Archive for the ‘Do it Yourself!’ Category

Great Online Resources for Pacific Northwest Gardeners

It’s true, all of us, (including me!) have been guilty of waiting until the last minute to start gardening projects. And, yes, I have underestimated what it takes to take a project from dream to reality. Come springtime, the sun is out and I’m itching to get back into the garden – but my design isn’t completed, and now I’m crazy busy with work! I missed my window of opportunity and darn it all if my project won’t get finished now for months. I KNOW better..!

Each spring following the first sunny weekend, our office gets excited calls from folks anxious to design and build their new gardens, discuss landscaping projects and launch into creating their dream backyard…immediately. Guess what? While you might wait to call in spring – all that means is that your design project will begin in the spring, but it likely won’t be finished until much later in the year.

The reality is planning for your springtime projects should begin in winter – if not much earlier…Why wait when you can start now?

Whether you’re hoping to put in a new vegetable bed, renovate your ornamental shrub borders, design your perennials garden or create a new project from scratch, it’s important to jump into the planning phase as the icicles are dripping from the eaves. If you wait until the spring sunshine to start your planning, be ready to wait even longer to watch your garden grow. Don’t let winter get away from you. Jump into your project now – even as you finish mulching your garden beds and start checking off your Christmas shopping list.

I’ve put together a list of a few resources to help get your creative juices flowing. Go fetch a cup of tea, boot up your computer and settle into your chair to and begin your springtime planning today.

Enjoy the resources and the season,
Amy Harmon

Online Gardening Resources

UW Burke Museum Herbarium
biology.burke.washington.edu/herbarium/imagecollection.php – Fantastic site with 1000’s of plants and images specific to the northwest. Excellent help for plant identification.

Great Plant Picks
www.greatplantpicks.org

King County Yard & Garden topics
http://www.kingcounty.gov/environment/stewardship/nw-yard-and-garden.aspx

Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides
http://www.pesticide.org/

Northwest Garden News
http://www.northwestgardennews.com/

Pacific Northwest Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture – Tree Care
http://pnwisa.org/tree-care-information/homeowner-articles-and-tips.html

Plant Native
www.plantnative.com – Includes a nice step by step plan for naturescaping.

Plant Amnesty
http://www.plantamnesty.org/ A fun & informative website, with tongue in cheek humor

Rainy Side Gardeners
http://www.rainyside.com/ – Maritime Pacific Northwest Gardening has a nice native plant section with photos.

Seattle Times- Plant Life
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/plantlife/ A selection of articles written by Valerie Easton, a Seattle freelance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/living/index.htm – Living with Wildlife

Washington Native Plant Society
http://www.wnps.org/ – A non profit organization for native plants.

Washington State University Extension
http://gardening.wsu.edu/

Washington State University Native Plants
gardening.wsu.edu/text/nwnative.htm – Identifying, Propagating, and Landscaping. Nice photos!

Pacific Northwest Native Wildlife Gardening.
www.tardigrade.org – Includes a listserv for gardening for wildlife (with native plants).

Washington State University website
www.puyallup.wsu.edu/~Linda%20Chalker-Scott/ -Puyallup site full of horticulture myths. Very informative!

USDA National plant database
plants.usda.gov – Lots of information and images on plants beyond the northwest.


Green Thumb Company is a Bellingham based, full-service grounds maintenance company. We have a commitment to provide great landscaping services with outstanding customer satisfaction and have been serving Whatcom County customers in Bellingham, Ferndale and Lynden for more than 20 years.

If you would like to increase your home’s curb appeal or maintain your new or mature landscaping investment by developing a contract that is specific to your yard & landscaping needs as well as your budget, please give us a call at 360-671-LAWN (5296).

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Spring blooming bulbs add seasonal color

After a long, wet Pacific Northwest winter, these early spring-blooming bulbs offer a welcome preview of the flowers and colors to follow.

