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CRYSTAL GARDENS

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TREES IN YOUR GARDEN

The Cape chesnut tree (Calodendrum capense) in its glory

No garden worth its salt can be without a tree. Indeed, it’s unimaginable to have a garden lacking a single tree even if it’s the tiny of the tinniest gardens.

Trees are the largest and most prominent of all garden plants. As such they establish the long term frame work of the garden. Besides by their shapes and colours, they influence the selection of other plants. What are trees?

Trees are long lived woody plants, either deciduous or evergreen usually growing on a single stem (Although a few like birches do grow two or three stems.

Influence in the garden

A tree’s shape and size can influence the style of a garden. Tall narrow trees like the Italian cypress and Polyantha can give a formal appeal while those open and spreading types like Nandi flame   give an informal look. Weeping trees present a graceful look while conical trees are strong and sculptural.

How to choose a garden tree?

First know the size of a tree at maturity. That struggling seedling may erupt into giant tree creating havoc within your small landscape. A bombax tree would overwhelm a small garden but look perfectly normal in a larger garden. Besides some trees cast dense shade causing  problems for other plant growing nearly. Consider too the root system. Trees like Ficus will unravel parking yards due the action of their roots.

Ornamental features

Many trees are highly ornamental. Tree leaves are usually decorative, and vary in shape, size and texture. The Aleurites molucca  has dramatic bronze foliage  turning yellow  as the seasons change. Leaf textures can be smooth or glossy, wooly or hairy and they add further interest to a garden.

Trees can also be cultivated solely for their flowers. The Nandi flame can be very arresting when in bloom. Tree barks can also be a point of ornament. For instance the Eucalyptus pauciflora and Bracleania huillensis have fascinating textures.

Garden uses of trees

Trees are mostly grown as specimen plants to be viewed from all angles within a lawn or under-planted with a ground cover. Ensure that your specimen tree display several features at different times during the year. You can also grow trees in a large shrub border as focal point. When changing levels in a garden or entry points, a single tree can be used to mark the transition. If your property is exposed to strong winds, trees come in handy as wind breakers. In addition, trees also serve as hedges or barriers to screen out eyesores, to act as sound barriers, to frame a view or to line a drive way. Equally important trees in your garden serve as home for wildlife.

Cultivation

When grown in the right in the right soil, they can thrive or decades. Some trees have lived for centuries. Ideally all trees should be planted away from pipes, drains, walls, cables and buildings.

When planting on a slope, place your trees halfway. This area is normally warmer and less windy.

 Planting hole for a tree should be 2-3 times the size of the root ball and one and half times deep. If you need to stake the tree, this is the time to drive the stake in the ground off-center so the tree and stake are support from the same base. Place the tree and backfill with soil properly mixed with organic matter, firm the soil and water well. A layer of mulch around the hole will help keep moisture. Attach the tree to the stake and be sure to use a stem guard. Water trees regularly until fully established. Keep weeds 3 feet away from the tree trunk to avoid food competition.

In propagating trees, you can use either seeds, cuttings, air and root layering or grafting. Pure species must certainly come from seeds while hybrids and cultivars rarely come true from seeds and are usually reproduced mostly through cuttings.   

 

 

 

HOW TO DROUGHT PROOF YOUR GARDEN

The new Year   period is always a trying period for homeowners   and their gardens.  Not only has the garden suffered bouts of neglect in the preceding holiday season but the dry season soon sets in with a vengeance. This period is regularly manifested   by stooping trees and shrubs and dusty indoor plants. The lawn will have scattered patches and a resurgence of weeds. However, when caught between such extremes and you have the water bills to think of a few gardening techniques can come in handy to tide you through the tough dry patch.

We offer a few suggestions on how to drought proof your garden so that issues of plant care don dampen your new year cheer

Prioritize

Certainly not everything in the garden is worth fighting for. There are plants you may have always wanted to get rid off, some may be diseased or scraggly, while others may simply have fallen out of favour with your tastes. There is no point wasting your energies and water on such and they may have to be sacrificed. Instead focus on the more valuable and irreplaceable shrubs and trees.

Pots

Your potted plants can stay long without watering if you use water wise containers and regularly feed then with compost. Glazed terracotta or plastic pots have higher water retention capacities. Even if your pot is not glazed wrapping with plastic sheeting will give that same desired effect of moisture insulation. For smaller pots place them inside large ones. Similarly burying larger pots into the ground up to the brim.  and covering with compost will save water 

If you have been regularly feeding your pots with compost, they will have a higher threshold for drought-stress as compost conserves water. Heavily feed your plants with organic compost and water thoroughly. Since it is organic   it cannot scorch plants but will be released gradually, holding water for a long period.

