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Know Your Roots: The Lotus

First appearing in India and East-Asia, the Lotus flower has been intertwined with eastern culture and religion for thousands of years. It’s a sacred symbol of purity and rebirth in Buddhism and Hinduism. The aquatic perennial, not to be mistaken for a waterlily, is also the national flower of both India and Vietnam.

 

Like most plants, the Lotus flower was originally grown as a source of food and also used medicinally. The Indians would make tea from the leaves and pedals, and Asians would eat the seeds and rhizomes. The Lotus was cultivated from special water gardens and provided beauty and a meal to those farming the crop. It also provided them with something else; mystery. The farmers were mystified by the Lotus’s nightly routine. Every night the flower would submerge underneath the murky waters and breach the surface with the next day’s rising sun. The Lotus would emerge just as beautiful as the day before, its petals clean and unfazed by a night in muddy water. It was this daily “rebirth” that made the flower so sacred throughout eastern culture and religion.

A beautiful flower born and reborn from the mud each day, it’s not hard to see why the Lotus was associated with purity, divinity and the Gods. In Buddhism it’s said that the Buddha himself (Siddhartha Gautama) first appeared on a floating Lotus and that the flower grew wherever he stepped. Hindus associate the divine flower with many of their Gods, such as Vishnu and Lakshmi, and the Lotus is frequently depicted alongside them in paintings and statues.

It’s not just the Lotus’s daily “rebirth” that associates the flower with divinity. The Lotus can actually live for over a thousand years; an unnatural longevity that draws parallels with the immortality of a God. The seeds are even still viable after a thousand years, which was proven in the 90’s when a Lotus bloomed from a 1300 year old seed. As if living for a millennium wasn’t cool enough, researchers from Australia’s University of Adelaide discovered something else remarkable. They found that the Lotus has the ability to regulate its temperature within a very narrow range, much like humans or other warm-blooded animals. They suspect that the flower maintains a warmer temperature to attract cold-blooded pollinators.

Planting the Lotus flower is quite easy if you already have a water source, and if not you can create your own water garden. The water should be at least one foot deep and no more than 8 feet. If you plant them in too shallow of water they won’t be able to perform their nightly “rebirth” ritual. Plant them deeper than 8 feet and they aren’t able to reach the surface. Lotus love the mud so make sure your soil is nutrient-rich and made up of sand, silt and clay. Three months after planting you will have beautiful flowers ready to be harvested. After 4-8 months you can eat the seeds, just make sure they have turned black. After 6-9 months the rhizomes will be mature enough to consume. However, if you are like me, I won’t be harvesting the Lotus at all, I’ll be admiring its beauty.

Know Your Roots: The Dahlia

The summer months seem to produce the most beautiful flowers, however, there are plenty of late bloomers just as eye-catching; namely the Dahlia. Typically planted in August, the Dahlia offers gorgeous blooms that stay full until first frost. The flower has long been a favorite among gardeners for its seemingly endless varieties and for how quickly it grows.

Photo by RHS.

Native to Mexico, the Dahlia was originally used as a food crop; its roots harvested and consumed by indigenous people of the region. Aztecs used the flower’s hollow stem as water pipes and makeshift vials for medicine. The Dahlia would remain exclusive to Mexico for hundreds of years before being introduced to Europe in the late eighteenth century. Vicente Cervantes, the Botanical Gardens Director of Mexico City, wanted to play his part in the global effort to name and catalog our planets plants. It was common practice to send plants between countries, not only for research but to preserve the different species, so Cervantes sent Dahlia specimens to the Royal Gardens Director of Madrid, Antonio Jose Cavanilles.  Antonio was able to successfully grow the flower in Spanish soil, naming it “Dahlia” after Ander Dahl, a Swedish botanist who studied under the “father of modern taxonomy” Carolus Linnaeus.

From Spain, the flower traveled all over Europe; seeds were sent to Italy, France, the Netherlands, England, Germany, Switzerland, etc. The Dahlia went on to become one of the most cultivated flowers of all time, spreading its roots all over Europe and eventually to gardens around the world. To date, there are over 40 different species of the Dahlia and over 50,000 registered varieties in a plethora of shapes and colors. Oddly enough, you won’t ever find a blue Dahlia. Breeders have tried to produce the blue hue for centuries, only achieving variations of purple, mauve and lilac. To this day, a blue Dahlia has never been created.

