Though the weather as of late has been hot and wet, droughts are not uncommon during the mid to late summer months. A few weeks without consistent rain can mean disaster for your landscape, especially as daytime temperatures climb into the 90s. That’s why many homeowners chose to install irrigation systems that automatically correct for inconsistent weather and keep grass and plants watered no matter what’s in the forecast. However, it’s no secret that irrigation system hike up water bills. Even manual lawn maintenance gets expensive this time of year. For some, steep water bills make a green summer landscape seem completely unattainable. However, some industriousness and creativity on the side of the homeowner can make all kinds of seemingly impossible feats possible. To help, we’ve created this guide of tips for price-conscious homeowners (or environmentally-conscious landscapers) on how to cut down water usage (and water bills) while still being able to maintain a manicured lawn. Try several of these tips at once for best results. They won’t eliminate your water bill completely, but a few small changes can go a long way in landscaping:
Eliminate Turf Areas
Turf grass is perpetually thirsty. If you’re looking to save on water, consider some alternative ground coverings, such as rock or mulch beds. You can mix a small amount of traditional turf grass with rock gardens or mulch beds for a lawn that is still green and lush without needing constant hydration.
Mow high and leave lawn clippings in the yard to shade your soil and reduce the chance of evaporation. Grass clippings can also be used to shield beds from harsh sunlight and intense heat. The cooler your ground stays, the better it will retain moisture.
Water at Plant Roots
Watering the leaves and flowers of plants is much less effective and efficient than watering them at their roots. Root watering reduces the risk of evaporation and ensures there’s no excess runoff. If you have an irrigation system, considering getting drip irrigation installed around your beds. If you water manually, be sure to water low to the ground near the base of the plant.
Use Native Plants
Native plants are used to the soil conditions, weather patterns, and rain levels in your area. Thus, they need less strenuous care. Many native plants are drought resistant and can subsist in normal weather conditions. Plus, they boost the strength of local ecosystems!
Trees provide shade and respite from the dry summer heat. They also make beautiful additions to any lawn, and native breeds of trees are highly efficient when it comes to hydrating themselves. They need little or no extra watering!
Water Potted Plants Later in the Day
Watering in the late afternoon or early evening when most of your lawn is in shade will help ensure that little water is wasted due to evaporation. Steady, overhead sunlight can quickly dry out freshly watered soil.
Catch Rain Water
Installing a rain garden or a couple cisterns that can trap rainwater runoff from roofs and gutters could save you thousands of dollars a year in water bills. These tools recycle natural rainwater and store it so you can use it in your garden without ever having to turn on a gardening hose.
Though Independence Day was one week ago, the reverberating celebrations can still be heard throughout the valley. In fact, the entire month of July could effectively be dubbed Firework Season, because the same phenomenon seems to happen every year: Folks go to Walmart or some other firework distributor in the weeks leading up to Independence Day and, in their patriotic excitement, buy enough colorful dynamite to take down a skyscraper. Thus, for the entirety of the month of July, a loud processional of firework detonations can be heard most every night, somewhere. After all, one can’t let hundreds of dollars of fireworks simply go to waste. It would be un-American.
For that reason, it’s imperative that fire-safety procedures continue to be put into practice long after The 4th of July has passed. Unfortunately, July in Southwest Virginia tends to be hot, dry, and very flammable. One ill-fated spark could easily set an entire landscape aflame. Luckily, there are several ways to prevent these kinds of disasters from occurring, and they can be utilized year-round:
You’d be surprised how many people purchase legal dynamite and then fail to read the warning label. It’s no secret that fireworks can be extremely dangerous; that’s why firework manufacturers take great care to tell you exactly how and when their explosives should be used. Read directions carefully, and don’t mess around with illegal fireworks. Believe it or not, they are illegal for good reasons (plus, starting an accidental fire with an illegal firework is going to get you caught—quick).
Have Water on Hand
Whenever you’re around fireworks, it’s always a good idea to have water on hand. During these dry summer months, one stray spark really can spell disaster unless you have a way of quickly and efficiently handling it. Keep a bucket of water or a fire extinguisher within an arm’s reach just in case disaster strikes.
Look Before You Light
Something about rainbow colored mini-bombs seems to make even the most composed adults as impulsive as toddlers. No matter how excited you are to try out your expensive pyrotechnics, don’t forget to carefully inspect the detonation area before lighting. Light away from dry grass, leaves, wood, or any other highly flammable objects. Stay clear of houses, cars, and all other pieces of property you don’t want to destroy. The best place to light off a firework, in fact, is far away from absolutely anything.