Mulching                                                                 -                                                                                      

Be sure to mulch around your shrubs and trees in the garden. Use of shredded bark, grass clippings or straw as mulch will keep moisture loss at a minimum and suppress weeds which rob water and nutrients from plants.

Watering basin  

Where you have young trees and shrubs like roses that have not yet established themselves and still require regular watering, build water basins around such plants to help hold water. Building basins will ensure water uptake is sufficient as water slowly soaks in. This slow and deep watering limits waste due to run-off and encourages plants to develop deep roots system that can withstand drought.

Lawn

If the lawn needs mowing during this dry period, you are better off raising your cutting level. Cutting level exposes the grass roots and consequently dehydrates them.  Cutting at a level of 3-5 inches will help shade the roots and therefore reduce water demand. Check to confirm that your irrigation system is working fine. Inspect your pipes for any leakages and sprinklers for any leakages. Reduced pressure could be due to any of this in the system. These wastes water while giving a false sense of security that the garden is well watered. Where pumps arte involved the waste is double; both for water and power for which you will nevertheless be billed.

A properly functioning irrigation system will give you breathing space as water usage is optimum as you await the wet season.

Whatever your case and however difficult the January-March season may be, the consolation is that no season is permanent as we soon glide into the rejuvenating season of the long rains.                                                                                                                               

 

HOW TO SELECT THE BEST CHRISMAS TREE

 

Folks, the Christmas season is here! And so is the festive mood. So now, we hang our garden tools in the tool shed and throw our feet up the foot stool!

One of the highlights of the Christmas season is the Christmas tree. Depending on how well you are prepared, selecting a Christmas tree can be a delightful experience or a headache. During this time, most people have a congested diary which includes; visits, holidays, makeovers and shopping, the Christmas tree is among the very last items on the to do list. Inevitably, last minute buying costs money.

 

The Christmas tree is rich in legends, all attributed to the treasured value of trees in ancient cultures. At the arrival of Winter early Egyptians brought green date palms into their homes to symbolize life’s triumph over death. For the Romans Winter was a time to honour Satarnus, the god of agriculture. During this festival referred to as Satarnalia they decorated their houses with greens and lights and exchange gifts. In the middle ages the Germans and Scandinavians placed ever green trees in their homes  to show hope in the upcoming Spring.

However, the Christmas tree can be traced to Martin Luther. Around 1530 he was struck by the beauty of small evergreens whose branches dusted with snow shimmered in the moonlight. At home he set up a little evergreen tree indoors and decorated it with candles attempting to simulate the reflections of star lit heaven, the heaven that looked down over Bethlehem on the first Christmas eve.

Today the Christmas tree is a universal practice.

Choice of trees

There are four types of trees:

  • Artificial
  • Precut and Cut
  • Live (Bagged)

Artificial trees

While   the artificial trees have their distinct advantages, they hardly jell with the spirit of Christmas which symbolizes renewal and eternity.

Precut trees

They offer the convenience and are easier to carry and set up. The downward is that they are not fresh and many having been cut weeks before Christmas. The variety is limited, majority of them being from the cypress and pine family 

Cut trees

Cutting down your own tree means your tree will be fresh. It will retain needles/leaves longer. Besides you will be choosing a healthy and well cared for tree that should add some evergreen scent into your home. The only challenge is that you have to cut and ferry the tree to your house, a not so inviting task.

Live potted (Bagged) trees

Live trees that are in pots or bags remain all-time favourite Chrismas trees. They are available all year round which means you can acquire them much earlier, for less money long before Chrismas rush hour. They offer the freshest tree choice and can be re-used for several years. You can later plant them in the garden.

 

What to look for

Trees always seem smaller in the greater outdoors than when we get them into the house. So before you even leave the home measure your the space your tree will occupy  both height and width. This will help save money. The bigger the tree the more it costs.

Go for freshly cut trees when buying pre-cut trees. Fresh trees will look green and healthy. Check for freshness by running your hand along the branches to see if the needles come off or stay on. A gentle bouncing of  the tree on the ground will also serve the same purpose. In addition if the base of the tree is sticky with some resin, this is an indication that the tree was recently  cut and should hold well through the holidays.

