Geological Exploration in Your Backyard

The world is a big place, and while many of us hope to explore it far and wide someday, most of us don’t have the luxury of traveling whenever and wherever we like. But what if you could study the planet we call home with a hands-on, close-up, fascinating hobby — and all from the comfort of your very own backyard?

Geological exploration can start right at home, no expertise required! This guide has everything you need to begin your backyard geology endeavor, from tools to resources for researching what’s native to your area. Whether you choose to take on this hobby yourself, with a partner, or with your child, it’s a unique, interesting opportunity to learn more about your surroundings and a terrific way to bond with another person. Best of all, you don’t even have to leave home to do it!

Why Geology “Rocks”

Knowing about local earth conditions can help you better plan improvements to your property.

  • If you want to add a pond to your backyard, knowing the kind of dirt you’ll be digging and building into is key.
  • Maybe you’ve always wanted to plant a large tree in your front yard, but aren’t sure which spots would be ideal or whether fertilization would be necessary.
  • Perhaps you’re interested in using rocks or boulders for natural landscaping, and want to use something native to your region.
  • Even making considerations for your children can call upon some geological knowledge.

Understanding the land you live on can also help you identify better ways to live. Learning about local geology will teach you the kinds of crops your area grows and when they’re in season, helping you shop smarter and fresher year-round. If you plan to start your own garden someday, you’ll know exactly the kinds of foods and flowers you can grow, and have valuable insight on helping them thrive. It could even help you shop smarter for clothes and footwear if you understand the kinds of terrain you’re up against!

Finally, picking up “rockhounding” is a great way to get your kids excited about science. It helps them understand basic concepts (like observation, examination, and cause and effect) in a more tangible way. They get to become scientists anytime they step into the backyard, and will likely become more observant of their surroundings in general. It encourages children to be more curious, ask questions, and seek out their own answers. Backyard geology also gives children an actual excuse to dig around in the dirt while still learning, which can encourage even the most skeptical of kids to at least give it a try.

 

Finding the Tools You’ll Need and Exploring (Without Destroying the Yard)

Yet another perk of becoming a rockhound is that most of the tools you need can be found right in your shed. To cover the basics, you’ll need:

  • Magnifying glass
  • Iron nail or paper clip
  • S. penny
  • Kitchen magnet
  • Vinegar
  • Small glass bottle or old drinking glass you won’t mind damaging
  • Small piece of unglazed ceramic or porcelain tile, or a coffee mug you won’t mind damaging
  • Sifting pan
  • Gardening shovel
  • Small notepad and pen
  • Table lighting or desk lamp
  • Microscope
  • Desk or worktable

If anyone has limited mobility in their hands, you can attach a wrist strap to magnifying glasses to make them easier to hold onto, and the penny can be swapped out for an old copper mug. For those with physical disabilities, make sure you to grab some old blankets, towels, or other cushioning to sit on while working. A beach or outdoor umbrella can also be a major aid in blocking out intense sun rays and keeping your work area cool during the hot summer months.

Before heading out, it’s helpful to do a little research to find out what kinds of rocks and minerals are commonly found in your area, as well as wildlife you may encounter. Your local park and recreational center may offer literature on the subject, but perhaps the easiest route is to do an internet search specific to your city or state. Be sure to also investigate any city laws about digging — especially regarding any native minerals — and remind yourself of the exact location of your home’s pipeline system. You likely won’t ever dig that deeply; nevertheless, it’s important to know exactly where everything is.

Once you have a good idea of what you’ll likely encounter, it’s time to head to the backyard!

  • Keep the weather in mind and prepare accordingly: hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen are essential for sunny days, and rain boots or hiking shoes will help you navigate rainy or wet days.
  • Keep your tools in a light, durable bag somewhere near the back door so it’s easy to access and ready to go. Include any rock and mineral identification guides specific to your area you’ve found
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of having a paper copy — you don’t want your electronic tablet spending too much time in the heat, and the possibility of dropping it on a hard surface is especially high when rockhounding.

 

  • Make sure your partner is aware of where you’ll begin your geological digging and exploration, especially if there is a garden or other accents to consider.
  • You might want to choose somewhere somewhat out of sight to begin; with time, you’ll learn exactly how the ground reacts to being disturbed and how to fix it, but it’s probably best to pick subtle spots in the meantime.
  • Your gardening shovel can help you break up the ground if you want to take soil samples to test, or to dig around specimens stuck in the dirt.
  • You can start by simply gathering loose stones that you see to examine more closely later, or you can use your tools to identify characteristics as you go. First, note the specimen’s color and general appearance. Be specific about the hue when assessing the color, as this can make an important difference. Pay attention to the weight of the stone and how it feels in your hand: is it sandy or smooth to the touch?

