Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Western Cedar Side Bed

My dad brought me 5 beautiful western cedar to create a small screen for the side yard and two for the bottom of the yard as accents. I love them, I can't wait to see how fast they grow. They smell great and also remind me of how TV shows use these fast growing trees in the backgrounds of scenes to make it look more wooded. 

I used a hose as a guide to shape a gradual curved bed, then edged the whole thing with a half moon edger. I got a few pieces of sod up successfully, but it was slow going. I eventually got tired of it and took the lazy approach - a combination of burying the sod upside down and spraying the grass with a quick pass of grass killer. I should have learned back in 2015 that the upside down sod method does not really work, but I was too tired to rip it all out and haul it somewhere. 

western cedar bed
Final product, western cedar screen bed

using hose to shape bed edge
I used the hose as a guide to plan out the shape of the bed

ripping up sod to form a mulch bed
Slow going trying to rip up the sod that had already rooted in

Finally have more to look at in the yard with a boxwood bed and cedar side bed


Snow in Indiana April 21, 2021

It looks like this is the last hoorah for cold weather before it will really become spring here in central Indiana. I know in the past few years we usually got at least 1 snow storm in April but I was starting to think we would avoid it this year. Sure enough, temps got down to like 25°F and we got a few inches of snow accumulation. 

I got a nice snowy photo of the front of my house on the way to work though, and by the time I got home in the afternoon it had completely melted and was warm outside. Sheesh! Just one last test for the leaves that were starting to emerge, it seems like the leaves are slow coming out this year. 


My newly planted pyramidal boxwoods in the front got some snow

Newly planted western cedar in the side of the backyard covered in snow

Moved two western cedar that I hadn't planted yet onto the covered porch to stay warm


ZZ Plant Flower

Do ZZ plants have flowers? If so, what do they look like? I've had this Zamioculcas zamiifolia houseplant for years and it's never flowered before until just now! 

The flower looks similar to a peace lily, with in inner stalk that's not all that attractive that emerges from a sheath or hood. Ready for some science? I looked up both the peace lily and ZZ plant on Wikipedia and sure enough both plants are members of the family Araceae, also known as the arum family or aroids. That explains the similar look - they are somewhat related. 

The stalk in the middle of the flower is known as the spadix and the hood around it is called the spathe. Both are clearly visible in this flowering ZZ plant photo that I just took. Pretty cool!

photo of zz plant flower
Close up photo of the ZZ plant flower. I've owned ZZ plants for years and never saw one until just now!

In case you are curious, the flower has no noticeable smell from what I can tell. It looks sorta alien because it's not something you see all the time on a ZZ plant. They can be cut off without really hurting the plant but I'm going to leave it. 

A wider photo of the ZZ plant flower showing its size and location relative to the rest of the plant.


Saturday, March 20, 2021

Loving These Greenscapes Tree Watering Bags!

This is the first spring for my baby trees that were put into this new construction lot in October. I want them to grow as fast as possible because we moved away from the other house we built just as the trees were getting big enough to really enjoy, and now we're starting all over. I also feel very competitive and need my trees to live and grow faster than my neighbor's trees. 

greenscapes tree watering bags

At our old house, we had 3 trees and I could easily slow water them with the hose in an afternoon. Now with (adding them up in my head) 6 trees in my yard and another 3 in the common area next to my house, slow watering with a hose isn't really an option. 

Oh, did I mention that I'm going to baby the trees on the hill that aren't even mine? Yeah I figure even though they are in the common area, my house is the only one that borders them and I have a huge incentive to make sure they grow gorgeous and huge. It's a great situation and one of the reasons we liked this lot so much, we can enjoy these trees but not have to pay for them if they get damaged or need limbs removed down the road. 

green bag on tree to water

If you don't know about tree watering bags, the idea is that you can fill them up quickly with water and then the water slowly seeps out into the root ball where it is not wasted to runoff and all 20 gallons of water go exactly where you want it to. The bags also prevent some loss to evaporation, and while they are around the base of the tree can help protect from being hit by lawnmowers and help to regulate temperature during periods of repeated freezing and warming. 

bag at base of tree to fill with water

To install, you just put the bag around the base of the tree like a little jacket and zip it up one side. Then fill the opening at the top and the horse shoe shaped pouches fill with water surrounding the trunk of the tree. In about 6 hours the water slowly drips through the bottom of the bag slow watering the tree. It takes a couple minutes to fill each bag, and then I can sit back and watch them get a slow drink the rest of the day without constantly moving the hose and adjusting the flow from tree to tree. 

tree watering bags in front yard

Plus, an added bonus, I kinda like the look - I hope it makes the neighbors stop and ask "wait, what does this guy know that I don't?" Tree watering bag flex!

