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Brighten Up Your Rain Barrel
By Plow & Hearth
2/21/2013 3:20:00 PM  


When it comes to at-home water conservation, nothing equals a rain barrel. Placed near a gutter or downspout, it collects precious rainwater that can be used to water your garden and indoor plants and even wash your car, lowering your monthly water bills. And rain barrels don’t have to be boring, either – in addition to the traditional shape, there are barrels shaped like urns, boulders, log racks…some even have a space to let you place a plant on top.


And if you feel like getting creative, even better – Plow & Hearth's own Weather-Resistant Polyethylene Plastic 55-Gallon Rain Barrels can be painted to either blend in with the background or “pop” as a unique work of art. Here are the steps to help you get started:


Step 1.

Clean the rain barrel’s surface. Vinegar is a great cleaning choice because it’s environmentally friendly and very economical while still effective for killing most mold, bacteria, germs and odors. Just add one part white distilled vinegar to one part warm water and apply it to the barrel’s surface with a sponge, allowing it to dry naturally. Two parts ammonia mixed with one part water also makes an effective cleaning solution.


Step 2.

Rough it up. Once the rain barrel is completely dry, lightly sand it with a sheet of very fine sandpaper (900 or 1200 grit is recommended). This will help the paint to adhere to the rain barrel’s surface. (Note that while most brands of paint specifically designed for plastic surfaces will say this step is not necessary, it will definitely help keep the painted surface of your rain barrel looking fresh.)


Step 3.

Zap the dust. Vacuum the barrel’s surface, then rinse it with clean water to wash away any dust remaining. Dry the barrel with a microfiber or other lint-free cloth, or allow it to air-dry in the sun.


Step 4.

Apply a primer coat. You’ll definitely need a latex-bonding primer coat when using acrylic, tempera and oil-based paints. Paints designed to adhere to plastic surfaces (which we recommend you use) say you can skip the primer coat, but consider adding one anyway – it’s the best way to guard against the cracking, peeling or flaking that can occur to a painted rain barrel that’s being used outdoors.


Step 5.

Pick your paints. As long as you’re using a primer coat and a seal, you can use most types of outdoor paint on your rain barrel, but for longevity we recommend paints designed to go over plastic surface. Krylon Fusion For Plastic® is an excellent choice, and can be found, along with other suitable paints, in most body shops. One spray can will cover an entire rain barrel, but two cans will provide a more even finish (particularly when working with darker colors).


Step 6.

Start painting. Cover the spray can’s spigot and overflow valve with masking tape and shake the can vigorously for about two minutes. Remove the tape and spray the rain barrel in a sweeping motion, keeping the nozzle at an even distance of about 8 to 10 inches from the surface. Apply thin coats (allowing at least 30 seconds between the first and subsequent coats) to prevent runs and drips.


Step 7.

Get creative. You can paint your rain barrel to blend in with your house or outbuildings, but don’t be afraid to make it stand out – a shiny metallic rain barrel can add a touch of elegance to your outdoor space, while using more than one color can look chic. Or get in touch with your inner artist and recreate landscapes, favorite cartoon characters, geometric designs, or an original creation of your own. You can even make it a great outdoor project to enjoy with the kids, resulting in a unique garden accent with great memories attached.


Step 8.

Seal it. Once you’ve finished painting your rain barrel, apply a clear polyurethane finish to help keep the paint from cracking and flaking while the barrel is being empty or filled.


With these simple steps, you’re free to turn your water-saving, eco-friendly rain barrel into a fun, backyard fashion statement. Enjoy yourself, and be sure to share a photo of your artistic creation with us when you’ve finished – we’d love to post it on our blog!



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Save Money When Watering
By Plow & Hearth
2/21/2013 3:19:00 PM  


Making sure your plants have enough water is essential to the health of your garden, but making sure no drop is wasted is key to keeping down your water bill. When and how you water your garden will not only ensure that your plants will flourish it will help conserve water and keep costs down.


Watering Methods

Saving water means saving money on your water bill. These tips offer a water-wise approach to gardening.


How Often?

In most cases, an inch of water a week will supply what most established plantings need (as well as abide by most municipal water restrictions). Instead of applying that inch through shallow, frequent waterings (which actually waste water without meeting your plants’ needs), do it once a week in one deep watering. This will ensure deep rooting, leading to stronger, healthier plants.


Go Native

“Naturescaping” – the practice of using plants that would normally grow in the area where you live in your yard and garden – is one of the very best ways you can save water and enjoy thriving plants with a minimum amount of care. Native plants have had thousands of years to adjust to an area’s normal rainfall, soil and climate. Once established, they require little or no watering. Another plus to naturescaping is that it offers food and shelter to local wildlife and attracts native songbirds to your yard.


Keep It Small

The bigger the plant, the more water it needs – the same goes for crowding your plants. When choosing shrubs to plant, don’t go with a variety that will grow larger than you need it to, and be sure to keep it pruned. And if you’re tempted to crowd plants along a walkway, keep in mind that plants that look sparse at first will fill out as the seasons pass.


Load Up On Mulch

“Mulch” refers to any protective material added to the surface of soil. Not only does mulch save you work by cutting down on weeds, it helps to prevent water loss keeps flower beds moist. There are two kind of mulch: organic and inorganic. Organic mulches can be made up of bark chips, pine needles, compost or even grass clippings and ground-up leaves. Organic mulches add nutrients to the soil.

Inorganic mulches (made from pebbles and gravel, plastic, recycled materials or landscaping fabric) also keep the soil moist and have added advantages in that they won’t attract pests or need to be replaced every year.

For new plants and shrubs, a ring-shaped “bank” of mulch or soil that’s the width of the tree (including branches) can be filled with water which will then be slowly absorbed instead of running off, ensuring your plant gets the maximum benefit of the water.


Get To Know Your Sun Spots

Pay attention to where, when and how long the sun shines on your garden. Then, put dry-soil plants in sunny locations and plants that need a lot of water in shaded areas. Next to the house is a good place for water-needy plants – runoff from the roof can help cut down on how often you have to use your hose.


