Posted on

Pros and Cons of Common Pathway Materials

stepping stone pathway

Paths and walkways aren’t just a functional part of your landscaping; they can also help elevate the style and design of the landscape. Walkways invite us to explore the landscape and lead the eye through space towards feature elements. They make a yard or garden feel welcoming while also making a space more accessible. 

The best material for your yard depends on your personal preference and budget. There are lots of different ways to create paths and walkways in your landscape. Here are the pros and cons of a few of the best walkway materials

gravel pathway

Gravel Walkways

The pros of using gravel as a walkway or path material are: 

  • It’s very affordable.
  • It promotes good drainage.
  • It’s eco-friendly since path gravel is often a recycled byproduct from other quarry processes. 
  • It’s relatively easy to install. 
  • It requires very little digging or leveling. 

 

But, using gravel comes with some cons, too: 

  • Large chunks of gravel can make it difficult to walk on, push strollers through, or operate mobility devices over. 
  • Gravel often migrates from the path into surrounding beds and lawn. 
  • Weeds can grow through it quite easily.
  • It’s not necessarily the prettiest material.
  • Your gravel will need to be refreshed every couple of years, especially on high-traffic pathways.
stepping stone walkway

Stepping Stone Pathways

The pros of stepping stones are: 

  • They’re extremely durable.
  • They can be laid in a variety of artistic patterns or styles and adjusted quite easily. 
  • They’re available in many different styles and colors. 
  • You can grow walkable ground covers like thyme between pavers for a beautiful effect.

The cons of stepping stones are: 

  • They can be heavy.
  • They need a level gravel base, so they require more work to install. 
  • Weeds can grow in between them. 
  • If they’re laid individually in your lawn, you’ll need to lift, relevel, and edge the grass around them every few years.

Wooden Boardwalk Pathways

The pros of wooden boardwalks are: 

  • They’re relatively easy to build if you’re a handy DIY-er. 
  • You can create almost any design you want.
  • You can use recycled or reclaimed wood.
  • Wood feels nice to walk on with bare feet and doesn’t hold extreme temperatures like stone or concrete. 
  • You can match pathways to existing wooden decks or patios. 
  • Wood will weather and color fade beautifully.


The cons of wood pathways are: 

  • The price of lumber in 2021 is very high. 
  • If you don’t have the DIY skills, having one installed is more costly than gravel or stepping stones. 
  • They do need to be treated, stained, or painted every few years.
  • Wood will eventually start to break down. 
  • You do have to do quite a bit of leveling before you can install. 
  • You might get slivers when walking barefoot.

Poured Concrete Walkways

The pros of concrete are: 

  • You can achieve clean and crisp lines. 
  • You can color and even stamp concrete to match the style of your home. 
  • It creates a flat, consistent surface, easy for strollers, wagons, and mobility devices. 
  • It’s easy to shovel in winter. 
  • If properly installed and cared for, it lasts for decades.


The cons of concrete are: 

  • It may crack as a result of temperature fluctuations in the winter. 
  • It needs a well-prepared base and reinforcement with rebar. 
  • You need to build a frame to pour into, so the job is best suited for professional installers.

Patio Paver Pathways

The pros of pavers for walks are: 

  • There are many beautiful colors and styles to choose from.
  • You can create amazingly artistic patterns. 
  • They have more personality and style than basic concrete. 
  • It’s pretty easy to replace just one if it gets damaged or heaved by frost. 
  • You can grow beautiful creeping groundcovers between them or use colored polymeric (sealing) sand to keep them in place.


The cons of pavers are: 

  • Preparing the ground for pavers is a lot of work and is best left to professional installers. 
  • Leveling pavers is an art; it’s not as easy as it looks! 
  • You’ll need to refresh polymeric sand between the some of the joints as the pathway ages, typically every 5 years or so


Each one of these materials has its own distinct benefits and drawbacks; there’s no best choice, just the best choice for you!

If you’re ready to add some pathways to your landscape but not sure where to start, stop by Ted Lare Design & Build and chat with us about the different options available. Our expert landscape design team can help you find the best solution to fit your style and budget.

Posted on

11 Blooming Perennials for Shady Iowa Gardens

Shady spots in your yard can be dark and relatively monochrome since most flowering plants need plenty of sunlight. However, you can bring some light and color by creating a shade garden with these 11 beautifully blooming perennials for shade. 

 

1. Anemones are commonly called windflower. Because the flowers dance atop their stems in a breeze, these perennials feature beautiful plush blooms in shades of blue, pink, purple, red, and white. 

astilbe

2. Astilbes are perennials with vibrant and flamboyant flower plumes in pink, white or red, up to 4 feet tall. They are happiest in part shade, and if you get these two Astilbe species, Astilbe japonica and Astilbe chinensis, you’ll have blooms all summer!


3. Barrenwort Bishop’s Cap is a semi-evergreen shade lover with deeply veined bronze leaves that turn olive green as they age.. They feature rose-pink blooms, 1 to 2 inches across, with graceful petals on wiry stems.

bleeding heart

4. Bleeding Hearts are unique and elegant perennials to add to any shade garden. The exquisite heart-shaped flowers hang gracefully along delicate stems, with drop-like petals below the heart. Bleeding hearts bloom in spring.


5. Columbines grow well in part shade and have eye-catching flowers that resemble a jester’s hat. There are various colors available, from blue to purple to pink to white to red to yellow.

coral bells

6. Coral Bells have flashy, eye-catching foliage in a dizzying array of colors. They range from almost black-purple to pinks, oranges, yellows, and greens. They also bear tiny but beautiful flowers on tall, slender stalks in spring. 


