Sensible Garden Hurricane Prep

If there’s one thing that puts a gardener on edge, it’s the threat of a hurricane or tropical storm. Your landscape and gardens are your oasis, your happy place… The threat of a storm wiping that all out in a day is depressing… Follow our guide for some sensible ways to prepare your garden and landscape for a hurricane or tropical storm. It may help you to methodically enter hurricane season and avoid panicking at the last minute.

Notice that most of my suggested storm preparations can happen in the spring time. It’s not wise to wait the last minute to hurricane prep your yard and gardens. Trust me, I’ve done it. Getting a jump start on what you can ahead of time will free up time to make sure you have your household hurricane supplies and plan in place.

Plan Ahead

Prior to the start of hurricane season, which lasts from June 1 – November 30, I recommend taking some precautionary measures for hurricane garden and landscape prep.

Tree Work

If there is any tree work that you need done – dangling branches, dead trees, suspicious markings that could be rot or damage to a large tree – get it on your tree service’s schedule. Once hurricane season starts, arborists often get really busy with folks who are panicking about unsafe trees. Couple that with summer’s short days from torrential downpours and you’re not likely to get an appointment next week. Remember, if you are having a tree removed, or need a protected tree pruned, chose a ISA Certified Arborist.

Clean Up Woody Plants By Your House

Prune back any shrubs within at least 3 feet of your house. Those thin branches may be fine 95% of the time, but when they’re blowing from an 80 mph wind, they might just break a window or even damage your roof or gutters. If you aren’t planning to use this brush for something, get rid of it. Loose brush laying around can become a projectile in high winds.

Assess Drainage

Do the gutters need to be cleaned out? Is the water exiting your downspouts and moving away from your house? Are there low spots that fill with water and don’t drain? You might consider some drainage solutions now before it becomes a problem with 10 inches of rain from a tropical system.

Try to Stay on Top of Maintenance

General maintenance is easy to let slip through the cracks but it will add up to hours once you need to clean it up.

  • Collect any loose brush or trash that accumulated over the winter and dispose of it.
  • Stash away your firepits and other items you won’t use over the summer.
  • Clean out your garage and/or your shed. If there’s a hurricane and you need to put your plants indoors, there should be space for them.

Will My Plants All Die?

I get this question a lot. Some probably will but that’s a risk that we take living in Florida. Here’s a few things that you can do to help increase their survival chances.

Potted Plants

Bring smaller plants indoors. Any potted plant that is in a small pot and light enough for you to move should be brought indoors if possible. If you cannot, place them together in a protected corner of the house or fence.

Larger pots can be turned on their side or moved indoors if you can lift them. We take our potted fruit trees and 7+ gallon nursery pots and lay them down on their side in a protected area between our fence, a hedge, and the shed. This helps minimize the possibility of wind whipping the branches around.

Some pots that are so large that you cannot move them or turn them on their side. You might just need to cross your fingers for these ones. If possible, take cuttings or remove some babies or seeds from the plant so you can propagate more if it dies.

Gardens

I like to shore up my trellises and arbors by making certain they are firmly anchored in the ground. If I have flimsy trellises, I might remove them and carefully lay the plants on the ground. The trellis can be replaced after the storm passes; many plants will be safer on the ground.

How to decide to shore up or remove the structure? Some trellises and arbors are large and are very sturdy. For example, my cattle panel arbor isn’t going anywhere. The plants on it now are fairly delicate and may get wind whipped, but that arbor isn’t going anywhere. I will make sure that all of the straps holding it to the posts are secured and tight, replacing some if needed. The 4-foot push in trellis I got from Lowes that’s supporting a tomatillo plant… that’s going into my shed. That’s easily pulled out of the ground and tucked away.

Know Better, Do Better

The next time you buy a plant, consider both the wind tolerance and the location you’re planting it in before planting it. We look for wind resistant trees and large shrubs. Florida folks, a great place to look for this info is at the Florida Native Plant Society. This link will take you to a search of hundreds of native plants. While there is not a filter category for wind resistance, it is one of the pieces of info provided about each plant. If you’d like help designing a landscape for wind resistance, message us today! Serving the Tampa Bay area.