Reuse And Recycle Water

There are other ways to make use of rain runoff – a 25' x 40' roof can drop as much as 600 gallons of water during a moderate rainfall. Rather than let all that water go to waste, capture it in a rain barrel! All you need is a capture system consisting of roof gutters and downspouts (an attractive rain chain also works), a large-capacity rain barrel and a garden hose. The rainwater you collect will be great for your plants and a cost-effective way to fill re-circulating water features and birdbaths.




Plant Hardy Grasses

A lawn can take in more than 20,000 gallons of water each year. Consider switching to a water-resistant variety. Hardy choices include Bermuda grass and buffalo grasses, both of which need 20% less water than fescue or bluegrass.


Mow Less

The higher your grass, the more it shades the roots from the sun and the more it prevents moisture from evaporating. Raise the height of your mower to no lower than three inches.


Stay Cool When Planting

The best time to plant or transplant is early spring or early fall. The cooler weather means your plants will need less water to get established, and when summer rolls around, their root system will work more efficiently.


Get An Early Start On Watering

Watering during the heat of the day means your plants will lose part of the life-giving liquid to evaporation, so water in the cool morning hours. It might seem logical to water in the evening when the sun is down and temperatures are cooler, but this puts your plants at risk for developing mildew and fungi.





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Add Height to Your Garden
By Plow & Hearth
2/21/2013 3:18:00 PM  

For a garden to "work" visually, it needs to have more than just complementary flower colors and interesting foliage for when plants aren't in bloom. Also important is vertical interest – a feature or features that draw your eye up, causing you to scan and process the whole of the garden as a tapestry.


Arbors, trellises, and obelisks are all effective and affordable means of drawing the eye up and giving the garden a third dimension – height. But which do you choose? It depends on what you're trying to accomplish, the style of your house, and the kind of gardens you like. Here’s some more information to help you decide what will work best for you and your garden.


Arbors, Trellises And Obelisks: What’s The Difference?

Although all three are intended to show off an array of flora and are capable of drawing the eye up and creating a focal point, arbors, trellises and obelisks are distinct structures that have distinct functions in a garden.


• Trellises. A trellis is a flat latticework used to support climbing plants or vines. It can be a simple panel attached or propped against the side of a building, or a freestanding structure in your yard or garden. Trellises can be almost any size – some are even small enough to use in a container to support an ivy geranium or other climbing plant.


Trellises are most useful for providing a framework on which to create interest, particularly up against boring, undifferentiated walls. They can also be used to divide a garden into separate and distinct garden “rooms,” essentially forming living walls.


• Arbors. An arbor usually incorporates a trellis into its structure, creating a tunnel-like passageway of climbing plants. Arbors have a continuous run of latticework from one side of the “tunnel” to the other, often in an arched shape. Arbors are a wonderful way to show off your favorite blooms, and when covered with a sheaf of roses, morning glories or other blossoms, make a visually stunning addition to your outdoor space.


An arbor can be used to create a transition between areas in a larger garden—separating a kitchen garden from a cutting garden, for example—or can be used to create a sense of drama right at the entrance of any garden.


• Obelisks. Obelisks are tall, tapering, four-sided or spherical towers, which usually end in a pyramid shape at the top. Like arbors, their sides incorporate a trellis on which climbing plants can grow; they can also be used to suspend hanging potted plants.


An obelisk’s primary function is to draw the eye. At the center of a wheel-shaped herb garden, toward the back of a border that's overly two-dimensional, or at the end of long path, an obelisk can grab your attention and hold it. With the right “clothing,” it can be a real showstopper.


Materials and Style

Trellises, arbors and obelisks can serve both decorative and functional purposes. Stylistically, there’s a spectrum ranging from casual to formal. Choose a material and design that will blend in gracefully with the look and style of your house and garden.


Vinyl

Vinyl structures are durable and require no maintenance while having the look of classic painted wood. This allows them to be used in both formal and informal or more rustic settings. Their durability enables them to last for many years and makes them ideal for supporting perennial climbing plants like wisteria or roses.


Wood

Wooden trellises, arbors and obelisks will weather naturally to blend in with and complement a more rustic, natural setting. Woods like cedar, eucalyptus, fir and cypress are durable and if left unpainted will weather to a natural grey color. Because wood isn’t as sturdy as vinyl or metal and it requires more maintenance than those materials, it’s best to use it for supporting lighter, annual climbing plants such as Morning Glories or Moonflowers.


Steel

Perfect for classic English-style gardens or sleek, contemporary outdoor spaces, steel structures come in a variety of styles from simple to ornate. Steel has the advantage of strength, value and flexibility of design and, like vinyl, is capable of supporting fast-growing, heavy perennials. Steel structures win the vote for formality, but they do require a bit more care than vinyl structures – although they come with a durable powder coat finish, they will need to be touched up with paint over the years to maintain an even finish and prevent rusting.


Whatever’s right for you and whatever you choose, the added vertical interest you bring to your garden is sure to raise it to a new level.



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Attract Nesting Birds
By Plow & Hearth
2/21/2013 3:17:00 PM  


Providing places for wildlife to raise their young is an essential element of a Backyard Wildlife Habitat™ site. Adding a nesting box (also known as a birdhouse) to your yard is one way to help meet this requirement for certification while turning your avian visitors into residents.


Why Set Up A Nesting Box?

Setting up a nesting box in your yard can provide an essential nesting area for various species of birds. While many species are able to hide their nests in dense foliage or grassy meadow areas, others require holes for nesting. Some birds, such as woodpeckers, can excavate their own nesting cavities in dead or decaying trees. Others depend on the abandoned nesting holes or natural cavities formed from fallen branches for places to build nests. Recently, however, an increase in development and removal of damaged and dead trees has left many cavity-nesting birds with fewer natural places to raise their young. In addition, invasive birds, such as the European starling and the house sparrow, compete with native bird species for the use of the remaining cavities. Adding a nesting box to your habitat will not only benefit native bird species, it will also give you an opportunity to monitor and enjoy birds.


