Necessity is the mother of invention: homebound, clueless, yard work?

6 days ago

I'm aging-in-place (aka stay at home or you'll get COVID19), the sun is shining, I have a bare lot (new house, new homeowner), and I have no idea what I'm doing. I clearly need to be gardening and doing yard work, and time is of the essence since spring is short around here [sigh], but how to get myself organized without having a skilled person step on the property....

I suppose I should be planting stuff and cleaning up?

I could use humor and pep talks to keep me going, too.

Anyone up for this?

I'm in northern New England (Zone 4-ish; think potential for -20F) and my lot is Certified Wildlife Habitat. Lots of birds. I'm not wanting a prissy fussed-over garden; messy, wild, but high-interest is more what I'm after.

House is in the middle of a mud pile and hemmed in by north American jungle (white pines, goldenrod, and those trees with twitchy leaves). No leaves on trees yet.

What else would you like to know?

Comments (28)

  • floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

    Do you have any tools or equipment? If so what?

    Also some pictures of what you're dealing with would be helpful.

    tangerinedoor thanked floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK
  • Sigrid

    It's too early to plant much, IMHO. I'm also in NNE, but zone 5. Now is a good time to prune trees and shrubs. You can remove low-hanging branches.

    It's also a good time to plan gardens. You might want to plan a patio area, path through your woods/meadow, etc. For a garden, you might want to start with shrubs. There are tons of natives that like it damp. One way to plan paths is to lay them out with hose.

    It's also a good time to start seeds, with the caveat that lots of our natives require long freeze-thaw cycles, so needed to be started outdoors in the fall.

    My yard needs raking to remove the beech nut shells and dethatch the lawn.

    If you have forsythia, you can bring branches in to force. They will produce lovely spring-like flowers in a week or two. They are practically a weed, so you can chop off lots of branches. If you don't have any, I don't recommend them.

    tangerinedoor thanked Sigrid
  • Related Discussions

    Please help! There's an old kitchen in our "new" house!


    Comments (200)
    You can purchase plate hangers at the hardware store ( even the big box stores carry them ) in the section with picture hanging hardware. They are wires that stretch to fit on the back edges of the plate and then can be hung on the wall. They do not damage the plate but make it secure to hang.
    ...See More

    Do you have a secret hiding place at home for treats just for you?


    Comments (104)
    I guess the freezer wasn't such a great place to hide things, after all...will have to think of another. A funny memory came up with the question, though... I once watched a cooking show with Sharon Osbourne as a guest. She said, when she was trying to get Ozzie to stop drinking, he always hid a bottle in the oven, because he knew she would never look in there... ;p When I lived in SE Asia, most transactions were in cash. So....i frequently had to go to the ATM. My bank provided an escort to your car if you got cash from a teller, but if I went to the ATM, I stuffed the money in my bra...funny enough, a very safe place for a lady to put her money... But then I was in Indonesia during the monetary crisis, and a trip to the ATM had me coming out looking like Dolly Parton. That was the end of that!
    ...See More

    What's your biggest laundry gripe?


    Comments (138)
    Jan Moyer, well said and thank you. I leant the hard way to what I call 'live clean and easy'. Being the oldest girl in a family of 5 children, with a divorced working Mother, I had to pick up 'the slack' at home. My brother and Mother went of to work (from her day job my Mother went on to her second job and was home at about 10pm) and I had to organise the others -and myself- for school. Because I was 'a mean big sister' everyone had to do their bit all had to get up dressed/ teeth brushed, eat brekkie, remember their school goodies and off we walked. Once home we all had to -get lunch, clean house, hang washing(no dryer) then fold, put away and I would start dinner. My brother usually was home about 6pm after work and he too pitched in to look after the younger ones and do any of the 'Man stuff' around the house. It all worked smoothly. It is amazing what necessity teaches each of us. My Mother had a calmer working and home life, we all learnt to live 'clean and tidy'. It was a great life's lesson for us all.
    ...See More

