Archive for the ‘You Can Do It!’ Category

Do it Yourself: Landscape Planning

Posted on: February 1st, 2017 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

The Property Owner Questionnaire is easy and fun to fill out.

Many gardeners spend the winter pouring over seed catalogs for spring planting. For many, gardening involves planting a crop that grows for only one season and then is replaced the following year. Gardening requires constant repetition that produces temporary results in the landscape.

In sustainable landscapes the idea is to plant and do once and then move on to the next part of the project. Every year sees not only your work taking the shape of an expanded landscape but also the natural increase in plant size and numbers that creates landscape features. In sustainable property design, instead of choosing seeds that you buy every year, you can use this time to plan permanent improvements to your yard.

Where do you start though? Understanding your needs, your personality and your lifestyle are pivotal to success in sustainable design. You can also consider the needs of others in your household. Sometimes this can be a touchy subject with significant others and lead to disagreement. Usually conflict occurs because one person can not “see” what the other envisions.

Your Eco-Friendly Yard is a good read to find out how your individual lifestyle and personality can be planned into the landscape.

You can use the Property Owner Questionnaire (POQ) we developed to help survey decision makers for your property. The POQ is a way to collect basic information about needs, wants, budget, personality and lifestyle without stressing about it. It is easy to fill out and provides a permanent record of things relevant to your project, even the colors a person prefers!

Download your Eco-Building & Forestry Property Owner Questionnaire today. Use it how ever you want, there is no commitment.

So, buy a few garden seeds this winter and start planning your own permanent, sustainable landscape too!

Preventing Winter Animal Damage To Plants

Posted on: November 10th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

[For information on identifying damage to your plants, read our article: Spot Animal Damage To Your Landscape.]

If you haven’t protected your plants from animal damage yet, you still have time. Winter in northern climates is part of the natural process for plants. And so is the presence of deer, rabbits and mice that survive our winters by eating dormant plants.


Here a tree stem is protected from deer, rabbits and mice.

Protecting valuable landscape plants from permanent damage is easy to do, but the devil is in the details. Deer, rabbits and mice/voles damage plants in different ways and you have to protect against all three.

Deer will tear off branches to eat and during the fall and early winter bucks will also rub their antlers on stems of trees, removing the bark. Rabbits cut away at branches and stems as high as they can reach and snow may help them reach higher. Mice and voles gnaw at the base of plants, girdle trees and even burrow down into the root system. Mice can operate unseen in the slim layer between the ground and snow cover, only revealing damage during the spring thaw.

Some plant varieties are less subject to damage, but under the right conditions any plant can be damaged. Fruit trees  and fruit shrubs are often more damaged than other plants because they apparently taste good to animals.

To protect against deer, plants need to be fenced to above where deer can reach. That can be 5 feet or more. Rabbit protection also needs to extend up to the height they can reach. Since mice mainly operate very close to the ground, collars around the base of the plant that fit tight to the ground are needed.

It is easiest to incorporate protection against deer, rabbits and mice at the same time. Protect your plants now and enjoy them in the spring!

Spot Animal Damage To Your Landscape

Posted on: November 5th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

If you are observant you can take action as soon as you see animal damage in your landscape before it is too late!

Every year I am amazed at the number of people who say they don’t have deer problems where they live in central Wisconsin. Yet, they have noticed that mysteriously their plants are not growing and even seem to be getting smaller! This is because they are failing to notice the signs of animal damage in their landscape.

If your landscape plants are getting smaller or not doing well here are some of the things that you can look for:

  • Ends of branches appear that they are torn off-deer feeding
  • Stems of trees have bark stripped off-antler rubbing by deer
  • Sharp, pointy cuts on shrubs stems 2 feet off the ground or less-rabbit feeding
  • Bark missing and gnaw marks close to ground level, especially on fruit trees-mice/voles feeding

The most severe animal damage in northern climates occurs during the winter. For information on preventing animal damage to your plants, check out our article Preventing Winter Animal Damage To Plants.



The little round balls are not a breakfast cereal. They are rabbit poop. As an experiment, I put apple tree branches on the ground and the rabbits nibbled all the bark off them!


