Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Natural Cheap Fertilizer Recipes

BANANA PEELS  –  Eating a banana helps replenish lost potassium. Roses love potassium too. Simply throw one or two peels in the hole before planting or bury peels under mulch so they can compost naturally. Get bigger and more blooms. I also use banana peels on my vegetables.
COFFEE GROUNDS  – Acid-loving plants such as tomatoes, blueberries, roses and azaleas may get a jolt out of coffee grounds mixed into the soil. But more likely it’s the nitrogen that helps. Sprinkled on top of the ground before watering or pour a liquid version on top of the soil. If using as a soil drench, soak 6 cups of coffee grounds in a 5 gallon bucket of water. Let it sit for 2-3 days and then saturate the soil around your plants.
EGG SHELLS  – Wash them first, then crush. Work the shell pieces into the soil near tomatoes and peppers. The calcium helps fend off blossom end rot. Eggshells are 93% calcium carbonate, the same ingredient as lime, a tried and true soil amendment! I use eggshells in my homemade potting mix. This gives me healthy, beautiful fruits fit for seed saving.
SEAWEED – Fresh seaweed does not need to be washed before use to remove salt. . See examples. Asian markets sell dried seaweed. Both fresh and dried versions are considered excellent soil amendments. Seaweed contains trace elements and actually serves as a food source for soil microbes. Chop up a small bucket of seaweed and add it to 5 gallons of water.  Let it sit for 2-3 weeks loosely covered. Use it to drench the soil and foliage. 2 cups work well for a small plant, 4 cups for a medium plants and 6 cups for a large plant. Experiment with amounts. Combine seaweed with other tea fertilizers.
WEEDS  – You’ve got your own fertilizer growing under your feet!  Nettles, comfrey, yellow dock, burdock, horsetail and chickweed make wonderful homemade fertilizer. There are several ways you can use them to make your own brew or to speed up your compost pile. If your weeds have not gone to flower you can dry them in the sun and chop them up to use as a mulch. They are high in nitrogen and won’t rob your plants of nutrients. Borage (starflower) is an herb but for some people it’s a weed. It has many of the same nutritional properties as comfrey. I dry the entire plant, root and all, and put it in my compost tumbler. It helps break everything down and gives the pile and extra dose of heat. Some folks let the weeds soak for many days. For an extended brew, get out the bucket and your bandana! The bandana you’ll need for your nose because this technique gets stinky! I’m not a fan of fermented fertilizers but if you want to take the “putrid plunge” place a bunch of weed leaves and roots in a 5 gallon bucket. Weigh down the leaves with a brick to ensure the plant matter is covered and add water to cover. Stir weekly and wait 3-5 weeks for the contents to get thick an gooey. Then use that goo, diluted 1:10 or more as a soil drench fertilizer. To make it even more convenient, you can use two buckets and make a hole in the bottom of the bucket that contains the plants. The goo will seep through to the lower bucket.  It’s always best to apply the liquid fertilizer diluted – it should look like weak tea.
MOLASSES – Using molasses in compost tea supposedly increases microbes and the beneficial bacteria that microbes feed on. If you want to start out with a simple recipe for molasses fertilizer, mix 1-3 tablespoons of molasses into a gallon of water. Water your plants with this concoction and watch them grow bigger and healthier.
HUMAN URINE – Sounds disgusting, but urine is considered sterile if the body it’s coming from is healthy and free of viruses and infection. High in nitrogen, urea contains more phosphorous and potassium than many of the fertilizers we buy at the store! If serving tomatoes that have been fertilized with pee gives you the “willies”, try it in the compost pile. A good ratio of urine to water would be 1:8. You can collect a cup of urine and pour it into 8 cups of water in a plastic bucket used outside for fertilizing plants. Pour 2 cups around the perimeter of each SMALL plant. For MEDIUM plants add 4 cups and LARGE plants deserve a good 6 cups of your personal home brew.
GRASS CLIPPINGS – Rich in nitrogen, grass breaks down over time and enhances the soil. Fill a 5 gallon bucket full of grass clippings. You can even add weeds! Weeds soak up nutrients from the soil just as much as grass. Add water to the top of the bucket and let sit for a day or two. Dilute your grass tea by mixing 1 cup of liquid grass into 10 cups of water. Apply to the base of plants using the same amounts as listed above in the urine recipe.
MANURE – With a little effort, you’ll find folks that are giving away composted chicken, horse or cow manure for free. Composted and aged manure is best.Add the composted manure to a small permeable bag made from recycled cloth, e.g., a t-shirt or old towel. Let it steep in the shade for a few days and apply it to your soil to condition it before planting. Bury or discard the used bag. Some people use manure tea to soak bare root roses!
CAT AND DOG FOOD – Depending on the dog food you recycle, this soil amendment may not be organic.  However, even the cheap stuff contains protein and micro-nutrients that benefit the soil. To prepare a garden plot for planting, sprinkle dry pet food on the bed, turn the soil and water. Let it decay naturally. To discourage wildlife from visiting for a snack, cover with cardboard until the food decomposes. The cardboard will also trap moisture and discourage weeds. Make sure the cardboard get wet all the way through and cover with mulch. Water thoroughly every week for four weeks. Soybean meal and alfalfa pellets from the grain store work great too. Sometimes grain stores will sell for cheap or give away spoiled grains. Check the feed for salt content and try not to add pet or animal food considered high in sodium. The AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) recommends dry dog food contain a minimum of 3% sodium to support normal growth and development.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Phlox paniculata

