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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.

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.

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