    New House Practically Blank Slate


    Comments (209)
    Nancy, I am so happy for you to be able to live without daily pain, as I have said before I have lived with daily for many years (no, not husband) ;0). Enjoy life, and sewing/decorating. Looking forward to those photos. Margo, sounds like you've had NY cheese cake. I thought Cheesecake Factory would have similar to NY cheesecake, but no they don't. Margo, coleslaw for hubby. Kathy, NY pastrami piled much higher than you can open your mouth, oh my goodness, YUM!! We bought a grill that has 2 sides, one gas, one charcoal so we, no so I can (rat fink hubby) lol, smoke meat or slow cook pastrami, ribs....., I guess we will have to wait for the warm weather again.
    ...See More
  • Tootsie

    If you are allergic to poison ivy, beware! They are not leafed out yet and you won’t know what you are dealing with. ALL PARTS OF THE PLANT WILL CAUSE A REACTION IF YOU ATE SUSCEPTIBLE!

    tangerinedoor thanked Tootsie
  • tangerinedoor

    Here's what seems to be a good first project...

    The snow plow scraped gravel off my driveway and into the yard. I'd like to do at least some kind of planting there or encourage wilderness to take it over during the warm months.

    What do I do? Do I have to rake up all the gravel? Or can I simply disperse the gravel more and plant (I'm thinking wildflowers)? I have approx. 2 lbs of wildflower seeds that didn't get planted in late fall owing to early snow onset.

    There is likely to be some road salt residue here.

    I own a rake and a pointy shovel.

    Ignore the brush and log piles: they're deliberate.

  • mad_gallica

    You are giving very mixed signals about where you are. Potsdam? The Berkshires? Northern Kingdom? No idea, and given that spring goes more by latitude than zone, it matters.

    My guess is that seed starting is about the only gardening task that makes sense right now, but you can't do that without supplies.

    tangerinedoor thanked mad_gallica
  • floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

    Given the size of the plot you're going to need a lot more tools. People in your locality will have more idea than me but I would have thought at least a barrow and some form of weedwacker/scythe. Just to keep on top of growth while you're working on more detailed plans. Probably secateurs, loppers and saws in due course too.

    tangerinedoor thanked floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK
  • Karen Minyard

    The standard advice for anyone moving onto a new property is to wait a year before making changes. I could never abide by this, but is nevertheless good advice. It sounds as if you are on a newly cleared lot so you are not in the position of a homeowner discovering over the course of a season what previous owners had planted and where the spaces are for new plants. But there are still many things to learn. For instance if you set up a chart with a section for March through October and keep a quick record of what parts of the yard were in sun and shade at 8 AM, 10, noon, 2 and 4 you would find it varied over the course of the season. One common mistake that I have made is to think that an area is sunnier than it actually is. However, I have also made the other mistake. I volunteer for several hours a week on a property open to the public and last spring was asked to turn my attention to a neglected space that the staff person referred to as full sun. I corrected her saying it was a shade garden because it was my impression that it was morning sun, but then shaded by the house up the hill from it. An experienced gardener and I stood out there at 11:30 AM and both agreed that the garden was going to be in shade for the rest of the day. In the fall, I happened to be doing my work in late afternoon at that location and realized that it was back in the sun. I now am picking out a slightly different selection of plants for that spot. Last year I used a SunCalc to figure out if part of my veggie bed area was still getting enough sun. I couldn’t use ifi on the public property because I have afraid it would get stolen, and I would have had to make a second trip to do the ready at the end of the day. It’s a nice tool.

    Likewise, you can make plans in your head for where you would like to have a patio/ outdoor eating space or pathway but before you spend money or a lot of effort try these areas out in a simple way for a season. Experience may change your mind. The area may be too windy or the path may be boggy for part of the summer, etc.

    I think the wildflower seeds are a good project for Year 1. You know that you want a border along the driveway. You already have the seed and can experiment and see what comes out of it over time. You can make adjustments, as you learn what works. I have no personal experience with these and have heard that sometimes after a few years one is left with just a few types of plants that have successfully out-competed the others, but that gives you something to start with. You may want to start in a smaller area rather than the whole border area. If you don’t have expert advice on where to put what, it pays to go small and experimental. Plant things that won’t be hard to move (small shrubs, plants that don’t have a taproot etc.) I gardened for years in my yard before learning that the dry shade that I thought was just directly under my maples, actually extended far beyond this since the roots of the trees themselves went far beyond this. I could have taken clues from plants I planted that dwindled down, failing to thrive. So starting small and really looking at what does well is a good way to garden.

