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CRYSTAL GARDENS

ENHANCING LIFESTYLES

IT'S TIME TO GO ORGANIC

Our neighbourhoods are slowly, but surely falling silent. Whether in the countryside or in the cities, familiar sounds are receding.

 The chirpings of the weaver birds, larks and warblers which used to announce the break of dawn are getting fainter by the day.

Since ancient times, birds have been used to monitor enviromental conditions. From the Biblical dove that was sent out to scout the raging floods, to the migrants that alert us to the onset of winter in the northern hemisphere, we feel the pulse of nature through birds. That they are becoming scarcer by the day, is an indication of how degraded our environment has become.

In order to raise lush green gardens, picture perfect velvety lawns and bountiful farms we have gone commercial. Any problem in the garden is fixed with over the counter chemical feeds or pesticides-even when safer alternatives are available.

The accumulation of these chemical inputs into the soil kills useful microorganisms which convert organic matter into plant food. In addition it kills beneficial organisms like butterflies, bees, worms, centipedes, frogs and birds through disruption of their habitats, nesting sites and disruption of the food chain. As a result our gardens are devoid of wildlife, and our environment remains polluted with chemical residues. As a home owner with a garden or farm, you can help turn the  tide by going organic.

What then is organic gardening?

It is gardening in harmony with nature, using methods and inputs that do not adversely affect the environment. The organic gardener differs from the ‘chemical warrior’ in that whereas the former feeds the soil, which in turn feeds the plant, the latter applies inorganic inputs, which dissolve quickly into a solution that is then taken up by the plant. For the organic gardener, success depends on nourishing the soil by addition of organic matter to produce healthy plants that are more resistant to pests and diseases.

How then do you raise plants in an organically acceptable way?

First you have to fortify the soil. Enrich the soil with plenty of manure, humus, compost and green manure. This helps to improve the soil structure, drainage and water retention capacity. Besides the presence of organic matter will lead to proliferation of soil microorganisms like bacteria, earthworms, and centipedes, which decompose and mix organic and mineral matter through their burrowing activities. The result is a fertile soil that makes nutrients easily available to the plants in the right form. If you are starting a fresh-with no green matter to make compost, go for natural products like bone meal (this is crushed bones), dolomite,   rock phosphate and rock potash. When worked into the soil, they provide adequate plant nutrition.

Mulching

As the plants grow, dress the soil with a three-inch layer of mulch. Mulch is a layer of organic matter placed on the surface around plants. This could be clippings from the lawn, well rotted compost or animal manure, weathered saw dust (not raw), ground maize cobs and partly rotted leaves.  Mulch serves to suppress weeds and conserve moisture. During mulching ensure that you leave a four inch gap between stem and the mulch to prevent pests moving up the plant. You can even speed up the decomposition of the mulch by applying a microbe solution. This is an organic (actually molasses) product that contains microorganisms which speed up decomposition of organic matter into fine well rotted plant food.

Pest and Diseases

For new practitioners of organic gardening the control of pets and diseases’ is the acid test. However this need not be a major challenge. Haw-eyed vigilance is the first buffer against pests. 

Be on the lookout for any signs of trouble and move to nip it in the bud by cutting out any infected part, and burning it. Garden hygiene is a major element inorganic gardening. Ensure that no dirt and waste lies around as this provides conditions and habitats for disease and pest agents. Inclusion of scented herbs like Chives, Rosemary, Thyme, and Mint into the flower or vegetable beds through companion planting has been known to repel pests.

For kitchen gardens practice crop rotation. Vegetables grown in one patch are moved to another in the net planting. This renders the pets resident in the soil incapable of attacking the new crop.

For a more comprehensive approach to organic pest control -see our previous article on solving lawn troubles the organic way

With time your garden will mature into a living community of different but interacting organisms ranging from micro-organisms, insects and birds. Then a natural equilibrium will be attained where pests will be controlled biologically through natural predators and parasites. Some predators can be sourced externally. The diamond black moth, which devours cabbage, now has a natural enemy in the garden, a parasitic wasp, courtesy of the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE).

SOLVING 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 mounds 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 in wet,shady areas and succulent lawns 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 a shade  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.

Termites

An all too common problem in Kenyan gardens.  Eternal vigilance is the best defense against termites. Anti hills in the lawns and soil laced paths along tree trunks and walls are a sure indicator of termites. Presence of termites is a warning that the lawn is poorly fed, or the presence of decayed wood . Sucrose from decaying wood matter is  agent for termites. Frsst identify the termmite nests -this is where the queen is to be found.

