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Should I Add Mulch To My Garden?

For gardeners far and wide, mulch is the finishing touch that serves both practical and aesthetic purposes. The term refers to any material that is laid over the surface of soil to act as a covering. Its comprehensive benefits are many, and it can be added to your own garden with relative simplicity. If you’re curious about applying mulch and how you can get started, keep on reading below.

What Are The Benefits Of Mulch?

Lower Your Water Bill

Adding an additional protective layer over your soil increases water retention. The University of California Cooperative Extension has noted that mulched soil can retain up to 35% more water than unmulched soil. This lowers the risk of the summer sun drying out your garden too quickly and reduces the frequency of watering you have to do, saving you money on your water bill.

Prevent Overheating

This is particularly relevant for those of you who have recently planted seedlings in your garden that are sensitive to the sun. Depending on where you live, the summer sun puts your garden at risk of overheating, which can damage or even kill plants. Mulch acts as a physical barrier between the soil and the sun’s rays, which helps to keep soil cool even on the hottest summer days.

Suppress Weeds

Weeds are notorious for overpopulating gardens and competing with your plants for nutrients. So how exactly can mulch suppress weeds, you ask? Because mulch blocks sunlight from reaching the soil, fewer weeds can spring up. For the few weeds that do pop up, you’ll have an easier time removing them, saving you time and effort.

Improve Soil Health

Adding a layer of organic mulch, like shredded leaves or grass, to your garden means more nutrients for your soil. When the mulch decomposes, it acts as a natural fertilizer. Organic matter will be added, making your garden healthier and more resistant to pests and disease. This, in the long run, can save you money on fertilizers and pest control.

Polish Your Garden

Mulch can create a neat and tidy in your garden, particularly when the color of the mulch contrasts against your garden. Think, for example, brown wood chips between a vibrant flower bed and a green lawn.

I’m interested in adding mulch to my garden. How can I get started?

Organic Mulch

The first thing you want to do is decide whether you want organic mulch or inorganic mulch. We’ve highlighted the benefits of organic mulch, but we must gently remind you that the ongoing decomposition of organic mulch means that it must be replaced often.

Inorganic Mulch

On the other hand, inorganic mulch, such as stone or gravel, provides nearly all the same benefits as organic mulch, minus the nutrient-rich benefits of using leaves or grass.

The promising benefit, however, is that inorganic mulch requires little to no maintenance or replacement. Stone mulch, in particular, does not decompose and will last for decades. If you live in an area with frequent rain, it has the added benefit of not dirtying the sidewalk, the pool, or other parts of your property after it rains. Furthermore, stone mulch comes in a variety of sizes, shapes, and color blends to match your home and landscape design.

Yet, while applying organic mulch can often be done without outside help, stone mulch will require the labor assistance of an experienced landscaping team, such as Giovine’s Landscaping, for a clean and flawless finish.

How Can I Start Winter Sowing?

For garden-lovers, winter in the Northeast can be a less exciting time than the spring and summer. However, there is indeed a way for you to do something for your garden in the winter. This method is low-cost, effective, and will produce hardier seedlings than those grown indoors.Don’t believe us? Just keep reading to discover the possibilities of winter sowing.

What Is Winter Sowing?

Different seeds emerge out of dormancy through different methods. Some seeds merely require some soaking or scratching. However, other seeds require cold stratification, or exposure to the cold, to break out of their dormant stage. As explained by Pennsylvania State University, cold temperatures allow oxygen to permeate into the seed and encourage it to digest some of its food reserves, giving the seed sufficient energy to germinate. In short, winter sowing is a method of cold stratification that takes up absolutely zero space in your home.

Winter sowing starts seeds completely outdoors in the wintertime. It works through miniature greenhouses made from recycled plastic containers, which are then left outdoors. Once the weather begins to warm up, the seeds will grow at their normal pace. Winter-sown seedlings have no risk of damping off, when new seeds and seedlings become water-soaked and quickly die. Because these seedlings grow outside from the beginning, they also do not need to be gradually exposed and introduced to the outdoors, a process known as hardening off. All things considered, winter sowing will make your life and the life of your garden considerably easier.

Prepare Your Mini Greenhouses

The first step to winter sowing is to prepare the “mini greenhouses” for your seedlings. These are made of transparent or translucent plastic, such as milk jugs, liter bottles, or other similar containers. It must be deep enough to allow for two to three inches of soil at the bottom, and tall enough for seedlings to grow.

