Sunday, October 31, 2010

Forcing Bulbs Indoors Generates Beautiful Blooms All Winter Long

There are many options for indoor flowering plants throughout the winter. Nearly every bulb variety can be “forced” or tricked into believing it is spring and time for them to shine. Paperwhite narcissus bulbs are great for forcing indoors because unlike many bulbs, they do not require a cold treatment. It usually takes only 3-5 weeks to see blooms from the time they are planted. The fact that they don’t require soil means minimal mess in the house, unless Tobias is “helping.” This is a great project for little ones so don’t hesitate to get them involved.

Like all projects, gathering your supplies and tools ahead of time lays the groundwork for a successful venture. You’ll need a container without a drainage hole, a filler medium, water and, of course, bulbs. That’s it. It can’t get any easier. Are you ready to get started?

Choosing bulbs
Select high-quality bulbs that are free of mold and mildew. For our purposes, we selected paperwhites which require no chilling. Amaryllis is also an option for the following process.

Choosing a container and filler
The ideal container is 3”- 4” deep. While any container without a drainage hole can be used, a glass container is preferred, especially for first timers and children. A glass container allows for easy monitoring of the roots and eliminates any guesswork when it comes to deciding when to move the container.

There are a variety of materials that can be used as filler. Pebbles, crushed rock, marbles, etc. are all good choices. The purpose of the filler is to provide stability and support for the plant as it grows. The filler should be made up of fairly small pieces so that the roots can fill in around them.
Spread 1-1/2” of filler in the bottom of the container. Set the bulbs, pointed side up, in the filler and use the remaining filler medium to support and fill in the gaps around the bulbs. Leave the tips of the bulbs showing above the filler. Add enough water for the water level to reach the bottom of the bulbs.

Storing the plant
For those of you who have been waiting for the “trick” to begin, here it is. You will need to find a dark, cool place for the plant to hang out for a few weeks. The ideal temperature is 55 – 65 degrees F. The plant believes it is winter and will start sending out roots.

It usually takes about 2 to 3 weeks for the roots to begin developing. When you can see the roots and the top of the plant begins to elongate, it is time to move them into the light. Find a sunny spot where the plant will be tricked into thinking spring has sprung. The more sun the better, but remember: the point is for the plant to think it is spring, not summer, so watch out for the temperature. After about one week, you will begin seeing several buds on each stalk.

Root development 
To prolong the growing season, stagger your planting over several weeks. This will provide you with beautiful plants throughout the winter months. While it is not advisable to mix bulb types in a container, give serious consideration to starting a variety of bulbs to take advantage of the full array of colors these plants can produce.
Once you are comfortable forcing bulbs like paperwhites and amaryllis, consider the other spring beauties: tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and the like. These cold-treatment bulbs require more time and a bit different methodology, but are certainly worth the effort, especially in the dreary, cold winter days of January and February. If you are interested in learning more about forcing cold treatment bulbs, let us know.

We wish you the best of luck with your planting, whatever the season.

Rachael and Tobias

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Importance of Cleaning up Leaves

The trees are dropping their leaves and it is important to prevent a heavy layer of leaves from building-up on your turf before winter. Heavy layers of tree leaves that shade the grass can smother and kill grass yet this fall. Plus tree leaf cover favors snow mold, which should still be fresh in our mind from last year's damage. If you choose not to compost them on site, the easiest way to dispose of leaves is to simply mow them in to the turf.

Cool-season turfgrasses require mowing well in to the fall anyway, so regular mowing during the fall will chop the leaves in to small pieces and allow them to filter in to the turf. Research at Purdue and other Midwestern universities shows that tree leaves can be mulched without any detrimental effects on the soil or turf. Actually, just the opposite may be true where tree leaf mulching may help improve the soil and/ or turf.

Not only is mulching leaves with a mower much easier than raking, blowing, and/ or vacuuming the leaves like we have done in the past, other benefits include:
- Minimizes waste in landfills.
- Reduces municipal costs for leaf pick-up and disposal.
- Improved water infiltration in to the soil.
- Helps reduce a source of phosphorus in our surface waters. A number of studies reported total P in urban runoff is highest in fall at the time of leaf drop. Tree leaves moved to the streets could leach phosphorus, which could move in to the storm drains and eventually in to rivers and streams. Keeping them on the turf will allow for better absorption of leached phosphorus.
- May help reduce broadleaf weeds on very low maintenance areas.

Turf iNfo for the North Central US | University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Monday, October 18, 2010

Choosing the Right Contractor

There are many questions you may have while looking at a potential project on your property. You have a world of ideas on what you want to do, but may not have an idea of where to start. A quality contractor can help you from your starting idea all the way through completion.