Composting For Newbies

Composting can seem daunting to beginners, but it is really easy once you get started. So, composting newbies, read on! You can do it!

Making a pile of food scraps and whatnot in your yard ON PURPOSE can seem a little intimidating but I assure you, it’s really quite intuitive once you get started and it’s not too fussy if you follow some basic guidelines. I’ll help you get off on the right foot so you actually learn how to compost and avoid making a stinky mess. Are you ready?

It’s as easy as 1… 2… 3…!

Knowledge is power. Knowing a little bit about the magical process of composting will help you wrap your head around your new project.

There are two main inputs going into your compost:

  • Brown material (carbon) is anything that came from a tree such as mulch, small sticks, shredded white paper and brown cardboard, or dried leaves.
  • Green material (nitrogen) is your plant-based kitchen scraps like fruits and veggies, grains, coffee grounds and filters, tea and tea bags, grass clippings, green leaves and dead potted plants.

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The composting process is really a bunch of different organisms such as fungus, bacteria, and earthworms eating and breaking down your food scraps and yard waste. Just like any animal, they need food, air and water to survive. The green and brown materials are their food; water is added as needed to keep the compost moist; and air is provide when you aerate the pile by turning it.

Gather your materials. Always start a new compost project by gathering your browns. Grab a few bags of leaves from a neighbor, empty the paper shredder at your office, wet and rip up your Amazon boxes… whatever form of carbon rich materials you choose, get them first. 

In the meantime, you can begin to save your green materials by placing them in a container in your fridge or freezer.  You can put them in an upcycled plastic container with a lid or a Ziploc bag. By the time you’ve gathered your browns, you’ll have saved a bunch of food scraps.

You’re ready to start composting! Well, almost. You need to decide what type of composting system is right for you. Now, you’re not married to this system. It’s okay if you pick a cheap and simple way to get started then change it up later. The important part is that you got started composting. You can tweak your methods as you learn more. 

Once you’ve gathered your browns, put several inches of them as the bottom layer in your pile. They will form a big sponge in the bottom of your compost system. Add your food scraps and use an equal amount of browns to cover them like a blanket. This is really important. You should never be able to see your food scraps. This attracts flies and critters, and it can get smelly. It’s easiest to save a few days’ worth of food scraps to add all at once rather than little bits here and there.

Turn your compost every week or two with a shovel or spin the tumbler around a few times. Add water if it feels dry. It should feel like a damp, but not dripping wet, sponge. Once it looks like soil and smells like soil and there are no visible food scraps left, take a small bit of the compost, make sure it’s moist and place it in a Ziploc bag. If it molds after a few days, it is not done. If it doesn’t go ahead and use the compost.

Would you like more help?

We have developed a self-paced online Composting for Beginners course for you. Use coupon code FALLGARDEN2020 for 50% off.

Will my compost smell?

No, it shouldn’t be smelly. If you do detect an unpleasant odor, add more browns. You can either just add a few inches to the top or mix some brown material in and top with a few inches too.

If it gets waterlogged, it will likely be stinky. This may be a sign that your bin has poor drainage. There should be holes in the bottom of all compost bins so water doesn’t pool there.

Will my compost attract insects or rodents?

If you follow these guidelines and always cover up the food waste on the top, bottom and sides of your compost pile with ample browns you shouldn’t have any rodents. The brown prevents any smells and absorbs the liquid from the food waste.

You may get insects since many insects are decomposers, meaning that their main function is to help break down your compost into a soil-like texture. The image below shows several different critters that you may find in your compost. They, along with the fungus, bacteria and earthworms do the real work of composting. There are several that aren’t pictured. In general, if there are insects in your compost, there is air there, which is good. These guys all breathe oxygen just like your soil microbes.

Top left: Black soldier fly larva, black soldier fly adult, any, millipede Bottom left: cockroach, grub, earthworm, centipede.

I’m going out of town for a month. Will my compost be okay?

Yes, your compost is going to be fine. Just make sure there’s enough brown material on top. Check the moisture (it should feel like a damp sponge) before you go and add water if needed. Even if it gets dried out, you can always fix it when you get home.

How often should I turn my compost?