There are dozens of bird species that can be attracted to nesting boxes including, blue birds, wrens, chickadees, finches, swallows, purple martins, woodpeckers, wood ducks, and owls. Properly constructed houses can be purely functional, or decorative and whimsical in design. Placing a number of different houses around your property can invite different species to set up house. Aside from the fun and personal satisfaction of hosting bird families in your houses, many of these birds are voracious insect eaters and will help reduce insect populations naturally. Most birds tend to return to the same areas and houses where they have been successful in raising young. Thus, adding birdhouses to your property will only increase the chance that you will see new generations of these beautiful and beneficial birds every year.


Purple Martin Gourds
Purple Martin Gourds

Building Or Selecting A Nesting Box

Although most birds prefer natural cavities for nesting, with the correct design a nesting box can serve as a good replacement. There are numerous types of bird nesting boxes available commercially. Each box contains different features and is targeted at a particular bird species. But not all nest boxes are created equal.


There are several features to consider when purchasing, or building, a nesting box. Check that the box is well constructed and contains these basic features:


  • • Constructed of natural untreated wood (pine, cedar or fir)
  • • Lumber for walls that is at least ¾ of an inch thick to provide insulation)
  • • An entrance hole of the appropriate size to allow desired birds to enter but keep larger birds out
  • • An entrance that is the correct distance from the floor to accommodate the nest
  • • An extended and sloped roof to keep the rain out
  • • A recessed floor and drainage holes to keep the interior dry
  • • Rough or grooved interior walls to help fledglings exit
  • • Ventilation holes to allow the interior to remain cool
  • • A side or top panel that opens to allow easy access for monitoring and cleaning
  • • No outside perches, which aid predators and other harassing birds

It is also important to make sure that your box incorporates features preferred by the particular bird species you hope to attract. These features include the entrance hole size, the height at which the box is posted, and the type of habitat surrounding the box. When purchasing a nesting box research the physical requirements of the species that you hope to attract and make sure that you are investing in a functional, rather than ornamental, birdhouse.


It is also important to make sure that your box incorporates features preferred by the particular bird species you hope to attract. These features include the entrance hole size, the height at which the box is posted, and the type of habitat surrounding the box. When purchasing a nesting box research the physical requirements of the species that you hope to attract and make sure that you are investing in a functional, rather than ornamental, birdhouse.


Check the Birdhouse Network of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for more specific information on species preferences.


Shop All Bird Houses

Where To Place Your Nesting Box

The habitat available to you will be the primary factor determining the type of birds you can attract for nesting. Make sure that you place birdhouses in a location where the target bird species is likely to reside. Avoid putting nesting boxes in areas where herbicides and pesticides are used. Not only do these chemicals decrease insect populations - the primary food source for most cavity-nesting birds - but they can also harm birds directly. The box can be mounted on a tree or a pole. Placing the box on a pole with a predator baffle to protect the birds is often more successful. Make sure that the box is attached securely enough to withstand severe weather and winds. Also take into consideration the direction in which your box is facing and how much direct sun it receives. Many birds will reject boxes that face due west, for example, because the box may stay too hot. Before placing your box, research habitat, nest height and direction preferences for the species.


Bluebird House Set
Bluebird House Set

When To Set Up Your Box

Make sure your nesting box is in place well before the arrival of breeding season. In the southern part of the country boxes should be in place no later than February. In the northern regions, boxes can be placed outside before mid to late March. This will give birds a better chance of finding and using your box, and it may even be used for winter cover if put outside earlier. Don't be discouraged if birds don't find the box in the first season; sometimes it can take a few years for the birds to find the box.


Monitoring And Cleaning Your Box

Once breeding season begins monitor your box for activity. You can enjoy watching adults quickly dart in and out as they build their nests or feed hungry nestlings. If your box is first discovered and used by invasive bird species consider removing the nest. Doing this regularly will likely encourage the bird to move to another location and free the box for use by native species. Once eggs have been laid you may want to monitor the progress of the nest. Lightly tap on the box before opening the panel to allow the adult bird to leave. So as not to become a nuisance limit your viewing time to less than a minute once a week. Keep track of the progress of the nestlings. This way once they have fledged and the box is no longer in use it can be cleaned. Some birds will not use cavities with abandoned nests in them and removing the debris cuts down on ectoparasites for the next set of nestlings. If you remove the nest in a timely fashion you could enjoy two to three broods per season!



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Attract Pollinators
By Plow & Hearth
2/21/2013 3:16:00 PM  


We all remember those lectures we got about the birds and the bees, but chances are an important part of that lecture was left out. Collectively, this diverse group of wildlife including insects, birds, bees and bats, are known as pollinators. They contribute to a healthy ecosystem by transporting pollen from one plant to another to facilitate fertilization. In fact, bees are responsible for pollinating more flowers than any creature on earth. We see pollinators everywhere during the summer months, but where do they go during the fall and winter, and what enables them to produce fruit and seed when the weather warms up again?


Off-Season Activities of Pollinators

Many bees and other insects die, leaving their eggs or pupae to lie dormant. These are tucked away in sheltered places-behind bark, under dead leaves, buried in soil-where they are protected from frost until the following spring, when life can continue. Others survive as adults, hidden in similarly sheltered spots.


In contrast, some pollinator species undertake astonishing journeys to avoid unfavorable weather conditions. Monarch butterflies and rufous hummingbirds fly thousands of miles across North America. Long-nosed bats make shorter, but no less rigorous migrations over hundreds of miles of desert. The monarch butterfly has arguably the most amazing migration of any creature. During the summer, monarchs may be found as far north as central Canada, but as summer fades millions of butterflies head south towards a few small patches of forest in the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico. Some fly more than 3,000 miles, taking over two months to complete the journey. There are also many smaller overwintering sites on the coast of California, but the Mexican sites are the winter home for more than 99 percent of the population. Here they gather to overwinter in the cool, stable conditions provided by Mexican forests.