Common Names: garden phlox, summer phlox
Family: Acanthaceae (acanthus Family)

Garden phlox is an herbaceous perennial that returns consistently year after year from a thickened root stock. It gets as large as 4 ft (1.2 m) tall, with thin, finely toothed ovate or elliptic leaves 2-5 in (5-13 cm) long. The inflorescence is a large pyramidal cyme to 8 in (20 cm) across of salverform flowers, each about one inch (2.5 cm) across. (Cyme: a branched flower cluster; Salverform: a flower with a long tube that expands into flat petal-like lobes.) Phlox flowers have five lobes. The flowers are fragrant and their color varies from white to lavender in wild plants, with other colors available among the many named cultivars. Garden phlox has a long blooming period from early summer well into autumn.

The wild form of Phlox paniculata grows naturally in the eastern U.S. from Wisconsin and Ontario, west to Missouri and Arkansas and thence south to eastern Texas and central Georgia. This pretty native occurs sporadically on rich, moist soils along stream banks and in open woods. There are hundreds of cultivars hybridized and selected for flower color, size and fragrance.

Taller cultivars may have to be staked. Good ventilation helps prevent foliage diseases.
Light: Grow in full sun to partial shade.
Moisture: Garden phlox does best in fertile, moist but not soggy, soil. Garden phlox is susceptible to powdery mildew, so water in the morning so the foliage can dry out quickly, or better yet, just water the ground around the plant, and not the leaves.
Propagation: Garden phlox may be propagated by root cuttings or dividing the offshoots. Softwood stem cuttings (before flower buds form in spring) are easy to root.

Garden phlox is a very popular perennial for borders and beds. Its robust, upright habit, long blooming period, and colorful flowers ensure that it never goes unnoticed. Deadhead to encourage constant flowering. The wild species, Phlox paniculata, is seldom found in cultivation. However there are hundreds of cultivars to choose from, including those with white, pink, salmon, scarlet, purple and lavender flowers, and some with variegated foliage. Some get up to 4 ft (1.2 m) tall, and others stay under 2 ft (60 cm). 'David' is a white flowered form that is especially resistant to powdery mildew.

So many of our horticultural garden flowers are originally from the Old World, that it is nice to have the phloxes: true North American natives. Among the more than 70 species in the genus, at least 16 have been brought under cultivation. The group includes mat and cushion forming creepers suitable for rock gardens; delicate woodland herbs for shady naturalistic settings; dainty annuals for bedding; and robust perennials for borders and the cutting garden. Phlox drummondii is a colorful annual that is often planted (and grows there by itself!) along highways.

Garden Pond Maintenance

Some ponds are never cleaned and the ponds and its occupants survive very well. However, a large number of ponds are created with high fish densities or are built in locations were the pond receives a great deal of debris over the year. Even if you start out with just a few fish initially, in a healthy pond they will breed to the point that the number of fish will push the environmental limits of your pond and biofilter. The debris may be the result of leaves blowing into the pond, the die-back of vegetative pond plants as well as fish wastes. It is these latter types of conditions that will necessitate you cleaning the pond eventually. The two most likely time points for cleaning are in the fall, to reduce the amount of accumulated muck on the bottom of the pond as you head into winter, or in the spring to remove material accumulated over the winter from leaves blowing into the pond, accumulated fish waste or catkins and similar materials shed by trees as they leaf out. Cleaning in the fall reduces wastes in the bottom of the pond which may turn anaerobic if sufficient oxygen is not available, creating a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, or which may decompose, releasing ammonia and other dangerous chemicals that can be trapped under the ice. The build-up of these pollutants can lead to fish kills over the winter months. While keeping a hole in the ice over winter will help alleviate the accumulation of gases, cleaning the pond before winter sets in will reduce the overall potential for problems. Cleaning the pond in the spring may help reduce diseases and parasites that often occur as the pond and its biology warms up for the summer, as well as reduce the overall availability of nutrients that stimulate algae growth. The following are a few approaches that have been successfully used to clean the pond.

