Thursday, September 30, 2010

Is artificial grass "eco-friendly"? What about the wildlife?

I was just reading an article that I found online called 12 Ways to Make Yard Care More Eco-Friendly. I was reading down the list of items, which included things like collect rainwater, use a lawn moisture meter, don't hose down your sidewalk, and thinking that it was a pretty good list, until I got to number 9) which said "consider using synthetic grass." That's the one that made me go "hmmmmmm".

I don't really know anything about synthetic grass, so I did a little research before I decided to form any opinion. The first sentence that I found about synthetic grass was all I needed. It said "no mowing, no weeding, no chemicals, no bugs, no birds......" Oh UGH, UGH and double and triple UGH!

To me, one of the wonderful things about gardens and landscapes is the life that they support: the birds, the butterflies, the insects, the worms. As someone who loves to garden for wildlife, I spend a lot of time encouraging people to choose plants that attract birds and insects. The thought of choosing something for a landscape that has NO value for wildlife just goes against SOOO much I believe in. If you are going to use artificial grass, you might as well use plastic and silk flowers. And perhaps you could have an outdoor sound system with music that "simulates" the sounds of birds and other garden wildlife.

But what do you think? Do the benefits of using something that requires no chemicals or water out-weigh the fact that it also provides nothing for the native wildlife? My opinion is a definite "NO!"

OTHER than the synthetic grass comment, the rest of the article had some pretty good advice. Check it out!

Takoma Area Green Homes and Gardens Tour, Oct 2

It stands to reason that those interested in adding solar power to their homes might also be interested in environmentally friendly gardening.

As part of the regional DC Solar Homes tour, the Takoma Area Green Homes and Garden Tourhas a handful of solar homes, but will have several additional homes and sites highlighting other green building features – from energy efficiency and conservation, to non-toxic and salvaged materials, to corn stoves, biodiesel furnaces and cars, to green roofs, rain gardens, storm water management and native landscaping.

Since many of these homes are within a 1-2 mile radius, it will be easy to see many of them by walking or bicycling all in one afternoon.

Download the guide for the DC Solar Homes tour at:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Virginia Native Plant Society Wildflower Sale, Oct. 2

The Virginia Native Plant Society will hold a wildflower sale on Saturday, October 2, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria .

Visitors will be able to buy native plants and get free advice about the benefits of using native plants in a landscape.

Proceeds support education and conservation efforts of the Virginia Native Plant Society

Here are some nice resources from the Virginia Native Plant Society website

Wildflowers for Butterfly Gardens (pdf file)

Wildflowers for Woodland Gardens (pdf file)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Stopping stinkbugs without poisons

Every now and then, a bug will come along that is so annoying, that you are tempted to turn to toxins, no matter how eco-friendly you are trying to be. If stinkbugs have made it into your home, you may be ready to pick up the poison and let them have it.

But before you start filling your home with a bunch of unhealthy chemicals, here are some tips from the local extension services about how to handle stink bugs in a more environmentally friendly way.

I emailed the Home and Garden Information Center of the University of Maryland Extension and this was their reply:

You are so ahead of the game in looking for eco-friendly ways to deal with stink bugs and we are happy to help. Getting the word out on the environmentally friendly ways of control is important, as we are hearing from homeowners who are indiscriminately spraying all kinds of pesticides, and even herbicides, ignoring labels. 

As background, the stink bugs that you are bothered by are not native, but an invasive species which has arrived here from Asia. They are congregating in large numbers to try and find a warm place to overwinter, and our homes look pretty good to them for this purpose. Now would be the time to make sure that doors and windows are tightly fitted with good screens and sweeps. Look closely for gaps in your home, and fill any with caulk.

If they do get inside, using a vacuum to collect them (and then throwing away the bag) works, as well as fitting the hose end w/a rubber-banded piece of pantyhose to collect them. A shop vac with some soapy water in the bottom works well too. The shop vac is great outside as well. They tend to drop straight down when disturbed, so sweeping them from around doors with a bucket of soapy water underneath works. We have seen people fashion a 'catcher' with a rectangular container with an inch or two of soapy water in the bottom attached to a broom handle to pole. It should be mentioned that these bugs do not bite, and are not reproducing or feeding inside our homes, just resting.

Here is more information from our website:

The reply I received from the Virginia Cooperative Extension was very similar, but did contain this extra tidbit of advice:

Do not use any indoor house foggers. They will kill them but then you have just created food for all of the predators that are feeding on insect such as carpet beetles.

More about the Brown Marmorated Stinkbug can be found on the Invasive Species page from the University of Maryland Extension.

As always, I highly recommend contacting your local Extension System office for answers to your gardening question. Be sure and let them know if you are looking for an environmentally friendly option!

Where to find answers.

Top 10 Rookie Gardening Mistakes

Saw this great blog post on called Top 10 Rookie Gardening Mistakes (and how to avoid them). The detailed list (with photos), which was written by Colleen Vanderlinden, lists things that a lot of gardeners do wrong.

Here's a brief synopsis of the list. Be sure to read her full blog post for the details of "How to Avoid them"

1) Clueless watering

2) Wrong plant, wrong place

3) Not giving plants enough space

4) Not knowing your zone

5) Haphazard fertilizing

6) Not mulching

7) Half-a**ed soil preparation

8 ) Sun/shade fairy tales

9) Not knowing your site

10) Listening to Experts

And visit my blog post, 12 Relationship Rules for Gardeners , to learn more ways to do things RIGHT in the garden.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Trade in Your Mower - Mow Greener!

Want to be a little more environmentally friendly when you mow? Trade in your gas mower for a battery powered one!