    On another topic, I have gotten poison ivy from simply working in soil where poison ivy leaves had fallen in the past. Birds drop seeds around my yard each year. I always have a product like Technu available for cleaning up after exposure. It is still useful even if I notice a touch of rash has already formed on my skin.

    In regard to the gravel the question that comes to mind is whether the snow plow will continue to push gravel into this bed each year. If you can’t prevent this then your best choice may be to see what will grow in this spot that is destined to remain gravel infused.

    I obviously have time on my hands to write such a long spiel.

    tangerinedoor thanked Karen Minyard
  • Christopher C Nc

    Rake and shovel the area smooth, paying attention to how it wants to drain. Sow your seed now and rake them in, as in the first nice day that presents itself. Early spring when snow and rain can settle in wildflower seeds is a fine time to sow. You need to get the ground covered. Nature will help. A little gravel splash will not be a problem for a great many grasses and wildflowers or future plans.

    Depending on what comes up in your dirt will help determine your initial mowing/editing strategy with the goal of nudging this space towards wildflowers.

    tangerinedoor thanked Christopher C Nc
  • john3582

    Granted it is a weird year, but some municipalities mandate a lawn and 1-2 trees must be planted. Also zone 4 is -30 F or -34 C . I know this because I live in zone 4 and no Japanese maples for me. Might also be an idea to send in some soul samples. Our ground is still frozen so no gardening for me.

    tangerinedoor thanked john3582
  • kitasei

    Doing nothing is exactly what you should be doing this season! Do not disturb any soil! Instead start making a complete inventory of every living thing that appears and when. You want to know the weeds, the natives, the invasives, the good bugs and bad bugs and birds and snails. Take pictures of every plant and list it here in the Name this Plant forum. Before you turn around you’ll have the answer. In some cases you will identify a noxious weed that should be extirpated before going to seed so then you have permission to go that. You want to know all of your flora and how each behaves. Then you start to plan a garden. Lucky you to be a wildlife sanctuary! One more thing. Read Doug Tallamy. Any book he’s written. That gives you the most important grounding in ecological gardening and will get you off on the right foot. You don’t seem like the type to fall for it but you are sure to hear from the people telling you to apply roundup and start from scratch. Just NO.

    tangerinedoor thanked kitasei
  • Christopher C Nc

    Raking and smoothing the ground and sowing wildflower seeds is not going to stop what's there from showing up. Anticipating the wildflowers will give you all the time you need to learn about what shows up. You need to get the bare ground covered.

    Being new construction, this is already disturbed, graded ground in all likelihood. Without knowing where this soil came from, who knows what might be in it. You need to get the ground covered. Sow your seed now. Nature will provide the matrix, a living green mulch, that will tolerate your long term mowing/editing strategy to make more wildflowers.

    You don't need to be an expert to start.

    tangerinedoor thanked Christopher C Nc
  • tangerinedoor

    Y'all are a breath of fresh air—just the healthy shot of goodwill I need right now. Wow, you're so kind.

    Okey dokey, first off will be the gravelly challenge. That may take a couple of days. I am now encouraged to sow the wildflower seeds. Worst case scenario, I'll lose a bunch, but I have a big supply!

    Next task. What do you think?: Watch water drainage and lot contours and figure out where to put raised beds, maybe waist high, how the light would be, etc.. I may start with one this year, in full morning sun. I can have it delivered to my doorstep. I will paper-plot a pathway between the raised beds. They won't be for vegetables, which I can get fresh and cheap locally, all nice and clean; but flowers for summer and bird-friendly stuff for winter. The raised beds should minimize water runoff problems (you can correct me) and give me some quality soil to work with.

    I kinda want to train vines over those brush piles for fall color. They might already be targeted by Virginia Creeper, which would save me some work.

