Tuesday, August 31, 2010

More about worms - fishing for answers

I recently wrote a post about the wonders of earthworms in a garden.

While working on the post, I was going to mention how I sometimes get earthworms for my garden.

Every now and then if I accompany my husband to a bait shop, I buy a small bucket of worms and take them home and drop them in my soil. I’ve been told that isn’t really a good idea and that they will die there. But since they would have died as bait on the end of some fisherman’s line, I figured dying in a pile of nice moist compost in my yard might be just as acceptable an end for these “sacred” creatures as being strung on a hook and chomped in half by a hungry fish.

But in my continuing effort to learn the correct “environmentally friendly” way of doing things, I wanted to check with a "worm expert" before I recommended this method. What I found out was that the harm that I was doing might not be to the worms, themselves, but to the environment because I was introducing a non-native species.

I contacted Tami S. Ransom, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Virginia who has done some research on introduced species.

Here is what she said.

Hi Betsy. I saw that you had already posted your blog about adding earthworms to gardens. The only thing I wanted to bring to your attention is that all of the earthworms that you buy as bait or for compost piles are invasive earthworms. In urbanized areas, such as the target area for your blog, invasive earthworms are already well-established. Pretty much any earthworm that you find in your garden is a non-native earthworm. And, it is true that these non-native earthworms can be beneficial for gardens.  

However, if you post a follow up to your original post, you should caution your readers that if they decide to purchase earthworms for their gardens, they should avoid purchasing "Alabama jumpers". These earthworms in the genus Amynthas have been recently introduced from Asia. Because they are recent invaders, data about their effects is still scarce. However, it does appear that they can damage forest ecosystems. When introduced here in the South, they seem to thrive. I've seen riparian areas here in Charlottesville where it appears they are denuding areas of leaf litter and reducing the understory plant community. 

Here's a link to a recent story about these Asian earthworms: 

As I said, in urban areas, it's probably not too big of a deal to put purchased worms in gardens (as long as they aren't those Asian ones!) The European invasives are already here to stay. All the compost worms that people buy are also invasives. But, if you are trying to be eco-conscious, then making your already established worms happy is probably the best way to go :)

Thank you Tami. As always, I appreciate all the wonderful scientists and scholars who are willing to help us all learn the right way to "take care of our share" of the planet!

Monday, August 30, 2010

National Eat Outside Day - August 31 - Pick Your Pleasure

Did you know that August 31st is National Eat Outdoors Day? This annual event celebrates the end of summer vacation with a day of outdoor dining. Have your coffee and bagel on the patio, take a sandwich to work for an outdoor picnic, or treat your special someone to a night of fine dining under the stars.

Of course, if you grow anything that’s edible, your favorite Eat Outdoors activity might be strolling through your own garden and sampling the fruits, vegetables and herbs that are ripe for the picking.

Another great activity that gardeners will particularly enjoy for National Eat Outdoors Day is to visit a pick-your-own fruit or vegetable farm. There are plenty of pick-your-own farms to allow you the true gardeners experience of eating produce fresh from the tree, vine or plant. Below is listing of some of the local farms and what they have available to pick for the next few weeks.

Butler’s Orchard– Germantown, MD – raspberries, blackberries, apples

Crooked Run Orchard– Purcellville, Virginia - apples, plums, Asian pears, red raspberries

Great Country Farms– Bluemont, VA – potatoes, concord grapes

Heartland Farm and Orchard – Markham, VA – peaches, apples

Hollin Farms– Delaplane, VA – Peaches, Black Berries, Tomatoes, Greenbeans, Okra, Sweet Peppers, Summer Squash, Eggplant, Bitter Melon, Chinese Long Beans

Homestead Farm– 20 miles nw of DC in Montgomery County, Maryland – currently has apples

Larriland Farm – Woodbine, MD – peaches, apples, tomatoes, sweet corn

Rock Hill Orchard – Mount Airy, MD – snap beans, red raspberries, apples

Stribling Orchard – Markham, Virginia – peaches and apples

To find more pick your own farms near you, visit this website  PickYourOwn.org

*Note: All information was taken from farm websites. Please call ahead to verify dates and products available for picking.

Win $5000 for your youth garden project

Take the Green Thumb Challenge! Green Education Foundation (GEF) and Gardener’s Supply Company have teamed up on an exciting funding opportunity for established youth garden projects nationwide!

The organizations are calling on schools and youth groups to submit chronicles of their garden projects in a race to win a $5,000 prize. The award is designed to support the continued sustainability of an exceptional youth garden program that has demonstrated success, and has impacted the lives of kids and their community. Read more

Sunday, August 29, 2010

How to Earn Green ($$$) by going Green

How would you like to earn a little green ($$$) by going green in your landscape? There are several programs in the area that offer rebates and financial incentives to help encourage you to go green and conserve water in your landscape.  

Montgomery County Maryland Residents – Create a RainScape - Rebates of up to $1200 for participating in RainScapes Rewards Rebate Program. Maximum rebates available for various landscape changes: for installing rain gardens ($1200), conservation landscaping ($750), urban tree canopy ($600), permeable pavers ($1200), pavement removal ($1200), green roofs ($1200), rain barrels ($200), cisterns ($500), dry wells ($600)

Gaithersburg Rainscapes Rewards Program - $50 rebate for rainbarrels; up to $500 for conservation landscaping

Rockville Rainscapes Rewards Program - $50 rebate for rainbarrels; up to $500 for conservation landscaping

District of Columbia RiverSmart Homes Program - This District-wide program offers incentives to homeowners interested in reducing stormwater runoff from their properties. Homeowners receive up to $1,200 to adopt one or more of the following landscape enhancements: Shade Trees , Rain Barrels , Pervious Pavers , Rain Gardens , BayScaping

For more information about these programs, check out the links above.

Friday, August 27, 2010

An interview with Kathy Jentz, editor of Washington Gardener magazine, about local green gardening trends

According to statistics collected in the National Gardening Association’s (NGA) 2004 and 2008 Environmental Lawn and Garden surveys, the number of households in the U.S. that practice environmentally friendly gardening techniques increased from an estimated 5 million in 2004 to 12 million in 2008.

Although those statistics sound great for our country, as a whole, I wondered how many gardeners in the Washington DC Metro area are making similar changes in their gardens.

Kathy Jentz, editor of Washington Gardener magazine, took a break from preparations for her Third Annual Tomato Tasting, for a short interview on the subject.  

Question: Have you noticed a trend towards more eco-friendly gardening among your readers and fellow gardeners?

Kathy’s Answer: We have been publishing for 5 years and in that time I have noticed an increase in questions about earth-friendly gardening practices. I'm hearing from many who have stated they are seeking to reduce the size of their turfgrass lawns and who are trying to attract wildlife to their yards. In non-gardeners I also see that trend. They are asking about lawn services that are truly green, not just in name only.  

Question: What types of environmentally friendly techniques have you seen starting to show up in local gardens? (more native plants?, rain barrels? less chemicals, etc.)  