After you have chosen your container, make sure to clean it thoroughly. If you are using a milk jug or tall container, cut the container in half horizontally.

Poke Some Holes

Using a knife or drill, poke the same amount of holes in the top and bottom of the container to allow for venting and draining. Rain and moisture will be able to enter and drain out. The holes will also prevent the “greenhouse” from overheating.

Add All-Purpose Potting Soil

Add a layer of high-quality, all-purpose potting soil. A layer that is about two to three inches is sufficient. Never use soil from your garden in your containers!

Plant The Seeds

For winter sowing, marigolds, poppies, brussel sprouts, carrots, leek, and spinach are just some seeds that should grow well. For more ideas, refer to this list.

On the seed packet, look for terms like “self-sow,” “direct sow in fall,” “direct sow in early spring,” “needs stratification,” or “needs pre-chilling.”

Label Your Containers

By the time spring rolls around, there’s a good chance that you won’t remember what you have sown. Be sure to label your containers using a permanent marker or masking tape.

Water The Seeds

Water your soil thoroughly and allow the containers to drain before moving them outside.

Close Up The Containers

Place the lid of your container back on, making sure that it snaps shut. If you have cut your container in half, simply attach the half back on using duct-tape. In this case, be sure to leave the caps off. Make sure that the tape does not cover the ventilation and drainage holes.

Put the Containers Outside

Finally, put your containers outside in a place that receives plenty of sunshine and moisture. However, make sure that the containers are not exposed to heavy wind.

Retrieve Containers in Spring

Don’t worry if your containers are covered by snow. Once the weather warms up, check the containers regularly for signs of seedlings. Make sure that the seedlings do not overheat and that the soil inside is adequately moist. If you notice soil drying out, add water through the ventilation holes. When the seedlings are finally tall enough to reach the top of the container, you can remove the lids. After the lids are removed, check the seedlings daily and water when necessary.

Transplant Your Winter Sowing To Your Garden

You can transplant these seedlings at the same time you would plant anything else in your garden, depending on where you live.
Winter sowing will bring joy to your gardening life when springtime rolls around! You won’t need to purchase grow-lights, heat mats, or other accessories that require money and space. The seedlings themselves will grow beautifully when they are planted. If you find that you have questions about gardening or your lawn, contact a lawn care professional in your area, like Giovine Landscaping, for personalized information. We are happy to help you build your garden from the ground up.

Keep Your Grass Healthy This Winter: 4 Simple Ways To Winterize Your Lawn

Like all things, the season of winter has some pros and cons. For example, we’ll be able to build snowmen and have snowball fights, but we’ll also have to shovel our doorsteps and sidewalks. For our lawns, we’ll inevitably miss some green grass and sun and, instead, see browner, sparser lawns. But what you do now still contributes to the health and beauty of your lawn in the spring. For this reason, it is extremely important to protect and maintain your lawn even in the winter. Thankfully, the steps to winterize your lawn are pretty simple.

Spread Fertilizer and Cool-Weather Grass Seed

The first and most important step to winterizing your lawn is to apply ample fertilizer. We suggest using a spreader, as it will allow you to spread the fertilizer as evenly as possible. Use only the recommended amount as too much fertilizer can burn your grass. Then, scatter cool-weather or cool-season grass seed on your lawn, preferably with the same spreader you used for the fertilizer.

Aerate Your Lawn

The next step is to aerate your lawn. This comes with many benefits, such as improved air circulation between the soil and atmosphere, greater fertilizer uptake, and reduced soil compaction. You can use a spike aerator, which uses spikes to poke holes into the ground. The other option is a plug aerator, which removes small plugs of soil from your lawn. If you have a large lawn, consider contacting a professional contractor, like Giovine Landscaping, to quickly and effectively help you with this.

Clean It Up

Before severe snow hits, be sure to clean up your lawn. Leaving things like leaves, debris, or toys on the lawn make it susceptible to disease and could smother the grass. Poor conditions like these invite pests like insects and mice.