    It sounds like you think I could figure out more shrubs and stuff not this year. Good.

    I'll try and answer some of your questions....

    A 10x10 deck is already planned and permitted. I don't want construction folks around the property, so this might have to wait another year.

    Night time activity: I already had the Kindle version of a Doug Bellamy. I love his writing style and perspective. For me, it was a big splurge: but thank goodness for Kindle, since I don't have to leave the property to pick one up. I clearly have to read the rest of it.

    My house is in Vermont. Placed in October. Not manufactured; modular.

    This aspect is rare: I familiarized myself in detail with the property before the home was built, so I have a year and a half experience under my belt (8 months for lot closing and over a year before the house went in). Also, my house is solar (lucky me) and therefore quite sunny. Things will look a bit different when the leaves fill out, but I also have about a thousand photos from last year to guide me.

    I am in a subdivision, but not the kind that has rules about lawns, house color, etc. No other buildings are visible from my house.

    Behind the house it's all shady, but those are white pines back there, and I love the needles underfoot. I don't plan to do much back there—get some offshoots of the bird-friendly shrubs that grow around here—and do battle with the poison ivy which ran amok after they cleared the lot. Thanks, Karen, for reminding me. I figured out a vinegar concoction last summer that seemed to work, and I have one of those large capacity pump-sprayer thingies.

    At this time, I don't need to trim anything. I got the construction crews to do all that needs doing. They removed a couple of 80-foot trees and were otherwise liberal with the chain saw.

    No roundup, no salt, but lots of runoff. There are 2 catch basins for that. The Town designed the lot contours and the storm drainage.

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    - Every year around this time I rake gravel from driveway snowplowing out of the lawn. Make sure things are somewhat dry when you do this.

    - If your house has a foundation, you may need to do digging to remove debris such as concrete leftovers.

    - Research native shrubs and perennials for your area, but don’t be afraid to add non natives such as daffodils or crocus or reticulated iris to extend your season or to add interest. Many plants aren’t fussy but will welcome birds and insects to your yard.

    - Figure out current drainage. I wouldn’t plan to put in raised beds at this point unless your age is such that in ground planting is an issue. It sounds like drainage was planned and you might not want to disrupt that, though you might want to terrace steep slopes. Raised beds are IME more work as far as managing moisture, etc. Plan beds and plant cover crops and add organic matter with compost of some type. Often folks seem to feel like they need to bring in “good” soil, but I have never done more than add lots of organic matter to my beds and remove rocks and construction debris as needed. Find sources for what you plan to plant, and expect to start planting in the fall except for an annual cover crop to hold soil this year. In northern New England, planting when soil is warm tends to be more successful, and it isn’t warm in spring. For instance grass does best when planted around Labor Day, and the majority of my shrubs have been planted in September.

    - Look up directions for how to get soil samples and send to a lab. Vermont has some areas where the soil is highly acidic like in my central NH location and some areas where pH is more alkaline. The test will also give you some basics of organic matter and nutrients so you have an idea what will grow well. It will make a big difference to your success if you start with accurate info.

    - Consider views, both from inside and outside the house. Almost half our year is cold, and you want good view from inside as well as outside. Think about winter interest in the form of interesting colored branches and evergreens as well as bird feeders or warmed water to attract critters or sculpture. What windows do you look out from your favorite chair or what do you want to see from the kitchen window or your office?

    tangerinedoor thanked NHBabs z4b-5a NH
  • tangerinedoor

    I spent mid-day on your suggestions....

    -raking the area in photo above to prepare for wildflower seed

    -raked over another small area next to a spot that seems to be sprouting from seeds I planted in fall; I will seed this, too.

    -began scouting for raised bed spots--I have issues with water runoff, so I have to keep that in mind as I plan

    -beginnings of inventory with 2 items posted in What is this?

    My house has icky, lender-mandated, skirting, thus my need for raised beds. I gotta hide the ugly. Plus, they'll be easier on my bones.

    The birds are going CRAZY. What's with that?

  • Christopher C Nc

    The birds are going CRAZY. What's with that?

