Lawns — published on April 23, 2011

A Lawn of Curb Appeal

Revive your lawn after a long winter, and watch it thrive

Winter can be hard on your lawn. While a healthy layer of snow acts as an insulating blanket for your grass, the melting snow often reveals brown or patchy spots where cold, ice and wind teamed up to do damage.

“Spring maintenance using a proper top dress and environmentally-friendly weed control will restore your lawn from its winter slumber and prevent weed growth as the temperatures climb,” says Tammy Lawrence, president of Turf Revolution. “It’s important consumers and lawn-care contractors are aware of what they are spreading on their grass if they want to ensure they have a healthy, green lawn this summer.”

Here are some springtime tips to build the ultimate lawn this summer:

Core Aeration: Aeration in the spring will combat soil compaction, ensuring oxygen, water and nutrients to reach the roots.
Soil test A soil test will help identify the deficiencies in your soil, helping you pick the right product that will improve your lawn and ensure healthy growth throughout the year.

Overseed: Overseeding is a crucial step to achieve a thick, lush lawn. It is an easy way to fill in bare patches and to establish improved grass varieties and enhance your lawn’s colour and density.

Topdress: Turf Revolution’s all-natural Revive & Thrive 2-0-2 with Asco 3-in-1 Topdressing and Repair uses granulated compost from leaf and yard waste to support a certified seed blend and fertilized with a 100% marine plant extract to improve seed germination and promote root development. Application in early spring will enhance the beneficial microbes in your lawn, increasing the organic matter, and will prohibit the growth of worms. Its all-natural ingredients are safe for children and pets.

Fertilize: A 100% all-natural organic fertilizer is not only safe around pets and children, but it also encourages the growth of both grass and the organisms necessary to promote healthy plant growth.

Any spring lawn care program should also include a weed control aspect to prohibit the spread of unsightly weeds like dandelions and crabgrasses. Ontario residents have been unable, by law, to apply chemical pesticides and herbicides to their lawns since Earth Day 2008, meaning they have to find organic, environmentally-friendly alternatives if they want a lawn that is free from invasive weeds.

Phosphate-free Corn Gluten Meal 9-0-0 is a 100% natural alternative for weed control. Turf Revolution uses corn meal derived from the wet milling of corn, ensuring it has at least 60% inhibitory protein – making it among the most effective all-natural pre-emergent weed controls available.

“Corn Gluten Meal effectively stops root formation at the germination stage,” Lawrence says. “It is perfect for use on established lawns in large or small venues, from your backyard to the neighbourhood soccer field to golf courses to sod farms.”

For more information, visit

Design — published on August 29, 2010

Tricks to help you landscape like a pro

Professional landscapers have a lot of tricks which can help your own DIY landscaping projects. The basic concept is planning, and working smarter, not harder. That can also provide a lot of real dollar value, so much that you can buy a swimming pool with the money you save. You can spend time figuring out what sort of pool cleaner you want, not how to untie your shoulder muscles from all the hard physical labor.

1. How to landscape without doing anything at all

Start with a basic check on your property by asking yourself some very basic questions:

(a) What do you want to keep? The things you really love are excellent landscape content. They’re meaningful parts of your idea. You can literally design your whole landscape around these priceless features. These highly valued things are also good quality control, and will assist in your landscape design concept.

(b) What doesn’t need doing? This question alone will pay for your swimming pool. There’s a tendency to slash and burn in DIY landscaping, based on the theory that everything must be landscaped “on principle”. Wrong. A nice bit of lawn or a little tree can easily be incorporated into a good landscape design. The amount of unnecessary work also blows out your time frames, costs and patience, not always in that order.

2. Planning your landscape concept

The classic mistake of home landscaping is to work without a real vision for the concept. This can lead to a lot of hard work and problems when landscaping ideas clash with each other. A fountain may be planned with no idea of how to ensure the water supply because there’s now a miniature forest planted where the pipes need to go.

The best option is to start with a general concept. What do you want to include in your landscape? You’ve already got the things you want to keep, so use them as a basis for your design.