Cut Your Grass A Little Shorter

Grass that is excessively long can smother itself and cause disease. It can be particularly troublesome if you experience a late freeze or an uncharacteristic thaw. These weather conditions can cause a freeze-thaw cycle, which exposes your lawn and plants to damage. When there is an isolated rise or drop in the temperatures that is followed by regular temperatures, your garden will experience a freeze, followed by a thaw, as explained by the United States Golf Association. The thaw falsely signals to plants that temperatures are warming and spring is near. If plants do begin to bud and bloom, they will become exposed to damage from the cold. Although we certainly cannot control the weather, trimming our grass a little shorter for the winter is a good idea. However, be sure to avoid cutting it too short, which will expose the crown to extreme weather.

Winterize Your Lawn: It’s Worth It

It may sound a bit troublesome to winterize your lawn, but we are sure that you’ll be grateful for having fully prepared your grass to brace the cold weather. We encourage you to take a weekend to prepare your lawn or reach out to a local company to help you take care of it. Then simply sit back and spend the rest of your winter without worrying about your lawn.

What is Lawn Dethatching and Why Do I Need To Do It?

We bet that you didn’t know about all the work required to upkeep a beautiful lawn until you had your own lawn to take care of. We understand that not everyone is an expert on grass and turf. If you’ve never heard of the term dethatching before, or you’ve heard of it but have no idea what that means, read on to find out if lawn dethatching is in your future lawn-care plans.

So What Is Lawn Dethatching?

In order to answer this question, we first need to explain what thatch is. You may think of thatch as that quaint material that old English cottage roofs are made of.

Cottages with thatched roofs after lawn dethatching.
Thatched cottages at Cadgwith Cove, Cornwall, England

However, you don’t have to live in the English countryside to have thatch. Thatch can be found in anyone’s lawn anywhere in the world. Over time, tiny bits of grass die and accumulate on the soil. This forms the basis of thatch. It is a layer of living and dead stems, roots, and crowns right above the soil surface. If you take a look at your lawn, thatch will look like browned grass stems matted together.

In moderation, thatch is actually beneficial for your lawn. As reported by the Penn State Department of Plant Science, less than ½ inch of thatch helps to insulate your lawn from extreme weather, protect weed seeds from reaching the soil and taking root, and help the soil retain moisture.

However, any thicker and thatch will act as a foe against the health of your lawn. Excessive thatch increases the risk for pests and diseases to thrive. Not only does it reduce the ability of fungicides and insecticides to penetrate the soil, but it also reduces the amount of moisture and oxygen that can reach roots.

How Can I Tell If I Need Dethatching?

There are multiple ways to tell if thatch has built up on your lawn. First, upon walking on your lawn, you will notice that it is spongy. When you try to stick your fingers (or a screwdriver) into the soil, you will find it difficult to do so. Lastly, you will see that water will run off the grass rather than penetrate it.

If you’ve noticed any of these signs, or a combination of multiple, your property is in need of lawn dethatching.

How Do I Dethatch My Lawn?

Generally, there are two ways to dethatch lawns. The first is to use a dethatching rake, which will rip the layer right out of your lawn. By hand, you must dig deep into your lawn and pull upwards to loosen the thatch apart. When doing this, the thatch should be visible. Your lawn will look visibly ragged after this and will need to be cleaned up.

If you have a large lawn, you can consider the second method, which uses a power dethatcher. You can rent this tool from a rental agency, which should supply you with instructions. Dethatchers are heavy, and you may need not only a truck but also (at least) one spare pair of hands for loading and unloading. When using the dethatcher, you must also be careful to use it in a pattern that covers the grass only once.

Given that the process of lawn dethatching is time-consuming, technical, and physically taxing, it’s no wonder that thousands of homeowners choose to hire a professional agency to take care of the job. If you choose to opt for this alternative, make sure you choose a reputable landscaping company, like Giovine Landscaping Inc., to help you achieve a healthy, flourishing lawn. Don’t let thatch get in your way.

Everything You Need To Know About Your Lawn

For better or for worse, the first thing we see when looking at a home is its lawn. Before we even get to step inside and admire the interior, our first impression forms right as we walk up to the front door. In order to keep your property looking its best, regular lawn fertilization is a necessity.

How Does a Well-Maintained Lawn Affect Your Home’s Curb Appeal?

For a relatively insignificant cost, proper and professional care of your lawn will bring you high returns. A beautiful home exterior tells potential buyers, neighbors, and passersby that your home’s interior is equally appealing. For potential buyers, a well-maintained lawn means fewer initial costs coming out of their pocket, which drives up the desirability of your home. An attractive lawn even benefits your neighborhood as a whole and increases its marketability. Trust us, your neighbors will be thanking you.

