Companion Planting

What is companion planting?  Scientifically speaking, companion planting encompasses a number of strategies that com-plantingaincrease the biodiversity of agricultural ecosystems (or, your garden).  In simple terms, it’s the idea that certain plants can benefit others when planted in near proximity.  Advantages include attracting beneficial insects; repelling pests; deer control; the production of higher and healthier yields; and providing nutrients, shade, or support for surrounding vegetation.  This method of planting employs an organic gardening strategy.  The goal is to achieve a balance in the garden to avoid the use of chemicals for pest or disease control.

We looked to the Farmers’ Almanac for some simple starter companion planting suggestions:

•    Beans work with just about everything.  Plant them next to tomatoes or spinach.

•    Place a small amount of horseradish near your potatoes to increase the disease resistance. Replenish as necessary.

•    Summer cornfields can be converted to pumpkin fields.

•    Developed by Native Americans, the “three sisters” method consists of growing corn, beans, and pumpkins (or squash) on the same mound.  The corn provides a good pole for the beans to grow up, the beans trap nitrogen in the soil which benefits the pumpkins, and the pumpkins provide a dense foliage and ground cover to suppress weeds and keep pests at bay.

•    Pumpkins work well as a row crop planted in close proximity to sunflowers, also a row crop.

•    Plant healthy nasturtium near squash to help ward off squash vine borers.  (Nasturtium is an easy-to-grow annual whose leaves and flowers are edible.)

•    Use sweet marjoram in your beds and gardens to sweeten the taste of vegetables and herbs. (Marjoram is a rich, sweet tasting herb that is used interchangeably with oregano.)

For a more in-depth planting guide, we suggest this website:

Keep Deer Out or Invite Them in Your Yard

Keep ‘em out…deer-pica
Deer.  That one word triggers many negative emotions for avid gardeners and homeowners.  With some help from our friends at This Old House, we’ve provided you with this list of helpful tips to help keep those pesky deer away from your plush gardens and landscapes this year.  When considering your options, it’s key to remember that their sense of smell trumps all other senses.

1) Don’t make it easy for them.  If you tempt the deer with large amounts of tasty, high-protein plants such as English ivy, lettuces, beans, peas, hostas, impatiens, pansies, and fruit trees, they’ll love hanging out in your yard.

2) Keep their favorites such as chrysanthemum, clematis, roses, azalea bushes, and various berries, closer to the house so you can keep tabs on their progress.

3) Consider planting strongly scented herbs – from garlic and chives to mint and lavender — to mask the scents of the annuals they love to feast on.

4) Plant some thorny, hairy, or prickly foliage near the plants you want to protect most.

5) If you’re open to it, try making deer-resistant substitutes, like trading tulips for daffodils.

6) If they can’t see it, they may not be as tempted; so plant sprawling deer repellent varieties such as thick hedges of boxwoods or short needle spruces around your garden.

7) Keep it clean; trim tall grasses to deter bedding and pick your ripe fruits.

8) Step it up; deer don’t like to climb so consider adding terraces or sunken beds which may discourage them from coming into the yard.

9) Boo!  Yes, scare tactics work.  Deer fear new, unfamiliar objects so place garden ornaments, such as a scarecrow or sundial, in combination with wind chimes or bright lights in your garden.

10) Adding a fence is a great option as long as it’s 8-feet high – Bambi can jump!

11) Wrap ‘em up by placing netting over fruit, bulbs, and bushes.

12) Rotate deer repellents throughout the growing season.  Spray them starting from the ground and extending up six feet.   Products to consider include Havahart’s Deer Away Big Game Repellent, Deer Off, and Hinder.

13) Sometimes simple home remedies work best.  Homeowners have tried hanging fabric softener sheets or bars of soap from trees or spread rotten egg mixtures around the perimeter.  The key: mix it up until you find the right combination.

14) As annoying as deer can be, NEVER use poisons.

15) Can’t afford a fence; try stringing fishing line around your beds within the deer feeding zone – two to three feet above ground – which confuses them.

