An Autumn chill has crept into the nights and we have closed up most of the windows in the house to keep the warm daytime air in. The cooler weather is a welcome respite from the heat and humidity that has dogged us for the majority of the summer. On Sunday, after we waved goodbye to the grandparents, a tale for a different day, Shae and I set to work on planting fall perennials and spring bulbs around the house. Frugal Boy moped inside, he had a serious case of the blues and missed Grandma and Grandpa.
Before we rebuilt the porch, it was surrounded by perennial mums. A year and a half of construction had killed off the majority of the plantings surrounding the porch, so we picked up almost 100 bulbs plus 16 quart sized yellow garden mums from Menards. The home improvement store was running an 11% off sale that made the mums an attractive $1.11/ea. Tulip bulbs were 19¢ a piece and giant alliums were 20¢ each.
We spent a couple of hours relocating two dozen hostas from the front of the house to fill in other areas. Then we laid out a two row pattern of hyacinths and tulips for the flower bed in front.
Next Spring we’ll probably need to add in some Summer and Fall color to this flower bed.
Next, we dug a trench around the southern and eastern porch edges to plant giant alliums, tulips, hyacinths, and yellow mums. Mums are a fall perennial so my hope is that as one plant dies off or loses appeal, another will take its place. Experienced gardeners call this layering and know what they are doing. I took a more spray and pray attitude.
With any luck, everything that we planted will come back for years to come.
Summer seems to be here to stay and the house has been warming up. Shae and I talked again about getting air conditioning (our 1984 unit has never worked since we moved in). The conversation only took about 5 seconds as we both understood that the choice was to either get AC or pay off the house this year. The needs have once again trumped the wants.
The cheaper and lengthier option is to plant some shade trees in our yard. Our yard is very spartan of trees with only a silver maple along the street and an ornamental by the front of the house. Last fall we planted a Japanese dogwood in the front to replace the neighbors tree that fell over in heavy rains. We also planted a silver linden in the far backyard.
Yesterday my order of two Princeton American Elm trees arrived in the mail from a nursery in Joplin, Missouri.
Some Tree History
American elm trees were THE street boulevard tree in the United States. The vase like shape made great cathedral canopies that formed aesthetically pleasing shaded passageways for horse drawn carriages and early automobiles.
Then in the 1920s, disaster struck. Lumber imported from Europe contained an invasive beetle and the beetle carried spores for a deadly fungus. The beetles ate the bark from the American elm trees and spread the spores of the fungus from tree to tree. The fungus would cause necrosis and was the source of what came to be known as Dutch Elm Disease, or DED. DED wiped out millions of elm trees in America and the once beloved tree that inspired more Elm streets than Main streets was largely forgotten or shunned.
Municipalities, looking for a new streetscape tree to take the place of elms turned to the attractive ash tree. Of course, you know what happened to ash trees. Once again an invasive beetle, the emerald ash borer came into the ecosystem and devastated the ash tree population.
For the third time, municipalities had to search for replacement trees to line the streets with. This time silver maples, ornamental pears, lindens, and oaks were selected. Each has its own set of problems but so far none has been massacred like the elms and ashes before them.
Then something kind of miraculous happened. In the 1990s the USDA began research on hybridized elm trees with resistance to DED. Several new cultivars were developed including, Valley Forge, Jefferson, and New Harmony. Princeton was an old cultivar that was found to have natural DED resistance and cuttings (clones) of these old surviving trees were propagated after testing well against DED infection. The USDA testing for DED resistance found that the new cultivars had 86% to up to 95% survival rates (depending on the cultivar) when injected with two to three million spores. The typical beetle will carry around 100 spores.
Shae and I measured and staked the locations for the two trees a few days ago. Princeton elms grow to 60-80′ tall and a crown diameter of 30-40′. In favorable conditions they can grow 3-6′ a year and can live between 100-300 years.
