- Author: Marcy Sousa
A very basic concept has sparked an exciting revolution with this generation, but it is far from new. Upcycling is the act of taking something no longer in use and giving it a second life and new function. Some of the best examples of
Thrift is still a trend today and a big reason some people upcycle. Others enjoy the artistic aesthetic. One of the biggest reasons for the rebirth of upcycling is the positive impact on the environment. Items destined for the dump are rescued and remade into something useful.
Many garden upcycling ideas start with items around the house and a need for something. So, before you throw away or recycle broken or used items, give them a second look and ask yourself if they can be used in the garden. A quick search on the internet under “repurposing or upcycling in the garden” will give you all the inspiration you will need to get started. We aren't all artists, but with some elbow grease and a little creativity, even the novice can fashion some fun and quirky statements for the landscape.
Here are some of my favorites to help get you started!
- One of the first projects to come to mind are upcycled garden containers like an old bird cage with a spill of charming succulents in the bottom. Paint old tires in vibrant hues, stack them and fill with dirt. Use colanders to make hanging baskets or decorate an old dresser and plant in its drawers. An old chandelier can be spruced up with some paint and makes a great hanging flower planter. Whimsical items take on even more charm when plants are installed in them. Children's rain boots, rusty tool boxes, old tins, teapots, glassware, and more provide interesting planting options.
- Install an old mailbox onto a fencepost near your garden, and use it to keep gloves, tools, seed packets, and other necessities nearby and safe from the elements.
- Milk jugs are amazing garden tools! They can be used as cloches, seed starters, scoops, waterers, dusters, upside-down vegetable planters, and more!
- Yogurt containers, egg cartons, and toilet paper rolls cut in half make perfect containers for holding soil and starting small plants from seeds. Make sure to poke a few holes in the bottom of anything that is solid to allow water to drain.
- Use plastic mesh baskets from cherry tomatoes or strawberries to protect newly-sprouted seedlings such as corn, cucumber, melons, and squash from birds. By the time the seedlings are tall enough to reach through the tops of the baskets, they are no longer as tender and detectible as the birds prefer.
- Save sets of jars for sorting and storing seeds you've collected. Use the same type of jar for each type of seed for quick sorting. Choose the jar size to match the quantity of seeds you have. Place them together on a shelf for quick, at-a-glance recognition and easy retrieval.
- While some plants require lots of room to be happy, succulents actually do better in small containers or planted close together. Colorful food cans make great homes for succulents!
- Don't throw out that chair with the broken seat! Turn it into a pretty planter for petunias and other flowers.
- Planting veggies and need some plant labels? You can paint old kitchen spoon vibrant colors and add your sprouting seedling name. Old mini blind vanes or pained rocks work well too! If you have some wine corks lying around, you can stick them on a bamboo skewer and write the name on the cork for a unique label.
- Turn an old, broken bike into a cool planter. Paint it bright colors, install a planter or basket at the handle bars and park it amongst a wildflower garden.
- Decorative garden balls are an inexpensive alternative to the classic gazing ball. Take an old bowling ball or mason jar, add some paint and glue on some flat marbles (glass gems), pennies, or old costume jewelry to create a unique garden decoration.
With upcycling, the possibilities are limited only to the materials you already have on hand and your creativity. Dig around your basement or garage or scour yard sales to find objects that appeal to you. Then get out the paint, super glue, twine, glue gun and any other decorating tools you need and go to town. Upcycling in the garden can be a fun, family project that let's everyone put a special touch on your outdoor spaces while making a positive impact on the environment.
- Author: Marcy Sousa
Storm damaged trees are something many homeowners will have to deal with at some point. This last storm brought
Although some tree failures are not predictable and cannot be prevented, many failures can be prevented. By inspecting trees for common structural defects, many potential failures can be corrected before they cause damage or injury. It is best to make inspections before stormy weather and immediately afterward.
You should inspect healthy and unhealthy trees on a regular basis. Large trees have a greater hazard potential than small trees and should be inspected more frequently and in greater detail.
