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Winter Composting the 3-Bucket Way

It’s cold outside and the compost pile is frozen. Do you really feel like hauling kitchen scraps out into the winter wasteland only to have them picked through by scavengers when there isn’t enough bacteria available to break them down? Fortunately, there is an alternative. Keep your kitchen scraps cooking this winter and producing buckets of black gold for the garden next spring while you stay warm and cozy. Try the three-bucket system in your basement or heated garage – no odor, no pests and very easy!

The 3-Bucket System

Try these easy steps for the 3-bucket composting system in your basement or heated garage, where there is just enough warmth to keep the system operating without the microbes and outer layers of the compost freezing. Five-gallon painter buckets with lids work great or plastic trash cans with lids make the job a cinch. Even better are cans with wheels, so you can easily move your compost out to the garden for spring use!

  1. Fill bucket #1 with sawdust or peat moss mixed with equal parts dry soil. Add a little limestone and cover with lid.
  2. On the bottom of bucket #2, place about one inch of dry straw, leaves or shredded newspaper. Dump your kitchen scraps on top as they become available, each time sprinkling on some of the sawdust/soil mixture from bucket #1 to absorb odors and excess moisture. If you have a lot of scraps to add all at one time, portion them out and add as smaller amounts, covering each addition with the sawdust/soil mixture. Replace the lid after each addition. If there are any large pieces of scraps you may want to chop them smaller before adding to help speed the decomposition process. If your scraps are holding excess water, let them drain well before adding them to the bucket.
  3. When bucket #2 is full start filling bucket #3, using the same process you used with bucket #2. By the time bucket #3 is full, the contents of bucket #2 should be well on the way to becoming compost. Despite calling this the 3-bucket system, you can actually keep adding as many buckets as you need through the winter, but number them appropriately so you can keep track of which ones are most composted to be used first.
  4. Use and enjoy in the spring!

While the 3-bucket compost system won’t replace your compost pile, it’s still a great way to continue composting through the winter so you have plenty of rich, organic material to add to your garden in spring. Don’t let the scraps and waste from winter days be lost in the trash – turn that trash to treasure for your garden!

Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!

Winter Interest in the Garden

Many gardeners think of the fourth season as a time for rest, but winter can be interesting and fun to plan for a bold, appealing landscape. While most of us plan our landscapes for bloom times in spring and summer, there are many plants offering color and texture appeal for the cold season landscape.

Winter Beauty in Your Landscape

Winter is a time of special beauty and interest. Berries sparkle on shrubs under a layer of frost and ice, while other shrubs have shades of bronze leaves that cling and rattle in winter breezes. The leafless branches of larger trees cast dramatic shadows across the freshly fallen snow. Bark hidden by the leaves of summer stands out gorgeously in the winter. Barks of silvery gray, white, green, yellow, purple or red hues add a burst of color when the landscape is covered in white. Even barks that are deeply fissured, sleek as satin, peeling in thin layers or curiously pocked by a pitted surface give interest to a wonderful winter landscape. Dried grasses stand out in bright contrast against the backdrop of dark evergreens, shaking snow off their delicate heads. There is even the surprising yellow ribbon-like blooms of witch-hazel which flower in mid-winter or the delicate lavenders and blues of tiny species of crocuses under the snow. Pansies are also a great addition for late-season winter color in your flowerbeds. Everywhere you look, there can be beauty in the winter landscape.

Top Plants for Winter Interest

Many different plants offer interesting features that reach their full potential in the winter landscape. Popular options include…

  • Paperbark Maple (Acer grisium)
  • Threadleaf Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum dissectum)
  • Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifalia)
  • Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)
  • Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’)
  • Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’)
  • Winter Dephne (Daphne odora)
  • Common Snow Drops (Galanthus nivalis)
  • Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
  • Christmas Rose (Heleboris niger)
  • Chinese witch-hazel (Hamamelis mollis)
  • Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) Need female and male plant for berries
  • Christmas fern (Polystichun acrostichoides)
  • Common Camellia (Camellia japonica)
  • Heathers/Heaths

Not sure which plants will offer the beauty you want to see all winter long? Our experts are always happy to help you plan the best landscape design for all four seasons, so come in and share your ideas today and we’ll help you be prepared for an amazing winter landscape.

Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!

Size Up Your Site: A First Step in Planning Your Landscape

Whether you plan your garden from start to finish or use a professional designer, a few simple steps can help you assess your property’s potential to develop the landscape of your dreams. By getting involved in the landscape design process, you can address practical problems, structure your outdoor living space and develop a plan that will reflect your taste and lifestyle.

Surveying Your Site

Every yard, garden and landscape site will have differing light conditions, grade changes, varying soil conditions and existing plants and structures to consider when planning changes and expansions. Using a loose-leaf binder, take notes on each of the following:


  1. What are your favorite spots in your yard and why? What your least favorite and why?
  2. In landscapes, do you generally prefer open on enclosed spaces?
  3. What existing plants do you want to preserve, and which do you want to remove?
  4. What is the architectural style of your home? What is your decorating style?
  5. Are you planning any additions to your home that may take away yard space?
  6. Do you want special areas for children, entertaining, pets, recreation, vegetable gardening, water features or composting?
  7. What is your time frame? Do you want a short-term or long-range plan?
  8. Which building materials do you like – brick, wood, stone, pavers, etc.?
  9. Is your outdoor lighting adequate for your use?
  10. Do you need to screen an area for wind, noise or an unwanted view?
  11. What is you landscaping budget (both short- and long-term)?
  12. How will your landscape use change over time, such as when children grow up?

Specific Areas:

  1. What is the light condition of the area? How does it change seasonally?
  2. How is the soil – well-drained, poor, heavy clay, poorly drained, etc?
  3. What are the dimensions of a confined area that could affect plant size?
  4. What are your favorite plants or types of plants?
  5. Would you like a garden accent or other feature in this area (trellis, arbor, sculpture, bench, pond, etc)?
  6. What is the pH and general condition of the soil?

Once you have taken adequate notes, you’ll have a much better understanding about the overall layout of your landscaping site. This can help you plan the best options without making costly or time-consuming mistakes, such as planting the wrong tree that will outgrow a corner in a few years, or choosing building materials that won’t stand up to your climate.

More Tips for Landscape Surveying

You can never have too much information at your fingertips when you are surveying your site for landscaping changes. More techniques that can give you all the information you need include…

  • Photographing your property. Snapshots can reveal what the eye may overlook, and can be useful to show others to get their unique perspectives. Take views from your house and various areas of your property. Include photos from different times of day.
  • Measure everything and mark it on a map. You can use graph paper to create a simple sketch that will show dimensions so you can properly size your landscaping plans.
  • Make a sketch that shows what is existing (plants & structures) and where it is located. This will help you figure out what features you want to preserve, what you may want to expand and what you would rather remove and how the space will change.

Still need help? Bring your information in – we can help you choose the best plants, accents and accessories suitable to your needs, style and budget for the landscape of your dreams!


Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!

Bird Feeding 101: Low Maintenance Suet Feeding

Suet is a high-energy brick of animal fat and other ingredients to attract insect-eating birds. Because it is high in fat and calories, it is a quick source of heat and energy for birds and has been used as a good substitute for the insects that birds usually feed upon, but are not plentiful in cold weather. Suet can be offered all year long but is especially important in winter. Why not offer suet to your backyard birds today?

Easy Suet Feeders

Providing suet in a wire basket or mesh bag is an easy, low-maintenance option. Depending on the numbers of birds feeding in your yard, you may only need to add a new cake or ball to the basket or bag once or twice a week. Birds will cling all over the feeder to access the suet, so even as the cake is nibbled away they can still reach the treat. While suet may be most popular in winter, you can leave it in your yard year round and birds will always visit, so there is no need to swap out the feeder or store it during different seasons. Another popular option is a suet log – a simple length of wood with 2″ holes that will fit suet plugs. Birds happily cling to the wood as they feed, as it mimics their natural feeding habitat. For the safest feeding, position any suet feeder 5-6 feet off the ground and near a tree trunk, shrubs or brush for birds to retreat easily if they feel threatened.

