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How to Garden in Containers

Container gardening is a great solution for those of us who may not have a tremendous amount of garden space. Whether you’ve got a small patch of land or just a patio to work with, you can container garden successfully in any number of different barrels, containers, large pots, or even window boxes.  

Growing flowers in containers means you can add color wherever it is needed in your yard without having to dig a permanent bed. Using a container garden to grow vegetables means you can take advantage of that patch of full sun even if it happens to be on your driveway!

Flowers, herbs, and vegetables are happy to grow in containers. It is easier to grow plants in larger containers as they hold more water; this helps plants last through hot summer months. 

Before deciding on your container it’s important to decide what type of plant you want to grow. Consider the size of the plant when mature, how deep the roots will grow, and how quickly the plant will grow. If you plant zucchini in a tiny terra cotta pot, it won’t do well at all. Note that unglazed pots let a lot of water evaporate through the sides, while glazed pots hold in moisture. With the right variety of pots, you can have an entire vegetable garden in containers. 

Plants that grow large need a lot of water, so you’ll want a large pot that will retain moisture. When plants get root-bound (the roots fill the pot) they dry out too quickly. In that case, you’ll need a larger pot. For example, pole beans have a deep plant root system so you’ll need a larger pot than you would with bush beans that have a shallow root system and can be planted in a smaller pot. 

In addition to pot size, location makes a difference. For vegetables, you not only want full sun but if they are trailing plants like pumpkins you need to make sure they have enough room to spread out.

It is important to make sure that your pots have drainage holes. Too much water is just as bad as too little. Drainage holes help excess water to escape. There are certain kinds of potting mix you can get that will help to adjust the water level automatically by holding it and then releasing it to the plants slowly. Using potting soil rather than garden soil is preferred in container gardening as potting soils are formulated for container gardening and will not compact delicate roots. It also doesn’t drain as well. 

Finally, you should feed your container garden plants just as you would a regular garden plant. Fish emulsion is a great (though pungent) choice for organic fertilizer, though there are many other options such as Miracle-Gro available on the market. 

No matter which fertilizer you use, with a little bit of patience, sun, and nurturing, you’re sure to see success and get to enjoy the fruits—or vegetables—of your labor, all summer long.

Summer Lawn Care

Summer is here and your lawn may be looking a little bit crispy or have a few bare patches from higher foot traffic. To maintain a healthy lawn you need to adjust your lawn care depending on the season; so here are some care tips to help you care for your lawn this summer and keep it looking green and healthy. 

Some grass types are naturally brown in the summer. Cool-season grasses such as fescues and bluegrass go dormant in the heat of the summer and will naturally look browner. They will green up on their own once the warm season and summer heat come to an end. 

When it comes to mowing in the summer you’ll want to adjust the mower blade to mow high. A taller grass blade offers more shade to the roots helping to keep them cool in the heat. Taller grass also grows deeper roots, aiding in an overall more healthy lawn. You may want to leave your grass clippings on the lawn to help return nitrogen to the soil as well as helping to retain moisture in the ground. 

Your watering schedule should water deeply once or twice a week rather than shallowly every day. One and a half inches of water per week is an ideal amount. If you’ve got rainy weather adjust your schedule accordingly. The early morning hours are the best time to water your lawn so that the water has time to evaporate during the day to avoid developing fungal diseases. 

Your lawn should be fertilized every 6 weeks during the active season with a slow-release fertilizer, whether or not you also use a weed control or grub control brand. This will help to keep your lawn green all summer long. Do this before the real heat sets in and then after it leaves. If grubs are usually a major issue in your lawn you can apply a separate grub control during midsummer when grubs typically emerge. You should only do this if you have severe lawn damage. You want to add as little to the lawn as possible to keep it in good condition. Too much fertilizer or insecticide can harm your lawn, so be sparing in all applications. 

Finally, before it’s very hot out (as well as in the fall), you can take the opportunity to overseed your lawn with grass seed. Try using a warm-season grass that tolerates heat better when overseeding. This will help your lawn to grow thicker and fill in any bare spots that may have developed over time either from traffic or pets.