Even though many people refer to them as bulbs, the Dahlia’s roots are actually potato-like tubers. These thick tubers sponge up nutrients, prompting the Dahlia’s hollow stems to sprout directly from the root. When planting Dahlias be sure to dig your holes deep and work in a nice mix of fertilizer and compost. They don’t need much time to grow, but they do need space so be aware of which variety you’re planting and space accordingly. Most Dahlias have to be staked and tied off as they grow, otherwise the weight of the quick growing flowers will be too much for the hollow stems to bear. Enjoy your beautiful Dahlias until the first frost when the flower dies out; leaving behind its nutrient packed tubers to be collected and planted the following year. Cut the stems a few inches above the tuber, wash the dirt off, and let them dry out in the sun. Note: Be sure to label your tubers if you have multiple varieties. After your tubers are dry put them in a paper bag (not plastic) with peat moss or sawdust and store them in a cool spot.

The Dahlia offers an abundance of different shapes, colors, and sizes to choose from; ranging from a few inches tall to the “Dinnerplate” variety which produces a flower that’s 10-12 inches in diameter. It’s a no-brainer this versatile flower has been celebrated all around the world, leading to many Dahlia shows and organizations. The American Dahlia Society has been working to provide information and promote interest in the Dahlia for over a hundred years. They are made up of over 70 local societies across the United States and Canada, each having their own shows and events. The ADS also holds a national Dahlia show each year, where gardeners can showcase their best flowers. If you also share a passion for the amazing Dahlia, or want to attend a local show, click the link here.

The Automower: Never Mow Your Lawn Again

Technological advances and autonomous machines have paved the way for a society of infinite possibilities. Medical breakthroughs are now normal, driver-less vehicles are on the rise, and we’re edging closer to a manned mission to Mars. In many ways we have blurred the lines between science fiction and reality. Technology makes our lives easier and some of our favorite tech happens to revolve around everyone’s least favorite thing; household chores. Not only do we have machines that wash our clothes and clean our dishes, we now have robots that vacuum our house. I don’t know if that’s a “work smarter not harder” innovation or just the product of laziness, but either way I can’t complain. As time goes on household automation will only increase, and now even yard work is being automated. Yes, mowing your lawn is a thing of the past thanks to the Automower by Husqvarna.

 

 

It operates much like a Roomba (robotic vacuum); continuously cutting your grass and returning to a charging base whenever its batteries are low. Husqvarna boasts that the autonomous mower silently navigates around your yard, cutting your grass evenly and to whatever length that you prefer. Thanks to its quiet operation, the Automower is able to mow your grass throughout the night without waking the neighbors. It’s weatherproof, as is the charging station, and works to cut your grass rain or shine.

How does it work? The Automower navigates your yard with the help of boundary wires installed along the outside of your property. Any trees or mulch beds also get wired off in order to create a defined perimeter. Once the mower gets near the buried wires it turns around and heads in another direction, mowing your lawn in a variety of patterns. Simply turn the device on, select your preferred settings and let it go to work; “set it and forget it” says Husqvarna. An app lets you choose which days it operates or you can set it to work around clock.

However, just like most autonomous machines, there are some drawbacks. The main drawback is the cost. Not only are the machines expensive, but boundary wire installation is also expensive. Another expense you’ll notice is a steep electric bill; I imagine operating the self-charging Automower 24/7 won’t come cheap. Also, your yard work isn’t entirely eliminated; the grass around boundary wires, especially those set around flowerbeds and trees, will still need to be trimmed with a weed-eater.

The Automower, with its futuristic design, is an undoubtedly cool concept. I have to admit that never having to mow your lawn is appealing, but the technology is still very new and thus the costs remain high. I wouldn’t recommend the Automower just yet, but there is another solution if you never want to mow again. You guessed it, give Roanoke Landscapes a call at 540-772-0079! We will make sure your property is always looking picture-perfect.

To learn more on the Husqvarna Automower visit their website here.

Curb Appeal: Landscaping Adds Value To Your Home

If you have the time and money then renovating your home is a smart investment. You get a more comfortable space and your home increases in value; it’s a win-win situation. But renovations don’t have to be limited to the interior. When you think of renovating your home what comes to mind? A new kitchen, new bathroom, tearing down the walls? I guess it’s only natural that these come to mind, but sometimes you have to think “outside the box”. Renovating your home’s exterior raises its perceived value by 10 percent or more on average.

photograph from homes.com

Busted pipes, additional costs, unknown problems, we’ve all seen those HGTV shows. If you’re looking to sell your home in the future don’t rely on polishing the inside and staging elegant furniture (although that helps). Instead, rely on good old fashioned curb appeal. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but people will inevitably judge a house by its landscape, even if it’s subconsciously. Potential buyers notice a well-manicured lawn, but homes with sophisticated landscape design and larger plants don’t only get noticed they get sold.