Always make your inspections from the ground, do not climb the tree or use a ladder to improve your viewing perspective. If you suspect a hazardous condition, immediately contact your utility company and consult an arborist who has the equipment and training to conduct the inspection safely. If you determine that a tree is a potential hazard, keep people, pets, and vehicles out of the area until the hazardous condition has been corrected.
Thoroughly inspect the tree for the following defects:
Determine whether the vertical axis of the tree has recently changed and check the ground around the base of the tree for uplift or exposed roots. If the tree was vertical but has moved from the vertical position, it is called a leaner. These are trees that are in the process of falling and could fall completely at any time and require immediate attention.
Some trees develop more than one trunk, which are often weakly attached and prone to splitting apart— especially those with narrow angles of attachment. This condition is a concern in large trees. Inspect the point where the trunks meet.
Weakly attached branches
Inspect large branches (greater than 3 inches) at the point where they attach to the trunk. Trees with many branches arising from the same point on the trunk are weak and potentially hazardous. If one branch breaks, the others are more likely to fail.
Cavities, large decay pockets, and other evidence of decay
Inspect the trunk and large branches for cavities or large decay pockets. If you find cavities or decay at a point where loads are great (where branches meet or at the base of the trunk), they are a concern. If a cavity or decay pocket is especially large and is at a key structural location, the tree is more likely to fail.
Mushrooms and conks growing on the bark of trees or on exposed roots indicate root rot or wood decay. As the decay progresses, the wood is weakened and failure is more likely.
It is very important to have your tree inspected by an arborist if you find cavities or decay. Tree size and weight distribution should be considered when deciding if the tree is a hazard. Do not attempt to clean out or seal a cavity or decay pocket—you may be doing more harm than good.
Inspect the trunk and large branches for cracks. If a crack is found, determine if it extends into the wood or is confined to the bark. Insert a pencil or other object into the crack and measure its depth. Look into the crack to see if you can tell the thickness of the bark and whether the crack extends into the wood.
Cracks confined to the bark are not usually a problem, but there is reason for concern when the crack extends into the wood. Deep cracks indicate that a separation of the wood within a trunk or branch has occurred and the tree has become structurally weakened. If you find a crack, it is best to have it inspected by an arborist.
Hanging or broken branches (hangers)
Hangers are branches that are broken but have not fallen from the tree. They may still be partially attached or completely separated and lodged in the canopy. Inspect for branches that are hanging down from a break point and for branches that have broken off completely and are resting on other branches. Hangers should be removed as soon as possible.
Dead branches (deadwood)
Branches that have died will eventually fall off and can cause damage when they fall. Inspect trees that lose their leaves in winter when they are in full-leaf (late spring through early fall). Evergreen trees can be inspected for deadwood at any time. If you find deadwood, plan to have it removed. This does not have to be done immediately, but should not be ignored
Obtaining professional advice and services
The best assurance of getting quality advice or tree work is by hiring an arborist certified by
the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) or a consulting arborist who is a member of the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA). Certification does not guarantee quality performance, it is only a means of helping you select an arborist who has a demonstrated level of knowledge and technical proficiency. You should verify that your arborist is insured and check his or her references. When you call for service, the arborist will come out and assess the storm damage to your trees and explain the best way to repair the tree if it is salvageable.
When Tree Damage Repair Is Not an Option
Trees are beautiful, valuable assets to a property and in most cases an arborist will exhaust all other options before deciding that a tree must be cut down. Unfortunately, some storm damaged trees are simply beyond repair, and complete removal is the only safe course of action.
- Author: Nadia Zane
One of the best ways to improve your soil and plant health is to apply compost, which is decomposed organic matter full
Yes, you read that correctly: worms.
I don't mean tossing food on the ground for worms and less desirable wildlife find. I am talking about vermicomposting, the process in which worms eat your kitchen scraps so the bacteria in their guts can break down nutrients into a form that plants can use. It is a tidy, contained system that recylces food waste, feeds the soil, and connects us with the circle of life (sans heart-wrenching deaths of cartoon lions).