16) Don’t have a dog?  Get one.  Their scent and bark are natural deer repellents.

17) Kids love them; deer hate them.   Strategically place motion-activated sprinklers in your yard.  Kids will have lots of fun this summer but deer will be sent running.

18) Deer tend to feast at night because they don’t like bright lights, so install a motion-sensitive flood light.

19) Loud booms and bangs work, but who has time to set off firecrackers every time Bambi appears.  Set a radio to the static between the stations and turn it up.

20) Fill your entire yard with rocks.  (Kidding.  Although some of you have probably considered it after the deer ate everything.)  Double or triple-up on the tips.  Just one of these options won’t do the trick.  A combination of these should begin to deter the deer.

Good luck.  

Invite ‘em in…
There are a number of people who wish to encourage deer to hang out in their yard for either viewing or hunting purposes.   Simply put, do not follow any of the aforementioned tips to keep deer out.   However, there are additional things you can do to invite them in.

1) Plant a food plot full of forage species that are specifically planted for the deer to graze upon.   Consult the internet for a wide array of high-protein crops you can plant.  Try and avoid planting too close to roads, as this will scare the animals.

2) Typically, deer lures are used by hunters during the mating or hunting seasons, but they can also be used by homeowners who simply enjoy watching deer.  Usually, the lures consist of a variety of scents, including urine, pheromones, and/or foods.

3) Deer can’t resist the smell of apples.  Consider planting apple or crab apple trees along the perimeter of your yard.  You can also cut apples in quarters, cores included, and place in a bucket to help draw them onto your property.

4) Place a salt or mineral block on the edge of your property.

5) Try and keep your yard as open and free from obstacles as possible, to allow greater access for the deer.  Also, taller grass is optimal for deer, as it provides a place for them to take cover and offers a food source.

Artillery Fungus

The “artillery” fungus, or “shotgun” fungus (genus sphaerobolus), is a wood-decay fungus that lives and thrives on moist landscape mulch.  When the cells accumulate enough liquid, the cupped cells invert causing the cells to burst and propel the spores as high as 20 feet where they adhere to surfaces such as house siding, cars, plants, or other structures; hence the nickname.  The tiny black spores look like specks of tar on light-colored surfaces and are difficult to remove, often leaving stains.

Unfortunately, no natural mulch can resist the artillery fungus, especially after a really wet spring.  And there’s no way to tell if your mulch is affected until it starts spotting your house.  The only way to eliminate the artillery fungus is to remove the mulch completely.  To get rid of old, infested mulch, place it in a biodegradable bag.  Then, be sure to check with your municipality’s guidelines concerning yard waste disposal.

Homeowners can consider replacing it with stone, artificial mulch, or ground-cover plants.  You can also play it safe by opting for a course, all-bark product, such as wood chips or pine bark nuggets, which are breathable.  Refreshing your mulch every year would be the next best thing to do.

As for removing this nuisance fungus from the siding of your house… it’s not a fun job, and it can be very time-consuming.  The most important part is to get them quick, as they are covered in a sticky substance that will stay on the siding for good if not taken care of in a timely fashion.  As for removal, new vinyl siding that still has an oily residue on it can be power-washed within the first week of seeing the black spots.

In other cases, power-washing will prove unsuccessful.  Scraping the spores off one-by-one with a scraper or steel wool pad is tedious but effective. After that there may still be a stain left behind, which can be taken care of with an ink eraser or possibly bleach. For removing spores off of cars, oil, vinegar, car wax, and/or tree sap remover have worked for people that tested them.

The bottom line is that no organic mulch is completely safe from this pesky “artillery” fungus. If you know that shotgun fungus has been attacking your neighborhood, switching to an alternative in the areas surrounding the house would be the safest choice.

Trough Gardening

We’re seeing container gardening growing more and more popular, especially in urban areas and in apartments and condos, and one of the cooler applications we’ve seen that works as well in the country as it does in the city is trough gardening.

