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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.

Creating an Edible Landscape

If you’re thinking of upgrading the plants around your property consider making them look “good enough to eat”; literally. Edible landscaping is a great way to add character to a property while also providing fresh fruits and herbs for your kitchen. You can achieve the look you want, while also creating multi-functional spaces. For example, strawberries make an excellent edging plant and also work as good groundcover. Not to mention they’re delicious and add a pop of color to any landscape; their little pops of strawberries, russet colored leaves in the fall, and those pretty white flowers during spring. If strawberries aren’t your thing, there are a plethora of other edible ideas to choose from. We highlight a few of our favorites below.

 

 

 

Grapevines:

Oh, the grapevine. Vines in general add so much character to an outdoor living area, and grapevines are by far my favorite form of “edible landscaping”. They are absolutely beautiful. Try growing two of these up and over an arbor to create a truly stunning walkway. You can also grow these up a wall by creating a wooden ladder feature or other means for the vine to latch onto. Grapevines grow incredibly fast and because of that they need some help finding which direction to grow. Be sure to lightly tie off the vines to your arbor or wall feature to ensure they keep growing in the right direction. The clusters of grapes are quite heavy on the vine so it’s important to help alleviate some of this weight to avoid drooping, bending, or breaking. When you aren’t harvesting the grapes, the leaves can be used to top salads or to serve as a plate decoration.

 


Chives:

Chives are not only good in a homemade potato soup or finely chopped and tossed in a salad; they are actually a pretty effective edging plant. Their playful long green foliage creates a great look when planted in rows around the perimeter of a home, and their ball-like purple flowers allow them to blend in with (and enhance) any flower bed. But chives don’t have to blend in with the crowd. They’re beautiful by themselves and are an excellent potted plant option. You’ll want to cut this perennial at the base, about an inch above the soil, when harvesting.

 

 

Blueberries and Raspberries

We briefly mentioned strawberries above, but blueberries and raspberries are also among our favorite forms of edible landscaping. They provide so many uses in the kitchen, from shakes to desserts, and are also good when freshly picked and eaten all by themselves. Berries are moderately shade-tolerant and will do just fine if tucked away close to the house or in the corner of a property. If you don’t want these plants out of sight, make them the focal point of your landscape. Both the blueberry and raspberry plant can function as decorative shrubs; plant them in a dense line to create a nice fruit-bearing hedge.

 

 

 

 

Air-Purifying Plants Approved by NASA

Of course we all like to enjoy the flowers and bask in the sun during the summer months but let’s face it, sometimes it’s just too hot outside (these past couple of days especially). But that doesn’t mean we have to be completely void of the plants and flowers. Air-condition lovers fear not, for there is a solution to have the best of both worlds; houseplants. That’s right, houseplants, but not just any old plant; I’m talking about air-purifying houseplants. Studies show that certain plants are effective at removing benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and ammonia from the air—chemicals that have been linked to health effects like headaches and eye irritation. And who did the study you ask? None other than NASA.

 

 

As technology increased, interest in space exploration increased, and a domino effect of tests followed. One of the obstacles that scientists tried to overcome was purifying the air in confined spaces. There is no “outdoors” in space; well there is but you go outdoors there and you’re dead… So to keep the air safe, and the people in the air safe, NASA begin experimenting with plants. After years of research they compiled a really eye-catching infographic; listing toxins that each plant actively filters out of the air, pictures, and the health benefits or risks of each toxin or plant, respectively. Pretty neat stuff. NASA suggests having at least one purifying plant per 100 square feet of home or office space. We spend the majority of our time indoors, and if you’re going to condition your air, why not purify it as well? Check out the infographic below and start equipping your indoor spaces today!

 

infographic by NASA.

Blooming Shrubs for Virginia Summers

Though cool weather held on for longer than some of us expected, long and steamy summer days are finally here to stay. And with them, there’s lots of blooming summer shrubs that gardeners can anticipate and enjoy. Blooming shrubs are a popular summer treat because they produce dozens of blooms and easily beautify both commercial and residential landscapes. Plus, most of them are easy to grow and maintain, and there’s hundreds of varieties—short and tall, wide and thin—that can be made to fit into almost any kind of landscape. Our landscapers love utilizing colorful, vibrant blooming shrubs when planning a landscape design, so we’d like to highlight some favorites that are particularly well-suited for Southwest Virginia summers.