A single rock can be made up of any combination of all kinds of minerals, so outward appearance alone can’t definitively identify a stone or mineral. The next step is a streak test, in which case you’ll need your small tile or coffee mug. Swipe the stone across the tile and note the color. If the mineral you’ve discovered is harder than the tile, it will leave a scratch.

Assessing just how tough the stone is comes next. This is done using the Mohs Hardness Scale. First try scratching the stone with your fingernail — if you leave a mark, the rock is approximately 2.5 Mohs. The scale continues in the same manner for each of the following tools:

  • Penny = 3 Mohs
  • Glass = 5.5 Mohs
  • Porcelain (if the stone left a scratch instead of a streak) = 6.5 Mohs

The higher the Mohs, the harder the substance. And the harder a substance is, the more likely it is to be valuable. For your reference, diamonds are the hardest known substance scaling in at about 10 Mohs — just keep in mind you aren’t likely to come across diamonds in your backyard!

 

Photo via Pixabay

Checking for effervescence is another simple way to assess a specimen, and while the quality sounds complicated, all you really need in order to test is vinegar. You can pour a little bit of vinegar directly on the stone, ideally over where you’ve scratched it so lower layers may react. If you think the stone could be valuable and don’t want to risk damaging it with too much vinegar, you can instead scratch some powder off onto your glass surface to test instead.

Using a magnet to test the rock can help identify whether there may be iron mineral present, like magnetite or hematite. It can even help you identify a meteorite, though they’re typically very rare.

If you’re able to find much of a mineral all at once, or even clusters of crystals, the shapes, habits, and features will all be important. You might find it helpful to take photos or detailed notes of what you discover so you can investigate at length later, and some may even find it both helpful and cathartic to sketch their findings.

Keep a journal, sketchbook, or photo album to document your geological endeavors. Take note of weather and recent seasonal changes. You might even record the ways animals take refuge in various mineral formations around your backyard during certain parts of the year, whether as protection from heat, rain, cold, or predators.

Enjoy your hobby as often as you can, and take a travel kit so you can continue your geological exploration even away from home. Don’t hesitate to engage others in joining you. It can be a fun, educational way to spend a Saturday with the family or a unique way to spend time with a friend. You never know when you might stumble across something valuable, and the time spent together will always be priceless!

Garden Maintenance & Improvement

Keeping your garden healthy is not only a way to beautify your yard, it can actually add significant value to your home.

Whether you’re a green-thumbed newbie or have been gardening for years, it’s important to know how to maintain your plants in the most efficient and cost-effective ways. From regular upkeep to making additions, we’re here to guide you through the best garden maintenance and improvements.

General Garden Upkeep

Watering

It’s important to note that some areas have watering restrictions, as well as strict laws when it comes to watering during droughts. Enter your zip code here to see if your area is experiencing a drought  and check local watering guidelines for your city.

Although watering your garden probably seems like the most straightforward part of upkeep, there are actually a few things to keep in mind:

  • Stick to a watering schedule and try to water early in the morning when the ground is cool and the sun isn’t as bright.
  • You should water deeply at the base of the plant so the roots can easily access the water. Focusing on the leaves and upper foliage not only deprives the roots of nutrients, it can lead to fungus.
  • Trees and shrubs should receive direct watering about every 7-10 days.
  • Potted and other contained plants in general should be watered once a day. (Not sure if you’re overwatering? Try placing your finger into the soil up to your second knuckle. If it’s dry all the way through, it needs water.)

If you use a sprinkler system, use one with fixtures close to the ground instead of those that waste water by shooting it into the air where it mostly evaporates.

There are also a few watering tools you should use for the most effective hydration depending on what kind of garden you’re raising:

  • For vegetable gardens, use a soaker hose.
  • For annuals and perennials, use a watering wand.
  • For potted plants, use a watering can or wand.

Soil Testing

It’s important to ensure that you use the best possible soil for your garden and the best way to figure out where yours measures up is to perform a soil test. This will allow you to discover its pH level, how acidic (sometimes called “sour”) or alkaline (“sweet”) it is, and thus how easily your plants are able to pull nutrients from it. pH is measured on a scale from 1 (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline), with 7 acting as the general neutral point around which most plants prefer.

You can find a soil testing kit at most gardening or home improvement stores. Within minutes of testing, you’ll learn both your soil’s pH and nutrient levels. Some will also tell you specifically what your soil is lacking, as well as how to fix the issue. Generally, overly-acidic soil can be remedied with lime and overly-alkaline soil calls for a sulfur-based conditioner.

