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How to Select and Use a Leaf Blower

From September through November (or December if you procrastinate like I do) the most used garden tool is the rake. This simple device, that probably began its life as a twiggy branch, has evolved into all manner of contraptions designed to make clearing out autumn leaves easier. I’ve tried many “new and improved” versions, but it’s hard to beat the good ole fan rake, especially when it’s paired with a leaf blower.

I’m certain some of you are opposed to leaf blowers, but I’d like to make a case for them. I think user error accounts for this useful tool’s negative image. If you select the right model for your garden and use it properly with consideration for your neighbors, a leaf blower can reduce your work considerably without being a nuisance.

 

Choosing a Leaf Blower

First of all you need to select the right leaf blower for your yard. What size is your yard? How will you use your leaf blower? To gather up heavy, wet leaves or for light jobs like clearing paths or a patio? What is more important to you: portability or power? By answering these questions you can purchase a leaf blower that works with you rather than against you. My favorite is the GreenWorks Cordless Leaf Blower from Gardener’s Edge. 

Big Yard

Choose a gas-powered backpack or wheeled machine. A gas engine will provide the power you need to tackle big jobs and a backpack or wheeled design makes toting a leaf blower over a generous amount of space easier. Look at the power and speed ratings: miles per hour (MPH) and cubic feet per minute (CFM). CFM is the volume of air a blower can move in a minute. MPH is the speed at which the unit blows. The higher these two numbers, the more power a blower will have.

Medium Yard
A gas-powered backpack or handheld blower with a two or four-cycle engine is ideal for a medium-sized space. You could go electric, but be sure the cord won’t slow you down or, if it’s cordless, the charge will last long enough to complete the job.

Small Yard
Unless you have an exceptional amount of clean up to do, an electric, handheld leaf blower is all you need for small spaces. These are lightweight, quieter, don’t require much maintenance and don’t produce emissions.

Time Line Showing the Evolution from Rake to Leaf Blower

How to Use a Leaf Blower

Once you have the best model for your purposes it’s important to know how to use a leaf blower properly. This may seem like a no-brainer, but there is a correct way to use this tool. When used correctly leaf blowers are truly helpful to you without being annoying your neighbors.

Be considerate about when you operate your leaf blower. Don’t run it early in the morning or late at night. And be mindful of where you blow your leaves.

Stop trying to blow your leaves into the next world. Instead, use your leaf blower to gather yard debris in a central area where you can then use a rake or broom to dispose of it. Blow leaves onto a tarp that you can dump into a compost bin or create a line of leaves that you can rake up in sections.

You’ll make yourself and your neighbors insane trying to get every last leaf with a leaf blower. Use a rake to collect stragglers.

Work in a single direction to prevent blowing leaves from your pile back into your yard. And get a helping hand from Mother Nature by blowing in the same direction as the wind.

Hold the blower at a shallow angle toward the ground and more across your yard using a sweeping motion. Be careful to not sweep away topsoil with the leaves.

Always wear eye and ear protection to prevent injury and hearing loss.

3 Ways to Harness Flower Power Through to Fall

When visitors tour the grounds of Moss Mountain Farm, they always marvel at the annuals looking16_06470 so bright-eyed and bushy tailed all the way into fall. And they start fishing for the secret to keeping those garden beds flourishing through the dog days of summer. Now that we’re in the tail end of those days, I’ll share those secrets now. Hopefully, you can employ those secrets through the rest of the season or file them away for next year.

  1. Cutting back: If flower beds were a metaphor for the human life cycle, this period might be midlife where things start to “creep” or broaden and widen. You must stay vigilant and trim up those creepers that would overpower the more timid plants. Plants like sweet potato vine, which can be thuggish and push over smaller flowers. It’s also helpful to cut back the spent blooms.

 

  1. Feedings: You should continue feedings, even though it’s hot. I usually give a dose of liquid fertilizer every third watering.

16_03527

  1. Filling in: I will typically pull out plants that haven’t fared well and plug in new things for fall. Sometimes the animals help with that task. For example, I had some petunias rooted out by armadillos. So, I’ll either plant more petunias or prepare for fall by substituting plants that like colder temperatures like nemesia, diascia or argyranthemum.

 

Planning for the Fall Garden

While the calendar may still read summer, autumn is right around the corner and it is time to start gearing up for the season. By planting a few seasonal super stars now you can extend your garden’s beauty until winter’s first hard frost.

Perennials – Each season has its own color palette and fall is one of the richest of them all. There are perennials that you can add to your garden now that will bolster autumn’s tapestry. Purple asters and blue salvias are wonderful color complements to the red, orange and gold foliage of the season.

And if you are a savvy shopper then you know that garden centers offer end-of-the-season prices to reduce their inventory before winter sets in. This means now is the time to get some great deals on plants that have yet to shine.

