Monthly Archives: September 2014

What Should be in Your Outdoor Tool Shed

What's in Your Tool Shed?Landscaping holds the potential to transform outdoor spaces; it can turn your property into a relaxing oasis, a family-friendly space, or a perfect setting for gatherings with family and friends.  But a beautifully landscaped yard requires maintenance. The right tools can make upkeep not only easy, but even an enjoyable task. From rakes to watering hoses, here’s what every homeowner should keep in his or her outdoor tool shed.

Hand Trowel

A good hand trowel is essential for any gardener. The small, handheld shovels are used for anything from scooping up soil to planting bulbs and small plants. Go for a light-weight stainless steel model with a hardwood handle, which is both sturdy and durable.

Watering Can

A watering can is helpful if you have a lot of potted plants, small plants, or seedlings that need gentle care. There aren’t many factors that go into a watering can, but it’s wise to consider size (of both container and neck), handle, and sprinkle heads (known to gardeners as “roses.”)  For a mid-sized garden, why not go for a sturdy plastic can with a 4” opening, long neck, and removable rose?

Rake

The word “rake” comes from the root meaning “to scrape together.” In gardening, it’s useful for loosening the soil, light weeding, removing dead grass and leaves from lawns, and much more. A leaf rake is appropriate for small yards and basic gardens, but those with soil and rocks to consider should spring for a bow rake.

Shovel

A round-point steel bladed shovel with a wooden handle is perfect for general digging, planting large plants, and turning soil. Keep short and long handled shovels in your shed for the different tasks your yard might require — from prying rocks to digging holes.

Hand Pruners

Plants are healthier when they’re properly trimmed in the right places. With sharp blades, spring mechanisms, and comfortable short handles that fit in your palm, hand pruners are essential for cutting stems and branches up to 1” thick. Keep both a bypass and anvil style hand pruner in your outdoor shed. The former is used on living plants, as the curved, scissor-like blades make clean cuts. The latter is used on dead plants and bushes, with a single blade and a ratcheting mechanism that enables you to cut through a thick branch in several hand pumps instead of one strained squeeze.

Hose

Keep your lawn looking lush with a high-quality hose that limits kinking, leaking, and contaminating the water. A 50 ft. hose is appropriate for most lawns — if you need a longer hose, consider buying multiple 50 ft. lines and combining them when necessary. Experts recommend heavy rubber hoses with connectors of nickel-plated brass; these are long-lasting, sturdy, and the plating will prohibit any lead in the brass from getting into the water.

Stock your outdoor tool shed with these essentials and you’ll be on your way to a cleaner, greener garden in no time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now You’re Cooking With Gas! A Review of Gas Grilling.

Review of Gas GrillsNow that outdoor living spaces are common additions for homeowners, they’ve grown more elaborate and luxurious. Grilling options have consequently become more sophisticated to keep up with demands. Gone are the days of the simplistic UFO-style charcoal grill that was good for cooking only a few hamburgers and hotdogs at a time. Today’s modern propane-fired grills, clad in stainless steel sheeting, are more efficient, have larger cooking surfaces, and are much, much easier to use. But with so many options, how can you find the right grill for you?

With so many available options and capabilities, here are some tips for purchasing and caring for your new grill.

Propane or natural gas?

Once the predominant grilling debate was charcoal vs. propane, but now the debate has shifted to propane vs. natural gas. Stationary natural gas models are becoming more commonplace alongside permanent outdoor kitchen installations, and offer cheaper fuel for grilling. Of course, the drawback of natural gas models is that they must be connected to a gas line like a stove, and cannot be moved like a propane grill. But, it would be nice to never worry about filling the propane tank again!

Always cover your grill

When not in use, it is imperative to keep your grill properly covered and stored. Though most grills today are made of cast aluminum or stainless steel that typically weather very well, by taking basic care of your grill you can add years to its life. Especially in the winter when cold temperatures, ice, and snow can cause serious damage, grills should be stored in a garage or shed if possible. Unless, of course, you like to stand outside and grill in the snow!

Add-ons or not?

Today’s high-end grills have the capabilities of full kitchens, which means they have a laundry list of add-ons and functions that go beyond merely grilling. Some grills offer multiple side burners, rotisserie spits, warming racks, and ultra-hot infrared burners for faster cooking. But, are these add-ons worth it? They can be, but only if you’re an experienced griller. Most of us use our grills for simple cooking, but if you regularly entertain, or want to cook a wider variety of foods on your grill, then consider picking up these add-ons.