HOW TO GROW A GREAT LAWN

For many of us, installing a lawn involves commissioning landscaper to dig up the grounds, rake and plant a grass type we will have recommended or one they suggest for us. Thereafter the serious business of lawn tending starts and ends with lawn mowing and occasional watering.

But there is more to raising a trouble free lawn than just planting and mowing. And as the home owner or end user, you are well advised to take keen interest in how your lawn will be done.

 

Kikuyu grass lawn

Choosing the right grass

The first step in raising a great lawn is to grow the right grass. What are the conditions like at your site? Full sun or partial sun? Will you be entertaining a lot therefore heavy foot traffic? Or will it be light use? If you know the conditions or end use, you will opt for a suitable grass. Locally the common grass types grown are;

  1. Kikuyu grass
  2. Cape royal
  3. Arabicum
  4. Maadi river.
  5. Pemba grass
  6. Zimbabwe grass
  7. Paspalum

Generally the first three types in the list above thrive in direct sun, in shade it’s anunending struggle. The last three are amenable to growing in shade but still do well infull sun. However, Zimbabwe grass will give the best result for shaded areas. Maadi river is your best bet if your lawn will be heavily used, and you need a resilient lawn that survives drought.

Sound Drainage

Whatever grass you grow ensure the grounds drain well. Ideal drainage can be achieved through a combination of a slope and percolation. The easier option is to have a gentle slope draining the water away from the lawn aided by a free draining, fairly porous soil through which water seeps into the lower soil layers.

If it happens that there is no way water can be drained out of the lawn into the main drainages, drainage by percolation will be the only option left. This calls for a thorough conditioning of the soil by digging deeply and mixing the soil with ample compost or manure. Ensure the ground has a true level so that water doesn’t collect in one place, but rather seeps slowly into the soil. Where the soil is really bad, say cotton soil, underlie the lower layer with hardcore stones and top up with red soil to aid in drainage.

It needs no gainsaying that with lawns, initial ground preparation holds the key to a successful lawn.

Maintaining your Lawn Organically

Having planted your lawn successfully, you need to manage it so that it serves you well and remains aesthetically appealing. Countless times we have been called in to help rescue a lawn which once upon a time was the envy of the neighbourhood.Yet upon inspection, we find the culprit is not lack of attention, but poor management practices.

If you desire a trouble free lawn, go the organic way.

You will get a thick green carpet of grass for a lesser effort and less money spent. You only need to keenly observe or change your management style. For instance, cut the grass at a higher setting preferably 4’’-6’’inches. A taller grass develops deeper roots, which enables it out compete or smoother the weeds and withstand drought better. Besides tall grass always appears thicker to the eye.

The desire for a smart turf can sometimes blind us to the need to feed our lawn by leaving the grass clippings behind after mowing. More often we would rather sweep the clippings off the grass—to get that “look”. However the best practice is to let the clippings decompose into the lawn, offering nitrogen to the grass and a feast to the microorganisms in the soil. These are the ones that improve drainage by their burrowing activities in the soil.

Feed your lawn sparingly. Grass, like all living things, needs nourishment for it to be at its best. If you over feed your lawn, the grass becomes more succulent which encourages pests.Our in house style is to feed the grass only twice a year using slow release organic fertilizers, given that we don't bag or sweep off grass clippings.

Finally water your grass infrequently, unless you are confronted with an extended dry spell. If you mow your grass high and the leave the grass clippings behind, your established lawn will hardly need watering. However when you do water, go for a deep soaking but done infrequently. This encourages deeper root growth.

 

In our next article we look at common lawn problems and how to solve them organically -with no chemical in sight.

SOLVING COMMON LAWN PROBLEMS ORGANICALLY-ucoming

Hanging Gardens

Want to create a garden out of thin air?

Then consider having hanging gardens.

Since time immemorial people have raised hanging gardens –in whatever form they could. Indeed among the Seven Wonders of the World are king Nebuchadnezzar’s hanging gardens which grew in Babylon around 2500 BC. The gardens- a gift to his Persian wife – weren’t suspended like your typical hanging basket but rather spilled out from containers on a terraced hill.