1. If the pond has a bottom drain periodic changes of water (typically 10% per week) have been used to evacuate the accumulated debris from the bottom of the pond. This simple approach minimizes the amount of material that is removed at any one time as well as adds water to the pond on a periodic basis. Care must be taken when adding water to be sure that you have minimized the addition of chlorine and chloramines typically present in many municipal water supplies. This can be done either by pre-treating the water with dechlorination agents or by using a whole-house water filter with an activated carbon cartridge.

2. Using a net such as used in swimming pools is helpful for cleaning out large materials that have settled to the bottom of the pond. However, if there is a very large amount of debris in the pond you should be careful to either remove the fish or use supplemental aeration to avoid creating significant oxygen deprivation due to stirring up anaerobic or large amounts of oxygen-consuming muck. If you notice a rotten egg smell this indicates the presence of hydrogen sulfide. You should immediately stop stirring up the bottom and get the fish out of the water as soon as possible before continuing with the cleaning.

3. You can use a variety of devices for vacuuming the bottom of the pond. Some of these use a garden hose to create a suction through a venturi device. The potential problem with these devices is that the pond may fill up with too much water during a prolonged vacuuming and you may have a potential problem of adding chlorine and chloramines to your pond if you do not pretreat the water. Wet/dry shop vacs, specially those with an attachment for a garden hose to provide a continuous drain, have also been used. These devices may drain a large amount of water from the pond in a short time and therefore it is necessary to either replace the water or use the garden hose to add the water back into the pond through the biofilter. Care must be exercised in reintroducing water taken from the bottom of the pond in that it may be depleted of oxygen as well as have very high suspended sediment levels that may create problems for the fish. A third approach is to use a pump capable of handling a moderate level of solids (such as a sump pump) to pull water from the bottom of the pond and pass it through a device to strain out the majority of the solids and then recirculate the water back into the pond. Filtering materials such as old sweaters, panty hose, etc. have all been used with some success in this approach.
In any of these approaches, if using an electrically powered device running on house voltage make sure that you have it plugged into a GFI protected circuit for your own safety. 

Your Garden’s Soil pH Matters

To ensure that your garden crops make the most of the rich, organic soil you create, you need to understand your soil’s pH. The pH describes the relative acidity or alkalinity of your soil’s makeup, and it has important implications for plant health and growth. Soil pH impacts beneficial fungi and bacteria in the soil and influences whether essential minerals are available for uptake by plant roots.

What Is Soil pH?

A solution’s pH is a numerical rating of its acidity or alkalinity. All pH is measured on a logarithmic scale from zero (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline, or basic); 7.0 is neutral. The pH scale is used by chemists to measure the concentration of reactive hydrogen ions (H+) in a solution.

Most food crops prefer a pH of 6.0 to 6.5, but you can have a productive food garden as long as your pH is about 5.5 to 7.5 (see chart in slideshow). A difference of just 0.5 may not seem like much, but the pH scale is logarithmic, which means, for example, a pH of 7.0 is actually 10 times less acidic than a pH of 6.0. Potatoes and most berries, which grow best in more acidic soil, are the main exceptions to the average preferred pH range.

A soil’s pH results from interactions among native rocks, plants and weather conditions over many years, and it varies with climate and physical surroundings. In moist climates that support dense forests, such as those east of the Mississippi River and along the Pacific Coast, soil tends to be acidic, with pH ratings usually between 4.0 and 5.5. The grasslands of the comparatively dry Midwest often have slightly acidic soil (6.0 to 6.5), while most arid regions, such as the Rocky Mountains, are dominated by alkaline soil (7.0 to 7.8). Local differences in rock can cause huge variations within these general patterns, however — for example, when weathered limestone creates alkaline patches in otherwise acidic landscapes, or when elevation leads to more or less rainfall. Plus, soil is often severely disturbed during construction, and sometimes native topsoil is completely lost.

Some synthetic chemical fertilizers — mainly those high in ammonium or sulfur — can make soil more acidic, as can tillage methods that reduce soil’s levels of organic matter. Acid rain caused by air pollution from coal combustion began to acidify streams and soil during the late 1800s, and continues to push soil in some regions into the acidic range every time it rains. In addition to outside influences, some types of organic matter, such as peat moss and pine needles, acidify naturally during decomposition.

Alkaline soil occurs naturally in places where soil is formed from limestone or other calcium-rich minerals, and high water-evaporation rates common in arid climates aggravate the problem by loading the topsoil with accumulated salts. Many garden plants can still thrive when grown in alkaline soil that has been generously enriched with organic matter, which also improves the soil’s ability to retain water. Mulches also will slow the buildup of salts in plants’ root zones by reducing the amount of surface evaporation.

Friday, December 26, 2014

How to Maintain a Lawn Mower

Regular routine maintenance is an important part of caring for your lawnmower
you will improve your lawn mower's performance and extend its life. However, there's no need for you to go to a mechanic every time your lawnmower rumbles strangely. Learn how to fix it yourself! All you should need are some basic tools and some elbow grease.