The journey north next spring is undertaken in two generations. As they fly north from Mexico, the butterflies lay eggs on flowering milkweed. They may lay eggs for a thousand miles before dying. The generation born from these eggs will fly further north again as the milkweed flowers. The monarchs that reach Canada may be two generations removed from those that overwintered in Mexico. Some hummingbirds undertake an equally impressive trek. Along the West Coast, the rufous hummingbird breeds as far north as Alaska, and the ruby-throated hummingbird breeds across central and eastern parts of the continent into southern Canada. Both species overwinter in Mexico. To reach their winter territory, some birds travel well over 2,000 miles! Along the migration route, they stop at flower patches to lap up carbohydrate-laden nectar and feast on fat and protein-rich insects that together provide energy for the exhausting flight. Hummingbirds are known to live for over a decade. To have completed this annual migration so many times is a pretty astonishing achievement for a bird that weighs less than a nickel!


Preparing For Migration

The lesser long-nosed bat over-winters in Mexican caves and migrates several hundred miles north into southern Arizona and New Mexico as warmer temperatures and longer days allow desert flowers to bloom. Migrating pollinators need rest stops along the way. Rufous hummingbirds, for example, cannot complete the entire journey on one tank of nectar and insects. Monarch butterflies need milkweed on which to lay their eggs to ensure the next generation of migrants. Sustaining pollinator populations means ensuring that plant resources are available along their route. Patches of nectar-rich habitat act as stepping-stones that the pollinators can move between, together forming nectar corridors across landscapes altered by agriculture and development.


Hummingbirds are not at all shy, and can be viewed at close range when they visit feeders placed near the house or on windows. Fresh sugar water in feeders will supplement their regular diet of nectar and insects and help ensure that they will be regular visitors to your yard all summer.


The shy, solitary bees, like orchard bees, can help fill the gap in pollination left by the declining American honeybee. These bees are harmless and have solitary nests rather than hives. A nest of small, hollow tubes in which they can raise their larva helps keep them in your yard.


Mason Bee Lodge  
Mason Bee Lodge

Our Produce Depends On Pollinators

Pollinators are responsible not only for the continued existence of healthy plant communities - and therefore the ecosystem upon which we rely - but their pollination service also provides us with much of the produce we humans need and enjoy. Unfortunately, pollinators as a group are on the decline worldwide. Habitat destruction through sprawl, use of chemical pesticides, spread of invasive non-native plants and animals, and sometimes just plain ignorance about the important role pollinators play are some of the causes for this decline.


Help Pollinators By Providing Their Habitat

Experts at the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) say the most important things you can do now in your yard to accommodate pollinators, or attract pollinators next spring are: plant native plant species as a source of nectar for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds; plant host plants for butterfly caterpillars; replace lawn areas with prairie or meadow nesting sites; and discontinue the use of chemicals and fertilizers in your yard.


To learn more about specific pollinators in your area, check out the Wildlife Finder at NWF's web site, including info on how to create wildlife-friendly landscaping through NWF's Backyard Wildlife Habitat program. When your habitat meets all the criteria for sustaining wildlife, it can be certified by NWF as an official Backyard Wildlife Habitat site.


Matthew Shepherd of the Xerces Society contributed to this article as part of the efforts of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign.



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Stop Stink Bugs
By Plow & Hearth
2/21/2013 3:15:00 PM  


Chances are good that you’ve already seen them. Stink bugs are an agricultural pest and a home-invading nuisance. The annoying, shield-shaped brown bugs hitched a ride to the US in cargo shipments from Asia in the late 90s, and now – thanks to their proclivity for procreating four times a year and the absence of natural predators – they’ve spread to 33 states.


What makes them so annoying to homeowners is their tendency to move in when it gets cold. While it’s true that they don’t bite, sting, or do damage to your home like termites will, and they don’t breed at the time of year when they’re seeking cover, most folks still balk at the idea of sharing living quarters with hundreds of prehistoric-looking insects.


Even worse, they stink.


While you can grab up the occasional ant or spider with a paper towel or napkin, crushing a stink bug in such a way releases its primary defense mechanism – a liquid toxin with an offensive smell - a powerful odor that will bring even more of these menacing insects your way. In fact, just chasing them can have the same result.


The Science of Stopping Stink Bugs

Unfortunately, getting rid of stink bugs isn’t so easy. Stepping on them is out, and exterminators report that common pesticides don’t work. So how do you get rid of these creepy critters?


The Best Defense – Prevention

The best way to get rid of stink bugs from your home is keep them from getting in, so make sure your house is properly sealed. Before the nights start to get cold in late fall, check the outside of your house carefully for cracks or holes the bugs can use to gain access. Put screens on all windows and doors that don’t already have them. For those that do, be sure they don’t have any holes. Also, don’t leave any unnecessary lights on, as stink bugs, like other flying insects, are attracted to light.


Suck Them Up

Not just for eliminating dirt and cobwebs anymore, vacuum cleaners are very effective when it comes to sucking stink bugs out of their hiding places without crushing them. A bagless vac won’t cut it, though – use a vacuum cleaner with a bag, then, once you’ve vacuumed the bugs up, immediately seal the bag and take it somewhere far away. You may crush the bugs in the bag once the bag is sealed, but be sure you don’t do it in the house! Our Stink Bug Chute is another great way to pick them up without crushing or touching them.


Soap And Water

Are stink bugs gobbling up your ornamental trees and shrubs? An effective way of removing them from your plant life is to shake leaves so the bugs fall off into a bucket of soapy water. The soapy water prevents them from flying away.


Potent Problem, Powerful Solution

Most pesticides won’t easily penetrate a stink bug’s tough exterior, but some chemicals have been proven to be helpful in controlling stink bugs. These include pyrethrum foggers, deltamethrin, cypermethrin and cyfluthrium. A non-chemical alternative that has been reported to work is diatomaceous. The effectiveness of these agents may be improved through use of a “spreader sticker.” Spreader stickers improve the performance of insecticides by helping them to penetrate and stick to the insects.