Don’t Let Kids Light Fireworks
Kids and fireworks just don’t mix. If you are interested in avoiding house fires, property destruction, and absolute unadulterated chaos, keep your kids under sufficient supervision when playing with explosives.
Keep Fireworks Away from Hands and Face
Your body is, for all intents and purposes, one of your most important pieces of property. Every year, thousands of people lose fingers to fireworks. That can really put a damper on just about anyone’s summer. So, for your own good, light fireworks on the ground or in an approved container, never on your own person.
Don’t Relight Fireworks
Sometimes things just aren’t meant to be. In the case of fireworks, what failed to light once should never be lit again. Just let it be—trying to light a firework a second time could trigger an unexpected explosion. Once a firework has been lit, leave it alone for as long as possible, and then soak it in a bucket of water overnight before disposal.
Here in Southwest Virginia, thick and compact clay soil dominates yards and gardens. Clay soil, while amendable to many native species of plants, can give gardeners and landscapers trouble when it comes to adding new plantings. Clay drains slowly, has trouble absorbing water and nutrients, and it becomes compacted more quickly than looser soil. That’s why soil conditioners like compost and fertilizer are so essential to healthy, green lawns and gardens. Without them, we probably wouldn’t be able to grow many of the plants and grasses we see on a daily basis.
What is a Soil Conditioner?
A soil conditioner is any substance added to already existing soil that changes the soil’s properties, whether by altering nutrient levels, PH balance, or any other factors that affect the growth and health of plants. Soil conditioners were created to improve inadequate soil conditions or help repair damaged soil. Roanoke Landscapes uses soil conditioners to provide a “blank slate” of sorts for gardening and landscaping projects. If our clients’ natural soil is difficult to plant on, we’ll add soil conditioner to improve the chance that our plantings will come up strong and healthy year after year.
Our horticulturist Mark Burton has used a variety of different soil conditioners during his tenure at Roanoke Landscapes, but there’s one he keeps coming back to again and again. Profile soil amendments are the best on the market, he says. Unlike other kinds of soil conditioners, Profile’s soil conditioner changes the structure of a client’s soil permanently. Mark finds that using Profile makes soil healthier and heartier, which, in turn, leads to faster plant growth and less water and nutrient wastage. Profile helps soil retain moisture while reducing draining and leaching. It can also reverse the effects of soil compaction and erosion. Mark likes to use Profile to help grow new grass on lawns that have experienced significant wear and tear over the years. It makes old lawns feel new again, he says.
For landscaping contractors who regularly work with clay soil, Profile provides quick and impressive solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. A high-quality soil conditioner like Profile makes impossible goals attainable by changing the very foundations of soil composition. Mark recommends Profile for both contractors and homeowners who are looking for a soil amendment that really, truly works the way it’s supposed to. There’s plenty of disappointing gardening products on the market these days. Profile, Mark says, is not one of them.
As a bonus tip, Mark would like to remind all spring procrastinators that your final chance to prune spring flowering plants is NOW. If you wait any longer, you’ll be damaging 2018 season flowers. Get out there soon, especially while the weather is relatively mild!
Now that the summer solstice has officially passed, a full season of summer gardening is upon us! The days are hot, long, and wet, and there is much you can do to make the most of these fertile conditions. You’ve probably already done a lot of preparation for your summer garden, but, as all gardeners know, the labor of planning and planting and maintaining a healthy backyard ecosystem is never really done. Here are some “official start of summer” gardening tips to give you an idea of how to prep for the busy and beautiful months ahead:
Though we’ve been getting a healthy amount of rain as of late, southern summers are not devoid of the occasional dry spell. On particularly hot and humid days, water evaporates rapidly and your plants will need regular waterings to make up for lost moisture. Be sure to water the roots of your plants and avoid overwatering–you may want to wait and see if that afternoon thunderstorm comes to fruition before planning an extra watering session. Overwatered plants can become misshapen, mushy, and discolored.
Your plants are taking advantage of these long, hot days by trying to soak up as much sunlight and nutrients as possible. They shouldn’t have to compete with weeds and other invasive plant life. For your plants to thrive, regular weeding is a necessary summer labor. Pull weeds out by the roots to ensure they won’t come back.