Here is a short list of some of my favorite autumn super stars:
Goldenrod ‘Fireworks’ (perennial)
Aster ‘Alma Potchke’ (perennial)
Salvia vanhouttii ‘Paul’ (perennial)
Japanese Anemone (perennial)
Hardy Begonia (perennial)
Arkansas Amsonia (perennial)
Autumn Fern (perennial)
Autumn Crocus (perennial bulb)
Lycoris (perennial bulb)
Nerine (perennial bulb)

Fall Flower BorderOrnamental Grasses – The texture and movement of ornamental grasses makes them well suited to the fall season. Look for varieties such as miscanthus ‘Morning Light’, calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and dwarf fountain grass ‘Little Bunny’.

Annuals – When it comes to pumping up the color in your garden it is hard to beat annuals. You can breathe new life into your summer annuals by applying a liquid fertilizer every 7 to 10 days and cutting back those that have grown leggy.

If you live in a region where warm summer weather extends well into fall, sow a second wave of fast growing annual flowers such as cosmos, gomphrena and celosia.

And save room for cool season favorites such as violas, pansies and snapdragons.

Container Gardens – Plan on revamping your container gardens for fall with a few “slip- in” plants. These are the plants you can add now to replace tired-looking summer flowers. Some substitutes I rely on are kale, pansies, snapdragons or ornamental grasses. Small trees and shrubs with striking foliage also a nice choice for giving your container gardens an autumnal glow. Try Virginia sweet spire, euonymus, Japanese maple, dwarf crape myrtle and fothergilla. At the end of the season, before the ground freezes you can transplant these into your garden’s flower borders.

Shrubs and Trees – The true stars of the fall landscape are those trees and shrubs that produce brilliantly colored foliage.

In Northern regions plant trees and shrubs in the ground well before the first frost date in your area so they can get established before cold weather sets in. Warm climate gardeners should wait until the heat breaks in the fall before planting. You will find that the cooler temperatures and more plentiful rain of autumn make the job of caring for newly planted trees and shrubs much easier.

Vegetables – Like the early days of spring, the cool temperatures in fall are ideal for growing certain vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Now is the time to get out your seed catalogs and place your order for lettuce, spinach and arugula. Vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage are better started from transplants purchased at a local garden center. In my mid-South zone 7 garden I begin planting as soon as I sense that the heat is about the break, which is usually late August to mid-September.

When determining your planting date and selecting crops for your vegetable garden, you need to know the number of days it will take for a plant to mature and the first frost date of the season. You might think the best way to know when to plant is to take your average frost date and backup the number of days until maturity. But this doesn’t take into account the cooler and shorter days to come. It’s actually better to come up with an imaginary harvest date a few weeks before frost and back up from there.

Estimated First Frost Dates by Zone
Zone 3 – September 1st – 30th
Zone 4 – September 1st – 30th
Zone 5 – September 30th – October 30th
Zone 6 – September 30th – October 30th
Zone 7 – October 15th – November 15th
Zone 8 – October 30th – November 30th
Zone 9 – November 30th – December 30th
Zone 10 – November 30th – December 30th
Zone 11 – Frost Free

The Bare Essentials

beautiful pink peony on a sunny day outside

Somewhere between seeds and seedlings is the bare-root plant starter.
It may not look as pretty as the potted plants you get in the nursery, or as promising as a fresh packet of seeds, but it’s every bit as viable.
The bare-root starter is a live plant in a dormant state. It will arrive when it’s ready to go in the ground and it’s essentially the root system of a plant with the dirt removed. The roots will converge into a “crown,” which is the top of the plant and faces up towards the sky.
I’ve always had success with bare-root bulbs, which can be planted in spring or fall. Much like with seeds, you must be patient with these plants as it can take anywhere from six to eight weeks before you start to see obvious growth.

Tips for growing bare-root plants:
– Your bare-root plant will arrive in a plastic bag, and should be damp, but not too moldy. Your new plant should go in the ground as soon as possible, but if you need a few days, you can store them in a cool dry place, like a cool garage or a basement. They can be kept this way for about 5 days.
– Sometimes bare root plants can dry out during transit so it is a good idea to soak them in a bucket of water for 2 to 4 hours to rehydrate them before planting. Warmth and moisture will signal them to start growing so check on them occasionally to be sure they aren’t getting moldy or soft.
– Follow the instructions for planting, and take care not to plant too deep. Many times bare-root plants won’t thrive or bloom if the crown is too far below the surface.
– Once planted, give them a bit of water, but not too much. The roots will need time to adjust to their new home, and you don’t want to add more stress.
– Wait to fertilize until your plant is about 6 inches tall. You can also add a bit of mulch at this time.

Caring for Summer Annuals

Whether you are interested in growing annuals to use as cut flowers, or just to add color and blooms to your garden, there are a few basic principles you can follow for a more successful growing season and a more beautiful garden.