7. Corydalis has clusters of tiny beautiful trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of purple, true blue, and yellow. Corydalis is one of those hard-working perennials that bloom all summer.

8. Ligularia perennials come in two different types. There is Ligularia with daisy-like flowers with sharply pointed petals, and there are varieties with upright bloom spikes, often called rocket varieties. The flowers vary in color from pale buttery yellow to gold to deep orange—Ligularia bloom almost all summer.


9. Lungwort perennials flower early in the spring. The small but beautiful flowers come in shades of pink, purple, and blues which hover in dense clusters of the semi-evergreen foliage.

10. Pigsqueak or Bergenia, are evergreen perennials with large lush leaves. In spring, bold clusters of flowers rise above the foliage on tall stalks. The flowers come in shades of pinks that often change to a deeper or paler color over time.  

 

11. Toad Lilies are late summer bloomers, showing off their unique blooms when almost all other shade plants have finished blooming. The flowers are lily-shaped, have a yellow center, and the petals have a white base, covered in intricate patterns of pink or purple polka dots. There is one variety without polka dots; its petals are white with pale purple tips.


If you have lots of big trees in your yard, you can still have a vibrantly colorful garden by adding some of these shade-loving perennials. Include a variety of the plants mentioned above and you’ll be able to enjoy beautiful bursts of color in your shade garden all summer long. Come and visit us. We have plenty of ways to brighten up your shady Iowa landscape!

Posted on

The Best Flowers for a Monochromatic Yellow Garden

yellow dahlia flowers

There is something so beautiful and mesmerizing about monochrome color-themed gardens. Monochrome gardens are far from boring. They highlight the immense diversity of plants and flowers within a single-color family. Color gardens also often have room for large groupings of individual types of plants, and large drifts of a single type of flower or plant in one color can make a strong statement in the landscape. 

Yellow is a refreshing and cheerful color, so what better choice for a color theme garden? There are plenty of plants that fit into the yellow spectrum, with flowers or foliage. Here are nine yellow plants that you can use in a yellow color garden.

Daylilies 

There are over 20 different daylilies in the yellow spectrum, from the palest barely yellow Marque Moon to vibrant Lemon Lily to the stunning Aztec Gold. Yellow daylilies also come in both single and double flowers, as well as the dramatic spider types. 

If you want to push your color planting scheme even further, there are also tons of daylilies in the orange spectrum that could mix well into a yellow planting scheme. These easy-care perennials could almost make a whole garden on their own.

daylilies and heliopsis

Heliopsis 

Heliopsis is more commonly known as False Sunflower or Oxeye Sunflower. There are several different cultivars that are in the yellow spectrum. They are a hardy perennial and are also heat and drought-tolerant. 

They can be anywhere from three to six feet tall and feature single and dense double blossoms. The singles will be more popular with pollinators. These perennials usually won’t bloom the first year, but they’ll start the second summer and go all season long. They form clumps that you can divide to expand your yellow planting scheme every two to three years.

Hosta 

Hostas are one of the best foliage perennials, especially for planting in shadier locations in the yard. They have a very diverse color range, and their huge leaves showcase color well. Dancing Queen, Designer Genes, and Fire Island are all on the more intense yellow end of the spectrum with solid color leaves. 

On the lighter side, hostas Great Expectations, Mama Mia, Maui Buttercups, and Orange Marmalade (among many others) feature variegated leaves with yellows across the color scheme from the palest pastel yellow to creamy, buttery yellow to vibrant lemon yellow.

Red Hot Poker 

Red Hot Poker, or Torch Lilies, are a unique flowering plant highlighting the diversity available in the yellow planting scheme. They are bold and eye-catching with tall spikes of strange tubular flowers. They bloom all season long, from late spring until the fall, and are popular with hummingbirds. They come in a wide range of yellows, from deep oranges to pale pinkish yellow to greenish yellow.

Rudbeckia 

Rudbeckia, also called Black-eyed Susan, is available in countless shades of yellow and cultivars with variegated petals. These hardy native perennials look fantastic planted in mass groupings. Different cultivars vary widely in height, from 10-12 inches up to six feet tall. There are single bloom or double bloom varieties. 

rudbeckia and sedum plants

Sedum 

Sedums are a unique perennial addition to your yellow planting scheme. They have thick succulent type foliage with clusters of tiny flowers. Sedums are great for dry and hot locations, and these hardy little things thrive on neglect! They tend to be low-growing, forming mats of flowers that last all through the summer. They’re possibly the lowest maintenance plant you’ll find for your yellow planting scheme.

Achillea 

Achillea, or yarrow, is a perennial with a much softer texture than the larger flowers mentioned above. These beauties have flat clusters of tiny flowers that last seemingly forever once they start blooming. They have soft fern-like foliage that is a lovely contrast to coarser plants. 

Different cultivars vary in height from 12 inches to three feet tall. The yellows available have quite rich gold tones, although there are a few that fall more to the pastel end of the color scheme. Yarrow will naturalize and spread after planting, creating a beautiful carpet of flowers.

Marigold 

Marigolds are the classic yellow flower that everyone knows. They’re highly underrated. A vast range of cultivars varies widely in appearance and size, mainly within the yellow color scheme. Most marigolds are annuals and many plants self-seed, so they may keep coming back. They’re also fast and easy to start from seed. There are variegated types or plain colors and single or double flowers. Marigolds also help repel many pests.

