Murphy Topsoil

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Tip of the Month

Garden planning and climate change

As we patiently await the start of another gardening season it is a good time to sit down and reflect on the past year.  We can all agree that our climate is changing.  Here on the west coast, we are experiencing warmer temperatures year round and much drier summers.  Water restrictions are starting earlier and full out watering bans during the summer months are likely to become a recurring issue.  With some thought and planning your yard does not need to look like a desert wasteland.  Removing any plants that struggled through the summer months and replacing them with native grasses and drought tolerant, sun loving  perennials and shrubs will pay off in the long term.  Look for plants with multi season interest that attract bees and butterflies.  With proper planting and mulching your plants should do well with watering them once a week or less when well established.  Healthy plants will be naturally resistant to pests and eliminate the need for pesticides.  Replace some of your lawn area  with garden beds, walk ways  and patios.  Flower pots, hanging baskets and planters look great but they dry out quickly and require daily and in some cases even more frequent watering.  We invest a lot of money annually in the spring when the garden centers are overflowing with bright and colorful blooms. Plan ahead and choose the right plants for the right spots in your yard and it will look great even in mid August!

Making new Garden Beds


With the trend leaning towards, water conservation, municipal bans on  herbicides and pesticides, we are starting to look at large lush dark green lawns in a new light.  Lawns require constant care.  You de-moss, de-thatch, kill the weeds, lime, fertilize, top dress and re seed, then water and mow all summer.   Time to re assess that yard!  Large deck spaces made of low maintenance recycled composite materials,  trendy new outdoor furniture, inexpensive water features and container gardening is more eco friendly and much less work!  Replacing some of that high maintenance lawn with an easy care garden bed is a step in the right direction.  Garden centers are over flowing with colorful annuals, perennials, shrubs and small trees.  The annuals will give you an instant hit of color that will last all season.  Perennials are a bit more expensive but will return bigger and better every year.  Add in a small specimen tree with multi season interest and a couple of flowering shrubs and you have a little piece of Eden right in your own back yard.

First map out the area you want to make into a bed using a garden hose.  Give it enough depth to be able to layer the bigger plants at the back and some shorter ones at the front.  The depth will vary depending on the space you have available.   Take your lawn mower and run it along the hose to make sure you have a shape that will be easy to mow later.  Sheer the grass as close as you can to the ground.  If you want you can use a non selective herbicide and kill it first.  Cover the grass/ground with 8 layers of newspaper and dampen well.  The newsprint uses vegetable based dyes so you don’t have to worry about them.  Cover it all with a minimum 6 inches of good garden soil.  Plant and then top with 4 -6 inches of composted bark and you are done!  Water well until your plants are established.  The soil will feed your plants for the summer without needing anything else.  Do not use landscape fabric – EVER!  Weed seeds blow in on the wind or are dropped by birds etc and will root on the top of the soil.  If left the weeds will root right through the fabric anyway.  Your mulch will deter the weeds, help with moisture retention, and will feed your soil as it breaks down.  Send us a before and after picture to our facebook page !!!  Just think of all that relaxing time you will have this summer!



Spring !!

The days are getting longer, the grass is growing and little bursts of color are appearing everywhere.  Now is the time to get a jump start on your gardening.  A little work now can save hours of weeding, watering and fertilizing later.  Now is the time to divide any large clumps of ornamental grasses.  Once they get to a good size they will start to die in the middle if they aren’t divided regularly.  It’s a big job but well worth the effort and you get to add more plants to your yard!  Check for any other plants such as Lillies and Iris’s that could benefit from a division.  Once everything has been relocated ( or you have had to add another garden bed to accommodate your new plants!) you will need to give everything a nice topdressing of fresh garden soil or compost. If you have one, your compost bin will have broken down over the winter into a rich dark soil amendment.  Our garden soil contains all the nutrients to support vigorous plant growth for the entire season.    Insects pray on plants that are stressed or compromised in some way.  Healthy plants mean fewer insects and no need for pesticides.  To keep the weeds under control a light topdressing of dark, fine, composted bark will finish things off.  The bark helps to retain moisture by protecting the soil from the heat of the sun .  The topdressing stays loose so the weed seeds that do happen to root are easily removed without the usual tugging and digging!  Your maintenance time is drastically reduced and the dark bark compliments all foliage types and colors.  A little work now and you will have lots of time to sit and enjoy your beautiful yard all summer.

