How to Plant Colorful Flowering Shrubs: Azaleas and Rhododendrons

A yard without shrubs is like a completed puzzle, minus one piece. The look is almost perfect, but something is missing! Shrubs work wonders — especially ones with bold, colorful flowers. These easy to care for plants instantly fill in gaps in your garden landscape and look fabulous every season. Complete your garden by planting a shrub or two today! Azaleas and rhododendrons are some of the most popular flowering shrubs. Blooming from late spring to early summer, these shrubs thrive in almost any garden. Plus, they come in virtually every color of the rainbow — from bold pinks, purples and reds to soft, muted yellows and whites. As an added bonus, hummingbirds and bees cannot get enough of azaleas and rhododendrons.

For Established Shrubs: Spring feeding helps develop new growth and the production of new flower buds. Sprinkle one cup of Holly-tone per foot of branch spread now. Holly-tone is long-lasting so you’ll only need to fertilize twice in a season. Don’t wait too long, or you risk encouraging green vegetative growth at the expense of flower bud development. Once now, and again in the fall will ensure a perfect Rhody!

For New Shrubs: Spring is the perfect time to plant so pick your favorite color and variety. Before buying, check the plant tag to see if you have enough space for a full-grown shrub. Azaleas and rhododendrons can range from 2 feet to more than 20 feet tall! If planting shrubs in a row, ensure you have enough space to plant 2 feet to 6 feet apart depending on how big your shrubs will get. Now, before you start digging, choose a spot for your shrub and envision the great impact these plants will have on your landscape! Both these flowering shrubs like to hang in the shade and do not grow well in full sunlight. So, make sure you’ve selected a perfectly shaded spot!

Before you start digging, plan for growth. If planting shrubs in a row, ensure you have enough space to plant 2-6’ apart depending on how big your shrubs will get. These flowering shrubs are so easy to care for because most of the work is done before planting. Keep azaleas and rhododendrons bursting with beautiful blooms by picking the right spot and ensuring you’ve got ideal soil for growing. Don’t forget to test the soil! These acid loving shrubs need a soil pH of 4.5-5.5. If your soil test reveals a higher pH, your soil is alkaline. Solve the problem by amending with Espoma Organic Soil Acidifier.

Once your soil is ready, it’s time to plant! Dig a hole as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. Then, remove the shrub from its original container, loosen the roots and dip in a bucket of water. Next, arrange the shrub in the hole, so the top of the root ball is slightly about the ground’s surface. Fill half the hole with compost, peat moss or humus, and mix in 1 cup Holly-tone fertilizer for better blooms. This organic plant food is specially crafted for acid loving plants, like azaleas and rhododendrons. Feeding new shrubs with an organic fertilizer now keeps them well-fed for months, spurs deep evergreen color and dynamic blooms. Fill half the hole with Espoma Organic All Purpose Garden Soil. Now finish planting your shrub by filling the hole with Espoma Organic All Purpose Garden Soil, and add 2-3” of mulch. Water now, and tomorrow, too.

Doesn’t your garden instantly look brighter? For more tips on caring for azaleas, rhododendrons or other acid-loving plants, click here. We’d love to see how a flowering shrub completed your garden. Share a before and after picture on our Facebook page!

Feed Your Flower Bulbs Now with an Organic Fertilizer

Breathe it in! Spring has arrived and brought the first flowers of the year with it! After the white of winter, sunny daffodils and a rainbow of tulips are a welcome sight.

Flower bulbs are inexpensive, easy to plant, provide stunning cut flowers and can last for years when taken care of properly.

The secret to keep spring flowering bulbs producing year after year is a spring time feeding of Bulb-tone.

Think about it. When planted, bulbs are packed full of nutrients to last all winter. Come spring, they’ve used all the food they have stored.

It’s like they’ve just run a winter-long marathon — and now they need you to greet them at the finish line with snacks and water.