Nothing signals the end of the winter season like seeing the first crocuses poking their heads through the last of the wet, dark soil. Few plants are as easy to grow, or as rewarding, as the early-blooming bulbs.

The only challenge is remembering to purchase and plant the bulbs during the excitement of the summer and fall gardening season, (it’s always hard for me to remember just how bleak the garden can look in late winter). Plan now for fall planting, and come spring you’ll be glad you did!

I’ve put together a selection of early-blooming bulbs that grow well in the area. Since many of these are small in size and statue, they look best planted in relatively large numbers. Don’t be intimidated by the thought of planting 100 or more bulbs; the tiny bulbs take just seconds to plant, especially if your soil is relatively loose. Simply make a slice in the soil with a trowel about 4 inches deep, wiggle it a little to make a hole, and, holding the soil back with the trowel, drop in the bulb. As you slide out the trowel, push any scattered soil back into the hole, then water the area to settle the soil.

 Spring Beauty, Scilla SibericaScilla siberica ‘Spring Beauty’
Spring Beauty (Scilla)

Spring beauties are one of the earliest spring flowers to bloom. Flowering for a remarkably long time they bear clusters of bloom spikes that offer scented deep blue flowers. Exquisite when planted under spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, azaleas, rhododendrons, and magnolias.

 ‘Golden Bowl’ Crocus
Crocus

Unlike snowdrops, crocus ring in the spring in a range of colors. Since the bright colors contrast with any remaining snow, they are wonderful planted in masses so you can enjoy a carpet of color from a distance. In the case of crocuses, more is definitely better! And like snowdrops, crocuses will multiply each year, especially if they are planted in the very well-drained soil they prefer.

Chionodoxa luciliae
Snow Glories (Chionodoxa)

Sometimes called Glory of the Snow, these beauties will blanket the ground with blue in early spring. Each bulb produces multiple star-shaped, sky-blue flowers. Just 4 to 5 inches in height, they look best planted in large drifts, and will multiply rapidly.

 

 

muscari albumMuscari botryoides ‘Album’
Grape Hyacinth (Muscari)

Grape hyacinths aren’t true hyacinths, but instead are in the genus Muscari. However, if you look closely at these flowers, you’ll see the resemblance to hyacinths in the clusters of tiny flowers atop strap-like foliage. Grape hyacinths are so eager to multiply that they can become weedy–that is, if you consider a plant with such beautiful flowers a weed. Plant them where they can spread freely–in the lawn, under shrubs–rather than in a formal bed.

‘Blue Jacket’
Hyacinth
  ‘Jan Bos’
Hyacinth
 

 
Hyacinth

If the grape hyacinth above, with their diminutive stature and often muted colors, gently announce the arrival of spring, these two true hyacinths yell it from the rooftops! Not only are they extravagant in appearance, they are also wonderfully fragrant. Add these to the fact that hyacinths are very easy to grow, and there’s no reason not to include at least a few of these beauties in your garden. They are also excellent for forcing indoors, where you can enjoy their scent each time you pass by.

While there are hundreds of varieties of beautiful spring bulbs, I hope that this list can get you started thinking about planting some bulbs of your own this fall. Start looking now for your favorites when you are out and about town, check out the local gardening shops this spring for different varieties and ask your neighbors what it is, if they have something blooming that catches your eye.  Take notes and come fall, be ready to plant!

I hope you are loving all the bounty that spring brings us in Bellingham – my family and I sure am.

Enjoy the season ~  Amy Harmon


Green Thumb Company is a Bellingham based, full-service grounds maintenance company. We have a commitment to provide great landscaping services with outstanding customer satisfaction and have been serving Whatcom County customers in Bellingham, Ferndale and Lynden for more than 20 years.

If you would like to increase your home’s curb appeal or maintain your new or mature landscaping investment by developing a  contract that is specific to your yard & landscaping needs as well as your budget, please give us a call at 360-671-LAWN (5296).

