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Nature Inspired Holiday Décor

With the holiday season upon us, it’s that time of year again when we transform our homes from the everyday and fill it with our festive favorites. As much as we may love our seasonal favorites, bringing the beauty of nature indoors for the holidays can give an organic, all-natural aesthetic.

Christmas Mantel with Greenery

Emily Clark Mantel
IMAGE: EMILY CLARK

From garland to wreaths to a table centerpiece, incorporating greenery cut from trees around the home is the most easy and inexpensive approach to layering nature into your holiday décor. Cut greens, from a fir, pine, and/or cedar, can be perfect for the mantel, table, or door.

This mantel beautifully displays a swag-style cedar garland draped on the mantel, while cut magnolia leaves adorn varying sized vases. So simple, yet sophisticated.

Festive Natural Table Spaces

Jenna Burger Log Centerpiece

Birch branches are accessible elements in nature. Arrange a cut birch log on a mantel or table as the base for a tablescape. Layer in evergreens, pine cones, and twigs of red winter berries – real or artificial – to instantly create a beautiful all-natural arrangement like this one

Citrus Paired with Cloves

Look What I Made Lemon
IMAGE: LOOK WHAT I MADE

Citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, and oranges are the perfect pairing with seasonal décor. Against the bright hue of the fruit exterior, cloves can be added to make interesting and unique patterns. Combine fruit with greenery or fresh herbs to create a dynamic and festive focal point. Whether for an ornament on the Christmas tree, like this decorated lemon or grouped with other fresh finds, fruit can be an easy and inexpensive element to decorate with this holiday season.

 

Christmas Ornaments

Silly Pearl Wood Ornament

IMAGE: SILLY PEARL

Adding cut wood can truly bring the outdoors in to create a rustic, organic aesthetic. From the table to the tree, wood slices – small or large – can be a beautiful layering element. Use small cut wood slices to make an adorable tiered Christmas ornament for the tree. Add simple embellishments like bows or beads to give unique, one-of-a-kind flair.

Get the How-To from Silly Pearl

Winter Wonderland Ornaments

DIY Inspired Glass Ornaments

IMAGE: DIY INSPIRED

As much as we may love our seasonal favorites, bringing the beauty of nature indoors for the holidays, creates for a warm and welcoming rustic aesthetic. Decorating the tree with ornaments that reflect the outdoors is a beautiful way to create a winter wonderland. Using glass ornaments, fill the center of a terrarium-style decoration using elements found in the great outdoors.

 

Magnolia Wreath

Whats UR Home Magnolia Wreath
IMAGE: WHATS UR HOME STORY

Whether a traditional style or contemporary setting, magnolia leaves are also a seasonal favorite that can beautifully compliment a holiday vignette. The large leaves of a magnolia are reversible; the brown side is just as beautiful and can be a gorgeous compliment when layered against a contrasting background.

A wreath can be the perfect way to decorate with magnolia leaves. Whether on their own or mixed with other cut greenery, magnolia leaves are ideal for the Christmas season and will look beautiful on the front door.

Get the How-To from Whats Ur Home Story

Nature Inspired Setting

Unskinny Boppy Tree
IMAGE: UNSKINNY BOPPY

Along with the many lights and ornaments, one element that is simple, free, and apropos to incorporate into holiday decorating is nature. What’s more beautiful than bringing the outdoors in and decorating with natural elements to evoke an organic elegance? From the garland to the wreath to the tree, this living room is enveloped in natural beauty.

 

Preparing Your Garden for Winter Overwintering Plants & Other Important Fall Gardening Tasks

Check out this short 5 minute video to be ready for next season!