Tips to Reduce Mosquitoes

With the colder weather, we’ve been having it may be hard to believe, but mosquito season is almost here. Soon enough you’ll need insect repellents every time you step out the door. Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, let’s talk about some ways we can reduce the mosquito population in the first place.

The number one rule of mosquito control is: eliminate standing water. Anything that can collect water can harbor mosquito larvae. Reducing larvae means that you reduce the number of adult mosquitos over time. Mosquito breeding requires still water for a breeding ground. There are a number of places that attract mosquitoes, including:

  • ponds
  • puddles
  • buckets
  • tires
  • bird baths
  • clogged gutters
  • plant saucers
  • lawn ornaments
  • anything else that can collect and hold water

Mosquito breeding isn’t just a nuisance; mosquitoes spread diseases like the West Nile Virus so it’s important to keep mosquitoes at bay.

If you can’t get rid of the standing water (as in ponds and birdbaths) consider treating it with mosquito dunks, which are harmless to wildlife but don’t let mosquitoes breed.

Another thing you can do for pest control is to plant naturally repellent plants such as Basil, Lemon Balm, and Citronella Grass. These plants will not work as chemical pest control, but they can make a small dent in the number of mosquitoes you see in certain areas.

Another thing you can do to reduce mosquitoes is to use mosquito traps to catch and kill mosquitoes. From zappers to mosquito magnets, these can range in price from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars.

Finally, you can have your yard treated for a temporary respite. This is a great idea if you’re planning a party or barbeque to keep your guests from becoming pin cushions. To schedule spraying for your yard contact Aronica Plant Healthcare today.

Is Tick Spray Treatment Right for Your Yard?

The days are warming up and we’re spending more and more time outside. This is especially true this year as, due to recent events, there’s nowhere else to go. Because of the warm winter, people have already reported seeing ticks, and the fleas are sure to follow. With that said, what type of insect repellent should you be using? Is a personal spray enough, or should you have your yard treated? 

For many people, the idea of spraying with a flea, tick, or mosquito repellent each and every day (and every few hours at that) seems like a no-go. There are some flea and tick spray options that are better than others. Some are made of essential oils and while they may smell delightful, unless they have at least 30% lemon eucalyptus oil as the active ingredient they are unlikely to be effective as a tick repellent spray. To make this natural spray use 30 drops of oil of lemon eucalyptus with 4 ounces of witch hazel and place the mixture in a spray bottle. This may also work with mosquitoes to a certain extent. That is your best DEET free option to repel ticks and mosquitoes. It is also safe for children. 

If spraying yourself isn’t your thing, consider having your yard treated instead. Having your yard treated protects your family year-round from fleas and ticks and the diseases that ticks carry such as Lyme disease. Mosquitoes can also be controlled through yard treatment and there are options to use either a natural product to repel fleas and ticks or traditional ones. 

Some yard treatments are extremely effective flea and tick killers while some simply act as repellents. Killing fleas and ticks is best done at specific times of the year, usually early in spring when they first emerge but can be done at any time if necessary.

Whichever treatment you choose, personal, or the whole yard, it’s important for your health to use some kind of protection against mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks when outdoors this spring and summer.

A Mild Winter For New York Means That Ticks Are Already Here

Our mild winter may have had some benefits, but knocking back the tick population was definitely not one of them. There are already reports of people finding ticks on their dogs. That means it’s likely to be a tough season for tick-borne diseases. As usual, the deer tick is the most common species of tick people and domestic animals will be encountering on a regular basis, followed closely by the lone star tick. Ticks are found across the United States and many of them carry diseases.

This early in the season ticks are small and very hard to see, however even these nymph ticks can spread infectious diseases. The best way to avoid tick bites is by preventing tick bites.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), creating a “tick-free zone” in your yard is vital to ensuring that your family is protected from the diseases that are transmitted by ticks. Some of these diseases include Lyme disease, Babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, among others.

