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Weeding and Cleaning Trees




This year is going to be a big year for clearing out the debris from our 2.5 acre mountain yard.  We have trees leaning on trees, fungi or moss infested trees, short trees that cannot get tall because they have other trees hanging over them, and so much more causing them to not reach their fullest potential.  I also don’t love all the leaves I am cleaning up in the Fall when half the trees aren’t even pretty.  If I’m going to labor over raking, I certainly want the beast whom dropped said leaves to offer me some beauty during Spring and Summer.

So, which trees do I eliminate?  This I will do with great care because trees are a great natural resource and they are beautiful when they are healthy and happy.  We are so enthralled to live in the wooded mountains surrounded by nature’s plants, birds, and animals.  While there are three groups of trees I am going to cut back, my ultimate goal is to see each and every tree on my land turn into the beautiful creature it was meant to become.



Eliminate unhealthy trees!

The first question I need answered though in order to select the right trees to cut down is, “what makes a tree unhealthy?”  I definitely want to cut down the unhealthy ones first.  There are eight marks of a healthy tree.

1) If a tree has more than one center.  Most trees need to have one central leader.  Exceptions are fruit trees, trees with more than one trunk, and some bonsai and topiary.

2) Dead or broken branches.

3) Bare patches with no leaves, which tell you one of several things.  Either that side is deprived of nutrients or water, an animal is eating there, those branches are being pruned improperly, or they are being damaged by insects or pesticides.

4) Leaves have incorrect color, shape or size.

5) Tree is infested with insects or disease.

6) Tree is wilting.

7) The bark is loose or peeling.  Gashes in the trunk can lead to infestations and disease.

8) There is NO evidence of annual growth.

The first group I have already eliminated, and that is the biggest trees.  Over the winter we had a logger come and take about 10 of our biggest trees.  Why would we want to get rid of our BIGGEST trees?  Well, If we ever want out little forest of trees to be able to breathe, then we have to do some weeding and cleaning… just as we would do with a small garden. Weeds can choke out other desirable plants making the entire garden unhealthy and unprofitable.  My goal is to pick the biggest and smallest trees and to leave all the mid sized trees there with increased circulation.  In doing this I will be considering each tree’s health.

The second group I will eliminate in the Spring is all of the trees that are still just mere twigs.  See my post on raking.  A similar process will be followed here.  One thing to add though… in this 2.5 acre tree filled yard we also lay a tarp down, rake leaves and twigs onto it until it’s full but the kids can help us pull it’s weight still.  Then we pull it across the yard to our burn pile.  We’ll sit outside for a few days in the Fall and a few in the Spring and burn continuously.

The third group isn’t standing trees at all, but fallen ones. Such a mess is created over years and years of growth with little clean up. Sure, leaves create mulch and revitalize the dirt with vitamins and minerals, but too much leaves, twigs, and fallen trees decomposing provides way too many homes to bugs… and I must reduce that just a smidge on our little mountain!!

So, what will we do with all this debris?
1) $800 was made selling the largest trees to a lumber yard.
2) Firewood will reduce our propane heat bill in the future. We predict we will have 8 cords of firewood.
3) Mulch?  I will be researching places I might be able to send debris to potentially make mulch.
4) Now we will have endless campfires all summer long!!

Benefits to the trees…
1) More air leads to taller, fuller, healthier, and drier trees.
2) Less mold and moss after air circulation is increased.
3) More birds once the trees have sturdier branches and healthier trees to make homes on.
4) Less invasive insects to further damage plants on our property.

Thanks for reading, and please do say hello or give me feedback if you’ve done a similar project!


The UnGardener


I’ve bought a new house with a beautiful garden, NOW WHAT?

So we bought a house in a different state, in a different climate, in a different soil type… NOW WHAT???  I don’t have time to figure all of this out along with finding a new dentist, doctor, school, job, and more… There HAS to be a way to manage this successfully so I have the beautiful garden I used to have!

So many of us end up with beautiful gardens on accident when we buy a new house.  I just bought a log cabin in the mountains and I wouldn’t say that the garden there is beautiful since it was a foreclosure.  We are unsure how many years of neglect we are looking at there, but is pretty catastrophic.  Then there’s the fact that it’s a Northern climate and we are used to a Southern climate… and also that it’s in rocky mountain soil where we are used to the red clay soil of Virginia.  What’s a girl to do when she STILL wants to UNgarden and not be strapped to her yard all year?