The practice of hanging gardens was well established in ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. Urban folks desiring to savour  and grow things up close  tended plants in raised pots and trailed them along walls and trellises.For both amateur and professional gardeners, the hanging basket presents an appealing prospect; to raise plants  at low cost  with minimal time input, and yet  still be able to  enjoy the glories of a lovely border  as the basket  spills forth  its treasures .

Though installing a basket may seem a simple, straight forward a fair to most people for the discerning gardener this is hardly the case.  Before hanging out any thing, you need to know the the purpose each basket is to serve and the space available.One question that should exercise your mind is, what design effect do you wish to create? Do you want a splash of colour to add some excitement to a dull spot? Are you out to screen out unsightly utilities like piping with colourful foliage or flowers? Or perhaps you want to soften the rugged finishing of the house?

Based on your specific need, move to assemble the desired materials. Galvanized steel baskets are the most common containers. However, any creative gardener will find a world of choices at his or her feet- cleaned paints cans, copper buckets and the ubiquitous plastic cans-as long as he/she can drill holes.

What do you need?

Once you have your container, you will need to get the plants, potting soil, lining for the baskets and hooks upon which you will hang the baskets eventually. In Nairobi,  the practice nowadays to use wire baskets that have been lined with reed and then painted or varnished.

In filling hanging baskets, soilless potting compost like coconut fibre, fir bark, sphagnum moss or organic compost is preferred. Charcoal is mostly used for orchids. These are preferred over ordinary garden soil because they are clean, light and easier to use. Besides they retain moisture and provide good aeration. Their main drawback is that unlike soil, they do not provide minerals. So regular feeding is necessary.

Line your container with perforated plastic sheeting to retain moisture and heat. Backfill halfway with compost. Insert the plants, adjusting where necessary to ensure that the whole basket appears well filled out and balanced. Backfill with more compost .Water the basket thoroughly. Let the plants settle in and hang the next day and then wait to enjoy the exubereance of a garden swirling from a chain

What to grow?

As with gardening enthusiasts, disagreements abounds as to which plants are the best and how many should be used per basket.  While three to six are considered reasonable, some people will use even ten plants, space allowing.  Of note is that the design principles of balance and unity used in ordinary landscaping still apply here. In addition place plants with similar requirements ( e.g. watering and light ) in same baskets.

The genera rule is to mix annuals and perennials in your basket. Annuals have bold flowers and they flower longer. However they fizzle out and this could leave you with a bare basket. Perennials will come in handy, with foliage filling out the gaps left by annuals, and coming into flower at their own appointed time-much to your surprise and delight.

How long should a basket last? Forever. Generally baskets are dynamic with stuff dying as new ones come up. Uproot any dead plants, and cut back those that overgrow.  Feed regularly with a balanced all purpose fertilizer every two weeks besides regularly adding more compost.

You can switch over your baskets to create a completely different look without acquiring new plants.

ALL ABOUT SOIL DRESSINGS

It is the hope of every gardener to get his or her garden soil as close to the ideal soil as possible. However for many, this may seem well impossible particularly where time and money are constraints. The good news is that whatever small improvements you do; the results will certainly be noticed. Take the case of a bag of compost for one who has a lawn and a few shrubs.  While a bag may not be enough for the entire garden, if applied to the shrubs only, a noticeable improvement will be seen!

One way in which garden soil is improved is by use of soil dressings. These are solid or liquid materials added to the soil in order to enhance its physical quality, or improve the plants grown therein, or achieve the both   simultaneously.

Soil is one of  nature’s wonders and among one of her most complex products. It is a matter that is constantly undergoing change. Growing plant roots draw nutrients from the soil while rain leaches out nutrients into the deeper layers. As such at some point nutrients will become deficient in the soil. When this happens, it is time to dress your soil so as to add desired factors to the soil.

Soil dressing is as ancient as gardening itself. However no single dressing will provide the desired results with regard to soil improvement. It is therefore vital to use the three basic soil dressings groups namely;

Fertilizers

These are materials that contain, in concentrated form, one or more plant foods. Their addition to the soil is to feed the plants with major elements like Nitrogen, Potassium and  Phosphorous or minor elements like  calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, and sulphur. Since fertilizers are added in small quantities, they can hardly influence soil texture or raise bacterial activity in the soil like humus does. Fertilizers therefore work best in combination with humus.

Humus

One way to improve your soil is by improving its texture. To achieve this you need to add organic materials to the soil. These materials attract bacteria which help in their breakdown and eventual decomposition. As the bacteria break down the green matter and burrow it into the soil, they help improve its structure by creating air spaces and mixing the soil with decayed matter. It is known however that the plant food content in humus is slow acting, not adequately balanced and largely insufficient for plants. It is only animal manure generously applied that does supply adequate plant food. Therefore humus works best when used together with fertilizers.

