Archive for Lesson Your Footprint – Sustainable Gardening

Christmas Tree Afterlife Will Delight Wildlife

After Christmas, when your tree has served a charming tradition, your tree can have an afterlife as protection for the wildlife.


Here, at Helen’s Haven, we put our tree in the Mixed Border to go form hanging glitzy ornaments inside to tweet treats outside.
Making Tweet Treats: Gather the kids, birdseed, cranberries, bagels, peanut butter and string. Spend a couple hours creating treats for your birds

Detail of Lily's tweet treat

Other “ornaments” to hang include orange halves, popcorn garland, and suet balls.


When the birds come to the tree for tweets, they will also find cover.   Whether the tree is upright in the yard or lain on its side, the birds will enjoy a quick escape from prey and the elements.  Christmas trees provide cover as a whole tree or with the side limbs snipped away and piled for a wildlife brush pile.


A tree erected downwind of the prevailing wind can offer your bird friends some protection from the cold, desiccating winds.

Come spring when the foliage returns, winds settle down, and natural food sources abound, your tree can be chipped and turned into mulch for the garden or material to delineate paths.

A Christmas tree’s afterlife will be the birds winter delight!

Helen Yoest is a garden writer and coach through her business Gardening with Confidence™

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenYoest and her facebook friend’s page, Helen Yoest or Gardening With Confidence™ Face Book Fan Page.

Helen also serves on the board of advisors for the JC Raulston Arboretum


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Fresh Cut Christmas Trees Versus Artifical Trees

The What is Greener discussion of Fresh Cut Christmas Trees versus Artificial Trees has seemed to have stabilized.  In my mind, its a wash.  A trade-off of pros and cons to the environment appear to be equal.

I prefer to walk my carbon footprint with Santas  – used year after year, no lighting required (something both tree types use), and no live option, so it can’t be debated.  The only ones in the Christian world who don’t like Santas are the gnomes.  They’ll get over it..

You can decide.  I wouldn’t bother with a tree at all, but my kids are keen on it and I happen to like those glitzy globs  they call ornaments; ornaments have to be hung somewhere.

There are three main considerations and the pros and cons to go with each: CHEMICAL – DISPOSAL – FUEL USE.


REAL Trees – There may be pesticides on the tree.  Bringing the tree  into the house, bringing pesticides and all.

ARTIFICAL Trees – PVC Plastic (Polyvinyl chloride) and the possible threat of lead from needles.


REAL Trees – Fuel is used to transport trees and driving to purchase.

ARTIFICAL Trees  – As the result of manufacturing and delivery.


REAL Trees- Easy to compost or to use elsewhere in the garden such as hides for wildlife and mulch.

ARTIFICIAL Trees – Will never decompose.  If you go the route of an artifical tree, plan to hold on to it as long as possible.  That will be the best way to Lesson Your Footprint.

Helen Yoest is a garden writer and coach through her business Gardening with Confidence™

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenYoest and her facebook friend’s page, Helen Yoest or Gardening With Confidence™ Face Book Fan Page.

Helen also serves on the board of advisors for the JC Raulston Arboretum

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October 27, 2009 City of Raleigh Water Conversation Efforts

Asters garden 005

At Helen’s Haven, water wise gardening and water conservation are as important as the plants.  Since experiencing the worse drought in 100 years in 2007, my garden was redesigned to plan for the future…a long future.  While I began these efforts to garden FOREVER, I now do it to satisfy my conscious.  I know I’m doing my part to conserve water for the future of gardening, for lifestyle, for need.

Helen’s Haven recently aired on TV  MyNC

Lesson your footprint Water Wise Gardening

It is also important for me to share that water wise gardening is only one of several aspects of sustainable gardening.  Just one brick in the wall.  Check out other articles in my column entitled Lesson Your Footprint.

October in the Garden Maintenance Tips

Copy and photos by Helen Yoest

Helen Yoest is a garden writer and coach through her business Gardening With Confidence Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenYoest and her Facebook page, the Gardening With Confidence fan page. Helen also serves on the board of advisors for the JC Raulston Arboretum.

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W A T E R W I S E Gardening



Water only when plants need watering. Water less frequently and deeply. Early morning watering is best – there is less loss due to evaporation and the leaves will dry faster reducing the invitation for fungal disease.  Most established herbaceous perennials only need about an inch of water once every one or two weeks.

Add organic matter.  Add 2 – 3 inches of organic mulch to cover your beds and add a heaping handful of organic material as you prepare a hole for new plantings.  Organic matter helps aerate clay soils and holds in moisture in sandy soils.  It also breaks down to enhance the soil.