Kathy’s Answer: I see a lot more interest in adding native plants to gardens, although I think the trend of using ALL natives has hit its peak and is now tapering off to a more moderate use. Gardeners are working in natives where they can, instead of going whole hog natives-only.

Gardeners are saving water and planting more drought-tolerant varieties. Many are investing in rain barrels and are even talking about cisterns.

Most of the gardeners I encounter were already avoiding chemical herbicides and pesticides except as a last resort. The last few years just seems to reinforce that conviction. Many now want to cut out any gas-powered garden and lawn tools, as well.

Question: Vegetable gardening is certainly one type of gardening that seems to lend itself to "organic" gardening, because of the health aspects of not using chemicals. Do you think vegetable gardeners are more concerned about practicing eco-friendly techniques than perhaps flower gardeners?  

Kathy’s Answer: I would not say they are more concerned, but certainly equally as concerned. Gardeners are very aware that what they put into the soil is what they get out of it - be it an ornamental plant or edible one. They know that organic is the most healthy and sustainable practice.

I do see more ornamental gardeners adding vegetable beds and fruit trees to their gardens. They are better able to control what goes into their food that way and I think they also enjoy being able to grow their own food. The popularity of cooking shows has helped feed into this trend, so to speak. People are a great deal more aware of their food sources and food quality these days.

Question: What do you think is motivating more people to practice environmentally friendly techniques? Are people doing it for their families, the planet, for wildlife?  

Kathy’s Answer: I think it is out of personal conviction, though the influence of peer pressure cannot be discounted. If your neighbors have on sprinklers all day and spray everything down with chemicals, you think that is "the norm." But if none of your neighbors do those things, it probably would not occur to you to do them either.  

Question: Are gardeners being influenced by any particular people or groups? Did the White House Organic garden encourage more organic vegetable gardeners?

Kathy’s Answer: The White House organic edible garden seemed to have most influence on people who had never gardened before, rather than current gardeners. I see current gardeners being most influenced by what they see in garden centers, in gardening publications, and what they see at local public gardens. They are very visual and always looking out for what is new, improved and problem-resistant. Gardeners want beauty, but they also want gardens that are as low maintenance as possible.

Gardeners often swap plants with neighbors or with fellow garden club members. In that way, their plant selection is almost viral.
Thanks, Kathy, for taking the time to share your thoughts on eco-gardening. I especially like your comments about how gardeners learn from their neighbors and fellow gardeners. It’s a good lesson for all of us to try to set a good example with our gardening practices and even the choice of plants that we share at plant swaps and with fellow gardeners.  

Kathy Jentz worked for 15 years in association publishing (both trade and professional organizations). She saw a need for gardening information specifically for the DC (MidAtlantic) area and started Washington Gardener Magazine in 2005. She is President of the Takoma Horticultural Club and on the board of the Silver Spring Garden Club. Here is a link to Kathy's Washington Gardener Blog, one of my local favorites.

Washington Gardener magazine, is the gardening publication published specifically for the local metro area — zones 6-7 — Washington DC and its suburbs.

Earthworms - Wriggling Wonders of the Garden

Earthworms are the intestines of the soil. – Aristotle

One of the most memorable questions that I ever received from a fellow gardener was from the gentleman who called me with his earthworm problem. “What can I do to get rid of all of these awful earthworms,” he said. “They’re all over the place.”

Although most gardeners would love to see slimy, wriggling earthworms, rolling around in their soil, this gentleman saw them only as a nuisance. Such is the case with many garden critters, which are shunned at first sight and sometimes even eradicated from a yard long before the gardener takes the time to learn their bountiful benefits.

There is no doubt that earthworms are slimy little critters. Nevertheless, if you have earthworms in your yard, you should feel lucky. If you could create a miniature little robot that could aerate your soil by creating passageways for air and water, all the while adding valuable nutrients to the soil, wouldn’t you do it? Too late. Nature has already created this creature and we have named him “earthworm”.

Like many creature’s, an earthworm’s primary activity is eating and eliminating what it eats. But in the case of the earthworm, the old adage of “garbage in, garbage out” isn’t very accurate. With earthworms, what they eliminate, called castings, are pure gold to your garden soil.

You don’t have to go to the extent of Cleopatra who supposedly considered earthworms so indispensable to the agricultural economy of ancient Egypt that she declared them sacred, subjecting exporters to the death penalty. But you should definitely roll out the red carpet for these creatures by giving them what they like – a nice layer of damp fallen leaves or other organic matter.

In my continuing effort to learn more about “environmentally friendly” landscaping, I decided to see what else I could find out about earthworms.

Environmental benefits of earthworms
  • Earthworm poop peps up your plants. Earthworms eat microorganisms in the soil. As the organic matter passes through their system, it is fragmented and inoculated with other microorganisms. The resulting feces or casts contain nutrients and organic matter that is more readily taken up by plants.
  • Earthworms help stir things up! A large proportion of soil passes through the guts of earthworms, and they can actually turn over the top six inches of soil….in about ten to twenty years. But in the process of moving dirt around, they can bring essential nutrients back to the top layers of the soil that had leached down.
  • Earthworms help prevent erosion. Earthworms make soil more porous as they move through it. Some species make permanent burrows deep into the soil. These burrows can remain long after the worm has died, and can be a major conduit for soil drainage, particularly under heavy rainfall. At the same time, the burrows minimize surface water erosion.
  • Earthworms help soil retain moisture. By fragmenting organic matter, and increasing soil porosity, earthworms can significantly increase the water-holding capacity of soils.
  • Earthworms help prevent water pollution. By allowing more water to seep into the soil, earthworms help prevent pollution by minimizing runoff.
  • Earthworms provide channels for root growth. The channels made by deep-burrowing earthworms are lined with readily available nutrients and make it easier for roots to penetrate deep into the soil.
  • Earthworms help feed local wildlife. Earthworms are a favorite food of many bird species and other friendly garden predators such as toads and turtles.
If you see earthworms in your yard, then it is a good sign that you have a somewhat “healthy” garden. Earthworm populations tend to increase in areas with richer organic matter levels and decrease with soil disturbances, such as tillage and potentially harmful chemicals. If you would like to attract MORE earthworms, here are a few tips:
  1. Avoid using chemicals. Pesticides are one of the biggest threats to earthworms today. Many common pesticides, even "organic" pesticides, kill earthworms, some with mortality rates as high as 100%. Chemicals that are used to kill Japanese beetle grubs, for example, also kill earthworms. Some chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and fungicides can also kill earthworms.
  2. Avoid unnecessary cultivation. Studies have found a direct correlation between the frequency of cultivation and the number and size of earthworms: the more frequently the ground is cultivated, the fewer and smaller the worms. When possible, cultivate beds by hand or with a digging fork. Hand cultivation has a significantly lower mortality rate for earthworms than machine cultivation.
  3. Add compost and other organic matter to your soil. If you make your own compost, you may see earthworms in your compost pile. Spreading a thick layer of finished compost on new garden beds, or digging it in when you plant, is a great way to improve your soil, produce healthier plants, and attract worms, all at the same time. If you don’t have a compost pile, you can feed the worms by adding certain food scraps such as vegetable peelings and coffee grounds directly to your garden either in shallow holes or under layers of mulch.
  4. Add mulch. Worms are easily killed by surprise frosts on unprotected soil in spring and fall. Mulch provides an insulating blanket that can help protect them from the cold. It also helps keep soil cool and moist in the summertime when worms are typically driven deep underground to hide from warm temperatures and dry soils. Organic mulches such as straw and shredded leaves are also favorite worm foods.
*Many of the facts for this article were found from this source: The Living Soil: Earthworms, NRCS website

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Virginia Go Green Garden Fest - September 11, 2010

The fifth annual Virginia GoGreen Garden Festival will be held Saturday, September 11, 2010, at the Science Museum of Virginia, 2500 West Broad Street in Richmond, VA. This fun, educational event, sponsored by the Virginia Green Industry Council, runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults, free for children 12 and under. Parking is free on the museum lot.