Various types of humus makers are used in the garden. The ‘raw’  humus includes  non decomposed  organic material that contains  starch and sugar. Examples of these include straw, grass clippings and dug in weeds. ‘Matured’ humus  includes decomposed organic material like garden compost, peat, manure, and Hop manure.

It is important to note that soil without humus is nothing more than finely ground rock

Lime (Calcium carbonate)

Lime is applied to soil to remove acidity (sourness) and improve crumb structure. Lime adds calcium to the soil which lowers  the soil pH.  PH(potential hydrogen) refers to  the levels of hydrogen ions available in the root zone. When they bind together with other nutrients in the soil, they can render certain nutrients unavailable to the plants.

A much higher pH may hinder certain elements from being taken up by plant roots. Indeed few garden plants thrive under acidic soil. In addition acidic soils are hostile to earthworks and beneficial bacteria –the ones that break down organic matter and help improve soil structure. The common types of liming materials are dolomitic lime, agricultural limestone, wood ashes, and gypsum and hydrate lime.

How Dressings Are Used in the Garden

Now that you have your soil dressing material, how do you apply it?

Base dressing

This is dressing applied to the soil before or at the time of planting. It is used to provide a consistent but gradual supply of plant food or humus to the soil for the months to come. Humus and slow release fertilizers are used as base dressing.

Top Dressing

Top dressing involves applying extra nutrients to the soil surface so that they are taken up by plants that are already established. Naturally, it is fertilizers that are quick release or fast acting are used here. For lawn, top dressing includes application of a mixture of sand, top soil and compost upon the loan. The lawn benefits from this by the evening out of irregular surfaces and faster uptake of nutrients by the grass. The velvety green lawns you see around are products of sustained top dressing

Mulching

This is organic material placed around the plant. It smoothers the weeds and keeps the soils moist by retaining   moisture. It also adds to soil fertility. As the mulch decomposes, it fertilizes the soil.  You will not need to dig and water often during the warm seasons if you place mulch around your trees and shrubs.

IT'S TIME TO GO ORGANIC

Our neighbourhoods are slowly, but surely falling silent. Whether in the countryside or in the cities, familiar sounds are receding.

 The chirpings of the weaver birds, larks and warblers which used to announce the break of dawn are getting fainter by the day.

Since ancient times, birds have been used to monitor enviromental conditions. From the Biblical dove that was sent out to scout the raging floods, to the migrants that alert us to the onset of winter in the northern hemisphere, we feel the pulse of nature through birds. That they are becoming scarcer by the day, is an indication of how degraded our environment has become.

In order to raise lush green gardens, picture perfect velvety lawns and bountiful farms we have gone commercial. Any problem in the garden is fixed with over the counter chemical feeds or pesticides-even when safer alternatives are available.

The accumulation of these chemical inputs into the soil kills useful microorganisms which convert organic matter into plant food. In addition it kills beneficial organisms like butterflies, bees, worms, centipedes, frogs and birds through disruption of their habitats, nesting sites and disruption of the food chain. As a result our gardens are devoid of wildlife, and our environment remains polluted with chemical residues. As a home owner with a garden or farm, you can help turn the  tide by going organic.

What then is organic gardening?

It is gardening in harmony with nature, using methods and inputs that do not adversely affect the environment. The organic gardener differs from the ‘chemical warrior’ in that whereas the former feeds the soil, which in turn feeds the plant, the latter applies inorganic inputs, which dissolve quickly into a solution that is then taken up by the plant. For the organic gardener, success depends on nourishing the soil by addition of organic matter to produce healthy plants that are more resistant to pests and diseases.

How then do you raise plants in an organically acceptable way?

First you have to fortify the soil. Enrich the soil with plenty of manure, humus, compost and green manure. This helps to improve the soil structure, drainage and water retention capacity. Besides the presence of organic matter will lead to proliferation of soil microorganisms like bacteria, earthworms, and centipedes, which decompose and mix organic and mineral matter through their burrowing activities. The result is a fertile soil that makes nutrients easily available to the plants in the right form. If you are starting a fresh-with no green matter to make compost, go for natural products like bone meal (this is crushed bones), dolomite,   rock phosphate and rock potash. When worked into the soil, they provide adequate plant nutrition.