Wintertime Tool Maintenance Checklist

Tool MaintenanceHabit #7 in Steve Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is called “Sharpen the Saw.” Covey uses the common story of a woodcutter who is sawing for days on end but in the process of all that cutting, is becoming less and less productive. That woodcutter, like us gardeners, should always remember this very important fact: “the better a tool works for us, the less we have to work”!
Winter is a prime time to make sure our tools are working as hard as they can for us. A quick check over your gardening tools at the end of each season before you put them to rest for the winter will help increase their usefulness (and your happiness) for years! This winter time tool maintenance checklist is easy for anyone to follow and will help save you money in the long run, not to mention, making your job easier when springtime rolls back around. Just remember, you do not have to wait until the end of the season to protect your tool investment.

Every time you finish a job, take the following steps to preserve their longevity:
  1. Rinse tools after each use, dry them thoroughly and apply a light coat of oil to all metal parts.
  2. You can use a stiff-bristle brush to clean stubborn, hard-to-remove dirt.
  3. A designated space or worktable where you can inspect your tools and perform any necessary maintenance helps to make this chore go quickly. Remember to cover the area with newspaper or plastic sheeting to both help protect the area and make it easier to clean up after you are done.

 Be sure to store your tools off the ground and somewhere away from the rain and snow – moisture is bad news for tools! Garages and basements that have direct outdoor access are great storage places – as long as they are dry. If you do not have a place to store your tools and equipment, you may want to consider building or purchasing a tool shed for this purpose.

Step 1. Blades
Before you store your equipment for the off-season, sharpen or replace blades on tools that dig or cut. Digging and cutting tools’ blades get worn down faster than any other tool surface used in the garden, but filing can easily sharpen any nicked or dull blades. Maintain the sharp edge of all cutting tools by honing them using a medium-grit sharpening stone. For faster cutting, wet the stone with water or with honing oil, depending on the type of stone you’re using.

Safety Alert! Wear heavy gloves when cleaning or sharpening sharp cutting tools. Wear goggles when using a wire brush to remove rust and dirt. Sharpen very dull hedge trimmer blades by moving a file away from and diagonally across the sharp edge, making sure you maintain the factory bevel. Then decrease the angle slightly and hone just the last 1/16” of the blade with a sharpening stone. If your trimmer has a serrated blade, do not attempt to sharpen it. Check to be sure that all blades for power equipment are balanced so they will not vibrate off during use and cause possible injury or damage. Most digging tools are not sold sharpened, so you should to sharpen them from the very start. The more you use your digging tools, the duller they get. File the working edge to a 45-degree bevel with a coarse file. Since a bow saw cuts in both directions, use a triangular file to sharpen both sides of each of the saw’s teeth to a 45- to 60-degree bevel. To keep track of where you are, file every other tooth starting at one end of the blade – then file the remaining teeth the same way, working from the opposite end. Always file toward the sharp edge and pay attention to what you are doing. This is not the time to multitask!

 Helpful Tip: Clamp a pair of boards on the blade and lock it in a bench vise so you will not have to keep changing the blade position in the vise. Once the blades have all been sharpened and before you store these tools for the off-season, use that wire brush to remove surface dirt or rust. Wipe the metal down with a light oil to protect it from rust, especially if you store your tools in a damp garage or shed.

Sanding down the rough spots Step 2. Handles
Check your handles of each of your tools for any splinters, cracks or breaks. Smooth weathered, rough wooden handles with a medium-grit emery cloth – it will not tear as easily as sandpaper and it wraps around the handle easier. Tool handles should be smooth enough to slide your hand along without catching. If the wood is very rough, first sand across the grain in a “shoe-shine” fashion, then finish it up by sanding along with the grain. Of course, tools with fiberglass handles will not have these issues, so skip right past this step to number 3… 

Helpful Tip:
Wipe dry handles down with a heavy coat of linseed oil at the end of the season to rejuvenate and protect the wood over the winter months. Sometimes repairing a handle is not a safe option. In these cases, it may be worthwhile to replace the handle of a favorite, high quality tool – Use a ball-peen hammer or a block of wood with a nail hammer to knock the tool head out of the ferule on the handle. Consider fiberglass when replacing your tool handles – it is lighter and easier to maintain!

