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Wednesday, April 5, 2000 Bucks County, Pennsylvania

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BucksNet & Sirius Communications present
BUCKS COUNTY GARDENS

Yours Can Be Both Beautiful and Practical!

Impatiens are nice . . . Emily Dickinson noted that we are “closer to God in a garden than anyplace else on this earth.” That lofty outlook sometimes escapes us when we’re pulling weeds and throwing our backs out from tackling too much at once. It’s easy to overlook the fact that your garden is more than a feast for your eyes—careful placement of trees and shrubs can help keep your home cooler on hot summer days, and a patch of ground devoted to vegetables helps save money at the grocery store while bringing fresh, nutritious food to your family’s table. This year, instead of just putting the impatiens where you always put them, spend a little time thinking about the gardening options available to you.

   To get the most out of your garden, be realistic about what you want to achieve, and how much time you can put into it. If your days are full of other obligations, choose plants that can withstand a little bit of neglect, and use strategies that will minimize the amount of maintenance your garden requires. If time isn’t a concern, however, then don’t be afraid to be expansive—turn your patch of land into a sanctuary brimming with colors and shapes!

The First Steps

   A sure harbinger of spring is all those plant and seed catalogs that begin showing up in your mailbox. Even if you don’t intend to purchase from them, don’t toss them out right away. They’re a great source of information about plant varieties, conditions, and possible garden configurations. Use them to help you do a little pre-planning before you visit your local nursery.

   Think about color, shapes, and sizes. You might want to create a snowy all-white garden, accented only by glossy green leaves, or you might want a riot of colors. You can choose plants in shades of purple or pink, or work in two colors, perhaps those of your school or your favorite sports team.

Daisies    Once you’ve chosen your color palette, think about shapes and sizes. Don’t choose plants of uniform height; instead, include some tall, dramatic blooms as focal points of your garden. For the Bucks County area, day lilies can be a great choice for lending a touch of drama—there are an abundance of varieties, with petals that can be crinkly, ruffled, or frilly. They range in color from white to mahogany, with shades of yellow, orange, and pink in-between. Some flowers even combine different shades. The very tallest species can be 5 feet tall; more conventional varieties average 2 feet. Although, true its name, an individual flower lasts only a day, a single plant can produce over 50 flowers, which gives the plant a blooming period of several weeks.

   Before you make that trip to the nursery, or fill out that catalog order form, take a few hours to prepare your garden. Remove all the dead material and weeds that you find in your flower beds, and rake the soil to aerate it and prepare it for planting.

Annuals & Perennials

   Plants described as “annuals” are usually plants that can survive in this region only during the summer, although they might be termed “perennials” in warmer climates. In some cases, they may bloom again the following season, particularly if the winter has been mild, but don’t count on it. Most of the plants you’ll choose for your garden are likely to be annuals. That’s a great thing for encouraging you to experiment—if you choose a flower or color that doesn’t work well in your yard, you can try something else next year.

Choosing Plants

   Very few species look attractive and flower profusely from early spring through late fall, so consider planting various species in stages to keep your garden vibrant all season long.

   In the early spring, plant species that can withstand cool evenings and will add color to your garden right away. Dianthus, snapdragons, pansies, and petunias are all good choices for this, with petunias offering an especially long blooming season—with proper care, they will bloom into the early fall. You can extend the flowering season of these plants by placing them in an area where they will be shaded from direct sunlight from noon to 4 p.m.

   Early summer is the best time for heat-loving flowers such as portulaca, verbena, and vinca. The vibrant portulaca is an especially good choice as a bedding plant—it has distinctive, spiky foliage, extremely vivid colors, and can tolerate periods of drought far better than most other plants.

   Plants that can tolerate strong sun and will bloom into the early fall include: ageratum, alyssum, aster, begonia, browallia, calendula, celosia, coleus (this has no blooms, but its foliage is very colorful), cosmos, dahlberg daisy, dahlia, geranium, globe amaranth, impatiens, lisianthus, marigold, melampodium, salvia, sanvitalia, spiderflower, treasure flower, and zinnia.

Vegetable Garden Schedule

Grow vegetables!    Many vegetables, such as carrots, peppers, and pumpkins, take a long time to grow and ripen. It is possible to start warm season plants such as tomatoes and pumpkins indoors ahead of time to try to harvest earlier; counting back from the average last spring frost date, allow about 6 to 8 weeks for tomatoes and peppers and only about 2 weeks for squash because the plants get big so fast. You can plant them outdoors once the danger of frost has passed, and the soil is warm.CarrotsCarrots however are best planted in the garden where they are to grow. They can be planted outside from early spring to mid-summer.