I also happen to have a friend who just bought a new house as well.  But in her case, she DOES have a well maintained yard.  The previous owner of Penny’s new house paid a lot of money to have it professionally landscaped, and it’s filled with dozens of perennials, bushes, trees, and bulbs that Penny will now inherit, chores and all.  So, I’m going to break this down into baby steps because that is how I roll, and I’m sure Penny does too as a working mom.  I don’t mind being outside working intermittently for short simple amounts of time.  (No back breaking labor either… nope, I don’t think I’d like to do that…  no matter how badly a plant needs me…)  So, let’s get to work so Penny and I can get done, and sit on a nice lounge chair in our new yards with a glass of wine!  This post will be about Penny’s yard and I’ll do mine when we officially move in July.



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Penny’s UNgardener Chart(Click on this to open it up in MS Excel):  Penny was given a booklet of most of the plants that were installed into her yard when the previous owners had it professionally landscaped.  How nice is that!  It’s super handy since she has the exact species name for each of these plants and can easily make sure she is doing all that she can do to maintain all of these beautiful plants.


penny pic chores


penny pic shopping list

So, for her chore and shopping lists I took that original plant list and reorganized it into seasonal chores and materials she would need to get it all done efficiently.

Feel free to reproduce this in your own yard or send me a list of plants and I’d be happy to send you one.

And as for my new yard, that will be a future challenge for me to tackle…  more about that later… LOL…

Thanks for reading!


The UNgardener

Power in the garden!


Look out Bear Mountain!  The UNgardener’s got a power drill!

I’m a process engineer by degree and work experience, so my thoughts always go to things like: “how much faster could I do this?”  And now I can measure success in my garden by plants in the ground per minute.  I planted 18 annuals in 20 minutes last month in rocky soil where 5 bulbs took me a back breaking hour last Fall.  Those bulbs better just watch out this coming November!

What’s your favorite gardening power tool?  I’m going to need more of these!


The UNgardener


Top 10 Children’s Theme Garden Ideas


There are a lot of great ideas for a kids garden, but I have some favorites!

1) There must be a sandbox!

Must have a sandbox!

Must have a sandbox!

2) Install a GRAND entrance for princes and princesses.

Children's Garden 2012

3) Plant edibles as much as possible even if you aren’t tending to them regularly.  Finding berries, tomatoes, and pumpkins are amazing treasures to little ones.  You  might even plant a full size pumpkin plant along side a baby pumpkin plant so they can marvel at the variances.

Mercy picking strawberries!

Mercy picking strawberries!

4) Color, LOTS of color is seriously important!  I like to stick to primary colors so it’s not girly pink or boy blue outside as the great outdoors should remain gender neutral in my opinion.

Tires to play in!

Tires to play in!

5) Have your little ones help build their garden.  Their sense of ownership will grow exponentially.  I have one child who enjoys this more than the others, but all of them enjoy the planning process where we all get to dream up our annual additions to the garden.


6) Stepping stones are a fun way to mark walk-ways that children will hop, skip, and jump over.  I also like mulch instead of grass so there aren’t rules about toys so much during mowing season.  The garden won’t be fun if everyone is always upset about it being messy.


7) TOYS!!!  Go to the GoodWill… they don’t have to be full price since they will just sit outside.  I typically browse the used stores a couple times in the Spring and bring home one or two new toys for the Kids’ Garden.  This is also teaching my kids about the value of shopping greener.

My cheesy kids!

8) Flowers blooming abundantly are very important too.  I like to plant both annuals and perennials so we can discuss them as they come into season.  It’s mystical to little people how plants like lilies just pop up out of  nowhere…


9) Herbs are fun too.  They are very similar in function to scratch and sniff stickers.  I used to love those as a kid so every year my kids and I are outside pulling leaves off trees, flowers, edibles, and herbs seeing which ones are yummy smelling.

10)  And Last but not least… have a comfy chair for yourself in the garden so the kids can have YOU out there with them.  I’ll take my coffee and go sit and watch them play in the sandbox for hours in the spring and fall.  There is no better place for a family than the backyard Children’s Garden!!

Kitchen sets go great in a Children's Garden.  Next to a sandbox and the kids are in pretend heaven!

Kitchen sets go great in a Children’s Garden. Next to a sandbox and the kids are in pretend heaven!


The UNgardener

Top 10 Tips on Easily Dividing your Perennials

Accidentally made this cumin plant look cool. It was long and stringy and I hacked it about a month ago, and this happened...

1) Divide when they are pretty, not after they have outgrown their space.

It’s like when kids outgrow their clothes, you won’t let them wear them for another season… you go buy then a size up!  So when the plant looks it’s greatest, and you find yourself standing in front of it admiring it that you make a note in your gardening journal to divide it at the end of it’s growing season.

2) Divide in mild weather.