Most importantly, grilling is not just about cooking outside. It’s about entertaining for friends and family, and taking advantage of your outdoor space. Choose a grill that is right for your needs, and enjoy the sizzle!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living Outdoors: Getting the Most From Your Patio and Deck

Decorate Your PatioOutdoor living space has become more desirable than ever before. More homeowners are turning their once plain, grassy yard into fully functional outdoor living spaces that not only greatly increase the number of usable square feet in the home, but also significantly increase the home’s value. While adding extra space is great for your home, it takes some care and consideration to turn that raw area into a comfortable and relaxing living space.

Here are some decorating tips to help you get the most out of your outdoor living space:

Use creative lighting

One of the best ways to transform your patio or deck into a dramatic nighttime setting is to add proper lighting. Don’t rely on floodlights to cast abrasive swaths of light over your patio. String lighting is an easy alternative that immediately creates an intimate and welcoming setting. String lighting can be easily incorporated by attaching the lights to overhanging branches, the underside of a pergola, or a few wooden posts strategically set to guide the strand. Wooden “tiki” torches are also a good alternative light source. Torches create an exotic ambiance and help keep away pesky mosquitoes!

Mix in plants and shrubbery

Though your patio is an extension of your home, you should remember that you’re still outdoors. Add shrubbery and potted plants to make the space feel more rustic and secluded. Use a variety of plants to create a barrier around of the edge of your patio for added privacy that will also reduce noise from a nearby street or noisy neighbor. Potted plants are also a great opportunity to turn your patio into a working garden. Plant tomatoes or peppers in the spring for summer harvesting. Or, you can start your own herb garden that will not only spice up your cooking, but also turn your patio into an aromatic sanctuary.

Add a fire pit

Most people assume that outdoor spaces like decks and patios are only useful in summer months when the days are long are warm. While it’s great to take advantage of summer’s unique conditions for outdoor living, patios don’t need to be neglected the other eight months of the year. Install a fire pit for year-round use, and you’ll get the most out of your outdoor space. You can incorporate the pit into the design of the patio, or add a free-standing model for more flexibility. Fire pits are great gathering spots, and are a nice alternative to traditional entertainment. Invite friends for wood-fired kabobs, gooey marshmallow smores, or steamy popcorn. Fire pits bring the fun of camping right to your backyard, without sacrificing any convenience!

Favorite Trees and Shrubs for Magnificent Autumn Landscapes

Fall FoliageThough summer is winding down, it sure doesn’t feel that way with the recent hot temperatures. The rumors of a warmer than usual fall for Montgomery County don’t quite suggest that we’ll be free of the heat any time soon, either. But it’s not too early to start dreaming of looking out onto your landscape and seeing a rich palette of fall colors. Planting the right trees and shrubs can turn your yard into a work of art while simultaneously providing shade and privacy.

Popular Trees

Many trees and shrubs can provide year-round beauty with their blossoms, berries, branch structure and magnificent foliage. Some of the most popular and versatile trees are:

1. Japanese Maple

Japanese maples have vivid gold, crimson, or plum leaves in the fall (and sometimes even in the summer depending on the variety). Once the leaves are gone, you can enjoy the beauty of the tree’s branch structure.

2. Dogwood

Dogwood is loved by many for its large white or pink blossoms during the spring. However, its deep red and wine-colored fall leaves also make a lasting impression.

3. Birch

As autumn begins, birch trees become a shower of bright yellow leaves that are charmingly offset by their lightly colored bark. Some birch trees, like the white birch, have stunning white bark, and others, like the river birch, have silvery bark that changes to pink, brown, or black as they mature.

Popular Shrubs

For a natural and cohesive feel, keep in mind the advantages of layered textures, strategic placement, and contrasting colors. Complement your trees with:

1. Oakleaf Hydrangea

Oakleaf Hydrangeas look like regular white hydrangeas for most of the year, but come autumn their white flowers fade to a darker pinkish brown color while their large leaves turn shades of gold, red, and purple.

2. Fothergilla

The bluish leaves of Fothergilla become combinations of gold, orange, and red during late fall. Its fluffy white leaves bloom in the spring and are sometimes honey-scented.

3. Red Chokeberry

During fall, the red chokeberry has vivid orange-red leaves and glossy red berries that are edible, though unpalatable. The black chokeberry has comparable coloring in its leaves, which later darken to a shade resembling purple. The black chokeberry grows very dark blue berries.