Gardening Tips for Fall Garden Cleanup

  • Any spent plants should be removed. If they had bugs or were diseased, get them off your property. You don’t want to add anything to your compost pile that could harbor diseases or insects.
  • Just one weed left to mature can produce hundreds, if not thousands, of seeds that will grow into weeds to plague you next year, so weed the garden one last time. I have been digging perennial weeds such as dock—whose roots go down to China—out of the flower beds. The holes left behind are perfect spots to plant spring-flowering bulbs. Bye-bye noxious weeds, hello spring color!

    fall_foliage_2015_005_full_width.jpg

    • Fall is a great time to create new planting beds. No digging necessary! Just set your mower as low as it will go and scalp the grass, then cover the area with a thick layer of newspapers. Cover the papers with a layer of compost and top it all off with lots of chopped leaves. In the spring you’ll have a lovely new planting bed full of worms.
    • While the mower is out, mow around the fruit trees one last time to discourage mice from nesting there.
      fall_garden_004_full_width.jpg

      Install mouse guards made of fine mesh hardware cloth around the base of your fruit trees to keep mice and voles from eating the bark and killing the trees over the winter.

      • If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to make a note of what plants were grown where in your vegetable garden. Don’t rely on your memory! This will help in planning next year’s planting. It is never good to grow plants in the same family in the same place year after year. Not only does it allow pests and diseases specific to that family to become entrenched, it also depletes the soil of the same nutrients each year.
      • While we are talking nutrients, fall is a great time to get your soil tested. Take a representative sample by mixing scoops of soil from several beds located around the garden instead of from just one spot. Armed with the recommendations from the test, you can apply the right amounts of the proper amendments this fall so they will have time to break down and be available to your plants next spring. No guess work or expensive mistakes! See more about testing your soil for a better garden.

FALL & WINTER VEGGIE GARDENS, PLAN NOW & PLANT SOON!

Image result for planting for a fall garden in Washington state

Local Flavors are available year round throughout Western Washington.  You just need to know where to start.

If you’re new Fall & Winter planting, this list with dates will guide you all summer for an impressive Fall & Winter harvest.

Western Washington has generally cool summers and mild winters in most locations. At altitudes below 1000′ frost in the soil is rare and can usually be prevented with a light mulch on the soil surface.

This combination of weather conditions allows home gardeners to produce satisfactory crops of many vegetables for fall and winter harvest. However, since the fall and winter months are normally quite wet it’s important that gardens be well drained. The following vegetables can be planted in summer or early fall for winter and early spring harvest.

BEANS
Plant Bush beans until late July to produce a good crop before frost. The plants develop more rapidly in the warm summer months than in early spring. Pole beans require more time to develop and should be planted by July 1 for a fall crop. Plant Fava or Broad beans the second week of November for June Harvest.

BEETS
Beets can be planted until August 1 and produce a dependable crop. If you want beet greens, plant until September 1.

BROCCOLI
Direct seed until mid-July and transplant until mid-August. A fall broccoli crop will usually continue producing past Thanksgiving and sometimes until Christmas.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS
Brussels sprouts require a slightly longer growing season than broccoli. Direct seed by July 1 and/or transplant by August 1 for a dependable fall crop. In protected spots harvest can continue into mid-winter.

CABBAGE
Ballhead cabbage for fall harvest requires the same culture as Brussels sprouts. Treat Savoy cabbage as broccoli. Fall cabbage crops will hold in the garden for prolonged periods and can be harvested in to early winter. Jersey Wakefield cabbage can be seeded from September 1-15 to winter over.

CHINESE CABBAGE
Chinese cabbage is best planted in late July for a fall crop.

CARROTS
A fall crop will keep in the garden until used. Plant by mid-July for wall and winter harvest.

CAULIFLOWER
Culture for a fall crop is the same as cabbage or Brussels sprouts.

CHICORY
Witloof chicory or French endive can be planted until mid-July. Roots can be dug in late fall, placed in a box of moist soil, covered with sand and forced in a warm room for winter greens.

CORNSALAD
Cornsalad, (lamb’s lettuce or fetticus), can be planted early September for fall use or late October to winter over for early spring use.

ENDIVE
Plant either curled or broad leaf types until mid-July. In October tie leaves together to blanch hearts. A light mulch of straw will protect it from early frosts and permit harvest into winter.