Read and follow the kit instructions carefully. Most will have you take a soil sample, then add a designated chemical along with distilled water. After a designated amount of time (usually just a few minutes), you’ll use a color chart to evaluate your results. Newer gardeners may benefit from asking for a gardening buddy’s expertise for the first test to help assess both the results of the test and how to best fix any problems.

Fertilizing

There are a few choices to make when it comes to fertilizing. You can buy manmade plant food and fertilizer from your local gardening, home improvement, or even some grocery stores. Or if you prefer the all-natural route, you can opt to compost or buy organic fertilizer.

Fertilizer comes in a few different forms such as dry, liquid, slow-releasing and manure:

Dry fertilizer is used mainly as a way to improve the fertility of soil ready for planting, or for increasing the nutrients in well-established plants. It can be dispersed around developed shrubs and trees, or even to perennial beds.

Liquid fertilizer is often used with fruit and vegetable gardens, or for other plants simply in need of a nutrient boost. You can dilute it and add it to soil or compost, or add it to a spraying system to use as foliage feed.

Slow-release fertilizer is great for the gardener on the go: it feeds plants over an extended period of time and typically only requires a single application. You can mix it into compost or add it right to the soil to be absorbed.

Manure is one of the most basic, albeit probably the smelliest, forms of fertilizer and has some amazing benefits. Not only is it rich with nutrients, it also has the ability to improve the soil’s ability to retain water. Use it as a kind of mulching for developed gardens or add it to dug areas you’re preparing to plant.

No matter the form, don’t forget to always wear gloves when working with fertilizer!

Let your soil test help guide your decision as far as what nutrients you look for in a fertilizer. Pay close attention to the product’s instructions for how much and often to fertilize. Too little can lead to weak plant growth, while too much can cause soft, sappy shoot systems attractive to bugs and weak against colder conditions. If a plant seems to be struggling but you can’t figure out its deficiency on your own, talk to a local gardening specialist, even bringing in the plant if possible.

Weeding

The key to preventing and eliminating weeds is to understand how they work. Though their seeds spread easily (and just about everywhere), not all of them are high enough in the soil to receive the sunlight needed to grow. However when you break into a piece of ground and move around the soil, you run the risk of bringing some of the deeper seedlings to surface and accidentally making them viable. A general rule to avoid this is to dig only when you must and once done, cover the area with mulch or other plants.

Ideally it’s best to weed while it’s wet outside and a fishtail weeder can help you pull invasive plants up from their roots. For weeding while it’s dry outside, use a sharp-edged hoe to cut a weed just below the soil line. Some more stubborn weeds may call for stronger or sharper tools like weed wackers, but always use them with caution and keep a close eye out for curious animals and children who may not realize the danger. If you’re unable to completely remove a weed, you can cut off their seed-spreading tops for a quick, but temporary, fix.

Garden Improvements

Perhaps you’re putting your house on the market and hope to add curb appeal with some nice accents to your garden, or maybe you’ve got a pest problem that needs resolved. It could even be that you’re simply bored with its current look. You can recruit the help of a landscape designer or come up with your own plan, but either way there are plenty of options for making improvements to your garden.

Tree and Stump Removal

It could be that you’ve decided to get rid of an overgrown eyesore, or maybe the old stump that once made a folksy addition to your garden display is now too rotted to stick around. Whatever the case, there are a few routes you can take to getting rid of unwanted trees and stumps. Keep in mind that if you’re not used to working with large power tools, it might be worth the investment to hire professional help to avoid personal injury or home damage.

Whenever possible, it’s best to remove the stump completely. Small trees should be cut with about four feet of height so they can be pulled out using a winch and a relatively powerful automobile. If the stump is too big to remove in one shot, you can use a mini excavator to break down the root system or with large but rotted stumps, use a grub hoe to clear it out. If you’re really experienced, you can opt for a stump grinder, though hiring a professional is always the safest route.

Stump killers are another helpful tool for this improvement endeavor. Often, this involves drilling holes or re-cutting the stump at the top since the chemicals used will be most effective on freshly-cut wood. Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely and wear gloves while working.

Paths

A pathway through your garden or yard is a beautiful addition that can really bring the whole look together. Whether you’re looking for a more polished look or something a little more rustic, there are a few basic options to choose from:

  • Mulch
  • Gravel
  • Stepping stones
  • Planted paths

Mulch and gravel will be two of the least expensive options and are relatively simple to build. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll have to edge your pathways to avoid the material spreading. Gravel will be heavier and somewhat more stagnant, but mulch is softer and more kid-friendly, especially if you have little ones who haven’t quite mastered walking just yet!

Stepping stones require little digging and because they allow you to maximize so much space with just one stone, they can be a cost effective option. Generally, you’ll want stones about 18 inches across and 2 inches thick. You’ll have to see specifically which kinds of stone are available in your area, but your local home improvement store should give you great insight into your best options.

