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Archives for April 29, 2014

DuPont might raise tax to pay for parks upkeep

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Del Mar Highlands Town Center to add parking structure, expand Cinepolis

By Kristina Houck and Karen Billing

To improve parking at Del Mar Highlands Town Center in Carmel Valley, a new parking structure is set to open by late 2015. Plans for the construction of the structure, as well as plans to expand Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas and renovate the south side of the shopping center, were unveiled during the April 24 Carmel Valley Community Planning Board meeting.

All but one of the center’s businesses will remain open during construction, which is set to begin in the fall. Most of the businesses impacted by construction will be moved to temporary locations, but Barnes Noble will close its doors when the store’s lease expires in July, according to Elizabeth Schreiber, vice president and general manager for Donahue Schriber, owner and operator of Del Mar Highlands Town Center.

“We would love to have them come back when we finish this work,” said Schreiber, who noted the center doesn’t have another space to temporarily relocate the 11,000-square-foot store. “Who knows what the book business will be like by that time, but we’d love to have Barnes Noble or any bookstore come back to the shopping center.”

“The community will be very sorry to see Barnes Noble go,” said board member Laura Copic.

Parking has been a problem at the center since it underwent a $20 million overhaul in 2010 and 2011. The center’s “re-imagining” brought in several new restaurants and stores, a luxury movie theater and many more visitors, Schreiber said.

“That renovation has been tremendously successful,” Schreiber said. “In many ways, we’re victims of our own success. All those restaurants, the theater, all our great retailers have been very well received. Therefore, now, we have a parking problem.”

To improve parking, the center added 200 stalls and converted compact spaces to standard spaces. The center also implemented short-term parking, valet services, shuttle services, curbside pickup at restaurants and an employee parking program.

“We did as many things as we could think of to implement right away,” Schreiber said. “Although I think those ideas have helped, they’re not the ultimate solution. The ultimate solution is to build a parking structure.”

The three-level parking structure will be constructed behind the center on Townsgate Drive. Because of the elevation between the center and the street, the third level of the structure will be at grade, Schreiber said.

The parking structure will feature 600 parking stalls, which will bring the center’s total number of parking spaces to 2,200.

The structure will have four entrances, including one in between Urban Plates that will be accessible from the front of the center. It will also feature trellises, landscaping, benches and three towers with elevators and staircases.

“We’re going to make every effort to architecturally make this very appealing,” Schreiber said.

During construction, the center will expand the current eight-plex Cinepolis, adding three screens and 10,000 square feet of space. (Cinepolis is the number one performing eight-plex movie theater in the country, according to Schreiber.) The center will also build a new facility for KinderCare adjacent to the parking structure. KinderCare will remain at its existing 20-year-old site until construction of the new location is complete.

Del Mar Highlands Town Center was entitled to 425,000 square feet of retail space in the late 1980s, but only 283,000 square feet has been developed on the space, Schreiber explained during the meeting.

With this next phase of renovations, Donahue Schriber plans to renovate the south side of the shopping center. If approved by the city, the company plans to construct a two-story building throughout 2016 and 2017, adding 80,000 square feet of new retail space.

In addition, the old KinderCare site could become an expanded Jimbo’s. If those plans move forward, the current 14,000-square-foot store would gain 8,000 square feet of space, Schreiber said.

After the updates, the center will still have 62,000 square feet of entitlements, Schreiber said.

Donahue Schriber recently launched an online survey to gather feedback about the services and retailers community members want added to Del Mar Highlands Town Center. To participate in the survey, visit The survey will be online through the end of May.

Related posts:

  1. Del Mar Highlands Town Center rejects Kilroy offer
  2. Potential parking garage solution in the works for Del Mar Highlands parking woes
  3. Del Mar Highlands Town Center offering new parking options, programs for customers
  4. Let community in on expansion plans for Del Mar Highlands Town Center
  5. Del Mar Highlands Town Center celebrates holidays

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Posted by Staff
on Apr 28, 2014. Filed under Carmel Valley, Del Mar, News, Solana Beach, carmel valley.
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New starts strengthen management team at Owen Pugh Group

North East construction company, the Owen Pugh Group, has strengthened its senior management team with three new appointments.