Small Shrubs (Under 5ft)

Hydrangea Photo by Liz West.

Smooth Hydrangea

Growing up, my parents had a smooth hydrangea bush in our backyard. Every summer, I looked forward to the pillowy, sweet-smelling white flowers clusters that would bloom and then attract various pollinators to our garden. There was no better place in the neighborhood to butterfly watch than right next to the hydrangea. Depending on variety, smooth hydrangeas produce small or large clusters of flat-topped flowers. The larger flower bundles tend to put pressure on the plant’s thin stems, so it can be helpful to prop up some hydrangea bushes with stakes. They are shade tolerant and generally bloom during June or July.

Sweetspire

Photo by Wendy Cutler.

Virginia Sweetspire

Perfect for Virginians, this shrub produces cone-shaped white flower bundles that bloom in early summer. It is shade tolerant and, though native to eastern wetlands, does well in average moisture conditions. The foliage is glossy and sturdy and turns a beautiful maroon color in the Fall.

Medium Shrubs (5-9ft)

Mountain Laurel

Photo by Aaron Gustafson.

Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel grows wild across the Eastern United States, but when cultivated for landscaping purposes it is well-contained and rarely exceed 9ft in height. Laurel’s bloom on old wood and produce delicate, silky flowers that are famous for their beauty. However, mountain laurel is not the easiest plant to cultivate. It needs well-drained soil high in organic matter, and it requires partial shade during afternoons, especially in winter. Well-seasoned landscapers should be able to handle its quirks, but amateurs might struggle.

Abelia

Photo by Tanaka Juuyoh.

Glossy Abelia

Glossy abelia is a particularly popular flowering shrub, and for good reason. It produces beautiful, sturdy 1” white flowers from June until first frost that turn a pinkish color in late summer/early fall. The foliage is glossy (as one would figure) and evergreen in zones 7+. As a whole, the shrub is very hardy and resistant to both shade and drought, and it is the perfect plant for new gardeners looking who want something both easy and gorgeous.

Large Shrubs (9ft and Over)

Crapemyrtle

Photo by Gail Frederick.

Crapemyrtle

Crapemyrtle, perhaps the showiest of all flowering shrubs, is famous among southerners. They produce large flower clusters up to 8” long, and their blooms come in a variety of colors, from bright pink to white. In warm climates, crapemyrtles bloom for most of the summer, and they are incredibly heat and drought resistant. Whenever I drive down South, I always take note of the great variety of crapemyrtles that can be seen from the road, in varying heights and colors. There are some 200 varieties of crapemyrtle, and each has different attributes. Talk to a landscaping professional to figure out which variety will be most suited to your landscape.

Forsythia

Photo by Emily Carlin.

Border Forsythia

If you live around gardens, you’ve likely seen Forsythia. It produces stunning, bright-yellow flowers for about two weeks during mid-spring (or whenever the weather warms up). This brief color-show is enough to convince many gardeners to plant this hardy, reliable shrub, but its fast growing schedule and lack of fussiness help too.

 

All the information in this post comes from our friends at Virginia Tech. Check out their extension publication to learn more about flowering shrubs!

Flood-Resistant Landscaping

In the past few weeks, a tropical disturbance that originated in the Gulf of Mexico has dropped many consecutive inches of rain on cities across the East Coast. As a result, hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed, and several people lost their lives. Here in Roanoke, massive flooding shut down roads, felled power lines, and swept cars off the street. Needless to say, water has immense destructive potential, and the exterior features of a home—landscapes and hardscapes—are often most vulnerable to damage. During this past flood, one of our client’s witnessed a waterfall of flood water and debris pour over a retaining wall we recently installed into her back yard. The retaining wall survived the onslaught (thanks to the outstanding craftsmanship of our crew) but the rest of her yard was, unfortunately, crippled.