If you choose this route, plan to do it during the fall, before the stink bugs start to migrate indoors. Use a sprayer to spray the surrounding area as well as the outside of your home. Spray the treatment up as high as you can outside your house and allow it to drip down for complete and thorough coverage. A well-sprayed structure will provide an invisible wall of defense that the stink bugs will not be able to penetrate. Most homes will require two to three gallons of the treatment to get good coverage, so it's up to you whether it is worth it to have added protection from stink bugs.


Call In Reinforcements

When all else fails, and there’s just too many of the critters for you to handle, it might be time to call in a professional. A certified pest controller will be able to fully protect your house from the pests by securing all the common places through which they usually enter. They may also know of techniques to better control the control stink bugs.


Our Stink Bug Trap To The RESCUE! ®

Made in the USA, the RESCUE! ® Stink Bug Trap is designed to work outdoors, capturing stink bugs before they ruin your garden or get in your home. The reusable trap comes with two, one-week supplies of a pheromone attractant that lures stink bugs in while remaining odor-free to people. Refills are available so you can maintain a stink bug-free environment all season long.


Worried the Stink Bug Trap will attract stink bugs to your yard? Don’t be – it works only to catch those stink bugs within a 20-foot radius, so only the bugs that were already in your yard and garden will be drawn in, trapping them before they damage your garden or invade your home. Nor will the Stink Bug Trap capture those bugs that are beneficial to your garden. Safe and affordable, the Stink Bug Trap is an easier answer to controlling your stink bug problem.


Rescue Products


Want to learn even more about these pests? Get The Scoop On Stink Bugs in our online guide.



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Create Perfect Backyard Habitats
By Plow & Hearth
2/21/2013 3:14:00 PM  

Whether you live in a log cabin or a condo, you can make a place for wildlife right at your backdoor. It’s easier than you think. There are three basic steps to creating a Backyard Wildlife Habitat.



Assess Your Yard Or Garden Space

The first thing you need to do is identify the habitat elements that already exist in your yard or garden space. You may be surprised to find you're already providing some habitat for wildlife!


Native plants that provide food and cover are the backbone of every habitat. Make a list of all the plants in your yard, including everything from trees to wildflowers.


Try to determine which of your plants are native to your area and which are not. Which existing plants might provide food such as seeds, fruits, nuts and nectar? Which plants might provide safe cover or nesting places?


Do you have any dead or dying trees? If so, don’t reach for the chainsaw! Dying or dead trees are excellent habitat features. They are excavated and used by woodpeckers, flying squirrels, and a multitude of insects and cavity-nesting birds, such as owls, bluebirds, chickadees and wrens.


Determine how your yard might already provide water for wildlife. This could be in the form of a pond, water garden, stream, vernal pool or birdbath.

Make a list of any structures that provide habitat elements, such as bird feeders, nesting structures, rock walls or log piles.

Finally, consider the physical features of your yard, such as sun and wind exposure and soil conditions.



Provide The Four Basic Elements

All species have four basic requirements for survival: food, water, cover, and places to raise young.



 

1. Food

Birds are a major component in your backyard habitat. They play a crucial role in the natural “management” of the larger environment and your own backyard. By helping to pollinate flowering trees and plants, and eating insects and seeds birds contribute to the natural checks and balances built into our environment. Providing birds with food, water and shelter in which to raise young gives a great deal of pleasure to the landowner and helps ensure a healthy bird population.


Feed birds year-round with seed feeders to ensure that the local population and migrating birds have a constant food supply. Hummingbird feeders can be used from late spring through early fall.


Shop Bird & Squirrel Feeders

Select plants that provide natural foods such as fruits, seeds, nuts and nectar. Choose your plants to provide food for backyard wildlife throughout the year. Native perennials and annuals provide nectar for both butterflies and hummingbirds. As one program participant says, "Hummingbirds like ice-cream cones and butterflies like pizza." This is because hummingbirds tend to visit tube-shaped red flowers, such as Bee Balm, Wild Columbine and our native honeysuckles. Butterflies prefer flat or clustered flowers, such as Purple Coneflower, phlox, and zinnias.


By choosing native plants suited to the site conditions, little maintenance, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or additional watering will be necessary for the plants to thrive. This all adds up to time and cost savings as well as a healthier habitat for you, your family, and the wildlife that inhabit your yard. Supplemental feeders can provide nectar for hummingbirds in the summer months and a variety of seed (sunflower, niger, safflower, and millet) for other birds throughout the year. Keep in mind that bird feeders should only be used as a supplement to natural food provided by native plants.


Shop Hummingbird Feeders

2. Water

Wildlife need water for drinking, bathing, and, in some cases, breeding.


Water can be supplied in a birdbath, a small pond, a recirculating waterfall or a shallow dish. If you’re lucky enough to have a natural pond, stream, vernal pool, or other wetland on your property, make sure to preserve or restore it as these are excellent aquatic habitats.


A small pond set into the ground provides water for drinking and bathing, as well as cover and reproductive areas for small fish, insects, amphibians and reptiles.


However you decide to provide water, make sure you do so year round. This can easily be done with a thermostatically controlled birdbath heater to provide water during subfreezing weather when the need for water is critical.


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Aromatic Cedar Bat House

Audubon Bat Shelter

Purple Martin Houses

Rabbits, shrews, mice, snakes and salamanders lay their eggs or raise young under boughs of plants as well as in the rock, log or mulch piles.


Nest boxes for bluebirds, chickadees, wrens and purple martins can be placed in your backyard.

Aquatic animals, such as frogs, toads, newts, dragonflies, and other insects, deposit their eggs in ponds, vernal pools, and other wetlands.


Butterflies require "host" plants that serve as food sources for butterflies during their larval (caterpillar) stage. Butterflies almost invariably lay their eggs on the host plant preferred by the caterpillar, so make sure to include some of the host plants in your habitat.

Native honeybees are essential pollinators for many trees and flowers, but their populations are in decline. We can help fill the pollination gap by providing homes for solitary bees like orchard bees.


