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Top Tips for ‘Brown Thumbs’

Experts offer tips on what’s right for your lawn

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Mary, Mary, quite contrary/How does your garden grow?”

If your answer is, “Not so well,” you can improve your growing techniques to help your home’s landscaping look great this season.

If you want to grow plants from seed, start early. You can begin many plants indoors from seed if you start them four to six weeks before the last frost.

This gives them a head start on weeds that compete for their light, nutrients and water. If you grow plants in pots with new soil, this can ensure that you have low weed pressure. Always select the right type of soil for what you want to grow. The seed packet or, in the case of seedlings and shoots, the stake or tag, will indicate the ideal soil type and other growing conditions.

If you do not know your land’s soil type, you can have it tested by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Monroe County for $10 (http://monroe.cce.cornell.edu/horticulture/diagnostic-clinic). Extension agents can also help troubleshoot other issues.

Avoid finicky non-native plants and shrubs. Instead, chose plants well-suited to the local climate. As one example, James VanEenwyk, president and owner of Grandpa’s Nursery & Garden Center in Sodus, said to choose spirea.

“The spirea of today are very easy to grow, with nice flowering color, as long as you give them some sun,” he said. “The key to easy growing is putting the right plant in the right spot. Proper light, moisture and space, all make growing plants much easier.”

VanEenwyk is also a fan of hostas.

“They are very easy to grow if you’re planting in the shade,” he added. “If you have a hot, dry spot plant sedum: nice flowers and no work.”

A perennial, sedum attracts pollinators. Low-growing sedum can offer groundcover to shade out weeds; taller sedum works well in border gardens.

Planting perennials will save work next year. However, they do not tend to retain their flowers as long as annuals. To add a punch of continuous color all season, add annuals. Lee Frisbee, owner of Frisbee’s Landscaping, Ponds and Patios in Rochester, likes daisies and pansies.

“You can get them in April and they just need water and sunlight,” he said.

Marigolds are also an easy-to-grow annual that reseeds itself. Planting one marigold in a bare portion of the flowerbed or in a planter can result in a bevy of blooms. Marigolds tend to shade out weeds, so it helps to start them early.

Frisbee likes decorative grasses, which can help hide small birds from predators. Available in a variety of colors and sizes, decorative grass is easy to grow and can fill in a bare spot in the landscape without taking over the rest of the yard.

He also mentioned gerbera daisies or impatiens around water features or areas of the yard prone to water “because they love to have their feet wet,” he said.

On the contrary, the Stella de Oro daylily is drought tolerant and can be helpful in filling in areas because they reproduce prolifically.

Wildflowers are also easy to grow and attract pollinators and butterflies.

They can create a meadow-like ambiance to landscaping without requiring a lot of care.

Frisbee encourages people new to gardening and landscaping to ask for tips from those working at a greenhouse, but always go with what they like.

“Different colors and plants appeal to people differently,” Frisbee said. “Go to a greenhouse and pick out something.”

Featured image: Hostas in a flower bed, still a classic favorite for those improving their landscape. Photo courtesy of Frisbee’s Landscaping, Ponds and Patios in Rochester.

Bringing Your Backyard To Life in 2022

If your summer plans are like many others, it is likely you anticipate staying at home more as travel is still uncertain and some families are still recovering financially from losses incurred because of the pandemic.

Lee Frisbee, owner of Frisbee’s Landscaping, Ponds and Patios in Rochester, said that since the pandemic began “my phone has been ringing off the hook” because so many homeowners want to spruce up their backyard instead of going on vacation.

“Last year, we surpassed our sales goal and for 2022, I plan to double what we did last year,” Frisbee said. “We did more water features last year than the past 12 years combined, along with patios.”

Because of the inordinate demand and supply chain issues, he recommends ordering goods and services early.

Like comfort foods in the kitchen, many clients choose classics for their landscaping, like hostas, roses and fountain grass.

“These never go out of style,” Frisbee said.

Indigenous plants that add color and draw birds and butterflies such as coneflowers and butterfly bushes are also popular.

“It creates a healing place; it’s like therapy,” Frisbee said.

As for hardscaping, Frisbee foresees a continued trend of decks with firepits as more people are staying home to cook and spend time together as a family than pre-pandemic.

“No one is putting a metal ring in the middle of the lawn anymore,” he said.

“This is about creating an outdoor living space. People want decks and firepits. They don’t want their feet muddy and wet. They want colorful furniture and umbrellas, canopies and windsails.

“Pizza ovens in the outdoor fireplaces are also big.”

Instead of collapsible lawn chairs, the trend is more wooden lawn furniture, such as Adirondack chairs and gliders, as homeowners make their outdoor living space more comfortable. Frisbee said that wooden lawn furniture has been difficult to keep in stock because of the shortage of wood and the uptick in demand.

Backyards also need focal points to create a relaxing ambiance. That is why water features tucked into landscaped areas have become so popular.

Frisbee said that many customers want either ponds with fish as a hobbyist or low-maintenance, pond-free water features such as fountains that circulate water in a closed loop. The relaxing sound of flowing water brings a sense of nature even to properties in the suburban or small-town setting.

Many grandparents have been purchasing outdoor play sets and swing sets for their grandchildren’s homes or for their own homes for when their grandchildren visit.

“It’s about safety over going to public playground,” said Jennifer Deuel, treasurer of Cricket on The Hearth Inc., in Rochester.

Play equipment at home helps children limit contact with others.

Many grandparents bring in their adult children along with the grandchildren to Cricket on the Hearth so they can design a play set that accommodates the children’s growing interests, from baby seats to the monkey bars that young teens crave.

“Each swing has a 250-pound tolerance, so parents can play too,” Deuel said.

Cricket on the Hearth’s Swing Kingdom line is vinyl sleeved wood with finished edges. The aesthetics of play sets have move away from the cute cottage to a more modern design that resembles a tiny house—complete with a skylight.

Shoppers can use Cricket’s design software to help choose features and visualize the finished product.

“You can put one together from what you want, starting with color, the swings you want, spider-webbed trampoline swing and ADA-accessible swings that are more controlled,” Deuel said.

Features like a built-in picnic table or café counter adds play interest and charm.

Swing Kingdom delivers and installs the sets so that buyers will not have to feel concerned about the safety of their construction.

So many families have been buying play sets that Cricket has experienced some delays in receiving them. Deuel said that five to eight weeks is typical delivery time, so ordering early may help prevent disappointment.

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant