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Mulch: The Essential Ingredient for Fall Gardens

A lot of gardeners think of mulch as an ‘add on’, something to beautify their garden beds with. In fact, black mulch is in style right now, creating contrast in gardens that is seriously eye-catching!

Mulching in the autumn, however, isn’t just about looks. It’s about getting your garden ready for another winter season, in a cost-effective way. If you want a lush, beautiful garden next spring, you need to consider setting yourself up with a load of mulch in autumn.

What Is Mulch?

Essentially, mulch is anything you use to cover, enrich and protect the soil in your garden beds. While some people will opt for leaves or grass clippings to cover their soil, good mulch is much more structured than those options. Plus, a high quality mulch is also decorative! It can add a lot of wow to your garden beds, setting off the plants and flowers beautifully!

What Kinds Of Mulch Can You Get?

Recycled wood mulch — Most high quality mulch is made from recycled wood and natural food dyes, making it safe to use around kids and pets. Mulch comes in red, brown and black, adding elegant contrast in your garden! (Bonus! If you live in Mississauga, you can have a load of mulch delivered to you with Garden Bag to help you get your autumn mulching underway!)

Hemp mulch — Similar to recycled wood mulch, hemp mulch offers excellent soil protection from extreme heat or cold, maintaining constant temperatures. It’s also pH neutral and biodegradable.

Avoid mulches made from cocoa bean by-products, if you have pets. They have a chocolate odour that attracts your pets but as we all know, chocolate is toxic to them. Dogs don’t produce the necessary enzymes to process theobromine and caffeine, both of which can be found in cocoa bean.

Why Your Garden Loves Mulch?

Mulch is a warm blanket that protects your garden through the harshest winter conditions. It creates a barrier between your soil and the snow and ice. Think of it like insulation for your garden beds and perennials, shrubs and bulbs!

The insulation factor works both ways too! As much as it keeps the cold out, it will keep the moisture and nutrients locked in your soil. Instead of losing your soil’s moisture to evaporation—dew, for example, is the result of moisture being drawn from the soil, not the air—mulch keeps it contained, so that plant and tree roots are happy and well fed in the moist earth.

Mulch also helps to prevent soil erosion from spring melts, or soil compaction from heavy rains, two factors which make keeping garden beds well fed and plant roots well protected easier!

Finally, mulch provides a natural barrier against weeds. Studies have shown that well placed mulch can drop weed growth to as low as 7.5 weeds per 110 square feet of garden space. You’ll notice that city run gardens will often have mulch in their garden beds and part of the reason is that it cuts down on the manual process of weeding these gardens. That’s a significant cost savings!

For you as a homeowner, not having to weed your garden as much will not save you a lot of money but it will save you a lot of time and your back, in the bargain! You can spend more time enjoying your beautiful garden instead of being on your knees, pulling weeds!

How Do You Apply Mulch To Your Garden?

First off, order it in your favourite colour and get free delivery from Garden Bag, in the Mississauga area!

All you have to do is set aside a nice autumn afternoon to start spreading it at the base of all your shrubs, perennial plants, trees and on open garden beds. You want to pile up a good 2 – 4 inches of mulch under each plant / tree / shrub and across any open soil areas, to ensure a good coverage.

As you’re planning your autumn planting and garden prep for winter, plan to add a little mulch! Your plants will thank you and you can enjoy a robust, lush garden again in the spring!

Design Ideas For Small Front Yards

How to make even the smallest front yard beautiful

Drive through any Mississauga neighbourhood, and in many cases, you’ll see some large, beautiful homes with wide driveways and just the tiniest bit of a front yard.

That’s pretty standard, particularly in newer developments.

The other standard is the fact that most people don’t know what to do with this little patch, so they throw down some sod, get a city tree planted and call it a day.

The thing is, the curb appeal of the front of your house is everything: it’s the first thing you and others see when you drive up to your home. Does it leave you underwhelmed or are you happy with what you see?

And let’s not forget resale value! Even though the front yard isn’t typically a living space (you aren’t likely to BBQ right out front!), it can be inviting and pleasing to the eye, with little effort.

Keeping your front yard low maintenance, which is desirable for many of us, is how we end up with the sod and tree combination. But low maintenance need not be boring, and while we love sod (yes, Toemar sells a ton of sod each year!), we also believe that it’s tip of the iceberg/garden!