GARLIC
Plant garlic in late October to November 10 for early summer harvest.

KALE
Plant seeds in July and transplant until mid-August.

KOHLRABI
Sow seed until mid-July for fall crop. Both white and purple varieties are suitable. Harvest when stems are 1-1/2″ to 2″ in diameter, before the stems become woody.

LEEKS
Plant in spring but hill or much in fall and harvest as needed all winter.

LETTUCE
All types of lettuce are suitable fall crops. Sow head lettuce and Romaine in July. Leaf lettuce varieties can be planted until mid-August.

MUSTARD GREENS
Mustards germinate and grow rapidly. Mustard can be seeded through September to produce fall greens. Bok Toy (Chinese mustard) should be seeded by mid-August.

ONIONS
Onions for green or table onion use can be seeded until mid-July for fall use. Seedlings made in August will normally winter over for spring use. Onion sets can be planted anytime during the fall and winter if the soil is well drained and workable.

PARSLEY
Can be seeded in early July for fall and spring use.

PEAS
Can be planted in early November for an early June crop. Green peas and edible pea pods (sugar peas) can be planted until mid-July. A moderate harvest can be expected in the fall.

RADISHES
Early varieties can be planted throughout the growing season until mid-September. Winter radishes (oriental types and Black Spanish) should be planted in July and harvested all winter.

RUTABAGA
Plant in early and mid-July for fall and winter harvest. Leave them in the garden and harvest as you need all winter.

SHALLOTS AND CHIVES
Plant or divide both of these in late October or early November each year. Leave in the garden the year around and harvest as desired.

SPINACH
Plant spinach in mid-August for a fall crop. Plant in September to winter over for an early spring crop.

SWISS CHARD
Chard planted by mid-July will produce a fall crop or planted in late August the plants will winter over and produce and an earlier crop the following year than spring planting.

TURNIP
For mature roots plant turnips by mid-August. For greens, plant through September.

COVER CROPS
In Western Washington it is normally a good practice to seed garden areas which are not occupied by fall and winter crops with a cover crop. Cover crops such as crimson clover or vetch or a combination of annual rye and vetch will benefit the garden soil by conserving nutrients, reducing weed growth and preventing erosion. A fall cover crop becomes a valuable green manure crop to plow or spade under the following spring. Till in the cover crop at least two weeks prior to planting.

Try to choose only early maturing varieties of all these crops to assure enough time for them to mature before frost slows them down or halts growth entirely.

Everything You Need to Know About Growing Oregano

Everything You Need to Know About Growing Oregano

Oregano is a must-have in a culinary garden. Its pungent, spicy, slightly bitter flavor pairs well with almost any vegetable preparation. And since it’s easy to grow, oregano is go-to for the first-time gardener.

Why Should I Grow Oregano?

Oregano is a low-maintenance herb, and it performs well both in the garden or indoors, when given the right conditions.

There are actually two main categories of oregano: Mediterranean and Mexican. The main difference is that Mediterranean oregano is a member of the mint family, and Mexican oregano is a relative of lemon verbena. The flavors are slightly different, but the means to grow them are quite similar.

Perennial or annual? Although oregano thrives in a warm climate, it is a hardy perennial that returns year after year, without much work. A couple of my oregano plants are almost 5 years old, and they have withstood all kinds of weather and still continue to produce healthy, vibrantly colored leaves. Older plants still yield delicious leaves, but their potency decreases once they reach three or four years in age.

 How to Plant Oregano

  • Where: Oregano is one of those plants that looks beautiful planted within the landscaping or along a path. It is a “garden anchor” that comes back every spring, providing height and dimension within the garden. Oregano also grows well in containers, so if you live in an apartment or have a limited growing space, it is a great option. Oregano also performs well indoors, when given enough light and warmth.
  • When: You can grow oregano by planting from seed, by dividing, or from a cutting taken from a healthy, established plant. When planting from seed, plant seeds outdoors about six weeks before the last frost. If you are planting a cutting or transplanting a seedling or small plant, make sure the ground temperature is at least 70°F.

