Monthly Archives: July 2015

Another Fresh Garden Idea – Gardening for the Smell of It

Fragrant Flowers in Your BackyardAre you always looking for ways to make your garden interesting? Are you a little bored just coordinating colors and textures to make it visually appealing? Time to take your garden to a new level. Add aroma-filled “perfume” plants into the mix and you’ll soon find your family spending a lot more time outdoors.

Pick-A-Scent for a Pick-Me-Up

Gardens are not only soothing to the eye, they can be a delight to your sense of smell as well. Start by designing your landscape with aroma in mind. Notice the places that could use a little “scent” pick-me-up.

Here are some of the ways you can enjoy the fragrance of “perfume” plants around your house:

  • Position them around gathering places like patios or pool areas
  • Cover a pergola or walled courtyard with plants like Wisteria, Honeysuckle or Jasmine
  • Line a driveway or walkway with plants like Lavender, Pelargonium and Alyssum
  • Plant beside gates or entryways to the yard or house
  • Add hanging baskets to porches
  • Add window boxes with colorful, scented flowers
  • Plant trees like Plumeria or Magnolia so that the fragrance will reach a second story window
  • Plant scented herbs like Thyme and Mint between pavers to give you a burst of aroma when you step on them.

Spread the Fragrance Around

Planning is the key to successfully distributing “perfume” plants throughout your garden. Avoid creating a flower bed in one area for all your new scented plants because they will overpower each other. You will wind up with something akin to the perfume counter at Macy’s with all of the plants competing for your attention. Determine the fragrance level (strong to subtle) and the times the plants are the most aromatic (day or night) before planting them.

A Scented Garden – Spring to Fall

Your goal is to have a scented garden from spring to fall and during both daylight and evening hours. Once you’ve selected where you want the plants, determine which “perfume” plants you want. Even though a particular plant is most fragrant at night it may need plenty of sun during the day to prosper, so placement is important. Consider using a mix of flowering plants, shrubs, herbs and trees to enhance the perfume of your garden.

“Perfume” Plants to Consider:

  • Basil
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Dianthus
  • Gardenia
  • Garden Phlox
  • Honeysuckle
  • Hydrangea
  • Jasmine
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Lilac
  • Lily-of-the-Valley
  • Mint
  • Mock Orange
  • Moonflower – (night time scents)
  • Nicotiana – (night time scents)
  • Oriental Lily (Start Gazer Lily)
  • Peony
  • Plumeria – (small tree)
  • Rosemary
  • Roses
  • Scented Geraniums
  • Southern Magnolia – (tree)
  • Spirea
  • Thyme
  • Viburnum
  • Wisteria

Be Adventurous

Select some of the new hybrid “perfume” plants that are available at your local nursery. Maybe what your garden needs is a little “Pink Zazzle” Gomphrena (Globe Amaranth), “Vermillionaire” Cuphea or “Bounce” Impatiens, which bring some heavenly fragrance to your abode. These hybrids are typically easy to grow and hardy until the first frost.

Stagger Your Scent Makers

When it’s time to plant your scent makers, break up the soil and add organic matter or compost to help enrich it. Remember to stagger them throughout the area to create the most enjoyment. Add a generous covering of mulch to help the new plants retain moisture and get them off to a good start.

Stop and Smell the Roses

Scientists say that the sense of smell is one of our most powerful senses. Humans associate memories and emotions with particular fragrances. Just a whiff of a particular aroma can send your mouth watering or your heart soaring. So next time you take a moonlight stroll in the garden, take a deep breath and remember what you’re feeling at that moment. There’s a safe bet that when you encounter that fragrance again, you’ll think back to that nighttime walk. Maybe that’s why they tell you to stop and smell the roses.

Expert Advice

Our expert staff is always on hand to help you with your garden projects. From small tillers and wheel barrows to shovels and mulch, if you have any questions about what to choose, pricing or how-to’s, don’t hesitate to contact us. Stop by our store — we’re open seven days a week.

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Fresh Garden Idea – Planting New Varieties of Tomatoes & Peppers

Grow New Tomato and Pepper VarietiesYour garden is ready for gardening. Now, what do you do? Grow veggies for the table, of course. Raising your own vegetables is an economic way to bring your family around to a healthier way of eating. Imagine the pride you will feel when your first crop of tomatoes and peppers come in. We’re here to help you get started.

