Beer Meets Bioretention Soil at the New Guinness Headquarters

It’s a good day for bioretention soil at the Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House.

What’s going on in Baltimore?

It’s pouring.  It’s pouring beer – Guinness welcomed the community into its newly opened 62-acre, $90-million brewpub.  It’s pouring people: 1,000 guests entered within the first hour of business.  It’s pouring water: Baltimore gets an average of 40 inches of rain per year.

What are the benefits of biorention soil to a brew pub?

While pouring smooth stouts might be a specialty of Guinness, this place also wants to slow the flow of stormwater into adjacent waterways – and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. They did so with Harvest’s bioretention soil media.

When can I visit?

The Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House is open to the public from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and noon to 9 p.m. on weekends. Check out the landscaping as you play corn hole or simply enjoy your pint.

Where can I get my hands on large quantities of bioretention soil?

We’ve got you covered: request a quote today.

 

Listening to Your Landscape

Forsythia is an indicator plant on the gardening calendar. When Forsythia blooms, it stimulates many gardening activities: pruning, planting cool season flowers, preparing gardens and finally, mulching of established garden beds.

This year, in the Mid Atlantic and other parts of the country, the Forsythia went into a state of suspended animation, the continuation of cold and cloudy weather allowed the Forsythia to bloom for nearly 7 weeks instead of its normal 3 weeks.

You’re not late to jump in now and finish those early spring garden maintenance tasks. It’s Mother Nature’s highlighted message to us humans, “You need more time to Garden, and I gave it to you!”

Need soil or mulch? We’ve got you covered. Request a quote today.

Make Your Bed!

Mothers (and fathers) around the world are known for saying, “Make your bed!” This time of year, we like to interpret that statement as a request to make a raised bed. Here’s an update on that topic with some support and inspiration.

 

How should I make my raised bed?

Check out “5 steps for successful raised bed gardening” post that includes tips and tricks.

How much soil do I need?

It’s a simple-yet-not-so-simple equation that involves length, width, and depth. We provide real case studies on how to figure out how much you need.

What soil should I use?

You’ll likely want a compost if you’re just amending the soil, or a blended mix if you’re filling your raised bed. We offer a variety of quality soil products in different markets, plus a specially formulated Organic Raised Bed Mix in select markets. Contact us for a quote today.

Where can I get inspired for raised bed designs?

Here are a few styles of raised beds we’ve recently seen around town.

 

Long, tall beds make for easier weeding. And check out that thick mulch: keeps everything nice and tidy around the beds.

Strawberries! Yum.

Strawberries along the perimeter, plus asparagus (a perennial as well) in the inside. This is a bed that will be a springtime favorite for years to come.

Who says a raised bed needs to have boards around it? These earthy mounds achieve the same goal, with tidy paths in-between each bed.

We support healthy soil!

 

What are you growing in your raised bed this year?

3 Easy Tricks to Love Your Lawn Naturally

Everyone likes a lush, green lawn that is safe for people, pets and children to lounge and play. Here’s a video with a few easy tips for you to love your lawn naturally.

Natural Lawn Care, So Pets and Children (and You!) Can Play Safely

As the video shows, there are three (3) easy things you can do to keep your lawn lush, naturally.

TRICK #1: Trim the Top

Set your lawnmower blades on the highest setting. Also, aim to only cut the top 1/3 of the grass blades at any one time; otherwise the grass gets stressed.

TECHNICAL CORNER
Different grass species actually have preferred lengths. For example, cool season grasses (Fescues, Kentucky bluegrass) range from 1-4” high. Warm season grasses (St Augustine, Bermuda, Centipede, and Zoysia) vary from 0.75-3” high. Learn more about ideal heights to mow grass.

TRICK #2: Grasscycle!

Let the clippings land and return to the soil. Those tiny little bits can actually help nourish the soil: they typically break down within one to two weeks, and provide 15 to 20% or more of a lawn’s yearly nitrogen requirements. Learn more about grasscycling.

TRICK #3: Support Your Soil

Every fall and spring, spread a ¼” layer of compost or lawn soil. This layer – called a topdressing – helps support the soil structure, promotes good drainage, and stimulates microbial activity (that’s a good thing).

 A Few Other Tips for Natural Lawn Care

First, remember the four key components of healthy soil composition:

  • Mineral Soil (~45%)
  • Organic Matter (~5%)
  • Water (~25%)
  • Air (~25%)

Next, check out this case study of the lush soccer fields in Haddam, Connecticut – impressive root structure, all from topdressing with compost!

Finally, use these easy tips to keep your lawn happy:


WATERING YOUR LAWN: Use the Tuna Can Trick

If you’re going to water your lawn (or, ahem, frolic in a sprinkler), use a tuna fish can to roughly gauge how much water has fallen: place a tuna can on the grass when you turn on the sprinkler(s), and turn off the sprinkler(s) when the tuna can is full.

