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Archives for September 6, 2013

There’s owls, alpacas, gifts and crafts as well as gardening tips

Handmade crafts, vintage gifts and local artisan produce will be just some of the things on offer at this year’s Autumn Country Market at Easton Walled Gardens, near Grantham, on Sunday, September 8.

Alongside the stalls the event will also feature gardening demonstrations, performances from a local harpist, owls and alpacas for visitors to meet and artists painting in the gardens.

Ursula Cholmeley, gardening director at Easton Walled Gardens, says: “Every year we host a special Autumn Country Market right here in our 17th century cobbled courtyard.

“Lincolnshire has so much to offer and it is important for all of us here at Easton to showcase the very best, so what better way to celebrate it than to host an exclusive country fair and invite people from across the county to visit and enjoy.


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“Visitors love coming to the gardens and experiencing a completely unique shopping experience in such beautiful surroundings, in addition to spending time in the gardens themselves, which have been lovingly restored from near ruin by our expert horticultural team.

“This year’s market will have more stallholders than ever before, plus music and activities for everyone to enjoy.”

Open 11am-4pm. Find out more at www.eastonwalledgardens.co.uk


Article source: http://www.thisislincolnshire.co.uk/s-owls-alpacas-gifts-crafts-gardening-tips/story-19753761-detail/story.html

Harvesting Onions & Other Gardening Tips

University of Vermont

Harvesting onions and storing properly, freezing fresh corn, and dividing certain perennials are some of the gardening activities for this month.

Begin harvesting onions when about half to three quarters of the leaves have died back. Gently dig or pull the onions and store them in a dry, shady place with good ventilation, such as an outdoor shed or barn, for 10 days to two weeks. After the onions have cured, separate the young, soft, and thick-necked bulbs and use them first because they won’t store well. Put the rest in slatted crates or mesh bags, and store them indoors in a basement with low humidity and temperatures between 33 and 45 degrees F.

Preserve the fresh-picked flavor of corn on the cob for winter meals. Cook the cobs as usual, then using a special corn scraper or a sharp knife, cut off the kernels and freeze them in freezer bags. They will be much tastier than any store-bought frozen or canned corn.

It’s time to start some mesclun greens and leaf lettuce in bare spots in the garden for fall picking. Mix in some compost before seeding and give new seedlings a dose of liquid fish emulsion.

Build the nutrient levels and organic matter in garden beds by sowing cover crops like annual ryegrass or buckwheat into empty annual beds. They will grow until winter kills them and then can be incorporated into the soil in spring. Cut down buckwheat before it flowers so seeds don’t become a problem.

Begin removing the old mulch under roses and raking up all leaves and debris. While this organic matter may seem beneficial, there are many rose disease organisms and insects that overwinter there, and you can reduce the damage to your plants next year by getting rid of it all.

Trees, shrubs, and perennials are on sale, and late summer into early fall is a great time to plant. Get new plants in the ground then so they can begin expanding their root systems. If you don’t have the final spot ready, sink the pots or root balls temporarily in an empty area in the veggie garden. Water them if nature doesn’t provide enough.

Late summer is a good time to divide German and Siberian iris, rudbeckia, echinacea, daylilies, and tall phlox. If plants are blooming well, with strong stems, and you still have space for them, they shouldn’t need division. Don’t make the divisions too small or you’ll wait longer for blooms. Wait until after bloom to divide. Trim the foliage by at least half before replanting.

Be sure to set bearded iris rhizomes (the thick roots) just barely below the soil surface to prevent rotting. When dividing these iris, check the rhizomes for mushy areas with borers. Discard affected roots, making sure to kill the borers.

You can savor the smells and memories of summer this winter by making potpourri from your roses, pinks, mint, and other fragrant garden herbs and flowers. Pick the flowers in early morning soon after the dew has evaporated. Dry petals and flower heads, until crisp, on a screen or newspaper in a warm spot out of direct sunlight. Or, you can use an oven set at its lowest temperature. Mix the dried plants with orris root (from many grocery and health food stores, found among the spices) to preserve the flavor. Age and store in an airtight container in the dark.

