Gardening in Rocky Soil

Here in the Blue Ridge, rocky soil is generally unavoidable past a certain altitude. At the bottom of the valley, soil may be softer and more amendable to a wide variety of plants, but up towards craggy mountain peaks, there’s no such luck. Rocky mountain soil can stunt root growth and make it difficult to establish new plants. If you’re an aspiring gardener who happens to live on rocky soil, it’s vital to learn to work with what you have. Luckily, there’s been thousands of years of precedent when it comes to troubleshooting mountain gardens, so there are plenty of tried and true tactics you can start implementing today:

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Tips for Creating Curb Appeal

Have you ever heard the age-old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover”? It’s a nice thought, and, as far as books are concerned, it’s probably true. But, for many other aspects of life, first impressions and appearances are all-too important. When it comes to buying a home for instance, the outside appearance of the house is typically what attracts potential buyers the most. Similarly, businesses use landscaping design and architecture to distinguish themselves from their competitors and bring in more business. The relative attractiveness of a property when viewed from the street is called “curb appeal,” and curb appeal can have an immediate and profound effect on people’s perceptions. Anyone who wants their home or business to stand out should consider the value of curb appeal and design their property accordingly. Landscaping contractors and horticulturist specialize in helping their clients maximize curb appeal through intentional and meticulously planned design. However, even amateur landscapers and gardeners can improve their property’s curb appeal by implementing simple (and inexpensive!) changes. Here are some suggestions to start off with:

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Building A Fairy Garden

According to legend, fairies are harbingers of good luck. In order to harness some of that good luck, people have created a variety of tactics aimed at luring fairies into their homes. Building a fairy garden—a miniature, indoor greenscape complete with small plants and tiny accessories—is one way of attracting fairies that has become a popular pastime among gardeners, even the ones who give no credence to folklore. Why? Well, fairy gardens offer more than just good luck. They also give gardeners a project they can work on year-round that’s fun for the whole family. Building a fairy garden is fairly simple, and there’s tons of tips and tricks available online, including those outlined in this article. The most important thing to remember is that each fairy garden is supposed to be unique to the vision and creativity of the fairy gardener. Almost anything goes—as long as it’s made and tended to with love.

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Best Homegrown Tomato Recipes

Summer’s best reward is fresh fruit and vegetables reaped straight from the garden. Vine-ripened tomatoes are my personal favorite. They strike such a divine balance between sweet and savory, which makes them incredibly versatile–and a great addition to any fresh summer dish! Here are some highly recommended recipes that will let your gardening prowess shine through:

Fresh Tomatoes

Fresh Gazpacho Salsa

This mild, colorful salsa is perfect for highlighting the natural flavor of fresh tomatoes. Dressed with just a touch of vinegar and olive oil and filled with garden vegetables, this dish is a full summer harvest! It goes great with toasted bread, pita, and crackers.

Grilled Tomato and Feta Salad

Have you ever thought to grill a tomato? Grilling fruits and vegetables maintains their firm texture while adding some smoky, caramelized flavor. Grilled tomatoes are particular delicious, especially when paired with feta and fresh greens. And if you’re not a big feta fan, mozzarella works just as well.

Tuna-Stuffed Tomatoes

This healthy, light meal pairs well with a glass of white wine and packs a lot of flavor. The herbed tuna feels fresh and exciting (not watery and bland) and the tomato shell is firm and juicy. I’m not a big pepper fan, so stuffed tomatoes are a delicious alternative.

Tomato and Mozzarella Pasta

Making a homemade tomato sauce seems daunting at first, but the reward is well worth the effort. Homemade sauces are smooth and velvety, and the creaminess of the mozzarella really shines through in this particular recipe.

Tomato Bruschetta

If you’re not whipping up some fresh bruschetta with your vine-ripe tomatoes, I’m not quite sure what you are doing. Bruschetta is the perfect snack spread: juicy, herby, tangy, and not that bad for you, either. I especially love bruschetta with wine or cocktails on a sunny afternoon.

Homemade Bloody Mary

Looking to up your brunch game this summer? All you need is a blender, some vodka, and a whole lot of spices. A good Bloody Mary is the cornerstone of a great brunch party, and nothing makes a Bloody Mary better than some fresh tomatoes (and bacon, don’t forget the bacon).

Cracking Down on Lawn Grubs

Even the name “grub” implies a gross and unwelcome parasite—some slimy thing that wriggles inside shadowy places, just begging to be squished. In the case of lawn grubs, an aggressive and persistent line of defense is necessary to keep your lawn and landscape intact. Lawn grubs—larvae of the Scarab family of beetles—live just underneath the soil, feeding on the roots of turfgrass and other kinds of ornamental plants. They are most active in late July and August, and their voracious appetites can leave your lawn in a state of extreme disrepair. Their constant feeding causes brown patches in grass, spongey lawns, and the sudden death of plants and flowers. Lawn grubs also attract other kinds of animals like skunks, raccoons, and birds to infested yards, which can compound the damage.