A few other tips around watering:

  • GO FOR DEEP, LESS OFTEN: Try to water well once per week rather than a few shallow sprinkles throughout the week. Then let the grass dry out completely over the week until you water deeply again. The roots will actually get more sturdy and robust during the dry period by searching for water compared to if you give them a few light sprinkles.
  • WATER IN THE MORNING OR EVENING: You’ll lose less water to evaporation.

AERATING YOUR LAWN: Use the Screwdriver Trick to Test

If you’re curious about whether or not your lawn needs aeration, try the screwdriver trick: Wait until the soil is relatively dry – but not completely dry and hard – and test it with a screwdriver. If you can depress the screwdriver an inch or two easily, the soil probably has sufficient aeration. If it takes some bearing down, your lawn could probably use some “aerifying”. Learn more about how to aeate your lawn.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

How Much Soil or Mulch Do I Need For My Landscaping Project?

Gardening season is in full swing as evidenced by all the requests for soil and mulch we receive from our Harvest Power website. As part of these requests we get a common question: How much do I need? We thought it would be helpful to walk through a few real-world examples.

First, some background info on calculations and products.

  • To know the root of calculations, there are 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard (3’ x 3’ x 3’), the common measurement for selling soil and mulch.
  • To get a sense of volumes, a full-size pickup truck holds about 2 cubic yards. A volkswagon beetle is roughly the same volume as 15 cubic yards.

Next, let’s walk through a few real-world examples and calculate how much material is needed for a project.

NOTE: If you want to skip learning the math, then head straight over to our landscape calculator.

raised beds tall

EXAMPLE #1: We need soil for two 8′ x 4′ x 18″ raised beds.

(~BD in Windsor Locks, CT)

Okay, BD. Let’s figure this out. So first let’s pretend these two raised beds are stretched end-to-end. They would measure 16’ long x 4’ wide and 18” tall. Now let’s go through the steps

  • Convert all dimensions into feet (18” ÷ 12” = 1.5’)
  • Multiply length x width x height (16’ x 4’ x 1.5’ = 96 cubic feet)
  • Divide (96 ÷ 27 = 3.56 cubic yards)

Therefore, you’ll need about 3.5 cubic yards of garden blend for this project. We recommend rounding up to 4 cubic yards since you can almost always use more product top-dressing your lawn, the raised beds, or mixed into potting containers.

EXAMPLE #2: “How much mulch do I need to cover a 20’ x 30’ new garden with 3” of soil amendment?”

(~NM in Surrey, BC)

  1. Convert all dimensions from inches into feet. (3” ÷ 12” = .25 feet)
  2. Multiply the three dimensions together (length x width x height) to find the number of cubic feet needed. (20’ long x 30’ wide x 0.25’ high = 150 cubic feet)
  3. Divide the cubic feet by the number of cubic feet in a cubic yard (27) to find the number of cubic yards (150 ÷ 27 = 5.56 cubic yards)

There you go, NM: You will need about 5-6 cubic yards for your project!

EXAMPLE #3: I’m covering my front- and back- landscape with 2” of mulch. The area is about 20’ x 10’. I want to know how much product I’ll need in bags since I don’t have a pickup truck or trailer, and I think it might be easier to pick up a bunch of product in my car and then carry them throughout the property instead of dealing with a wheelbarrow.

(~KH in Virginia)

Okay, KH. Here we go, with a modified step to convert to bags.

  • Convert all dimensions into feet (2” ÷ 12” = 0.16’)
  • Multiply length x width x height (20’ x 10’ x 0.16’ = 33 cubic feet)
  • FOR CUBIC YARDS, we’d divide (33 ÷ 27 = 1.23 cubic yards). BUT INSTEAD we want to find out how many bags of mulch KH needs. So if she wants 1-cubic foot bags she’ll need to divide by 1 (33 ÷ 1 = 33 1-cubic foot bags). If she wants 2-cubic-foot bags she’ll need to divide by 2 (33 ÷ 2 = 17 2-cubic-foot bags).

how much do i need? landscape calculator screenshot of case studyVoila, our landscape calculator comes to the same conclusions (see screenshot).

Feeling inspired?

Hopefully this post helps you get a feel for dimensions and how much product you’ll need for your next landscaping project. We offer many quality soil and mulch products in bulk and bagged quantities. Or simply head on over to our contact page to request a quote. Happy landscaping!

 

The Best Time to Prune Azaleas and Rhododendrons? Right after they bloom.

rhododendrunWondering when to prune? Right after azaleas and rhododendrons are finished blooming is the best time to do any pruning they may need.