Most people look out for the perfect conical shaped trees but in reality, a fuller and bigger tree is better. However, if you have many ornaments you wish to hang onto a tree, a tree with shorter branches might be a better fit. Trees with long branch  like pines tend to snap even with  small weights.

Tree types

What tree should one go for? Many evergreens can be use as Chrismas trees and some nurseries specifically shape trees for this purpose. The common Chrismas trees include varieties   of Cypress Pines,Cedars  Araucarias and Ficus.

In setting up the tree, choose a location away from heat sources like heat vents, wood stoves, and fire places. Heated rooms dry out trees rapidly. For cut trees   get container that can hold the tree trunk and enough water. Dont trim the sides off as this is where the tree take up its water. Check the tree daily and water as needed.

What do you do with a tree once Christmas season is Over

Branches can be cut into smaller pieces and spread as mulch over flowerbeds, while the tree trunks can be carved into candle sticks. Live trees can be turned into garden ornaments by hanging bird seeds, popcorn strips, stale bread or dried fruit that attracts and feed birds

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CONFRONTING TROUBLE IN PARADISE

For any plant lover, the emergence of the plant pests and diseases is enough cause for alarm. Having invested heavily in the buying and care of our plants it is only natural that that anything that degrades them draws our immediate concern.

However as veteran gardeners will attest managing – and sometimes confronting – pests is what adds thrill to the art of gardening. Indeed many gardeners will readily admit that having a trouble –free garden rarely means a complete elimination of all pests and diseases. Rather it only means keeping them at manageable levels. How do you eliminate bugs that crawl over from your next door neighbors?

Whatever garden problem that you encounter it is important to know that your first line of defence is a straight forward common sense approach. First begin by practicing prevention. This is by far the easiest and most durable solution. By keeping your plants healthy and vibrant you cushion them against insect and disease attack. Strong and healthy plants tolerate environmental and natural challenges better than those that are malnourished and stressed. The first step in maintaining healthy plants is fortifying the soil with organic compost and selecting strong and uninfected plants when plant shopping.

Then practice scouting. This is the regular inspection of your plants. It is important as it helps you to monitor and identify trouble spots in the garden early. Earlier detection of pests and disease can let you sort out the infestation before it becomes an outbreak. While for the casual observer  the lone aphid on  a rose bud may seem harm less, for the keen gardener it could signal trouble in the making; the presence of sap resulting from some sort of plant stress. Routine scouting deepens your knowledge of plants problems equipping you with the ability to know what to look for when ferreting  out saboteurs.

 

In general bacteria and fungi invade leaf cells and form new spots. As such most spots on plant leaves represent disease caused by either fungi or bacteria. If your plant leaves has edges of a different colouration from the middles, more likely it is a disease. Chewed leaf edges or holes between leaf veins could be due to insect attack. Leaf suckers like aphids and spider mites – usually found on the underside of leaves- will leave small yellow dots on leaves.

 

Of course it should never escape one's mind that if all pests were trouble some, no plant would be left standing. Indeed over 90% of all insects in your garden are either beneficial or downright harmless. So the spiders you see crawling about are actually working hard to keep your plants insect free. The ground beetles that swagger around the mulches are out eliminating soil pests. The bottom line of all these however is that one should avoid the gung - ho cowboy mentality of shooting every thing in site – with a spray gun. Instead first learn to identify your foes and allies in the garden. Once you know the good guys from the bad ones you can then concentrate on tackling the bad guys. 

 

Some insects like beetles, aphids and caterpillars can easily be controlled. For aphids spray them off with a stream of hosepipe water while beetles and caterpillars can be picked by hand and dropped in a bucket of soapy water. If caterpillar infestation is high you can use the organic product Bacillus thuringiensis that distorts their digestive system. A more common garden problem is the ant invasion. These crawlers like to dine on honey left behind by aphids on trees.  So looking for and tackling their food source- the aphids is one easy way to get rid of them. For ants that scramble up your fruit trees spreading a sticky substance or glue around the tree trunk will check their mobility upwards. Anti hills in the garden can be destroyed by dousing the colonies with hot water. In reality though most ants outdoors- termites excepted- are just but a nuisance.