Every week or two is enough. You don’t need to be on a schedule with it. If you notice it’s really dry, it may be a good time to add more greens and browns, water it and turn it at the same time. That way you can make sure it’s consistently moist throughout.

Where should I place my compost pile?

Wherever it works best for you. It will need more water in the sun, but may break down faster. The important part of placing your compost system is access to water. One year I moved my compost pile behind my shed to hide it. Not only was it out of sight, out of mind, it was dry. My hose didn’t reach and I definitely didn’t carry buckets of water to it frequently enough to make up for this Florida heat. 

I don’t have a vegetable garden or fruit trees. Can I still use compost?

Absolutely! Compost is good for all plants, except those that live in a sand dune type environment. Many folks will spread their compost on their grass, around ornamental shrubs or in their potted plants. You can even make your own potting mix blends with compost, which is handy if you use a lot of potting mix and want to save money by purchasing the ingredients separately.

Urban Homestead Beginner

It’s no secret that the CO-VID pandemic prompted a lot of folks to start gardens. Some people were concerned about the food supply – crops were unharvested, rotting in the field. Grocery shelves were empty. Others were trying to find a socially distant past time to keep themselves and the kids busy out of the house.

For our client, the Urban Homestead Beginner, it was a bit of both. We’d been over for a brief consultation with the Urban Homestead Beginner about a year prior to evaluate the current landscaping at their new home, but they weren’t even considering a food garden at that point. They are a busy on-the-go family so they thought it’d be too much work.

But, they suddenly found themselves at home, wondering what to do with themselves, and two small active children. Solution – plant a garden!

I was completely new to gardening, I literally couldn’t even keep a basil plant alive before reaching out to Living Roots. After my first virtual consultation I felt confident in planting a small herb garden.

The family’s goals began as a desire to grow food to sustain themselves and to show their children where food comes from. Once the fresh herbs were ready, they were hooked! Mom’s love of gourmet cooking was further inspired by the fresh flavors. Soon, home-grown, delicious meals were coming from their new garden.

Homemade pizza with arugula
Caprese salad with homegrown tomatoes and basil
Homemade pasta with longevity spinach

They started out with a Virtual Consultation. It was made a lot easier by our previous visit, some photos of the yard, and some Google Earth images. Herbs were followed by sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and leafy greens. A month or so later, we had another Virtual Consultation to discuss fruit trees and some edible landscaping to replace some boring shrubs in their side yard.

From there I took every class I could to learn more about maintaining and planting a larger edible garden. All of the information was given in a way that was easy to understand and super easy to follow. Plus the Q & A portion always gave me a chance to ask for more information or guidance and Amanda made sure she answered everyone’s questions no matter how long it took.

Visit our Virtual Course Library to check out our course offerings.

Then came the home-preserved goodies. After participating in a few of Living Root’s food preservation webinars, dehydrating and canning led to homemade holiday gift baskets! They were made from a combination of home grown garden produce, bulk purchases from local farms, and visits to you-pick farms.

The family enjoyed some taste testing to find the right blends.
All packaged up for her homemade gift baskets.

We’re really proud of the progress that Urban Homestead Beginner has made. It’s been a true transformation from black thumb to confident gardener in just a few months. Was everything an immediate success? No. But overall, most crops were harvestable and the whole family has learned skills leading them to eat healthier and be more self-reliant.

Did we mention that our Urban Homestead Beginner’s home is in a community with a strict HOA? For more information about how you can gain skills to become a better gardener, contact Amanda. We’re ready to help you on the path to self-sufficiency!

All photos in this article were taken by our client, the Urban Homestead Beginner.

Garden Projects for Kids

You can expose children to gardening even if you don’t have much space. Your space doesn’t actually need to be outdoors. A sunny window or corner on the front porch can be just enough sun to light up young eyes to the magic of growing. While plants themselves are pretty great, you can jazz it up a bit with simple recycled or common household items. These garden projects for kids will help YOU help your child learn more about gardening while upcycling some common household materials.

Repurposed Recycling

My own child’s pretty into gardens…. for about 5 minutes. He is mostly concerned with planting seeds in the soil. Beyond that, he likes to harvest veggies and to water everything with the hose. That is all wonderful, but I want him to learn patience and observational skills, both important life lessons easily taught through gardening. Sometimes a cutesy craft is all it takes to pique his interest.