Harvest Cool Season Crops
Some crops you planted during the spring are now ready to be harvested and enjoyed! Broccoli, peas, cauliflower, and lettuce can all be harvested. In a couple weeks, biennials like carrots and collard greens should also be ready to harvest. Keep checking up on growing plants, inspecting for signs of pests and disease. There are many critters about eager to get into summer gardens. Be sure to have some kind of defense against hungry animals, such as foul-tasting pellets or a wire fence.
Support Warm Season Crops
Your warm season crops should already be showing considerable progress. You should be checking them regularly for insect bites, discoloration, or other problems. You can apply a fresh layer of fertilizer on most warm season crops this time of year. If you’re growing tomatoes, stake them up.
Keep Plants Cool
Sweltering summer days can scorch plants and cause irreparable damage. To keep plants cool, apply a fresh layer of mulch over roots. Mulch can help regulate ground temperature and protect your plants from temperature extremes.
In Southwest Virginia, summer is ushered in by the arrival of fireflies. As the days lengthen and become warmer, twilight is set aglow by the firefly’s lulling lightshow. The bugs are a well-loved sight for most Virginians, for they call to mind a magical point in the year: the in-between of spring and summer, when balmy temps and the lush green mountains are still novel, exciting, and filled with the promise of a burgeoning season ahead. To commemorate the beginning of firefly season, we thought we’d share some facts about these small but delightful creatures.
Photo by Jerry Lai.
The Common Firefly
Lampyridae (also known as fireflies or lightning bugs) are a kind of winged beetle with a conspicuous bio-luminescent abdomen. There are some 2000 species of fireflies distributed across the world, mostly in tropical or temperate climates. They prefer to live in ample humidity, which may be why Southwest Virginia is full of ‘em!
The light on their abdomens is chemically produced and can vary in color, from yellow to green to pale red. Their light shows are orchestrated in the hopes of finding a mate. Fireflies flash their bio-luminescent backs at alternating speeds, depending on what kind of information they’d like to send to potential mates. This is why fireflies sparkle rather than glow continually. In some cases, large groups of fireflies can even synchronize their flashes.
Once fireflies find a mate, the female lays eggs just below the surface of the ground. These eggs hatch in three of four weeks, and the larvae spend the rest of late-summer feeding. Firefly larvae are also bio-luminescent, and are thus sometimes referred to as glow worms. During the fall and winter months, they hibernate underground or in the bark of trees. In the spring, they emerge to pupate. After a pupation period of approximately two weeks, they reach adulthood and can begin to mate.
Fireflies don’t have many natural predators. They are poisonous to some and plainly distasteful to others. As long as spring is warm and wet, they can be expected to propagate in huge numbers, lighting up hillsides and fields like so many strings of twinkling Christmas lights. June is typically the highlight of firefly season, so–if you have yet to see any–set up camp in a quiet, rural place right about dusk and wait to be amazed. Their coruscating dance is an ode to summer that never lacks freshness or awe.
The official start of summer is hovering closer and closer. June’s days are increasingly long, hot, and filled with the promise of outdoor fun. It would be a shame to let this gorgeous weather go to waste by not utilizing hardscapes, patios, and decks to their fullest potential. You probably spent a healthy chunk of change turning your backyard into the perfect warm weather entertainment spot, and now is the perfect time to spruce it up for barbeques, cookouts, and corn hole. Here are a few easy (and cheap) tips on how to add a touch of summer flare to your yard, so you’ll be ready for whatever adventures this season brings:
Colorful Lawn Chairs
Chairs are a necessary but often overlooked party facet. They are most often drab, utilitarian, and they kind of just…sit there. Giving your trusty lawn chairs an exciting boost is easy: a can of brightly colored spray paint (pastels are especially great for summer) and any other decorations you think necessary (the most daring among us has even tried glitter glue) can quickly transform them from boring to bold. Plus, spray painting plastic or wooden lawn chairs is a fun afternoon activity for the whole family, just be sure to wear paint-hardy clothing (that stuff gets everywhere).
Wine Bottle Candle Holders
If your lifestyle is anything like mine, you probably have dozens of old wine bottles lying around your house, waiting for the opportune moment to be “crafted” into something useful. Well, this is that opportune moment. Once the wine bottles are cleaned off, you can decorate them with ribbons, twine, paint, or anything else you see fit. They make great candle holders, especially when bundled in the middle of patio table. They are a creative way of making your own DIY landscape lighting, and the soft glow of natural fire is the perfect complement to any summer night (for those who don’t drink wine, mason jars and tea lights are a great substitution for wine bottles and candles).