Dahlia

Dahlias might be one of the most diverse flower families. There are thousands of different cultivars and a massive range of colors and bi-colors. There are single and double flowering types, with multiple different petal styles in both categories. They range in size from 12 inches to six feet tall. There are varieties across the yellow spectrum, from bright lemon yellow to pale creamy-white to rich gold tones. Dahlias are tender perennials, so they’ll need to be dug up and stored in a dark, dry location over the winter. 

Ready to get your yellow monochrome garden started? Stop by the garden center and check out what we’ve got in stock right now. 

Posted on

Mulch: Different Types, Benefits, and How to Apply

organic mulch in garden

Mulch is one of the most popular garden and landscaping products. Mulch makes spaces look great and generally require less maintenance since there is less mowing and weeding to do. But there are also some disadvantages to different types of mulch. Here’s what you need to know about types of mulch, as well as some tips for applying mulch to your Iowa landscaping. 

Advantages and Different Types of Mulch

There are two main categories of mulch: organic or inorganic mulches. The key difference is that organic mulch decomposes over time and turns into soil. Inorganic mulch does not decompose, though it may slowly break down into smaller pieces over time. 

Organic mulch types include: 

  • Leaves 
  • Straw 
  • Grass clippings 
  • Compost 
  • Wood chips 
  • Bark
  • Pine needles 

landscape fabric garden

Inorganic mulch types include: 

  • Plastic sheeting
  • Landscape fabric 
  • Rocks 
  • Gravel
  • Rubber 

A few advantages of mulch are that it usually helps to retain moisture in the soil, slows or prevents the growth of weeds, helps regulate soil temperature, reduces watering, and helps repel some pests. 

The main advantage to organic mulch types is that they improve your soil over time because they break down and add structure, nutrients, and air to the soil, making it healthier. But the fact that they decompose can also be a disadvantage because it means you’ll have to top them up every few years, forever, to keep things looking nice and keep weeds at bay.

The main advantage of inorganic mulch types is they last a long time. You don’t have to top them up that often because they don’t decompose. Rock mulch can look nice for decades if you stay on top of weeds, whereas bark mulch will need to be top-dressed in just two years and may look pretty messy by three years. 

The Disadvantages of Inorganic Mulch

Disadvantages are more specific to certain types of mulch. Here are some of the disadvantages of inorganic mulches.

Rock mulch can absorb and reflect heat from the sun, making an area very hot and dry, so not many plants can survive in the area. Rocks also do not add any nutrients to the soil over time. If a rock mulch layer isn’t thick enough, the weeds will grow right through in no time and can be more challenging to remove. It’s also quite heavy and quite physically demanding to apply. 

Plastic sheeting can suffocate the soil, killing not just weeds but also other plants and all the soil’s microorganisms, effectively killing the soil. Plastic sheeting also does not allow water, air, or nutrients to get down to the soil. 

High-quality landscape fabric keeps weeds down, but the roots of shrubs and trees will grow through it eventually, making it extremely difficult to remove in the future. Cheap landscape fabric tears easily, breaks down quickly, and only suppresses weeds for a year or two, and then it’s difficult to remove. High-quality landscape fabric is expensive. 

Rubber mulch, while produced from recycled materials, doesn’t have much long-term study done on it. There is the risk of rubber releasing chemical compounds into the soil, it also doesn’t break down over time, and it doesn’t improve soil, and it’s also one of the most flammable options. 

The main disadvantage of inorganic mulches is the upfront cost: all inorganic mulch types are generally more expensive than organic mulches, but they also don’t have to be top-dressed every 2-3 years. 

The Disadvantages of Organic Mulch

The disadvantage of leaves as mulch is that if you leave them as whole leaves, they blow around a lot, and once they stop blowing around, they can start to look messy, slimy, and dirty. If you mow over them to chop them up, it takes way more leaves to create a decent mulch layer. You can’t exactly buy more leaves to add to your mulch, although you could volunteer to rake all your neighbor’s yards to collect their leaves. If you don’t have lots of deciduous trees, you’ll have difficulty getting enough leaves to mulch anything. 

Straw can be a convenient type of mulch, and it’s often used around things like strawberries to keep the fruits from rotting on the soil. The disadvantage of straw is that it doesn’t look that nice. It looks a bit messy. It’s also not that nice to walk on. And while it does break down and improve the structure of your soil over time, it may also contain the seeds of weeds that grew in the farmers’ field. It also takes a long time to break down, and it can be slippery to walk on when it’s wet.

The disadvantage of grass clippings is that if they’re piled too thickly, they get really hot, which can make the soil underneath them too hot or even potentially start a fire. If they’re spread too thin, they don’t do much to keep the weeds down. When grass clippings dry, they can blow around a lot and are hard to keep tidy, and they don’t look that nice, though they are soft to walk on, and it’s free every time you mow your lawn. 

Compost is an excellent mulch type that should look pretty similar to ordinary soil. But, it can be hard to get enough to mulch a large area, and it takes time to create from your own compost pile. Getting enough to mulch your whole garden is challenging. It may not keep weeds down that well since it’s full of great nutrients that plants need to grow. 

Wood chips and bark chips are one of the most common mulch options. They’re overall an excellent mulch, but they do have a couple of disadvantages. One being the mold that can grow in and on bark or chip mulch. Slime mold is pretty gross looking, although harmless. Bark and woodchips also take a long time to break down and improve the soil, but in just 2-3 years, they start to look pretty tired and need to be top-dressed. 