Winter Tips!


Another gardening season has come to an end.  The winter months are a time to reflect on the past seasons accomplishments ( or failures!) and a time to plan for the spring.  The trend for 2015 will continue to be low maintenance gardens with drought tolerant vegetation.  Edible landscaping and container gardening will continue to be popular in the coming year.

The National Garden Bureau has announced their plant selections for 2015.  For annuals 2015 will be the year of the Coleus.  For vegetables and edibles they have chosen the Sweet Pepper.  For Perennials 2015 will be the year of the Gaillardia.

These three selections were chosen for their hardiness, exciting new varieties and ease of  availability.  Watch for these plants being showcased at nurseries in the new year.  In the meantime enjoy the rest it won’t be long before the spring bulbs and the weeds wake up!

Happy Holidays to all and all the best in the New Year!


Fall Lawn Care


Fall is the perfect time to give your lawn a little help recovering from the long hot summer.  The cooler weather and shorter days provide the best conditions for root growth and rejuvenation.  Fall aeration helps remove any compaction that may have occurred from heavy traffic etc.  Removing the compacted soil will improve drainage and help prevent those mossy areas that grow during the  wet winter months . Removing plugs of soil and topdressing with a good sandy lawn soil and fresh grass seed will help replenish and repair thin and bare spots .  The nitrogen in the topdressing will help the grass seed get a good start and will help the existing grass restore it’s energy reserves before winter sets in.  Use a good grass seed that is blended to suit your growing conditions ( sun or shade, high traffic etc).  Should you choose to apply a fertilizer,  make sure that you follow  a fall – use application and  the manufacturers directions.

Keeping your flowers blooming!



It can be a challenge keeping all those containers, baskets and bedding plants looking great through out the summer.  Without proper feeding, trimming and watering, by the time we get into August things are not looking their best!  Deadheading is really important.  When the flower wilts and the petals drop off the plant will put all of it’s energy into making seeds instead of new flowers.  Removing the spent flowers keeps everything looking much neater and tricks the plant into making more blooms.  Use a small pair of scissors to  make a clean cut.  Remove the entire flower head without cutting any new buds that may be hidden underneath.

Fertilization is key in baskets and containers.  With daily watering it is easy for a lot of the nutrients to simply get washed away.  Keeping a steady supply of food will help your plants keep blooming.  Check for fertilizers with a higher Phosphorus ( P ) the middle number.  Phosphorus is responsible for the roots and also the blooms.  Slow release granules are also available but you have to remember to replenish them.  Always follow the directions as too much fertilizer can damage your plants.  Bedding plants are a little easier to maintain.  Deadhead and water regularly.  Good garden soil ( like ours!!) will provide the nutrients your plants need for the entire season.  Allowing some seed heads to form going into fall, will give you seeds for next year!

Edible Gardening


Whether you have a city lot or a small balcony food gardening is a rapidly growing trend.  There is just something so satisfying about stepping out your door with a pair of scissors and returning minutes later with a bowl full of organic salad greens worthy of a gourmet restaurant!  Having a garden plot requires time and effort that is not an option for many busy lifestyles.  Container gardening and the incorporation of food plants in our landscapes is a wonderful compromise.  With a growing awareness to the health benefits of  berries why not add a couple blueberry plants to your yard or deck? They are a nice looking shrub with many smaller sized varieties to accommodate any size yard.  Blueberry plants look beautiful in bloom in the spring and the leaves turn a lovely red in the fall.  There are also fun new varieties like”Pink Lemonade ” available.  There are many different edible flowers that look fabulous and turn an ordinary salad or even a bowl of ice cream into a  creation.  Nasturtiums and Violas are bright and trailing and can be planted in containers or into flower beds.  Swiss Chard makes a great focal point in beds or containers with varieties like ” Bright Lights” the ribs are bright and multi colored and they taste good too!  Don’t forget to plant some Chives, with their pretty purple flower heads.  A must have is a pot of Mint.  Mint can be invasive so always keep it contained in it’s own pot.  Keep it handy for a relaxing cup of orange or chocolate mint  tea.  Impress  your guests with a fresh Mojito at your next bar b que.  Check out your local nursery for fun new edible plant varieties !

