August 2, 2012
The weather has been very warm this year. In fact, the temperatures in July were the second hottest on record. When all of that heat is combined with the driest summer in decades, nature has created a perfect storm for stressed gardeners, landscapes and plants. So, should we all just throw in the garden trowel? The answer is no. As tempting as it may seem to let everything slide and dream of a cooler and wetter autumn, there are things that we can do to help our plants and gardens cope with the current conditions. And for us gardeners, there is always lemonade.
Let’s begin with the bigger picture. Minus a few exceptions of course, your landscape is equipped with some pretty good coping mechanisms. The first decision you’ll want to make is about your lawn. Do you irrigate or not? When you stop watering in this heat, turf will go completely dormant, awaiting fall rain and lower heat indexes before it greens up again. For sure, it looks dreadful for a couple of months, but the roots are perfectly fine. If you decide that summer is just not the same without a lush green lawn, make sure that you irrigate thoroughly but less often. An inch of moisture a week is what you need. Just choose to water or not, and stick with your choice. A quick word about planting new lawns-wait until it cools down. Grass seed will just bake at this time of year and sod will have trouble establishing.
Trees and shrubs on the other hand, are not as adaptable as blue grasses and fescues. Even those plants that are well established in your landscape are very vulnerable to drought stress. As an general rule of thumb, soak the root zones of your trees and shrubs with a soaker hose for an hour or so, once a week. You are trying to approximate an inch of rainfall. Place a baking dish or a saucer under a section of the hose to measure the pressure if you are unsure. A regular hose, running at a steady trickle can be moved around the root area every 15 or 20 minutes. Even better is a root feeder. This low tech metal tube attaches to your hose and can be pushed into the soil to bypass the roots of your lawn, delivering all of that water to your woody trees and shrubs. You’ll want to keep this up until the temperatures moderate and the rains return. Don’t be alarmed if you notice early fall coloring or very heavy seed drop this next summer. Woody plants often respond to stress by producing extra seeds. Birth is probably nature’s eternal answer to death.
Now let’s consider perennial and annual plantings. These areas will require the same amount of moisture as your trees and shrubs-about an inch a week. What we do here on the property is to divide the gardens into zones that we assign days of the week. When it is simply dry, each border gets watered once each week, but when it is ho as well, some of the borders get irrigated twice a week. And you want that water to go to the roots, so try to use sprinklers that deliver as much moisture as possible to the soil. Keeping the leaves drier also helps to combat the perennial summer mildew and other fungal problems. And try to remember that wilting does not always equal dry soil. Some plants just suffer in the heat. Here the Four O’Clocks languish each afternoon, as do the Bigleaf Hydrangeas. If the soil is wet, sit tight. Once the sun starts to set, they bounce right back.
Vegetable and fruit bearing plants require regular watering if they are going to set and develop fruit worth eating. We have been watering our on-site vegetable garden twice a week. Most of our veg is doing well, though the squash plants are clearly suffering. In a perfect garden, we would use soaker hoses to keep the foliage dry, but when we are faced with hose shortages, we use an oscillating sprinkler. If you are doing the same, make an effort to water in the morning so that the leaves dry before sunset and you are losing as little moisture to afternoon evaporation as possible. Keep up with the weeding and consider mulching around the plants to slow the exposed soil’s tendency to drying out.
Lastly, consider your containers. Imagine you are an annual of some kind, let’s say a Coleus. You’re trapped in a pot with dry soil anchoring your feet, your hatless head exposed to the pitiless sun and your arms and body buffeted by the hot southern winds. That’s the life of a container plant this summer. Be us to water them every day, twice when the temperature exceeds 90 degrees. Minimize use of foliar fertilizers. And maybe move them into the shade on those really sultry days.
We’re really not trying to anthropomorphize the plants, but put yourself in their shoes. I mean, roots. You’re thirsty, they’re thirsty. You’re hot, they’re hot. So keep them, and yourself, comfortable until September. Autumn is coming.
May 8, 2012
ASK THE GEEKS with Garden Center Expert Lisa Briggs
Talk to any gardener worth his or her salt about growing vegetables and you are sure to hear the term ‘heirloom.’ And though these special varieties are the current darlings of the edible gardening craze, no one is quite certain what exactly constitutes an heirloom vegetable. Start the conversation over your garden fence and see what happens. Most experts though, agree on a few key points so let’s tackle them one by one.