If you’ve got lots of evergreens, chances are good they’re making their mulch when they drop needles. Getting enough pine needles to make a thick enough layer of mulch to suppress weeds is challenging. 

pine needle mulch

They’ll make enough for the area directly underneath them, but collecting more for other areas of your yard is going to be a slow process. Pine needles can also acidify the soil over time as they break down. It’s not a fast process, but it does happen. Pine needles are also called needles for a reason. So you’ll need to wear thick gloves if you’re attempting to plant under it, and it’s not pleasant to walk on, especially in sandals or barefoot. 

Generally, organic mulches are more affordable upfront, and they’re a little easier to apply, but they have to be topped up every few years. 

Bottom Line: Mulch is Worth the Investment

In general, the advantages of mulch far outweigh the disadvantages. It comes down to your personal aesthetic preferences and your budget. Mulch will help keep your yard tidier; it can improve the soil over time, it can reduce how much you need to water plants, trees, and shrubs, keep the weeds down, and reduce the amount of lawn area you need to mow, water, and fertilize. 

Do’s and Don’ts of Applying Mulch

mulching do's and don'ts
Posted on

Understanding Fertilizers for the Garden & Landscape

birds eye view of growing garden

Fertilizer is something that many of us regularly use for our houseplants, gardens, and lawns. In theory, fertilizer should help your plants or lawn grow better. It seems easy; you go to the store, pick up a fertilizer that says it’s best for grass, houseplant, or vegetable garden on the front label, apply it per the instructions, and voilà, plants grow perfectly. 

Unfortunately, the reality is not quite that simple. 

Even if you’re using organic fertilizer products, it’s still not that simple. And applying fertilizers regularly over time can have significant negative impacts on your soil health. Soil science is complex, but the two basic things you need to know are:

  1. Synthetic fertilizers feed the plant, organic feed the soil.
  2. Nutrient excess can be just as bad as nutrient deficiencies.

Nutrient deficiencies can cause plants to be weak, turn yellow, not bloom, or create fruit. But nutrient excesses can make it look like you have a nutrient deficiency, when in fact, the nutrients may be available but inaccessible. An excess of one nutrient, like phosphorus, can block plants from absorbing other nutrients in the soil already.

The bottom line: before you apply any fertilizer, you should test your soil.

soil sample from garden in bag

A home test kit purchased from the garden center will give you enough information to use fertilizer sustainably and efficiently for the average home gardener. The test kit will tell you the nutrient levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as the pH of your soil.

If you have significant problems, though, and can’t seem to grow anything very well, you may want to consider sending soil samples to one of the soil labs for more in-depth analysis. Many county extension offices can test your soil for you or give you information about sending it to the nearest soil lab. 

healthy green plant in garden

Nitrogen

Nitrogen is the nutrient that helps support lush green foliage growth. It’s essential for all plants. Legumes like peas, beans, and lupins are nitrogen-fixing plants, so planting them can naturally help improve your soil’s nitrogen levels. Tomatoes, peppers, corn, cucumbers, and squash use lots of nitrogen, so growing them can help lower nitrogen levels if they are too high.

If nitrogen levels are too low, what little nitrogen exists may be used up temporarily by bacteria in the process of breaking down organic material. High sources of nitrogen that you can add to the soil are blood meal, bone meal, coffee grounds, fish scraps, hoof and horn meal. You can also add nitrogen with inorganic fertilizer supplements; slow-release organic fertilizers are usually the best choice.

Too much nitrogen will inhibit the development of fruits and flowers, and it will often get washed away with rain. If it runs off into the local water systems, it can cause algae blooms in ponds and lakes that can choke out aquatic life. 

Because garden plants use a ton of nitrogen, and it is highly water-soluble, so some may wash away, it is normal to need to apply more nitrogen every year, in addition to rotating nitrogen-fixing crops through your garden. 

colorful flower blooms in garden

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is the nutrient that supports the growth of flowers and fruits. The challenge with phosphorus is that it doesn’t get used up by plants in the same way that nitrogen does. It tends to stay in the soil for a very long time. 

If phosphate levels get too high in your soil, it can inhibit plants from absorbing and using iron, zinc, and manganese from the soil, which are minerals they need to produce chlorophyll. If your phosphate levels are too high, you may need to apply iron and zinc as a foliar spray. Fortunately, plants absorb iron and zinc very well through a foliar spray method, so you can still grow healthy plants in high phosphate soil.

If phosphorus levels are too low, your plants may fail to bloom or produce fruit. You can naturally increase phosphorus levels by applying amendments like manure, bone meal, fish scraps, and cottonseed meals. 

Overuse of manure in your garden can throw your phosphate levels out of balance over time, and it can be really difficult to get the balance back, so apply fertilizers, organic or inorganic, with high P levels (like bloom fertilizers) very carefully. 

Potassium

Potassium is important for photosynthesis, water regulation, and building strong cell walls in plants. Potassium is one of the nutrients that doesn’t tend to fluctuate as much as the other two. 

However, potassium levels can get much lower in the soil your lawn grows on if you consistently remove grass clippings. If you’re using the grass clippings as compost in your garden, it’s good news for your vegetables, but you should make sure to check the soil nutrient levels around your lawn as well. Wood ash, corn fodder, kelp, or seaweed, and dried manure from beef cattle are high in potassium. 

Too much potassium can disrupt plants’ ability to absorb and use calcium, nitrogen, and magnesium. Sometimes very rocky soil can be high in potassium. 

What You Need to Know to Fertilize Vegetables

Vegetables, in general, require more fertilizer than trees and shrubs because they need a ton of nutrients to create all that nutritious produce for us to eat. But that still doesn’t mean you should just automatically apply a vegetable fertilizer to your garden every two weeks all summer long. 

