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Gardening hacks for late summer, early fall

Sure, it’s hot outside. But that’s no excuse for neglecting your garden. If you’ve been watering regularly through the summer, you’ll still be rewarded with late tomatoes, green beans, peppers, squash and cucumbers. 
 
If the heat has gotten to your crop, there’s still time for a late summer/fall replacement garden. Plant squash and cucumbers seeds directly into the ground in raised mounds by the end of the month. Since they mature around 55 to 60- days after planting you’re safe from the threat of first frost, which is typically around early to mid-November. Just be sure to keep them well watered as they grow and keep an eye out for insects, such as squash borers that affect the stems of the plant. If you find insects, treat with Sevin dust, following the directions on the package. Yes, you can use Sevin on edible plants. The packaging will give you quantities, methods of application and cautions. 
 
You can also start seeds for your cool-weather crops, such as broccoli, collards and kale in August. Choose a shady place outdoors and use seeding flats, peat pots, or egg cartons and fill with good soil. Make sure the containers have adequate drainage. The late summer heat, with the plants in the shade, will provide the warmth and humidity that the seeds need to sprout, and by starting the seeds early, they will be ready to set out into the garden in September and October.
 
Fill the containers with good moist soil, then place one to two seeds in each pot or section of the egg carton, just barely covering them with soil. Water gently and thoroughly; using a mister is best. Be sure to label the containers when you plant the seeds, so you’ll know what you have planted.
 
Go ahead and prepare your garden space so that when it comes time to transplant the seedlings, you’ll be ready. Break up any large clumps, add organic matter and a light application of 10-10-10 fertilizer. When the seedlings have grown at least two pairs of leaves, not including the initial two that are the result of the seed sprouting, you can set them out in the garden. Plant them in rows and space the plants according to the instructions on the seed packets. Apply a little starter solution as you transplant.
 
Kale will mature in 55-70 days; collards will be ready to pick at between 60 and 85 days. Broccoli will be ready to harvest from seeds at between 100 and 150 days. Other plants to consider include cauliflower, chard, cabbage and turnips. Don’t worry about these vegetables being affected by frost or freezing temperatures. The foliage may become a bit burned, but the plants will survive.
 
If you’re not sold on starting your vegetable plants from seeds, fall will be here before you know it. Then you can buy starter plants for your cool-season vegetables at area box retailers. No matter what you choose, there’s nothing better than vegetables picked fresh from the garden.
 
 

Pamela A. Keene is our senior staff writer and a Hall County Master Gardener.








July 2018 column

Growing green? Thank a Master Gardner

From teaching youngsters about where their food comes from to helping community groups create gardens, hundreds of Master Gardeners in Lumpkin/Dawson, Hall and Forsyth counties constantly give back to the community. With a goal of education, training and helping expand the reach and service of the University of Georgia extension, committed volunteers in these three groups literally give thousands of volunteer hours each year.
 
The Georgia Mountains Master Gardeners, based in Lumpkin/Dawson counties, has an active Junior Master Gardener program at Lumpkin Elementary School for students in 3rd through 5th grade. “Our program dovetails with the school’s curriculum for science,” said Kathy Sawicki, publicity chair for the group. “This program has so many benefits, from getting kids outdoors to learning how to grow plants, the role of pollinators and how to recycle.”
 
The outdoor classroom has raised beds; last year the students grew collard greens that the school cafeteria prepared and served. “Everyone got to taste what they had grown,” she said. “It’s so rewarding to see youngster get interesting in playing in the dirt and gardening. When they start at a young age, they gain a good appreciation of nature, where their food comes from and that they can do so many things outdoors.”
 
The Georgia Mountains Master Gardeners offers intern classes for adults every couple of years, based on demand. For more information about this group, contact Kathy at 478 213-9467 or visit the group’s website at www.gammg.org
 
Forsyth County Extension sponsors both Master Gardener and Master Naturalists training classes at various times. Bill Roper is president of the Forsyth organization which has nearly 100 active members. “Our biggest program is our ‘Garden Digs,’ where we help other organizations create gardens,” he said. “We work at senior centers, local churches and with other groups to help them organize their gardens, plus we provide advisers and grants. Our goal is to teach them how to set up and maintain a garden.” 
 