Steve Hamilton, of Quarrington Hill, in County Durham, has joined the company as business development manager for Owen Pugh GDC, the company’s civil engineering division, while Heather Robinson, of Ashington, has been appointed group HR manager, based at the company’s Dudley headquarters.

Completing the line-up of new appointments is Vicki McGregor, the company’s new submissions manager, responsible for identifying and bidding for new contracts across the group.

Owen Pugh covers the full scope of civil engineering services, from demolition to hard landscaping to the construction of roads and bridges.

The group employs more than 370 people from its five regional offices, including its new facility at Factory Road in Blaydon, and comprises a total of five trading companies.

Chairman John Dickson said: “I’m delighted to welcome Heather, Vicki and Steve to the business, all valuable additions the senior management team.

“Each of the new appointments has a wealth of experience in their individual areas of expertise, and are already bringing new ideas and a fresh perspective to the roles.

“I look forward to helping them to develop and grow within the business over the coming months and years.”

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Twin Cities garden guide: everything you need to get growing

(Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)


There’s a bit of good news for toughing out the many snowfalls this winter — the thick layers should make way for healthy blooms to start the growing season.

Joan Westby, general manager at Leitner’s garden center in St. Paul, says while winter was “terrible” because frost was so far into the ground that the freezing and thawing cycles delayed the season, things are looking up this spring.

“It’s been a cold winter, and having all that snow has really been the best insulation — better than hay and straw. Perennials and evergreens are safely under the snow and insulated from temperature fluctuations,” Westby says. “It’s nature’s way of protecting them.”

While spring may be off to a healthy start, it remains to be seen what summer has in store.

“I’m pretty confident plants have been insulated and protected. That’s all I can predict at this point,” Westby says. Beyond that, “It will depend on what happens weather-wise here on out.”

To prepare for the season, garden centers and shops are stocking up to have supplies at the ready for green thumbs. We’ve compiled a guide of garden spots and their specialties. Note that garden centers vary on when they open for the season, so call ahead or visit store websites for the latest information.

Abrahamson Nurseries. All three garden centers — in Stillwater, Scandia and St. Croix Falls — offer trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and more from nature’s bounty. Garden decor, gifts and supplies are also housed at the garden centers. Design and landscape services are available at each site. (2100 Tower Drive, Stillwater; 651-439-2140; 20021 St. Croix Trail N., Scandia; 651-433-2431; 1257 State Road 35, St. Croix Falls, Wis.; 715-483-3040;

Bergmann’s Greenhouses and Farm Market. Green thumbs flock to this St. Croix River Valley destination for its large selection of things in bloom, ranging from lush bedding plants to overflowing floral hanging baskets. (12239 62nd St. N., Stillwater; 651-439-9577;–stillwater–greenhouse)

Country Sun Farm. This family-owned operation began as a wholesale business. But as the growers gained a reputation for quality flowers and plants, Country Sun Farm opened a retail operation with greenhouses and a garden center where a colorful variety of flowers and plants can be found. (11211 N. 60th St., Lake Elmo; 651-439-4156;

Camrose Hill Shop. Cindie Sinclair has turned a former dairy field into sprawling gardens of roses and wildflowers. From bridal bouquets to centerpieces, floral arrangements are elegant and garden fresh. In addition to the shop, the property also hosts events. (233 S. Second St., Stillwater; 651-351-9631;

Dege Garden Center. For more than 100 years, generations have been coming for the center’s large selection of flower and vegetable seeds. The spot is also a draw for locally grown annuals, perennials, water plants and garden decor. During the season, George Dege, or “Mr. Lawn,” passes along his extensive gardening knowledge Saturday mornings on a national call-in talk show on 1220 AM Radio. (831 N. Century Ave., St. Paul; 651-739-5296;

Fleur de Lis. For more than 20 years, this quaint floral shop on Cathedral Hill has been offering gorgeous seasonal and themed bouquets of things in bloom. The gift shop is popular for pottery and jewelry from local artists. (516 Selby Ave., St. Paul; 651-292-9562;

