Archive for Mulch

A Winter’s Day

This winter has been long already. We seem to have been getting rain, snow and/or ice almost every other day, oddly interspersed with days close to sixty degrees. On those nice days you know where I’ve been! The garden calls me. I’ve been trying to get a jump on freshening up all the garden beds by getting rid of winter weeds and stirring up the existing mulch, and as luck would have it, the county park at the top of my neighborhood just had a delivery of compost. My favorite! LOL!

I’ve already managed to bring home six car loads to amend the soil. What a difference it makes. In the spring when the grass starts growing again, I will add some additional clippings and stir it all in. This makes the absolutely perfect soil for flowers, veggie gardens, and young foundation transplants. I highly encourage you to check with your local county office and inquire if they also have a compost/mulch program. Some even will deliver to your home for a small fee. Ours here in Fairfax County doesn’t offer that, so I collect my own in large flower pots. They are easy to fill, and not too heavy to carry to wherever I’m spreading it in the garden. A two to three inch layer is perfect. Aside from dressing up the garden and providing nutrients, finely composted leaves stay in place better than the bark mulch on hillsides. So if you have a yard with terrain, it’s perfect.

Just look at that beautiful compost! It is very popular with all the gardeners and disappears fast, so I keep an eye out for the deliveries. This is created from the leaves that are picked up in the fall on yard waste collection days. I’ve found that it is the best quality, and because it’s from local trees, it’s a great recycling effort. And did I mention – FREE!

In between the snow and ice storms I’ve already gotten quite a bit done in my garden prep for spring. I still need to cut back the big grasses, liriope and sedums, but spreading the compost makes it look fresh again.

I even use the compost in my large flower pots. These cabbages were from my fall display, but I have them back on the front porch to brighten things up now that the Christmas decorations are packed away. I love to fill them out with additional magnolia leaves, where the mums were originally. Anywhere you would ordinarily use potting soil, you can use compost.

Here we go again with another ice storm! Back and forth weather like this can be very hard on plants. If your plants get covered with ice like this it’s best to let Mother Nature melt it on her own time. Knocking snow and ice off can break branches if you are not careful. Also, that nice compost I just spread around the garden will insulate the roots to prevent them from heaving due to freezing and thawing.

One more thing to do now that the trees are dormant: Take a good look from all sides, and see if there are any branches in need of pruning. This is the perfect time to do that, before they come back to leaf in the spring.

Another snow! If your garden borders the road like mine does, you might want to define the edge of your yard with large rocks or taller reflector stakes. That way drivers of snowplows will know where their boundaries are.

That’s all for this time! From our snow covered home to yours, remember that spring is just around the corner.

It’s Spring!

I love spring! With everyone having to keep “social distance” due to the coronavirus, I have been working my way around the yard enjoying the lovely weather. Things are popping around here, and everything is starting to green up and leaf out all at once. Here are a few hints to make sure your garden is in tip top shape.

This is the perfect time to edge your garden, and give it a nice margin for mowing. I also like to stir up the mulch a bit. It can get compacted over the winter, and stirring it up lets the rain and nutrients get through to the root zone easier. And while you are at it, clean up any of the debris and weeds before they have a chance to set seeds.
If you have ground cover, this is the perfect time to pick out the leaves that have blown in over winter and pull any weeds before the new growth gets too thick. I also like to give mine a shape just for fun.
This year I decided to increase the size of the garden around a few of my larger trees. I transplanted the lilies underneath this curly willow this past week. If you do this, be extra careful not to change the soil level or to disturb the feeder roots of the tree. I’m adding a light layer of leaf compost everywhere in the newly expanded garden to improve the texture of the soil and give the transplants some extra nutrients.
Here is one of my all time favorites of spring — a flowering pear. This is an “Aristocrat” variety, which is slimmer and stronger than the “Bradford” variety. Even still, it has grown very large. I trimmed up the lower branches to open up the walkway and to make it a little more difficult for the squirrels to jump from the tree onto the roof.
Last, but not least, if you over wintered your fall pansies, like I did, give them a deadheading to pinch out the spent blooms. They will fill out and give you tons of new flowers!
Happy Spring Everyone!

Beating the Heat!

