Certain top-heavy plants, like delphiniums, Asiatic lilies and peonies, tend to flop over just as their blossoms look their best. The Optica Plant Support System from Luster Leaf keeps flowering plants upright without getting in the picture itself.
Flexible fiberglass rods loop around individual plants or prevent groups of plants from spilling into paths; the rods attach to stakes with small connectors. Although the best time to support plants is when they're young, the system also works on mature stems. Stake heights range from 24 to 36 inches, while rings adjust from 6 to 24 inches in diameter. All components are interchangeable, which means supports can be customized for any plant.
Ten prepackaged combinations of stakes and rods are available. Prices range from $3.39 for a single stake and rod to $9.99 for a multipiece system that supports up to an 8-foot-long flower border. Check garden centers, or call Luster Leaf at (800) 327-4635.
Finding the right site for vegetables
Location, location, location is more than just a mantra for home buyers; it also holds for vegetable gardeners. One essential is good soil drainage with no standing water, even after the heaviest rain.
Other practical advice:
Pick a spot away from trees and shrubs that might compete with vegetables for water, nutrients and light.
Be sure the location is sunny. Leafy vegetables, such as lettuce and spinach, require direct sunlight four to five hours daily. Root vegetables, like carrots and beets, need five to six hours of sun. And fruiting vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers and zucchini, require at least eight hours each day.
Locate the garden near a water source to make irrigating easy and convenient.
If possible, situate the garden so you can see it from a window. Besides enjoying its beauty, you'll also be more likely to notice what needs tending, letting you take full advantage of the harvest.
Don't overfeed your trees
Spring is when most homeowners fertilize the plants around their yard, including trees. Just don't overdo it, cautions Deborah Smith-Fiola, an agent with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension in New Jersey. "While fertilizing causes a spurt of rapid growth, too much can harm the plant over the long term," she explains.
Fast-growing, overfertilized trees end up with smaller root systems that absorb water and nutrients less efficiently than slower-growing trees. The result is that trees are more susceptible to stress, including drought. They also have lower levels of stored carbohydrates and defensive chemicals, making them more susceptible to all kind of pests. What's more, the lush growth overfertilizing encourages invites certain pests, including aphids and scale insects.
Smith-Fiola advises having your soil tested by the local extension service for fertility and pH levels before fertilizing. Then use these results to determine the appropriate fertilizer and application rate. Remember, too, that trees growing in a fertilized lawn rarely need any additional fertilizer.
Butterflies are becoming increasingly scarce as residential and commercial development destroys their habitats and endangers many species. You can help reverse the decline by growing plants butterflies feed on. The results are mutually beneficial because a landscape attractive to butterflies, such as the tiger swallowtail, is rich in flower color and enhanced by the beauty of these winged creatures.
"Butterfly Gardening," from the University of Minnesota Extension Service, is a great way to get started. The 21-page guide ($5) lists plants preferred by butterflies. Author Vera Krischik provides a simple garden plan that incorporates 24 butterfly plants, and explains how to provide a butterfly shelter. Review the booklet at: http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/ horticulture/DG6711.html.
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