Two notable programs at the Forsyth County Libraries and at The Place (an assistance organization) have provided a platform for the volunteers to give back and for the community to participate in gardening. The Forsyth Master Gardeners has also begun offering scholarships to high school students who want to pursue a career in horticulture or a related field.
 
For more information, call 770 888-7490 or visit the group’s website at http://ugamg.org
For many years, Hall County Master Gardeners have been among the most active Master Gardner groups in Georgia. With more than 150 active members, the organization has been doing Junior Master Gardeners programs in Hall County schools. It also hosts two plant sales each year at Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center in the spring and fall and a biennial garden tour of private gardens in the area. 
 
“Our group supports more than two dozen community projects, from the Wilshire Park and Gardens on Green to our newest – Cherokee Bluffs and Roberts Cabin in South Hall,” said Patti Lewis, this year’s president. “We’ll be planting native and aesthetic plants, medicinal plants and the kinds that would have been used when the cabin was in its most active time.” 
 
Hall County typically offers an intern class annually. Applications are accepted in the fall and the new training class takes place from January through March. “Becoming a Master Gardener is beneficial on so many levels,” Patti said. “It brings together people of like minds who enjoy gardening, it provides a chance to give back to the community. It offers ways for people to spread their love of gardening through education. And it is a place where many of us make life-long friends.”
 
To learn more about Hall County Master Gardeners, call 770 535-8293 or visit www.hallmastergardeners.com. All these Master Gardeners groups have plant sales and provide volunteers to answer telephones at their local extension office to answer gardening questions from the public. They also host monthly meetings for members, plus periodic social events.
 
To learn more about Master Gardeners in your area, call 1-800-ASK-UGA1. This number will connect you to your local office.


June 2018 column

Attract birds, bees and pollinators during National Pollinator Week June 18-24

Without the birds, the bees and other pollinators, we earthlings wouldn’t have the diverse foods that we enjoy. Pollination accounts for the successful production of fruit and vegetable crops around the world. 
 
Each June, the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, www.pollinator.org, spearheads National Pollinator Week each June. This year the event takes place from June 18-24 through more than 170 events across 42 states, Puerto Rico and Canada to draw attention to the importance of pollinators. 
 
“More than 75 percent of all crops require natural pollination,” said Dolores Savignano, climate change coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Fisheries and Habitat Conservation. She encourages people to make their landscapes pollinator-friendly. 
 
Honeybees enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops in North America, according to a White House fact sheet. Globally, 87 of the leading 115 food crops are dependent on animal pollinators, the fact sheet noted. It said pollinators contribute more than $24 billion to the U.S. economy, with honeybees responsible for more than $15 billion of that through their vital role in keeping fruits, nuts and vegetables in our diets. Native wild pollinators – such as bumblebees and alfalfa leafcutter bees – account for the balance. 
 
“Finding plants that attract natural pollinators to your landscape can encourage the continued populations of pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and even some birds,” said Chris Heim, district manager of residential and commercial services with The Davey Tree Company. “Native trees are always a good choice, such as native oaks, red buds and Southern magnolias. By adding these trees to your landscape, you’re encouraging pollinators and providing shelter for wildlife.” 
 
Heim said that the best time to plant trees and shrubs is in the fall, when the temperatures are cooler, and the plants are approaching dormancy. “You will have more success when you plant in the late fall,” he said. “Plus, it’s important to prepare the planting site by incorporating organic materials and digging the hole about two times wider than the root ball. Be sure to untangle any roots that have become twisted and confined, so that they will more naturally grow into the soil. Be sure to keep new plantings adequately watered.”
 
For instant color and long-lasting rewards, blooming summer perennials are excellent selections to create a pollinator habit. Area nurseries and box retailers sell cone flowers, cardinal flowers, blanket flowers and lantana that will come back year after year with little or no maintenance, other than clean-up in the winter. 
 
Create a pollinator garden
You can participate in the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge to help create a million such gardens across the U.S. Visit www.millionpollinatorgardens.org
 
In the meantime, if you’re serious about attracting pollinators, here are some tips from the US Department of Agriculture/Forest Service:
  • Consider plants with a range of bloom seasons from spring through fall. Include both daytime and night-blooming species.
  • Pollinators more easily find plants in clumps rather than single plants. This also makes caring for your garden easier.
  • Choose native varieties of plants rather than their “prettier” hybridized relatives.
  • Mix in annuals, perennials, flowering shrubs and trees.