Article source: http://www.thenorthfieldnews.com/news/2013-09-05/House_(and)_Home/Harvesting_Onions__Other_Gardening_Tips.html

Gardening Tips: Can fall webworms damage a pecan tree?


Posted: Friday, September 6, 2013 12:05 pm


Gardening Tips: Can fall webworms damage a pecan tree?

By Matthew Stevens

The Daily Herald, Roanoke Rapids, NC

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Here are a few of the questions on the minds of Roanoke Valley gardeners over the past week or so.

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Friday, September 6, 2013 12:05 pm.

Article source: http://www.rrdailyherald.com/opinion/columns/gardening-tips-can-fall-webworms-damage-a-pecan-tree/article_3a8c3b30-170e-11e3-874b-0019bb2963f4.html

Harvesting and weeding – this week’s garden tips

As well as harvesting, make sure you rid your garden of pesky weeds now so they don’t shed seeds that will remain in the soil over winter.

– Plant out spring-flowering biennials such as wallflowers and forget-me-nots in their flowering positions to give them time to establish before the winter.

– Harvest fruit and store apples and pears for use over the winter.

– Sow parsley and chervil to provide leaves for winter and spring use.

– Continue to remove weeds from borders so they don’t shed seeds which will remain in the soil over the winter.

– Clear out summer bedding which is past its best and replace it with spring bedding.

– Lift maincrop potatoes on a warm sunny day, drying them on the surface of the soil for an hour or two before storing them in paper sacks tied at the neck, in darkness.

– Plant new border perennials and water the plants in well.

– Sow hardy annuals to be overwintered outdoors and in the greenhouse.

– Clear out the pond while the weather is still warm enough to make it enjoyable.

– Cut diseased leaves from plants and prune out affected parts of plants and dispose of them so that overwintering spores won’t survive until next year.

– Keep the border tidy by cutting back flowered stems and deadheading unless seeds are required.

– Prepare borders for planting perennials, digging organic matter into the soil before planting.

– Repot arum lilies for winter flowering under glass, using John Innes No. 3 potting compost.

– Cut back dead, diseased or broken branches of pear and cherry trees after picking.

– Check the greenhouse for repairs which may need to be carried out before cold weather sets in.

– Continue to take cuttings of tender perennials such as osteospermums and penstemons, which can be overwintered under cover.

 

Best of the Bunch – Heuchera

These value-for-money perennials provide not only stems bearing tiny summer flowers attractive to bees, but also wonderful foliage through the autumn, in shades from acid green to copper and deep burgundy.

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The darker shades look stunning in summer and autumn pots alongside lighter green spiky ornamental grasses and silver foliage plants. Some varieties are almost evergreen and have a good weed-suppressing habit at the front of the border.

Heucheras like a well-drained but fertile soil in a sunny or lightly shaded spot. They don’t like sticky, wet clay. If your soil is thin and poor, dig in plenty of well-rotted organic matter and plant deeply, with only the crown above the ground. Mulch well each spring.

They should be divided every three years or so, or they become woody. Good varieties include H. micrantha diversifolia ‘Palace Purple’, which offers the deepest foliage of purple bronze, with plants growing to 60cm (24in) and bearing white flowers, while ‘Chocolate Ruffles’ has large brown and burgundy leaves and ‘Key Lime Pie’ has soft mounds of acid-green leaves with silvery marbling.

Article source: http://home.bt.com/lifestyle/familyhome/homegarden/harvesting-and-weeding-this-weeks-garden-tips-11363831413549

GARDEN TIPS: Now is a good time to plant cover crops

The weatherman predicted possible frost very recently in the northern regions of the Capital District and that includes the higher elevations of the Catskill Mountains, as we enter the first week of September. 

This is much too soon for my liking as well as everyone else who is still waiting for their tomato crop to fully ripen. It is within the historical “norm” however, although I do not recall any hard frosts in September in the Hudson Valley and the Capital District in recent memory. 

Sadly, my memory is not what it used to be, but I am pretty sure I have not had a killing frost in September in at least the past 10 years.