The roses love the sun — but me, not so much. Especially when the “feels like” temperatures are approaching 115 degrees outside! Doing anything we can to stay cool is important. Here are a few things that you might not have thought of, but they really do help:

Most importantly conserve, conserve, conserve! Water is precious, and so is electricity on days like this. Try to stay indoors as much as possible during the sunny hours. Draw your shades and curtains on the sunny side of your home, it adds insulation, and protects flooring and fabrics from fading as an extra bonus. We have found that the rooms are 10 degrees cooler by doing just that. If you have ceiling fans keep them running, stale air and humidity can lead to mold and mildew. Try to eat fresh and healthy salads, or no-cook meals. Just turning on the stove or oven can heat up your entire kitchen. Run your dishwasher overnight when the water usage is less. After washing, air dry your clothing, or minimize using your dryer. I find that removing clothes from the dryer and then simply hanging them to dry after 5 minutes releases wrinkles and works great. And who likes to iron anyway, right? Those are some of my best indoors tips, now on to the outdoor tips–

Watering flowers after the sun has moved off of them keeps them from getting scorched, also gives the butterflies a safe place to drink some water. Don’t forget to leave a bowl of fresh water out for pets at all times. And for extra help, a soaker hose under a blanket of mulch 2″ deep is great for retaining the soil’s moisture, and it keeps their roots cooler, too.
Trim the back of foundation plants all around your home to leave at least six to twelve inches of airspace between the plant and the exterior wall so your house can breathe. This keeps down the pests and insects as well as molds and mildew. Consider upgrading your outdoor lighting to a power-saving low voltage lighting system. Our’s here provides nice lighting to walkways at just 4 watts per fixture. Much better than a 60-100 watt bulb from old style lighting!
Another way to minimize heat in the garage is with insulated doors, and if you have garage door windows, cover them during the summer months to keep the sun out. I created my own shades by cutting simple pieces of fabric and attaching them with velcro all around the edges of the windows. The coach lighting here is energy saving diode lantern style fixtures which use the equivalent of a 15 watt bulb in energy, but provide terrific lighting for safety.
All around the back of the house, we have these great new solar powered lights. They are motion sensitive, so they are just on when needed. It’s always great to have these in case of of power outages, you will always still have light.
My most important tip is to always have some water with you if you are going to be outside. You can’t drink too much water on these brutally hot days. Wear light colored, loose fitting clothing, and try your best to stay in the shade. Please be careful everyone!

A moment in time – waiting for the cherry tree to bloom!

Anxiously waiting for the cherry tree to bloom.

Anxiously waiting for the cherry tree to bloom.


Every year I’m working against the clock to have the yard looking at its peak when the cherry tree blooms. This year we have had an inordinate number of warm days, and I have almost finished — well, at least the front yard. It’s hard work, but the weeding, edging, mulching (90 bags!) and lots and lots of pruning are almost completed. We have lots of people who drive by and a few who take Easter pictures here when the tree blooms coincide with Bunny Day. I think this year I was lucky that this tree is a little behind the Tidal Basin cherry trees in D.C. The cold snap and late ice and snow storm that collided with them didn’t harm mine, just delayed it a few days. For those who are as in love with these trees as I am, this is a Kwansan variety. Its double flowers are magical!


The “Charleston pink” phlox that surrounds the tree is at its peak right now, and the tree is hours away from exploding with color, so this is just a teaser and I will post another photo when the tree is blooming — until then, Happy Spring!


Update, April 6th –  The tree has started to open. I’ll post a photo each day until it’s fully open. We had an incredible Spring storm that blasted through here just now with intense wind and the darkest clouds I’ve ever seen. Everyone in its path — stay safe!

You can see now how many flowers have opened in just a day. More to come!!!

You can see now how many flowers have opened in just a day. More to come in tomorrow’s update!


Update, April 7th – She is now in all her glory! It’s always worth the wait. I feel so happy to have her in my garden.

Full bloom! Always worth the wait! Happy Easter everyone-

Full bloom! Always worth the wait! Happy Easter everyone…

One more close up for posterity! How I love this tree-

One more close up for posterity! How I love this tree!









Making the Most of the Weirdest Weather Ever

Wild weather going from 70's to 20's with thunder, snow and hail, then back to sun- breaking records almost every day.

Wild weather going from 70’s to 20’s with thunder, snow and hail, then back to sun- breaking records almost every day.

We are having some truly crazy weather here in Mount Vernon. Over the last week, we have had a daily high of 74 degrees and a daily high 38 degrees; snow, hail, sun, and rain; and three or four days with 60+ mile an hour winds! It seems like we are having records broken every day. You never know what will be in store from one minute to the next.

I’ve been making the most of the nice days and getting lots done in the garden. There have been some interesting things — and some not so — but it’s been great to just be outside soaking it all in. Here are a few things that I’m doing here that I hope will be a useful reminder to you in your gardens.