It is important to note that squirrels may love suet just as much as birds. Using wide baffles above and below the suet feeder can help keep squirrels away from the food and give birds a better chance to feed without interference. Choosing suet blended with hot pepper can also discourage squirrels, but birds have very limited taste buds and don’t mind the heat.

Birds That Love Suet

Presenting suet in your backyard will also attract a greater variety of birds for your enjoyment. The different birds that enjoy suet include…

  • Bluebirds
  • Bushtits
  • Cardinals
  • Chickadees
  • Jays
  • Kinglets
  • Mockingbirds
  • Nuthatches
  • Starlings
  • Titmice
  • Thrashers
  • Woodpeckers
  • Wrens

As more birds discover your suet feeder, your flock will grow and you may find you need to add a second, third or even fourth feeder to sate all those feathered appetites!




Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!

Tooling Around in the Garden: Selecting and Caring for Garden Tools

Let’s face it – purchasing a new garden tool is usually not the first thing on your mind when you visit your friendly neighborhood garden center. Most of us tend to gravitate toward the latest and greatest herbaceous eye-candy without considering whether we have all the equipment necessary to prepare and care for it. The right tools, however, are critical to keep all your plants in top condition, and selecting quality garden tools is no simple matter. You want one that meets your needs, is available when needed, is easy on you, is long lasting and is not too expensive or too hard to maintain.

Choosing a New Tool

With so many tools on the market, choosing one that meets your needs can be a daunting task. First consider what type of work you will be doing, and what tools are required to accomplish your goal. Choosing the right tool for the job will make the work easier and more efficient. If you’re not sure, ask – our employees will be happy to assist your selection.

When you find a tool you are interested in, before you buy it, try it! Basic tools in new designs are available to the consumer every year. Those that are ergonomically designed, to align with the natural mechanics of our bodies, are meant to lessen the stress on muscles and joints as we garden. So pick up the tool and see how it feels in your hands. Make sure the weight and size are well suited to your strength and frame. Does it feel comfortable as you simulate the way it will be used? If it feels awkward, you will not be able to use it properly and may be tempted to neglect your garden chores instead.

Caring for New Tools

When you find a tool that meets your needs and is comfortable, you will want to have it around for a long time. Plan to purchase the highest quality tools that your budget will allow. If you purchase tools simply because they are the least expensive, chances are they will not last, and you will eventually spend more money to replace them.

Proper care and storage will add to the longevity of your garden tools. Hose off tools to remove soil and chemicals after every use. Allow tools to dry thoroughly before storing. For hardened soil, use a wire brush. Occasionally cleaning metal surfaces with oil will help to keep tools lubricated and prevent rust. Keep all moving parts oiled as well to enhance performance. Oil wooden handles at least twice a year with linseed oil to help prevent drying and splintering. For ease of use, keep tools with cutting surfaces sharp by filing them as often as needed. Check frequently and tighten any loose screws and bolts. Store all garden tools in a dry place with tool surfaces off the ground.

Every garden tool you own is important to the health, beauty and productivity of your garden and landscape. Be sure you choose the best tools and maintain them well to make the most of all your gardening.

Tomato plant and garden tools


Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!

Attracting Birds to Your Garden

One of the benefits of a garden is the wildlife it attracts, and birds are some of the most popular garden wildlife. Most birds are voracious eaters that are glad to keep the insect population down, and may eat 500-1,000 insects in one afternoon. This makes them ideal for natural (and free!) pest control. Anything you can do to attract birds will make your garden healthier and you’ll be entertained by their feeding antics along the way.

Fortunately, it is easy to attract birds to your garden if you meet their needs for food, shelter, water and overall habitat variety.


While birds will certainly eat insects and may munch on seeds, berries and fruits in the garden, consider placing a variety of bird feeders in your garden to entice even more birds to visit. Platform feeders attract ground birds, hanging feeders are for perching birds and suet holders attract insect-eating birds. Suet is especially important during the winter as this helps birds maintain their body temperature by adding fat to their diet. Hang plastic mesh bags of suet or pinecones dipped in suet (or peanut butter) from the limbs of trees.