 When people ask me what is the average date of the first killing frost, I have to ask them where they live, exactly. In places near the Hudson River, such as Kingston, the first hard frost may not occur until mid to late October and sometimes it does not happen until mid-November. At elevations above 2,000 feet the usual date is closer to mid or late September. 

By the way a “hard frost” is the same as a “killing frost”. Frost itself, just refers to temperatures of 32 degrees, which is the temperature that water freezes at. Most of our garden plants can tolerate this temperature for many hours. It generally requires temperatures in the mid 20s to kill tender garden crops such as squash, beans, tomatoes, eggplant and basil. 

Cool season crops such as lettuce, beets, leeks, Swiss chard, cabbage and all its relatives can tolerate much lower temperatures for long periods of time. If frost is predicted for only one or two nights, you can protect your tender crops by draping cloth blankets or sheets over them overnight. Plastic tarps or drop cloths are not nearly as effective. 

Typically, temperatures will return to more “normal” levels for days or even weeks after the first few frosty nights. This period of nice weather after a killing frost is referred to as “Indian Summer”.  

A hard frost does kill many insects such as mosquitoes but unfortunately, not ticks. Some mosquitoes will also survive and can reproduce quite nicely during Indian Summer. Some, but not all garden pests are also killed by frost. Most of our ornamentals also vary greatly in their frost tolerance. Some of our annual bedding plants such as petunias and snapdragons are quite tolerant of frost while others such as zinnias are more sensitive. When it doubt, get out the blankets!

This is a good time to plant cover crops in places in the garden that are no longer growing vegetables to harvest. Cover crops protect soil from eroding and prevent weeds from taking over, while providing an excellent source of organic matter for the soil.  They may be annual plants such as oats or perennial plants such as clover, alfalfa, vetch or winter rye. Legumes, such as clover, vetch or alfalfa are also capable of fixing nitrogen in the soil which will help to nourish crops in subsequent growing seasons.  The bigger your garden is, the more important it is to plant cover crops, but even small gardens can benefit from additional organic matter and weed prevention. 

Some leguminous cover crops, such as clover and alfalfa, require more than a few weeks to become established and even longer before they can add any significant quantities of nitrogen. If you have a section of garden that can remain fallow for a year, they are excellent choices, but if you plan to plant crops the following spring, you should opt for non-legumes. Winter rye, not ryegrass, is an excellent choice since it can be planted as late as mid-October and will still produce prodigious quantities of organic matter by the following May. The only downside to winter rye is that it will form a pretty solid sod that usually requires mechanical tillage to incorporate it in the springtime. Indeed, this grass like cereal grain will grow to three feet tall by Mid May in most areas. You may have to cut it down before tilling it under which is why farmers often harvest a good hay crop before tilling it in.  Winter rye also seems to suppress many weeds by producing an allelleopathic chemical that prevents the weed seeds from germinating.  Continued…

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Article source: http://www.dailyfreeman.com/articles/2013/09/06/life/doc52290a61d008d647803380.txt

Garden tips: Mapping heat can aid plant choices

While severely cold winters have become less and less common in our region, it is obvious that we still can count on our extremely hot summers. When selecting trees, shrubs or perennial plants for local landscapes, a plant’s ability to withstand the stress of multiple days of high temperatures during the summer should be considered along with a plant’s ability to survive cold winter temperatures.

The late Dr Marc Cathey, American Horticulture Society (AHS) president emeritus, noted that heat damage is not as obvious as severe cold temperature injury that can kill or damage a plant. Heat damage typically is more of a chronic condition with plants failing over time from accumulated stress that leads to poor growth and attack by insects or disease.

That’s why in 1997 the American Horticulture Society under the direction of Dr Cathey developed the AHS Heat Zone Map. Similar to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Hardiness Zone Map, the AHS Heat Zone Map is divided into zones. The Heat Zone map has 12 zones based on the average number of days that “zone” experiences with temperatures above 86 degrees. Above the suitable zones, a plant will suffer heat damage.

