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David Beaulieu
Guide since 2002

About.com Landscaping

Fast-Growing Shade Trees

Do you need shade for a patio or deck -- and fast? Or perhaps it's a quick "living screen" that you desire? Happily, some trees are as impatient to grow as you are to have them grow. I offer three choices below, each of which boasts a great feature: fall leaf color, evergreen foliage or -- in the case of crape myrtle (picture) -- vivid flower color.

These Trees Can't Wait to Grow Up

Get Your Lawn in Shape for Summer

Picture of a lawn nicely edged with a spade, to incorporate a rose bed.

One of the most important things you can do to have a great lawn in summer involves a spring lawn-care task: nipping crabgrass in the bud. Other specific problems I tackle below are getting rid of moss in the lawn and maintaining your grass in the face of one of its biggest challenges: dog traffic. If you're looking for less specific tips, click the link above for my overview of lawn care.  

Is the Grass Greener on the Other Side?
Landscaping Spotlight10

Does Spring Bring Out Your Inner Wood Nymph?

Wednesday April 23, 2014

There's something about the landscape in spring that takes me back, mentally, to ancient Greece, when nymphs still traipsed through magical forests. picture of tree faceI guess it's the freshness in the vegetation, which has such a powerful impact on my senses that I want to imagine there's something more there than meets the eye, something "divine." Maybe the moderate temperatures have a bit to do with it, too, putting me in such an exuberant mood that I can better relate to the Greeks' predilection for investing nature with an awe that transcends science.

Of course, it also doesn't hurt that some of the plants that bloom in spring enjoy mythological associations, including:

Yes, for the Greeks, the woods were just teeming with spirits. Although the nymphs are better known, another class of minor forest spirits was the hamadryads, the spirits of trees. No mere idle spectators, a hamadryad was literally wrapped up in the fate of her tree: if the tree died, so did she.

Tree owners nowadays are in no imminent peril when their favorite specimens develop health problems, but they can, nonetheless, become quite vexed about it, to say the least. We invest a lot in our trees, in terms not only of money but also energy and emotions. Thus the need for my FAQ on magnolia care, which you should bookmark in case your magnolia tree ever runs into any serious problems.

Read article: Magnolia Care

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Photo ©2010 David Beaulieu (licensed to About, Inc.)

Taking Advantage of the First Warm Days

Tuesday April 22, 2014

I'm not surprised that we're finally having a beautiful day or two in my neck of the woods. picture of saucer magnoliaAfter all, warm weather always returns at some point every year, right? But after enduring a winter in New England, somehow I'm always...well, not exactly surprised, but...let's say "amazed" by such days.

Believe me, you can be amazed by something, even if you know it's coming. It's all a matter of contrast. I was wearing a hat and gloves until recently. Now, when I'm spring cleaning my yard, I actually get too hot sometimes.

After months of seeing so little change as I looked out over the winter landscape, the changes coming now are almost overwhelming. I can barely keep up with my garden journal, so numerous are the changes in the plants all around me. I feel like telling Mother Nature: "Hey, slow down! There's plenty of time from now till fall to bring everything to fruition. Let's prolong the spring a bit, so we have time to appreciate more fully all the changes it brings."

We lovers of plants and the outdoors who live in northerly climes have some pretty funny ways of taking advantage of the first warm days in spring. Take me, for instance. All winter, I had been squeezing oranges inside for my fresh orange juice (vitamin C to fight colds and all that). But the other day, I took my squeezer, knife and oranges outside, pulled up a camp chair, and did the squeezing outdoors, where I could admire the blooms on a saucer magnolia (picture). Besides affording an opportunity to enjoy the warm sun (and to notice the first wild violets popping up in the lawn, as a bonus), squeezing oranges outside had two distinct advantages:

  1. I didn't have to clean up the mess on the kitchen counter afterwards.
  2. I didn't have so far to go to dump the leftover orange peels into the compost pile.

How about you? How did you take advantage of the first warm days of the spring? Please relate your stories by using the Comments section below.

More: 10 Ways to Screw Up Your Landscaping

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Photo ©2012 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)

Get to Know Japanese Knotweed on National Weed Day

Sunday April 20, 2014

picture of japanese knotweed stand

Today is Easter, and even many who are not deeply religious are at least marking the occasion by the exchanging of Easter lilies and the like. But did you know that today was also National Weed Day? Until recently, I didn't know that there was such a thing. But now that I do know, I'm going to take advantage of the opportunity to get a message across.

No, it's not the kind of message you may be thinking of. In fact, my message doesn't even pretend to be in keeping with the spirit of the celebration (that kind of "weed" isn't even legal yet in my state). As a landscaping enthusiast, the primary meaning of "weed" for me is the original meaning.

Consequently, my message on National Weed Day is that you should familiarize yourself (if you haven't already done so) with one of the great terrors of the weed world: Japanese knotweed. Many people just like you have come to grief over this menace. In the U.K., having Japanese knotweed on your land can even reduce your home's value! And who's to say that won't be the law of the land elsewhere in the near future?

Japanese knotweed may be the most despised plant that hardly anybody knows about. Is that a contradiction? No. Allow me to explain.

Many residents of North America and the U.K. own land on which Japanese knotweed grows. The vast majority of such residents to whom I have spoken would pay good money to have someone remove Japanese knotweed from their yards once and for all. But if Japanese knotweed is such a common problem, why do I state above that hardly anybody knows about it? Well, to be more specific, hardly any of these folks know the name of the plant.

And the fact is, without properly identifying a weed, you can make fighting it more difficult for yourself. Proper weed identification can be the gateway to knowledge that has been compiled over the years regarding a particular plant. As superficial as a mere name may seem, without it, you're barring yourself from all kinds of helpful tips and warnings. That goes for all weeds, not just Japanese knotweed. To that end, I provide a photo gallery showing weed pictures to help you identify many of the most common weeds.

The picture I provide in this article will help you determine whether you have Japanese knotweed on your own property. And if Japanese knotweed has, in fact, made a home for itself in your yard, you'll want to read the rest of the article to find out how to get rid of it.

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Photo ©2010 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)

Stars of the Yard for April, 2014

Friday April 18, 2014

picture of glory of the snow bloom

What plants, currently, are shining most brightly in your yard? Are the blossoms of an early bloomer bringing a smile to your face as you rake, trim and otherwise perform spring cleaning jobs in your yard? One of the plants in my landscaping that I'm most proud of is my winter jasmine. Listed as a zone 6 plant (I'm in zone 5), I provided it with winter protection until it could become established. As a mature plant now, it rewards that early care annually with a profusion of yellow blooms, and all without needing coddling anymore.

Bulb plants dominate this time of year here in New England. Snowdrops, glory-of-the-snow, dwarf iris and crocus lead the charge into spring. Hyacinth, daffodil and star of Bethlehem come along a bit later.

In my own yard, the following blooming plants are the stars of April, along with those erstwhile vernal standouts, the pussy willows:

How about you? Vote in my poll and let us know what plants are shining most brightly in your own yard right now. If none of these plants best exemplify your own April standouts, choose "Other" and tell us about your nominees in the Comments section.

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Photo ©2013 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)

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