What’s in the Soil?

Wow….71 degrees the other day, and it is still March.   With temperatures being as warm as they have been, I took advantage of the “spring like day” and started preparing my gardens for the spring.  Are your patio containers cleaned out and filled up with new soil?  Do you have your seed trays all ready for planting?  That leads me to my next topic which is “What’s in the Soil”?

Soil, by definition is “The top layer of the earth’s surface, consisting of rock and mineral particles mixed with organic matter”. So does that mean that you can go into your yard with a shovel, take a scoop of “dirt” and fill up your containers?  NO, NO, NO….

Seasonal plants (annuals), and plant seeds, need to be planted in loose, organic material that is rich with nutrients.  When plants are installed in mix like this they will quickly develop, and grow, a healthy root system, which will help them flourish quickly in our short growing season.

So, what’s in the mix?  Soils for containers (and seed trays) need to be well aerated (loose) and well drained while still being able to retain enough moisture for plant growth.  These mixes are often composed of various things such as peat moss, vermiculite, organic matter (leaf mold), bark and the mixes will vary depending on the manufacture and the type of plant material being grown.

When I prepare my gardens I always have on hand a bale of peat moss, a bag of vermiculite, an organic fertilizer (such as Planttone) and a bale of good organic compost.  The compost I use is soil that has been created from heaps of wet, organic matter (leaves), that has been decomposed and aerated over time.  I mix those ingredients up into a workable potting mixture, which is free of weed seed, loose (from an aeration standpoint) and well drained.   Now, one secret passed on from my grandfather is to ADD a little “super-phosphate” to the potting mixture.  That macro-nutrient will help promote root growth in your new seedlings.   And my other secret (which I kid around with my kids about all the time) is this… after my containers are planted I dust the soil surface with a slow-release fertilizer,  that will provide daily nutrients to my container plants for months to come.  I then install my drip irrigation feeder tubes into each container and away we go!

With the proper soil mix and a shot of slow-release fertilizer in all of my containers my annuals, plants and veggies simply take off!

Spring- Blooming Shrubs Breathe New Life into Winter Landscapes

After a dull, dreary winter, flowering shrubs bursting into bloom can put a spring in anyone’s step. There’s nothing quite like the sight and smell of spring blossoms after months of cold, gray weather. Even after their color and fragrance fade away, spring-blooming shrubs can contribute to your landscape by providing shade or serving as a backdrop for other plantings.

If you’re interested in adding spring-blooming shrubs to your property, here are some favorites you may want to consider.

Forsythia: Provides yellow blooms in early spring and can reach 10’ in height. Prefers full sun to partial shade.

Lilac: Purple, pink, red or white blooms in mid-spring. Prefers full sun and can reach 15’ in height.

Mountain Laurel: Blooms in late spring with red, pink or white flowers. Grows up to 15’ in height and prefers partial shade.

Rhododendron: Pink, red or white blooms in mid-spring. Grows well in full sun to partial shade and can reach 15’ in height.

Beyond these, there are dozen of other choices for getting past winter and moving into spring beautifully!

Hummingbird- Friendly Plants

If you’re interested in attracting hummingbirds to your property without using a feeder, keep in mind that they visit plants with lots of blooms and nectar. Red flowers are helpful, but they aren’t a necessity. You might want to try planting some of the

se around your landscape:


  • Butterflybush
  • Trumpet vine
  • Summersweet


    •  Bleeding heart
    •  Butterflyweed
    •  Beardtongue
    •  Daylily
    •  Bee balm
    •  Cardinal flower
    •  Coral bells
    •  Delphinium
    •  Foxglove (bi-annual)
    •  Hollyhock (bi-annual)


  •  Impatiens
  •  Nasturtium
  •  Salvia
  •  Spider flower
  •  Snapdragon
  •  Morning glory
  •  Petunia
  •  Flowering tobacco

Hummingbirds are a delight to watch, and common North American species can beat their wings up to 53 times per second!

How to Hire a Contractor

It is hard to believe that February is coming to an end, and that Spring season is just around the corner.  If you are anything like me, I have started to make, and review, my “Spring Project List”.  Some of the projects on the list I may do myself….and some of the projects I may contract out to a professional contractor.

So you may be asking yourself, what do I look for when hiring a professional contractor?