Mason Bee Lodge

Benefits of Attracting Wildlife

Besides adding visual interest to your yard and garden, wildlife is important for insect control. Did you know that 99% of the insects in your yard are beneficial? One-third of all the food we eat comes as a direct result from pollinator insects, while many insects prey on the annoying ones, like mosquitoes. Besides throwing a damper on your outdoor gathering, mosquitoes can carry dangerous diseases (like West Nile), and pesticides (in addition to being hard on the environment and dangerous to children) aren’t much help, since they also kill the “good” bugs – bugs like dragonflies, who eat millions of mosquitoes, but don’t bounce back as fast their food source does after exposure to insecticides.


Birds and bats also eat millions of pesky insects every day, so encouraging them to come to your backyard is a definite advantage and a much healthier alternative to pesticides – for you and your family and the environment.



Certify Your Habitat

Already meet the requirements for certification? Visit the National Wildlife Federation and learn more about certifying your yard online today!


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Gardening  
Composting For Beginners
By Plow & Hearth
2/21/2013 3:12:00 PM  


It wasn't so long ago that composting was considered a fringe activity, something you might find ardent back-to-the-landers doing out on their country acreage, but certainly not a practice within the realm of most suburbanites' experience. Today, however, many towns and small cities are encouraging composting like never before, sometimes offering compost bins at subsidized rates, often providing instructional materials or workshops on how to compost, while simultaneously ceasing the curbside pickup of readily compostable materials like leaves and grass clippings. At the same time, sales of bagged compost are way up, as are sales of all manner of composting equipment. Suddenly, it seems, composting has become mainstream.


Why Compost?

Organic gardeners rave about it, but what's the big deal about compost? Why can't you just feed your plants some 10-10-10 and be done with it? Well, i's like the difference between eating a well-balanced meal made from fresh, natural ingredients, and eating a multivitamin and a bag of chips. In the short term, you'd be fine with either, but you wouldn't want to subsist on the latter diet for long. The same is true in your garden. Initially, your plants will respond vigorously to chemical fertilizers, but they won't attain the naturally robust good health they would if you provided them with compost. And with composting, you can be part of the cycle of life - instead of throwing away kitchen scraps and yard debris, you can turn them into valuable compost that your plants and soil will love.


Not only does compost contain all of the major plant nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) in forms readily available to plants, but it also contains a wealth of minor and trace elements as well as billions (yes, literally billions) of bacteria, yeast, fungi, and other soil creatures that will continue to break down organic and inorganic matter in the compost and in your soil, providing a long-term, steady feeding of nutrients to plants.


In addition, because of its loose, fluffy, cake-flourlike texture, compost improves the tilth, or structure, of all garden soils, both increasing the drainage of clay soils and binding together sandy soils, enhancing their moisture retention. Regardless of where you garden or what you grow, compost will make your plants healthier and more vigorous and increase their flowering and fruiting like no other substance you can give them. Simply put, composting is the best possible thing you can do for your garden.


How Long Does It Take?

Many gardeners don't compost simply because they perceive it to be more difficult or complicated than it really is. In truth, composting---rotting really---is a natural process that will occur even without any effort on a gardener's part. If you just put all your garden waste, kitchen scraps, grass clippings, and autumn leaves into a giant pile, you'd have good, usable compost deep within the pile in a year and a half or so.


Actively engaging in the composting process just speeds the whole process up greatly. Researchers have found that it's possible to make finished compost (that is, compost that is so completely broken down that none of its component materials are distinguishable) in as little as 10 days. Practically speaking, most home gardeners can make a good batch of compost every 3-4 weeks; over a growing season, that's a lot of free fertilizer of unparalleled quality.


The ABCs of Composting

So, how do you make compost? There are four key words to remember: green, brown, air and water. What this means is that, to make compost, all you have to do is bring together moist, fresh, predominantly green ingredients (grass clippings, weeds, kitchen scraps, and the like) and predominantly brown ingredients (dead leaves, straw, hay, wood shavings or chips, etc.), ensure that the mix remains damp, and turn it all every few days to reintroduce oxygen to the pile. While the soil and leafy scraps usually have enough of the proper microbes to get the composting process started, for fresh batches of material and rotary composters you can add our Compost Starter to quicken the composting process.


Adding worms to your on-ground composter and or garden soil will also speed up the composting process, and will add extra soil nutrients (from the worm castings). Keep adding worms from your finished compost back into fresh material. That's it. In less than a month, you'll have rich, crumbly, brown compost that you can add to your garden soil, use in containers, or mulch with.


Containers and Ingredients

Compost can be made anywhere, in virtually any kind of container, or in no container at all---just a big pile. A bin or tumbler will keep the process neat and manageable, however, and will make it easier to add air to the mixture. To start your compost pile, reduce the size of the ingredients you're using in the pile by chopping them with a machete, a sharp garden spade or other tool. Autumn leaves can be shredded quite well by repeatedly mowing over them. Then add all the ingredients together, layering them in 3-4-inch-thick layers if you're using a bin, or just tossing them together if you're using a tumbler of some sort. Strive for somewhere between a 5:1 and an 8:1 ratio, by volume, of brown materials (fuel for the organisms that will decompose the pile) to green, but don't get too fussy about it---if the proportion is off, it's easy enough to recognize and to remedy.



There are many different styles of outdoor compost bins that fall into one of two categories:


 


A rotary-style composter can be placed anywhere and keeps all the material organized and off the ground—important features for some yards. Rotary composters produce compost quickly because they are easy to turn and aerate the material, but they tend to dry out more quickly.

 


An on-ground compost bin keeps material contained and in contact with the soil, which helps keep moisture content high and adds naturally occurring microbes and worms to the process. Consider using two bins at once: one to pull finished compost from and another to add new material to. Switch the bins once your finished compost is depleted.

 

It's optimal to have a small cart at hand around the yard and garden to collect and organize compostable materials from weeding, pruning, clipping and raking.


Kitchen countertop compost crocks offer a clean and efficient way to collect kitchen scraps. While a one-gallon size is good for small families, a one-and-a-half-gallon container works for larger needs. Options range from plastic to ceramic to stainless steel (click on image to right to view the many varieties and sizes sold on PlowandHearth.com). Each compost crock comes with charcoal filters to eliminate any smells in the house. You can also place biodegradable liner bags directly into the compost.