There will be many items for sale, including plants, garden products, landscaping services, fresh honey, crafts, gardening books, pottery , landscape photographs and much more .

Expert Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer all of your gardening questions and observation hives will be on display for visitors to see bees in action making honey. Children’s activities will include bunny petting, crafts and face painting.

The Festival also features live music by local artists, food by local bakers and lunch by Strawberry Street Foods.

One of the Festival’s goals is to help make environmental stewardship a way of life for every person of any age. Exhibits will provide information and demonstrations on how each of us can do our part to improve air and water quality, recycle our finite natural resources and maintain the health and well being of our Chesapeake Bay. The Science Museum of Virginia will offer tours of their environmental displays throughout the day with special discounts on museum passes.

Make plans now to attend the Garden Festival Saturday, September 11. Enjoy a few hours of fun and information for the entire family and go home with a rain barrel, a lavender plant, a bird house, a Barn Again wood product or the makings for a backyard pond. For more information on the Festival, contact Rick Baker at rick.baker@vdacs.virginia.gov or 301.275.2077. Virginia GoGreen Garden Festival handout (pdf format)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Biggest, sweetest, yummiest? Enter the DC State Fair

There I was, wandering around twitter the other day and saw a tweet that said "Is that a pickle in your pocket or...."

That's how I found out about the upcoming, first ever DC State Fair.

The DC State Fair is scheduled for August 28th, 2010 at the Tubman Elementary Field (11th and Irving Streets NW) as part of the Columbia Heights Day Festival, which runs from 10am - 6pm.

The idea for the DC State Fair was planted by local blogger Amelia Showalter (Gradually Greener) back in 2009 when she was lamenting the lack of a DC area fair that would allow local gardeners and bakers to show off their home-grown and home-made goodies and compete for prizes. Fellow bloggers Jenna Huntsberger (Modern Domestic) and Ken Moore (The Indoor Garden(er)) helped to nurture Amelia's idea and keep it growing and now its ready to bloom!

If you love home gardening, community gardening, baking or canning AND you live in DC, you can enter one of the great contests and compete for one of the fun prizes. DEADLINES are fast approaching for many of the categories.

Here is a list of some of the fun contests, sponsors and prizes:
  • Cupcake Contest (sponsored by Treet) – Deadline: August 25
  • Tastiest Tomato (sponsored by Glittarazzi) – Deadline: August 28
  • Biggest Vegetable (General) (sponsored by Washington Gardener magazine) – Deadline: August 28
  • Biggest Vegetable (Container Gardens Only) (sponsored by Washington Gardener magazine) – Deadline: August 28
  • Funkiest-Looking Vegetable (sponsored by Soupergirl) – Deadline: August 28
  • Home-Made Jam Contest (sponsored by the DC Rollergirls) – Deadline: August 26
  • Home-Made Pickles Contest (sponsored by Glittarazzi) – Deadline: August 26
For more information or to register for contests online, visit the DC State Fair Website

Friday, August 20, 2010

The benefits of permeable surfaces are finally starting to soak in!

I like to look at life as a learning experience. When I run across something that I’m not sure about, I love to take the opportunity to learn something new. Thanks to a local stormwater expert, the benefits of permeable surfaces are finally starting to soak in!

Recently I met a fellow gardener who told me about all of the great eco-friendly features of her landscape. One of the key features she mentioned was her lack of lawn.

Since maintaining a green lush lawn can require a lot of water and chemicals, many people feel that cutting down on lawn is a good thing for the environment. But when I stopped by her house for a visit later in the week, I wasn’t really sure she was as environmentally friendly as she thought.

Instead of a lawn, almost the entire front yard of her small property was filled by a huge, concrete circular driveway.

I have heard many times that pervious surfaces, or surfaces that allow water to soak into the ground, are better for the environment. But I thought that the main reason for that was to allow any chemicals that you use in your landscape to soak into the ground rather than finding their way into the storm drains. Since she doesn’t use chemicals, was her impervious driveway still bad for the environment?

I decided to consult an expert: Jan-W. Briedé, PhD, the Stormwater Outreach Manager for the State of Virginia. Here is what I learned:

“An impervious surface that large is bad for the environment even if the homeowner doesn't use chemicals,” Dr. Briedé explained. “It is a well established fact that the total amount of stormwater runoff is increasing with increases in impervious areas such as roads, roofs, driveways, and parking lots. In summary, the infiltration of rain water into the soil decreases with increases in development.”

“In agriculture fields and forests typically 50% of the rainfall infiltrates, or soaks into the ground, while in our towns and suburbs only 15% to 35% of the rainfall infiltrates. The increase in runoff that results from increases in impervious areas has devastating impacts on creeks and streams. It is also one of the reasons why we saw the flooding in Nashville earlier this year and recently here in the Washington area. Increased runoff and decreased infiltration of rainwater is also one of the causes of the dropping groundwater tables and the reason why we need to drill deeper wells to get to the groundwater. These are some of many reasons why we need to try to keep all the rain that falls on our property where it belongs….in our yard.”

I asked Dr. Briedé what a better choice would have been for my well-intentioned friend.

He explained that constructing the driveway out of something that would allow water to soak through is always the best choice for a large driveway.

“In historic times we have always had some form of pervious pavement,” Dr. Briedé said. “ Dirt roads would let water infiltrate, while in the cities during long forgotten time, cobble stones were placed far enough apart so that water could infiltrate into the cracks between the stones. The father apart the stones were placed, the more water could infiltrate, or the faster the water could infiltrate. The same principle is used with pervious pavement today.”

“There are essentially three types of pervious pavement: permeable pavers, permeable concrete and permeable asphalt. All three methods are worth considering around the home when you are considering landscaping projects. While permeable asphalt and concrete are best used for driveways and parking areas around the home, pavers can be used for all those as well as for decks and walkways. Using some form of pervious pavement in your landscaping, you can reduce the runoff coming from your property while keeping the water where it belongs: your soil, where it will be available to your plants. Can you imagine the difference it could make to your water bill if you could infiltrate more water into the soil on your property, instead of letting it runoff into the creeks and streams? Your trees and shrubs in particular will thank you for it.”

