Helleborus are long-lived and very tough perennials that bloom with big, beautiful flowers in the winter. Also called “Lenten Roses”, they are known for being the first plant to do much of anything in the very early spring or, in some areas, the middle of winter. Yes, often even before spring flowering bulbs. Hellebores are quick to send up thick stalks and bloom when the days start to get longer and the sun barely warms the soil. Blooms will last a long time too – often a couple of months. Cultivars offer blooms from white to almost black, and every color and many pretty patterns in between. Their foliage stays evergreen. They do well in shade and don’t get big. People who have added hellebores to their gardens quickly fall in love with them and are often the beginnings of garden plant collections!

Most garden zones of 5 to 8 and are able to enjoy the full range of available hellebore cultivars. The best types for temperate gardens are the hybrid types, which come in most of the colors and forms that you see. More northern climates are limited to the species ‘helleborus niger’ which are generally white-blooming, but they are still lovely. Hellebores pair lovely in the shade garden with other typical shade plants, like astilbe and hosta.

Helleborus originate from Asia and Europe and have been in cultivation for a long time. Lots of myths and stories originate from these plants, centering on their toxicity. It used to be associated with witchcraft and was sometimes used during ancient Greek times as a cure for insanity. The plant itself is not palatable, but when planted in the garden great care should be taken to make sure kids and pets don’t eat it.

Hellebores aren’t necessarily new. Gardeners who enjoy branching out from the normal selections often have groups of hellebores in their gardens- but they’re not very common in most landscapes. Thankfully, we are carrying the best performing and beautiful hellebore cultivars now priced affordably so they can be planted in a wider range of gardens.

Effects of Winter on Outdoor Furniture

When considering the purchase of your furniture collections, it is in your best interest to weigh the pros and cons of each type of material used in the manufacturing process. Some may work better in wind and rain while others may be meant for sunshine and heat.

All commercial grade furniture is designed for constant use and, to some degree, built to withstand the elements. However, as with other purchases, some materials are more resilient than others. Metal, for example, is arguably the longest-lasting and most durable material used for outdoor furniture. With this being said, it is important to note that proper care and maintenance of your furniture will prolong its lifespan, no matter the material.

On a year round basis, all furniture pieces should be cleaned thoroughly each changing of the season. While there are special cleaning solutions available (i.e. Casual Clean), in most cases a mild detergent and water mixture can effectively be used. For a more detailed cleaning process, contact your commercial grade outdoor furniture representative. He/She should be able to send you step by step instructions.

If your establishment is in an area that experiences harsh winters, packing away your outdoor furnishings is a better option. Before this is done, some additional inspecting should be performed to prevent rusting and unnecessary cracking while in storage. For example, ensuring that water does not find a permanent home in the frames of your chaise lounges and poolside dining furniture. Unless they will be stored in a heated room, water left in the frames will freeze causing irreversible damage.

Rain water during the warmer months can gather inside your furniture. Once this water freezes, it will expand causing the frames to crack. Periodically, especially after major down pours, turning your furniture on its side will help the water drain.

When choosing from all the weather resistant material options keep in mind the climate, both warm and cold. Some furniture is manufactured to be set outside and left alone while others will not survive the winter. Make sure your commercial grade furnishings representative is aware of the climate in your area. This will help to make sure you are being paired up with the right commercial grade outdoor furniture.

Paving Tiles for Swimming Pool Areas

Modern tiles are often geometric and symmetrical or the style has been exaggerated with asymmetrical tiles (different size triangles).

Travertine is a good example of how different shapes can be used to keep the backyard up to date around the pool. The tile comes in many different colours and is able to withstand weather change. The material is also able to absorb water allowing you to walk comfortably without slipping.

Limestone tiles have become common with home improvement and renovations. Not only does the paving tile neaten up the area around the pool but it can also resist different climate changes. Because it has a light appearance, it fits the modern profile.