Most of Benton and Franklin counties is rated as being in AHS Heat Zone 6 with greater than 45 days and less than 60 days above 86 degrees. However, the area immediately outside the Tri-Cities is rated in AHS Heat Zone 7, with greater than 60 days and less than 90 days above 86 degrees. Thank goodness we aren’t in Zone 1, with less than one heat day, or Zone 12, with greater than 210 days!

It is important to note that the AHS Heat Zone Map assumes “that adequate water is supplied to the roots of the plant at all times. The accuracy of the zone coding can be substantially distorted by a lack of water, even for a brief period in the life of the plant.” Most plants we place in our area home landscapes are not native to our region and require adequate supplemental watering. Indicating a plant is heat tolerant in our “zone” doesn’t mean that it is drought tolerant.

Water isn’t the only factor that could skew a plant’s ability to thrive in a particular heat zone. Soil aeration and drainage; exposure to light; air circulation; exposure to radiant heat from mulches, structures and paving; soil fertility; and soil pH all affect a plant’s ability to thrive in a particular heat zone.

I am seeing more and more trees and shrubs with a USDA Hardiness Zone Map rating and a AHS Heat Zone Map rating in catalogs and on plant labels. When you go plant shopping, look for these ratings to help ensure your plants will have a long and happy life.

Reminder: Our area is in USDA Hardiness Zones 6B to 7A.

— Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

Article source: http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2013/09/06/2559269/garden-tips-mapping-heat-can-aid.html

Massive Vertical Garden Sets The Stage For Paris Design Week

Not to be outdone but the recent unveiling of London’s newest green wall, Paris recently became home to it’s own impressive living edifice. Named the Oasis of Aboukir, the living work of art is an homage to biodiversity and the importance of greenery in one of the world’s most famous cities.

Designed by botanist and vertical gardening expert Patrick Blanc, the Oasis was installed on the gable end of a building overlooking three very busy motorways: Montorgueil, Reaumur Sebastopol and Grands Boulevards. Now, the thousands of motorists who pass through “the triangle” every day will enjoy 25 meters of wall planted with some 7,600 plants representing 237 different species.

Oasis of Aboukir Vertical Garden Patrick Blanc

Image via Patrick Blanc

According to Inhabitat, the City of Light’s newest green wall was planted in celebration of Paris Design Week, an annual event that runs September 9 – 15. Although the lush wall of greenery looks like its been growing for years, construction only began seven short weeks ago. Blanc’s original sketches show a leaf-like pattern reaching diagonally across the building’s face, and he used plant species of varying colors and textures to fill in the design.

Oasis of Aboukir Vertical Garden Patrick Blanc

Image via Patrick Blanc

The expert planning and quick execution of this luscious living art are the result of a lifetime of study. Blanc has studied living walls since childhood, and invented the first vertical garden in the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industry in Paris in 1986, according to Velib Paris. He has since created plant-based art all over the world, including a vegetable dress for Jean-Paul Gaultier’s fashion show in 2002.

The Oasis of Aboukir will be officially inaugurated on September 10th, during Design Week.

Posted on September 5th, 2013 · Comment ↓

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Posted in Editor’s Pick, Featured, Green Building, Green Living

Article source: http://www.earthtechling.com/2013/09/massive-vertical-garden-sets-the-stage-for-paris-design-week/

Less Is More: Boutique Design Firm Delivers Big Results for Wyndham Garden …

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Accent Hospitality Boutique gives a fresh look to the lobby of the Wyndham Garden Hotel with a luxurious European inspired design.

Working with Accent Hospitality Boutique allowed us to differentiate ourselves from this set design standard and in return enhance the experience for our guests.

Plantation, FL (PRWEB) September 06, 2013

Bigger is not always better when it comes to choosing a hospitality design firm. The recent conversion of a well-worn Chicago-area Comfort Inn into a light and modern Wyndham Garden Hotel in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, is a great example. The owner of the property chose Accent Hospitality Boutique to give the hotel a competitive advantage in a market vying for the business traveler with its proximity to Chicago O’Hare airport. Since opening in March, Wyndham Garden in Elk Grove Village has become the number one hotel on TripAdvisor.com.