I made this cartoony plant drip tray with an empty (and very clean) milk jug. I used a sharp knife and my “expert carving skills” to surprise him with this around Easter time. This one doesn’t have any drainage; we’re using it as a drip tray. If you want to use it as a planter, go ahead and put a drainage hole in the bottom. These work great some planting small herbs, annual flowers or even lettuces. Just some potting soil, a few seeds, and you have an easy classroom project. I’ve seen people line these up on patios or use them to decorate a raised garden bed with “animal friends”.

Some other great upcycle-able items that make great planters include big yogurt containers, small yogurt containers (for starting seeds), and old rubbermaid type totes. Make sure to add drainage to them. If you’re placing these on a patio, the tote lids make great drip trays for plants or even for compost systems like worm bins or tumblers. (You don’t want to stain your pavers!)

This may be the most functional upcycled project I have ever seen. You can easily start seeds or root cuttings from other plants in here, including herbs, sweet potatoes, and houseplants. Many people put cuttings in a little glass of water to root; that works for some plants but not all of them. Rooting in water also develops “water roots” which aren’t as strong as “soil roots” Your plant will be more likely to survive if you root it in soil. This example uses a 2-liter bottle – it’ll offer the most root space, but not necessary. Any plastic bottle will do just fine.

Peek-at-a-Plant Projects (pictures coming soon!!!)

Help make magic come to life by showing kids the hidden parts of the plant – the ROOTS! This is our favorite part. Get it? Living ROOTS Eco Design.

There are some really simple projects you can do to expose the roots of the plant.

This first one requires no special equipment. Bag-of-Beans just uses a sandwich sized Ziploc bag, a paper towel, a few dried beans from the grocery store, a tiny bit of water, masking tape and a window. Simply open the bag, insert a moistened paper towel folded into a “pocket” and a few bean seeds. Seal it up and tape it to a window. Watch to grow everyday. You could have your child draw and record their observations. Open the bag after several days and use it for hands-on science exploration.

This project could easily be upgrade to a mini-greenhouse. Just use moist potting mix instead of paper towel. You can use bean seeds or any other veggie seed. This is an easy compare and contrast activity. Because these plants were grown in soil, you can transfer them to a pot and see if they mature. You might get lucky if you’re carefully when transplanting them. PRO TIP: Open the bag with scissors on the sides to avoid damaging the roots.

You can also make your own Root Viewer from some recycled items you have at home. You’ll need a 1/2 gallon cardboard milk or juice carton, plastic spring mix (lettuce) box, tacky glue, duct tape and some potting mix. Cut the peaked lid off the carton, then thoroughly wash and dry the inside and outside. Follow the directions below, let the glue dry overnight, then fill with potting mix, water, and plant seeds or small plants!

Personal Gardens

Mine, mine, MINE….! We all know young kids like their own stuff. It gives them a sense of ownership. You can help them channel ownership into responsibility through gardening. If you have an outdoor area, these garden projects for kids might be a hit. A big flower pot full of herbs and child-safe plants offers a fun learning experience. You may even get to use some of the herbs. Maybe. The dinosaurs have eaten them all a few times in our “home jungle” and that’s okay.

If you have the space, a raised garden bed will hold a surprising amount of veggie plants. You can make them out of concrete blocks, wooden boards, or purchase one already made. A raised garden bed is usually open on the bottom. This allow plants to develop deeper roots than plants grown in containers. Learn more about container gardening in our self-paced online course.

This garden bed is a fairly inexpensive planter. It was about $50 and looks good enough for a front yard. It’s 2×3 feet – big enough to grow a few bigger plants like peppers or tomatoes and some herbs and lettuces or kale as well.

We drilled several holes in the bottom and the sides about an inch above the bottom of the kiddie pool. My child chose the plants he wanted to plant from a few seedlings that I had at home and some seeds he picked from the store. Notice the trucks and dinosaurs? They lived in the garden for a while.

We added some pine straw as mulch. This will help hold the moisture in and reduce the need for watering. The holes in the bottom will allow the extra water to drain out. Once the garden was mulched, he took out his toys – it was too difficult to play in there among the deeper mulch.