    It's spring. The forest's voice is changing.

  • tangerinedoor

    Someone else mentioned this being an unusual amount. They're theorizing it's because there are a lot fewer humans around to disturb them. Interesting thought. I'm way up north in New England, and it's still cold, so this isn't normal.

  • Christopher C Nc

    It was warm enough for you to go outside and do some raking...…..and sow out some bird food.

    tangerinedoor thanked Christopher C Nc
  • tangerinedoor

    LMAO.... All that work getting snow-plow gravel right back where it belonged, and there's 8 inches (so far) of new snow. Back to square one.

  • roxanna7

    As far as garden tools are concerned, since you seem to have only a shovel and a rake, may I make some suggestions? I have gardened in Massachusetts for 40 years, and these are must-haves, IMO:

    -- Muller's Smart Cart . Simply the very best for hauling anything. Expensive, but lasts forever, and parts can be obtained if needed. My original one is over 20 years old, and my second one was bought 5 years ago. Best money I ever spent on garden work!! And made in the USA.

    -- Felco hand pruners.

    -- WaterRight hoses -- lightweight (important to me), and durable. Non-kink and drinking water safe. And colorful!

    -- A hori-hori-type knife for digging in confined spaces. Also a small hand "mattock".

    tangerinedoor thanked roxanna7
  • tangerinedoor

    Roxanna! Your post is very timely! This morning I was outside trying to take cuttings for shrubs with my "suicider" (one of those retractable construction knives) and wishing I had secateurs.

    You think Felco? Do they make them for small hands?

    I can evidently get curbside pickup at Gardener's Supply, which is local here.

  • PRO

    You can take a year to evaluate what you have, but if you have some good guidance and want to proceed with development, there's no reason to wait. If any demolition occurs and good plants are discovered buried within it, they can be dug out, heeled in, in a safe spot and replanted later at a final place.

    Spend some time evaluating the shade and structure of trees. some may not be worth keeping based on poor structure alone, regardless of species.

    If there is any hardscape to be added, plan that first, separately, and complete it before planting in nearby areas. If you install plants before hardscape, many will be destroyed.

    Probably the first actual project you implement will be to create the landscape beds, dividing them from the grass. The beds can be edged with a trench, a mowing strip (more involved installation but classier) or in rustic areas, repeat trimming by the lawnmower might suffice. The easy way to design beds is on paper. Crete a scale "map" [plan] of your yard and then you can figure things out on the plan at a nice comfortable table, rather than while walking around in bad weather.

    For advice on what to do for a specific area, you'll need slightly overlapping pictures that show the complete scene, including background in the distance and at each side .... but not taken from too far away. Pivot the camera to catch the entire scene while always standing at the same spot for a given scene.

    tangerinedoor thanked Yardvaark
  • prairiemoon2 z6b MA

    Wow, I just saw this thread. Lots of people home with some enthusiasm to get outside and to talk about gardening. Haven't the time right now to read it....lol. Have to get outside this morning and get some things done, but look forward to reading it later. Happy spring, hope we all get a lot done.

    tangerinedoor thanked prairiemoon2 z6b MA
  • roxanna7

    tangerinedoor -- Yes, the Felco pruners are available for small hands, as mine are, also! And come in left- or right-handed versions, if that is a concern. They are heirloom-type tools, IMO, and unless you lose one in the yard somewhere, as I did many years ago (never to be seen again), they will last forever. Replaceable blades, too.

    Gardener's Supply is one of my top favorite companies!!! Lucky you, to live near them. I've ordered from them for decades. I believe they carry that Water Right hose...

    Start saving up to purchase that Muller's garden cart -- it's definitely worth the expenditure! I plan to be buried in mine when the time comes, lol.

    tangerinedoor thanked roxanna7
  • tangerinedoor

    More thanks for Yardvaark. Now I have your layout for my front entrance (https://www.houzz.com/discussions/5885787/my-front-path-needs-some-pretty-i-need-experienced-eyes#25293017) I can start choosing and organizing those purchases (prolly May) while I figure out how the rest of the property works. That's this post.