As you may have gathered from the name, trough gardens use animal watering troughs as a container for either part or all of a garden. These vary in size from roughly 2×4 feet for less than $100 to 8 feet and longer for hundreds of dollars. While oblong troughs seem to be the most popular option, several round troughs of different sizes can be stacked to create a unique “wedding cake” design garden. Troughs are available at every farm and feed supply store and can often be found used at farm sales or on craigslist as well.

Trough gardens are a rare combination of practical and unexpected, urban and rural, and industrial and agricultural. The troughs are galvanized steel, giving them an industrial look, but anyone who looks at one will know exactly what it is and know that they’ve seen one on a farm.

Because watering troughs are meant to hold water, they stand up to the elements incredibly well and always look great while being pretty much indestructable. Like most container gardens, they will keep burrowing animals out of your garden (at least from the bottom), and if they are over 3 feet tall, they will also keep rabbits away from your plants.

The rules of regular container gardening apply to trough gardens. Make sure you drill holes for adequate drainage in the bottom of your trough. If you have concerns about pests entering through the holes, it’s a good idea to line the bottom of the trough with a mesh to make it more difficult for them to get in.

Make sure the bottom 3-6 inches of your trough is filled with gravel to ensure adequate drainage. Soil pushing down into drain holes tends to not allow water to flow out. Based on the size of your trough, the depth of soil needed for your desired plants, and if you plan to move the trough, you may want to fill some of the space above the gravel up with a light but neutral substance. Scrap chunks of styrofoam work surprisingly well for this. Make sure your final layer of soil has adequate organic material such as peat moss or compost.

Remember that all container gardens, including troughs, need more careful regulation of moisture than a regular garden in the ground. Check daily to make sure that the soil has adequate water, but at the same time, don’t drown your container. Very few plants enjoy having their roots swim in standing water.

Trough gardening is a great way to create a unique garden in a nearly indestructible container with a wide variety of size options. Follow our tips above, and yours will be in full bloom in no time.

Ah Spring…

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”

[Meditations Divine and Moral]”
― Anne Bradstreet, The Works of Anne Bradstreet

The Great Big Home & Garden Show 2014

Right now is probably the worst time of the year for gardeners. It’s been too cold to garden for months, and it’s going to be another month or two before we can start really getting ready for spring. The good news is that we always have the Great Big Home & Garden Show at the I-X Center to look forward to.

This year, the show runs from February 8th through the 16th, and we can almost guarantee that it will chase away your winter blahs and get you excited to try out some new things in your garden this spring. WIth over 600 exhibitors in once place, you can look for inspiration, talk to experts, and see the wide variety of new and not-so-new products that can make this year’s garden your best garden ever.

We always are excited to check out the featured gardens, and 2014 promises to be no exception with 19 featured gardens with an international theme. You can take a world tour without ever leaving the I-X Center by visiting gardens representing countries as varied Japan, Belgium, the US, and Italy. Many of the featured gardens are paired with local restaurants, making sure all of your senses are well cared for.

As always, there will be an extensive selection of informative and entertaining stage shows (get the schedule here: We’re excited to get inspired by HGTV’s Ahmed Hassan at Noon on Saturday the 8th and Sunday the 9th. Some of the other highlights are “How to Design an Outdoor Living Space” at 4:00 on Wednesday the 12th and Thursday the 13th.

Gardening won’t be the only topic discussed on stage. Several chefs will discuss topics from salad to coffee cakes. Also interesting are several sessions on kitchen design trends and building the perfect kitchen (see the schedule above). We’re looking forward to the Food Network’s Emily Ellyn leading sessions on retro food favorites and leftover makeovers at 1:00 and 4:00 on Saturday the 8th, and 1:00 on Sunday the 9th. Finally, don’t miss the “4 Legged Fashion Show” at 5:00 on Saturday the 15th.

Of course, as far as we’re concerned, the highlight of the entire show is the Three-Z booth (number 512). Make sure you stop by to see how we can help you with the garden of your dreams, have one of our landscaping experts answer your questions, or just stop by to say hi. We love when our friends and clients take the time to talk with us.

See you at the Great Big Home & Garden Show!