They suggest:

  • Remove leaf litter
  • Clear tall grass and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns
  • Place a 3-ft wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to restrict tick migration into recreational areas
  • Mow the lawn frequently
  • Stack wood neatly and in a dry area (discourages rodents)
  • Keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees
  • Discourage unwelcome animals (such as deer, raccoons, and stray dogs) from entering your yard by constructing fences
  • Remove old furniture, mattresses, or trash from the yard that may give ticks a place to hide

Ticks feed on blood meals so it’s important to remove them as quickly as possible once they are found so they don’t have a chance to transmit diseases. Tick removal should be done with a tweezer by grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible and pulling up with steady, even pressure. After removing the tick be sure to wash your hands with soap and water.

By following these tips you will greatly reduce your risk of both encountering ticks in your yard and of catching the diseases they carry.

Preparing Your Yard for Spring

Spring is just around the corner, though you may not know it from the weather. Now is the time to pull on a jacket and get out into the yard. There’s a whole lot to do before you start the real work of gardening and the sooner you start, the better. These simple steps should give you a head start on all of your spring gardening chores.  

Clean It Up

If you haven’t been going out on winter weekends to clean regularly you’ll need to do that before you can do anything else. Downed branches, twigs, and blown leaves will need to be removed before you can work on your lawn or soil. 

Tend the Grass

Spending a little bit of time preparing your lawn for spring will make it look green and lush in no time. Early spring is a great time to prevent weeds before they happen. When you apply fertilizer, make sure you mix in pre-emergent herbicides. These herbicides are weed killers that work before the weeds are visible. It will also help to keep weed seeds from germinating. Unfortunately, it will also stop grass seed from growing if you try to fill in bare spots, so wait for the fall for that particular task. If you just can’t deal with the bare patches, or if they’re just too big, consider purchasing a piece of sod to fill the hole. 

Warm-season grasses won’t enter active growth until soil temperatures reach 65 F., while cool-season grasses will start earlier in the season. Whichever you have, it’s important to “mow high,” when you break out the lawnmower in the spring. This means allowing the grass blades to get at least 3-4 inches high. 

Trees and Shrubs

Trees and shrubs can suffer damage through the hard winter months so now is a great time to give them the once over. Prune any damaged branches or branches that will rub against fences or your home. Do not trim fruit trees once they have flowered, as this can cause tremendous stress. 

If you’re looking to plant new trees and shrubs spring is a great time because of the wet soil, but make sure the soil temperature is above freezing. Your hole should be several inches larger than the root ball and you should put some compost in with your new tree or shrub to give it a good head start for the growing season. 

February Gardening Activities: Staying Busy in the Winter Months

The days are still short and cold, but that doesn’t mean there are no gardening activities to be had. Try out these garden tips to keep busy during the winter months.

Planting Alternatives

While planting in the open is out until light levels increase and the temperatures come up, consider setting up cold frames in your yard. Cold frames will let you start cool weather vegetables up to a month early, and let you extend your vegetable garden season well into the fall. Try easy to grow veggies such as:

  • Lettuce
  • Onion
  • Leek 
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Beets
  • Kale

Check Your Seeds

Seed starting now will mean an early harvest this spring and summer. If you don’t have your seeds yet order them or pick them up. If you do have seed packets ready to go you can start planting them indoors in just a couple of weeks and they’ll be ready to be planted when the warm weather hits. 

Get Trimming

Fruit trees and other trees and shrubs that need pruning can benefit from what is called “dormant pruning” (pruning which is done during the trees’ dormant season). If you see any damaged or diseased branches, or just plants that need shaping, consider doing that sooner rather than later. 

Check Your Bulbs

Finally, make sure you check your stored bulbs to be sure they haven’t been nibbled at or gotten moldy in storage. 

There’s plenty to do, even in the dark days of winter, so don’t let the view get you down! Just follow these tips and you’ll be busy almost all the way through spring.

Give Dormant Pruning a Try, and Your Plants Will Thank You This Summer

Dormant pruning or winter pruning is exactly what it sounds like: pruning plants during the winter while the plants are dormant. Late fall and winter, between November and March, is a good time to get on top of this particular chore.