Funkie Gardens. This nursery near William O’Brien State Park is a place to soak up nature’s bounty while stocking up on the center’s unusual offerings, such as Martagon lilies and woodland plants. More than 300 perennials and 400 hosta varieties can be found here. (19713 Quinnell Ave., Marine on St. Croix; 651-433-4599;

Garden Safari Gifts. Inside the Como Zoo and Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, this shop has a reputation for keeping a lush stock of bonsai plants and supplies. It also has garden-themed gifts such as botanical beauty products, nature-inspired jewelry, apparel and stuffed animals. (1225 Estabrook Drive, St. Paul; 651-487-8222;

Gray Gardens. Roam the charming Victorian grounds while getting gardening and landscape inspiration both indoors and out. In addition to trees, shrubs, plants and flowers, Gray Gardens stocks gazebos, fountains, statuaries and more for decorating your garden. (464 2nd St., Excelsior; 952-474-7180;

Hermes Floral Greenhouses. For three generations, this family-run neighborhood spot has grown flowers and plants to sell at its floral, garden and gift shop. Design-savvy bouquets range from classic to contemporary, simple to lavish. (1639 W. Larpenteur Ave., St. Paul; 651-646-7135 or 800-547-6334;

Highland Nursery. This more than 60-year-old family-run institution has come a long way since Lois and Henry Harich started with a borrowed tent for a shop and a cigar box for a cash register. Now on West Seventh Street, it touts a shop and attached greenhouse featuring herbs, heirloom vegetables and unique plants. Statuary and other garden accents also are available. While strolling the grounds, check out the elaborate Bur Oak tree sculpture paying tribute to John Smith and Elizabeth Ryan Smith, who homesteaded the site in 1850. (1742 W. Seventh St., St. Paul; 651-698-1708;

Humble Acres. From zinnias to peonies — not to mention more than 100 hosta varieties — this spot emphasizes flowers and greenery friendly to our Upper Midwest climate. A new woodworking shop offering made-to-order pieces is also housed on site. Look for a May opening. (433 E. Cove Road, Hudson, Wis.; 612-290-5004;

Leitner’s. Deck out your patio and garden with finds from this St. Paul institution offering annuals, perennials, fruiting plants and shrubs. The garden center is especially known for custom potting plants and more than 100 varieties of herbs. The nursery also emphasizes local and independently owned growers. Original garden art is a treat during any visit. (945 Randolph Ave., St. Paul; 651-291-2655;

Lilydale Garden Center. This garden design and installation center is a favorite for garden-style arrangements. Fans also appreciate the variety of flowering shrubs and tropical houseplants, as well as fruit and ornamental shade trees. A great place to shop for garden art with a wide selection of benches, statuary, fountains, birdbaths and other outdoor accents. Stop in the gift shop, which includes botanical and garden accessories, ranging from soaps to wind chimes. Purchases come with complimentary gift-wrapping. (941 Sibley Memorial Highway, St. Paul; 651-457-6040;

Mother Earth Gardens. Organic and sustainable are key philosophies at this independently owned spot. Look for a variety of seeds, vegetables, herbs, annuals, perennials and native trees and shrubs. Also a draw for finding eco-friendly, local, handmade gifts plus garden decor. Besides its original Longfellow location, Mother Earth Gardens opened a second site last year in Northeast Minneapolis. (3738 42nd Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612-724-2296; and 2318 N.E. Lowry Ave., Minneapolis, 612-789-0796;

My Sister’s Garden. This western Wisconsin spot features annuals, perennials, herbs, vegetables, plants and gifts. It’s also popular for gardening workshops and landscaping services. (850 Kelly Road off Highway 12, Hudson, Wis.; 715-386-4111;

Petunia’s. Since the Excelsior store closed this past year, fans will be happy to hear Petnunia’s has moved to a shared retail space called Shop 501 in downtown Chaska. The new spot continues to carry an eclectic mix of accessories emphasizing vintage, including themed miniature gardens. And yes, the shop still stocks those signature flying-pig statues. (501 Chestnut St., Chaska; 763-300-8398)