Check with your area’s extension office or a Master Gardener for a list of the best natives to plant to attract your region’s pollinators. Keep in mind that some may be considered weeds in your area. Provide a water source for pollinators. You can put a bird bath directly on the ground or install a drip irrigation line. Add a bit of salt or wood ashes to the damp area.
 
Do not remove dead trees or branches. They may become attractive nesting options for bees. Avoid using pesticides. If you must use them, read the label for the least-toxic to wildlife. Spray at night when bees are not active.
 
Learn more about pollinators by reading guidebooks about bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

May 2018 column

Gardening: Innovative ideas and best books

Spring has definitely sprung at last, and with it has come a plethora of great gardening books. From growing vegetables without soil to planting in specially conditioned straw bales, gardening experts have been busy. 
 
One of my favorites, “Straw Bale Gardens” by Joel Karsten, now has a companion book: “Straw Bale Solutions.” The new book, just out in March from Cool Springs Press, provides plenty of tips for successful fruit, vegetable and flower gardening using straw bales as an alternative growing medium. If you’ve got substandard soil – like we do here in Northeast Georgia – straw bales provide a pretty fool-proof way to get great yields without the backbreaking work of building raised beds or digging out hard clay and replacing it with good soil. 
 
Karsten developed the method more than a decade ago after years of experimenting on his father’s farm in Minnesota. “People around the world have been growing in straw bales and seeing amazing results,” Karsten says. “Whether you’ve got rocky or poor soil, issues with space, or you just want to try something new, straw bale gardening provides high yields faster without soil and without weeding.” 
 
Here’s the process: start with large, compact bales of wheat straw. Place them in rows end to end in a location that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. A layer of landscape cloth beneath each row will help prevent weeds from coming up through the ground and keep the surface below protected. Make the rows at least six feet apart to allow room for maneuvering between them.
 
Have a water source nearby; you’ll be watering frequently. Evenly apply about a half-cup per bale of inexpensive lawn fertilizer without weed killers or herbicides and water it in thoroughly until water runs out of the bottom.
 
Over the next 10 to 14 days you’ll be soaking the bales, and every couple of days you’ll add more fertilizer before watering. “The key is to create a nutrient-rich planting medium,” Karsten says. “It’s similar to making compost; bacteria and microbes decompose the straw, breaking it down and creating warmth. By the time you’ve conditioned the bales, the straw biologically becomes excellent growing medium that will support plant growth.” 
 
Then plant seedlings – tomatoes, pepper plants, beans, squash – into the bale, digging out a hole and transplanting them, soil and all. Water well. Don’t let bales dry out. You’ll be amazed at the garden’s productivity. 
 
Check out other Cool Springs Publishing books like “DIY Hydroponic Gardens” by Tyler Baras to learn how to grow plants in water; “Container Gardening Complete” by Jessica Walliser; “Vegetables Love Flowers: Companion Planting for Beauty and Bounty” by Lisa Ziegler; “Compositing for a New Generation” by Michelle Balz and Anna Stockton. 
 
Other books of note with Georgia roots include anything written by Walter Reeves, www.walterreeves.com, and Allan Armitage, founder of the University of Georgia Trial Gardens. Reeves offers a free bi-weekly online newsletter and has a weekly radio show on Saturdays from 6 to 9 a.m. on News 95.5/AM750 WSB. Armitage recently released a mobile app that answers many garden questions about plants and where they grow best. It’s $4.99 at iTunes or play.google.com. It’s a great way to have a wealth of garden knowledge at your fingertips. 
 
Joe Lamp’l’s www.joegardener.com website, and his free weekly newsletter, provide excellent resources for all things gardening. His website: www.growingagreenerworld.com includes podcasts and all the latest in gardening techniques. By the way, he lives in North Georgia and has been a national gardening television host for more than a decade.
 
Now that our temperatures have settled from the roller-coaster ride of February, March and April, let’s get growing.


April 2018 column

Green side up for the best lawns this spring and summer

Finally, spring! With this year’s ups and downs of the thermometer, we’ve just about lost our patience, but even though Georgia’s last official frost date is April 15, you can still get out in your yard. Let’s talk about lawns. Spring is the transition between the cool-season fescue and the warm-season grasses Bermuda and zoysia. Fescue will hold up until it gets really hot, but you can stretch its green season with proper watering, regular care and mowing to the proper height. 
 