In truth, there is no flood-proof landscaping design. Flooding can happen to anyone and, when it does, your personal safety should always come before preserving property. But, there are ways saavy landscape designers can manipulate an existing landscape and help fortify it against flood damage. The key to creating a flood-resistant landscape is planning ahead and including thoughtful design elements that utilize natural solutions to combat natural risks.

Landscape Flooding

Flood-Resistant Design

In urban and suburban environments, storm-water runoff is a primary cause of flooding. Often, existing roads and walkways lack the necessary infrastructure to channel excessive runoff to sewers and drains, increasingly the likelihood that excess water will pool in residential yards and driveways. However, there are some age-old flood mitigation tactics that still work well fortifying modern yards against flooding.

Swales, depressions in landscapes that direct water drainage, are simple to install and work well as “natural sewers” for rain-water runoff. Well-designed swales slow water flow in addition to redirecting it. Installing deep rooted plants at the swale’s edge or placing sturdy rocks in the bottom of the swale’s well can accomplish this easily. Note: swales do not stop the flow of water, so they must drain out to an area that can accommodate excess waters: a dry well, for instance.

Rain gardens, another easy-to-install landscaping addition, provide a safe place for excess water to pool during a storm. As an added bonus, rain gardens are highly efficient and channel rain water back into your garden, decreasing run-off and risk of evaporation during hot days. For a guide on how to build a rain garden, check out this blog post of ours!

Downspout diverters are small but essential flood fighters. They cheaply and efficiently channel storm-water runoff away from walls and houses, helping fortify the most vulnerable parts of properties from flood damage.

Driveways are often hyper-vulnerable to flooding because they are made of asphalt and concrete—impermeable materials. However, driveways can be manipulated to channel storm water more effectively. Permeable driveways, such as those made out of gravel or permeable paver stones, are much more flood-resistant. Additionally, adding drainage to the sides of impermeable driveways can significantly improve a driveway’s flood-hardiness.

 

These simple tips could go a long way in preventing future flood damage at your property. When building your landscape, remember to ask your landscaping professionals about flood mitigation techniques and flood-smart designs.

Why Use Battery-Powered Lawn Tools?

Battery-powered lawn tools are becoming more and more popular among homeowners nowadays, and for good reason; the technology has come a long way over the years. Not only have the tools become more efficient, the price gap between battery-powered and gas-powered equipment is significantly smaller. Where battery-powered equipment was once way overpriced and under-powered, advancements in technology have helped make battery-powered lawn tools more affordable and surprisingly powerful.

 

Husqvarna Battery-powered tools photo from Husqvarna.

They may be slightly pricier machines, and (depending on the scope of work) the extra batteries needed are an expensive up-front cost, but keep in mind when you purchase battery-powered tools you are making an investment. Unlike their gas powered counterparts, battery-powered tools require very little upkeep; there’s no routine engine maintenance and no additional costs for oil, filters, and fuel. The batteries will last several years and the tools themselves tend to be of higher quality. In the long run, battery-powered tools are the better value.

But value isn’t the only thing to consider when purchasing battery-powered tools, there are many other advantages. For one, they don’t produce emissions or harmful fumes, which is a great choice for those environmentally conscious home-owners. They are also much quieter when operating and produce less vibrations. This is good for your ears and for keeping your neighbors happy; hearing someone next door use the weed-eater for an hour is never a pleasant experience. The reduced vibrations also allow for more precision and overall easier handling.

As much as I want to encourage you to buy battery-powered tools, they aren’t for everyone and there are a few factors to consider. How often are you going to use your tools? Battery-powered tools are good for homeowners performing regular maintenance, but if you are only using these tools every other week then the gas-powered ones will suffice.  Another factor is the run time of a charged battery; each usually last for around 45 minutes to an hour. Unless you have purchased an excess of batteries (and chargers), this will be an issue to those with larger lawn care needs.