Coreopsis at Moss Mountain Farm

Watering Annuals

When it comes to watering the key is consistency. You never want your flowerbeds or containers to dry out completely. This can be tough on your plants, particularly young ones. They rarely recover. One of my favorite ways to water is to use a soaker hose. It deep soaks the ground, which encourages a deep root system and a stronger plant. Then I just put a layer of mulch around them, to hold in the moisture.

Osteospermum and Diascia

Fertilizing Annuals

To grow beautiful stands of annuals it is important to feed the plants. An organic slow-release fertilizer will cut down on the amount of time spent applying fertilizer and you won’t have to worry about burning the plants by over feeding. Choose one that includes microorganisms that will enrich the soil too.

Another way to keep your flowers blooming longer is to remove spent flowers. If this seems like too much work, look for varieties that are self-cleaning, which means the dead blossoms will drop on their own.

Hardy Volunteers

Now at the end of the season, to encourage hardy volunteers like larkspur, bachelor buttons and globe amaranth to come back next year, I shake the plants out and make sure the seeds get scattered through the beds. Then next spring they come up and bloom again.

A mixed border of shrub roses, perennials and annuals.

Furnishing Your Garden Room

Although the summer solstice falls on June 21, I think of Memorial Day as the introduction of summer in my zone 8A garden.

During summer our indoor activities such as dining and entertaining move outdoors so it just makes sense to have an area set up to enjoy them. In just a few easy steps a patio, porch or secluded spot in the garden can become an extension of your home’s interior spaces.

One of the easiest ways to give an outdoor room plenty of indoor charm is to add several “fool-the-eye” interior elements such as rugs, cushions, and other interior accessories. With today’s weather resistant fabrics and finishes you can create a stylish scene in no time by following a few simple tips.

Define the Space with a RugDefine the Space with an Outdoor Rug
An outdoor rug will give your setting an instant indoor feel, plus the edges of the rug create the illusion of four walls. Furnishings arranged around the rug further re-enforce this illusion.

Caring for an outdoor rug is usually quite easy since they are often made of durable natural fibers or synthetic materials. You can spray off the rug with a hose or use a brush broom to clean it. To prevent mildew, hang the rug over a chair or railing to dry after a rain, even if it is made from mildew resistant material. This will allow air to circulate on both sides, which speeds up the drying time. If the rug can’t be picked up, just roll back the edges.

Spruce Up FurnitureFurnishings
Too often outdoor furnishings fail to rise to the same level of comfort and style as interior rooms. Break the “white plastic chair syndrome” by finding outdoor furniture that serves as a better reflection of your home’s décor. Garage sales, antique stores and home improvement centers offer a wide variety of options.

It’s easy to give your garden furniture new life with a coat of paint. First evaluate the material you are working with – is it man made or natural? Then pick an appropriate paint that can withstand the weather. Once the paint is dry coat it with a water seal to give it a longer life. Metal furnishings can be sandblasted and taken to a powder coating shop where a virtually indestructible layer of paint is applied. Wooden pieces should be given protection during the cold, wet months and may require touch ups from time to time.

When choosing colors for your setting, the basic rules apply – vibrant reds, oranges and yellow draw the eye, while cooler hues such as soft blues, pinks and purples increase the sense of space. Furniture in bright colors is best placed in areas where you want to make a deliberate statement such as eye-catching red chairs against a dark green hedge. In a muted green, the same set will blend in with its surroundings.

Use Bright FabricFabrics
Fabric stores are stocking more and more indoor-outdoor fabric that’s brighter than ever before. What’s great about using this type of fabric is that it has been tested for years in marine environments so you know you’re getting a product that can really take the elements.

Consider using cushion covers that you can slip over the existing lawn furnishing cushions. You can throw these in the wash when needed and they make it easy to change the look of your garden room from year to year. If you’re not a seamstress, but want to try making pillow covers cut out an “envelope” of fabric that can be wrapped around the pillow. Use self-adhesive Velcro to affix the envelope tabs together.

Colorful tablecloths are an even easier way to add bold splashes of color. Again, if you aren’t into sewing use pinking shears to trim the edges of the fabric to create a clean line.

CabanaPergola or Cabana
The “must have” accessory for gardeners with a little extra room is a covered place to create an outdoor space. Fabric cabanas and pergolas are popping up everywhere. I was impressed with the price range – anywhere from $150 to the thousands of dollars depending on the size and style you choose. As added bonus these structures can be outfitted with mosquito netting to block out these little pests.