“We recommend mowing about once a week for fescue,” said Steve Mitchell with King Green, based in Gainesville. “We also suggest that people aerate their warm-season grasses as soon as you can while the grass is just starting to green up. This allows water and nutrients to get to the roots and will thicken Bermuda and zoysia lawns.” 
 
It’s really too late to putdown pre-emergents to address crabgrass, goose grass and other grasses and broadleaf weeds once we’re into April. “Pre-emergents really should be put down in February or early March to prevent these weeds from sprouting,” Mitchell said. “If not, you may need simply pull the weeds and get ahead of them before the weather turns really warm.” 
 
You can also use a lawn-safe post-emergent to keep these broadleaf weeds at bay. Be sure to read all labels carefully because not all post-emergents are alike. Some are formulated for use on Bermuda, others for zoysia. And be sure to mix them exactly as the label instructs; too much of a good thing can be harmful to your lawn.
 
Proper mowing heights are important to help grass through the heat and possible drought of summers in Northeast Georgia. fescue like to be mowed to a height of 2 to 3 inches. Warm-season grasses like Bermuda and zoysia thou be mowed a bit shorter. Common Bermuda should be cut to 1 to 2 inches; hybrid Bermuda and zoysia should be cut even shorter to .5 to 1.5 inches. 
 
Having a lawn service can help with weed control, proper fertilization and other tasks that can seem mundane but are necessary to ensure a beautiful green lawn. Charlie King founded King Green in the basement of his home in 1987 and since then has provided service with six locations in Georgia and another in North Carolina. The company serves residential and commercial accounts.
 
“The healthier you can keep your lawn, the better it will perform,” Mitchell said. Between proper mowing, the right amount of water and fertilizing when it’s needed, you can have a beautiful lawn and be the envy of your neighborhood.” 
 
Go native for garden success
Native plants, those that are indigenous to our soil and climate conditions, can be the best solution for beautifying your landscape. The Georgia Native Plant Society, www.gnps.org, is an excellent resource for finding out about natives for shade, sun and soil types. 
 
Some natives are invasive and should be avoided in the garden, such as kudzu – not that you’d plant kudzu in your garden – Chinese wisteria, English ivy, bamboo and even the beautiful roadside Queen Anne’s Lace. 
 
Non-invasives include native azaleas, American beautyberry, sweet spire, and sweet shrub.
If you want to add natives to your garden, check out the area’s newest nursery, Lanier Nursery and Gardens in Flowery Branch/Oakwood. Owner Nathan Wilson specializes in native trees, shrub, perennials and other plants that grow well in our climate. The nursery is located at 4195 Schubert Road in Flowery Branch. Info: www.laniernurserygrdens.com.

March 2018 column

Spring clean: Outdoor living is just around the corner

The good news is: Lake Lanier’s finally above full winter pool, thanks to all the winter rains. The other good news is that soon you’ll be outdoors and enjoying spring and summer. But will you be ready? When was the last time you had your dock, porches, home exterior and steps/stairs to the lake inspected or/or repaired? 
 
“Now is a good time to make sure your decks, steps and porches inspected,” said Dave Whitaker, owner of Wit Service Corp that specializes in building and repairing decks, porches and dock steps. “For one, it’s better to get a safety inspection and make any repairs or improvements before the warmer weather, and most contractors probably have more availability before the peak season.”
 
Contractors like Wit Service Corp can make sure decks, porches and homes are in good repair by replacing rotten wood, checking for lose nails and even filling holes created by carpenter bees that may weaken construction.” The company also designs and builds decks, porches and stairs to help you maximize your outdoor assets. Adding or extending outdoor living space can mean more enjoyment in the spring, summer and fall. 
 
Whitaker said that perhaps decks’ and home exteriors’ biggest enemy is water, and sometimes it takes a professional to assess whether there is damage. Safety it also a concern. “Water is the death of wood so it’s important to maintain wood construction on an ongoing basis, and termites love wet wood,” Whitaker said. “Over time, sunlight, water and other elements can contribute to deterioration of wood and outdoor materials,” Whitaker said. “General maintenance can go a long way toward protecting your investment for the long term and ensuring that your decks and stairs are safe.” 
 