Shaun Meister, Project/Opening General Manager for the Wyndham Garden renovation, points out that there are numerous regulations and brand standards to take into consideration. Working with a smaller firm, however, makes a difference. “Working with Accent Hospitality Boutique allowed us to have a team putting together a unique design plan that is different from any other Wyndham Garden property, but still adheres to the required brand guidelines set in place,” said Meister.

All trends point to creating a unique guest experience, a cornerstone for many smaller design firms. “Many hotel brands have a set design package for their rooms…a traveler could be staying in a specific branded hotel in any city or state and they will essentially get the same room with the same ‘look and feel.’ Working with Accent Hospitality Boutique allowed us to differentiate ourselves from this set design standard and in return enhance the experience for our guests,” said Meister.

Formerly a Comfort Inn, Rose, Design Concierge of Accent Hospitality Boutique, faced the unique challenge of decorating non-standard guestrooms. “I approached the project with European inspiration by infusing the smaller space with luxury items to make it seem larger,” she said.

Smaller firms often have a network of sources offering unique procurement options from around the world. Rose and her team ordered special furniture pieces a few inches shallower than standard so guests could navigate the room comfortably. The vanity sink located outside the bath area was given a touch of luxury with a granite surface and backlit mirror. The 37-inch television console includes a pullout Keurig® machine. Furniture follows modern lines, including the Herman Miller Sayl chairs in the conference room.

In the end, Meister says the biggest benefit in working with a boutique-size firm is personal attention and follow-up. “Rose was my main point of contact and was readily available with any questions and comments along the way… from planning stages, to delivery and set-up of FFE, and everything in between. It was nice to have one person who was so dedicated and knew our project inside and out. If the team had questions we knew we would get a prompt and efficient response. In addition, Rose follows up like no other vendor I have ever worked with….she truly takes the time to ensure that things are delivered and taken care of the way they are promised to be. If something goes wrong or there are any mix-ups – which we all know happens when it comes to renovations or openings – Rose is there to fix the situation and ensure all is well.”

Awash in neutral colors of the brand with “pops” of blue and green, Accent Hospitality Boutique’s team worked with the hotelier’s vision to open up the lobby area with a series of high windows to let in the light. A revenue-producing full-service restaurant and bar now offer guests an inviting place to hold business meetings.    

Keeping in mind the hotel’s major target audience, traveling business executives who need access to the airport, hallway walls feature stylized black and white photos of airport travelers in motion. A touch screen with real-time flight information offers travel updates in the lobby and modern sculpture pieces add artistic beauty throughout the facility with an impressively sized, wire-frame sphere sculpture as a focal point in the lobby.

According to Meister, it has never been more important for hoteliers to emphasize their uniqueness. “Hoteliers are all about giving their guests something special and unique to set themselves apart from their competition and have travelers choose to stay at their property. It is absolutely imperative that hoteliers put themselves in the guest’s shoes when making decisions during a renovation or new property opening. Everything from the outside to working your way in the building is thought with the guest in mind,” said Meister.

About Accent Hospitality Boutique

Accent Hospitality Boutique is a full-service hospitality design and procurement firm that provides luxury design for the midscale brand hotelier located in Plantation, Florida. With an emphasis on ROI, they provide a host of interior design, project management and improvement services for newly constructed, renovated or re-branded hospitality properties.

Contact Accent Hospitality Boutique at 954-305-9516 or visit http://www.accenthb.com.

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Article source: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/9/prweb11084362.htm

10 Best Garden Design Apps for Your iPad

  • Aimed at the serious vegetable, fruit and herb gardener, this app helps plan for next year’s harvest. Fortunately there is a video tutorial to get you started, because the app has many features and, on first look, does not seem intuitive. It will find your location and keep track of plants to grow in your climate and when to plant them. With free registration at gardenplanpro.com, you can keep track of your garden, store a backup plan, and receive email planting reminders. Save up to five years of garden information, including notes about your successes and failures. It will remember where you have planted your crops and alert you if you need to rotate something to a different location.


iPad app Florafolia l GardenistaiPad app Florafolia l Gardenista

  • Marnie Majorelle, of the Brooklyn garden design firm Alive Structures, recommended this app to me and says it’s helpful if you use native plants.  It is a compendium of plants which you can browse or search by specific criteria.  Plants are organized by trees, shrubs, grasses, flowers, ferns, and vines.  You can search by a long list of characteristics including growing conditions (sun exposure, water needs, USDA zone); flower color; leaf shape; autumn foliage color; wildlife benefit (“attracts butterflies”), and season of interest.  There is an easy-to-use notes section where you can write comments about a plant and there is a handy “favorites” section. 