For example:

    The beautiful tree you’re keeping needs a birdbath and a rockery with roses?

  • How about a reflecting pool to go with the birdbath?
  • A little round the garden path, following the features?

You’ve already got half your plan, and some leads for the rest.

3. The more thought, the better your design.

The key to the most beautiful landscapes is content, not masochism. The fabulous landscaping you see in the big lifestyle magazines is quality based design. Some of them are big places, but you’ll notice the landscapes are all simply and well laid out at their basic design levels.

4. The “How” factor

Always ask “how” you’re going to do your landscaping. If a feature looks costly or difficult, check your options before you spend a single cent. There’s always a way of achieving what you want, and it should be simple, cheap, and easy. If it’s not, keep looking.

Professional landscapers use the simplest, most cost-effective designs and construction methods. That’s why landscaping is one of the highest paid of all professions. It’s so good you can start picking your pool pump while you’re planning your own personal paradise.

Sustainablity — published on March 13, 2010

Ten Tips for a Sustainable Landscape

Sustainable landscaping is about improving or working with the environment to create a landscape that is in balance with the local climate. It requires minimal additional resources such as fertilizer, pesticides and water. A short-term goal could include using a compost bin. A long-term goal could be to create a more self-sustaining garden that involves all aspects of healthy plant care such as choosing appropriate plants as well as eliminating chemical solutions. Here are 10 tips to create a more sustainable landscape on your piece of paradise:

1.Shrink Your Lawn

Those expanses of green turf take an enormous amount of resources. Eliminate some of your lawn and create a more natural landscape. You’ll ultimately use less water and reduce chemical use and save some money too. As well, you’ll do less mowing and raking.

2.Gather Rain Water

Harvesting rain water in barrels helps to conserve water and save money. Rain water is soft and pure and requires no treatment. You can use it to water your garden, your houseplants or even wash your hair with it.

3.Use Mulch

Mulched beds improve the appearance of any landscape. But more than importantly, mulch protects the plants’ root systems and adds nutrients to the soil. Mulch slows soil erosion, retains moisture and helps to prevent weeds. You’ll spend less time weeding and watering your garden and more time enjoying it.

4.Compost, Compost, Compost

Composting organic kitchen and garden waste produces rich humus and improves the soil. By composting you reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill sites, thus reducing greenhouse gases. You also save money on chemical fertilizers.

5.Choose Native Plants

Native plants are better able to withstand drought conditions and poor soil. They are also better able to resist pests and diseases, thus reducing the need for harmful chemicals.

6.Attract Pollinators to Your Yard

By growing a variety of plants you increase the number of different wildlife species that are attracted to your garden. Insects, bees, birds and bats contribute to a healthy ecosystem by transporting pollen from one plant to another during fertilization.

7.Plant Shade Trees

Planting deciduous shade trees near your house will help cut your air conditioning bills in summer. In the fall deciduous trees drop their leaves allowing more sun to shine into your home and so help to reduce heating costs. But, trees deliver more than cost savings; they are important carbon sinks and help to reduce global climate change.

8.Plant Edible Ornamentals

You can produce a beautiful landscape as well as tasty food for the table by integrating edible plants into your garden. For example, runner beans, ruby chard, globe artichokes, nasturtiums and garlic chives blend happily with purely ornamental plants.

9.Use Local Materials

Rather than using exotic materials trucked in great distances for your landscaping projects, consider using stone, salvageable concrete, used bricks, and other recyclable materials found locally.

10.Choose Alternatives to Power Equipment

Instead of a power lawn mower consider using a push mower. Instead of a string weed trimmer use hand shears, a scythe or a hoe. Instead of a gas blower for leaves, use a rake or broom, or better still allow leaves to remain in place to decompose and add nutrients to the soil. Instead of a lawn, think about creating a meadow.

Lawns — published on May 2, 2008

Lawns 101

Much has been said and written about whether or not we should rethink our passion for the home lawn. There is general agreement that where summer rains are adequate and a well-adapted variety of grass is grown, a lawn makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, summer rains are becoming less adequate to support a lush, green stand of grass in the Toronto area.