1-Prior to starting, do a close visual inspection, cleaning out any debris, then:
Tighten or replace any loose nuts / bolts.
Sand, prime and paint rusted structural parts.
Replace or coat any bare or frayed wiring connections.

2-Remove the spark plug lead from the spark plug and move it away from cylinder head. Always do this before attempting any repairs to a lawnmower that require turning the engine.

3-Position your mower. Tip it with care. There is no one rule fits all for tipping two or four stroke engines.
It is best not to tip, but if you do you should remove the air filter so that it does not become saturated with oil or gas and be prepared for oil and or gasoline spillage! Most mowers now have a fuel line between the carburetor and fuel tank, and it is a good idea to clamp this in some way. Small needle nose vise grips with rubber hose slid over each jaw work great but should clamp only tightly enough to stop fuel flow.
If your lawnmower is a "four stroke" mower (separate gasoline and oil), never tip it on its side with the spark plug to the ground. Most four strokes have a crankcase vent that routes to the air filter box and will pour or seep oil into the air filter or carburetor throat if they are tipped with the spark plug pointing skyward.
If your lawnmower is "2 stroke" (oil and gasoline mixed) turn off the fuel tap. You can tip a two stroke mower almost any way that is suitable to you, as long as the fuel doesn't spill from the tank.
However, be aware that practically all four stroke mower engines have a float type carburetor that can leak fuel if tipped in a particular position relative to how the carburetor is positioned. They can either pour fuel into the air filter or into the combustion chamber, if the intake valve is open.

4-Change or sharpen the blade, if needed. To change a blade, or blade disc, it is often easier to remove the spark plug and feed a length of clean cotton string into the cylinder head to 'lock' the piston while trying to undo the blade bolt(s).

5-Check the motor's "air filter" while doing this sort of maintenance. A dirty or clogged air filter will affect engine performance and increase fuel consumption of your mower. Symptoms of a clogged air filter include difficulty starting and quickly stopping after several sputters, or a weak idle. You may also see oily or smoky exhaust.

6-Change the oil if needed. If your mower is a "four stroke" model, change the oil at least once a year. When it is tipped over with the spark plug in the air, it is a good time to remove the "oil fill" plug and drain oil into a suitable oil proof container for disposal or recycling. Many modern mowers have a drain plug so the mower doesn't need to be tipped.

7-Be aware of stale fuel. Stale fuel is a common cause of mowers not starting after the winter storage. Run your mower for five minutes every two or three weeks and you will save yourself problems come spring. Using gasoline without ethanol will decrease this problem, as will using a fuel stabilizer.
Assure you discharge the gas tank by letting the mower run until the fuel is gone. Keep the tank empty until the following cutting season, or, the aged gas that has stayed in the tank all that time will cause moisture and become thick, producing sediments in the gas lines and carburetor, causing the engine to die. Also, make sure you dispose of the aged oil on the tank and change for clean


  • Spark - Clean or replace the spark plug/clean rotor contacts
  • If it rattles, it may have a loose blade.
  • If it coughs and sputters, there is a problem with one of the three things the engine needs to run
  • If the lawn mower is really hard to pull to start it then you need to clean all of the grass out of the bottom of the lawn mower
  • Always remove the spark plug lead and secure it away from the plug before attempting any repair on a mower.
  • Air - A new air filter is often the fix.
  • Fuel - Possible fuel line or carburetor disruption
  • Here is a tip to loosen or tighten any bolt, especially a blade bolt. Using a wrench, preferably one that is not offset, place the box end wrench squarely on the bolt and strike the far end of the wrench with a 16 to 24 oz hammer with repeated moderate blows. This has the effect of an air powered impact wrench. If you are dexterous enough and trust your hammer aim, try to tension or preload the wrench in the direction you want it to move before striking it as this will eliminate 'bounce' and make this method more effective.

  • Tightening or loosening a blade bolt can be dangerous. you may hurt yourself. If you do not tighten the blade securely enough, the engine is likely to shear its flywheel key as soon as it tries to run. It will immediately shut down and will not run again until the key has been replaced.
  • Never touch any internal-combustion engine while it is warm, After operating, some components may reach temperatures up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Watch out for old blades when changing them. They can have razor sharp edges.
  • Always remove spark plug lead before attempting any repairs on your mower.
  • If you should ever feel a sharp resistance when you pull the starter rope and especially if it snatches the handle out of your hand, stop. Remove the spark plug and inspect it. If it is wet then the engine has become flooded due to the way you tipped the mower. With any possible control in the off position, and the spark plug lead secured so that it cannot possibly jump a spark to metal, and after moving the mower to a safe location, slowly pull the starter a few times to 'blow' out the excess fuel. Dry the plug, install it and try again to start the mower. If the plug was not fouled, try re-tightening the blade; as always with the spark plug lead removed and secured away from the plug. If you still feel a sharp rebound or handle snatch (and this can hurt you) then you almost certainly have a sheared flywheel key.
Do’s and Don’ts

Do keep your mower sharp and well maintained.