To plant our new trees, I dug a hole about three times the width of the pot and about the same depth as the pot. I removed all of the grass and mixed in some potting soil. The tree should be planted at the same height or slightly higher than the surrounding terrain. Planting too deep is detrimental to the tree because the roots need oxygen from the surface and the trunk doesn’t like to be covered up with soil or mulch.
Both trees were root bound. Root binding happens when a tree or shrub outgrows its container size. The roots will hit the edge of the container and then start circling around. The best way to deal with root bound plants is to cut an X in the bottom and four vertical slits on the sides to free up the roots. If the roots aren’t freed and pointed outwards, they will continue to grow around in circles and eventually strangle themselves.
I finished up the planting by adding a layer of triple shredded hardwood bark mulch to help keep moisture from evaporating. I also added a plastic guard to protect the trunk from animals, little boys, and the lawn mower. The mulch should not be touching the trunk and the sapling trees will need daily watering for the first couple of months until their roots are established.
Like a small human child, elm trees need the most care in the first 5-10 years of their lives. Annual pruning to develop a strong central leader (trunk) is recommended to keep the iconic vase like shape that elms are known for. Pruning should be done in the early spring or late fall when the tree is dormant. Bugs are not active yet and the risk of infection is lower at these times.
If all goes well, these trees should grow to be about 25-30 feet tall in 8-10 years. That should provide us with a nice shady backyard and a cooler house. Even if we have installed a new AC unit, we should still benefit with lower electricity bills because of the added shade.
I am 99% finished with a weekend home improvement project and it is only Thursday! Just don’t ask what weekend I started on. 😉
Shae and I have been talking for a while about building some kind of raised garden/flower bed in our backyard. I wanted something tall but affordable. Shae wanted low maintenance. Here is the almost finished product that has been erected in our backyard.
A view from the inside of the ‘L’
and a view from the alley.
From the Beginning
Every project of ours starts with a written plan. We often go through several iterations of a design before settling on ‘the one’. The first proposal was a simple rectangle and the site location for it was a completely different part of our backyard. It was only about a foot tall and made entirely from cedar.
Of course that didn’t really meet any of our specs. Cedar is an expensive wood, at least when compared to pine. The planter was only a foot tall and it wasn’t self watering. There had to be a design that would meet all of our requirements and eventually we started toying with an L shaped hybrid design that incorporated low cost treated, stained pine with galvanized sheet metal.
Several revisions later and we had our bill of materials.
Menards was running an 11% rebate sale, that we took advantage of. We also rented one of their trucks ($22.50) for 75 minutes from when you leave the outdoor yard.
We unloaded all of the material minus the dirt into our garage for the evening. I posted the below picture to Facebook and asked friends to guess what I was building. People were very creative in their guesses, although most were spot on that it had to do with gardening. That night I started building the frame in the garage.
Saturday morning, Shae helped me drag the frame out of the garage and put it next to its final resting place. It was a bit taller than either of us anticipated!
Due to its weight, we decided that I would build the rest of it in place, so we marked out where it would go on the grass.
Then dug out and leveled the ground so the planter would sit evenly.
After dragging the skeleton into place and leveling it, I started fitting the metal panels.
After fitting the first panel, I instantly knew there was a serious design flaw. My intention was to have the panel hold the dirt in, but with it only being secured at the top and bottom, it was far too ‘bendy’ and easily bowed in and out with the slightest amount of pressure. To resolve this, I bought three additional stained and treated 2x4s to brace the panels on the outside. I also had to buy an additional four regular treated 2x4s to replace the ones that had to be used for bracing.
Being able to screw the sides of each panel added much needed rigidity.
With the panels in place, I turned my attention to the inside of the planter. Instead of filling the entire planter with dirt, an expensive and back breaking proposition, we opted to instead build a raised internal floor. I secured treated 2×4 joists to the vertical 4x4s.
Treated 1x6s were cut to size and installed as planking. Frugal Boy enjoyed cruising along the inside.
Once all of the floorboards were installed, I grabbed some left over heavy duty plastic from when we lined one of our crawlspaces and carefully placed it into the planter to make a liner.
