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Window Box Ideas

Window Box Ideas

As we wrap up another summer here in Utah, you may want to consider adding window boxes to a couple areas of your home for next season. Window boxes have been around since early Roman times, but they started to get widely popular in the early 1900s. For many of us with tiny yards, (or not) a window box can provide that green feel in an easily customizable way. Here are some great ideas for window boxes:

  1. Mini vegetable garden: You don’t have to have an acre lot to enjoy some home-grown veggies. Tomatoes, lettuce, bush beans, and radishes all do well in a planter box, and if you have the room for a deep enough box, you can even go for some carrots, potatoes, or onions. The window box needs to be at least 6-12 inches deep and have adequate drainage holes.
  2. Herb heaven: Fresh herbs don’t need a lot of space to be productive. Cilantro, sage, mint, and basil are smart choices and can be added to a variety of meals. You can mix these with other flowers or vegetables to create an eye-catching mini garden.
  3. Flowers and vines: There are many great options for flowers and vines that will do well in a planter. Sun lovers include marigolds, lavender, geraniums, or honeysuckle. Shadier spots may like ferns, pansies, snapdragons, begonias, or ivy. Mix and match what you’re drawn to, and stress less knowing with window boxes it’s easy to replace small portions where flowers may not make it all summer to keep the box refreshed.

Window Box Materials

The material you choose can impact the overall style, but you also want to consider maintenance needs. Wood boxes will need to be coated with a protective layer and will require some upkeep each year. There are plastic options that look like wood that are durable and don’t require more maintenance than a little wipe down now and then. Metal planters are gorgeous and popular but be mindful of the location and color. Dark metal planters in the full sun can get very hot, burning the plants and drying out the soil quickly. If you’re set on that lovely metal planter, consider adding a plastic pot liner to provide some insulation and try placing it where it’s in a shadier location. Another popular choice is a hayrack planter with coco fiber. These are lightweight and attach easily to exterior walls. The fiber lining is water-preserving, and the whole aesthetic of this window box is very classic and timeless. Woven planters are also popular because they add an element of texture to elevate the whole look.

Many window boxes on the market today come with weatherproofing properties and are UV resistant. Some may even come equipped with a self-watering system, which saves a lot of time and stress. If you want a window box, but you’re not quite ready to attach something to your house (or you are renting), try getting a box that will secure to deck railing or balconies to get the vertical garden you’ve always wanted. When planting your window box garden, be sure to start with the best possible soil from The Dirt Bag.

A Little Fall Prep Makes for a Beautiful Spring

A Little Fall Prep Makes for a Beautiful Spring

We certainly don’t want to rush the wonderfulness of the fall season, but it really is a great time to come up with a game plan for spring. This is the time to start planting cold-hearty bulbs for early spring blooms, and a little preparation now will have you feeling extra grateful when spring hits and you have a stunning garden of bloomers. Plant bulbs anytime between October and November for best results along the Wasatch Front. Temperatures should be around 40 or 50 degrees at night, or at least six weeks before you expect the ground to freeze. The reason you need to plant certain cold-hardy spring bulbs in the fall is because they need to go through a freezing period before they can sprout.

Ideal choices for fall planting are cold-hardy bulbs such as tulips and crocuses, but also consider daffodils and hyacinths. There are many choices, but these seem to be local favorites around Utah. They like be tucked in to sleep about six inches deep or more. The bulb packaging will give more specifics on the depth, so pay attention to those details. A general rule to remember is most bulbs like to be three times as deep as they grow tall.

Give Your Bulbs a Healthy Start

It’s tempting to dig a hole and just toss the bulb in, but you want to take a little time to prepare the bed. Remove weeds, loosen the soil, and add some compost for added nutrients, or possibly sand if you need a little extra drainage for the area. Give it a cozy blanket of mulch, and water the bulb well only at the planting time. Soggy bulbs will rot, so it’s important not to overwater them. You may want to mark where you planted with a stick or tag so you don’t accidentally dig them up later.