Pruning in the winter means that there is less of a chance for insects to spread disease, and fresh pruning cuts heal faster during the dormant season. It’s also easier to see what you’re doing during the dormant season, without all of the leaves in your way. Finally, dormant pruning doesn’t just help the tree; it also helps the people around it. By trimming dead or broken branches you can prevent them from falling off in storms, which can cause injury or damaged property. 

When it’s time to prune make sure to wait until the weather breaks. You don’t want to prune when there is still snow and ice on the trees or shrubbery. You’ll want to remove the oldest woody stems and thin the plant out to allow for better airflow and increased growth in the spring. Plants that bloom will see increased flowering within a year or two of dormant pruning.

Dormant pruning is the perfect time to shape young trees, which can save you money because you won’t have to have larger branches removed later. Trees and shrubs which undergo dormant pruning are encouraged to put out new growth come spring and summer. This type of pruning is a way you can control where the plant puts its energy during the growing season. 

If you’re intimidated by the idea of doing the pruning yourself you can always call in the experts at Aronica Plant Healthcare. Their trained arborists and landscape technicians will be able to determine exactly which plants in your yard can benefit from this useful practice. 

The Dos and Don’ts of Raking Fall Leaves

It’s that time of year again. Everywhere you look outside fallen leaves have drifted into piles. There are leaves on your car, leaves on your lawn, and everywhere else they can possibly go.

While most people don’t love the chore of raking leaves (it’s often right up there with shoveling snow), there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it. By following these tips you’ll get the job done quickly and efficiently!

Feed your lawn.

Wait until most or all of the leaves have fallen before starting your leaf removal efforts. In the meantime, use a mulching lawnmower and mow the leaf litter into the grass, adding organic matter to the roots of your fall lawn and acting as a lawn fertilizer.

Keep it neat.

Raking your leaves onto a tarp, or using your leaf blower to move them onto the tarp, will make the job of bagging much easier. If you choose to place leaves in your compost pile with your grass clippings rather than rake and bag them for the curb, you can move them all at once instead of one load at a time.

Make use of what you have.

Fallen leaves make great mulch for your garden by adding nutrients to the soil and, according to the national wildlife federation, give animals a place to hide and keep warm during the long winter months. They also suppress weeds. Rather than going out to buy mulch you can use the leaves your trees give you for free and help out wild animals at the same time.

Wet or dry?

There are pros and cons to both wet and dry raking. You can generally rake dry leaves faster—as they’re lighter and easier to move—however that also makes them more prone to blow away in the wind. In either case, be sure to rake downhill; it’ll save time and your back.

It’s Time for the First Frost of the Year! Here’s What to Get Done.

While winter seems to come later and later every year, eventually it’ll happen. You’ll wake up one morning, go outside, and find sparkling crystals of ice on the grass and your car: it’s the first frost of the year. Unfortunately, it’s hard to gauge when the first frost will be. Upstate New York has already gotten their first frost, but because we’re in a slightly different hardiness zone we won’t see the first frost occurring for another couple of weeks. In zone 7, where Long Island is located, the average date that freezing temperatures usually occur is about November 15. Dates can vary, but generally speaking, we’ll have a light freeze midway through November. 

Frost occurring doesn’t necessarily mean your growing season is completely over. If you have a cold frame or greenhouse you can still extend it for a few weeks, but you’ll want to start thinking about picking the last of your broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and spinach before the first moderate freeze comes, which will damage or kill your plants. 

If you have a garden you’ll want to get your mulching done before the first frost, as the mulch will protect tender plants from the cold and help to keep them from drying out. 

Clear out any dead plants that are left in your garden. Old stalks and weeds should go into the compost so that pests have nowhere to overwinter. If the plants were diseased, toss them in the trash. 

You’ll also want to bring in any container plants you want to keep over the winter. They will not survive the cold weather, so they should be making their way inside now.

If you plan on planting any trees, it’s starting to get late in the season. The roots will likely have time to establish themselves before the ground freezes, but once the first hard freeze comes it may be too late, so use discretion. 

Finally, collect seeds! Those dead heads on your flowers contain all of the seeds you’ll need for your garden next year. Deadheading your plants isn’t just good garden hygiene, it’s also a great way to re-seed next year.