Establishing a New Landscaping Bed from Scratch

Spring is here! It's so exciting to again have a blank canvas yard in a new construction house. It looks like the sod is waking up and that it survived the winter even though it was installed in late November. From what I can tell all my trees made it as well. This blog post is about shaping and creating a brand new landscaping bed from scratch where there was only grass before. 

new sod waking up in spring

new sod waking up in spring

photo of the back of navy blue two story house

My dad and I have been plotting this winter, and he drafted me up a plan for what to do with the blank backyard. This first bed I'm installing is going to wrap around the morning room facing south, and will eventually have boxwood and a Sweet Bay Magnolia on the west side facing the neighbor's house. 

landscaping plans

The plan was to cut out the shape of the bed, remove the sod, and repurpose the sod to the bottom of the yard where they seeded but the seed all washed away. It was still easy to see the outline of individual sod pieces. They were relatively easy to pull up and roll, but the grass roots had already started gripping into the clay soil beneath. 

removing squares of new sod showing dirt underneath

before photo showing where landscaping bed will go

repurposing sod at bottom of yard

After hours of rolling up sod that had started to root in, I would develop an overuse injury in my wrist. A landscaping injury! I ended up buying a brace and everything, it got pretty bad and was sore for a whole week. 

To shape the bed edge I'm using a flat edging tool rather than a shovel that has a curved shape. Sometimes I lay out a hose on the ground to map out the shape ahead of time and then cut along it, but for this bed I just eyeballed it and tried to follow straight lines. In hindsight this is actually my first straight bed edge, I'm usually a fan of the gradual flowy line shape, but I think it's growing on me looking slightly more formal and tight.

shape of new landscaping bed before adding topsoil

shape of new landscaping bed with sod removed

back view of house half way through project

After cutting the shape, my next task is moving the internet cable that is buried exactly where the roots of boxwood shrubs are going to go. I'm kicking myself for not just burying it myself. After the internet company comes out and they say they'll be back to bury it and it takes them like 6 weeks - I should have just put it where I wanted it, because now it's exactly in the wrong place and it's a pain in the ass to CAREFULLY dig back up and move 2 feet. 

photo of buried internet cable in dirt

digging a trench to remove a cable

putting cable next to house to keep it safe

backyard bed before adding topsoil

With the cable safely tucked up against the house, it's in a place that no shovel or plant will ever touch. On either side I put a rock on my bed edge so that I know not to chop down there with a spade. I like using rocks for decoration and to remind me what's underneath. I cut a straight edge down so that the mulch will eventually slope down meeting a wall of earth, rather than simply being on top of the grass. This will discourage grass runners and shoots into the sod without installing a landscaping fabric or metal border.

backyard bed edge before mulch

Next it's time to amend the soil. I asked my dad if I should rent one of those soil tillers and he said with the clay don't bother, just work on building up the bed with some good topsoil. This back bed is 4.25 feet deep and 25 feet wide in the back, and 6 feet deep and 12.5 feet wide on the west side. That's a total of about 180 square feet! 

bags of mulch and topsoil in back of SUV

not enough topsoil

adding topsoil to new landscaping bed

I ended up making two trips to Lowes loading up the SUV, in total I got 12x two cubic foot bags of mulch, 10x 0.75 cubic foot bags of topsoil, and 10x one cubic foot bags of topsoil. I definitely could have used more topsoil, and the bags of mulch were barely enough for a dusting across the whole thing. In retrospect, using a mulch calculator, I should have gotten at least 15x two cubic foot bags of mulch for 180 square feet for a 2 inch layer. 

black mulch in new landscaping bed

black mulch in new landscaping bed

finished product new landscaping bed

Wonderful! Now it's time to ice my poor forearm from all the sod ripping and mulching. This year I'm not installing any plants until it's done freezing. I was fooled last year and ran out to buy hydrangea in March only to have them freeze in early April. That will give this new bed time to settle and I might even add more topsoil and mulch on top before actually planting in it. 

