Never underestimate the power of mulch. This simple ground cover provides a host of benefits, including suppressing weeds, helping soil retain water and keeping soil (and plant roots) cool in the heat of summer. Organic mulches like shredded bark, compost or fine forest mulch also slowly decompose and help to build healthy soil. How much mulch is enough? Aim for a 2- to 4-inch-thick layer. Refresh mulch as it breaks down so you maintain that consistent covering on soil.
Make It: Pick up firewood from a local vendor, then cut the logs into round or ovular placards. Once cut to size, use acrylic or latex paint and a detail brush to add names or holiday messages. For a more 3-D look, consider using wood or metal letters attached with wood glue. In keeping with the rustic motif, choose rope, twine or burlap ribbon to attach the bark to the chair, keeping it held in place with fabric weights stitched along the front edges.
This type of mulch distribution is known among landscapers as “volcano mulching.” This is the wrong way to mulch a tree. Piling mulch against the trunk can provide the right environment for fungi to start attacking the trunk. It also gives critters like voles and mice a place to nest and rest while they chew away the tree’s bark. Spread mulch in a 2- to 3-inch layer beneath the dripline of the tree (where the leaves are). Keep mulch pulled back from the trunk to permit airflow to the trunk.
If string trimming along lawn edges is your least favorite chore, consider installing an edging you can drive over with the lawn mower. Coco fiber edging is made of fibers from coconut hulls. This fiber is also known as coir. In this lawn edging, coir is blended with natural latex rubber to form a durable, long-lasting edging that’s water and air permeable. It looks good enough to stand alone, but you can also cover it with traditional bark mulch, if you prefer that look. Anchor it in place using landscape staples.
A tree can self-heal bark damage by forming what’s known as a callus. On this tree, you can see the callus on the left trunk. It forms a thick, woody-looking edge around what’s visible of the exposed trunk wood. The right trunk callus has nearly closed over the original wound. When you see callus forming, your tree is on its way to healing. Make sure it has adequate fertilizer and water during the growing season so it can direct energy toward callus formation.
If there’s one secret to having a beautiful, healthy garden, it’s healthy soil. Devote time and energy to improving your soil on a regular basis. Add organic matter, such as compost, bark fines or composted manure. Organic matter improves soil fertility, drainage and water retention and also helps fight pests and diseases that live in soil. How often should you improve soil? Some gardeners do it every time they tuck a plant into soil or after each crop finishes in a vegetable garden. Improving soil once a year is a good way to build quality soil slowly.
Chokecherrry is a beloved native tree known for its black cherries that beckon birds—and make good jelly, too. Goldspur amur chokecherry (Prunus maackii ‘Jefspur’) is a dwarf form of the classic native, bringing the multi-season beauty of this tree to a size that fits any yard. White flowers appear in spring, followed by black cherry fruits in summer. Leaves shift to yellow tones in autumn, but the best show occurs in winter, when the gold peeling bark is visible. Size: 10 to 15 feet tall by 6 to 9 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 2-9.
Also called landscape fabric or weed cloth, this type of mulch is usually woven polypropylene fabric. It suppresses weeds while allowing water and air to pass. It’s often used under inorganic mulches, such as stone or landscape glass, but also under shredded hardwood bark to help extend its lifespan. Landscape fabric comes in different grades; the label should state how long it will last. This is a commercial grade fabric that’s woven and needle punched with a 20-year warranty. The colored lines are 12 inches apart, which helps with spacing plants, especially in vegetable gardens.
For the longest time, seven-son flower (Heptacodium miconioides) has been a plant grown by garden geeks, but it’s now entering the common marketplace. It’s about time. This stunning small tree offers strong four-season interest. Leaves are beautiful as they emerge in spring and develop a twisting appearance in summer. White flowers appear in late summer, beckoning hummingbirds. Blossoms fade to reveal deep rose bracts that linger on the plant well into autumn. Winter showcases peeling, tan bark on the multiple trunks. This is a great choice for a specimen front yard tree or an addition to a planting bed. Size: 6-10 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 5-9.
Crape myrtle is a Southern classic, beloved for its endless show. Summer flowers, fall color and beautiful winter bark earn this beauty a place in every Southern yard. Flower colors vary, including ruby red, pastel lavender and snowy white. New varieties also offer wine-red foliage. Look for semi-dwarf varieties to find ones that qualify as small tree size. Examples include ‘Acoma’ (white, to 10 feet), ‘Delta Jazz’ (ruby red, to 10 feet), ‘Rhapsody in Pink’ (pink, to 12 feet), ‘Zuni’ (lavender, 6 to 10 feet) and Early Bird Lavender (6 feet). Semi-dwarf size: 6 to 12 feet tall by 3 to 10 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 7-10.
Garden forks may or may not be a must-have tool for you, depending on what your grow and how you garden. The digging fork is shorter and has thicker, straight tines. It’s used for digging things like potatoes, garlic, yams, canna rhizomes or dahlia tubers. It allows you to loosen and lift soil while (hopefully) not stabbing the item you’re digging. A curved manure or pitchfork is the handiest tool for moving a bulk delivery of shredded bark mulch. No other tool grabs and lifts mulch quite as easily as a pitchfork. On either of these forks, more tines equates to a heavier tool weight and lifting a heavier load.
A native maple, Pennsylvania striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) thrives in hardwood forests as an understory plant, a plant that grows best in the shade of tall trees. In your own yard, tuck striped maple into a spot with light to full shade. As the name hints, the bark on this maple features white stripes. Leaves have a trio of strongly pointed lobes, which give rise to another common name: goosefoot maple. This plant is also known as moosewood, because it’s a favorite food of moose (and deer). Fall color is vibrant yellow. Striped maple is the perfect addition to native planting designs or a wildlife garden. It thrives in moist, well-drained soil on the acidic side. Trees grow 15 to 25 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 3-7.