For your other feathered guests, white millet and black oil sunflower seeds will attract the most common seed-eating birds and can be sprinkled directly on the ground or added to feeders. Add other species-specific seed like Nyjer (thistle) seed (to attract goldfinches, pine siskins and purple finches) or peanuts (to attract chickadees, jays and tufted titmice) to your buffet. Various gourmet seed mixes are also available like Lyric Supreme, Delight, Chickadee, Woodpecker and Finch Mixes, each of which is blended with specific birds in mind and includes the foods those birds like best.

Shelter and Nesting Sites

Birds feel more secure if they have shelter to protect themselves from the weather and other predators. Plant native trees and shrubs birds will easily recognize as suitable shelter. If your landscape is young and doesn’t include much shelter for birds, don’t worry. Consider building a brush pile or adding a loose woodpile to the yard and birds will happily take advantage of it.

You may also want to add nesting boxes or bird houses and other materials for birds to raise their young. This should be done in late winter or early spring just as birds are beginning to look for nesting sites. Clean houses or boxes after each nesting season.


One of the most important things to include in your bird-friendly garden is water. This is especially true during the winter months. Use a bird bath heater to keep water from freezing. Ideal water sources are 2-3 inches deep and 3 feet off the ground to keep visiting birds safer from prowling predators. Moving water is a magnet for most birds and will attract them from great distances for a drink or bath. A mister, dripper or circulating pump can be added to a bird bath or other water feature during most of the year, but take care to winterize the equipment properly so it does not freeze and break during the coldest months.

Habitat Variety

Because birds live in many different habitats, the variety of plant material you can offer in your backyard will determine how many birds are attracted to your garden. Consider native plants, plants with berries, fruits, sap and nectar for year-round food sources as well as nesting materials. Plan your landscape in tiers and flowing, connected beds so birds can move around easily, and include a variety of both deciduous and evergreen plantings so birds can find the habitat useful year-round.

We carry a complete line of bird feeders, houses, seed mixes and suets as well as garden accents; all the accessories and plants you will need to start attracting birds to your backyard. Stop by today!


Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!

Insect Control Begins Now

It’s hard to think of insects in winter, but don’t forget the havoc these tiny creatures can bring to your garden – defoliating leaves, contaminating produce, even destroying complete plants. Before these pests begin to be a problem is the perfect time to take steps to control them.

Why Winter Control?

Late winter is the right time to control insects for two reasons. First, the insects and their eggs are just coming out of dormancy. The shells and protective coverings are softer and more porous in late winter, and so are more vulnerable to the effects of oils and sprays. Second, the oil-water mixture should not freeze on the tree or plants, which could damage the plant and make the spray far less effective. When you spray, the temperature should be above 40 degrees. Delay spraying if freezing night temperatures are predicted. Choose a calm day for spraying to be sure stray breezes and cross winds do not spread the spray to plants you don’t want covered.

Insects to Control

In late winter, before any leaf buds begin to open, spray Bonide All-Season Oil or Dormant Oil Spray on fruit trees or other ornamental trees or shrubs to suffocate over-wintering aphids, thrips, mealybugs, whitefly, pear psylla, scale and spider mites that cling to the bark. The treatment will also destroy the eggs of codling moths, Oriental fruit moths and assorted leaf rollers and cankerworms. Don’t wait until the buds have burst in early spring, as the coating of oil will also smother the emerging plant tissue.

Tree Spraying Tips

While small shrubs can be easy to treat, larger trees are more challenging to be sure you don’t leave any area untreated where insects can thrive. Spray the whole tree at one time, concentrating on the trunk, large branches and crotches, rather than spraying down a whole row of trees at one pass. If you’ve experienced extremely bad infestations of insects, you might treat your trees a second time. But be sure to spray before the buds are near the bursting point. Dormant oil can also be used after the leaves have dropped in the fall. Never spray when any foliage or fruit is on the trees or you risk unwanted pesticide contamination.

After you spray, be sure to store any remaining oil properly and out of reach of children and pets. Containers should be labeled clearly and kept in cool, dark spaces to preserve their usefulness. Avoid reusing any sprayers to minimize the risk of cross contamination or inadvertent use.