While acknowledging the validity of these points, no surface is better suited to outdoor living and game playing than a grass lawn. And few (if any) are more beautiful. Viewed from that perspective, the bigger the lawn, the better! The most practical and thoughtful opinions have suggested that a lawn is well worth the energy and expense it requires, if it is actively used as a surface for outdoor living and playing.

If, however, you do not intend to use the lawn for game-playing and entertaining, by all means consider planting another type of ground cover, one well adapted to your area. Once ground covers are established, they require far less maintenance than a lawn. Ground covers make perfect sense when all you require is an even visual expanse of green to fill in the area between the house and the fence.

If you determine that a grass lawn makes sense for your yard, planting the right variety of grass at the right time of year will go a long way in making yours a healthy, easy-care lawn. If the healthiest, best-looking lawn with the least amount of maintenance is your goal (and why shouldn’t it be?), here’s some guidance.

Practical, Eco-Friendly Lawn Maintenance

If you’ve decided on the traditional lawn, there are four steps you can take to reduce its high-maintenance requirements and all but eliminate any negative environmental impact.

Instead of bagging the lawn clippings, let them compost in place, right on the lawn. Research has shown that leaving the clippings on the lawn actually benefits the soil and the lawn. As the clippings decompose, they improve the structure of the soil and return nitrogen to the lawn.

The shorter the clippings, the more easily they fall to the soil (as opposed to lying on top of the grass), and the more quickly they decompose. Optimally, you should never cut more than one-third off the total height of the grass. This means you may need to mow your lawn on a slightly more frequent schedule, but it’s a small price to pay for improving the health of your lawn while eliminating the effort involved in bagging and hauling clippings around the yard.

Second, never apply too much fertilizer at once, and use only slow- or controlled-release fertilizers. Look for a high percentage of “WIN” nitrogen on the bag (that stands for “water-insoluble nitrogen”), or chose fertilizers from natural sources, such as manure. Other forms of nitrogen may provide a quick green-up, but they are so highly soluble that much of the nitrogen leaches through to the soil without the grass ever having a chance to use it. These soluble forms of nitrogen, such as ammonium sulfate, have caused problems by polluting groundwater and nearby streams and lakes.

Relax your standards somewhat regarding what you consider to be weeds. No less than the great American horticulturist, Liberty Hyde Bailey, wrote in 1898: “The man who worries morning and night about dandelions in the lawn will find great relief in loving the dandelions. Each blossom is worth more than a gold coin, as it shimmers in exuberant sunlight of the growing spring, and attracts the bees to its bosom. Little children love the dandelions: why not we? Love the things nearest at hand; and love intensely.”

Instead of trying to achieve that nearly impossible perfect grass lawn, completely free of dandelions, crabgrass, clover, and whatnot, why not leave the herbicides on the shelf and simply enjoy what you’ve got? A lawn with a few weeds in it is not going to stop anyone from having a grand time playing touch football, badminton, or hide-and-seek. Leave perfection to the greenskeepers and their putting greens.

Finally, if insect pests become a serious problem in your lawn, opt for a natural control. Great strides have been made in the science of organic pesticides. Today there is an effective, natural control product available for every lawn pest. These products make sense not only from an environmental point of view, but from a personal one. All you have to do is imagine the number of times kids fall facedown in the grass during an active game of volleyball or football, or just how close babies or toddlers are to the lawn as they crawl or wobble across the grass, and the choice of insect remedies becomes clear-cut.

The All-Important First Step

Nothing, repeat nothing, is more important to the successful growth of any plant than proper advance soil preparation. Skip this all-important first step, and you’re asking for trouble. Abide by it, and you’ve taken a huge step in ensuring a thriving, easy-to-care-for lawn or garden.

Briefly stated, no matter what type of soil you find in your yard, from the sandiest sand to the heaviest clay, a liberal addition of organic matter works miracles. The organic matter can be anything form compost to well-rotted leaf mold, fine fir bark, or peat moss. Almost every community lays claim to some indigenous, inexpensive organic material, readily available to homeowners for free, the material having been made from the leaves gathered by municipal crews in the fall.