When: Saturday and Sunday, October 9 and 10, 11am to 3pm only.

Where: Front lot of the ABF Terminal, 6720 Washington Blvd, Elkridge, MD (follow the Neuton signs)

How: You must drop off a gas mower. You’ll receive a voucher for a new Neuton Battery-Powered Mower.

Hurry, only 300 vouchers are available!

Call the toll-free number on the voucher by October 31st to place your order. Your mower will be delivered to your door!

Details: No registration required. Proof of Maryland residency is required to participate (valid driver’s license or utility bill). Mowers must be drained of gas and oil before drop-off. Your gas mower will be scrapped and cannot be returned to you. Vouchers will be available for the first 300 participants only.

Questions: Please call the Maryland Department of the Environment at 410-537-4210.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

September 26th is Johnny Appleseed Day - Share some garden love

On September 26, 1774, Johnny Appleseed was born.

Here are a few suggestions to celebrate the life, love and kindness of this generous fellow gardener.

1) Buy some locally grown apples. Maryland Apple Orchards, Virginia Apples

2) Play Johnny Appleseed with your own garden seeds (and cuttings) by sharing them with others. Northern Virginia Plant Exchange

3) Buy a decendent from a genuine Johnny Appleseed planted tree - If you have never visited the Historic Tree Program pages of American Forests, you are missing all sorts of fun. They sell trees that are direct decendents of trees owned by famous presidents, environmentalists, adventurers and others.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rose's are read - reading about Rose's garden

I found this post about a neat woman named Rose when I was wandering around the internet today. The post is called Rose's Sustainable Gardening Tips and was written by Rachel Grad back in 2008.

Rose seems like such a neat person, that I encourage you to read the blog post about her, as well as the linked one to information about her solar home in McLean, Virginia.

Here are some of Rose's cool sustainable gardening tips from the post:

1) Garden organically , 2) Make sure the soil is good, 3) Choose appropriate plants, ....6) collect rainwater.

And this is one of my favorites:

7. Use your garden to build community, for example, plant a pumpkin patch in your front yard and then have the neighborhood children come to pick a pumpkin for Halloween.

Take a few minutes to read the whole post. You'll love it!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Take a child outside week - Sept. 24 - 30th

If you are like me, you learned much of your love of gardening from your parents or someone else who took you outside to share the wonders of gardening, nature and wildlife with you when you were a child.

Unfortunately, with our busy lifestyles and so many electronic gadgets that keep us indoors, many of today's children spend very little time outside.

Take A Child Outside Week is a program designed to help break down obstacles that keep children from discovering the natural world. The Take A Child Outside Week website has many wonderful suggestions to help get your kids outdoors, from lying on blankets examining the trees to teaching a child to whistle using blades of grass (remember doing that as a child?)

Or here is a suggestion of my own that can be used in any yard or landscape:

Have a scavenger hunt in your yard (can also be carried out at a local park): Wake up early and take a quiet walk around your yard with a notebook in hand. Look for at least ten wonderful, curiosities of nature that aren’t easily noticed and make a list of them. Perhaps you will see some caterpillars dining on a host plant or a beautiful spider web stretched across two tree limbs or a tiny little tree frog hidden in the leaves of a flower. Make a list of your finds (but not their locations). Give a copy of the list to each of your children or other participants and have a scavenger hunt in your yard. Whoever finds all the items first wins!

Whatever you do to celebrate Take A Child Outside Week, make sure you let the child in YOU come out and play!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Happy First Day of Autumn - My Favorite Season!

Quotes about Autumn
  • "Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn." - Elizabeth Lawrence

  • " I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air. - Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • "Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns." - George Eliot

  • "Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all." - Stanley Horowitz

  • "Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower." -Albert Camus

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Please don't poison my planet - eco-friendly options for weed control

I just saw a post on a “green” blog that started out by saying that now is a good time to “Spray lawn weed killer.”

My reaction: ACK!

In keeping with my personal “don’t poison the planet” rule, I went searching on the Internet for some non-toxic ways to control weeds. I haven’t tried most of them myself and I welcome input from anyone who has about what has worked for you and what hasn’t in your yard and gardens.

Hand pulling - Admittedly, not the easiest or most fun, but certainly the least toxic to the planet. Hand pulling weeds is also one of the many garden chores that help to burn calories. Weeds should be pulled before they go to seed and care should be taken that the whole tap root is removed, not just the weed tops. Weeding forks are excellent tools for getting the whole weed. There is a very extensive list of various weeds in a Chemical Free Lawn and Garden book that I own, listing control methods for the different weed species. I’m not sure why they took the time or the space in the book to provide the list of different weeds because as far as I can tell, every single weed says either “hoe, dig or pull”.

Corn gluten meal– Although it won’t kill weeds that are already present, corn gluten meal is a safe pre-emergent control, which means that it prevents weed roots from developing so the seedlings die before they can take over your lawn or garden. It is safe for people, pets, fish and wildlife. Products which are based on corn gluten as the main ingredient are available under many names, including WOW and Concern.

Solarization– If you have a specific area that you can leave alone for awhile, you can kill everything (weeds included) by wetting the area and covering it with clear plastic sheeting. The edges must be sealed to make the whole thing airtight. This process is called solarization and it works because the rays of the sun heat the soil to temperatures as high as 140 degrees at the surface and up to 100 degrees as far down as 18 inches. Keep in mind that while this method kills pests and diseases in the soil, it will also kill other plants and any insects, earthworms or other beneficial critters that don’t have the opportunity to crawl away to another location. For more information, read the fact sheet: Going Solar to Set Your Soil Straight.