Planted paths are a great choice if you’re worried about the tedious task of lining up the stones just right. Any imperfections or uneven placements can be hidden with ground cover plants and give it a more rustic look.

Garden fencing

If critters are creating a problem in your garden, a fence is a terrific way to deter them. The kind of fence you choose may depend on the look you want to achieve, but when possible it’s ideal to make it solid. If the animal can’t see what he’s missing, he’s a lot less likely to try to break in! An alternative would be to install an electric fence that, while more expensive, will be effective at protecting your garden as well as less restrictive on the view.

If it’s a household pet that can’t contain its curiosity, a 3-foot wire mesh fence with strong posts is an easy fix. If your pet is prone to digging, reinforce the fence even further by bending the base into a 2-foot wide apron. Rabbits can be deterred with a similar structure, though it’s recommended you use chicken wire with 1-inch diameter holes. Don’t forget the apron — a hungry rabbit just might dig to get his dinner!

Burrowing pests are especially troublesome and just a few visits can destroy much of your hard work. You’ll have to construct cages around your garden bed buried about 3 feet into the ground, lining the sides and bottom. These animals tend to be persistent, so do your best to check the fence for breaches every couple weeks or contact an animal removal service.

Turning Your Home’s Yard into a Community Garden

The benefits of starting a crop garden are endless: it’s great exercise, gives you the chance for fresh air and time in nature, can give you an outlet for burning off stress — not to mention the wholesome, fresh produce you’ll be adding to your diet. But one of the most wonderful things about gardens is the way they can bring together a group of people, large or small. Converting your yard into a community garden is a rewarding experience for a homeowner, and can have far-reaching positive benefits on your neighborhood.

This guide will cover all you need to know about turning your yard into a community garden, including the different kinds of community gardens there are to choose from. There are quite a few factors to consider in your planning and specific rules to set along the way, so don’t underestimate the power of getting organized. Talk to your home insurance company about your options for community garden coverage. Be sure to also check with your homeowners association or local municipality for any standards or restrictions your area might have, and be willing to make some compromises. You can create a truly beneficial garden even if your original plans must shift, so focus on what you can do and make the most of it.

A Cooperative Garden

One option you have for a community garden is a cooperative project, where neighbors and other volunteers contribute to maintenance and upkeep. The number of people who will be helping can be a major factor in determining the size of the garden, especially if you’re considering using a large portion of land, so assess community interest as soon as possible. You can start by reaching out to neighbors by mail, flyers, or perhaps in your neighborhood’s online community. Suggest a meeting where everyone can gather and talk over the idea.

At your meeting, you’ll want to discuss the positive impacts you see the garden having on the community as a whole:

  • It’s a great opportunity to give everyone a health boost by offering fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs to take home
  • It brings people from all different ages and backgrounds together for a common good
  • It can create a greater familiarity among neighbors
  • It can engage children in both the process of gardening and eating healthy, getting them excited about seeing a seed grow into delicious, nutrient-rich food
  • People at all ages and abilities can contribute in some way

Once you’ve established neighborhood interest, you’ll want to collectively think about expanding interest even further. See who has contacts with local businesses or other potential partners in the community who might be interested in donating funds, seeds, tools, or other supplies to your garden. Even a small one-time donation to help to get your project started can go a long way toward your goals, so be gracious for every gift.

 

It’s a good idea to come up with committees or groups in charge of certain areas: watering and irrigation, weeding, pest control, tool repair, and supplies are just a few to consider. Though you’ll want everyone to contribute to multiple tasks, designating people to keep a special eye on how the tasks are going can help identify and remedy problems much more quickly. Committee leaders might also keep track of who volunteers and which tasks are completed each work day.

Designate a growing season for your garden based on your area’s climate and conditions. It might only be a summer project, or if you’re in a more temperate region, it can extend from spring to fall. Establish what people want to grow during each. This might also settle the question of whether to assign plots or to simply have items in their own zones; go with whichever strategy will best maximize the available space.

The cooperative community garden should also come up with written, agreed-upon rules. This sets up expectations for all participants and establishes actionable resolutions to problems you may encounter. It’s important that everyone is held to the same standard and respects the established rules in order to create a harmonious working environment, but allow for several reminders or warnings before enforcing any consequences. Topics for rules might include:

  • Dues or fees (if any) — how much, how often, and how they’ll be used
  • The space each person is entitled to
  • How common areas like pathways and borders are maintained
  • Using and storing tools
  • Adult supervision for children who are gardening
  • Approved materials and products (some neighbors may want a section for organic gardening, for example)
  • How produce is gathered and distributed
  • Regular performance of certain tasks like weeding, watering, or sweeping

As the homeowner, you’ll also want to establish acceptable working hours. Talk to your family about what works best for them, but generally a schedule like 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily should suffice. Keep in mind that many neighbors may want to come in the morning before work, on their lunch breaks, during the afternoon if they work nights, or after work in the evenings. Give people an adequate chance to participate, but don’t sacrifice too much if you think it could become disruptive to your family’s life. For example, if you have a child who goes to bed early and is easily frightened in the dark, you might want to ask that people only come during daylight hours. In the beginning, you may simply need to let your neighbors know that the hours may change slightly once you see what works best — most families will understand!