Mulching

As the plants grow, dress the soil with a three-inch layer of mulch. Mulch is a layer of organic matter placed on the surface around plants. This could be clippings from the lawn, well rotted compost or animal manure, weathered saw dust (not raw), ground maize cobs and partly rotted leaves.  Mulch serves to suppress weeds and conserve moisture. During mulching ensure that you leave a four inch gap between stem and the mulch to prevent pests moving up the plant. You can even speed up the decomposition of the mulch by applying a microbe solution. This is an organic (actually molasses) product that contains microorganisms which speed up decomposition of organic matter into fine well rotted plant food.

Pest and Diseases

For new practitioners of organic gardening the control of pets and diseases’ is the acid test. However this need not be a major challenge. Haw-eyed vigilance is the first buffer against pests. 

Be on the lookout for any signs of trouble and move to nip it in the bud by cutting out any infected part, and burning it. Garden hygiene is a major element inorganic gardening. Ensure that no dirt and waste lies around as this provides conditions and habitats for disease and pest agents. Inclusion of scented herbs like Chives, Rosemary, Thyme, and Mint into the flower or vegetable beds through companion planting has been known to repel pests.

For kitchen gardens practice crop rotation. Vegetables grown in one patch are moved to another in the net planting. This renders the pets resident in the soil incapable of attacking the new crop.

For a more comprehensive approach to organic pest control -see our previous article on solving lawn troubles the organic way

With time your garden will mature into a living community of different but interacting organisms ranging from micro-organisms, insects and birds. Then a natural equilibrium will be attained where pests will be controlled biologically through natural predators and parasites. Some predators can be sourced externally. The diamond black moth, which devours cabbage, now has a natural enemy in the garden, a parasitic wasp, courtesy of the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE).

SOLVING 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 mounds 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 in wet,shady areas and succulent lawns 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 a shade  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.

Termites

An all too common problem in Kenyan gardens.  Eternal vigilance is the best defense against termites. Anti hills in the lawns and soil laced paths along tree trunks and walls are a sure indicator of termites. Presence of termites is a warning that the lawn is poorly fed, or the presence of decayed wood . Sucrose from decaying wood matter is  agent for termites. Frsst identify the termmite nests -this is where the queen is to be found.

HOW TO GROW A GREAT LAWN

For many of us, installing a lawn involves commissioning landscaper to dig up the grounds, rake and plant a grass type we will have recommended or one they suggest for us. Thereafter the serious business of lawn tending starts and ends with lawn mowing and occasional watering.

But there is more to raising a trouble free lawn than just planting and mowing. And as the home owner or end user, you are well advised to take keen interest in how your lawn will be done.

 

Kikuyu grass lawn

Choosing the right grass

The first step in raising a great lawn is to grow the right grass. What are the conditions like at your site? Full sun or partial sun? Will you be entertaining a lot therefore heavy foot traffic? Or will it be light use? If you know the conditions or end use, you will opt for a suitable grass. Locally the common grass types grown are;

  1. Kikuyu grass
  2. Cape royal
  3. Arabicum
  4. Maadi river.
  5. Pemba grass
  6. Zimbabwe grass
  7. Paspalum

Generally the first three types in the list above thrive in direct sun, in shade it’s anunending struggle. The last three are amenable to growing in shade but still do well infull sun. However, Zimbabwe grass will give the best result for shaded areas. Maadi river is your best bet if your lawn will be heavily used, and you need a resilient lawn that survives drought.

Sound Drainage

Whatever grass you grow ensure the grounds drain well. Ideal drainage can be achieved through a combination of a slope and percolation. The easier option is to have a gentle slope draining the water away from the lawn aided by a free draining, fairly porous soil through which water seeps into the lower soil layers.

If it happens that there is no way water can be drained out of the lawn into the main drainages, drainage by percolation will be the only option left. This calls for a thorough conditioning of the soil by digging deeply and mixing the soil with ample compost or manure. Ensure the ground has a true level so that water doesn’t collect in one place, but rather seeps slowly into the soil. Where the soil is really bad, say cotton soil, underlie the lower layer with hardcore stones and top up with red soil to aid in drainage.

It needs no gainsaying that with lawns, initial ground preparation holds the key to a successful lawn.

Maintaining your Lawn Organically

Having planted your lawn successfully, you need to manage it so that it serves you well and remains aesthetically appealing. Countless times we have been called in to help rescue a lawn which once upon a time was the envy of the neighbourhood.Yet upon inspection, we find the culprit is not lack of attention, but poor management practices.