Your soil is a dynamic thing, and its chemistry changes from year to year as you grow things in it and add organic matter to it. So it’s important to monitor the changes in your soil over time, and adjust your use of fertilizer accordingly. 

The best fertilizers for your vegetable garden will vary depending on the nutrient levels that already exist in your soil, what plants you’re trying to grow, and what the pH level is, which is why it’s so important to test your soil. 

If your phosphorus and potassium levels are good, then you’ll likely just need to add a nitrogen fertilizer to your garden. Vegetables and annual flowers use a lot of nitrogen since they grow so much and produce so heavily in a relatively short period of time.

What You Need to Know to Fertilize Trees, Shrubs, and Lawn

Trees, shrubs, and your lawn need less fertilizer than your garden vegetables and flowers. As with fertilizing your garden, though, the best plan is still to get your soil tested to determine what the nutrient levels are and decide what fertilizer you should use to achieve the growth you’re looking for. 

Trees & Shrubs

Trees and shrubs don’t generally need fertilizer. They have much deeper root systems and access to soil and nutrients that aren’t available to surface plants like most flowers and vegetables. They also have much broader root systems than most plants, which means they benefit from your fertilizer application on the lawn or even in your garden. 

Check for problems like drainage, pest infestations, disease, less than ideal location, or breakage that may be affecting your trees or shrubs before you start applying fertilizer. If your trees and shrubs are having problems and you cannot identify the cause, it’s best to get a professional arborist to give you the best course of action.

If you have to apply fertilizer for trees and shrubs, it’s best to do it in really early spring or late fall, once all the leaves have turned color and are dropping. Don’t fertilize trees in mid-summer, as it encourages them to put out new growth, which may not toughen up enough before winter. 

When you apply fertilizer to trees and shrubs, you should spread it evenly over the entire root area, which means going at least as far out from the tree’s base as the drip line, how far out the branches reach. 

Lawn

Similar to the garden, you should test the soil for your lawn. Generally, for the average homeowner, a test every 3-5 years is sufficient. You can do a test yourself or send off samples to one of the soil labs. The bonus of sending your soil samples into a lab is that you’ll get customized fertilizer recommendations to help you get the best results from your specific type of grass. 

Posted on

Guide to Spring Pruning in Central Iowa

woman pruning in early spring

Spring is pruning season, and it’s best to get it done sooner than later for many plants. You should prune many trees and shrubs in late winter or early spring, while they’re still dormant. But there are also a few that you should not prune in early spring. 

 

Pruning can be intimidating, but it’s not as difficult as many people expect it to be. This pruning guide will help you know when and what to prune, what not to prune, and how to prune properly in central Iowa.

pruned back dogwood in spring

When & What To Prune

Generally, you should prune most deciduous and fruit trees and shrubs in early spring while they are still dormant. For central Iowa, that’s anywhere from the end of February until mid-April. Trees and shrubs that you can prune in early spring include:

  • Potentilla 
  • Dogwood 
  • Juniper 
  • Yew
  • Rose of Sharon 
  • Knockout roses 
  • Tea roses 
  • Large leaf hydrangea 
  • Ninebark
  • Boxwood

You should prune early spring-flowering shrubs immediately after they finish flowering in late spring or early summer. These include:

  • Lilac 
  • Forsythia 
  • Quince 
  • Magnolia 
  • Spirea
flowering shrub weigela

What Not To Prune

Some shrubs don’t need annual pruning; you can leave them for several years in a row. These shrubs include: 

  • Burning Bush 
  • Summer Sweet
  • Sweetspire
  • Weigela 
  • Viburnum
  • Panicle hydrangeas

Rhododendron and azalea are shrubs that don’t require pruning at all.

Do not prune maple, birch, or elm in late winter or early spring. Their sap is flowing heavily then, and they will “bleed” a lot of extra sap. It doesn’t harm the tree, but it can be messy, and it will take longer for the wound to heal.

Do not prune oak trees in spring. Beetles that carry oak wilt are active in spring, summer, and fall. The safest time to prune oak trees is in winter, between November and February.

senior man pruning shrub

How to Prune

To make sure you get your pruning done well, you’ll need a few different types of pruning tools, which you can pick up at the garden center:

  • Hand pruners for small branches up to .5 inch in diameter.
  • Loppers, for larger limbs up to 1.5 inches in diameter.
  • A pruning saw, for extra large limbs, over 1.5 inches in diameter.

Staying safe while pruning is essential. If you’re looking up into a tree and cutting above your head, it’s surprisingly easy to end up with sawdust or wood chips in your eyes. For pruning its best to wear:

  • Long sleeves
  • Long pants
  • Work gloves
  • Safety glasses

If you’re dealing with larger limbs, you should have a hard hat, but that’s the time to call in professional arborists to tackle the job. 

Pruning for Fastest Healing

When you prune your trees and shrubs, make clean, angled cuts so that they heal as quickly as possible. In most cases, you’ll want to cut at a 45º angle, so water doesn’t sit on top of the cut and cause rot. 

When you’re removing large limbs, it’s best to start at the tip and take the stem down in shorter chunks so that you have less chance of causing any tearing. Aim for pieces that you can easily handle, 1-2 feet long, is good. It’s also important to undercut large limbs just above the branch collar to avoid tearing. 

How Much to Prune

It’s easy to get carried away in pruning and over-prune your trees or shrubs. The general rule of thumb is to never remove more than 25% of a tree or shrub’s total volume in one year. 