Not all of our gardens can look perfectly neat and structured all of the time. Container planting takes away some of the chaos inherent in open soil. Pots are tidy, simple, and decorative all on their own. When adorned with bright, summer flowers like marigolds, dahlias, and roses, they become even more spectacular. They’re also highly customizable; you can place and move container plants wherever you want. Perch several on a retaining wall or hang a bundle from your deck or patio. Fresh flowers are always in style.
Freshly Polished Walkways
Some of our clients will go ten or fifteen years without pressure washing their walkways and patios. Understandably, a pressure wash can seem like a daunting chore, but it’s really quite simple (and you can rent a pressure washer for cheap from almost any hardware store). Simply clear off the area you need to wash–removing all furniture and sweeping for debris—then apply the pressure washer steadily and evenly over all areas. It’s amazing what a bit of water can do. We recommend a pressure wash every couple of years or so.
Though the holiday season has long past, a well-placed string of golden Christmas lights retains its charm year round. Warm, inviting light is an essential feature of an effective outdoor space. Christmas lights are fun, versatile, and simple to install. We recommend hanging them off banisters, decks, and siding, or stringing them above your backyard to create a “glowing ceiling” effect.
Fire up the Grill
What’s a summer party without freshly grilled food? Admittedly, I am no expert at grill maintenance. Luckily, there are guides out there that can help even the most amateur of grillers polish, prime, and prep their machines for the ultimate test: a summer barbeque. After the grill is all ready to go, you can finally enjoy the best part of summer: relaxing outside with friends and family, eating good food and enjoying the fruits of your labor.
The Appalachian Blue Ridge Mountains are one of the most ecologically diverse habitats in North America. There are millions of insects, reptiles, and amphibians that call this region home. The Shenandoah region of Virginia, which encompasses the southwest part of the state and The Blue Ridge Mountains, contains thousands of species that are endemic to these particular mountain ranges and valleys. There are fauna within Appalachia that cannot be found anywhere else in Virginia or even in The United States broadly. The uniqueness of the fauna present in The Shenandoah Valley is a part of what makes this area so spectacular. Though this list does not come close to describing the complete variety of insects, amphibians, and reptiles within the Blue Ridge, it’s a small start. For more information, visit The Virginia Museum of Natural History.
Flat Backed Millipede
Millipedes common in the Shenandoah region belong primarily to the Xystodesmidae family. Members of this family often have very small distributional areas; there are 300 distinct species in The Appalachian Mountains alone. Several flat backed millipedes are endemic to the Shenandoah region, including semionellus placidus, nannaria morrisoni, and syctonotus virginicus.
Small, freshwater spring snails are abundant in the Blue Ridge. The fontigens orolibas snail is the most endemic to the Shenandoah region, particularly. Its habitat extends as far south as Rockfish Gap, where it then ends abruptly despite no significant ecological changes.
Appalachia is the global center for plethodontidae (also known as lungless salamander) diversity. There are some 34 distinct species of lungless salamander present in the Appalachian Blue Ridge Mountains. These salamanders lack traditional lungs, instead breathing through skin and mouth tissue. The plethodon richmondi shenandoa and desmognathus monticola jeffersoni are endemic to the Shenandoah region of Appalachia.
Though found across North America, the common snapping turtle (chelydra serpentina) is prevalent and well known within The Blue Ridge Mountains. Though feared by many, snapping turtles typically stay hidden within fresh water ponds or rivers, only emerging from their hiding places to scavenge for food. However, considering how common snapping turtles are within the Blue Ridge, one should always be careful when wading or fishing, for snapping turtles have a mean bite.
These are just a few of the thousands of notable species that inhabit the Blue Ridge Mountains. The biodiversity of this area is one of its greatest treasures, and these ecosystems deserve to be protected. Every year, large swaths of forest are disrupted or destroyed by pollution, invasive plant and animal species, and human industrial invasion. In order to preserve the breathe of plant and animal life that call this beautiful region home, we must try to keep our forests clean and free from pollution. To find out how you can help preserve The Blue Ridge, reach out to the Blue Ridge Conservancy today!
Photo by winniepix on Flickr.
In a previous blog post, we discussed the numerous benefits gardening provides for senior citizens. Of course, senior citizens aren’t the only population of people who stand to benefit from spending time in the garden. Children, teenagers, and adults can all reap benefits from working with the land. Research suggests that children can especially benefit from the lessons instilled by growing plants; gardening, child psychologists and educators say, is beneficial to childhood development and a valuable educational resource. That might be why many elementary schools have gardening clubs, or why science classes are increasingly using gardening projects as discovery tools. No doubt, the lessons we all gleam from gardening start when we’re children and build throughout our entire lives. Cool, right?