“In addition to using permeable surfaces, homeowners may also help reduce stormwater runoff by methods such as green roofs, rain barrels and cisterns, rain gardens and swales.”

Dr. Briedé suggested the following websites for more information:

Pavers: Interlocking Concrete Paver Institute

Concrete: Pervious Concrete: When it Rains, it Drains

Asphalt: Porous Asphalt: National Asphalt Pavement Association

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ladybugs: Nature's Beautiful Little Killing Machines

One of the first things we did in our yard when we decided to “go green” was to quit using chemicals. We made that choice for two reasons: to protect the wildlife that visits our yard and to keep from adding any poisons to local groundwater supplies through stormwater runoff.

We don’t have a huge problem with insect pests. For certain pests, we sometimes use products such as insecticidal soap, which we make at home by mixing 2 tablespoons of baby shampoo to a quart of water and then transferring it to a spray bottle that we can spritz as needed.

But our favorite means of controlling pest insects is by letting predatory insects and other forms of wildlife dine on the problem pests.

There are days when dragonflies fill the air, performing beautiful aerial acrobatics as they swoop and dine on flying insects. We’ve put in a small pond near the house to help attract these flying exterminators and they do a great job during the few times a year when we see termites swarming on the edge of our wooded property.

For plant pests, our favorite insect predators are ladybugs.

I’ve loved ladybugs since I was a child. They are beautiful, gentle, almost storybook looking creatures and I would probably welcome them to my garden even if they weren’t beneficial.

But Ladybugs (also known as Ladybird beetles or lady beetles) are voracious predators, both as adults and in larval form. They help control aphids, scale, mealy bugs, spider mites and whiteflies, as well as other insects. Female lady beetles may lay from 20 to more than 1,000 eggs over a one to three month period, starting in spring or early summer. The tiny eggs are yellow & oval shaped and are usually found in clusters of 10-50, near aphid colonies. The eggs take 3-5 days to hatch and the larvae start chomping garden pests as soon as they hatch, consuming up to 400 aphids during this 29-day stage of their life.

Ladybugs live about 11 months as adults and can eat a whopping 5,000 aphids in their lifetime, in addition to the other garden pests they eat. Within a year, there can be as many as 5-6 generations of ladybugs. In the fall, adult ladybugs hibernate in plant litter and crevices, often at the base of a tree, along a fence or under a rock, where they find some protection from cold winter temperatures.

In theory, you’d think that if you have pest insects on your plants that ladybugs might just naturally find them. But that is rarely the case in our yard. Like the elusive hummingbird (another one of our garden favorites) ladybugs never really started to hang around until we made a concerted effort to attract them.

In addition to eating insects, ladybugs also need pollen and nectar to survive. So if you provide the plants that these beneficial insects prefer, you will have a much better chance of attracting and retaining them.

Beneficial insects are said to love tiny, fragrant flowers, especially those of herbs and vegetables. If you grow this type of plant, allow some of them to fully bolt and produce flowers. A variety of plants should be selected that bloom at different times of the year and for best results, these plants should be interspersed amid your other plants.

Plants that attract beneficial insects include: Alyssum, Angelica, anise, baby’s breath, bee balm, calendula, candytuft, caraway, carrot family, cilantro, clover, coreopsis, coriander, cosmos, daisy, Dill, evening primrose, fennel, feverfew, goldenrod, lavender, lemon balm, lovage, marigold, mint, mustard family, parsley, Queen Anne’s Lace, rue, spearmint, sunflowers, tansy, thyme, yarrow, and zinnias. Many of these plants can be grown inexpensively from seed (10 pkgs for $1 at many dollar stores and when on sale at Walgreens).

In addition to choosing plants with flowers to attract the beneficials, I have also heard about using “banker” plants. A banker plant is a plant chosen specifically to attract and host pest insects, which in turn will attract more beneficials.

I first learned about banker plants from Dr. Lance Osborne, a professor of entomology at the University of Florida who explained that “An ideal banker plant system utilizes a pest insect that does not hurt the crop or plant you are trying to protect but attracts the beneficial that will move off that plant and onto the other pests in your garden.”

Dr. Russell F. Mizell, III, another professor of entomology from the University of Florida, said that crape myrtles can be excellent banker plants.

“Crape myrtles attract an aphid which is host specific. In other words, it does not feed on any plants other than crape myrtles. However, the crape myrtle aphid and their sugar-laden honeydew serve as food for twenty or thirty species of beneficial predators as well as countless bees and wasps. Because the [crape myrtle] aphids are not native to the U.S., most of our native predators do not prefer these aphids over the native species. So the predators will leave the crape myrtles periodically to search the surrounding vegetation -- your yard and garden -- for their more preferred prey, your other plant pests, thereby, enhancing natural biological control. To be successful, you have to ignore the sooty mold and the aphids on the crape myrtles.”

Studies by universities and the USDA have shown that spraying plants with artificial insect attractants greatly increases egg laying of beneficial insects. Artificial food sources such as Wheast® are available for purchase from organic garden suppliers. Or you can make your own “fast food” for beneficials by mixing one part whey yeast (or brewer’s yeast) with one part sugar and 10 parts water and spraying the mixture on your plants. Plants should be sprayed when temperatures are below 80F. You extra "bug food" can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 7-10 days.

It should go without saying that if you want to attract ladybugs, and other beneficial insects, you should eliminate pesticides from your garden. Pesticides will hurt both the ladybugs and the insects that they feed on.

You can also purchase ladybugs at local garden centers and many online sources.

The first time I purchased and released live ladybugs, I had the experience that many people do: they all immediately flew away. This was despite the fact that I followed the suggestions to help retain them, such as watering the site before releasing the ladybugs (or releasing after a rain) and releasing the bugs in the evening, rather than the heat of the day. Another suggestion is to release only a few ladybugs at a time, over a period of about a week, instead of emptying the entire bag all at once. The rest can be stored in the refrigerator (NOT in an airtight container!) until their release. On severely infested plants, you can drape a thin sheet over the plant and release the ladybugs underneath.

I had better luck with Sta-Home Lady Beetles (1 pkg for $13.95 – enough to cover 1000 sq ft.) which I ordered from Gardens Alive, an online source for “Environmentally Responsible Products.” According to their advertisement, their ladybugs are ‘screened to remove parasitized bugs, they are ready to lay eggs, and they are hungry for pests.’ After releasing the ladybugs into my garden, I was quite impressed that many of them stayed around for weeks and even months. I did not do anything special to retain them, but I did have a plant that was well infested with aphids.  

One Note: The Asian Ladybug

There are two types of ladybugs that can be found in our gardens: the native ladybugs species, Hippodamia convergens, and the Asian ladybug, Harmonia axyridis, which was imported into our country at the beginning of the 20th century to help reduce the populations of tree-killing aphids. If you decide to buy ladybugs, it is best to make sure you are getting the native species.

For more information:

Try Pesticide Alternatives (PDF File)

Where to buy ladybugs in Washington, DC

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thrift shop finds are great for the garden

Thrift shops are a great source for finding inexpensive garden goods.