When you first start pruning your trees and shrubs, look for the 3 D’s: branches that are damaged, diseased, or dead. Remove these types of branches first, then step back and take a look at your tree or shrub and decide if it needs more. 

For most trees and shrubs, that will be enough. But for fruit trees or ornamental trees, you may want to open up the tree’s crown to let more light and air movement in, which will help your tree produce better and prevent disease. 

rejuvination pruning technique

How to do Rejuvenation Pruning

There are a few exceptions to the 25% rule, including shrubs that benefit from rejuvenation pruning every 3-5 years. Rejuvenation pruning means cutting back a significant amount of the shrub to encourage it to focus on fresh, new growth. 

In many cases, rejuvenation pruning means cutting a shrub right down to about 6 inches tall. This encourages new, young growth to shoot up. It will take a few years, but before too long, your shrub will be blooming or fruiting like a young shrub again.

Pruning Hedges

Hedges should be pruned 1-2 times a year, in spring and mid-summer. Prune your hedges to be slightly wider at the base than the top, at a slight angle, so that the leaves and branches at the bottom also receive plenty of sunlight, and don’t become leggy and sparse. 

Have Spring Pruning Questions?

It’s always better to ask a question before you start pruning than after! You can ask our staff at the garden center for pruning advice, or you can send a quick email to the local Iowa State University Extension office.

Posted on

How to Make Your Hydrangeas Turn Blue

blue hydrangeas

Have you ever planted a blue hydrangea and had it change color on you, blooming pink the next year, or even within a few months of being planted? That means the soil it’s planted in is alkaline, or “sweet.”

Not all hydrangeas can change the color of their flowers. Bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) flowers can be changed from pink to blue. Keep in mind you can’t change the color of white hydrangeas. 

The color of the blooms on bigleaf hydrangeas is influenced by the pH of the soil they’re planted in. Acidic soil will make the flowers blue; alkaline soil will turn them pink. The level of acidity or alkalinity will also affect the intensity of the color. Very acidic soil will deliver deep blue flowers, highly alkaline soil will deliver very vibrant pink flowers.

You can change your pink hydrangea back to blue with soil amendment. Iowa’s soil is naturally quite alkaline, so over time, they will revert back to pink if you don’t continue to amend the soil. But, it may never go back to bright pink. Changing the color of hydrangea flowers planted in the ground takes time. It’s not an overnight process. It can take several months to change the color and even longer get very dark shades. 

soil products for blue hydrangeas

The Fastest Way to Turn Your Hydrangea Flowers Blue

If your hydrangea is in an area with other acid-loving plants, you can get straight to work with a soil acidifier amendment. An organic soil acidifier will adjust the pH of your soil over time. Soil acidifiers are usually a powder or granule applied on top of the soil and then watered in. Follow the application instructions on the package. 

Watering your hydrangea with a fertilizer for acid-loving plants will also help, in addition to using a soil acidifier. We carry Color Me Blue Hydrangea Feed and Color Me Pink Hydrangea Feed at the garden center. 

You can naturally shift your soil more to the acidic side of pH, but it’s very slow. Try adding coffee grounds, crushed eggshells, peat moss, evergreen needles, and citrus peels to the soil in the area you want to acidify. It does work, but it is a prolonged method and will take quite a while to see significant results. 

Alternatively, if your hydrangea is near plants that need alkaline soil, your best bet is likely to move it, or the other plants, somewhere else. When planting your hydrangea, add a soil acidifier, and use a fertilizer for acid-loving plants for the fastest results. You’ll need to continue applying soil acidifiers once a month during the growing season to maintain the blue flowers and achieve deeper hues.

blue hydrangea in garden

Concrete Can Affect the Color of Your Hydrangea

If your hydrangea is growing near a concrete driveway or sidewalk, you may have a more challenging time making the flowers change to, and stay, blue. This is because lime is commonly used as a binding ingredient in concrete. Lime raises the pH of nearby soil, making it more alkaline.

If your hydrangea is not near concrete, or if you haven’t planted it yet, you can test the soil where you want to plant it. Soils in Iowa are pretty alkaline across the board, but if you want to see for yourself, try a simple home test with vinegar. Scoop some soil into a pail and add 1/2 cup of vinegar; if it fizzes, your soil is definitely alkaline and will need acidifiers to turn your hydrangea flowers blue.

Excited to try this backyard experiment, but haven’t picked out your hydrangeas yet? Visit our nursery and browse the varieties available today!

Posted on

Soil Amendments 101: What They Are & What They Do

person holding soil in hands

Soil amendments are products, usually meaning organic matter, added to the soil to improve the soil condition. You can add amendments to improve the soil’s texture and structure, build up nutrient content, improve drainage or water retention, and adjust the pH level. 

Most plants prefer to grow in soil with a neutral pH, between 6.5-7.5. 

How Do I Know if I Need Soil Amendments?

If your garden isn’t growing particularly well or is really difficult to work in, or is too wet or dries out too fast, it’s probably time to consider adding some soil amendments.

pH testing of garden soil

The best way to figure out what amendments your soil needs is to get a soil test done. You can pick up a home test kit that allows you to test pH and check the different essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. If your soil feels nice and drains well, this might be all you need to do. At the very least, do a pH test because that’s the best place to start before you worry about other nutrients.

If you think there are more significant problems with your soil than lack of nutrients, you might want to get a full lab analysis done. In partnership with county extension offices, Iowa State University offers soil testing, analysis, and recommendations for amendments for all Iowans, meaning home gardeners to large producers. You can pick up forms and soil sample bags and then send your samples to the lab for testing.