Treat the planet, yourself, your garden, your community, and your checkbook to a waterwise garden. A waterwise garden has three zones for plantings with similar requirements. The Oasis zone is nearest the water source and includes areas such as window boxes, containers, and entrance gardens. The closer to the water source, the easier it is to water. These planting areas can hold your thirstiest plants. The Transitional zone is for areas that have plantings that require water only during the driest of times. And the Xeric zone is for plants in areas furthest from a water source that require no supplemental water.

Eliminate thirsty plants dotted around the garden beds. Journey through your garden with a notebook. Draw a line down the middle of the page – one side entitled KEEP and the other side entitled QUIT. Mourn your losses and then move on. Evaluate each plant’s needs within its location. Move thirsty plants to the Oasis zone, give them away, or use for compost. Also evaluate what did well and then plant more of those achievers.

Reduce lawn size or switch to low maintenance grasses. Consider going Dormant for the Moment. Choose not to water thirsty grasses; let them go dormant. They will return when the rains return.

Water the ground, not the plants. Use an end-of-hose sprayer, drip irrigation, soaker hoses, or watering can – saturate the ground and leave the leaves dry.

Improve potting soil mixes. Incorporate water-retaining polymers into the potting soil for your container gardens. They really make a difference.

Save your water. Add rain barrels. An inch of rain from a 1,000 square foot roof will give you 602 gallons of water. Figure the water will run down the spouts evenly from your home. If you have four drain spouts, divide 600 by 4 to get 150 gallons per drain spout. This will flow into your rain barrel with overflows directed to other parts of your garden – specifically your Oasis zone.

Evolve with the planet. As our climate changes, change with it.

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Identifying Eastern Evergreen Bagworms

With July comes the noticeable telltale signs of foliage damage on evergreens such as junipers, Leyland cypress, and the like.  The culprit?  Eastern Evergreen bagworms.  Look closely.  That bugger is well disguised.

Manteo 2009 187

Helen Yoest
Gardening With Confidence

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Confessions of a sustainable gardener – Part 4 Right Plant, Right Place


Confessions of a Sustainable Gardener

Part 4 – Right Plant, Right Place

Lavendar April 27, 2008 062


Right plant, right place is Part 4 in the Confessions of a Sustainable Gardener journey.  The order is not significant. I started with pest (Part 1 – Pest) because this was where I started my journey to become a sustainable Gardener; or rather, where I stopped; I stopped using pesticides, organic or otherwise.

The rest of the series of posts is somewhat in a logical order.  Part 2 Soil, was second because gardens are only as good as its soil.  Part 3, is to express my madness for mulch.

Gardening with confidence can be achieved with one simple mantra: Right plant for the right place. Seems simple enough. Yet, not following this mantra is often times why gardening goals are not met. Here’s my take on right plant, right place. Understanding these five essential elements will help you garden with confidence.


philbrookraleighyoest-13There is a lot of talk about zonal denial, micro-climates, and changes in our zones due to global warming. If you are a risk taker and know your garden well, then by all means push the limits with your gardening zone. In my garden, Helen’s Haven, Zone 7b in Raleigh, North Carolina, I no longer take these risks. I’m perfectly happy in the zone I own. I know plenty of folks that plant zone 8 and even zone 9 plants in our zone 7b gardens and are thrilled with their success, even if it may be short lived. I use to, but don’t anymore. I find it is even risky planting plants on the zone’s edge. Ideally, I like to wrap a zone around a plant, putting me into choosing plants for zone 7a, but not always. This year, I will be replacing a Clematis armandii, zoned for our 7b gardens. But, alas, we had a particularly hard winter.


december-25-2008-090We need to accept the soil we’re dealt or be prepared to amend. I have yet to garden in perfect soil, and still, I find gardening success. I’m a heavy amend-er and believe in the power of mulch. In our area of the Piedmont region of North Carolina, there is clay and sand. In the heart of Raleigh, where I am, it is all clay. As you move outside of Raleigh, you’ll find sandy soil. So when I read a plant label that recommends planting in well drained soils, I know they are not talking to me. But planting these plants in my garden is a risk I’m willing to take. Why? Because here I have some control; I can amend my soil. I have amended all my garden beds, one planting hole at a time. Adding composted leaf mulch or other organic matter to the hole and blending it with the clay with some added insurance of a permanent clay buster such as PermiTil, I can make my sticky clay soil friable. In any garden soil type, you cannot go wrong adding more organic matter. Then top dress the garden beds with a lush, thick layer of mulch each year to moderate the soil temperature, suppress weeds, retain water and generally tiding up the garden. By doing so, you’ll have a happy garden.