Prairie Restoration. The two retail locations are an extension of Prairie Restoration’s expertise in native Minnesota flowers, grasses, trees and shrubs. The spot is a gem for its unique and well-edited selection of garden accessories and nature-themed gifts such as books, botanicals and pottery from local artists. The Princeton location has expanded its Native Plant Center to include a larger retail area. (31646 128th St., Princeton, 763-389-4342; and 21120 Ozark Court N., Scandia, 651-433-1437;

Sam Kedem Nursery. A favorite destination for the variety of specialty roses, for everything from hedges to container pots. Fruits and vegetables are certified organic and locally grown. Customers come for pick-your-own fruit offerings and a garden-themed gift shop featuring flower baskets, homemade jam and more. (12414 191st St. E., Hastings; 651-437-7516;

Savory’s Gardens. During its 70 years, Savory’s has developed into a mail-order business specializing in hostas. During the growing season, shop on-site for not only hostas, but other varieties available at the garden store, opening May 1. (5300 Whiting Ave., Edina; 952-941-8755;

Squire House Gardens. In a charming renovated 1875 home along the St. Croix River Valley, this nursery and display garden features annuals, perennials, herbs, trees and shrubs tough enough to survive extreme Upper Midwest climates. The gift shop, with everything from jewelry to skin-care products, home decor to jams, is a treat. Landscape design services are available. (3390 St. Croix Trail S., Afton; 651-436-8080;

Tangletown Gardens. There’s plenty of eye candy at this eclectic spot that highlights local, sustainable garden art and pottery. Tangletown also boasts a large assortment of heirloom vegetables, aquatic plants and more than 3,000 perennial varieties. In the shop, look for everything from gardening tools to outdoor accessories, artisan jewelry to gifts. During the growing season, regulars come for the daily farmers’ market and to buy CSA shares with items from Tangletown’s own farm. (5353 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls.; 612-822-4769;

Terrace Horticultural Books. Green thumbs and bookworms will appreciate one of the largest stocks around of books on planting and gardening. Rare books, seed and plant catalogs and periodicals are part of Kent Petterson’s vast collection. Shop and stay awhile: The grounds feature display gardens and “tea at the terrace” receptions several times a day. (503 St. Clair Ave., St. Paul; 651-222-5536;

Twiggs Home Garden. This Linden Hills shop draws landscapers and home interior designers alike. Along with flowers and plants, Twiggs Home Garden offers home pieces for both indoors and outdoors. Apothecary, apparel and gift items are sourced locally and from around the world. (4301 Uptown Ave. S.; Mpls.; 612-823-8944;

Twin City Nursery. Trademark polar bear statues are stationed outside for sale, making this family-owned White Bear Lake nursery easy to find. Once inside, you’ll find a large variety of seeds, annuals, evergreen perennials, ornamental shrubs, pines, firs and spruces. (4941 Long Ave., White Bear Lake; 651-429-0144;

Whispering Gardens. A family-owned operation that started as a small greenhouse with perennials has blossomed into a full-service garden that includes annuals, trees and shrubs. Hanging baskets, unique hostas and a sizeable list of tomato varieties are among the top sellers. The gift store is a one-stop shop for everything from fountains and other garden art as well as cabin gifts, jewelry and botanicals. Be sure to check out the 1.5-acre landscaped display gardens with perennials, gazebo and large waterfall. (11180 70th St. S., Cottage Grove; 651-459-8080;



Bachman’s Floral, Home Garden centers. The 129-year-old family-owned local enterprise has come a long way since founder Henry Bachman Sr. planted potatoes, lettuce, onions and squash in 1885 on a piece of land in South Minneapolis. That spot is now Bachman’s headquarters, as well as one of six retail centers, and it has become one of the largest garden centers and nurseries around. Famous for those purple delivery trucks, Bachman’s offers annuals, perennials, garden accessories, patio furniture, gift items and more. Those looking at landscaping also might like the Lyndale location’s most recent addition of the Hardscape Center, which includes a large selection of pavers, mulches and boulders. Landscape services are also offered here.

