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Dig Deeper Newsletter, August 2011

DIY garden project: concrete stepping stones

Working with concrete in the garden is both simple and affordable! In their new book, Concrete Garden Projects: Easy & Inexpensive Containers, Furniture, Water Features & More, authors Nilsson and Arvidsson teach readers how to create beautiful objects for pennies on the dollar. The following is an excerpt from the book with directions for creating concrete stepping stones:

Casting stepping stones using cardboard tubes is easy, as there is no need to build a mould, and you can also make multiple casts at the same time if you wish. Cardboard tubes are available in different sizes from builders’ merchants and other suppliers. We used tubes that were 25 cm (10 in.) in diameter here. Pieces of a rubber doormat can also produce beautiful scroll patterns on your stones.

You will need: fine concrete, cardboard tubing, pieces of rubber doormat, a piece of board, a saw, a ruler, oil, a paintbrush, a trowel and a stone or a file.

1. Begin by sawing the tube into rings that are 5 cm (2 in.) high, then trim your piece of rubber doormat to fit inside the cardboard ring. 2. Place the rings on your piece of board. Oil the rings and the board.
3. Mix the concrete and fill the moulds, skimming off the excess when done. Shake the mould gently to distribute the concrete evenly and to get rid of any air bubbles. Oil your trimmed piece of rubber doormat. 4. Press the rubber mat evenly into the concrete. If you are casting more than one stone, keep some of your others plain to vary your pattern. Leave to set.
5. After 48 hours and if the concrete has set, carefully remove the piece of rubber doormat. 6. Gently ease the cardboard rings off the stones. These rings can be reused if you would like to make more stepping stones at another time. Smooth away any sharp edges with a stone or a file.

Concrete Garden Projects will be available August 23rd. Pre-order it at your favorite bookseller or sign up to be notified when it is available.

Frustrated with dry shade?

Dry shade areas don't have to be devoid of interest

Gardening in dry shade can be incredibly frustrating. But rather than resort to installing a cement block, turn to upcoming Timber book Planting the Dry Shade Garden by Graham Rice. Rice has taken his time researching and testing plant after plant, building a list of solutions, and passing them along to you.

If you have a dry shade area that needs a bit of green, remember these tips:

  • Choose the right plants: Starting out with a plant that does poorly in dry shade will lead to a dead plant and a frustrated gardener.
  • Utilize water saving practices: Don’t forget that mulch is a gardener’s best friend, and soil amendments can make a world of difference.
  • Try selective pruning: Sometimes the removal of a branch or two is enough to create a hospitable environment.
  • Increase your estimates of water needed: Chances are that your dry shade is the result of a tree (or several). Remember that when you water, your plants will be competing with the trees for uptake. You’ll need more water than with a standard border.

For more information on dry shade and other gardening tidbits, check out Graham Rice’s blog, The Transatlantic Gardener.

Planting the Dry Shade Garden is available now on the Timber Press website or from your favorite bookseller.

Eco-friendly gardens use less water

Low-water plants are key to a sustainable garden

If you are in a region where watering is restricted, or if you simply want to reduce your consumption, Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens by Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden is a terrific resource. Within its pages are more than 200 waterwise plants with regional planting instructions.

In addition to selecting the best plants for your area, there are a few cultural recommendations that will help reduce the flow:

  • Reduce or eliminate your lawn: Lawns are the most resource-intensive landscaping feature for many homeowners. Reducing the size, or eliminating it and replacing with drought-tolerant plants, will significantly impact your water use.
  • Amend and mulch: Use amendments to increase your soil’s ability to hold on to water. Don’t forget to mulch! Use between 2–4 inches of mulch to retain moisture and suppress weeds.
  • Reduce competition: Sound cultural practices like weeding and thinning out reduce competition for existing resources.
  • Choose drought-tolerant plants: The foundation of an effective low-water garden is the selection of the right kinds of plants. Drought-tolerant plants like Echinacea, Sedum, Acanthus, Euphorbia, and Salvia use far fewer resources.

Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens will be available September 6th. Pre-order it at your favorite bookseller or sign up to be notified when it is available.

Gardeners at risk for Lyme disease

Beautiful gardens don't have to be appealing to deer

Gardeners and ticks share an affinity for trees, shrubs, lawns, and mulch. And those that live in an area with deer ticks (the Northeast, Midwest, and Northwest) are at risk for contracting Lyme disease. Around 70% of people with Lyme disease are infected in their own yards, making home prevention a priority.

As the most infamous hosts of ticks carrying Lyme disease, deer are more than an inconvenience. Ruth Rogers Clausen, renowned author and long-time resident of the New England area, has both professional and personal experience with methods for creating gardens that are not attractive to deer.

In her book 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants, Clausen offers up suggestion after suggestion of plant and design ideas that are both beautiful and effective. Further, she educates readers about deer feeding patterns and commonly used controls, including:

  • Physical barriers such as fences, fishing line, netting, and tree wraps
  • Creating terrain changes, visual impediments, and avoiding lots of sappy new growth
  • Deer resistant plantings of annuals, perennials, shrubs, ferns, bulbs, herbs, and grasses

50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants is available now on the Timber Press website or from your favorite bookseller.