Bring On The Rock Garden

Getting beyond sod has a couple of advantages, right off the bat:

  • There is no lawn to try and keep green and free dog pee spots. Urine spots, created by your own pets or your neighbour’s wandering mongrel, are a pain to deal with. In the aim of keeping your small front yard low maintenance, no lawn means no yellow spots.
  • A lawn-free front yard is also racoon un-friendly, which is a good thing! Racoons like to feast on grubs that they pick out of lawns, wrecking your hard won green carpet in the process. Squirrels have been known to dig up a fair patch of sod too, in the aim of getting to something underneath. Either way, by skipping the lawn, you can keep the beasties at bay. Since racoon droppings are particularly unsanitary for both humans and pets, the less you have on your yard, the better off you’ll be.

Instead of placing sod or planting grass seed, opt instead for a beautiful pathway made of interlocking stones, with a rock garden laid out beside it. There is some lovely local rock that you can get including Blue Mountain rock, Orillia limestone and Bobcaygeon rock. Ontario has some fabulous rock quarries, including some very close by in Milton, that produce gorgeous pieces.

TIP: Hire a professional hardscaper to plan and put your rock garden and pathway in place for one simple reason: run off. You want to make sure the grading is managed in the design so that water, whether rain or melting snow, runs off your property and away from your neighbours lawn too!

Add A Mixture Of Perennials And Bushes

Once you’ve got your rocks and path in place, you can plan to add some plants and bushes, to add texture and colour to the space, with minimal maintenance.

You can create height and a little bit of coverage for the front of your home, that might otherwise be a blank canvas, with bushes or small cedars. Mix in some colourful flowering perennials to punch up the look and break up the grey, white and green of your background rocks and bushes, to create a visually appealing look.

Some people even add water features, within the rock garden, to enhance it further. Do remember, however, that at the front of your home, you’re less in control of the space and run the risk of someone tampering or playing with the water feature, as in the case of a small child who absolutely wants to touch it but trips and falls in. Keep that in mind when choosing your feature.

Top 3 Tips For A Small Front Garden Design

Tip #1—Grass is not always greener—We’ve covered this pretty well, above, so suffice it to say that grass isn’t always the better option on a front yard. In fact, ill maintained grass in a small space looks worse than it would in a larger space. You don’t want your curb appeal ruined by weeds or dead grass. Once installed, a rock garden requires so much less effort. So yes, it will take some money and time up front, but it will be smooth sailing after that.

Tip #2—Blow out the colours—Imagine someone driving down your street. Your home has a rock garden with beautiful yellow, orange, red and pink flowers blooming throughout it. The house next door has grass and a bush. Whose do you think will give the best impression? While curb appeal might not seem important to you, it really makes a statement about how much you care about your home.

Tip #3—Think proportionally—Rocks come in many different shapes and, for a small yard, you don’t want to choose overwhelming sizes, to the point where people see the rocks and nothing else! Everything you put in front of your house should be on a complementary scale to the size of your house. So if you’ve got a bungalow, you might want to skip the tall trees and bushes right out front, which will bury everything, including the house! Instead, choose smaller bushes or tall grasses, which look lovely and require little help to thrive.

However you choose to beautify your front yard, remember that first impressions mean a lot, whether it’s a potential buyer for your home, or your future mother-in-law. Either way, put your best foot forward without breaking a sweat and you’ll enjoy the look of your home as you approach it, every single day.

Lawn 9-1-1: Bringing Your Lawn Back To Life

It happens to the best of green thumbs: you were a little overzealous with the fertilizer or a little under focused on watering. Before you know it, your lawn is looking tired, or worse, brown and dying.

There are a lot of things you can do to bring your lawn back to life, that won’t require anything as drastic as sodding.

Reasons Why Lawns Go South

We’ve talked before about pest control, pet urine damage and weeds, so visit that post to get more information on those issues. In this post, we’re going to talk about other ways your lawn can go downhill in the summer: too much or too little watering, cutting the lawn too short, soil that is hard and compacted down, a pH imbalance in the soil and so on.

Your first step should be to test your soil’s pH levels to see if the levels fall within a normal range. Good quality compost can help to balance high levels of pH in the soil. That said, your patchy lawn might be the result of other activities, so read on!

Is Your Lawn Acidic?