So Many to Choose From – Where Do I Start?

When you first look at the over 700 different varieties of tomatoes available you may feel like throwing in the towel. Don’t panic – make your selection based on your growing zone and for the type you want to eat. Here are a few things to keep in mind when looking for the right variety to plant:

  1. Disease Resistance – Tomatoes are prone to numerous issues, so read the labels on the plants or seeds before buying.
  2. Growth Habit – This means how much space the plant will need to grow. There are two types of plants: Bush (determinant) and Vine (indeterminate).
  3. Time to Mature – If you have a short growing season, then you need a variety that will ripen quickly. Look for the number of days the variety takes to mature.
  4. Fruit Characteristics – Choose a variety that will best suit your needs – do you want slicing tomatoes? Do you plan to can or preserve them?

Bush Tomatoes – Great for Container Gardens

Determinate or bush tomatoes grow two to three feet in height. When they set fruit, they allow it to flourish before sending out more growth. They have a short growth cycle. These varieties work great for container gardens, but if you do plant them in a raised bed or regular garden make sure to mulch with plastic or straw mulch to keep the plants off the ground.

Vine Tomatoes – There’s No Stopping Them

Vine tomatoes are indeterminate varieties. They need lots of room to grow and spread out. Be prepared to support them with cages or ladders because these plants will continue to grow until the first frost. Some of the better known varieties, like Cherry and Beefsteak tomatoes, fall in this category.

Here are some of the varieties of tomatoes that grow well in our zone:

  • Brandywine (I)
  • German Queen (I)
  • Cherokee Purple (I)
  • Roma (I)
  • Marzano (I)
  • Silvery Fir Tree (D)
  • Siberian (D)
  • Rocket (D)

Watch Out for Diseases

Tomatoes suffer from a myriad of diseases. When buying a plant, taake note of whether the plant is resistant to some of the most common ones. This will be noted with a letter on the label. Here are some of the most common diseases for tomatoes:

  • Verticillium Wilt (V on label)
  • Fusarium Wilt (F)
  • Nematodes (N)
  • Tobacco Mosaic Virus (T)
  • Alternaria (A)
  • Gray Leaf Spot (ST)

Peppers – They Have Needs Too

Though peppers are often planted with tomatoes in a garden they have very different needs. Tomatoes can be planted after the last frost, but peppers prefer completely warmed soil, so it is best to wait a while before setting them out. Use black plastic mulch around peppers to help keep the soil warm overnight and to prevent heavy rains from damaging tender seedlings. Peppers have shallow root systems and mulch helps protect them.

Pick A Lotta Peppers

Like tomatoes, peppers come in all shapes, sizes and colors. They can be sharp flavored like green bell peppers or sweet like Pimentos. You can also find spicy peppers in different heat intensities, but be careful to check their maturity time. Hot peppers need a fairly long time to mature to develop that kick we love so much.

Some of the pepper varieties that are popular in our zone are:

  • Melrose (sweet)
  • Gypsy (sweet)
  • Jimmy Nordello (sweet)
  • Super Chili (hot)
  • Banana peppers (hot)

A Little Farmer in All of Us

Vegetable gardening is a very rewarding endeavor. Not only will you have a plethora of fresh produce for your dinner table, but you can put up an abundant supply in your freezer for those long winter months. Tomatoes and peppers are just the beginning. Soon you will be ready to tackle asparagus and corn in your garden. After all, there’s a little farmer in all of us.

Expert Advice

Our expert staff is always on hand to help you with your garden projects. From small tillers and wheel barrows to shovels and mulch, if you have any questions about what to choose, pricing or how-to’s, don’t hesitate to contact us. Stop by our store — we’re open seven days a week.

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Summer Garden Update #2 – Garden Boxes Add Pizzazz to Planting

Add Pizzazz to Your Garden with A DIY PlanterIf you want to change it up a little in your garden this season, why not try adding some garden boxes? These easy-to-build containers are perfect for adding a splash of color to a boring corner of the yard or growing some delicious vegetables for your table. They can make your gardening chores easier, too. Who doesn’t love that idea?

