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Present day landscape
If the area to be covered is large, it is generally
design stresses simplicity. Often a few widely
advisable to develop a broad, mass planting using
spaced, carefully selected specimen plants are used
one kind of plant. Occasionally, two or three kinds
to create an interesting landscape composition. Low
in individual groups are useful. But ground covers
plants that grow to form a dense carpet on the ground
that are excessively showy in flower or exceptionally
are known as ground covers. They serve two
slow growing should be reserved for small, special
purposes: they help tie the specimen plants together
Banks five feet or more in height, with moderate
Other uses of ground covers.
Ground covers are
slopes, are more difficult to cover effectively with
particularly useful in locations where grass will not
the usual low-growing covers. They are often
grow. They can be planted on slopes to prevent soil
planted with vines, dwarf and low shrubs, and
erosion and eliminate mowing. Small areas and wet
occasionally large shrubs. Although these materials
spots where mowing would be difficult, areas
are considerably larger than the typical ground cover
beneath shade trees, woodland gardens, and rock
plant, they serve essentially the same purpose by
gardens are also suited to these plants. Very low-
providing a uniform mass capable of covering and
growing kinds are attractive and useful for filling the
holding the soil in place in areas that would
crevices between stepping-stones or paving blocks
otherwise be difficult to maintain properly. If a very
dense planting is desired, underplanting with low-
Plantings for steep slopes.
The grading that must
be done to establish level lawn areas in steeply
Planting seasons and soil preparation.
sloping ground may leave banks that are difficult to
ground covers may be planted throughout the
mow and maintain as a lawn. Equally difficult
growing season, early spring is ideal. Plantings
slopes are often left where highway excavations have
made then will be well established before winter.
been made. If the banks are not too steep, they can
be protected from erosion and made attractive by
The type of plant as well as the
simply planting them with an appropriate ground
slope of the land should guide soil preparations for
A low bank, from two- to four-feet high with a
On level land, large quantities of soil can be weeded
moderate slope, can as a rule be effectively planted
and fertilized without danger of causing major
with a ground cover that will quickly spread over the
erosion. Instructions for preparing the soil are
exposed soil. The nature of the site should be
governed by the presence or absence of weeds.
carefully considered and only plants that will thrive
there should be selected. Because the soil on slopes
Level areas without weeds.
Remove any debris and
tends to be dry, the plants should be tolerant of
add a two-inch layer of organic matter such as peat
periodic drought. The amount of sun or shade that a
moss, leaf mold, or compost over the entire area.
slope receives also influences the types of plants.
Then apply a complete fertilizer such as 5-10-5 at the
rate of 3 pounds to each 100 square feet. SPADE or rototill the area. After planting, apply a mulch.
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disturbs the soil very little. If there
Setting the plants. In areas where overall sol
are many weeds, cut them down. Then, without
preparation has not been done, prepare a planting
disturbing the soil, fumigate underneath a plastic tarp
“pocket” for each plant. Dig individual holes
to eliminate surface weeds and weed seeds. After
slightly wider and deeper than the root system to
fumigating, be sure to wait the required time before
allow the roots to be spread out completely and use a
planting. Finally cover the ground with cheesecloth,
prepared soil as a backfill around the roots of the
burlap, turf fiber, or some other erosion-preventing
plant. In sandy gravelly, over drained soils, haul in a
material. Plant through holes cut in the material.
fertile loam or use a mixture of one-third loam soil,
one-third peat moss, and one-third original sandy
If there are few weeds, dig or pull them; then lay
soil. In well drained loamy soil, backfill with one-
down cheesecloth, burlap, turf fiber or the like, cut
holes in the material, and plant through the holes.
Watering, weeding, mulching,
Black plastic may be used as the covering, but is
and feeding are the main requirements of a new
unsightly and in some instances the tops of plants
ground cover planting. Once established it will
grown in the plastic may suffer winter injury. An
require very little care. A mulch of peat moss, pine
organic mulch applied over the plastic conceals it
needles, or other suitable material will reduce the
and usually prevents such injury. The mulch has a
need for watering and weeding. The weeds can be
tendency to “slip” on the plastic after rains or heavy
pulled out, or kept trimmed so that they are lower
winds but can easily be put back in place.
disturbs the soil very little. Cut the
A commercial fertilizer containing nitrogen,
weeds back to almost ground level. Plant in
phosphorus, and potassium in pellet form is
“pockets” cut out of the slope, and keep weeds down
recommended. In early spring it can be scattered
to the height of the ground cover plantings, or lower.
over the beds when the foliage is dry and then
Weed growth left this way is unsightly, but it helps
brushed to the ground with a broom. Use a 5 percent
nitrogen fertilizer at the rate of 2 to 3 pounds per 100
The spacing of the plants depends on
their type and how quickly they will spread, and also
In exposed locations, evergreen ground covers may
on their size and their location. One plant for every
need additional protection from winter winds and
one to four square feet is a good guide when ordering
sun. Evergreen branches, such as those cut from
ground covers. Close spacing provides cover sooner,
discarded Christmas trees, are very useful for this
but it is more costly. Spacing recommendations are
given for each plant covered in the plant lists.
Every effort has been made to provide correct, complete, and up-to-date pest management information
for New York State. Changes in pesticide regulations occur constantly, and human errors are still
possible. These recommendations are not a substitute for pesticide labeling. Read the label before
applying any pesticide. Trade names used herein are for convenience only. No endorsement of products
is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products implied.
Cornell Cooperative Extension and its employees assume no liability for the effectiveness or results of any
chemicals for pesticide usage. No endorsement of products is made or implied.
**HOME REMEDIES: These remedies are not endorsements by Cornell University of any product or
procedure. They are not recommendations for use either express or implied. Neither Cornell University,
nor its employees or agents, are responsible for any injury or damage to person or property arising from
the use of this information.
List of Ground Covers
Juniperus chinensis var. sargentii
Especially Difficult Growing Sites
1 Well drained soil important 2Good in sun or shade 3 Confine; may grow out of bounds 4 Herbaceous perennial 5 Deciduous 6 Difficult to transplant 7 Climbs as a vine where it has support
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