Next, consider the tools that will be used in your garden. Have some kind of shed or other storage on-site that is kept locked when unused. Neighbors may want to bring and store their own tools for everyone to use, or dues can be used to purchase specific utensils for the garden. Make sure to cover which tools should only be used by adults and with adult supervision, ideally keeping them stored securely even within the shed. Have a plan for what to do if a tool breaks, including notifying others and seeking repairs. If some tools require cleaning or additional maintenance after each use, consider printing and keeping instructions on the process in waterproof sheet protectors.

Irrigation is another important conversation. Hand watering may be necessary for many of your plants, especially in the beginning. Come up with a watering schedule that holds everyone equally accountable. If you’ll be using your own sprinkler system, ask your neighbors to keep a sharp eye out for malfunctioning spigots or flooded areas so you can fix them as quickly as possible. Have a specific hose, watering can, and faucet designated for your garden so there are always tools present, and people can bring their own as needed. If the majority of watering costs will come from your household usage, consider proposing that a portion of dues are directed to the bill.

Most community garden cooperatives like to have regular meetings, typically once a month or so. You might have more in the beginning and fewer as time goes on and the kinks are all worked out, so be flexible to the schedule. Having some kind of home base for communication — like a group on social media, webpage, or blog — is a helpful way to distribute information and updates more quickly. Some gardens also have a water-resistant bulletin board set up. If your garden is in the backyard, consider placing some kind of marker or sign on your mailbox to let neighbors know where the garden is.

Finally, consider asking fellow gardeners to sign a hold harmless agreement to clear you of liability should injury occur in the garden. After an attorney drafts and checks over the document, hand them out to your neighbors and allow them plenty of time to let their own lawyers take a look. The chances that anything dramatic will happen in your garden are probably low, but it’s important to protect yourself and your family.

Grow-and-Give Community Garden

If you don’t have enough community interest for a group project, or perhaps you’re simply not comfortable with using your property this way, you can still use your garden for the good of your community. Some people choose to plant extra fruits and vegetables in their garden to donate to their local food bank, soup kitchen, or food pantry. You’ll need to consult individual organizations to find out who accepts fresh donations, as well as which days and times you can drop them off.

One of the great things about this method is that anyone who perhaps didn’t have the time to devote to garden work can still help out. Perhaps one of your neighbors works down the street from a food bank and can take donations. It could even be as simple as someone helping you buy more fertilizer with their truck on a Sunday afternoon. Every little bit of help counts, especially when it comes to ending hunger in your community.

Ideas to Remember for Designing the Garden

Deciding on the size will depend mostly on how much land you have and plan to use. If planning a cooperative garden, you’ll also want to consider how that space will be divided up: will each family have its own plot, or will everyone agree on which produce to grow and care for it collectively? Additionally, if you plan on growing more space-consuming foods like berries, watermelon, or gourds, you’ll want to allocate adequate space for them to thrive.

Creating some kind of perimeter, whether it’s bushes or fencing, can not only help ward off pests and the curious noses of pets walking by, it can even add curb appeal for projects visible from the street (and potentially quell any woes from the homeowners association). You may also need some kind of border or strategic landscaping to help irrigate your plants. And don’t forget about perimeters around plots: account for pathways throughout your garden. They should be big enough to easily navigate with a wheelbarrow. A locked gate is a good way to keep intruders out, but cooperatives will need to establish a system of transferring or creating keys among leaders.

If children will be involved, consider creating a special section just for them. They’ll still have the opportunity to get their hands dirty and experience the process, but at their own speed and without affecting crops people are depending on. Keep some child-friendly tools handy in your storage shed. You can even offer gardening classes for kids and newbies so that everyone can start off on a more solid foot.

However you plan and implement it, a community garden is one of the most rewarding ways to give back. You’ll create unforgettable memories and connections with your neighbors, improve your diet, encourage your children to embrace healthy habits, and positively impact hunger in your town — all from your very own yard!