 

For fungal diseases that leave spots on leaves and cause root rot, their control is ideally through plant management. Damp leaves encourage their spread- so keeping leaves dry will limit its spread. Powdery mildew, a nasty fungal disease can be   prevented by ensuring full sun and ample circulation of air around the plant. Thin out and prune plants to reduce congestion and avoid getting the plants wet. Pick off and burn infected leaves to stop the fungi from spreading. Unless fungicides are used as preventives they are rarely helpful in combating fungal outbreaks

 

Occasionally a plant will die after shriveling .This may indicate a root rot trouble. For such the best approach would be to change the soil through addition of compost and a soil fumigant to kill soil pests. Then replace the dead plant with a different species because the pathogens in the soil may plant specific.

 

All in all try to be tolerant when dealing with pests.  Learn to think fast and spray last.  Even when you have to spray against pests and diseases, opt for insecticides that are organically derived as they are less persistent in the environment. And whatever remedy or ideas you may think off or come across don’t be afraid to try them out. In gardening you never know if if your ideas will work unless you try !

How to solve Lawn troubles the Organic Way

Even in a well maintained lawn, serious troubles can arise.  In the dry season, the soil could be low in nitrogen causing rust on the blades. Maybe mounds of soils have developed due to mole action. Whatever the issue, resist the urge to blast away your lawn troubles with fungicides or insecticides. While weeds, insect infestations and diseases  are normal lawn problems, they certainly indicate trouble within the lawns ecosystem. For a healthy lawn, and a safer you-organic solutions are the best approach.

Common lawn problems and how to solve them

Weeds

Some weeds in your organic lawn is a normal occurrence. However a particular weed type overtaking your grass should alarm you. This means that your lawn isn’t competitive enough and you are best advised to investigate the cause in order to tweak your lawn care practices. Oxalis is the number one weed trouble in Kenyan gardens. It has a long stalk with 3-heart shaped leaflets and 5 petaled yellow flowers and thrives in full sun or shade .  Oxalis will invade lawns that are poorly fed, thin and improperly cared for.

The best way to remove oxalis is to weed manually ensuring that the bulbs are uprooted and burnt. Then top dress the lawn with compost to increase fertility. Replant or reseed  bare patches. Prevent growth of oxalis by leaving the grass clippings  on the grass  and applying a slow-release organic fertilizer.

Shabby, worn-out  lawns

Sometimes your lawn appears weak, but you can’t put a finger to it. Check out the depth of thatch- a foam-like mat of roots and stems on the soil surface. A half inch and below of thatch is  perfect mulch.  A deeper layer prevents nutrients and water from reaching the grass roots. Contrary to popular opinion, thatch is not caused by grass clippings left on the lawn. You are likely to experience mat if you excessively use fertilizer. To tackle thatch give your lawn a good raking. Then strive to prevent its occurrence by  applying a layer of compost  to encourage the burying action of earthworms that will break down and decompose the dead grass stems and root.

Soil Mounds

If you see mounds of soil in your lawn, trouble is brewing underground. As moles tunnel underground in search of worms and grubs, ridges and mound will appear in your lawn. Flatten out the ridges and soil mounds for ease of mowing and to restore root contact with the soil.  Then eliminate the food source and the moles will move on!

Brown Grass

Site conditions, poor maintenance practices, soil compaction, drought and nutrient deficiencies are the primary causes of brown grass. Carry out regular spiking to treat compaction and raise your mowing height to between 4-6 cm. Sometimes however brown grass can be due to white grub  or sodwebworms . The former  causes irregular  dead, brown patches by  chewing  on grass roots while the later  severs  grass blades on new lawns. Fix trouble with white grub through application of parasitic nematodes  and Bacillus thuringiesis (BT) in the lavae stages.

Whitish grass

White grass indicates trouble. It signals the presence of powdery mildew that causes small patches of gray or white patches on the grass. Powdery mildew is more common wet,shady areas and succulent awns resulting from over fertilizing. A solution of nine parts water and one part milk sprayed at the affected area should sort this out. Do not overfertilize your lawn and plant the appropriate grass for partially shaded areas.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms are fungi and their presence is a sign of a fungal mat under the soil coming up. If you have mushrooms in your lawn, be prepared for the long haul in fixing the trouble.  You will have to dig up the area with mushrooms to a depth of 2 feet, incorporating well rotted compost in the process.  This will assist in breaking the fungal mat and improve the soil nutrition.  Preventive measures include discouraging the build up of mat, watering deeply once a week for deep root development and using only slow release fertilizer to avoid a succulent lawn that is susceptible to infestations

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