Consider buying your bulbs at a good time. Many nurseries start selling bulbs in August to try and clear space for the new season and the upcoming holidays. If you buy your bulbs in the later summer, you’ll need to store them carefully in a dry area for a couple months. Check the bulbs that they are plump and firm. If they are squishy and soft, they’ve probably already rotted, or they are moldy.

It’s also important to ensure you plant the right bulbs for the fall. There are some bulbs, such as dahlias and gladiolus, that need to be planted in the spring. Once you get your fall-planters in the ground, don’t apply any fertilizer until the spring. They will need to just lay dormant through the winter, so fertilizing isn’t necessary until you start to see the first shoots popping up.

Bulbs are a fun way to add personality to a garden. With their early blooming heartiness, your garden will be lovely well before the rest of your yard starts to get green and gorgeous. Like any plant, the right soil is critical to its health. Come see The Dirt Bag and get your bulbs started off right.

Late Summer Gardening Tips

Late Summer Gardening Tips

Fall is around the corner, and you may be welcoming in the pumpkin spice and sweaters, but you can keep your yard looking beautiful for a little bit longer. Once the month turns to September, many of us get excited for the cool fall season, but Utah is going to be warm for a while longer. Extend your beautiful summer garden into the early fall months with these tips.

  1. Water wisely – Utah has seen water restrictions all summer, so watering wisely has been imperative. Continue this effort for the next few weeks by watering in the early morning hours. This gives your plants vital moisture while also allowing time for the water to reach their roots before it evaporates in the heat of the day.
  2. Strategically mow lawns – During extra hot times, raise the cutting height of your mower and cut your grass in the cool evening. Mowing later in the day allows the lawn more time to recover throughout the night. Leaving your grass a little longer keeps the roots cooler, providing a healthy lawn overall.
  3. Spend a little time weeding – By September, we’re starting to get tired of yardwork, but avoiding the task of pulling weeds will only make the job harder. Pulling young weeds is much easier than working with them after they’ve established strong roots.
  4. Deadhead perennials – As flowers fade, deadhead them right away to extend their life. Deadheading forces the plant’s energy to be sent to buds rather than seeding, which is what they want to do this time of year. This allows the flowers to keep blooming and look beautiful longer.
  5. Prune – Later summer and fall is good a time shape bushes, shrubs, or trees. Remove suckers to prevent them from stunting your tree’s growth. Shaping brushes and shrubs will promote more flower growth and thicker foliage. Be careful with extensive pruning of trees—this is often best left to a professional.
  6. Keep up on pests – Aphids are typically thriving right now, so keep a watch for them. If you catch them when they’re small, they’re fairly easy to get rid of. Spray the populations off the plant with a strong stream of water from hose to dislodge them from the plant.
  7. Mulch – Mulching is a benefit any time of the year, but in the late summer you can amp it up by using lawn clippings in your vegetable garden, for example, as it comes to its final production stages for the year. If you have potatoes in your garden, adding a layer of mulch will protect the vegetable well into the cold.
  8. Divide your plants – Some plants, such as peonies and day lilies, are happier plants if you divide them in the late summer or fall. Gently pull apart some of the roots with your hands and cut them back with a sharp knife. Doing this keeps the plant healthier because there is more space for roots to grow and absorb water and nutrients.

If you need help finishing the blooming year off right, come in to The Dirt Bag for the highest quality products.

Do Coffee Grounds Help Plants?

Do Coffee Grounds Help Plants?

You don’t have to be a coffee drinker to enjoy the benefits of using the grounds in your garden. Many local coffee shops will sell or give away used coffee grounds just for gardeners’ use. Used coffee grounds contain nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, which are good nutrients for your soil. Plus, it feels good to reuse something that would otherwise just sit in a landfill.

Think of the grounds as a periodic fertilizer. You can take the grounds and simply sprinkle them directly onto the soil. Then disperse them using a rake or lightly work them into the soil enough so that the grounds won’t harden on top and not seep through. Make sure you don’t rinse the grounds first. You want fresh, unwashed coffee grounds to get the right effect. You can also make a liquid to pour into the soil. A good ratio is about two cups of coffee grounds with five gallons of water, let it sit overnight, then pour away this liquid black gold.

Do All Plants Like Coffee Grounds?