All About Garden Art

Any gardener will tell you that the best gardens usually involve the placing of “garden bones.” Garden bones are more permanent structures that you build the rest of your garden around. This can be something as organic as evergreen trees or as stylized as metal garden art. Of course, garden art can function as more than just the framing structure for your garden. It can provide you with a place to sit or lounge as you enjoy your garden or simply enhance the stroll through your backyard.

Custom Garden Art

You may have a very specific idea of what you want. Garden styles are various and prescriptive, and by the time you add your own touch to the appearance of your garden, you may have trouble finding what you’re looking for. It may not occur to you, but contractors are out there who specialize in customized decorative pieces for your home. You can tell them the material you want and the design you want and they can make it for you. Depending on what you want, you may have to pay a premium price, but if you’re working within a budget, the contractor may have suggestions to produce something similar within your price range.

Use Recycled Items for Garden Art

Recycled items may not be the first thing that comes to your mind for garden art, and admittedly, it’s not for everyone. If you’re looking for a way to spruce up your garden on a truly limited budget, this may be the way to do it. Old newspapers or soda cans aren’t going to work, but any number of household items can be reused as garden art long after they’ve worn out their welcome indoors. Old furniture, especially unique coffee tables, storage cabinets, or baby cribs, can be garden gems. Plus, you’d be surprised how your old bathtub can be transformed into a beautiful piece of garden art. Even though newspaper doesn’t last and has no particular visual appeal, other household items such as old clothes, book covers, or other flat items of possible sentimental or aesthetic value can make for one amazing scarecrow.

Garden Art Alternatives

Garden art can be almost anything, even when it’s not called garden art. Garden furniture, most commonly benches but also tables and chairs, is great for livening up your garden with an artist’s touch. Trellises or other walkway coverings are an ideal way to create a secluded, romantic atmosphere to your garden. Birdbaths, bat houses, and other artificial wildlife habitats can be just as decorative as any other piece of art and are just as integral as the flowers you plant to create a wildlife garden.

Metal Garden Art

Metal may seem like a strange material to include in your garden, but it offers a flexibility and affordability that few other materials can. Be it a classic wrought iron bench or gate, or a more custom metal sculpture, you’re bound to find some piece of metal garden art that will greatly enhance the look of an outdoor space. Metal fabricators can create a wide variety of customized metal garden art, including animal sculptures and other complicated and decorative designs. For larger garden items, such as gazebos, a metal like aluminum may be the only way to make the project feasible, as it is a lot cheaper (and more durable) than wood.

Right Flowers For Your Garden

There are few home projects that compare to the benefits gardening provides. Not only does it create a natural beauty in your yard, but it’s also a great hobby, exercise and creative outlet. Though some are concerned about upkeep, you can burn between 300 and 400 calories for every hour spent moderately gardening, making it a worthwhile investment for your home and your body.

One of the biggest errors beginners make is choosing the wrong plant. This can leave homeowners discouraged and yards neglected. We’re here to make this easier with a few tips on how you can choose the right flowers and plants for your beautiful garden.

Annuals

From growth to bloom, annuals live for just one season. Annuals are beneficial to any garden and any person who likes to get creative from year to year. These types of plants are typically cheaper than their perennial counterparts and will bloom all season long, so you have ample time to admire them. Some annuals are self-seeding, so you may end up with a few of the same flowers the following year. This is an important detail to remember if you intend on planting new annual flowers every year.

Here are some beautiful annuals to add color to your flower bed.

  • Begonia
  • Cosmos
  • Geranium
  • Helenium
  • Marigold
  • Milkweed
  • Petunia
  • Snapdragon
  • Strawflower
  • Sunflower
  • Zinnia

Biennials

Similarly, biennial flowers follow the same cycle but last for two years. The first year, the plant grows and stems, but will not bloom. In the second year, the flower will bloom for the season, then die. Many biennials are self-seeding, but this depends on the flower. Blooming and growth typically depend on the climate as well. Climates with drastically changing seasons can treat biennials as annuals, as extremes can shorten the lifecycle.

Generally, it will take two years to see the flower in bloom. Biennials tend to be less common than other flower types in household gardens. However, your patience is worth it, as biennial flowers are stunning. Here are a few to consider planting.

  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • California Poppy
  • Canterbury Bells
  • Foxglove
  • Poppy
  • Stock
  • Sweet William
  • Wallflower

 

Perennials

For homeowners, perennials are particularly useful as they grow year after year. They have an expected lifespan of at least three years, but can stay alive for longer depending on care and weather conditions. Some perennials can be green ground covering plants, which is great to disperse between flowers for variations. Though they might last long in your garden, they tend to be a bit more expensive and do not bloom as long. Though, the upfront cost is offset by not having to replant your flowers every spring and should be considered in your landscaping budget.

Perennials are a great and colorful investment to your yard. They add variation and splendor to the garden year after year. Here are a few to consider adding.