Modern themes often work for any style house. The modern flair is flexible for most uses whether you have a geometric fountain in the front or a garden full of trees surrounding the pool.

The classic pools have more of a rough layout. Although rough, the area still looks good with its different sized stones and paving tiles. You will often find this look at water resorts for the cave concepts.

Flagstone has a natural appearance with its many shapes and natural colours. The paving tile is slip resistant and can be exposed to any temperatures. For this reason the flagstone tiles can be used for a long period of time.

Slate, which is similar to flagstone, is older and heavier than most tiles. Due to the materials it is composed of, it can be cut into any shape and is very easy to install around the pool. The material also comes in different colours to match the idea you have in mind.

Many classier tiles are made from the same materials as slate and flagstone. This would be the ultimate material to use for the exact picture you have in mind for the older and natural look.

Keys to Successful Vegetable Gardening in Alabama

Alabama Planting Zones

Alabama has three plant hardiness zones. They are zones 7, 8 and 9. This means lows of 0 – 30 degrees F at night. It’s important to plant the right plants in the zone you are in if you want a flourishing garden.

Frost Dates

It’s also important to know the last frost date and the first frost date. Warm weather crops like tomatoes can’t go out in the garden until the last frost date. Dates can vary by city, but the earliest frost date for Alabama is around March 21st. The last frost date starts around 10/7, but for many areas is later in October.

Know Your Soil

Fall is the time to start working compost, leaves, and other natural soil enhancers into your garden area. Have your soil tested to see what the pH balance is. Find your local Alabama extension office number and arrange to have your soil tested. You can get kits that will allow you to test it yourself. The soil pH should be around 6.0 to 6.5. Once you know the pH of the soil, then you can add the correct amount of lime or fertilizer to balance things out.

Vegetables That Grow Well

In Alabama, you can grow a wide variety of vegetables. The long, hot days are perfect for vegetables like tomatoes that need a longer growing season. Be sure to choose varieties that are heat resistant and resistant to local pests. All this information will be on the seed packet or in the seed catalog.

Here are vegetables that do very well in Alabama:

  • Radishes – Plant in early spring and again in the fall. Best choices – Cherry Belle, Icicle or Scarlet.
  • Tomatoes – Plant in April and again in July. Best choices – Atkinson, April
  • Celebrity, Better Boy, Big Beef, Husky Gold, Monte Carlo, Small Fry or Sweet Chelsea.

  • Peppers – Plant in April and again in July. Best choices are cayenne, habanero or jalapeno for hot varieties. Sweet varieties choose any banana or bell.
  • Potatoes – Plant in February and again in August. Best choices are Sebago, Red Pontiac, Red LaSoda or Superior.
  • Peas – Plant in February. Best choices Arrow or English.
  • Green Beans – Best choices – Contender, Derby or Green Crop.
  • Pole Beans – Best choices – Kentucky Wonder, Kentucky Blue or Dade.
  • Lima Beans – Best choices – King of the Garden.
  • Oriental Cabbages – Plant in July. Best choices – Bok Choi, Michihli, Napa or Pak Choi.
  • Collard Greens – Plant in July – Best choices are Top Bunch or Champion.
  • Spinach – Plant February – September. Best choice is Bloomsdale Longstanding
  • Mustard Greens – Plant February – August. Best choices – Red Giant or Florida Broadleaf.
  • Okra – Plant April through June. Best choices – Clemson Spineless, Emerald Lee or Burgundy.
  • Squash – Plant April and again in August. Best choices – any summer squash. Winter varieties choose acorn, butternut and spaghetti squash.

Pests To Watch Out For

Healthy soil can help keep pests away, but every garden has to deal with them. Some of the ones you will see in your Alabama garden include slugs, cutworms, wireworms, white grubs (Japanese and other beetles when mature), aphids, asparagus beetles, squash bugs, and weevils. You’ll need to hand remove pests such as slugs and beetles. Check your local nursery for what insecticides work best for the insects in your area.