If you desire a trouble free lawn, go the organic way.

You will get a thick green carpet of grass for a lesser effort and less money spent. You only need to keenly observe or change your management style. For instance, cut the grass at a higher setting preferably 4’’-6’’inches. A taller grass develops deeper roots, which enables it out compete or smoother the weeds and withstand drought better. Besides tall grass always appears thicker to the eye.

The desire for a smart turf can sometimes blind us to the need to feed our lawn by leaving the grass clippings behind after mowing. More often we would rather sweep the clippings off the grass—to get that “look”. However the best practice is to let the clippings decompose into the lawn, offering nitrogen to the grass and a feast to the microorganisms in the soil. These are the ones that improve drainage by their burrowing activities in the soil.

Feed your lawn sparingly. Grass, like all living things, needs nourishment for it to be at its best. If you over feed your lawn, the grass becomes more succulent which encourages pests.Our in house style is to feed the grass only twice a year using slow release organic fertilizers, given that we don't bag or sweep off grass clippings.

Finally water your grass infrequently, unless you are confronted with an extended dry spell. If you mow your grass high and the leave the grass clippings behind, your established lawn will hardly need watering. However when you do water, go for a deep soaking but done infrequently. This encourages deeper root growth.

 

In our next article we look at common lawn problems and how to solve them organically -with no chemical in sight.

SOLVING COMMON LAWN PROBLEMS ORGANICALLY-ucoming

Hanging Gardens

Want to create a garden out of thin air?

Then consider having hanging gardens.

Since time immemorial people have raised hanging gardens –in whatever form they could. Indeed among the Seven Wonders of the World are king Nebuchadnezzar’s hanging gardens which grew in Babylon around 2500 BC. The gardens- a gift to his Persian wife – weren’t suspended like your typical hanging basket but rather spilled out from containers on a terraced hill.

The practice of hanging gardens was well established in ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. Urban folks desiring to savour  and grow things up close  tended plants in raised pots and trailed them along walls and trellises.For both amateur and professional gardeners, the hanging basket presents an appealing prospect; to raise plants  at low cost  with minimal time input, and yet  still be able to  enjoy the glories of a lovely border  as the basket  spills forth  its treasures .

Though installing a basket may seem a simple, straight forward a fair to most people for the discerning gardener this is hardly the case.  Before hanging out any thing, you need to know the the purpose each basket is to serve and the space available.One question that should exercise your mind is, what design effect do you wish to create? Do you want a splash of colour to add some excitement to a dull spot? Are you out to screen out unsightly utilities like piping with colourful foliage or flowers? Or perhaps you want to soften the rugged finishing of the house?

Based on your specific need, move to assemble the desired materials. Galvanized steel baskets are the most common containers. However, any creative gardener will find a world of choices at his or her feet- cleaned paints cans, copper buckets and the ubiquitous plastic cans-as long as he/she can drill holes.

What do you need?

Once you have your container, you will need to get the plants, potting soil, lining for the baskets and hooks upon which you will hang the baskets eventually. In Nairobi,  the practice nowadays to use wire baskets that have been lined with reed and then painted or varnished.

In filling hanging baskets, soilless potting compost like coconut fibre, fir bark, sphagnum moss or organic compost is preferred. Charcoal is mostly used for orchids. These are preferred over ordinary garden soil because they are clean, light and easier to use. Besides they retain moisture and provide good aeration. Their main drawback is that unlike soil, they do not provide minerals. So regular feeding is necessary.

Line your container with perforated plastic sheeting to retain moisture and heat. Backfill halfway with compost. Insert the plants, adjusting where necessary to ensure that the whole basket appears well filled out and balanced. Backfill with more compost .Water the basket thoroughly. Let the plants settle in and hang the next day and then wait to enjoy the exubereance of a garden swirling from a chain

What to grow?

As with gardening enthusiasts, disagreements abounds as to which plants are the best and how many should be used per basket.  While three to six are considered reasonable, some people will use even ten plants, space allowing.  Of note is that the design principles of balance and unity used in ordinary landscaping still apply here. In addition place plants with similar requirements ( e.g. watering and light ) in same baskets.

The genera rule is to mix annuals and perennials in your basket. Annuals have bold flowers and they flower longer. However they fizzle out and this could leave you with a bare basket. Perennials will come in handy, with foliage filling out the gaps left by annuals, and coming into flower at their own appointed time-much to your surprise and delight.