What projects will you be undertaking? Although battery-powered tools have come a long way in terms of power they still don’t pack the punch of a gas-powered engine. They are close, but as the battery loses power so too will the tool (to some extent); making those leaf-blowing days a bit less satisfying or successful. If you are planning on using your lawn tools often and for smaller projects, consider the variety of battery-powered options available. These tools aren’t only the future, they are the now, and they’re getting better and better every year.

Create an Indoor Herb Garden

An indoor herb garden is the perfect addition to any kitchen. Not only are the spices fresh, sustainable, and readily available, an herb garden will literally “spice” up any countertop or windowsill space if done right. They require very little maintenance, don’t take up too much space, and most herbs are ready to harvest in as little as 2-3 weeks. So what are you waiting for? Start an herb garden today!

 

photo by flickr user Nuwandalice.

Choose your Herbs

You can start your herbs straight from the seed or purchase small plants from a local nursery. Good choices for herbs include dill, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme. Another option is microgreens; small fast growing greens like arugula, cilantro, radish, and basil. These are a healthy addition to any meal, whether topped on a burger or mixed in a salad, and can be snipped within 2-3 weeks. Better Homes and Gardens has a great how-to on microgreen gardens here.

 

 

 

Pick your Containers

Get creative! An indoor herb garden is both practical and aesthetically pleasing if you pick the right containers. They will give your countertop some character or bring a dull windowsill to life. Use individual containers for each herb to ensure each has the right amount of nutrients it needs. Pick containers with drainage holes that will rest on waterproof saucers or one big waterproof platform. Choose a location that allows for at least 4 hours of sunlight a day or equip your indoor garden with grow lights. The indoor air can be dry so choose a moisture retentive potting soil and be sure to keep a spray bottle nearby; spritzing often.

 

photo by BHG.

Harvest and Enjoy!

Be sure to store harvested herbs in a cool place and in an air-tight container. If you happen to cut off a little too much, the excess will keep in the fridge for about a week. Most herbs take very little time to grow and an even shorter time to grow back. To restore nutrients in your soil be sure to add all-purpose plant fertilizer to each container once or twice a month. Now that you’ve learned some tips about indoor herb gardens it’s time to enjoy all the fresh herbs and spices!

Escape the Heat with Shade Trees

It’s that time of year again and the days are warming up! Although we’ve had a fair amount of rain in the past couple of weeks, there are easier ways to cool off. Try planting shade trees for a permanent solution to those hot summer days. Shade trees not only provide a retreat from the heat, they offer homeowners privacy and increase property value by up to 15%. Most want to go straight for the traditional Maple or Oak, but when choosing a tree there are a few factors to consider.

photo by Kat on flickr.

It’s no secret that larger trees with big bountiful leaves provide the most shade, but it comes at a cost. A temporary escape from the heat for us turns out to be a permanent life in the shadows for others. Plants and grass will have a hard time growing in an area void of sunlight. Consider mulching below the tree or choosing one with smaller leaves. These trees still provide shade while allowing filtered sunlight to the vegetation below. Another benefit of the smaller lighter leaves is their tendency to blow away in the fall. We’ve highlighted two of our favorites below.

 

photo by Geneva Wirth on flickr.

Thornless Honey Locust

The thornless honey locust is a fast growing tree most known for its small rounded leaflets. The leaves are a beautiful bright green during spring and summer and transform into a vibrant yellow in the fall. No need for a rake, those yellow leaves will fall off and shrivel up to almost nothing; carried away by the slightest breeze. The thornless honey locust grows 40 to 60 feet tall and wide with branches starting at 5 to 15 feet above the ground. When fully mature, the tree takes on a rounded or oval shape and tends to flatten out on top.

 

photo by sparkleice on flickr.

River Birch

The river birch is another relatively fast growing shade tree identified by its unique curling bark. When young the bark is a silvery white-gray and will slowly change to pink, reddish-brown or black over time. The leaves are a jagged green teardrop that turn yellow in the fall. In the winter and spring the river birch will produce flowers, and in the summer it produces cones. A mature river birch will typically be anywhere between 40 and 70 feet tall, although some grow up to 90 feet.

 

P.S.