You wouldn’t put a new plant in the ground in the heat of summer or try to break into icy dirt to plant anything, so this is an easy one to remember.  Divide at the end of a growing season AND in mild weather for a freshly divided set of plants to get their best start.

3) Dig at the drip line.

The drip line is the imaginary circle around a plant where you would imagine rain rolling off the leaves and landing on the ground spherically around the plant.  Dig THERE!  Then you will be getting the bulk of the root system.  One of the things that are most frustrating to a detail person like me is to know you have to dig up all the roots when you can’t visibly see them until you’ve already stuck a sharp shovel into the ground and potentially severed your favorite plant!  Digging at the drip line pretty much guarantees that you’ll avoid hurting any important parts of your plants.

4) Remember 50/50…

Keep the divisions that aren’t going right back into the earth around 50 degrees F and 50% humidity.  A cool garage is a good storage place.  And you could wrap the root in wet newspaper to buy it some time.  Do try to plan to divide the same day that you replant though.  That’s the best way to ensure good plant health.

5) Add New Soil

I always have three fresh bags of good garden soil on hand at all times in the growing season.  If I know I’m almost out I go grab some more.  When you pull a plant from the ground and divide it you can’t put half of a plant back with half the soil or it will lack  the soil luster that it had that made it gorgeous that last season.  Remember soil is a huge part of the equation that makes a beautiful garden.  I usually divide, fill some of the hold with new soil, put the half plant back in and mound new soil over the top until it’s ever so slightly above ground level.  Not a hill though because the purpose of the height here is simply to ensure that after the first rain it settles to a level height.

6) Replant only 20-25% pieces.

Unless you want to be dividing every single year, this rule is paramount!  So, to the UNgardener… you could imagine this is a rule like no other!  If I divide a plant into two pieces, then replant them into two holes in my yard I am pretty much guaranteeing myself to have to dig up and divide two plants next year.  Then by the laws of multiplication, I will have twice the number of plants the following year (4, then 8, then 16, then 32…) if I again divide in half and replant… By nature, perennials are vigorous growers.  They want to perform for you like good pets.  For that reason we should be grateful.  But, when it comes to reducing the work load, remember to only replant at around 20% the size of the original plant.  This will allow us to really pick over the roots and select the healthiest looking sections for replanting.

7) Replant only the healthiest pieces.

That last point having been said, it’s seems quite obvious that you would only replant the healthiest looking root pieces.  If I only need 20% of my root to make a new healthy plant I can afford to weed some of the roots out for trash.  Once I had about 10 hostas to divide, and they were almost 3 feet around at the time and growing into my walk way.  I broke those 10 plants into 40… surely I didn’t need 40 new plants.  I was able to weed through them, trash some, replant some, and fill two of my friends’ yards with them.  Aren’t perennials good little pets?

8) Make the hole as wide and tall as the roots when spread out.

In the next growing season you can imagine that the plant, if healthy, will be as wide as it’s roots when spread out in the hole.  Therefore, you want the plant to be able to concentrate on growth of the plant, not first to have to concentrate on spreading out its roots.  All plants will first focus on growth underground before being able to concentrate on beautiful stems and flowers above ground.

9) Divide according to its root type.

When you dig up a perennial, you will see that it fits into one of five basic root types

  • Roots that form clumps or offsets – To divide a plant whose roots form offsets (small plants growing at the base of
    a larger one), snap the connection between any of the sections to obtain a piece with ample roots and three or more growing points.  (Examples:  Asters, Hostas, Coneflowers, and Tickseeds)
  • Surface roots – Some perennials have roots that run on or just below the surface of the soil.  They form new crowns and roots when they reach open spaces or make contact with the soil. If you cut between any of the stems as you would cut a piece of sod
    from a lawn, you will have a division with its own stems and roots.  (Examples:  Bee Balms, Black-eyed Susan, Creeping Sedums, and Creeping Speedwells)
  • Underground running roots – Underground running roots can develop suckers as they grow beyond the shade of
    the mother clump. These suckers can be cut away from the main plant, or you can dig up the main plant and cut away any piece with an eye or sucker already forming.  (Examples:  Hardy Geraniums, Japanese Anemones, Ostrich Fern, and Plume Poppies)
  • Taproots – Plants that have taproots can be divided by using a sharp knife to slice down the length of the root. Every piece that has at least one eye, some of the taproot, and a few side roots is a viable division. (Examples:  Balloon Flowers, Butterfly Weeds, Cushion Spurges, and Oriental Poppies)
  • Woody roots – Woody perennials often form roots when stems rest on the ground or are buried by gradually accumulating mulch. Make a new plant by simply cutting between the rooted stem and the mother plant. (Examples:  Candytufts, Euonymus, Lavenders, and Sages)

10) Wear Gloves.