How long should a basket last? Forever. Generally baskets are dynamic with stuff dying as new ones come up. Uproot any dead plants, and cut back those that overgrow.  Feed regularly with a balanced all purpose fertilizer every two weeks besides regularly adding more compost.

You can switch over your baskets to create a completely different look without acquiring new plants.

ALL ABOUT SOIL DRESSINGS

It is the hope of every gardener to get his or her garden soil as close to the ideal soil as possible. However for many, this may seem well impossible particularly where time and money are constraints. The good news is that whatever small improvements you do; the results will certainly be noticed. Take the case of a bag of compost for one who has a lawn and a few shrubs.  While a bag may not be enough for the entire garden, if applied to the shrubs only, a noticeable improvement will be seen!

One way in which garden soil is improved is by use of soil dressings. These are solid or liquid materials added to the soil in order to enhance its physical quality, or improve the plants grown therein, or achieve the both   simultaneously.

Soil is one of  nature’s wonders and among one of her most complex products. It is a matter that is constantly undergoing change. Growing plant roots draw nutrients from the soil while rain leaches out nutrients into the deeper layers. As such at some point nutrients will become deficient in the soil. When this happens, it is time to dress your soil so as to add desired factors to the soil.

Soil dressing is as ancient as gardening itself. However no single dressing will provide the desired results with regard to soil improvement. It is therefore vital to use the three basic soil dressings groups namely;

Fertilizers

These are materials that contain, in concentrated form, one or more plant foods. Their addition to the soil is to feed the plants with major elements like Nitrogen, Potassium and  Phosphorous or minor elements like  calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, and sulphur. Since fertilizers are added in small quantities, they can hardly influence soil texture or raise bacterial activity in the soil like humus does. Fertilizers therefore work best in combination with humus.

Humus

One way to improve your soil is by improving its texture. To achieve this you need to add organic materials to the soil. These materials attract bacteria which help in their breakdown and eventual decomposition. As the bacteria break down the green matter and burrow it into the soil, they help improve its structure by creating air spaces and mixing the soil with decayed matter. It is known however that the plant food content in humus is slow acting, not adequately balanced and largely insufficient for plants. It is only animal manure generously applied that does supply adequate plant food. Therefore humus works best when used together with fertilizers.

Various types of humus makers are used in the garden. The ‘raw’  humus includes  non decomposed  organic material that contains  starch and sugar. Examples of these include straw, grass clippings and dug in weeds. ‘Matured’ humus  includes decomposed organic material like garden compost, peat, manure, and Hop manure.

It is important to note that soil without humus is nothing more than finely ground rock

Lime (Calcium carbonate)

Lime is applied to soil to remove acidity (sourness) and improve crumb structure. Lime adds calcium to the soil which lowers  the soil pH.  PH(potential hydrogen) refers to  the levels of hydrogen ions available in the root zone. When they bind together with other nutrients in the soil, they can render certain nutrients unavailable to the plants.

A much higher pH may hinder certain elements from being taken up by plant roots. Indeed few garden plants thrive under acidic soil. In addition acidic soils are hostile to earthworks and beneficial bacteria –the ones that break down organic matter and help improve soil structure. The common types of liming materials are dolomitic lime, agricultural limestone, wood ashes, and gypsum and hydrate lime.

How Dressings Are Used in the Garden

Now that you have your soil dressing material, how do you apply it?

Base dressing

This is dressing applied to the soil before or at the time of planting. It is used to provide a consistent but gradual supply of plant food or humus to the soil for the months to come. Humus and slow release fertilizers are used as base dressing.

Top Dressing

Top dressing involves applying extra nutrients to the soil surface so that they are taken up by plants that are already established. Naturally, it is fertilizers that are quick release or fast acting are used here. For lawn, top dressing includes application of a mixture of sand, top soil and compost upon the loan. The lawn benefits from this by the evening out of irregular surfaces and faster uptake of nutrients by the grass. The velvety green lawns you see around are products of sustained top dressing

Mulching

This is organic material placed around the plant. It smoothers the weeds and keeps the soils moist by retaining   moisture. It also adds to soil fertility. As the mulch decomposes, it fertilizes the soil.  You will not need to dig and water often during the warm seasons if you place mulch around your trees and shrubs.

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HOW TO GROW GREAT LAWNS

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