Spraying for insects in winter may not be the most glamorous job, but you’ll appreciate the improvement in your trees through the spring and summer when you’ve nipped your insect problems in the bud.



Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!

Rotating Your Vegetable Crops

Whether you just plant a few tomatoes, herbs and some lettuce or an elaborate garden complete with exotic selections of lesser known veggies, you’ll want to rotate your crops each year. All types of vegetable crops – brassicas, onions, legumes and root crops – require a slightly different blend of nutrients and trace elements, even if their light and water requirements are similar. If you always grow your tomatoes in the same place, eventually the soil will become exhausted of the nutrients that tomatoes require the most, and the crop will become weaker and less productive. Meanwhile, another vegetable could easily thrive in that location and its growth would help replenish the nutrients that tomatoes may need in future years. If you rotate crops in and out, you’ll enrich the soil and enjoy larger, more productive, more flavorful harvests.

The easiest way to rotate your vegetables is to use a 3-year plan. First, you’ll need to decide which vegetables you plan to grow, then divide them into these three main groups:

Group 1:
Sweet Corn

Group 2:

Group 3:

It’s all right if you don’t plant to grow vegetables from each group. Simply adjust your rotation plan to compensate, or even consider trying out a new vegetable to complete the rotation and expand the variety of your garden.

Next, draw a plan of your garden and mark where each group of plants will go, keeping in mind the light and watering requirements of different varieties. It may help to sketch out the boundaries of each group, noting which plants are part of which rows, boxes, containers or beds. Keep those notes and sketches in your garden journal, and also take notes throughout the growing season about which plants perform best and which may be struggling. Next year, move the plants accordingly to shift where different crops are located. If you choose to add new vegetables to your garden, start them in the location with their appropriate group and bring them right into the rotation scheme.

As you rotate crops each year, you will notice consistently lush, healthy plants, bountiful harvests and delicious produce. After a few growing seasons, rotating your vegetable crops will be second nature and will be an important part of your gardening plan to ensure only the best comes from your garden.





Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!

The Edible Garden

Who said fruits and vegetables can’t be show-offs in the ornamental beds? Mix fruits and veggies into your flower and shrub borders to add drama, texture, color and, most importantly, food!


Displaying white flowers tinged in pink in little tassels during late spring, blueberries will grow only in moist, peaty soil with a pH lower than 5.5. The best way to grow them is in an informal border or along a woodland setting with other acid-loving plants like rhododendrons. To ensure good pollination, two different cultivars should be planted together. Plants should be protected from birds with netting when the fruit begins to ripen. Apply cottonseed meal to the soil in spring, water regularly during dry summers and prune the plants in winter by cutting out dead or damaged branches. You can also lightly trim plants in spring to keep them compact. Blueberries are rarely attacked by insects or diseases, but will look pale and chlorotic if the soil is not acid enough.

Raspberries and Blackberries

Although not particularly ornamental, bramble berry bushes, when trained on wires, offer a nice summer screen, or they can be grown against a fence or wall. Both raspberries and blackberries require slightly acidic soil, adequate moisture and will need support. Plants will succeed in light shade, but prefer a sunny location. Mulch in early spring with manure or compost, then cut old canes down to the ground after fruiting in early to mid-summer. No more than 5-6 strong stems should grow from each plant. Protect fruit from birds and squirrels to ensure enough left to harvest.


In the past few years strawberry plants have become increasingly popular for their ornamental qualities. Beautiful white flowers with yellow centers become delicious, glowing red strawberries. When choosing cultivars, be sure to try both June-bearing and ever-bearing selections to extend your harvest. Alpine varieties are perfect for edging a path. Strawberries require deep, well-drained, nutrient-rich soil for the best results. Plant in early spring and replace plants every three years for the best-tasting berries and most productivity. Fertilize in spring and cut off runners as they form to keep plants fruiting well, unless you are starting new transplants. Spread salt hay around plants as fruit starts to develop to keep the berries free from soil and well ventilated. Protect from birds and watch for slugs and botrytis (moldy, grey fungus) during wet springs.


