backyard composting tips

Tips for Backyard Composting

Backyard composting is an excellent way to limit off-site disposal of  your yard and kitchen waste, while creating a nourishing soil additive for your gardens. Adding compost to your garden will promote soil health, improve soil drainage and structure,  loosen heavy soils, and suppress soil-borne plan diseases. Compost adds crucial micro-organisms, bacteria, and fungi threads for a more productive, healthy soil.

How to avoid a smelly compost pile

A properly tended compost pile won’t create unpleasant smells. By maintaining levels of air (oxygen) levels, moisture, and temperature, you can have a productive compost pile that will not offend your neighbors with any troubling smells.

The single most important tip in avoiding a stinky compost pile is making sure you have the correct ratio of “green matter” and “brown matter”.

Green matter includes such items as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and grass clippings. These items are high in nitrogen and decay very quickly.  Brown matter includes leaves, straw, used coffee filters, and sawdust. This items are high in carbon and decay more slowly.  An ideal ratio for composting is 1/3 greens to 2/3 browns.

Composting is the environmentally-friendly way to dispose of your food scraps and garden debris. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, each year over 300,000 tons of yard materials is composted, saving all that waste from going to landfills and incinerators in Wisconsin.

Typically, composting does not require a licence or approval, as long as they are maintained in a nuisance-free manner. Always check with your local community ordinances to see if there are any backyard composting regulations. DO NOT compost foods such as meat, bones, dairy products or oils. These types of materials will attract animals and other unwanted pests.

If you need help creating or managing a compost pile in your backyard, contact Sprout Landscape & Garden today! We can help!

Edible Garden

Our Southern Wisconsin Red Raspberry Garden: Establishing a New Patch

Edible Garden

Autumn Britten Red Raspberries

Having your own raspberry patch can be very rewarding and a fun addition to your landscape. In order to establish and maintain a productive patch, there are important plant selection, siting, and care factors to consider.

To start, you’ll need to decide which type of raspberry you will grow. Raspberry fruit types can be categorized by either summer bearing or fall-bearing (called ever-bearing by some). Summer-bearing will produce one large crop during mid-late summer. Fall-bearing varieties will produce a large crop in the fall, as well as a small crop the following summer. Fall-bearing raspberries will generally grow best in the lower two-thirds of Wisconsin where the growing season is longer. In colder climates, an early frost may ruin a late-fall crop before it is fully developed.

Year 1: Getting Started

Our garden started after I received six Autumn Britten (fall-bearing) red raspberry transplants from a friend in late spring of 2012. This is an excellent cultivar because of its high yield, delicious fruit, and cold hardiness. And because it’s an early fall-bearer, we could plan on maximizing our harvest well before the first heavy frost.

We chose a sunny, well-drained location, amended the existing topsoil with compost, then installed the plants using adequate spacing (approx. 24” on center) to promote air circulation and allow future growth. A path around the patch provided access to maintain the plants and harvest the fruit, while preventing soil compaction within the patch. The path also provided an important buffer between the patch and the neighbors adjacent vegetable garden. This allowed us to easily recognize and remove any spreading growth trying to reach his garden and anything from his garden reaching toward our patch. We also installed a 24” high wire fence to protect the plants from our chickens, as well as help support longer canes along the perimeter of the patch.

Not surprising, the first year’s fruit production was sparse and sporadic. Our actual focus was not to push the plants for high fruit production, but rather focus on overall plant health and root development. We monitored watering, removed weeds, watched for pests, and continued to amend the soil. We used marsh hay during the summer to help moderate soil temperature, reduce soil moisture loss, prevent weed growth, and keep low-hanging fruit from contacting soil.

Because the plants were still thin going into winter, I did not cut them back, but cleaned out all leaves and old hay. To help insulate them for their first winter, I applied a layer of compost, followed by a layer of fresh hay. Any dead or wild growth was cut back early the following spring once we could access any winter die back.

Year 2: Harvesting Fruit & The Cane Borer: 

Even with an extremely cold winter, the young plants thrived in their second year and the fruit production was excellent. After starting to produce in early summer, the patch seemed to produce more and more as the season went on.

Though the second-year plants produced well this past summer, we did encounter our first pest: the raspberry cane borer. I had noticed occasional tips of the plants wilting, then dying off. Many of these stems included developing fruit. This was the result of the cane borer laying its eggs, which is done by creating a double row of punctures around the stem.