Right now, your spring bulbs — tulips and daffodils included — are exhausted and starving even if they don’t look like it!

So, they need a hefty feeding to keep them robust.

Bulb-tone gives them everything they need to come back strong next year. Fertilizing spring bulbs also helps them fight off diseases and pests.

So, when should you feed spring flowering bulbs?

Fertilize spring bulbs after the plants have bloomed and are about 6” tall. That’s just about as tall as a dollar bill!

Now, what should you look for in bulb food?

Use an organic plant or bulb food that is low in nitrogen and has a higher amount of phosphorous. Nitrogen is the first of three numbers on fertilizer bags, — phosphorus is the second number on the bag. For example, Bulb tone by Espoma has a 3-5-3 Nitrogen- Phosphorous-Potassium ratio, which is exactly what bulbs need.

The advantage of using a plant food made specifically for bulbs is that it provides a complete feeding.

Your bulbs will love Espoma Organic Bulb-tone. This specially formulated bulb food is fortified with microbes to create a healthy soil and environment for bulbs. Plus, of course, it’s pet and kid friendly.

Now to boost spring bulbs, apply Bulb-tone at a rate of 4 lbs. per 60 square feet. Simply sprinkle the organic bulb food around the bulbs to ensure they come back stronger than ever next year.

One thing to remember – leaves on flowering bulbs produce food, and keep bulbs well fed throughout winter. So embrace your bulbs’ leaves! They add a lovely pop of glossy greenery to your landscape.

Only cut bulbs’ leaves when they begin yellowing or showing signs of decay. For tulips and daffodils, this can happen as late as June or July.

Now that your spring blooming bulbs are stocked with food and nutrients, they should come back next year!

What’s your favorite spring blooming bulb? We love white and yellow daffodils with green leaves – since they showcase Espoma colors! Share your favorite on our Facebook Page.

30 Tips in 30 Days to Celebrate Lawn Care Month!

Hello April! In addition to rain, spring blooms and warmer temps, this month is great for growing healthier lawns with Espoma’s 30 days of tips!

Starting today, we’re sharing daily lawn care tips to kick off National Lawn Care month and help people make the switch to organic lawns and create “Safe Paws” environments. Follow along on Facebook or Twitter to learn how to create a lush, green and organic lawn in 30 days.

To show our commitment to chemical free lawns that are safe for pets, we are also hosting a #SafePawsChallenge and donating $500 to the National Canine Cancer Foundation for every 5,000 new likes during the month of April. The foundation funds research and raises awareness to fight cancers that affect dogs.

Creating an organic lawn keeps your family and pets safe. But did you know an organic lawn can save you money and time, too?

According to Environmental Grassroots Education, you’ll save money making the switch to organic lawns in the long-term. Specifically, you can save more than 25% by using organic lawn products. How’s that possible?

With conventional, chemical lawn programs, you spend money every year on products engineered to be short-term solutions. And you leave your lawn craving more.

Organic lawn care is different. 

From all-natural soil amendments to organic lawn fertilizer, they all improve your soil’s health and structure over time. As natural lawn foods break down, your soil becomes stronger on its own and needs less help.

As an added bonus, organic lawns need less watering, fertilizing and mowing all summer long. Yes — that means you get to spend more time enjoying your beautiful lawn and less time caring for it!

Saving money and time are big advantages of organic lawn care. But we haven’t even got to the most important one yet!

Every time you opt for organic lawn care products, you’re creating a safer environment for your pets and family. Plus, you’re taking care of the planet.

Listen to this: Americans spread 90 million pounds of pesticides on their lawns every year according to the EPA.

All those chemicals and pesticides are potentially harmful to kiddos playing barefoot and pets running in the grass.

With organic lawn care products, there’s no need to worry about harmful effects on your family or the planet.

So, spend this spring and summer fully enjoying your outdoor sanctuary.