Blossom-End Rot Disease

Although the disease does not spread from plant to plant, it is dependent on environmental conditions. As a physiological condition, neither fungicides nor insecticides will control this disease. However, environmental conditions can eliminate the condition:

  • Consistent water and calcium intake, and avoiding drought conditions.
  • Do not cultivate close to the roots, since destroying their root systems limits the roots’ ability to supply adequate water and nutrients to the plant resulting in Blossom-End Rot.
  • Excessive soluble salt which causes a decrease in the availability of calcium as salt increases.

Factors that can limit a plant’s ability to absorb calcium required for proper growth include fluctuations in moisture (either too wet or too dry), an excess of nitrogen in the soil, root damage during cultivation, and a soil pH that’s too high or low, or cold soil and soil high in salts.

To reduce risk of Blossom-End Rot:

  • Plant in well-drained, adequately aerated soil.
  • Maintain adequate soil water, at least 1-2 times a week during dry spells to a depth of 6 inches. Tomato plants need about 1.5 inches of water per week when growing fruit.
  • Always ensure the soil is warm enough prior to planting, to reduce nutrient loss.
  • Using fertilizers that are low in nitrogen and high in phosphorous provide the nutrients needed for proper growth. A fertilizer high in superphosphate, such as 4-12-4 or 5-2-50. However, applying too much fertilizer can cause the plant to grow too fast inhibiting the calcium from moving through the plant quickly enough.
  • Watering cones can be used to ensure water reaches the roots.
  • Applying mulch minimizes evaporation and helps maintain consistent soil moisture.

Innovations in Gardening Retail

Self-Watering Containers

Watering is one of those tasks that a gardener cannot neglect when healthy plants are the goal. Instead of trying to remember to keep the soil moist, special self-watering containers can now take care of this task for you. The planters themselves are stylish and attractive, fitting in virtually any growing area. They are ideal for holding either flowers or vegetables, and many even have an integrated trellis for climbing vegetation. After filling the container with soil and plants, simply fill the self-watering reservoir with water. The reservoir will release moisture slowly and evenly to keep the soil perfectly moist at all times. Plants will usually thrive when they receive this perfect level of moisture, and you can cross the watering off your to-do list. Explore a gardening retail center to find containers in different sizes and styles to fit any space and fulfill any need. Many are available in cedar and metal, and they often have additional shelves for storing tools.

Vegetation Monitor

Take the guesswork out of determining how and when to water plants by using a plant monitor. This ingenious device has a wireless sensor that will keep track of moisture levels in the soil, as well as a plant’s temperature, fertilizer, and light needs. The sensor will even take the monitoring a step further by sending reports directly to a smartphone or another mobile device, enabling you to provide the perfect amount of water, light, or fertilizer for a plant.

Garden Camera

Anyone who has struggled with yard damage from animals or insects will want to know the exact cause of the destruction. While camping out in the flowerbed is an option, there is an easier alternative. Installing a garden camera amongst the flowers or vegetables will enable you to record all the activity that occurs in a landscape. This camera takes pictures at varying intervals, as frequently as every minute. Situate the camera where it will have a full scope of the area. After reviewing the footage, you might just catch the culprits that are damaging your plants.

Realistic Garden Owl

Placing an owl decoy in a garden is not a new tactic; however, pests often catch on and stop fearing a decoy that never moves or makes any sounds. In contrast, an electronic owl will perch in a landscape to scare off critters that threaten flower and vegetable beds. This type of owl actually moves and makes realistic noises in response to special sensors that detect movement. The owl will turn its head in the direction of the movement and make frightening hoots to scare away little rodents.

Transplanting Native Plants

The key to successfully moving native plants is Root Pruning. To root prune, means to cut all roots with a Sharp Spade or it may be called a Sharp Shooter. Go out from the trunk one foot for each inch diameter of the trunk before you start cutting the roots. (Example 5 ft. Tree-16 to 18″ inch ball)

Staying out the right distance from the trunk as described above. Force the spade into the ground all the way around the plant. Try to uncut the plant so all of the roots are cut and lift slight. Drop the plant back into position, firm the soil and keep watered during the summer months.

