The African Violet Handbook, by Tony Clements (David and Charles Publishers, 2003), is a good starter book if you're just learning about African violets. If you follow the author's advice, you're certain to be successful. It covers plant care, pests and diseases, and contains tips on displaying the plants in your home. A listing of the popular cultivars will help you choose the varieties with the colors you want, and a section on commonly asked questions should remove any doubt you might have about the care and feeding of African violets.
Clever Gardening Technique
Breathing New Life Into Lawns
Just as you till or hoe your garden to loosen compacted soil, you can provide the same benefits to your lawn by aerating the soil. By loosening the soil, roots will gain a little breathing room and have better access to air, water and fertilizer. You aerate your lawn by putting a series of small holes into the ground. The result is a greener, more luxuriant lawn.
There are a couple of ways to aerate your lawn. If you have a small area, you can strap aerating sandals -- shoe-shaped boards with long spikes on the bottom -- onto your shoes and march across your lawn. But the holes you make are tiny, and the marching action can be tedious.
For larger areas, you'll want to rent an aerator, which is available at any equipment-rental store. With a little experience, you can treat a 3,500-square-foot lawn in about an hour, so you might consider sharing the aerator and rental fee with a few neighbors.
There are two types of aerators. Both are about the size of a tiller and easy to operate. The first punches a hole in the ground, pushing back soil to create a space. The other forces a hollow shaft into the ground, removing plugs of sod, root, and soil. This second type is what I prefer because it makes the hole without compacting the soil around it. The shafts are usually spaced to make about 10 to 14 holes per square foot and penetrate 1 to 3 inches deep.
Just about any lawn benefits from aeration, but several symptoms are a sure sign that aeration is required. When greens aren't green enough, chances are fertilizer isn't reaching the roots. Aeration creates catch-basins to prevent fertilizer from running off in a rainstorm. For this same reason, sloping lawns benefit from regular aeration.
If your soil is hard and your grass is thin, roots need more space. If it feels as if you're walking on marbles, there's not enough oxygen in the soil, and earthworms have been forced to rise to the surface. Aeration gives both roots and earthworms a little breathing room.
When water puddles persist, fungus attacks and spreads. Aeration allows the water to drain and eliminates this moist environment. In areas with little rainfall and dry, hard soil, aerate every year to prevent runoff of precious water.
You can aerate any time with good results, provided the ground isn't too dry or frozen. First, prepare the ground with a thorough watering. Then make two passes with the aerator: on right to left, the other front to back. If you're doing a slope, there's danger of the machine tipping on a side-to-side pass, so it's best to only go up and down.
When plugs are removed by a hollow-shaft aerator, they should be left on the lawn. With each watering, the soil clinging to the plugs will wash back into the ground. Mowing will also reduce the size of the plugs. As plant matter from the plugs is broken down by bacteria, it becomes an excellent food for your lawn.