Do switch off the power or disconnect the spark plugs before carrying out any adjustments to mowers.

Do mow frequently.

Do reduce the height gradually over a few cuts and leave a gap.

Don’t shave the grass at irregular intervals.

Don’t remove more than 20% of the green leaf at any one cut.

Don’t mow when grass is very wet.

Don’t fill the mower with fuel on the lawn itself.

Steps for Making Better Garden Soil

The first and most important thing a healthy garden needs is strong, nutritious soil to grow in. To grow your superfoods, you'll need to properly maintain your soil so that it will provide you with excellent, tasty, organic produce for years to come.

The first rule of good soil maintenance is to never leave it bare. The only time you should be able to see dirt exposed to the elements is when you've planted seeds in it. Your soil should always be growing something or covered to protect it from the elements. Winter time cover crops such as clover, alfalfa, or whatever is common in your area can be grown in the late fall, overwintered, and then turned under to act as a top-layer mulch.

Compost and manure are basically the same thing. Compost is plant and organic material that's been allowed to rot and break down, producing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Manure is much the same, having been processed through the bowels of a plant-eating animal such as a cow or chicken.

When sourcing manure, if you do not have animals to make it yourself, be sure to know what the animals (horses, cows, etc.) have been fed so you know what's going into their leavings. Dairy cattle should be avoided as they are often fed a high-sodium diet. Much of that salt ends up in the manure.

Chickens, geese, ducks, etc. make excellent manure that is rich in nutrients. Beware of commercial farming and agricultural outfits, however, as they often use hormones and other artificial pharmaceuticals to enhance their livestock, which can be passed on through their manure. Stick with local, natural sources and organic farms.

In the spring, three weeks to a month or so before planting, you should cover your garden with a thin layer of compost and (if available) manure. Two or three inches are enough and freezing won't hurt it. This will create a barrier layer between the soil and the air and will eventually turn into more soil. Push it aside and make little divots into which you plant your seeds or seedlings when the time comes.

As you grow your plants, throw any weeds or leavings you trim into a compost heap. Clippings from your garden plants can be left right in the rows to act as a mulch or on-the-spot compost. Much of what you'd normally compost from your kitchen can also be thrown directly onto the garden safely. Coffee should be composted, but tea can be put right into the garden - especially near plants susceptible to snails or slugs, acting as a deterrent.

At the end of the season, you should plant a cover crop (this can often be done in the rows between plants just before harvest). Allow this to overwinter, then pull it up or turn it over in the spring. Alternatively, a thick layer of mulch (3+ inches thick) can be put on top of the garden to protect the soil during the winter.

Both methods can be combined by putting a thinner layer of mulch or manure (an inch or so) over the top of broadcast cover crop seeds.

If you maintain your garden's healthy, natural soil, it will continue to give you nutritious, organic food for as long as you care to plant.

Mini Gardens Ideas

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Canna indica

Common Names: Indian shot, Queensland arrowroot
Family: Cannaceae (canna Family)

Like the popular hybrid cannas referred to as Canna x generalis, Canna indica or Indian shot is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial with large leaves and showy flowers, although the flowers are smaller than those of the fancy hybrids. Leaves are dark green, often with bronze highlights. They are oblong-lance shaped, up to 20 in (50 cm) long and 8 in (20 cm) wide. The asymmetric flowers, around 2-3 in (5-8 cm) across, have three petals that are bright red with orange lips or spots. Plants can get 4-7 ft (120-210 cm) tall, but are usually smaller. ‘Purpurea’ has purplish leaves and smaller, bright red flowers.

Canna indica is native to tropical and subtropical Central and South America. It is grown in Africa, Australia, Asia, Europe and the West Indies and has become naturalized in many parts of the world with suitable climate. Indian shot can be found growing along road shoulders and ditches in the West Indies, southeastern U.S., Hawaii and southern Europe

Light: Grow Canna indica in full sun to partial shade. It will benefit from some midday shade in hot climates.
Moisture: Indian shot grows best in a moisture retentive soil. Water freely when in bloom.
Propagation: Propagate cannas by division of the rhizomes. Be sure each section has the "eye" (bud) from which the new growth will emerge. Indian shot can be grown from seed, of course, but the extremely hard seeds will have to be scarified first, then soaked in water for a day or two before sowing.

Cannas are grown in borders and beds, and are among the most popular flowers in tropical and subtropical gardens. Where not hardy, rhizomes can be planted out in spring for summer blooming, then dug in autumn for winter storage. Indian shot also can be grown in containers.