Full sun, part sun, part shade, dappled shade, full shade, afternoon sun, morning sun, winter sun, more sun. Know your sun. If the plant tag says full sun (6 hours or more a day) then that means it needs full sun. Anything less, and the plant will not perform at its best. However, having said that, you can use the sun requirements to “tame” plants as well. As an example, I like Akebia quinata commonly know as five-leaf Chocolate vine. This is an invasive vine. However, I grow this sun lover in the shade where it is well behaved. Remember this: The north side will have the least sun, the south side the most. The eastern side will have cool light, the western side hot. Of course all this depends on what’s above and if it is deciduous. There is nothing mysterious about this. Take the time to identify areas in your garden and track each hour. To see the effects of the suns angle, track around March 21, June 21, September 21 and December 21. The results may surprise you. Also good to repeat every few years as your plants (and your neighbor’s plants) mature.


helenyoestgarden-1The last thing I want to do is deny myself is a plant based on watering needs. But I’m also prudent. I garden water wisely. By that I mean, I have my gardens grouped into three watering zones: Oasis, Transitional, and Xeric. I’m also fortunate in that I have most sun types covered in each of my watering zones. When I garden shop, the plants watering needs are a high priority for me. But because my garden is designed in zones, it narrows down where I will plant it in the garden. This also makes my garden purchases easy. I wont waste money on a thirsty plant requiring shade if the only area in my Oasis zone is sun. Also, it allows me to have a mental map of my garden with me at all times. I do not want to spend any more time than I have to on watering. The thought of dragging a hose around, past 10 drought tolerant plants to reach one thirsty plant is not part of my makeup. I’m way smarter than that.


We all have our critter challenges. For some it’s deer, others moles, voles, and armadillos. For me its rabbits. Bunnies are my nemesis! I have voles and moles too and once when a new development was going in two miles away, I saw evidence of displaced deer. Then I actually saw the critter. A sight common to many, but not to me. That deer was so out of character in my garden, it might as well have been a kangaroo. I’ve given up worrying about critters. If I don’t have a chance at winning, I’m not going to play. I do what and where I can, but I will not be a slave to sprays. I don’t have the time or the where-with-all that requires an exact spray schedule. I get no pleasure from it either. These critter repellent sprays work fine, but need to be kept up. When I look back at what I had to give up, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I first thought. I can only have a few Hosta, because the voles love them. I have voles. But I also love Hellebores, so I grow Hellebores – the voles don’t bother them. The bunnies will have to go elsewhere to Echinacea because I will no longer provide these favorites of mine as a favorite for them. As for the Rudbeckia, I’m trying them in a tall pot this year. I may try to put some Echinacea in a pot as well.

So you see, understanding these five essential elements will give you what you need to Garden with Confidence. Follow the mantra of the right plant for the right place, do what you can and except what you can’t and you’re good to go!

Helen Yoest
Gardening With Confidence

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Confessions of a sustainable gardener – Part 3 Mulch


Confessions of a Sustainable Gardener

Part 3 – Mulch



Mulch is Part 3 in the Confessions of a Sustainable Gardener journey.  The order is not significant. I started with pest (Part 1 – Pest) because this was where I started my journey to become a sustainable Gardener; or rather, where I stopped; I stopped using pesticides, organic or otherwise.

The rest of the series of posts is somewhat in a logical order.  Part 2 Soil, was second because gardens are only as good as its soil.  This post, Part 3, is to express my madness for mulch. I believe in the power of mulch!

The Power of Mulch

Covering garden beds with mulch is one of the best things you can do for your garden. Used generously, mulch breaks down to add nutrients to the soil, helps retain moisture, moderates the soil temperature, improves soil texture, suppresses weeds, and looks great; it really makes the garden look tidy.

I would like to say that I began adding mulch to my gardens for all the right reasons, but like everything else that led me to become a sustainable gardener, I backed into this.

Mulch makes a garden look tidy. I’m a tidy gardener. Decades ago, before I really knew why and what I was doing, my goal was a pretty garden; I did what I did solely because it looked good.

Sure, I figured it added nutrients to the soil as it broke down, but I was fertilizing back then, so this didn’t matter to me. Ok, so it retains moisture. So what? If the plant was thirsty I watered it. Besides, I was looking for a reason to be in the garden. Moderate the soil temperature – huh?