I love thrift shops AND they are very environmentally friendly, since they keep items out of the landfills. My favorite thrift shop find is anything that can be used in my gardens. I NEVER pass up any sort of usable bird house or watering can. You can never have too many of either. And old chairs, if they are cheap enough, can make wonderful private garden nooks or even plant stands. I put indoor plants in colorful mugs which can always be picked up for dimes or quarters and I love things that can hang from trees or from the rafters of our potting pergola.

And of course, if you want to create a scarecrow to help keep the birds away from your vegetable garden, a thrift store has everything you need.

So next time you drive by a thrift store, think of your garden. The more money you save on pots, planters and garden art, the more money you'll have to buy new plants! And many thrift stores are run by non-profit organizations raising money for their favorite causes. What's your favorite thrift store? Let us know!

Here's a great list I found online to help you start your search: Thrift Shops, Consignment Stores, and other ways to buy secondhand goods in the Washington DC Area


Friday, August 13, 2010

13 Ways to Find Good Luck in the Garden this Friday the 13th

Today is Friday the 13th. For those of you who are superstitious and immediately started wondering what sort of bad luck today is going to bring, I encourage you to take a walk around your garden this morning and look for some of these critters, plants and other garden finds that are thought to bring GOOD luck. If you keep looking long enough, you'll be sure to find at least one! And even if you don't, starting your morning in the garden is sure to provide enough pleasure to get you through whatever the day has in store for you.

1) Four Leaf Clover - The four leaf clover is a universally accepted symbol of good luck. According to legend, Eve even carried one with her as she left the Garden of Eden. What do the leaves symbolize? One leaf is for FAITH. The second for HOPE. The third for LOVE. And the fourth for LUCK! All I know is, I was holding a 4 leaf clover when I won a VERY LARGE prize in a local contest and I haven't stopped looking for them since.

2) Crickets - Hearing the chirping of a cricket is said to bring good luck to all that hear. In this case, however, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery since imitating the sound of a cricket is said to bring bad luck.

3) Ladybugs - Having a live ladybug land on you is said to brighten your day, give you patience with those around you, and most importantly, lessen your burdens. It must, however, be allowed to fly away of its own accord, and must not be brushed off. You may gently speed it on its way with a soft puff of air, and by the reciting the rhyme , "Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. Your house is on fire and your children are gone." The deeper the ladybug's color, the better luck it brings. The number of spots on its back are also important. The more spots...the better the luck! Killing a ladybug is considered bad luck.

4) Bees - A bee landing on someone's hand is believed to mean money is on the way! Yay! If the bee settles on someone's head it means that person will rise to greatness. They were once considered to deliberately sting those who swore in front of them, and also to attack an adulterer or unchaste person; it was once held to be a sure sign that a girl was a virgin if she could walk through a swarm of bees without being stung.

5) Dragonflies - Dragonflies are another lucky insect and were once considered to be a sign of "a good harvest". Other symbolic meanings associated with dragonflies, are prosperity, strength, courage, peace, harmony and purity.

6) Birds - A bird call from the south is good for crops; from the west is good luck; from the east, good love. Some believe that if a bird poops on your car (or even your head - yuck) it is supposed to mean good luck.

7) Crows - Seeing crows are good luck, depending on how many you see. Two means luck, Three means health, Four means wealth.

8 ) Acorns - In Norse folklore, both the acorn and the oak tree bring good fortune. Carrying an acorn on you somewhere is said to ensure good luck and prosperity. Others believe that carrying an acorn will keep you young. Placing a single acorn on a windowsill is said to ward off lightening.

9) Rainbows - Rainbows are considered lucky because we all know if we find the end of the rainbow there will be pot of gold.

10) Eggs - Eggs are thought to bring good weather, encourage the growth of crops and protect both cattle and children against misfortune, and ward off evil. I didn't find anything that said what KIND of egg, so maybe bird, lizard and butterfly eggs all count!

 11) Turtles -Turtles are believed to have power over all kinds of Bad luck.

12) Frogs - The frog has been a symbol of prosperity, wealth, friendship and abundance in many cultures for centuries. For the Romans, the Frog was believed to bring Good Luck to one's home. The native Aborigines of Australia, believed that Frogs brought the thunder and rain, to help the plants to grow. Frogs are also said to be effective in speeding up recovery from disease. The Frog is also said to attract true friends and to help you find long-lasting love.

13) Rabbits - A Rabbit's Foot has been a good luck symbol for the common man for ages. I think keeping the foot and the rabbit attached are better luck. Rabbits are supposed to symbolize fertility so seeing one could be lucky if you are trying to have more children.

If you don't see any of these things on your garden walk, you can always try a couple of things to change your luck for the day.  

Knocking on Wood - It was once believed that good spirits lived in trees and that by knocking on anything made from wood, you could call upon these spirits for protection against misfortune.  

Put your clothes on inside out - No one seems to know how this superstition originated, but the belief that backwards or inside out clothing brings good luck continues to be widespread .

Happy Friday the 13th!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

10 Tips for Creating a Wildlife Friendly Garden

It is hard to deny the magic that wildlife adds to a home landscape. Birds provide background music. Butterflies perform beautiful ballets as they dance from flower to flower. Squirrels and hummingbirds provide acrobatic displays that elicit both laughter and awe. Providing for these garden creatures allows you to help the environment while bringing a close-up view of nature that can restore a sense of wonder to you, your family and any visitors who are lucky enough to be invited to your private, peaceable kingdom.

Below are ten tips that you can use to create a backyard wildlife habitat:

1) Choose plants that provide food for birds and wildlife. Plants can be both host and larval foods for butterflies; can produce wildlife food sources such as acorns, nuts, berries and seeds; or can attract insects that are food for birds or reptiles.

2) Choose native plants. Native plants are, logically, often the best choice for native (local), wildlife. At the same time, native plants require less fertilizer, water and pest control, which helps to prevent groundwater pollution.

3) Provide supplemental feeders. Providing supplemental feeders often allows us to gain a better look at visiting wildlife. However, feeders need to be cleaned regularly to insure the health of visiting wildlife.

4) Provide a water supply. All wildlife needs a clean water supply for drinking. Others use water to bath, clean their food or even breed. A water supply such as a lake, pond or wetland can be the most exciting element in your garden because of the wildlife it will attract. Supplemental water supplies can be added with birdbaths or man-made ponds. Even shallow saucers of water placed on the ground or puddling areas will be welcome water supplies to low-level wildlife.

5) Provide shelter for wildlife. Dense trees and shrubs make excellent shelter for fleeing birds or small mammals. Add natural elements to your landscape to provide shelter. Rock piles, brush piles, and dense ground cover provide protection for reptiles, snakes and ground birds.

6) Avoid chemicals in your landscape! Chemicals can harm wildlife as well as the insects that they eat.

7) Garden with care. Many birds and other creatures raise their young in low bushes and shrubs. Butterflies raise their young (caterpillars) on some of our favorite garden plants. Mow, prune and trim with caution to avoid critter catastrophes.

8 ) Keep wandering pets out of wildlife areas. Scientists estimate that nationwide, hundreds of millions of birds and billions of small mammals are killed by dogs and cats each year.