The protective collar for this tree did not fit tight to the ground in our nursery. Mice moved in and completely girdled this tree. Make sure mouse protection is thorough!


Rabbit damage is easy to spot. Rabbits cut off stems at a sharp angle as shown in this picture. Deer teeth tear branches leaving a very rough looking cut.

Fall Planting Bliss

Posted on: October 6th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments
2010 Garlic Harvest

Late fall, about 2 weeks before the ground freezes, is the best time to plant garlic in northern climates.

If you haven’t tried fall planting you are missing out on the easiest time of year to establish many types of plants. Bulbs, perennials, shrubs, trees and prairie plantings are all easier to plant in the fall. And most fall planting can go right up until the ground freezes. Think of it, as it gets colder there are no mosquitoes or gnats buzzing around your head while you’re working outside!

So why is fall such a great time for planting? Don’t most people plant in spring? Spring planting is fine for annuals and most other plants. However the dormant period of plants in the spring is really short. Once plants come out of dormancy they need immediate care and watering. To top it off, weed growth in the spring just explodes as you well know-adding to the work. So most people rush as they try to get everything done in a 2 week window of opportunity.

In Fall you can slow down. Plants are hardening off and beginning to go dormant. Dormant plants need less inputs, yet their root systems continue to grow. With cooler temperatures, less watering is needed and in some cases mulching may be enough to retain adequate moisture for the plants. Most annual weeds begin to die after the first frost so you don’t have to work at removing them.

One caveat to fall planting are species that have needles and leaves on year-round (evergreen) and can become desiccated in cold, dry winter weather. If roots of these plants are cut in the transplanting process they may not be able to regrow fast enough to supply the plant with adequate moisture. Save the planting for these as soon as the ground thaws in spring.

So put on your jacket and let’s go do some fall planting!

You Can Do It! Weed and Mulch in May

Posted on: April 27th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

May is a great time for you to weed and mulch.

"Just keep piling on the mulch. The windows will keep it in place". This planting bed was not intended to be a berm.

“Just keep piling on the mulch. The windows will keep it in place”. This planting bed was not intended to be a berm.

The soil is soft and carefully removing quack grass from planting beds is possible at this time. If you want to freshen things up a bit a very light layer of mulch can improve the looks of your landscape. Avoid applying heavy layers of organic mulches like bark or wood chips because you just raise the level of soil as these materials break down, creating other problems.

If you already have mulch “volcanoes” around your plants, think about removing that decayed material to the original soil level. You can use the composted material that you remove for a base for a raised bed or in the bottom of containers. Then spread a light layer of fresh mulch over those areas. Think about ground cover plants to replace mulches as a long-term solution instead of constantly adding mulch to your planting beds.


You Can Do It! Assess Your Own Landscape Needs

Posted on: April 20th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

Property Owner QuestionnaireAt Eco-Building & Forestry we developed The Property Owner Questionnaire to better serve our customers needs. It has become so popular that other landscape companies now use our Questionnaire for their own customers. Now you can use it to get started on your own sustainable landscape!

The Property Owner Questionnaire (POQ) is a great way to start a discussion on outdoor needs and wants. Remember, if you want to create a truly sustainable landscape; the thinking, effort and planning comes first. Very few landscape professionals will ask all of the questions in the POQ. And few do-it-yourselfers really think about their project before doing. The fifteen minutes that it takes to fill out the POQ will save you an incredible amount of time, money and aggravation.

The POQ helps you think about and discuss things that are important to you in your landscape. When there are two or more decision makers it is essential that each of them understands the others’ needs and desires. The Questionnaire is a great way to take what is in your head and put it on paper.

The POQ starts with the collection of basic information. Do you know where your property lines are?  Are there restrictive covenants that might prohibit certain types of landscaping? Nothing is worse than making a plan and having expectations that can’t be realized. The Questionnaire helps get this information to you early on.

Who the decision makers are and what your budget will be gets decided next.  It is no fun getting a bunch of estimates only to find out that you can’t afford the project. The POQ helps you build your landscape based on what you have to spend and achieves agreement with other decision makers.