A pH level that indicates acidity in the soil means adjusting the balance. A natural, simple way to do this is to add epsom salts to your lawn. Despite its name, it’s not actually sodium based. Epsom salt is actually made of magnesium and sulfate, a chemical compound that will help balance the acidity in your soil naturally.

Compost Your Lawn

Yes, your lawn needs to eat but too much fertilizer creates a two fold problem: first, it creates a ‘dependency’. Your lawn will not draw nutrients from the soil but rather wait for you to feed it. Second, fertilizer will attract some pests.

Adding a layer of high quality compost, on the other hand, will enable your lawn to build up and draw the nutrients it needs, without your help.

Cut With Care

The single most frequent way people kill their lawns is by cutting the grass too short. The tiny blades will dry up far more easily in the summer sun. Set your mowers blades at the highest level to make sure you’re not cutting off more than a third of the blades at a time. It’s better to cut less, and cut more often, rather than thinking that one big chopping will do the trick!

Pull Up Dead Grass

After you mow your lawn, use a rake to pull up dead grass. Too much of it in your lawn will only prevent the roots of healthy grass from getting the water, nutrients and fresh air it needs to thrive. If you don’t do this, over time, your lawn will build up a thatch of dead grass and other detritus, again preventing water, air and nutrients from reaching the roots. You can break up the thatch, if you’ve built one up, but best to avoid it in the first place!

How Are You Watering?

In the middle of a hot day, you might enjoy a nice misting from the hose, but your lawn won’t. First of all, water early in the day. Middle of the day watering leads to heavy evaporation in the hot sun and late night watering just leaves the lawn waterlogged through the night, making it prone to fungus and other issues. If you have in-lawn sprinklers, get a timer and set it to run in the early a.m.

Now that we’ve got timing down, how much should you water? It might be intuitive to assume that a light but more frequent watering would be best, but in fact, that can lead to a shallow grass root structure. That shallow structure will become ‘dependent’ on you to water regularly. Instead, water less frequently but when you do, give it a good soaking so that the root structures that develop are deeper and more solid. Half an inch of water a couple of times a week is all it should take, even in the hottest weeks of summer.

Aerate Compacted Soil

If part of your lawn issues are that your soil is too compact, particularly in high foot traffic areas, water, nutrients and air can’t get to the roots. It’s time to aerate your lawn! You can rent an aerator, which will pull plugs of earth out, allowing the water, air and food to reach the roots more easily.

Starting From Scratch

If, despite all your efforts, your lawn just isn’t coming back to life, you might decide your best course of action is to start all over again. It’s a big job but a lush, green lawn is such a lovely sight… Here’s how you would go about it:

  1. Cut the sod. You will be slicing through existing root structure to make it easier to pull up.
  2. Remove the sod / grass. You can then lift up existing sod, roots and all.
  3. Till the soil.
  4. Spread a good dose of compost, to the tune of 2-3 inches, all over.
  5. Grade your soil / compost. You want to break up any big clumps and give yourself a level playing field!
  6. Spread the grass seed.
  7. Water well for the first soaking and every day, possibly twice a day during very hot weather, until you start to see the grass seed sprouting.

Bringing a dying lawn back to life isn’t impossible but it does take a little hard work. A good landscape company will be able to help you out, if you can’t manage it. The time and effort will be worth it when you can sit on your lawn chair and enjoy your fabulous lawn for the rest of the season!

Burn Safe: Fireplace and Chimney Important Checklist

Burn Safe: Fireplace and Chimney Checklist

Now that November is here and December is just around the corner, I’m getting ready to dust off the fireplace and chimney so I can enjoy that warm cozy fire and the crackling sound of the fire in the comfort of my home (and even possibly save on my heating bill). However, I’m also aware that home fires are a bit too common during the winter and it would be foolish of me to not take the necessary steps to protect my family and my home.

Basic Fire Statistics in Canada

Here is a recent excerpt from the COUNCIL OF CANADIAN FIRE MARSHALS AND FIRE COMMISSIONERS 2007 report on fire statistics in Canada.

“On average, home fires accounted for 30% of all fires and 73% of all fire deaths in the jurisdictions that contributed data. Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries, while smoking materials are the leading cause of home fire deaths. One-third (33%) of all home fire deaths were caused by fires that started in the living room; 20% resulted from fires originating in the bedroom; and 11% were caused by fires starting in the kitchen. Fire causes in Canadian homes were very similar to those reported for homes in the United States.”