9) Provide Places to Raise Young. Many of the items that provide shelter also provide places for wildlife to raise their young. Mature trees, dense shrubs, fallen logs, hollow trees and dens in the ground are perfect nesting locations for many animals. Larval host plants are considered places to raise young for a butterfly garden. Supplemental items such as nest boxes and bat boxes can also be added to a habitat.

10) Practice eco-friendly gardening. Everything you do in your landscape can have an effect on the overall health of the soil, air, water and habitat for native wildlife. Visit the Metro DC Lawn and Garden blog often to learn how to create a landscape that is healthy for you and for local wildlife.

Once you have created your wildlife habitat, you can join the thousands of other enthusiasts who have been recognized for their efforts by applying for certification through the National Wildlife Federation's Certified Wildlife Habitat Program.

Creating a wildlife habitat is definitely a wonderful way to help take care of your share of the planet.

Discover the wonders of Wildlife Wednesday

It's another great Wildlife Wednesday! I have a strong belief that one of the best ways to encourage people to help protect the planet is to get them outside, eye-to-eye with the wee wonders in their landscapes! So Wildlife Wednesday was created to encourage everyone to take a break from their routines, step away from their keyboards, and get outside.

I am a self-confessed EXTREME nature nerd. And yet, sometimes even I need to be reminded to pull myself away from life's other details and stop, look and listen to the wonders of nature around me. I hope that I can encourage some of the rest of you to do the same.

Here's how Wildlife Wednesday works.
  • Every Wednesday, I encourage all readers to wander through their property and take a photo of whatever critter is visiting at the time. Birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, snakes, deer - think of this as the Noah's Ark of the Internet. Every critter is welcome.
  • Next, create a post on your own blog, including a little bit about where and when you saw the critter. Include photos, of course!
  • Now, visit the Metro DC Lawn and Garden blog Wildlife Wednesday post and add your name and url on the Mr. Linky widget. Then leave a comment to tell us what wonderful wildlife you saw so we can pay you a virtual visit!
If you don't have your own blog, feel free to email me with a photo. I'll be happy to add your photo to our blog to share with the world!

If you don't HAVE any wildlife in your landscape, then your gardens might need a little eco-tweaking. Environmentally friendly landscapes that incorporate native plants and eliminate chemicals just naturally attract more birds and butterflies and other little critters. So keep visiting the Metro DC Lawn and Garden blog and we'll help you create an environmentally friendly landscape that rolls out the welcome mat for wildlife!

Have fun! I can't wait to share your wildlife wonders with the world!

Monday, August 9, 2010

August is National Water Quality Month

As gardeners, when we think about water, our main thought is often about how to get it to our plants when they need it and we don’t have enough. The water that flows off of our property sometimes seems insignificant. After all, if it’s flowing off, it’s EXTRA water. And it just makes more sense to be concerned about something that is lacking than something that is overflowing.

But the truth is that what happens to water while it is on our property is very important to the health of our local water bodies. Water that flows from our landscapes finds its way into local streams, lakes and other water bodies, taking with it any chemicals, pollution, pet waste or other debris that it picks up in the process. National Water Quality Month was created to help remind people of the importance of protecting our ground water supplies.

To help protect local water supplies, keep these things in mind:
  • Reduce rainwater runoff by using rain barrels, or creating rain gardens. Turn downspouts of rain gutters into planted areas instead of toward paved surfaces such as driveways. Make sure sprinklers are not watering the streets and driveways instead of the plants.
  • Avoid blowing or sweeping lawn clippings or other debris into the street, where they will eventually be washed into local water supplies. A better solution is to leave grass clippings on your lawn after mowing to supply nutrients back into the soil. Composting is another way to reuse leaves, grass clippings and other small cuttings.
  • Practice water-friendly landscaping techniques such as Bayscaping, which encourage the use of native plants.
  • Reduce or eliminate chemicals in your landscape. When possible, use environmentally friendly alternatives to pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides.
  • If you must use fertilizers with higher chemical contents, weed killers or pesticides, make sure only to use the amount and frequency directed on the label and only on the affected areas. Remember, in this case, more is not better.
  • If using a fertilizer, choose one that contains at least 30 percent slow-release nitrogen. Also, check the three numbers on the front of the bag to select the right mixture for the type of plant you are fertilizing. The numbers represent the fertilizer's nitrogen (first number), phosphorus (second number) and potassium (third number) contents. High nitrogen fertilizers on a plant that does not need it is a waste of money and will eventually be washed away by stormwater if not used by the plant.
  • Use permeable surfaces such as pavers, stone and mulch. Permeable surfaces allow water to seep into the ground rather than being washed away into the street. This holds moisture in your landscape, where it can be utilized, and keeps pollutants out of the waterways.
For more information about protecting water quality from your landscape, visit these sites:

Water Quality Stewardship Guide from Fairfax County Virginia

Bayscapes – Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

Home Landscape Practices to Protect Water Quality – Virginia Cooperative Extension

Friday, August 6, 2010

Follow Friday - Wonderful local garden blogs

When it comes to gardening, one of the best places to learn is from our fellow gardeners. So I've started a list of some of the great local garden blogs (Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia) I've found. The list is by no means complete. If you have a local garden blog, or know of one that is missing from the list, please send me the info through email or add it in a comment below this post. If your blog is listed and you would also like people to be able to follow you on twitter, include that info too! I'll keep the list up to date, so feel free to link to it or share it with others. And thanks to all of the great garden bloggers out there who have chosen to share their gardens with the world!

** Some local garden blogs I've found:
  • A Leafy Indulgence: A backyard gardener's journal that shares the experiences, thoughts, and resources from Alexandria Virginia.
  • A Maryland Country Garden: blogger Julia Green writes about her garden in an outer suburb of Washington, DC on 6.4 acres
  • Bumblebee: Living the Good Life: Blog about making gardens that are beautiful as well as bountiful, written by Robin Ripley of Calvert County, MD.
  • Caroline's Garden Record: A year in a zone 7 Virginia garden, recorded in words and pictures...Created by Caroline
  • Central Virginia Organic Gardener: A guide to organic gardening in the mid-Atlantic states, with some specifics to central Virginia..and some information applicable across the country! Written by Judy Thomas
  • Diggin' In: Kathy Van Mullekom specialize in habitat, organic and environmentally friendly gardening. She loves gardening for songbirds!
  • Garden Putter:Where in the world does it all come together? In the garden. Written by Beth Py-Lieberman
  • Garden Shoots: A Landscape Designer Branches Out: Beautiful blog by local garden designer / photographer Melissa Clark
  • Garden Variety: A blog for the Mid-Atlantic gardener by The Baltimore Sun's Susan Reimer
  • GardenWise Blog: Tips and advice to keep your garden beautiful by local landscape expert, J. Mark White, ASLA
  • GCV Horticulture: Horticulture Updates from Members of the Garden Clubs of Virginia
  • Gotta Garden:passionate gardener (no!); former master gardener volunteer; daylily enthusiast;
  • Greenish Thumb: sharing the thrill of the dig, the joy of the harvest, decadent eats, and profoundish musings along the way... Created by Wendy in Maryland
  • MacGardens: A gardener's world from the hill on Ball Rd •This blog is meant to capture my observations as an itinerant gardener on seven acres of stony hillside in mid-Maryland (Frederick County to be precise). By John Willis
  • My Brown Thumb: I am a scientist in Bethesda, MD (Zone 6B). I love my pets, good food, good beer, and trying to garden.
  • My Virtual Maryland Garden: A blog exploring the pleasures of gardening in Montgomery County, Maryland, USA...created by Jim McKenney
  • One Plant at a Time: Maryland Gardener Zone 7. Digging into her thoughts and passions about her Gardens,Photography, Crafts, Life and her Family.
  • The Photo Garden Bee: Another beautiful blog by a photographer who loves to visit gardens
  • Virginia Organic Gardener Podcasts - by Judy Thomas
  • Washington Gardener: Blog for Washington Gardener Magazine
** Please only submit blogs that are written to share gardens, NOT sell products.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Kid's learn about beneficial insects the fun way!