A starch is made from the rhizomes that is very similar to, and a good substitute for, arrowroot starch which is derived from an unrelated plant, Maranta arundinacea. The young rhizomes of Indian shot are sometimes eaten; they are sweet, but woody and fibrous. The seeds are perfectly round and very hard and reportedly were used as shot for flintlock muskets when lead shot was not available. Nowadays the seeds are commonly used as beads in natural seed jewelry for necklaces and especially rosaries.

There are several dozen species in the genus Canna, but most of what gardeners see are the results of hybridization between a handful of tropical species, and distributed under the name Canna x generalis or simply “hybrid cannas.” Canna indica was probably one of the original parent species.

How to stop weeds from growing in the joints of interlock?

This happens to be the most often asked question or concern regarding the maintenance of interlock. Contrary to what many believe, the weeds or grass growing up through the joints are actually sprouting from the sand joints and not the base of the brick. Therefore we do not recommend placing fabric or plastic sheets under the interlock brick. To control or eliminate the unwanted growth a simple maintenance routine is required. Pulling the weed out near the base before it strongly roots is the most recommended method of removal. Make sure you get all the root stock out or a new growth can sprout from the partial root. Maintaining clean, weed free garden beds, and keeping the sand level to the top of the brick is very important.

For more advanced or stubborn growth you may have to chemically control the weeds. During routine grass edge trimming you can trim the weeds down to the level of the interlock and then proceed with spraying a chemical herbicide such as Round-up. By trimming the weed first you have opened and injured the plant for better absorption of the chemical. For those not inclined to using chemicals a little more elbow grease will be needed to manually remove the weed as good as possible then use hot water from a safe kettle to kill the remainder of the plant.

Another method we use to control weed growth is with the use of polymeric joint sand.

Polymeric sand is just regular sand mixed with a polymer resin which when wetted will solidify to a mortar like consistency, therefore creating a solid joint between pavers.

To seal, or not to seal?
“Should I seal my interlock?” is a common question asked by clients. The wet look of sealed interlock is in most cases an aesthetics preference. The wet look may fit in better with some designs, however it’s up to the customer to decide whether it is the preferred look. Sealing interlock offers little to the already superior structural integrity of interlock, but may protect against the occasional spilt liquid.

How do I choose a sealer?
 Your choice of sealer depends on the look you wish to achieve. All sealers will inhibit stain penetrations, some will provide a low to high gloss finish while others will only enhance the color.

What can I do if my pavers are stained or damaged?
One of the advantages of pavers is that individual units can be removed and replaced in these situations. Remove the sand around the interlock and then use two flat head screwdrivers to lift the paver out. Some variety of interlock can be flipped over.

Can I remove moss or mold from my pavers?
Try a liquid bleach diluted in water, 10 parts water to one part bleach. Be careful not to get it on plant material. Keep in mind that there is nothing that will keep it from growing back if it's in a shady, damp area. For a permanent solution, you will need to correct the moisture and shade problems that are encouraging the moss or mold.

Will salt damage interlock?
Salt will not damage interlock.

What is the whitish deposit on the interlock brick?
What you see as a white flaky deposit is efflorescence, a natural phenomenon common in many concrete and brick products. Efflorescence is the result of naturally occurring mineral salts found in the materials used in the production of pavers or blocks. When pavers become wet and absorb moisture the mineral salts are dissolved and are drawn to the surface of the paver as it evaporates. This is not a product defect or harmful to the interlock pavers and will usually weather away with time. This process could take some time to clear, sometimes 7 months to a year or more. Cleaners can be used to speed up the clearing of efflorescence

Will salt damage concrete?
Unlike interlock, concrete is susceptible to deterioration from salt. Care must be practiced with the application of ice “melter” to concrete, especially concrete that has not been sealed. Excess salt or “melter” should be sweept off concrete once ice or snow is melted away. You should refrain from applying salt to any concrete products for the first year of installation.

Sealed concrete will resist the penetration of salt products much better than unsealed surfaces.

How to clean concrete?
A mild solution of soap and water will remove most common stains from all types of concrete. For more stubborn stains, a mild solution of bleach and water may have to be used.

Acid may need to be used for all other stains not removed by soap, bleach or high pressure washing. Due to the dangerous characters of these products, no tips will be included for the use of these chemicals. Call a professional for help with cleaning acid.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Carissa macrocarpa

Common Names: Natal plum

Family: Apocynaceae (dogbane Family)

Natal plum is a dense, closely branched spiny evergreen shrub or small tree up to 20 ft (6.1 m) in height. Most of the cultivated forms are much smaller, though. The dark glossy green leaves are ovate, 1-3 in (2.5-7.6 cm) long, thick and leathery, and arranged in opposing pairs. Forked spines, about 1-2 in (2.5-5.1 cm) long, arm the branches and the ends of the twigs. Broken twigs exude a white milky sap. Natal plum produces an abundance of white starlike flowers with five thick and waxy petals. The flowers are about 2 in (5.1 cm) across and sweetly fragrant, like orange blossoms, especially at night. The edible fruit is a pretty plum shaped red berry abut 2 in (5.1 cm) long which tastes like sweet cranberries. Natal plum blooms almost all year long and most of the time both flowers and fruit are present.
'Bonsai' grows in a compact mound only 2 ft (0.6 m) tall. 'Prostrata' and 'Horizontalis' (Natal creeper) are low growing cultivars suitable for ground covers. 'Boxwood Beauty' is a thornless dwarf. 'Nana' is a thornless dwarf bearing flowers with spirally overlapping petals. There are many more named selections to choose from.