Always wear protective gardening gloves when dividing plants.  This is a good idea for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s just more comfortable to not worry about hurting yourself.  Second, on some plants the sap could irritate your skin.  And third, because a better grip could allow you to do the job quicker, and quicker is the name of the game for the UNgardener!


The UNgardener

Winter Yard Chores


WINTER CHORES (December – February)


  1. Mow less often and higher where lawns continue growing.
  2. Avoid walking on frozen lawns that aren’t covered by snow.


  1. Water if rainfall is light.
  2. Wrap trunks of young trees to protect them from rodents.
  3. In late winter, prune shrubs or trees that flower later in summer (such as crape myrtle, butterfly bush, grasses, and hydrangea (prune new growth only now), azaleas (December or when dormant)).


  1. Tie vines and climbing roses securely to supports, for preventing winter winds from damaging plants.
  2. Mulch after soil freezes.


  1. In mild winter areas, fertilize lightly with a nitrate-containing fertilizer (it’s active in cold weather).
  2. As soon as soil is workable in late winter, plant cool-season annuals (such as pansies, primroses and snapdragons).


  1. Where winter temperatures dip to 10 degrees F (-12 C) or lower, mound soil or mulch over graft union to protect it.
  2. Prune to remove dead and damaged branches and to thin center of bush in late winter before spring growth resumes.  Prune to about knee height.


  1. In early winter, plant soil-improving cover crop of rye grass where winters are cold; where winters are mild, plant mustard or fava beans.
  2. Plant seeds indoors February – April.


  1. Sharpen and clean garden tools
  2. Organize storage shed.


The UNgardener

Nutrient Deficiencies in the Garden

nutrient garden problems

I just LOVE little action packed charts like this one!  Thanks to for this great chart of Nutrient Deficiencies in the Garden.  I will be paying close attention to it both in my red clay Virginia and rocky mountain Pennsylvania yards.


The UNgardener

Gardening in your Homeschool!

Yeah, I just thought these were cool!  I’m a homeschool mom in addition to loving my garden!

Check them out!


The UNgardener


word search picture 2


word search picture 4

Top 10 Shade Perennials

This coming year I will have to figure out what to plant in a mountainous yard that is densely packed with trees.  There is very close to NO full sun.  That means lots of bulbs since they bloom before all the leaves cover up the sun for the season.  And in addition to that it means lots of shade perennials.  So here is my list of the top ten shade perennials!


The UNgardener

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Top 10 Reasons to SQUARE Garden



It’s a simple method of gardening, and I LOVE simple!  In the 1970’s it was developed by a man named Mel Bartholomew who clearly was an UNgardener himself.  The seeds are planted into clearly marked 1′ x 1′ plots.  And if the plant calls for more space, then it’s given that many plots.  Simple!


1) It has a strong focus on organic gardening, and who doesn’t like doing things the all natural way?

2) Easy start up!  Grab some wood and nails.  Build boxes, then go back to my Lasagna Gardening post and set it up as a raised bed.

3) Healthy, Happy Soil!  Following the Lasagna Gardening method will give you the happiest soil, ready to organically grow you some mean veggies!  Mel’s Mix of soil is very similar to the LG method for soil mixture.  He prefers: a combination of ⅓ peat  moss, ⅓ vermiculite and ⅓ compost.

4) Low maintenance effort to work with the soil… since it’s so loose and crumbly all gardening chores are simpler.  Imagine planting seeds in loose soil, weeding in loose soil, and harvesting root vegetables out of loose soil.

5) Extended growing season… thanks to having the soil raised up over the ground a bit, the ground temperature is ever so slightly warmer thereby lengthening the growing season and leading to more produce.

6) Better drainage… again, thanks to the loose soil…

7) Plants are all accessible… there is no walking on this garden so the soil remains loose, not compacted.  And you set them up so that you can walk a rotation around them and reach each and every plant with ease.

8) Handicap Equipped… Want to make mom or grandma who can’t get around the BEST Mother’s Day present EVER???  Make her a raised Square Lasagna Garden!!!  You can build it up to whatever height she can work from, even waist height if need be.  Anyone can garden this way!!

9) Highest Yield EVER!!  You’ll find that despite needing less space since you don’t need a walkway, you will be growing more produce than you could’ve ever imagined with the healthy soil and sheer will to get outside more often since every garden chore you have to do is made much easier.

10) NO WEEDING!!!  So here’s my favorite reason to make a raised square lasagna garden!  Less work!!

Happy Gardening Everyone!  Let me know if you already do this and what your favorite part of it is.  I’d love if you left links to photos of your gardens in the comments here.


The UNgardener

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