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) has come up with a fun, hands-on way to teach local youths about the benefits of beneficial insects.

On Thursday evening, August 5, between 7:30 and 8:30 pm, volunteers -- including two 4-H groups and two Girl Scout troops -- will release 450,000 ladybugs into WSSC's Azalea Garden in an effort to rid the garden of mealy bugs.

Located at 2 Brighton Dam Road in Brookeville, WSSC’s Azalea Garden is more than 50 years old and features 20,000 bushes. In addition to being a perennial favorite with visitors, the Azalea Garden helps prevent erosion at Brighton Dam. But recently, the azalea's have been invaded by mealybugs.

Mealy bugs suck the fluids from leaves and stems, robbing plants of essential nutrients. They feed on all parts of the plant, but especially on tender new growth.

Ladybugs are known enemies of mealy bugs. WSSC decided to follow the USDA’s environmentally friendly recommendation of using lady bugs to eat the mealy bug. Chuck Shuster, Montgomery County Extension Director, helped WSSC calculate the number of ladybugs needed for the five-acre garden.

On the night of the release, volunteers will don dark clothing and use spray bottles to apply sugar water onto the azalea bushes. They will then help release the ladybugs in three separate areas. Drawn by the sugar water, the ladybugs will begin their task. Because ladybugs are attracted to light, the dark clothing won’t distract them from their main mission: to reach the bushes and the mealy bugs.

For more information, contact Kim Knox, 301-206-8100

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Construction projects aim to “green” Virginia’s Capitol

Gov. Bob McDonnell broke ground Tuesday on a set of construction projects that will retrofit the Capitol and make it one of the greenest in the nation.

Key projects on the capitol grounds and Richmond streets will include:
  • Porous brick pavers will replace terraced steps leading down from the Washington equestrian statue.
  • Rain gardens will be installed in front of the Bell Tower, the Darden Garden parking area, and on 9th and 10th streets.
  • A system will be developed to collect stormwater runoff and redirect the water into the irrigation system on Capitol grounds.
  • Porous pavers will be installed in the alleys of 5th and 12th streets.
  • A new sidewalk with porous pavers will be installed that will run by the front of the Edgar Allen Poe statue and adhere to the Capitol Square Landscape Master Plan. The entire project should be complete by spring of 2011. Click here to read MORE

Great Maryland Lawn Mower Event on August 14

Trade in gas-powered mowers for discounts on electric models. Help protect regional air quality.

BALTIMORE, Md., Aug. 4 /PRNewswire/ -- On Saturday, August 14, Maryland residents are invited to turn in their old gas-powered lawn mowers and purchase deeply-discounted, select electric lawn mowers at The Great Maryland Lawn Mower Exchange event. Most people identify air pollution problems with industry and power plants, and the emissions from cars and trucks. However, lawn mowers and other outdoor gas-powered equipment account for much of the region's air pollution and impact public health as well. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a conventional, gas-powered lawn mower can spew more pollution into our air in a year than a car driven more than 20,000 miles. Electric lawnmowers are more convenient and environmentally-friendly than gas-powered mowers.

Participants will receive up to 66% off a new Neuton CE 5 or CE 6 battery-powered mower for trading in their old gas-powered mower. READ FULL ARTICLE

It's Wildlife Wednesday - What's in Your Garden?

Welcome to our third Wildlife Wednesday. This is how it works.

  • Every Wednesday, I encourage all bloggers to wander through their property and take a photo of whatever critter is visiting at the time. Birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, snakes, deer - think of this as the Noah's Ark of the Internet. Every critter is welcome.  

  • Next, create a post on your own blog, including a little bit about where and when you saw the critter. Include photos, of course!
  • Now, visit the Metro DC Lawn and Garden blog Wildlife Wednesday post and add your name and url on the Mr. Linky widget. Then leave a comment to tell us what wonderful wildlife you saw so we can pay you a virtual visit!
If you don't have your own blog, the National Wildlife Federation has a Facebook Page for posting Wildlife Wednesday photos.

If you don't HAVE any wildlife in your landscape, then your gardens might need a little eco-tweaking. Environmentally friendly landscapes that incorporate native plants and eliminate chemicals just naturally attract more birds and butterflies and other little critters. So keep visiting the Metro DC Lawn and Garden blog and we'll help you create an environmentally friendly landscape that rolls out the welcome mat for wildlife!

Have fun! I can't wait to share your wildlife wonders with the world!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Compost exchange - sharing your garbage for a healthier planet

Here's an interesting article I found this morning. Residents of Rye, New York have started a compost exchange that allows gardeners to exchange compost ingredients with one another!

You might share some eggs or a cup of flour with neighbors from time to time, but now two Rye organizations    want residents to start sharing items like bags of leaves, egg shells and banana peels. 

Sound strange? Not if you have a compost!  

The Rye Neighborhood Compost Exchange was started to help residents get in touch with one another so they can share composting ingredients and ideas, explained Melissa Grieco, co-president of the Environmental Advocacy Group of Rye (EAGR.) READ MORE

Compost is not only great for their gardens, but by sharing rather than tossing, they have the ability to help reduce what goes into the landfill. Click here to read the entire article, Compost Exchange Helps Eco-Friendly Residents Find Balance on RyePatch.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Tips for Choosing an eco-friendly lawn care company

If you are one of the many home-owners who are too busy or just not interested in toiling in the soil and digging in the dirt, there are now companies that offer various forms of environmentally friendly lawn care service. These companies will help reduce the eco-footprint of your home by eliminating inappropriate and polluting landscape practices.

Of course, if you are not a gardener, it may be difficult for you to know what to look for in such a company.

To help find a good “green” lawn care company, you can print out our eco-friendly landscaping quiz and see how prospective landscapers do in answering the questions. If they get all the answers correct, it’s a pretty good bet that they will make the correct choices for your landscape.