An easy fix for mature grasses with a bare center- read all about it here!

An easy fix for mature grasses with a bare center — read all about it here!

When we’ve had a nice afternoon here and there, I managed to get at least one or two ornamental grasses trimmed down. With more than a dozen out in the garden, this is the most time consuming of all of the cutting-back tasks.  Mature grasses always start to die back in the middle after a few years, and it can start to look like a doughnut with all the growth around the edge and bare in the center. I have a tip for working with these: If you have a saws-all you can use a long blade to cut around the inner circle and remove it. This will dull the blade, but just keep it for this duty — makes it so much easier to cut out the fibrous, tough center. The bare center then can be then easily be filled in with a chunk of fresh, new growth from the outer edge, making the plant good as new.

These grasses can grow to be more than three feet in diameter in just a few years, so an alternative would be to divide it in fourths (or more) and turn one plant into many. Gardener’s gold! I have seven of them trimmed down now, so I’m well on my way. And — once you have finished trimming down the tops, don’t forget to clean out the old leaves and debris that settle in to the center during the course of the previous year. It will make the crown of the plant much healthier, and as a bonus it will look much nicer, too.

First Spring flowers are already blooming! Time to scratch up the mulch and enjoy the fresh Earth scent!

First spring flowers are already blooming! Time to scratch up the mulch and enjoy the fresh Earth scent!

Now that we are starting to have warmer days, I like to stir up the mulch. It can become so compacted over the winter when it freezes and thaws. By stirring it up, it is much more porous so the spring rains can more easily soak in. It also makes the mulch look fresh and nice.

This is also the perfect time to check on emerging bulbs and perennials. I like to take the time to clear out the branches and leaves that have blown in, and give the garden beds a good edge for the upcoming growing season. Another tip — use your senses to evaluate your soil. It should have a beautiful fresh earth scent, as you stir it up. If it doesn’t, remember where and return with some nice compost to stir in when the soil has warmed. Ditto that if you see an area where rain ponds up, or there is moss or heavy clay.

The roses are already sprouting leaves in this warm weather- time for a major pruning.

The roses are already sprouting leaves in this warm weather — time for a major pruning.

Right now is the perfect time of the year to trim up rose bushes. Leave five or so main branches, and cut out any that cross. Make your cut about 12-18″ up the branch just above an outward facing leaf bud.

Last year I heard a new tip and really like it: sprinkle cinnamon on the soil surrounding the rosebush about a foot in diameter. It keeps fungus at bay. It really works. I had no black spot at all on the leaves of the bushes where I did this.

On to a reminder about some of the ugly necessities in the garden. After 17 years, we are replacing the A/C system. I wish they lasted longer, but even though we have ours serviced every year, there are only so many years of life in them. Here’s a tip I’ve mentioned before, but bears repeating: make sure to trim any bushes or hedging back so that the unit has at least a couple of feet of breathing room around it. You will have perfect air circulation around the unit and the technicians will have room to service it.  Thank goodness for that invention, makes life so much more enjoyable!

I also made some progress clearing out a space to dedicate for storing my recycling bins and trashcan. It’s a little more visible than I’d like, so I’m still thinking about what I might do differently to improve on it.

On an exceptional day last week, we took a field trip to Mt. Vernon Estate, just down the street. More on that next time!

On an exceptional day last week, we took a field trip to Mt. Vernon Estate, just down the street. More on that next time!

In between some more wild weather, we had a beautiful day to take a field trip to George Washington’s home, Mt. Vernon. I’ll be writing the next blog on some really inventive gardening tips from there that are still valid today!

I hope you’ve been able to get out in the garden on your good days, and may we have many more to come. Enjoy!







Mid-Summer Check-In

So very hot! Almost 100 outside-

So very hot! Almost 100° outside! Stay hydrated…

It’s summer, all right! With temperatures approaching 100° here, there is no more comfortable place to be than in my basement at the computer, blogging without feeling guilty that I should be out working the garden. We have just passed the 4th of July, and now we move on to the “3H” time of summer: Hazy, Hot and Humid. No matter how long you live in the D.C. area, you never really get used to it. Water of all kinds is your friend — whether it’s the beach, pool, sprinkler or hose! And, please make sure to drink your eight glasses a day; it’s not fun to get dehydrated.


When it gets this hot it helps to keep the moisture in by stirring  up and adding some additional mulch in thin spots. Also boost the curb appeal!

When it gets this hot, it helps to keep the weeds down and moisture in by stirring up and adding some additional mulch in thin spots. Your flowers and veggies will love it, and also boosts the curb appeal!