The amount of organic matter you add should be equal to the depth that you intend to turn the soil. If you’re preparing the soil to plant a lawn, whether from seed or sod, the minimum depth you should till is 6 inches; 8 or 12 is that much better. This may contradict some traditional advice, but experience has proved it to be very successful. If you intend to till the soil to a depth of 8 inches, then you should add 8 inches of organic material on top of the soil before you till to incorporate it to the full depth. This takes some doing, but it helps develop an extensive, healthy root system, resulting in a hardy, vigorous lawn that is able to withstand periods of drought and is more resistant to disease and pests.

Depending on the type of lawn you are planting and the characteristics of your native soil, you may want to add fertilizer and lime as you incorporate the organic matter. Explain your situation to your local nursery staff to find out if such additions are necessary.

After tilling the organic matter into the soil, rake the area smooth and sow the grass seed or roll out the sod. Keep the soil moist (but not wet) for a week or ten days. You’ll be amazed at the growth the lawn puts on in such superior soil, even in the first year, not to mention its long-term vigor, in both good years and bad.

Gardens — published on April 20, 2008

Gardening Tips

  1. New gardener? Take the time to really look at your property and make a plan that pleases you. Don’t expect to achieve your goals in one year.
  2. Put in hardscape first: walks, driveway, patio, then trees and shrubs and lastly flowers.
  3. Prepare planting beds well. This is your one chance to get it right. Remove all grass and weeds, dig the beds and amend the soil with composted manure or other nutrients, rake the surface smooth and level, and water well.
  4. Site your plants to their best advantage. Sun-lovers will probably survive in shade, but will not bloom very well if at all.
  5. Trees, shrubs, hostas and ferns make a pleasing display that requires little maintenance.
  6. Buy a good gardening reference, or borrow one from the library; then read it, many times. You don’t have to follow the advice to the letter, but you will learn a lot and save yourself from making too many costly mistakes.
  7. Don’t discard seeds. Some are viable for many years if kept in a dry glass jar and stored in a cool place such as the refrigerator. Portulaca seeds are known to be viable for 45 years!
  8. Know your limitations. If a plant requires ” rich, moist, well-drained soil in half-shade in a sheltered location”, you might want to give it a miss unless you’re very keen.
  9. Plant native seeds, available from several sources. Use drought-tolerant types such as Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Monarda, Calendula, Aquilegia[ columbine]., Portulaca, Artemedsia, Sedum and so on.
  10. Don’t “sprinkle” planting beds. It is more beneficial to give the site 1 inch of water per week, delivered at ground level, to encoiurage deep-rooting.
03: Landscaping — published on April 6, 2008

Pruning primer

Help your trees and shrubs look their best
with timely pruning

When your trees and shrubs start to look scraggly, you may want to give them a haircut. Pruning gives healthy branches room to grow. The plant’s roots can nourish them better, since there’s less to feed. A little pruning also helps keep diseases at bay. If in doubt, hire a professional to do the work for you.

Pruning trees

When your trees are dormant and new buds haven’t formed yet, get out your pruning sheers. The idea is to cut back growth that looks weak, ill formed, or overcrowded. Your healthy branches will be even healthier when they have more room and nutrients to grow.

When not to prune tree

If you want strong, healthy trees, don’t prune them after their leaves have sprouted. Your trees have used up a lot of stored energy to push those leaves out, and they’re too young to start replenishing the tree through photosynthesis. Pruning at this point will starve your trees. However, you can remove any sucker growth that you see around the base at any time.

Pruning shrubs

If you have a shrub that blooms in the spring, prune it after the blooms have completely faded. If your shrubs bloom in the summer, do your pruning in late winter or early spring.

Design — published on April 6, 2008

The Small Landscape

Within the last couple decades, the size of the average home’s landscape has shrunk considerably. Two trends have brought this about. Houses are becoming larger, taking up most of the lot. In addition, the cost of land has increased greatly. Those with small landscapes need to plan very carefully. Small landscapes are less forgiving of our landscape design mistakes.