Trained over an arbor or combined with clematis on a pergola, grapes add an elegant touch to any landscape. Plant grapes in well-drained, fertile soil where there is full sun. When growing on a trellis, limit your grapevine to a single stem or trunk. Train the leading shoot vertically and the lateral shoots horizontally. There are also various other ways to train and prune grapes, but do not let this task scare you. Grapevines are very forgiving. Birds will love the rich, aromatic fruit so you may want to protect several areas to ensure a good harvest.


Offering beautifully colored stalks of pink, white or red, rhubarb can be grown in any kind of soil in a sunny spot. You can pick from this trouble-free plant from spring until early summer. Only the stems of rhubarb are edible; the leaves should be discarded. Add plenty of manure to the soil, keep damp during dry summers and remove tall stems before they produce flowers. Although decorative, larger stems tend to reduce plant vigor. Divide every five years or as needed to control plant size. Watch for tunneling insects on the leaves and treat with rotenone as needed.


Adding an air of distinction where space is limited, a fig tree can be grown in a large pot. Forgiving figs do well in poor soil, but need a sunny, protected area, which may mean a south-facing wall. These ancient trees tend to produce more fruit when their root systems are restricted. Therefore, when planting in the ground, it is a good idea to dig a hole about 3 feet wide and line with bricks. Mix plenty of bone meal in with the soil, too. Mulch fig trees in late spring with compost and water in dry weather while the fruit is growing. You can also encourage these trees to produce more fruit by pinching new shoots in spring.

With careful planning, it’s easy to mix beautiful edibles in with your landscaping beds, allowing you to do double duty with your gardening and landscaping combined and dramatically increase what you can harvest and enjoy.





Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!

Healthy Soil, Healthy Plants

The key to successful gardening is healthy soil. This basic principle of organic gardening applies to all plants, whether it is anchor trees in your landscape, flowers adoring a bed or a garden full of vegetables. Quite simply, when you feed the soil the proper nutrients, you let the soil feed the plants. But how do you feed your soil? First, you need to understand some basic principles about soil and why it is so important, then you can take steps to improve it.

Soil Texture

To start, you should determine the soil texture by moistening the soil and rubbing it between your thumb and fingers to determine its feel. Sands are gritty and will barely hold together, clay can be squeezed into a firm, dense shape and silt will act in a way to allow particles to cling together. Sandy soils tend to dry out quickly because they contain high amounts of soil air. Clay soils, on the other hand have a tendency to pack together, shutting out air and water and minimizing evaporation. The best garden soil, loam, has moderate amounts of sand, silt and clay that balance together to provide good amounts of water and air.

If your soil is mostly clay, you will need to add sand or other aerating materials to help loosen the soil. For sandy soils, humus should be added to help retain moisture and nutrients.

Soil Structure

Next, you must evaluate the soil structure. Soil structure is affected by soil pH, the amount of humus and the combination of minerals in the soil. Ideal soils allow particles to clump together with air spaces between them for water drainage as well as oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide release from plant roots. The best way to improve soil structure is to add high amounts of organic matter like humus, dehydrated manure, composted manure, mushroom compost, alfalfa meal, peat moss or worm castings. These materials should be mixed in with your soil and allowed to decay further, both for seasonal maintenance and whenever you are planting new items in your garden or landscape.

Soil Nutrition

A soil sample is needed to measure the pH and amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the soil as well as other nutrients. This will help determine exactly what the soil needs to provide the best nutrition to your plants. Our staff will help you read the results and determine what to add to your soil and how much. Generally, a pH of 6.0-7.0 is acceptable for most plants and landscaping. If your pH is lower than this, your soil is too acidic and requires lime to be added. If your soil is low in organic matter, it will often have a higher pH level. All plants require a proper balance of nutrients – nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Soils lacking any one of these elements will not produce healthy plants.

When dealing with poor or improperly balanced soils, obtaining healthy, ideal soil may take 2-5 years of dedicated work. The best thing you can do to supplement your soil program in the meantime is to use various organic fertilizers to meet your plants’ needs and regularly add organic matter. This will continue to help improve the soil structure as well as create biological activity that is also a vital part to developing productive soil.

Want to know what to add to your soil to nourish your landscape? This handy chart can help!



Please note: Our Garden Center might not carry all items listed in the above article!