Natal plum is native to the Northern South African province of KwaZulu/Natal. It is a popular hedge plant, widely cultivated in the New and Old World tropics.

Natal plum prefers a sandy, well-drained soil. It responds well to close pruning and is easily kept at any size. Many of the cultivars have a tendency to produce branches that revert to the species characteristics, so it may be necessary to prune frequently to prevent the cultivar from reverting completely. 
Light: Natal plum does best and produces the most flowers when positioned in full sun, but it tolerates partial shade.
Moisture: Natal palm is drought tolerant.
Propagation: Propagate the cultivars of Natal plum from cuttings. The species may be grown from seed.


Natal plum is the perfect hedge plant. Its dense foliage makes it a good screen, and its thorns make it an effective barrier as well. Add on the deliciously fragrant blossoms and edible fruits, and it's hard to think of a better shrub for the tropical garden. Plant the larger cultivars on 5 ft (1.5 m) centers for hedges and the smaller cultivars on 4 ft (1.2 m) centers for foundation plantings. Natal plum is tolerant of salty soil as well as salt spray and is therefore an excellent plant for the seaside garden, even in exposed conditions. The dwarf cultivars can be grown as container plants. Keep them outside in summer, and in a well-lit, cool and dry position in winter. Sprawling cultivars can be used as ground covers, planted on 2 ft (0.6 m) centers. The fruits are made into jellies and preserves.


The various cultivars of Natal plum are among the best ocean front foundation, hedge, container and ground cover plants for tropical and subtropical regions. They are very popular in South Florida. Natal plums are often grown in containers on ocean front condominium balconies. Their thick leathery leaves are not torn by wind nor bothered by salt spray.

All parts of Natal plum are poisonous except for the ripe fruits. Even the seeds within the fruits are said to be poisonous. Natal plum should not be planted close to pedestrian traffic because of its sharp 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Top cut flowers to grow at home

A vase of fresh flowers cut straight from the garden can instantly make a house feel more like a home. So it’s surprisingly that more people don’t try growing their own cut flowers, particularly when you consider the benefits to your purse. There are plenty of cut flowers that you can grow at home, but if you need some inspiration take a look at our top 10 favorites.
You don’t need to be a florist to get the best from your cut flowers either. There are lots of handy tips that you can employ to make your blooms last longer in the vase. Here are a just a few to get you started.
Keep your cut flowers looking good for longer.
• Cut flower stems at an angle to prevent the stem resting on the bottom of the vase and sealing itself over. Angular cuts also great a larger surface area for water uptake.
• Strip any foliage from stems that would sit below water level in a vase as these will simply decay, becoming slimy and smelly.
• Always use a thoroughly clean vase as bacteria can survive in dirty vases and reduce the life of your cut flowers.
• Always use tepid water in your vases. Cold water has a higher oxygen content, which can cause air bubbles to form in the stems of your flowers, blocking their water uptake. Spring bulbs such as tulips and daffodils are the exception to this rule as they prefer to be placed in cold water.
• Add a splash of bleach to the water to inhibit bacterial growth and make your flower last longer. You only need to add about ¼ teaspoon per litre of water. You can also try adding a tablespoon of sugar as this will help to nourish the flowers.
• Position your vase carefully. The vase life of your cut flowers will be reduced if they are placed close to heat, draughts or direct sunlight.
• Keep cut flowers away from fruit bowls as fruit produces ethylene which causes cut flowers to die prematurely.
• Remove any dead or fading blooms to prevent bacteria damaging the healthy flowers.
• Change the water every few days, refreshing any flower feed and preservatives at the same time.
Grow your own cut flowers.
Growing cut flowers at home is easy if you choose the right plants. You don’t need to set aside a special area of your garden - simply mix the plants in among your herbaceous borders, or grow some in containers outside the back door. You can even add a few rows to your vegetable plot. Take some inspiration from our top 10 favourite cut flowers for some of the best cut flowers to grow in your own garden.
1. Sweet pea (Vase life: 3-7 days)
The ultimate 'cut and come again' cut flower! Once a popular glasshouse cut flower, these beautiful blooms are mainly garden grown nowadays. There are plenty of colours to choose from, but a good mix of shades makes the prettiest posies. Old fashioned Grandiflora types often have the best scent such as Sweet Pea ‘Heirloom Mixed’. But the popular modern ‘Spencer’ varieties such as Sweet Pea ‘Alan Titchmarsh’ combine fragrance, larger blooms and longer stems that are ideal for flower arrangements.