The cane borers will likely return to some degree this spring. To rid of the pests, I’ll be monitoring for the first sign of wilt, then immediately cutting the stem 5-6” below the punctures rings and disposing of the cuttings containing the eggs.

End-of-Season Expansion and Year 3 Planning:

At the end of this second year, I was given transplants of another fall-bearing cultivar called Heritage. This cultivar also develops excellent fruit, is very cold hardy, and produces upright, self-supporting canes. This prompted me to expand the current patch as well as make space for the new transplants and future strawberries.

First, I thinned and dug up the existing raspberry plants and re-spaced them to create a larger area now consisting of 9 Autumn Britten plants. For the new Heritage transplants, I mirrored our existing patch and followed the same steps as before to provide the conditions they require to thrive. And because this was November, I provided them winter protection right away.

This coming spring, we’ll be amending the soil once again for the new raspberries and future strawberry plants. Our goal is to create a berry garden that will not only produce edible fruit spring through fall, but also provide a yield large enough to enjoy throughout the entire year. My instincts are already telling me another expansion is likely:)

Madison landscape design

Garden Photo Favorites

One of the most rewarding part of gardening is enjoying plants in their flowering stages. But even the fresh emerging spring growth, developing buds and fall color can provide some beautiful scenes. By including a variety of plants in your garden with varying flowering times, you can enjoy color throughout the entire season. From flowering spring bulbs and ephemerals to mid-summer cone flower to fall aster, there can always be something exciting happening in your garden. Here’s some of our favorite plant photos from this past season at our garden:

Madison landscape photo



Sustainable gardening

Wild Geranium

Madison rain harvesting

Rain Garden

flowering groundcover

Waterperry Blue Veronica

Yellow Coneflower

Little Henry Rudbeckia

Redbud tree

Eastern Redbud

Vegetable garden

Garden Sprouts

Madison planting design

Summer Beauty Allium

Planting spring bulbs

Spring allium bulbs

Vegetable garden

Mexican Sunflower

Growing hops


Madison garden

Mini Garden

vertical succulent garden

How to Build a Vertical Succulent Garden

Building vertical gardens or “live walls” are all the rage. You’ve seen these on Pinterest and Better Homes & Gardens magazine, but have you actually seen one of these in real life? These living walls (also called living pictures) are an exciting way to decorate with plants indoors or outdoors, especially when you’re short on space. If you’re looking for a fun weekend gardening project, check out this tutorial on constructing your own vertical succulent garden with a custom hanging planter.

Step 1: Get Your Succulent Plants & Supplies

Supplies and tools needed are:

  • 2×4’s (best to get treated wood)
  • Galvanized hardware cloth
  • Galvanized nails or screws
  • Staple gun / staples
  • A drill
  • A hammer
  • Wire cutters
  • Gloves
  • Garden / landscape fabric
  • A miter saw
  • Paint / paintbrush (optional)
  • Scrap wood, reclaimed wood or an old picture frame (optional)
  • Cactus Potting Soil (see below for mixing your own)
  • Various Succulent Plants
  • Steel hooks with brackets for hanging
Succulent plants for drought-tolerant garden

Succulent plants bought in Madison for drought-tolerant succulent wall planter.

Succulents are great plants for this project because they are beautiful, low maintenance and need very little water. They are also easy to propagate, which saves you from having to buy a jillion plants. If you plan to propagate your succulents, you will want to start that process a few days in advance, so the cuttings have time to callous over.

We bought our succulents from the Olbrich Botanical Gardens annual plant sale and from Jung’s here in Madison. Whenever possible, we like to support local nurseries and growers.


Step 2: Building the Vertical Planting Box

Measure and cut the 2x4's to create the inner frame.

Measure and cut the 2×4’s to create the inner frame.

Building the box is the most time consuming part of the process. You can also buy premade hanging planting boxes, but around here, we always like to do it ourselves! Smaller boxes are a bit easier to make and will weigh less, so that might be better for indoor hanging gardens.

Measure the 2×4’s carefully. The beauty of making your own wall planting box is that you can make any size you want that fits your space. We just used scrap pieces of lumber we had lying around for the inner frame. Make sure you use treated lumber so it doesn’t rot after time.

Predrilling your holes for this project will make it a lot easier.

Predrilling your holes for this project will make it a lot easier.

Put at least two large screws in each side. You may also want to reinforce the joints with brackets.

Staple the landscape fabric and then the wire to the bottom of the planting box.

Staple the landscape fabric and then the wire to the bottom of the planting box.