  1. In most states, especially New York State for sure, if a company has any employees (even just 1), they are required to have a workers compensation insurance policy covering each and every employee they employ.  Ask your contractor for a copy of their declaration page.
  2. Liability insurance is a must.  God forbid a job goes bad and/or there is damage to your property as a result of an accident.  A contractors liability insurance policy might help you recover from an accident.  Ask your contractor for a copy of their declaration page.
  3. Contract, Contract, Contract.  In todays fast paced world, why take a chance with mis-communications.  If all aspects of the job are detailed in a contract, as well as payment plans, then there is little room for mis-communications, which lead to conflict.  And if the scope of work changes, ask the contractor for a “Work Change Order”, which simply changes the scope of work in writing.
  4. Does the service professional have a “Home Improvement” license?  Most municipalities have a consumer protection department that advocate for consumers.  Many times during a dispute with a job, the consumer may reach out to their local consumer protection department to help remedy any conflicts.  .
  5. Start date….agree on a start date, or at a minimum a date range to begin the work.
  6. Ask for a list of references.  Every professional that I have dealt is more than happy to provide me with a list of references.  And check social media…..you’ll typically find ratings, pictures, and write ups on line describing the quality of work of a contractor.
  7. And lastly, I want to know how the contractor stands behind his/her work.  Is there a guaranty? If yes, for how long?  Is the guaranty in writing? If not, ask for it to be.

With unemployment rates being as high as they are these days, I find that there are a lot of people “claiming” to be a professional….and consumers hiring these “unqualified” individuals could end up having problems that come back to bite them later on. So if you are in the market for a new service professional, please do your homework.  Don’t be afraid to ask the questions and review the documents listed above.  You will be happy that you did!




Want More Variety in Your Garden? Try Starting Seeds Indoors

Starting seeds indoors is a great way to try plant varieties that may be unavailable at your local garden center. Not only is it cheaper than purchasing plants, but there’s something very rewarding about planting seeds and watching them grow!

A soil-less seed starting mix or packaged potting soil is the best growing medium. Any clean container that allows for drainage will work. Generally, smaller seeds call for shallow planting, while larger seeds should be planted a bit deeper.

Of course light is an essential ingredient. A bright location with southern exposure will work, but you’ll get better results suspending a fluorescent or grow light fixture above your seedlings. If you notice seedlings reaching for light, turn them so they’ll develop evenly.

Be sure to water regularly. A seed germinates just once, and if the emerging seedling is deprived of water, it dies. The goal is to keep the soil evenly moist, but not waterlogged.

You can check the back of the seed packet to find out the best time to start seeds so that they’re ready to plant outdoors when soil and air temperatures are right. In general, the range is from four to eight weeks between seed sowing and outdoor planting. It’s a good idea to introduce seedlings gradually to cool outdoor spring temperatures so they can harden off before transplanting.

Not sure what plants to grow from seed? Try some of those listed below, all of which germinate easily and grow quickly. Have fun!

  • Beans
  • Cosmos
  • Cucumbers
  • Peas
  • Pumpkins
  • Radishes
  • Squash
  • Sunflowers
  • Zinnias

Crabgrass is Ready for a Comeback

Healthy Lawns have less of this Bothersome Weed

It’s a fact: No lawn is completely immune to crabgrass. Thankfully, there are steps that can be taken this spring- throughout the growing season ahead- to keep it under control.


Just one mature crabgrass plant can produce thousands of seeds, which are able to grow in the hottest, driest conditions. Even incompacted soil along sidewalks and driveways, crabgrass seeds have no trouble germinating.


The healthier and thicker your lawn, the less crabgrass it’s going to have. Four keys to a lush lawn include:

  • Fertilizing regularly
  • Controlling insects and diseases as needed
  • Removing no more than 1/3 of the grass blade each time you mow
  • Making sure your lawn gets from 1” to 1 ½” of water per week



A post-emergent herbicide can be used to treat any established crabgrass plant in your lawn. This type of herbicide will kick off the crabgrass as it is absorbed through the leaves of the plant.

A pre-emergent herbicide will also be very effective against crabgrass as long as it is applied at the right time (before the crabgrass seeds germinate). This preventative treatment will form a barrier in the soil, and newly sprouted crabgrass will be killed off before it can emerge aboveground.

There are always going to be crabgrass seeds in your lawn. So, annual treatment with a pre-emergent herbicide, and post-emergent herbicides as needed, are recommended for ongoing control. If you’re planning on reseeding this spring, it’s important to wait six to eight weeks after a pre-emergent application (the pre-emergent can prevent grass seeds from growing too). Likewise, post-emergent herbicides shouldn’t be used on newly seeded lawns until the new grass has been mowed at least three times.

With a combination of good lawn care practices and the appropriate herbicides, crabgrass doesn’t stand a chance!

Early-Spring Essentials: Get a Jump on the Season-Ahead

Lately we’ve had a nice taste of spring, the sun is shinning and temperatures are slowly climbing! Now is the perfect time to prepare your landscape for the season to come with some housekeeping for your landscape!

Pruning: Many structural problems in ornamentals can be corrected right now, before plants leaf out, with corrective pruning.

Clean-Up: Leaves and debris should be raked and removed from lawn areas, as well as shrubs and flower beds.

Mulching: A spring application will help to prevent weeds, conserve moisture in the soil and keep soil temperatures cooler as the weather heats up.