How Do Different Soil Amendments Improve the Soil?

It’s essential to check your soil pH first because if your pH is highly acidic, it won’t matter how many nutrient amendments you add, your plants still won’t be happy. Agricultural lime is one of the most common soil amendments for pH; it will neutralize acidity and bring your soil into balance. 


If your soil is highly alkaline, the best way to bring it back towards neutral is to add well-composted organic matter every year. This process will take a few years to get it back into balance. Either way, adding compost to your soil every year is a great way to improve it consistently.

Organic matter, usually meaning compost, improves every aspect of soil. It helps with texture, drainage, water retention, nutrient levels, beneficial microbes, and bacteria. Besides compost, you can also use cover crops as amendments.

Glacial rock dust can also help to neutralize soil acidity, though it’s less effective than lime. It also helps to improve mineral balance and encourages healthy bacteria, which are essential to healthy soil.

Alfalfa meal is a byproduct of growing alfalfa; it’s a great addition to your compost pile or bin as it accelerates the breakdown process. It’s also beneficial to add right to the soil.

Kelp, or seaweed, is another popular garden soil amendment. Kelp contains lots of nutrients and micronutrients, but it should be used sparingly to avoid sodium buildup. 

Well-composted manure from cows, horses, goats, chickens, or other ruminants helps improve nitrogen levels and soil texture and structure. It must be well-rotted, meaning it should have little to no smell before being added to your garden soil. It’s one of the most common soil amendments that people are familiar with. 

Mushroom compost is a byproduct of the mushroom growing industry, and it’s also excellent soil amendments that improve nutrients, structure, and beneficial microorganisms.

Sand, gravel, or horticultural grit are soil amendments that can be added to soil to improve drainage and aeration. 

Fertilizers are also technically soil amendments, although most of them only improve the soil over the short term. Even slow-release fertilizers still only last until they are fully dissolved. While fertilizers are a quick and relatively easy way to get the nutrients to your plants as quickly as possible, they won’t improve your soil over time. Overuse of fertilizers can harm the environment around us. 

mix of soil amendments

 

If you find you need to add a lot of fertilizer to your garden every year, it’s definitely time to get your soil tested, as it probably has several deficiencies. It’s not that fertilizers are bad, but if you can’t grow anything without fertilizer, your soil might be dead. Dead soil is devoid of living microorganisms or nutrients, so almost nothing can grow or survive in it, and that’s when we call it dirt. If your soil is dead, throwing more fertilizer at it will only cause more damage; you’ll need to build it up to bring it back to life! 

How Do I Apply Soil Amendments?

Packaged soil amendments usually have instructions included with or on their packaging. If you’re going to purchase soil amendments in bulk, it’s essential to discuss what you need and add it to your soil with an expert. You can contact the Warren County Extension office or have a chat with our team at Ted Lare.

Posted on

Spring Garden & Landscape Cleanup Checklist

wheelbarrow full of yard waste - spring cleanup

It’s time to get out into your yard and freshen it up for the coming growing season. Things can look pretty bleak this time of year, with the detritus of winter and spring not fully in leaf yet, but completing these garden and landscaping cleanup checklists will have your yard looking tidy and fresh, ready to usher in all the new growth that’s about to happen.

cleaning out dead plants in garden

Garden Spring Cleanup

  • Inspect and clean up any winter debris like fallen branches or any garbage that may have blown into your garden over the winter. 
  • Trim back last year’s growth on perennials once you start to see new green shoots amongst them. 
  • Remove any leftover annuals or plant debris from garden beds. 
  • Aerate garden beds and add a layer of compost to help improve the soil.
  • Clean pots or planters you want to use this year, discard anything that’s broken or worn out, store things you won’t be using.
  • Clean leftover vines and plant debris off any trellises or lattices so they’re ready for use again. 
using tools to weed the lawn
  • Be vigilant for weeds; some start really early. The earlier you can start pulling them, the better.
  • Divide clumping perennials and get the new splits planted right away.
  • If you planted a cover crop in your garden last fall, now is the time till it in to improve the soil.
  • Check out your garden tools and give them a good sharpen and cleaning if needed.
pressure washing a walkway clean

Landscape Spring Cleanup

  • Clean up dead branches, leaves, and general mess around the yard. 
  • Clear away protective mulching, burlap wraps, windscreens, or rose cones from perennials and evergreens.
  • Inspect shrubs, especially evergreens, for signs of winterkill. 
  • Check your lawn by walking on it; if sections feel mushy, wait for it to dry before you do any lawn maintenance. 
cleaning and raking lawn thatch
  • If your lawn is ready to go, rake or power rake it, aerate it if it hasn’t been done for a long time, then overseed bare patches, and apply a slow-release fertilizer before watering it. 
  • Clean up patio furniture, check it over for any damage and wash it to remove dust and cobwebs.
  • Edge the lawn and garden beds before things get growing too much. It’s easy to see where your edges should be and make nice clean lines now before your grass gets started.
  • Prune summer-blooming shrubs and trees (don’t prune spring-blooming shrubs like lilac or forsythia until they’re finished blooming.)
  • Get out your hoses and check that they’re in good shape with no leaks before you put them out, especially soaker hoses. It’s easier to get your soaker hoses in position before plants are in the ground.
  • Clean out your eavestroughs before the first big storm comes; you don’t want to be dealing with drainage problems and gutter blockages during a big storm.
  • Check decks and hardscaping for damage. Inspect rock walls, paving stones, and cement pads for cracking, lifting, warping, or loose bricks/stones.
  • Top up any areas where mulch has gotten thin or washed away. Mulch helps retain moisture, so it’s good to get it done before hot weather dries out the soil.

