What Happened to the Garden?

For those who have been following my blog for a while (or have browsed through my older posts here and on Tumblr), you may be wondering what happened to our garden since I was laid up for so long. Between the miscarriage just before E, my long pregnancy bed rest, and my difficult postpartum recovery from my symphysis pubis dysfunction, our garden has been very neglected for about a year now. My husband had the overwhelming burden of taking care of literally EVERYTHING while I was laid up. In addition to his long hours at work, he had to be responsible for all of our shopping, errands, laundry, cleaning, cooking, and caring for me. Considering I could not even bathe myself for much of that time, the load on his shoulders was quite heavy. Somewhere in the midst of all that, he also found the time to finish our kitchen remodel, remodel the baby’s room, and deal with all the stress of getting that house in Texas sold. Worrying about our yard was not high on his list of priorities.

At one point, my husband brought up the idea of hiring a gardener to take care of things while I was laid up, but I hate that idea. It may seem weird, but I can’t stand anyone else messing with my plants. We tried that when I was in bed with pneumonia for over a month (about two years ago), and they pulled out most of my herb garden, claiming they thought it was all weeds. It is bad enough that someone dug up and stole a bunch of my plants here while I was in the hospital after E was born. I would have been pretty mad if even more had been dug up or mistreated.

Surprisingly, our front yard held up relatively well considering the total neglect. It was looking very embarrassing for quite some time, but I am glad that the majority of my plants survived. Buying drought tolerant and native plants really paid off! This past weekend, we spent as much time as possible getting everything more in order both in the front and back yards. We pruned dead growth, trimmed and shaped plants, pulled out tons of weeds, cleaned up lots of pine needles, relocated plants that were running out of space, dug out plants that did not survive, fertilized everything, worked in compost, and added new wildflower and grass seeds. It was a lot of work but so worth it. These pictures were taken at the end of our cleanup. They will be a good reference point to see how quickly everything starts to perk up!

Lately we have been trying to stick by our weekend rule of one day of projects for the house and one day of something fun. E will only be little for so long, and we don’t want to look back and realize we didn’t enjoy this time because we worked too hard on our house. We made an exception to that rule this weekend since we were all enjoying bring outside. E even joined in a little in the Moby wrap (Instagram pic at the end).

Pictures of the back yard will be coming soon as well…as soon as the baby naps long enough for me to finish pulling out the last of the weeds. 🙂

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Shade Garden Update!

There are two last places in the front yard that have been needing some planting attention.  One is a bare area underneath the two large pine trees on the lower level (still yet to be tackled).  The other was the full shade area along the one retaining wall, under a bunch of trees.

The previous owners (or whoever they hired) had planted the worst possible items in this area…roses, some unidentified plant (possibly some kind of pomegranate), and an ornamental strawberry tree.  All of these plants were needing full sun, and were planted in full shade.  They all looked horrible.  I will show a before shot in an upcoming post, detailing all of their mistakes that I have cleaned up lately.  The strawberry tree and the mystery plant were also both sending out runners and seedlings, all over the lawn.  I couldn’t handle it any longer, so I took action.

I dug up everything along that wall except for the apple tree and the pine tree (obviously I wouldn’t touch those!).  I double dug the very compacted soil, and added tons of compost and fertilizer.  I planted a variety of colorful shade plants including an asparagus fern, sword fern, polka dot plants, coleus, heuchera, iresine, and caladium.  I love all of these plants for this area since they have a variety of bright colors and don’t require much sun at all.  There are literally no flowers in this section but it is full of color!

On a side note…We recently had some trouble with our sprinklers in the upper part of the front yard.  There are no sidewalks in our neighborhood, and the grass goes all the way to the curb.  Some neighbors (or their guests) kept stepping on the sprinklers near the edge of the curb and breaking them.  I was trying to water the grass by hand and with those little hose sprinklers until my husband had the time to fix the sprinkler heads, but it was quite difficult to get everything evenly watered this way (especially in the middle of the hottest summer ever!).