Bachman’s Lyndale flagship location, 6010 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.; 612-861-7600;

Apple Valley, 7955 W. 150th St.; 952-431-2242

Eden Prairie, 770 Prairie Center Drive; 952-941-7700

Fridley, 8200 University Ave. N.E.; 763-786-8200

Maplewood, 2600 White Bear Ave., 651-770-0531

Plymouth, 10050 Sixth Ave. N.; 763-541-1188

Gertens: With the motto “Buy from the grower,” this third-generation family-owned establishment sports a sprawling garden center with a large selection of annuals, roses and other perennials, plus trees and shrubs of all sizes and shapes. A “grill zone,” gift shop, water garden and an outdoor living space are among themed areas that take up more than 40,000 square feet of retail space. A large landscape supply yard and year-round seminars and clinics attract visitors. A state-of-the-art automated greenhouse has been added to the main campus in Inver Grove Heights; Gertens bought 80 acres from Buell’s Landscape and Design Center in Denmark Township; and earlier this year, the family operation purchased the 52-acre growing site of the former Linder’s Greenhouses in Lake Elmo.

5500 Blaine Ave., Inver Grove Heights; 651-450-1501;

This article also appeared in Spaces magazine.

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Cleaning the bays with ‘conservation landscaping’

Group for the East End's Missy Weiss prepares soil with Victoria Witczak, 9, of Cutchogue, and her sister Julianna, 3, last weekend at Downs Farm Preserve in Cutchogue.

Group for the East End’s Missy Weiss prepares soil with Victoria Witczak, 9, of Cutchogue, and her sister Julianna, 3, last weekend at Downs Farm Preserve in Cutchogue.

Build a rain garden, help the environment, get a reward.

It’s a simple as that.

The federal Peconic Estuary Program, which was created 20 years ago to improve water quality in the Peconics, will offer rewards of up to $500 to residents in Southold’s Hashamomuck Pond watershed area and the Reeves Bay watershed in Flanders who work to combat groundwater pollution by installing rain gardens, rain barrels or other forms of “conservation landscaping” on their properties. 

This summer, the Peconic Estuary Program plans to install rain garden demonstration projects near Hashamomuck Pond and at one of the buildings at Big Duck Park in Flanders to draw attention to the program.

So, your first question is probably “What’s a rain garden?” And that’s likely followed by “What’s a rain barrel?”

The nonprofit environmental organization Group for the South Fork teamed up with local Girl Scouts Saturday to provide answers at Downs Farm Preserve in Cutchogue, on the grounds of the old Ford Corchaug Indian archeological sites.

“A rain garden is a very specific garden,” said Missy Weiss, an environmental educator for Group for the South Fork and program manager at the preserve. “It’s not something you would plant in your backyard if it’s a flat area,” Ms. Weiss said. “A rain garden would be used if you had a slight slope in your lawn, so that stormwater runoff naturally will flow into the ground and be filtered by a collection of native plants.”

Experts say native plants like these New England asters are preferred for rain gardens. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

Experts say native plants like these New England asters are preferred for rain gardens. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

Stormwater runoff is often cited as a major source of surface and groundwater pollution because it carries pollutants like fuel and animal waste from streets and into the water.

A rain garden serves two purposes, Ms. Weiss said. It waters the plants, of course, but the plants — if you choose the right types — will also filter out contaminants the water might have picked up, so it’s cleaner when it returns to the ground.

On Saturday, members of Girl Scout Troop 1971, Service Unit 60, in Cutchogue helped build a demonstration rain garden at the preserve, with the aim of not only demonstrating what one looks like but educating residents on other ways to protect the Peconic Estuary.

The rain garden the scouts created in Cutchogue is also connected to a rain barrel, which collects water from a roof gutter so it can be used again to water plants. Troop leader Tonya Witczak said she got to know Ms. Weiss when her daughter attended the “storytime” program Downs Farm Preserve runs for the Southold Mothers’ Club.

“We had so much fun and this place is beautiful, so I asked, ‘What else can my girls do?’ ” Ms. Witczak said. “Last year we did a huge planting over at Orient Beach State Park for Earth Day and now we’re doing this. The girls love to plant things, they love to get dirty and work in the dirt. We’ve been trying to do this project for some time now.”