Choosing the perfect species for your yard requires some thought beyond just making sure it has magnificent coloring. Where are you planting it? What is the height or shape you are looking for? How will you feel about its berries and flowers? What about its scent?

And while all of the varieties listed above are hardy enough for winters and summers in Pennsylvania, each species has particular requirements for its location, exposure to direct sunlight, and when to plant it.

Check with Blue Tree first before you plant.  We can help you select the best options for your home and then take care of installing your new trees and shrubs.  Call us today at 610-222-0590 for a design consultation.

 

 

 

 

Dividing Plants: A Short Tutorial

Divide Your PlantsIt is common to divide plants that have become overgrown, or have at least grown enough to be potentially divisible. It also serves as a nice way to help others with the addition to their garden or to simply increase stock as a professional gardener. Dividing involves digging up a plant and separating the root ball, sometimes into several sections. The main consideration is shock, but you’d be surprised at how hearty the plants can be.

What kind of plants can be divided?

The ideal plant for division is perennials. If you want to divide a tap root plant, do so by cuttings or seeding rather than splitting. Most divisions of perennials are completed every 3-5 years, so any younger or older can be tricky. The ideal time of year is late winter or early spring; during this time the plant tends to be dormant.

How to divide a perennial

How to Divide PlantsDividing is surprisingly easy. Using a spade or spading fork, you can dig up a large perennial, such as day lilies (ideal for Southeastern PA), along with the root ball to make sure you have the largest portion of it. Avoid cutting the roots too close to the crown. There needs to be enough root system to prevent shock. Dig around the center, leaving enough dirt and root ball to easily pull from the ground. In some cases, the division is as easy as pulling it apart by hand where the roots naturally release. They are surprisingly resilient.

Dense root balls

Plant Root BallSome plants have dense root balls and require other modes of division. A knife similar to a pocket knife is all you need to cut out chunks from a potted plant with a dense root ball that is resistant to pulling; decorative grass is one example. Furthermore, some plants as seemingly delicate as Tiarella (Foam Flowers) can be cut apart into small sprigs and replanted to start anew.

Durability

The strength of the perennials is often better than anticipated. More often than not, bushes and trees are more susceptible to root shock than smaller plants, and perhaps that is why the reputation of shock is sometimes exaggerated. However, if you want to go the extra mile to prevent shock, a vitamin solution like Superthrive can help minimize the effects of dividing and bolster your intent to separate, replant, and flourish. Don’t be afraid to pull that large perennial from the ground, replant in that hardscape, and share.

 

Solutions to Your Dog and Your Landscape

Dogs and Landscape

If you’re frustrated by helplessly watching your lovable but incorrigible furry friend destroy the hard work you’ve put into your yard, there are a few ways to fix the damage. Knowing your own dog is always the best solution: depending on the personality of your dog, some tactics will work and others won’t.

Bare Patches in Your Yard

The trail that your dog takes most often will be worn down over time into unsightly bare patches. Reseeding will be only a temporary solution, so take note of the route and lay down paths that accent your yard instead. Use materials that will be easy on your dog’s paws—concrete, flagstones, rounded gravel, or mulch. Stay away from cocoa mulch, which contains the same compound as chocolate and is poisonous to dogs and cats. If your yard is enclosed, the space by the fence will often be worn down as the dog patrols its territory, so plant tall plants or trees to hide the gap.

Protecting your Plants

Plant a hedge, or erect a fence, to keep your dog out of your vegetable and flower beds. Be mindful that sharp metal edges on the fences may cause injury. If that doesn’t work, try installing a motion-activated sprinkler (although this technique is unlikely to deter breeds that enjoy playing in water). Dogs who like to dig up newly planted flower beds may do so only for the novelty; dogs who are bored always manage to find ways to amuse themselves. Creating a sandbox or a sandpit for your dog to dig in is a good solution, with the added benefit that sand tracked into the house will be easier to clean up than mud.

Brown Spots on your Lawn

Brown spots on the lawn are the result of the overabundance of nitrogen in your dog’s urine. The best option is to reseed, then train your dog to do its business somewhere else, preferably in a specific somewhere else. You may notice some odor, but this can be relieved by thoroughly and frequently watering the area. Alternatively, cover these brown spots with a hardier species of plant, like clover, and consider switching over your entire lawn so you no longer have to worry about brown spots.

 

Sometimes it is simply easier to design your landscape around the needs of your dog. For the best outdoor environment for the four-legged member of your family, you may also want to consider installing a shallow water feature, or a shady pergola, to prevent overheating in the hotter summer months.