The most common trait is age. Heirloom should be old. Just how old is open to discussion. A common theory is that these varieties are those introduced before 1951, which is when modern plant breeders began to introduce hybrids. And while that makes a lot of sense, most seed catalogs seem to focus on varieties that date back to the 1930s and ‘40s, using the Victory Gardens of World War II as a reference point. A lot of varieties are much older, especially those that trace their heritage to Europe, Asia and Africa.
And just as gardeners have differing ideas about how old heirloom varieties should be or where they should come from, they also like to exclude any that were commercially available in seed catalogs, limiting their personal choices to those that are specific to a region or were passed down from one generation to another. Since I am a cheerleader for biodiversity, I like to plant all of those old-time varieties, celebrating especially any seed with a really good story. For instance, ‘Lazy Housewife’ bean was introduced around 1810 and is one of Seed Savers oldest beans. It was given this colorful moniker because it was the first snap bean introduced that was stringless. Or how about ‘Nebraska Wedding’ tomato, the ultimate love apple whose seeds are still given to Nebraskan brides as wedding gifts.
Another commonly agreed upon trait is that heirlooms are ‘open-pollinated.’ This means that these varieties can be grown true from seed and that future generations will be true-to-type. So any ‘Lacinato’ kale that is grown from collected and properly saved seed will look and taste like the original parent plant. More and more commercially grown vegetables are hybrids. Seeds saved from these varieties are unlikely to germinate. And even if it does, the new plants won’t display the same characteristics that enticed you to try it in the first place.
It is worth remembering that open pollination is anything but. Take squash and pumpkins. When left to their own devices, they will pollinate all over the place. You harvest what you planted, but saved seed will result in all kinds of mongrel plants, a few good and many really bad. Members of the Brassica family, like cauliflowers and cabbages will do the same thing.
A third trait is a big one for our gardeners-quality. What draws us to heirloom varieties is variety. We want tomatoes that taste like tomatoes, not something strip-mined in Florida. We want apples that evoke childhood memories. We want a truly juicy cantaloupe. Fruit in the grocery store may look picture perfect, but it often doesn’t taste like much. This is why we plant heirlooms.
To be fair, heirlooms can be a mixed bag. For some gardeners, all the fabulous taste in the world can be offset by pests that were unknown a hundred years ago. Hybrid plants are often disease resistant. And heirlooms can be quirky. Seeds germinate more erratically, some popping up right away, while the rest in the flat take their time. The new seedlings may have some pretty wacky growing habits. It’s okay. Plants are like people and I guess that some just need to express themselves.
But I say, “Go for it.” With a little advice from your friends in the Garden Center, you can find an heirloom variety that is particularly suited for your garden and your tastes. And you never know. In another hundred years, your great great grandchildren might be waxing poetic about the same tomato variety that you choose today. And you’ll be creating your own family stories.
May 3, 2012
Conversations with Sod….notes from the field
Mulch, mulch, mulch. Seems that’s all I do these days besides plant a few HUGE trees here and there. Definitely keeps me in shape (and mighty dirty I might add). The landscaping crew continues to be super busy trying to get everyone’s yards ready with the early warm weather push. The garden center ladies are continuing to arrange and reveal our perennial selection and vegetables as they become available. They’ll begin receiving more and more annuals over the next few weeks as well. The Blind Horse Restaurant and Winery construction continues to reveal more and more of the new beauty within. Besides the completion of the screened in porch with fireplace, new dark hard wood floors and bar have been installed and deep, bold, earthy colors and artistically designed imprints landscape the walls. Our open house weekend May 19 & 20 (during normal business hours) will be quite the spectacle with restaurant tours as well as our container planting party – Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers where you can pick a container at the shop or bring your own in, purchase your favorite plants onsite and put your pot together at the garden center (no mess at home!) with the help with our expert garden designers. Also enjoy 20% off giftware, statuary and pottery at both locations. The weekend before, celebrate Mother’s Day with the kiddos on Saturday, May 12 from 10-3PM, have them plant up a pretty present for mom while parents receive a 20% off a single item coupon as an additional gift.
Enough with the updates, now on to the main topic. We thought it appropriate to do a blog on starting your vegetable garden! With our early warm weather tease, it seems as though spring is lasting forever! Well, there are plenty more things you can do these days besides even planting your perennials that have weathered through the winter – for instance, our perennials have been tempered in the weather so they are pretty stable in their pots and soil and can be planted in the ground now.