Next you need to get bedding. Bedding provides worms with a place to get away from kitchen scraps to reproduce; it also provides a food source if kitchen scraps are scarce (or unfavorable). The simplest source of bedding is shredded newspaper, but you can also use regular paper, corrugated cardboard, dried leaves (watch for chemicals), or coconut coir. Bedding material needs to be damp enough to feel like a wrung-out sponge. Add a handful of soil, which contains grit for their digestion.
Worms eat almost anything that was once living, but if this is your first time, it's best to stick with vegetable and fruit
There are thousands of worm species worldwide, but only a few are good candidates for worm bins. Redworms (Eisenia fetida) are the the most common, as they live in groups, feed on organic matter at the soil surface (this is why your bin should be less than 12” deep), and lack feelings of wanderlust, making them ideal for closed quarters. Start with a pound of worms, which can be purchased at fishing supply stores or online. Be sure to cover the bin to block out light.
Worms turn their bedding and kitchen scraps into a fine, dark material similar to ground coffee. The simplest harvesting method involves shoving the finished material to one side of the bin, placing fresh bedding and food in the empty side, and waiting for the worms to migrate. This could take several weeks and will never be a complete evacuation. Dumping the bin out onto a large, plastic sheet and scooping the vermicompost off the top (allow worms to work their way down by shining a lamp on the pile) is more thorough and allows you to evaluate whether you want to make any changes in your worm routine.
Although vermicompost is great for any garden plant, it is especially beneficial for veggies. Apartment-dwellers can practice vermicomposting as well and use the finished product on potted plants or give it to friends with gardens. It's difficult to use too much; try to go with a minimum 1/4″ layer. You can scratch it lightly into the soil if desired, especially if you do not use mulch, which prevents it from forming a crusty layer in hot, dry weather.
For more tips and tricks, see Mary Appelhof's excellent book on vermicomposting, entitled Worms Eat My Garbage (Flowerfield Enterprises, 1997).
- Author: Kathy Ikeda
These squirmy denizens of the dirt usually go about their lives unseen—they're revealed to us only when upturned in a shovelful of soil or when stranded on pavement after a drenching rain. (Worms crawl out of the ground during heavy storms because they breathe air through their skin and can drown if the soil is saturated with water.)
Even though they can evoke a squeamish response, earthworms are good for the garden. They burrow and create long tunnels through the soil, which helps aerate and loosen it, creates channels for movement of water and oxygen, and allows plant roots to penetrate more easily. They help mix plant matter into the topsoil where beneficial microorganisms can decompose it. They consume organic matter such as fallen leaves, thereby recycling plant nutrients and increasing soil fertility. Worm castings (a.k.a. poop) are an excellent soil amendment since they're rich in nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Research even suggests that plants have improved disease resistance if planted in soil enriched with worm castings. Worms also provide a valuable source of food for birds, frogs, and other wildlife (not to mention being gobbled up by backyard chickens and fish on hooks).
Most of our native local species of worms have been destroyed or displaced by human activity; the kinds we usually see are descendants of hardier worms intentionally or accidentally introduced to North America by early European and Asian immigrants. There are now about 180 different species of earthworms in the U.S. and Canada, a third of which are non-native (including night crawlers). The typical garden earthworms are NOT the same as redworms or “red wigglers” (Eisenia foetida), the non-native species most commonly recommended for use in home worm composting.
Earthworms are primitive but fascinating creatures. They don't have eyes, but they do have special light-detecting receptors. Light is a bad thing for creatures whose natural habitat is underground, and worms have evolved to move away from light sources, hence their burrowing instinct. They “hear” by detecting vibrations, and they produce mucus or “slime” in reaction to stress (e.g. being yanked from the ground). They also have voracious appetites: some species can eat their weight in organic matter every day.
Worms are hermaphroditic: each worm has both male and female reproductive organs in its elongated, muscular, tube-like body. Typically, two earthworms join side-by-side in opposing directions to mate, and each member of the pair produces an egg capsule from which one to several immature worms eventually emerge. Redworms are among the most prolific breeders.