Because coffee is acidic, you’ll want to use the grounds for acid-loving plants in particular. The grounds will lower the pH level of your soil, which causes it to be more acidic. (Read our other blog here for more information on pH levels.) Plants and flowers such as azaleas, roses, hollies, hydrangeas, and lilies will thrive with coffee grounds. However, tomatoes or rhododendrons may be a little more sensitive to the acidic nature and develop brown leaf tips if they come in contact with the grounds. Avoid applying grounds when your plants are still seeds, as it can affect germination. Give them some time to grow for a bit first. Coffee grounds can also be good for grass. It helps grass look greener and grow longer, which is certainly a priority here in Utah. Experts suggest you take some caution with using grounds. Too much and you can actually burn your plants. Using the ratio above (two cups of grounds to five gallons of water) should protect your plants from too much nitrogen.

Deter Bad Bugs

Many gardeners use coffee grounds as a natural bug repellant. They will help keep slugs and snails away because of the abrasive nature of the grounds. However, they will help attract earthworms, which are beneficial to your plants. The earthworm is the single most beneficial organism for soil health. They decompose organic matter, increase soil aeration and infiltration, and encourage water movement and nutrient cycling. Worms love coffee grounds, so welcome them by using them wherever applicable.

If you don’t have coffee grounds in your house, visit some local coffee shops and you’ll likely see some bags for sell at a bargain. If you don’t, simply ask the barista. Many shops love sharing their grounds with the community because they understand the many benefits. If you want to get started using grounds in your garden but you’re still nervous about adding too much nitrogen, come in and talk to one of our specialists to get advice for your particular garden situation.

Why pH Levels are Crucial to Your Vegetable Garden

Why pH Levels are Crucial to Your Vegetable Garden

You may be wondering if the pH level of your soil is actually important. Why wouldn’t something just grow if you plant it in the ground, water it well, and make sure it gets enough sun? Well, it’s not always that simple. If you want healthy vegetables, the pH level does matter, and it can be different for different plants.

First, let’s revisit the junior high lesson on the pH scale because we’ve probably forgotten. The scale runs from 0 to 14. Neutral is 7, acidic runs from 0 to 6.9 and alkaline runs from 7.1 to 14. Generally, your vegetable garden wants a pH level of about 6.5. At 6.5 high levels of nutrients are available for the plant to use. These nutrients include calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, iron, magnesium, manganese, boron, copper, and zinc. If the ground is too acidic, some of these nutrients will be too high and it becomes a toxic environment, minimizing beneficial soil bacteria for your plants to grow strong and nutrient rich. Some plants and trees do like more acidic soils, but not most items in your vegetable garden.

Testing and Adjusting

If you’re new to gardening or it’s been several years since you’ve checked your soil levels, it’s a good idea to get it tested. One option for this service is through Utah State University’s testing services for a small fee. You can also bring your questions to us to help you determine the best approach for your gardening project.

Acidic soils can be amended with lime, which will help to raise the pH and bring it to a more alkaline state. Be aware there are different liming materials. You’ll need to know if you need dolomitic lime, which is used if you have a magnesium deficiency, or calcitic lime, which is used if you have too much magnesium. For acid lovers, such as blueberries or evergreens, sulfur or aluminum sulfate can help lower the pH into a more acidic range. Aluminum sulfate tends to work more quickly but has the potential to burn plant roots. Sulfur takes a little longer to work so it’s best to apply this product in the spring. Because of this, however, it’s gentler on plants and doesn’t have the risk of burning roots.

Maintenance

Remember, the only way to truly know the pH level of your soil is through adequate testing. It’s not a good idea to simply throw additives into the soil and hope for the best. Too much of something can shift everything too far on the scale and create a new host of issues. For the healthiest vegetable gardens, provide the care it needs by testing about every four to five years.

Soils are often depleted here in Utah and boosting organic materials and healthy microbes will provide many beneficial nutrients for our vegetables (and any other plant) to grow properly. The Dirt Bag’s knowledgeable professionals understand Utah’s native soils and can help your garden of any size thrive. Bring any question to us, we’re happy to help.