Why Kids Benefit from Gardening
First and foremost, gardening is a great educational resource for children of all ages. Though gardening may seem like a simple task to adults, children use gardening as a gateway to scientific inquiry. The small act of growing a single plant can inspire questions about how our ecosystem works, what kind of plants grow in certain environments, how much water and food plants need to thrive, and how chemical processes like photosynthesis work. Thus, gardening is a great tool in science education; but it can also be used to teach creative, mathematical, and practical skills. Some teachers encourage children to keep gardening journals or read gardening books. Others have children measure their plants week by week and independently figure the depth and width of their plots. And all gardening exercises inevitably require patience, intuition, a keen eye for detail, and other practical skills that children can use throughout their life in any number of disciplines. Thus, gardening can be considered a holistic educational experience; one that requires children to utilize a diverse set of skills to create something real, lasting, and important. Because gardening yields such concrete rewards, even the most obstinate of kids will be able to see the fruits of their labor, so to speak.
Gardening also encourages healthy habits that kids can continue to practice into adulthood. After all, gardening is hard, physical labor. It requires kids to get outside, put their hands in the dirt, and honestly work. Though not as intensive as a competitive sport, gardening is a safe and efficient form of exercise. It burns calories, raises resting heart rate, and can strengthen muscles and joints. Of course, what’s grown in the garden also has health benefits to children and families. In an age where packaged foods are ubiquitous, home-grown produce has special value. Even the pickiest eaters are more likely to enjoy fruits and vegetables if they worked hard to create them.
As well as helping the body and the mind, gardening also has important emotional benefits for children. In an age of constant technological involvement, gardening is a welcome respite. It encourages reflection, patience, and personal industriousness. As a family activity, it is a unique and rewarding form of interpersonal bonding. For children who have trouble concentrating while sitting in desks all day, it is a productive way to spend excess energy. Ultimately, gardening provides a benefit to almost every child. Even a small gardening project can foster a lasting interest in scientific discovery, the environment, physical activity, spiritual and emotional growth, and many other exciting ways of living and learning in the world. If you have yet to give your child the gift of gardening, know it is never too late to start!
Though many people garden to get away from emails, phone calls, and the constant machine buzzing of industrialized civilization, technology has no doubt aided many gardeners in their search for efficiency, time management, and heightened productivity. Garden gadgets have become a somewhat unavoidable part of modern gardening. Even the most luddite of gardeners likely have a couple smart tools they use to help them keep track of tedious chores. Simply, some technologies really do make our day to day lives that much easier. When you’re done reading about these gardening gadgets, you might find some of them far too useful to pass up.
As all Virginians know, the unpredictability of spring is often a gardener’s worst enemy. This simple app quells worry by monitoring radar notifying users when temperatures are expected to drop dangerously low, so they can have time to prepare plants for the shock of a late-season freeze. Users can even monitor up to four zones at once. The cost? Less than two dollars a download.
If you’re the type to care for your plants with scientific precision, Parrot Flower Power can give you a unique window into the most intricate aspects of your plants’ environment. This small sensor can calculate the levels of sunlight, moisture, temperature, and fertilizer your plants are getting so you can care for them with absolute accuracy. This gadget retails at $59.99.
Many a gardener has asked themselves how to calculate the exact amount of sun a given area of their yard gets in a day. Sitting out in a lawn chair and manually counting minutes just isn’t practical for the majority of people. Luckily, the “Sun Seeker” app can do all of that for you, instantly. With the click of a button, you can calculate how many hours of sunlight different areas of your yard will get from day to day and season to season. For just $6.99, you’ll never worry about sun-starving your plants again!
Even the most fastidious of gardeners occasionally forget to water their plants. After all; the bigger the garden, the more complicated the watering schedule. This application can keep track of all your plants’ watering needs for you. It’ll create logs of your plants watering needs and then send you reminders every time a plant needs watering. Oh, and it does all this for FREE.
Like the name implies, this garden gadget scares away pesky critters who may be trying to make a feast of your tomato plants. The high-tech part? This device is essentially a motion-triggered irrigation sprinkler. When something moves too close, it releases a stealth spray of water that is all too effective at keeping pesks at bay. The cost of this gadget is about $55.00, but it will keep your garden safe for many seasons to come.