In part due to its reproductive success, some Native American cultures revere the earthworm totem as a symbol of fertility, productive thought, and acceptance of emotions. In our modern society, the worm can represent either the beneficent (as in the sweet, bespectacled bookworm) or malicious (as in harmful software that lurks in the Internet).
This is a good time to discredit a common misconception about worms. If a worm is cut in half by a shovel or by an over-enthusiastic tug from a curious child, the two parts won't heal and live to create new worms. The head end (with its tiny brain and five hearts) can't survive without the tail end (with its digestive system), and the worm simply dies.
You can use several techniques to encourage greater earthworm populations in your garden: (1) Avoid frequent tilling or cultivation of soil; (2) Minimize the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, all of which disturb naturally occurring soil micro- and macro-organisms; (3) Allow leaf litter to remain on soil year-round, to provide a food source for worms; and (4) “Sheet mulch” bare soil, using layers of cardboard, mulch, and compost to keep soil cool and moist and to provide a source of organic material for worms to eat.
A word of caution: don't dump unused live bait worms in a remote natural area. Many forest and mountain environments are naturally devoid of earthworms, and introducing them to those areas can be harmful. Forests often depend on a dense, protective, year-round layer of leaf litter, and earthworms will rapidly consume that thick organic mat.
For more about earthworms in our ecosystem, go online to ucanr.edu and search for the article Earthworm Ecology in California, or read the book “The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms” by Amy Stewart.
- Author: Kathy Ikeda
Have you ever wandered into a garden store, only to be met by a bewildering array of tools hanging from the racks?
Most retail garden suppliers stock an impressive variety of hand-operated (non-power) pruning tools, but offer scant guidance on how to choose the one you really need.
“Tool talk” might not be the most exciting garden-related topic, but it's important to know how to properly use and care for each type of pruning implement.
These short-handled tools are generally intended for use on plant stems and small branches ½ inch in diameter or less
Two hands are needed to operate these long-handled tools, which are designed to cut branches up to 1 to 1½ inches in diameter. Loppers should be used primarily to cut dead or just-removed branches into smaller pieces; avoid using them for pruning, since they tend to damage branches.
Hand pruners and loppers come with two distinct blade configurations, each with special uses and care needs. A third type of blade arrangement applies only to pruners.
- Bypass: This style has a curved upper blade that glides past a lower curved “hook” or “anvil.” The hook holds a stem or branch while the blade cuts. Bypass-type tools are the best choice for most gardening work since they're designed for use on live plant material. The blade is only beveled on the edge facing away from the anvil; the other side is flat. Never sharpen the flat edge of the blade on bypass-style tools; doing so leaves a gap between blade and anvil and causes branches to get stuck in the tool. When cutting, place the blade side of a bypass tool toward the main stem and away from the part being removed.
- Anvil: This style has a straight-edged upper blade that moves downward to meet the center of a flat-surfaced lower “anvil” or “table.” Anvil-type tools should only be used on dead branches—never on live, healthy ones—since they don't cleanly cut all the way through stems and their blade action tends to crush delicate plant tissues. The blade of anvil-style tools is beveled on both sides, so both edges need to be evenly sharpened if they become dull.
- Scissor: As the name implies, this style of hand pruner operates like a pair of scissors, with two short, straight, sharpened blades. They're designed only for lightweight tasks such as pruning tiny twigs and flower or herb stems.
Not all hand saws are designed for pruning use. Carpenter saws, which have straight blades and a hand-hole in the
Hand-operated pruning tools are also available in “extension” or pole-mounted forms, and some have a telescoping feature that allows adjustment of the pole's length. Pole saws and extension pruners can greatly increase an operator's reach, but they tend to be unwieldy and less precise. For safety reasons, never operate pole-type tools near overhead power lines.
When using any type of pruning tool, be careful to avoid a twisting action while cutting to prevent tearing bark, creating ragged-edged cuts, or damaging tool blades.
It's also important to care for your pruning tools to keep them in top operating condition. Always keep the blades properly sharpened to avoid damaging plant tissues and to reduce pruning effort. Thoroughly clean, dry, and oil tools after use to prevent rusting and to avoid transmitting plant pathogens.
Happy New Year!
If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website: http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/