I will say that I made a mistake. I let HIM choose the plants from things I had purchased or started for my own bigger garden. It was easy at the time but his garden isn’t doing very well. No big deal – he’s proud of it and enjoys nurturing it. But, he’s missing out on the best part – the harvest. (Although his mint has really taken off!)

When we replant his garden for the fall I will:

  • Remove the mulch and set it aside.
  • Move out any salvageable plants that need more sun. (We located this garden in a fairly shady spot so he could play during the summer more comfortably.)
  • Amend the soil with some compost.
  • Pre-select a list of plants for him to choose from that are appropriate for the amount of sun and growing season and have shallow roots. For a fall garden in Florida, I will probably let him pick from little finger carrots, lettuce, radish, kale, and chard, nasturtiums, and herbs. I’ll stay away from tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers because they won’t thrive in this space.

Tori’s Family Food Forest

This banana circle was dug 4 feet across by about 3 feet deep and filled with compost. We recommended this immediately because there wasn’t a compost system in place yet, and it provided a way to dispose of some bushes and weeds that needed to be removed.

One of our favorite consulting jobs was Tori’s family food forest. They had just purchased their first home and dreamed of butterflies frolicking through gardens bursting with fresh food. There were a few mismatched shrubs in the backyard, but it was otherwise a blank canvas.

We started out with a Consultation. The whole family was involved – including their energetic dogs, hungry tortoise, and curious young daughter.

Outdoor time for their child was really important to them. We planned ahead to provide spaces that would inspire her to learn and play in the gardens.

During the Consultation, we noticed one side of the yard was really wet and there was a lot of sun – not ideal for a child’s play space in Florida.

“I felt like most of the information I had easy access to was geared towards someone outside of Florida before I spoke to Living Roots. Sustainable gardening can feel very daunting as well. I love the fact that you not only gave me a pretty darn comprehensive crash course in starting my own sustainable cycle, but that you also provided resources for me to deepen my understanding. You are patient with questions and non judgmental. I think anyone who works with you can see you truly care about imparting knowledge to help families live better.”

They wanted something that would produce a lot of food without too much work, and liked a slightly wild jungle-like appearance rather than a design with clean lines and defined borders, so we recommended a permaculture-inspired food forest with lots of Florida native plants for wildlife support.

When you consider the scope of a whole-yard permaculture project, it can seem daunting. There were safety concerns about “construction zones” with a child and the dogs. Tori was worried she’d get overwhelmed and never finish what she started. There was also the neighborhood association. The backyard could be “planted and permacultured” but the front yard needed to follow HOA guidelines. We helped break it down into small weekend-sized projects with a DIY Plan with clear directions and resource lists, and the reassurance that we were there for all of her questions.

How did we get from blank slate to bountiful food forest in less than two years? We dove in with both feet.

  • Planned the banana circle first so there was a space compost the existing landscape.
  • Private home composting session to teach them how to achieve thermal (hot) composting conditions and make a lot of compost really quickly. How do you think they grew such amazing tomatoes and peppers?
  • Guided shopping trip to a large tree and plant sale where we selected the best dwarf fruit trees for her space and taste preferences. (We were going anyway, and invited several clients to join in the fun!)

Bumps in the Road

We had our consultation and prepared the DIY Plan during the dry season. Once the rainy season rolled around, we discovered that the wet area in the yard was pretty swampy after several days of heavy rain. No surprise there – the area was a wetland before it was a neighborhood. Since we were following this project so closely, we were able to have a brief virtual consultation to find a resolution. To soak up the standing water and aid in its percolation into the ground, we planned a small rain garden complete with a cypress tree and some water-loving native flowering plants. The area is still soggy after rain, but there is no longer standing water. The plants in that space are happy, and there’s more of the original habitat to support local wildlife.

Worth the Money?

At several stages along the way, Tori reached out with questions – when can I plant this…. what’s the best variety of… will this flowering plant grow here…. We’re here to help with those questions.

“Working with Living Roots has certainly saved me money. There are plants I didn’t even know about like katuk that are now part of my daily diet. I understand a lot more about shade to help Florida plants thrive so that keeps more alive as well.”