How Do I Take Care Of My Lawn?

The key to maintaining a lush, green lawn is regular fertilization. Most existing nutrients in lawns are water-soluble and will be diluted and washed away over time. Sometimes, soil might not naturally produce the necessary nutrients for a healthy, full, and even lawn. This increases its vulnerability to stressors such as extreme weather, disease, weeds, and pests. Your lawn can be left with uneven discoloration, browning grass, and overall patchiness. This is no way to make a first impression!

When Should I Fertilize My Yard?

If you live in the areas of Essex, Morris, and Union Counties in New Jersey, chances are that your lawn has cool-season grass. This type of grass typically remains green all year round and grows throughout the year, except during mid- and late-winter. Fertilization is recommended twice a year, once in early spring and a second time during the fall, around October and November.

Why Is Lawn Fertilization Tricky to do on Your Own?

Although there are online resources on DIY lawn fertilization, this is a job that should be left for professionals. According to research from the Division of Agriculture in the Department of Arkansas, there are many factors to consider in turfgrass maintenance. Firstly, you must have your soil’s pH level tested and the soil type identified. The pH levels contribute directly to grass health and nutrient uptake, and can indicate a mineral deficiency. Improper pH levels result in ineffective use of fertilizer, as well as increased pest problems.

It is crucial to have your unique landscape evaluated by certified professionals before anything is applied to your lawn. On top of that, you must accurately calibrate the spread of your fertilizer based on a careful measurement of your lawn. Application of nitrogen requires precise timing and vary by turf species.

All in all, a healthy and proper lawn fertilization is no easy task. We strongly advise leaving this in the hands of experts and professionals. If you want to keep your valuable property in its best shape, the team at Giovine Landscaping Inc. can help. We provide unparalleled service and pride ourselves in our precision and professionalism!

Top 5 Benefits of Having a Fire Pit

Fire pits have increased in popularity all over the country. A 2016 survey performed by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) ranked fire pits as the number one outdoor design element requested by consumers. But fire pits are not just another trend cruising on by with no intrinsic value. Having a fire pit in your yard actually brings you several benefits, which makes it a worthwhile, pretty affordable (depending on the kind of fire pit you choose, of course) investment. Below are five real, tangible benefits of having a fire pit aside from just, “it’s cool.” (Which it is!)

Keeps mosquitos away.

Say what? An outdoor activity that DOESN’T include getting devoured by mosquitos? It turns out that mosquitoes don’t like smoke, and if you plant a few bug-repelling plants or light some citronella candles around your fire, you’re even more protected.

A bigger barbecue.

You can literally cook any type of food on a fire pit, and your cooking area is bigger than on a barbecue. Just place a grill on top and get those steaks sizzling. Burgers and hot dogs are a given, but you can use a frying pan and make eggs, pancakes, and grilled cheese, too. For a real family tradition, whip up some Rocky Mountain Toast (cut a hole in a slice of bread, crack an egg into it, and fry it on the skillet. Tastes delicious with some campfire smokeyness to it!). Experiment with different kinds of wood to infuse different flavors into your food.

Family quality time.

I’ll amend that–family quality time away from the TV. For thousands of years, humankind has gathered around the fire to socialize, tell stories, and connect. It’s hard these days to entice the kids-and adults!–away from the ever-beckoning television, especially in the era of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. But it’s in our blood to enjoy sitting around the fire, so light up your fire pit and gather your family together for some cozy, quality time making memories that will last forever.

Reduces blood pressure.

Wait. Seriously? Yes! A University of Alabama study done by Christopher Dana Lynn showed that just 15 minutes sitting in front of the fire caused both the systolic and diastolic blood pressure of participants to go down by several points. According to Lynn, evolution may be the reason we relax when listening to a crackling fire. Being able to destress and clear your head actually helped with survival in the days of the cavemen, and that’s pretty much still true today. Stress is a killer, literally.

Increases home value.

With the former four benefits, of course it increases your home’s value. Fire pits are in demand and they extend the living space of your house, which makes your overall property more desirable.

At Giovine Landscaping, we are happy to build the fire pit of your dreams! We have been providing year-round landscaping services to families and businesses for over 30 years.  

We work closely with our clients to get to know their family, their needs, and their outdoor space, and we make sure all our clients end up with a final product they love!