With the exception of a couple of weeks in early June, this has been a very rainy season for us, and that has caused not only extreme growth on established bushes and trees, but also annuals and vegetables to rot because of heat and moisture. I had to replace all of mine, but they are looking fantastic now.

I have coleus in the planters this year. I love the bright splash of color-

I have coleus in the planters this year. I love the bright splash of color, and they are very hardy in the heat-






After losing the first set of annuals at the front door due to too much rain, I put in coleus. Sometimes I see plants in the nursery that seem to be doing so much better than others, so that’s what I bought. I love the huge colorful leaves! I have more of it growing on the back deck and in the window box — love it there, too.


Please remember to set out some water in the shade for 4 footed friends- it's greatly appreciated!

Stomper would like me to request that everyone set out some water in the shade for four-pawed friends — it’s greatly appreciated!


I  want to put out a reminder in this heat to please keep your bird baths filled with fresh water and a dish or two of water ideally in a shady spot for the wildlife. It’s sometimes hard to find clean water this time of the year for them, and it’s much appreciated!

I find myself just trying to keep up with the weeds when it gets hot like this even though I use a weed preventer in the garden beds. I’ve been adding some extra mulch here and there where it’s become thin and stirred it with a rake in other spots for good airflow to soil. This is a good practice to get into this time of year, and it boosts the curb appeal, too!

Look what I found while weeding and edging!

Look what I found while weeding and edging!








And while I was edging the other day, I found this wonderful heart shaped rock, nature’s gift!

I have a new lawn mystery to solve. Brown spots! I think these have been caused by lawn grubs.

I have a new lawn mystery to solve. Brown spots! I think these have been caused by lawn grubs. More on this soon.





I’m noticing about 100 brown spots in the grassy areas. They can be caused by so many things: fungus from too much rain, or a dull mower blade, pet spots or grubs like fire flies. I’m not sure what is causing mine, but I’m leaning towards the grubs idea. I’ll report more on this soon, and have a remedy for you, too, when I do.




Until then, try to stay cool — Happy Summer!

Happy Thanksgiving to All

This was the view of autumn leaves from my deck this year. They were so beautiful, but now a mountain of fallen leaves are in need of raking.

This was the view of autumn leaves from my deck this year. They were so beautiful! Now I have a lot of raking in my future.

Now that the mums have finished blooming, I have filled in the pots with boxwood trimmings from my yard. They make beautiful "plants" all winter long.

Now that the mums have finished blooming, I have filled in the pots with boxwood trimmings from my yard. They make beautiful “plants” all winter long.

I’m finishing the last of the winterizing and want to share a few tips that will add polish to the holiday curb appeal, and make the perfect backdrop for seasonal decorations. These will make a big difference for just a weekend’s worth of effort. And as an added bonus, it’s also a great way to work off some of that turkey with all the trimmings that we love so much!

First up is finishing the leaf raking and weed removal. Reach in and pick out all the leaves that have gotten stuck in the bushes and then do a final pass in the mulched areas of the garden and your lawn. This alone will make a huge difference in the appearance, but we aren’t going to stop there! Next, give the mulch a rake to loosen it up, and add extra if needed. Winter mulch tip: As you are stirring up the mulch, make sure to leave a space of a few inches between the mulch and the wall of your home. This will discourage the unwanted “guests” (mice!) from burrowing there.

Fill in gaps in the garden by creating "instant plants," just push small branches into the soil- simple as that.

Fill in gaps in the garden by creating “instant plants,” just push small branches into the soil. Simple as that!

Here is a row of "instant juniper" plants, where I removed the summer annuals. You'd never know they aren't actually growing!

Here is a row of “instant juniper” plants, where I removed the summer annuals. You’d never know they aren’t actually growing!

Perfect time of the year to give the clay pots a good cleaning before storing them away for the winter months.

Perfect time of the year to give the clay pots a good cleaning before storing them away for the winter months.

Not all of the "instant" plants are used outside- the extra ivy is in a bucket of water and will root over the winter. Ivy is a really good air filter indoors, so I love to have some inside!

Not all of the “instant” plants are used outside. This extra ivy is in a bucket of water and will root over the winter. Ivy is also a good air filter, so I love to have some inside!

Now that you have pulled out the spent summer flowers and have areas that might be looking a bit too spare, here’s one of my favorite tricks of the trade: I trim the bushes in the yard and use those trimmings to create “instant plants.” Just take the branches and push them into the soil about 6 to 8 inches. I use about a dozen small branches to create each “plant.” On either side of the driveway where I grow vinca in the summer, there are now juniper. They look great, you’d never know they weren’t actually growing. I also do this in the pots and window boxes to create small boxwood “plants.” This trick lasts for months, usually into February, and since I trimmed the branches from my own yard, its free!