Use boiling water - For weeds in sidewalks, driveways etc, you can pour boiling water directly on the weed. You can also use boiling water in gardens but keep in mind that it won’t be great for earthworms, plants that you want to keep or any beneficial creatures that are hiding out under the soil. For stubborn perennial weeds (including poison ivy) you have to expose the roots and pour on the boiling water. Don’t rebury the roots, as keeping them exposed helps speed their demise.

Weed torches – Small, propane powered torches are available specifically for burning weeds out of cracks and crevices in sidewalks and driveways and will even work in gardens and lawns. Keep in mind that it is the heat, not the flame, that will kill a weed and the heat can affect plants well beyond the visible flame. Also, anything that is too dry can catch on fire, including mulch, dry leaves, your sneakers, etc.

Household vinegar– A recipe that I found on the Internet said that you can control weeds by mixing 1 cup vinegar with ¼ cup lemon juice, pouring it into a spray bottle and spraying it directly on weeds. This mixture is said to control herbaceous broad-leaf and grass weeds, including chickweed, ragweed, plantain, crab grass, quack grass, and wild carrot and results are said to be obtained in as soon as two hours. I also found several sources that warned that vinegar and lemon will both upset the natural chemistry of the soil and make it difficult for other plants to grow.

Using mulch - Mulch can help to smother weeds in a garden by blocking sunlight. This keeps weed seeds from germinating and young weed seedlings are smothered.

If you have found eco-friendly products or methods that help control weeds, please let us know by leaving a comment. My husband and I are pretty tolerant of most weeds in the lawn (many visiting critters seem to like to eat them, including our neighbors goat that sometimes gets loose and wanders into our yard). In our gardens, we just hand pull and use mulch.

For more information:
Pesticide Alternatives, Montgomery County Watershed
A Corny Solution for Weeds (pdf file) about corn gluten
Going Solar to Set Your Soil Straight (pdf file)
Weed Control – Fairfax County

Online ources for purchasing products :
Gardens Alive
Planet Natural

Friday, September 17, 2010

Exercise benefits of eco-friendly landscaping

I was thinking about all of the great exercise that I get while working in my eco-friendly landscape, so I decided to find out just how much good all of this bending and stooping is doing for my body while I try my best to “do good” for the planet.

I hope you enjoy this list of Health Benefits of Creating an Eco-Friendly Landscape

** Estimates for calories burned are from the fitness and exercise directory that I found on the LiveStrong website and are based on the weight of a 120 lb. female.

  1) Sweeping your driveway and sidewalks – It is bad for the environment to leave grass clippings, fertilizer or other substances on a driveway where they will wash into storm drains and pollute local waterways. Sweep up all clippings and add them to your compost pile or your gardens for added mulch. Sweep up any spilled fertilizer and put it back in your garden. Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 288.

2) Raking leaves – Rake all leaves and put them in your compost pile. They will decompose and make great compost for the spring. Health benefits: The cardiovascular benefits of raking up the leaves in fall are not unlike a true "gym" workout. This activity burns approximately 274 calories

3) Bagging leaves – if you don’t have your own compost pile, bag your leaves and give them to a friend or neighbor who does. Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 218 calories per hour.

4) Building raised bed gardens raised bed gardens help prevent overwatering and over fertilizing. Health benefits: Outside carpentry burns approximately 327 calories per hour.

5) Installing rain gutters – utilizing rain gutters and downspouts to redirect rainfall into the grass and gardens helps prevent stormwater runoff. Health benefits: Installing rain gutters burns approximately 432 calories per hour.

6) Creating compost - Composting is a natural process that involves the decomposition of biodegradable matter such as fruits, plants and vegetables. Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 272 calories per hour.

7) Digging – Planting eco-friendly plants helps conserve water and the environment. Digging in a garden engages both the upper and lower body, and any tools and equipment you use provide resistance. Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 272 calories per hour.

8 ) Gardening (general) - Gardening exercises and activities involve preparing soil, pruning plants, planting bulbs and maintaining flowers, plants and vegetables in a garden plot - Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 259 calories per hour.

9) Weeding – hand weeding instead of using chemical herbicides is healthier for the planet. Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 331 calories per hour.

10) Hauling compost – Using compost is a great way to conserve water. Hauling compost and mulch across various distances can engage the upper and lower body in constant movement. Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 245 calories per hour.

11) Hoeing – Hoeing by hand is a great way to work the soil and remove weeds. Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 272 calories per hour.

12) Kneeling to pull weeds - Kneeling will engage your thighs and glutes as you bend and sit for various intervals of time. Health benefits: Kneeling burns approximately 54 calories per hour.

13) Lawn mowing, pushing a hand mower – push mowers are better options for the environment than riding mowers or power mowers. Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 327 calories per hour. 14) Laying crushed rock – crushed rock is a great pervious surface to use in the landscape to allow water to percolate into the yard. Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 272 calories per hour.

15) Picking flowers and fruits – enjoying the fruits of your labors makes eco-friendly gardening so much more fun! Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 163 calories per hour.

16) Picking up litter - Picking up litter helps the environment -- and your waistline! Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 274 calories per hour.

17) Planting trees - Planting trees help shade the home and landscape - Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 331 calories per hour.

18) Planting native plants - Planting seedlings, shrubs and trees may require you to stoop, squat, bend and lift various gardening materials and tools as you complete the task. Choosing native plant species is often better for the environment. Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 245 calories per hour.

19) Pushing a wheelbarrow - Pushing a wheelbarrow while walking employs one of the best aerobic activities available — walking. Coupled with the added resistance of the wheelbarrow and contents, pushing a wheelbarrow will typically expend more energy than walking on your own. Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 272 calories per hour.

20) Shoveling compost, dirt, etc - Shoveling moderate loads, such as dirt from your garden, is a good way to get your daily workout and build muscular strength at the same time. Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 381 calories per hour.