Law Grub

To check for grubs, inspect your lawn for telltale signs of grub damage: dead spots, spongey turf, discoloration, and so forth. If you notice anything irregular, check the soil by digging up a 12 inch wide, 3 inch deep plot of dirt. In the upturned dirt, look for white, C-shaped insects. A healthy lawn can tolerate some grub activity—about ten grubs per square foot. If you see more than that, you might have an infestation. Unfortunately, it’s hard to manage a grub infestation after it’s already established itself. For best results, spray a grub control pesticide in late summer when the larvae are close to the surface of the ground feeding on roots. Winter and spring treatments are not as effective because the larvae aren’t feeding as much and so they generally stay farther underground. August is considered the “goldilocks” month for grub control. In August, grubs are not yet fully grown (and thus more vulnerable to pesticides) but they are feeding vigorously right next to plant roots.

In short:

Check or grub activity by regularly inspecting your lawn and soil.

Spray to prevent infestations, not to treat them.

Spray in August for the best results.

August Landscaping Checklist

August often seems like summer’s end. The school year starts up again, many industries begin their fall busy season, and grocery stores and retail outlets start stocking their shelves high with “fall essentials.” How long until Starbucks brings back their “Pumpkin Spice Latte?” And when does it become acceptable for homeowners to start putting out Halloween decorations? In truth, Autumn is on the horizon, but August isn’t quite a transitional month. In Southwest Virginia, we are still in the dog days of summer; for the next six weeks or more, we’ll likely continue to garden and landscape in scorching heat, drought, and sun. Our plants and yards need continuous protection from the extreme weather that’s yet to come, but it’s also not a bad idea to start preparing your garden for the end of summer before it sneaks up on us. Here are some August landscaping and gardening tips that provide a balance of future-preparedness and present-prevention:

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Greening Up Your Office

Office work is notoriously dull and colorless. When I think of the quintessential office job, I think off the bleach-white cubicles and tetchy copying machines from the 1999 classic blockbuster Office Space. However, for most of us, smashing our printers with baseball bats or embezzling millions is not a viable way of shaking up our boring office routines. A simpler (and less illegal) solution may be to change our office environment: add some color, some personality, and some life to cut through the tedium. Of course, a finely potted plant could never fix the fundamental discontent that comes with having a dead-end job, but, for those of us who manage to stand our jobs most of the time, some green energy can certainly inspire creative thought and heightened productivity. Perhaps that’s why office plants are an increasingly popular addition to cubicles and desks everywhere.

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Water-Saving Landscaping Tips

Though the weather as of late has been hot and wet, droughts are not uncommon during the mid to late summer months. A few weeks without consistent rain can mean disaster for your landscape, especially as daytime temperatures climb into the 90s. That’s why many homeowners chose to install irrigation systems that automatically correct for inconsistent weather and keep grass and plants watered no matter what’s in the forecast. However, it’s no secret that irrigation system hike up water bills. Even manual lawn maintenance gets expensive this time of year. For some, steep water bills make a green summer landscape seem completely unattainable. However, some industriousness and creativity on the side of the homeowner can make all kinds of seemingly impossible feats possible. To help, we’ve created this guide of tips for price-conscious homeowners (or environmentally-conscious landscapers) on how to cut down water usage (and water bills) while still being able to maintain a manicured lawn. Try several of these tips at once for best results. They won’t eliminate your water bill completely, but a few small changes can go a long way in landscaping:

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Keeping Your Property Safe from Fireworks

Though Independence Day was one week ago, the reverberating celebrations can still be heard throughout the valley. In fact, the entire month of July could effectively be dubbed Firework Season, because the same phenomenon seems to happen every year: Folks go to Walmart or some other firework distributor in the weeks leading up to Independence Day and, in their patriotic excitement, buy enough colorful dynamite to take down a skyscraper. Thus, for the entirety of the month of July, a loud processional of firework detonations can be heard most every night, somewhere. After all, one can’t let hundreds of dollars of fireworks simply go to waste. It would be un-American.

For that reason, it’s imperative that fire-safety procedures continue to be put into practice long after The 4th of July has passed. Unfortunately, July in Southwest Virginia tends to be hot, dry, and very flammable. One ill-fated spark could easily set an entire landscape aflame. Luckily, there are several ways to prevent these kinds of disasters from occurring, and they can be utilized year-round:


Photo by Kevin Muncie.

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Tips from Mark Burton: Soil Conditioners

Here in Southwest Virginia, thick and compact clay soil dominates yards and gardens. Clay soil, while amendable to many native species of plants, can give gardeners and landscapers trouble when it comes to adding new plantings. Clay drains slowly, has trouble absorbing water and nutrients, and it becomes compacted more quickly than looser soil. That’s why soil conditioners like compost and fertilizer are so essential to healthy, green lawns and gardens. Without them, we probably wouldn’t be able to grow many of the plants and grasses we see on a daily basis.

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