On Saturday, the scouts planted ferns, asters, lowbush blueberries, native grasses, milkweed and other plants that will filter rainwater and return clean water to the ground.

“We try to use native plants, specifically as local as possible, that we know have been documented to have grown here on Long Island,” Ms. Weiss said. “If that’s not possible, we try to use as close a species to that as possible.”

The Group for the East End is monitoring will monitor the PEP rebate program to make sure people are doing it right, Ms. Weiss said.

The rebates will award different amounts for different conservation projects, up to a maximum of $500 per location. The program will operate on a first-come, first-served basis, according to education and outreach coordinator Jennifer Skilbred, and is supported by $50,000 in funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. To qualify for program rewards, rain gardens must be at least 50 square feet and rain barrels must hold at least 50 gallons.

It won’t take more than a day to build a rain garden, Ms. Weiss said, but participants might need to do some research beforehand. For instance, a depth of six to eight inches of available soil is needed to make sure the plants will remain stable, she said.

While rain gardens can help prevent pesticides or fertilizers from being carried into the groundwater, Group for the East End isn’t promoting their use as a justification for continued of pesticides or fertilizers, Ms. Weiss said. They would rather homeowners didn’t use those products on their lawns in the first place.

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Tips for successful container gardening


The most-asked question from new gardeners is, ‘How often do I water the potted plant, once a week, twice a week?’ My stock answer is place your finger in the soil. When it is dry, water. When it is wet, don’t. The frequency of needed water will be determined by environmental conditions.

The warmer weather has finally given gardeners the urge to get out and plant something. Recent conversations with many of them have revolved around the subject of container gardening. They have had a lot of questions so I thought I would dwell on the subject today.

When considering container gardening, start by determining where you want to place your pot. Sun or shade conditions will determine what kind of plants you will put in the container. If you are not familiar with many plants, go to your local garden center and ask a lot of questions.

The pot size used will be determined by the number and size of the plants you put in the pot. You want to put a large enough plant or the right number of small plants in the pot so that roots from the plants will fill up the pot. If you put a small plant in a large pot it is very difficult to not overwater the plants.

Using the right soil in your pot is critical. Do not use a potting soil. It is usually too heavy and will hold moisture. Use a potting mix.

I would recommend using a potting mix that does not have moisture control in it. If we have a rainy season, chances are the moisture control will result in too much moisture staying in the potting mix and the plant roots will rot.

I don’t like fertilizer added to the potting mix by the manufacturer either. Different fertilizers will react differently to soil temperature and will also will affect the potting mix pH.

You want to control when you fertilize and what you use, not a manufacturer who lives in another state. Their growing conditions will different from yours.

After you have selected the pot and the potting mix, it is time to get to work. Fill the pot with potting mix. Next, remove the plants you are going to pot from their growing container. Then open up the root system of the plant with your hands, a knife or a jet of water. You want the roots to spread out and not continue to grow in a circle.

Place the plant in the potting mix and tamp the soil mix around the root system. This gives the soil good root/mix contact. Make sure that when you are finished planting there is enough room at the top of the pot so that potting mix surface is about 1 inch below the top of the pot. This will make watering much easier.

Next water in your newly potted plant with a soluble fertilizer such as a 9-58-8. The high middle number, phosphorous, will encourage the plant to spend most of its energy on producing roots. A good root system is the needed foundation for good plant top growth.

As the season progresses, fertilize your plant about every other week. Alternate the 9-58-8 with a 20-20-20. The will provide a good balance of root growth and top growth.

The most-asked question from new gardeners is “How often do I water the potted plant. Once a week, twice a week?”

My stock answer is place your finger in the soil. When it is dry, water. When it is wet, don’t. The frequency of needed water will be determined, by environmental conditions.

I would suggest that you have a tendency to under-water. Remember the phase at the gym. “No pain, no gain.” A plant stressed a bit will have a tendency to thrive versus one that is constantly overwatered.

Container gardening can be enjoyable for homeowners and for apartment dwellers.

With a little effort the results, whether it be a beautiful red tomato or a gorgeous geranium, will be outstanding.

Happy gardening in 2014.