If you want to move your native plant in late fall, root prune in early spring. Likewise, if you intend to move the plant in early spring, root prune the previous fall.

Please note, also, that when you move a plant from the wild to a cultivated area of your lawn, you may be changing its environment to such an extent that the plant will die. Here’s an example, if you move a plant from a dense shaded area to the sunlit part of your yard, the tree may die through over exposure even the bark of the tree may have to be protected by using a tree wrap.

When digging the plant from the ground, dig the soil from around the roots without completely exposing them. Remember the more roots you can save the better chance of success. Any extra soil left on the roots will help to retain the fine hair roots which absorb moisture and nutrients from the soil.

Evergreen must have a root ball with lots of soil when moving. I have had many clients during a rejuvenation of their yard, wanted to transplant plants that were not worth keeping. If you have special memories about a plant that is OK, just remember that the cost of moving the plant may be far above what a new beautiful plant would cost and it may or may not fit into the new landscape design.

Maintain Outdoor Wicker Patio Furniture

  • Vacuum the different pieces thoroughly to remove any dust and debris. Dust and other particles can easily get caught in the cracks and grooves of the weave.
  • If the pieces are extra dirty, give them a quick wipe with some water and a mild detergent. Be sure to let them dry completely before sitting down. Wet wicker furniture can become saggy if it is used while it is still damp. Allow it to sit in full sunlight for at least a day so it can dry completely.
  • Another method to clean soiled sets is to spray it down with a garden hose. However, do not use too much pressure. High water pressure can damage the integrity of the material.
  • Sometimes, painted sets need to be touched up. Purchase some spray paint in the same shade as the set and touch up any areas that need attention. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s recommendations on the type of spray paint needed for the particular model of furniture.
  • To prevent any damage or dirt from accumulating, consider storing the different pieces away during cold weather. This will prevent any build up of winter precipitation and debris.
  • Be sure to dust away any pollen as it begins to accumulate. It not only builds upon the fabric and wicker, but it also contributes to allergies.

There are several ways to properly maintain the integrity of these pieces in between cleanings. First, monitor the weather. If it is going to be extremely hot, cold, or rainy, consider covering it or even moving it to a more protective area. Warm weather can cause the material to bend and sag while cold weather causes it to become brittle and easily damaged.

Make Greenhouse More Efficient

Evaluate the Structure

The second step in creating an efficient greenhouse is to evaluate the structure as a whole. This is especially important if you are focusing on climate control. Cool air or warm air has the potential to escape the greenhouse easily. If you are trying to maintain a certain temperature within the greenhouse, you should understand that the losses that you experience will vary depending upon the covering of the structure, as well as the age of the unit. If you are interested in heating the structure efficiently, you should consider using a covering composed of double polyethylene – which has the potential to reduce your heating costs by up to 50%. If you operate a glass greenhouse, you should consider retrofitting the structure with a double layer of polyethylene – which could reduce costs up to 60%.

Eliminate Air Leaks

In order to ensure that your greenhouse is running optimally in the area of efficiency, it is imperative that you work to eliminate any and all air leaks associated with the structure. The main place that you should start is the door or doors of the structure. It is best to utilize a special door closing unit or even to install springs on the doors so that air does not escape the unit. You should also place weather stripping around the openings of the unit – such as the doors, windows and vent units. The stripping should also be placed around openings that are near fans. If you find holes in the siding or foundation of your greenhouse, these should be repaired immediately.

Double the Covering

If you want to enhance the efficiency of your greenhouse, you should focus on doubling the covering of the structure. One of the most effective and least expensive methods of doing this is to line the inside walls of the structure with bubble wrap. This provides what is referred to as a “Thermopane Effect” within the unit – which enhances the insulation within the building. If you have an older structure, simply throw a double layer of plastic over the unit so that infiltration is reduced and the loss of heat is reduced by up to 50%.