 Step 3. Mower Maintenance
Before you give your lawn mower the season off, empty out the fuel entirely by running the mower until it runs out of gas and the motor comes to a stop – don’t just dump it out. Change the oil and remove spark plugs – changing the spark plugs, if necessary. Reinstall the spark plug without connecting the ignition cable, and add a small amount of oil to the crankcase to store.

Safety Alert! Again, be sure that all blades for power equipment are balanced so they will not vibrate off during use and cause possible injury or damage

Never store a dirty mower! Not only will the care you take now help extend the life of your mower, cleaning out last season’s grass from underneath the mower is a dirty job – but SO much better than having to deal with old grass in the spring!

Thoroughly clean the engine and frame of the mower, on top and underneath, using a scraper to remove any built-up dirt and grass clippings on the underside of the mower. Rinse completely with a garden hose. Once it is clean, check the blade’s condition for wear and tear. If the blade needs sharpening, use a heavy file to remove dull edges or (better yet) simply replace it so it’s ready come spring.

Step 4. Weed Wacker Winterization
Remove all dirt, grease and debris from the trimmer using a stiff-bristle brush, then tighten all screws and hardware. Drain the fuel tank, remove the spark plug and add a small amount of oil into the cylinder. Pull the starting cord a couple of times to distribute the oil throughout. Reinstall the spark plug but do not connect the ignition cable, just leave it until spring.

That is it. Perfectly maintained tools ready for use first thing in the spring when that gardening bug hits.  Hope you enjoy your season and take the time to be grateful for all that we have, here in the Pacific Northwest. May your holiday season be filled with family, joy and peace. ~ Amy Harmon


 If you are in need of a residential or commercial yard clean up or grounds maintenance work, give us a call and tell us about your landscaping needs.  We would be happy to give you a  free estimate and work with you to give your landscaping the care it needs this season.

Our Garden and Winter Yard Clean Up services include pruning, leaf clean up, branch and debris clean up, mulching, hedge and shrub trimming, weed control, fertilizing, increasing curb appeal, yard waste removal, weeding, yard clean ups, spreading new beauty bark or gravel, planting and/or removal of plants, and much more. Remember to mulch now to protect your plants before it snows! Call Green Thumb Company at (360) 671-LAWN for a free estimate, or Request a Quote directly from our website.

Indoor and Outdoor Plant Care Between December and February

Taking care of your Indoor and Outdoor plants in Bellingham, WA in the winter

Winter Plant Care in Bellingham, WA

Many people see the fall and winter as a time to close down the garden and wait until the spring to start up gardening activities again. However, there are plenty of things you can be doing through the fall and winter months to continue enjoying the pleasures of gardening, both indoors and out.

As most gardeners soon realize, prepping your plants for the winter is a never ending task — gardening does not end just because summer is over. The timing of gardening chores and events can vary from year to year, depending on weather and site conditions, but a lifetime of winter gardening in the Pacific Northwest has taught me a few tricks to keep things looking great, even through the winter months.

Below is a basic guide to help sort out both the WHAT and the WHEN to tackle the most important tasks to keep both your outdoor AND your indoor garden plants looking fresh and fantastic for the holiday season and beyond.