In a 1999 study, survey respondents from seven states were shown a picture of a suburban home with a mowed lawn and concrete walkway. They were then shown 16 other photographs of the same home with varying landscapes. Some included smaller plants, some focused on color and others had a strong emphasis on design. The designs ranged from foundation planting only, foundation planting with a large standalone flower bed or foundation planting with a couple spaced trees in the lawn. A few of the designs even included a colored concrete walkway. The plants in the study were in one of three variations; Evergreen only, Evergreen and deciduous, or Evergreen and deciduous with bright-colored perennials. The plants also varied in size.

After seeing the pictures, survey respondents were asked what they would pay for each home and what influenced their decisions. They attributed design sophistication and plant size to a perceived increase in the home’s value. How much of an increase? If the plants were larger and the design included pops of color, they would shell out an average of 10-12 percent more for the home. So, whether you’re wanting to standout in the neighborhood or you intend on selling your home in the near future, try upgrading your landscape before tearing down those walls.

Alternatives to Traditional Wood Mulch

Mulching provides more than just a tidy look to your landscape. It’s more than aesthetics. The mulch creates an insulated layer above the soil, which helps to regulate soil temperature. This is essential to shielding and protecting the roots of your plants in winter. Mulch slows the evaporation process and retains moisture, leading to healthier plants and less frequent watering. It breaks down over time; introducing nutrients to the soil and improving the soil’s overall texture. A layer of mulch also acts as a safety net to suppress weeds. When people think of mulch they tend to think of shredded wood or bark, but there are actually many alternatives. Let’s take a look at a few below.

 

Rock

Marble chips, river rocks, gravel, and any other type of stone can be applied around trees and in flower beds as an alternative form of mulch. These work to suppress pesky weeds and are an economical choice since they don’t degrade or break down like wood or bark mulch. However, because rock doesn’t break down, nutrients aren’t periodically released back into the soil. Don’t worry, this minor setback is easily remedied by regularly applying fertilizer to the beds. Rocks come in all shapes and sizes so you can achieve just about any look you want. Use them to compliment the stone architectural features of your home or for a contrast in color to the plants in your bed.

 

Rubber

Though often found on playgrounds, rubber mulch is a good alternative to add to your beds. It’s made from 100% recycled rubber and usually comes from shredded discarded tires. Why let them sit in a landfill when you can repurpose them in your beds? Aesthetically they can take on the appearance of bark mulch, but also come in a variety of styles. It’s another economical choice that won’t break down over time, so adding fertilizer is a necessity. Rubber insulates the soil better than traditional wood mulch and works really well when used in colder climates. It’s non-porous as well, allowing water to make its way directly to the soil without being absorbed by the mulch. The only downside to rubber mulch is that some forms of recycled rubber tend to release chemicals into the soil over long periods of time. Too much of these chemicals will harm or kill your plants.

 

Pine Straw

Using pine needles, or pine straw, is another common alternative to traditional mulch. It’s relatively inexpensive and releases nutrients into the soil just like bark mulch, so there’s no need for additional fertilizer. The abundance of needles will insulate while also allowing nutrients and oxygen into the soil better than most mulch. The drawback of pine needles is their high acidity. Turn this negative into a positive by pairing the pine straw with plants that like acidic soil; like tomatoes, roses or holly. To reduce the acidity try drying them out before laying them down.

Nutrient-Rich Edible Weeds In Your Lawn And Garden

Eradicating weeds from your landscape is pretty much a never-ending task. Just when you think they’re all gone, you blink and another appears. We pluck them, toss them, and never think about it again. But what if we’re doing it all wrong? Think about it. Weeds compete with your lawn and garden vegetables for nutrients, absorbing as much as they can get. It’s the reason they grow so quickly. So why let this overload of nutrients go to waste? I’m not talking about composting, I’m talking about making them your next meal. Here are three nutrient-filled edible weeds you’ll find in your garden and yard.

 

 

Dandelion

Dandelions are abundant, versatile and highly nutritious. They grow just about anywhere and you can eat the weed in its entirety. It’s packed with Vitamin A, E, K, B6, B2, B1, and C. The leaves are bitter and will taste even more so now that we’re close to fall. The bitterness helps to curb sugar cravings and is great for digestion. The roots are said to be a natural pick-me-up. Try roasting the root and mixing in a tea with honey. Also try mixing the yellow flowers in with stir-fly, or top your next salad with the chopped leaves.