21) Tilling the soil - Before the first seed or sprout can be laid, gardeners must till the soil to prepare it for planting. Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 327 calories per hour.

22) Trimming shrubs and trees manually – Using hand tools is always better for the environment AND your body. Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 331 calories per hour.

23) Hand watering plants – Watering by hand helps prevent overwatering. Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 187 calories per hour.

24) Tree hugging - Hugging someone (or something) lightly engages your upper body--you will use your arms, shoulders, back and perhaps even your neck muscles in your embrace. Health benefits: This activity burns approximately 54 calories per hour. :)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Free Rain Garden Workshop in Frederick County, Sept. 25th

Deadline for registration is September 22

The Potomac Conservancy, in partnership with the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, is hosting a free public rain garden workshop at Bar-T Mountainside (2914 Roderick Road. Urbana, MD 21704) on Saturday, September 25.

Learn how to manage stormwater and beautify your own backyard through rain gardens, pollinator gardens and other lawn-reducing practices. You will also learn how to select the right native plants for the project and how to ensure your project’s success. Participants will get hands on experience planting two gardens with native flowers, grasses and shrubs.

The workshop will be held from 10am – 4pm and includes a light lunch. Registration is capped at 30 participants ages 16 and up. Please RSVP to Aimee Weldon at by September 22nd.

Why are rain gardens important?

Rain is natural; storm water run-off from man-made impervious surfaces isn.t. As residential subdivisions replace forests and agricultural land, storm water from increased impervious surfaces becomes a problem. Storm water run-off from developed areas increases flooding, carries pollutants from streets, parking areas and even lawns. Expensive storm water management structures are often required to address this problem.

By reducing storm water run-off, rain gardens can play a valuable role in changing these trends. While an individual rain garden may seem like a small thing, collectively they can produce substantial neighborhood and community-wide environmental benefits.

Source: Rain Gardens: A How To Manual for Homeowners (PDF)

12 Benefits of Raised Bed Gardening

Last winter, our friends Jon and Kim Hindman of Wyoming showed us their snow covered back yard and said "And this is where we intend to build our raised bed vegetable gardens." They had the whole thing planned on paper and as the luscious smells of the home cooked meal they were preparing wafted through their cozy home, I could almost envision the joy they would get by adding homegrown herbs and veggies.

Jon and Kim being who they are, I wasn't really surprised that they got the gardens built, planted and harvested in what seems like an incredibly short time. (My husband and I are both such procrastinators, we do things at a snail's pace compared to Jon and Kim.)

Since they have a photo record of the whole process, I thought it only fitting to use their photos to help illustrate this post about:


The 12 Benefits of Raised Bed Gardening

1) Less soil compaction from people walking in the garden – Walking on garden soil exerts pressure of as much as ten pounds per square inch causing soil compaction.

2) Control of soil content - Raised beds are usually filled with high-quality soil mixes that have large amounts of organic matter

3) Easy maintenance - Raised beds are more easily maintained than ground beds since the increased height of the bed reduces bending distance

4) Better Drainage - Soil in raised beds is better drained than soil outside the bed. This increased drainage is especially helpful when growing plants in low-lying or poorly drained areas.

5) Better yields - Research has shown that raised bed gardening yields on average 1.25 pounds per square foot, more than double the conventional method

6) Water, fertilizer, compost, mulch, etc. can be applied more carefully

7) Easier to keep out burrowing pests - Burrowing animals can be stopped by lining the bottom of the bed with wire mesh.

8) Raised beds can extend your gardening season. They tend to warm up a little sooner in the spring and remain productive later in the fall

9) Gardening on bad sites or soils - Raised beds make gardening possible on sites where growing plants would otherwise be impossible. Rooftop gardens and raised beds on top of solid rock are examples. Terraced raised beds turn hillsides into productive growing areas while reducing soil erosion potential.

10) Water conservation - The narrow dimensions of beds are advantageous for water conservation. Canvas soaker hoses, perforated plastic sprinkle hoses and drip-type irrigation disperse water in a long, narrow pattern well-suited to beds. Directing water to the soil helps to reduce disease problems which can result from wetting the foliage with overhead sprinklers.

11) Less weeds - Dense planting techniques help reduce weed seed germination.

12) Better use of small spaces - Raised bed gardens can help maximize all available space and are typically smaller than traditional gardens, making them a more convenient option in areas with limited space.

For more information:

Raised Bed Gardening, Virginia Cooperative Extension

Container and Raised Bed Gardening, Virginia Cooperative Extension

Raised Bed Gardening, University of Missouri Extension

Vegetables, Raised Bed Gardening, University of Tennessee

Raised Bed Gardening, Alabama Cooperative Extension

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Nice article about mulch

I found this nice article about mulch this morning. The writer reminds us of the benefits of using mulch.

Mulch reduces water loss from soil, which means less time spent watering your garden, and less water used. The use of mulch will minimize germination of weeds, so there’ll be fewer weeds to compete for water and nutrients, and fewer for you to pull. It improves soil aeration and drainage, and reduces soil erosion. Mulch insulates the soil, keeping it warmer during the winter months (which, shockingly, are just around the corner!). Mulch can also give your garden a well-groomed and professional appearance and keep your plants from becoming dirty. Click here to read the full article entitled Responsbile Gardening: Mulching

As a reminder, there are several places to get FREE or very low cost mulch in the Metro DC area. For details, visit our post on Free Mulch

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Train your dog, train your man, train your lawn?