Accessories
An outdoor setting is tailor made for delighting the senses so when choosing accessories for your garden room go for items that will heighten the experience. Dramatic lighting is a must. Lighting Created AmbianceString up lights and set out candles. Battery operated LED lighting is a fun new option that takes away the need for outdoor electricity and you can get LED tea candles; they look like the real thing, but won’t extinguish when the wind blows. Don’t forget plants. Fragrant flowers and soft, fuzzy foliage will add to the ambiance. A table top water fountain, wind chimes or music will create soft sounds to block out street noises.

As the weather warms and you start spending more time outdoors rethink the place where you live and look for opportunities to set the stage, if you will, and push the boundaries of your home past the walls of your house and out into the landscape beyond.

Homegrown Wedding Flowers

Whether you’re saying “I do” in spring, summer or fall, there are a bounty of blooms that are easy to grow for use in arrangements and bouquets. Here are a few of my favorite, garden stems for these three seasons.
Spring
Daffodils – If you’ve been to my farm, you know daffodils are one of my favorites. Plant the bulbs in the late fall and you’ll enjoy vases full of the yellow charmers as soon as the temperatures begin to warm.

Peonies – Peonies are one of the hardiest and most resilient plants in the garden. What’s more their prime time for blooming starts in mid-May and runs through June – perfect for the wedding season. If you plan to cut peonies from the garden, I suggest selecting half-opened blooms, simply because they will last longer.

Tulips – You can find a tulip in just about any shade and there are a variety of bloom shapes too. Plant bulbs in fall. Check the bloom time for the variety to make sure it will be in flower at the time of your ceremony.

Bouquet Idea
Contrast the cup shape of tulips with the soft curves of calla lilies. I think yellow calla lilies paired with pale yellow to cream tulips would be lovely.

Summer
Hydrangeas – Because hydrangeas are so full you only need a few stems to create a lush bouquet. It’s important to know Hydrangeas do have a tendency to lose their vitality, so you’ll want to keep them in a cool place and give them plenty of water after they are cut. If possible, cut them the morning of the wedding to ensure the freshest bouquet.

Lilies – Lilies will come back year after year and be prolific producers of open full blooms. White Oriental lilies make for an elegant and fragrant bouquet. For the best color selection choose an Asiatic variety. Be sure to remove lily stamens to keep the pollen from getting on clothes.

Zinnias – Plant zinnias and you’ll enjoy a bounty of wildflower-like beauty from early summer until the first frost. I like cutting these and loosely arranging a mason jar for an effortless look. For a bouquet, I suggest tying with natural raffia.

Bouquet Idea
For casual, but colorful flowers mix red, yellow and orange with pink and green zinnias.


Fall
Sunflowers – An iconic symbol of the close of summer and start of fall, cut a few sunflower stalks and loosely assemble with ribbon for a tied bouquet or simply enjoy their beauty in tall metal or glass vase.

Cockscomb – With a vase life of 5-10 days, cockscomb’s modern look makes for a hardy bouquet. Mix with other seasonal selections from your florist or market, such as button mums, for a fall display.

Dahlias – One of the most cheerful blooms in the garden, you’ll want to plant your dahlias around the same time you put tomatoes in the ground. You can expect to have cut flowers from late summer until the first frost.

Bouquet Idea
Any of these blooms would be lovely for a monochromatic arrangement or bouquet. All three offer varieties that produce different bloom forms so you can pick flowers in the same color family, but with different shapes.

If you are interested in any of these varieties to grow yourself, you can find several here!

Summer Bulbs

When a gardener mentions planting bulbs, the first flowers that often
come to mind may be daffodils and tulips. We plant these types in our
gardens in fall for glorious displays in the spring. But if you are
willing to expand your definition of a bulb, you will find a whole
new season of beautiful blooms and foliage in what I refer to as
summer bulbs. Now technically these plants include true bulbs,
along with tuberous roots, corms, and tubers or rhizomes, but
it is just simpler to use the blanket term – bulbs.

The plants that grow from summer bulbs will add a tropical touch
to your garden. Many varieties have thick fleshy leaves and exotic
flowers, which makes sense because most originate from subtropical
regions such as South American and South Africa. I like to mix them
in with my more traditional annuals and perennials to add a little
flair to my flower borders and containers.
Summer bulbs should be planted in late spring or early summer when
soil temperatures have warmed to about 55°F. In general
they should be planted close to the soil’s surface, about 1 to 2
inches deep. Choose a location that has well drained soil, unless
they are suited to boggy conditions. One of the nice characteristics
about these plants is that many types, such as elephant ears and
caladiums, will perform well in partial to full shade.

True to their sub-tropical heritage, these bulbs thrive in heat and
humidity, but you can also grow them in northern gardens. The trick
is to lift and store them in the fall before the first frost. How
you store the bulbs depends on what type of plant it is. Most are
lifted from the ground and stored in peat or vermiculite in a cool,
dry area.

To find unique varieties of summer bulbs you may have to go through
a mail order source. You can find a few of my favorites here!