Time to get the garden gloves on!


Here we are into spring and everything is waking up!  The hummingbirds are back and the bees are busy.  Now is the time to get a jump on all the garden maintenance so you can spend more time sitting on the deck this summer.  Give the flowerbeds a good weeding.  Cut back any dead foliage on your perennials and ornamental grasses.  Trim back your winter heather as it finishes blooming.  Cut back your lavender just above any new shoots.  Any clumps of perennials or grasses that have become too big or are performing poorly should be divided.  Bamboo, Heucheras, Daylillies, and  Hostas, are easy to divide, just make sure each new division has a few roots and some shoots.   Spring bulbs like Snowdrops, Crocus, Muscari and Scillas should be left to go to seed if you want them to naturalize.  Always leave the foliage on your spent Daffodils and Tulips.  Remove the flower head and allow the foliage to die back naturally.  This is what recharges the bulb for next year. To save yourself a lot of work later in the season, give your beds a good topping with a layer of well rotted compost or a few inches of  beautiful dark composted bark mulch.  This will help deter the weeds, help immensely with water retention during the dry spells, and it looks fantastic !!

It’s time to Prune!


Spring is just around the corner so if you haven’t pruned back those fruit trees and shrubs now is the time!  Most shrubs will benefit from a cleanup while they are dormant.  You wouldn’t want to be operated on while you were awake would you?.  Practice the 3-D’s method.  Dead, diseased, or damaged.  Remove any dead branches, or any branches growing inwards.  Any branches that are crossed or rubbing together, pick the smaller of the two and prune it out.  Try to prune to an outwards facing bud and cut just above it angling away from the bud.  Plants need light and good air circulation to stay healthy.  Try to never prune any more than 30%  at one time to help avoid an over abundance of watersprouting.

Spring blooming trees and shrubs start setting buds once they have finished flowering so they need to be pruned shortly after.  Plants like lilacs, forsythia, weigela and winter heather.  Now is the time to trim up willows, dogwoods, elder some wisteria and other vines.

Don’t be intimidated by the rules, practice the 3 d’s, trim for shape more than size and less is usually the safer route until you figure it out!

What do we do with those Poinsettias ??

Poinsettias are the most popular holiday flower.  With such an array of colors and price points most homes are left in January wondering what to do with them now?  Poinsettias require a lengthy and exacting process to encourage re blooming.

Jan-March :  Poinsettias like lots of light so place it in the brightest window you have in a draft-free spot.  Maintain a day time temp of 18-23 degrees Celsius (65-75 f) . Night time temperature can drop to 14 c ( 60 f).   Water whenever it feels dry to the touch.  Water until it comes out of the bottom and drains well.  Do not let it sit in water.

April : Starting on the 1st gradually decrease the water by letting it dry out between waterings.  Pick up the pot and if it feels light then it’s time to water again.  If the stem shows any sign of shriveling it is under too much stress and requires a bit more frequent watering.  In 1-2 weeks it will have adjusted and should be moved to a cooler spot with a temperature of 14c ( 60f).

Mid May : Cut the stems back to 4″ and re pot in a slightly larger pot with new potting soil.  Water well.  Place it back in the sunny window and keep at 18-23 degrees c (65-75 f).  Water whenever it feels dry. Once new growth begins fertilize every 2 weeks.

June: Move outside and keep in a partly shaded spot.  Maintain water and feeding schedule.

Early July : Pinch each stem back 1 inch to encourage bushiness.

Mid Aug : Pinch or cut new stems leaving 3-4 leaves on each shoot.  Bring it back inside to that sunny window and continue watering and feeding.  Make sure the temperature stays above 18c (65f).

Oct : To re bloom your poinsettias need 10 weeks of 12 hours or less of sunlight a day.  Beginning on the 1st keep in COMPLETE darkness from 5pm to 8 am.  ANY light will delay blooming.  During the day place in the window, continuing watering and feeding schedule.

Last week Nov : You can now leave your plant in the window (congrats!!) You should see flower buds.

Dec : Stop fertilizing Dec 15th.  Keep watering.  Hopefully it will be back in bloom for the Christmas season!!

I recommend you say thanks for the memories, close your eyes and “chuck” it !!  Good Luck!