 

If you need any supplies to get your garden and landscaping freshened up this spring, swing by the garden center, we’ve got all the things you need to make spring cleanup as easy and efficient as possible.

Posted on

Landscaping for the Holidays: Lights, Evergreens, & Snow

holiday landscape Ted Lare

You might be thinking, with relief, that landscaping season is over. But it’s not really. It’s just changed a bit. Instead of digging, mowing, and raking, now it’s hanging lights, putting up holiday decor, and dealing with the snow and ice. 

Don’t get depressed, though; it’s not as bad as it sounds! We’ve got some tips and advice to help you get through holiday landscaping tasks efficiently and safely. 

Christmas lights holiday landscape Ted Lare

Putting Up Christmas Lights

To get your lights up as efficiently as possible, it’s best to start with a little pre-planning. If you have lights already, take them out and test them to make sure they all work. Double-check how many strands you can safely plug together end to end at the same time. 

If you are getting new lights this year, decide where you want to put them and measure everything, so you know exactly how much you need to buy. There’s nothing worse than being one strand short and going back to the store only to find out that the specific color, style, or size you need is sold out. 

 

Pro-tip: wear a work belt, and stuff the pockets full of universal light clips and any tools you’ll need.

 

If you moved to a new house this year, or if this is your first season putting lights up, figure out where your outlets are located and what you’ll need for extension cords. Make sure you use outdoor-rated extension cords.

Safety first: if you’re using a ladder to hang your lights, take a few safety precautions. Have a helper to steady the ladder and spot you. Never stand on the very top rung of a ladder. Make sure you have both hands on the ladder when climbing up or down. Don’t try to put up your Christmas lights in lousy weather like during a snowstorm or freezing rain; it’s not worth the risk.

Pro-tip: wear a work belt, and stuff the pockets full of universal light clips and any tools you’ll need, so you don’t have to go up and down so many times if the built-in clips on your lights break. 

Universal light clips are one of the best options for hanging your lights. They are designed to attach to various things, from gutters to siding to fascia to window frames. They also fit almost every style of Christmas lights out there. 

Whatever you do, don’t use nails, screws, or staples to attach lights to your home. Besides the risk of accidentally driving a metal item through an electrical cord, they also make holes in your home’s cladding, which means moisture gets in and can cause rot and mold. 

For the sake of convenience and efficiency, get a timer for your lights. You won’t have to think about going to plug in or turn on the lights every day or remember to turn them off when you go to bed. It’s all automatic, and you won’t have to think about Christmas lights again until it’s time to take them down!

manage snow and ice Ted Lare

Managing Snow and Ice on Driveways and Sidewalks

Managing snow and ice on your driveway and sidewalk is vital in winter for the safety of passersby and your family. Preventative maintenance is the best bet, but sometimes we’re busy and the ice build-up gets the better of us, or freezing rain turns all of Iowa into a giant skating rink in a matter of hours. 

Salt is one of the most common ice control options. It’s generally easy to acquire and simple to use. But there a couple of cons to using salt: 

  1. Over time, salt can cause premature aging and breakdown of concrete. 
  2. It isn’t great for your lawn or garden beds. Plants don’t like salty soil. 
  3. It’s really hard on dogs’ feet and can cause their paw pads to dry out and even have painful cracking that could cause long-term sensitivity. 

In some cases, like with freezing rain, salt may be the fastest and safest option. If you use salt and have pets, just be careful. Keep your pets off of salted areas, get them some boots to wear outside (yes, they probably won’t love it, but they get used to them, eventually), and clean up salted areas once the ice has melted. 

 

ice melt holiday landscape Ted Lare

 

Less is more when applying salt. The general rule of thumb is 3.5-4 pounds of salt per 1000 square feet of driveway and sidewalk. You probably don’t want to weigh out your salt portions every day, so just remember that an average 12 oz coffee mug full is about 1 pound of salt. 

Finally, salt is just a melting agent, it doesn’t clean up the mess. Once you’ve applied salt, get out and start clearing with a shovel or ice chopper. When you’re done clearing the ice, any leftover salt should be swept up and thrown away.

If you want to avoid salt entirely, there are commercial ice melts that are pet-safe, or you can aim for creating traction on the ice. To add traction, try sawdust, coffee grinds, or kitty litter. 

Preventative maintenance is always the best bet, so get out and shovel regularly and invest in an ice chopper if you can. Remember that Des Moines requires all snow and ice be cleared from sidewalks within 48 hours of the end of a storm, and last year the fines went up.

evergreens holiday landscape Ted Lare

Timeless Decorating With Evergreens

Evergreen boughs are a simple and tasteful way to dress up your property for the holidays. They’re a classic winter feature, so they’ll give tasteful beauty through Christmas and into the new year. There are so many ways you can work with evergreens, from potted live evergreens to custom-designed porch pots.

 

Porch pots Ted Lare

 

You can check out and sign up for any of our evergreen workshops on the classes page. We are doing workshops in person now, with a limit of 10 people per class, and masks are required. Each attendee will have their own table and freshly sanitized tools to work with.

 

Love what you’re reading? Sign up to our email newsletter, and get inspiration delivered straight to your inbox.

 

We’re also still doing the workshops virtually, so you can purchase your kit, take it home, and create a beautiful evergreen piece while watching our livestream events for instructions. Virtual classes are on the same day and time as the in-person workshop.