    I have begun taking inventory, as suggested upthread, and one of my "What is this?" posts has drifted into taking cuttings from shrubs. I did my first batch last night. I'll have to eat more yogurt to generate containers before I do another batch.

    Since we had a foot of snow this week, I'm also paying attention to where runoff goes. I've been digging ditches (hard in some spots 'cos the ground is frozen) to make the runoff more orderly. That way, I'll be able to plant stuff without it getting saturated all the time.

    Aaaand.... a woman was walking by trying to entertain her young grandchild. I asked her if they could help me pick up trash around the subdivision (good "social distance" activity). She volunteered that she was going to get some older homebound students to make "Do NOT throw trash" signs! Great idea, huh?

  • tangerinedoor

    roxanna7, what model of Felco pruners do you have? It would probably be smart for me to have a lightweight pair for clipping flowers, etc. and a second pair that's more robust for cutting twigs, etc. I don't need loppers right now.

    I'm on a budget, and don't want to spend a lot of money, but yes, IME, there's no substitute for good secateurs.

    I also have to get some garden gloves with padded hands since my old ones have been converted to Covid19 shopping gloves..


    Later... roxanna7 do the Felco #6 look appropriate? Local Gardener's Supply has them in stock, with curbside pick up.

    Do you know of another tool or 2 from Gardeners' Supply if I make a pickup run? They have waaay more in the store than on the website, so you might be familiar?

  • roxanna7

    tangerinedoor -- Yes, my Felco is #6. Funny, I do not see the Felco brand on their website, just their own brand. Which may be dandy, but I would still prefer the real Felco... I use mine for flower clipping AND for general pruning of twigs/thin branches.

    I also really like their TubTrugs. Fun colors, and SO very useful for weeding, and more. I wonder about the black ones they offer that are made of recycled rubber -- I suspect they may weigh more, which is a consideration for me (negative) but they may also be more rugged (which would be a positive). The colorful tubtrugs last well enough -- most of mine are several years old -- but be careful about leaving them out in freezing weather.

    Another tool they offer is the Spear Head Spade. Excellent if you have stony soil, as I do. Better than the round shovel for the job of actually digging. Ask for it for Christmas or your birthday!

    Their French Blue Watering Can is wonderful. Even fully loaded, I can manage it nicely (full disclosure: I am under 5 foot tall and 74 this year, lol). Besides, it looks pretty in the garden and I leave it out there all the time (too lazy to walk to the shed constantly).

    The Dirty Little Digger is indispensable, IMO, but theirs is a tad expensive. You can find one cheaper elsewhere, I believe. I do everything with mine when it comes to planting.

    Here's a tip for plant labels, when you get to that stage: buy a cheap vinyl Venetian blind, separate the slats and cut into appropriate lengths. Use pencil to i.d. your plant (lasts longer and doesn't fade). I write on both sides of it, burying one written side below soil, which seems to keep things from fading at all.

    And whatever you do when you start making gardens, DO NOT use weed cloth!! It will not keep weeds from growing and is hideous to remove. I'm still finding some under weedy areas that the former owners did, and I've been here for 23 years. Grrr!

    Have fun with your blank slate! Keep us posted as time goes on.

    P.S. If you want some daylilies or hosta, I like to share!

    tangerinedoor thanked roxanna7
  • tangerinedoor

    Thanks, roxanna7, for the info on the Felco. Gardener's Supply told me they have Felco, just not in their online store. They don't have hardly anything in their online store, as far as I can tell.

    I will plan to avoid weed cloth. Great tip on the Venetian blind labels!

    And some daylillies might be a good plan (thanks for the offer), but I think I'll wait 'til next year. I have to take care of this front, and do some stuff out back, since it's quite bare back there and will be a mess.

  • Linda G (zone 5b)

    to add to what roxanna7 said, I have used beige Venetian blind labels. which look a little better than the white, which can look like little mouse gravestones! I use a elmers paint pen - can get at Wal-mart - which does not fade.

    tangerinedoor thanked Linda G (zone 5b)

Need help with an existing Houzz order? Call 1-800-368-4268