5. The Landscaper’s Companion—Plant and Garden Reference Guide, $6.99 from Stevenson Software

  • Another compendium like Florafolio, this app can help you make and organize plant lists for yourself or your clients. Manhattan Garden designer Bruce James of  City/Country Gardeners says he uses this app even though he found the search function somewhat difficult to get used to.  The Landscaper’s Companion offers an extensive database of plants (it claims 26,000) you can search by various criteria including size, color, cultivation requirements, and resistance to deer. As with Florafolio, there is a “favorites” file for organizing plant selections.  You can also email plant lists and individual plant fact sheets… a very handy way for the professional gardener to communicate with clients. To add your own pictures, you have to upgrade to the $9.99 “Professional” version. 

 


garden design app for iPad l gardenistagarden design app for iPad l gardenista

6. Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder, $14.99 from Timber Press

  • Several garden designers recommended this app to me, which is not surprising since Michael Dirr is a rock star of the horticulture world. His exhaustive The Manual of Woody Landscape Plants ($67.41 at Amazon) is revered and universally depended upon by serious gardeners.  The app is based on the classic book and purports to cover 9,400 woody plants including trees, shrubs, vines, and ground covers.  The photos are excellent. Tap on Aesculus parviflora, Bottlebrush Buckeye, and you get a choice of three varieties. Tap on the photo of the species and you get six larger pictures, including an amazing closeup of the flower. However, not every entry is illustrated.  Aesculus chinensis, Chinese Buckeye, is one of many with no picture.  It’s disappointing, and I’m hoping this will be corrected in updates. Like Landscaper’s Companion, it has a favorites tool and you can email plant info.  I found the search function rather mysterious and would have appreciated some instructions.

7. Foolproof Plants for Small Gardens, $2.99 from Sutro Media

  • This specialized app lists fewer than 100 plants, all handpicked to work in a small garden.  There is an informative introduction page which tells you what information is included about each plant and describes how the search function should be used (Dirr app designers, take note).  Type in “Echinacea” and you get Echinacea purpurea, Purple Coneflower. Tap on the photo and you get two other shots, all with the photographer’s name noted in the bottom left corner. Along with the usual cultivation tips there is a pronunciation guide and a link to an online nursery where you can buy the plant.


Garden design iPad app for layout and planning l GardenistaGarden design iPad app for layout and planning l Gardenista

8. Garden Tracker-Bumper Crop, $3.99 from Portable Databases

  • This app is for the vegetable gardener.  It will help you create a graphic illustration of your bed, showing which crops you have planted. You can choose from the pre-loaded list of vegetables with their growing information or add other plants or varieties of your own.  After you set up the garden, you can input dates for watering, fertilizing, and harvesting.  There is a “Pests” feature with a (non-searchable) list of more than 50 insects and diseases common to vegetable gardens.  Unfortunately the photos are quite small, which is frustrating because many pests resemble each other.  In what appears to be compensation for that shortcoming, there are links to posts with more information on Wikipedia and Google.

9. Gardening Toolkit HD, $3.99 from Applied Objects

  • This app lets you select plants from a database and move them into up to four virtual gardens.  Because there is no feature to record the dimensions of your actual space, these “gardens” are really just lists of plants.  In the database is information about a plant’s cultivation needs, but when you add it to your garden most of the cultivation information disappears.  It is frustrating to have to go back to the database every time you want to know more about the plant, although there is a space for making notes. When you add a plant, the app automatically lists the current date as the planting date. This is confusing if you are planning a garden that you will plant later.