For the back panel, measure and cut the hardware cloth and landscape fabric about a 1/4 inch inside the frame to leave room for stapling. In this case, we secured the corners of the landscape cloth first to make sure it was pulled tight and then stapled both the landscape fabric and the hardware cloth around the edges. It’s a good idea to wear gloves when you are cutting the hardware cloth as there will be some sharp edges.  (Why it is called “cloth” I couldn’t tell you as there is not a lot about this wire that is cloth-like.)

Staple the wire on the top side of the garden box.

Thoroughly staple the wire on the top side of the garden box.

For the front side of the inner frame, measure and cut another piece of hardware cloth and secure it with staples.

For a little extra pizzazz, we decided to paint our inner frame lime green. One can never have too much lime green in my opinion, especially on the deck, which is where this vertical succulent garden will live. It’s best to do the painting before securing the outer frame, and you can let it dry while you work on the outer frame construction.

Painting the vertical garden box

Painting the vertical garden planter.

Step 3: Making The Outer Frame

You can buy a pre-made frame to put on top of the gardening box, but we made one out of reclaimed wood.

Where do you get reclaimed wood? We pried these boards from a wooden palette we found in the alley.

Where do you get reclaimed wood? We pried these boards from an old wooden palette we found in the alley.

Measure and cut the reclaimed boards to fit together like a picture frame, overlapping the boards slightly. Make sure to remove any staples or old nails that are in the boards before cutting.

Cut 45 degree angles on both sides of the reclaimed wood.

Cut 45 degree angles on both ends of the reclaimed wood.

You can use glue and brackets to hold the boards together if you want, but we are also going to nail them right into the inner frame. The outside frame is mostly for decoration, so it doesn’t need to be quite as sturdy as the inner frame.

Glue the reclaimed wood picture frame and let it dry.

Glue the reclaimed wood picture frame and let it dry.


Step 4: Prepare the Cactus / Succulent Soil Mixture

You can buy special cactus / succulent soil or make your own, which is a bit cheaper. The soil mixture is extremely important for good drainage, so be sure you do this step. The cactus soil mix is 4 parts potting soil, 2 parts sand and 1 part perlite. You can use most regular potting soils or peat moss, but make sure it is a light one with good drainage (it shouldn’t contain the absorptive vermiculite element). We roughly measured this and mixed it in a bucket.

The cactus soil mix is 3 parts potting soil, 2 parts sand and 1 part perlite.

The cactus / succulent soil mix is 4 parts potting soil, 2 parts sand and 1 part perlite.

Fill the garden box with the soil mix, then pour water all over it. Let it settle for about 15 minutes, then fill it a little more with soil. You want the soil to fill the planter all the way to the hardware cloth.

The box is filled with soil.

The box is filled with soil.

 Step 5: Adding the Succulent Plants

Now that the box and the soil are ready, we get to work on the really fun part! We recommend putting the outer frame in place while laying out your plants so you know exactly where each is going to go. You can mark them with a marker or just leave them in place until you are ready to cut. Make sure you don’t cut too much of the wire away. Cut just enough to fit the roots in. Also, make sure to leave at least a couple of squares of wire intact between each plant and around the edges as this is what will be holding the plants from falling out. For most of our plants, cutting a 4×4 section from the hardware cloth was the perfect size.

Snipping the wire to make room for the plants.

Snipping the wire to make room for the plants.

Bend the wire in around where you cut and remove the soil. It’s handy to have a spoon (or in my case a tiny decorative shovel!) to dig out the soil in the space.

Digging a tiny hole for the succulent plants.

Digging a tiny hole for the succulent plants.

If you are using succulent cuttings or tiny plants you have propagated, you may not even want to cut any of the hardware cloth but rather just poke a hole in the soil using a pencil or large screw.

Using a nail or screw to make a hole in the soil for the plant roots.

Using a nail or screw to make a hole in the soil for the plant roots.

Once you have all of your big plants in, it’s time to clean up this mess a bit.

Planting the vertical succulent garden

Planting the vertical succulent garden

 Step 6: Attaching the Outer Picture Frame

If you are using reclaimed wood, it is important to predrill your holes as this wood is thin and fragile. Any pounding or nailing could result in cracks or breakage. Then you can screw or nail the outer frame directly into the inner frame. We used clamps to hold the frame together during this step to make sure the corners would stick together during all the pounding.