Apartment Gardening

Apartment Gardening

Don’t let a tiny space scare you away from making a little outdoor oasis. If you’re in an apartment, condo, or townhouse and only have a small personal area outside, there are many great options to create a modest garden of your own. You’ll likely need to keep most plants in pots or containers, which means soil preparation and maintenance will be a crucial step. Here are some great ideas to get you started:

Privacy wall with greenery: Urban living often translates to tight spaces. Think vertically with a privacy wall of wood beams that you can fill with potted plants. You can easily switch them out as needed to keep everything fresh and healthy. From herbs to ferns to all colors of flowers, many plants work well vertically if they’re watered well.

Plant your own Vitamin-C: Citrus trees come in dwarf varieties, and they are pretty adorable. With a little TLC, they can produce fruits, too. Many dwarf citrus trees, such as lemon or orange, thrive in a pot if it has healthy soil, good drainage, and proper sunlight.

Sun or shade: Read the labels when buying plants. Sun lovers won’t do well if your balcony is shaded by your neighbor’s property, and shade lovers will quickly dry out and die if there’s direct sun during hot portions of the day. Hydrangeas do great in the shade and pack a big punch with their gorgeous foliage. And petunias are a reliable choice for sunny areas.

Patio roses: Roses are not just for large estates in the country. They can survive well in containers on patios or balconies, as long as they get about 5-6 hours of sunlight per day. Most rose varieties bloom all summer long. If you want yours to stay outside all year and come back each summer, choose one that is rated about two hardiness zones colder than what Utah is in and plant in a crack-proof pot. For very small spaces, there are options for mini varieties that are almost too cute.

Windowbox strawberries: It’s hard to beat a delicious, fresh strawberry and these babies come with an added feature—their foliage is beautiful. Strawberries do quite well in a windowbox and in containers and they are an attractive addition to any balcony or patio.

Think color: Create a vibrant scene or sitting area with some beautiful colors. Think bold throw pillows, fun-colored chairs, bright rugs, patterned pots, and unique plants. Create even more appeal by drawing your eye to various heights of planters and pots or consider stacking a few varying sized pots. Garden stools or small end tables are great for creating height differences with plant stands.

Plant some pollinators: Pollinator plants and flowers will always be needed, especially in Urban areas. From bees to butterflies, hummingbirds to moths, these pollinators play an essential role in the environment. Your little space can become a haven for our helpers when you plant a container garden specifically designed for them.

With any planting project, the success is largely dependent on the quality of the plant’s home: the soil. For the highest quality soil products in Utah, visit The Dirt Bag.

Mulch Magic

Mulch Magic

We know we talk about mulch a lot, but it’s for a good reason. Mulch really is a miracle product and can be used for many reasons, from practical to cosmetic. If you are looking for the best little helper for your garden, mulch is probably the answer.

What’s so good about it?

Mulch is great for your plants because it reduces water evaporation while also enhancing water absorption. It improves the quality of your soil as it breaks down and enriches the soil with its nutrients. Mulch also slows the growth of weeds, is inexpensive, and looks amazing. Bark and wood chips are the most common types of mulch we see throughout the area, and the larger chunks will usually last longer because they decompose slower than shredded-wood or small bark mulch. Adding mulch creates a flawless, finished look to a yard, but it also reduces stress because you won’t have as much upkeep with pulling weeds. We suggest pulling weeds before you lay the mulch and get enough to cover about two to four inches in depth to help keep weeds at bay.

When choosing mulch products, organic mulches are great options because as they decompose and break down, they continue to improve the soil underneath. The nutrients from the bark will slowly seep into the soil over the years. It is also a little blanket for your plant’s roots and protects them from extreme hot and cold temperature fluctuations, saving you money on replacing dead plants.

A note on landscape fabric

Landscape fabric underneath mulch is popular choice, but there are some reasons to avoid it. If you want the full benefit of the nutrients from organic mulch, fabric may not be a great idea. Fabric is usually better suited under rocks or stones. If you have trees or large shrubs nearby, the fabric will minimize the water and nutrients going to their extended roots. If you do opt for landscape fabric, be choosy of where you put it and make sure it allows water and air to pass through.