The first step is to follow Espoma on Facebook. Next, watch for our daily tips using the hashtag #LawnCareMonth. You’ll learn how to create a plush, healthy and organic lawn within 30 days. We’re covering everything from using an organic lawn fertilizer to eliminating weeds and perfecting your soil’s pH levels.

What questions do you have about organically caring for your lawn? Let us know below, and we’ll answer!

The Secret to Growing Bigger Plants, Faster

Drum roll please! The start of planting season is here!

After long weeks spent pouring over seed catalogs and admiring Pinterest gardens, it’s time to finally create the garden of your dreams.

If you started seeds a few weeks ago, it’s time to gradually move them outside. And if you didn’t, a trip to your local garden center awaits you.

So now that you’re ready, let’s plant your soon-to-be flourishing garden.

How to know if your garden is ready for planting:

To see if the ground is thawed and warm enough for planting, dig 3-4” deep. Grab a handful of soil and roll into a ball. If the soil won’t take shape, it’s too hard and dry for new plants.

If you can make a ball, drop it to the ground. If it breaks, your soil is ready. If the ball stays together, your soil is too wet, so try again in a few days.

Now comes the fun part, deciding what to plant!

Roses, snapdragons and pansies are some of our favorite flowers to plant in early spring. Plus, they add a pop of color when you need it most.

As far as veggies go; plant peas, spinach, kale, lettuce, broccoli, carrots and onions in early spring. Imagine how much you’ll save on groceries in the upcoming months!

Before you buy your new plants, check the plant tags to make sure you have enough space and sun.

Now time to plant:

If planting a flower bed, mix 4 lbs. (12 cups) of Bio-tone Starter Plus, an organic plant food, per 100 square feet into the top 4-6” of soil.

Adding all-natural, organic plant food enhanced with bacteria is the secret to bigger, better plants of all kinds.

Bio-tone Starter Plus is like a protein shake for your plants. This organic plant food is jam-packed with microbes and mycorrhizae to provide an instant health boost.

Seriously, the proof is in the plants.

Bio tone Starter Plus gives plants everything they need to grow bigger blooms faster. So, you’ll lose fewer plants along the way. You can also add Bio tone when planting bulbs, container gardens, shrubs and even trees. Using this organic plant food on veggies and fruits is a-ok since it’s all natural.

Now, get digging! You can plant in individual holes or a garden bed. Either way, dig holes as deep as the containers the plants came in, and check the plant tag to see how far apart to plant.

Remove plants from containers; loosen roots and pop ‘em in the hole!

Then, replace the soil around the plants and water.

Finally, add the finishing touch of 2-3” mulch — if you haven’t already.

What are you planting this spring? Comment below or better yet, share a picture on our Facebook page!

Gypsum Can Remedy Lawn Damage

As grass emerges after winter, your lawn may not look quite as perfect as you remember!

During cold, snowy winters, lawns take a beating. All that snow, ice and sleet does damage — especially if you live in a colder region where salt is spread to melt ice.

And, pets don’t like the cold winter either! Often, they go to the bathroom in the same spot, so they can dash back inside as quickly as possible.

Both winter salt and pet urine cause ugly, patchy spots in the lawn.

But don’t despair. All your lawn needs to recover is a little help from its friend, Espoma’s Garden Gypsum.

How do you know if gypsum is right for your lawn and garden?

If you see unsightly yellow or brown spots in the lawn, that’s a burn spot that gypsum can restore.

Take a close look at the grass around walkways, sidewalks, roads and driveways. These areas are most likely where you or your county applied winter salt to melt ice. Salt draws moisture from grass roots causing it to turn brown.

Also, check areas where your pets frequently go to the bathroom for damage.

Then, transform those ugly brown spots into lush, green lawn by amending the soil with gypsum.

Gypsum works to replace the salt, heal the grass and encourage new growth. Add all-natural gypsum now and as needed as lawn burns appear throughout the season.

Simply use a drop or broadcast spreader to apply to damage spots in your lawn or garden. No need to work it into the soil.