I’m reading a book right now called What Shamu Taught Me About Life Love and Marriage by Amy Sutherland. The premise is that you should be able to train your husband (or anyone else, for that matter, by using techniques created by famous animal trainers. I’m not very far into the book, so for now, my husband isn’t coming when called or heeling very well when we go for a walk.

However, with drought conditions in effect for much of the D.C. area, I thought that now would be a good time to talk about the benefits of training your lawn.

Lawns and gardens can be water hogs. But experts agree that with proper training, most landscapes should be able to tolerate drought conditions with few problems.

Most lawns only need water up to two times a week in the spring and summer, less if it rains, and less in the fall and winter. The problem is that people start out watering incorrectly so they have to re-teach their lawns to use less water.

With drought conditions in affect for much of the area, now is the time to start re-training your landscape for less water. That means to ONLY water your lawn when it really needs it. According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, you should water your lawn when it shows these signs of thirst:

A "thirsty" lawn turns from the normal green color to a purple-bluish color. In these areas the grass blades will not spring back if you walk across the lawn and your footprints will be visible. This is the first sign of "wilt" and indicates a need for water.

Here are some more landscape tips to consider during drought conditions.

Refrain from fertilizing – Fertilizing encourages new growth, and new growth is less drought-tolerant. If you do fertilize, use fertilizer with slow release nitrogen in it. If your goal is to improve grass color, try an iron application rather than fertilizer. Dull mower blades can also make your lawn look brown instead of green by shredding rather than cutting grass blades.

Reduce lawn areas– Since Lawn irrigation can account for more than 50 percent of total water use at residential and commercial locations, considering installing a pond, walkway, or larger garden beds in place of water-hogging turfgrass.

Irrigation Methods - Investigate the use of micro–irrigation for your plant beds. Micro-irrigation is more efficient way of distributing water directly to the base of plants without water loss from evaporation and wind drift. If you are in the market for a new irrigation system, find a reputable irrigation contractor who has experience with these systems. If you already have an irrigation system in place, many of the larger manufacturers now sell retrofit kits which will allow you to change specific irrigation zones over to micro-irrigation fittings.

Mulch. Add mulch to plant beds to reduce evaporation from soil and to moderate soil temperature, reducing stress on roots. Make sure to pull the mulch away from tree trunks and plant stems to leave a gap of an inch or two to discourage diseases and insects.

Amend the soil - To improve the water retaining capabilities of soil, considering adding several layers of top-soil or compost.

Weed – Keep weeds under control. Weeds steal water from plants.

Your plants and lawn may seem a little stressed as they adjust to their new watering schedule, but after a week or two, they should adapt and begin to flourish again.

For more information: Lawn Management During Heat and Drought and Watering the Lawn , both from Virginia Cooperative Extension

Or check out the Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog's other posts on Waterwise Landscaping Techniques

Monday, September 13, 2010

10 Green Tips to Help Save Money in Your Garden

I recently found a great post that helps us do two things we love: spend time in our gardens and save money.

The original post is called 8 ways to save money on costly lawn care and is from the site. What's really cool is that most of the things listed are very eco-friendly, too. I added a few suggestions of my own to round out the list to 10!

Read the full post for more details on their suggestions, which are:

  1. Xeriscape your yard - The savings can be big. One estimate by the University of Illinois Extension puts the amount of water a lawn needs to stay green in summer at 1 inch of water per week, which translates to an average of about 2,500 gallons of water per week to keep a 4,000 square-foot lawn green, assuming no rainfall. If you pay $3 per 1,000 gallons, that's almost $400 per year to water your lawn. Xeriscaping cuts that in half, according to the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, making the savings almost $200 per year.
  2. Plant fruit trees - Not only can fruit trees save money by providing shade for your home to reduce heating bills, but they're also a great source of free fruit if properly maintained
  3. Compost organic waste - Grass clippings, vegetable scraps and other organic waste can be turned into free compost to augment soil, to mulch around trees and to fertilize your lawn.
  4. Plant perennials instead of annuals - Annuals must be replanted every year. Save money by planting perennials that will last three years or more
  5. Plant leafy shade trees around your home - Once trees take hold and get big enough, their shade can keep your home significantly cooler and help you save money.
  6. Start with seeds and smaller plants - You can cut your costs down by a half to two-thirds if you just buy quart-sized plants instead of gallon-sized containers.
  7. Don't replace outdoor furnishings; paint them - You can save money on yard furnishings with some creativity and a little elbow grease.
  8. Shop plant sales in the fall - Especially in the northern part of the country, you can save money as nurseries clear their inventory for the winter with plant clearance sales in mid to late fallHere are my extra two suggestions!
  9. Participate in conservation rebate programs offered locally - Montgomery County Rainscape program, District of Columbia Smart Homes Program and others.
  10. Shop at local thrift stores for garden goodies - Helps keep your garden costs under control while you support local charities.

Deadline for CCLC's Conservation Landscaping Contest has been extended

Deadline for the CCLC's Conservation Landscaping Contest has been extended until September 15th, 2010. Still a few days left to get your application submitted!

Friday, September 10, 2010

First People’s Garden Fall Workshop - Today at Noon!

Looking for something fun and informative to do this Friday at 12 noon? Visit the People’s Garden at USDA Headquarters in Washington, DC for their first workshop of Fall 2010 entitled Gleaning Resources: Finding information, materials and helping hands for your garden.

Instructor Katie Rehwaldt, Program Director of America the Beautiful Fund’s Seeds That Grow Hope program and Co-Coordinator of the annual Rooting DC Urban Gardening Forum, is an expert at connecting DC residents with the tools and resources they need to grow their own food. She will be teaching how to save money, find seeds, help improve the environment, and gain valuable knowledge by tapping into the many obvious and not so obvious resources which can be found right near where you live and work. You’ll learn how to think creatively by turning trash into garden treasure, rally an army of volunteers, take advantage of government services, and get the help and advice you need when you need it.

