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Garden Chores

Master gardener Paul James repairs a stone path, creates a container for shade, and harvests potatoes and garlic.

Washed-out stone pathway

Some time ago, James used a gas-powered sod-cutting machine to create a path in his landscape. He then placed flagstones over the bare soil and filled the gaps between the stones with more soil, hoping that the Bermuda grass surrounding the path would slowly grow in.

Figure B

However, after much rain, most of the dirt washed out, and the path featured several unsightly gaps To remedy the situation, James fills the gaps between the stones with soil and packs it well.

"Since the rainy season is over," says James, "I'm hoping the dirt will stay in place, at least until the grass gets a foothold in the cracks." And to help the process along, he planted sprigs of Bermuda grass from the lawn in the cracks. "Believe it or not, a sprig this size is about all I'll need between each crack. I'll simply plant the sprigs in shallow furrows, and as long as I keep the area well watered, the grass should fill the gaps within a few weeks."

James considered a number of alternatives to Bermuda grass including some sedums or creeping thyme, but ultimately he decided to stick with Bermuda; it roots in quickly and requires next to nothing in the way of maintenance, and once established, it requires very little water. "What's more, this path gets a lot of foot traffic, and Bermuda can stand up to abuse better than anything I know."

Figure E

As the Bermuda begins growing, James will cut it back with a string trimmer. In the end, the path will have a more natural look, such as this path he created a year ago.

As a finishing touch, James adds solar path lights evenly spaced down the length of the path.

Figure G

Planting an iron basket

The next chore is sprucing up an iron basket that has ivy growing in its base. According to James, this basket is truly a tribute to the tenacity of ivy. "The ivy in this basket has been neglected for a year," says James. "I haven't watered it, and it has been subjected to temperatures ranging from zero to 100 degrees."

Figure H

James packs the sides of the basket with moist sphagnum peat moss, pressing the moss firmly and working from the bottom up. Next, he adds a large clump of red caladiums and fills the basket with potting mix. Finally, he dresses the basket up a bit by training the ivy up and around the sides of the basket.

Figure I

Harvesting potatoes and garlic

Given that his potato plant vines have started to fade and turn brown, James suspects that it's time to harvest a few potatoes for dinner. He carefully scratches the soil surface to see if there are any potatoes ready for harvesting. In this case, James is growing the buttery variety known as 'Yukon Gold'. He backs off from the base of the plant a bit, stabs a pitchfork into the ground, and gently lifts.

Figure J

Also in need of harvesting is garlic. "I've got two types of garlic — a hard-neck variety that produces a curious flower at the end of a tall stalk and a soft-neck variety that doesn't flower."

For the hard-neck varieties, James recommends getting rid of the flower because you want to force the energy back into the development of the bulb. After removing the flower head, the garlic should be ready to harvest in about two weeks. The soft-neck varieties are ready to harvest when the foliage starts to fade. Loosen the soil around the base of the plant with the pitchfork. Lift the stalk straight up, not at an angle, to avoid breaking it off.

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