The POQ goes on to inventory your priorities, emphasis of your project, your style. maintenance needs and activities. There is even a section for Diggers Hotline, because they ask for very detailed information when it come to marking utilities on your property.

Would you like to have your very own copy of the Property Owner Questionnaire that we created?

Download your Eco-Building & Forestry Property Owner Questionnaire today. Use it how ever you want, there is no commitment.

You Can Do It! Prepare For New Landscaping

Posted on: April 3rd, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

If you have the landscape itch and need to get some things done, do it the easy way. When moving heavy things around the yard, put them on pallets that I can easily move with my mini-skidsteer. Nothing is worse than having to move things repeatedly – that’s no fun. If you want to save some special perennials, dig them up and set aside in containers (on pallets) so that you can care for them until replanting.

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Here a UW-Stevens Point student uses a piece of our equipment during a nursery class.

Plants that will be removed for the new landscape, can simply be cut off at the base.

Evergreen shrubs don’t re-sprout and deciduous shrubs can have sprouts trimmed off until they die. I have an auger on one of our machines that allows me to drill holes right near old root systems to put new plants in. Old roots will decay in the soil, putting organic material into the soil and allow water to penetrate deeper. There is no need to dig all those roots out and there are few places to take tree and shrub roots for disposal since they won’t compost and are not permitted to be run through a chipper.

Let our small equipment do the heavy work for you.

You Can Do It! Ponds: What You Can Do For Yourself

Posted on: March 22nd, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

If algae is bothering you, a hand held skimmer net used for pools can work to manually remove what ever you can reach. I use a leaf rake, with the long flexible tines to remove string algae from my small patio pond. It works great!

Remove compost bins, burn piles, brush piles and pet/animal droppings that are up slope from your pond. Rain fall and melting snow can carry nutrients from these sources into your pond.

What about putting pesticides in my pond? Wait on that. A one time use might be acceptable, but no pesticide is safe to use.

“I heard that dyes might improve my pond”. You might want to rethink a “tidy bowl” blue pond. Golf courses tint their ponds because of all the fertilizers and pesticide that go into these. There is a reason no one swims or eats fish out of ponds like that! Yuck!!

You Can Do It! Should You Plant Garlic In Spring?

Posted on: March 6th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

In northern climates garlic is planted in late fall, a couple of weeks prior to the soil freezing. Some seed catalogs still sell garlic for spring planting, but if you live in a cool or cold climate, plant only in the fall to produce a quality crop.

2010 Garlic Harvest 001

Harvest mature garlic when the stem starts to dry. If you wait too long the stem decays and you have to dig up the garlic instead of pulling it.

Purchase garlic seed or bulbs that have been harvested this year for fall planting. Did you say seed? Yes! Garlic bulbs for planting sells between $4 and $20 a pound.

2010 Garlic Harvest 004 (640x480)

Bulbils can be harvested and replanted for a two year crop of garlic.

If you don’t mind waiting, seed (called bulbils) produced by hard-neck garlic can be grown out over two years to full-sized bulbs at a lower initial cost than using cloves from bulbs.

One type of garlic I have produces only about 5 big cloves per bulb, so I am putting 20% of my harvest back in the ground. However, the top of one garlic plant might produce over 50 seeds. Bulbils can be harvested when mature garlic is pulled from
the ground.

Garlic cloves and seed are planted and treated the same. In Wisconsin garlic is planted in late fall and harvested the following year near the end of July. You must harvest the seeded garlic at the same time as full grown bulbs. The seeded garlic will have only formed a small bulb or clove in one year. It goes back in the ground in late fall to be harvested the following July as full sized garlic.

Use this spring and summer to incorporate organic material into the area that you want to plant garlic. Garlic does best with high organic soils. Also set aside leaves in the fall to completely cover your planted garlic for the winter. Leave that mulch on for the growing season. Your garlic plants are very strong growers and will easily send a shoot through a 6 inch layer of loose leaf mulch in the spring.