 

 

Purslane

Purslane is a little-known “superfood” high in heart-healthy Omega-3’s and beta carotene. In fact, Purslane contains more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other green plant. It can be found in the cracks of sidewalks and just about anywhere throughout your landscape. The leaves are moisture-rich and have a tart lemon tang with an almost peppery arugula taste. Mix young Purslane raw with other greens, or eat it with oily/pungent foods like olives.

 

 

Lamb’s Quarter

Lamb’s Quarter is a leafy green that is basically a souped-up version of spinach. For comparison, just one cup of chopped lamb’s quarter gives you 464 mgs of calcium (compared to 30 in spinach), and 66 mgs of vitamin C (8.4 mg in spinach). It’s also rich in iron, protein, and Vitamins A, B1 and B2. The leaves can be sautéed or added to soup and you can cook the seeds like rice to make a hot and whole grain cereal. The seeds can also be used to make multi-grain breads. Note: Like spinach, Lamb’s Quarter contains oxalates and should be consumed in smaller amounts or mixed in with other greens.

Picking The Right Fertilizer

Fertilizing your landscape is the key to producing and maintaining healthy plants and a good quality turf; and choosing the right fertilizer is paramount. Adding the wrong type, too much or even fertilizing at the wrong time will have a negative impact on your yard. With an abundance of fertilizers on the market how do you choose the right one? It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

 

Photo by Maximum Yield.

 

If you pick up a bag of fertilizer you’ll immediately notice the three hyphenated numbers. Numbers like 3-4-3, 10-10-10, 8-2-2 etc. These numbers indicate the fertilizer grade and are known as the NPK Value; Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K). The higher the number, the higher the concentration. Plants rely on these macro-nutrients for growth and each of the three provide something different.

Nitrogen is essential for leaf growth. If your landscape contains a multitude of leafy plants make sure you have plenty of nitrogen to go around. This macro-nutrient is also responsible for making plants greener, which helps enhance photosynthesis. Fertilizers contain two different sources of nitrogen; quickly available nitrogen and slowly available.

Quickly available nitrogen is water-soluble and ready for immediate use by the plant. This is a great option for damaged yards needing a little jolt to bring them back to life. Be sure to water your yard afterwards to dissolve/activate the nitrogen and to avoid what’s known as “fertilizer burn”; a brownish discoloration that results from prolonged contact of water-soluble nitrogen sitting on the grass blades. The slowly available source is a necessity for your grass during the colder months. Spreading this fertilizer in the fall allows nitrogen to be slowly released over time allowing your grass to stay green and healthy throughout winter. It will also give your yard an added boost come spring.

The second nutrient, Phosphorus, promotes root development. Using a higher concentration will help anchor and strengthen the plants in your landscape. It’s especially beneficial to tomatoes and other root crops in the garden. Phosphorus is also responsible for the production of fruit and blooms. If your flowers aren’t looking quite as good as your neighbors add some phosphorus to get those petals healthy and full.

Potassium, or potash as it’s often called, helps plants stay physically strong and able to fight off disease. It also allows plants to withstand extreme changes in temperature. If your plants display stunted leaves or if your fruit appears extra sensitive to drought then try adding potassium to the soil. You’ll notice that this “K” value is usually the lowest number in a fertilizer’s grade. That’s because most soil already contains an ample amount of potassium.

While the NPK Values highlight the three main macro-nutrients in a fertilizer, there are other nutrients that can be just as beneficial. Do you have a young landscape? Adding calcium to your soil promotes the healthy growth of new roots and shoots, it also gives them strength. Adding magnesium will contribute to seed formation and also helps to regulate the plants uptake of other nutrients in the soil. Magnesium, as well as sulfur, will help give plants a darker green color. This greening effect allows for more effective photosynthesis.

Now that you know what each nutrient adds to your landscape you can better assess what your soil is lacking and make up for it with the proper fertilizer. However, it’s always a good idea to have your soil tested before introducing other nutrients. Bring a soil sample by Landscape Supply here in Roanoke and they’ll send it off for testing. Once they have the results they will let you know which fertilizer is best suited for your soil and how much to apply. Test your soil every three or four years to ensure your nutrient levels have remained balanced. Replenishing your landscape each year with the right nutrients will ensure your grass and plants remain picture perfect throughout the seasons.

Sharp Mower Blades = Healthy Grass

Keeping your mower blades sharp is the key to a healthy lawn, so do yourself a favor and make sure your blades are sharp. How do you check? The most obvious way is to examine the blade itself. While you’re at it, check for any significant chips or dents. Inconsistencies like these end up tearing and damaging your grass instead of providing a nice clean cut. You can also look for unevenness in your yard. If you had to go over it several times to get spots you “missed” then your blades are probably dull. Want another way to check for dull blades? Don’t check the blades on the mower, check the blades of grass.