Keep in mind

Although mulch minimizes maintenance, it does not eliminate it. You’ll still need to weed a little here and there, but not as much as without mulch. You’ll also need to replace wood mulch every few years because it will break down over time and it will lose its fresh color as the weather affects it.

Mulch is a versatile project that can be distributed anywhere (but not everywhere) on your property. There are still some conditions to be aware of. Sometimes organic mulches spread in damp areas can retain too much moisture for plants, creating a haven for slugs, fungus, and certain pests. If you have a consistently wet spot, mulch may not be great for that area. It’s good to discuss recommendations from experts to make sure you’re applying mulch to good areas.

Mulch adds color, texture, and a clean finish to any yard. Whether you are a novice or an ardent gardener, you will likely appreciate the benefits of mulch somewhere in your yard or garden.

Make the Most of Lanscaping Rocks

Make the Most of Lanscaping Rocks

It’s never been a better time to add some landscaping rocks to your yard. From water savings to lower maintenance needs, landscaping rocks are a wise choice for many Utah yards. Natural stones and rocks are versatile products that allow your creativity to run free with how to apply them. Another benefit to rocks over products like wood bark chips is that they last a lifetime—no need to replace every few years. Here are a few fun ideas of ways to incorporate rocks in your design:

Park Strips

Utahns are quickly flipping their strips, and many are opting for full rock park strips. But you can add some greenery with some water-wise plants as well. Pair rocks with plants (for ideas, check out our previous blog) to create a beautiful park strip that is low maintenance and water wise.

Pool Surrounds

Create a beautiful vignette around your pool or hot tub with a blend of rocks, ornamental grasses, and colorful potted plants. Mixing the softness of flowers with the ruggedness of rocks and large, spikey grasses can create an oasis of texture and contrast that is visually stimulating and stunning.

Fairy Gardens

Kids or not, fairy gardens can be a fun project for any age. There are many options available to create a garden of any size—carve out a large nook in your yard for an extensive little fairy community or keep it contained and small in a designated planter. Use rocks to create little pathways throughout the fairy garden or to make mini fences and sitting areas.

Pathways

Smaller landscape rocks can be used to create a lovely walking path on your property. Install a plastic edging or border product to keep the rocks right where you want them and to create nice, clean lines along the pathway. This option is beautiful for your main pathway to the entrance of your home or to create little trails around your yard to your garden, a kids’ play area, the shed, or a quiet sitting area. You can also add some different colored stepping stones or flat rocks within the path for contrast.

Fire Pits

If you’ve got some extra room in your backyard, a firepit area can be a clever addition to your design. This summer, s’more it up with friends and family around a rock fire pit area. To maximize space and comfort, make it circular and big enough to put some large, Adirondack-style chairs around the fire. The rock will help prevent any fire hazards and will look rustic and attractive.

Container Gardens

If you love containers of flowers but don’t want to water them every morning, create a rockscape area within reach of your sprinkler system and place the containers among the rocks. Nestle the containers into the rock and make sure they have adequate drainage. Your plants will get watered with the sprinklers, so you’ll only need to supplement as necessary. Make sure you start these containers with the best soil options for your plants.

With our water restrictions this year, implementing rocks is a great way to keep your yard beautiful while still being water wise.

Plant These Beauties in Your Park Strip

Plant These Beauties in Your Park Strip

The flip your strip program is in full force in Utah. Many counties are offering rebates for those who tear out their grass in their park strips and replace it with water-wise solutions. It’s estimated that about 5,000 to 8,000 gallons of water is used each year on a single average park strip. Before you decide to tear everything up and pour concrete or spend thousands in decorative rock, consider planting some beautiful native, water-wise plants instead. This will keep park strips looking beautiful and lush without wasting water. Don’t want to worry about that many plants? Go for a combination of rocks, mulch, and plants to make a beautiful, maintenance-free park strip area that’s lush and practical. Here are some plants to consider for your new park strip after you’ve flipped it:

  • Banana Yucca: this is the state flower of New Mexico. Its sharp evergreen leaf tips are a great barrier against unwanted animals. There are over 40 different species of yucca, but the Banana Yucca is one of the few that produces delicious fruits.
  • Desert Zinnia: this is a flowering plant that is related to a daisy. It’s a perennial and thrives in sandy, gravel-like soils in drought-prone areas around Utah. It’s actually not native to Utah but is common in New Mexico and Colorado and does well in our climate.
  • Blue Sage: this plant is also known as Mountain Sage. It grows throughout the south-west, particularly in California, Nevada, and Arizona. It’s a drought-tolerant alpine shrub that is happier in higher elevations (above 5,000 feet). It’s purple and blue flowers are year-round blooming and can be used for culinary purposes.
  • Indian Ricegrass: this is a water-wise grass that grows in clumps about one to two feet tall. They are drought-tolerant and hardy in cold temperatures, making them an excellent choice along the Wasatch Front. Their seeds can self-propagate and are great for birds to eat.
  • Broom Snakeweed: this is another one in the daisy family and is great for Utah’s sandy, dry soil. Its thread-like leaves produce tiny clusters of yellow flowers from late summer to fall. Local wildlife is not impressed with this flower, so you don’t have to worry about grazing animals nibbling it away.
  • Desert Globemallow: this is a plant that’s native to the Utah deserts. Its color is a beautiful pop of orange and grows to about three feet tall. The flowers on the ends are impressive and blooms almost all year round, attracting bees and other pollinators.
  • Mesa Verde Ice Plant: this lovely purple plant is a low-growing ground cover that spreads naturally across rocky soils. Rock gardens of all shapes and sizes do well with this plant added, and they get more drought tolerant the more established they become.

Whatever you choose to do with your park strip, just know that it can be beautiful with minimal effort. Visit The Dirt Bag to get soil amendments before planting, mulch for water retention, and decorative rocks to finish off the look.

Your Garden Can Thrive with Less Water

Your Garden Can Thrive with Less Water

As the second driest state in the nation, we must be conscious about our water usage. Vegetable gardens are popular throughout most of the state, and they’re something many of us are proud of, especially when we grow enough food to can for the winter. There are ways to create a thriving, happy vegetable garden without using more water than necessary. Here are some tips:

  1. Water at the appropriate time of day. You already know not to water in the heat of the day, but it’s also important to avoid the evening hours. Soil in the evening is warm and when you add water that will likely remain all night long, the warm and wet foliage will attract bugs and fungal development. The best time to water is between 5am and 10am.
  2. Install a more efficient watering system. An overhead system is great for the lawn, but not the for a vegetable garden. Most of the water evaporates before it hits the soil, not making it to the roots of your veggies where it’s really needed. A drip system is much more effective at getting water where it needs to go. And bonus—it cuts down on weeds, too.
  3. Make sure you have healthy soil. There is no substitution for good, healthy soil in your garden. You soil is the main determiner if your vegetable garden with thrive or die. Soil texture will guide your watering schedule as well. For example, if you have more sandy soil, you will probably need to water more frequently than if you have more clay-like soil. You’ll probably need to add some nutrient-rich soil prepor compost to whatever soil you have currently to help your plants grow all season long. If you want delicious vegetables to pick, you’ll need nutrient-rich, pH-balanced soil.
  4. Add mulch, but not too much: Adding about one to two inches of mulch around your plants can protect plants’ roots, helps reduce evaporation, and keeps weeds at bay. There are natural mulch materials such as lawn clippings, dried leaves, and straw, or go for a prepared bark mulchthat’s beautiful and ready to go.
  5. Avoid buying water-hog plants: Some vegetables just aren’t great for Utah’s conditions. Plants like lettuce (although a happier-in-spring plant), broccoli, celery, and cabbage all take quite a bit of water, so avoid these if you can. If you really want to plant these, make sure you’re following the above tips to maximize your watering efforts.
  6. Plant companion plants: Companion planting has been around for over 2,000 years and it works. Plant items that work well together, such as corn, beans, and squash (called the three sisters). Basil and tomatoes go well together too, and strawberries like to be with onions. Save water with companion planting, but also grow healthier, stronger veggies.

The Dirt Bag wants to see your garden thrive. We love to help people get on the right track with their garden projects and can assist you in keeping it successful all season long.