Another issue that many homeowners neglect is the proper installation of mulch. “Leave at least a 4-inch gap between the foundation of your home and the mulch,” he said. “Keep it away from your house to discourage wood-to-ground contact. Even Masonite that stays wet can deteriorate over time.” 
 
The company can also install low-voltage lighting to light pathways and patios. Founded in 1998, the company is based in Gainesville and serves Lake Lanier and the surrounding area. for more information, call 404 277-0345. 
 
Is your yard pet-friendly?
Here are a few tips from the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute to have a pet-friendly yard:
• Create a dog-friendly back yard by using sturdy turf grass, plants with soft foliage, a water station and an “approved” place for digging. 
• Use plants to create a sense of boundaries and train your dog to avoid them. 
• Avoid toxic plants, such as hostas, lilies, morning glories, chrysanthemums and daffodils.
• Check your fence and make any necessary repairs.
• Does your dog have it made in the shade? Design and install specific shade areas for your dog to escape the summer heat and have a nice place for a nap.
 
For more information, visit www.SaveLivingLandcsapes.com.


February 2018 column

Great Backyard Bird Count: A chance to be a citizen-scientist

Lake Lanier is prime picking for the Great Backyard Bird Count Feb. 16-19. With a combination of water fowl and land-based birds, weekend bird-watchers have the possibility of spotting more than 50 types of birds, depending on how much time you spend counting.
 
Cosponsored by the National Audubon Society and Cornell University, the event is now in its 21st year. It’s designed to learn more about birds, the health of their populations, and their environment. In 2017, more than 160,000 people participated.
 
“This count is so fun because anyone can take part – we all learn and watch birds together – whether you are an expert, novice or feeder watcher,” said Gary Langham, chief scientist for Audubon via the organization’s website. “I like to invite new birders to share the experience. Get involved, invite your friends, and see how your favorite spot stacks up.”
 
Signing up is free and straightforward. Visit www.gbbc.birdcount.org and follow the steps to register as a new user. Then you’ll be able to access lists of birds most prevalent in your area grouped by ZIP Code. Decide where you’d like to watch – from a park, your own back yard, or as part of a family day-trip and take the locator list with you. You can count for as little as 15 minutes or as long as you like; you can count just one day for 15 minutes, or every day. It might be fun to count at the same time a couple of days in a row to see if the bird populations change.
 
Don’t worry if you can’t identify a bird right away. Take a photo with your phone and then search the internet by color, size, type of beak and other distinguishing features. 
 
The organization sponsors an annual photo contest, and you don’t need to be a professional photographer to enter. You can submit as many as 10 photos per category; images should be high-resolution. Winners and honorable mentions will be awarded prizes. Photos from previous counts are posted online at www.augudon.org.
 
The Great Backyard Bird Count is an excellent way to take up a new hobby. Whether you’re bringing birds to your backyard feeders (remember to keep them filled this winter), or planning expeditions to new places to add to your list, your commitment can vary by your lifestyle. 
 
Some people become so fascinated with birds that they upgrade their camera equipment, join Facebook groups, connect with local birders through chapters of the Audubon Society or plan fun events around counting and photographing birds. 
 
Georgia has more than a dozen geographically specific Audubon chapters and birding clubs. You can find more about them by visiting www.n-georgia.com/audubon_society.htm
To learn more about the Great Backyard Bird Count, to register and download official checklists for your ZIP Code, or to submit an entry for this year’s photography contest, visit www.gbbc.birdcount.org.

 
Sign up for Georgia’s Youth Birding Competition, T-shirt art contest
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources hosts a Youth Birding Competition every April. This year’s event is slated for April 27-28. Set during the peak migration for many birds, the 24-hour competition encourages youth teams to find as many bird species as possible. 
 
Teams can raise money for the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund or for a conservation organization of their choice. Teams should register by March 31, by emailing the DNR’s Tim Keyes at tim.keyes@dnr.ga.gov or calling him at 912 262-3191. Entries must be submitted in person at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield, about an hour east of Atlanta.
 