These shrubs make blooms that flower on the prior year’s wood. So you have to be careful when pruning them since buds for next spring will be made this summer, and you don’t want to prune those off. Don’t wait to prune your azaleas and rhododendrons until late summer or even later, or you probably won’t get the flowers you’re looking for next year.

For rhododendrons with large leaves, you want to prune right above their “growth joints” the place where the plant is starting to grow. Just beneath that point is where dormant buds are, so take care not to cut them off. Small-leafed rhododendrons and azaleas can be pruned anywhere along their stems.

Cutting back a rhododendron heavily can stop the plant from flowering for a year or two. You can prune pretty heavily if needed to get better shape for your bushes, just know that they may not flower for a year or more if you do so.

What should you prune away? Check the inside limbs for any that are dead or look weak. Any limbs on the ground or crossing over other limbs should be pruned away, too. You’ll be giving your bush better air circulation and a less hospitable environment for insects and disease.

Deciduous azaleas (that lose their leaves in the winter) differ from rhododendrons in that they can actually be sheared into a hedge. Anywhere you cut them on their stem, they will branch out. If you’re pruning evergreen azaleas, you can shear them after they flower.

Here’s a great how-to video on how to prune your rhododendrons:

Turn Your Attention to Bioretention

What is a bioswale? How does bioretention work?

A bioswale is a low-lying, linear depression that directs the flow of water while letting it percolate into the soil.  This process is known as bioretention: using biology to retain, or slow, water.

How do bioswales, streetscapes and rain gardens work?

Bioswales, streetscapes, and rain gardens apply the same strategy in different formations: they use soil and plants to manage stormwater and reduce erosion in cost effective, environmentally-friendly manners. The plants and soil – or bioretention media – serve as natural filters that remove silt and pollution from runoff water.

How do bioswales remove pollutants?

Bioswales behave like mini constructed wetlands. After a rain, water flowing off of surfaces – typically roofs or roadway – gets diverted into beds of hardy grasses and other plants. Then, the following occurs as illustrated in the photo:

  1. Soil in the bioswale catches contaminants in the runoff.
  2. Oil and metal contaminants are broken down by soil microbes. This changes their chemical structure so they are no longer toxic.
  3. Contaminant-eating microbes need oxygen to work. Wetland plants bring oxygen into the soil.

Water leaving the bioswale is cleaner than when it came in.

 

What are other ways bioretention soils help reduce pollution?

  • They slow the flow. Water that falls to the earth during rain events has a chance to get absorbed by the earth and return to the groundwater table, as opposed to getting whisked away by sewers and drains.
  • They filter out pollutants. Ideally water that reaches surrounding lakes, streams and bodies of water does not have debris or pollutants.

What elements of rain gardens should I look for in a rain garden, streetscape, or bioswale?

A cross section reveals four different layers:

  • Dry – The top where floodwaters never reach. Drainage here is good because it’s at the top of a slope.
  • Mesic – This level, just below the dry zone, experiences occasional, brief winter flooding and summer drought.
  • Moist –  The zone approaching the bottom that experiences frequent winter flooding. The number of plants that can grow here without summer water is limited.
  • Wet – The bottom of the swale will be saturated for a large portion of the year; water plants can be grown here if supplemental water is given in the winter. Without summer irrigation, fewer plants can grow here.

A small rain garden can capture driveway runoff in elegant fashion.How do I build a rain garden or bioswale in on my property?

A rain garden is a planted depression where run-off from roofs, driveways and other surfaces is directed so that it can soak back into the soil naturally rather than run into storm drains. The soil and plants in these areas filter out some impurities before the water drains into sewers, groundwater, rivers and streams.

  • Choose a location: Choose a spot where water can be easily directed through the landscape or from downspouts. Make sure to leave at least 6 feet from your house, and allow for overflow away from foundations and other structures.
  • Prepare the site and soil: Amend the soil so the mix is roughly 50% native soil, 30% soil amendment or compost-based product, and 20% pumice.
  • Mulch: Two kinds of mulch are important in a rain garden. A mulch of pea gravel or river rocks at the point where water enters will help prevent erosion; this mulch should be thick enough that no soil shows through. The rest of the rain garden should have a high-quality soil amendment or compost-based product 1-3” deep added once a year as spring rains taper off. This will help suppress weeds and maintain moisture levels during dry periods.
  • Water during the first couple years: All plants (even drought-tolerant ones) will need supplemental watering the first 1-2 years until they are well established.
  • Avoid fertilizers and pesticides: These should both be avoided in your rain garden whenever possible; part of the goal is to help keep these synthetic chemicals out of local waterways. If necessary, use granular, low phosphorous, organic fertilizer, and the least toxic pesticide available. Plant selection is critical; consult with the nursery specialist for plants that will thrive in this environment.