   If you are wondering about late summer crops, check the “days to maturity” information found on most seed packets for the variety you are growing and see if you can plant successively for more than one crop, or plant both an early and a later maturing variety of the same crop. This is commonly done with beans, and many gardeners plant both an early and a later tomato.

Unusual Accents

   If the possibility of doing something a bit unconventional appeals to you, consider a rock garden. Rocks of striking shapes, sizes, and colors can provide an extremely appealing accent to your landscaping efforts, and collecting them during outings to the shore or local parklands can be a great hobby for you and your kids. Be creative in your selection and placement of rocks—a big, craggy rock set next to a cluster of low-growing, brightly colored portulacas, for instance, can be a dramatic and natural focal point for a garden.

Maintenance

   All gardens require frequent weeding and adequate water. Some gardeners love this aspect of gardening, finding it a welcome time for quiet reflection as they work in the soil. Others consider it a necessary nuisance that brings them into closer proximity with insects, mud, and sweaty toil than they would like. Mulch is always a good idea for a garden, but it’s a necessity if you fall into the latter category, since it minimizes maintenance chores by discouraging weed growth and trapping moisture in the ground. There are a variety of mulches to choose from—you can stake black plastic to the ground around your plants (which, although perhaps the most effective option, won’t do much for garden aesthetics, so you’ll probably want to cover it with wood chips or a similar material), or use stones, hay, gravel, or wood chips, which come in a variety of colors and shapes. Your local garden center will have plenty of options to choose from. Whatever you use, make it several inches thick, or the weeds won’t be deterred.

   Even with mulch, you’ll still have to pull some weeds. Try to get in the habit of spending 15 minutes a day inspecting your garden and pulling weeds as they appear, before they have a chance to grow and spread.

Trees

Trees add beauty and shade    If you’re feeling ambitious, you might want to add a tree to your yard. Consider calling in a professional landscaper for this task, since he or she will be knowledgeable about the species best suited for your property’s conditions. If you want to tackle it as a do-it-yourself project, remember that factors to consider include tree size, shape and growth rate; whether it is deciduous or evergreen; climate adaptation; soil and water requirements, pest problems and the amount of debris it produces—how much raking do you want to do? Also important are its ornamental characteristics—flowers, fall color, and foliage texture.

   Once you have a list of candidates, check with the staff at your local nursery. Your list will narrow quickly, and you can use factors such as flowers, flowering time or fall color to make the final selection.

   Trees are sold three ways: bare-root, balled and burlapped, or in containers. Examine a tree carefully before buying. The largest trees in the nursery may be too big for the root-ball, while smaller specimens may be stunted from some type of stress. In general, select one of modest, evenly balanced proportions. Foliage growth along the lower trunk contributes to its strength. The trunk should be straight and evenly tapered from top to bottom. Look for one that can stand up on its own without staking.

   Avoid trees with broken branches, wounds on the trunk, pale foliage, and obvious signs of insects or disease. If you can’t plant your new tree as soon as you get home, temporarily store all types of young trees in a shady location. Partially bury the roots of bare-root trees by digging a shallow trench, placing the roots in the trench and covering them with moist soil or organic matter. If your tree is bagged or in a container, make sure the roots aren’t allowed to dry out.

   Before you plant, dig a test hole near the tree’s site a few days or weeks before planting. Fill the hole with water, let it drain, then fill it again. Time how quickly the water drains. If it is less than 1-inch per hour, or if it hasn’t drained completely in 24 hours, you have a drainage problem. Solutions include planting elsewhere, planting in raised beds or mounds, or installing a drainage system (consult a landscape contractor).

Planting

   Place bare-root trees on a small mound of soil in the center of the planting hole and gently spread the roots down and away.

   Handle the root-ball of bagged trees carefully so it doesn’t break or crack. Lift the soil ball and position it in the center of the planting hole. Gently tamp to remove air pockets as you fill. Once it’s stabilized, remove the burlap, then continue filling and watering to settle the soil.

   If your tree is in a container, lift it out carefully and set the root-ball in its hole. Eliminate circling roots by laying the root-ball on its side and cutting through them with shears; then fill the hole.

   All trees should be watered after planting, staked if necessary, and mulched.

Your Personal Garden

   Our tips are intended to get you started. Once you do a little investigating on your own, you’ll find that the possibilities for beautifying your home and exercising your creativity in your garden are nearly endless. With a little time, thought, and effort, you garden can be your personal signature, as well as a source of great beauty and relaxation.

Gardening Links

Ed. note: Neither BucksNet nor Sirius Communications are affiliated with or endorse the links shown above. They are included as a service to our readers.
© Sirius Communications, 2000.


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