Join them every Friday until the last week in October for workshops that will teach you how to extend your growing season, preserve what you’ve grown and prepare for next season. Register by calling (202) 690-3898. The People’s Garden is located on the corner of Jefferson Drive and 12 Street, SW.

From USDA Blog

Gardening good for the body & the soul - Follow Friday Friend

I love garden blogger Kathy Van Mullekom and her Diggin' In blog. I feel like she and I are definitely kindred spirits who enjoy our gardens both for the inspiration that they provide us and for the pleasures of the birds, butterflies and other little critters that share our garden spaces with us.

This exerpt from her recent post entitled Gardening is good: Research links mood to outdoor exercise is a perfect example:

The recent issue of AARP magazine features an article stating new research from England's University of Essex finds that just find minutes of "green exercise," which includes gardening, cycling and fishing, boosts your mood and self-esteem.

This latest research confirms what other similar studies have said: Getting your hands dirty helps you emotionally and physically.

Add a little mediation, or quiet prayer, while you garden and your spiritual side soars, too!

My meditation in the garden happens best when I encounter wonderful little scenes like the box turtle eating my Juliet tomatoes. I love turtles, so I was so happy to see him feasting on the treats. I always plant more than husband Ken and I need, so Mr. Turtle was welcome at my buffet. Read full post here.

Everything that Kathy writes is wonderful. She is definitely another example of my deep research - that "Peter Rabbit's experience aside, gardeners are probably just nicer people."

Follow Friday Tip: Follow Kathy on Twitter @diggindirt

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Drought Alert for D.C. Region

WASHINGTON - The D.C. area's heavy dose of sunshine over the last six weeks has begun to take its toll on the region's water supply system.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) has issued a drought watch for the D.C. region, asking residents and business to conserve water.

The record high temperatures along with the absence of rain in the area has affected streamflow and groundwater levels throughout the Potomac River Basin. In the last month, precipitation levels are 50 percent below normal.

While water demand decreases as fall approaches, COG wants people to take the appropriate steps to make sure the strain on supply systems is minimal.

"We are encouraging folks, sort of as an awareness step, to encourage conservation now, so if the drought were to persist and become worse, folks are practiced at what to do to conserve water," says COG's water resources technical manager Steve Bieber.

The watch is the second step in COG's four-stage drought response plan. Officials do not anticipate the watch reaching a "warning" or "emergency" phase.

COG wants residents and businesses to use water wisely during their daily routines, including:
  • Limiting the watering of lawns, plants and shrubs
  • Using a broom instead of a hose to clean sidewalks and driveways
  • Using a commercial car wash that recycles water
  • Reducing shower length
  • Turning off water while brushing teeth
  • Washing full loads in dish and clothes washers
If watering your lawn in necessary, Bieber says two waterings a week is enough to sustain its health.

"Measure the water using something simple like a rain gauge or you can even use a tuna can so you know how much water is going on your lawn," he says.

"You want to limit your watering to about one inch a week. Your best bet is to divide the watering of one inch into two waterings per week, typically in the evening, so you are not losing a lot of it to evaporation."

COG also asks people to use extra caution when smoking outside or using outdoor grills due to the fire hazard they present when used around extremely dry conditions.

Read other posts about conserving water on the Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog

Protect Your Groundwater Day, September 14

There seems to be a day for everything. And according to the National Ground Water Association (NGWA), September 14th is Protect Your Groundwater Day.

“Every person can do something to protect groundwater in their local area—from not polluting it to using water wisely,” said Cliff Treyens, NGWA Public Awareness Director. “We each have a personal responsibility to protect groundwater. The good news is that for most people all it takes is a small adjustment in their daily habits.”

On Protect Your Groundwater Day, NGWA urges you to ACT.

ACT —acknowledge, consider, take action.

Use this day to begin doing your part for protecting one of our most important natural resources — groundwater!

1. Acknowledge the causes of preventable groundwater contamination and water waste. Remember, any chemicals used in your yard have the potential to wash into storm drains and pollute local waterways —
2. Consider which apply to you —
3. Take action to prevent groundwater contamination —

When it comes to hazardous household substances:
  • Store them properly in a secure place
  • Use them according to the manufacturer’s recommendations
  • Dispose of them safely.
When it comes to water conservation:
For more information about Protect Your Groundwater Day, visit the NGWA website

Getting rid of your dirty little secrets - Where to dispose of old garden chemicals

Okay. So you've decided to go organic in your garden and stop using all of those chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers that you used to rely on. That's great, because fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides can wash into storm drains and pollute local waterways.

But what are you supposed to do with all of those foul-smelling bottles of chemicals that are taking up room in your garden shed or garage? Obviously, you can't throw them in the trash or pour them down a drain somewhere. The correct way to dispose of any toxic product is to take them to a toxic disposal site. has a great website that helps you locate the best place to recycle ANY materials, including toxic garden chemicals. Just enter the product and your zip code to Find Recycling Centers near you and this great site will bring up the closest location. Click on a location for more information, including a map!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rain Barrel Workshop - Monday, September 13

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and Clean VA Waterways are providing a Rain Barrel Workshop at Forest Hill Park in Richmond, VA on Monday, September 13th from 6:30 - 7:30 P.M. Learn about the benefits of rain barrels and how to install and maintain them. Each participant will go home with a pre-assembled rain barrel. This workshop is held at the Stone House in Forest Hill Park, which is near the intersection of Forest Hill Ave. and 41 St. Richmond, VA. Space is limited. To sign-up, contact David Jennings.