For more detailed information, I consulted Catherine Zimmerman, a Metro DC area certified horticulturist and landscape designer. Catherine is accredited in organic land care through the Northeast Organic Farmers Association and has designed and taught a course in organic landscaping for the USDA Graduate School Horticulture program. Catherine is also the author of the new book Urban & Suburban Meadows, Bringing Meadowscaping to Big and Small Spaces.

Below are some comments and suggestions Catherine provided for selecting an environmentally friendly landscape company:

“My approach to the lawn is to reduce it as much as possible in favor of native plants,” Catherine said:

“Where lawn is needed or desired, I take the organic approach. Key things for homeowners to know are:

1) Chemical lawn support such as synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are harmful to the environment. We annually assault the earth with billions of pounds of these toxins and as a result we are losing native insect species, polluting waterways and putting our own, and especially, our children's health at risk.

2) Start with the soil. Any eco-friendly land care service will do a soil test to see what is needed, or not needed, on the site in terms of nutrients, pH adjustments and organic matter content. A healthy lawn will have high organic matter 5% or higher. High organic matter feeds critical soil organisms and helps hold moisture in the soil.

3) The lawn should be aerated. Grass performs poorly in compacted soil.

4) Mow high, 2 1/2-3" and leave the clippings to help raise soil organic matter. 

5) Pest control. Elimination of pesticides will help bring the site back into balance because we cannot target just one undesirable insect. We wipe out most insects with pesticide use. Unfortunately some insects, like aphids bounce back quicker because of their faster reproduction cycle than it's natural enemy the lady bug. 
So now we have a real problem. Best to let the bugs duke it out. Introduce biologic controls, like nematodes, if needed. 'If needed' is a very important concept. If a company is selling lots of applications, they are likely not eco-friendly."

A few more suggestions for choosing an eco-friendly lawn care or gardening service:
  • Remember that each landscape is different and that your yard does not necessarily need the same treatment as your neighbor's. This is particularly true when it comes to eco-friendly lawn care, which strives to work with the current site conditions, rather than against them. Prospective lawn care companies should take a thorough look at your property and site conditions before giving you an estimate of what work they think your yard requires.
  • Even the best lawns have weeds and pests. Ask what techniques the service provider intends to use to treat these problems. Eco-friendly companies should offer environmentally friendly options.
  • The best eco-friendly companies will ONLY treat weeds and bugs on an as-needed basis, rather than indiscrimatley applying broad range weed killers, fertilizers or pesticides. If pesticides or weed killers are going to be used on your lawn, find out what specific problems are being addressed and what products will be used.
  • Ask lawn mowing services whether they reset mower heights for different turfgrasses and at what height they will cut your lawn. They should know the correct height for your particular grass species. Also find out if they clean equipment between lawns. Mowers and other equipment can spread weed seeds and disease organisms if not cleaned properly.
The Northern Virginia Regional Commission has created a list of professional lawn care services in Northern Virginia who have signed the Water Quality Improvement Agreement with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). These companies offer their customers lawn care services to minimize pollution in order to protect our waterways while maintaining green and healthy lawns.

View the list of Green Lawn Care Companies in Northern Virginia.  

More Metro DC Area Eco-Friendly Landscape Companies
(these companies are listed to help in your selection of a lawn care company. Inclusion in this list does not indicate our endorsement)
  • Richard Landscaping, LLC. Owner Richard Bajana told me that their guiding principle is “keeping things simple. Like Catherine Zimmerman, Richard is credited through the Northeast Organic Farmers Association
  • My Organic Garden– provides organic vegetable gardens, fruit & berries to folks in lieu of lawns, so property owners can get a little more out of their yard. Vegetable gardens can produce food nine or more months a year in our area. A lawn can produce a lot of veggies or host a nice looking orchard of dwarf apple, peach, or pear fruit trees. To increase the eco-friendly aspect they focus on building great soil rather than pesticides, and utilize drip irrigation and mulching to minimize water usage.
  • Solar Mowing - a small local company that uses solar (and wind) energy to power cordless battery-powered mowers. The mowers are quiet and emit NO pollutants!
  • American Plant - a family-owned environmentally responsible garden center, provide superior plants, products, knowledge and services for our customers and community.
  • Bay Country Lawns – An organic lawn care company that offers a wide array of natural and organic based programs.
  • Green Harmony Design - strives to bring nature back into people's lives by creating memorable settings in private and public gardens
  • Lawn-Right: Naturally healthy lawns – Professional organic lawn maintenance
  • Matt's Habitats - Eco-friendly gardens, painting and more!

    How to Find local Farmer's Markets

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared August 1 - 7th, 2010 National Farmer's Market Week.

    Farmers markets are an integral part of the urban/farm linkage and have continued to rise in popularity, mostly due to the growing consumer interest in obtaining fresh products directly from the farm. Farmers markets allow consumers to have access to locally grown, farm fresh produce, enables farmers the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with their customers, and cultivate consumer loyalty with the farmers who grows the produce. Direct marketing of farm products through farmers markets continues to be an important sales outlet for agricultural producers nationwide. As of mid-2009, there were 5,274 farmers markets operating throughout the U.S. ~ From USDA Website

    For fresh, locally grown produce, here are several links to help you find a local Farmer's Market:

    Farmer's Market Search - from USDA website

    Find Farmer's Markets and Local Farms - Local Harvest website

    Sunday, August 1, 2010

    More Inspiration and Perspiration from the garden

    For me, gardening is usually as much about "inspiration" as "perspiration". Typically, I am inspired when I am gardening and think of all sorts of things I want to share. But lately when I'm outside, I'm kind of like the guy in the commercial with the shark on his arm and all he is thinking is "cigarette, cigarette, cigarette." My gardening experiences, which normally are filled with thoughts of "sweet, sweet, sweet" inspiration and beauty, are currently filled with nothing but "sweat, sweat, sweat".

    But when I come inside and get away from the heat and do a little computer surfing, I find all sorts of gardening inspiration to share.

    Today I found this wonderful article called How You Can Make A Green Difference For The World With A Garden, by Shawna Coronado. I mentioned Shawna in one of my previous posts called Nude Gardening to Beat the Heat. Or, to be more specific, I mentioned her book and website, both of which are called Gardening Nude.

    But this new article deserves much more than just to be mentioned in passing.

    It is a beautifully written essay about how Shawna changed her life, and the lives of many others, by planting a garden in the easement OUTSIDE of the fence around her property in Warrenville, Illinois. When Shawna decided to not only think outside the box, but to plant outside the box that the stockade fence around her property created, she found a whole new definition for the term "community garden". Shawna knows what kind of joy and pleasure can be found in a garden, and she wanted to share that joy with others. Not just with the friends and family that visit her garden, but the many passersby and neighbors that she previously had never even spoken to.

    I won't give away all the details of this wonderful article, because it is definitely worth a read. It contains a beautiful inspirational message about how we all can make a tremendous difference in life if we just step outside of our comfort zone and the things that separate us and take the first step to spread some beauty out to the rest of the world.

    Thanks, Shawna. I needed that! It was a perfect Sunday afternoon break for me. And once again, my thoughts during my gardening have returned to "sweet, sweet, sweet" inspiration and beauty.

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