Complete details about the Youth Birding Competition are posted at www.georgiawildlife.com/YBC. Youth can also enter the YBC T-shirt art contest for a chance to have their art featured on the 2018 T-Shirt. The contest is open to Georgia residents in Pre-K through 12th grade. Winners will be selected in four categories – primary, Pre-K through 2nd Grade; Elementary, 3rd through 5th grade; Middle School – 6th through 8th Grade; High School. The deadline for submissions is March 15. Here’s where to find the rules for the T-shirt art contest: www.georgiawildlife.com/YBCTshirtArtContest.

January 2018 column

Start your gardening year off right


There’s no better time than January to make your gardening resolutions for the new year. The keys to keeping them are: 
 
• Write them down
• Put them in a timeline by month
• Review them at least quarterly
• Be flexible to adapt to opportunities, such as plant sales or special internet offers. 
 
With January’s cold temperatures, spend a couple of quality hours surfing the internet for gardening ideas. Pinterest (www.pinterest.com) is jam-packed with many good ideas that you can adapt for your home and landscape. If you’re the least bit handy, check out some DIY sites, including Instructables (www.instructables.com) that offers step-by-step instructions for everything from creating outdoor furniture from used pallets to dozens of ways to creatively make raised and container gardens.
 
We have a nationally known gardening expert right here in North Georgia. Joe Lamp’l, AKA joegardener.com, lives here and produces his PBS program “Growing a Greener World,” plus podcasts and newsletters over off Ga. 400. While his advice can be applied nationally, with caveats for various climate/planting zones, his site offers trouble-shooting, inspiration and the latest ideas.

This year, he’s compiled “Best of the Must-Haves Resource Guide” that showcases affordable garden tools, shoes and socks, gloves, pruners and other items that make gardening easy and fun. Visit his website to find it. Joe offers a free weekly newsletter through the site, too.
 
And remember that The Georgia Gardener, www.walterreeves.com, specializes in all things gardening in Georgia. His website offers month-by-month gardening suggestions, as well as answers to tough plant questions and recommendations for getting the most out of your landscape. You can subscribe to his free newsletter at his site.
 
If you’re itching to get outside in now, here are some suggestions to get you started; I’ll be doing my complete list this month, too, but here are some of the items I’ll list:
 
• January – prep vegetable beds, plant or transplant trees and shrubs, keep bird feeders filled
• February – clean and service your lawn mower, clean out bird feeders and bird houses, build raised beds for vegetables, prune butterfly bushes
• March – research your lawn and properly apply pre-emergents to prevent spring and summer weeds, prune non-blooming plants, such as hollies or boxwood, plant garden greens including beets and turnips. 
 
Your list doesn’t need to be detailed, but write down some triggers to prompt you to stay on schedule. My biggest challenge is doing my gardening chores at the proper times. typically, I have more than a dozen plants or shrubs in my driveway, purchased on a whim, waiting to be planted. Scheduling keeps them top of mind for the first warmer day.
 
Be mindful of not making your list too ambitious. It’s better to start small and check off items than to create a year-long list that you’ll never tackle. Happy New Year and Happy Gardening

December 2017 column

Backyard privacy? Plan and plant now

As fall turns to winter and the deciduous trees lose their leaves, your home and landscape look more exposed than ever. The benefit is that you’re left with the “bones” of your yard and can more easily imagine and plan for increasing your privacy options for the spring, summer and fall.
 
For one, December, January and February are ideal times to remove or thin pines, hardwoods and sweet-gum trees. Professional arborists and tree specialists, such as Arbor One in Buford, can come in and remove dead branches, raise canopies to allow more light for your lawn and garden, plus take out sweetgums or pines that may be a hazard to your home in high winds. 
 
Tree removal can also open up areas for entertaining or for installing special plantings, like a half-dozen camellia bushes that bloom in the winter or a bed for native azaleas.  Or consider removing nuisance trees and replacing them with evergreens or shrubs with interesting textures and foliage. And if you have troublesome trees on the borders of your property, go ahead and get them removed before they fall onto your neighbors’ yards, fence or home.
 
Change privacy ‘settings?’
Leyland cypress were all the rage 15 or 20 years ago for creating residential privacy screens. They replaced the 1980s look created by the Red Tip Photinia that homeowners and builders frequently planted around HVAC units or between houses to give a natural look to a visual barrier. But when disease wiped out many of them in the late 1980s and early 1990s, people turned to Leylands. 
 