How to Cultivate Oregano

  • Soil: Plant oregano in light, well-drained soil. Oregano actually grows better in moderately fertile soil, so no fertilization or addition of compost is necessary. I let my oregano do what it does on its own. My only complaint might be that I can’t keep up with the harvest!
  • Sun: Oregano performs well in part to full sun, but the flavors intensify when it receives a full day of sunshine. Oregano will grow well indoors, but it is important that the plant receives adequate heat and sunshine in order to grow.
  • Water: Don’t overwater oregano. Water thoroughly, only when the soil is dry to the touch.
  • Spacing: Plant oregano eight to 10 inches apart in your garden. Oregano grows up to two feet tall and spans about 18 inches across. If you are planting oregano in a container, be sure the pot is about 12 inches in diameter; oregano is a prolific grower.
  • Companion planting: Oregano is a great companion plant to almost anything, so don’t worry about planting it next to something it won’t get along with. I plant oregano alongside my tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, and rhubarb. Oregano keeps away a tomato’s archenemy, aphids, by means of predation. Aphids actually love oregano, but oregano also attracts syrphidae (flower flies), which then dine upon the small bugs. Oregano’s thick foliage also provides humidity, which supports peppers’ growth.

How to Harvest Oregano

Harvesting oregano couldn’t be simpler. You may harvest oregano once the stems are at least four inches tall. I tend to let mine grow to about eight inches tall, and then I cut back up to 2/3 of the plant. Reference the photo above and cut just above the leaves. And don’t worry if you think you’ve cut back your oregano too much — regular trimming encourages new growth and prevents “legginess.”

Tip: Want to know the easiest way to harvest oregano? If you won’t be drying your oregano by the bunch, and you only need the leaves, simply grab the stem about 2/3 down the length of the plant and run your fingers along the stem. The leaves will collect in your hand, and then all you’ll have to do afterwards is trim the now-leafless stem. Eureka!

To obtain the optimum potency of flavor, harvest oregano leaves just before the plant flowers, if you can time it perfectly. Even the subtly flavored flowers are great topped on salads. Otherwise, either clip as needed or, as I do, trim your oregano plants all at once and turn on the dehydrator.

Make your Yard Bee-Friendly

Americans consume about 285 million pounds of honey each year. Help your local bees out with simple gardening techniques!
Photo by Getty Images

According to Green Homekeeping (Mango Publishing, 2018) with the gentle guidance of eco-expert, Alice Mary Alvrez, you can start with baby steps and progress to an advanced eco-warrior! Start with these inspired ideas and the 52 simple ways to reduce your waste, eat organic, and keep toxins out of your home. Inside this helpful and hopeful guide, you’ll find tips for greening up all the areas of your life. Learn surprising facts about your impact on the environment and change your habits with do-it-yourself ideas.

Does this sound a little odd to you? Well, encouraging bees to hang around your yard may not sound reasonable, but the truth is that the declining bee population has recently become a hot-button environmental topic. No bees means no pollination, which will do some serious damage to the world (and our food supply).

Nobody is certain of what is causing the bees to die off, but the leading theory is the overuse of pesticides in commercial farming. Scientists are also looking at various other pathogens and diseases as potential causes. Regardless of the cause, bee populations are dropping drastically.

Plant Bee-Positive Flowers

The first and easiest thing you can do is to make sure your yard has a few bee-friendly types of flowers in it. The more food you can supply for our poor bee friends, the better off they’re going to be. Think about adding some of the following to your garden:

  • crabapple
  • blueberry
  • coneflower
  • asters
  • lavender
  • clover
  • bee balm
  • catnip
  • chives
  • sunflowers
  • primrose
  • borage
  • cosmos

These are all gorgeous plants and their heavy pollen supplies will make the bees happy too. A shallow dish of water with some stones in it will also make a nice water source.