In the garden, add compost to help with drainage problems, too.

Finally, lightly water. As the pellets dissolve, your soil improves!

Lawn burns are an annoyance, but easily fixed. What’s your biggest pet peeve in the lawn? 

Wait! Before You Plant This Year, Test the Soil!

Healthy Soil is the Secret to a Great Garden

Want to grow bigger tomatoes, taller sunflowers and all-around healthier plants this season?

The secret is in the soil. Read more

Apply Mulch Now for Benefits all Season

Spring is almost here — only eight more days! We are itching to get our hands dirty in the garden.

Never do we appreciate the richness of the soil or the sunshine more than at the start of spring. Plus, our garden seems just as happy to see us.

During these first few weeks, we set ourselves up for success in the season ahead.

And one of the first items on the to-do list is laying a new bed of mulch. Not only does it look great and make your neighbors envious, but mulch provides a world of benefits!

Organic mulch can reduce water use in the garden by 25-50 percent, which saves money on water bills and conserves water. A thick blanket of mulch reduces evaporation, so you don’t have to water as much. Mulch also controls weeds. Plus, your flower beds look polished and complete with a finishing touch of mulch.

Best of all, organic mulch improves soil health as it decomposes throughout the season.

To reap these benefits, mulch has to be organic.

While non-organic mulches, such as plastic film and rubber, are cheaper, they cause major problems later. Inorganic mulches do not break down over time, so they don’t condition the soil. Even worse, they begin to block air and water from plants’ roots. Nine out of ten times, you’ll need to remove non-organic mulches by hand later.

Natural mulches are composed of plant matter and are very popular. From wood chips and pine needles to shredded bark, pick the organic mulch you like best. These mulches decompose over time which helps improve the soil but it also means they must be replaced once or twice a year.

How do you apply it? It’s easy and can be done this weekend.

First, you’ll want to lightly rake the soil to loosen up the surface. Once loose, pull any weeds or dead plant material.

Then, give your mulch the smell test. Mulch should smell woody or earthy; if mulch smells sour like vinegar, replace it entirely.

This is an ideal time to feed evergreen and acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons, azaleas, dogwoods and hollies with Holly-tone. Apply it in a circle around the drip line of shrubs or trees.

Finally, lay 2 – 3” of mulch around established plants. Mulch that’s too deep can actually smother young plants.

When mulching trees, the mulch should extend away from the plant to a little beyond the drip line covering a bit of the roots. But don’t build volcanoes! Never pile up mulch. Instead, keep 2 – 3” away from the stems of woody plants and 6 – 12” away from buildings to avoid pests.

Keep your garden healthy and your home safe this season by choosing organic mulch. Make it a priority on your spring garden to-do list.

Make Landscapes Not Landfills with Compost

Why Compost: Turn Food Scraps Into Garden Gold

Stop! Don’t throw out those leftover vegetables and coffee grinds. Mixing these kitchen food scraps with other ingredients turns ordinary garbage into black gold for the garden.

The secret to creating enriched, organic soil is compost. Compost gives the soil nutrient-rich materials and helps plants resist diseases and grow stronger. Plus composting food scraps keeps organic materials out of landfills and garbage disposals and puts them back into the earth. Best of all, it’s free!

Plus, you’ll make the planet cleaner and greener. The US tossed a whopping 131 billion pounds of food in 2010 alone, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

At Espoma, we are always looking for natural solutions. When we founded our company in 1929, we transformed ordinary ingredients into an extraordinary product for your garden.

So, to make great compost, simply follow the recipe, just like when cooking. The best compost is 50 percent green material made of garden and food scraps and 50 percent brown material, such as paper, straw or dried leaves.

Add Espoma Organic Compost Starter to help speed the composting process, for rich, fertile compost. This 100% bio-organic mix contains microbes cultured for fast, healthy composting.