Big on Benefits

The benefits of garden boxes are vast. They are ideal for small spaces and great if your soil is rocky or of poor quality. They also take less effort to maintain because plants placed close together tend to shade and cool the ground around them. This means less watering, less weeding and less mulching. Vegetable gardens planted in raised beds tend to produce higher yields due to better drainage and deep rooting.

Boxes vs. Planters

There is a difference between garden boxes (beds) and garden planters. Generally garden boxes are raised boxes that are open on the bottom to allow plants contact with the soil in your yard. Garden planters are also raised boxes but they are closed on the bottom with either slats or landscaping fabric to keep the dirt inside contained. Whichever you choose to go with, there will be some basic construction involved. Here is what you will need for a rectangular garden box:

  • (4) 2×6 cut to 8 feet
  • (4) 2×6 cut to 4 feet
  • (1) bundle of 18-24” wooden stakes
  • Galvanized nails or screws
  • A level, a small sledge hammer and a drill

Make Your Bed – Then Plant in it

What kind of material do you use to build your garden bed? Generally they are made from lumber. However, look around your yard for materials you may be able to repurpose, such as:

  • Untreated lumber like pine or cedar
  • Concrete blocks – the pH level in your soil may be affected by concrete, but you can correct with fertilizer
  • Bricks
  • Recycled wooden pallets

Avoid pressure treated lumber, which can contain chemicals that leach into the soil. Pass on repurposing railroad ties, too – these are treated with creosote, which is toxic.

A Bed with Easy Access

Select a level section of your yard to place the bed. Make sure the area has adequate sunlight, access to a water source and is free of tree roots. The width of your box should be no wider than four feet to allow for easy access to the bed without having to step into it. The length is not as important. Most beds are usually 4×8 feet or 4×12 feet in size. The depth of the box needs to be no less than six inches, with 12 inches being ideal.

Keep it Level

Construct the frame of your bed by attaching the sides and ends together with galvanized nails or screws. Once you have the frame constructed, drive stakes in the ground inside the corners at one end of your box. Leave about four to six inches of the stakes above ground. Attach the frame to the stakes. Don’t worry about whether the frame is sitting completely on the ground or not. The important thing to remember is to keep the box level when attaching it to the stakes.

Almost Finished

Once you have leveled one end of the box, go to the opposite end and repeat the process. When your box is level, drive a couple of stakes into the ground along the inside of each side. Attach your frame to the stakes. Finish up by adding the sides for the second layer and securing them to the stakes.

Prepare the Soil

Now that your garden box is complete, prepare the bed. You need to break up the ground inside the box. One tip is to remove the top layer of soil (about the depth of your shovel blade) and till up the soil beneath. Add back the soil you have removed and mix it in. Add compost and additional top soil to build up the bed.

Making Your Gardening Easy

When your soil is ready, it is time to add your plants. Whether you are planting flowers or vegetables, an overall planting design will help. Place your tallest plants in the center with trellises and work your way outward. Garden boxes make gardening easy. So think inside the box for a change. You’ll be glad you did.

Expert Advice

Our expert staff is always on hand to help you with your yard and garden projects. From circular saws and small tillers to wheel barrows and shovels, if you have any questions about what to choose, pricing or how-to’s, don’t hesitate to contact us. Stop by our store — we’re open seven days a week. Check out our first garden update here.

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Summer Garden Update #1 – Build a Retaining Wall

How to Build a Retaining WallIf you want to correct a sloping lawn or add some interest to your landscape, then a retaining wall may be just the ticket. By using concrete blocks with interlocking flanges, this DIY project is something you can tackle in a weekend and enjoy for years to come.

Designing Your Wall for Your Lifestyle

Determine where you want the wall to go and mark the area with stakes and twine. For a free form, less structured shape, use landscaping paint to define the outline of the wall. Here’s a chance to show your creative side – after checking your local building codes of course. Any wall higher than four feet may require a structural engineer to help with it. Also, be sure to check with homeowner’s associations or other neighborhood governing organizations for restrictions before starting construction.

What You Will Need

In addition to concrete blocks, you will need a list of materials. Many are heavy, so you may want to arrange a delivery. No use wearing yourself out before you lay the first brick!