Predrilling holes in the reclaimed wood

Predrilling holes in the reclaimed wood

Voila! The frame is attached and we are nearly done! In my case, I had a few cuttings of sedum from our yard that I filled out the planting box with. I did leave some room for the plants to fill in on their own, but you can really pack it full if you have enough plants. Once you’re done planting, give it some water. But in general, be sure not to over-water your succulents.

How to make a vertical succulent garden in a picture frame

How to make a vertical succulent garden in a picture frame

If you use tiny plants or cuttings, you’ll want to leave your succulent planting box sitting there for a number of days (maybe even a couple of weeks) in order to let the plants root in so they don’t fall out when you tip this on its side.

Step 7: Hanging the Vertical Succulent Garden

Depending on where you are hanging this (inside versus outside, solid wall versus a fence), you may have a different configuration for hanging your succulent garden. But above all, you want to make sure you use high quality, sturdy materials. These things are super heavy when you get all the soil and plants in them, so get some strong brackets and hooks.

How to Hang a Succulent Garden

We used one center hook and also reinforced the bottom with a 2×2 cross beam for extra support. Take the time to make sure the crossbeam is level.



Our succulent picture hanging from a steel bracket and hook.

Our succulent picture hanging from a steel bracket and hook.


Step 8: Care and Maintenance

Hooray, you are done with your beautiful new garden! Once your living wall or picture frame is hung, it’s time to step back and enjoy it! You need to water your succulents per their instructions. We like using a water bottle so as not to over water the plants. In order to prevent root rot, don’t water your succulent garden until the soil is totally dried out. We live in Madison, Wisconsin, so we’ve got pretty cold winters. Our garden would likely not survive a winter, so we’ll be bringing it inside for the winter.



Thanks for reading and let us know how your succulent garden is growing!

Miniature Gardening & Tiny Landcapes

How to make a mini garden for less than $10:

Who doesn’t love a miniature garden? At Sprout Landscape & Garden, we’re working on a series of mini landscapes for our own yard, including this replica of our blue stone patio with lime green adirondack chairs!


Stay tuned for more pictures. We’ll be working on a miniature chicken coop and mini retaining walls.DSC_0479

This mini garden is a large garden pot filled with soil. You could fill the bottom with rocks or foam and just top off with potting soil. Then we added some moss, some dried fern fronds and some blue stone gravel from our existing patio. We found some sharp flat rocks and made a little “flagstone” border.

We bought the adirondack chairs on Amazon and painted them lime green to match our real chairs. These were actually meant to be used as a cake topper!

Then we found some plain old twigs to start making a fence.

This whole garden (not including a pot, which we already had) cost less than $10 to make!

Mini gardening is fun for the whole family! It’s a great way to introduce children to gardening.


Residential Landscape Design

Madison Parade of Homes 2014

Do It Yourself Landscape Plan for Homeowners

We are so excited for the opportunity to have created the landscape design for one of the 2014 Madison Parade of Homes entries! This gorgeous new home is located in Bristol Gardens in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. The home was built by Farnsworth Builders.

DIY landscape plansSprout Landscape & Garden created a do-it-yourself (DIY) landscaping plan for the homeowners who were excited to put some sweat equity into their new home. But there were some things the homeowners needed assistance on, so Sprout provided guidance and additional manpower as needed. At Sprout, we’re here to help, and we can provide as much or as little help as needed!

The focus of this do-it-yourself design was low maintenance plantings and beds. The choice of plants and spacing will allow for maximum future growth and reduce the amount of pruning and maintenance in the future. The beds were lined with weed barrier fabric and covered in a native washed stone for low maintenance.
But keep in mind, there is no such thing as “no-maintenance landscaping!” Every landscape takes some care.

If you have a yard, you will have to give it some care. But knowing the right plants and building materials can drastically reduce the amount of time you spend pruning, weeding, watering and managing your landscape. And of course planting the right plants in the appropriate places will reduce maintenance and increase the likelihood of survival, saving you money and time in the long run.

The other consideration with the plant selection in this Parade of Homes design was to make sure they are wind resistant. In new developments, wind can be a problem. We chose trees such as bur oak and greenspirelinden for their hardy nature. They will withstand much more extreme wind conditions than, for example, a soft wood maple.

Another important feature in this design is that the homeowners wanted plants that would be blooming all season and have a variety of fall colors. For this, we choice trees such as serviceberry for its characteristics. The serviceberry has lovely white flowers in the spring, attractive fruits that birds love to eat, and beautiful fall tones of orange, yellow and red.

See below for the a close-up of what you can expect for a do it yourself landscape design and please contact us today if you are interested in learning more!

diy landscape ideas