It is not surprising that the 33% of ALL home fire deaths start in the living room which is typically where most fireplaces are located in a home. Maybe not all of these deaths are fireplace related, but even if it is fraction of this number, you can take steps to protect you and your family by taking the time to inspect your fireplace and chimney.

Your Fireplace and Chimney Basics

Before you even begin to light the firewood, it is always smart and wise to inspect your fireplace to make sure that it is safe to use. Check out this video as it gives you a rundown of the key components of your fireplace so that when you speak to professional chimney professional, you completely understand all the jargon that is being thrown at you.

Key Terms:
Spark arrestor or chimney cap – located on top of the chimney, prevents sparks from hitting roof
Flue – vertical column where the smoke leaves the home
Damper – allows access to the flue, open and close mechanism near the bottom of the flue
Firebox – where the fire takes place
Hearth – located just in front of the firebox
Facade – the front area above the firebox

Once you’ve mastered these terms, you can start the process of inspecting the chimney and fireplace. See the video below on some basic tips on checking your fireplace before using.

 

After all this, it is better to call in the professionals.

For more information, please contact us and we will be more than happy to help you out.

Winter Preparation for your Lawn is like a Massage

As I write this article I realized that taking care of your lawn is an ongoing effort similar to the taking care of your skin. You would take care of your skin by applying moisturizers, exfoliation, and even going for a massage. For your lawn you would apply fertilizers, get core aeration or dethatching, mowing the lawn (at the right height) and raking up the leaves or debris. The result is a healthier lawn and increasing the curb appeal of your home. Similarly, people are attracted to people who look put in an effort to keep healthy and look good (moisturizers, facial massages, working out, etc.).
Now that summer is over, chances are that summer has taken a toll on your lawn because of drought, disease, insects or weeds or all of the above which can make your lawn look thin and patchy (translation: ugly).
patchy-lawn-needs-help
By preparing your lawn for the winter (aka massage), you are rejuvenating and protecting the grass roots for the winter. Unlike a massage, you don’t necessarily need an expert to help you prepare your lawn. With a little work and advice from us, this is something you can complete within a day.

Here are some simple tips for getting your lawn back into shape, preparing it for the winter survival and a quick green-up in the spring.

Lawn Tips for Winter

  • Help and heal damaged lawns by fertilizing – damaged areas in turf will recover more quickly with two applications of fertilizer in the fall. The first application should be made in early fall (early September) with a high nitrogen content and this will help the turf recover from damage during the growing season. The second application (mid to late October) should be in late fall with a high phosphorous content and this will help with root growth.
  • Repair extensive turf damage or loss by overseeding – distribute the desired seed mixture in a uniform manner in two directions and make sure the grass seed is in contact with the soil by core aerating before spreading the grass seed and roll the area after seeding. In addition, do not forget to water the seeded areas frequently to ensure good germination.
  • Controlling thatch (grass clippings/debris) – dethatch the lawn before you overseed and apply the first application of the fertilizer as thatch can harbor disease-causing organism and makes your lawn more prone to winter injury. You can dethatch by using core-aeration or dethatching (using a machine or a rake). The benefit of core aeration is that you break up the thatch and bring up soil containing microorganisms that help break down the thatch. In addition, the holes also help with soil-to-contact with both grass seeds and fertilizers.
  • Remove fallen tree leaves – by not removing the fallen leaves, your lawn will not get sunlight and will eventually die. The alternative to removing leaves is to pulverize the leaves with a mover and let them decompose on your lawn. Don’t forget to sharpen the blades of your lawnmower!
  • Last lawn cut at the right height – raise the mowing height slightly in the fall as grass root depth is proportional to mowing height – the longer the grass leaves, the deeper the roots. Longer grass blades also provide some insulation for the crown (growing point) of the grass plant. However, too long of length will encourage winter diseases.

However if you lawn is beyond repair, now is also a good time to re-sod your lawn. The cool Fall weather is a great time to re-sod your lawn because grass is sensitive to heat. This also creates the opportunity for the new sod to develop its root systems well so that when spring comes, the grass is well established and can grow vigorously.

Don’t delay and take advantage of good growing conditions to help your lawn recover from the summer. With this preparation your lawn will survive the winter better, green up earlier in the spring and have deep roots that will help it withstand next year’s summer drought.

For even more information on preparing your lawn for winter, please contact us and we will be more than happy to help you out.