2. Lily (Vase life: 8-10 days)
You’ll only need a few lily stems to make a dramatic and exotic-looking cut flower display. There are lots of different lily species that you can grow as a cut flower, but oriental Lilies are the most popular for their fragrance and glamorous trumpet shaped blooms. To avoid problematic pollen stains on clothes and furniture, try gently removing the stamens from lilies as they open. You can solve this problem entirely by growing sterile double varieties such as Tree Lily ‘Crystal Collection’ which are completely pollen free.

3. Sunflower (Vase life: 7-10 days)
Sunflowers make the cheeriest cut flowers and never fail to raise a smile. They’re very easy to grow and won’t require any special attention - simply sow them directly into the ground where you want them to flower. For cutting it’s best to choose multi-headed varieties such as Sunflower ‘Harlequin’ to give you lots of blooms. Cut the stems just before the flowers fully open, and strip the lower foliage from the stem leaving just a few leaves at the top to help fill out your bouquet.

4. Tulip (Vase life: Up to 7 days)
Tulips are among the earliest flowers for cutting in the garden. They come in such a range of colours that you’ll be spoiled for choice. Try our popular Tulip 'Everlasting' Mixture or Tulip ‘Red Impression’ for a stunning mix of shades. You can help your tulips to last longer in the vase by cutting their stems underwater to prevent air entering the stems. Tulips are thirsty cut flowers so you’ll need to keep their water topped up on a daily basis.

5. Gladiolus (Vase life: 7-10 days)
The flamboyant, tall stems of Gladioli are superb for adding height and drama to flower arrangements. There are plenty to choose from and modern hybrids such as Gladiolus ‘Tango’ and Gladiolus ‘Green Star’ bring a really fresh palette of contemporary colours to your vase. Cut gladiolus flowers just as the lowest two or three florets begin to open, but try to leave as many leaves as possible to feed the bulb for next year. Gladiolus flowers will generally all reach maturity at about the same time, but if you want to prolong the cutting season then try to stagger planting at two week intervals so that they mature at different times.

6. Roses (Vase life: 4-7 days)
What list of cut flowers would be complete without the quintessential rose. Growing roses for cut flowers takes a little more work than growing them as garden shrubs, but the results are well worth the effort. Choose varieties carefully to ensure the nicest forma and longest stems. Try hybrid tea rose ‘The One and Only’ or the delightful trailing rose ’Waterfall Collection’ for hanging baskets. For informal clusters of flowers grow repeat flowering floribunda roses for a longer cutting period and a more relaxed feel to your bouquets. Roses grown as cut flowers will require heavy feeding to produce the best results. It is worth noting for the benefit of organic gardeners that protecting roses against blackspot may well require spraying with fungicides.

7. Eucalyptus (Vase life: More than 21 days)
The silvery-blue foliage of eucalyptus gunnii makes fantastic filler for vases, bouquets and larger flower arrangements. Its attractive rounded leaves provide shape and texture that blends well with both formal and more relaxed displays. Eucalyptus has a sensational vase life, easily lasting more than 3 weeks, and is often the ‘last man standing’ in floral displays!

8. Dianthus (Vase life: 14-21 days)
Dianthus (including Carnations, Pinks and Sweet Williams) are some of the best known of all cut flowers. Carnations such as ’Ever-blooming Mixed’ provide traditional Carnation flowers, but it’s worth trying something different if you are growing your own flowers for cutting. How about Dianthus 'Purple Rain' for its unusual colouring or the extraordinary blooms of Dianthus 'Green Trick' which have taken the cut flower world by storm? And don’t forget the lovely fragrance of Pinks which make superb posies. Regular cutting will help to ensure a long flowering season to give you an ongoing supply of blooms.

9. Peonies (Vase life: 5-7 days)
Peonies are prized for their beautiful, large blooms. Just a few stems are enough to create a stunning arrangement with a big impact. Herbaceous Peonies such as 'Eden's Perfume' are a great choice although they do have a relatively short flowering season. Double varieties should be cut when the buds feel soft between your finger and thumb, just before they open. Cutting double peonies too early may prevent the buds from opening so it’s worth being patient with them. Single flowered peonies can be cut at a slightly less advanced stage if necessary, while the buds are swollen but still firm.

10. Gypsophila (Vase life: Up to 7 days)
Gypsophila makes particularly useful filler for softening bouquets and adding a frothy haze of tiny flowers to your cut flower arrangements. This well loved cut flower can be sown outdoors each spring where they are to flower. Stagger the sowings to prolong the flowering season and provide you with plenty of blooms. Before cutting each stem it’s best to wait until most of the flowers on the stem have opened.