If you have a good landscape design, half the work is done. Just be very careful when choosing the individual plant species or cultivars. Know the mature size of each plant, and allow enough space. Overcrowded plants are more likely to be sickly and stressed.

If you can’t visualize how much space a plant needs, use practical aids. Get cardboard boxes, bushel baskets, pots, or other appropriately sized items, and place these in the intended spot.

Buy only the number of plants you need. It’s easy to get carried away. Ask yourself, “Do I really have enough room for this plant?”

Keep the plant’s needs in mind. Your plants will grow better, and your garden chores will be much easier. Match the plants to your small garden’s growing conditions.  Small landscapes don’t have room for invasive plants. Assuming growing conditions are suitable, the aggressive ones can become bullies.

Don’t take on more than you can do. During the winter months when we’re garden-deprived, it’s so easy to create large landscape plans that require countless hours of labor. If you have limited time for landscape maintenance, choose care free plants that require a minimum of attention. Select plants that can accept inattention without becoming sulky. So choose carefree plants and keep the  garden a manageable size.

Once you have your landscape plan completed, it is best to do the work in phases so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Spring may seem like the best time. But in fact with all the other spring garden planting and chores, it might be better to wait until fall.

For plantings of annuals and heat-loving vegetables, late frost can be a problem. The easiest approach is to wait until this date has passed before you plant tender things.

Shrubs — published on April 4, 2008

Shrubs for carefree landscaping

Choosing Shrubs

Shrubs are among the most useful and colorful group of landscape plants. Choosing shrubs isn’t always easy. Most garden centers and retail stores will have the most common shrubs available. Don’t be content with the ordinary. Some of the newer and the unusual shrubs have a lot to offer. These will make your landscape more interesting.

Are you tired of azaleas that bloom in the spring and look like green globs the rest of the year? If so, look for Encore azaleas. These wonderful plants were hybridized by Robert Edward Lee of Louisiana. He created these repeat bloomers, which is very unusual for azaleas. The Encore include the Autumn Series, which is perfectly suited to the Carolinas. In the series are eight different multiple-blooming azaleas. After flowering in the spring, the shoots produce new flower buds that will open in mid-summer.

The weigelas were once thought of as very old-fashioned shrubs. That was before Wine & Roses was released. This award wining plant has lovely dark-burgundy-purple foliage that seems to shimmer like wine. The leaves retain their beautiful color, creating seasonal interest throughout the summer. Midnight Wine is similar.

A very unusual Japanese holly, called Sky Pencil, is now available. The name describes Sky Pencil’s exotic shape. You may have thought you didn’t have space for a Japanese holly, but this one will prove you do. It grows to ten feet in height but is only two to three feet wide. This evergreen is multi-stemmed, and needs no pruning. Use it as a specimen plant or as a hedge. With its formal shape, it is great for foundation plantings. Like most Japanese hollies, Sky Pencil prefers a slightly acid soil. This wonderful plant was discovered in the wild in Japan. It came to the attention of scientists from the National Arboretum visiting Japan during a plant-collecting trip. They propagated it and made plants available to

The crape myrtles are one of my favorite groups of plants. Some of the better ones are mildew resistant. These beauties were bred by Dr. Donald R. Egolf of the National Arboretum. Their parentage includes seed-grown plants from Japan, which were immune to mildew. Whether crape myrtle is a tree or shrub depends on the size and how you grow it. The smaller ones like Tonto can be grown as shrubs. It is about twelve feet high and about as wide, has deep red blooms that last for several months. Its foliage becomes maroon in the autumn. Acoma, only about ten to twelve feet in height can have an even greater width. Its white blossoms last for several months. The branches can be almost weeping in form. The foliage assumes purplish red tones in the fall.