  • Paver base material – usually a mixture of gravel and crushed limestone
  • Sand
  • Gravel
  • Level – preferably 2 feet or longer
  • Rubber mallet
  • Construction adhesive
  • Perforated drain pipe
  • Hand or gas powered tamper
  • Landscape rake
  • Shovel

A Good Foundation Makes all the Difference

A firm foundation sets up how secure the wall will be as you build it up. Checking to see that the blocks are level and that you have adequate drainage during the building process is vital. These two steps will help stabilize the wall and keep it from cracking or bowing outward.

Time to Get Dirty

Now that you have all of your materials, let’s roll up those sleeves and get to work.

  • ExcavateDig a trench twice the width of the blocks and deep enough to bury the first level of blocks halfway.
  • Ensure a level base – Add paver base to the trench and spread it evenly.
  • Compact the base – With a tamper compact the base material.
  • Level the base – Use a board to help level the base material. Check with the torpedo level.
  • Lay the base blocks – Remove the interlocking flange from the blocks on the bottom row. Check to see if blocks are level and use mallet to help adjust blocks.
  • Fill in around base – Add soil around the front of the blocks and tamp down to provide support.
  • Provide proper drainage – Place a perforated drain pipe at the bottom of the wall, cover with landscaping fabric, and fill around with gravel.
  • Continue stacking blocks – Stagger the joints on each row by starting alternate rows with a half block.
  • Backfill as you go – Fill behind each level of blocks with gravel and tamp down.
  • Add capstones if desired – Even though it is not structurally necessary, it will give the wall a finished look. Use construction adhesive when placing capstones.

Talk About Curb Appeal

Now that your wall is completed you can add creative touches that will help reflect your personal style. Add a splash of color by staining the blocks or add plants to the top of the wall that will soon cascade over the edge. The sky is the limit. Building a retaining wall is hard work but it provides rewards for many years down the road. You’ve just added a lot of sweat equity to your landscape and upped your home’s curb appeal, all in one weekend. Now where’s that lawn chair?!

Expert Advice

Our expert staff is always on hand to help you with your yard and garden projects. From masonry saws and tampers to trenchers and shovels, if you have any questions about what to choose, pricing or how-to’s, don’t hesitate to contact us. Stop by our store — we’re open seven days a week.

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No Excuses! Start Composting

You read and research a lot of material on how to start composting and still you are hesitant. “It’s too hard; it costs too much; is it worth it?” are a few of the same excuses you told yourself at the start of your last DIY project. You successfully tackled those challenges and with our help you will master the art of composting as well. Time to get started!

The Importance of a DIY Compost BinWhy Should We Compost?

  • Our landfills are running out of room. Twenty-five percent of the garbage in the U.S. is yard trimmings and food scraps. That is nearly 60 million tons of organic materials that we could be turning back into nutrients for our soil.
  • It saves money. Instead of spending funds on manmade compost and fertilizers, making your own is just common sense…and cost-effective, too.
  • It helps you create a healthier, thriving garden by suppressing diseases and pests.
  • It reduces greenhouse gases. Landfills break down anaerobically (without oxygen) which produces methane gas. These emissions are far more toxic than CO2 gases.
  • It reduces the chemicals entering our rivers and lakes as water runs off from the land.
  • It eliminates the toxic elements that are created in landfills that seep into our ground water.

Composting is Easy

If you can expend the energy to gather yard waste in the first place, then you are halfway to composting. Simply deposit the waste into a compost bin or pile and there you have it. There are plenty of DIY compost bin designs on the internet for you to build. If you’d rather keep it simple – start with a compost pile. Find a semi-shady spot in your yard where the pile will get some sun but won’t dry out. The pile needs to be able to get enough rain to keep it damp but not completely wet. Keep your pile away from the base of trees so that the tree roots will not be affected by the decomposition process of the pile.

For more information on composting check out our previous blogs, Go Green: Create a Compost Collection Pile and 10 Good-Sense Tips for Building a Compost Bin.

Invite the Bacteria and Bugs In

Compost is good for your yard and the environment. Bacteria, bugs, worms and fungi will soon be enjoying the fruits of your labor and helping to break down the waste into usable humus or nutrients for your lawn or garden. Using compost in your garden helps plants to grow stronger and produce higher yields. It will also help suppress diseases and pests.