Let’s not be selfish! These trees don’t have to exclusively provide shade to us, but they can provide for our homes as well. Some are reluctant to place trees close to their house, but with risk comes reward. Strategically placing trees around a home is a natural way to cool down our living spaces and saves on utilities; those with shaded homes cut down on air-conditioning costs by 50%. Use trees around the home to create a layer of privacy or to mask any unappealing views from sight. So what are you waiting for? Let your shade trees start spreading their roots today.

 

Get Your Child Gardening

Gardening, quite literally, gives children the perfect platform to grow. They get to experience responsibility, a sense of ownership, and the excitement of seeing a tiny seed transform. Spending time in the garden is an opportunity to soak up the sun and a great introduction to the “magic” of nature; something our little ones will learn to know and love. Grow vegetables, plant flowers, plant trees, there’s really no limits. Let their curiosities run wild. Gardening with children is a win-win, you’re spending quality time together and also producing healthy homegrown vegetables or beautiful flowers to enhance a landscape. Here are a few tips to help you and the kiddos get started.

 

photo by Chiot’s Run on flickr.

 

Give Them Their Own Space

Whether it’s a spot in the garden or their own separate bed, it’s essential to give kids their own space to grow. They can help you in the “adult” garden all they want, but be sure to dedicate an area that they can have all to their self; it’s crucial to a child’s development. This gives children a sense of responsibility and also sparks their creativity. It gives them the freedom to experiment. A separate gardening space teaches children independence and gives them that feeling of being a “big kid”. Repurpose an old sandbox or place a stake in a section of the garden. Be sure to clearly label their area and emphasize ownership!

Choose Plants that Grow Fast

This is a big one. Children want to see results! Checking their little garden each day is what makes gardening fun for kids; watching seeds sprout, flowers bloom, and new plants take shape. It’s important to have things happening in the garden otherwise kids become disinterested. If they are just starting out, make sure to plant vegetables or flowers that will sprout up quick. Sunflowers are a must for young gardeners; try planting one, or two so the first can have a friend. Sunflowers sprout within a week and grow to 2 feet tall in a month’s time. Radishes are another plant for quick results. Although not typically tasty to the younger ones, radishes have a very short growing season; after 20-30 days they are ready for harvest. Another good crop for children are potatoes. They’re an easy and “fail-proof” option as they tend to grow under almost any conditions. Red potatoes will mature faster than white and are ready to pull from the ground when the plant collapses. Try cherry tomatoes to offer some variety in preparation. Place 2’ stakes beside each seedling and let your children watch them climb to the top. The growing season is about 50-75 days and lightly tying the vines to the stakes will keep them headed upwards. Lastly, and certainly nonetheless essential, is the coveted pumpkin. A staple for any child’s garden, the pumpkin seed will sprout in a week and are ready to pick and carve in 80-120 days.

Help Out Behind the Scenes

Gardening is a big responsibility for our children and its okay to give them some help when they aren’t around. This will keep them interested, keep their plants healthy, and keep them happy to see their plants doing well. Tending to a garden is not always glorious and the last thing you want is for gardening to feel like a chore. Add some extra water or prune flowers and weeds where needed to ensure the garden maintains its “magic” factor and your kids remain engaged. If your seedlings are having trouble, consider changing up the soil or adding more compost or fertilizer. If all else fails, visit your local nursery and buy plants that have already sprouted. Take your young gardeners so they can see all the different varieties of plants and pick their favorites.

Mix Education with Fun

Watching plants grow and getting their little hands dirty is not only a fun experience for children but it also provides opportunity for education. Teaching kids how to be sustainable and grow their own food is something they can utilize for a lifetime. Experiment with different types of vegetables and flowers to see what really sparks their interest.  Use gardening as a stepping stone to other aspects of nature. Visit a local farmer’s market to see what others are growing, or even sell vegetables of your own. Take them on a hike and stop to see the wild flowers or plants. Do anything to get them excited about the outdoors. As for the slightly older kids, harvesting crops is a great time to educate them with aspects of cooking; a way for them to see out the entire process from seed to table. No matter which route you choose, get your children outside and start gardening today!

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