With the liner stapled to the top of the planter, I cut 3″ corrugated, perforated drainage tube to fit the bottom.
These tubes act as a water reservoir and form a critical part of the ‘self watering’ aspect of the planter. Of course, you need a way to add water to the reservoir and that is where this handy fill tube comes into play.
We also needed an overflow drainage pipe. I used a scrap piece of pvc and drilled a bunch of holes into it.
I cut a hole in the planter side just above the corrugated pipe
and inserted the overflow pipe.
The overflow is on the far side of the fill tube.
All of the piping gets wrapped in landscape fabric to prevent dirt from falling in and filling/clogging up the watering system.
Then it was time to add dirt! I started with some sand along the sides of the corrugated piping. I read somewhere that top dirt sitting in water will begin to stink as anaerobic bacteria goes to town.
With the dirt added, the only major thing left was to add the edge cap. I used treated and stained 2x6s and secured them with screws from the underside to leave an unmarred top surface.
Besides sowing seeds, something that will have to wait until it gets a bit warmer, the only big item left to complete the project is to add gravel along the perimeter like so.
I am putting down landscape fabric to keep weeds from popping up next to the planter. Holding that in place is river rock because it is cheap and attractive. I have to go back to the store for a few more bags of rock. I also need a PVC cap for the supply tube so mosquitos cannot breed in the underground reservoir.
So there you have it! Hopefully the self watering system will work by wicking moisture from the reservoir to the root systems. We should only have to water once a week even during the hottest days of summer.
Shae has been deciding what she wants to plant and already has a few ideas.
Leave a comment with what you would plant! Who knows, maybe we’ll try it out ourselves.
Being a home owner is awesome. That awesomeness has a price stapled to it and when we became home owners for the first time last year, it became abundantly clear that we would need to acquire some more stuff. One of those things was a lawn mower and because we moved in at the beginning of the summer it wasn’t something that I could procrastinate on.
Who am I kidding, I bummed and borrowed neighbors mowers for the first month while I avoided spending any more money on house stuff (buying five new appliances, a water heater, mattress, and tons of other stuff will cure you of shopping).
Thankfully, my in-laws gifted us with their used corded electric mower. It had a tiny 18″ mowing deck, but our yard is tiny and most importantly the price was right, free! I bought a new blade for it and a really long extension cord and quit bothering our neighbors (probably to their relief). Over the course of the summer I learned the best way to cut the grass while being mindful of the energy supplying umbilical cord. It got the job done, even if I spent more time untangling cord than cutting grass.
This spring shopping fever was starting to take hold again. All of the home improvement stores had such nice displays of mowers. The memory of fighting extension cords was still fresh and motivating me to find something better. Gas mowers have been around a long time, don’t have cords to worry about, and are economical. I used to mow my parents lawn and some lawns around my hometown using a trusty gas mower, but given the fact that we have such a dainty yard and no other gas powered tools, it seemed inefficient to add a gas tool to our otherwise all electric collection. A corded electric mower was out of the running from the get go but maybe a battery powered one might be the answer. Battery powered mowers have come a long way in recent years thanks to the mass production of lithium ion batteries. These energy dense rechargeable batteries have taken the consumer electronics market by storm, but like any rechargeable battery, it will wear out over time. The prospect of spending $100 every three years is not very appealing to me. The only other way of mowing a yard is by human power. Reel mowers are a centerpiece fixture of my imagining of the 1950s. One of our neighbors has a reel mower and it is wonderfully quiet, especially when his neighbor brings out a gas monster. My wife, Shae, is all in favor of reel mowers, but she’s also mowed the yard once (ever in her whole life). So like any on-the-fence individual, I did nothing and slugged out another season with the long tailed red devil.
This past week while mowing the yard, the mower became very difficult to steer. Looking down I saw that one side of the handle had disconnected from the mower body. “AHA, the mower is broken, now I can justify a new one”, I thought, until the ridiculousness of that statement hit me a minute later.
