.

The “keep” pile
Look more closely, and you’ll see newer firmer rhizomes branching out from the oldest gnarliest ones. The biggest of these may already be producing daughters of their own, or they may be saving all their strength for next spring’s glorious bloom.

green leaves on daughter rhizomes branching from left and right of plump mother rhizomeLarge, firm, unbloomed rhizomes are what everybody hopes to get when they buy or trade for irises. If you’re dividing a large clump, you’ll have plenty of prime rhizomes to replant and to share. But even a small daughter rhizome has the potential to grow into a fine clump with patience and a little TLC.

The “maybe” pile
With a little practice, you’ll be able to guess which rhizomes are likely to bloom next year. Once you’ve sorted out the “keepers” and the “yuk, toss it” rhizomes, you’ll probably have a lot of smaller daughter rhizomes as well as some “these don’t look so bad” mother rhizomes.

If a larger rhizome has a bloom stalk, you know it won’t bloom again. But if even small daughter rhizomes are forming on it, it can be worth keeping. The food stored in the mother rhizome will help the smaller daughter rhizomes develop, and in another year or two they’ll be blooming and producing daughters of their own.

Depending on how much room you have, sort out the best of these to replant. I figure if I plant a couple of “keepers” with a few “maybes,” I’ll have a clump of irises that will produce good blooming rhizomes for maybe another 5 years before needing to be divided again.

labeled photo of sorted iris rhizomesother half of labeled sorting photo

Cut & clean up
Tidy up the iris rhizomes in your “keep” pile by cutting back their leaves. They won’t contribute much more to the rhizome at this point. using pruner to make angled cuts across iris leavesNewly planted irises don’t have good roots to anchor them in place, so shortened leaves make them less likely to topple right over. Trimming makes them easier to handle for washing, storing, or trading, also. You can be fancy and make angled cuts from each side, but the plant won’t care if its leftover leaves look pretty.

Cleaning and sanitizing rhizomes (whether from your own garden or elsewhere) helps prevent the spread of pests or diseases. If you’re not sure this has been down with irises you’ve received, just do it. It won’t hurt the rhizomes to be cleaned once by their grower and again by you. 3 rhizomes withe trimmed leaves laid out for planting Although irises are pretty easy growers, when it comes to pests like iris borers, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Swish and rub the rhizomes in a bucket of water, then give them a good spray from the hose. That should get off most of the visible dirt. Now, take care of the spores, bacteria, or insects that you can’t see. Expert growers recommend soaking rhizomes for 10 minutes in a 6% bleach solution (about a cup of bleach per gallon of water). Rinse well, then lay them out to dry in a breezy spot.

Congratulate yourself! Your once-overcrowded irises are ready to spread a bounty of blooms in yotrimmed rhizomes planted between 2 shrubsur garden and beyond. Replant several of the best rhizomes for a better-blooming clump in their original location. Increase their impact by tucking a few more here and there. Give away or trade the remaining “keepers” to grace other gardens.

The hardest part of dividing irises is getting started. Screw your courage to the sticking point, and pry up that first clump. Sorting them out doesn’t require precision or expert technique. They’re one of the most forgiving plants you can grow. So get out your shovel, and just get at them!

sunken garden with brick walls, formal plantings, blue hydrangea blooming

Many thanks to Ben Wilson for a companionable afternoon digging irises in his beautifully restored historic garden.

For more tips on growing irises, see these companion articles: Planting Irises 101 and Spring Cleanup, Fertilizing, and Borer Control.

“Mouse over” images and links for additional information (let your cursor hover for a few seconds, and a popup window will appear).

Vertical Garden Tips

Use Pocket-Like Materials

You can purchase or make your own durable pouches that allow plants to grow within them. Simply create rows of these pouches along a wall that gets plenty of sunlight. Some material is made of burlap while others use a type of recycled material. Organic material is often best to use. As long as it holds soil and drains well, you’ve got the perfect place to grow.

Attach these to the wall using metal grommets. You can purchase a kit with everything you need or you can drag out your sewing machine to create your own. You can plan between 10 and 20 pounds in these, depending on the strength of the material. This may allow for herbs, small plants without heavy fruit, or perennials.
Get Creative With Containers

On the other hand, you may want something even more simplistic. If you have plastic containers lying around the home or perhaps even some old gutters, use them as containers. Simply mount one side to the side of a structure using heavy duty screws or affix to the side of a wooden fence. Add drainage holes to the base of the container. Add soil and your favorite plants or edibles to the containers to allow them to grow in place. Again, be sure to monitor for weight since soil with water can be very heavy and pull on the structure significantly.

Create a Vertical Garden Box

Another option is a bit trickier in terms of actual design, but it can create a very beautiful adornment to the side of a building. In this case, you will use an old crate (or build one) in the shape you desire. Then, follow these steps.

Purchase a seed starter cell pack. These are small, organic material cells that allow you to plant a few seeds in them. Place these cells inside of the crate so they are even with the top or slightly lower. Ensure they are compact and really snug in place.

Place dirt inside the seed starter cells. Each of these containers can hold one or two seeds that will later be your flowers or edibles. However, you can also add plants directly to these right now. This is often best because it creates a beautiful look from the start.

Add a layer of thin wiring over the top of this. A mesh wire screen can be used. Attach it to the top of the crate, right over the top of the seed starter cells.

Add moss around the exterior to hide some or all of the wiring. Take your time with this step. You will want to position the moss around the edges of the plant. You can allow it to hang as well, creating a visually appealing display.

Once complete, mount the entire thing to the structure you’ve selected, such as a durable fence or the wall of a structure. It is a good idea to choose a lightweight soil for these projects so it does not weigh heavily on the structure.

The good news is you can use any materials, flowers, or edibles you like to dress up any of these gardens. Use plants with bright colors to add beauty to an area. Place a vertical garden near a water feature for even more ambiance. Creating a vertical garden may be easier than you think especially since there are so many ways to customize these for your needs.