Cost: $65.00
Contact: – (804) 775-0951

Monday, September 6, 2010

Love of books is deeply rooted - thanks mom

There are two places where I love to get lost - in nature, or in a good book. Thankfully, my mother planted both of these seeds in me at a very early age by often taking me to the beautiful little woods in our small hometown and to the local public library. My love of both nature and reading have stayed with me throughout my life.

September is Library Card Sign-Up Month - "a time to remind everyone that a library card is the smartest card of all". If you haven't visited your local library recently, I encourage you to do so. Here are some excerpts from a couple of the books that I picked up on my last trip.

The Vegetable Gardener's Bible , by Edward C. Smith, ©2000 - I really picked this book up to learn more about which vegetables I might be able to grow at this time of year. I didn't even notice that "Ed's High-Yield W-O-R-D System for All North American Gardening Regions" is based heavily on using organic methods. In fact, "organic" is the "O" of the W-O-R-D system, which stands for Wide Rows - Organic Methods - Raised Beds - and Deep Soil. The book contains wonderfully detailed information about environmentally friendly topics such as compost, natural pest control and fertilizer, testing your soil, worms and many of the other topics that I have been studying over the last few months. In fact, if I had found this book earlier, I could have saved myself a lot of research time on the Internet. The second part of the book has detailed instructions for growing many popular vegetables. As is often the case, visiting the library allowed me to "preview" this book and decide that it is a must-have for my own personal library.

American Gardening Series Waterwise Gardening, by Lauren Springer, ©1994 - An excellent book on saving water in a landscape written in a fun, chatting-over-the-garden fence tone. Here are some excerpts from the introduction: "Waterwise gardening is just plain old common sense. Good gardening practice means adapting to the conditions at hand. Why have a garden that depends on large amounts of a resource that appears to be ever more expensive and elusive? Why not bank on the future and create a less needy garden? Even if there has always been enough water in your area, a drought-tolerant garden allows you to go away without cumbersome arrangements for watering in absentia. A garden in harmony with its surroundings, both in appearance and in terms of cultural needs, is a healthier, more beautiful garden. Plants that receive the conditions they prefer are better able to fight off pests and diseases. Plants that get by on less water demand less to look their best."

As usual, I also picked up a couple of fiction books while at the library. I've already been able to read the two new James Patterson novels as well as the latest John Sandford. All of that fun and knowledge for less than $2.00 (I was a little bit overdue on some of them!)

Some people say that public libraries are becoming obsolete because of computers and the internet but I know I will never feel that way. I could no more do without the public libraries then I could do without being outside in nature.

Thanks mom, for giving me both of those loves.

P.S. I still miss you.

To find your closest local public library, visit this site: Search for Public Libraries

Friday, September 3, 2010

EC's Fall Native Plant Sale, September 10th - 11th

Fall is a great time to add color to your garden and native plants are a great choice! What could be better than enhancing your garden with environmentally-friendly native plants that need less water, less chemicals and will attract pollinators to your landscape? Friday, September 10th and Saturday, September 11th, Environmental Concern, Inc. a non-profit dedicated to protecting the beauty of local wetlands, will hold their 11th annual Fall Native Plant Sale.

Take advantage of the plant sale opportunity on Friday from 9 - 4 and on Saturday from 9- 2, to see mature native plants growing in EC’s gardens, nursery, and living shoreline. The EC nursery staff, including three Certified Professional Horticulturists, will be on-hand to help answer your questions and select plants for your garden.

EC offers a variety of plants well-suited for Butterfly Gardens, Rain Gardens, Shade Gardens, Salt Tolerant Plantings and Songbird Hedgerows. Not sure which plants to try? We have plug sampler packs for each that offer a chance to try several species with great savings. Popular fall-blooming native plant species grown in our nursery, such as seaside goldenrod, New York aster, and seashore mallow will also be available for sale. Retail plant orders may be placed in advance, but must be ordered by 12 pm on Wednesday, September 8th.

Environmental Concern is located at 201 Boundary Lane in St. Michaels, MD.

For more information, call EC at 410-745-9620 or visit

Do bees chase butterflies?

Someone emailed me this question and I thought I would share it, hoping to find an answer for her:

Question: I have lots of container plants to attract butterflies and bees, both larval-host and nectar plants. Blue hyssop especially seems to draw a great variety and number of bees and now I don't see as many butterflies around. I wonder whether the bees are scaring off butterflies. Yesterday I observed what seemed to be a bee chasing a butterfly away from a flower blossom. Have you ever heard of this?

From Martha M.

My answer: Hi Martha. I know I have seen bumblebees and other insects that come to my flowers chasing off hummingbirds, but I have never seen it with bees and butterflies. Even with hummingbirds, I think it is more the hummingbirds flying away than the wasps actually chasing.

I do know that certain WASPS actually eat caterpillars. I was really surprised the first time that I saw it, but I know that a lot more of my caterpillars are just disappearing and I think it is the wasps.


I told Martha that I would post the question in hopes of finding someone with a little more knowledge on the subject. Soooooo, has anyone else ever noticed butterflies and bees competing for the same plants? If so, can bees actually hurt butterflies? I'd sure love to know the answer myself.

In search of the Big "O": Finding Locally Grown Organic Produce

Sure, chocolate is sexy, in a guilty-pleasure sort of way. But when you are ready for a more meaningful culinary relationship, one that you can really sink your teeth into, nothing is quite as perfect as the pleasures of produce.

Consider the tomato, with it’s beautiful, clear complexioned skin. It is firm to the touch, it has a beautiful tantalizing aroma, your mind reels with all of the wonderful things you can do with it. And best of all, this particular plump beauty you have found is pure, big “O” organic! Or is it?