As for the veggie garden here are a few of the vegetables that you can plant before the last frost weekend as the typical starting date for your garden:
As well as some of the locally grown heirloom vegetables that we offer at our garden center:
- kale – lacinato and dwf scotch blue varieties
- broccoli – romanesco, de dicco, calabrese varieties
- cauliflower – early snowball variety
- cabbage – caraflex, mamouth red rock, copenhagen market, primo
We soon will also be selling brussel sprouts which can be planted now as well.
When you start planting your vegetable garden, here are some tips to remember when beginning this early with the cold weather veggies. First off, don’t get too overzealous on the watering in the early weeks. The cool soil right now doesn’t allow soil to dry out as well so there is a risk of plants rotting off. Secondly, this is the time to add your organic matter such as earthworm castings, organic compost, etc. A nice prepping and preparing of the general structure of the garden will get it ready for the next shift in planting – tomatoes may even be started just after Mother’s Day.
Thanks again for reading! Another exciting thing I might point out is the Restoration Farms program with the Sheboygan Falls High School Food Science class that aims to grow, maintain and harvest vegetables at Restoration Farms and then bring the food via a “mobile farmer’s market” with veggie truck year round to over 600 impoverished community members in desperate need of good, healthy food. The program/cause was chosen as one of 100 finalists (out of thousands through this national contest put on through State Farm) to compete to be one of the top 40 vote getters through Facebook. We need your help to win a $25,000 grant! Through Facebook, vote as many as 10 times a day to help End Food Injustice, the name of the cause (search under Wisconsin), win the big prize! CLICK HERE for the link to the starter page of the contest Cause An Effect, then search under Wisconsin for End Food Injustice. Thanks for all your help that will help us help others! Happy planting!
From the field,
April 19, 2012
Hi it’s me again, and we’ve been crazy busy with all the spring clean-ups these days! Sorry it took me so long to write the second blog! Although, I have been thinking about and experimenting with this next topic which I thought would be good to discuss at the beginning of the landscaping season.
As some of you might know, I spent the first part of my career in fitness and yoga as a personal trainer and yoga teacher. That makes me ultra conscious when it comes to my body and diminishing aches and pains from every day activities. Since beginning landscaping full time this past year, I have noticed that the constant bending over has been killer on my low back! For the past summer and now spring, I have been experimenting with different techniques and positioning to save my back and body from the wear and tear of gardening for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
First off, as a professional, we choose not to sit- kneeling or bending over is preferable when it comes to perception on the job. So if I was in my own garden and doing something repetitively for awhile in one place, my first choice would be to sit in the most comfortable position for my knees and back. That being said, besides sitting, here are my favorite positions and movements that I have found to keep my lower back from getting too sore. I will say that I do think that I have discovered one technique in particular that has kept my back from getting sore at all after a long days work which is hugely important for my productivity and well being. These postures and stretches are also geared towards people with relatively healthy backs as a preventative measure, so please consult your physician if you have back trouble.
The first position that I choose to work in is somewhat like a modified side angle pose from yoga (see above and side picture). When you lean over to pick up a branch or weed or something to that effect, put one leg out in front of you and lean your elbow onto your knee so you don’t have to hang with your back bent and pressure onto a bowed and curved lower back (or you may support your elbow on your knee in just a standing bending over position). If you lean onto your knee, it takes the pressure off your lower back that puts weight on your discs and back muscles in a way that is straining and is the culprit of many herniated discs. You can also create more side bending in your back that puts less strain on the discs as well. That being said, if you are bending over and you happen to be somewhat flexible, if you lean all the way down so that your lower back is below your hips, you can also reduce the stress on your low back by creating more of a tractioning effect rather than a bending, pulling stress that happens when your lower back is above your hips.
This next component has been the key for me in keeping my lower back from getting sore. I have been amazed at how well it has worked! When you do bend over to pick something up, which is almost unavoidable in this type of work, the difference is in how you come back up. Now we’ve all heard you should bend from your knees and legs and squat rather than bend straight over, which I will attest to is probably your safest bet in protecting your back. However, sometimes it’s just too hard to do repetitively or perhaps even your knees take a beating from too much squatting. Squatting is also great, for hips and lower back – they say in other countries where people squat when they are working in the fields, there is a much lower incidence of back problems. I often squat when working in the garden. Again, however, sometimes the brunt of the repetition then can go into your knees. So ultimately we must adapt according to our own bodies in what feels best for our joints.