Nix the Insecticides

Chemicals that kill the pests in your garden are not going to help bees, whether you are targeting them or not. Keep the toxins out of your garden to make it a healthier place to live (for bees and yourself). Use more natural options for bug control, or just accept that you have to share your garden with a few extra insect guests.

Fact

Regardless of the cause, the bee populations are dropping drastically. There are roughly half the number of commercial bee colonies in the U.S. compared to 60 years ago.


Excerpted from Green Homekeeping© 2018 by Alice Alvrez. Published by Mango Publishing.

 

How to Establish a Clover Lawn

Ah, the backyard lawn, that controversial patch of greenery adored by some and shunned by others. Restricted to the aristocracy before mechanical mowers made them possible for humbler folk, lawns have become the norm of boulevards and subdivisions alike. But how ‘green’ are they?

On the one hand, lawns require large amounts of water to survive. They are monoculture crops that provide minimal benefits to nature. On the other hand, lawns are ground covers that can prevent the encroachment of unwanted or invasive weeds. They also generate oxygen, provide a lush carpet for children’s barefoot play, and offer a pleasant setting for active summer living—badminton anyone?

However you feel about lawns, one thing is certain: you can make yours more sustainable by considering clover. Before chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, the humble clover plant was a common resident in backyard lawns across the country. Almost everyone’s had some clover growing in it—and some lawns were entirely made of clover. There were good reasons for this.

Not only is clover a leguminous plant, meaning that it can fix nitrogen from the air and release it slowly to the other plants in your lawn, it also stays green longer and needs less water than conventional grasses. Whether you are establishing a new lawn or maintaining an old one, there are great reasons to add clover to your mix.

Benefits of a Clover Lawn

  • Clover is affordable and easy to grow.
  • A nitrogen-fixing plant, clover brings nutrients to your soil and requires no fertilization. When mixed with other grasses, clover can reduce or eliminate the need for regular fertilizing.
  • Clover is drought tolerant and grows despite lack of water once established. This contrasts starkly with traditional lawn grasses, which usually need watering all season long.
  • Full sun or partial shade? Clover is tolerant of many conditions and outcompetes other weeds. Some of the newer micro-clovers are even more tolerant of shade and can grow in high-traffic areas.
  • Clover is versatile. Add to a regular lawn to help invigorate tired turf or plant a full clover lawn on its own for lush, year-round greenery (depending on your geographical location).
  • Wildlife such as bees and deer love clover. If you’d rather not have bees visiting, simply mow your clover before it blooms.
  • Say ‘good-bye’ to burn marks—clover will not turn yellow as quickly as a regular lawn when pets are around.

To be sure if a clover lawn is right for you, contact your local garden center to ask about the success of clover in your region. Most landscape professionals recommend a ratio of 15-20% clover seed to 80-85% drought-tolerant grass seed suitable for your area and location. Since clover is not as hardwearing as grass, a mix ensures your lawn will withstand foot traffic and won’t need regular reseeding. However, new micro-clovers developed in the last few decades offer more resilient varieties that many people are choosing to sow in much higher concentrations—up to 100%. Whatever mix you choose, the balance of clover and grasses will change over time and reach an equilibrium that works well for your soil type and local conditions.

Which Type is Best?

Dwarf white clover attracts bees and other wildlife. If desired, you can control blooming by mowing.

The two varieties most commonly used in lawns are Dutch (or dwarf) white clover (Trifolium repens) and more recently, micro-clover (Trifolium repens var. Pipolina, for example). Here’s what you need to know about these options:

Dutch white clover:

  • Usually needs reseeding after 2-3 years.
  • Stays green all year round (depending on geographical area).
  • Blooms when mature, providing food for bees.
  • Does best with 4-6 hours of sun daily.
  • Seeds at a rate of about 1lb per 1000 square feet.