10. Perennial Match, $4.99 from Harmony Systems, Inc.

  • This app contains an easily accessed database of perennials, but its real purpose is to allow you to see how plants look together.  You select from a long list that includes a lot of natives and place them in a template that shows their photos side by side.  Tap the data button and it will display the requirements for each plant in adjoining columns for easy comparison.  If you can’t find the plant you want, it is not difficult to add a photo of it as long as you know both its Latin and common names.  The template will only allow a maximum of three plants to be compared at one time, which some users may find limiting.

By the way, if the idea of taking your beautiful, shiny iPad out into the garden with its dirt and water hazards fills you with dread, here’s a tip.  Seal it up in a plastic bag.  It will stay clean and dry and still respond to your touch.

Want to ID plants and leaves on the fly? See Identify Leaves and Flowers (There’s an iPhone App for That)

For more, see The Top 10 Gardening Apps You Need Now.

Article source: http://homes.yahoo.com/news/10-best-garden-design-apps-ipad-150000873.html

Morris: Bunny head puzzles San Jose family

DEAR JOAN: Last weekend we saw a cottontail scampering around our backyard. He disappeared, we thought, under the fence.

This morning we found the head of a cottontail on a step in the backyard just five feet from the door into our family room. We didn’t hear any disturbance last night while we slept. We have not found any other evidence — just a head — no body, no tufts of fur, no blood, no obvious disturbance in the landscaping. All the gates were locked.

We don’t have a cat or dog. Our neighbor has a cat, but I cannot remember the last time it was in our backyard. There are bobcats and coyotes occasionally — we live next to the water district in Almaden Valley. We do

have skunks that go along the side of the house and across our yard to the neighbors.

Any idea what might have happened, or what might be prowling around in our yard?

Gretchen Zane

San Jose

DEAR GRETCHEN: My vote goes to a great horned owl. They have been called the most efficient killing machines around, able to spot their prey and swoop silently down on them, catching the unsuspecting creature in strong talons.

Smaller animals are swallowed whole, but larger prey, such as a cottontail rabbit, would be torn into owl-sized bites.

Great horned owls rarely eat their prey on the ground as it makes them too vulnerable, so the owl may have caught the rabbit in your yard, flown into a tree in your yard and began to feast.

Rabbit heads don’t have a lot of meat, so the owl may have decided not to bother with it and dropped it to the ground, where it landed or rolled onto your porch.

A coyote would have gobbled down the rabbit pretty quickly, leaving nothing behind. It also isn’t likely to dine near your back door. A dog may have killed the rabbit and eaten part of it, but it likely would have taken the kill home to show off the prize.

I doubt a cat could have killed a cottontail, but it may have found part of the body and left it on your doorstep. A fox or raccoon may also be to blame for the abandoned head.

DEAR JOAN: Recently we have found dead birds on our property, one in the backyard and the most recent on the sidewalk outside our home.

I called the Contra Costa Mosquito Control number and spoke to one of the ladies there. She said the bird I described sounded like a mockingbird and they only tracked ravens and crows. She suggested we just dispose of it in the garbage.

Because we do not have mosquitoes in our yard, she didn’t think that West Nile virus was what was killed these birds. She said it could be that neighbors are putting out rat poison and that the birds were possibly ingesting it, which I guess could happen.

Do you have any other ideas as to what could be killing these birds, as it’s kind of creepy when you go outside and find them dead?

Donna Hernandez

Brentwood

DEAR DONNA: Any number of things may have killed the birds, but it is unusual to have two deaths so close together. It’s likely too late now to find out what did kill them, but you can report the deaths — and any others — to the California Department of Health at 877-968-2473 or http://westnile.ca.gov.

If they believe a bird is in good condition for testing, they’ll make arrangements to pick it up. Otherwise, you are instructed on how to dispose of it in the garbage. Even if it’s not tested, the state uses this information to look for patterns and problems.

Joan Morris’ column runs five days a week in print and online. Contact her at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com; or 1700 Cavallo Road, Antioch, CA 94509.

Article source: http://www.mercurynews.com/animal-life/ci_24018126/morris-bunny-head-puzzles-san-jose-family