How does compost fit in to bioretention?

Specially formulated soils rich in organic matter help provide both short-term and long-term positive impacts on soil structure. With compost, the soils resist compaction in finer soils and provide greater drought resistance and water holding capacity in coarse, sandy soils. Soil porosity is key in soil structure and the coarse organic texture of compost creates an environment for better root development. Compost increases Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) which is the ability for soils to retain micro nutrients for the plant to utilize and lowers nutrient leaching. Compost supplies many beneficial micro-organisms and nutrients to soils and growing media as well as bind and degrade specific pollutants – a strong characteristic in bioretention soil use.

The benefits of using compost for plants, the environment and completing the recycling loop in our communities are tremendous. As a plant organic and nutrient source compost works with soil biology naturally to increase soil organism activity. This relationship between planting soils and compost derived from green waste can support a wide variety of soil amendment needs for growing plants, stormwater management and soil erosion.

Where can I get bioretention media?

Harvest offers custom blends in almost all of its markets. Our soil specialists can help meet your needs. Minimum quantities apply.

5 Tips on Detoxing Your Landscape, as featured in Natural Nutmeg

It’s always fun to partner with local publications that support wellness of the mind, body and spirit. We believe the soil is a key ingredient for wellness. In the current issue of Natural Nutmeg magazine, Harvest presents 5 tips to Detox Your Landscape which include:

  1. Get on a path. No really, it’s not just a metaphor.
  2. Lay down a magical layer of mulch.
  3. Amend your soil with compost.
  4. Tidy up your space.
  5. Shelve the chemicals.

Focused on the Connecticut market, the entire March 2018 issue of Natural Nutmeg serves up lots of detox tips; our Landscape Detox article is on pp. 22-23.

How Do I Choose the Right Mulch for My Landscape?

a fine mulchWhy add mulch?

Mulch is a landscaper’s best friend because it:

  • reduces weeds;
  • improves moisture retention;
  • maintains soil temperatures; and
  • enhances the beauty of landscapes.

Mulch is basically a magic carpet for your landscape.


How do you choose the right mulch for your landscape?

Using quality mulch in your garden is one of the easiest ways to transform your landscape. Mulch comes in all shapes and sizes and flavors. When choosing a mulch there are a few factors to consider – species of wood, source, size, and color – to identify a mulch that will best fit your needs. Since the selection process can be tricky we summarized our most popular mulches with the following descriptions.

CEDAR MULCH

This mulch has a pleasant cedar smell that lasts a fair amount of time after spreading. Cedar is also great for repelling insects. Cedar mulch has a very slow decay process so it won’t break down quickly. Also, cedar mulch is the most resistant to artillery fungus.

  • AVAILABLE IN BULK:  Canadian Cedar is available at our Harvest New England locations in Connecticut.
  • AVAILABLE IN BAGS: Cedar Mulch Blend (2-cubic-foot bags) by Garden Pro® is available in stores in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast.

BARK MULCHES / COLORED BARK MULCHES

This is a recycled mulch usually made from hardwood logs and bark. These types of mulches break down quickly and add nutrients to the soil. Natural colorants make this mulch stand out.

PINE BARK MULCH

This mulch has a naturally rich dark color with a pleasant pine scent. Pine mulch is a slow decomposer and is often over looked. This mulch has great longevity and is relatively inexpensive!

  • AVAILABLE IN BULK: Pine Blend is one of our most popular mulches, available in New England (Connecticut). Pine Fines are an exceptional soil conditioner for acid-loving plants such as azaleas, hollies and magnolias – available in the Mid-Atlantic (Maryland, DC, Virginia).
  • AVAILABLE IN BAGS: We offer a variety of Pine- based mulches including Pine Bark Mulch in two-cubic-foot bags in New England, the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.


HEMLOCK MULCH

This mulch has strong reddish and orange tones which add rich color to landscapes. Hemlock mulch is very aromatic. Just like cedar and pine mulch, hemlock mulches decomposes slowly so it is long lasting. Hemlock has a natural reddish look.

  • AVAILABLE IN BULK: Hemlock Mulch is available in at our Harvest New England locations.
  • AVAILABLE IN BAGS: Hemlock Mulch Blend is available in two-cubic-foot bags in New England, the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.a course mulch

Where can I find mulch from Harvest?

Great question! In addition to the mulches listed above, we offer a variety of mulch (and soil) products throughout North America. Find a convenient location near you:

Other Common Mulch-Related Topics:


Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted as “Choosing a Mulch: Practical Beauty” in March 2014; it has been re-posted with permission by the author, Shelley Sales, with updated content, availability, links and video.