 Enjoy the season ~ Amy Harmon

Indoor Plants

Houseplants need additional light in the winter months

Houseplants getting additional sunlight through the windows

December

  • Check houseplants for brown, dry edges on their leaves. This may indicate too little relative humidity in the house. Increase humidity by running a humidifier, grouping plants together, or using pebble trays.
  • Extend the beauty of holiday plants, such as poinsettias and Christmas cactus, by placing them in a cool, brightly lit area free from drafts.
  • Houseplants may not receive adequate light because days are short and gloomy. Move plants closer to windows, but avoid placing foliage against cold glass panes. Another option is to add artificial lighting in the area.
  • Because growth slows or stops in winter months, most plants will require less water and much less fertilizer.
  • If you are forcing bulbs for the holidays, bring them into warmer temperatures after they have been sufficiently “precooled”. Two to four weeks of warm temperatures (60°F), bright light, and moderately moist soil are needed to bring on flowers. Bulbs require a chilling period of about 10 to 12 weeks at 40°F to initiate flowerbeds and establish root growth. Precooled bulbs are available from many garden suppliers if you did not get yours cooled in time.
  • When shopping for a Christmas tree, check for flexible, green needles that do not shed, and a sticky trunk base, both indicators of freshness. Make a fresh cut on the trunk, and keep the cut end under water at all times.
  • Evergreens, except pines and spruce, can be trimmed now for a fresh supply of holiday greenery. Use proper pruning techniques to preserve the beauty of landscape plants.

January

  • Keep holiday poinsettias and other plants near bright window. Water as the top of soil becomes dry.
  • Check produce and tender bulbs that you have dug up and kept in storage. Discard any that show signs of decay, like mold or softening. Shriveling indicates insufficient relative humidity.

February

  • Check water levels daily in cut-flower vases and re-cut ends as needed.
  • Repot houseplants as they outgrow current pots.
  • Early blooms of spring-flowering bulbs can make a beautiful gift for your sweetheart. Keep the plant in a bright, cool location for longer lasting blooms. Forced bulbs make poor garden flowers and should be discarded as blooms fade.

Lawns, Woody Ornamentals, Landscape Plants, and Tree Fruits

December

  • Prevent bark-splitting of young and thin-barked trees, such as fruit and maple trees. Wrap trunks with tree wrap, or paint trunks with white latex (not oil-based) paint, particularly on the south- and southwest-facing sides.
  • Protect shrubs, such as junipers and arborvitae, from extensive snow loads by tying their stems together with twine. Carefully remove heavy snow loads with a broom to prevent limb breakage.
  • Protect broadleaf evergreens, or other tender landscape plants from excessive drying by winter sun and wind. Place canvas, burlap, or polyethylene plastic screens to the southland west to protect the plants. Similarly, shield plants from street and sidewalk salt spray.
  • Provide winter protection for roses by mounding soil approximately 12 inches high to insulate the graft union. Additional organic mulch, such as straw, compost, or chopped leaves, can be placed on top. Wait until late winter or early spring to prune.

January

  • Check the lower trunks of young trees for rodent injury. Prevent injury to the tree with hardware cloth/ or protective collars.
  • “Leaf”  (my feeble attempt of a pun) through the nursery catalogs and make plans for landscape and fruit orchard purchases. Order early for best selection.
  • Cut branches of forsythia, honeysuckle, pussy willow, crabapple and other early spring-flowering plants to force into blooming indoors. Place the branches in warm water and set them in a cool location.

February

  • Check mulches, salt/windscreens, rodent shields, and other cold weather plant protections to make sure they are in place.
  • Prune landscape plants, except early spring bloomers, Rhododendrons or other plants that have already budded, which should be pruned after flowers fade.
  • Prune fruit trees to control tree size. Remove dead, damaged, or weak limbs.

Flowers, Vegetables, and Small Fruits

December

  • Protect newly planted or tender perennials by applying mulch such as straw, chopped leaves, or other organic material after plants become dormant.
  • Store leftover garden chemicals where they will stay dry, unfrozen, and out of the reach of children, pets, and unsuspecting adults.
  • Mulch strawberries when temperatures have dropped to 20°F.
  • Clean up dead plant materials, synthetic mulch, and other debris in the vegetable garden as wells in the flower beds, rose beds, and orchards.
  • Order seed catalogs, and make notes for next year’s garden.