But how do you choose from all of the contractors in your area? There are many steps you go through when figuring out who to hire. You check with friends on who they have used, check the Better Business Bureau, take a look at rating sites like Yelp or Angie's List, you may even post the question to all of your friends on Facebook. Regardless of how you get your information, you still have a decision to make.

There are several things to keep in mind before making your final decision.
  1. Do they comply with state and local codes and regulations.
  2. Do they have the proper certification for the work they are doing.
  3. A quality contractor does not offer price as the only consideration. Often times the cheapest in the short run is not the cheapest in the long run.
  4. Check out references and/or portfolio.
  5. Ask if any sub-contractors will be used and what work they will be doing.
  6. Are they insured.
  7. Check with local building supply retailers. An established contractor with a reputation for using quality materials and paying his bills with suppliers is more likely to do quality work for you. If need be, during the interview process, ask where they get their supplies from.
  8. How many projects like yours have the completed in the last year. This will help determine how familiar they are with the type of work your project requires.
  9. Do they listen to you and your ideas or are they pushing theirs on to you. It is your home and your investment and you want to be happy with the final project.
  10. Get the final agreement/ plan in writing.

Choosing the right contractor is not always an easy process, but it is the most important step in your project. When you choose the right contractor you have peace of mind that your project will be done on time and that you will have quality workmanship that will last for years to come. Remember that price isn't the only factor to consider. If a project is done too cheap you will have to re-invest money again to get things fixed. And believe it or not, this can be as soon as 1 year down the road.

Remember, this is your project! Your satisfaction is the most important thing!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Planting Spring-blooming Bulbs - A Fall Tradition

Tobias and I just love fall! The weather is so welcome after the heat and humidity of summer and the colors, textures and aromas of the season are so fabulous. We know winter is coming so you want to make the most of every minute we can spend outdoors now.

One of our favorite things to do this time of year is plan our spring landscape beds. Tobias doesn’t care too much about which colors or specific plants I select at the garden center as long as he gets to help with the digging and the occasional batting around of a bulb!

A word to the wise about shopping for bulbs: if you’re not exactly sure what you want, take your time and read the bulb labels carefully. They contain all the information you need to determine how many bulbs you’ll need, how to plant the bulbs, what you can expect as far as the size of the plants and blooms and when the specific plants will bloom. Tobias suggests wearing comfortable shoes for walking up and down the aisles at the garden center.

Are you ready to get started? Here we go.

Bulb selection
Purchasing high quality bulbs will help to ensure future numbers and size of blooms. While top quality tulip and hyacinth bulbs are usually desirable, smaller bulbs will usually suffice for snowdrops and daffodils which easily grow and multiply each year. It is important to choose healthy, fresh bulbs.

Site selection
Most bulbs require 6-8 hours of sun per day in order to make enough nutrients to grow, make it through the winter, and flower the following spring. However, if you planning on planting new bulbs each fall, your site options increase. This is because in early spring when the foliage of the bulbs begins to emerge, there are few leaves on trees to provide shade; therefore, any bulbs that are planted under deciduous trees or in shady areas will receive enough sun in order to bloom satisfactorily for the first spring. Snowdrops and winter aconite are the first to show up in the spring, usually in March. These are soon followed by crocus, scilla, and chionodoxa. These are followed by the hyacinths, daffodils, and tulips. Bulbs are usually sold with a label that will give information on bloom time, bloom size, and hardiness.

Soil preparation
Properly preparing the soil for bulb planting is important. Good soil drainage is essential in raising bulbs. If you have a soil with a high clay content, it can be improved by adding compost, peat moss or some other source of organic material. The organic material should be worked in the top twelve inches of soil. A fertilizer specifically formulated for bulbs can be applied according to label instructions at the time of planting. The fertilizer should have a high amount of phosphorous. Bone meal is a great organic source of phosphorous but should be avoided in areas where skunks and rodents may be tempted to dig up the bulbs in their search for the “buried bones”. Having the right amount of nutrients available to the bulbs this time of year is important because the roots of the bulbs will still be growing and absorbing nutrients through November and sometimes even into December.

Again, the bulbs’ label should have all the information you need as far as planting depth, which end faces up, and how tall the plant will be.

Spring care
Any fertilizing should be avoided in the spring while the bulbs are in bloom, as this can shorten the bloom time.

So, are you ready to go dig in the dirt? Don’t forget to get your tools in proper order. A small shovel will work just fine or, you can pick up a handy bulb-planting tool at the garden center. Tobias is a firm believer in stretching before and during bulb planting (and just about any other time as well). You might find yourself in an uncomfortable position while planting so do remember to stretch and protect your back and leg muscles.

Have fun with your bulb planting project. This is a great project that can involve the entire family. Don’t forget to send us a note and let us know how it goes for you. We’d love to see pictures of landscape beds now and again next spring when you’ll be enjoying the fruits of your labor.

Happy Planting!
Rachael and Tobias