  • Alstroemeria
  • Bleeding Heart
  • Coneflower
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Hibiscus
  • Hydrangea
  • Iris
  • Lavender
  • Tulips
  • Speedwell

Garden Factors to Consider

Now that you know the different lifespans of flowers you can plant, you must make sure the conditions are right for them to grow properly. A great garden has a mix of types and seasonalities, like planting annual and perennials. Flowers, like most plants, need specific conditions and factors to thrive depending on species. If you’re uncertain about what flowers will work best in your garden, contact a pro.

Sunlight

Any plant needs some amount of sunlight to grow. It’s important to be aware of how much sunlight your flowers need. There are five common sunlight classifications for flowers.

  1. Full-Shade: No direct sunlight here. This space will likely be on the north side of your home, under dense trees or shadowed by a neighbor’s home.
  2. Partial-Shade: Sunlight will reach the area for part of the day, either in the morning or afternoon.
  3. Light-Shade: Sunlight reaches the ground after passing through leaves of trees and bushes.
  4. Partial-Sun: Similar to partial-shade, however, these plants in this category can handle the midday sun.
  5. Full-Sun: These plants can withstand the midday sun and need at least seven hours of sunlight to thrive.

Many times, homeowners will write off a low sun area in their yard just because they don’t understand that there are some flowers that grow in shade. In fact, flowers such as forget-me-nots, coral bells, impatiens and primroses are beautiful choices that do well in shady spots. These plants will either stop growing or die in the midday summer sun. Always check the light requirements needed before planting.

When to Plant Flowers

Flowers can be very temperamental if planted in the wrong season. Depending on the climate you live in or how long it takes for the flower to grow and bloom, figuring out when to plant your garden can seem like a puzzle that is impossible to put together. Many flowers can’t survive moderate frosts, so be aware of your area’s predicted frost date to get an idea of when you can start planting.

If you have an idea on what flowers you’d like to plant, check this handy planting guide to end some of the frustration. If you’re in a warmer climate, you’ll want to start planting your garden around February, so the flowers will be blooming in early spring. Colder climates will need to wait a few months until about late April to expect blooms in mid-to-late summer.

If you’re excited to get planting, but live in a colder climate, you have the option of starting some seeds indoors and transfering outdoors when the warm weather arrives. You can create your own seed starter kit with materials you have at home like toilet paper and egg cartons, to make for easy outdoor transfers. When in doubt, check the packaging of the seeds or store bought starter plants.

Growing Size

This is an important step in the garden planning process. Not all flowers are small. Know what dimensions will work best in your garden plot. Then, research the dimensions of your intended flowers when they hit full maturity. If you want a mixed garden, know if the flower will continue to spread and plant as to not overtake the other plants. Some flowers, like sunflowers, grow very tall and could visually look disproportionate with your garden.

When to Water

A crucial element to any flower growth is water. In addition to sunlight, your garden will need water to be healthy. Water quantity requirements may vary by flower species and the amount of light it receives. Generally, you’ll want to pick a time to regularly water, either late in the evening or early in the morning. Keep all water distributed evenly, directed at the ground and not at the leaves of the plant, as this can create mold or burn marks from the midday sun. Choosing a quality soil to plant your flowers in will not only add nutrients to the flower, but likely will stay moist throughout the day.

Native Plants

Your garden is more than just a beautiful yard adornment; it’s an important part of your local ecology, and should be considered when planning a garden. When you’re planning the foliage you’d like to include in your flower bed, be sure include native plants. These plants have significant value to wildlife and are likely to thrive in your current climate. Plants that do well on the East Coast may easily die on the West Coast.

There are many benefits to the gardener as well. Native plants typically require lower maintenance and reduces the risk of invasive plants taking over your foliage. These plants also attract interesting wildlife such as butterflies and hummingbirds for you to enjoy.

Learn More About A Perfect Garden Path

Do you dream of a dreamy backyard? Are you looking for a clever way to access parts of your garden without stepping on any precious petals? If you haven’t considered it yet, a garden path may be right for you.

From mulch to stepping stones, there are many options when it comes to creating your perfect garden path. Even more, you have the opportunity to decorate with lawn ornaments and plants how you wish. A garden path is the perfect addition to any backyard. See a few garden path ideas to incorporate in your landscaping this year.

Ready to transform the look of your yard? Contact a landscaping pro today for up to four quotes from contractors in your area for free.

Garden Path Costs

A garden path is a fairly low maintenance investment that can have a big impact on the look and function of your yard. It can improve accessibility to parts of your garden you may not otherwise be able to reach. Garden path costs vary based on the material chosen and if you decide to DIY. The average cost to install a pathway is $2,884, with most homeowners spending between $1,952 and $3,122.

