Lookin’ Sharp – How to Keep Your Garden Tools Clean and Sharpened (Video)

Wrapping up our series on the hand tools we use most in gardening, I want to show you my favorite sharpening tool, the Speedy Sharp, and how to use it to sharpen your pruning shears and your soil knife or hori-hori: Now, if you prefer to use a file to sharpen your shears, Fine Gardening has a good article about it. They suggest using warm, soapy water and a scrubby to remove the sap and buildup on your pruners – I prefer to just use oil or WD-40 with my scrubby, but using soapy water should be fine as long as you are careful not to get water into the moving parts, and you make sure you oil your pruners thoroughly after cleaning and sharpening them. If you want to know how to tackle your dirty, dull shovels, spading forks, etc, here’s another good article from Fine Gardening magazine that will show you how. (Don’t look at the photo of him using a stone to sharpen his pruning shears – his text is correct, but that one photo could be misleading. I think he’s merely removing the burrs from the flat side of his pruner blade, not sharpening that side!) speedy cardLastly, Speedy Sharp has a diagram about how to sharpen using a Speedy  Sharp, including how to sharpen serrated blades (Hori-Hori owners, this one’s useful for you!). If you read the different sharpening articles, you’ll notice how many fewer strokes you need to make with a speedy sharp than with a file. I couldn’t believe the difference myself. Resources: Buy the Speedy Sharp at my gardening store

Organic Weed Control – How to Kill Weeds Without Harmful Chemicals

Using Organic Herbicides Without Hurting Good PlantsAs a garden coach, I’m often asked if there are any organic ways of getting rid of weeds that actually work. Nobody wants to spray harmful chemicals in their garden. The good news is that there are a lot of organic alternatives. The bad news is, some organic techniques can require an up-front time investment, and organic weed sprays can be pricier than chemical sprays. Still, if you have children or pets, like to walk around barefoot, or simply want to be a good steward of the earth, it’s worth a little extra effort to take care of the weeds in a sustainable way. [Read more...]

February Garden Maintenance for the Pacific Northwest

Blackbird in Crocus photo by Neil Phillips on Flickr February feels like the eye of the storm for us gardeners – there’s just enough time between the winter pruning rush and the flurry of spring to take a deep breath, and begin thinking back on what worked especially well last year and what projects we might like to tackle this year. Most of my February days are spent indoors, planning, but there’re still some outdoor things to do if you’re feeling resistant to frostbite! Which brings me to:

What’s goin’ on in the garden for February?

Planning and design

It’s too dashed cold out to enjoy much work outside, and all the best plants will be arriving soon in the nurseries, so why not take a bit of time to plan out what veggies you’ll grow this year, or think on that difficult patch which hasn’t quite shown its potential?Landscape Design I find it easiest to plan when I’ve drawn up a quick measured sketch on graph paper – I can look at how big plants are supposed to get and make sure to give each one enough room. They always look so dinky in their pots, and it’s easier to have willpower and space them properly if I’ve drawn it out beforehand. Sometimes I’ll make an inspiration board by printing out pictures of plants from the internet and collage-ing them over a photo of my space to get a feel for how things will look. You can do that without wasting paper, too, by opening up a bunch of photos on your computer screen, making each window smaller, then moving them around to see what foliage and flower combos work best. [Read more...]

In Other Words: Winter Pruning Guides from Around the Web

pruningathunderheadpine.jpgPruning a Thunderhead Pine I’ve found some wonderful tutorials on pruning in the last few weeks, with easy-to-understand photos and step by step advice. Pruning can be intimidating for beginners, but these guides break it down and have an encouraging tone – they don’t make things more complicated than they have to be. Here are the articles I’ve liked the best: Pruning, Pared Way Down: Margaret Roach was the garden editor of Martha Stewart Living for some time, and she presents some clear tips for minimalist pruners. She makes the point that even if we don’t do a perfect job of pruning, starting with just these few things would make such a difference! [Read more...]

Stupid Thorns, Tasty Berries: How To Prune Raspberries (It’s Easy)

raspberriesphotobybienstephensononflickr.jpgSo every time I open up my pruning book to the raspberry page, I get deep unhappy furrows in my brow. Raspberries are a simple plant. Why do they have to make it so complicated? There’s the summer-fruiting kind (with a short fruiting season), which fruit best on one year old wood. Ideally with these, you should prune out the canes that have fruited right after they finish (late summer/early fall) and leave the current year’s canes (the brand new fleshy green ones) to fruit the following year. Then there are autumn-fruiting raspberries (with a longer fruiting season) , which fruit on the current season’s growth. You aren’t supposed to prune out the fruited canes right away like with the summer-fruiting ones. Instead you cut every cane down in late winter when the plants are fully dormant, and allow all new canes to come up in spring.

The problem is, most people have no clue which type they have.

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Braving the Thorns Part 2: Pruning Your Dormant Rose

Rose pruning is such a satisfying task – you go from a tangled icky mass with thorns everywhere to a lovely clean set of sturdy stems – yet too many people are intimidated by their roses. There’s no need to be shy! The worst thing you can do is not tackle them at all, since without pruning, the stems become too spindly to hold up roses, and the plant harbors more disease than one that is cleaned up once a year. This quick BBC slideshow gives the basics of pruning roses.

Ready to see those concepts at work?

Check out this charming Rosarian, Muriel Humenick, in action! I agree, Muriel – down with the anvil pruners!

Climbing roses are even simpler than the Hybrid Tea roses in the video:

First take out any dead wood (it’s obvious because it is a crusty dark brown, very different from the live stems with a hint of green to them). [Read more...]

Ornamental Grasses: How to Prune Miscanthus, Stipa, and More

thebeforephotoofmiscanthus.jpgNow’s the time for us mild-winter gardeners to prune back many of our ornamental grasses. But how do you know which to prune back all the way, which to deadhead, and which to leave be? Well, if your grass is an evergreen and is still looking great, then leave it be unless you want to clean it up a bit. But if it’s gone brown and dormant, it’s time to trim.
The 'Before' Photo of Miscanthus
The "before" picture of a shaggy Miscanthus
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January Garden Maintenance: The To-Do List

thewintergardenphotobyptc24onflickr.jpgThe Winter Garden photo by ptc24 on Flickr If December is all about putting things to bed – raking, weeding, mulching,  and cutting back perennials – January’s for dreaming big dreams of the coming year’s harvest and blooms – pruning, spraying, and planting for a productive year. You’d think while pruning a completely bare tree you’d feel wintry and rather desolate – but if you are like me, visions of next year’s homemade yellow plum liquor and fresh apple crumble keep you feeling cheerful and warm inside! Even the non-gardeners know it’s pruning time, and I’ll be sure and talk more about how and what to prune soon; but what else is going on in the garden right now? [Read more...]

December Maintenance Tasks for the Pacific Northwest

pottedtulips.jpgIf you’ve been finding the time to work in your garden in the last couple months, you probably have most of your fall trimming done – deadheading Lavender, Scotch and Irish Heather/ Heath, and Hydrangeas; and cutting back your Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Astilbes, Hostas, and other hardy perennials which lose their leaves. [Read more...]