Micro-clover:

  • Is fairly shade tolerant, though does best in areas with sun.
  • Can be mowed shorter than white clover.
  • Is tolerant to more foot traffic.
  • Produces about 90% fewer blooms than Dutch white clover.
  • Turns brown in winter due to dormancy period.
  • Seeds at a rate of about 1lb to 300-600 square feet.

Things to Know Before You Start

Clover does best when planted in clay or sandy loam soils with a pH between 6 and 7. To find out your soil’s pH, use a soil test kit or a pH meter. If your soil isn’t in this desirable range, you can adjust the pH using lime (to make your soil more alkaline), or peat moss (to make your soil more acidic).

The best time to plant clover is after the last frost in spring, when rains will help you establish new crop and competing grasses haven’t yet taken hold of available nutrients. Fall planting may also be a possibility if you live in an area with mild autumn weather. Temperatures should remain above 40˚F (4˚C) for the clover to take hold before winter.

As noted above, lawn specialists recommend using both clover and grass seed to establish the healthiest lawn possible. However, don’t spread these different types of seeds together. Since clover seed is so small and dense, and usually clumps together at the bottom of the spreader or seed bag, spreading with grass seed usually results in uneven coverage. Instead, determine your desired ratio of clover to grass and spread separately.

Planting Your Clover Lawn

Overseeding a Clover Lawn:

To add clover to an already established lawn, begin by mowing close to the ground and raking out any thatch that developed over the previous growing season. If your lawn needs aerating, now is the time. Your clover seed will benefit if sown after a thorough aeration. Mix your chosen clover seed with fine sand, sawdust, or soil, and broadcast over desired area. If you are seeding a large expanse, you may want to use a broadcast spreader on the smallest setting. However, keep in mind that many spreaders don’t accommodate seeds as small as clover.

Once planted, water your clover seed every day for two weeks. This will give the seeds adequate moisture for sprouting and help them get a good start in their new location. Be sure to keep deer and other clover-eating animals off the lawn.

The key to giving clover a boost over competing grasses is to cut back on nitrogen-based fertilizers. Since clover fixes its own nitrogen, it will thrive even if this nutrient is lacking (while grasses usually won’t). Phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are important, however, so choose a fertilizer with a low nitrogen component in favor of P and K.

Planting a New Clover Lawn:

If you are establishing a new lawn, prepare your soil several weeks in advance by removing weeds, stones, and other debris. Rake or till the top layer of soil to loosen the substrate and then water the area to encourage any remaining weeds to sprout. A day or two before planting your lawn, remove any newly sprouted weeds and rake to a smooth, even texture.

Mix your clover seed with sand, sawdust, or fine soil to make spreading easier. Use a broadcast spreader (if you can find one that accommodates clover) for large areas to ensure even distribution. Do not fertilize. Follow with grass seed if using.

Rake the planted area to lightly cover the seeds. They won’t sprout if buried too deeply. Compress with a roller or by walking over the area. Water regularly until established.

Before trimming your lawn for the first time, wait until the clover drops its seeds, and then cut fairly close, about 2″ from the ground. This will also favor the clover over the grass, and help the clover plants establish their roots. Leave the clippings on the lawn (they are a valuable mulch). Once the clover begins to thrive, you can reduce the mowing by letting your lawn grow to 3″. You can always overseed with clover if the grass starts taking over.

Other Things To Consider

  • Never use herbicides on a clover lawn. Your clover won’t survive!
  • A new clover lawn won’t usually flower until after its first year. After this time, mow once weekly to control bloom coverage (if desired).
  • If you don’t already have clover growing somewhere in your area, you may need to inoculate the soil to prepare it for the clover seed. You can buy inoculant from your local garden center. Mix into your prepared soil or broadcast with your clover seed at planting time. Some clover seed comes encased in inoculant.

Adding clover to your existing lawn or planting a new lawn with clover in the mix will help reduce the impacts of your little patch of green. With fewer requirements and care, and more time for enjoyment, a clover lawn is a natural choice for your overall sustainability solution.