Plant food and potting mix available at Sunny Hill Gardens and Florist help keep your plants healthy and beautiful throughout the season.

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KEEPING FIT: Tips to avoid injuries while gardening

By Wayne L. Westcott
For The Patriot Ledger

Posted Apr. 27, 2014 @ 7:00 am

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Gardening tips from Sprouts Greenhouse: Compost, compost, compost!

(Lander, Wyo.) – Do you want to increase your soil structure and provide nutrients for your plants? Are you interested in your soil managing water better? Do you crave healthy, robust plants? The answer to all of those questions is compost.

You can purchase compost, but it’s easy to make your own. Turn your food scraps into much needed organic material for your garden and pots. It is a process that can range from simple to complex, your choice. We’ll start with the simple approach first, then increase complexity. Regardless of which you choose, you can practice alchemy and turn organic material into “black gold.”

Three ingredients are needed to make compost:

1) Carbon: Brown things like leaves, brown grass clippings, or finely chipped (and chemical-free) wood/sawdust

2) Nitrogen: Green things like fresh grass clippings, fruit peels/cores/rinds, vegetable scraps, healthy plant material

3) Water: Just enough additional water to moisten- not soak- the above ingredients

Other items you might want to include are coffee grounds, eggshells, and nut shells. Adding dairy products, meat scraps and cooked foods is discouraged for the likelihood of attracting pests and the possibility of icky bacteria developing. Also, don’t put a diseased plant in your compost, as that provides a means for the disease to spread. If you’re exceptionally tenacious, add super-high fiber like sunflower stalks and corncobs, or seeds that are nearly impossible to crack open like avocado pits… they make a grand challenge! (Most of us choose to put them in the trash.)

Compost 101

Here’s compost making at its simplest: pile stuff up and ignore it. Keep chucking material on top, and in a few years the bottom will become organic soil. If that works for you, stop reading. If that doesn’t work for you, keep reading.

compost before

Compost 201

If you want it ready to use by June, you’ll have to actively control the decomposition. Start by mixing the contents to increase air circulation, and potentially adding moisture and/or nitrogen. Keeping the compost pile in a structure helps manage the mixing process. Large-scale containments are 3 feet wide by 3 feet high, a great size if you anticipate large volume of leaves in the fall. Pallets* or chicken wire are a simple and inexpensive way provide structure. Smaller or fancier options such as spinning barrels, or vertical containers are available commercially.

Unless you’ve got a container that can be spun, mixing is a manual process. A pitchfork works well to turn high-volume heaps, especially if you can access the heap from the front. If you’ve got a top loading pile, a gizmo like this is a great tool.

Most compost piles in our area have plenty of carbon. After a winter of sitting, some of the nitrogen from the green items may have leeched out. Sprinkling a handful of something high in nitrogen every several inches provides additional nitrogen to feed the microbes that do the decomposition work. We carry blood meal as well as a variety of all-purpose lawn fertilizers high in nitrogen (and without weed killing ingredients) that can boost nitrogen content.

“Where do microbes come from?” you ask. They are present in everything, including your compost heap. If you want to increase the quantity, stop by the store and pick up some compost maker. It can be added dry or mixed with water. Given our arid climate, your heap is likely dry so extra moisture is helpful. It might need even more water than what’s needed for applying liquid nitrogen or compost maker. The goal is for contents to be moist, but not dripping wet. As you turn or layer your compost pile, add water every several inches.

Once you’ve done the initial building and mixing, let the microbes do the hard work. You’ll know they are working if the temperature rises within the pile. You might even see steam on cool mornings. Stir every 2-3 days and add more water as needed. More open containment systems like pallets and chicken wire will dry out quickly, especially around the edges.

After a couple of weeks of mixing a well-activated compost pile, you should see more and more dirt and fewer chunks of recognizable objects. It’s rare to get rid of all of the chunks in one season but you should have plenty of usable material. Sift what you’ve got through a screen of dime-sized holes and put larger pieces back into the pile to decompose more next time.