Much of the grass started to die off in the upper part of the front yard.  I was so discouraged since I had done so much work on this grass to revive it when we first moved in.  I started again with dethatching the dead areas, and used my cultivator to work in new shade grass seed and fertilizer.  I also poured my compost weed tea on the troubled areas.  After daily watering for a few minutes each day, the grass is back to full and green and lush!  I am so happy. 🙂

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How To: My Favorite Lawn Care Tools

I like to try to keep our front grass looking as nice as possible, in as eco-friendly of a way as possible.  I use organic fertilizer, I don’t use weed killer chemicals anywhere, and use this tool instead.
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My husband was responsible for mowing the lawn at our old house, and it often was embarrassingly overgrown since he works so much (often on the weekends too).  I told him I would take over the lawn care at the new house if he got me a new lawnmower.   I do not like the gas powered mower he has, and besides the fact that I don’t like gas powered tools for their emissions, it was way too big and heavy for me to maneuver around this multi-level yard.

I told him I needed something I could easily pick up, and wanted to get a reel mower.  He thought I was crazy that I wanted to go motor-less, but I insisted.  I also wanted one with a bag so I could add the grass clippings to my compost bin.  If you leave the grass clippings on the grass, it is good for the grass because it adds an extra boost of nitrogen when the grass decomposes, and acts as a mulch.  However, in a neighborhood where everyone has immaculately groomed front yards, I don’t like the look of decaying grass clippings on top of our lawn.  It just does not look as nice as I want it to look.

I first tried the Scotts reel mower, and the blades were not sharp enough.  It ripped and tore the grass, leaving brown edges on the top where the grass blades were torn.  I returned that mower and then tried the Craftsman model.  This one works much better and I am really happy with it.

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Before I mow the grass, I always try to remove as many of the pine needles as possible.  The hired gardeners in the area always use power blowers to get rid of all of the pine needles, but I have found that our blower doesn’t really get rid of all of them.  Besides, I always prefer to use a little elbow grease instead of electricity/gas power when possible.  Getting a garden motivated me to cancel my gym membership! 🙂  I use a simple plastic rake, and it does great things when getting rid of the pine needles.  I go one round with the rake like I am sweeping, and then a second round where I drag the rake behind me, never lifting it up until it is full.  I zig zag back and forth dragging the rake behind me, until I have covered the whole area.

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The strange tool next to the rake in the second picture is my grass aerator.  I picked this up recently since the soil in our front yard is extremely compacted.  I used this to aerate the lawn, allowing the water to penetrate deeper to the grass’ root system.  I don’t like the look of the little dirt plugs that it leaves behind everywhere, but they add nutrients back into the grass.  As a compromise, I went through afterward and stepped on all of the plugs to break them up.

The last picture is the one challenge that I have found no store-bought tool will help with.  There is one particular type of weed that was growing in our backyard, with very thick woody stems.  They are too thin for the weed tool to yank up, and too thick for the lawnmower to cut.  I had to go through and yank them up by hand, which wasn’t fun, but didn’t take as long as I thought it would.  It only took me about a half an hour to go through and yank out all of these weeds in about 600 square feet of grass.

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Organic Lawn Weed Removal

I don’t believe in using chemicals to rid our lawn of weeds. It would take forever to pull them all out by hand, so instead I use this handy weed remover tool. Mine is from HoundDog, but there are others too. It grabs the weed, root and all, and easily discards the unwanted intruder with a release mechanism. It kind of sounds like I am cocking a shotgun over and over, which my Texan husband finds hilarious. 🙂 I discard all of the weeds into a bucket, and am starting to notice a big improvement in the areas I have been doing a lot of work on. It even pulls up the tiny little annoying clovers! (Taken with instagram)

A few tips if you do decide to try my method:
1. Don’t be alarmed when you notice little bare patches after you pull out the weeds. Just throw down some grass seed, water regularly, and in a couple of weeks the bare spots will be gone.
2. Be sure to discard the weeds into a bucket or trash can so you don’t end up spreading weed seeds elsewhere.
3. Be patient. It takes a lot of work but will eventually become less work. I spent a few entire days working on our one area while I was avoiding being in the house when the fireplace, chimney, and central heating were being repaired (I have horrible dust allergies). I still wasn’t able to finish all the areas, but I am setting a goal of one hour per day. The area where I spent a lot of time is already looking much better and needs very little weed upkeep now.
4. If you use the HoundDog model, be sure to twist while you push down. Other brands may work differently, so be sure to read the instructions.
5. It works best if you place the blades in the center of the weed. If you can’t tell where that is by looking, just feel around a little with your hand to find it.

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