No Odor? No Problems

Still concerned that an open compost pile will give off noxious smells and attract pests? Only compost done wrong stinks. Too much water or not enough air flow through a pile can often be the culprits. Turning your pile regularly with a pitch fork helps break up the clumps of material that may be too wet.

Bury the Food Scraps

Noticing flies buzzing around your pile? They are after the food waste. Always bury your food scraps under a layer of grass clippings or other vegetation. This will also help keep rats and other rodents from being a problem. You can sprinkle lime or calcium over the pile to neutralize odors and help speed up the decomposition.

Start Your Compost Pile Off Right

Layering the materials in your compost pile is the best way to start it out on the right foot. Start with a layer of organic material (leaves and grass clippings) followed by animal manures, fertilizers and starters. Finish up with a layer of top soil. Keep layering until you get a good base for your compost pile. You do not need to layer materials after this. Just sit back and let the magic happen.

Composting – Good All the Way Around

Think of composting as organized garbage removal. Besides being good for the environment and your wallet, it is completely beneficial to the health of your yard and garden. So quit making excuses and get busy composting. You’ll be happy you did.

Expert Advice

Our expert staff is always on hand to help you with your composting projects. From wheel barrows and shovels to rakes and other landscaping tools, if you have any questions about what to choose, pricing or how-to’s, don’t hesitate to contact us. Stop by our store — we’re open seven days a week.

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How-To: A DIY Rain Barrel Catches Water & Saves Money

The Benefits of a DIY Rain BarrelWe’ve been having crazy weather lately. Some areas have been getting record rainfall while others haven’t seen a drop in days. One sure way to take advantage of all the rainfall and help you out during the dry days of summer is to install a rain barrel. Check out our blog, Build a Rain Barrel for Your Garden in 5 Easy Steps, for more detailed instructions but here are the highlights:

  • Get a 55 or 80 gallon plastic container
  • Place a couple of concrete blocks beneath the barrel and make sure it is level
  • Drill three holes in the container – one a quarter of the way up from the bottom for the main spigot, one at the very bottom as a drain, and one a quarter of the way from the top for an overflow valve.
  • Install spigots on all three with watertight sealant.
  • Drill a large opening in the lid to direct the downspout into barrel
  • Detach a section of the downspout from house and replace it with flexible downspout tubing. Secure with screws.

Think of the Money You’ll Save

Lawn and garden watering makes up close to 40% of total household water use during the hot summer months. By installing a rain barrel you can save up to 1,300 gallons of water. Rainwater is water that is free of chlorine, lime and calcium and is ideal for watering potted plants and gardens, washing cars, and even washing Fido. Think of the money you can save if you didn’t have to turn on the tap outside.

Keeping Rainwater Where It Needs to Go – In the Garden

Rainwater runoff is a big problem in urban and suburban areas, polluting our waterways with fertilizers, pesticides and other contaminants. Rain barrels play a part in cutting down on the runoff problem. By installing a rain barrel you can redirect water away from your foundation and at the same time cut down on your water bill. Rainwater helps to stabilize the PH levels in the soil, therefore cutting down on the need for fertilizers.

Things To Keep In Mind When Installing A Rain Barrel

  • Make sure wherever you decide to place the rain barrel that the ground is level to avoid it tipping over once it is full.
  • If you treat your roof for pests, unhook the rain barrel for a couple weeks to avoid contaminating your barrel.
  • Use round barrels rather than square containers because corners can crack from water pressure.
  • Make sure your garden hose fits the spigots. Garden hoses do not follow standard plumbing pipe thread sizes so you may need an adapter.
  • If you live in a cold climate, you will need to disconnect the rain barrel, drain it and store it over the winter. Don’t forget to re-attach the old downspout.
  • You may be eligible for a rebate on your rain barrel from your local water company so check their website for information.

Rain Barrels – Smart Investment, Big Payoff

Constructing a rain barrel is an easy do-it-yourself project as long as you follow a few guidelines. You may find that you use your rain barrel so often that you want to add several more. Think of all the outdoor projects you can accomplish without ever having to turn on your outdoor faucet! A rain barrel is a smart investment that pays off in big ways.

Expert Advice

Our expert staff is always on hand to help you with your yard and garden projects. From ladders and wheel barrows to shovels, if you have any questions about what to choose, pricing or how-to’s, don’t hesitate to contact us. Stop by our store — we’re open seven days a week.