Mulch Varieties

Over the years, I have used a variety of mulch types – pine straw, various sized pine bark nuggets, shredded hardwoods, compost, gravel.

Pine straw is easy to apply and widely available in North Carolina, the pine state. Nuggets have their place in my garden still. They make great mulch in the rose garden; their size and color are the perfect 250-gallon-water-harvester-001complement to the rose bushes. Mini nuggets also make a nice path, giving a visual direction on top of another mulch.

Shredded hardwood (I like triple better than double) is what is used primarily in this area. For years, I used triple shredded mulch and loved it. I’ve moved on.

What turned me off about the shredded mulches was, again, looks and then substance.

It would sadden me to gardens newly installed, looking grand, and apparently left to fend for itself. At first everything looked perfect and the mulch, usually a triple shredded hardwood, had a nice brown color lying warmly over the dirt.

Not long after installation, the worst looking part of the new garden was the old mulch. The water washed all the smaller particles away leaving large chunks in the mulch that get bleached out by the sun and look like old bones in a dessert. Or if it is in the shade, just big chunks with some other weed invading the mulch.

The biggy for me though was when I scratched the surface; I would often find crusty, compacted mulch covering DRY ground. The shredded mulches knit together keeping it in place, but also reducing the about of water penetration.

About 10 years ago, I stared to use composted leaf mulch. Black chunky (albeit trashy) gold. Whenever anyone visits my garden, the first question they ask enthusiastically is, “What kind of mulch do you use?”

Raleigh has a great yard waste operation, including composting the leaves collected in the fall. The leaf suckers work the neighborhoods in the fall, taking the leaves to the city yard waste center and compost them.

These leaves are ready for our gardens in about 3 months. They really work this operation. I go there often and just admire the workers coming and going in their big earth moving equipment. Unfortunately, they don’t deliver. During the year when I need to supplement, I can haul about 1.5 cubic yards in Cosmo, my Ford 150 pick up truck. For my big annual application, I call Mulch Masters for delivery.

I almost feel guilty talking about it because it is not widely available. Of course, you can make your own with the leaves that fall in the fall, assuming you have them or have access to them. But I add 20 cubic yards of mulch each year in the winter with an additional 4 cubic yards during the year. That is more of an operation I want to take on in my half acre suburban lot.

Check with your city or county to see what is available to you locally.

The dark rich color makes me the envy of the gardening community. Composted leaf mulch also keeps its color. But because it’s composted, it will break down faster than other mulches. As such, it needs to be added yearly. But as it breaks down, those nutrients are going right into the soil.

Creating a New Garden Bed

Depending on my available time, I go about creating new beds in two ways. The first is with no time on my side. During these times, I mark the bed’s shape, scarify the surface with the tiller, cover with mulch and till in. Because of my horrible clay soil, writing about it is much easier than doing it. My little Mantis tiller is often taking a break while I take a forceful foot to the shovel’s ledge. Then I blend the mulch with the soil. When I have all the giant shovel sized chunks of clay broken and blended with mulch to a reasonable size, usually golf ball-sized chunks, I top dress with 3 – 4 inches of mulch.

The slow approach is much more to my liking, but being reasonable, it doesn’t always happen this way. Let’s face it, when we got it in our minds to create, we don’t want to wait. But if you have time on your side, this is a great approach.

Mark the beds, cover with 8 to 10 layers of wet newspaper and cover with 3 – 4 inches of mulch – ideally a composted type.  Soon the earthworms will begin to move it into the existing soil. In about 6 months, the soil can easily be worked. It is moist, rich and ready. For these gardens, I just amend the holes as I need them, not the entire bed.

Winter Application

The ideal time to mulch is in the winter after a period of cold. Keeping the garden mulched all winter, doesn’t allow the ground to freeze, thus keeping some pest alive. It also easier to mulch when there is less to work around.   But you don’t want the ground to freeze and thaw too much or heaving may occur.

The drawback to this winter mulching is that it can work so well that it suppresses many desirable reseeding annuals such as larkspur, impatients, and poppies. These seeds reseed best when exposed to the sun and not covered.


I add supplemental mulch to my beds usually early summer. It is never my intention to do so, but invariable I disturb the mulch with a new planting and I need to tidy it up. In the end, I came full circle. I’m still a tidy gardener; a vein practice that lead to great things for the garden.


Look for more posts in my collection of sustainable practices, including planting the right plant in the right place, fertilizers, water-wise design, rain harvesting, fungicides, herbicides, and per-emergences.

Helen Yoest
Gardening With Confidence

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