Green and Brown: Getting the Balance Right

A pile that doesn't heat up within 24 hours needs more green material. A compost thermometer is very handy for determining the temperature near the center of the pile, which should rise to approximately 150-160F. Often, however, you can see a pile steaming and can feel its heat even from the outside of the tumbler or over the top of the bin. A pile that develops an ammonia-like smell needs more brown materials; just work some more into the pile, and the aroma should go away.


Moisture and Air Speed Decomposition

The air and water requirements of a composting operation are similarly low-key. The mixture of materials should remain about as moist as a wrung-out sponge---damp, that is, but not soaking wet. If the mixture seems too wet, damp is perfect, give it a turn to mix and aerate. Layer in some dryer material, stems or straw to help the air flow. If it is too dry, sprinkle on some water and add fresh, green leafy material. Remember, the more often you turn a pile, the quicker you'll have compost, because most of the composting process is carried out by aerobic (oxygen-using) bacteria. If you decide to build your pile in a traditional square bin, you'll want to have an extra bin next to it, so that you can move the pile from one bin into another. If you use a tumbler of some type or rotary composter, turning is easier yet: All you have to do is spin or roll the container to re-oxygenate the pile.


Tips and Troubleshooting

Not much can go wrong with a compost pile other than the two conditions mentioned above---a pile that doesn't heat up and one that develops an ammonia-like smell. Altering the ratio of ingredients one way or the other will generally correct things. You can prevent any problems with critters visiting your pile by keeping animal and dairy products out of your kitchen compost container. Vegetable and fruit scraps are excellent "green" additions. When your compost looks black and earthy and most of the added material has become unidentifiable, it is ready to use.


Using Your Compost

Once you've cooked your first batch of compost, what do you do with it? As mentioned above, it's excellent as an addition to garden soil, container mixes, or used as mulch. Depending on the ingredients you used, there may be coarse pieces still in the compost. If you intend to use your compost as mulch just leave it coarse, however, if you plan on using it as potting soil or for seedlings, you'll want to break down these coarse pieces. The best way to deal with these is to screen the finished compost through a piece of hardware cloth stapled to a frame (or through a "riddle," a tool designed for just such a purpose).


Starting All Over Again

Anything that doesn't sift through the screen can be returned to your pile or bin for further breakdown. And be sure to save a bit of finished compost to start the next batch: The rich microbial life within that compost will get things off to an even faster start next time around.

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Gardening  
Create Garden Rooms
By Plow & Hearth
2/21/2013 3:08:00 PM  


Most people become gardeners gradually, by falling in love with particular plants, one by one—a swath of daylilies or daffodils down the road from your house perhaps, maybe a flowering cherry tree by the post office, then a fulsome, old-fashioned peony at the local garden center. Before long, these serial love affairs have blossomed into an obsession with all plants, and the afflicted (blessed?) gardener has accumulated quite a collection---which may or may not have anything to do with each other.


Choose Your Blooms

The next stage in a gardener's development occurs when composition of the garden—selecting plants for their contrasting or complementary bloom colors, agreeable foliage textures, and the like—starts to become more of a priority than simple acquisition of beautiful plants for their own sake. A sure sign that a gardener has advanced to this stage is when plants start coming out as regularly as they go in: “No, no, this just won't do here; I'll just have to move it somewhere else.” Slowly, beautiful gardens begin to take shape—a gorgeous rose, peony, and iris border in soft pastels, for example, or perhaps a shady nook filled with hostas, foxglove, and bleeding heart. But the common feature is the thought and attention given to how well all of the plants in the garden area relate to each other.


June 2012 Garden Basket
Six Months of Flower Gardens


Create a Theme

The final stage in a gardener's education is when the gardener starts looking over the various flowerbeds, flowering shrubs, and so on, and asks, “How do all of these relate to each other? How do I make all of this feel whole?” And the secret to that is in creating outdoor rooms. Some can be grand like a ballroom---an orchard, or a pond and its surrounding garden, for example. Others can be much more intimate, just a little brick patio surrounded by a tall fence on which you have clematis growing perhaps. The thing to remember about garden rooms, though, is that just as with indoor rooms, the basic elements you're working with are walls, floors, ceilings, focal points and entrances/exits.


Divide It Up

You can create a sense of enclosure (provide walls) with many different materials: Hedges, walls, fences, mixed borders with a few tall shrubs, or any combination of these can be used. Floors are more obvious yet: A lush turf, a brick or bluestone patio (or path), gravel, and a bed of pine needles or bark mulch, all give a garden room a different sort of character. A ceiling in a garden room might be just the sky, but it could also be a large, vine-covered pergola extending over a patio area, or a grand shade tree. Focal points really add to the character of garden rooms by giving the eye something to, well, focus on. A sculpture, a bench at the end of a path, a lone, giant terra-cotta pot at the intersection of two paths, an outdoor fireplace—these and other details can all be used to give a garden room a sense of place. Lastly, don't forget about the entrances or transitions between garden rooms. Arbors, gates, and bridges are just a few of the possibilities for clearly defining where one garden room ends and another begins.


Find a Focal Point

If you have a large garden room with an open central space to work with, a pergola is a nice focal point that can also be used to define a seating area. In a smaller area, plantings around an obelisk trellis in wood or metal will help create central anchor to the room. To help create garden walls or dividers, use flat trellises to help define corners and fill out long spaces. Decorative wrought iron trellises, obelisks and arbors can stand alone as interesting garden elements, but they also act as a structure for climbing plants that will create a more solid wall affect. To enhance a low spot, wet area or small stream, a bridge can act as either a central focus or inviting entrance. Use an arbor to accent entrances to the room or to help define pathways in the garden. Arbors in wood, metal or vinyl, like trellises, can either stand-alone or support climbing plants. Willow screening is a casual and rustic way of creating a wall affect or hiding things from view within the room.