Here’s the problem with this fast-growing evergreen. It grows quickly and often produces multiple trunks on trees that reach heights of 25 to 30 feet in less than a dozen years. If they’re planted too close together – the best distance is about 12 to 14 feet off centers (between the trunks) – the lower branches will turn brown from lack of sunlight and may develop various diseases because of poor air circulation.
 
And when they get that big, you run the risk of the trees breaking from heavy winds or ice storms and falling into your home. And they will likely block natural light coming in your windows.
 
Natural privacy 
Don’t despair. Here are some alternatives, found on Walter Reeves’ website, www.walterreeves.com
  • Various species of holly – consider Emily Brunner, Nellie Stevens, Foster or Savannah varieties. These are hard reliable evergreens that require little maintenance or pruning.
  • Hybrid magnolias – Little Gem Dwarf Magnolia or D.D. Blanchard Magnolia are excellent. With their glossy dark-green leaves and fragrant white blossoms in the summer, you really can’t go wrong. Check the specifications and give them enough room to gracefully spread, plus room to grow up to 20 or 25 feet, even the dwarfs.
  • Arborvitae – similar to Leylands, these evergreens are sturdier and come in several varieties, including Green Giant and Emerald Green. One of the newest is American Pillar, developed in Woodstock in Northwest Georgia. They have a very upright growth habit, achieving heights of 20 to 25 feet with widths of only four or five feet. They should be planted about three feet off centers and are resistant to high wind damage.  Check them out at www.americanpillarnursery.com
  • Miscellaneous – Check out the fragrant tea olive with its aromatic tiny white blooms in the fall, Virginia or white pines, or certain varieties of viburnum.

When you’re installing plants for natural screens, avoid planting them in a single straight line. They are much more attractive when planted in a zig-zag pattern leaving enough room between plants to provide good air circulation.

Remember that you’ll have more success with planting trees and shrubs during the winter than in the spring. While they’re dormant, they will still need to be watered regularly, but they won’t be fighting for moisture during the hottest time of the year if you have planted them in the late spring or summer.


November 2017 column

Warm up for fall and winter with a backyard fired pit

Things are heating up for winter back-yard entertaining. More and more people find that adding a fire pit opens a world of possibilities for friends, family or just a romantic evening. 
 
“People are using them as a focal point for entertaining, creating great ambience, or even for cooking,” said Jason Brosche, owner of Art of Stone Gardening. “Today’s designs are so versatile – from traditional round fire pits to fire-proof vessels, gas starters to those that are manually lighted.”
 
They can be constructed in various sizes and shapes to complement the setting, such as quarter-rounds, squares, circles and rectangles. And they can be made of boulders, natural or manufactured flagstone or other fireproof materials. 
 
“We are being asked more and more to install metal swing arms to hold Dutch ovens or grates that can be used with iron skillets,” he said. “And a search of the internet turns up many recipes that are excellent cooked over the open fire.” 
 
Firepits can either be installed on top of the ground, fully or partially buried. Built-in seating, such as half-walls of the same or complementary materials makes them more usable. And placing them on an extended patio provides even more flexibly for seating.
 
The best way to start a firepit is to stack seasoned firewood into a teepee in the center with some newspapers or kindling below. If you have a gas starter, first light the newspaper or kindling, then turn on the gas a bit. Once the wood has caught fire, turn off the gas. If you don’t have a gas starter, you’ll need a little more patience.
 
“The primary consideration is safety,” he said. “We use firebrick for safety and heat retention. The location of your firepit is very important, and remember that firepits are not intended to be used as burn piles.”
 
The latest trends create the ambience of flames and a bit of warmth, although some models don’t produce a great deal of heat. Typically, gas-powered, they use fire glass or lava rocks rather than wood or hot embers. The flames are usually blue. 
 
Art of Stone Gardening recently received two landscape awards from the Georgia Urban Ag Council for its landscaping and hardscape residential designs and installation. For more information, visit www.artofstonegardening.com or call 770 519-6372. 
 
PS – A bit about pansies: If you can find 4-inch pansies, you still have a little time to plant them before November 10 or so. Our warmer fall pushed the planting season by a week or so, but get them in early, fertilize them and keep them watered.
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