Knowing what I had to do, I went to the hardware store and spent $1.31 for a new bolt and wing nut.
Two minutes later, the mower was fixed.
While this mower is a bit of a pain to use, it does do the job it is meant to do and until it properly dies, I’ll keep on using it. How often do we throw something out or buy something new just because we don’t have the best or shiniest. I bet I can get another year out of this mower, and at the end of next year, I will probably say the same thing.
Thanks in-laws for the functioning mower. It gets the job done and we’ve been able to put money towards things that really matter, like Frugal Boy’s education fund.
This year Shae got inducted into the sorority of Mothers so naturally we had to do a little extra celebrating for Mother’s Day.
One of the popular Mother’s Day gifts are hanging baskets. A hanging basket can provide beauty for several months, fits nicely into gift spending price ranges, and coincides well with the normal growing season.
On Friday, we shopped around some of the locally owned nurseries to see what kind of hanging baskets they had.
Wow, what a lovely display of annuals. Here is another attractive arrangement.
Store prices range from $10 at big box retailers to upwards of $50 at Mom & Pop establishments. The ones shown above where 10″ plastic pots for $30.
We wanted 3 baskets to fill out our front porch and while we could have picked out 3 and called it a day we wanted a bit more of an experience. So we decided to try and make our own!
After striking out at two garden centers we finally found some nice Calibrachoas fresh off the growers truck at where of all places? Lowes. We also found Dwarf Coreopsis, a mounding perennial. To tie it all together we picked out an attractive metal and coconut lined 14″ hanging basket. In my opinion it looks far superior to the plastic bins that most pre made hangers come in. One advantage of larger basket sizes is that they hold moisture better than smaller baskets and that means less chance of the flowers drying out and wilting.
On a side note, don’t wear a red shirt and a front baby carrier to Lowes. I was asked by a gentlemen to get the forklift and load a pallet of stone into his truck. He was surprised when I informed him that I wasn’t an employee. Later, a woman asked me what time the store closed. Apparently wearing a baby screams Lowes employee to people. Who knew?
Anyway, back to the task at hand. I read that the coconut liners are prone to drying out and that a plastic liner should be used to help retain moisture. We made impromptu liners out of grocery bags and cut holes in the bottom for drainage.
Then we added a bit of enriched soil to the bottom of the pots. Container plants have to get all of their “food” from a finite amount of soil. Each time you water the plant, a little bit of the food is washed away from the roots. That is why it is important to add a time released fertilizer that will slowly leach food into the soil over the course of several months.
Here are our two Calibrachoa (mini petunias) baskets. There are 6 individual plants in each one and hopefully they will get much larger. Each basket weighs about 20 pounds when fully watered.
With the annuals all set to go it was time to work on the perennials.
The dwarf coreopsis were tightly intertwined with their neighbors and proved difficult to separate. Instead of trying to separate them at the store we just bought a carton. When we finally did get them pulled apart, we discovered that one of the pots was just dirt! A quick trip back to the store and a skeptical dirt poking clerk later we were back on track.
With the pots fully watered we proudly hung them up on our front porch. Aren’t they nice looking?
Happy Mother’s Day.
The E… WAIT!!!
STOP THE PRESSES. There is a problem.
All of these plants are full sun but they are in the shade. We figured that we either needed to lower the baskets down to the level of the railing or extend them out further from the house in order to get full sun. The latter seemed like a better option so I set about making some base plates for the metal extension hooks. These simple octagon plates are made from some scrap 1×4 with only a miter saw and router.
Now these sun loving plants can get all the rays that they need.
I also trimmed up all of the bushes so I can check that off my honey do list.
Making our own baskets didn’t save us much money this year because we had to buy the reusable baskets and extension hooks. They also aren’t as full bodied as the store bought versions. On the plus side our baskets have many positive memories associated with them and we learned a lot by doing this project. Next year we might try to start some annuals from seed and see if we can have any success.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a complete Mother’s Day post unless I included a couple of pictures of Grandmothers and Frugal Boy.