January

  • Browse through garden catalogs and order seeds and plants early for best selection.
  • Sketch your garden plans on paper, including what to grow, spacing, arrangement, and number of plants needed.
  • Wood ashes from the fireplace can be spread in the garden, but don’t overdo it. Wood ashes increase soil pH, and excess application can make some nutrients unavailable for plant uptake. Have your soil tested to be certain of the Ph before adding wood ash.

February

  • Prepare or repair lawn and garden tools for the upcoming season. (This will be the next article and I will link the two)
  • Start seeds indoors for cool-season veggies so they will be ready for transplanting to the garden early in the season. Broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage seeds should be started five to seven weeks prior to transplanting.
  • Test leftover garden seed for germination. Place 10 seeds between moist paper toweling or cover with a thin layer of soil. Keep seeds warm and moist. If less than six seeds germinate, then fresh seed should be purchased.

 If you are in need of a residential or commercial yard clean up or grounds maintenance work, give us a call and tell us about your landscaping needs.  We would be happy to give you a  free estimate and work with you to give your landscaping the care it needs this season.

Our Garden and Winter Yard Clean Up services include pruning, leaf clean up, branch and debris clean up, mulching, hedge and shrub trimming, weed control, fertilizing, increasing curb appeal, waste removal, weeding, yard clean ups, spreading new beauty bark or gravel, planting and/or removal of plants, and much more. Remember to mulch now to protect your plants before it snows! Call Green Thumb Company at (360) 671-LAWN or Request a Quote directly from our website.

DIY Tip#1 – Using a Weeder in the Pacific Northwest

I don’t know about you, but weeding in the spring is a chore I don’t mind doing. It’s methodical, almost relaxing for me! and ensures that I enjoy the best part of summer looking over a (relatively) weed free yard and landscape. Here are some Do-It-Yourself Tips to using a weeder to remove unwanted plants and leave a healthy lawn or garden behind.

A weeder is a tool with a long metal spike that is used to pull weeds up from their roots. Weeds here in Bellingham and Ferndale, Washington are especially insidious and their roots run deep so that they can thrive in our climate. Chemical weed killers often kill more than the weeds they are sprayed on. Runoff and seepage may send chemicals onto other plants or into the water supply around Lake Whatcom or into nearby wells. Manually pulling weeds with a weeder gives you the assurance that the weed is out without harm to the surrounding area.

Things You’ll Need:

  • Garden hose or watering can (optional)
  • Bucket or wheel barrow
  • Knee pads (optional)
  • Garden gloves (optional)

Step 1

Wear gloves to avoid contact with irritating thistles, nettles and thorns and also to prevent blisters.

Step 2

Feel the moisture levels in the soil surrounding the weeds by attempting to press your index finger into the soil. The soil is damp enough to pull weeds if your index finger goes into the first knuckle without much effort. Water the soil and wait 30 minutes for the ground to soak up the water to soften the soil before each retest.

Step 3

Jam the sharp metal tip of the weeder straight down into the ground about an eighth of an inch away from the taproot. Shorter weeders require that you get down on the ground to press the in the point of the weeder. Knee pads make the kneeling experience easier and less painful.

Step 4

Shimmy the weeder back and forth until you have loosened the soil next to the root enough to pull the weed from the ground.

Step 5

Press the weeder down on the other side of a main root that is still holding onto the soil. Work the weeder back and forth in the ground as you pull straight up on the weed without snapping the root. Leaving large pieces of the root behind may allow the weeds to regrow.

Step 6

Pull the weeder up out of the ground and knock off any dirt stuck to it before using it to release the next weed root.

TaDah! Done. Is hand weeding really worth the effort? Only you can answer that question. Weeding IS time consuming, but when you can look out over your lawn and landscape and see a weed-free (ish) yard, I sure think it is!

Enjoy your summer ~ Amy


Green Thumb Company is a full-service grounds maintenance company that feels confident in our ability to meet all of your expectations. We have a commitment to provide great landscaping services with outstanding customer satisfaction and have been serving Whatcom County customers in Bellingham, Ferndale and Lynden for more than 20 years.