Getting back to my original statement – the difference I’ve found is in how you lift yourself back up into standing. Repetitive bending over and standing back up I have found to be a number one culprit in causing a sore back because when you stand back up and you are not coming from a squatting position using your legs to stand – you ultimately are using the small muscles along your spine when get very sore and tired as well can lead to herniated discs if you’re not careful and have a tricky back to start with. What I have found is that you can actually use a bigger grouping of muscles surrounding your hips to lift you back up to standing. Your gluteal muscles. Yes, that’s right, your butt! Ok, this might sound pretty silly (would you expect anything less than the folks at Restoration Gardens?), but I have actually been focusing on contracting or using those muscles when I stand back up, and I have found that it takes all the pressure and work off my lower back muscles and uses the angle and action of the gluteal muscles of the hip joint to bring you up from bending forward. I literally haven’t had a sore back since I’ve been practicing this and it has my job so much better because of it. So that‘s my secret. I often joke that I also get a great workout while on the job!
I wanted to also touch upon a few different post gardening stretches that I practice after a long days work as well that helps to balance and counter the bending over and stressing the spine:
- Hang on a post and pull back: lean one hip vs the other back to target one side of the back over the other
- Standing twist: keep feet and hips steady, just turn in the spine
- Standing backbend: use hands to press hips down as you bend backwards
I do hope this blog helps keep your back feeling good all season long! Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for the next Conversation with Sod: Start your garden now with cold temperature veggies. As well as our upcoming events: Plant a Special Gift for Mom for kids ages 2-6 on May 12 between 10-3PM and our Open House weekend May 19-20. Hope to see you soon!
March 15, 2012
Hi, it’s Rachael from the Landscape crew. I had thought about writing a blog since my first summer with Restoration Gardens last year documenting the great gardening and landscaping tips I’m learning from my super knowledgable bosses and co-workers and so here goes! I’ll journal once a week on what I’ve seen and learned from the many activities on the Restoration Gardens grounds and around Sheboygan County at the beautiful homes where we landscape. I also plan to share with you a monthly “Expert Blog” from each of the great design and landscaping experts at Restoration Gardens: Brian, Craig, Lisa, Char and Deb.
So the first exciting news to share of course is the coming of the amazingly transformed restaurant The Blind Horse Restaurant and Winery (taken from one of the pictures on the walls of Birdy, the blind horse from the Dreps farms homestead that was the brickhouse years ago!) and next year’s winery with the addition of Matt and Heidi Moeller to Restoration Gardens. We welcome them and know that what they create will be a great reflection of the quaintness, history and serene feel of the Brickhouse Bistro with a more elegant and even better menu, service, ambience and expanded hours in to dinner service. We’ll be able to work with them on even more beautiful weddings potentially beginning the following summer where we focus exclusively on flowers and design while they focus on creating exquisite menu offerings.
That gives the landscaping and garden center departments even more opportunity to continue creating gorgeous specialty gardens and maintain the beautiful sites you’ve come to enjoy on the grounds. And over the years with a newly designed barn and garden center we will have more opportunity to grow into the unique and high quality garden center that you’ve come to trust.
As for my landscaping notes from our first three weeks: First off, holy cow! The weather was spectacular and provided a great opportunity to get some early spring clean up going to prepare our client’s yards for their perennials and lawn to begin to grow. Crocuses were already blooming, daffodils, tulips and irises were all beginning to sprout, and we saw them bloom in no time. So now is a great time to start prepping your yard for the beauty of spring without planting anything that could be ruined with a surprise last frost or snow. Might as well take advantage of the great weather! Here is a summary of the things we focused on this week during our early spring clean-up:
- Raking up or blowing dead leaves from the lawn and garden beds.
- Pulling, cutting down and clearing away dead leaves and branches from non-woody perennials flowers such as echinacea, shasta daisies – cut down all the way to the ground for most (ask us about specifics!).
- Don’t prune the early spring blooming shrubs such as lilacs, forsythia, and magnolias – look on the branches and see if you notice small buds coming and let them be if you see them!
- Prune other woodier flowers and shrubs according to the shape you would like to see (ask us about specifics!).
- “Fluff” the mulch! Slightly rake with a hard rake or 3 pronged scratch fork to make it look fuller and spread out the way you want it.
- If you’d like, now is the time to protect your crocuses and tulip leaves from the deer and rabbits. You can use a repellant such as milorganite which is a natural fertilizer (also use as a grass fertilizer) and is very stinky so the animals stay away!
Just a brief list of things to think about as you prep your yard for the beauty of spring – feel free to contact us for full details on spring clean-up. Also contact us with any questions on how to make your yard a little mini paradise this summer according to your own budget, time and energy! Stay tuned next week for more great landscaping tips.
From the field,