Toss your compost about every two weeks to help it decompose quicker. Make it even easier by investing in a compost tumbler. Trust us, it’s worth it!

And finally, make sure your compost is getting enough to drink. Squeeze a handful of compost – while wearing garden gloves of course! If water drips, it’s too wet, so add dry brown material. If no water dribbles but the compost crumbles when released, moisten with a bit of water. Or if your area often gets rains, make an indent in the top of the compost to collect rain water.

Spruce up to Jumpstart the Gardening Season

Even though we still need cozy scarves and burly winter coats, we won’t for much longer. Our favorite time of year is almost here! We cannot wait to be outside, gardening, playing and basking in the sun in about two weeks.

Enough dreaming about the warmer days though, it’s time to start the yard and garden prep.

Although we’ve got green lawns on the mind all year long, even when they’re covered by 18” of snow, we’re eager to get outside and start prepping for our best lawn yet. Same for you?

Here are our professional tips for tackling early spring yard prep:

First, remove dead or diseased branches from trees and shrubs by cutting at a 45º angle with pruners.

Armed with your pruners, cut flowering perennials to 4-5” and trim ornamental grasses to 2-3”. Just like haircuts make hair grow faster and healthier, pruning plants does the same!

While walking around the yard, pick up fallen branches, spent annuals, lingering leaves and other natural debris. Doesn’t your yard already look better?

Then if the snow has melted, grab a rake and break up any matted, crunchy or discolored spots in the lawn to renew the area.

Finally, if the ground is thawed, scoop up a small handful of soil to test. Testing soil either with an at-home kit or with help from your extension agency is one of the most beneficial actions you can take.

Soil tests tell you what to add to get the perfect soil. Imagine racking your brain to figure out why your veggies are too small or your flowers look unhealthy. In reality, the problem could be your soil.

Take time to test and amend your soil needs — from soil acidifier or organic fertilizer. Cultivating organic, healthy soil now means your garden will deliver its absolute best later on. Come back to our blog later this month for more specific tips on adjusting your soil for that perfect lawn or plant.

Ah, the garden is gearing up for its comeback. Now, start planning what additions you’ll make to the garden this season.

By Invitation Only – Yappy Hour at the Philadelphia Flower Show Friday 3/6

This week, we welcome one of our favorite months. March marks the start of spring, so cherry blossoms, forsythia and green grass will emerge soon.

Lucky for those of us around Philadelphia, we get to immerse ourselves in the smells, colors and blooms of spring now!

The 2015 Philadelphia Flower Show debuted this past Friday and runs through Sunday, March 8.

At the world’s largest indoor flower show, you’re instantly transported to a red-carpet movie premiere bejeweled with countless flowers. See recreated scenes from your favorite Disney and Pixar movies, such as Frozen, Cars and Cinderella, made from the brightest, biggest blooms.

Still planning when to experience the Technicolor world of floral cinema?

Mark your calendars for this Friday, March 6 – the Flower Show’s first ever Fido Friday and Espoma’s Yappy Hour from 6-9 p.m.!

Join us for the launch of our Safe Paws campaign and learn how to keep pets protected outside by creating a safe, healthy environment.

Naturally, you and your pets have been dreaming about spring and summer’s green grasses. But, did you know many lawn chemicals and pesticides can harm dogs and children?

Learn easy, natural solutions to make your yard and garden as healthy and safe as can be. After all, we know the best kept secrets since we’ve been developing organic lawn care products for over 85 years.

Grab a leash and enjoy the Flower Show with your pup. You can learn about outdoor pet safety, experience a canine fashion show, and meet local gardeners, too.

Join us for Espoma’s first ever Yappy Hour at the Philadelphia Flower Show this Friday, March 6 from 6-9 p.m.

And for great ideas on beautiful container gardening, stop by the Espoma exhibit anytime this week in Show Floor Hall B Front.

Comment below and tell us about your canine companion– and if you’ll be joining us this Friday!