 

Image by Aaron Patton of Lawn Joule.

A – This is what a leaf blade should look like when you get done mowing. A clean cut across the top without any white tissue.

B – This blade of grass has been hacked at by a dull mower blade. You’ll notice a line of discoloration.

C – Starting to see a more defined white fiber top? It’s time to sharpen your mower blades.

D – There’s no way around this one, those blades are dull. Wiry fibrous tissue coming from the top of the grass indicates that those mower blades need sharpening ASAP.

 

If you have grass blades like the one labeled “A”, then you get an A+. If your grass blades look anything like B, C and D then you need to sharpen up. Dull blades don’t only make your lawn look bad or uneven, they can do a lot worse. When you’re hacking at your grass and pulling instead of cutting it effects the overall health of your grass. This can lead to discoloration, water loss, lawn disease, or even dead grass.

It’s recommended that you sharpen blades after 10 hours of mowing. Sharp mower blades leave your grass healthy and even, allowing the individual grass blades to recover more easily. This reduces the risk of parasites or diseases infiltrating your lawn.  Sharper blades also make for a quicker and easier mow, and less stress on your lawnmower’s engine. It’s really as simple as that; your lawn mower will last longer, your grass will look/feel better, and you’ll spend less time mowing. So what are you waiting for? Get to sharpening!

 

Gardening Zones in the Valley

If you want a successful garden it all depends on where you live. Yes, you have to give your plants the right amount of attention, nutrients, water and love, but your geographical location is paramount to a bountiful harvest. The map below is how gardeners determine which plants are most likely to thrive in a particular area. The USDA Plant Hardiness Map sorts the entire United States into zones based on average temperature. As you can see, Virginia is made up of several different zones. This might explain why your friend is growing the best vegetables of his or her life while you’re having no luck. It isn’t because you lack a green thumb, it’s most likely because of your location.

 

 

Want a closer look? The USDA has an interactive map available that provides an in-depth view of the entire United States. Use it to find your road and to get a better understanding of how different some areas can be. Just enter your zip code or click on an area and zoom in. Roanoke is made up of four different zones; 6a, 6b, 7a and 7b.

To view the map click here.

Zones 6 and 7 are both pretty ideal for gardeners and both have a medium length growing season; Zone 6 is May 1st to November 1st and Zone 7 is April 15th to November 15th. Note: These are estimated dates based on the last and first frosts and it’s important to watch the weather before planting. Starting seeds indoors before the last frost date will give you a jump-start on the season. Knowing when to transplant those seeds outdoors is crucial for a good harvest and will vary depending on what you plan to grow. Below are planting schedules for common vegetables in both zones and as you can see they are very similar.

 

 

Above is the recommended planting schedule for Zone 6 and below is the recommended schedule for Zone 7. Location and time play equally  important roles in having a good gardening season. Know your zone, know when to plant, and nobody will have better vegetables than you!

 

Identify the Birds in Your Yard

The Audubon society has been the go-to organization for bird lovers and conservationists for over a century, and their website is no exception. Its gorgeous photos and team of talented writers never disappoint. They’ve compiled a list of the fifteen most common birds you might encounter in your backyard. Get to know the whole gang here or scroll down for three of our favorites.

 

 

The Blue Jay:

The Blue Jay is a personal favorite, but an undoubtedly beautiful bird in the eyes of anyone. Just look at those feathers! It can be seen flying around yards in most of the eastern states and can be identified not only by its colorful blue hues but by its loud calls; it’s one of the loudest jays (if not THE loudest). The Blue Jay is regarded as somewhat of a feeder bully and will try to scare the other birds away from food, although sometimes with mixed results.

 

 

European Starling:

If you walk outside there’s a good chance you’ll spot a European Starling as they tend to be everywhere. Introduced to the United States, these medium-sized birds can be identified by their spiky yellow tipped beak and their dark green and blue feathers that have an oily-appearance. They are usually seen traveling in huge flocks late in the year and have a squeaky almost metallic call.

 

 

House Sparrow:

If you don’t happen to spot a starling, then I’d bet money you’ll see a House Sparrow. The sparrow is about the most common bird you will see in any yard, any state. They thrive around humans, making their homes in hedges and foraging for food around sidewalks and parks. The sparrow likes to travel in packs and comes in a variety of colors; the most common have brown backs, gray chests, and a black patch covering the chin.

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