Speaking of planters and pots, this is the perfect time to give the clay pots a scrub and dry them in the sun before putting them away for the winter months. I like to use a scrub brush or a kitchen scrubbie with regular dish soap for this job. They easily get rid of the grime on the pots and make quick work of the job. Find a good place for winter storage where they won’t freeze. The clay can be very susceptible to cracking apart when it freezes. The same scrub is perfect for all the yard tools as well. A tip for the shovels and rakes: Once they have been cleaned, a light coating of cooking oil or spray will help guard against rust over the winter.

The final crowning jewel to get your home ready is clean windows. Now that your yard looks so nice you will want to have fresh, sparkling windows to view all your hard work!


Time for a nice hot cider…

Fifty Shades of Mulch

Shredded mulch in bulk. This is the most popular type and the most budget friendly.

OK, so this is not going to make it onto the Best Sellers list like the other “Fifty Shades” read, but the title is accurate! There are many mulches out there, and you can pick and choose your way through a huge selection at almost every garden shop. I’ll describe the main features and differences to help you make your choice.

First, there are many different types of mulch: wood, pine straw, cocoa hulls, rock, glass, shells, even rubber. A nice thing these days is that most of these are recycled, or by-products from another industry. Wood, of all kinds, is the most popular. Shredded or in chips, it lends a natural appearance. It comes in many color shades so you can choose the perfect backdrop for your needs.

This handy chart was printed on the 2 cu.ft. bags of mulch that I used this spring. It shows how many bags you need to cover specific areas at given depths.

In the south-east, many people use pine straw, which is great around acid-loving plants like azaleas. In the desert areas, most people use rocks in many sizes and colors. I have also recently seen the use of recycled crushed glass as mulch, tumbled to remove the sharp edges, and in a variety of colors. This last one seems unusual, but is very striking in the right garden.

Rubber mulch is taking the place of organic mulches in playgrounds these days.  Most of it is made from old tires.  Here in the mid-Atlantic coastal region we have an abundance of oyster shells, so I like to use them as well as an “accent” mulch.  They are heavy, so I use them around flowers to keep the squirrels from digging them up.

Cocoa hulls have lately made an appearance as mulch. They are a beautiful color, and even make your garden smell like chocolate when it’s damp. But — don’t put it in an area where pets or wildlife visit, because it can be toxic if consumed.

Even compost and grass clippings make a terrific mulch in vegetable gardens, because they break down into the soil quicker than most other mulches, providing a nutrient-rich boost.

I like to keep the mulch between 1-2 inches deep. This provides shelter for the roots and allows the rain to percolate through.

There are as many different reasons to use mulch as there are choices. Of course, the obvious reason is that it looks great and provides a uniform backdrop to the plants, but it can also make a huge difference in water retention and protects roots from the sun and harsh elements. I like to keep a two inch layer in my garden beds.  I use shredded mulch which disintegrates fairly quickly, so I reapply each spring. Another benefit of mulch is that it keeps the weeds down, and when it disintegrates it creates a very nice soil amendment. This is the case with all organic mulches.

Especially in open areas, keep the mulch from compacting by scratching it with a rake every few months. This will refresh the appearance as well.

Inorganic mulch, like rock, glass and rubber, will last for many years, since it doesn’t break down. It also saves effort: Once you have applied it, that’s it. There is very little else that needs doing. Organic mulches, like shredded hardwood, will need a little bit of maintenance.  I like to scratch up the surface every few months to keep it from compacting. This will also keep the organic mulch looking fresh. Tip — Don’t mix shredded or chip mulch into the soil before it has completely decomposed. Doing this could result in an unwanted crop of mushrooms.

Depending on the type of mulch, there are many different ways of purchasing it. You can buy most types by the bag, but for large gardens, many producers offer it by the cubic yard or ton in bulk orders. This is usually much more cost effective than the bagged versions, sometimes less than half the price!

So, depending on your specific needs, I hope this will help guide your choice of mulch, and narrow it from 50 down to one. Happy gardening!


This is my local Fairfax County mulch pile only 1/2 mile from home! I love being green!

This is my local Fairfax County mulch pile only 1/2 mile from home! I love being green!

Update: For a really budget friendly alternative check with your local government office on recycling to inquire on municipal mulch piles. They are usually free for the taking, and it is one of the best ways to support the green lifestyle!

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