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Keeping Critters at Bay Part 3: No Poison Pest Control

No Poison Pest ControlDiscovering that hordes of insects have made your garden their next buffet lunch can cause anyone to reach for the most toxic chemical repellant out there, just to get rid of ’em – fast. Before you decide to race off to your local garden center though, take a minute and look into using a non-chemical approach for controlling critters. Keeping poison out of your yard will help keep pests away from you and the ones you love.

Go Au Naturale

Non-chemical pest control methods have advantages over standard chemical pest control. They are generally effective for longer periods of time versus chemicals. Not to mention, they cost less. Pests do not build up immunity to non-chemical treatments the way they do manmade chemicals. Natural pest control has fewer restrictions since they are safe for humans and the environment. There are two basic categories of non-chemical pest control – biological and manual treatments.

Biological Pest Controls

  • Beneficial Predators
  • Purple Martins and other birds that eat insects
  • Bats
  • Lady Bugs
  • Spiders
  • Centipedes
  • Dragonflies
  • Parasitoids – These are miniature wasps that lay their eggs inside the pest. When the young are born they kill the host insect.
  • Microscopic Pathogens – These are fungi, bacteria and viruses like milky spore disease, which attacks Japanese Beetles. Many of these can be found commercially.
  • Biochemical pesticides – These include pheromones that lure insects into traps and juvenile hormones, which interfere with the insect’s normal growth and reproductive functions.

Manual Methods of Pest Control

  • Spading and hoeing to cut up weeds and eliminate insect breeding sites
  • Hand picking weeds
  • Setting traps for rats, mice and other critters so they can be re-released elsewhere
  • Mulching to reduce weed growth

Good Bugs vs. Bad Bugs

Not every bug has to die. There are actually some insects out there that are beneficial for your garden. If you use chemical pesticides you run the risk of killing off the good bugs as well as the bad. Here are a few friendly critters that you may want to welcome into your garden.

  • Brachonids, Chalcids and Ichneumon – Leaf eating caterpillars
  • Lady Bugs – Aphids, mites, white flies and scale
  • Lacewings – Aphids
  • Hover flies – Aphids
  • Praying Mantas – Most insects
  • Nematodes – Cutworms and Beetles

A Sprinkle a Day Keeps Bugs Away

If you are just overrun with pests and need something to stem the tide, there are plenty of non-toxic remedies you can buy or make yourself. One of the best is called Diatomaceous earth (food grade). It is a chalky power made from the fossilized remains of Diatoms, which is a type of hard shelled algae. This multi-purposed talc prevents everything from earwigs, slugs and other soft bodied pests to fleas, ants and cockroaches. Just sprinkle it around the edge of your garden or lawn (anywhere the insects will crawl through it) and the pests will pick up the dust and die. Warning: You can even use it to treat Fido for fleas!

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that homeowners actually use about three times the amount of chemical pesticides in their yards and gardens than farmers. That’s a scary statistic when you consider that the water runoff from homes in your neighborhood may wind up in your drinking water. What is the best way to rid your garden or lawn of pests? The best defense is a good offense. Start with a healthy garden or lawn.

  • Pull out weak plants – They may be infected or can attract pests.
  • Build up healthy organic soil – Top dressing your soil with compost or natural fertilizer will help develop strong plants.
  • Use seaweed mulch or spray – Seaweed contains trace elements of iron, zinc and sulfur, which will enhance growth. It also repels some insects.
  • Get rid of debris – Minimize insect habitat.
  • Interplant and rotate crops – Insects usually like certain plants. Planting in different areas of your yard each season will keep pests from coming back and spreading.
  • Keep foliage dry – Water early so foliage can dry. Wet plants encourage fungi growth and insect damage.
  • Disinfect – If you’ve been working with infected plants, clean tools before moving to another area of garden.

Learn more about different types of pesticides (organic pesticides do exist), in our blog post

Protecting Plants from Pests.

Expert Advice

Our expert staff is always on hand to help you with your yard and garden projects. From landscaping tools to mulch, if you have any questions about what to choose, pricing or how-to’s, don’t hesitate to contact us. Stop by our store — we’re open seven days a week.

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