Garden Path Materials

The cost of your garden path largely depends on the material you choose and if you choose to install it yourself.  You may even decide to use multiple materials. While you might want the help of a pro to get your cement path just right, stepping stones might be an easy DIY project. Here are a few materials you can use for your garden path:

Stepping Stone Garden Paths

Of all the options, a stepping stone garden path is the easiest to DIY. For a whimsical look, lay flat stones down on the ground. It helps level your ground first so the stones are even.

Mulch Garden Paths

If you’re ready to create a permanent path in your garden and help keep weeds from sprouting up, mulch is your answer. This is also a garden path option that many homeowners choose to DIY. You may need to dig the path into the ground to properly lay your mulch flush with the grass. The minimum costs of mulch is $200 and the maximum cost of mulch is $2,000. These costs depend on how much mulch needed and the type of mulch used.

Brick Garden Paths

A brick walkway will instantly transform the look of your garden path. A brick path is a look that will never go out of style and for good reason. Brick paths have a long lifespan and are very durable. But, this is not something you’ll want to DIY.  The cost of a brick walkway is between $8 and $18/sf.

Cement Garden Path

Similarly to the brick path, a cement path is a great, durable choice for your garden path. Cement paths can be styled to your taste and space you have available. We recommend to contact a pro who can help lay your cement garden path. The average cost of a cement path is between $6 and $12/sf.

 

Garden Path Maintenance

Once your garden path is in place, there is some upkeep you need to do to keep it looking its best. First, know how to properly care for whatever material you’ve chosen to use. Mulch should be refreshed at least once a season, while brick may not need as much care for the first few years.

If you want a clean look for your garden path, consider a way to separate it from the rest of the yard by using other materials. Others, may want to include decorative plants along their path. Ornamental grasses are a great option and will come back year after year. Some homeowners choose to install lawn edging, which is simple to do on your own and keeps the grass off your path. Lawn edging is another technique to help create a clean and defined garden path. The average cost of lawn edging is between $2 and $400 depending on how much area you need to cover.

Garden Path Lights

If you’ll be using your garden path to move around your backyard, you might want to consider including lights to help see as it gets darker outside. Garden path lights are not just a safety feature, but they also enhance the look of your path. Solar lighting is a popular choice for path lights, as it takes no wiring to set up. Often, these will be affixed to stakes to simply stick in the ground, coming in a variety of styles. Lantern garden path lights are popular now and will add to the décor of your garden path. Stainless steel lights are another popular option to give your garden path a modern look.

Garden Path Lawn Ornaments

To really make a garden path stand out, you can add lawn ornaments around the path. I love the look of gazing globes in various spots near a path. There are also decorative garden path stakes you can include, that will look great and are sure to stay in place.

All About A Rooftop Garden

Living in an urban environment is not the same as living in a house and having a garden yard. While it is true that the urban environment doesn’t quite present the same possibilities, there is one option you can consider and that is designing your very own rooftop garden.

All you need is a roof that can support gardening conditions and the environment and you are good to go. It doesn’t take much to get the project going. In fact, it’s a relatively easy endeavor, which mostly requires motivation and a clear vision of what you want to achieve. Following some basic tips from Handy Gardeners Ltd. on how to get started and easily create your very own green retreat in the middle of the city.

Here is what areas of your rooftop garden you have to work on:

 

Floor

A garden space is not all about the plants and greenery you have there; it is also about having the right flooring to add accent or to simply look good. Concrete pavers are most commonly found on condos, but those contribute to a cold and impersonal look. The way to go, if such is the case with your building, is to install decking over existing pavers. Wood makes an excellent choice, but there are also other recycled decking materials on the market that offer colorful patterns and finishes.

Soil

One of the most important components for roof gardening is soil. Do not go after your usual triple mix, as that will not work. The mixture is easily compacted and because the soil is on the roof, there will be less chance for aeration. What you can do is get some container mix and slow release fertilizer. Add some Vermiculite or Perlite and you have yourself a fantastic soil mixture.

Containers & Pots

While Terra Cotta is certainly the most common option in any gardening attempt, you should opt for something different. The problem with this material is that the pots and containers dry out very fast when there is no shade, which is generally the case with rooftops. The best option is to have insulated, custom-made planters.

 

Drainage

Water needs to drain out of your containers in some way. For this reason, you must not forget to leave some space open at the bottom of the pots for air to move.

Plants

Effective gardening requires careful selection of plants. If you are after perennials, you are on a good track, but you must ensure that you have deep enough pots to support new growth and that the plants are insulated from the elements. Flowers of all kinds look really beautiful and make an excellent addition to any rooftop garden. Remember that you should add foliage, as it requires little maintenance