Arbors and Terllises
Arbors & Trellises


Boundary Lines

Wrought iron garden edging and fencing are traditional ways of establishing the boundaries of garden rooms. A decorative garden fence and gate, lined with flowerbeds, creates a new room even in an open space. On the floor, stepping-stones can lead you into a garden room, define paths through plantings, and help divide the space between flowerbeds. Garden benches are a classic way to add a focal point to the corner of a garden room that is also a comfortable, restful place.


Lutyens Garden Bench
Lutyens Garden Bench

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Gardening  
Strain-Free Gardening
By Plow & Hearth
2/21/2013 2:41:00 PM  

Growing your own flowers and vegetables can be one of the most all-around rewarding experiences of the warm-weather season. Planting your favorite colorful flowers and ornamental plants adds a personal touch to your outdoor spaces, and few things are healthier, tastier and more satisfying than putting homegrown fresh produce on the table.


Less fun, however, are the aches and soreness that can result from hours spent tilling, digging, hoeing and weeding. Hard work and strained muscles don’t have to be part of the garden experience, however...here are some techniques and tools to help reduce or eliminate bending, pulling, lifting and dragging:


Quit Cultivating With Raised Beds

Growing your garden in raised beds can be the single biggest garden labor saver for the simple reason that the soil does not get packed down by walking on it or running equipment over it. Once you have put out the initial effort of filling a raised bed with a quality soil mix, chores like tilling, hoeing, cultivating and weeding are reduced or completely eliminated.


Planting. Because the soil stays soft and workable, you can easily make furrows for planting with your finger or a trowel. When it is time to replant, even mature plants pull out easily and the soil is ready for the next planting.
Weeding. Thinning and weeding becomes almost enjoyable when plants, roots and all, are easy to pull from the loose soil.
Watering and Feeding. Because the soil is contained and isolated by the raised bed, watering and feeding become more effective by staying with the plants and not spreading over a wide area.
Bending and Lifting. Using raised beds makes an amazing difference in the effort and strain on your back compared to gardening at ground level.

Tips For Choosing A Garden Bed. Choose sturdy steel corner brackets that make it easy to construct raised beds from your own lumber, and raised beds kits made from recycled plastic or cedar boards or a self-watering raised bed with built-in reservoir and soaker hoses.



Corner Brackets

Bring Gardening To Your Level With Raised Planters

Raised planters are built on legs three feet above the ground to give you complete control of the soil and allow you to garden without bending over at all. Raised garden planters can be placed anywhere in the yard or on the patio or the deck to make watering and caring for your plants even more convenient. And because the soil is isolated from the ground in a raised planter, many pest problems (like moles, rabbits and insects) are reduced or eliminated altogether.


36" Durable Wood Raised Bed Planter Square Foot Raised Bed Gardening Table


Garden Anywhere With Containers:

You don’t need a big backyard to enjoy fresh herbs, fruits and veggies – any balcony or patio will do. With the right container and light exposure, you can grow anything from tomatoes to potatoes in small spaces. Container gardens have all the advantages of a raised bed or planter, and can be placed or moved anywhere to maximize sun exposure and watering.

  • Self-Watering Containers. Regular freestanding containers dry out quickly and need to be watered often. Self-watering planters have a built in water reservoir that keeps the soil moist, eliminating the need to water daily. Self-watering containers are available with casters for mobility and trellises or cages for growing trailing plants or tomatoes. Attractive window boxes and patio planters are also available in self-watering designs.
  • Inverted Planters. Upside-down planters are ideal for growing tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and more in small spaces. Even a small, sunny balcony could be home to an abundant tomato crop when an inverted planter is used. Another advantage to upside down planters is that they completely eliminate the need for stakes. Staking upright tomato plants is essential to keep the delicate vines from snapping under the weight of the fruit, but inverted containers remove this danger entirely. Finally, as with all containers, inverted containers keep your plants free from fungus, cutworms and other pests.
  • Fabric Containers. In addition to be a simple, inexpensive, and easy-to-store option for container gardening, fabric pots promote healthy root growth.


Labor-Saving Solutions

No doubt about it…gardening may be fun, but it can be hard on your back, legs, knees and shoulders. There are tools, however, that help take the toil out of gardening, enabling just about anyone to spend more time puttering among the plants.

  • Portable kneelers/seats. Hours spent on your knees can make them stiff and painful. A padded kneeler or low seat lets you stay down among your plants while cushioning you’re your joints or taking stress off them altogether.
  • Rolling seats. Wheeled seats are especially helpful for taking the strain off your legs, knees and back by eliminating the need to keep getting up and down. Some can be obtained with attaching carts that help keep your tools handy, and all of them make it easy to get around in the garden.
  • Wheel barrows. Wheel barrows cut down on the number of trips you have to make when transporting loads, as well taking the strain off your back, shoulders and arms.
  • Ergonomic hand tools. Digging, weeding and planting are easier on your hands, arms and tendons with the right tools. Shock-absorbing, ergonomic tools help prevent cramps, carpal tunnel, strain and even blisters.


Worry-Free Watering/Feeding

A productive garden needs plenty of water, fertilizer and care, but you can provide what it needs without having to haul out the hose every day. Special tools designed to make watering easier along with accessories that allow you to go longer between waterings and feedings are available along with self-watering containers and beds that do the work for you.

  • Composters. There’s nothing like composting for making rich, organic soil that produces abundant plants. A traditional composting pile requires a lot of bending, digging and turning, but our Rotary Composter is set at a comfortable height and turns at the touch of the handle.
  • Mulch. Mulching around your plants cuts down not only on weeding, but on watering, too. Our American-made Perma Mulch products work just as well as organic mulch while eliminating the need to trim and re-mulch.
  • Watering tools. Apart from lowering your water bill, rain barrels store up to 50 gallons of water so it’s ready when you need it. Hose reels take the work out of coiling a heavy, muddy garden hose. Self-watering tools and other automatic watering systems mean you spend less time watering and more time enjoying your plants.

With the right tools and a little planning, you’ll spending more time just enjoying your garden instead of working in it – and you’ll feel less tired, too!



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