Most home composters won’t generate enough volume to cover gardens in several inches of organic material. That’s the gold star for our low nutrient soil. However, applying your compost in a targeted fashion can help your plants immensely. Mix in a spade-full (or two) in each hole when you plant your veggies, or add a hefty shovelful to your pots. Your plants will thank you for it!compost ready to sift

chunks needing 2nd round


Compost 301 and higher

You’ll have to do self-guided education, but we’ll offer you some resources. The book that spurred home composting is Let It Rot and is available through a variety of bookstores. It’s easy to read and offers all sorts of information. The good folks at CSU Extension have an on-line article on composting that’s quite helpful and includes a simple chart on addressing common compost issues. Between the two, you’ll be well on your way to creating garden gold!

*We’ve got oodles of pallets free for the taking on the North side of the warehouse, between the warehouse and the tree lot.

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Love is in the air: Alan Titchmarsh on how to prepare your garden for a wedding

Give the garden an especially good going over now, so that by the time the wedding comes round everything is looking well-groomed. Put plant support frames in place, stake delphiniums, tie in climbers, redefine lawn edges and trim round them every time you mow for a neat, sharp edge. Spruce up garden furniture and get rid of unsightly junk. If need be, screen off compost heaps or neighbours’ eyesores with a few well-placed sections of hazel hurdle or woven willow fencing. 

If you have a frost-free conservatory, get hanging baskets and tubs planted early under cover so you can bring them out in full bloom. And if you want something flowery and fail-safe, plant large tubs with patio roses. Group three identical plants together as a quick fix – they’ll look like one large plant that’s been there for years.

Then make out a checklist of things to do in the last weeks and days leading up to the event. Clip hedges, pressure-wash paving, wipe the exterior of containers, rake gravel, weed gaps between paving slabs, sweep paths, wipe down garden furniture and arrange pretty plants in decorative pot covers as live floral arrangements for table centres (lavender plants are brilliant for this).

If that all sounds rather daunting, don’t forget that you don’t have to do it all yourself. But if you are going to rely on outside help, get it organised as soon as possible, so you know plants, people and any extra furniture are booked for when you want them. Wedding planning can never start too soon. 

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Tips on keeping your garden in good condition

Garden Tools photographed by Flickr user D. Laird

Garden Tools photographed by Flickr user D. Laird

PHILADELPHIA, PA – Quality garden tools and equipment don’t come cheap so protecting your investment for use year after year is important. Let’s discuss how to keep our garden gear in top shape for extended life.

Storage is the most crucial form of care for your tools and equipment. Keeping moisture out and creating a dry environment for your gear is important so be sure to stow away in a garage, shed or airtight bin. If left outdoors, wooden handles can crack, split, and splinter. Rust also becomes a huge issue for metal surfaces, so take the extra time to return items to a safe place.

Keeping your tools and equipment clean is beneficial for extended product life, too. Dirt will hold moisture causing damage to wooden features and creating a breeding ground for rust. Wipe all tools clean using a little turpentine and water and dry using an absorbent cloth.

Sharp tools are helpful tools. Visit your local hardware store and purchase a file for metal surfaces. Using one long stroke, move the flat edge of the file down the beveled edge of the blade you’re sharpening. Once at the end, you’ll want to lift the file and place it back at the opposite edge of the blade. Running the file back and forth does not continuously sharpen your blade; in fact it does nothing more than dull your file.

Blades for your weed whacker, lawn mower, and larger lawn and garden equipment can be sharpened, too. We recommend, for safety reasons, taking them to a garden center and allowing professionals to assist in the maintenance. These large blades can be extremely dangerous and injuries can be prevented for a small investment.

With the appropriate actions and a little TLC your garden gear can be helpful for many seasons.

Avant Garden Decor is a premier brand of innovative outdoor living decor, including the CobraCo Brand. From stylish planters and baskets, to flower boxes, plant stands, and fire pits, the CobraCo Brand is the outdoor entertainer’s choice for outdoor decor. Avant Garden Decor also offers Gardener’s Blue Ribbon brand of garden helpers, such as garden stakes, accessories, and various plant saucers that meet the demands of both gardening hobbyists and enthusiasts alike.Gardeners can contact Avant Garden Decor at or 800-323-5800.

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