Project Total: $90.13 in mulch and topsoil

Sunday, February 7, 2021

17 Year Cicadas Returning! Photos and Video from 2004

Has it really been 17 years already? I remember May 2004, I was taking organic chemistry as a summer class at Miami University in Oxford, OH. There were piles of dead cicada on the sidewalk that I would ride my bike through on the way to class. Every morning a dozen shells would be on my bike outside the apartment. In the morning, the emerging adult cicada would be white and drying their exoskeletons on or near their discarded shell. I heard on a radio show that you could cook and eat the still soft white ones so I gave it a try with some mushrooms and green onions. They taste vaguely nutty. Read more about periodical cicada in Indiana

17 year cicadas returning in 2021! Photo from 2004
17 year cicadas returning in 2021! Photo from May 24, 2004


Summer 2004 was also the year I got my first digital camera, and thanks to backing up my hard drives I still have all my college hard drives intact for posterity. I even have AIM logs of instant message conversations, it's a real rabbit hole! 


I think there were more cicadas in Oxford, OH than there will be in my suburban development in Noblesville, Indiana because I think they need undisturbed ground to mature, and with all the farming and development around here I just don't know how many areas of woodland haven't been turned over in 17 years. Probably a great deal, I'm sure the cicadas will be hard to miss, but I don't think I'll wake up to them covering the walls of my house that was just built last year. I guess we'll see and I'll be able to take photos for the future to document how many there were. 

In fact the article I linked to mentioned "Cicadas are abundant only in areas where trees harbored the eggs of the previous generation" so I think due to the large old trees in Oxford, Ohio we had a lot of them. All the trees in my lot were just planted, but we do have some wooded lots right behind and next to ours. 

Adult cicada emerging still white while it is drying out
Adult cicada emerging still white while it is drying out

cooking 17 year cicada
Pan fried cicada, you can see it's a fresh one where the wings haven't dried yet

17 year cicada covering tree
A particularly popular hang out spot

17 year cicada covering tree
Cicada covering trees in Ohio in 2004

17 year cicada covering tree
17 year cicada in Ohio from May 2004

17 year cicada mating photo
Cicadas mating back to back on the sidewalk

17 year cicada locust brick wall
Cicadas covering a brick wall in 2004

This great article from Purdue talks about the plants at risk of damage from cicada when the females lay their eggs in the tree branches. Maples made the high risk list and I have 3 different maple trees in my yard, just babies really. I hope they don't do too much damage, but it would be kind of nice to have this brood lay some eggs so in 17 years we have the fun of watching them emerge again. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Identifying New Construction Plants

We moved into our new house November 25, 2020, so the plants that came with the house were basically twigs at this point. Some had plant tags but some did not. I'll have better luck identifying the mystery plants when they leaf out this spring, but here is what we have so far:

Front yard: Linden tree and two mystery trees. Maybe a maple (left) and the other some kind of cherry (right behind Linden)?



Front bed: A generic burning bush and two mystery plants, maybe some kind of hydrangea or lilac? The corner of the house has a Royal Raindrops crabapple and Taxus shrubs. 




West bed: Two arctic emerald boxwood and one Hydrangea 'Dolly' labeled



East bed: Two lilac 'Josee' and one Sweetspire Itea 'Merlot'. I also moved 2 divisions of Siberian iris from the old house - the only plants I took with me. 



Back yard: Exclamation!™ London Planetree - Platanus x acerifolia ‘Morton Circle’- this big boy is going to get huge. Hopefully when the HOA changes hands we can move the fence further back into the easement.

Exclamation!™ London Planetree - Platanus x acerifolia ‘Morton Circle’


Great Utility Box Plant Combination

One of my favorite combination of plants to hide the utility boxes is a mix of flowers that bloom at different times of the year, and a feather reed grass that provides a nice backdrop. Now, this combination also dies to the ground in winter so if you really wanted to hide a utility box you could use an evergreen shrub, but nevertheless over the years I found this combination works really well together:

  • Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass
  • Iris sibirica - Siberian Iris
  • Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus' - Huge purple coneflower
  • Aster novae-angliae 'Purple Dome'
I learned that you don't want to have too many different types of plants, you want to have just a handful and have repetition so it looks really pleasing to the eye and not like just a hodgepodge of plants. 


Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'
Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'

Iris sibirica
Iris sibirica

Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'
Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'

Aster novae-angliae 'Purple Dome'
Aster novae-angliae 'Purple Dome'