Implement a Conserving Curtain

If you want an efficient greenhouse, you should consider implementing a conserving thermal curtain. These products will produce savings anywhere from 20% to 50%. If the cost of the curtain averages around $2.50 for each square foot, you will start to experience payback within a period of two years. If it costs less, you will experience payback sooner.

Install Insulation at the Foundation

In order to reduce the efficiency of your greenhouse, you should take the time to insulate the foundation of the unit. It is best to use board that is constructed of polyurethane or of polystyrene. The board should have a thickness of one to two inches and should be placed approximately eighteen inches beneath the ground so that it assists in reducing loss of heat. By doing this, the soil that is located on the region near the sides of the structure will increase up to a total of ten degrees in the winter months.

Install Insulation at the Heat Pipes

If you are interested in increasing the amount of heat that is contained within your greenhouse, you should insulate the area behind your heating pipes. However, it is best to use building paper that has an aluminum face as this will assist in radiating the heat from the pipes back into the cultivation region of your greenhouse.

Consider the Location of Your Structure

In order to reduce the energy consumption of your greenhouse, you should place the structure in an area that is surrounded by trees and/or other types of structures. A lot of heat loss that occurs with growth structures is a result of the wind that the unit is subjected to over time. If you choose to place the building in an area that is sheltered, it is important to ensure that the building still receives the right amount of light so that the crops will continue to grow appropriately.

Place Windbreaks Around the Unit

The next step to optimizing the energy efficiency of a greenhouse is to place windbreaks on the north side of the building, as well as the northwest side of the structure. You could place multiple conifer trees or even a snow fence composed of plastic in these regions. This will reduce the amount of heat that is lost due to wind exposure.

Creating Hedge With Arborvitae

Arborvitae is one of the best trees for creating a hedge. They can grow up to 60 feet tall, with a width of from 2 to 15 feet.

This North American native tree has year-round thick, dark green foliage. The tree’s leaves, which were once used as a cure for rheumatism, have a scale-like appearance.

Types of arborvitae include the eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis), the emerald green arborvitae and golden globe arborvitae.

Emerald green arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis “Emerald Green”) grows up to 15 feet tall with a width of 3 to 4 feet. The tree is extremely hardy and can be found in abundance throughout the Pacific Northwest. It is one of the most popular fast growing privacy trees for screens and hedges. The dark green tree has a somewhat round shape. Without pruning, the tree will grow tall with a cylindrical shape. The tree will be bushier when pruned. Use preventative spraying to prevent spider mite infestations. Once the tree has been established, it will grow approximately 6 to 9 inches a year.

The arborvitae grows well in full sun, but can also tolerate some shade. The tree does best in mostly well-drained soil. They grow fairly easily, some faster than others.

When using arborvitae for a hedge, make sure they have enough space to grow. If you plant them too close to each other, they will compete for soil minerals and nutrients.

Recently planted trees should be watered for the first year or two. During a hot summer, use a soaker hose or drip system on a timer to deep soak the tree every day for 15 minutes or so. Mulching will help the tree retain moisture. Once the tree matures, it will no longer require watering.

In order to maintain its shape, the arborvitae will sometimes need a pruning. Remove any dead growth and cut back branches as needed. Remove any dead foliage that has built up inside the tree, especially near the bottom. Be careful not to over-prune or ruin any pointed tops.

You can prune the tree in the fall or winter. However, a spring pruning is usually recommended to ensure the tree heals and continues to grow. If the tree is pruned in the summer, the tips of the branches can turn brown.

The arborvitae can live up to 150 years. In colder climates, covering the tree with burlap can protect it from the elements and prevent foraging. Another option is netting, which prevents mold by allowing air to circulate. The best netting is a heavy duty, multi-strand mesh. In addition to UV protection, the green color of the netting will blend in with the tree.

If you do not cover your trees, remove any snow from the branches to prevent breakage.