“All-natural”, “hormone-free”, “locally-grown” and “pesticide free” are all terms that you may see applied to produce and other products at your local supermarket or farmers market. But do those steps make a product “organic”? Not necessarily.

The term “organic” is actually a legal term which is defined and governed by the United States Department of agriculture.

The National Organic Program (NOP) is a certification program administered by the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) that requires all organic foods to meet strict government standards. These standards regulate how foods are grown, handled and processed. Any single-ingredient food that meets the criteria can carry the USDA label of 100% organic.

Anyone who has tackled the challenge of going organic in their own home gardens knows that the process does sometime mean more work. At home, the temptation to use just a little bit of pesticide or fast-acting fertilizer is sometimes too hard to resist. Organic farmers are strictly forbidden from utilizing any of those quick, but harmful, methods.

Under the National Organic Program, organic produce is grown without any antibiotics, hormones, pesticides or other harmful chemicals. Farmers use all natural fertilizers and often hand-pick insect pests. To earn the NOP Organic label, all of their procedures are carefully monitored by third party certifiers, including the entire handling, processing and shipping of the products.

September is National Organic Harvest Month. It’s a great time to support local organic farms that are taking steps to create products that are healthier for consumers and for the planet.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture has a great list of Maryland Certified Organic Growers, Retailers, Processors & Handlers (pdf).

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services provides this list of Certified Organic Producers.

"Organic" Vegetable Gardening at Home
The NOP Organic designation does not apply to gardeners that grow produce for their own consumption. However, to provide the same benefits to your produce and to the environment, here are some suggested tips for organic vegetable gardening.

Amend the Soil 
* Before planting, amend the soil with organic matter such as compost, manures, coffee grounds etc. Continue to do this once or twice a year.

• Use organic fertilizers which are plant, animal or mineral based. These are generally slow release and can’t burn the plants.

• Liquid seaweed (ex. Maxicrop) makes a great foliar spray for plants that produce food. Spray both sides of the leaves until they drip weekly for vegetable plants and monthly for fruit bearing trees, etc.

Methods of Insect Control 
• Insecticidal soap. • Ultra-fine Horticultural Oil.

• To control caterpillars use Bt. (Bacillus Thuringensis)

• Mechanical Controls such as Agrofabric row covers, staking or caging plants & sticky traps.

Weed Control
• Mulch, mulch, mulch!

• Corn gluten is not only a natural preemergent herbicide but it is also a great source of organic Nitrogen..

• Vinegar has been found to kill annual weeds!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

10 Tips to Conserve Water Outside

1) Mulch your gardens - Mulch is great for retaining moisture, helping your plants through times of heat and drought.

2) Mow your grass to the right height - The taller the grass blade, the deeper the root system becomes. Grass with deeper roots is more drought-resistant.

3) Water at the right times - Watering in the early morning or late evening when temperatures and wind speeds are the lowest will reduce water loss through evaporation.

4) Calibrate your irrigation system - A few tuna cans can help you calibrate your irrigation system so you know how long to irrigate

5) Install micro-irrigation - Install a drip or other water conserving irrigation system. Slow drip and deep root watering systems can save up to 60% of all water used in garden care. Professionally installed and maintained irrigation systems will further help conserve water.

6) Install rain barrels - Rain barrels collect and save rain, which provides wonderful pure fresh water for plants and landscapes. A rain barrel will save most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months

7) Use permeable surfaces- pavers, gravel and other permeable surfaces help keep the water where it belongs - in your yard!

8 ) Choose an eco-friendly landscape company- a good eco-friendly landscape company can help you save water and prevent stormwater pollution

9) Find a WaterSense Irrigation Contractor- All too often, landscape irrigation wastes water—up to 1.5 billion gallons every day across the country. WaterSense irrigation partners can help you reduce your water consumption, save money, and maintain a healthy and beautiful landscape.

10) Shower outside! - I've known for a long time that my friend Paula has an outdoor shower. I always thought she added it because they have three people living in a one bathroom home. But yesterday she told me the wonderful added benefit of allowing all the water from her shower to soak into her lawn and landscape!

Why are the good looking ones so naughty?

Back in July, I wrote about the 12 Relationship Rules for Gardeners. This tongue in cheek post compared the challenges of creating a healthy landscape with the challenges of building a healthy relationship.

Rule number 7 mentioned that choices based on looks alone are often more trouble than they are worth. Such is often the case when we add non-native, invasive species to our landscapes.

As defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture: Invasive plants are introduced species that can thrive in areas beyond their natural range of dispersal. These plants are characteristically adaptable, aggressive, and have a high reproductive capacity. Their vigor combined with a lack of natural enemies often leads to outbreak populations.

As gardeners, it is sometimes tempting to want to add some of these plants to our landscape. After all, a plant that self-propagates or spreads to quickly fill in a large area can seem like a good thing. But once invasive plants take over our native plants, the result can be:
  • an area's natural biodiversity is destroyed
  • native plants can eventually become permanently eliminated
  • the animals that need native plants for food and habitat cannot use many of the non-native ones
  • it can costs billions of dollars to control invasive exotic plants
Native plants, on the other hand, generally require less water and less chemicals, which make them much friendlier for the local environment.

Once you decide to start creating a more eco-friendly garden, some of the decisions you have to make may be tough ones. But in the long run, choosing native plants, or at least NON-invasive species, will be much better for the environment and much easier to maintain.

Here are links for more information about invasive plant species in the area:

Invasive Species of Concern in Maryland

Invasive Alien Plant Species of Virginia (pdf file)

Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (pdf file)

Website by Water Words That Work LLC