The loropetalums are a rarely used group of shrubs. Perhaps part of the problem is the name. Unlike most plants, it lacks a common name. Its Latin name, Loropoetalum chinense, indicates its origins as it is from China. Loropetalum are outstanding broadleaf evergreens. The newer introductions tend to have maroon foliage and pink blossoms. Examples would include Burgundy and Razzleberri with pink blossoms. It can be used as either a ground cover or shrub. Its ground cover-like growth habit means it could be used en masse as a ground cover. Yet it does produce upright arching shoots as well. So it could be used as a flowering hedge. Given good growing conditions, loropetalums can get quite tall. Loropetalums have such a wonderful shape that it rarely ever needs pruning. If using them for a hedge, I would give them plenty of room so they never needed any pruning at all.

If you’re looking for a formal hedge, use something like cherry laurel or podocarpus, also called Japanese yew. Naturally the Leyland cypress is suitable for hedges, but some experts are concerned it might become overused. This could then lead to problems.

Whether you choose the abelias, azaleas, or loropetalums, shrubs have an important place in the home landscape.

Gardens — published on April 4, 2008

Joining A Garden Club

One of the easiest ways to get more from gardening is to join with others who share the same passion. And for that there are garden clubs — probably one near you.

For those of us with the gardening bug, talking with other gardeners is one of the ways to build your knowledge of gardening and be among like minded enthusiasts. But there are other possibilities as well, network among friends, neighbours and family for gardening interests.

Gardening can bring endless hours of enjoyment to your life. Garden clubs are made expressly for this purpose. When you join a garden club, either locally or through the internet, you can meet up with people who share your interest and exchange valuable information.

Tips abound for the gardener, even from the wise old fellow at the corner hardware store or the experts at the garden center.

Much of the information gained can be useful for avoiding mistakes the has befallen others. Most of club members are experienced gardeners who have already gone through the learning curve and are willing to let you in on their trade secrets of growing big, healthy plants. They know through trial and error which plants grow best in what soil, and what is the best way to make homemade compost.

Take time to explore the benefits and advantages of being in a gardening club. You many find just the right people to talk with. You can get tips and advice for gardening and gardening projects. You get to review the latest in gardening accessories and tools. Find out the best gardening books to read and DVDs and videos to watch.

Lawns — published on April 3, 2008

New Lawn: Seed or Sod?

Whether you are planning to sod or seed your lawn, for best results you need to start from scratch. The reason this is the best way to start your lawn and get the healthiest lawn is that you can eliminate bad grass, weeds and disease in your grass. If this is not all properly removed then most of the time it is a waste of time to seed or sod because weeds and disease will just creep back into your lawn.

To start from scratch you need to first remove the old grass with a sod cutter. You can rent these from most home improvement stores. Once the sod is removed completely, you need to till the dirt and make the ground as smooth as possible. If you see any large rocks, you should discard of them as well. The next step is to check the pH level of your dirt and treat it if necessary. Then you should treat your dirt with a good fertilizer. The fertilizer will help give your sod or seeds a good start.

After your dirt is prepared for planting it is time to decide on laying sod or seeding. Before you start this process, you need to make sure it is the best time in your area to do this. Check with a local nursery for the optimum time of year to start a lawn. It is typically best to start a lawn in late spring or early fall. If it is too hot, the grass will not get enough water and it will dry up. If it is too cold the ground might freeze, killing the grass.

Once you plant seeds or lay sod, you need to make sure that your lawn gets watered regularly or all your hard work will have been for nothing. There is a fine line between too much water and not enough. The general rule of thumb is that, if there is no rain in the forecast, you should sprinkle the grass or seeds lightly 2-3 times each day so that the ground stays moist. If it rains heavily for a few days, you should not sprinkle the grass. A very hard rain right after seeding might wash some of the seeds away so you might have to seed again.

Depending on the type of sod or seeds you use, you might have to add fertilizer or water the ground with fertilizer. It is best to follow whatever instructions or tips you are given for that type of grass in order to have the best success. If you have any questions or are having problems, consult with a landscaping company. Since they are used to seeding and laying sod, they might have a simple solution to whatever your problem or question is. You might even consider having them help with the seeding or laying the sod. Whether to lay sod or seed is a personal decision. Whichever you choose be sure to research the needs of that particular grass before starting.

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